A Kajian female stands in the middle of a field just outside the planet’s capital city. Hidden by the tall crops fluttering in the wind around her, she searches the night sky as the shifting clouds eclipse one of the small moons. Her mind swirls with the consequences of recent decisions, and her chest tightens around her heart from the pain of loss. She knows it’s dangerous to be here, probably a trap. But he will be gone soon, and she will be alone. Alone but for the billions of souls looking to her to lead them. She is many things to her people; above all else, she is a warrior. So with a warrior’s determination, she frowns, clenches her fists, and stands firm against the storm raging in her heart and mind.
The warrior’s calloused hands pull the black hooded wrap tighter as a cool breeze brushes against her. Although unable to dull the amber shine of her eyes, the cover conceals her movement and shape as she taps her foot and waits. Finally, a transport shuttle slips out from behind a cloud and descends upon her location. The warrior stares up at the massive construct in confusion as a hint of anxiety takes root from the implications of the star ship’s presence. Wind from the vehicle bellows, bending the tall grass to its will while the warrior darts her gaze around to satisfy her paranoia. With a huff of impatience, she watches the trespassing ship land, ignoring the growing smell of exhaust and burnt grass.
She narrows her eyes at the thought of the stealth ship slipping unseen past her planet’s defenses. The anxiety rooted deep inside her sprouts tiny sprigs, but a building storm of rage threatens to smother it. When the bay doors open, the warrior’s molten gaze snaps to the familiar figure exiting the shuttle. A bestial growl bursts from her chest as anger and betrayal rages within the warrior. She stomps toward the awaiting female with a nasty snarl and a dangerous word engulfing the warrior’s mind.
The traitor steps from the shuttle’s dock onto the familiar ground and sighs with relief to breathe in the scent of home. Seeing the warrior striding toward her, the traitor pauses with a sigh, then rolls her shoulders and waist to stretch the muscles that she’ll need for this ‘discussion.’ The traitor plants her feet in the center of the clearing and awaits the wrath of her former packmate. The warrior stops an arm’s length from the traitor and, with a fury born of love and betrayal, amber eyes meet traitorous emerald. A silent struggle of wills ensues as the two females express their mutual hatred for one another in distasteful snarls and gnashing teeth. The moons cast a deceptive light on the two lone figures, and a light breeze twirls the black robes around each of the battle-hardened females as they square off. In a deep, resounding voice, the warrior speaks first.
“What do you want?”
The traitor huffs at the expected question and responds in the familiar, silvery voice that grates across the warrior’s nerves. “Were you followed?”
“Were you? How did your ship arrive undetected?”
“I have my ways,” the traitor says. The warrior narrows her eyes at the flippant response.
“As do I,” she says and snatches the traitor by her robes to jerk her close. “Now, why did you contact me? Never mind how you did it.”
The traitor does not pull away nor cower to the warrior’s rage; instead, she accepts the warrior’s pain and anger. In fact, she expected blood by now. Perhaps, the seasons have softened the warrior.
“I have an idea that I’d like to discuss with you,” the traitor says.
The warrior slams her fist into the traitor’s emerald eyes, and the traitor yelps in surprise at the brutal attack. The punch propels her backward several paces, but the traitor refuses to kneel. She opens one eye as the second swells shut. Still, she manages a menacing glare at the warrior, who crosses her arms with a smug smile.
“It must be quite an idea to risk coming back here,” the warrior says.
The traitor snarls at the quip and retaliates. Prepared, the warrior shifts her weight to the left, so the traitor’s fist skims past her. Surprised by her lack of contact, the traitor hesitates, and the warrior slams her knee into the traitor’s exposed mid-section with a loud snap of a rib. With the wind knocked out of her, the traitor topples forward. Amber eyes show no mercy as the warrior slams her fists into the traitor’s neck. The force of the blow sends the traitor crashing to the ground hard enough to crumble the dirt below them. With a satisfied grin, the warrior steps out of the rubble of soil and weeds to watch the traitor groan and struggle back to her feet.
“It must be an impressive idea to show your face to me, again,” the warrior says.
She grabs the traitor’s hair and wrenches her opponent’s head back in a painful hold. The warrior dips her face close to whisper promises of pain.
“What makes you think I won’t kill you here and now?”
Grimacing, the traitor glares at her attacker, but the warrior’s molten gaze is just as fierce. The traitor clenches her teeth and smashes her forehead into the warrior’s nose, producing a satisfying crunch. With a yelp, the warrior releases her grip and jumps back from the traitor to clutch her broken nose. The traitor wipes at the blood that seeps from her damaged forehead and huffs at the minor injury.
“Because we gave our words not to kill each other when we agreed to meet,” the traitor says. The warrior rolls her eyes as she cradles her nose in her hands and blood pools in her palms.
“Why should I trust a traitor?”
The traitor sighs, and her emerald eyes dim with pain and regret.
“I’ll show you. Wait here.”
The traitor returns to her shuttle before the warrior can argue. The amber-eyed female scoffs at her dismissal and splatters blood on the ground around her. The warrior takes a deep breath before snapping her nose into proper alignment. She bites back a painful groan and peers up into the night sky to fight the tears that flood her vision. She smiles at the adrenaline surging through her body. It’s been far too long since she’s suffered an injury. With dry eyes, she glances back to the traitor’s shuttle to find the emerald-eyed female descending the landing with something bundled in her robe.
The traitor hesitates when she sees the clotting blood smeared across the warrior's hands, neck, and chin. The warrior flashes a grim smile that sets an unsettling scene under the moonlight. Noticing the traitor’s response, the warrior chuckles at her opponent’s discomfort. The traitor frowns at the other female’s familiar antics and sighs, before returning an imploring gaze on the warrior.
“I am your packmate, and for the sake of our people, you must trust me,” the traitor says. She drags her robes away to reveal six pounds of squirming flesh, wrapped in a bundle of delicate garments. A squeal of delight escapes from the bundle as moonlight gleams off bright fuchsia eyes, and amber eyes widen in surprise.
“Is that –?”
“Yes,” the traitor says. She’s afraid to let her companion speak the words. Even in the dead of night, someone is always listening, and spoken secrets travel the universe faster than light itself.
“Yes. She is,” the traitor says. Across from her, the warrior throws her hands into the air.
“I don’t believe it,” the warrior says. “This is why you contacted me?”
The traitor sighs and rocks the small child in her arms as she stares at the warrior.
“Do you understand what you are asking of me? Of the Kaji?”
“Do you?” the traitor asks. “If you don’t do this, and he finds out about her? He will destroy us all.”
The warrior’s eyes harden, and she clenches a fist at the traitor.
“He will try,” the warrior says. The traitor retreats a single step from the warrior and cradles the squirming child to her chest.
“You’ve lost so much already. Are you willing to risk everything?” the traitor says.
The warrior flinches away from the other female she once considered pack. Gathering herself, she sighs and, with great effort, pushes aside her own heartache for the sake of others.
“You know what I want in return,” the warrior says. The traitor closes her eyes and exhales as her burden lightens.
“It will be done,” she says, opening her eyes. “But it will not last forever.”
“How long?” the warrior asks. The traitor shrugs as she watches the infant wiggle in her arms.
“Until she is of age. Longer, maybe,” the traitor says.
The warrior notices a small, bittersweet smile slip from the traitor’s swollen face when she brushes dark hair from the child’s eyes. For a moment, the warrior remembers a time when she expected their offspring to grow alongside each other as they once did. Slipping a protective hand over her midsection, the warrior wonders if that dream may still come to fruition.
“What happens then?” the warrior asks.
“I…I do not know.”
“Why do you sacrifice so much for a single child?” the warrior asks. The traitor frowns at the warrior and presses her lips together.
“One day, you will understand. The day you hold a child in your arms and worry for its future.”
Snorting, the warrior tilts her eyes up to the moon-filled sky as she considers her options. Once again, she searches the shifting night for an answer and struggles against the storm raging within her. After a few moments of inner debate and perhaps a small amount of reflection, her gaze returns to the traitor.
“I accept. Now, leave the child and go.”
“No. You will take the child from my arms,” the traitor extends the bundle toward the warrior, “into yours.”
The warrior glares at the traitor for a few moments before she concedes and retrieves the child. She peers down at the life she holds and raises an amused eyebrow at the infant’s odd coloring. She glimpses up to see the traitor gliding back up the landing of her shuttle. As she reaches the large bay doors, the traitor hesitates and glances back. Emerald eyes, swirling with fear, pain, and regret, meet with innocent fuchsia. Doubt crawls across her mind, and indecision squeezes her heart, but the traitor slams down a steel wall of determination. With the remnants of her honor, she disappears into the shuttle and leaves the warrior to carry the child home.
It doesn’t take long for the warrior to slip past the palace guards and into her lavish living quarters. Once the infant is asleep, the warrior pours a hard drink and collapses into an overstuffed chair. Bringing the glass to her lips, she pauses as though just remembering and sets the untouched drink on a nearby table with a sigh. For a long while, the warrior watches the sleeping child, letting her mind whirl around the implications of her decision. When her gaze wanders to her large, extravagant bed, unmerciful despair clenches her heart at the thought of climbing between the cold, empty sheets.
She sucks in a painful breath and turns from the pitiful sight. Suddenly, she needs air and perspective. Leaving the child in the care of a trusted servant, she escapes to her favorite room in the grand palace. Once in the throne room, she places one hand on the cold window that overlooks the entire city and slips the other over her stomach. In the light of Planet Kaji’s three suns, the warrior can see every being that wanders through her city. But, under the veil of darkness, she has to imagine them, along with the billions more that she will never meet. Every soul that once looked to him will soon turn to her for guidance.
What can I do? What have I done? How long can I postpone the inevitable?
She stands in silent contemplation for a long time before the rays of Solis break the horizon and announce a new beginning.
I will do what I must.
With a surge of assurance and determination, the warrior straightens and snaps her fingers. One of several guards stationed throughout the throne room lurches to her side.
“Bring me Solum,” she says.
“I believe the royal advisor is still in mourning. Shall I interrupt?” the soldier asks. She cringes at the reminder of their recent losses but does not waver.
“Yes. We must postpone our mourning. There is much to be done, and I need Solum here immediately.”
“As you command, my queen.”