Something Wicked This Way Comes

Friday, August 29, 2014

FREE FICTION FRIDAYS #4 THE FOREST LORD

Welcome all! Back once more for FFF, and this week our stories are the prelude to an awesome book release coming up tomorrow. Lily G. Blunt's new book Paint the Sky will be out tomorrow, and I *highly* recommend it to you all.

Now, on with our dark-skinned lovelies, and episode #4 of The Forest Lord. Enjoy!

*

The Forest Lord #4; by Tucker McCallahan:

“I don’t understand why we haven’t left yet.” Kala paced back and forth in the staging area, her restless energy crackling around her with a life that was almost palpable.

“Had the Queen not kidnapped Zakn’yl, we would indeed be on our way.” T’Riss looked up from where he sat beside their few bags and pinned her in place with his irritated tone of voice. “As it is, she holds Ilztafay, and we cannot leave the city without her.”

“I thought we were five.” Kala stalked toward him, a challenge in her walk. “Who is this other female in the Queen’s company?”

T’Riss laugh was bitter. “I did not say she was in the Queen’s company; I said the Queen held her.” T’Riss stared purposefully at the entrance to the staging area, willing Zak to appear. “Ilztafay is Zakn’yl’s mount.”

“For the love of Lune!” A snort from the other side of the room drew their attention. They both turned to see Jhul crack her staff against the floor in aggravation. “Guildmaster Gian has stables of mechanical mounts in every shape and size who could be charged up and powered on for the mage to ride! We’re wasting time!”

A horse’s whinny cut the air, a bizarre sound in the huge underground cavern. The females’ heads jerked up and around to stare at the entrance. Only T’Riss was unsurprised at the sound as Zak rode into the staging area, not on a mechanical mount, but on a Darkelsian horse – an actual real, live, breathing animal. The females gazed wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the tremendous creature as Zak rode it over to their mechanical mounts, brought it up short with authentic leather reigns, and hopped down out of the old-fashioned saddle.

“Is she well?” T’Riss met his mate halfway, his eyes for both male and horse.

Zak nodded, his long, inky hair shaking gently with the movement. “They had her in a royal stable, cordoned off. She kicked their mechanic unconscious. Three grooming engineers were trying to approach and bribe her with honeyed oats. She was having none of it.”

T’Riss grinned – a genuine smile – and rested a forearm around Zak’s shoulders. “That’s our girl. Everything here is prepared. If she’s ready-”

“She wishes to spend no more time underground. She craves fresh air and the sky.”

“So we’ll all be traveling twenty meters behind you then?” Jhulryna’s voice dripped with sarcasm, her face pinched and petulant. “Since you’re riding the bait?”

T’Riss and Zak turned to glare at her. She shrugged and gave her golden staff a careless half-twirl.

“I’m merely pointing out the obvious.”

“Which is what?” T’Riss crossed his arms over his armored vest, his face hard as he scowled at the female who looked so like his estranged wife. “Enlighten us.”

“There’s not a creature alive in the Adintana that wouldn’t gorge itself on horse flesh, living or dead, if given the chance.”

“Tell me, Lady Jhul,” Kala slid in between the two males and the herbalist, “when was the last time you were on the surface?”

“That hardly matters.”

Kala met T’Riss’s eyes and a look passed between them. She abruptly began buckling her armor. T’Riss ran a gentle hand down Zak’s face before turning back to the supplies. Retrieving a pair of heavy saddlebags, he and Zak secured them on Ilztafay. Though the chore took all of three minutes, Jhul’s mouth kept up a steady stream of vitriolic commentary.

Zak hopped up into the old-fashioned saddle and ran an easy hand down Ilztafay’s neck, stroking the heavy cherry hair. The mare whinnied softly, tossing its deep burgundy mane. Zak murmured softly to the horse, the cadence of his voice rising and falling like a sweet musical melody. Kala, riding a huge black mechan, approached Zak and Ilztafay carefully as the group left the Utilities Guild House.

“Was that Elven you were speaking?”

Zak nodded, his eyes downcast. He looped the smooth, well-worn reigns over one fist and drew a length of cloth from his pocket. Quickly, he covered the horse’s nose, making sure not to smother her or put any pressure on her face. The group emerged onto the sparkling wet streets of Chasz’Chalolvir, close to the southern cavern exit.

“I didn’t know you spoke Elven. I speak it as well.” Kala took in each and every one of Zak’s strange actions. “I didn’t recognize what you were saying though. Why are you doing that while we’re still underground?”

“The sharp aroma of the rangpur soap burns her nose,” Zak explained. His voice was so soft and gentle Kala couldn’t imagine him ever casting dangerous or offensive magic. Zak was a war mage, though.
ee
“I see. So… what Elven dialect were you using? Central?”

“Wild.”

If Kala had been walking she would’ve tripped and fallen flat on her face. Zak’s answer was utterly unexpected.

“How in Lune’s name did you learn to speak wild elf? The elves have been embroiled in civil war since before I was born.” Kala gazed at Zak with a touch of hero worship in her eyes.

“The wild elves are the only population still supporting, breeding, and nurturing real horses.” Zak’s fingers slid into the thick hair of Ilztafay’s mane. “She’s very dear to me. I would learn anything I had to learn or do anything I had to do to make her life with me a good one.”

T’Riss rode up between them. Nath, his mechanical mount, was larger than either Kala’s mechan or Ilztafay.

“We’re about to leave Chasz’Chalolvir. We’ll move through the southern caverns and then plunge down into the Div’eari Forest. We’ll camp there this evening.”

Zak nodded. Kala gazed back to where Jhul and Iym rode side by side. She flicked her eyes to T’Riss and spoke in a low voice.

Arisa, are you certain you wish to ride with vipers at your back?”

“Once we reach the Div’eari, I’ll take point and you’ll take rear guard.”

“And Zak?”

“My mate rides with Iym.”

“As you wish.”

T’Riss stared at the young assassin until she met his lavender eyes. “I appreciate your worry for my mate. But understand that it took four phalanxes of the Azure Veil to kidnap Zakn’yl. Sixteen of the queen’s best sorceresses and witches to take one war mage into custody. He’s far from helpless, and once we reach the surface, unlike the others whose power will diminish, Zak’s power will grow.”

“How…?”

T’Riss shook his head and spurred Nath forward. He rode up to meet the guards at the exterior gates of the city. With terrible anticipation rippling through his stomach, his mate by his side, and his new raiding party at his back, T’Riss left Chasz’Chalolvir on the most important mission of his very long life.

*

As always comments are craved and appreciated. This week, I'm featuring an image done by Direwrath that inspired the character of Iym'mice - the Mistress/Priestess of Lune who healed Zak, but whose loyalties are still unclear.





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Friday, August 22, 2014

FREE FICTION FRIDAYS #3 THE FOREST LORD



After a one week hiatus to get my kids ready to start their new school, I'm back with part three of The Forest Lord. Enjoy!

*

The Forest Lord #3; by Tucker McCallahan:

Zak shivered. Perspiration glistened on his skin like the hoarfrost that fell with the first few bitter mornings of winter. The impossible, unrelenting, crushing weight in his chest had disappeared the instant Iym’s magic sank into him. Now a new heaviness grew inside him, one he recognized.

His magic, nearly snuffed out by the malady the Matron Mother inflicted upon him, had rekindled. Something wasn’t right, though. Instead of feeling well and like himself once more, another layer of sweat drenched his skin. A strange tingling fire raced through his veins.

T’Riss wore an adamantine vest, serviceable and practical, but at the moment Zak was riveted to the reflection of his own eyes in its surface. Usually a pale green, they glowed with a vivid emerald iridescence. Flicking his eyes up at his mate, Zak gazed at T’Riss’s flawlessly masculine face. Suddenly a craving hit, a feeling so intense it stole his breath away with a whistling gasp.

T’Riss was in the middle of a conversation with Kala about surface tensions between the human and elven populations when the unmistakable aroma reached his nose. His nostrils flared, his whole body tightening like a drawn bow. His pupils dilated, and he looked down at the male in his lap. All of T’Riss’s attention instantly focused on Zak.

Mrann d’ssinss…” Zak’s voice was thick with arousal.

Usstan tlun ghil.

Ssrig’luin dos… T’Rissinns, f’sarn flamgra’in, usstan ssrig’luin dos nin.

Zak’s lithe, petite body undulated erotically. Not only could T’Riss scent his mate’s arousal, his thick erection was plainly visible to anyone who looked at Zakn’yl’s snug trousers. Concerned, T’Riss searched for the new mistress-priestess and found Iym standing silently in the shadows.

Since healing Zakn’yl, Iym had retreated to the darkest corner of the room. She’d immediately sank into revelry, the meditation all mages used to replenish their spell energy. At least that was T’Riss’s assumption. Though he had some spellcasting abilities, he wasn’t a wizard or a sorcerer, and the ways of the priestesses were largely a mystery to him.

“Lady.” T’Riss pitched his voice low and stared at the priestess. He shifted, unsettled, as Zak whined and writhed next to him. The desire to penetrate and ravage his mate was almost uncontrollable.

Iym didn’t acknowledge him with words, merely floated forward, her hips swaying from side to side like a well-oiled clock’s pendulum. The wine-colored silk of her gown whispered against her flawless skin. As she reached Zak’s side, she bent forward and placed two fingers over his third eye. Removing her hand she straightened and looked at T’Riss with an impassive face.

“He was so close to passing over I was forced to use a greater healing spell. While it revived his body, it also restored and renewed his magical energies causing an overflow effect.” She lowered her ruby eyes, long platinum hair hanging forward to hide her face. “Forgive me, arisa. I thought only of healing him as you ordered.”

“Will this pass?” Though he was surprised to receive it, T’Riss ignored her apology. “What does he need?”

Iym slowly raised her head, her ruby eyes filled with vast wisdom and no small degree of patience. A wickedly naughty smile suddenly curled the side of her lush mouth. “I believe you know exactly what he needs.” She curtsied so low the ends of her hair touched the floor.

Before T’Riss could reply, Zak’s back bowed, his spine twisting to and fro. His jaw went slack, full lips parting, chest heaving as more sweat sparkled on his onyx flesh. Sinking back to the settee, his entire body quivered as he panted, the arousal rolling off him in waves. T’Riss made his decision, concentrating and gathering spell energy while he still could. He sent a message spell to the Gian, the Guildmaster, and then rose, his hands going to the buckle of his sword belt.

“Leave us,” T’Riss commanded.

Kala, who had been speaking to Jhul about surface plants and their uses, turned and stared at T’Riss. She frowned when she saw Zakn’yl was conscious.

“But we still have supplies to requisition!”

“Gian and Shyntmur’ss are expecting you.”

Kala slowly rose, her face confused and a bit obstinate. “Have you a list for us? Some kind of guidelines for us to follow?”

“Your uncle and I raided surface villages centuries before you were a moonlight dream.” The low lights of the room cast hard shadows across T’Riss’s face as he spoke. His twin katanas slipped to the floor, followed by the two bandoliers of shuriken and the holsters that held his black powder bombs, smokers, and poison darts.

“But-”

Inbau doeb!

The slim assassin jolted at the fury and force of T’Riss’s roar. She stood, automatically checking her weapons, and herded the other females through the room. Iym exited first, then Jhul, and finally Kala crossed the threshold and turned back briefly.

“We shall wait for you at Guild Staging.”

She spun on her boot heel without waiting for a reply.

T’Riss used another small bit of magic to close and seal the door, then wasted no more time shedding his clothing and baring his mate. They’d been apart for two full moon cycles. Even if Zak hadn’t taken ill, T’Riss would’ve ached with wanting him. Now, well, every inch of his mate aroused the bounty hunter, and Zak…

Zakn’yl burned from the inside with the need for release. He whimpered softly as T’Riss quickly stripped him bare, gazing at his mate with those glowing eyes.

“Say something,” T’Riss murmured, “so I know you’re my mate and not some demon pretending to be my beloved.”

“For six months after you mated Micariara I lived in agony, my heart shattered and my life destroyed. She is the only demon who’s ever pretended to be your beloved, mrann d’ssinss.

“Only you could be so blasted melodramatic.”

Vith’os!

“Fuck me? I don’t think so, mate. If I fuck anyone, it’ll be you…”

T’Riss stretched and dropped down onto the settee completely nude. He prowled up over Zak until their lower bodies aligned, a wicked grin on his face. Reaching down, he wrapped a hand roughened and calloused from centuries of swordplay around their twin erections. His wrist snapped back and forth, sliding up and down the two columns of hard flesh.

Zak’s head fell back as T’Riss stroked him. His narrow little hips swiveled and gyrated, grinding helplessly as T’Riss pleasured them both.

“That what you needed, ussta xukuth?” T’Riss thrust through his own grip, eyelashes fluttering in pleasure.

Zak wrapped his thin but muscled arms around T’Riss and hung on, purring as the magic and the erotic bliss filled him like a cup until there was no more room within him. T’Riss spilled them both over the edge, overflowed the cup until it poured ecstasy all over them.

Che dos… Che dos, Zakn’yl,” T’Riss whispered.

“I love you, too.” Zak pressed his soft lips to his mate’s. “Let’s dress. Females left unattended for any length of time are trouble.”

*

At the Chasz’Chalolvir Utilities Guild, the three females catalogued the pile of equipment assembled by Kala’s uncle, the Guildmaster, Gian.

“Why do we need nets?” Kala plucked at the heavy netting in disgust. “We aren’t going to capture anything.”

She stalked away and drew the tremendous scimitar from her back. Hefting the adamantine blade in both hands, she swung it deftly, spinning in a deadly arc.

“We’re going to kill it.”

Jhulryna laughed, a merry, high-pitched sound. Shyntmur’ss, second-in-command at the Utilities Guild delivered the last of the gear and bowed deeply to them. Iym made the sign of their goddess before him and he departed. Jhul glanced around, and then pushed the door to the small room closed behind him as he left. Kala frowned as she did so.

“It’ll get very warm in here.”

“We haven’t much time.” Jhul leaned on her golden staff, her pink eyes gleaming as magic crackled around her. “Listen, sisters.”

Kala and Iym gathered closer as Jhul enclosed them in a bubble of magical silence.

“You know that we travel to the surface on some fools’ errand to hunt something – or someone – who has killed humans and elves.”

Kala and Iym nodded. “It was a coveted assignment. We haven’t had a surface raid in over a century,” Kala said.

“Raid!” Jhul made a rude noise and spat on the floor. “This is no raid and that male, that Unmentionable, is no arisa!”

“Everyone in Chasz’Chalolvir is aware of the events that occurred between House Riz-LiNeer and House Rilyn-Tlar.” Iym’s voice was soft and level. “The tale is practically a cautionary fable now for young females looking for mates. You can lead a male to water, you can shove his head into the pond, but you can’t make him drink water if what he craves is wine.”

“They will pay,” Jhul said, gritting her teeth. “Both of them. It’s been vowed and witnessed. This trip may succeed or it may not. We may kill whatever is taking lives in the Adintana Forest or we may become its next victims. But this much is certain, sisters.”

Jhulryna Rilyn-Tlar slammed her golden staff into the ground and a pure bell tone rang out. Her pink eyes blazed as if they’d caught fire as she stared at her companions.

“Neither Unmentionable will ever return from the Adintana Forest alive. So swears House Rilyn-Tlar in the name of vengeance!”        


Glossary of Drow Phrases

Mrann d’ssinss – male lover

Usstan tlun ghil. – I’m here.

Ssrig’luin dos… T’Rissinns, f’sarn flamgra’in, usstan ssrig’luin dos nin. – I need you. T’Rissinns, I’m burning, I need you now.

Inbau doeb! – Get out!

Vith’os! – Fuck you!

ussta xukuth – my heart

Che dos… Che dos, Zakn’yl – I love you… I love you, Zakn’yl 


Arisa - commander                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    *

Once again, because I like to provide an image to go with my story, this week I'm posting the drawing Direwrath did that inspired the character of Kala. Comments are, as always, craved and appreciated. Have an awesome remainder of August and enjoy sending your kiddies back to school!



Be Sure To Check Out The Other Stories:

Follow all your favorites  and read the first 100 words on the group’s website:


Free Fiction Friday                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Be Well - Tux                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Friday, August 8, 2014

FREE FICTION FRIDAYS #2 - THE FOREST LORD


This is a little late going up today. I had to work several extra night shifts this week so I'm one worn out "slave to the man." However, I found gorgeous creative inspiration to help me along with my writing, and as always, I'll be sharing it with you!

So without further ado... The second installment of The Forest Lord!

* * * *


Zakn’yl Arken-A’te sprawled on a narrow settee in the Matron Mother’s private rooms, perspiration glistening on his obsidian skin. T’Riss’s breath caught staring at his mate, so delicate, beautiful, and obviously ill. Zak’s chest heaved as he struggled to breathe, his lips thinning with the effort. Unable to do anything for a magical malady, T’Riss held his mate’s hand. As the female entered through the archway, T’Riss’s lavender eyes found her and pinned her in place, a low animalistic growl rumbling up from his chest. Though T’Riss’s face gave away no hint of his emotions or feelings, when he spoke, the deadly hiss of his voice telegraphed his fury and sense of helpless impotence.

“Heal him before I draw steel.”

The female in question smirked at T’Riss before using her ever-present staff to flip her long alabaster hair over her naked shoulder in a move that was as practiced as her prancing walk.

“Perhaps I will.”

Jhulryna Rilyn-Tlar, high priestess of Lune and sister-kin to T’Riss’s estranged wife Micariara, stepped mincingly around the two males. She struck a pose, her golden staff glimmering in the magical light of the chamber and sparkling brighter than the fire opals that twinkled at her ears, nose, and neck. Like all members of the house he despised, her flesh was the color of slate rather than the sparkling obsidian T’Riss found so appealing. She looked like a slinking shadow in the midnight blue spider silk gown that clung to her full breasts and generous hips, leaving her shoulders and legs bare as the train flared out behind her. Her dark lips curved into a cruel smile.

“Perhaps I won’t.”

T’Riss rose to his full height, and though his hands itched to grip the hilts of his katanas, he refrained. He forced himself to meet Jhul's pink eyes and did it without flinching.

“I am your arisa. You will do as I say and follow my commands, or I will submit you to the Matron Mother to be tried for treason against Chasz’Chalolvir and her people.”

“Oh that’s not going to get old or anything…”

A second female strutted through the archway. Spare as an athame, supple as a bowstring, she moved with the uncanny and innate grace of a gymnast. Her shimmery silver hair swung around the tops of her shoulders, its edges blunt and square as if it’d been grabbed up and hacked off by a sword blade – and it probably had. Everything about her was subtly different, a hallmark of those trained to be assassins. She turned, met T’Riss’s stare bold as a naked blade and offered him a smile.

“Still causing trouble?”

“Kala?”

She raised an eyebrow and touched two fingers to the massive sword hilt protruding over her slender shoulder. A smile played around T’Riss mouth. He made an attempt at bowing his head, but the effort was jerky and unnatural. To avoid further unpleasantness, he picked Zak’s hand back up and spoke the ritual phrase he knew she expected to hear.

“Forgive me, Lady Kalanozz Ken-Ana; I meant no offense.”

Kala turned to Jhul who watched the exchange with a perplexed look on her face. Kala laughed. “See? He is still capable of civility.” She took a seat at the table where refreshments, as yet untouched by the room’s occupants, were set out.

“Do you bring word from your uncle?” T’Riss asked carefully. He’d petitioned Kala’s uncle, the Guildmaster, for an assassin to join his raiding party.

“I do.” Kala’s thin, sharp face was ever serious beneath her fall of choppy silver hair. “He wishes success for your mission and has granted your request.” Kala rose from her chair and smoothly drew the massive sword on her back. The enormous black adamantine blade seemed to swallow the light in the room. With perfect economy of motion and exquisite grace, Kala dropped to one knee, the modified scimitar never leaving her hand.

Zak chose that moment to break into a coughing fit, hacking, wheezing, and gasping for breath. T’Riss frowned, his purple eyes locking on to the face of his mate. He clutched Zak’s hand until the choking passed. His face was cold as ice and as still as death as he used one of the Matron Mother’s personal handkerchiefs to dab at the dark blood dappling Zak’s lips.

“Hurts…” Zak whispered. His silvery eyelashes fluttered. His eyes rolled up and he passed out cold.

From where she knelt on the floor, Kala sniffed cautiously. The fingers of her left hard flicked in an intricate gesture. Before T’Riss could stand and roar at Jhul again, Kala gained her feet and rang the alarm for the Azure Veil.

“What in the name of Lune are you doing?” Jhul pranced forward and tossed her hair back like a horse tossing flipping her mane.

“The Choking Death. He’s infected!”

“She knows.” T’Riss stared at Jhul, his eyes still so brutally cold. “She has refused him healing despite the Matron Mother’s order that she provide it.”

Kala’s face was full of astonishment as Jhul’s arched eyebrows raised and the priestess shrugged noncommittally. She turned her back on T’Riss and Zak. Kala, however, did not.

“You are a priestess of Lune! Heal this male!”

Jhul straightened, defiance emanating from her like another aura. “He is Unmentionable. Unworthy. The whore of a male who has disgraced my sister-kin.” Magic crackled from her eyes to flow into her hair like eerie energetic lace. “He deserves no healing!”

“Wrong.”

Everyone turned at that one forceful word. The most beautiful female T’Riss had ever laid eyes on stood in the doorway of the Matron Mother’s private rooms. Neither tall nor short, her stature was absolutely perfect. Long supple limbs moved with graceful precision as she stalked through the room. Her hair was true platinum, which meant T’Riss could see strands of pure black, solid purple, and deepest red alongside the shining silver and white. Her eyes were a red so vivid they gleamed like rubies. T’Riss gazed at her, confused.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Mistress-Priestess Iym’mice Tor-Und, assigned by the Matron Mother to accompany the arisa.” Those ruby eyes, so like the queen’s, caressed T’Riss from head to toe. She approached, curtsied, and cast her gaze to the floor. “I am here to serve, by my life or by my death.” Blinking up at T’Riss she smiled coquettishly. “What would you have of me, arisa?”

“Heal my mate. Please.”

She nodded and brushed past a speechless, furious Jhul without a word. Laying her long, slender fingered hands on Zak, Iym’mice prayed to their goddess. A warm golden glow suffused their bodies and sank into Zak. He cried out, and when the glow faded, the lines of pain and stress were gone from his face.

“He will rest now.”

T’Riss exhaled heavily. “My thanks. We’ll requisition supplies once Zak has recovered and awakens.” He turned to Kala. “Who has your father chosen to send?”

Kala cocked her head, a strange smile on her face. “I thought you understood.”

“Understood what?”

“I am your assassin.”

T’Riss jerked, “You? But you haven’t completed-”

“My apprenticeship was completed sixteen moon cycles ago. I hold several top scores at the guild currently.”

T’Riss gazed around the room at his raiding party: Zak, Kala, Iym’mice, and Jhul. His heart sank as a sense of foreboding took over. What type of raid began with a member’s near death?
                                                                                                                                                                    * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this, even if it was shorter than I usually write. I wanted to showcase some artwork by Deviant Art artist "DireWrath" who's digital drawings inspired my female characters. Take a look at Jhulryna "Jhul."
                                                                                                                                                                    Comments as always are craved and appreciated, and if you're hungry for more FREE FICTION, check out the other *AWESOME AUTHORS* who've written stories this week

Be Well ~ Tux                                                   

Friday, August 1, 2014

FREE FICTION FRIDAYS #1 - THE FOREST LORD


Welcome to the first installment of FREE FICTION FRIDAYS here at "A Little Something... Wicked"! Hopefully you'll enjoy this piece, which was inspired by the creator of our new writers' group, Andrew Q. Gordon. He's a fantasy buff much like I am, and when he invited me to be a part of this new venture, I couldn't think of any better way to start than with a new fantasy M/M adventure.

Enough talk. On to... The Forest Lord

****


The streets of Chasz’Chalolvir sparkled wetly in the early hours. The magic that kept time for the underground city and its inhabitants washed the roof of the caverns with iridescent color. The swirling patterns of blue, green, pink, and violet traveled a path identical to the triune suns above ground, fading away at nightfall to be consistently renewed the following dawn. As T’Riss led Nath, his mechanical mount, along the road still wet from the sanitation engineers’ daily scrubbing, the tangy, bittersweet aroma of the rangpur soap they used stung the insides of his nose. He supposed he should be thankful that at least some things never changed. A slight sound drew his attention.

“If you continue to struggle, I’ll truss you so tight you won’t feel your own ass cheeks twitch.”

The bounty currently thrown across his saddle who had been flopping like a lake trout out of water abruptly ceased at T’Riss’s comment. The fool hadn’t been much of a problem until they got to the gates of Chasz’Chalolvir. Now he was behaving more like an imp from out of the nine hells than one renegade war mage from the Warriors’ Guild.

Part of T’Riss understood how the poor bastard felt. He despised returning to the city of his birth and ruination, even when it was absolutely necessary as it was today. For as much as the drow prided themselves on change and keeping up with the latest technology of the surface world, the city of Chasz’Chalolvir was ever a place of pain and degradation for T’Riss. He wished only to deposit his bounty at the Justice Hall, collect his fee, and return to his home in the distant Div’eari Forest.

He missed Zak and knew his heartmate would be worried about him; he’d been gone nearly two moon cycles on this bounty. Once T’Riss got within two days of Chasz’Chalolvir they dared not risk communicating by magic. Too many of House Rilyn-Tlar could intercept such messages, which they would undoubtedly twist before passing on. Better to go without communicating than risk sending tainted messages to each other.

T’Riss fought to retain his stoicism and turned right at the apothecary. In the distance he could see the splendor and majesty of the Azure Palace, the temple to the drow moon goddess, Lune. T’Riss didn’t consider himself to be overly religious, but every time he caught his first glimpse of that magnificent structure upon his return to this city, peace and calm flooded his body. He sighed, shook his head, and urged the mechanical stallion forward.

The Justice Hall stood among the other buildings dedicated to governing Chasz’Chalolvir, all of which were easily distinguishable due to their glassy black obsidian finish. T’Riss left Nath by the shining black steeds the deputies rode but did not power him down; on more than one occasion he had needed to leave the Hall at a flat gallop. He lifted his bounty from the saddle and tossed the wanted male over his shoulder. The mage, who was bound and gagged in suppressive restraints, whipped from side to side, tightening his bindings.

“Stop it,” T’Riss chided. “You’re only making it worse.”

T’Riss carried his bounty up the stairs and through the doors. He bypassed the front desks with a simple nod at the two armed guards, who took one look at him, his weapons, and the brands on his face, and never moved from their post. T’Riss would’ve laughed, but there was nothing funny about the situation. The Chasz’Chalolvir deputies despised hunters. They wouldn’t have pissed in his mouth if his tongue was on fire.

The lifts were ahead, all six of them ready to carry visitors up or down to any level of the Justice Hall. T’Riss eschewed them, turning to his left and heading for the stairs. If asked, he’d say he didn’t want to risk having to fight anyone in such a small, confined space, and that lifts were too dangerous, with too many inherent possibilities for problems in hauling bounties. He preferred the good, old-fashioned stairs where he had a clear view of the space around him and plenty of room to throw down if he had to fight or grapple.

Not that he intended to do anything but turn this joker over to the Chasz’Chalolvir Sheriff and collect his final fee. T’Riss trudged up the stairs, the male slowly getting heavier the more stairs he climbed. T’Riss bit back the sigh that was a breath away from passing from his lips. A hundred years earlier he could’ve carried two males the length of these stairs without noticing their weight. Perhaps Zak was right; perhaps he needed to let other hunters take the more dangerous warrants.

Finally he reached the fifth floor and strode down the hall, his grip on the male easy. His bounty was no longer doing the floppy fish. T’Riss knew what that meant and thumbed his katana free so that he could draw his sword without issue. Twenty yards from the warrant desk, the male made his move.

As far as escape attempts went, it was one of the weaker ones T’Riss had witnessed over the years. The male used his bound hands to gain purchase on T’Riss’s sword belt and jackknifed forward, over T’Riss’s shoulder. Had he used magic at that point, T’Riss might have actually had to chase him, but he didn’t. He attempted to free his feet and found himself staring down the long sharp edge of T’Riss’s blade.

“You would be wise, mage, to play dead before I render you that way permanently.”

The male stared at T’Riss for several long seconds before lying down on the glossy ebon floor and closing his eyes. T’Riss’s dagger was a blur, leaving a thin, three-inch slash on the male’s hand before anybody in the hallway even realized the hunter had drawn a second blade. T’Riss sheathed the dagger as the male gurgled and convulsed, foam flecking his lips and the floor around him. T’Riss heard shouting and ignored it, bending to check the male’s suppressive restraints as his feet pattered softly against the floor.

“He is worthless dead, Unmentionable.”

T’Riss straightened and turned to look at the Sheriff. “You know me better than that.”

“He is not, as he looks, poisoned?”

“Merely drugged. It will wear off.”

“Twelve years this one evaded capture.”

“Then you should’ve contacted me eleven years and twelve moon cycles ago.”

The Sheriff stood for a moment staring at T’Riss and then quite suddenly laughed.  “Bring him to the warrant desk and collect your fee. I have something for you.”

T’Riss nodded. The Sheriff always had something for him.

* * * *

In the one hundred thirty-seven years since Alybreena, Matron Mother of Chasz’Chalolvir, named him Unmentionable, T’Riss couldn’t remember feeling as furious as he did leaving the Justice Hall. Only a lifetime of practice at masking his emotions kept them locked down, and despite that, he knew by the way the halls cleared as he stormed through them that he wasn’t entirely successful.

He passed the magical records’ room fast enough that his waist-length white hair whipped behind him. Yet he still managed to hear a scandalized female voice. “…the Unmentionable from House Riz-LiNeer. For Lune’s sake, don’t look at him!”

T’Riss almost smirked. Good to know he was still notorious. After today his notoriety would no doubt become legend.

The front doors blew open, thrown by the force of his anger, and he walked out into what passed for daylight in Chasz’Chalolvir. The roof of the underground cavern was a riot of pink and violet streaked with green. T’Riss looked up, snorted in disgust, and went over to Nath. He freed the reigns with a quick jerk and mounted up with one easy hop. He quickly scanned his surroundings to be sure he was in no immediate jeopardy, and then closed his eyes and concentrated on his heartmate bond with Zakn’yl. The spell he had not sensed blocking their bond quivered, then shattered. Sure enough, Zak wasn’t at their home in the Div’eari Forest.

Zakn’yl Arken-A’te, war mage and his heartmate, was in the Azure Palace here in Chasz’Chalolvir.

T’Riss bit back a roar of rage. With expert precision he whirled the mechanical mount in a nearly full turn and rode for the palace gates.

* * * *

The entrance leading to the Azure Palace was enormous. Three great archways carved from blue quartz gilded with silver and set with moonstones looked out over the Great Plaza. The largest center archway was considered the general entrance and was for the penitent masses. A smaller archway with significantly more gilding stood to the right for the priestesses of Lune, including the Matron Mother. T’Riss, as an Unmentionable, wasn’t permitted to step through either of these archways. He was relegated to the smallest entrance, the one on the far left which everyone else utilized, including any surface dwellers or trespassers brought before the Matron Mother.

Plain compared to the other two, the third archway had simple silver wings on either side of the arch and a single, perfectly round moonstone set at the very top of the arch. Only when one stood directly below the moonstone was the jagged crack in it visible. Resembling a lightning strike or a tree branch, the cleft in the stone ran diagonally from top to bottom and bisected the entire gem: a perfect imperfection. As T’Riss stormed through the archway, the moonstone and the crevice in it glowed for a split second before again going dark.

The Azure Palace was full of drow, male and female, young and old, noble and common. T’Riss ignored them. He clutched the summons the Sheriff gave him in his right hand, his eyes fixed straight ahead. More than one individual gasped and turned away or fled from him; from the instant he entered the temple a steady flow of whispers reached his ears, like the buzz of an angry hornets’ nest. T’Riss ignored that, too. His matebond with Zakn’yl was a steady, pounding hum in his veins, a constant tingle that spread across his skin and made him feel tight and itchy.

He bypassed the ritual rooms, the religious instruction areas, and crossed over from the section of the building that housed the temple into the true Azure Palace: the home of the Matron Mother, Alybreena Yas’kah Mel-virr. Royal guardswomen immediately attempted to halt his forward progress, but T’Riss thrust the summons paper at them and continued on. Likewise, when the Azure Veil, the quartet of Mistress-Priestesses assigned to guard and protect the Matron Mother, moved menacingly into his path, T’Riss flung the summons at them. He snatched it back as he plowed past them on his way through the double doors they guarded. He was getting closer and closer to Zak, and he sensed his mate’s distress. Once again absolute fury boiled through T’Riss and he remembered his vow, recalling with distinct clarity the words he spoke regarding these very circumstances.

At last T’Riss stood before the Matron Mother’s private chambers. Without a word, the Mistress-Priestess in attendance opened the door for him and T’Riss strode through. Instead of finding Zak inside as he expected, all he discovered was Alybreena. The Matron Mother of Chasz’Chalolvir lounged on her receiving throne attended by Jhulryna Rilyn-Tlar, a Priestess of Lune and specialist in herbal lore. T’Riss struggled not to draw steel. Had he his way, he would’ve destroyed House Rilyn-Tlar, killed every miserable member of the House, razed it to the ground, and then salted the scorched earth where it once stood.

“Greetings, Unmentionable.” Alybreena’s voice was a sick, low purr that vibrated against his eardrums and made him nauseous. “I see you could not resist my summons.”

“Where is Zakn’yl Arken-A’te?” The temperature in the room dropped with the chill in his voice, and T’Riss reminded himself to maintain control.

“Unharmed,” the Matron Mother replied, an infuriating smile on her face. “Safe, I assure you, and untouched.”

“Why should I accept your word?”

“Do what you will.” Alybreena motioned to the female at the doors, and with a flick of her fingers trays of food and beverages appeared as the doors closed and magically bolted. “Only this time know that I am sincere in my offer to you.”

“What offer?” T’Riss barely contained his rage. “You’ve made no offer. You kidnapped my mate!”

Alybreena’s shrug was eloquent. Jhulryna fetched a cup of strong Stygian tea from the engraved silver serving tray and brought it to the queen. She sipped it and smiled at the female. “Thank you, Jhul.” She returned her attention to T’Riss. “As I was saying…”

“Produce Zakn’yl now.”

“Listen carefully, Unmentionable,” Alybreena said. “I shan’t repeat myself.”

Something in the drow queen’s tone brought T’Riss up short. He bit back his retort and listened.

“As you make your home in the Div’eari Forest, you are familiar with the neighboring Adintana Forest. For six centuries that swath of land has been neutral ground, a place where human, elf, and drow could travel between all lands and go unmolested. In the last three moons, thirteen souls have been claimed within its borders.”

“By whom?” T’Riss’s sharply arched white brows arrowed inward.

That is the problem.” Alybreena set her tea cup down. “Nobody knows. The humans and elves held a council to which we were not invited and determined that the drow were responsible, that we broke a treaty held inviolate for over half a millennia. Even now they prepare for war.”

“What do I care? You have named me Unmentionable to my own kind. I have no home. I have been denied everything due a male of our race.”

Alybreena’s red eyes flared with the power and strength of her magic and then locked with T’Riss’s pale lavender eyes, still so angry that they too glowed. “And what would you do to change all of that?”

T’Riss froze, his body going tight as a drawn bowstring. “What are you offering?”

“Hunt whatever is taking lives in Adintana Forest.” Alybreena purred her commands in her soft, sultry voice. “Prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is not a dark elf. Bring the true killer to justice, and do so before the humans and elves make war upon us. Accomplish these things, and I will reinstate your Name.”

A long moment of silence followed, and then T’Riss started to laugh. He laughed long and hard, the guffaws rolling out of him in a continuous steady stream of mirth that brought tears to his eyes. His reaction was obviously not what the Matron Mother anticipated. She looked less than the pleased.

T’Riss finally got control of his laughter and wiped his eyes. He shook his head and looked at the Matron Mother. “Even if I believed that you would do such a thing, which I do not, you would never have needed to kidnap Zakn’yl for a simple hunt.”

Alybreena stood. For a female she was quite tall, nearly six feet, her hair an ancient, antique white curtain held back from her face by a solid platinum diadem set with black diamonds. She eyed T’Riss coolly.

“You are correct. We have already sent two hunters. Both have failed.”

“Who did you send?”

“That is of no import.”

“If you wish me to consider a bounty that others have failed to bring in, it is of great import. Who did you send?”

“Quar’aufein Ken-lyl.”

T’Riss shrugged. “I was not aware his apprenticeship was complete.”

“It would have been, had he returned.”

“So you sent a child.” T’Riss’s derision was plain in his voice. “Who else?”

“When Quar failed to return, his master went to Adintana to retrieve him.”

Blinking twice to hide his surprise, T’Riss cocked his head. “I thought he trained with Raptor.”

The Matron Mother raised an eyebrow as she met T’Riss’s gaze. “He did.”

“If Raptor failed to hunt this creature then I will fare no better,” T’Riss murmured. “He was a far better hunter than I.”

The Matron Mother had the good grace not to smile at him. Instead she paced away and gave T’Riss her back, the long lines of her dark violet spider silk gown alluring even to his eyes. “I did not lure a hunter here. As you said, had I needed a hunter, I could’ve had the Sheriff offer you a bounty.”

“You want me to lead a raiding party.” He slowly shook his head, unconsciously backing up a step as Alybreena turned and gazed at him, magic crackling in her long antique white hair as it swung around her. A chill went down T’Riss’s spine. “I don’t do that anymore.”

“I will reinstate your Name,” Alybreena said softly.

“No.”

Her red eyes burned as they pinned him in place and she delivered her coup de grace. “I will release you from your mating vows to Micariara.”

“I am no arisa.”

“You were the best Chasz’Chalolvir ever knew. Lead a raid on the Adintana Forest. Bring to justice whosoever would dishonor the drow.”

“And?” T’Riss whispered.

“I shall perform the matebond ceremony for you and the Arken-A’te war mage myself.”

T’Riss sucked in a breath as the room spun. Impossible! He had to be dreaming. The first rule of dealing with demons, fey, and female drow was the same: if it seemed too good to be true, then it was too good to be true. T’Riss knew that maxim down to his marrow.

“Produce Zakn’yl. Now,” T’Riss said.

The Matron Mother heaved a sigh and raised her hands to the platinum diadem. Lightly touching her two middle fingers to the large cabochon cut black diamonds set over her temples, Alybreena closed her eyes and murmured a few brief words in ancient drow. The air in the room thickened and grew heavy, wavering like heat rising off the desert sands. T’Riss could smell his mate, the perfect combination of light, sweet ginger and exotic coconut rum wafting up to set his body on fire, and then like a mirage swirling up out of the heat, Zak appeared.

Like all members of House Arken-A’te, Zakn’yl was small and delicate. He stood a mere five foot five to T’Riss’s six foot four. Zak’s hair was a long fall of inky midnight silk, soft as a raven’s wing, and blended perfectly against the sparkling obsidian darkness of his skin. Fine-boned with a cupid’s bow mouth, Zak’s pale green eyes shone like iridescent orbs in the low light of the room as he stood next to Alybreena’s throne. When he saw T’Riss, those eyes instantly softened, lowering in deference to his mate.

“My mate.” Zak’s voice rang like a bell as T’Riss took two lunging steps toward him. Zak held his hand out and minutely shook his head. T’Riss stopped dead in his tracks.

“What?” T’Riss asked, his heart in his throat.

Zak looked at Alybreena, who sipped from a fresh cup of hot, Stygian tea, a tiny smile crooking the left side of her mouth.

“I spoke truth to you, Unmentionable. Lead a raiding party to the Adintana Forest and I will do all that I promised.”

T’Riss’s heart pounded frantically. He ached to touch his mate, who was very obviously in distress. “What have you done to my mate, you red-eyed bitch!”

The tiny smile slowly overtook her entire face. “I’m afraid Zakn’yl fell prey to a nasty infection. I shall be happy to cure him before the two of you recruit your raiding party.”

T’Riss’s entire body shook with his rage. He remembered his vow: that if he and Zak were ever in the presence of a high priestess he would speak the matebond ceremony words and prove that ordination wasn’t required – only a true bond in the eyes of Lune along with deep and abiding love. Zak read his mate’s intention, though.

“Please, my mate. She speaks truth. I’m… unwell.”

T’Riss gazed at his mate, at the only being in the universe who truly mattered. Even in his pain and discomfort Zak was beautiful, and offered T’Riss the smile that never failed to make his heart do handsprings. The two males stared at each other for a long moment and though no words were spoken, plenty was said. Finally T’Riss wrenched his eyes away and turned to Alybreena.

“You win. I claim my rights as arisa.”

“Granted.” Alybreena’s eyes blazed like two rubies. “Welcome back, T’Rissinns Riz-LiNeer.”

****

Thanks for reading! I know a picture's worth a thousand words, so here is the stunning artwork by an amazing DeviantArt artist known as Mavrosh that helped bring T'Rissins Riz-LiNeer to life.

Is it any wonder Alybreena loves to torment him?

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Be Well ~ Tux