Chapter Forty-two: Focus

I’ve spent more time on my knees over the past two weeks than I did in sixty years of being a second.

Yet…

I wonder if I belong here. I look up at my yarl and… I don’t know how to feel yet. I failed Kalarai and I failed Janil. Monrenth is still by my side, but we both agree that this might be for the best. I look up at Arahni and smile.

She’s taken to showing me off as if I was her new pet. It’s been humiliating at times, and yet I understand why she’s doing it. It’s about control, and I must yield.

“You’re looking at me rather strange, Elikel. What is it?” She looks down at me as she adjusts in her chair. I want to stand, but… kneeling next to her is… strangely satisfying. Is… is she breaking me? Is she bending me to her will? Yes. Yes, she is.

Our kind is so accustomed to submission and dominance. We submit to learn how to become a better dominus to our seconds than our dominus was to us. We learn from their mistakes and their successes. It doesn’t matter how much we ignore it, we all have that drive to submit and serve deep within us. As hard as recent events have been, I believe this was just what I needed. I… feel like a burden has been taken from me. I study her expression and finally realize how I feel about her now.

“I… was just thinking, I feel content, ma’am. I… am grateful that you offered this.” I swallow a knot of anxiousness down my throat.

Her hand reaches down and pets my head, her clawed fingers gently running across my scalp. A wave of pleasure runs through me, and… I feel happy.

My goodness. Happy.

I smile, reminiscent of when I was a young boy smiling up at my yarl, Alim Ilkan. Arahni smiles down at me.

“I want you by my side, Elikel. You’re mine now, but we will achieve glory together. We will find Janil and we will make those bugs pay.” She grins, but I just can’t muster the enthusiasm that she seems to have.

I miss Janil. I feel like I failed him, and with each day that passes, I understand more and more just how I failed him.

I… have tried and tried to justify my actions. I regret ordering the destruction of those eggs. The truth is that I felt almost every cry from them, but in my anger, I relished it. Kalarai’s death was too much for me to handle, but I never realized that his death was my fault. I should have never engaged the Groyin.

I try to hide my pain by laying forward, my head resting at her feet. Again, I feel her hand on my head.

“Do you trust me, Elikel?” She asks, surprising me.

“I… couldn’t submit if I didn’t.”

“No, that’s not true and you know it. You don’t think I saw that flash of pain? You were showing your emotions to me, and I know your conviction isn’t what you made it seem. I need to know if you trust me.” I raise back to my knees and look up at her.

“I will trust you. Yeah, I miss Janil, but I’m trying to push that out. I will do my duty, my yarl. I swear that. I will do my duty. I will do what’s right.” It’s… the truth. I want to do what’s right. Slowly, I lower myself down to her feet again.

“When I first met you, I had no idea you had the potential to be this submissive. You were strong, masculine, dominant. You were exactly the kind of man that Janil needed in his life. At least, I thought you were.” The words hang in the air for a moment before falling like rain.

“I tried, my yarl. I tried. I trusted Kala’s decision, and when Kala died, I just wanted to do right by Janil. I still love him, Arahni.” I fight back crying. It’s… as if she knew where my mind was.

“Look up at me, Eli.”

I rise back to my knees and look up at her, fear starting to set in.

“You don’t think I still love him? He’s my son. Eli, you don’t hide your true intentions as well as you think. Did you really think that I couldn’t sense your heart breaking when I’d talk about him? I said over and over that I needed to know how you truly felt. You showed me, not by your words, but by your thoughts.” Her eyes pierce into me, her expression surprisingly blank apart from the fierce eyes.

“You… you’re an empath?” My eyes start to widen.

“Are you really surprised? Borash, Kelimn’s second, was an empath, and so am I. Why do you think I pushed for Janil to go with you? I could sense how much you and Kalarai were suppressing your own tendencies towards telepathic empathy. Both of you let it slip from time to time. I knew if you could suppress it in yourself and in your second, Janil would be in good hands. He’d have the training he’d need to keep his emotions in check, to keep the influence from others down. ” Her countenance softens.

I shake my head and laugh, realizing I’d been played yet again. “You knew? I… damn.” I shake my head again. “You subtly manipulated me from the beginning.”

“You don’t live as long as I do without learning to play every angle. Eli, empathy can be a tool, a weapon even. Some of our kind might frown upon it, but only a fool doesn’t use the weapons and tools at their disposal.” Her hand reaches down and touches my cheek. “If you truly hated him, I’d have known, but you didn’t broadcast that. Instead, I felt your sorrow. Monrenth… is conflicted.”

“He… didn’t get to know Janil well. Monrenth stayed busy as our lead scout. I’d hoped that Monrenth and Janil would hit it off, because scouting and recon was where young Janil was going to find his calling.” Honestly, I’d hoped all of us would hit it off. I was even looking forward to introducing Janil to my wife in hopes that they would find an attraction. “So, what are you playing at, Arahni?”

“We’re going to bring him home, Eli. He belongs with us.” My eyes widen again and I smile.

Suddenly, the door opens.

“Urgent message, ma’am.” A young man, maybe Kenlyi’s age says.

Arahni’s gaze turns to ice as she glares at the boy. “Notify me before you enter, boy!” She growls.

“I’m sorry ma’am, my yaruel’s orders. We’ve received a message from the Aevocar. They are en route to the edge of the borders, just beyond the Groyin solar system where Aevocar space and Camfurdian space meet. They request an audience with the Camfurdian commanders in charge of the war effort against the Groyin. They’re saying they will deploy a beacon when they arrive.” The young man lowers his head after delivering his message.

I make my way up to my feet. “They’ve found Janil. So Kenlyi was right, then. He warned us that they were going after the Aevocar.”

Aranhi stands and nods. “You’re dismissed.” She waves off the messenger, who quickly turns and leaves. My yarl’s focus turns to me. “If they haven’t found Janil, they’ll be offering assistance to look for him. The blues wouldn’t get involved unless they felt they had a reason to, even in spite of our request for assistance.”

I nod in agreement as I walk over to the door, flipping the lock in place. “You’re right. I think Janil tracked them down, though. I…”

My voice trails off and I look down. “What do you mean, bring him home? If you wanted to save him, why did you brand him a traitor so openly?”

“Because that’s what Camfurdians do. That was my duty. It doesn’t mean I agree with it. Elikel, you crossed a line destroying those eggs, and that pushed him over the edge. You set him up to break, but we can fix this. All he has to do is turn away from the bugs.” Arahni crosses her arms.

“If he’s in their hive mind, how are we ever going to do that?” I shake my head, frustrated.

She grins. “Cut off the head and the body will die. Remove the other Groyin from the equation. Depending on the forces the Aevocar are sending, if there’s a rendezvous between us, them, and the Groyin… well, we likely outgun them. We take Janil, we destroy the Aevocar and the Groyin. We’ll claim Janil set up the Groyin to fail, and we’ll sort out the mess with the Aevocar later. If they’re cut off from their precious Voice, they’ll have to believe us, especially if Janil tells them how things went down. We blame the Groyin, and go from there. We can fix this, Eli.”

“If we mess up, we risk outright war on two fronts, Arahni. We can’t risk war with the Aevocar.” I look her in the eyes as I shake my head.

“We have to. It’s the only way we’re going to get Janil out of this. It’s worth the risk. We can paint him as a hero among us, that he was lying to the Groyin. I can make this work.” I can hear the desperation in her voice.

I sigh as I approach her. “I just… don’t understand. Why all the deception?”

“If everyone knew we were going to try to bring Janil back to us instead of destroying him, they’d riot. As it stands, they’ve seen both of us calling for his head. They trust our intentions because it’s what they know. That’ll make it even more stunning when we hail him as a hero because they’ll know he would have had to have done something so extraordinary to change our minds. We can bring him home.” She takes a step closer to me. Her clawed hand touches my cheek.

“You play dangerous games, yarl.” I take her hand off my cheek and hold it.

Our eyes meet and I can feel a flutter in my chest.

She squeezes my hand and reaches for my other.

“You… really mean this? You really mean to bring him back?” I have to ask. It’s… all so sudden, so drastic.

“It’d mean that I couldn’t be your yarl anymore, what with Janil being your second… but what better way than to set things right?” Her lips gently curve into a warm smile.

“Alright, my yarl.” I break eye contact finally, looking down.

One of her hands slips from mine, and she lifts my head up. “Elikel, I know you don’t think this is the best plan, but I need you to trust me. Tell me you trust me.”

Slowly, I give a single nod. “I trust you, yarl. I want my Janil back.”

She leans in and kisses my lips. I… had hoped for this, but was too nervous to act on anything. Given everything now, who knows where this might go. She pulls away, smiling.

“We’ll make this mess right.” She says softly.

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