“Alim Arahni?! I… didn’t expect to see you.” My eyes widen as I look Janil’s mother, former member of the elite Bekir warriors, in the eyes.
“And I didn’t expect to see my son on your status report!” She grabs the datapad and reads, “Captured during ambush. Alimari Kenlyi reports Janil’s treason.” She slams the datapad on the desk.
“I heard you and your men were calling for reinforcements and I wanted to see first-hand what sort of warrior my son was becoming. I appropriated this ship due to my former status, and came as fast as I could, only to find this?!” She sits, her fiery eyes still glaring at me.
“Don’t you dare lecture me, Arahni! I’ve lost enough in this war, I don’t need a mother in mourn-”
“Watch your fucking mouth, Elikel! Make another outburst on my ship and I’ll see you and your yula in chains… what’s left of it, at least.”
I growl at her, but Monrenth quickly puts his hand on my chest. “Both of you… there’s nothing to be gained by fighting each other. Our focus needs to be the Groyin, not each other. We’re one yula in the end, and let’s face it, our yulas are closer than most. Now, Alim Arahni,” Monrenth lowers his head as he addresses her directly, “will you allow both of us to give a rundown of the relevant events?”
I glare at my second for speaking out of turn. Still… this is why he is my second. Kalarai was the softer of the three of us, the most compassionate. I tended to have the hardest edge. Monrenth, on the other hand, was the most practical. Once again, his wisdom shines through.
She nods and curtly motions for us to speak.
“After our resupply, we began scouting this planet. After several scouting passes over developed areas, we began performing hit and fade attacks. The first few were quite successful, but when we began attacking a large manufacturing facility, we were suddenly outgunned.” Monrenth takes a deep breath and I take the chance to continue.
“They took out our attack shuttles with fast fire AA support. When we realized that the facility was likely manufacturing these defenses, we made it our top priority. When our ship was disabled, we decided to use it as a weapon, literally. We used it to take out a large AA and artillery site near the manufacturing facility. Once all hands were accounted for, we scuttled the ship and that took out any remaining active guns on site. We then proceeded to take the manufacturing facility.”
She looks at us, confused. “So, that’s when you fired the original beacon requesting reinforcements?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Monrenth nods, “we sent it then. We hadn’t seen much surface activity from the bugs, so when we took the facility, we originally assumed we could hold out there. However, we didn’t realize just how outnumbered we were. We defended the facility for nearly two weeks, but we were losing men with each skirmish.”
“I’d began planning to evacuate the facility and retreat to a cave network we’d found.” I sigh remembering this moment. “We retreated after one of the costliest of attacks. We lost many men that day, including my second, Kalarai.”
“Janil’s dominus.” Arahni says flatly. She sighs.
“Yes. He was devastated, confused. I told him he always had a place at my side, and he made vows to me later, much to my surprise. I… was honored. Such a submissive soul like his is to be cherished.” I bite my lip and look at Monrenth.
“I scouted the cave systems, and eventually found… well… a breeding ground. The bugs had been sending wave after wave from underground, and well, I found where they were coming from.” Monrenth says calmly.
“Egg clutches?” Arahni’s eyes widen.
“Yes, ma’am. Knowing they are mostly mindless creatures, we took advantage of the opportunity.” Monrenth again says calmly, trying not to draw attention to the details.
“Elikel, you ordered the destruction of eggs?” She looks at me and I can’t tell if she’s impressed or appalled… or both.
“I ordered an attack to eliminate as many of our enemies as possible in as short of a time as possible. The end result was the destruction of every egg in that cavern.” I say firmly, unhesitatingly, hoping she will understand my reasoning.
“Alim Elikel, that’s… barbaric. That is… outside of our rules of engagement. Innocents are forbidden to be directly targeted, you know this.” Her voice is quiet, stunned.
“Innocents, yes, but these are a hive minded species, and we’ve only encountered a scant handful of intelligent Groyin. Ninety-five percent of Groyin are simple minded, hive controlled killing machines. We would make no hesitations about destroying a weapons facility, this was no different in the end. Groyin weapons are organic in nature, but the overwhelming majority are simply hive controlled killing machines.” I say calmly and confidently. Anyone who’s seen the Groyin first-hand would agree with my assessment, I believe.
She pauses for a little bit, clearly considering my words. “Alimari Monrenth, your yarl’s opinion aside, do you agree with this thought?”
“Whole-heartedly, ma’am. I’ve seen Groyin fly in with no regards to their bodies, using themselves as suicide weapons. I’ve seen them ignore their own wounded. I’ve seen them rush mindlessly into choke points. They have no sense of self-preservation, or at least the vast majority do not. The sentient ones seem to be nothing more than sadists willing to throw hundreds of their lessers at us because they can. Even they seem to have no regard for the drones.” Monrenth shakes his head. “If anything, we saved them from a life of slavery and abuse.”
“Based on the reports I’ve read over the past few months of the war, and from what you two have told me… I am inclined to believe you both.” Arahni sighs. “Continue.”
“Janil… didn’t feel the same way. He hesitated when I gave the order. After encouraging him to do the right thing, he destroyed a small number of eggs. Afterward, he broke down. He cried, feeling sympathy for his enemy. I took a gentle hand with him, promised him that he did the right thing, encouraged him and told him how proud I was of him. He seemed eager for my approval, so I happily gave it. After that, the Groyin came out of nowhere.” I sigh and look back at Monrenth.
“First, regarding Janil, we’ve all been there. An order we feel is questionable, but our role as a second or lesser is to serve and to trust. We have to earn the right to question, but that comes with decades of respect. During those decades, we can often look back and see how our dominus had been right all along. Janil needed to learn that, and I feel that Elikel handled the situation beautifully.” He looks back at me and gives a firm nod, then motions for me to resume.
“Monrenth had scouted further ahead in the network and found that it was a natural section, probably too small for most Groyin. When the bugs attacked, we brought the big cavern down atop them by destroying the support platforms. It was during that time that a number of us were overwhelmed, and for the first time, the Groyin took prisoners. You already know who.” I sigh and shake my head.
“They had never once shown an inclination to take prisoners? Did they explicitly target them, or did it just happen that Janil was in the wrong place at the wrong time?” Arahni crosses her arms and studies my expression.
I shake my head and shrug. “It’s impossible to know for certain, but I believe it was random.” Monrenth shakes his head.
“No, I don’t think it was random, ma’am. Eli, if what Janil said on the radio was true, they may have been looking for him.” He looks down and sighs. Arahni waves her hand, insisting that he continue.
“Janil told us on the radio that Kalarai, before he died, told the Groyin he wanted peace. The Groyin apparently recognized Janil due to the interaction with Janil. Alimari Kenlyi told us that the Groyin said they needed to find the Aevocar, because Kalarai told them they could help. There’s no way the Groyin could’ve known about the Aevocar. They may have been looking to take any prisoners, but I’m thinking they probably recognized Janil.” Monrenth reaches for my hand. I take it and squeeze for a moment, then release.
“And that’s how Janil turned his back on his kind. He was already shook from the debacle with the eggs, then to have his yaruel’s last wishes revealed to him?” She sighs heavily. “It was clear very quick that Janil would’ve followed Kalarai through hell and back, but I would have never believed this. Perhaps we can get him back. Perhaps we can get through to him. At least he could submit to an honorable execution.”
Monrenth shakes his head and I close my eyes before he speaks. “I don’t think so. The last thing Kenlyi told us is the scariest. Apparently, he submitted to the Groyin hive mind. He’s given himself to them.”
She growls. “Let it be known then… Janil is an honorless cur. He has no status in our society, no blood family, and no yula. He is stripped of any worth in our society. He may submit to an honorable execution, but short of that, his name will be a curse among all Camfurdians.”
Solemnly, I nod. “And so it is.”
She slowly stands. After a long sigh, she approaches me. “I apologize, Alim Elikel. I’d assumed you had erred.”
“If our roles were reversed, I’d have felt the same. Instead, here we are. You’ve lost your only son, and I’ve lost two seconds, one to treason, and one to both treason and death.” Monrenth reaches out for me, and I hold his hand.
“If what you’ve told me is all true, then I can hold no fault with you, Elikel. You made the best of a situation gone sour, in addition to dealing with betrayal.” She extends her hand to me. With my free hand, I take hers.
“We’ll make the bastards pay.” She says in a surprisingly calm voice.
“We will, but we must find a way to keep the Aevocar from interfering.” I shake my head and sigh.
“That is a matter for later. For now, I’m sure you and the rest of your men need rest and medical attention. On the second deck, we’ve cleared out enough room for you and your men. Pick a room and relax for a while.” She looks at Monrenth and I can’t quite make sense of the expression. After a pause, she smiles wistfully. “Tell me, Alimari Monrenth, did he at least grow to love all of you?”
He gives a small, sad nod. “I think he did. Thatnjust makes it all so much more troubling.”
The wistful smile fades and she nods as tears start to well up in her eyes. In this vulnerable moment, she isn’t Alim Arahni of the Bekir. She’s simply Arahni, the grieving mother.
“Elikel?” She asks softly.
“Would you do me the honor of sharing dinner with us tomorrow night?” It’s… a painful question for her to ask. The last and only time I’d met her was the night we all shared a dinner, the night Janil gave himself to Kalarai, the moment Kalarai took his only lesser.
“I’d like that. A chance to… move on.” I nod, then look down.
“Is Alimari Kelimn with you? Will he be joining us?” Monrenth asks.
“Yes. He was worried about Janil as well. Still… let us all try to move on from this for now. Go rest. I’ll see to it your men are cared for and given rooms.” She turns and goes back to her chair.
Both of us nod to her. “Thank you, Alim Arahni.” She nods and we leave.
Silently, we make our way to the second deck and see the cleared rooms. We take the first one and close the door.
“It’s… a bit better than barracks right now.” Monrenth comments.
“It’s too large for just the two of us. Damn it, Monrenth. Just… why?” I sigh as I slowly begin to remove my heavy armor. I’ve barely had any moments to get truly comfortable in too long, so I’m taking advantage of it. I see Monrenth doing the same.
“I don’t know, Eli. Fate and destiny are fickle things we don’t always understand. We will make the best of it. We’re survivors.” He smirks and I see his eyes glance over to the shower.
“Go ahead if you want. After all the tunnels you dug through and scouted, you earned the first chance at the shower.” I laugh softly, then sigh. It feels good to be able to let my guard down some.
Monrenth approaches me and touches my cheek. “There’s room for both of us, Eli.”
His offer melts me. I smile and wrap my arms around him. “Thank you.”
In a matter of minutes, we’re stripped down, and we’re both relaxed. Monrenth turns the knob and water begins to gently flow over us. He wraps his arms around me.
I… feel safe. I lay my head on his shoulder. After a moment, I begin to cry.
“Shh, Eli… it’s over now. We’re safe. It’s just you and me now.” He gently whispers as he holds me.
“Where did I go wrong?”
“You didn’t. Eli, you didn’t. Their defiance is their own. You did your part, your honor is clean.” He squeezes me. “Eli… if I could take all this away, I would.”
“I know. I just… dammit.” I sigh and look at him. “I just can’t let it go.”
His clawed finger traces my cheek gently. “Eli, you told me once that in a different life, our roles might have been reversed. You’ve always allowed yourself to relax around me. You’ve always been able to let go.”
My eyes widen as I listen.
“Tonight, Eli, I’m serving you the best way I know how.” Gently, tenderly, his hand wraps around my throat. “You’ll belong to me tonight. I’ll take away the pain as best as I can. I’ll protect you, I’ll hold you, I’ll love you. I vow to honor you and your submission should you choose to yield to me tonight.”
As old instincts deep within me stir, I lower my head. “I yield to you tonight. Tonight, I belong to you, my dominus.”