Redemption - The Past - Chapter 02

I've been going through and lightly editing these, typos and the like

Chapter 02 – The Past
By Aurora Eos Rose
The Escape

The throne room was only a whisper of its former glory. The velvet carpet was soaked almost black with blood, the crystal pillars were broken, chipped, and two were in pieces on the floor. One of the interior rear walls had collapsed, all the windows had shattered, most of the gilt was gone from the ceiling, and the room was packed with Terran soldiers, their weapons drawn. The cold night air, tainted with the stench of smoke, crept inside the giant gaping mouths where once beautiful stained glass had held back the darkness. Pitiful bands of brightness trickled from the remaining artificial lights that still glowed on the ceiling.

Sera wiped a bead of sweat from her brow and gripped her weapon a bit tighter. The seven Lunarians still alive in the palace were clustered in the center of the pack of invaders with only a few feet between. Both groups had swords still held high, eyes wide with fear and anger. The smells of sweat, blood, and death drenched the air and the faint sounds of sporadic battle whispered from outside the palace. But even without the trappings and glitter, the heart of the palace still held an aura of authority and power. It radiated from Selenity, from her skin, her eyes, her hair. It permeated the air, making the lights above seem like dim stars next to her radiance.

The Queen stood in front of the silver throne, shoulders back, head high. Her arms were against her sides and still. The Terrans stayed several feet back from her position on the stairs of the throne, not because they feared the six young girls holding blades, but rather because of the almost visible energy that radiated from the Queen. The girls around her were tired, bloodstained, and sore but their eyes still glittered with hope. Sera stood at the right of the throne and resisted the urge to lean against the cool metal. Helen had struggled to her feet, despite her injury, and was gripping the throne on the left hand side with one white hand. The other hand still held her sword. Aria had planted herself in front of the queen, Medea on Aria’s right side. They stood together as always, a united front. Dido and Penny had taken up positions between the throne and Aria, creating a half-circle around the queen. They faced the Dark Prince with tired eyes and weary hearts. But the neither the Queen’s voice nor her hands shook as she took a step forward, towards Endymion. The girls parted, allowing her through without protest. She moved forward down the carpet until she stood only a few feet away from Endymion. She remained motionless, imperious, even though she had to look up to meet the man's sapphire eyes. Selenity was silent for a moment, her face filled with a strange sadness. She moved her arm in a sweeping gesture.

"What you’ve left standing of my kingdom is before you, I cannot say that it is a pleasure to see you, nor can I bring myself to welcome you. The goddess curse the day your mother gave you life. And I curse myself for not destroying you long ago." Selenity laid her hands serenely at her sides, a mask of calm remaining over her features despite the foul words. Endymion's eyes grew a bit frostier, and his face seemed to be carved from stone. A red flush crept up his neck. Then he closed his eyes for a moment. The flush disappeared. Endymion opened his eyes, and then he smiled. Every one of the seven women standing in the throne room felt a shiver run up their spines from the menace in that smile. He then did something very surprising. He sunk to one knee and graciously took Selenity’s hand. He pressed a kiss against the pale skin and the two met gazes for a long moment.

“I return the greeting, oh great tyrant. May the goddess curse the day she ever deigned to give power to such foul offspring. And may you never sleep another peaceful night while I live.” He stood swiftly, his cape fluttering with the movement, and in the process turned so he had changed positions with the Queen. Then he walked backwards. The girls scurried out of the way, three on each side, and gasped as he plopped down on the throne, one long leg dangling irreverently over the side.

“It’s been a long day, Selenity. I hope you don’t mind if I enjoy my new chair.” His voice was harsh, and mocking. Selenity didn’t move. The girls however, did, changing positions so they once again surrounded the queen. Helen was leaning heavily on her sword for balance. Endymion snapped at a soldier. The man rushed forward and leaned over while the prince whispered in the soldier’s ear. The prince had given orders in the language of earth, the sound harsh and grating on the ears of those unaccustomed to the guttural consonants. Although the girls knew a smattering of the language, only Penny could speak it well, and only Helen could read and write the strange symbols of the earth tongue. The room rustled like leaves on the wind. The troops moved swiftly, leaving only one squadron that quickly took up stations at every exit. The girls watched the astonishing swiftness and precision of the Terran army with a sense of dread. Finally Endymion returned his attention to the Queen.

"I have something to give to you, your majesty, a few of your missing subjects were found by my men. I thought I'd be kind enough to return their bodies." Endymion bowed his head mockingly and motioned with one hand. Selenity turned around slowly. A figure moved into the room. He was dressed in gray, with a royal blue cape. His hair was long, coppery blonde, and extremely curly. It was tied back into a ponytail. Over his shoulder was an object garbed in blue and white. He walked forward, skirting the broken pillar and the circle of girls, and dumped the bloody bundle between the throne and the Queen. Sera swallowed the bile rising in her throat; blood from the body washed across the floor and splashed onto a crystal pillar.

"Sailor Mercury." Selenity’s voice was empty of emotion, and her expression didn't change. The woman on the floor was dressed in a sailor suit. The outfit was ripped and covered in blood, and her head was tilted at an odd angle. A thick slash was carved across her neck, the wound still moist. The man took a step forward, inclined his head, and pulled out a saber, the point stained with blood. The hilt shone for a moment. They all knew that blade. It was the space sword. Helen took an unconscious step forward, her eyes brimming with tears.

"Sailor Uranus’s sword." Her voice rippled through the room like water, like the tears that began to flow down her face. Sera felt her heart drop into her shoes. They hadn't heard from Uranus and the outer planets in weeks. Even in the civil war that had raged for years, the lack of communication was disturbing. If this man held the space sword, Uranus would have to be dead. Helen took another step forward, ignoring Sera's desperate head shaking. Helen's injured leg buckled and she started slipping to the floor. The sword was almost violently sheathed. The man flipped several strands of hair over one shoulder and moved forward swiftly. He grabbed Helen at the waist, supporting her gently. When she’d regained her balance he reached out with one hand and brushed a stray tear from her cheek.

"Such a face should never be stained by tears." Helen’s eyes lifted to meet his, and she was caught in the man's pure beauty. He moved his hand down her cheek and then brushed a thumb over her lips. Helen's focus moved to the bloodstained hand. She jerked backward, her eyes filling with hate. She tried to lift her sword but he batted the weapon away with a violent thrust of his free arm. The man's gentle smile turned to a frown. His eyes darkened, and he gripped her tightly around the waist. Sera finally had enough. She grabbed Helen from behind. The man held tightly resulting in an impromptu tug of war.

"Enough." Endymion's voice held a note of warning. The young man didn’t let go. Instead he yanked Helen forward. Sera lost her grip and fell backwards; Helen fell forward into his arms, too stunned to react. The man swept Helen up against him and into his arms.

"Prince Paris." Endymion waved a hand towards the door and barked an order in the Terran tongue. Paris nodded quietly and strode from the room, a surprised Helen still in his arms. The girls surged forward like a wave, but Selenity lifted her hand and they retreated. Endymion's smile became even more menacing, a feat that had seemed impossible a moment before. He beckoned a second time. Someone emerged from the shadows with a glass of wine, which Endymion took, sipping while watching the display. Selenity continued to stand, her face impassive. A second figure emerged from the shadows.

Endymion kept his gaze locked on Selenity. Her face was deathly pale. The figure moved into the dim light spilling through the crystal pillars. His sunny hair shone brightly, and he walked with a cocky strut, like a rooster who had just finished his evening tour in the henhouse. He pulled the limp form from his shoulder and dropped her, his smile never wavering as the dead body hit the ground, red and black against the white marble. Her body twisted into odd angles, as if every bone was broken. The man ignored Selenity; he just let the body fall and headed toward Endymion.

"Sailor Mars." Selenity’s voice was barely audible. She reached out a hand as if to touch the body, but drew back. Her eyes filled with tears, but none fell. Medea growled low in her throat. Then she lunged forward, her sword dropped in the same motion. The growl grew quickly, erupting into a scream of rage. Aria had anticipated the short-tempered girl's reaction, tackling Medea in mid flight. The two scuffled on the floor for a moment.

"Medea, stop it. Let it go. You knew she was dead." The last sentence was spoken a bit louder than the rest and accompanied with a rap of Medea’s head against the floor. Aria's gentle words couldn't stop her best friend's struggles, but the mocking laughter of the man made Medea freeze. She lifted violet eyes to clash with aquamarine ones. The man's smiled widened at the fire in her gaze.

"Short tempered people are always the first to react and the last to think." His voice was low and mocking. He lowered the bloodied, dirty spear grasped tightly in his hand. The pointed rested lightly against Aria's chest. He laughed at the blonde's startled features. "Get up; let her fight her own battles." The point dug into the creamy white flesh. Aria stood and moved backward. Her eyes were drawn to the mirror tucked in his waistband. Aria's eyes filled with tears. Medea slowly pulled herself upwards. Her gaze flicked to the lifeless lump of flesh lying at Selenity’s feet.

"I always fight my own battles." Her voice was husky with unshed tears and the words shook a bit. The man used the end of his spear to flick the short white skirt of the girl upwards. She gasped and took a step back.

Endymion cleared his throat loudly. The man stepped closer, pinning Medea in place with the intensity of his gaze.

"Until we meet again." He grasped her chin in one bloody hand, and pressed his lips against hers. Medea sunk her teeth into his lip. He growled and gripped the back of her head, forcing her to lean backwards, and deepened the kiss. Finally he let go. Medea dropped to her knees. She spit, a mixture of blood and saliva puddled on the man’s shining boots. The man growled and smacked her across the face, drawing blood where her lip met her teeth. Medea's face was stunned for a moment.

"Blood for blood bitch." He lifted a hand to his bleeding lip and turned his back. She stood slowly, legs quivering. He whipped around a second time, eyes glowing almost black with anger. His lips once again met hers and they both tasted the tang of copper. Endymion cleared his throat once, and then a second time as Jason nearly bent Medea backwards with the force of the kiss. Finally Jason drew back. Medea’s face was shocked, confused. She took several steps back, resuming her place beside Aria, and wiped her mouth in one motion. But their eyes remained locked.

"Jason, leave, now." Endymion's voice was laced with frustration. Jason tilted his head in a mocking half bow.

“Yes, my Prince, as you command.” The sarcasm in his tone made Endymion growl something in Terran. Jason replied in kind and made an obscene gesture at the now fuming Endymion. Then Jason bowed formally, turned and left the room, leaving a shaking Medea behind. There was a long moment of silence. Endymion drummed his fingers on the edge of the chair as if struggling to keep his temper under control. When that failed he stood, drew a sword from the soldier at his side, and hurled it against the door Jason had stepped through. The metal embedded in the wood almost to the hilt. Everyone present took a step back. Then Endymion looked up, and his anger melted into a smile. He beckoned with one hand, and the sound of boots on stone announced third figure entering the hall.

This one wore a long rust-colored cloak that covered him from head to toe. The cape was dusted in dirt and leaves, as though he’d been rolling on a forest floor. He carried in his hand a tall, heavy key-shaped staff, topped with a garnet ball. He stopped suddenly, whirling the cape around and off him and dropping his burden to the floor in a single motion. The cape partially covered the mangled body, but one long leg and a hank of hair fell against the white marble. Sera noticed this man's eyes were sad, regretful. Not mocking, like the first two. Dido took several steps forward as if in a trance. She gingerly reached for the edge of the dark cape.

"The stars have known her fate, as the gates of time welcome her even now." The man's voice was rich, like dark chocolate, but laced with a touch of bitterness. Dido looked up at the towering figure, her emerald eyes filled with questions. Then they hardened. She jerked the cape back.

"Sailor Jupiter." Selenity’s voice cracked a bit. The body was mangled, as though a wild animal had torn in to shreds. Sera turned her face away in horror. Dido felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and twirled around quickly. The motion upset her balance, but strong arms kept her from falling. He had moved so swiftly and silently that she hadn’t even realized he was beside her. He tugged on the end of a wayward curl, his mouth curving into a gentle smile at the way it sprung back into place. Dido’s eyes moved to the staff gripped in his hand. She pushed the man away, fury and anger and grief warring with each other for control of her heart.

"Murderer." Her voice was fire and ice rolled into one. The man’s eyes darkened, but he stepped back.

"Aeneas." Endymion made a motion with his hand, and the man with the staff headed back toward the doorway, leaving the same way that Jason had earlier. He grabbed the sword and yanked it from its resting place, heaving it over his shoulder as he left. It clattered on the stone. The sound echoed through the room like thunder. Penny finally moved. She bent over, took the discarded cape, and threw it back over the body. Dido simply stared into space, eyes blank. The side door opened from the outside, and another young man entered.

He was about as tall as Endymion, and slender, with pale amber eyes and dark, straight hair. But what caught everyone’s attention were his exposed ears. They were pointed at the tip. He hurried forward and engaged in a swift conference with Endymion. No one could hear the words, but the tone was one of anger and hostility. Sera caught the word Destroyer, and something about wiping out the entire bloodline. She leaned in closer, desperate to hear the conversation. Her face had perked up, she was excited and astonished. She stared at the man in fascination, as though she were seeing one of her fairy tales come to life. Finally the man turned. He gazed at Sera for a moment, the look of anger and disgust on his face made her cringe.

“A Vulcan.” Medea said the words as though they were a prayer. “He’s Alfar, a real live one; I thought none survived the great purges.” A very angry glare was sent her way.

“Few did.” He didn’t say anything else, just turned and moved to one of the pillars still standing in the rear of the room. He leaned against it and glared at Queen Selenity. His gaze sent a shiver down Sera’s spine.

Endymion beckoned with his hand and the last person entered the throne room. Sera looked at the sword in her hand, then at the man entering the room. And she knew why Selenity didn't fight back. There was no hope left.

She'd always known, academically, that she had once had an older brother. There were stories about how every firstborn male was sacrificed to the great goddess Artemis at birth, his blood paving the way for peace. But there hadn't been a male firstborn in centuries. Until her brother. She had often imagined what it would have been like to have an older brother, someone to fight with, someone to play with, someone to watch out for her, someone to love. But the reality of seeing her brother, alive, was enough to knock every fanciful notion of having a family from her head. This man wasn’t the boy who protected her in her dreams; this was the demon she saw in her nightmares.

There was no doubt that the man was the prince. This figure was taller even than Aeneas. His hair was very long, and was brilliantly silver-white, the same shade as her own. But his eyes were a silver gray, just like Selenity’s. He moved very gracefully, like a dancer. In his left hand was an enormous sword. Sera swallowed loudly. He was supposed to be dead. Everyone had said he was dead. They had brought a tiny baby into the temple, killed it with a knife through the heart, and gave the corpse to Selenity to hold. The temple of Artemis had said that the goddess would favor the Queen for another thousand years. She had prayed over his grave, left flowers, wept sometimes in sorrow over what might have been…

“Tranquility, you’re alive.” Selenity gasped the words, her face white, and her eyes wide with shock. Sera cringed. Odysseus reacted even more harshly. He turned to Endymion, eyes hard.

"Why didn't you tell me?" There was a moment of silence. Then Endymion stood.

"You didn't need to know." Odysseus hissed between his teeth, grabbed a sword, and ran for Theseus.

The sword was stopped inches from Theseus's heart. Endymion had moved faster than anyone in the room had ever seen. The glaive was locked around the sword. Endymion twisted and Odysseus watched his blade shatter with a sharp crack. Odysseus took a step back.

"You betrayed me." Odysseus screamed his accusation, his eyes wild. Endymion placed the sword at Odysseus's throat.

"I saved your people out of mercy. I've trained you in the art of war, given countless scientists and money towards restoring your home world, and treated you like a brother. Your obsession with ending the bloodline of Selene must stop."

"You don't understand... everyone who holds the blood of Selene is cursed. Her evilness flows through their veins." Endymion snorted. He twirled the glaive and smacked Odysseus across the face with the metal staff. The Alfar staggered backward.

"You are the one who does not understand. You cannot blame generations of descendents for something one woman did almost ten thousand years ago. Do you know who my father is descended from, you foolish child?" There was a long silence. "My father, the king of Terra, like every single member of the royal houses of the solar system, is descended from Selene. We all have her blood in our veins. And if you stupid, vindictive people ever read your own history books, you'd understand that your entire royal house is descended from her as well. I let your obsession pass, thinking that you would eventually see the stupidity and let go, but not anymore." Endymion smacked the man again. The glaive drew a deep groove across the man’s cheek. Odysseus dropped to his knees, his face white.

"If we are descended from her, then why did she try to destroy us?" There was an eerie silence in the room. Finally Selenity spoke.

"Your immortality was bought, with the blood of Selene's youngest, favorite daughter. Selene was so angry at the deception and murder that she vowed your entire race must be eliminated. That is why the eldest male child of the moon line was always sacrificed, because Selene's eldest son had created the Alfar. You were supposed to be eliminated to pay for the sin you carry in your blood." Selenity’s voice had risen during the speech, ending in something resembling a shout. Endymion chuckled.

"And now the first male heir in generations is alive and well. How that must irritate you. Odysseus, you may leave now." The Alfar rose, his eyes glazed. Endymion returned to his seat, picking up his glass in one hand, his leg once more swinging over the edge of the throne. "Where were we? Ah yes, we were discussing your dear departed son. Tranquility, I always thought that a foolish name for a man. He has chosen to be called Theseus, after the ancient hero. He is no longer your son, Selenity. He belongs to me. You relinquished all rights to him when you gave him to Venus to kill. What kind of a mother would declare that he should be killed at birth, simply for his sex? No true goddess would demand the death of an innocent.”

Theseus finally moved from his position in the doorway. The light fell over him, and now the room could see that cradled in a single arm was a body. He laid his bundle on the ground, pressing a gentle kiss on the figure's cheek. Only Penny noticed the flash of anger in Endymion's eyes. Theseus's eyes were full of an unreadable emotion. The body sprawled out next to the other four, yards of lemon yellow hair spreading across the blood and white marble.

"Sailor Venus." Sera felt the name spill from her lips in a lament. Even in death, the Senshi of Venus was hauntingly beautiful. A choked sob came from Aria. The man didn't stop. He stepped over the four bodies littering the throne room floor and headed for Selenity. Aria raced forward, planting herself in front of the queen.

"Stop right there." Aria's voice was cold. The man moved closer. Sera sighed softly and moved quickly to stand just behind Aria.

"Aria." Sera whispered the word urgently. "He's not stopping." Aria gritted her teeth and took a small step forward.

"I said stop." Aria's voice was loud and forceful. The man kept moving until her sword was pressed against his chest.

"Move or I will kill you too." The voice was an octave lower than what Sera had expected. The man was deadly serious. He whirled the sword quickly and expertly, pressing the blade against Aria's throat. The words were issued neither as a threat or a promise, merely a statement of fact.

"I'd like to see you try." Aria's reply was steady and just as calm. Her eyes had narrowed. She moved and suddenly he was without a weapon and her sword was at his throat.

"Impressive, but not good enough. Don't bait me, guardswoman. You don't want to make me angry. Even your beauty cannot save you." Aria lifted her chin stubbornly. Then Theseus moved. Aria’s sword clattered across the stone and she found her back pressed against his body, both of her hands wrapped tightly in a giant fist, a hand gently holding her chin. Fire radiated from her eyes, she’d never lost. She struggled for a moment but his grip only tightened. Her struggles stilled when one hand flexed around her throat. She felt the world go black for a few moments, but his touch lightened. “Now, little girl. One word from Endymion and I’ll snap your neck like a twig.” Endymion leaned back in the chair, laughing at the shocked expressions on the remaining girl’s faces.

“Ah Selenity, just look at the way you make your subjects lay down their lives for you. Would you, I think, do the same for them?” He lifted his hand. Selenity’s voice rang out, echoing off the walls. She sounded almost frantic.

“Wait.” She moved forward and stopped just in front of Theseus. She laid a hand against his cheek, ignoring his flinch at her touch. “Tranquility, I thought you were dead. It lightens my heart to know you live. I never wanted to give you up. But I had to, don’t you see? This little girl has never done anything to harm anyone. Let her go, Tranquility. Please.” Her voice was whisper soft and full of tears. He closed his eyes for a moment and leaned into the caress. His hand moved, releasing Aria’s chin. Instead the hand moved to her scalp, winding its way through her hair. He stroked her for a moment, as though she were a pet.

“So pretty, little princess.” He whispered the words in her ear, barely loud enough to have breath. “You were always so pretty, even as a child. Just like your mother. The prince may be blind at times, but I know who you are. Hidden among the commoners of the palace guard, you stand out from the rabble like a rose in weeds.” He inhaled deeply and his hand wandered over her scant clothing. “You even smell like Venus. You are nothing to the witch, don’t you realize that? You’re just a pawn, just a slave…and like your mother you will die for your loyalty.” Then he opened his eyes. They hardened and he jerked his mouth away from her ear. He wrapped his arm around Aria’s throat.

“My name is Theseus, woman. Now, you will surrender, immediately.” Selenity bowed her head and stepped away. Theseus jerked Aria’s head a bit and started to squeeze. She winced at the strain. “Now, my ever devoted mother. Save your helpless subject and not yourself.” Selenity closed her eyes. She had longed to hear that word from her son’s lips, but not in a tone dripping with venom.

“You know I cannot, Tranquility. One life must be sacrificed for the sake of a thousand…” Her words trailed into nothing at the evil expression now clouding Theseus’s silver eyes.

“Or a million lives for one, isn’t that what you mean, bitch?” Theseus snarled the words with such force that Selenity took a step backward. “One crying child for an ancient prophecy? Four dead boys for words on a moldy scroll? Millions dead for your self-centered desire to rule the universe?”

“You know nothing of rule, of the weight of power.”

“And I never will. You stole that birthright from me because of my sex.”

“Enough.” The room came to a halt at Endymion’s roar. Theseus shut his mouth tightly, eyes still narrowed. Selenity looked startled. Endymion stood slowly, his eyes black. "These accusations do nothing. I've waited long enough Selenity. I’ve already dispensed justice to your pitiful Sailor Senshi; or rather I gave them to the victims of their crimes. Now it is your turn to pay. Surrender to me now, unconditionally, completely, and be tried and executed for your crimes, or I will kill every living creature on this hunk of rock. Starting with that little girl." Selenity’s face registered nothing.

“I cannot. I will not.” Selenity fisted her hands tightly. “No matter what the cost, I cannot let the prophecy be fulfilled.”

Endymion growled low in his throat. The room echoed with the sound. “So be it. Kill her.”

There was a soft cracking sound, like the breaking of bone, and Aria fell to the ground in a heap. Sera screamed. She felt like the entire world had condensed into a single droplet of time, a single moment of loss. Aria was gone. A loud smack across her face stopped the sound, but not the weeping in her soul. She blinked rapidly, her tear filled eyes bringing Medea’s tortured gaze into focus.

“Hush, you must be strong.” Medea’s trembling voice belied her harsh words. Sera sank into the slightly taller girl’s embrace and they hung together like two reeds in the wind. Dido’s virulent blasphemies echoed off the broken crystal and marble, her trail of curses cut off by a harsh rebuke from Penelope. But Selenity remained calm.

“It does not matter who you destroy, Endymion. My people will live on.” Endymion gritted his teeth. Then he moved, so fast that even a blink would have stopped one from seeing. He reached forward and grabbed Sera's arm. He stepped backwards, dragging the startled girl. She stumbled forward into his arms. He turned her, so her back was pressed tightly against him, and held the edge of a dagger against her throat, just hard enough so a thin trail of blood trickled down her neck. The other girls lunged forward, screaming denials almost in unison. Even Selenity reacted, reaching out, her eyes wide with horror.

"Perhaps if just one of your little slaves isn’t enough, I’ll kill them all in front of your eyes. One by one, tortured until they scream for mercy." His breath was hot on her ear. Sera felt her body trembling in his grasp but was unable to stop the shivers. Selenity’s eyes were tortured. Endymion pulled Sera closer, pressed a kiss against the curve of her throat. "Make up your mind, Selenity. Perhaps I'll enjoy her before I kill her." He laughed softly, as his hand crept under the edge of Sera's white shirt. His hands danced over her bare skin, grasping a breast in one hand. "I enjoyed listening to my bedmates beg for their lives, while I have my fill." Sera shivered in his arms. Her body reacted to his touch despite her fear. No one noticed Penny whispering something to Dido, the two nodding at each other. Penny took several steps forward. She laid her sword on the ground. Every eye turned to her.

“Endy, you must let her go.” Endymion flinched at the use of the name. His eyes grew hazy, misty, as if his mind suddenly went somewhere far away. Sera felt his grip slacken, but the strange feelings that had assaulted her senses refused to be banished as easily. There was another long silence in the room. “I know you have to remember me Endy. I was the only one you allowed to use that name.” Endymion’s grip relaxed even more. Sera sagged against his body. Penny moved forward a bit more, into the light. “I was just a little girl when I was brought here, but I still remember you. I remember the way I would follow you around, desperate to be just like you. And you would pull on my pigtails and call me names.” Endymion’s eyes softened.

“Penelope. You’re little Penelope? The little sister that followed me around and chopped her hair off to look like me? My mother told me the queen had murdered you.” His voice halted between the words, as though he were dredging up some horrible memory. There was an awkward silence. Penny took another step forward.

“Please, Endy. Don’t hurt her. She isn’t the one you want.” Endymion untangled his arms from Sera and let go. She slumped to the floor in a tangled, limp mass. Penny took another step forward, now only an arm’s length from Endymion. His eyes were haunted now, desperate.

“Why didn’t you come back to me, Penelope? My god, that was so many years ago. If only I’d known where you were, what had happened to you?” He paused, his face grew thoughtful. “If you’ve been alive all this time, you could have sent word at least. Why didn’t you try to escape?” Penny smiled sadly.

“Escape? I was just a little girl, Endy, a scared little girl. I was what, three...four years old maybe? How could I have escaped? I didn’t know anyone, couldn’t speak the language. I cried for days and days.” Endymion took a step closer. Sera scuttled out from underneath his feet. Then he took a step forward and embraced Penny.

“I’ve blamed myself for your death for so many years.” His voice was husky and soft. “I wish I could take away all those years you’ve been a prisoner here.”

“I wished that for a long time, until I realized something.” Endymion’s face lifted at the suddenly bitter tone. “I realized that I had wasted my childhood wishing to be a monster and alienated the only people who have ever loved me.” Penny lifted her hand, a dagger gleaming brightly. She moved the weapon downward, as though she would plunge it into his heart, but her hand shook and she turned at the last moment, burying it in Endymion’s stomach. He gasped and staggered backward. He stared at the dagger in shock.

“But...why? I only wanted to rescue you.” Penelope spit in his face.

“Why would you want to deprive me of the only home I’ve ever know, brother? Here I wasn’t the unwanted second heir. Here I was the princess, the heir, the chosen one.” She stepped backwards, still laughing. The room erupted into chaos. Endymion pulled the knife from his gut and sagged to the ground, both arms pressed to the wound. Several members of the army rushed forward to treat the injury. Penelope turned and caught a blade thrown to her by Dido. She turned back in time to counter Prince Theseus’s blade. The two were quickly locked in combat. Medea grabbed the Queen by the arm and raced for the nearest door. Dido yelled a ferocious battle cry and rammed her shoulder into one of the cracked pillars. It collapsed, sending dust and debris flying. The remaining artificial lights gave out and the room was in darkness.

~~**~~

Helen was embarrassed. She’d never been the strongest of the girls, but one leg injury had made her pass out the moment the bastard prince left the throne room. He had been squeezing her rather tightly. And she had lost a lot of blood. But it was still more than embarrassing. She quickly took stock of the dark corridor where she was lying. A medic had been by to bandage her leg at some point, and she could see a circular mark on her arm that meant she’d been given some kind of medication. She was in one of the large hallways, on a pallet beside dozens of injured and dead bodies. She couldn’t make out their faces in the dim light. The air was thick with the smells of antiseptic, old blood, unwashed bodies and urine. Helen sat up slowly, ignoring the pounding in her head, and looking around carefully for signs of Terran warriors. But the only soldiers she saw were injured. Soft moans filled the air. She smiled a bit. They had left her unguarded. She silently, and sarcastically, thanked the Terrans for their medical care and after a final glance to make sure no one was paying attention, she began her escape. She scooted back against the wall and used it as leverage. She managed to make her feet, but she was wobbling. Her head throbbed again and the world swam. She shook her head and started down the hall, stepping over the bodies and trying not to attract attention.

~~**~~

Penelope was in trouble. The darkness hindered Theseus’s sword, but it also hindered her own movements. And she had known from the beginning that she was no match for his sword. Only Aria had the skills the defeat him…but she was dead now. The air was thick with dust and breathing hurt. Penny dodged another blow and moved several steps backward again. She’d been drawing him towards the rear wall, behind the throne, away from the others. But she was tired, her arm was aching. And she was silently cursing herself. She hadn’t been able to kill him, even when given the perfect opportunity. Endymion still lived, because she didn’t have the stomach for murder. She blocked a thrust intended to take her life, but missed the second attack. The sword sunk into her shoulder. She jerked backwards, hissing as the blade pulled out, ignored the pain, and deftly switched hands. And she thanked the goddess for gifting her with the skill to wield a sword left and right handed. Theseus switched his attack pattern far too quickly, after finding his old attacks ineffective against her left hand. Penelope swore as the blade found her leg, carving a shallow gash.

“I’m going to carve you up piece by piece, little bitch, until your blood coats the floor.” She ignored his taunting and tried to ignore the blood spilling down her arm. His threats were easy to shake off, the anger in his eyes, however, was another matter. Penelope resisted the urge to let fear overwhelm her. She wouldn’t let his words affect her, she wouldn’t stop fighting. His sword made contact again, this time taking a chunk out of her side. She staggered, and cursed the lightheadedness that was keeping her from fighting as she should. Theseus struck her again, this time across the back, with the flat of the blade. Penny felt a surge of humiliation as she fell to her knees, her weapon clattering on the cold marble. He hadn’t even tried to hurt her that time. She lowered her head, waiting for the blow that would end her life. She had failed, but at least the others had a chance of escape.

“Now, little girl, you die.” Penny felt a rush of wind as the sword descended. Then it stopped. Penny lifted her head slowly. Endymion was blocking the blade with his glaive, held tightly in his left hand, just inches from her neck. His eyes glittered in the dim light. His stomach was wrapped tightly and Paris stood at his side, green eyes shooting sparks.

“Enough, Theseus.” There was a brief pause. Theseus slowly lowered his sword.

“She deserves death.” Endymion chuckled and handed his weapon to Paris. He knelt down and used a single hand to lift Penny’s chin. Sapphire met mismatched brown and blue in a clash of wills.

“I should have killed you when I had the chance.” She spit toward his face, but he merely leaned a bit to one side. The spittle landed on the marble. He faced her again; the grip on her chin grew tighter.

“Then why didn’t you, little brat?” Penny winced at the name, remembering times long ago when the term had been an endearment and not a curse. “You had the chance. I saw you aim for my heart. Why didn’t you end it?” His voice was little more than a whisper.

“Unlike you, bastard, I don’t have a taste for murder.” Endymion frowned and drew his eyebrows together tightly.

“You don’t have to drag my parentage into this, sister. You had a chance and you failed.” He stood slowly. “She lives today. I have other plans for her.” Penny cringed at the words. She tried to push herself to her feet, but instead fell flat on her face. “Take her.”

Penny felt herself slipping into darkness as harsh hands grabbed her and yanked her to her feet. She was dragged from the room but didn’t even have the strength to fight.
Finally gave in to the blackness creeping through her mind.

~~**~~

Dido opened her eyes very slowly. To say her head hurt would be an understatement. At first she couldn’t see anything but blackness. Then she realized there wasn’t anything to see but blackness. The plan had worked. She stood slowly. The crystal pillar was in shambles around her. Medea and Selenity were gone. She could hear swords clashing in the distance, but the area directly around her seemed to be empty. She moved forward like a blind man.

The breeze caught her attention. It dragged the dust and dirt out of the air. Dido followed the gusts of wind to the large windows that had once held glass centuries old. She smiled grimly and picked her way through the broken shards and over the ledge into the gardens. There would be another time for battle. A single patch of light pierced the gloom. Dido’s sharp eyes searched the dim path created by the light. She saw a glimpse of a limp Penny being dragged from the room. Dido smiled. Her next battle would come soon. She cracked her knuckles in anticipation and moved through the garden at a swift pace, determined to cut off Penelope’s guard.

~~**~~

Medea and Sera hadn’t wasted any time. The moment the lights went out they were moving. The Queen found herself hustled to the back of the room like cattle and shoved through a door hidden behind a tapestry. But Medea didn’t follow; she pushed Sera into the dark opening and let the door slam. Sera wanted desperately to pound on the door in protest, but Selenity pulled the small girl away.

“Come, darling. I don’t have much time. We must reach the prayer chamber before they do. I do think Medea can take care of herself.” Sera wanted to crumble on the floor, but she listened to the Queen and followed docilely through the twisted secret tunnels of the Moon Palace, the shock of Aria’s death still eating at her soul. She felt like she was in a haze, unable to grasp what was happening. So she simply put one foot in front of the other and tried not to think of what Medea and the others were facing.

~~**~~

“I ordered you to kill her.” The tone was quiet, tight with anger.

“You have my loyalty, Endymion, but not my soul. I incapacitated her, they believed her dead. It served both my purposes and furthered your kingdom, my prince. I do not question your judgment, do not question my motives.” The second voice was deep, calm, soothing.

“You questioned my judgment the moment you disobeyed me. I ordered you to kill her, dammit.” The first voice began to rise in pitch and tone, the modulating baritone rising to a tenor.

“There were factors you were not aware of, my prince. She is not one to be killed like chattel.” There was a gentle touch, a soft stroking of hands. “She is not simply a stupid guard. She was just hiding among the peasants. This is the crown princess of Venus, the girl titled goddess of love at her birth. We will need her to gain her planet’s support. The population there holds strong loyalty to its blood leadership.” There was a moment of stunned silence.

“How do you who she is?” The voice wasn’t suspicious now, only resigned, and a bit puzzled. A deep laugh echoed in the room, rocking her from head to toe.

“Ah my prince, sometimes you let yourself be blinded to what is in front of you. No other person alive could have disarmed me. Only the child of Venus was ever so skilled. Her hair, her eyes, her scent. I would know her in the dark, in the rain. She hasn’t changed, even after all these years.” Another soft touch swept over her brow.

“Why isn’t she awake yet?” There was a moment of silence followed by a sheepish whisper.

“I might have pushed a bit hard on her arteries. I needed to get her out fast. That and the shock of her arm breaking. But I needed the sound.” Another silence.

“I’m sorry, Theseus. As always you were right, thinking with your head and not your heart. I leave her in your hands. Meet me in the prayer chamber. We must claim the sword.” The first voice left with a heavy stomping of feet. A gentle breath tickled her cheek.

“I’m not so sure I was using my head and not my heart.” A touch of lips against her skin sent Aria’s eyes open in shock. The face of her captor loomed, filling her vision with gunmetal gray and the brush of soft silver. He smiled and stroked a hand over her cheek. The gentle expression and tender motion seemed at odds with the harsh lines of his face. “So you are awake, sweetheart. Come, we need to set your arm.” Aria just blinked.

Her arm hurt, her head hurt, and her heart hurt. She felt like a foam blanket had been shoved into her skull. She wanted to break down and cry, but her mind kept the emotions locked inside. She’d failed miserably, and now she was lying on the cold marble with a broken arm and blood seeping into her white uniform. She tried to pull the scattered strands of intelligent thought together but failed. Instead all she could concentrate on was the throbbing in her arm and the pounding in her skull. She winced as her captor pulled her to her feet. She staggered, lightheaded from the movement.

“Slow down, angel.” Warm arms circled her, holding her against firm flesh. For a moment she sunk into the embrace, grateful for a haven from the pain. She felt as though she belonged, locked within a wall of strength. A hand brushed over her hair slowly, steadily, the calluses occasionally catching the delicate gossamer strands. Then Aria remembered who she was, and who was holding her. She jerked back suddenly, this time no arm came to stop her swaying. Instead of a gentle smile, a pair of mocking eyes and a lifted brow met her gaze.

“I see you’ve recovered your wits. A pity, you’re much nicer when you feel the need to placate me. So how much of our little conversation did you hear, oh fearless warrior?” The tone had turned from warm to slightly mocking. Aria frowned. A nagging sensation of familiarity poked at the back of her mind, but she brushed the feeling off in favor of action. She took several steps backward, trying to find a place to stand where she didn’t have to crane her neck to speak.

“Not enough. What do you want with me, Tranquility?” Suddenly the space she’d just gained disappeared with several long strides. She was hauled up by her shoulders until she was at his eye level. He shook her like a naughty dog. Her arm screamed in pain.

“Never, I repeat, never call me that name.” His voice was taunt. “I am Prince Theseus, but to you I will be known as master. Perhaps I should make you practice the word for a while; I think you’ll do poorly with it at first.” Aria blinked rapidly, astonished by the emotional roller coaster she’d just witnessed. She lifted her chin.

“I will call you what I wish. The worst you can do is kill me, Tranquility.” He smiled, slowly, the kind of smile that would have made any woman’s knees weak. It made Aria’s stomach ache.

“Oh, there are things much worse than death, angel. And if you call me that once more I’ll introduce you to them here on this bloody floor.” His mouth pressed against her lips brutally, forcing her mouth open. His tongue swept inside. Aria felt her body trembling as his arms crushed her body against his chest. Something solid pressed between her legs and Aria fought down a rising panic. But her body longed to respond to the passion in the kiss, the desire in the form pressed against her. And the fire in her blood, the legacy of her ancestors reared to life, making her temperature rise and her thoughts fuzz like an out of focus monitor. Finally he released her, and she slumped against his chest again. He stroked her hair as though she were a kitten, a plaything to be placated with a tender touch. His voice was a bit husky.

“Do not push me, angel. I like pretty things, and always take care of my toys, but my temper is not a pleasant sight. So don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Aria left her head resting against his chest, too shaken to move. She’d been terrified, and angry, and yet she’d still felt the rush of lust when his mouth touched hers. She tried to pull away but the motion made her gasp in pain. Theseus sighed loudly.

“All right, angel. Enough is enough.” He swept her into his arms effortlessly. “Let’s do something with that arm.” And he left the room with Aria’s head on his shoulder, and her mind whirling with plans for escape.

~~**~~

Medea had just broken another Terran sword. She swore loudly, tossed the offending weapon, and scampered up the remains of the wall. She’d managed to shatter five of the useless pieces of iron, and was currently pining for her twin sai, made of Martian steel, almost unbreakable and deadly sharp. But her weapons were lying on her bed at the other end of the palace. A palace now almost in ruins and crawling with disgusting Terrans, and their second rate weapons. She swore under her breath as her booted heel slipped on the rubble. Medea grumbled under her breath. This was not the most intelligent way to make her escape, but it was better than trying to press through the wall of soldiers blocking the doors. And there had to be some kind of opening at the top of the shattered wall. She just had one chasing her now, a really stupid one at that. She’d knocked him to the point of unconsciousness twice now, but he kept getting up for more punishment. She jumped down the far side of the rubble and was gratified to see a fairly empty, and intact, corridor. She raced for the doorway that led to the south side of the palace. Her pursuer followed, a slender earthling with no sense, but a will to fight.

She heard a strange scraping sound, and turned enough to see the Terran sliding down the hall, on his face. She found herself giggling. War or not, this soldier didn’t deserve death. Maybe a lesson on how to handle a blade, and run without falling… Medea laughed as she headed through the wide white portal and onto the grass, heading for her sanctuary, the Temple of Vesta.

~~**~~

Jason was bored. He leaned against a portion of wall that was still intact, staring at the dark lawn and flipping the mirror over in his hands. The cool metal tingled against his skin, like the tiny pricks from a thistle. His mind was still buried in thoughts of a black hair wench with eyes like the sunset. His body had followed his mind, leaving him more than uncomfortable. He hadn’t returned to the throne room. Endymion had been in a foul mood, and Jason was fairly certain that avoiding the Dark Prince’s temper would be good for his health. In fact, he’d probably stay low until the dawn, when the sunlight soothed Endymion’s fear of the dark, and the darkness within.

He ran his hand absently over the dull face of the mirror. It was dark now, had been black and lifeless since its previous owner had breathed her last. Jason thrust the sounds of her screams from his mind, walling them back inside the dark corner where they festered. The silver on the back and handle caught what bits of light seeped from the ruined palace, throwing tiny beams over the now wet grass. The dew had fallen. Jason turned the mirror once more, whispering to it as he had so many times, begging it for a glimpse of what used to bubble from within, but the dark glass didn’t change. Jason swore and threw the mirror against the wall, ignoring the way it clattered at his feet. He slumped to the ground, weary of war and the scars it had left on him.

The sound caught his attention, the rumble like waves crashing on a distant shore. Then there was the distant whisper of a violin. He had heard the siren’s song many times as a child. The love radiating from the music swept over him in a flood. He reached out for the discarded mirror with a shaking hand. The glass was alight now, brilliant in color. She was there, standing on a beach, the waves crashing at her feet. He could smell the salt, taste it in the air. Her hair blew in the breeze, the curls fluttering like the wings of a thousand tiny sandpipers. She smiled sadly at him, her eyes ageless and quiet. The scene faded slowly, darkening to night. A figure crept across a backdrop of wet grass. The white of her clothing shone even in the darkness. She turned her head slowly and the mirror moved in closer. Violet eyes gazed at him, the expression one of hope. A beam of light shot from the mirror, flying over the palace lawn at a lightning pace and igniting a stand of firs now twisted and dead. The fire illuminated the sky. And he could see her just beyond the flames. Jason smiled.

~~**~~

There was no hesitation. Medea had rolled away from the grasping flames in time to save her hair from a roasting, but lost the ribbon taming the strands to the power of the fire. The breeze parted the slippery tresses and turned them into a flock of glistening ravens. The man from the throne room, Jason, the one with eyes like the sea and hair like the sun, was racing toward her. And he was armed. Medea silently prayed to every god or goddess she could remember, turned on her heel, and ran.

He had longer legs and a head start. She dived to the right in time to keep her arm attached; however, her shoulder was not as fortunate. The sword carved a shallow gash across the top. Not very painful, but annoying. And blood loss would slow her down. The white material of her top parted, exposing her shoulder and the top of one breast. But she had more important things to worry about, like a man intent on making her into sushi. The sword fell again twice, each time barely scraping her skin. She turned to face him, her skirt in shred, her top hanging by a thread at one shoulder. He was silent, his eyes dark in the night. And the silence scared her more than anything.

“What do you want from me?” She screamed the words, letting the emotion spill into the night. For a moment her plea was met only with silence. Then he cleared his throat.

“Take off your boots.” He stopped suddenly and let the sword hang at his side. Medea skidded to a halt as well and just stared at him. He hadn’t asked, he’d commanded, like a general.

“What the hell for, you arrogant asshole?” She put her hands on her hips and her voice quivered in anger. The corner of Jason’s mouth lifted in a smirk and he stalked around her. Medea turned with him.

“I don’t think I can cut them off without removing half of your leg. And while the blood is a turn on, I’d like you awake, not passed out from fluid loss.” Medea’s mouth fell open. Jason smiled. “What, no nasty comeback? You’re unarmed, I’m holding the weapon. You’re injured and I haven’t been touched. There’s no question over who will win this little battle.” He stepped forward and Medea took a reflexive step back. The heat at her back made her twist. He had managed to maneuver her against the miracle bonfire.

“I think you’re a lunatic.” Medea spat the words but stopped her retreat. Jason’s smile faded.

“I’ve been accused of that, but my lunacy is keeping you alive right now, little girl. You might do well to feed my obsession instead of calling me names.” The sword struck again. Medea felt the flimsy fabric falling from her chest and quickly clutched it against her body.

“So do you intend to slice every bit of clothing off my body?” Jason grinned.

“Not if you’re a good girl and take it off.” There was a long moment of silence. Medea stared over his shoulder, where the door leading to the holy circle gleamed. The temples of the great city were virtually untouched. They meant sanctuary, life. She bit her lower lip. And frowned over the way Jason stared at her mouth. She closed her eyes and swallowed loudly. She didn’t have a choice. Distraction, she only had one way to give him a distraction, without losing more blood. She lowered her arms, letting the fabric drop. His intake of breath was enough to make her smile. She opened her eyes slowly. Her voice dropped to a husky tone.

“All right, but I think you want me to be a bad girl, not a good one.” Now it was Jason who was swallowing, his body suddenly alive with need. She radiated sensuality, from the soft, low voice to the half closed eyes. He took several steps forward, his eyes drawn to her full breasts.

“The boots.” He managed to croak the words, his attention well and truly diverted. Medea leaned over slowly and peeled the white leather down one long leg. She stepped out slowly, watching his gaze follow the curve of her calf. “The other.” She almost giggled; the look on his face was so comical. She peeled the other boot off slowly, a heady sense of power filling her mind. “Now the dress.” There was a long pause.

“All right, but you’ll need to come over here and help me.” Jason slowly sheathed his sword and took a few steps forward. She turned around slowly and lifted her mane of hair. “I need you to untie it in the back there.” Jason lifted a hand and laid it against her shoulder, tracing the trickle of blood over her skin and down her back. She shuddered under his touch. Medea tilted her head backward and the two locked eyes for several long moments.

Medea felt like she was drowning. His eyes were full of lust, as though he would eat her alive. She tried to resist the echoing emotion pooling in her belly, the feeling that had her admiring the curve of his lips and the broad shoulder her head was resting against. He leaned forward and their lips brushed, a butterfly kiss, soft and tenuous. His hand continued its slow dance down her back to the tie at her waist. A simple twist and the white fabric was falling, pooling at her feet.

A gentle caress at the side of her face made her shudder. It was too tender for hands capable of murder and terror, too gentle for the emotions welling in his eyes. His hands reached around her waist, pulling her back against his body in a tight embrace. His eyes darkened and Medea felt trapped. The lust suddenly turn to terror. And the terror led to action. A swift kick from behind that took a leg out from under him, followed by a knee to the groin hit just the right spot, and suddenly her captor was rolling in pain on the ground. She smashed a pointed foot into his unprotected back, and another in his gut, almost swearing at the pain but feeling immense satisfaction in knowing she’d at least bruised his kidney.

“You fucking pervert.” She bent over and drew his sword. He tried to roll away but a slender foot clamped down on his throat. He struggled for air, but couldn’t budge her. She lifted the sword high and prepared to ram it though his skull. But then she saw his face, the shock, the hurt and the betrayal there. Her hands faltered and she let the weapon drop. She removed her foot and he gasped for air. Medea dropped the weapon and ran for the gates, unsure of how long her attack would keep him down, but unable to kill him. She turned back one last time, as she slipped through the doors. Their eyes met in the darkness. He sat up slowly, his breathing still labored.

“You should have killed me. I’m not a good enemy to make. I would have given you anything for a smile. Now I will find you, hunt you down like the bitch you are. And next time I’ll chain you to the wall while you scream for a little tenderness.” Medea felt shame well inside her, and terror, but she lifted her chin, unwilling and unable to show him weakness.

“Unlike you Terrans, I don’t kill for sport. Besides, you’ll never catch me again, you arrogant bastard, and even if you do, I’d die before I let you touch me.” Jason smiled slowly, the pain of his injuries forgotten in a moment of anger.

“The next time we meet, I’ll make you beg. And then I’ll slice you open and watch you bleed.” Medea shivered and slipped inside the door, unable to face the anger and hurt in his eyes. She’d just made a deadly enemy, but she wasn’t sure why her heart wept silent tears of regret.

~~**~~

Helen apologized profusely to the unconscious body. She hadn’t meant to smack the woman over the head so hard. But a Terran doctor’s uniform was too great an asset to pass up. Helen had noticed the girl quite a while earlier, moving slowly through the rows of dead and injured, her competent hands giving aid where she could. Helen admired the courage and dignity displayed. It had to be very hard, on a strange planet, probably the only female Terran within hundreds of miles, probably only a handful actually in the army. But she was strong, and capable. And Helen almost cried when the girl had crumpled at her feet.

She continued to apologize to the girl as she stripped the clothing and changed in the dark side corridor, her eyes checking to make sure her victim stayed unconscious, and her mind wondering if the chunk of marble she’d used had been too heavy. Helen didn’t want to leave any permanent damage. She checked the girl’s pulse one last time before tying her hands securely and covering her in a blanket.

“I’m sorry, I really am. But I need your ship more than you do right now. Some day I’ll make it up to you.” Helen sighed, straightened the nondescript gray jumpsuit, and walked swiftly toward the main corridor. She kept up and internal monologue with herself about it being all in the confidence she displayed, and that any slipup would make the Terrans suspicious. But the one thing that almost gave her away was the name.

“Dr. Lucia? Please Dr. Lucia. Can you take a look at this one?” She ignored the first plea for help, but the second sparked her brain and she forced her body to turn. The soldier speaking to her was young, and Helen found herself once again wondering at a culture that sent children to war. “He was barely clipped with the sword, on the inside of his leg, but he it just keeps bleeding. Please Dr. Lucia.” Helen felt tears misting in her eyes as the young man led her to the side of an almost identical soldier. She knelt beside the victim, torn between aiding the enemy, and letting a boy die.

“Do you know him?” Helen checked the boy methodically, as she’d been trained, her fingers moving automatically.

“He’s my older brother.” Helen sighed a bit. She’d found the problem.

“I’m afraid I can’t do anything for him here.” She almost choked on the words. She swallowed. “He’s had a major artery severed. I can’t stop the bleeding without surgery or…” She halted suddenly. The Terrans had no knowledge of Mercurian’s skill with healing magic. And she dared not show herself. The boy’s eyes filled with tears.

“Please, there has to be something you can do. He’s all I have left. Do you need something, if we take him somewhere else could you help him?” Helen closed her eyes and shook her head slowly.

“He needs to have surgery immediately, and there’s no way to do that right now. Even if I had a ship…” The boy popped up to his feet.

“Wait, wait. I’m a pilot. I have a small transport shuttle. We can leave right now.” Helen felt the anguish of a choice flow through her. She could use the boy, use his ship, escape. But his brother. She swallowed hard.

“You’d be executed for that, for disobeying orders.” The boy dropped his eyes.

“I already disobeyed orders when I came here. But the rest of my family is dead now, murdered by Lunarian terrorists six months ago. I don’t care if they kill me, if it’s my life for his. Will you help me?” Helen felt waves of relief and anger flow over her. This was her chance. She could save them both, but at the cost of their identity as Terrans.

“Load him onto that stretcher. We need to move fast.”

~~**~~

Penny was completely limp between four tall guards, one on each arm and one directly in front and behind. There were four escorts as well, in sets of two, walking side by side four paces in front and six behind. Eight guards in all. Dido wanted to rush in and rip them limb from limb, but she’d already avoided four patrols, and eight armed men was nearing her limit. So she waited impatiently, her mind struggling to find a plan. She wasn’t used to having to think, usually Helen or Aria was there to lay out strategy. But Penny’s life was at stake. Dido couldn’t afford to mess up this battle.

She trailed the men silently, not even rustling the grass. They’d moved from the interior corridors into the vast gardens, the fastest way across the palace was through the gardens. But it definitely wasn’t the most open or the safest. Dido had taken an opportunity to coat her white garments and her skin in mud. The camouflage effect worked well, rendering her invisible to the idiot Terrans. She stalked them like a panther, waiting for her moment to strike, a strip of her skirt wound into a tight rope in her hands. And then they walked into a darkened path, bushes on each side, trees above. Dido had her ambush.

The first two, the two in back, were astonishingly easy. They’d separated, one lagging behind. She’d used the improvised rope as a garrote on the first, dragging his body swiftly in to the bushes. The second had come to investigate and found his partner, at least in death. She’d jumped up into the trees, moving swiftly to the front of the pack. Her appearance was spectacular. She dropped sideways from the tree branch onto the two marching in front. Her legs wrapped around one neck, snapping it neatly, even as her hands snapped the other man’s neck. She finished the fall gracefully, landing on all fours. She stood slowly, enjoying the fear in her prey’s eyes.

She would have liked to have taunted them, made them beg. Or scream war cries as she bashed their bones to dust. But they never got a chance to scream. She threw herself into the one in front. She used her knife in the side of his neck, severing the jugular. Her fists and feet cracked against groin and nose, the second and third men dropped their burden. She flung the knife and it buried to the hilt in the fourth man’s forehead. Then she returned to the two still alive, finally letting the thrill of battle fill her as tackled one and smashed his skull against the pavement. Blood coated her fists and the brick walkway beneath her feet. The last man grabbed her hair; she neatly flipped him over her shoulder and made use of the makeshift rope one last time. And then they were dead. She stood for several moments, letting her body and mind cool in the darkness. Penny lay on the ground, still unconscious. Dido knelt slowly. The joy of fighting had been shriveled at the lack of movement from the dark haired girl. Dido suddenly wished that Helen were there to help.

“We have to get moving Penny. Come on, wake up.” Dido smacked the girl’s cheeks lightly. Penny didn’t respond. Dido groaned, hefted the body, and flipped it over one shoulder. “Damn, you’re heavy too. You owe me for this one, Penny.” Then she was off through the darkness, towards the palace landing area which was crawling with Terran ships.

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