Set in Stone

by Aoime Kouchou (あおいめこうちょう)


Only when the sun was at it’s highest was the haa’sith of the Light allowed to travel through the temple grounds to bathe. It was the only chance Ashiid had to clean his pale scales of the temple’s cloying incense. It was also the only designated place where he could be away from the priests, the citizens and the other haa’sith.

Ashiid hid his nudity beneath a robe as pale as his sun-bleached scales. It was a billowing thing, made to accommodate generations of Ateimei bodies, from young to old, lithe to gargantuan. His role as the light haa’sith, or emissary in the Standard lexicon, was the most flexible of all haa’sith.

Any male or female could assume the robe, they only needed to bear the scales of the pale-sand spectrum, which was not a rare spectrum by any means. Countless Ateimei hatched upon the midland sands bore such a scale colour. There were other spectrums and other sands, of course, such as the red of the Mardique desert and the black lava-welts of the southern-most continent. Ashiid hissed down tourists’ exclamations that he was an albino.

No, he was not albino. He was not one of those poor, translucent beings that had been born from a thin-shelled egg. However, when compared to a Maa’rish or an Ath’baakan, Ashiid was ghastly pale. Most tourists, having either come from a Maa’rish town or were Maa’rish themselves, had no idea what a normal Ateimei looked like. They couldn’t see the variance of sand and tan that painted hourglasses across his scales. While he was grateful for the tourism, he wished they would keep their attentions to his pots instead of his backside. It made his maa’thona jealous.

Part of him wished his maa’thona had been with him when the priests had knocked on his door. He could have used D’ntei as an excuse to stay and tend his craft. The priests had ignored him when he said he was bound to other obligations, that didn’t involve playing make-believe with priests so old their scales rattled. They’d showed him the old documents that he’d signed in his wild, rebellious youth that bent him to serve the temple if ever they should call. He’d been such a naive fool then.

D’ntei would have ripped up the documents. Ashiid hoped that, whenever D’ntei returned to their modest home, it would not be empty.

Ashiid’s bare feet slapped against sun-warmed marble tile. Waves of lapis lazuli made coin-sized scales that spiraled through the marble’s white grain. The lapis was trimmed in curves of gold to mimic the flowing pattern of scales. Carefully groomed desert flora framed the walkway, spreading thorns and sharp flower buds over the upraised marble trim.

The religious symbolism of the walkway was not lost on Ashiid. The lapis was the scales of the great drake, the Ateimei forebear and most divine mother. To walk across her scales was said to have been a testament of purity and divinity, for only heroes and gods ever earned the right to touch her.

Ashiid pushed aside a curtain of long, green vines to walk between the posts of an ancient marble trellis. Interspersed across the floor were more columns, choked with thick, thorn-shrouded stems. There was enough dark earth open to allow the plants room to bury their roots deep beneath the floor. High above, manicured vines spread their thick, fat leaves across a network of woven stone. Ashiid marveled at the intricate diamond shape of the trellis crown.

He tried to mimic such ancient patterning in his pottery. The slope and flow of the ancient designs were the most desirable to tourists, while his more modern pieces went to art galleries. Everyone wanted to buy a piece of history because they were all so jaded about the future. It discouraged him, as an artist, when he saw a tourist pass up a modern piece he’d spent days on for some thrown-together antique-looking drinking cup.

D’ntei prized whatever Ashiid made. The replicas, the modern pieces; D’ntei would only drink from cups Ashiid made. Even the silly little throw-away binding cups Ashiid made were touched and explored before D’ntei filled them with water. D’ntei would drink, then Ashiid, then the cup would be broken so no others could drink from it. D’ntei always complimented Ashiid on how well the binding cups were made and how sorry he was to have to break them. Silly Maa’rish and their rites; no matter how much they tried to be different, the Ateimei were just as bound to tradition as their Maa’rish “oppressors” were.

Ashiid followed the walkway to the flowing heart of the temple. A massive fountain frothed with the cool, clear water that fed the small oasis. The fountain was what made the temple so special, for not only was it a natural source of water, but it had survived many brutal wars. The water the fountain pumped came from a large underground deposit. A series of sand-filters, build into the fountain, kept the water clean.

The fountain was a marvelous thing to behold and a testament to its builders. Ashiid had seen it before, when it had been time for him to be blessed with his name. Then, before he’d gone off to the military academy, he had been blessed a second time to ensure he would return safely. As was tradition, a cup full of the fountain’s water had been poured over the foundation of his home as it was being constructed. The same was done to his kiln, then his showroom. His first few pots had been mixed with fountain-water, as part of the request made by the high priest.

His life blended with the temple because other lives blended with his. He didn’t hate the place, but neither did he have a reason to enjoy the time he spent there.

He stepped over the marble lip of the pool to sink his feet into the water. He shivered as his body acclimated to the touch of water instead of dry winds. It took only a simple shrug of the shoulders to free his skin of the cloying white cloak that the priests had bound him in. As the cloak shivered in the sunlight, the silver threads along the trim flashed in a thousand different characters.

The water rippled as it spread the cloak over its clear surface. There were no fish to disturb its steady descent to the sands below. It had served its purpose to protect his skin from mundane eyes. The only mortal allowed to view the intricate henna spirals that covered his body was the priest who had bound them there. The dark brown of the swirls contrasted with the sandy cream of his skin-scales.

When the henna faded and the gods were appeased, he could go back to his pottery. He wasn’t like the other haa’shith, who’d seemed to savor their time trapped in the temple. The food didn’t taste good. The bed they made him sleep in night after night was covered with overly-soft blankets that were constantly too cold for his scales to endure. The chill slowed his blood and made it difficult for him to function during the morning rites.

Every day he spent away from his kiln was another day of lost income. The temple would only reimburse him as much as the government demanded; it was why they imposed the haa’shiidaurad ritual upon the artisans and the low-ranked civil servants instead of the elite. The gods certainly didn’t seem to mind who gave up their time, so long as the old ways were endured.

Ashiid dug his toes into the sand at the bottom of the fountain. Along the outer edge of the pool were statues, sculpted to represent the shattered elements that coursed across their planet’s surface. They were all carved of blindingly white marble, with veins of gold articulating the patterns of their scales. Each one was wrapped in the carefully chiseled impression of their element. The male statues of air and fire carried big amphorae over their shoulders. The female statues of earth and water leaned seductively against their amphorae.

The males gave the fountain its water; the females were shaded by bouquets of flame-red hibiscus flowers. The male elements provided the means so that the females’ could develop the product. Their balance was at the essence of the fertility rite. In the olden times, it was the haa’shiidaurad that ensured plants grew, that animals dropped healthy young and brought the monsoons to the parched desert sands.

Ashiid hoped his people knew better then to believe that dancing naked between statues would bring the rains. The haa’shiidaurad was practiced in their modern age simply to appease the superstitious old men who had too much time on their hands. Fertility rites and chanted prayers were about as useful as a hot breeze. Maa’rish priests didn’t demand their warriors jump off the battlefield to appease this ancestor or that. Why should Ashiid waste his time to do such things? It wasn’t like the elements would just magically come back together if he wiggled his tail the right way.

Just as he bent down to splash water across his arms, the slow pound of boots against stone stole his attention. He turned his head from side to side to catch some kind of heat signature from the air. The constant flow of air and water made it difficult for the pitted scales, that lined the length of his jaw, to accurately make sense of his surroundings. Technically there was heat everywhere, for the sun was just reaching the heart of the sky; the stones, the plants, even the water was warmed by it.

But as he cocked his head to the side, away from the water, he sensed a large bundle of heat hidden between the marble columns. It was not an Ateimei, for there was too much raw heat escaping the figure. He’d never met an Ath’baakan to know what their heat-signatures felt like. The closer the figure came, the clearer he sensed the figure’s shape. Two-legged, with a thick build; most assuredly not an Ateimei build.

Ashiid licked his lips. He remembered an old story his mother used to tell him about the shadow haa’shith who got lost in a sandstorm.

It was not the hiss of a priest he heard, but the deep bellow of a Maa’rish voice. “Fa’ithe! The hell are you?! Ashiid! Fa’ithe!”

“I’m here, Maa’thona!” Ashiid happily broke the implied vow of silence the priests had thrust upon him. He let the sound of the roars lead him to the edge of the pool. He didn’t care if it was a damned mirage, or some demon tricking him. D’ntei’s voice was too wonderful to be a lie. “D’ntei! Here! I’m in here! Hurry!”

He realized the mistake of his words the moment he heard the yell become a roar. If it was D’ntei, then he’d only just come back from some distant battlefield. He could be falling into the dark spell of the heat – the thing the Maa’rish called the rat’demlou, that stole the mind and heart of his beloved maa’thona away from him. Even if he weren’t ra’dath, D’ntei could be very dangerous if he thought Ashiid was in danger.

Ashiid cleared his throat with a quick cough before cupping his hands around his lips. He did his best to make the rumble Maa’rish fa’ithe made to soothe their maa’thona. It came out cracked and imperfect, but D’ntei gave a smooth purr in reply.

His thick figure broke between the columns, bound into the tight darkness of a Maa’rish army uniform. He was tall, his tan-brown skin marked by thick black stripes. He was holding his belly with one arm and walking with something of a limp. The rolling purr D’ntei made became the deep call a maa’thona gave to call his fa’ithe to his side.

Ashiid didn’t believe what he was seeing. He’d never seen D’ntei move so slowly. “Maa’thona! What happened?”

“They tried to keep you from me.” As D’ntei walked, droplets of blood splattered against the marble tiles. “They tried. They failed.”

“D’ntei!” Ashiid tripped over the pool’s mouth in his rush to be away from the water. A blur of darkness rushed before him and he was trapped by black-striped arms. He could smell the musk of sweat and sand beneath the acrid stench of blood. “D’ntei…you didn’t…”

“I did not.” D’ntei lifted his shirt to show the torn bandages wrapped around his belly. “This is all from the hospital.”

Ashiid coursed his fingertips over the slices. He’d seen his maa’thona’s scars before, but they usually weren’t so fresh. “What…this…?”

“You know I don’t understand your people’s language very well. And I am nearing ra’dath…”

Ashiid took D’ntei’s face between his hands, “Stop rambling. What hospital?”

“Haa’shavid General. I had them take me there after my troop landed.” D’ntei’s gold eyes didn’t waver from Ashiid’s. Only bonded pairs could look each other in the eyes without the threat of retaliation. “I took a few rounds to the gut at the outpost we were clearing out. Damn Terran cultists and their needle-rifles.”

A sharp hiss escaped Ashiid’s lips as he jerked D’ntei against his chest. It took seconds for him to rip away what was left of the black fabric to expose the wrappings. The ceremonial spears had taken deep slices out of the sides, exposing the stripes and bloodied skin beneath. He reached down to course his fingertips across the bandages.

D’ntei took hold of his palm to guide him towards the blood. “It’s just a scratch. The tanks took care of all the internal stuff.”

The desert winds stole the moisture out of Ashiid’s mouth. While he was out doing some stupid shit for the tribe, his mate had been dying. His mate, whom he’d worked hard to steal from the empire, had needed him. Important vid-calls had gone unanswered; what if the hospital had needed important information that only Ashiid knew? What would have happened to D’ntei then? “Wha…my…r-reparations…they must!”

“Later,” D’ntei’s purrs leaked into Ashiid’s mind, soothing what thoughts and memories had frayed. “I didn’t hurt any of the guards. I broke those shitty spears though. Does no one speak Maa’taan in this place but you?”

“I don’t know,” Ashiid leaned his head against D’ntei’s shoulder. He couldn’t remember how many weeks it had been since he’d last felt D’ntei’s stronger, thicker arms wrap around him. It took him a few tries, but he got his throat to return D’ntei’s purrs with staccato hisses. “I’m never coming back here, so it doesn’t matter.”

D’ntei leaned in to nuzzle Ashiid’s cheek. “That old guy, with all the bands, was that the high priest or something?”

“Yes,” and he was about to owe Ashiid and D’ntei both a very large sum of money. Medical bills, lost wages and the cost of a new uniform; Ashiid’s tail writhed as it stretched over D’ntei’s hip. Ashiid would own the damn temple grounds before he was through. There were hundreds of lawyers, he was sure, that would love to try a species-discrimination case.

“He kept saying something.” D’ntei had a hard time working his tongue around the Ateimei sibilance, “Shii’dadar or h’shissh. I couldn’t understand him too pretty good, what with the guards hissing at me.”

Ashiid had to think a few moments over the sounds and their meanings. “Oh! Was it H’shiidasahr?”

“That sounds about right, yeah. How bad an insult is it?”

“It’s not an insult at all.” Ashiid leaned against D’ntei’s shoulder, his hands already longing to touch the smoothness of D’ntei’s skin. It was probably the worst part of his addiction, for Maa’rish flesh was so much softer, and yet harder then Ateimei scales. His tail joined in, skimming across the brim of D’ntei’s pants to find something to curl around. Since D’ntei had no tail, Ashiid’s had to make due by coiling around a belt loop. “The H’shiidasahr was a very important person, a long time ago.”

D’ntei lifted his hand to brush through Ashiid’s hair-thin quills. “Tell me?”

“All right.” Ashiid pressed a quick kiss against D’ntei’s lips. “But let me clean you up. You’re a mess, d’shiidii.”

But D’ntei didn’t let Ashiid break out of his embrace so quickly. D’ntei slid his hands over Ashiid’s cheeks to trap him so their lips could touch more and more. “That’s the only hiss-word I like.”

Ashiid had to gasp between kisses to get a single word out of his mouth. “Now why is that?”

“‘Cause I can hear the love in your voice whenever you say it.”

D’ntei’s kisses came slower and lasted longer, but he did not break open the seal of Ashiid’s lips. It was part of their rite, as bonded and as lovers. D’ntei could kiss and touch Ashiid as much as he wanted, but he would not steal what Ashiid did not freely offer him. D’ntei begged with kisses. He begged with purrs and with words.

“I missed you. I love you, Fa’ithe.”

Locked within D’ntei’s purrs was the need. The strange, frightening force that was locked within D’ntei’s muscles was not satisfied with pawing and kissing. Even with his poor nose, Ashiid could smell the shift in D’ntei’s scent. A sharp twinge of spice heightened the musk and blood scents, making them less than appealing to Ashiid’s nose. The shift of scents was the affirmation; D’ntei was slowly entering the state of being that the Maa’rish called ra’dath.

Ateimei scriptures called the rat’demlou a curse of the blood. It was one of the three curses that the drake had infused into the Maa’rish, after she caught a village of Maa’rish feasting upon one of her eggs. The stripes the Maa’rish bore were the bloodied scars from her talons, the first curse upon their bodies. The last curse, the one upon their souls, left the Maa’rish peoples bereft of the balancing female gender.

However, the loss of the fairer gender did not weaken the Maa’rish potency. Ashiid knew full well that if he’d been female, he and D’ntei would have a house full of little mewlings. Such was the potency within Maa’rish seed, that no matter the source of the egg, the product would be a Maa’rish mewling.

Ashiid stood up on the tips of his toes to nuzzle D’ntei’s nose. He felt D’ntei’s thick hands slide down his back and excite his tail. As he raked his fingers through D’ntei’s coppery hair, his tail curled and brushed over one arm, then the other. One hand managed to capture the length of it, while the other kneaded Ashiid’s backscales. Centuries out in the brutal desert sands made Ateimei scales harder then the flesh and bone they protected.

Ashiid slid back down to duck his head beneath D’ntei’s chin. The more of D’ntei’s scent he took in, the easier it became to calm his instincts. It was like warming up the body to the shock of cold water; he had to remind his instincts that D’ntei was the warrior he’d sworn himself to, not some terrible predator. Ashiid had stolen D’ntei from the field of battle and there was no way to give him back. “You only love me because I let you use my back as a scratching post.”

“I thought you liked it when I helped you shed?” D’ntei rested his cheek against Ashiid’s quills. “That water looks awful nice.”

The sudden shift in attention was a tell. D’ntei needed something, but he didn’t want to leave Ashiid alone. So, Ashiid took it upon himself to do as the tranquilizers had told him and pretend to be the proper fa’ithe that D’ntei needed. He slid his hands and tail behind D’ntei’s back to lead him towards the fountain.

“It’s nice and cold too. The salts in the sand will help you heal faster.”

It took but a few steps for Ashiid to stand upon the damp sands once more. He helped D’ntei settle on the edge of the pool and began unlacing the black boots that covered D’ntei’s feet.

D’ntei broke his purr with loose snickers, “I should come home wounded more often. You never treat me this nice.”

“I do so.” Ashiid tossed the first boot over his shoulder as if it were little more then refuse. As he yanked the sock off of D’ntei’s foot, Ashiid snuck his hand beneath D’ntei’s uniform trousers. He could feel the strength trapped within D’ntei’s muscles as he groped the back of D’ntei’s calf. “I make you good dinners and I clean your uniforms. I even feed your chy’tock when you’re away.”

It took D’ntei’s purr to break the spell his strength and skin had over Ashiid.

“Sheedae is going to need a good rub-down when we get home. I road her pretty hard to get here.”

Ashiid rolled up the cuffs of D’ntei’s trousers and eased his bare foot into the water. “You really rode her all the way from home?”

“Had to,” D’ntei hissed until his body acclimated to the chill of the water, “You had my car.”

“No wonder they took you for the H’shiidasahar. Riding up on a chy’tock to the middle of the reservation,” Ashiid laughed away the novelty of the situation. He pealed off D’ntei’s opposing boot, tossing it and the sock across the floor to join their mates.

As soon as Ashiid had the cuff rolled up, D’ntei swiveled around so both feet could be caressed by the water. He kept his legs open so Ashiid could sit between his knees. There were still trousers and bandages separating their bodies from one another, but nothing kept their lips from touching. D’ntei gently swiped his tongue against Ashiid’s lips, trying to tempt and tease without completely piercing Ashiid’s mouth.

“Tell me,” D’ntei purred, “Everything…”

Ashiid leaned back to fully relish in the depths of D’ntei’s voice. No other Ateimei voice – male or female – could mimic the sound of it. He was a stranger among his kind, not only for his predilection towards other males, but for the joy he took in being covered in skin instead of scales. He was th’shaa’dine, a heat-seeker; such a thing would have made him a deviant and an exile when the drake walked across the sands. In the modern era, he was simply asked to warn others that he was involved with a Maa’rish.

D’ntei slid his hands over Ashiid’s shoulders, his palms rubbing over the cracks imbedded into Ashiid’s scales. His thumbs strayed too close to the base of Ashiid’s throat, where the thinnest and weakest of Ashiid’s scales lie. The barest touch made Ashiid loose his breath; what had once been a point of panic had been made into an erotic place that only D’ntei could touch. It was the only place where Ashiid could truly feel D’ntei’s touch, without it being weakened by his natural armor.

He both hated and loved his scales. They kept him safe and kept D’ntei from killing him during the heat of the rat’demlou, but they kept him apart from D’ntei. He wasn’t Maa’rish, nor had he been raised as one. He didn’t understand everything that D’ntei did or said, but he still loved D’ntei. His parents, his siblings, his friends; none of them understood how he could not be frightened by D’ntei.

D’ntei lured Ashiid close so he could lap his tongue against the thin scales. It was the power of his people that made it possible to ignore his wounds in favor of making love. Maa’rish did such things all the time. It was part of who they were, not only as a people, but as a race. They endured and were made stronger by it; they were the weapons, while Ateimei were the shields.

“I thought,” Ashiid found the strength of will to hiss, “You wanted to hear the story…”

“I do.” D’ntei slid down into the water so their bodies could press against one another as they kissed. “What? You can’t do both?”

But Ashiid could still feel the dampness in D’ntei’s bandages as they brushed against his bellyscales. It might not have been in D’ntei’s nature to slow down, but it was in Ashiid’s. However, thanks to the teaching he’d received, Ashiid could properly articulate his words so as not to hurt D’ntei’s pride. “You’re hurt, Maa’thona. I think you should rest before you renewed our bond. I want you at your strongest.”

“And you’ll have me,” D’ntei pressed one last kiss against Ashiid’s chin before turning his attentions down to his belt. “Just let me get this shit off…”

“So you can tempt me?”

“You’ve been tempting me since I walked in here,” D’ntei climbed to his feet to strip off his trousers. “Prancing around here without a stitch on. You’re lucky I love you so much.”

Such discipline was one of the many reasons Ashiid loved D’ntei so much. It was an acceptable practice to Maa’rish to forego gentleness when the rat’demlou was upon them. It couldn’t be called rape if the fa’ithe was just as lustful as the maa’thona, but from what Ashiid understood of the rat’demlou, it couldn’t really be called love-making either. Maa’thona had been known to kill their fa’ithe in the midst of trying to become one with them.

“I was only going to take a bath, when this big,” the rustle of fabric stole Ashiid’s attention.

D’ntei, his shaft and balls in clear view, tossed his trousers and underwear over the edge of the pool. Ashiid stared at the thin stripes that led his gaze down D’ntei’s sculpted abs. If he but sat up on his knees, he’d be in the perfect position to worship the perfection that war and religion had kept from him.

“Strong…thick…Damn it!”

Ashiid looked away and hurried to cover the tightness welling in his sheath. Such a thing was yet one more adaptation that separated him from D’ntei. Everything about the Ateimei reproductive system was internal to keep the genitals protected from the heat of the sands. Females had adapted thicker backscales and more nubile hips to accommodate the male’s permanently up-turned sheath. The sheath rested along the same stretch of scales that an erect phallus would: between the short span between the crest of the legs and the bellybutton.

However, such evolutionary adjustments meant little when one’s partner was not of one’s species. He and D’ntei had needed to try out many different positions to make their love pleasurable for both of them. Such things must have been on D’ntei’s mind for Ashiid couldn’t help but notice the flush slowly darkening D’ntei’s phallus. It was exciting to think that, simply by sitting naked in the cold water, he was giving D’ntei an erection.

D’ntei began to laugh as he eased himself back down into the pool. “What? Did something catch your eye, Fa’ithe?”

Ashiid slid over D’ntei’s lap, his knees clinging to D’ntei’s sides, “Of course you did! Do you know how long it’s been?”

“Too damn long,” D’ntei’s hands coursed across the span of scales that covered Ashiid’s chest and belly. There were no nipples for him to tease, but there were dips between muscles that needed his touch. His hands seemed especially fond of the twin dips that lured his touch towards Ashiid’s sheath. His fingertips teased the scales around the sheath, but did not linger. He did not need to arouse Ashiid just yet, just touch to reaffirm the bond of their bodies.

“I had to take a lot of cold showers when you left.” Ashiid shuddered as D’ntei’s hands skimmed his thighs, “Didn’t help either.”

“I wanted to come home sooner. Believe me,” D’ntei growled as his touch strayed across the fullness of Ashiid’s sheath. “You’re just as tempting in my head as you are beneath my fingers.”

Ashiid leaned back, showing off the tight ripples of his belly scales as he raked his fingers through his quills. The scales that covered his sheath shivered as the muscles beneath tightened. “Did I give a certain someone a midnight salute?”

“Why do you think I’m this close,” D’ntei pinched the air between his forefinger and thumb, “To being ra’dath? I wish you’d come with me. I could really use you out there.”

“Maybe next time I will, if it means keeping you from coming home like this.” Ashiid’s hands couldn’t stay away from the bandages. He knew he wanted to protect the broken flesh that lie beneath the bandages. But at the same time, he wanted to rip them away and remove the last barrier between himself and D’ntei. As he coursed his fingertips along the edge of a tear, D’ntei captured his hand.

The the span of a breath, D’ntei was on his knees and pressed against Ashiid’s chest. D’ntei buried his hottest kisses against Ashiid’s shoulder as he ripped apart every last bandage that bound his belly. The bandages scattered over the lip of the pool as if they were little more then white and red petals from some unearthly flower. Ashiid could feel the thick grease of D’ntei’s blood spread over his scales. He broke away from D’ntei’s embrace to see how shallow the wounds were.

D’ntei ducked his hand beneath Ashiid’s chin to capture his attention. “It’s just blood, Fa’ithe.”

“Just blood,” Ashiid shivered, “You try it from my end. You don’t like it when I come to you all bloody and hurting.”

“Unless I’m the one that made you that way…”

Maa’thona,” Ashiid sat up on his knees to lure D’ntei against his chest.

Again, their instincts and cultures conflicted against one another. Hurts and scars were points of pride for a Maa’rish to bare. However, Ashiid had been raised to nurture and soothe hurts instead of make more. When he was hurt, he cried out and coiled back to shield himself; D’ntei roared and prepared to deliver such hurts to his opponent. To submit to his wounds, or to suggest that he should, would be an incredible insult to D’ntei’s pride. But, even as his thighs were caressed and buttocks groped, Ashiid wondered if D’ntei shouldn’t be resting after having just escaped from the hospital.

D’ntei pulled Ashiid back down across his lap so that he might rub Ashiid’s belly. “Story, now. Please. It’ll soothe us both, Fa’ithe.”

“All right,” Ashiid didn’t have the power to argue with such logic. He stroked the back of D’ntei’s hand as he thought of how to begin the story. “Now, this all happened way, way back before there were reservations and outposts and all that. When our people didn’t like each other very much.”

“Which time?” D’ntei lifted his other hand and curled his index finger beneath his thumb to emphasize, “Three wars. Three.”

Ashiid gently batted away D’ntei’s hand as he laughed. It was only because he’d spent so much time around the Maa’rish that he could laugh away something as serious as bloodshed and death. “That last one doesn’t count and you know it. It was a police action to curb some dumb extremists.”

D’ntei’s lips curled into a smile that exposed his fangs, as if he needed to remind Ashiid of them. “War is war, Fa’ithe.”

“Hush, d’shiidii,” Ashiid pushed in close to tickle D’ntei’s throat with kisses, “He who consumes my bed. Thief of sheets. Eater of my food and breaker of my pots.”

Warm laughter spilled out of D’ntei just as freely as the water flowing within the fountain. “Hey, you asked me to break that one ’cause you said it was no good. You should have realized how over-zealous I can get.”

“Doesn’t matter. You can break my pots any time. Makes good fodder for mosaics,” especially when those mosaics provided enough money to pay for their chy’tock’s veterinary bills. Ashiid certainly didn’t mind the free fuel the chy’tock provided to his kiln in the form of soiled straw. And the occasional twilight rides with D’ntei were always enjoyable. Ashiid would have to come up with some grand treat for Sheedae whenever they led her back home. “Anyway, the H’shiidasahar was alive during the first or second war. I can’t remember off hand which it was. I just know we were losing pretty badly.”

“Numbers wise or territory wise?”

“Like I remember. It’s been years since I was in a history course.” He splashed and stirred the water’s clear blue surface as he shifted his position across D’ntei’s lap instead of straddling it. “It was bad enough for the tribes to seek the help of the drake. Every temple across the sands took the most beautiful out of the villages to perform the haa’shiidaurad. This. What I’ve been doing here for the past week and a half.”

D’ntei slid down deep enough for the water to lap over his wounds. More of the blood was wiped away, exposing the stripes and reddened skin beneath. There would be no more blood unless he and Ashiid inflamed the scabbing tissue. “You said in your vid-mail that they were making you dance in front of blind idols to make the rains come. And I would have to wait for you to come out.”

“I’m glad you came.” Ashiid slid his hands over D’ntei’s thick shoulders to rest his forehead against the crest between neck and shoulder. “I missed you, d’shiidii.”


The wind slashed across the trellis, making the leaves shutter against the marble latticework. Ashiid looked over D’ntei’s shoulder, his senses alerting him to a new source of heat coming towards them. The faint scent of D’ntei’s blood mingled with the growing infusion of incense and acrid scale-polish. He parted his lips enough to whisper his hiss against the side of D’ntei’s neck.

It happened within seconds. Ashiid was jerked up out of the water and carried to the center of the pool. He’d forgotten that D’ntei had only just returned from the battlefield. He’d forgotten just how quickly D’ntei could move if provoked by an unknown threat. The deep, low growl D’ntei made was the same he’d made when Ashiid woke up, after D’ntei had suffered the first rat’demlou with him. The tranquilizers on staff hadn’t been able to pry him out of D’ntei’s embrace.

He stroked D’ntei’s cheeks. He whispered kisses against whatever skin his lips could reach. His soft whispers of Maa’taan growls puffed against D’ntei’s sharp-tipped ears. “Shhh, Maa’thona. Powerful maa’thona, you keep me safe. You keep me strong. Stave off the heat for but a little while longer. Speak to me and tell me what threats come to our shadows.”

Fa’ithe,” D’ntei pressed his nose against Ashiid’s quills to take in his scent. “Fa’ithe?”

“I am here. I’ve never left your side, D’ntei.”

“I’m not hurting you?”

“No,” Ashiid pulled his arms over D’ntei’s shoulders. Hands slid down the length of his back, wiping beads of water across his scales. “You’re holding me just right.”

“Hold on,” D’ntei pulled Ashiid to the side, using his own body to shield Ashiid from the intruding heat-source. It was a foolish move, for if it was a real threat, Ashiid’s scales would be much better to protect them. However, D’ntei was not running solely on complex thought processes. The faint hint of the rat’demlou’s spice was beginning to overpower his water-muted musk. “Stop skulking around and get your damn ass out here! I told you scaly fucks you couldn’t keep him away from me! Come out here so I can kick your asses some more!”

Maa’thona,” Ashiid pulled his arms around D’ntei’s back, “Save some of that for me. You’re not the only one here that’s anxious for a fight.”

The heat-source slunk between the pillars, becoming the slumped figure of an old Ateimei. He was bound in the brown linen robes of a priest, with his quills smoothed and wrapped with dull clay beads. The soles of his sandals scraped the marble floor as he carried a long-necked bottle between his sand-coloured hands. If he stood up straight, the top of his head might have reached the tip of Ashiid’s nose. When he neared them, he slowly set the bottle down on the tiles.

“No fight here.” The old priest held up his hands to show there was nothing hidden within his sleeves. His Maa’taan was flawed by his hisses. “No good. Too old. Too slow. No fight left in me.”

D’ntei didn’t relax his hold on Ashiid’s shoulders. “Then you can speak Maa’taan.”

The old priest’s lips curled into a thin smile. “Little bit.”

If not for the fact Ashiid’s arms were wrapped around his hips, D’ntei would have charged the priest. His snarl was echoed in Ashiid’s softer hiss. “Enough to hear a warrior when he’s talking to you!”

“Need no growl t’ me, haa’shiidar. I provide kindness for you two.” The priest turned his gaze upon Ashiid; his language flowing from Maa’taan to the hisses of Shashd’shaa, the language of the Ateimei. “Do your best, Luminance. The shadow’s emissary’s place is still empty.”

Ashiid clutched at D’ntei’s back as he, too, changed to Shashd’shaa. “I ought to have him ravage your temple. I told you I was already taken. I showed you the marks! I showed you our bonded license! I was waiting for him to come back to me when you fools knocked on my door.”

The old priest breathed a soft hiss of a sigh. “Then it will be noted in the annals. I will see to it that neither of you are disturbed. With this, your service to our shrine will end.”

“Reparations had best be the next order…”

“Yes, yes,” the priest changed back to the growling tone of Maa’taan, “Me thinks is good you invade, haa’shiidar. Bring good rain and wind to better that one’s mood!”

“Get out of here you old kook!” Ashiid hissed as his tail splashed water over the lip of the pool, “Get!”

The old priest chuckled as he traveled beneath the marble trellis. Ashiid didn’t stop hissing until the wind cleared the air of incense. The old priest was plotting something; Ashiid could feel it. Just appearing out of nowhere and reminding Ashiid of the shadow haa’shith legend. Ashiid could practically taste the scale-oil trapped inside it. How cunning of the priest to use one of the bottles Ashiid himself had made for the temple. Why? Was it to appease him? Or would it keep him from breaking it open to find some camera they’d snuck inside it?

D’ntei coursed his hands down Ashiid’s sides and belly. “What was all that hissing for? What was he saying to you?”

“Ah,” the warm sound of D’ntei’s growls cast out all the ill-feelings welling inside Ashiid. Nothing mattered, save for the breaths flowing in and out of D’ntei’s lungs. “It’s part of the story I was telling you.”

“I was hoping there was more,” D’ntei led Ashiid back down to the floor of the pool. The water lapped over their legs as D’ntei nuzzled Ashiid’s forehead. It was amazing just how easily he went from being a warrior back to being the lover Ashiid longed for. “You were telling me about the praying your people did, when my people were out kicking your scaly butts.”

Ashiid playfully nipped at the tip of D’ntei’s nose, “Be nice, or I won’t tell you.”

“I try, but if you wiggle your tail like that anymore, I’m going to be in trouble.”

“Oh really?” That gave Ashiid an idea of how to tell the story to enrapture D’ntei’s attention. He climbed atop D’ntei’s lap so he could feel all of D’ntei’s attention upon him. “You know, there was an ancestor of yours who was very fond of tails like mine. While my ancestors were trying to summon the drake, he was lying in wait.”

“I bet he was a scout or something, come to check out what was going on.” There was a hint of irritation in D’ntei’s voice, for he had no love for scouts. One had tried to lead Ashiid away from him, when they’d still been courting one another.

“I don’t know. I think he might have been infantry, like you.” Ashiid didn’t know the intimate details of the story, but it brought him such pleasure to see D’ntei’s eyes brighten. “If I remember the story right, he was wounded and looking for water. He’d been walking for many days, so the story says. Because on the last day, when the haa’shith were bathing, he was there watching them.”

D’ntei slid deeper into the water to relax his back, “I don’t know how he could stand it. Wounded and dry like that. Probably ra’dath at that.”

“Oh, he endured because he was strong. Just like someone else I know,” Ashiid’s fingers crept along D’ntei’s collarbone, “First the fire haa’shith came to bathe. Then the wind. They didn’t feel his eyes, and he wasn’t starved then. But when the earth haa’shith came to bathe, the warrior’s mouth ran dry. The sun was beating down on the warrior. And as lithe and handsome as the earth haa’shith looked, the warrior was reminded of how lonely he was. The water haa’shith danced when she bathed. She could feel the warrior’s eyes on her, then. She could see them glowing from the shadows of the trellis.”

“She sounds like the bravest of the lot,” D’ntei mimicked the Ateimei word for she, for there was no equivalent in Maa’taan.

“The bravest was yet to come,” Ashiid playfully poked the tip of D’ntei’s nose. “At that temple, the light haa’shith was a very wise youth. Sometimes a woman plays the part, but there weren’t many young maids for the village to offer. The youth had scales as bright as the sun-bleached sand. He was fast and strong from herding th’shandii in the high country. And when he saw the warrior’s eyes, he was not afraid.”

D’ntei stared into Ashiid’s eyes and shivered in excitement, “What did he do, Fa’ithe?”

“He shed his cloak slowly, so the warrior could see how naked he was. The youth knew that water could be a powerful draw for any being, so he stepped beneath the spray of a fountain to dampen his scales.” Ashiid leaned over the waters, stirring them with his tail before dipping his hands beneath the surface. He scooped his hands together to bring up enough water to fill his palms. “Then, he dipped his hands into the pool, and brought the water to the warrior’s lips. The youth knew just enough Maa’taan to say, you must be thirsty.”

Ashiid enacted the part and brought the water to wet D’ntei’s lips. D’ntei cupped Ashiid’s hands, spilling more water over his lips then inside his mouth. Ashiid brought him more to drink.

“The warrior drank deep the waters and was soothed. He told the youth how brave and how kind he was. He said that if the youth would not cause him more hurts, that he would not hurt the youth. The warrior told the youth that he wanted only water, not blood.”

Between mouthfuls of air and water, D’ntei purred. “If I had been that brother, I would have wanted so much more.”

“The youth did as well,” probably as much as Ashiid did. The next handful of water was gently poured over D’ntei’s head to cool him. “For he had no kind, gentle lover to come home to. And he had been without the simplest touch for much too long.”


Ashiid pressed his dampened fingers against D’ntei’s lips. “The youth saw the warrior’s wounds and led him to the pool. While the warrior drank, the youth cleaned the blood and sand from his skin. He ripped apart his robes to bind the warrior’s wounds. There weren’t many, but they gave the youth the chance to feel the strength in the warrior’s body.”

D’ntei leaned back as Ashiid’s hands coursed down his chest, “To be so close to an enemy…”

“The youth didn’t see the warrior as an enemy,” neither could Ashiid. At least, not where D’ntei was concerned. His hands needed to touch D’ntei, just as his lungs needed to take in the scents D’ntei’s body produced and his lips needed to caress D’ntei’s skin. All he’d ever wanted was wrapped beneath the black stripes that bound D’ntei’s body. “He thought the warrior was the missing haa’shith, the lost one, sent to represent the shadows. But, I think the youth was lonely and worried for the warrior.”

D’ntei gently stroked Ashiid’s cheek with the back of his fingers. There was a playfulness in his touch that didn’t match the brilliance of his eyes. “What if the brother had been sent by the dark god? Would the youth have been so eager then?”

Ashiid leaned his cheek into D’ntei’s touch, his lips just close enough to kiss the blackness that covered D’ntei’s palm. “Well, the warrior would have had to be welcomed as the other haa’shith had been.”

“And how is that?”

“Well,” Ashiid eased against D’ntei’s chest to press his kisses against the root of D’ntei’s neck. His hands slid all across D’ntei’s chest to tease and fondle the stripes that covered it. To have his maa’thona there, where he needed D’ntei the most, was more enticing then Ashiid realized. “There is a reason they’re gender specific.”

“Oh.” D’ntei’s hands slid down to cup and stroke the scales that covered Ashiid’s buttocks. His touch lured Ashiid’s hips into a slow, steady slide that sent ripples through the surface of the pool.

“Fire went to water. Air to earth. The only one who didn’t have a partner was light, because the dark god’s haa’shith got lost. They say, when he finds his way to the pool, the desert will be filled with flowers and paradise will come to earth.” It was part of the reason why the light haa’shith could be played by either a youth or a maid, because no one knew what gender the dark god’s haa’shith was.

D’ntei pulled Ashiid against him, where their hips could push and slide against one another. Their lips were so close, D’ntei’s breath spilled over Ashiid’s scales. “That’s a good reason to keep doing these silly traditional dances.”

“But you’re the only one I want to dance for.” Somewhere between their sharp gasps for breath and the rush to retake forgotten territories, Ashiid whispered, “Maa’thona, welcome home.”

Fa’ithe,” their lips touched before D’ntei could finish the rest of his thought.

It took but the slightest hint of dampness to part Ashiid’s lips. There was no part of his mouth that was left unexplored; fangs, tongue, cheeks – all felt something of D’ntei’s tongue as they kissed. Ashiid’s fingers raked though the hot red and gold strands of D’ntei’s hair, searing the scalp with his nails just as D’ntei’s claws scraped his back. Their bodies couldn’t keep still as they rutted against one another.

Hands slid across skin just as smoothly as they did scales; growls lashed against hisses to become purrs. They knew nothing of time or patience, nor did they desire to learn. Their bodies had been too far apart to allow such things. The heat their bodies produced, simply by sliding and groping one another, made the desert seem cold.

Ashiid leaned back to show off the hint of flushed pink flesh beginning to slide free from his sheath. It was both promise and warning, for once his shaft was free, Ashiid would not be able to contain himself. However, from the looks of D’ntei’s wide, starved eyes, such a thing had not yet crossed his mind. His hands eagerly wiped across Ashiid’s scales and up the curve of Ashiid’s sheath to caress the budding tip. Ashiid leaned back his head, his hips steadily rocking into D’ntei’s touch.

As he stretched open his thighs to improve his seat atop the sand, Ashiid felt one of D’ntei’s hands slide down the slope of his hips. There was nothing between Ashiid’s legs to impede D’ntei’s hunt for bare, scaleless flesh.

“Need,” his growl was deep as his finger traced over the rim of flesh and scales. “Oil, for you. And me. Now.”

“There,” Ashiid pointed past D’ntei’s shoulder, “In that bottle. Hurry!”

D’ntei was out of the water before Ashiid finished hissing the “h”. His slick feet nearly sent him sliding across the tiles, but his quick reflexes and years of training helped him slide across the floor. The bottle was snatched up off the ground and the cork stopper jerked away with but a yank of the teeth. As he spat the stopper across the garden, D’ntei sniffed at the bottle’s lips.

“This smells like your scale-polish.”

“It worked for the youth and his warrior.” Ashiid held out both hands, as if they could but span the distance between him and his maa’thona’s skin. “Come back to me, please.”

“I come, Fa’ithe,” D’ntei’s purr followed his steps like a cloud of thick smoke.

Ashiid sat up, his hands eager to stroke his tight sheath. “Not yet, but you will be very soon.”

The more he stroked and fondled, the more his secreted self slid free to feel the warmth of the desert wind. There would be no more teasing or questioning anymore. He would have his maa’thona – here, now, and gods-damned whatever consequences came afterward.

D’ntei returned to the water as quickly as his feet could carry him. They needed little time to ready themselves, for they knew how to do such things quickly. They could take more time later, when they were at home in bed and the pale light of the eastern moon washing over their bodies. When the sun was high, and the place alien, time was a commodity neither they nor their bodies could afford. Ashiid poured oil over his fingers and licked his lips when D’ntei did the same. He imagined it wasn’t his own finger pushing inside him, but the thick, flushed member D’ntei was stroking with oil. Clear, sweet oil that chilled instead of warmed…

Ashiid yelped out D’ntei’s name when his first finger brushed against the place D’ntei needed to reach. There were places inside him that ached whenever the need came upon him and D’ntei was nowhere to be seen. He hurried to push in the second finger, then a third. He wanted to be completely ready for his maa’thona, for this would not be the only time they became one under the same dry sun. They had a lot of love to catch up on.

As his tail lashed against the water, Ashiid watched hungrily as the thick, translucent oil dribbled down D’ntei’s attentive member. “Y-you…Maa’thona, yes!”

A low, resounding purr spilled between D’ntei’s smile. It was the summoning call of a maa’thona, eager to pull his fa’ithe off the field, and was probably the sexiest sound D’ntei knew how to make. He slid down until the waters lapped over his chest. The first way, their best way; the time for play was over.

Ashiid straddled D’ntei’s hips, using his hands and tail to ease D’ntei’s length against the rim of his entrance. D’ntei jerked his hips off the sand, piercing the seal enough for Ashiid to guide the rest inside. Ashiid fondled D’ntei’s length until the whole of it was warming the insides of his body. His fingertips teased his stretched entrance to help himself relax from D’ntei’s invasion. It had been too long since the last time they’d made love. His body had forgotten D’ntei’s shape and fullness.

Thick hands slid up and down his sheath, massaging the full length of his shaft free. Proud, fleshy and pink, it was the only part of him not covered in scales . D’ntei licked his lips as his thumb rubbed against the crux between scales and flesh. Milky pearls of seed dribbled down the flushed tip for him to slick over the smooth, pink shaft. Ashiid jerked his hips in short thrusts, biting his lower lip to contain his gasps. The burn of flesh slowly metamorphosed into the unfulfilled ache of starved pleasure.

Ashiid couldn’t move his hips quick enough to sate his needs. His hands quickly wrapped around his length, giving him something to thrust into as his buttocks slapped against D’ntei’s hips. He bent his head down to stare into D’ntei’s brilliant yellow eyes. D’ntei matched him stare for stare, thrust for thrust, even as he felt the rippling tickle of D’ntei’s claws sliding down his thighs. With Ashiid’s scales as thick as they were, D’ntei didn’t need to restrain his most basic of instincts in the heat of their love-making.

D’ntei dug his claws into Ashiid’s hips to pull their bodies together in time with his thrusts. Ashiid bore down on every down-stroke to keep D’ntei rooted firmly inside him. Ashiid’s hands hurried to match time with his strokes, the crux of his index finger rushing over the pert slope between tip and length. He wouldn’t last much longer and he knew it. All he’d had before was but the simple caress of his own hands…

Thick, scaleless hands grasped his shoulders as he was rolled onto his back. The suddenness of the cold water splashing against his back and the rush of skin against his tip pushed his senses over the edge. He quickly pressed his knees against D’ntei’s sides, rutting and snarling until his seed spilled across D’ntei’s abs. D’ntei clawed at Ashiid’s back until suddenly arching his back, loosing his breath, then pushing his shaft as deep as Ashiid’s body would allow. Just as D’ntei’s lips parted to roar, his seed escaped to fill Ashiid’s body.

When their bodies parted, the water churned their spent seed together. It swirled in gentle spirals of white until the water dissipated any trace of it from the surface. Ashiid let his shaft droop against his belly for the water to clean it. The muscles within his sheath slowly drew the shaft back inside for it to rest until D’ntei excited it once more. Water, sand and seed dribbled down his scales as he lifted his hand to cup D’ntei’s cheek.

“Love you,” Ashiid’s thumb stroked the curve of D’ntei’s cheek. “Love you so much. Maa’thona. My maa’thona.”

Fa’ithe,” D’ntei pushed kisses against the curve of Ashiid’s cheeks. “Ever are you loved. Ever are you made whole by these hands of mine. Ever will you stay by my side.”

Ashiid smiled, for those were the words D’ntei always spoke after joining their bodies together. They were part of a longer poem, written by an unknown maa’thona to his fa’ithe before the two went off to war. Ashiid cherished the words for he could feel the love D’ntei hid within them.

The steady slosh of water and the distinct lack of warmth lured Ashiid to sit up. D’ntei pulled the waterlogged white cloak from the bottom of the fountain and wrung out some of the dampness. He wrapped it around Ashiid’s body, then carefully lifted Ashiid out of the water. Ashiid pulled his arms around D’ntei’s neck for support,

Maa’thona? Where are we going?”

D’ntei stepped over the lip of the fountain and onto the dry marble floor. There was enough sand scattered about to keep his footsteps steady. “Home, Fa’ithe. I think we’ve blessed this place quite enough for one day.”

Ashiid hissed, “Reparation money…”

“They’ll pay us. Don’t worry,” D’ntei’s brief kisses quieted Ashiid’s greed. “You know, your story reminded me of something I heard on the news. A Phydocian landed last week. She’s staying with the prince. Maybe, he can get her to stay…”

As they walked between the columns, Ashiid leaned his cheek against D’ntei’s shoulder. He knew very little of Phydocians, other then they were rare beings that made planets healthier. Before the steady sway of D’ntei’s steps lured him to sleep, Ashiid wondered if there would one day be flowers blooming across the desert.

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