Exclusive Excerpt: Full Foreword and Prologue! To be released November 1st!
The Tyger Kings
All good fairy tales begin with “once upon a time,” and Blake Cameron’s story, which in some ways was like a fairy tale—only set in space and without the fairy godmother—was no exception. There had been times he wondered how he would tell his story to his children and his children’s children. Could he, indeed, phrase it like the fairy tales his grandmother used to read him when he was a child? Something like…
Once upon a time, an Alliance soldier, a human who was very frightened and very young, was captured by his planet’s worst enemies, a fierce and savage people known as the Tygerians. Against all odds and completely coincidentally—because, he was, after all, a very ordinary, low-ranking second lieutenant—he had attracted the notice of the highest-ranking soldier in the Tygerian army, a rank, at that time, second only to that of the king. This man was the Dyson, or the Battle Commander of all the Axis forces, and the nephew and heir apparent of the king himself. In other words, he was a handsome prince.
The lieutenant, who dealt sarcasm like playing cards, especially when he was badly frightened and didn’t want to show it, and who had been trying since his capture to fight everyone who came near him, spit out his name rank and serial number defiantly to the prince when they met and demanded that he be allowed to die fighting.
The handsome warrior prince fell completely in love with the human soldier at first sight, because, after all, he was a Tygerian, and their ability to fall in love nearly instantly and completely irrevocably marking them—in their minds at least—as far superior to humans in that regard, as in everything else. Instead of killing the young lieutenant, however, he took him home with him, and after many adventures and misunderstandings, the prince convinced the soldier to marry him. A few extensive body alterations later, the young soldier bore him a son, followed over the years by five more beautiful, red-haired children, all boys, who looked just like their Tygerian father.
The prince, who had by this time become the king, loved his children and his soldier very much and showered them all with care and attention. As the children grew up, the older boys found their own happiness one by one, with dashing colonels, important generals and even another king of a foreign land. And they all lived happily ever after.
All save one—who inexplicably fell in love with a notorious outlaw and a rogue, a self-proclaimed Pirate King, in fact. A man despised and reviled by almost every good citizen in the entire galaxy. But the soldier, who loved his children more than just about anything and genuinely liked the Pirate King despite what his husband thought of him, helped his son run away with the pirate, ignoring the strenuous objections of his mate. The king became enraged. So much so, in fact, that he stormed away during the blistering brawl that followed, taking their two younger children with him and leaving the soldier behind, because he said, he “wasn’t sure he could ever forgive him. Or if he even wanted to.”
It was those last words that had frightened and hurt the soldier, yet he was still terribly angry. He followed the king back home, if only because he’d had the gall to take their two younger children with him when he left, but the soldier’s ship was slower than the king’s, and when he arrived back on Tygeria, he found the king had left again, on a wild chase after his errant son and his pirate mate. Even worse, he had made the unilateral decision to send their son Larz to a faraway planet for military training, not scheduled to return except for an occasional visit for the next three cycles!
The brief and deeply unsatisfying note the king left behind for the soldier read--
Blake, I’m not sure when I’ll return. We need some time apart to see where we can go from here. However, if we stay together to try and work through our differences, things will be radically different. I’m guilty of spoiling you outrageously over the years in an attempt to make you happy. But your behavior has become insupportable, and there must be changes. We can discuss them when I come home.
If they stayed together…If he came home, because, in Blake’s mind at least, the threat was quite real and not much like any fairy tale he had ever heard of.
Except this wasn’t any kind of fairy tale at all—this was Blake’s life, and the plot had just taken an unexpected, heartbreaking and totally infuriating twist.
The Royal Consort Blake of Tygeria, mate to King Davos, the Supreme Leader of the Axis of Planets, shivered miserably as an icy breeze blew right across his naked balls as he hiked up his robe to urinate against a tree. Blake heaved a sigh as he finished. Rather than continuing to wander aimlessly as darkness fell over this vast, trackless landscape he was lost in, he tucked himself away, pulled down his thin robe and sank down on the mossy ground of the forest to rest for a moment. It was then, as his shoulders sagged in exhaustion and despair, that the memories of the hours and the circumstances leading up to his current plight hit him all at once like a spray of shrapnel.
Risking a desperate, harrowing trip through an unknown, uncharted wormhole despite the warnings of his navigators and engineers. Tumbling violently through it like gnats in a wind tunnel as it suddenly destabilized. Catapulted out the other side into this nameless part of space with no idea where they were, their ship damaged beyond repair. Surrounded by huge alien ships almost as soon as they had been flung out into this unknown star system in a galaxy that had to be unimaginably distant from their own. Shot out of the sky, but the pilot making a harrowingly brilliant landing on the surface of the planet below. Realizing they were safe but immediately afterward being hit in the back of the head by flying debris. Waking to find his crew inexplicably missing, with no idea of where they were or why he was so suddenly and desperately alone.
Even worse—perhaps worst of all—knowing he had failed in his mission to save Derrick from his father’s rage over his elopement.
He wouldn’t think about what might have happened because of his failure. If he did, if he gave into the panic, he’d be paralyzed with grief and anger and loss, and he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to bear it.
He shivered again and hugged himself under the silvery moonlight shining down on him from the twin moons overhead. Back on Earth, the astronomers would call that second moon’s orbit a Trojan point—a place in the first moon’s same orbit, but either well ahead or behind the other moon and still gravitationally stable — or relatively so anyway. They were beautiful, hanging there in the night sky like big paper lanterns, seemingly so close he could reach up and grab one of them to light his way.
And why he was standing there freezing to death while he waxed rhapsodic about the fucking moons was anybody’s guess. Maybe it was so he wouldn’t have to think about what he might have lost because of his own actions. So he wouldn’t have to wonder what in the hell he was going to do now.
The alien ships that had shot down his space craft had not responded to any of their hails. He had no idea who they even were, though the ships had insignia and markings that were vaguely reminiscent of the old Tygerian ships. Could these people be some distant relations of the Tygerians, then, as the people of Moravia were? Would they be coming for him soon?
With his thin, silken robes, he may as well have been naked for all the good they did him in the middle of this vast, dark forest. He was freezing. He had been at first too shaken and disoriented and too seriously freaked out about his crew to wonder where he was, but now he looked up at the moons and the constellations in the night sky and tried desperately to figure out where he could possibly be.
The wormhole they’d entered was not one that any of his crew had been familiar with nor had they even heard of it before. It was huge, so Blake’s crew should have known about it. All the large ones were well-mapped on star charts. They’d raced toward this last known location of Rhaegar and Derrick’s ship, but when they arrived, there was no trace of them. Instead they found the massive, uncharted and mysterious wormhole. With no other sign of the pirate ship anywhere else, not even—thank God—a debris field that would indicate an explosion, Blake thought the pirates might have gone inside the wormhole to get away from the ship that had been chasing them and about to overtake them.
The ship that belonged to his mate and his consort, King Davos.
The wormhole had simply appeared, quite suddenly, on his own crew’s screens, wide open and far too massive to be natural and providing only more questions. Who maintained such a thing? How did it amass its power?
Out of desperation, Blake had made the truly bad decision to risk going inside to search for Derrick and the others, and this was the price he was paying for his terrible mistake.
There had been little he could take from his ship to help him. His dagger was still strapped to his leg where he always carried it, though it was too small to be of much help to him. His personal communicator had been destroyed when it had fallen from his hand and bounced wildly around the cabin during the landing. The ship’s larger, more powerful systems simply didn’t work—he’d been unable to raise anyone on the normal channels, and there was no sign of any of his crew—not their bodies, not even a scrap of clothing or any of their personal belongings. It was as if they had literally vanished into thin air, like some conjuring trick.
When he first woke up, for just a moment he had been almost paralyzed by their loss, but after a brief and totally terrifying bout of hysteria, he had pulled himself together and decided he’d think about it later. If he kept dwelling on it now, he’d die there awaiting help that would probably never come. Not to mention the fact that the aliens who had shot at them would no doubt be coming for him soon, if the wild creatures that surely must inhabit this forest didn’t get him first.
Every inch of his body throbbed from being bounced around on the way down and from the shock of the landing—but the injury to his head was the worst. When he first woke up, he’d actually had to feel for it to make sure it was still attached on his shoulders, which was also when he discovered his motor functions were compromised too. Some piece of equipment, flying around the interior of the ship after they’d been hit, had given him a slight concussion apparently on their wild, headlong tumble to the planet’s surface. One minute he’d been watching his pilot trying to land in the only cleared patch for what seemed like miles around and the next, he felt a sharp, crushing pain in the back of his head and everything went black.
As they’d fallen toward the planet, he’d been mostly terrified, but some still-functioning portion of his brain registered with horror the absolute wilderness of the planet they were hurtling toward. The forest, as they raced down to collide with it, looked like just an endless expanse of trees. Nothing else in any direction that he could see, except for a pale crystal inland sea breaking up the monotony of dark green. He’d been knocked out soon after that, so he still wasn’t sure if what he had seen was real or only imagined. If it was real, then he’d literally been shipwrecked in the middle of a vast wilderness.
He looked around himself now at the closely spaced trees and the thick green moss covering the ground. At least it seemed fairly dry—no dampness on the ground or rain dripping from the trees. He wondered what the point was in shooting them down without even answering their hail or bothering to find out if they were friend or foe. Obviously, the people of this planet were barbaric savages.
Mustering up some righteous anger helped him not to think about how very alone he was in this vast expanse, and how those same brutal aliens would no doubt be coming for him soon. In order to avoid a full-blown panic attack, he had fallen down on his ass beside his small, wrecked ship and tried to organize what he’d managed to salvage. He had a small first aid kit that had been located under his seat. There wasn’t much inside but some gauze, a tiny pair of scissors, some water purification tablets, some antiseptic ointment and a small breathing device with supplemental oxygen. He had his dagger, and he seemed to be breathing the air okay. It was a bit thin, but he could manage it.
To be on the safe side, in case he was breathing in something that might be dangerous to him, he took out the breathing device anyway, slipped the mask over his head and switched on the mostly noiseless little motor that worked on some kind of kinetic energy. Instantly, his nose and mouth were flooded with sweeter air. He had no idea how it worked, or if it was simply some kind of filtering device, but it helped him breathe more easily, so he kept it on while he stuffed everything in the bag the kit came in and slung the strap over his shoulder.
He wondered if the distress signals his crew had managed to send in the moments before they were flung out of the wormhole had reached his son Mikos—a big if, considering, but he remained hopeful, He had to or go mad. If—when—Mikos got the message, he would send someone or come himself. He’d locate Blake and his crew and bring them home again. By that time Mikos would have located Blake’s younger son, Larz, and he would be fine. Absolutely fine, so there was no need for Blake to tear himself apart with this anguish and fear he was feeling.
And the improbability of all that actually coming to pass was something he wouldn’t allow himself to think about.
His crew was…gone. Disappeared. Vanished without a trace. Could they have been captured? Or worst possible scenario, could they be dead? If they were, then they had given their lives for him, and they had done their duty to the last. He wept for them, sitting in the vastness of this forest on a strange planet, all alone and probably about to die himself. He shed the tears unashamedly for them all and maybe a little for himself too. If he ever got out of this, he would see to it that the souls of his crew were honored for their courage in a special ceremony. He sincerely hoped their spirits were now in the highest of the four hells the Tygerians believed in—where they believed their souls resided in the afterlife—bypassing all the lower levels because of their bravery and loyalty to the royal family.
No matter how sincerely he felt the loss, however, he could only cry for so long before his eyes began to swell shut and his nose clogged and his breathing came in little hitches, which made it impossible to see and even harder to breathe. He made himself calm down and take deep breaths for a few minutes before he quite literally passed out.
When he felt a little better, he stood up and wrapped his thin robes more closely around himself. At least he still had his boots. He was still cold, but at least his modesty was secured, more or less. He looked around himself for some kind of warmer cover, but there was nothing but the moss. Maybe he could dig some of it up and then lie down and cover himself in it? He thought he remembered that from some survival manual back in his army days. The temperature wasn’t so cold that he would freeze—at least not yet. But if it fell any lower, then he’d be uncomfortable in the extreme, and it was better than sitting around crying till morning, whenever the hell that might be. He took out his little dagger and started digging.
He’d been at it for about ten minutes and had a good deal of it taken up in whole chunks when he heard a slight noise in the forest behind him. He froze and gazed warily into the shadows beneath the trees. He’d neither seen nor heard any alien ships landing. But he was reminded again—and about time too—that there may be any number of dangerous, bloodthirsty animals roaming around this huge forest, and a chill, like someone walking over his grave, swept over him. Another noise of a snapping branch, still far away, but closer this time, made him decide it was definitely time to retreat.
He had no desire to be murdered by aliens or eaten by some wild hog or whatever passed for one on this planet and die here all alone. No one would ever find his body or even his teeth or hair, because it was well known that wild hogs ate all of that, leaving no trace, so that no one would ever know what had happened to him. He’d never get to see his children again.
He’d never get the chance to see Davos again either, who, despite everything that had happened, was still his mate and the love of his life, even if Blake was beyond furious with him. If Davos had actually managed to catch up to Derrick and Rhaegar…if he had hurt them, or God forbid, shot them down…it didn’t bear thinking about. Surely, he wouldn’t have been so cruel, so unforgiving and rash with their son’s life and well-being.
Blake would locate him, would find all of them, and give Davos an opportunity to explain himself and what he could possibly have been thinking. Davos would be apologetic, would regret all the hurtful things he’d said and done and be his loving husband again. Because he had to be.
The last words they had spoken to each other in that epic argument had been so harsh, so over the top they had surprised and frightened even themselves. For Blake, it was as if he were standing outside his own body, hearing himself saying horrible things to Davos, and he couldn’t stop or tell himself to just shut the fuck up, for God’s sake. But then, Davos had given it right back to him—all those secret things that only someone who knew him so intimately could use to hurt him with. And then what Davos had done next—using their younger son Larz against him—that had been unforgiveable. But he had to have faith that Mikos would find Larz. Had already found him and Larz was safe. Because he had to be.
That was another thing he couldn’t think about right now, and it might all be a moot point anyway, since he was probably going to die here and never see Davos or any of his children ever again. He had to get moving or die here and now. And that’s when he had the panic attack. He hadn’t had one in years, not since he was very young, and a captive on the planet of his enemies. A full blown, heart-pounding, breath-stealing panic attack that drove him trembling to his knees again in the middle of this vast nowhere.
How long he crouched there, shivering and sweating, he wasn’t sure. Minutes, maybe hours later, he knew he had to move or he’d die there, because now he could hear movement all through the forest. Stealthy, furtive, and purposeful. He still had time—maybe—but he had to move.
As quietly as he could, he crept away from the noises coming closer, deciding he needed to find a nice tree to climb. Of course, for all he knew, the danger could be coming from the treetops, but it sounded much closer to the ground, and he was hoping that the “wild hogs,” or whatever the predators were on this planet, couldn’t climb trees. Even though the tallest of the trees was only about twenty or twenty-five feet high, sleeping in one of them might afford him more protection than sleeping on the ground. When he got a little farther away from the sounds of snapping branches, he started to run. Well, it was more of a jog, really, which, considering his recent adventures in being chewed up and spit out of a wormhole, then shot down by alien ships, wasn’t too bad, he thought. The forest was actually fairly easy to run through, since there was very little underbrush in these woods. After jolting and stumbling along for maybe a half a mile, he fell to the ground, completely winded. He really needed to get back in shape again.
For a while, he and his son-in-law Ryan had been working out and even participating in their own human version of the Games, a beloved spectacle on Tygeria, involving big men bashing each other with huge weapons and displaying vast amounts of testosterone. But recently, what with traveling to Vokaria with Derrick and Egan, getting kidnapped by pirates along the way and all the unpleasantness that followed, he hadn’t been keeping to his workouts like he should have. A sudden, fierce longing for his home and his family hit him hard, and he had to remind himself sternly that he could fall apart later. Now it was time to climb a tree and try to settle in for the night. However long that would be on this planet.
After several failed attempts—his tree climbing days were long ago in his checkered past—he persevered and was able finally to reach the lowest branch. After he managed that, he found it easier to climb and he was soon established on a fairly wide limb about twenty feet up. He wedged himself in a kind of yoke between the tree trunk and the branch and tried to settle in for the night. Lucky for him, the dense leaves had the advantage of knocking off most of the breeze, so he was finally able to stop shivering and had even become comfortable enough to fall into an uneasy sleep when a snapping noise directly beneath him woke him up with a gasping, heart-stopping lurch.
Once he got his bearings, he listened carefully for whatever it was that had jerked him awake. It was then he realized he could hear something breathing at the base of his tree—it was trying to be quiet, but Blake fancied he could hear it lurking just there in the shadows. He leaned out, peering through the dense foliage. The tree shook with a slight vibration as something or someone suddenly leaped onto the tree and began to climb it. He swore he could feel that thing’s fierce gaze on him, so he backed himself farther into the leaves, trying to prepare himself for whatever was coming for him.
He would kick whatever it was in the face as hard as he could when it got close enough and hope he had enough strength to make them fall. He pulled his dagger out, his heart pounding as he prepared to make a last stand if he had to. He looked down and saw the figure now, a big man-shape—it had to be one of the aliens because one of his own men would have called out to him. Wouldn’t they?
The alien was getting closer, the whites of his eyes as he looked up shining in the moonlight, but the rest of his face obscured by shadows. As all of Blake’s attention was focused on the alien below, something huge landed with a mighty thump on the limb beside him and surged toward him out of the leafy shadows.
Blake had time only to fling up a hand which the creature grabbed and used to hurl him off the branch. Blake plummeted forward, flailing his arms. His breath left him in a huge whoosh as he hit the ground below. Luckily, the moss was thick enough that it broke the worst of his fall, but he was still hurt. He couldn’t tell yet how badly, but he was pretty sure that loud snap and the bright shock of agonizing pain had been one of his ankles. Maybe his wrist too. He barely had time to register the tiny dust motes flying up and swirling around his face before a huge, muscular man fell down on top of him, straddling his back.
Any remaining air in his body fled in a panic. The dust motes were swirling thicker and thicker in the air, getting in his eyes and blacking out his vision. As if from a far distance, he heard shouting, but he was too far gone to respond. He opened his mouth to try, but before he could, he’d fainted dead away.
Slowly swimming back up to consciousness, Blake gradually became aware of two things. One, he was hanging upside down, and two, there seemed to be a lot of jouncing around going on. He was confused and disoriented, and his head not only ached, but felt stuffed and congested. He thought if he could only stop all the bouncing and rest for a moment, he might be able to remember what had happened to him. Someone had apparently substituted his eyeballs for razor blades and then glued his eyelids shut, but after a few seconds he was able to pry one of them open and saw that he was indeed hanging upside down and being carried across someone’s shoulder. It made him dizzy and hurt his stomach. He groaned and tried to raise himself up, only to be stunned by the pain in his wrist when he tried and slapped hard on his ass for his trouble. He fell back down, too weak and shocked and sick to attempt another escape. The cool night air hit his bare feet—someone had removed his boots. To keep him from trying to escape?
The words flying in the air around him sounded Tygerian, but he must have been hallucinating, because he knew these weren’t any of his men. All he did know was that his entire body ached like a broken tooth and was probably smashed up like his wrist in some permanent and irreversible way from falling out of that damn tree. He might have passed out again at that point, because the next thing he knew he was lying on his back on the ground, blinking up at those fucking moons again.
There was loud talking nearby and he was aware of a group of large figures around a campfire. There were many campfires around him, in fact, and some kind of temporary structures that reminded him of tents. Some of the figures were sitting near the fires and some were standing by them, talking in small bunches. That was Tygerian he’d heard, and it made his heart race faster. How were they here? Had he been rescued? What could they possibly be doing here, so far from home?
But that was a question for another day. He was too relieved, too exhausted to think about it. None of the voices sounded familiar, but he wanted to call out, tell these men who he was, and ask about his crew. He just couldn’t seem to muster the strength at the moment. There was a sense of waiting for someone or something, so he thought he might as well rest a minute so that if someone important was coming, he wouldn’t have to tell his story twice. The next minute, a commotion near the edge of the camp alerted him to the fact that someone was arriving. He tried to get an eye open again, but this time his eyelids weren’t as cooperative.
He heard talking again in Tygerian, an impossibly difficult language he had never managed to master, even after all these years, but one he could mostly understand. Because of him, though, Davos always spoke Earthan, as did the children and the servants. Even the royal court spoke Earthan when Blake was in attendance. Used during the long war, when the humans made up the strongest part of the Alliance, Earthan had become a kind of universal language among the Alliance, but never the Axis, which was ruled by the Tygerians. Blake realized it was thus a huge concession Davos had made for him, and he wondered how many others he had made in his life so that Blake would always be comfortable.
Whoever had just arrived was loud and commanding. He was doing most of the talking and seemed to be in charge. The voices drifted over Blake, the tones low and harsh and achingly familiar.
“Who is he?” the deep voice asked.
“No idea. His ship showed up in our airspace so we fired disabling shots at it and forced it to land. By the time we got there, he was the only survivor we could find, and he was already on the move. We’ve secured it and will take it to be inspected. We tracked him for a while longer before he climbed up in a tree to hide from us.”
“Where are his weapons?”
“Don’t know. Maybe he cached them. He didn’t have anything on him but a little knife when we caught up to him, but there was dirt on it, so he’d been using it to dig.”
One of the voices came closer and Blake felt the tip of a boot nudge his hip none too gently. “It’s a human. What is he wearing? That’s no Alliance uniform.”
“It’s what he had on when we found him.”
Blake tried again to open his eyes and got one eyelid up, though his hair had fallen over his forehead and indeed over most of his face. It must have been because he’d been carried upside down. They had left him his mask, though, so he drew in a deep breath to try to speak, when a rough hand suddenly ripped that away too.
“Who are you? What were you doing in our airspace? Are you a spy for the Alliance?”
The words were Earthan, spoken with a thick Tygerian accent. Blake looked up through the strands of his hair and could see the man more clearly now as he leaned over him, a feral expression on his wild and handsome face, the harsh lines of his mouth turned down in a frown and his long, reddish-gold hair falling in a thick mane around his shoulders. But instead of the familiar and well-loved amber eyes he was used to, these eyes were a brilliant blue. Too shocked at first to speak, Blake simply stared at him, at a total loss for words.
“Answer me, I said! Who are you?” The man swiped an impatient hand over the hair falling across Blake’s face and practically growled the words down at him.
“D-Davos?” Blake cried as he finally found his voice.
Davos drew back in surprise and looked his face over intently, his gaze lingering for a brief moment on Blake’s mouth. Then he grunted in surprise and spoke to him in that strongly accented Earthan. “How do you know my name? Answer me! Are you a spy?” He gripped Blake’s shoulder and shook him hard. “Tell me your name! Who are you, human?”
Dragon's lair--Dragon Prophecies 3
“A little magic can take you a long way”
I had always known Dragons existed, of course. Everyone knew that. Those old maps that had "HC SVNT DRACONES,” or “Here be dragons,” printed at the edges of their known world hadn’t been kidding. In those early maps, you might also see images of sea monsters or stylized pictures of Dragons. I guess it was a way for those old map makers to say, “Be careful. There's bad stuff out there."
I had also heard that pure-blooded Dragons were touchy and easily offended, and that they were a surly bunch who were evil-tempered. As a general rule, they didn’t care much for humans, though they certainly liked them well enough for sex. They jealously guarded their treasures, being greedy and covetous creatures, obsessed with increasing their hoards. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Dragons were dangerous and bad to know. They were driven by their love of treasure, were motivated by it, spent their time guarding it and would literally kill to increase it.
Very much like my own father, actually, who was not a Dragon and therefore, had no excuse for his love of money and the crimes it caused him to commit.
The fact that I knew the Solokov Dragons in particular existed was due to my father’s transgressions and mine for allowing myself to be sucked into them. But I’m getting ahead of myself, and my knowledge, or the lack thereof, about Dragons is really not a part of the story. How I came to help save the world is the real story here, and it—like my relationship with the gorgeous Dragon, Alexei Solokov—was, as they say, complicated.