Wet hair clung to Rachel's back, dampening the thin shirt she had put on after her shower. After finally leaving the safety of her bathroom, she had found that only Cazul and his patient remained. With one man still unconscious and the other absorbed in his work, Rachel was mostly ignored.
Making her way around, she paused to look out the large rectangular window that showcased the desert landscape of the planet. It framed the outdoor scene like a beautiful oil painting, making the dark orange glare of the setting sun and its harsh reflection on the sand feel almost innocuous. The view made anything that might be hiding in the far off dunes seem unreal, and the fortress the Hive was protected by invincible.
Dinner had been laid out on a small table, and Rachel commenced to refueling her exhausted body. She wanted her energy for the battle to come, so she went through the motions of eating the familiar foods set before her, but there was no enjoyment in it. The longer time dragged on without incident, the more nervous she became.
As the sun continued to descend, hiding behind the curve of the distant horizon, the fortress became eerily quiet. Rachel could feel the anticipation ticking through the walls like a heartbeat, setting everything on edge. It made her jumpy and oversensitive. Her brain felt like it was plugged into a power outlet, which created a claustrophobic feeling, like Rachel needed to expend some of her energy, or she would go crazy. Just like static electricity, the sensation made her hair stand on end.
"They are here."
The words were barely whispered, but like the tolling of a bell, Cazul's sudden announcement rang ominously throughout the room. The quiet words seemed to echo off of the fortress walls, permeating the building's depths and then returned straight to Rachel, magnifying any anxiety she had already felt to a nearly unbearable level. Mouth still full from her last bite of food, she jumped out of her chair and raced to the window.
"Where?" Rachel demanded, her voice coming out muffled as she projected small specks of food onto the glass surface. Wiping frantically at the mess she had made, Rachel scanned the distance, but the sun had completely descended now and darkness blanketed the land, making it impossible for her to actually see anything she was looking at.
"There." Cazul had moved next to her and pointed at a spot in the dark. "Over that dune. They are moving towards us."
"I can't see anything. How many of them are there?"
"They are still far off. We can not tell yet." Cazul's gaze moved towards the spot in the distance he had pointed to, but his eyes remained unfocussed.
A buzzing sensation ran through Rachel. Almost like a ringing in her ears, but it was less a sound and more like a physical sensation that traveled up her arms and made her shiver. The anticipation was beginning to overwhelm her.
"The Zaelifur tribe have been scouting ahead, but they still have not been able to get a final count."
"They're out there alone?" Rachel asked, looking out the window as if she would suddenly spot her men in the dark.
Cazul gave her a funny look in response, but ignored her question. "You are aware that when we are attacked, you are not to leave this room under any circumstances?"
Rachel opened her mouth to protest, but Cazul cut her off.
"They will be after you- it will be their only goal. Keeping you protected, at all costs, is our life's mission. We would not survive without you… Ra-" Cazul paused in his speech, and his hand had drifted over towards Rachel's that was still pressed against the glass, but before he could touch her, he pulled back. "…My Queen." His cheeks had turned a rosy shade of pink, contrasting sharply with his dark hair. His eyes were no longer making contact with Rachel's, but were directed towards the floor.
Rachel closed the distance between them, grabbing his hand in hers, and Cazul's gaze whipped back towards her. "You can call me Rachel." She smiled as his eyes widened in response.
"We would not survive without you… Rachel." Cazul repeated. There was warmth and devotion in his blue eyes. The look reminded her of Cael. But as he continued his speech, the similarity stopped. "You do not fully understand this world yet, Rachel, but your safety is paramount, over any of ours."
Rachel frowned, about to protest that all of their lives were just as important, but once again Cazul cut her off.
"No! It is absolutely vital that you survive. You must understand." The blue color of Cazul's eyes had changed as he spoke, gaining a slight slivery cast, like the cold grey steel of a surgeon's scalpel. "We would all die without you, Rachel." Cazul stepped towards her, gripping Rachel's upper arms in a firm but gentle hold, keeping her close.
"Our linked minds would not be able to handle it. Historically, a Hive has never been able to survive the death of their Queen; they become Bau-ntiu- the crazed men of the desert. You have met them. You know how horrible they are, the evil that they do. They are coming for us right now. Would you wish thirty more of them into existence? So many more crazed men to try to tear apart this already broken world? Would you wish that fate upon us, Rachel?"
She stood frozen in shock, her mouth slightly agape. Cazul shook her slightly, to get her attention.
"You must promise me… No. You must promise all of us, that you will not risk your life for any one of ours."
"I can't do that, Cazul." Rachel shook her head in denial as her whole being rejected the thought. "I can't make that kind of promise. You can't ask that of me."
The calculated grey edge to Cazul's blue eyes began to fade, as a warmer tone entered back into them. He pulled Rachel towards his body, holding her close. "I know… I know." He said as he softly stroked her hair. "You are too good for us, my Queen."
Cazul's embrace tightened, as if he would never let her go. His arms were wrapped fully around Rachel, and her head was nestled into his chest. Initially, her body had stiffened when he had grabbed her, not sure of his intent, but the embrace turned out to be just a hug, and Rachel began to relax in his arms.
"But you must promise us. Without you, we will all perish. This is the only way to ensure our survival- our safety."
Rachel's hands slowly lifted from her sides, and fisted the fabric of Cazul's shirt in her hands. Her eyes had begun to water, and for the first time in forever, it wasn't from anxiety. "I don't want to loose any of you. Not one." Rachel whispered into Cazul's chest, hiding her face.
His hand rubbed her back in a comforting gesture, then pulled her even tighter into his body. "We know. But please, for all of our sakes, you must promise, my Queen."
Rachel blinked away the tears, wanting to be strong. "I promise not to knowingly risk my life." She knew it was underhanded, that her words were full of loopholes, but Rachel prayed they would not know. Her men were asking the impossible of her.
Before Cazul could respond, a blinding light rent through the darkness outside, lighting up the desert nightscape for one full second before fading again to black. It came with a sharp noise that echoed into the night. High pitched, it strangely faded upwards into a tone undecipherable by human ears.
"What the hell was that?" Rachel pulled back, looking uselessly out into the darkness before glancing at Cazul. He stood still as a marble statue, with a blank expression, his eyes unfocussed and staring at nothing. "Cazul?" When he didn't respond, Rachel shook his arm. "Cazul! What happened?"
Rachel knew by now what that look meant on her men: Cazul's mind was linking with his brothers. A sense of dread overwhelmed her as she waited for him to speak, the suspense building. Unconsciously, Rachel's grip on Cazul's arms tightened as she stared into his empty gaze, trying in vain to will him back to her.
A tingling sensation started at the base of Rachel's spine and traveled upwards, making her body shiver and hair stand on end. Something was wrong; something was very wrong. She could sense it. Rachel's grip on both of Cazul's arms tightened further, thinking maybe that the extra contact would help her understand what was going on within his mind, and the minds of her men.
"What is it, Cazul?" She whispered. Even as she spoke the words, she knew that they were useless. Staring into his vacant blue gaze, Rachel tried to will the man back to her, which is how she saw the exact moment when his eyes refocused and his consciousness returned to the present. Cazul's gaze slashed down towards her in such a quick movement that it made Rachel flinch. The blue of his eyes had lost the warmth from before, and had regained that steel grey edge that looked so sharp it could cut flesh.
"The Zaelifur tribe, as was planned, forced the enemy to use their gunner, in order to waste their firepower."
"Was anyone hurt?" The words exploded out of Rachel before Cazul had even finished speaking.
"No. But in the light from the fire… They saw how many men we are facing."
"How many?" Rachel's eyes widened in fear. "Tell me!" she demanded when she saw him pause.
Cazul's answer rang throughout the room like the tolling of a bell.
The words echoed, bouncing around in Rachel's skull and scrambling her brain. Her mouth went dry, and only later did she realize it was because it had been hanging open in shock. Cazul pulled her to him once again, wrapping his arms protectively around her. "Do not worry Rachel. We will protect you."
Rachel didn't respond. There was nothing she could say. Any fear she felt now was for her men. They were determined to protect her, but she was just as equally determined to protect them. Rachel knew Cazul wouldn't understand her need to help. It wasn't expected in their society. So Rachel held her tears in this time. Swallowing her fear, her mind began to race. To win this fight they would need more than thirty soldiers to defend the Hive: they would need thirty-one.
Even with Rachel's face held against Cazul's chest, facing away from the window, she could see the glow reflected against her bedroom wall as another gun was fired into the night.
"That was one of ours." Cazul said comfortingly, his hand stroking her back absent-mindedly.
The canon shot must have hit its intended target, because Rachel could feel the fortress tremble beneath her feet from the distant impact. Soon after, another blinding light rent through the darkness in answer, but the shot must have went wide, because the great castle stood still. Like lightning, the deadly firefight went on, shocking the darkened landscape with swathes of white light from the canon-like lasers, their high pitched whine echoing like shrill thunder in the night.
Rachel pulled away from Cazul to stare out into the storm. She could neither see in the darkness, nor as the canon fire streaked across the landscape. It's brightness blinded her momentarily, creating spots in front of her vision.
"The enemy has five gunmen. They have fired four shots. We only need them to waste one more, and their firepower will be gone. Then they will no longer be able to reach you." Cazul spoke over the fading whine of one of the canons.
Clasping his hand in hers, Rachel gave Cazul a small smile in answer. Her actions seemed to shock him. "Don't worry. We will get through this." Rachel repeated his words from earlier and gave his hand a slight squeeze in reassurance. The two turned their focus back to the fight outside and stood there in silence, watching the lightning shoot across the sky.
Rachel could see a small dot of light in the distance flare to life, and frowned, unsure if there were spots still flashing before her eyes, or if it was real. The light mushroomed in size in a fraction of a second, and unlike the streaks of light from before that had dashed across the night sky, this one headed straight for her.
The light grew bigger as it moved closer, and Rachel's eyes widened in shock. The strike was headed for the Hive's great fortress, and inside the building she couldn't just maneuver out of the way. Rachel was trapped in a cage. She stared helplessly out of her window at the deadly light as it got exponentially bigger in just a fraction of a nanosecond.
The ground shook from the force of the blow. This was not just an echo from a far off impact, but a direct hit upon the fortress. Rachel stumbled as the floor shivered beneath her feet, like the aftershocks from an earthquake. Cazul's grip tightened painfully over her hand, but it was the only thing keeping her standing. One large crack formed on the outside facing wall, near the corner of the room, it's jagged edges protruding like lightning as it stabbed through the thick rock walls, eventually reaching the floor as a tiny sliver of a point.
The sudden silence was shocking for a moment, painfully dragging out the anticipation. Rachel's breathing stilled as she watched the crack in the wall, but it was the ceiling that began to groan, a protesting sound that sent specks of dust floating to the floor. Following the trail, Rachel's eyes rolled upward to see a hairline fracture that started from the crack in the wall, and led straight to her.
As the ceiling crumbled to the floor, first in small bits, and then large chunks, but mostly all at once, Rachel was thrown backwards.
It had sounded like the end of the world. The crash left her ears ringing, and small particles of debris clouded the air in an opaque film. A weight sat against Rachel's chest, squeezing her lungs painfully. She struggled to take in a breath, but all she got for her efforts was a choking cough caused by the dust in the air.
The weight was suddenly removed, and through the fog Rachel could see Cazul's concerned face move directly in front of hers. "Are you hurt?" He all but yelled. Not waiting for her answer, Cazul began checking her body in a methodical manor, touching her limbs to check for breaks in the bone or cuts in the skin.
Rachel shook her head, trying to rid her ears of the dull ringing that remained from the loud crash. Even still, she could hear the final sounds of rock shifting and falling as the remains of the room finished crumbling around them. Dust now coating her throat, she coughed again, trying to rid herself of it, but the particles still permeated the air in a hazy grey cloud, and all she got for her efforts was more dust.
"I'm fine." Rachel croaked out over the noise around them. She pushed herself up into a sitting position, and Cazul quickly stood up and offered her a hand. Taking it gladly, she was hoisted up as if she weighed no more than a feather.
The dust fog that clouded the air quickly began to dissipate, but the ringing in Rachel's head seemed more reluctant to leave. The sound was giving her a headache, but that was something she just had to ignore. There were much more important things to deal with.
Cazul dragged her around the room, pulling on her arm painfully in his desperation.
"Were any of our men hurt?" Rachel slurred out, holding her head with one had to try to steady herself.
Cazul ignored her question, instead shoving her into a corner, beneath a pile of rubble.
"Were any of our men hurt?" Rachel demanded again, this time her voice louder, more sure of herself.
Cazul stopped what he was doing to look her in the eyes. He had been positioning her body in the tiniest spot in the room, crouched down in the fetal position underneath large slabs of the walls and ceiling, hidden from view.
Rachel watched as his eyes became unfocussed and he began to communicate with his brothers. "Yes… Several were injured. We are unsure of the number at this moment, but at least three are wounded." Quickly snapping out of it, Cazul continued to block Rachel's body in the small crevice with large rocks, almost walling her in.
"How bad is it?" Rachel demanded.
Cazul never stopped his frantic movements. "It is bad my Queen. It is very bad. You must stay here."
Rachel watched in confusion as the stone wall he was building around her quickly began to cage her in. "Wait! What are you doing?"
"They have breached our fotress. Which means they can now get to you. You must hide!" Cazul practically snarled at her as he placed more stones at her eye level, blocking her view.
"What are you going to do? You have to help our men!"
"I can not. I will stay here and protect you, as the last line of defense."
"No!" Rachel scrambled around in the small place, trying to stop Cazul from blocking her in her own private bunker. "You have to save them! You have to find them, Cazul!" She grabbed his hand, forcing him to stop his work, but there was now only a small space left for Rachel to see out of in the wall he had built.
"Cazul, I order you to help them."
She could hear the power in her words. Even as it alarmed her, another force rose up within her, and it was savagely pleased.
Through the small space left in the stone wall, Rachel could see Cazul's blue-grey eyes widen in shock. His hand trembled within her grip.
"My Queen…" His voice came out choppy, forced from his throat. He disappeared for a moment, but it felt like a lifetime. When he returned, he passed something through the tiny hole left in the wall he had built.
Rachel grabbed it from him. In the dark space she was hidden in, she could just make out the gleam of a blade. Maybe a dagger, or a short sword.
"Please… Take this." Cazul's voice sounded pained, as if he had to force the words out. All Rachel could see were his eyes, and in the blue-grey depths she saw real fear. "I love you." He seemed to choke out, before he was gone.
Rachel held the knife to her like a talisman, as silent tears ran down her cheeks. She had forced Cazul to leave her. It was selfish. She sent him into war.
Sure, it was to help ensure the survival of her injured men, but at what cost? Cazul was now in danger, and Rachel was left completely unprotected. She hadn't forgotten his warning. If she died, they all did.
In the tiny corner Cazul had hidden her in within the rubble of her bedroom, the world seemed silent and lonely. But outside of her last stand at protection, the sounds of battle reigned on. Men fought each other to the death over her, and like a cave, or maybe a tomb, Rachel was walled in alone.
Clutching the knife closer to her chest, until the hilt began to dig painfully into her ribs, Rachel let her tears fall. They weren't for her though, they were for the lives of the men outside. Lost in a war that made no sense, and should have never been.
Welp, sorry this took so long to update, but my life hasn't been that easy lately. Had a lot of deaths in the family, emotionally and financially unstable, yadda yadda, the usual. Just have not had time to write or to even think of this story until now. I love all you guys for your comments, and for sticking with me and encouraging me. They have made me so happy! Every time I saw a nice comment it would make me long to write this story again. I really did miss it. I never intend to abandon it. It is already finished in my head. But do not expect regular updates! Sorry, but just not in the cards right now.
I see you guys are really missing Cael! He'll be back eventually ;p. I just want their reunion long and drawn out with a lot of angst lol.
Unfortunately, I have gotten a few mean comments made by guests that I deleted. Not sure if those continue if I will continue publishing on here. My life is so crazy, I just dont' need one more crazy thing added to it.
chris. antha - Thank you! Glad that is coming across well. :)
Kappa - Sorry :/ I don't really do things fast.
Stendhal Syndrome - Thank you! I like that: it all seemed too good to be true, and it definitely is! I hope I can keep a good balance on that throughout the story.
madamemercurial - Thank you :). It is definitely hard to keep track of all of Rachel's feelings, lol. And I have so much world confusion! I've been trying to keep track in a bout 3 different notebooks, but there is so much backstory and language etc. it is hard for me to keep up, so feel free to point out if you see any continuity errors.
DeathlyIceMaiden - glad you like it!
LetMeWonder - haha! Yes! Women power! :p
1financebabe- Thank you!
The Lady of Gaea- Thank you!
augmentedDREAMS- Yay! So happy it came off funny and cute :D