2.11 Cry of Salvation

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Refugees gathered their ragged belongings, eager to follow the Yeresunsa strangers to "safety." The half-eaten dead would be left behind to rot. Again.

Cherise flinched when something draped over her shoulders. A blanket. Was someone pretending to care about her?

"This will keep you warm," Kessa said.

Kessa had removed the wrap from her own shoulders. She tucked it around Cherise, and Cherise remembered that not everyone was a faker. Thomas had no power with which to hurt her, and her abusive mother was light years away, in prison. The Torth might take over Earth and snap a slave collar around her neck.

For the first time in what must be days, Cherise stopped shivering.

"I am sorry about Dugwon." Kessa wrapped thin arms around Cherise.

The fact that Kessa was here at all ... Cherise could not remember the last time she'd felt so well cared for. She melted against the ummin elder. Her sense of loss came out in helpless sobs.

Kessa rested her beak on top of Cherise's hair. She said nothing at first. She waited for the worst of Cherise's pain to come out.

After a while, Kessa said, "Here. Drink this water." She offered a thin flask that was wrapped in black cloth. "The Yeresunsa warriors gave it to us."

A sip of pure water revived Cherise more than she thought possible. 

"We have to go." Kessa stood. "I am sorry, but this is not a place to mourn." She gestured at the heaped carcasses. "Scavengers will want to feast, and the Torth may notice and investigate. We cannot stay here."

Cherise understood how common death was among slaves. She had lived in the slave Tunnels, and slaves did not have funerals or burials. The deceased were garbage. Even so ... to leave the remains seemed like giving a reward to this nasty planet.

The warrior with the broken scimitar beckoned for them to hurry. The whole group was in motion.

Cherise stood, struggling to recall what humans said when their best friends died. Was there a prayer for that?

"I am sorry, Cherise." Kessa clasped her hand. "We cannot take Dugwon with us. But we will remember her."

The Torth Empire probably used aerial drones to scan for anomalies in the dead city. If they happened to notice the retreating horde of wild zoved, they might assume the beasts had met something of interest. How soon would they send a fleet?

Thomas would know.

Cherise looked his way, wanting to ask his opinions about their enemies, as well as their Yeresunsa rescuers. She made a strangled noise of surprise. Kessa followed her gaze, and her beak fell open.

Thomas hovered in midair, limp, as if held aloft by invisible ropes. Muck dripped from his dangling form. An enormous bundle of wraps swaddled his head, making him look very much like a mutant.

A warrior focused on Thomas, apparently levitating him. Cherise recognized the Yeresunsa stare. She'd seen the same glowing intensity in Alex's eyes when he battled armies.

"Can he breathe in there?" Cherise hated to imagine that Thomas might be suffocating in cloth. She no longer loved him, but that didn't mean she wanted him to suffer. Not anymore.

"They promised to keep him alive." Kessa glared at the closest warrior.

He strolled over to them. "The rekveh can breathe through its mouth," he said in a reassuring tone. "We left its jaw loose."

Indeed, Thomas's mouth hung slightly open beneath the mass of wraps.

Cherise studied the black-swaddled warrior. His accent was mushy and harsh, but he spoke the slave tongue well enough. "What did you call him?" she asked.

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