“Kenlyi?” Alim Gouhr asks. I sigh and look at Monrenth, shaking my head. I fight back tears.
“Just a moment, sir.” We can all hear a frustrated huff from Alimari Kenlyi.
Monrenth reaches for my hand. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him, Eli. They’ve done something to him.” My second whispers to me.
“I’m here, sir. This is as private as I can get here.” Kenlyi speaks up, finally.
Gouhr scowls. “What in the hell is going on?! What did they do to Alimari Janil?!”
I step back to the radio, anxiously waiting on Kenlyi. “They… asked him for help. They know about the Aevocar, and there’s no way they could’ve known, except that Kalarai told them. That… coaxed Janil into helping them, because it was the last wishes of his dominus.”
“That’s garbage! I can’t believe Kala would betray me.” I speak out of turn, interrupting Gouhr. He looks up at me and sighs.
“Janil couldn’t forgive you over the eggs, Alim Elikel. It… broke him.” The wavering in Kenlyi’s voice makes me wonder if it affected him, too. “He thought by carrying out Kalarai’s wishes for peace that he could atone for that.”
Gouhr sighs. “And what have you done?”
“I’ve… cooperated, sir, at least regarding finding the Aevocar. I’ve done nothing to directly harm our people, I swear.”
“You’re implying that Janil has.” Gouhr says plainly as he looks at me.
“Janil… no longer sees himself as Camfurdian.” The young man sighs.
“That’s what he meant when he said those things, ’my kind’ and stuff.” Monrenth chimes in, shaking his head.
“It’s far beyond that. Janil… is stronger telepathically.” He sighs again, clearly gathering his thoughts.
“I know. So was Kalarai for that matter.” I sigh. The truth is… I am as well. It took many years to… desensitize myself, to distance myself from my telepathic empathy. When I saw the same traits in Kala, I did my best to desensitize him as well. I’d hoped to do the same with Janil.
“Elikel, sir… Janil voluntarily submitted to the Groyin hive mind. He is… one of them. His body may look like us, but his mind belongs to the Groyin.”
My mouth slightly parts and my eyes widen. I can feel Gouhr’s gaze upon me. A moment later, Monrenth embraces me.
I… failed him.
I didn’t have enough time. I thought… bringing him here would help. The boy had all the potential in the world, and my Kalarai knew this. He was smart, adaptable… and I knew his mind was strong. I wanted him to be an equal someday. I chose Kalarai for the same reasons he chose Janil, so it was an easy decision to take Janil as my second after those fiends took Kala from us both.
I wanted Janil to be like me. I wanted him to be deeply devoted to his family and his race. I wanted to see him take pride in being Camfurdian, in being superior. I wanted him to hone his skills, to exercise his talents, to put his mind and body on display to show what it meant to be Camfurdian. I wanted him by my side as we settled system after system.
I wanted Janil to show his love and devotion by his actions. His submission was always humbling. He was such a meek, kind heart, so eager to please. I know he wanted all of these things, especially to serve.
Service… was the boy’s life. I’ve never met a boy with such a calm, servile attitude. He was the perfect submissive. He took his submission very seriously, and it made him so beautiful. I… thought I tried my best to show him how much I loved him. I… never tried to take advantage of him, not even physically. He always gave so freely.
Where did I go wrong?
Kenlyi said Janil couldn’t forgive me for the eggs. That… can’t be it. Surely, there must be more. These creatures… so many of them aren’t even sentient! These eggs were nothing more than the next wave of mindless drones to be thrown at us!
There… must have been something else.
Janil… damn you.
Damn you for making me care, for making me love you. Damn you for your beautiful submission. Damn you for loving me. Damn you for making me vulnerable to you…
Finally, the silence breaks.
“My second, Kenlyi, you know what you must do.” Gouhr says calmly.
I growl. “Don’t you dare, Gouhr!”
Alim Gouhr looks up at me and shakes his head. “If he’s turned his back on us, then his life is forfeit. Since you are in no position to do your duty, it falls to my Kenlyi.”
“You son of a whore, Gouhr!” I start to charge toward him, but Monrenth holds on to me.
“Eli… he’s right. If Janil has done this, then he deserves to die. He’s betrayed his oaths, Eli.” Quietly, Monrenth cries.
And Monrenth is right.
I cling to my only second, tears rolling down my face.
You’re right, Gouhr.
“At least give the boy the chance to defend himself. If he has any Camfurdian honor left in him, he’ll agree to a duel.” Gouhr says calmly still.
“Sir… he’s… my best friend. He’s the only person I have here.” Kenlyi’s voice is shaky.
“And I am your yarl. Did you forget your vow, too? I remember you on your knees, tears in your eyes. I reached down and touched your throat, tracing where your collar would go, the collar that I had you wear in your first year. Your face was pure bliss, and when that year was up, I let you take our yula’s marks. You’ll bear them all your days, and they mark you as mine. If you do not do this, Kenlyi, then you are dead to me as well.” Gouhr buries his head in his hands, scared as well.
“The Groyin will never allow it.” Kenlyi quickly quips, but we all can hear him crying.
Monrenth pulls away from me to speak into the microphone. “Bargain with him. If you win, they give you an escape pod with the promise of your safety. We’ll recover you. Ken… you can beat him.”
“Take him down, Kenlyi. He’s terrible defending himself if he’s on his back or belly. His left elbow… he dislocated it as a child, it remains a weak spot for him. Exploit it.” I say guiltily. I… don’t want him hurt, but it’s the right thing to do.
“Do this, Kenlyi. I promise you it’s the right thing to do. You know what must happen to traitors.” Gouhr clenches his eyes. I know it’s hard for him to imagine my second as a traitor.
Kenlyi sighs loudly. “Yes, my yarl. It shall be done.”
“And Kenlyi?” Gouhr says quietly.
“I love you. I’m proud of you. Never forget this.”