Chapter Thirty-Three

“What happened to indulging in conversation?” Rel mused as he strode out of the shower. I was about to explain myself…until I noticed his unusual anatomy.

There was no dick hanging between his legs, yet the slit that was there wasn’t feminine in the least. Rel seemed to notice my confusion before I could articulate a question, and he laughed.

“Ah yes, I’d imagine you’re only familiar with the human species’ terribly vulnerable masculine genitalia.” Rel smirked as he grabbed a towel and proceeded to dry out his hair, causing his body to stretch and curve in a rather enticing way. “I think we will forgo the personal demonstration today. Suffice it to say— Syldrari masculine genitalia isn’t at risk of being bitten off by random passer-fish or mauled in other settings.”

“…retractable?” I asked, recalling that Jysel and Zafir had also seemed to dislike that ‘humans had outards instead of innards.’

“Quite. I’m not certain why humans evolved the way they did and why our scientists didn’t fix them.” Rel shrugged before pulling a pair of skintight black shorts on. Then, he stood to his full height and stretched his arms above his head. “Yet, they were willing to carefully carve human women into—mostly—the image of an Iri. A choice that has become more controversial in recent years as we grow to know humans as something other than objects of research… Especially since human women can’t quite withstand relations with their own species, let alone the others. At least, not without becoming a different person.”

“Care to explain?” I raised an eyebrow at him.

“Ah, humans are easy to break with pleasure, and it appears to be mostly irreversible without expert help from outside the empire. There have been multiple instances of a queen or one of her males having a human pet who approached them. The human became hooked on Syldrari and they became useless for anything other than a…pardon the term, but I believe the closest translation would be a ‘starter fuck.’”

“The sexual equivalent of an appetizer?” I laughed and shook my head. “Alright then. Human women aren’t mentally equipped enough to deal with what they’re physically equipped with, got it.”

Rel chuckled as he summoned black leather pants and a white, low cut tank top. “Yes, well, I believe we got a little off-track. You were about to explain the lack of during-shower conversation?”

“Oh…right. I was wondering just how much Zafir has told the staff about cellular dissonance, and how many people in the building know. I find it a little odd that security was watching but didn’t come running in over the blue blood issue.” I sighed and leaned back on the edge of the bed, resting my weight on my palms. “I have to assume that, either they expected my blood to be the ‘wrong’ color, or perhaps a filter on the cameras…?”

“I’m inclined to blame—or perhaps I should say thank—Zafir.” Rel offered me a hand, his expression one of mild concern as he pulled me to my feet. “How are you feeling? No lingering pain anywhere?”

“A little stiff, though perhaps that’s due to the lack of a warmup.” I shrugged.

“Or the awful bed,” Rel suggested, waving dismissively at the bed before leading me toward the door. “Now then, let’s get some food in you. Depending on how much Zafir decides to talk our… I mean, regale us, we will return to your training after.”

“Since you said human martial arts are useless, I take it you mean to teach me a Syldrari one?” I inquired as I fell into step with him. “That will be rather time consuming, won’t it?”

“In a sense.” Rel ran his fingers through his damp pastel blue hair, then glanced at me, “Of course, Syldrari arts are much more efficient than human ones. Even at a lower proficiency you’ll find them more effective than their human equivalent. And, it’s easily adjusted with the addition of weaponry or elemental abilities.

“For the moment, you should go play good little team leader.”

Rel nudged me gently in the direction of the lounge area, where most of my team and Zafir were all gathered. I reluctantly obeyed and joined the group. Zafir noticed me first and quickly pulled over an extra chair, motioning silently for me to take it.

“Why’s everyone look so grumpy?” I sat down and raised an eyebrow at them.

“They are upset that you are all so inferior to a Syldrari.” Zafir motioned loosely to the team. “Your loss gave everyone a dose of needed reality; they have been lucky thus far. If they wish to survive, they must stop relying on continued luck and instead make their own way.”

“Uh huh… ‘Everyone.’ So, just how many people saw what color I bleed, Zafir?” I narrowed my eyes, but he didn’t even flinch.

Smiling, Zafir answered, “Why, it was covered in my briefing regarding cellular dissonance, Elara. No one here cares what color or substance you bleed. Your continued results and contributions speak for themselves.”

“Fuck I hate it when you talk like that,” I muttered irritably.

Zafir leaned closer and dropped his voice to a whisper, “Oh I’m quite aware of how you’d like to hear both me and Rel speak. Yet you never quite push us…”

“What? Keep talking so I can decide how bad I need to kick your ass.” I glared back at him, but his expression had entirely changed.

“Your change is hastening, isn’t it?” Zafir murmured worriedly. “That poses—”

A loud crash echoed from the kitchen, and I was immediately on my feet, followed by Diana. The others seemed too nervous to join us in the direction of the indistinct yelling.

By the time we got to the doors, I heard a familiar voice shout, “You almost killed her you son of a bitch!”

I pushed the doors open to find a bored looking Rel standing with his arms crossed while Erik yelled and shouted at his face in various languages. Among the onslaught of verbal abuse, I caught snippets along the lines of, ‘we don’t care if she’s not human’ and ‘she treats us more like people than anyone else does.’ Zafir and I exchanged a glance then I caught sight of Erik pulling back a dagger in one hand.

That’s enough ,” I stated, entering the room, and approaching the two men. Rel’s eyes glassed briefly but were back to normal in a blink. “Erik, what the fuck are you doing?”

“This bastard could have killed—” Erik took a step closer to Rel, shaking with rage—yet he didn’t raise his weapon any further.

“He could have. He didn’t. That isn’t what he’s here for. Rel is here to make me more difficult to kill.” I crossed my arms as Diana peered around me at the two men.

“Um… Seriously, just kiss, fuck, and make up already. Just don’t do it near the food,” Diana remarked quietly, earning a sharp look from Erik. “What? You kinda look like you wanna kiss him.”

“I am not in the mood for a hatefuck right now,” Rel stated flatly, taking a step toward the significantly shorter human male. “You are delaying Elara’s access to a recovery meal. Do you or do you not care about her wellbeing?”

“Isn’t hate a bit strong of a word?” Zafir sighed irritably, earning a side glance from Rel.

“Humans don’t exactly have a good word for the kind of release I would require in this situation.” Rel whirled so his back was toward us, and he reached for a skillet. “ Now …are you going to leave me to my work, or shall I see if any of you have edible parts—aside from Elara, of course.”

“Sorry to interrupt, but Elara will be needing her breakfast to go. She’s got a mission.” General Crowe came up behind us, his formal tone causing Rel to shift to a more neutral demeanor. “Elder Rel of Clan V’shir, I take it. Thank you for agreeing to our request for training. I’m aware you intended to give her more instruction today, but…she’s received a summons we—and you—can’t dismiss.”

“A summons? From?” I frowned at Crowe when he grimaced.

“Queen Xilen has requested Lethe’s presence aboard her cityship, in the lounge she uses for entertaining human dignitaries. She said it’s a party…and instructed you to come dressed in ‘acceptable’ attire. I get the impression she dislikes our standard issue.” General Crowe sighed and continued, “We’re sending you up suited, but you should be prepared for questioning from the Syldrari. We’re not sure what they want with you.”

“That’s an understatement but yes—she doesn’t like standard issue. My question is why you’re bending the knee to her request.” I turned to look at Crowe, who sighed heavily and shook his head. “And why you said she requested ‘Lethe.’”

“We put it to a vote. The majority decided that cooperating is the best way to put their minds at ease about you and your origins.” Crowe shook his head slowly. “They think meeting you in person will prove you’re merely a modified human, and Xilen made it quite clear she’s aware who you are—and that any Syldrari who meet you in either guise will too.” Crowe turned to address Rel next, “You’re welcome to stay and draft more training details for Elara while she’s gone, but I understand you’re a busy man. Erik will drive you back to the Syldrari Sector whenever you’re ready. And, with that, I’ll be going. I’ve got another meeting to attend to.”

We all watched him leave, and it wasn’t until he’d been out of the room for several minutes—during which Erik also took his grumpy leave—before anyone looked away from the door. Zafir sighed and fidgeted with the sleeves of his dress shirt, while Diana tapped the toe of her right shoe against the floor.

To my surprise, Rel strode briskly over to me and took my face in his hands. “This isn’t safe. You shouldn’t go.”

“It doesn’t sound like I have much of a choice,” I countered with a faint shake of my head.

“You don’t understand—this is a party of queens . Xilen couldn’t get permission for any of the V’shir elders to attend. There’s only so many reasons Xilen would request your presence.” Rel narrowed his eyes. “It likely wasn’t her who asked at all. It was likely Citomy—“

“Rel. Those greedy women won’t change me. They can’t.” I gave him a firm look. “What they can do is react violently to a ‘mere human’s’ refusal and hurt my team or civilians. Let’s not push them.”

To my complete surprise, Rel closed the distance and kissed me. I felt myself losing to his magnetism and, before I knew it, he had me pressed back against the edge of the island counter. Just as my thoughts drifted toward the ways he could undress me, he pulled back and rested his forehand against mine.

“That…is in case I never see ‘ you ’ again…” he whispered, shutting his eyes. “They have a way of changing people…” Instead of letting me go, he kissed me again. This time, his long, nubbed tongue filled my mouth as his glow shifted to a bright reddish-pink with a blue aura. He pulled away, his mouth drifting to my neck just under my ear and said, “and that is a promise of reward for if you manage to keep yourself whole…”

Under other circumstances I might have been too entranced by the surprisingly passionate kiss, or the way he’d begun tracing his thumb over my lower lip. Or hell, how close the damn delicious-smelling man was to the inferno of my body.

Yet, despite my quickly rising lust, I was too surprised to act on it. It took me a few moments to steady myself before murmuring, “I…understood you, and you were not speaking in—”

“In which case, the odds of you protecting yourself while up there just increased, did they not?” Rel gave me a mysterious smile, his gaze drifting down to my lips briefly. Then, his eyes met mine and his expression became the serious one I was used to. “You should go get ready. I will prepare a meal you can eat on your way up to Xilen’s ship.”

What did you d o?” Zafir hissed, stepping in close to us. “I understand your concern—I am beside myself with concern as well—but she shouldn’t be able to understand Syldran! This is a risk—”

Rel turned to give Zafir an amused smile, promptly reaching out to grip the other man’s jaw. “Ah yes, but she has a Syldrari brain chip, does she not? Did it not occur to you that Syldran could be uploaded into it? Or, perhaps…you’re concerned I awoke something dormant within her?”

“You—” Zafir growled

“I am concerned for her as well, but she needs tools to survive. Tools that I’ll give her if you won’t. Besides…why wouldn’t the imperials want a soldier who can speak Syldran?” Rel smirked at Zafir, then turned away from us both and placed his hands on the edge of the stove. “Now, I suggest you go draft a briefing to explain to your bosses that your precious pet project had Syldran uploaded into her chip by a concerned citizen.”

I hesitated before following Zafir and Diana out of the room. The latter of which turned to peer at me as she asked, “Sooo… Are you okay? Uploading a whole language into your head…”

“It was into her chip—not her head. The chip will translate in real time on its own processing power so that her brain is free to actively focus on other tasks and determine what to do with the information…” Zafir muttered, looking a tad lost. Then, he looked at me with a pained expression. “I hate to admit it, but Rel is right. This is dangerous . Xilen is powerful but she can’t protect you from Citomy or the other high-ranking queens if they decide to…”

“To be blunt: I’d rather die than let bitches like them change me. I’ve had enough ‘change’ to last a few damn centuries,” I snapped irritably as Diana rejoined the others and began whispering to them, while Zafir followed me down the hall. “I’m more concerned about what we’re going to do about the footage of from the kitchen.”

“Nothing. The brass want you to grow closer to influential Syldrari. They’ll see this as another notch on your obedience belt…” Zafir shook his head, his eyes narrowing. “Go change. I have something that may assist you—I will go fetch it from my office.”

With that, we parted ways and I walked into my apartment, where I let out a groan of frustration and leaned on my desk. I was burning up, yet a glance in the mirror confirmed I wasn’t flushed. Rel’s sweet, fresh taste lingered in my mouth along with the sensation of his unusual tongue.

Fucking hell. How am I supposed to concentrate on the mission like this… I stalked over to the bathroom and drenched my face in cold water. That was a little better. I smacked my damp cheeks a few times before bouncing back and forth on the balls if my feet, repeating to myself to focus.

When I started to calm down, I took a deep breath and called up the AR interface for my wardrobe module. Even if I was going suited up—I had a feeling I needed a backup plan. Xilen wouldn’t have mentioned dressing ‘appropriately’ otherwise.

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Bio: I've been writing fantasy since 2002. I'm a published author. I often do freelance typography for other authors for their book covers or for their ad campaigns.

I like demons, foxes, games, anime, hard lemonade, and sleep.

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