He held it in his gut. He didn't dare open his mouth for fear that it would slip right out before he was finished with it. The human lay at his feet, passed out drunk for the millionth night in a row. Or somewhere thereabouts. Who could tell with Human time? The only thing that mattered for them was the sun and its continuous rise and fall. The darkness was the best time to sneak up on the lazy humans.
Slowly, the tired feeling he had been fighting slipped away and was replaced with a brightness in his extremities. He closed his eyes and let it fill him up, pour into every cell, until he was full to bursting. He savored the languid feeling of completeness while the power was at its height because he knew it wouldn't last long.
When he was done, he opened his mouth. A mist floated out, barely discernible from the hazy smoke that filled the room from the human's last cigarette. The mist moved with a purpose. It was going home. Back into the human's soul. Pity they had to give the energy force back to the humans. Pity their tiny forms weren't strong enough to hold an energy force of their own, requiring them to borrow from lesser forms of life. The brightness faded, leaving him with more than enough energy to make it until his next trip to the surface. It was enough, but it was never enough. The mist left a trail of longing and sadness every time it floated out of him and every time it was harder and harder to ignore.
He sighed and jumped down from the human's stomach (the bellybutton was the easiest access sight). There was a crowd waiting for him when he got there. They were all professional men, too disciplined to show the buzz that had to be coursing through their veins from their own Energy Restorations. These were the soldiers that normally traveled with the citizens of U'Ganda and protected them during Restoration because it is the time when they are most vulnerable. So who protected the soldiers? They took turns. And it looked like he was the last one finished.
The soldiers stood in a relaxed circle, chatting because the rest of the room was silent. All humans were unconscious and sapped of energy. Sleep was the only way to recover from it so they would be out for some time. They were in no immediate danger, there was no chance of discovery and they were freshly energized and ready to take on the world. He actually smiled as he approached the waiting group. It was a good moment, as good as it got, and he let himself feel the excitement. It lasted until the leader of the group, his second in command, U'Pranta pulled away from the circle to greet him. U'Pranta kneeled in front of him, right arm across his chest with his hand in a fist above his heart. A formal gesture from an old friend. This was not a good sign. His words proved no different.
"U'Lantee," the second in command greeted him. "Your mother requests your presence."
The Mother Queen hated her station in life. It presented with all sorts of hindrances. This was a new development in her thinking. Today, she blamed her position as Ruler of the U'Ganda for why she was not able to embrace her son the moment he walked in the room. There were no bystanders to watch, should there be an indiscretion towards protocol, but they followed it anyhow. U'Lantee, her firstborn, her wisest, most beloved, walked in the room with a look of apprehension and dread. He bowed formally, then rose and kissed her cheek. None of these actions were done with the warmth she had once hoped would blossom between them. She blamed her position.
But her station in life did not force her to stand erect with her hands clasped in front of her and her lips pursed in displeasure. She did that all on her own. She could have broke the news to him in a gentler way, she could have led him to a chair, held his hand and sat by him when she told him that the man he loved as his father was dead. That a tunnel had collapsed in the south wing due to a thunderstorm on the surface. The fact that there was only one death was a solace only to the survivors, not to anyone in that room.
She could have put an arm around his shoulders when they slunched and maybe then he would have been comfortable crying in front of her. She could have consoled him. A time of grief could have become a time of bonding. But she did none of those things. She read what she had prepared in her mind, but it came out colder than she wanted. There was no way to soften the blow so she did not attempt it. His look of horror came not only from the news. He reacted to her lack of feeling for a man who raised him, loved him, gave him the tenderness she could not. He hated her for it, she could feel that in his stiffness as he rose to leave, thanked her for giving him the news as if they were discussing the next wave of Restoration Surface Trips.
But she could not tell him why there were no tears. She could not tell him that she already mourned the loss of the man she loved years ago, that the soul that presided in the shell U'Lantee knew was already gone by the time he was old enough to remember. The fact that the shell was now crumpled on a table in the lowest of lower levels meant nothing to her. She wanted more than anything to tell him this. But her station in life prevented it.
The door closed behind him but he might as well have closed the wall to her heart.
Inside the hollow reaches of the second to last tunnel rushed an older gentleman. If there wasn't such a crisis in the tunnels above, he would have been horrified at his behavior. One of his age should not be rushing anywhere. As it were, everyone else was too busy evacuating and assessing the damage above caused by the collapsed tunnel to pay any attention to his behavior. Of course, if there hadn't been such a crisis in the tunnels above, there would be no need for him to be going to the lowest of the lower levels in such a hurry, either. He did not deny his heart the heaviness it felt because of the task ahead of him but he gladly paid more attention to the pain in his legs, not being used to such activity as running, as a way to delay the inevitable.
All too soon there was no more delaying possible. He reached the door, the last one before their section of land ended and gave way to ant colonies. He pushed it forward with only the slightest of hesitations and closed his eyes only briefly. No one noticed. With a small sigh he joined the chaos in progress.
The former Father of the U'Ganda lay spread eagle on the table, completely unclothed. One soldier held each of his appendages in place, looking at every possible corner of the room except forward. A tightness gripped his chest. No, he couldn't think like that. This was not the young man he helped raise from a little boy. That young man never got to make it to the old age of the body in front of him. That young man was ripped away and filled with an impostor. That is how he had to think of this in order to make it through the evening with his sanity in tact. Nothing but a body.
Above the body hovered a mist. It writhed and contorted into vague shapes before snapping back into a faceless mold. He did not think about his task at hand. Should he have paused at that moment, even for as brief amount of time as he did at the door, the courage he built up would have slipped away irretrievably. Maybe courage was too strong a word. Merely acceptance of an unpleasant task to which he was obliged to full fill. This he did for the spirit that used to be the Father of U'Ganda.
Not a soul in the room looked at him as he stuck his hand into the mist. But the scribes in the corners of the room picked up their utensils, energy and a sense of destiny propelling their quills to jot down every word spoken. Theirs were the only faces that showed no reaction to the words, being too preoccupied on getting them all down and in the correct order that the meaning behind them did not register. They were spared the horror until the room cleared and they were given the task of transforming their shorthand into longhand and comparing notes. When they were finished, not one of their complexions retained the rosy blossom inherit in the U'Ganda people. Their blood drained into their hearts that reached out to the poor Prince U'Lantee.
Prince U'Lantee went from his mother's chamber to his own. He bypassed the sector that was in an uproar and filled with busy workers and panicked citizens. The long way did not seem so long that night. He took the quickest path to the surface first. It took him to his favorite place to be in the whole world. He sat on the branch of the tree that dangled out over the stream. He wasn't close enough to dip his feet, but he could feel the cool energy float off the ripples as they passed under him. He absorbed every sound of the quiet night, losing his thoughts and his turmoil in their peace. He let it calm him like nothing else did.
It was a trick his dad showed him. Sitting on that very branch years ago, before he became distant, before his mother pulled away from their marriage. U'Lantee was convinced that her sudden cold demeanor ruined his father, that things could have turned out so differently. If only....
His branch creaked as another joined him. U'Lantee jumped up too late. He should have seen or heard the intruder before then. He berated his laziness as he took a fighting stance. The soft, girlish laugh did not deter him until he saw her face.
"Will you fight me, U'Lantee?" U'Kira did not stop her advance.
U'Lantee laughed with her. He would not fight her. Never her. He let her join him, which she did without a word. They sat next to each other on the branch, their sides brushing against each other, the silence filled with everything she did not need to say. It was clear she knew what had happened and why he had come to their favorite place. After a moment she took his hand and leaned her head against his shoulder. She was not there long before he kissed her.
It was soft, at first, as it always was, but always it ended there and then she giggled and ran away for him to catch her again. A game he did not mind, even on a night such as that. But it was a different night in more ways than one. Her lips did not let him go. They pushed into him harder with an urgency he matched kiss for kiss. He did not know when he first noticed the mist, but he did know that he first brushed it aside as fog even though it was unusual for that time of year. He was preoccupied with more important things than fog and its peculiarities. By the time his breath was coming in short gasps, it was too late. The mist was in his lungs, making no room for air and no room for life.
He managed one word before he died and it gave him the best last moment he could have wished for. "U'Kira?" There was so much pain in that question, to be betrayed by the one woman he thought to confide in, but his voice woke her from some spell. The mist was no longer in her and controlling her actions. She screamed when she saw him, and tried her best to revive him and when it was obvious that her efforts were failing, she held him and told him that she loved him.
Though hers was the kiss of death, it was the best kiss of his life.