By Caleb Fast
The Bulwark, Allegra
“Are you not coming with us?” Matthew asks as he looks down to Marie who is still in the trench that he and Rav’ian had just come out of.
Marie looks up to Matthew and gives him a wry smile. She shakes her head and starts leaving before she calls back, “You’ve got your job, I’ve got mine.”
“We require her services here in order to aid our wounded,” Rav’ian explains, “The Coalition did not provide us with medical staffing, and thus Marie filled the role.”
Matthew nods in understanding. Although I definitely would have liked Marie’s company up here, Matthew thinks. As much as he loved Dixie, he had to admit that he had developed a slight crush on Marie in the very short time since he had met her. The girl is both beautiful and smart, much like Dix. Come to think of it, Matthew’s crush may just be caused by his missing Dixie.
Matthew pauses a moment to look around and he notices something—or more accurately, the absence of something. Looking over to Rav’ian, he points out, “I can’t help but notice I’m the only human up here.”
“Our orders currently require that we simply maintain our position. My people cannot remain idle while there is a fight to be fought, and so we fight.”
“Wait, you’re telling me that we don’t have to be out here?”
“That is correct, but we expect this will change in short order. No war is won on the defensive.”
“Do you at least get something out of this?”
“We gain stories and honor.”
“I mean do you get extra rations or something like that?”
“Unless we are granted some from those we rescue, no.”
Matthew frowns, unsure of what to ask next. The entrepreneurial side of him can’t help but wonder why someone would risk their lives for just about no gain. The rest of him wonders why anyone would even come out here even if there was something to be gained.
“We received reports that approximately ten invaders were assembled nearby!” a nearby Toaz calls from a small ridge ahead of Matthew and Rav’ian.
A nearby assembly of Toaz make their way toward the Toaz who had made the announcement, and Matthew begins to follow them before Rav’ian takes a hold of his arm. She pulls him back to herself and holds him there for a few moments longer than Matthew would have liked. He is about to say something when Rav’ian finally speaks.
“There are many among my people who believe we should not treat you as we do,” Rav’ian starts as she stares toward the group of Toaz who are being briefed on the Beets. After another longer than necessary pause, she continues, “The one way that you might be accepted is if you bring in the most trophies this night.”
Matthew gives her a quizzical look before he sighs and tells her, “I know, you’ve already told me as much! I’ve got to bring back the most heads to honor Riaan and his household.”
“This would also serve you,” Rav’ian reminds Matthew as she finally releases his arm.
“Well, now we missed out on joining that hunting party,” Matthew mutters as the group of Toaz disappear over the small hill that the announcement had been made on top of. He looks back to Rav’ian who is silently scanning the horizon. Matthew waits a few more moments before asking, “What are you looking for?”
“Signs of a… I believe your people call it a hive.”
“A hive? So, we’re looking for a bunch of Beets?”
“That is correct. Such a target would yield the greatest quarry.”
“Won’t it be crawling with the Beetles?”
“They will be hibernating for the night,”
“But won’t there be a lot of them?”
“The estimates I have heard report nearly twenty of your ‘Beetles’ for every hive.”
“What if they wake up though?”
“Then we die with honor,” Rav’ian replies with her perfect laugh. She reaches behind her into a backpack that Matthew hadn’t noticed until now and she produces a small helmet of her own. She quickly straps it, and a pair of gauntlets, on as she starts walking away from Matthew.
Matthew chases after her, stumbling several times in the mud. Once he catches up to his Toaz companion, he asks, “Why don’t you have more armor?”
“Armor like your own does not suit me,” Rav’ian replies simply.
“What do you mean?”
“As your people say, it does not suit my style.”
Matthew cocks his head slightly, as he decides if Rav’ian is trying to explain fashion to him. After a beat, he admits, “I’m still not following…”
“Perhaps this will aid your understanding.” Rav’ian sounds as she swings a fist at Matthew.
Matthew is taken off-guard, and Rav’ian’s scaled fist smashes into his jaw. Worse yet, her momentum puts him off-balance, sending him sprawling into the mud.
Matthew spits out a mouthful of mud as he picks himself out of the mire. Now that he has tasted the mud, Matthew is confident that the stories of the dirt being made wet with blood were false. This muck was definitely more akin to the sludge found in his fishing ship’s bilge.
Rav’ian takes advantage of Matthew’s lapse in attention, and she quickly wraps her arms around Matthew’s throat in a chokehold. Matthew looks down and sees a line of spikes on Rav’ian’s gauntlets. He remembers a similar line of spikes on the legs of the Beet he killed the night before.
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