No Distance Greater than the Stars – Chapter 38

Chapter Thirty-Eight

The Shadows of Vaharrish

Eta Serpentis, 62 light-years from Earth

Vaharrish the Glorious was nothing like its namesake. Jalingan wondered whether it had once been a bright and thriving place. If so, there was no evidence left of that past. A few written records of some past glory, perhaps, but nothing that that could be proven as more than delusions of self-grandeur. All that was left of the planet now were shadows and dark clouds.

Jalingan pulled his hood closer around his face as the announcement came on that the ship was now entering the planet’s atmosphere. Had he been in the cockpit, he would have seen the sky darken and surround the vessel in a thick ocean of clouds. As it was, he was merely in the passenger section. He’d left his Silver Lynx in storage two stations back before making it onto his mercenary flight to the K’zzyrch planet. The ship he was on now was piloted by K’zzyrch. It had been built on this planet. It was everywhere that he needed to be, and everything that he dreaded.

He sighed as he felt the ship ease onto the landing pad. The Bangoran next to him shifted, and Jalingan pretended not to notice; he wanted nothing to do with a creature whose muscles were thicker than his head. There were a few other mercenaries in the passenger hold, and none of them were in a speaking mood. They were kept waiting for several minutes while the crew went through the landing procedures.

When the door finally opened, a K’zzyrch in a gray uniform stepped in. He called the Bangoran man first, and the alien’s footsteps resounded across the floor of the ship.

“Jal Sevenmoon,” the uniformed lizard said next.

“Yes, sir,” Jalingan said as he stood up. He pulled back his hood and looked the K’zzyrch strain in his eyes.

“You’re slated for work in the main tower,” he was told. “Your guards are here to escort you.”

Jalingan nodded. “Thank you, sir.” He crossed the ship, his bag slung over his shoulder, and passed the gray-uniformed lizard as he stepped through the exit. He could feel the eyes on his back as he walked across the landing bay, and dared not turn around.

The guards were dressed in a different shade of gray, almost blue in the right light. Jalingan had gotten used to the color choices that the K’zzyrch used, even though they had never specifically told him what they meant. Standard gray was for workers of many sorts, and the blue-gray was for low-ranking guards. White was for doctors, and black was for those with a certain degree of power. There were other colors, he knew, but they weren’t anything that he had to be quite so careful around.

Jalingan had been issued his black uniform ages ago by one of the leaders in the main tower. His addition of the gold lining had be humored by the K’zzyrch, a sort of novelty that they attributed to his mammalian blood. He didn’t care much why they let him do it; being humored was as good a reason as it when it left him identifiable to his own people.

The capital city of Vaharrish the Glorious was vast. That was the only good thing that he could say about it. He might have called it dark, but it glittered with countless artificial lights. Had sunlight still shone on it, it might be more obvious how bleak the place really was. There were no fields, not even on the outskirts of the city. Everything was manufactured, the streets paved, the buildings solid. The only reason that they had any food to eat that wasn’t imported was because they had great swaths of indoor growing facilities, greenhouses stacked level upon level, were the artificial light was carefully modulated to keep the plants happy.

But happiness was not the right word for anything that went on anywhere on the planet; not truly. The K’zzyrch that Jalingan had seen lived in a sort of subsistence, forcing themselves to be content with what they were given. Then there was the ever-present sense of command and obedience; do as those above you order or suffer the consequences. Don’t anger the Dark Apostates or those who serve them. And also… do not defy those who seek to free Vaharrish the Glorious from their awful grip.

Jalingan had gotten used to the sort of oxymoronic existence that the K’zzyrch had found themselves living in. He hated being used to it, but he also felt that he had to deal with it for the sake of his own survival.

Sytherrinz, they called the city. The word slithered of his tongue whenever he said it – and he said it as little as possible. The seat of the leaders of Vaharrish the Glorious, home of the mysterious Dark Apostates. The main tower was in Sytherrinz, but it was less of a tower and more of a broad, tri-bladed arrowhead that rose up into the shadowy skies. Its three planes were evenly spaced, one stretching northwards, the others southwest and southeast.

The planes were occupied by all manner of business of state, but it was the central cylinder that was the most important. The planes – or wings, as the K’zzyrch liked to call them – came together and blended into the central beam, ending at about the sixtieth floor. Everything above that was the most respected place to be. It was also the most dangerous, should anyone ever find out why Jalingan was really there.

“Level seventy-nine,” one of the guards said as the lift slowed to a stop and the glass doors opened.

‘The seat of Prime Lord Izan,’ Jalingan noted to himself. He stepped out of the lift onto a shining marble floor, wondering if perhaps his boots were clean enough to be treading on it. It wasn’t that he actually cared, but that he had a facade to put on.

There were high-ranking guards – the closest thing that the K’zzyrch had to knights – lining the open hall. None of them moved when they saw Jalingan. His lower-ranking guards led him across the floor, his flowing cloak reflecting in the sheen of the marble as he walked. A pair of obsidian doors opened as they approached, and the guards flowed on into the next room.

Jalingan stood perfectly still when the doors slammed shut behind him. He was in the chambers of a prime lord of Vaharrish now; this was one of the powerful rulers of the planet, a man who made decisions for the K’zzyrch. He shared that power with six other prime lords, and Jalingan knew that the only thing controlling them were the Dark Apostates.

“Great primal lord,” the herald said when he stood up and saw Jalingan, “Jal Sevenmoon has arrived.”

“At last,” a voice replied. It was deep as slow, but rattled the way a snake might when it was warning that it might strike. Jalingan was terribly familiar with that voice; he’d never wanted to hear it again.

He knew better than to say anything just yet. Prime Lord Izan moved slowly, deliberately, with the sort of flow that the K’zzyrch found most graceful. The back of his seat was to the doors, but also tall, so that Jalingan could not see him until he saw fit to rise out of his chair and step around to view his guest.

“So you have come,” Izan intoned, looking him over. He was one of the noble K’zzyrch, taller than the others, wearing the finest of clothes rather than a uniform. Jalingan could see his scales that way, small and shining black, mottled with violet and copper. His eyes were much the same, and Jalingan at times found it hard to tell whether Izan was looking at him, or perhaps elsewhere.

Jalingan gave the prime lord his most gracious bow, low and deep, and then descended to one knee, keeping his eyes on the floor. “I am here to serve you, prime lord.”

“Of course,” Izan replied, inspecting the curvature of his claws. “How good of you to make me your master once again.”

Jalingan couldn’t find the words to reply. In that very moment, he was having a hard time supplicating himself to a man who was the enemy of so many. It had been so much easier the last time… He steeled himself, hoping that once he acclimated, it would get easier. At the very least, his silence would be taken for subservience.

“Give him a weapon,” Izan ordered the guards. Then he stepped up beside Jalingan and pulled back his hood. His claws slid under his chin and pulled his gaze upward. “You will have to keep your eyes on me while you are here, Jal Sevenmoon.”

“As you command,” Jalingan replied. He was used to what the K’zzyrch called him; it was just as natural to him as his true name. It had to be, lest any of them doubt that he was anyone but Jal Sevenmoon.

“You may rise,” Izan said when the guards returned with a selection of guns. He turned away and looked over what they had selected. “Give him this one… and that smaller one for his belt. Get the rest of them out of my chambers.”

The guards bowed, and one of them approached Jalingan while the others left the room. Jalingan was given a disruptor energy pistol to wear at his hip, a small and quick weapon that he could draw easily. The other one took both arms for him to hold, and it was as refined as it was powerful. He set his bag down before taking it from the guard.

“A laser assault rifle,” Jalingan said as his eyes took in every detail of the sleek black weapon. “Surely a prime lord is not in such danger as to need this guarding him.”

“The dark apostates are uneasy,” Izan replied. “I will not be removed from power. Not now, and not ever.”

Jalingan knew that when the prime lords spoke of the apostates, it was mostly superstition and rumors. The truth was, none of them had even seen the Dark Apostates. It made him wonder whether they even existed.

“As you wish, prime lord,” Jalingan said with a slight bow. He hefted the gun in his hands, peered through the scope, and took note of the way it felt.

“Should you fail me,” Izan went on, leaning in close and running his claws down Jalingan’s neck, “or should I find myself no longer in power, you shall suffer the consequences.”

“Of course,” the half-lion replied. “Have no fear that I will be guarding you until the apostates have receded once again, and your position is secure.”

Izan nodded his approval, then stepped slowly back towards his seat, his tail waving along behind him. Jalingan nudged his bag with one boot and looked expectantly at the guard, who got the picture and picked it up to move it to a better location. Then he left, and Jalingan followed Izan around to the other side of his armchair and planted his feet shoulder-width apart, standing at the ready.

Prime Lord Izan sank slowly into his chair and stared at the half-Leomian before him. He beckoned a servant over with some wine, and said nothing else for a long time.

The K’zzyrch lords were leaders only in name. As far as Jalingan had ever seen, they did not actually lead. They sat and luxuriated, they made demands and gave orders, but they never seemed to rally anyone, never made decisions for the benefit of others, and seemed to serve no purpose other than to occupy a seat. Jalingan supposed that they might meet now and again with those whom they controlled, with someone who actually did something useful for the government, but he’d never seen it happen for himself.

Jalingan spent the day standing in place, watching over Prime Lord Izan while he ate and drank. He had no visitors. Eventually, Izan took to the halls, paying a visit to the other prime lords, and Jalingan followed him, the gun in his hands, speaking nothing unless directly asked to. It wasn’t until the evening that his shift ended, and he was given leave to turn his gun over to the next bodyguard.

He had to force himself to keep his movements slow and controlled as he took his bag and bowed out of the room; he could not seem too eager to leave.

Once he was out of Prime Lord Izan’s chambers, past the knight-guarded hallway, and in the lift, he breathed a sigh of relief. The prime lords were some of the worst K’zzyrch, determined to stay in power despite anything that might threaten them. They had the strongest desire to see the K’zzyrch rampaging through the galaxy, attacking whomever they could profit from, taking whatever they pleased. They led the way for the suffering of so many species, and they above all others needed to be stopped. The thought of protecting Izan for the next few weeks left his stomach sour.

Jalingan took the lift down to one of the levels closer to the ground floor. He found the room that he’d been assigned to, changed his clothes, and dropped off his travel bag before heading out again. There was a sort of bar a couple floors down, and he started his evening off with two pints of dark ale.

* ** *** ** *

The alarm that woke Jalingan the next morning was not a welcome one. He’d drunk enough ale to forget, if only for a few hours, where he was and what he was doing. Now he was being called back to his duty, and it made him groan. Had there been any way to avoid serving the prime lord, to hide outside in the wilds of Vaharrish the Glorious, he would have done just that. But then again, there was no wilderness left on the planet.

Jalingan rolled out of the bed and stumbled over to the shower. He had a thought as the water rushed down his back that it would have been so much easier if Xingfei was on the planet with him. It was only a flash of a thought, and he forced it away immediately. The whole idea was too dangerous. Part of him being there meant appearing a certain way, as though he had nothing to lose, as though he only cared about the work and the money. That would have been impossible with the A’untoren there.

Once he had his uniform on, he took the lift back up to level seventy-nine. The guards there stared at him when he exited the lift, but none of them moved to stop him. He was given entry into Prime Lord Izan’s chambers, where he knelt as the herald announced his arrival.

“Morning’s greetings to you,” Izan said as he walked over to the half-lion. He laid a hand in his shoulder, then looked up at the other bodyguard. “Rise. Get your weapon from Kélon.”

Jalingan stood up straight and followed Izan’s gaze. It was another mercenary, shrouded in black, holding the laser assault rifle. It was not the same one from the day before, making him think that they worked in three or four different shifts. He held out his hands for the gun, and was given it without a single word.

“Leave,” Izan ordered the other bodyguard. And the stranger left, not even speaking a word of obedience or farewell.

“He’s a quiet one,” Jalingan noted.

Prime Lord Izan scoffed. “Kélon is a creature of few words,” he explained. “It makes him best for the night shift. Now come; I am famished.”

Jalingan followed Izan to another room, where a long table was set with an elaborate breakfast. Izan took a seat at the head of the table. His mate sat at the other end, and their servant stood in between, ready to serve them. Jalingan planted himself near the prime lord, his eyes fixed on the door.

The K’zzyrch took their time eating, taking more and more for their plates as time wore on. The monotony of it was finally broken by the arrival of another guest. She was white-scaled, with patches of violet and long streaks of copper. Her eyes shone brightly as she looked about the room.

“Jal Sevenmoon is back!” she declared when she noticed him.

This might have been the perfect time for Jalingan to groan. He couldn’t, though, and that made it all the worse. He had to hide his emotions, pretend that he had no reaction, and above all not upset this young lady.

“Oh, Jal!” she cried, rushing across the room to throw her arms around him. He swallowed hard, forcing himself to hold still. “I’m so glad that you’ve returned!”

Jalingan said nothing.

“Let go of him, S’sezelle,” Lord Izan snapped. “He is on duty.”

S’sezelle looked disappointed, but she stepped back all the same. “Can’t he even sit down for breakfast?” she asked as she took her own seat.

Izan narrowed his eyes and looked between her and Jalingan. Then he gestured to a nearby chair. It was across the table from S’sezelle.

“Sit down,” Izan ordered. “Eat something, fill your belly, but be on your guard all the while.”

“As you command,” Jalingan agreed. He moved to take the chair, laying his gun down on the table, just to his left. The servants scooped and ladled food onto his plate until it was very well laden, and then stepped back again. Jalingan began eating it right away.

The food was some of the finest on the planet, but Jalingan could not enjoy it with S’sezelle’s foot caressing his leg the entire time. He forced himself to ignore it rather than making the disgusted face that he so wanted to.

It came as a great relief when breakfast was finished and S’sezelle was escorted away by nearly a score of what could only be called maids-in-waiting. Jalingan took up his gun and followed Prime Lord Izan back to the front room once his mate left as well. He resumed his watchful stance and let the day wane on.

It was another uneventful day in the life of a prime lord. Izan had visits from some of his fellow lords, and they spoke mostly of things that betrayed their level of paranoia. The prime lords were very upset about what the Apostates were up to, although they could not seem to pinpoint exactly what that was. Paranoia seemed to define their very lives.

“I forgot to take my zifesk last night,” one of them told Izan.

“The nightmares you must have had,” Izan replied.

“They keep getting worse and worse,” the other one said. “I could not even get back to sleep.”

“I make very sure never to forget mine,” Izan said. “You ought to take more care.”

They spoke for only a little bit longer before the other prime lord left. From the way they talked, the K’zzyrch were plagued by nightmares. Only some of them had access to this zifesk, this substance that could block the nightmares. On top of that, the dreams were being blamed on the actions of the Dark Apostates. Jalingan listened closely, all the while pretending that he was paying no attention at all.

The prime lord left before Jalingan could hear anything else about zifesk. He was intrigued by it, and by the prospect of putting a stop to his own terrible dreams. While the K’zzyrch dreamed of bloodshed and carnage, Jalingan dreamed over and over again about his own birth. Sometimes he remembered what it was like being an infant, tiny and helpless. Other times he emerged, inexplicable as it was, grown and ready to do battle.

There were nights when he awoke sweating, having been killed as a young boy in his nightmares. He could never get back to sleep on those nights. He much preferred the ones in which he was born a dragon, screeching in the night and swooping down over a vast city – bizarre as it felt to dream such things. He wondered how much better his rest would be if he, too, could get hold of this substance he’d heard about.

Hours later, Jalingan was once again able to turn his weapon over to the next shift and head down to the bar. When he got there, another one of the mercenaries recognized him.

“Hey, Sevenmoon!” he called out, waving his arms to make sure that he was seen.

Jalingan sighed and headed over to him. He was not somebody that Jalingan liked to spend time with. He was no friend to the secret resistance, and he was deeply loyal to the K’zzyrch. He was even friendly to the Bangorans.

“Tanj,” Jalingan said as he took a seat and ordered an ale, “I didn’t know that you were on the planet.”

“I usually am, these days,” Tanj replied. “You haven’t been here in a while.”

“Nope,” Jalingan admitted. “But the pay was too good to resist this time.”

Tanj grinned his long, blood-stained teeth and pat Jalingan on the back. “That’s what you’ve always been reliable for, Jal: earning money and getting –”

Jalingan cut him off before he could get another word out. “Look, Rapheus is here, too!”

Rapheus was just walking in the door. When Jalingan called out to him, he headed straight for them and sat down beside him.

“It’s good to see you, Sevenmoon,” Rapheus told him. He was Restherian, a member of the secret who spent time on Vaharrish the Glorious for the sole purpose of keeping an eye on things. That said, Jalingan hardly ever saw him, and he rarely had a chance to communicate with anyone else in the resistance, especially Doctor Linnaeus.

“Same to you,” Jalingan replied.

It wasn’t easy being polite to Tanj, but they knew they’d have to in order to fit in at the main tower. Tanj could best be described as the species one one discover if Arthropoda and Reptilia had ever intersected. His dull brown scales were armored by a chitinous exoskeleton, and he had four lanky arms with spines running down them. His skull was long and bulbous; it looked heavy, but Jalingan and Rapheus both knew that his mind was as full of envy, arrogance, and paranoia as the K’zzyrch were. He also had long, narrow horns that curved upwards, paling in color, that were a very useful defense mechanism for him.

Jalingan was altogether disgusted by Tanj’s presence, whereas Rapheus seemed better able to tolerate him. He was wondering whether he ought to find somewhere else to drink when another round of ale appeared before him.

“Drink up, men!” Tanj declared. “It’s not often that the three of us are together, after all.” He took a large gulp from his tankard and grinned at Jalingan.

Tanj was always a great resource for getting free drinks. Jalingan had nearly forgotten this explanation as to why he put up with him. At least when he was drunk, he could forget about some things.

They had been drinking for nearly an hour when Rapheus leaned close to whisper, “Behind you.”

Jalingan turned around to see S’sezelle approaching him from behind. When his eyes met hers, she looked upset and crossed her arms.

“You weren’t supposed to notice me!” she complained.

“As your brother’s bodyguard,” Jalingan replied, “I need to be able to notice everything. Why would you even want to sneak up on mercenaries?”

“Just you.”

He gave her a baffled look and glanced between the two aliens beside him. “They wouldn’t let you. This place isn’t for anyone of your status; what are you doing down here?”

“I heard you were at the bar,” S’sezelle explained, hooking her arm with his, “so I thought I would invite you upstairs for a bottle of wine.”

“I much prefer ale,” he told her, trying to get his arm back.

“What’s wrong with you?” Tanj asked him. “She wants you in her room. I never though I’d see the day when Jal Sevenmoon didn’t want to –”

“Shut up,” Jalingan told him. “This is Prime Lord Izan’s sister.”

“So what?” Tanj replied. “Rumor has it that you’ll nail down anything that moves.”

Jalingan gave him an incredulous look. He couldn’t show his disgust; he could only pretend to be a gentleman. “The prime lord would be angry to hear you talking about her like that. Besides,” he said, turning back towards the bar, “I only got in yesterday, and it was a long flight to get here. I just want to have one more drink and then go to bed.”

“But Jal!” S’sezelle complained.

“Well,” Tanj said, looking her over, his long forked tongue checking the air, “if you don’t want her, Jal, I’ll show her a good time.”

S’sezelle looked insulted and backed away. “A vile thing like you? What division do you serve in? You’re not even uniformed!”

“Neither will he be, once he gets to your room,” Tanj pointed out, pointing a thumb-like appendage Jalingan’s way.

S’sezelle picked up his drink and splashed it in his face. Then she stormed out of the bar without another word, but looking very upset.

“Wow,” Jalingan said, offering Tanj a bar napkin. “She really wasn’t interested.”

“Probably because she came here just for you,” Rapheus pointed out.

Tanj snarled and pushed the square of paper away. He got off his bar stool in a huff and headed over to the washroom.

“I think I’d better go,” Jalingan said, getting up from his own stool. He laid some money on the bar, chugged the last of his ale, and looked to Rapheus. “We should talk soon.”

“Is this job about more than just the money?” Rapheus asked him.

Jalingan shrugged. It was all he could do in a bar full of mercenaries and low-ranking K’zzyrch. Rapheus seemed to understand.

“In a couple days, then,” he said. “This restlessness with the Dark Apostates has everyone on edge, even the communications division.”

“I’ll be around,” Jalingan told him. “Until then, keep the stars safe.”

“And your heart safer,” Rapheus said as the half-lion walked away.

Minutes later, Jalingan was walking towards his room when three figures appeared at the other end of the hall. He didn’t recognize them until they were closer, and he was trying to find the key to his room.

“Stop there, Sevenmoon,” a voice slithered.

Jalingan looked up from the door handle and nearly dropped his keys. It was Prime Lord Izan, his current bodyguard behind him and his sister at his side. Had it not been for S’sezelle’s presence, he would have been certain that something was terribly wrong. With her there, he supposed that he knew what this was about. He stood up straighter and steadied himself.

“Good evening, Prime Lord Izan.”

Izan scoffed. “It would be so much better if I was not down here, Sevenmoon.”

“I must admit, my lord, that it’s rather unusual to see you outside of your quarters.”

Izan narrowed his eyes and gave Jalingan a curious look. “Are you being coy, Sevenmoon?” He did not wait for Jalingan to respond. “Let me explain something to you so that there are no further questions. I am your master, and you will be completely obedient not only to me, but all of my family. If my sister desires you for her… entertainment, then you will oblige her.”

Izan grabbed Jalingan by the shoulders and shoved him against the wall, then leaned in close to his ear. “Should you choose to instead create a rift in my family, I can slit your throat,” he slithered, running his claws over Jalingan’s neck, “right now.”

Jalingan swallowed hard, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. “O- Of course, Prime Lord,” he stuttered. “I… I don’t know got into me.”

“Keep Tanj away from her,” Lord Izan warned, still not letting go. “If he has her, Sevenmoon, I will…” Izan leaned in closer and whispered something that made Jalingan nod right away.

“I will look out for her, Prime Lord,” he agreed, his voice shaking. “You have my word.”

“Good,” Izan slithered as he backed away slowly. He turned to his sister.

“You don’t have to hurt him,” S’sezelle insisted, smoothing out Jalingan’s shirt. “He would have come if you had just asked him nicely. He just didn’t know how important he is to me.”

“A Prime Lord would never comport himself in such a way,” Izan told her. “I suppose that is why the other nobles do not show an interest in you. Now get out of here before the Apostates hear of this!”

S’sezelle grinned up at Jalingan. He glanced between her and Izan, and then offered her his arm. They walked together down the hallway, not saying a word. The prime lord watched them go, and then turned to his bodyguard to take the other hallway.

* ** *** ** *

S’sezelle’s room was decorated to her precise tastes. She had ordered her maids to hang brightly-color cloth from the ceiling, tapestries from the walls, and brightly-colored blown glass from the windows. She adored color, the brighter the better, It hurt Jalingan’s eyes to look at, however, and it only added to the reasons that he was angry at being there.

Her wine was overly sweet. He had hoped to at least further how drunk he was with it, but the taste was too awful. Instead of drinking it himself, he decided that he would encourage her to consume as much as she could. If he could get her drunk enough, she would pay less attention, and he wouldn’t have to…

He tried not to think too much about it. By the time she had him on her bed, his boots pulled off, her own clothes scattered across the floor, she was a giggling mess. He was exhausted, wishing that he could have simply gone to his room to sleep, but she would not relent.

Even when it took a great deal of coaxing to get started what she wanted from him, she did not give up. To S’sezelle, Jalingan was nothing more than a novel plaything, and she was a very playful young lady. She liked nothing better than to slither between the sheets for hours, and toying with the higher-ranking mercenaries always left her with a smile.

Jalingan had hoped that she would tire of him before she’d gotten his pants off, but he was not so lucky. His jacket was open, her hands sliding up his shirt, when his hands grabbed her wrists.

“Leave it,” he told her, meeting her eyes.

“But Jal…” she whined.

He shook his head, then forced a grin. “You wouldn’t keep it waiting any longer, would you?”

She giggled and nuzzled his neck. “You see, I knew you’d grow bold soon enough.”

Jalingan clenched his jaw as he felt her move down over him. While she seemed to be enjoying herself a great deal, rolling her eyes back and moaning without a care as to who might hear her, he was wishing that he was anywhere else. He could never have told his father about her, or how badly he wanted to avoid her, as much as he wished he could. It was more important, he reminded himself, to make sure that his mission was a success, that he made it possible for the fleet to surround the planet and make their way in.

He let her do what she wanted for a while, trying to keep his mind on other things. She was not easy to satisfy, but she’d had more than a full bottle of wine, so he hoped that she would tire quickly. All he had to do was avoid –

Jalingan grabbed S’sezelle by the hips suddenly, pulling her off to one side. She cried out as he curled into a ball, and he ignored her to focus on his breathing.

“What are you doing?” she hissed, looking down at him.

“Just…” he gasped, “hold on a moment.”

“Explain yourself!” she demanded.

He turned to look up at her. “You didn’t want me to be done already, did you?”

S’sezelle’s expression turned to a grin, and she reached down to grab him. “So you were enjoying me a great deal, weren’t you?” She watched his eyes roll back as he moaned. “I should probably tell you… I made a clutch of eggs not long before you got back here.”

“Did you?” he asked, pretending to be interested even while he focused on keeping in control.

“Yes.”

“And… and were you lucky enough to have them fertilized?”

S’sezelle shook her head. “Not this time. They were taken away, I fear. But I could do it again, and this time you could make them live.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” Jalingan told her.

She did not seem at all pleased to hear that. “Why not? If it’s what I want, my brother has already ordered you to do it.”

“Oh yes, he has,” he replied, “but then there is the matter of biology. Our species are too different for me to give life to your eggs.”

S’sezelle was not to be dissuaded. Her hands caressed him more as she spoke. “Who is to say that for certain? You must try, at the very least.”

“As you desire,” he said, “although you should not get too hopeful. I’ve worked around enough hazardous sites that I doubt that my seed has any life in it at all.”

“As strong as you are?” she asked, grinning down at his loins. “You must be as virile as they come.”

Jalingan shrugged. “I can only promise to give you part of what you want; the rest is not up to me. But after I am done, I must get to my own bed. Your brother needs me guarding him in the morning.”

S’sezelle though for a moment and then giggled. “And won’t it be interesting going to breakfast with your –”

He didn’t let her finish. As far as she was concerned, it was because he was too excited by the idea. His secret was that he couldn’t stand her actually saying it. Jalingan sat up and moved behind her, pushed her down onto her knees, and grabbed her hips.

“There’s that aggressiveness that I like from you.”

“Just be quiet and let me do this,” he told her as he pressed up against her.

He hated the way that she cried out as she moved; he had no desire to give her pleasure, but it was impossible to do anything else. Jalingan knew exactly what he had to do in order for her to let him leave, and he didn’t dare take the risk of actually doing it. Nobody knew whether K’zzyrch DNA could combine with Leomians or humans, let alone a hybrid. He also had no idea whether or not he was actually sterile. Sure, he had the reputation that Tanj had mentioned earlier for a very good reason, but he never stuck around long enough to find out whether he had inadvertently created offspring. Then again, he usually took precautions.

With S’sezelle, though, she had never let him take those precautions. She always insisted that he do it her way. It had forced Jalingan to learn how to keep his seed away from her while still letting her think that she was filled by it. Part of his tactic was keeping her drunk and not paying attention; then he had a chance of bringing in a protective barrier. Most of the time, it was all about moving in just the right ways that she thought he had finished.

It wasn’t easy to pretend but not actually do it, but at least there were other factors in play to keep him safe. Jalingan didn’t dare to give her his child. He wanted nothing to do with her or her brother, but right then it wasn’t about just him. The rest of the galaxy needed him on Vaharrish the Glorious, whether or not they realized it. In a few weeks, the strike on the planet would wipe out the Dark Apostates, and with them the Prime Lords and their families. Jalingan couldn’t bear the thought of having made offspring that would only be killed in the time to come.

Instead, he moved in exactly the way that he needed to so that S’sezelle would believe that he was well beyond satisfied. He grew loud the way she needed him to, and when she’d had enough, he collapsed onto the bed and let her roll over to the other side. He breathed hard for a few minutes, keeping himself in control; he had to keep on pretending, because if he made a mess in her sheets, she would know, and everything would unravel.

Once she seemed content, Jalingan hurried to the washroom connected to her chamber. He closed the door, thankful that at least here he had some privacy, and set to work at truly finishing. It ached terribly to keep stopping the way he did with her. Even worse, only certain thoughts kept him going. He had been with more men and women than he could count. Humans, Leomians, Lixfelians, even Gliesians and beyond.

Xingfei had been his only A’untoren. Why he was the only one who really helped Jalingan’s body do what he needed to do, Jalingan could not explain. He’d never felt attachment to anyone else he’d bedded before, and why his mind lingered so long on that blue skin, he could not explain. All he knew what that remembering what Xingfei had done to him made him able to lean over the toilet and pour out into it.

He forced himself to hold in his groans; S’sezelle could not be allowed to hear what it truly sounded like when he was done. Then he cleaned up and left the washroom.

As Jalingan walked back towards her bed, he noticed her drinking a faintly green liquid from a crystal amphora.

“What is that?” he asked her. “More wine?”

S’sezelle giggled as she put the lid back on. “No, silly mercenary. This is zifesk.”

“Which is what?” he asked, pretending that he had no idea.

“It’s the newest thing the doctors have made,” she explained. She was looking terribly drowsy, and Jalingan worried that she would not be able to explain it before she fell asleep. “It makes it so that we don’t have nightmares anymore. We can just sleep. No dreams, no images, just pure, quiet sleep.”

“Well…” he replied, not wanting to sound interested,, “at least you get to rest.
“And rest I shall,” S’sezelle told him. “Put out the light when you leave, would you? I really must get to sleep.”

“Of course,” he told her as he watched her yawn and pull her blanket up over her. “Rest well.”

Jalingan dimmed the lights and waited a couple minutes to make sure that she fell asleep, then walked over to her dresser. There were several amphorae, all exactly the same, each about the height of his palm, all but one filled with that pale green liquid. This was what they were using to keep the nightmares away. He could not possibly ask for any from them. None of the K’zzyrch knew that he had the scar from their poison, or that he was wracked by their nightmares. They had never connected the Jalingan from the moon base attack to the Jal Sevenmoon who was their loyal mercenary, and he could not let that change. Still, he needed a good night’s sleep, and it seemed worth it to try zifesk.

Jalingan took an empty flask from an inner pocket in his jacket, and poured a little of the fluid from each amphora into it. He made sue that each one stayed equal, so that it wouldn’t be detected that he’d taken any. Then he put the flask into his coat, turned the lights all the way off, and left S’sezelle’s room. He was hoping that with a few nights of good sleep, and her leaving him alone until she was ready to play again, he would be able to deal with all of it just a little bit longer.

About Legends of Lorata

Eleanor Willow is the author of the high fantasy series Legends of Lorata, which takes place on a medieval-style world filled with elves, dragons, and faeries. There is also a fourth race, one that is rare and magical: the angelic Starr. Lorata is a planet where four gods are known: good, evil, elemental and celestial-- and there are plenty of legends about them all! One of the most important ones is the prophecy of Jenh's champion, Loracaz, who is promised to return to the land whenever evil threatens to take hold. There are currently three books completed, and the first one can be read online. Book four is currently being written, and a fifth will most likely be in the future. Any news I have on about publishing will be shared as it comes in!
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