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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 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.

Update on The Scarlet Cavern

I’ve gotten comments back from my beta readers as well as the final cover art, a snippet of which you can see above. Assuming all goes well, I should be releasing The Scarlet Cavern in mid-October.

I’ve completed drafts of books 2-5 at this point, and my plan is release them about two months apart through 2021. If that sounds slow, understand that original cover art for things like this takes a while, as does volunteer beta reading.

Once I have a firm release date for Book 1, I’ll do the cover reveal and post one more preview chapter – likely in a week or two.

This Is Why I Don’t Make My Own Covers

I blogged yesterday about why I am relying on professional graphic designers to create covers for my novels when I could probably create passable covers on my own, for free. The reason is that with stuff like this, you tend to get what you pay for.

Earlier today, I updated the teaser for The Needle and the Dungeon with the cover that was just created for it by Deranged Doctor Design. If you didn’t notice it below or never read the earlier post, go scroll down now and check it out.

This is something I could never, ever, have created on my own. Not even close. It’s striking, eye-catching, and memorable. I wrote the damn book, and it still makes me want to click through and read it.

When I commissioned this cover, I had some vague ideas about floating some woman’s face over something futuristic. You can see that this came out more or less in that vein, but what I envisioned was nothing like this, and what I would have created would have come out hollow and pedestrian compared to the cover I got.

That’s what a good graphic designer can do for you: take your ideas and give them real life, take them beyond what you wanted and expected. If you expect readers to pay money for your books, you need to show them you’re taking yourself seriously. You aren’t doing that by grabbing a throwaway stock image, slapping some text on it, and calling it a day.