by Shara Azod and Marteeka Karland
In the Badlands, women are rare, no matter the species. For the Fin, there are no females except those they can seduce... or steal.
The time had come for Que, King of the Fin, Raf, Right Hand of the King, and Kor, Master of the Guard, to find a queen. Not from the corrupt lands ruled by humans striving for a second chance to ruin the Earth for once and for all. Their queen has to be pure of heart and as courageous as any warrior. Like the Rebels, the humans who reject the lies of their own kind to carve out a new life in lands rife with danger.
More dangers than death lurk under the sea in the Badlands. And learning to swim won't help you escape.
Que broke the surface of the water with power and grace, diving neatly back beneath the surface. His dolphin form gave him more joy than almost anything these days. Swimming swiftly through the sea let him forget his duties and worries over his people for just a few minutes. The only thing that equaled the pleasure was sex with Kor and Raf.
His Hand and Master of the Guard flanked him even now, easily keeping pace. The three of them jumped from the water several times, playing for the sheer joy of the freedom they all felt in this form. They glided and danced around each other, bursting from the surface over and over in what was either a graceful dance or a mock battle, Que wasn’t sure. Either made him laugh.
That was when he saw her.
Que shifted to his human form, prompting the others to do the same. His vision narrowed to the woman guiding the boat in their direction, the sea seeming to pull her in that direction of its own accord.
Her skin seemed to gleam a golden brown in the sunlight, and golden highlights glittered in her hair where she had it pulled away from her face. Strands fluttered around her where she hadn’t quite contained it, but she didn’t seem to notice. The sun shone from the west brightly so that, even though they were almost directly in front of her and the sun was to her right, she still had to shield her eyes from the bright rays. She wore a sleeveless tunic of varying shades of brown and tan as well as breeches that hugged her sturdy figure. Muscles played beneath the skin of her arms as she worked the ropes of the single sail in an effort to stay her course. This was a woman who could hold her own in any situation.
Que was immediately taken with her. As she drew closer, he could see the face was the same as had been shown to him in the sacred pools, only harder, more angular and determined. Where the woman he’d been expecting was the coddled daughter of the village chieftain, this woman was a leader in her own right. She’d ventured where none of her people had gone in centuries, and she did so alone. That in itself gave Que the biggest hard-on of his life. The woman meant for him was definitely a queen, if not in the most conventional sense. She would win the hearts of his people and make them believe again.
“What the fuck are you doing, Que?” Raf hissed, grabbing his arm and pulling him farther out to sea. “If she catches sight of us, her people will swarm out here looking to kill sea monsters masquerading as men. Have you forgotten the legends passed down from our forefathers?”
“But look at her,” Que breathed. Somewhere deep inside, he winced at the way he sounded like a lovesick youth, but he couldn’t help it. “I’ve never seen her equal.”
“Is this the woman you saw in the pools?” Kor asked quietly. A quick glance at his Kor and Que knew his friend was as apprehensive as Raf, but both were willing to follow Que in whatever he decided.
“You seem sure now, where before you were more than a little reluctant to pursue her. What’s changed?”
“She’s changed,” Que replied, not taking his eyes from her form. “It’s the same woman, yet... more. More fierce. More fearless. Look at her!”
“I see a woman taking too damned many chances with her life,” Kor groused. “She shouldn’t be out here by herself. Given the frantic way the man in that other boat is signaling her, I’m pretty sure she’s not supposed to be here.”
Que whipped his head around in the direction Kor indicated, immediately spotting the other boat. Inside him, something deadly reared its head. Whoever that man was, he couldn’t have Que's woman.
Without waiting for the others, Que powered his way through the water toward the woman’s boat. If they wanted to follow, they would. If not, he’d persuade her to come with them on his own.
“Ahoy there!” she called, waving her hand once to get his attention. The craft was small, hardly seaworthy for more than short periods of time out this far, but she wasn’t in immediate danger.
“You’re a little far from your territory. Aren’t you afraid of sea savages?” He kept his tone mild and his expression hard, trying to look the king he was. Still, he couldn’t help that his gaze swept her possessively. Yes. His future queen was the perfect female specimen.
“I’m here trying to save my people. Our ancestors used to fish out this far. I saw no reason not to do so again when in need.” Her answer was slightly haughty, a princess to a peasant. It was impossible to tell if she was nervous or surprised at finding a man in the sea. How would she react when she found out he was the very thing her people had feared in the past?
“There was a reason your ancestors stopped fishing out this far, my lady. The lords of the sea are easily riled, and you are encroaching on their territory. Best to be weary and stick to your own seas.”
“Our seas are barren,” she replied, not in the least intimidated. “My people are starving.”
“Yet they send a woman to do a man’s work?” Que knew it would rile her. No woman who braved the sea this far would take kindly to the implication she was doing a man’s work.
As expected, her tanned skin flushed pink. “Someone has to save our people.”
“Yet they only sent one woman.”
She held her head high, not bowing before him and not in the least intimidated. “As my people used to say, ‘If you want something done right, send a woman to do it.’“
Que almost choked on that one, barking out a laugh. The irony of his earlier thoughts was more than amusing. “I don’t think I remember that one,” he managed.
She scowled at him, apparently not sharing his amusement. “Mind telling me what’s so funny?”
“Just a thought I had earlier in the day. In my world, the proverb says, ‘If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.’“
“Let me guess. A man relayed that to your people.”
“Probably,” he conceded with a grin. She studied him a long moment, then smiled. When she did, her face changed. Gone was the warrior, the leader of her people. In her place was the coddled daughter of the chieftain. Her smile seemed to soften her features and deepen her natural beauty. In that moment, Que was lost. This was the woman meant for him, for his brothers-at-arms. She was the hope for his people.