Author Topic: Part 26: Betrayed  (Read 68 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 26: Betrayed
« on: November 13, 2022, 11:03:28 PM »
Aysa had promised it would only take two days to get the project on track again. By the next morning, it was clear they wouldn't have that much time.

Observers in grove Thaan had sent word just a few minutes ago that a mass of juns was headed their way. Aysa ordered the evacuation, but there was no chance they could get even one treqar out of here before the attackers arrived. Sure enough, qars were just beginning to uproot Tobor when Moss sensed incoming batches of juns. There were at least fifteen groups up there. Even if most were just decoys, they only had four working thunderers here at the Arbormass. It was unlikely they could survive an attack.

Aysa stopped the qars who were working on Tobor, and ordered him reconnected to the network. When the twins questioned her, she indicated the juns up there. "Even if we could get him away, they'd just follow him. We're safer as a group."

Reluctantly, Moss had to agree. He wished Char were here. Or rather, that she was alive somewhere else. "Anyone feeling lucky and want to guess which packages are decoys?"

A wave of grim satisfaction washed through the network. Doomed they might be, but the Arbormass wouldn't fall without a fight. Even without Char they had the best shots in the Union right here, and enough powder to light up a bunch of those jun vermin. Wordlessly, they divided up the thunderers and waited. The twins each took one, and Moss and Rax did the same. Tobor's connections weren't stable enough yet, and Aysa's reflexes were self-admittedly not up to the task. Rax's qars scurried between the four weapons, distributing powder to each one, and bringing more from the underground storeroom.

For some reason, the juns were now slowing down. They came to a halt up there, hovering just out of range. What were they waiting for? Then without warning, all four thunderers exploded!

Shrapnel peppered the branches and trunks of the nearest treqars. Twisted metal sheared off of the communication roots, maiming qars and burning into the ground. The blasts hadn't been big like Char's, and were no threat to the treqars themselves. Rax's surviving qars returned to him. Shock and horror swept through the network, except from him. From Rax, all Moss could feel was resignation and sorrow.

Moss was barely aware that the juns had started moving again. "Rax, what did you do??"

"What I had to. I'm sorry, everyone. I wish there had been another way."

Lars let out a burst of realization. "You're the spy! It never was Char—it was you who betrayed us!"

"You told them where we are, and now we're all going to die," Moss added, not even sure what he could feel in these circumstances. Resignation? Self-loathing? Maybe Char had been right about how to feel all along.

"No, not if I can help it," Rax insisted. "They're here to uproot me and fly me away. That was part of the deal. I'll speak to my superiors about you—maybe I can convince them to spare your lives."

"The deal??" Moss' dead feeling evaporated in front of a fresh surge of fury. "Why? Why would you ever work with the trejuns—they've killed thousands of us! They murdered your family, for Core's sake!"

"They just made it look that way. My grove is unharmed. You will be too, if you cooperate." Rax let out some resignation. "They knew the Chancellor would set up an Arbormass somewhere, so they approached me just after they poisoned all the qar queens. They said my grove would be spared if I could keep them informed on any new weapons that were designed here. They even said I was strong enough to be bonded to a jun queen when this was done! I'll be able to go home, and provide juns for my people!"

A silence inundated the network, as Moss struggled to believe what he was being told. How could Rax do this? Even if his family was still alive, the trejuns saw treqars as lesser life forms—to be exterminated like vermin! As Moss grappled with this new terrifying realization, he was dimly aware of Grace leaving her post and climbing up his trunk.

"There's no way we can beat them," Rax went on implacably. "I saw what they did to the northern groves outside of the Union. Burned to ash for defying Trejuna. Sure, these thunderers worked for a little while, but the trejuns were just toying with us. They only sent their most expendable juns out, and only with the leftover stone oil they didn't need! If they really wanted to, they could wipe us out in a week or two. It wouldn't even be that hard."

"You're such an idiot," Tobor put in scornfully. "You actually believe they care if you live or die? That they'll give you a jun queen so you can fly wherever you please? They used you, Rax! I grew up with this kind of intrigue and deception! Did you take them at their word when they said your grove was unharmed?"

"They brought me letters from my brothers," Rax responded. "They were definitely written after we lost contact with my grove."

"So they put grove Thurkun a little lower on the list. It's still one of the places they're going to wipe off the map! Let me guess—they insisted that you give them up-to-date schematics of everything we were building here, as soon as we built it?"

Rax hesitated.

Tobor apparently took that as a 'yes'. "Now they have everything we ever designed. They have our thunderers, and our mobile radios. They have our grabbers, and carts, and internal combustion devices. And now that they don't need us anymore, they've sent juns to wipe us out. All of us."

Stubbornness emanated from Rax, but it was traced with uncertainty. "No. They wouldn't do that."

"Look out there, Rax! It would take hundreds of thousands of juns to fly someone your size out of here. Does it look like there are that many juns coming? It's a bombing run, and you blew up our only chance of stopping it!"

Through his horror, Moss had almost forgotten about their impending deaths.

He had ordered all his qars to run away, as far away as possible. Grace was still out of contact, inexplicably climbing up his branches now. Maybe the others could get far enough away to survive what was coming. Then he realized Grace was heading towards one of the good-luck charms that Char had given him. She pulled on it and a syrupy liquid burst from it, pouring down over his trunk. It was connected to the others in his branches, and they all burst open as well, adding more liquid to the flow.

As the first wave of juns flew overhead and let loose, Rax let out a tiny trickle of fear. "But… we had a deal!"

Then fire was everywhere. Streaks of red-hot horror spread across the Arbormass, consuming, absorbing and growing. Qars roasted in their hollows, curling up and shrieking in blessedly-brief pain. Branches lit aflame and blackened, falling off as each and every treqar here felt themselves being cut into pieces. Sense after sense failed, and before long there was nothing but darkness.