Today is a holiday in my country and I woke up late to a ‘Ding!’ of my smartphone, informing me, that someone had posted on Instagram. Oh well, you say. Happens to the best of us, you say.
The post in question was an image of a field of flowers, or a summer sky, or something along those lines, with a quote:
‘Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it’s not the end.’Fernando Sabino
Apart from the fact, that the post made me google who said it first (and no, it wasn’t Oscar Wilde, and it wasn’t John Lennon) the post made me cringe. Because, yes, in the end we will be fine–except for those who won’t.
I know, you mean well. And I know, you mean to reassure those who struggle. Just sometimes things don’t work that way. Sometimes all you can do is reach out and say, you’re not alone–no matter what.
Copy-pasting thoughtful quotes and proverbs seems the easy way out. But if you really have something to say, then take the time to find your own words. And if you feel like those words escape you, then sometimes it may be more helpful to say nothing and just be there.
Ugh, enough of this serious talk! Here, have a cookie, and on to a new episode in our web novel!
If you are all new to my story, please consider starting with Chapter 1 🙂
Worlds Rising: Rebellion
Chapter 17 Part 2
Abbida wondered if the soldier recognized the blade? Then another, more obvious thought startled her: what if they all carried such knives? What if he was only waiting for the right moment to attack? They should have searched him earlier!
Behind his back she jerked her head to catch Cole’s attention. His thoughts must have gone in a similar direction because he pointedly glanced to his satchel that was cramped into the space between him and the backrest of his chair. For the first time she noticed a peculiar bulge outlining against the cloth. Was that…?!
A grim smile played on Cole’s face as he lifted a hand and made as if shooting with his fingers. The soldier’s gun! Cole must have picked it up and brought it along! Abbida gaped.
For now their hostage was too preoccupied focusing on flying–and landing safely. But then what? Would he try and attack again? And if he did, would Cole really shoot at him? What about herself? Was she ready to stab another human with Lian’s knife?
The mere thought made her sick. But in a matter of his life over theirs? She caught herself biting the knuckles of her index finger. This whole situation was wearing her out. Suddenly, she longed to get back to Lian. Even injured she would know what to do.
Or so she hoped.
They were flying lower now. Gradually this time, not like earlier at the village, when they had watched the aircraft rush in and practically drop from the skies. Had he been the pilot then, too, she wondered?
Upon reaching the end of the swamps they crossed a line were the marsh transitioned into grassland. In a shallow loop they headed for the jungle. Abbida leaned forward and strained her eyes. Where was the stream? From up here everything looked so small. Wait, that winding darker shape… “There! That’s it! I think, I can see the clearing!”
In her excitement she grabbed the backrest of their involuntary pilot with both hands which put the hilt of Lian’s knife close to his ear. Though the blade was retracted, he twitched and scowled. “I take it, I’m supposed to land there?”
“He’s talking,” Cole muttered.
“Yes, yes,” said Abbida. “Slower! We might miss it!”
He harrumphed, but complied. They were coming in just above the tree tops now, crossing the area where Abbida had entered the jungle with Cole, Rona and Tarek the other day. She shivered. So much had happened since then.
“Where is she?” Cole said, leaning forward.
“Not sure. It all looks so different from here.”
Had they already missed it? They banked and traversed the same area at a different angle. Abbida strained her eyes for any clues she might have missed the first time around. Over there, what was that dark spot? Abbida squinted. “Our camp fire!”
They looped downward until they were hovering right above the fire pit that had long since burned out. Their pilot flipped some switches, and they descended vertically, smooth and steady. A subtle shaking went through the aircraft, rattling Abbida’s nerves when they made contact with the ground. The sounds of the turbines died down and the lights on the console went out.
The soldier turned around, his gaze catching Abbida’s. Perking his eyebrows he folded his arms.
Too agitated to engage in any power games, she ignored him.
Only three days ago they’d been sitting around this fire. Rona, Tarek, Cole, Lian and her. Today, one of them was missing, one was imprisoned, one was seriously injured, and Cole and she had committed the unforgivable crime of kidnapping an officer along with a priceless aircraft. They were all as good as dead.
“Get up,” Cole said with a growl. Somehow the soldier’s gun had made it into his hands. “Turn around, hands on your back.”
The soldier scoffed, but he complied once again. He stood stiff and didn’t even flinch when Abbida searched his uniform pockets. She found the strings she was looking for and bound up his hands again. She also found the hilt of a knife and pocketed it. She exchanged another glance with Cole, a relived one this time.
Abbida took the lead. In a file they left the aircraft, and she looked around.
“Nobody here,” Cole said, disgruntled.
A bad feeling overcame her. How had Lian fared while she was away? Was she feeling better and had set out again? Or, had her injury gotten worse, and she was in trouble? Had she been able to keep the predators at bay?
“She is probably hiding,” she said, more to reassure herself. “How was she supposed to know it’d be us in that aircraft?”
Cole muttered something under his breath, and Abbida realized, if things were up to him, he would leave Lian behind without any regrets. And why shouldn’t he? He had no reason to trust her. Much less fill her in with their plans.
If only they had any.
Fact was, they needed Lian as much as she probably needed them right now. Besides, Abbida had a promise to keep. Shoving past Cole, she set on the trail towards the thicket.
“Lian! It’s me–Abbida!” she called. “And Cole. We’ve got an aircraft!”
If only for another short distance. But that thought she kept to herself. Actually, she had no idea, where to take Lian, so she could get help. Not back to her former unit, that was a given. There could be no doubt Lian would be punished, probably tried for high treason. Which was surely a death sentence.
There! She recognized that trail! Here she’d dragged Lian to her hiding place.
And really, she found her not far from the spot, nestled against a giant tree, her gun draped over her lap. Calmly, she waited for Abbida to come closer, “You came back.”
“Didn’t I promise I would? How is your injury? Are you in pain?” Abbida dropped to her knees and was about to hug her before she caught herself. She might hurt the woman!
For the first time since they’d met, Lian smiled. “It’s healing. I’m glad you…” She broke off and her eyelids flew up. In a fluent motion she picked up her gun and aimed at a spot behind Abbida’s ear.
Abbida whipped around.
Peeling himself out from the underbrush came the soldier and stumbled. With his hands tied behind his back he was unable to catch his fall and would have crashed to the ground if not for Cole who grabbed his collar and pulled him back up. “You’re welcome,” he said.
Instead of thanking him, the soldier threw him a dirty look.
Looking dumbfounded, Lian put her weapon down. “What is this supposed to be?” she said. “Of all people–why bring him?!”
Li Xiao frowned. He knew this voice! But, where could he have heard it before? When? The woman’s face was hidden in the shadows of the giant tree. Craning his neck he blinked slowly. Who would have thought trees could grow this tall?
Focus!, he chastised himself.
The weapon in her hands was a standard military-issued blaster. How had she gotten hold of one of those? The same way the green-skinned girl had snatched the nano-blade?
“What do you mean–of all people,” asked the native girl and eyed him with renewed suspicion. “Do you know him?”
He still couldn’t distinguish the other woman’s features in the shadows, but something felt familiar with the way she clicked her tongue.
“Everyone knows Zhao Li Xiao. His eldest brother is the ninth patriarch of the oligarchy!”
The woman leaned forward, and suddenly he could see her features clearly, “Major Huang!”
He could hardly believe his own eyes. There she was, Major Huang Lian, alive and well–sort of–where rumor had it she’d been shot down in her fighter after committing high treason during the first escape attempt of the native prisoners.
He remembered the major from when she had worked for eldest brother Shi Wei. Though she’d changed a lot, since he last saw her in his brother’s palace. Then, she had been a confident, formidable security guard, carrying herself with the air of a proud, upright officer. Somewhat intimidating, despite her lack of height.
Now, she was cowering before them on the jungle ground, filthy and sweaty, her uniform jacket in shreds. Her side was patched up, and she sat bent over, from pain and exhaustion.
Eying him sternly like his old sarge at the academy, she said, “I’m surprised you were allowed to join the Armed Forces, Zhao Li Xiao. Isn’t that too great a risk to take–with your valuable genes?”
“That’s of no concern to a traitor, I should think.” He raised his chin.
She bit her lips, but before she had a chance to talk back, the male villager planted himself in Li Xiao’s face.
He made shooing motions with Li Xiao’s own gun in his hands. Li Xiao clenched his teeth and stepped back. It was just as well. By now Colonel Guo must have located his position. All it took was a ping to the chip in his temple implant. Before too long, a rescue team would arrive. Until then, he would just put up with the abuse.
The green-skinned girl frowned at Huang Lian. “High time I changed your bandages.”
She crouched next to the major and began rummaging through her already depleted medi-kit.
“I did take my shots,” Huang Lian said, sounding apologetic.
The village girl helped her out of her uniform jacket, eying the blood-drenched bandages with a worried look on her face.
Puzzled, Li Xiao watched their interaction. What was it with those two women?! This kind of trusting behavior didn’t seem to fit the major’s personality at all.
He watched the girl’s slender, yet strong hands as she folded the major’s jacket and put it aside. The strangely green tint of her skin had caught his attention even in the artificial light on board of his fighter. The hue seemed to change with the light. On board the Red Dragon it had seemed cold like bottle glass. But out here in the open–surrounded by lush, moss-covered trees, myriads of flowers and the soft light falling through the leaves–her skin shone velvety in different nuances.
In the back of his mind a memory stirred. He’d seen something like this before: on the day of the first invasion. Two of the girls they had driven from their hiding place in the forest had the same skin tone, rousing all kinds of interest and suspicion among the troops.
That day he had only just prevented the colonel from shooting one of them on the spot. As far as he recalled, Colonel Guo had even mentioned the incident as a side note in the operation records. Most notably, hoping to gain Li Xiao an official reprimand. That never happened, though, because the Haodang Long called Li Xiao home right after and the incident got buried under more significant reports.
“Cole, could you please…?”, he heard the girl say and caught an exasperated expression in her face.
The villager grabbed him by his collar and dragged him along. “Sure thing. I’ll be supervising our distinguished guest while he collects fire wood. Don’t worry, we won’t be far. Holler, if you need anything!”
“I don’t holler,” said the girl, tapping her forehead.
Li Xiao stifled a grin just in time, and covered it up with a cough. Let’s not get caught up here, he reminded himself. Even if they were quirky, these people were his enemies. He could only benefit from their quarrels.
Then he felt the barrel of his own gun against his back and the last bit of amusement died. A rescue team might be under way, but until then he needed to survive.
Thank you for reading!
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