A Princess of Jupiter

Growing up I loved to read stories written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. My favorite story of his is The Outlaw of Torn, followed closely by the Barsoom (Mars) and Venus series. All of these stories portray people of honor, courage, and chivalry and they provide me a framework for how I like to see my own fictional characters. While I might never write as eloquently as Edgar Rice Burroughs, I feel compelled to write a TG story of similar style to those I already listed above in an attempt to honor his writing and the impact he has had on my life. For those familiar with Burroughs’ writing you will find themes and concepts derived from his stories.

Modern science has somewhat ruined the mystique of places like Venus and Mars. Mars, as we know, is a desolate wasteland of extremes. Probes sent to Venus indicate a surface temperature of nearly 1300 degrees. What we know of both these places is enough to suggest no reasonable expectation that life could exist. For that matter, none of the other planets in our solar system seem capable of sustaining life. However, there are several we still know little about. Jupiter and Saturn, being gaseous planets, we can only theorize about what their cores are like. For the sake of known science and science fiction, I’ve chosen to use Jupiter for this story. I hope you enjoy it.

***

A Princess of Jupiter

I’ve always been an ordinary man that had extraordinary experiences. If you ask me about my life, I’d tell you that I’ve been very lucky. I grew up in affluence offering me a chance at bettering myself through education and physical training, a luxury most men in the late 1800’s don’t have. I’d also tell you rather humbly that I survived many battles not due to my skill or wit, but rather that I was the beneficiary of cosmic chance.

The newspapers, however, would share a different perspective about me, one far more glamorous. I recently read a short article about myself before I set off on my year-long journey into the heart of Mexico. It reads as follows:

‘Well known philanthropist, war hero, and explorer, Captain Caelan Carter, will set off for the remote jungles of Mexico in search of Incan relics. He is most known for his unbridled courage in the line of fire and for single-handedly saving twenty-three men at the battle of Andover, but this handsome, tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed gentleman of Boston is also a renowned linguist and purveyor of food for those in need. Captain Caelan Carter will depart by horse May 3rd, 1885 accompanied only by his trusted steel saber and a pistol. We wish him Godspeed on his journey and a safe return.’

That was three months ago and I was already well into the southern parts of Mexico. I didn’t mind traveling on my own as it allowed time for introspection. I never married, not that I wasn’t offered many chances, but I’d always sought to find someone that would be an ever-present companion on my journeys. Many women of the elite of Boston found their way to my door and into my arms while dancing at a social event, but, while beautiful and intelligent, none had any desire other than to enjoy a life of luxury. There were many fine women of good character, but none wanted a life of traveling, exploration, and adventure. And so I find myself, now forty-three, unwed and alone, having never imbibed in a woman’s pleasure.

For those that believe the jungles of southern Mexico are hot, humid places filled with lush tropical vegetation, they need to visit this place for themselves. For I can well attest, as the intense sun and heat of this area beats mercilessly upon me, that it is difficult to imagine a tropical jungle could have ever existed here. My exploration has been greatly hampered by thick, thorny brush and the scarcity of fresh water. It has not rained in over thirty days and green food for my horse is growing very scarce.

Having all but determined to turn back to save my horse and myself I stumbled into a clearing. The brush gave way to fields of brown grass and an immense, towering pyramid of stone. Certainly there must have been a source of water near this place in the past in order for people to have dwelled here. Evidence suggested that even now, people, or perhaps wild animals inhabited the ruins as bent grasses indicated the passage of living creatures. The pathways in the grasses appeared to converge on the temple, indicating this was a place of convening of intelligent beings and not the random meanderings of wild animals.

I’m well aware of tales of savage peoples still inhabiting remote places like this, but I can see no recent indication that anyone had been here for months. The trails through the grasses showed no signs of fresh tracks, leaving me to ponder the significance of the ruins. Perhaps these carved stone buildings and the temple, obviously of great age as the jungle had taken over vast sections, wasn’t a city at all, but rather a religious shrine of some kind. If so, then am I now treading upon sacred ground? Ground if I am found on would be considered a great crime to those that worship here?

The orange glare of the sun was partially blocked by brush and I noted that the day was quickly ending and I needed to find shelter soon. Guiding my horse to a collapsed building that offered protection on three sides I unsaddled my horse and laid out my bedroll for the evening. Darkness came startlingly quick and with stunning intensity in these parts of the world.

It was perhaps two in the morning when I woke to chanting. I’ve trained myself to sleep light ever since my time at war, and I was startled to think that whoever was making the chanting sounds, most likely had walked close by but I didn’t hear them. I strapped on my saber and stealthily crept out of my makeshift camp to see a most amazing sight. The temple of stone was glowing orange by dozens of torches lighting the steep, rocky steps. There were no signs of the people chanting so I crept to the foot of the temple and slowly ascended the giant staircase. As I neared the top the chanting grew louder and I crawled slowly up to the edge.

Raising my head above the final steps I witnessed a scene that was both wondrous and frightening at the same time. I saw two dozen small men, their oiled bronze skin shining brightly against the torch light. They were short, being perhaps only five feet tall compared to my six foot two frame. Much like native Indians, their faces had been painted white and black. They faced a raised platform, an altar of roughhewn stone, where a naked young boy strained against the ropes holding him there. His eyes were huge with fear as one of the men approached him with a golden dagger. I’d stumbled upon a human sacrifice, scarcely believing things like this still happened in this modern world.

One might call my next actions courageous, another foolishness, but I wasn’t about to let them kill this boy. Without thought as to my own danger, I pulled one of the torches from the worn stone hole it was placed in and drew my saber. I stood to my full height on the top step and raised both arms to the sky and screamed. The men all turned to face me as I ran forward towards the raised platform. Their yells of anger were quickly followed by the sounds of scraping wood against stone. In my blind desire to save the boy I’d failed to see these men were all armed with spears and bows.

Not wanting to let my element of surprise erode, I sliced through the ropes holding the boy to the alter sending him scampering over the top of the temple like frightened rabbit. I turned to face what I knew to be the last people I’d ever see. They pushed forward, spears and bows at the ready. Why they didn’t kill me outright was a mystery to me. Perhaps I was to be their new sacrifice and they needed me alive. In any event I was grateful for the momentary reprieve.

Facing my ultimate death, I still held no ill will towards these people. I was trespassing on their lands and had violated their ceremony. I sheathed my saber and held my torch as a club. When the first spear came close, I batted it away and charged. Using the torch I swung wildly back and forth, connecting with more than a few of the men. Surprisingly I found myself on the far side of them, the lit stairway of stone directly ahead. I wasted no time in hurling myself down the stairs at break-neck speed; one slip would just as easily send me to my death as one of their spears. On the last step I finally tripped, my torch flying away from me as I tumbled face-first into the dirt and grasses. Quickly getting to my feet I looked back at the temple. The men were almost upon me so I ran as fast as I could into the thick brush.

Here my size was my own enemy as the smaller men were quickly gaining ground as they slipped through the brush like wraiths. I, on the other hand, crashed through the thorny growth with much silent cursing as the thorns cut at my body and pulled at me slowing me down. Soon the darkness was overwhelming and the dry jungle became suspiciously quiet. Have my attackers slipped into the night only to spring upon me and shower me with their weapons?

Slowing to a stop I strained to hear anything. The silence was deafening, the darkness complete. Looking up through the brush I could spot the stars so I oriented myself and decided I needed to turn northwest to get back to my campsite. I’d only taken a handful of steps when the ground beneath me collapsed sending me plummeting a good forty feet into a pool of water below.

I surfaced moments later, grateful it was water I landed in and not solid earth. My first breath, however, did nothing to alleviate my fears that I was in any way safe. I’d heard of caves in the Rocky Mountains that contained gases that could kill someone quickly. The air inside this place was stifling and tainted. My throat burned with the acrid odor and my strength ebbed rapidly. I swam quickly for some edge or shore I could pull myself up onto and was delighted to feel my hands touch the rough, rocky edge. It took all my strength to pull myself from the water and roll over onto my back. I stared upwards through a small hole in the cenote’s ceiling catching a glimpse of stars and Jupiter.

Try as I might I couldn’t move a muscle. I was paralyzed and could only hear the dripping of water within the cave. Cenote’s like this riddled Mexico and was most likely the reason my pursuers gave up the chase. They must have known of the danger.

The agonizingly long night was finally replaced by day and with the rising of the sun I could see more of where I was. The cenote was large and the pool of water deep. Light filtered through small holes in the ceiling creating streams of luminance that fell through the air and deep into the clear green water. Still I couldn’t move, not even my little finger would budge. A slight mist hung in the air and I could see dead animal carcasses around me. That would be my fate soon. Oddly I only thought of my poor horse and hoped she had freed herself to find food and water.

I lay there all day and into the night unable to move. I couldn’t believe that this was the culmination of my life. Through the wars and battles I fought and survived to be killed through this tortuous paralyzing decay was unbearable. It was when I spotted Jupiter once again through the hole in the ceiling that I cried out. My mind screamed for me as not a breath or sound came from my lips. I implored, I prayed, and finally I willed myself to be away from this horrible end to my life.

It was at that moment that a flash of light surrounded me and I could move once again, yet as I stood and looked around, I could see my own body lying on its back. Looking back up towards the stars and to Jupiter I was suddenly flying upward of no accord of my own. The earth and my body fell away beneath me as I hurtled faster and faster through the darkness of space. Light began to blur at the edges of my sight and the once small dot that was Jupiter began to increase in size rapidly. Is this death then? The departure of my soul from my body and being flung with abandon into the nothingness of space? All I could see was Jupiter now and the swirling gases that made up the planet. The brightness filled my vision completely one second, and then everything vanished.

***

I woke with a startling sense of weight. For an entire day I’d been paralyzed and unable to feel my body in the bottom of the cenote and then the incredible weightless flight through space. Now, realizing it had all been a dream, the sensations of my body began speaking once again to my mind. I opened my eyes expecting to see numerous things; that I was still in the cenote, that it would be dark or light depending on the time of day, that I was at my last campsite waking from a horrible nightmare, or that I saw nothing and was quite dead. The reality of what I saw was therefore quite confusing to me as I opened my eyes to salmon-colored grasses extending endlessly under an opaque golden sky. Certainly I must either be dead, or the gasses of the cenote had so muddled my brain such that I was dreaming and unconscious, perhaps even now in the final throws of death.

I felt a warm gentle breeze blow across my skin and I watched the grasses move with it like a wave. It was then that I noticed my hand. My fingers were slender and my skin a lighter hue from the suntanned one I always seemed to have. I pushed lightly with this strange hand against the soil hoping to sit myself up and get a better perspective on things when I found myself launched backwards several feet. I landed, or rather, plopped down on my backside and a weight on my chest bounced lightly. Now sitting I could see more of myself and my eyes fixated on the two large breasts protruding from my chest with long blonde hair cascading gently over them.

In a moment of panic I stood quickly to my feet sending me once again into the air. This time I was closer to ten feet off the ground before landing in a heap of arms, legs, and hair. I was very cautious in my next attempt to stand to my feet and managed to do so without major incident or trauma. Now standing I examined myself very closely. I held both hands in front of my face and looked at their delicate nature. I grabbed strands of my hair and pulled it in front of my eyes noting it reminded me of my old hair in color and texture. Looking down once again I saw breasts and beyond that to a perfectly flat stomach and a slight mound between my legs. There was no question I was now a woman which begged the question as to what was I currently experiencing. Am I dead and this is my new body in the afterlife? Would that put me in heaven or hell? I must still be unconscious in the cenote in Mexico for surely this can’t be real.

I noted that I was very much naked but at the moment I wasn’t overly concerned about that. Scanning the horizon and sky I looked for anything I could connect with to indicate to me that I wasn’t merely hallucinating. The salmon grasses moved in time with the winds across gently rolling hills making it look like a vast pink ocean that went on indefinitely. I could see no trees or any other living thing. The sky looked like nothing I had ever seen before. Golden colored clouds covered the entire sky and seemed to be impossibly high above the ground. The clouds roiled and turned diffusing the light so that no shadows existed anywhere.

The air smelled clean and sweet and only the sound of rustling grasses came to my ears. With my immediate surroundings examined and no pending threats appeared, I once again refocused on my body and predicament. My hands went to feel my breasts and there was a finality and certainty about what they felt. The gentle massaging verified that they were attached to me and the powerful sensations that came from them were an indication they were very real. Feeling slightly embarrassed for feeling a woman’s breasts, even if they were somehow mine, caused me to blush and turn my mind elsewhere.

If this is real, then where am I? How will I find clothing, water, and food? I had flown towards Jupiter and the golden clouds that appeared to be in such turmoil could lend to the possibility that Jupiter had a solid core and I was now standing upon it. But why as a woman? I reminded myself that I was a survivor and no matter what the circumstance I should be able to handle anything. I had no answers to the ‘how’ or the ‘why’ of my situation and thus no desire to spend countless fruitless hours unravelling the mystery. I am where I am and I need to get on with my survival.

I carefully spun in a circle looking for a possible vantage point. In my mind I created directions even though there was no way of knowing for certain which way I should head. I assumed that the clouds travelled from west to east, much like on Earth, and the prevailing winds followed suit. I determined that if I kept the wind on my left I would be traveling what I considered north. Towards the northwest was a hill significantly higher than the others around it. I need to make my way there.

My first step proved catastrophic, launching myself some eight feet in the air and twelve feet from where I was standing before. Falling on my face I carefully picked myself up and tried again all but ignoring the gentle sensations of my bouncing breasts. I assume the gravity is less here and that’s why I’m having trouble. It took a great deal of time and a lot of experimentation but soon I was leaping and bounding through the grass fields towards the hill on the horizon; the lesser gravity allowing me to travel swiftly with little risk to my health or energy.

The distant hill turned out to be far further away and much taller than I expected and upon reaching the summit I rested momentarily while scanning the horizon. To my north there appeared to be a large body of deep blue liquid I hoped would be water. The grasses led right up to the southern shore. A river appeared to slowly meander from the west into the lake and on the northern edge of the river there appeared to be some kind of structures with a dark violet forest in behind. To my south, endless fields of grasses continued to the horizon. I still saw no signs of life but the structures looked promising and if the liquid was truly water, then I found at least one item I needed for survival and possibly two when I considered shelter. I set off at a quick but sustainable pace.

It didn’t take me long to reach the river. What had appeared as a small river turned out to be nearly forty feet wide. The structures were indeed buildings of some kind that had been built by intelligent beings but they appeared old and abandoned. The city spanned for miles along the coast of the lake.

I knelt down at the edge of the liquid and paused as my own reflection caught my eye. While not the best mirror, I could see slight resemblance to my old self. My blonde hair was long and had a slight curl to it, framing my face and setting off my sparkling blue eyes and full red lips. I was both beautiful and young, a mystery on both accounts. I let my eyes refocus on the bottom of the river and realized the liquid was not actually deep blue in color but clear as a mountain stream. The golden light of the sky must cause the deeper coloration just as on Earth the water absorbed the red hues making water there appear blue. Scooping some of the liquid into my hands I leaned over to smell it. It felt like regular water and had no smell. I tasted a little with my tongue and knowing it could be poisonous I took a risk and a deep sip. The liquid tasted cool and refreshing. I wanted more but decided I needed to take my time and drink small amounts just in case.

In my haste to drink I failed to notice what appeared to be tracks on the riverbank. Dropping the remaining water back into the river the water erupted around me. I was so startled that I jumped back nearly one hundred feet but thankfully so as the spot where I had been moments before became a snarling mass of scales and sharp teeth. Whatever these creatures were, they weren’t content to stay in the water; rather they swam like eels through the grasses towards me. They looked like barracuda only each one was the size of a crocodile flashing rows of razor-sharp teeth. I saw no eyes and yet they came directly for me.

I dashed to the side and put some distance between me and the snarling beasts but they were amazingly fast and as soon as my feet alighted upon the ground again, they turned and were upon me. With no weapons of any kind my only safety lay in putting distance between me and them. I jumped towards the edge of the river then jumped again alighting upon the far side and closer to the buildings. I looked back to see the beasts converge on my last position, perhaps confused that I was no longer there. Feeling somewhat safe I moved away from the river and into the first rows of the buildings hoping I could find anything I could fashion as a weapon for it was now obvious that I was no longer on Earth and unknown beasts potentially awaited me at every turn.

Walking slowly and cautiously through the city I was fascinated by the building materials and the architecture. While the buildings on the edges were in ruins, those further in appeared in much better condition. I ran my hands over the white stone and marveled at the smoothness of the texture. I could find no seams and assumed that this was some type of plaster coating. Finding a doorway I made note that the size of the door appeared similar in size to a normal human doorway. This gave me some sense of relief that perhaps I would not find myself alone on Jupiter with only beasts to keep me company. Of course I also realized that whoever built these buildings were master craftsmen and would likely also have masterfully crafted weapons.

Stepping inside one of the buildings I marveled at the flooring. It appeared to be made of stone similar to jade. Dust and debris littered the floor and it was clear no creature had been here for some time. Looking up I could see the smooth plaster had begun to fall away. What captivated me most were the walls. They were covered with beautifully rendered scenes and to my delight images of people and beasts. People, just like on Earth. Men and women with bronzed skin and dark hair. In some ways they reminded me of the men at the temple. Their features were exquisite. What had happened to the builders and the people that used to inhabit this place?

I continued to explore rooms and buildings finally coming across a solid bar that could have been metal. It was about the size of a baseball bat and was sturdy and strong. Although far from a saber or a pistol, this bar would provide me far more safety than my bare hands.

Now armed I felt a little safer and moved further into the abandoned city. Any of these buildings could provide adequate shelter should the need arise but they could also be home to any number or manner of beasts. I assumed Jupiter would have a night like other planets and I had no aspirations about what creatures might come out when it became dark. The scenes painted on the walls displayed fantastical creatures of all shapes and sizes.

I had travelled about a third of the way into the city when I began seeing signs of possible habitation. The buildings were in better shape and some didn’t even have much debris on the floors, however, there was more and more evidence to suggest something or someone was using the buildings to sleep and eat in. I found a number of fire pits and scattered bones.

I moved more cautiously as my intuition began warning me of danger and yet I’d seen no living creatures beyond the barracuda eels. Approaching what I considered the center of the city I began hearing a variety of sounds. Using the lesser gravity to my advantage I jumped up to the roof of a nearby building and crept slowly forward. The sounds grew in intensity and I could only describe them as shouting even though the sounds were unlike any language I’d ever heard.

From the rooftop I was able to look down on what I’d call a town square. It was a large open expanse with larger buildings all around it. At one point it must have been beautiful as there appeared to be ancient fountains and statues, now all broken. I saw these things only in passing as my eyes fell upon the sources of the shouting. Tall humanoid creatures, perhaps ten feet in height, formed a rough circle. I call them humanoid, but aside from the fact they had human-like bodies, their heads resembled something more like a bear, almost like the Minotaur myths of ancient Greece. They were dressed sparsely with cloth harnesses covering their genitalia and I could see slight differences between what I would consider male and female. They all wore long swords at their sides, although what I assumed were women seemed to wear shorter blades. This indicated they had enemies to all be armed. They looked to be extremely fit and strong.

I watched as they pointed and shouted at something I could only glimpse the smallest part of until one of the bear creatures stepped out of the way. It was a human female and like the paintings on the wall, she was exquisite; even more so. I was enraptured by her beauty. Her long dark hair was lustrous and as shiny as a raven’s feathers. Her eyes, an intense violet, spoke to her intelligence and confidence. Her sparse dress barely covered her olive colored skin. She was lean and fit yet her hips and breasts heightened her beauty. She wore a gold jeweled belt and scabbard across her hips, the scabbard noticeably empty as was the similarly jeweled sheath for a dagger on her right thigh.

Standing tall and proud she faced these hideous creatures, her chin lifted and her eyes defiant. She spoke back to them and they seemed to understand but I could only assume their response was that of anger. The largest of the creatures stepped forward, his sword threatening the young woman menacingly. His intentions were clear and I had visions of a similar situation at a temple in Mexico. There was no way I am going to let this woman die. She’s my only connection to human life on this planet.

I leapt from the roof and landed lightly between the woman and the giant creature, my metal bat raised in warning. “Leave this woman be!”

The woman gasped, the creature spoke something, and the others laughed. I was a flea bothering an elephant. The creature reached for my hair with his empty hand and I batted it away with mine. My actions must have stunned him because he looked surprised. The others laughed at him and he roared and slashed at me with his sword. Had his strike connected I was sure I would be in two pieces by now but his movements were slow and telegraphed and I easily blocked his sword.

“I have no wish to hurt you. Let the woman go.”

Another roar and another viscous slash. This time I ducked out of the way and swung my bat against his right leg. The force of my blow took out both legs and he crashed hard on the stone pavement. I waved my bat in his face as a warning. He was afraid but the crowd of creatures were bellowing at him. He quickly got to his feet, faster than I would have anticipated a creature of his size and he launched several attacks all of which I thwarted with blocks and parries. I moved to the offensive and attacked striking him in his stomach and arm. His sword clattered away by the force of my blow.

He faced me and roared once again, thumped his chest with his hands and stood to his full height. Either he wasn’t done yet, or he wanted me to finish him. If anything I was a man of honor, even if I was now a woman, and I wouldn’t face an unarmed man with a weapon of my own. I handed the bat to the young woman and faced my opponent. If he could smile, he did as he strode forward.

I had already done some quick math on my journey to the city. I estimated gravity here was one third of Earth. If he was twice my size and thus twice any person my size from Jupiter’s strength, then I should still be significantly stronger than him. It was a calculated risk but I let him get close and swing a mighty fist at me. I braced myself and stopped his fist with both my hands. I grabbed his thick wrist and threw him over my shoulder. I amazed myself to see him land some thirty feet beyond. He was dazed and that gave me a chance. I turned quickly to the young woman who stood wide-eyed staring at me. I grabbed her around the waist lifting her easily over my shoulder and I sprinted as fast as I could, leaping at the last moment to jump over the ring of creatures, land and keep running.

I kept running, easily outdistancing the slow and lumbering creatures until we were both well into the northernmost section of the city. With one more leap I landed on the second story of a building and gently placed the young woman on the ground. She was remarkably poised and quiet, but I couldn’t mistake the suspicion in her eyes. She spoke to me and her words sounded tinged with anger.

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

She looked at me strangely and then walked around me, still carrying the bat in her hand as if I posed a threat. She reached out and touched my hair and frowned. I faced her and pointed to myself. “Caelan Carter.” I pointed to her then back at myself. “Caelan Carter.”

“Caelan Carter.” She pointed back at me and then pointed to herself. “Aristea Thoris.”

For several hours, or what I believed to be hours, Aristea and I tried to communicate. I would point to an object or item on myself and speak the English word and she would repeat in her own tongue. I’ve always been gifted in languages so I found it easy to memorize the names of objects but I could tell Aristea was becoming frustrated. She held onto the bat like her life depended on it pointed to the sky, held up four fingers, and then pointed north. I assumed she was trying to tell me that she lived four days north of here. That led to another hour of trying to learn verbs for walking, eating, and sleeping.

Aristea once again pointed to the sky. She frowned and grabbed my wrist and pulled me into the building and found a room. Within moments the golden light all but vanished and the sky turned a deep purple hue. It was much like twilight on Earth. I watched Aristea lay herself down on the stone floor. She pointed to me and said, “Caelan, sleep.” I lay down close to her and stared into her violet eyes and realized I’d never seen anything so beautiful.

***

A low growl woke me with a start. Aristea was nowhere to be seen and the sky was once again golden. How long I slept I wasn’t sure. I struggled with once again waking as a woman and the strange sensations that brought including the need to relieve myself but that would have to wait until I could find out what the noises were all about. I descended some stairs and into another larger room of the building. Aristea had her back to a wall holding the bat before her as what could only be described as a lion with six legs crept towards her. Its fangs were as long as my forearm and saliva dripped from its mouth. Its entire focus was on its prey. This was a formidable beast, equally as large as bear-headed people in size.

I watched its muscles tense and I heard Aristea scream as it sprang for her. I leapt at the same time and tackled the beast when its talons were mere inches from Aristea. My arms wrapped around its thick neck and my legs scissored around the thinner portion of its torso; our momentum causing the creature and I to crash into a wall, my back hitting hard and knocking the wind out of me. I hung on feeling the scrape of a hind talon against my thigh. I squeezed for all I was worth, slowly choking the life out of the beast. With a shudder the beast collapsed beneath me, pinning me against the wall.

“Caelan!” Aristea was pulling my arm trying to free me. Luckily the slippery fur making it easier for me to extricate myself with her help. I took a shaky breath and winced in pain as I put weight on my thigh. It was cut but not deeply. Aristea tore some of her dress and bandaged my thigh, taking my hand and leading me back upstairs. She left and came back with water and exotic looking fruits and a poultice made of some kind of plant.

We stayed for over a week to let my leg heal. Aristea was attentive and we spent much time on language learning for me. It was on the tenth day together that I finally felt I had enough of a grasp of the language to hold a rudimentary conversation.

Her first question of me was rather starling. “What kind of person are you? You defeated a Tharbar and a kontico. You can jump so high and are so strong.” I’d learned earlier that the Tharbars are the bear-headed people and the kontico was the lion.

“I’m an Earthling.”

“Where is that?”

“You can’t see it because of the clouds. On Earth, we call this planet Jupiter.”

“You think we’re fools?” Her anger flashed. “We know about planets and the sun. There are times when the clouds part and we can see the heavens. You say you’re from another planet?”

“Earth. The third planet from the sun.”

“The blue planet?”

Our conversation wasn’t smooth and it took a long time but I managed to explain what had happened to me that I found myself on Jupiter. I couldn’t explain that I was a man before as I still struggled with that myself.

“How does that explain your strength?”

Explaining gravity was very challenging but I felt like Aristea grasped the concepts. “Tell me about your people. Are they all beautiful like you?”

“How dare you call me beautiful!”

“I’m sorry.”

“You’re lucky we’re here alone. If others heard you say such a thing, they would put you to death.”

What strange place did I find myself in? “Why were you out here alone? Where are the men to protect you?”

“You cannot be from here as everyone knows that the men of our race all perished thousands of years ago. I was exploring these ruins when we were set upon by the Tharbars. My entire team was killed but I was considered valuable. You found me just as Tharbars decided to kill me instead of selling me.”

“Without men, how do you reproduce?”

“You’re a strange one, Caelan. We have the technology for two women to conceive children.”

“What about love and relationships?”

“We’ve adapted. Our people bond and mate as couples for life.”

“You said the others were killed. Could we find their clothes and weapons?”

“It would be a risk, but yes. I believe I could find the place however I am rather fond of seeing you unadorned. Why do you have such strange hair and eye color?”

“On Earth there are many people with different color hair and eyes. Most have dark hair like you but some like me have light hair.”

“Never have I seen anything like it. You’re unique in this world and therefore very valuable. People would pay handsomely for you. What are your intentions toward me?”

“I wish to see you safely to your people. To be your protector until the time you have no need of me.”

Again her eyes flashed angrily but she spoke no more. Later that day we travelled to another part of the city and found her dead companions. They had been torn apart and Aristea wept openly for them. I tried not to disturb them as I carefully removed their trappings. I found a set that seemed to fit well. It was much less ornate than Aristea’s but it covered me properly and was designed for ease of movement. In the dirt we found Aristea’s sword and dagger and I also found a set for myself.

Aristea was watching me closely. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Because you’re beautiful and graceful.”

“Why is it all right for you to say that of me but not me say that of you?”

“You don’t understand. No one can say that of me.”

I decided not to push this any further. Being armed made me feel much better and my leg had healed well. Whatever poultice Aristea had used made sure I wouldn’t even have a scar. I lay my sword at Aristea’s feet. “My sword and my life are yours. I pledge to protect you with my dying breath.”

“Pick that up! You can’t… Don’t…” She turned away from me and stomped her foot. I realized I don’t understand their customs and my actions offended her.

“I’m sorry if I offended you. We should go. How long will it take to get to your people?”

Her eyes softened. “It’s not an offense, it’s just not allowed. My city lays twenty days that direction.” She pointed north.

“I thought perhaps it was only four days. The day we met you indicated with four fingers.”

“I used my left hand. Each finger on the left hand represents five. The right hand fingers are one each.”

“I have much to learn. We should be going.”

We walked the equivalent of about ten miles through the violet forest. The ground seemed to rise the further we travelled. When we stopped and settled for the night we ate of more exotic fruits Aristea had found along the way. I made careful note of each fruit she picked in case I found myself alone once again.

“Earlier today you mentioned my words and actions were not allowed. You have a mate?”

“No. I have no mate. A neighboring city has been trying to arrange for my marriage to secure favor with Ch’Zathua, my home city.”

“You must be important then.”

“Sometimes I wish I were not so important to my people so that I could be allowed to follow my own desires.”

“You’re Queen?”

“My mother is Queen. I’m the eldest daughter so it’s my role to be mated for political reasons. I’m intrigued by you and your character, but my duty is to my people. Thus I cannot accept any words or actions on your part that indicate your intentions to mate with me.”

“My intentions were only to serve and protect you. These are customs I have become used to on Earth. I understand your position and, as a foreigner here, will honor your customs. I will, however, say this one time, even though you don’t want to hear it. I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as you before.”

Aristea stiffened and turned away. “There’s something special about you Caelen Carter. No doubt when I tell the tales of your heroism, courage, and strength, many women will line up to choose to be your mate. You’ll have the pick of any you wish as rarely does character, skill, and beauty come together in one person. You willingly put yourself in danger for me, battling fierce creatures with nothing but your hands. For that you will be honored. Just know that it grieves me that my future has already been dictated and that in twenty days hence, I will likely never see you again. For, like you, I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as you. I’ve spoken too much already and will speak of these things no more.”

***

We travelled through the forest for several days and I was amazed at how Aristea always seemed to know which direction to head. I could hear beasts roaming the forest but rarely did I ever catch a glimpse of one.

“You aren’t afraid of the beasts?”

“Why would I be afraid of beasts when I have you beside me, Caelen? When I travelled to the ruins, we had animals that carried us and made the trip much faster. I had a dozen guards with me and yet I feel safer with you than with all of them. On Earth, you were a fighter?”

“Yes. I saw my fill of death. Peace is always preferable.”

“Peace is a luxury on Jupiter. Once we had peace many thousands of years ago. The ruins where we met were a city where our scientists worked. They were studying ways of modifying our bodies to make them stronger and heal faster. A terrible event occurred and disease swept through all of humankind. Many were altered irrevocably forming new races that have become hostile to humans. The disease wiped out our males forcing those that remained to find ways to sustain themselves and the women learned to become fighters and scientists.”

“The Tharbars were created by this?”

“Yes and many other races as well. We share a common language, but they are no longer human and hate us for what we’ve done to them.”

“Tell me about your family.”

“My mother, Alexis, has been Queen of Ch’Zathua for just over ten years. That’s almost all her life. My younger sister, Keira, is a beautiful and intelligent person. They both mean everything to me.”

“How can your mother be so young?”

“For someone claiming to be from a planet with unfettered access to the night sky, you seem to know so little about days and years. It takes nearly twelve Earth years for Jupiter to orbit the sun. My mother would be close to one hundred and forty Earth years old.”

“On Earth, we live much shorter lives.”

“If we avoid death by beasts or war, we could easily still know each other one hundred and seventy Earth years from now.” I paused and looked into Aristea’s eyes. “What’s the matter?”

“I was just thinking how fortunate I would be to wake up next to you every day for such a long time.”

“Why do you say such things to me? I’m a Princess of Ch’Zathua and it’s not my place decide my own fate. Are you intentionally trying to cause me pain?”

I looked away from her intense gaze. “I’m not trying to hurt you, but the fact that you are by such words gives me hope.”

“Why would seeing that you hurt me give you hope?” Her voice was tinged with anger.

“Your pain tells me that given a choice you might reciprocate my feelings towards you. I’ve never met anyone like you before. You’re everything I’ve ever dreamed of. You’re intelligent, inquisitive, confident, and beautiful.”

Aristea turned her back on me and took a few steps then turned quickly around to face me. A flash of anger in her eyes was instantly replaced by one of horror. She was no longer looking at me so I turned around to find two wolf-like creatures stalking us. They were large and heavily muscled with coarse black fur and bony spikes extending down their spines. I slowly drew my sword and dagger and kept myself between them and Aristea as they circled.

Aristea stepped to my side with her sword drawn. Seeing her standing there with her lithe body poised for action and her muscles tense made me aware of how truly wondrous she was. The first of the wolf creatures lunged for me knocking me back but I managed to get my sword and dagger into its side. It twisted violently ripping my weapons from my hands and darted away, then lunged again. I rolled to the side and grabbed the beast by its hind leg stopping its leap mid-air. It lashed with hits teeth but I spun and threw the creature into a tree where it fell to the ground unconscious or dead.

Aristea was fighting with exceptional skill. Her blade wove back and forth cutting the beast but she was losing ground and was being pushed back. Even as I ran to her aid, I watched in horror as her heel struck a root causing her to fall backwards with the jaws of the beast angled for her neck. The creature ignored the stabs of her dagger and opened its mouth wide. I arrived just in time to grab the mighty jaws. I struggled with the wolf-beast as it thrashed in my grip but I put every ounce of strength I had into pulling its jaws apart. Finally with a sickening crunch the jaws split apart dropping blood and ichor over Aristea. I pulled the beast away and rushed back to Aristea’s side.

“Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine thanks to you. Ch’Zathua owes you a great debt. You will be paid well for your service.” I pulled her to her feet.

“You think I’m here to be paid?”

“Why else? I’ve told you before I can’t be your mate. Why else take me back to Ch’Zathua and be my protector on this journey?”

“You do me a disservice, Princess. I am who I am and I willingly put myself in harm’s way for anyone needing help. I’m not a mercenary or a glory seeker. What I do for you, I’d do for a slave girl if she needed protection.” I turned my back on her to gather my weapons.

“Don’t turn your back on me! I am Aristea Thoris, Princess of Ch’Zathua! You must obey me.”

I kept walking. “I was a good soldier and obeyed the orders of my Captain during war, but ever since I was free of my obligation I never put myself in that situation again. I take orders from no one.” As I yanked my dagger and sword from the carcass of the wolf-beast I heard crying behind me.

Turning around I saw Aristea on the ground, her face buried in her hands. “I’ve wronged you, Caelen. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do with you. I’m so conflicted.”

I sat down next to her and hugged her to me and stroked her hair. “It’s me that needs to apologize. You attract me like no other person on two worlds has ever done. I know you can’t reciprocate how I feel and yet I’ve pushed you, hoping against hope that somehow I could find a loophole in your traditions and heritage and stand at your side as you partner for life. I’ve wronged you, not the other way around. I know your people love and cherish you as back in the ancient city where we found your guard; they were all positioned in such a way that told me they were protecting you when they died. I’ve been in many battles before and few people willingly choose to die for someone else unless they love and respect them. Your guards loved you. Who am I to take you from them for my own selfish gain?”

“For all your strength and abilities, you could take me as your own and none could defy you, yet you, a woman from another planet who knows nothing of our ways, have more honor in tip of your little finger than anyone I’ve ever met. My heart betrays my position for if circumstances were different I would be yours completely. It’s not for myself, but for those very people that lost their lives for mine, that loved me so much, that we must never see each other again once we arrive in Ch’Zathua. I’ll make sure you are taken care of.”

I wanted nothing more than to run off with Aristea. If soul mates existed, then I knew she was mine. Sadly I pulled ourselves up, gathered our things and started out once again towards Ch’Zathua.

***

The next day Aristea and I travelled through a landscape dotted with little lakes and rocky outcroppings when off in the horizon the sky burst forth with light. Standing mesmerized by the sight Aristea grabbed my hand and we ran. “We must get under cover! There! A small cave. Hurry!” Grabbing Aristea around her waist I jumped for the cave. We landed and pushed our way inside as far as we could go. “Help me push some rocks up to block the sun!”

Scrambling, we built a little wall of rock that blocked most of the light from the cave. Aristea grabbed me and held my face fast in her hands. “Look away from the light.”

Within moments the cave was suddenly brighter than a sunny day on Earth. I could feel my skin crawl with the heat. Then as suddenly as it started, it was over.

“What was that?” I began to move but Aristea held me fast. Being so intimately close to her was intoxicating.

“The clouds parted. Jupiter has an incredibly dense atmosphere and when the clouds part during the day the sun focuses on the surface like a magnifying lens. The brightness is blinding and the heat so intense it can instantly evaporate entire lakes. We need to let the heat dissipate.”

“I would have been dead if not for you, Aristea.”

“And I would have been dead a dozen times over had it not been for you. Are you comfortable?”

Looking into her eyes I said something that was probably not the wisest. “How could I not be?”

Aristea smiled and pulled me closer. “If you speak of this to anyone, I’ll have you dragged behind a B’Darri.”

“Do I dare ask what a B’Darri is?”

“It a large herbivore that roams the grasslands. It eats its own weight in grass every day and defecates almost as much as it eats. It wouldn’t be pleasant to be dragged behind a B’Darri. They are such foul creatures their name is woven into our language as a horrendous insult. We should try to sleep if we can.”

***

It was indeed hard to sleep with Aristea tightly pressed against me. I wanted to smother her in kisses but she’d made it clear that it wasn’t permissible. When we finally made it out of the little cave the meadows had been burnt to ashes and one of the little lakes was gone. The ground itself had been incinerated. There was black ash and then a few feet beyond was lush green grasses where the clouds had once again hidden the sun.

Over the next few weeks the forest gave way to meadows with flowering bushes and meandering streams. Tall rugged snowcapped mountains began appearing on the horizon. The scenery was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. We travelled quietly, both of us lost in our own thoughts.

Every step closer to Ch’Zathua felt like a death sentence as I realized I was in love with this Princess of Jupiter. She was as strong as any soldier in the wars I fought in. She never complained and looked after me in finding safe food and water. She was an explorer like me and loved adventure and when faced with the hideous beasts of the planet was quick to draw her sword and was at the ready. Luckily those attacks were few and for the most part the beasts stayed distant.

I had become more at ease with my womanhood and the gentle movements of my hips and breasts were now nothing more than a subtle reminder of what I once was. At some point I had just moved on from ever believing I would be back on Earth as a man and for the most part, this didn’t worry me at all. Watching Aristea carefully, I’d been mimicking her posture, walk, and actions all the while falling further and further in love with her.

I had determined that the days on Jupiter were approximately twenty Earth hours long. Aristea told me that days were broken into one hundred units of time. In the city they had clocks that measure gravitational fluctuations of Jupiter’s moons and were very accurate. When travelling everyone on Jupiter seemed to have an accurate internal clock and knew by shifts in the world that night was coming.

It was what I assumed to be early afternoon when the flowering bushes gave way to a large expanse of grassland. In the distance I could see forests again. Aristea stopped me with a hand on my wrist and pointed to the northeast. A sizeable number of people were heading in our direction. Aristea pulled me down next to her.

“This isn’t good.”

“They aren’t here looking for you?”

“I’m sure that they are, but they’re not from Ch’Zathua. Sanra is the Queen of Ao-Kuang. She wants me for her mate. Our cities have been terrible rivals for years and my mother is requiring trade and humanitarian policy changes in Ao-Kuang for my hand. If Sanra is here, her intentions can only be bad. It wouldn’t be beneath her to try and force my hand in marriage and thus gain me without making her succumb to the desires of my mother.”

“Then escape now and I’ll lead them away from you. I’ll fight them if I have to for your protection.”

I felt Aristea’s fingers lightly caress my face. “I’ll not ask you to sacrifice yourself for me or put yourself in danger. If we fight, we fight together. If we run, we run together.”

“I’ll do anything you wish of me, my Princess.” Aristea stared at me with compassion and longing.

“Know that I have heard your words spoken to me and have not rejected them.” I pondered that statement as she continued. “It’s possible that Sanra might try to secure favor with my mother by ‘rescuing’ me. We have much distance between us and Ch’Zathua; distance that can be highly dangerous due to roaming bands of Tharbars and beasts. I ask only one favor of you.”

“Anything.”

“That I taste of your lips just once.” She held my face in her hands and kissed me. She pulled back and looked into my eyes as I watched a tear fall down her cheek. That was it for me. I’d do anything for Aristea. “Never speak of this.”

“I’ll never speak of the fire my lips feel, the heat that has risen within my body, the desire to wake up next to you every day, or the blossoming love I have for you within my heart. To think I never mated on Earth as I could never find the right person, to miraculously travel halfway across the solar system to find my soul mate, and then to know I can never have you is the most painful experience of my life. Know that I will honor your ways and your wishes and that if ever you need my help I’ll fight all of Jupiter to aid you.”

“Caelen…” Aristea’s words were interrupted.

“We’ve been searching for you for days, Aristea. Your mother will be so pleased it was me that found you.”

We stood and faced fifty armed women. The one speaking must have been Sanra. She was large, a good head taller than me and heavily muscled. She wasn’t much to look upon and the other women, while beautiful in their own way, were no comparison to Aristea.

Aristea stood tall and lifted her chin regally. “I appreciate the concern that you would use Ao-Kuang’s resources to come find me. Fortunately for me, I have all the protection I need to get home safely.” Aristea pointed to me with her eyes.

“What a strange creature you’ve found with yellow hair and blue eyes. I’ve not seen anything like her before.”

“Sanra, may I introduce Caelen Carter. She is from very distant lands.”

Sanra looked at me like a piece of meat then focused back on Aristea. “You’ll come with us, betrothed. I can guarantee your safety.” She looked back at me. “She’s strangely intoxicating. A fine sex slave she’ll make for me.”

“I’m no one’s slave. You heard Aristea. I’ll make sure she’ll be returned to her people safely.”

“You’re just a waif of a girl but I can see your tongue needs taming.” She stepped forward and tried to backhand me. I blocked her hand easily and had my dagger to her throat before she realized what had happened. The entire squad drew their swords.

“I don’t care who you are. I’ll not see Aristea harmed or wed to someone she has no love for.”

I hadn’t flinched but swords were placed against my throat. Aristea stepped forward. “I’ll accompany you as long as Caelen comes to no harm.”

Aristea looked in my eyes pleadingly and I lowered my blade. A glance at Sanra’s second was all it took for her squad to disarm me and bind my hands behind my back. For Aristea’s sake I didn’t fight. Once bound I felt the crushing blow of Sanra’s fist against my face. It hurt, but much less than I thought it should have. She then reached over and grabbed Aristea by her hair and threw her to the ground.

I lost control, snapped the bindings easily, and rushed to stand protectively over Aristea. Sanra ordered the squad to attack me. I dodged and weaved and used my fists to stop any from getting close. Choosing to stay near Aristea I opted to not jump and gain advantage but I fought long and hard. Fully twenty women were moaning on the ground before I was overwhelmed on all sides. A sharp hit to the back of my head sent my world spinning into darkness.

It must not have been long that I remained unconscious but when I came to I was very securely bound and lying on my face in the dirt. I struggled with the bindings, but they held firm this time. Sanra noticed my attempts and squatted down next to me. “That’s spider silk from the southern reaches that’s binding you. Expensive, but as you can see, well worth it. I have to give you credit as these are my best fighters and it nearly took half of them to bring you down.”

“Give me a sword next time.”

I felt her calloused rough fingers glide over my cheek and down my neck towards my breasts. I twisted to get away from her touch. Aristea screamed. “Don’t touch her!”

“She’s mine now to do with as I please, betrothed. If she can be tamed, then I’ll add her to my collection. But if she doesn’t behave, I’ll send her to the arena.” Sanra stood and then kicked me in the side. I was hauled roughly to my feet. Aristea was unarmed but they at least hadn’t bound her.

“I’ll remind you Sanra, we have no agreement of our betrothal so it’s not right for you to call me betrothed.”

Sanra stood in front of Aristea, looked her in the eye, then at me. “You know your place and your role. If I find you’ve slept with this creature, I’ll have you banished. You know the laws. If you want her to live, then perhaps you’ll willingly give me what I want.”

“Never give in, Aristea. I’ll go to my death with a smile knowing you’re not bound in this foul woman’s clutches.”

We began the long march to Ao-Kuang. I was surrounded by guards on all sides. I could easily escape, but I’d still be unarmed and taking on fifty armed fighters could easily put Aristea in danger. I sighed realizing that my best chance to rescue her would be at night or under different circumstances. Some of the guards that I had beaten in the fight were none to friendly towards me, but others seemed infatuated with my blonde hair and blue eyes. Aristea was kept well away from me but I saw her constantly looking back towards me with looks of concern.

We travelled until night and then halfway into the next day and were now into forest again when scouts alerted our group of a dozen Tharbars nearby heading in our direction. We had been travelling through a steep gorge and the only option was fight or retreat. By the looks on the soldier’s faces, none wanted to tackle Tharbars. Sanra barked the order for retreat just as our scout from the rear ran up announcing more Tharbars were coming up the gorge. We were trapped.

Sanra looked worried and seemed confused. I pushed my way through to her. “Send five archers up the cliffs on each side to give them a safe place to shoot from. Unbind me and give me a sword so I can fight. I give you my word when this is done and if we’re alive, I’ll lay down my sword and you can bind me again. I’m a woman of my word. Do this so that I can protect Aristea.”

“Give me my weapons too. You need every person.” Aristea stood so close to me I could feel her warmth.

Sanra hesitated then ordered my bindings cut. They brought me a sword and Aristea had her weapons returned to her. I walked back to stand in front of the Ao-Kuang soldiers to defend our rear. Aristea stepped up next to me. “You could take me out of here couldn’t you?”

“I think so, but I gave my word.”

“You’ll honor your word when Sanra lied to us?”

“My character is not changeable by what others do. If I give my word I intend to keep it.”

“Caelen, I think I…” A howl cut off Aristea’s sentence as the Tharbars ran forward to engage us. I ran forward to create some distance between Aristea and the front line. This caused the Tharbars to pause as no doubt a human running towards a group of Tharbars was unheard of. I recognized the largest of them as being the one I fought before.

“I have a sword now. Are you certain you wish to attack me again?”

“Now you speak in a way I can understand.”

“What do you want of us?”

“It’s our nature to fight humans.”

“That’s not an answer. You always have a choice. Call off the attack and I’ll spare your life.”

“You’re small but strong. You can’t defeat us all.”

“Perhaps not, but I’ll certainly claim the lives of many. If we must fight, then you and I fight alone. The winner lets the others leave in peace.”

“Agreed on one condition. You can have no weapon and if I win, I own the other human.” He pointed at Aristea.

I looked back at Aristea. “Better that than the fate that awaits me now.”

“Agreed. Call off your people.”

A horn sounded and I shouted to Sanra to not attack. “We reached an agreement. I’ll fight their leader and if I win they’ll let us go. If he wins, then he will take Aristea as a slave. Either way, you lose no one.”

“You can’t defeat a Tharbar.”

“You’d risk fifty of your own people by fighting them now? What do you have to lose other than something that isn’t yours now and someone who will resist your claim on Aristea.”

“All right.” Sanra was a coward. She called her fighters to stand down and form a large circle. I felt a warm hand on my arm.

“I’ve never met anyone like you before, Caelen. Win for me.”

I smiled at her. “That’s all the incentive I need.” I handed my sword to one of the women fighters, and stepped into the circle. The Tharbar leader stepped into the circle carrying two very large swords, one in each hand.

“To the death, little human.” He charged swinging both blades in a whirling pattern. I waited until he got close and then leapt over him landing lightly behind. I struck with my fist to his kidney and spun away before his blades closed in. The women cheered and gasped. The Tharbar grunted and spun. He moved towards me more cautiously this time, trying to block any attempt I had at jumping. He was a good fighter but his sword technique was lacking. Still, having two swords and nearly twice my size gave him a sizeable advantage.

The Tharbar swung low and high at the same time and I barely managed to dive out of the way and even then I felt the sting of cold metal as it grazed my shoulder. If a Tharbar could smile, I think he was. With renewed energy and confidence he moved to attack again. This time I would try a different tactic and as he raised his arms to attack I dove for him. Using my strength and speed I leapt forward and upward, my fist connecting beneath his chin. It was a solid hit and he staggered backwards. With a roar he swung his blades back and forth before him pressing me backwards around the circle.

I stayed close to him and watched his arms move back and forth until I felt confident in his timing. He pulled his right arm back as the left swung forward. I stepped inside his reach and blocked his left forearm hard enough to hear his bones snap. His sword fell from his grasp but his right hand was coming down towards me. There was no time to get out of the way of the massive blade. I squatted down and slapped my hands together on the blade, stopping the blade a mere inch from my forehead. I rolled my hands to the right forcing the sword from his grasp, kicked his legs out from underneath him and fell upon him as he crashed to the ground. My hand found his throat my other poised to deliver a punch to his face. I paused.

“Finish me.”

I let go, stood up, and extended a hand to him. “You’re a great fighter. Why would I want to end the life of such a strong leader?”

He reached for my hand and I pulled him up. “I’m Lars. No human has ever beaten a Tharbar. Now you have done this twice. My sword is yours should you ever need it.”

“And should I ever survive my own fate, mine is yours if you have need.”

“Perhaps there could be peace between humans and Tharbars.”

“I’m happy with peace between you and me.”

“Well spoken. What’s your name?”

“Caelen Carter.”

“I’ll spread the word that Caelen Carter is a friend to the Tharbars.” With that he turned and the Tharbars withdrew.

Aristea ran to my side and wiped the blood from my shoulder. “Never has this world seen anyone so brave and skilled before. I’d not believe the tales if someone told me what was witnessed today.”

Her eyes shone brightly and focused on mine. I could no longer bear to see them. Here was my companion that I knew I couldn’t have. In my heart, I was defeated. Turning away I held out my hands to Sanra. “Bind me so we can be on our way.”

Sanra waved several of her fighters to bind me. They hesitated. “My Queen, she just saved our lives.” Sanra’s sword slipped out of its scabbard and pointed to the fighter.

“Bind her now or be bound yourself. She belongs to me.”

There were general murmurings but I was quickly bound. Sanra stood before me and reached for my breast but Aristea was there with her sword to Sanra’s throat before her fingers touched me. “You’re wrong, Sanra. Caelen’s my mate. Touching her would be a violation of our laws.”

“You B’Darri! You never claimed her before!”

“Two weeks ago she laid her sword at my feet. I didn’t reject her proposal at that time but I also didn’t accept it. I’m choosing now to make this public I accept Caelen’s proposal. You have no choice now but to return Caelen and me to Ch’Zathua.”

“You’re willing to go to war with Ao-Kuang over this creature?”

“You don’t understand, Sanra. I’m willing to go to war with anyone that opposes this, including my own mother. I’d rather accept the consequences and be banished for life and be with Caelen than not be near her.”

“One word from me and Caelen dies and you would then be available.”

“Caelen is now a Princess of Ch’Zathua and you touching her would bring the wrath of Ch’Zathua upon your city.”

“She’s not your mate or a Princess until the ceremony and I highly doubt your Queen will allow this marriage. You can’t threaten me when she isn’t even a citizen of Ch’Zathua.”

“I’ve publicly chosen Caelen as my mate and no one here can deny that. My mother is the only person on Jupiter to say otherwise. Therefore, you have no hold on me or Caelen. Return me and Caelen to Ch’Zathua safe and sound and secure favor with my mother, declare war on Ch’Zathua and take me and Caelen as hostages or spoils of war, or leave us to find our way to Ch’Zathua knowing that will appear as a violation of our mutual aid laws.”

I listened to the exchange with a mixture of hope and fear. I feared Aristea might be endangering herself or her position. I hoped this meant she truly wished us to be together.

Sanra wrinkled her brow. “We head to Ch’Zathua.”

“Remove Caelen’s binds and giver her back her weapons. We’re not captives.” Sanra nodded and my bindings were removed. “Give us a moment of privacy.” Aristea took my arm and led me a short distance away.

“Are you certain you wish to do this, Aristea? Are you not risking your position?”

“It’s a risk. My mother could send you to your death but she has to deal with me first. I meant what I said and it can’t be undone. Do you not want me?”

“I’ve never wanted anything more in my life.”

“Then kiss me, my betrothed.”

My lips eagerly sought hers and once again my body flushed with heat and warmth at her touch. Her hands slipped around my waist and pulled me against her. I never wanted to leave that moment but we were rudely interrupted by Sanra.

“Enough! We leave now.”

We changed direction and headed northwest as Sanra sent a dozen of her guards back to Ao-Kuang. Aristea stayed close to my side the entire time and we slept next to each other during the night. Over the next few days we travelled through valleys and over hills until we came to my first view of Ch’Zathua. Spectacular mountains rose to incredible heights along the northern horizon and Ch’Zathua itself was a huge city on an island in the east end of a giant lake. The lake was surrounded by fertile farms and grasslands. The city itself was a marvel of engineering with towering spires and glittered with gold and glass. A wide bridge allowed people to cross from the lakeshore to the city that appeared to be able to be pulled up in the event of war.

It took another half a day to enter the city and the crowds of people went wild when they saw Aristea. Clearly she was well loved and with every cheer and flower dropped to her feet I felt smaller and smaller. Who was I to take this beautiful woman’s legacy from her? I was receiving many strange stares and surprisingly a lot of admiring comments.

“I told you that you’d have your pick of women here. Do you hear what they’re saying about you?”

“There are none that hold a candle to you.”

“What a strange saying. What does it mean?”

“It means that your beauty shines so brightly they are dim in comparison.”

“Is it my looks only that draws you to me?”

“Everything about you draws me to you.” She smiled. “On Earth, I had my share of beautiful women desiring me, but I could choose none of them as they only wanted a life of ease.”

“You were a Princess then?”

I laughed. “No. I had wealth, but I was merely a fighter and an explorer.”

“I’ve already claimed you as mine so don’t get any ideas with these other women.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it but I do worry that I have nothing to offer you here. Your mother wouldn’t marry you to Sanra unless it would be good for everyone. I have no lands and have no royalty in my bloodline.”

“What you have to offer is character as noble as any royalty I’ve ever met, beauty that not even the sun can outshine, strength that I’m sure is greater than a bayliath’s, and courage surpassing the kontico. Don’t be afraid of my mother, my betrothed.”

We approached what could only be the palace. Word had been sent ahead to the Queen and as soon as Aristea was taken care of, she would be ushered into the Queen’s presence. Aristea was taken from my side and led to her chambers and I was directed to a guest chamber. Aristea’s orders to her people were to treat me with the utmost respect.

The guest chambers were remarkable with technology far surpassing that which we had on Earth. There I was left with new clothing and a bath to clean myself up. My weapons were taken from me and that perturbed me slightly. I quickly removed the clothing I had on and stepped into the hot bathing waters and washed myself thoroughly. It had been quite some time since I had this luxury and felt truly clean. Having never had long hair to wash before I found it was quite a chore to wash, dry, and comb out. The new clothing was pretty and I found myself admiring the light fabric and the graceful lines. This was no soldier’s outfit but similar to what I saw on many of the women of the court that we had passed.

For the first time I saw myself in a full length mirror. Now clean and with new clothing, I was stunned by my appearance. There was a true beauty about me and I realized my looks would have easily caught my eye. I sighed and sat down and after waiting what I thought was at least an hour I decided to try and find Aristea but what I did find was that my door was securely locked from the outside.

I could perhaps break the door, but I had no idea of protocol here. I stepped out onto a small balcony. The drop to the ground was several hundred feet and even I wasn’t wishing to risk a drop from that height. Above was another balcony perhaps twenty feet up. I jumped and landed lightly on the balcony and moved cautiously through the room. Luck was with me and it was empty with the door into the palace unlocked. I knew I would be easily spotted so I decided against stealth and walked the hallways as if I was allowed to be there.

I received many strange stares but no one questioned me. I kept circling around looking for Aristea’s room or the palace center. I came into a large open courtyard with a glass roof and looked down to see Aristea in all her regal splendor. She looked stunning. Sanra was there as well as whom I could only assume to be the Queen.

“In good faith, Queen of Ch’Zathua, I rescued Aristea and brought her safely here. Surely she would have perished on her own. I defeated the Tharbars as you can have the story recounted from my fighters. I would not let anything happen to Aristea, or, for that matter, any member of your household.” Aristea’s mother blanched at those last words. Something wasn’t right.

“Sanra’s lying, mother!”

“Aristea, I’m well aware of your feelings towards this marriage agreement but you have your obligations. I have to have the best interests of all of Ch’Zathua in mind. Would you lie to get out of your duty to the city of Ch’Zathua?”

“I’ve pledged myself to Caelen. If you choose to believe this woman over me then I’ll leave with Caelen.”

“Nonsense, child. You’re duty is to your people. How can I believe this Caelen fought unarmed against a Tharbar and won?”

I’d heard enough. I dropped down into the courtyard and walked forward, bowing before the Queen. Instantly swords were at my throat. Sanra stood back and smiled evilly.

“You’re obviously Caelen. I can see you’re very unique but from another planet I truly doubt. How did you escape your quarters?”

“I found my door strangely locked, your Highness, so I chose another door.”

“You locked her in her room? She’s an honored guest and my betrothed! Caelen, I apologize as we treat our guests here better than this and you are no mere guest.”

Sanra stepped forward and I could see she was ready to push her leverage. “Queen of Ch’Zathua, might I suggest a solution to this dilemma? I believe we all need proof and evidence that Caelen can do the things that we’ve been told. I happen to have acquired a beast for Ao-Kuang’s games and could arrange for her to be tested. If she passes the test then you have your answer. If she fails then there will be no more excuses from Aristea. I’ll also encourage you to think of the welfare of your entire family.”

“No! Caelen doesn’t have to prove herself! She saved my life numerous times already and single handedly stopped an attack on Ao-Kuang’s fighters by Tharbars. She deserves our highest reward and praise.”

“What’s to say Caelen hasn’t bewitched Aristea? We know of remote tribes that practice dark arts. I can’t stand by and risk the damage to our two cities based upon the whimsical wishes of your daughter.”

The Queen of Ch’Zathua looked conflicted but there was resolve in her eyes. “My dear daughter, Sanra is right. The highest reward Ch’Zathua could offer is your hand in marriage. I can’t risk our city’s future to hearsay.”

“I’m not a puppet to be played. Aristea is telling the truth and I haven’t bewitched her. I’ll willingly be put to the test if only to prove the lies of this wicked woman. I love Aristea and am willing to die for her right to choose.”

“How dare you speak of love for my daughter, a Princess of Ch’Zathua! You’re unworthy to even be in her presence. We travel to Ao-Kuang to put an end to all this nonsense.”

“No! Don’t do this! Banish me and Caelen for at least I’ll live as I’d rather die by my own blade than marry Sanra or be without Caelen.”

“You know your duty to Ch’Zathua. I’ll not hear of this anymore. If you continue these outbursts then I’ll have to resort to locking you in your room. Guards, take this woman away and prepare the royal family to be escorted to Ao-Kuang.”

“I’m sorry, Caelen! Forgive me!” I heard Aristea crying as I was taken from the room, stripped of my clothes, bound in spider silk, and tossed into what I could only describe as a dungeon with pink straw, damp, cool stone, and little creatures that reminded me vaguely of rats.

So this is what it all came down to. I’m imprisoned as a woman on Jupiter seemingly heading to fight some creature that I’m sure Sanra hand-picked to be my demise. The woman I’ve come to love seems very unobtainable and will possibly be subjected to a lifetime of abuse and servitude. I didn’t expected a warm welcome, but this was far from my real expectations. At least, for now, I’m alive and had a chance, far from the hideous death that awaited me on Earth.

For the many days I had been on Jupiter I’d all but ignored the changes that had happened to my body. Survival has a way of causing one to push forward regardless of circumstances. Now I had plenty of time to consider my new womanhood that I’d strangely become accustomed to. I wasn’t as tall as I was before, or as strong, but here on Jupiter my strength wouldn’t be an issue. I had been a man’s man and gentleman of Boston. I was proud of who I was and never questioned my place. It was my duty to protect women and be a man of honor.

Looking down at myself, barely able to see past my breasts, I knew I was still the same person inside. I still loved women. I continued to want to protect women. And yet, as a woman on Jupiter, I was looked upon differently. Sanra saw me as a unique sex object and others found my strength frightening, like I was some new beast to be feared. Others looked at me like the finest of succulent meats.

My fingers glided effortlessly over my smooth skin. I noted that other than my hair on my head, my eyebrows, and eyelashes, I had no other hair and the women on Jupiter appeared to be the same. It had been almost like my traits, my essence, had been copied and remade as a female would have been born on Jupiter. Could it be that the air here is not the same as on Earth and had I been my old self that I would have died instantly upon breathing the atmosphere here?

Strangely, for all that I was, I felt I was falling into a stereotype. Slowly since I arrived I’d been letting go of ever wanting to be back to Earth and being a man again. I wanted to be beautiful and attractive for Aristea and subtly I desired her protection of me. I hadn’t balked at wearing the dress rather I was strangely compelled and intrigued by it. Am I becoming fragile, a woman of the court that soon would only wish for a life of luxury? But no! While I yearn for Aristea and her embrace, I’m still a fighter. Can I be both?

Sitting on the cold, damp stone floor with no water or food for two days I didn’t waste much time trying to figure out a way of escape. Escape would condemn Aristea. I lived a good life and as long as there was a chance I could win her freedom, I’d do so.

The sound of metal jiggling brought me to full awareness. Eight armed guards arrived and escorted me to a metal cage on wheels. This was in turn hooked up to something that resembled a water buffalo with six legs. When the wagon pulled out from under the palace, my eyes squinted at the brightness. Ch’Zathua’s streets were filled with people to see the procession that my wagon had joined. It was clear that there were mixed feelings about me and in the time I had arrived I was cast both as a fiend that stole their Princess and a hero that saved her. I was however surprised at how many called out my name and said they loved me and some even called me Princess.

The majority seemed to favor me which made me believe that Sanra was not well liked and the decision of Ch’Zathua’s Queen to marry Aristea to Sanra for political gain had not won favor with the people. I looked through the bars hoping to catch a glimpse of Aristea, but she was clearly riding at the head of the column.

Once outside the city, the wagon greatly picked up speed. I marveled at the technology that made the wagon ride smooth and the speed of the beast that pulled it along. The additional padding on my backside still offered no extra comfort on the hard wagon floor. While I was tempted to lay back and sleep I also knew to watch for points of interest and carefully map the geography of the land as we passed through. If I were to escape knowing the land would be invaluable.

I overheard conversations of the wagon driver that with the rapid pace of the procession we would only need to spend one night on the road, arriving in Ao-Kuang mid-morning the following day. When we finally stopped and made camp night was nearly upon us. My once clean skin had become dirty from the cell and the wagon ride and I was suffering greatly from dehydration. I’d asked for water but was ignored.

It was thus after nightfall in the purple twilight of Jupiter that I lay down with my face pressed towards the bars that I wept. All my life I had been a passionate man but strong in the face of adversity. The last time I cried was when I held my friend as he took his last breaths. A bullet wound through his chest had sealed his fate and I refused to have his last moments face down in the freezing muck of the trench we were in. Now millions of miles away from everything I knew, the reality of what awaited me sunk in and this treacherous female body and brain yielded to despair. That I had not been fed or given water was a clear indication of my fate.

I closed my eyes and felt a gentle hand against my face. Aristea stood in front of me with a mixture of love, compassion, hurt and pain in her eyes. “What have they done to you, my betrothed?” I tried to speak but found my voice had left me. With stunning ferocity Aristea turned and drew her dagger and put it to the throat of one of the guards. “Is this how we treat people? Who is in charge of watching over Caelen? Get her food, water, and clothes. Now!”

The guards scampered away to do her bidding as Aristea rushed back to me and put on a brave face. She stroked my hair through the bars. “I was worried that if we married you’d never need me to take care of you. Somehow, we’ll be together, even if it’s in death, for I won’t live without you and this dagger at my side will surely find my own heart by my own hand if fate separates us.”

Reaching through the bars I slid my fingers through Aristea’s silky hair. I pulled her close so our lips could meet. Aristea stared into my eyes as a tear fell down her cheek. I watched her step back and draw her sword and began hacking at the lock on the cage.

“Aristea! What do you think you’re doing?”

Aristea turned with venom in her eyes towards her mother. “I’m leaving with Caelen. I love her, mother. Look at what we’ve done to her! She should be sitting at my side in a place of honor. Who is in charge of her care?” She dismissed her mother by turning and slashing at the lock once again.

Aristea’s mother fell to her knees. “Aristea… They have her. They have Keira.”

Aristea stopped hammering on the lock and turned towards her mother. “What?”

“Sanra took Keira a week ago. There was a skirmish outside the city and Sanra’s fighters took her. They have our captain of the guard and Keira hostage and threatening to kill them both unless you marry her. I have no choice. My hands are tied.”

“Why didn’t you say something before? Why have we not attacked them?”

“Sanra has mobilized another city against Ch’Zathua. Our army was sent to defend our mountain border to the north. We’re too weak to fight a battle on two fronts and Sanra knows this. With you at her side, she would control Ch’Zathua’s army and have the strength to sweep through the entire region. We have no choice. I see the love you have for Caelen and if we not been in this situation, I would have endorsed your marriage to her. But for Ch’Zathua and your sister, I’ve had to give in to Sanra’s desires. It was not my decision to lock Caelen up and it is not Ch’Zathua’s guards that care for her.”

Aristea pulled her mother up off the ground and hugged her just as Sanra and her guards arrived. Aristea stormed up to Sanra and slapped her hard.

Sanra grinned and wiped a trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth. “By the look in your eyes you now know what fate befalls you, my betrothed.”

Aristea looked at me with immense loss but turned back towards Sanra with her chin held high. “I’ll marry you if you put a stop to all of this. Return Keira and our Captain of the Guard, Treanne, unharmed back to Ch’Zathua, set Caelen free, and call off the attack on Ch’Zathua’s border and I’ll marry you.”

I winced at hearing her say these things. Sanra merely smiled. “You’re in no place to negotiate. You’ll marry me after Caelen is put to death in the arena. Her actions have caused a stir in my ranks. When she fought the Tharbar they began to think less of me as a leader. I can’t have that. She must be eliminated for me to maintain control of my people. As for calling off the attack, I think not. It’s in my best interests to see Ch’Zathua’s army occupied. Even now my army marches to take full control of Ch’Zathua. You’re going to be a sexy plaything for me, but the people of Ch’Zathua love you and without you by my side willingly I’m afraid I’ll spend the next ten years fighting rebellion.”

Aristea looked devastated. “It won’t be a victory for you if your people see that Caelen was malnourished and can barely stand. It will only prove your weakness.”

Sanra turned to her guards. “Get her food and water, but leave her unclothed for all to see.” She turned back to Aristea. “We arrive in Ao-Kuang tomorrow morning. The next day we will watch your creature fight my bayliath and when she’s lying in pieces on the arena floor, we’ll be wed before all of Ao-Kuang.”

Aristea gasped. “You’re having Caelen fight a bayliath? You’re truly a desperate woman. I’ve seen fifty fighters decimated by a bayliath and somehow you think your people will see this as a strength for you?”

“Quite frankly, Aristea, it’s more of an example to anyone that crosses me. You should be more worried about how I’m going to take your virginity assuming you haven’t already given it away to that foul creature. I’ve had a special appliance created just for you. You may even enjoy it.” Aristea struck out at Sanra again but her wrist was stopped by Sanra’s hand. “Sedate her. I don’t want her to be all tired out before our wedding night.”

Aristea and her mother were led off under guard and shortly thereafter I was given water and food by one of Sanra’s guards. The guard was careful to look around for anyone near as she approached. “It’s an honor to serve you Caelen Carter. I’m sorry for the way you’ve been treated. I was with the unit that found you and Aristea and wound up with a very sore jaw when you defended her from Sanra. I’d be dead and rotting away in that gorge if you hadn’t fought the Tharbar. Know that many of us respect you and wish things could be different.”

I took a sip of water allowing my voice to work once again. “What’s your name?” I rasped out.

“Mina.”

“What’s a bayliath and what are their weak points?”

“You must not be from around here as everyone knows what bayliaths are. They stand twenty feet at their shoulder and each front leg rests on paws with three claws. The claws are several feet in length and are as strong as hardened steel. Their mouths have razor sharp teeth and fangs as long as your arm. The skull bones are so thick that no sword can penetrate it. Their only weakness is their eyesight. I’m sorry Caelen Carter that you will die this way.”

“You don’t agree with Sanra?”

“Sanra runs Ao-Kuang differently than Ch’Zathua. Discord is not allowed and any dissidence is awarded by prison or swift death. She has spies everywhere and people are deliberately kept isolated from one another to prevent rebellion.”

“If I survive in the arena, will you support an uprising?”

“With Ao-Kuang’s army moving to Ch’Zathua, the city will be left with fewer guards. Sanra’s plan is to allow Ch’Zathua’s army to wipe out our neighbor’s army but be weakened in the process. Ao-Kuang’s army marches into a vastly unprotected Ch’Zathua and if Aristea is by her side will have the most powerful militia in the region. Although a rebellion is possible in Ao-Kuang at this time, it won’t happen without strong leadership and you’ll not survive the arena. I see how Aristea looks at you and you her but you must know Aristea is lost to you. If you would consider me as your mate, I might be able to free you and we could escape together.”

“Mina, I’m a woman of honor. I’ve already given my heart to Aristea and I’ll fight for her until my last breath. While I don’t relish the idea of dying in the arena, I cannot bring myself to lie to you that I would be your mate in order to achieve freedom. For once I escaped this cage on wheels; I would turn my face towards Sanra and do my best to rescue Aristea.”

Mina’s eyes dropped away from mine. “My own selfish desires blinded me from the truth and hoped you were not so courageous to throw away your life. I’ll make sure you have food and water enough to recover. I wish you well Caelen Carter.”

I sipped the water and ate the food slowly savoring the nourishment. By the time I laid my head down to sleep I was already feeling much better and as the morning light appeared Mina had already left more food and water for me.

I could smell Ao-Kuang before I could see it and when I saw the gray stone walls of the city and the garbage strewn along the streets I recognized a city that was managed poorly. It could have been beautiful once but it was clearly in a state of decay. We passed through many walled sections of the city, each isolated from the other. This wasn’t an open city that thrived on collaboration, rather the people were oppressed. Many times I saw people skulking in the shadows and looking into windows.

The wagon turned off from the main procession and moved towards the center of the city. An enormous arena seemed to be the focal point of the city and reminded me of stories I’d read of ancient Rome. The wagon moved beneath the arena and in the dark hallways I was led to a prison cell with heavy metal bars on three sides. Ch’Zathua’s dungeons were luxurious compared to this place. Rusty chains hung from the walls and I was chained to four of them and locked into the cell. My chains were connected to a stone rear wall that reeked of bile and sewage. My cell shared bars with another cell and I recognized the uniform of a woman from Ch’Zathua’s guard. Another woman dressed in an elaborate dress vaguely reminded me of Aristea’s mother.

The guard and the woman were unchained and came to our common wall to stare at me. “What manner of human are you with yellow hair?”

“I’m the kind that travelled many thousands of miles to fall in love and for that be cast into Sanra’s dungeon and to my death in her arena. I assume you’re both distinguished guests of Sanra as well?”

“You must not be from around here to not recognize the second Princess of Ch’Zathua, Keira. I’m Treanne, Captain of the Ch’Zathua Guard. Who are you?”

“I’m Caelen Carter.”

“We’ve heard of you. Our guards told us that Sanra had left to find Ch’Zathua’s first Princess, Aristea. Some of that retinue returned with stories of a beautiful yellow haired woman that fought like a kontico and saved them from Tharbars. I didn’t believe it and yet you’re here in the flesh. What kind of love causes Sanra’s rage to be such that she intends to kill you for it?”

“The kind of love that would take Aristea from her.”

“How dare you speak of love regarding our Princess!”

Keira looked at me carefully through the bars. “Treanne, for Caelen Carter to be here with us in prison could only mean one thing. That Aristea reciprocated her love and abandoned the arrangement with Sanra. I think we need to hear Caelen’s story.”

I had nothing to lose and maybe it was my vanity of wanting to leave behind a legacy where someone on this planet would know Caelen Carter, but I started at my arrival from Earth and everything that led up to this moment including that Ao-Kuang’s army was about to take over Ch’Zathua.

“You must be very special to have captured Aristea’s heart. If what you say is true then all hope is lost.”

“Not quite all hope. I just have to survive fighting a bayliath in the arena tomorrow, free Aristea before her wedding, escape Ao-Kuang, and rescue Ch’Zathua.”

“I like your optimism, Caelen, but you’ve obviously never seen a bayliath. Sanra will have her elite guards around her and Aristea, and when an army is in control of Ch’Zathua, it’s impenetrable.”

“Ch’Zathua may be impenetrable from a frontal assault but an army could infiltrate it from the water.”

“Boats would be too visible and you have no army.”

“The army could swim and with dark heads be virtually invisible at night. Perhaps an army of dark headed warriors like the Tharbars? Lars, their leader, has offered his sword is at my disposal. He’d like to think there could be peace between the Tharbars and humans.”

“You’ve been on Jupiter less than thirty days and you’ve won the heart of our Princess, made friends with the Tharbars, and so raised the ire of Sanra against you that she plans to kill you with a bayliath? I think I like you, Caelen Carter.”

I shrugged. “What can I say? It must be the color of my hair.”

We were interrupted by Mina brining us all food and water. “Caelen Carter please tell me you’ve reconsidered my offer.”

“I’ve lived my life with no regrets, Mina. I’d rather die than live without Aristea. If you helped me escape, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

“I thought you would say that. If by some insignificant chance you survive the bayliath tomorrow I and twenty other guards will be stationed at the prisoner’s entrance to the arena. We’ve been ordered to take you off the arena floor and kill you. I’ve handpicked these guards and they are loyal to me and you. We’ll see that you escape.”

“Thank you, Mina. However, if I survive the arena, I plan on rescuing Aristea, hopefully rescuing the Queen of Ch’Zathua, Keira, and Treanne as well.”

Mina shook her head. “We’ll help any way we can. Goodbye, Caelen Carter.” There was sadness in her voice.

“We overheard that, Caelen. We were told that Keira and I will be seated near Aristea and Sanra. Sanra wants us there to feign support for the wedding and are supposed to be taking us tonight so we can be cleaned up for the festivities. It sounds like your welcome to Ch’Zathua wasn’t the way it should have been. For that, I apologize.”

More guards came and took Keira and Treanne away leaving me in the dark prison alone. I could hear deep roaring growls from further away and wondered if that was my fate.

***

I slept in the next morning and rested as best I could. I didn’t want to burn any unnecessary energy pacing or worrying about what was to come. A dozen guards entered my cell and bound me with spider silk and led me through the labyrinth of passageways under the arena and finally to a large wooden door. The door was opened and I shielded my eyes against the bright golden sky. Mina stood on the far side of the door and unbound my wrists.

“Twenty feet from here my sword lies on the ground. That’s your only weapon. I took the time to sharpen it last night and it’s a good strong sword.” With that said she turned and exited the arena, the doors closing solidly behind me.

Walking forward into the arena I noted the floor was mostly loose packed dirt and above was a large net. I assumed this was to prevent me or some beast from leaping out of the arena. Reaching down I picked up Mina’s sword and tested its weight and balance and then walked to the center of the arena amidst cheers and boos from the large crowd that filled the arena. Front and center, forty feet up a wall with metal spikes shielding the occupants sat Sanra. To her right was Aristea and behind them Aristea’s mother, sister, and captain of the guard. At least twenty guards stood at the ready all around them.

I walked towards the wall and looked up to see Aristea sitting demurely. I suspected she must still be sedated but her eyes betrayed her. Tears fell from her face and I heard her mouth the words, “I love you.”

Sanra stood and bellowed out in her low, loud voice. “Caelen Carter, you are hereby charged with abducting the first Princess of Ch’Zathua and consorting with the witches of the dark arts. It is lucky indeed that we rescued Aristea from your clutches so that she can be wed to me solidifying the alliance between our two great cities. Your sentence is death but to give you a sporting chance, as I’m a forgiving type, you may fight for your freedom. Open the gates!”

Two enormous doors opened on the far side of the arena and the most ferocious beast I’ve ever seen roared triumphantly and sniffed the air. It rushed to the side and clawed the walls frightening the people that sat close. Saliva dripped from between its fangs from a mouth so large it could swallow me whole. It was covered in coarse white fur and each of its four legs were as thick as tree trunks. The claws were so long that it walked with them curled under.

It stopped and sniffed the air once again and focused on me. My days in dungeons, wagons, and a reeking prison left me a highly odorous target. Dropping my sword I rolled in the dirt doing my best to cover my scent. It would mask it a little and hopefully make it harder for the great beast to find me. I picked up my sword again and ran forward towards the bayliath just as it decided to rush towards me. I could hardly believe something so massive could move so quickly.

I leapt at the last moment narrowly missing the claws that landed where I had just been. I swung my sword with both hands against the back of its hind leg. The blade cut through the thick hide and scored the tendon causing blood to spray across the arena floor. The bayliath spun quickly and swiped with its claws just as I dove out of the way. The scream from the bayliath was deafening and it stopped to sniff once again. I ran to stay behind it but it was able to follow me slowed only slightly by its fresh wound.

Jumping again I brought my sword down into the right shoulder of the bayliath cutting deep but not doing a significant amount of damage. The bayliath flung its left front leg towards me, extending it claws. Leaping from the bayliath’s back I landed hard some hundred feet behind. Slightly dazed I rolled to my feet noticing that the claws of the bayliath had dug into its own shoulder doing far more damage than my puny sword. Horribly enraged the bayliath screamed and hobbled towards me. I was actually thinking I might have a chance and leapt again for the beast’s face but the bayliath stood on its hind legs at the last moment and my blade bounced harmlessly of its chest bone. I fell straight down to ground, and three giant claws slammed down towards me.

I rolled to the side but not fast enough. The claws barely missed me but as the bayliath went to strike again the leg of the beast crashed heavily into my side tossing me into the wall of the arena. I struggled to my feet and looked for my sword, spotting it halfway across the arena and behind the bayliath that had paused to get my scent again. I glanced around the arena and saw no other weapons. I had to get to the sword. I looked up at the net. It was held up off the arena floor by a thick central rope. It pulled the net upward and the edges were held in place my mere metal pieces angled down. If I could cut the central rope the entire net would fall into the arena.

Running for the bayliath I leaped over it landing behind and near my sword. I picked up my sword and ran to the edge of the arena and jumped straight up grabbing the netting. I worked my way up the net, my stronger Earth muscles making this feat possible until I reached the peak some seventy feet above the center of the arena. The bayliath was right below me throwing its claws wildly upward. I could vaguely hear the cheers of the people in the stands as I hacked away at the central rope. I was very thankful for Mina’s sharpening of the sword and on the third chop the net fell.

The heavy net and I fell straight on top of the bayliath. I bounced off the creature’s face, grateful its mouth hadn’t been opened and slid down the creature’s side. The bayliath roared and thrashed tangling itself further and further into the net. Using my sword I cut through the net to escape and roll free. I turned to see the bayliath struggling, its claws and legs entwined in the net. I leapt to its back and climbed up to its neck and began cutting and slashing. It was like riding a bull but the net allowed me to hang on and I continued to thrust the sword into the eyes and neck. Blood poured out the creature and still it thrashed.

In a way I admired the creature but I know I had beaten it as it struggled less and less. I jumped upward and brought the sword straight down into the neck with every ounce of strength I could muster. Luckily the blade passed between the spine bones and severed the nerves. With a roar and a shudder, the bayliath rolled over on its side sending me flying. I managed to tuck and roll upon hitting the ground and wound up on my feet at the base of the stands where Aristea was sitting. I didn’t bother looking back as I knew the bayliath was either dead or would be very soon.

I shouted so the cheering crowd could all hear. “Sanra, return Aristea, the Queen of Ch’Zathua, Keira and Treanne to Ch’Zathua, withdraw your troops, or die.” Twenty guards surrounded me with their swords at my throat. “I’m coming for you, Sanra. Aristea is mine.”

Sanra stood her face purple with rage and pointed to me. “Take her away! The wedding starts in an hour.” She turned and her guards quickly escorted them from the arena. Mina stood at my side and directed the swords lowered.

“I need a moment, Mina.” She nodded and I walked back to the bayliath as it still shook in its death throws on the ground. I pulled the sword from the beast wiped the blade clean on the fur and handed it to Mina. “Thank you.”

“Never have I witnessed such bravery and skill. I’ll take the sword and will cherish it always. Walk with us until we exit the arena.” I nodded and we quickly left the arena floor. When the doors were closed behind us all twenty guards laid their blades at my feet. “Our swords are yours to direct.”

“I need to get to Aristea and stop the wedding ceremony. You could escort me as if I was a prisoner to the palace. If anyone tries to stop us, you can tell them you’ve been ordered by Sanra to take me to her so that I can be officially released as she promised in the arena before everyone. What would happen in Ao-Kuang if Sanra were dead?”

“I suspect there would be a revolution and various parties would try to take over the leadership. There is no need to escort you like a prisoner. As soon as I saw you would wind in the arena I began spreading word. After what the people just saw, many might join us.”

“Can someone find me some clothing?”

“We already thought of that.”

Mina directed me to the clothes so I could at least change. The outfit turned out to be a noble’s dress with some modifications to make for ease of movement and fighting if necessary. I noticed my ribs were already bruising and likely broken and covering those up would make me look less vulnerable. “Thank you, Mina. Let’s go, we have a wedding to attend.”

Walking through the city we were stopped several times by people wishing me well and congratulating me. There had been no resistance whatsoever all the way to the palace and I was surprised to see our little band grow more and more until by the time we faces the main doors of the palace some hundred and fifty fighters stood with me.

The guards blocking entrance to the palace were defiant, but when faced with such overwhelming odds they ran. Mina came to my side and directed fighters to watch the streets. “Beyond these doors lies the inner palace courtyard. It’s designed like much of the city to create a zone where people can easily be controlled or fought back. Between us and the throne room there are nearly two hundred loyal guards.”

“Will these people that joined us fight for their freedom from Sanra?”

“I believe so. Once we pass through these doors, there is no turning back.”

“Is there any other way in?”

“None that we could reach and enter in time.”

Looking up I spotted a balcony about twenty-five feet above us. “Take your fighters through the main gates. I’ll enter through the balcony and fight my way down to join you.”

“Fight well, Caelen Carter.” Turning to the fighters Mina shouted. “We fight for our freedom from the tyranny of Sanra. We fight to free Ch’Zathua and renew our age-old alliance. We fight with the greatest fighter Jupiter has ever seen!”

Cheers rose as I leapt to the balcony and snuck inside. Moving through the room towards the inner courtyard I noticed an absence of guards until I got further into the palace. Fully one hundred guards were prepared to storm any intruders entering through the front gates. Mina and her guards were pounding on the gates as I barreled headlong into Sanra’s guards.

With a sword and dagger in my hands I fought without mercy and sliced through nearly twenty guards before the front gates smashed open and Mina and her fighters poured through. My attack had greatly distracted Sanra’s guards and slowly Mina and her fighters and I closed ranks. The fighting was furious and Sanra’s guards fell back, many dropping their swords and laying them at our feet.

With Mina at my side and now close to one hundred and fifty fighters swarming the guards of the palace we fought our way to the throne room. I was tired and sore but every step closer to Aristea gave me renewed hope and energy.

The guards standing in front of the throne room turned white at the sight of us and fell to their knees pleading for their life. The wooden doors were locked from the inside. Grabbing a large stone statue of Sanra I lifted it off the ground and threw it at the doors. The doors shattered like they were made of glass. Rushing into the room I was immediately assaulted by five guards but seeing Aristea held tightly by Sanra was all I needed to slice through the guards like they weren’t even there.

Aristea cried out. “Caelen! My Betrothed!” She fought against Sanra as more guards came into the room. By the time I turned back to Aristea, she and Sanra were gone. Grabbing one of the remaining guards I lifted her off the floor with one hand.

“Where is Sanra?”

“She’s gone. Escaped. Please, I’m no threat.”

Putting the guard back down on the ground I fumed in anger. “Where is she taking Aristea?”

“Sanra prepared an escape route. She has one hundred of her most loyal guards with her. Even now they are likely beyond the city walls and heading south.”

“How can that be? She was just here.”

“Beneath the palace is a large chamber with direct routes out of the city. She had her fastest riding animals there in case anything happened. Access to the chamber is blocked by huge stones. To find her you’ll have to exit the city on the main roads. Even if you leave now they’ll be hours ahead of you.”

“Mina, can you help me get out of the city?”

“I can, Caelen, but there are some additional pressing matters. Ao-Kuang is now without leadership. I’ve seen the adulation of the people towards you. The way you fought the bayliath and defended Ao-Kuang’s guards from the Tharbars has left a lasting impression. I believe you could be Queen here.”

Aristea’s mother, Keira, and Treanne all came forward. They’d been in the room all along and I hadn’t even noticed them. “You would make a good Queen, Caelen.”

Looking at the Queen of Ch’Zathua I believed she was speaking from her heart. “I have no lands or ancestry here and no royal blood. I’ve no desire to be Queen over a city but I’ll help any way I can. Mina, you have people that follow you. You should be the new Queen here.”

“Having lands or blood mean little in Ao-Kuang, Caelen. Our Queen always taken her role here by force.”

“Would the people follow you, Mina?”

“I know they will follow you, Caelen.”

“Time is wasting away. We can decide this later, but for now we must help this city recover from Sanra’s rule and get the people organized. I’m going after Sanra and Aristea. Mina, you organize and lead the people here. Any known spies are to be rounded up and imprisoned. Perhaps Keira and the Queen of Ch’Zathua can assist you with the city. Treanne could reach Ch’Zathua’s army and bring them home. If a decree went out, can we call back Ao-Kuang’s army from Ch’Zathua?”

Aristea’s mother placed her hand on my arm. “Go rescue your betrothed, my beloved daughter, and the Princess of Ch’Zathua. We’ll take care of the rest. If you find her, bring her home.”

“I will. Nothing will stop me.”

“I pity those that get in your way.”

“Mina, can you get me out of the city?”

With some quick signals from Mina two guards were at my side and we ran through the palace and out into the streets. I will be forever grateful for the two guards as within the hour I was standing at the southern entrance to the city. We stopped several people who confirmed Sanra and her guards passed by and were heading south.

With barely a look back I leapt and bounded after Aristea.

A few hours later I began to see signs of Sanra’s band. They were moving fast and I wasn’t able to keep up my pace. Days in dungeons and fights had taken their toll on me and night would fall soon. To my west were low hills and to my east large mountains. Sanra would continue heading south.

When night fell I continued as long as I could. Finding a tree I leaned myself up against it and promptly fell asleep; my exertions having completely exhausted me.

***

“Caelen Carter.”

My eyes shot open and I was staring into the eyes of a fearsome beast. “Lars. It is good to see you.”

“It is strange to find you lying here all by yourself when not far from here people of your kind are camping.”

It was still twilight, but I sensed I’d slept most of the night. “A lot has happened since we last met. Is your sword still available to me?”

“Always.”

“And your arm?”

“Sore, but our healers are very good at what they do. It’s weak but useable.”

“How would you like to secure the favor of the people of Ch’Zathua and the new leadership of Ao-Kuang?”

“Does it involve fighting?”

Grinning, I stood. “When does anything on Jupiter not involve fighting?”

“Then we’re in. Who are we fighting?”

“The deposed Queen of Ao-Kuang has kidnapped Aristea, the Princess of Ch’Zathua. She escaped yesterday with one hundred of her guards.”

“Only Caelen Carter would chase after one hundred fighters all by herself.”

“Aristea’s my mate. I’d take on a dozen bayliaths for her.”

“We are fifty strong, Caelen. Daylight will come soon.”

We moved quickly and spotted Sanra’s camp just before sunrise. Most of the warriors were sleeping out on the meadow grass, but there was one tent that must house Sanra. Surprisingly there were no sentries.

“I’ll sneak down and try to get into the tent. We don’t want to slaughter everyone, but we must do what we have to. Surround the camp and at the break of dawn attack.”

“This is a good plan, Caelen Carter.”

Leaping from the spot where we were hidden I landed right next to the tent. My body ached and my ribs were broken by the bayliath. I was limping slightly due to twisting my ankle yesterday, but other than that, I was mostly whole.

“Don’t touch me!”

It was Aristea. I’m not waiting. Slashing through the tent wall I dove through the hole and rolled to my feet. Sanra was trying to kiss Aristea. In one step I was across the tent and slugged Sanra so hard she flew outside the tent.

“Are you hurt, my love?”

Aristea smiled and pulled my dagger from my sheath. “I’m not hurt, my betrothed, but I am ready for some payback. You came alone?”

“I ran into a few friends.”

“Guards! Caelen Carter is in the camp. Kill her!” Five guards rushed into the tent just as people began screaming.

Stepping in front of Aristea I dodged a wicked slash, blocked, and parried. This was however no time for finesse. Aristea began attacking one of the other guards and I moved to the offensive. Slashing back and forth I used my additional strength to push the guards back and outside of the tent. Aristea stayed right by my side.

Outside of the tent was pure chaos. Tharbars were mowing down those guards that stood to fight, but most dropped their swords and knelt in submission. I dispatched two of the guards I was fighting and Aristea had badly wounded one. In moments the fight was over and the remaining guards surrendered. Sanra was nowhere to be found.

“If I can’t have Aristea, then no one can!” Turning I spotted Sanra on a slight rise. She had what appeared to be a rifle, but I’d seen none on Jupiter. She was pointing it straight at Aristea. I dove just as a sizzling sound emanated from the rifle. My left shoulder took the hit with such force that I spun in mid-air collapsing in a heap at Aristea’s feet.

“Caelen!”

I felt Aristea’s hands on my face and heard her gown tear then incredible pain as she pressed her hands against my shoulder. I struggled to breathe. The sky darkened around me and I felt myself detach from my body. Looking down I saw Aristea weeping over the body of a blonde-haired woman.

I felt a pull on my spirit. “No!” I screamed in utter silence. I could almost feel the dank, dark cenote in Mexico calling me home. “No!”

Aristea screamed. “Don’t leave me, Caelen!”

I had no control over my body as I floated. I was drifting away. The anguish in my heart was utterly complete.

And then I felt something. A touch against my lips. Soft moistness pressed against my lips. Closing my eyes for I no longer wished to see the love of my life vanish from sight I focused on the touch of her lips against mine.

“Caelen! Come back to me!”

Something wet was touching my cheek. I’m afraid to open my eyes.

“Caelen! I love you!”

Forcing my eyes open I looked straight into Aristea’s eyes. I took a shuddering breath and forced a smile. “Aristea, my Aristea.”

“Let me take her to the tent, my lady. I’ll have my healers look at her.”

Aristea didn’t let go of my hand as Lars lifted me gently and brought me into the tent. Soon healers were looking at my shoulder and applying some kind of salve. I quickly began feeling better.

“Rest, my love. Sleep.”

***

When I woke I felt much renewed. Aristea was sleeping next to me but as soon as I stirred she woke. “You gave us all a scare, my love.”

“I feel much better. How long was I asleep?”

“Two days.”

“I need to get you home.” I started to get up but winced.

“Easy, my love. You were shot with an old ray gun. I didn’t even know these still existed. You’re lucky to be alive at all. The Tharbar healers didn’t know what to do with you. Your ribs are broken, your ankle swollen, and you have a cut across your right forearm. They wondered if all humans smell as badly as you do.”

“I’ve had a rough few days. Help me to stand for I’ll not kiss my betrothed from a deathbed.” Aristea grinned and helped me to my feet. There I took her in my arms and kissed her with all the passion I could muster. “I’m so glad I can do that now without threat of being put to death.”

“Me too!”

“What happened to Sanra?”

“She escaped.”

“Hopefully that will be the last we ever see of her.”

“Let’s get you home.”

***

It took three days to reach Ch’Zathua and the Queen, Keira, Treanne, and a dozen palace guards came out to officially greet us and escort us in. Many people stared openly in awe at the Tharbars but they were welcomed. Several young girls even handed Lars flowers.

Once we arrived at the city’s main public square the Queen stepped up to a podium. “People of Ch’Zathua, rejoice! Our first Princess has been returned to us safe and sound. We offer great thanks to our newfound friends the Tharbars. The past days have been trying for all of us. Sanra, self-proclaimed Queen of Ao-Kuang, kidnapped Keira and our captain of the guard, Treanne. They convinced our neighbors to the north to attack us so that Sanra could wrest control of our fair city and force the hand of Aristea in marriage.” There were many people that yelled angrily about this.

“As you know Aristea had been lost in the southern reaches but she was found by a remarkable, courageous, beautiful woman named Caelen Carter. You’ll easily recognize her by her yellow hair. To Caelen we all owe a great debt. Not only did she rescue Aristea, but she befriended the Tharbars, who, without their help, Aristea would have remained in Sanra’s clutches. Caelen fought and killed a bayliath single handedly, helped overturn the reign of Sanra in Ao-Kuang, and brought our beloved Aristea home to us.”

“This stranger to our city and our people risked her life time and again, suffering greatly at the hands of our enemies. She did this out of a sense of honor with no expectation of reward. She sets a lofty goal for all of us. There is nothing Ch’Zathua can offer to compensate her for what she has done. Aristea, please come up to the podium.”

The crowd cheered wildly as the Queen continued after hugging and kissing her daughter. “I ask your forgiveness of me, my daughter, for I forced upon you an unbearable burden. I publicly release you from any obligation to marry for political gain or alliances. You are free to choose whomever you wish to marry.”

Without hesitation Aristea spoke. “Then let it be known that I love Caelen Carter and ask her to be my mate forever.”

“There is no treasure on any world as great as your love.” Limping slightly I laid my sword at Aristea’s feet. “I’m yours forever.”

Aristea pulled me up into a kiss accompanied by the loud cheering of the crowd. When they settled the Queen continued. “The wedding will take place in five days’ time. Please join us in celebrating our victories and your newest Princess of Ch’Zathua, Caelen Carter.”

***

I was ushered into a lavish guest room and given a hot bath and new clothes. The gown that I was to wear was a spectacular affair and did much to accentuate my figure. Looking in the mirror I no longer was startled by what was reflected back at me. I’m a young woman, living on Jupiter, and set to marry an extraordinary woman of matchless grace and beauty. My parents, had they still been alive and seeing the end result of my life up until this point would have caused them much grief, yet in my heart I’m at peace and happy.

A gentle knock sounded at my door and Aristea entered. Pausing she looked me over carefully and bit her lower lip. “You’re stunning, my love.” She came close and kissed me and brushed her lips against my neck. “And you smell divine. It’s a bit of an improvement over the smell of bayliath and dungeons.”

I slid my fingers through Aristea’s rich, dark hair. “Five days seems like such a long time to wait.”

“It will be busier than you think. You’re a Princess of Ch’Zathua now. With that title come duties. My mother is already set to appoint you ambassador to Ao-Kuang and the Tharbars. There is a wedding to plan and tonight there is a feast and dance in your honor.” Her lips brushed mine sending waves of heat throughout my body. Her violet eyes stared into mine with love and passion. “And yet, five days will be incredibly long. I can’t wait to take you into my bed. Come, my love. Our guests await us.”

Taking my arm in hers we walked slowly through the palace enjoying the opportunity to be somewhat alone. Guards were posted at a set of large double doors that led into the banquet hall. I’m surprisingly nervous. “We could just run away together and explore all of Jupiter.”

Grinning Aristea turned to me and placed her hands on my shoulders. I winced a little but was very thankful for the Tharbar healers. “My brave, courageous Caelen. You’ll face the fiercest of beasts and fight entire armies single handedly and yet you shake at the thought of palace life. Don’t worry, my love. This is my area of expertise. I’ll not let anyone hurt you.”

With a nod the guards opened the doors and announced us and we were ushered into the room beyond. Keira was the first to greet us.

“If you ever get tired of Caelen, send her my way, sis. She’s really very pretty.”

“Keira!”

“If you don’t ask, you don’t receive. You know I’m joking. Mother thinks Mina might be a good match for me and I agree.”

Keira spun away before we could respond and Treanne and Lars came by to greet us. “I hope your treatment has been an improvement over the last time you were here.”

“I can say I certainly received the full tour of the city. What do you think of my friend Lars?”

Lars cut in. “You look like an O’Chuto and smell of flowers from the Great Rift, Caelen Carter. Where is my friend that is covered in the soils of Jupiter and exudes the odors of fighting and dungeons of Ao-Kuang?”

“What’s an O’Chuto?”

“It is the most colorful of all Jupiter’s birds.”

Nodding I understood I was just called a peacock. “She is here somewhere, Lars. I’ve not thanked you enough for standing by my side to rescue Aristea and for your healers saving my life.”

His hand smacked me hard on the back and causing me to gasp in pain. “For those services rendered I expect payment in another fight. I have to redeem myself. This time I’ll tie large boulders to your ankles.”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

Lars and Treanne chuckled and went to find some alcoholic drink just as Mina and Keira came up behind us. Mina was wearing a tiara, a symbol of her new status as Queen of Ao-Kuang. Aristea and I tipped our heads. “Neither of you ever need to tip your heads or bow to me.” She hugged us both.

“How is Ao-Kuang?”

“It will take time to recover the city. I hope the two of you will visit often to see the changes being made. The Queen of Ch’Zathua has been ever so gracious as to offer help in restoring Ao-Kuang to its former glory.”

“Did someone mention my name?” Bowing to Aristea’s mother she put her fingers under my chin and lifted my head. “I owe you an apology, Caelen. I should have never given in to the demands of Sanra and let you be imprisoned. After your wedding, I’ve decided it’s time for me to pass on my reign to Aristea.”

“Mother, you can’t!”

“I’ve served a long time, Aristea and I want to enjoy the years I have left watching your children grow up.” I blushed not having thought about the expectations of a royal family. Will I be the one having children? “Besides, the people of Ch’Zathua absolutely adore you Aristea and Caelen has become synonymous with strength and courage. The two of you will be loved and cherished by the people just as I know you will love and cherish them. First the wedding, and then five days later you will be crowned Queen.”

***

Standing on the balcony overlooking Ch’Zathua I pondered my life as the purple tinged clouds of Jupiter churned in the twilight. Fifteen days had passed since our wedding and ten days since our coronation. Aristea insisted that we share the crown and title of Queen. Looking up into the sky I could almost picture Earth and the cenote in Mexico. Is my body still there awaiting my return?

Glancing down at the sleek silky nightgown that hid my breasts I smiled. Who would ever have thought that a gentleman of Boston would become a Queen of Jupiter? My time here, even though short, has completely altered my understanding of women. I have no doubt that if men suddenly disappeared on Earth that the women there would rise up as they have here. Women have an inner strength that is as strong if not stronger than that of any man I ever knew.

My life on Earth feels like a distant dream. I’d not go back to that life for anything.

Warm hands wrapped around my midsection as sweet moist lips eagerly sought mine. “Come back to bed, Caelen.”

Picking Aristea up I carried her back to the bed; my musing of the past finished.

***

Sanra put down her viewing scope and scowled as she stared across the lake at the orange glow of light coming from the Queens of Ch’Zathua’s bedroom. “One day… One day I will get my revenge.”



If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
120 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 23163 words long.