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Vrox walked to Ak’s side with Kira on his heels. His brother’s gaze shifted from him to Kira before settling on him again.
“She wants to look for fruits. Do not go more than one click away. Bring her back within ten minutes. Do you understand?”
Ak threw his gaze over at Nebula, replying, “yes.”
“Ten minutes, Ak, or I will come looking.”
Ak nodded, picked up a blade, and began to walk off. Kira thanked Vrox with a smile and then followed his surly older brother.
"Hey Ak, what’s a click?”
He grunted, answering with “it is a measure of space.”
She nodded, wondering how many feet it included. Knowing Vrox’s protective self, it probably kept her within eyesight.
Just as she predicted, they stopped only thirty feet away. “These are sour,” Ak pointed down to a bush. “But they are nutritious.”
"Okay. Can you help me collect them, please?”
He nodded and kneeled beside her. The little green balls looked like melicoccus, but their insides were red instead of a soft orange. She stared at one that was rotting, seeing nothing but the red irises of the man that stabbed Kyros.
The color red would never be the same again.
“What is the matter?”
She looked at Ak and found him with one armful of fruits. Shaking her head, she chose to deflect the question. “Nothing. I was wondering, do you know what I could do to convince Vrox to teach me how to use a weapon?”
His face wrinkled with disgust. “Why would you request this? It is absurd.”
“You guys sure love that word, don’t you?”
Ak stood up with his fruits, waiting for her to finish picking her own set. “Asking this of us is insulting. It suggests that we cannot protect you well enough, so you must do it yourself. If I was Vrox, I would reject your request.”
“But look at what happened today,” she countered. “No warrior is perfect, and Ezron will keep throwing danger our way every day. What’s the harm in me learning how to swing a weapon to defend myself?”
“This is a conversation you should have with Vrox, as it is he that makes the decision. In my opinion, you should not be lifting weapons that were made for our build in the condition that you are in. Perhaps you should request this once you have given light to your heir.”
She dropped the topic, choosing to process his words.
They walked back to the others. Vrox was massaging what looked like maple syrup to Rokan’s wounds, while Draekon tended to Ni’ev.
She looked around for a place to drop the fruits. After the attack, all of their supplies had been scattered in the wild. They had nothing but the clothes on their backs and weapons in their fists.
They worked in silence as they collected their thoughts. Ak helped her wash the fruits, Nebula stoked the fire, and Vrox covered the wounds of the others. They had fashioned bowls from thick leaves and rope-like vines. The fire was kept low, and she could tell that the men were agitated by this. They wanted to charge into the night with swords and make the metal sing. They weren’t used to hiding like cowards.
“I’m done,” she told Ak, who helped her take the fruits out from the water and into the makeshift baskets. Next, they walked to the fire. Kira made sure to sit between Nebula and Ak to spare them the awkwardness.
“How do you feel?” Rokan asked Ni’ev, who shrugged. “Like you pounded your knuckles into my flesh.”
Rokan chuckled. “That sounds accurate.”
Kira eyed Vrox, who was seeking answers within the dancing flames. When she rested her head on his shoulder, he was quick to span an arm around her.
“Tonight, we rest. Tomorrow, we plan,” he told the group.
“I will take watch tonight,” Ak declared.
“Just two days worth of travel remains between us and our destination. We will make it,” Rokan bid.
With a clearing of her throat, Kira added, “I was thinking that we could reconsider our stance on the whole women-can’t-train decision. I know that we have no time for training now, but once we reach The Ruins, maybe Nebula and I can be taught some self-defense.”
Rokan and Ni’ev frowned as if the idea was terrible, and Vrox responded with a simple “no.”
“I get the concern with my pregnancy, but we will be careful. Education never hurt anyone.”
Vrox rose. “No. I could not protect mother, but I will protect you. Those weapons were made for our design. They are too heavy for you to lift.”
He rounded the fire, rushing away from her argument.
“We can figure something out,” she continued as she followed him.
“No. Your head does not even reach my shoulders, Kira. You are strong, but not physically.”
“I can work with Ni’ev to engineer lighter weapons if weight is what you’re worried about. I’m sorry if you find my request insulting.”
“Please understand. This is not your planet. This is Ezron, where there are are only two females.”
“I know, and I love that you want to protect us, but we can judge for ourselves when our bodies can’t handle something. If the weapons are heavy, we will tell you instead of straining ourselves to lift them. If we get tired, we will tell you, too.”
He stopped walking– so abruptly and unexpectedly that she stumbled to avoid crashing into him, only to trip and fall backward. She gasped and extended her arm. He was there for her as usual, grabbing her forearm and pulling her to his chest.
Blinking away the strands of hair that reached for her eyes, she stared at Vrox with surprise. His own expression was stunned, reminding her of the day he discovered her true sex all those days ago.
“I’m fine,” she blurted, knowing exactly where this was going.
The guilt of a dozen genocides crossed Vrox’s face. He released her, stumbling away in a fashion that had her thinking he would trip the same way she did.
"Hey,” she whispered, reaching for him slowly as if he was a spooked animal.
He was quick to turn around and rush away.
Kira groaned. As endearing as Vrox was, she hated when he drew unnecessary conclusions. What had happened was an accident, but of course, he didn’t see it that way.
She squinted until she couldn’t see him anymore, before turning around and walking back to the campfire where everyone was staring.