Author: Michael Dalton

About Michael Dalton

I write a lot of smut. Some of it is sort of okay.

The Golden Staff, Chapter 1

As promised, I’m previewing The Golden Staff, Book 3 of The Makalang series, before it goes live on Feb. 1. I’ll have Chapter 2 in a few days, along with the cover reveal for Book 4, The Crimson Star. Book 4 will be available for pre-order around the same time Book 3 is live.


1.

Sunrises in Phan-garad were a riot of violet, purple, and rose-gold. Something in the atmosphere made them a lot more purple than the pink-orange sunrises I remembered from Earth. I wondered if I would ever see another Earth sunrise. Or if I even wanted to.

Though I’d been on Taitala only a few Earth months, I had been gone from Earth for more than four years. I knew from having connected to Taitala’s crystal energy field that I was orbiting one of the suns in the binary system of Alpha Centauri, four light years from Earth. 

So though I’d left behind a life and two young children, I was likely presumed dead by now, and my ex-wife had surely told my kids the truth about their parentage – that both had been fathered by her lover, now husband, Richard, with whom she’d had a years-long affair at work.

Yet in a few short months, I’d gained far more on Taitala than I’d left behind on Earth. About three dozen wives, roughly two-thirds of whom were now pregnant and about ten of whom I would rather die than leave behind. 

There was a time when the prospect of having dozens of children on the way would have produced a complete freak-out, but many things had changed in my life. Taitala needed those children, needed a lot more of them in fact, and it needed me to fix the circumstances that had created a dangerous gender imbalance – or the civilization here was likely to go extinct within a hundred years.

One of those wives appeared beside me, tucking herself under the arm I was resting on the glass wall of the fifth-floor balcony of my temple-like home. Ayarala rose up on her toes and kissed my cheek.

“Whenever I cannot find you, Will, this is where I know to find you.”

I kissed her back, then took a sip of massit, the Taitalan drink I’d adopted as a coffee surrogate. It didn’t exactly taste like coffee, but it had the same thickness and bitterness to it, plus some kind of caffeine-like side effect.

“I like the view from up here.”

Phan-garad, if you didn’t look too closely, was an attractive city. The architecture was alien to my eye – this being an alien world – but it was still pleasing. It was an interesting mix of old and new, in much the same way Paris and London were. But if you looked too closely, you realized that many of those attractive buildings were empty and abandoned. Phan-garad, like Taitala, was dying.

Ayarala took the mug from my hand and took a sip. She was my first Taitalan wife and the most human in appearance, with her elfin features, pointed ears, and pale-to-translucent skin. She was dwenda and had the purple eyes and metallic silver-gold hair that was common amongst her race. She’d come straight from bed and wore only a sheer wrap that left very little of her nubile form to the imagination.

“I didn’t know you liked massit in the morning,” I said.

“It is time to let you know that your wives have developed a taste for it as you have.”

I laughed.

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“That is because we always wait until you have had yours. Kisarat has threatened severe consequences for anyone who does not do so.”

Kisarat was my second wife, a talalong with emerald hair, serpentine eyes, and a long snake-like tail. Though she was normally calm and intellectual, she was also the one who had turned me onto massit and thus took a special interest that need being satisfied.

I laughed again at the thought of her enforcing her restrictions over the massit-pot.

“I’m happy to share.”

Down below us, what I’d come to think of as the Makalang Festival was starting to wake up. There were now about two thousand young Taitalan females camped out in front of my house hoping to be picked as wives. Ayarala and Lorelat, an adorably beautiful cunelo rabbit-girl and one of my other wives, had picked about a dozen of them so far, good enough odds to keep the rest of them there. While they waited, they sat around in little groups, talking and playing music, or having impromptu games of sepabo, the most popular Taitalan sport that seemed to be a cross between soccer and rugby.

I scanned the girls below for the flash of amethyst I’d been hoping to see the past several days, but there was nothing.

Ayarala caught my eye.

“Are you looking for the girl with the purple hair?” she asked, smiling.

“Amethyst,” I said. “Not purple.”

“We have looked, Will. So far, we have not seen her. You should just go claim her.”

“I want her to come here because she wants to be here. Not because I go claim her.”

She pecked me on the cheek again.

“Of course, my tsulygoi.”

Then she leaned against me, and I held her with one arm for a few moments.

“I am still in complete shock about Narilora,” she said.

“Me too.”

“To bear a male child . . . I know you appreciate what this means.”

“Yes. You’ve all kept it a secret as I asked?”

“Of course. If Ceriniat were to learn of it, or one of the others . . .” She shuddered.

Ceriniat was the clan leader of the linyang, the cat-girl race my wife Narilora belonged to. If she were to find out about Narilora carrying a male child, there was good reason to think she would insist on taking her away from me. I’d already been through that once with Lorelat and the leader of the cunelo, and I didn’t want a repeat.

“I don’t think they would do anything immediately,” I said. “What we did in taking Lorelat back should be a clear message to all of them, and I meant it as one. But I’d rather not find out until I know more.” 

“I wondered initially at your decision to take all the guards as wives,” she said. “It makes sense now.”

“I have enough challenges without worrying about their loyalty.”

“I am quite sure that will not be an issue anymore. You have given them something they never dreamed of having, a chance to mate and bear children. They would all die for you now.”

Ayarala was right. But the reason for my concern was the same reason all those girls were camped out in front of my house. Males were very rare on Taitala and getting rarer. On average these days, one birth in ten thousand was male. Their society had survived only by having the few males father as many children as possible. 

Typically, Taitalan females who wanted to bear children had to present themselves to a receptive male and hope to be chosen as wives, and then hope that male might get around to breeding with them some time within the next five or ten talons (a talon being a Taitalan year and about twice as long as a year on Earth). 

This system worked when male births were more common, because most of the breeding work fell to the younger males. Males lived at least twice as long as females, but the older ones usually had little interest in mating. With almost no young males left now, Taitalan society was starting to break down. So few children, male or female, were being born that their entire society was on the verge of extinction.

Into this I had arrived, giving life to a myth known as the makalang. The makalang, or so the story went, was a tall, virile creature who took many Taitalan females as wives, mated with them regularly, and sired many children. So strong was the attraction of this legend that it supplied a substantial amount of plot material for the Taitalan equivalent of romance novels and dramas.

Except the makalang wasn’t just a legend. I knew now that there had been other makalangs before me – a lot of them – and it was obvious that the makalang played a key role in the survival of Taitala. That was a problem, because everything I’d learned up to now suggested that I would be the last one.

Some connection between Earth and Taitala that I didn’t yet understand had drawn me here. It was something related to the preponderance of crystals on Taitala and how they interacted with a strange energy field that allowed me to do things like read my wive’s emotions and communicate with them, even though I still didn’t understand their spoken language. But that connection between our worlds was breaking down, and the energy field no longer appeared to have the strength to draw another makalang here. 

That I had fathered a male child was a hopeful sign. But Taitala needed a lot more of them, and more importantly, I had to find a way to arrest the historic decline in male vitality that had happened after every previous makalang. I had some ideas. Whether they would go anywhere, I suppose we would see.

Ayarala kissed me again.

“I have things to do, and I need to get dressed, my beloved tsulygoi. Merindra was looking for you as well. May I send her up here?”

“Yes. Of course.”

She went back into the glass-enclosed sunroom behind me and down the stairs. A few minutes later, my wife sorai Merindra appeared. The sorai were something like fox-human hybrids, with furred ears and long bushy tails. The hair on her head was ruby-red, but it shifted to orange on her ears and down on her tail.

I never got tired of looking at Merindra, and I watched as she approached me slowly. All my wives were beautiful, but Merindra was so pretty I often found myself getting lost in her red-brown eyes. She had a body straight out of a lingerie catalog, athletic and defined yet curvy. She had the arms, shoulders, and abs of someone who had been training for combat her entire life, along with breasts that were as firm and silky smooth as the seats in an Italian sports car. They had no knowledge of gravity and gave no indication they ever would.

She wore a thin wrap much like Ayarala’s, so I had a perfect view of all her charms as she came up and leaned into my embrace.

“Good morning.”

“It is a good morning, my tsulygoi.”

“I was about to come down.”

She looked up at me.

“It’s fine. I wanted to talk to you alone for a bit.”

“Go for it.”

“I’m glad you asked me to come with you to Yama-Kana. Sometimes I’ve felt like I have little use to you.”

I started in surprise.

“What are you talking about?”

“Ayarala runs the house. You go to Kisarat for her thoughts and advice. Narilora is your second, except when you meet with my grandmother. Eladra manages the wives. Mereceeree is your spy and connection to the panikang. Even Lorelat has a job. I seem to exist for you to stare at.”

I had to struggle against my reaction for a moment, and she smiled.

“Don’t be upset,” she said. “I love how you look at me, I do. I just I wish I had more to give you.”

I sighed.

“You’re right. And that is why I asked you. You have things to contribute. Especially now that Narilora needs to keep a lower profile.”

“I’m ready to stand beside you, Will. Wherever you go. My swords are yours.”

I kissed her deeply for a few seconds, feeling her body against mine. But then she gently pushed herself out of my grasp.

“You should save your strength, Will. With you leaving again, Lorelat has an even longer list today than usual.”

She hadn’t been kidding. Between some new girls from the crowd, two linyang wives who still hadn’t conceived, and one of the guards (I was working my way through them as I’d promised), it was mid-afternoon before Lorelat and I were done with the mating. I’d given her this job because she had a remarkable amount of sexual energy even for a cunelo, but it appeared that even she had her limits.

“Is that a record?” I asked.

“I am dead,” she moaned. “I could sleep for a sampar.”

I rolled over and kissed her. “Just rest, bunny-girl.”

She cuddled with me.

“I will miss you, Bunny-daddy.”

“I doubt we’ll be gone that long. This isn’t like the trek up to see the panikang.”

“Do you think the answers are there?”

“There’s something there, whatever it is. There’s a lot I still need to learn, and it sounds like this Gates of the Golden Staff group knows some things.”

“I have never been to Yama-Kana, but the things I have heard are intriguing. It is not like Phan-garad.”

“That seems pretty clear.”

I kissed Lorelat again and got up to let her rest. Thanks to my ability to draw energy from my wives’ orgasms, I wasn’t as wiped out as she was, but I still wanted to take it easy the rest of the day.

I found Narilora in the fourth-floor sitting room with Eladra, my other bunny-girl and one of the six who formed my inner circle, one wife from each clan. Mereceeree, my panikang wife, was asleep and would be until dusk. The panikang, who resembled Earth bats to a certain extent – including the ability to fly – were largely nocturnal.

My cat-girl wife had been uncharacteristically subdued the past several days, ever since we’d discovered she was carrying a male child – subdued in much the same way as someone who just hit lottery and realizes that her life has been turned completely upside down.

I wanted to be completely honest with her, so I shared everything I’d learned from Silas’s journals and Professor Sloraq, as well as my theories about Taitala’s declining male vitality. So she was struggling with a mix of elation at bearing such an important child, combined with concern at what that child’s future would be.

When I sat down with them, Narilora crawled over, butting her head against my chest and then curling up with me so I could scratch her ears. She lay there purring softly for several minutes as I felt her nerves calming.

“Tell me again what you hope to find,” she asked.

“I’m convinced there’s a connection between Silas’s residency there and the Gates of the Golden Staff.” I repeated what I’d read in his journals, what this mysterious talalong told him about his son: She loudly declared that I was bringing doom upon my line and upon this land. “I can’t escape this feeling that she knew what would happen with his son and grandson, and that she had some solution.”

“Something that would prevent our son from becoming a revolting degenerate like iXa’aliq?”

iXa’aliq was her and Kisarat’s first tsulygoi. I’d killed him to take them away from him.

“That’s the idea. If there’s a way to do it, to preserve what I’m leaving behind here rather than letting it fade away again, I have to find it.”

“Why wouldn’t they have used this solution on other males?” Eladra asked. “If it even works.”

“I have no idea. For all we know, they did. But it could also be that this solution, whatever it is, only works with the makalang.”

Narilora took my hand and squeezed it.

“I hope you find something, Will.”

“Me too, pussy-cat. Me too.”

When Mereceeree woke up as the sun began to set about an hour later, I brought her some massit.

“A little elf told me you’ve taken to this stuff.”

She yawned and extended her wings, which meant folding out the odd wing bone under her forearms until the otherwise recessed flaps of skin in her armpits were at full stretch, roughly five feet in either direction. Then she got up and took the massit.

“It is a strange land-bound drink, but I find it to my liking.”

“There’s something I wanted to ask you.”

She smiled slyly.

“It is too early in the evening for mating, and I am certain Lorelat has exhausted you. I saw her list before I went to bed this morning.”

I laughed. Like all panikang, Mereceeree had skin as black as the night they lived in, with long tawny black-brown hair that she wore wild and untamed. In addition to her wings, she had feet that were closer to hands, able to grip things and allow her to perch on narrow edges. And like most panikang but unlike my other wives, she disdained clothes, preferring to remain naked unless I asked her to put something on, which I’d largely given up on doing. 

“Not that. It’s about Yama-Kana.”

She plopped herself in my lap. She was the smallest of my wives, weighing maybe ninety pounds, but she carried enough sass to make up for it. She wiggled her tight little butt against me.

“There is little I can tell you, Will. I have never been there. But if it would help, I can make up stories to moan in your ear later while we mate.”

I laughed again.

“All I wanted to know is if we can get there through the crystal circles.”

All the mirth left her eyes. She didn’t answer me for a few moments.

“You should not do this.”

“Does that mean the answer is yes?”

Again, she was silent. The crystal circles were a thing the panikang had set up. Using the energies they controlled, it was possible to transport yourself from their home in the mountains to a hidden building in Phan-garad. I’d done it myself when returning from the panikang village, taking her and Eladra with me because we needed to get back quickly. So I’d wondered if we could handle this trip the same way. It would allow us to get in and out much more discreetly than the maglev.

“Yes. There is a crystal circle in Yama-Kana,” she said finally. “But it is not controlled by the panikang.” 

That got my attention.

“Are there others maintaining these circles?”

“Yes.”

“Who controls the one in Yama-Kana?”

“I do not know. But the panikang do not use it, and I do not know if we ever have. My mother would know, but I think her reaction would not be pleasant if I asked.”

“Then how do you know it’s even there?”

“Because you can see it, if you look. It has a different feel from our circles. Not knowing what we would arrive into, we do not use it. I assume whoever controls it feels the same about ours.”

She took my hand.

“Will, please. It is an unnecessary risk. Take the train. You would be saving a day, at most.”

This was something I had never suspected, and it intrigued me. I wanted to know more about it, but I decided to let it go for now.

“Okay. You win. The train it is.”

Some Updates on The Makalang

One of the most frequent comments on the first two books of The Makalang series has been that readers wished they were longer. That’s not always an easy thing to address, especially once a book is written (and I’m currently in the middle of my draft of Book 6), but I decided to go back and try to flesh things out a bit more. That meant doing a major re-write of The Golden Staff, which I had figured was more or less done. But I was successful in expanding it from about 52,000 words to 61,000 words, and going forward, I’m going to be targeting at least 60,000 for the rest of the series. And that meant I had to expand the others as well.

How did I do it? [**SPOILERS AHEAD**] Basically, I took what was originally a single-book conflict, the clash between Will and the cunelo clan leader over his wives in The Black Sky, and turned it into a series-long story arc. It’s going to tie into the overarching story arc (I’m not saying what that is yet, but you should have some ideas) in a way I hadn’t envisioned, but I think it will work quite well.

The revised version of The Golden Staff is with the beta readers, and I foresee no issues in getting it out on time (which is good, because Amazon doesn’t like failed pre-order campaigns). Book 4, The Crimson Star, will be live for pre-order when The Golden Staff goes on sale. As before, I’ll preview some chapters and the next cover in the week or two before.

The Black Sky, Chapter 2

As promised, I’m continuing a preview of The Black Sky, the second book in the Makalang series. The book will be released in one week, on Dec. 15. Later this week, I plan release the cover for book 3, The Golden Staff. I really like how this one came out, and I hope you will too.


2.

I had a meeting that afternoon with Varycibe, the clan leader of the sorai. She lived in Phan-garad as well, in a compound a few houses away from mine. Merindra came with me, along with my five other sorai wives. 

All of the latter had joined me since I’d killed aJia’jara. The three sorai among his wives who remained with me after his death – I’d given them all the option to leave, and some did – had gotten pregnant and returned to their clan. Of the five new ones, one was now pregnant as well, but she wanted to stay with Merindra, so she was still here. 

Sorai were warriors, but not like the linyang. While the cat-girls made the most of their agility, using light weapons and a lot of moves not unlike the martial arts I’d studied back on Earth, sorai usually wore a sort of fiber-composite armor and fought with a long-and-short pair of crystal swords. 

Our group was armed and armored, including me. Not because we expected any trouble – this was essentially a business call – but simply because it was how sorai did things. Showing up at Varycibe’s house unarmed would be seen as weakness. So I had my katana and my green carbon fiber LARP armor. 

When we got to the gate of my house, the linyang guards began yelling at the crowd to move back. But there were enough females outside that the guards had to push them backwards with long staves. I’d given them strict instructions not to hurt anyone, so they were doing it as gently as possible. 

The six sorai took up a cordon around me as we left. The females in the crowd began chanting “Makalang! Makalang!” and generally yelling and calling to me to get my attention. All of them were pretty, most were beautiful, and I saw a few I would have ranked as drop-dead gorgeous. There wasn’t a single one I would have turned down back when I was a lonely divorced dad on Earth. But I knew if I stopped to talk to any of them, I was liable to precipitate a riot.

The crowd followed us all the way to Varycibe’s compound, yelling and chanting, not stopping until her guards pushed them back away from the gate. Finally we got inside.

I took a deep breath, feeling a bit like some kid in a boy band.

“Maybe we could start doing interviews with the girls at the gate,” I said to Merindra. “I feel bad just ignoring all of them. Some of them looked like possibilities.”

She ran her fingers through her ruby hair as she got her bearings.

“We can,” she said, “but Will, if we start doing it, there will be a thousand out there, not a hundred.”

“We will be lucky if it is only a thousand,” one of the sorai said.

“Think about it. Talk to Kisarat. There has to be a way.”

Merindra nodded. “As you wish, my tsulygoi.”

One of Varycibe’s people came out to greet us. Her house was yet another example of Taitalan architecture – like iXa’aliq’s rose-bodied house and Ceriniat’s soap-bubble compound – that I couldn’t compare to anything on Earth. There were seven transparent crystal cylinders, one for each color of the spectrum, arranged in a random order around a neatly landscaped and manicured garden. An array of glittering crystal bridges connected them, one set about mid-way up and another connecting the top of each tower. 

Varycibe’s attendant led us to the violet cylinder, and we followed her up a stairwell to a room at the top. There were doors in the glass all the way around the cylinder, most of which were open to a ring-shaped balcony. We had a 360-degree view of the area, and I could see my house a few hundred yards away. The crowd of hopeful wives was still clustered outside where we left them. 

Varycibe was waiting for us. She was an elderly but still robust sorai, her hair and fur largely gone silver. She wore an expensive-looking wrap along with small silver earrings. Metal was extremely rare on Taitala, which made those earrings worth almost as much as her house. 

Merindra greeted her warmly with a hug.

“It is good to see you, child,” Varycibe said, “but you should be home with your mother.”

“I must obey my tsulygoi, grandmother. And I wish to raise our child with him.”

Varycibe grumbled. “I suppose the child is what matters.” She turned to look at Sherala, the other pregnant sorai among my wives. “And you, I have heard you are with child as well. Yet here you are.”

Sherala just nodded. “I obey my tsulygoi, clan leader.”

Varycibe turned back to me.

“The old must give way to the young,” she said, “for they will inherit this world we seek to save. Ha! You have been quite busy, makalang. Five sorai with child, in as many sampars! An abundance! And surely many more to come.”

“You have sent me an extraordinary selection of wives, Varycibe.” 

And she had. Smoking hot didn’t begin to describe my collection of fox-girls now. Merindra was one of a kind, but the rest of them were pretty close. Her comment made me remember the night I had impregnated Sherala. I knew when it happened, because I had mated with her only once. Merindra had been there, along with Kisarat, and let’s just say, they deserved equal credit for the child. I really needed to get to work on the rest of them.

Varycibe snorted at the look on my face.

“I have an eye for it, in my old age.” She laughed again. “Come, we have business to discuss.”

Varycibe and I, along with her attendant and Merindra, sat down at a table in the center of the room. My other wives remained at a distance behind us.

“You’re aware, of course,” I said, “that there are members of the Long Claw serving as guards for my house, as well as linyang I took from aJia’jara, because they chose to serve me after I defeated them escaping from confinement.”

The Long Claw was a linyang mercenary group controlled by Ceriniat, the linyang leader.

“Yes. I am.”

“I am growing concerned about the message this sends, since I am trying very hard not to show favoritism to any clan. I would like to request that the sorai supply me with guards as well, so that there is equal representation. I have made similar requests to the dwenda and talalong to help balance out my household staff, which right now is dominated by cunelo.”

Varycibe nodded.

“Yes, of course. That is not a problem, and I agree with the message the current situation sends. But there is another, more serious matter I wish to address, and that is your primary role here. Your household staff is not the only thing the cunelo are dominating.”

I groaned. I knew this was going to come up sooner or later. 

“I can’t help the fact that they’re so fertile.”

“Every single cunelo wife of yours is with child. As pleased as I am with what you’ve done with your sorai wives, the fact remains there are now ten cunelo expecting children against half that of my people.”

Varycibe wasn’t exaggerating the situation. It was beginning to feel as if I just needed to look at the cunelo girls the wrong way to knock them up. Like Eladra had been, it was pretty much one-and-done with them.

“I have been trying very hard to maintain equal representation amongst my wives. I can’t help it if it takes a bit more effort with the other races.”

“I am not concerned with equality in wives. I am only concerned with equality in children. If you must adjust your wife ratios to achieve that, I expect you to do so. I have spoken to Ceriniat about this, and she agrees.”

That didn’t surprise me. The linyang were also falling behind. Narilora was the biggest example, but several of the others had taken a while to get pregnant.

“I’ll see what I can do. But the others won’t like this, Loreloo especially.” Loreloo was the leader of the cunelo.

“I will deal with Loreloo.”

“All right. I don’t want to cause tensions, let alone open conflict. On that, aJia’jara and I were agreed.”

Varycibe nodded.

“I will send you the guards you requested.”

On the way back, Merindra walked close to me.

“Will, I support you, of course. And I’m happy that you want to maintain close relations with my clan. But I need to warn you that my grandmother is no one to be trifled with.”

“Okay.”

“I love her, but please never forget that gracious smile is made of teeth.”

When we got back to the house, I found Ayarala and explained the idea I’d gotten on the way to the meeting.

“I want to you start selecting a few sorai and linyang from the girls out front. Just a few, the best examples. That shouldn’t be hard.”

“I know what you like, Will. But Merindra is absolutely right. There will be consequences if we do this.”

“I’m prepared to handle it.”

She nodded. 

“I’ll talk to Kisarat, and we’ll get started right away.”

“Try not to make a big deal about it.”

She rolled her eyes.

“That part may be difficult. But you should talk to Eladra too.”

“That’s where I’m headed.”

“Good luck.” She rose up on her toes to kiss me. “I love you, makalang.”

I went upstairs to the third floor, where most of the wife quarters were. I found Eladra in one of the common rooms with several of the other cunelo girls. Most of my cunelo wives were new, but one of them was Lorelat, the cunelo among the lone group of five girls I’d mated with while in captivity under ajia’Jara. Lorelat had briefly fled the house with the other girls after my escape – save Merindra, who stayed – only to be sent right back by their clan leaders. After she got pregnant, she decided to stick around. I was glad, because she was one of those rare girls who are both extremely cute and extremely hot.

I came up behind Eladra and hugged her.

“Hey, bunny-girl.”

She leaned back and kissed me on the cheek.

“Hello, bunny-daddy.”

The other girls all yelled, “Bunny-daddy!” after her and clustered around us hugging me. Early on, they had turned my nickname for Eladra around as a term of endearment for me. I let myself enjoy the pressure of all the plump breasts around me – cunelo as a rule were heavy-chested – as well as the feel of the half-dozen baby bunny-girls I could sense in them. 

Then I pulled myself out, along with Eladra.

“I need to talk to you for a minute.”

I found a quiet spot in the hallway and explained my discussion with Varycibe to her. Her pretty face twisted in displeasure.

“That’s not fair.”

“She has a point about equality in offspring.”

“Cunelo have always been fertile. It’s just who we are. Everyone knows that. They knew that when they agreed to your plan. It’s not our fault.”

“And I told her that. But we have to do what it takes to keep everyone happy, or this could blow up very quickly. Then there’s nothing for anyone.”

She pouted in such a terminally cute way that I wavered for a moment. But there were too many important considerations here.

Eladra huffed at me.

“Fine. It’s up to you. You have to deal with all of them. I’ll make it work.”

I had put her in charge of “wife management,” basically what passed for HR in this household, and to her credit she had done pretty well keeping things even and equitable. It was just the cunelo fertility that threw the numbers out of whack.

Then I explained what I’d set Ayarala to do, and her eyes bulged.

“Will! That’s going to make things crazy out there! You have to know that.”

“I’m hoping we can manage it. Just check in with Ayarala today.”

“Yes, my tsulygoi.” She gave me a hug and a peck on the cheek, and I allowed myself a moment to play with her big breasts as she giggled against me. Then she went back to the other girls.

Frankly, I needed a drink after all that, so I went over to the sitting room across the hall. Ayarala had fully stocked the place with Taitalan liquor, particularly a variety I’d discovered on my initial trip to Phan-garad with Ayarala and Kisarat. Known as malvina, it tasted a bit like mango-flavored rum. I’d been a rum drinker back home, and this was the closest thing I’d found to it.

I poured myself a glass and went out on the balcony. The crowd below saw me and began calling up to me. I tipped my glass at them. Down below, I could see Ayarala talking to several of the guards.

Tsulygoi?”

Kisarat came up beside me. I leaned over and kissed her temple, and she nuzzled against me for a moment. I felt her tail caressing my leg.

“Ayarala told me of the events today, and your request.”

“And you have thoughts, as you always do.”

Kisarat was probably the smartest of my wives, having graduated from the Taitalan equivalent of college with what amounted to a dual degree in history and physics. There were a lot of things she could have done with her life had she not also been strikingly beautiful, which on Taitala meant she was destined to be a wife. 

“I do, Will. I appreciate your desire to maintain good relations with the clans, but I sense things are growing more tense by the day. You have upset an equilibrium that has existed for kumalatalons. Everyone accepted that mating was for the few, that children were rare, and births could not be obtained on demand. All of that has changed with the makalang here in the flesh.”

She looked out at the crowd.

“All these girls grew up with the fantasy of the makalang, thinking it to be only that. You need to appreciate how powerful that legend has been for so many. That power was held in check because there was no makalang to release it. But now you have done so.”

She sighed.

“If you give wings to their fantasies, Will, if you make them real by allowing a select few in here, I cannot predict what may happen.”

“We’ve got to do something. If we keep it under control like the clans have been doing, come up with some strict rules about who we pick. I mean, how bad could it get?”

As if in answer to my intended rhetorical question, that was the moment the first explosion came.


If you haven’t already, you can pre-order The Black Sky on Amazon.

The Black Sky, Chapter 1

The second novel in the Makalang series, The Black Sky, is available for pre-order now, and will be released Dec. 15. Since we’re getting close, I’m going to post a couple of sample chapters between now and then. The third installment, The Golden Staff, will be available to pre-order the same day, and I’m going to preview the cover next week.

Note that this sneak preview is very NSFW and contains some spoilers for Book 1. So proceed with caution.


There were days I could almost forget I was trapped on an alien world. Today was one of them. 

If I closed my eyes a bit, the sky above me wasn’t just a bit too purple, and the sun wasn’t just a little bit too small. I was simply lying in the sun beside the wading pool on the balcony of my newly acquired and very large house. As long as I didn’t look off to my right, out into the city, I didn’t see that the house resembled a Mayan temple, didn’t see the armed cat-girls patrolling the exterior, and didn’t see the clusters of not-quite human people outside the walls looking up at me.

But I didn’t want to keep my eyes closed for long, because that would mean not seeing my five beautiful wives as they lounged and played in the water. 

There was Ayarala, my first wife, who was the most human in appearance with her elfin features, pointed ears, and pale-to-translucent skin. She was of the Taitalan race of dwenda and had the purple eyes and metallic golden hair that was common amongst her kin. 

There was Kisarat, my second wife, the talalong with serpentine eyes, patches of scales across her skin, and a long snake-like tail. Her emerald hair sparkled in the sun like strands of green glass.

Narilora, my third wife, was linyang, the same race as the cat-girls patrolling my house. She had small cat-like ears poking out of her obsidian hair, feline green eyes, and a long, furred tail. Instead of nails, she had small retractable claws at the ends of her fingers.

Then there was Eladra, the cunelo, who looked like a literal Playboy bunny with her big breasts, long white ears, and a small fluffy tail. But that contrasted with her light brown hair, light blue eyes, and perpetually innocent expression that made her seem more like that girl who grew up next door.

Finally, there was Merindra, with her ruby hair, red-brown eyes, and a body like a lingerie model. She was sorai and had the foxlike ears and long fluffy tail that distinguished her race. She was the tallest of the five, though she barely came up to my chin. 

Taitalans were a short people, and I towered over everyone I’d met so far.

I watched them playing together but stayed where I was on the sunbed along the edge of the balcony. Swimsuits were not a thing on Taitala, so of course they were all naked. It made sense when you thought about it. Taitala was about 99.9% female, and absent patriarchal ideas about female modesty, there was no practical reason why you would need clothes to go swimming.

I had several dozen other wives, but these five were the inner circle and my favorites. The overall total was constantly fluctuating because of the agreement I’d worked out with the clan leaders.

When I arrived here six sampars ago – roughly two Earth months, as a sampar was ten Taitalan days – through a strange crystal cave in the mountains above San Diego, I was received as a legendary creature known as the makalang. The makalang was a sort of Taitalan analog to Bigfoot, that is if you imagined Bigfoot as the ideal specimen of masculinity. Taitalan males, who were about as rare here as a four-leaf clover on Earth, were effete, degenerate, three-foot-tall blue-skinned creatures who largely kept to themselves while the females ran everything.

Everything, that was, except the process of reproduction.

Taitalan females who wanted to bear children had to present themselves to a receptive male and hope to be chosen as wives, and then hope that their chosen male might get around to having sex with them some time within the next five or ten talons(a talon being a Taitalan year and about twice as long as a year on Earth). Because the act of reproduction was a very brief, mechanical process devoid of pleasure for either party, the males cared little for it except to the extent it allowed them to extort concessions from females.

And that was in the best of circumstances, which the present situation most certainly was not. Not only were Taitalan males generally uninterested in mating, it was a thing only the younger ones were able to do with any frequency. Males lived a lot longer than females – at least twice as long – but almost all of the males who were still alive were so old that they had little ability to mate at all. 

So few children, male or female, were being born now that their entire society was on the verge of extinction. I’d been told that it hadn’t always been this bad, but over the past several centuries – Taitalans used a unit known as a kumala-talon,roughly 80 Earth years – the number of male children, as well as their vitality, had been slowly declining. 

The upshot of this was that Taitalan civilization was dying.

Around this grew the legend of the makalang. The makalang, the stories went, was a tall, virile creature who took many Taitalan females as wives, mated with them regularly, and sired many strong children. So strong was the attraction of this legend that it supplied a substantial amount of plot material for the Taitalan equivalent of romance novels and dramas.

Except, as I’d found out, the makalang wasn’t just a legend. There had been other makalangs before me, and though there was still a great deal I didn’t know, I had come to the conclusion that the makalang played some key role in the survival of Taitala. 

My main job here, then, was to father as many children as possible. On that point, I was off to a good start. I figured Ayarala and Kisarat would be starting to show soon, while Eladra and Merindra likely wouldn’t for a while longer. About half of my other wives were also pregnant. 

Those other wives included some I’d taken from the previous owner of my house, a male named aJia’jara, who had tried to confine me in an assembly-line breeding operation. I, naturally, objected to this, and our disagreement ended with a sharp stick through his head. The custom on Taitala was that if a male with wives and assets – the term was tsulygoi – defeated another in combat, the winning male took all the loser’s wives and possessions. So I ended up with a house, lots of females, and a shit-ton of Taitalan money. 

The remainder of my current wives had been sent by the leaders of the clans. I agreed to do what I could to give them children, though I insisted on keeping my wives here instead of having females come and go. Some of the pregnant ones had since returned to their clans, but as I also agreed to let them go if they wanted to, that wasn’t an issue for me. It cleared out room for the next batch. There was only so much room in my house, after all. By working through the clans, I figured we could keep things fairly orderly.

Though my idea worked well at first, the approach was starting to show its limitations. Once word got out that the makalang was real and living in Phan-garad – this city I now resided in – quite a lot of females were not willing to wait for the clan leaders to decide who got to mate and who didn’t. 

Day after day, females from all five races were showing up outside the gate to my compound wanting to be considered as wives. That was why I had a group of linyang guards controlling entry. Some of the guards had been aJia’jara’s; others had been sent by Ceriniat, the leader of the linyang, who lived more or less next door to me in what was the wealthiest area of the city. 

It wasn’t that I didn’t sympathize with these females. It was more that the clan leaders wanted to make the most of the opportunity I presented, and they wanted to ensure that I was inclined to continue mating with their females as long as I could. So they’d been sending me the most beautiful, intelligent, and skillful girls they could find, though each clan differed in what skills they prioritized. Dwenda were mostly healers and administrators; talalong were scientists and scholars; linyang and sorai were fighters; and the cunelo focused on domestic skills. Given all that, I just didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with the random girls at my door.

Today’s crowd was the largest yet. I looked down from the balcony out across the field, seeing about a hundred females of all races milling around and looking up at me as I sat by the pool. Many of them held crystal tubes to their eyes, which I knew functioned similarly to binoculars; others held signs written in Taitalan. I didn’t understand their language yet, but my wives told me they said things like Makalang, pick me! and Please mate with me and I will be your wife.

Merindra rose from the pool and walked slowly in my direction, squeezing the water out of her ruby hair and long tail. She shook herself briefly in a manner that reminded me of a wet dog, except for the way her firm breasts bounced around as she did it. 

She climbed onto the sunbed, straddling my legs, and I reached up to play with her damp boobs. She bent down to kiss me, then looked out toward the crowd.

“They’re watching. Should we give them a show?”

Almost on cue, I could hear murmuring from the crowd.

“No need to be mean.”

“I’m teasing. We should go inside. Narilora is waiting.”

I looked behind her. My cat-girl had disappeared. 

“Lead the way.”

She stood up, taking my hand. The crowd moaned in disappointment as we went inside.

I found Narilora lying in our bed. All of my five main wives were close and good friends, but they had certain dynamics amongst them, and Narilora and Merindra had taken to each other in a way I found intensely arousing. It was probably because both of them were deadly warriors, and they enjoyed sparring with each other and me regularly. They tended to view sparring as foreplay, so our workout sessions often ended in sex.

I lay down between them, and for a little while we just kissed and fondled each other. Then the girls slid down and took turns using their mouths on me. Oral sex between males and females didn’t exist on Taitala – mating was about children, not pleasure – but once I explained how it worked on Earth, my wives all embraced it eagerly.

I withstood their attentions as long as I could before pulling Merindra up to my mouth and Narilora onto my hips. She backed down on to my erection as the two of them came together above me, kissing. 

One of the weird things about being the makalang was that I could sense the emotions and arousal of my wives on a visceral level, as a sort of unique telepathy-empathy. I couldn’t read their thoughts, but it was enough for me to understand what they were saying even though they were speaking Taitalan. And it also allowed me to know exactly what they enjoyed in bed. 

So as Merindra rode my tongue and Narilora rode my dick, I could feel them growing closer to orgasm, could feel everything inside them as if it was happening to me. And this same weird connection also caused me to absorb energy from their bodies at climax, drawing it out of them. Among other things, the process dramatically accelerated my healing abilities. And if I did it enough times in a short period, I grew strong enough to, among other things, wipe out an angry group of armed linyang without a scratch, which I’d done escaping from the cell aJia’jara had me confined in.

Narilora came first, legs shaking, tail thrashing over my legs, and fell to the side. Merindra fell forward, taking me back in her mouth. Then she shivered in release herself, thighs and tail battering my head. 

I let her coast down, then rolled her over. I sat up on my knees and moved between her legs. She welcomed me into her. 

Taitalan males, with their tiny stature, had penises about the size of an average earthworm. That meant the females had some adjustments to make when I came along. My wives were used to me now, but they were all still wonderfully, deliciously tight. I looked down at Merindra as I drove into her, watching her breasts shake under me and a lustful look contort her face.

I wasn’t going to last long. But as I grew close to orgasm, she began tapping my hips.

Tsulygoi . . . my body is yours . . . but you should give your seed to Narilora.”

Shit. I had forgotten about that. I stopped and withdrew. But before I could do anything, Narilora jumped up from the bed and ran over to a couch across the room. She pulled her knees up to her chest and looked out the window.

I went after her, sitting down next to her and hugging her. But she remained rigid in my arms, and I could see she was fighting tears.

“Hey, hey, pussy-cat, it’s okay.”

“I don’t need your pity.”

“It’s not pity. We just want what you want.”

She tried to pull away from me.

“I failed you as a warrior, and now I have failed you as a wife.”

She was referring to the fight with aJia’jara, when he’d taken her hostage. I’d killed him, but he’d then nearly killed her. Only the energy I’d stored during my escape had been enough to heal her.

“You did not fail me. I couldn’t have escaped in the first place if you hadn’t unlocked the door.”

“I should not have been taken like that. I knew he was in there, yet he surprised me like a rank kitten.”

“We beat him. We. You were part of it.”

Fine. We beat him. Then maybe I should join the guards. I am of no use to you otherwise.”

I pulled her to me again, and this time she relaxed, leaning against me and crying.

“Babe, it’s only been a few sampars. These things don’t always happen right away.”

“Yet you have somehow put every other female in this house with child.”

I wanted to say, not every one, but I knew that wasn’t the point.

“Even your bunny-girl,” she spat, using my term of endearment for Eladra.

“Hey. That’s not fair. This has nothing to do with her.”

She sighed.

“I am sorry. I love Eladra. I do. But she conceived the very night you took her for the first time. I am sure of it. Kisarat as well, and likely Merindra. Yet I have nothing despite all the times we have mated.”

Merindra had come over, sitting behind me.

Awasa-late, if I could give this child to you to ease your anguish, I would.”

Narilora climbed over me to embrace Merindra. I held them both. 

“I want you to have many strong children, awasa-late,” Narilora said, using the Taitalan term for sister-wife. “I just wish that for myself as well. Even one.”

She took my hand and put it on Merindra’s stomach. The emotional connection I had with my wives, when I tried, also allowed me to sense the children within them. And I could sense our daughter within Merindra, a tiny little spark of Merindra-and-Will energy in her belly. A tiny fox-girl. I knew, somehow, that it was female, as were all the children I’d fathered so far. 

I would almost certainly never see a male child, given how the birthrate was even more skewed than the population. Maybe one in a thousand Taitalans was male, but at best one in ten thousand births these days produced a male child. Those few females who did so were regarded as something like Super Bowl MVPs, if not national heroes. So rare was it now that most Taitalans could name every female in their clan who had birthed a male child in the last two kumalatalons.

Narilora pulled my hand back and put it on her stomach.

“I’m sorry, baby,” was all I could say.

She sighed, then rose, taking our hands.

“One more try, then.”

We went back to bed. I finished inside her. Then we held each other, hoping.

A Glossary of Taitalan Names

A number of readers of The Scarlet Cavern have complained about an inability to keep all the Taitalan names and terminology straight. So, in order to help with that, I have updated the Kindle file on Amazon with a glossary of the Taitalan words used in the book (as well as the map I posted a few days ago). It’s posted below for anyone wanting to review.

aJia’jara – (AH-gia-jara) A Taitalan male in Phan-garad.

Alag – (AH-lag) a beverage distilled from fruit; similar to wine.

Awasa-late – (ah-wa-suh-LAH-tay) sister-wife; used as a form of address and sometimes term of endearment between wives.

Awasa-lina – (ah-wa-suh-LEE-nah) mother-wife; the senior female among a tsulygoi’s wives and typically the one responsible for overall management of his household. May or may not be the first wife claimed.

Busang – (BOO-sang) a predator similar to a black, six-legged mountain lion.

Cunelo – (coo-NAY-lo) one of the Taitalan races. They have rabbit-like ears and tails.

Dubigar – (DO-big-are) a fruit; its juice can be used in healing.

Dwenda – (DWEN-duh) one of the Taitalan races. They have pale skin and pointed ears.

iXa’aliq – (ih-SHE-a-leek) A Taitalan male; Kisarat and Narilora’s first tsulygoi.

Kabayang – (KA-buh-yang) a domestic animal resembling a six-legged orange llama.

Kiralabar – (cur-AH-la-bar) a flower. It can be distilled into a narcotic-like drug.

Kumala – (coo-MA-la) the second star in the Taitalan system.

Kumala-talon – (coo-MA-la-ta-lun) a unit of time equal to one circuit of Kumala across the Taitalan sky, which takes about 40 talons.

Langoy – (LAN-goy) meteorite iron.

Linyang – (LIN-yang) one of the Taitalan races. They have cat-like ears and tails.

Makalang – (MAH-kuh-lang) a legendary creature roughly analogous to Bigfoot.

Malvina – (mal-VEE-nuh) a liquor distilled from alag.

Massit – (MAH-sit) a beverage brewed from ground nuts and seeds. Similar to coffee.

Matsak – (MAT-sack) a small animal resembling a six-legged black koala.

Nalasin – (nuh-LA-sin) the state of a wife who has mated and whose tsulygoi has died, or of a wife who left her tsulygoi after mating. She is expected to live alone and not mate again.

Panikang – (PA-nih-kang) one of the Taitalan races.

Pikala – (pi-KA-lah) a unit of money.

Sampar – (SAM-par) a period of time equal to ten days.

Sorai – (SO-rye) one of the Taitalan races. They have fox-like ears and tails.

Talalong – (TA-luh-long) one of the Taitalan races. They have snake-like tails, scales, and venomous fangs.

Talon – (TA-lun) the Taitalan year, equal to 72 sampars.

Tatanga – (tuh-TANG-ga) the third star in the Taitalan system.

Tsulygoi – (SOO-lih-goy) a Taitalan male who has claimed at least one wife. The term is generally used as an honorific form of address by his wives. 

A Map of Taitala

Now that the first book of the Makalang series is out, I thought I’d share one thing I have planned for Book 2, which is a map of the area where the series takes place. The problem with mapping is that making an attractive, professional-looking one can be challenging. I’m a words guy, not a picture guy, which is why I don’t do my own covers or cover art. But it turns out there is some pretty good fantasy mapping software out there.

After some research, I settled on an app called Wonderdraft, and if you’re at all conversant with Photoshop (I am), it’s very easy to pick up. What you see up there is what I came up with. It’s probably not done, but that’s the general vision I have for the world.

The Black Sky is Coming

As I type this, The Scarlet Cavern, the first book in my new series The Makalang is about to be released for sale on Amazon. I’ve been pleased with the pre-order sales, so I’m throwing you all a little bonus. The second book, The Black Sky, will be available for pre-order about the same time The Scarlet Cavern goes live (and if you read Book 1, you’ll see there’s a little Easter egg in the title to this post).

What you see there is the cover, and I’m just as thrilled with how it came out as the first one. The Black Sky will be released Dec. 15. It’s written but in draft form at the moment, and still needs some polish. But I’m excited to make it available for order now.

The Scarlet Cavern, Ch. 3

The Scarlet Cavern is now available for pre-order on Amazon with an October 23 release date. To celebrate, I’m posting one more preview chapter. If you missed the previous posts, chapter 1 is here and chapter 2 is here.


3.

She was still squeezed into the hollow in the rock wall.

“Are you okay?”

She yelled something at me, but again I didn’t understand it. She was speaking some language I didn’t know, or maybe just babbling. I walked over to the bottom of the cliffside. She was about ten feet up, having clearly scrambled up to avoid the mountain lion–thing.

She yelled again.

“What are you?”

Several things struck me at once. First, what. Not who. What. The second was that, though her voice and speech sounded the same as it had before, I understood her now, in a way that made the bump on my head throb.

“Uh, my name’s Will. I’m kind of lost.”

She looked down at me, not responding right away. I got a better look at her now, and my forehead wrinkled in confusion. For a moment, I wondered if she was part of some other LARP group that had gotten lost like I did.

For one, her hair wasn’t exactly blonde. It appeared to be dyed or tinted in some way that made it appear like long strands of silver and gold, which shimmered in the sunlight over our heads. She was wearing purple costume contact lenses, and she’d put some kind of fake points on her ears.

She was pretty, beautiful even, with fine features and sculpted cheekbones, though I couldn’t quite tell how old she was. Anywhere from eighteen to thirty.

“Do you need help getting down? That . . . thing is dead.”

She shifted her feet, not moving to come down. She still held tightly onto her knife, which also looked like a costume piece. Not metal – more like a strip of plastic.

“Thank you. The busang found me by the river. I only just reached this cliff in time.”

Again, her words made no sense to my ears, but somehow my head still understood them. Even the meaning of busang, though it had no English analog in my brain, was clear – a fierce, flesh-eating cat, albeit one with six legs.

“What are you?” she asked again.

“I . . . I’m not sure how to answer that. What are you?”

“I am Ayarala, of the dwenda. My tsulygoi died several sampars ago. I have mated. What can you tell me of you?”

Again, some of her words were clear; others were just wrapped in connotations I somehow understood. Dwenda was her people, apparently. Sampar was a period of time that seemed like several days, maybe eight to twelve. Tsulygoi gave me an array of connotations – master, mate, father, and some others I didn’t quite catch.

How was all this getting into my head?

This girl was not a LARPer. Either I was still hallucinating, or something else was going on here.

“Uh, I’m Will Hawthorne. I’m a financial analyst. I’m not from around here, I think.” Then I added, “I have mated, but I guess I’m not mated anymore. I have two kids.”

Her purple eyes widened.

“You have fathered children?”

The amazed look on her face, as preposterous as it seemed, appeared totally genuine. I pushed the painful truth down in my head and answered her.

“Uh, yeah. Cassie is six. Hunter is three. My wife and I are divorced. We share custody.”

Ayarala slid out of the alcove and climbed down to the ground. Standing in front of her, I realized she was quite short, maybe five-two at best. Her body was athletic and toned, and she wore a simple form-fitting top and leggings that were dirty and torn. A bag I hadn’t seen was on a strap over her shoulder.

As I looked closely at her face, I realized she was not wearing contacts, at least no costume contacts I’d ever seen before. Her big eyes looked genuinely purple. There was none of the opacity you saw in colored contacts.

And her hair truly looked like spun gold. Not a dye – metal. The luster of it in the sunlight was nothing you could achieve with a tint.

But the real kicker was her skin, which I hadn’t noticed up in the alcove. It was pale to the point of being translucent, almost crystalline. And her ears – I saw nothing at all that looked fake. They were pointed slightly but noticeably. No sign of makeup or a prosthesis. In fact, I could almost see through them.

She was definitely beautiful, by human standards. But she was not human. Close, but not quite, which I found rather odd if I was somehow on an alien world.

Yeah, this had to be a concussion. Best to ride it out.

Ayarala was sizing me up too, looking me up and down repeatedly, and not quite believing what she saw either.

“You are not from here? Where did you come from?”

“I fell down into a cave. I hit my head. I followed the cave and came out here. But the cave is closed now.” I motioned around us. “This place is not like my home, wherever it is.”

“Taitala.”

“What?”

“Our world. What is the name of yours?”

“California. Earth.”

Ayarala nodded. Then she looked over at the busang I had killed.

“You are a strong fighter. Very few males are.”

She knelt down and began carving up the beast with her knife. It wasn’t plastic, or even fake at all. It sliced through the flesh almost effortlessly. It had to be glass, or crystal.

“What are you doing?”

“I have not eaten today. This is a young busang, so the meat should be tender. Are you able to make a fire?”

That I could. As Ayarala carved out a large muscle from the beast’s mid-leg, I gathered up some fallen branches and twigs. The wood was different from anything I was familiar with, but the basic approach seemed to be the same. I set up a neat pile of wood with enough kindling under it to get going. But when I drew my lighter out of my pack, she looked over at me.

“What is that?”

“It will light the fire.” I drew a flame and set it to the kindling. In a minute or two the fire was stable and growing.

“May I see?” she asked.

I handed it to her. She turned it over in her hands a few times. I showed her how to light the flame.

“Interesting. I have something similar.”

Ayarala drew a small crystalline cylinder from her bag. There was a slide on it. When she pushed it forward, a stream of sparks shot out of the front. She let me look at it, though its workings were a mystery.

“Can I see your knife?” I asked.

She handed it to me. It had a hilt and cross-guard made of some kind of resin, and the blade was definitely crystal, harder and heavier than glass. The luster was different, glossier. But contrary to what I had expected, it wasn’t just a shard, like some prehistoric obsidian blade, chipped to a useable shape. It was a symmetrical blade with a straight, even edge that was so fine my eyes could barely even focus on it. This was a finished, manufactured knife, not a primitive handmade tool. And as I looked closer, I realized there was some kind of core to it, something opaque inside the crystal. It looked as if the crystal had grown around it.

“The weaponsmiths in our village make them.”

“Do they polish these from raw crystals?”

She gave me a mildly confused look.

“No, they make the crystals. A natural crystal would be too brittle. They grow them around a core. Then it is strong.”

I passed it back to her, trying to remember if I’d heard of anything like that before. I’d seen ceramic knives, but nothing like hers.

We set up a spit to roast the meat once the fire got going.

“What happened to your wife?” she asked a few minutes later. “She left you once she was with child?”

“Uh, not quite. After our kids were born . . . I found out she was more interested in another man. Then she left.”

Ayarala nodded. “I see. This other tsulygoi took her away? He must have been a great warrior to take a wife from you.”

That was not exactly how I would have described Richard, who was a lawyer who worked for Jacqueline’s company, unless you defined “great warrior” as “having twice my annual income.” But that wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have with this girl.

“Something like that.”

“You have no other wives?”

I looked up.

“What? Is that how it works here?”

“A strong tsulygoi has many wives. But there are not many strong tsulygoi anymore. Mine was old and weak. His other wives left because he would not mate with them. I stayed, but he died before I could conceive a child.”

I nodded. The smell of the cooking busang was like a mix of deer and chicken. I realized I was still hungry, as I hadn’t eaten much of the food I’d packed out of fear I would need it.

“Are you planning to find another – ” I struggled with the pronunciation “ – tsulygoi?”

“No. It is very unlikely. There is only one other in this area, and he refused me when I came to his home. It was foolish of me to even ask.”

“Is this area that sparsely settled?”

“There are many females. But only that one tsulygoi.”

I thought for a moment.

“So, there are many females here, but only a few males?”

“Yes. Is it not so in your land?”

“Not really.”

She looked at me.

“You have no wife now? For a male such as you, that seems very strange to me.”

I laughed weakly. “It seems strange to me too.” I definitely wasn’t looking to get married again any time soon, but I understood her point.

“You should claim a wife.”

I laughed again.

“It’s not that easy.”

“Is it not?”

I cocked an eyebrow at her.

“What?”

“Did you not claim your wife on Earth? How did you find her?”

“We met in college. We got married a few years after that. Do the males here just go around claiming wives?”

She seemed as confused by what I’d just said as I was by what she’d told me.

“Yes.”

“Wait. You’re saying, if I said, ‘I claim you,’ that would be it?”

Ayarala eye’s widened a bit, then got sad.

“Not for me, but for my people, yes. The talalong are much the same. For the cunelo, linyang and sorai, it is a bit more complicated.”

The names meant little beyond something akin to dwenda. More tribes, I supposed.

“Why not for you?”

She sighed.

“I have mated, and my tsulygoi died. No one will have me now.”

“Just because of that?”

“Once a female has mated, she belongs to that tsulygoi, unless another takes her away. But if he dies, or she leaves him, she is nalasin.”

Untethered, or untied, it felt like.

“So no male would want me.”

That . . . seemed more than a little surprising. Ayarala seemed young, and she was beautiful. I’d always had a thing for short girls – Jacqueline was five-four – and Ayarala, alien though she appeared, was hotter than any girl I’d spent any real time with in the last year.

“I find that a bit hard to believe.”

She shrugged, but said nothing more.


When the meat was done, we ate quietly. I wasn’t a hundred-percent sure I could eat something like this, but it tasted kind of like pork and didn’t give me a seizure or even an upset stomach. The sun was at the top of the sky when we finished.

“So what now?” I asked. “I don’t know this area at all. Are there settlements? Other people like you?”

“There are a few small villages of my people within a day or two of walking. Do you seek wives? You will not find them there.”

“Not really, but why not? You said this land was mostly females.”

“It is. But the dwenda females worthy of mating have all left to seek tsulygois, or were taken by them. You would not find a female you would wish take as a wife that way.”

Worthy of mating? I decided to leave that alone for now.

“Then what?”

“There is the tsulygoi I mentioned. His home is not far from here. Perhaps half a day. You should go and take his wives. He had two when I came to him.”

Alien world or not, this ongoing obsession with who had what wives was starting to grate on me. I wasn’t looking for any wives right now, let alone two.

Besides which, after what I’d gone through with Richard, taking someone else’s wives did not appeal to me in the slightest. I wasn’t about to do to this guy what Richard had done to me. About the only thing that sustained me during the worst of it was feeling like I had the moral high ground.

Thinking of Richard made me think of Cassie and Hunter. I was getting too comfortable, whether or not I was actually in a coma. One way or another, I had to get out and back home.

“Will you help me with this?” I asked. “For a few days at least? I don’t know what I can do to repay you, but I’ll find something.”

“You saved me from the busang, Will of Hawthorne. That is enough. I will help you.”


The Scarlet Cavern will be released October 23. Pre-order your copy on Amazon.