I woke before Dak and just stared at him for several minutes as he slept. I could still barely believe that he was mine even after months together. That he actually told me he loved me and let me declare myself his shu’anad was mind blowing to me and beyond anything I’d dared to dream would happen. Frankly, everything that had been happening lately was pretty much mind blowing.
The whole thing with Moswen and Kijika and them about to become parents was... I was still having trouble wrapping my head around the idea of a guy having a baby. I was excited for them because kids were what made everything worth anything. I was also a tiny bit jealous that Moswen would get to have a child with the person he loved while Dak and I could never have that joy. Moswen had the damnedest luck. I guess me and Dak would just have to spoil their kid silly. Despite my telling Moswen not to contact me again, I hoped like hell he would when Kijika had the baby, whenever that was.
I was cautiously optimistic that I’d actually get to enjoy a life with Dak now that the Fire Snakes had rescinded my death order. I didn’t believe for a second that it was going to be easy to stay alive and prove that I wasn’t on anybody’s hit list, but even Cadao had to know that going against what the Fire Snakes wanted wasn’t a good idea if you had plans to keep breathing in the immediate future. The Fire Snakes said Dak had a possible solution to curing the madness of the Litches and they wanted that cure as much as us Litches did. Me being dead by Council orders would probably make Dak say a big fuck you to them and he might even mind wipe the ones involved just for pure spite. I didn’t doubt the Fire Snakes knew that so they’d be working extra hard to keep me alive.
Phaedra being our secret protector under order by the Fire Snakes was mind boggling. Getting involved in taking down the head of the Council, regardless of how illegal him being the head was, was... I didn’t even have words for how crazy that sounded. I just hoped that all of us were going to come out of that with our skins intact. So much could go so badly wrong with just the tiniest of screw ups. Trusting that Moswen’s cracked karma wouldn’t somehow fuck us all over seemed stretching our luck to the breaking point, but I wasn’t the one doing all the planning for this little coup, thank god. I’d say just staying off anybody’s radar was enough of a task.
Thankfully, I didn’t seem to be heading to crazy town as fast anymore. I had Dak and his suggestion to work with the voices a little instead of constantly fighting them to thank for that. There were also the sounds that he made almost continuously that seemed to sooth the voices and gave me relief as well from the constant mental battle with the voices for just a few moments of peace. I could finally see something of a relatively normal life in my future provided we managed to kill Cadao and not get our own asses killed for treason.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that he’d been right about the voices and that if I gave them careful freedoms, they were a lot less asshole-ish to me, something I was very, very grateful for. Negotiating things between people was his job, and he was damn good at it. I just hadn’t really thought that it would apply to the psycho voices in my head. They’d never seemed very reasonable to me before, but I guess when your options were so severely limited, even insane tyrannical megalomaniacs could compromise.
That wasn’t to say that we all suddenly got along like one big happy family. They still all wanted to body- jack me for their own purposes, but at least they weren’t constantly screeching that at the top of their lungs in one giant, noisy mob. Sure, some still screamed without pause, but more often than not, the other voices would gang up on that one voice and beat the crap out of them until they shut up. Apparently they got tired of the headache inducing racket, too.
Dak rolled to his back, the move pinning the blanket under his hip and dragging it down his chest. Lust hit me hard at the sight of him naked and relaxed in sleep, the muted light from the tiny bathroom glinting on the silver hoops through his nipples that I’d put there. Possession surged through me, and I couldn’t have stopped myself from lightly rubbing my finger over his pierced nubs if I’d tried. Dak’s eyes fluttered open at the light touch and he smiled at me.
“And a very good morning to you, too,” he said as his hair slithered over me and pulled me down for a kiss.
I gave him the kiss he wanted, a happy little purr winding from my throat when he stroked his hands over my back, petting me. I tugged lightly on one ring making him groan into my mouth. He pressed his hips into mine, and ultra-low sounds of pleasure and need came from him. The blanket trapped between us was an annoyance. I wanted skin-on-skin contact. I wrapped my arms around Dak and rolled us so he was on top of me, while yanking away the blanket with my tail.
“Much better,” I said with a grin as I cupped his ass and pushed my hips against his again.
“Definitely much better,” Dak said with a laugh before kissing me again.
I pushed my tongue into his mouth, thrilled with the way he immediately started sucking on it. I let go of his ass with one hand and blindly reached under the pillows for the lube he insisted we start keeping very close by. I thought Dak was wonderfully brilliant for his advance planning when my hand closed around the tube. I had the lube open and his ass slicked in record time all without breaking the kiss we were sharing. He pulled back from the kiss, and there was determination in his eyes and voice when he spoke.
“I want you to pearl me, Tyh.”
That was the last thing I expected him to say, and nerves exploded in my belly. He could read my mind when exposed to Sliaru, and considering some of the kinky, violent things I thought about doing with and to him, I was still afraid that I’d terrify or maybe even disgust him. Yeah, he loved me, and he knew I’d do anything for him, but a little part of me was scared shitless that if ever found out just how depraved I truly was, he’d walk away. I started to open my mouth to gently say no when a hard look came into his eyes and he switched over to his negotiator’s voice, which I thought was hot as hell and shot any resistance from me into the toilet. I was so wrapped around his elegant finger.
“I’ve had some time to think about my last experience with Sliaru, and I think there might be benefits that I could learn to use by trying it again. I hear the voices, too, when under the influence of it, and that could help me figure out how best to help you with them. And I just really, really liked the way I felt with Sliaru running through me.
“I know you’re nervous about this, but I really don’t know why. I love you, Tyhlian. You’re more than I ever dreamed I’d have in my life. I highly doubt there’s anything in that crowded head of yours that you need to worry about me stumbling over. I probably only hear whatever you’re thinking at the moment. At least that’s the way it seems if I’m remembering correctly about what happened the previous time I was under the influence. And I hear whatever the voices shout out, but they’re not you so nothing they say can be held against you.”
That was relieving and not at the same time. I could keep my mind focused on the pure joy of sex with Dak easy as breathing. The voices... they were a whole different story, and the things they’d spew just to fuck with me made me incredibly tempted to lock the crowd of them down tight and deal with the fallout later.
“Awww, don’t be that way,” said Jawhar. “Watching you get your freak on with your pretty boy is like the highlight of my day. I’m not the only one either. Bet those of us that enjoy the show could keep the ones who don’t silent. We are the majority, y’know.”
Jawhar was probably right. Since a good number of the contracts in my head were Awh’anise, I was sure they enjoyed the live sex show especially in light of them not getting any action themselves. They might be technically dead, but their consciousnesses lived on in my head, and at least for the Awh’anise population, they still had a stupidly high sex drive and loved to watch me fuck Dak into the mattress. They also liked to shout suggestions and comment on my technique, which was annoying, but I could usually ignore it for the most part. However, I didn’t think Dak would do so well ignoring what the voices would be sure to yell if they knew he could hear them.
“None of you say absolutely anything. Not a single, solitary word. No tips or suggestions regardless of how stellar you think it would be. Every one of you knows that Dak is shy when it comes to sex, and if he knew that you all watched us whenever we made love..., let’s just say that I might not end up doing his ass all that much because he’d be so embarrassed. I don’t like anybody seeing Dak during sex, never mind the bunch of you degenerates because that should be my privilege alone. But those aren’t the circumstances I have to live with.”
“Not a word,” Jawhar promised solemnly. “Do sounds count? Like groaning and moaning and shit? The two of you are smoking together, and I swear to god that if I had a dick, I’d be jerking it hard when you nail his ass because you guys are damn hot together.”
Pride swirled through me at that compliment. “Try to keep it quiet, but I guess sounds like that are okay. Dak is a dead sexy man and it would be hard not to get excited over seeing him lose himself in pleasure.”
Jawhar shouted in triumph, and I smirked a little.
“I take it you’ve reached some sort of deal with the voices to behave themselves?” Dak asked with a smirk of his own as traced his finger over my jaw, down my throat and over my shoulder in a wonderfully sensual caress.
“Yeah. You’re sure about this, Dak?”
“Very. I didn’t really get to touch and play with the pearls when you showed them to me, so I want to do a little of that. If that’s okay with you,” he said a little hesitantly.
“Touch me anytime, anywhere you want. I’m yours. Just be warned that I’ll probably be more excited than usual with you touching the pearls while I’m aroused.”
Dak laughed. “More excited than usual? That’s an awful lot of excited, Tyh. Good thing I like that forceful side of you during sex.”
Dak wriggled backwards so that he straddled my thighs. I relaxed my control and let the pearls appear down the length of my cock. Just that simple act felt good and boosted my lust. Hearing Dak’s sub-vocal sounds twist into the noises he made when aroused by something he really liked was music to my ears. The gentle touch of his fingers over the pearls made my hips jerk up in search of more and harder, a purr of pleasure immediately sounding from me. I was sure that if I completely let myself go, he could make me come with those light touches alone.
“This is just so damn cool, Tyh. I can feel how aroused doing this makes you, which makes me feel aroused. We should really do it more often.”
He wrapped his fingers around my cock and gave me a firm stroke. Stars, but that felt better than good. He pumped my cock a few times and then let go making me growl at him for stopping what felt so amazing. He giggled and brought his Sliaru-covered hand behind him, his eyes closing to mere slits and little breathy sounds coming from him. Possessiveness surged through me when I realized that he was smearing the Sliaru over his hole, and very likely, pushing some of it into his ass. I couldn’t see what he was doing, but damn, the idea of what he was probably doing was hot as hell.
“It’s warm and tingles a little. God, this stuff feels amazing. I’m telling you, Tyh, it’s a damn shame I don’t remember even half of how good this felt when you were cycling.”
Dak gripped my cock again and started jerking me off. I watched his eyes for the change and warned the voices once more that it was time to keep their damn mouths shut or there would be consequences. Bronze began slowly leaking into the silver of his eyes, and the soft rainbow swirls of his iris started to crack into the broken prisms of colour that indicated he was falling under the effects of Sliaru. He switched hands on my dick and brought his Sliaru covered one to his cock, stroking the slick liquid over himself.
“Good lord, it even feels good like this. I feel so very aroused right now. I need you inside me. Right now.”
Dak moved forward and pressed the head of my cock against his hole, pushing down eagerly to take me inside. We both groaned in pleasure as I slid into him. Making love to Dak was a precious gift and something I’d never, ever get tired of doing.
“Good, because I don’t think I’d want to do without this absolute bliss. Gods, but I love how you feel in my ass. This is so perfect and right,” he said with a shuddery little moan as he ground his ass into my groin.
Dak licked his lips and tugged lightly on the rings through his nipples, his sub-sonic sounds rolling and twisting in pleasure. He slowly started to move his hips up and down, his eyes intense as he watched me. By all the gods above and below, he was erotically gorgeous. His hair flowed around us, teasing and caressing me wherever it touched me. A shiver of pleasure raced over me when his hair traced over the risdepa on my arm, and my purr rumbled loudly from me.
“Oh,” Dak said with surprise. “That does feel very erotic. I’d read that it did, but I never thought... Does it always feel that good when my hair moves over the risdepa?”
“Yeah,” I said as I reached up, brushed aside his hand and gently tugged on one of his nipple rings. “It feels good when you do it when we’re not having sex, too. Not arousing then but comforting.”
“Mmm. I’ll keep that in mind for future reference.”
Dak grabbed my free hand and brought it to his cock, wrapping our fingers around his erection. I slowly jacked him off as he bounced on my cock. Gods, but he felt amazing. I could easily see myself coming in less than five minutes if I didn’t have rigid control over my lust. I would not short-change Dak that way. Besides which, it was the height of eroticism to see and feel Dak blow his load before I did, and I wouldn’t risk missing that for anything, no matter how much my balls ached.
“You are so very good for my ego, Tyh,” Dak said breathlessly as his hips picked up speed.
His hair slid over my balls, caressing and squeezing them gently, and I groaned. That wasn’t fair at all. Dak laughed and urged my hand to move faster with his over his cock. The look in his eyes was knowing and lust-filled, and every time I tugged on his nipple ring, I swore the desire in his eyes went up a notch. I snaked my tail around and brushed the puffy tip over his other nipple, and he cried out softly in surprised pleasure, his cock spurting and decorating my chest with his seed. My purr was loud as I enjoyed the feel of his ass squeezing and releasing my cock through his orgasm.
I growled and shifted my hands to his hips, my claws pricking his skin and drawing tiny drops of white blood. Dak moaned, and his hair tightened in pleasure around us. I moved him faster over my dick, the need to come intense, but desire to make it last as long as I could making me hold off. Fucking Dak was pure pleasure, and nothing compared to how good it was. His fingers dug into my chest, and he made the most absolutely arousing sounds of need deep in his throat.
“Please, Tyh. Please come inside me. I need to feel it. Please.”
A snarl twisted from my throat, and I fucked up into Dak hard, making him moan and continue to stroke his still hard cock. I thrust up one last time and let release rush through me, a howl of pleasure and possession bursting from my throat, my claws digging a little deeper into his skin. Dak shivered and mumbled “yes” over and over, his hair squeezing and releasing me where it was wrapped around me. I let him enjoy the tiny aftershocks for a few minutes before pulling him from my softening cock despite his protests. He was still hard from the effects of the Sliaru and needed another orgasm to work the remaining stuff out of his system, something I was only too happy to give him.
I urged him forward so that he straddled my chest and took his cock into my mouth and stuffed my tail up his well used hole. I was very pleased with myself when it took less than a minute of sucking his cock and tail fucking him to have him blowing his load again. I greedily swallowed down every drop he pumped into my mouth, his little sounds of pleasure arousing me and bringing me half-way hard again. Gods, but he was just amazing. He moved off me before collapsing next to me, his eyes at half-mast, a satisfied little smile on his lips.
“I swear to god, there is nothing that feels better in the entire universe than you making love to me. I’m also very pleased with my decision to go unshielded when we’re alone. It feels comforting to be so tangled with your emotions. We mirror each other most of the time, which is wicked cool. I understand now what my parents tried to explain to me when I was a teenager.”
“Uhhh, what?” I asked as Dak grabbed the edge of the sheet, wiped my belly and chest of his seed, and flung the sheet off the side of the bed before tangling his legs with mine and draping an arm over my chest.
Several of the voices laughed at my less than eloquent words. Visolela was immediately curious, demanded answers and fired off questions quickly. Dak looked at me, and his eyes slowly changed back to the soft pastel rainbow swirls I was used to seeing. He kissed my cheek, and a serene little smile grew on his lips.
“My parents told me that when I found someone I truly could be myself around, someone who accepted me for all that I was, I wouldn’t need to shield myself from them. That I wouldn’t want to because they would seem like another side to me. I didn’t understand then what they meant. The idea of not shielding from anyone was kinda terrifying.
“But, a while back, I started to lower my shields around you to see what would happen. Mostly it was just during sex, and that was amazing. Then I started to do it a little whenever because I loved the way it felt to have sex without a barrier between us and was curious to see if general togetherness would be okay, too. I was really nervous because you have so many people in your head and was a little afraid I’d be overwhelmed. It didn’t happen though. Yes, I can feel the voices, but they’re muted unless I really concentrate hard on them.
“The last week or so, I’ve been completely unshielded around you all the time, and it feels wonderful. It’s so... freeing to not have to constantly keep a shield up all the time. It makes me feel all warm and giddy when you have these sudden, intense flashes of love for me. It’s like... like a sudden ray of sunshine bursting through dark clouds to touch and warm you. It’s beautiful, Tyh, and if I was shielded, I’d only get the barest sense of that. I feel loved and wanted and cared for every second of every day. That is just so amazing and humbling and something I never believed I’d have.
“There is no way in hell that I will ever give up the way you make me feel. I will do whatever I must to keep this from being taken from me. You’ve seen proof of what I can do with my void when I’m backed into a corner. I’ve told you I don’t like doing that because I find it morally wrong to steal away a person’s individuality. But I’m telling you this right now, Tyhlian. I don’t care who it is that tries to take away what you give me. I will wipe them utterly clean. I will go beyond just turning them into a blank slate. I will wipe from them the very ability to remember how to breathe and how to make their heart beat. Yes, I can actually do that, and no, when I do it, I will not feel any regret or sorrow about it. If I ever actually meet Cadao, he will drop dead seconds later.”
There were applause and cheers from the voices in my head. I stared at Dak a little amazed and a whole lot of shocked at his words. I didn’t doubt for one second that was what he could and would do. I hugged him tight, love for him washing through me. I kissed him and whispered that I loved him. He smiled brilliantly at me, told me he loved me and rested his head on my shoulder as his hand and hair petted me into a state of utter bliss. I felt like I could stay where I was forever, completely happy with my life.
“You are never going alone again to negotiate for our food stocks. I don’t care how shady you claim the people are and how dangerous it would be for me, you have no idea what you’re doing,” Dak said as he waved a package of food in my face.
“What’s the problem?”
“The problem? The problem is that you apparently never bothered to check the entire pallet for expiration dates. I went to go make us some lunch and these things reached their best before date four years ago. Sure, the top two rows of packages were fine, but everything under that could probably be considered some sort of bio-weapon now. I really don’t understand why we couldn’t just re-supply what we needed from whatever spaceport we were at at the time.’
“Because we’d need to fill out forms for buying anything over a certain amount, and some of the stuff I wanted is Awh’anise and doing any of that would leave a paper trail to us. So we need to re-supply earlier than planned. Big fucking deal. I’ll plot us a course to the nearest base to get some immediate shit and then search out for the more unique items.”
“Big deal? We got cheated on that deal.”
“So? Raini dumped a shit-ton of credits in a dummy account. It’s not like it really cost us anything. We’re not hurting for cash, so no harm, no foul.” I really didn’t understand why Dak was getting so worked up over nothing.
Dak drew himself up to his full height of six foot five and stared down his nose at me with a haughty look. I watched in utter fascination and growing arousal as his negotiator persona settled like a mask over his face.
“I am never bested in a deal. Never. I don’t care that it didn’t cost us anything. We got utterly screwed here, and that pisses me off. Find a spaceport or base or whatever, dock and watch what happens when you have a professional take care of the matter. Do it now, Tyhlian,” Dak said with a hard look before he turned on his heel and marched out of the cockpit.
“Wow. That was pretty damn hot,” Jawhar said.
“Yeah, it was,” I agreed as I searched through the data-base for the closest spaceport we could re-supply at.
“Yer jus gonna do what he says? How whipped are ya?” asked Zeki with a snort of disgust.
“I wanna eat, and we apparently need food. I also want to continue to enjoy the pleasure of Dak in my bed, so I’m looking for a place where he can see just what difficulties are involved in stocking a ship for the long haul without it being obvious that’s what you’re doing. He’s a reasonable man, and as soon as he finds out how hard it is to get what we need for a good price and stay below the radar, he’ll apologize.”
“I think you’re underestimating him. That’s a tricky mind you’re dealing with,” Balin said thoughtfully. “You’re career military. You should know that a good negotiator can pull off amazing things.”
I mentally shrugged. Dak was used to dealing in nice, civilized settings with people who wanted to work shit out. It was a completely different thing to try to strike a deal with someone who could take or leave what you were offering because there were others just waiting behind you who they could sell their goods to. He’d see that I’d done the best I could at the time and apologize. Dak was a fair man and I knew he had no problem admitting when he’d been wrong about something.
“No, I’m not paying that ridiculous price. It’s insulting, and you know it. You bring shame on your children that not even a thousand rains could wash away for even suggesting it. I will be sure to mention to every Acetion I see what a grave insult your family gave mine for offering such a thing,” Dak said with a level of contempt in his voice I’d never have guessed he was capable of.
He made some sort of complicated hand gesture, spun around and started to walk away. The alien he’d been speaking to immediately yelled after him to wait and looked nervously at me. I shrugged and made it look like I was just the hired muscle and had no influence. Dak walked another few steps and stopped. The alien called out a price that was a little more than half of what he originally demanded. Dak was silent for several long seconds before he called out an even lower price without turning around. The alien countered, dropping his price again by a little. Dak half-turned and countered with a slightly higher price than what he’d initially offered, but that was still much lower than what the alien wanted.
I watched in amazement as Dak and the alien offered and counter-offered for a good fifteen minutes. I kept my expression as neutral as possible when they finally reached an agreement that was beyond good for us in my opinion. Truthfully, I’d have taken the initial offer and thought I’d gotten a good deal. It blew me away that the alien agreed to such a low monetary price as long as Dak made the rounds of the market, trailed by one of the alien’s staff, telling the others of his species what a fair deal he’d gotten from the guy and refusing to do business with the others regardless of their prices. That he also got the guy to “forget” to log such a large shipment.... I had no idea how he managed that.
“How the hell did you do that?” I asked quietly as we started to walk the market as agreed.
“My job is to get the best possible deal for my client. I’m my own client in this case. I’ve dealt with the Acetions once before in trade negotiations between families. Honour and prestige is everything to them even beyond profit. A family is considered incredibly wealthy if they are held in high regard by many even if they barely have two coins to rub together. He’s making less profit off this deal but his prestige among his people and others who overhear me will shoot up. In his culture, he got a fantastic deal. In my opinion, I got the great deal since I paid very little and got no record of the purchase made, so I won,” Dak said smugly.
“Told you he had a tricky mind. Ahhh, the things I could accomplish with someone like that,” Balin said with relish.
Dak had us outfitted with all the food we could want in relatively short order. It was my first real time seeing Dak in action, and I had to admit that he was really good at what he did. He was not afraid to walk away from a deal, and the people he was negotiating with soon realized that. He had us stocked to the vents in less time that I would’ve been able to and for a fraction of what I would’ve spent. And I’d have thought I was getting a good deal, too. Dak really was all kinds of amazing.
We were walking to one of the exits in the market, our little praise mission done, when Dak stopped so abruptly I almost knocked him down when I walked into him. I heard him make the sub-sonic sound that he’d taught me that meant surprise and be alert. I instantly went into defense mode and scanned the area for whatever freaked him out, not seeing anything that made my inner alarms go off.
“Tyh, there’s a Tiechle at that stall to the left of the fountain. The one tucked a little behind the weapons stall. It has a red awning, and the sign says it’s a brothel,” Dak said with a quiver in his voice.
“Okay. Is that important for some reason?” I asked still not getting what was upsetting him.
“I know him. Or used to know him. Whatever. He was just a young child when I was at the government facility. He was maybe four or five at the time. His name is Rachim, and he shouldn’t be here.”
“Dak, that was what? Fifteen, twenty years ago? People change. Especially if you last saw him when he was barely older than a toddler. Even if it is him, why wouldn’t he be wherever he wants to be?”
“I never forget a person’s emotions, and he had a very distinct scar across this neck from where his father slit his throat when he was a baby. If the feel of Rachim’s emotions wasn’t enough, I can see that scar from here, and I doubt there are a lot of people wandering around with scars slashed across their throats.
“Once children are given to the government, they don’t leave. At least not alive and even when they’re dead, what is left of their bodies after the scientists are finished examining them isn’t worth mentioning as anything recognizable as once being a living creature. I’m telling you it’s him.”
With those words, Dak marched straight to the stall. I hurried after him, hoping he wasn’t going to do something stupid that would attract all kinds of the wrong attention to us or that I’d have to do something to stop whatever he intended and draw the wrong kind of attention to us. Dak halted in front of the stall and stared at the purple-skinned young man intently. I was barely able to hear the sounds Dak was making on both the sub- and supersonic levels. There were probably sounds he was making that were beyond my hearing, too. The purple-skinned Laiokian, Rachim, jerked his head up from where he’d been staring at the ground and looked at Dak with wide, unbelieving eyes.
While I had seen Dak’s parents on the viewscreen that one time and he had told me he was very different looking from your typical Laiokian, I hadn’t really appreciated just how different. The video from when he’d been a teen in the government facility hadn’t showcased his differences either. Or Dak hadn’t come into his full height then, which was a good possibility given his age at the time.
Rachim was easily a foot shorter than Dak and much stockier in build. Granted, Dak was nearly six and a half feet tall and thin to the point of being skinny, so it wasn’t a fair comparison. Rachim’s ears were also smaller than Dak’s and barely visible through his curtain of hair where Dak’s were very prominent even when his hair was loose. Rachim had the same ankle length hair as Dak although Dak had braided his in intricate designs and secured it to his head, the better to make it less memorable he said. Rachim’s purple hair and skin also shifted colour from light to dark and back again where Dak’s colour never changed from the opalescent black. I could see how somebody wouldn’t think the two were of the same species.
“How much?” Dak asked pointing at Rachim, his tone making him sound rich and snotty and like getting what he wanted was a foregone conclusion.
“Good eye, sir. He is a wonder of pleasure. Very well trained in pleasing men. Very unique. Very expensive. A thousand credits for an hour for one, fifteen hundred for the two of you,” said the woman with a calculating smile. “I guarantee you will not be disappointed.”
“Not to rent. To buy,” Dak said in a tone that made it sound like the woman was stupid to have thought that he wanted anything less than total ownership.
“I’d have never thought your toy would want a slave. Maybe there’s hope for him yet,” said Kalere with a sibilant hiss of laughter.
“He’s not for purchase in that sense. He was very difficult to acquire. He is uncommon among his people. I can rent him out for an extended period if you feel an hour isn’t long enough. I can give you a good rate.”
Dak eyed Rachim critically all the while the sub and supersonic sounds continued to pour from Dak. I was only getting part of what Dak was telling Rachim since some of the tones were too low or too high for me to hear, but the gist of the conversation was that me and Dak were going to get him out of the brothel. Rachim blinked rapidly as tears filled his eyes, and he looked back to his feet.
“State your price, and we’ll negotiate,” Dak insisted. “I don’t have one of these in my collection. If you won’t sell to me, I’m sure I could find a similar one with a little looking and the right amount of compensation.”
The woman hemmed and hawed, greed making her eyes light up and finally spit out a price that made even Kalere snort in disbelief and say that was insane. Dak countered with an offer that made Kalere mutter about lowballing the fair market prices of decent slaves. The woman and Dak dickered back and forth before settling on a price that I thought was insanely high but Kalere said was actually pretty good if a little on the high side for a sex slave the age Rachim appeared to be.
“Remove him from display. I don’t want others ogling my property,” Dak demanded before waving me off with the order to fetch the money from the ship quickly.
I stared at Dak, not wanting to leave him alone. If the woman running the brothel thought Rachim was a catch and a half, she’d be over the moon to add Dak to the entertainment available at her establishment. Dak also knew that we didn’t have that much cash on hand and that Raini would need to do an emergency pilfer to get what Dak needed. It wouldn’t take her long, but that wasn’t the point. Dak made the tones that pleaded with me for understanding, and I caved to his wishes like he knew I would. I nodded curtly and set off at a fast run to the ship.
Raini was quick and efficient in gathering the funds. She liked Dak, and she thought slavery was barbaric and was convinced that Dak was buying Rachim’s freedom and not a slave. That started a noisy debate about the pros and con of slavery between several of the voices that I only half paid attention to as I jogged over to a money changer and downloaded what I needed into the currency the brothel owner wanted. I was only gone for twenty minutes, but it seemed like the longest twenty minutes of my life.
I handed Dak the bag of money when I got back to him, intensely relieved to find him seated in a chair looking calm and relaxed. He counted the money in front of the woman and thanked her for doing business as he accepted the chain connected to the narrow collar around Rachim’s neck. He tugged it sharply and ordered Rachim to follow as he walked in the direction of the ship. He didn’t dawdle and once we were safely on board with the hatch locked behind us, he produced a key and unlocked the collar from Rachim, dropping it to the floor with an expression of disgust.
“You’re safe now, Rachim,” Dak said softly. “I don’t know if you remember me, but we met at the government facility when you were about four or five. My name is Dakvir, and this is Tyhlian. He wears my ceitai risdepa with pride and honour. How in the world did you end up there?”
Rachim’s skin and hair went from a medium purple to very pale and then very dark in the span of moments. He stared at the band of Dak’s hair on my arm for several long seconds before looking back and forth between us as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing.
“You... you want to have sex with a man?” His eyes went wide and his colour paled again before he took a step back and seemed to shrink in on himself. “Are you going to use me like that, too? Is that why you bought me?”
Confusion and distaste hit me as well as fear. A growl sounded from me before I could stop myself, and I stepped in front of Dak. Rachim brought his arms up over his head, and a sound of distress came from him even as the feelings of terror hitting me skyrocketed.
“Rachim, pull it in,” Dak snapped out in a no nonsense voice.
In a heartbeat the emotions that weren’t mine vanished. Rachim still covered his head as if afraid he was going to be beaten. What the hell was going on? None of that happened when Rachim had been at the brothel, which I would think was worlds scarier than being with me and Dak.
“He thinks he’ll be beaten,” Jawhar said in disgust. “Asshole slavers who trained him obviously beat obedience into him. I swear on Fournus’ steel cock that you only get mediocre slaves at best that way. The whole slave market would be so much better if they let the professionals handle training.
“You’re supposed to find out which way a slave swings, what they like and dislike and then work with them to bring out their best qualities. If you force a slave to fuck the wrong sex for them or do stuff they find disgusting, you get sub-standard performance for their master or client and that reflects badly on you as a trainer. Sex slaves are tricky, delicate works of art that can be pleasing perfection if you do it right or just some boring hole to fuck if you do it wrong, like what happened to this poor kid. God, shit like this pisses me off,” Jawhar ranted.
I had no idea Jawhar felt that way. Yes, I knew he’d been born a slave, but I hadn’t bothered to check what his opinions or feelings on the matter were. I’d assumed he accepted what he was because it was all he knew. Slavery was wrong to most Awh’anise, but Jawhar sounded like it was something to be proud of.
“Well, duh. A sex slave, especially a private one like I became, is highly trained to give their master what he or she wants or needs before they’re even aware of it. We are responsible for giving pleasure and relaxing our master in return for a life of general ease and comfort. A private sex slave is always paired up with a master that has the same desires so that when we serve them, we’re also serving ourselves. It’s a beautifully symbiotic relationship,” Jawhar said with pride in his voice.
That explained a lot about Jawhar and his attitude about slavery. Dak drew my attention back to him with a sound of disgust. There was an angry expression on his face, and I wasn’t entirely sure why since Rachim was now free and Dak knew we couldn’t undo the past.
“The collar is a control device. I’d heard they were experimenting with such things, but early test results were not good for the one wearing it. The collar is supposed to mute the abilities of a Tiechle so they can only receive and not send emotions. It’s proven to be highly dangerous for prolonged use, last I heard, as it’ll eventually drive the one wearing it insane since they can’t shield from others emotions while it’s on,” Dak explained in clipped tones before he seemed to get hold of himself.
“And yes, Rachim, I very much enjoy sex with Tyhlian, and it is completely voluntary. I’m attracted to men and women. Tyhlian is the only one for me as I’m sure you understand because of what I’ve given him. I’m the only one for him because of something unique to his species. You’re completely safe in every sense with us. Now, how did you end up on this far-flung world as a slave in a brothel?”
Rachim stared at us, a tiny spark of hope flaring to life in his eyes.
“I do remember you. That’s why I was so shocked to see you. You were at the facility for a while, and then one day you weren’t. That usually meant the person was dead. At least it did for a long time. Then somebody realized that there was a profit to be made by selling the Tiechle once they’d gotten everything useful out of us that they could.
“They sterilize us, fit us with collars and sell us to the highest bidders. The collars come off when we sleep, but they drug us then so we can’t do anything. The facility tells the buyers that we need the drugs to stay alive due to the rare condition that makes us what we are, so they actually make double profits off us; one from the initial sale as well as the continued sale of the drugs to supposedly keep us alive. I’ve been at that brothel for almost four years.”
Dak looked like he’d been hit between the eyes with a metal pole. He’d obviously never dreamed that something like what Rachim said was happening was even possible. I didn’t doubt Rachim’s story. If he’d been lying, Dak would’ve known and called him on it. A hard look came into Dak’s eyes as well as determination when he faced me.
Oh hell, he was going to ask me to do something really dangerous and quite possibly stupid.
“We can’t let this continue, Tyh. The Tiechle are abused enough as it is in general. I can’t stand by and let this happen. We have to do something.”
“Dak, we can’t. Phaedra isn’t hunting me, but we still need to fly under the radar. Busting into a government facility and breaking out a bunch of people is not laying low. Besides which, how in the hell would we get into some government facility and get away with a bunch of kids without being detected? We’re not exactly set up for passenger service here either. And you don’t even know how many kids there are. And there has to be some kind of guards to keep all these people from just wandering off when they feel like it. There’re too many unknowns and it’s far too dangerous to even attempt it. Not just for us but for those kids, too.”
Dak got a stubborn look on his face. Oh crap. Once he’d set his mind on something it was very difficult to change it, bordering on the impossible. He took stubbornness to new heights. Several of the voices laughed hysterically at my problem.
“My codes to enter the facility are still active. They send me yearly messages asking me to come back for testing to see how my abilities have grown. They also offer cash now as an incentive since I’m also quite valuable to the government as a negotiator, and the one department needs to compensate me and the other branch of the government for my time away from the bargaining table.
“Tiechle are uncommon, and it’s getting even less common as the testing for the particular gene becomes more reliable and people decide against continuing with a pregnancy that has a Tiechle positive baby. That designation becomes rare when you look at the number of Tiechle that make it past the point of acquiring their colouring. Conservative estimates put the number of babies that survive that stage at about sixty percent due to infanticide. Of that, probably only half of the surviving babies end up donated to the facility. Not all survive past puberty there, and if any come in with serious health problems, they’re killed outright and studied. There’re probably only a few hundred, maybe three hundred max, Tiechle at the facility. I know that if the Tiechle knew they could live free, they’d come with us eagerly. We just need to steal or buy a bigger ship to get them all away.”
“Yer boy thinks big. I like that. Let’s go steal us a big ship,” Zeki said with a laugh. “One o’them cruiser classes would work. Nice and fast, and I always wanted to fly one. A freighter or cargo class would be easier to steal, but they ain’t the fastest things around an’ comfort ain’t what ya get with one. I gotta say I agree wit’ yer boy. The things he sez gets done to kids ain’t right. I mighta done some nasty-ass shit to people as a pirate but I ain’t never been no hatchling-killing scum.”
“And what are we supposed to do with all these Tiechle once we rescue them, assuming that we can even get them out of the facility?” I asked as a feeling of resignation started to settle around me. I knew I was in deep trouble if even one of the voices was siding with Dak.
“I haven’t quite worked that all out yet. Maybe we could temporarily house them with Kijika and Moswen until we figure out where they can go. Sort of give them practice in dealing with children since they’ll have their own very soon. I don’t know exactly, but something will come up. I need to do this, Tyh. If my parents hadn’t hidden me away, the same sort of fate that Rachim endured could’ve happened to me.”
I sighed heavily at the determined and beseeching look Dak gave me. It was stupid and dangerous, and I really should say a flat out no for all our safety. But I couldn’t make the words come out of my mouth. This was important to Dak, so it was important to me. Fuck.
“We need a plan. A well thought out plan. A plan planned out to the very last detail. We all need to be safe. I will not do anything that puts you even into a hint of danger. We’re not going to run off and do this tomorrow. I mean it, Dak. This is something that needs a shit-ton of planning to work. And even if we manage to rescue the kids that are there now, there will be more that end up in the facility after we leave.”
Dak beamed at me and kissed me hard. “Thank you, Tyh. I’m sure there’s a way to rescue the Tiechle that would still be safe for us. And I’m sure we’ll be able to figure out how to keep more Tiechle from ending up in the same situation as Rachim. You’re a very smart man, and you have all kinds of people living in your head that could help with the planning. We’ll make this work. I know we will.”
Rachim watched us with wide eyes while Dak’s shone with happiness. I wondered what burst of insanity made me agreed to do what was pretty obviously a stupid idea to rescue a bunch of kids when I was already on the run for my life and not supposed to draw attention. Then I looked into Dak’s eyes and knew I’d do anything for him because I was crazy in love with him and wanted to make him happy if there was any way possible for me to do that.
Shu’anad (Awh’anise): braid partner (husband/wife)
Ceitai Risdepa (Laiokian): Wedding armband made with the stands of hairs actually pulled from the scalp instead of cut with a fikdeas and is a very old method rarely used. This is a much more permanent armband as the roots of the strands burrow into the flesh of the recipient, linking with their blood and nervous system. The process generally takes several weeks to complete and is said to be uncomfortable with stinging pain similar to a paper cut at the site of the root attachment. Because the armband attaches to the host, it remains alive as long as the host is. Once attached, the Ceitai Risdepa will be able to transmit some sensations of touch to the owner of the armband, and it is said to heighten the emotional connection during sex when the donor of the hair brushes his or her hair over the armband. A Ceitai Risdepa can be removed but it is not a pleasant process and requires several hours of fairly intense discomfort to do so.
Despite my young age at the time, I remembered Dakvir from the facility we’d both been at. He was nice to all us little ones, telling us stories or just giving us comforting hugs when we weren’t being hauled from lab to lab, poked, prodded and generally made miserable for whatever the tests of the day were about. The older Teichle were wary of him, having been told awful things about the Void by the people who worked there but even they’d eventually come around when the realized Dakvir wasn’t like the stories. We all also felt a kinship with him when we learned that he was a receiving empath and really did know what it was like to always have others emotions crashing into you.
There were a few other Voids we heard about in the facility, but we never saw them, and the whispered words among the Teichle were that they were never allowed to make it past puberty when their powers would really start to expand.
While I was extremely grateful to Dakvir and Tyhlian for rescuing me from the brothel, I was still highly nervous of them and what they really wanted me for. I could feel the constant sexual desire coming from Tyhlian, my time in the brothel making me acutely sensitive to that particular emotion. It was all focused on Dakvir but I was still waiting for Tyhlian to do something towards me because he seemed constantly randy, and one person couldn’t be the sole focus of that much sexual attention.
Besides which, I wasn’t entirely sure that the two of them were having full on sex. If Tyhlian and Dakvir really were having sex as frequently as Dakvir implied, then why did Tyhlian always feel like it had been a while since he’d been with someone? My brothel experience made it so that I could easily tell the difference, because of their emotions, between people who’d gone days, weeks or months between sexual encounters with another person. Most of the time Tyhlian’s emotions said it had been a long while since he’d enjoyed the pleasure of another in his bed.
Dakvir’s emotions were fairly focused sexually as well and centered on Tyhlian although they weren’t as intense as Tyhlian’s. If he was in Tyhlian’s bed every night, why did he also feel like it had been a while since he last had release? And if both of them randomly gave off feelings of sexual satisfaction at the same time, why then did Tyhlian feel like those emotions were just an illusion an hour later?
I was highly confused because emotions couldn’t lie, and I’d never encountered anything like it.
There was also the subtle tension in Dakvir and Tyhlian that seemed to always be there. They weren’t tense because of each other. It was something else outside of them that was making them tense about the same thing, and I was absolutely sure it wasn’t me. Weirdest of all was the restrained rolling mix of emotions that came from Tyhlian constantly. They were like an undercurrent in Tyhlian and seemed to be apart from him even though I knew they were coming from him. It was probably the most bizarre thing I’d ever felt as far as emotions went. Stranger even than the constant sexual desire I got from both of them.
There were also the sounds that Dakvir seemed to make a good fifty percent of the time. At first I thought he was doing it for me to try and soothe any fears or anxieties I might be having but I’d seen Tyhlian close his eyes and smile softly when Dakvir made the sounds, so he could obviously hear what Dakvir was vocalizing. A lot of the strange not-his-emotions coming from Tyhlian also levelled out at the sub- and supersonic sounds. I didn’t know there were other species that could hear the ultra-low and -high sounds that Laiokians made. Then again, I’d never tried to make any of those sounds once I was off Laiok. I had no reason to.
All these odd things were making me want answers. I’d been beaten into learning to never open my mouth unless somebody wanted oral sex from me, but the strange emotions of the two men were playing havoc with me, and I felt like I needed to know why I was feeling such odd things from the two of them. True, I didn’t have the muting collar on now and could, in theory, shield myself from the emotions of others. But, I hadn’t been able to shield from others emotions for a good long while, and I was woefully out of practice to have it as an always on kind of thing.
“May I ask a rather personal question? I’m really sorry to intrude on your privacy, and I know it’s horribly bad mannered but what you’ve told me and what I feel from you both are contradictory and confusing,” I said as I toyed with the mug of tea Dakvir had given me after our meal.
“Depends on the question. Ask and if I think it’s too personal, I’ll tell you that and won’t answer,” Dakvir said as he took a seat next to Tyhlian.
I glanced at Tyhlian, and he nodded. I drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. I tried not to hunch my shoulders in anticipation of a blow for asking questions that I probably shouldn’t. Tyhlian stared at me intently and then frowned when I said nothing. Nerves attacked me. My courage started to slip away faster than water through a sieve, so I just blurted out what I had to ask and hoped that scowl of Tyhlian’s didn’t mean he was going to hit me.
“Why do you almost always feel aroused, Tyhlian? You, too, Dakvir. You said you enjoy sex together, but it often feels like neither one of you have had any relief in days. Then you’ll both feel like you’ve been satisfied, and an hour later, Tyhlian, you’re back to feeling like it’s been days since you had sex. I’m really confused.
“There’s also very strange emotions that are coming from you Tyhlian. They’re not yours because they feel like distinct emotions from dozens of people. They’re not as strong as yours, and it’s like they’re muted or something. Some of them are a little scary feeling, too. And both of you are tense about something, but it’s not me, not something between the two of you, and whatever it is, it frightens and makes you both sad as well as making you, Dakvir, very angry. What’s going on?”
Tyhlian actually laughed. Dakvir’s emotions plunged into mortification.
“The Awh’anise have a stupidly high sex drive. We like having sex every day. More than once a day if we can. We know most species don’t operate that way, so we try and hold ourselves in check with non-Awh’anise, but we still feel desire strongly pretty much all the time. Curbing those desires is usually not very effective if we happen to really like someone. I love Dak with every fibre of my being. If I could, I’d probably do him every hour on the hour, and it still wouldn’t feel like I was getting enough of him. In my opinion, there is nothing better than sliding balls deep into his gorgeous, tight ass.”
“Tyhlian!” Dakvir gasped.
“What?” Tyhlian asked with a slightly puzzled look.
“You don’t need to be so explicit,” Dakvir said, clearly embarrassed over what Tyhlian said.
If I hadn’t lived the life I had for the past four years, I’d have probably reacted the same way Dakvir did. Laiokians did not openly discuss sex. Ever. They most especially didn’t discuss it with somebody not involved personally in their sex life.
“Relax. It’s not like I was telling Rachim what your favourite position is or giving him a play-by-play accounting of what we did this morning, which was awesome, by-the-way.”
Dakvir’s emotions said he was horribly embarrassed. I felt sorry for him. If I had a lover telling somebody the things Tyhlian just had about our sex life, regardless of how minor that had been, I’d have wanted to crawl under a rock and die from the indignity of it.
“And you had better not Shal-hazal Litch Will Leu Tyhlian Huyana-Dukker of the House of Heyda, or there will be very unpleasant consequences for you,” Dakvir said with steel in his voice.
My eyes went wide when I heard Tyhlian growl lowly and his lust spiked. I jumped and squeaked in fear when Dakvir slammed his fist down hard on the back of Tyhlian’s hand in a move that I knew from personal experience during my “training” would hurt a lot. Tyhlian barely even flinched, and if possible, his arousal crept even higher. I cringed in my seat and waited for Dakvir to turn his temper on me for asking what I had.
I had no idea what to make of it when all of Tyhlian’s focus shifted to Dakvir and everything in him... stilled. My mouth dropped open a little when instead of anger and aggression, anxiety started to wind from Tyhlian as Dakvir did nothing but stare at Tyhlian for several long, silent seconds.
“Stick to the basics and don’t discuss our private bedroom life, Tyh. It upsets me,” Dakvir said in an even voice as he reached up and stroked a hand over Tyhlian’s jaw.
As if a switch had been thrown, Tyhlian’s anxiety vanished and his desire went back down to what I assumed were actually normal levels for him but higher than I was used to feeling from people even considering what I’d been for the last four years. Now I was even more confused than before.
“Oh dear. I’ve just confused you completely by using haig’wuh-ani on Tyh, haven’t I? That wasn’t abuse, Rachim. That was something you do if you have an Awh’anise partner and you need to make them really listen to what you’re saying. The Awh’anise are very physical people, and that does take some getting used to. It’s actually easier to see what I’m talking about than for me or Tyh to try and describe it to you. I think you need to educate him in dreams, Tyh. This discussion would likely go a lot faster there.
“Rachim, as strange as it sounds, among Tyhlian’s people a very small number of them can enter the dreams of others. Tyhlian is one of them. He’ll be able to not only explain things about his people and the circumstances of our being together, he’ll be able to show you, and it’ll be as real looking as if you were actually there. You don’t need to do anything except fall asleep. Can the answers to your questions wait a few hours until bed time?” Dakvir asked.
I nodded. I didn’t understand how what Dakvir said could be true, but I could tell a lie within words of one being started. Dakvir was relieved, and I excused myself to go to the room I was using. I called up a program I remembered watching as a kid and wondered if I was even going to be able to fall asleep.
To say that what I saw in a dream courtesy of Tyhlian was enlightening and mind-blowing all at once was an understatement. The Awh’anise were very interesting as a species if a little too prone to violence for me based on what Tyhlian had shown me. The concept of a Shal-hazal was intriguing, and now that I knew Tyhlian actually did have dozens of personalities in his head, the tangle of emotions coming from him made perfect sense. I felt bad for him and completely understood Dakvir’s desire to try and help him with the voices.
I also finally understood the source of the tension they felt, and it seemed massively unfair to me that the cure for the insanity of the Litches was their death. I felt a lot of sympathy and empathy for Tyhlian. In a way, his situation paralleled the one with the Teichle. He couldn’t help what he was born as, and he had no choice in becoming what he was now. Some of his people feared him much like Laiokians feared the Teichle but at least he wasn’t actively hated like I was.
What Tyhlian and Dakvir shared in the Lor’fei was breathtaking. To be loved so intently was... I had no words for it. In the deepest, darkest, loneliest part of my heart I wished for somebody to love me even a fraction that strongly. I didn’t see it happening because I was Teichle and nobody loved the Teichle except maybe another Teichle. My own father slit my throat when I was a baby because of what I was. If he couldn’t love me as a tiny, helpless baby, what hope was there for me to find someone who would love me as an adult?
I might’ve been a little bit jealous of what Dakvir had with Tyhlian.
I was in the galley getting a snack when a man with tanned skin and light gold stripes on his skin appeared out of thin air in the middle of the room. I shrieked in surprise and fear, and my hair wrapped around me defensively as I scuttled back into a corner. I instinctively hurled feelings of flight and abhorrence at him and whimpered in terror when he just stood there with his hands on his hips, staring at me, his tail swishing back and forth behind him, puzzlement coming from him in waves.
My brain recognized the man as Awh’anise at the same time that I noted he was a Throwback and likely very dangerous. The things Tyhlian had show me about Throwbacks and their very violent natures terrified me. My stomach rolled as fear swamped me over what he might do to me. There was no way he could’ve gotten on the ship through regular means and just appeared like he had. That most likely meant he was another Shal-hazal and a Spirit class that could physically travel through dreams. Fear settled heavily in my belly with the knowledge that he had to be here to kill Tyhlian and possibly anybody who stood in his way.
Tyhlian made it to the galley first with Dakvir close behind him. Dakvir glanced at the man, pushed past Tyhlian and the strange man, and crouched next to me. A sense of calm settled over me that came from Dakvir, and when he told me to pull it in, I didn’t question his order and did so, hauling in the emotions I was projecting. Dakvir sub-vocalized, the sounds spreading even more calm through me as he told me the man was Moswen, Tyhlian’s brother, and not here to hurt anyone.
“What’s up with the pretty purple guy, and why is he here? You’re supposed to be laying low, Tyh. Taking on passengers is not laying low. I didn’t think I needed to explain that concept to you.”
My eyes went wide when Tyhlian punched Moswen in the chest and Moswen growled. The two men threw several punches at each other and swiped suddenly-clawed fingers at each other while growling and exposing fangs. I almost couldn’t believe it when there was no sense of anger in their emotions but rather the feeling of playfulness from both of them. Tyhlian had told me that the Awh’anise saw fighting as something fun, but to actually feel that while seeing them trade blows that had to hurt was a little staggering.
“Enough. The two of you are upsetting and confusing Rachim,” Dakvir said in a stern voice that immediately had both men stop their rough play and stand there with their arms around each other, smiles of boyish delight on their faces.
“He’s not a passenger. His name is Rachim, and he’s Laiokian. He’s sort of like Dak in that his people hate and fear those like him, too. We rescued him from a brothel his government sold him to after they were finished playing lab experiment with him,” Tyhlian said, disapproval heavy in his voice.
Moswen’s face went cold, and I grabbed Dakvir’s hand in a death grip. He said Moswen wouldn’t hurt us and that he was Tyhlian’s brother, but the icy fury suddenly coming from Moswen was frightening.
“That is so not right,” Moswen said.
“Why are you here, Moswen? I thought we made it clear that you were to stay away. You really don’t need to be inviting trouble to come fuck with you. It does that all on its own. You’re like daring it to screw with you,” Tyhlian said with a frown.
“Nah. Well, maybe a little. Don’t worry about it. I’m kinda used to that shit. I popped in because Sunki wants to have a little confab in the Dream World with all of us and I said I’d do the co-ordinating since nobody can track me when I Dream-Step. I was trying to hit you up in dreams to set this up, but it’s hard when you’re not planet-bound and can set whatever sleep cycle you want. I have the same problem with Phaedra since she’s also on a ship.
“Sunki has collected a pretty impressive stack of information against Cadao. We need to co-ordinate how we’re going to present all this to the Council. She thinks we’ll probably only get this one crack at it, and I gotta say I think she’s right. She knows time is not a luxury that you have, but she also wants to make sure she’s got Cadao by the balls. Apparently, Cadao is getting a little twitchy with you still being in the wind for so long. Phaedra said he’s getting more demanding, and it would be good if the two of you could arrange some sort of real world meet up where you get away by the hairs on your tail so she can say she’s getting close and buy us all a little more time to get everything in place.
“Sunki has been talking with a few Shal-hazal she trusts and has let them in on this. With the size of the operation Cadao has going on, we need all the help we can get while still totally flying under his radar. Sunki thinks that our best chance to spring all this on the Council is when the candidates are announced for Council Head in a bit over a month’s time. We know Cadao is going to hold the seat because of whatever he’s doing, but Sunki and those other Shal-hazal have been dropping hints about who should be nominated, and that’s apparently fucking with his total control plan. He’s a very unhappy man at the moment.”
“So everything could be over in a couple of months? That is some of the best news I’ve heard in a long time,” Tyhlian said, happiness bursting through him.
“It’s not a done deal, and just because we expose Cadao all over the place, that doesn’t mean you don’t still have problems out the ass because of the voices in your head.”
“I know. But one less thing hanging over my head, the better. Besides, I’m working a little with the voices and Dak makes these really cool sounds that calms me and the Awh’anise in my head right the fuck down. Yeah, they still want control of my body, but it’s not so much a constant thing anymore.”
“No shit? What kind of sounds? Like a whistle or humming or something?” Moswen asked curiously.
Dakvir smiled, and I immediately heard him make the sounds that were like a low thrumming that were typically used to quiet or calm small children or animals. Moswen’s eyes went wide in surprise. I glanced at Dakvir and made the sounds as well, mine a slightly different tone than his. Tyhlian and Moswen broke out in huge smiles, and the only way I could describe the way their emotions felt was a strange mix of nostalgia, security, warmth, contentment and love. I wanted to fully experience those emotions, having never been on the receiving end of something so special, so I dropped my currently less-than-perfect shields and basked in the wonderful feelings.
I’d never experienced anything so profoundly beautiful and heart breaking at the same time.
Tears welled in my eyes, and a sob caught in my throat. I slammed my shields into place and hunched my shoulders. Those things would never be mine to actually experience on a personal level, and it was like being stabbed in the heart with a rusty, jagged pole to feel them and know that sort of thing would never be felt towards me. Dakvir put his arms around me and drew me against his chest, but that only made everything so much worse.
It reminded me of when he’d been at the facility and how happy I’d been to have somebody care about me. Then he was suddenly gone one day, and the other children and I had been left without the warmth, caring and simple comforting contact of another person. We’d tried to comfort each other, but the ones who ran the lab put a stop to that quickly when they feared that we’d ban together and escape.
I really started to cry when I suddenly felt the press of more bodies against mine. The warmth and caring of their emotions wriggled through my not-quite-perfect shielding. Dakvir’s hair twisted around mine and the sounds he made dropped into the ultra-low range that parents made to calm upset babies. I buried my face against Dakvir’s chest, a sudden torrent of tears and grief pouring from me. I felt vibrations against me from where Tyhlian and Moswen pressed against me and could hear loud purring. Hands and hair caressed me but it was comforting and not sexual at all, for which I was grateful.
I had no idea how long the four of us stood there wrapped around each other, but it soothed something in me. I knew none of them loved me, but their easy acceptance of me, their need to make me feel better and their utter lack of fear and hatred was... it made me feel light and free inside. I owed Dakvir and Tyhlian and even Moswen so much more than what they’d paid to set me free from the brothel. It was a debt I didn’t think I could ever repay.
“Not to be a total snuggle moment ruiner, but I really need to get my ass back to Gi-foeh. Kijika has this thing he wants me to do and I’m completely scared spitless that I’m going to fuck it up and really hurt him or even cripple him and I need all the practice I can get. That it’s Delseur, his dad, that’s showing me what to do isn’t helping my nerves either. He’s still pretty pissed at me for leaving Kijika like I did. I think he’d like to have a knockdown, drag out fight with me, which would be cool with me, but he knows now that I’d think that was fun. I’m not an empath, but even I can feel the disapproval coming off him.
“I also don’t think being with you guys is the best place for Rachim to be right now. I mean, we all know Phaedra won’t actually do anything, but she did say Cadao was getting impatient, and I really wouldn’t put it past the dickwad to send another Hunter after you, Tyh, just to hedge his bets.”
I could understand on the one hand why Moswen said that, but I really didn’t want to be foisted off somewhere like an inconvenient responsibility and then forgotten once I was out of sight. I liked the acceptance I got from Dakvir and Tyhlian, and I felt comfortable being around Dakvir because I’d known him, however briefly, as a child.
“We can’t send Rachim to Laiok. Our government keeps excellent records, and if he stepped so much as one toe on the planet, they’d know. If a Teichle leaves Laiok, good riddance. If one is crazy enough to go back, they’re monitored all the hours of the day. Since the government is the one who sold him, I’m sure they’d have him either back at the facility for more testing or shipped back to the brothel we bought him from. Or they’d find out we bought him and would begin looking for us, which would mean eventually contacting the Awh’anise once they figured out what species Tyh was and most definitely contacting my parents to find out where I was. None of those options are acceptable in the least,” Dakvir said in a firm voice.
“Can you take Rachim with you to Gi-foeh?” Tyhlian asked in a hopeful tone.
“I’d love to be able to do that for you guys but no. I’m Kijika’s concubine and the father of his baby, but I don’t have the right to bring random people, as pretty and interesting as they are, to live in the palace without asking first. Even Kijika had to ask his grandfather, the king, if I could live with him there. Yeah, Sakima is pretty cool, but I’m still trying to get back into everybody’s good graces right now, so I don’t want to push it. I’m also going to be taking Kijika and his parents for a little trip to Awh’an in a few days to meet everybody before the baby comes. I can’t just dump Rachim at the palace and say see you in a week. That’d be cruel.”
I turned my head and stared at Moswen. I couldn’t have heard that right. He said he was the father of a man’s baby? How was that even possible? Men didn’t have babies. Moswen saw my expression and chuckled.
“Yeah, Kijika is a man and he’s pregnant with our baby. The species on his mother’s side of the family are triple-sexed and all the men can have babies. It’s wicked cool. You think it’s surprising to hear as a third party, try having your male lover telling you he’s knocked up and you’re the father. Stunned is not a strong enough word.”
Dakvir nodded. “I felt the baby’s emotions, and it’s true. Kijika is having Moswen’s baby. We’re not trying to get rid of you, Rachim, but Tyh and I really aren’t the safest people to be around at the moment as you’re aware. I don’t think you’d come to any harm, but I don’t really want to put that to the test.”
Moswen gave me a considering look. “I have an idea.”
Tyhlian groaned, and I felt wariness flow from him.
“It’s a good idea,” Moswen protested even though Tyhlian hadn’t said a word. “We need to put Rachim somewhere he’ll be safe and protected and where we know we can have him stay without anybody raising a stink. He needs time to think about what he wants to do with his life and where he wants to go. I think he also needs plain, old physical contact with people who’ll just accept him for who he is. He can stay at the House.”
Tyhlian stared at Moswen for several heartbeats, his mouth slightly open in surprise, before he kissed his brother full on the mouth and laughed.
“You are a fucking genius,” Tyhlian said.
“That’s what my test scores say,” Moswen grinned.
“I don’t know about that idea. You Awh’anise are very sexual, and considering Rachim’s recent past, I don’t think it’s a wise idea to drop him into a society so focused on sex,” Dakvir said in a worried tone as his hair hugged me a little tighter.
“Sex focused, oh hell yes. Respectful of a person saying no, highly. Most Awh’anise have a very dim view of slavery, too, so they’ll be appalled at what Rachim went through and want to help him recover from it. We’ve also had zero contact with your people, Dak, so we’ll be judging him based on just himself and his actions and not some cultural norms or stories or whatever.
“On top of all that, he’ll be in our House. It’s basically a damn fancy fortified building stuffed to the rafters with highly trained soldiers completely loyal to the House. Nobody gets in without the say so of the Wills. Rachim has two of the Wills hugging him right now. The other two are close relatives of ours. Getting Rachim into the House is not a problem. Hell, people outside of the House will have no idea he’s even there if we tell everybody to keep their mouths shut about him. We are military and if there’s one thing we’re really good at, that’s keeping secrets from others. His staying there will be on a need-to-know basis, and anybody who isn’t part of our House, doesn’t need to know. Simple and effective.”
“I don’t know....” Dakvir trailed off with a worried look at me.
“If you’re so worried, come with me when I bring Rachim and you can help him get settled for a day or two and see for yourself that everything is fine,” Moswen said. “I’m betting it’ll only take Rachim a few days to get used to living there. You can give him a comm channel to use to contact you if he gets a little lonely or whatever. Although I doubt he would because we’re just really friendly people.”
I liked that idea a lot. Tyhlian, on the other hand, didn’t. His emotions spiked all over the place and even made Dakvir frown at him.
“Absolutely not. Not a fucking way in hell. No. Just no.”
“I think the idea has merit. We’re asking Rachim to go off with a virtual stranger in Moswen to a completely new planet to live with total strangers for god only knows how long. Of course that would be frightening. I’ll go with him for two or three days to help him get settled and then Moswen can bring me back to you,” Dakvir said with a little nod as if the entire thing was settled in his mind.
“No. I absolutely forbid this,” Tyhlian said, stubbornness in his voice.
“Forbid? I think not, Tyhlian. I’m your Lor’fei, but that doesn’t mean you can dictate where I go and what I do. Do not attempt to try and put those kinds of limitations on me. Ever. We’ve already had this discussion. I’m more than capable of taking care of myself. Not only that, nobody outside of your House will know I’m there. I will be perfectly safe there unless you’re saying your House and the people in it are not trustworthy. When I sleep, I’ll surround myself in a void, so there’s no worry of Cadao finding me that way either. This is the best solution and it’s going to happen, Tyhlian.” Cold resolve was in Dakvir’s voice and eyes.
A feeling of being trapped surged through Tyhlian along with a chaser of fear.
“I refuse to give permission as the Litch Will of the House,” Tyhlian said in what even I recognized as a last ditch effort to sway Dakvir from the idea.
“Besiana was appointed the acting Litch Will in your absence. If I didn’t already have the majority of Wills on my side, because you know your sho and Femi will okay this, I’d have an easy time getting Besiana on board, too. Since your duties have been suspended and your status as Litch Will is mostly name only because of the death warrant on your head, your permission means squat in this case. You’re out-voted, Tyh.”
Tyhlian glared at his brother. “Fat lot of help you are. Traitor. You’d do the same thing as me if our positions were reversed and Kijika was the one who was going to be away from you and outside your protection.”
“Yeah, I’d be antsy, but I also have complete faith in Kijika and in the people of my House. Yes, I’m the best person around to protect Kijika, but I also know he’d kick my ass all over the place if I tried to keep him from doing something he felt he needed to and that I knew was damn near one hundred percent safe. Stars, Tyh, your sho and nebil Femi are going to be right there. Dak and Rachim will be as safe as can be without you being there, and I’ll check in on them, too.”
Tyhlian muttered something in a language I didn’t understand, and Dakvir beamed at him before kissing him.
“Excellent. I’m glad that’s settled,” Dakvir said with a smile as he gently untangled us all. “I assume we’ll need to travel light. I can be ready to go in twenty minutes, Moswen.”
“It is not settled, Dak. Not by a long shot. If you go, so do I.”
Dakvir’s hair wrapped around Tyhlian’s throat and body and jerked him several inches off the floor. Tyhlian gave a strangled growl and tried to squirm in Dakvir’s grasp but was held firmly. Both Moswen and I watched in surprise as Dakvir slowly squeezed Tyhlian tighter and tighter until he was panting for breath. There was no fear from Tyhlian, but he was feeling anxious and that only calmed when Dakvir drew Tyhlian to him and kissed him on the lips.
“You can’t go, Tyhlian. You’d be putting your House at risk as well as yourself. On Awh’an, Cadao can get you and we both know he’ll kill you without hesitation. I can’t take that risk with your life just as you won’t risk mine. I refuse to lose you for a stupid reason like that. No Awh’anise but you, Moswen and Phaedra knows of my relationship with you. I’ll be perfectly safe in your House. I’m sure Moswen can do something so that your mother and aunt will know what we are to each other but can’t reveal that. I’ll be safer than safe with your family and your House, which is like an extended family from all you’ve told me, watching over me for a few days.
“I need to do this, Tyh. I’ve always felt a little guilty for leaving the Teichle as I did when I was a teenager. There wasn’t anything I could do then to help them. There is something I can do now to help at least one. I can also talk to your mother and aunt and see if they have any idea of how we can rescue the Teichle at the facility on my home-world. They are career soldiers, like you and Moswen, but have more experience being older. Let me do this, Tyh. It’s important to me.”
Tyhlian sighed and obviously wasn’t happy with the idea, but he nodded his head. Dakvir smiled at him, kissed him again and lowered Tyhlian to the floor gently. He untangled his hair from Tyhlian and shooed me out of the galley ahead of him. There was precious little I had to gather together aside from a few changes of clothes, toiletries and a shiny new, top of the line data pad Dakvir had insisted they buy for me. I was nervous and excited all at once and cautious hope threaded through me at the idea that there might be a place for me, even temporarily, where people didn’t look at me with the fear and revulsion that I’d endured my entire life. Going to Awh’an might be the best thing that ever happened to me.
Tyh was still very reluctant and anxious to have me gone from his side and with no way for him to get to me in anything approaching a reasonable time. I knew he was possessive and protective to a truly insane degree, but he was going to have to eventually get used to the idea of my being away from him when I was working or when he was working. There was no way I’d tolerate him hovering over me constantly even if I thought it was sweet and it made me feel giddy inside that he loved me too that degree. These few days apart would be a good trial run for us.
I’d never experienced anything like Dream-Stepping with Moswen. It was flat out amazing. One moment, we were on the ship and the next we were stepping into a room that looked like a windstorm hit it. Moswen said it took about fifteen minutes to go from where the ship was to his House on Awh’an, but it felt like less than a minute had passed. He’d explained that we’d see nothing as he transported us because he just wanted to get us to Awh’an and was taking us the budget way without all the really cool stuff he could’ve done if we’d had more time to spare.
When we arrived, Moswen had mumbled something about not expecting guests while shoving a stack of books off a chair to the floor. There was a loud clatter of metal parts as he cleared another seat by dumping the contents to the floor alongside the books. Rachim and I shared an amused look at the emotion of embarrassment that was coming from Moswen. He told us to sit tight and that he’d be back shortly with the other Wills.
The gravity was very comfortable, and I remembered Tyh telling me that Awh’anise gravity was close to Laiokian if a little lighter. The air was different than I was used to. It felt... thicker and richer. It was also quite warm. The view out the tall, narrow windows was bright with light, the result of the twin suns that rode in the Awh’anise sky. I could also see the bustling activity of a good sized city in the street that appeared to be several stories below the room we were in.
Rachim was silent, but his emotions were bouncing all over the place. I could hardly blame him. I felt a little nervous myself, and I wasn’t the one who’d be staying at the House with utter strangers for gods only knew how long. Although, I was the one who was about to meet my mother-in-law for the very first time, and said mother-in-law had no idea I existed.
Moswen was back quicker than I thought he’d be and he was followed by three women. The first one had to be Tyh’s mother with the same lovely chestnut coloured hair and pale green eyes that Tyh did. She was only three or four inches shorter than Tyh’s six feet. Of the two women following her, one of the woman behind her had those extra inches in height, and I didn’t doubt she’d be able to look Tyh square in the eyes. She had black, shoulder-length hair and eyes an amazing shade of violet. She was also heavily muscled, and I had no problem picking her out as the Warrior Will.
The last woman in the group was much younger than the other two. I put her around the same age as Moswen. A little shorter than Huyana, Tyh’s mother, she had dark brown hair and pretty blue eyes. Though she looked confident, her emotions betrayed her a she was very nervous and a little unsure of herself. Rachim smiled at her and started to make the sub-sonic sounds he knew Tyh liked probably in the hopes that the young woman would like it, too, and maybe calm some of her unease. Three pairs of eyes zeroed in on him in surprise at the sounds. He faltered in making the sounds and threads of fear twisted from him when the women stepped forward as a unit. He hunched his shoulders, and I could see him almost shrinking into the chair. I stood quickly, moving in front of Rachim and towering over everybody in the room, drawing their eyes to me.
“We apologize for arriving unannounced like this, but our situation didn’t allow for advance warning. This is Rachim Ijleem. He is Laiokian, like myself but a little different,” I said with a smile as I also made the sounds Tyh loved in an effort to focus their attention on me. “I’m Dakvir Nigidvo. I’m not sure what Moswen told you before bringing you here, but I’m also Tyhlian’s Lor’fei and would like to beg a favour of the Wills of this House based on that relationship.”
All three women stared at me like I’d suddenly sprouted wings at that statement.
“This is your fault, isn’t it, Moswen?” The black-haired woman asked with a roll of her eyes and a soft snort.
“Me? Fuck no. I had nothing to do with Tyh finding his Lor’fei. I had no idea he even had a Lor’fei until I popped in on Tyh while he was banging Dak in a lucid dream.”
My cheeks heated, and I was grateful that the fierce blush I knew I had couldn’t be seen against the utter blackness of my skin. I glanced back at Rachim and was positive the only reason his skin and hair hadn’t turned an amazing shade of purple at the intimate reveal was because of what he’d been through at the brothel. I doubted there was much, if anything, that could sexually surprise him anymore. However, I did catch the quickly muted curiosity that came from Rachim at the mention of the lucid dream sex.
“This, by-the-way, is Tyh’s sho, Huyana, and the Healer Will,” Moswen said as he pointed to the woman with the long chestnut hair. “The black-haired woman is Femi, the Warrior Will, and the other one is Besiana, the stand-in Litch Will. We’re all related in some way, so we really are a family run House,” Moswen said with a grin.
“You’re really Tyh’s Lor’fei?” his mother asked, threads of disbelief colouring her emotions.
“Yes. I would wear braids in my hair for him as he does for me, but prolonged binding of Laiokian hair hurts after a while. Our hair is sentient and we can feel things like pain, pleasure, heat, cold and other sensations through it. I have, however, given him a symbol of marriage among my people that is highly personal and not lightly done. I love him very much and never thought I’d have the pleasure of a loving relationship like we have because of what I am.”
“And that is...” the Warrior Will, Femi, asked curiously.
I could’ve lied and said virtually anything, but that wasn’t the type of person I was. I also didn’t want to make a bad first impression on Tyh’s mother. They’d get the honest truth from me, and if that biased them against me, then so be it. Tyh loved me, and that was all that mattered.
“I am the Void, something my people fear and hate in equal measure. I am quite literally one of a kind as I am currently the only living Void and the first in several centuries to make it not only to adulthood but to survive past infancy. The void inside me makes me able to manipulate others in mostly unpleasant and even deadly ways. I’m also a receiving empath, which is a rarity among Laiokians. I feel every emotion that runs through you at any given moment, which can be a little unsettling as I understand it. It’s not something I do on purpose, and I actually need to work fairly hard to not feel what others do. I cannot read your mind although it may seem like that at times.”
The women gave me wary looks, but I expected that. Virtually every person I met who learned that I was an empath reacted the same way, which was why I rarely told people that I was an empath. However, the situation with Rachim and the fact that these people were now my in-laws made me be more forthcoming than I typically would be.
“When Tyhlian and I first met in a dream, I somehow managed, through my void, to completely remove three of the voices from Tyhlian without harming him. I have no idea how I did it, but it gives both Tyhlian and I hope that if I did it once, I could repeat the feat and possibly remove all the voices from him. To that end, if I can reliably do that for Tyhlian, then it’s not a stretch of logic to assume that I could do that for the other Litches, too.
“We’ve also discovered that some sounds we Laiokians make have a calming effect on the Awh’anise who hear them. This has been extremely beneficial to Tyhlian in helping to quiet a good number of the voices since they are Awh’anise as well. He’s also been working somewhat with the voices, and that’s been helping, too. The rate of his insanity from the voices has, in my non-medical opinion, been slowed quite a bit with just those simple things.”
Huyana looked at me with sharp interest, and Besiana had hope spring to life in her eyes at my words. Femi looked curious as well, but she didn’t have quite the vested interest in what I may be able to do as Besiana did.
“I’m very willing to talk to you about all that, but Rachim, not me, is the reason Moswen brought us here, and we would deeply appreciate it if he could have sanctuary in this House. Rachim cannot go back to Laiok. He is Teichle, one of the taboo children, who are both sending and receiving empaths. With that sending ability, the Teichle can manipulate and project onto you whatever emotions they wish without your being aware that’s what’s happening.”
Disbelief flowed from the others in the room. I couldn’t fault them for that. I had experience with dozens of different species, and I’d yet to encounter any that could do what a Teichle could. There were other empathic species, but they were always receiving ones, never sending ones.
“Teichle are rare births and are universally hated and feared by Laiokians. Laiokians are called the rainbow people because we quite literally come in all colours of the rainbow. The exception to that is purple and black as only Teichle are purple and only Voids are black. All Laiokians are born white and change to their permanent colour at around six weeks of age. A large number of Teichle babies are killed by their parents when they colour purple. That is officially frowned upon, but it still happens with depressing frequency and very little, if any, punishment happens for killing your Teichle baby. Most Laiokians feel bad for the parents that they had a Teichle, yet there is relief that a potential threat was eliminated. Some see it as their duty to kill their Teichle baby and part of being a good, responsible citizen.”
Horror was quickly followed by anger from the four Awh’anise in the room. Tyh had told me that children were treasured in Awh’anise society and the news that it was not only acceptable but expected to kill your child because of some perceived defect was likely appalling. I thought it was horrible, and I was Laiokian.
“Parents are encouraged to give their Teichle baby to a government facility where the threat will be contained and studied. Children never leave the facility, and I haven’t heard of one making it into full adulthood once they entered the facility. I’ve been there, and it is a horrifying place if you are Teichle. It is flat out torture, mentally and physically, if you are a Void.
“Rachim was given to a government facility as a baby after his father slit his throat in a failed infanticide attempt. Apparently things have changed for the worse since I was last there over a decade ago. Once Rachim was no longer useful to the facility as a test subject and before he became a troublesome adult, they sterilized him and sold him to a brothel far away from Laiok in the hopes, I’m sure, that they’d never see him again yet could still make a profit off him. Tyhlian and I rescued him, but for obvious reasons, it’s not really safe for him to be with us right now.”
All three women looked appalled at what I’d said. Besiana actually growled low in her throat and I saw her claws lengthen a little. Anger surged through her before she squashed it quickly, but both Rachim and I felt it. I saw him cringe a little and twisted a small hank of my hair with his to support and soothe him.
“Of course he can stay here,” Besiana said. “As long as he likes.” Feelings of protection and righteous anger came from her and oddly enough, Rachim relaxed a little.
Amusement came from the other three Awh’anise in the room at Besiana’s words but none of them contradicted her. She approached slowly, and I saw Rachim stand up out of the corner of my eye. Curiosity and appreciation flowed from Besiana, and she hesitated as if unsure what to do next. Rachim surprised me by stepping around me, placing his hands on Besiana’s shoulders and going up on tip-toe to rub his cheek against hers in the traditional Awh’anise greeting. I assumed Moswen did some sort of data dump into Rachim’s head while he whisked us to Awh’an because there was no way Rachim could’ve come up with that on his own. I was actually quite shocked that he’d voluntarily moved so close to a virtual stranger and done something that Laiokians would consider a highly intimate gesture.
“Oh wow, you smell very pretty. Like a vua-yli,” Besiana said as she inhaled deeply to draw more of Rachim’s scent into her lungs.
I watched her eyes go wide, and her gaze whipped around to me. She inhaled again and confusion flowed from her while lust started to creep into her emotions. I thought it was interesting to note that her hands were now settled rather possessively at Rachim’s hips, holding him loosely. He had to feel her growing desire but didn’t seem to mind that or her grip on him, so I didn’t intervene. After all, he’d been the one to initiate the contact with her, so that had to mean he was okay with at least the casual intimacy. Given his time in the brothel, he probably saw the touch as nothing much.
“Why do I smell ser’cin, and why does it seem to be coming from you, Lor’fei Dakvir? What has Litch Will Tyhlian done and why?” Besiana sounded very puzzled and possibly a little afraid.
I was going to have to ask what the big deal was with my smelling like ser’cin and the fact that I was connected to Tyh. All the Shal-hazal reacted the same way and asked basically the same question about it which made me think there was some probable not-so-nice thing related to ser’cin, Litches and the sexual partner of the Litch. That could wait though. Getting Rachim settled was more important than my idle curiosity.
“What you smell is something unique to our people. We each have a different personal scent. Mine apparently smells like ser’cin to you Awh’anise. I assume this... vua-yli, whatever that may be, is what Rachim’s scent reminds you of. It reminds me of a flower that is seen as a pretty but common and pesky weed on Liaok.”
I could see that Huyana and Femi wanted to step close and sniff me. Moswen had already gotten a nose-full of my scent before, but I wouldn’t put it past him to want another smell. Thankfully, none of them moved in on me. I was comfortable with Tyh constantly touching me and inhaling my scent, but I wasn’t up to the point where I’d welcome near strangers pawing and pressing their noses to my skin.
“Rachim and Dak being here in the House is something that can’t get out. I want to call a general House meeting in the next twenty minutes and intro the two of them to the House. Dak is gonna stay here for two or three days to help Rachim get settled, and then I’ll bring Dak back to Tyh, who’ll probably be losing his shit by then,” Moswen said before facing Rachim squarely and looking serious.
“I don’t want you to think or feel like you’re a prisoner here, Rachim, because you’re not. You can ask any Shal-hazal Spirit to take you anywhere you want to go off Awh’an, and they’ll do it right away. You have my word on that. But until we have this giant clusterfuck of things involving Tyh, Cadao and the Litches solved, you can’t be seen outside of the House, or awkward questions we don’t want to answer are going to get asked about who you are, how you got here and why you’re here.
“Awh’an gets alien visitors, but not many, and they tend to hang around the space ports. Awh’an is beautiful, but it’s most often very deadly to non-natives because they don’t know what to avoid to stay alive. Most alien visitors stick close to whatever space port they’ve docked at just to play it safe. Very few end up in this city because we’re a good two hours from the nearest space port, and that’s using the high speed mag rails, which don’t always work reliably in combination with the aggressive plant life. We’ll get you set up in your own room, and Besiana, Femi or Huyana can take you and Dak through the House tomorrow and show you guys around. Dak, you can sleep in the same room as Rachim, or I can show you to Tyh’s rooms, your choice.”
While I’d have loved to have stayed in Tyh’s rooms, I felt a little spurt of trepidation from Rachim at the choice Moswen gave me. I couldn’t blame him. In the past week or so, he’d gone from living a hellish existence as a sex slave to being rescued by a man he’d thought was dead to being brought to a strange place where he’d probably live for several months at the very least. I was honestly impressed with how well Rachim was taking everything in stride. He was very resilient.
“I’ll stay with Rachim to help him get settled. Is there anything in particular you want or need us to do before or at this meeting of yours? How many people are going to be at this meeting and what, exactly, are you going to say? Neither Rachim nor I want to say something we shouldn’t.”
“There are currently two hundred and fifty people attached to this House,” Huyana said. “We have a hundred full Shal-hazal, fifty confirmed trainees and another hundred unconfirmed trainees. Not everybody is present in the House at the moment as some are out on mission and a few of the kits and teens are visiting with family since you’ve arrived on the weekend. There’ll likely be a little less than two hundred there.”
“We’ll tell the Shal-hazal who are absent about you and Rachim afterwards through secure dreams. Everybody in this House knows that there is no way Tyh was far-gone enough to have his death ordered. They don’t know about the role Cadao plays in all this, and frankly, they don’t need to know. For now, Dak, just say that you met Tyh while helping a fellow countryman escape slavery and further prosecution from your own government. Say that Tyh told you to contact this House to bring Rachim to safety here. That’ll be good enough for now and prevents Moswen from having to do an exhaustive memory re-order of all the Shal-hazal’s and trainees in the House. As it is, Moswen will need to set up fail safes in our heads about you being Tyh’s Lor’fei and he’ll have to add one to Rachim’s head,” Femi said.
I nodded. That made sense. The fewer people who knew what was going on, the smaller the chance of an information leak. Not to say that anyone part of the House would run and tattle to the Council if I was properly understanding the loyalty the Shal-hazal felt toward their House. But it was better to cover all our asses as much as possible and be a little over prepared as opposed to not doing enough to protect ourselves and then getting caught with our metaphysical pants down.
The meeting with all the Shal-hazal went well. There was a massive wave of curiosity directed at me and Rachim and a truly staggering amount of sexual interest had been mixed in with that curiosity. Rachim took it in stride and fared so much better than I did in that regard. I was extremely uncomfortable with all the undiluted sexual attention directed at me but couldn’t say anything about being Tyh’s Lor’fei, which would’ve made me untouchable among the Shal-hazal. That probably wouldn’t have curbed all of the sexual interest I felt directed at me, but it probably would’ve cut down the intensity. Moswen suggested that I tell the assembled Shal-hazal that I had what was considered a shu’anad among my people and was effectively off limits. It wasn’t a lie as Tyh and I were shu’anad partners, but only the Wills of the House knew that for the time being.
Seeing and being around so many Awh’anise was fascinating and exhausting at the same time. They touched each other constantly in comfort, play and sexually. They casually roughhoused at the tiniest provocation, but there was no anger involved, fun being the most prominent emotion at those times. The Awh’anise had a zest for life that saw them making the most out of their time. They were a high energy people and a surprising pleasure to be around with their open and honest natures. Most shocking of all to both Rachim and I, they truly did fuck anytime, anywhere and anyone. I saw no less than three separate sexual acts performed right in the open for all to see— and even join in if desired— between the time the meeting ended and when Rachim and I called it a night and headed to the room he’d been given.
I was shocked at how much I missed the feel of Tyh curled around my back as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep. For the first time in months, I felt lonely and I didn’t like that at all. When I did finally fall asleep after tossing and turning for nearly an hour, Tyh met me in my dreams and I wrapped us in a void. He didn’t say anything, just clutched me to him and hung on for dear life while we floated gently in warm, softly lighted nothingness.
I petted him and made the sounds that soothed him and simply relaxed in the feelings of being utterly loved, wanted and needed. I’d thought we’d have sex, but Tyh surprised me by only holding me close, stroking my hair and kissing me. The kisses varied from barely there brushes of his lips against my skin to reverent, love-filled kisses to demanding, lewd meeting of lips, teeth and tongue. It was comforting, erotic and almost spiritual all at the same time.
I was extremely annoyed when I was shaken from my beautiful dream by a very well-meaning Rachim telling me Besiana was coming in half an hour to introduce us on a one-on-one level to the other Litches of the House over breakfast. Once I knew why I’d been woken up, I thought having my dream time with Tyh interrupted was a small price to pay for Rachim to be granted shelter in the House. The Litches had the most to gain from what Rachim and I could tell them, and I completely understood their eagerness to speak to us. It had to be a heavy burden to know that because of a quirk of genetics, you were destined to be executed at a young age due to what wasn’t you losing your mind so much as having it taken over by the very real and most times massively psychotic people who’d eventually share head space with you.
Besiana came and got us exactly when she said she would. Neither Rachim nor I missed the surge of lust from her when she greeted Rachim. He turned a delicate shade of purple when Besiana rubbed her cheek against his and a brief purr of happiness sounded from her. Rachim didn’t pull away, there was no spurt of fear from him that I half expected, and a little spark of pleasure zinged from him before he got his emotions under control. He didn’t seem to notice that he was the only one she gave such a close greeting to, which was perfectly fine by me.
Given what I knew about Rachim and what he’d been forced into at the brothel, I’d have thought he’d shy away from any and all sexual contact for a good long while. Instead, there was interest from him no matter how hard he tried to hide it. He’d been out of practice at muting his emotions and was recovering quickly, but I had much more experience than he did at not only deciphering emotions but picking up on the most minute ones and using them to my client’s advantage.
Besiana was attracted to Rachim, and the feeling was mutual. She also felt protective of and even territorial towards Rachim from basically the moment she saw him. I had no doubts that Rachim would be completely safe with her. I’d even caught the subtle touches of his hair over her calves and ankles, something that was a sign of interest in deepening a relationship among Laiokians. Before I returned back to Tyh, I was going to see what I could do to push that idea of a relationship along. Even if Rachim decided not to stay on Awh’an, he would certainly benefit from contact that he wanted to happen.
Besiana brought us to a small dining room where seven other people of varying ages waited. They all stood when we entered, and while a wave of intense curiosity and excitement came at me and Rachim, none of them moved toward us or spoke. Besiana escorted us to the table and motioned for everyone to take a seat.
“These are all of the confirmed Litches in the House. The smallest group in any House is always the Litch, which is probably not an entirely bad thing given the way we go insane. Litch Will Tyhlian, Asiza, Tanek, Washeen and I are full Litches while Conlo, Valen, Malrin and Indrar are all confirmed Litches but haven’t completed their training yet,” Besiana said.
“Everybody in this room has been briefed, and Spirit Will Moswen has already done what’s necessary to keep the true information about you two from surfacing through us. It’s probably not an issue with us Litches because nobody in their right mind wants to voluntarily go poking around in our heads unless it’s absolutely necessary because of who else is in there, but caution is the plan with regards to you two. Should somebody try and access the information, it will be utterly destroyed and not even Spirit Will Moswen will be able to retrieve it. I’ve asked each of the Litches here to introduce themselves and to respect your boundaries as they are very different from what we’re used to.”
The trainees ranged in age from twelve to fifteen with three males and one female. I was a little shocked that someone as young as twelve was directing a very grown-up sexual attraction towards both Rachim and me. According to Tyh, it was apparently common for Awh’anise children that young to be sexually active. Not only that, that they often started sexual activities with their siblings at only eight years old, which was mindboggling to me.
The full Shal-hazal’s were between sixteen and twenty-three. Tyh was considered an extremely old Litch at twenty-eight. Both Rachim and I could feel the heavy press of emotions of far more people than were currently physically in the room. The oldest Litch, a woman named Asiza, had more than a touch of insanity to her. Her eyes had a haunted look to them, and she felt on edge. I made the sounds that calmed Tyh, Rachim following my lead a moment later.
All eyes turned on us. Rachim faltered for a second under the intense stares. Besiana covered his hand with hers, an encouraging look on her face and feelings of support coming from her. Rachim’s sounds evened out and he gave her a tiny, grateful smile. The heavy crush of emotions in the room dropped considerably after only a few moments and stunned relief was in more than one pair of eyes.
“What you’re hearing is a sound we Laiokians make to soothe small children or frightened animals. For whatever reason, you Awh’anise like it, and it seems to calm you and some of the voices in your head, especially the Awh’anise ones,” I said.
“Us Litches could certainly use more of your people here if you can all do that,” said Tanek, a twenty-one year-old Litch with black hair and brilliant green eyes. “It’s kind of amazing how fast that quieted the people in my head. Besiana said there was more than that benefit to what you’ve discovered with Litch Will Tyhlian.”
“Are you really his Lor’fei?” Conlo asked with equal parts awe and covetousness in his voice. “I’ve never met a Lor’fei before. Is it really as awesome as they say?”
Conlo was twelve with reddish-blond hair and eyes of molten gold. He was the youngest in the group at the table, but I’d have been hard pressed to call him a child. There were other emotions coming from him that were not his own so I knew he’d already absorbed the minds of others. I suppose that technically, he could’ve been called a child soldier given his age, but he didn’t feel like a child emotionally.
“Yes, I really am,” I said with a smile at the way his face lit up at my confirmation. “And there is nothing quite like it.”
Indrar, one of the fifteen-year-olds, grinned and ruffled Conlo’s hair. “Conlo is a true romantic. He says that he’s going to find his Lor’fei way before he has to die and that they’ll be super happy and so much in love, it’ll make everyone else jealous.”
The Litches around the table chuckled, and Conlo scowled and crossed his arms over his chest.
“I had a dream about it. Not a wishful dream but a dream of what will happen. I can tell the difference you know,” Conlo insisted stubbornly. “It will happen.”
“About this other stuff you’ve discovered you can do to help the Litches. Can you tell us in more detail? Obviously, we’re very interested in hearing what you have to say,” Besiana said as she steered the conversation back to the reason Rachim and I were having the private breakfast with the Litches.
“Certainly. Bear in mind that these are just suggestions of what we’ve discovered works for Litch Will Tyhlian. They should be used with caution and your results may vary,” I warned.
All the Litches nodded and looked eager to hear what I had to say, which was perfectly understandable. Besiana dished up some of food onto a plate and set it in front of Rachim with a smile. She didn’t make one up for me and was completely focused on Rachim. I smiled and reached for a plate as I began telling the Litches about what Tyh and I had learned about dealing with the voices to make it a little less difficult to live with all the personalities in their heads.
The breakfast was a lively discussion of things that could be done to help the Shal-hazal Litches slow their creeping madness. Their excitement at what we told them, as minor as the improvements seemed to me, crashed through us and made both Rachim and me almost giddy from the shared emotions. By the end of our breakfast meeting, I was firmly convinced that the Teichle could have a place with the Shal-hazal, specifically among the Litches. It would be a partnership that benefited the Litches and the Teichle.
A plan started to form in my head.
Tyh had agreed that the Teichle needed to be rescued from the horror of the government facility on Laiok. After the informal meeting with the Litches of the House of Heyda, I felt I had a very good case for rescuing the Teichle in the government facility sooner rather than later. Tyh said we needed a concrete plan, and I completely agreed with him on that. I wasn’t a soldier, but I was a top notch negotiator. I never went into negotiations without a full plan of attack, counter-attack and contingencies in my mind to get the results I wanted with the smallest concessions given. I didn’t think there was all that much difference in planning and running a rescue operation.
I just needed to have a few words with the Wills of the House about my idea to rescue the Teichle and bring them to Awh’an. With the innate Laiokian ability to calm the voices in the Litches heads, they had to see the Teichle could be invaluable helpers to the Litches. The Shal-hazal also had status as ambassadors of Awh’an, so allowing the Teichle to claim refugee status with the backing of the Shal-hazal would likely cut through any government bullshit or stalling tactics.
If the numbers of Litches were generally as low as Besiana claimed through all the Houses, there should be more than enough age appropriate Teichle to go around possibly even more than I thought if my government was now allowing the Teichle to live longer so they could sell them off-planet to brothels or whatever. If that was indeed the case, getting the Shal-hazals from other Houses on board for a large scale rescue was not only very do-able but also something they could very well insist upon.
I almost wanted to cackle in glee as my initially nebulous plan to rescue the Teichle started to shape up very nicely in my head.
Vua-yli: 15”—20” high, pink to purple flowering plant that bears tiny, clear berries with a deep red seed in the centre and has large, flat spines, which are modified leaves. The scent of the flowers is like lilies and vanilla.
The flowers are bell-shaped and grow on a common stalk with a single berry that grows where the “clapper” of a bell would be. The spines are 6’—8” long, extremely hard, sword-shaped and pale green with a thin, blood-red longitudinal stripe down the centre. The entire plant is highly toxic and the spines are razor sharp, capable of slicing or stabbing into flesh several inches deep.
The berries can be eaten only after drying in the sun for at least a week to allow the toxins to evaporate. The berries taste like blueberries with the seed having an almond-like taste. The plant, while highly toxic, is considered a symbol of luck and protection.
Ser’cin: rare incense used only on high holy days by Shal-hazal. Produces a euphoric sensation and increases sexual desire in those that inhale it during ceremonies. It can be purchased by regular Awh’anise for use, but is very expensive even in small amounts.
When I read stories about spies and counter-spies and subterfuge, they were always exciting with the characters just one step ahead of their enemies. In reality, it was mostly boring as fuck with hours of sitting around and pretending everything was normal sprinkled with a few minutes of nervous terror that you’d be found out. It was not a job I was suited for at all and one I’d be glad when it was over. I couldn’t wait to get back to my regular job of hunting the insane Litches. As dangerous as that was, at least I knew what to expect. There was no subtle weaving of the truth. It was hunt or be hunted, and that was it.
I was still continuing with my bullshit charade of looking for Tyhlian like I’d been instructed. I thought I was doing a good job of it, but it wasn’t something that could keep me occupied for very long. I couldn’t actually look for Tyhlian because on the off chance I did find him, I couldn’t do anything except pretend that I hadn’t found him which could be awkward and dangerous for both of us. I was still on the star ship I’d hired, and it chafed me a little to be spending House money on something useless, but Sunki was right in that it would look better if I was on a star ship than to be planet-bound while I carried out my “search” for Tyhlian.
Cadao was becoming increasingly demanding that I produce results. He was making me nervous as hell because he was starting to be really aggressive about my finding and killing Tyhlian. It was turning into an obsession for him. His calls had steadily gone from every other day to once a day to now twice a day. I could plainly tell he was losing patience with my answers even though they were well-thought-out reasons for why I hadn’t bagged Tyhlian yet.
My story was very good, Moswen had seen to that, but Cadao seemed to be coming unravelled at the edges the longer the hunt for Tyhlian went on. I got the feeling that the longer Tyhlian remained alive and free, the more it screwed with whatever plan Cadao was working. I couldn’t see why it was so important that Tyhlian be dead, but I had strong suspicions that Cadao was off his nut. I had a lot of experience with crazy Shal-hazal, and he was sure as hell giving off those sorts of vibes to me even if it was fairly subtle and probably not something another Shal-hazal would notice. The Healers of his House probably would, but considering what he was already doing to screw with all the Shal-hazal’s heads, he was probably working it so the Healers didn’t notice anything off about him.
The com unit pinged, and I sighed while giving it an evil look. Speak of the devil. I debated letting it go to message, but Cadao knew what my wake/sleep schedule was, and he’d be less than pleased if I ignored him when I was supposed to be awake. Calling him back later with the excuse that I’d been eating or in the bathroom when he called was an option, but he was always more of an asshole when I needed to return his call. Not that I really gave a shit what pleased him or not, but for the time being, I needed to play along if the whole crazy plan I was part of was going to work. I schooled my expression into neutral territory and hit the button to answer the call.
“Spirit Will Cadao,” I said with a crisp salute to him.
“Have you made any progress on finding Litch Will Tyhlian?” Cadao snapped out.
Oh joy. This was going to be a lovely call full of veiled threats and snide comments on my abilities. This was getting old, and I was sick of it. It was a good thing this was being done over the vast distance of space, or I think I might’ve leapt on him and started hammering his head into the ground for the shit I was going through. I had to work extra hard not to grin with a lot of fang at that mental image.
“There was a promising trail that lead to a rogue asteroid mining station that also deals in less-than-legal parts for space ships, but by the time I got there, he was long gone. On the plus side, the miners-slash-pirates were willing to talk with a little cash donation to their cause and said that he was looking for a part for the engine cooling system of his ship. He’s stuck without hyper-drive until he finds one, and the ship he stole is one of the older models. I was told some parts, like the one he needs, are almost impossible to find now. He could get the whole unit replaced but that would require retrofitting and take at least two weeks of being dry docked, which doesn’t count the time necessary to get the new unit to wherever he puts in. He’s going to be slowed and confined to one part of that system, and now that I know he’s looking for a specific part, I can put feelers out for those requests. He could steal another ship, but the system we’re in is not terribly advanced space travel-wise and they tend to keep a sharper eye on ships than well-established systems with a lot of traffic.”
“And this information helps me how? This hunt has gone on far longer than I was lead to believe one of your hunts would take. I’m starting to think that your skills have been over-blown and that someone more suitable to the task should take over,” Cadao said with a nasty smirk that made me want to put my fist through the video screen.
“Litch Will Tyhlian is exceptionally skilled, and I was initially handicapped by missing information from his file. I’ve hunted countless Litches, and I have to say that he is the most accomplished that I’ve ever been sent after. This is not an easy hunt nor one that would be resolved quickly.”
“It sounds like you’re making excuses for your failure, Phaedra. I’ve heard that you even spoke to your teacher, Hunter Sunki, for advice in catching Litch Will Tyhlian.”
A chill snaked down my spine, and my tail tip puffed up to twice it’s normal size in fear. The only way Cadao could know about that was if he’d either had the com lines monitored or he’d done a little dancing through my or Sunki’s head. She’d be furious if Cadao had been poking around in her head to see what she knows, although I wasn’t sure why he’d have done that unless he’d already gone through my brain to steal the little piece of information that I’d spoken with Sunki.
I wasn’t quite as afraid as I could’ve been. I was very confident that Cadao wouldn’t be able to unravel whatever Moswen had done to hide what I knew. At least I didn’t think he’d be able to do that without my knowing he’d tried. Moswen’s dream skills were the best I’d ever seen, and he had a huge interest in getting this plan to work and stopping Cadao. I still wasn’t happy with the knowledge that Cadao had maybe tripped lightly through my head to learn what he did. I felt... violated and like I now had a fine layer of scum on me.
“Hunter Sunki is the greatest Litch Hunter we’ve had in decades. I have the utmost respect for her and her experience. Litch Will Tyhlian is a very challenging man to track down, and I was frustrated that he seemed to be evading everything I tried. I felt I needed a fresh perspective on the job, and there was no one I felt better to go to than the head of the Litch Hunter House. That is my right as a Litch Hunter, and I’m not the first to have gone to her for advice on a difficult job.”
Cadao smirked again, and I felt a little line of nervous sweat trickle down my spine.
“True enough. I’m sure you’ve also heard of the tragic death of Spirit Will Hilel by now. I understand you were in contact with him not long before he died. He was the Spirit sent to you when you almost caught Litch Will Tyhlian, wasn’t he? Tragic death, really. We believe the untrained Litch died when Spirit Will Hilel did. It’s very disappointing for the Shal-hazal to have lost a good, experienced Shal-hazal like him and a Litch in one disastrous meeting. Spirit Will Hilel should’ve known better than to go after an untrained Litch like that, but he had been acting a little erratic during the previous last few weeks. The Healer of his House thinks he may have been suffering from dream madness but had been hiding it.”
I barely managed to bite back the snort of disbelief at that. Hilel’s death was nobody’s fault but Cadao’s. There was no untrained Litch that Hilel had been after, and he most certainly hadn’t been suffering from any kind of dream madness. And hiding dream madness from a Healer? That was so far into the ridiculous column that I didn’t even know how Cadao could spout that shit and think I’d believe it. Healers constantly monitored the Shal-hazal of their House specifically for that problem. That any Shal-hazal, especially an experienced one like Hilel, would ignore the signs of it and hide it when the treatment for it was just several days’ worth of sleep without Dream Walking was ludicrous. I was more than a little insulted that Cadao thought I was so stupid that I’d believe a load of crap like that.
“I was shocked and saddened to hear of Spirit Will Hilel’s death. He was a fine Shal-hazal,” I said in what I hoped was a sad tone even as I seethed internally over knowing that I was speaking with the asshole who caused Hilel’s death.
“Spirit Will Hilel spoke to me not long before his death. He mentioned something to me that I find a little strange. He said he’d untangled a dream for you during your hunt for Litch Will Tyhlian and that it bore the signature of a Shal-hazal. Spirit Will Hilel said this dream was a false trail meant to throw you off the track of Litch Will Tyhlian but that it wasn’t his signature attached to the dream. Why didn’t you mention in one of your reports that it was Spirit Will Moswen’s signature attached to that false trail?”
Oh fuck me with a rusty pole.
I knew with rock solid certainty that Hilel wouldn’t have said a damn thing to Cadao about anything. If Cadao had asked Hilel if water was wet, Hilel would’ve told him he didn’t know. I now started to wonder if Hilel had died because Cadao went into his dreams and forcefully dragged the information out of him. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have put that past Cadao at all.
A Shal-hazal that didn’t want to divulge something could die in dreams if a strong Shal-hazal tried to drag the information out of him. The body would live on, but the mind would be gone, shredded into pieces from the fight to keep secret what they didn’t want revealed. Going into another Shal-hazal’s mind to drag the information out when they didn’t want to share was actually illegal but considering what Cadao had already done, I doubted that would’ve stopped him.
With Hilel in a less than alert state from his infrequent sleep, he’d have been seriously compromised in fighting off Cadao. With the addition of whatever help Cadao had in manipulating the dreams of the Shal-hazal, Hilel was screwed completely and probably knew that. Cadao must’ve been getting desperate to shut Hilel up and find out what he knew and who he’d told about what was going on. Dread settled like a lead ball in my guts.
I could throw Moswen to Cadao in an effort to save my skin, and Cadao’d probably jump at the bait. But personal honour wouldn’t let me do that—not to mention that Moswen was trying to stop whatever was going on with Cadao and his little plan. Even if I gave Moswen up as helping Tyhlian when he knew not to, there was nothing to say that Cadao wouldn’t still come after my ass. I had it from several sources and recent personal experience that Cadao was big on the whole vendetta thing. I thought furiously about what to say that wouldn’t implicate me, Moswen, Sunki or anyone else.
“Since information about Litch Will Tyhlian’s family hadn’t been included in the file I was given, I didn’t think that one small incident was terribly important. Yes, it was something that sent me off in a completely different direction, but it also made me more cautious about tracking Litch Will Tyhlian and about what seemed like a good lead. That is why it’s taking time to find him. I’m carefully vetting all leads to make sure they’re real before wasting my time following them.”
“I could understand that. However, you know very well that it is a crime to try and interfere with a lawful order of execution of a Litch. It’s understandable that Spirit Will Moswen would want to help his sha-ter’bil given how close I’ve been told they are. That still doesn’t excuse him from following the laws all Shal-hazal must live by,” Cadao said with a note of superiority in his voice.
Lawful order of execution my ass. Cadao knew there was nothing lawful about what he was doing. I couldn’t say a damn thing about that though as it would open the door into a whole new world of trouble for not only me but Moswen and Sunki as well. I couldn’t even let Cadao in on the open conversation that the Fire Snake had with me in my dream about the rescinded death order because I was sure that would just make Cadao up the timeline of whatever the hell his endgame was. If he was bold enough to kill a well-respected Shal-hazal Spirit Will and make it look like an accident with a completely improbable reason, I was sure he’d have no problems taking me out of the picture so nobody learned that Tyhlian’s death order was lifted by a higher power. Saying that I’d been blindsided by the Litch I was hunting was a perfect excuse, and nobody would question it.
“Spirit Will Moswen is young and a Throw-back. It would’ve probably been impossible for him to ignore his instincts and do nothing. What he did was really minor, and I haven’t seen any evidence of him doing something like that again. I am watching for other signs of manipulation.”
“Regardless, he needs to be punished for what he did and questioned about his involvement in Litch Will Tyhlian getting off planet, which I still find highly suspicious. You should’ve reported the incident immediately. A discipline note will be entered in your file because of this, and I will present a case before the Litch House to have your pay docked for this infraction. Spirit Will Hilel should’ve reported it as well, but he was obviously suffering from the beginnings of dream madness at the time so allowances can be made there. I trust that if you find any further signs of dream tampering you’ll alert me immediately.”
“Of course, Spirit Will Cadao,” I lied through my teeth.
“Good. I expect to be kept updated and for this drawn out problem of Litch Will Tyhlian to be solved in the very near future,” Cadao said before signing off.
I blew out a breath and flopped to my back on the bed. I knew I’d narrowly avoided getting my ass hauled in for some serious physical discipline, and I wasn’t sure quite how I yanked my tail out of that vise. Maybe I was getting paranoid, but I was almost waiting for something else to happen. I was probably just antsy over the whole super secret treason plot I was part of. Cadao was getting really twitchy though and that wasn’t good. I wanted to warn Sunki and Moswen that Cadao was poking around hard and getting suspicious about how long it was taking to find Tyhlian. I didn’t have a secure way of doing that though in light of Cadao’s little talk with me. God’s only knew what he might’ve gleaned off the top of our collective heads, and I sure as shit didn’t want to be adding a single scrap of information to his hoard if I could help it.
I also didn’t want to tip Cadao off that I actually knew he was up to something. I didn’t doubt for a second that if he thought I was any kind of threat, he’d have me killed. If he was ballsy enough to order the deaths of Litches who weren’t actually a danger yet and to kill a Spirit Will that was well respected and make it look like a supposed accident, offing my ass would hardly be a blip on his radar.
Shit, but I hated all this spy type stuff in real life.
I stared blankly at the young Spirit standing in front of me. It’d been several days since my long, almost accusatory conversation with Cadao, and I’d thought I was in the clear. I’d had zero warning that somebody was coming to get me, Cadao not breathing a word of that in our last conservation, not more than two hours ago. Conniving bastard. One moment, I’d been alone in my cabin, and the next I’d had a Shal-hazal sharing the space with me. Given how twitchy I was starting to feel, she was damn lucky I hadn’t taken a swing at her and clawed half her face off.
She’d handed me an envelope and waited for me to open it saying she’d take me back as soon as I was ready to go. When I read the contents, I wanted to go back in time to a few days ago and warn Moswen immediately of my conversation with Cadao—damn the personal consequences. I was being summoned to appear in front of the Council to testify at a tribunal about Moswen changing dreams to lead me away from Tyhlian’s trail.
There would be no wiggle room for me in my testimony. I could try and lie about it, but Cadao would be there to say that Hilel had told him about examining the dream for me, which he had. Hilel was dead and couldn’t testify that he hadn’t done that, which I knew he would’ve. Cadao was also the head of the Council, and as far as any of the other Council members knew, Moswen excepted, Cadao had no reason to lie and was just trying to get a dangerous Litch caught.
I couldn’t even warn Moswen now. The Spirit in front of me wasn’t about to let me drop into sleep to try and contact Moswen. I couldn’t use the com with her standing there either because that would be suspicious as hell. I was only supposed to know of Moswen by reputation. Putting in a call to warn him that his tail was about to be shoved into the fire would prove that a lie faster than I could spit. Cadao really had my tail tied in a knot, and there wasn’t any easy way out for any of us that I could see.
I gathered my things, not sure if I was going to be coming back to the ship or not. I was paying the captain by the week and there were still a few days left on the current paid time. I told the Spirit that I needed to speak with the captain before leaving, and she trailed me from my rooms to the bridge, not leaving my side for a second and making it impossible for me to attempt even a brief call to Moswen or Sunki while on the bridge. It was then that I realized that Cadao was more suspicious of me that I’d thought, and that made me nervous as hell.
I spoke with the captain, telling him that if I wasn’t back by the end of the week, assume I wouldn’t need the services of his ship any further and to go his own way. I led the Spirit back to my cabin, held onto her arm and closed my eyes so she could whisk us away to wherever it was that this tribunal was to take place.
I opened my eyes when the Spirit told me I could, not surprised in the least when I seemed to be in a stone cell, likely in the depths of a House. I was military, and it was within the law to confine me to a secure location and keep me from outside contact during a tribunal if my testimony was critical or about sensitive matters. An insane Litch Will still on the loose and another Shal-hazal Will helping to keep that Litch free were both critical and sensitive matters. I wasn’t exactly free, but I wasn’t quite a prisoner either.
Escape was not going to be an option even if I was dumb enough to try it. There was a Shal-hazal Warrior waiting for us, and I handed him my bag without protest when he asked for it. He didn’t look very happy about doing what he was, that had me leaping to the conclusion that the Spirit and Warrior were of different Houses with the Spirit likely one of Cadao’s own and probably seeing nothing wrong with what was going on.
“Which House am I in?” I asked the Warrior.
“House of Heyda. I am sorry about detaining you like this, but it is Spirit Will Cadao’s orders.”
I nodded. I expected as much. The cell door closed, and I parked my ass on the bare stone slab that was the bed. I assumed that when it was time for lights out, I’d be brought a thin mattress and blankets and hopefully some food. I leaned back against the wall and wondered how long I was going to be waiting for Cadao to show up. I wouldn’t put it past him to do a little pre-testimony questioning that was strictly off the records. I exposed some fang in a snarl at the thought of him trying any of that shit and thinking he would get away with it.
The cell door opened, and a young woman with dark brown hair to her mid-back and blue eyes walked into the room followed by a young man who was entirely purple with hair so long, it swept the floor. The woman nibbled on her bottom lip as if uncertain what she was doing in my cell and was reconsidering her decision to come see me. Soothing sounds washed over me, and it took me a moment to realize where they were coming from and where I’d recently heard them before. It took supreme effort on my part not to react although I wanted to stare in shock and confusion at the purple man. How in the name of all the gods above and below did one of Dakvir’s people end up in this House? What sort of insane game were Tyhlian and Dakvir playing?
“I’m Besiana, the stand-in Litch Will of the House of Heyda. This is Rachim, a guest of the House and someone who’ll hopefully be allowed to testify at the tribunal even though it’s about Spirit Will Moswen’s actions and not about Litch Will Tyhlian. They are related things, so we’re hoping that the other Council members will allow it. Spirit Will Moswen said we could trust you to tell the truth about the mental state of Litch Will Tyhlian as you see it,” said Besiana, putting a little more emphasis on the word trust than regular conversation would see.
Besiana was apparently in on the whole take down the head of the Council thing if I was reading what she wasn’t saying right. It made sense if she was the stand-in Litch Will. She’d need to be kept in the loop of what was happening with the Litch she was to replace. That didn’t mean I thought it was a smart move for her to come talk to me though.
“I don’t think we should be speaking,” I said cautiously. “You coming to see me before the tribunal could be seen as trying to coerce me into saying something other than the truth.”
“As one of the Wills of this House, it’s my right to go anywhere public or in secured areas of this House as I wish. I’m exercising that right and making sure that you’re comfortable. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I don’t know why Cadao decided to hold the tribunal here, but I see it as incredibly good fortune. Truthfully, I wouldn’t doubt that Spirit Will Moswen’s fucked up karma had something to do with it.”
I had no idea what Besiana knew or didn’t know, and it was probably better that I didn’t know what she knew. She could say whatever she wanted as a reason for coming to see me, but I still didn’t think it would look good. Moswen had set up fail-safes in my head regarding what I knew about Cadao and his plans, but I didn’t know if those would extend to anything somebody else told me after the fact. I wanted to use extreme caution with anything to do with Cadao.
“You’re wary and confused. We didn’t mean for that. Besiana just wanted you to know that you weren’t alone in this and that proper procedure would be followed to the best that we could direct things. I told her that I didn’t think coming to see you was a good idea,” Rachim said with a little sigh.
“You’re Laiokian,” I said, more a statement than a question. “How in the name of all the gods did you end up here? And why now?”
Rachim nodded. “I am. I’ve been granted asylum in the House of Heyda. I’m considered undesirable on Laiok due to my genetics. I was rescued by Dakvir and Litch Will Tyhlian from sexual slavery. Dakvir recognized me from when we both spent some time at a Laiokian government facility and couldn’t bear the thought of leaving me to my fate in the brothel. They strongly suggested that I contact Spirit Will Moswen to bring me here where some of my more unique gifts could be useful to the Shal-hazal.
“Litch Besiana wants me to testify that Litch Will Tyhlian is not anywhere near the level of insanity that would justify sending someone like you after him, something I’m more than happy to do even if I don’t think it’ll make one bit of difference in what gets decided regarding Spirit Will Moswen. I’ll also be testifying that I contacted Spirit Will Moswen after being dropped off on a moon base and that he didn’t meet with Litch Will Tyhlian.”
I didn’t entirely believe that, but I had insider knowledge. The Council might believe Rachim since he didn’t have any vested interest in either Tyhlian or Moswen as far as they knew. I still thought they’d be suspicious of him and how he was conveniently here to testify for Moswen and Tyhlian. I didn’t see what difference his opinion on Tyhlian’s sanity would make either if he’d only spent a short time in Tyhlian’s presence.
“How would you know what level of sanity Litch Will Tyhlian is or isn’t suffering from? Are you a healer of some sort?” I asked Rachim.
“I’m Teichle. We are sending and receiving empaths. I can identify the emotions of each individual voice in a Litch’s head as well as judge the level of sanity of those voices based on their emotions. Even though I haven’t been here long, I’ve discovered that I can tell how strong or weak a Litch is with regards to keeping the voices under control. Based on my experience, it’s looking like a very good possibility that the Teichle can help the Litches stay in control of the voices, too. Litch Besiana and I have only had a few days together to test this out, so I can’t say that for one hundred percent, but there’s been a definite improvement with her and her of the voices in her head.”
I stared. Dakvir had said he was a receiving empath, and that was mind boggling enough. I had no idea what a sending empath was, but that must mean he was even stronger than Dakvir if he could both send and receive. While I was a Litch Hunter and it was my job to end the lives of Litches when it was their time, I’d always thought it was sad and a massive waste of talent to have to kill the Litches that were too far gone into madness. I was stunned by the idea of the Teichle being able to help the Litches stay sane longer. I had a strong suspicion that Cadao wouldn’t be so thrilled with the idea considering how he was making a real effort to kill off the Litches.
“Holy shit that’s....” I trailed off, surprised at what Rachim just revealed. “Dakvir can do this, too? Are you stronger than Dakvir if he can only receive? Is that how that works? Stars, this is incredible.”
“No. Dakvir is The Void, and he’s the only one like that there is. His ability is different from what the Teichle can do and a lot scarier. Our people hate the Teichle, but they outright fear The Void. Truthfully, if I hadn’t met Dakvir before and known what a good person he was, I’d have been utterly terrified of him when he walked up to me at the brothel. He is not someone to take lightly and most definitely not someone you want going against you.
“Teichle can manipulate the emotions of others to be whatever we want them to be, and they’d never know it was being done to them. Even if somebody tells you that’s what’s been done to you, you don’t believe it because it feels so real. It’s not hard for us to do. Really, it’s as simple as breathing for a Teichle. Sort of what I’ve been told you Shal-hazal experience when you Dream Walk. I’ve tweaked some of the emotions of the voices in Litch Besiana’s head, and it seems to have helped her. With more time, I can likely render all the voices neutral. There’s also the sub- and super-sonic sounds that any Laiokian can make that seem to calm you Awh’anise down in general.”
Now I was staring at Rachim and Besiana in flat out astonishment. The Teichle could not only help the Litches stay sane but could maybe save the Litches from going crazy in the first place? That was.... Holy crap! That’s what the Fire Snake was talking about when they said Dakvir held the key to solving a problem they could never figure out. No wonder they wanted to make sure that nothing happened to either Tyhlian or Dakvir. The stakes had just jumped up impossibly high in my head. Cadao absolutely had to be stopped at any cost, and I doubted I needed to say that to Besiana or Rachim.
“When does this tribunal get rolling? I mean it’ll be nice to have real food again instead of the crap they serve on a star ship, but the accommodations and lack of a decent view here make me a little eager to have this all over sooner rather than later.”
“I believe the tribunal is to start tomorrow morning. Spirit Will Moswen is already planetside although he wasn’t too happy to get the summons. He’d brought his shu’anad, Prince Kijika, with him as well as the prince’s parents to meet his family, and it was sort of a vacation. I know you’re not going to believe this, but Prince Kijika is actually pregnant with Spirit Will Moswen’s baby, and they’re both men,” Besiana said with wide eyes.
I did know that Moswen was having a baby with some alien man as he’d told me that himself. I was still having a little trouble wrapping my brain around that though. I wanted to see this pregnant man myself.
“Prince Kijika is going to be there for the tribunal, too. He demanded he be allowed there as Spirit Will Moswen’s shu’anad. That pissed Spirit Will Cadao off in a big way, but there was nothing he could legally do to stop Prince Kijika from being there since he invoked his right as shu’anad,” Besiana said with a wide smile.
I snickered at that. I didn’t doubt that pissed Cadao off in a big way. I believed he was the sort of person who didn’t like it when things didn’t go according to plan, and I doubted Moswen having a pregnant male shu’anad was anywhere close to plan. That Moswen was soon to be a father could generate a lot of sympathy for him with the Council, and he’d be wise to use that however he could.
“I get the feeling that none of this tribunal is going to go the way Spirit Will Cadao has planned. He’s a dangerous man, and I think things could end up spiralling out of control very quickly. That could be bad for everybody involved in this. If you get a moment, could you send a message to my ter’bil, Phansha? She’s a Healer at the House of Amunet. Could you tell her that I’d like to speak to her as soon as the tribunal is over and that I’m sorry we let things go on like they have for so long?”
“Sure, I can do that for you. I don’t think the tribunal is going to be a drawn out process because there isn’t going to be a lot going on. Once the testimony from others is done, Spirit Will Cadao will be his usual self, and Spirit Will Moswen will refuse to give any information up, and they’ll be at an impasse. I see some sort of punishment and docking of pay for Spirit Will Moswen as well as maybe being restricted to the House for some time,” said Besiana.
I nodded. “Yeah, I can see that, but I don’t think that’ll be the end of it. Spirit Will Cadao is really focused on having Litch Will Tyhlian dead, and I wouldn’t put it past him to try anything he thinks he can get away with. I’ve been reporting to him twice a day for two weeks now. Trust me when I say he wants what he sees as some kind of obstacle, namely Litch Will Tyhlian, taken out of the picture, and he wanted that to happen months ago.”
Besiana nodded her head thoughtfully, but it was Rachim who spoke.
“I’ve been asked to observe Spirit Will Cadao emotionally during this tribunal. I won’t change anything as it would be highly suspicious of him to suddenly change his attitude in the middle of the tribunal, but perhaps what I get from his emotional state will help explain why he’s doing what he’s doing.”
I doubted it would be that simple. Something spectacular was going to have to happen to make any sense of what Cadao was trying to do, and I highly doubted he’d suddenly come to his senses during this tribunal and spill his guts to everybody present. He’d probably keep his motivations to himself to the very end, the slimy bastard.
Besiana promised that she’d send a message to Phansha for me and that she’d have supper and a few comforts brought to my cell. Her and Rachim left, and while I was sort of a prisoner until the tribunal was over, a little smile played over my lips. I was sure my treatment would’ve been much more unpleasant if I was in the House Cadao was a Will of. I was willing to bet that it was Moswen’s chaos effect that had Cadao be so arrogant as to hold the tribunal, and what I was sure would be the punishment phase, in Moswen’s own House.
I just hoped that I didn’t get covered too badly when the shit started to fly everywhere.
Sha-ter’bil: half-blood, shared-father sibling (brother/sister)
Shu’anad: braid partner (husband/wife)
Ter’bil: full-blood sibling (brother/sister)