Someone grabbed her around her waist and she was pressed firmly into a body. ‘Thanks, Babe. I was wondering how I was going to get you.’
He never brought up her attempt to suicide.
She cried into the wind, ‘You shouldn’t have caught me.’
He nuzzled her neck and moved off to the right. There had been cave just below her. He clawed, climbed and swung them both in.
Her teeth were chattering, ‘Margel?’
‘He’s ok, he’s finishing them off. He’ll head back and see if Scalice left a message. We have signals from the good old days.’
As Zeft moved around the dark cave Jorja sat by the entrance. Her arms were tingling with pain. She was shivering, a physiological mechanism to keep her warm. She saw a spark and then another. He was setting up camp. With the tiny stove lit he used his kit to warm up some water from his canteen. The sparks set off sparks in her soul. It was easy to feel dismal in the dark, cold and when in pain. The cheery little fire made her feel oddly comforted. But it did not take away her newly triggered one hundred year old memories that Maris had managed to share and revive. She felt revolted by him and herself. Before Maris had been killed she saw his horror at what he’d seen and his last words, ‘How could you?’ She knew at that point that she must never tell anyone everything that occurred. There were some secrets that were just too shameful to share.
As Zeft worked she remembered when he’d first been issued with the gear. All the orux had played with the equipment and at times set fire to their rooms on board the Xenica II. She almost smiled.
With purpose Zeft stripped off his gear and moved to help her with hers. ‘We’ve got to keep warm. Margel will find us soon enough.’
With all propriety Zeft warmed her cold body with his warm one and allowed her to grieve. ‘Zeft, I don’t feel very well.’
‘It’s all right, Babe. I know.’ Zeft worried, her colour wasn’t good. But it was her spirit he was worried about. He’d seen plenty of orux under the spell of evil doing unspeakable things.
Hours later she lost consciousness and her temperature rose. In a moment of clarity she stared up at his handsome orux face and touched it gently, ‘Could you have loved me?’
‘Babe, I do love you. You are my mate. I knew it that night after that dance.’
‘Not love at first sight?’
He laughed, ‘It was at first sight, it just took me a while to realize it.’
‘I love…’ she drifted off again. Her skin was now hot to touch.
When she woke she mumbled, ‘I’ve done terrible things.’
‘So have I, Jorja?’ He shook her gently, ‘Babe, listen to me. I can help but I need you to know what I’m going to do…’
Jorja peered into his blue eyes and saw her Zeft. ‘I trust you.’
She then noticed Margel. He seemed uninjured. She murmured, ‘The darkness is coming, the storm is still wild, it’s taking over my soul, please Zeft, don’t leave me…don’t lock me up again…it hurts…’ her back arched, ‘…please, more…’
Zeft looked at his companion. Margel nodded in agreement when he understood what had to be done. This evil could only be treated in one way. The humans didn’t know what they were up against with the Marquis. But after that battle, he and Zeft knew. It had taken more than orux muscle and battle skills to kill the Marquis.
She mumbled again with tears streaming from her eyes. ‘There are some things that can’t be forgiven, I’ve done things…’
After whispering an ancient mantra that filled the cave with power Margel, the keeper of tools of enchantment, handed Zeft the Knife of Convergence.
Without hesitation Zeft slit his own arm and her arm. His blood ran into hers, the stronger.
When Jorja woke she was alone. Her vision seemed clearer, her ears picked up sounds at the back of the dim cave. Somehow she was different. She thought about the night before and how the Marquis almost caught her. There was no fear in the thought. Her leg had been bandaged, her fingers had new scars. It was then she realized it was night and she could see. She then remembered what Zeft had done. Zeft and Margel had chanted something and her world spun before losing consciousness. There was a moment of clarity when she saw herself as two people, Aeon and Marquis. A terrible pain filled her as she realized she could still turn in either direction: Marquis or Aeon. But something grounded her. It was Zeft’s gift to her. Sanity where before none had existed. He’d left her another gift as well. Roasted rat on a platter of leaves, a rock and weeds. She laughed, having remembered their first conversation.
The two orux swung back in through the cave entrance and grinned at her. Margel was carrying three rabbits.
Zeft started a fire with some wood he was carrying, ‘Like your presents?’
‘We had to do a bit of cleaning up and lead some nosy Marquis astray. You’re looking good.’
‘For an orum.’
‘Or an humux.’
‘We’ll cook them first.’ Margel saw her looking at the rabbits.
‘I think I could eat them raw.’
Margel grinned, ‘You don’t have the right kind of stomach.’
Jorja chuckled. ‘When is Scalice coming?’
‘Soon, we hope.’
‘He’ll have a fight on his hands, they leave people behind you know.’ She replied cheerfully feeling wonderfully free nibbling on her rat gazing at the now calm sea.
Scalice stormed out of the briefing room. It took four days to get them to clear a rescue mission. Jorja’s mining proposition was looking better every time.
After a few more hours it came down to threats and in the end the generals all realized they should have brought the orux under their main umbrella. How the bloody orux found all the loopholes they weren’t sure but Jorja’s name kept surfacing in their minds. General Scevish was in the brig for compromising the mission but they still had the planet debate to sort out. At the end of the four days the Marquis announced that they’d lost interest in the planet and left in their multitudes of small space vessels. Something had upset them. Everyone held their breath until the last had left. The Aeons and the Naskins who survived the Marquis began arguing again.
The four rescued Aeons and Naskins were recovering well. One lad, who claimed to be a descendant of Jorja’s long dead brother, backed Scalice’s fight to rescue the three left on the planet. The lad’s biting remarks and ‘in your face’ attitude reminded Scalice of Jorja. With the Marquis gone there was very little reason not to approve the mission even though the planet’s current owners claimed that any kind of military incursion would be considered unfriendly. As they vacillated in their decision making the general in charge of the Special Forces took Scalice aside, ‘While the others are irresolute, I can take action since officially, I’m not going against the majority. Until they make a decision I’ll just do what I think best for the force.’
And so together they acted. Scalice checked the area he had laid down his orux signals and saw the response. Within fifteen hours from the time the SF general had spoken to him the three were safely on board a shuttle.