Tempting Auzed: Chapter 4

Alex took her cues from Auzed and kept quiet as the newcomers loaded them both onto a large floating platform and bound their hands with some kind of high-tech cuffs. These men were the most alien-like aliens she’d seen yet. They had graceful bodies and long, flexible tails. Their ears were pointed at both the top and bottom, and their wide, radiant eyes were just a bit too large to pass for human eyes. Their anime-esque size must help them see in this dark forest.

They began to glide away, but three tall, forest-green aliens with glowing geometric markings all over their bodies stayed behind, studying the sefa and glaring angrily in Auzed’s direction. The other two remained with them.

The leader, a tall man with the same coloring and markings as the rest, rode ahead. Alex figured he was the leader because he’d been the one giving orders to his men. His long tail split into three near the end. Each tip expanded into a glowing orb. He gripped the edge of the floating board with his tail for the most part but occasionally used the bright light of its tip to guide their way through the darker stretches of their journey. The other guard rode ahead of them as well; their floating platform remained close to his.

While their two jailors rode their platforms standing upright, Alex and Auzed sat on theirs with their bound hands attached to a ring at the center of their platform. She didn’t love being tied up, but she was grateful the connection at least ensured she wouldn’t fall off the smooth floating board. She concentrated her energy on staring at her hands and not at the ground passing far beneath them.

Wilson migrated to her shoulders and squeezed its body around her neck in a comforting gesture. He hadn’t abandoned her or been killed after all. He’d left to get help. Using his Sonic the Hedgehog super speed, he’d found these new aliens. At present, she couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

She chanced a glance up toward Auzed and found him glaring into space, fuming about something. The image of him skillfully dodging and slashing at the sefa played through her mind. She didn’t like that the sefa had had to die, but watching Auzed fight had been mesmerizing.

“Dedeth, come here,” the leader called to the ranger nearest them while peering at her. Their escort sped away on his board and joined his boss. They spoke in hushed tones while shooting glances in her direction.

She leaned toward Auzed and whispered, “What’s going on? Who are you anyway, and how do you know who I am?”

Auzed’s distracted gaze settled on her. “I’m from the city of Tremanta. A female named Lily was found and reported your last known location to my Queen. I was sent to find you before the Sauvenians. We’re being detained for invading the territory of Sauven and killing one of their protected species in self-defense.”

“She did it? She actually found some nice aliens?” Alex blinked. It was a lot to take in, and her head still hadn’t fully healed. The pounding ache had only increased during their escape from the sefa. “So, Lily’s safe? She’s okay? Can I talk to her? Is she back in that place underground?” Alex asked the last with trepidation, hoping beyond hope this guy wasn’t affiliated with the group who’d kept her, along with a handful of other women, locked in a bunker underground.

To her relief, Auzed appeared offended. “My Queen would never allow that to happen.”

Alex let out a low breath and nodded. She had so many questions, but she needed to ask the right ones before the alien policeman returned. “What will they do with us?”

“I don’t know. To you? Likely nothing.” He barely contained a sneer as he glanced at Wilson. “We could’ve made it out of Sauven territory if your tuey hadn’t led them to us. Did you send it to find them?” His words rang with accusation, but Alex couldn’t bring herself to feel offended.

She gave a wry laugh. “Yeah, sure did. Because after recovering from a head injury that laid me out for who knows how long, I somehow learned to communicate with my buddy here. While I was running for my life from the three-eyed monster, I commanded him to go and tell the alien city I didn’t even know existed to send someone to please lock me up.” She raised a brow at him.

He grunted, looking mollified. “I was sent here to find you and bring you back to Tremanta as a Tremantian citizen, but they’re going to push for you to be declared a citizen of Sauven.”

“How is that decided? And why should I be a citizen of Tremanta? I’m a citizen of Earth, remember? I’ll be heading back there as soon as I can anyway, so what does it matter?”

Auzed stared at her. It was clear there was a lot she didn’t understand. His eyes flitted toward the guard, who was now heading back in their direction. “If you’re deemed to be a citizen of Sauven, they’ll force you into a temporary marriage with someone you don’t know. If you live in Tremanta, you’ll be around other humans and have the option of marrying or not. I just need time to figure out our defense. Keep your mouth shut and follow my lead when they speak to us,” he hastily finished just as their guard returned to glide in front of them.

Married? She didn’t want to marry anyone, especially not anyone from another planet. Auzed looked human enough, but these other people had tails. The tails themselves didn’t bother her, but the thought of what type of machinery might be lurking in their pants did.

Alex furrowed her brows at Auzed but kept quiet. He hadn’t mentioned the option of going home. Did they not have spaceships here? Those purple aliens who’d snatched her from her apartment had had a ship, but they might not be from this planet. Just an intergalactic transport? These aliens had these hover boards, but she supposed that could be the epitome of their technology. What if she was stranded?

 Mouth gone dry, she gulped. No. If she could get here, surely she could get out. She’d just have to wait for aliens like the ones who’d taken her to come back, then hitch a ride. But if she was going to be stranded here for a while, she’d most definitely want to live in the city that wouldn’t force her to get married, temporarily or not.

A sudden desperation to work through a plan before they arrived wherever they were going came over her. Auzed would help her, she knew it. He’d been nothing but helpful so far, if not a little grumpy, but who could blame him? He’d just risked his life, getting his back slashed open to help her, and had ended up being arrested for his efforts.

“We’re here,” he said, looking to the right.

Alex followed his gaze, and her breath caught. High above the forest floor, wooden, sloped-roof, multilevel buildings circled the trunks of trees as wide as skyscrapers. Their delicate arched entryways led to expansive patios overlooking the glorious city.

The buildings themselves had an odd style. Overall, they resembled luxury treehouses, but with Victorian gothic architectural elements crafted from organic building materials. She wouldn’t have thought it, but it worked. The carved gables, colonettes, and finials blended with the natural wood tones and greenery of the trees they were set into and made the whole city look ancient and magical yet somehow tranquil.

The air up here was still warm but less humid. It smelled a bit lighter too, as though the competing scents of all the plants down below wafted toward the sky and dispersed enough to give the air a more subtle floral aroma tinged with citrus.

Enormous spiral staircases circled the trees, leading from one illuminated building to the next. Some of the trunks were close enough together that the structures spanned two trees, yet the architecture was so graceful it almost looked as if the trees had grown into each other.

No one back home would ever believe this. Her best friend, Jamie, was a Disneyland nut with a SoCal Select yearly passport. She’d probably keel over right here. Alex ignored the slimy voice whispering she’d never be able to describe the city to Jamie. She let the soothing fruity scent of Wilson, still wrapped around her neck, calm her.

Hanging from the tree’s massive branches by impossibly thick, iridescent metal chains were glittering homes strung like teardrop Christmas ornaments in midair. People zoomed by on round platforms every which way, going to and from the suspended structures. The city went on as far as Alex could see, growing smaller in the distance until all she could make out was the bright shine of light from each of the numerous windows, twinkling in the background like billions of fairy lights floating in the darkness.

“The Swiss family Robinson has nothing on this place,” she whispered as they passed a strange arena of sorts. Rows upon rows of seating were connected in a circle between four trees and were positioned around a large area of dead space at least three times the size of a football field. Without a floor to be seen, her mind jumped to quidditch.

All of the treehouse buildings were high up on the trees. It seemed as though the population of Sauven spent a majority of their time up here. How would it feel to live your life never walking on solid ground? Alex gulped as she peered over the edge of their platform to the glowing forest far below. A better question was, how many people fell to their deaths every year?

“I request a meeting with the regents,” Auzed called to the leader, who was guiding their party toward the highest floor of a tall grouping of buildings. Unlike the stylish architecture around them, this building was plain and lined with mirrored windows. The effect was creepy. There could be a thousand people staring out at them, and they’d never know.

“Denied,” the man in charge said without looking back at Auzed.

Anger flared in his mossy green eyes for a moment before he gathered himself. “Then I demand to speak with my Queen.”

“You will be questioned before speaking to anyone.”

Auzed growled, actually growled, and focused on his hands, the strong lines of his chiseled face deep in thought.

Their round platform pulled alongside an unloading zone, and she peered next to her at another large man being escorted off a platform in cuffs. What would an alien police station look like?

Their guard approached them and hunched over the area where their shackles connected. He held a small metal rectangle close to Auzed’s cuffs, and they separated from the platform but did not open. The guard dragged Auzed to his feet, not caring that he was injured.

“Hey, be careful, would you? He needs to see a doctor,” she reproached, tugging at her own cuffs only to find them still stuck to the ring. Wilson nimbly leapt onto the ledge, eyes focused on a group of pudgy orange insects. The bugs flitted around a dribble of sap leaking from the bark of the tree above the building’s roof. Without so much as a backward glance, he scurried out of sight. She couldn’t blame him. He had tended to her for almost a week now, after all. He deserved a bug feast.

The guard maneuvering Auzed lifted a glowing brow at her as though he hadn’t understood her, then glanced questioningly to his boss.

The leader kept his gaze aimed at her and strode toward them. “Why do you care?”

Pinche pendejo. “I care because…” Alex trailed off at the warning look Auzed shot her. She snapped her mouth shut and glared up at the guard, then shrugged silently.

The man wore a tight vest that dipped low and exposed much more skin than she’d ever seen a policer office who wasn’t on a calendar expose. His tight pants were stretchy, and his long tail wrapped around his right thigh as if keeping out of the way. Metal rings were stacked on his tail from the area where it forked and upward. The metal was a dark gray but shone with a rainbow of colors when he moved, like the chains holding the houses to the tree branches. The other guard’s tail was positioned around his own leg in the same way but was decorated with a lot fewer rings.

The man squatted down and brought another metal rectangle to her cuffs. He was close enough that she could make out the odd wobbly borders of his large pupils as he gazed into her eyes. “Very well, human. We shall speak later.”

There was something in his voice and in his stare that she couldn’t quite place. Was he hitting on her or being protective of her? To her surprise, he used the metal rectangle to unlock her cuffs, freeing her hands. Alex stood, unease making her stomach feel hollow. She didn’t like not understanding someone’s intentions.

The man guided her with a palm on her back, while the other dragged a furious-looking Auzed beside her. Auzed glared not at the man whose fingers were cutting into his arm but to her guard. “Remove your hand,” he spat.

The guy flushed a deep forest green and scowled at Auzed, but he did drop his hand.

A feeling of extreme wrongness overcame Alex as she was led from the dim, glowing exterior and into a remarkably sunny room. But how could it be sunny here? She squinted against the bright light as it ratcheted the pounding in her head. She hadn’t realized until now how helpful the dark forest had been at keeping her head injury happy.

“What’s the matter?” she heard Auzed call.

The guard from her side brushed past, shuffling in front of her. “What did you do to her?” he accused. His suspicious tone was directed at Auzed, and though she hadn’t known Auzed for very long, she suspected he was currently glaring back at the other man.

“No one did anything. It’s the light. I think I’m still recovering from a concussion. If we could get somewhere darker, I’ll be good as gold.”

A solid palm circled her arm and guided her forward. Chatter sounded around her, but a buzzing in her ears muffled it. She squinted at the matte green floor as the guard led her, trying with all her might not to hurl. Whenever she felt sick, the ghost scent of menthol always appeared out of nowhere. While concentrating on walking, her mouth curved into a sad smile. She could almost hear her mother’s smooth voice saying, “Ponte Vicks.” The thought speared through her, making her nausea vanish but leaving a familiar ache in her heart.

The man guided her into a soft chair and walked away. Blessedly, the bright light from above dimmed. Alex creaked her eyes open and found herself in a sitting room. The eggplant-colored walls were bare except for a few screens with sharp vertical symbols she couldn’t decipher. She peered up to see where the daylight was coming from and found the entire surface of the ceiling was lit.

“Artificial daylight.”

Alex glanced over to Auzed, still cuffed and standing while his guard gripped his shoulder.

The leader of the two scowled at Auzed as if he had no right to explain the light. “Yes. You happened to walk in during our vitamin-boost hour.” He glanced back at her, and the harsh lines around his eyes softened. “We prefer the dimness of our sheltered city, but we need regular sunlight treatments to keep up our health.”

Alex nodded. She’d read about people from different parts of the world needing SAD lights in winter, but being born and raised in southern California, she’d never experienced the side effects that came from lack of sunlight. How could people from this planet have such similar needs?

“I’ll call for a doctor to come treat you now. He can work while we question you both.” He turned to Dedeth. “Go contact Huten and tell him we have two detainees who need an exam and preliminary treatment. Also inform him he’ll need to get the human language uploaded to his translator. You should do the same.”

Dedeth nodded and shoved Auzed farther into the room before leaving.

“As for you…” The leader whose name she hadn’t caught yet glared at Auzed. “You’ll be coming with me to the fourth floor.”

Alex didn’t know what was on the fourth floor, but the tone of his voice hinted it wouldn’t have padded chairs and pleasantly cushioned floors like this room did. “No, wait! I’m sorry, I don’t know your name. Can’t Auzed stay here with me?”

Auzed didn’t appear angry at her outburst and instead looked to the guard and waited for his response.

The man glanced between her and Auzed with an irritated curiosity before finally saying, “I’m Fierad. What is your connection to this male? You appear to be very familiar with him.”

“Our connection is none of your concern. We’re both Tremantian citizens. You should be contacting our government before questioning us.” Auzed growled at the man.

Cool it, dude, Alex silently begged. Auzed’s whole macho thing wasn’t doing them any favors with this guy.

“She’s a human, found within Sauven territory. Which means she’s our citizen,” Fierad argued, brazenly stepping toward Auzed.

found her. She’s our citizen by law.”

“Do you think the regents will care?” Fierad laughed. “She’s human. You know how badly the people of our city will want her to stay. Our annual marriage games are days away. Merely having her in the crowds will bolster our people, not to mention the contestants. The regents will never just let her go to Tremanta without proof.”

Marriage games? Alex pictured a bride and groom playing quidditch in that massive empty arena and contained a chuckle. Was this guy saying she was a top commodity here because she was human? But why? Was she some kind of exotic specialty item because she was from another planet? How aggravatingly human of them to think that way.

Fierad continued his rant, his green skin flushing darker and darker as his anger built. “No, she’ll be taken care of here, and you’ll be sentenced for attempting an abduction of one of our citizens, slaughtering a beloved sefa, and illegally crossing our borders.”

While Fierad was scary on his own, Alex found the silent fire burning in Auzed’s eyes to be more so. She’d seen what he could do, and if she were Fierad, she wouldn’t be pushing a man like that.

Auzed had helped save her life, and now he was going to be punished for it? It wouldn’t surprise her if Fierad pushed for the harshest punishment he could either. She had to figure out a way to help Auzed. She owed him that.

So far it seemed like both these cities revolved around marriages and being married, seeing her as only an object belonging to one rancher’s herd or another. Well, she knew which cowboy she wanted to belong to if those were the options. A thought came to her, and she tried to work through the string of lies she’d have to tell.

She interrupted the testosterone-fest building in the center of the room. “I am a Tremantian citizen.” Alex stood and shot a smile toward Auzed, mentally trying to convey what she was about to do. “He’s my husband. I mean…” The shock and anger that registered in his expression had her changing her lie slightly. “My soon-to-be husband.”

Fierad stared at her for a moment, a hint of disgust curling his lip as her words registered. “You’ve promised yourself to him? When?”

Alex’s mind raced. “He gets so worked up.” She shook her head playfully toward Auzed. “He neglected to elaborate before. He did find me, but not just now. Days ago. Let me go back to the beginning. I was being held in a bunker somewhere, but I escaped and ran into the woods to hide.”

True so far. Alex thought, realizing she needed to explain away her current appearance without mentioning Lily. There were too many unknowns at present, and she didn’t want to drag her friend into the lie.

 “I was minding my business, surviving in the forest, but I accidentally fell into the river and was swept away. Luckily, he found me.” Again, the truth—missing loads of information and jumps in time, but technically nothing she’d said was a lie…well, almost nothing. “He rescued me, and I was so grateful, I agreed to marry him when he asked,” she said, standing with the intent to cross to Auzed. She second-guessed the action when she saw the fury flaring white hot in his stony expression. If she could listen into his thoughts, she was sure he’d be shouting, Shut up! Shut up!

Too bad. He’d saved her life. She could at least perjure herself to help him out. She stared at him, raising her brows. “Isn’t that right, honey?”

A muscle twitched in his firmly closed jaw.

Fierad turned to him expectantly, arms crossed over his chest.

As though someone were pulling the words out of him, he finally spoke. “Yes. I didn’t mention the details before because they don’t matter. She’s legally a Tremantian, and that’s all you need to know.”

“You agreed to marry him? Just like that?” Fierad wasn’t buying her lie.

“He saved my life! Of course I did.” She managed to put enough judgmental incredulity into her words to spark a look of hesitation on Fierad’s face.

“Why were you found roaming the floors of Sauven, then?” he said to Auzed instead.

Auzed lifted his brows toward her. “Intended?”

Do I have to think of everything? “Oh, well, that’s really my fault.” Alex rolled her eyes in a self-deprecating expression of embarrassment. She searched her mind for a lie, scanning the room as if it held some hint as to what her excuse could be. Her mind snagged on something and she turned. “I was alone by the river getting some water, and I saw Wilson…the animal that led you to us. He was so friendly and so cute, but then something spooked him and he ran off into the forest, and, like an idiot, I chased him. I’d only walked a few steps in before that thing started chasing me.” She gestured to Auzed as if the rest of the story were clear. “And of course, Auzed, being the great guy that he is, went in to rescue me. I must’ve stumbled across your border when I was running for my life. Auzed followed to help me. We had no other choice but to run away and then fight it off.”

“You just happened to find her? What were you doing so close to our territory in the first place?”

Auzed looked down his nose at the man. “I received the information that there may be humans in need of help just as you did. Your regents made the information public, did they not? I went out searching and got lucky. Maybe if you’d done the same, you would’ve found her instead.”

Fierad stared hard at her. She could tell by his gaze that he suspected there was more to her explanation, yet it also seemed he couldn’t find anything particularly wrong with her story either. He spun on Auzed instead. “I am to believe you found her in this condition”—he motioned to Alex’s raggedy appearance—“near our territory by happenstance and did not immediately take her back to Tremanta?”

“I had food and supplies. I called my Queen and apprised her of the situation, but Alejandra was terrified of returning to the city. Although she trusted me, she’d become convinced the people who’d taken her would be waiting in Tremanta to steal her away again. After the ordeal she’d been put through, her concerns were understandable, and so we waited until the Queen sent word that all guilty parties had been apprehended before deciding to return.”

Ooh damn. That sounded believable.

“And if I call your Queen and ask her to corroborate this fabrication?” Fierad tilted his head with a knowing grin, clearly having made up his mind that they were indeed lying. He didn’t wait for Auzed to answer before continuing on. “This female is ours, and you will be jailed for both your crimes and your lies.”

“This female is named Alejandra,” she interjected, tired of Auzed being the only man respectful enough to use her name.

A knock sounded at the door, and Dedeth entered with a burly green alien in tow.

Dedeth looked pleased as he gestured to the newcomer. “I’ve fetched the doctor.” His face fell as he took in the tense scene.

“Shall I get you a glass of yubskani for doing your job?” Fierad barked, directing his irritation toward Dedeth, whose eyes grew wide at the unexpected insult.

“No, sir, I—”

Before Dedeth could finish, Fierad snapped, “We’re going to retrieve Relli while they’re being healed. He shot a cocky grin at Auzed and added, “She’s half Swadaeth.”

Whatever that meant wasn’t good. Auzed had flinched, only making Fierad’s grin grow.

“Fine.” Auzed straightened his shoulders. “But as you know, I’m one of the Queen’s head guards and have been made privy to private information. By law, I cannot be swayed without her express consent.”

“No matter.” Fierad shrugged before walking to the door. He pointed toward Alex. “She can be.”


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