Reaver’s Rescue: Chapter Three


Lights were so bright, colors so vivid, and the buzzing, shaking, my brain feeling like it was tossed in a blender. Images flashed, and voices echoed. A near eternity of foreign history, of an alien civilization. But also the opposite of civilized beings. It dashed through my thoughts until my head screamed.

And then he was there, looming over me, his massive hands lifting me up, steadying me as I tried to catch my balance.

The space beyond was four huge rooms with sinister tanks of liquid. Panic made me pant as I searched around. And that smell…

It actually smelled pretty good.

Oh. The smell came from him.

The bronze angel. Larger than life size, skin of bronze, muscled like a Greek statue.

With wings that I hadn’t imagined, hadn’t dreamed.

“How long have I been in there?” I asked stupidly, as I looked at the commbangle on my wrist. 

“Not long. The moons have not fully risen.”

Moons. Plural. I had seen them. This planet had three.

“Eat this.” He passed me a platter from a nearby table. A hump of something steamed in the cold air. “You need the energy.”

“Really?” I took the plate. The goop on it was like stretchy bread. It tasted sweet. “Better than half-cooked greasy bear off-cuts.” I shoved some more into my mouth.

“Recci,” my guardian angel said. “They migrate with the seasons. Even if their claws are poisonous, they are so large and slow at this time of year that even a cub could kill one.”

“All that, and yet they still taste like crap,” I said. Then my stomach clenched. Guilt. I handed the plate back.

“Eat. You’re half-starved,” Angel said. “The food replicators here still work.”

“So are the rest of my friends. I can’t eat when I know they’re going hungry.”

The angel shoved the plate back at me. “Think of how disappointed they’ll be if you don’t eat enough to help me free them.”

I took the plate. “First devils that beat me. Now an angel who force-feeds me. Where the hell have I landed?”

“Thaxios,” the angel said. His voice, though soft, boomed like thunder from his barrel chest.

“Never heard of—”


“You understand me?” I whispered.

“The teaching chamber. It gave you my language.”

I tried to speak, but nothing came out.

“If you wish to help me free your tribe, it’s necessary we communicate,” the angel said.

Teaching chamber?

“My tribe? That’s what the devils call us. You mean the women who crashed here.”

Angel nodded. “Women. That’s the word.”

I snorted. “You don’t have women here?”

“We do not.” He shook his head. “Well, until recently, we did not. I have only spoken with one of you. One who rescued one of my people. Her name is Masie. She was like pale gold.”

“Masie?” I blinked back, a sudden rush of tears. Had more of us survived? “You’ve met Masie? Where is she?”

“Probably safe in the aerie by now if that half-wit Vandath didn’t screw up again.”

“The aerie. In the mountains. We got a signal on our commbangles to come to the mountains.” I wiggled the band on my wrist.

“I will take you there. All of you,” Angel said. “But I will need your help. It will be dangerous. The tasks frightening.”

Something slow and steady burned through his words, the anger almost enough to warm me.

“If by my help, you mean killing all of those bastards slowly and painfully? Then I’m in, Angel man.”

I thought he might be taken aback. Promoting mass murder was hardly ladylike. But, instead, he looked impressed.

“My name is Arctur,” he said. “Not Angel.”

Well, an angel isn’t what I needed. Especially one built like a pro linebacker with features of unearthly beauty. Jaw like an anvil, yet full lips so soft—I didn’t say any of this out loud.

“I’m Zania.”

“As much as I loathe it, I must return you to the camp. But I have a plan in mind.” He gestured to the door with his chin.

I grabbed a handful of stretchy bread, and we walked back upstairs. Angel—Arctur—was right. The moons weren’t fully risen yet. Maybe the devils wouldn’t even know I was gone.

Not devils, the new knowledge in my head reminded me. Vak’ki. One of the four clans of Reavers.

He scooped me up in his arms. Somehow, I didn’t mind a bit. I held tight, snuggling close. It was just the heat of his body that attracted me.


With deep drumbeat sounds, his wings thrust us aloft. We circled the ruins as he climbed higher and higher. The wind bit as we reached altitude.

“There,” he said. “Do you see the Northern Arena in the distance?”

Some miles past the ruins, a broken dome glittered in the moonlight. It looked like a structure that might host sporting events. “Yeah.”

“Remember it. When you return, that is where you will lead Jafiz. Draw a map if you are able.”

“Why there?”

“Because there are places to hide, to strike from, weapons, and plenty of spaces to secret your whole tribe. We can make short work of Jafiz and his Vak’ki.”

“Just not too short,” I said. “There needs to be suffering.”

There was a smile in my naughty angel’s voice. “I will keep that in mind.”

“Do you think that’s wrong?” I asked. Did I really want to know the answer?

“I think it speaks of a warrior’s mind,” he said. “A successful warrior.”

We raced through the sky, back toward my hellish existence. But I had an ally. I didn’t know that I could trust him, but he seemed to have no love for Jafiz and his men. The enemy of my enemy and all that.

I might not admit it to myself, but flying through the air with him made me feel free. Perhaps freer than I’d ever felt. Was I holding onto him too tightly? The angel didn’t seem to mind at all.

And what did all this mean? 

I had to put it away. There was a heap of trouble coming. I best prepare myself for that.

Only the big moon remained in the sky as we reached the forest’s edge, the blueish leaves now flamed with chartreuse. Beautiful alien autumn. They caught the light of dawn. The very tip of the big red sun blazed from the horizon. 

Pouring on the speed, Arctur circled through the trees with breathtaking swoops. In a moment, he landed lightly on the ground. His eyes moved in all directions. So did mine.

Yet neither one of us spotted the enemy until he was on us.

Arctur drew a bladed spear from a scabbard on his back, the weapon whistling the motion as our attacker whipped out his sword. Stepping lightly, he caught the haft on his blade.

“Quiet, Sen’ki!” he hissed as my heart stopped in my throat. It was Yalen, one of Jafiz’s band. Our plan was over before we’d even begun. “You want to wake these brigands with a clanging fight?”

Wait, what?

Arctur tried to pull the weapon back for a second strike, but Yalen caught the spear’s blade with his pommel’s quillon.

“Hush, you feathered oaf!”

Weapons shivered with the forces of mighty arms as the tug of war lasted a few heartbeats.

The Vak’ki spoke again, his whisper harsh. “They don’t know she’s gone. Do you really mean to inform them?”

They froze like statues in the moonlight. I pressed my hand against Arctur’s back, my shoulders shaking with dread.

I’d barely noticed Yalen before. He hadn’t actively tormented any of us. Mainly had been assigned jobs scouting or around the edges of the camp. Trusting any of the Vak’ki seemed impossible, but we had no choice.

“If he wanted us dead, he would have called out to the others by now. Let’s hear what he has to say.”

For a long moment, neither spoke, only glared, their gazes as sharp as their weapons.

“Fine,” Arctur growled. “I stand down.”

The two of them lowered their arms.

“You. Get back to your flock,” Yalen said shortly. “What are you even doing here?”

“I’m here for the women,” Arctur answered.

“By yourself?

“He has me,” I said, moving to stand by at Arctur’s side.

Yalen sighed. “I’ve no love for the endless rules and regulations of the Fort, but they want to see him put down and hard. It’s taken me months to infiltrate his band.” He sheathed his sword. “The captives were a complication I wasn’t expecting.”

“And what exactly have you done since you’ve been here?” Arctur snapped. “You certainly haven’t helped any of the prisoners.”

I squeezed his hand. “He hasn’t been as bad as some of the rest.”

“Jafiz is better protected than I thought. And once I was in… getting out wasn’t quite as easy. I don’t know what Jafiz is up to, but I want to stop him. I know these gentle, fainting creatures have no love for him. What’s your interest, kaqen?”

From the learning chamber, I knew a kaqen was a brightly-feathered chicken. Not terribly bright, but tasty. For a moment, murder showed clearly on Arctur’s features.

“The tribe of women need to be brought to the aerie where their number gather,” he said, getting control of himself. “But that is far, and Jafiz’s men are too many. So for now, I would lead them to the Northern Arena,” Arctur said.

“Ah.” The devil stuck his lower lip out and nodded. “Devious. I like how you think.”

“He seeks something and believes the females know where it lies. With that, we can lead him by the nose,” Arctur continued. “And if you call me kaqen again, I will run you through, damn the renegades.”

“Ease up, feathers. I’m on your side.”

“Along the way, I will set up snares. Even the odds,” Arctur said.

“Snares…” Any lightheartedness left the devil’s features. “I’ve fought Sen’ki before. I can imagine what you have planned.”

“Then point me to the nearest grove of checha trees and see to it the Vak’ki march through.”

“Ouch. Maybe I can’t imagine. You’re beyond devious—” The devil’s head whipped around. “Go. Fly away. I’ll make sure this one is safe.”

Arctur frowned in reluctance. But the footfalls through dry leaves and sticks were undeniable. “Make certain she’s unhurt, Vak’ki.” With that, his wings thudded against the air, and he disappeared into the foliage.

The devil watched the leaves fall from his passage. Then he turned to me.

“Well. Time to get some lying done. Although you’d better let me do it,” the devil said. “I’m probably better at it.”

“Zania,” I said. “That’s my name.”

He nodded. “I’ll have to forget that now.”

Two Vak’ki emerged from the game trail into the clearing a few seconds later. I knew one of them—Vokr, Jafiz’s favorite toady. He leveled a loaded crossbow at me.

“What are you doing out here, Yalen? I knew you weren’t to be trusted.”

“I’m not to be trusted? You’ve got, what, fifty men, and you can’t afford a single guard at night?” Yalen said.

Vokr laughed. “Where would they go, Yalen? To feed themselves to the recci?”

Yalen shrugged. “She made it this far. No one noticed. Except me.”

“Let her go on, then,” Vokr’s companion said. “Not a one of her tribe would survive a single day in the forest.”

“Great idea, Rakkin.” Yalen laughed. “The one Jafiz thinks can get us to their city. And their treasure.”

“Well, maybe there is no treasure, Fort-lover. They’re just a waste of our time,” Rakkin said.

“You are absolutely right,” Yalen said. 

I felt my heart sink. This devil threw me under the bus at the first sign of trouble. But his face took on a thoughtful look.

“Well, except for all that interesting stuff they carry. The healing gear. The tablets that work outside a library. Strange silver fabrics. Their talking jewelry.” Yelan shrugged. “Jafiz figures there’s more—lots more than these skinny, soft little things can carry.”

He poked me in the shoulder hard enough to make me stumble.

“Yet—funny, we’ve never seen them before. If they’re hiding, it must be for a reason. Like they have treasure, right? But I’m not a thinker. That’s Jafiz’s job.”

“Oh, right, another tribe we’ve never once seen or heard of,” Rakkin scoffed.

Yelan snorted. “Impossible! But then…”

“What?” Vokr demanded.

“Just rumors. About a tribe that lives underground. They popped up after that big earthquake. Might even be in the histories, but who reads those, am I right?” Yelan smiled. Then his smile turned into worried thoughtfulness. “Supposed to be real ugly buggers. Mean.”

Vokr gestured with the crossbow. “Back with the others, you. And you, too, Fort-lover. You’re not trustworthy.”

They pushed us along the game trail. Out of the other devils’ sight, Yalen gave me a wink.

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