Adi was calling out in our native tongue now, something the Royals never bothered to learn, but I ignored her. My hands caught Qeya just before she collapsed onto the sand and I gathered her up. “Are you ill?” I asked her, already knowing the answer and cursing myself for being so greedy with her gift.
She should have sucked the life out of me.
“No, I will recover. It just took more out of me than I expected,” she replied.
Her eyes still glowed faintly when they rose to meet mine. Against the light of the moon she seemed ethereal and unattainable as the time I first saw her. I tried to speak but the words caught in my throat and I stared at her lips and remembered how soft they were. I remember what she tasted like, the salt waters of home world and the flower she was named after. It suited her, to be named after one of the most beautiful and poisonous flowers on our world. Because she made me not think like a miner, but like the wild sea creature I had been before.
“Promise me something,” she whispered and drew my gaze back to hers.
I nodded. She could have asked anything and I would have said yes, even if that meant cutting my own hand or clogging my gills. Her fingers pressed to my neck, grazed over the slits that allowed me to breathe under water with ease and I shuddered.
“Don’t send me back to the village yet. Let me stay with you and Adi for a few more days. I want to see if there is anything worth salvaging inside the Pioneer.”
I frowned, imagining not only the trouble Adi was going to give me for this, but the Royal King, her brother. But I felt a sick satisfaction when I thought of Tamn, the blood-letting Royal that Qeya chose over me. I could never forget when she ran to his arms that day in the Nuki’s village. It was the last day I ever set foot in Nukvar valley.
Only a Hunan addicted to his own torture would have said yes to her request.