Violet sat quietly as she watched the old man fuss over Keel. First, he’d used some kind of dark blue leaves to wipe down most of Keel’s skin.
Once that was done, he tossed the leaves on the floor at his feet, and reached into the bucket. When his hands came out, Violet’s eyes went wide.
In his cupped palms lay a white, translucent ball of… snot?
“What is that?” she asked Arak, who was quietly sitting to the side, watching everything with a calm, almost bored expression on his face.
He Chuckled. “That is what they are called. It translates to… Balls of blood sucking… slime.”
Violet grinned, “Suits them. How are they going to help Keel?”
Arak sat forward, “They are attached to the skin,” He paused and gestured for her to watch as the old man gently placed one of the snot balls onto Keel’s chest. It shook for a moment, before a thin red line began to trace its way through the inside of the creature’s body. It twisted and turned a few times, then went back into Keel through the back end.
“They suck out the blood through one mouth, purify it of any toxins, then pump it back in through the second mouth.”
Violet just nodded, her eyes wide as she watched the old man attach more of the small balls all over Keel’s body.
With one last quick examination of Keel’s leg, the old man nodded and left the hut.
“How long will this take?” Violet asked, reaching out to gently brush away a strand of hair from Keel’s resting face.
“I’m not sure. Once there is no more toxin in your mate’s blood, they will fall away. But, he had a large dose of Black Web Vine Poison, so I would think it will take all night. Would you like some food?”
She looked up at Arak, torn between eating something other than dry, tasteless cereal, and leaving Keel alone.
Arak must have noticed the indecision in her eyes, because he stood and said, “I will have our meals brought here. If you don’t mind, I would like to speak with you for a while. If you are not too tired?”
There was no way Violet was going to sleep until she saw Keel awake and cured.
“I don’t mind. But I’m not leaving his side.”
Arak nodded, “I didn’t think you would. I will return shortly with our meals. Avoid touching the Ababuchamarla’s, they do not like to be disturbed while they feed.”
Nodding, she watched Arak leave the hut, before she let out a short breath and looked around the room.
It was as simple as it got, to Violet. A straw hut, with a dirt floor and thick leaves as a roof. There was only one cot in the room where Keel lay sleeping, and three thick stumps as chairs. There were no windows, and the only way in or out was the one door Arak had left through.
Turning back to look down at Keel, Violet’s eyes teared up again. She’d been ready to amputate his leg! To brutally mutilate the man she loved. It would have killed him. There was no way he would have survived the Dense with an injury that severe.
Her tears dripped from her chin as she gently took his limp hand into hers. He was warm, reassuring her that he was alive.
“I love you, Keel. So freaking much. Please be okay. I need you more than you will ever know. You’re all I have. My sisters all found their mates and are living their lives. I can’t do any of this without you. Your world is scary and strange and confusing most of the time, but as long as I know I can always go to you, I don’t feel so lost. Please be okay.”
She sat quietly crying for a few minutes, trying not to think about how much her life would suck if anything happened to him.
When the door to the hut opened, she quickly wiped her face and looked up.
Arak came in with a large, steaming bowl in one hand and two smaller bowls in the other. He placed them down on one of the stumps and closed the door.
The smell of delicious food wafted to her, making her stomach growl in delight. After eating those red pellets for the last two days, Violet was more than ready for a decent meal.
“Smells good,” She said, sniffing.
“Bagfra fish stew with vegetables. My favorite,” he gave her a sheepish grin, before he dished up a full bowl for her and handed it over.
Violet took the meal and looked down to find a thick broth of brown liquid, with small pieces of different colored vegetables and larger chunks of white meat.
Grabbing for the spoon Arak offered, she took a small, careful sip of the soup and groaned in delight.
“This is delicious,” She smiled up at him.
Arak sat down across from her, with Keel resting peacefully between them. She appreciated that Arak was still keeping his distance, even in this small hut.
“So, um,” She began, resting the bowl on her knees, “I need to apologise to you.”
“For what?” Arak asked between bites.
“For how rude I was to you earlier. You didn’t deserve that. I was just really scared.”
He nodded. “It’s alright. I was only curious about you. The males of this tribe have not seen a young female in a very long time.”
“I can’t believe that you are the lost Jungle clan. Keel’s brother, Tark, was telling us about the clans a few nights ago. About how the Jungle clan refused to join with the first king of Toria. Everyone thinks you all died off hundreds of years ago.”
Arak’s face turned dark, his eyes narrowing. “A decision that has left my people on the verge of extinction. Because of a decision made a thousand years ago, my people have suffered.”
“Why do you say that?”
“When the old tribe leaders refused the offer to join under one king, all jungle clan people were exiled to the Dense. We are forbidden to ever leave here. At first, that was alright. We thrived in our home. But after many years, the females became fewer and fewer. Now, there are none left.”
“Is that why you want to speak with Bor?”
He nodded. “Yes. I wish to make a deal with the king.”
“What deal?” Violet asked, taking another bite of the delicious food.
Arak tilted his head to the side, a smile playing on his lips. “You are curious too, I see.”
She blushed, “Yeah, sorry. I like to poke my nose where it doesn’t belong. Besides, the more I know, the more I can help you with Bor. He is my brother in law after all.”
Arak frowned, “What is a brother in law?”
“Oh, it means that my older sister is his mate. So he’s kind of my brother, but not by blood.”
“I see,” Arak said, placing his empty bowl on the floor beside him. “So the great king of Toria has taken an off planet mate. Times truly have changed.”
“I can help,” she said, meeting his eyes, “You saved Keel’s life. I owe you one. And us humans aren’t all bad.”
“Very well…” He paused, a distant look in his eyes, “For a long time, the younger people of this tribe have wished to live among the rest of the Torian’s. It is mostly males left now, with only a few older females, and they all hope to find a mate and have a family with a female from beyond the jungle. I wish to ask the king to lift the ban on my people. In return for this, my males are willing to be guides for his scholars into the Dense. We have seen many try to study the jungle over the years, and most have perished because they did not understand the dangers. We will guide them and teach them the secrets of the Dense, if he will allow us to leave the borders and mate with outside females.”
Violet thought about that for a moment. She couldn’t make any promises, but she didn’t see why Bor wouldn’t agree to that.
If there was one thing she knew about Bor, was that he was a very open minded king. She doubted he would have anything against what Arak was asking for.
The Master Scholar came to mind and Violet sat up, biting her lip.
Arak watched her, smiling. “I can see you have something you wish to ask me. Go on.”
“Well… It’s actually a bit of a personal favor.”
“Ask it, little female.”
“You said that your males are willing to be guides to scholars that wish to study the Dense. At my academy, there is this really old male. He’s the Master Scholar. His life long passion has been to study the Dense. Would you be willing to take him on one last expedition before he dies? He’s really old though. But I know it would be a dream come true if he could spend a few days out here with males that know everything about this place.”
Arak smiled. “I will do this for you, under one condition.”
She tilted her head to the side, “And what’s that?”
“Tell me about the humans. Does your race have many females?”
Violet’s smile fell. “I don’t know. Earth was attacked by Spinners two years ago. We left with Bor a few weeks later. I still don’t know how many people survived the attack. There used to be billions of us, but now… Now I doubt half of that survived.”
“I’m sorry for the hardship your world went through. Are, uh… Are the females of Earth as… accepting of other races as you and your sisters are?”
“Do you mean do they like to get all up on the sexy alien males train? I guess. Most females my age were pretty open minded. And with everything that happened, I think a lot of women will see aliens in a new light. The Torian’s saved my race. They saved my planet and a lot of people. Those that are left will recognise that.”
Arak smiled, a hopeful look in his eyes. “Are they all as tiny as you are?”
Violet laughed, “No. I’m short and skinny for my race.”
He nodded, “Yes. You are far too thin. How does your male not fear breaking you when he mates with you?”
She blushed. “He’s very careful. You have to be with human women. We like a big strong warrior, but one that knows how to be gentle with us.”
He nodded, taking it all in like a very important lesson he had to learn.
“Are there more of your kind on Toria?”
“No. Only me and my three sisters. But we’re all mated. Sorry, big guy.”
“That’s alright. Perhaps the king will be willing to let us go to Earth and find our own mates. Do you think your females would like to live here?”
Her eyes went wide, “In the jungle?”
“I don’t know. Maybe some. We had tribes very similar to yours on my world. They also lived in the jungle on my planet. They might be okay with living out here.”
He smiled wide, showing a deadly set of sharp fangs.
“You really want a mate, don’t you?”
“It is what every male here dreams of. To find someone and have a family. To teach a young one all that we know about this place.”
She nodded, “I understand. And I think there is someone out there just waiting for a guy like you to come along. But… If I can offer you one piece of advice?”
He raised a brow, waiting for her to speak.
“Wear clothes. At least pants. It’s a little weird seeing everything just hanging in the breeze, you know what I mean?”
He chuckled, “I do. I will remember that. We forget about how different we are from the outsiders.”
Violet considered him for a moment, then asked, “Have you ever left the jungle?”
His smile fell and he looked away. “Once. A very long time ago.”
“I went with my father to the edge of the Dense. We were hunting a Morlos buck and it ran out into the growing fields of a farm by the border. I begged my father to take me out, to show me the sky. It was so blue. So clear. I wanted to stare at it all day. He refused and took me home. The next day, I snuck away and crept out of the jungle and went to the farmhouse. I remember it was the strangest thing I had ever seen. We have no technology here. So to see a flying machine, a silver box that made food… It was all so fascinating to me. But my adventure cost me dearly. We are banished people. And the crime of leaving the jungle must be punished. When the others found out that I had broken the one rule we all must follow, the elders decided that my father would take my punishment. He hadn’t taught me well enough, they said. It was his fault I disobeyed.”
“What happened to him?”
Arak turned his face away, a deep, low rumble coming from his chest, “He was cut to bleed, beaten to weaken, and cast out to be eaten. I never saw him again. I also never left the jungle again either.”
“Oh, God, Arak, I’m so sorry. That’s horrible.”
Arak didn’t say anything, and Violet’s heart broke for the young boy Arak was back then, having to watch his own father get punished in such a brutal way for a mistake his son made.
“After the elders perished in a Felit attack on the village several years ago, I was chosen as the new leader. With the elders gone, almost all of those left want to be allowed past the border. But I want to make sure that no one is ever punished for doing so again. That is why I need to speak with the king. If he lifts the banishment on my people, then we will finally be free.”
Violet made a decision right there. No matter what, she was going to help these people get what they wanted.
“I swear to you, Arak, I will do everything I can to help you. Bor might be big and strong and powerful, but I have a weapon that he is never able to defend himself against.”
Arak frowned deeply, “You cannot hurt the king, Violet. I do not want war.”
She laughed, “Relax, big guy. Trust me, the only kind of pain this weapon will inflict on the king, is the kind of pain he really likes.”
The confused look on Arak’s face made her chuckle more. “Lilly. She has that guy wrapped around her little finger. And now that she’s pregnant, he will do just about anything she tells him to, just to keep her happy. If I go to my sister and ask her to help, Bor will be laying out the red carpet for you guys, just to make her happy.”
Arak laughed, “Ah, yes. The power of a female. I have heard tales of this. I did not know the Lady of Toria was with child. I wish them joy.”
“You can tell them yourself. Once we get out of here, I will have an official invitation to the Keep sent out to you and your guys. You can meet the whole crazy lot of us.”