Nala smiled and brushed her fingers along the bottoms of the petals, feeling the heat climb her fingers. Most people would call her love of the flower an odd preference, given the poisonous nature of the beautiful flowers. Ingesting the flowers or stems was not the only thing that could kill. The nectar was just a deadly, and it clung to any who handled the flower.
The elders in her village would instruct the children, the naive and utterly disinterested children, stories of how the Akonai flowers and seeds would be crushed to produce poison of the finest quality and slip it in drinks for one purpose – assassination. The bitter nectar was refined and applied to the arrows of Nubian warriors, their renown accuracy with the bow overshadowed by their use of Akonai nectar. Young warriors of the Mariandynoi poeple would ingest small quantities to prove their manhood. If they survived, they were considered adult warriors. Nala knew of no other plant as deadly.
Nor one so glorious, she thought.
The violet petals would grow almost anywhere. Despite the poison flowing within, the inexorable, almost intrinsic nature they were created with was a testament to Gods and Goddesses the world over. The Akonai bloomed so brilliant, with an incredible radiance beguiling passersby rapt in joy as they saw the beauty. How could anyone not enjoy the flower so poisonous, that prolonged contact would deliver a sleep so deep…
The voice shattered her reverie. Reverie wasn’t the word to best describe what she felt. The heat of each touch. A numb sensation raced up her arm and settled in her shoulder. The pulsating in her temples and a brow drenched in sweat was how she knew she was still alive.
She took a deep breath, stumbling through the fog she swam in, and turned to glare at the offender that broke her trance. An unapologetic Shui looked at her with a curiosity of a man who, as far as Nala was concerned, had no business being there.
Even though it is his garden and you are the intruder, a voice intoned from the recesses of her psyche.
She ignored the voice. “What are you doing here?” she demanded, annoyance dripping from her tongue. It was late in the afternoon and she admired the vast gardens of Shui’s estate. It was a rare moment in the day that she had a singular moment to herself. No Baba or Hazina or the other girls demanding her attention.
She loved Hazina more than any living soul, but she needed some time alone. She wasn’t required to entertain Shui for another hour or two.
His eyes flashed, and he somehow managed to smile with his whole body. “That is no way to greet the Champion Standing, dear consort.”
Consort, Nala seethed, silently, I will kill him.