I woke up the next morning feeling more rested and at peace than I had in a very long time. Last night was emotional, intense, and perfect. It is true that I was very hampered by everything I had heard, but upon reflection I realized that he quite possibly cared more for me than any other person in this galaxy, let alone this station. I decided that it would be best to focus on the positive aspects of the situation rather than all the ambiguity over which I had absolutely no control. He was kind, chivalrous, and treated me with dignity and respect, but most importantly of all he never made me feel like I didn’t belong. I had never really felt true acceptance before, and all I know is now I never want to stop feeling it.
This feeling did worry me though. Was I too fast to claim I love him? I told someone I LOVE them! I never even thought I could find someone to date, let alone love. What if the only reason I think I love him is because he treats me well and makes me feel as though I belong here? Of course, isn’t that the reason you should love someone? What do I even know about love? I felt strong emotions for him, even after knowing him for such a short time, but perhaps that was just lust. I really did feel like I loved him, I was just so new to the very concept that I wouldn’t help but worry.
The next few cycles flew by faster than I had wished. During the light, I went to class as usual and at night I spent my evenings with Brindel. Sometimes we would go for walks, sometimes we would play games in the free fields, sometimes we would even just run about youthfully through the hallways. Most nights, however, we would go to his pavilion in the free fields and look over the land, talking. He told me stories about my sister, about his research, and about his training. The stories, of course, were riddled with holes and omissions because he “couldn’t disclose certain details with me”, but I honestly did not mind. I understood. Besides, he had a very theatric, comedic way of telling stories that kept me smiling.
The more time we spent together, the less time I wanted to spend apart. My father was very supportive of our relationship, for he was rather fond of Brindel, but contrary to her initial reaction, ‘mother’ did not approve at all. She thought it was ‘unhealthy to outcast myself even more’ by parading around with some ‘mutant gene.’ An interesting standpoint considering she had previously expressed a bit of admiration for his appearance, but I knew she just wanted to keep me isolated for her own sinister agenda. Her disapproval actually made my life easier, giving me justification in ignoring and avoiding her and allowing me to express some of my anger toward her without fear of seeming out of character.
Things were going well and I felt truly happy for once. Brindel and I had become best friends as well as lovers, though the most physical we had gotten was a little heavy kissing. It wasn’t until the morning of cycle seven, rotation ten that everything started to spiral out of control. That day severed my connection to my entire past and started me on a path completely foreign to anything I had ever known.
I woke up and went to my classes as usual and anticipated my night with Brindel. We had made plans to go see a band play at his restaurant which Brindel had invited especially for me. I had only heard them play before on mediaboards and couldn’t wait to actually see them in person. I waited and waited for class to let out and though the seconds seemed to drag on for as long as possible, the chime finally sounded and off I went to meet Brindel.
As soon as I stepped outside, Brindel grabbed my shoulder and spun me around. Judging by the unprecedented force with which he grabbed me, it was obvious something was amiss. “Sha’ayr, something is wrong. I went to withdraw some funds to pay the band for their performance tonight and my account has been locked. Over two hundred million Feryhn just sitting in my account, locked, with no explanation as to why. When I asked the teller questions she just responded ‘I am not authorized to say anymore’ to everything I asked. Also, a ship boarded the station today. I have never asked you to do anything like this before, but I need your help. You have to go to the docking station and see what is up, use your clairvoyance if you can.”
I began petting the side of his front leg. “Calm down Brindel, you know I would do anything I could to help you. Give me a ride to the docking station and I will take care of everything. Once I process it all, I will send you a message on your multi-board letting you know what is going on.” He knelt down, hugged me tight, and lifted me onto his back. “Thank you my love.”
With an ardent fury, he galloped full speed to the docking bay. Instead of trying to weave in and out of the people littering the halls, he would leap high in the air and glide over them, tactfully planning each leap to allow for a safe landing area. He arrived in a notable amount of time and panted heavily. I had never seen Brindel out of breath before and could only imagine what he was feeling. I leapt down from his back and stood by the doorway, waiting anxiously to see what I could see. By the time I turned around to look at Brindel he was gone. I already knew where he was going.
Moments later a ship pulled into the docking station with a GEC emblem painted on the side. Usually GECOs travel by fighter ships, but this ship was elegant, cutting-edge, and unique. As it pulled up I saw a tall, strong Tilverhan dressed in a formal military robe with many medals dangling from it like tassels on a tapestry step off with a Tilverhan to each side of him and, much to my surprise, a Wilvarok riding on both of their backs. Each Wilvarok had a solid black shroud covering them entirely, save the tips of their horns. Their eyes glowed yellow underneath the hood and even from a distance their presence made me uneasy. I grasped my pendant and stood on the inside of the doorway.
A few moments later, once the ship was checked in, I saw them rounding the corner. As they did I realized exactly what was going on. “Mister Tridealle, I must say it is an honor to have you aboard our humble station, but it is my duty as the eldest of this council to inquire as to why you are here?” As he passed me, he turned to the elder and replied arrogantly, “As elder council member you should know that the GEC overrules all your laws, regulations, and customs, thus I have no need nor desire to answer your frivolous questions. I need to see a certain Tilverhan in your training program… my son.”
The halls fell silent. Never before had Councilor Tridealle made public reference to his son. I decided now was a good time to focus my energy and see what I could read from him. Oryntho, I know of your research, I know of your plans, and I will NOT let the Council be shamed by your existence. You need to die.
Oryntho… had to be Brindel. I still needed information, I couldn’t just leave now. “But Councilor, I never knew you had a son and cannot expect to know who he is without a name.”
“HIS NAME is unimportant and SO ARE YOU! With one gesture, one simple twist of my hand, the two Wilvaroks in my company can tear you apart and I will personally skin you as I relish in your final breath. Now take me to the training grounds! I need to find my son. Assemble all of your recruits, I can pick him out easily.” One of the Wilvaroks spotted me and I turned to run. I had to find a safe place to message Brindel and warn him, but it was too late. As I began to run, my head began to throb and I fell to my knees. When I turned, I saw two sets of glowing red eyes from beneath the hoods. Metamorphose. As my brain began to itch, I knew I needed to defend myself. I quickly focused all my thoughts to those of hope. I thought of all the days that I spent alone and how Brindel had saved me from my own loneliness. I thought of all the possibilities our future held and how grateful I was to have met him.
As I became more and more lost in thought my head hurt less and less. After about a minute, I realized my headache was gone and looked up. One Wilvarok had shifted back to normal and the other was laying on the ground clinching her head. “Interesting,” boomed the deep voice of Councilor Tridealle, “A Wilvarok on a station full of Tilverhans, and one who knows how to fight back. You must be Sha’ayr. Come with me if you want to live, or die here.” One of the elders stepped between me and the Councilor. “Now hold on, you cannot threaten the lives of our citizens! GEC or not, all GECOs are required to uphold the laws and to never harm the innocent! I ask you to retract your statement and proceed with peace in mind or trouble shall find you.”
As soon as the words had escaped the elder’s lips, a whip from the Councilor’s bottom right hand wrapped around his neck, digging barbs deep into his skin. “That is what I love about the term ‘innocent’. Who is to say who is and who is not innocent? You have all been harboring a fugitive, so I could claim you all as guilty and execute every single one of you where you stand. Now, if you favor your life and the lives of those on your station, I suggest you take me to your training grounds immediately and call a meeting of all your recruits.” As the whip released from the Elder’s throat, he nodded and pulled out his multi-pad. Soon, over loudspeakers installed throughout the station his voice boomed. “All Tilverhans in training please report to the grounds. Those confused, disregard this message.”
Immediately a good number of the male and female Tilverhans lining the hall had disappeared upwards. I turned to walk away and was grabbed by one of the Councilor’s sentinels. “Not likely, Sha’ayr. You’re coming with me. As long as I hold your life in my hands, your sister will be close behind.” I shook violently. At first I thought it was panic and fear, but then I realized as I caught my darkening reflection in the glass, it was pure, unrestrained anger.
Unlike Brindel’s gentle arms, the unknown Tilverhan threw me haphazardly under one arm and followed the Councilor and the Elder to the higher platforms. I was unable to focus my energy, my thoughts were too strong and my rage too coarse. I couldn’t pull it back and could not control my metamorphosis. I tried to pull myself back but just slipped deeper and deeper into a state of rage. Finally we stopped moving and I was dropped abruptly on the ground. “Sha’ayr!”
With the simple sound of my father’s voice I regained control. I stood and looked at him, standing in the center of a large arena. “What in the stars are you doing Ygorn? Are you mad?! That is my daughter!” A sick silence filled the air as all eyes fell upon my father. “How DARE you address me by my first name!” Surprisingly, my father laughed. “Oh Ygorn, I remember when I was teaching you how to hold a whip. You think you are something special, with your medals, your badges, your titles, but I was the one who saved your scales more oft than not. Then, after years of friendship, you toss me and our whole brigade aside. Now YOU claim to be the hero? You are a glorified j’karn coward!”
“ENOUGH! I did what had to be done, something you were never capable of Ellehar. Always so noble, so honorable, but YOU couldn’t save them either. You disobeyed a direct order and only avoided a dishonorable discharge because of me. I am not here for you, though. Not this time. I am here for him.” In the confusion and heat of the moment I had failed to see Brindel was standing right behind my father. “Hello O.” Brindel stepped forward, his pupils widening and narrowing rapidly, much like a disgruntled bird. “Councilor, why are you here?”
“He is here to kill you Brindel.” I spoke without thinking of the consequences I was quickly made aware of by the sharp claws of the Tilverhan standing beside me. “Ahh, the little bashakai read my thoughts at the docking station. Must be your girlfriend. You spent so much time with Vea’ayr I figured she was yours, but I suppose one just isn’t enough for you. You just had to have both the ill-born girls. You don’t have to die though, you just have to let me have them. Both.”
“That isn’t going to happen.” Brindel’s voice shook with an authority and rage I did not know he possessed. “Not only will I not let you have them, but by the rights of the Council, I challenge you to single combat. To deny my challenge is a public admittance of your cowardice and you must leave this station at once, regardless of rank.” Without a second though, the Councilor threw his robes to the ground, revealing two swords and two whips he had strapped underneath. “I accept.”
I began sobbing uncontrollably. I could not stand the thought that my Brindel may soon be fighting the Councilor. Under his robes and behind his pious words he seems like the battles are long since behind him, but unrobed and showing his form concealed by the loose-fitting cloth it is apparent that Brindel gets his build from his father. Scars from battle riddled his sides, muscles pushing the scars through the surface. He was in far better shape than any Tilverhan I had yet seen, hold one. He spun the swords and twisted the whips to his every precise and deliberate whim. Brindel was most likely stronger and faster due to his enhancements, but I knew he didn’t have the training necessary to defeat him. My tears streamed down my cheeks, dampening the top of my dress. Then I heard my father’s voice.
“I cannot let that happen Ygorn. You will not be fighting Brindel today.” The Councilor laughed and replied, “You cannot break the rules of a challenge Ellehar, what do you propose?” My father stepped forward to the center of the Arena. “As Brindel’s commander and trainer I have the right to substitute myself in his place on the battlefield. I invoke this right and shall fight in his stead.” Brindel ran out to the field and pushed my father over. “I can’t let you do this, I have to face him.” My father pulled himself to his feet and pushed his head beside Brindel’s. I saw his lips move, whispering something in his ear, and Brindel nodded, a tear on his cheek, and he hugged my father. “Yes sir.” With a booming voice and a powerful thrust, my father knocked Brindel to the ground and sliding at least twenty hands and shouted, “leave this arena at once Brindel, THAT is an ORDER!” Brindel stood, tears welling in his eyes, nodded and sulked out of the ring.
My heart sank again. Either my father or my love had to go against the Councilor. Neither I doubted, but I knew the Councilor was strong. I also knew he would not be afraid to fight dirty. Brindel sat behind me, then laid his front legs around me and I sat pressing my back against him. As I sat down and felt his arms wrap around me, I wiped the tears from my eyes. “What did my father say to you Brindel?”
“Read me.” Reluctantly, I nodded and focused my mind to align with his. In accordance with the vow I had made to him, I had not read him in quite some time, so it was a little difficult to get myself to connect. Once I did he simply resonated to me, I trust you to watch over my daughter. If this goes wrong, you and Vea’ayr need to get her out of Fortitude for good. My breath quivered, but I knew my father was right. Only Brindel could get me out of this place now, and my life was in his hands.
As Ygorn stepped into the center of the arena and stood in front of my father, the crowd around us began to shout angrily and hiss at him. My father held up a hand and the crowd went silent. He took off his robes to reveal two swords and only one whip. Confused, I looked up at Brindel. “New style of fighting, remember? You will see.” Brindel was extremely worried but could not hide his slight excitement of seeing my father implementing their new fighting style in a real fight. Was he really that strong? Was he good enough to defeat the Councilor?
As he put the swords in his upper left and right hand, the whip went to his lower left and his lower right rose up with what appeared to be a dome of pale purple light. “That is a Kinetic Deflector,” Brindel stated, “Capable of reversing almost any amount of force directed toward it. If a whip lashed toward him and he reflects it, it lashes violently back toward his attacker. Same with a swords strike, only instead of lashing freely it tends to either disarm or stagger the opponent, depending on their skill and strength.” I looked up at Brindel, still panicked, and asked, “Why is the dome so small? I mean, it seems like making it at least a little larger would make it more effective. Right now it is only about twice as big around as his fist, he has to be dead on with it to be effective. Will it really even work?” He looked down at me, somewhat puzzled by my interest in the deflector and replied, “Current technology prevents us from making it larger without compromising its deflective properties. Eventually we would like to make them a little bigger, but that is, for now, only a dream.” With the sound of a horn, my eyes shot back to the center of the arena. The fight had begun.
As soon as the horn sounded, my father and the Councilor both shot backwards and whips went forward. My father’s single whip was deflected by Ygorn’s right whip and Ygorn’s left whip spun wildly back toward him, barely missing his own face as the deflector caught the tip right at the crack. Ygorn actually stumbled for a second, realizing the true potential of this new fighting style, but quickly smiled and sprung forward. With a swing from his swords, my father dove to the side avoiding the slashes. As he did, a whip came around his body. I tensed up, thinking he was already done for, but he held the Kinetic Deflector between him and the whip and it spun back out and twirled in a circle around Ygorn.
“The KD shield is extremely powerful and effective against whips. If used properly, you are really fighting with three weapons plus however many your opponent has. Your father is the best with a KDS in the entire galaxy.” Hearing Brindel’s words made me feel a little relieved and gave me a glimmer of hope. Perhaps my father can pull this off after all.
The battle pressed on, both diving in with slashing attacks then back out with whip attacks, neither able to land a blow. Both men were strong and fearless and it was obvious they had trained together. My father had never spoken of his past with the GEC, but seeing how the Councilor turned out, I can understand why. To be betrayed by your own friend and comrade must be devastating.
The fight continued in this manner for about an hour. Neither seemed to be showing any signs of fatigue or weakness other than sweat drenching both their bodies, both pushed on vigorously, and both defended flawlessly. Finally, my father had a break of luck. As the Councilor’s foot slipped in one of his jumps away, his eyes fell off my father for the slightest moment as he stumbled. As soon as they did, my father’s whip caught hold of his wing. Only a split second of an opportunity, but it was enough to give my father the upper hand. Once the barb at the tip dug into Ygorn’s wing, my father pressed a button at the top of the handle. The whip had a series of metal wires which shot out, weaving through the wing and hooking into it. The Councilor wailed in pain as the whip snagged him. Then, my father pressed a second button which caused the bottom of the whip to shoot a spike into the ground at high velocity. He set the base of the whip where the spike went through and you could see the handle drilling itself firmly into the ground. Finally, he pressed a button on the very top of the handle causing the whip to start to recede inside the handle and pulling the Councilor in to approximately ten hands. I cheered as I saw my father’s inevitable victory. “Brindel! He has him, he’s going to win!” Brindel’s stern, concerned expression turned to one of delight as he saw my father’s victory unfolding.
Suddenly my father fell to his stomach, his two upper hands dropping his swords and grabbing his head. I jumped up nervously. As I looked at him, I knew the Wilvaroks were interfering, but didn’t know where they had gone. I began looking around frantically and Brindel stood up and abruptly placed me on his back. As he leapt in the air, the Councilor wrapped his whips around each of my father’s wings and secured him in such a way that he was pinned to the ground, unable to move in any direction.
Brindel soared over the center of the arena and then, for the first time in public eye, began flying directly over the center. Cheers and boos turned to silence as all looked up at Brindel. In the break of excitement, he caught eye of the two Wilvaroks and swooped toward them. In a split second, we were standing with the Wilvaroks pinned to the ground under Brindel’s powerful wings. One was killed on impact, a talon going through her neck and the other was gasping for air. Unable to maintain contact, she was useless. Brindel and I both turned to see what was happening in the fight.
As my eyes looked to the center of the arena, time seemed to slow to a crawl. The Councilor had taken the opportunity of my father’s state of impairment to press a sword against his throat and strip him of his last two defenses. I looked up at the Councilor, tears swelling in my eyes. “Stop this,” I let out in a whispered scream. He didn’t listen.
As the blade slid through my father’s neck, I fell to my knees, unable to think or breathe or even move. Sounds faded, surroundings blurred, all I could see was my father’s face and the blood pouring down his chest. I began to shake uncontrollably. Brindel jumped forward, over me to attack Ygorn, forgetting in the heat of the moment that one of the Wilvaroks was still alive, and now unrestrained. Midflight he fell to the ground in pain and Ygorn approached him, my father’s blood still dripping from his blade.
“NOOOOOO!” I shrilled out, my words becoming a howl of wrath. I morphed and threw all my emotion into a burst of horror. I suspected if he knew how to defend himself he would know I am angry and try to fight against hatred. After making a connection to him I could see a map of all his insecurities and psychically started breaking him down. I watched as he fell to his stomach and began to cry. I watched as his tears turned from clear to red. Soon his eyes filled with blood, his ears and nose began bleeding as well. His breath became staggered and panicked until he finally collapsed onto one side. With a powerful blink, I returned to my former self and saw his body, surrounded by sticky, thick blood—and what I can only presume to be a mixture of pureed organs—dripping from every orifice. I ran to my father’s side.
Wrapping my arms around him, his blood staining my clothes, I wept against his neck. How could the Councilor do this? How could he use the Wilvaroks to fight for him? Then I worriedly stood and looked at where Brindel had fallen. He was standing, staring away from me and into the silent crowd. I quickly regained my composure and realized this was not the time for grieving. I had just killed Councilor Tridealle, second in command to the Tsar. How could I explain that to the Council? How could I leave the station alive now?
I looked at Brindel then looked in the direction he was staring. There she stood, the last of the two Wilvaroks dead at her feet. Her hands held daggers, curved like the thorns of my necklace with barbs coming out of the pommels, both dripping with fresh blood. Her face was the same as mine, just darker and with black tattoos running down toward her body. Her eyes were glowing the bright orange I had seen so many times in the mirror. Vea’ayr, here in the flesh, here on Fortitude.
“Sha’ayr, we need to go, now!” Brindel swept me up, leapt toward Vea’ayr, grabbed her arm, and off we went, galloping through the halls. My mind was aching with everything going on. Tears started streaming from my face and splashing back onto Vea’ayr behind us. “I am sorry I couldn’t save him, I got here too late. I wanted so bad to save him, I did. I wish I could have gotten here sooner Sha’ayr. General Ellehar will be remembered fondly by many.”
“He wasn’t just a General! He was my father… He raised me, he loved me, and he was the best j’karn father anyone could hope for. Now he is dead, and I don’t know why, or what any of this has to do with me, but as far as I can tell, this is my fault somehow, and yours, and maybe even Brindel’s. I don’t even want to exist right now. Just… toss me off to be executed.” Vea’ayr’s fingertips dug into my sides with force I didn’t realize capable from a Wilvarok. “So you want your father to have died in vain? Is that it? He died PROTECTING you Sha’ayr, are you really too selfish to realize the implications of that? He died protecting US. All of us. Without his sacrifice, this entire station would have been destroyed. Now the Council will know that Tridealle died in a battle, rules broken first by him then by you. You can stay and explain things to the authorities if you feel you must, but they may not side with you and you may be executed.”
Her hands loosened their grip and I took in a deep breath. I could feel my own blood slowly seeping out into my clothes. “Sorry, I am sorry. You are right, I just… I can’t concentrate or focus or think… this is all happening so fast and_”
“And NOTHING Sha’ayr! Good stars, we do not have time for your self-pitying fahreet. Yes, this is happening fast, yes your father is dead, but there is so much more going on here than you can even begin to comprehend. You need to pull yourself together because Brindel and I both need you.”
I bit my lip to stop it from quivering, took a deep breath to push back the tears, and exhaled. Vea’ayr began to rub my arms and her voice softened. “I need to know if you will come with me. I need your help, but I understand my battles are not your own, and I cannot guarantee your safety if we travel together, but I can promise you I will protect you with my own life.”
I closed my eyes and focused my thoughts inwards. I thought of everything happening and of my father, of the letters, of all the information I had learned this past turn. I was now only a cycle away from being eighteen turns. Her visit came sooner and on worse terms than I had hoped, so I didn’t have time to ask her the questions I needed to ask. I managed a smile, though no one saw, and replied, “My better judgment is doomed to be trumped by my inquisitive mind. I will come with you, on the condition that you tell me what I need to know.”
Vea’ayr hugged my torso and replied “I will tell you more than you ever wanted to know, trust me. I had one final question, and though I know your initial answer is yes, I need you to consider all the ramifications of your decision. Brindel has sworn to protect you with his life, but if you ask him to stay behind he will. It is your decision. I could use his expertise and assistance in furthering my research, but that can be done from anywhere. If he comes with us, he will be in far more danger than us since we will be facing mostly Wilvaroks. Few Tilverhans match him in battle I am sure, but Wilvarokan warriors are a different force altogether and even with his advanced intellect it may be hard for him to combat. I mean, look at how dangerous just two Sentinels can be. Imagine the dangers a whole army could pose. Furthermore, if he stays here he will face no charges as he did not break any laws and he will take your father’s place as Commander and trainer of the recruits.”
I hugged my arms around Brindel’s neck. “Brindel, even if I told you to stay, would you?” He responded with sharp objectivity, “I have fulfilled my obligation to protect you until your sister could take you in. In doing so, I fell in love with you. I will follow you to the depths of a black hole if you so choose, but if you wish for me to let you go, I will let you go. Just know, the moment you do I will be dead already anyway. You’ve given me purpose these past few cycles Sha’ayr and I don’t think that I can go back to the trite life I used to live. I will, however, respect your wishes.”
I hugged him tighter and turned my head to look at Vea’ayr. “Then I would have him with us. I don’t want to lose the last Tilverhan I love.” Vea’ayr nodded, seeming almost annoyed at our shows of affection. Her hands rested on my head and she looked me in the eyes. “Sorry about this Sha’ayr, for now it is for the best.” As I tried to process what she meant, my vision blurred and quickly faded to black and the last thing I remember was my head falling against Brindel’s neck.
Thorns by Kevin Copenhaver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.