“Anyway, I have a lot to think about. Thanks, Nebula. You should hand me over the magnifying glass. I have to smooth out the edges.”
“I would have never thought that Vrox would let you near hot metal.”
Kira smiled, feeling proud of Vrox for his growth. Over the past two weeks, he helped her blacksmith the sheet of metal she took from her throne into a dagger. It was small– a perfect fit for her, and glistered delicately with its deceiving, beautiful blue.
“He helped me out. He has been more understanding and respectful of my goals,” Kira shared.
Will he treat your daughter the same?
Noticing that her smile flickered, Nebula asked, “what is it?”
“Ezronians...” Kira began, licking her lips. “They don’t allow women to become commanders. So if the baby turns out to be female...”
Nebula winced when she connected the dots. “That’s fucked, Kira.”
“I know. I can’t accept it.”
“What did Vrox say?”
With a shrug, Kira admitted, “I haven’t told him yet. So much is happening. As angry as I was, it didn’t feel like the right time to discuss it. There’s already so much that we have to work on.”
Nebula nodded and lifted the mood with a bright grin.
“To be honest, I’m rooting for twin girls.”
Kira rolled her eyes and rubbed her stomach. “I’m only approaching the second month, and I already feel like one of those military tanks I helped NASA design.”
“Can I touch you?” Nebula hesitated, her hand lingering in the air.
With a chuckle, Kira gripped her wrist and brought it to her stomach.
“Wow,” Nebula gaped, wiggling her fingers around. “I can’t believe you’re showing this much already.”
“I know, right? I should start gathering materials to make myself a wheelchair.”
The girls burst into a fit of giggles.
“Come, let’s go polish the magnifying glass.”
They headed to the blacksmithing room, which was specially designed with ceiling tunnels to allow ventilation. The first thing the men built was an anvil stand, then hammers, pots, and an oven compartment. She often left the room sweating because hellish temperatures were needed to melt the metals.
Since she didn’t have much muscle strength, she couldn’t lift hammers to strike the weapons and pots into shape. She picked up other tasks, like polishing and making calculations.
“How are those pipes coming along?”
“Awesome. I mean, the system is pretty ancient since it depends on gravity. Nine point eighty-one meters per second squared is pretty much the fuel of this thing. The water tank will be set at the highest level of the pyramid. It will require manual refilling ever so often, but it will drastically decrease the number of trips the guys have to make. I’m also going to rig the roof to collect rainwater, so...”
“Kira, you’re rambling.”
“Sorry, she laughed. “Hand me that green sheet of sandpaper. Let’s smooth out the glass.”
It only took a few minutes for Kira to dive into a much more detailed rant that Nebula could barely keep track of. This time, Nebula let rant on, happy to know that Kira had great plans for their new home.
“Kira,” Vrox called out from the entrance.
"Hey,” she tossed at him before continuing to educate Nebula on propellers.
Vrox walked to her side, his hand finding her hip.
“Have you felt nauseous today?”
She shook her head. ”Nope.”
“That is probably because you bored the seedling to sleep with your nonsensical blabber.”
The jab earned him a glare and Nebula’s laugher.
“Come, you two. It is time to eat.”
“About that,” Kira cleared her throat. “I was hoping we could have dinner alone? Just you and I?”
Knowing what was about to be discussed, Nebula excused herself.
“Alone? For what purpose?”
“I have to share something with you. I should have told you weeks ago, and I’m sorry that it took so long. I promise that I will do better next time.”
“Is your health at risk?” he asked, face clouding.
He took her hand and guided her to their room. She sat on their newly renovated bed as Vrox left to collect their dinner. As she waited, she stroked the fur of the many blankets that covered the bed, making a mental note to wash them.
When Vrox returned, she eagerly accepted her plate. Ak had been bringing home many spices. If Nebula showed no signs of food poisoning after a few days, Kira would try it out as well. Their favorite finding so far was a sweet and sour spice.
“What did you want to discuss?”
She set her empty plate aside and tossed a look at the entrance. “Well, I just want you to know that I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to risk a fight.”
“A fight? Do you mean an argument?”
“No, a physical fight.”
He scowled, his fangs flashing in the dim torchlight. “I have told you time and time again that I will never lift a hand in anger to you. What must I do to convince you?”
“Not toward me. Toward your brothers.”
“Me? Fight my brothers?” He raised a hand to scratch his hair. “I admit that I have much disdain for Ak, but I would not fight him without a very good reason.”
“No, I’m not talking about him either. I’m talking about Ni’ev.”
Vrox looked stunned. “Why in the fates would I want to fight with Ni’ev? We do spar occasionally, but that is for training purposes. There has never been bad blood between us.”
“I spent a lot of time wondering if I imagined this,” Kira admitted with a lick to her lips. “But he spends so much time staring at me. It makes me feel uncomfortable.”
The smile that crossed Vrox’s face surprised her.
“He must have a reason. Ni’ev is a good male. I am proud to have him as my brother.”
His smile was so loving that she was tempted to drop the topic. She didn’t want to prove Vrox wrong; to sever the bond he had with his older brother.
“Come? Come where?”
“To speak with him. He will be honest. Ni’ev does not lie.”
Reluctantly, she followed Vrox. He disappeared into the room where everyone was lounging for a few seconds, and then re-appeared with Ni’ev.
“Kira,” he nodded respectfully. “Vrox said you wish to speak?”
She looked from Ni’ev to Vrox, before setting her shoulders and smoldering her fear. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been staring at my stomach a lot lately,” she said, grabbing her stomach absentmindedly. “I was wondering why? Is there something on your mind?”
She took comfort in the fact that he looked as calm as he always did.
Raising a hand, Ni’ev pointed to her stomach. “The fur of your dresses. Vrox went to great lengths to hunt the animal that produces it. He wanted you to wear the best material.”
She nodded. She had noticed that the material of the dress was thinner, less suffocating than others. ”Okay. Is there anything wrong with it?”
“No. I have been thinking about the cape that Commanders wear. It has been carried down for generations, but I noticed that it has gone missing. I thought that Vrox needed one to continue the tradition. However, without Kyros here, it feels wrong to prepare something so sacred. I think of him when I look at your attire.”
Kira’s shoulders sagged with relief. “That’s it?”
He shrugged. “Yes. What other reason would there be?”
“Oh, thank fuck.”
He frowned, unable to understand her English.
“Thanks for clarifying that. And by the way, if you want to rub me, you only have to ask. I won’t say no.”
“Rub you?” the brothers repeated, equally confused.
“Yeah. You rubbed my stomach when you thought I was asleep. You don’t have to be so shy. You’re family.”
The men exchanged a look before Ni’ev stepped back into the room. “Draekon, Ak, Rokan, a word.”
The three men abandoned their dinner, Nebula, and Vee inside.
“Did one of you...” Ni’ev began, inhaling deeply. “Touch Kira’s womb?”
“Why would we do this?”
“That would be disrespectful.”
With every denial, Kira’s head became lighter.
“So Ni’ev, you didn’t...”
“Of course not,” he denied. “How could I sneak into my brother’s room and touch what belongs to him? I would gladly cut my hand off first.”
“But you asked to hold me when Vrox was sick!” she despaired, desperate for answers.
“That is because I knew Vrox would not have liked to see you sleeping on the ground.”
“Then... then if it wasn’t Nebula, or you, or Ak, or Draekon, or Ni’ev, or Vrox, then– then who...” she shuderred. “Who the fuck...” She was scared; she was furious that a stranger snuck up on her as she laid vulnerable. Disgust curling her blood and tears stung her eyes.
Arms swept under her, gathering her against Vrox’s chest.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked, voice shaky.
“Nebula!” Vrox boomed.
The other girl dropped the plate she had been snacking on. “Yes?” she squealed, shrinking against a wall.
“Watch over her.”
The next thing Kira knew, she was sitting beside Nebula and watching Vrox walk away.
“Don’t you walk through that door!” she demanded.
He kept walking, his back a kingdom of muscle that was ready to bring forth a reign of terror.
“Damn it, Vrox. We grew past this.”
He rushed to her, presenting his bleeding lip and golden irises that looked barren of mercy. With their foreheads connected, he grated, “I will bring you his head.”
Kira grabbed his cheeks to keep his forehead pinned against hers.
“Calm down.” She pressed a hand to his chest, feeling it tremble from the war it was containing. “Think clearly. You can’t go after whoever is behind this. The group can’t afford to get separated. We didn’t have the manpower to split up to look for Kyros. This is the same situation.”