“Somebody better explain this to me,” Ilemina growled.
“The Tachi venom isn’t lethal to most species.” Maud stepped aside, giving the Tachi room to stretch his wings. “It’s meant to put the prey into a suspended state, slowing down its life functions to preserve the freshness.”
“If he wanted to kill Helen, he would’ve just sliced her head off,” Maud continued. “As soon as you said that he’d bitten her, I knew it wasn’t an attack.”
Ilemina turned her glare onto the Tachi. “Why didn’t you say something?”
The Tachi spread his indigo appendages. The gesture looked so much like a human spreading his arms in a Gallic shrug, as if to say “none of this is my fault, I didn’t mess it up, you did, deal with it.”
Ilemina turned to Maud. “What does that mean?”
“It means he thinks you are a xenophobic species prone to rash and violent reactions, so he saw no point in explaining himself. You wouldn’t have believed him anyway.”
Ilemina’s eyes narrowed. She pierced the Tachi with her stare.
“I can’t make it simple for you,” he said.
Ilemina flashed her fangs. “Try me.”
The Tachi turned to Maud, switching to the akit dialect. “They think I killed the child; the royal is angry. Now they know I saved the child; she is angry. I do not comprehend this species. How have they ever managed to achieve interstellar civilization without self-destructing?”
“Could you please tell me what happened to my daughter?” Maud didn’t even try to keep the desperation from her voice.
The Tachi’s color lightened for a moment. “Yes, of course.” He folded his arms in an apologetic gesture. “I will use short thoughts. We were bathing. The children were running and making excited noises. Your child ran close to us. She was not afraid like the other children. They could not catch her. She ran too close and almost ran into me. Then she apologized for disturbing my tegah.”
Maud had given Helen a primer on Tachi manners. Until now she had no idea any of it had stuck.
“She is such a polite child,” the Tachi said. “We spoke. Something hit her in the neck, on her left side. She fell. I caught her. I saw a wet spot on her skin. It smelled wrong. Her eyes rolled back in her head. I knew I had to act. I bit her to keep the poison from spreading.”
“Which way was she facing when it hit her?” Soren asked.
“She was turning away from me to rejoin the game. She was facing the rest of the children. The lake was on her right and the castle was on her left.”
“A sniper shot from the bluff,” Otubar said.
Karat bared her teeth in a grimace. “There is a clear line of sight from the western edge of the game grounds to the lake. They distracted us with the krim match, then goaded Arland into a fight, and while we were watching, they shot Helen.”
“Pull the video feed,” Ilemina ordered. Karat took off at a run.
There were implications and conclusions to be drawn from all of this, but right now, none of them mattered. “Did you recognize the poison?” Maud asked.
“No,” the Tachi said. “I would know it again. It smelled strong.”
The vampire medic failed to identify it and the Tachi didn’t know it. The Tachi coma wouldn’t last forever. It could fail at any moment. She had to do something now, or Helen would die. There was only one place she could turn.
“I don’t have anything to trade.”
Everyone stopped and looked at her. She realized she had spoken out loud.
Before she could explain, a half dressed Arland rounded the corner, somehow managing to look angry and confused at the same time. “What the hell is going on?”
Soren blinked. “Why are you out of armor?”
“Maud?” Arland closed in on her.
She looked up at him, feverishly rummaging through the list of her meager possessions in her head.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Helen is poisoned, and I don’t have anything to trade.”
“Will someone explain this to me?” Ilemina demanded.
Understanding sparked in Arland’s eyes. “But I have things to trade. They will trade with me or I will twist their heads off.”
“Who?” Ilemina snarled.
“Explain things to your mother,” Otubar boomed.
“No time.” Arland grabbed Maud’s hand and pulled her down the hallway. Behind them the sound of a pissed off Preceptor shook the air. Arland sped up.
“How are you still walking?” Maud squeezed out.
“Booster. Activated it before you took my armor off. I had plans. None of which involved a sedative.”
“Arland Rotburtar Gabrian of Krahr!” Ilemina roared. “Stop this instant!”
Arland ignored her. They were almost to the bend in the hallway.
Suddenly Arland braked, and then the lees flooded all available space, their veils swirling, their jewelry shinning, tails and ears twitching. Maud saw Nuan Cee in the center of the lees mob and reached out to him. “Helen…”
Nuan Cee took her hands into his furry hand-paws. “I know.”
The rest of the lees rushed past them, washing over them like a wave, and rolled down the hallway, parting around Ilemina, Otubar, and Soren.
“I have nothing to trade,” she said.
Nuan Cee’s turquoise eyes shone. He grinned, displaying sharp, even teeth. “I am sure we can come to an arrangement.”
“Get out of my medward, vermin!” the medic screamed.
“Do not worry yourself.” Nuan Cee patted her hands, as a mob of lees carried the screaming medic out of his medward. “All will be well now.”