The story so far:
“Why didn’t you use your gauntlets, Renni. He could’ve…” Thomas paced back and forth in the workshop tent. “He could’ve…” he hesitated, not wanting to say it. Renni watched his erratic movements. He hadn’t stopped pacing after bringing Mina to Phys.
“Renni did the right thing, Thomas,” Solomon entered the tent with a steaming cup of coffee and handed it to her. She sat on one of the stools near the workbench and held it near her lap, her eyes downcast staring into the thick brownish liquid, noting the ripples and the wafting steam.
“I don’t know.” She held the cup tight, relishing its warmth but not bringing it to her lips. Her stomach continued flip-flopping and only the thought of spilling hot coffee in her lap steadied her hands. “I…” She hung her head. “I just don’t know.”
“Stop that,” Solomon sat on another stool beside her and placed a gentle hand on her arm. She fought against shying away from her friend’s touch, ashamed at her initial reactions. He smiled understandingly but did not pull away from her. “No one knows how they will react when presented with a situation like that. Like Marshal said, you did well.”
Thomas threw his hands up into the air and growled under his breath. Marshal moved from his position near the door and grabbed the young man by the shoulders. With fluid gentleness, he sat Thomas down near Renni. “Shepherd did do well. She knows.” He faced her, dark glinting from the slits in his armor mask. “No shame.”
She shuddered again, the ‘what if’s’ flitting through her imagination. “He was provoking me, Thomas. That’s all. He wanted me to fight back.”
“To use against you,” Solomon added. “The people follow you, Renni. They trust you. He wanted to… to defame you. To shatter your reputation in the camp.”
“He wanted me to strike first. He wanted me to hurt him and then he could turn it around and say that I attacked him without provocation.”
“Surely the people here would never have believed anything like that?”
Both Renni and Marshal shook their heads. “People believe what they believe,” the armor clad guardian said. “Shepherd nemesis has way to make believe.”
Renni shuddered again and finally took a sip of the coffee. Warmth flowed down her throat, calming her from the inside out. Setting the cup on the bench, she stood and stretched her tight muscles, feeling a slight tingle from her gauntlets now returned to their resting place on her wrists.
“I don’t think that is all,” Thomas said.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t think it was only about provocation.”
“What else could it have been about?”
“Control. Most acts of… they’re usually about…”
“Control,” Renni repeated the word under her breath, again facing what could have been. She shook her head, shaking the thoughts from her. “It’s alright now.” She knelt before Thomas, placing her palm against his human cheek. “I’m alright, Thomas. Thanks to you three, nothing happened.”
“I promised Max I’d take care of you, Renni. That… that… he wanted to break you. He wanted to take your spirit. And it almost… had we not…” She nearly cried at the choke in his voice and the tears on his cheek.
“You have taken care of me, my friend. You all have.” She stood him up then and gave him a long hug. Solomon rose also and joined them. Marshal looked on, an air of satisfaction about him.
“We almost forget,” her teacher said as the three parted and returned to their stools.
Thomas slapped his forehead with his palm. “What we originally came here to tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“They’re coming back,” Solomon said. “Marshal heard them transmitting to his ship.”
“Who’s coming back?” A sudden gut wrenching knot settled in her stomach as she looked from one face to another. “Well?”
“The Harbingers. They’re coming back for us!”