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Alien Hunter’s Fated Mate: Chapter Three

Mila

Rhythmic bobbing, clopping sounds, the whisk of leaves.

Holy stie!

I opened my eyes and found exactly what I feared.

The ground moved steadily past. Warm arms surrounded me. An antlered head moved back and forth in front of me. I was in a saddle, a rider behind me.

How in the hells—

My jaw ached. Carefully, I raised my fingers; felt the swelling. I’d smacked my face on something.

Smooth going, mighty adventuress.

Should I fight my way free? Scramble off this weird animal? Risk the wrath of my captor?

The animal walked on, steady. My head ached, but the motion soothed me. Arms around me felt strong, but not threatening.

The necklace!

My hand felt it through the robe. Still there. Good…

Head jerking, I gasped. Had I fallen back to sleep?

I heard a voice behind me, the words foreign. But I caught the meaning: woah.

The mount snorted and came to a halt.

Huge hands gripped my sides. I was lifted easily, set on my feet. Legs wobbly, I held onto the mount for balance.

My captor jumped from the saddle.

His face was broad and open. Chin like an anvil. Cheek bones almost feminine in their shape. Yet his brow was beetled, eyes deep set.

“Blăshen se reyalt, mö shay.”

He said.

“I don’t understand,” I said.

Yet something stirred at the back of my mind. It was like instructions from the Tomb. Implanted information.

“I’m Ashur of (Something). You are my mate.”

I understood! Sort of.

Let me take that back. The words were starting to make sense, but not the meaning.

“I’m Mila. I’m from the Temple of Terr.”

His language slid easily off my tongue. Had it been placed there? Through the Tomb? Why?

And then I saw that his skin was the hue of burnished bronze, his hair blue twined with strands of green, his eyes concentric circles of color bisected by a vertical pupil. What the hell was he? Bronze people—

“Are you dead? A ghost? A device?”

He shrugged. “I don’t feel dead. I feel livelier than I should, mayhap. Are you going to burn me to the bone with magical fire?”

What? “No…”

“Good. Let’s eat. We need the rest. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to feed Murbai some of your plesples. That way she won’t try to eat us.”

Murbai? “Your—” what was this thing? Not a stie, not a siu, not any animal I knew.

“She’s a bagart,” the stranger said. “You don’t know bagarts?”

“No.”

“Hopefully she likes you. Otherwise, expect a fairly fierce bite when you aren’t looking.” The enormous man smiled.

Dimples?

Wrinkles bunched around his strange eyes. Speckled sunlight brought out copper highlights.

 Strange, but not unattractive.

“Why have you strayed from your round city? It’s dangerous out here in the dry forest.”

“I’m on a—” I stopped myself. “Never mind. Who are you? What are you?”

“Like I said, I’m Ashur of Zashi. I’m Shakai. And if you aren’t a woodling monster out to steal babies and cast curses, I would have to guess you’re human.”

“Human? Where did you learn that word?”

“From a—” he turned his head slightly sideways. “Never mind.”

Mocking me.

Fine. I had plenty of other questions.

“What’s Shakai?”

“People of this world. Natives.”

He gave me a long look I didn’t understand.

“Why are you here, near Terr?” I asked.

“I’ve been tasked by my prince to seek out brigands in your lands,” he said.

“Brigands? Like bandits? There are no brigands here.”

He shrugged. “That verifies that I have nothing better to do. So why don’t I give you a ride?”

“No,” I said.

He seemed friendly enough. Maybe too friendly for an alien giant. I didn’t know what to make of the look in his eyes.

But I had a quest. It didn’t involve huge bronze mystery men and antlered mounts.

“You sure? How’s your face?”

I felt the swelling in my jaw, touched my teeth with my tongue. Nothing loose. “It hurts. What happened?”

“I’m only guessing, but since I found you up in a tree—”

“You what—?”

“—I’d have to say you ran right off the edge of a ravine. You wouldn’t have seen it in the dark. Especially if something was chasing you.”

I thought back. Tried to. Had something chased me? I couldn’t remember.

“You knocked yourself out, and landed on a branch. It seemed like you might need a hand.” He shrugged.

This was hard to believe. “You pulled me out of a tree?”

“Plucked you like a fruit,” he said.

What did one say to that?

“Thanks for getting me down.”

He nodded. “Of course. Why not eat something? Then you can tell me where to take you. Back to the city?”

“No, no, not there.”

He seemed relieved by that answer. Odd.

“Some other settlement?” he asked.

“There isn’t one,” I said. Although I was now looking at a heretofore unknown species of being. Maybe there were lots of settlements.

“The Canyonlands?”

“I’ll just be on my way,” I said. “You don’t have to concern yourself.”

I faced away from him. Peeked down my robe. The light on the pendant was centered, red. I needed to move directly forward.

“What are you doing?”

Turning around, I shrugged. “Checking for more bruises.”

“Mm-hmm.”

This was getting awkward.

“I’m just going to go now. Thanks. Can I have my pack?”

He took it off the saddle and handed it to me.

“You know, you can’t outrun a bagart,” he said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I shouldered the pack and started walking.

A moment later, he was beside me, leading his mount.

I started walking faster, then realized that was stupid. “Look. I have business I need to attend to. I’m fine on my own.”

“Right,” he said, falling back.

But as I walked, I could still hear him behind me.

I faced him. “Stop following me.”

“What makes you think I’m not going in this direction?”

“Fine. You go ahead.”

He shook his head. “I’m feeling lazy. And Murbai is tired.”

The animal snorted.

I looked him over. His vest was of ornately tooled gray leather, shirt of embroidered and finely knit wool, leather breeks and boots, a red cloak of fine, billowing material. He wore a sword on his left, a knife at his right on a heavily worked leather belt.

If not for his hue, his height and breadth, he might well be a woodsman of Terr. Well, that shirt was a little fancy and I had no idea what the shiny material of his cloak was.

“Truly, I need to do this on my own,” I said. “It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed your brief company.”

“Where are you headed?” he asked.

“That way,” I pointed.

“North-northwest. Do you even know what lies that way?”

Should I admit it?

My shoulders slumped. “No. I have no idea.”

“Well, the dry forest turns to jungle. And then, after a range of mountains, there’s a desert. On the far side of that is more jungle, more mountains. How far are you going? I can tell you more,” he said.

“I don’t really…”

My throat clenched.

My mission was from the temple. I couldn’t involve strangers, especially strangers I hadn’t known existed until very recently.

How could I trust him?

“I’m not giving you a choice. Well, that’s not true. Here’s the choice. You keep walking, and I keep following. Or. We ride and cover a lot more ground. Those boots look new. You need to break them in. Otherwise, you’ll blister badly. Maybe get the blood fire.”

The boots had been left in the secret room Niam had dragged me into, along with the leather pack stuffed with food and outdoor items.

Given that scenario, this quest must be important.

I couldn’t screw it up.

But which decision was the right one?

I shrugged. “Follow me, then. I just hope you get bored sooner rather than later.”

“Since you have no supernatural powers I can discern, I’ll keep following you. Do you even have a weapon? How will you bring down game? Protect yourself?”

I kept walking. North-northwest apparently. “What’s with the supernatural powers thing?”

“Oh. You resemble a Frostling.”

“What’s that?”

“A magic being that lives in the woods. My people consider them evil. They’re pale with unnaturally colored hair and eyes. Supposedly, they cast spells and curse people. Any who stumble upon their settlements returns insane. Or doesn’t return at all,” he said.

“Like a fairy? An elf?” I said.

He shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t know what those are.”

“Okay, then, I am a Frosting,” I said. “I will curse you and give you the pox in your sleep. So you better go your own way.”

“Frostling,” he said.

“Whatever. Just shove off, okay?” I sighed and hurried along.

“By the gods, Lita wasn’t stubborn like you,” he said.

I stopped, my heart pounding in my chest.

Turned.

Lita?

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