There she was!
Thank you, Ahttah. She didn’t leave.
Ean saw Jin waving him over to where the Garagran was crouched next to the river a mere three felds above the dam. He slowed and motioned for both twins to head back to the palace while he approached Ember.
“I couldn’t do it,” she said.
She turned her great head and looked at him from eye level, then back up into the pitch dark mountains.
“I’m a coward, just like my family always said.”
Ean reached her side and laid his hand on her giant shoulder.
She snarled, a guttural, ripping sound that jolted up his arm.
“You’ve killed me.”
She swung her head around and bared her teeth in his face.
Ean pinned his ears pin back and felt his heart beat faster, but he held his ground, staring back into her eyes.
She closed her lips and collapsed onto the ground, her body and head making two crashes as she settled.
Ean knelt down in front of her head and waited.
“You’ve pulled me out of myself,” she said. “All of you. I don’t know how to live like you. I can’t. All I see is death.”
“There’s power to live like we do. You can…”
“I don’t believe in your Aihay!” she spat.
She snorted and settled even lower.
Ean reached out a hand, hesitated, then placed it on the top of her snout. She snorted and hot air washed over him.
“I’m sorry you’re hurting so much.”
“It’s your fault.”
“Just shut up, you idiot. Stop being so nice to me.”
Ember shivered under his hand, then snarled again and twitched her head away from his hand.
She was silent for a good kella.
“And next time don’t come running,” she said at last. “You stink of concern.”
“I’ll try to take my time in the future,” he said.
“Good. When did you fall in love with me anyway?”
Ean felt like she’d whacked him in the head with her tail.
“I said I can smell you, Ean. You humans may be opaque to me when I’m like you, but you all stink of your emotions to this nose.”
She blew out a deep sigh.
“You should marry Tala. I’m not worth having at this point.”
He tried to figure out what was going on. In love with her? What?
His head whirled.
Was it love? Or just attraction? He thought back to the dance. To all the months before that. So many breakfasts and dinners together. Conversations.
The mountains. The sunrise. That longing suffusing her whole being.
But she was so strange!
Her eyes before the dance, filling his world.
That clinched it. He saw, and wondered when it had happened.
She had more than become a presence in his life. She was starting to take it over.
He looked down at her and saw her looking at him with one great golden eye. The corner of her mouth curved up and Ean saw a sparkle in her eye. She was learning too much from the other women in his family.
“You enjoyed doing that to me,” he said.
“Knocking your head sideways? For making me hurt so much? Yes, of course.”
She smiled wider.
“But what I said about you is true. And I’m still not interested.”
He glared at her.
“Good. It makes it easier to not get distracted. I have a lot of other things to worry about.”
She laughed with a mocking edge.
“Angry. Better. You should try it more often.”
He slitted his eyes and almost said something nasty.
Ember watched him, holding that faint smile. Now with a twist to it. She wanted him to!
Ahttah, help me keep a calm head around this woman.
“It’s late,” he said. “You should get to bed. Come with me and I’ll walk you home.”
She twitched as he said the word, “home”. Her lip started to curl up in a snarl on one side, then settled. Suddenly her face relaxed and her eyelids drooped.
“Fine. I’m exhausted from arguing with you anyway.”