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The Artifact of Foex
 


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The Artifact of Foex


  When Chet, a graduate student of archaeology, is invited to show a gorgeous woman named Journey around their summer dig site, he has no idea what he’s in for. For one thing Journey isn’t a woman: she’s Flame, one of the reviled, shape shifting, gender-fluctuating people of Uos. Then Journey uncovers a deadly secret in the dust. Chet must run to keep up with spies, murder, long-lost magic, and a romantic dream embodied by a 332-year-old man who holds the key to absolute power on the world of Uos. (Other, M/F, M/M)

  The Artifact of Foex

  James L. Wolf

  ForbiddenFiction

  www.forbiddenfiction.com

  an imprint of

  Fantastic Fiction Publishing

  www.fantasticfictionpub.com

  Copyright 2016 James L. Wolf

  THE ARTIFACT OF FOEX

  A ForbiddenFiction book

  Fantastic Fiction Publishing Hayward, California

  © James L. Wolf, 2016

  All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission from the publisher, except as allowed by fair use. For more information, contact [email protected]

  CREDITS

  Editor: Lon Sarver, Derrick N. Davidson

  Cover design: Siolnatine

  Cover art: Original art by Natalya Nesterova

  Production Editor: Erika L Firanc

  Proofreading: Elizabeth A. Tanner, D.M. Atkins

  SKU: JLW-000183-01 SW

  ISBN: 978-1-62234-280-8

  Published in the United States of America

  DISCLAIMER

  This book is a work of fiction which contains explicit erotic content; it is intended for mature readers. Do not read this if it’s not legal for you.

  All the characters, locations and events herein are fictional. While elements of existing locations or historical characters or events may be used fictitiously, any resemblance to actual people, places or events is coincidental.

  This story is not intended to be used as an instruction manual. It may contain descriptions of erotic acts that are immoral, illegal, or unsafe. Do not take the events in this story as proof of the plausibility or safety of any particular practice.

  Contents

  Disclaimer

  1. Lusting After the Past

  2. Flame and Find

  3. Resurrection

  4. Wet Flight

  5. Deflowered

  6. Taking One for the Team

  7. Shift of Plans

  8. New Territory

  9. Undercover

  10. The Body

  11. Getting Away from It All

  12. Farmers

  13. Loft and Cellar

  14. On the Road to Fengfu

  15. The Trouble With Hitchhiking

  16. Family Values

  17. Flaming Dance

  18. Yellow Eyes Speaking

  19. Chaos

  20. Coming Clean

  21. Struggle of Wills

  22. Dreamtime

  23. Professional Opinion

  24. Taking the Upper Hand

  25. Allies

  26. Into the Breach

  27. Loopholes

  28. Lost Souls

  29. Three’s a Crowd

  30. Lusting for the Present

  Glossary

  About the Author

  About the Publisher

  Chapter 1

  Lusting After the Past

  Chet concentrated on pit 214, his miniature mattock grimy from sweat and dust. He was glad that the equipment was the same shape—if not size and composition—of the ancient farming tool. He loved the way the mattock’s form and name connected him with the past.

  Chet was less enamored with their current work site. It was dusty, both hot and humid, under direct sunlight of the poppy-colored sky. Also, it was far too close to a rumbling construction zone. Every single one of Professor Veyaon Tibbet’s graduate students had accompanied him to the Lucid Mud dig site, and Chet was no exception. He coughed and lifted the kerchief covering his mouth to spit, aiming away from where he was digging. The last thing he wanted was actual mud in his dirt.

  “Oh, brother. Take a look at that piece of work,” Von Sampson murmured from pit 216. From his tone, Chet knew that his feckless colleague was not referring to a find. Chet followed his gaze and nearly dropped the miniature mattock.

  Professor Tibbets, wearing his usual tweed suit—completely inappropriate for the Wetshul summer—was leading a lady onto the dig site. The woman was serene and elegant, her lines flawless. She was of the flaxen race—a citrus-yellow skin tone—with the usual red hair and almond-shaped eyes. Flaxen was the most prolific race on the Eicha continent, including Chet himself and most of his peers.

  Pantheon, she was gorgeous.

  Chet immediately decided that she’d be at home in any historical time period. His mind’s eye dressed her: perhaps she would shine in the garb of ancient Tache, with its elaborate skirts and wigs. Maybe she would be splendid in Crimson Era leathers and fur. His groin tightened at the thought. Despite his meandering fancy, she was plainly a modern-day woman. She wore white gloves, and her purse matched her high-heeled shoes. Her dress was ample with crinoline petticoats peeking out just below her knees. A real lady. Her hair was cropped in the most modern of fashions, and her cat’s eye glasses were tinted in respect to the sun.

  Of course, Von Sampson wasn’t interested in her clothing. “Nice stems. And those tits.”

  “Quite the bone structure,” Wiggler said from pit 239. He should know, being the resident osteology expert.

  “Put your eyes back in your head, boys,” Rory growled from pit 224. “You especially, Chet Baikson.”

  The graduate students around him were making noises and comments more like primary-school students, all along the lines of, “Oooo, you’re bustedddd.”

  Chet dropped his gaze back to the dust. It wasn’t as if he and Rory were still dating, not since their amicable break up last week, but he still valued her opinion. Dating Rory had made Chet feel very uncomfortable, and he’d been relieved after breaking up with her. It wasn’t that he didn’t like her—he did!—but he’d felt so self-conscious. Rory’s status as a Shadow Dancer made him cringe. Then again, every one of Professor Tibbet’s graduate students was a god affiliate... save himself.

  Few people on Uos doubted the existence of the Pantheon of gods. There was no question of belief or faith when it came to powerful, long-lived beings that radiated energy like a nuclear-hot zone. Few in numbers, they tended to stay on the God Plain. Ancient humans had thought it an ethereal place, but these days rational people considered it a different dimension. Close to the physical reality of Uos but not of it. Distance was a good thing. Personally, Chet hated the idea of beings that could crush you with a look; he wanted no truck with the Pantheon. Nor their political system, family squabbles, incest, back stabbing or dynastic power struggles. Nothing.

  Well... maybe a few of the gods were okay. But the one Chet really liked was dead, alas.

  “Hey, want to get some water at the pavilion?” Rory said as she wandered over to his pit, wiping her grimy face with a handkerchief. It didn’t make much difference. Rory was of the bistre race, a brown skin tone so dark she almost looked purple.

  As usual, Chet was awed by her beauty. He always wondered what a girl like her had ever seen in a guy like him. “Maybe later.”

  “Suit yourself.” She looked like she wanted to say more, her mouth tight as she walked away.

  This was ridiculous. He wanted her so much, and by all signs she liked him right back, but he always felt crushed by her intense superiority, both racial and affiliate wise. Rory was something by birth that Chet had chosen never to become: a god affi
liate. It was a symbiotic relationship. The god granted their chosen humans powers, and thus gained numerous allies on Uos. Freakish, terrifying, dangerous, powerful, and politically savvy, it could be said that affiliates ruled Uos like monarchical regents of ancient times. Not quite god, not quite human. Chet knew that Shadow Dancers—the type of god affiliate Rory was—were often portrayed as devious spies who could become invisible, but he’d never seen her fade from view. Never asked her to demonstrate.

  Maybe he was a coward at heart.

  It was a good theory. Rory was out of his league in every way possible, and even if she’d never acknowledged it out loud, it was true. Everyone knew it. Chet had nothing to offer her; he was just a guy. The worst part was that she hadn’t deserved his self doubts or fear cast upon her. Strict friendship was less fraught.

  “Chet, come here please,” Professor Tibbets called from his spot by the mystery woman.

  Chet grinned, instantly heartened by the professor’s choice and confidence. “Looks like I’m nominated,” he said in Von Sampson’s direction as he vaulted out of the pit. That was the nice thing about Professor Tibbets. He chose Chet for duties regardless of the fact that he was unaffiliated, not like some professors.

  Upon closer inspection, the mystery woman was just as breathtaking. Chet felt his groin rise to half mast as he drew close. Hopefully, no one would notice.

  Professor Tibbets was speaking to her sotto voce. “Perhaps male would have been the better choice to avoid attention.”

  “Now that I’m here, I think you’re right. I haven’t been to Wetshul in over a century. Didn’t realize it was still this bad,” she said, her perfectly formed lips frowning.

  A century? Chet blinked. He arrived beside them and smiled expectantly.

  Professor Tibbets turned to him. “Chet, this is Journey. She is my honored guest and a historical expert with practical experience in the time periods we’ve been studying. I’m putting you in charge of Journey’s needs while she’s with us. For now, please give her an overview of the site.”

  “Certainly, Professor. Ma’am, this way?”

  Chet caught a whiff of her scent as she turned his way. To his horror, his groin tightened further, not quite fully erect but close to it. He could have sworn she wasn’t wearing perfume. Not the sort that most women wore, anyway. He coughed—his throat dusty—and made a sweeping gesture of the dig.

  “This site is the first of its kind this century and certainly the first in Eastern Eicha. It’s very exciting. The only reason we haven't gotten much press yet is we just started. You know Professor Tibbets—have you read his papers? Do you know of his theories about this kind of dirt? It’s what they used to call lucid mud...”

  “Of course I know what it is. Lucid mud in liquid form used to churn throughout Uos, rising and falling through the inner layers of the planet. It’s a preservative. Sometimes people used lucid mud as a dump but not often. In the old days, we always believed it churned everything down to the center of the Abyss, where the mother of gods herself resided. No one wanted to throw garbage onto Aerora. We were a superstitious lot, eh?”

  He shot her a surprised look. She didn’t look like she was smart, but Journey had hit the nail on the head. Professor Tibbets had said she had “practical experience”—meaning she wasn’t an academic? “We always believed" seemed bizarre, though it matched the “centuries” comment. Journey seemed to think she was hundreds of years old.

  Well, that would be practical experience, wouldn’t it? With a name like that, she was probably a god affiliate of some stripe, but he couldn’t tell which one. Her normal—if glamorous—appearance didn’t match any god affiliate he could think of off the top of his head. Was she dangerous, like some affiliates? Would she hurt him? Tibbets seemed to trust her, anyway.

  Chet decided to stick with strict academic fact. “As you say, lucid mud is a preservative. A find of this kind is an archaeologist’s dream. This site seemed to have solidified more than two-hundred years ago—around 7390—to judge by the top layer of finds. The cut-off date is unsurprising, given evidence in the literature. It is estimated that most lucid mud dried or disappeared around that time period. It is believed the mud trap was here before Wetshul was founded during Resoan’s millennia, 5262, which gives us a historical cross-section of over two-thousand years.”

  “Mmm, lucid mud isn’t all gone. There’s still an active system beneath Allistair, you know. Quite the churning river of lucid mud.”

  “What?” Chet stopped cold and stared at her. “You’re kidding!”

  “Not at all. You just have to know where to find it. They lost quite a few workers when they built the sewage system beneath the city-state. They’re still down there somewhere, I’m sure. Sleeping—we can only hope they’re unconscious rather than awake—and completely unchanged.”

  “Oh.” Chet realized that his foot was hovering in air; he set it down on solid ground. The idea of people falling into lucid mud was well established in historic literature. However, the idea that victims didn’t die—that they were in some kind of hibernation mode and could be reanimated—was viewed by most academics as little more than superstition. Journey seemed to fall into the superstition camp. “Um, in any case, let me show you some of what we’ve found.”

  Journey took in the processing pavilion with serene confidence. Chet soon learned that Professor Tibbets hadn’t been exaggerating: her grasp of history was excellent. She was able to positively identify every object, whole or broken, laid out on the folding tables, including a few that hadn’t been cleaned yet. She instantly identified the broken fragment of a chew stick—precursor to the toothbrush—that had given Rory such difficulty last week. Listening to her speak was an education in itself. Chet was growing more impressed by the minute. He couldn’t help but wish she’d teach a class at the university. He would have fallen deeply in love with her as an undergraduate or even now.

  And yet... was it a trick of some sort? Was she really a genius, the way she seemed, or was his head just foggy with lust for her?

  As they exited the pavilion and headed toward the active dig site, he said, “Have you ever given thought to teaching at Semaphore University, ma’am?”

  Journey chuckled low in her throat. “Even if I were inclined to do so, I’m afraid they wouldn’t have me.”

  “What? Why not?” That seemed outrageous. Women could be associate professors in the Philapo University System. They weren’t as prestigious or well paid as the regular professors, but they could still teach.

  “For the same reason I haven’t been back to Wetshul in ages.” Her perfect lips tightened. “The Literati are quite specific as to their methods and structures. Professor Tibbets is a rarity among Literati, you know. I’ve always found him a kind and understanding soul.”

  “Yes, I know,” Chet said automatically. The Literati—affiliates of the god Philapo—dominated the academic world.

  As they passed among the pits, Journey stopped to inspect an upside-down pair of boots that were still half buried in the ground. “Tache-style stitching,” she said, her voice suddenly hesitant. “Why hasn’t someone pulled them out of the ground, yet? Are they... still attached to something?”

  Chet shrugged—the boots were unexceptional—and instead pointed out some of the larger objects they were in the process of extracting. Case in point was the artisanal grandfather clock with heavenly bodies etched in copper. It was three-quarters extracted, the lower part still lodged in dust. Chet knew the university would probably sell it after cataloguing. It was beautifully preserved and not historically important. The same went for the complete carriage, the back end of which was sticking out of the ground at a forty-five degree angle.

  Journey eyed the carriage door with amusement. “Ah, a Ceremente-style window latch, named after the inventor. The part must have been imported from Maansterdam around 7310 or so. Was the door open when you uncovered it?”

  “I believe so.” There was something about the carriage that g
ave Chet the creeps. A strange reaction for such a mundane item. When he’d first helped uncover it, he could have sworn he’d seen it before.

  “No bodies found inside, right? They must have jumped out before the whole carriage went down in mud. Have you found the ceros or ceroses, yet?”

  “We haven’t gotten that far.” Chet knew his colleagues were looking forward to inspecting the remains of any horned beasts-of-burden that may have been hitched to the carriage. The angle at which the carriage had gone down indicated something heavy had dragged it down, anyway.

  “You may want to get their heads unearthed sooner rather than later. They’ll still be alive.”

  Chet couldn’t help but roll his eyes. To his embarrassment, Journey caught the gesture; instead of looking angry, she smirked. As if she knew better? Abysmal god affiliates. So full of themselves.

  Journey poked her head inside the carriage with an air of mild curiosity. “The individual who owned this had slaves. See the specialized ring screwed in here, to clip a slave collar to? Another Ceremente patented invention. The original owner may have been from Maansterdam, was affiliated as a Merchant, or both.”

  “Hey, Chet, look at this!” Rory called out, running toward him with something cradled in her hand. “Linley just found it in pit 198.”

  Journey climbed out of the carriage, and they both inspected tiny object in Rory’s hand. It was an anuro, a flying reptile with a blunt beak. A common enough animal, completely unremarkable, except the preserving power of lucid mud seemed to have saved it from decomposition. The anuro was still covered in dust, but Chet thought it would be of the red-tipped variety once clean. He touched it and nearly jumped. He’d expected the anuro to be mummified and leathery, but instead it was soft and—warm? Chet stared at it, then looked up at Journey.

  Naw. Couldn’t be. Could it?

  Journey chuckled at his reaction. “Want to see a trick? Miss, I notice that you have a canteen. Pour water over the anuro—especially in its mouth—and watch what happens.”

 
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