Chapter Fifteen: The Other Cheek

Groggily, I look around, realizing my predicament. My hands and feet are bound in some kind of thick, hard organic substance. The room is black, yet I can make out the outline of a large Groyin.

We recognize you.

I feel the Groyin before me whispering into my mind. I squirm, trying hard to work out of the substance.

Quiet! Stay out of my mind!

The Groyin comes face to face with me, its head easily twice the size of mine, its unusual eyes staring seemingly into all four of my own. Kalarai’s last thoughts were of you, hoping he could spare your life somehow.

My beloved Kalarai? Damn them for abusing his name!

With all of my might, focusing the sudden burst of anger, I try to push through the thick substance. My hand breaks free and I swing toward the creature’s face. It catches my hand effortlessly.

I brace myself for the pain. To my surprise, it doesn’t retaliate.

Your Master wanted peace between our kinds. We would not insult his dying gesture by harming someone he loved so dearly. We, unlike you outsiders, are not savages. The monster releases my hand.

What the fuck are you talking about?! He was gravely wounded by one of your kind! Don’t you dare tell me that he turned his back out of cowardice!

What… could this thing be playing at?! I… just have to get out of here. I need to find my yarl. I need Elikel.

That was precisely what he was worried about. He was scared that his own kind would brand him a coward for wanting peace in his final moments. He wore his emotions out in the open and one of my kind felt it all because he didn’t hide it. He wanted peace. I sense the being backing away and I start to claw at the substance restraining my other hand still, ignoring the creature’s voice resonating in my mind as best as I can.

What… if it’s telling the truth?

Finally, my second hand is free. I hunch down and start clawing at the substance on my feet now. I hear the sound of a heavy switch being thrown and my eyes are blinded for a moment as light pours into the small room from a new opening.

The Groyin turns back to me now. I’ll help you with that, Janil.

I look up at the creature, stunned.

I told you, I’m not going to hurt you. We’ve decided to take Kalarai’s final thoughts on faith… and to that end, we need your help. The being approaches me, gently reaching a set of foreclaws down, scraping away the substance.

Now free, I find myself even more paralyzed than when I started.

How… did you know my name? I finally muster.

Your name, your mind, your image was at the front of his mind, you and Elikel. Janil, he told us that we could find some way to broker peace if we sought out the Aevocar. Who are the Aevocar?

My eyes widen and I realize that the only way they would know about the Aevocar is if this Groyin is telling the truth. Kalarai was trying to find some semblance of peace in the end.

They… are one of the other intelligent races we’ve encountered. We actually worked out a non-aggression pact with them. Kala… wanted to bring them in to advocate for the Groyin, didn’t he?

Yes. He said they are mediators, and a peaceful people. We’re currently trying to track them down, but our long range scanning equipment isn’t quite enough, neither are our propulsion systems. We can use the slingjets to propel us, but without having a firm understanding of exactly where to go, it is liable to be a deathtrap.

The Groyin looks at me and I can sense its desperation. My lower lip quivers as I think back to my actions prior to the ambush. Even though Eli told me I did good, I couldn’t help but to feel guilty. These beings just want to live… to thrive in peace.

My goodness… what have we done? What have I done?

“I… will help you, Groyin.” I will help you.

I break down and cry. Tears of shame and embarrassment rush down my face. I feel like a traitor. I… suppose… I probably am. Still, I swore myself to Kalarai because I knew I could trust him implicitly. I… won’t question his wishes.

Janil… your help will be vital. We can put an end to this pointless war, and perhaps even find a way to usher in an era of peaceful cooperation. Your master believed these Aevocar to be the key. We will get you to a ship and you can help us there.

The Groyin is… smiling? I can sense its satisfaction.

What about Elikel and the others? What happened to them?

We captured some of your kind, but when we recognized you? Well, you became the priority for contact. The Groyin approaches me and extends a clawed hand to me.

Nervously, I stare at the hand. After a moment, I take the Groyin’s hand. I’ll… help you. But tell me what’s become of my yarl. Where is Elikel?

Five of your kind were killed in the ambush. You and three others were captured, though two… The Groyin’s mood seems to drop.

Killed themselves? I ask sadly. Suicide is seen as an honorable death in the event of having been captured.

Yes. The other Camfurdian is about the same age as you perhaps. Maybe a little older. He has refused to respond to us. We know he hears us, but he’s keeping his mind quiet. It became a non-issue when we realized who you were. The creature turns to one side and motions to the exit.

Take me to him, please? And where are we? I slowly take a few steps forward and start to scan the room on the other side of the door.

Deep. That’s really all I can say that would be sufficient. Most of our bases are underground, and many are deeper that others. I hear the odd footsteps behind me and the cumbersome insect follows behind.

“Tanril’s hand…” My eyes widen as I see another clutch of eggs on the bottommost floor. Hundreds, or even thousands of Groyin eggs, of all sizes and colors, litter the lower level. I… think back to firing on the eggs at Elikel’s command. I wince and try to take my mind off of it.

My eyes pan upward. This giant corridor is akin to the one before, but so much larger in scale. There are four levels in this massive hall, each seemingly with different purposes. The uppermost level, the one we’re on, seems to be some sort of technology center. Computers are built into the walls and attached to support columns. There is activity everywhere.

I look back at the Groyin, my captor. This is… incredible. We haven’t seen anything like this.

This is one of our nests. One of the lower queens guides us here. Our primary hatching ground for this planet is here. You’ve… already seen the second.

I wince as my mind goes back to that room with Elikel. I can still hear the pathetic screams and wails of the Groyin young. They never had a chance.

The Groyin says something to me in their native tongue, a series of hisses separating it in the middle. There is clear diction, but without any sort of means of reference, I have no idea what it’s saying.

You were there. Does your kind truly hold no value for others? Is it because we are so different than your kind? Or is slaughtering innocents and the unborn the norm for your kind?

I can feel the weight of the words, the thoughts crushing me like the heaviest of burdens. I know what went through Elikel’s mind. Kalarai did. I sigh and look at my captor, tears starting to fill my eyes. Eli… my yarl, he was possessed by vengeance. He wanted to make your kind pay, caring nothing for the particulars. He just wanted you to suffer.

Finally, the tears come, flowing like a river. Flowing like the stream of blood and ooze from the hatching chamber that we slaughtered.

I’m so sorry. My goodness, I’m sorry. It was inexcusable. Disgusting, even. I bury my head in my hands, trying to hide my shame.

I nearly jump out of my skin when I feel a weight around me. The Groyin has taken me in its arms, even its less developed foreclaws wrapping around me. I sob, the uncontrollable tears causing me to cough pathetically.

We can feel the remorse that you have. It tells me, but I can’t decide if it’s trying to be reassuring somehow.

I was just doing what Eli told me to do… I continue to cry, my knees swaying. The Groyin continues to hold me close.

Then as your master did… seek to atone. Make peace. With your help, we can put an end to this nightmare. The being extends its arms, putting some space between us.

I look up at the Groyin helplessly. Finally, I nod. I’ll do anything I can to atone.