Hello everyone! I’m back with one more teaser of Savage Dawn, my upcoming Sci-Fantasy novel coming on January 22. There’s also a giveaway you can enter at the end of this post. It’s on Facebook, though, so if you’re not on the platform, you can enter the giveaway from last week here or wait for next week’s giveaway. 🙂
ARGOR – TWO WEEKS EARLIER
The small team of explorers had gathered around a crystal table, admiring the holographic images Professor Shix had sent them. Pictures and an unknown calligraphy stared at the group, and Samiah was still pinching herself. After so many years of exploration and dead ends, they had finally discovered something significant that could shed some light on their past.
The massive door of the Argamanx Royal Library opened with a loud bang, and Samiah glanced up in time to see Malachiax approach them with eager steps. Her heart skipped a beat as it always did when she looked at her mate. Everything about Mal drew Samiah to him. The mass of untamable curly hair, the strong chiseled jaw, the way he moved. An invisible thread linked them. They had been bonded a little over a year ago, and Samiah’s feelings for Malachiax hadn’t dulled one bit.
“We got it!” He shook the piece of syno paper in his hand. “Lord Droom has approved our trip to Mora.”
Excited shouts erupted among the group, making the librarian on duty pull a face they promptly ignored. The library was empty. They weren’t bothering anyone.
“Really?” Samiah reached for the official paper, not willing to believe until she saw the royal seal with her own eyes.
Years had passed since Professor Shix first discovered an ancient Arcadian scroll describing a portal to another dimension. Arcadians had only developed the technology to travel via connectors recently, about a hundred thirty-five years ago. So if what the artifact said was true, it meant their forefathers already had access to that technology, thousands and thousands of years before.
The scroll was extensively damaged, and nobody had been able to discern from it the exact location of the supposed portal. Many scholars believed the script to be a hoax and that to search for it would be a waste of time. But Professor Shix believed it was authentic, and Samiah did too.
Soon after the ancient script came to the surface, Professor Shix put together a group of explorers with the intention of finding the portal. As a former student, Samiah knew of Shix’s brilliance and was one of the first to volunteer. Malachiax had been selected because of his affinity with earth, a handy ability as a pioneer. That was how they had met.
There Samiah was, dressed like a blind Sion had picked her outfit, her face practically glued to her com-slip, when the trim, handsome Argamanian with wild hair and scruffy jaw got into her personal space and introduced himself. His easy smile and the spark in his deep blue eyes had left Samiah speechless. Within moments of meeting, she knew she had found her person, someone with whom she shared a core-to-core connection, her soul mate. A rare and extraordinary occurrence in Arcadia.
Those memories brought a tiny smile to her face. She looked up and found Malachiax staring at her, trying to suppress a grin. Somehow, he knew Samiah’s thoughts had strayed from their upcoming trip.
The site lay just outside of Mora, a country in the middle of the white, deserted plains of Arcadia. Two teams comprised of Morians and Jackurians had stumbled upon it more than fifteen days ago, and Samiah’s team was still stuck in Argamania. Professor Shix, the leader of their group, had been traveling abroad when the site was discovered, and he had gone straight there. Samiah and Malachiax were forced to wait for their sovereign’s approval.
That Lord Droom didn’t like Mora’s ruling family was not a secret. They weren’t exactly enemies, but Argor’s relationship with Mora had always been strained. If not for the explorers from Jackur, the collaboration would have never happened. For that reason, it had been extremely difficult to get approval to meet with the professor.
Malachiax hugged Samiah tight and she laughed at his enthusiasm.
“I think you need to go to your private quarters,” Aron said with a serious frown, and Samiah fought the urge to roll her eyes. Must remember to respect my elders.
“Ignore him. He’s just an old grouch.” Ariana waved her hand through the holograms, making them disappear. She was Aron’s younger sister and could get away with addressing him so. “When can we leave?”
“Our designated gateway will be ready for us in an hour, and I don’t want to be late. Lord Droom can still change his mind,” Malachiax said.
“Then we must get ready. Remember to pack light. It’s warm in Mora this time of the year. We won’t need our heavy coats.” Ianox made that helpful observation like we didn’t know that already. He was only a few years older than Samiah and Malachiax, but he loved to act as if he was so much more experienced.
“It might be warm, but I’m still bringing my insulation suit. You never know. It’s always good to be prepared,” Walani said as she typed something on her com-slip.
Walani’s comment wasn’t a surprise. Despite her sharp mind, she had a tendency to overthink everything. Samiah could attribute her peculiarity to her gift, but that wouldn’t be a fair assessment. Not all one-glancers were that obsessed with details, after all, only maybe ninety-nine percent of them.
They left the Argamanx Royal Castle grounds soon after, using the elevator to go down the tower—where the center of Argor’s government was perched atop—instead of the castle’s gateway. They weren’t deemed important enough even though Malachiax was royalty. They headed to the Grand Gateway Station on foot since it was within walking distance; it would have taken longer to wait for a hover transport that could fit their entire team.
The Argamanian hub was a large compound made of the same translucent bricks as the castle. As Samiah stared at the building, she thought for the thousandth time how the construction would have been beautiful if it weren’t for the retractable metal dome ceiling that sat on top. This feature was reminiscent of old days when the building had been used to house airspeeds. Now the vast open room had rows upon rows of cylindrical bases they called connectors, closely monitored by specialized technicians.
The bases powered the gateways, which were high-frequency transport beams that linked Argamania to the rest of the planet. Since the implementation of that type of transportation, Arcadians had forgone airspeeds and archaic airglides for long-distance traveling. Samiah had never seen one in operation, for they had become obsolete before she was born, though there were still a few traditional modes of transport such as hover cars and the mammoth spacecrafts used for interstellar voyages.
Two royal guards were stationed at the entrance, carrying electroshock rods at their hips, a frown on their faces. The level of security at the station was over the top. It was as if Lord Droom was expecting an attack at any moment—from whom, Samiah didn’t know. They hadn’t had a war or even a small conflict in generations. Arcadia was a planet in peace.
The station was bare in the same sterile manner an industrial warehouse would be, with kramer sheet walls and krax stone floor. The use of krax was a precaution in case some crazy deviant decided to use a gateway without authorization. The stone neutralized Arcadian gifts—another sign of their sovereign’s paranoia. Samiah shook her head and pushed aside her dangerous thoughts.
When Samiah and her teammates reached the gateway bound to Mora, Commander Haarx was there, flanked by several of his Nox Elite soldiers. Not a single shred of emotion showed on their stony faces. He sneered as he gazed upon them, and a shiver of apprehension ran down Samiah’s spine. She feared Lord Droom had changed his mind and sent his minions to prevent them from going. The commander had been against their venture from the beginning for reasons unbeknownst to Samiah.
“Commander Haarx, is there a problem?” Aron asked.
The man ignored Aron, his dark gaze passing by Samiah before it landed on Mal. Those unnerving black orbs gave her chills every time.
“Just here to make sure you go where you’re supposed to.”
What an infuriating man. Where did he think we would go if not Mora? She ground her teeth.
He moved closer to Malachiax and whispered, “You may have won this round, boy, but I’ll be watching you.”
His words carried an underlying warning only a fool would ignore. Commander Haarx’s hatred toward Malachiax was undeserved but not unexpected. Lord Droom favored Samiah’s mate and had never once attempted to hide that fact. It wasn’t only because he was Lord Droom’s nephew. Malachiax possessed a charisma few could resist. His heart was bigger than the Tandrum’s moon. But Mal’s influence threatened Commander Haarx. He didn’t want to relinquish even the smallest amount of his power over their ruler.
His ill disposition toward Malachiax wasn’t the only reason Samiah was leery of the man. Something was alarmingly wrong with him. His aura was completely unstable, never setting in any particular color. Since she’d come into possession of her aura-reader gift, she never once encountered someone like the commander. Samiah’s ability allowed her to see other people’s aura and core. The aura was a representation of each Arcadian’s nature; the core contained the key to their gifts. Commander Haarx’s core was empty. He didn’t possess a gift, which meant the Sacred Powers of Arcadia had not blessed him. Samiah had only shared this knowledge with Malachiax, but she’d always wondered if Lord Droom knew. She would rather believe their ruler was unaware, for how could they blindly follow a sovereign who put his trust in a soldier their own planet hadn’t deemed worthy?
Commander Haarx’s soldiers stepped aside but remained close enough that Samiah’s team had to walk single file. This particular gateway was a small one and could only transport four people at a time. Samiah traded glances with Malachiax and without needing to read his mind, she knew what he was thinking. Lord Droom had selected a small gateway to show how much he didn’t care for this mission.
For each journey, a unique key was required in order to avoid unauthorized traveling. The technician typed something on her com-slip and a moment later, Aron’s and Ariana’s com-slips beeped. Samiah and Malachiax went first with Ariana. The others would have to wait until the connector recharged to follow them.
They weren’t beamed to the main gateway station in Morang but to the temporary one set up near the discovery site. As soon as Samiah stepped off the connector, the hot, arid air of Mora assaulted her skin. The orange sun reflected on the white rocks around them, making the temperature rise even higher. She put her shades on to protect her eyes and felt immensely better. She looked sideways at Malachiax and caught him grimace. The brightness bothered her prism-colored eyes, but Arcadians with deep blue and green eyes like Malachiax always suffered more. He would be developing a headache in no time.
He hated coming here. Not only because of the weather but because he couldn’t see the beauty in such a barren land. Samiah, on the other hand, thought Mora’s rough landscape was extraordinary. During the day, it was pretty much sand and rocks, but at night the nightbloomers would make an appearance, and what a sight. They only existed in Mora. They were trees and other plant life that stayed buried in the ground during the day and only emerged to the surface when the three Arcadian moons appeared in the dark sky. Their trunks and leaves glowed in different colors. Even the fruits had a translucent sheen to them.
“I hate Mora,” Ianox said loudly behind us. He had the diplomacy of a catling.
“Keep your thoughts to yourself, Ianox,” Ariana said. “We don’t want to cause an incident with the Morians because you have the need to be honest all the time.”
Ianox scowled but kept quiet. With their party complete, they started the downward path to the main camp. From their vantage point, Samiah could see the gray tents spread in a wide circle right in front of a vast rock formation. On those rocks, the explorers had found the primordial script and drawings that matched the one on the ancient scroll.
As soon as they entered the settlement, Professor Shix found them.
“Thank the Sacred Powers you’re here. I’ve being going crazy trying to reason with the Morians. I need a quorum, and the Jackurians have no gumption.”
“Professor Shix!” Ariana exclaimed, pretending to be appalled. She wasn’t fooling anyone; her feelings toward the professor were known across the galaxy. Only the object of her affection seemed unaware of her devotion.
“See, it’s not only me.” Ianox dropped his bag and wiped his face with the back of his hand. He looked winded after a downhill walk. Samiah couldn’t imagine how he was going to make the same trip up the mountain.
Malachiax chuckled and offered Ianox a canister of water. He was too nice. Half the time Samiah wanted to throttle the silly man. He was a know-it-all pain in their rears.
Professor Shix led them to a huge tent that seemed to be the center of operations. Inside, a group of people surrounded a small crystal table in the middle of the enclosure. Language and symbol experts stood, analyzing the same holograms Professor Shix had sent them.
Walani didn’t waste any time, dropping her bag and pushing her way through to the table. Without acknowledging the presence of the other professionals, she took her com-slip out and started to work right way. Social skills weren’t her forte, but most one-glancers were like that. Samiah’s opinion was that the inability to forget anything overwhelmed their brains, and to balance, they didn’t bother to interact with people.
Samiah looked closer at the group and their auras appeared for her. She wasn’t surprised when they were enveloped by slight variations of indigo blue. It meant they were seekers and highly intuitive individuals.
She turned to Professor Shix. “When can we see the scripture wall in person?”
“Ah, Samiah, always so eager. Let me introduce you to Lady Lochiana of Morang first. She was the one who discovered the wall.”
Samiah’s jaw dropped. She couldn’t believe she was meeting the living legend. Lady Lochiana was one of the most renowned explorers in Arcadia. She had made her fame discovering new planets and being part of first-contact missions. She had abdicated the throne of Mora to be an explorer. Rumor said she had ditched Lord Droom days before their bond ceremony in order to go on a mission to an uncharted galaxy. It would explain why he hated the House of Morang so much.
Lady Lochiana was a beauty who turned heads everywhere she went. Her hair was the lightest shade of pink and it tumbled down her back in luscious waves, contrasting nicely with her flawless gold-brown skin. She was an aura-reader, so her eyes were prism-colored like Samiah’s, a trait all aura-readers shared.
“Hello, Samiah. Nice to meet you.” Lady Lochiana cocked her head and narrowed her eyes before her smile brightened. She had seen something in Samiah’s aura that pleased her.
Aura-readers couldn’t see their own auras, so Samiah was burning with curiosity, wanting to know what she had seen. Lady Lochiana’s aura was light lavender, which denoted vision and imagination. No wonder she was such an excellent explorer. If Samiah concentrated, she would be able to see the color of Lady Lochiana’s core, where her gift resided.
“It’s such an honor to meet your ladyship in person,” Samiah said after finally finding her voice and making a tiny curtsy.
Lady Lochiana waved a dismissive hand. “Please, drop the formalities. I gave up that life a long time ago. Here, I’m simply Lochiana.” She glanced at Professor Shix. “I keep trying to make him drop the ‘Lady’ bit, but he’s a stubborn man.”
“I’m way too old to start learning new habits. No matter what you say, you will always be Lady Lochiana to me.” Professor Shix gave her an elaborate bow in jest, which made Lochiana laugh.
She turned to Samiah. “Come. You must be eager to see our discovery. And bring a hovering chair.”
* * *
When they reached the massive boulder and stopped in front of a somewhat smooth wall, Samiah thought they were taking a break. Odd since they had just left the camp. Lochiana ignited her chair and sat down, not bothering to use the sun reflector. Samiah traded looks with Malachiax, who seemed as confused as she felt. Maybe for different reasons, though.
“Why are we stopping?” Samiah asked Professor Shix.
He frowned at her. “Because we have arrived.” He placed his hovering chair next to Lochiana’s and sat down as well.
Silence descended upon the newly arrivals. Samiah studied the wall in front of her, but nothing was there.
Am I missing something?
“This is it? Where are the drawings and script?” Ianox asked.
Samiah caught Professor Shix exchange a knowing glance with Lochiana. They were keeping something from them.
“Should we tell them?” Lochiana asked, a glint of mischief in her eyes.
“Nah, it’s better if they don’t know. I want to see their reaction.”
“Know what?” Ianox dropped his bag and put his hands on his hips. His aura flared red and Samiah had to blink a couple of times to pull her gift back. It was hard to pay attention to the current situation when auras distracted her.
“If you want to know, you’d better wait and see.” Professor Shix leaned back and stroked his chin, the corner of his mouth twitching up.
Samiah rolled her eyes. Professor Shix loved surprises, and sometimes he acted like he was still a youngster. She had learned to accept his ways a long time ago. Unfortunately, Ianox didn’t have a learning curve.
There was nothing for it but to follow Professor Shix and Lochiana’s example. They ignited their hovering chairs, sat down, and waited. Samiah felt bad for Malachiax. Even with the shades and the sun reflector, he was extremely uncomfortable. She reached for his hand and laced their fingers together. He looked at her and smiled, making Samiah’s heart kick up a notch. His hair was getting long, she noticed. He would be able to bind his wild curls fairly soon. For now, he kept his dark hair off his face with the help of the syno leather headband he had stolen from her.
“What do you think the professor is keeping from us?” he whispered near Samiah’s ear, raising the tiny hairs on the back of her neck.
She shook her head and tried not to think of the effect Malachiax’s proximity was having on her. “It could be anything. I’m just eager to see whatever it is we’re waiting for.”
They waited a long while. Samiah even dozed off; the many sleepless nights she’d spent obsessing about the ancient scroll finally had caught up with her. When she woke up, she could feel a change in the air. It was sort of a humming just above the skin, like the air was charged with electricity.
Lochiana had perked up on her seat. She kept looking at her com-slip and then back at the wall. The sun had almost completed its descent on the horizon, and soon the first moon of Arcadia, Maya, would appear in the sky.
Malachiax must have sensed the same thing, as he stood and walked closer to the massive wall in front of them. Samiah followed him and, for some unknown reason, felt compelled to touch it. At first, she didn’t feel anything. The surface was warm from the sun, as it should be. But then something changed. It was very subtle at first, but as it progressed, it was impossible to ignore. The rocky surface was growing cold at an abnormal speed.
“Mal, feel this.”
He touched the stone wall and looked at her, alarmed. “It’s freezing. How can it be?”
Samiah drew her hand from the wall when it started to turn glacial. She took a few steps back and pulled Malachiax with her. The wall began to shimmer, and like a vision, words and drawings appeared on it. They glowed in the same manner the nightbloomers did, but it felt wrong somehow. She got a sense of foreboding and shivered. Malachiax draped his arm over her shoulder.
“Isn’t it spectacular?” Professor Shix exclaimed from somewhere behind them.
Walani, who had joined their party at some point, looked intently at the wall. Then she turned to Lochiana. “The scripture only appears once a day, and never at the same time?
“Yes, though so far we haven’t been able to discern a pattern. It doesn’t seem to be related to the sun’s or moons’ cycles. It only appears near nightfall. That much we were able to gather.”
“It might be related to changes in temperature and humidity levels.” Walani typed something on her com-slip.
“Yes, it’s possible. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a strong air elemental until now.” Lochiana’s gaze fell on Ariana.
Ariana crossed her arms and looked annoyed. “Well, if you hadn’t kept us in the dark, I could have already paid attention to those factors.”
“Ah, and what fun would that be?” Professor Shix hugged Ariana sideways, and she melted into his embrace. “Besides, I’m not concerned with the time the scripture appears. I want to know what it says. If it’s a portal, how do we open it?”
“Oh, it’s a portal. I’m sure of it,” Walani said, and all eyes turned on her.
“You’ve already cracked the code?” Professor Shix asked, almost jumping up and down.
“Not completely. But see that symbol there?” She pointed at the drawing of a round image. It looked like a half-open shutter. “It appears on the ancient scroll and next to it the word ‘portal’ in an archaic version of universal Venusian.”
“No, it doesn’t. I’ve looked at the ancient scroll a dozen times, and that symbol is not there. I’m certain.” Ianox crossed his arms and pinched his mouth.
Walani’s lips twitched upward as she typed something on her com-slip. A holographic image shot up from her device. The quality of the hologram wasn’t as good as if seen from a crystal table, but it was clear enough. In that image, they could see the symbol Walani had referred to. The catch was that the symbol hadn’t been there before.
“How is that possible?” Professor Shix took a step forward and touched the symbol on the hologram.
“Remember when I mentioned that those random blank spaces through the scroll didn’t make any sense? Well, I ran the scroll through the carbonox machine—”
“You did what?” Ianox took a menacing step toward Walani. “You could have ruined it!”
“If a paralyzed mummy like you had done it, yeah, there was a high chance that would have happened,” Walani shot back, and Ianox’s complexion slipped from pale white to red, his brown eyes squinting hard over his large nose. Calling someone a paralyzed mummy was akin to saying someone didn’t have a single functioning brain cell.
“Okay, that is enough.” Professor Shix came between Walani and Ianox.
Samiah would have laughed if she hadn’t witnessed this a thousand times before. Ianox and Walani hated each other and were quite outspoken about it.
“Did Professor Shix have you check everyone’s aura before they joined his team?” Lochiana whispered to Samiah.
She sighed. “Unfortunately, no. I wish he had, though. For a wise man, he doesn’t believe in antagonizing auras. I would have vetoed Ianox in a heartbeat. His aura is too brown.”
Lochiana nodded. “It never bodes well for a team to have a self-absorbed member. Ianox holds too much anger and blames the world for his shortcomings. If only he realized that anger is what’s keeping him from achieving his full potential.”
Samiah was left speechless. Lochiana had seen all that with only a glance at his aura? Noticing her stupefied stare, Lochiana continued. “My gift is very strong. I can see more than auras.”
Suddenly, the discussion between Ianox and Walani no longer seemed that important to Samiah. “What did you see in mine?”
Lochiana put her hand on Samiah’s belly, surprising her. “You hold new life.”