Believe me, I can hear it! The sound flutters through my emails, Facebook group and Kickstarter messages like a flock of Pelagornis on the wind. The voices are subtle but clear, joining together in a melodious chorus.
"Yo! MSE, where is Tamer 9?" They query.
Don't worry, I'm here to partially satisfy the intense craving with a heaping, tomahawk steak-style preview of epic proportions.
That's right! I've got the first 3 chapters of Tamer 9 for your viewing pleasure 🥳
Please read and enjoy!
Note: This still needs an additional editor pass so please be gentle :)
“You… Wish to conquer this world?” Ohkall asked as he turned his head from the ancient painting on the wall to my face. “I know you are powerful, but that seems such… a… difficult task.”
“Look at the painting,” Emta scoffed. “That seems to be what is going on, eh?”
“King,” Veeraale started, and then she took a deep breath and cleared her throat softly. “I would never wish to question you, but would you mind telling us your ability? Maybe then Ohkall and I would feel more comfortable with your goal.”
“I was not uncomfortable,” the big stone man grumbled. “I will follow King where he goes and do as he says. My statement was more one of awe. Wyss spoke of such things, but with little conviction.”
“I’m not Wyss,” I said with a shrug.
“My apologies, King,” Okhall gasped as he raised his long blade-like fingers. “I did not mean to--”
“I’m not offended,” I cut him off. “Also, you three have a bit of the wrong idea of me. I’m not as brutal as I acted before when I was speaking with you all. I just did what I needed to do to buy us time. I knew what Wyss’ power was, and I mostly knew what you guys could do, but you didn’t know what I could do, so I emphasized that fact to make him freak out a bit.”
“Sooo… You aren’t as scary as we thought?” Haryoud asked.
“Oh, he is,” Gee’s voice laughed from the cave tunnel behind us, and we all turned to see the flame dancer skip into the cavern like a bouncing fireball.
“Here,” Nomi stepped toward her so the two women could hold hands, and the air immediately cooled.
“You are really made of fire?” Veeraale asked.
“That I am, girl,” Gee laughed. “I’m the Flame Dancer. The only one on my world, I command the iron navy across all the seas of lava, but I follow that man over there, as do all the other women here, so you’d best do the same and not even bother to question his strength. Oh, and I killed that boy screaming out his stomach.”
“Thanks.” I smiled at her and then turned back to the three new members of my tribe. “What do you think my power is?”
“Hmmm…” Veeraale hummed as her red eyes looked up and down my body. “I’m guessing you can move very fast?”
I turned to Ohkall.
“You don’t take damage, can’t die, and are incredibly strong?” the ten-foot-tall rock-man asked.
I looked at Haryoud.
“I… I wonder if you can control the beasts of this world?” the orange-furred man with the spider face asked.
“Why do you think that?” I asked as I tried to keep the grin off my face.
“I just noticed that these beasts seem to always be around you, and they act strangely. They don’t attack or run away. They seem to be watching and waiting. Am I correct?”
“You are.” I finally smiled at the fox-spider man. “Good job. You are observant.”
“My only power is my sight,” he chuckled nervously as he bowed his head.
“Tell me about your power,” I asked. “I know a bit about what the three of you can do, but I want to know more details.”
“My power is called Vision Jump,” Haryoud started. “I can make my vision stay in a location up to five miles away, and I can see across various light and heat spectrums.”
“That is a useful power,” I said.
“Really?” His many eyes opened wide. “Wyss never seemed to think so.”
“Wyss was an idiot,” I scoffed. “Whoever has the most information about the enemy tends to win. If you are able to see our enemy before they see us, that’s a massive advantage. What level is it?”
“Just level two,” Haryoud sighed. “I can’t quite figure out how to level it higher.”
“Vic--uhhh King can help you with that,” Eiter blurted out with a surprising amount of emotion. “He helped me.”
“How?” Veeraale asked.
“I’ll explain in a bit,” I said to the teal-skinned woman with the long white hair. “Your power is Ice Blades? Tell me about it.”
“It’s only level one. There isn’t much complication to it.” She shrugged her shoulders and then raised her right hand with the palm up. Then a glittery line of snowflakes appeared a moment before a sword with a straight blade of about four feet formed.
“Can anyone else hold one?” I asked.
“Well, kind of.” She frowned. “It would only last half a minute or so before it melts, but the blade maintains its strength most of the time.”
“How strong is the blade?” Sheela asked as she stepped forward and leaned her face down to study the weapon.
“Strong as metal. You can hold it if you would like.”
“I would like to.” Sheela carefully picked up the ice blade and slowly moved it through the air.
“How’s it feel?” Emta asked.
“Well balanced.” Sheela said as she swung the sword a bit faster. “It is a bit cold to touch, but if I did not see Veeraale just make it, I would not believe it was ice. Here.”
Sheela passed the sword to Emta, who then swung it around with small, controlled movements.
“I like it, but ahhhh… it’s melting.” Emta held the sword up and we could all see water begin to trickle down the edges.
“Yeah, that’s about as long as it lasts,” Veeraale said.
“It turns into water?” I asked.
“Yeah,” the teal-skinned woman answered.
“Can you drink the water?” Kacerie asked.
“Hmmm… I ‘ve never tried, actually,” Veeraale sighed. “I feel kind of stupid giving you that answer. I should have thought about doing that.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “Not everyone can think of everything.”
“Can I hold one?” Liahpa asked as she floated to the front of the group.
“Of course.” Veeraale made another blade, and then another, and soon everyone had one in their hand and was making small swings so that they didn’t accidently cut anyone else.
“It’s sharp enough to shave with,” Kacerie said as she tested the edge along the fine hair on her forearm. “That’s very useful. Can you make it any other shapes?”
“Different sword or dagger shapes,” Veeraale answered.
“Do your people shave?” Kacerie asked. “If you could make me some straight razors, I could shave King’s face easier.”
“Like this?” Veeraale held out her palm, and an ice straight razor with a fixed handle instantly appeared there.
“Perfect!” Kacerie gasped as she gently took it from Veeraale.
“I wish it could last longer for you,” Veeraale said as she glanced at my beard. “I’ll probably have to make you four or five to shave his face.”
“I’ll take it,” Kacerie chuckled. “I’ve been using small pieces of obsidian. They are sharp enough, but hard to hold. This handle will give me much more control.”
I was about to suggest that Kacerie teach Veeraale how to shave my face, but I knew that my pink-haired lover took a lot of joy from taking care of me, and I didn’t want to deny her that for the sake of efficiency.
“Ohkall?” I turned to the ten-foot-tall man. “What is your ability?”
“It’s called Blade Burst, but I admit it’s not very useful beyond Wyss’ ability to shadow clone me. I can slightly change the shape of my finger blades, but my true power involves exploding my body so that blades shoot in all directions.”
“But then you die,” I stated, since I’d already seen the ability at work.
“Yes.” The big man nodded. “Hence why the ability is only level one, but I have other ways to serve you, King. I am strong, hardworking, and will never disobey you. Even if I cannot use my ability to help you, I hope that you will allow me to--”
“I’ve already decided to bring you into my tribe,” I interrupted him. “I’ve heard your conversations with Veeraale and Haryoud. I know how the three of you felt about Wyss and his leadership. As I said a few minutes ago, if you treat me and my tribe members with respect, you will get it in return.”
“I will, and thank you.” He gave me a strong nod of his large head, and I had to fight against laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of the situation. My head came up to Okhall’s elbow, and he probably weighed three times as much as I did. Yet here he was practically begging me to include him on the team.
“Do we need to study this picture anymore?” I asked the group as I gestured to the painting, and then my eyes settled on Gee since she wasn’t here when we first saw it.
“I see me a bit in the back there,” the Flame Dancer said, “and Nomi whispered to me a bit about what is going on. I look quite firesome. Just wish I could meet the girl or guy who painted it.”
“We’ve got a bit of a walk back to Heeyuna’s camp,” I started. “Veeraale, Haryoud, and Ohkall, the rest of my tribe can explain to you their powers while we are walking. Sheela, can you go first?”
“Yes, Vic-- King.”
“Also, my name is Victor,” I told the three new recruits. “That’s what my tribe is used to calling me. You can call me that or King. I don’t care either way.”
“I will call you king,” Ohkall bowed his head slightly. “It is the highest title one can achieve on my world.”
“So you are honoring me?” I asked as I raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, King.” He bowed again. “As I said. I will serve you.”
“I will call you King as well,” Haryoud said.
“I will, too,” Veeraale said. “It seems a fitting name for someone as strong and potent as you are. But Victor is also noble and powerful.”
“Getting a bit thick in here, isn’t it?” I heard Emta whisper under her breath next to me, but I didn’t think Veeraale heard her.
“Let’s start our walk out,” I said. “Sheela?”
“My ability is called Critical Strike,” the cheetah-woman began, “I have good aim with a bow or spear.”
“That is useful.” Veeraale smiled at the cheetah woman.
“It helped me survive this world when I first arrived,” Sheela said as we all started to walk out of the chamber with the old painting.
“What level is it?” Haryoud asked.
“Two,” Sheela replied. “Victor has figured out a method to help us level, but we have not yet applied it to my particular ability yet. We will soon.”
“Kacerie, you go next,” I said.
“My ability is called Lance, and it’s level three,” Kacerie started. “I can shoot a beam of energy out of my hand that instantly kills my target. When I reached level three, I figured out how to make controlled beams that look somewhat like Veeraale’s ice blades, and they cut through anything they touch.”
“Damn…” Haryoud breathed. “That’s… scary.”
“How many times can you instantly kill something?” Veeraale asked.
“Twice a day,” Kacerie said.
The group of us had moved into the messy dining room cave, so we only had a few minutes to go before we reached the exit. Dwayne and Grumpy were still outside, and I didn’t get any alert emotions from them, so I wasn’t worried about our walk back to Heeyuna’s camp even though it was the middle of the night.
“My ability is level three and called Mass,” Liahpa said. “I can make something heavier or lighter when I touch it.”
“Is that why you are floating?” Eiter asked.
“I’m not sure if that’s because of Mass or not,” Liahpa said. “Everyone on my world floats like this, we can walk like you all as well, I just have to focus on making my feet touch the ground.”
“I do not have the mind to puzzle out the possibilities, but I would imagine that your ability has many uses in combat.” Ohkall nodded to the silver-skinned woman.
“It’s been more useful with helping to build forts and move rocks,” Liahpa chuckled. “In battle, I just hit things with my axe.”
“My ability is called Regenerate Self,” Emta said. “It’s level two. I can heal myself from anything, well… I can’t get my fucking head cut off or get boiled to death, but one of the dinosaurs bit my arm off a few days ago, and I healed it no problem.”
“No problem?” Liahpa snickered.
“Well, okay, it was a bit of a problem,” Emta snorted, “but I’m still here, aren’t I?”
“And we are glad you are.” I smiled at the olive-skinned beauty.
“That is a powerful ability,” Veeraale whispered as she studied Emta. “You must be an amazing warrior.”
“I’m no Victor, Liahpa, or Sheela,” Emta said, “but I can hold my own. Easy enough to learn from my mistakes if I don’t die every time I make one.”
“Zoru,” I said as we reached the last tunnel leading out of Wyss’ base.
“My ability is called Jaunt,” the purple fox-man said. “I just leveled up to two. I can move back in time for a few seconds.”
“I don’t understand,” Ohkall said. “Please forgive me.”
“It is no problem,” Zoru chuckled. “Observe.”
The group of us started walking and turned to Zoru. As soon as all our eyes were on him, he blinked out of existence and then walked around the far corner of the tunnel behind us.
“So like a teleport?” Veeraale asked as he joined us again.
“Somewhat, but I instantly appear back where my position was a few seconds before. I just learned I can bring someone with me. Like this.”
Zoru laid his hand on Emta’s shoulder, and then they both disappeared and then walked around the tunnel corner again.
“Fuuuck,” Emta groaned. “Tell me you are going to do that next time! Makes my head spin.”
“My apologies, Emta,” Zoru said.
“I think he picked you because he knew you’d complain the most,” Liahpa chuckled.
“This may be true,” Zoru actually laughed. “Urka isn’t here, so someone should poke you.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t expect it to be you.” Emta rolled her eyes, “I expected it from Liahpa.”
“Me?” Liahpa gasped with fake outrage. “I am innocent of any wrongdoing or pranking.”
“Says the woman who cut a notch in my axe haft so it broke at the first swing.”
“That was funny,” Gee laughed.
“When was this?” I asked.
“Back when you first went with Eiter up here,” Emta said. “we were cutting out the first layer of trees on the switches.”
“Seems like you all have fun while you work,” Veeraale said.
“We do,” Kacerie said. “Helps the work go easier.”
“Who is next?” Gee asked. “How about me?”
“Sure,” I said, but at that moment we exited the cave, and Dwayne, Jinx, and Soju met us there. The big Utahraptor leaned down for a hug, and I wrapped my left arm around his neck and petted the top of his head with my right hand. Then I knelt down and gave Jinx and Soju pets and hugs. I wanted to talk with them and tell them that they did a great job with the mission, but I didn’t want to show any cracks in my fake “tough guy” armor yet until Veeraale, Haryoud, and Ohkall were more integrated in the tribe.
“Impressive,” Ohkall said, and I saw the three new recruits eyeing the big raptor cautiously.
“I’ve seen those two little ones around!” Haryoud gasped, and then he looked at me. “They’ve been working with you the whole time?”
“Yeah,” I chuckled. “They are smart. At least the ones that work with me are. Gee, can you tell them about your ability?”
“I burn like fire and kill everyone I don’t like.” She winked.
“Why are you holding her hand?” Veeraale pointed and where Nomi and Gee grasped each other.
“My power is called Eclipse,” Nomi whispered. “It is level two and it makes it so that someone else’s ability doesn’t work.”
“Woooow,” Haryoud gasped. “That is quite powerful.”
“That’s why she is holding my hand,” Gee laughed. “Otherwise, all of you would be melting right now.”
“It doesn’t burn your hand?” Veeraale asked Nomi.
“No. I believe I am also immune to other’s abilities.” The dark-haired woman shrugged slightly. “I don’t mind holding Gee’s hand. We are friends.”
“That we are,” Gee said. “This girl makes it so I can sit near everyone.”
“Are you on fire all the time?” Ohkall asked.
“Yes. I’m the Fire Born. The Flame Dancer. I’m She-Who-Burns, but there was no Nomi on my world, so no one could get close to me.”
“Sounds lonely.” Veeraale frowned.
“Ehhhh. It was worth it to go through the change, but I’m happy I’m here. Nomi makes it so I can stand near you all. I have good friends, plenty of assholes to burn, and I can swim in the ocean when I want.”
“You indicated that Eiter can figure out where people are located?” Haryoud asked.
“It seems that I can,” the lavender-haired woman said. “My ability is called Path, and Victor has helped me reach level two.”
“How?” Haryoud asked us.
“Just changing the way I think about my ability,” Eiter said. “I used to think it would just lead me to a goal, but now I understand that it also seems to understand the future possibilities.”
“Interesting,” Veeraale said as the three of them looked at each other. “What about the two with the green hair and the purple gems on their foreheads?”
“That is Emerald,” I said. “She doesn’t speak. Her ability allows her to clone herself and her memories.”
“They both are the same person?” Ohkall asked. “Two bodies controlled by one mind?”
“Uhhh, no,” I said as I smiled at my beautiful lovers. “When she makes a clone, it takes all her memories up to that point, but then it is like a new person, and she can make her own decisions moving forward.”
Yes, but both of us are driven to ensure our mate succeeds with his goal so that our offspring has the best chance at surviving.
One of the Emeralds gestured at herself as she smiled at me.
If our mate rules this world, it will allow him to take all the resources and use them as he wishes. We will support him with advice and breed as much as possible so that his powerful lineage lasts for generations.
The other Emerald’s smile grew wider as she signaled with her hands.
“Is she speaking through her hands?” Veeraale asked. “What is she saying?”
“They are happy you three have joined us,” I said.
“Awwww, that is so sweet.” Veeraale smiled at the Emeralds, and both of the murderous queens mirrored her expression.
“There are a few others back at our camp,” I said to Ohkall, Haroud, and Veeraale. “Members who have important roles, but I left them behind so they could work on building projects. You’ll meet them when we get back home.”
“We are looking forward to it,” Ohkall said. “Thank you again for accepting us. We will work tirelessly to earn our places.”
I nodded and then gestured for everyone to walk down the slope of the anthill. The two moons were out in full force, so the grassy field between the anthill base and the jungle to the south looked like a dark Caribbean ocean.
Dwayne, Jinx, and Soju sprinted ahead to scout, and Bruce, Talia, and Selina covered us up above in the night air. The rest of us fell into whispered conversations as we walked south toward the cotton tribe’s cottage. Kacerie joined me at the point of the group, and she leaned in close so that she could whisper to me.
“You’ve been quiet. I’m not used to seeing you not smiling.”
“Just keeping in character a bit,” I whispered back, and then I gave her a small smile and a wink.
“For how long?” she asked.
“I don’t doubt their sincerity, but I’ll relax a bit once they’ve got jobs to do back at camp. Right now they think I’m this badass murder dude who rules with an iron fist. I told them it was otherwise, but I don’t want to give them mental whiplash.”
“That makes sense,” she said. “But I don’t think you need to worry as much as you are worrying. You lead a group of powerful individuals. They are amazed by everyone’s abilities. We all follow you. It’s implied that you are a ‘badass murder dude’ without you even needing to try.”
“That’s probably true,” I chuckled softly, “but I did have a bunch of conversations with Wyss where I pretended to be tougher than I actually am.”
“I don’t think you were pretending,” Kacerie whispered. “You are our leader. You are my man. If you saw yourself the way I see you, and the way Sheela, Trel, Liahpa, Emerald, Galmine, Quwaru, and Keefaye see you, well… You wouldn’t be concerned with what new members assumed about you.”
“I’ve still got a lot to learn about leadership,” I said with a shrug. “You owned a business and had employees. I was just a goofy guy finding lost animals for the city.”
“Let me raspberry like Trel: pffft,” Kacerie stuck out her tongue and then gave a soft laugh. “You are a natural leader, and these three are already smitten with you. I wouldn’t be surprised if Heeyuna, Eiter, and Oppena want to join when we get there.”
“You think?” I asked.
“Sheela and Liahpa seem to think so, and I trust their instincts on the matter. It’s good that our tribe is growing. Every new member makes all of us safer.”
“As long as they are loyal,” I said.
“Quwaru can make sure of that,” Kacerie said as she shrugged her slender shoulders. “I know you worry about us, but things are really coming along since we got the new fort location. Soon we’ll have running water—maybe even running hot water, toilets, homes made out of stone, and walls that will be difficult for enemies to penetrate. Then we won’t have much to worry about.”
“We pretty much have the dinosaur risk mitigated,” I said. “It will be nearly impossible for a big predator to get through the trees and attack us, but I’m always going to worry about new survivors.”
“But now we have Eiter,” Kacerie whispered even softer as she leaned close to my shoulder. “We can take the fight to Chrysanthemte.”
“True, but I’m not that worried about her right now,” I said.
“You aren’t? I thought you were.”
“I killed the guy who opened her portals,” I said. “Then we moved our fort. She still knows we are out here, but she might not ever find us again, and she might not ever be able to get to us. I’m going to have to take her out eventually, but I’m more worried about all the hostile tribes between us, and I’m worried about the powerful survivors that might just land near us. No matter how much I prepare, a guy like Aytron could just beam down in a column of light and start attacking us.”
“Except you have Nomi, Gee, and me,” Kacerie said as she smiled at me. “I know you try to think of every option, but you’ve done a lot to ensure we all stay safe. It’s working, and all it will take is a bit more time to build our humble camp into a place where everyone wants to live.”
“I never thought of myself as a mayor,” I chuckled.
“Not a mayor,” Kacerie purred. “A king. Our king. My king.”
“Damn, I like the way that word sounds on your tongue.”
“I guessed you would,” her whisper was now dark and husky in my ear, and I could feel goosebumps descend down my neck.
“We haven’t had much time to talk about the wedding,” I said.
“I’m not complaining,” she said. “I know we’ve both been busy. It’s not that important.”
“But it is,” I said. “I know it’s important to you, and it’s important to me. I want it to be special for you. What does the ceremony look like?”
“It’s normally two people standing in front of their friends and family,” she said.
“That sounds similar to what we do on my world,” I said. “Is divorce common?”
“Not really,” Kacerie said. “Before a couple is married they consult the computers to get approval.”
“Do the computers ever say no?” I asked.
“All the time,” Kacerie laughed. “The longer two people date, the better chance they have of getting the marriage accepted.”
“That makes sense,” I said. “What about decorations during the wedding? And is there a ring or other token the couple wears to show they are married?”
“There aren’t any physical tokens of the marriage. Why would you need that?”
“To keep other people from attempting to date the married couple,” I said as I held up my ring finger. “We wear a ring here so that people who aren’t married know that someone is taken and not interested in dating.”
“Can’t they just ask and then the married person tells them?” Kacerie asked.
“Yeah, but then it’s uncomfortable for both parties,” I said.
“Why? You ask if they want to date, they say they are married, and then you move on. What is uncomfortable about that?”
“I guess you’ve got a point. No one should be offended if they are asked out and have to deny, but it upsets people on my world. Could even make some people angry because they feel embarrassed that they asked and were rejected. For example, you are beautiful, and I would have loved to ask you on a date.”
“I would gladly say yes,” she chuckled.
“You would now, but maybe not the old me,” I laughed a bit. “The old me would have thought you would never date me. You are successful, beautiful, and just… I was just a guy who caught dogs and could barely pay the rent on his tiny apartment. I would have had to seriously work up the courage to ask you out. It would have been a big event for me, and if you refused by saying ‘I’m married, sorry,’ I would have been mad because I spent a lot of time agonizing only to get rejected, when I could have seen the ring on your finger, known you were married, and then moved on with my life.”
“Ahhh, I understand,” she said. “People on my world just don’t get as worked up. Rejection is really common, and even if you date someone for a long time, you might not be able to marry them because of what the computers say, so we are all used to dating multiple people.”
“Does it bother you that your computers won’t be able to approve our marriage?” I asked.
“Not at all,” she said. “I don’t live on that world anymore. I’m here, with you, and I love you, and I don’t need a computer to tell me that you are the one meant for me.”
“Deal, “ I chuckled as I looked down to where her hands lay over her womb. “How is everything feeling with the baby?”
“It’s… Well, I know he or she is in there, but I don’t really feel different except that I do feel different. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but that is the best way to describe it. I just feel really warm there, and… complete? I guess that’s a good word to describe it. I’m… so fucking happy, Victor. I know my body is going to change, and I know I’m in for many weeks of discomfort and pain, but right now I just feel… I’m so glad that night… that… you wanted to fill me up, and I didn’t want to, but then I wanted you to so much, and it felt so good when you came inside of me. And… here we are. Your baby is growing in my womb. I would have never guessed this would happen before I came to this world, but I’m so happy it did happen.”
“Me, too,” I whispered to her, and then I couldn’t help but lean toward her so that we could kiss each other while we walked.
Kacerie’s mouth tasted like honey and apples, and she let out a delightful sigh when our lips finally parted. For just a moment we felt like lovers taking a midnight stroll through the garden of a tropical resort, and I couldn’t help but feel an incredible amount of love for the beautiful woman.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s talk more about the wedding. What do--”
An ear-shattering roar cascaded through the night air, and we all flinched.
“West!” Sheela shouted, and we all turned across the grassy clearing as eight massive T-Rexes sprang out of the jungle trees five hundred yards away from us.
These eight T-Rexes were some of the biggest I’d seen so far in Dinosaurland, even larger than Mohawk and his crew, and I guessed that each of their knees were about as tall as my head. I quickly glanced south toward the jungle and then east toward the river. They were equal distances apart because we were still in the middle of the clearing.
“Run to the river!” I shouted, and the entire group pivoted one hundred and eighty degrees around.
“Why the river?” Ohkall shouted over the thundering sounds of the approaching T-Rexes. “Wouldn’t the jungle be safer?”
“Nope,” I replied, and then I glanced over my shoulder to see how close the massive predators were getting to us.
I had to admit to myself that this was a bit of a tight spot. Dwayne was a killing machine, but the T-Rexes were each three to four times his size. There was a chance he’d be able to take one or two out if we worked together, but what I really needed right now was my bigger herbivore dinos. Tom, Nicole, and Katie would be able to use their horns to give us a defensive wall. Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D would be able to use their tails to spike-smash the predators. Larry, Moe, and Curly would just… not get hurt and bash around these predators. Even if there was no perfect solution to “eight T-Rexes attacking us out in the open,” just having some big dinos on my side would enable me to come up with some better strategies.
I’d have to work with what I had: just the group of us, Dwayne, Bruce, Selina, and Talia.
Oh, and the ace up my sleeve: Grumpy.
We got to the edge of the river, and the group spun around to face our attackers. The tyrannosauruses were a good hundred yards from us now, but that meant I only had a few seconds to yell out a plan.
“Kacerie!” I shouted. “Just use one Lance!”
“On it!” she yelled, and the night sky suddenly lit up with the pure whitish-blue light of her ability.
The beam of her power instantly traveled the space of the grassy clearing and hit the first T-Rex in the chest, then it left a breakfast-table-sized hole in the chest of a second and third beast. The giant predators stumbled forward a half a dozen steps with their carried momentum, but then they stumbled and rolled forward like toddlers tripping over their untied shoelaces.
Two of the rexes got caught up in the legs of their dead companions, and they screeched with dismay as they fell face forward into the dark grass. This left three of the big dinos actually coming after us, but I knew a way to tie that trio up.
“Emeralds, give me blinding lights!” I shouted, but even before I finished my sentence, my two lovers had already turned on the gems in their foreheads.
I knew that they could radiate a powerful light, but it was like two off-road trucks with LED light bars had flipped their switches. The three T-Rexes actually skidded to a stop and let out a painful yelp as they tried to hide their eyes, and two of them actually had to turn their massive backs to us so that they could escape the agony.
That was the opening I needed.
“Emta, protect the back line. Grumpy, take the right one! Dwayne on the left! Everyone else is on the middle!”
Then I ran toward the fucker closest to the group as I pulled the Cricket Bat of Doom from my back.
Dwayne sprinted past me so he could attack the leftmost of the T-Rex trio, and I heard Grumpy stomping up on my right side. Sheela, Liahpa, and Zoru caught up to me in two seconds, but then Gee flew over our heads like a leaping comet. Her fiery whip trailed behind her shoulder like the tail of a kite, and she impacted with the shoulder of the center T-Rex like a wrecking ball smacking into the side of a big rig’s trailer.
The tyrannosaurus let out a screech as it tipped over from the force of Gee’s impact, and my mouth fell open as I tried to figure out the physics-math behind a woman her size knocking over a creature that probably weighed a hundred times what she did. Then again, she was on fire all the time, so it wasn’t like physics or math or the science I learned in high school had anything to do with what was actually happening on this planet.
The center T-Rex fell with its kicking feet toward my group, so Sheela, Liahpa, Zoru, and I cut right to avoid its toe claws. This brought us near Grumpy just as the springing purussaurus latched onto the leg of the tyranno on the right.
That one screamed louder than the center one had, but it tumbled to the grass just as easily as the one Gee had smited. I figured Grumpy was going to be fine finishing that one off since it was on its side and he had the thing’s leg, so I focused on the one in the center again, and tried to pump my legs harder so that I could keep up with Sheela, Liahpa, and Zoru.
The air smelled like cooking chicken from where Gee had started melting the center rex, but the beast wasn’t going to die that easily, and he let out angry goose-like screeches and honks as it tried to snap its jaws at the Flame Dancer.
“Too slow!” Gee shouted as she rolled and tumbled across the flank of the thrashing predator, and it tried to ineffectively bite her like a dog nipping at a fire ant skittering across its belly.
Then Liahpa got there.
I was a bit surprised that the athletic beauty was faster than Sheela and Zoru, especially since she’d carried her pizza cutter axe in her hand as she sprinted, but then she lifted the weapon like it weighed as much as an empty wrapping-paper roll and practically beheaded the T-Rex with one executioner strike.
She really was just insanely strong.
Zoru and Sheela drove their spears into the left eye of the dying tyranno a moment after Liahpa struck her blow, so I figured that they could finish off the dino without me getting my strike in, and I pivoted around the creature’s head so that I could dash as quickly as I could to the predator that Dwayne was attacking.
My Utahraptor was tearing through the right leg of the third T-Rex, but the bigger carnivore swung his tail around, and my pal had to disengage and roll to avoid getting smacked. The defensive movement of the tyrannosaurus brought his face back around to stare right into the Emeralds’ lights, though, and he stumbled back a bit as he closed his eyes.
It was just the opportunity I needed.
I pivoted my grip on my Cricket Bat of Doom so that I could swing it from my left side, braced my legs in the soft dirt, and then twisted my hips as I brought the weapon around in a baseball swing that would have made Ty Cobb tip his hat. My weapon cut into the left shin of the rex about two feet, and then it smacked into the creature’s shin bone. I felt the strike radiate up into my shoulders like I’d just hit a brick wall with a sledgehammer, and I had to ignore the rattling in my brain as I yanked the bat out of the gash.
That got his attention.
I threw myself backward like someone had yanked on my marionette strings and landed on my upper back just a fraction of a second before the T-Rex’s massive teeth snapped the air where I’d been standing. Then I rolled to my right side just in time to give the predator a mouthful of grass and dirt instead of a mouthful of Victor Shelby.
I popped up to my feet just as Dwayne went rabid on the rex’s right leg again, and the combination of our attacks made the eighteen-foot-tall apex predator stumble to its knees.
Dwayne surged up the T-Rex’s haunch like a murderous monkey as soon as he could, and I made a quick swing that connected with our opponent’s snout when he tried to nip me. I just caught him with the top twenty percent of my bat, but it was enough to make the rex yelp like a kicked dog, and by then Dwayne had fully climbed up the back of our victim.
The Utahraptor was in full Tasmanian devil mode now, and he used equal parts tooth and claw to practically burrow into the tyrannosaurus’ back. Blood was pouring down and spraying up like a Monty Python movie that Kubrick directed, so I figured that I could consider the third T-Rex taken care of.
I turned around to look at the last two rexes and found them coming up to their feet in unison. They were looking right into the Emeralds’ light beams, and they were fluttering their massive eyelids with obvious pain, but I didn’t think it was having quite the flash-bang effect that we got with the first trio of T-Rexes.
I didn’t want to yell out to Kacerie to use her last Lance if I didn’t need to, but everyone that could fight besides Emta, Ohkall, and Veeraale were occupied, and I didn’t think the four of us would be able to take out two T-Rexes. Hell, I didn’t think we could take out one of the T-Rexes, but that was pretty much all I had left to work with on the team.
“Kac--” I started to say, but Gee cut me off by launching through the air like an anime character and cutting the head off the nearest T-Rex with her whip.
“Whoaaaa,” I gasped as the tyrannosaurus’ head tumbled off its neck. Unlike the damage Dwayne had done to the other Rex, Gee’s whip had completely cauterized the wound, and there was no blood spraying out as the predator tumbled over dead.
“I got this last one, too!” Gee shouted as she leaped off the ground again, and she somehow gained altitude as she spun her arms around like a top. Her flame whip trailed behind as she grasped it so that it cut through the air like a spinning pinwheel.
The last T-Rex seemed to realize that Gee was a threat, and he kind of flinched away from her as she rocketed toward him, but the beasts on this world had never seen anyone like the Flame Born woman, so there was no way for them to really understand that the correct answer to Gee attacking them was to fucking run.
She flying-kicked the massive predator right in the jaw, and then she used the force of the impact to backflip away. As the flame woman spun back, she swung her whip around under her spinning body to hit the last rex a second time. This whip attack didn’t cut the head clean off like the previous T-Rex, but it left a wide gash in the creature’s neck that peeled open like a PEZ dispenser.
The predator let out a weak gurgle as it realized it was dead, and its blinking eyes frantically darted around as it looked for any escape from its fate. I wanted to feel a bit bad for the big guy, but he would have chewed me up and shit me out without a care in the world, so I had to save my sympathy for dinos that joined my family.
Gee completed her flip like an Olympic gymnast and then stood still as the last T-Rex tumbled over. For a few moments, no one moved, and then the flame dancer flicked her hand to banish her whip before she smiled at me.
“How about that, Victor? You ever seen such an impressive display of righteous ass kicking?”
“Last time I saw something like that was when you killed all those guys at the camp near us,” I chuckled.
“Yeah, that was fun.” Gee gave me a wink and then strolled toward the river. “Mind if I swim for a bit before we continue?”
“Just for a few moments,” I said. “Anyone hurt?”
“I do not believe so,” Sheela said as she glanced at Liahpa and Zoru.
“Everyone looks fine back here,” Emta called out, and I glanced over to see her standing beside Nomi, Eiter, and the Emeralds.
I glanced at Veeraale, Ohkall, and Haryoud and raised an eyebrow. The three of them nodded, even though they wore different expressions on their faces. Veeraale seemed surprised, Ohkall looked pensive, and Haryoud looked terrified.
“We are good,” Veeraale said with a slight nod, but then I focused my eyes on Haryoud.
“Yes… K-k-king,” he stuttered a bit. “You just destroyed eight of the massive ones with almost zero effort.”
“I didn’t do much,” I chuckled as I gestured to my team. “Everyone else did most of the work. Especially Kacerie and Gee.”
Grumpy let out a rumble, and I couldn’t help but laugh as I glanced over to where he was casually munching on the neck of the T-Rex he butchered.
“Yeah, buddy. You did good, too. So did Dwayne.”
Dwayne let out a hoot as he trotted over to me, and the blood from his drenched muzzle dripped on my bare shoulder when I petted him.
I didn’t care.
“Your creatures seem… really affectionate?” Veeraale asked.
“Yeah,” I said as I looked around at everyone again. “I know we’ve been through a lot tonight, but I want to get back to Eiter’s camp.”
“Thank you.” She nodded at me. “My friends will be worried about us.”
“Dwayne, Jinx, and Soju, you are on point again.” I pointed southwest to the jungle, and the three raptors took off again. I actually hadn’t noticed Jinx and Soju during the fight with the T-Rexes, but that just proved that the two of them were smart enough to keep out of the way when shit got real.
Soon we were trampling through the jungle, and I gestured for Kacerie, Emta, and Liahpa to step near me.
“Go up front with Veeraale, Ohkall, and Haryoud and get them talking,” I whispered. “I want to have a conversation with Sheela and the Emeralds.”
“About what?” Liahpa asked.
“I’ll tell you later,” I said. “I just need you to charm them and give me some space.”
“Me? Charm them?” Emta raised both her eyebrows.
“Veeraale is a no bullshit kind of woman, just like you.” I smirked at her.
“That I am,” Emta chuckled.
“We’ll do as you ask, Victor.” Kacerie smiled at me, and then the three of them walked to the front and gestured for the new recruits to follow them.
I casually gestured for Sheela and the Emeralds to drop to the back of the group with me, and I made sure we had enough space between Nomi, Gee, Zoru, and Eiter so that they wouldn’t accidentally overhear.
“Did you notice anything about those T-Rexes?” I asked Sheela and the Emeralds.
Sheela pursed her lips together in thought, but one of the Emeralds pointed up to her eye, then to the sky, and lastly to the jungle to the west.
Your pteranodons did not see them. They stalked us to the edge of the jungle and waited until we were right in the middle of the clearing before they attacked.
“Is she saying that the large predators did not attack until we reached the center?” Sheela asked.
“Yeah,” I said with a nod. “Also, Bruce, Selina, and Talia did not see them. They like… hid in the jungle? I don’t know how else to describe it.”
“It is dark and the jungle trees are tall,” Sheela hummed. “Perhaps Bruce, Selina, and Talia did not see the T-Rexes because of those reasons?”
“Bruce was surprised,” I said as I pointed up to the air where my pal was circling. “He had no idea they were there, and he knows to watch around the area where we are traveling, especially when we are out in the open. He’s a smart guy.”
“Soooo…” Sheela let out a long breath. “Are they getting smarter?”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged. That’s why I wanted to talk to the both-- errr, three of you. You three are really observant.”
A counterpoint to your theory, Mate. The late predators let out a magnificent roar as soon as they entered the clearing. This destroyed any subterfuge they might have aspired to.
The second Emerald opened her mouth to fake roar as she gestured with her hands.
“That is true,” Sheela said. “If they were smart enough to stalk us, why would they announce their presence as soon as we could see them. If they had remained silent, they might have been upon us before we noticed them.”
The Emeralds and I stared at Sheela for a few seconds after she finished speaking, but then the beautiful blonde gave us a puzzled look.
“Did you… just figure out what Emerald said?” I asked.
“I suppose I did,” Sheela chuckled. “But it was not hard to understand because of the way she opened her mouth and how she pointed with her fingers back to the jungle where our attackers emerged.”
“I guess that’s a good point,” I said. “However, that’s how it started with me. I slowly began to understand what she said with movements that seemed obvious at the time.”
Perhaps we should test. When we return to the cottage where Eiter, Heeyuna, Avern, and Oppena live, I wish to hold hands with Keefaye.
The first Emerald’s hands were slow as she made her movements, but they were still complicated since she was referencing other people who weren’t present.
“What do you think she communicated?” I asked Sheela.
“She… motioned that… She is going to… hold hands with Keefaye when she gets back to the cottage?” Sheela’s eyes narrowed, and she bit her lip at the end of the questioning statement.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much what she said,” I chuckled. “I don’t know how this is working, but you are starting to understand her.”
It is because you are our mate, and we are your women. Our bodies accept your dominance and your seed has filled all our wombs.
The second Emerald ended her statement with her palms over her lower stomach, and she smiled widely at the Cheetah-woman.
“Well, that is one theory,” Sheela chuckled at Emerald. “I do not think that getting filled with Victor’s semen gives us communication powers, but there might be other factors connected to him at work. Let us return to the topic of these dinosaurs becoming more intelligent.”
“Just keep your eyes open when we see new ones,” I said. “I’m not sure if it’s actually happening, since this could have just been a random fluke that they kind of snuck up on us, but just… pay attention to it so I can have a second and third opinion.”
“And what if it does seem as if they are getting more intelligent?” Sheela asked.
“I don’t really have an answer for that,” I said. “I’ve noticed that the dinosaurs I Tame tend to get smarter the longer they are with me, but if the aggressive dinosaurs are getting smarter, we are really going to have to increase our defenses. Emerald and I picked the spot for the new fort because we figured that the larger dinos couldn’t make it up the hill through the jungle, but if they are going to figure out how to sneak through and ambush us, then… shit. I don’t know. Let’s hope I’m wrong.”
“Let us hope so,” Sheela agreed.
“Let’s get back to the group,” I said, and the three of us increased our walking speed so that we merged more with the group. A minute or so later I was still walking next to the Emeralds, and I gave the closest one a smile as I moved my eyes to her lean stomach.
I do not think your seed has taken root.
“Ahh, really?” I asked, and the other Emerald began to motion with her fingers against her tummy while she frowned.
Too many days passed between when you filled us and our tribe discovered Galmine’s new ability. There is still a possibility, but my kind normally begin to feel the early signs of pregnancy by this point.
“I can think of a--” I began, but then I felt Jinx give out a warning emotion.
Is there something wrong, my mate?
“Let’s talk a bit later about this,” I said, and then I leaned in to give both of them quick kisses on their lips.
Both of the beautiful clones kissed me with just the smallest amount of tongue, and then we parted so that I could jog up to the front of the line.
“What is it buddy?” I said as soon as I got to Jinx and Soju’s side.
My two little pals were staring at a tree, and as I stepped closer, I could see what they were both looking at.
It was a rusty sword stuck inside of a tree like the sword in the stone. It would have been impossible to notice if I didn’t have Jinx’s sharp eyes, especially in the darkness of night and under the canopy of the jungle.
“Huh,” Liahpa grunted as she came to stand next to me, and then one of the Emeralds caught up and illuminated the weapon with her forehead light.
“How old do you think it is?” Emta asked as everyone else circled around us.
“No idea.” I reached out to touch the handle of the blade, and the leather wrapping practically crumbled into dust as my fingers grazed it.
“The metal is very rusted, but I don’t think it’s rusted through,” Haryoud said.
“Liahpa, do you think you can pull it out of the tree?” I asked as I stepped back a bit.
“Fuck, yeah, I can.” The rest of the group let out some chuckles as she stepped up to the weapon, and then she smacked her palms together a few times and widened her stance before she grabbed the rusted hilt.
The handle was only big enough for one of her hands, but she used her other hand to grab onto her own wrist. Then she took a few deep breaths and began to flex her back and legs as she pulled it out.
Liahpa’s body was a perfect specimen of female athleticism. Sometimes it was harder to tell if she was more muscular than Sheela when they were both just standing around, but as soon as the silver-skinned lift ball player began to use her muscles, her body seemed to bulk up by a good twenty-five percent, and I could see every perfectly etched vein laying against her chiseled muscles. The embedded blade was no match for her strength, but the tree let out a groan as she slowly pulled it out.
“There we go!” she gasped as soon as the blade was free, and then she held it up in Emerald’s light so that we could all see it.
The metal of the blade wasn’t rusted at all where it had been sheathed in the wood of the tree, but a few inches before the hilt were in pretty rough shape. The metal was a light blue color, but as purple light hit the edges, it seemed to emit a soft red counter light.
The blade looked to be about two feet long, and it was straight and wide with a triangle-type point. The grip was probably only three inches long, so it would have been uncomfortable for me to hold, but Liahpa’s hands were a bit smaller than mine, so she could fit all her fingers around it. I wouldn’t exactly call it a short sword, but it wasn’t very long, and it reminded me of the types of blades I saw Vikings use in historical art and movies.
“It is quite pretty, isn’t it?” Kacerie asked.
“Yeah,” I agreed.
“Edge still seems sharp too,” Liahpa said as she held it up to her nail so she could test it. “We’ll just have to scrape some of the rust off the bottom of the blade and handle, and then rewrap the grip. Too bad we don’t have any sandpaper. I’ve already got the ring axe, so I don’t really need another weapon. Who wants it?”
“I can use my Lance as blades now,” Kacerie said as she looked to Emta. “You don’t really have any special weapons.”
“Neither does Sheela.” Emta waved her hands as she nodded at the Cheetah-woman. “She’d need it before me.”
“I am fine with my current equipment,” Sheela said as she gave the other woman a slight smile. “Victor seems to be lending me his Cricket Bat of Doom quite often.”
“That’s true,” I chuckled. “You should take it, Emta. Everyone else either already has a nice weapon, or their hands are too big to hold onto the grip.”
“Zoru?” Emta asked the purple fox-monkey man. “Do you want it. Your hands seem to be about the same size as mine.”
“You can have it, my friend.” Zoru smiled. “My kind normally fight with our claws, but I’ve learned to love our spears and axes. I know you will use the sword to protect us.”
“Well… if you all say so.” Emta gave us all a bit of a shy smile before she reached out to take the weapon from Liahpa.
“Congrats,” I said as I nodded to her.
“Thanks, Victor.” Emta’s eyes were fixed on the blade as she carefully balanced it in her hands. “I suppose I’ll have to busy myself with cleaning it and fashioning a scabbard.”
“Perhaps Oppena will be able to make you one,” Kacerie said.
“I bet she can,” I said, and then I nodded south. “Let’s continue.”
The group began to move forward, but it was as if a social dam had broken, and everyone began to have their own conversations with each other as we moved through the dark jungle.
“Are you skilled with the blade?” Veeraale asked Emta.
“Uhh… no. Not really. At home, I would often wrestle and box with my brothers. I learned how to use a spear, axe, and bow when I got here.”
“I could show you a few things, if you are interested.” Veeraale ran her fingers through her long white hair as she spoke, and I guessed it was a nervous movement.
“Yeah, I’d like that.” Emta nodded.
“I would as well, if you are going to give lessons,” Kacerie said. “Now that I can make my Lance act like swords, I should use them better.”
“I can show you, too.” Veeraale smiled at both of them, and then she looked over to where I walked next to them. “If King is fine with me teaching you.”
“That sounds good,” I said. “We should all learn how to get better from each other.”
“I imagine you are well skilled with your… weapon,” Veeraale cleared her throat a bit, but her red eyes darted from the Cricket Bat of Doom to my belt where my badge was clipped.
“From all the ladies moaning in his hut at night, I’d say he’s quite good at using his weapon!” Gee laughed from behind us.
“Do we have to start calling you ‘Big Urka’ now?” Emta called back over her shoulder.
“Someone has to make the jokes about Victor’s--"
“Let’s just focus on getting back to the camp,” I interrupted, and I tried my best not to smile at their antics. Veeraale’s face was twisted in confusion as she tried not to glance back over at Gee, and she finally nodded to Kacerie and Emta, slowed her walk, and then matched stride with Nomi and the Flame Born shit talker.
“Hey, Victor,” Emta whispered to me after a few minutes of walking
“What are you… uhhhh… gonna do with the three of them?” Emta glanced back over her shoulder to make sure Veeraale, Haryoud, and Ohkall weren’t within hearing range.
“Uhh… take them back to camp?” I whispered back.
“I think what Emta means is, they think you are a murderous psychopath,” Kacerie softly chimed in. “Are you going to tell them it was all a trick to get inside Wyss’ head?”
“Yeah, like… they are going to fucking figure out you are a nice guy in the next few hours.” Emta glanced back over her shoulder again.
“If you keep looking back like that, they are going to think we are talking about them,” Kacerie whisper-laughed.
“Well, we fucking are, aren’t we?” Emta grunted. “But yeah, what Kacerie said. What are you going to tell them, Victor?”
“I already kind of told them I’m not a fucker,” I said with a half shrug. “I’m just going to let them figure it out. It would be too much work to sit down and explain my whole back story and then talk about how I’ve changed since I got here. Also, it doesn’t matter. The three of them are smart. I’m giving them a safe home and work. They might start to wonder why I’m not acting like I did before, but are they really going to bring it up and try to challenge my authority? I doubt it.”
“Especially when we all support and love you,” Kacerie said.
I got a small burst of emotion from Jinx and Soju, and then Emerald’s beam light flickered. The group stopped their whispered conversations, and we all focused our attention ahead. We were just on the edge of the cotton farm, and I felt the two hundred pounds of tension in my shoulders relax a bit.
It wasn’t home, but it felt like the next closest rest stop.
“We are here!” I called out as we stepped into the clearing around the cottage area.
“Victor,” Keefaye shouted as the door to the cottage opened, and then the golden-haired beauty jumped out, turned toward me, and began to run.
She leaped into the air with a giggle right before she reached me, and I caught her in my arms as she showered me with passionate kisses. Her long hair tickled my nose as I spun her around, and I gave her one final, lingering kiss as I set her back down on the ground.
“I… uhhh… missed you,” she whispered, and then her cheeks turned a bit red when she realized the entire group was watching us.
“We noticed,” Emta grunted.
“How are Oppena and Heeyuna doin--” I started to ask, but then a growl made every hair on the back of my neck stand on end, and I spun around to see Heeyuna standing before us with Oppena beside her.
“What are they doing here?” Heeyuna growled again as she pointed at Veeraale, Ohkall, and Haryoud.
Then her red eyes began to glow a neon blue that was twice as bright as the Emeralds’ gems.
Everyone froze as Heeyuna’s eyes grew brighter, but before I could say anything, Haryoud cast himself down on his knees and raised his arms toward her.
“Please!” he screeched. “We beg forgiveness! We understand what terrible things we’ve done, but it was not entirely our doing.”
Veeraale and Ohkall kneeled beside their friend, and then they both bowed their heads.
“Wyss was our leader, but we did not agree with his actions,” Ohkall rumbled. “We are sorry, Heeyuna.”
My friends were slowly side-stepping away from the three new members of our tribe, but I was still at the front of our group, so if Heeyuna was going to blast the three, I was for sure going to be collateral damage.
“Heeyuna, can we speak privately?” I asked as I did my best to disguise my fear. I didn’t really know the woman that well, so I didn’t know for sure that she wouldn’t Surge me in anger.
“Y-y-yes.” She blinked her glowing blue eyes a few times, and then the light began to fade from them until they turned back to their usual red color. She seemed to realize that she’d scared the shit out of everyone, so she cleared her throat and then gestured behind her to where the nearest grove of cotton-like trees stood.
We both walked about fifty yards away from the group until I guessed we were out of hearing range, but Jinx, Soju, and the balaur bondocs came with me and rubbed against each of our legs like they were cats looking for scratches. I hadn’t really told any of them to do it, but their affection seemed to bring Heeyuna back to reality, and she smiled slightly as she bent down to pet each of them.
“Your little friends are cute,” she sighed. “Sorry… I lost it back there. I realize you have brought them because they are joining your tribe.”
“Yeah,” I said. “From what I’ve observed Wyss and Syson were the only two assholes. Veeraale, Ohkall, and Haryoud were just looking for safety.”
“But Veeraale was his woman. She must have some contribution to his plan to kidnap us?”
“Not really,” I said with a shrug. “It wasn’t like he was forcing himself on her. I think it was more that she was the only female and he was the leader. I don’t really care to dive deep into their past relationship. The fucker is dead, I killed him, and now we can talk about how both our tribes move forward as friends.”
“Yes…” she drew out the word as her now red eyes met mine. “Friends… Ahhh… Victor. I think we should have a different discussion.”
“Wyss is dead?” she asked. “Really?”
“Yes,” I said, “your tribe doesn’t have to worry about him anymore.”
“I thank you for dealing with him, but it has occurred to me that I don’t have much of a tribe left.” She glanced in the direction of the cottage.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Eiter and Oppena want to join you,” she said.
“They do? Did they tell you that?”
“Not in those words,” Heeyuna said, “but Oppena hasn’t stopped talking about all the amazing women who follow you, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Eiter smile, but she does it when she is around you and your followers.”
“We like her,” I said, “And Oppena, and you.”
“I also need Keefaye’s water.” Heeyuna crossed her arms. “Or I’ll die.”
“I said we’d give it to you in exchange for the cloth. Again, you don’t need to join us unless you want to. I’m not trying to force anything on you.”
“I didn’t want this,” she sighed as she gestured around the orchard. “I didn’t want to lead them. I didn’t want to come to this world.”
“None of us did at first,” I said.
“At first?” She furrowed her brows.
“Yeah. It’s… weird. The longer I talk to everyone… well… It becomes clear that most of us had a shitty life back on our worlds. Being brought here is initially terrifying, but once we start surviving, we start flourishing.”
“Is that how it was with you?” she asked. “Your life on your world was poor?”
“Yeah,” I chuckled.
“I find that hard to believe.” She blinked her eyes a bit as she glanced down my chest. “You are strong, intelligent, and charming. You have leadership skills that seem natural.”
“Yeah, well, I guess I’ve always been smart, but everything else I figured out when I got here. What about you?”
“On my world…” She paused a bit and then looked up into the night sky. “It doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t care.”
“I do care, or I wouldn’t have asked.”
“Okay, fair,” she laughed a bit. “We’ll talk about me later, and I’d like to learn more about you. For now, let’s talk about us. We would like to join you. Is that acceptable?”
“Yes.” I smiled. “We’d love to have you.”
“Even Avern?” She raised an eyebrow.
“Uhhh…” I sighed. “That guy.”
“I understand how you feel about him,” Heeyuna said. “I feel the same way, but I will argue his opinions about Wyss’ abduction plans were meaningless.”
“It’s a shit thing to think about your friends,” I said.
“He can’t do anything.” She shrugged. “His words are empty. Annoying and infuriating, but empty. The services he provides by tending to these trees is quite useful. The outfit I arrived in was not suited to the trials of this planet.”
“Oh?” I raised an eyebrow.
“We’ll speak of it later,” she actually laughed loudly, and it sounded like bells chiming. Like most of the women I’ve met on this world, Heeyuna was extremely beautiful. Her long, curly blue hair ended with dark purple tips that looked like they were dyed with plum juice. Her red eyes were a slightly different shade of crimson than Liahpa’s or Veeraale’s. They were almost vermillion and reminded me of the setting sun. Her sharp cheekbones and elf-like ears reminded me a bit of Trel, and Heeyuna had the same fierce danger around her that matched my arrogant lover. She had an air of confidence where she realized she could just destroy anyone around her, and that was alluring.
“You are staring at me,” she said with a smirk.
“Ahh, sorry.” I actually felt my cheeks heat a bit.
“Oppena explained to me that most of your tribe are your lovers?” Heeyuna raised a blue eyebrow. “Do you have the same plans for me?”
“Oh! No. Uhhh… The three of you are not expected to… uhhh… you know… with me.”
“Yes, Oppena explained that as well.” Heeyuna winked. “I’m just giving you a hard time, Victor.”
“Okay,” I let out my breath.
“Your cheeks are red.” She smiled wider. “It’s cute. You aren’t at all like I thought you were.”
“Is that good or bad?” I asked.
“It’s good.” She nodded.
“You also seem different,” I said. “More… uhhh… nice.”
“I’m feeling better.” She shrugged. “Keefaye’s water is really helping. Although I’m not used to this feeling in my head. I’m a bit dizzy and playful.”
It took me a second to realize what she meant, but then I guessed she might be buzzed from the blessed water. I thought about bringing it up, but then I figured it would be better to figure out a solution to it once we got everyone back to my camp. It was very possible we could catch enough fish and meat for her once we got our food systems better in place.
“We should talk about our next steps,” I cleared my throat.
“Of course.” She nodded. “Soooo… Avern?”
“Yeah. He can come.”
“Excellent.” She nodded. “Should we tell everyone now?”
“Yeah. Do you want to say--”
“You can,” she interrupted me. “My words are meaningless at this point.”
“What do you mean?”
“Victor, I need you,” she sighed. “Well, I need Keefaye, and she’s your woman. We need your protection. Your tribe works great, and it’s because of you.”
“It’s not all me,” I said. “Everyone is cooperating and doing their part.”
“Yes, so we want to be part of it. If you want, I can just say we are joining to get it started, and then I’ll let you take over. Just… keep my friends safe, okay?”
“I can’t guarantee anything on this world,” I sighed, “but I’ll do my best.”
“Your best seems really damn good.” She smiled at me. “Thank you.”
We looked at each other for a few more moments, and then we both turned to walk back to the cottage.
“Hey, everyone,” Heeyuna called out softly. “I have something I’d like to say.”
The group turned to look at the blue-haired woman, and I could read the nervous look on Veeraale’s face, along with Ohkall’s slightly slumped posture and Haryoud’s quick flickering of his eyes.
“What’s going on?” Oppena asked as she flicked back her hair.
“I want to thank Victor and his tribe for saving us from Wyss,” Heeyuna started, and then her red eyes turned to the three new members. “I’m sorry I was angry before. We’ve been through a lot, and--”
“Please don’t apologize,” Veeraale blurted. “We get it, and we are sorry to be a part of what happened.”
“Let’s move forward as friends.” Heeyuna nodded. “With that said, I’ve decided that what is best for me is to join with Victor’s group to the south. Avern, Eiter, and Oppena, I know you’ve picked me as your leader because of my abilities, and I’m not going to speak for you, but I’m guessing you are fine joining as well?”
“Yes!” Eiter actually smiled and clapped. “I would like that.”
“I would, too,” Oppena chuckled as she looked at Eiter. “Look at how happy the news made you.”
“Sorry for the outburst.” Eiter cleared her throat and then nodded to me. “Victor is a good leader, and I have come to be friends with all of you. I feel loyal to you, Heeyuna, so I would stay if you asked, but I think this is the best for all of us.”
“What of me?” Avern asked as he slowly raised his hand.
“You can come,” I said as nicely as I could stomach. “Just… Look… I’m not going to put up with any of your bullshit. Got it? You’ll get a roof, food, water, protection, and a job taking care of your trees.”
“Thank you, Victor.” The tree-man nodded his head.
“I’ll just say it one last time, and then we are done with this conversation: If any of my tribe says you are talking about raping them, or that rape is okay, or anything along the lines of what you told Heeyuna, Eiter, and Oppena, then I’ll drag your ass to the southern cliff of my campsite and throw you into the ocean. It’s about a hundred feet down, and the waves crashing into the rocks there won’t be kind. Do. You. Understand?”
“Yes, Victor.” He bowed even lower than before, and everyone could see his shoulders trembling. “I thank you for this forgiveness. I’ve had time to think about my words, and I will seek to change my beliefs.”
“If you need help, you can speak to me about it,” Zoru offered. “My kind also engage in aggressive behaviors to breed, so it has been interesting learning how different species love and produce offspring, and I feel a deeper understanding of how most of these different people come together.”
“Thank you… ahh… I forgot your name?”
“Zoru.” My friend smiled.
“Alright,” I said after I took a deep breath. “That’s out of the way. Now let’s talk about what our next steps are. It’s probably two in the morning, and the rest of the tribe is going to be worried about us. I know everyone is probably really tired, but if we head back now, we can make it in time for breakfast, and then--”
“Victor.” Heeyuna cleared her throat. “We should really bring Avern’s trees.”
“Bring them?” I said as I glanced around the orchard.
“Yes, please,” Avern said. “They are all mature and produce the knots of fiber. If I were to bring just the seeds with me, it would take a year to grow them, and you cannot tell from a seed if it will be a fiber-bearing tree. It might be a male, which only produces the pollen. I’ve carefully nurtured and cultivated our orchard here so that they are mostly--”
“You’ve been here for a year?” I asked as I raised my eyebrow.
“Well… no, I’ve--”
“Then how do you know that it takes a year to grow them?” I tried to keep my voice flat so that the new recruits didn’t hear me losing my shit with this guy.
“The orchard was here when he got here,” Oppena said.
“It was?” Heeyuna and Eiter asked at the same time.
“You said you grew these yourself,” Heeyuna growled at the tree-man.
“Well, I’ve… grown some of them, but yes…” Avern slowly turned to Oppena. “How did you know?”
“Cause I’m not a fucking idiot,” the rainbow-eyed woman scoffed. “I watched you move around the camp, and I paid attention to the trees. You told us your power was growing them, but the trunks on them look too old.”
“You lied?” Heeyuna’s voice was like a raspy scrape of a knife across sand now, and her eyes were starting to turn blue.
The woman obviously ran hot with her temper, and I probably needed to do something or she was going to fry him, but it also seemed like losing the guy really wasn’t going to be that big of an issue.
“No!” he said as quickly as he could as he slowly rotated his hands. “I do help grow them. We have these trees on my world. I am very familiar with them. No one else will be able to manage their soil or make them produce as I do. Please, Heeyuna. Please, Victor. I am of use to you. I am of use to these trees.”
“I’ve got someone back at my camp who is really fucking good at growing plants,” I sighed as I rubbed the bridge of my nose. “But I don’t think she wants to start over from seeds. If these trees have been here a while, someone got us started, and I think we should do the best we can to bring some. How many are there?”
“There are three hundred,” he answered.
“Well, we aren’t going to be able to bring that many,” I said. “I don’t even know how we’ll bring them. How much does each weigh?”
“We could pick up the smaller ones,” Kacerie said as she glanced at a tree near us. This one only came up to her waist, and I guessed it would have weighed twenty-five pounds or so if we put it in a few gallon bucket.
But we didn’t even have buckets to take them.
“It will take me probably two or three days to go back to camp, get Larry, Moe, and Curly, and then clear a path through the jungle back here.”
“I could burn us a path,” Gee chuckled. “Would go reeeeeal quick like.”
“Nope,” I laughed. “Keefaye and I burnt a ton of the jungle to the south already. I don’t want to test our luck.”
A low rumble to our east cut through our conversation. Eiter, Heeyuna, Oppena, Veeraale, Ohkall, and Haryoud all took a step away, but the rest of my crew just turned toward where Grumpy had been lounging at the base of a tree at the edge of the jungle.
“Oh, that’s a great idea, buddy,” I laughed. “I should have thought of that, but I’m not a genius like you are.”
Grumpy snorted, and I laughed again.
“What did he say?” Kacerie asked.
“He said we should just build rafts and let the current take us south, and he’s totally right. Even if we navigate the water really carefully, it would only take us an hour or two to get there instead of most of the day.”
“That is smart,” Heeyuna said as she glanced apprehensively at the giant purussaurus. “You can really understand all that he said with that one scary rumble?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“And… he is safe for us to be around?” Haryoud asked. “He is large and looks… hungry.”
“Grumpy is a member of our tribe,” I said. “He’s saved my life too many times to count. Back to the topic at hand, I don’t think we can make enough rafts to bring all these trees back. Well, we could, but I don’t want to spend a week building them. I want to get back home by tomorrow.”
“Victor,” Avern raised his hand slowly. “I… Please do not take the raft. I will not make the journey.”
“You won’t?” I asked.
“No. I am sorry. My body is too weak from being kidnapped and taken through the trees for those many hours. If my feet leave the earth for even ten minutes I fear I will petrify.”
“Fuck,” I sighed.
“I’m begging you not to leave me behind,” he whispered. “I know I have said some things, and I--”
“We said we weren’t going to talk about what you said in the past anymore,” I interrupted him. “You are in my tribe now, so we are going to take care of you. Understand?”
“Yes. Thank you, Victor.” The tree-man bowed his log-shaped head low again. “You bless me with grace and forgiveness.”
“Yeah, I do,” I muttered under my breath, but I doubted anyone heard me.
“So what’s the plan now?” Emta asked, and all eyes turned back to me.
I glanced around at everyone, and then I turned to face the trees for a few moments before turning back to them.
“We’ll split into two groups,” I said. “One group will escort Avern through the jungle back to our camp. The other will take the rafts and what trees we can south back to our fort. We’ll need to start working on rafts and digging up the trees right now.”
“King?” Ohkall spoke up. “If you do not mind the question, why do we need return to your fort so quickly?”
“I brought most of my warriors with me here,” I said as I gestured to my friends. “The women still at my camp have some protection, but I won’t feel better until we have more muscle back there guarding the place, and you, Haryoud, and Veeraale are part of that ‘more muscle’ group.”
“I understand.” The big rock man nodded.
“We will not let you down, King.” Haryoud nodded his head. “We will work now. Tell us what to do.”
“I need a raft building team and a tree-digging-up team,” I said.
“We have some items in the cottage we should bring with us,” Oppena said. “That alright?”
“Yeah,” I said. “And a ‘packing up the cottage’ team.”
“Will only take us fifteen minutes,” Oppena laughed, “but thanks for giving me a special group.”
“I can cut wood for the rafts,” Liahpa said as she made a few slow swings with her ring axe.
“I’ll help with rafts,” Kacerie said.
“I can dig the trees,” Sheela said. “We can use some sticks like we dug the well in our old camp.”
“I can help dig.” Ohkall raised his hands, and the blades on them merged together a bit to form a shovel shape.
“That’s a neat trick,” I said. “Avern, you’ll need to help them pick the right ones. We aren’t going to be able to take all of them, so pick the forty that are the smallest and strongest.”
“I will,” he said as he began to shuffle toward the orchard.
“We have some cloth,” Oppena said. “We can use them as sacks to hold the roots of the trees in.”
“Good idea,” I said. “Help them once you are done with the cottage stuff. I’m sure Eiter and Heeyuna can help you.”
The remainder of my tribe quickly split themselves into the work groups, and I suddenly found myself standing in front of the cottage with the two Emeralds.
“Looks like we better find a group to help,” I chuckled to her.
No, you should not.
“No?” I asked.
Look over there. At Veeraale and Haryoud.
The other Emerald pointed to the raft group where Veeraale was zealously cutting down a thin jungle tree with her ice sword and Haryoud was dragging branches over to a pile where Keefaye was sorting them.
“What about them?”
They work hard. Eager to please you. They are already good minions. They are happy to serve their king.
“Sooooo… I should just… not do anything?”
Both the Emeralds smiled at me.
“No,” I sighed. “I’m not that kind of leader. You know that. I worked my ass off to build our first fort, and our second fort, and then--”
We know the things you have done. We know the sacrifices you have made. We know the enemies you have crushed under your heel and the blood you have bathed yourself in.
“There wasn’t really any bathing of blood, but--”
The respect of your core followers is built, my mate. The example has been set. What will slaves think of a king who works beside them?
“Whoa now. They aren’t slaves,” I whispered to the Emeralds. “They are members of our tribe with equal rights.”
Are they, though?
One of the Emeralds smirked.
Are they equal? Would you pick one of them over us? Would you allow a fall of the two-colored stone to determine fate? That is what equal means.
“Well… Okay… No,” I admitted.
You can have your favorites. Your wives will take precedence, which is why females will beg to bear your children. The males will be expendable, and they will be grateful to stand near your greatness. The aura around you will give them more safety and comfort while they live, and that will be worth dying for.
“That’s really fucking grim,” I sighed. “I don’t know if they are going to go for that. I don’t know if I want to be the kind of king that--”
It’s no different on my world, Kacerie’s world, Sheela’s world, your world, anyone’s world. We all die, my mate. We struggle to obtain as much comfort as we can while we are living, and we hope to pass our essence on to our offspring before the darkness takes us.
“I don’t want to agree with you, but you make sense,” I sighed and then rubbed the bridge of my nose again.
A ruler needs compassion for his subjects.
One of the Emeralds gestured to her heart.
But he also needs to be absolute in his ruthlessness. Lesser beings will doubt and try to usurp. Such as my brother tried with me. Do not let any see your weakness. Now you are tired. You should not let your new subjects see you like this.
“Yeah, I’m fucking exhausted,” I admitted as I finally allowed myself to feel the headache I’d been fighting. “My brain is telling me I need to rest, but my body feels like a live wire, and I just want to cut down or dig up some trees with my friends.”
Your new subjects are eager to prove themselves. Let them spend their energy. They will not question you. They are terrified of your might. Use that fear to give yourself some space. You have worked harder than everyone else for the last few days.
“Alright,” I said. “Let me walk around real quick and make sure everyone is situated. Thanks again for your advice.”
Of course, my mate. It is our job to ensure you are successful.
I gave both of them a quick hug and kiss, and then I walked over to where Sheela was working on digging up a tree on the edge of the orchard with a wide branch. She saw me approaching and gave me a small smile as she paused her work.
“Sheela--” I started, but she interrupted me
“The moons are up,” she said as a small smile spread on her lips.
“The… moons?” I looked up and saw both the white and red moon making their way toward the edge of the planet.
“Yes,” she said as her smile grew wider. “You normally ask ‘what’s up’ but I have beat you to it.”
“God, I love you,” I chuckled. “I think that’s the cutest thing you have ever said to me.”
“But was it funny?” she asked. “I was hoping to get some of your world’s humor.”
“It was,” I said, “and cute.”
“I never try to be cute.” She frowned.
“You are all the time.”
“Never.” Her smile was practically splitting her face, and my heart ached with how much I loved her.
“When I hold you in my arms after I make love to you, and you purr against my chest. That is when you are the cutest.”
“Oh.” She stared into my eyes, and the golden orbs swirled with emotions. “That is fine. I suppose.”
“You seem like you are in a good mood.”
“I try to always be in a good mood, but yes. My shoulders feel light and my heart is… happy. Yes. That is a word I like. Even though I have been much happier since you and I have become together. It is because we have defeated Wyss and gained new allies.”
“Really?” I asked. “I didn’t think that would make you especially happy.”
“He was the deadliest opponent we have faced yet, and we gained seven new members from the battle. It is an amazing victory. I am very proud of you. I am proud to be your woman. I am proud of our tribe. That is why I am happier than usual. I am sure it will wear off in a few days and I will return to my usual self, but for now, I wish to celebrate this with a smile and kind word to my husband.”
“I love it,” I chuckled. “I’m in a good mood, too.”
“But you are tired,” she said.
“That obvious?” I asked.
“I know you very well. You should rest for a bit. Let the others work. Especially Veeraale, Ohkall, and Haryoud. They want to prove themselves.”
“Emerald said the same thing,” I laughed.
“They are cunning.” Sheela nodded to the cottage behind me.
“Cunning?” I raised an eyebrow. “That’s an--”
“I am happy they are on our side,” Sheela interrupted me. “I believe that… our… connection has increased. I understand more of the details of what she says. I will respect my sister wife. She will protect me, and I will protect her.”
“Let’s talk about our marriage,” I said to change the subject. “We spoke about it a little when we were traveling to our new home, but I didn’t get to ask you the details of the ceremony.”
“You wish to speak of this now?” Sheela bit her lip slightly, and she glanced down at the hole she was digging around the tree.
“We can talk about it later, if you want, but since you are in a good mood and I’m in a good mood. I figure a few minutes break won’t hurt the progress on that hole much.”
“If you would like to talk about it,” she whispered, and then she gave me a shy smile that seemed very un-Sheela like. “What would you like to know?”
“How does the ceremony work?”
“There is a gathering of the two families,” she began. “The bride’s kin sit on her side and the groom’s on his. An elder male officiant will say a few words to each of them and then ask them if they wish to be committed to each other. Once they do, the ceremony is over, and the couple goes to their room to mate. The rest of the attendants normally have a party to celebrate the union.”
“That sounds similar to how it is on my world,” I said, “but the couple normally goes to the reception party after the wedding instead of having sex right afterward. The bride and groom normally have a few of their friends stand up there during the ceremony.”
“Yes, that is different than my world. The couple stand there alone, save for the elder. When do the pair mate?”
“After the reception party,” I laughed. “On your world, do they even go to the party afterward?”
“Sometimes,” Sheela said. “I only attended a few weddings in my life. It is a weird thing. We often wish to congratulate the pair, but if we see them at the party, it is often assumed that the male finished breeding his new wife too quickly, but it could also mean that he did a thorough job and has ensured she is pregnant.”
“So it could mean either thing?” I chuckled. “Yeah, we have weird cultural things like that on my world, too, where people are talked about negatively no matter what they do. What about decorations and outfits?”
“The pair are expected to dress elegantly,” Sheela said. “The bride should wear a green, yellow, or brown dress that conceals most of her legs. The male must also wear a dark coat and lighter shade shirt. White flowers must be displayed as decorations. All that attend the wedding normally take one home and try to keep it alive as long as possible. It’s considered lucky if the flower does not wilt within a month.”
“I don’t know if we can do the dress and the coat for me,” I said, “but I can probably find some white flowers. I haven’t really been looking around for any, but I will now.”
“I… might know where some are,” she whispered. “Are you sure that… you want to--”
“Yes,” I interrupted her and put my hand on her arm. “Sheela. I want to marry you like your people do. I know you call me your husband and I call you my wife, but let’s do it the right way. Well, as best as we can. Have you seen some flowers that will work?”
“Do you recall when we talked about this while we were traveling? Just a short time afterward, when we reached the base of the hill where the ocean and sand met the grass of the savannah. The jungle trees to the west had some flowers at the base of the trees on a vine. They looked almost identical to the specific type of vine flowers that we use for weddings on my world. I… well… I felt that it was a good omen. Even though I try not to believe in such things. It is silly.”
“It’s not silly to me,” I said. “You and I talked about getting married, and then you saw the flowers you wanted? That’s perfect. Even if it’s just luck, I’ll take it.”
“I do not know if they are still there,” Sheela sighed. “When we get back, perhaps you and I can go investigate the area?”
“That sounds like a great idea,” I said. “How many flowers do we need?”
“As many as possible,” she stated, but then her mouth turned into a sad frown. “The grander weddings have them everywhere. On the seats and on the floor. On the ceiling and strung between the walls so that they hang in the air.”
“Was that how your wedding to your ex was?” I asked.
“It was decorated fine,” she said. “Not that grand, since I was the seventeenth wife, but better than most get since he was a lord. It does not matter if we match it here. What matters is that you and I exchange our vows in front of our friends. I do not need flowers or a dress. I just need you.”
“And an ‘elder’ person,” I chuckled. “Who do you think we should get to marry us?”
“I have not actually thought about that part,” Sheela admitted. “I did not think we would actually have this conversation again.”
“You didn’t? Why?”
“We are so busy,” Sheela said as she shrugged her shoulders slightly. “Every day there are new challenges for us to face, especially you, Victor. You know I am often like this. I am fine with small bits of happiness, since it might not ever come again.”
“You are a stoic,” I said.
“Hmmm?” Sheela tilted her head. “I think the translations are strange. It sounded like you told me I was a ‘bearded thinker from the old times.’”
“Wow,” I laughed. “That’s… something else. It’s kind of true actually. In my world’s ancient times, when we were figuring out how to govern ourselves democratically and communicate with each other, there were a bunch of guys trying to figure out how to live life. I don’t know much about Stoicism, but they attempted to separate their emotions from their decision making process.”
“This seems like an intelligent way to go about making decisions.” Sheela nodded. “Can you tell me more about their teachings?”
“I’m afraid I can’t,” I said. “I just watched a few videos on YouTube-- uh, that’s like television on my computer-- about it randomly.”
“I see,” she said. “I am glad there is a name for the method of thinking. Perhaps we can speak on it more if I have future thoughts about it?”
“You want to be my philosophy buddy?” I chuckled. “I’d love that actually. I just… love you so much, Sheela.”
“I love you as well, Victor.” She stepped closer to me so that we could hug. “I am looking forward to finding white flowers with you, and getting married to you, and speaking about this Stoic belief, and having children, and… life with you.”
“But for now, I must help dig these trees out of the ground,” she said as we parted. “And you should get some rest.”
“I will,” I said, “but I’m going to talk to Kacerie first.”
I gave Sheela a quick kiss and then walked over to where the team was working on the rafts. Kacerie and Keefaye were talking through their build ideas as they arranged logs on the ground beside each other, while Veeraale, Liahpa, Emta, Gee, and Nomi worked on cutting down jungle trees.
“How’s it going?” I asked Kacerie and Keefaye as I stood next to them.
“We have it mostly figured out,” Kacerie said.
“We also thought of a new idea that Trel will probably love,” Keefaye said.
“You know how we used the clay jug to float down the river yesterday?” Keefaye asked. “What if we craft some larger clay jugs that are closed off with air, then we can build a raft platform on top of them. That should make it safer.”
“That’s a good idea,” I said. “We had those kind of boats and rafts on my world. We call them pontoons. You might want to ask Gee if she knows about them. I’m actually surprised she isn’t helping you design the rafts.”
“We asked, but she said we were smart enough to tie a bunch of wood together,” Kacerie chuckled as she pointed into the jungle. “I think she just wanted to cut down some trees.”
I followed her finger and saw Gee stand clear of the other women before she let go of Nomi’s hand. As soon as her body was engulfed in flames, she pulled out her whip and cut down a tree with a trunk about three feet in diameter with a single swing. Then she let out a loud laugh before she grabbed Nomi’s hand again.
“We… aren’t even using logs that big,” Keefaye sighed.
“It’s okay, she can have her fun.” Kacerie shrugged.
“You are the schedule manager,” Keefaye said as she winked at both of us.
“Schedule manager?” I asked.
“Yes,” Keefaye said. “Kacerie normally keeps everyone on track so that we ‘meet the schedule.’”
“That’s actually a good impression of my voice,” Kacerie laughed.
“Yeah, you sounded close,” I laughed.
“I did my best,” Keefaye laughed. “I’m surprised our translation stuff in our brains, or ears, or wherever is actually doing that accurately. I wonder how everyone really sounds in their world’s language.”
“I have wondered that, too,” Kacerie said.
“Victor sounds like he comes from the western region of my world,” Keefaye said. “It’s a very sexy accent.”
“Oh, I do?” My mind spun for a bit because I’d never considered that my voice or accent might sound different through the language translation thing the Overlords put in our brains.
“You have regional accents?” Kacerie tilted her head.
“You don’t?” Keefaye gasped. “Everyone talks exactly the same?”
“Well, not exactly the same,” Kacerie clarified, “but I would not say anyone has an accent. We all speak the same language and are taught by the computers. It would be strange for someone to speak incorrectly.”
“Wait,” I said as I held up my hand. “Does your world only have one language?”
“Yes?” Kacerie looked surprised by my question, and then she turned to Keefaye, who also had her eyes opened wide.
“Do people on your world have multiple languages?” Keefaye gasped.
“Uh, yeah,” I said. “Like… I think there are hundreds of languages, and accents in those languages, and then someone who grew up speaking one language and learns another will have an accent in that new language that tells people what their native language is.”
“That sounds insane,” Kacerie laughed. “How does anyone get anything done in your world if you can’t talk to each other?”
“It’s not that bad,” I laughed. “It’s regional. My language is spoken by most of the people on the planet. There is an island nation there that conquered most of the world three hundred years ago. My country had a revolution and broke away from their rulership, and now our countries are friends, but actually to me, both of you and Emta sound like you are from different parts of that island nation.”
“What? I like this. Tell me more.” Kacerie smiled at me.
“Yes. I want to know more about this conquering island nation and what my voice sounds like to you.” Keefaye practically bounced on her toes.
“Okay,” I said as I tried to figure out the best way to explain all the nuances with the British Empire. “So… Man. This is a bit of a history lesson, but the country is called the United Kingdom, but before I get to far into that, I lived in a country called the United States of America. America being a large continent across a massive ocean from the United Kingdom. Our language and cultures are somewhat shared because the land was first settled and colonized like five hundred years ago by a few other countries, including the United Kingdom, that uhhh, was called England back then when they conquered the world. Okay, I’m probably losing you both.”
“I understand,” Keefaye said. “It is fascinating. There is not colonizing, or conquering, or different tribes like this on my world.”
“Oh, that helps,” Kacerie said. “If I think of them as ‘tribes’ I can make better sense of it. Please go on, Victor. Tell us more about what we sound like to you, though.”
“The United Kingdom is made up of four smaller countries on two islands, I think. England is the southern part of the main island. That was like the original country that did all the conquering back in the day. Wales is on the west side of that island, and I really couldn’t tell you the difference between them except they have super confusing names over there. Scotland is in the north, and it’s a lot of mountains, wind, and cold plains. Ireland is a smaller island off the main island to the west that gets a lot of rain, so it’s normally drenched and green, but I think only part of that country is in the United Kingdom. The rest is just ‘Ireland’ I think.”
“You don’t study this country much?” Keefaye asked.
“That’s actually a funny thing about my country,” I laughed. “The rest of the world kind of rolls their eyes at us because we tend to not give a fuck about what they are doing. Most countries know everything about us, but we don’t know anything about them. We don’t bother learning their languages or studying their cultures. Someone once said ‘When the USA sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.’ My country is powerful economically.”
“But this United Kingdom place used to be?” Keefaye asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “There was a great war, and they kind of got fucked up during it and never recovered to their previous grandeur. Anyway. It always seemed like a nice place to live with cool people who had awesome accents and fun ways of doing stuff. Kacerie, you talk like someone from a high wealth area of the biggest city there: London. We’d call it a ‘posh’ accent. It sounds really classy.”
“That works for me,” Kacerie said. “I like that. It really fits my personality. Or, it fits how I used to be. I think I’ve changed a bit since coming to this world.”
“Yeah, you have,” I said, “but I like the way you talk. It’s fancy.”
“What about me?” Keefaye asked.
“You sound a bit like you come from Scotland and Ireland,” I said. “It’s kind of a blend of both. My dad was from Ireland. I’ve never been to any of these places. I’m just telling you what I know from talking to him and watching TV shows. He liked Scotland because they invented whisky and golf, but he’d tell me that the Irish drink whisky and play golf better than the Scots.”
“What is golf?” Kacerie asked.
“It’s a game you play outside on a field of grass,” I said. “The players have a small ball two inches in diameter and wood or metal clubs of various sizes. The idea is that you hit the ball across the field and into a pre-dug hole. The person who does it with the least amount of swings wins. It’s normally played in a large area where there are eighteen of these holes, so you add up how many swings it took you at the end.”
“Did you play this game?” Keefaye asked.
“I… yeah… a few times,” I said. “I was never very good at it.”
“You played it with your father?” Kacerie asked.
“Yeah,” I cleared my throat. “Anyways. We are a bit off topic. Keefaye, the Scots and Irish are independent and proud people who live in harsh environments. Most people from my country love their accents.”
“Ohhh, that makes me happy!” she cooed. “I like learning about your world. It seems much more interesting than mine, but I lived a very sheltered life.”
“I did not live a sheltered life, and Victor’s world seems so alien,” Kacerie laughed. “Different languages and cultures and accents and games? I want to learn more.”
“Who else in our tribe has an accent?” Keefaye asked. “You said Emta had one?”
“Yeah,” I chuckled. “It sounds a bit like the poorer parts of London, so opposite of Kacerie’s accent.”
“Interesting,” Kacerie said. “She sounds exactly the same as someone who lives on my world. No accent.”
“She sounds like she comes from the east,” Keefaye said. “It is a nice area with a lot of farms and ranches.”
“Gee sounds like someone from an island country called Jamaica,” I said. “It is surrounded by a beautiful ocean, and the people who speak the language tend to be more relaxed and laid-back.”
“That sounds like her!” Keefaye gasped. “To my ears, she also has an accent from an island a few thousand miles from my city!”
“Hmmm…” I glanced over to the flame dancer as I thought through the similarities. “What about Sheela?”
“Oh, that is a strange one,” Keefaye sighed. “I have never heard an accent quite like that. I once spoke with someone from the other side of our world, he said he came from a small mountain ice colony, and the passes only melt for a few days during the summer. Other than that they were completely isolated. Her accent was similar to that man’s but not a complete match. How does she sound to you?”
“She sounds like she’s from this massive island on the other side of the world from me, too,” I said. “It’s called Australia, and it used to be a place where England would send their prisoners. There are a lot of dangerous animals there.”
“Do you think there is a common theme between the way survivors’ voices sound to each other?” Kacerie asked.
“I’m wondering,” I replied. “What about Trel?”
“She sounds like she comes from a rich mountain part of my world,” Keefaye laughed. “They have a lot of gold and other precious metals there. How about you?”
“She sounds like she’s from an area in Eastern Europe,” I said. “That’s another large continent on my world. It was where a lot of old kings used to rule the land. It’s steeped in dark, foreboding, and mysterious fable. It’s an area of my world that’s always having political problems.”
“I think there is something to this,” Kacerie said. “We should talk to everyone and--”
“Hey!” Gee called out. “We’re almost done cutting these trees. You have a plan for the rafts?”
“Yeah! I think we’ve got one!” Keefaye called back.
“Then help us carry the rest of these branches over to you!” Liahpa shouted, even though she was currently dragging four massive branches by herself, and I doubted I could drag more than one of them at a time.
“Let’s talk about this later,” Kacerie said to both of us, but before she could turn to walk over to the cutting group with Keefaye, I gently grabbed onto her shoulder.
“Can we talk privately for a bit?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” I said as I motioned for her to follow me a few dozen feet away from the raft building site so we could have some privacy.
“I know what you are going to say,” she said as soon as we were more alone.
“You do?” I asked.
“Yes. I’m taking it easy.” She patted her stomach. “I didn’t really lift anything that heavy.”
“Oh, I trust you to do what’s right for our baby,” I said. “I don’t know anything about this.”
“You don’t?” She raised an eyebrow.
“Nope,” I laughed. “I’ve never gotten a woman pregnant before, or had a baby, so this is all new to me.”
“And now you have… five women pregnant?” she said with a small smirk.
“The only one we are sure of is you,” I said. “I don’t know about anyone else. But back to your earlier comment. Why is it weird that I’m trusting you with our baby?”
“Oh, it’s just that…” Kacerie paused a bit and then took a deep breath. “Sorry. I still forget that we are from different worlds. You look just like a man I’d date on my world, and you talk like one, and you… well… during this time I would be seeing doctors every week or so.”
“I think women on my world see a doctor every ten weeks, and the pregnancy lasts around forty weeks.”
“Just four visits?” Kacerie gasped. “That doesn’t seem like enough.”
“Do the doctors ever find an issue?” I asked. “That seems like a lot of visits.”
“Well… there normally isn’t an issue,” she said. “You know, now that I think about it, I don’t really know why we go to the doctors so much when we are pregnant.”
“Maybe it has something to do with the computers that tell you all what to do?” I asked.
“They don’t exactly tell us what to do,” she laughed. “There is some nuance in there. You are right, though. It might have something to do with the computers. They might need to have the information. The point I am not exactly doing a good job of making is that, on my world, the husband normally frets the most with the pregnancy and is responsible for making sure his woman is making all the appointments.”
“Oh, okay, I get it.” I smiled. “Tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll do it. Anything to make you more comfortable with all this.”
“I feel completely fine,” Kacerie chuckled. “I always thought the husband-fretting-stuff was a bit annoying, and I wasn’t looking forward to that part when… well… here we are, and we are on a strange world with dinosaurs and the father of my child is from another world. I realize I’m going to have to be really clear with what I need from you during all this, since you aren’t going to know.”
“That will be helpful,” I said. “It’s good advice for all people in a relationship: tell the other person what you want from them instead of just expecting them to read your mind.”
“I’ll make sure I communicate with you. We’ve been great together so far. I don’t have any fears.”
“Besides the… you know… Are we going to get eaten by dinosaurs or murdered by other survivors. Having a baby in all this seems rather droll.” She laughed as she rested her hands on her stomach.
“It’s our first time, so we’ll just do what feels right. If you want to lift logs, go for it. If you want to take it easy, please do. I’ll take care of you. You know that.”
“I do,” she sighed as she fluttered her eyelashes at me. “I love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” I said.
“But you wanted to talk to me about something else?” she asked.
“Yeah. I wanted to know about the marriage ceremony on your world. We talked about it a bit, but I didn’t get a lot of details.”
“The large flying dinosaurs attacked us,” Kacerie said. “That was terrifying. What did you call them?”
“Quetzalcoatlus,” I said, “and then there were the T-Rexes a bit ago. Right before they attacked us you were about to tell me more about how the marriage ceremony worked.”
“Yes.” She smiled at me, and her cheeks flushed a bit. Then she took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” she laughed. “It’s just that whenever you speak of this I get really, really happy. I know we talked about this before, but I dreamed of finding my soulmate and getting married, but I dated all these rich men who were as wrapped up in their businesses just like I was wrapped up in mine. None of us wanted to commit to each other. I was quite frustrated, but at the time I didn’t have the introspection to realize that I was just as much at fault as they were.”
“Yeah, you and I talked a bit about that,” I said.
“I had to get abducted and dumped onto a primitive world with giant lizards to realize what kind of man I needed and what kind of woman I needed to be. Soooo… anyways, when you start to talk to me about the wedding ceremony my heart just kind of flutters and spins around in my chest, and all I can think about is how much I love you and how happy I am that your baby is growing inside of me.”
“I’m happy, too,” I said. “And I want to make you happier, so tell me how we do this wedding ceremony the right way? I want the specifics.”
“We are starting off a bit incorrectly,” she began. “After a couple has dated for a while, and they want to get married, they have to go to the computers and ask permission.”
“Here we go with the computers telling you guys what to do again,” I laughed.
“Okay, well… yes,” she giggled. “In this case the computers do tell us what to do, but they tend to do a very good job.”
“How would a computer know?” I asked. “That just seems crazy to me.”
“They often refuse,” she said with a shrug. “Couples really worry about that, so there are all these steps people who are dating take to try and increase the chances of the computers saying yes.”
“Wow,” I said. “This is a bit off topic from our own wedding, but I’m really interested to know what you’d do to convince the computers to say yes.”
“Well, they don’t give us an exact answer,” she said. “There are just things people have noticed over the years. One thing that is really absolute is that the pair can’t live together before. If they do, the computers almost always say no.”
“They must each have separate homes. It also helps if each person lives on their own and pays for their own means. If someone lives with their parents, even if they are helping their parents because they might be older, the computers seem to have a higher chance of declining the marriage.”
“So each person must live by themselves--”
“They can have roommates,” she clarified. “And the thing with the parents isn’t a hundred percent rule. It just seems to sway them more to decline the marriage.”
“Okay, so each person lives within their own means and has a job to pay for their own place. What else can you do to ensure that the computers say yes?”
“Cooking together helps,” she said. “Living in the same city, seeing each other three times a week at least, but seeing each other every day seems to decline average acceptance rates, so most people will only see their partner five times or so a week. One of those dates should be a date with another couple. Oh, and they should have one date where they work on improving something, like painting a room or fixing something that is broken.”
“Huh,” I said. “What about sex? Does that help?”
“No one noticed a trend either way with how much sex the couple has,” she said. “It’s really frowned on if a woman becomes pregnant before they are married, but if she does, it seems to increase the chances of the computers saying yes.”
“That sounds like a gamble, though,” I said.
“It is,” she agreed. “Getting the computers to agree to the marriage is the main goal for everyone dating seriously, so some couples will go to drastic extremes to get favor with the computers. I just didn’t think it all worked like that, though.”
“Nope,” she laughed. “I always thought that if I dated someone, and I cared for him, and we did the things we thought we should do, then the computers should say yes. It didn’t make sense to go crazy over it. Some couples really lose their minds.”
“But what happens if the computers say no to the marriage?” I asked.
“Then that’s it for them,” she said. “They can’t get married.”
“But… can’t they just stay together and have babies?” I asked. “Does your world give a special benefit to those who are married?”
“Yes.” Kacerie nodded quickly. “They pay very little in taxes comparatively, and if there are services provided by the computers, married families are given them first.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” I said. “If a couple loves each other and they have a child, they should be able to have the same--”
“The computers don’t care about what we think is fair,” she cut me off. “They are programmed to progress and ensure the safety of our species. They are never wrong, so if a couple is told they are not a good fit for marriage, they should not stay together, and they should definitely not have a child. That’s why it is frowned upon to have a baby outside of wedlock. The computers might think the couples that do would damage society, and if we consider that they are right about everything else…”
“I guess I kind of get it,” I said. “But can couples get a divorce?”
“It is rare, but it does happen,” she said. “They would have to ask the computers again.”
“How often is rare?” I asked.
“Oh, like… I’ve heard of it happening three times in my life,” she said.
“In your city or--”
“Oh, no, the world,” she laughed. “And all three cases had something in common. Can you guess?”
“Hmmmm… did they cheat on each other?”
“Did…” I paused as I tried to guess what would persuade a genius supercomputer that seemed to be able to tell the future to change its mind about the marriage of two people “Something happen to change the personality of someone in the marriage?”
“Wow, you got it,” she gasped. “You are so smart.”
“Lucky guess,” I chuckled. “What happened?”
“On one, the man was struck by lightning. It completely changed his personality. On the other ones, it was a head injury the woman had, and the husband said she was no longer the same woman. The last one is interesting because the man’s testicles were injured.”
“So he couldn’t have kids?” I asked.
“They had already had three kids,” she said. “He was actually much older, but without his testicles his hormones didn’t produce correctly. They were able to separate because his personality changed dramatically.”
“I feel like my personality has changed since I got here,” I said. “I don’t even think I’m the same Victor you first met, and I was so much more capable than the Victor I was when I first got here.”
“We’ve all changed since we first got here,” she said. “Remember how much of a bitch I was? Ugh. I think it is the growth we have together that matters. If our personalities change together with age and experience it will be fine. I’m confident the computers would agree to let us marry, and I would never ask them for a divorce.”
“I think these computers would like us together, too,” I said as I smiled at her. “So then I’d want to marry you. What does that look like?”
“Oh, it’s a big deal,” she cooed. “Tons of bright flowers. Especially purple ones.”
“Purple?” I asked. “Why purple?”
“Because it’s my favorite color!” she laughed. “And I’d wear a dress the same color, or maybe the color of Eiter’s hair. I love that shade of lavender. Then I’d wear pearls in my ears and on my neck. You’d be dressed in a white suit with a long tail and a single red flower on your left lapel.”
“Why a red flower?” I asked.
“Because that is my second favorite color,” she chuckled. “Also reminds me of your heart.”
“These are all good reasons,” I laughed. “What about the ceremony? Who comes and what happens?”
“Everyone comes,” Kacerie said. “They sit down all facing the same place in the room. Then they listen to two of our favorite songs. Once that’s over, we both walk out hand in hand. Then we thank everyone for coming and tell them what we love about the other person. Others in the audience can stand up and talk about why they think the computers approved our marriage. It is a fun event that can last many hours. People will bring out drinks and snacks and hopefully everyone will have a chance to speak. Then, when we feel like everyone has had their say, the event is over. We’d go back to our home or a hotel room and make love until we were sure I was pregnant.”
“I really like this ceremony,” I said. “We don’t have that much audience participation on my world. There is kind of a stiff formal event when the pair get married, and then there is a party afterward where a few people might say something about the couple, but I like how everyone gets involved in your ceremony.”
“The hard work has already been done,” Kacerie said with a small shrug. “The computers already said the couple is good to be together. It is done instantly. All that is left is to tell everyone and wonder why the computers agreed.”
“So… for us?” I trailed off. “We don’t have your computers agreeing that we should be married, but can we do all the other stuff? Like we can stand in front of everyone and they can say why they think we are a good match to be married?”
“Yes, that would be perfect,” Kacerie sighed, but her voice sounded a bit strained.
“You wish your parents could come?” I guessed.
“Yes,” she said as she gave me a faint smile. “They lived in a different city than me, so we mostly spoke on the phone, but they would have wanted to be there when I got married, and they most certainly would have wanted to know their grandchild.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“I just wish they knew I was okay,” she whispered. “Actually, I’m better than just ‘okay.’ I’m flourishing. I’ve met the man of my dreams, and I’m doing things I never thought I was capable of. I’ve made real friends that I think of as my sisters. I want them to know all that, just if it could only be a few seconds where I could tell them before I’m gone again forever.”
“You don’t want to go back home?”
“No,” Kacerie said with a firm shake of her head. “Absolutely not. I was kept busy with my salon and endless dating of men who were just as shallow as me. My family is here now. You are here. I just wish they knew, but ahhh… I should not complain. My parents are still alive.”
“That’s why it’s harder for you,” I said. “I don’t think you should feel bad for missing them or wanting them to know you are doing great.”
“Thanks, Victor,” she sighed again, but this time she wore a large smile on her face. “So, yes, with our wedding. It would be nice if I had a beautiful dress, and you had a handsome suit, and I had an ocean of purple flowers and you had a red one over your heart, but all that really matters is that we stand before our friends and they tell us how happy they are that we are going to be together.”
“We can do that,” I said. “I’ll start with the planning.”
“That’s normally the woman’s job,” she chuckled.
“You do plenty around the camp,” I said.
“Yes, but not as much as you.” She pursed her full lips.
“Then we’ll each do what we can. First step is to get back home. You aren’t tired at all? You don’t need to rest?”
“No, I feel great.” Her electric-blue eyes traced up and down my chest before she studied my face for a few moments. “You, however, look exhausted. Maybe you should take a quick nap?”
“Sheela and the Emeralds just told me that exact same thing.”
“Then you should listen to them.” Kacerie nodded, and then she pointed behind me to the cottage. “It looks like Eiter, Heeyuna, and Oppena have finished pulling out the dishes and such.”
I turned around and saw that Kacerie seemed to be correct. The three female members of the cottage tribe had stacked up half a dozen cloth sacks in front of the cottage where the Emeralds were waiting. Then Eiter and Oppena walked toward the jungle where the team was cutting down trees for the rafts, and Heeyuna walked toward Kacerie and me.
“We are done packing our things,” Heeyuna said when she got to us. “Can I help with anything else?”
“Sure,” Kacerie said, “but Victor needs to rest. Can he sleep in the bed inside?”
“Of course,” Heeyuna said as she nodded to me. “There is actually a way to bar the door inside with a stick. It won’t keep anyone from forcing their way inside, but it should give you some privacy if you want to take off your clothes and air them out.”
“Do I smell that bad?” I chuckled.
“Actually, no,” Heeyuna laughed. “Just thinking you might want to take a break from them. Any chance I get, I often take off my clothes so-- Sorry, Kacerie. I’m not trying to flirt. I know he is your man.”
“I thought nothing negative,” my pink-haired lover laughed. “I love sleeping naked, and I’m looking forward to doing it more once we have sheets for our beds, new clothes, and new underwear.”
“And you all have soap,” Heeyuna sighed longingly. “I heard that’s something you are personally responsible for?”
“It is,” Kacerie said. “Trel is trying to figure out how to get us hot water into the camp. I’m sure we are just a few weeks away from it. She’s quite a genius. She’ll tell you she is, of course, many times, but it is the truth.”
“Yes, I heard about her,” Heeyuna laughed. “Oppena said she was very funny.”
“Yes… funny… that works,” Kacerie giggled. “Come on, then. I’ll tell you the plan we have for the rafts. Victor, go rest. We have this handled.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I gave a small salute, and then I walked toward the cabin.
The two Emeralds were waiting for me by the door, and I took one look at their white eyes and knew what they had planned.
“Uhh… I’m supposed to be taking a nap,” I whispered as I opened the door to the cottage.
One signaled as they pushed inside behind me and closed the door behind.
We will put you to sleep.
The second one threaded a rod of wood into the latches to lock the door.
But before that, you will fill us with your seed so we can bear your powerful offspring.
The first one motioned again, and then they both kneeled before me and began to unfasten my leather belt.