Keel smelled the acrid smoke before he saw it. It was the stench of something mechanical burning. Pausing in his rush through the shrubbery, he raised his eyes to the sky.
The canopy was thick, leaving thin beams of sunlight shining down.
He couldn’t see anything but the tiny specks of blue. Lowering his head, he closed his eyes and let his other senses take over. There were so many sounds in the jungle. Insects chirping, leaves rustling and the sounds of small creatures scurrying over the ground. He heard the cries of birds in the distance and the faint trickle of water from far away.
Next he focused on his sense of smell. Opening the ridges on the top of his nose to take in as much of the smells around him, Keel picked up the smoke instantly. Turning in a slow circle in his spot, he found which direction it was coming from. He was close. There was another scent mixed with the smoke. He almost missed it, but once he caught it, there was no denying what it was. Blood. And not just any blood. Human blood.
“Violet,” He breathed, his heart falling at what he would find. If she was dead… No, he couldn’t think like that. He had to get to her. To help her and find a way out of this jungle.
Rushing forward, Keel pushed as fast as he could through the thick undergrowth until he saw the black smoke ahead.
Jumping over the last few shrubs, he skidded to a stop when he saw what was left of his bike. It was a mangled mess, smoking and shooting small sparks into the wet ground.
Squeezing his eyes shut, Keel fought back tears. If this was all that was left of the bike, then Violet’s chances of surviving the crash were small.
He slipped the bag off his back and slowly made his way towards the smoking pile. He circled it slowly, dreading to find Violet’s dead body laying beside it. The smell of her blood was stronger now, filling his nose and burning as it mixed with the smoke.
Once he’d made a full circle, he let out a small breath when he didn’t find Violet laying anywhere underneath it.
She must have been thrown in the crash, he thought, lifting his gaze to scan the surrounding area. That was when he spotted her.
His chest squeezed shut when he saw her still body laying against a tree a few feet away. She wasn’t moving at all, her head slumped to the side, and her whole face soaked in blood.
He moved to her on unsteady legs, praying harder than he ever had before that she would be alive.
Once he was close, he fell to his knees and reached out to her with a shaky hand.
Gently touching her cheek, he almost cried when he felt her warm, soft skin.
At the contact, Violet groaned, her head rolling from side to side.
“Violet?” He asked in a choked voice.
She moaned, her eyes fluttering open.
“Violet, can you hear me?”
She blinked, her eyes struggling to focus. There was so much blood all over her face, and with her blood colored eyes it left him feeling very unsettled.
“Hey, little fighter. Can you hear me?”
“Keel?” She croaked.
“Yes, it’s me. Where are you hurt?”
As he waited for her to answer, Keel quickly grabbed his emergency supplies bag and dug into it, looking for anything that would help her.
He found several pieces of equipment, but none of them would be any good to him now. The electromagnetic field would have rendered them all useless.
“My head,” Violet breathed, “My head is killing me.”
“You have a deep gash above your eye. You must have hit it rather hard when you crashed.”
“Crashed?” She mumbled, sitting up more. There was more life in her eyes. He sighed in relief to see her more awake and alert.
Keel found a small tub of healing gel and crawled back to her side.
Before he could open it and apply it to her head, Violet’s fist flew out and connected with his chin, snapping his head back.
He roared, his head dizzy for a moment.
“You asshole!” She snarled at him, trying to get to her feet.
“What the hell was that for?”
He rose beside her, reaching out a hand to steady her when she stood.
Crimson eyes met his, a look of anger and betrayal burning in them.
“I get that you’re pissed that I stole your bike, but really! Did you have to shoot me down!”
Keel froze, his mouth falling open.
“Do you honestly think I would do something like that to you? That I would risk your life in such a way?”
“Why else would I have just fallen out of the sky for no reason at all, huh? The bike was perfectly fine until you showed up!”
Keel took in a long, calming breath before he spoke again.
“Violet… Do you have any idea where we are?”
She looked around, then shook her head. “Some kind of forest or something.”
“This is the Dense. The Deadly Dense. The most dangerous jungle in the entire Torian solar system.”
“And you thought it was a good idea to make me crash here? What the hell is wrong with you?”
He ground his teeth for a moment, taking a second so not to say something hurtful.
“I did not shoot you down. This jungle has a natural electromagnetic field emanating from its center. That is what brought our crafts down. I tried to get you to change course before we crashed. I tried to contact you, but you didn’t have your helmet connected to the main operating system on the bike.”
Violet stared at him, some of the anger fading from her eyes.
“I… didn’t know it could do that.”
“No… But you had no problem stealing it.”
Her eyes narrowed, “I borrowed it. Besides, you’re supposed to be on the command vessel. What are you doing running me down the way you did?”
“I told you I would collect you from the academy after your lessons. I was going to go up to the command vessel later tonight to join the others. But when I went out to get my bike, it was gone. Now it’s your turn… What the hell were you thinking stealing my bike and coming out here?”
Violet swayed, her eyes glazing over for a moment. Keel grabbed her, pulling her closer and swinging her up into his arms. He held her carefully to him as he made his way over to a soft looking patch of blue moss. He sat her down, making sure she was comfortable, before he went back and picked up the healing gel.
As he gently dabbed some of it onto the cut on her head, he listened as she spoke.
“I had a vision of Spot in class today. He showed me where he was… what was being done to him. He’s getting tortured, Keel. Whoever has him is hurting him… killing him. He’s sending out a… a beacon or something. It’s like a rope pulling in my mind. I know exactly which way to go to find him. I was following that pull out here.”
Keel sighed, “Violet… Why did you not tell me?”
“You were supposed to be on the command vessel. I watched the shuttle take off when I got back to the Keep. I was sure you were on it. I didn’t want to be an inconvenience to you. I thought I could just come out here, find Spot and be back at the Keep before any of you got back.”
“Firstly,” Keel said as he applied more of the gel to her head, “You are never an inconvenience to me. Whatever you need, you can always come to me. Secondly, if Spot is being held against his will and is being hurt, then whoever has him planned on keeping a fully grown, powerful Spinner imprisoned. As fierce a fighter as you are, I don’t think you could take something like that on alone. And lastly, Spot is as much a part of my family as he is yours. He is an important part of your life, Violet, and you are everything to me. If he needs help, then I want to be there to help him… That, and to watch your back.”
She smiled, her eyes filling with dark crimson tears.
“I screwed up big time, didn’t I?”
“We are both alive. Let’s be thankful for that.”
“Do you know how to get us out of here? My com isn’t working.”
“Nothing electronic will work here. And unfortunately, I have no idea which direction will get us out of this jungle. When we crashed I lost all sense of direction. I don’t know how far into the jungle we are, or which way is out.”
Violet bit her lip. “I do know one direction we could take.”
He met her eyes, raising a brow in question.
“To wherever Spot is. I can still feel him pulling me towards him. I saw a black stone building in my vision. Maybe they will have some way of communicating with Tark and the others, or a way out. It’s better than just wandering the jungle with no idea where to go.”
Keel thought about that for a moment, then nodded. “Agreed. Trying to search for a way out will get us killed. But I fear the walk to this building you saw won’t be any easier. This place doesn’t have the word deadly in its name for no reason. We don’t have a lot of sunlight left. We will stay here for the night and set off in the morning.”
“Stay here?” Violet protested, “But-”
“But nothing, Violet. The sun will set soon, and the nocturnal predators will be hunting. The smoke from the bike will mask our scent. We can leave at first light,” He shifted closer and gently cupped her blood stained face, “You need to rest for a while. You were hurt badly in the crash. Please, little fighter… let me take care of you.”
She stared at him for a long moment, then gave him a weak smile and nodded.
“Do you have any water?” She asked.
He reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle filled with clean water. He helped her drink, then placed it beside her on the moss. Next, he reached for the antibacterial wipes, and began cleaning her face.
Violet sat quietly, allowing him to do what he needed to do. Taking care of her like this, being there to help her and to protect her felt more right to Keel than anything else. This was what a mate did for his female. This was what it meant to give over to the call. His every sense was now focused entirely on Violet. His protective instincts were roaring inside him to do whatever it took to keep her safe. This was what it meant to allow yourself to be completely devoted to the one you loved.