Reaver’s Rescue: Chapter Six


Only one place remained to take out the Vak’ki before the Northern Arena. A shallow canyon formed by the stream left flat, leaf-covered banks. Water had undermined the sandy soil leaving pits and ditches as deep as my waist. 

I prepped the one depression the brigands would have to cross. One by one, I sharpened the ends of thick twildi stalks. I embedded those in the bottom of the ditch. Then, harvesting more, I covered the stakes.

Vak’ki weighed a lot more than the women. Using myself as a test, I stepped on the stalks, checking the breaking point. A pole slightly thicker than my thumb would just support my weight. Collecting stalks of this size, I finished my work. 

The narrow spit of land between the canyon wall and the water would let two people walk side by side. My grid would easily support the females. It would briefly support the Vak’ki. Hopefully long enough to get several of them over the sharp sticks below. And then give way.

It was not a lethal trap, but the sharp sticks would maim as many outlaws standing on the grid. Knowing Jafiz, he would leave his wounded men behind to bleed out or eventually heal themselves.

Stepping back, I gave the pit traps a critical eye. It was not distinguishable from the rest of the bank.

With a leafy branch, I brushed away my own footprints. Twice, I nearly trapped myself, unable to see the covered grid. That was enough. I took to the trees above the canyon wall.

It would take them time to reach this point. 

I’d given the women my kill from the day before. Famished, I scanned the ground and the branches for game.

Kaqen roosted among the highest branches. They brought Savak to mind. 

I didn’t kid myself into thinking I’d taken out many of Jafiz’ horde. But when the time came, would Savak turn against his fellow Vak’ki? He seemed to hate them as much as me.

I stood a better chance with him at my side. Even if Vak’ki and Sen’ki were mortal enemies. 

Following rules had not served me well in the past. Perhaps this wasn’t such an unlikely partnership.

And Zania. I wondered. Would she stay out of harm’s way? I doubted it. Which meant protecting her while fighting. I would do it gladly.

Scouting along the river by air, I found patches of tall twildi. Their top, fuzzy flowers were falling apart in the late season.

These would show me when the Vak’ki approached. Marking their position along the banks, I hunted.

Today would provide no feast. Arsek sunning themselves on exposed branches were my only find. Beheading them, I dropped several into my pouch.

Beneath the fragrant leaves of silla plants, brorp grew. The shade-loving caps had a savory taste when cooked. 

Broula fruit grew along the disturbed game trails. Ricci gobbled these down to fuel their march south. Enough remained to harvest. It was not the greatest meal, but a meal it was.

All the while I hunted and gathered, the twildi remained still, their flowers intact.

From the sun’s position, Jafiz’ band should be near, yet I saw nor heard no sign of them.

Staying just above the canopy, I flew downstream. From various perches, I studied the bank. There were no footprints.

Surely, Jafiz’s scouts were no crafty woodsmen. 

Fear arose in the back of my mind. I dared not lose the tribe of women. They were my entrée back to the aerie.

I would gladly trade a return to my arrogant brethren for Zania’s safety. For some time, I’d lived without the Sen’ki, been exiled from the Aerie. But I was quickly becoming certain I could not live without Zania.

After flying halfway to the branching trail, I paused.

They hadn’t come this way at all. It was the clearest path to the Northern Arena. Something had gone wrong.

Still wishing to remain unseen, I backtracked. But, unfortunately, staying out of sight prolonged my flight. 

Eventually, I reached the sight of carnage.

The markeesh branch had done its work. Red-scaled warriors lay scattered.

Damage had been done to their heads, the branch sweeping over the shorter women. They’d been left in pools of their own blood.

Vak’ki must have moved on from here. A pair of boot tracks led upriver. Scouts. But after a few lengths, I lost their spoor.

Once the trap was sprung, Jafiz would know he was being hunted.

I never gave him enough credit. He had taken his rabble off the easy path.

But to where?

My breath came more quickly. Skin prickled with sweat. There was no sign.

The easiest way to locate them would be waiting until dark. From above, I would be unseen. Fires would glow brightly.

No. I could not wait that long. I could not leave Zania out of my sight for that long.

Doubling back, I examined their tracks. Around the fallen, uncountable footprints, I moved chaotically. The Vak’ki were in an understandable panic. Nevertheless, I could make out some small, delicate prints among them.

I paused, thinking. The band had gone neither up, nor downstream. So that left either the west or east bank. 

Scanning the opposite bank, I saw no trail. Only the narrow path led to the recci’s game trail on this side. Walking downstream, I came to it.

No footprints returned into the bush.


Twisted around a low branch, I caught a flash of color. Yellow and blue. A strip of hargeisa hide.

I knelt. Faint drag marks crossed the ground. They had swept behind them to hide their passage. Just as I had at the pit trap.

Had they headed back to the large game trail? That would send them away from the Arena. 

I sprang into the air.

Jafiz had stopped believing Zania.

I needed to reach her before he could enact revenge.

The flight from the stream to the game track was short. From my vantage, I saw their footprints now. Jafiz had gained some military skill in the past day. His brigands and the women walked in single file. He was hiding his numbers.

A little late for that my red-assed friend.

Launching myself, I moved beyond the broken canopy above the trail. Eventually I would come up on the band of brigands. Unseen would be best.

Then directly below, in the thick forest, a red face flashed through a gap in the leaves.

Darting away, I found a quick landing spot. I listened. If the Vak’ki had seen me, he did not raise the alarm. 

Yet I heard crunching through the loam, the treefall. Low voices issued. As did a constant sound of chopping.

The brigands had left the game trail, hacking their way through the deep woods.


Stealthily, I followed. From branch to branch, always just out of sight. Their progress was slow. Vak’ki swords were not made for bushwhacking.

Among the deep, complaining grunts, I made out a more musical sound. The females were still among them.

I would not put it past Jafiz to force the women to blaze the trail. It would be lazy. Slower. The brigand way.

It gave me reason to fly ahead of the band. Swerving far out of sight, I circled back. 

The sight below was strange.

“Hold!” Jafiz called, raising his hand.

In front of him, Makiv and Savak swiped sweat from their brows. Their swords cut a path. Right behind them stood Jafiz and the gathered women. Rakkin and Vokr stood at attention. Their weapons were at the ready.

Jafiz grabbed Zania by the arm.

It took iron will not to drop on him and beat the scaly red leader to pulp.

He let her go. 

“More to the west,” he pointed at the hackers. Then Jafiz grabbed Nandita’s wrist.

Savak took a half step toward the leader. His sword lifted slightly, his head down. I saw heat in his eyes.

But Jafiz pushed her aside. “Yes. More to the west. Keep going.”

With a last dark look, Savak turned to hack away at the dry vines and branches with Makiv.

I had seen Jafiz looking at the lighted bracelets. Even from here, I noticed the flash of yellow lights.

Pointing more to the west?

Trashing and hissing came from ahead. Savak’s sword was a silver blur. With a deft flick, he cut the fanged head of an arsek. Flipping the venom-dripping head into the trees, he speared the long, wriggling body. Savak dropped it in his carry bag.

It looked like arsek was on the menu for everyone.

Jafiz frowned, then stepped back from the trail breakers. Grabbing the arm of one of the women, he moved farther to the rear.

“Vokr, Rakkin, move these creatures to the rear. I won’t lose one to arsek-bite before we uncover our treasure.”

His men pushed and shoved the women along the line of bandits until they were last in line. I noted that Jafiz joined them there.

Not an arsek-lover, that Jafiz.

My move was to outflank them, so silently, I took to the sky. But, not knowing where they were heading, I could only scout ahead a short distance and wait.

Wet, gray clouds moved in. They would block the sun before nightfall. A freezing wind pushed ahead of them. This forest was soon to be even more treacherous.

In fits and starts, I stayed ahead of the brigands. 

Pieces of their conversation came to me. The foreign tongue of the women, the sweeter music of Zania’s voice, kept me rooted. 

Vak’ki, the ones out of Jafiz’ earshot, muttered complaints about arsek, uneven ground, doubts about treasure.

This grungy bunch had become outlaws to escape the discipline of their forest Fort. I wondered how long Jafiz could keep them together. I didn’t think he could keep them under his boot much longer with the oncoming weather.

My stalking became tedious. The ruddy henchmen had no idea of my presence, despite my killing several of their number. Blunt weapons, they were. 

Yet a mile away, I spotted a clearing. I flew to it, frigid wind buffeting me, shaking the flora below. A lake appeared, a ribbon of shore surrounding rocky cliffs to the east. The iron surface churned in the wind.

It was the only place around to set up camp. Not even the determined Jafiz would pass up a site with water and sheltering rocks.

Diving, I skimmed the surface. Waves sprayed as I passed. Large, black fish gathered in schools where twildi grew in the shallows. A forest of broad-leafed trees marched down the opposite shore.

Luckily, I found a hollow drikka almost on the water. It retained many of its yellowed leaves. Looking it over, I found it a suitable shelter from the wind.

In the hollow, a well-feathered nest had been abandoned by a southern-bound animal. Dry, relatively warm, I set my pouch on the uneven floor. The disassembled nest made for a thin bed.

If only I could steal Zania away for the night…

I stopped that train of thought. Zania was the only one Jafiz paid attention to. There was no taking her away from the others.

Why was that thought on my mind anyway?

It left me with a strange vibration that ran through my body. 

I set up my observation post, trying to ignore the sensation. But it stayed with me, along with thoughts of having Zania to myself.

On the ground, I built a small fire, trusting the billowing wind to hide the smoke, then I skinned the arsek, cutting them into pieces as long as my finger. On a sturdy stick, I skewered a piece of arsek, then a couple caps of brorp, and repeated the process until they all went over the flames.

Soaking drikka leaves in the lake, I prepared the broula for steaming.

As I worked, the wind whipped my tiny blaze. Hard, stinging rain nearly forced me into the hollow. But soon, the sleet became softer white flakes. 

The first snow of the season covered the lakeshore. It would be a truly miserable night for the brigands.

I continued at my task, trying to do my best to ensure it wasn’t as miserable for the women.

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