Tyff by Celia Kyle

ChapterOne

Wind sighed through Tyff’s wings as he cruised through the sky. He wanted to fly higher and immerse himself in the clouds, but he couldn’t. He had too much work to do.

Typically, the broad expanse of sky would have cleared his mind, but he was still chasing himself in circles. The trickle of air across his scales lacked just a trace of its usual magic, leaving him feeling ill at ease. There had been an attack, and something in his gut told him to closely survey the damage.

He swooped downward, keeping his eyes trained on the ground. He cruised over the flat areas around the town and could see the terrain pocked with blast sites. The resistance had done some damage, but there was still an ample chance of survivors. True to his nature, he was determined to sweep every single inch of the place.

Other Preor were also ranging around the town and he noticed them as he pumped his wings, lifting higher to get a wider view. The humans and the Preor seemed to have different goals in every situation. Right now, any human troops called on to act were out there trying to build bridges with the remaining resistance.

Apparently, some special agents were following the trails of the ring leaders and attempting to track them, but for the most part, they were leaving that job to the Preor. While the human soldiers started working to trace technology and hit potential safe houses, the Preor swept the ground.

They can’t have gotten far, he thought. They ran on foot late last night—or was it early this morning? None of them had vehicles and they certainly couldn’t fly.

He flapped harder, surging up to dip over a small ridge. This was very different to scouting the open fields. There were lots of scrubby bushes, hollows, and hills where people could hide even from his sharp eyes. But he was too good for that.

Keep that confidence in check, he told himself. Keep a clear head and do the best you can.

With a sigh, he made a short spiral onto a low bluff and shifted. He wanted to do a thorough job, but a prickle in his gut kept distracting him. Maybe that’s why the sky wasn’t exhilarating him the way it usually did. Any number of reasons may have been to blame, but there was no escaping it.

You know what this is.

He had come here for a mate. All the Preor had come here hoping for mates. On every side, he could see the proof that human and Preor were more than compatible. In fact, it even looked like they were made for each other. It had all been enough to fan the flicker of hope into a near bonfire.

But that was in the beginning, he thought, uneasily. It had all been so perfect when it started. Then the chain of command began to fracture. Watching his fellows pair up had brought him great joy, but these women were clouding the minds of his brethren. Seeing the ship and its routines thrown into disarray was something else again.

He walked a few steps across the bluff, looking into the mountains. He didn’t bother to dress himself because he was going to shift again soon anyway to head back to camp and receive orders. The air felt wonderful on his skin, reminding him of the hope that had begun to falter in his chest. Surrendering to that moment of comfort was a welcome respite.

Tyff sighed and ran both hands through his hair. In truth, he was beginning to care more about putting the chain of command back together and less about finding a mate. A longing inside him, a great empty feeling, cried out for the touch of another. It had been there his entire life, an aching loneliness that only the Knowing could heal. It had to be worth it. Right?

Looking down over the blast sites, he shuddered to himself. Even for someone who had seen war, this all seemed so incomprehensible. These people were not soldiers, and they attacked almost at random. Women and children had been hurt in these attacks. Even as collateral damage, it was unacceptable.

He took a short step, jumping from the edge of the hill to shift. In a smooth movement he made sure his pants were securely fastened to his neck and then opened his wings and charged upward into the slipstream.

He went high, using his body to the fullest to push against the air before twisting and dropping. Part of him wished to be able to identify the culprits behind the destruction and scorch them as he sailed over the countryside.

Don’t get carried away. You can’t tell the innocent humans from the guilty just on sight.

He shook his head, hating the thought. It would have been so much easier if he could. Dipping lower until the trees almost brushed his belly, he looked through the scrub with his keen eyes. He was sure he had covered the area thoroughly, but he couldn’t understand where the most dangerous rebels had disappeared to. Lane had sworn to find them if they were at the camp, but how could she hope to keep a promise like that?

Redoubling his focus, he struck out for a wider sweep. The muscles in his back were tight, and his claws opened and closed as though with a will of their own. He had never been so tense. The attack had been bad, but he half wondered if it warranted the way he was feeling. After all, they weren’t his people.

The problem of the resistance had stood between Preor and humans since the first day. They had worked hard at every turn to reconcile, yet the conflicts refused to let up. The idea of a Preor-free city had some merit, but he feared it would only offer them an excuse to remain ignorant. The last thing he wanted was for the humans to stop accepting the new way of the world.

That was the core of the matter. This was the Preor’s new home. Yet after all of this, it didn’t feel like home, and it was starting to look like it never would be.

Do I even want a human for a mate after all of this?

Coming to terms with this thought was a strange feeling. What if the Knowing bound him to one of these fickle, fearful creatures? Even if his mate was sweet and accepting, history showed she would have family members that would be a problem. Both his head and his heart hurt as he tried to imagine life with a mate like that—or the rest of his life without one completely.

He knew he should address a heart master. He was sick in his spirit. He just wasn’t ready to talk about these feelings yet.

He turned back toward the main part of the town and started to fly back in. As he passed a low rise quite close to the hall, a moment of extreme dizziness cut through him. He dipped in the sky, his wings catching the wind before he lost too much height.

An urge to look down and scour the area gripped him, but the area was already covered with Preor and medical officers. They pretty much had things covered.

After a day of searching, it was easy to feel out of sorts. He needed to get back to the ship and immerse himself in the routines that had comforted him since he was young. Upholding Preor history and tradition was very important to him, but at the moment he wanted the creature comforts of it. Job or not, it was where he felt at home.

He spun into a turn and shifted in a nearby field where the Preor operations were stationed. When he landed, he hurried to dress so he could debrief. Looking around, he was surprised by the number of humans threaded in and around the camp.

Any of them could be an enemy, and no one would have a clue about it until the bombs started to go off. Even as he entertained the image, he knew it was too extreme, but that didn’t stop it from gripping him. With a mild shake, he did his best to dispel it.

Coming to live among the humans was going to take trust. Even if sometimes it seemed like a losing proposition, he had to believe in it. After all, what was the alternative?

Giving up. Going home. Forgetting this idea of mating with another race, and do what the Preor had originally planned to.

Hold fast to all that made them the proud, beautiful race they were and die out slowly and surely with dignity and grace. It was a glorious thought—the kind of thing that did very well in picture books.

But, for Tyff, such a thing would never do.