At first Saa thought he had gone blind. It took him a few moments to realize that it was simply dark. Saa took a deep breath, he had been sick; he could smell the fading infection from the bandage around his thigh. Other than that he could smell nothing but earth. So he was definitely in some kind of cave.  How he got here he hadn’t a clue. But he would wonder about that later. The last thing he recalled was escaping with Aloyce –.

“Aloyce!” Saa suddenly remembered that it was her scream that woke him up.

“Oh, you are SO gonna get it!” Aloyce laughed after she resurfaced.

The freshwater river was called Ansui Tears; Aloyce had been told. A sad and depressing story of an Earth Region Balans that had fallen in love with an Avian male far above her station. He used her and betrayed her and it was said she cried this ‘river of tears’. It was further explained to Aloyce that Balans could retain almost three times their body weight in water within their bodies, accessing it when they were in need. The reason why most Balans seemed pleasantly plump.

Aloyce swam closer to the shore. Another turn was soon to come to a close as the sun was going through its last shifts. She was happy to be swimming, a sense of normalcy filling her as the cool waters of the slow moving river washed away the stress of the last few turns, making it feel like a vacation. Aloyce eyed the water thankfully.

She hadn’t made it here alone.

Saa had carried her out of the slaver’s compound as far as he could before he collapsed two turns ago. Aloyce had awakened to find them in the middle of some forest. Saa was burning up with fever besides her when she remembered what had happened. Saa had been in bad shape, thrashing in a sleep he wouldn’t wake up from.  She had promised herself she wouldn’t cry anymore, but then she found herself jumping at every sound and the tears would not be denied. She didn’t know the first thing about first aid. Could Saa die from his wound? Would she starve to death? Would the slavers find them again? She prayed with all that was in her, promising all kinds of things.

Oc and Eela returned to their camp not soon after her proclamation. She hadn’t realized that she and Saa had already been saved and tended to. She thanked them profusely before really getting a look at them.

And she thought Saa looked strange when she first met him.

Oc was a Muudok; a mutate from the Earth Region. Short,stocky, and built like a boulder. He told her that they lived underground,leaving the surface to the light walkers. Their eyes weren’t suited for the bright light of the sun seeing far better in near pitch darkness.

Oc got caught on the surface because the last rains caused his dwellings to flood and collapse. He had grayish – brown skin that was hairless and felt like leather. He had little onyx eyes that constantly glittered and a deep voice that was soft and comforting. His large hands had been caring and tender as he was the one that tended to Saa, for the most part. As the turns passed he taught Aloyce a bit about the flora and their attributes.

Eela on the other hand was a different story. She was older but hadn’t had much experience with other races besides her own, which Aloyce realized from Saa’s description from their first few turns together, were the Mers. Eela had gotten caught because she was too naive.

Eela had greenish – blue skin that was scaled at all her joints. She had plenty of dread-locked hair the color of muddy turquoise,her eyes were a bright teal and she had a smile that would make you nervous if you didn’t know of her overly friendly nature. She was a definite carnivore.

Eela helped by finding the river, edible plants and fish for Aloyce to eat as Oc preferred the roots and mushrooms that were fatally poisonous to others.

“I can’t believe you did that!” Aloyce laughed while she wrung out her stolen top. Eela just chortled before swimming further out. The Mer slowly sank beneath the river’s surface; more than ecstatic to be in her own element.

They had traveled near several towns with an unconscious Saa in tow.  The conscious mutates thinking Aloyce would stay in one of them, but she had refused.  They were confused as to why she had been just as nervous as they had been when coming upon the hiborn settlements.  Aloyce simply told them that she didn’t want to leave Saa and she had no idea how they would act towards her.  She didn’t want to take the chance.

Aloyce finally felt happy; this still wasn’t her time and Kori was still missing, but she wasn’t being beaten or starved or…

Kori.

She wondered what he was doing or for that fact going through. She knew he was probably still beating him self up over her kidnapping, well maybe. That was more than five cycles ago. He would be horrified and guilt ridden if he ever found out what happened to her. She decided then and there not to tell him. If they ever found each other again he would never know; he didn’t need to. It wasn’t like …he …truly cared.

Aloyce blinked and then sighed, pushing the melancholy away. She laid out on the grass at the river’s edge and smiled at the sinking sun as it warmed her. All of that was behind her now.

“Ally, time for your tea.”

Aloyce grimaced as Oc waddled from the camp fire off to the side of the cave. A cave she was still amazed at. It was crude and nothing she ever dealt with in her time.

Oc created it.

Somehow he manipulate the earth and created a temporary place for them to stay safe. She didn’t know what it was that made it possible for …people… regardless what they mutated to in this time to be able to do the things that she read about in fantasy books or seen in movies. She flexed her hands recalling what she had done herself not too long ago. It was still awesome.

Heavy footsteps drew closer and she turned to face Oc who pushed the cup of ‘tea’ toward her.

The walking boulder smirked at the childish look on her face,“Drink it all now.” He placed what used to be a rock, but was now a mug in her hand.

Aloyce had watched amazed as Oc molded the rock into a mug of sorts.

Oc watched her admire his crafting skills again before frowning at the liquid inside of it. “Be happy this is the last of it.”

“It’s still nasty.” Aloyce stared into the liquid. Tea he called it, sludge she considered it. It was thick and it coated her tongue and throat despite making her feel better. She balled her fist, took a deep breath and then downed the ‘tea’.

Oc chuckled at her antics and chuckled more as Eela finally resurfaced from the river laughing at the faces the Exoan was making.

The Mer stood there holding the girl’s dinner; a large Nablood fish. It resembled a monk-fish except that it was bright crimson in color and even more evilly fanged.

“Havyo dinna, ‘loyce.” She took a claw and sliced the fish open then emptied the innards in one of the molded stone bowls near the fire. She smirked as Aloyce’s eyes bugged. “Cahnt see howyo cahn eat dem da way yo do.”

Aloyce couldn’t say anything at the moment because now she was fighting hard to keep the ‘tea’ down.

“Guh!” she stuck out her tongue and then shook her head before she ran toward the river. She ducked her head in the water trying to rinse the horrid taste out of her mouth. She raised her head when Eela started to walk up behind her.

“E cahn’t be tha bahd—.”

Aloyce froze as the sound of growling reached her. She whirled about and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Neither Oc nor Eela seemed to hear it as she stared at the mouth of the cave. She walked past Eela toward their den.

“Whahts wrong?” the Mer asked becoming rather wary at her friend’s sudden serious posture.

The cave was a deep one; it took several minutes to get from their ‘den’ to the surface. Oc made it so he could collapse the entrance if something threatened them.

“Ally?” Oc stopped adding the herbs the Exotic liked to the fish as he watched his two companions walk slowly toward the entrance. Was Saa finally awake?

Aloyce saw the glint of saffron and quickly pushed Eela out of the way as Saa came flying out the cave.

Eela screeched as she watched Aloyce get tackled instead of her. The couple disappeared in a cloud of dust as they went tumbling. Landing hard, Saa ended up on top of Aloyce. The Caget growled softly; annoyed at his mate’s actions. He gently wiped her face of dust and waited for her to acknowledge him. She simply laid there.

“Mina …” He licked blood from a small scratch on the side of her cheek while watching as she finally opened her eyes.

“Ow.” Aloyce peered sheepishly up at Saa feeling his annoyed growl vibrating through her. She gave a frightened squeak when he suddenly slammed his fists against the ground to either side of her head and then roared before quickly getting off of her.

“You can’t do that, Mina!” he hissed after his tantrum.

Aloyce just remained where she lay, her hands clutched to her chest. She counted the stones that were digging into her back as he snapped about how she wouldn’t let him protect her. She mentally assessed the sharp pains from where he grabbed her, more than likely unintentionally digging his claws into her shoulders, while he ranted about how her body was not as resilient as those considered mutates.

“Whath’s happenin?” Eela asked in her little girl voice.

Oc looked at the Mer and sighed. “Stay over here till they finish.”

Saa stopped his pacing, gradually realizing that his mate had yet to get up. He eyed her suspiciously, observing as she remained where she landed. He was quite sure it was uncomfortable.

“Aloyce.”

The Exoan rolled her head to face him. “Hm?”

Something about her calm demeanor put him on edge. Slowly he returned to her side, looking down at her.

“You okay?”

She smiled and her eyes smiled at him, but it wasn’t an innocent one.

“No.”

He bent down to examine her and as soon as he was within arm’s reach she quickly sat up and grabbed him by his sensitive ears.

He yipped as she pinched them brutally unintentionally bringing her to her feet as he tried to escape her hold.

“You actually think you have the friggin’ right to yell at me?” She snapped following him up as he tried to get away from her.“Yeah! I jumped in the way! To keep you from doing something really stupid!”She growled.

Oc raised the area on his forehead where an eye brow would have been …if he had hair. The two outside the relationship watched,slightly alarmed and amused at the Exotic took on an irritated Caget male. They looked at each other more than likely feeling the same thing. Appreciated; which wasn’t something they could honestly say was frequent from one of Aloyce’s kind. Mutates weren’t liked due to their beast like appearances and the fact that some of them shared instincts with some of the animals of the wild.  They were looked upon as savage and simple minded.  Hiborns didn’t realize that their races were born from that of the Mutates.

“Mina, let go— .” Saa snarled only to wince when she snarled back at him getting a better hold on his delicate ears.

She glared into his eyes. “Your misunderstanding would have you hurting one of the ones who saved your life!”

Saa grabbed a hold of his mate’s wrists and pressed on the backs of them till she couldn’t take the pain anymore. She released him angrily. “They saved you!”

Saa rubbed his tender ears, she may not have realized it but her hands had become uncomfortably hot. He massaged his aching ears. “Ah would not have hurt her…much, just enough —.” He tried to explain but cuts himself off as the markings on Aloyce’s face darken rapidly. He stepped back.

“THEY SAVED YOU!” she screamed suddenly angrier than she’s ever been. “You would have died had it been just me alone…” she trailed off.  Tears were threatening, pooling in her eyes as she looked down at her feet. “I couldn’t do anything, but watch…and cry.”

The Caget felt suddenly self conscious and started to move to comfort her when her head snapped up.

“Apologize, now.”

He looked at her a little put out. “Ah’m So—.”

She shook her head, “Not to me, Saa.” She pointed vehemently to the other two, startling them at her sudden movement, “Them!”

Saa continued to rub his ears turning towards the smirking Muudok and the cringing Mer. His saffron eyes looked over the two, his glare lingering on the Mer a little too long for Eela’s comfort.  She was beginning to feel like ‘food’.

“Ah’m sorry.”

“Attacking first is for foyas.” Aloyce didn’t even look at him after saying that, knowing that she had said the curse correctly. She walked away from him, heading back over to the water’s edge.

Saa eyed her annoyed. He rubbed his ears once more before moving to follow after her, joining her when she sat down.  A tiny bit amused at her use of a word in the common language for mutates, but not that it was used in reference to him.

For several drawn out moments they just sat in silence.

“Ah heard you scream.”

Aloyce sighed and then scooted closer to him, smiling when he eyed her warily. She reached up to caress his face and laughed out loud when he quickly covered his ears. She instead softly scratched at the under side of his throat. He had so many cat-like tendencies she couldn’t resist. There action was immediate.

Saa couldn’t control himself, his eyes rolled to the back of his head while a loud rolling purr escaped his throat. He jutted his chin out more to give her easier access to his neck. His tail wrapped itself around her waist.

“I’m/Ah’m sorry,” They said in unison, they smiled at each other. He cocked his head to the side and motioned for her say what she wanted.

“I have a little bit of a temper,” she paused and gawked at him as he seemed to vibrate all of a sudden.

He was laughing!

“What?” she glared. He faced her, showing his fangs in a full grin.

“Know you have a temper, have seen it.”

“Oh,” she turned away from him coyly. He caressed her face, carefully so his claws wouldn’t cut her. Idly he traced the markings on her face. They were warmer than the rest of her face, darkening and lightening with her mood.

“Know you not used to this life,” he cupped her chin.

She froze.

Saa gently turned her to face him and gazed into her eyes, “Know this all new to you.”

“I–” she started but was cut off as he covered her mouth. He breathed deeply under her neck.

“You smell different. Not like most Exoans,” he nuzzled her face. “Your eyes are different, they see everything as new,” he purred against her cheek.

“Th-that’s because of —.” she started to explain the term amnesia again to him; the reason why she hadn’t even known what she was cycles ago.

“This amneesha, yes. You say already. Ah don’t believe.”

She sat there unable to move.

“Mina,” He nuzzled closer to her mouth. “It no problem.”

Aloyce cleared her throat and then eyed him, “How do I smell different?” she whispered.

Saa smiled against her face, “You smell of a city with no air.” He licked her ear and smiled as she shuddered. “Stone and steel and a slow poison. Exoans smell of smoke and fire.”

Aloyce remained still as he continued to nuzzle her,tenderly taking little nips at the underside of her chin.

“So …”

Saa licked her lips and watched her eyes widen. “Not understand how you came to be here,” He purred, “Not really care.”

Saa was giving her his heart and yet somehow she still found it necessary to fight the obvious attraction she had for him. Why? Was it because she was still trying to hold out hope for Kori?

Aloyce sighed. Her heart still hoped that Kori had feelings for her. More than he let on. They dated for over a month! He checked on her, bought her gifts, and learned all her pet peeves and the little things that made her happy. There had to be something more to their relationship than just that damned amulet.

Wow.

She really did fall for him. But even so, what about Saa?

Despite their harsh beginning, Saa was easy to love.Maybe love was too strong a word right now, but there was something there. She cared for him, a lot. For all that he’s done for her and yet again in such a short amount of time.

She looked at her hands, someone loved her without hesitation. And despite what she thought or tried to do to resist, he had pushed himself into her heart. Taking care of her, protecting her, being patient with her, regardless of what happened he was determined to be there for her. Aloyce knew she may never see Kori again. She may never return home.

Saa watched her torment herself mentally. He wasn’t bitter about her feelings for this Kori. He knew it would take her time to get accustomed to the way of this world. Besides; she cared for him. Not as much as he did for her, but enough, at least he hoped to be considered a worthy mate.

“Mina,” he took her hand. “My duty to protect my mate,”he purred “and you fight me,” she pulled her hand away. “Why?”

Aloyce blinked out of her daze and watched as the Caget eyed her with concern.

“You afraid,” he smiled slightly as her head dropped.“Know …your heart wants another.”

Her hands covered her face.

“But mine belongs to you. No matter what or who you choose,” he nuzzled her neck. “Ah am yours.”

A harsh thought suddenly popped into her head. “What brought me here could take me away,” she said quietly.

Saa was silent for a brief moment, “Then enjoy what you have while you have it.”

“Right,” she frowned fiddling with her hands. “And what happens to you?”

Saa couldn’t lie to her, it wasn’t in him.

“Ah’ll die,” he shrugged.

Aloyce stared at him, “What?”

Saa twirled his tail, “Ah’ll die.”

“You mean, like if I disappear, right now, you’ll drop dead?” Her eyes were huge.

He shook his head and gave a mirthless laugh, “No.  It be gradual. Ah won’t hunt, won’t eat, won’t care. Will … waste away,” He said it so nonchalant.

“But—” her brows rose in alarm. He gave her a sad smile.

“Ah won’t want another. Couldn’t if Ah wanted to. Cagets only mate once. If blessed they find a mate they can make a true bond with,” he sighed unconsciously and realized too late its effect on her. The markings on her face went black, he was beginning to understand that the darker the coloration the angrier she was. He pulled away unconsciously.

Aloyce wanted to scream. This was ridiculous! The choice wasn’t even his and he was stuck with her. His chance to find his one true mate and that damned Avian screwed everything up!

“I’m glad that Avian’s dead!” she shouted ignoring the alarmed looks of the others. “This is so not fair!

She was up and pacing back and forth; a low rumbling growl escaping her. Saa paused surprised at its cag-like intonation.

“You didn’t even get the chance to find–,” she continued oblivious.

“Mina, Ah did,” he wondered if she even noticed the small changes happening to her.

“But—.”

“The drug brought on my heat early, yes. But who, Ah choose,” he took her hand and sat her back down next to him. “When you first arrive, Ah wanted you. Ah didn’t befriend you because you were new or scared. Ah’m mutate, you’re hiborn. Natural enemies, Ah was raised to hate your kind.But Ah wanted you.”

She shook her head, “No…”

Saa took a deep breath, “If Avian’s drug had been weaker, my attachment to you would be no less, but Ah would not have blood bonded with you–.”

She looked at him, “Do what?”

“Had drug been weaker, it would have just been sex between us, still attracted to you…would’ve left you after escape,” he paused and looked at her longingly. “But how Ah felt for you and his drug… Ah shared blood with you, change your scent … you no longer simple hiborn…,” he inhaled longingly. “My nature wants only you, always you and this be known to other Cagets.”

She just looked at him.

“My heart belongs to you, regardless of what you say or do, Ah’m yours,” he gave her that sad smile again, “Ah’m yours.”

They remained silent for a while.

Could she do it? There was no telling where Kori was,or if she would ever be returned to her time. Kori might be searching for her,but she was far from where she started. He could be headed in the opposite direction. Aloyce felt hopeless, she had to go on. And Saa, she couldn’t let his sacrifice be for nothing.

“So what do we do now?” Her voice was soft, filled with fear and guilt for him.

The Caget cupped her face. He didn’t want her to feel guilty because of his predicament. It wasn’t her fault, but that was a good question.

“Whatever you–.”

She shook her head sharply, “No. Don’t leave it up tome, Saa,” she didn’t look at him. “I know nothing of this world.”

That made him pause. Heading back to the Fire Region would be bad for the both of them even though it was the home of the Exoans. She would definitely see firsthand the hatred between mutates and hiborns. And for her to be mated to one, he could only imagine what her kind would do.Should they head back to his home? There may be nothing for him there. His mate being an Exoan would be a difficult thing to explain to the elders, but they had a better chance at a life. It wouldn’t be a life she was used to. The main question would be whether or not his status in the clan would be respected being gone for over two orbits.

“We head to the ruins of Median, then,” Saa watched her face, but she didn’t give any sign of negativity.

“Will I be welcomed?” she asked.

Saa shrugged, “Question is; will Ah?”

“Because of me?”

He shook his head, “Ah was betrayed by a sibling … they probably think me dead.”

“And you want to go back,” she got a chill when he gave her a rather dark and toothy grin.

“Yes.”

Oc walked slowly over to the solemn couple. Not wanting to startle Aloyce and definitely not the Caget. He had noticed a while ago the slices in her tunic. It was obviously from when Saa grabbed her by her shoulders. Spots of blood had blossomed and he couldn’t help the concern.

Growling stopped the Muudok’s advance.

“Saa, stop it,” Aloyce chided.

The Caget eyed the walking boulder, annoyed, “What you need?”

Oc held out the small bowl filled with his freshly made ointment, “You’re not a rock-born Caget are you?” he watched Saa’s face scrunchup at the notion and then freeze.

Saa looked at Aloyce who suddenly reached up to scratchat her shoulders. He caught her hand.

“What,” she groaned, “They itch.”

He frowned deeply, upset with himself for being too distracted to not have noticed that yet again hehad hurt her. He eyed the Muudok and then the bowl of scentless ointment.

“Ah’ll tend to her,” He paused as her body stiffened again. She wasn’t too keen on that idea apparently, recalling the last reason he had to tend to her. He took a breath, “Come then.”

She gave him a sidelong glance and before she could apologize for her reaction he put his hand up.

“It going to be a long night, Mina. We have much to discuss,” He got up and hesitantly walked away.

Aloyce wrung her hands. They had already done a lot of talking, what else was there to understand? “I feel like I’m gonna be scolded.”

Oc smirked. “The world of mutates differ much from that of the hiborns.” He stood behind her watching calmly as she undid the ties overher shoulders.

“Like?”

“You are going to have a lot to deal with. Females are strong and independent in hiborn society…in mutate society males mostly rule,” he watched her give a childish pout.

“Not gonna stand being made to do things I don’t wanna do.”

Oc sighed, “You are the strangest Exoan – hiborn I have ever met.”

She looked away, coyly without a word.

“You are technically married.”

“I knew that, Oc,” she frowned. She wiped the attitude from her face as the Muudok gave her a stern look.

“Aloyce. Understand that as it is, you could walk away from this with no problem,” he watched her body language become defensive.“Peace, Aloyce, peace.”

“I know that, too and I hate it. I want him to walk away from this, too.” she cringed in disgust as he slathered the ointment thickly on her skin. She relaxed as the slimy feeling erased the itching andthe burning of the slices.

“Do you love him?”

“No,” No hesitation. Oc frowned.

“Do you care—?”

She almost whirled on him, but his hand stopped her. She growled, “Of course I do! He’s done too much for me not to, Oc!”

“Well, understand this. He’s going to go through a lot more, because of you. There will be many things you won’t like. But it will havea great importance to his standing in his clan.”

Aloyce looked at the darkening sky, “Yes, I get it,It’s gonna be hard…”

Oc touched her face, “You are a fire filled Exoan with a lifestyle that differs from that of your mate. You will either be seen as a threat or as an asset as no other Caget that I’ve heard of have ever mated to an Exoan. Being that Exoans, Hikarians and Avians are the hiborns that are violently opposed to mutates. This could make him a target or reaffirm his status in his clan,” he patted her cheek. “What you say and do will be interpreted as whether or not he is weak or strong.”

“You mean how well he controls me?”

Oc simply nodded.

“Ah.”

“The bad blood between our races will make it hard for them to accept him out right, trusting him will be difficult being that he mated you.”

She gazed at the ground.

“I think you can ‘learn’ your place and remain true to who you are,” He patted her shoulder indicating that he was done. “Be respectful of his ways, but remember that he knows and loves you for you. He is honor bound to you and wouldn’t do anything to change you.”

“Gotcha,” she mumbled knowing he meant for her to be like two people to help Saa. Be herself in private and his duteous mate in public. She covered her face while Oc walked away.

Early morning found the strange couple still discussing their future. Saa determined to make his reluctant mate understand her place in his world. He was willing to compromise, whatever to make the transition easierfor her. He knew there was nothing he could do about that temper of hers. But she had to understand that their mating would cause quite a stir. Things could get really bad if the attempt wasn’t made. He didn’t want to change her, just tame her a little bit.

After all was said and done Aloyce walked away. Not a word spoken when it was discovered that the sun was now high in the sky.

Saa watched after her, still as stone. Her eyes saw much for the first time. Processing it was going to take a while. There would be only so much the elders would let her get away with being that she was an Exoan, and one with power at that.

New mates lived separate from the clan for a full orbit, to get to know each other without interference.  She couldn’t speak to another male till her mate gave permission. She would be shaved bald to signify a new beginning. (It took him a while to calm her down about that.) When he hunted she remained inthe den. When he returned with the kill she would clean it. (She turned surprisingly an awful shade of green when told this, to his surprise.) She would be visited by all the other mated females, to hear their advice or stories.

Saa looked away from her. They would probably have to be mated again, properly. The blood – bond reinforced, she would probably end up with more physical changes. And then whatever changes he may go through when he accepted her blood – bond. This was the true evidence that their mating was real and not just some scheme to gain power. He was quite sure Aloyce would literally kill him if he even tried to use her to gain dominion over his clan. His eyes narrowed at the thought of his return.

His brother would need to be challenged, proof that he would still be a good leader. That would actually be the easy part.

The sound of retching snapped him out of his thoughts. He looked up in time to see Aloyce bent over a bush near the river clutching her stomach.

“Aloyce?” He asked concerned. She looked up after finishing, waving his concern away before she started for the river’s edge until she collapsed.

“Aloyce!” Saa rushed to her side helping her to sit up. Her skin was clammy and ashen. “What’s wrong?”

“Something makes me sick in the mornings, Oc gives me some—.”

He didn’t let her finish before his nose was at her chest and then lower.

“Saa…just get Oc.”

The Caget jerked up and stared at her. A look of worry on his face as realization hit him.

“Aloyce. You’re pregnant.”

She sat in his arms, calmly looking back at him, disbelieving his sudden outburst.

“What’s with all the yelling out here?” Oc came out with Eela following close behind. The Mer’s eyes widened when she saw Aloyce on the ground with a rather alarmed Saa holding her.

“Yuu kays, ‘loyce?”

“Saa … Saa says I’m pregnant, Oc,” she looked at the walking boulder in disbelief. “Tell him it’s just allergies …”

“No, you’re pregnant, Aloyce,” Oc nodded and then became alarmed as she seemed to wilt in her mate’s arms. “I thought you knew! That was what the tea was for.”

Saa tightened his hold as Aloyce passed out.