No Distance Greater than the Stars – Chapter 31

Chapter Thirty-One The Sorrow of Ages Past

Citlally gave Iratze one more endearing smile before she turned around and followed the temple-keepers across the hall, Endan close by her side the whole time. They walked walked up two flights of stairs, passing many Norameni men and women, as well as a wide variety of other alien species. The rooms that the temple provided to those seeking refuge from their suffering were very generous, and the couple shared many thanks with their gracious hosts.

Dhruv and Jalingan went off to their own rooms and spent a while settling in there before coming back to see Endan and Citlally again. She was changing her clothes behind a screen when there was a knock on the door. Endan stood in the doorway with them until it was safe to invite them in.

“Don’t get too settled in,” Dhruv told her.

“Why not?” she asked as she ran a brush through her hair. Even after all those weeks, it still felt strange to her that it was so short.

“I want to take you to the hot springs,” Dhruv explained.

“It’s part of the healing process,” Jalingan added.

“They help you both physically and mentally,” Dhruv went on. “I even convinced Jalingan to come and at least let his muscles relax.”

Citlally looked between them and Endan as she thought it over. Her mind jumped first to the onsen of Japan, the natural hot springs where people would soak for ages. Some of them were said to have healing abilities, and it made her wonder whether the springs at this temple could also heal. Then several more questions came to mind.

“I don’t think that I have anything appropriate to wear,” she told them.

Dhruv smirked and shook his head. “The Norameni have that all taken care of. You should come; we can talk while you soak up the hot water.”

“Will Mannarius be there?” she wanted to know.

“I doubt it,” Dhruv replied. “He’ll probably be gone all day. That’s what I wanted to talk about, actually. You don’t need to bring anything with you; let’s just go.”

Citlally agreed, and she held Endan’s hand as they followed Dhruv and Jalingan back downstairs and through a hallway to the back of the temple. She could feel the hot, steamy air even before they got to the archway leading outside. It smelled rich, like trees and moss and soil. The rain had stopped, although the skies above them were still hazy. The marble and paving stones of the temple gave way to natural rock, and she stepped out from under the awning to take in the sight before her.

They were on the back of the hill, where it began to descend once again, and the hot springs spanned several levels, almost like the terraces that ancient China used for farming. The steaming water made small waterfalls here and there, and narrow trees, so much like pines with their needle-like leaves, grew anywhere that their roots could find a place between the rocks.

“Do you like it?” Dhruv asked her when she said nothing for a long time, only staring out at the scenery.

“It’s the most breathtaking view that I could ever imagine,” she whispered, as though afraid that talking would make it all go away.

“Just wait until you get into the water,” he replied with a grin.

Several Norameni – Citlally was learning that they liked to be in groups – approached them and guided them over to the changing rooms. Citlally saw that there were three sections, one for males, one for females, and one for those who were more like the Norameni, free from the shy need to segregate based on body type. Many species were very open with themselves, and Citlally admired that, but still she took the dressing room meant for women. She supposed that it was because she wanted Endan alone to see her completely unadorned.

They came out wearing towel-like clothes, almost like sarongs, to keep themselves at least a little covered. Jalingan wore a second towel, draped over his shoulders, on the contention that he wanted to make sure that he stayed warm.

Dhruv led them to the steps and took them down a few levels, to a spring that was mostly unoccupied. He was the first in the water, sinking down against a rock and breathing a happy sigh. Endan went in next, and Citlally sat beside them. Jalingan seemed a little reluctant to follow, but did so despite his reservations.

Their first few minutes were spent simply soaking in the heat, slipping down into the water so that they were as covered by it as they could be. They were just getting used to it when a tray of tea was brought down to them, and they settled in to sip it while they looked out over the landscape.

“Do you see those fields down there?” Dhruv asked her at one point.

Citlally peered down to the rolling landscape below them and nodded. “It’s pretty hazy, but I can see it.”

“Those are the sacred lands,” he told her. “That is where the ceremony will be tomorrow.”

“Are they burial grounds?” Citlally asked him.

“Not quite,” he replied. “Those are farther out. There is the forest, and then a clearing beyond it. If a burial is what you want, you can join the procession and walk out that way.”

“I don’t suppose anyone has asked you about that yet, have they?” Jalingan asked her.

Citlally shook her head. “We’ve decided, though…” she said, although she had not been entirely prepared for the question. “Both the Aztecs and the Celts believed in burial. I told Iratze, without her having to ask, but she was the only one.”

Dhruv nodded, and stared out at the landscape as he took another slow sip of his tea. “Mannarius is out there right now,” he said at last.

Citlally blinked and looked at at him. “What do you mean? Exploring the sacred lands?”

“No,” he told her, he words taking on a more serious tone. “He went to the burial grounds to pay his respects. I knew without even having to ask him why he left earlier.”

“Dhruv…” Citlally breathed. “Did someone he knows die? Liileni said that he’s been here before…”

Dhruv gave a solemn nod. “This is the explanation that you’ve been wanting,” he told her. He looked over at Jalingan. “This is it.”

“She needs to know,” Jalingan told himwith a nod. He took a deep breath and started. “We told you about my parents being my human father and Leomian mother. I left out a very important detail, though.”

“What was it?” Citlally asked him.

“I have a twin sister,” he said, though he could not meet her eyes when the words came out. “It was hard enough on my mother just getting pregnant, letting alone finding out that she had two cubs. Still, she had a lot of support from the family. I mean, I know that on Earth a lot of people get shunned for things like that, getting pregnant the way she did, but…”

“On 83-Leonis, all life is celebrated,” Dhruv finished for him.

“What is your sister’s name?” Endan asked him.

“Sagampli,” he told them.

“Oh no, Jalingan,” Citlally said, suddenly realizing something. “She’s not buried out there, is she?”

The half-lion shook his head. “No, she’s back home, with our mother.”

“Then who…”

“She had a best friend,” Jalingan explained. “Her name was Rozariz. Ages ago – it must have begun ten years ago – Mannarius was in love with her.”

“Incredibly in love,” Dhruv added. “I’d never seen a bond like theirs. By the time I met the captain – it was little more than five years ago – they were inseparable.”

“Wait a minute,” Citlally said. “He doesn’t act like he’s with somebody special. Mannarius is the most flirtatious guy I;ve met out here in space so far. I mean, you and Jalingan like to flirt too, but not nearly as much Mannarius.”
Dhruv nodded. “He’s a different man these days. But back then, she was the only one on his mind. She was everything to him.”

Jalingan looked away, as though not wanting to hear how special she had been to his cousin.

Dhruv took notice and moved on. “Would you believe that they were going to spend the rest of their lives together? Everyone – on 83-Leonis, mind you – knew about them, everyone knew how much they were in love and couldn’t imagine them being separated.”

“She’s the one, isn’t she?” Citlally asked. “She’s the one buried out there, the one to whom he’s paying respects to right now?” A sad look crossed over her face as she realized just how much he’d lost.

Dhruv gave a solemn nod.

“How did it happen? Citlally asked him. She was starting to thank that Jalingan had had something to do with it, but didn’t have the heart to bring it up so openly.

I happened,” the half-lion told her, his voice cracking, shaking as he spoke. “I knew her well. I mean, she was my sister’s best friend. She was my friend, too. The four of us, well the five of us once Mannarius met Dhruv, spent almost all of our time together. We explored all of our home planet, we explored the other planets and moons in our solar system, and then we went beyond that. But I should never have taken them anywhere. What was I thinking, going so far from home?”

Citlally stared at him, awed by how much he seemed to regret leaving home. This man, who by now had ventured far and wide, was wishing that he’d never left his home-world. It must have been a terrible tragedy, she thought, that made somebody wish something like that.

“How were we going to stay home?” Dhruv asked him. “Mannarius had his ship back then. He was a captain, and nothing could have kept him from being out in space.”

“Did you end up going somewhere dangerous?” Citlally asked, her words slow, wondering if she was going to regret having asked. Still, they seemed to want her to know, even if it was a difficult conversation to have.

“Not exactly,” Dhruv said, seeing that it was becoming more and more difficult for Jalingan to say anything as he got closer to the heart of it. “All of us knew where it was safe to go and what was too dangerous to go near. We had heard about attacks going on in other parts of the galaxy, and we stayed away from the solar systems and space stations that were being attacked.”

“We stayed away from the K’zzyrch, you mean,” Jalingan reminded him.

Dhruv nodded.

“You mean they were a problem back then, too?” Endan asked.

“They have been a problem since before I was a cub,” Dhruv explained. “You don’t understand; they have technology that nobody should even be using. They have beliefs and objectives that they really have no business holding.”

“They’re unstoppable,” Jalingan croaked, as though the very words brought up terrible memories. “But fool that I was, I was naive enough to believe that I could stop them.”

“What did we talk about?” Dhruv asked him. “You can’t get yourself down about it. It was your father who convinced you, your father who thought that you should join –”

“The best-kept secret in the galaxy?” Jalingan finished for him, his words sharp with spite. “Who did I think I was, listening to my father? My existence is proof of how irresponsible he is.”

“Those are Mannarius’s words,” Dhruv reminded him. “He never appreciated your father.”

“I don’t understand that part,” Citlally I told him. “He said that all life on 83-Leonis is celebrated. Why is Mannarius so spiteful about Jalingan’s birth? About him being unintended, and his father hardly seeing him?”

“He didn’t always hate Jalingan for his birth,” Dhruv explained. “Like I said, for a while we were all best friends. Mannarius was just a kid when Jalingan was born, and he was fascinated with the fact that the twins were half human and half Leomian. At least, that’s what the rest of the family tells me. I didn’t know them back then. Mannarius had no disdain at all for Jalingan until after everything happened.”

Jalingan cleared his throat. “I should have listened to him when he told me to be careful. I should never I have started going on missions for my father. But I couldn’t help myself. We wanted to travel through more of space, but more and more of the time, the K’zzyrch prevented us from going. I saw the way they bullied other solar systems, the way they attacked other ships, took whatever they wanted. I saw the hurt that they caused, and I wanted to stop it.”

“Did Mannarius join you in that?” Citlally asked curiously.

Jalingan shook his head. “No; you know by now that he’s not that stupid. Leomians don’t have the means to fight the K’zzyrch. We don’t have the means to resist them. As much as my father wanted to team up with species from across the galaxy, I don’t know why he thought that Leomians should be involved, least of all his own son.”

“Pooling everyone’s resources doesnae seem like too bad of an idea,” Endan said.

“That was what I thought at the time, too,” Jalingan told him. “But remember how Mannarius keeps calling me careless? It’s because I was. Incredibly careless, incredibly stupid.”

“You don’t have to be so hard on yourself,” Citlally told him.

“You have no idea what I even did,” he replied. “How can you give me so much credit?”

“What did ye do, then lad?” Endan asked him, his Irish accent shining through.

Jalingan shook his head and looked away. “I was supposed to go on a trip with Mannarius and everyone else. I got a mission assignment from my father at the last minute, and I was supposed to get hold of them to cancel. Mannarius wasn’t answering his comm, and neither was my sister, so I sent a message to Rozariz. I was getting calls from my buddies in the resistance group the entire time, and they kept interrupting me trying to let my friends know that I couldn’t take the trip with them.”

“So it is a resistance group!” Citlally exclaimed.

Jalingan pressed his lips together as though realizing that he’d said something that perhaps he shouldn’t have.

“Okay, okay, I get it,” she said, “it does not stay the best kept-secret in the galaxy if we call it a resistance group.”

He nodded to her. “I’m glad you understand. Anyway, somehow the channels got mixed up, or I got confused about who I was on the comm with. Whatever I did, I ended up telling my sister and her friend that I would meet them on the fifth moon of a certain planet. The problem was, Mannarius and I were not taking the girls to a moon. We were supposed to be visiting the Cat’s Eye Nebula. The moon where was where my mission was supposed to be.”

Citlally gasped and stared at him, wide-eyed as she realized what he was trying to say. “You mean you…”

He gave her a sorrowful nod. “I told her to meet me at the place where I was going to be sabotaging K’zzyrch battle equipment. It was supposed to be quick, but it turned out to be a more dangerous mission than even my father had realized.”

“They had placed K’zzyrch guards on duty,” Dhruv said when Jalingan had to stop talking to stifle his emotions.

“It was supposed to be an unoccupied base,” the half-lion eventually went on. “But for some reason, they’d installed guards just before my mission.”

“Then what happened?” Endan asked.

“The girls got my message,” Jalingan said, “and shared it with Mannarius. The three of them – and Dhruv, too – went to that moon, thinking that I really did want to meet there. They couldn’t get hold of me on the comm to verify, and like I said, I thought that they’d gotten my message to cancel. It is strange, because looking back, I somehow recall that one of my fellow men on the mission had asked me why I was canceling. I must have sent him that communication, instead of telling him that I was going to meet him on the moon.

“Anyhow, I was the first one there, and it was a problem right from the start. Imagine all of the K’zzyrch guards seeing our ships coming in. Unscheduled ships – unwelcome ships. My buddies and I had to hide as soon as we landed and disembarked. Imagine my dread when I saw the Lionstar coming in to land.”

“You were really there?” Citlally asked Dhruv.

He nodded solemnly in reply.

“So you know everything,” she said.

“I do,” Dhruv agreed. “But out of respect for my captain, I’ve had to hold back from telling you.”

“My old ship, the Gilded Comet, was destroyed by the K’zzyrch,” Jalingan told them. “They opened fire on us, and were attacking anyone who dared to land. I was able to use my personal communications device to keep back as many of the others as I could, but it was too late for the Lionstar to leave.”

“But didn’t you see the fighting going on?” Citlally asked Dhruv. “You could have stayed inside…”

“Not really,” Dhruv told her. “What we figured out later was that Jalingan had already taken the fight inside the building. We landed and found the Gilded Comet severely damaged, but nobody else was out there. We figured that he’d somehow crash-landed, because the other star-skippres we saw looked fine. From the way we’d flown in, we’d never caught a glimpse of the other damaged ships. Itreally didn’t like like a battleground”

“My team had to pretend,” Jalingan explained, “that the K’zzyrch had taken us out. Then we snuck into the building. All I knew was that the Lionstar was out there, but I never dreamed that they would get out of the ship. I was so sure that they would know better, that they would have caught on by then. But it was too late; I was inside, and there was no way for me to warn them. We had to finish the mission. We had lost two men by then, and I couldn’t let it be for nothing.”

“So… back then, were you leading them?” Citlally asked.

“Some leader I was,” Jalingan huffed.

“But then,” she asked further, looking to Dhruv, “what about the building? Didn’t you know that it was of K’zzyrch construction?”

Dhruv shook his head. “That’s the thing about the K’zzyrch,” he explained. “They take over other people’s bases all the time. I don’t know who owned that moon base before, but the K’zzyrch had taken it over. Mannarius and I had no idea what we were taking the girls into. I think even when we heard noises, we figured that it was just some kind of party going on, or perhaps some rowdy men.”

“They walked right in through the front door of that communications base,” Jalingan told her, his voice cracking, hardly able to hold back his emotions.

“Another thing that I have been wondering, after all this time, is whether those guards thought that we were part of the attack going on in their base. But there we were,” Dhruv said, “plain as day, walking in and looking for Jalingan.”

“By the time I heard my sister screaming,” Jalingan went on, “my buddy was hardly halfway through the code that was supposed to disable the communications computer. I had to choose between staying to guard my buddy, or heading out to see what the screaming was about.”

“Did you know that it was her?” Citlally asked.

“I didn’t think that it could be,” Jalingan replied. “I had yet to realize what I had done wrong. But the second time she screamed, and then Mannarius started yelling, I knew it was unmistakable. It was my sister. I had to run, I had to go to them, so I left my friend and snuck out to the main hall. That was where I found my sister’s friend, Rozariz, caught in the arms of some foul-breathed lizard, his arms around her neck, threatening to kill her if the others didn’t surrender.”

“I was ready to fall to my knees,” Dhruv told them, “whatever it took to preserve our lives, but Mannarius insisted that we stand our ground.”

“Something happened before I could help them,” Jalingan said. “I think one of the other men in my mission I must have thrown a smoke bomb.” He paused to clear his throat. “That didn’t make the K’zzyrch happy at all. There was a lot of shooting going on in all of that fury and chaos, and a lot of screaming. They let Rozariz go, and I rushed over to them while Mannarius caught her.”
“By that time,” Dhruv said, “he was yelling at us pretty hard. Mannarius was furious, he couldn’t understand why he was there, on that moon, in a communications base occupied by the K’zzyrch. I could hear the heavy sound of boots on the metal catwalk up above, and all I wanted to do was get us out of there.”

“It was too late,” Jalingan sighed. “More than a dozen K’zzyrch guards had their weapons pointed at us. Laser-trained guns, particle-based pistols, and even some sort of bazooka. They were not interested in taking chances. Down on our level, I could see their doctor coming out, his vials of venom in his hand. The last thing I wanted was for anyone to get poisoned, so I rushed towards the doctor.

“I didn’t realize it until it was too late that they were shouting at me to stay back,” the half-lion sighed, “the K’zzyrch, as well as Mannarius, ordering me to back off or they would open fire. I couldn’t understand their words; they only registered as shouting to me. All I wanted to do was protect my sister and my friends. Once again, I was a careless fool not listening.”

Jalingan drew in a ragged breath, looking away as he felt his eyes flooding over. His voice shook as he spoke, but Citlally never stopped listening. “I lunged towards the doctor, not paying attention to the syringe that he had ready in his hand. Then, somewhere behind me, there was an explosion. I heard a scream, and then Mannarius shouting, cursing. I was on my knees by the time I had another thought. I looked up to see the doctor’s arm coming down, and then I felt his needle stab into my back. I hung onto as much consciousness as I could, but…”

“You were poisoned…” Citlally breathed reaching out to him, but afraid that he did not want to be touched.

“It was worse than that,” Dhruv told her. “The explosion had knocked Rozariz out of Mannarius’s arms. It had also broken the structures around it, metal and brick…”

“Oh no…” Citlally whispered, dreading what he was about to say.

Jalingan couldn’t speak anymore. She could see the way his body shook, and knew that he was sobbing, even though he was trying to hold it in, to resist it. The smallest sniffle betrayed him, let her know that he was crying.

“She was buried under the rubble, wasn’t she?” Endan asked.

Dhruv nodded, the most regretful nod that any of them had yet seen. “Mannarius knew that she wouldn’t be able to survive being crushed like that. Seeing her laying there, whimpering his name, it set something off inside him. He did the only thing that he could do,” Dhruv explained, “he pulled the knife that he kept on his belt free from its sheath, and lunged towards the one person on whom he could lay blame for what had happened.”

“Jalingan.” Citlally could hardly get her name past her lips, could hardly repeat the accusation.

“What are ye saying, lad?” Endan wanted to know. “Do ye mean tae say that he ran at him with a knife?”

“What do you think?” Dhruv asked him. “I couldn’t stop him. Nobody could have stopped Mannarius in that moment. Nobody could have stood in his way for what he needed to do.”

“So what did he do?” Citlally asked. Ideas were racing through her mind, but she couldn’t believe any of them, not with Jalingan sitting there right next to her.

Both of the men seemed at a loss for words. Instead of saying anything, Jalingan pulled the towel away from his shoulders, his back towards his human friends. Citlally and her husband stared at him. On the left side of his back, just below his shoulder, was the jagged spider web-like mark left behind by the K’zzyrch poison, the wretched k’zshyrk that she knew the effects of all too well. On his right side, as though to complement it, the skin was marred and twisted, scarred by some terrible wound years past.

Citlally reached out her fingers and traced the lines of the scarring. “He didn’t,” she whispered.

“He did,” Jalingan sobbed. “Mannarius put his knife in my back, he cursed me and he turned his back on me. He left me laying there and turned around to pull Rozariz free from the rubble. It was one of those times when your anger and hurt gives you incredible strength.”

“Or maybe it was love,” Citlally told him.

She heard Jalingan take in along, ragged breaths, as though he could fall into uncontrollable sobbing at any moment. “Maybe it was,” he admitted. “Either way, all I could do was lay there, the poison running through my system, the blood running down my back, and watch him pull her free, cradling her in his arms.”

“He wouldn’t allow anyone to help him,” Dhruv told them. “He snapped at me the second I took a step towards Jalingan to try to help him.”

“Everything started happening just then.” Citlally could tell that Jalingan was forcing the words out, that he refused to give up on speaking at this point. “Mannarius was wailing, holding Rozariz as her life faded in his arms in his arms, trying to hang on as best she could, and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t stop the K’zzyrch doctor from moving on, from jabbing a needle into my sister.”

“No!” Citlally cried, as though her denial could change the past somehow.

“I saw it happen,” Dhruv told her. “After that, the people in Jalingan’s mission group – I don’t know how many there were – opened fire on the K’zzyrch. The mission to undermine them, to take a major communications hub for them, turned into a bloodbath. There were lizard bodies all over the base, but also bodies of some of the members of the resistance group. I don’t know what the Galactic Forces thought later, when they found it, all those aliens scattered about among the lizard bodies.”

“How did you get out of there?” Endan asked.

“Mannarius wouldn’t let go of Rozariz’s body,” Dhruv began. “Nobody argued with him on that point. One of Jalingan’s friends picked up his sister and followed the captain to his ship. Mannarius was going to leave Jalingan behind, leave him laying there on the floor bleeding. It was the one order he’s ever given me that I outright refused to follow. I found the strength to pull up Jalingan’s body and got him over to the Lionstar.

“As I said before, his own ship had been destroyed. That was the first time he’d ever been unwelcome on board the Lionstar,” Dhruv explained. “I don’t think that Mannarius even knew that he was on board until it was too late. And thankfully, Mannarius was too busy with Rozariz to throw him out. I took the Lionstar off of that moon as fast as I could and headed for the nearest medical center.”

“But Rozariz didn’t make it,” Citlally said, knowing that she was buried out there, just beyond the hills.

Dhruv shook his head regretfully. “I took that ship as fast as it could go,” he told her. “There was no way we could have saved her. By the time she was in the medical center in the nearest space station – rushed in through emergency channels – there was no way for us to help her. She had died on the Lionstar… in the medical bay. Most of her bones had been crushed, the doctors said after the post-mortem, and her lungs were also destroyed. Her heart –”

“Stop,” Jalingan begged him. “Just stop.”

He could not hold back his tears, and they became worse every time Dhruv said how badly she’d been hurt.

Dhruv nodded to him. “Well,” he told Citlally and Endan, “you get the picture. I was on the bridge the whole time, so I don’t know when it happened. Mannarius was with her the entire time… All I can hope is that they had a quiet moment together, that they could say goodbye in peace, rather than in the chaos that was going on in that base.”
“Now you have her crying, too,” Endan told him as he wrapped his arm around Citlally’s shoulders.

“Sorry,” Dhruv told her. He reached over to squeeze her hand.

“It’s okay,” she told him. “I’ve been wanting to know all of this – what their fighting and arguing were all about. I can’t be mad at you for telling me.”

“You left something out,” Jalingan reminded him.

“How could I forget?” Dhruv went on. “One the space station… once the doctors had confirmed that… that it was too late, Mannarius spent hours crying over her body, wailing until he finally passed out from exhaustion. When he woke up and learned that Jalingan was in the ICU, he –”

“He went into my room and tried to kill me,” Jalingan cut in. “Don’t even start trying to hash words there. I might have deserved it, considering how careless I had been, but she should be aware that he was trying to disconnect everything that he could. Wires to machines, tubes for air, my IV… everything.”

“It took an entire security unit to restrain him,” Dhruv said. “The only reason they didn’t throw him into a cell and leave him there was because he wanted to keep vigil over Rozariz’s body, and because I was with him. I was the only one he would listen to.”
“Even though you were the reason that Jalingan…” Citlally began, unable to finish the question when she realized how callous it sounded.

Dhruv nodded. “He didn’t learn that I was the one who’d saved him until later. The important thing is, we stayed in the medical center until I could contact a ship that could ferry the Lionstar with us to Mekse as soon as Jalingan was stable enough to be moved. I was with Mannarius for that entire time, making sure he ate, making sure he slept; everything.”

“So you came here,” Citlally said, “with Rozariz’s body, and Jalingan…”

“Wounded as I was. I’m grateful that the Norameni are such skilled doctors,” the half-lion told her. “Plus my sister. She had to recover from the venom, and she kept telling me about her dream.”
“What did she dream about?” Citlally asked him, remembering vaguely what he’d told her back on Sardonia, how he’d forbidden her from speaking about it.

“Nonsense, mostly,” he told her. “Nothing that the K’zzyrch would care about.”

“And you?” she asked.

“My k’zshyrk dream?” he replied. He leaned back against the rocks. “I dreamed that I was killing a dragon. Over and over again, the same dragon… but I killed it in a different way every time.”

“Does that mean somethin’?” Endan wanted to know. “Dreaming about dragons?”
Jalingan shrugged. “Word among my fellow… friends, let me call them,” he replied, wiping his tears away with his towel, “is that the K’zzyrch are looking for someone –”

“Two people,” Dhruv reminded him.

Two someones,” Jalingan went on, “but they’re supposed to have some kind of dream about a queen giving birth to dragons.”

“What?” Citlally asked, wide-eyed. “What does that mean? What do they do when they find them?”

Jalingan gave her a serious look, as though the very way she’d said it told him that she was saying too much. “That is why I tell everybody not to breathe a word about their venom dreams. Anyone who dreams about being nobility of any kind, or of any kind of birth, or of dragons, is taken to the K’zzyrch home-world.”

“What for? Endan asked, not liking the sound if that at all.

“Many of them are tortured,” Jalingan told her. “They are held in security much too strong for anyone to break through and rescue them. In the end, all of them die.”
“Some right away,” Dhruv added, “some after extensive questioning. I remember what he told me about it, what terrible things those lizards do.”

“Have you ever…?” Citlally began as she look up at the co-pilot.

“Never,” he told her. “I’m like Mannarius: three parts careful and one part lucky.”

“Wait a minute,” Endan said, “I want to get back tae why these people are put to death, what’s so important about their dreams, about givin’ birth or bein’ nobility?”

“We’re still trying to figure that out,” Jalingan told him. “There are a lot of theories out there, but most of them center around the stability of their empire. From the patterns we’ve picked up on, it’s specific to a queen giving birth to dragons.”

“You mean dragon eggs?” Citlally asked, trying not to give away too much about what she remembered.

Jalingan shook his head. “They ask about that. There was one woman who was warned not to mention a word about her dreams. She ended up saying one of the key things that they were looking for, and she was tortured until she answered that question. It is very important that there are no eggs,” Jalingan told her. “Strange as it sounds, they are looking for a someone who dreams of being a queen giving live birth to dragons.”

“That’s the strangest thing I’ve ever heard, lad,” Endan told him.

Jalingan looked both of them straight in the eyes. “I don’t care how strange it sounds,” he told them. He sounded more serious than he’d ever sounded to her before. “Do not breathe a word about it to anybody. If it has to do with the stability of their empire, if they are willing to kill and torture for it, don’t say a word about what you dreamt, not even to me.”

“But why a queen?” Citlally asked. “Why giving birth to dragons?”

Jalingan shrugged. “None of us understand why. All we know is that those are the symbols that they’re looking for.”

“Maybe it has something to do with their mythology,” Endan said.

“That may be,” Jalingan said and he pulled his towel back over shoulders, covering his scars, “but they don’t talk about their mythology to anybody except other K’zzyrch. They don’t want outsiders to know about it.”

“I’m sure that it’s nothing like the best-kept secret in the galaxy,” Citlally commented.

Jalingan smirked and tried not to laugh. “I only hope that we can keep our secrets better than they keep theirs. Otherwise, they’re going to go on causing mayhem across the galaxy.”

They sat together in the hot springs for quite a while longer after that. They talked about all sorts of other things, trying to turn the conversation to something lighter. As heavy as the story weighed on her heart, Citlally was glad to know why Mannarius hated Jalingan so much. In a way, she wondered why he couldn’t forgive him after nearly five years; after all, she had forgiven him for her own loss. The other part of her understood that a loss that great was hard to forgive. As tender as her loss had been, it was nothing like the lifetime of love that had been ripped away from Mannarius.

They didn’t leave the hot springs until it was time for dinner. Dhruv went on ahead, saying that he wanted to get something he could take with him to the burial grounds so that he could make sure Mannarius ate. That left Jalingan to take dinner with Citlally and Endan, both of them insisting that they wanted him with them. They had learned to enjoy his company. They had such a different perspective on him that he was almost surprised at how their friendship had developed.

“You have been keeping mostly to yourself all these years, haven’t you?” Citlally asked him. “You haven’t been trying to make other friends. Not like when you were friends with Mannarius and everyone else.”

“You can tell?” Jalingan asked. He sighed and looked down at his plate. “Well, I guess it’s obvious enough. I have plenty of acquaintances throughout the galaxy. Most of them are part of the best-kept secret. Some of them are just contacts that we use, whether or not they know about what we do.”

“You never stopped fighting back against the K’zzyrch, did you?” Endan noted. “We all know that you don’t fight them directly, but I can see now why it’s so important for you to undermine their work.”

“Somebody has to do it,” Jalingan insisted. “If I – and the people I work with – didn’t do this, the K’zzyrch would run rampant and take over everything. Even with all of our work, we’ve been only able to slow them down, not stop them completely.”

Jalingan took a long pause, pushing the food around on his plate, and then said, “Can we talk about something else? It should be all about you right now,” he told Citlally. “I want you to be happy with how things go here. I want this ceremony to bring you true peace.”

Citlally nodded. “Just being here makes me feel a lot better,” she told him.

“Have you decided about going to the midnight vigil?”

“I think it would be that much harder to let it go if I do that,” she replied, shaking her head.

Endan seemed to agree. “Like the Norameni said, it is rare that anyone comes back here a second time. This planet is so far from home, I doubt that we’ll ever be back here again. This is where we say goodbye; this is where the child rests in peace.”

“Are you sure?” Jalingan asked them. “You only get this one chance.”

“It is not like it was for Mannarius. We never knew this child,” Citlally explained. “We did not even know that it existed until it was too late. I am not going to cling to it the way that he did. I mean, it was right for him to have clung to her, the way he held on until the very last moment, but not me. Mine is a different story.”

“We’ll always remember that it’s out here,” Endan went on, “but this isn’t an event that interferes with us moving on. We know the child will be treasured and respected out here.”

“You keep saying ‘it.’ Why is that?” Jalingan asked. “You mean you don’t know…”

“We do not want to know,” Citlally told him. “It might sound strange, but we decided that we don’t need to know. It does not change what we lost.”

“Anyhow,” Endan added, “knowing its gender would only make it easier to imagine what might have been. That’s not what we want to do.”

“As long as you’re certain that you won’t regret it,” Jalingan replied.

“We’re sure,” she assured him.

Once supper was over and done with, the three of them retired to their rooms. Citlally stayed up for a little while to chat with Endan, but soon gave in to the exhaustion of their journey and fell into the realm of dreams.

About Legends of Lorata

Eleanor Willow is the author of the high fantasy series Legends of Lorata, which takes place on a medieval-style world filled with elves, dragons, and faeries. There is also a fourth race, one that is rare and magical: the angelic Starr. Lorata is a distant planet watched over by four deities: good, evil, elemental, and celestial-- and there are plenty of legends about them all! One of the most important ones is the prophecy of Jenh's champion, Loracaz, who is promised to return to the realm whenever evil threatens to take hold. There are currently three books completed, and the first one can be read online. Book four is currently being written, and a fifth will most likely be in the future.
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