The Crimson Star, Chapter 1

The next book in The Makalang series drops April 1, so I’m continuing the practice with the previous books and posting a couple of sample chapters. Note that this one is very NSFW, so proceed with caution!


1.

I lay back in the chair in our bedroom, just letting Jacqueline work. She was between my knees doing what she liked to call her “thank-you note.” If the sex had been especially good, she liked to give me a final blowjob to end the night. So she was now down there using hands, mouth, and breasts to get me off for a third time.

Sex with Jacqueline tended to alternate between two extremes: basically letting me do whatever I wanted to her voluptuous little body, and withholding even basic missionary-position sex because she was mad at me or trying to get something out of me. Tonight had been a “whatever I wanted” night, and I sat there trying to fix the day’s events in my mind so I could do my best to keep things that way.

Jacqueline and I been dating for five years and living together for one. When we met in college at USC after I got out of the Marines, she was the nineteen-year-old daughter of wealthy parents from Newport Beach; I was a twenty-three-year-old kid from San Diego attending on the GI Bill. I spotted this hot little blonde with a killer rack at a party one night, and I was just looking for a hookup. I found, in late 2007 at the height of the war in Iraq, that stories from my Marine days were an effective panty-dropper with these mostly sheltered college girls. They certainly worked on Jacqueline. 

But in the days afterward, she was unwilling to let me just move on to the next hookup. I was different, exciting, just a little scary, and her parents took an instant dislike to me because of my background. So of course that made me the ideal boyfriend for a rebellious rich girl, and she threw her “whatever I wanted” act at me until she’d locked up my attention.

Yet even with the incandescent sex we had, I found that keeping Jacqueline happy was a full-time job. “High-maintenance” was her daily baseline, and she often went well beyond that. But she was a job I was willing to shoulder because Happy Jacqueline was also Whatever I Wanted Jacqueline, and in bed she was about as uninhibited a girl as I had ever met. Five years in with her, I’d done just about everything I’d ever envisioned doing with a girl. Public sex, threesomes, even lesbian sex – when she was in the right mood, there was nothing I asked her to do that she refused me.

So that night, early in our relationship, I was still deep in denial about what I’d gotten myself into. I only cared about the feel of Jacqueline’s hot little mouth sucking eagerly on my cock. 

She lifted off, stroking me rapidly. “Almost there?”

I nodded. 

She wrapped her plump breasts around me and rocked back and forth. “Does that feel good?”

I could only grunt. She went down again. She had this thing she did with her tongue, fluttering it against me as she sucked, and after a few more moments, it finally pushed me over the edge. With a groan, I pulled her head down, just pushing past her palate, and squirted uncontrollably into her throat with what little I had left. I felt her swallowing and sucking until I was finished. Then she stayed there, sucking softly, until I was completely limp. She gave my dick a final few kisses and climbed into my lap.

I loved Happy Jacqueline because she did things like that. And it had taken only a year of dating for me to convince myself that Happy Jacqueline was Normal Jacqueline, and Unhappy Jacqueline was the result of one thing or another that I’d done wrong. Naturally, she did everything she could to make me think that way.

She bit at my ear gently. “Please don’t go on this thing.”

The pleasant feeling she’d given me began to recede. “What thing?” Except, I knew damn well what she meant.

“The climbing. You know how much I hate it when you do that kind of stuff.”

I’d been planning for a long time to go climbing with some friends of mine in the southern Sierras. I had gone through the Marine Assault Climbers Course about a year before getting out, and since then I’d gotten seriously into sport climbing. This was going to be my first real wilderness climb, and I had spent months training for it. We were supposed to leave that Friday. 

I groaned. “I can’t bail on them now. We’re leaving in two days.”

Please. I’m so worried.”

I recognized the edge to her voice. It was Unhappy Jacqueline waking up. By then, I’d learned the hard way that she could switch gears on me in the blink of eye.

I desperately wanted to argue with her. I’d been looking forward to this trek for a long time, and my friends had planned it with the expectation that I was going to be there. If I backed out now, I wouldn’t just be depriving myself of the experience. There was a very real chance they would have to cancel as well, or at the very least postpone things.

Her teeth were still on my earlobe, but it no longer felt so affectionate.

After five years, I knew very well what Jacqueline would do if I ignored her wishes, and I knew it was vastly worse than what I would face from my friends. Unhappy Jacqueline could be an absolute nightmare, so I had quickly learned to do whatever it took to keep her away.

My friends would be pissed but forgive me. She would make my life a living hell for weeks, and it would be a long time before I saw another “whatever I wanted” night. Hating myself for it, I relented.

“Okay. I won’t go.”

She relaxed, cuddling against me. “Thanks. I love you.”

Nights like that would set the precedent for later – her using sex to manipulate me, me giving up things I enjoyed to keep her happy. Had I been wiser, I would have seen the red flags. But I still loved her despite all this, and within six months, I would propose.

I hadn’t thought about that night in years. But as I watched my terrified fox-girl wife Merindra struggling to rappel down a two-hundred-foot cliff, I remembered why my climbing skills were so rusty. I cursed Jacqueline, wherever she was, but mostly I cursed my younger self for letting her do what she did to me.

Merindra was not Jacqueline, and she had none of Jacqueline’s infuriating qualities. But she had one thing about her that was causing some issues, and that was her intense desire to continually prove herself to me. 

So it was par for that course that she didn’t tell me she was afraid of heights until it was much too late for me to do anything about it.

The first couple of hours down from the summit, where we’d arrived through the crystal circle, were grueling but not terribly challenging. The mountain reminded me a lot of the Sierras. It was a giant heap of shattered granite, and we had to slowly and carefully navigate about a mile of loose stones and broken boulders spotted with patches of snow. Had this been a peak back on Earth where the trail was clear and established, the trek down to the foothills might have taken us just a few hours. 

But we had no trail to follow – no idea which direction was safe and which was not. We had to make our own way down without knowing exactly what was below us. Even with Mereceeree occasionally taking off and flying around, it was hard to know what we were facing until we got there. So we had no choice except to take it very slowly. 

That first mile made me realize just how much I’d taken for granted when it came to hiking and climbing back home. Having a cleared trail to follow was an enormously different proposition from climbing over random boulders. I had to warn the girls to stay off the snow because of the risk of falling through into a gap between the rocks. I didn’t want any broken ankles.

Between the altitude and not wanting anyone to get hurt, our progress was excruciatingly slow. After two hours, I called a halt, feeling like my thighs were going to explode.

I could tell the girls were struggling as well, though none of them said anything.

“This should get easier the further down we go,” I said. “When the air isn’t so thin.”

“I feel like there’s a rope around my chest,” Narilora said.

“We’re going to take it easy. Don’t force yourself.”

The field of rocks gave way to more solid ground after another hour. We’d come down about a thousand feet, and I felt every one of them. Before us, a ridge went straight out in a near knife-edge the way I wanted to go, but it looked too risky. Looking down, I could see a way to switchback along the slope. But we would need to slide down about forty feet.

Staying roped together, we worked our way down on hands and feet until we reached a ledge that went for quite a ways back in the other direction. This stretch wasn’t too hard, but we weren’t descending very far. After half a mile, the ledge opened up into a broad ridge. Below us, the slope seemed manageable, so I turned us again and we climbed down another field of rocks, though this wasn’t as steep as the other one.

It was now midday. We’d come down maybe 1,500 feet. We stopped again to eat and refilled our water packs from a nearby snowdrift.

“Can you scout us again?” I asked Mereceeree. “I’ve lost track of what’s below us now.”

When she’d regained enough energy, she spread her wings and took off into the wind. For a few minutes, she circled above us, looking out over the areas below. Then she glided back in, landing carefully on a large rock.

“There is a sheer cliff right below us here. We will have to circle around that way.”

She pointed off to our right, where I could see a canyon opening up. Beyond it, the ridgeline went for quite a ways without dropping meaningfully. Maybe five miles off, I could see a spot where we might be able to slide down another field of talus. But doing so would put us even further away from the direction I wanted to go.

“How high is the cliff?” I asked.

“I think not very high.”

But when we got down closer to the edge, I had to remind myself I was talking to someone who could fly. Of course two hundred feet was not that high for her.

Fortunately, there was a stable ledge to assess the situation from above. Down below, the canyon opened into a fairly straightforward route down the mountain. And it appeared to lead in a much better direction than the ridgeline. There was a small river flowing through it and areas of flat gravel. All we had to do was get down there.

But the only way I could see to get there was down the cliff. I wouldn’t have wanted to climb up this cliff given the current state of my climbing skills, but rappelling down didn’t look like it would be too hard. I had gone down taller cliffs in my climbing days, and we had practiced belaying and rappelling back in Phan-garad for a few days before leaving.

“What would you guys say to going down here? From what I can see, that will save us a day at least. And I can see some good spots to camp for the night down there.”

Narilora looked over the edge and took a deep breath. “I can do it.”

Merindra didn’t say anything, but didn’t object either. She just stared down, face pale.

I assessed the situation for a few minutes to decide on the best approach. The cliff was high enough that I would have preferred to do it in two or three pitches. Had I been up here with another seasoned climber, we would simply have rappelled down together. But the girls were not experienced enough for that.

Another option was having me go first, then belaying them down from the bottom. I rejected that immediately, because it would mean leaving Narilora and Merindra up at the top to start their rappel on their own. I was nowhere near confident enough in their skills to do that. 

Mereceeree could have flown down and belayed us from the bottom, except for the fact that at ninety pounds she was too small to do it safely. 

The only real option I could see was for me to belay them from the top. So I explained what we were going to do. Narilora nodded. Merindra just stared at me silently. Everyone took their packs off.

Taitalan climbing gear wasn’t quite what I was used to. Recreational climbing wasn’t a thing on Taitala, but there was a certain amount of climbing involved in prospecting for crystals. Lacking the metal for hammers and pitons, they’d instead developed a variety of things similar to cams and nuts for anchors. They also had analogs to carabiners and belay devices made from reinforced crystal. Part of my challenge here was adapting what I knew to this unfamiliar equipment, but the basic principles were about the same.

There were more than enough safe places to anchor us on the top of the cliff, so I used three of the cam-things to set a triple anchor in a large boulder. Once I was satisfied everything was solid, redundant, and equalized, I set up the belaying device. I decided to keep it simple and just use a direct belay, with the belay device attached directly to the anchor. I would let out the rope to lower them to the bottom. 

The problem here was the height. Two hundred feet was a long way for a novice climber to rappel down in one go, even in the best of circumstances. The other problem was that our ropes were only about a hundred feet long, which meant I would need to tie two of them together. And that meant I would have to “pass the knot” midway down, meaning I would have to stop belaying them to safely work the knot around the belaying device. This is a fairly basic skill you learn early, but I hadn’t done it in fifteen years, and I would need to do it while Narilora and Merindra were hanging a hundred feet in the air. 

I figured there was probably an easier way to do this that I wasn’t thinking of because my skills were so rusty. But having Mereceeree able to fly down the cliff made this a lot easier. I’d trained her in setting anchors when we’d practiced, and I was confident she would be able to handle it. I created a double anchor with two nuts for her to place on the cliff. Though this was working backward – normally, you set the nuts, then tied off the rope – this wouldn’t be a primary means of protection, just a backup to clip to while I was passing the knot. 

First, I rigged up the belay. I tied off two butterfly loops near the end of the first rope. I would use these to secure the rope to the belay anchor while I passed the belay device around the knot. And while I did it, they would clip onto the anchor below just in case I screwed something up. That seemed redundant enough.

Then I fed the rope down the cliff to the spot where we would hit the knot. Mereceeree flew down to set the anchor, then flew back up a couple of minutes later.

I had her explain exactly what she’d done. She did.

“You tested it? Hung from it, pulled on it hard?”

“Yes. It is secure.”

“Okay. Let’s do this.”

Mereceeree flew back down to the midpoint anchor just in case they needed help. I rigged up Narilora and Merindra for the rappel. Narilora was focused and attentive while I did it, but Merindra just stood there, almost frozen.

“Hey,” I said. “Okay there?”

She nodded quickly.

After I double-checked everything, Narilora went first. I lowered her down a few feet at a time. She called out just as I reached the butterfly loops. I felt the line go slightly slack. 

“Clipped in! Off belay!” she called up. 

I clipped the two butterfly loops to the anchor using separate links. Then I unclipped the belay device and moved it above the knot. Once I was certain everything was secure, I unclipped the butterfly loops and resumed lowering her. She reached the ledge below in about another minute. She unclipped herself and called up that everything was good.

I pulled everything back up and reset the belay device. Then I turned to Merindra. As I clipped her in, her hands came up and gripped my wrists tightly. I realized she was shaking.

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t do this,” she whispered.

“Hey. It’s all good. Narilora made it fine. There’s nothing to worry about.”

She shook her head rapidly. “I can’t,” she sobbed.

I took her in my arms. “Is it the height?”

She nodded against my chest.

“You’re afraid of heights?”

She nodded again.

I just held her for a few moments.

“You asked to come along on this.”

“I know,” she sobbed, “because you need me.”

I pushed her back a little and brushed the tears from her cheeks.

“Hey. Where’s my brave fox-girl who slaughtered all those basayangs? I’ve never seen you afraid of anything. I’ve seen you look death in the face and spit on it. You killed Silas. You sliced his fucking head off.”

She nodded rapidly.

“It’s just this,” she said. 

I kissed her forehead and held her for a few moments longer. “You know we need to do this. Narilora is down there. I don’t know if I could haul her back up. Not that far.”

She nodded again.

“You can do it.”

Now she shook her head.

“Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to keep your eyes on me. Only me. Can you do that? Not down or around, only me. Can you?”

She looked up, locking her eyes on mine. I double- and triple-checked her gear and all her ropes. Then I took hold of the brake line.

“Just put your hands on the rope.”

She didn’t move, and I had to shift her hands down. 

“Eyes on me.”

I gently backed her up to the edge. She shook her head.

“Just hold on. Lean back. I’ve got you.”

I had to peel her fingers off of mine, but eventually I had her leaning back on the rope.

“Just look at me, baby. Look at me.”

She did, eyes locked on mine. I had to lean forward to keep eye contact with her. Very slowly, I began lowering her down.

“Just look up at me, until you get to Mereceeree.”

Little by little, I payed out the rope. As she dropped, she kept her eyes upward. 

“You’re doing fine, baby. Just keep going.”

She seemed to get more comfortable with walking down the cliff, but she kept her eyes up. In about a minute, she reached Mereceeree, who had to clip her in, and called up to me. I passed the knot as carefully as I could. Then Mereceeree unclipped her, and I lowered her the rest of the way. When she got to the bottom, Narilora caught her and helped her unclip. I saw her drop to her knees, then Narilora hugged her. They held each other in a tight embrace for a while.

Seeing that she’d made it safely, I said a silent “fuck you to Jacqueline and drew the rope back. When I had it all at the top, I clipped the packs together and lowered them down.

Now it was my turn. I had to re-rig things since I was rappelling now, not being belayed, but that took only a few minutes. I checked everything one last time and began my descent. 

Mereceeree was waiting for me halfway down, clipped into the anchor, smirking. The dark goggles we’d gotten her to wear during the day made her look like she had insect eyes.

“This is why you should have taken only panikang as wives,” she said as I clipped in to pass the knot around the rappel device. 

“This is why I’m thankful I have at least one.”

She laughed. “You should be, land-bound.”

“Come here.” I leaned over and kissed her. Then I kept going. 

When I got to the bottom, Narilora and Merindra were waiting for me. I pulled Merindra into a hug.

“Please don’t make me do that again,” she whispered.

“You made it once, babe. You can do it again. If we have to. It will be a lot easier next time.”

She just held me for a moment or two.

Mereceeree retrieved all the climbing equipment and flew back down. I checked to be sure it was all in order and then packed it up.

“Okay. Good work, guys. Let’s get moving.”

We descended for about another hour. I knew from experience how fast night could fall in the mountains, so when it looked like we had one more hour of daylight, I called a halt and started setting up camp on a level patch of gravel above the river. I could see tomorrow would be a bit grueling, but we were now around 2,000 feet below the summit, and the air felt thicker already. The route was clear for at least a mile ahead, and we would be able to descend quickly. 

We were still above the tree line, which meant there was no wood for a fire. I’d brought my Jetboil for that exact reason, and we used it to cook dinner. All of us were exhausted and it was rapidly getting cold, so we went to sleep soon after it got dark. 

As I lay together with Narilora, Merindra, and Mereceeree – cuddling between the three of them to share our body heat – it occurred to me that in fifteen years together, Jacqueline had never once trusted me to the degree the girls had on that climb down the cliff. 

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