We were almost out of the dark woods, but I was barely alive. Or at least, that was how I felt. I was drenched in sweat, and I had to stop every five minutes, or I would collapse. The Nakkoni seemed to be just as unhappy as I was. It wasn’t easy for him to carry the body of his dead brother, and also a bag full of riches. As for the bags I’d agreed to carry for him, I was dragging them on the ground, pulling at them as if they were two huge boulders.
“You’re aliens!” I shouted at him.
“No, you’re the alien,” he said boredly.
“I would’ve expected you to have some kind of technology to help carry this stuff!”
“Our father disowned us. All we have is a ship, and it’s not in great shape, either. But after I bring him the pirate’s treasure, he will welcome me back. That is, if he doesn’t blame me for my brother’s death.”
“Your father sounds like an unpredictable A-hole.”
“I don’t know what an A-hole is, but unpredictable... yes. You could say that. To thrive on Reazus Prime, one has to be tough. And my father is one of the toughest men I know.”
“Thrive? Is that a thing? I’d be happy to survive.”
“In your case, yes. You’re human. You can’t thrive of Reazus Prime. You can only hope you’ll be lucky enough to fall in the hands of a master who will treat you well.”
I wanted to say something, but I pursed my lips instead, and swallowed my words and my pride. The lizard man had said he’d take me to the Hub if I helped him carry the load to his ship. The last thing I wanted was to anger him. I couldn’t quite trust him, as things were. If I also was a nuisance to him, he could change his mind in a second.
When we finally emerged from the forest, the two suns were shining brightly. It had taken us all night to reach the beach, and I was grateful for the light. It felt like I hadn’t seen it in ages. I stopped for a moment, closed my eyes, and turned my head toward the sky. I could feel the warmth starting to dry my drenched clothes. I was dreaming of a shower.
“Come on, human.”
“My name is Angie.”
He ignored me and started toward the ship. It was smaller than Thev’s, and it was in a sorry state, indeed. The paint was peeling off. It looked old and worn. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to fly in it. It didn’t look safe at all.
The Nakkoni dropped the heavy bag and disappeared inside with the body. I dropped the other two bags beside his, placed my hands on my hips, and looked around. There was a sound that hadn’t been there before, and it wasn’t the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. I looked to the west, shielding my eyes with my arm, and that was when I saw it. Thev’rar’s ship.
With wide eyes, I watched it land at a safe distance from the Nakkoni’s ship. After a few minutes, Thev jumped out.
The lizard man appeared next to me. I glanced at him and saw the exasperated look on his face.
“I thought I wouldn’t have to see the Zokunian again.”
I wanted to say the same, but I couldn’t. The words stuck in my throat. As Thev’rar approached us, I found that I wanted to run to him. I forced myself to stay put. My heart was hammering in my chest, and I silently cursed it for being so weak and gullible. I tried to remind myself of what I saw in the cave. Thev and his sister had ripped the pirates apart like it was nothing. If Thev seemed big now, in the light of the two suns, I had to remember that he’d grown three times larger when he’d let the beast take over.
“Angie.” He stopped a few feet away, seemingly not wanting to get into my personal space and freak me out. There was a pleading look in his dark eyes. “I’m glad to see that you’re well. That you’ve made it out of the mountains and the forest.”
My stomach fluttered at the thought that he’d been worried about me. I should’ve said something, but I remained silent. It wasn’t very polite, but I was afraid that if I opened my mouth, the wrong words would come out. Words that I wouldn’t be able to take back. It was better to wait and see what his intentions were.
He took another step toward me.
“Angie, please come with me. Don’t go with him.” He tilted his head toward the Nakkoni. “You can’t trust him.”
“And I can trust you?”
“What happened last night... I know I frightened you. I’m sorry. I promise I will never let you see me like that again. That was the first and last time. I will never again unleash the beast in your presence.”
That made me feel a little bad... On the one hand, it sounded reassuring, but on the other hand, if the beast was a part of him, it seemed unreasonable to stop him from being himself. But it was a ruthless part of him. Even if I wasn’t the recipient of that unbound rage, it was something that was hard to watch. It was hard for me to know that he was capable of it.
I sighed. I looked over at his ship, but I couldn’t see Ta’sha. I looked at Thev, and then at the Nakkoni, who was just getting the three bags to carry them onto his ship.
“Tell me, and please be truthful,” I addressed the lizard man. “If I go with you, will you sell me as a slave?”