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Saving Verakko: Chapter 18

Lily was floating. No, that didn’t make sense. Her head was floating? She laughed. Yeah, that was it. Her head was cloudy, lighter than air.

“She’s waking up,” a melodic voice said from near her elbow.

Lily stretched, reveling in the satisfying zing of pleasure that coursed through her with the movement. Suddenly, hands were gripping the sides of her face.

“Lily, are you alright? Talk to me.”

A solid train of thought was hard to hold on to at the moment, but she noticed the sway tickling her senses and pushed it away. “Stop that,” she slurred, swiping clumsily at the hands holding her cheeks. “Verakkoooo’s the only one can do that.” She giggled as her own droopy voice played in her ears. “The. Only. One. Who. Can. Do. That,” she amended, pausing on each word to ensure she had in fact included them all this time.

“Oh, thank the Goddess.” The hands moved from around her cheeks and gently glided over her forehead. “It’s me, love. It’s Verakko. I’m here. Will you look at me?”

“Verakko!” she said excitedly, forcing her eyes open.

Verakko’s face, a paler shade of teal than she’d ever seen it, loomed above her.

“Hey!” she exclaimed, grinning like a fool. Whatever drugs they’d given her were most certainly working. Lily tilted her head, examining her alien’s beautiful worried face, and pouted. “I never wanna go outside again.”

A toothy grin transformed his features. “Then we won’t.”

Memories returned to her slowly, and the haze began to lift. “Wait a minute,” Lily said, furrowing her brows. “I’m supposed to be mad at you.” Her mind was still feeling a little goofy, but the argument they’d gotten into before she’d been attacked by that flower thing replayed in her ears.

Verakko’s grin faded, and he licked his lips.

Lily shook her head, trying to clear the fog a little faster. She pushed at his hands and struggled to sit up. “What happened?” She scanned the room and found another man settled in a corner glowering in Verakko’s direction.

“You were stung by a vonilace,” Verakko choked out.

Lily stared around the small white room. A metal object that may have once been a couch or maybe a cot lay mangled in a corner. A large glass tube along a wall caught her attention, and she wordlessly pointed at it. A coffin—she remembered being in a coffin.

She looked back at Verakko. The lightness had worn off, and now her mind was too full. Fear and anger, hurt and betrayal all roared to the forefront until the tight lump in her throat choked her. He’d lied to her. He was getting married.

Verakko reached for her, but she pulled away. Her eyes landed on the man in the corner again, and she clamped her mouth shut. They really needed to finish this argument in private.

He let out a small, pained exhalation as if someone had punched him in the stomach.

“Is there somewhere we can go?” she whispered.

“Yes. I wanted to be here when you woke up, but I need to go for a few minutes to get you some clothes before we can leave. Then I can take you somewhere else. You’ll be safe in the medbay with Desy until I get back, I promise.”

A medbay. Was that where she was? Her fingers itched to reach out and beg him not to leave her alone, but the anger and betrayal she was still feeling pushed her prideful side to remain still. “Fine,” she grumbled, not meeting his eyes. “Wait!” she blurted, suddenly alert. “Alex. We need to find help for Alex.” Lily flung her blanket off and made to stand, but Verakko pushed her back down.

“I already sent a team,” he assured. “It was the first thing I did after I got you here.” He peered over to the man in the corner, who returned the glance with a raised brow. “I’ll tell you more about it later, okay?”

Lily nodded, momentary relief clouding her thoughts. She peered at the comforting hand still resting on her shoulder and shrugged it off. Verakko winced, lingering. After a long moment of charged silence, he stomped away.

“Don’t let her go anywhere,” he hissed at the annoyed-looking man in the corner.

The man frowned and quickly slid a forefinger and thumb up the point of his ear in a gesture Lily had never seen before, but somehow still looked rude. The equivalent of a middle finger, perhaps?

Verakko pressed his hand to the surface of the knobless door, and it whizzed open. He remained still for a moment, shoulders bunched and fists clenched, but then finally walked through without looking at her again. A curious pain tugged in her chest as the door slid closed behind him. Not a familiar ache of longing but a real, physical tug, as if something inside her was urging her to follow him.

After he was gone, Lily studied her doctor-turned-jailor—at least she assumed he was a doctor. His clothes were monochromatic and simple in a way that made her think it wasn’t the style, but a uniform of sorts. His close-cropped grass-green hair and green skin, a darker forest green than Verakko’s teal coloring, told her he was Swadaeth as well.

“Hello,” she began tentatively. “Can you tell me what happened to me?”

The man assessed her in silence. When his gaze paused at her neck, she had to stop herself from pulling at the collar of her pale yellow, shapeless gown. “As he said—” he nodded toward the closed door, “—you were stung by a vonilace.”

“And what exactly is a vonilace?” Lily asked, trying to keep the annoyance from her voice.

The man stood and began walking around the room, cleaning up spilled bottles and askew pieces of cabinetry. “Vonilace is a type of vining plant that hides under the sand in the Dakuun Desert. It spreads below the surface and produces one bulb at a time. If a stray creature happens to walk too close, the bulb will rise and inject the animal, or in your case, human.” He said the word slowly, like it was odd to him. “The toxin paralyzes then poisons its victim while the buried vines pull its immobilized prey under the sand.”

Lily’s gut churned anew.

Unaware of the effect he was having on her, the doctor continued, “Then, small suckers along the vine will latch on to the animal and drain all the moisture from its body. Quite a fascinating plant, in fact.”

A small grunt of agreement was all she could muster. A killer plant had almost drained her dry.

The doctor lifted a corner of the crumpled metal cot with a finger and made a sound of annoyance. “Your…” He dropped the cot with a clang and eyed her. “I mean, Verakko, dragged you away and carried you here just in time. Most would’ve died within minutes.” His look of indifference suddenly changed to one of curiosity. “It must be something to do with your race. Tell me, are you immune to many toxins?”

Lily raised her brows, not sure how to answer. “I haven’t tried many.”

The doctor gave her a disappointed look, then finished righting his office and returned to his chair. “Well, you’re very lucky. Verakko told me you vomited and convulsed the whole time he ran.”

Lily’s stomach gave a flutter, and she ignored it. “He ran the whole way?” He’d saved her life? Had she even thanked him?

“He did.” The doctor’s scowl returned. “Ran all the way to my door and demanded I heal you, then destroyed my office while I did as he asked.”

“Thank you for helping me, and I’m sorry about your office.” Lily didn’t know what else to say. Part of her clung to the image of Verakko as her hero, running through the scorching desert and passionately crumpling metal in his worry for her. But the other part continued to remind her she was out of her depth. He’d lied repeatedly, and she couldn’t help but feel he’d allowed her to be ignorant of other important things, as well.

How much did she really know about these people and this city? How much of what he’d told her could she even trust?

The doctor released a sigh. “I’ll survive. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.” He shrugged and lifted the corner of his mouth. “I mean if you really are…someone he cares for, I can see why he’d be upset.”

Lily clenched her jaw and tried to rise from the bed. Vague memories of him whispering to her while pain sliced through her body came to her. Echoed words she thought she’d imagined replayed in her mind, and she pushed them away. “What’s your name again? Desy?” she asked, wobbling on her feet but feeling no noticeable areas of pain.


“It’s nice to meet you, Desy. I’m Lily. Mind if I ask you a few questions?”


“This isn’t working. Please take it off.”

Lily sighed and lifted the bulky helmet off her head.

“I need to go for a few minutes,” my ass. For the last hour, Desy had been running test after test for something he referred to as an off-worlder health clearance. She’d learned she had an allergy to something called Ripsli and that besides being understandably underweight, she was perfectly healthy.

After many reassurances, annoyed arguing, and a failed sway, which she’d promptly scolded him for, Desy had convinced her to get back into the glass tube. Once in, he’d given her the elixir. Lily’s heart had clenched, recalling Verakko’s story of his father and how he’d refused the treatment.

Whatever it was, the elixir had certainly worked to revitalize her. For a moment, she’d felt like she was at her physical peak. Toned, tight skin, clear mind, and not an ache or pain to be found. The immediate urge to tell Verakko about her renewed vitality had hit her, then her mood had darkened once again.

A scan meant to identify her taste and scent preferences had been next, but every time an image or scent flashed through the large helmet, Desy would grunt and remind her to keep her thoughts clear and neutral.

Image of a pink fruit. Verakko. Smell of cooking meat. Hougap with Verakko. Bright, minty scent. Lying near a campfire wrapped in Verakko’s arms. An unfamiliar image of a group of orbs that could’ve been made of some type of jelly hadn’t even distracted her. Though she’d never seen or tasted the food before, her mind immediately wondered if Verakko enjoyed them.

“I’m sorry,” she said, handing the helmet to Desy and peering at the floor gloomily.

“We can try again another time,” he said, giving her a rare sympathetic look. “For the time being, you’ll just have to taste it all and find out what you like in a more natural, time-consuming way.”

“Will do, doc. Now tell me more about Ziritha.”

Desy groaned and replaced the helmet in a hidden compartment positioned low on the far wall. “I’ve told you, it’s not my place.”

Lily clenched her jaw. Finally she had someone else to get her information from, yet he refused to answer her questions. His eyes kept darting whenever she asked anything, making her believe he was choosing to withhold information for some reason. “Then tell me about how someone gets out of a contract.”

“They don’t,” he said flatly. His brows drew together. “Unless…”

Lily held her breath.

“They don’t,” he repeated more firmly.

“Unless what?” she wanted to shout, but kept her tone even.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to take that antiquated device out?” Desy asked while pretending to straighten an impeccably organized cart.

“For the last time, no,” Lily snapped. Ever since noticing her IUD during a scan, he’d been urging her to let him remove it. But when she’d asked about what replacement would work with human anatomy and what the side effects of their birth control might be, he couldn’t give her an answer. Just because everyone else on this planet wanted to get pregnant didn’t mean she wanted to.

He grunted and mumbled to himself about how it was unfair the Tremantians were keeping the humans to themselves and how he wasn’t able to properly do his job without adequate data.

The door suddenly whizzed open, and Lily had to quell the warmth that spread through her chest at the sight of Verakko. She forced herself to remember their argument, and the answering spike of hollow pain in her gut helped to keep her emotions in check.

In. Out.

His bright-green gaze remained glued to hers. “I’m sorry it took so long,” he said, ignoring Desy completely. He held up a long bag, then draped it over a chair.

Lily bit her lip, her body and mind in a sort of heightened emotional stasis, like a shaken bottle of soda waiting to explode. Everything she’d been feeling from before being stung was still there. Her shoulders seemed permanently tensed. Her breaths wouldn’t remain even without constant focus, and the urge to either smack Verakko or kiss him still itched.

“Leave, Desy,” Verakko hissed, still not looking in the doctor’s direction.

Annoyance flaring, Lily planted her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes at Verakko. “Both of you leave.” She shot an apologetic glance at Desy. “Please. I’m capable of changing by myself.” She lowered her voice and addressed Verakko in an admonishing tone. “Are you always so rude to people who help you?”

“Yes,” Desy grumbled as he left the room.

A muscle twitched in Verakko’s jaw.

“Not here,” Lily said quietly when it looked like he’d argue. She didn’t want to fight here. She wanted to get to a quiet private area and then…she didn’t know.

A clear look of hurt and frustration flashed over his features, but he nodded and retreated through the door yet again.


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