Janil jumps out of my arms as I groggily look around, trying to get my bearings. Just a second later, I’m aware of all of the screams and shouting. The Groyin are attacking again.
“Kala, get up! They’ve launched another attack!” I hear my yarl tell me. Janil reaches a hand down to me and helps me up to my feet. I nod in thanks to him and turn to my dominus.
“We will just have to beat them back again then, Elikel. If they wish to throw more lives at us, then so be it. Though, I am growing tired of insect for dinner!” I say with a grin as Janil hands me a rifle.
“Don’t let arrogance be your undoing, Kala. They may be bugs, but they are fierce combatants. We have to repel this attack. I think it’s about time we realize this location is doing us more harm than good. We push them back, then make for the mountains to the west.” Elikel points in that direction.
As ground rumbles, my eyes widen. “Janil, go to the other side of the facility and tell them that Alir Kalarai requests a group of men to watch the sealed tunnels. I’ve a feeling they’re trying to break through.”
Debris begins to fall from the high ceiling above us as the building seems to shake. Janil nods and takes off in a sprint. Elikel turns to Monrenth. “It’s dangerous, but I need you to go up to the second level. Loop around the second level catwalk to the outside and try to see where the fire is coming from. If it’s artillery, then we most assuredly need to abandon this camp. Otherwise, we’ll stage a counterattack with the launchers and what remaining ammunition we have left. Understood?”
“Yes, Yarl.” Monrenth nods and takes off, rifle in hand. Honestly, Monrenth going out like that scares me. We can’t afford to lose any more men, and I know losing Monrenth would shatter Elikel. Still, Monrenth is well suited for the task.
“Where do you want me, Yarl?” I ask plainly, checking the rifle over.
“With me, of course. We will go along with Alim Keldin’s men and ensure this front is clear. We’ll split our forces as necessary, but we must clear this end so that we can make sure that the rest of our men have free path to the western mountains, if necessary.” Elikel closes his eyes and I can sense he’s summoning our forces.
Telepathy is… not commonly used among our kind. We use it, of course, as a tool to speak with alien species. We rarely speak to our own kind with it. It’s a necessary tool across long distances, but we all greatly prefer speech. We are all capable of it, but only Alims use it routinely. If lessers are spoken to with telepathy, they’re free to respond, but it is normally considered a tool for the superiors. We will use it tactically as well, as Elikel is now.
Moments later, he gives me a firm nod as Alim Keldin and his men hurriedly approaching. Finally, as Elikel gives the signal to charge, we rush out the gate, half of us filing out to the left, the other to the right.
We take our places behind barricades that we’ve erected and begin firing. The Groyin are approaching by air and on the ground, raining spikes from above. For all the rumbling we felt earlier, they seem to not be approaching from the ground. We open fire, concentrating on the approaching throngs of bugs, knowing that the aerial approach is better left to Monrenth and the teams with launchers.
I feel Monrenth in my mind… he’s preparing to address all of us.
No signs yet of artillery barrage, but I’ve seen a few break out of their flight groups and dive straight down into the building. I think they’re prepared to destroy the facility if necessary. I recommend saving the launchers for heavier assaults. If we can get fire teams up on these catwalks, we can provide cover from above.
Alimari Tamil, we need three men to each side of the catwalks. We need all sides secured from the top. Once the pack is thinned, we’ll begin the evacuation to the mountains. Even as we fight for our lives, Elikel’s presence is a calming one.
I scan the catwalks. Each side of the catwalk has a pair of ladders that we’ve hastily erected to give extra firing lanes. Unfortunately, they’re not the sturdiest, but they’ll do in a pinch. I look up and see Monrenth taking aim above us, his automatic rifle spraying short bursts, causing Groyin to plummet from the sky.
The firefight seems to drag on in a stalemate for nearly twenty minutes before disaster strikes.
“Elikel! Part of the the northern catwalk has been collapsed! Three of Tamil’s men are injured!” Someone shouts from across the way. The entrances to the facility are lined up to the east and west, with the north and south facings only lightly defended.
“Yarl, I’m going to take the quick way down and see if I can handle the injured.” Monrenth calls out.
“Do it! Kalarai, go across and assist him. I’m low on ammunition. I’m grabbing another rifle, then I’ll climb up top and check out the rest of the catwalk on that side. I’ll provide cover fire as I can.” My yarl barks out the orders firmly and I’m on the move.
In moments like this, battle seems truly chaotic. For all that we love to plan and organize our defenses, we can’t prepare for everything. All it takes is one thing going haywire and we have to come up with new plans on the fly.
Monrenth slides down the ladder and we’re sprinting to the north facing. The three man fire team is laying under a pile of metal debris. The two of us begin throwing away the debris, mostly pipes and metal grates that comprised the catwalk. It takes a few minutes, but we manage to free the trapped men.
I look around and I’m surprised to find that the north facing is fairly clear. I turn my attention to Monrenth. “Alir, brother, take them inside. I’m going to have a look around, see if I can figure out why it collapsed. I don’t see any signs of fire.”
“Are you sure, Kala? We should take them together…” His concern warms me, but it’s unnecessary.
“I’m sure. There’s enough debris here I can take cover if needed. Yarl will be watching over me in a short while. I need to figure out if these collapsed under weight or if they were damaged. Trust me, Monrenth; don’t make me pull seniority.” I cross my arms firmly.
He nods. “Yes, brother. Be safe.” A few moments later, he is helping the three men make their way back to the entrance of the facility.
I begin studying the collapsed sections, trying to see what caused the collapse. I can’t find any evidence of Groyin attack or signs of structural fatigue. Then something catches my eye. There’s a hollowed out section of ground where one of the bases for the scaffolding would have been. It dawns on me that the Groyin had collapsed the scaffolding by burrowing underneath it.
Panicked, I look around, watching the ground as I do. I feel a rumble off in one direction as one of the more advanced bugs emerges. This is the closest I’ve been to a live Groyin and it seems as if the world as come to a standstill.
This one is eight-limbed. Four legs, low to the ground, are spread around a large base and torso. It has two primary arms with articulate hands and delicate fingers that bear small claws. Underneath the primary limbs are two sorts of vestigial limbs, no longer useful as hands. Instead, the Groyin use these limbs as close range weapons. The being’s face has a set of glowing yellow eyes that are staring me down. The Groyin’s entire body is covered in thick chitinous scales.
I realize that my best chance now is to run. I’d never get an accurate shot off quick enough.
I turn and start to run, but I’m halted immediately.
I gasp as one of the Groyin’s chitinous arms pierces my back and through my belly. I look down, scared to death seeing the brown talon twisting as it withdraws. There’s a brief flash of pain before it feels as if my entire body has gone numb. The Groyin’s primary arms catch me as I fall backwards, and to my surprise, it gently lowers me to the ground.
I’m sorry. Your kind has left us no choice but to defend ourselves. We… do not enjoy this. I… had hoped we could eventually cease this conflict. Please, forgive me for what I’ve done.
The bug… apologizes?
I… don’t understand. Is this really happening?
Thick red blood stains the ground around me. The Groyin closes its eyes for a moment, clearly in a moment of reflection.
The pain slowly begins to return, not at the wound, but higher up into my chest. I know it’s not going to be long now. I… desperately want to be angry at this creature, yet in this moment, I can’t muster the hate. We would’ve done the same thing, wouldn’t we? We would’ve fought tooth and nail, so why should I judge this being now? It opens its eyes and looks at me with an expression of sadness. Forgive me, Camfurdian.
I give a small nod as my hands begin to tremble. I forgive you, Groyin.
Did… did we do the right thing? Are we? I cough, spitting up a thick gob of blood as I do.
Did Elikel lead us truly? Of course he did. He’s led us the only way he knows, I’m sure. Is our way truly… right? I know these thoughts are rank heresy to our kind, but in these moments I wonder.
Forgive me and my kind, Groyin. We… only follow the ways we’ve always known. I’m sorry for the havoc we’ve wrought.
I forgive you, and I hope we can forgive your kind someday.
Any self-respecting Camfurdian would slit my throat for this… but still, this feels right in this moment. What matters now in these last moments except peace? What would vengeance and hate serve? Nothing. I could reach out bitterly for the being who has bested me, but for what? It may make me weak, but I would rather die like this.
I don’t want my brethren to suffer this fate… and if other Groyin are as honorable as this one is… I do not wish them to suffer either.
Groyin, this is important. Pay attention and tell your hive this. You remember where you found us the first time? The approach we were on? Retrace our steps. That leads toward Aevocar space. They… are a peaceful race, mediators, but they’re technologically advanced. They’re respected enough by my kind that we’ve entered an alliance with them. Seek them out and they can help end this war.
The Groyin nods to me one final time, but then I see a spray of brown ichor as it’s eyes widen. Then another. And another.
It falls next to me, motionless, lifeless, dead. Soon, I will join it in the next life. Perhaps… perhaps it will be there waiting for me.
“Kala!” I hear Elikel’s voice and a moment later, he’s cradling me in his arms. I… cry.
“Eli… I’m sorry.” I gasp for air. No matter how hard I try to breath, I can’t get enough air.
“No, Kala. You did your part. I… shouldn’t have sent you like that. My precious Kala…” He touches my cheek, tracing firmly with a claw as always. I allow my tense body to relax in his arms.
“I hope I served you well, Yarl…”
“Of course you did, my love.” For the first time that I can recall, I see tears welling in his lower eyes. “Kala, you were my first chosen, my beloved, every bit as much my mate as my wife. Forgive me, but I can’t let you suffer. You deserve an honorable death, Kala.” His face hardens and I nod, knowing what is to come.
“I’d rather it be by your hand than anything else. I love you, Elikel.” I swallow a gob of blood and immediately hack it back up. He wipes my face off.
“And I love you, Kalarai.” Elikel presses his lips against mine as his strong hand wraps around my throat. As he kisses me, he begins to squeeze.
Locked in a final kiss with the man I’ve sworn my life to… yes. This is how I will die. This is how he’ll remember me. I struggle for breath against his kiss and his firm hand locked around my throat. I wrap my trembling arms around him with the last of my strength, clinging tight to him to keep from fighting. His grip tightens and I cough.
He pulls away, my blood covering his lips. With his free hand, he touches my cheek one more time. “Kala… goodbye, my love.”
I can’t keep my eyes open anymore.
I… hope I pleased him.