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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
She leaned back and kissed me on the cheek.
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.
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 kumala–talons. 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.”
“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.