Violet woke stiff and sore all over, but she was warm and felt safer than ever. Keel had her tucked securely in his arms, her head resting on his chest, and his heart rhythmically beating in her ear.
She groaned, trying to stretch some of her tight muscles as she sat up.
“Good morning,” Keel said in a low, deep voice.
She turned sleepy eyes to him, giving him a half smile. “Morning, handsome. Did you get any sleep?”
He shook his head, “No. But that’s alright. I got to hold you in my arms all night.”
She smiled shyly, lowering her eyes and was about to retort, when she spotted the pile of dead insects and creatures laying around Keels legs.
“What the hell happened last night,” She got to her feet, “Did the bug apocalypse start while I was sleeping?”
Keel looked around at the small piles of crushed, stabbed and sliced corpses, then up at her. “I wasn’t sure which were poisonous and which were not. To be safe, I killed any that got too close to us.”
Violet just stared at him for a long moment, before she began to laugh.
Keel tilted his head to the side, frowning at her.
She raised her hand, unable to stop the laughter bubbling inside her.
“I’m sorry,” She cried between fits of laughter, “I’m sorry, but that is the sweetest, yet weirdest thing anyone has ever done for me. My hero, protecting me from the big bad bugs.”
Keel narrowed his eyes at her as he stood, but there was a smile on his lips.
With a long stretch, he went over to her and placed a quick kiss on her cheek. “Big or small, insect or beast… I will protect you from them all.”
She reached up and cupped his face. Her laughter died down as she stared into stunning yellow eyes.
“Thank you, Keel. It really is amazing what you did for me. Not many people would care about a few little bugs. At least, not until I was coughing up blood, or turning green from my insides rotting. But you think of everything… And I love you so much for that.”
“Thank you… But they could have bitten me as well, you know. I could just as easily be turning green with rot. How do you know I didn’t do it to protect myself?”
She raised a brow, gently patting his arm, “I know you didn’t.”
“How can you be sure?”
She stepped back, “Because you have a really ugly looking beetle thing on your leg.”
Keels eyes shot to his thigh, where a pearly brown beetle the size of a playing card was lazily climbing out of his pocket. It’s long front pincers snapped as it peered out at them from over the fabric.
Keel swore in Torian, taking a few steps back and reaching for a twig on the ground. He carefully maneuvered the beetle out of his pocket and flicked it to the ground. It scurried away into the undershrub's and vanished from sight.
Keel tossed the twig and met her eyes, a faint pink blush staining his cheeks.
“Okay. Now that that’s settled, what’s the plan?”
“We will have first meal, then set off in the direction you feel Spot drawing you. With any luck, my brother will have noticed my absence and will start looking for us soon.”
“Okay… But,” She bit her lip, scanning the thick greenery around them.
“What is it?” Keel asked, bending to reach into his backpack.
“I have a teeny tiny problem.”
His eyes went dark and concern clouded his features. “What’s wrong? Are you having trouble breathing? Did something bite you through the night?”
“No,” She raised a hand to stop his panicked questions, “Nothing like that. It’s, uh… Well…” She sighed, “I need to pee.”
“I see,” Keel frowned, looking around. “Uh… Would you like to go into the bushes?”
She gave him an incredulous look. “Seriously? There is no way I am pulling out my bare ass and squatting in a jungle where even the plants want to eat me. What if I piss on the wrong leaf and something tries to take a bite out of my hoo-ha?”
Keel’s face went red as he tried to keep from laughing.
“A bite of your what?”
She blushed, “My hoo-ha. You know…” She vaguely pointed to her middle, her face on fire with embarrassment. She really needed to work on her brain to mouth filter. This nonsense of saying whatever came to mind would get her into some serious trouble one day.
“We cannot have that…” He said, then mumbled quieter to himself, “The only mouth getting close to her there, will be mine.”
Heat flashed in Violet’s core, making that fluttery feeling in her stomach rise again.
She threw her arms to her side, “So? What do I do?”
Keel stood, two small packs of what she thought might be food in his hands.
“Can you wait until we have finished eating?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Why?”
“Because after our meal, we will leave. So you can do what you need to here, in this clearing.”
Nodding, she reached for one of the offered bags of food and tore it open. Inside was what looked like dry cereal, only a dark red color.
“What is this?”
“It’s emergency rations. They are not very tasty, but they have all the nutrients your body will need for the whole day. They are very filling as well. Eat slowly, they expand in your stomach. You do not want to over fill yourself and be sick.”
They both settled on the ground and ate quietly. Violet couldn’t believe all the strange sounds coming from every direction. It was like an otherworldly choir singing just for them in the early morning sun.
While they ate, Violet reached out with her mind, searching for Spot. She could feel the link still there, but he was either asleep or drugged. All she got was the faint, gentle presence of another in her mind.
“Is Spot alright?” Keel asked, breaking her out of her thoughts.
She looked up, then smiled. “How do you always know when I’m mentally connecting with him?”
“You get this look in your eyes. Like a distant concentration.”
“Oh. I can feel he’s still alive, and I know which way to go, but it’s like he’s asleep or something. They may have drugged him overnight.”
“He is alive, that is what is important.”
“Yeah,” She gave him a sad smile, folding the top of her meal bag and handing it back to Keel.
He took it and stuck it back into his bag. Standing, he reached out a hand for her and helped her to her feet.
“I will go around to the other side of the bike to put the fire out. You relieve yourself here, then we will go.”
Oh, she really hated the idea of peeing in the jungle. She’d had her fair share of squatting in bushes after the attack on Earth. But it was either that, or hold it for who knew how long.
Sighing, she watched as Keel moved to where the small pillar of smoke was coming out of the bike. Once he was out of view, she found a spot and crouched.
Without any bites or stings, they were heading away from the bike only moments later.
It was hard work moving through the jungle. Thick vines and roots kept getting caught around their legs, making it very slow going.
After a few long and tiring hours, Keel finally announced they would stop to rest for a while.
He reached into his bag and gave her the water bottle. She took it eagerly, drinking down a few long, refreshing sips, before she handed it back to Keel.
“You know what I miss?” She asked as she found a spot to sit on a fallen tree.
Keel raised a brow as he took a drink, waiting for her to speak.
“Soda. I miss Soda’s.”
“What are those?”
“They were a drink from Earth. Fizzy, full of sugar and so bad for you, but so tasty. I would kill for an ice cold Coke right about now.”
“If they are bad for you, why would you drink it?”
She chuckled, “Because they were delicious. Humans have loads of stuff we eat or drink or do that is bad for us, but we still do it. And we love it.”
He motioned with his head for them to start moving again as he asked, “What other things do you miss about your world?”
“Well… I miss my dad the most. Every Saturday, he would take me to the mall and we would eat all kinds of things that were really unhealthy. Burgers… Fries… Pizza’s… Ice creams… doughnuts… Nacho’s… I miss Nacho’s… I miss going to the movies with my friends… I miss drinking beer behind the cinema when my dad thought I was at the movies with my friends.. I really miss junk food nights with my sisters when they came to visit for the weekend.”
As she spoke, they moved slowly through the thick undergrowth. Every now and then, Keel would turn to look at her, nod at her, then turn back. It was so nice to know there was someone so concerned with her safety the way Keel was.
“...I miss Red Bull, and Hot Dogs, and-”
“Be quiet,” Keel hissed as he came to a stop, turning to face her.
“That’s a bit rude,” she crossed her arms over her chest, “You can’t just tell a woman to be quiet when you don’t want to hear her talk any more. I honestly thought you had better-”
Before she could say another word, Keel’s lips crushed hers, silencing her in a heartbeat.
At first the shock of him kissing her had her standing motionless, but after a few seconds, Violet melted against him, kissing him back.
His lips were soft and warm against hers. He was reluctant at the beginning, but after a moment, his lips began to move with hers, the kiss growing deeper.
She’d fantasized about this moment for two years. What it would be like when they finally kissed. It was better than anything she could have imagined.
Taking a chance, Violet slipped her tongue gently over his bottom lip, silently asking for entry.
With a low groan, Keel obliged and met her with the same passion and vigor she was displaying. Their tongues tangled, the soft scrape of his fangs turning her on even more.
Finally, Keel broke the kiss, panting as he stared into her eyes.
“Shh,” He whispered as quietly as he could.
Violet frowned, but didn’t say a word.
With one hand, Keel motioned around them.
In the air in every direction, were small, dragonfly sized insects fluttering around with a soft, dull buzzing. They had the same see through wings a dragonfly did, but their bodies were wider and shorter. They also had bigger heads. It was hard to focus on one as they moved through the air all around them, but Violet was sure she spotted a sharp toothed mouth on one.
She turned back to him and mouthed, “What are they?”
Keel placed a finger to his lips, using the ‘be quiet’ sign she’d taught him.
A moment later, a soft clicking from somewhere past the thick shrubs to their left made the swarm of flying insects rush off in that direction. They all dove for the bush, making it shake and rustle with the movements. Keel grabbed her hand and pulled her as quickly as they could move, away from the now hissing and squealing sounds coming from behind them.
“What was that?” Violet whispered once he’d slowed to a more normal pace.
He turned back to her, “Tispi flies. Nasty little things. They hunt by sound. A swarm that size could eat all the flesh off your bones in an hour.”
She paled, her heart racing. “Everything really is out to get you here, isn’t it?”
“Yes. We have to be very careful.”
“How do you know all this?”
Keel hacked at a thicker vine at his feet with his razor sharp dagger, “In my last six years at the academy, I was doing very well with all my lessons, so the Master Scholar gave me the opportunity to study any subject I wanted. I asked if he would be willing to teach me what he knows about the Dense. Tark chose to study Torian history.”
“Smarty pants,” She joked, getting that half grin she loved from Keel.
“I enjoyed my time at the academy. I learn quickly and find subjects I know nothing about fascinating. Like Earth.”
“Earth? You studied about Earth?”
He nodded, “Yes. Every bit of information that Bor gets about your world is sent to all of his top advisors and friends. It is best to know as much as possible about your Ramkano.”
“Ramkano? What is that?”
“It is a term in Torian. It means… Not your enemy, but not your friend yet either. It is what you call someone you still have not decided on.”
“You really think Humans could become enemies with Toria?”
“I hope not. But the opinion of a few, like you, your sisters and this Logan male, may not be enough to sway the minds of the many. Only time will tell.”