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Saving Verakko: Chapter 3

Pink juice from the fruit Lily bit into squirted onto her dingy yet clean white shirt, and she ground her teeth. Already? Only that afternoon had she taken precious hours to wash and dry her clothes. Why had she even bothered?

For about a week now, Lily had been hiking alone through this alien forest, and it was wearing on her. The constant hunger and thirst, incessant bug bites, and perpetual state of hyperawareness were all things she’d never enjoyed on Earth and now despised. To top it all off, she’d lost a good ten pounds from her already slender frame.

Throwing the small fruit into her woven grass bag, Lily glared at the flickering flames of her bright fire, no longer concealed in a pit, and became lost in her own thoughts. The small clearing she’d found two days ago was one of the more comfortable spots she’d camped while searching for Alex. The patch of soft, moss-covered earth was within walking distance to the river and protected by trees on three sides. She regretted having to leave, but tomorrow she’d need to move down the river yet again.

After she and Alex had been separated, she’d dragged herself onto the bank, then sprinted as fast as she could along the shore. She’d run until her legs had given out but hadn’t found a shred of evidence. She hadn’t even found any supplies washed up from the bag she’d lost in the river. Then a nasty rainstorm five days ago had flooded the whole area, forcing Lily to retreat to higher ground. Any evidence of Alex, or her lost supplies from her broken bag, would’ve been washed even farther downriver.

The chirping of insects she could never find, no matter how hard she looked, pulsed through her ears. She wrapped her arms around her waist and frowned. What she wouldn’t give for Alex to be here right now. A small smile tugged at her lips. The woman had talked enough to drown out the bug’s noises. Alex had always been great at that. Lily hadn’t realized how much her friend had done to keep her spirits lifted. She now wondered if Alex really talked that much normally or if she’d chatted nonstop because she’d somehow sensed Lily needed lightness to combat the nagging pressure she always put on herself. Either way, the loneliness was wearing on Lily.

Why had she told Alex to keep going? She should’ve told her to stay put! No, Lily argued. What if I hadn’t made it? It would’ve been selfish to force Alex to wait.

As she picked at her nails, now devoid of the bright pink polish she’d applied mere days before her abduction, she ran through her plan once more. The first few days on her own, Lily hadn’t been smart. She’d pushed her body too far in pursuit of her friend. Only sleeping a few hours of the night and only eating what little she found along her way. If she really stopped to think about it, she should be dead right now. Poisoned from the random foods she’d eaten without first testing.

Though she hadn’t died, she’d become incredibly ill. Lily didn’t know if it was the food or unpurified water, but her stomach pains had halted her in her tracks. The rainstorm had turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it had forced her to take shelter until it’d passed and had provided water that was reasonably safer to drink than river water. She’d crawled into a dark, empty crevasse between some boulders high on the hill and had ridden out the worst of her illness while praying no wild animals came to take advantage.

After two days of misery, she’d regained her sense and had decided she’d need to work smarter if she was ever going to learn what had happened to her friend.

Lily felt the balloon in her chest expand, threatening to burst at the thought of Alex. She pushed it down. She’s a smart girl. She made it to shore and started walking along the river just like we planned. Lily kept carrying out the one-sided conversation in her mind, the only activity that prevented her from falling apart. I’ll find signs of her any day now; they were just washed farther down by the rain.

She vehemently silenced the voice in the back of her brain wondering if there was any evidence left to find.

A loud snap from the fire drew her eyes, a welcome distraction. She reached over to her pile to throw on more wood and cursed. She’d left all the wood she’d gathered today by the riverbank.

After spending the morning chopping and hefting a heavy load of firewood, Lily hadn’t been able to resist the crystal-clear water. She’d been dirty for long enough, hadn’t she? She deserved to have a few hours of frivolity where, instead of toiling, she washed herself and her clothes and sunbathed on a nice, big rock. Well, that was exactly what she’d done. Lily cursed and stared at her stained shirt again. She’d felt clean and rejuvenated for all of two hours, and now she’d have to drag herself back to the river in the dark to maintain this damn fire.

She grimaced and rose. Her muscles, stiff from the hard work of the morning, groaned in protest. She grabbed a stick from the fire and held the flaming end ahead of her. The trees were thinner here along the river, and the two moons, only one of which was visible from her vantage point, lit the area in soft light. Lily told herself the fire was needed to ward off animals, but really it was more for her own comfort than anything else.

Although she hadn’t been attacked by any of the animals lurking nearby, she heard them watching her throughout the days and nights. The longer she spent in this place, the more convinced she became that the creatures who stalked her were intelligent and were biding their time until she was either too weak or injured before making their move.

A rustling sounded from the trees, and Lily spun in place, holding her torch high. She crouched, ready to run or fight, whatever the situation called for. The rustling grew louder, and she peered into the dark forest, trying to make out any signs of movement. She saw nothing. The crack of snapping branches hit her ears, and she realized the sound wasn’t coming from in front of her but from above.

What the fuck?

A loud crashing sounded overhead. She dove out of the way, sliding to a halt and scratching the hell out of her side as her pants dragged down over her thin hips. The weight of whatever had fallen hit the ground hard enough to make the earth under her vibrate. She scrambled onto her back and scuttled away, attempting to keep the dark, shapeless mass that’d fallen from the sky in view. She reached her still-burning torch and was about to bolt, when a deep groan emanated from the lump.

Lily sat frozen, her pulse racing and her breathing labored. It’d sounded like a person, a man. She was torn. Her limbs itched with adrenaline, urging her to flee, but she held her ground. On the one hand, she hadn’t seen another person since Alex, and she desperately wanted help for her. On the other, she had no way of knowing if this…thing…was even a man at all. And even if it were, was she in more danger with him than she was on her own?

Am I so miserable that I don’t even care anymore?

Lily shut down the thought as soon as it came to her. She might no longer care about her own well-being, but she still needed to discover evidence of Alex, whatever that may be. She wouldn’t be able to live with herself knowing she hadn’t done everything she could to find her friend.

The shape in front of her remained still. Oh, shit. Did it die? She hurried forward.

As she got close, she slowed and examined the creature. Raising her torch, she made out the shape of a large, muscled back, clad in a black long-sleeved shirt and pants. Lily swallowed. Definitely a man. The shallow rise and fall of his back confirmed he was still breathing, at least.

Maybe he’d come from a nearby village and could lead her there. She eyed his broad shoulders. But how had he gotten here? He didn’t have wings. One of the men who’d held her captive in the bunker had had wings. Lily shuddered, renewed caution tempering her excitement at seeing another person.

She swept the ground with her hand and found a small rock. She lobbed it at his back and held her breath. Nothing. Next, she moved in with a long stick and prodded. He remained motionless.

This is just ridiculous. The one person who might have answers as to where Alex could’ve gone might be slowly dying because she was too scared to get close. Lily took a deep breath, gathering her courage, and inched toward the man. She knelt next to his large figure and, with a heave, rolled him to his back. He released another low groan of pain but remained otherwise unmoving. The soft glow from the torch illuminated his features, and she lost her breath. He was an alien, indisputably, but he wasn’t like any of the aliens she’d already seen.

His skin was a deep navy blue but flickered to a lighter green in some areas where small cuts and scratches appeared. His ears were long and pointed, with faint punctures as though he usually wore earrings. Lily tilted her head and took in his defined square jaw, straight regal nose and high cheekbones. Had she ever seen such a perfectly sculpted face? His dark brows were furrowed upward in worry, and his full lips twitched. Her hands ached to smooth his brow.

And his scent… His clothes smelled of crisp air and nutty wood, but there was an underlying smell she couldn’t quite place. The more she tried to identify it, the further away she got. Like chasing the memory of a dream.

She shook her head. Get a hold of yourself.

Scanning the rest of his body, Lily searched for injuries. When he continued to lay still, she became bolder in her search. His shoulder had been dislocated, likely during that fall. She winced in sympathy. It was going to hurt like a son of a bitch to pop it back into place. Venturing lower, she found the side of his shirt was damp. Upon lifting it, a deep gash in his hip came into view. Blood, red like hers, oozed out of a pale-green wound. The flow was slow enough that she didn’t believe he was in danger of bleeding out anytime soon.

Lily sat back on her heels. She needed to make a decision. Either leave him here and take off in the night, or drag him back to camp and help him.

What if he’s one of the men who likes locking up women? her mind prodded.

“What if he’s not?” she shot back in a whisper. Suddenly she recalled Alex’s comment about the aliens caging them as food, and her stomach turned.

Wedging her torch in the dirt near his head, she crawled over the man and carefully lifted his top lip. His canines were sharp, more like fangs. All the blood seemed to rush to her head, and her ears buzzed. Maybe they were raising humans as a delicacy for alien consumption. Only predators had teeth like that.

A rattling growl rumbled through his chest. All of her breath seemed to catch in her chest as her gaze shot up and met glowing green eyes. Eyes that were alert and angry and very much focused on her. Before she could dash away, he gripped her hand, still hovering over his mouth, and flipped her onto her back. He brought her other wrist above her head and loomed over her.

His sharp fangs were bared, glinting in the firelight. Lily bucked, attempting to force his center of gravity forward and throw him off balance, but he was too heavy and her energy was just too depleted to put enough power into any of the moves she knew.

“Where am I?” he rasped, his eyes growing unfocused.

“Get off me, and I’ll tell you,” she shrieked, writhing under him with every ounce of strength she had left.

A pained expression crossed his face, and he winced. He released her and raised his torso. Her hips were still trapped under his massive thighs, but her hands were now free. She stretched toward the spot she’d left her torch. As she swept her hands around blindly, she kept her eyes trained on the alien above her. He rubbed at his dislocated shoulder, then his features hardened. His resolute eerie gaze returned to her, pinning her in place.

She watched in horror and awe as in one quick movement, he wrenched the wrist of his injured arm out and forward. She heard the resounding crunch of bone sliding into socket, and her skin crawled. Not because of the disgusting way in which he’d fixed his joint but because his eyes had been glued to her the whole time and he’d barely flinched.

Her body seemed to catch up with her mind, and she strained harder toward the torch. He descended on her, fangs bared, and she cried out just as she felt the wood beneath her palm. The faintest brush of his teeth traveled along her collar bone, but he refrained from biting her. She pulled on the torch, trying to loosen it from the odd angle as he sniffed at her hair, then raised his head only a few inches above hers and studied her. His mouth opened, about to say something, but she never heard what it was. She brought the heavy torch down on his skull with a resounding crack.

He crumpled on top of her. Lily wheezed and gulped fruitlessly, attempting to draw air while crushed under his weight. She squirmed and wiggled until she was out from underneath him, then breathed deeply.

He lay unmoving again, and her torchlight revealed a large wound gushing blood on the back of his head. She winced in sympathy. The gash was much too large to have been caused by her meager attack. It must’ve happened during his fall. Lily cursed again, her fear giving way to anger and exasperation. She glared up into the trees. Where the hell did you come from?

Lily stared at the man and then back toward her camp. She didn’t regret knocking him out, though a small squirm in her belly argued differently. He’d pinned her down, after all. And it was clear he hadn’t been completely with it yet. Yes, knocking him out had been the right move. But guilt still pulled at her as she stared at his head wound. She hadn’t been the one to cause it, but she’d most assuredly made it worse.

What was she supposed to do now? What if a scavenging animal came by and he wasn’t able to wake up? No, she couldn’t leave him, no matter how badly her logical brain urged her to. He could’ve easily hurt her, but he hadn’t. Maybe if she helped him, he’d help her. Tell her where the nearest town was. He’d spoken English.

Lily’s heart picked up speed again, and her eyes widened. How had he spoken English? The aliens in the bunker had as well. Did he know them?

She couldn’t tell him about Alex until she knew she could trust him. She needed some answers. A stray thought came to her, and she explored it. I could tie him up. Make sure he doesn’t die, and then ask him questions when he comes to. Lily glanced in the direction of her camp, where all her gathered cordage sat waiting. She’d never be able to drag him that far. He weighed a ton. She’d have to bring the rope to him.

Lily assessed the area. A large tree limb hung overhead. Not the safest place to build a fire, but it’d have to do.

She took a moment to catch her breath then stood. Glancing down at her body, she saw she was filthy, stained everywhere with blood and dirt. She stretched the material forward and huffed out an annoyed breath. So much for that!


Verakko’s head was pounding. Not the normal dull ache he felt when dealing with people. More like the butt of a knife being rammed into the base of his skull. It was difficult to think, but Verakko could feel that he was sitting up. A spurt of venom shot to his fangs when he perceived tight rope binding his hands and…a sling around his right arm.

His eyes flashed open and took in the shape of a fire. He blinked, trying to clear his vision, and ground his teeth against an onslaught of pain shooting through his skull.

“You should keep still.”

Verakko froze at the sound of a soft voice. A female voice. Scanning the area, his gaze landing on the blurry shape of a person sitting on the opposite side of the fire. Slowly, the world around him came into focus. “Who are you?” he growled, tugging on his hands experimentally. The rope was strong and the knots were tied with expertise, but whoever had tied them had underestimated his strength. He could break out if he wanted.

Verakko recalled falling through the trees and landing. There’d been something else, though, some event. His heart picked up a fraction as the female’s narrowed eyes came into focus. She’d been there, touching him and checking him over. But then she’d touched his fangs, and he’d known he needed to stop her before she accidentally cut herself. If there was even a drop of venom left, his gentle savior would be dead in a matter of minutes.

He’d flipped her, meaning only to hold her in place while he explained, but her scent had distracted him, and then… Verakko frowned, anger and embarrassment coursing through him. Then she’d knocked him over the head and tied him up.

His vision cleared, and the pounding in his head reduced. He stared at the small female crouching with a large piece of wood in hand as though ready for a fight. She had dark brown hair that framed her oval face and shimmered gold near the tips. The color distribution was odd but not unpleasant. He imagined her eyes were brown, but it was difficult to know for sure with the green fire reflected in them.

“Where did you come from?” she demanded.

The Strigi, he recalled with a start. His eyes shot to the trees above. Would the male return for him?

Verakko relaxed a fraction. Not anytime soon. Even if the small amount of venom he’d been able to inject into the male hadn’t killed him, it would’ve certainly put him out of commission for a few days. Still, he could’ve landed close by to recover. It’d be better if he and this mysterious female got out of here sooner rather than later. Unless she, too, was an Insurgent. She’d tied him up, after all.

“Hey, alien! Answer me.”

Verakko felt a flare of annoyance for a moment before her use of words settled over him. Alien? He stiffened. Sitting up straighter, he ran his gaze over the female again. His eyes locked back on hers. “You’re human.”

A small pink tongue darted across her full lower lip, distracting him, and she gulped but said nothing.

Did this mean their plan had worked? He studied her worn clothing and pile of handcrafted supplies. “How long have I been unconscious?”

“You’ll answer my questions first,” she said, shooting him a glare.

Verakko tilted his head at the small human, and his mouth quirked upward despite himself. She was brave, to say the least. “I was dropped here by some pishot Strigi. Does that answer your questions?”

Her frown deepened at his tone. “How can we understand each other?”

“You were implanted with a translator, it seems.” Allowing his body to calm, he swayed her. “It would make sense to tell me where you came from. What would be the harm?”

Her irises dilated, and she swiftly replied, “I came from…” She paused and blinked at him. After a moment, she shook her head as if to clear it. “What was that?”

Verakko couldn’t stop his mouth from falling open.

She narrowed her eyes at his surprised expression. “Did you try and do something to my head?”

Never in his life had his sway been so easily rejected. He was regarded as one of the more powerful of his kind, and although his sway often didn’t hold for long stretches of time, it usually required more effort to shake off than that. He shifted in his seat, his pride injured by the tiny Earthling, and decided his weakened state was obviously the cause of his malfunctioning gift.

“How about you untie me, and then we can talk?” he offered. Breaking out of these ropes would be easy, but he suspected the only reason this human was sitting so close to him at the moment was because she assumed he’d been rendered immobile. If he revealed his strength, she’d likely run or attack, and he was not in the mood to subject his abused body to any more physical exertion at the moment.

She grinned, displaying small white teeth, and his cock gave an unwelcomed twitch of interest. “Not a chance. How do you know what humans are?”

“How about a drink of water, then? At least give me that.” Truth be told, he didn’t really need water. His people were most comfortable in the dry Dakuun desert, their bodies adapted to survive on minimal resources. What he did need was to see her more closely. The urge to leap over the fire, just to get a clear view of her eye color, was like a living entity clawing inside him.

She stared at him hard, and he could almost see her weighing his request. Her gaze strayed to a primitive wooden bowl filled with water, and she nibbled her pink lower lip. His blood heated, and his cock gave another involuntary twitch. Recently, he’d witnessed quite an odd practice from a few of the humans and their mates, and he’d not been able to get the image out of his mind since. It’d been odd and unpleasant, their mouths locked together like they were trying to inhale each other’s air. So why couldn’t he stop thinking about taking that lip between his own teeth?

Goddess help me. What’d gotten into him? He peered down at his wrists, holding his breath, then exhaled. No marks.

“Answer one of my questions first, then I’ll give you a drink of water,” she said finally.

He lifted his chin, mirroring her own stubborn posture. “Have my eyes changed? Have the irises and whites both turned completely black or possibly yellow?”

She pursed her lips.

Verakko stifled a hiss. How to get her to answer him? “It’s important. It…it’s indicative of…my health. Please.”

Her eyes widened a fraction. “No. They haven’t changed.”

“Promise to tell me if they do, and I’ll answer your questions.”

She studied him for a moment and then gave a tight nod. “How do you know what I am?” Her stoic countenance held strong, but he saw the briefest flash of fear in her eyes. What had the Insurgents done to her?

He took a deep breath to allow the bubbling snarl building in him to abate before answering. “I’ve met a few of your kind. Two, to be exact. I was with one of them, Alice, only hours ago. We released you from the facility you were being held in. Do you not recognize my voice?”

“Alice?” she shot forward before realizing it and then halted. “You know Alice?”

You know Alice?” Verakko searched his mind for an explanation. There was no way this female could know Alice unless… He took in the sight of her weathered clothes and handcrafted supplies once more. “You’re one of the females who ran off into the forest weeks ago, aren’t you?”

She opened her mouth then closed it again.

Relief, worry, and annoyance all exploded in Verakko and, failing to contain himself, he blurted, “That was such a stupid idea. How could you have run off like that? Do you know how many people have been trying to find you? The other humans have been worried sick.”

Her head snapped back, and her cheeks flushed bright red. “Hey! You don’t get to judge me. You have no idea what I went through and no idea what I’ve been through since. So I’d appreciate it if you kept your opinions to yourself,” she spat.

She moved away before Verakko had time to decide on an apology or a retort. The humans who’d escaped with Alice two weeks ago had taken to their new lives in Tremanta relatively well. All except for the two impulsive females who’d decided they’d prefer the wilds and who hadn’t been found, until now. Like most, he’d assumed they’d perished.

Anxiety warred with relief once more. He’d been so satisfied to see that his attempts to free the humans from the rest of the facilities had been a success. Now he realized he was still in the dark as to what had happened to them. He needed to get back to civilization—and fast. If Kadion and the others hadn’t survived the attack, someone would need to report back to the Queen. Leaders around the world had to know that humans may be roaming aimlessly, looking for a safe haven.

But first he’d need to convince this stubborn female to return with him.

Muttering, she snatched the water bowl and fished a few rocks from the liquid.

“Why are there rocks in your water?” he questioned harshly, his frustration seeping into his words. How had this slip of a female managed to survive in the Sauven Forest this long?

“Another stupid idea, is it?” She slowly lifted her head and raised a delicate brow. “Do you know of a better way to purify water without a pot? I heated them in the fire, then dropped them in to boil the water. If you know of an easier way, I’m all ears.” She held his stare and waited.

Verakko clamped his mouth shut. He didn’t know of another way without tools, and he hated the smug smile that spread over her face at his silence.

She knelt in front of him, and some of his annoyance faded. Brown. Her eyes were indeed brown. And beautiful. Her scent toyed with him as well. It was buried by smoke, dirt, and blood, but he could just make out a sweetness underneath the grime.

She lifted the bowl to his mouth and waited. When he continued to stare, she cleared her throat. “Do you want the water or not?”

He drank a few sips of the warm water, not wanting to take all of the precious liquid she’d spent so long disinfecting. He licked his lips and was pleased to see her eyes tracked the movement of his tongue.

Her gaze lingered for a moment longer, then she abruptly stood and put distance between them.

He scowled. “Aren’t you going to untie me now?” he called, wiggling his hands.

“No,” she said simply, piling wood onto the fire. She moved farther away from the camp, and Verakko had to fight the instinct to break his measly bonds and drag her back to the safety of the fire. He hadn’t spent much time in forests, but he knew fire equaled safety no matter the environment.

“Where are you going?”

“To bed.” She took hold of a hanging sapling and began to climb.

“Do you always sleep in trees?” he complained, angling his neck to keep her in view, muscles taut. What if she falls?

She swung to the limb of a tree nearby, as agile as a teuy, and settled herself there, over the fire. Did she somehow know that her position high above was the last place he’d follow her? He would if he had to, of course, but his recent fall from the sky had been enough to keep him firmly planted on the ground for the next few years.

“I could come up there and get you just as easily as if you were down here,” he bluffed.

“Not with that tender shoulder and bleeding side,” she countered. “Also, I believe the words you were looking for were thank you.”

His chest puffed. Did she really think him so weak that he couldn’t climb a few feet into the air after an injury? He flexed his side experimentally and felt fabric circling his hips. Then he realized the sleeves of his shirt had been torn and utilized as a makeshift bandage and a sling. The itch of a forming scab scraped against the fabric. His wounds were nearly mended. She must not have known his kind could heal quickly. Should he throw that piece of information in her face or allow her to sleep secure in the knowledge that he was a weak, incapacitated male?

He scowled. For tonight, he’d let her sleep, but his pride wouldn’t allow him to be viewed as an invalid for much longer. He reclined as much as his bindings would allow and glanced up to where she lay.

She stared back, watching him.

“What’s your name, human? I’m Verakko.”

She turned away, and Verakko assumed she’d decided not to answer. But then she said, “It’s Lily.”

Verakko grinned even through his foul mood. “Sleep well, Lily.”


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