Ok, this was definitely not the past. In fact it was almost 700 plus years or orbits as it was referred to in this time, into the future. All Kori could get out of people was that Terra, what Earth was called now, came to life and re-arranged the surface to stop all the fighting. He tried to get more on it but most didn’t know and didn’t care and they always seemed armed with garbage to throw.
The description he gave of the men who took Aloyce was greeted with grim answers. They were slavers and in the Region they appeared in, the Wind Region, the business of slaves was legal, especially of Exoans … what they considered Aloyce to be. It took some arguing and being called a nut before it finally sunk in. This was not the world he knew and it was quickly beginning to feel like a totally different planet.
The jaunt through the wormhole or time warp or time portal or whatever you want to call it changed him to fit this time and he could only guess that Aloyce was going through the same thing. His memory was as it was when he left his own time, but this wasn’t his body. His reflection still held his face, but everything felt … different.
In this era those who looked or resembled him were called Hikarians and Aloyce was Exoan by their description. Hikarians and Exoans; two different races yet they had many similarities. For one, they had thick skin in order to resist the intense heat and frequent sand storms of their homeland which was run through with volcanic activity and arid deserts. This was the reason most wore very little clothing and no shoes. They also shared the ability to go without water for days longer than normal. Exoans had the strength while the Hiks had the dexterity. Exoans were the ruling population as most of them could control some aspect of their homeland; lava, sand, mostly heat and fire. That Kori had still yet to see. Those that could were few and usually marked by their ability or so he was told.
There are five major races and four Regions; Exoans and Hikarians, the first and second largest races residing mostly in the Fire Region. Teotians populated the Earth Region they were the third largest population living alongside the Balans, a minor race. The Wind Region had the fourth major race; the Avians, little was known of them, as they didn’t seem to care to travel beyond their mountains. The Water Region had the fifth, the Mers, who were also practicing isolationists. They were still considered a lesser race because they were mutates, acknowledged only because of their fast growing numbers.
Kori wiped his forehead, smudging it with dirt. It had been almost five months, or as they say here, cycles, since Aloyce was kidnapped. He learned that time was not told by clocks and the terminology had changed; everyone knew how to tell time by the sun or the moon. Seconds didn't exist; minutes didn't really have a usage. Hours were Shifts of the sun, days were called Turns, weeks didn't exist but months did, they were called Cycles. The seasons were called Phases and named after the Regions and years were Orbits. He quickly picked up on the slang and local curse words. Money had a global term, Teeals for larger denominations and Onz for the smaller.
Kori looked up at the only thing that hadn’t changed in all this time and that was the blaring ball in the sky. In the third month …ur … cycle of his new life here, his hope in finding Aloyce was near nil. He found himself drinking whenever he could. Kori was never a heavy drinker back in their own time, but the alcohol here was sweet and addictive. There was no bitter taste and the stuff was easy to come by.
Since then Kori had been beaten four times and chased off three, he had been arrested twice and robbed once and not in that order. Aloyce’s trail hadn’t gone cold yet; the men that took her seemed to be well known and made the same trip through the field they had appeared in every orbit. But he didn’t want to wait a whole orbit to catch up with them again.
In the fourth cycle of his stay here, depression hit him hard and he had gotten so blasted with the local alcohol that he passed out in a cart. Two days ... or turns later Kori was rudely awakened by a large Exoan man armed with a bucket of cold water. He was the biggest and most threatening man Kori had ever seen, at least until he smiled.
Thalus Douan was a green –eyed giant with skin the color of dark honey. A tattoo of what looked to be a crane in reeds on his left arm, starting at the top of his shoulder and down to his wrist. A marking the rest of Thalus’ family shared Kori found out after he got rid of the hangover. These tattoos, or family markings, were common practice. You got it when you turned five orbits and it changed when one was married or removed when banished. You did NOT want to be banished. Tattoo removal was not available in this era.
Kori had slept for two turns, the time it took Thalus to reach his farm a few miles inside the Fire Region. Thalus’ smile was a friendly one, but his size was threatening and Kori couldn’t dispute Thalus’ want for payment for his unconscious stowaway.
So for the past cycle he’s been working on the Exoan’s farm for free board and food. Not forgetting about Aloyce and her predicament but just taking some time to get himself back in the shape he needed to be able to rescue her when the time came. Not that he had a choice. It was a long trek to the nearest town.
Thalus’ boys; Terk and Jah, had even taken it upon themselves to teach Kori a fighting style using sticks. He picked up on it rather quickly and was becoming almost as good as his teachers.
Kori wiped the sweat from around his neck as it tickled down his chest. He caught Thalus watching him from the open doorway of their long house. Kori sighed, he was becoming comfortable, he didn’t want that. This wasn’t his time, wasn’t their time, and there was no telling when whatever brought them here would jerk them back. If ever. His fingers got tangled in the chain around his neck, the two amulets were still fused together. Kori gave a quick nod to Thalus before he bent back to the chore at hand.
Thalus shook his head and sat down on the front step of his family’s home. He found himself caring about the strange Hik. Not believing the boy’s story of having mild amnesia when he found him passed out in his cart, but there was something off about him.
Thalus recalled the way the boy looked when he told him what had happened to him. How his heart was in every word he spoke except the lie about his memory. He was quite sure the boy was fine, but somehow he didn’t know anything when it came to the ways of the world. Then the fact that he was determined to rescue this ... Aloyce, an Exoan by the boy’s description. Hikarians and Exoans didn’t get along well; to listen to how adamant Kori was to find and rescue this girl was moving to say the least.
“He’s not gonna stay forever, Thal.” Jhalla walked up behind her husband, smiling as she rubbed her russet colored hand over his shiny bald head, “You’ve taken to him like a child to a pago.”
Thalus watched as she sauntered over to a large kettle now boiling. Jhalla reached in to grab a tomal. The foul smelling vegetable could only be cooked outside, boiled till the oils leeched out of its skin. The flesh of the vegetable steamed as she tested its firmness with her bare hands. She frowned before she dropped the tuber back into the boiling pot.
“What do you suggest?” Thalus asked while he watched her work.
She gave him a cag full of coo-bird smile, “Jade.”
Thalus frowned before he shook his head, “That girl would eat him alive.”
“He’s not a pet, Thal,” She sat down next to him, “I see determination in him. He’s going to get himself together and go rescue this Aloyce,” She shrugged, “His reasons being his own.”
“You still think he’s lying.”
Jhalla sighed, “Yes.” She looked over at Kori, his tunic was soaked with sweat and covered in dirt. He was the strangest Hik she had ever come across, “This girl is either a favored slave or much more to him.” He didn't have the deeply tanned skin of a desert born Hik, nor the long queue typical of a mid-land Hik. He was likely from the northern territories, somewhere in the Air Region. Fire Region folk did not travel there, not in their right mind anyway. That was why she couldn't trust him, why would he be anywhere near the Air Region at all, unless he bought her there?
“That’s not our concern.”
“Oh, but it is,” She suddenly glared at her husband. “I refuse to help anyone who’s out to enslave my people. I refuse, Thal.”
He smirked and then carefully put his arm about her shoulders, “Yes, La. But Jade wouldn’t help him.”
She smirked back at him. “Oh, I wasn’t saying that she would help him in finding the girl. But he’d help her. He’s the opposition she needs.”
Jhalla gracefully got up and dusted herself off before heading back to her boiling pot, “And he’s very well grounded.”
Thalus shook his head, “I think he’s in love with this Aloyce.”
Jhalla stared at the steaming tomal in her hand, “All the more reason to introduce him to her.”
The sun went down slowly bringing an end to another turn. Kori dumped the evening chilled water over his head before realizing he had company.
A towel wrapped itself about his head causing him to jump.
“Sands!” he yelled before turning to face his company. He paused nervously when he saw that it was Jhalla. Kori swallowed apprehensively as she calmly looked at him. Since he’s been in this Region, the Fire Region, he’s learned the last person you wanted mad at you was an Exoan female. They were twice as strong as their male counterparts when angry and when pregnant even worse. Ever since he had come here she had watched him, found it totally unnecessary to speak to him and never truly trusted him. And being he was ‘Hikarian’ she never would. He quickly bowed.
“Forgive me, fem. Jhal--.”
“Stop that.” She narrowed her eyes at him, “This Aloyce, what is she to you?”
“Huh? What? Why?” Kori was taken aback by her sudden questioning about Aloyce. He looked nervously toward the long-house; he could hear the rest of the Douans inside. But Jhalla didn’t seem worried about being seen out here with him. Was this a planned ambush?
“Is she a slave to you? Your toy?” she watched his eyes take on an irritated glare. “Why you want---?”
Kori turned away from her. He had been told about what had happened to Tora, Jhalla’s younger sister. Before they were joined, Jhalla and Thal had worked in her family’s inn with her older brother. A ‘friendly’ Hik was hired to fill a position that was suddenly vacated. Only it turned out that he had been surveying the place to rob it. The robbery went bad and Tora was hurt and then kidnapped by the Hik in order to ensure a problem free get away. The Hik was never caught and Tora was never found. Jhalla feared the worst as orbits passed but her brother; he never forgave himself and had yet to give up on finding Tora. Kori understood her wariness, but didn’t appreciate it aimed at him. He shook his head at her, “No.”
She smirked, “Then what do you care? Why is she so important…?”
“I can’t leave her in a slaver’s hands!” he hissed. “I said I wouldn’t let anything happen to her and she was taken from me.” Kori turned to face the woman, her face now a blank slate, “It’s my fault she’s in this mess,” he said more to himself, “I promised.”
“For some reason I just don’t believe you,” Jhalla stared blandly at him, “Something about you screams ‘lie’ to me.”
Kori shrugged, “Doesn’t really matter does it?” He glared at her becoming annoyed, “I’m Hikarian, you’re not gonna trust a word I say regardless.” He watched her smirk and then nod. “So what does it matter if she’s a slave or not to me?” He regretted his words as soon as they left his lips.
He didn’t even see her move before she was attempting to strangle him with one hand. A strange gradual heat flowed from her hand growing more and more uncomfortable.
“Why do you continue to lie to me?” She growled. “You think I’m as stupid as one of your Hikarian cows?” She bared her teeth at him. “I promise you, I’m not.”
His hand grasped at her wrist. “Fem. Jhalla---,” He choked out only to be cut off as she tightened her grip.
“I refuse to allow a slaver to slip through my fingers when I can kill you now. My little sister was taken from me, my sweet Tora. You think I want to see another girl taken from her family because she might be some good tail for you?” She watched in slight surprise as Kori removed her hand from around his throat and shoved her away.
“Aloyce means a lot more to me than some piece of tail as you so rudely put it!” He snarled. “I love her!”
He suddenly stiffened. Jhalla gave him a sad smile realizing immediately that he hadn't meant to say that. She didn't know whether to be angry or relieved. Another Hikarian in love with yet another Exoan, she knew it could happen. Tora and the Hik that kidnapped her had been involved. Despite her interference and her brother’s promised threats, they continued to see each other. That was the only reason they knew that the thief had been the Hik they had hired. The Hik had killed his own accomplice when Tora was injured.
People were people and love didn't care what race you were.
She sighed, Thal will be pleased. Jhalla headed back to the house to let him know.
Kori simply stood there unable to move. His mind working hard to figure out what just happened. Did he really? Did he really just admit that to someone else? He sat down hard. He had known he liked Aloyce, was attracted to her. But love! He felt his face heat up.
How in the world could he have fallen in love with her? They only knew each other for a little over a month and for most of that month he thought he was too mentally set on getting information on her half of the amulet. He went over his feelings in his head...yeah, felt strongly for her, but he still didn't know how that happened!
They had kissed maybe three times, held hands off and on...couple of hugs thrown in there. Nothing more than that, he hadn't been planning on getting that deeply involved with her!
No, he was just overly concerned, that had to be it. Because it was his fault that she was here, because of her being kidnapped and because she was the only connection he had to home.
He rolled onto his back. Kori sighed deeply as he stared at the stars above him. The silence of the night wouldn’t let him deceive himself. He was most certainly in love with Al. She was the first girl that he had dated since his father died.
When he and his Uncle had gone to their usual restaurant one night so long ago, they had noticed the pretty Black girl busing their usual table in Golden Buddha. She had bent down to pick up a dropped fork and the amulet slipped from her shirt. Kori about choked on his tongue. Quickly checking if his uncle had noticed and finding to his relief that Uncle had stopped to talk to the manager. After about a week of practically stalking her, Kori had yet to come up with an un-creepy way of asking her about her necklace. Until she stopped by his table with a dazzling smile that made his stomach flutter. He later found out that she liked him from her co-workers and immediately planned to use that to his benefit. Just to find out how she had gotten her half of his family's heirloom. But even though she was already taken with him she didn't make it easy for him. Kori had to work hard for her to trust him. He had to get to know her and her likes and dislikes and he knew them well.
He hit himself in the forehead with the heel of his hand. Why in the world would he want to give her up when he got the amulet? After all that work to get her to trust him, she was pleasant and fun to be around. Kori hit himself again.
Aloyce had already ended their 'relationship' in her mind. He recalled how dejected she sounded when she realized he was just after her amulet.
What she must think of him now.
The turns went by slowly, each without a reason to Kori's sudden change in temperament. Little things set him off or caused him to withdraw completely. Thalus cornered him after they cleared the first neeri field for the week.
“So. When are you leaving?”
Kori froze. His mouth was poised and ready to tell the Exoan to leave him alone, but the question had him at a loss.
“I-I don't know,” he stared off into the distance. His ill temper was annoying even himself, but he couldn't figure out what to do about it. Where did he go?
Thalus smirked a little, he had figured as much.
Kori simply stared at him. When was he leaving? He was safe here on their farm. No worries just work; eat when Jhalla fixed food, sleep when work was done. No being robbed or getting mixed up in something he didn't understand.
“I...I don't---,” Who did he need to talk to get on the right path?
Thal laughed and then gave him a hearty pat across his shoulders, “It's okay. There's…,” he released a tired sigh, “a girl coming.”
Kori looked at him. “A girl.”
Thalus dragged his hands over his head and down his face. He couldn't believe he was suggesting her. He just hoped it didn't come back to haunt them. He gave Kori an empty smile.
“Yeh-yeh. She's a little off, this one. But she's the one you should talk to about underhanded going ons.”
Kori took a deep breath. Regardless of how strongly he felt to getting back on the road and returning to his search for Aloyce, part of him wanted to remain safe, here, on the Douan's farm. He realized that this was why he had the bitter attitude. But he knew the sharp things he had been saying since the revelation of his feelings for Aloyce would more than likely get worse. He was quite sure one of the Douans would call him out or just flat out hit him eventually. More than likely Fem Jhalla.
“I still don't know what to do next,” he looked at Thal pitifully.
“Go to the nearest Slaver compound.”
Both males turned in the direction of her stern voice. Jhalla walked toward the small river behind the property. A large, heavily laden basket of wet clothes balanced on her head and another in her arms. Kori's usual amazement at the woman's strength was a bit lack luster today.
Thalus shrugged. “That would be a good idea. The nearest one would be two turns back where we first got acquainted,” he smirked. “Maybe four turns north of where you said you lost her,” he looked at the boy apprehensively, knowing his wording was rather cruel, but true.
Kori gave another large sigh.
“Do you trust her?” Kori didn't really mean to ask this, but looking at the way Thal was reacting to the whole idea himself it couldn't be helped.
“To watch your back?” Thalus shook his head. “She hates males. You will not get along with her when you first meet,” Thalus smirked. “The girl is suicidal...at least I think so. But she gets the job done, she is determined.”
“Don’t really have any other choice; I would just end up lost on my own,” Kori said mostly to himself but watched as Thalus nodded. “When will she be here?”
The Amulet - Book one of the Regions Series