The First Her

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Part 5

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After Kira ate food to calm Vrox down, they packed up and resumed their way. It didn’t take long for the jungle to become denser. Afraid of losing Vee in the sea of plants, she made him ride in her basket.

“Be careful of yellow flowers. Do not touch them,” Vrox warned.

“Are they poisonous?”

“Yes. They are irritating to the skin.”

“Why haven’t we seen any other predators?” Nebula asked moments later.

“They can sense that there are many of us based on the vibrations of our footsteps. They are likely trailing us and will lurk during the night.”

Kira and Nebula shuddered, now on the lookout for anything that was brightly pigmentated or toothy.

When they broke out of the dense area, she relaxed and sparked up a conversation. The group laughed and bickered, distracting her from the soreness of her feet. When Vrox finally declared that it was time to camp, she sat down and was unable to get back up. As Vrox set up their tent, she stared at her leather sandals that were bursting at the seams, struggling to contain her swollen feet. Then, she examined her stomach, which she swore looked plushier than usual.

She rubbed the area, smiling at the thought that soon, she wouldn’t be able to see her feet.

Vrox was quick to finish setting up. He came outside and helped her up. Once inside the tent, she dove for the furs and moaned her relief.

Vrox unstrapped her sandals, saying, “you were strong today. I am proud of you.”

She pulled her knees to her chest. “I don’t feel comfortable with your praise. It feels undeserved. You guys did all the work today by killing that thing while I just trembled in a corner. Nebula carried on too, but she doesn’t get praised.”

“Your feelings of guilt are unnecessary. My brothers and I are used to these landscapes, so we are not distressed by them. You and Nebula are fairing well.”

She sighed, still feeling useless. The temptation to bring up self-defense classes tingled her tongue, but it had been a long day for both of them, so she saved the argument for another day.

“I’ll try to get used to it. Now, can you come here and let me hug you, please?”

He chuckled with that rumbling, lazy voice of his that would have impregnated her if she wasn’t already.

Crawling to her, he tucked her head under his chin and drew random shapes on her back.

“That feels so good,” she groaned.

“Sleep. I will wake you for dinner.”

_ • _

As days came and went, traveling became easier. Just two days of walking stood between them and The Ruins. Kira had seen all sorts of wonders and terrors in their travels– glow in the dark lakes, golden rocks, flying spiders, and camouflaging snakes.

Ezron was a heavenly hell.

“What is that?” she dared ask when she heard a wheezing sound.

“It is a pack of heua feeding off their mother.”

“What?”

Vrox nodded. “They bite poison into their mother upon birth and eat her corpse. They are small creatures, but vicious.”

Kira felt just about ready to pass out.

“And the father allows it?” Nebula piped.

“The mother kills and eats the father after a successful mating,” Ni’ev casually answered.

Of course, she does.

Kira expected nothing else from Ezron’s wildlife.

She glanced down at Vee to make sure how he was doing, only to drop the basket when metal screeched.

Vrox and the others jumped to action, raising their weapons against the men that were charging from all directions. Kira swallowed down a scream when she saw Vrox swing a mighty bicep and decapitate a man. The body fell to its knees, and the head bounced twice before rolling and presenting two dead eyes.

“Move!” Ni’ev roared over his shoulder before kicking one man down and gutting another.

Kira grabbed Nebula’s elbow and ran for it.

“Here!” Kyros yelled, raising a hand to grab their attention.

Kira turned to run his way, only to slide to a sobbing halt when Kyros’ dark skin was penetrated by silver. A sword erupted out of his flesh like lava from a volcano, stunning both Kyros and the women. He looked down at his chest, confused, and then slowly lifted his head to show her his blues one final time. His mouth opened, likely to voice his goodbye, but was only able to produce a cough of red.

“Kyros,” she whispered, her soul heavy.

He fell, and he didn’t get back up.

A wild man with scaled shoulders and two thick braids replaced him. His eyes were red– about as crimson as the pool of blood Kyros was now floating in.

“We have to go!”

Nebula pulled her, and then they were running from the open field. An older man crossed their paths for only a few seconds before a dagger flicked into his right eye. Kira didn’t need to look back at the sea of metal to know who saved them.

Vrox swept in, grabbing both women and clutching them to his sides. Kira bounced uncontrollably but was able to identify Ni’ev, Ak, Draekon, Rokan, and Vee behind them.

Everyone but Kyros.

They ran for hours, twisting and turning until the few men that followed were long gone. Vrox stopped only when the sun began to dip. Both exhaustion and disbelief sent him down, and the thudded on the grass.

“We– we must,” Rokan panted. “Go back for Kyros. Perhaps he... is still...”

Ni’ev shook his head, throwing his head back and palming his forehead. “I rested my ear on his chest. There was nothing there. Fates, he was not breathing. There was nothing. He was empty. Kyros is dead.”

“Dead,” he repeated. His usually solid, untempered voice was now colored with hysteria.

“He is my brother! We must get his body!” Rokan boomed, eyes lashing left and right in search of a target.

“He was my brother too!” Ni’ev growled.

Rokan palmed his chest and shoved him back. “It is not the same,” Rokan countered. “He had my blood. He was more mine than yours. We were all that remains of my family line. You do not understand!”

“Nonsense!” Ni’ev pieced. “We grew up together. How dare you defile this?”

Rokan stepped forward, his reasoning blurred by the drug of rage. He swung, and an equally devastated Ni’ev swung back.

Kira winced when the men clashed.

“Vrox,” she muttered, tugging at his shoulder. She looked at Rokan and Ni’ev, which her blurry sight presented as a ball of flesh. “We have to stop them.”

Her words didn’t reach him. His mind was a galaxy away. He remained on his knees, looking at Rokan and Ni’ev’s skirmish with a shell-shocked expression.

Nebula was on the ground, hands cupping her shock, Ak was fisting his hair, pacing, and muttering nonsensically, and Draekon stared at the jungle as if waiting for Kyros to appear.

The sounds of thudding and grunting in the background dulled. Kira felt like the was falling through a never-ending portal.

“But first, tell me more about your eye-sweat.”

“No. She domesticated a pufil and an Ezronian male.”

“Vrox, Kira! Come for dinner! Kira is already with child. There is no need for more mating!”

Those blue eyes of his that squinted with playfulness were now unfocused, and his bright smile was now polluted with a mouthful of dirt.

Her friend and teacher was gone. The same scorching sun that they spent hours under during the afternoons, working to treat furs, was now cooking his decaying corpse.

Sudden dizziness struck her, and she lowered herself before grief devoured her balance. A storm of pain dripped down her face, producing the tears that Vrox couldn’t.

The Ruins were just two days away. They were so close to starting anew. Why did this happen now? Why to Kyros?

Her blurred, dizzy gaze looked over the camp. The two beasts were now missing. Their treasures and family heirlooms were lost, leaving them with only the clothes on their back.

None of that mattered, because no jewel glittered as brightly as Kyros.

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