It’s been far too long since I posted on here, or even really had an update for you. I still don’t want to commit to a release date, but I can tell you that Book 3: UnBonded is as long as Gron’s Fated and still going. I think it has another 20k words in it. At least, I think a total word count of 80k is a reasonable bet.
Anyway, I thought I would post the first three chapters here, to stoke the flames and build some interest back up before the book’s release. Gotta stay relevant! Publish or Perish!
It will also be interesting to see what people think, because obviously this is the first book with new protagonists: Moira, who you haven’t met yet; Troii, who got shafted at the end of the last book; and Kranu, who everyone hates 🙂 You get to see inside his head, and I know it will be a challenge for some people to find that a nice place to be.
As always, let me know what you think. The pattern you see continues throughout the book, of Kranu – Moira – Troii – Moira- Kranu, etc. This is probably most of the reason the book is so long, and I’m not sure now it was wholly the right thing to do, but it’s too late to change it! Oh well.
The forest hung heavy with the heat of the early afternoon. The thick green leaves draped limply, as if even they were melting. Kranu could sympathise. His skin was slick with sweat, catching the sunlight as he walked, and he tried not to accidentally touch himself and be reminded of it. He imagined himself shrinking to his bones as all the liquid was forced from his body.
Even Troii was quiet, which was a small mercy of the heat that Kranu appreciated. It had apparently sapped the energy the other male usually used to question, berate or lecture him. Kranu forged ahead, refusing to slacken or slow. His cause was too great, and nothing so incidental as the weather would drive him back from it. He would not submit to the jungle’s choking summer, not when he had yet to find a Queen who accepted him.
He had lost track of how long it had been since Grasta had cast him out. Too many days too similar to each other to count. Days spent trekking the borderlands between territories, hoping to find a Queen who wanted him. That was what he wanted, what he needed. He would be accepted into another tribe, perhaps one that did not have a male as big or as strong as him, in the prime of his life, or a small one that needed more members. Perhaps he would be taken by a Queen who desired him, though that was a small chance indeed. He was not one of those males. He looked nothing like Grasta’s delicate, grey-eyed treasure.
It would be easiest if he found a Queen who had just separated from her mother and was looking to start her own tribe. Then the fact that he was with Troii would be an enticement rather than a hindrance, an opportunity to Bond two males at once and negate the need to look further. Of course, then she would be a fair bit younger than him, as his adolescence was now a distant memory, and the thought of Bonding to a Queen that much younger than him didn’t sit well in his stomach, though he knew he should consider himself lucky.
His mind wandered again to the strange Queen who had taken his brother. Strange indeed… So small, and so much bare pink skin, and such strange noises she made. No tail, and barely any teeth, her face oddly flat with a raised nose. From the stars, if Gron was to be believed. But she was loyal… that much had been made exceedingly clear to him. Affectionate, always clinging and looking to Gron. Possessive, but timid, at least most of the time. Not the last time when he and Gron had fought and she had looked like she wanted to kill him with her branch.
His heart panged again at the memory. Now that his rage had cooled with time and distance, it hurt him that she had thought so little of him. It was just one of his many tussles with Gron, such as they had been having practically since the male was born. Wrestling between brothers. He hadn’t meant to drive the Queen to leap to Gron’s defence, as if he intended to kill her mate. He had been angry, yes, and Gron had reacted more fiercely than he had ever seen, but he wasn’t such a villain as to kill his own little brother, even if he had turned out to be an irascible pervert unworthy of Bonding since he clearly didn’t know how to treat a Queen. His parents had taught them both better than that.
It was unjust. Gron treated her poorly and she leapt to his defence. He would treat her well and he was beaten back.
What hurt the most was the Queen’s rejection. She surely hated him, she radiated it in that moment, and he had been taught to fear a Queen’s contempt his whole life. It meant banishment more often than not, which he had always been led to believe was akin to death.
He didn’t know if he still believed that. He had been without a tribe, without his family who had chosen Gron over him, for so long and he was not dead. However the threat of it was what powered his steps even now, wasn’t it? No. He couldn’t pretend that he looked for a tribe for security. The forest was bountiful and food and water were easy to come by. He was above-average in size and strength and could defend himself.
He looked for a Queen who would not ignore him as he had been ignored and passed over for so many years. He wanted a Queen who would look him in the face, ask his opinion, beckon him to her at night. That was what he longed for: to be appreciated, and he would not stop until he had it.
So far he had not found it. He and Troii had encountered several tribes already, but had either been run off by the males before ever seeing the Queen, threatened by her, or simply rejected out of hand. Kranu found himself thinking there were too many males in the world, vying for too little interest, making them turn on each other.
Even now, Kranu thought mercilessly, there was one male too many in his vicinity. His old tribe-mate, Troii, had allegedly been banished as well. Kranu hadn’t even reached the border of Grasta’s territory before the smaller male had caught up to him. For a brief flicker, Kranu had thought he was being invited back, that either Grasta or maybe Gruth had changed their mind. Then Troii had explained, frantic and out of breath, hunched over with his hands on his knees or seeking Kranu’s arm, that he had been exiled too, that Grasta thought his eyes had been turned from her.
Kranu had shaken him off, in no mood at the time for a companion, but he had been unable to lose Troii. He couldn’t think of a time he had seen the other male that upset or angry, but it was quickly buried beneath a fear of being alone, and so now, almost a turn of a season later, they were still together. Troii didn’t think he would survive on his own, and he was always quick to remind Kranu that males without tribes went mad in order to keep the larger male from sneaking away as he slept.
Kranu knew that a male alone stood more chance of being accepted by a Queen than two, but he had to admit, he hadn’t expected how long it was taking to find a new tribe. Troii was often the only person he spoke to for days upon days, and without him, the forest would have been very quiet indeed. The thought worried him that perhaps he would have indeed gone mad already if not for Troii’s determined pursuit.
He ignored the stray thoughts that wondered if he would yet go mad. His mood was bad. He was quick to anger and often bared his teeth with no cause, his tail lashing even in quiet moments.
He spurred his feet onwards. He would not lose his mind. He was stronger than most, both physically and, he liked to think, mentally. He would find a Queen and that would be that.
Kranu didn’t flinch at the sound of Troii’s voice, knowing it preceded something he did not want to hear, but he considered ignoring it. He only entertained that thought for a moment though. Troii was, like it or not, his only companion, and it wouldn’t do him any good to antagonise him too much when the chance remained his complaint would be something simple.
“What?” Kranu answered, stopping and turning to look back.
Troii kept walking until he was standing beside him, though he was looking somewhere off into the trees. “What is that?” he said, gesturing with his head.
Kranu tried to see what Troii was looking at. “Where?” he demanded irritably.
“There,” Troii moved closer to align their perspectives, pointing into the distance.
Kranu caught it as whatever it was moved. It was so far away, it was little more than a speck to him. It looked… orange? And blue? It definitely wasn’t part of the natural landscape. It looked like it could be roughly the same shape as one of his kind, but there was no explanation for the flashes of colour that sparked as it passed behind trees. It was moving, walking, so it had to be an animal of some kind, but the more Kranu peered at it trying to make it out, the more convinced he was that it was walking upright like his people did.
Kranu took one hesitant step in the direction of the strange thing, whatever it was, and then another. Soon he was walking, and then he was running, convinced he had found his destiny.
Moira pushed her hair out of her face for the umpteenth time, blowing upwards to try to cool the sweat that was running from her hairline. Her hair was up at least, but she cursed the damn fringe. Today was not a good day.
The last thing she remembered that made sense was thinking she would need her gloves tomorrow as she stuffed her hands into the pockets of her puffy orange body warmer on her way to open up the bar for the evening.
Next thing she knew she was picking herself up off leafy dirt, apparently in a tropical jungle rainforest, especially if the heat was anything to go by. It was sweltering. Next to her was a backpack she’d never seen before that was mostly empty, weighed down by a couple of weird containers she discovered held water, for which she was grateful, and some food bars wrapped in leaves. The bag was big and shapeless and basic, with none of the fancy pockets and loops she would have expected on a bag that size.
She had no idea where she was or how she got there, but at least whoever had put her there didn’t want her to die right away. Or maybe she’d just landed in the same spot the last poor sucker had, and they hadn’t lived long enough to move their backpack.
So Moira had slung the backpack on and started walking. There was nothing around her to give any clues about her situation at all. She stopped to take off her body warmer which she carried, and her long-sleeved shirt which she stuffed in the bag. She kept her denim shirt on though, as it was huge and baggy with long sleeves, so hopefully she wouldn’t get sunstroke or malaria from the bugs she imagined flying around her.
As she walked, she became aware of something rubbing against her ankle. She stopped to investigate and found, under her boot and thick sock, a plain silver bangle, with something that looked like a light that was currently off, and another thing that looked like a button.
That was not hers. That was not jewellery. She couldn’t see how it had been put on her either, it looked like one solid piece, no hinges or clasp. She pulled at it and tried to work it off over her foot, but she couldn’t. Now she was unsettled as well as confused and scared, a chill sinking deep into her. This proved someone had done things to her that she couldn’t remember.
She didn’t like it. How had she got there? Had she been hit by a car and this was some kind of morphine hallucination? Some kind of test in between life and the afterlife? A spirit quest? Or had she just been kidnapped and sedated for days while she was transported across the globe to be dumped in a jungle? She thought she would probably smell and feel worse if it had been that long.
Why was she here? Was she taking part in some kind of survival game? Was she being hunted, or did they just want to see how long it took her to make her way to the beach, so she could sit by the campfire with the other contestants where a slick-haired host would whip a cloth off a plexiglass box of scorpions for them to eat?
She walked for hours, stopping every ten or twenty minutes to look around, convinced she was heading in the wrong direction. But there was nothing to indicate any one path was worse than another. They all looked the same. She got hot and drank her water, being careful to save most of it, uncomfortably aware of how sweaty her jeans were, while her feet slipped inside her boots with every step, her socks soaked with sweat.
She would have liked to believe she had just gone to work as usual, been talked into a tequila bender by a customer, wandered into a climate-controlled tropical arboretum in a drunken stupor and collapsed, but no arboretum was this big. She began to wish she had just stayed where she’d woken up. If whoever put her there came back, maybe she could go home if she refused to play their game. But it was too late for that now, she’d never find her way back. She was well and truly lost in the jungle. Her only hope was to find civilisation, even if it was a tribe with no previous contact with the outside world. Hopefully they would welcome her as an exciting novelty, rather than tie her to a pole and get out their big cooking pot for special occasions.
Was a tribe like that better or worse than, say, a drug cartel? Probably better. A cartel might have a plane, or cars, or even roads, but they didn’t have the best history with witnesses. Moira didn’t like to consider that she may never see another person. She didn’t yet feel like she would die out here, confident she could stretch her rations for two or three days, but she didn’t want to start living like a castaway, building a shelter out of leaves and wearing a raggedy loincloth for the rest of her life, her only friend a volleyball with a face on it. She’d seen that movie, and it was not a convincing advert for the lifestyle.
Pausing again to huff out a breath and wipe her slick hair out of her face, she cast a hopeful eye to the tree tops in case a helpful Tarzan was swinging past, but no luck. She was still the only woman on Earth, it seemed.
If only there was shade. Somewhere nice to sit to wait out the heat of the day. Instead, the dense canopy of impossibly massive trees only trapped the steamy wet heat, keeping the air thick and oppressive. If only she had her phone, but that had been taken from her or lost in the move, or traded for the backpack. If only there was a path to follow, lights in the distance, even a slope so she could head downhill. If only a lot of things.
A flicker of movement caught her eye on the tree next to her. At first she thought it was a squirrel because of the grey fur, then she thought some kind of small monkey, like a bush baby type of thing. She could see its bulbous pink fingers where they gripped the bark. Then the creature peered round the trunk, and she jerked back. It had big round eyes like a bush baby, but they were on the sides of its head like a rabbit, and between them was a short yellow beak, like a parrot. It blinked one eye at a time, watching her curiously.
Moira stared back. The rest of it looked like a normal monkey body, it was only the beak that was freaking her out. She’d never heard of a monkey with a beak before, but hey, she wasn’t a zoologist, what did she know? Maybe if she’d watched more Discovery channel, she would know what country she was in because of this little guy. Or maybe it was an unfortunate mutant. Maybe she was near a nuclear power plant that was dumping radioactive waste into the local water. Maybe she was in a zoo after all… and it belonged to a mad scientist who was splicing harmless critters together.
Suddenly very uncomfortable and freaked out, Moira backed way. As she turned away from the little beastie, she faced a much worse sight. Coming towards her between the trees was a couple of ginormous, buck-naked, ape…men?
Moira stared, her brain refusing to take it in. Around the patches of dark fur on their bodies, they looked muscled enough to kill her with their bare hands, pull out her femur and snap it in half to drink her marrow. As they came closer and one of them ducked a branch, she realised how tall they were. The one in the front was the biggest, and he was definitely looking right at her.
Moira was frozen for what was probably less than a second but it felt longer as one hand drifted to the strap of her backpack, slipping it off so that the bag hit the ground with a muted thump, her other arm dropping the orange body warmer. Then she realised she was screaming, her body being proactive about the situation, and she almost tripped over her feet as she scrambled to run the other way like her life depended on it, deciding it probably did.
“Kranu, stop!” Troii cried. Damn the male, this had not been his intention. He had pointed out the Queen only as a matter of interest, without realising what he had been looking at, and now Kranu was chasing her down like a savage beast. He raced after the fool, but Kranu had always been better at physical challenges than he had, and the summer heat sapped his strength and made it hard to catch his breath.
He couldn’t be sure the Queen wouldn’t beat Kranu to a pulp for his insolence, at least, not until he realised the creature they headed towards was the same as Gruth, Gron’s Bonded Queen, small and thin compared to his kind. The realisation sped his feet, though he had little hope of reaching Kranu, but he couldn’t just let him seize the Queen. He might not check his strength in time and hurt her. The Queen could not fight Kranu off like one of his own kind could.
It scared him to think that they might have stumbled on the tribe from which Gruth originally came. Who knew how many of them there were? How they fought, or what the males looked like for that matter? If this Queen was one of a tribe, Troii just wanted to leave her alone, turn around, and leave quietly. Her kind were an unknown.
But Kranu still hastened through the forest towards her, apparently unchecked by any of Troii’s concerns. Maybe he had gone mad after all. Maybe his stubborn determination to be Bonded had finally eroded what had remained of his civilised manners, and he had forgotten the proper respect to pay her. If he reached her in this state, Troii would have to pull him off her and fight, a feat he was not looking forward to as he did not fancy his chances against him.
“Kranu!” He did not slow down, or even show that he had heard. Damn him. Troii had known his tactless, forceful ways would get them in trouble one day soon. His stubborn arrogance, his total immovability and inflexibility on any subject, his hard, thick, impenetrable skull!
The distance between them and the Queen was closing quickly, he was running out of time. They were almost upon her, and Troii was torn between sprinting to stop Kranu before he reached her, or slowing to hopefully avoid her notice. The forest was quiet, but the Queen still did not appear to have noticed them, looking at something on a tree which had captured her full attention, so he lunged to catch Kranu’s arm.
His fingertips grazed Kranu’s pelt, and the Queen looked up, directly at them. Troii’s stomach sank and he had a suspended, apologetic moment to take in her appearance. She was wearing blue coverings on almost all of her body, and carrying something thick and orange. Her face was pale, and her long mane was held away from her face somehow, an amazing shade of red. Not only that, but it appeared to be a tangle of curls, several strands spiralling around her face, with its small flat mouth and protruding nose.
Her eyes widened and she threw down what she was holding. Her mouth opened and let out a strangled scream, making Troii wince, and she turned hastily and fled away from them.
Kranu’s weight shifted to follow, but Troii grabbed his arm, heaving him back. Kranu spun on him and snarled viciously as if Troii had just challenged him. Troii flinched, but kept his hold and refused to cower.
“She’s terrified, let her go!” he said.
Kranu growled. “I will not hurt her,” he complained. “She is alone. She needs help.”
“You only want to help her because it suits your purpose. You do not know she is alone. She is probably running back to her tribe,” Troii said.
“They have no tribe. Gron said he found his Queen somewhere very far away,” Kranu argued.
“And you never believed him, until now, when you stand to profit from it.”
Kranu huffed in distaste and wrenched his arm from Troii’s grip, looking away in the direction the Queen had gone. “Why should I not make my case to her? She may accept me, as Gruth accepted my brother.” He turned back to Troii, stepping close to intimidate him with his height, a move he used so often that it had long stopped impressing Troii.
He continued, “Is that not the reason we are out here, to find a Queen to take us? Why should it not be her? We have walked so far I barely know where we are anymore! The seasons have turned since I last saw my family! I have lost count of the days since we last found another tribe, let alone even saw a Queen or spoke to one! So what if she has a tribe? I will still speak to her, or any other Queen that I find!”
He turned to stomp after the Queen, snatching up her belongings as he passed.
“Very well, Kranu!” conceded Troii, trotting after him and taking the orange thing off him to share the load. “But you must allow that we frightened her. That was not a very welcoming reaction.”
Kranu ignored him, which was as close as Troii usually got to agreement.
“We can follow, and let her lead us to her tribe, where we will present ourselves in a peaceful manner,” Troii pressed.
“And if she has no tribe?” Kranu demanded.
“If she has no tribe, and she truly is alone… then we present ourselves to her, I suppose. And let her choose.”
“And if she does not understand us? If she speaks the same as Gruth?”
That gave Troii pause. “Then we… We must not scare her, or be forceful with her, but instead…”
Kranu looked at Troii expectantly. “What must we do, Troii?” he said sharply. “And when did I give you permission to give me orders?” He pushed a branch out of his way. “I will approach the Queen as I see fit, and you are welcome to do the same,” Kranu declared, finishing with a glare that suggested Troii had better not steal the Queen from under his nose, or face painful consequences.
Troii was satisfied they had reached some kind of agreement, at least for now, to follow the Queen but not scare her, until she revealed either a tribe or that she was alone. If there was a whole tribe of them, they would present themselves and try to communicate their offer as best they could, but if he was honest, the thought made Troii apprehensive. Grasta had believed Gron’s story and that had been enough for him at the time. No one could contest that he and Gruth had Bonded, so what did it matter where he found her? She clearly wished to stay with him.
But now, he quite possibly was about to walk into the midst of a strange people with strange customs, who wore coverings he had never seen before, and spoke a language he could not imitate. He and Kranu would be outnumbered. Even if they were much larger and stronger than the Queens, they could be overpowered if there were enough of them, if the tribe wanted to do them harm. And they had yet to see one of the males. He did not think they could be so different, but… If the Queen had a court already, he doubted he and Kranu would be welcome.
Gruth must have wandered free from her tribe to seek a male of her own, and poached Gron from Grasta after all, and when they couldn’t survive on their own, Gron had invented his crazy story to be allowed to stay in Grasta’s tribe. Troii could hardly believe it, that his friend was a liar, and such a good one; that Gron would trick him and that he could be tricked like that.
If Gron’s story was true, should they tell him that Gruth had a tribe out here that she might be able to rejoin? Would she, if she knew, rather than live the rest of her life with a people different to her, whom she couldn’t understand? Should Troii keep the secret?
He was worrying for nothing. He had been exiled. He would never see his friend or his homeland again.
Perhaps the Queen would, as Kranu said, turn out to be alone. Another wanderer from whatever far off land Gruth had come from. If that was the case, what should they do? If she would not have them, should they leave her alone to her fate, or stay against her wishes to keep her safe?
And what if she Bonded them after all? Or, Bonded Kranu. Troii reminded himself he was looking for a tribe. He wanted his old, comfortable life back. He did not need to be Bonded, no matter what Grasta said… though perhaps it would be nice. Not for the first time, he remembered what he had witnessed between Gron and Gruth and felt a yearning. He had never dreamt of more, not until Gron had offered it to him, only to snatch it away.
He repressed a rumble. Grasta was right. Part of him did want to be Bonded, he knew himself well enough to be aware of that, but he wasn’t like Kranu. It wouldn’t eat at him, poison him against his own tribe. He could ignore it, control it, be happy with just a place as a regular tribe member.
His thoughts cloudy and his heart heavy, Troii resumed the activity that had filled all his days recently: following Kranu through the forest in search of a Queen.