Shielded by the Rakian Scientist: Chapter Two

Zuri pushed her nerves back into a box, slammed the lid and threw away the key.

Just entering the castle had been terrifying. Approaching it from the small town of Grasmere, it stood alone in a wide field. She’d begun to circle it, looking for any signs of life, before finding a wide open door.

As if whoever lived here had no reason to fear anything.

Now that she was inside, this immense room was more terrifying. She was sure it shouldn’t even fit inside the castle, as large as it had seemed.

But if she wanted Goliath to stay calm, she needed to do the same.

She studied the strange man in front of her again, his pale skin cast into sharp relief by the simple grey vest and black pants he wore.

Ha. Maybe he didn’t know it was winter outside.

At the moment, the horse wasn’t scared of this room, with its spiraling, unsettling endless space. 

So she wouldn’t be scared either.

The man who studied her was another matter though.

Tall and thin, his skin wasn’t just pale, it was grey, unlike anything she’d ever seen on a person. And the bright blue eyes and jagged charcoal stripes that marked his face and arms made it clear.

This wasn’t actually a person.

This was one of the starmen.

“I’m not certain what you believe I have done,” he said calmly. “But it seems unlikely.”

And the anger that had kept her warm during the long trip down from the mountains flared again at his words.

“This!” she turned away from him, his calm, dismissive words doing nothing to calm her.

“May I assist you with that?”

She jumped. 

He’d been all the way over there, almost across the room from her. And now he was right next to her, peering down where her fingers fumbled at the fastenings of the saddlebag she’d so carefully lined.

“No,” she muttered, edging away slightly. 

There. The first layer was unwrapped.

A thick layer of wool wrapped tightly around a large box, waxed and watertight. She hoped.

She tugged at it, wiggling to get it loose from its surroundings, but she’d filled it after placing it into the saddlebag.

Now it was unbelievably heavy.

“Please, miss. Allow me.”

And then without even waiting for her to move, he reached around her, pulling the container free.

“Hey, watch it!” she exclaimed. “I would have had it in just a minute.”

“I am afraid that I do not have an unlimited amount of time to spend with you,” the tall man answered absently as he set the box onto the floor, bending over it. “I have other duties to see to.”

Well, if that was the case…

“Be my guest,” she said, stepping away, just a bit, wrapping her fingers in Goliath’s reins.

Her horse had seen plenty of the damn things, but didn’t like them.

Neither did she.

Would the grumpy ass starman, who was even now lifting the lid?

Probably not.

The instant the lid to the box was opened the flyer splashed in agitation. 

“This water smells as if there has been–” 

That was as far as he got before the flyer launched from the box, straight for the man’s face, gray, fleshy triangular wings extended fully.

Hell. 

“Duck!” Zuri yelled, reaching to knock the flyer from its path.

But she moved too slowly

Before she quite realized what had happened, the flyer lay in three neat pieces, scattered around the box.

And the man kneeling before her looked more than grumpy now.

Double hell.

He slowly straightened, eyes narrowed as he studied her.

“For the moment, I will assume that you did not come here with the intention of attacking me,” he growled.

Zuri swallowed hard. “No. I just want you to fix what you did.”

Eyebrows raised, he looked at the pieces of the flyer at his feet. “I suppose it might be an interesting exercise to reconstruct it. However, I have other experiments planned for the day.”

“What?” Zuri was back to angry now. 

Angry was more comfortable than scared. 

“I don’t want you to fix it, I want you to get rid of them. They’re all over the lake and they’re killing our chatha! You brought them,” she pointed to the shriveled pieces of the thing on the floor. “You need to take them back to wherever they came from.”

The man didn’t even bother to look. “No.”

“What?” Goliath stamped his hooves, agitated by her tone now. “What do you mean no?”

“We did not bring them. We are not here to interfere with the natural order of your world.”

That did it.

She pulled back her lips into a snarl, stomping up to the starman. “They came when you people did. We’ve lived by the lake ever since the first colonists arrived. We’ve raised chatha there, raised our children there. And there has never, ever been a problem until you came!”

His eyes were flat, face serene.

Uninterested.

Zuri’s fingers curled into a fist, wanting to punch something. But she remembered how quickly the flyer had turned into limp strips of flesh, and instead crossed her arms in front of her chest, as if to hold the trembling rage inside.

But then he surprised her.

“I am not familiar with this creature. We did not bring it to your world.”

Indignation washed over her, then he raised a hand. “However, if your statement is correct, then I do not believe it is native to this planet. Therefore, it is a mystery.”

He tossed the pieces back into the box with a splash, closed the lid and stood. “Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”

Then he turned and walked away, leaving Zuri and Goliath standing in the middle of the echoing, empty room.

He was leaving.

He wasn’t going to help them.

No.

Leaping up to Goliath’s back, Zuri charged across the room after the jerk.

Swinging around to cut him off, she blocked the exit with the horse’s broad body. 

“Wait!” she snapped, then exhaustion took over. Too many hours of worry, of travel. 

She slid back down to stand on the floor, leaning heavily on Goliath for strength.

“It’s not just a mystery, some abstract problem. Those things are killing our livestock, and there’s worry that the children will be next.” Staring into his dark eyes, she stumbled, just a bit, and effortlessly he caught her, his hand sliding under her elbow, keeping her upright.

“Please,” she murmured.

His face didn’t soften, his uncannily bright eyes still expressionless.

“Perhaps we should talk more,” he answered, with a slight inclination of his head. “Please follow me.”

And his hand at her elbow still holding her up, Zuri went with him, deeper into the castle.

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