“Where are we going?!” Aella shouted over the near-constant rumbling of thunder.
Rai didn’t answer, although her shout had certainly been loud enough. An echo of her voice still rang in his ears. This girl had never been planet-bound before, and she was his responsibility. His father could not have made that clearer. Glowering and pulling her by the forearm, Rai sprinted towards the stables at full speed. They had served as his go-to hideout for years, whether a storm was barreling down on him or not. Aella was stumbling behind him, still not used to their level of gravity and definitely not accustomed to running very far. Did she realize just how much of a burden she was? Maybe. She seemed to have a hard time looking him in the eyes.
After a few quick moments for Rai and what felt like hours for Aella, the pair took shelter among the seariders. Aella gaped at the creatures, as she did with many ordinary things on Taonus. Or, as her people called it, Leon QD2. Having just reached eighteen cycles, the ambassador’s daughter was finally old enough to start her apprenticeship. What a way to begin, Rai thought. Almost killed by the weather. Of course, she didn’t know that.
“You know, I really don’t mind a little rain,” she told Rai after she had caught her breath. “How would you know?” Rai snorted.
Aella frowned before saying, “I suppose you aren’t going to tell me what these are, either? I must say, Rai, you’ve been an awfully bad tour guide.”
She was gesturing to the seariders. Rai sighed. How could she know so little? They were virtually the same age. Rai had been taking the beasts on fishing trips since his tenth cycle and had been watching his older brothers do the same since before he could remember.
“I know you think me naïve, but how am I supposed to learn if you don’t tell me anything?” It was as if she had read his mind. At least she was intuitive. Also, she had a point.
“They’re called seariders. In case you haven’t noticed, Taonus is pretty much all ocean.”
“I see, so what do you use them for exactly?”
Rai decided Aella’s lack of knowledge about anything wouldn’t shock him anymore. It was getting old. “Well, you know about horses, right?”
“I...think they were mentioned in one of my history lessons,” she said quietly, eyes on the floor.
“Okay, well, they’re pretty much sea versions of those. They help with transportation to and from Niithea, among other things.
“Ah yes, your rivals.”
That was a nice name for it. The Niitheans had been the sworn enemies of Rai’s people since the moment they set foot on their planet. Fortunately, most settlers hadn’t known how treacherous the weather could be. One drop makes contact with your skin, and, well, no one really knew what happened after that.
Rai felt Aella’s eyes on him. He met her gaze for a split second before she ducked her head once more. Blinded by frustration at the task his father had given him, Rai hadn’t noticed how beautiful she was until now. She had green eyes that stood out from her pale, unblemished skin. Her hair was covered by the headpieces worn by his people, but a few jet-black strands had escaped during their run. He also knew that, unlike other visitors they had received from the stars, Aella was genuinely curious about his way of life. Maybe it was because she hadn’t been spoiled by years of exploring. Rai cursed under his breath - why did she have to be so damn nice? He resolved to focus on what annoyed him about her instead. It would make the next few minutes a little less painful.
“I don’t mean to be rude, truly, but how do you know so little about the world outside your ship?” Rai asked with complete insincerity.
Aella’s shoulders rose and sank before she answered, saying, “It’s funny, really. We do have a wonderful education program - one of the best in the universe - if I do say so myself. There are just so many planets, and honestly, I haven’t studied Leon QD2...I mean, Taonus, since my twelfth cycle. I tried to learn what I could before coming here, but it was kind of, um, a surprise birthday present.”
Rai laughed as she had expected him to.
“A birthday present?! Is that what you call nearly being killed by our rain?”
He could tell Aella was not expecting this. She furrowed her eyebrows and finally looked him in the eyes.
“What do you mean...nearly killed?”
“I’m surprised you don’t remember that about us. Usually sticks with people. Anyway, It’s what we use to keep the Niitheans at bay since no one has ever been seen again after being caught in our rain.”
“How much does it take?” she asked. He could tell she was trying desperately to keep her voice from trembling.
“What’s it matter? You’re safe now,” Rai responded, knowing full well how false his statement was.
“I think...I think I felt something. On my hand,” she stretched her arm towards Rai, but he was already backing away.
“It’ll be fine just stay where you are,” he spouted so fast it was almost incoherent.
No way was this girl taking him down with her. Aella’s eyes widened in terror. She looked from him to her hand and back, and it wasn’t hard to tell she was fighting back tears. A beam of lightning flashed before Rai’s eyes. The girl was gone. Just like that, her huge green eyes were no longer boring their way into Rai’s heart. It was expected, though it did nothing to curb the thrill that ran through his body. His features relaxed as he proceeded to sit cross-legged, staring out from underneath the shelter of the stable as he waited for the storm to pass. It would only be a few minutes more - maybe not even. The skies had gotten what they had come for. He couldn’t wait to see the pride in his father’s face upon his return - another flawlessly executed “accident.”