Genres = Science Fiction, Space Opera, Fantasy, Romance
The Tracker’s Quest
***Also Available to be Read in Kindle Unlimited
LENGTH: 53,382 words/224 pages
Seta doesn’t want another mate. Ji doesn’t want anyone but her.
Lieutenant Seta Trax needs to transmute her grief for her deceased twin into something positive—something Rena would have wanted to happen. Her tyrannical father has asked her to track down a treasure he claims was stolen from him. If she is successful in her quest, her father will allow her female siblings a say in their mated futures.
With the freedom of her sisters at risk, Seta can’t—no make that won’t—let a Siren determined to mate her get in her way. Ji Warro claims he gave up his captaincy for her and that he wants to help with her quest. Pretending to be her union suitor though just makes everything she’s doing more complicated.
It’s bad enough that the alien spirit she hosts is growing restless within her. Does she have what it takes to control the demon who shares her life? Only time has the answer.
More importantly, how long can Seta continue to refuse to love the only male she’s ever given herself to willingly?
If Rena had still been alive, she would have called her naïve for having hoped for a better welcome. Seta hadn’t expected her father to greet her warmly. It would have been foolish to let her mind indulge in such a fantasy, but the two giant males dragging her by her wrists was reprehensible treatment from the male who sired her. The phony escorts had met her courtesy Peace Alliance shuttle only to make her a prisoner the moment they’d driven away from the landing station.
Seta stumbled even in her regulation boots as her father’s chief guard literally tossed her into a small holding room just inside the walls of her father’s canton. Luckily she was still completely in uniform so no Ethosian female drapery impeded her progress as she whirled around to face the traitors. Angry heat flooded her face over her disrespectful treatment. The power she hosted clawed inside her to be recognized. . .and used. But she feared doing so would mean her death as much as that of the males she faced.
“Chief Arghane, I demand to see Suzerain Trax immediately. I have come at his explicit request. Why have you taken me prisoner? He expected me to present myself to him as soon as I arrived. Your mistreatment will not go unpunished this time.”
“We know why you have returned, errant daughter of Trax. This is where you will wait until the Suzerain is ready to see you. Be patient for his will and show your sire some respect. Your manner of dress is enough offense to earn a beating with the lash,” Chief Arghane replied.
“My father is not the only threat you need to heed, Arghane. I am a Peace Alliance officer now. This clothing is my uniform…”
The heavy metal door slamming loudly on her protests made Seta jump back a step or two. Curses flew from her mouth without regard for the fact that everything she said and did was most certainly being monitored.
In the Peace Alliance, she was respected as an officer. Because of that, she had almost forgotten what it was like to be insulted and treated so poorly. All Ethosian females were secondary citizens on Ethos, really no more important than any other possession a male could own. Males, especially those in higher positions like Arghane, had socially sanctioned power over her.
She thought of her dead sibling and how relieved they had both been to put Ethos and their lives there behind them. A rational Ethosian female who had managed to obtain her off-planet freedom should have had the good sense never to return. So why had she felt so driven to do so?
“Do not haunt my thoughts from wherever you have gone, Rena Trax. Making right my foolish mistake is going to be enough torture.”
Seta laughed as her useless words bounced off the metal walls of her cage. If she was lucky, the guards would think she was crazy for talking aloud to her dead sibling. Mental insanity might be a profound truth about her before she escaped her home planet again.
Her father’s request had seemed genuine enough via com link, but given her immediate incarceration, it had been no more than a ruse to gain her presence. In her desire to avenge Rena and gain some measure of freedom for her mother’s family, she had foolishly chosen to believe his words. If Rena’s spirit was watching from wherever it had gone, she was no doubt genuinely furious Seta had let herself fall into their father’s trap so easily. Not even two revolutions of a starship’s timekeeper had passed before she’d become a prisoner.
She strode to the single small mirror in the room. After her Peace Alliance training, she knew it was a security surface behind which guards watched her every movement. The fair-haired female staring back at her looked intimidated by the whole situation. Unwilling to accept it was her only choice for reality, Seta placed a hand on the glass and closed her eyes. She thought of her conversation with Ania and of the secrets the other alien daemon host had shared. It was as good a time as any to try some of it out. Arghane had taken all her other weapons.
“Zorinda. Show yourself to me in the mirror,” Seta said firmly. But when she opened her eyes all she saw was the same frightened female staring back. She tried to recall what it was Ania had said about needing to be firm when commanding the creature within her.
“Daemon Zorinda—I require your help. I command you to show yourself to me in any form you can,” Seta said in a fierce whisper. Her hand slid from the glass as she felt the surface turn freezing cold beneath her palm. A misty swirl of black rippled over her own reflection until her face was no longer visible.
You have been misled by your abductors.
Seta frowned. The words appeared in her mind, but they were also given sound in her head by a strange female voice resonating within her. She now understood Ania’s cautions about believing every whisper from within herself. It was virtually impossible to tell what commentary was her own inner dialogue and what Zorinda was speaking.
Seta stepped back, studied the surface, and then stepped forward again. “Yes. I understand the danger. Please explain what you know.”
The mist danced and moved. Seta waited and watched until it settled again.
Don’t trust their words, the black mist ordered.
Seta snorted. “No worries there, but I need more than just advice. How can I get out of here?”
Patience. The way out will come soon. His choice is made.
Seta felt Zorinda pull back her energy. It left her pondering the confusing statement as she watched the black swirl disappear rapidly from the glass. It hadn’t been the kind of conversation she had hoped for with the powerful being inside her, but then again, Zorinda hadn’t ignored her demands for communication either.
As she settled down on a chair to wait, Seta congratulated herself. Ania’s introductory lessons about mastering the alien spirit within her were working. If Zorinda was right, the request from her father might have been no more than a ruse to get her to return so he could punish her for leaving. Maybe he intended her torture and death to be a public example of what would happen to those who tried to escape his reign.
Her father and his guards would receive a surprise if he did try to kill her. Zorinda had done nothing to help during the attack on the Guardian 13, but then it had been Ensign Vetin at risk—not her. Ania had felt that was the only reason Zorinda hadn’t intervened.
“How much of a fool was I in agreeing to this farce?” Seta asked the walls.
Disgusted at herself for feeling regretful, she marched to a cot and plopped down on it to wait. All her thoughts were focused on only one thing. She must find a means to escape the planet again. Having managed to do it once with Rena, she knew escape was possible. Doing it alone might prove more challenging, but she would still find a way.
Her last conversation with Ji came back to mock her captivity. Perhaps she should have taken her bossy former captain up on his offer to accompany her after all. Her greedy sire would no doubt have enjoyed trying to extort a high union price from the wealthy Siren.
* * *
Kezar Hornex walked to the shuttle’s ramp with his former captain as it lowered. “Are you sure you want me to just leave you here alone? Only small parts of this planet acknowledge the Peace Alliance. I don’t know what kind of reception you will have among the majority of these unenlightened beings.”
Ji shrugged. “I have studied Ethos, Kel. I know all the potential risks, but Seta Trax is here.”
Kel snorted. “Yes—that is my point. I’m still finding it hard to accept that you’re putting yourself in danger because of the tracker.”
“No one is more aware of the irony than I am,” Ji agreed. Then he thought of Seta’s complete surprise at finding her first pleasure under his hands and all doubt left his mind. He bowed his head respectfully even though the male who faced him still shook his own in denial.
“Ji, the Ethosian is only one female out of so many you have known. You have but to walk near the most alluring of them to get an offer to their sleep space. It seems illogical to risk your life for someone so reluctant to have you,” Kel insisted.
Ji let loose a frustrated breath, but there was no reason to be angry with his former commander. Kel was only pointing out the same things his mind warned him about repeatedly. “I understand why you would say that to me, Kel. The only explanation I have is Seta Trax is the only female in my life now. Since my decision about being here is not based on rational logic, I can’t explain it well. Just know this action is necessary—and it is my choice.”
Kel pondered the statement, then dipped his head in a bow. He was resigned but still determined to do what he could to help his long-time friend. “Many times over our years together I have owed you for my life. I now know I owe you my captaincy as well. The High Council of the Alliance informed me it was your recommendation to offer me the commission as Captain of the Paladin. So I will now use that promotion to repay part of my increasingly long life debt to you, Ji Warro of Rylen. In eight Earth days, I will come back into range of this desolate planet. Contact me with your location and I’ll send a shuttle to retrieve you and your. . .”
Ji laughed at his friend’s hesitation. “The word is mate in my culture, Kel. Seta Trax is my mate. This is the case whether she admits it or not. Sirens take mating connections very seriously. We have no choice.”
“But is the resistant female, who never seemed to care for you before, worth giving up your life as well as your captaincy?” Kel demanded.
Ji shrugged. “Only time will answer such questions. I’m barely over three hundred Earth years old in a life that may span a couple thousand years if I live as long as my Siren parents. All I can tell you is the female is worth it to me at this time. My energy has chosen to align with hers. It is a life choice more compelling than any contract I could make with any organization—even the Peace Alliance.”
“Very well then,” Kel said, bowing his head. “I won’t try to talk you out of your quest for your chosen one. May the Creators be with you.”
Ji laughed. “Indeed. I may need their help to survive Seta’s wrath for chasing her here, much less the hostility of this mostly desert planet. I will gladly accept the offer of friendly transport out of here when we are done.”
Since he knew Kel was not a male who hugged, Ji put a hand on his friend’s shoulder and squeezed. Then he jogged down the steps of the ramp to meet the guards waiting for him at the bottom.
Behind him, he heard the boarding ramp rising and the shuttle’s engines revving again to leave. He pushed away from the momentary panic of being without backup and forced himself to instead hope for the best. “I’ve come to see Suzerain Trax about a mating union with one of his offspring. He is expecting me,” Ji said.
One of the guards nodded and bowed his head. “Of course. My name is Chief Arghane. I am to see you to Suzerain Trax’s canton gallery. It is rare that a union suitor comes from off-planet. How did you meet one of the Suzerain’s female offspring?”
“We serve on the same Peace Alliance ship,” Ji said.
“So it is true then. Seta of Trax fled Ethos to become a warrior. We did not believe her story,” Chief Arghane said.
“Why would you not believe her?” Ji asked.
Chief Arghane shrugged. “Females lie to suit their purposes. They will manipulate what they can for personal gain.”
“Are you sure we are talking about the same female? Seta is the most guileless female I have ever met,” Ji said.
Arghane laughed. “Don’t you mean beguiled, Siren? We don’t see your kind often, but we know what Sirens do to their females. You can bend her will to yours. An Ethosian male would pay much to have such an ability.”
“Well, some Sirens take those measures with mates, though it’s not as easy as you make it sound. But I assure you I have not affected Seta’s will at all. My relationship with her is based on mutual agreement of our suitability. Why are you laughing at me, Chief Arghane?”
“Perhaps you will soon be wishing you had exercised your full Siren skills on that particular female. Seta of Trax denies the presence of any union suitor in her life. We’ve had the rebellious female in isolation since she arrived back on the planet. Suzerain Trax wanted to speak with you before he met with her.”
“I see,” Ji said, working hard to ignore the rage rising inside him. It was illogical to feel he had failed her, and yet that was exactly what went through his mind. Arghane’s next words revealed how upset he must have looked.
“Relax, Siren. There is nothing to fear in the female’s denial of your claim. If the Suzerain agrees to your union price for her, we will place the female in restraints for her transport to your destination. It is common practice here. Many of his female offspring are resistant to the union matches the Suzerain makes on their behalf.”
Ji stared at the laughing male as he climbed into their land transport. “I was under the impression Seta had returned for a quest her father wanted her to make for him. It was why I allowed her to proceed unaccompanied.”
“A quest? Perhaps that is the case as well,” Arghane said, shrugging. “We only do as the suzerain commands. Once you have contacted him, he became focused on your satisfaction. His union-eligible females are highly prized on our planet. Most of them are fair-haired and quite attractive. They usually bring high prices.”
“Indeed,” Ji said. “I trust Seta has not been harmed during her restraining process.”
“We would never willingly damage a female with a bid on her,” Arghane said quickly, sensing the Siren’s male growing displeasure. If he upset the potential suitor before a price was settled on the suzerain would not be pleased. “Your female of choice is merely in isolation. Seta of Trax has been well cared for in every way she allowed. The most unfortunate circumstance is we have not been successful in getting her out of the vile clothing she arrived wearing. She said she would rather starve than change her clothes. We accepted her challenge.”
“Are you speaking of her uniform?” Ji asked, trying not to grind his teeth as Arghane nodded. The thought of them not feeding her had him picturing how best to kill the male beside him.
“A uniform. Yes, that is what she keeps calling her clothing. Is it true she was trained as a warrior?” Arghane asked.
Ji nodded tightly. “Yes. Seta was trained during academy. Why do you keep asking that question?”
Arghane shrugged as the land transport passed through the canton’s outer wall. “She was easily subdued. The proof is lacking of her warrior skills.”
“It is illogical to fight when you’re greatly outnumbered,” Ji said. “Her skills are not in fighting anyway. Seta is the best tracker in the Peace Alliance.”
“Is that so?” Arghane said, huffing at the news. “Well, perhaps the suzerain does have a task in mind for her as she claims. He keeps his own counsel on most decisions. Often I don’t know his intentions until after the task has been completed.”
“When will I be allowed to see her?” Ji asked.
“As soon as the suzerain agrees to your union,” Arghane said.
Sensing further questions would only make the Ethosian male more resistant, Ji leaned back and studied the passing surroundings. Here and there males of all ages walked in the street, but he saw no females, not even in the market.
“Where are all your females?” Ji asked. He watched Chief Arghane turn to him with eyebrows raised.
“Do you consider us barbaric, Siren? I assure you that is not the case. Our females are safe in their homes where they won’t be abducted. Where else would they be?” Arghane asked in return.
Ji nodded. He had read females were kept in isolation until they were needed, but it was still unnerving to see proof of it in their most progressive urban area. The contrast with Rylen made him more appreciative than ever. One day he would show Seta the beautifully clad and smiling females on his home planet.
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