Irrational fear gripped the trio as they opened the heavy bronze doors to the altar room. The heavy air inside the sacred space left Aurelia devoid of hope and warmth. Zinjo grimaced and held the partisan at the ready. Gael held his fists up, ready to brawl at a moment's notice. Sick purplish flames lit the multitude of grotesque statues and carvings.
"This place perverts all that is good," Zinjo growled nervously and jumped at a twig snap caused by his foot.
"Something wrong, my love?" Aurelia wore a knowing smile.
"I hate how this place makes me feel," Zinjo admitted, "It makes the fur wilt and makes the skin crawl. This place should not be." He stared at a twisted mosaic of a grotesque creature of darkness. It loomed above the town with purple eyes and clutched the townsfolk with shadowy hands.
"You'll get no argument out of me, " Gael twirled around at the sound of a cricket chirp. The Al' Miraj took the ground with its horn bathed in silvery ligh
Much to the surprise of the three companions, Carmen resumed her position at the altar. The mass of dark matter reformed the lethally beautiful woman. "It's not as fun as it used to be, messing with you mortals. Yet as an agent of the darkness, I am obligated to do so." She glared at Aurelia, "Who would've thought the woman would prove the most resilient against my little games." Gael threw a loose stone at the entity wrapped around the altar. It phased through the being amid cruel cackles of Carmen, "Oh, does that hurt your pride? Awe, poor macho sailor man, shown up by a woman." "It has nothing to do with Aurelia. You teased me about my past and then left me hanging. You spoke about things I didn't know and then stopped just when you got the good part," Gael clenched his fists and raised them. "Oh, poor little sailor man, ignorant of his heritage and who he is. I can't wait for you to find out. Unfortunately, I am only allowed to reveal so much, cosmic rule
Gael barely spoke to Aurelia and Zinjo about their experience in Carmen's temple. The being of darkness compromised them in a way they didn't understand. Gael refused to talk about what happened in the temple. Zinjo and Aurelia discussed it at length, "I hope Gael is okay, dark princess. Our time in the temple rattled him," Zinjo's naked body smothered Aurelia for a moment, and she giggled. "Stop it. We've wasted enough time with that. Our goal is to find out who can forge the bottles besides Carmen. Not figure how many times we can pleasure each other," Aurelia playfully shoved Zinjo off her and straddled him. "We are getting dressed now, and we have to talk to Gael. I don't like the idea of a rattled captain being in charge of the ship." "You don't wish to meet the dark priestess again?" "Do you?" "Not really, although I find her more palatable than Kivuli. We should discuss our next little problem. When we return to Shadowfen, the kingdom w
The guards separated Gael and the Al' Miraj from Aurelia and Zinjo. They took him to a waiting room. "Juma will deal with you once we deal with the renegade and his mate. Your trade idea sounds promising. I will make sure our leader hears you out." The sharp sting of metal spear tip pressed against Aurelias back, and she bared her teeth to the guards, who seemed unconcerned about the defiance. Worst of all, one of the guards ripped the parasol blade from her hand. She sulked as they marched across the small city. "So, how did the lion people come to be?" "Once upon a time, the people of Kiazangi were on the precipice of greatness. The mathematics and engineering in our buildings involved are lost to us now, but as you can see have stood the test of time." Zinjo seemed unconcerned with the guard's spear pointed in his back. "What happened?" Aurelia asked as they marched past several young families converse over roasted gazelle and oxen-like creatures. The chil
Ayasu gently pushed Aurelia forward by the small of her back. The light touch had a mother's care and leader's insistence. Her bright yellow eyes regarded Aurelia with respect. "Please forgive Juma. He never wanted to be chief. He loved the hunter's life and all the dangers that came with it."Aurelia leaned against the cold stone and scratched her back against the rough edges of the wall, "I thought you were against Zinjo and I being together.""I wanted to hate you. You are the one who stole my Zinjo from me, or at least that's what I thought at first," Ayasu smirked as a sigh of relief escaped the lips of the princess. "I saw the way my Zinjo looks at you. Many young lionesses tried to win his heart, but he would have none of them.""Why?" the question burned in the back of Aurelia's mind like a hot coal. "Zinjo always had a fascination with the outside world and desired to explore it. His father, Imamu, tried to talk him out of it, as did Juma. H
Zinjo and Aurelia stood shoulder to shoulder. The roared of the crowd echoed off the cold stone. Aurelia did not want to fight Zinjo's brother, Juma, but the rules said they had to. All because the young couple wanted access to the broken plains. It didn't help Juma held a grudge over Zinjos need to find Aurelia. Displeasure and frustration became Zinjo, and his eyes reflected the conflict within. Zinjo still cared about his brother and didn't wish to harm him, "My heart is not in this fight, dark princess. Juma is skilled but is rash with his moves." In those words, Aurelia formulated a way to end the fight as peacefully as possible. She glanced at Sahiri. Murder owned the lioness's eyes and suggested to Zinjo, "How about you take Sahiri, and I will take Juma." "Are you crazy? Juma will not hold back with you..." Aurelia's lips met Zinjo's, and she smirked, "I have a plan, my love, please trust me and this." Zinjo switched places with his mate.
The crowd's roar died down, and all that remained was the cold echo of the arena. Juma and Sahiri stood across from Zinjo and Aurelia. Ayasu stood between her boys. Her motherly gaze ensured silence from the siblings. Their tails swished between their legs, and their ears flattened against their fuzzy heads. She shook her head, "Aurelia and Sahiri, please stand next to me," the phrase was not a request. Sahiri and Aurelia stood next to the elder lioness. Like Zinjo, her scent struck the senses in all the right ways. "You two are shameless," Ayasu's tone bit into the minds of her sons. Sahiri and Aurelia winced, "Not only did you two fight over something trivial. You dragged your mates into the middle of it," Aurelia knew then and there, the guilt trip was a power all mothers possessed. "We are...," Juma started to say. "Did I give you permission to speak, Juma?" Ayasu's voice dropped into a low and sinister growl. Juma snapped to attention in a second
A brutal hot wind blew across the desolate landscape of the broken plains. Blackened plants jutted out from under rocks, black and crimson sand stretched out toward the horizon. Two days of travel did nothing to raise the spirits of the Three Lionesses. The water and animals were poison to the body. Sahiri maintained her silence, and Aurelia came to accept this was just a part of who the lioness was and spoke to her when she dared to speak at all. Ayasu kept her spirits high and wore a smile for most of the trip. "We should be at the old city of Matumaini by the afternoon. I know not what awaits us. I hope Nyo and Kuende have found a proper place to survive," Aurelia admired the care and concern Ayasu bore for her people, even the misfits. Sahiri gripped a handful of sand and let it run through her fingers, "Nyo will do better than Kuende. Kuende has particular tastes, while Nyo only cares if it's edible." The grains blew across the wasteland and joined the e
Kongamato tasted a lot like chicken. After three days of dried meat, Aurelia's stomach welcomed the flying terror. The campfire crackled and popped. Showers of sparks dropped to the stone circle around the tiny blaze. The silence of the night air bothered Aurelia. In the wilderness back home, one could depend on the crickets and owls to make their night music. Sahiri's ears flicked back and forth, "I do not trust the silence," She said after several minutes. She tossed a bone to the blackened sand and examined A femur, "This will do nicely for Juma's partisan." "It is part of the madness of the Broken Plains. The silence plays with the mind and keeps a person on edge," Ayasu undid her bedroll and laid it close to the fire. "What will we find in Matumaini?" Aurelia found it hard to believe the Lions were once part of an advanced Civilization. Ayasu and Sahiri shrugged in unison, "We both have enough sense to stay out of the badlands, good daughter," Ay