Chapter One: Subjugation                                                                             




            Smoke curled lazily from the meter-wide bowl that was shared by the five that sat around its base, two of the younger individuals nestling their bare feet within the concavity of its base.  The brown leaf substance that lay heaped almost halfway up the interior of the bowl burned slowly as the five individuals took turns drawing forth the calming smoke that resulted from the slow immolation of the leaves.  Each individual seated around the bowl had already partaken of several large puffs, finding that they were suitably relaxed and as a result in a far greater state of attention.  The four young men and woman that had come to this place still looked expectantly to the wizened elder that sat between them; though their gazes no longer held any trace of the impatience they’d had only moments before.

            The old man, and he was old, perhaps many decades beyond each of them, sat with his eyes closed and one wrinkled hand resting gently atop the long-stemmed pipe that descended in a graceful arch towards the bowl that sat between them all.  A full head of pale white hair that might have once been blonde adorned his age-spotted head, causing him to look not unlike a ghost, though the sparkle that lit his dazzling green eyes as he slowly opened them was so intense that three of the four couldn’t help but gasp in surprise.  This man was old, there was no dispute, but the light in his eyes burned with an intensity that not a single one of them could begin to match.  There was a spirit to this elder that none of them could truly fathom, an essence that seemed to dwarf them not only in spirit but in the flesh as well. A slow grin spread across his wrinkled features as the warmth in that gesture extended to each of them, giving each individual a feeling of such acceptance that not a one of them could doubt that they were welcome here.

            “Now then, forget what the historians have told you, for it will avail you nothing here,”  the old man coughed lightly before continuing, taking a deep breath before settling himself once more, “Listen with your hearts my young friends, and learn another tale, one they do not teach, one that must be lived.”

                                                *                      *                      *         


Eighty-five years earlier…


            Moonlight sparkled upon the still waters of the oasis, bathing the solitary figure in its soothing luminescence as he knelt before the cool, refreshing pool.  He was tired, bless all the waking gods of the stars he was exhausted!  Not a day had passed in the last few weeks when he had not been forced to run, much as he and many others had done in the last year’s time.  There was no other option though, to stop was to be found and to be found was to die, slowly and in great pain.  He would not allow such to happen, though he couldn’t think of a way to stop such a fate from happening.  Looking down upon his reflection the figure couldn’t help but feel certain helplessness as he tried to look in his own eyes, finding that he as glad for the darkness.

            Beneath the surface of the crystal clear water he could see movement, a faint ripple of motion that caught his attention.  He smiled as he saw the source of the disturbance only a moment later, seeing the glistening forms of several elsae, what people called “water cats”, as they swam lazily into view.  Their long, sinuous forms shone brightly as they rolled playfully in their watery home, their graceful bodies

glimmering within the moonlight as they crossed through the shifting reflections of light.  The creatures rollicked gleefully as they surfaced briefly, staring at him with their slanted pupils.  He saw as the moonlight reflected in their eyes, turning them a faint, silvery-white hue before the docile creatures immerses themselves once more. 

            They were curious creatures by nature, timid until threatened and hardly inclined to harm another creature for anything less.  Yet they were also wary of those they did not recognize, a fact that was proven in the next moment as they slipped once more in the darker depths of the pond, retreating from the sandy shore.  The rich and powerful were often known to keep such exotic creatures as pets; though he’d always felt that such a practice was not only cruel but pointless.  He couldn’t imagine taking such a beautiful and kind creature from its natural home.

            A low, quiet sigh escaped the man as he supposed that like so many other aspects of this world this small haven would soon be gone.  It was the way of life upon many worlds if not all, change was necessary to continue any semblance of life.  The changes that had been wrought to this world and many others over the past year were anything but natural.  Entire continents had been shifted, underwater currents had been disrupted and the world at large seemed to have flipped upside down in a matter of months.  He knew that such was not the case, though at times it certainly felt that way.  And this world was not the only one.

            According to the few reports he’d managed to view, entire planetary systems had been disrupted, moons had been shattered, worlds had been devastated and entire populations had been thrown into chaos.  A divided galaxy was indeed a far easier opponent, though he had trouble believing that anyone would willingly back down against such anarchy, or that they might even embrace it. 

            Deep green eyes rose to a sky filled with stars, comets and distant worlds that he had studied, heard of, but rarely visited.  In the past he’d been privy to dealings and transactions between his race and the many other species that inhabited the galaxy’s many reaches, though as of this last year most commerce among the normal trade routes had either thinned or ceased altogether.  He would have thought that full scale war would have given the many species within the galaxy reason to band together, to come to one another’s aid in defense against a common enemy, but he’d been wrong.  Old hatreds and feuds had erupted not long after the war had been declared by the invaders to the galaxy, the negative emotions serving their aggressors well as the invasion force had swept through each system like wildfire, spreading their chaotic torch of faith in such a manner as to keep their enemies divided and at odds with one another.  Even he had to admit that the strategy was sound, though it was impossible to remain impressed when his world had soon become the staging ground from which the invaders had continued their destructive course throughout the entire system.

            Saedroch, that was name that had been given to the vile race when the twin suns at the center of the universe had still been young.  Or at least that was how the tales went.  The species had been known to sow dissent among their galactic neighbors more than a few times since the technology for gateway travel had been found, though more often than not they’d been seen more as a nuisance than a true threat.  Humanoid in nature, the Saedroch were a race that embraced chaos and all its ways, existing only to dominate and

subvert those who would not understand their glorious undertaking.  They were bent on little more than spreading insanity and destruction on such a scale that few had truly understood the depths of their depravity.

            He and a few others had managed to escape a year past when the Saedroch had managed to invade their world, accessing the main gateway within the vast metropolis of Stena that had before that time acted as a portal to allow commerce to flow freely between worlds.  It was to the great lament of those who were in charge of maintaining and guarding the gate that they had never thought to install safeguards that would warn of an imminent attack. As one of those charged with finding new and inventive ways to facilitate travel between worlds, Elayden couldn’t help but blame himself in part for this egregious oversight.  Like a few others he’d known that the threat of the Saedroch was very real, though after so many years of never once being attacked in great numbers he, along with many others, had grown noticeably complacent.

            The price his people had paid within the last year had been almost too much to bear, stripping Elayden of the youthful exuberance he’d once possessed.  Stena had been invaded, taken over and reformed within a matter of months, becoming a place of such base debauchery that Elayden had only looked upon it one final time before fleeing into the uncertain safety of the Sifting Wastes, where he and three others had fled to escape the city’s fate.  He felt in many ways like a coward, a vile betrayer that had turned his back on his people in their time of greatest need.  It might have been better to die with his people or at least share their torment, anything to rid himself of this feeling that he wasn’t worth the concern of those that had helped him to escape the city.

            A sudden noise caught his attention, snapping him back to the present as he instinctively hunkered down, trying to make himself less visible.  The rough clothing he wore blended in well with his surroundings, though Elayden still feared that he was far too visible in the moonlight.  He didn’t dare take refuge within the deep pool; it would surely incite the elsae to consider him as a threat.  He had no wish to discover the truth about their ferocity at this point.  It was said that their bite was highly poisonous, not to mention toxic, more than enough to down a man his size with one good chomp.  As exotic and awe-inspiring as they were Elayden saw no need to get any closer. 

            The sound had come somewhere close by, too close for his liking.  Elayden suspected that it had come from behind him, from within the grove of padla trees that ringed the dark pool.  Standing nearly six meters tall on average and growing nearly three meters wide, the padla trees were a marvel of the Sifting Wastes.  The massive trees needed only a minimum amount of water to survive and could live for hundreds upon hundreds of years within the harsh climate of the desert.  Their tough bark made them more than resilient enough to weather the harsh electrical storms that often crossed the width and breadth of the vast desert that lay beyond the borders of Stena. 

            There was at least two to three meters of clearance on each side of the pool, the shadows that lay beyond the sands offered many a convenient hiding spot.  As Elayden tried to peer behind himself he could hear the gentle swishing of branches caught by an evening wind as he strained to hear something more of his unseen observer.  It could have been those that had placed him in their charge, though he believed that they would

have announced themselves, that they would not be trying to sneak up on him, not even the one of their number that didn’t really care for him. 

            Elayden was far too aware of his surroundings at that moment as well as his own body.  He could hear as well as feel his heartbeat as it pounded within his chest.  Every inch of his skin seemed to throb with anticipation, as though he were actually waiting for an enemy to show themselves.  The sand beneath his palms seemed to grate against his skin despite the fact that he was not moving, each coarse grain conspiring to strip layers of flesh from his exposed hands and wrists.  Closing his eyes Elayden imagined he could hear footsteps approaching from all directions, surrounding him even as his mind insisted that it was only the wind sighing through the trees.  Fear gripped him in its unrelenting clutches as Elayden felt his jaw clench shut tightly enough to produce a low creak as he felt the unneeded tension strain the surrounding muscles and tendons of his face.  He couldn’t help but shudder as he tried to stay absolutely still, not wanting to alert anything to his presence.

            “You scare too easily.”  Elayden couldn’t help but cry out in surprise, or at least try to as a strong, unyielding hand was suddenly clamped over his mouth, “Stifle it hi-tech, we aren’t alone here.”  Elayden calmed noticeably as he recognized the voice of the woman behind him, her sultry tone identifying her easily.  Both of them stiffened as an electric charge ran through their bodies.  The gentle current was an integral part of the woman’s race, washing over Elayden in way that he knew the woman felt as well but would not admit to.  As a F’an, the enigmatic, long-lived race that inhabited this planet, Teysa Riis was among the hardest individuals that Elayden had ever met.  She was also the only female to have captured his heart so effectively; though it was a pity she didn’t seem interested in him at all.

            “Just stay put until I tell you otherwise hi-tech, trust me on this.”  Elayden nodded as she slowly took her hand from his mouth, helping him roughly to his feet as she peered intently towards the shadows that ringed them on all sides.  As he managed to catch her eye Elayden conveyed without words the question that was burning foremost in his mind.  Where were their pursuers? 

            Teysa didn’t speak as she nodded behind him, raising three fingers before pointing in the same direction.  Looking upon the woman that so captivated his every sense Elayden felt himself in awe of this stunning warrior woman as always.  Garbed in a black,  form-fitting suit of light chain mail with leather pads over key areas of her body, Teysa was a deadly beauty that Elayden could not help but stare at.  He could well imagine that more than a few enemies had paused for the few fatal moments it took her to strike.  In addition to the two long blades that rode at each hip, Teysa now hefted a large, rifle-like weapon that lay strapped to her back, its thick strap crossing over her chest and abdomen. 

            “Is that a-?”  Elayden didn’t get to finish as a piercing howl split the quietude of the oasis, alerting the two of them to the emergence of three figures from across the pool.  Elayden’s view of the world suddenly tilted crazily to the right as Teysa thrust him aside, reaching for the very sinister-looking quad-rifle slung across her back.  Elayden could feel his mind reel as he looked up from the sands to watch the fierce warrior woman take aim with the four interwoven tubes of messen metal that he knew could be murderous in

the right hands.  He wasn’t a warrior, but his knowledge of weaponry was extensive enough that he knew very well what the implement in her hands could do. 

            Covering his ears reflexively Elayden could swear he felt the concussive force of the weapon as Teysa triggered all four firing nodes at once.  Such a rash action was often more dangerous for the wielder of such a weapon than for their targets, yet as he dared to look up Elayden just managed to see as the three bronze-skinned Saedroch that had stepped from the shadows tried to move out of the way.  Two of them made it, diving away just in time to avoid the deadly hail of metal fragments that the quad rifle fired with each round.  The storm of razor-like shards caught one of the Saedroch full on, reducing the hapless male or female, they were too far away to tell accurately, to a pile of blood, bone and twitching appendages.  Had the being even had time to scream?  

            The point was moot as Teysa swore under her breath, watching as the remaining two Saedroch disappeared into the shadows of the trees surrounding the pool.  Elayden’s jaw was hanging wide open as he looked upon the mess that lay across the pool, wondering just how anyone could do such a thing, no matter if the Saedroch were their enemies.  His next thought was interrupted as he was hauled roughly to his feet and brought face to face with his savior as another electric jolt coasted pleasantly along his nerves.  The only thing that ruined the sensation, as it had since the first time, was Teysa’s frown of disappointment. 

            “Hold this.”  Elayden staggered back a step as Teysa almost threw the quad rifle at him, dropping the weapon into his arms as his eyes widened in surprise.  He was just as strong as she was, but his strength came from maintaining and tweaking world gates, not from warfare.  As he stared at her in question Teysa drew her long blades, shaking her head as she answered Elayden’s unspoken question, “You know how to use that thing hi-tech, if one of those bastards shows their face don’t hesitate, just shoot.”

            “What are you going to do?”  Teysa offered him a sardonic smile as she disappeared quickly into the shadows, her blades flashing once before she was gone.  Elayden felt at a loss for words, the same way he usually did around this woman.  In the next instant though the weight of what she’d said to him finally hit home.  Elayden shook his head at the shadows where she’d disappeared, sure of very little except the fact that he could not do this, could not take a life no matter how much his life might depend on it.  He’d been raised to build, to create, not to destroy.  It didn’t matter that Teysa had already told him more than once that all living organisms possessed the need to survive and would do anything in order to draw another breath, Elayden could not see himself ending the life of another.  That was the path of a warrior, to dispose of your enemies in any and all ways possible.  Teysa had no compunctions over killing the Saedroch, she’d shown this capacity many times in the past year.  Her ferocity was understandable though, she’d lost just as much as Elayden and the two others they’d escaped with.  The difference was that she didn’t hide behind anyone, Teysa was always the first to attack. 

            Elayden didn’t know what to think as he turned about, expecting at any moment to be cut to pieces or at least knocked to the ground.  His heart was hammering in his chest yet again as he nervously licked his lips, looking down to the firing nodes of the weapon that were located near the stock.  The quad rifle was a startlingly simple weapon for being so deadly, it was basically four tubes of molded messen interwoven so as to

allow the force of the projectiles to gain maximum velocity before being ejected from the barrels towards whatever unfortunate being had been targeted.  When all four barrels were discharged the force of the weapon was deadly enough to shred apart even one of the mighty padla trees, though as had been shown in the case of the hapless Saedroch the force of the weapon was much deadlier to flesh and bone. 

            The act of analyzing the weapon in his hands and inspecting it slowly and thoroughly for any telltale flaws or defects calmed Elayden just a bit as his mind was allowed to drift away for the moment.  Teysa wouldn’t have approved of his vacant expression or his lack of attention, but Teysa was off hunting, she had no say in what happened right now. 

                                                *                      *                      *


            She was a huntress, a lean, silent creature that made little to no noise as she prowled the shadowed forest that had for the moment become her domain.  The Saedroch that had invaded this place were her enemies, nothing more.  They made only a bit more noise than she did, though Teysa grinned viciously as she could hear the bronze-skinned intruders moving about, looking for her.  No doubt they considered her the greatest threat, which was all too true.  If she fell, Elayden would be easy prey, hardly worth more than a single barrel from a quad rifle, which they would no doubt appropriate from the scientist before silencing him.               

            It was a bit confusing as to why the two of them were worthy of such interest.  She was a soldier, Elayden was a scientist, there were thousands like them within the city of Stena, the Saedroch could have let them be without feeling the loss.  Yet they seemed to warrant special attention, they’d been hounded since fleeing Stena and had been forced to watch their backsides nearly ever step of the way.  Nearly seventy miles of barren desert lay between them and the city now, though the Saedroch still pursued them as though they were a prize that could not be allowed to escape.  Teysa might have felt a bit of pride at such a thought had their situation not been so deadly. 

            The long blades she held in her hands were the last weapons she had aside from her own body, which had been toned  and hardened over the many years of her service to the military force of both Stena and Cota, the nearest city to the capital that had been her home for so long.  Each blade was composed of messen, the same metal used to make the quad rifle she’d almost emptied trying to take out the three Saedroch that had been on her tail for miles now.  Each blade was nearly three feet in length, four counting the grip, and had been crafted in such a way that their edges never dulled, growing sharper with each use.  The art of folded steel was one that had almost died out years ago, though it had been revived thankfully by a master weapons smith, a F’an she was proud to say, that had seen the need to keep such a valuable art alive. 

            Holding her left blade with its blunt edge against her forearm she kept the weapon close to her body while keeping her right blade in a normal grip, positioned diagonally across her chest.  The simple defensive stance had been taught to her when she’d still been a grunt, little more than a wet-behind-the-ears grub in the military.  Like so many she’d earned her blades, but unlike a great many Teysa had given her life over to the

military, finding peace only when she was on a battlefield.  What others called a normal life had never truly appealed to her.

            The furtive sound of someone trying to be silent alerted her to a presence off to the left, forcing Teysa back to the present as she realized with just a bit of chagrin that she’d allowed her thoughts to claim her for the moment.  Mentally berating herself in that moment Teysa halted abruptly, taking refuge behind one of the larger padla trees as she listened carefully for another slight sound that would give away her prey.  That was all they were now, creatures to be hunted down and eliminated.  She couldn’t think of them in any other way.

            Teysa continued to listen as the soft, tentative footsteps came closer, announcing the presence of only one of the remaining Saedroch.  Keeping herself very still the huntress closed her eyes as she took a silent breath, centering herself as she waited to strike.  As she opened her eyes she heard the figure come closer, stepping near the other side of the tree she was currently behind.  Teysa waited only another moment, rolling her shoulders before moving, just one more shadow among all the others.

            The Saedroch never saw his death coming, his pale green eyes were focused instead to his left as Teysa struck.  She was merciless as the foul being tried to defend himself, his weapon, a double-barreled fragment rifle, rising in order to block her strikes.  Teysa moved easily around his paltry defense, her blades biting hard into the body of her enemy as she attacked without a sound, carving deep into the Saedroch’s form as the male uttered a barking cough in protest.  She continued to move as she attacked, cutting and then stepping to the side, cut, step, cut, step as she’d been taught years before.  The trick of such an attack was to keep moving, to not allow ones opponent to realize the tactic and thereby find a way to stop the constant motion.  Teysa had learned the attack well, honing its intricate and very deadly nuances so well that she was nearly unstoppable.  The Saedroch had no chance.

            Her blades continued to hack and slash at the male as his arms dropped to his sides in response to her final blow, a thrust to his back with her left blade.  The weapon entered the male’s body with a grisly tearing sound as she twisted it about, sundering the being’s flesh as she pierced his heart.  Blood coated Teysa from head to waist, almost covering her hands and forearms as Teysa yanked her blade free.  The Saedroch crumpled to the ground, the life having already fled from his eyes.  Teysa moved quickly, abandoning the already cooling body without taking a single thing from it.  She needed nothing more than her weapons and the armor she wore, though it might have been nice if the Saedroch had been carrying something useful such as a container of water.  She would have to do without it seemed, though she would wash herself off in the pool before leaving.  The elsae she’d seen within its depths would hopefully remain at a distance.

            Teysa turned her head to the right as she heard the sounds of footsteps once more.  No doubt the other Saedroch was coming to avenge those she’d already slain.  Good, let them come.  Moving silently once more Teysa melted into the shadows, seeking the final threat to her and the scientist. 

                                                *                      *                      *


            Elayden continued to fiddle with the quad rifle, barely noticing the regard of the elsae that seemed content to watch him from yards out in the water.  The feline features of the three creatures that watched him were curious as their wide eyes blinked every now and then.  Their observation might have been more intriguing had Elayden not been so intent on the maintenance of the weapon in his hands.  He’d found three flaws within

the weapons construction, two of which would make it inoperable if it were fired in such a condition again.

            His mind was far away as Elayden worked with the rifle, disassembling it bit by bit as the muscles in his arms bunched time and again from the force he was required to apply to take the weapon apart.  He was strong, that was without doubt, but he had little desire or even knowledge how to apply his strength to anything other than what had driven him since he was a young boy.  Working with his hands had always been Elayden’s way to escape, to center him when the world didn’t seem to make any sense.  Thus far it had worked for him more often than not.

            Examining the metal tubes after disconnecting the bundle from the main part of the weapon he’d seen in one of the barrels a small fragment left over from the last discharge no doubt.  It wasn’t that big, though it was enough of an obstruction that if Teysa had tried to fire again she might well have blown herself to steaming bits, probably him too.  The thought of such a gruesome death didn’t even faze him as Elayden had already begun to work on extracting the small bit of metal.  Such a thing was not uncommon with a quad rifle, though it was hardly ever fatal since soldiers were instructed to check the functionality of their weaponry before going out into whatever field they’d been placed in. 

            He had no thought that Teysa would appreciate this, he knew she wouldn’t.  She might grunt in a manner that meant “thanks” but that would be it.  The thought flew from his mind as he took from the slim tool belt at his waist a thin, collapsible extractor rod that came in handy for several reasons, one of them being the use he needed it for right now.  Elayden was so involved with the process of cleaning out the weapon that he didn’t hear the stealthy approach of the final Saedroch, he didn’t even register as the elsae dipped back below the surface of the water at the approach of his enemy.  He did however notice the sudden dull, thudding impact of metal against flesh as he spun around, cradling the barrels of the weapon to his chest along with his tool. 

            Teysa stood over him, the last Saedroch they’d seen slumped not far from where Elayden had been sitting, face down as the dark pool of blood that had spread out around his body indicated the enemy’s current condition.  Looking up to the woman Elayden saw as she shook her head in disdain before walking past him towards the pool where she quickly knelt and proceeded to wash her blood coated form and weapons clean.  Elayden kept an eye out for the elsae, as did Teysa.  Neither of them needed another complication to arise over such a small thing.

            “I still can’t believe it. I’ve seen it more than once and I still can’t believe it,”  Elayden said nothing as he sheepishly looked away, dropping the barrel bundle as he realized what Teysa was speaking of, “Are you really this inept or is this just an act you’re putting on?  I seriously cannot believe that you would so willingly zone out when you know there’s a chance you might not live to see the next day.”  Elayden still said

nothing, his wish that Teysa would find him acceptable in some way going unfounded yet again.  F’an, as wise and enigmatic as they were, also held within their minds an ego that in a way, to their thinking, placed them in far different category than most humanoids.  They lived for perfection and could often stand nothing less.  This was why the strange bonding that had occurred only months ago between Elayden and Teysa vexed her so much.

            It was not uncommon for a F’an and a human to bond in such a way, but to Teysa’s race such a bond was stronger than even a formal marriage.  To her people the electrical bond that formed between two individuals could only be broken by death.  Elayden had wondered in the recent past if Teysa had entertained thoughts of getting herself killed or simply allowing him to perish.  Either way she would be free, though he knew that she was far too proud to even consider such a course.  Plus, no matter what she said or how many times she insulted him, Elayden knew that she had at least an inkling of respect for him.  It was a foolish hope, but at this time it was all he had.

            Elayden could only shrug as though in apology, though as Teysa rose from the task of cleaning off her weapons she lobbed a bundle at him that he hadn’t noticed strapped to her waist.  He was at least quick enough to catch it as the parcel hit him, letting out a small rush of air as hit him in the chest. 

            “Put that on genius,” Teysa’s voice was quiet as she looked around, “We can’t have your wardrobe announcing our presence every step of the way to the Forgotten.” 

Teysa’s magenta-hued gaze flashed in irritation as she turned around, offering him at least a bit of privacy.  As he swiftly changed into the snug chain suit she’d given him Elayden couldn’t help but wonder where and from whom she’d appropriated the suit, though he knew better than to ask.  So involved was he upon fitting into the suit that he didn’t notice as Teysa sneaked a peek at him, turning her attention away once more before Elayden could catch her.  It was too bad he missed her look, he might have seen the reluctant smile and small flush that crept upon her features.  Perhaps the most trying part of this man, in Teysa’s opinion, was that he had the body, the stamina, and the look of a warrior, but none of the instincts.  Elayden was a certified genius, a whiz kid with mechanics and almost all things technological, but he couldn’t fight to save his life.  Teysa had first learned how to throw a punch when she was only four years old and had been taught to fight ever since.  There were few if any weapons that she didn’t know how to fully utilize, including her own body.

            “I thought you didn’t believe me about the temple.”  Teysa turned to offer Elayden a look that suggested he stop talking, though she was rewarded with the steely glare she had come to know far too well.  The sudden fire in Elayden’s gaze was rare but it was enough to tell her that he would not move until they spoke.

            Teysa had grown tired of talking about the reason for their flight from the capital city of Stena, though in her heart she had known for some time that such a perilous trip was necessary.  But it would sure as hell beat being captured or killed.  It grated upon her to admit that running was a good idea, she rather enjoyed a good fight, but one she had at least a chance of winning.  The encounters where she and her friends had found that they were severely outmatched had been the opposite.  Those had been times to tuck away her pride and run.  She might have been happy within the bowels of the city where she and

the others could have run, hidden and struck when they could, terrorizing their enemies in such a way as to make sure the Saedroch know that there was still a piece of Stena that had not given in.  Teysa’s hope of such a thing had been squashed along with the majority of her regiment when a building had been dropped on them, a result of the Saedrochs’ maniacal quest to either subjugate or destroy everything they saw. 

            Then had come the mention of the temple within the vast forest known as the Forgotten.  Teysa had wanted to laugh at first when Elayden, who’d been saved a year ago after the grand planetary gate had been taken, had suggested that the temple might offer them a hope that Stena would not, a chance to escape.  Not a single person within the small band of those that had survived had jumped on top of the idea at first, thinking that the scientist’s far-flung belief was nothing more than wishful thinking.  The Forgotten was a dangerous enough place, a vast forest that lay to the far south of Stena, separated from the capital by the burning sands of the Sifting Wastes.  In Teysa’s first opinion the trip would have finished what the Saedroch had started.

            “I’m not saying I do,” Teysa matched his glare as she placed her hands upon her hips, taking in a deep breath before continuing, “Right now it’s just a better option than returning to Stena,” Teysa dropped her eyes then as Elayden saw something within her gaze as her face softened just a bit, “I lost Kumi and Trudi on the way here.”  Elayden’s glare immediately softened as he listened.  Kumi and Trudi had been the last two survivors that had fled along with them when Stena had become far too dangerous.  Each of them had become constant companions, as close to being friends as possible.

            Trudi, another F’an, had been one of Teysa’s best and oldest friends, a woman after Teysa’s own heart when it came to serving her purpose.  The woman had been far looser with her emotions than Teysa though, accepting Elayden rather than spurning him so often.  The blonde-haired woman had laughed often even in the most dire of situations, finding it necessary to keep up the spirits of her companions when life seemed ready to grind them all under its cruel heels.  Trudi had been a good friend and a good soldier.  Kumi on the other hand had been far more quiet and reserved than either Trudi or Teysa, though he had been kind as well.  The human male had watched over Elayden much as Trudi had, his interest in keeping the scientist safe a point of pride as he had at all times kept his eye upon Elayden, making sure the man was well cared for.  He’d been a bear of a man, easily over two meters tall, blocky with muscle and completely bald save for the thick facial hair he’d kept neatly trimmed.  Kumi and Trudi had been the best of friends, some had even said there was more between them.  To hear that such valiant allies were no longer with them was a stab to the gut that Elayden had not been prepared for.

            “Let’s move hi-tech, before I change my mind.”  Elayden wisely kept his mouth shut as Teysa lead him around the perimeter of the pool, telling him to leave the dismantled weapon as she grimaced before shaking her head.

            “We couldn’t have used it anyway Teysa, there was an obstruction in one of the barrels.  If you’d have fired it again-“

            “Shut up scientist.  Just keep up.”  Elayden shut up once more, keeping his eyes upon the ground as he followed after the warrior.  He kept up obediently as Teysa first skirted around the perimeter of the pool, keeping just a stride away from the tree line

before the two of them ducked into the shadows, leaving only the faintest footprints in the sand to show their passage.  Soon enough those would be gone as well.

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