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. 

Great News for Audiobook Fans

I’ll be honest that I have never listened to an audiobook. Not one, ever. They just aren’t my thing. But I understand they’re very popular and lots of people prefer audiobooks to ebooks or print books. So I did look into creating audiobook versions of The Makalang. What stopped me is related to why I don’t do my own covers. Simply put, I don’t know anything at all about audiobook production. As in, substantially less than I do about producing a winning book cover. While it is certainly possible to self-publish audiobooks, and there are tools available to make it relatively easy, it requires more up-front costs than ebooks. Worse, having no clear idea what makes a good audiobook, I was at risk of spending a lot of money for something fans wouldn’t buy. That, plus uncertain returns deterred me from looking seriously into it.

Then, about a week ago, I got an email out of the blue from Tantor Media asking about audio rights for The Makalang. Understand that scammers are a problem with self-published books, and this isn’t the first cold email I’ve gotten proposing some kind of get-rich-quick arrangement. I’ve always ignored them. Except this email looked much more professional than the others. I checked out Tantor, and it turned out that they’re the largest independent audiobook production company, with tens of thousands of books in their catalog. This was a legit query.

So I’m very pleased to announce that after some back and forth, Tantor and I have reached a fair deal for the audio rights, and audiobooks for Makalang 1-4 will be coming out starting later this year. I’ll post more when things start to firm up.

Enter The Ebony Void

So, as I mentioned a while back, despite what some readers feared, The Crimson Star is not the end of The Makalang series. Book 5, The Ebony Void, will be out later this spring (I haven’t decided on the release date yet). And since I just got the final cover art from Kenshjn Park, I wanted to share a small snippet of it. The full cover reveal will come later this month.

If you notice a shift in theme here, that’s not an accident. Things take something of a shift for Will and his family over the next few books. And in case you were wondering what a bottle of kerasak looks like, well, here you go. (And no, that’s not Ayarala up there.)

Astronomers Discover Taitala?

[**SOME SPOILERS HERE**]

So, an interesting thing came across my desk today. If you’ve been reading The Makalang so far, you know that Will is trapped on a world orbiting one of the stars in the binary Alpha Centauri system, specifically around Alpha Centauri A. I did a fair amount of research into getting the astronomy reasonably accurate, but at the time, no planets had yet been discovered in the system. That’s no longer the case.

An article in Nature Communications that came out yesterday identifies a “Neptune-sized” exoplanet orbiting Alpha Centauri A. The mass suggests that it’s probably a gas giant or planetary disk, but if there’s one planet, hey, there could very well be others, smaller, rocky and Earth-like like Taitala. So I took the liberty of revising one of the figures from the article to suggest where Taitala might be.

More Random Thoughts on The Makalang

With The Golden Staff out and The Crimson Star up for pre-order, I’ve noticed some comments from reviewers worrying that Book 4 represents the end of the series. So, let me clear things up: The Crimson Star is not the end – not even close. Certain parts of the story arc do end in this book, but the series will continue through what I plan as an eight-book series. I’m currently working on Book 7, and things are shaping up for an epic conclusion in Book 8.

If you’re curious, these are the remaining titles:

The Ebony Void (#5)

The Emerald Circlet (#6)

The Cerulean Sword (#7)

The Silver Crown (#8 – this is a working title since I haven’t even started it)

I don’t have covers for any of these and #5 and #6 are still in rough draft, so they won’t be out for a while. I’m spacing them about two months apart because that’s how long it takes me to write, edit, and proof, create the ebook file, and work with the artist to create the cover. The last three are shaping up to be a bit heftier than the earlier books (#6 came in at 84k words and #7 may equal that), so it may take a little longer to get those out.

What comes next? As it happens, I have another harem series in the works, one I’m calling Demon Hunter. It’s best described as urban harem fantasy, with some quirks. There’s a succubus in it, as well as a bunch of demons, sorcerers, and the same kind of spunky harem girls that fill up The Makalang (though considerably fewer of them). It’s set in academia, but it is decidedly not a “magic academy” story. (I’ve yet to read a single one of those that wasn’t a Potteresque knock-off at heart, and I refuse to contribute another one to the genre.) I plan this as a trilogy and I actually have drafts of the first two books done, but I’m still working out what to do with the conclusion. So I’m going to finish The Makalang first.

[glances around nervously]

And then, I may just get back into Twin Magic. No promises. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Golden Staff, Chapter 2

Book 3 of The Makalang series, The Golden Staff, will drop this Friday, so I’m posting one more preview chapter today. Enjoy!

Chapter 1, if you missed it, is here.


2.

Mereceeree disappeared into the night as she usually did. I had asked her and the panikang who followed her to serve as my intelligence network in Phan-garad, and they had done so very effectively. But as I fully expected when I claimed her that night up in the mountains, she followed her own whims and instincts in doing so, coming and going as she pleased. The panikang her mother wished me to mate with were the same, slipping into my bed at night only to disappear before dawn. That had been our agreement, and my other wives had learned to sleep through it.

But I needed to know more about the circle she mentioned. If she wasn’t going to tell me, there was a way I could find out for myself. 

I found the big prismatic crystal I’d taken from the cave on the mountain where the panikang lived. By experimenting with it, I had learned that I didn’t need to hold it in my hands or even carry it to use it, though my abilities were sharpest when I did. As long as it was near me – within a few feet – I could still use it to focus myself. So I usually didn’t carry it around because doing so gave me too clear a sense of everything going on around me. It was too much information on a day-to-day basis. But I needed it to use the crystal circles.

Without Mereceeree, I needed another wife to help me, one who could see in the dark nearly as well as she could. And Narilora needed to stay safely in the house. 

Merindra was in the workout room, exercising in a tight top and leggings, swinging a pair of plastic practice swords around against the targets I set up for me and my wives to spar with. She stopped as I came in, walking up to me.

“Will?”

“I need you for something. We need to go somewhere tonight.”

Her face lit up.

“Now?”

“Yes. Get geared up.”

“Just the two of us?”

I saw the eager look on her eyes. 

“Yes, foxy girl. Just us.”

I didn’t know what we were getting into, and given Mereceeree’s reaction to the idea, I didn’t want to take any chances. So I went to the office to get on my carbon-fiber LARP armor and strapped on my katana, and then gathered the rest of the gear we would need. When I was suited up, Merindra arrived in her sorai armor, which was a similar though lighter kind of composite, and her paired crystal swords.

I briefly explained my conversation with Mereceeree and what I wanted to do. Her face paled a little, but she didn’t waver. 

“Do you think this is wise, Will? If she warned against it?”

“She just said she didn’t know what was on the other end. All I want to do is check it out. I’m convinced there’s something significant there, and the fact that there are others controlling the crystal circles tells me they might be able help us.”

“Or resist us.”

“Which is why we’re not taking any chances here. We’ll go, check it out, and come back.”

Merindra nodded.

“Lead me, my tsulygoi. I will follow.”

I waited until it was fairly late, and we slipped out the back gate. Merindra and I walked for about half an hour before we reached the building with the crystal circle. The panikang had destroyed much of the first floor to make it impossible for anyone to simply walk up and stumble across it. But knowing it was there, Merindra and I were able to cast a rope up around an old pillar and climb up.

The circle was hidden in a room in the center of the second floor, away from any windows. Merindra could see just fine, but I needed my crystal flashlight to get my bearings. The ring of crystals was still there, unchanged from when I’d come back here with Mereceeree and Eladra.

“Just stand with me. This likely won’t feel like anything for you, if I’m even able to do it.”

Merindra followed me into the circle, standing next to me. Then I paused.

“Listen,” I said. “If I haven’t asked you along on things like this until now, it’s not because I don’t believe in you, or want you with me. I do. It’s because the first fight Narilora followed me into almost killed her. And because of all the stuff that happened afterward. I don’t want to go through any of that with you.”

She closed with me, kissing me gently.

“I want you to love me for who I am, Will. All of me. Not just this face you love to stare at.”

“I do.”

“I’m sorai. I’m a fighter like Narilora. You cannot keep me in a box like something you’re afraid of breaking.” 

“Understood, babe. That’s why you’re here.”

She nodded, shooting me a brief smile.

“Then let’s go.”

She checked her swords and then loosened up her arms, stretching them to either side. 

“You have no idea where this goes?” she asked.

“Yama-Kana. Beyond that, no.”

She smiled again.

“Then I am eager to see what we find.”

I took out the crystal and focused myself. The process itself wasn’t complicated. I could feel the circle around us, and in a moment, in my mind’s eye, I saw the circle in the mountains where the panikang lived. I’d been there, and it felt familiar. That time I was following Mereceeree’s instructions and only concentrated on getting us to Phan-garad. 

Now, I just looked out, trying to see if there were other connections. Gradually, I began to sense something. More than one. There were others, unfamiliar ones. Something told me not to probe too deeply, but the realization was fascinating – where did they all go? 

I saw the one in Yama-Kana. I couldn’t see Yama-Kana, but somehow I sensed that was the destination. It was being used, frequently, and the texture of it suggested the destination just as the circles in the mountain and Phan-garad did.

But beyond that, it felt different in other ways. The circles in Phan-garad and in the mountains had a certain flavor to them, which I realized a moment later was similar to Mereceeree’s energy and that of the other panikang. That made sense, since they’d created and maintained these two circles. The one in Yama-Kana had a different sort of flavor. The closest thing to it was – 

Kisarat.

A talalong had created this circle. That sent a thrill through my gut. Could it have been the talalong who approached Silas? But that had been three kumala-talons ago, and the circle felt newer somehow. 

I tried to see around it, but I realized immediately that this wasn’t a method of seeing things far away. I could sense the circle and get a vague sense of where it was in relation to the ones I’d used, but nothing else. It was just there. So we would have to go and look.

“Okay, get ready.”

“I’m ready.”

I formed a bubble of energy around us and concentrated on the circle in Yama-Kana. A tunnel formed before me. After that, a mere thought was enough to pull us there. 

And we were in Yama-Kana.

Merindra spoke up immediately, alarmed. 

Will?”

The room was dark, and there was an unpleasant smell around us, something foul and corrupt.

“We’re here.”

Then I heard Merindra drawing her swords. She growled in a way I’d only ever heard her do when she was facing some kind of threat.

Will, turn on your light.”

I had it clipped to my chest. When I turned it on, I saw were in a large room, maybe fifty feet across and twice that long. The walls were mortared stone, and the ceiling twenty feet above us was held up with thick wooden beams. It looked like an old storeroom or warehouse of some sort, because there were boxes here and there around the room. The crystal circle around us was different in design from the one in Phan-garad and more like the one up in the mountains: older, more detailed and deliberate.

And I saw what had alarmed Merindra. We weren’t alone.

Around us, standing motionless, were eight or ten figures. A mix of talalong, linyang, and sorai, almost all of them young. 

But something was wrong. Very wrong. I saw it because I still held the crystal in my hand, which allowed me to see all the details of the energy in every living thing around me. I saw Merindra, pure and strong, and our baby inside her. 

But in the others around us, I saw the thing I’d done to Narilora when I was trying to heal her. When I’d filled her with foreign energies and nearly destroyed her own. I’d fixed her. But in the process of fixing her, I asked Phareewee, Mereceeree’s mother and the old panikang at the head of their clan, what would have happened if Narilora’s energy had faded away and left the rest behind.

The thing that is her would certainly have died, she told me. Whether her body would have died with her is another question. Most likely it would have, but it is possible those other energies could have sustained it. Sustained it as something that should not exist.

These things around me should not have existed, but they did.

I saw it. Every one of them was animated by energies foreign to their bodies, with nothing of the original left behind. I didn’t want to call them mindless, for each one had some sort of consciousness, but it was a consciousness alien to their bodies. And as I began to appreciate what they were, I could see another layer to it, something controlling them.

The moment or two it took me to absorb all this was the same moment or two it took them to become aware of our presence. 

And they moved to attack.

I shoved the crystal back into my bag and drew my katana. But we were surrounded.

“Breakout! That way!”

I charged toward the closest group with Merindra beside me. The nearest figure to me was a linyang with a crystal shortsword, and I swung my katana down in a cross strike at her. She tried to dodge, but she wasn’t as fast as linyang usually were, and my blade bit deeply into her shoulder. She went down.

Next to me, Merindra faced a talalong with a staff. The talalong struck as she closed in, but my fox-girl blocked the strike with her longsword, then shoved her short blade through the talalong’s eye. 

We were through the ring surrounding us, but I saw almost immediately that we had nowhere to go. The room ended in a blank wall. I spun around. Far at the other end was what looked like a set of double doors. We would have to fight our way out.

The remaining seven, whatever they were – crystal zombies seemed apt – were closing with us in a semi-circle. We’d surprised them with that first charge, but I didn’t want to try it again, at least not until we’d killed a few more of them. We backed up against the wall.

“You wanted to have some fun,” I said to Merindra.

“Yes,” she said evenly.

“Be careful what you wish for.”

Another talalong with a staff came at me, but instead of blocking it, I struck right at her staff. Taitala was a world with almost no metal and certainly not enough for anyone to create a sword like mine. I realized through a few fights that no one on this planet was used to fighting a big, heavy blade with the power to simply cleave through obstacles. The crystal swords they used here were almost impossibly sharp, but because they were also quite light, they were finesse weapons, and fighting styles had evolved around that. 

The talalong’s staff snapped under my katana, and I continued the blow right into her neck. I lost some power doing it, but there was enough left to open a gash that immediately let out a spurt of blood. She fell to her knees, and I kicked her away from me.

A sorai came at me with her two blades, and it was all I could do to block her strikes with a downward cut. A linyang on the other side used that opening to come slicing in at me, and her blade scraped across my chestplate. I had to lean to my side and throw a roundhouse kick at her. I connected with her head, but not before she got her blade up, and I felt a white-hot line of pain across my calf.

Merindra was engaged with a talalong and a linyang. I looked up just to see her parry the linyang’s strike and lunge forward with both swords in a scissor motion, nearly decapitating the cat-girl-thing. But the talalong took that opportunity to strike with her staff and grazed Merindra’s head. She lost her bearings for a moment. 

I couldn’t do anything for her, because the sorai I was facing was still coming at me. In sparring with Merindra, I’d learned ways of defending myself against the two-bladed style they used, and this sorai was not as skilled as Merindra was. But it took a couple of exchanges before I found an opening and cleaved her neck open with a cross strike. 

I could tell Merindra was starting to weaken. There were just too many of them and only two of us. She fell back toward the other corner of the room. The linyang I’d kicked was down but not dead, having rolled away from me. I still had one talalong to deal with, but she was just far enough away that I could get past her to Merindra.

Merindra still had the talalong with the staff and another sorai facing her. The sorai had her back to me, and I struck hard at her. But just as I did, the talalong let out a wordless cry of alarm, and the sorai spun around. Rather than the strike at her neck I intended, I instead took off one of her arms, just as Merindra used the distraction to shove both of her blades through the talalong’s chest. 

I expected the sorai to scream as her arm came off and a fountain of blood shot across the wall, but she didn’t. She just turned toward me, lunging with her remaining short blade. It was a weak strike that I blocked easily, and it brought me close enough to see into her eyes. 

They were dead. Empty. No life at all. 

I had no time to consider what that meant. I shoved her to her knees, knowing the shock and blood loss would take care of her, and spun around to see the last linyang coming at me in a flying strike. I only had enough time to bring up my arm to block her, hoping my armor would hold. 

It did, but she landed on top of me, claws digging into my legs and arm. I had to drop my katana to deal with her, grabbing her clothes with my free hand and flinging her into the wall. That got her off of me, but as I did it, she raked her claws across my neck. 

I ignored the pain as best I could, turning to face her. She came up with her blade, but she was down in a squat, right in front of me. Before she could do anything, I kicked straight out at her head and crushed her skull against the wall. 

Merindra faced the last talalong, who seemed completely unconcerned that she was now alone and that we’d slaughtered eight of her allies. I picked up my katana and started to come at her from behind, but Merindra shouted, “No!”

I stopped. A few moments later, Merindra ducked under the staff and drove her short blade up in the talalong’s heart. The talalong barely reacted, just falling to her knees, and then forward onto her face.

Merindra stood up. 

“I’m sorry, Will. But I was engaged with her alone. To let you kill her from behind would be dishonorable.”

I nodded.

“Are you okay?”

There was a red bump on her forehead where the staff struck her and a bloody sword cut on one arm, but she wasn’t seriously injured. Then her face filled with alarm as she looked at me. 

“Will, you’re hurt.”

She came over and examined all the damage the linyang had done, touching the gashes my neck.

“I don’t think any of it’s that deep. I’m okay. You know I heal fast.”

I would have been able to heal myself right then and there had I not mated with six different wives that morning, along with Lorelat. So I didn’t have the reserves of energy I usually did. 

Merindra nodded.

“What was this? Who . . . what were these people?”

I explained what I’d sensed in them with the crystal. Her pretty face went pale.

“That is horrifying. And wrong. So wrong.”

“I’ll agree with that.”

“The way they fought . . . their faces. They were empty. Like they didn’t care whether they lived or died.”

“I wonder if they were already dead when this was done to them.”

I knelt down to examine one of the bodies. The foreign energy drained out of them as they died. Now that I wasn’t fighting for my life, I noticed something else. Their flesh didn’t seem right either. They weren’t anything like movie zombies; they weren’t decaying. They’d bled like normal living things. 

But at the same time, they felt wrong. Unnatural. I realized the corrupt smell I detected when we arrived was coming from them. 

“Who could have done this?” she asked.

“Someone with a great deal of skill in manipulating crystals and energies. I probably could have, based on what I did to Narilora. Phareewee, Mereceeree’s mother could, though she never would. She said there were a few others in the panikang with that level of skill.”

“Someone put them here to guard the circle against intruders.”

“That seems logical.”

We spent a minute or two inspecting the room. There wasn’t much. The few boxes were either empty or contained only moldy, withered fruits and vegetables. The condition of the foodstuffs hadn’t deterred someone from eating them, though. Many were partially chewed, and recently. So whatever those things were, they still needed to eat. I wondered just how long they’d been standing there waiting for someone to come through the circle. 

We tried the double doors at the far end but found them securely bolted or barred from the other side. We weren’t getting out that way, and I couldn’t see another exit. There were no windows anywhere, and there was no way to get up to the ceiling. We might even be underground.

“What do you want to do?” Merindra asked.

I sighed. I wanted to see what was here, where the Yama-Kana circle led to. And we found out. But until I knew more about what we were facing, going further didn’t seem wise.

“I think we go back. I have no idea what we’ve gotten ourselves into here. I didn’t expect anything like this.”

She nodded.

“And we come back here on the train?”

“I think so.”

The circle took us back to Phan-garad. When we emerged from the room and prepared to climb down, Merindra stopped me. She pulled me into her arms and kissed me fiercely, pressing her tight body against mine. I kissed her back until she came up for air after several long moments, pressing her forehead against my chin.

“All your other wives have seen you fight. Narilora and Mereceeree have fought beside you. I had not done either. I feel as if I truly became your wife tonight, Will.”

“You’ve been my wife.”

“In your bed, and in your home, yes. But not in your purpose on Taitala. You’ve given me a child. You’ve given me pleasure I did not dream of before you claimed me. But tonight was the equal of it.”

I laughed softly.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

She smiled.

“I hope so.”

We climbed back down to the street and headed home. 

But we’d been back only a minute or two when I heard a flutter above us.

Mereceeree came gliding in, landing a few feet away.

Tsulygoi – ” Then she got a good look at us and our injuries and gasped.

“You were right,” I said. “Whatever’s controlling that other circle doesn’t seem to want any visitors.”

“What happened?”

I explained briefly. Her face took on a look of horror.

“That should not be possible.”

I just shrugged at her. 

“Only a very evil person would do such a thing,” she said.

“It was clearly someone who didn’t care for those people, and was ready to kill to stop anyone from coming through that circle.”

“Are you all right? You are both wounded.”

“Not seriously,” Merindra said. “There were only nine of them. Fair odds for the two of us.” 

She smiled. Mereceeree laughed.

“I am truly fortunate to have such fierce warriors as tsulygoi and awasa-late.” But her mirth left just as quickly. “I must consult with my mother about this. She needs to know, and she may have advice for us.”

“Do what you have to, bat-girl,” I said.

She spread her wings, and a moment later she was gone into the darkness above.

We tried not to wake the rest of them, but Ayarala had developed a sixth sense for issues around the house and woke up as we were getting undressed. It took a few minutes to calm her down once she got a look at our injuries, but she cleaned both of us up and stitched up the cut in Merindra’s arm and the one in my leg. Then she scolded us for doing something so dangerous without telling her first. Eventually we went to bed.

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.