It had been five years since the Marn had last been to Embrellon. Skagos had died while leaving the planet. He had destroyed his own ship and troops, rather than return to Marn disgraced, wounded, and maimed. They were an unusual race of beings. They were savage, war-like, and only interested in personal glory. They had conquered many worlds in this sector of space, Embrellon was a thorn in their side. Repeatedly, they had invaded, and were repeatedly repelled. They occasionally took captives and took them back to Marn to fight in the arena, or to be used for the personal pleasure of their captors. This was the world they knew and conquest was their way of life.
Jason had enjoyed his life as a Guardian for the most part. He had become bonded at sixteen with Shandarro, the Skree Bond-Mate who had chosen him at his hatching. They had fought the last Marn invasion alongside his Life-Mate Shamira and her Bond-Mate Knala. They had been together for over five years now, and he couldn’t be happier. They were expecting their first child and even though she was pregnant, she had refused to stay behind when Jason drew field duty. He was the head of Scouts, and his father, James Whitlaw, an Earthman who had been marooned on Embrellon by the Marn some thirty years earlier and had formed the Guardians with Regulus his Bond-Mate, believed you commanded from the front. Jason found no fault in his belief, and had taken his rotation. He was concerned about Shamira being out here and pregnant. She was healthy, but he didn’t want to take any chances.
Lantana, his twin sister, had told him before they left that Shamira was carrying twins, and they were both boys. He was excited, he looked forward to seeing his own children grow up, just as his father had. When they had met, he and Shamira were Scouts, sent to look for Marn invaders landing on Embrellon. They had lived together, fought side by side, and had found themselves wanting to be together always. On Embrellon, anyone who was bonded to a Skree didn’t have the ability to just pick a Life-Mate. They had a symbiotic relationship with the Skree, and unless the Skree wanted to be Life-Mates with the others Bond-Mate, they didn’t become Life-Mates. This only applied to those who were bonded to a Skree. There were other people on the planet besides the Guardians, and they chose as they would. His father’s best friend, Jama had taken a null to be his Life-Mate. Many thought it was selfish of him, seeing that his Bond-Mate, Skelon wouldn’t have a Bond-Mate of his own, but they seemed to live quite well. Jama had been killed at the end of the last invasion, and Jamar his son, was Lantana’s Life-Mate.
They were heading back to their favorite scouting position, the Bonding Cave. This was the place where Regulus had chosen to bond with his father and to help him form the Guardians. It was the place that he and Shamira had made their home for months during the last invasion, and it was the one place they truly felt at home. She wanted to be in the cave. In the back of the cave was a bath with warm water, a secret he wanted to figure out, and above it was a room that was incredible. They had found it five years earlier and to his knowledge, none of the scouts who had been assigned that post since knew of the rooms existence. Today they were going to be returning there and it would be the beginning he hoped of another uneventful scouting trip.
They arrived at the cave and found it clean, well-provisioned, and ready for them. One of the things that was taught during training, was if you were assigned a post, and knew that someone was coming to relieve you, make sure the post was clean, well-stocked with supplies, and ready for your relief. That was his father’s military training. It had been the basis for training, education, and overall preparedness for the continuing Marn invasions. Before Whitlaw had been marooned on Embrellon, the Marn would invade unimpeded, the peoples of Embrellon hid in caves, and did the best they could to evade capture. The Marn wanted Skree and women, that was the reason they came. They had destroyed Whitlaw’s ship and marooned him here. Now, he took the fight to them as often as they came.
Jason and Shamira unloaded their gear, unsaddled Shandarro and Knala, and settled in for the duration of their assignment. They were to be here for six months. That would take them back to the Great Temple in time for the birth of their twins. He was excited, he knew that Shamira loved this place, and had said she would make it her home if she could. They were fortunate, they were of like minds, they were both highly skilled archers, and they were excellent swordsmen. There were probably only two better swordsmen on the planet, Whitlaw and Jamar. Whitlaw had ended the last invasion with a personal duel with the Marn Commander Skagos. It had surprised everyone when Whitlaw after a heated sword fight, vaulted into the air, somersaulted over Skagos head, landed in a crouch, and took off his arm. That ended the fighting. They released Skagos and what was left of his forces, to return to Marn in disgrace. Rather than facing that eventuality, they had chosen to destroy their ship with all hands lost.
Once they had refreshed themselves and shared a pot of kaba, they gave the place a good inspection. The bath was clean and the water was warm, everything was as it should be. The door to the hidden room hadn’t been opened since they had been here last. It begged for Yoran to come and puzzle out its significance, but there hadn’t been time to bring him to the cave. Yoran was a Vatarian who had chosen to make his home with the Guardians rather than staying in the Vatarian compound. They, with the exception of Yoran, refused to associate with anyone. They had installed faron doors and locked them. They wouldn’t help in the fighting, or help the Guardians protect the planet. Yoran had seen what Whitlaw was trying to accomplish, and he alone chose to aid the Guardians. He realized that without them, the planet would eventually fall to the Marn. He was an incredible engineer, designer, and architect. He was also a historian and had helped them to rediscover some lost secrets from the prior protectors, The Companions. They had been wiped out with some kind of weapon by the Marn over a thousand years before, and Yoran, along with his sister Lantana had rediscovered some of the knowledge of the Companions that aided them in their duty to protect the planet. Yoran had taken his mother’s closest friend Risa as his Life-Mate, and they helped his parents continue the development of all the things they needed to defend the planet.
Jason climbed the ladder up to the room and sat their looking at the statue in the center of the room. He wanted to know its secret. He was in the room closely inspecting the statue, when he saw that the pedestal it was mounted on had scraped the floor at some time in the past. Like it had been moved. He was intrigued, and pushing on the statue, it began to move. He slid the statue over and under it, was an alcove it wasn’t very large, just big enough for a book. He took out the book hoping it wouldn’t disintegrate when he touched it. To his surprise it was perfectly preserved. Inside was the story of the First Bonding, and following the story, was a map, it clearly marked the location of Varna, the lost home of the Skree, their original homeland, and base of the Companions afterwards. It chronicled everything. It also explained the relationship between the Skree, tanzite, and faron. The purple ocher in the veins of the Skree was heavily saturated with Tanzite, their natural telepathic abilities were enhanced by the purple ochre, and when they chose to, if in contact with a humanoid who had telepathic abilities, they could bond with them and form the symbiotic relationship. The tanzite when coupled with faron, made an almost indestructible alloy, and would enhance the telepathic abilities of the humanoid if they wore it in a diadem. These were answers that Yoran had been looking for. It didn’t explain how the light fixtures worked or the relationship of the snail shell to the tanzite and faron. But it was definitely a clue to point him in the right direction.
He took the book, and slid the statue back into place. Descended the ladder, closed and resealed the door, and took the book to share with Shamira. She was as excited as he was when she read the book, and saw the map. They needed the map. Regulus had told all of them that his greatest desire was to return to Varna and reestablish the Guardians in their ancient home. This was the first time anyone had found the location of Varna. Shamira told him not to broadcast it to Lantana, they should hold the book and give it to Whitlaw when they returned unless he came to the cave. It wouldn’t do for every Guardian on the planet to try and go to Varna before Whitlaw could mount an expedition that included Yoran.
The next day they made their first scouting of the area, all was quiet. He was relieved. He knew as did all the Guardians that the Marn would return, but every day they didn’t have to contend with them, was one more day to prepare. They had new Guardians come into the ranks. After the Battle, the Skree had laid a tremendous number of eggs each time they mated. The first clutch had fifty eggs, and each clutching following had at least forty to forty-five eggs in it. It had taken three years to replenish and expand the ranks of the Guardians. When the last invasion had begun, there were one thousand Guardians, they had increased their ranks to almost two thousand, and then the Skree clutching’s began to decrease in size and frequency.
He and Shamira would talk long into the night, discussing what they wanted to do, how excited they were about the babies, Shandarro and Knala would talk with them as well, they made a great team. It was remarkable at how well the Skree understood them. The symbiotic relationship they shared allowed them to feel what they felt, hear what they heard, and know what they knew. It was the same for Jason and Shamira. It was a remarkable relationship that didn’t hinder their lives, but enhanced them. Jason wanted to learn all he could. He and Lantana were the only hybrids on the planet. Their father was human their mother was Vela. They had their father’s hair and eyes, and their mother’s Vela features. With black hair and blue eyes, they were unique. The vela had blue hair and violet eyes, and all the Guardians were Velan. They had come here over the centuries as refugees from their world due to Marn aggression. The Marn had subdued them, conquered their world, and had taken their technology. When they came to Embrellon, they had to learn how to survive. They had no technology other than what they could make from the natural resources they found. They had discovered how to use the faron ore, combine it with tanzite to make the metal items they needed. They were master craftsmen. They had learned the secrets of this world and how to use the natural resources. The Vatarians were already here and had helped them learn the things they needed to know to make a life here. The Vatarians kept to themselves but had taught them about the flora and fauna of the planet, and what was good for medicine, food, and the needs of life.
When Whitlaw and Regulus had formed the Guardians, the Vatarians withdrew into their home, and sealed themselves away. They came and went but they refused to interact with them, with the exception of Yoran. He saw what they were doing and how they wanted to protect the planet, and he chose to live among them and help them. He had developed the armor and weapons with the insight of Whitlaw. They had developed ballistae and crossbows. Yoran had developed the bows and arrows that the Guardians all carried now, and Whitlaw had designed the swords they used to be the most effective they could be mounted or on foot. He had been a tactician, strategist, and military historian in his former life, and with Yoran’s help, had developed usable weapons from the materials available.
Yoran and Risa had developed the faron shirts they wore under their armor, she was a master weaver and with Yoran’s help had built a loom that would allow them to weave the faron thread into cloth that was light weight, durable, and flexible. It was sown to a leather jerkin made of the softest most durable leather they had and was part of every Guardians armor. They wore gauntlets that were made with faron plates over the back of the hand, the gloves were made of the faron weave, and then layered plates protected their wrists and forearms.
They had talked about the book extensively, and had studied it almost nightly. They were trying to puzzle out any mysteries they could from the book. It was mostly straight forward, the map was highly detailed showing the distance to Varna, the location of the island in respect to the continent, it also showed the location of the Armory and had a list of the contents. The Steele, the diadems they had found, and that there were armaments located in the armory, but didn’t say where. More secrets to puzzle out. He wanted to make a return trip to the armory, but so far hadn’t been able to because of their duties. Lantana had found the diadems, and because she put one on, had been transformed into a Seer, along with twelve other young women who had experienced the same when they put on the diadems. They watched over the planet and the area around the planet as well as communicated to all the Guardians and Free Skree on the planet. They were extremely adept and could read the memories of a person in the Seers room where they usually were.
Shamira wanted to bolster some of the supplies they had, especially kaba. Kaba was made from the roots of a plant native to Embrellon. They were dark brown and waxy looking on the outside, and a lighter brown on the inside. When ground and steeped, they made a strong drink that his father said tasted like coffee, chocolate, and cinnamon. Every Guardian had a supply of kaba in their gear, and knew how to find it and prepare it when they needed too. They cured meat and kept it in the cave. There was a part of the cave that was cooled by water that ran underground from the glacier and snow fields to the north. it was almost freezing inside and it kept their meat fresh for weeks. They could store roots and tubers as well as berries and greens they found, and they kept a supply of nuts to eat. The nuts came from a tree and were the size of your fist. They had green husks like a walnut, and the shell was round like a ball, it was light brown, and the meats were yellow. They tasted like pecans according to Whitlaw, and were used in a variety of ways. Shamira had gathered a large sack of nuts, marked the trees for reference, had gathered another large sack of kaba root, and had supplemented some of their tubers and roots. The Skree provided meat most of the time. They only needed to eat every four or five days, and would bring back meat for them when they made a kill.
She mounted Knala and headed back to the cave. So far, they still had no sign of any Marn, and she wanted it to stay that way until they got back home. As they were flying, she noticed a flock of the large birds that they occasionally took to supplement their supplies. She brought one down with one arrow, field dressed it. And tied the carcass up so that Knala could carry it back. She was going to make a good meal with the bird. She liked to cook, and Jason liked her food. He was an easy man to be with. He would cook too; all the Guardians were taught how to take complete care of themselves while on assignment. As they made their way back she saw something that was out of place. She told Knala to call Jason to come so that they could investigate.
Jason and Shandarro arrived shortly, and when they showed him what they saw, he decided that he would land and they would investigate. He sent her back to the cave. This wasn’t Marn, this was one of the people on the planet who really chose to live away from the others, and was probably null. Shandarro landed and the couple were startled to see a Guardian. They had no idea that there were any Scouts or Rangers out here. They just wanted to find a place to live, and to be left in peace. He directed them to an area he knew where a tanzite outcropping was at, and had a nice deep cave within it. With that being taken care of, he and Shandarro headed back to meet up with Shamira and Knala. It had been another good day. It was almost dusk when they went inside, and Shamira had roasted part of the bird and the smell made his mouth water. Life was good.
They had been deployed for two months and so far, they hadn’t seen a Marn. The Seers hadn’t detected any Marn ships coming into the system. They were probably still trying to gather enough support to mount another invasion, they didn’t know what quit meant. He and Shamira had made things as comfortable as they could for themselves, she was starting to show greatly. She was four months pregnant and by the time they were relieved, she should be almost ready to deliver. Risa had delivered Lantana and him during an attack. Their father was out fighting them when they were born, and when Lara told him he had twins, a boy and girl, he fought even harder. They had repelled the attack, and Jason hoped that Shamira wouldn’t need to deliver the same way. He wanted to have her go back to the Temple and have his father send Scout to take her place, but she refused to go, he had no choice but to protect her and the babies she was carrying, and make them as safe as possible. It was a hard task, but one he welcomed. They had enjoyed every day they had spent together for five years, and he looked forward to spending the rest of his life doing the same.
The days ran into months, and after four months at the cave, Shamira was getting so big that she couldn’t wear her armor anymore. She wore her faron shirt, and had added in pieces of soft leather to extend the sides. Knala was heavy with eggs as well. They were both in the process of becoming mothers, and he and Shandarro were becoming more and more protective as the days wore on. Shamira had gotten to the point where going out and scouting was no longer possible. Knala still hunted with Shandarro, but other than that she didn’t leave Shamira’s side. They both had a hard time getting comfortable and Shamira spent most of her time on her side when she was laying down. Jason had taken on most of the duties, cooking, scouting, and everything else. Shamira had been making a blanket for the babies, and built a carrier out of one of the grasses that grew there. It was a beautiful thing to see.
As they approached the end of their deployment, Lantana told him that their relief would be deployed in a few days. She asked after Shamira and Knala, and was as excited for their babies as she had been when she had her and Jamar’s boys. They had two boys, two years apart, one Jama, named after Jamar’s Father, had black hair and violet eyes, and the younger boy, Jumano had blue hair and blue eyes, they both had Velan ears and upswept eyebrows. She was proud of her children and knew Jason would be too. She gave him all the information on who was relieving them and that they should be there in two days.
The next day, Jason spent the day preparing the cave for their replacements, stocking in supplies, and making sure that other than what they needed for the trip back, he left for their relief. There was plenty of meat stored, there was Auroch, and the large birds they often ate, berries, nuts, greens, fruits from some of the fruit trees that had become ripe, they were the size of a grapefruit and had a rind similar to an orange, and the inside fruit was succulent and sweet. He had made sure there were supplies to repair gear, make boots if they needed to replace theirs, and just about anything they would need. He was ready to get Shamira back to the Temple. The next morning, he got everything together, saddled Shandarro and Knala, and once they were outside, he helped Shamira mount Knala. He leapt into the saddle and let Shamira and Knala set the pace for the trip home.
They had travelled close to two hundred kilometers when Lantana told him a Marn ship had just entered orbit and was coming down in his general area. The Rangers were half a day out, and she told him that he and Shamira needed to find a place to sit it out. Jason wanted to repel the attackers, but with Shamira being so big with child, and Knala heavy with eggs, he would have to let someone else do the fighting. The Marn ship landed just as they did and they poured out of the hull of that ship. There were at least forty of them, more than he could take on his own.
A Marn fired his pulse rifle and hit Shamira in the throat just above her faron shirt. She was dead when her body fell from the saddle, the second shot took Knala. He and Shandarro spun around just in time to see Shamira’s body fall to the ground. Jason leapt off Shandarro and ran to Shamira and he burst into tears and sat there, stroking her hair, and rocking her back and forth. Shandarro came to Knala’s side, and he just collapsed. The grief both of them had just suffered had devastated both of them. The Marn came up behind them and took both of them captive. They stripped Jason of his weapons and armor, chained his hands together and marched him into their ship in nothing but his breechcloth. They even took his boots. Shandarro they netted and then caged, and loaded him into the ship as well, attaching a chain to his leg and to the cage. They had never been a captive before. Their grief was all they had of their life, and the Marn left Embrellon with their captives.
The Rangers found the bodies, and the scorch marks from the ship. Jason was nowhere to be seen, and after some searching found his armor, but not his weapons, it looked as if they had been captured, stripped, and taken. A Guardian had never been taken before, and no one wanted to tell Whitlaw that his son was captured along with Shandarro, and Shamira and Knala had been left for dead. Lantana had tried to reach Jason on the link, but they had left no signs of where they were at and she couldn’t feel him or Shandarro on the link. It was the saddest day she had ever known, and her parents were devastated.