Tulip's Ghost - Book two of the Torian Warriors series.

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Chapter One

Three weeks ago

Tulip let her tears fall as she watched her older sisters, Lilly and Rose, slump in defeat beside their youngest sister’s side. Violet was dying… and there was nothing any of them could do to save her.

She fell to the ground beside Violet’s shivering body laying on the sofa. A sense of utter hopelessness filled Tulip as she tried to shake Violet awake.

They had all been through so much after the alien attack on Earth that decimated all living creatures. They had survived on the run for weeks, hiding, starving, praying they would make it through the night… and now this.

Thinking back to four days ago, Tulip knew that Violet picking that apple wasn’t a good idea. They all saw the crusty white film that shimmered on the fruit, but before any of them could stop her, Violet had taken a huge bite. At first, it had seemed harmless. Violet had washed the large green apple off with some water from a bottle she had in her pack and when she didn’t get sick, they figured it was fine.

But the next morning, Violet started complaining that she didn’t feel well. By that night, Violet had a fever. She was throwing up every last bite of food she tried to eat and began coughing and wheezing badly.

It had become commonplace to see the white slime covering most of the trees, bushes and shrubs as the four sisters slowly and silently made their way to less populated areas of the country. There was no reason to think that the monsters that were eating everything in sight alive, would also poison the food they didn’t eat with their disgusting slime.

Over the next two days, Violet only got worse, no matter what Lilly tried to do. As a surgical resident, Lilly was the only one with medical training, and Tulip could see it was slowly killing her oldest sister to not know how to save Violet’s life.

Now, all four of them hid in a two story farm house on the outskirts of Sikes, Louisiana. The monsters that Lilly called Spinners would descend on them in a matter of minutes with all the noise they had made. But what cut at Tulip’s heart the most, was that she couldn’t think of a way out for them. She was the smart one, the genius of the family. With a photographic memory and an IQ far above average, Tulip felt like she should be able to figure out a way for them to live. To see a pattern and find a way out. But at that moment, all she could do was sob silently as she watched the small trickle of blood run down Violet’s face from her mouth and nose.

A deep voice spoke from the entrance to the room, making her jump. She whipped her head around to the door, as did Rose and Lilly, only to find four huge men standing there, watching them.

Instantly, Tulips mind sprang with information. It was a blessing and a curse at times for Tulip. As much pain as she was in, and as heartbroken as she felt, her mind still took in the scene in seconds.

Pointy ears. Ridges on the nose. Eyes that seemed to glow from the inside. Far too tall and muscular, too… different to be… No. That’s not right.

She frowned at where her thoughts took her.

Running her eyes over the huge man in the front of the group, Tulip took him in once more, focusing on other information.

His clothes were all black, but made of a strange shimmering material. It looked like metal, but that couldn’t be right either.

As her mind raced with what she was looking at, she spotted the two men behind the large one, and swallowed. They both had yellow, glowing eyes. That’s not possible she thought as her mind spun, trying to make sense of what she was looking at. Then, her eyes took in the last man. As soon as she met his eyes, her mind stilled. All thoughts seemed to fade out of her head, leaving only a shocked realization in their place.

These men were different… because they weren’t men at all. They were… alien.

Tulip rose slowly when Lilly got to her feet and tried to pay attention to what was being said, but all she could think about, all she could focus on was the last man staring at her with dark, intense brown eyes.

As her mind slowly faded back into itself, she could hear Lilly speaking. Tulip didn’t tear her eyes away from the man’s stare, but she registered what was being said around her.

Lilly sounded angry, not afraid like Tulip would have thought. When Lilly went to the huge man, allowing him to take her into his arms, Tulip finally broke eye contact with the man she now knew was named Korom and looked over at Lilly.

Her sister looked calm, if a little too resigned as she let the large man hold her in his massive arms. But what struck her the most was the look on his face. He looked… awestruck. As though he held the most precious thing in the universe in his arms.

Movement to her left made Tulip look back at the other men, only to find Korom coming closer. In her panic and awkward fear of being around new people, Tulip shifted back and hid her tiny five foot three frame behind Rose.

Glancing up through her lashes at him, she watched as he said something to Bor in a language she didn’t understand, before he spun and moved back to the small, sun worn porch outside.

The other two had their backs to her now, talking with each other in urgent, hushed voices.

Tulip’s eyes sought out Korom on their own, only to find him standing with his back to her just outside the front door. Yet even with him turned away, something inside Tulip told her that he was watching her. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck were standing up and she had that gut feeling that he was somehow still watching her.

She shook her head. That’s crazy, she thought as Bor instructed them all to stay with Violet. It was then that it dawned on Tulip that the Spinners were indeed coming. And not just that, they were close. Shutting her eyes and taking in a ragged breath, Tulip followed her sisters to Violet’s side and sat down on the floor. This was it. This is where their fight came to an end. Even though Bor had told Lilly that he would keep them all safe, no one survived a horde of those monsters. And as big and buff as these men were, there were only four of them. A horde of Spinners could number in the hundreds.

She swallowed back a sob at her fast approaching fate. Why had she wasted her life away in front of a computer screen? Why had she always been too scared or too shy to go after what or who she wanted? At the age of twenty, she had only had sex with a guy once, and even that had been terrible. It was awkward, messy and just gross. Now, she silently screamed inside that if given a chance, she would do things differently. That she would try to go after what she wanted in life, and not hide behind her sisters or a screen.

Just then, her mind flashed deep, intense brown eyes. Thick, almost black hair and a body that was too perfect to be real. Her own body responded to the vivid flashes of Korom in her mind, making her long forgotten libido come alive in ways she never thought was possible.

With a mental slap, she shook her head. Now was really not the time to go down that road.

When Lilly and Rose settled themselves beside her, panic clear in their eyes, she glanced back at the door, hoping to get one more mental snapshot of the incredible alien man before he went out there and got himself killed.

What she witnessed happen next, however, was something she would never understand. She wouldn’t have believed it if she wasn’t seeing it with her own eyes.

Korom stood by the door, talking to Bor. A moment later, he grinned, before a dark mist started to flow out of his skin, moving as though caught in a breeze. The mist grew thicker, taking on an angrier look, before Korom the man completely vaporized right in front of her eyes. A thick, dark fog pulsed in the air like a storm cloud for a moment, then shot out to the open farm behind the house. It moved so fast, Tulip had to blink to focus her eyes as she tried to keep track of it.

Her mouth hung open as her mind once again raced. It wasn’t possible for something solid... something living to become a gas-like substance like that. She frowned, staring at the boiling, swirling fog that now filled most of the field. As soon as the Spinners were close enough, Korom’s mist shot out in every direction, engulfing the alien creatures in its darkness. Seconds later, oozing black limbs began to fly out of the fog, landing on the soft green grass around the field.

It took no more than five minutes, but when the mist finally began to calm, pooling together in the center of the field, the area was littered with hundreds of dead and dismembered Spinner corpses. The oil black blood of the creatures soaked the land like the cancer they were, the stench of it reaching her inside the house.

Gagging and trying not to throw up at not just the sight, but the smell of what had just happened, Tulip focused her eyes on the one thing that seemed to calm her mind.

Korom’s fog was pulling together a few feet away from Bor, who was also covered in not just his own blood, but the black blood of the Spinners. As the fog grew thicker and darker, a figure began to take shape in the center. Tulip watched as Korom’s body pulled in every last puff of the mist, before all that was left was a solid man again.

Even from inside the house, Tulip could see the pain on the man’s face. He stood facing the house, but his eyes were fixed on Bor. His chest heaved as his fists clenched and unclenched at his side. Bor spoke to him for a moment, and as she watched the incredible sight before her, she felt the softest of touches on her cheek. It was only there for a second, and so faint that she would have missed it if her skin was not so alive with adrenaline and fear.

When Korom took in a long breath and opened his eyes again, she saw the same calm, controlled male from before. Tulip frowned as she raised a hand to her cheek, rubbing at the spot she felt the touch. Even though it was only there for a second, it still left a warm tingling sensation on her cheek.

Heavy boots sounded on the wooden floor of the farm house and she looked up to see Bor enter the living room. She took in a calming breath, getting to her feet. Looking past Bor to the front door, Tulip tried to find Korom again, but he was nowhere to be seen.

Bor told them the transport was there and Tulip’s heart jolted with excitement. She lowered her head to hide her smile at the thought of not only Violet being saved, but at going to a real spaceship. Her mind took off at supersonic speed as it tried to work out the science behind having an interstellar ship and all it took to make it work.

She blindly followed Lilly and Rose out of the farmhouse, her mind trying to work out impossible calculations at the speed of light, and let Lilly lead her around to the street out front.

Keel, one of the brothers with yellow eyes, carried Violet in his arms, and for a second, Tulip couldn’t help but grin at how tender he was with her.

When they turned the corner, Tulip’s mouth fell open yet again as her mind paused its frantic racing. A sleek silver shuttle stood on the street outside the house. The door on its side was open and she could see Korom standing with the other brother, Tark.

Her fingers itched to take the large craft apart and see how it worked, but that would have to wait. For now, all she wanted was to get Violet healed and for all of them to finally be safe for a while.

A small part of Tulip’s mind told her that going with these men could be just as dangerous as the Spinners, if not more, but Tulip chose to ignore that. Either way, their options were very limited, and this seemed like the better of the two choices. Besides, there was something in Bor’s eyes as he looked at Lilly that calmed her nerves about getting onto that shuttle.

When they approached, Lilly grabbed her hand and led her and Rose inside.

Tulip let her gaze wander, taking it all in before her eyes stopped when they landed on Korom. He stood to the side to let Keel take Violet to a bed in the back, his massive body rigid and tense. He kept his eyes on Keel until he moved to the back, then turned and made his way to the seats at the very back of the ship. Shrugging, Tulip took another look around and let her mind free.

Seats for thirty people. Two pilot cockpit. Emergency equipment above the headrests. Four strap seat belts. Dark grey metal floors. Ten windows, five on each side. Door in the back, maybe a bathroom.

When Lilly pushed past her, trying to get to Violet, Tulip snapped out of her assessment of the transport and went to see what was going on.

Violet lay on some kind of medi-bed, her body covered in a thick clear plastic of some kind.

Keel assured them that she would be fine, but Tulip still gripped Lilly’s hand in fear, looking to her oldest sister for reassurance.

Bor came to hold Lilly, and for a moment, Tulip wished she could have someone to hold her in times like this. To feel the comfort of another person, knowing that they were there for you if you needed them.

When Korom appeared in her vision to her left, Tulip once again panicked and shifted closer to Lilly, hiding herself behind her sister. But, even as she hid, she couldn’t help but peer up at him. Her eyes took in every detail of his face. His eyes held a dark shadow around them, giving him a tired look. He didn’t have the pointy ears or the ridges on his nose like Bor and the others, but his pronounced features and strong bone structure told her he was just as alien as the rest of them.

When Bor took Lilly to get strapped in, Tulip followed Rose to a set of chairs and sat down. Tark helped them get strapped in, but she could feel eyes on the back of her head. She so badly wanted to look behind her, but she knew who was there, and her shy, timid mind wouldn’t let her turn her head.

When the shuttle shook, lifting off the ground, a soft gasp escaped her lips at the sudden movement. She wasn’t afraid of flying, not like Lilly was, it was just the sudden movement and the speed at which they rose into the air that stunned her.

She turned to look out the window, a smile on her lips at the sight of the ground getting further away.

When another feather soft touch brushed over her cheek, she spun to look at Rose.

Her sister sat with her eyes closed and her hands tightly gripped on the arm rests. She frowned, wanting to turn around to look at where the gentle touch came from, but the sight of space outside stilled her mind once again.

The planet came into view and she all but pressed her face against the glass to look out.

Another wisp brushed over her hair, sending goosebumps over her skin. This time, Tulip clearly saw the faint trail of mist that moved around her, dancing in the air only inches away from her face.

She smiled, reaching out a hand to touch it. The mist pulsed for a moment, before it curled around her fingers, weaving between them in a warm, delicate caress. She smiled at the sight, rubbing her thumb through it, before it vanished.

She bit her lip, wondering if it was the same mist she saw come out of Korom. Was he doing this? If he was… then why?

When the shuttle landed inside the belly of another huge vessel, she undid her buckles and stood. She turned, taking in the shuttle one last time, only to have her gaze land on Korom’s furious scowl aimed directly at her. Her smile fell and she lowered her eyes, unconsciously stepping closer to Rose.

He moved past them, exiting the shuttle as soon as the doors were open, leaving Tulip confused at what just happened. Why was he so angry with her? Had she offended him in some way? Was this a clash of cultures that she didn’t know of yet?

She took a few deep breaths to calm her racing heart and swallowed down the lump. No, she thought, I will not be scared. I will not let my own fears and my own mind stop me from making this the most incredible experience of my life. If the alien wants to be mean, then fine. I don’t need to think about him. There are so many other things to think about now.

She kept telling herself that as they left the transport. As soon as her eyes landed on Korom again, all her bravado vanished in the blink of an eye when she saw the furious look on his face as he watched her exit the shuttle. She ran over every second around him, every word said, but nothing told her why he would be glaring at her like that.

When Korom turned away to speak to another warrior, Tulip squared her shoulders and scanned her eyes over the huge open space.

It was a landing bay, big enough for at least six shuttles like the one they had just used. Dozens of large alien men milled around the space, doing whatever jobs were needed on a ship like this.

One of the men in the same black uniform Bor and the others wore walked towards them, and Tulip spotted a small pad in his thigh pocket. It was only an inch bigger than a smartphone, but just the idea of getting her hands on alien tech made her smile. She bit her lip as the warrior approached, but decided that the temptation was just too big. As he walked past them, bowing his head in greeting, Tulip reached out and snagged the pad in a move even she was proud of, and slipped it out of his pocket as carefully as she could.

When the man kept walking, seemingly unaware of her pick pocketing, she grinned and slipped it into her belt, under her shirt.

It would take time to figure out the language and operating system of the tech they had, but Tulip reviled in the challenge.

After Lilly and Violet left with Keel, Korom came to them, the same angry look in his eyes.

“I will take you two to medical. Oris will check you, make sure you are healthy and you can rest.”

“Who’s Oris?” Rose asked, raising a brow at him. Tulip lowered her head to the ground, her heart racing at getting caught with the tablet. What if it made a sound, or rang, or the man noticed it was gone. Would she be in trouble? Would they kill her for that?

“Oris is the Medical Commander on this vessel. Come.” Korom demanded, turning to leave the large space.

Rose reached out and grabbed her hand, pulling her along as they followed the huge, tense back of Korom. Faint wisps of dark mist flowed from his body as he moved, like the seeking tongue of a snake. Tulip watched, then smiled. The wisps were testing the air around him. Seeking out danger and watching his back in a sense. That is why she got the feeling that he was watching her even when his back was turned. She focused on one wisp, following it with her eyes as it danced around Korom, moving from his hair, to his back, then over his shoulders. It was acting differently to all the others, and it made her smile.

When it peeked out from around his waist, almost like it was looking at her, Tulip stifled a giggle. It was just so cute. The tiny, dark cloud of mist was playing with her.

She glanced up at Rose through her lashes, seeing that her sister must not be able to see what she was seeing, or just not paying attention to it. When she looked back at Korom’s back, the little wisp darted around Korom’s broad shoulders and hid on his other side, peeking out at her again from over his shoulder. She raised a hand and secretly waved at it.

Korom paused his long strides and turned to look at them. Tulip sobered, stepping behind Rose again as he narrowed his eyes at her.

“This is Medical. Oris will see to you now.” His deep, rich voice said. Tulip kept her eyes down as he strode past them, moving back to the landing bay. As he passed her, the tiny wisp shot out from around his arm and came to her, curling around her fingers, sending warm, calming pulses through her body.

She smiled at the almost invisible band, stroking it gently as Rose led her into the medical room.

Oris was yet another huge man, but Tulip liked him instantly. He had a sweet, professional demeanor about him, and kind, compassionate eyes. He took them to examination beds at the back of the room and let them settle in before calling Rose to be checked in a smaller room to the side.

When Tulip was alone, she pulled out the pad from her belt and turned it over in her hands, trying to figure out how to turn it on.

The tiny mist around her fingers tightened, making her frown down at the strange little thing. But when it pushed her finger to the bottom corner of the pad and pressed it down on the screen, Tulip grinned wide. The screen came to life with an operating system unlike anything she’d ever seen.

Once more the mist tightened around her finger and moved it to a strange six pointed icon at the bottom and pressed it down. A new screen opened, and Tulip chuckled. She knew what this little thing was doing, and she loved it all the more for it.

Glancing up at the door Rose and Oris had gone into; not wanting them to catch her on the pad, she smiled back down at the fog around her finger and whispered, “I can see that you and I are going to be good friends, little Wisp.”

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