Chapter Twelve: Forward

I thought I’d be with Kalarai forever. I know my body is forever marked with his tattoos, telling that I was his before all else, but I never thought I wouldn’t be by his side. Not like this, not this fast, especially. Yet, this is what I must deal with.

It has been five hours since we fled toward the caves. Thankfully, due to our cover, we didn’t lose any men. The handful of warriors injured in the earlier battles remained in the facility to cover our escape, but it is almost a certainty that they will die now. We will not forget their deaths and Elikel swears we will exact vengeance.

The mood in the party is pretty dark right now. We’re all painfully aware of our losses and these tunnels aren’t the most welcoming of locations. The caves are plenty big enough, but there isn’t as much light as we would prefer. They’re cool, but intensely humid. We’ve been fortunate that none of the tunnels have been too narrow to navigate.

These tunnels are surprisingly complex with many paths spiraling into other areas and such. In the extreme blackness, all four of our eyes work in conjunction to give us an idea of where to go. We can see faint shifts in the markings on the walls. Some of these tunnels were natural, some were clawed out, others, curiously enough, were dug out with machines.

“Once we clear these pests out, I’d love to known what the survey teams think of these tunnels.” Alimari Kenlyi says. Kenlyi, Alim Gouhr’s second, is probably the youngest person here aside from me. We have had a lot of time together, but… I have to admit, he’s caught my eye. He’s intelligent and thoughtful.

I hear a familiar chuckle. “They’ll have all the time they need, but I can tell you this much. There’s no worry of volatile gas, and there’s probably incredibly tough metals in the stone.” Monrenth, the experienced scout that he is, announces his observation. “You are definitely right, though. The geo teams will have fun with this.”

“Enough idle chatter. Monrenth, we’re coming up on that split where you didn’t scout past. You need to go check out that path. Any scout volunteers to take the other side or do I need to assign someone?” Elikel orders plainly.

“I will.” To my surprise, Senalin speaks up. I suppose he’s realized that my yarl was right in directing us how he did.

Monrenth takes a few steps forward and looks at each path. “I’m going this way.” He points, then looks back at the rest of us. Senalin starts marching towards the other path.

“Report your findings with telepathy. Start heading back if you find anything interesting and I will issue orders from there.” Elikel issues his orders and the scouts depart.

“Everyone else, stay alert. I want three men ready to follow through to each scout on my command. I want three people experienced with the radio beacons to start trying to connect back to the transmitter we hid at the old camp. We ought to establish a small, low power network of our own unless we can tap into something of theirs. Everyone else, now is a good time to check your weapons, get a bite to eat, or to go off in the corner for a piss.”

It doesn’t take long for Elikel’s orders to be carried out. Our numbers are few enough that people realize that they have got to simply do and not question. Elikel, being the eldest Alim and most experienced, is followed unhesitatingly given the circumstances.

Kenlyi approaches me, his body language submissive as his shoulders and head are low. “Janil?”

“Yes, sir?” I ask respectfully even in spite of his servile mannerisms.

“I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry for Kalarai’s death. I can’t imagine losing one’s dominus as young as either of us are. They… always just seem kind of invincible, don’t they?” He gently grabs my arm, trying to be reassuring.

I swallow hard. I’ve been fighting back the tears non-stop for a while now. “Yeah. It… never occurred to me that this could happen. All I can do now is move forward.”

“We’re all a family, one yula. Especially with everything like it is now. If you need anything, Janil, anything at all, I’m here, okay?” Our eyes lock and he squeezes my arm. My free arm reaches out and grabs his hand.

“Thank you, sir.” I smile, trying my best to appear warm and amicable in spite of the pain. Many have offered their condolences, but there’s something about him that seems so much more genuine.

Elikel wraps an arm around Kenlyi, seemingly out of nowhere. “Glad to see you two are still getting along. Look, I know this is rough on everyone, but this is what makes us unstoppable. We are Camfurdian. We are one family. Everything has gone awry, yet we are still standing, making strides even. We will have our revenge and it will taste as sweet as a fine wine.” My yarl releases Alimari Kenlyi.

Simultaneously, our grips on each other release and Kenlyi moves beside me to face Elikel. We both give submissive bows to my yarl.

Kenlyi rights himself and looks over at me. “We’ll catch up later, Janil.” His smile warms me inside. “I’ll give you two some time together.”

He gives another small bow, just to me this time, and leaves.

Elikel reaches out and touches my cheek. “How are you holding up, boy?”

I give a small nod. “As well as I can.” I lean into his firm touch and I can feel my heart skip a beat. “I… love you.”

He smiles and wraps his arms around me, pulling me close to him. “I love you, too, Janil. I promise, boy, we’ll avenge him, and I’ll make sure you never want for anything.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll always serve you, as I did Kala. I’ll stay by your side, by Monrenth as well, as my brother. I promise that I will always be the best man that I can be, so that I represent you and our yula with pride.” Gently squirming, I lower to my knees, looking up at him. “I’m yours, Elikel.”

“I figured we’d save our oaths for once things calmed down more.” He smirks as he looks down at me. “I think this counts, though.” With a soft laugh, he reaches down and touches my face again. “You’re mine, Janil. Alimari Janil. No longer a lesser, but now second to an Alim.” He pauses a bit to let the words sink in.

“I know I can’t take his place. He was unique, willful, different. I valued his insights, his unique observations. Still, he saw something in you, and I knew you had potential. I’m looking forward to growing our relationship, Janil.” He offers a hand to me and helps me get up to my feet.

“And I know I can’t replace him, nor would I never try. I simply hope that I can serve you as faithfully as he did.”

He leans in and kisses my lips gently. “I know you will. And… never forget that you’ll always serve him, as well. He will always be your first dominus.”

“I know. I hope I’ll always make him proud.”

Suddenly, his eyes widen and a devilish grin crosses his face. He then closes his eyes and I can tell he’s speaking telepathically to Monrenth.

A few moments later, Elikel stands a bit taller. “Radio group, finish up. Everyone, we’re heading out, down Monrenth’s path. One of the standby groups needs to rendezvous with Senalin, then come back to support us. Monrenth’s found… a treasure trove.”