Author's Note: If you want to skip the smut, the section will be marked off by -|/,.

Pronunciation Guide:

Churande – kuu-RAHN-day

Djeth - JEHTH

Hefsa – HEHF-sah

i'tcheiku – ee-CHEH-kuu – insult

Orak – OR-rak

Raithra – RAI-thrah

seisa – SAY-sah - father


Secrets


As usual, Ahandra found Zaiyra sequestered away in her favorite corner of the library, several data slates neatly stacked beside her. The young kai did not look up as she approached, engrossed in what appeared to be yet another sensuous love story. Ahandra raised an eyebrow as she leaned over Zaiyra's shoulder and skimmed a few paragraphs. She chuffed and Zaiyra flinched, clutching the data slate to her chest and whirling to see who had caught her. She heaved a huge sigh of relief when she saw it was Ahandra. "Oh thank the One. It's just you."

Ahandra pulled a chair over and sat, leaning an elbow on the table and cupping the side her face in her hand. "That was an interesting document you were… studying."

Zaiyra warbled nervously, stroking its frame with a slender claw. Its crimson glow dissolved and she set it on top of the other data slates, arranging the stack until it was perfect. "You caught me. Again."

Ahandra's top mandibles pulled back in a sympathetic smile. "You still haven't talked to him?"

The young kai sighed, clasping her hands in her lap. "Yan. I just don't know how to broach the subject with Gaidulus. We're either in council meetings, prayers, teaching the acolytes or catching up on our administrative 'duties'… I despise that word now. He says is so much. It creates this instant barrier between us and I can't seem find a way through without the topic appearing, at best, bizarre."

"Well, have you tried?"

"I've tried everything I can think of. Suggesting we share the same room, offering to massage his neck when he's tired, talking about other couples… dressing provocatively."

Ahandra chuffed and sat up. "What did you wear?"

Zaiyra flushed and looked away. "It was just once. I wore a deep-slitted sarong and ribboned sleeves… and that's it."

"You're joking!?"

"I had on a lot of necklaces to cover my chest!"

Ahandra laughed as Zaiyra's face burned white against her glowing orange skin. "I'm sorry, but I can only imagine Gaidulus' face. What did he do when he saw you?"

The young kai glared at the table and crossed her arms. "Nothing. I thought maybe he might say something at one point but then he just said 'I'm going to meditate' and left. That's another word I despise. 'Meditate.'" She growled softly.

Ahandra drew her mandibles together, guilt tugging on her heartstrings. Zaiyra had only been 14 at the time she was bonded to Gaidulus, who was nearly two decades her senior. Ahandra had opposed the bonding on the grounds that Zaiyra was too young. But without a vision to justify her fears, she had little real authority on the matter. The young kai had accepted Asharah and Firak's goal of uniting the ka'ii and restoring the Ashann'ii religion, and had poured her heart and soul into restoring the city.

Despite the age difference, the ka'ii were perfectly suited to each other in every way… except one. Their platonic relationship had once brought the younger Zaiyra a sense of security. Now it was now a source of constant frustration. Gaidulus would not touch her, believing their bond to be purely spiritual, a symbol of harmony for the rest of Kuuroch to model and Zaiyra despaired of ever breaking through her mate's iron will. "Have you considered being straightforward about your feelings? I know he's the kai, but he's also male. They can be quite oblivious to female subtlety, even if we feel like we've given them more than enough hints. Sometimes it's best to look them directly in the eyes and speak plainly."

"I've wanted to, Ahandra. So many times." Her emerald eyes lit up and she sat a little straighter. "Especially when we're going over scripture together or having a passionate debate and he's so close I can feel his warmth radiating over my skin and then…" She sighed and slumped back against her chair. "And then I make up an excuse and leave."

"You're afraid he'll reject you?"

She nodded and Ahandra's heart twinged at the despair furrowing her beautiful face. She reached forward and placed her hand on top of the young female's clasped fingers, gently rubbing her thumb over them. "I know it's scary, but try and be honest and up front with him. Don't pressure or judge, simply explain your feelings. If he cares about you as much as you've told me then he'll listen."

"Or meditate on it," Zaiyra muttered.

They both burst out laughing, clamping their hands over their mouths to keep from disturbing anyone else nearby. When their chortles finally faded, Zaiyra sighed. "I know you're right. And the One forbid I spend another five years wrestling with this."

"Do you, um, have ways to relieve yourself?"

Zaiyra blushed as she shook her head. "I've tried but I just feel guilty afterwards. Besides, stimulating myself seems to make me want him more. You have no idea how many showers I've taken to wash away my musk. It's embarrassing."

"So don't."

"Don't what?"

"Wash it away. If he can't be around you without having to confront your scent, it may make it an easier case when you discuss your needs with him."

"Perhaps." Zaiyra's brow furrowed and she pressed her knuckles against her chin as she considered her options. Maybe there was hope after all. "Ak'nandei, you always look out for me. You're like the big sister I never had. I was the oldest of my… of the acolytes."

Ahandra managed a strained smile. Memories of her family, warped and distorted by years of seeing through infrared, flickered past, her little sister Sonya standing out from the rest. Dr. Megumi Nakayama had sent her a message about her family when the Kuuroch'ii high council had finally investigated what had happened on Earth several weeks after the attack by the Shadow Stalkers and the Hish. The secret Weyland facilities had been decimated and dozens of staff members slaughtered or missing. But bits and pieces of the research had managed to survive, enough to revolutionize medicine, she'd said. Naka also reported that her sister was now walking and running and she dreamed of being a military pilot or astronaut. Weyland Industries would continue to watch over the Vasquez family, she wrote, for many generations. Ahandra had sent a message back, thanking her friend. She'd attached her dog tags to the short note, asking her to give it to her sister Sonya. With that final act, she'd been at peace, finally able to let go of her old life. Now, after decade on this world, Earth felt like a faraway dream.

"Ahandra, are you all right? Are you having a vision?"

She pulled herself from her reverie, fiddling with her long tendrils and huffing in embarrassment at Zaiyra's concern. "Yan, I'm fine."

The young kai didn't look convinced but her bracelet began flashing and Ahandra's preoccupation was forgotten. She frowned, tapping at the thing until it quit chirping. "I have to go. I have a meeting with some district priests."

"You sound irritated."

She growled as she gathered up her data slates. "They keep insisting on the segregation of males and females. Worse, they are continually bickering amongst themselves about which blood rites are sanctioned by scripture. E'lonyi and Gorn actually had a brawl in a temple! These are respected elders, thrice my age. You would think they would know better."

Ahandra snorted. "Sound like my sons. If Auran or Harsan isn't there, they run wild. Ajenke and Rrourk are lucky they have two daughters."

Zaiyra laid a hand on her shoulder as she walked past and Ahandra squeezed it. "I'll see you soon?"

"Saa." Ahandra listened to her friend's fading footsteps. Although she wished it differently, her attachment to the kai was motivated by more than just affection. Lately, one vision had begun to stand apart from the others. A serpent from the east would fall on Zaiyra and bite her, causing the temple of Kuuroch to split in two. She hadn't shared this particular dream with anyone yet. There were too many unknowns. Until she fully understood her vision, it was pointless to burden the ka'ii or the temple council until she could provide a direction for them to focus. The one thing she was certain of was that the darkness from the east was no doubt a part of the High Clan's plan to undermine Kuuroch.

-|/,

She sighed and rubbed her temples as her head began to throb. There was no point in giving herself a migraine at this point. The dreams occurred far enough apart that whatever was going to happen remained years away, plenty of time to change the future or, at the very least, mitigate the damage. Ahandra distracted herself from the issue as she rose to leave by going over the possible meals she could make for her family tonight when hand clamped over her mandibles and a blade pressed against her throat. She grabbed the muscled forearms, a low growl silencing her muffled cries. Her hearts raced as the assassin's muscled chest and hips pressed against her, his distorted voice reverberating through her body. "Don't move, seer." He took a step back, hand still clamped against her mouth, pain lancing through her as his knife dug into her soft skin of her back. A steady low rumble filled the air and her skin prickled in fear.

But confusion quickly replaced terror as a familiar smell filled her mouth. She took several deep breaths, her brow furrowing. He smelled like Auran. But her mate had never done anything like this before. A rattling hiss scattered her thoughts. "Strip."

Ahandra remained still, unsure whether to trust her sense of smell or not. For all she knew, the assassin could be pretending to be Auran, mimicking his scent. She tensed, a muffled gasp escaping through his fingers as the knife dug into her back and he pulled her closer, his mask brushing against her dreadlocks. "It's time to pay your debt," he hissed into her ear, the pressure on her spine disappearing as he drew back. "Now strip."

Ahandra knew she had two choices. Take her time and hope someone stumbled across them. Or the assassin could tear her clothes off and have his way no matter what.

Slowly, she let her shawl slip from her shoulders, the soft, red silk hissing as it pooled around her feet. Next came her sandals, but the assassin didn't let go of her mouth as she bent down. He press his armored groin against her bottom as she bent to unlace her sandals, doing little to hide his lust as he rubbed himself between her soft cheeks. He pulled back once she rose, her trembling fingers unhooking the straps wrapped around her neck. The assassin's grip around her mandibles tightened as she let the straps fall, the strips of fabric dangling from the tight cloth covering her breasts, still restrained by clasps around her back. He growled impatiently as she took her time, slowly unfastening each hook, holding her breath as the last one snapped loose and her top fell away.

Ahandra's nipples hardened as the cool air kissed them, her breasts swelling with each shaky breath. Auran's scent, a heady blend of ash and saffron, now permeated her throat and her nether regions instinctively reacted, heat flaring between her thighs. Her hands slid over her hips, grasping the two golden buckles holding up her long breech cloth. Warm juices were beginning to soak into the soft leather, bathing the air with her sweet musk. He growled when she hesitated and with two soft clicks the fabric crumpled to the ground. Her captor loosened his grip for moment, overwhelmed as her female scent filled the air. It was all the distraction she needed. Ahandra closed her eyes and concentrated on his hand, seeping her consciousness into his. He flinched at the mental contact and ripped his hand away, but it was too late.

"Auran, what are you doing?! I thought—" His knife pressed against her throat and he growled a warning. "Silence." She couldn't help trembling as she felt the tip of his knife slide between her heaving breasts, caressing her exposed stomach before pressing it against her groin. He twisted the blade flat and rubbed it over sex, his muscled thigh pushing between her legs to widen her stance. Auran's free arm wrapped around her, cupping her breast and twisting her hardened nipple. Ahandra remained absolutely still, sharp gasps slipping from her lungs as her swollen sex began to burn with pleasure, even as the common sense part of her brain told her a knife shouldn't be anywhere near her soft flesh. The flattened blade continued to gently rotate, never once cutting into her tender lips and slowly, she began to relax, settling against his hot, muscled chest. With a satisfied rumble, Auran lifted the blade away and sheathed it.

Ahandra sighed as his hands roamed her body, his claws grazing the soft, sensitive skin of her inner arms, running over her arms and shoulders before gently caressing her neck. He sunk his fingers into her tresses, gently squeezing them as his hands slipped down the long, rubbery strands until he reached her lower back. She groaned and leaned forward, palms pressed flat against the table as his thumbs kneaded her tense muscles. She wanted to be mad at him. But as he swept her tendrils away and ran his hands over back she decided she would yell at him later.

Ahandra gasped as the massage came to an abrupt end, Auran grabbing her hips and shoulder and shoving her against the table. She growled as he pushed her legs apart, his hardened length slipping between her thighs, searching for her entrance.

"Auran, what are you doing?" Her voice hitched as the tip of his swollen sex grazed her sensitive opening. "We're in the temple library," she hissed through clenched fangs. Auran ignored her, adjusting her to fit his stance. He pulled her hips towards him, a hand resting between her shoulder blades to hold her down. She struggled as he caressed her widening slit with gentle rotations, patiently waiting until she submitted.

The distortion was gone from his voice when he spoke again, a hand slipping around her hips as he leaned forward to whisper. "You remember your promise a few weeks ago?" Ahandra moaned softly as his two fingers began to gently rub her swollen clit in slow, torturous circles. She gasped sharply, knees trembling as he shoved the tip of his rod into her entrance. "Because you denied me, you said I could take you whenever I wanted. And I want you now."

Ahandra panted, moaning as his fingers rapidly rubbed her clit side to side. He pushed down harder and she squirmed, groaning as her futile struggles only pushed his swollen rod deeper inside her. "O-oh God, oh God, oh God… but A-Auran… someone, someone's going— ah!"

"Shh, they'll hear you. Don't worry, my mask sees everything. As long as you don't make any noise, no one will discover us… hopefully."

Oh chjit, I can't do this! I can't keep quiet! Auran, you daka! She groaned in pleasure as he shoved his hot shaft deep inside her, moaning when he slowly pulled out and sank back into her.

"Shh," Auran breathed as he pulled back again, pausing for a moment. "You might want to brace yourself."

Ahandra grabbed the edge of the table to anchor herself as the hand that had been holding her down entangled themselves in her tendrils, pulling her head and shoulders back, forcing her hips to arch even higher. The discomfort only heightened her arousal. She was completely subdued, at the mercy of his masculine power. Ahandra warbled in agony, willing him to fill her. With a rumble, he obliged.

She nearly severed her tongue as he slammed into her, his rapid thrusts nearly tearing her grip from the table. Warbles of ecstasy escaped her throat as his relentless barrage burned inside of her. Flames of molten heat engulfed her slit and seeped into her hips as warm juices caked her thighs. Her screams, trapped in her throat, morphed into guttural squeals as she fought the overwhelming tide of pleasure.

Ahandra's knees buckled and Auran slipped from her as she crumpled to the ground, hands still holding onto the ledge of the table. "I can't… I can't… too much."

Without a sound Auran, quickly scooped her up and laid her on the table face up, throwing her ankles over his shoulders. Ahandra instinctively grabbed the table again, unable to hold in a shriek of pleasure as his large rod shoved deep inside her, picking up right where he'd left off. She held onto the table for dear life, moaning and hissing with each rhythmic thrust. She gasped as ecstasy flashed across her skin, the burning tension instantly evaporating from every muscle in her body. Ahandra released her grip on the table, lost in a haze of pleasure, letting Auran have his way until he was finished.

Breathy, guttural grunts from within his mask signaled his approach and with several great heaves he spilled his hot seed, nearly collapsing on top of her as he came to a shuddering halt. Ahandra mewled as he pulled out, gently lifting her hips and legs and turning her so she could lay across the long table. He stood over her, admiring his handiwork as he leaned against the table, arms trembling as he fought to keep himself upright. She purred dreamily, eyes half-open as she stared into space. "Is my debt paid, assassin?"

Ahandra knew he was smirking beneath his mask. "Saa, even though I did all the work."

She smiled. She should get up and get dressed. Nah, Ahandra decided, too comfortable to move. Plus, she couldn't feel her legs.

-|/,


'-/, -|\ ',-


Auran caught her as she wobbled down the ships platform, a smug grin tugging at his mandibles as she shoved him away. "I'm still mad at you." She really was. But she would've been angrier if the sex hadn't been so good. She was still high from the endorphins buzzing through her system. "Next time you want to play 'assassin with a knife in the library', warn me, saa? I thought I was actually going to die for a moment."

"After you turned me down a few weeks ago, before I left, you said I could take you whenever and however I wanted—"

"Within reason! Imagine if someone had caught us." Ahandra huffed and crossed her arms, her hips cocked to the side. Auran's smug grin remained and before she could react, he stole a kiss, his mandibles quickly brushing over hers. Ahandra growled softly as he pulled her against him, heat flaring between her legs.

"Admit it," he rumbled, stroking his mandibles along the inner webbing of her mouth.

She warbled, the sensuous kiss leaving her lightheaded as he pulled away. "Never. If I admit that I enjoyed it, then you'd do it again."

He chuckled and wrapped an arm around her as they headed towards their home. The tiered sandstone complex was nestled against the stony foothills of the northern mountain range and surrounded by acres of large trees and thick shrubs, affording them the luxury of privacy. Hidden inside the emerald forests ran clear creeks and bubbling waterfalls. Compared to the grimy ghettos she'd grown up in, this was paradise.

"You're right. We need to work on your stealth. I was certain your shriek echoed through the entire level."

Ahandra blushed as she recalled the moment, unable to come up with a good enough excuse without indirectly complimenting him. Instead she made a face at him, chirping when he reached behind and squeezed her bottom. She dashed inside the house, Auran giving her a head start before chasing after. He caught her in the courtyard, her shriek of laughter echoing through the house and into the open sky above as he dug his fingers into her ticklish inner thighs and underarms.

"Okay, okay, okay— Ah! Stop!" Laughing, Ahandra sank to the floor, her only defense against Auran's precise jabs. He finally relented, settling his hands on his hips as he stared down her curled up form. She continued to warble, her skin still tingling. Auran chuffed. "You wouldn't last a minute under torture. Too soft."

She rolled onto her back and gazed up at him, her eyes drawn to the jagged scars twisting along his hands and arms. He clenched his fists when he noticed her stares and stepped back to let her up. As Ahandra brushed herself off, she mentally berated herself for staring too long. Auran's secretive missions had been a sore spot in their relationship early on, but one she'd accepted to keep the peace. Her mate didn't talk about his missions. He never said where he was going and sometimes didn't know when he was coming back. Occasionally, he brought back fresh scars. She'd been a soldier. She understood what it meant to be deployed and be gone weeks or months at a time. But it was still hard.

Ahandra grabbed his hand and nuzzled his shoulder, her silent way of asking if they were okay. Auran grunted and bumped his forehead against hers, letting her know there was no offence taken and that she worried too much. He slapped her rear for good measure as she headed for the kitchen, enjoying her exasperated chitters.

Hefsa was already prepping the evening meal and grunted irritably when she noticed the pair enter the kitchen. Sunok, the youngest, clung to her long skirt, sleepily sucking his thumb until he noticed Ahandra. "Nana!" He chirped, waddling towards her with arms outstretched. She cooed as she picked him up, chittering softly to him as she settled him on her hip and began helping prepare the meal, despite Hefsa's insistence she had everything under control. The eldress' rumbling growl made Auran pause halfway across the kitchen. "Eyaaaa. No males in my kitchen. Your dirty hands will ruin the food. Yah! Away with you. Go find your other sons. The little firendi are in the woods. No doubt covered in mud."

Auran rolled his eyes and left, earning him another indignant tirade to send him on his way. The eldress had been his nursemaid and caregiver when he'd been a child and had kept him from mischief. Most of the time. She was crankier and fatter now, but she kept the pups in line when Harsan wasn't around. He wondered where his mentor was as he scanned the darkening woods, sniffing for any sign that they were nearby. He rumbled, displeased that his pups had wandered so far off. They knew the rule: they had to be back by the time Feiren had set. And Iren was already low in the sky. Auran took a deep breath and bellowed, his roar silencing the hoots and whistles of the birds and lizards for a moment.

A sharp yowl rose from the northern edge of his territory and Auran grunted, satisfied Seinu had acknowledged his call. He crossed his arms and waited by the house, timing his sons. A few minutes later they burst through the undergrowth, racing to see who could get to him first. Seinu quickly reached him, sliding to a stop and panting heavily as he proudly straightened his shoulders. The twins Raithra and Djeth joined him a moment later, shoving and bickering over who came in second.

"I was first!"

"Iyan! My hand crossed the line first!"

"There is no line!"

Auran growled and the pair quieted, peering up at him expectantly. He rubbed his chin, letting the anticipation hang in the air. "Raithra came in second."

Djeth gave his brother a sour look as the spikey haired youth smirked with satisfaction. Seinu said nothing, averting his eyes to avoid the question he knew his father was about to ask.

"Where is Zeyin?"

The twins shrugged, a habit they'd picked up from their mother.

Auran ignored their lax response, focusing on his eldest. He was 10 years old now. More than capable of caring for siblings without supervision. Seinu shifted uncomfortably, keeping his eyes on the ground. "I don't know. He wandered off a couple of hours ago."

"'Cause you were bossing him around," clicked Djeth.

"Yak'sallah i'tcheiku."

"Don't call me that!"

"Enough!" Auran barked and they quieted. "Raithra, Djeth. Get cleaned up and help your nana and Hefsa." The twins sped off, shouting and shoving as they raced for the kitchen. He inwardly smiled when Hefsa's muffled shouts sounded through the cool night air, yelling at them to get in the washroom before she beat them. He moved in front of Seinu and crouched so he was at eye level. "You broke the rule."

Seinu's mandibles clamped together and his fists bunched as he tried to hold his tongue.

"Speak."

"Harsan said we could stay out later because of how well we've been practicing!"

Auran raised an eyebrow in surprise. "He did?"

His son nodded.

"Where is he?"

"In the house, I think. He left this morning but then he came back and made us go outside. He does that when you and nana are gone. I don't think he knew you were coming home from your mission so early."

Auran stood, taken aback by the strange revelation.

"Seisa?"

He looked down at his son, Seinu's orange eyes wide with concern.

"I am in trouble?"

Auran grunted, swallowing the warmth filing his chest. It was hard to look at his sons without seeing them as infants, crawling and chirping around the house after him. He shook Seinu's shoulder. "Yan, go inside. Zeyin heard my call. He will find his way back." His eldest breathed a sigh of relief as he shook his father's arm in return. Auran watched him jog around the corner before returning his attention to the tree line, wondering if he should roar again when movement out of the corner of his eye made him pause. He glanced to his left, a small shadow disappearing around the other side of the house. He rumbled and headed inside. He would need to have a talk with his second son. It was dishonorable to avoid any type summoning without a good reason, especially when you'd committed a wrong. His conscience though, couldn't help reminding him all the times he'd avoided Iyeiden or one of the elders' summons when he'd been young, whether or not he'd done something wrong.

Distracted by the puzzle his second son presented, he didn't notice the four bodies careening towards him as he entered the house until it was too late. He grunted in surprise as Seinu, Raithra, Djeth and Sunok slammed into him, nearly falling over as they locked onto his legs. He looked up to see Ahandra peering around the corner, her top mandibles pulled back in a sheepish grin. Of course she'd be the one to mastermind his sons' affectionate ambush. He patted their heads, returning their excited clicks as they welcomed him home with deep ones of his own. Hugging and playing was something he was only comfortable doing around Ahandra. His sons were the future warriors of the Darkblade clan and he was hesitant to coddle them. When his mate was satisfied with his awkward attempts to bond with his children, she finally called them away to take their places around the low circular table as Hefsa set out the large bowls of food. Ahandra ushered him inside the room after them, saying she would find Harsan. She grabbed his arm, before he could leave, whispering, "Don't say anything to Zeyin yet."

"How'd you know?"

"Because he does exactly what you do when you're upset: he skulks."

He snorted. "I do not skulk."

"Fine. Brood. Whatever you want to call it." She clucked as he left to restore order, her sons already trying to stake a claim on the biggest pieces of meat. Sunok babbled with them, his limited vocabulary not stopping him from joining in on the fun.

Ahandra took a deep breath, enjoying the savory scents from the kitchen as she headed into the courtyard, the twilight sky painted orange and violet as Iren set behind the high hills. She softly padded over to Harsan's room on the second floor at the far end of the complex, the elder Darkblade preferring his privacy. She softly knocked on his door, tapping harder after a lengthy moment of silence. When nothing happened she rumbled anxiously. Harsan was beyond his prime but he wasn't that old… was he? Ahandra hesitated, weighing the pros and cons of overriding the door lock. She shrugged and figured it was about time she tested out what Auran had taught her in case of emergencies. She scrolled through the security options, tapping the symbols hovering around Harsan's door and with a soft thunk, the door unlocked. She gently tugged it open and peered inside, her mandibles gaping in surprise at what she found. Harsan lay passed out on his bed mat, stark naked, an arm thrown over a female's waist. E'kru?

The auto lights flared on, bathing the dark room with a golden glow. Harsan snapped awake and reached for his gun, freezing when he saw Ahandra staring at him. E'kru woke up a second later, warbling as she stretched, still half asleep. "What?" She looked around, her face glowing bright with embarrassment as soon as she saw Ahandra staring at the two of them. "Ahandra, I… uh…"

Ahandra tried to hold back her laughter. "Dinner's ready you two," she said, shaking her head as she shut the door.

She wasn't sure they would show up, but as she and Hefsa began to pour drinks, the couple appeared. Harsan's granite features gave away little. E'kru on the other hand, clearly felt guilty about intruding inside someone's home and getting caught, and kept averting her gaze to the floor. They sat between her and Auran, making sure to sit on the side appropriate to their gender. It was an odd tradition, but Ahandra didn't mind. Everyone had access to the plates of hot food set on the tray in the middle of table. It slowly rotated this way and that as everyone picked what they wanted. It was a sort of organized chaos that she was familiar with, having grown up with four siblings and a large extended family.

"Zeyin, take off your mask at the table," she chittered, kneeling beside him as she poured his drink, her words soft enough so that most couldn't hear her as they jostled for the juiciest slices of meat and hot bread. With a hissing pop, he slowly pulled it off, setting it down beside him and folding his hands in his lap. She nudged him when he didn't reach for the food. "Eat. You're too skinny to miss a meal." Zeyin's mandibles flared as he sighed and grabbed a thin strip from the spinning tray, munching on it and staring at his plate. At least, she imagined he was staring. It was hard to know, since he was born without eyes, the top half of his face completely bare and smooth. She took her place between Hefsa and E'kru, glancing over at her second child as he nibbled on his dinner. She wondered if he'd had enough to eat today. He used to eat everything in sight.

Auran caught her watching Zeyin and she tried to focus on the conversation, most of it generated by the talkative twins and Hefsa, who loved to share the gossip she gleaned from the marketplaces by the river. Sunok crawled from Hefsa's lap into hers and began what Ahandra considered more playing than eating with a piece of fried fish.

She knew she shouldn't play favorites with her sons, but she felt incredibly protective of her son, especially since he was a secret that few knew about. If others saw his glistening black skin and eyeless face, they would call him tainted and want him purged. It could be explained away as a birth defect, but xashi or not he was sekfet. 'Impure.' Unhealthy fetuses were almost always removed early after conception. It was the socially responsible, even moral, thing to do. When the healers had told Auran of Zeyin's condition, he'd told them to remove it. But when he'd informed Ahandra about his decision, she'd adamantly refused.

"Yan."

Auran's brow furrowed confusion. "What?"

"I'm not killing our pup."

"That's not a pup, that's a monster. It could kill you!"

"I would've had a vision. And my dreams are peaceful."

He began to pace, agitated that she did not feel the same as him. "You're being irrational. Even if it was harmless, what kind of future can a xashi have?"

"It's not his fault he was born this way," she growled. "It will be hard, but he can live. You survived."

Auran growled. "That's different!"

"No it's not! How many times have you told me about the Singing Blade elders deciding each year of your life whether or not to kill you? Or the bounties put on your head? Or the shame you felt because of your disgraced ancestors?"

She could see the years of pain draw over his face as he remembered. He growled. "And you'd willingly put your own flesh and blood through that?"

"He deserves a chance to choose his path in life and walk it, however short it may be. Iyeiden gave you a chance."

Auran clenched his fists. "That thing has no free will. It's half animal, it can't choose. I don't understand why you'd risk your life for that thing!"

"He's not a monster! If anything, you're the one being irrational!" How could he ask her to do this? This was their child. It was a miracle she could even still conceive after what her body had been through.

"I'm trying to protect you! Do you know what would happen to you if anyone found out that your blood is tainted?! I will not lose you to those abominations again!"

"This is our son we're talking about!"

"Yan, this is about our clan and our future, all of which you're putting in danger by letting it live!" he roared, grabbing her arm, tightening his grip when she tried to pull away.

"Let go! I will not do this!" She tried to twist her arm free, but his iron grip only tightened.

"Then I'll do it," he rumbled darkly and Ahandra watched, horrified as he revealed an injector full of sedative. She didn't think at that point, pouring all her rage and fear into him, the emotional shockwave knocking the breath from Auran's body. He'd crumpled to the ground and she'd fled with Seinu to the only person she could trust to keep her and the baby safe: Ajenke. She was the shan'ra and she owed Ahandra her life. She couldn't refuse her even if she wanted to. Those next few days tested her and Auran's relationship more than any other moment. Did she keep the baby and lose the male she loved? After everything they'd endured? Or did she abort the baby and live with the guilt?

She'd changed her mind a dozen times before she'd finally allowed Auran to see her. He'd looked haggard and defeated when they met. Before she could give her answer, he'd surprised her with a compromise: she could keep the baby, but her eggs would need to be screened and stored to ensure their future offspring were healthy. Filled with relief, she hadn't understood then how emasculated he'd felt. Harsan, who'd later confessed to coming up with the plan, had explained to her that for males to produce unhealthy offspring and be forced to rely on machines was a great shame. It didn't matter that the xashi venom had affected her eggs and her transformation back into a yautja had been imperfect, ultimately Auran would always blame himself. He'd failed to protect her.

Eventually, Auran had learned to tolerate the existence of his second son and not refer to him as 'it.' She'd named him Zeyin, liking the name Auran had taken when they'd hidden in the Midnight Blossom. Over the next several years, she watched her mate's frosty attitude thaw, partially facilitated by the birth of their twin sons and Sunok. But Ahandra feared it was too little, too late. Zeyin interpreted everything through the lens of his physical differences, seeing judgment behind every word or action whether it was there or not.

Reality crashed down on her in the form of her ice cold drink as Sunok, who'd managed to grab her wooden cup, dumped it on his face, the icy liquid pouring into her lap. He dropped the glass, sputtering and squeaking in shock. "Eyaa! Sunok, you troublesome pup," Hefsa clicked, gathering her thick robes and using them to wipe down the seat and floor. Ahandra moved over to the counters to dry her mewling toddler. "C-cold. Cold," he cried. "Bad!"

"Shh," she chittered, carrying him into the laundry room to strip off their wet clothes and change into clean ones. As soon as he was free from them though, Sunok took off down the hallway. E'kru popped out from around the corner and scooped him up, bringing him back. "Yan! Yaaaan!"

"Yan, clothes are good Sunok," Ahandra cooed.

He gurgled defiantly, making a face while she secured a fresh breech cloth around his waist. "Go find o'nana!" she said. He took off for the kitchen, chirping in excitement.

Ahandra sighed. "He's getting so fast."

"Saa," said E'kru as she watched he scamper down the hall. "Surprised you did not notice him grab cup."

"I was distracted for a moment."

"A moment? Distant whole meal. Harsan spoke more than you tonight. Not easy to do."

Ahandra sighed as she wrapped a fresh sarong around her waist. "I know. I'm just worried about Zeyin."

E'kru's eyes narrowed. "Auran do something?"

She shook her head. "Yan. It's… chah, I don't know how to explain it." She cocked her head, smiling as she looked over at her friend. "Speaking of the unexplainable… how long have you and Harsan been sneaking cuddle sessions in our house?"

E'kru blushed, a rare reaction from a pleasure female who'd once worked the Midnight Blossoms' Black Room. "A year. Lak'shura, no dishonor meant to anyone."

"Dishonor? I'm not angry. I'm just surprised. I never thought you and Harsan felt anything towards each other. You're both so… professional around each other. Practically clinical."

"We are snipers," she said, as if the blunt statement was enough to explain they're strange attraction to each other.

"Saa, but I thought you said you'd never mate with a male again?"

A soft smile tugged at her mandibles. "I did."

"So… what changed your mind?"

"It happened slowly. Do not know when, but one day I realize I wanted him. He was not like other males that parade through Midnight Tower. He was respectful. Calm. I feared feelings for many cycles. Then, on mission in western desert…" E'kru trailed off, her smile growing as she dwelled on the memory. "Harsan does not care if I barren," she continued, patting her stomach. "I do not care he is past prime."

"Well, it sounds like you're happy. I'm glad you both found each other. And if you two want to spend time together here, you don't need to hide."

E'kru gave her a nod of thanks and they headed back into the kitchen, Hefsa securing the squirming Sunok in her lap.

Later that night, when their sons had been put to bed and her youngest son lie sprawled between them, Ahandra told Auran about the secret love affair.

He was as surprised as she was. "I never even smelled her on him."

"Me either."

"You're sense of smell is terrible."

"Yak'sallah," she rumbled, closing her eyes and snuggling against her pillow. When she opened them, he was still staring her, his hard amber eyes intently studying her face.

"What?" she whispered.

"Nothing."

"Is it about Zeyin?"

"Hmm? I'd forgotten about that."

She chuffed.

"No point in saying anything now," he rumbled. He closed his eyes, his breathing slowly growing heavier.

"Auran?"

He grunted but didn't stir.

Ahandra watched him fall asleep, envious of how quickly he could slip into unconsciousness. Lately she'd been suffering from insomnia. And with her sleep went her visions. Just when I'd started to get the hang of them too, she thought. She hadn't told anyone, but knew she had to soon. The temple elders were already growing impatient. She sighed, rolling onto her back. Maybe inducing her visions had been a mistake.

An hour came and went and she decided she'd had enough of lying in the dark listening to Sunok and Auran's rasping snores. She softly padded to the kitchen, surprised to find a small fire flickering in the hearth. Zeyin sat beside, poking it with a metal rod, creating swarms of dancing sparks. He paused, glancing over as she walked in. She grabbed a soft roll and sat down beside him. "Can't sleep?"

Zeyin clicked, moving the large sticks around with his poker to help the fire breath. "Saa."

"When was the last time you slept?"

He stopped his fiddling long enough to think. "A week ago. I slept a whole day."

"I remember that, saa. You almost ate all the food." She warbled. "Hefsa was so mad."

"Why can't you sleep?"

She bit into the bread, gnawing on the fluffy morsel as she thought about it. "I don't know. I'm tired, but my mind won't let me rest."

"Bad dreams?"

"Iyan. It's not like it was during the time of the Great Scourge."

"Will you tell me the story again?" He scooted around so he faced her, one leg tucked beneath him while the other hung off the edge.

Zeyin often asked her tell the story what happened when she and their father had faced Natharrak. She'd added some embellishments to make it more exciting, downplaying the horror and death. They didn't need to know about those things. Not yet. "Which part?"

"How you transformed back into a yautja."

She froze mid-bite. She set the bread in her lap, her eyes narrowing slightly. "Why?"

"Because you never tell that part. You skip it and make seisa finish."

Ahandra leaned forward, clenching her fist around the half-eaten loaf. "I don't remember what happened, Zeyin."

He met her intense stare with his own dispassionate gaze. "You're lying."

"I am not."

"Saa, you are. I can tell when people are lying because there's this flash beneath their skin and their eyes glow a special way. Their hearts beat faster too. You're lying and you're afraid. Why?"

Ahandra blinked in surprised, taken aback by her son's unexpected acuity. "You can see that?"

"I see a lot of things others don't."

That's right, he sees in ultraviolet. Ahandra recalled her transformation, the city of Kuuroch pulsating with life and energy, the horde a river of bright green sparks swirling around her.

"How did you change back? Seisa said he found you a giant, gooey flower, but how did you get there? Is it like the cocoons the demons put their sacrifices in?"

Her hearts beat against her ribs, anxiety coursing through her veins. "Zeyin…" She couldn't lie. But she couldn't tell the truth either. At least, not all of it. "I… I made the xashi stay in N'tharralis." The words felt cathartic. Ahandra hadn't realized how heavy the secret had been until now. "And I ran, far away. I didn't know where I was going. I felt them die. All of them. It… it hurt. Like I'd lost one of you." She took a deep breath, Zeyin crawling over to sit in her lap. He leaned his head against her chest and she hugged him close, whispering as she pressed her cheek against his head. "And then I found the pit. It was dark and warm and I was scared. I made a cocoon and sealed myself inside. I changed myself. But it was slow. And painful. I wanted to give up so many times…" She fell silent, closing her eyes as she recalled those endless days and nights of torment.

"But you didn't."

"Saa."

"Do you think I could make a cocoon?" Zeyin whispered.

Ahandra squeezed him, her hearts aching. "You don't need to."

He sat up, pulling away and searching her face. "Why not? You changed."

She cupped his cheeks with her palms, rubbing her sons over the side of his face. "I did it because I had to. I would've hurt people if I'd stayed that way. Plus… the venom was still changing me. I used it to change back."

"Oh…" His shoulders slumped slightly as he took in the news. She hugged him against her, rocking back and forth as she rubbed his back, wishing she knew the right words to say. Instead, all she felt was guilt. Not because she'd let him live. But because he deserved the whole truth and she'd kept it from him. From everyone.

Auran had asked the same question Zeyin had all those years ago after he'd pried her from the cocoon's slimy maw. She'd said she didn't remember and he'd accepted that. He didn't care about the why or the how. She was alive. That was all that mattered.

Ahandra had wanted to tell someone the truth. But the pain and the hatred that lingered after the Great Scourge made her stay silent. And Auran's attempt to abort Zeyin had only solidified her decision. I'm sorry Zeyin. Of all people you deserve the truth the most. But I made a promise.

They stayed there until the fire became smoldering coals and her son had fallen asleep. She carried her son to the room he shared with his three other brothers, setting him on the top bunk above Seinu. Ahandra flinched when she saw Auran in the doorway. "God, don't sneak up on me like that." She trembled as he pulled her into the hall towards their room.

"What's wrong? You're shaking."

"I'm… tired. I couldn't sleep. Neither could Zeyin. You just startled me, that's all." The lie stung her throat as she swallowed the truth. Thankfully, he accepted her excuse.

They slipped into their room, Sunok now splayed sideways and taking up half the bed. They settled on the other half, Auran pulling her against his warm chest and wrapping an arm around her waist. His purrs vibrated through her back, soothing her to sleep.

That night, Ahandra dreamed of a dark warrior. He journeyed across an endless desert, the dunes rolling like waves beneath his feet as he strove forward. The wind howled, stinging his flesh with gales of sharp sand, tearing at his ragged black cloak that streamed behind him. The sandstorm swallowed him and she suddenly found herself in a circular cell, icy chains clamped around her thin wrists, bolted securely to the center of the stone floor. Voices filtered down from above and she looked up to see three silhouettes gazing down at her, their crimson eyes glowing with a fascinated malice.

"Is that her? The seer?" The dark voice's accent was flawless, each word carefully measured and weighed. He sounded mildly intrigued, as if he were examining a piece of art or exotic animal.

"Saa," whispered the smaller shadow standing across from two staring down at her.

"Fascinating," breathed the first voice, looking over at his companion for his thoughts.

He growled, the loathing his voice rattling around inside her icy prison. "It is a mistake as well as heresy to let her live. She is too dangerous."

"Nonsense," the other purred, a claw tracing the metal grating sealing her prison. "She probably doesn't even know what's happening." He looked up at the smaller shadow. "Probe her."

Agony swept through her and she screamed as pain split her skull open. She could only lie there, writhing as something reached inside her mind and began to rifle through her memories, selecting the ones that interested it the most. When it withdrew she vomited, blood and bile spattering onto the stone floor.

The second shadow sneered. "Disgusting."

"Make sure she doesn't remember," said the first voice.

Before she could react, darkness folded in around her, the freezing prison morphing into her warm furs, Auran's heady scent filling her throat. She slowly woke, her mate sitting cross legged by the pallet, writing something on a data slate. He quickly shut it off when she rolled onto her side, laying it out of sight as he turned to greet her. "Hey."

"Hey," she mumbled.

"How do you feel?"

"My head kinda hurts."

"Nightmare?"

She thought for a moment, her brows knitting together. The effort only made her head feel worse. "I don't remember."

Auran leaned down and kissed her. "Rest then."

"But—"

"Yan. Harsan told me how hard you've been pushing yourself lately. You shouldn't let those temple elders dictate to you when to have your visions."

"I know."

Another kiss and he stood to leave, securing his darkblade to his back.

"Auran."

"Hmm?"

"Sa'era."

He gave her one of his rare smiles, the one that told her he was happy. "Sa'era."

Ahandra settled into her furs, dozing away the rest of the morning, assured in the knowledge that her family was safe and thriving. It wasn't perfect, but it was perfect enough.


\|/ ',- -/,


The aseinan collapsed to one knee as soon as the connection severed, trembling and sweating as his mind absorbed the other seer's knowledge and memories. He hadn't expected them to be so potent.

His hackles prickled in fear as Churande's venomous gaze settled on him. "What did it see?"

"Many things."A sharp hiss made him fall to his knees, head pressed against the cold stone.

"I don't want vague answers, slave! What exactly did it see?"

His throat went dry as he searched for something useful, something that would please the highborn. "The… the seer, she… she suspects the High Clan of a plot to destroy the false god's temple in Kuuroch."

Churande grunted, but he did not sound displeased. "There many plots. Which one?"

"She had a vision. A serpent from the east ensnared the female kai. When it bit her, the temple cracked in two."

"Go on," growled the highborn when he paused.

"The seer acts as a confidant to the kai. For many years now, the young female has suffered from loneliness because of how distant the other kai is. He will not mate with her."

"Gaidulus," hissed Churande. "That arrogant bastard."

"It is a pity he was swayed to heresy. He was so dedicated to the old ways," murmured the younger highborn.

The aseinan dared not breathe when he spoke, the young yautja's voice too pure to taint with the sound of his own breath.

"What surveillance do we have on the young kai, Churande?"

"Not much. She exerts as much self-control as Gaidulus. But now we know she has a weakness. We can exploit that to bring down the temple. It would be a severe blow to that u'laude kalai that sits on her stolen throne."

"Ah, Ajenke… she is quite beautiful though, do you not think?"

The slave tensed as the female seer's memories flared to life, the fiery female sashaying across his mind's eye. He felt her emotions attached the memories: admiration, envy, pity, joy. The pride she felt at Ajenke's ability to embrace her destiny as shan'ra. The sorrow at the many cycles gone by since they'd had a moment to talk. Distance yourself, he thought. He must not allow himself to absorb the emotions of the subject.

"Haven't you enough females?" Churande sighed. "But I suppose I could have one found that resembles her. It will be difficult. Stripes are a very rare skin pattern." He returned his attention back to the cowering aseinan. "Crawl back to Orak and tell him what you've seen. I've more important things to do than listen to you whimper."

He slowly raised himself to his feet, clasping his hands and hunching his shoulders as he backed away, his anxious yellow eyes never leaving the floor. When the door sealed behind him he bolted for his master's tower. There was so much to tell. She was far more dangerous and powerful than Orak had ever imagined. The God forbid she ever learned how to control her gifts.


'|- ,-' \-


Author's Note: Whew… wow… I can't believe it. I'm actually finished. Feel kinda sad actually… But I'm also happy, because my goal was to write a story and finish it. And I did. Now if my goal was to write a story with a fully developed plot, I would be disappointed in myself. I would love to go back and rewrite entire scenes. For instance, I wish I'd made Ahandra/Tyler more independent and take charge of her situation rather than rely on her visions to move her character along.

But this is fanfiction after all. We don't have professional editors or story groups to bounce ideas off of. Some of us are lucky enough to have a beta reader. Which reminds me…

I LOVE YOU SPEEDERINA AND KRIVOKLATSKO! You two are awesome. Thanks for getting me through the first half of Forbidden Alliance.

I also would like to thank the many reviews, favorites, follows and lurks I received from around the world. Don't know why, but ya'll enjoyed the story and stuck with me :)

Now some of you might be saying, "Wait a minute, Mau'indi. They didn't live happily ever after. What about poor Zeyin. And the cliffhanger. And Ahandra's secret. What's the secret? Tellll meeeee!"

*Ahem* I'm doing that because life goes on after the climactic battle. I have a vague idea for a sequel, but that's the problem. It's vague. I have main characters and mini-plots, but I run up against the same problem I had when I first started Forbidden Alliance: there's no ending. So unless inspiration strikes me on the head, I'm shelving the sequel and moving on to a story I KNOW the ending to: The Spear Trilogy! *fanfare*

I'm very excited to post this story. I have seven out of 12 chapters of the first part, Son of the Spear, pretty much complete and I'm currently mapping out the second part, Path of the Spear.

Please let me know your final thoughts on Forbbiden Alliance in the comments box below!

P.S. First time doing smut. Good, decent, horrible? I ask because I plan on doing smut for The Spear Trilogy. (Also, please don't use a knife during your sexy times. This is fiction and Auran is a highly skilled assassin. Only he's allowed to do stuff like that.)