Chapter Forty-five: A Place to Belong, Pt. 2

We just got a response from the Camfurdian ship. Alim Khunsza reports that they had no knowledge of Alim Arahni’s plot. They have asked that, given the circumstances, that the bodies of Arahni, Monrenth, and the guards simply be disposed of. As far as Gouhr, they’ve opted to leave that up to Alimari Kenlyi. Mer’rel says as the physician examines their wound. A shot had grazed their right arm, not causing any serious damage.

“I’ll tell him. He’ll probably request a traditional pyre for him. He deserves that, I think.” I look at my former yarl and sigh. “Who is Khunsza?”

“Khunsza was in charge of the ship before Arahni commandeered it. He was no fan of hers.” Elikel says as he looks back at me. “Janil, she was too damn paranoid to have involved anyone else. I believe him if he says he doesn’t know.”

“Except probably Kelimn. Kelimn had to know, right?” I sigh and shake my head. “Maybe not. She always tried to protect him after my father died. That’s probably why he stayed behind.”

We will at least question him. We probably have to consider Arahni’s plot to truly be an isolated incident. Khunsza ensures us that the remaining Camfurdian troops will be withdrawn. Mer’rel sighs and looks at me. How is Kehl?

I close my eyes for a moment, then nod. “Sore. He took three shots total. The one on his chest was the worst, the others damaged some of his back plates. It’ll hurt like crazy the next time he molts, but he’ll be fine. He’s glad Kenlyi went with him ”

“I suppose you’re going to go back to that ship, aren’t you?” Elikel asks me.

I give a slow nod. “Yes. Eli, I know you don’t understand, but I belong there. They are my people now. They’ve given me more in these few weeks than I could’ve ever dreamed of otherwise.”

“I’m not going to debate you, Janil.” He sighs and looks away. “I just want you to be happy. No, I don’t understand, but I don’t have to. I’ll trust you if you tell me you’re happy there with them.”

My eyes start to burn as tears well up. “You… mean that?”

“I do. I love you, Janil. I screwed up too much, but I can at least try to fix it from here on out.” He sighs. “I know I can’t be your yarl. Hell, I don’t think I’m fit for it at all anymore. I’ve lost too much, been through too much. Janil, at least… at least let me be your friend. Please, forgive me.”

“Eli…” I look down.

Surely you can’t… you aren’t forgiving him, are you? Mer’rel asks me with a quiet whisper to my mind.

“Eli… what you did? That was unforgivable. I felt their precious young minds screaming in agony… desperate for comfort, desperate for peace. They were so scared, Eli. They had no idea what was going on; they were just caught in the middle of you trying to exact vengeance. Kalarai wouldn’t have wanted that. Kala… he wanted peace. He saw, at least at the end, just how pointless this war was.” I take a deep breath.

“Elikel, I can’t forgive what you did.” He looks down, nodding. “But…” I sigh, “I’m at least willing to see how you will try to move forward. You can start by coming with me to the ship when I go. Our queen has been incredibly silent about you. She wants to meet you in person. If you want to ever have a chance to get in my good graces, Eli, you’ll meet with her. Unarmed.” I watch him, desperately hoping he’ll agree.

It’s hard. I… still care for him. I still love him, even, but I can’t forgive him destroying our eggs, especially now. Mer’rel continues to watch on, surprised.

He lowers his head and contemplates. After a few moments, he raises his head and nods. “Alright, Janil. I will.”

Mer’rel nods approvingly. Our other part ferried Kenlyi over already. We can bring you two over there.

Surprisingly, Elikel shakes his head. “No. If the Groyin queen will allow it, I’ll stay there with them. I have a lot to make up for. If they won’t have me, then I’ll have you all take me to one of the Kuerahi space stations, or beg a shuttle ride from the Adiolites.”

“I don’t know what she’s going to decide, Eli. I really don’t.” I sigh. “For that matter, I have no idea what Kenlyi’s going to decide.”

“What do you mean?” Elikel asks curiously.

I lower my head and sigh. “He isn’t connected as I am. He tried, but he isn’t quite as strong telepathically as me. He can hear our song if he focuses, but it wears him out quickly. He’s… been considering staying with the Aevocar. Regardless, he’s one of us; he is Groyin.”

“Ah… I did not know. He’s made it clear where he stands, but I suppose I can understand. It must be hard on him.” Elikel gives a small shrug for lack of anything else to do.

He’s welcome here, but he has to make that decision. We suppose we will all find out soon enough. Mer’rel gives a nod.

Okay, you’re all set. You’re lucky it didn’t do much damage. The doctor pats Mer’rel’s undamaged arm and smiles. Be safe. All of you. The doctor turns and leaves.

We should probably go, too. This is going to take weeks to sort out and the quicker we get started, the better. Mer’rel sighs. So much death for no reason.

“No, it was for a reason, Mer’rel. Arahni’s thirst for vengeance. Her longing to right something that she perceived to be a wrong. Her longing to make sure her reputation was spotless. There were reasons, Mer’rel, but they were disgusting. Realizing that… realizing how much she treated our hierarchy as a game to play, the more disgusted I grew. She made me realize just how much I screwed up.” Elikel sighs as he paces around the room.

All I can do is sigh.

“Come on. Let’s go.” I say as I walk toward the door.

————

You are home, Janil.

I feel the hive reassuring me as Mer’rel lowers the ramp. Elikel’s gaze catches my attention, though, and I turn to look at him. “What?”

“That look on your face. You only get that look when someone talks to you telepathically. I noticed it between you and Kala a lot.” He gives a small chuckle. “Kala had the same look. I suppose it was your people?”

“Yes. They were welcoming me home.” I smile softly as I stand.

“And what do they think of me being here?” Elikel stands and offers a hand to Mer’rel. They take it and give an appreciative nod.

“They are withholding judgment, but the queen wants to see you soon. She wants to see all of us.” I turn to Mer’rel and smile. “You too, Mer’rel.”

Their eyes light up and they smile. Really? She asked about us?

“Yes, she did. She wants to talk to you and Kenlyi first. Let’s go. I don’t want to keep her waiting.” I smile and start down the ramp. I flash a smile to one of the workers as they open the door for us.

We make our way up the lift and start up. I can sense Elikel’s nervousness. He sighs.

“Are you scared, Eli?” I ask, surprised.

“Yeah. I really am, but I have to do this. If I don’t do anything else, I at least want to apologize. I know that won’t make up for anything, but I’d like to think it’s a start.” He heaves a sigh.

The gate opens on the lift and I lead us out. I can see Mer’rel smiling out of the corner of my eye as they see the queen. Elikel’s eyes widen as he lowers his head respectfully.

Kenlyi is waiting for us and from the red around his eyes, he’s been crying. I wrap my arms around him and squeeze tight. “I love you so much, Kenlyi. So much.”

“I love you too. More than you know.” He kisses my lips gently and starts to cry again. He pulls away from me and looks at Mer’rel. Slowly, he gives them a nod.

Mer’rel nods back and looks up at the queen. A look of bliss shows on Mer’rel’s face.

The queen looks down at us. “Kenlyi has decided to go with you, Mer’rel.” Elikel’s eyes widen as the queen pauses for a moment. “He will always be Groyin. He will always have a place here, a home, a family. We love you, Kenlyi. Mer’rel, take care of him, and make sure to bring him home someday.”

They nod. Yes, my queen. I look at them, surprised by their submissive response. We want to come back, too. Perhaps someday, we can spend more than just passing moments among your kind.

“Someday, you will.” The queen smiles.

Kenlyi looks up at her and nods. “I love you, my queen. I love all of you. I… want to hear our song one more time before I leave… even if it’s just for a moment.”

The queen nods and motions to me. I look at Kenlyi. “Come here.”

I hold him tight in my arms. “Relax, Kenlyi. Focus on me… focus on us. You know what to do.”

He leans his head against me and closes his eyes. After a short while of the whole of the hive reaching for him, his mind drifts.

It’s only a moment. As we feel his mind joining ours, we hear his voice in our chorus. It’s only a moment, but it is a beautiful, precious moment. A moment of love, a moment of content, a moment of peace, a moment of tranquility.

The moment fades into our memory and Kenlyi opens his eyes. “Never let that moment go, Kenlyi.”

“I won’t.” Weakly, he pushes against me and I let him go. He looks at Mer’rel and nods. “Let’s go before I lose my nerve.” He laughs softly and looks back at me, then the queen.

She nods to him one more time, then he turns away and takes a few steps toward the lift. He stops, looks at Elikel and says, “I hope you find peace, Elikel.”

Mer’rel and Kenlyi leave.

I… can’t help but to wonder if I’m ever going to see him again. Surely I will.

“Elikel, step forward.” The queen says, her voice still soft and gentle. He takes a few steps forward and looks up. “Speak.” She says softly.

“Let me start by saying this. I know I made a mistake. It was a horrible, utterly despicable thing that I did, that I forced others to do, including Janil. I acted out of anger. The more time goes on, the more I realize how big of a mistake I made. I came here of my own will because I wanted to apologize. I can’t undo my actions, but I can move forward and try to make up for those actions.” He lowers to his knees. “I beg for forgiveness, queen. I beg forgiveness from all Groyin. I offer myself the only way I know how. I offer myself in service to you and your people.”

I sigh and look down. I… can feel her emotions, her conflict.

She studies him for what feels like forever. “You cannot change what you have done. I feel the regret in your heart. It is the same regret and fear that Kalarai felt as he asked forgiveness as well. That Groyin forgave your second, Elikel. I forgive you, but actions have consequences.”

My eyes widen as her thoughts course through my mind.

Please… no.

Don’t make me do this.

Please, don’t make me do this.

Elikel stands and nods to her. “I know, my queen.” He turns to me and I see tears in his eyes.

Please, don’t make me do this. Please!

I’m begging, please don’t make me do this!

He… deserves a second chance. Please, don’t make me.

I wrap my arms around him. “I love you, Eli. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Janil. Everyone has to pay for what they’ve done sometime.” He pulls away from me. His hand touches my cheek. I lean into his touch as I cry. “I love you, Janil.”

I touch his cheek and lean in, kissing his lips one last time.

Please… don’t make me do this.

My body begins to stiffen as I close my eyes. I feel another presence surrounding me, and in the next moment, I realize the other presence is in control. My thumb touches Elikel’s cheek as it flicks the release on the gauntlet and my hand closes to a fist. The weapon engages, driving the metal and chitin blade into and through Elikel’s neck. His eyes widen, but he makes no sound.

I try to beg his forgiveness, but I can’t speak as this other presence controls my body. Elikel’s body drops to the floor.

Kehltanril’s mind whispers to me, I’m sorry.

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