Jason and Shandarro had been on Scout patrol for almost a month, they had met with Regulon, learned much about each other, and had become a cohesive team. They followed every lead they had, kept an eye on the sky for alerts to Marn presence, and used the Bonding Cave as a base. Jason had told Regulon where they would be if he needed them, and Regulon told him that the Skree wouldn’t enter the cave unless they chose to be bonded. That had made him realize that the bonding of his father to Regulus hadn’t happened by chance, Regulus had went into the cave intentionally to bond with Whitlaw.
Jason asked Shandarro if he knew of the story of the bonding, and all Skree did. “Why does it concern you so about the Bonding? It was a choice made by Regulus, to preserve all life on Embrellon, the Companions needed to be reestablished, and Regulus chose to bond with Whitlaw to do it. We are called Guardians now, but we are the Companions all the same.” Jason thought about that, it was true, they had become the new Companions, and Guardians was a name that his father and Regulus had chosen because that was what they were doing, guarding the planet against invasion, and trying to make it a safe place to live.
It always surprised him at how practical Shandarro was, unlike the Brellon, they weren’t disposed to mood swings. The one time he had seen a Skree almost beyond reason was when he had discovered the tunnel and saw Regulon when he discovered the younglings. If Regulon hadn’t recognized him as a Guardian because of Shandarro’s presence, he would have torn him to pieces. The one thing he never wanted to see was a Skree treating a Brellon with the ferocity that he saw in Regulon’s eyes. It was sobering to say the least.
Shamira came into the cave and started removing her armor. She had been out on patrol with Knala and so far, they hadn’t seen a sign of the Marn. They were running on luck. He knew the Marn were coming, and he knew that they should see them soon. When he and Shamira had come to the Bonding Cave, his father had estimated that they had a month based on the interrogation of the Marn that had been captured. That month was almost over, and they had been scanning the sky looking for ships. Shamira had went to the rear of the Cave to bath and refresh herself, and Jason was making them something to eat. She returned, and opened her bag and took out a large bunch of kaba root that she had discovered while out scouting. It was well received, they had almost exhausted the supply they had brought, and the roots that Shamira had brought would last for another month.
She told him where she found the kaba and he decided on his next scouting to bring in more. They didn’t know how long they would be on assignment and they would need to supplement their supplies. They had grain and meat, and the countryside had provided all the rest of what they needed. They had found some nut trees, and located a supply of tubers and berries. They were pretty well set for a long siege if it came to it. When they were all together, they had decided not to use the link. They all spoke freely and Jason and Shamira had learned a great deal about the Skree. Being bonded to one, didn’t teach you everything, being around two especially a male and a female, showed you the extent to which their society had developed.
Not only were they sentient, they had a strict moral code they lived by, and with the exception of fighting in a battle against the Marn, only killed for food. They only ate meat, and then only every four or five days. They often laughed at the Brellon, because they needed to eat several times a day. They didn’t understand how they could function with that much food in their systems. They were excellent conversationalists. They understood the severity of the situation as well. They knew that if they couldn’t gain or decisive victory or at least make it too difficult for the Marn to keep returning to Embrellon, that their civilization would end, no one fought so hard as when they were fighting for their own home and survival. They had great faith in the Guardians with whom they were bonded, and they believed that Whitlaw would lead them to victory, if anyone could.
Shamira noticed that Shandarro and Knala had taken to resting side by side. She was curious as to whether or not they were going to become mates, so she asked Knala one day when they were out scouting. Knala replied to her on the link “We do enjoy each other’s company, but your question is complicated. Were we free Skree, we would mate if that was our desire, and we mate for life. But we are bonded to you and Jason, so for us to mate, would require you and Jason to become mated as well. It is against our moral code to mate with someone other than our bond-mate’s life-mate.” That made Shamira understand clearly how much the symbiotic relationship between them went. Early on after she linked, she thought they just shared the ability to speak to each other telepathically, now she understood how deep that connection went.
While they were sitting there eating, she looked at Jason and wondered how he felt. She had never asked him if he had someone that he liked, or if he was even interested, it was a difficult subject to bring up, so she just held her peace for the time being. They would have plenty of time to discuss it later, if things went well in the upcoming battles. She knew that even if they won a skirmish here and there, it would take a decisive battle to discourage the Marn from returning. What she didn’t know was that Jason had asked Shandarro the same question recently, and had come to the same conclusion. This night seemed different though, they were on the edge of battle, they would be facing the Marn soon, and they wouldn’t have time for the conversation then, they would be to engaged in defending their planet to worry about being life-mates.
Jason looked at her and thought to himself, she wasn’t pretty in the classical sense, not like his mother, or his sister, but she was pretty in a different way. She was strong, tough, resilient, had a quick intuitive mind, and she was one of the best archers he had met. Second only maybe to him. She had the kind of qualities about her that he found attractive. She was like him, and they worked well together. Finding his courage, he laughed to himself and that brought a one sided smile to his face, he had to work up the nerve to bring up the subject, something that he had never experienced before. Even when he was doubting his father, he was able to talk to Yoran and find peace about it. This was different.
“Shamira, have you ever thought about who you and Knala would be Life-Mates with?” she was stunned, she wasn’t expecting him to bring that subject up, and she nervously answered him, fearing he would reject her. “I have, but I have never spoken openly about it. Why?” he paused, and then with all his nervousness and doubt he asked “Would you and Knala consider me and Shandarro? We would be honored if you accepted us as your Life-Mates.” She was stunned, she had no idea he felt that way about her, and she without hesitation, said “yes”.
That took all the strain out of the partnership, now she and Jason would be life-mates, and Shandarro and Knala wouldn’t feel impeded anymore. They had explained one night that when it came to the Skree, the only thing they would fight harder for beyond the planet, was the survival of their mates. They were ferociously loyal.
The next day, Jason and Shamira left the cave to scout the area to the south, constantly keeping an eye on the skyline. They didn’t want to get caught out in the open by the Marn. They had gone about fifty kilometers when they smelled smoke. Unusual, because there shouldn’t have been anyone in the area where the smoke was at. The nearest Scout should have been at least two hundred kilometers south, and unless this was a Ranger detail, smoke would mean trouble. They landed immediately, they didn’t want to take a chance on the smoke coming from a Marn camp.
They secured their saddles so they wouldn’t rattle, strung their bows and nocked an arrow, they wanted to be at the ready. They crept through the brush that surrounded the smoke and seeing that the fire was near the edge of the forest they decided to split up and take the camp in a crossfire. As they approached the camp, they saw a small group of Marn sitting there, they were armed, but it was evident they hadn’t landed there, they had marched there. They took them by surprise. They had jumped out of the brush bows drawn, and the Skree landed by the fire. The Marn dropped their weapons when they saw they wouldn’t have a chance to fire.
Jason asked them who they were, and why they were here. They said they had been dropped off a month earlier, and were part of the scouting party. They had gotten separated from the others, and had been lost for days inside the forest. Jason didn’t trust them, and he didn’t believe their story. He contacted Lantana and asked her to send for the Ranger Commander, he had prisoners. They tied the Marn up, searched them for weapons, and communication devices, and had stripped them down to their undergarments and took their boots. He wasn’t taking any chances with Shamira this close.
It was the first time he had gotten a really close look at a Marn. They didn’t seem much different than he and Shamira. They were about the same size, their hands and feet were the same, they had black hair that was braided down their backs, gray skin, yellow eyes, and a cat-like appearance. Their ears were pointed, but located higher up on their heads, and they had canine teeth like Yoran, but other than that, they resembled them. This was Jason’s chance for answers too. He faced what seemed to be the leader and asked him why the Marn attacked his home and why they would keep capturing Skree younglings, surely they tired of seeing them kill each other in the arena as their comrades had said.
The leader, Shagos, said that they wanted to learn the secret of Embrellon. They had continually fought against the Skree, had wiped out the Brellon centuries earlier, yet, not one single expedition to the planet had ever found a city, town, or habitation, and yet, here they were, people, and not just people, but the cursed Companions seemed to have reappeared out of dust. It was a sobering answer. The Marn knew they had wiped out the Brellon, and had been attacking and capturing Skree for centuries, yet out of nowhere, the Companions had returned.
Shagos looked at Shamira and with an odd look on his face, asked her “How is it, that you, a Velan, is here on Embrellon, and not just here, you seem to be a Companion. All the Vela we have ever met are our slaves and they don’t have the temperament to be warriors. They are peace loving weaklings that deserve their fate.” Shamira was infuriated and struck Shagos across the face with her fist. Then she got right in his face and said “I am not Velan, I am Brellon, I was born on this planet, and my family has been here for centuries. We settled here to get away from your people, and to live free.” Shagos was surprised at her anger, and told her “when our forces arrive here and when we’ve put your forces from the field, I am going to take you as my personal slave and when I am done with you, all you’ll be good for is to be used by the guards as a plaything. You will know just how superior we are to your feeble attempts at being warriors with your laughable weapons, and lack of conviction.”
Shamira spit in his face, drew her dagger and if Jason hadn’t intervened, she would have slit his throat. He reminded himself not to ever anger his Life-Mate, he could end up never waking up. She was strong and she didn’t lack conviction. He looked at Shagos, and with a wry smile on his face, told him “I wouldn’t anger her further, I don’t believe you will live to meet your forces if you do.” With that he got them up on their feet, and tied them neck to neck. They had never seen faron alloy before and even though it looked thin, they couldn’t break the line no matter how hard they tried. It was only five millimeters thick, yet they could lift the largest tree trunk with it.
Shagos didn’t respond to Jason, and they decided not to take them to the bonding cave. It wouldn’t be the first time they had slept out, and they had more than enough supplies to stay in the field for a few days. They had arranged a rendezvous with the Ranger patrol for the next day, until then, Jason wanted as much intel as he could get from the Marn. When they stopped to make camp, they staked the Marn out far enough from each other so they couldn’t whisper, yet close enough to keep an eye on them. Jason approached Shagos with some food and set it down in front of him. Their hands were tied, but they could eat. When they finished giving food to the Marn, they sat down and drank some kaba, and then ate themselves. Shandarro and Knala were keeping watch, and they didn’t require as much sleep as the Brellon did. They would catnap and one was always fully alert.
As they were settling in for the night, Jason sat down next to Shagos, and told him “We are going to talk, you and I, and for your own sake, and the sake of your men, I wouldn’t lie, or withhold any information I ask you for.” To drive the point home, Shandarro let out a menacing growl from behind Jason, and Knala was pacing back and forth like she was ready to pounce. That was enough to unnerve the Marn, and he said “What do you want to know?” Jason smiled and started the questioning. “How long before your forces arrive at Embrellon and begin their invasion?” Shagos said “Two more weeks and the main force should be here. The scout ships should arrive within the week. We have been out of contact ever since we got separated, we didn’t have a transmitter with us, it was with the rest of the force we came with.” Jason wanted a description of the transmitter, he had an idea if the transmitter hadn’t gotten damaged the day they took the other Marn captive, the transmitter might still be there and working.
“Shagos, what did the transmitter look like?” he described it as a black box, with blue lights on it. Jason couldn’t remember seeing anything that looked like that when they took the other group. “What else were they carrying besides their weapons?” he asked, Shagos replied “They were carrying weapons, field rations, the transmitter, body armor, spare clothing, and portable shelters.” That relieved Jason, last thing he wanted was to think that they were carrying the same weapon they had used to wipe out the Companions.
“Who is commanding your fleet, and how many times have they come to Embrellon?” Shagos looked at him bewildered, could it be that they hadn’t heard of Skagos, the current High Commander? He didn’t see any harm in telling in him who was coming, he was hoping to be rescued still. “Skalos, the current High Commander. He wants these beasts of yours and your women.” That angered Jason, but he held his temper, “why would he want our women?” Shagos laughed, then looking ugly said “We use them for our pleasure, and when their too old, or worn out, we feed them to the Maga, who will eat anything that gets near them.
Jason decided to stop questioning him before he got so angry that he killed this poor excuse for a sentient being. He was appalled and disgusted and wanted to be as far away from these creatures as he could get. When their scouts and main force arrived, he wanted them to pay for all they had done to his world, and for the crimes and atrocities they had committed against his world and its people.
At dawn, the Ranger patrol arrived, they were impressed, Jason and Shamira had captured ten Marn by themselves, and had kept all of them alive, the Ranger Commander was Jamar, his oldest and dearest friend, and he was glad to see him. They explained what had happened, and told him what Shagos had said. Jamar told him not to worry, his patrol was going to take the whole group to the Great Temple to see the Seers. That was his orders. They tied them across the backs of their saddles, mounted up, and left for the temple. It was going to be interesting when he had the chance to talk to his father and sister. This was the first time they had captives, and they had Seers now, and this was going to be a day of days. One to remember for a long, long, time.
Once Jamar left, and he and Shamira were sure there were no more Marn in their sector, they headed back to the cave. They had left but two days ago, but it seemed like home to them already. This was the first quarters they had shared as life-mates, and it would always be a place that held fond memories for them. They checked their supplies, removed the saddles, took off their armor and faron shirts, and got comfortable. Shamira went to bathe, and Jason made kaba, grilled some steaks, and cooked some tubers in the coals of the fire. They were both tired, and when Shamira returned from her bath, he went and took one himself. While he was in the bath he thought to himself that he should investigate how the bath water was heated. The pool was always warm, yet three meters away, the water that they used for drinking and cooking was ice cold. Today though, he didn’t have time to investigate, the warm water soaking into his muscles was so relaxing that he almost fell asleep.
When he returned, the food was ready, and the hot kaba was welcomed. Then he noticed that Shamira had made their bed, one bed, just as Shandarro and Knala were now sharing a pad. They had changed from partners to life-mates as easily as changing your clothes. He thought that it would be harder to adjust to sleeping with someone next to you, and sharing your life with them, but for him, it was easy. He had noticed that Shamira, with her blue hair and violet eyes, did remind him slightly of his grandmother, but she had died when he was two, and his mother didn’t share her looks, she was more rounded and always had a ready smile. Shamira, rarely smiled, so when she did, it was always a treat.
The next morning, while he and Shamira were eating Shandarro said that he and Knala needed to hunt, and did they need fresh meat. Jason checked their supplies and said some fresh meat would be nice. Shandarro said they would be back soon. When they left, Jason sat next to Shamira and said “When we get back we will have to scout out new quarters, any preference?” as he sat there chewing, she looked at him and said “If I had my choice, I would stay here forever. I love this place.” He felt the same way, but knew that they would get called in from Scouting eventually, and some other pair would use the cave. It wasn’t a permanent home, but while they were here, it would be their home.
He looked around the cave while they waited for the Skree to return from hunting and with the light that Yoran had given him looked in the deepest part of the cave, and found a mystery. He called for Shamira and asked her to bring her light as well. They had found a recess in the back with a fitted door, and when he had opened it, it lit up. Inside was a ladder made from faron and it went up. He climbed the ladder and when he reached the top, there was a room. It had no writing on the walls like the Armory, and it was bright inside. He told Shamira to come up, and when she saw the room, she was as puzzled as he was, there were couches in the room with cushions, very old cushions, perfectly preserved, he supposed the sealed door had kept anything from decaying, and in the center of the room was a sculpture of a Skree and a Brellon looking at each other. This must be some sort of representation of the bonding, but it would have been impossible for a Skree to ascend the ladder. The space was to small, and there was no other entrance.