A/N: Time skip warning
Years passed. Word of The Lightning King's actions occasionally reached Rosa's ears, but the man himself stayed far enough away Rosa never felt more than a slight tug on her chest. She switched back to female when it became apparent he wasn't going to show up, even when Rosa called his name.
Half of the villages marked on the map were burned husks with no inhabitants. Every single one of those had an elderly raggy somewhere nearby who witnessed the yellow-haired man and a caravan of berserkers capture their village. Tor saw it as an insult that The Lightning King would leave an eye-witness, just to rub it in his face that he got there first. Rosa wasn't so sure.
Rosa wasn't sure if it was because she was yearning for him or some other reason, but she really didn't want Xod to be behind the enslavement of the raggy race.
Tor started building a safe-haven with the other half of the raggy villages. It didn't take much more than seeing a liberator and being told powerful people were trying to enslave them to get most raggies to leave their homes. Tor, being the overprotective liberator he was, kept the raggy population moving with him. They got slower and slower until they eventually had to settle down in a Tor-approved spot.
Rosa stayed in the safe-haven, helping the raggies build more permanent structures. A raggy city slowly formed. The raggies who were enslaved were sold in both the human and orvian populations, and Tor often went out on rescue missions.
But Tor was only one raggy, and the people who conspired to enslave the raggy race were thousands. If anyone but Tor left the safe-haven, they didn't return. Besides whatever news recently rescued raggies knew, they were cut off from the world.
A green-eyed raggy named Forest started preaching about a deity he called Mother Nature. She was the earth below their feet, the clouds above their heads, and the very air around them. She was natural disasters and the plants they ate and the water that gave them life. When they died, they joined her, becoming part of the cycle of life.
Rosa watched the religion grow. It was a good religion. After all, raggies were peaceful by nature. They accepted things as they were, and there was nothing more natural than nature. Only Tor could kill, so most raggies ate only plants. In this mother nature religion, animals were seen as equals, so even Tor wasn't supposed kill them. The cycle of life was what it was, and if the occasional predator killed a raggy, that raggy was lauded as a hero, going to join Their Mother in a seat of honor.
Rosa herself "prayed" to Xod. All she really did was say his name and then tell him about her day, her hopes, her worries. A part of her knew he was listening, and that gave her more comfort than it should have. She wished he'd answer, but at the same time if he did she'd probably be scared out of her wits. She did this "praying" on her own at night, often under her breath because she shared a hut with Tor and two other, more permanent, residents.
Ten years passed like this. Adult Tor was a force to be reckoned with. He had no mercy for those who dared sell, buy, or otherwise participate in the raggy slave trade. He hunted The Lightning King with a passion, but both he and the band of berserkers who started this stayed out of his path.
Tor left for another rescue mission one day midsummer. Rosa had a bad feeling about it, but she often had a bad feeling about him leaving. She didn't like him going out into danger without her. If he ever faced The Lightning King again, he'd try to fight the man to the death, and no matter how Tor had improved, Rosa doubted he could ever really beat Xod.
Two nights after Tor left, Rosa startled awake at not one, but several tugs on her chest. They were all different strengths. Distant screams had her scrambling to her feet to wake up the other two in her hut. She held fingers to their lips to keep them quiet and listened. The screams got closer, and the tugs on her chest drew tighter.
She had no idea what it was, but she knew they had to get out of there.
Rosa peeked her head out of the hut and looked this way and that. The "street" was clear of enemies, for now. A few running raggies approached, one screaming his head off. Rosa and her roommates jumped out of their hut, and others quickly followed out of their own, looking sleepy and disoriented.
"Evacuate!" Rosa yelled. "Everyone, evacuate!"
The call spread. Soon, instead of incoherent screams, there were yells of "Evacuate!" instead. A stampede of raggies moved outwards. A few jealots stayed in place on their knees with their hands in the dirt, praying for a miracle from their mother. Rosa didn't bother entreating Xod for help.
Rosa slid to a stop at the edge of the raggy city. Beyond the buildings were their crop fields, but between the buildings and the crops were berserkers with whips and chains. Rosa met the gaze of one of them, and a single tug on her chest grew stronger.
The tugs were berserkers. It wasn't just a Xod thing. Rosa swallowed her nerves and then turned and ran back into the city. She had to push against the people running the other way. She dove into one of their sturdier buildings made of dirt instead of wood and then slid to her butt against the wall.
She couldn't do anything as the raggies around her screamed and cried and begged but were dragged away, chained, and stuck in cages anyway. No one else came into her little sanctuary for quite some time. Not until the cries had long since stopped. Not until all the other raggies were gone and the sun was well into the sky.
The curtain door swept to the side, a tug grew stronger, and Rosa closed her eyes tightly.
"A raggy with a pull," a raspy voice said. "Fancy that."
Rosa gulped as a body settled in front of her. She hugged her legs tighter to her torso, trying to shield herself.
"Better yet, you know what the pull means," the man mused. "Look at me."
She didn't want to, but she was too scared at the moment to disobey. Most of the tugs were gone, but four others hovered close by.
She opened her eyes and met one blue and one red eye. The man had yellow hair, but his face and age and size weren't Xod's. He was smaller but still lean and muscular. Still attractive. And that's why Rosa hadn't wanted to look. The man grinned, and his teeth were obviously being bared, but the flatness of them made the grimace nothing compared to Xod's sharpened grin.
"So tell me, raggy, which one of my men used that pull but then didn't bring you home?"
Rosa wet her lips and braced herself. "You don't look much like him, you know."
The yellow-haired berserker seemed surprised. "Like who? The one you had sex with?"
"And you need to re-dye your roots," Rosa added, eyeing his hair, where brown showed through close to his head.
The man's grin fully fell. His eyes narrowed, and a thrill went through Rosa's spine.
"Who. Fucked. You," he growled.
Rosa shook her head. "No one. The Lightning King offered, but I never took him up on it."
The berserker blinked in surprise. He seemed speechless for a moment.
"Also," Rosa added, "he keeps his hair in a very tight braid down his back. And he doesn't wear a shirt. I guess you don't really need to look exactly like him, just the hair. I knew he wasn't enslaving the raggies."
The berserker grinned again, chuckling this time. "True. All they need to see is the hair and hear a few loud noises, and they assume it's Father. I'm Glion Tayat, third eldest son of Docken Tayat. Did Father tell you what those pulls in your chest mean?"
Rosa shook her head. "He just insinuated it meant I wanted to have sex with him."
"I see. Then, let me explain. Every single berserker feels a tug when close enough to you. Usually, this tug comes from certain human women. Ones that, whether they admit it or not, really like fucking berserkers," at this he gives a broad grin. "And the ones with the tugs give us children. Women without tugs can't bear berserker children. Weird, but true. So, when we find one, we usually offer them a choice. Come home with us or let one of us stay with her long enough for her to bear a son. If they choose the second, they usually lose the tug after the child is born. First, and the tug stays until they die. But you, you're a raggy."
Rosa's heart stopped for a split-second when he crawled closer. She tried to press against the wall but couldn't escape. His arms planted on either side of her curled up form, and his face loomed right above hers.
"Raggies are slaves," he asserted, his lips above hers and the tug nearly unbearable. "So you're coming with us whether you want to or not."
Rosa turned her head to the side, and he chuckled as his lips met her cheek.
"Xodyord, help," Rosa choked out past the pull.
She didn't expect him to answer. He hadn't answered for an entire decade. But she hadn't really been in danger in that decade, either.
A flash and a bang, and then another stronger tug pulled at her chest. The man on top of her was no longer there, and she dared look up to find the real, glowing yellow-haired berserker with two red eyes holding the fake up by his throat. The roof was low enough Xod had to hunch over, but he still somehow held the other's toes off the ground. Glion Tayat clawed at the hand holding him and kicked but eventually gave up and just stared at the larger berserker.
Xod walked out the door with berserker in hand. Rosa scurried to her feet and pulled back the curtain to watch with wide eyes as he threw Glion Tayat to the ground in front of four other stunned berserkers. Glion heaved in breathes as he flipped over to his butt and stared at Xod.
"This raggy is mine," Xod declared.
The berserkers nodded quickly.
"We won't touch her."
Glion stood and dusted himself off with his head bowed. "Then we'll be going."
He turned to leave, but Xod snagged his hair, making him come up short. Glion tensed, his hands shaking a little.
"I do not care that you impersonate me. But know that I trained Tor, and when he finds you, I will not intervene."
"Yes, Father," Glion said, his voice even more raspy than before.
Xod let go, and then Glion and the others all but ran off. Rosa watched their backs disappear around a corner and then stepped out of the dirt building. She stepped up next to Xodyord, who didn't look down at her.
"Thank you, Xod," she offered.
He said nothing. She felt all the tugs but his get lesser and lesser.
"Do you hear me every time?" she asked, quietly.
He finally looked down at her, one eye red and one blue.
"We do," he said.
"I said I'd have sex with you years ago," she reminded him.
He shrugged. "Are they gone?"
She checked the tugs and found them at the edges of being felt, so she nodded.
"We will be right back. Stay here."
With a flash and no noise, he disappeared. Rosa looked around at the now abandoned street of dirt houses, feeling her heart sink. She was the eye-witness, this time. They might have left another, but Tor would come back with four or five hopeful raggies, only to be crushed. He wouldn't believe her. He'd go on the war path. He'd tried too hard to do things without a full-on war, and now all his efforts were in vain.
With a flash and bang, Xod was back. He knelt to one knee and caught her chin between two long, clawed fingers. She met his duel-colored gaze and gulped.
"You have two options. One, stay here. Work with your brother, possibly get taken by the berserkers. I will not intervene again. Two, come with us away from this place. Your brother will assume you were captured and search everywhere for you, never to find you."
Tears pricked at her eyes. "That's… a horrible choice."
He nodded slowly. "Yet it is one you need to make. We promised not to get involved in the raggy conflict on either side. We cannot allow you to continue to call us when you are in danger and also keep that promise."
So, she could either decide to protect herself from an inevitable rape, or she could stay by her brother's side. Losing her along with the safe-haven would completely destroy him, and if he ever found out she abandoned him, well, he hated Thunder for that same reason. Thunder wasn't his sibling, but still.
"O-okay," she stuttered out. "Then I won't call you again."
He gave a sad smile, one that looked incredibly incongruent with his face, and tucked a tuft of hair behind her ear.
"You may call, but we will not answer. You may talk to us as you have been. We will listen, but we cannot help."
"Will they really try to take me again?" she asked. "Even though you claimed me as yours?"
"I do not know."
She nodded and stepped back. He watched her for a long moment before he disappeared. Without an actual goodbye. She took a deep breath and then picked through the abandoned "city" looking for the intended eye-witness and supplies for them both to survive until Tor returned.
Growing up was supposed to be easy. One day, near his twenty-third birthday, Ryken was supposed to be able to shift out of his true form and into a more grown up version of his mortal form. But since he didn't shift between forms, he had to endure the entire growth spurt through his single form. It was agony.
His bones ached. His skin crawled. His muscles protested every movement. It took an entire month to go from a eight span tall infant to a thirteen span tall adult, and during that time he had to eat way more than usual, sleep most of the days away, and drink more than his fill of water.
He was glad he chose to go with Droydox, because he doubted Tor or his sibling would have been able to help him through the way his Alpha had. Droydox always had food and water ready for him when he woke up, and during the worst of his pain, the berserker held him floating in water, which really took pressure off his joints.
But after the growing pains passed and Rykentavic was a full adult, the berserker became, for the lack of a better term, even more of an asshole. At least he started talking to Ryken again, but if Ryken had thought the berserker's training was terrible when he only went up to the man's waist, it was nothing compared to the agony it became once he was eye-to-throat with the berserker.
If someone had told him before he grew that Droydox was going easy on him during training, he would have laughed in their faces. But now, he still had bruises a full hour after they were done sparring, which was stupid with his healing ability.
The places they visited were interesting. In most of them, Ryken just stayed invisible and didn't really interact with people. He was too different looking. One of the habitable zones they found only had humans in it. There was a different subset of human men that chose to change into something else called a wister, but they were still more or less human. Another zone was overrun with a cat-like mortal race that had developed technology beyond Ryken's understanding. That one had been Droydox's favorite so far.
There was another habitable zone where even mortal had the powers of gods and society was structured around physical fights. Ryken and Droydox showed themselves there and participated in a lot of sparring. No one was on Droydox's level, unsurprisingly. Ryken lost a few power battles, but with his training he beat most any challenger. He was pretty proud of himself for how he did, considering his own power wasn't what it should be due to the collar that changed his form.
They found another habitable zone with only orvs. They were structured into tribes, just like the orvs back home. It was interesting to study, but they had to remain invisible and didn't stay there very long.
They didn't find Vashri or berserkers or raggies in any of the other habitable zones. There was one without any people at all, only dragons. Wild dragons that more or less ignored Ryken and steered well away from Droydox.
Each of the inhabited zones had its own language. When they entered, Droydox would flick a little light at Ryken's head, and then he magically understood what they were saying and could communicate with them if he wanted to. The religions varied widely from place to place. The cats didn't even believe in a higher power or afterlife, while the place with wisters believed their souls became stars when they died and the moon was the goddess who took care of them.
Time flew. For the most part, Droydox stayed with Ryken. He did something that knocked Ryken out at one point that allowed him to teleport Ryken with him, so they didn't have to travel too long over the barren desert portions of their world. Every now and then, Droydox would disappear, but Ryken didn't ask what he was doing, and the berserker didn't offer the information. Ryken figured it was better not to know.
Forty-nine years after they left their home habitable zone, Ryken leaned on his Alpha after a teleport with his feet back on home soil. He groaned, and the berserker let him use his shoulder to get over the dizzy spell. It was either allow him to use his shoulder or deal with Ryken complaining about picking himself off the ground, and the berserker was a reasonable person who hated complaining.
Ryken stood by himself when he could and then started stretching. His Alpha joined him, even though, being what he was, he didn't need the stretches. He'd said previously he felt off if he didn't do them.
Ryken took deep breaths of the air. It had a different scent in each zone, and he hadn't realized he was missing his home smell.
"So, what does the political climate look like here, Alpha?"
Xoddox's eyes were distant, and his form was see-through, meaning he was searching at the moment.
"The humans retained their species wide monarchy," Xoddox answered, his voice monotone. "An orvian tribe split into two, and the other five are still intact. Half the split tribe and two others are working with Tor to try to free the raggies, but the humans and other three and a half orvian tribes are working against it."
"And the berserkers?"
"The Tayats split from the humans and are mostly mercenaries and assassins for hire. The Tessets joined with Tor."
Ryken raised his brow at that last bit. "The Tessets joined Tor? Why? I mean, wasn't their whole thing about serving the gods?"
"And then there were no gods. They looked for you for about a decade before they found Tor's sister, a breedable raggy, and joined with him in order to get in her good graces. Now they are his main fighting force in a losing guerilla warfare."
"So I take it by all of that, Tor's still alive."
"Obviously," the berserker answered.
Ryken hummed. "And the thing you said about vashri mates?"
"Still holds. Again, the problem-"
"Is that our relationship will suck. I know."
The berserker nodded slightly. "As long as you acknowledge that I did not fuck up that part of your life."
"Yeah, yeah. I know."
Xoddox stood fully and filled out until he was all there. Ryken had learned how to read him, so the look that once would have looked blank he understood to be sadness.
"The religious landscape?" Ryken asked, trying to stall.
"The orvs worship their ancestors except for the two and a half tribes with the raggies who worship nature. The Tayats and humans worship a convoluted version of me. The raggies worship nature, and The Tessets are fragmented. A few would probably still bow to you if you showed up."
Ryken's scales stood on end. But he knew his Alpha wouldn't kill other berserkers.
A long silence passed where they just stared at each other.
"I suppose this is goodbye, then," Ryken stated.
His Alpha nodded slowly. "You will take care of my grandson?"
"And give Tor the information he needs. Are you sure you have to do this?"
The berserker's lips twitched up. "Once you hear what they are saying about me, and by extension you, you will understand."
"I'll miss you," Ryken admitted.
The berserker shrugged.
"I will still watch you until he shows up."
"I know, but…"
Ryken wasn't sure what else to say, so he just stepped forward and hugged his Alpha. Xoddox hugged him back.
"I will always see you as my son, Rykentavic."
"And no matter what I tell everyone else, you were a great adopted father, Xoddox."
Before Ryken could respond, Xoddox was gone. Ryken took a deep breath of home air and then set his gaze towards where the sun would rise in a few hours. Xoddox had put him near the anti-slavery faction; it was time to put the plan they'd been debating over for the past decade into action.