Chapter 1

Life can be lonely when you’re the only existing female of your species.

Tatyana was unaware that the feeling that howled to the moon of her soul was Boredom. Her stomach felt unsettled, as though the great and bitter pip of a rotting fruit resided within its depths.

My friend, as I’m sure you already know: Boredom is deadly. Tatyana was soon to discover this.

She  had washed the dishes twice and swept the floor thrice and was contemplating going for a walk when she heard a knock on the door.

Confused, she made her way to the front door. A small part of her was tempted not to open it. Her husband had left to harvest the Hourglass Mountains, which were a good two quarts away, and it had not been many para since his departure.  Curiosity, however, prevailed.

“So sorry to bother you.”

In the doorway stood the most handsome haemon that Tatyana had ever laid eyes upon. His body was strong and chiselled; a real life version of the perfect marble statues that had been constructed beside the Castle’s lakes. His face was unblemished and his dark unruly hair fell in curls around his face.

“Who- what are you?” Tatyana kept a firm grip on the door. Everything about the stranger screamed haemon. But no other haemon existed to her knowledge. At least, Aravat had never mentioned any…

His eyes were a shade of blue brighter than any Tatyana had ever seen before and they never left her. Tatyana felt her skin burn.

“The name’s Zitali. I’m not here to hurt you. Where’s Paynton?”

“How do you know my husband?”

“Is he collecting the harvest?”

“How do you know his name?”

“Yana, please do not bore me with circular conversation,” A languid smile crept its way across the stranger’s lips. “Your husband and I are old friends. He asked me to deliver a message to you.”

Tatyana considered. On the one hand, it was strange that this male haemon had turned up on her doorstep out of nowhere. On the other, he had a message. And he’d called her Yana. Only Paynton did that.

“What’s the message?”

“First: may I trouble you for a drink of water? I have been travelling for two para and the weather has not been kind.”

“Of course.”

Tatyana held the door wider and the stranger stepped into the house.

“This place is beautiful,” Zitali said. His whole manner was slow and assured. He glided, rather than walked through the house, following her to the kitchen.

Tatyana poured him a glass of water and lead him to the living room, where he reclined in the sofa and drank thirstily.

When he was done, he let out a gasp of pure pleasure and fixed his eyes back on her.

“Two para since I’ve drunk water,” he repeated. “Thank you.”

He dried his mouth briefly with the back of his hands. Tatyana noticed his lips were cherry red with a somewhat natural pout to them. She had an inexplicable urge to reach out and touch them.

Zitali smirked, knowing what she was thinking.

“So – the news? Is my husband okay?”

“Oh yes. Fine. Naturally. It was more of a request, actually.”

“Oh?”

Zitali leant forward in the sofa, rubbing the light stubble on his chin with his fingers.

“Yes. He wishes to know whether you would like the roses from the Valley of Sunrise or Shadow? For the latter, he will have to wait an extra quart till they’re in season, but he didn’t want to get the wrong ones.”

A blood-red sun rose in Tatyana’s cheeks. It was so like her husband to be so precise. Zitali’s appearance made a lot more sense.

“The Valley of Sunrise,” she smiled. A quart was not a long time to wait but she was looking forward to being in his arms again.

“Brilliant,” the stranger nodded.  “Well, I must be off to let him know-”

“Wait a moment.” Tatyana rose and reached out, her fingertips brushing the hem of his clothing. “Stay a while longer. I’d feel terrible if you travelled this long way and left so soon.”

“Very well,” Zitali said, with an air of indulging in the whims of a small child.

“Where are you from?” she asked. “I thought Paynton and I were the only haemons that existed. That’s why I was so suspicious at first.”

Zitali frowned slightly.

“Oh – it’s just that I’ve never encountered another haemon before. I didn’t mean – ”

“No, of course not.” He touched her hand lightly. “I come from the land beyond the lake. There are several more haemons there.”

“Aravat said we were the only ones.”

“Aravat lied.” The haemon’s eyes hardened. “There are many more of your kind. Although we do not have the privilege of residing within the Castle.”

“Why would Lord Aravat lie? You must be mistaken.”

“I don’t know. Maybe He wants to keep us separated because together we are powerful enough to overthrow Him.”

Tatyana’s eyes widened.

“Shhh – don’t say such things!”

The haemon chucked.

“See how scared He has you! That’s how He rules over us- by fear. But no more.” Zitali seemed bored of the topic and shook his head. “Anyway, it’s not important. I can see He has brainwashed you enough to never consider His injustice.”

They sat for a while in silence, then:

“You say there are more of my kind?”

“Thousands more. Just like you.”

“Why are you laughing?”

“No reason.”

“Please tell me.”

“Do you love your husband?”

Yes.”  The word spewed hotly from her mouth.

“Just as I thought.”

“What?!”

“You’re so naive. You love Paynton because he is the only haemon you’ve ever met.”

“That’s not true.”

“How would you know?”

“I-” Tatyana stopped, a cold fear gripping her heart. What if Zitali was right? She’d never met any other haemon in her life. What if what she felt wasn’t love?

“That’s right,” Zitali nodded, reading her mind again. “It’s not love, but dependence. You can’t tell me that if you encountered the thousands of other haemons out there, that you wouldn’t become attached to even one of them?”

“I – I don’t think I would. Paynton is special.”

“You can’t claim he’s special without meeting the others. Love is relative to situation.” Zitali shrugged.  “For example, there is a haemon back home. She has undeniable beauty and is smarter  than most haemons I know. I could easily say that I love her, couldn’t I?”

“Well, yes.”

“But then I travel to your door and I meet you, dear Tatyana,” Zitali’s hand found her own. “And your skin is silken to the touch, and your beauty is beyond description.” He leant forward, his body pressing against hers. Tatyana froze in surprise. She could feel the warmth emanating from him; his breath was hot as it whispered in her ear. “And your heart beats in time with mine.”

He dropped his head then, murmuring into the delicate curve of her neck.

“Could I not then also say that I love you?”

Tatyana’s mind fought for control but she felt her body straining against his, a curious hotness spreading along the base of her stomach.

“I-”

Zitali moved back a little, a pained yet earnest look flickering in his eyes. Tatyana felt the breath leave her body.

“Couldn’t I?”

His arms wrapped around her waist now, drawing her closer to himself. Tatyana looked down, placing her hands on his arms. She closed her eyes briefly, trying to organise her thoughts. She could feel every inch of her body heating up, reacting to his touch. She snuck a look at him through her eyelashes and knew he was feeling it too. His need for her was overwhelming.

But it was wrong. She shouldn’t be doing this. Paynton wouldn’t want her to.

“Let me guess,” Zitali sighed, lowering his head until their foreheads were touching. “Paynton?”

She nodded numbly.

“Paynton cares for you. He wants you to be happy. How could he be happy knowing that you aren’t? That you haven’t reached your full capacity for love?”

Of course her husband would want her happy, although Tatyana couldn’t get rid of the ball tightening within her stomach.

“Tatyana,” Zitali breathed. His mouth was dangerously close to hers. “Do you want this?”

She couldn’t respond. Her words would only stick in her mouth anyway. Instead, she leant in, placing her lips gently on his. Immediately, his hands cupped her face and he kissed her back fervently.

When they pulled apart, he smiled at her.

“If you don’t want to – just say no,” He ran a hand through his hair. “But damn me –“(and friend, I am convinced Zitali said this especially for my benefit) “-you’re so gorgeous.”

Tatyana’s arms wrapped around his neck and smoothed circles along his back. She closed her eyes as his mouth melted against her neck, first kissing the skin, then biting gently.

“Zitali, what are we doing?” she breathed.

He looked up at her seriously.

“I don’t know but…” his cheeks were tinged red – part elation, part embarrassment. “It feels good. Yes?”

“Yes.”

He cupped her face in his hands and looked at her earnestly, smoothing her cheeks with his thumb.

“I don’t want to fight it. Why fight it?” His eyes were on her lips, darkened with wanton desire, salacious.

This time, their lips barely touched before he coaxed hers open, massaging her tongue with his. Tatyana’s grip on him tightened, her mind turning somersaults, unable to focus on anything other than how good it felt. She felt his hands at her chest, hurriedly unbuttoning her shirt. She felt the cool air rest brush across the bareness of her chest, and next, his hands caressing her with an expert tenderness. She moaned, the guileless sigh leaving her lips without warning, and yielded as he pressed against her, forcing her to lie on her back. He removed his own shirt and Tatyana’s hands automatically reached up, caressing his exposed chest.

“You’re beautiful,” he murmured.

Next, his hands reached for her skirt, sliding them slowly down her legs and discarding them onto the floor. Tatyana felt electricity shoot through her body as he peppered kisses up and along her inner thigh. When he reached her panties, he placed a gentle kiss at their base, the press of his mouth and the friction of the material causing her to squirm even more. She reached up, removing his trousers as he removed her underwear. For a moment they stared at each others’ nakedness, drinking each other in. Tatyana had never seen another haemon – let alone a naked one – before, and her body was doing things she didn’t even know it was capable of. She noticed the way this haemon’s skin had the golden tinge of a receding skyline, how his slender neck gave way to strong shoulders. She noticed too the dark hairs that were scattered across his chest, the taut lines of his abs, the hips that plunged deliciously to that place, now hard and swollen to the point of explosion.

Gently, Zitali separated her legs, hardening even more now, and wanton beyond control.

Tatyana moaned as he sunk down, filling her exquisitely. Her legs locked around his neck, forcing him to drive in further. He was moaning too, his hands squeezing her hips, sweat glistening on his body.

Tatyana came first, her body shaking and gripping onto the slippery sofa beneath. Her eyes fluttered closed as she tried to control her breath.

Zitali bit his lip as the pleasure built, pumping harder and faster.

Tatyana’s eyes fluttered open, opening her mouth to say something but instead shrieking with terror.

The haemon inside her was no longer a haemon.

The haemon had somehow morphed into a monstrous creature. Horns like a bull protruded from its head. Its mouth was warped and bloodied. The suntanned hands had morphed into claws that dug into her flesh.

Still screaming,  she tried to scramble away but the creature was thrusting deep within her, its pleasurable moans now nothing more than the gruesome cries of an animal being slaughtered. She felt her insides being ripped open, the pain more intense than anything she had ever experienced.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she felt, rather than saw, her force field grow and strain as if trying to burst out from an invisible barrier. It expanded and shook around her. And then it shattered. Splinters of light bounced around the room. Some light shards found a resting point before disintegrating, but others dissipated mid-air. Her force field gone, Tatyana felt an insidious coldness penetrate her spirit and her eyes closed once more.

Prologue I & II

PROLOGUE I – The Kingdom’s Charter 

  1. No crime is permissible within Aravat’s Kingdom. Any transgressions will be taken to the High Court and the punishment for all crime is separation from the Kingdom. (See1)
  2. All younglings must pass the Induction exam before they are provided with a certificate of adulthood.
  3. All younglings are to retain the same rights as any fully fledged species, with the singular exception of performing Rites of Power, which is prohibited for younglings.
  4. Any power sources from beyond the Kingdom of Aravat, and the cultivation and/or usage of them, are strictly prohibited.
  5. Any creature is permitted to leave Aravat’s Kingdom and go beyond The Last Gateway at any particular given moment in time, but to do so is at his/her/their risk. [i]
  6. It is not unlawful to enter Aravat’s Castle, however to do so without visionary shades may result in afflictions. [ii]
  7. All creatures are immortal and their force-field makes them so. [iii]
  8. All creatures must exist in harmony.
  9. A bi-millenary meeting is to be held within the High Courts, for the benefit of ALL species, regardless of age or position, in order to discuss the needs of the creatures. All attendees will require visionary shades.

i. All creatures receive their power span from Lord Aravat Himself. Moving far beyond the Last Gateway and being separated from Lord Aravat for too long a period of time, will, by default, result in the loss of their force field and the death of said creature. This is the only condition which could cause death to the creatures of Aravat’s Kingdom

ii. Our ruler, Lord Aravat, is powerful beyond description. To look directly at our Lord could result in temporary blindness. Neither is any creature powerful enough to touch our Lord, due to the weak material of our shells.

PROLOGUE II 

Dear friend,

I know that right now you are in mortal danger.  At any moment you could be found and mercilessly killed. In fact, if you are caught with this very book between your hands, you will undoubtedly be tortured beforehand and your death itself prolonged.

Holding this very book could swiftly end your life.

But I also know that this book could save your life.

It pains me to think of the fear you must be feeling right now. But know this: all is not yet lost. The fact that you have found this book in itself is a miracle; I am sure by now all but a handful of copies have been destroyed.  So guard this book with your life. It holds the truth which is never overrated; truth is sharper than a two-edged sword. Wear it like your scabbard and you just might survive.

I know that you have little time to read my words. I will do my best to tell the story briefly. But this is a story since before the beginning of your time. It is the story of the past, the present and the future. It is the story of everything, for I am everywhere and have always been so.

My dear friend I hope this book helps you.

You need all the help you can get.

Zariel.

Oh, and one last word of warning:

Do not tell anyone you are reading this book. Nobody is who they seem.