—Massive frogs, with leather backs and silk tummies. Long slender fingers that spread in the air when they jumped. Leaping twelve feet above grass ground, twenty if the toad was capital trained and a bare eight if it'd been exhausted from hard labor.
The toad before me didn't fit in any mould. It was small, it's head only a few inches above Angelica's. It's skin was smooth, polished even, unlike the scaly competitors at the capital. It's eyes were closed, probably asleep but it's red rope-like tongue hung loosely out it's wide mouth. Dead. It looked dead but it breathed. And with every rise and fall of its silky chest Angelica's fondness of it grew. I could see it—Feel it with the way she looked at it. It was the same way she looked at her elder brother anytime he returned from the capital, the same look in her eyes when she talked to her mother and sometimes, in just the briefest of moments it was the same way she looked at me.
"I saved him," Angelica said as she brushed her long fingers over the animals back." Found him at the edges of libra with a shot to his left eye."
My eyes widened. It was a wild frog then. Not bred by the capital. Maybe an escapee from the grey market. Bad news. Nothing good ever came from an unknown.
"You found him where exactly?" I asked and she turned her back to me, fingers caressing the sleeping creauture. I already knew the answer. "What were you doing there?"
"Your mother would slaughter you." Girls weren't allowed out the dome. Girls weren't allowed to ride. Girls weren't allowed to do much after what happened to the princess.
Angelica's eyes found mine, the normal mischevous glint playing in them. "Agua is sworn to secrecy."
"Who is—" I looked at the frog and then to her smiling face. She was beautiful when she smiled but I knew better.
I turned on my heel and Angelica grabbed my hand. Her touch was soft but firm—strong. Like her. She looked at me.
She gave one of her smiles." No?"
"No." There was nothing she could do. Boys were allowed to ride but in my nineteen years of life never had I saddled anything but an anthorse and I wasnt looking to diversify anytime soon.
"Just give him a chance."
My name was Michael but Angelica said Micah best suited me. Her mother had told her a story of a prophet who God revealed the destruction of some city and she had said she immediately thought of my constant warnings against her impending destructions. I took it as a compliment the best I could.
"There's no saddle."
"Agua doesn't need a saddle," she said looking at the beast of burden.
"I'm serious. His skin might look like silk but I've never fallen off."
"You've ridden him?"
She shrunk just an ounce, her confidence faltering at my voice. "I've ridden before Micah."
But that was long ago. Before the princess. Before it became illegal. Before riding could get her killed.
"And if the raiders saw you? How were you planning to explain? If someone saw you and they took you to the council!"
She looked like a child and I blocked it. She wasn't wiggling out of this one. "We didn't stay in the dome," she defended and I went livid.
"You've been going outside the dome alone." Without me. I needed to sit down, but she didn't seem to share my agitation.
"It's incredible Micah. You need to see what Agua can—"
"It's an illegal animal that can kill or get you killed! It is not a pet!"
Agua opened his eyes and my body chilled.
It blinked slowly, staring straight through me. It's right eye was a big black circle with flecks of silver , like stars in the night sky. The left was defected by a thick red line—An asteroid ball moving up to its eyelid.
I frowned and the toad scowled. Angelica came between us, her back faced to me and attention poured on the creature, hands rubbing it's lowered head.
—"he's a friend, okay?"
A friend ?
— "He wouldn't hurt you."
I wasn't so sure about that.
The animal revelled under her touch and my body spiked. It closed its eyes, brushing it's ugly head against her palms and she giggled—for him.
"How long have you had it?" I asked.
A whole week. How had I not noticed? I knew everything about Angelica. I thought I did. My fingers clenched. I hated how much this animal made me question our relationship.
"Angelica , don't tell me you plan on keeping it."
"He's not healed yet."
Was she a vet now? Did she think she could hide an eight feet toad in the forest forever?
"You're just a seventeen year old child."
She looked over her shoulder, back directed to me and eyes equally intimidating...inviting. "Child?" Her voice dropped an octave. "I'll be eighteen in one month and six days," she whispered and I internally heated.
It changed everything. In virgo once you turned eighteen you got the queen's approval. Angelica would be sworn into society. She could train to ride legally. She could join the raiders. She could marry me.
"Micah." She was standing right in front of me and she reached for my hand. I didn't pull back. "Just give him a chance." Her eyes pleaded and I hated myself that it was working. "We wouldn't get caught."
"Angelica this is dangerous. I can easily get out if we get caught but you—"
She sounded so sure. But she'd always sounded sure. She was that confident and I wished I had only half of that.
She threw her arms around me and before I could do the same ,she parted. She ran behind Agua and returned with a bag. I frowned.
"I know you too well," she laughed putting her hand in the bag. She handed me a strip of cloth but it didn't feel like cloth.
"It's made from his skin. He sheds a lot."
I dropped it to the ground and frantically wiped my fingers on my trousers. "Disgusting."
Angelica picked it up and handed it out. "It doesn't smell. It'll prevent you from screaming," she said and pulled out a bigger cloth. "You'd need to change into this too."
"Is it also made from him?"
"Yes. You'd understand soon," she said and walked behind Agua.
She was serious and I examined the garment. It felt like silk but it wasn't. It was warm. Almost alive. I thought nothing further and pulled the gown over my clothes before I could talk myself out of it.
Angelica returned, a similar gown thrown over her body and her previous clothes gone.
My cheeks flushed at the sight of her brown skin. The gown was loosely fitted, the neck line dipping to the top of her breasts and the length of the cloth well above her knees.
I walked closer, careful not to let my stare linger as she pulled herself on top of the frog.
"Be nice," she told me and the beast and I shared a long moment. 'I don't like you' , my eyes told him and he responded, 'dito'.
My gaze rose to Angelica and all was forgotten. Giving to temptation I took her hand and mounted the beast. It remained still, unbotheerd by the added weight and moved only when Angelica brushed it's side.
"That's a good boy," she cooed then looked over her shoulder. "Hold on," she ordered.
She grabbed two scales I knew weren't there before and kissed her teeth. "Leap." At that simple command Agua took to the sky.
My eyes widened till I thought they would tear apart and just as we approached the height of the dome my eyes squeezed shut, waiting for our impact to the plastic glass.
Angelica had finally lost it. She was crazy and I was a mad man for going along with this.
As our altitude increased I anticipated our death crash with the dome but nothing came. Why?
"I think you should open your eyes."
Trees. Real birds. The white tops of the mountains. We were outside the dome. How?
"I don't know how it's possible, but Agua can get through the dome with whomever's on him. It only works with living things. I tried leaving with a saddle yesterday but it didn't get through. The first time we left I was naked. My clothes disintegrated when crossing the dome."
We landed on a tree branch and it didn't take a second before we were in the air again.
"He can cross the forest in four leaps, " she informed proudly and pulled my arms around her waist.
At the fifth land we arrived at the clearing between the forest that surrounded the dome and the mountains. We were at the flat lands and Angelica's stomach vibrated as she laughed. She was happy. She loved doing this. The wind slapping her face. Her insides floating and waiting for the drop then the epiphany when they took the sky. I knew she loved the freedom. Freedom from the dome. Freedom from the responsibilities of the society. Freedom from the capitol and sometimes on my darker days I could imagine she loved the freedom from me too.
My arms tightened around her and I rested my head on the crook of her neck. I was engulfed in her scent and the air. It was nothing like the air in the dome. It was fresh. It smelt like real freedom. Purifying chemicals absent. Just pure genuine joy. I loved it.
"I love you."
My body froze and she turned her head to look at me. "I love you, Micah," she said again and I nearly fainted.
Agua took to the air and Angelica's black hair flapped behind her head, exposing her face and I had never seen anything more perfect.
"I just wanted to tell you," she said and gave one of her smiles.
I pulled the cloth down to my chin to speak, but my tonge had betrayed me, words failed and I did the only thing my heart had been craving for years.
Agua leapt again and I kissed Angelica. I pressed my lips against hers, pouring out everything I'd buried inside from the first time I realised I liked her. Blurting how I'd planned to wait till she was ready. With that kiss I explained how much I'd wanted my forever to be with her.
When we parted we inhaled that oh so fresh air that felt freer than ever now.
"Thank you for telling me," she said and smiled. I think mine was wider. I covered my mouth again, afraid of saying the wrong thing and hugged her tighter, her back firmly pressed to my chest.
My chin rested on her shoulder and I looked at the new scenery ahead. By hooves it would have probably taken all day to get to the mountains, but with Agua I guessed maybe eleven more leaps. He was truly a marvel, just like Angelica.
At a distance birds scattered and a loud shot sounded. Angelica's hold on me loosened. At a moment my mind went blank and at the next it was flooded by only one word.
The cloth blocked my scream and I went mad. She fell instantly and before I could steady myself she was out of reach. I missed her by two fingers. My heart pounded against my chest as I watched her arms drop and body go limp. This wasn't real.
She was going down and we were escalating. "Micah." In a second she was out of sight.
We were so high up. No one could see us. Or maybe everyone could. I couldn't process what was happening. Finally, Agua landed on the ground but Angelica wasn't there.
I ripped the cloth of my mouth and yelled. I shouted her name till my lungs threatened to explode and I shouted some more, scavenging into the forest. But, there was no blood trail. There was no Angelica. There was nothing.
She lied to me. She said we wouldn't get caught. She lied to me. She lied for that thing.
The stupid toad didn't follow me, probably running to the mountains for it's meaningless life and I wished I had a gun to riddle it with bullet holes.
With every branch I shoved passed my face, hot tears stung my eyes and fury burned at the pit of my stomach. She was an idiot—I knew that, and I was meant to be the non idiot. I was meant to be the Micah that warned her— That protected her. I let this happen. I let her risk her life just to frog jump.
I hated that animal.
I hated whoever shot that gun.
I hated Angelica for putting me through this.
And I hated myself more.