Excitement fluttered over Princess Saraska’s body. She leaned forward, breath held in eager anticipation as she sat on the brink of solving just one of her most perplexing mysteries.
“May the Seer protect me…” Priestess Avelyn muttered, glancing over her shoulder as if in fear of being overheard. Saraska’s eyes widened. If the priestess sought the protection of the mystical Seer, believed to be the omniscient god and creator of the planet Kilkian, then making babies entailed a serious sort of business altogether.
Avelyn took one last sigh then whispered in a rush, “It is the male who puts a baby into a woman’s belly.”
Saraska sat back, huffed loudly, and crinkled her brow. “What? The male?” Surely, she had misunderstood the priestess. She would have never presumed the male to be involved in the making of a baby. What possible role could he have when the mother alone carried the child?
“Do not frown so, Princess, or High Priestess will give you extra lessons in decorum,” Avelyn teased lightly. She then lowered her head as she continued with her task of collecting specks of crushed diamonds with a pair of laser pincers and placed them onto the nail of Saraska’s index finger, forming the shape of a star.
Saraska immediately smoothed out her brow. The High Priestess never wasted an opportunity to remind Saraska of the prestigious reputation she had throughout the universes. She was considered the most beautiful princess to have lived. But also a princess never to have been seen before, Saraska would add, much to the High Priestess’s level of annoyance. But secondary to that Saraska was supposedly honored for her serenity, her calmness of spirit, her tranquil disposition, her perfection.
Which was why Avelyn was assigned the task of curing her of her unbecoming nail-biting habit, of which the High Priestess had had enough. No princess known for her grace and ethereal presence should be found guilty of something as ungraceful as biting her nails. Avelyn at once came up with the idea to embellish Saraska’s nails with tiny pieces of jewels to deter her from her improper habit entirely. She hoped.
But being serene, calm, and tranquil were not easy qualities to master for Saraska. She forced herself to practice those traits the same way she practiced the ancient art of phleuting, every day, twice a day. But she failed simultaneously in both lessons—she just could not be calm or tranquil in the face of her terrible musical skills, try as she might.
“But the male, Avelyn? How can that be possible? And if so, where does the male get the baby?”
“Oh, I shouldn’t be telling you such things, Princess,” Avelyn groaned.
“Having knowledge of how it happens, does not mean it will actually happen to me, Avelyn. Look at me. I’ve seen the sum of twenty seasons and I know but this.” She waved her free hand to encompass the glass and bejeweled palace behind her, the emerald-encrusted crystal maze fields on her right and the massive pond with its iridescent scented singing pearls bouncing on mellifluous waves. All of which were enclosed by a circle of moonstone walls.
Even browsing and devouring every bit of information allowed within her grasp on the Plexus, the Kilkian’s version of an informational highway and electronic encyclopedias, failed to create a lively image of the many realms outside her planet. Most of her searches resulted in little imagery but screens and screens of text.
“You will be twenty-one very soon, Princess.” Avelyn brightened. “Think of what a brilliant festival we will have in your honor. And then you will be allowed—”
“See, there is naught difference if you tell me now, or later.” She beamed at the priestess. It was no easy feat living in a castle with her constant companions none other but an array of priestesses. Not even science and technology, attributes the planet of Kilkian were galactically renowned for, more so than other planets, could rectify what the formidable force of fate had issued.
The only living heir to the Kilkian throne was not… male.
A fact Saraska was reminded of every other moment. She had basically destroyed Kilkian tradition singlehandedly.
Her shoulders sagged. “Take pity on a poor, doltish princess, please, Priestess Avelyn.”
“Oh, Princess, if only you were mean-hearted and ill-spirited so I could adore you less.”
If only she had been born male.
Her mother, the last royal descendant of Kilkian had died during Saraska’s birth. She’d been told her mother died a moment after turning twenty-one and birthing her. She shared a life-day with her mother.
That, of course left no hope of ever gaining a male heir in the future. But with no appropriate heir, not even after numerous failed attempts to clone a male version of Saraska when she was but a few days old, this was her punishment. Utter confinement until she reached twenty-one seasons. The sentencing dished out by her father, King Stynard himself.
She had only ever known the priestesses. And had never seen even her own father in person. Whenever he appeared for his brief, sporadic visits, he came in the form of a hologram. Then too, it was merely to remind her that to compensate for not being born male, she had to endure her isolation without any complaint. Saraska took her imprisonment seriously. She had disappointed her father so dreadfully he could hardly bear the sight of her. It was after all her fault for being born a girl, though the severe quarantine inside the strict circumference of her palace grounds cracked even her spirit from time to time.
“If the High Priestess discovered—” Priestess Avelyn said.
Since Avelyn hadn’t immediately forced her to banish the conversation at once with thorough firmness, Saraska persisted a little more. “But she will never know. High Priestess is only ever concerned with me remaining alive until I am twenty-one when I am no longer her responsibility and doing so with the highest degree of decorum before I am set free from all this.”
Avelyn’s gaze flitted between Saraska, her nails, and her palace. “All right, but you are not allowed to ask me to elaborate, Princess. You may not ask me another question about anything else ever again until you are twenty-one and then you may know anything you wish. Do you promise?”
“Upon my royal word.” With her one hand still in Avelyn’s grasp—her nail furnished with another fleck of diamond—Saraska reached for a plump munella suspended in the air above their heads by a thin silver vine. She shifted her bottom into a more comfortable position on the warm velvety cushion, strewn over the glass terrain where her arboretum was situated, and took a big bite of the red juicy-sweet fruit.
“Oh, do not drip the sap onto your dress, Princess. High Priestess will have me for that too.”
“I shan’t. Now please, tell me how a man could do the impossible task of putting a baby into a woman’s belly?”
Avelyn turned a bright red and started to mumble. “It is… It is possible and it comes from… between his… legs.”
“Say it is not so,” Saraska gasped, swallowing a small piece of soft fruit before chewing.
“But it is so, Princess.”
“I still don’t understand. Unless the male is carrying an actual babe beneath his gown, I cannot fathom how this would be possible.” She paused; her head hurt trying to understand the strange phenomenon. “A male does not carry a babe beneath his gown, does he, Priestess Avelyn?”
“No, Princess, he does not.” Avelyn smiled.
“Then from what else between his legs can babes come?” Dear Seer, how weird the universes, and how little I know.
“No more, Princess. I’ve revealed enough already,” said Avelyn, flustered and squirming on her cushion as she resumed her task of decorating Saraska’s nails.
Saraska bit the inside of her cheek to stem the question resting on the tip of her tongue but folded. She shouldn’t abuse Avelyn’s generosity of knowledge. On meeting the newest member in her entourage of priestesses, Saraska had decided Avelyn would be the one to enlighten her on matters no one else ever would. Ones Saraska didn’t have the patience to wait to learn about when she turned twenty-one and she needn’t be bound within the circle of her palace walls. She had waited long enough already. Besides she planned to use all her time when she was released to get to know her father and have him see even if she wasn’t his son, she was still his daughter.
“Please, ‘tis the last question I will ask. Just tell me how and I will barrage you no longer.”
“He will put the babe in a woman’s stomach with the… the…” Brighter spots of red popped over Avelyn’s already reddened cheeks. “The… lance he keeps between his legs.”
“Why would a man keep his sword between his legs, Avelyn? It is bound to be uncomfortable, not so? And it now makes even less sense.”
“Oh, Princess, it is attached to his body… like a… limb… of sorts.”
“Oh.” Attached to his body? “Oh, do you mean his cock?”
“Princess Saraska!” Avelyn shrieked and jumped up. “Where did you learn such a… such a distasteful word? High Priestess will think I have told you it and she will punish me to no end if she—”
“Calm yourself, Avelyn.” Saraska stood too and touched the priestess’s shoulder. “I read about on the Plexus.”
“But… but your electronic perusing is censored by the High Priestess herself. I don’t understand…”
“Well, it was only a tiny, tiny labeled drawing which the author of the article I was reading thought prudent in explaining how Cyborgs had evolved. It was nothing really.” It was everything actually. She had pored over the image for hours, although it was so small when she had tried to magnify it, the picture had become distorted.
“But… Oh, you aren’t allowed to see such things, Princess. That is why your father keeps you here, hidden from the sight of man. And I have said too much already. Please, you must never say that word ever again. Oh, forgive me, Seer.” Guilt filled Avelyn’s face.
“Avelyn, what do you mean hidden—” There was a huge difference between being hidden and imprisoned and she was definitely imprisoned. But Saraska got no further as Priestess Gail, in a flurry of white silk flying around her stout form and her breath coming hard, came charging toward them.
“Dear All Mighty Seer, spare us the wrath,” Priestess Gail shrieked, gathering her skirts around her.
“What is it now, Priestess Gail?” Saraska asked, annoyed for the interruption considering Priestess Gail had a great love for catastrophe, and created an elaborate one every other hour. She needed time to set Avelyn at ease and understand exactly what she meant about her being hidden from the sight of man.
“Oh, your father, the king,” Priestess Gail said, wrapping her hand around Saraska’s arm. “He has brought upon you a danger you will never outwit. You must hide, Princess, at once. Unspeakable danger approaches. Priestess Avelyn, don’t stand there grinning like a fool. We must get the princess to safety at once. Princess, run to the palace and hide.” Fear, whether imagined or real, filled the priestess with astonishing strength.
“Priestess Gail, take a moment. What danger do you speak of?” Saraska asked.
“Whom?” Saraska planted her feet firmly, halting the priestess from scurrying away with her in tow. She cast a smile over Priestess Gail’s head at Avelyn. They both knew nothing was ever out of the ordinary where Priestess Gail was concerned.
“Oh, Princess, the warrior. From below. The Dark Sphere.” Then she whispered with frightful eyes, “The Alien Warlord.”
“An Alien Warlord?” Saraska asked, her lips spreading into an incredulous smile. She had to commend Priestess Gail for exceeding her usual fanciful notions and taking it as far back, eons ago actually to Star Magnus—the ruinous hypervelocity star that hurtled through the cosmos and cataclysmically altered the very core of the universe. Half of the planets of the cosmos were obliterated by Star Magnus and became known as the Dark Sphere. There were no survivors not for eons in the Dark Sphere… until suddenly there were. From the devastation of those planets, life had found ways and from it had emerged a new breed of inhabitant. Savages, warmongers, bloodthirsty and nerve-chilling barbarians with sole intents to raid and conquer any planet in their path, or so her searches on the informational highways on the Plexus had delivered.
“You know that is impossible, Priestess Gail,” Saraska laughed. “The Aliens cannot pass through the Portal of Orlanka. It was created precisely to keep them away. Fear not, Priestess.”
To protect themselves, the remaining planets had formed an intergalactic council to deal with the new problem. Considering themselves the luminaries of the universe, they titled themselves Actuals, as a class of superior distinction, and produced a powerful portal to keep out what they then collectively called Aliens of the Dark Sphere from entering the side Star Magnus had gracefully left untarnished.
“But we must fear, Princess, a lot,” Priestess Gail wailed. “He’s mounted the walls, flew over them on a monstrous creature of pure distaste. Only the Seer knows what great swords he hides on his person. He is going to kill us all, I tell you,” she cried, as she tried to drag Saraska along.
The priestess appeared genuinely distraught and Saraska wanted nothing more than to relieve her of her strange unfounded hysteria. She held the priestess by the arms. “Priestess Gail, no Alien carrying any kind of metal, mineral, or gem can pass through the portal, you know this. Come sit and have a drink of sweet water.”
From what she’d garnered from the Plexus, the Actuals of eons ago, while superior in their technology, had a greater desire for peace and a strong belief in rehabilitation of these new form of Aliens. The Portal of Orlanka allowed space travel between the two parts of the cosmos, but by disallowing weaponry of any kind, and absolutely no precious stones or minerals to pass through, they eliminated even the weakest threat of violence from the Aliens who might decide to conquer the Actual planets.
“Oh…” the priestess whispered, before all color drained from her cheeks and she dropped to her knees, mumbling incoherently. Fear bulged her eyes. The earth rattled beneath their feet.
Saraska turned to look behind her. An animal blacker than night, snorting and leaking thick saliva from its mouth engulfed Saraska’s vision. Both she and Avelyn fell to their knees on either side of Priestess Gail. Atop the beast sat a beast fiercer still. And Saraska’s heart thundered within her chest.
There was no question about it. The Alien may have passed the portal unarmed but there was nothing in his guise to indicate he had gotten lost and dropped in on her by mistake.
There was only one certain cause.
She was well and truly under attack.
Panic flashed through her, perishing her breath and shaking her right down to her toes. She clutched her skirts so tightly she felt her blood drain under her skin, leaving her with the impending motion of submitting into unconsciousness any moment soon. Her screams would not pass her constricted throat. She was too stunned to flee and too afraid to fight. What do I do? Beg mercy for an easy death? How could this be happening to her? She glanced at the women at her side and knew without a doubt they were all as good as dead already no matter how she reacted.
“Quick, Avelyn,” she said, her senses returning from shock. She rose without grace. “Help me get Priestess Gail up. We must get to the palace at once.”
Terror, so unknown to her before, gave her a rush of vigor. With a severely trembling hand she lifted her pink satin skirts while she and Avelyn sprinted toward the palace, Priestess Gail’s wobbly frame between them.
She dared to look behind her and found the beasts hadn’t moved. Instead, while one still snorted grossly, the other sat with an unnerving stillness. She ran harder, the strain in her muscles quickening her breath, her heart now tearing from her chest.
A rushing assembly of priestesses met them halfway to the entrance of the palace. Usually complacent and studious, the priestesses’ frantic shock at the strange intrusion of their lives matched her own.
“Get back,” Saraska shouted, ushering them inside. Once inside the palace, she placed her hand against the wall and sealed the glass door, turning it opaque. She glanced around, realizing in an instant the critical feebleness of her enormous palace would provide them zero protection against the beasts. It wasn’t built that way. She leaned against the jewel-studded shield door, breathless and scared. The hammering of her heart sounded surreal in her ears.
Since she had never browsed for tactics to administer when under attack, which was such a farfetched idea, she had no clue what to do next. How had her father never implemented a means inside her palace for her to summon help? Surely, he didn’t want anything bad to happen to her? Her present company, unarmored women who lacked knowledge in the art of even basic combat, failed on sight to defend her. They couldn’t protect her any more than she could them.
“Priestess Gail and Priestess Avelyn, take the princess and hide her, she must not be found. She cannot leave the Circle or all of Kilkian will be lost. The rest of us will stand and defend our princess,” the High Priestess instructed.
“Nay, you must all hide.” Saraska forced herself upright, waving off the two priestesses who came to her. “Each one of you must hide. The beast and his master have no concerns with you.” In spite of trembling uncontrollably, as the princess of her fort an intrinsic surge of spirit overwhelmed her. She would meet her persecutor head on… and demand why he thought it necessary to harass her when she had done naught to him. Until now, she had never even known he existed.
Avelyn took Saraska’s hands and held them tightly. “Princess, you must listen to me,” she whispered urgently. “You must never let him touch you with his… with his lance. It is an impure thing to do and he will hurt you so severely you will bleed. If he touches you with his lance you will never be allowed back into Kilkian. You will be disgraced. Please, Princess, do not let him touch you with his lance. You will be ruined for eternity. Do not for all the goodness of your heart let him put his lance inside your forbidden place.”
Saraska could barely understand Avelyn’s distraught, nonsensical, and dire warning, when the shriek of shattering glass pierced her ears.
The sound echoed through the great halls of the palace. Emeralds, rubies, and diamonds burst into the air as their enemies forced their way in. Outlined in the white sunlight loomed the beast and his navigator. Up close, they were even more humongous.
Saraska grabbed a heavy vase as her weapon then took a stance before the priestesses, who were locked still with fear. She spread her arms to protect the women who had become her only family. But they seemed to have found their feet and moved forward, spanning out beside her, matching her fear tremble for tremble.
“Who… who… who…” She couldn’t get past that one single word when fear the size of a spacecraft lodged itself into her throat. She sucked in some air, enough to at least start again. “Who… are you, and… what…” Oh, they were all going to die. No. That was not going to happen this day. “And what dealings have you here?” She tried for valiance at the end but she might have failed to mask her overall fright at the sheer fear that she was looking at a… male. In person. And yet he could very well be the giant from one of the articles she had read.
What kind of sun did he have where he came from if his skin was tinted a heavy shade of bronze? She couldn’t fathom anything other than a white sun. His hair was shaved short on either side and the rest of it gleamed midnight black on the top of his head, and seemed to be tied back with a strip of fabric. What a strange man.
What looked like an old scar ran from the right side of his forehead, over his eye and down his face to his chest. His angular jaw astonished her. It gave his face a shape she couldn’t stop staring at. She had no idea it was possible for any breed of creature walking on two legs to grow hair on their faces. Via the Plexus she knew all Actuals, men and women, only grew hair on their heads. But this man’s jaws, locked tight, were dusted with rough facial hair. His lips remained straight and tight. His eyes, a multitude of black, blue, and green evoked a staggeringly dangerous feeling in her and revealed the very soullessness of his nature.
In truth, everything about the way he looked both fascinated her and petrified her. At once she believed touching him would burn her alive. She allowed herself to whimper with new forebode but for a moment only.
“Speak your case.” Perspiration trickled out of the pores in her palm; the bulky vase threatened to slip from her clammy grasp, robbing her of a chance to use it on his head should it be required. “Speak, I say.” Her command screeched across the crystal-delineated floor.
He remained impassive. But a harrowing grunt from the monster provoked cries from the women playing brave alongside her. They huddled closer to each other. She understood the courage they exercised standing at her side. Her own legs demanded she run, but her mind kept her planted firmly in front of her enemy, to face him as if she could succeed.
She lifted her chin and used her most imperial voice. “I demand you speak.” She hoped her clattering teeth would not make a mockery of her request. “You hide behind your beast like a… coward.” She challenged him, not taking her eyes off the teeth of the four-legged ogre as its sneer widened. Would they be eaten alive? “Dismount and stand as our equal.”
He swung his legs over his ugly companion and landed on his feet with a grace that didn’t match his outward gigantic appearance. She gasped in alarm, stumbling a step backward at his massive height. Were there species of men who grew to that height? If ever she’d needed a graphic explanation of the words Alien Warlord, he personified the vision perfectly in her mind.
Blood pooled in her cheeks but she gulped down the riotous panic boiling inside her. The scar that ran from his face, widened into his chest and lower with great intricacy of design and pattern. She immediately likened it to the image of a sword. What an odd scar. How amazing that it had fallen into his skin in the shape of sword but even more disbelieving how it changed into such numerous colors.
That his upper body was bare was a fact she only now realized. Her gaze dipped down onto his chest to reveal an expanse of more bronzed skin and a light cover of even darker hair. Ripples of muscle, four rows of two each, tapered into a lean waist. An uncomfortable-looking matte-like fabric that seemed to hone and shape the extensive width of his thighs covered both his legs. The shoes on his massive feet, made from something not silk, reached up to just below his knees. What a strange manner of attire he’d chosen to wear. Her father, as did all Kilkian men, covered themselves from head to foot in flowing gray robes. Only their faces and their hands remained visible.
But the bulge between his legs, visible and considerable caught her attention and intrigued her even more. His strange effect on her reached even the strictly forbidden place between her legs, forcing her to clamp her thighs together tightly to remove the heated discomfit he conjured. That proved precisely how dangerous he was to her welfare overall.
She felt compelled to look away, as if she were trespassing a sin, but she couldn’t tear her gaze from him either, until the bewildered echoes of shock vibrated around her. The whisper of thirty satiny veils lowered over seeing eyes tickled her ears. What were they doing? They couldn’t fight their enemy if they couldn’t see him. Then it dawned on her.
His cock. No, Avelyn called it a lance. Were they afraid of his lance?
Oh, Seer of All Things, what was going to happen to them? She swallowed her own reserve. She didn’t have the luxury to show her inquietude, no matter the size of it. She lifted her gaze to his. If he meant to kill her, he would soon realize she would not go without the fight of her life, or least until such time as help arrived, lance or no.
“Stand back. I do not wish to cause you harm… Stand back, I say.”
He advanced without a care, the scar on the right side of his face increasing his menace. She wanted to expire on the spot.
“Stand back.” She waved the vase at him, her arms strained, her nerves shattered.
“Princess,” he murmured, his voice a great depth befitting a man his size, before bowing to her. But it was the sinister manner in which he addressed her that scared her beyond reason. Intuition struck hard. This Alien had no inclination to explain himself or have a conversation with her, much less kill her on sight.
He was there to remove her from her palace.
“Run,” she screamed at the priestesses beside her. “Run, hide. Protect yourselves,” she shouted, dropping the vase and bolting away. But she didn’t get very far before a powerful grip around her waist stopped her escape. Everything turned into chaos. Her vision blurred. She could only see white silk flying before her eyes as the priestesses dispersed. The hardness of his body against hers terrified her. And help was nowhere in sight.
Without obvious exertion, he tossed her onto the beast, leaped up behind her, and steered his monstrous vehicle out of her palace.
She felt as if she were wading through thick air the instant the animal surged over the walls of her palace. They rose aggressively into the white-sunned sky. The moment was short and bittersweet as she glanced at the home planet—a mere few new moons short from being released from her luxury imprisonment and allowed to integrate with her fellow Kilkians. Why was he doing this to her?
How could the Kilkians below see her being taken away when they’d scaled so far up into the atmosphere that they would look like nothing but a speck of dust to anyone below? This was how the Alien Warlord had snuck into her palace and plucked her from it, unseen.
But even in the unbreakable vise of his arms, she kicked and clawed though at nothing, screaming with no sound coming from her lips as she, a princess of stature, of Actual birth and nobility, was carried away by an Alien Warlord. One of the barbaric savages of the galaxies.