Chapter Thirteen: Fragile

After a while of traveling down the long and winding corridor, we catch back up with Monrenth. He’s grinning ear to ear as he pats Elikel on the shoulder. “They’re completely undefended even! No cameras, no turrets, no guards. I scouted into the smaller tunnel on the other side of the corridor and it just seems to go on for a ways.”

“What’s undefended?” I ask curiously, echoing the sentiments of others.

Elikel is grinning the same as Monrenth. “You all will see soon enough. I want us to analyze them first, double check for defenses. Regardless, we need to be ready to move once we’ve handled it.”

“Eli, would we be better just setting fires? There’s nothing combustible here.” Monrenth asks as we’re all picking up the pace set by him and Elikel.

My yarl shakes his head. “No, we can’t risk it going out of control. Plus… we will want to savor this, my love. This could be the turning point we’ve been waiting for. It could be the blow that tips things in our favor, even as sure as our circumstances are.”

“This is going to be for Kalarai.” Monrenth sighs. “And Lestual, and Nurahn, and Alim Dyntarys… and all of our other losses.” He growls the last bit. I can sense the blood beginning to boil in my peers. They’re ready for this, for whatever Monrenth found. They’re ready for revenge,

The cave opens up in a hurry. We can make out the large corridor before we can see what’s in the room. The ceiling is probably fifty feet high or more. As we work our way up the hill, the goal finally comes into sight.

“Sweet Tanril’s hand.” Elikel utters in a stunned amusement.

As I, along with everyone else, begin to scan the room, my jaw drops. “Eli… Yarl… these are… eggs. You can’t seriously be thinking to…”

He cuts me off, his eyes glaring daggers in my direction. “Thinking to what? Slaughter them as they have us? Taking away from them their precious loves? Do not question me, boy. Think of what these creatures have taken from you! Because of them, we will never see Kala’s smile again, or touch his face, or hear his voice. Because of them, dozens others have had their loved ones stripped from them.”

With a fanatical edge, Elikel stands tall, his voice carrying throughout the room. “We will make them pay for taking our loved ones away from us! We will show them what it is like to suffer loss, to feel your beloved slipping away. We will make them pay! Now… scan the room. We need to ensure there are no rude surprises.”

Kenlyi looks across at me and I can sense the apprehension in his mind.

I… this is… I don’t know, Kenlyi… I say, appalled. I know it is a taboo, but I don’t dare voice my displeasure.

He’s your yarl, Janil. He’s the eldest Alim here, too. He has survived all these years because he understands what must be done. We… shouldn’t question that.

Kenlyi is right, of course. I… just swore myself to Eli, who am I to question him such a short time later? No. I will serve, I will carry out my yarl’s will.

After a while, Alim Gouhr calls out gleefully. “Alim Elikel, I am certain Monrenth is right. This room seems completely unprotected.”

A hush falls over the room and my blood runs cold.

Elikel grins and scans the room. All eyes are upon him. “Then let it begin.”

Without hesitation, Monrenth fires the first shot. The eggs, some seemingly more malleable than others, breaks into pieces and a pathetic, pained hiss can be heard from the creature. The second shot kills the insect.

After that, shots begin to ring out. Some take to using the stocks of their rifles as clubs, bashing the eggs open before shooting the creature inside. With each scream, I want to beg for Elikel to call off the slaughter.

I can’t bring myself to do it. With each awful hiss and scream, I can feel their scared minds desperately reaching out for peace, for comfort, for protection. I… can’t be the only one who senses this. I simply stand here, still, fighting back tears.

Do it, boy. Elikel whispers into my mind. I open my eyes and stare at the egg in front of me. It comes up to my waist and is nearly as wide as I am. I can tell that the shell would shatter easily.

Janil, this is my first order to you as my second. Think of Kala. He wouldn’t have hesitated, and he certainly would not have sympathized with them. Do it, Janil.

I take a deep breath and sigh. Yes, yarl.

I raise the rifle and bring the sturdy stock into the egg. As predicted, it shatters. Before me is a small, writhing creature, barely recognizable as Groyin. Its carapace is non-existent. The pitiful pale mass is covered in a thick ooze. It looks around, it’s mind clearly not capable of rational thought yet.

I pull the trigger and immediately begin to cry.

In the next moment, Elikel is spinning me around. A quick slap in the face puts my focus on him, and I instinctively growl.

“They’re monsters, Janil! No tears for the… things… that took Kala from us! No sympathy!” He slaps me again, harder. “Now do it again!” Elikel is screaming at me.

Once again, I strike an egg with the stock. The first hit cracked the shell, the second obliterated it, revealing another infantile Groyin. I pull the trigger again.

The next egg is much larger, yet I follow the same plan. I break the egg open with a few strikes with the butt of the gun. The larger Groyin revealed looks up at me, and I can see the unadulterated fear in its eyes, in its mind. I can almost feel it screaming for help. I pull the trigger. The first shot knocks the being over, but I can feel its mind screaming. It’s still alive and it’s mind is desperately flailing. The second shot ends its short existence.

I drop the rifle, crying again as I fall to my knees.

Strong arms cradle my head. “It’s over, Janil. That was the last of them.”

Hundreds… maybe thousands… of lives snuffed out in a matter of minutes. I can’t help but to sob.

“Kala…” is all I can say.

Elikel squeezes my head tight against him, one hand stroking my head. “You did good, boy. I’m proud of you.”

He’s… proud of me?

In spite of everything, he’s… actually proud of me? I can’t help but to smile.

It feels like my body is melting into his as he strokes my head, his fingers running through my hair. “I’m so proud of you, Janil. Kala would’ve been proud. Yeah. You did quite well.” He pauses for a moment.

I look up at him, needily.

He looks down upon me, smiling. “I love you, Janil. I’m proud of you.”