Redemption - The Past - Chapter 03

So, I got it finished...amazing no?

Chapter 03 – The Past
By Aurora Eos Rose
The Silver Crystal

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 he’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 recover. 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 cloud with anger 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 couldn’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. White ships throwing flames on the ground with precision. The second fleet of ships had seemed like the death knell, their black hulls a shocking contrast to the brilliant white of the Queen’s executioners. But the black ships were not reinforcements, 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 he’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 he’d felt in that throne room. Not death, but at least one biting comment in sight of the commanders. The whole army would be gossiping about his disgrace soon. He was fairly young by his people’s standards; many still considered him a child. They’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 he’d made in gaining their respect. He clenched his fists, feeling his bond burning. He’d never realized that Selene’s spawn had spread so far, never paid attention to history enough to care. Now owed his life to one of to a child of the devil, to a descendent he was honor bound to protect, and revenge driven to kill. Somehow he’d never seen any of those with Selene’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 he’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. She’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 Vesta’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 couldn’t stop running. She knew the bastard prince was still following her; she could feel his eyes on her skin like burning coals. She didn’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 Queen’s failure, her mother’s failure, and her own failure.

She could see the temple stairs now, and marvel at the circle of pristine ground around Vesta’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.

“Let go of me, you bastard.” 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.

“Come here.” 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. “Come on sweetheart, if you come along quietly I won’t hurt you.” Medea took a step backward and shook her head. Jason scowled. “Don’t make me come get you.” She 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 couldn’t have been more then eight years. Her skin was pasty white, as though she’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.

“You 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.” Jason’s eyes narrowed, but he did not dispute the child’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.

“Very well then, cursed one. I will not enter. 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. If she leaves, she is mine to take. And no god or goddess will stop me.” He locked eyes with Medea and grinned. “You might have spent your days in my bed, but you’ve chosen your own prison cell. I’ll be back for you when you tire of your confinement, but the moment you set foot outside…you’re mind.” 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 Medea’s quivering, naked form.

“For 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.” Medea took the cold offered hand and slowly stood. And she followed the child.

~~**~~

“Quit looking so guilty and nervous. It makes us seem suspicious. Don’t act as if anything is wrong; just pretend we’re doing our jobs.” 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 patient’s white face with a sense of dread. She knew he wouldn’t make the edge of the city in his current condition.

“How can I act like nothing’s wrong? He’s going to die if we don’t do something now.” The boy was angry, desperate, and he didn’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.

“If we get caught, you’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?” The boy took a deep breath.

“We had to land outside the dome to get here. I don’t think we can walk the whole way.” Helen swore under her breath. She was certain the young man on the stretcher wouldn’t last much farther than the main gate of the palace. She’d have to heal him in the open and hope the boy didn’t ditch her and make a run for it. Or kill her before the anger left his system. Helen squared her shoulders.

“I doubt there will be any transport vehicles. We’ll have to walk the whole way. But I don’t think we can do it and carry him.” They moved through the throng of slaves, soldiers, and medical personnel now swarming over the half rubble entrance to the palace. “We need to find a private area, maybe a not completely burned corner of the city.” 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 wouldn’t interfere. She hadn’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 man’s entire body responded well, welcoming the soft touch and gentle power.

“What the hell are you doing?” 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 they’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 hadn’t done all she would have liked, but the patient would live, and he could walk now, albeit slowly. “Get away from him, you witch.” She found herself flung back against the wall.

“I was healing him, you moron. And I might have finished the job properly if you hadn’t interrupted me.” 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.

“You’re one of them, aren’t you, one of those Lunarian bastards, like the ones that killed my parents.” He ended the words on a shout, his eyes wild. “And now you’ve killed my brother.” Helen sighed loudly. She’d been prepared for this reaction, but confronting an enraged, overemotional child was something she didn’t have the time to deal with at the moment. They had to keep moving.

“I’m not dead yet.” 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. “Thank you.” Helen smiled a bit, rather glad that at least one of the idiot Terrans didn’t hate her on sight.

“You’re welcome. But don’t thank me just yet.” She ran a hand through her hair and frowned at the ash that flaked off the dark locks. “I didn’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 we’re spotted.” 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.

“You’re really from Mercury, aren’t you? My mother used to tell legends about people with the skill to heal from a touch. I’m sorry; my brother’s a little overemotional. He’s only thirteen though.” Helen sighed. The boy was even younger than she’d thought, only a child.

“It’s all right. Are you any good at flying a ship?” The man blushed. Then Helen noticed the younger boy, his face a mixture of chagrin and anger, following closely behind. He spoke quietly.

“I can fly the ship, I can fly anything.” He cleared his throat softly. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to interrupt you or anything. I thought you might try to hurt him and…he’s all I have left.” Helen shook her head softly.

“We don’t have time for this right now, but some day I’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. Let’s get to that ship.” 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 didn’t realize they’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 she’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. “I’m sorry about all this.” 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.” Aria attempted to shift her body again, but the pounding in her arm intensified. Theseus ran a hand down her cheek. “Be still, I told you not to sit up, angel.” 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. “Roll her over a bit so I can set this arm properly.” Aria scowled.

"I can do that on my…" 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 Theseus’ 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.

“You’ll have to hold her down for this, it won’t be pleasant.” Aria suddenly found her body covered by Theseus, every inch but her arm pinned to the bed. “Sorry sweetheart.” Paris yanked the bones expertly, his fingers gently aligning the ends 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 Theseus’ glare that accompanied every sound, but filed the information away in his mind. Then he stood slowly.

“It was a nice clean break, no splinters and considering her heritage, she’ll heal very quickly. The pain should start to subside shortly. Don’t let her use that arm or lay on it for a week or two. I’d recommend six weeks with a normal Terran, but royal Venusians, in fact all royals tend to have unusual healing abilities.” Paris turned started out the door, Theseus grabbed the smaller man's arm.

"She'll be all right, won't she?" Paris grinned at Theseus’ 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 Theseus’ 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 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.

" Aria." She opened her eyes slowly. Theseus’ 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. "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." 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 queen’s wishes, actually without the queen’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 she’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 she’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. Endymion’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 attracted to the man still leaning over her. She kept 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.

“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 didn’t matter whose blood she touched, her own, a friend’s, or an enemy’s. She always felt soiled afterward, standing for hours in the shower to remove the feeling. But tonight she didn’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 Dido’s sweat covered back, and the smaller girl’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.

“Are you awake yet, Brat?” 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.

“I’m awake, although I wish I wasn’t.” 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 feet 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 wouldn’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 Dido’s strange method of moving across the concrete.

“There’s a transport a few yards away. They’re almost done unloading it. I see three guards.” 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. “I can’t sneak you out of here with all this commotion.” There was a long moment of silence. Penny closed her eyes.

“You have to leave me then.” Dido started to sputter but a raised hand and cleared throat stopped the protest. “You know it, I know it. At least the guards don’t have me. And I don’t have the energy for any more escape attempts.” Penny felt a cough rising in her throat and turned her head, grimacing at the blood that came up. Dido’s face remained unmoving.

“I refuse to leave you here. I didn’t kill those guards just to fling you back into their lap. Now come on.” 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. He’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 “quartermaster to the galaxy”, 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. 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 connection that Aeneas often brayed about; Odysseus didn’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.

He’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 he’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 weren’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 he’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 wasn’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. He’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 wasn’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 wasn’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 child’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.

“Come on, lard butt, we’re almost there.” 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 couldn’t stop to see where the smaller girl landed, if she’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 wasn’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 didn’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.

“You stink, little boy. I could hear you coming a mile away.” His face turned red and he pressed forward with a renewed assault, hacking and lunging like a madman. She hadn’t been able to resist the taunt, and when he swung overly wide and left himself open, she couldn’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 she’d wanted to pound one of the bastard princes to a bloody pulp since the moment she’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 wasn’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.

“Stop right there.” 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 she’d been aiming for earlier, a limp, but conscious Penny dangling in his grasp.

~~**~~

She’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 she’d drown in the clinging slippery plastic, but she’d been grateful for the soft landing when Dido had decided to thrown her like a ball. And as usual Dido’s aim was perfect. She struggled for a bit, and then realized she couldn’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 wasn’t every day a person had their home destroyed, stabbed their own brother, 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 under her armpits, and hauled her out of the temporary prison. It hurt so much she couldn’t even scream. Instead she bit her lip until a coppery tang in her mouth advised her that she’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 changed position, one wrapping around her waist, the other clamping across her chest like a vise. Penelope couldn’t feel her limbs. In fact, she couldn’t feel much of anything except for the warm arms keeping her upright and the solid body at her back. She forced her eyes opening, blinking and ignoring tears from the light. Her head tilted back for a moment and the world spun a bit before coming back into focus.

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 couldn’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 brother’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, a deep ash brown rather 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 didn’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 Amazon’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 Uranus’s arena, stupid Jason still thought he could take her on. Odysseus called out to the woman. She looked up at him, concern and anger radiating from her face. Odysseus almost swore again.

“Let her go.” The woman’s voice was a low contralto, and if she wasn’t so large, Odysseus might find her sexy, dripping with sweat and blood. However, she was overly tall for his taste; she would look him in the eye if she were any closer.

“Why should I?” Odysseus tried not to grimace as the woman smiled and ground her ankle into Jason’s windpipe.

“Let her go or I give him a new hole to breathe through.” Odysseus lifted one hand and wrapped the long fingers around his captive’s throat. The girl trembled but didn’t seem capable of fighting him off.

“Let him go or I rip her throat out.” 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.

“All right, all right. Even exchange. Put her on the ground. Then we’ll circle around.” 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 he fought the urge to simply walk into the palace and leave Jason to die.

The transport at his back roared to life. The rear cargo hold began to close, dust and debris kicked up from the force of the engines. The woman ran towards him, eyes bright. He stayed where he was, half leaning over the creature on the ground. She hit him at full speed, but he used the momentum to catapult her over his shoulder. It had been a reckless, wild attack. Foolish when he was still so close to the girl on the ground. The eyes below him opened and words spilled from the girl’s lips, a strange babbling language that seemed vaguely familiar, and yet he didn’t comprehend. He watched the Amazon and the smaller girl stare at each other for a long moment, and then the taller one swung into the barely open cargo hold. He watched as his lips tightening in anger; the doors finished their motion with a hollow clang. The main engines came online and the world turned too bright to see.

There was a long moment of blindness as the ship finally lifted off the ground and rose quickly upward toward the dome opening. Odysseus arched over the girl below him, sheltering her body with his own. He could feel bits of dust and debris embedding in his back; the heat from the engines melted the plastic crate lid behind him. It seemed unnaturally quiet for a few moments, even though the bustling tarmac continued to host the army of invaders and their noise filled the air. One of the bodies on the ground stirred to life.

“You let her escape.” Jason choked the words, rasping for breath as he slowly sat up.

“Only to save your sorry ass, idiot.” Odysseus hissed the words and stood slowly, the now unconscious girl in his arms. “And I did manage to capture at least one of them.” Jason snorted and hauled himself upright. Blood dripped from his face and there were quite a few visible bruises on his body. Odysseus shook his head, turned and headed back to the palace, careful not to jar the girl he held. “Find out where that ship was headed, one of the officers should know. I’ll take her back to Endymion.” Odysseus suddenly stopped, turned and stared straight into Jason’s flushed face. “I suggest you get the information soon, so Endymion only beats the shit out of you instead of castrating you.” Jason didn’t argue, instead he swallowed loudly and limped across the tarmac toward the nearest officer. Odysseus stalked back toward the ruined palace.

~~**~~

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 queen’s white dress flowed around her feet like water running over a sheet of glass. Sera tripped over her own feet for, well, she’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 they’d taken, and she didn’t think she’d ever find her way back out of the bright, twisting maze.

She always felt so useless next to the queen’s gentle perfection, like a gangly foal next to a shining unicorn. Like they weren’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 queen’s back and collapsed on her butt with a soft thud. Sera couldn’t stop the tears this time. They flowed silently down her face and she felt a sharp sense of pain when the queen didn’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 Sera’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 she’d left her sword behind.

The queen dropped Sera’s hand and looked around the room slowly, as though gazing upon a loved one’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, turned to face Sera, and beckoned with a single hand. The younger girl ran across the room, conscious of the queen’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 Sera’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 they’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.

“I know this doesn’t look like much, child, but this is the most powerful source of energy in the galaxy.” The queen lifted the item gently, and it pulsed to life in her grasp, opening like a crystal rose, petals furling open gently. Sera’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 queen’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.

“You have to take it child. It is your birthright.” Selenity’s voice quavered on the words, as though she were holding back tears. “It has been my anchor, my responsibility, and my guide, long enough. And even when I didn’t listen…,” 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.

“It’s beautiful.” Sera longed to say more, but was too overcome by emotion. The object in the queen’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. The queen smiled sadly.

“There are some who say it is alive.” Selenity transferred the crystal to one hand and grasped Sera’s hand in the other. She gently laid the crystal in the palm, ignoring the younger girl’s struggles. Then she let go and Sera lifted both hands to cup the crystal. There were several moments of silence.

“You hold the ginzuishou, the silver crystal. It isn’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.” The queen bent down, clasping Sera’s face between long, elegant fingers. Blue eyes stared into silver. “You must protect it, do not let the evil one have it’s power.” Sera’s eyes filled with tears.

“But what about you? Why can’t you protect it?” 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. Selenity’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.

“I cannot, my child. You see? The crystal has made its choice already. It will not return to me even if I wanted it to.” The queen turned away and lifted a golden chain from beside the cushion. “Here my child, you’ll need this.” 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 Sera’s head. “We must go now. The enemy will have found the lower chamber if we do not hurry. Remember, no matter what happens, I’ll always love you.” Selenity kissed Sera on the forehead, and then the two returned to the light beam they had ridden earlier.

~~**~~

Ariadne had never been in this part of the palace. The queen came here often, and even some of the Sailor Senshi from time to time, but no one else had ever been allowed in the twisting crystal corridors. She had a burning curiosity, a desire to drink in the twists and turns and study the brilliant colors flowing through the walls, but currently her arm felt like it was being pulled out of socket and she had all her attention focused on freeing it. Theseus held it just above the elbow with one hand, fingers overlapping. She felt his calluses rubbing against her skin with every step. She pulled against the hold, every step forward only taken out of necessity as her arm and body were yanked down the passages.

Theseus was in the lead, Paris, Endymion, and a small contingent of soldiers close behind. He moved as though in a dream, his eyes slightly fogged and his breathing harsh. He didn’t even seem to notice her attempts to escape, and he certainly didn’t notice the fact that his grip was turning her arm into a giant bruise. She twisted around, trying to kick him again, but like before his stride made her take two or three steps for every one he took. It made her feel as if she were running. She’d been attempting to escape since the moment he latched onto her arm and started pulling her towards the prayer spire. In addition, he didn’t even seem to notice her struggles. She mentally screamed at anyone who had ever told her that physical strength wasn’t the ultimate power. Brains or not she couldn’t break from his grasp. He was just too damn strong. He stopped suddenly and the momentum sent her crashing into him. He didn’t move, and she didn’t fall. His strength kept her upright, but her arm felt like it was as broken as the useless one hanging on her other side.

Theseus laid a hand against the door, in the center where the colors seemed to emanate. Aria tried once again to jerk from his grasp but he merely ignored her. She prayed to the goddess for several quiet moments, hoping against hope that they wouldn’t be able to enter the moon’s last sanctuary, but the door ceded to his silent command and slid open slowly. She dropped her head and tried not to cry. Several long breaths and nibbling on her lip kept her tears in check. Endymion pushed by Theseus and was the first into the room. Paris followed, mumbling under his breath about DNA encoding and security measures based on blood type. The soldiers followed, a few taking up perimeter positions in the hallway. She took a deep breath, and Theseus finally seemed to come out of his trance. He shook his head as if to clear it and stepped through in the door. He pulled her harshly; she dragged her feet on the slick crystal.

Endymion marched across the circular room with purposeful, angry strides. Paris took position near the open doorway, blocking any escape, and Theseus followed in Enymion’s wake. Soldiers followed, silently setting up position around the edge of the room. Aria continued to fight every step, but her boots slipped and slid across the crystal floor. She would have fallen several times but the iron grip on her good arm kept her upright. She couldn’t even complain, she was too out of breath.

Then the three stood before an altar-like structure. A great silver sword stood upright in the metal, a third of its length embedded. A great opal shimmered in the hilt, and delicate scrollwork embellished the entire length of the glistening blade. Aria stopped fighting for a moment, her heart at her feet. The moon sword, the holy sword, they were going to try to take the sword. No one could stand against that blade, only the eldest child of the royal bloodline could wield it. It was horrendously powerful, second only to the mystical silver crystal. She couldn’t breathe.

“Theseus, let go of the girl and come claim your birthright.” Theseus let go abruptly and she staggered back a step. The dark prince sounded like a pompous asshole, but she was grateful for the release of her arm. She longed to rub the injured skin with her other hand, but the broken arm still hung useless at her side. She mentally thanked whatever god or goddesses had taken away the pain though. It no longer screamed in anger but only throbbed gently. Theseus stepped on the platform and laid both hands on the hilt of the blade. There was silence, even though Aria’s heard was full of pleas to the goddess.

A soft humming sound sent all eyes turning toward the dais in the center of the room. A bright flash of light appeared, shooting down from the ceiling like the beam of a laser. The light faded, and standing on the platform were the Queen, with Sera hovering behind. Laughter filled the air, the kind that usually accompanied a villain’s triumph in a play.

The Queen’s eyes were wide with horror; Sera’s simply round with shock. The entire room listened to the quickly dwindling laughter but no one seemed to be able to move or react. Finally, Endymion’s voice slid across the room like an oil slick. The triumph and pleasure in the sound made Aria shiver.

“So good of you to join us, your Majesty. And now witness the claiming of the most powerful weapon on this moon.” Theseus growled and yanked the sword upward with both hands.

And nothing happened.

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