Reaver’s Rescue: Chapter Four


I’d studied the renegade band of Vak’ki for days now. One thing was certain—it took them a long time to get moving. I raced ahead with the sun climbing in a cold, purple sky. 

Since entering the forest, they followed the broad game paths of the enormous recci. It made for easy hunting as well as easy travel. All of these brigands were lazy.

Laziness made them predictable.

What would be more than half a day’s march, and perhaps longer being encumbered by the women, lay the perfect spot. It must be where the blue monsters stopped to drink. A grove of red checha trees spread out on both banks of a broad stream.

At this time of year, sharp leaves hardened, turning a violet color. But the cold of the night made the tree sap run through the trunks. So those leaf blades defended against the one creature that sought checha sap.


The red and black creatures were as long as my forearm. They lived in the mud around the tree roots. A single drop of sap would cause them to swarm. The saw-jawed creatures would devour anything covered in the sticky stuff. They needed it for the next generation—and winter was coming fast.

As simple to set as it was dangerous, it only required a hole in the tree trunk deep enough to draw sap, a plug to seal it, and a tripwire to pull the plug free. Other than the shredding leaves, the difficult part was getting a proper plug in place without being touched by the tree’s pink blood.

It was a favorite of the Sen’ki, who could access the branches from above without dealing with the slicing leaves. But, with the increasing cold, the branches drew themselves tight against the trunk. 

Growing from the marshy banks were twildi. Their hollow, segmented stems were ideal for tapping the sap. I would have to risk a fire to harden them. The most time-consuming part would be the tripwires. 

Weather had killed much of the grass along the banks. I found the driest, tallest blades. With my knife, I harvested a bundle. When it seemed enough, I doubled the load. Then I cut the thin tubes of twildi, making sharp points at one end. I triple checked that each tube was sealed.

Once a small fire blazed, I sat, tubes near the flames. Twisting and twining the grass, I formed it into sections of twine, then twisted and braided these together again. Gazing up in the tree, I estimated a length.

Thoughts of the marching Vak’ki drew my focus. Shaking my head, I continued my tasks. It seemed forever passed before my taps and twine were ready. That had given me time to figure out the most damaging placement. Two chechas angled over the trail. One in each trunk, directly above, should work.

Pacing out the distance, I tied my flame-hardened twildi with lengths of grass twine. Then I flew upward, carefully descending into the bundles of cutting leaves. The first tap went into a soft knot. I held my breath when I pounded it in with the haft of my knife.

Below, bubbles and motion in the mud. My heart pounded. The spearfires were aroused. 

After several tense moments, I wasn’t eaten. 

Spooling out line, I lighted to the other tree. Then, carefully pulling the line nearly taut, I inserted the second tap. 

Thrashing in the mud. I prepared to fly straight up, and damn the stabbing foliage.

The red and black nightmares remained submerged.

Dropping, careful with the line, I wrapped it around the lower trunk of one, pulled it across the trail, wrapping the other tree. Plenty of cord. I tied it off, the trap set. The rest I looped and carried over my shoulder.

But that would only take out a few. Gaining the sky, but keeping low among the branches, I followed the trail north, looking for the next place to hurt the enemy.

Thoughts of Zania came unbidden. She seemed soft, gentle as a golden neika on the outside. Yet her words spoke of a resolve harder than stone. That inner strength allowed her to survive amongst the kidnapping brutes. That and an innate understanding of her captors.

Being a stranger here, how she had come to that revealed a cunning intellect, superlative insight and ability to observe.

These creatures, these women, were interesting. Even a Sen’ki as thick as Vandath understood this. Yet I had not known fascination until I first laid eyes on Zania.

Had she even seen me? We’d locked eyes across a clearing. That single glance had sealed my fate. It was as if her essence had flooded my senses and thoughts from that moment on.

Was this their power? Camouflaged strength hidden behind a glamor that seemed nearly mystical?

It drove me to fly faster. 

Before confronting her captors, I needed their numbers severely reduced. 

The game trail continued north, but the Northern Arena lay to the northeast. 

Besides the broad stream, there seemed no easy way for the Vak’ki to travel. Easy was their way. So the stream it was.

I could move much faster in the air. Keeping among the tallest trees, I searched. Below me, I saw a migrating recci crash along the trail. Kaqen flashed from the trees at its progress. Where would the brigands turn to follow the stream?

Perching on a stout branch, I thought it over.

By now, they were on the march. They would reach the first trap after zenith. Then, panicked flight, or careful thought would follow. Either way, they would not make it this far until tomorrow.

I marked a smaller trail leading to the water. Not the size a recci would leave behind. Just wide enough for Reavers, I thought. Calculating their march, I made my best guess where they would be either in the late evening or early morning. Flying to that position, I prepared my next trap.

Zania. She came to me as inspiration. Taller than the other females, the top of her head only reached my chin. I smiled, not only at the thought of her.

Motivated by self-preservation, even a leader as dense and unimaginative as Jafiz would learn his lesson. He would march the women ahead of his brigands.


I laughed out loud. It startled a pack of autumn-fat hargeisa from hiding. Whipping the nakav from my back, I took three of them. Their blue and yellow fur and fat meat would serve not only my needs, but Zania’s as well. She needed the nourishment, and the warmth of pelts.

I would need the energy from the look of the stout markeesh trees on the bank.

The leftover twine was not enough. I needed to make more, and thankfully, I was far enough ahead of the marchers to have the time to replenish my stock. 

I grinned bleakly.

This one would be far deadlier than the last trap. It would take out many more. The horror of it would demoralize the outlaws.

There needed to be suffering.

Zania’s words came to me. Oh yes. There would be much suffering when Jafiz’s bandits reached this site. The thought of pleasing her made my heartbeat quicken.

I cleaned and skinned the tree-dwellers, soaked their pelts in the stream. Casting around, I found more tall grasses. Eyeing the fang-like thorns of the markeesh trees, I measured with my mind.

More rope, I thought. Lots more rope.

From a heavy trunk, branches sprouted in fading blue arches. Markeesh were harmless on their own. Branches sheltered all manner of beasts, flying and arboreal. With a little intervention, however…

Twisting, braiding, I made twine into rope, then into thick cords as big around as my wrist. As I did, I studied the markeesh until I found the perfect one.

I worked until the sun reached its full height. The meat and fur would have to wait. It was time to view the first attack on the unsuspecting Vak’ki.

Foliage was dense between here and the checha grove. It allowed me to fly high and straight. I would be invisible from below.

Nearing the site of the trap, I found a branch to lite on. The red trees were in view, as well as the game trail. I waited, listening.

Undisciplined, the rattle and clang of arms, the creak and groan of loose harness issued through the foliage. Casual talk, jests, grumbles, shouts, the noise of armed men who did not know they were about to face battle accompanied this. 

I tensed. 

Booby traps were not infallible. 

They could give me away as easily as injuring my foes.

Worse, and unthinkable, their prisoners marched among them—also in danger.

They emerged, red scaled faces, black hair, gleaming horns on their heads. As I predicted, brigands took up the vanguard. The women took the rear. Behind them, only two marched. 

Savak was among the pair. He was as crafty as I believed. His eyes were everywhere. Would his caution give away the trap?

This was my only chance at surprise. The Vak’ki would be wary after this. 

Now, the first of them was below me. I hugged the trunk. They walked without care.

When they reached the trip wire, I found I could not breathe.

Half a dozen moved past the danger zone.

Damn me, it wasn’t working!

The females came closer and closer. Would it spring on them? 

Muscles tensed. If it came to it, I would swoop down, take Zania in my arms, and get her away from this place. Crossbow bolts might miss me among the branches. Regardless, I would not let—

One of the outlaws stopped. He looked overhead. He held out a hand, as if feeling for rain.

The man next to him punched him in the back. Moving him on.

That was fine.

The fire-hardened taps clattered to the ground. A spray of pink issued from where they pulled free.

Watery sap sprayed the soldiers below.

Spearfires erupted. Mud splashed everywhere from their buzzing wings as a swarm exploded over the doused men.

They screamed. They ran.

Others pushed them away, realizing they had been tainted with sap. Yet others were also covered.

The air became dense with black and red bodies. Many of the creatures soared to the wounded trees. Enough of them did not.

A man staggered, falling to his knees, his head covered with squirming, biting, sawing horrors.

Those following retreated, scattering randomly.

The second man fell to the mad hunger of the spearfires. A third. Blood soaked the grass, the mud, the bark.

Deep whining filled the air with the onslaught. Crossbows fired, ineffectually. Swords swatted and cut.

These did not deter the famished attack.

“Idiots! To the stream!”

I was disappointed to see Jafiz had escaped the rain of death.

But happily, many did not. 

Their bodies piled beneath the checha grove, torn apart by the swarm. A single Vak’ki stumbled down the bank, so many spearfires covering him, they could not be counted.

As he fell into the water, I could not determine if he was saving himself by washing away the sap, or succumbing.

Women fled from the carnage. I saw Zania, calm, face stony, but caught up in the fearful stampede. 

To his credit, Savak ran with her and the others. Protecting them, perhaps. Likely just as shocked.

It had been years since Sen’ki and Vak’ki warred with each other. Had Savak forgotten what winged warriors would bring to the fight?

Much screaming and shouting passed before the winged death-dealers were sated. Jafiz’ band stood in two groups. One on each side of the dead on the trail.

Tentatively, they converged.

“How many?” Jafiz demanded. “How many dead?”

“It’s—” One of the bandits’ face paled to green. “It’s hard to tell, commander.”

“Seven,” another spoke. “And not by happenstance.”

“What are you saying, Vokr?” Jafiz growled.

I pulled farther behind my sheltering trunk. In the bandit’s hand was one of the fire-hardened taps still tied to the end of a rope.

Jafiz took it from him. He looked up.

“Eight,” another spoke, wading into the stream. The man there lay beneath the slowly flowing current, unmoving. Red dyed the water.

“Take his crossbow, Rakkin, before the string becomes wet,” Jafiz ordered. 

“The prisoners—” Vokr started.

“Bring them here! Bring me the weak creatures.” Jafiz threw the strung tap away.

As I watched, Savak and the other herded the females back to the game trail. When Zania stood before Jafiz, my breath caught. Without command, my hand gripped the hilt of my nakav.

The leader’s yellow eyes searched those of his prisoners.

“You, Makv, and the newcomer. Take the vanguard. If someone lays traps for us, he’ll take the females first. All else, take the rear. Move out. Quickly.”

For a split second, Zania glanced my way. I move away from the trunk. Her eyes widened as they met mine.

I remembered the first time I saw her. The memory nearly made me lose myself. But as she tore her eyes away, I retreated behind cover.

Though she didn’t look at me, Zania nodded. It wasn’t to herself. It was to let me know that she approved of the hideous attack. Silently, I waited.

There were more traps to set.

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