Burning Red

Hi everyone, it’s been a while. This is the first story of Nita: The Planet Juntia is on the verge of a slow painful death at the hands of a blight that is killing off the planet’s vegetation, and Princess Nita has a plan to not just save Juntia now, but to raise the planet to greater heights.

The king’s meeting room radiated a tense and anxious energy as the princess, and one of the king’s older advisors argued back and forth. A scene that the council had grown used to since the princess had come of age to attend the meetings nine years ago, but with the severity of the issue at stake, their usual civil argument was inching closer to a shouting match. Princess Nita sat with her arm clasped in front of her on the round table, wearing an impassive stone mask that belied the fire burning in her purple eyes, while advisor Krin, the man she was arguing with – and had argued with at almost any given opportunity – stood with one hand outstretched, while the other was placed on his heart, and he spoke in a soft but clear voice. Princess Nita thought he wore the image of patience and empathy very well, but leaning forward, and looking directly into his hard-unforgiving eyes, which she’d known keenly since childhood, she recognized that in him there was no room for debate, understanding, or compromise. He smiled gently at her in the way one would smile when trying to appease a fitful child.

“But why the world-bearer? Why not ask Dreakar? They’re our parent planet after all, or even the Galactic Union,” Krin said looking around at the other advisors for support he knew would be forthcoming. “Don’t you think going to Marak is …well, a bit random?” He said, and as he had anticipated, the room filled with murmurs of agreement. He beamed proudly, then adjusted his robes before sitting down.

Nita did not bother replying until she had made brief but direct eye contact with each of murmurers, silencing them with a look filled with ire. If they were too afraid to share their opinions openly, then she preferred them to remain quiet instead of filling the room with their disruptive grumbling. That was the one redeeming quality she found in advisor Krin. He, at least, was bold enough to challenge her openly, even though she knew he only did it out of spite.

She stood up. “Not at all, advisor Krin,” she said and began to walk around the table as she spoke. “These questions you’ve posed tell me clearly that you have no vision for the advancement Juntia. That goes for the rest of you as well. You have allowed you thinking processes to stagnate, and you should know very well, that if we allow the head that makes decisions for the planet suffer stagnation, the rest of the planet will follow suit, and turn stale and rotten,” she said vehemently.

The advisors began speaking up against the insult at once, and some rose from their seats in fury. Princess Nita, remaining unphased, lifted her hands and clapped, the loud clear sound cut cleanly, through the air. The advisors were startled into silence, and before they had the chance to speak again, she continued.

“Do you want to remain a ‘simple colony’ forever? Do you not want independence?” She said in a harsh growl.

Then, although she was addressing them all, she glared hard into advisor Krin’s eyes, not bothering to disguise her animosity and contempt. “Is the best solution you all can come up with, after you long years of service to the king, running with your horn broken and tails tuck between your legs to your parent planet?” She said, then stayed quiet to allow her statement sink in, and give them an opportunity to speak up. When no one did, she continued.

“If we ask for help from Dreakar like you’ve advised, they’ll increase our taxes. If we go to the GU, they may ask for some sort unbalanced deal for our meager resources, or they may send us back to Dreakar.”

“What about the Lupaine?” Jila, an elderly woman said in a weak voice.

“Now, that’s a half-decent suggestion but help from the Lupaine is uncertain. There’s no guarantee that they will accept our request for aid… as you know, they deal with much bigger problems than plants decaying on some random colony planet,” Nita said turning to the woman, who shrank back slightly. “Well, Alright, let’s imagine that they do help out, then what? Once their done, they’ll pack up and leave,” she said then paused a bit before continuing.

“What I want, is more than just momentary aide, or goodwill. I want to form connections. What I want for us, is to have allies.” She said emphasizing each word by hitting her fist to her palm. “We may never become a GU planet, but we can become independent like many other colony planets have done in the past. Reaching out to Marak’s world-bearer is the first step. Marak will ask for nothing from us. They will either do it or reject us. There is nothing to lose, and everything to gain. If we’re rejected, we’ll go to Dreakar or the GU like you’ve suggested. But if they help us?” She smiled, and the flames of ambition burned so brightly in her eyes, that the room seemed to grow hotter. “If they help us, I swear to you all, that I will make them allies to the throne of Juntia.”

She made her way back to her seat, and sat down, this time facing the man at the head of the table as she spoke. “Our vegetation and crops dying is a great misfortune, one of the gravest disasters the planet has experienced, but allow me to dictate how it will be written in the history books for the generations to come: ‘The fields of Juntia turned black as the plants wilted and died prematurely. The soil was blighted and grew no more grain. The people in desperation, set the planet ablaze with fire, trying to burn away the rot, and they despaired when all failed. Little did they know that what they assumed were flames of desperation, would evolve into the flames of liberation that burnt away the title of colony planet, rising from the ashes as a dignified independent planet…’” there was rapture in her voice as she spoke that spread to those around her, and no one seemed to be able to sit still.

Her words filtered through their bodies like smoke and intoxicated them with her thoughts. Some were carried along with eyes glazed over, while others wrung their fingers in discomfort from her ambition and passion. They were all quiet and waited as they stared in expectation at the king seated at the head of the table. King Ranon sat with his chin propped on his fist and remained quiet. His expression was impassive as he looked at his daughter. She boldly stared back, not breaking eye contact or backing down. The look in her eyes dared him to disagree with her. It was a look that let him know that despite the fact that he was the king and her father, maybe especially because of that fact, she would not hesitate to drag him from the throne if she sensed any weakness in him. He smiled internally. He knew his daughter well, and met her challenge, after all, he was the one who had trained and sharpened her ambition. He expected nothing less from her, but to challenge the king’s gaze was an act of outright disrespect.

Nita knew she was approaching a point of complete disregard of her father’s authority, and she was aware of the advisors watching them, but she didn’t want to concede, especially when she couldn’t sense any anger from her father over her actions. His gaze did not burn or waver. It was vast, deep, and impenetrable, like an ocean of steel. He didn’t need to argue of defend himself. His right to rule had been proven through years of dedication and results. Compared to him, her outbursts and passion, seemed childish. His look told her that nothing she did or said, could topple him. Her words had no substance to them. He was certainly the king, Nita thought, becoming keenly aware of how her attempt to challenge him only emphasized her own immaturity. Just when it seemed like the silence would stretch indefinitely, and the people were on the verge of crying and screaming just to release some of the tension in the air, Nita shifted her gaze to the table, the king spoke, and the air in the room was breathable again.

“My daughter grows wiser each day,” he said calmly. “Though I would caution the future queen, to temper her passions, so that her good intentioned efforts will not turn our trusted advisors into enemies, and that the fire in her blood will not burn her own allies on her brilliant ascent to the throne.” He paused briefly. “There is nothing to be lost in negotiations with Marak besides time,” he said to the advisors, then turning to the princess, “nothing can be lost besides time, but that lost time may be all that is left of Juntia. I will give you free reign over this issue. As always you know what expectations I have of you, and you rarely fail to meet them. I trust this will not be one of those rear occasions.”

“My King, your trust in me is never misplaced, just as my trust in you is never misplaced,” she said, smiling triumphantly. “As always, I apologize for my rudeness to our noble advisors, and I assure you all that I will not fail Juntia.”

# # #

After the meeting, the king left the room, and the advisors immediately dispersed, thankful to finally be free of the tension, some of them, Krin in particular, making sure to give her furious glares before they left. She brushed it all off, although she knew that if not for their respect for her father, she would have long since received a dose of poison in her drink or a knife through the back. She made her way to her room, high on her victory, but mentally drained from the battle. In her room, she opened the large glass doors to her balcony and leaned against the railing looking at the Juntian landscape.

It was midday, and the sun was high in the purple cloudless sky, basking the land in radiant light. The capital city sprawled beautifully before her, bustling with activity just outside the castle walls. She could hear the sound of the people milling through markets, driving, and brimming with life. Even with the pitiful sate of the planet, the people had not yet lost hope. The unshakable faith in the throne, was a testament to her father’s wise rule, and that faith fueled her desire to raise them up to even higher standards. Sighing and leaning forward, she carefully considered her father’s words from earlier, about not letting the fire in her blood burn her own allies, but she couldn’t help her passion. Yes, the king had done so much already. In the thirty years of his rule, the planet had gone from a poor farming colony, to a growing industrial hub, but more could be done, and she felt like the advisors were holding them back. Her father often reminded her that the advisors were the voice of the people, elected to allow the will of the masses be heard by the throne. Yet, she felt impatient with the way the advisors were growing too comfortable with the status quo, and she knew her father was frustrated with it as well. He’d expressed it to her many times when they drank together or went riding. He was just better at hiding it than she was.

A flicker in the distance caught her attention, and her chest tightened, as she saw thick black smoke rising from another field being set aflame to stop the blight from spreading. Each day, more of Juntia’s glorious red fields were being turned to ash. She heard someone approaching from behind but did not turn away from the smoke rising to pollute the clear sky.

“Are you taking one last look?” Pedan her secretary asked. His voice was a barely above a whisper and laced with tenderness. Even though he was a couple years younger than her, he always had the air of a doting mother about him. She smiled at him affectionately. Besides her father, he was the only other reason people weren’t completely fed up with her temperament.

“I’m not sure when I’ll see this landscape again. The trip to Marak alone will take four months, and who knows how long it will take to convince the world-bearer,” She shook her head, and leaned over the railing. “If all goes well, this maybe one of the last times I will have to see Juntia in this state,” she said, looking at how, just within her line of sight, over half the earth was blackened with burnt crops and soot, when just a year ago they were endless alizarin fields and forests.

“What if you can’t convince him?” He asked, joining her by the railing.

Nita was silent, and she closed her eyes as a slow wind brought the smell of flowers and burring crops to her nose. “That is not an option,” she said firmly, and turned away from the view. “I won’t need anything else for today. Ask the mechanics to complete the final checks on the ship, then go to bed. Tomorrow will be a busy day.”

“Understood,” he said then bowed and left the room.

Alone, Nita leaned against the railing once more, and looked up to the sky. Large orange clouds were now moving gently against the lavender sky. I cannot fail, she thought, then closed the doors and went to bed.

# # #

The next morning, was as hectic as she had expected, but everything went smoothly thanks to Pendan’s careful planning. She had a quick breakfast in her room, then went to meet her father in the stables. One of the first things he did every morning was brush his Jink’s fur. She watched him from a distance, so he could complete his morning ritual without interference. He was dressed in simple clothes, and a passerby may have mistaken him for a knight or an overly fit stable boy. His Jink, Ragan, shook slightly, as he soaked up the attention of his master. The animal snorted playfully, and gently used its large tusks to nudge King Ranon when he paused briefly to clean the brush. The king laughed, and rubbed the Jink’s snout, causing the animal to wag it short tail in appreciation. If Nita had not seen Ragan, in battle, use those tusks, to ram through at least fifty fully armored soldiers at once, she may have confused him for a docile giant. The king gave his attention to Ragan for a few more minutes, before allowing one of the stable helps take over. As he approached her, she could have sworn Ragan threw her a sour jealous look. Great, she thought, now even the animals didn’t like her.

“He’s my father not yours,” she whispered sourly.

“What did you say?” Her father asked.

“Nothing, I think your stead is upset that you cut his grooming short.”

“Ragan will be fine,” he said and although his face did not show it, she knew he was amused. “are you jealous of a jink?”

“No, just that I don’t remember the last time you brushed my hair,” she said, throwing her braided hair over her shoulder.

“The last time you let me touch your hair was when you were ten, then you shaved your head a couple years later,” he said, then picked one of her small braids. “I was completely aghast. You are so much like me that the only thing that reminds me of your mother is your blue hair,” he said.

“Yes, of course. I am constantly reminded of how unlike her I am… not as kind or compassionate… not that I would know.”

“Kita was kind, compassionate, and modest,” he said. “And you are all of those things as well. But, you see, people are intimidated by your strength, so they overlook everything else.” He paused for a moment, watching as the stable boy struggled to brush Ragan. The beast was much less cooperative with anyone besides the king. Nita saw her father’s lips inch up in a barely perceptible smile, then he continued. “However, you don’t need to change, or suppress your personality to make others feel comfortable. You are the future queen of Juntia, let your actions and the results you bring be the judge of your character,” he said, his face still remaining impassive, but the pride in his voice could not be masked.

“I won’t let you down. I promise,” Nita said, and her voice cracked, but she held back her tears.

“I expect nothing less,” he said, and turned away. “Go with confidence. Juntia will not fall before you return with the world-bearer.”

“Of course not, you are the King,” she said, then walked over to where Pedan was waiting for her.

“Are you ready, Princess?” He asked.

She nodded, and after saying her goodbyes to a few of the advisors, and some of the common people who came to see her off, she boarded the ship with her small entourage which consisted of her and Pedan, joined by Ucin her personal guard, and Krin, who had insisted on coming. They had opted for a small group, because the smaller ships were faster, and because even if they brought an army of guards with them to Marak, it would all be futile if the Marakians decide to harm them for whatever reason. There was no need to potentially waste more time and lives.

# # #

The journey to Marak, went by without incident. During the four months, she stayed in her small quarters, and did her best to avoid Krin, who antagonized her whenever they met. She took the time to read up on Marakian customs, although there were very few books written on the subject. The entire planet was shouldered in mystery, and after many fruitless attempts to prepare herself for her meeting with the world-bearer, she chose to spend the time training with Ucin instead.

The woman was ten years older than her and was considered a prodigy. By her fifteenth year, she was already a ranking official in the king’s army and after there were no more wars to be fought, she decided to become Nita’s personal guard, and had trained her ever since. Nita knew she did not have her father’s skills, but Ucin was always patient with her. Each day went by peacefully, and before she knew it, the captain of the ship was announcing that they had arrived in Marak’s vacuum-space.

# # #

It took another hour before they broke through the planet’s atmosphere, and in that time, Nita changed into more formal clothes. She and Pedan had made sure to pick outfits that were formal enough to meet the ruler of one of Nol’s most powerful planets, while not being so overbearing it would offend the rumored laid-back sensibilities of the Marakians. In reality, Nita felt underdressed, in her simple trousers and embroidered overcoat, but she pushed back those thoughts, as the small party gathered in front of the ship’s doors. Pedan and Ucin were similarly dressed, although Ucin choose to wear her leather armor over her shirt. Nita rolled her eyes upwards and sighed audibly when she saw Krin’s choice of clothing. The man looked like he was the king of the planet himself, dressed head to toe in flowing gold and purple Laris crystal embellished robes.

“Did you rob the royal treasury of it jewels,” Ucin said, eying Krin. “You are wearing more wealth on you than I’ve seen the Royal family display in the last two generations.”

“My clothing or wealth is certainly none of your concern, guard. We are here to request help, not to play the part of a beggars,” Krin replied scornfully.

“You are correct, but I would have assumed that in your infinite wisdom, you would have thought to respect the customs of the people we are meeting,” Nita said, then step forward till she was uncomfortably close to Krin. “And I want to clarify one thing Advisor Krin, we did not come here with the intention of begging, but if begging is what it will take to save Juntia, then you will not only play the part of a beggar, but you will do it with pride,” she said, then stepped away from him as the large doors opened up.

Nita had to squint, as the bright light filled the hanger. The first thing she saw once her eyes had adjusted, was a clear blue sky devoid of clouds, and a vast flat orange and white desert landscape. Fresh air rushed in through the open door and filled her lungs. Nita gasped and took a step back at the weight she felt inside her. It was as if the air was too thick and too heavy. As more of the Marakian air filled the hanger, and invaded her body, she shut her eyes, and wrapped her arms around herself. She had to make an effort to take deep deliberate breathes in order to move the air in and out.

“The air is heavy,” she heard Pedan gasp.

“Take your time, your body needs to get used to Marak’s presence,” a voice said from in front of them, but Nita’s eyes were closed, as she concentrated on steadying her breathing.

After a few moments, Nita felt like she was finally breathing normally, and opened her eyes. Standing in front of her, was a woman dressed in thin black leggings, and a loose black tunic with an intricate silver depiction of a battle scene seamlessly woven into the fabric. She smiled broadly and stretched out her had towards Nita.

“You must be princess Nita, we’ve been looking forward to meeting you since we received you letter,” she said, and Nita shook the outstretched hand. “My name is Hila, I’m from the north-eastern tribe, and the world-bearer assigned me to take care of you. Welcome to Marak.”

“Thank you,” Nita said, and stood up straighter. This was it, from here on all her actions could either mean the salvation or demise of Juntia. “I’m Princess Nita. This is Pedan my attendant, Ucin the head of my guard, and Advisor Krin, of the King’s Counsel,” she said, motioning to each person in turn.

“It’s nice to meet you all,” Hila said, and shook their hands. Nita didn’t miss the pointed look she gave Krin as she shook his hand. There was no doubt she was pondering his clothing choice. “Well, now that were all introduced, we can go,” she said, and immediately began walking out of the ship.

“We’ll be heading right to Cole’s palace, so you can talk to him, then once you’re done, you can have dinner and then go home tomorrow. Or you could hang around for a few days, it’s really it’s up to you.” Hila said.

“We’ll see him right now?” Nita asked, shocked. Usually there would be some formal welcoming feast or event, and gift giving ceremonies before one could meet any sort of ruler. Even Juntia had such practices.

Hila paused and looked back in evident confusion. “Well that’s what you came here for right?”

“Yes, I just… well there’s usually…” Nita was at a loss for words, which was something she rarely experienced.

“I’ve never been off Marak, so I’m not sure how things are on other planets, but the message we received said you wanted to speak to the world-bearer, and that it was urgent. If it’s so important, what’s the point of waiting until you’ve done a bunch of unnecessary things. Also.” She laughed, “world-bearer Cole is pretty impatient when it comes to official stuff, so he’s been waiting to get this whole thing over with.”

Nita remained silent. The way Hila spoke didn’t give her much room for optimism. It seemed like the marakians just wanted to get them out of their hair as soon as possible. She clenched her fists, and although she could feel her heart sinking, she faced forward determinedly. She had come for one purpose, and she would not leave until she had accomplished it. Yes, she thought, it was better this way, there was no need for ceremony. The faster she achieved her goal the better.

# # #

Unlike other planets Nita had visited, Marak didn’t have an Intergalactic Travel Station. There were so few people going on and off the planet, that they just had a large empty space dedicated for people to park their shuttles. Hila maneuvered them past the few shuttles that were parked there, until they reached a small cruiser. Marak was proving to be a destination with many firsts for Nita. The shuttle was of a design she had never seen before. It was an eight-seater egg shaped ship, with two holes at its sides, and a closer inspection confirmed her suspicion that it did not use hover technology.

When they entered inside, Hila took the seat at the head, in what Nita assumed was the front of the vehicle, although there were no controls that signified the driver’s seat. Nita watched as Hila placed a hand on a seemingly random spot on the ship. Marks flowed from her body, onto and through the ship. Through the surround glass windows, Nita saw large grey reptilian wings sprout from the two holes on the side of the shuttle.

“Alright, here we go,” Hila said, and with two great thrusts of the wings, they rose to the sky.

With Hila’s expert flying, it didn’t take long to reach the palace. Nita wasn’t surprised, when she saw the graceful simplicity of the building. It was located in an oasis within the endless marakian desert, surrounded by small bright green trees, and a large clear lake. The building itself, was a dazzling white one level square structure. Unlike her father’s place, there were no battlements or towers. She also couldn’t tell what material it was built with. It looked like the whole building was carved out of a single piece of white fabric with intricate black marks delicately placed upon it, which seemed to constantly be in motion. Nita had to look away after staring at it for a while, as the harsh black and white contrast and swirling patterns were making her dizzy.

As Hila brought the shuttle closer to the ground, Nita saw that there was no welcome party waiting for them. In fact, the area around the place was devoid of any activity, although, from the height they were at, she could see that just a couple miles away from the palace, there were tents and market stalls bursting with activity. Hila landed the ship right in front of the entrance, and immediately dismounted and began walking towards one of the doorless entryways, leaving Nita and her group to hurriedly follow after her. Nita ran to catch up to Hila as she walked past the unguarded entry way. Inside, was a long hallway, made with the same dazzling white material as the exterior of the building, and one side of it was made completely of windows. There was no edge or frame where the windows met the walls. It was a seamless face, with the mysterious material, simply becoming glass in the shape of the window.

The room was so illuminated, that Nita felt like she was walking in the clouds, or on a ray of sunlight made solid. The other wall of the hall was decorated with a detailed grayscale painting, of a flower field that seemed to use a silver and other metals as its pigments. The painting shone and caught the light against deliberately placed hatching, making the painting look like a liquid sculpture. There was no use of gold or precious gems in sight. All adornment was simplified in color and ornamentation but detailed in craftsmanship. Nita considered the fact that on a planet where even the most common man or child could produce jewels and precious metal from thin air with little effort, the true value of an object came from the skill with which it was crafted, rather than the materials used.

They soon reached the end of the hall, and Hila pushed on the doors with ease, swinging them open soundlessly. Nita had to squint, because as impossible as it was, this room was even brighter that the hallway. The throne room was tall and circular, made with the same white material that seemed to be the theme of the palace. There were no walls, as large windows with decorative frames took their place. The room also had no ceiling, and light seemed to fall in, undisturbed, landing gracefully on the figure that sat at the center, upon a black throne. His presence was unmistakable. Had he been sitting at the sidelines like some of the other occupants of the room, Nita would have still recognized him as the leader of Marak. She felt as if all the gravitational force of the planet emitted not from the planet’s center, but from this man.

He was reclined into his throne, with one leg crossed at an angle over the other. His bronze skin glittered like copper in the sunlight, and his hair was obsidian. He wore a loose black shirt with sapphire designs, not sapphire colored, but the jewel, somehow made into thread. His trousers were black loose joggers. He didn’t look as they entered, too engrossed in the discussion he was having to notice the arrival of his guests. Nita mentally corrected herself. He had most certainly noticed their arrival; he just hadn’t deigned to see them yet. The woman he was talking to, draped a lazy arm on top of the throne, and lightly punched his shoulder as they laughed over some joke. Her hair fell down her back in tight curls, and her other hand was deep in the pocket of her loose leggings, while hints of her brown skin peeked out from a cropped shirt. As easy as their manner was, Nita could not take one more step forward, even as Hila boldly walked up to the foot of the throne. The combined power radiating from the world-bearer, and the world-saber, whom she recognized immediately, was just too much.

“If they mean to intimidate us, they have certainly been successful,” Ucin whispered into her ear, but Nita did not reply. These were the people she was coming to demand help from, with the only incentive she had being the proposal to become allies. She suddenly felt extremely foolish, all her previous confidence draining from her. But she was determined not to falter. She had promised her father success, and she would not back down.

Besides the two figures at the center, there were eight other individuals in the room of varying age, Nita guessed they were the Marakian elders. Some of them were taking lapses in their conversation to watch the group. Hila reached the throne, bent her head forward in an informal bow, and held the position for a beat, before raising her head.

“World-Bearer, World-Saber, I have brought the guests from Juntia,” She said, although Nita could not see her face, she knew Hila was smiling.

The world-bearer turned from his companion, the humor draining from his face to leave in its place a blank but approachable mask. The world-saber smiled at them broadly, and Nita felt herself relax involuntary at the open expression. She did her best to meet their eyes. Now that the world-bearer was giving them his full attention, the elders halted their discussions and turned towards them.

“Are you going to stay at the entrance?” The world-bearer asked. His voice was not extremely deep, but there was a vibration behind it that carried and traveled through every surface and body in the room. It was the voice of a planet speaking through a man.

Nita straightened her back, and turning to meet the eyes of her retinue, she walked purposefully forward, to stand before the world-bearer. The rest followed, albeit reluctantly. She didn’t know how to great him, and despite the difference in power, she was still the princess of Juntia. She could not just drop to her knees, not yet at least, so she settled for a polite bow from the waist.

“World-bearer Cole, I am honored that you agreed to see me. I am the crown princess of Juntia, Nita Hasgan Juntia,” she said, and to her surprise, her voice rang clearly, without breaking. There was no hint of the tremors she felt raking her body.

He nodded. “And who are the rest of you?” He asked, glancing over the group, and there was a barely perceptible twitch when he looked to her right where Krin stood.

“Yes, these are…”

“I’m sure they can speak for themselves,” the world-bearer cut in as Nita was about to make the introductions.

“Of course,” she said, partly irritated by the interruption, and mortified that she may have broken some marakian introduction ritual.

There was an awkward silence for a moment, before Pedan boldly stepped forward. “My name is Pedan Shju, I am princess Nita’s attendant. It is an honor to meet you. I am awed by your presence,” he said in his sweet motherly voice, then bowed and stepped back. The world-saber smiled brightly after the introduction. The world-bearer simply nodded again.

Next Ucin stepped forward. “I am Ucin, in charge of the princess’s guard,” she said briskly then stepped back after a quick bow.

Finally, Krin stepped forward, his flowing robes sawing like cheap curtains. In contrast to the simplicity of the Marakian sensibilities, he looked tawdry, and his elaborate bow did nothing to lessen the effect. “Beloved world-bearer of Marak,” he said solemnly pulling folds of his robes up so he could place a hand on his chest. Nita suspected he would soon pass out with a heat stroke from wearing so many layers under the punishing Marakian sun. Krin continued. “Most beautiful world-saber.” A small frown made its way to the world-saber’s brow and her smile dimmed, yet Krin spoke undisturbed. “It is my great honor that you have welcomed us to your most sacred planet. The tales told of Marak do not do her justice. I am Krin, one of the king’s most trusted advisors. I am honored once again to meet you.” He finished, then performing another bow filled with flourish, he stepped back.

After Krin’s introduction, the world-bearer said nothing, but at the corner of his lips, Nita noticed a small twitch again. The silence dragged yet no one dared speak until the world-barer made some comment or sign that he had herd the introduction. His eyes were on Kirn, but he seemed to be contemplating something deeply, and a small crease formed on his forehead, then very slowing, he leaned forward.

“You said your name is Krin? One of the king’s advisor?” He asked quietly, and his lip twitched again.

“Yes, your grace,” Krin replied, leaning forward. Nita could guess where the conversation was going.

Then the world-bearer leaned back into his chair, and the twitch at his lips gave way to an easy smile. “King’s advisor Krin, why are you dressed like that, did you not know Marak was a desert world? Or were you trying to outshine the princess of your planet with you garb?” He asked laughing heartily, and the sound carried on a gentle breeze.

“Cole,” the world-saber admonished, smacking his shoulder. Although she barley maintained her own expression.

“Tari,” he said, catching her had as was about to land another hit. “I wasn’t insulting him; it was a simple question about practicality.”

“Cole, each planet has its own set of customs,” a white-haired elder said, addressing the world-bearer without his title, “although I have never known a culture where the advisor out dresses the princess.”

“I personally prefer the princess’s style choices. The advisor brings to mind the excesses of the times of old,” another elder said. A tall young woman, pale as bone from head to toe.

Nita clenched her fist and swore inwardly. Kirn had succeeded in making them into a ridiculous side show. At least he had the decency to look ashamed. Just as Nita was thinking of a way to bring the conversation back to focus, the world saber-cleared her throat, and silence descended on the room.

She smiled again. She smiled quite often Nita thought and it suited her, but she had to wonder if the smiles were as sincere as they appeared. “I’m sure you would all like to discuss fashion choices for a bit longer, but I believe Princess Nita didn’t travel across the galaxy just for that. And on that note, I will be taking my leave,”

“Already?” Hila said, “You just got here,”

“Uhg, I know,” she said, and stretched her neck. “I know, but I’m sensing fluctuations in Sol’s sleep pattern,” she said. The mention of the Prince of Nightmares name turned Nita’s blood to ice. Pendan gasped. The world-Saber glanced their way but did not acknowledge their reactions.

“Is he waking?” the world-bearer asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” the world-saber said, and for reasons that Nita could not begin to fathom, the world-saber’s reply carried heavy disappointment. As though she would have preferred it if the monster woke up. Nita kept her thoughts to herself, and thankfully so did Krin; she knew he would usually have a lot to comment on. “Anyway, I’m leaving now, I need a proper break after the last ten years in the Binding. I will be with him for a few days, then I’ll head to Cajara,” the word-saber said. Then she gave the world-bearer a one-armed hug and bid farewell to Hila and the advisors. As she passed Nita, she gave her a small smile, and a nod, the left then throne room through the roof less ceiling, on large black kyr-wings which materialized fluidly from her back.

After the world-saber left, world-bearer Cole returned his attention to Nita. “Nita, as Tari said, you have important things to discuss. My apologies for distracting us from the point.”

“That is fine world-bearer, as long as we can talk now,” she said, surprised by both the apology, and the use of her name without a title.

“Let me hear what you have to say,” he said, leaning into his throne. “Also call me Cole. We don’t make a habit of using titles unless necessary.”

“If you insist…Cole,” Nita said, and he simply nodded and waited, so Nita began to tell him of the state of Juntia. “Cole, for eleven months now, Juntia has been suffering from some sort of blight, and we have been unable to identify the cause or find a cure. Every day, more crops are dying, and more fields are burned. If nothing is done, we will no longer be able to sustain ourselves. We are already tittering on the edge of famine. That’s why we are here, to request aid from Marak. With your abilities, you will certainly be able to heal Juntia,” she said, making sure to keep her eyes on Cole as she spoke, despite the pressure she was feeling. He watched her and said nothing for a moment. She hoped he was considering her words carefully, but the look on his face did not seem to be one of empathy or contemplation. Nita balled her fists nervously.

“Out of all the options laid out before you, how did you come to the conclusion to seek help from Marak? We have nothing to do with you,” Cole said, and the manner in which he held himself was beginning to show signs of boredom and disinterest. Cole sighed internally. Although it was rare, this was not the first time a planet had come to him for aid and it would not be the last. He didn’t know what part of Marak’s relationship with the rest of the galaxy, gave the impression that they were a good willed charity.

“Your parent planet is Dreakar go to them,” he continued, then he grinned although the humor did not touch his eyes. “Unless of course there is some other reason why it has to be Marak.”

Nita didn’t know how to respond. She didn’t know whether she should implore his pity or beg, but as she studied his demeanor, she knew there would be no forthcoming of sympathy or pity. The world-bearer didn’t care one way or another what happened to her planet. “I…” she started to say but couldn’t continue. She had expected such a response, but to actually be in the situation felt much more difficult than she had imagined. The world-bearer’s eyes were unrelenting, and expectant.

She almost fell to her knees like she’d said she would. What use was the pride of a princess from a dying world? But now, after meeting the marakians, a part of her suspected that the moment her knees touched the ground, she would be thrown out. Marakians did not value weakness. She clenched her fists tightly. The skin over her knuckles strained from the tension. Calm down she thought. Calm down now. She closed her eyes, then deliberately, and slowly released the breath she had been unconsciously holding.

She opened her eyes. “Cole, I have no interest in allowing my world to remain a colony of Dreakr, so I refuse to ask them for help. You wonder why I came to Marak? The answer is obvious, and you know it. You are powerful. You are powerful and we have nothing of value to you, so we will not be exploited by you. You would be the most advantageous ally we could ask for. That is all,” she said, and unclenched her fists. “I came her ready to throw away my pride and beg at your feet if I had to, but I no longer think that way.” She brushed away a stray hair that fell in her face. “You would not appreciate the gesture, and I have no desire to do so. My planet is dying as we speak, I don’t have time to waste here. Will you help us or not?” she knew what she was risking, and almost backed down, but her father had told her she didn’t need to change who she was, and she wouldn’t feign meekness.

“Princess,” Krin said in outrage “Is this any way to…”

“Be silent Krin,” she said forcefully, and to her surprise he was silent, as were the rest of the room’s occupants. Cole had an undiscernible look on his face.

“Neither your pleading nor boldness move me,” Cole said, still expressionless. The only indication of any emotion was the subtle moment of the marks around his wrist on the hand that lazily hung over the arm of his throne. Unlike other marakians, the world-bearer did not have arabesque markings covering his body. His marks were contained to black bands around his neck, wrists and ankles. Nita knew those markings were capable of manipulating the entire planet like clay in the hands of a sculptor. She grew nervous but did not let it show on her face. If he killed them all for her insolence, he probably wouldn’t even be held accountable. Would her father go to war with Marak over her death? she certainly hoped not. The moment extended for an eternity before he spoke again.

“I visited Juntai about seven hundred years ago, with Sol and Rick,” he said, and Nita stared at him in confusion. She had no clue where he was going. He looked wistfully out the windows, with a grieved smile that affected his entire face. “There are increasingly few planets that Sol finds beautiful. Afterall, he often sleeps for thousands of years, only to wake up and find places he once loved completely changed. Fintar was ruined by industry, Awana by his own powers. Who knows when he will wake up next, only to find Juntia in ruins?”

Nita was still having trouble understanding Cole’s train of thought, and she was even more befuddled to imagine the dark prince even being able to feel love, much less that some of that love was directed towards her planet.

“Nita, I cannot become your ally. My friendship is not given so easily, but I will heal your planet for Sol’s sake. And I would like to thank you for coming here. It is well known that we are a closed off planet. If you did not notify me, I would have never known the state Juntia was in,” he said and smiled. It was the first warm expression he had directed to her, and although Nita had mixed feelings about what she was hearing, she returned the smile. She didn’t care what the reason was, as long as he helped Juntia.

“Also,” he continued, the warm smile turning mischievous. “I invite you to continue to visit Marak as often as you want. I have no doors barring entrance to my palace. Feel free to try to convince me to become your ally. I’m certainly curious to see how you plan to break away from Dreakar, as well.”

Nita felt her chest expand, and she almost burst out laughing in triumph. Despite what Cole said, she knew what his words meant. Marak was not a planet that one could just visit whenever. He was giving her a chance. Her lips twitched, and she was mortified as a small giggle escaped, but she quickly quieted the sound.

“Thank you, Cole. I assure you that before long you will count Juntia as one of you few allies,”

“I look forward to it,” he said. “Although I wonder if you will still be alive when that happens.”

“I don’t care if it is in my lifetime or centuries from now. The foundation has been laid.”

“It is shaky at best, easily broken.” He scoffed.

“But it has still been laid. Not many planets can say that, certainly no colony planets.”

“Few are so bold.”

“I thought my boldness did not move you.”

He smiled but did not reply.

“She has you there, Cole,” Hila said laughing, and some of the elders joined in.

“Despite what you say, you are easily moved.”

“You had already decided you would help when you received the letter. I don’t know why you insist on dragging things out sometimes,” the white Haired elder said. “You need to go out more…But Prince Sol would be happy. Maybe you can visit together when he wakes up.” Nita shuddered at the thought but said nothing.

“Janjik, I don’t think the people will take too kindly to that suggestion,” Cole said. “Although there would be no way to stop us.” He laughed.

“If you plan on making any visits in the future, please inform us beforehand, so we can make the necessary arrangements,” Pendan spoke softly.

Cole grinned. “I make no promises Pendan,” he said then got up from his throne and stretched until his muscles were pulled taunt. “But I trust you will take care of things regardless,” he said walking to stand beside them and rest his hand on Pendan’s shoulder. Pendan wasn’t bulky, but he was tall, and still he looked small even though Cole was only a few inches taller. Pendan blushed deeply at the contact, and Nita thought he would faint.

“Since we are done here, I will be moving on to my next appointment. Feel free to stay as long as you want and explore Marak. Hila will go back to Juntia with you when you are ready to leave, she will also be your guide until then. Please feel free to give her a hard time.”

“Cole,” Hila sighed, and shook her head.

“Nita, Ucin, Krin, and Pendan,” He said, slapping Pendan’s back lightly as he said his name. “Till next time, which could be in just a few hours if you’re still here for dinner. The rest of you go home,” he said gesturing to the elders, then he strode out of the room.

The elders lingered a bit longer to personally greet Nita. Then they all left, leaving them alone with Hila.

“So,” Ucin began uncertainly, “Our mission was successful?”

“I believe so, but I must say, I’m quite confused.” Pendan replied.

Hila laughed loudly, loosening the uncertainty in the air. “Of course, it was successful. If it wasn’t, you’d already be on your way back to your planet by now. The thing to know about Cole is that he doesn’t waste time refusing people, but he likes to play around when he knows he’s going to say yes. He’s a bit sadistic,” she said, and laughed again.

“So, you already knew you would be helping us?” Nita asked.

“Yes, he called me over yesterday when he saw me downtown and told me he’d probably be sending on an off-world assignment,”

“Just like that?”

“That’s how it usually is when you part of the armory.”

“Armory?” Ucin asked.

“Yes, it’s like the equivalent of a royal guard, or planetary defense…basically we are the weapons of Marak should the need arise. We also available perform whatever tasks the world-bearer or saber ask of us.”

Nita nodded. Marak was certainly different. She noticed that throughout their conversation, Krin was oddly quiet. “Is everything alright?” she asked touching his shoulder.

He jumped, overly startled, then shook his head, as if to banish whatever thoughts were plaguing him. “Everything is fine Princess, I think the heat is getting to me,”

Nita noted that it was actually quite cool in the throne room now, compared to earlier or when they were outside, but she didn’t point it out. The meeting had obviously shaken him.

“Well then, let’s get you a change of clothes. We’ll garb something to eat, then I’ll show you some of Marak, and along the way we can discuss when well leave for Juntia. Let’s go,” Hila said, already walking out of the room.

“Princess,” Pendan said softly. She turned meet a glorious smile that lit up his face, and she saw the sun glistening on small droplets of moisture in the corners of his eyes. “Juntia is saved,” he said breathlessly.

She grabbed his hands, and squeezed them tightly, suddenly overcome by emotions, the greatest being intense relief. “She is saved,” she whispered, her voice constricted by emotion.

Second Encounter

Sequel to Fateful Encounters

Lenol sat in the back of the crowded, open roofed hover-bus, and held on to the handrail tightly. On the surface, he tried to maintain a calm expression, like some of the other passengers, but it failed as the driver took another ship turn that nearly flipped the vehicle upside down. Lenol looked over the shoulders of the passengers in front of him, trying to at last get a good look at the person causing his stomach to turn, but the driver remained hidden in front of the crowd. Lenol concluded that the individual must have had some extraordinary skills, because he couldn’t understand how it was possible to have such a bumpy ride in a hover-bus which didn’t even physically drive on the rocky terrain; and as far as he could see, this particular stretch of land was actually quite smooth.

The driver suddenly braked, then spinning the car and causing the engine to cry painfully, they pushed the bus into reverse. The driver drove full speed in reverse for far too long for Lenol’s comfort, before sharply turning the car around to face forward again, causing a gust of wind that sent the light dust on the planes of Brinner flying into the air. Unprotected due to the vehicles open roof, the passengers began coughing and spitting out dirt that got into their mouths, eyes, and lungs. Lenol spat out the side of the car, and watched one of his fellow passengers, excrete pink slime from his or her two pairs of eyes to remove the sand.

“Sorry dear friends, I missed the turning. We will continue with smooth riding from here,” the driver said over the intercom in an unapologetic, almost teasing voice, which sounded like it came from two mouths speaking simultaneously.

“How could you miss a turning, there’s literally nothing but empty land here,” Lenol heard one of the other passengers mutter.

Lenol leaned half his body out of the car and laughed lightly as the wind blew his hair back. Despite everything, he was enjoying himself. True to the driver’s word, the drive became less chaotic, and Lenol was able to enjoy the landscape of Brinner. Granted, there wasn’t much to see, as the planes of Brinner were very much barren, yet he found the empty expanse of brown and pale-yellow rock and sand extremely comforting. Compared to the towering high rises and floating buildings of his home world, Cajara, which was beautiful in its deliberate design, there was an elegant and wild beauty in this completely natural landscape. Occasionally, in the distance, he saw lights at the peaks of what appeared to be mountains, but he knew were probably norvins, the mountain living complexes of the natives of Brinner.

He was heading to one of those norvins, one of the only two out of hundreds of norvins on the planet, that allowed tourists en masse. He’d already been on the bus for six hours, and there were still four hours of traveling left. Once during the long ride, he had seen a group of about fifteen native brinans trekking and pulling large transparent egg like cases that hung just above the ground. Lenol knew that native brinans, didn’t use hover technology, so he was curious to know how they managed to make objects levitate. He had drawn a quick sketch in his journal and made a note to ask one of the natives when he had the chance. Lenol turned on his side just as they passed dangerously close to the top of a cliff side, nearly tipping over. A few of the passengers let out curses and complaints, but most people just laughed, already used to the crazy driving, and learning to enjoy it.

Passing the cliff side, entering into a natural tunnel through the rocks, the landscape opened up again, and Lenol was provided a view of a new set of mountain ranges. He took out his journal and began scribbling and sketching furiously. He couldn’t get over how much the sight of what basically amounted to emptiness thrilled and inspired him. It was like his mind had expanded into some higher dimension that could only be accessed once the noise of the civilization he knew was removed. Many times, he had visited the Gianiv: a city built around lake Niva, Brinners only body of water, but he knew that no one considered the Gianiv as the real Brinner. It was just a convenient location which off-worlders had converted to the galaxy’s playground. The real Brinner was in the desolate mountain ranges and planes of the Brigin, where the natives lived. He had heard of the strange people, how alien they looked, as well as their technology that was said to be on par with Cajara and even Iclax, although he wasn’t sure how much of that he believed, after all, what sort of technological advancements could be made in the hive like societies of the brinans.

He stiffened, then deliberately lifted his pencil off the paper, and set his gaze on the horizon. He wanted to be as unbiased about brinan society as possible, but all the books and stories he’d heard, painted a very specific image of native brinans: Stoic and expressionless, not just because they didn’t familiar facial features, but because of how robotic they behaved; like machines set on one purpose. He’d read in one account that brinans were second only to Iclax in their disregard for emotion, but unlike Iclaxians, brinan’s didn’t even have the concept of enjoyment. They started working as soon as they were able, and worked until they died or were otherwise incapacitated, all in purpose to furthering the hive agenda, whatever that maybe. Lenol shook his head, to clear away the thoughts.

“Ahh why did I bother reading anything.” He sighed, continuing to watch the horizon.    

Lenol squinted against the setting sun as they began steadily going up an incline. As night fell, a thin haze descended and the green globe of the planet Frild slowing creeped up from the horizon along with Brinner’s moon, casting a light green fog over the planet. Ahead of them, they could now see the lights of a couple more transport busses similar to theirs, as well as groups of people walking, hunched together to protect themselves from the dropping temperature. Among the crowd, Lenol could spot people from a variety of planets. There were Frildians in their half dome personal carriers, some Cajarans like himself, and he couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw mundarian slinky thought the throngs of people. He grew slightly irritated, though, when he spotted an Iclaxian; their green glow barley concealed under their cloak. He continued to casually glance over each group, not really focusing on anything in particular, when suddenly, he felt a pull of familiarity towards a hunched over figure, covered in many layers of cloth, and limping in the distance, slightly separated form the mass of travelers.

He leaned forward to get a closer look, and as the buses moved past the crowd on the loosely demarcated street, a slight wind blew, and the layers of cloaks and cloth on the figure, shifted just enough to allow a metallic glint to be seen. Lenol gasped as an unbelievable thought passed through his mind, and despite his disbelief, his body was already moving. He stood quickly, causing the man in front of him to turn around and send him a glare, which Lenol didn’t notice as he jumped off the side of the moving shuttle. The other passengers moved to look over the side wondering what had come over him. Lenol sprinted towards the man, jumping over the heads of travelers, and calling on his Cajaran abilities, he moved faster, almost flying toward the stranger whose identity he was becoming more and more certain of.  He reached the man in manic excitement, grabbed his shoulder, and turned the man to face him. The man gasped, almost losing his footing.

 “What in Sol’s breath is wrong with you, you jit,” The man said, letting out an undignified exclamation, and raising a fist.

It only took a second for their eyes to focus on the face in front of them and they stared at each other in shocked silence for a short moment.

“No way,”

“Unbelievable,” they said simultaneously.

Lenol looked into the man’s dumbstruck face which mirrored his own expression, and laughed loudly, moving closer to inspect his face more, as if he could mistake that rough appearance, and irritated defiant eyes for anyone else’s.

“Mivin, is it really you?” Lenol asked, his voice that was high pitched with wonder. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so excited, staring at the man that was practically a stranger. He’d never expected them to cross paths again.

“You! What was your name again?” Mivin said slapping Lenol’s back “Limin?”

“Lenol! You old lunatic…” he said laughing heartily, by this time, the shuttle had caught up and stopped beside them. The driver and some passengers had disembarked to see what was going on.

“What are you doing here?” Lenol asked, bending to pick up the small bag Mivin was carrying.

“Nothin’ much, just wandering around…” Mivin said, reaching to take the bag back from Lenol, but Lenol moved backwards taking the bag just out of his reach.

“Are you heading to norvin Editch,” he asked, taking another step back as Mivin reached for the bag again.

“Yes, I… What in Marviel’s bloody fist are you doing? Give me my bag,” Mivin said in frustration after another attempt to take the bag.

Lenol smiled but didn’t hand the bag back. “Well I’m heading the same way. This bus should have enough room for one more, let’s go together, it will be faster that walking.”

“Don’t have money for a bus, that’s why I’m walking,”

“I’ll Pay.”

“No thanks.”

“It’s Nothing…”


“You left so abruptly last that time. What was that? Two, three years ago?”


“Come on, look their waiting,” Lenol said, gesturing to the people on the bus who were sporting looks of irritation. The driver, Lenol finally got a good look at him, was a squat purple man in overalls, leaning against the bus, smoking some strange pipe, with contents Lenol didn’t even want to guess at, from his two mouths.  “Come on, you’re really too old to be hiking like this. There still at least two more hours left, and that’s with the hover-bus… come,” he said.

Mivin looked towards the road ahead and internally cringed. At his pace, it would take at least ten more hours, and from his map, he knew most of it would be uphill. He looked to the bus, which while crowded already, would still be the better option. He knew what his body would prefer, but he didn’t want to admit that he needed the help. He was about to decline the offer again, but Lenol was already loading his bag into the bus’s Luggage hold.

“You’re a Winforan through and through,” Lenol said. “If your pride won’t let you accept the offer willingly, just think of it as following me to get your bag back,” Lenol added, and reached out a hand to help him onto the bus.

Mivin looked at the hand and was suddenly on the floor of that shopping center again, staring up at the meddlesome young man offering unsolicited help. He wouldn’t ever admit it, but that day he’d been close to giving up on a lot of things. In fact, he had been ready just lay on that floor till his body turned to ash and was swept away by the cleaners, but then that irritating hand appeared. The boy’s eyes were just as naive and innocent as before, but now Mivin noticed wearily, there was also touch of mischief in them.

“I remember you being much nicer,” Mivin grumbled too low for Lenol to hear, before taking the hand, and allowing Lenol pull him up once again.

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The Binding

Tari woke up, not easing out of sleep and slowly becoming aware, but abruptly like the snapping of a string, her body tense and mind seeking information. Her kyr-marks rolled in waves, dancing madly as they stretched and expanded off her skin, into the ground and air to confirm what her five senses already told her: no enemies, no battle. She knew, but it wasn’t until her marks became still on her body that she allowed herself to breathe, then she was able to take in the sensations she had initially ignored, sounds of her comrades laughing outside, the bubbling of something in a pot, fire crackling, and quiet chattering. It seemed like she was the last one to wake up, but instead of immediately going out to join them, she laid back on the soft bed, looking at the ceiling of her tent, but seeing the dream she had woken up from.

The last time she remembered dreaming, was almost a year ago, so she wanted to linger in it for as long as possible. In the dream, she was back on Marak, sitting in a nook by the window, with a book, but rather than reading, she was more interested in how the crisp rays of sunlight danced upon the black and white symbols on the page, making patterns within patterns, how those same rays, danced upon her skin, making it shimmer like bronze. The feeling she long most for from the dream, was the way the sun heated up one side of her body, nearly burning it while the other half, within the shade, was cool, almost cold. Tari sighed and gripped her blanket tightly, as the echoes of the dream began to fade. She tried to focus harder on the feeling of the burning sun, but the more she longed to hold on to it, the faster it slipped away, like water, out of her grasp, and gone, replaced by murky lukewarmness.

She sighed again, throwing her blanket off in annoyance, and getting up. The dream was great, but it had only made her more keenly aware of the fact that she was as far as she could be from Marak.

“Ah…I hate this place,” she whispered to herself, as she peeled off her clothes. They were wet not from sweat but form the unnatural humidity and mugginess of the binding. “I hate this place with the burning passion of Fuze,” she said moving to a corner of her large tent, where the cleansing station was.

She squeezed the clothes in her hand, and wrapping her marks around them, the marks, naturally black, began to glow a blindingly white, igniting the clothes, and burning them at a temperature so hot, that not even ashes remained. Tari giggled as she watched the plasma consume the clothes. She couldn’t burn down the binding itself, but she would take as much pleasure as she could, from imaging that as she burned the clothes, she was taking some small revenge on the place. She rubbed her hands together in satisfied glee, then becoming serious, she waved her hands over the glyphs on the cleaning station, a disc shaped piece of metal, two inches thick, attached to the wall, with a small nozzle at its center. The glyphs on the disc glowed a faint yellow, then as they tuned green, steam burst out of the nozzle, covering her in a membrane of moisture. The steam poured out for a couple minutes then, warm air followed after, drying her body, and completing the cleansing. Tari smiled, as the floral scent of the cleansing steam filled the room. One of the things that had kept her sane these last few years, was this scent, light, crisp, and clean, though she admitted that, despite the convince of cleansing stations, she still missed an actual bath.

She sighed again but deciding not to dwell on things she couldn’t change, she manipulated her kyr-marks to take on the shape of a simple shirt and leggings, then pulled kyr particles together into a soft but durable fabric of the same shape. Finally done getting ready, went to join her comrades.

“What’s the weather like today?” She asked as soon as she stepped out of the tent. There was always a moment, when stepping out, between her temperature-controlled tent and the thick warm air outside, where she had to brace herself against the strange feeling of the atmosphere. She knew that even spending ten more years there, wouldn’t get her used to what felt like the inside of an animal’s mouth.

“Hmm, let’s see,” Brel said coming over to her, and looking around. Then pointing exaggeratedly, he said, “Well over there is yellow murky, and there,” he pointed in another direction, “is orange murky combined with a hint of brown streaks.”

“Wow, that’s amazing,” Tari said clapping with false enthusiasm, then more seriously, “well, honestly, it’s definitely better than the purple and green mix we had yesterday.”

“Or the yellow and turquoise the day before that.”

“Exactly,” she said, and laughed loudly, in a way that was painfully mechanical, but bordered on hysteria. “This is wonderful,” she added, and sounded like she meant it.

Her four companions, stopped midway in their cooking, training, writing, and whatever else they were doing, to stare at her. Brel took a step back, watching as Tari whipped nonexistent tears from her eyes, her marks dancing frantically on her skin. Even as she straightened up, and regained her composure, they didn’t stop watching her.

“Are you okay?” Fee asked putting down the pad she was writing in, her blue hair, falling in wisps around her face.

“You seem a bit, tired,” Brel added, “Maybe you should get some more sleep.”

Tari shook her head and sighed at their concerned looks, letting out a hollow laugh. It had become their routine to joke about how much they loved the binding, and she had acted as she assumed was expected, but she saw none of the usual teasing, or lightheartedness in their tone or looks, which meant that she either really did seem unwell, or that they were too stressed to recognized the joke. It was probably a bit of both.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Really.”

“Are you sure, Fee said. “If you’re not okay, you have to let us know, we can’t have you losing your mind on us.”

Tari shot her a glare, then looked around, first, up into the sunless murky sky, already beginning to shift colors again, adding strange reddish hues into the mix, then down at the deep mauve stones that made up the desolate rocky terrain, and finally, she looked at her friends, and saw the strain and tiredness that painted their faces in deep shadows. She saw in them, what they probably say in her, that ten years of dimness, ten years of permanent twilight, ten years of a horrid sunless sky and its horrid colors was starting to take its toll on them all. It was no wonder they seemed concerned about her when she felt equally concerned for them.

How she had been able to keep her sanity this whole time? She wondered.

“Maybe you’ve actually lost your mind,” Silver said, turning away from her, and back to her cooking, satisfied that Tari wasn’t any crazier than she was the day before. She tasted the soup and smiled brightly.

“Maybe you should stay out of my mind,” Tari said, walking over, and kicking her lightly.

Silver made a sound which was intended to be a grunt, but which in her high hymn like voice, sounded more like sequels, then fell in exaggerated pain. Her twin brother Capricorn, joining in on the fun, leaped over from where he had been training to catch her.

 “It’s not my sister’s fault that you leave your mind completely defenseless,” he said cradling his twin’s head. “Keep your feet to yourself hooligan.” He added dramatically.

“You all have far too much energy in the morning.” Fee said stretching her back. She picked her notebook up, and started writing, offhandedly asking, “Have you heard anything from Rick, Tari?”

“Nope,” she said sitting down, Brel joined them around the food, and Silver started handing out large bowls of the transparent watery soup. “That good for nothing. He must be so happy to finally be out of here. Since he left, he hasn’t bothered to contact us once, except when he bought a new pair of shoes. Why in Marvel’s ankles would I care about his shoes?”

Capricorn laughed, “That’s so like him. Well he did say he would leave the final sealing to you, it’s unfortunate that the dark ones have been attacking more frequently. They’re not giving us any time… but more importantly,” He said, mischief creeping into his voice. “Should you really be calling your father a good for nothing?”

“And who exactly is my father?” Tari said, giving Capricorn a look of that dared him to continue.

 “Rick,” the remaining four said simultaneously, laughing obnoxiously as they did.

“Oh, here we go,” Fee said exasperated, though she smiled softly, as the dialogue they’d repeated at least a hundred times in the last month played out.

“I don’t remember agreeing to become his daughter,” Tari said laughing “he just say’s whatever he feels like.”

“Oh please. Just a few decades ago, you were always talking about how you wanted to make Rick proud, and how you loved him so much that…” the rest of Brel’s words were cut off by the pink sand thrown in his face.

“Ugh, you got sand in my soup,” he yelled, while the rest laughed at his expense.

“That’s because you say the most unnecessary things. All that happened when I was young and still thought he was the coolest man alive.”

“So, what you’re saying is that you don’t think he’s cool anymore?” Brel asked with obvious disbelief.

“No, he’s still cool, but I’ll never tell him that to his face, it goes right to his already over inflated ego… Besides Sol and Marviel are much cooler.” Tari said childishly.

“You’re all so immature, talking about who’s cool or not,” Fee said, putting down her already finished bowl of soup, and beginning to drink the remaining soup right from the pot.

“And your appetite is as baffling as always,” Tari said, putting her own bowl down.

They laughed and joked a bit more, then fell into silence for a while, each deep in their own thoughts. Tari looked off into the distance, the horizon, where the supple translucent shield walls of the binding, met the dark edge of the dark ones’s dimension. More specifically, she looked at the point, where a large rip in the bindings dimensional fabric was roughly held together by Silver’s energy shield and her rough Kyr stitching. The shimmering threshold seemed to hum and vibrate with life. Turning back to the group, she said, “But onto more serious things, what’s the plan for today. I really think it’s about time we find some way to finish the final sealing. I know we all just love being here, but I’m ready to go home.”

Silver nodded, “I hate to sour the mood, but no matter how much we try to have a good time, I really don’t think we should stay here for much longer.”

They grew grave at her words. They joked frequently about it, but they truly feared that it was only a matter of time before one of them would really lose their minds, and the last thing they wanted to deal with along with the dark ones, was a very powerful lunatic.

“I think we can finish it by the end of the week,” Fee said, using her fingers to clean out the last traces of soup in the pot. “The breech is almost closed, and the dark ones know that, that’s why their trying so hard… think about it, for the last ten years, we’ve been slowly chipping away at it, but now we’ve spent over two months since Rick left, trying to seal a hole that should take a day or two max.”

“Well, it’s difficult to hold them back with Rick gone,” Brel said, defensive of him and Capricorn, who were the main force fighting off attacks. “Tari now needs to focus on weaving the tear closed, but without her help, we can’t stop their hordes from trying to destroy what has already been fixed,” he said.

Tari sighed, taking their words more personally that they’d probably intended. She couldn’t help but think, as she was the one now filling Rick’s shoes, that if she had even half of his skills and power, she’d be able to help fight off the dark ones and weave the dimensional thread at the same time. She knew she couldn’t carry the same weight Rick did, no one expected her to, but the burden was heavy. Their ten years’ worth of effort, fending off an incessant invasion, could all be in vain if she made a wrong step.

Silver reached over, laying a comforting hand on her back. “Don’t look so down, Tari, it’s not your fault.”

“I know, but it’s all a bit frustrating, if Rick came back a hole that size could be closed in a couple hours, yet we’ve been here for months… and if all this nonsense with Iclax and Cajara weren’t going on, Alexil would be here as well, and there would be no issue.” Tari sighed.

Fee leaned forward, and Tari cringed inwardly, expecting come kind of rebuke. “The Head of The House of Lupaine has already been absent from the galaxy ten years,” she said quietly. “Tari, you know better than anyone that that should never happen, and unfortunately, there is nothing we can do about Alexil. As the next Head, it’s your duty to do this, and to do it flawlessly,” Fee said unsympathetically, causing Tari to roll her eyes in frustration, but Fee continued regardless, leaning back. “Anyway, I’ve been doing some thinking, and I know how we can get this finished in about seven days…honestly, I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t think about it sooner”

“How?” Capricorn asked, gracefully throwing his head back and downing the rest of his soup, skepticism obvious in his voice.

“Like Brel said, we need Tari to focus on the actual sealing. She’s the only Marakian here. No one else can do that, so the rest of us need to hold the dark ones back…”

“sorry to cut in,” Brel said, “but that’s exactly what we’ve been doing, and the four of us can’t hold them back alone. Even when Rick was here, all five of us defended the breech while he closed it.” Brel said, rolling a small stone under his foot. “I thought you’d come up with something new.”

“Well,” Fee said, slapping the back of his head. “If you let me finish, you’d hear the rest. The fact is, when Rick was here, only four of us were facing the dark ones, and with Rick gone, it’s down three when Tari is closing the hole. As you are well aware, Silver has been maintaining a shield around the entire place this whole time, so she hasn’t really been fighting at full strength. I think if she dropped the shield completely and helped us defend Tari could close the hole in less than a week.”

“Fee,” Capricorn said and shook his head “That’s seriously not you plan, is it? the breech makes the entire binding unstable. Silver’s shield is the only thing that has prevented this place from crashing in on us. Do you want to be crushed between two dimensions?”

The rest said nothing, but the bit of hope that had sparked, quickly died away.

“Listen to me. At the beginning, her shield was completely necessary, but that was ten years ago. The hole was almost the size of a planet for goodness sake, but now it’s not even as large as a standard hover car. Even if it’s just for a few hours at a time we’ll be able to give Tari the time she needs… do you want to spend another month or two here, hoping the dark ones will just let us be?” she said, raising her voice slightly.

They remained silent, each contemplating the idea, trying and failing to figure out any alternatives. Silver finally spoke up.

“I think it’s the best idea we’ve got, we’ve been here for months, and unfortunately, no one else has come up with anything,” she said looking around. “Let’s try it out first, and if I notice the binding starting to collapse, all I have to do is put the shield back up.”

“You make it sound so simple, like you can just create a dimension sized shield in two seconds, by just snapping your finger,” Capricorn said, turning to his sister. “who do you think you are, Great King Marviel?”

“And not just once, but potentially multiple times? Are actually you trying to kill yourself? Death might be better than this, but there are much easier ways to die,” Brel added.

Silver laughed quietly for a moment, “There’s definitely easier ways, but right now I’m not so eager for death,” she said standing up and smiling so brightly that for a moment Tari didn’t miss the absence of sunlight. “This is actually a great idea Fee, and you know what? I think we can be out of here in two days, maybe less,” she declared.

They all looked at her with equal parts of confusion and desperate hope. “Two days?” Tari asked.

“Two days.” She said. “Like you said, Tari, a hole this size can be closed in a matter of hours if Rick was here, but I know you’re capable of doing the same, so let’s drop the shield, fight hard for two days, then leave,” she finished, flicking her hand as though it were all as easy as brushing away some dust.

As Silver spoke, Tari couldn’t help the excitement creeping into her blood, and pounding through her veins and marks, from the confidence her fired had in her.  A smile slowly crept onto her face, and she got up, taking Silver’s hand. “Two days?” she said, then scoffed. “I’ll close it in one.” By now an infectious thrill had fully spread through Tari and silver, making them jump up and down wildly. Tari continued, her voice rising. “I’ll finally be able to go home,” she shrieked, jumping ten feet in the air, and dragging Silver up with her, creating a cloud of dust underneath them, they hovered together in the air, flying around in circles like drunk birds.

Fee looked at them with mild concern but said nothing, while Brel and Capricorn shook their heads slowly. They were definitely not sane anymore, and Brel was already planning a visit to Laurim for counseling the moment he got back to Nol.

“So that’s the plan then?” Capricorn asked, still uncertain. He was fine with fighting, but when he thought of the strain Silver would have to go through to put up the shield again if everything failed, he couldn’t get as excited as everyone else. He looked up to where she was floating gently, her hands and neck covered in bandages from where her own powers had burned and scared her, countless times, in the years she had maintained the shield. He also thought about Tari, splitting her Kyr-marks hundreds of times smaller than a strand of hair, trying to weave a dimension. He looked to her bowl of soup, abandoned on the ground, still full. She couldn’t even eat properly anymore.

“That’s the plan,” Silver said, landing lightly on the ground, while Tari continued to fly around, morphing her marks into shapes of mangled dark ones, and landmarks from home, unconcerned about the energy she was using up. “I’ll drop most of the shield, except for in a couple delicate spots. I’ll also completely remove the temporary shield over the breach, so Tari has complete freedom to manipulate it while we defend until its closed.” Silver concluded.

“Tari, Silver…I think you guys need to really consider the consequences of this plan. Even if it’s successful, how long do you think it will take you guys to recover from…”

“When do we start?” Brel asked, putting his arm around Capricorn’s neck, and covering his mouth.

“Right now,” Fee said, “While I’m still full, it seems I won’t be able to eat for at least two days straight.”

“For one day,” Tari said as she landed beside them. “If you beautiful Cajarans, and my always hungry Zentalian sister here,” she said putting an arm around Fee, “can defend without me, I will finish this in a day.”

“Such bravado from someone who was whining about not having Rick and Alexil’s help just a moment ago,” Fee said smiling.

Tari laughed. “That’s true, but that was before I heard you plan.”

They all smiled, and for the first time in years, they actually felt happy, now that they could see an end, even Capricorn couldn’t help but give into the feeling of joy and hope. The energy of their combined excitement was so palpable that small particles in the air were instantaneously combusting, creating sparkles around them.

“Alright, let’s calm down a bit. The last thing we want is to get so excited that we mess something up,” Capricorn said.

“You’d sound more convincing if you weren’t smiling like a maniac,” Brel said nudging him with his shoulder.

“Alright, shall we begin preparing?” Fee said clapping her hands softly.

They all settle down although not the level of seriousness they had earlier and began mentally preparing themselves for the difficult day ahead. Silver sat down, closing her eyes, preparing herself to take down the shield, Capricorn and Brel went to change into their combat suits, while Fee began making more mysterious notes on her pad. Tari grew still, focusing her eyes upwards, on an empty point where nothing but the murky sky could be seen, but which she knew by instinct was the direction of Marak. Her marks settled down on her skin, and she emptied her mind for a moment to focus only on the now distant, but ever-present pull from her planet. Subtly, she also felt the presence of Zental and Fee who was still scribbling in her notepad. Fee sensed her thoughts and looked up to share a smile. After a few minutes Brel and Capricorn returned fully dressed in their Cajaran nano-lyfol energy combat suits, and Silver opened her eyes slowly.

“I’m ready,” she said, smiling, and they began making their way to the edge of the binding.

# # #

They arrived in front of the breach in only a couple minutes, their base being specifically built nearby, so they could fend off any surprise dark one attack. While the others began taking their positions, and making final adjustments to their equipment, Tari stepped closer to the binding, examining to see if there were any changes since the night before. the binding’s thin membrane wall, shimmering iridescently, incorporeally fading in and out of sight, gave slightly under her touch, like the surface of water, pushed without breaking. Tari moved her hand to a spot where the torn dimensional fabric and the undamaged parts met and looked through to the other side. Looking through the tear, into the dimension of the dark ones, always made Tari incredibly uncomfortable, staring into a darkness where empty shadows were indistinguishable from the dark ones’s writhing bodies, staring back at her with the pressure of millions of hungry glares. She paused in her inspection, taking a moment to simply stand and glare back, grinning lightly, marks jumping sporadically, showing her own hunger that she tried to keep back. If she didn’t have to close the breach, she would have taking great satisfaction in personally cutting down the number of glares she felt on her in half, though, she sighed as she returned her focus to the binding. It was all a constant futility, as the same dark one she cut down today, could possibly be the same one, respawned after centuries, that she would have to cut down again.

She stroked the binding from the top of the tear, down  to where it met the ground, contrary to is smooth appearance, it felt fibrous under her hand, like the skin of a leaf, or a flower petal, it was a wonder that something that felt so delicate was strong enough to block out an entire dimension of monstrosities. She traced the tear again in the opposite direction, feeling each undulation under her touch, she could also feel the residue of the auras left behind by its original creators: Rick, Sol, and King Marviel. Again, she felt burdened by how unworthy she was, to add her own signature to the binding, but she smiled to herself, as she found that the sense of honor and pride, she felt was much stronger.

“Tari, are you ready?” Fee asked. Tari nodded, turning to look behind her. Fee had changed into a white two-piece suit, that included a long-sleeved shirt and leggings that fit snugly. On her feet, she wore thin strapped white Caliga sandals. Like marakians, zentalians did not wear armor into battle, but Tari couldn’t understand why they wore white of all colors. Then again, she thought, it wasn’t like the dark one’s bled.

In their combat suits and helms, Brel and Capricorn looked like grey statues, shimmering red and gold, as their powers flowed through the suits. Tari knew from experience that even high-powered laser blast from and Iclaxian battleship couldn’t pierce the shell of those suits when Brel and Capricorn wore them. Tari smiled, seeing that everyone was ready, the smile dropped when she saw what Silver was wearing. Dressed like she was about to go to a gala instead of engaging in battle, Silver wore a light blue dress, made with a thin billowing fabric, that stopped at her knees, and running shoes. She had definitely not been wearing that when they’d left their camp.

“Silver, did you just change?” Tari said, wondering why she had even brought such an impractical outfit into the binding.

“Yes, but I’m ready now,” she said, seriously.

“You did understand the plan, right? You’re not just creating a shield today, you’re actually fighting.”

“Oh, she knows,” Capricorn said, “She’s just choosing to be overconfident princess.” He still clearly had reservations about the entire plan, and Silver’s leisurely attitude was doing nothing to improve his mood.

“Capricorn, I’m being very serious right now,” she said adjusting the bandages on her hand. “you all know that nothing can touch me,” she said smiling softly, though her eyes shone like blue orbs of defiance.

They said nothing for a moment, until Brel whispered, “famous last words,” then pretended to clear his throat.

Silver rolled her eyes. “Let’s get started, I’m ready to drop the shield.”

Choosing to accept Silver’s fashion choices, they grew serious and moved into position. Brel, Fee and Capricorn, moved to stand directly in front of the breach, with Tari and Silver stood two steps behind them. In reaction to their movements, they all felt, like the rolling of thousands of marbles under their skin, the attention of the dark ones, turn fully towards them.

In a wave, the void behind the binding shifted, slowly lightening up as small spots of light began to fill the space, a horrid mimicry of a starry night sky, in the form of millions of bright, mad, yellow eyes opening up. Within minutes, the dark ones were throwing themselves at the wall of the binding, and breech, trying to rip it open with the force of their assault, there was no sound when they hit, only ripples in the binding’s wall and air pushed continually into a powerful breeze. In places where the Binding was undamaged, it held firm, but the tear, which they targeted with specific brutality, only remained unbreeched thanks to Silvers shield.

“Alright,” Fee sighed, moving ahead of Brel and Capricorn slightly, “Silver, drop main the shield.”

“Dropping the shield,” Silver said, then closed her eyes, her body starting to glow a bright blue, she looked up, feeling her powers that were spread across the binding dimension, and began pulling them back, as if folding a large silk cloth, small enough to fit into a small space beside her heart. To Tari, it felt like a filled cup, spilled over, its contents evaporating instantly, leaving behind only emptiness. It suddenly felt much colder, and she shivered slightly, not realizing how the constant presence of Silver’s power over the place had made it much more bearable.

Silver opened her eyes, breathing hard, but remained standing, her eyes, now having black streaks around the corners. “Main shield down,” she said clearly.

“Confirmed, drop the breach shield on mark,” Fee replied, then stretched a hand forward, open palmed, her pale skin glowed as her veins lit up in hard, bright purple lines, in front of her palm, a large purple wall of light formed the size of the breach. Behind her, Capricorn’s hands lit a bright red, and energy constructs of plasma, in the shape of long swords, slid out of his hands. Brel, remained still, but Tari saw the small sparks of his signature gold lightening, dancing on his shoulders and around his head. The three of them were a blazing sun, but the dark ones, though they hesitated slightly, continued to throw themselves at the breach.

“Drop breach shield now,” Fee said.

“Dropping breach shield,” she said, and immediately, the shield was dropped. “Breach shield down.”

The result was instantaneous. The dark ones began to push through the hole, their numbers in the tens of thousands, only to meet instant death against Fee’s wall of anti-matter. She spread her arms, expanding the wall, then leaped forward, forcing the dark ones back into the void, along with herself, followed by Capricorn and Brel. The three small, bright spots of light, purple, red, and gold, fought against tides of darkness, as they had been doing almost every day for the last ten years. The dark one’s fell by the thousand under their attacks, but where the thousand fell, two thousand rose to take their place. As they continued to fight, the three of them noted grimly, a large group of the dark ones, suddenly turned to Fee, attacking her specifically. They twisted their bodies tightly into needles, and threw themselves at her, attempting to get past her anti-matter wall, targeting her head and heart. She fended them off, with ease, though some of their attack hit her arms and legs.

“There is a wrag mother or father among them,” Capricorn said, sending the telepathic message to all five of them. It was obvious from the way they specifically attacked Fee, unlike him and Brel, whose energy-based powers often lost some efficiency against the dark ones, Fee’s anti-matter could not be consumed by the energy hungry creatures, so each touch of it was a guaranteed kill. Capricorn knew the regular dark ones had no way of knowing that, but a wrag mother of father, maybe millions of years old, could easily direct the rest with is knowledge and power.

“It doesn’t matter,” Fee answered back, “Unless it chooses to show itself, and fight personally, this is just a minor annoyance.” She finished, making a slicing motion with her hand, cutting through the next wave of dark ones like melted butter.

Capricorn and Brel, too, cut down wave after wave. Capricorn’s plasma swords, tearing dark one after dark one in two, then he stretched out his hand, and mimicking the dark one’s assault, he twisted his plasma constructs into thousands and needles, each as powerful as a small sun, and sent them hurling towards the dark ones. Brel danced among them like lightning between clouds, sending destruction wherever he landed, creating large gaps in the dark ones’s formations, with his explosions of lightning. So, they fought, none stop, while keeping alert for the monster they felt shifting among the hordes of mindless soldiers.

Within the Binding, Tari continued sealing the breach. She sat down a few feet in front of the hole, and keeping her hands on her knees, held them open, palm facing up. Her marks pulled themselves from the rest of her body, to concentrate in pools on her palms, then in fine threads, they rose up from her palms, and into the air, and onto the edge of the breach. With each strand that rose from her hand, Tari felt a small tug in the area around her stomach. She closed her eyes, as the battle ahead became too distracting. Focusing on her kyr-marks, she carefully split each band, thin enough to match the rest of the intricate and detailed weave of the rest of the binding. Each split felt like the ripping of an organ bit by bit, so that it didn’t hurt as it happened, but eventually she would realize half of her was in shreds, and the pain would come all at once. As each strand formed into the correct size, she immediately began weaving it into the binding, then once a patch, half the size of her palm was woven, she would collect kyr particles, to take the place of her marks, manipulating them into the unique material of dimensions, that was created by Rick, Sol, and Marviel. This was the easiest part, since she had the rest of the intact binding to uses as reference, but the weaving itself was a trial in patience, skill, and stamina. She continued the process, creating patch by patch, then she felt something brush past the area she was working on, and opened her eyes to see multiple dark ones pushing past the frontline, and into the breach.

Usually, this would be the point where she would have had to stop weaving, and start helping with the defense, to prevent any dark ones from making their way into the binding, and thereafter into Nol, though the binding wall on the other side, but this time, she simply smiled and closed her eyes, refocusing on her work, as Silver stepped in front of her. Silver stood immovable, as she forcefully smashed down and crushed dark ones between her shields. Not one passed her to reach Tari, or the other side of the binding.

# # #

They weren’t sure how long they’d been fighting at that point, but it was irrelevant. The hole was now half closed, and the sight the progress, gave them such hope that they grew immune of any pain or weariness they felt. Fee, Brel and Capricorn, gathered closer to the front of the breach, now that they had a much smaller hole to defend, they concentrated their attacks on the dark ones directly in front of them. Perhaps due to their weariness, which they ignored, or the hope they felt, clouding their judgment, they didn’t notice, until a large spear, snaked passed Fee’s shield, and knocked her back into the binding wall, noticing too late, she avoided it as best she could, so it barely missed her neck, but tore a deep gouge in her shoulder.  From the wound, like a fountain, her fuchsia blood spilled out, staining her white shirt, warm, and glistening from the zentalian crystals in her blood. She let out a scream, but quickly bit down on her lip, and using her other hand, took hold of the spear, sending veins of anti-matter along the length of it to the creature that had sent it. As the limb disintegrated, a loud primal scream erupted from the depths of the dark ones’s army, and they parted, to reveal the wrag mother in their midst.

Wrag mothers, unlike wrag fathers did not take on a humanoid of animalistic form, instead, they were large balls, the size of moons and planets, rippling with monstrous life, as they poured young dark ones out of their bodies, like smoke from a factory chimney. This one was on the small side, though the concentration of its darkness, and the thousands of large yellow eyes all over its body let them know that the monster was not to be underestimated. Sharp spears, and needles, protruded from its body, one still shrinking from Fee’s attack.

Kicht,” Brel cursed. “Fee, how are you doing?” He asked, not looking away from the wrag mother.

“Fine,” she said through gritted teeth. “You and Capricorn take care of the wrag mother. Silver and I will protect the breach,” she felt Tari reaching for her telepathically, but Fee interrupted whatever Tari had to say “We don’t need your help Tari, all you need to do now is focus on the breach. That’s the way you can be of best use to us right now,” she said, moving back into the binding.

The wrag mother screeched, and the dark ones renewed their assault. Capricorn and Brel, charged through them, aiming for the wrag mother, trusting that Fee and Silver would hold back the assault. They flew quickly, discharging lighting and plasma in their wake. As they approached the wrag mother, the concentration of dark ones grew thinner, but each one became stronger. They fought hard, slashing and cutting, sending energy blasts, and creating shields of fire, but each death was flowed by another birth from the wrag mother, though, the successive dark ones were becoming weaker, as their gestation period within the wrag mother was shortened.

“It’s a matter of patience,” Capricorn told Brel telepathically.

“I feel like we’ll be worn down long before that thing is exhausted,” Brel replied, laughing lightly, as he grabbed a charging dark one, and sent a powerful bolt of lightning through it, and the five others behind it.

“Yes, you look so tired,” Capricorn muttered, responding with his own blast of plasma. Red hot liquid death flowed from his hands, mowing down dark ones. Their progress was slow, but steady, and soon they were before the wrag mother, now struggling with each birth it attempted, many of its eyes dimming and shutting, the spikes on its body dropping slightly. Brel stretched out a finger, channeling lighting right at the creature’s center. Contrary to it weekend appearance though, the wrag mother, reacted quickly, extending one of its spears to meet the attack. It absorbed a bit of the energy, and batted the rest away, then three more spears followed, aiming for Brel. Capricorn moved forward, quickly extending his swords, and cutting down the spears, then he rolled, avoiding another spike, but missing one that grazed his leg.  Brel joined him, moving in on the creature, and surrounding it. The creature fought desperately, but it was a losing battle. For every hit that its spikes landed, more were cut down, and it could no longer focus on creating more dark ones to defend it. Capricorn pulled back, then he raised his hand up, Brel quickly moved away, as Capricorn brought the hand down, and in the shape of his fist, many times larger, a thick wall of plasma hit the wrag mother, and engulfed it in liquid fire.

It Screamed and thrashed, in formless agony, letting out a belt of pain, extending its spikes out suddenly, in blind fury, one catching Brel on the side of his head, knocking his helm off, another through his shoulder, while Capricorn got one though the leg. Cajaran’s did not bleed, but from each wound, energy spilled out profusely.  They pulled back, and sent more beams of power, towards the creature that refused to die, each blast of weaker that the last. They stayed together breathing hard, and barely dodging the mad attacks of the wrag mother.

Capricorn saw how the wound on Brel’s head spilt out his power into the empty void, how his gold eyes were diming to a pale yellow, and quickly pulled him closer, and farther back from the wrag mother. Brel tried to brush off his friend’s hands, but Capricorn didn’t let go.  Now, some of the dark ones were pulling away from the hole and coming to the aid of the wrag mother. With the wrag mother in front of them, and the horde behind them, Capricorn quickly created a shell of plasma around them, attempting to give them time to rest, though he knew it would not last long, as he did not have his sister’s skill for creating shields.

“He quickly thumbed his hands over the glyphs on his waist, and a thin strip fell into his hands, and after a second, it began to expand and unravel, into a sealing patch.

“Brel, hey Brel, look at me,” he said, pulling Brel’s head close and brushing away his hair. “Brel,” he yelled.

“Why the Kicht are you yelling, I’m not even unconscious,” Brel said snatching the patch from Capricorns hand’s, and fixing it to the wound himself. “what do we do now,” he asked, as he got some more patches and began covering some of his other wounds.

Capricorn, certain that Brel would be fine from his attitude, began doing the same, paying attention to the large wounds on his leg. A loud crack against his shield, startled him, and he saw the wrag mother, retracting a spear, and preparing to strike again.

“I think we came in too deep,” he said, looking to the thick army of dark ones that separated them from the binding wall. He could hardly see the purple and blue light of Fee and Silver’s powers.

“How long have we been going at this?” Brel asked.

Capricorn just shrugged, then flinched at another hit from the wrag mother.

“Ahh, were dead,” Brel said.

“You can die by yourself,” Capricorn said, placing his hand on the shield, and sending shafts of fire at the mass of dark ones.

“It’s healing,” Brel said, pointing at the wrag mother, as it began to absorb some of the dark ones into itself.

Capricorn’s heart dropped. He reached telepathically towards Fee, but felt no response, so he tried Silver.

“What’s going on,” he asked

“Capricorn how are you guys doing, I can’t see you anymore. Fee is too injured to keep fighting, and I’m out of the binding, but I’m not sure how Tari is doing. I can’t reach her telepathically,” she replied.

“Kicht,” He cursed.

“I…” then she was cut off.

Another strike against the shield, cracked it, and Capricorn groaned loudly.

“What’s going on?” Brel asked.

“I don’t know, she got cut off… but Fee is out, and she can’t contact Tari,” he said quickly, then they braced themselves, as another hit shattered the shield. “We’re retreating,” he yelled, and they started pulling back.

They began moving backwards, back to back, with Brel clearing the way back to the binding, while Capricorn fended off the attack of the wrag mother. As hard as they tried though, minutes passed, maybe hours, yet they did not seem any closer.

“This isn’t working, Capricorn,” Brel said, without a hint of humor in his voice. “We’re in trouble, I’m barely making sparks at this point.”

Capricorn said nothing but saw as his own plasma blasts were looking more like thin strips of fire. As if to make them painfully aware of their impending deaths, the wrag mother, now mostly recovered, let out a screech that Capricorn could have sworn sounded like laughter, and then charged at them.  Brel quickly turned to face the charge with Capricorn, together, creating a wall of compressed energy, that though protected them, broke under the first hit, and left their back open to the smaller attacks from the dark ones. Fortunately, their suits protected them from the smaller assaults, but as the wrag mother charge forward again, spears extended, eyes blazing hungrily, they boldly raised their hands again, forming a shield they knew would not be strong enough to protect them.

Yet, as the spears bore down on them and struck, they rebounded backwards, burning with blue light. Surprised Capricorn felt a shiver run down his spine, and turned back, to see, Silver, in her ridiculous dress, still pristine, cutting a wide path through the dark ones with her shield. Like the batting of a giant fan against flies, she flicked her hands, and pushed the horde back, crushing them under the force of her shields. Then behind her, moving through the cleared path, unhindered, on large black wings, Tari flew past them, creating a powerful gust as she did, and changed at the wrag mother.

Tari extended her hands, and her marks formed into a thousand blades of steel, twisting like snakes, striking the wrag mother. It screamed furiously, sending shockwaves that shook Tari’s bones, and rattled her teeth. She undid the kyr-marks that made up her wings, and dropped, avoiding a spear from the wrag mother, then as the spear started to retract, she wrapped her marks around it, allowing it to pull her closer to the creature. Once close enough she placed her hand on the creature’s body, thick like mud, and pulling her in like quicksand, she remained unphased. At the point where her hand touched, her mark began to leave her body, crawling and spreading over the wrag mother’s body. Tari stared into one of its eyes and smiled viciously. She felt the creature shudder as her marks invaded it and restricted its movements. She manipulated all her marks into the form of barbed wires and tightened them, until the only thing that dared to move on the creature, was its eyes, which shook in a mad fervor that its body could no longer express.

“Die,” Tari whispered, and with her marks, forced the creature’s eyes closed, as she shredded through it, and burned its pieces, leaving nothing behind.

The wrag mother passed silently, but the dark ones screamed an insane cry that thundered and echoed in their minds, yet they bodies were unmoving, in catatonic stillness. Tari did not know if they screamed out of grief, or anger, but they screamed and screamed, until she cut them all down as well. She felt no pity for the dark ones, as they were not so deep in the heart of their dimension that their deaths would be permanent. Unlike them, her and her friends did not have the luxury of reformation after death. Now that dark ones had been cleared away for the moment, Tari joined Silver, Capricorn and Brel, as they made their way back to the now fully intact binding.

# # #

The battle and sealing of the breach had lasted about three days, and after taking four more days to give themselves time to recover, and make sure the binding was fully secure, they were finally able to put their ten years in the binding behind them and return to Nol.

Thank you for reading. Check out my website, nolgalaxy.com

The River

Rian moved quickly, flying passed small rings held in the air by thin poles fastened to the ground, deftly tying the thick braided string through each one. Behind her, Jeld her younger sister, placed small seedlings into the intertwined sections of the braided cord. Each seed, in a few months, would grow into long curtains of blue vines, with small pink, bulbus fruit, that she loved. When that time came, they would harvest the fruit, sending them off to their sister planet to be made into snacks, while the vines would be woven into fabric by her mother and the other weavers in the neighborhood. Till then though, the farmers of colony planet Gul, like her family, were kept busy planting the seeds and caring for them. Rian Passed another ring, flipping, and tying the knot around it in one motion, before moving speedily to the next hoop.

“Rian, why are you going so fast?” Jeld called behind her.

“Don’t even bother trying to keep up, take all the time in the world,” Rian said, teasing. “While your stuck planting seeds, I’ll be watching the new episode of ‘Born on Brinner’,” she said, as she tied off the last two rings. Without looking back, she immediately flew away, leaving her sister’s loud cries behind her. She flew across the blue fields of her family’s farm, that was adjoined with their neighbors, and went right to the edge of the forest. In the farthest corner, she saw, the distant small figure, of her dad checking on some of their other crops. She knew their mom would already be home preparing dinner, even though the workday wouldn’t be over for three more hours. Flying at full speed, it only took a minute to get to their house at the center of the field. As she drew closer to the house, she caught the familiar scent of her mom’s cooking, and smiled broadly. There was nothing she liked better than a homecooked meal while watching reality shows, but seeing as she was still supposed to be working, and that her mom had specifically told her to come back together with her sister, she would have to forgo the meal for later; ‘Born on Brinner’ called to her.

She approached the back door, then slowly and quietly landed. Careful not to make any sounds that would alert her mother that she’d returned, she opened the door with the upmost patience, and even though she’d made sure to oil the hinges that morning, she pulled it open one small increment at a time. Her heart beat faster, and she held her breath. The door opened without a sound, and she breathed in and out with deliberate slowness, before holding her breath once again. She peeked around the edge of the door, and saw her mother in the kitchen, cutting some vegetables. Then, she levitated her body slightly off the ground, and pulled herself in gently. she would not risk her mother hearing the sound of her foot steps on their carpet. In front of her, she could already see the edge of their holo-screen glinting alluringly. With her goal in sight, she moved forward confidently. She felt slightly uneasy but proceeded after checking once again to make sure her mum was in the kitchen. Suddenly she felt a warm hand tightly grip her shoulder, pushing her down till her levitating feet touched the ground. Her stomach dropped, and she glanced in the direction of the kitchen, to see that it was now empty save for a boiling pot.

“Oh, Rian, I wasn’t expecting you back for at least another couple hours…hmm.. I don’t see your sister, around,” her mom said sweetly, looking around with exaggerated motions. “Surely you didn’t leave her behind again?” She asked slightly tightening her grip on Rian’s shoulder.

Rian looked over her shoulder to see her mom’s overly kind smile, dripping with warmth that did not reach her eye, and laughed nervously, turning fully to face her mom. “Well, I finished my half of the work, early… you know she’s so slow,” she said shrugging her shoulders. “…and the show is about to start, it’s the season finale… I have to see if the girl from Deresh will win the money so she can pay for shuttle tickets for her family… It’s crucial that I see it… I have to,” she said hurriedly.

Her mother sighed and shook her head, glaring scornfully at the holo-screen. Ever since they’d purchased the it, her children had refused to do anything besides sit in front of the darned screen. They slacked off on their daily work, studies, and for weeks, had not even made time to go out and play with the neighborhood children like they used to enjoy doing so much. She released a pained sigh and was about to send the girl back to the fields, when they heard a sharp knock on the door. They both jump, slightly startled, and looked each other confused. No one they knew knocked like that, in fact, no one in the neighborhood knocked at all. The farming families were so close that they simply barged into each other’s houses. Whoever it was, knocked again, two sharp, impatient hits.

Her mother looked at the door for a moment, then went to open it. Rian followed cautiously behind her, guessing it may have been a visitor from Winfora, their parent planet. They occasionally sent people to check the productivity of the farmers, always wanting to make sure that enough crops were being produced for the planet to pay its taxes. She already felt irritated at the thought because, while the Winforans didn’t treat them badly, their overly formal and haughty behavior rubbed her the wrong way. She hoped they’d say whatever they had to quickly and leave, so she could go watch her show. As her mum reached the door, she raised a hand in front of Rian to stop her from following, and to protect her from the presence she was felt from the door. Her mother opened the door, and Rian peered from behind to see who was there.

She tilted her head, perplexed by the sight of the strange couple that stood there. They were not the Winforans she was expecting, though they were equally foreign. Instead of the yellow and blue skin that was typical of the people on Gul, their skin was a teal glossy rubber, striped with white lines, their eyes, white and green, absent of the orange ringed irises of Gulians. As strange as they looked though, their appearance was not alien to her. She only needed to look to her mother to see those same traits mirrored. Whoever they were, Rian guessed that they were probably related to her mother, and became immediately excited, bouncing on the balls of her feet. She’d always been curious about her mother’s side of the family, but when she’d asked question, they were usually ignored, or answered vaguely. Seeing that her mother was still glued to the spot, with a white knuckled grip on the door, and the strangers too, seemingly to be frozen in place, Rian took the chance as she could no longer hold back her excitement. She walked passed her mother, and approached the man and woman, with youthful boldness.

“Hello,” She said happily. “I’m Rian, are you my mum’s friends, or maybe my grandparents? I have…” the rest of her sentence was caught in her throat, as her mother grabbed clothes and roughly pulled her back.

“Rian be quiet and stay behind me,” she tried to say softly, but the fury was evident in her voice. Rian was shocked, and quickly did as she was told, sobering up immediately. She had never seen such a look of venom on her mum’s face, and it frightened her, though it was directed at the visitors, and not at her. She looked at the strangers again, all curiosity gone, and though their expressions did not change, they now looked to her like vicious creatures.

“What are you doing here?” Her mother asked, stepping closer to the couple, who were still unaffected by her reaction.

“Kel, what a frightening expression you have on your face, don’t you see your scaring you own child?” The two asked in unison, and their combined voices made Rian’s skin crawl. The sound was like a vibration through water, invasive, seeping into the skin and lingering, the way oil did.

“Do not speak with the Ral,” Kel said, “and I’ll ask again, what you are doing here?”

“Why not invite us in first,” the man said, and this time his voice was normal.

“You will not step foot in this house,” Kel said, and beneath her grip on the door, Rian saw the wood splintering and breaking. “You will say what you need to say right here, and then leave.”

They sighed in unison. “This is no way to welcome your aunt and uncle Kel, no way at all,” the woman said shaking her head. “But if you insist on behaving this way, then there’s nothing to be done. We came here to inform you that…”

The sound of a door shutting loudly, interrupted her. “Kel, can you believe this, Rian left Jeld alone again, and because she was rushing, Jeld planted half the seeds wrong. I think we need to get rid of that holo-screen,” her father’s voice said from the behind them, trailing off at the end. All eyes turned to him and Jeld who came in through the back door. “Oh, do we have guests?” he said and his voiced dropped lower as he saw the strangers, and sensed the tension in the air. Then he glanced from Kel to the two figures at the door, and quickly moved to join her. Jeld stayed beside Rian, holding on to her hand.

“What’s going on Kel?” he asked, immediately, taking her hand off the door before she did any more damage to it. As she let go, pieces of the wood fell away, creating a rough semicircle cut-out the size of a fist on the side of the door.

“Dald, it’s so good to see you again. I’m happy to see that your usual behavior of getting involved where you are not needed hasn’t changed one bit,” The man said smiling, but his eyes and tone were terrifying. Rian and Jeld gripped each other tighter.

“It is good to see you two as well, but I must say, I’m surprised by the sudden visit. From what I remember, you all cut ties with Kel after Rian was born fifteen years ago,” Her father said, his fists clenched tightly.

“Yes, and you must know that only the most dire circumstances would bring us to this place,” the woman said looking around with disgust. Rian wasn’t sure if it was directed at their house, or the entire planet. The woman then turned back to Kel. “Kel, I will get straight to it. You must have heard of the fossilizing disease that wreaked havoc on Orl, well, it briefly afflicted our planet as well, and unfortunately, your father and niece were stricken and died shortly after,” she said, then paused briefly to let the information sink in. “As you know, they served as the tether for your mother and brother who were in Ralkin’s River. As expected, without their tethers to reality, they lost their minds and bodies to The River, and soon passed away as well,” She said, as if she were talking about the color of dirt, and not the death of her family members.

No one spoke for a while, then almost mechanically, Kel spoke up in a dry voice that cut the air. “My brother is dead?”

“Yes, so you know what that means…” the man began to say.

“Kal is dead? When?”

“They died three months ago, and…”

“Kal died three months ago,” Kel said, and small green tears fell from her eyes. She didn’t bother wiping them, and Dald held her hand.

“Yes, Kel, but you’re missing the point here,” the man said unsympathetically. “With your mother and brother’s passing, you family’s place in Ralkin’s River is now empty, it has only been three months, but the imbalance is impossible to fix. The strain on the remaining six families is too much. And more importantly, next year is your family’s turn to take the head position.”

Kel remained silent, but she was shaking visibly. Rian couldn’t tell if it was from grief, anger, or some other emotion.

“Can’t you just find another family to take their place, I’m sure there are many who would go to any lengths to become one of The Seven Families,” her father said.

“An outsider like you shouldn’t act so sure of anything,” the man said. “The Seven Families carry an ancient mandate. Unless the entire line is completely wiped out, a new family cannot be chosen. It is a shame that now my precious sister’s line has been tainted by your filthy alien blood,” the man said wit more passion that he’d displayed so far, looking as if he would charge at her father.

“That is beside the point,” the woman said, placing restraining hand on the man’s arm. “Kel, I’m sure you understand what must be done,” she said, then looked at Rian and Jeld. “Fortunately, it seems that both your daughters have more than enough power to become your tether, despite their mixed blood. The older one might be slightly stronger though.”

Hearing the mention of her daughters, Kel shook herself out of her stupor. “What exactly are you implying aunt Yil?”

“I am not implying anything, I am telling you that you, and one of your daughters, must return with us to Ralhada today or at the latest tomorrow night. We are short on time, I had to leave The River to make this trip. We have taken a great risk, and blow to our pride, to come bring you back, but we cannot afford to allow Ralkin to be born.”

“Just like that, you want me to return. No apologies or anything, just ‘comback now because we need you?’ Are you kidding?” Kel said letting of a hysterical laugh. “My brother, the only reason I would ever return to that planet died three months ago, and I’m just hearing of it now, because you had no choice but to tell me. Then you want me to uproot my entire family overnight?”

“Kel,” Her uncle said in frustration. “There will be no apologies because none are necessary. You chose of your own accord to go against traditions. You should have expected the consequences. Yes, we tried other options, and none worked, so we had to come to you. And, to make one thing clear, we do not need your entire family. You and one of your children is enough.” As he spoke, he hit his fist against his palm, over and over again. “You know you can not refuse, so let us stop the games.”

“I think that’s enough,” Deld said stepping forward. “You cannot come to our home and treat us this way. We are not on Ralhada, and Kel owes you nothing. Certainly, our daughters owe you nothing.”

“This is not about some petty family dispute,” the woman, Yil said calmly. “If the River is not maintained, Ralkin will hatch, and half of Nol will be flooded by his celestial waters. You cannot understand the stakes Deld, because you are not Ralhadan,” her aunt said, trying to mediate. “It is sudden, but you know there is no other way,” she said to Kel.

Kel closed her eyes, and sighed. The sound spread through the house like vibrations through water, and the feelings of dread and resignation lingered and soaked into the walls. Kel felt like the ice of Fralor had seeped into her body and stilled her heart, as she pushed back all her emotions and made way for duty. Like her aunt and uncle said, there was no choice in the matter. Since she was born, the mandate of her family had been instilled in her and written in her mind, body and soul. It was a miracle that she had been able to break away to marry Deld, but she always knew there would be no permanent escape as the waters of Ralkin were already mixed into her blood. She sighed again, and when she opened her eyes, they were distant and cold.

Sensing the change in their mother, Jeld gripped Rian’s hand so tightly that Rian thought her fingers would fall off. Their father had a look of intense agony on his face. “Kel you don’t have to do this,” he said.

“We will leave tomorrow morning,” she said, then turned to her daughters, and tried to smile. “Rian, you’ll be coming with me, okay?”

“Kel! You have to think this through, your talking about separating our family,” her father said, but his words were ignored. Kel simply continued to look at Rian, waiting.

Rian looked into her mum’s tense eyes and knew that she was on the verge of breaking apart. She still didn’t fully understand what was going on, but in that moment, she knew what her mother was expecting. Calling on a sense of responsibility she’d hardly exhibited in her fifteen years of life, she threw on the biggest smile she could make, and pulled her had out of her sister’s grip.

“Well, I’ve always been curious about your home world, anyway… I guess I finally get some answers,” she said, not knowing if she sounded believable or not, but the slight relief in her mother’s eyes were evident, and the tension in her body eased a bit.

“Good, you don’t need to pack much. Just take the bag you use when we go camping and pack a few necessities.” She then turned to face her aunt and uncle who had begun smiling like witches the moment she’d agreed. “you can leave now, comeback tomorrow morning, and we’ll be ready,” she said, then slammed the door shut before they could reply.

“Hurry up and go pack Rian, let Jeld help you… I need to finish making dinner,” she said, then went into the kitchen. Rian quickly ran to her room, to pack, leaving Jeld and their farther stunned.

# # #

That night, they ate dinner in silence, afterwards, the sound of their parents arguing and Jeld’s hushed tears, kept Rian up through the night. Not that she would have been able to sleep anyway, as she was high strung from the mixture of fear and excitement coursing through her body.

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