Chapter 10: The Blood - The Twins

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(Alternatively: The Festival often makes for the best hunting grounds)

Retta was dreaming. She could tell because Nikeese was there, pressing a soft kiss to her cheek.

"You look very pretty in your sleep Retta, but I need to talk to you," his voice said, echoing in her mind like a lost ripple.

"You gotta wake up Retta," Nikeese said again, and again, and again, and again.

Retta woke up as Nikeese shook her shoulder.

"There you are, finally awake are you, dear?" He asked with a smile.

Retta blinked, wondering just how much of her dream had been real.

"Uh, yes."

"How much time are you spending asleep these days?"

"Less than I used to, but I'm still asleep for more than half the day," Retta answered, not liking how whiney she sounded.

"Are you aware then, that your lovely twin told your parents that he's courting me?"

Retta froze. "He WHAT?!"

"Your parents ambushed him with news that he needed to pick a bride from a list of candidates they had made, which made him panic and blurt out that he's courting me, which of course they didn't like."

Retta felt her face scrunch up in confusion. "But they love you?"

Nikeese laughed. "Not when I'm a poor boy, surrounded by rumours, courting their only child with a hope of having children."

Retta swore. "They're so stupid, letting image control them like that."

Nikeese nodded. "Indeed, dear."

Retta stared at him for a moment. "You're going to have to stop calling me that, if you're going to pretend to court my brother."

Nikeese hummed and then shrugged. "How about no?"

Retta laughed. "Fair, fair."

Then, Retta noticed something, something she had been too drowsy to notice until now.

"Why aren't you sitting down?"

Nikeese winced. "My back is sore, because of some work I did recently... Like very recently" He then patted a pouch of coins that was tied to his belt. "I had to do a lot of it, as I won't be doing it again for the foreseeable future and I needed the funds."

Nikeese then smiled oddly and gulped, his throat constraining against the thin red ribbon choker around his neck. Retta couldn't help but stare at it for a long moment. It was a rare thing for him to wear, something that was bought for him years ago by Rashidi when he noticed Nikeese looking at it during a market visit. It wrapped around his neck like a bloody cut.

Retta knew exactly the kind of work he had done if he was willing to say any of this to her, if he was facing her with all these signs just screaming to be analyzed.

She looked up at him. "Thank you for telling me, Nikeese."

He sighed in relief, his smile turning sunny and bright. "No, thank you."

"I take it you quit to stop the rumours, rumours I never could confirm by the way, despite how true they are? Or rather, were?" She asked, quirking an eyebrow.

"Yeah... I didn't want it to cause extra harm to your brother. Past rumours aren't as dangerous as current ones," Nikeese said slowly, as if afraid of the words he was saying.

Retta stared at her best friend once more, reading in him so many nervous tells and fears. He was confirming many of her suspicions today, it seemed.

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