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Xenex Falls, I


The sun blazed down, hot and savage across the dry sands of Xenex. Fiery in its ravage of the desert world, it burned on, uncaring of the events transpiring on the small world.

Far, off in the distance, clouds of smoke formed. One after another, they became a dark haze, spreading like a cancer over the land. Another billow here, more flashes of light across the flatlands in another direction, and an occasional peal of quiet thunder in the distance beyond.

The melee grew nearer, louder, until finally, an explosion rocked the waiting city of Calhoun, setting the almost silent town suddenly ablaze with screams and retaliatory weaponry fire.

Grozit, a fleeting thought passed through her mind, they're using goddamned grenades when they could just as easily finish the battle cleanly. But no, she realized; their foes were content to pick off a few city-dwellers at a time, waiting for the metaphoric white flag to raise over the city walls.

It's not happening.

Roughly, she brought a clenched fist into the stone border of the window, shallow abrasions splaying traces of red against otherwise white knuckles. Another tattered legion rushed through the gate, and she cursed herself for not being with them.

It only took another few minutes for the next wave of stench to reach her nose as the troops roasted on the sands, their drained weapons and metal blades no match for the endless arsenal of Elasian plasma rifles. Gods be damned for reverse-engineering taking too long, thanks to the infiltrators who'd managed to sabotate the bulk of their work.

And, she thought, gods be damned for the next round of Xenexian fighters assembling within the barricade to go and die. Young ones -- even younger than the young leader of Condacin, she realized with a chill belying the dry heat of the day, made hotter to her by the rising anger in her soul.

Before the next ill-equipped Xenexian onslaught could disappear from her sights in the window, O'd'yl paced back into the third-level room, fury claiming her as a prize as she glanced around for a shield in the cavernous room. She'd take a toppled dinner platter were it available -- it'd still leave her better prepared than most of their men. Locating a thick piece of heavy, burnished metal -- from a wrecked piece of... some piece of recovered Elasian communications technology she'd once had a look at, was it? -- she stormed towards the corridor and stairwell, bent on joining the futile path of destruction her countrymen were set upon inflicting upon their would-be oppressors.

She went by several rooms on her trek towards the ground level, a figure emerging behind her after she'd passed his chamber. The woman heard him step out behind her, pause to inevitably assess her purpose, and let out a long sigh. And there she headed off the carefully-phrased lecture that was sure to follow.

"I'm going down there, Sh'nab," O'd'yl announced, quietly, breaking her stride only to report her plans, then continued her march.

Quiet, slower steps followed her, words that trailed her bringing her to another begrudged halt. "It's no use, O'd'yl. It'd be a waste of your life."

Finally turning, she made a brief assessment of the older, mentoring man behind her, and gestured abstractly to their unseen remains of an army beyond the walls of the so-called fortress; in reality just a half-protected estate in the heart of the city. "And their lives aren't being wasted?"

"They're soldiers."

"And so am I."

Another slow exhalation. "You know you're more valuable than that, especially now. It's useless. All of it," he mumbled, bitterly.

"Even with all your pessimism, I've never heard you speak so of the fight. Even if we're facing annihilation, we're still doing the right thing, and you know that. So now, in the face of bloody defeat, that's when you decide to doubt the cause."

"No!" he exclaimed, seizing on her words with venom. "It's not the cause that I question. You don't understand -- the war is over! There's nothing we're fighting for at all now."

It went quiet in the hallway, only the faint hint of screams and warcries outside the fortress walls breaking the acidic quiet. O'd'yl approached, eyeing the older man with mixed confusion and revulsion. "What are you saying?"

"D'n'dai is panicked without his brother to lead. He's in communication with the Elasians now, negotiating a temporary cease fire."

"He's surrendered us?" The leader of Condacin drew back in abhorrence.

Sh'nab's head dropped. "He has, O'd'yl. He has."


* * *


Only the slightest hint of well-rooted respect for someone who'd offered her his hospitality in time of dire need kept O'd'yl from backhanding the leader of the Calhoun province where he sat.

"You, D'n'dai," she began, spitting the words like so very foul bits of drink, "are peerless among fools. Peerless! After all your brother has done, all he and our comrades have done to prevent this, you have to go and do something so moronic -- so cravenly. I hope you burn in the darkest levels of hell for this -- along with the Elasian bastards who you've just welcomed into the clans with welcome arms." She paced, her hand upon her dagger as she glared at him, eyes chillingly cold.

"Calm yourself, O'd'yl," he replied evenly. "Hysteria won't help any of us --"

"Your brother is gone, and has likely died for this planet's freedom, and you want me to calm myself? Are you insane? No, wait. I already know that answer," she interrupted, continuing her tirade.

He rubbed at his temples for a moment, closing off a monitor still displaying the red eye and insignia of the Elasian Navy. "Would you rather see our species completely obliterated, like the Danteri?"

"Don't even try bringing the Danteri's fate into this. They died as cowards, and that lack of resolution was undoubtedly what they lacked to be valuable to the Elasians. And yes," she hissed at him, "I'd rather see every last Xenexian a corpse than used by those bastards like we were under the Danteri. I won't put my people through that not a second time."

"Unfortunately, O'd'yl," he paused to rise, looking at her from increasingly annoyed eyes, "they're not your people to command. They're mine. You're merely a guest -- a refugee in my household, and this is not Condacin. Or," he reminded, bluntly, "the smoldering remains of Condacin."

She shook her head in a furious retort. "They're clansmen of yours. They're still Xenexians. They're still my people." Her tone softened in a ploy of bargaining, and she glanced away to disguise the remaining anger in her gleaming golden eyes. "D'n'dai, you know your brother would never have done this."

"As you mentioned yourself, he's disappeared; missing if not dead. And you forget, O'd'yl, in either case, I control the affairs of state, while M'k'n'zy only maintains authority over the militaristic matters."

"This is a matter of the military!"

"Not when it's me who the average citizen looks to for guidance in how to live their lives -- and their lives are the ones that are being thrown away now. You know this. But it's a moot point. He is gone, which leaves control of our fate to me, regardless of prior arrangements and agreements with M'k'n'zy."

Brushing past her, he gestured to the door of his study to the huge meeting place beyond. "Out, beyond the main entry to this building," he said, pointing towards the heavy-doored entrance of the combined meeting-place and estate, "is the Great Square. Tomorrow, at dawn, the Elasians are landing a party in the heart of Xenex to determine our species' fate. They've demanded the survivng leaders be in attendance, as well as any eminent scholars, military officials, ministers and advisors... hell, they've even demanded local religious authorities."

"Y'tan committed suicide after Seanwin was seized," he continued, mentioning the leader of the third eminent province on Calhoun. "You're here, M'k'n'zy has gone missing and will likely be found dead or alive by morning, and I've alerted most of the other foremost names on this world to be here, or face my wrath."

The leader of vanquished Condacin stared. "You're doing as he said? Gathering us all in one place to be killed like fish in a barrel? You're even more of an idiot than I thought."

"We're pacifying them, showing good intentions after these nightmarish few weeks." A pause. "They're not fools. They know that it would be difficult managing Xenexian affairs without the guidance of natives familiar with the affairs. They're not going to kill us, O'd'yl."

He turned back to his disheveled desk, strewn and abandoned strategies and plans lying across the metal surface. "You have one night, then it'll be a new world." A kindly light struck his eyes, almost condescending in its overwhelming pity. "And with dawn, you'll see that this was the right decision to make. In a way, we'll have won -- undoubtedly we'll exercise our own control, just paying tribute and occasionally pacifying the Xenexians, and in turn, we'll be safe from other threats. Total autonomy isn't always the right choice. We have no way of knowing that they'll run a dictatorship like the Danteri -- perhaps this is for the best, after all."

O'd'yl stayed herself against the door's frame, not offering so much as a glance back. "Everything we've fought for and everything Xenex is will be gone come sun-up. I hope you're prepared for that."


* * *


The fading sun chased O'd'yl to the village center's sandy courtyard, a safe bit of natural Xenex accessible without venturing past the surrounded city walls. The woman knelt in the dirt -- somewhere, she pondered, after their ignoble defeat, she thought she belonged, and listened to the near absence of sound, shockingly different from the hum of phase weaponry and clash of sword; pelting of rock and the screams of the dying. It was quiet, apprehensively serene, and should not have been.

Assured that she was alone, assured in her convictions that she'd deserved a very hellish afterlife to be met the next day, assured she'd failed in every station she'd inherited, and beyond all things, assured that Xenex was lost to her forever, O'd'yl of Condacin wept in the sands, falling from her crouch into the sandy dirt and into Xenex itself.

And there, she found herself the next morning, dawn threatening to come with every brightening minute. There she'd spent, what she was sure, was the last night of her life.

Edited by OdileCondacin

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