The beginning of this chapter is set pretty well, but I still have a large chunk of the end to work on, the odie and dido scene is still very rough, and the sera and the queen scene is really choppy.
Odysseus staggered through the castle corridors on marginally steady legs, but with no sense of balance. He was disoriented from the smack across his face, although the groove Endymion had cut was almost healed. Only the tacky blood now drying on his fingers was any indication heâ€™d even been wounded. It was the curse of almost immortality, and the blessing as well. He was never afraid to leap into battle, because his wounds would be healed before the end of the fight. Unless someone chopped off his head or pulled out his heart, or did some other damage that would kill him before he could heal. Immolation was the preferred method of execution for the Silver Millennium Kingdom. For a moment he could see an image of people running in horror as ships swept down from space, spraying fire down on the capitol, his family running in terror.
He shook his head to clear the disturbing memories. Those thoughts only made his mind angry and his heart weep. He leaned against a wall, his eyes staring up the partially broken ceiling. The marble was chipped behind his back. He mentally calculated the cost it would take to repair the palace and grimaced. But even the math couldnâ€™t block out the memories that were trying to surface.
The empire had discovered their hidden fortress on Ceres three years ago to the day. They had fallen out of the sky, burning everything in sight. The second fleet of ships had seemed like the death knell, until they turned on the queen. Endymion and his army had arrived. The invaders had been repelled, the Vulcan people given a chance at a new future. And the Price of Darkness had saved his life. Odysseus closed his eyes, his hands tightening into white-knuckled fists. He needed to find a way to reconcile his childhood beliefs with what heâ€™d discovered in his travels about the other planets, about the royal families, but that would take time. And the need for revenge tended to burn reason from his actions. He had done it again today, lost his temper, lost his control.
Still, he would repay Endymion for the embarrassment heâ€™d felt in that throne room. The whole army would be gossiping about his disgrace soon. He was fairly young by his peopleâ€™s standards; many still considered him a child. Theyâ€™d ridiculed him for following the old ways, for giving Endymion the honor of a blood bond. The gossip would reach them, and undo the progress heâ€™d made in gaining their respect. He clenched his fists, feeling his bond burning. Heâ€™d never realized that Seleneâ€™s spawn had spread so far, never paid attention to history enough to care. And now owed his life to one of to a child of the devil, to a descendent he was honor bound to kill. Somehow heâ€™d never seen any of those with Seleneâ€™s blood as anything but monsters, never seen them as real.
He pushed away from the wall and went looking for some water. The blood was almost dry now and felt like paste on his skin. His mind drifted back to his dilemma. The descendents of Selene were storybook characters, devils to blame for the loss of his people, his planet, his culture. They were the ghosts in the darkness waiting to steal souls away, the creatures used to frighten children at night. But without knowing it heâ€™d met the children of Selene, befriended them, toiled beside them at war, wenched and drank after every battle. And it made him doubt a lifetime of stories, made him doubt a lifetime of revenge and hate. But without that drive for vengeance, what was he?
He slumped against a cracked basin filled with water and used a torn piece of his tunic to wash the blood away, and he tried to sort out loyalties and debt, and where he fit in this new order.
She was being followed. Medea ran through the ruined streets of the city at top speed, heedless of her lack of clothing or acrid smoke in the air. She had known he would follow. Sheâ€™d seen it in his eyes as she slipped out of the palace gates into the wildness of the streets. And the streets were dangerous. Fire, rubble, buildings collapsing, soldiers roaming the ruins, thieves looting the remaining treasures of a once great capital. All the aftermath of war visited on the shining city she had come to love. But he was gaining on her. She had to reach her sanctuary quickly.
The Temple of Vesta rose from the rubble, squat and gray like the hearth it was built to represent. Smoldering piles of burnt out buildings gave off thin plumes of smoke and ash. Medea felt tears sting her eyes, both from the noxious haze hovering over the city and from memories of what had been destroyed. There had once been temples, bright shimmering temples, reaching for the brilliant night sky. Now there was nothing but smoking debris and a giant crater where the temple of Diana had soared to the heavens. The Terrans had razed the temples of Venus, Apollo, and Hera. Only Vestaâ€™s sanctuary and the temples of Ceres and Neptune still stood. The only gods and goddesses the heathen Terrans saw fit to worship. Medea felt a hot wind brush over her skin as she raced through the pitted, half-destroyed street. She could feel the ash coating her hair, her skin, and even her lungs as it fell from the thick clouds obscuring the sky. But she couldnâ€™t stop running. She knew the bastard prince was still following her; she could feel his eyes on her skin like burning coals. She didnâ€™t dare look back, he might be only a few steps, and a glance might cost her a chance of escape. Every inch of her body pressed forward. Her lungs burned, her legs were tight with exhaustion, and her heart screamed with the pain of the Queenâ€™s failure, her motherâ€™s failure, and her own failure.
She could see the temple stairs now, and marvel at the circle of pristine ground around Vestaâ€™s sanctuary. The stones were unblemished, not even a mark on the smooth, gray walls. Whatever the Terran soldiers were, they were trained to be very precise in their destruction. She pushed herself forward. Footsteps echoed on the ground behind her. The last few feet seemed to stretch like miles. Her heart pounded, her head spun. She knew the stairs in front of her would be slippery with the dry, powdery ash. She could see the coating, knew it was there. But still she tripped. She dropped heavily to the stone, halfway up the stairway. The edge of a step buried itself in her abdomen. For a moment she was still, the wind knocked from her body. Then something grabbed her ankle. She jerked wildly, kicking at the large hand grasping her leg. She vaguely took in the angry eyes, the blonde hair.
â€œLet go of me, you bastard.â€ Jason growled and his grip tightened. Medea was desperate now, her actions wild. She kicked and flailed her legs, her hands grasping wildly for a firm grip on the stairs above. Finally she landed a solid kick to his jaw. She scrambled up the stairs. Dust flew, obscuring the air. And then she was through the door. Jason skidded to a halt at the threshold. She stood in the atrium, just out of arms reach. They stared at each other for a long moment.
â€œCome here.â€ His voice was tight and breathless. He was covered in ash, dust and dirt. But his voice was angry and still commanding even in defeat. Medea shook her head and took several steps backward. Jason smiled, his eyes radiating sensual heat. â€œCome on sweetheart, if you come along quietly I wonâ€™t hurt you.â€ Medea took a step backward and shook her head. Jason scowled. â€œDonâ€™t make me come get you.â€ Medea stopped suddenly at the small, cold hand pressed against her bare arm. She glanced down at the child who had appeared at her side. The girl was very still, unnaturally still, with long black hair and sightless, white-filmed eyes. She couldnâ€™t have been more then eight years. Her skin was pasty white, as though sheâ€™d never seen the sun. Medea resisted the urge to jerk away. The child was obviously an oracle. She spoke in a strange voice, as through speaking through a long corridor, but in a husky, adult tone.
â€œYou cannot enter, son of water. This place is barred to any seed bearing man. If you wish to keep your potency, I suggest you do not violate the sanctuary of the one who protects the hearth.â€ Jasonâ€™s eyes narrowed, but he did not dispute the childâ€™s words. He knew the rules of the temple of Vesta; every Terran was raised to worship the protector of fire, virginity, and hearth. There was a long moment of silence. Jason tapped one foot impatiently, his mind obviously racing for a way around the laws of the goddess. Then he sighed.
â€œVery well then, cursed one. I accept your terms. However, you know as well as I that your power only protects the walls where you reside. And if you die, then she is mine to take. And I will be back to kill you. If she leaves before I come for your blood, she is mine to take. And no god or goddess will stop me.â€ He locked eyes with Medea and grinned. â€œYou might have spent your days in my bed, but youâ€™ve chosen your own prison cell. Iâ€™ll be back for you when you tire of your confinement, but the moment you set foot outsideâ€¦youâ€™re mind.â€ Jason turned on his heel and moved down the stairs slowly. Dust stirred around his feet. Medea stood until she could no longer see his figure in the smoke, dust, and darkness. Then she collapsed in a heap. The little girl turned her sightless eyes back on Medeaâ€™s quivering, naked form.
â€œFor you, princess, it is not time to rest yet. One hurdle you have passed, but many more remain until your final rest comes. I am called Cassandra. Come with me.â€ Medea took the cold offered hand and slowly stood. And she followed the child.
â€œQuit looking so guilty and nervous. It makes us seem suspicious. Donâ€™t act as if anything is wrong; just pretend weâ€™re doing our jobs.â€ Helen said the words in a quiet, conversational voice as she and the boy moved the stretcher through the halls. She struggled to keep her end of the stretcher balanced, and watched the patientâ€™s white face with a sense of dread. She knew he wouldnâ€™t make the edge of the city in his current condition.
â€œHow can I act like nothingâ€™s wrong? Heâ€™s going to die if we donâ€™t do something now.â€ The boy was angry, desperate, and he didnâ€™t trust her. Helen resisted the urge to snap back. She knew he was worried, and nervous. But it was more than his life that could be at stake from being caught.
â€œIf we get caught, youâ€™ll face execution, and your brother will most certainly die. This plan depends on acting as though we are simply doing our jobs. You can do this, just relax and do exactly what I tell you. How far is it to your ship?â€ The boy took a deep breath.
â€œWe had to land outside the dome to get here. I donâ€™t think we can walk the whole way.â€ Helen swore under her breath. She was certain the young man on the stretcher wouldnâ€™t last much farther than the main gate of the palace. Sheâ€™d have to heal him in the open and hope the boy didnâ€™t ditch her and make a run for it. Or kill her before the anger left his system. Helen squared her shoulders.
â€œI doubt there will be any transport vehicles. Weâ€™ll have to walk the whole way. But I donâ€™t think we can do it and carry him.â€ They moved through the throng of slaves, soldiers, and medical personnel now swarming over the half rubble entrance to the palace. â€œWe need to find a private area, maybe a not completely burned corner of the city.â€ The boy nodded and they moved into the ruins.
It only took half a block to find a suitable location. Helen laid the stretcher down and made sure they were well out of sight. She talked the boy into keeping watch, ensuring that he wouldnâ€™t interfere. She hadnâ€™t done any healing magic in a long time, and it would take all her concentration. She knelt beside the young man and closed her eyes tightly. She reached inside, into the cool spirit that flowed through every person with the gift of Mercury, with the healing touch. She ran her hands over the injured leg slowly, letting the power channel through her hands into the torn skin and tissue. She could feel the cells responding to her persuasion, knitting together at a rapid pace. His body rippled gently under her hands, under the caress of her spirit. The young manâ€™s entire body responded well, welcoming the soft touch and gentle persuasive power.
â€œWhat the hell are you doing?â€ Helen felt herself ripped away from the body; she felt a piece of her soul, held only by a thin line, being pulled deeper inside the injured soldier. She tried to force herself not to jerk away, but gentle disengage from the boy. But the interruption had been too dramatic. She swore loudly. Now they had to get to Mercury quickly, to break the bond between the two, or theyâ€™d both die. Still cursing under her breath she quickly looked over the patient, at the moment too angry to deal with the young soldier now holding a gun to her head. She hadnâ€™t done all she would have liked, but the patient would live, and he could walk now, albeit slowly. â€œGet away from him, you witch.â€ She found herself flung back against the wall.
â€œI was healing him, you moron. And I might have finished the job properly if you hadnâ€™t interrupted me.â€ She said the words slowly, a bit lightheaded, and a throbbing began where her skull had contacted the rough stone wall. She sat up slowly. The boy advanced on her, weapon drawn.
â€œYouâ€™re one of them, arenâ€™t you, one of those Lunarian bastards, like the ones that killed my parents.â€ He ended the words on a shout, his eyes wild. â€œAnd now youâ€™ve killed my brother.â€ Helen sighed loudly. Sheâ€™d been prepared for this reaction, but confronting an enraged, overemotional child was something she didnâ€™t have the time to deal with at the moment. They had to keep moving.
â€œIâ€™m not dead yet.â€ The boy turned with eyes wide. His brother was sitting up. The young man had color in his face now and his eyes were sparkling. The sword clattered to the ground, forgotten. And then the two were holding each other. Helen stood up slowly and brushed the dirt off her uniform. A pair of warm brown eyes looked up at her. â€œThank you.â€ Helen smiled a bit, rather glad that at least one of the idiot Terrans didnâ€™t hate her on sight.
â€œYouâ€™re welcome. But donâ€™t thank me just yet.â€ She ran a hand through her hair and frowned at the ash that flaked off the dark locks. â€œI didnâ€™t finish the healing properly because I was rather rudely interrupted. We need to get you to Mercury, and quickly, or the side effects of an unfinished soul healing will destroy both you and me. Come on, before weâ€™re spotted.â€ Helen turned and began to march swiftly back towards the landing field. The older boy picked up the discarded weapon and jogged until he was beside her.
â€œYouâ€™re really from Mercury, arenâ€™t you? My mother used to tell legends about people with the skill to heal from a touch. Iâ€™m sorry; my brotherâ€™s a little overemotional. Heâ€™s only thirteen though.â€ Helen sighed. The boy was even younger than sheâ€™d thought, only a child.
â€œItâ€™s all right. Are you any good at flying a ship?â€ The man blushed. Then Helen noticed the younger boy, his face a mixture of chagrin and anger, following closely behind. He spoke quietly.
â€œI can fly the ship, I can fly anything.â€ He cleared his throat softly. â€œIâ€™m sorry; I didnâ€™t mean to interrupt you or anything. I thought you might try to hurt him andâ€¦heâ€™s all I have left.â€ Helen shook her head softly.
â€œWe donâ€™t have time for this right now, but some day Iâ€™ll make you understand that being Lunarian or Mercurian is not what makes a person evil, but rather their actions. I think you two should walk in front of me, like an escort. Letâ€™s get to that ship.â€ The two complied, this time without the guilt and nervousness that might have gotten them all caught earlier, and started the long march to the waiting ships.
Aria hated feeling helpless, and she hated being carried, and most of all she hated the pounding in her arm. It felt like a hammer was being swung against bone. Then again his hands were more powerful than most hammers. She shivered a bit; imagining what muscle like that could do to the rest of her if breaking an arm had been so effortless. She kept her eyes closed, unwilling to look up into the cold gray eyes of her captor. So instead she kept her head where it was, cradled against the massive, rather hard chest. The steady thump underneath her ear was like a lullaby. Soon she had drifted into the strange state between wakefulness and sleeping.
She almost didnâ€™t realize theyâ€™d arrived. She was lowered rapidly and placed on a soft mattress. The movement made her stomach lurch and she realized just how rotten she felt. She opened her eyes slowly. Light filtered into the room, the brightness made her eyes burn. She let out a low groan and slammed her eyes shut again. The urge to throw up had returned with a vengeance.
"Awake finally?" The voice came from her right side, and sounded very, very close. Aria opened her eyes again. Theseus loomed over her. Long white hair fell over one of his shoulders, and his eyes were a deep gray. For some reason the scene was strangely familiar, as though sheâ€™d seen those eyes once, long ago. Aria gasped. He was on the bed with her. He moved closer, his body pressed against her side. Aria immediately tried to pull away, but a large hand moved to her waist, keeping her in place. The motion pulled at her arm. She closed her eyes and bit hard on her bottom lip to keep from crying out. The pain subsided after a moment and she stopped, but her lip was now bleeding.
"You shouldn't try to move yet. Paris will be here shortly to set that break." A gentle hand brushed over her lip, wiping the blood away. â€œIâ€™m sorry about all this.â€ His voice was gentle and apologetic, but there was a trace of anger under the words. Aria grimaced and tried to pull away from him again. He immediately restrained her. He chuckled and Aria felt the shaking of his chest against her side.
"Please, just leave me alone."
"Be quiet. Movement and speech will only make it hurt more. And you'll never be left alone again, not even for a moment." Aria opened her eyes slowly. He was still leaning over her, his eyes serious. "We can't afford to have you escape.â€ Aria attempted to shift her body again, but the pounding in her arm intensified. Theseus ran a hand down her cheek. â€œBe still, I told you not to sit up, angel.â€ Aria flinched at the endearment, and his touch. She was too tired to think straight. She just wanted to close her eyes and sleep forever.
"I think you can leave. I'm capable of lying here alone." Theseus chuckled again.
"But why would you want to?" Aria's breath caught at the husky tremor in the man's tone.
"What did you do to him?" The new voice was higher pitched, and came from the doorway. "I've never seen him laugh except when torturing us during training." Paris entered the room and sat on the other side of the bed, next to her arm. â€œRoll her over a bit so I can set this arm properly.â€ Aria scowled.
"I can do that on myâ€¦" Theseus flipped Aria on her side. She swallowed hard, her stomach rebelling at the motion. She was now face to face with him. Her sky blue eyes were hazy with pain. Theseus propped his head up on one arm and stared down at her, one hand absently resting on her hip. He smelled like leather and soap. Aria wanted to lay her head against his chest and go to sleep. She mentally slapped herself for the traitorous thought. Paris picked that time to start poking and prodding at Aria's arm. She lurched forward, her face pressed against a very solid chest. She grabbed onto Theseusâ€™ shirt with her good hand, not caring that she was so close to him.
"That hurts, knock it off." Aria struggled to keep the tears out of her voice. She plastered herself against Theseus in an effort to move away from her new torturer. Paris made several small noises and continued prodding the arm gently.
â€œYouâ€™ll have to hold her down for this, it wonâ€™t be pleasant.â€ Aria suddenly found her body covered by Theseus, every inch but her arm pinned to the bed. â€œSorry sweetheart.â€ Paris yanked the bones expertly, his fingers gently aligning the bones properly. Aria screamed. Then she passed out.
Theseus pried her hand off his shirt and pushed her back on the bed. He was surprised to see her face wet with tears. Paris worked quickly, splinting the arm and applying a quick drying treatment to keep it in place. Even unconscious the girl whimpered when he had to move her injury. He ignored Theseusâ€™ glare that accompanied every sound, but filed the information away in his mind. Then he stood slowly.
â€œIt was a nice clean break, no splinters and considering her heritage, sheâ€™ll heal very quickly. The pain should start to subside shortly. Donâ€™t let her use that arm or lay on it for a week or two. Iâ€™d recommend six weeks with a normal Terran, but royal Venusians, in fact all royals tend to have unusual healing abilities.â€ Paris turned started out the door, Theseus grabbed the smaller man's arm.
"She'll be all right, won't she?" Paris grinned at Theseusâ€™ worried expression. First the girl had him laughing, and now he was worrying. Maybe Theseus did have a heart after all. And that mean he had a weakness. The girl shifted and groaned at the movement. Theseus glanced at the bed, his eyes filled with guilt.
"She's in pain. Isn't there anything I can do?" His voice was thick with worry. Paris tilted his head.
"You're never that worried about me." There was almost a touch of jealousy in the tone. Theseus merely raised an eyebrow. Aria cried loudly from the bed, she had tried to turn over onto her arm. Theseus looked over his shoulder with a terrified expression. Paris felt his heart sink at the concern on Theseusâ€™ face. This was more than a weakness, this was obsession. "Why do you care so much?" The question was almost in a whining tone. Theseus turned back, his face a picture of astonishment and puzzlement.
"I don't know." Paris closed his eyes for a moment.
"You could try using your healing powers, but not too much. You still drain yourself easily. I hope she's worth it." Paris left the room leaving a bewildered Theseus behind.
Aria was dancing in field of flowers. Then the flowers caught on fire and the flames licked at her arm. A large hand cupped her right cheek.
"Wake up Aria." Aria opened her eyes slowly. Theseusâ€™ face was inches from hers. She felt disconnected, as if she were still a dream.
"How can someone so evil be so beautiful?" Aria traced a hand over his jaw line. She felt strange, as if her brain was floating away from the rest of her body. "How am I supposed to hate you if you're nice to me? But I suppose you're the one who hurt me in the first place." Her eyes fluttered shut again. Theseus grabbed her by one shoulder and shook her.
"Aria, wake up. That's an order." Aria opened her eyes again, her arm pounding from the new motion.
"Don't do that, dammit. That hurts." Her voice sparked with anger. "I never obey orders, I give them." She glared up at her tormentor. "I'm the leader you know. Always have been. Just like my mother. You killed her. Just like that. Whoosh, dead. And now I'm all alone." The words slipped by quickly, like pearls on a necklace. Aria's voice shook with emotion. She wiped the tears away with one hand and scooted away from Theseus. "Just let me sleep." Aria closed her eyes again, her heart aching. They'd never get her free. They'd all slave under the Dark Prince forever. There would be no stopping these men.
They didn't have morals; they didn't have reservations about killing people they were attached to. Aria knew the stories. The tales of brutal murders, dismemberments, rapes. The Princes of Earth were bedtime stories used to scare children to sleep. But then Earth had stopped its rampage of the rest of the galaxy and headed for the Silver Kingdom. And now there was nothing left. Theseus was rumored to be like ice, stone. Totally lacking in mercy and emotion. Only Endymion was more feared. Aria felt her heart crash into her stomach.
She remembered those eyes. She had only been a child, maybe four or five. Her betrothal, the one her mother had arranged, against the queenâ€™s wishes, actually without the queenâ€™s knowledge. Her mother had called him the Prince of Sol, even though the stories said the child had been killed as an infant. But her mother had whispered something about a birthright lost to her, and how Aria could bring it all back without bloodshed. Aria pressed her eyes shut tightly. She had been nothing more than a little girl, clinging to the giant boy's hand. He had smiled at her; kissed her on the cheek, called her a little angel even when sheâ€™d pulled his hair. That moment was something Aria had treasured in her heart for years. But later that prince had disappeared, stolen away by a demon named Metallia. And the darkness began. And suddenly she knew why she still thought of him as a boy sheâ€™d called Quill, after failed attempts at pronouncing the entire name.
He was being so kind now, like he had been long ago. But underneath she knew there was nothing there but a black heart and an empty soul. The goodness had been sucked out by a witch who had once been the scourge of planets. She'd heard other tales about Prince Theseus as well. Endymionâ€™s right hand, the sword hand. Stories of his harem of pretty woman and young men. They joked that he didn't have a heart. Some even whispered that he lacked a soul, having traded it for his handsome features. Aria told her head all these things, but something in her heart was still attracted to the man still leaning over her.
"Aria? I need you awake." She kept her back turned and her eyes pressed shut. She was repeating all the reasons she should hate him. But Aria had a soft heart, and she knew it. It was probably her Venusian heritage, a legacy of love and passion, of letting the heart rule instead of the head. She kept seeing the way he had cradled her mother's body, the kiss he'd pressed on the dead woman's cheek. Aria forced herself to think of her mother coated in blood. She felt panic rising inside. Something about him seemed to be reaching out to her, and Aria was powerless to stop it.
"Let me help you, please." The request was so heartfelt that Aria could not refuse. She opened her eyes slowly. Theseus pressed a hand to each temple. "Hold still, I'm not very good at this." He closed his eyes tightly. A white glow began in his hands. Aria felt the pain being pulled from her body. The glow diminished and Theseus sat for a moment, his face very white.
"What didâ€¦why did you do that?" Aria lifted her broken arm effortlessly. The pain was gone. She looked at the white-faced man, her blue eyes wide with surprise. He opened his eyes slowly. His face dropped back into its normal serious expression.
â€œI was the one who caused the pain in the first place. Come, we have things to do yet." Theseus slipped a hand behind her shoulders and levered her upright. Aria felt her heart thump loudly. She'd been lonely for far too long. She had her friends, but they didn't fill the hole inside her heart, inside her soul. Theseus pulled her to the edge of the bed. Then he pulled her to her feet. Aria reacted violently to his closeness. She forced herself to think of the dead senshi, of Selene, of her duty. And the anger came.
"Quit being so nice to me, dammit. I'm not pretty pet you can win with nice words. And stop ordering me around, bastard." Aria let her entire body go limp and flopped back on the bed.
"I'll drag you around by your hair if I have to. Stand up." His voice went cold and his eyes turned dark. He grabbed her healthy arm and yanked her off the bed. Aria tumbled to the ground, a pile of tangled lemon hair and dirty white uniform.
"Leave me alone." Theseus sighed loudly.
"Up Aria, now. You can either stand up and walk there on your own or I can drag you there." Aria opened her eyes wide. She scrambled to her feet. Theseus slipped an arm around her back. "Come on angel."
Blood always felt strange against her skin. Warm, thick, sticky like the molasses she drizzled over her breakfast in the morning. It coated, clung, and then dried into a flakey crust that smelled vaguely like metal. Dido never seemed to get used to the substance, no matter how many times the liquid managed to contact her body. It didnâ€™t matter whose blood she touched, her own, a friendâ€™s, or an enemyâ€™s. She always felt soiled afterward, standing for hours in the shower to remove the feeling. But tonight she didnâ€™t have that luxury.
The blood currently dripping over one shoulder and down her left arm was leaving a glistening path. The scorched grass seemed to shrink from the shining droplets spilling onto the ground, like red water from a human watering can. But Dido was more concerned over the source of the blood. Penelope was still frighteningly limp. Her arms were cold against Didoâ€™s sweat covered back, and the smaller girlâ€™s breathing almost nonexistent. Dido resisted the urge to stop and bind the wounds; pursuers would be more deadly than any loss of blood.
Dido felt her lungs closing tightly against the cooling night air, resisting the pounding demands of her heart. The muscles in her arms and back screamed with fatigue. Her grip on Penelope was tenuous at best; the smaller girl was now slick with old sweat and sticky, half-dried blood. Dido kept placing one foot in front of the other, forcing her body onward. Better dead and free than alive in enemy hands. She repeated the mantra to herself in a cadence matching the pounding of her feet.
Finally the unnatural stillness of the night gave way to noise. Dido moved towards the light and sound, dropping behind a pile of crates and letting her burden slip to the ground. Now there was cold concrete beneath her feet, light from hastily erected searchlights spun over the landing field in front of her. Piles of boxes and crates dotted the area as far as the eye could see. The tarmac was already crawling with Terran soldiers, although mainly the rear echelon types. Soldiers in tall boots and grey uniforms with computer devices in hand, counting and sorting and ordering around men in brown pants, leather sandals, and blinking explosives wrapped around their necks. Dido cringed. The slave control mechanisms were effective, but cruel. Crates and crates of supplies were being offloaded at phenomenal speeds by the army of blank faced humans.
Penelope was cold. Her arms and legs felt heavy, like giant sacks of stone were tied to her limbs. Her head felt like someone had shoved an entire bottle of liquor down her throat. She could vaguely feel motion, a jerky movement up and down, like being on a horse, and warm skin under her belly. She drifted through periods of torpor and reality, fighting unconsciousness, but forced to submit. Then the movement stopped and she drifted into the darkness again. A voice reached through the black, yanking her back to noise and cold.
â€œAre you awake yet, Brat?â€ Large hands were shaking her gently, but even the slight movement made her head throb. Penny forced her eyes open slowly. Noise pounded at her ears and she tried to cover them with her hands. The motion made her cringe.
â€œIâ€™m awake, although I wish I wasnâ€™t.â€ Her voice sounded strange to her ears, tired and soft as though muffled by an old coat. She watched as Dido scuttled on hands and knees and peered around the corner of the pile of supplies. The tall girl looked rather like a crab crouched on the ground. Penny stifled a laugh. Dido wouldnâ€™t appreciate the humor. Penny wiped a hand across her face slowly and frowned at the layer of dried blood that clung to her palm. She stared at it for a long moment and ruthlessly quashed the small voice in the back of her head still laughing over Didoâ€™s strange method of moving across the concrete.
â€œThereâ€™s a transport a few yards away. Theyâ€™re almost done unloading it. I see three guards.â€ Penny strained to hear the whispered words. Her head was starting to spin again. And when did Dido have two ponytails? Penny shook her head hard, trying to clear the film forming over her consciousness. Dido turned around, mouth set in a harsh frown. â€œI canâ€™t sneak you out of here with all this commotion.â€ There was a long moment of silence. Penny closed her eyes.
â€œYou have to leave me then.â€ Dido started to sputter but a raised hand and cleared throat stopped the protest. â€œYou know it, I know it. At least the guards donâ€™t have me. And I donâ€™t have the energy for any more escape attempts.â€ Penny felt a cough rising in her throat and turned her head, grimacing at the blood that came up. Didoâ€™s face remained unmoving.
â€œI refuse to leave you here. I didnâ€™t kill those guards just to fling you back into their lap. Now come on.â€ One strong arm went under Penny again, and she grimaced as Dido half carried, half dragged her toward the empty transport.
Odysseus had returned to work. Heâ€™d walked around the palace in a daze for a while, and ruminated on the new world that had suddenly appeared under his feet, but soon he was desperate for something to occupy his mind. So he found the surviving generals, a few stray captains, and organized the incoming supply brigades, sent details out for body clean up, started a system for medical triage, and had someone digging up decent quarters in the palace. All in about an hour. He propped his feet up on the small wooden desk and stared at the screen in his hand. This was his job, where he had found his gift. Endymion had joking called him â€œquartermaster to the galaxyâ€, and sometimes Odysseus felt he was only happy when he running the day to day business of an empire.
Endymion was their prince. He would do any task if needed, never too proud to put his back into a task. He was inspiring even in the worst situations and unafraid of any danger or struggle. But Endymion was never one for worrying about how many slaves would be needed to rebuild a ruined world. Theseus was their leader. Awe-inspiring, dedicated, and completely ruthless. He was also, surprisingly, gifted with patience and had a good hand at teaching fighting and tactical skills. He ran the army with an iron fist. And everyone was afraid of him. Jason was the spy and diplomat, without conscience or malice. But with a great deal of loyalty and bravery. Even though Odysseus sometimes though the man was just too stupid to see danger. And Paris, brilliant, egotistical, scatterbrained Paris who often forgot to eat dinner, much less order it. He was the planner, schemer, the one who knew every law and every loophole. Sometimes his logical side gave way to a creative creature, but usually when that happened bad things quickly followed. And Aeneas. The quietest of the princes, he was the spiritual base of the team, philosopher and preacher rolled into a man with a long fuse and a dangerous temper.
Odysseus smiled at the picture now displayed on his screen. The six of them had been swimming under the falls, and the court photographer had caught them just as they snuck back into the palace. Shirts off, hair wet, laughing smiles. Just after their defeat of Metallia, before the moon kingdom had begun its threats. He sighed and set the picture down.
There was no window in front of his desk, but the wall had been blown away, leaving a clear view to the landing pad where his army of stewards and slaves were beginning the task of cleaning up and restoring the shattered city. And he could just see two figures lurking on the edge of the grass. He knew it was one of the girls from the throne room. Maybe it was the way the two moved, or their size, or maybe some kind of mystical connections that Aeneas often brayed about. Odysseus didnâ€™t care. His blood fired. This time, he would be the one with the advantage, and Endymion would be begging for his prisoners. He stepped over the wall and headed for the shadows.
A black boot hit the edge of a ruined wall with a dull thunk. A chunk of stone fell to the ground and skittered along the gray, broken road. The boot hit the wall again, harder this time, and more stone flew. Then the boot began a rhythmic pounding, accompanied by multiple epithets in various languages, ranging from the tame to some that were probably physically impossible, but colorful nonetheless. Finally the boot had demolished a small section of the wall and took up kicking the pieces down the street.
Heâ€™d ruined his new boots. The thought was rather random, but brought his mind back into focus out of the haze of rage it had been occupying. After all, he ruined a pair of boots on every other invasion, but never from kicking down a wall. Jason came to the realization that he was pouting. He knew it was undignified, and that knocking down walls and kicking stones was something a child would do when a toy was taken away, but it was better than the alternative. There had been too much death today, too much blood on his hands. He could see the eyes of the child heâ€™d beheaded, they haunted him. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed loudly, abandoning his little fit for a slow and steady march back to the palace.
The city was a wasteland. There werenâ€™t even survivors crawling through the rubble. This had been worse than the other invasions, those had merely been sound defeats, and this was a massacre. If he looked close enough, he could see bodies in among the stones, or at least parts of bodies. He pushed the gruesome images of the day out of his head. At least this was the last planet to conquer. For almost two years now heâ€™d known nothing but war. He was tired, sore, and ready to crawl into the nearest bed and sleep. But Endymion would undoubtedly have more work for him, and there probably wasnâ€™t an intact bed anywhere in the palace. And there was no black haired witch to drag onto a blanket.
Her eyes were the most wonderful shade of violet. Jason smirked, the smile more grimace than grin. Heâ€™d never lost well, and right now he knew that the bitch had beaten him soundly. A low barrier of rubble and bodies loomed out of the cracked road, blocking further passage. He stopped for a moment and glanced upward at the dome, marveling at the twinkling brightness of the stars and the glimmering blue sphere of the earth. He closed his eyes and let the light breeze that swirled in the city brush over his senses. The ash and soot from dying fires made him choke, gag, and wheeze. He wanted to go home.
He closed his eyes and pushed the wayward thought from his mind. He wasnâ€™t even sure where home was anymore. He opened them again and started around the obstruction. His feet led him slowly back to the palace even as his mind continued to wander, he wasnâ€™t paying too much attention when his boots moved from the rubble of the street to the scorched grass on the palace grounds, and was totally unaware of the fact that he was heading directly for the massive undertaking on the only intact landing field in the city.
The bright lights on his face snapped him out of his reverie. The two dark figures moving towards an empty cargo ship on the outskirts of the field shattered the melancholy mood and set his heart racing. Here was prey, and he was always ready for a new hunt. He recognized the taller girl as one who had been in the throne room. Endymion just might find him a decent bed, and a nice bedmate, if he brought her in tonight. For some reason he thought once again of the gorgeous woman now hiding behind temple walls, but he shook his head to dispel the image and stalked his newly appointed victim.
Dido heard him coming. She knew he was a male by the cadence of his steps, the sound of large boots echoing against tarmac. His footsteps were loud, but slightly muffled, like a childâ€™s whisper that could be heard across the room. If he meant to catch her by surprise, he was in for a bashing. Did he think she was some ordinary stupid female? Dido smirked and walked a little faster, even though Penny could hardly match the pace. She needed to get Penny closer to the transport before their pursuer made his move.
â€œCome on, lard butt, weâ€™re almost there.â€ She whispered the words to her almost unconscious burden, the affection, and worry, thick in her voice. Penny, reacting more to the tone than the words, took a shaking breath and tried to move faster, but Dido knew they had almost run out of time. There was a whisper of motion to the left and Dido had to move now or lose her chance. She whipped her arms around Penny, whispered a mournful apology, and threw the smaller girl, like a caber, towards the open mouth of the cargo hold. She couldnâ€™t stop to see where the smaller girl landed, if sheâ€™d met the hard tarmac or made the small, open crate where Dido had been aiming. There was no time. She turned in a smooth motion to meet her attacker head on with a roundhouse kick to the face.
He wasnâ€™t expecting an assault. The kick caught him on the cheek, his head whipped sideways and he staggered backward. Astonishment was written in every line of his face, every breath he took, the clumsy way he drew his sword. She pressed her advantage, moving with the smooth, even kicks and strikes taught by her marital arts master. He seemed befuddled by the attack, unsure of how to counter an unarmed opponent who moved in strange, dance like ways. She didnâ€™t use a sword, just battered metal wristbands to block his blows. He was tired, winded. She pressed the advantage, driving him back from the entrance of the ship. Her blood sang in her veins again as her body moved in harmony with his lunging thrusts.
â€œYou stink, little boy. I could hear you coming a mile away.â€ His face turned red and he pressed forward with a renewed assault, hacking and lunging like a madman. She hadnâ€™t been able to resist the taunt, and when he swung overly wide and left himself open, she couldnâ€™t resist shoving her fist into his cocky face and breaking the too perfect nose. He staggered backwards, dropping his sword and howling in pain. She changed stances, bounced on her toes, moving the battle from one of agility and smart kicks to one of brute strength. She jabbed a left into his stomach, satisfaction grew from the harsh grunt. He threw a wild punch, his fist incorrect, and his balance off. Dido was almost disgusted now. This was too easy. But sheâ€™d wanted to pound one of the bastard princes to a bloody pulp since the moment sheâ€™d seen them. So she poured her aggression into beating this stripling boy until he screamed for mercy.
A smart tap on the side had several ribs cracking, and repeated blows to the stomach made him gasp for breath. He could barely keep his hands up to defend himself, and she was certain if he wasnâ€™t so lightheaded from the kick and broken nose that he would have turned and ran like a coward. A series of blows to the head had him slowly sinking to the ground. He flopped on his back, rather like a fish. For a moment Dido simply stared at her captor, then her anger overcame her mercy and she moved forward, one large foot pressing against his already bruised windpipe. She felt a certain sense of irony that he had already been strangled once tonight by someone. Only this time it would kill him.
â€œStop right there.â€ Dido kept her foot in place and turned to face the new voice. All the blood drained from her head, pooling in her gut. Another one of the bastard princes stood beside the crate sheâ€™d been aiming for earlier, a limp, but conscious Penny dangling in his grasp.
Sheâ€™d landed in a crate of condoms. Why the Terrans were shipping huge boxes of condoms to the moon was a question for another day, as was the question of why the box had been left, top open, near the empty cargo vessel. For a moment, Penny had thought sheâ€™d drown in the clinging slippery plastic, but sheâ€™d been grateful for the soft landing when Dido had decided to thrown her like a ball. And as usual Didoâ€™s aim was perfect. She struggled for a bit, and then realized she couldnâ€™t get any purchase to get out of the crate. So she lay still for several moments and hoped no one came to put the lid back on. Penelope gave into the urge and laughed. After all, it wasnâ€™t every day a person had their home destroyed, was beat up by a devil, and then was thrown into a box of condoms while trying to escape. Soon she was gasping for breath as the shrill laughter turned to hoarse sobs. She hurt.
Later she would curse herself for the moment of self-pity, and for disobeying the cardinal rule of keeping quiet in enemy territory. A long, surprisingly strong pair of arms came over the top of the crate, grabbed her around the waist, and hauled her out of the temporary prison. It hurt so much she couldnâ€™t even scream. Instead she bit her lip until a coppery tang in her mouth advised her that sheâ€™d gone through the skin. The crate was sitting in a patch from one of the landing platforms lights. The sudden change made Penny slam her eyes shut tightly, another disadvantage. The hands didnâ€™t move from their position at her waist, but that was a good thing. Penelope couldnâ€™t feel her limbs. In fact, she couldnâ€™t feel much of anything except for the warm hands keeping her upright. She forced her eyes opening, blinking and wiping away tears from the light.
His name was Odysseus. She remembered that, and the fact that he was an Alfar. Up close the differences were a bit more pronounced, the slender, pointed ears, the pale skin, and a half washed dried streak of blue blood across his face. But when she met his eyes, she couldnâ€™t seem to tear her gaze away. He wore an impassive expression, difficult to read, but his eyes shone with every emotion his face hid. She watched him slip from surprise, to admiration, to anger and finally to determination in a matter of moments.
Her eyes were two different colors. On was a rich brown, the color of the chocolate that Paris loved. The other was sapphire. The same color as her brotherâ€™s eyes. Odysseus felt the hands of fate twisting as he stared at the bloodied, bruised girl he held. She looked much like her brother, the resemblance startling enough to make anyone glance twice. Her hair was lighter though, more a deep ash then a true black. Right now it straggled around her face where strands had escaped from her single, thick plait. He felt a purely sexual pull, despite the red, human blood dried on her face, arms, and scalp. But he didnâ€™t have time to survey his newest prisoner. There was still one more to capture.
He swore when he saw Jason on the ground, his face turning blue under the Amazonâ€™s foot. Of course, Jason would be stupid enough to take her on with brute strength alone. Never mind that she was as tall as he was, never mind that she was more muscled than the current gladiator favorite in Uranusâ€™s arena, stupid Jason still thought he could take her on. Odysseus flipped his current captive around and called out to the woman. She looked up at him, concern and anger radiating from her face. Odysseus almost swore again.
â€œLet her go.â€ The womanâ€™s voice was a low contralto, and if she wasnâ€™t so large, Odysseus might find her sexy, dripping with sweat and blood. But she was tall; she would look him in the eye if she was any closer.
â€œWhy should I?â€ Odysseus tried not to grimace as the woman smiled and ground her ankle into Jasonâ€™s windpipe.
â€œLet her go or I give him a new hole to breathe through.â€ Odysseus lifted his hand and wrapped the long fingers around his captiveâ€™s throat. The girl trembled but didnâ€™t seem capable of fighting him off.
â€œLet him go or I rip her throat out.â€ The woman growled. They were at a stand off now. And the woman knew it. He tightened his hold and the girl in his arms choked, her arms lifting and trying to pry away his hands. The woman let up her hold on Jason and he gasped and choked on the tarmac.
â€œAll right, all right. Put her on the ground. Then weâ€™ll circle around.â€ The woman motioned him with her hands, and Odysseus removed his hand and nodded. Jason still lay gasping, totally useless now. Odysseus lowered his burden slowly, careful not to jar her too much. She still winced in pain from the movement, and Odysseus fought the urge to simply walk into the palace and leave Jason to die. Then again, Jason didnâ€™t deserve that fate.
The central area of the palace was relatively untouched, unlike the shattered hallways surrounding the throne room. Marble corridors and never-ending whiteness gave way to smooth crystal that seemed to reflect every spare photon of light. It was bright here, unlike the dark areas that were now swarming with the enemy. There were no rooms off these halls, just endless twisting passages with only one safe path inward. Queen Selenity moved quickly and without hesitation. Sera knew that the women took long graceful strides and yet it seemed that she barely touched the floor. The queenâ€™s white dress flowed around her feet like water running over a sheet of glass. Sera tripped over her own feet for, well, sheâ€™d long ago lost count of the times she stumbled on the very slick crystal floor. Her head was spinning from the number of turns theyâ€™d taken, and she didnâ€™t think sheâ€™d ever find her way back out of the bright, twisting maze.
She always felt so useless next to the queenâ€™s gentle perfection, like a gangly foal next to a shining unicorn. Like they werenâ€™t even the same species. She glanced down at her ripped, filthy uniform and the now bent sword dangling forgotten in one hand. Selenity stopped suddenly, and Sera, not watching where she was going and unable to keep her balance on the slick floor, skidded into the queenâ€™s back and collapsed on her butt with a soft thud. Sera couldnâ€™t stop the tears this time. They flowed silently down her face and she felt a sharp sense of pain when the queen didnâ€™t seem to react.
Selenity stood in front of a solid crystal door; at least Sera assumed it was a door. The queen placed her hand in the center of the portal, where a mass of crystal spokes radiated out from a flower shaped etching. Sera sat on the floor, staring for a long moment as she slowly wiped away her tears. Then the spokes began to change color, each one a different hue. Sera felt her jaw drop, unable to stop the sharp gasp of awe. The color raced outward along the spokes and at an ever increasing speed, and then washed into the walls in bright streaks that grew, changing the corridors from a brilliant, see through crystal to rainbows of color. And then the door slowly slid down into the floor with a hissing sound. Selenity turned slowly, her eyes softening at Seraâ€™s surprised, awestruck expression, and leaned over offering a hand. Sera took it silently and allowed the queen to help her stand upright. And the two walked through the door, hand in hand.
Sera had never been inside the prayer spire. Helen had once told a story about how the solar system was supposedly colonized centuries before, and the tower was supposed to be the top of the giant spaceship which carried the travelers to their destination. The other girls had laughed at the notion, but Helen had sworn it was the truth. She realized that she was entering a place that had only seen the faces of queens for millennia. It was a rather humbling moment. The door closed behind them with a soft hiss. Sera turned sharply, only at that moment realizing that sheâ€™d left her sword behind.
The queen dropped Seraâ€™s hand and looked around the room slowly, as though gazing upon a loved oneâ€™s face for the last time. Then she approached the center of the room, looking neither left nor right, and stopped on a raised dais imprinted with the symbol of the waxing moon. She stopped then, and turned to face Sera, and beckoned with a single white hand. The younger girl ran across the room, conscious of the queenâ€™s impatience. Then they were surrounded in light and rising upward at a very swift pace. Sera took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
They stopped smoothly, the light fading from brilliant to nothingness instantly. The sudden lack of light had Seraâ€™s eyes snapping open again. She glanced down at her feet, noticing that they were standing on a perfectly solid dais much like the one in the room below. And how did they travel through a solid floor? She puzzled over that thought as the queen stepped off the platform and moved slowly, ponderously, as though carrying a great weight. Sera took the time to glance at her surroundings. The room they now occupied was small, and round, with a pointed ceiling. Sera realized with an unusual flash of insight that theyâ€™d traveled to the top of the tower. She turned to face the queen, who had moved toward a metal table against one wall. And sitting in the center of the table, on a pink cushion, was a pulsating, glimmering, silver tinged hunk of crystal.
â€œI know this doesnâ€™t look like much, child, but this is the most powerful source of energy in the galaxy.â€ The queen lifted the item gently, and it pulsed to life in her grasp, opening like a crystal rose, petals furling open gently. Seraâ€™s mouth fell open in delight and astonishment. There was a moment of silence as Selenity stroked the petals gently and the crystal seemed to quiver in her hand, like a cat arching against a hand petting it. But the queenâ€™s eyes dimmed, her touch drew away, and the crystal slowly closed, its brilliance fading to a gentle glow. The queen slowly turned the crystal offered in her outstretched hands. Sera took several hasty steps backward, her lips mouthing a denial.
â€œYou have to take it child. It is your birthright.â€ Selenityâ€™s voice quavered on the words, as though she were holding back tears. â€œIt has been my anchor, my responsibility, and my guide, long enough. And even when I didnâ€™t listenâ€¦,â€ the words trailed into nothingness. Sera felt the pull, as though the rock were alive and calling her name. She took one slow step forward, then another, and stretched out one finger. She stroked the edge of the crystal. It was warm, like human skin, but smooth.
â€œItâ€™s beautiful.â€ Sera longed to say more, but was too overcome by emotion. The object in the queenâ€™s hands seemed to call out in joy at her touch, to vibrate with energy and life and oddly enough, Sera could sense love pouring from the crystal. â€œAlmost as though it was alive.â€ The queen smiled sadly.
â€œThere are some who say it is alive.â€ Selenity transferred the crystal to one hand and grasped Seraâ€™s hand in the other. She gently laid the crystal in the palm, ignoring the younger girlâ€™s struggles. Then she let go and Sera lifted both hands to cup the crystal. There were several moments of silence.
â€œYou hold the ginzuishou, the silver crystal. It isnâ€™t a legend, my child. The crystal has lain here dormant for centuries. I come to use its powers when needed. But now you must take it away from here.â€ The queen bent down, clasping Seraâ€™s face between long, elegant fingers. Blue eyes stared into silver. â€œYou must protect it, do not let the evil one have itâ€™s power.â€ Seraâ€™s eyes filled with tears.
â€œBut what about you? Why canâ€™t you protect it?â€ Her voice shook and she stepped towards the queen, trying to give the crystal back. The queen stretched out a finger, stroking the surface as Sera had earlier. But instead of leaping at her touch the crystal cooled, as though shrinking away. Selenityâ€™s eyes turned liquid, and a drop gathered in the corner of her eye, but she took a deep break, blinked, and directed her gaze to the ground.
â€œI cannot, my child. You see? The crystal has made its choice already. It will not return to me even if I wanted it to.â€ The queen turned away and lifted a golden chain from beside the cushion. â€œHere my friend, youâ€™ll need this.â€ The crystal reacted to her voice and a loop appeared at the apex of the triangular shape. Sera watched in awe as Selenity attached the chain to the loop and draped it over Seraâ€™s head. â€œWe must go now. The enemy will have found the lower chamber if we do not hurry. Remember, no matter what happens, Iâ€™ll always love you.â€ Selenity kissed Sera on the forehead, and then the two returned to the light beam they had ridden earlier.