Venus had no idea what time it was. The dreams and memories she’d witnessed in Michael’s mind hung over her thoughts like wet clothes. She pulled back the covers, about to get out of bed and get a drink, when she heard a shuffling noise in the hallway, outside her bedroom. If it’d been Zaren, she wouldn’t have heard him, so it had to be someone else.

“Dervinias,” she whispered, figuring he’d come home from the party.

The noise stopped, but she watched the door handle turn slowly. Moving forward, she went to see what Dervinias wanted. He bugged her with his incessant cheerfulness, like an obnoxious Mary Poppins. Worse, Venus knew he made Zaren uneasy. That’s all the warning she needed about the guy. 

Three. Two. One.  She flung the door open and immediately took a step back, shocked to see a very tall, very bulky person at the threshold. It wasn’t Dervinias.  She knew this because of his height and width, but she had no idea who he was. His face covered in shadows by the hood over his head.

Her body was still heavy with sleepiness, but she worked to sound tough. “Who are you? Are you one of Dervinias’s friends?” 

“I’m the death of you, gorgeous,” he said, softly, his tone and inflections exposing his youth and confidence. Hulking, but obviously a teen. From behind his back, he revealed a large knife, the blade long and curved, like a sickle.

Venus felt her pupils grow large—not in fear—but in preparation. This boy had no idea who he planned to murder. She’d been trained in more than one form of what humans called martial arts, but the warriors she’d studied under weren’t from this little planet. If she wanted to, she could slaughter this poor kid with his own knife before he knew what happened.

“I think you’ve got that backward, you overgrown mingtar. If you don’t leave now, I’ll be the death of you.”   

He raised his head and Venus squinted, working to see his face. “That’s not what he told me. He said you’d be easy to kill. You’re tiny. Killing you will be like snapping a hummingbird’s bones.” He sounded less sure of himself, though. The knife in his hand drooped slightly.

She bent her knees, shifted her feet to find a more grounded center. Through her nose, she took a deep breath . . . and choked on the stifling air. Multiple coughs racked her body.

Cret! She’d momentarily forgotten what the air was doing to her lungs, her body.  

Luckily she had enough sense to put her hands into their striking position—elbows bent, hands up, palms facing forward.

“Leave,” she’d meant to yell. The word came out strangled. 

He lunged at her. “No. I won’t leave until you’re dead. I can’t.” The boy spat the words, like they were dirty.

She stepped forward as he came at her, keeping her body low. Her intent had been to flip him over her left shoulder, causing him to land on his head. He went over her shoulder all right, but she wasn’t prepared for his weight. It was like he paused in midair before mashing down on top of her, pushing her stomach to the floor. Her chin smacked against the carpet. His weight nearly knocked Venus out. As if that weren’t bad enough, the stink of his body odor—rotten eggs—caused her to gag. Venus heard him groan a curse, his knife clanged against something, probably her bed frame.

With great effort she tried to push him off, but he was too heavy. Flailing about, he made a klutzy effort to untangle himself from her.

 “Are you a boy or a baboon?” she hissed, frustrated she hadn’t been stealthier. Her Senji master would be humiliated if he’d witnessed this tragedy.

When she felt the kid’s weight shift, Venus scrambled from under him, and onto her feet, facing his hulking figure. He jumped up, knife in hand. It gleamed in the moonlight that shone through the window. She steadied herself, finding center, waiting for him to come at her again. This time she’d make Master Yoiru proud.

“Arrrrgggghhhh,” he roared, shaking his head, reminding her of a lion.

“You ready to call this quits? Maybe you want to try again some other time, when you aren’t such a clumsy ox?” Venus tried on an evil smile, hoping to intimidate him.

“Listen, I don’t have a choice. He said it’s your destiny—”

He couldn’t finish. Dervinias was suddenly at his throat, a hand over his mouth. He wasn’t as tall or as wide as the huge boy, but it didn’t matter. Dervinias was stronger—much stronger. Venus watched the boys eyes grow wide, she guessed in fear. The boy looked like he wanted to talk, but he didn’t get the chance. Dervinias twisted. Venus heard the sickening snap of his neck and watched his body drop, like a bowling ball, onto her carpet.

“Did you have to kill him?” she shouted. Her rubbery legs carried her forward.

“He tried to kill you and you didn’t seem to be dealing. Lucky I came home when I did,” he said, full of cockiness.

“He was just a boy.” Venus slugged Dervinias in the arm, still too weak to show more rage. She fell to her knees next to the boy’s head. “I’m so sorry.” With two fingers, she lowered his lids over his empty eyes. “What are we going to do? Zaren will know.”

She stood and yelled, “Zaren.” When he didn’t come right away, she called again, louder. “Formytian.” To Dervinias, she asked, “Where is he?”

“He’s probably exhausted. Leave him be. I’ll take care of it.” Venus heard the biting tone rip from his throat.

“What’s your plan?” She crossed her arms. 

“Does it matter? Go sleep on the couch. I’ll handle it,” he growled, facing her.

She sighed, unbidden tears glossing over her vision. “Why did he want to kill me?” she whispered.

He shook his head, turning back to the boy. “I don’t know.”

She needed to leave the room. The smell of death already permeated the air. Careful not to let any of the white comforter touch the floor, she carried it into the living room. Venus wanted to see Zaren. He should’ve been with her, but the bedroom door remained shut. She shrugged it off, knowing nothing on this planet could harm him, figuring it was as Dervinias said. He’d been exhausted.

Lying on the lumpy red couch, she tried to go back to sleep, but it was difficult. She wondered what the teen had meant about her destiny. The boy had been trying to do someone else’s bidding. Whose?

She was also curious about what Dervinias might be doing. With the boys body? With the room?

Overhead, the ceiling fan whirred and she watched it until fatigue finally hit. There was much to do in the morning, lots to talk about. Venus still had to make the rude human boy, Michael, fall in love.

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