This excerpt is a bonus prologue for Tacori which will be available exclusively in Alien Embrace out August 17th. Preorder here.
Chapter One available to read on the Alien Embrace Website!
Coromos was small. Industry on the island revolved around the prime family and serving their needs. Even though this island was less than two square miles, it was one of a chain of over three thousand islands that ran from the small northern continent and snowy far-north wastes that Korvalin ruled and the larger tropical continent where Galidin was prime.
Tacori wondered how the thirty-odd people living on Coromos felt about serving Varimar, his human mate, and their half-breed son.
Vadarin was over a year old now, and Tacori couldn’t help but wonder what kind of misshapen creature the child was.
He, along with the others, the rulers of Klevia, had received a short communique to let them know the child had been born, and though he’d said the words, ‘in full health’, they’d heard nothing since. Tacori and his peers couldn’t help but speculate that something had gone terribly wrong, and Varimar didn’t want to face them.
They would be sympathetic, of course, Tacori mused. It’s not like Varimar had asked to be bonded to the strange little pale human he’d brought home from his imprisonment amidst the Faradne, after all. No Klevian could help who they became bonded to. It was just how pleased he seemed to be about his circumstance. Like he’d gained something precious instead of the burden the human must inevitably be.
Tacori snorted, and Viruk side-eyed him, the beast’s almost luminous blue eyes squinting at him.
‘He’s a fool to not ask for our aid,’ Tacori couldn’t help but say.
Viruk huffed and rolled his eyes. Okay, maybe he’d been talking about this too much over the past few days. Viruk seemed to be talked out of the conversation.
Not that he could have a conversation with a Lokarin. They were beasts, after all. Just that Lokarin were far more intelligent than the average beast on Klevia.
Tacori looked at his six-legged friend as he lay on the seat of the umza Tacori was flying to Coromos. Lokarin were enormous, almost as big as Klevians when lying side-by-side. They were from the frozen north. Because of this, their coats seemed white, but actually the hairs were transparent. He had a long snout and stiff, arrow-like ears that twitched and moved with each sound. The only colour was the almost luminous blue eyes that looked up at him now with an expression clearly begging for mercy.
‘Fine. I’ll shut up.’
Viruk nailed Tacori with a sceptical glare before relaxing on the seat, his eyes closing.
Tacori itched to rant but managed to stay silent for the rest of the flight.
Once he reached the island, he circled it, observing it from the air. The main house sat nestled on the top of a hill overlooking the whole island. It was summer, so the foliage was in full blood; oranges and reds bleeding across the island. As the front of the house came into view, Tacori frowned. Someone had taken flowers from across the region and planted them in an orderly, almost decorative fashion.
‘What is that about?’
Tacori lined the umza up and lowered it to the front drive.
Getting out, he watched Viruk shoot up to the door and slip inside as it opened automatically to a living creature it knew well.
Tacori got to the door after it had closed, but the door didn’t reopen for him. Frowning, Tacori knocked.
Footsteps harried, quick and preceded by an annoyed voice approached and opened the door.
‘Ah, my lord.’ Shenoon bowed. He was an older Klevian who had served Varimar’s family his whole life. As Tacori watched, an entire catalogue of questions burst across his mind. He stopped himself from enquiring.
‘Shenoon. I have come to see your master.’
Shenoon stepped around Viruk, who was harassing him for a pet on the head.
‘My lord and lady are down at the market with the young lord,’ he said. ‘I am afraid I am under strict instructions not to let anyone in unless they are here and have explicitly permitted it.’
‘I understand,’ Tacori said. ‘We’ll walk down to the market.’
Shenoon opened the door, quickly patting Viruk twice, then wiping his hand on his trouser leg, a look of distaste on the servant’s face. ‘Very well. I am sure I’ll see you when they return.’ As Shenoon spoke, he kicked his leg out to dislodge Viruk, who’d hooked a paw around his calf and was trying to drag the older male back into the house, towards the kitchen.
Viruk looked at him and continued on.
‘I am not going to feed you,’ Shenoon said.
Viruk paused, then broke away, turning to Tacori but not leaving the house.
‘I will buy you Kuroch,’ Tacori said, hearing the defeat in his voice.
The Lokarin strode out of the house on all six legs with a smug expression on his face.
Tacori shook his head as he turned. ‘See you soon,’ he called to Shenoon as he walked past the umza and headed down the long winding path towards the market.
The population of Coromos was small, yet the market was put on every few days for the prime family. People came from all over to attend, or they used to before Varimar brought the human here.
It took several minutes to walk down the road. Viruk led the way but veered into the fields surrounding them every now and then to chase something. His hacked calls would echo across the hills before he’d reappear, his tail wagging as he trotted to Tacori before taking the lead yet again.
Comoros was beautiful. Tacori had always enjoyed his visits here and hadn’t been since Varimar disappeared for several months before reappearing with his human, Cara, almost two years before.
Varimar’s reappearance had shocked them all. He’d gone missing while on patrol near Faradne space. Debris from his ship was found less than a lunar cycle before Varimar himself had shown up, and Kerrin had been in the process of finding a new prime for Varimar’s territory.
It had been a relief to hear he was alive. The six of them, the primes of Klevia and their king had grown up together. They were as close as brothers, like their fathers before them. They knew it was their destiny to rule, each with his own territory, Kerrin over all of them, and they’d taken on the mantle with responsibility and intent.
Tacori’s home territory was Kaufa. Kaufa was a continent on the opposite side of the world to Coromos. Coromos was the prime seat of the territory of Akai. The two territories couldn’t be any more different. Akai was tropical, hot and beautiful and abundant with life. Kaufa was known for its mountains, plains, and lakes. Forests that covered thousands of square miles. It was made up of protected lands and protected hunts.
Tacori’s capital was Midae. It was in the central plain of Dakorra, surrounded by mountains where the ancient ruined cities of their ancestors sat.
Sometimes, when Tacori was home—which wasn’t nearly often enough—he would walk through the long burnt orange grasses and let the seed pods at their apex brush over his hands. At other times, he would fly to one or another of the ruins and wander for hours around them, speculating about the lost peoples who lived there before the great catastrophe that had almost destroyed their world. The great war had almost spelt the end of life on Klevia.
Tacori stopped walking, wondering how his thoughts had gone from Varimar and his human to that ancient apocalypse?
Several hundred feet in front of him, the entrance to the market sat open and unguarded for anyone to enter. Tacori forged on, Viruk appearing at his side.
Market stalls appeared as he walked around the high walls. They were set up close to one another, and Tacori could see Klevians crushed together as they went through the massive site and hundreds of tables.
Where had all these people come from? The last they had heard, no markets would come to the island in protest at the human.
It would be next to impossible to find Varimar and his mate in this mess.
Tacori stepped into the market and approached a female standing near the entrance. ‘Are you from this island?’
The female gave him a shrewd look, her eyes narrowing. ‘I am.’
‘I am looking for Varimar, his mate, and child.’
Something hardened in the woman’s eyes. ‘I cannot help you,’ she said, then turned and walked off.
Tacori frowned, watching the woman look over her shoulder at him as she disappeared into the crowd before shrugging it off. He supposed the people of the island really weren’t happy to have Varimar and his mate there.
Continuing wading deeper into the market, Tacori asked several more people if they were Coromos natives. When he found them, rare as they were in a crowd this size, he asked the same question and got much the same response.
Several more minutes passed in much the same fashion before Tacori gave up. If he walked back up to the house, he could sit in his umza and wait for them to return.
Heading that way, he was halfway back to the entrance when the crowd parted in front of him. Varimar stood waiting for him, the first female Varimar had spoken to standing at his side. At first, his face was stern, angry, but when he saw Tacori, it softened in surprise before a resentful expression took over.
‘What are you doing here?’
Tacori frowned. The human, their son, was nowhere to be seen. Tacori scanned the crowd as he walked over to Varimar, but still, he couldn’t see them.
‘I have come to speak to you on business.’
Varimar gritted his teeth; Tacori thought he saw hurt in his eyes before he turned away. Varimar looked back at him, his features twisted into a snarl.
‘So, not here to visit. Not here to see how I am or enquire as to my mate or wish me felicitations on the birth of a son.’ Varimar shook his head. ‘Just business,’ he spat.
Felicitations on a son? A half-breed thing?
‘Just business,’ Tacori confirmed.
Varimar shook his head again. This time when he turned away he took in a breath, and Tacori could see the hurt.
‘Cara. It’s safe.’
To Tacori’s right, the crowd parted.
Several islanders stood around the tiny human and child she held. The looks on their faces were scornful, angry, hostile. Tacori watched as the human, her skin still so pale, her long brown hair tied high on her crown, her brown eyes watching him warily as she walked towards Varimar. Around her, the crowd moved, males inserting themselves between her and Tacori.
The islanders had accepted her? The people of Akai?
As she reached his side, Varimar reached out for the child, and Tacori turned his attention to him.
The boy had four arms, small horn nubs, and a tail. That surprised Tacori more than anything. His skin was paler, and he looked smaller than a child of his age, but other than that, he looked whole, complete.
When Varimar turned him, Tacori got a look at the child’s face. He had brown eyes that seemed to glow with a hint of their father’s orange behind them. His features were softer than a Klevian but sharper than a human. The small chevrons of hard skin Klevians developed had already started to form over his nose, even at his young age, which was a good sign they would form properly and be strong to protect his nose from damage.
‘My son, Vadarin.’
There was a required response to this introduction in Klevian society. Tacori swallowed. ‘May he grow into a strong warrior,’ he chewed the words out.
There was a ripple of approval from around them, and suddenly the crowd shifted and was moving. However, Tacori noticed several of the males who had protected the human were still observing him carefully.
‘What is this?’ Tacori nodded in their direction. ‘You do not trust me?’
Varimar’s laugh was harsh. ‘Trust you? I don’t even know you.’
Tacori bit his tongue. It was Varimar who had changed, not them. Varimar that had accepted a human as his mate instead of putting a knife in her heart as he should have.
‘What is this business?’
‘It concerns Hevethan,’ Tacori said.
Varimar shook his head, the human turning to him, concern on her delicate features. ‘We should take this home,’ she said.
Varimar looked down at her, his own features softening as he smiled down at her. ‘Wise, my mate.’
At his side, Viruk nudged him. ‘I promised Koruch to Viruk.’
Varimar let out an annoyed breath. ‘This way.’
Tucking the human into his side, he led the way through the crowds who parted for them. Hands reached out to them as they passed, which was customary in Klevian society when a leader had taken a strong and favourable mate. They touched both Varimar and the human’s shoulders, then reached to the baby, who grinned and chuckled at them, obviously loving the attention and adoration. He reached out his pudgy hands and touched them back, getting one fist tangled in a young Klevian female’s dreadlocks. Everyone stopped as the human untangled them. The two females talked and laughed as the much larger Klevian bent over to allow the human to touch her.
Something had gone very wrong here.
They reached the market stall a few minutes later and left with several packets of Koruch the holder had insisted on giving him when she decided that Tacori and Varimar were friends.
Viruk trotted at his side, his nose nuzzling the Koruch in Tacori’s hand as they made their way to Varimar’s umza.
‘Don’t you open that Koruch in our umza,’ the human warned, her eyes glinting with menace. ‘I just got Vadarin’s first baby sick smell out.’
Varimar chuckled as they all got inside.
Tacori was shocked to watch the human take the driver’s seat and even more shocked when the umza lifted into the air and smoothly turned towards the prime house.
‘What is your animal?’ the human asked, glancing back at Viruk, who turned to watch her with equal curiosity.
‘He is Lokarin,’ Tacori said.
‘Lokarin… I’ve heard of them but never seen one before today. He looks like a cross between a Japanese Akita and a polar bear.’
‘I do not know what those things are,’ Tacori said, shifting in his seat, not liking the idea that there was anything that the humans might have in common with his world.
It only took a couple of minutes before the human was setting down the umza in front of the house, next to Tacori’s. She sprang out of the car and reached for Vadarin. Varimar handed him over before joining her, leaving Tacori and Viruk to follow.
They headed into the house, Viruk leaving Tacori’s side and heading over to the human and half-breed. He moved around them, jumping on his hind legs to get a good look at Vadarin, who squealed and laughed at the Lokarin.
‘What did you say his name was?’ The human looked at him.
The traitor? ‘Viruk,’ Tacori said, taking in the undignified heap of limbs and fur as they reached the door that opened automatically to admit them.
‘Shenoon, we’re home,’ the human called unnecessarily.
Shenoon appeared in the doorway to his private rooms. ‘Shall I prepare refreshments, my lady?’
The human shook her head. ‘I have it, thank you. It’s your day off. You should visit the market before it’s gone.’
‘I will, my lady. Thank you.’ Shenoon disappeared back into his rooms and walked out a moment later with a bag.
‘Have fun,’ the human called. ‘I know a certain douesh milk stall holder who was asking after you.’ The human closed one eye quickly, then opened it again. The bizarre gesture was followed by the cheeks of the elderly Shenoon going darker and a pleased smile which he promptly smothered before disappearing through the front door.
‘Okay, you take this one. I’ll be back in a minute with caltra?’ Cara looked at Tacori, who nodded in response.
Varimar took Vadarin from his tiny mate and watched as she too disappeared, this time to the kitchen. When she was gone, he turned and led the way to the main room.
Tacori stood at the door, his jaw hanging. Gone were the traditional oranges and browns of Klevian colouring. Instead, the room was decorated in light warm pinks, dusky purples, human skin tone and shades of warm brown. The dusky purple was a floor covering which was soft underfoot.
‘Take your shoes off,’ Varimar said. ‘Cara gets angry if shoes are worn on her car pets.’
Varimar nodded. ‘She wanted a soft space for Vadarin to play in safety.’
Tacori looked around before closing his eyes and shaking his head. How had his friend fallen so far?
He kicked his boots off and followed Varimar into the room, sitting in one of the overstuffed soft seats. ‘No wonder humans are so soft if this is how they decorate their homes.’
‘Tacori.’ Varimar’s voice was at once stern and quiet. ‘You are in my home now. You are about to insult the mother of my child. Tread carefully.’
Tacori took in a breath and nodded. ‘What was that about in the market?’
‘The way the people protected you and the hu… Cara.’
Varimar sat back in his seat, placing Vadarin on his knee. Viruk trotted over to the boy who reached out for him. The boy almost had some of Viruk’s fur in his hand when the Lokarin side-stepped out of his grasp but still in reach. Vadarin reached again, and once more the Lokarin stepped out of the way.
Varimar watched a smile on his face. ‘I might have to see if there is a Lokarin that will bond to Vadarin.’
‘They are a gift,’ Tacori said, watching the animal and child play.
‘Males came to the island a few days after Cara gave birth,’ Varimar started after a few moments. ‘It was in between markets, so there was only us and the normal residents. We were down at the Twila caves baptising my son.’ There was a flash of anger in Varimar’s eyes as he spoke. Tacori knew it was because he should have been there. They all should have been. As soon as the message had come through that the child was born, they should have descended upon the island to hold a festival lasting several days and ending with his baptism.
Instead, they had ignored it.
‘When none of you came, the males decided this meant that Kerrin wanted him taken care of.’ Varimar’s laugh was humourless. ‘For all I know, Kerrin arranged it.’
‘They came to kill my mate and son.’
Tacori felt the breath leave him.
Varimar snarled. ‘Even my people didn’t come to the Twila. They shunned us. I expected it, but it didn’t make it easier. The males tried to pay them for our location. My people realised how dishonourable, disrespectful they were being and refused. So the males took them hostage. When Cara found out.’ Varimar shook his head, a mix of fury and fierce pride on his face. ‘She came up with a plan. She would pretend to surrender to them. The island’s holy man took Vadarin, and while they were distracted… I took care of it.’ Varimar looked up at him. ‘She risked her life to save them.’
Tacori looked towards the kitchen. That would be enough to earn loyalty from any Klevian. Especially when the one risking their lives was smaller, more vulnerable.
‘Those were the longest, worst moments of my life, and my closest friends weren’t there to help.’
Tacori turned back to see the scorn on Varimar’s face.
‘Why are you here?’
Tacori took in a breath. ‘Kerrin has put me in charge of Hevethan.’
Varimar’s face twisted into a silent snarl, and he shook his head, turning away. He’d expected this decision, Tacori realised, and it still stung.
‘The Eseni shipyard is mine,’ Varimar said through clenched teeth. ‘He has no right—’
‘He has every right,’ Tacori raised his voice. On Varimar’s lap, Vadarin went suddenly stiff, a surprised look on his tiny face. ‘We’re talking about the defence of our home. He has every right to make a decision that is for the best of our people.’
A movement to Tacori’s right caught him off guard as the human entered the room. There was a tray of drinks in her hands and a stern look on her face. It was almost comical that this human thought it would frighten grown Klevian males.
Cara put the tray down, then walked over to Vadarin. ‘Time for your nap, buddy,’ she said, picking the child up. ‘If Daddy’s going to argue, then I don’t want you to hear it.’ She gave Varimar and Tacori another stern look before leaving the room.
‘You think she is small and weak,’ Varimar said, watching the retreating back of the human. ‘Her spirit would surprise you.’
Tacori watched Viruk keeping pace with the human and child and shook his head.
‘There is nothing I can do about Hevethan,’ Varimar said. ‘Kerrin has us here, treating us like traitors and parasites and leaving us as an open target for anyone to attack.’
‘I will tell him—’
‘Why bother?’ Varimar stood.’ I wouldn’t put it past Kerrin to have sent those males.’
‘You know that’s untrue—’ Tacori leapt to his feet. Varimar was the traitor here, not Kerrin.
‘I know nothing about any of you anymore. I know I stood in a Faradne cell for several months while none of you did anything to save me. I know I found my mate, a blessing from Zerik and Eseni, and you treated us both like criminals. I know the birth of my son meant nothing to my oldest and closest friends. I know I can count on my people and no one else. Even those who pledged their lives, as well as I, to our homes, lands and families.’ Varimar shook his head. ‘Get out of my house, Tacori. Get off my island and don’t come back.’
Teeth clenched, Tacori headed to the door, snatching his boots on the way. ‘Viruk.’
The Lokarin came running from the second floor. When he got to the door, the human had made her way downstairs, her arms empty of the child. Varimar came up beside her and took her in his arms as they watched him leave.
As Tacori lifted his umza into the air, he felt a torrent of emotion raging through his body. The hurt in Varimar’s voice chased him back to the mainland.
This excerpt is a bonus prologue for Tacori which will be available exclusively in Alien Embrace out August 17th. Preorder here.
Chapter One available to read on the Alien Embrace Website!
©L. P. Peace