Venus awakened to arguing. 

“Stay inside until I come back for you. I’m going to take her to see the Gods.” Zaren sounded agitated. So not him.

“Fine. Fine. I’ll stay, but hurry.”

Still, she easily recognized who’d spoken. 

Venus lifted her head from his chest. “What are you doing here?” Her lungs were breathing easier. She’d returned home—had to be. Venus opened her eyes and noticed his face. It looked pinched. He appeared to be in pain. “Michael?”

“Hi,” he said softly, moving his arms from around her waist, a small grin on his face.

It had been Michael who’d kept her safe, protected her.

Zaren reached in and pulled her from Michael’s lap. She felt like an invalid. “Stop. Put me down. I can walk.” Venus glanced back at Michael, then up into Zaren’s face. “I’m fine.”

He released her. She took a step. Her legs gave way and she started to fall. Michael bolted out of the cockpit, but that hadn’t been necessary. Zaren steadied her. “Princess. Let me carry you.” He pulled her into his arms.

Venus huffed. “You shouldn’t be wasting your time.”

“You don’t know that.” He moved with sure-footed ease. The misty air surrounding the Manshum Mountains was so dense she could taste it, reach out and touch it. No one had told her where they were, but it was obvious.

For so much mist swirling around it was a wonder anything could grow, but as they walked, Venus heard the vegetation brush against Zaren, and the thick grass getting smashed under his shoes. Off to the right, beadizens were chirping noisily, their small orange wings slashing through the air above, and their song eerie in the dark night.

Every once in a while she’d hear the scurry of little creatures rustling through the bushes—probably muscaratys. White and long-haired, four little paws with razor-sharp claws and a twitchy nose with whiskers. Their long, floppy ears, soft and almost reaching the grassy floor. A long thin tail with a poof of fur on the end. They’d be adorable if it weren’t for their vicious temperament. Thankfully they didn’t hunt in packs.

She snuck a look at Zaren’s face. He looked solid, concentrating on the task at hand. His eyes flitted back and forth, scanning for danger as he went. Kelvieri had perfect vision. It didn’t matter the terrain or conditions. Some immortals were better at hunting than other. Zaren was one of the best. Venus doubted he remembered she rested in his arms.

Zaren. Testing to see if he could still read her thoughts. No response. Venus let out a sigh of relief. It was nice to have some privacy.

After a few minutes they reached the mouth of the cave. As in the love story of the Gods, the entrance loomed before them—gigantic. Like an enormous, howling wraith, it would swallow them whole.

Zaren stepped inside.

She held her breath. Another doorway. Death waits for me in there. I know it.

He stopped on the other side of the entrance. They were cocooned in darkness thick as irrihunter blood. She expected more, like Formytians waiting to bind them and drag them to the Gods. Or a screeching, flying Mingtar the size of an adult kelarian, its grand red beak sent to rip her to shreds, and then carry her pieces to the feet to the Gods.  

Nothing happened.

Zaren took another step inside.

“You can put me down now, Formytian.”

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