This is a continuation of a story begun in the post “Chapter 1. Part 1.” If you enjoy it, please like and share it with others!
CHAPTER 17: DRAMATIC CHANGES
I came to and we were running. Thrump’s body was jostling and there were yelling humans all over. I realized that we were running straight through The Settlement, and currently were making our way through the busy marketplace. There were some humans running away frightened and others running toward us with weapons and yelling battle cries. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Shishu launch up and out of the city. He had taken Plink with him. We continued to run. Fwik was waving Plink’s hip weapon around, deflecting attacks from the humans as we ran. Every few seconds Shishu would return and then another member of our group would disappear into the blue clouds with him.
It was down to just me, Thrump, Chak, and Fwish when the bullets started flying. The people of The Settlement had finally gotten out their rifles and were taking deadly aim. The bullets would glance off of Thrump’s back and make sparks as they contacted his tough Umbili skin. I could hear him wince every time a bullet hit him, and he pulled me off of his shoulder and held me in front of his body to shield me from the danger.
As we continued to run I could tell that we were getting closer to the front gates. The barrage of bullets thinned as we made it through the gates outside of The Settlement, but we didn’t slow down. Thrump continued to sprint toward the rocks where our group had split up hours before, and we found the rest of the group sitting there, panting.
There was silence for a moment, before Fwik spoke awkwardly.
Everyone glared at him.
We didn’t get much time to ourselves because two things suddenly landed in our circle with a huge thud. The two things were struggling with each other. I couldn’t tell what they were because they were moving so fast. One would weave downward and the other would follow, then one would jump into the air and glide swiftly back down to earth, while the other synchronized its movements to try and overtake it. There were flashes of light coming from the pair of them as well, and a cloud of dust rose and engulfed them as they continued to fight. After a few moments they broke apart and the dust settled; it was then that I saw them both clearly.
One was an Umbili dude. He was average sized, shorter than Chak, but taller than Fwik, scrawny, and had a red light emanating from his jagged skin. He wore the classic white Umbili tunic just like Chak’s, but around his waist was a ruby red cord. It looked metallic and flashy just like the gold that the Umbili I knew wore, but it was the deepest fiery red that I had ever seen.
The other was a female Umbra. She was petite and covered in a light powdery grey color. She wore a hooded robe, like Shishu’s, but the hood wasn’t up as his always was. She had spunky pixie-like spiked hair, that was the same powdery grey as the rest of her body, and her fingers and feet were the same sort of straw-like strands as Shishu’s, and the same silver rope was wrapped around her waist. She looked different than her Umbili self, but there was no mistaking who this Umbra was.
“Brew!” I shouted.
“Yes. It’s good ta see you too Nicholas, but please don’t distract me for the next few seconds,” she said quickly, with a hint of her old twang, but it was veiled now and less enthusiastic than before.
She jumped suddenly, and it was just suddenly enough to catch the dude off guard. He looked into the sky, and in the moment that he had been blinded by the sun, Brew landed softly and silently behind him. She reached up, put a spindly arm around his neck, and made a squeezing and twisting motion. There was a little popping sound, and the dude stopped struggling against Brew’s grasp. She laid him down gently on the ground. We all stood staring.
“Did you just kill him?” I asked.
“No he’s just unconscious. He’ll be asleep for a few hours and have quite a headache when he comes around,” she said. “Somebody wanna get me the restraints from the backpack?” Thrump nodded and started rummaging around. I looked down at the orb still clutched in my hand.
“Here Thrump. You can put this in there too.” I handed it to him gently, along with the pistol. He took them, tossed Brew some sort of harness, and handed me my armor.
“You’ll want to put this back on I suppose,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said.
We were the only three in the group moving and talking and it was a little awkward. Most of the group members were still looking at Brew. Chak hadn’t stopped staring at her or closed his mouth since she entered the rocky clearing. It was in this silence that I noticed Pathena, standing up tall like part of the team, and all the questions I had about the entire day flooded into my mind.
“Ok, can we take a break here and figure out what just happened?” I asked the group at large.
“I think that’s a marvelous notion, and I believe it is a respite I should begin as I have a rather large confession to make to the assembly at this time. I cannot hide my past any longer.”
I looked around. Doctor Lee was sitting on the tip of a large rock that jutted up and into the clearing so that he was sitting at eyelevel.
“You? What could you have to confess?” I asked.
“Well,” said Doctor Lee, “For starters it’s my fault that all of this happened. It’s rather a long story. I think it might be best if we take a moment, set up camp here and perhaps have something to eat as I’m sure you are all quite hungry. I promise you will hear the story then.”
I looked around. Everyone was coming out of their states of shock. Chak spoke first, gruffly. “Fine. Let’s get to work. I want to hear this,” he said.
We all mulled about doing various chores and pitching the remaining tents. Thrump tied the unconscious dude to a rock and made sure that he could not escape. Flye took charge of preparing the meal, and I sat with her in silence. Everyone was quiet as we ate and finally, we all gathered around Fwik and Fwish’s fire to listen to Doctor Lee. The sun was barely over the horizon as he began and it gave a dramatic backdrop to the tale.
“My confession is this: I have not always been on your side. Back when the Umbili split and Mendrax took some of you with him, I enlisted myself into his services.”
At this news there was movement in the group and I realized that Chak was starting to stand up to square off to the beetle and squash him like the bug that he was.
“Chak please! Allow me to finish. Allow me to explain myself, I beg of you, please! Grant me this one favor before you kill me.”
“I will not let you talk your way out of this bug. Your only ally on this journey was Brew and look what you’ve done to her! You don’t deserve to live.” He started to glide forward and others began to stand and watch in horror.
“I want to hear him out!” I shouted.
Chak stopped. He turned and looked at me.
“You can’t continue to manipulate me like this Nicholas,” said Chak. He was speaking tersely and intensely. It was scary. “This bug deserves to die and you will not stand in my way.”
“We have to hear his story at least. I have to know what all this was about. Too much has happened in the last day to go on oblivious. We have to hear him out,” I said as calmly as I could.
Chak stared for a moment. His face was hard and emotionless. There was a tense moment, then I saw him glance at Brew, and he relinquished.
“You have five minutes to live bug. Make them count,” he said, and sat back down by the fire.
“Well, as I said, I was enlisted in the services of Mendrax for quite some time. The reason was twofold. Firstly, Mendrax promised to open my mind to new discoveries. He told me that he could teach me what the foundations of the world were built on. He even hinted that I might learn how to create life. I wanted to learn this. It was selfish, I know, but I wanted to learn about the deepest most basic stones on which life is built, and Mendrax seemed to have the answers. Secondly, I was bitter and logic driven. This is a terrible combination. After the death of my family, I bought into the grand lie that love was an illusion and that death was the ultimate destination. With my entire philosophy built on these two axioms, I could come to no other conclusion but to follow the one who claimed to overcome death and who disbelieved in love. Surely you can understand my feelings. I don’t defend my actions, but I ask you to at least understand them.”
I could understand them. I had been in similar despair when I thought that Pathena was dead. I was close to following the same path as Dr. Lee when the Trojan war happened, and my descent into deep despair had been put on hold. I thought about this for a moment, and silence filled the group as others did the same.
“Go on,” I whispered.
Doctor Lee took a deep breath. “In the services of Mendrax, I was placed on the team to defend his garden. He knew that the Higher-ups were assembling a team to infiltrate, and somehow he knew that Brew would be on that team and that I knew her from long ago. I was instructed to rekindle my friendship with her and keep her under surveillance for the human who would carry the seed. So, as you know, that’s what I did.
“I spent my days outside of Brew’s house, waiting for a human to appear whom I would befriend and report to Mendrax on his strengths and weaknesses. I was instructed to gain his trust.” Doctor Lee nearly whispered when he said this, and kept his small black eyes firmly on the rock in front of his feet.
“Mendrax would send Umbra in to meet me in secret and I would report on the whereabouts of the group and the information I had recovered. I was the one who instructed him to send the Felavis that first night in the woods. That was the last action that I took specifically in line with Mendrax’s bidding. It was during that fight, when I saw Thrump and Shishu fighting so valiantly for what they believed in, that I began to question my axiom of the illusion of love. I began to question whether love was a real thing or not.
“That battle, along with my conversations with Nicholas and my realization that I had kindled a true friendship instead of a farce made me reconsider my conclusions about love. When I saw the pain and death Mendrax was willing to inflict for his own gain, and the love that this group had for each other, and then the real love that I had redeveloped for Brew, my entire perception of the world shattered. I had to come to the conclusion that Mendrax was truly wrong and that the Higher-ups were truly right.
“It was the night that we reached The City of Falling Water that I sent word to Mendrax that I would no longer be in his service. I had defected. He didn’t like that at all, and he sent the Umbra the next day to try and crush the resistance while he still knew where we were. It was that night that he decided to punish me for my defection. It was the power of love that caused me to leave his service, so he tried to use that love against me to get me to reenlist in his service. He tried to manipulate me by kidnapping Brew, knowing that I loved her like a sister and a mother. He tried to force me back into his conscription. He under-estimated the power of love yet again: both Chak’s love for his partner and this whole group’s love for their friends.
“Of course, I must take responsibility for my actions. I bear no ill will toward you for what you must do to me, now that you know what I have done. I am filled with utter regret and sorrow over the outcome of my decisions.
“I realize now that love is not affectionate feeling, but a constant aspiration for the ultimate good of the loved.” He looked at Brew. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive myself for the harm that I have caused you, my dear.”
“I can,” she said. Then she glided up to the little beetle, picked him up in both hands, and gave him the smallest sweetest kiss that’s ever been given.
Chak looked stunned. He didn’t know what to do. It was for Brew’s vengeance that he intended to kill the beetle, and now it seemed that action would be contrary to her honor. He simply sat there with the strangest of looks on his face. The others in the group stood up and rallied around Brew giving Dr. Lee their forgiveness as well. You could hear the joy in everyone’s voices as a member of the team, both old in a sense and new in another, was added to the fold.
I walked over and sat next to Chak who was still sitting in stunned silence.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
He coughed slightly as he found his voice. “I suppose. I just don’t understand. I don’t understand how she can,” he hesitated, “how she can wipe that all away. Look at what he did to her. He made her an Umbra. He made her one of those punished with death. She forgave him for punishing her forever.”
I thought a moment for the right words.
“Chak, I don’t want to make you angry but maybe you need to reconsider something. Just like Doctor Lee realized that love is not an illusion, and that changed the way he lived, maybe you need to realize something too. Maybe,” I stopped, for a moment, making sure to think through what I was about to say.
“Maybe what?” he whispered.
“Maybe being an Umbra isn’t a punishment. Maybe it’s an honor beyond all others.”
Want to keep reading? Go to the next section! >>> “Chapter 18. Part 1.”