AUTHOR'S NOTE: I received a message about how the chapters prior to this update were a little confusing to follow. So, for the sake of my readers, I toned it down a bit for this chapter. I hope reading it is a little more bearable! C:
Raz stroked the princess' cheek with his right mandibles.
He had been gone for too long; longer than it was necessary. Others would, no doubt, disagree, but for Ri'ka's sake, he would argue any point if it meant staying. It would be worth it. Her wide eyes gazed up at him, her mandibles compressed to her face as she grinned. Sometimes, he wished she was still a pup, giddy with excitement and ready to embrace trouble.
Oh, how so many things had changed.
Unlike his last visit, he hadn't the courtesy to be welcomed at the door. She hadn't been waiting for him behind the stone pillars. She hadn't tried to scare him, and he hadn't been able to pretend like she had. He longed for those memories to become reality again, but, seeing that she had grown into a fine female Yaut'ja, perhaps it was best to leave things as they were. There was no sense on dwelling in the past. He knew better.
"Well, you're here now." The princess gently pulled away from her brother's grip. He took comfort in knowing that she was much more informal when he was around. "We need to make the best of it."
He could feel the depression in her voice, though she did a fine, exemplary job of hiding it. Ignoring the urge to click an apology, the former prince purred while taking her hand into his again. He couldn't agree more.
"Wait, Ri'ka." Raz trilled nervously. "I need to- I need to ask you something... before wasting anymore time." He shook his head, regretting his previous words. "It is of great importance that we talk."
"Later, perhaps. Can it wait?" Raz could have gotten lost in her gaze. She was so pure. He could not take away her happiness. He nodded, mandibles flaring, excited.
"Lead the way. I barely recognize this place."
Ri'ka did not delay. He recalled that she wasn't one to hesitate if she truly pursued something of great interest. He followed her light patter of footsteps. She was leading him to the door. A sickness tugged at his gut. He stopped immediately, unintentionally yanking at his sister's arm. Her attention pierced Raz as guilt smothered his face.
"Is something wrong?" Ri'ka place one hand against his plated chest. His chirped. She had no idea what that meant to him- placing her hand on his chest.
But he hadn't the heart to speak his mind. Not yet.
"Ri'ka, I cannot leave your presence. It would be safer if I were to remain here." Ri'ka shook her head, confused. "In your room."
"You don't have permission to be here, do you?" Raz heard a low growl emit from his sister; something he had never witnessed before. She was angry with him; possibly furious.
Suppressing his mandibles, fluttering lightly, he confirmed her assumption. Ri'ka let her hand fall from his chest. She turned away from him. He thought she was going to leave to inform their sires of his trespassing, but she stopped right in front of the stained-glass panels. She slouched, brushing a thick bundle of dreadlocks from of her face and behind her shoulder. Ri'ka had a heart, foreign to their violent ways and obsessive culture, too soft to consider informing the Elites. Or her sires. Raz was too important to her.
She sighed, clicking her mandibles in surrender. "Raz, you don't even have to ask."
He approached the young ruler, catching her from behind in his embrace. He had to lower his head almost an entire foot so that he could nuzzled against her neck. His chest rumbled with a deep purr. She was going to let him stay, undetected. She returned his gentle gesture. He could feel her light purr against his left mandible tusks. A sudden stirring behind her door made Raz perk up. He trilled at Ri'ka, uncertain. She clicked her mandibles, ready to handle the situation.
Ri'ka was quick to smooth away the ruffles in her uniform. She placed a finger on the sensory pad, allowing the automated door to open, but not completely.
Her heart sank.
"Ye'yinde?" Ri'ka hadn't intended to sound so nervous. She needed to correct herself. Standing a little taller, recalling all formalities, she added, "Have you come with a message?" It was subtle, but she was degrading the Honored Warrior to a messenger- a role in their society reserved for unbloods only.
For a moment, he did not speak. He rumbled with hesitance while his gaze refused to let up. She trembled beneath his stare. Did he suspect something?
"I came to check on you."
Ri'ka grunted. "I appreciate the thought, but there is no need."
Again, he did not reply right away. She took notice of him sniffing the air. There was no doubt in her mind that he suspected something, but he was also blind to what it was he suspected of her. She wanted to take this conversation into the hall. She couldn't risk him seeing Raz; even if any and all forms of Yaut'ja were forbidden from entering her domain without her direct permission. But he was an Honored Warrior. He wouldn't dare cross a line that could make him Bad Blood, would he?
"Are you certain you are alright?"
It was a statement, not a question.
"Of course. Have I given you a reason to believe otherwise?" Ri'ka vigorously shook her head. "Good night, Ye'yinde."
Ri'ka had intended to shut the door, but he stopped her, sliding his entire arm into the crevice still open between her room and the corridor. She gasped, slapping his hand away.
"What are you doing?" the princess demanded. "Go away, please! I'm sure you have better things to do." Ye'yinde's glare returned.
"Honored Warrior Ye'yinde, please leave me alone. It is inappropriate for you to be here at this hour." The use of his title caught him off guard. Ri'ka hoped this would stifle his efforts to exploit her business further.
Ri'ka felt a sudden wave of warm air tickle the back of her neck. Raz was standing behind her now, almost two heads taller. He instinctively pulled the young Yaut'ja princess to the side so that he was taking the blunt of Ye'yinde's gaze. Ye'yinde filled the corridor with a viscous roar. Raz mimicked him with his own devious roar. With mandibles flared, both warriors barked at each other, spreading their arms as if to spar.
"Your ruler told you to leave," Raz warned.
Ri'ka wanted to intervene. The door was completely open now and her sires could walk up at any moment if they were near. The two warriors were certainly making enough commotion to attract a crowd.
"WHO ARE YOU?!" Ye'yinde roared.
Raz was amused. He would not answer the abhorrent warrior. A click of his mandibles was the only response he offered; a snide remark too quiet for Ri'ka to catch. Ye'yinde roared again; he diffidently heard the insult. He took a step forward, crossing the princess' doorway. Upon glancing at her, he realized his error too late. Raz charged. The two smacked heads immediately with Ye'yinde on the ground. The former prince dealt two devastating blows to the Honored Warrior's face, no doubt fracturing a mandible.
Ri'ka's head burned with panic as her brother and suitor wrestled relentlessly. Raz was defending her rights. Ye'yinde was reacting to a stranger in her bed chamber. Ri'ka knew why it made him angry; she understood his obsessive concern. If anyone, Ye'yinde should be the one permitted inside her private domain, no other- at least, that's what Ri'ka imaged he thought.
The princess wanted to intervene, but both would be punished severely if she were to be injured. It was dishonorable to harm an unarmed female. Bad Blood.
"Paya! What the hell is going on? Who is fighting Ye'yinde?"
Ri'ka whirled around, her dreadlocks slapping Kal'de in the shoulder. There was no stopping it now. Raz's fate was completely out of her hands. Before she could even contemplate an answer to give, her brother had left her side to aid her suitor. Kal'de moved quickly, prying the intruder off of the general. Raz snarled at his assailant, but was instantly silenced when he saw who it was.
"Raz!" Kal'de gasped, stepping away.
Ri'ka watched as he moved to her side, protectively wrapping his bulky arm around her shoulder. The young prince chirped at the general. Ye'yinde returned his own trill, already on his feet and eager for another round. There was silence for a moment. Ri'ka couldn't handle the pounding in her ears. She shoved her elbow in between her and her brother, attempting to remove herself from his firm grip.
He did not let her go.
"Ri'ka, what is this?" Kal'de demanded. Ri'ka swallowed hard and considered her words carefully. Shaking her head, she decided to be honest. Deviant. The treatment of her banished brother made her bones ache with fury.
"Nothing you should be concerned with, Kale. He is not a stranger to me." Ri'ka held her head high. She prepared herself for blistering scrutiny.
Kal'de shook his head, growling at the young Yaut'ja. His chest rumbled with anger. She stared at him, eyes piercing his enraged expression, waiting for his reprimand.
"Are you sick, or just that stupid?!"
Ri'ka hadn't prepared for the utter hate in his tone. His words stung, making her chest tremble. She wanted to release a roar that would split through the night. She could do it, if she tried. Hurt was embellished with equal rage. She jerked away from his grip, his claws scraping against her tender flesh. She clenched her fists and snarled.
"Ri'ka," Raz chirped gently, "Do not take blame for my actions. Please..."
"No," Ri'ka told her sweet warrior, having not forgotten her other brother. "I am sick of your mistreatment!" she screamed at Kal'de. All three males were taken back at her outburst. It amused Kal'de more than it should have though.
"To whom?" he scoffed.
She was insulted. "To Raz! My brother! Your brother!"
"He deserves no better, Ri'ka," Kal'de spat.
"He is family!"
"Ri'ka!" Raz's roar overpowered their voices. He shook his head at her, rumbling deep in his chest. She tilted her head, confused. "Please, do not..." Kal'de followed her bewildered gaze to his cast brother.
"Listen to him," the prince demanded. "You are an exceptional listener when he is near." Ri'ka snarled at his sarcasm. Ye'yinde fumed. He planned to include him in this banter.
"You were in her private quarters." The general roared to display the intensity of his rage. "That is forbidden!"
"Calm down!" Ri'ka defended, "He had my permission."
"I find that hard to believe." Kal'de assumed correctly. Raz did not have her permission, but Ri'ka had no issue with his presence. He did not make her feel uncomfortable alone. She trilled, searching for an answer. Her sire beat her to it.
"That is enough!"
His roar bellowed deeper than Raz's; even Ye'yinde's. Ri'ka shivered, chills running up her spine. No one dared to even consider speaking out against her father. He stood there, puffing out his chest. Rage was not a word that could describe the look of disappointment, anger, hatred on his face. His mandibles clicked in irritation, expanding and closing with indecision. His silence is what frightened Ri'ka the most. It was unnatural. He was normally exuberant when angry.
"General, you are dismissed." Ye'yinde did not hesitate. He clicked in submission, bowing to the Elder, and left without looking back. The worst was yet to come. "The rest of you. Come with me."
The royal brood followed their sire, each with a downcast expression. Their mandibles twitched with anxiety. Ri'ka followed Kal'de, while Raz follow Ri'ka. No one spoke a word, or peered away from the ground. Though Ri'ka had mixed emotions about the entire ordeal, she could plainly sense that her brothers felt shame.
They had dishonored their sire.
Ri'ka had lost track of where she was in the great palace, or which route they had taken to get there. It was early morning, the twin suns had not risen yet. The young female's heart skipped a beat when she glanced up to see that her sire had lead them to a room that frightfully resembled their bed chamber; only it wasn't. It was a war room, reserved for Priestesses only. Though it was not a laughing matter, Ri'ka wanted to trill out in laughter. It was ironic to her how their parent's bed chamber was like a war room.
Any shred of light-hearted thought the princess had were instantly gone. Her father stopped. She could hear his mandibles click. The Elite repeated the gesture when he turned to face his children. Kal'de was the first to take his jab.
"You have dishonored me greatly." Kal'de's mandibles fluttered. He lowered his head. "Open fights in the palace? Are you mad?"
Ri'ka wanted to defend him. It had been Ye'yinde. She wanted to place all of the blame on him. But the princess knew that would be a blight. It would bruise her honor more than his. There was no sense in tearing him down.
"Please accept my apology." Kal'de bowed to his sire. It was the first time she had ever seen him act in such a way.
Her father snarled. "You were born with honor, Kal'de. You make up the one percent of warriors who are not obligated to earn their honor! Does this have little meaning to you?!"
"My honor is intact," Kal'de growled. He'd been insulted. Their father did not witness the entire event. "As is Ye'yinde's."
"I hadn't questioned Ye'yinde's honor." Kal'de hissed. "It is his duty to defend Ri'ka!"
"As is mine."
Ri'ka was perplexed. This wasn't about Raz at all.
Kal'de flexed his mandibles, tapping his plated chest with his fist. Ri'ka ached with guilt. Kal'de hadn't come to defend her. He had come to defend Ye'yinde. Everything was so wrong, but to accuse the Elder of being inaccurate was a challenge to his honor, whether he was in fact right or wrong was irrelevant at this point.
"False words." The Elder shook his head, flailing his mandibles. "You are no longer burdened with that responsibility."
"It will always be my responsibility!"
"No, it has been passed down to the general. Any action you make for her is considered intimate. People will start to think we are corrupt!"
"I would like to speak for myself," Ri'ka snapped. She regretted ever drawing his attention.
"Ri'ka, you are borderline Bad Blood!"
"This is not her fault. I am. I trespassed her private domain. She had nothing to do with it." The glare the Elder gave Raz was so frightening it made her want to cower.
He snarled, "You are a Bad Blood, Raz. I have nothing more to say to you."
"No! He is not Bad Blood!" Ri'ka lunged out in front of Raz. It was a faulty action, seeing that any of them could easily shove her aside or crush her beneath their boot.
"He has no right to be here," their father growled.
"I asked him to come," Ri'ka lied. She could feel Raz's abdomen tense. Lying to an Elder was an act of treason. Her father's expression sagged. Was he offended? Hurt? Confused?
"Why would you do that? Knowing the laws against it! He cannot be here, Ri'ka." She hadn't expected his voice to be so quiet.
Ri'ka disregarded his tone. "He is not a Bad Blood! Sending him away would be his death." Ri'ka hesitated, trembling with fear. "I will not allow it."
"You do not have the authority to make demands of me, pup," her father scowled.
She stared at her sire, hands extended behind her. She could feel the folds of Raz's veneer brush against her fingertips. She watched her father's face flush from anger, to frustration, to regret. He sighed, clicking something under his breath. Kal'de kept his eyes to himself. Perhaps in his earlier years he would have defended his older brother, his blood brother, but now Ri'ka sneered at his betrayal; betrayal to family. To her, he reeked of cowardice. The Elder shook his head, no. The movement as slow, reluctant.
"It is the law. It is my duty to follow through with such things. It does not exclude family, Ri'ka. You must understand."
The princess, though born into a world that demanded fearless, coarse creatures, felt her eyes swell with tears. She needed a compromise.
"Ri'ka..." Raz began, trilling softly. She shrugged his hand away.
"If he leaves now," Ri'ka stumbled on her words, "and I promise never to speak to him again... will you let him live?"
She had expected her sire to instantly turn her down, ignore her comment completely; but he did not. He stood in silence, contemplating. She took it as a good sign, even if it meant giving up the greatest thing she had in her life. Knowing that he was still alive, somewhere in the galaxy, would have to be enough. It had to be.
"You would be honor-bound to this," the Elder warned. She slowly nodded, accepting her actions. Releasing deep growl, their sire gave a quick nod.
"If he leaves now, I will let him go." Ri'ka felt lighter, as if a heavy burden was taken off of her shoulders. She watched her father turn, striding away from them, silent and head low. She glanced at Kal'de. He looked troubled. Choked. She could tell he wanted to say something by the constant twitch of his mandibles. But he never did. His relationship with Raz would be forever unsettled, severed. They would depart from each other permanently, without a word.
She felt exhausted, while turning around to meet Raz. His head was downcast, eyes searching for something on the ground, desperate and lost. She tilted her head, confused.
This wasn't how she wanted to remember him.
He felt her gaze and looked up immediately. Breathing deeply, Raz held out his hand to her. She gladly embraced his tug, enveloping herself within his grasp. He held her tight against his abdomen, trilling. There were no words, at the moment, that could satisfy what would take a lifetime to say. Express. Instead, she allowed him to lead her away from that horrid room. After that, her mind was numb to where he was taking her.
Coming to a slow pace, Ri'ka inhaled the fresh air of the outside world. The servant's corridors kept the crescent windows opened, night and day, sun or rain. She could see the brilliant light from the twin moons.
Then, everything sunk in.
Raz was leaving.
She gripped him tighter, tracing her small finger against the edge of his chest plating. He purred. She smiled; feeling the vibrations in his chest made her feel safe. Alive. Loved.
"What you did for me..." Raz began, searching for the perfect words to illustrate his gratitude. He grunted, the agitated rumble vibrated through his chest again. "I will never be able to repay you, Ri'ka."
It sounded like a warning to her.
She shook her head. "You owe me nothing."
He trilled, nervously. "That is how our culture works. Exchanging gifts of equal value. To repay you, I would have to give up my own life."
She hissed. "I do not want that."
There was a moment of silence between them. He could not challenge her kindness; her natural, inner beauty.
Ri'ka listened to his heartbeat as he spoke again. "He is mistaken."
Ri'ka looked up to her brother, cocking her head in confusion. "What?"
"You are not Bad Blood." Raz caressed her face with his mandibles. "Never will be." She clicked her thanks, but said nothing. Her heart fluttered when he pried her away from him.
This was goodbye.
He cupped her face in his hands. They covered her cheeks completely, and then some.
"No matter what anyone says, remember that you will always be honorable. No one in this world is strong enough to take that away from you." Please, don't say goodbye...
Raz lowered his face, tapping his head against her's with a light pat. She closed her eyes, memorizing his touch and warmth. It was like a dream when he pulled away from her, disappearing down the corridor. She silently watched, motionless. Numb. Even when his form was no longer before her, she stood there, unsure of how to respond. Her world had just walked away. Tears began to stream from her eyes. To hell with strength and honor. It meant nothing to her if there was no one to share it with. She hadn't even the strength to say the words she dreaded, but needed to say.
"I love you..." Ri'ka whispered to the darkness; to the empty; to Raz. "Goodbye."