I had no choice but to respect Angelica’s wishes. I watched her go with the Nakkoni, my heart feeling dead in my chest. There was a lump in my throat, and it sent a buzzing pain through my jaw and my head. My eyes started to sting, and for a second, I thought water was going to start dripping out of them, like I’d seen so many times happen to my human mate. It didn’t happen to me. Zokunians couldn’t cry, not even when their heart was broken into little pieces. I had to push the hurt down, so I could function, but I found that I couldn’t do it. Not this time.
When my mother, the queen, died, I suffered and mourned her. The next day, I was by my father’s side, helping him run the kingdom. When he died, too, I mourned him for a day and a half, then I went looking for my sister. The future was more important than the past, and the moment Angie had walked out of the cave, she’d become my past. This was the way of the Zokunians. But as I stared at where she’d been, at the spot where she’d huddled in fear, I couldn’t accept it. It felt wrong.
“I’ve got everything I wanted,” Ta’sha said. “We can go.”
She’d wrapped a bunch of paintings in cloth and stuffed some of the smaller statues and vases in a bag she’d brought with her. She wasn’t interested in the rest of the treasure, just the art. It wasn’t stealing if she took from a pirate. A dead pirate, at that. It would’ve been politically correct to find out where the pirate had stolen the art from and give it back. But I knew my sister wasn’t going to do that. She was obsessed with her art collection. Once those paintings were added to it, they would never again see the light of day.
“Let’s go,” I said.
We exited the cave and saw it was still dark. This night was going to be a long one. My thoughts immediately went to Angie. Where was she now? The Nakkoni wouldn’t harm her yet, as he needed her to help him carry his load. But once they reached his ship… what then?
“So, the human female,” Ta’sha said. “Tell me about her.”
“There’s not much to tell.” We started walking, and I set a punishing pace. The sooner I got off this island, the better. “I met her yesterday. She fell out of the sky, in a stasis pod.”
“Come on, brother. Don’t be like this. Just tell me.”
I shrugged. I knew what she wanted to hear, but I wasn’t in the mood to talk about it.
“Back there, you said she’s your mate.”
“I thought she was, but she’s clearly not.”
“Well... Maybe you’re right. If she can’t stand the sight of a true Zokunian warrior fighting, then she can’t be your mate.”
Her words were like a dozen stabs to my chest. I looked at her profile and wondered when my sister had become so blunt and cruel. When we were little, she was the one to help me up when I fell and scratched my knees, she was the one who stood up for me in the face of bigger, older children. She was my big sister, and she was good and fair. Or used to be. This world had changed her. Or, better said, the worlds she’d seen since she left Zorran.
I didn’t say anything. It was better to be silent. We were going to get to my spaceship, then off this rock. Home, she would be crowned queen, and finally, I’d be free to join the priests of the temple of the Three Heads. I hadn’t been destined to have a mate, after all. It had been nice to feel hope, and dream otherwise, but it was over now, and it was okay. In time, I’d make peace with it. I would never regret having met Angie. And I’d never regret what we did on my ship on the first night. I swore to myself she was the last female I touched. Whatever happened next, I didn’t want to soil her memory.
We started climbing the rocky mountains, and I helped Ta’sha with her load. I couldn’t stop looking in the direction where I knew Angie and the Nakkoni were headed. I felt a pull, and I did my best to resist it. Every few minutes, my mind would start to wander, and my feet led me astray, much to my sister’s confusion.
“This way, Thev.”
Of course I knew the way. It was just that my heart didn’t want to follow it.
We reached the other side of the mountain and started climbing down. I remembered how Angie had fallen, and how I couldn’t stop it, reaching for her when it was too late. Had she not fallen, the Nakkoni wouldn’t have found her and taken her prisoner. Maybe none of this would’ve happened. But that made no sense, and I had to remember that what ruined any chance I might’ve had with her was the way I’d behaved in the pirate’s cave.
Not for a second had I thought that if she saw my beast, she would be frightened. In my world, Zokunian females were impressed when they saw a male’s beast surface. It was proof that he was strong and worthy. Proof that he could take care of a female, so that she wouldn’t have to push herself and release her own beast. But Angie wasn’t like the females on my planet. She was human, and she was small, kind, and delicate. I didn’t know a lot about humans, but I had heard physical strength wasn’t one of their attributes. They relied on fire weapons, mostly, which in a place like Reazus Prime, didn’t do much good. The Widians had learned that the hard way.
So, of course Angie was frightened when she saw my beast. She wasn’t cruel, and it wasn’t in her nature to be violent. I should’ve figured that out before I ruined everything. I should’ve fought fairly, with weapons and daggers, even if it meant risking my life and my sister’s. Even if it meant risking Angie’s life. At least, she wouldn’t have told me to leave her alone. To let her go.
We reached the edge of the forest, and we stopped for a moment. We were making good time, both eager to leave Sorahan Island behind. We drank some water and looked at the dark trees. The three moons were still in the sky, but they would soon fall over the horizon, and the two suns would rise. By then, we’d hopefully be at the ship.
“Tell me what you’re thinking, Thev.”
I shook my head. “Let’s go. The forest is the worst place on this island, and I want to get to the other side.”
“Are you thinking about her?”
“You said it yourself. She can’t be my mate.”
She sighed. “What do I know? I haven’t found my mate, either. The only difference between us is that you took it as a curse and decided to become a priest. Is that still what you’re going to do?”
“Yes. Nothing’s changed.”