“I love you too, sir.” I finally muster. Elikel helps me back into my feet.
“We still have work to do, though.” I give a small nod of acknowledgment as he starts to scan the room.
“Good job, everyone! This will go down as a day these bugs will never forget. We can’t relax, though. Check your weapons, reload as needed, then we need to go. We must keep moving. Until we can fortify a position, we must keep moving.” Eli gives an encouraging clap and people begin to scurry again, people rapidly checking the state of their weapons.
“I… only fired four shots. I think I’m okay.” I say softly.
“Those four shots, Janil, were enough to break you down, not your weapon. I know this wasn’t easy for you to do, Janil. Your kind heart is one of the things Kala saw in you. You aren’t like everyone else.” My yarl seems to be studying me.
I sigh and shake my head. “I’m doing the best that I can. Even with what they did to Kala? Eli, they were still only babies. Not even that. I… can’t hate them for that.”
Surprisingly calm, Elikel nods. “I know. I wouldn’t expect you to. That isn’t your nature. You followed orders, though. Even though it broke you down, you followed orders. Part of my duty as your dominus is to pick you up when you need it. You made me proud, Janil, because you did as you were told. The truth is? Kala might have been in the same position at your age. Over time, you’ll learn to trust me more, unhesitatingly. It won’t change your heart though. Like Kalarai, I need that perspective sometimes. Seeing you struggle, or Kala, puts things into a different perspective for me. It helps me make the best decision that I can.”
I… don’t even know where to begin with that. I… suppose he is right. Mine is a perspective far closer to Kalarai’s, and perhaps he does need me for that. I simply watch him, unsure how to proceed.
He reaches out and touches my cheek. “You’ve made me proud, boy. I know you’ll keep it up.”
“I… will do my best, sir.” My head lowers as I feel a bit embarrassed.
“Now reload. We’re moving shortly.” He pats me on the shoulder and begins to attend to his own rifle.
I eject the magazine and begin to reload it, one by one.
Moments later, we hear a few distant pops echoing down the tunnel that we came in. “Get to the others, hurry!”
I can hear the voice, but I can’t quite make out who it is. Hurriedly, everyone begins to ready their weapons. The room is desperately short of cover, though.
“Monrenth, you and two others, go check that other tunnel, make sure it can be an escape route. This could get dicey, men!”
“Yes, dominus.” Monrenth points at a couple of others and they take off in a hurry. We hear more gunfire from the first tunnel.
“Hold your position, men! If we go into that tunnel, we risk friendly fire, or slowing them down. We make our stand here until Monrenth returns!” Elikel shouts, then he looks down at me. “Stay by me, boy.”
“Yes, sir. Dominus…? If… something happens, I just want you to know that I’m proud to be yours.”
Eli smiles. “I’m proud you’re mine, and I’m thankful Kala brought us together. Don’t worry, boy. We’ll get out of this somehow.”
Senalin rushes into the main chamber, bleeding from his side. He is alone. “They poured in through that tunnel I scouted while we were on our way back, after I met up with the men you sent. I think there were still two on my tail. Elikel, they were furious.”
Senalin scans the room. Once it registers what he’s looking at, his mouth drops. “No fucking wonder! This… is what Monrenth found?”
“Yes. We know how quickly they spread, this will stem the tide.”
The entire corridor seems to rumble, the support pillars giving creaking moans as dirt begins to drop from above.
“Oh, shit. The top of this corridor… that’s… not the same stone that these tunnels are made of. That’s why the supports.” Senalin says, the fear in his voice quite clear.
“Stand ready men! Our enemy comes from above. Check your fire and prepare for close quarters combat if necessary! We fall back to Monrenth when he gives the command!”
A loud thud sends more dirt down below. Moments later, Groyin begin to pour in through a new hole in the ceiling, a beam of outside light shining down through. I hadn’t realized we had come this close to the surface.
We begin to open fire. It doesn’t take long for dead Groyin to begin falling to the ground below. Some people start to use the dead insect bodies as cover.
Time moves oddly in combat. Seconds, minutes, and hours become jumbled messes to be sorted later. It’s no different right now as the room floods with Groyin. Before I realize the extent of our situation, we’re fighting the enemy on multiple fronts. I try my best to keep by Elikel.
“Demo team! Set charges on these support pillars and at the mouth of where we came in. Set them to blow on my command only!” Elikel shouts and my eyes widen. He looks at me with calm eyes. “Don’t worry, boy. I told Monrenth we’re coming to him regardless!”
I nod and stand, quickly firing at a couple of the insects bursting through the holes in the ceiling. “I’ll be back, Janil!” Elikel says to me and I see him dashing across the room.
Kenlyi throws a small explosive device my way. “Here! Put it on that pillar over there. It’s already primed.”
I catch it, and hurry to the pillar. I’ve had very little in the lines of explosives training, but affixing them is pretty easy. I start to work on it,
“Watch out!” Kenlyi shouts, tackling me to the ground, sending my rifle tumbling to the ground. A Groyin claw narrowly misses us. He fires about five shots into the insect. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he’s thrown off of me by another Groyin.
The insect looks down at me, pinning me to the ground. It retches, and a thick, noxious substance spews from its mouth.
I close my eyes and try to turn away. The smell burns my nose, and I start to feel dizzy.