I could see Mak now, from where I was heading up the hallway.
He had a few younger females near him. Watching him. I rolled my eyes to myself. I know we Dardaptoans almost always look around the same age—although some of us are cursed to look even younger. (Poor Riv has that very problem, she barely looks of age at all. It drives her insane to constantly be mistaken for a teenager!)
It’s the way they dress that tells me how old they are.
By the time we’re forty or fifty, we tend to tone down the more outlandish human outfits and settle into more traditional Dardaptoan wear.
I mean, we’re Dardaptoans! We’re big on tradition, after all. At least we Woalds are. We take part in all the ceremonies. And we even have some of our own to honor Aerim.
The Feast of Aerim is the biggest Woald holiday of the year, and it happens around the winter solstice each year.
The females were young, and they were watching him. Wanting to touch him, maybe, on the hopes that he was their Rajni and just didn’t know it yet. Sometimes, it takes touch to know for sure.
Julea used to have a reoccurring nightmare when she was younger. She’d climb in my bed with me, and I’d tell her that it would be ok. I helped my parents with her quite a bit after she was born; my mother had been very weak after that day for several years.
Julea’d dream that she was in the same room with her mate, and he’d never know because he never touched her.
After all, unless there are serious feelings between unrelated Dardaptoans, the males don’t touch the females!
I’d tell her that wasn’t the way it worked. Daddy had said he knew his mate the moment she spoke to him. Just that quickly.
No doubt, it would be that easy for my sisters, too. I hope so. I want them to find their males and be happy forever.
Mak looked up. We made eye contact. I smiled at him, though I was a complete mess inside.
Then I heard a pop right beside me.
Everyone around me screamed. Several of the females tried to run.
I turned to see what it was that scared them so badly.
And found myself staring straight into the eyes of a hideous red monster that had to stand seven and a half feet tall.
With claws longer than my fingers coming right at me.
I screamed and tried to back away, to run.
Just as Mak came running, sword drawn.
He was too late.
The claws sliced at my right arm, ripping through my favorite yellow vestis. Fire. Fire unlike any I had ever felt before flooded through me, and I fell to the ground.
I tried to pull myself to my knees, to crawl away. To just get away. But I couldn’t move fast enough.
The beast screeched as Mak reached us. “The queen must never live!”
The fire consumed me, and I fell into the flames. I could hear the sounds of battle raging around me.