B1 — 31. Fear

POV Change:  Nadraca (Ri’bot Priestess that is in charge of the Clavex Clan’s expedition; not as brave as the other Ri’bot Clans)

Recap: Camellia finished her mission in quite an … artful manner … she painted the guts of Ri’bot across the jungle, and we can’t forget she had to sample the product!  Our cute, klutzy spider-girl!

Nadraca took the Snake-woman and went downriver, trying to get to the Nalvean territory while fleeing from Elinor.  She also has more than a few human captives.  However, she doesn’t know the true horror Elinor sent her way…

Nadraca took a long breath before her tongue slid out to lick her left two teeth; the Ancestor’s Wrath hadn’t returned for some time, and she kept an eye out for any hint of the cold stones, but still, their sails sat worthlessly tied against the inside of the deck, brought down an hour after they’d shoved off at the seawayers’ recommendations.

The seawayers had quickly come together at the sight of the dark clouds creeping across the sky and had chosen to remove the sails entirely.  The roaring thunder and flashing lightning made the warriors nervous.

It was an ill omen to most Ri’bot, but it didn’t bother Nadraca that much since the Mother Superior had a special fondness for the phenomenon, which confused most members of the Clavex Clan.

The leader of the priests had led the clan since all the generals had been killed in the Fire Wars, and the position of Mother Superior had gained a lot of authority in the past century.  Nadraca had been brought up in the ways since she was young, and the Mother Superior was a split between a spiritual figure and motherly replacement after her family’s death.

Nadraca’s firm grip held as the ship they were on rocked with the turbulent waves; it seemed the seawayers’ suggestions were on point.  The gale was so powerful that it would have ripped the furled sails off the mast, and now the rainfall was proving to be a real hazard; she had to protect her eyes, squinting to follow the wind currents carrying the water.  The storm whipped the broad river into a frenzy, and the gusts were strong enough to take an unanchored Ri’bot off-deck.

Ukara, a seawayer she trusted enough to hire for the mission, advised her to ground the boats.  Still, Nadraca wanted to be as far away from Elinor as possible, and upon consulting with the others, reluctantly said that she had trust in the Nalvean ship design.  Still, it was a hard choice to make; unholy creatures brought to life at their backs and the worst storm they’d witnessed in oral history, barring their way home.

Just as Ukara predicted, it was proving to be a rough journey.  A few warriors had already fallen into the waves, but they were powerful swimmers, and with support, were able to climb back aboard.  The humans, unfortunately, were not that strong; at least some could stay afloat long enough for rescue; still, they’d already lost a few before tying them down.

Nadraca ran her smooth hands over her slick head, cold, heavy raindrops pelting her face as she slid her forearm down the side of her jaw.  What a disaster, but even the hero Hologian had his losses in the great conflict.  It must be enough … it has to be!

It had been three hours since they’d left the site, and she’d hoped to be done with this whole business; she scanned the hunkered down images of the warriors holding fast to harnesses to move around, replacing the seawayer crew when a rowman grew tired.  It will all be worth it if we can make it back.  We just need to make it back with the humans!

Lacord had put a lot of faith in her and even put his promotion as tenth in command of the warriors to help her in this endeavor; the human body count was more than she liked.  They’d taken significant losses in the raid itself, and not just that, they needed the humans alive to gain favor; the treasures from the gateway could cancel out what was owed with the Nalvea.

The Nalvea race had saved the Clavex Clan during the Fire Wars and allowed them to rebuild, driving off the Quen’Talrat invasions, Clanless raids, and deserter pillagings.  That action had cost them greatly, and was not for free; The Clavex descendants were still paying back that debt to this day.

The mysteries from other worlds were highly sought after since the gateways rarely appeared, and as legend states, they must be conquered, in any case, or else the Ri’bot race would face calamity.  This was a wonderful opportunity, but a risk for them, and she hadn’t even gotten the Mother Superior’s permission; she had to help lower the debt, just like her father had done a decade before.

A low groan left Nadraca’s throat as a loud shout came from one of the boats nearby; it was hardly visible behind the curtains of water that blanketed the river.  “We’re taking on too much water!”

Is it really the Torlim causing the damage to the hulls, or is it these otherworldly creatures?  They’re intelligent … Elinor proves that.  In any case, it’s only the ships with both Torlim and humans on them that are having the issues.  The ones that just have humans or Torlim aren’t having any problems.  It just doesn’t make sense…

Nadraca scratched her cheeks out of irritation as Uraka yelled that they’d be making landfall, but she couldn’t focus on it for long; things were turning from bad to worse.  “Let the others know we’ll be running the failing vessels ashore!”  She yelled through the gale.  “If the others can continue, then go ahead.”


“Lacord will be in-charge!  Go on ahead!”


A large wave slammed against their hull, and she nearly lost her grip.  Sucking on her lip, her teeth against the skin as she tightened her fingers around the vine; the heaving waves bowed the ships, and she’d almost been thrown over three times already.

 “Hold fast!”  Uraka yelled, but Nadraca could hardly hear the young seawayer girl’s weak voice; it had always been soft, but she finally realized why the warriors complained about it.

Ancestors … this must be related to the raid.  I thought it would cease if we distanced ourselves from Elinor, and it has eased, but not by much.  We have several soldiers bailing out water; we’re even having trouble with the humans being forced to help.  They’re terrified, even after being tied down.  Please, Ancestors, hear my prayers.

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Is this really your doing?  Could this be Elinor’s handiwork?  Chief Valdar did say that she created a wall of cloud that put any creature that breathed it into an unwakeable sleep for a time.  That’s horrifying … could this serpent-like creature be related to it or Elinor?  Will she come after us?

No, that’s a stupid question.  Of course, she’d come after us; we have many of her people, and she chose to help them with all of those dead bodies … controlling so many of the dead without music or the special Valkra Seeds … please, bar her way!

She truly brings them back.  Elinor can wrestle the spirits out of the Ancestors’ grip … how powerful can she be?  The Roxim Clan brought her back to our world, not us!

Although, we brought back this snake-creature that can spit acid and control the waters … this storm might just be her fury, but she’s still asleep and sealed.  There’s so much we don’t know about these otherworldly creatures.

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Her blue eyes moved to study one particular boat ahead of them, almost invisible in the darkness and rainfall.  Waves raged around them, lifting the ship up and down, and shouts could hardly be heard beyond the clashing waters.

The vessel just ahead of them held their most precious cargo, the snake-like creature that resembled the Nalvean Goddess, Héketé, and the only person that could interact between them, a human that could even communicate with the Torlim.  Her mind turned back to the conversation she had with the young human man.

The stories Elgan tells don’t make any sense, but he understands us.  How is it possible that he doesn’t even know how?  How can the humans have no powers besides their brains to invent things, yet have people among them that can communicate with any creature, the snake-woman named Yesenia, and Elinor?

It must be a lie, but why be dishonest about something so ridiculous?  He even claims Yesenia used to be one of them the day before and had a family, none with mysticism.  They also have no clue who Elinor is but suspect she was a human traveling to another country to provide aid to it.

So many strange things Elgan talked about, and he says all the humans are scared of Elinor’s power to bring back the dead.  They call her a Necromancer, a practitioner of dark mystical arts, but they also say they don’t believe in mysticism.  Yet, at the same time, they say that they can’t explain Yesenia’s transformation or that we exist.

Nadraca’s jaw locked as she studied the churning river, illuminated by a sharp crack of lightning that broke her concentration; she couldn’t even see the shore, but every so often, Ukara would shout orders to avoid unseen rocks lurking below.

The Wandering River was the largest means for transportation among the tribes and kingdoms along its banks.  It started at the Eternal Sea, named after the Eternal Forest along its northern boundaries.  It ran through the old Trelmere Monarchy, which had now been split between the Yalmáth Democracy on the east, Cnaxar Federation in the middle, and Golariex Holy Empire to the west.

The river branched into a few smaller streams; the widest part winded around the Yalmáth territory before running around the Deadlands, curving back into Ri’bot territory until it passed through the Crowned Mountains, into Nalvean land, and the Great Ruby Lakes that gathered beyond, named after their crimson color.

The Roxim Clan brought Elinor’s wrath back to our world, and they should take responsibility for that!  I’ll have to take responsibility for whatever Yesenia brings to my clan, but I’m sure this will bring power back to the Clavex … I must believe it.  We can get out from under the Nalvean debt.

Turning away from the cataclysmic sight of the towering waves seeking to separate their boats, Nadraca shot a quick gesture at her navigator, Ukara.  She’d known the girl since she was but a teen, two years old, and the Ri’bot hadn’t been cut out to be a warrior or priest, instead choosing the rough path of a seawayer.

The Nalveans were very savvy on the sea, perhaps even as good as the Drék’uléph to the far west of the continent, and Ukara managed to gain quite the name for herself, even among the well-known Nalvean seawayers.

Nadraca cleared her throat before yelling at the woman.  “How long do you think it will take for repairs?”

Ukara seemed at ease with using her harness and moving with the shifts of the waves to reach her, trudging through the gathering water.  Her naturally soft voice ground against Nadraca’s frayed nerves, requiring her to fumble with the vines linking everything to close the distance.  Is she really yelling?

“I’m afraid I—I can’t say, Priestess.  Once we find a suitable place to run ashore, then I can give you an estimate.”  The woman’s blue eyes scanned the invisible heavens, blocked by a white mass of water and wind.  “We need to get off the water; we may have a small breach!”


“We’ve already slammed against a few rocks as we’ve been pushed toward shallow waters!”

“Unbelievable!  How will we ever make it back at this pace?”

The girl made a short shrugging gesture before turning to yell at one of her crew.  “Right, hard right, Noranda!  To the shore!”

If we can just get on the opposite side of the river than where we started, then perhaps the storm could delay Elinor and any pursuers … no, left is to that side.  Sweating Putris, why can’t anything go my way?  I have to assume dozens of Undead Quen’Talrat are following us, and I doubt this storm will stop the dead!

A shiver ran down her body, unrelated to the chill of the water; the sight of the massive boned beast rising out of the earth still brought back a horrifying image in her mind, and she tried to distract herself with the humans.  At the same time, Ukara directed her right-hand, Noranda, an elderly Ri’bot woman that was the hard voice of the vessel.

Humans actually thought the Ri’bot were nothing but fairy tales?  It’s impossible to believe; we have a very long history of existing.  They say everything changed when bright lights illuminated the sky, but there were many such events in our history.  Streaks fly across the heavens, and the Ancestors illuminate the sky with countless lights.  Is he lying…

A sharp gust of wind and the crashing waves made her lose her grip on the vine she clung to, making her grunt as she hit the side of the boat.  She only slid a foot into the water before managing to grab hold of another vine and pull herself back up.

She gasped for air, coughing a few times before glancing around at the seawayers; they were preparing to ram the boat ashore, telling everyone to brace for impact.  Stabilizing herself once more inside the ship, she noted the water they’d taken had reached her shins; they weren’t bailing it out nearly fast enough.

Quen’Talrat’s flaming fur!  Can one thing go my way?  Hopefully, Lacord can get those boats back safely.  The sooner we get back into Nalvea lands, the sooner I can breathe easy.  I’m sure Yesenia will pay back our debt!  A lot of good Ri’bot were taken back to the Ancestors in this conquest.

She swallowed a mouthful of water, glancing back at the small humans huddling together with a few human women.  Elgan had told her they were called children, and that it took eighteen years before children could become adults, which was ridiculous to her.  Only the Golariex and Ques’ká had longer adulthood ages, and the Yalmáth was at fifteen.  Ri’bot were considered grown at eight years.

The children were tied down with vines so they wouldn’t get blown overboard, and Elgan made the argument that they’d be calmer if a few human females were allowed to comfort them.  She understood the sentiment; she always felt reassured when in the presence of the Mother Superior.

Nadraca battled through the wind and water, wincing as the wind shifted directions momentarily.  She held fast to the vine, grounding her and made gestures to the women once she neared, indicating that they were going to run ashore.  It seemed like their already white faces turned a lighter shade, and they appeared worried but got the message as they prepared the children.

Returning to the side, where warriors were helping the seawayers paddle against the furious waves, she called for a quick change in shifts to provide more power to get them out of the water.  I just hope we’ve lost any trail Elinor could follow.

Everyone braced as Ukara called for it, and a sharp jerk sent everyone not tied down, tumbling across the deck and overboard.  Loud grunts and coughing could be heard through the rolling thunder and howling wind.

Nadraca’s palms burned, but she managed to get back to her feet.  They had struck a gravelly bank, and the waves were rising and falling around their position, shifting the ship back toward the water.  Ukara was swift to command her crew and even shouted at the warriors to help.

“You lot jump off!  C’mon, grab the vines and pull it ashore!  Let’s go!”

Ri’bot warriors and seawayers were quick to respond, while the humans continued to collect themselves, and scouts soon arrived from two other vessels that seemed to have grounded nearby, leaving five still on the wide river.

After a few more orders shouted by Noranda’s gruff voice, the boat was pulled back and tied to thick branches of ancient Darkwood Trees, and supplies were being quickly unsecured and transported off to make a temporary shelter.

The human children were almost light enough for the wind to carry back into the waves, requiring the women to help them off one by one.  They took shelter between two massive roots, and she sent a warrior to watch over them.

Nadraca hunched over beside a massive Blackwood tree, clutching at her necklace for reassurance.  The smooth, rigid design pressing against her skin made her remember the training she had as a Priestess.  She wasn’t the most powerful, but she was dedicated and managed to make it to the Fourth-Light Stage, making her a full-fledged Priestess.

She used the trunk and roots as a shield, observing the warriors help prepare stakes for cover from the elements.  It didn’t take them long to get everything prepared, and tents had been securely fastened to the sturdy trees and pounded into nearby stones.

It felt wonderful to get out of the roaring storm; the ground was wet, but they had cushioned chairs available.  They may have been soaked cushions, but cushions nonetheless, and she enjoyed them more than the hard roots or soggy ground.

She’d chosen to have the humans join her.  It felt comforting to look at them, knowing she had finally produced something of worth that could get them out of debt.  After some rather amusing gesturing, she learned that they were cold and wet.  Nadraca knew that warm-blooded animals tended to enjoy the comforts of warmth, such as fire; the Quen’Talrat were notorious for the element, but she had no clue how to produce it.

It was good that the seawayers used it to dry things off because Ukara managed to make a fire somehow within the tent, and cut a place out in the side for the smoke to escape.  She’d used this particular tent to dry off equipment she said they’d need to repair the boats and Nadraca felt bad enough to give the humans one of the few dry sheets they had after some funny gestures they made.

It fascinated her to watch them; the humans appeared to be quite resourceful and intelligent.  The women had the children strip off the scraps of covering they wore and huddle close together, likely to keep warm while their wet items dried by the fire.

Other races are so strange.  It may be wet and cold, but it’s not that cold.  Why do they even sew those cloth strips together?  Their crying is so strange, too; they go in spurts, up and down, but the older ones comfort the smaller ones.  Must be nice, having people to comfort you when things get bad.  Are they like this as an entire species?  They can’t all be related, can they?

She questioned so many things about them that she was beginning to feel bad about the whole experience.  It’s not like she was going out of her way to be mean to them, but she’d hate anyone that just ripped her out of her life and brought her to a strange unknown place.

Once we get back to the Nalvean lands, then they should be treated more fairly.  The Nalvean will figure some way to use them; after all, they seem fairly useful creatures.  Some tribes use the Yaltha’ma, and now these humans can be some help.  They ration food, comfort one another, and do all sorts of interesting things.  It shouldn’t be all bad.

A few hours passed inside that tent, and the storm continued to rage, but she was entertained by watching the humans.  The wind was slowly dying down, which eased her worries.  The warmth of the flames was a little uncomfortable, but not enough for her to stop enjoying herself.

The little ones had long since tired themselves out and fallen into a deep sleep.  Every once in awhile, one of the adults would whisper something, or say something in their high-pitched whiny cries to one another, but it seemed like they were trying to be quiet for the children.

Nadraca pulled her attention away from the humans as a nervous warrior named Ilonef entered, clearing his throat while glancing over at the humans.  His smooth green skin was soaked and glistened in the firelight, but she could smell the unease leaking out of his pores.  

“Priestess, we have a visitor that is asking to speak to you.”

The adult humans gave him fearful stares, huddling closer to the children, but those that slept didn’t rise.

The Priestess’ forehead creased as she rose, stretching out her stiff legs.  “A visitor, here, and in this storm?”

“Yes … from the Ethereal Clan, Priestess.”

Nadraca froze, a shiver running down her spine, but she soon dismissed the statement.  There’s no way, but…  She blinked, a lump dropping down her throat as she pondered recent events, and her voice turned hoarse, blue eyes darting to the humans before returning to Ilonef.  “The Ethereal Clan?  You’re sure?”

Ilonef licked his two left and right teeth, showing his unease.  “Who else has pure white skin with glowing blue patterns?”

It fits the description, but after so long without so much as a sighting from the other Clans?  No one has seen the Ethereal Clan since the end of the Fire Wars.  The Elite Hunters were supposed to have nearly destroyed them, and a good thing … there were rumors that they were going to wage war against all the clans.  If they’re active again…

“Umm … send him in.”

“It’s her, Priestess, and…”

“What is it?  Spit it out.”

“She showed up in camp without warning, and I—we can’t get in contact with the scouts or perimeter guard.  They seem to have vanished into the storm.”

“The other ships?”

Ilonef forced down a lump in his throat.  “All of them—even the humans, and without any signs of struggle.  It’s as if they were just swallowed by the storm.”

“How long has she been waiting?”  Nadraca asked, voice becoming shaky.  If one-tenth of the legends about the Ethereal Clan were true, then they were in deep trouble, and things were playing out just like she’d heard in the stories.

“About twenty minutes.”

“By the Ancestors’ graves, Ilonef!”  He flinched at her curse.  “Why?”  She demanded, hugging herself as a quake ran down her frame.  “Why did you make her wait so long to see me or even to tell me?”

“We wanted to—to make sure it wasn’t a trap, and when everyone was missing … we grew suspicious, but—but she’s rather friendly.  We asked her questions, but she had more questions herself than answers, and—she’s from the Ethereal Clan … how do we approach her about this?  There’s also…”

Nadraca held her hand against her chest, feeling it pound as her blood pressure skyrocketed.  They were just being cautious, but … he’s right.  This is far too suspicious, and right after Elinor came to this world … a long thought dead clan of legend reappears.  This is too much!

“Quit stalling!”  She growled, dropping back into her wet seat with a low whimper while holding the sides of her head.  “What else?”

“I know it shouldn’t be relevant, but … she’s beyond stunning.  None of the warriors have ever seen a Ri’bot so lovely, and her three teeth on both sides, her voice … but the way she carries herself—there’s no doubt she’s trained in combat arts.”

Taking a deep breath to steel her nerves, Nadraca forced out a chuckle.  “Excellent … just excellent … any more bad news?” 

“She’s unarmed,” Ilonef offered.

Nadraca smiled incredulously.  “Are you joking with me, Ilonef.  If she’s from the Ethereal Clan, then she wouldn’t need a weapon if half the stories are true.  Gutting a Quen’Talrat blindfolded was their beginning initiation as a warrior … beginning, Ilonef!”

“I know, Priestess…”

It took everything Nadraca had to stop herself from hyperventilating.  “This has to be Elinor,” she whispered, eyes wide as she stared at the fire in the center of the room.  “How, how did she find us?”

“What was that, Priestess?”

“Go!  Now!  Go get her!”  Nadraca demanded.  “Be quick!”

“Right away!”  Ilonef rushed back into the storm, leaving Nadraca to lick her teeth and grip her left arm, trying to stop her shakes.

The humans were tense; it seemed her outburst had frightened them, but she didn’t have the time to be concerned with it.

Even if it isn’t Elinor, then that means the Ethereal Clan is back, and we just so happened to stumble upon the place they’ve called their home.  This is Clanless Territory … no clan has claimed it … not officially.  It’s the perfect place to hide … a lawless zone.

If it is Elinor, then it’s even more terrifying … if she found the bodies of the Ethereal Clan and raised them … but how?  The Quen’Talrat rarely leave bones in their conquests; they burn everything to ash.  Their village was to the southwest, too, far away from the Deadlands, but how else do I explain it.

Her body lifted to examine the young Ri’bot woman that entered the tent, and Nadraca’s body went numb.  There was no doubt in her mind, a member of the Ethereal Clan stood before her, and Ilonef’s explanation did her no justice, or the shine the firelight gave to her skin enhanced her already stunning appearance.

She’d never seen a Ri’bot so lean, or a face as smooth and sleek as this woman; the light blue glow of the patterns spotting her radiant slippery skin was mesmerizing, sparkling in the orange firelight.

The inner yellow light in her irises held a devilish gleam as they swept the room, and a charming smile curved her perfect lips, enhanced by the rare three serrated teeth poking out of her gums on either side of her mouth.

A soft, fragrant scent of Oplia flowers filled the space as she entered, and the enchanting Ethereal’s black tongue slid over her teeth before she spoke in the most regal and alluring tone that had ever graced Nadaka’s ears.  “How quaint.  A little sanctuary from the frenzied elements outside.”

This Ri’bot was the picture of perfection, molded by the Supreme Ancestor himself, a goddess among mortals, a beauty so far out of any woman’s league that they couldn’t even be jealous, but bow in humble reverence.

Nadraca opened her mouth, but nothing came out, so she closed it, waiting in stunned silence as she watched the Ri’bot elegantly move to stand a few feet in front of her.

“Hello, my name is Iris.”  She smiled, holding her hands behind her back in a casual manner.  When she didn’t respond, Iris giggled, and Nadraca got lost in her voice.  “I assume you are Nadraca, correct?  That’s what your warriors told me.”

Nadraca’s voice felt like gravel compared to the grace in Iris’.  “Excuse my—umm, why are you here?  I’m not trying to be rude…”

She paused as the humans straightened; unease and hope brightened their small eyes as they tentatively tried talking their gibberish to Iris, but the goddess ignored them.

“No, you’re not being rude at all,” Iris said, bringing her arms around to fold them at her chest.

Nadraca’s focus shifted to her elegant five fingers, webbing perfectly situated between them, fingernails neatly cut as if manicured like the Mother Superior’s.  “What c-can I do for you?”  She stammered.

A devilish smile lifted Iris’ cheeks.  “Now, now, all work, no play?  I see a seat here.”

Taking the hint, Nadraca gestured to the cushioned chair beside the fire.  “By all means!”

Iris smoothly moved the seat away from the fire and sat across from her, vision turning to the humans before returning to Nadraca.  “Interesting.  I’ve heard your warriors chatting; they don’t have quiet voices, and the others, you call seawayers, are even more boisterous.  Half the jungle could hear them laughing and telling stories about their times on the water.”

“W-Were we bothering you?  Is this,” Nadraca swallowed, forcing her to blink.  “Is this Ethereal Clan territory?”

Iris’ lips turned mysterious.  “Tell me, Nadraca, what do you know about the Ethereal Clan?”

Nadraca cleared her throat, trying to compose herself as she thought on the question.  She seems nice enough.  It’s not like she just came in, knife flashing, killing Ri’bot right and left, but there’s something unsettling about her.  She doesn’t act like anyone I’ve ever met, and now she’s asking what I know about her clan?  Maybe they’re just that out of touch with the current affairs of the various groups?

“Umm—the Ethereal Clan is spoken about in our stories predating the Fire Wars.  They were widely thought of as a rather small and insignificant group … secretive.  There was very little trade that took place between the clans, and least from the Ethereal, and it’s been said that they had some kind of connection to the Drék’uléph, along the West Sea, but no one is sure.

“The Ethereal Clan was one of the primary reasons why the other Ri’bot clans escaped the devistation of the Black Throne’s expansion after the White God fell.  To’Reha’Je focused many of his forces, pushing into Ri’bot territory, centered on destroying the Ethereal Clan … the reasons are still muddy on why, but there were rumors,” Nadraca mumbled.

“Do tell,” Iris pushed with a passive smile; she seemed to be enjoying the story, which put a little confidence in Nadraca.  “I’ve heard of the ape with the black flames.  Tell me more about the stories passed down of the battles between the Ethereal Clan and To’Reha’Je’s forces.”

“Okay, umm—there was little information passed between clans before the war against the Quen’Talrat, and was the first time in centuries that there was a gathering of the Chiefs, much less the union of the eight lands in combating the overwhelming power of the … apes, you called them?  I haven’t heard any Ri’bot refer to the Quen’Talrat as apes before, and I know I must be boring you with details you’re probably well aware of.”

“I enjoy the recount,” Iris chuckled.  “Continue.”

Her stomach acid was beginning to act up as she shifted her legs with unease.  She walks out of the jungle, and we suddenly realize we’re missing a ton of our people, then sits down for storytime like its remembrance day?  Yet, at the same time, her voice and appearance … she acts as if nothing’s wrong.  Is she just traveling?  Maybe she’s just one of only a few descendants that survived, or…

Nadraca’s tongue slid over her teeth as she took a deep breath to steel herself.  “Umm—if I may be so bold, Iris.  What are you doing here?  Is this Ethereal Clan territory, and if so, then we’ll humbly move on.  I just—I don’t want to have any trouble, and it seems like—like we’re already missing many in our expedition.”

Iris’ body tilted slightly to the left as she hummed, and her soft smile lifted slightly, glowing patterns along her skin, drawing Nadraca’s focus while she spoke.  “The Ri’bot are a lot more complex creatures than I once thought.  Your DNA has hidden traits buried deep inside that are broken, requiring something to fill the gaps.”

“DNA … hidden traits that are broken?”  Nadraca asked, mind going blank as her eyes slowly moved over Iris’ flawless body.

A soft giggle left Iris’ throat.  “Come back home with me to reunite with the Empress.  She’s looking forward to seeing the ones that caused her so much pain.  Are you ready to return?”

“Huh?”  Nadraca asked, feeling utterly lost.  The thing that confused her the most was Iris’ eyes; they were more dangerous and attractive than anything she’d witnessed.  She was drawn into those glowing yellow globes, even though she knew she’d be devoured.  “What was that again?  Elinor?  You’re with—with Elinor, not the Ethereal Clan?”

The cloud hazing Nadraca’s mind slowly dispersed; Iris’ alluring appearance and mannerisms enhanced the nightmarish situation.  This charmer was in disguise, and the devilish visage of Elinor’s smile returned to her mind, controlling this dream of a beauty in front of her.

Nadraca’s body started to quake as Iris’ smile turned into a perfect reflection of the Mother Supreme’s expression when she was staring patiently at a dense acolyte.  “Yes, Nadraca, I am the Executioner of Empress Elinor’s Royal Court.”

The priestess’ mind became numb as she connected the words.  “Executioner?  M-My warriors … seawayers?”

Iris’ black tongue slid over her lips.  “Delicious, from what I sampled.  They are all alive, of course.  The Empress wishes for them to be brought back in one piece, but they are all paralyzed, wrapped protectively in cocoons high in the trees until we prepare to move out.”

“Cocoons?”  Nadraca mumbled, sweat beginning to leak out of her skin, and before her eyes, Iris’ body filmed over with a black coating before her shape changed into a human with long fur atop her head.

Her black white-highlighted fur moved on its own, creating clothing across her top and bottom as she moved to kneel and talk to the human women, and a few of the children had begun to stir.  “Hello, little ones.  No, I am not human.  I’m what many call a Thélméthra.  The Queen of the Thélméthra.  Yes, I know,” she giggled.  “It doesn’t mean much to you, but you can see the reaction that name has on your captor.”

Iris turned her chilling red eyes on her with the humans, and Nadraca wet herself, releasing defensive toxins from her skin.  Thélméthra … Elinor raised a Thélméthra Queen?  Here … in front of me, and she can turn into the most beautiful Ri’bot I’ve ever seen … the one that leads all the Thélméthra?  I’ve never heard of such a creature.

The following information silenced all will to flee within Nadraca.  “You see, I have this reputation of fighting a flaming white ape, wounding him beyond healing.  No creature would dare attack you while in my presence.  Now, would you like to meet the Empress?  I thought you might,” she smiled while ruffling one of the kid’s fur.  “No creature will touch you as we return.  After all, I already executed everything that stands between us and the fortress.”

One of the women hesitantly mumbled something as she studied the Thélméthra Queen, and Iris responded in a humored tone.  “Yes, you could consider me a shapeshifter.”

A shapeshifter … a creature that can change her shape?  How?  Into anything?  At least I returned Yesenia to the Nalvea … if something good can come out of this, then, please … free my clan.  Maybe if I go back willingly, then I can make a deal with Elinor.  I’ve tried to be as kind as I can to the humans.  I tried…

She stiffened as Iris rose and turned toward her.  “Now, Nadraca.  I have some questions for you about that snake-woman you imprisoned.  Where is she?”

A lump dropped down Nadraca’s throat, and she determined to lie would do her more harm than good.  “I—I sent her back to the Nalvea capital.  Depending on the storm, the rest of my group is likely to reach the Crowned Mountains soon, downriver.”

Iris’ lips fell into an unreadable line.  “Unfortunate.  We will prepare to return to the fortress, then.  Yes, we will travel through the storm, but I will provide you protection against the elements.  There is only one other small group of humans; thirty-six humans, and fifty-three Ri’bot, to be exact.

“Yes, I know, they have a funny name, and Nadraca will speak to the other Ri’bot.”  Iris turned her chilling illuminant deep-red eyes on her.  “I am sure there will be no problems on our return.”

Nadraca cleared her throat.  “No … none.”

“Good.  Now, I will go release some of your warriors just outside, and you will come with me and explain our travel plans.”

Nadraca obediently followed her outside, wincing as the harsh wind and rain struck her dry skin; it felt good after a short while, but what met her sent chills down her spine.  A dozen white and black body-sized cocoons were placed neatly by each other in front of her tent.

How did she do this to every one of our warriors without so much as raising any resistance?  Is this the power of a Thélméthra?

Water dripped down the Queen’s smooth skin and thick fur as she turned to stare at her; she knew after watching the humans for so long that she was not smiling.  The Thélméthra wore a rather passive face, but she had no doubt the body she took would be just as alluring to the humans as her Ri’bot form was to them.

Iris’ lovely voice somehow cut past the wind and thunder.  “Tell me, Nadraca, what happened to the Thélméthra?”

Nadraca hugged her quivering body, smelling her own released chemicals with slight embarrassment.  “After … well, it soon became apparent that something had happened to Ke’Thra’Ma … he’d been gravely wounded.  Quen’Talrat morale dropped, and we were finally able to launch a combined assault against the White God and kill him through the infected wounds.

“That’s when … Thélméthra flooded out of the lower levels of the keep, and the Quen’Talrat grouped up before cutting a wave of carnage out of the keep, abandoning it.  Everyone ran … they were everywhere … in the jungle, many died.  It was as if they were insane.

“Stories say that within a few months, all the Thélméthra were either killed between the eight nations and Quen’Talrat, or they left … some rumors say they went far east, to the Wildlands.”

“I see,” Iris’s small eyes narrowed as she turned to touch one of the balls of silk, causing it to collapse, losing its structure entirely to allow Ilonef to tumble out in a tangled heap.  “So, my sister took the rest of my brood and went east to search for better prey; perhaps she found something better than the Quen’Talrat.  Although she never quite enjoyed their fire-like fur, it always upset her stomach.”

Nadraca didn’t dare interject, and Iris continued to move from container to container, releasing the Ri’bot.  The freed warriors rallied around her but quickly grew aware of the situation as she continued.

The return through the jungle was just as uneventful as Iris had stated, and none of the warriors or seawayers put up a fight once Iris showed them her true form.  They’d sooner fight the Ancestors themselves; it was pointless, and the Clavex had no pretense to meaningless honor.  

There was a sharp increase in the storm for a time, but it soon became traversable through the jungle.  The captors had become captives, and they understood the weight of living such a life.

The bone-chilling understanding of what they faced came as they traversed the flooding jungle, passing entire groups of dead Clanless that floated downstream, likely raiders by their appearance, and every Ri’bot’s face showed it, they died completely unaware of what assaulted them, surprise written in their dead eyes.

Iris had created some form of coverings for the humans that helped them move just as easily as the Ri’bot through the mud and storm.  It was becoming clear that if Elinor wished, then she could be even worse than the Quen’Talrat.

Nadraca took a shuddering breath as she passed another group of lifeless jungle predators, left partially eaten in the mud.  If possible, she must join the Clavex Clan to Elinor’s Empire, whatever it took, and nothing could solidify this more than when she entered the colossal city-fortress of the Quen’Talrat and saw the regal form of Empress Elinor herself, glaring down at them, sitting on the center throne of the White God.

A man and woman stood on either side of her, giving Nadraca the same chills as Iris, and the Thélméthra Queen joined the two, standing beside the man as a dozen skeletal Quen’Talrat and two more terrifying Thélméthra stood on both sets of stairs leading up to the throne.

Will I even make it out alive?  I just hope she doesn’t take over my mind.

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