“Try this one.” Natalya pushed another of the foods toward him.
He picked it up. The scent was sweet, and a little warm and rich. Tentatively, he took a small taste. Then his eyes went wide, and he took another. It had just a bit of crunch in the center, like small bones, and there was some gooey brown stuff as well. The thing’s blood? “I like this.”
“That…” Natalya grinned. “Is called a Twix. My favorite candy bar.” She leaned in. “Okay, the crunchy bit is cookie, the light brown is caramel, and the coating is chocolate.”
Yalathanil took another bite, savoring the flavor. “Are these creatures hard to hunt? Is that why you don’t eat them all the time?”
“It’s uh…” She blinked.
After a closer look at the inner parts, he raised an eyebrow at her. “What manner of creature is it? I see no organs.”
“It’s not…” She shook her head. “It’s not a creature or a plant. It’s a concoction. Like…” She lowered her hands. “I have absolutely no idea how to explain it. It’s a mix of other things made into this thing and…” She straightened up. “And wow your biology is utterly fascinating. Based on your teeth in your natural form you are clearly a carnivore, yet your body isn’t rejecting anything else you’ve tried so you must be omnivorous on some level. Or are you mimicking humans on the inside as well as the outside?”
“I…” He blinked. “I do not know. I never took this form before. I knew I could, but there was never before a reason.”
“But there are different of your kind. I mean, there must be.” She sat back, looking over at him curiously. “How do your lungs even work? I mean, most can’t go from air to fresh water to salt…” She exhaled. “I’m sorry. I just find you fascinating and want to know how you work, and I know, it’s rude. I shouldn’t think of you like a specimen.”
“You are helping me learn of you, Natalya.” He inclined his head. “I am happy to help you learn of me.” He shrugged, then blinked as the kitten came over to him, climbed into his lap, and lay down before moving her paws on his leg in a kneading motion. He stared at it. “What is she doing?”
“She likes you.”
“I…” He stared at the creature, then gently stroked it with a finger like Adele had done. The kitten immediately started vibrating. “Did I break it?”
“No, they make that noise when they are happy.” She went quiet.
For a few minutes, he just stared at the tiny being, occasionally stroking it with a finger again. The kitten responded to the gesture by grabbing his finger in its paws and happily starting to chew on it. “Natalya…” He hesitated. “You said one of my kind took your brother.”
“It wasn’t exactly like you. I mean…” She folded her arms. “You look kind of like a lionfish. It looked like a squid or an octopus. It had all these tentacles and moved fast, making this horrific screaming noise.” She shuddered a little. “It was on an island. There was this door with marks on it. I should have left it alone.” Tears started falling from her eyes, and she started weeping silently.
Awkwardly, he put his arm around her, as he’d seen Greg do to both girls when they needed comfort. “Rusalkas.” When she blinked at him. “They are rare. They tend toward…” He shrugged. “They are like Xue.”
“Bad guys.” She leaned into him a little.
“Yes. Bad. But not guys. All Rusalkas are females. They liked to steal others, and made others mad. Made war between us and the other…” He searched for the word. “Protectors. Some were sealed away, but too much hurting was done. When the severing was done, we went deep.”
“After we get you to the ocean, you’ll come visit us, right?” She straightened, and smiled at him. “I need to either learn your language or better teach you mine because now I have so many more questions and…” She took a deep breath. “I think they will drive me insane.”
“Yes, Natalya.” He nodded, then touched a finger to her forehead, then smiled. “I will visit.”