Took a few days off. Very happy to get back to Rez and Kin’s story! I have plans for them, people!
Kinixys growled menacingly as he stomped a few paces away from the tree that sheltered Rez.
As he braced for the first flash grenade, irritation prickled through him. For the past dozen hours, he’d been pestered by the afterimage of Rez curled and sleeping. Surprisingly, he didn’t want it replaced by some soon-to-be-dead Kletka asshole.
Without a doubt, it was Kletka bounty hunters that surrounded them. Kin would bet his esteemed Bale honors on that fact. The Kletka were nuisances, always trying to get their feathered fingers on Akupara armor.
The first bounty hunter dropped from the tree. Considering that the Kletka had feathers but no wingers, the bounty hunter’s fall was rather stealthy. As he landed in an agile crouch, Kin stomped on one of the nearby, massive tree roots. Like slamming down on a lever, the opposite end of the thick root shot upward and into the Kletka’s thigh.
The armored bounty hunter didn’t go down, but he did come up limping.
A second hunter dropped to the ground, landing close to the tree that sheltered Rez.
Before Kin could bellow a warning to Rez, a flash grenade went off, and a chorus of sharp, pained hisses filled the woods. For a night hunt like this, the Kletka would be wearing zero-light-visors. Their own assault gear just amplified the effectiveness of Rez’s grenade.
With the afterimages of that first, now-limping hunter stamped over his vision, Kinixys charged the second hunter. With one swipe he snatched his prey. With a single twist, he broke the Kletka’s neck. Two steps took Kin to the limping hunter, and he snapped another neck.
Based on the rustling sounds around him, there were four—maybe five—hunters left. He wasn’t worried. He well knew his sibling’s mind. Emys was out there, in the night shadows, thinning the hunting party. By having Kin escort Rez to the Bale, Emys could remain hidden and use her true speed to personally assure Rez’s safe arrival.
Swelling with pride, he caught the sounds of startled, painful grunts as Emys did her duty. It felt good to know that his sibling was conducting herself with honor once more.
Another flash grenade landed to his far left, slightly increasing of brightness across his already whited-out vision. More painful grunts reached his ears, followed by the snapping of a tree branch. Then dozens of ringing pings and the thick notching of metal penetrating bark filled the area.
Hell, someone fired off a scatter shot of serrated or barbed ammo. The ringing pings were the shots ricocheting off his scutes. The other sounds were darts sinking into the surrounding trees.
His chest clenched. Rez.
He spared three agonizing, chest-pounding heartbeats—listening for any more assailants—before bursting over to Rez’s tree. His sensitive feet recalled the mapping of the immediate area—every thick root and each hard rock. By Aku, she wasn’t as he’d left her. Huddling at the base of tree, he’d almost stomp on her.
“Kin! Here at last.” She giggled, but it sounded labored. As if she struggled to speak.
Cursing his blindness, he tugged his useless gauntlets off and cast them aside. He cupped her cheeks—the intimacy of that gesture feeling so damn necessary at the moment—before examining her with deliberate gentleness.
He moved his hands over her. “Are you harmed?”
“I was making like a flash grenade.”
“Indeed.” But fuck if he knew.
He’d answered on reflex while he fought to maintain his calm and focus. The cool clamminess of her skin was not what he’d been expecting. Where was the heat that radiated from her? The warmth that he basked in when he stood close to her?
“Stupid, shitty directions,” she slurred. “I need to be first.”
“Never.” Not first. Not her.
“But the dust,” she mumbled as her head dropped forward and propped against the chin of his helm. “So much damn dust.”
Dread iced through him as his hands began to shake. He’d found no injury that would explain her distress, though his fingers brushed over her gloves. He noted the metal that covered her knuckles.
“Nothing to salvage,” she said softly and sighed. With her head tucked under him, if it weren’t for his sham kit of armor, he would feel her breath on his skin. “Rotten eggs.”
His fear and frustration had him cupping her cheeks again—steadying her—as he lifted his head and bellowed for Emys.
“Right here, Sibling Mine.” He heard her voice directly behind him.
Hell, he hadn’t noticed her there. He was too absorbed in Rez’s frightening ramblings—something about decomposing eggs?
“Help her,” he snapped. “I can’t fucking see.”
He felt Emys’s hand cover one of his—a skin-to-skin touch since they’d both shamefully removed their gauntlets.
Emys began to pull his hand away from Rez’s cold cheek. He tensed—not squeezing Rez—yet refusing to be moved.
Emys tsked him softy. “Here, Sibling Mine. Allow me to show you.”
To his astonishment, Emys had to gently, yet insistently tug twice more before he eased. She guided his hand to Rez’s left leg. There he felt them—dozens of pebble-sized metal barbs.
Emys didn’t need to explain further. He knew what those barbs were—a scatter shot of tranquilizers.
“Get them out,” he growled lowly. “Do it for me. I can’t—My eyes—”
Emys tsked again as she pulled his hand away from plucking the fucking barbs out of Rez’s leg.
“Emys!” He tried to snag his hand back and unintentionally jostled Rez.
She moaned in pain. Fuck.
He froze his movement as his mind scrambled, trying to understand his sibling’s motivation.“Emys?”
“Hush, Sibling Mine. She’s almost unconscious.”
He growled—long, low, and full of fury—before he could speak. “If I wasn’t holding her, you’d be broken and bleeding, Emys. Damn our blood and fuck your status.”
“As I’d hoped,” Emys replied calmly.
“How does permitting this harm to her not violate our honor and duty?”
“Honor and duty to whom?”
He shook his head. “To fucking whom? To her! Your chosen, Emys!”
“But our honor to the Bale is intact.” He heard Emys move away, knowing that she deliberately stepped on sticks, enabling him to track her. “We’ve eliminated the threat on Warren’s Planet to our Bale.”
Ah, yes. The Kletka bounty hunters.
With practically no tech on Warren’s Planet, the shuttle that he and Emys had been using must have blazed like a solar flare, signaling to anyone who monitored Warren’s. Since the Akupara had so well propagated the incredible feats about their armor, he could see why the Kletka struck with a disruptor pulse that downed their shuttle and killed any tech. It was the perfect opportunity to acquire Akupara armor, if only he would roll onto his back—offer himself belly up—and let them loot his corpse.
What aggravated him, though, was that he understood the Kletka’s motivation, yet he still struggled to grasp Emys’s plan. How did eliminating the Kletka justify letting darts pump tranquilizers into Rez?
The crushing of undergrowth heralded Emys’s return. She dropped something solid over his bent knee. It clanged against his armor. He ran a hand over the object. Magnetic restraints. Tiny ones. Well, tiny for an Akupara. The Kletka always killed any Akupara for his or her armor. Why would they bother—
The image of Rez that he’d stored in his memory—the one of her curled and sleeping—changed. Her hands, which were pillowed under her cheek, now wore magnetic cuffs.
In all his life, he’d never failed so miserably. His asinine ‘here’—filled with such cock-sure bravado as he left her stashed behind a damned tree—tolled in his skull like a tower bell. That was all he’d done for Rez. He’d shoved her behind tree; his sole concern that she wouldn’t inconvenience him by peeking and perhaps catching him moving at his true speed.
He’d been so damn confident—so unforgivably arrogant—that he and Emys would keep her safe as they traveled to the Bale. All the while, the Kletka had two targets and had intended to capture and restrain what was his to snare and protect.
He crushed one of the restraint’s cuffs in his hand. “Kill them all, Emys.”
“Already done.” Emys paused. “As my pledge to her.”
While he’d been speaking to Emys, Rez had continued to flag, struggling to remain awake. Now, fully unconscious, she was slumped against him. Her tiny shoulders rose and fell in slow, shallow breathing.
He tucked Rez closer and gathered her into his lap. Then Emys grasped him by the elbow, and like a harnessed and reined beast, her light tug brought him up and onto his feet.
“Can you manage with your burdens?” she asked. “Both her and your blindness?”
His arms shook as he adjusted his hold on Rez. “Yes.”
But honestly, his answer was hollow. Why was it so damn easy to snatch Rez up, yet so damn nerve-wracking to hold her?
“Come. She’ll receive aid at the Bale.” Emys gave him another guiding tug. “Follow my lead, Sibling Mine.”
Emys sprinted off. Using her constant, light touch on his shoulder as a guide, he immediately followed. As they headed northwest, toward the true direction of the Bale, he was grateful that his sibling moderated her true speed for his sake.
Blind. Arrogant. Foolish.
Rez wasn’t the burden. He was.
Rez moaned as bliss blanketed her body.
Good lord, she was slicing through the air at such a thrilling speed! Behind her closed eyelids, flashes of shadows and lights clipped faster and faster as she raced past objects. Her chest expanded, readying to inhale oxygen and release a whoop of pure joy.
Only, she sucked into her lungs sterile air tinged with antiseptic rather than the scents of fresh dirt and piney wood.
And her arms and legs weren’t pumping with synchronized, open-throttled momentum; rather, her limbs were tucked into incredible, gel-like softness as she laid, curled onto her side.
Softness? Her body spurned that notion as it thrummed with the fading sensation of being carried by strong arms while cradled against a solid chest.
A muffled clicking sound came from behind her exposed back.
She wasn’t alone.
Rez never had bunk partners, not even those she trusted. Luna had tucked in with Joia because Rez would often startle awake, flashing and punching at nightmares.
But, that wasn’t all bad. Sometimes she’d rear up, swinging at bonafide assholes who hovered over her while she slept.
Just like now.
Rez sprang upright, landing on her bare feet, as her hairs flared. As usual, when her natural defenses triggered, her eyelids snapped shut and her eyes rolled, safely concealing her pupils inside her eye sockets.
Quick as a blink, her flash extinguished. Her eyes snapped open and she was off running.
Within heartbeat, she’d lapped the confined space five times and had gotten nowhere. The room that held her—as well as a tall, lumbering alien—was completely circular with smooth surfaces. It was like running inside the bottom of a metal bowl.
The hard walls were rippled with gold, green, black, and brown veins—like a mossy marble—and contained no seams. A simple oval cot—the spot where she’d woken up—was the only furniture in the room. It was fixed to a pedestal that was fused to the floor.
Rez’s heart pounded and her legs shook as she crouched low and pressed her backside against the cold, continuously curving wall. The pedestal cot was her only obstacle between the unknown alien and herself.
The alien—a massive brute—had his back to her as his shook his head and growled lowly. He wore a loose fitting, brown pants and a matching, sleeveless tunic which exposed his thickly muscled arms. Like the colors of the room, his sandstone skin carried veins of gold, green, and black.
As he began an unsteady turn—looking over his hulking shoulder—she noted a soft clicking sound. His profile revealed a block-shaped head with flat top and a rounded base. A blunt beak curved down over powerful jowls, and two slitted nostrils were set high, between shiny black eyes.
A portion of the curved wall slid apart with a sharp thunk sound. A ferocious roar blasted into the room.
With a stunned, unfocused gaze, the alien blinked—closing two sets of eyelids—and arched one of his eye brilles. “Is that you, Ki—”
Another alien barreled into the room, slamming into the first alien like a wrecking ball.
The two aliens crashed into the cot and snapped the pedestal in half. Rez sidestepped but her feet felt as if they were stuck in mud; she’d narrowly avoided the brawling aliens.
Welp, that was her cue.
With her heart pounding in her ears, she ran. Gritting her teeth, she forced her burning muscles and stiff joints to move. Good god, her stride was so hobbled that she was tempted to glance down and check her feet for lead boots. However, her bare soles slapped painfully against the smooth floor of…wherever the hell she was…assuring her that she wasn’t restrained.
Someone bellowed behind her. “Don’t run!”
Yeah, fuck that order.
Or was it a plea?
Know what? Didn’t matter. Every goddamn time that she had awakened in someplace strange and unknown, messed-up shit would always happen to her. The events of the past thirty seconds were too damn familiar—from waking up in the cell-slash-room to the sluggish aftereffects of being tranquilized.
So, yeah. She was gonna run until she burned the drugs from her system. That had always worked in the past. Running circles in her cell. Fighting the guards or pulling against her restraints. Those efforts would leave her exhausted, but at least she would be chemical free.
Well, wouldn’t that be awesome?
Maybe this time she would actually get away. And if that kickass outcome wasn’t in the cards for her, then maybe she’d be lucky enough to overexert herself and burst a blood vessel in her brain. You know, before either her lungs collapsed or her kneecaps blew.
Seriously, better an aneurysm than winding up back in a lab cell.
But this isn’t the lab.
Rez ignored that small bit of information and kept running. Sure, the corridors were empty—no armored security or scientists wearing protective visors anywhere in sight. No sleeping gas fogging the air. It was simply seamless corridor after seamless corridor that held no resemblance to the scientists’ barge.
Wait. Was she running in fucking circles?
Glancing over her shoulder, she glimpsed an increasing brightness reflecting off the polished, veined surface of the dim corridor. Her flash hairs were continuing to do their thing—charging in response to danger.
Shit. She couldn’t hide like this. Her flash hairs’ overzealous dedication to self-preservation—priming for another charge—was a freaking beacon attached to her back.
A sharp thunk sound was followed by a gust of vegetation-laden air and bright light. There. Farther ahead. Another opening appeared, like the one that had released her from her cell.
She burst through the opening, into the sunshine, and jolted to a stop.
With her toes gripping fragrant grasses, she teetered on the edge of a cliff and gawked at a rolling sea.
Huh. She’d never been to the sea on Warren’s. Thanks to her toes and some freshly uprooted grass, she was about to get an up close—and most likely dragged down under—experience.
She pitched forward, head over heels.
As she plummeted, her stomach lurched, as if she’d left it behind on the cliff edge. Perhaps that was a good thing. Maybe that bit of her body would survive.
The water rose—an illusion—but it did look rather eager for her to shatter a few bones when she smacked into its surface.
The oncoming pain didn’t bother her. It was that she didn’t get to see—
Rez grunted—her last bit of air forced from her lungs—as she was snatched about the middle and pulled against a hard, solid wall.
Wall? No. A chest. And a thick arm, looking just like the arm of the alien who’d woken her, was banded about her waist.
Water became sky as she was rolled, and the alien who held her slammed back-first into the sea.
This chapter is complete! I’ve enabled commenting and have added my own thoughts as well.
As always, thank you so much for reading!