Chapter IX: Desperation

            Othol Ethael pulled the hood of his fur-lined kamarani cloak over his face.  He had been on the run through North Torahn for months, hiding and moving before the assassins could find him.  Now he had come full circle, back to Draemin City with a desperate plan to kidnap the remaining alien and kill it to trigger a war between Malida’s people and the aliens.  This one was a female, so it shouldn’t pose a problem to dispose of her. It didn’t matter to him that she was carrying a child.  Even better, he thought with a snort.  

            He kept his head down as he moved through the throngs of people, walking quickly towards Queen’s Park.  He knew of several little used doors into the castle.  All he had to do was remain hidden within the crowd.  With so many entering and leaving the castle, he would not be stopped or questioned.  He felt sure of that.

            When he came to a particularly thick crowd, he lingered at the back, two or so feet from them.  They pulled small wagons filled with goods for the castle.  He half listened to their idle chatter about the aliens, the Sentinels and Goddess-damned Malida Ekesj, who would probably be canonized if he did not act quickly and destroyed her.  The crowd chattered on as they made their way under the canopy of Queen’s Park and then onto the moat bridge.  The guards waved them through after examining the contents of the wagons.  Othol smirked and walked into the bailey.  From there, he separated from the group and headed north towards a little-used servants’ entryway.  Once he found it, he looked around, but there was no one nearby.  He turned the iron handle.  The iron handle groaned before the door opened inward.  

            Othol stepped inside and grimaced.  The stairwell smelled of dust, must and mold.  He closed the door behind him and, hand on the rough stone walls, made his way carefully up the stairs to the fifth floor.  Once he reached the top floor, he opened the door and stepped out into a deserted hallway.  He knew where the King’s suites were, but he had no idea where the alien was being kept.  Pushing back the hood of his cloak, he hoped his full beard was enough to disguise him.  He hated it with a passion, but it had become necessary to grow it out.      

            Making his way to an adjoining hallway, he hailed a passing servant and asked her where the alien was, for he had a message from the Sentinels. Without a blink the girl blurted out the location of the suite.  He refrained from smirking and watched her hurry away.  He made his way to the servants’ hallway and entered the suites, following the sound of voices to the sitting room. He peered through the door which stood ajar.  He grimaced.  Only Malida and a tall, catlike being.  Well, he thought it looked catlike, but that was only because it had a tail and sharp little ears that swiveled at every sound.  Oh, and the eyes.  The alien turned to where he hid.

            Othol stepped into the room.

            Malida turned with a frown.  “Who are you?”

            “You don’t recognize me, Malida?” Othol purred, fighting the hatred that filled his veins.

            She gasped.  “Othol!”

            He gave her a mocking bow.  “Even so.”

            “What do you want?” she demanded.

            He gave her a shrug.  “That is not your concern.”  He kept his eyes on the alien.  It stood with head cocked, taller than he was and slender, with a golden down over its entire body and a flowing gown that hid most of its body.  Fangs peeked from the upper lip.  He was fascinated, but now that he looked at its height and the cruel curve of its black claws, he very well knew he would not be able to kill it, female or not.  

            He withdrew his dagger from its sheath.  “Well, Malida.  I think I can’t achieve what I came to do, but plans change sometimes, you know?”

            Aiming at Malida, he threw, embedding the dagger into her chest.

            She gasped and fell.

            The alien hissed and Othol turned.  Suddenly, before he could react, it was in front of him.  He made a sound that turned into a gurgle.  He reached up to his throat and felt the gaping slash.  His hands came away sticky with blood.  He gazed without comprehension at the alien before it turned in a lazy circle and slashed Othol’s midriff using a leg.  Othol watched in horror as his innards spilled to the stone floor.  He fell to the ground. As he lay on his side, the alien stalked to where Malida lay and lifted her gently against its chest.  It howled and mewled.

            A moment later guards rushed in, weapons out. They glanced at the alien, at Malida in its arms and then their eyes found him.

            “Go find a Sentinel,” one of the guards growled at the other.

            The guard rushed away.

            The guard walked around the alien and Malida and leaned over Othol’s form.  He gasped.

            “Lord Ethael?”

            Othol said nothing.  He was so cold, his teeth began to chatter.  Right behind the cold came the unbearable pain and then his eyes grew dim.  His vision began to narrow until it was a point in the distance.  Around him, he could hear frantic movement and gasps.  Othol let go and succumbed to his wounds.

***

            “Mama!” Emeida screamed and knelt down next to aun D’jir.  She looked into the alien’s beautiful eyes, which were completely blue, sclera and all, except for the oval irises, which were black.  “What happened, oun Shi’ehl?”

            oun D’jir indicated the fallen form with a guard near it.  “The man threw the weapon and it embedded in her chest.  I killed the man.”

            Kaster stalked through the hallway door.  He hurried to where Malida lay in D’jir’s arms.  He gently took the queen in his arms and lifted her up.

            “Where are you taking oun Malida?” oun D’jir demanded.

            “Hospital room,” he told the Sha’jeen.  “You may come, oun D’jir.”

            By the time they reached the room designated as a recovery room down the hall, they had an entourage that consisted of Malida’s family and guards.  Soft weeping filled the silence.

            oun D’jir followed closely behind Kaster and watched avidly as the Sentinel lay Malida on a bed.  The dagger embedded in Malida’s chest moved with every breath she took.  D’jir did not like the looks of things.

            “Bring an empathic healer,” Kaster barked.

            Pren turned and ran down the hallway.

            Moyen hurried into the room.  “How is she?”

            Kaster grimaced.  “The dagger is embedded in her heart, my lord.  I can’t do anything, but perhaps the empathic healer can.”

            oun D’jir gave a mournful mewl and took Malida’s hand in his.  The hand was icy.

            The healer arrived, Pren at her heels.  A second later another healer hurried inside.

            “You must all leave,” the second healer pronounced.  “We can’t work with distractions.”

            Moyen gently took Malida’s hand from oun D’jir and led the Sha’jeen out of the room into the hallway.

            “You killed the intruder?” Moyen asked the oun Shi’ehl.

           oun  D’jir inclined his head.  “Ye, lord.  I’m sorry if you required him alive.”

            “No,” Moyen replied.  He sighed.  “We’ve been trying to have him assassinated, but he was slippery, that one.”

            They walked to Moyen’s suites and entered the room.  

            “Who was the man?” oun D’jir asked.

            “He was one of Malida’s mates,” Moyen replied.  “He was mad.”

            oun D’jir frowned and hissed.  “I did not sense his threat.  He hid it well.”

            “Othol was very clever,” Moyen agreed.

            oun D’jir sat at the edge of a loveseat and Moyen sat beside him.  

            The children shuffled into the room, followed by some of the Sentinels.

            “What happened?” Itina demanded tearfully.

            “Othol,” Moyen replied with a sigh.  “oun D’jir killed him.”

            “How is Malida?” Ariahl asked.

            Moyen rubbed his cheek.  The stubble made a rasping sound.  “Othol stabbed her in the heart. His aim was true.”

            Itina gasped and fainted.

            Ishel picked her up and lay her on a nearby couch.  

            Moyen stood and went to one of the serving tables and opened a drawer, pulling out a small vial.  He took the vial to where Itina lay unconscious and handed the vial to Ishel.

            “Smelling salts,” he told the Sentinel numbly.

            “Why did Othol Ethael come here?” Topon mused aloud.

            “He wanted to cause trouble,” Moyen replied listlessly.  Numbly, he sat down next to oun D’jir.

            The alien reached a hand and placed it on Moyen’s on his thigh.  “Have faith in Ie’teina.”

            Moyen gave a strangled laugh and nodded.  “Yes, oun Shi’ehl.  You are correct.”

            They sat in that room for hours.  Servants brought food no one touched then took the full platters away.

            Moyen made oun D’jir drink water and then had a plate of raw meat brought in, which oun D’jir listlessly sniffed before reluctantly consuming.  He had kits in his womb that needed the nourishment.  He knew this logically, although he had no appetite.  He finished the meat and set the plate on the low table, picking up the mug of water and draining it.  He pulled the robes around him.

            He watched idly as the humans spoke in hushed tones or leaked water from their eyes, wiping at the water on their cheeks.  oun D’jir knew one of their litter lay near death in some other room, fighting an infection caught during the invasion.  He regretted that fact, but there was nothing he could do.  None of these beings held it against him, for which he was grateful.  He had heard his people were settling on an island several thousands of miles away. He would join them soon.  There had been a civil war and many had died and now the aun Deuili were in control and forming a government.  oun D’jir should be there to add his voice to the proceedings, but part of him did not care.  He liked these aliens; he liked their Goddess.  They were kind and were changing him on a daily basis.  With a huff, he admitted to himself he had to rejoin his people and soon.  Before the kits were born.

            Day gave way to night.  oun D’jir lay down on a couch and slept while around him the family did the same.  No one wanted to leave the sitting room and cots were brought in by servants.  

            Sha’jeen usually did not need a lot of rest, unless they were breeding.  But oun D’jir was aware enough to know he slept, too, because he was distraught and mourning.  He had never known someone to survive when his heart was injured.  Long ago, the Sha’jeen had lost that healing ability.  But oun D’jir also knew the humans on this world bred empathic healers that healed what others could not.  He had seen them at work and was awed by their magic.

            The next morning, voices aroused oun D’jir.  He rose to see three strange men speaking to Moyen.

            One of the men noticed oun D’jir and started violently.

            oun D’jir refrained from hissing in amusement.  Yes, he was sure he was strange looking to these beings.

            Moyen turned to oun D’jir.  “These are Malida’s siblings, D’jir.  What you call litter mates, although they were born separately.”

            oun D’jir bowed to the three alien males.  “I greet you in the name of Ie’teina, God of the Sha’jeen.”

            The men looked at Moyen, who interpreted oun D’jir’s words.

            The men bowed and one of them said strange words.

            “They greet you, oun D’jir,” Moyen said.

            “How is your mate?” oun D’jir asked Moyen quietly.

            Moyen swallowed and bent his head.  “She hangs between life and death, oun Shi’ehl.”

            oun D’jir mewled and swallowed, promptly sitting down before his legs gave way. It was as he feared.  The woman would die.

            The Sentinel called Ariahl sat down next to oun D’jir.  

            “Malida is a fighter,” she told oun D’jir.

            oun D’jir absently inclined his head.  “Ye.”

            The one called Sol entered the sitting room, followed by Kaster.  Their somber expressions drew a howl from oun D’jir’s chest and throat.

            “I’m sorry, Moyen,” Kaster said into the stunned silence after oun D’jir’s howl faded.  “We could not save your wife.  She succumbed to blood loss.”

            Moyen’s knees gave way and Malida’s litter mates held him up, dragging him to an armchair and depositing them there.

            oun D’jir began to rock to and fro, mewling in despair.  His eyes did not leak water, so he showed the humans and Sentinels that he, too, mourned.

            After a few minutes, Moyen rose and walked to where oun D’jir sat and knelt before him.

            “Do not distress yourself, oun D’jir,” he said softly.  “Think of your kits.  As I will think of mine.  It will help with the sorrow and loss.”

            oun D’jir gently cupped Moyen’s face. “Your selflessness and kindness move my soul and humbles me, aun Human.  I cared for your mate and held her in high esteem.  I will remember her, as will my people, for all time.”

            Moyen bent his head.

            Around them, there was much leaking from eyes.  Crying it was called, oun D’jir recalled numbly.  He watched helplessly as the family consoled each other.

            Moyen sighed.  “We will hold a funeral and parade Malida’s body through the streets of Draemin city then we will entomb her in the crypt.  Excuse me, I need some time for myself.”

            oun D’jir watched him stride out into the hallway, heading towards the recovery room.

            Sol sat near oun D’jir.  “After the funeral and entombing, oun D’jir, we would like to take you to the colony.”

            oun D’jir mewled again.  After a few minutes he inclined his head.  “Ye, aun Sol.  That will be good.”

            Sol stood and strode out of the room.

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