People started screaming as the blood covered figure staggered through the main gate and into the rebel compound. It took them a moment to realize that it was Kaja and not some new monstrosity of the emperor's; in her arms was the battered and broken remains of the nearly dead child she had finally managed to get out of the capital.

The young woman staggered, she didn't look that good herself, blood and smoke turned her face into a horrible parody of its usual beauty, and the tear streaks only made it worse. The Emperor was not known for any gentle emotion. This atrocity was yet more proof of that. And people stood there, shocked and horrified.

The woman staggered further into the camp trying to head for the medical building, finally she fell to her knees, obviously hurt, exhausted, her eyes wild as she looked for her m'ari'ano, the only man besides her adoptive bayan she could trust. "CHREN!" she screamed out his name, even as she struggled to stay upright with the weight of the child.

Comforting arms wrapped around her from behind, supporting her, and a soft voice whispered in her ear, "You look more like a Trellian than an Arrahn, M'ari'ana, fix it quick before they get to close." She did so quickly before Keitana could notice, before anyone but Chren could notice. As the medic got closer, the sickened look on the Praithian woman's face told Kaja it was bad.

Keitana moved with brisk efficiency taking the child out of Kaja's arms and breaking into a run towards medical even as Chren turned Kaja's face into his chest, hiding her from the curious who had gathered there. The young woman's voice was full of pain, "OH by Ishim's tears Chren. They KILLED them, all of them but that one."

The young Arrahn male stroked Kaja's hair, rubbed her back, trying to calm her down. If they were alone there were other things he could do. Rin things, but Kaja was always so careful to never let anyone know what she was. Chren would have preferred it if she would tell them, but he cared about her to much to give away her secrets without great need. And, unfortunately to his mind, the need right now didn't qualify as "great" to Kaja.

Chren looked at one of the sub-commanders and lipped the words, "Get me Luminus or Emeroth." The man ran off and a few minutes later Luminus came running up, Chren sighed internally he would have prefered Emeroth, "Lady Emmir, what happened?"

Kaja trembled against Chren's chest her face hidden by her long hair, "They were waiting for me at the safehouse. Imperial Troops and that bastard Skyrus. They burned it all down, I could only get one child out, and they shot the others as if they were NOTHING! I'm sorry Luminus, I'm so sorry!"

Luminus touched her shoulder giving it a squeeze ignoring the blood still glistening there and Chren's warning growl. "It's OK my lady. At least you made it back. Dravis and his entire team didn't. You're the only one left now who has any luck rescuing the children."

"Dravis didn't make it back?" Kaja shivered. Dravis was good, she should know she helped train him, and in fact his entire team, herself. It wasn't possible, how could they have taken out over thirty men, yet failed to take her out. DAMN Kovus and his games.

Why did he do it, why did he ALWAYS spare her, let her go, let her live? It couldn't be because of their past, he had always used her, scared her, tried to seduce her to his cause. What did he REALLY want from her? He had control of most everything she had built on Arrah as the Lady of the Emmir clan, everything she had built there through over a hundred name changes hidden in that trading clan.

"Luminus if you don't need her, I'm going to take her to the hot springs to get her to relax." Chren's voice was firmer than it normally was. It had been ten, or was it twelve; seasons since she brought him here to the main base, he was only a boy when she first met him several years ago now. He was feral, savage, and forgotten, one of the many boys and girls of the streets of Arrah.

How many had she rescued from Arrah, from the crushing poverty there after the last war, from Kovus's brutal policies as he "rebuilt" the world now. She had lost count. Most of the Spirius were the latest such rescued children or those who chose to care for them. Of all the children she had rescued only Chren had seen the REAL her, not the shapes she maintained to put others at ease.

He led her away from all the other bipeds. Once they were out of sight of the base she let the matrix go and her own natural form came, her four legs, two wings and pair of arms. Her kind didn't fly like the legendary dragon or the fabled winged equine, but they COULD fly for short distances and could glide much further. For a Rin, like herself, flight was a means of survival, of escaping those faster than you, and catching prey that might not otherwise be caught, gliding a way to cross distances to great to make before the seasons changed and food became impossible to find.

"Your wings are a mess, m'ari'ana. Blood all over them, were you cut?" Chren's voice was concerned. Normally death didn't phase this female, but Skyrus, now that was another story, he seemed to enjoy playing with Kaja, toying with the duel nature of the Shar'rin. All of Kovus's Warlords seemed to take a sick pleasure in trying to twist Kaja's soul.

It was one of the things that made him so angry, one of the things that his teacher and master, Emeroth, was trying to help him get through. Except for this girl, there was no one he felt comfortable with, no one he didn't see as a potential enemy. And the Warlords saught to change it, make her into a killer. That wasn't her job, that was HIS.

She shook her head, closing her eyes and letting him guide her, he knew she could probably still smell the blood, and what that can do to a Rin. If it wasn't a child's blood she would have been preening herself, a Rin needed blood to survive. She could feel Chren probing her wings and sides to make sure she wasn't hurt. Both of them could smell the rich mineral content of the hot springs. Knew how good it would feel to her aching muscles, how his touch could and would ease her aching soul.

"Oh by the Lady's tears, it was HORRIBLE Chren. Skyrus set fire to the entire block. And as I got the children out he ordered his troops to open fire. Two children died in my arms, one on my BACK! More died before I could get to the ship, even before I could open a gate." The young Rin female keened then, a pitiful sound a cross between a feline's yawl and a cervid's cry.

"Kaja, please, it's not your fault Now let me check your hooves." He held out his hand and out of habit she let him take one of her rear hooves. She could feel him checking the tri-split hoof for any stones or foreign objects. He was so gentle, knowing how important it was for her hooves to be checked. The rear ones especially as she couldn't easily reach them herself.

He moved forward then and lifted one of her front hooves, checking it and tickling the "Thumblet" that hung down, she used the quasi-hand to give Chren's hand a squeeze. Chren smiled at her, he loved to check her over, to make sure the perfection of her form wasn't marred. Though he feared someday….she wouldn't come back at all.

Kaja was quiet, trusting him to take care of her. How long had it been since she had saved him from the streets of Arrah. She had lost count of the seasons now. When had he gotten to be older than her? She had once been the elder in this relationship. Now he seemed to be. Like now, he was taking care of her, drawing her deeper into the hot spring.

He kept his touch gentle, soothing to her, he had thought to grab some soap and a brush and started working the dried and sticky blood out of her fur, cleaning out the cuts that were healing even now. It felt so good she couldn't help but purr. His hands knew her body well, they didn't miss a tense spot or a place where her fur tended to matt. He knew she no longer tried to take on ANY warlord in any of her bipedal forms if she could help it. Warlords were just to strong.

Now if only they didn't have to go back and face the world. She knew the gossips of the Spirius were talking about the two of them. Saying that she was taking advantage of him, or he of her. It disturbed her; she didn't free him from the streets of Arrah just for him to become her slave. And to compound matters she WANTED him to take care of her. Arrahns were the closest to Rin in body language and in expressions of affection. The only male she knew who felt truly male to her, and she couldn't be with him, and it hurt.

She couldn't stop the sigh that escaped her. And Chren looked up, setting the brush to the side, "What's wrong Kaja?"

"Maybe you should go back now. The gossips are starting to talk again. You know how annoying they can be."

"I don't give a damn about their opinions, S'Kaja'a Asha'a!" He hugged her fiercely, almost possessively tight. She has been his savior once and his first, though no longer only, friend, "And you shouldn't either. What do they know about you? All they see is the woman who brings in children, stays for a day or two, and then leaves again. They didn't live with you for over 10 cycles!"

She shakes her head, not meeting his eyes, "Are you sure, so many will make your life hell over it. I don't want to see you hurt, I didn't risk so much to free you to watch you suffer again."

He touches her cheek, "She who brings an echo of hope," He still remembered the meaning of her full name, "haven't you listened to what the Kchronaen teaches, Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional."

She rubs her cheek along the left side of his jaw, how she loved him, wanted him. "I never could tell you no, even when it is probably for the better. You just have to ask, and I want to give it to you, Chren. Ever since you trusted me to get you out of that hell-hole." then follows it by running her cheek along the right, her eyes soft.

Chren looks at her, his head tilted to one side, even after all the years she had spent teaching him, sometimes he didn't seem to understand the ways of her world, "Why would I deserve something like that?"

"You are my friend," She meets his eyes directly then, "and I enjoy doing things that make you smile." She finds herself wishing she was better with words; there is so much she wishes to tell him. She finds herself wishing she could talk with Amrender, with Emirra. Maybe then she would know what to say, how to tell him she loved him.

Chren brushes his cheek to hers, as he learned so long ago, the Rin equivalent to a friendly kiss. It was too much and she rubbed her cheek under his jaw. Then suddenly she backed away, looking at him. Did he understand, remember? Would he be repulsed, pleased? They were not even close to the same species. She was a Rin, a shape-shifter, a creature considered a monster on so many worlds now.

He frowned at her, his head tilting to one side again as he rubbed his chin. His eyes blank, his face slack. His eyes didn't meet hers. His hands moving back to his sides.

She took another nervous step back, "Forgive me I didn't mean to push." Her dark wings drooped, dragging into the water, and she turned away, "I never wanted to hurt you." She waited a moment for any reply, but heard none, smelled no change in his scent.

Her voice trembled and without thinking she wrapped her arms around her upper torso, "I never felt this way about anyone before." She had never wanted anyone to share her life; she loved short-liveds, but not enough to want to have one in her bed, sharing her life, getting to close to her heart. She turned and glanced at him, so confused about what to say, what to do, finally she said in a near whisper, "And I want you as more than a friend."

Still no change she could hear or smell, she moved to the very edge of the hot spring pool, her head down, her voice so soft to hide the pain, "You don't have to stay with me," her voice cracks there and she gulps, biting back the sob that tries to escape, "IN fact I can understand if you don't want to." How could he want to, she was...was...was a monster to most in the Spirius.

Still nothing, she started trembling, "But can I at least have maybe tonight?" She choked back another sob. She needs someone, someone to hold her at least. "I have never wanted anyone before, Kya always chose for me, and I had to take them." She knew now that it was nothing more than rape then, though at the time she wouldn't have thought it so, she didn't know better, hadn't known better.

Nothing, he was saying NOTHING! "I want you, Chren, because I want you, not because I have to." She turns for a moment, reaching out to touch his cheek, but stops short, seeing no change in Chren's expression, her hand falls to her side, "Please, even if it's just tonight, don't turn me away."

She can feel her tears start to fall. Not for her the comfort of someone who loves her, not for her the comfort of mate or lover, "You don't have to do anything other than hold me, I promise." The young Rin shrinks in on herself. Still nothing but silence from Chren, finally she turns and runs, crying, not caring that she's tired, hungry, hurt, she grabs the power matrix once more and forces her body to shift to the first bipedal form she can think of. She throws open the door to her tent and then seals herself inside, dropping the matrix once again and sobbing in despair.