Reaver’s Rescue: Chapter Five


“Sometimes I wonder why I’ve lost my taste for battle,” Savak said. “And then I encountered something like that. Those Sen’ki…” His face was pale, hands shaking.

It was horrible. The worst thing I’d ever seen. And yet the brigands had deserved it, that attack and worse. I only had to look at the other girls to justify my opinion.

“He’s alone,” I whispered. “He has to take drastic measures.”

“You approve?” Savak made a distasteful face.

“Until all of them are dead,” I nodded. “Yeah.”

Even though I knew I’d have nightmares for a long time, I had to free myself and the others. 

Although we women were the aliens here, I recognized something in the eyes of Jafiz.

The edge of madness. He was pressed ever closer to the precipice by anger. 

I had seen it before, but nothing as bad as this. Jafiz liked hurting. Hurting was equally as important as his insane plan to steal our treasure.

We could not let him keep us.

While the attack had been more violent, more sickening than I would have ever believed, Arctur appeared above, steadying my nerves. I had called him an angel, and that was true enough.

Avenging angel, and guardian. My heart leapt at the vision even as I feared his discovery.

I needed to thank him, needed just to be close. Even for a moment. No one had ever unleashed such power to protect me. There was no way anyone else ever could.

“Your heart is the coldest I’ve ever known,” Savak said. “Colder than even your feathered protector.”

I lifted my chin. “That’s because his heart is fire. His heart is reprisal.”

“There’s no talking to you.” Savak moved away.

Behind me, walking with us as protection, cowards! The brigands discussed their unknown opponent.

Their voices were hushed, but now they moved much more quietly.

“It came from the trees. But we are many marches from the Ken’ki’s jungle territory,” one said.

“That was a Sen’ki trap,” another said. “They always attack from above.”

Murmured agreement followed and my gut clenched, nervous that they had pinned down Arctur’s clan so quickly.

“Why here? This forest is far from their mountain realm.”

“Do we know it was set for us? It could have been there for decades, waiting to be sprung.”

“From the old days,” another agreed.

“Until we know different,” Jafiz’ growl rose above the low voices, “we behave as if we are under attack. You at the vanguard. Double time. Move out. I want two volunteers to scout.”

The other man at the front prodded us with his sword. “Faster,” he growled.

“Why is he poking us?” Nandita cried.

“I think they’re scared,” I said.

“Then feed us!” Bree shouted at the devil. “Give us something to wear on our feet!”

“Stop your yammering or I’ll fill your mouth with my sword,” the devil raged at her.

Eyes hot and wet, she turned away and walked faster.

“C’mon, ya’ll. I ain’t fixing to die here. None of us are. We’ll get away.”

“How?” Bree said. Her voice was on the edge of a sob. She let her anger cover her fear.

I couldn’t tell them we had an ally walking beside us or a guardian angel in the skies above.

“I ain’t figured it—” I started.

Then the flat of a sword hit me in the cheek. It was just a tap, but my temper was up. 

Teeth bared, I whirled on Savak.

“Step it up, all of you, before Jafiz starts thinking he doesn’t need so many females,” he said darkly.

“Listen to the devil,” Salome said. “Don’t give them a reason.”

“Exactly,” I said, frowning at Savak. 

He might be trying to protect us, but he didn’t need to be a complete jerk.

We walked on through the woods. Since the first trap went off without warning, I had no idea what to look out for. 

Would the girls and I walk headlong into another one of Arctur’s traps? 

Somehow, I knew he was smarter than that. Smarter than Jafiz, that was for sure. 

More than that, I knew he would save me, save us. 

No matter what the cost.

“How long do you expect us to keep this up?” Nandita demanded, facing Savak.

He didn’t understand her. He couldn’t, yet it seemed a sorrow crossed his face. I hadn’t seen sympathy from these red, scaly demons, and I hardly recognized it.

“I’m sorry, dark eyes. Please try to hang on.”

Suspicion crossed Nandita’s face. Was Savak truly different from the others?

But there was no way for her to answer, and she turned away.

I watched her walk ahead of me. When we had danced together, I was envious of her. The glossy black hair and the darkest eyes beneath long lashes. Now, she was skin and bones, her hair matted, her fingers skeletal.

Did I look any better? I’d been the first captured. First captured, first starved, I thought. Were my own thoughts even making sense? Was that why I felt drawn toward the angel? He didn’t look at me with pity. There was something else in his eyes.

Something I couldn’t bear to think about right now.

We walked on and on. The sun slanted through the canopy, its red light turning bloody. My feet hurt, the muscles of my legs cramping. Each step felt dangerously close to a collapse.

The devils slowed their pace when shadows pooled beyond vision—at least human vision. I wondered if it was too dark for even their glowing yellow orbs to see carefully laid traps.

Soon after, they called a halt. Tattered tents hauled from the beach were pitched and fires started. No one put up a tent for us women or lit a fire. We would be taken care of last, if at all.

Exhausted, I tried to find a place to sit. There was nothing but cold, damp ground. Ready to bawl my eyes out, I moved away from the group. I didn’t want them to see my spirits so low.

Then, a dull, drum-like sound came from a distance. From above. It could only be one thing. Carefully, checking to see if any of the devils noticed, I moved into the trees beyond the trail.


The deep voice vibrated me like a tuning fork and he stepped from the darkness, his hands moving to my arms.

“You’ve walked so far. Nearly into my second trap. I thought I should warn you.”

I nodded. It took a moment to find my voice. “Jafiz has put the women in front.”

“I suspected he would. Don’t worry. Here.”

He took his bag from his shoulder. From this he took bundles of fur. Even as he did, an aroma made my stomach cry out. “Food?”

“Hargeisa, fat and plump, with some salt. Take the furs. You need to keep warm,” he said.

It took all I had to keep from breaking down in gratitude. “We’re all so hungry, Arctur. So cold.”

“Pass this among your people,” he said, “If you can do it without being seen. I will bring more when I can.”

Without thinking, I threw myself into his arms. He accepted me as if it were only natural. “I’ll try.”

“Make sure you eat as well. The Northern Arena is still distant.” His arms wrapped around me tighter until I felt his warmth even chilled to the bone.

“I just want this to be over,” I said against his chest. The idea that I was throwing myself at a stranger didn’t occur. I needed his closeness. His smell was spicy, skin nearly hot despite the dropping temperature.

“It won’t be long. Once the Vak’ki enter the dome, their time is done,” he said. 

“I don’t know if we can last that long,” I said. “I try to look tough, but I’m not a tough girl, Arctur.”

His arms hugged me harder. “You are tougher than most Sen’ki, Zania.”

“Only because you make me stronger,” I admitted.

“Take my strength. I will find more. I will give you all I can.”

Twigs snapped, leaves rustled. In an instant, he pulled me deeper into the forest. We stood in silence. A shadow appeared, a crossbow resting on a shoulder. Still and silent, we waited for the devil to pass.

“I can’t be seen,” Arctur whispered. “You can’t be seen with those supplies. Hurry back to your tribe. I will be watching.”

With the whipping of wind and deep flapping, he was gone.

“No. Please stay…” I knew he couldn’t. Nor could I stay away from the girls. Looking in all directions, I hurried back.

A small fire blazed. The devils had left a few big bones, a rock to break them so we could scrounge a meager meal on the marrow.

Cathy and Bree sat on either side of the fire, trying to roast one of the bones. Salome lay on the ground, arms covering her head. Neve tried to comfort her. Talia stood with Nandita, talking in a low voice.

“Look what I found,” I whispered. 

They turned toward me as one. Eyes locked on the furs. In the firelight, I saw the blue and yellow stripes of the deep, soft pelts. No one spoke.

“It’s meat. And furs. Bree, you can take the furs to wrap around your feet. C’mon, take the meat before the devils see us.”

Bree stepped forward, but stopped short. “Where did you get it?”

“I…” I received it from our guardian angel. “I found it. It won’t be missed. Dig in. Bree, take the pelts.”

No one needed a reason. They just wanted to eat. We each took a larger portion of meat than we’d eaten in weeks. And salt! When had I last tasted salt? It was cold, a little greasy, and the best thing I ever ate.

There were three of the bright pelts. While all our “shoes” were makeshift, Bree practically walked barefoot. She threw her arms around me. 

“I don’t care how you got this. Thank you so much. You always say we’ll get out of this…”

Nandita sighed. “Now you’re starting to believe it. But don’t get too grateful. None of you. We’re in this horrible situation together. That’s how we get out of it. You can’t put it all on Zania.”

There was a low murmur, hopefully of agreement. We all moved closer to the fire. Eventually, the heavy bones cracked. Like jackals, we greedily ate the marrow as well. 

For the first time in a long time, I slept soundly. But at sunrise, I remembered Arctur’s warning. There was another trap ahead. I debated clueing the other girls in. But if they acted like they knew something was coming…

Hoping they would forgive me, I kept silent. Soon enough, we were prodded into the chill morning. Fog gathered in the treetops. My hair was wet, and my torn, shredded clothing as well. I hoped for enough sunlight to warm me and dry me off.

At least my legs didn’t shake beneath me as the devils forced us to the front of the march. 

It happened almost at once. Jafiz called a halt as the game trail angled to the west. He stalked over to me, Rakkin and Vokr at his back, their swords drawn.

“Which way?” Jafiz grabbed my wrist, shaking me. 

I kept my eyes away from the trees. Even that might have given our guardian away. 

Mimicking writing with my other hand, the devils exchanged looks.

“What does it want?” Rakkin asked.

“Like she wants to write something? That’s absurd,” Vokr said.

Jafiz looked at my hand. “No. Not writing. Drawing.”

Vokr frowned. “A map?”

Rakkin cleared a spot in the dirt with his boot. “This I have to see.”

Trying to remember my night flight with Arctur, I found a twig and scrawled in the soil. The stream moved away from the Northern Arena, and I drew that first. Then the city. Finally, the Arena itself. I circled this.

Jafiz studied it. “Beyond the forest, it looks like. On the edge of the waste.”

“It could be a trick,” Vokr said.

Rakkin barked out a laugh. “These fragile things? Trick us?”

“This must be the stream,” Jafiz said. “I didn’t realize we were coming near it again.”

“That should tell us if she’s lying,” Vokr reasoned. “If we don’t come across the stream, we kill one of her fellow creatures.”

I tried not to let on how much I understood. Before my face could give me away, Nandita spoke up. “What are you telling them, Zania?”

“Hopefully what they want to hear,” I started.

Jafiz backhanded me and I tasted blood as I fell over on my face. Vokr started for Nandita.

“Never mind. Let’s move. Eventually these things will learn their place.” Jafiz drew his sword and pointed down the smaller game trail. “Move these creatures out. Makiv and you.

Jafiz still didn’t know Savak’s name, I noted. The two of them pushed us down the narrower track. Soon, we were on the march again.

We arrived at the stream a short time after. Jafiz folded his arms, looking upstream. “Maybe they learned their place.”

“Should we take a break, Jafiz? Fill our skins?” Rakkin said.

“What for? We’re following a stream, you idiot. Keep moving. We must be close. I can’t wait to be shut of these feeble beings.” Jafiz nodded at Savak and Makiv. Savak pushed my shoulder. But not too hard.

Tall, bushy trees grew along the banks, but there was room to walk. We moved upstream, our minders right at our backs.

I didn’t know who tripped it. All I heard was a heavy rush of air. Wind blew back my hair. And then the screams.

Whirling around, I saw the devils behind us as their knees sagged and weapons dropped from their hands.

“Get down!” Jafiz shouted. “Get down!”

A branch rebounded back toward us, covered with dagger-like thorns.

Covered with blood.

Five of the devils staggered. I saw that the closest one had lost the top of his skull. Another had a mass of blood where his face had been. Then, as one, they fell face first to the stream bank.

The bobbing branch was thicker around than my leg. It was the simplest trap ever—a branch drawn back, and released. The thorns were so sharp, so many—

I tried not to be sick. 

The saw-like branch had passed just over our heads.

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