Authors: Dara Joy
NEW YORK CITY
He walked out of the water toward her, taking steady, deliberate steps. The long strands of his hair dripped down his chest and arms and back. In a catlike move, he shook his head, sending water droplets through the air.
He approached her, closer. She could feel the naked heat of his golden skin. There was no mistaking the sudden hunger that radiated from him.
With just the tip of his finger, he lifted her chin. Silken hair slid forward to brush against her shoulders, a hushed caress. Slowly, he lowered his lips until his mouth—that incredible, sensual mouth—was just a hairsbreadth from her own. Warm, clean breath drifted across her lips like a sultry breeze which heralds thunder.
Jenise paled. “I—I said I do not want—”
“Let me tell you something, my creamcat; I do not have a tendency to heed words that are so patently false.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means,” he drawled in a husky purr, “that my senses have already told me that you do
me very much.”
For my mother:
A daughter’s love lasts forever.
“The cat knows whose lips he licks.”
There are those who say that of all the mysteries in the universe, it is power which is most curious.
Is it force or is it ability? Is it illusion or is it a reflection of nature? Is it seized or is it bestowed? Birthright or destiny?
Or perhaps its elusive essence rises from other sources, nebulous and arcane.
Over time, numerous sages have inquired into the esoteric nature of power, for by its essence it is a catalyst of forces, nations, and beings.
It can enslave and it can liberate.
It can come from darkness and from light.
And by either its presence or absence, it rules us all.
There are those who spend their entire existence seeking it; while there are others to whom it simply comes. Those few who understand and respect its nature, never questioning its presence, become its source.
For what is known positively about power is that it writes history.
And the pages of its story, for good or ill, are written by the hand that wields it best.
Thus say the Mystics of the Charl.
He was an absolutely stunning creature.
The Observer peered through the tiny viewing aperture at the delicious male specimen chained to the wall.
He was uniquely beautiful. In every way.
Like all Familiars, he walked in two forms, that of man and cat.
In their human form, Familiars often had a tendency to be mysterious, independent, and, on occasion, extremely playful.
Except when captured.
Cornered, they became fearsome adversaries; difficult to ensnare, let alone contain. This bold trait only added to their value, and they were highly sought after in certain sectors—sectors that were ungoverned by civilized law.
Some said they were priceless.
It was their very nature that put them at risk. For the Familiars were a highly sensual people. In fact, the males of the species lived for the sensuous. Reveled in it. Lost themselves in it.
It was claimed that the Familiar’s erotic magnetism was difficult, if not impossible, to resist. His ability to entice was only surpassed by his legendary skills in the art of pleasure-giving. Some of these skills were cloaked in mystery, and rumors abounded as impossible tales circulated of the Familiars’ extraordinary prowess in all things sensual.
Looking at this specimen, the Observer could believe that every rumor was true.
Silky, with a sheen all its own, the man’s hair was extraordinary.
But then, no one had hair quite like a Familiar’s.
It was said that the glossy strands felt better than the finest
cloth and that it flowed smoothly through the fingers (if one had fingers) with the texture of spun crystal.
Smooth and lustrous, the overall color was a burnished, dark gold accented with deep strands of gilded bronze. Individual gleaming strands of black also wove through the supple mane, which hung resplendently to the middle of his back.
And his eyes…!
All Familiars had remarkable dual-colored eyes, but the Observer had never seen one with his combination before—had never even heard of it.
The captive was stunning, of course.
Like all of his kind.
The wretched thought made the Observer fume silently.
This one seemed even more glorious than the others.
All the more reason to revel in his capture!
Yes, he would do quite nicely. Not like that other one…
Pity the soldiers got to that one before Karpon did. It appeared the Observer was not the only one to resent Familiar beauty. The other one had not fared very well. In fact, he was quite a mess by the time they arrived. He hadn’t lasted long either. Karpon had him tossed out onto the refuse heap behind the keep as he drew his last breaths.
The Observer shuddered at the delicious memory.
Besides, after examining this superior specimen, who needed the other?
a vibrant animal in the peak of hisss manhood—we have sseen but one marking on him,” the Observer murmured approvingly in its sibilant voice.
It was often noted that Familiars sometimes displayed one or several thin, tiny lines on the insides of their upper thighs. They were no longer than a human eyelash. It was not known what significance these small bands had, except that those who had few or none seemed to live longer than those who had many.
The Observer smiled slightly. At least it appeared to be a smile. “Thisss one will do what you need, Karpon, and then ssome. Sstories have it that the malesss can physically
the act of ssexual love.” A dry chuckle issued forth.
It seemed to irritate the Observer’s companion.
“Really. Do you have any idea how many of my guards he took down before we were finally able to subdue him? He is dangerous.”
“What do you expect, Karpon?” The Observer sneered. “The more difficult the capture, the better the champion. He isss a premier catch—with a long, ussseful life ahead of him. Hisss longevity will make the trouble of hisss capture worthwhile.”
The man named Karpon spat. “When he has done that which he has been captured for, he dies!”
The Observer looked askance at the foolish man. “A wassste of good raw material.”
Karpon shuddered with distaste, both at his companion and at the suggestive remark. He knew it best to think of his erstwhile accomplice as “it.” To think of such a being in any other way was to
He quickly pushed the terrible thought away lest it gain substance. Horror had many masks.
“We underssstand ssuch ssentiments.” It rustled as it moved closer to him. “Did you know that the male Familiar can ssense his mate? Too bad we do not have ssuch abilitiesss. We can only choossse to whom we give our love.”
Karpon shivered inwardly. He did not want to think of such a macabre gift. Or the poor unfortunate on whom it would be bestowed.
A long black nail stroked teasingly down his cheek. He tried not to flinch.
“We feel your jealousssy…we admire it.”
Karpon raised a cynical eyebrow, stepping back. The last thing he wanted was its admiration.
As if it understood his actions, it smiled knowingly. Chills skittered down Karpon’s back.
“Are you sure he will get the deed done; what if he cannot—”
A dry crackling sound issued forth. Karpon assumed it was a laugh; although what its sense of humor might be was anyone’s guess.
“He isss a Familiar; we asssure you he will get the job done.”
Karpon fumed silently, grinding his teeth. Just the thought of the Familiar animal touching…! He was not happy with this; Karpon was not a man who shared
he deemed his. However, in this case, it was the only way to get all that he ultimately wanted.
“I don’t want her cringing from my touch afterwards. If he frightens her—”
The Observer seemed highly entertained by his inference. “If she cringes from your touch it will not be from what he hasss done, but from what you have not. He isss a fitting choice for your future consssort.”
Unthinking, Karpon pulled out a curved blade and held it to his companion’s throat. “I could kill you for that.”
“You could lossse your ssanity and attempt it.”
It was fortunate for Karpon that he was a man whose passion for power overrode his passion for other…things. He quickly withdrew the blade. What did words matter
now? When it was over, he would have it all: Jenise and her kingdom.
“Yesss, yesss,” it hissed, understanding more than it should about his nature. “I believe my work here isss done.”
“Not yet. Where is the drug? You promised it to me in exchange for—”
“And we keep our promisssesss.” It reached inside a hidden sac, pulling out a small vial of amber liquid.
Karpon took the vial gingerly, not wanting to touch it, yet knowing he must. He viewed the limited contents in disbelief. “Where is the rest of it? There is not enough here!”
It rustled again. “My dear Karpon, we asssure you there isss enough there to render helplesss the entire Familiar race.”
Surprised, he asked, “How?”
“One drop isss all it takesss…jusst one drop. The Familiar who leaves their homeworld will be delivered unto you. All you need do isss find the ssecond Tunnel and you have the ressst.” It reached up and closed the small viewing panel with a snap.
Karpon smiled evilly. With the Familiar available to him to sell to the highest bidders, he was assured of an unending supply of wealth. Yes, he would have it all.
“My work here isss done. If you do not mind, we sshall bow out of your little drama.” It was not a request.
For a moment Karpon forgot himself. His cruel eyes narrowed. “And if I do mind?”
Once again, the long black nail ran teasingly down his cheek. “Watch yourssself, he who would be ruler. That isss the ssecond time. Be glad we have a fondnesss for you.”
Karpon immediately realized his mistake. He stepped back and nodded.
“You have what you need now. We have ssecured your kingdom for you. The Familiar are almossst in the palm of your hand. Remember
It left him standing there thinking about all the power that would soon be his.
could not believe he had been taken.
Not Gian Ren.
He was Guardian of the Mist! In the language of his people, the Familiar, Gian Ren was a name given to him in the time-old tradition of naming a newborn babe by using the special senses inherent in their race. It was a name sacred to his people and it carried with it many meanings.
The designation paid homage to his spectacular ability to blend into mist as if shadow. To watch. To track. To hunt. To
When he pursued, he was cunning, clever, and silent. His innate tactical ability resided on levels most could not even hope to follow—even amongst his own kind.
did he deliberate. His methodology was lightning-fast thought process, followed instantly by the appropriate physical response. These reactions were always based upon the superior instincts with which he had been born.
And yet, he had been taken.
Even now, days later, the effects on the drug they had originally given him still dulled his senses; although not as much as he was leading them to believe. It was not the usual drug that Oberion slavers used to capture Familiars. That drug would not have affected him to such a degree. He had been trained to fight that drug.
This drug, however, was something else. Something different. Something
This drug interfered with his innate senses—not just by diffusing their focus, as the Oberion drug had done.
When first administered, this drug blocked out his special senses entirely.
Gian did not want to even remember what
had felt like. Had he not been so centered within himself, he might truly have gone mad from the sensory deprivation.
It had been days before he realized that the effect was temporary. By that time, he was being given regular doses of the Oberion drug. Even so, he might be able to attempt transformation soon…provided they did not drug him again.
was highly unlikely, he admitted to himself. The affects of the present dose were starting to wear off, but they had been very careful about keeping him controlled.
They kept him naked on a raised pallet, his back against a stone wall. Occasionally, they let him exercise. When they wanted him back in this position, they simply pulled taut the chains from the other side of the wall. It was very effective way to control him, for he never got close enough to anyone to cause any real damage.
Although he had tried.
Once a day, he was brought food and water. The food had been sufficient; apparently they were not trying to starve him. The water was fresh and they usually gave him enough to cleanse himself as well as drink. At those times and for brief periods in between, the chains loosened and he was allowed to get up and exercise.
During those interludes, he paced and prowled the cell, looking for a way out.
So far, he hadn’t been able to find one.
When he had been taken, he had not been adventuring; he had gone out in search of his blood relative, Dariq, who was missing. The trail had led to this unknown, barely civilized planet on the Far Rim.
Dariq was young and had been on his first adventure. Gian was not surprised to see he had ventured so far
afield. Younger males often did such things, forgetting to come home in light of the fun they were having. However, Dariq had been gone too long. His family was worried and rightly so.
He had gone after Dariq himself. Much to the objections of his mother’s brother.
He was almost sure of the fate that had befallen Dariq—for his trail led close to this very keep. He was also reasonably sure that Dariq was no longer living, for he had not been able to sense his life signs.
Gian exhaled sadly. The young Familiar would not have been able to endure the new drug nor its torture. He prayed he was wrong.
Sickened by the injustice, Gian once again tested the chains that bound his powerful wrists to the stone wall. He did not expect them to be any looser but it never hurt to continually test one’s enemy. Sometimes, mistakes were made. Familiars knew how to take advantage of mistakes.
He was not surprised when the chains did not give.
He had been testing them for days with the same result. Nonetheless, he would try again later. Gian was a contained predator and all the more deadly because of it. Unlike Dariq, he was not an inexperienced Familiar out on his first adventure.
He was a most dangerous adversary in his prime.
Through his dulled senses, a frisson of awareness suddenly tracked down his spine.
Someone was watching him…
Immediately, his long, silken hair slid forward as he lowered his head, hiding his too-alert expression.
Keeping his head lowered, he surreptitiously watched through the thick veil of his lashes. There was a very small aperture in the wall facing him. He caught a glimpse of a malevolent eye staring at him. Another chill raced down his spine. His senses were trying to return.
If only he could prevent them from redrugging him…
His normally superacute hearing picked up muffled sounds. A sibilant voice. Whoever was behind that wall was not alone. Barely he made out words. “…
the Familiar who leave their homeworld…delivered unto you…find the second Tunnel and you have the rest…”
The blood froze in his veins.
How did they know about the second Tunnel? There was only one known entrance to his homeworld of M’yan and that was through Aviara. It was carefully guarded by the High Mystics of the Charl.
No one knew about the second Tunnel except the High Guild of Aviara and—
It seemed his enemies had plans.
He had to reach Aviara quickly!
Just before the viewing aperture was snapped shut, he caught a faint glimpse of an orange ring. Familiar eyesight being what it was, he was able to make out a portion of an unusual design.
It was not much. But it was something.
Often in the past, Gian Ren, Guardian of the Mist, had been known to do much damage to his enemies when he had even less to go on.