Page 1 of 10
Double Empire - AUwA/CC/Adult - COMPLETE - 12/7/14
Posted: Sat Nov 30, 2013 1:36 pm
Author(s): Double Trouble
All characters and plot lines that appeared in the series or in the books are not ours. The concept of Roswell does not belong to us either. They all belong to Melinda Metz, UPN, yada, yada, yada…
M&M, M&L, K&T, and A/I
Summary: (AU with Aliens)
In their early 20’s people have a tendency to expect a carefree existence but all too often life has a way of circumventing those plans and forging a completely new and unexpected path. At such a young age people do not expect to be rulers, warriors, unwilling captives in a war that is not theirs to fight, or seeking to put themselves in potential danger in order to escape a life that has become a prison…
This fic will contain references to graphic violence in times of war. If we extend any of these scenes to include details we will post a warning.
Link to Our Trailer – Made by us: Double Empire
“What is this, Mommy?” five-year-old Lina asked and pointed at a picture at the wall as her mother carried her down the long corridor towards her bedroom. The heavy door was opened by a sentry and the woman nodded at him politely in thanks.
“That is Earth,” she answered the little girl’s question.
“Earth?” Lina tried the word out and frowned. “What is Earth?” she asked as she was placed down in her bed safely. Blankets were wrapped around her securely to protect her from the colder temperatures at night.
“It’s a planet, just like Antar,” her mother explained patiently. She was used to her daughter’s curious questions and it was almost surprising that she had held back with that question for so long.
“A planet,” Lina said in confusion. “Where is it?”
“In the universe, sweetie. Very far, far away from here.”
The girl sat up again, making her mother sigh with a smile when the blankets were all messed up again and her stuffed animal fell to the floor. “Were you there, Mommy?”
“Um… yeah. I was born there, Lina.”
“Really?” she gasped and looked at her mother with big eyes. “An’ Daddy too?”
“No, he’s from Antar.”
Lina’s confusion grew even bigger with all this news and her brain was working fast for this time of a day. “How is it on Earth?”
“Well,” her mother tugged the blankets around her again and stretched out next to her, closing her eyes to remember some of the details from her former home planet, “there was only one sun.”
“Only one?” the girl asked excitedly. “Why?”
“I don’t know. It just needed one I think,” she answered. “The water was more liquid… Like soda.” Actually soda was an invention from Earth and probably one of the few things the Antarians had imported from the other planet back then.
“Wow,” Lina said, her tone amazed. “What else, Mama?”
“Well, there was also snow…”
“Snow?” the girl asked, using the word for the first time in her young life.
“It’s white and really, really cold.”
“Like ice cream?”
Her mother chuckled. “Yes, a bit like ice cream.”
“Mama?” Lina rolled onto her side and looked at her with her big brown eyes – eyes that matched her father’s exactly. “Can we go to Earth?”
“No, honey,” her mother denied gently and her tone held a note of sadness. “That’s not possible.”
“Because Earth doesn’t exist anymore,” she explained to her daughter. It probably wasn’t the right story for a goodnight story, but she knew that lying to her would just come back on her later anyway. “Not the way it used to, I mean.”
“Because the people who lived there destroyed their nature, they destroyed who they were.”
That was her favorite new word,
her mother thought with some amusement. Why? Why? Why? She heard it several times a day.
“I don’t know, sweetie.” She kissed her little nose.
“Is that why you came here to Daddy, Mama?”
“Yeah,” she answered. With a few detours along the way,
she added in her thoughts.
“Daddy protects us,” Lina said and snuggled deeper into the mattress when sleep finally started to pull her under.
“He says we are always safe with him, Mommy,” the girl mumbled with closed eyes.
Her mother glanced down at her and smiled when she realized that sleep had won over curiosity for tonight. Yes, they were safe now, but what her daughter didn’t knew yet was that there had been a time when Antar hadn’t been a very secure place either….
Six years earlier….
She kept her head down as she hurried through the rundown neighborhood, ignoring the catcalls and the lewd comments as she prayed she would make it to her apartment without any trouble. It had become routine, working double shifts at a local restaurant and then coming home at the ungodly hour of four a.m. There were always a handful of local gang members lurking in the shadows and the fear that they would eventually hurt her in the most unthinkable ways terrified her.
Those fears had pushed her into a decision that had the capability of changing her life and every single morning she prayed that her salvation would be in her mailbox when she returned home. It had been more than two months since she had submitted her application and she knew that the chance of her being accepted was slim, but she had run out of viable options. It wasn’t exactly a position that would lead to wealth or fame, but it would guarantee her safety and remove her from the constant veil of danger that she lived under.
Behind her she could hear the scuffling sound of shoes on the sidewalk and the fear rising in her chest made her clumsy. She ran up the steps, fingers fumbling with the ring of keys as she tried to insert the correct one into the lock. She released a relieved sigh as the key slid in and she turned it as she shoved the door in, leaning back against it as she quickly slapped the lock into place again.
As soon as her heart started to calm she moved to the bank of mailboxes built into the far wall and she checked her slot, pulling her thin stack of mail out and waiting to flip through it until she stepped into her tiny apartment. She turned the light on and looked around, checking the fire escape and the windows to make sure that nothing had been disturbed while she had been away. She sat down on the single chair in the corner and sighed as she separated the bills from the junk mail. It was the last envelope in the pile, thin and sterile, and she tore it open as she fought to contain her excitement; a thin letter meant a positive response and she knew before reading it that change had finally found her.
The woman walked along the long corridor, willingly escorted by one of the guards as she was taken to the commander’s quarters. It was considered an honor to be chosen to provide an evening of companionship for the tough military man. Unfortunately it also meant that her time at her present duty station would be over when morning came because it was a well-known fact that the man didn’t keep women around once he’d taken his pleasure from them.
She drew in a deep breath when the guard knocked to signal their arrival and a moment later they were instructed to enter. The guard opened the door and stepped back, motioning for her to go in, and as soon as she was inside the large room he moved back and pulled the door closed behind him. She waited patiently as the commander studied her, his hooded eyes glittering in the darkness that shadowed him. After several moments he motioned for her to follow him and as they entered his bedroom he ordered her to strip and then stood back to watch her.
The commander’s appetites were legendary and she shivered in anticipation of a night of carnal pleasure at the man’s skilled hands. He was bare from the waist up, the white bandage high up on his shoulder a stark contrast to his bronzed flesh; he had been injured during an earlier battle but the wound wouldn’t keep him from seeking satisfaction with one of the many willing females that populated his domain.
She moved through the large airy rooms, her intent gaze scanning everything around her for the slightest mistake. She was looking for a reason to find a problem with something, anything, because she wanted someone to pick a fight with. The vast majority of people who surrounded her would never dare to do such a thing and there were consequences to rising to her baiting tactics, so it was rare to find anyone to verbally spar with.
The servants were being unusually thorough and that only served to annoy her further. She was so sick of being told what to do, tired of dealing with the everyday, mundane details that went into planning a wedding to a man she could barely tolerate on a good day. Her mother and the mother of the man she had been promised to were making her life miserable and she hadn’t found a way to make them stop.
She had no intention of marrying the harsh man; she despised everything about him from his boorish attitude to the freedom he had to take lovers at his convenience. The rules dictated that she was to enter the marriage untouched and she rebelled at living her life under such regimented structure, taking lovers in a discreet manner as she sought freedom and a satisfaction she had yet to attain.
One of the servants entered the room where she stood, lost in thought, and spoke up to inquire if she was ready for her afternoon meal. She whirled around to face the woman, seeing that she was already waiting for the verbal flaying that would come at interrupting her thoughts and, since some things were to be expected, she tore into the servant for daring to speak to her without invitation. Even though a servant would never dare to challenge her, she always hoped that she would discover one who would provide her with a worthy opponent, but as expected, the woman simply took the verbal abuse and nodded before walking away.
He rubbed his eyes tiredly as he took a moment to look away from the laceration on his forearm. Dawn was breaking over camp and for the first time in days the arrival of early morning wasn’t accompanied by artillery fire and the pain-filled screams of the dying. He sighed as he turned his attention back to his wound, barely wincing as he finished stitching it closed.
He had chosen to leave his home, searching for a way to make a difference somewhere, and he had ended up taking a path he had never even considered an option for him. For almost three years he had been fighting a war that had quickly become his and being a soldier had become second nature to him.
He looked up when one of his lieutenants approached him; the man’s face remained expressionless as he waited for his superior to acknowledge him. He motioned for the lieutenant to speak and the man relaxed fractionally before giving his report. He listened to the man’s report concerning the soldiers they had taken captive and gave his consent to the request that they be transported to a more secure containment facility.
He weighed the pros and cons, quickly determining the best course of action, before speaking to the lieutenant and ordering him to separate the highest ranking officials from the foot soldiers before transporting them. He wanted those with the most information moved to the high-security facility closer to the main city, knowing that the commander would want to interrogate them personally.
The man snapped off a sharp salute before taking his leave and his superior slowly stood and stretched as he reached for a bandage to cover the wound. With any luck he would be able to enjoy a long soak in a hot bath, a hot meal that actually tasted like food, and a night in his lover’s arms.
She leaned over and tickled the baby, enjoying the rare moment to relax and tease happy giggles from the little girl. She spent so little time with the child and that was a shame because she was missing some of the most important moments and she regretted that. The child was the only legacy she had and she was gone so often that many times it took the little girl a day or two to readjust to her being around when she returned after extended absences.
The little girl’s chubby features were soft and sweet and she wondered if she looked more like her father or her mother. The child was already beginning to exhibit some of the characteristics of the man raising her, which made him ridiculously proud. She smiled when the little girl took a few unsteady steps before dropping back to sit on her bottom, clapping her hands together happily.
She had never expected to be so enamored with a child, had never expected to feel the bond forming between them, but it was undeniable and strong. Now she couldn’t imagine her life without the little girl in it and that only made the fight to get back home even more intense than it had been before.
The sound of footsteps approaching caught her attention and she quickly moved in front of the little girl, instinctively putting herself between the child and potential danger. She relaxed when she recognized the man who stood in the doorway, not coming any closer until she motioned for him to enter. She listened as he rattled off the newest threat, sighing at the knowledge that their enemies were attempting to encroach upon their territory once again.
With a sigh she ordered the man to gather her unit together and as soon as he had gone to do that she called for the child’s caregiver. Once the little girl had been turned over to the woman who cared for her in the absence of her parents she went back to her personal quarters to don her uniform and arm herself for the coming battle.
He leaned over the table, studying the map laid out there as his eyes constantly moved between the newest intelligence reports and the locations of the enemy’s armies. He was a scholar and a teacher, but he had accepted the position as an advisor to a man that few really knew. He had been looking for a way to change his situation and while the choice to accept the position had meant things would be different, he hadn’t expected such a drastic change.
It had taken time, but he had worked his way up through the ranks and he had become the most trusted advisor to the ruler of the country he now resided in. They had forged an unlikely friendship and he was one of the few people who could get away with arguing with the man when they disagreed on how to handle certain situations. His gaze scanned over the indicators as they lit up, signaling the beginning of yet another battle.
He ran his fingers over the flat surface, calling up a new screen to appear on the table before him. Pages of information flew over each other until the one he was looking for settled and he moved to enlarge it. He sighed as some of the lights flickered before completely going dark and his fingers quickly moved to match the biometrics scan to the list. He had become familiar with death in a way that he had never expected to, and it still saddened him to see that the passage of time and history’s lessons hadn’t taught them a better way to deal with territory disputes.
He pressed a button, looking up when one of the sentry’s came inside, standing across from him as he awaited his orders. He informed the man that he was to notify their leader that he was needed immediately and just as quickly he dismissed the sentry. He no longer thought twice about ordering people around; when he had first taken the position he had been hesitant about that part of the job, but over time he had adjusted and now it was second nature.
She had taken the job because she wanted to help people, to heal them, to help restore hope when they returned from battle, broken in both body and spirit. She had been warned of the dangers that existed, but she had naïvely thought that she was prepared to face the risks; that she could handle anything that she was faced with. She had been a fool.
At first it had been difficult, learning to deal with the soldiers as they were carried back to camp in various states of injury, but she had adapted quickly. She wanted to find ways to ease their suffering, to help them begin to recover, even if it was in the smallest ways. She had become a favorite among the men, always ready with a smile and encouragement as she tended to their wounded bodies and souls.
When the field camp she had been assigned to was attacked she had become just another captive in a war that wasn’t hers to fight. It hadn’t taken long for the leader of the enemy camp to discover that she was a medic and he had separated her from the other prisoners and put her to work in his own field hospital. She had disliked him immediately; he had watched her in a predatory way that made her nervous and her instincts had screamed at her to avoid him at all costs.
She had fought hard when he had sent his guards for her, terrified when they had deposited her in his personal quarters and left her alone with him. He was cold and cruel, taking his pleasure in exerting his power over those weaker than him, and he had enjoyed her defiance at first. He had quickly tired of it though, and his weariness had brought his sadistic nature to the surface; she was no match for someone with his abilities and he had taken pleasure in breaking her. He had enjoyed destroying her confidence and watching the fear enter her eyes when he returned to his quarters each night.
The expectations she’d had when she had accepted the position had been taken destroyed and her dreams of a future with a man who loved her and wanted her had been shattered as the soldier had viciously taken what she would not willingly give him. He was brutal and harsh, cold and calculating, and he had taken pleasure in her struggles, but it wasn’t in her to just give in without a fight and so she fought back as long as she could.
He stood on the balcony off of his personal quarters and stared into the distance. Beautiful, rolling hills, lush with a carpet of thick green grass, the fields dotted with a multitude of trees, stretched out as far as he could see, but his dark eyes were only seeing scenes from an earlier battle. At his age he was responsible for the lives of too many people, he had seen too many of them die at the enemy’s hands, and he had memorized the names of every single one of them.
He had been arrogant enough to think that he was ready to assume his rightful position, to lead his people, and wipe their enemies out. Most days he struggled to stand upright, to fight against the overwhelming fear that he wasn’t the man his people needed him to be. He needed someone who believed in him to tell him that he was making the right decisions, to love him and fight with him, someone who would tell him in no uncertain terms when he was being too arrogant.
He was engaged to a woman he didn’t love, required by law to marry her and produce children with her despite the fact that the thought of bedding her gave him no pleasure. He didn’t want to spend a lifetime with her and he knew she felt the same way; the truth of it was that they couldn’t stand each other, but unless the law was changed a future of misery loomed on his horizon.
The sound of a knock on the doorway behind him drew his attention and he turned to look at the head of his personal guard detail. He knew the man was there to escort him to yet another meeting with the delegates from one of their neighboring territories. Another afternoon spent debating policies and treaties, arguing over territory rights and laws with the knowledge that little if anything would be accomplished. He sighed and nodded, moving to gather his things together before joining his guard where he waited patiently at the door.
Posted: Sat Nov 30, 2013 1:37 pm
He moved through the enemy camp with single-minded determination, his long legs quickly swallowing up the distance between the entrance and the building that housed the quarters of the highest ranking officer on-site.
The door had been blown inward by the shockwave from a nearby blast and he kicked it the rest of the way in. He wasn’t concerned with stealth; he wanted the leader of the camp captured and brought before him for punishment.
The majority of the soldiers that had stood against them were either dead or they would be soon enough, but their leader remained unaccounted for. He moved from one room to the next, his anger growing as he observed the spoils of war decorating the man’s quarters. Furniture and decorations pillaged from the homes of slaughtered innocents, he thought, shaking his head in disgust.
A quiet pain-filled moan pulled his attention away and he followed the sound to the sleeping quarters. His right hand rested on the hilt of his sword as he neared the room, eyeing the slightly open door warily. His left hand splayed against the door and he slowly pushed it open, visually sweeping the room for his prey.
The sound repeated and he carefully stepped into the darkened room as his eyes adjusted to the lack of light. He located the light and turned it on, keeping his back to the wall as he surveyed his surroundings. Despite his hope that he would find the camp leader wounded and dying he had known that the owner of the voice was not male.
His dark gaze came to rest on the makeshift pallet placed against the far wall and his heart slowed to a dull thud in his chest as he realized that the woman lying there was shackled to the wall. He crossed the room cautiously, keeping the wall at his back as he crouched down beside her and reached for her unrestrained wrist.
He carefully turned her arm over, searching for Khivar’s brand on the inside of her wrist. Even though he expected it he winced at the sight of the mark of ownership burned into her flesh. It was only one of the cruelties their enemies bestowed upon their prisoners and he wondered again how any race as advanced as theirs could resort to such barbaric tactics.
He suddenly felt the room tilt crazily before righting itself. Emotions that were dark and filled with pain hit him too fast, preventing him from blocking the blurred images that accompanied the feelings. He quickly dropped her hand, disrupting the connection as he struggled to draw in a calming breath.
“What the fuck,” he muttered. That shouldn’t have happened, he thought. The flashes were only supposed to occur… No! He couldn’t think about this now. He forced his thoughts to shift back to the woman as he made a visual inspection of her injuries, easily identifying the evidence in the form of cuts and bruises. The uniform she wore indicated that she was, or had been, a part of the medical staff; the clothing was ripped and torn, barely held together well enough to cover her thin frame.
His eyes lifted to her face when she began to stir and he saw just the faintest trace of green as her eyelids began to open. The fear and panic was immediate and before he could reassure her she began to scream in earnest. In the seconds it took for him to get to his feet and cross the room she scrambled to crawl as far into the corner as she could to get away from him. The tattered clothing shifted to reveal her back as she clawed ineffectually at the wall and he swallowed hard when he saw the raised welts marring her skin.
He snatched his communicator off of his belt and bellowed for his second in command to join him. The woman’s screams only escalated at the sound of his voice and he backed out of the room as realization slammed into him and he suddenly felt as if he might be ill.
Kyle ran into the house and barreled through the rooms as he searched for the source of the screams. He slowed as he reached the hall where Michael stood, wearing an expression he had never seen on the man’s face.
“Michael, what the hell’s goin’ on?” he shouted, trying to be heard over the screams that were beginning to weaken.
“I want her taken to the castle and I want her tended to by my personal staff.” He was shaken by his response to the woman and her reaction to him was unsettling.
“I’ll have to sedate her; I can’t move her like this.” Kyle watched him, waiting for his nod of approval before proceeding.
Michael nodded after a few moments. “Do it.”
Kyle entered the room and approached the woman slowly, hands held out at his sides to let her know he had no intentions of harming her. He kept his voice low as he crouched down beside her and removed one of the sedatives from an inside pocket of his jacket.
He reached for her arm, anticipating a fight and sighing sadly when it didn’t come. He administered the sedative and moved back to give her space while he waited for it to take effect. A rookie would’ve been able to accurately identify the situation and he was a seasoned soldier; he had seen this type of cruelty too many times over the years and it never got any easier.
He glanced back at his silent companion when the woman’s screams lowered in volume and became pathetic whimpers. The sounds were affecting the big man in a way he had never seen and that concerned him.
“She reacted to me.” He swallowed past the lump in his throat as he watched Kyle remove her bindings.
Kyle knew what that meant and unfortunately it wasn’t the first time they had been faced with that reality. “We don’t know who was overseeing this camp, Michael.”
“She was reacting to my face, Kyle, my voice. What else could it mean?”
“Intelligence reports indicate that Rath has been seen commanding one of the larger camps in the southern region.”
Michael sighed raggedly and shrugged out of the long leather coat he wore, tossing it to the other man. “Make sure she’s covered and see that she’s handed over to my people. Handle it personally and tell them female personnel only, no men.”
“Michael, is there – “
“I need to keep searching for the coward running this camp. Your only mission is to keep her safe until I return.”
Kyle met the other man’s intense gaze and bit back the automatic protest that leapt to the tip of his tongue. “I’ll protect her with my life,” he promised as he carefully wrapped the coat around her and lifted her up in his arms.
Max stood by the large table in the center of what had been dubbed the war room; it was the strategic planning room; the place where he made decisions that determined who lived and who died each day. It was a big responsibility, one that weighed heavily on his mind and caused him to lie awake at night instead of getting much-needed rest. He leaned over the table, hands resting on the edge when the indicator for the current battle being waged by their most trusted military commander turned from green to red. His head hung low between his shoulders as he sighed, the sound a mix of exhaustion and relief.
The battle was over and his troops had been victorious. But how many of his warriors had died to strike a blow against Khivar’s forces? “The lists are comin’ across now,” Alex said, watching the other man as he straightened up and his expression once again slid into the dispassionate mask he wore around most people.
“Review them, record them, and then have them delivered to my quarters for my review.”
“There’s nothin’ wrong with your people knowin’ that the deaths of your soldiers upsets you, Max.”
“To reveal emotions is to show weakness and it fails to inspire confidence.”
Alex shook his head when the young king knocked once on the heavy double doors and the sentries posted on the other side hurried to pull them open, saluting respectfully at their ruler as he passed them with a brief nod of acknowledgement.
Before the doors could be closed a voice called out and a moment later Tess ran through the opening and joined Alex at the desk he was bent over.
“Where’re the biometric scans?” she demanded breathlessly.
“The king will review – “
“You do realize I could easily snap your scrawny neck, don’t you?”
Alex glared at her as she leaned over his shoulder to grab the report. “And you do realize that I could have you arrested for seeing these reports before the king has viewed them.”
“I do not wait for Max to review the reports when my brother is involved.” Her blue eyes scanned over the printout, quickly locating the names of her brother and further down, her lover. They were both alive, she realized, relieved.
Alex snatched the reports out of her hands just as the doors opened again and this time Isabel entered, chin tipped up haughtily as she crossed the room and held her hand out expectantly. “You can review the reports after your brother has viewed them.”
“You dare to deny a member of the royal family access to these reports?”
“Oh, he dares alright,” Tess hissed.
Isabel glanced at the other woman dismissively and her eyes narrowed dangerously as she turned back to look at her brother’s trusted advisor. “I demand that you hand those reports over immediately.”
His gray eyes sparkled with humor as he shook his head. “And as I’ve told you on more than one occasion, I don’t answer to you, your highness.” He motioned for the silent man standing just inside the door to join them and he handed the sealed report over to him. “Take this to the king immediately.” Alex grinned when the man glanced at Isabel nervously as he hurried to exit the room. “How does intimidation make you happy?” he asked, aware that Tess had followed the courier.
“Because I like to know that the people around me know their place.”
“Um-hmm, and where would that be?”
Her heated gaze slid over him. “On their knees before me,” she answered finally. “Actually, that’s a very good idea.”
Alex grunted when his knees hit the floor; her abilities were well-honed and she didn’t even lift a finger when she forced him to his knees. That’s alright, he thought, two can play this game. It took a few seconds to pull his thoughts into order so he could begin the tiring process of defying her.
She watched him, fascinated as always when he fought back against her. She had never known anyone who was mentally strong enough to push back and push the limits of her control over them. It pissed her off as much as it fascinated her and she watched him as he struggled to raise his arms and he reached out to grab her hips.
“You realize you just gave me the upper hand.”
“Impossible,” she muttered.
His hands shifted until his thumbs met, shifting down just enough to rub over her mound. He heard her sharp intake of breath when he applied pressure and made small circles and within a matter of seconds the palm of her hand cracked against the side of his face. He barely flinched and he knew the fact that she found pleasure at his touch infuriated her. Passion simmered beneath her cold exterior and he knew he could bring it to life if she’d just let go and trust him.
“You’ve sought pleasure but you’ve never really found it; you’ve never been touched by a man whose intention was pleasure beyond his own. Release me and I’ll give you pleasure like you’ve never experienced. Hell, I won’t even get off of my knees or take any pleasure for myself.”
“How dare you speak to me like that?” she screeched. Her temper broke free and it caused her to release her hold on him, but he remained kneeling before her.
“You need someone to tell you a few home truths because everyone caters to you and lets you have anything you want.”
“I’m entitled – “
“You bounce between actin’ like a spoiled child and a bitchy, pampered, royal pain in the ass, and you’re better than both of those, Isabel,” he continued as if she hadn’t interrupted him.
“I will not be spoken to like this! I’m calling the guards.”
Alex rose from his knees to stand before her and he met her angry gaze with a calm that only irritated her further. “You won’t have me taken by the guards because no matter how much you deny it, you want to know what it’s like to have a real man share your bed.”
Her brown eyes darkened. “I could have you beaten for saying that.”
“You could,” he agreed, “but you won’t. You’ve grown tired of sneaking around so you can discreetly scratch that itch.”
“You dare to say such a thing to the intended bride of our military’s highest-ranking commander?” She snorted disdainfully. “Michael would have you – “
“Stop with the threats; we both know you have no intention of following through with them. I think you must’ve forgotten who I am and what I do around here.” He shook his head as he moved closer to her. “You and the commander have no intention of marrying willingly but regardless of that you have a reputation to uphold. Even if the laws are changed, giving you the freedom to marry whomever you wish, you still won’t be free to seek satisfaction openly… your status as the king’s sister will prevent you from doin’ that and you know it.”
She stared at him silently, her gaze weighing and measuring for several long minutes before she suddenly turned on her heel and stormed to the doors, using her powers to fling them open.
Alex simply chuckled and went back to work. She was frustrating and infuriating on so many levels, but he knew she would eventually give in. She was stubborn, but she was also curious, and eventually it would win out and she would demand that he share her bed. Oh, she wouldn’t give in gracefully, he thought. No, she’d fight it tooth and nail, and when she finally couldn’t take it any longer, she’d do something dramatic like have him hauled to her quarters by her personal guards just so she could maintain the illusion that she had the upper hand. He looked up when the doors opened and one of the guards entered the room.
“The king has requested that you join him for dinner in the main dining hall.”
“Very well.” He turned his equipment off and gathered up his work, stuffing it into the briefcase he carried everywhere before joining the guard.
Max sat at the head of the table, fingers drumming restlessly on the surface of the long dining table. He looked up when his advisor entered through the open double doors on the opposite wall and his fingers stilled. He watched as Alex spoke to the sentries posted on either side of the entryway and before the man had made it more than a few feet into the room the doors closed. As his advisor took the chair to his right he visibly relaxed, knowing that he could enjoy dinner without any interruptions.
“Max,” Alex greeted and placed some papers next to his empty plate.
“You’re late,” Max stated, his right forefinger tracing over the stem of the wine glass next to his plate. “Problems?”
The other man glanced around the room. “Late? Me? I don’t see anyone else here yet.”
“My sister is intentionally late as often as possible, Tess is off... doing whatever it is that woman does when she isn’t out on the battlefield, and Michael, last I heard he hadn’t returned from the field.”
Alex nodded and since the serving personnel weren’t ready with the soup yet he used the time and picked up a paper from the stack he had placed next to his plate. “We have a new servant arriving tomorrow.”
The king waved a hand dismissively. “I hope the new one will be better than the one she’s replacing. Can I safely assume it’s a woman?”
“It is,” he nodded, not willing to let it go yet. The last time Max had ignored the information he had give about a new employee, he had found the poor boy locked up in the prison because he had thought there was a spy in the castle. “Her name’s Liz Parker, 21, and she’s from Chicago, a city on Earth.”
Max’s eyes narrowed. “An Earthling?”
“The last one was from Earth and she refused to cook my meals the way I wish them to be prepared.”
“We let her cook a few Antarian meals and she passed the spicy test perfectly,” Alex said.
“What do we know about the new servant?”
“Well, as I said, she’s 21, from a large city on Earth, has no family left. She’s hardworking, fit, and willing to take orders.”
Max snorted. “She’ll probably start to cry the first time my sister screams at her.”
“I believe she’s been through worse on Earth,” Alex countered, knowing the king didn’t want more Earthlings on Antar as long as it was ruled by war and death rather than being a safe place for anyone.
He sighed and motioned for the folder. “I realize there is a certain safety afforded the servants here but Antarians are aware of the inherent danger we live under. I know we advise potential staff of the dangers life on Antar poses, but can they ever really know the full extent of that danger before they come here?”
“They’re made aware of the dangers, Max, and considering the conditions on Earth this isn’t necessarily the worst choice they could make.”
“I suppose.” He looked up when the doors were opened and he felt himself tense when his wife-to-be entered the dining hall. “Instead of new servants perhaps you could study the old laws and find a way out of this nightmare of a marriage,” he muttered.
“We’ve talked about this,” Alex muttered and nodded politely when a servant brought the soup finally. He waited until she was out of hearing range before continuing. “As long as your father refuses to agree we can’t do anything.”
“My father will never bend on this issue.” He dragged his spoon through his bowl of soup before tapping it against the rim. How many times had he attempted to change the old man’s mind? He had no wish to marry a woman he had nothing in common with outside of their status as royalty. He also had no wish to spend his life with a woman who was inclined to spend her days fighting on the battlefield alongside the troops she commanded.
The doors were opened again and Isabel walked in, glaring at Alex for a short moment before taking her seat next to her bother. The servants hurried to bring her soup, knowing a delay was unacceptable with the young princess.
“I heard we’re expecting a new servant,” she said, frowning when the soup spilled over one side of the bowl to splash on the table. Her hand clenched into a fist when a drop landed on her thumb. “One who hopefully won’t be as clumsy as this one.” Her tone was scathing and the servant hurried to wipe the spilled soup as she uttered an apology and scurried off once more.
“Isabel,” Tess greeted, “nice to have you join us. Just a bitch as usual,” she smiled at her soon-to-be sister-in-law.
“You would know.” Her gaze slid over the other girl dismissively. “See anything interesting on the battlefield?” Her tone made it clear that she disapproved.
“Corpses, blood, severed body parts,” she shrugged. “The usual.”
Max dropped his spoon loudly. “I won’t tolerate such disrespectful words of the fallen at this table,” he demanded.
“It’s reality, husband-to-be. And I won’t speak with respect of our enemies.” Tess shook her head and briefly wondered if the king had ever taken his pampered ass outside the city’s walls.
He was so sick of this, the King thought, not feeling very hungry when the servant exchanged the soup for the second course.
The doors burst open and Alex looked up as the Commander strode in, carelessly stepping over the sentry that had fallen when his post was unexpectedly pushed inside. He stood and nodded his head at the man, not surprised when he was ignored.
Michael grabbed a chair and jerked it out, sitting next to his sister and banging his fist on the table in a demand that his meal be served.
“Commander Guerin,” a woman brought his soup and bowed before she left again.
Isabel stared at him, disgusted by his lack of etiquette. He wasted no time with small talk or greetings, his attention going directly to his food.
Max could see the tantrum building and he spoke in an effort to derail his sister. “The battle today showed significant losses, Commander.”
“Large camps mean fallen soldiers,” Michael replied coldly. “That’s the way war works.” He placed his spoon aside and looked at the king. “Today was an important battle to regaining some of our territory. It also meant significant losses but not only on our side.”
“I understand how war works. I also know it takes a toll on those who are in the trenches. If you need time to – “
The commander’s fist landed on the table hard enough to rattle the dishes. “I do not require coddling, your highness.”
“That’s enough,” Max decided. “Out of here,” he shouted. “Everyone but the Commander.”
Alex sighed and gathered up what was left of his meal. It wasn’t unusual for meals to end in this fashion. He was beginning to think that taking his meals in his room would be the smartest thing to do. The king and the commander often argued and on the rare occasion their disagreements went beyond the verbal and became physical. Never in the presence of their people, always in private, but as the king’s most trusted assistant he had been witness to it more than once.
Sometimes he wondered what their fathers had been thinking when they had agreed to unite their territories. The two families were as different as night and day. If they could ever find a way to work together he believed they could form a successful alliance but with Max reigning over the kingdom and Michael commanding their united military, the two men constantly found themselves at odds.
Michael paid no attention to the others as they cleared the hall, choosing to focus on his food. He’d had a nightmare of a day and he was still rattled by the woman he had found in the camp.
Max waited until the room was cleared and he was left alone with the commander. “I speak to you with respect,” he said and walked towards the man angry. “And I expect you to do the same.”
“Respect,” Michael muttered. “You stand in the war room and watch biometric lights dim and you know your men are dying... try watching them die in person. Stand next to them and watch as enemy weapons shred their bodies and then talk to me about respect.”
“I didn’t ask for my position,” Max growled back. “You wanna be the one in the war room? Fine, if there was a way to switch roles I’d take it, leaving this position to anyone who thinks he could do better, because I’m sick of the disapproving looks I get from you and your sister because it’s not my place to be out on the field.”
Michael shook his head. A man like him had no place in the war room. His place was on the field with his troops. “You’re the king and therefore your place is in the war room. My lack of respect for you has little to do with your ability to fight our enemy on the ground. I respect the hierarchy and for it to work someone has to lead and someone has to carry out the orders. That’s you and me and I’m good with that. But I have told you repeatedly that while we’re winning battles we’re nowhere close to winning the war. You refuse to employ tactics that could strike a crippling blow to the enemy.”
“I’m not refusing. I just have to weigh the possible value and potential losses,” Max ran a hand through his hair. “I’m responsible no matter what the results are.”
Michael stood, bracing his weight on fisted hands as he leaned over the table to face the king directly. “There is nothing civilized about what I do out on that field. But the things Khivar’s armies are doing to those who fall into their hands,” he shook his head. “I may be career military but I do not want to spend my life fighting this war.”
Max looked at the commander while his eyes moved slowly, indicating the masses of thoughts running behind them. “Come into the war room tomorrow, 7am, before you leave again.”
“Whatever you say, your highness.” He sat back down and started eating, further irritated when the soup hit his tongue and he realized it had gotten cold.
“Get used to it. We’ll be meeting on a regular basis now,” Max said and took his seat again.
“Too bad I can’t take you out on the field for a meeting.” He’d love to give the king a lesson in reality. His father must have been insane to join forces with the Evans clan; that was the only thing that made sense. “You wanna do something helpful why don’t you write a new law that would put an end to marriage between our families?”
“Be my pleasure,” the king muttered, knowing that the commander was well aware of the fact that it wouldn’t happen as long as his father was alive.
Michael smirked. At least he still had a chance. The king would be wed first but his own wedding wouldn’t be far behind. And if he had to listen to his mother go on about decorations and flowers much longer he was going to lose his mind. “What would it take to change his mind?”
“I don’t know. Kill him maybe?” Max joked, but it didn’t sound like one.
“Don’t tempt me.” The thought of marrying the bitchy sister wasn’t something he was looking forward to. “Marrying your sister is not something I want to do. The woman’s cold enough to freeze a man’s nuts off with a damn look.”
“And I thought that was the only thing you two had in common,” the other man said drily.
“Not a combination that’s likely to set the marriage bed on fire, is it?” he smirked.
Posted: Sat Nov 30, 2013 1:38 pm
Michael walked through the corridors with purpose, the heels of his boots striking the floor and echoing off of the walls. When their fathers had merged their territories they had built the castle in a location that centered it over what had at one time been the boundary that separated the lands. It was a ridiculous notion and he hadn’t appreciated moving away from all that he had known to live someplace new just because it belonged to their united families.
The corridor he was passing through was a bridge of sorts, built between the two wings of the castle. His family resided in one wing and the king and his family maintained their residence on the opposite side. The second level was his to do with as he pleased. His sister had claimed the first level and their mother was happily ensconced on the third level, claiming it had the best view in the castle.
He turned down another corridor as soon as he entered his wing, his steps slowing when he saw his second in command standing guard outside. Exhausted and battle-weary, Captain Kyle Valenti stood ramrod straight. His shadowed jaw was clenched tightly and his hand flexed around the hilt of his weapon as his head turned just fractionally to identify the person coming towards him.
“Commander,” he said with a sharp nod.
“At ease, Captain.” His steps slowed as he reached the door and he shifted to peer inside. He could see very little in the dimmed room and his gaze shot to the man who had fought beside him for several years now. The man he trusted above any other. “Her condition?”
“Still weak, and confused from the sedatives. She’s slept most of the time since we arrived.” Kyle let go of his weapon to rub his eyes tiredly. “I had a doctor from Earth looking over her earlier.”
“An earth doctor? Why?”
“She’s an Earthling, Commander,” Kyle said, surprised that the other man didn’t seem to know it.
His mind shot back to that moment when he had touched her, connected with her, and he frowned. He had never heard of one of his people connecting with an Earthling in that manner. “So your reasoning was that she would be dealt with better by her own people?”
Kyle nodded. “The woman was raped, Commander. We had to make sure she didn’t come out of it with a pregnancy on top of the trauma, and since Earthlings are more experienced with their natural way of giving birth, I thought…”
“Of course.” He waved his hand dismissively. “What’d the doctor say?”
“She’s alright physically despite bruises and cuts that will heal in time, if no one uses healing powers on her, but she’s badly traumatized.” He paused when the Commander made a sound of impatience. “No pregnancy.”
The Commander rubbed the back of his neck. “Has she been conscious? Spoken at all?” No matter how many times he had dealt with these situations he had never been able to find any measure of comfort beyond tracking the animals down and wiping them out of existence. While such situations bothered him he had always been able to detach himself, but this time, somehow it was different.
“Conscious yes, but she hadn’t said a word.”
He nodded. “She scream when they were taking care of her?” He had a bad feeling that reaction had more to do with his face than anything else.
“No, Commander,” Kyle said and didn’t dare to look into his eyes. “The screams faded when you were gone.”
“I expected as much.” His jaw tightened. “First thing tomorrow I want the reward for his capture doubled. I want him brought to me alive, make sure that’s understood.”
“You need rest, Captain. Arrange for two guards at this door. I don’t want it left unattended for any reason.”
“I’ll send two men out, Commander,” Kyle agreed with a nod.
“I have a meeting with the king first thing tomorrow morning. I’ll meet you afterwards and we’ll discuss our next plan of attack over breakfast.”
“Understood,” the other man said, glad that a meeting with the king would mean at least a bit more rest for him in the morning.
“Good job on the field today, Captain.” He rested his hand on the man’s shoulder for a moment. “Get a good night’s rest.”
“Thanks, Commander,” Kyle straightened up. “I’ll wait for you in the morning.”
He waited until his second in command was out of sight before he slipped into the room. He approached the bed cautiously to stare down at the woman lying there. She had been bathed and her wounds treated and his eyes followed an IV line that fed into a port taped to the back of her hand. He knew it was probably something to contain infection, possibly mixed with a sedative to keep her calm.
He leaned over to study her expression when her brow furrowed and he wondered if she could feel that he was close by. He knew if she were to open her eyes she would start screaming, seeing in his features the man who had so viciously hurt her. He shook his head and gently reached out to brush the backs of his fingers over her temple. “I’d never hurt you, earth girl,” he said gently.
Maria felt the presence of someone in the room. Someone was with her; she could sense it even though the sedatives clouded her mind. There was something like a little touch and mumbled words that didn’t make sense to her, but didn’t worry her either. No, instead she felt the greatest sensation of safety in that moment.
He saw movement behind her eyelids and he felt a moment of hesitation but when it stopped he breathed easier. He smiled, the move feeling stiff and unfamiliar. “You have nothing to fear under my protection. No one will ever hurt you here,” he promised.
The words came across a bit clearer this time, while her mind was trying to fight the sedatives. She wanted to have a look at the person who was able to calm her down in a way she hadn’t experienced for a long time, but her body refused to obey yet.
He crouched down beside the bed and one knee rested against the hard floor. “I don’t know if it helps or not but the animal that hurt you... I will make sure he meets his end.” His eyes traced over her features, taking in the shadowed planes, bruises and several cuts that had been treated. The damage didn’t look as harsh as it had hours before but he knew that didn’t lesson what she had been through.
Maria’s eyes fluttered open for just a second, but her vision was too blurry to see anything. She saw the vague outline of someone in front of her, but it didn’t help to identify the person. Her lips and throat felt incredibly dry, and made it impossible to form a word.
Again she managed to open her eyes, just a bit longer this time, while her gaze became a little bit more focused. Try again, she told herself and concentrated.
Michael realized too late that she was fighting the sedatives and she was strong enough to work through it. He froze when he saw her eyes beginning to focus and he knew it was too late to move before she saw him and panic set in. “I’m not him,” he whispered, knowing it was the assumption she would make as soon as she really saw him.
It took another few tries until she finally managed to hold her eyes open long enough that they had any chance of focusing. As soon as she saw the man in front of her she wished her sedatives had been stronger so she wouldn’t have to go through another degrading act with her mind wide awake while her body was too weak to prevent it. Her breath was coming in ragged pants suddenly when realization hit her that she still had no control of her body.
“No, no, it’s okay,” he said quietly. He knew his presence was agitating her but he was worried about leaving her alone. He pulled his hand back away from her, making sure she could see that he had backed off. “The man who hurt you... I know he looks like me, but it wasn’t me.”
Maria closed her eyes again, squeezing them shut forcefully while she tried to convince herself that this was just a dream. His words didn’t even register in her ears since her blood was rushing though them so loudly.
Michael shot to his feet and slapped the button on the wall to call one of the doctors to the room.
A moment later the door was opened and Dr. Collon from Antar walked in, surprised to see the Commander himself in the room. He bowed slightly when he saw the man.
“See to her,” Michael barked as he moved away, putting distance between them.
The doctor obeyed and rushed to the patient’s side immediately. He could see her blood pressure was higher than normal for humans, but it suddenly leveled again. He checked her pupils and other data on the little screen next to her bed. “She’s alright, Commander, probably just woke up from a bad dream or something that upset her up internally.”
He cast another look at the woman, hating to see her in pain. “Do we know her name?” She had been captured by the enemy so she must have worked for one of their hospitals at one point, which meant she should be easily identifiable. “Have we been able to identify her?”
“Captain Valenti sent someone for a list of all missing hospital staff,” Collon said. “I’ve not been informed of any results yet, Commander.”
“Very well.” For all they knew she had been assigned to a field hospital. It could take time to identify her. “Inform me of any changes immediately.”
“Of course, Commander Guerin.”
He nodded and turned to leave the room, his steps slow as his troubled mind turned over the situation with the woman. He was deeper into his wing, turning into an area that was forbidden to others without invitation when he saw the light spilling out from a room up ahead and his steps quickened.
His personal quarters were divided into multiple areas and this one belonged to the most important female in his life. He nodded at the caretaker sitting on the chair, quietly overseeing the little girl playing on the floor. She nodded as his dismissal, disappearing and leaving him with the child.
“Hey there,” he said quietly as he crouched down next to the little girl.
Her big green eyes looked at him, still shimmering with a few tears after throwing a fit about bathing earlier. “Da…” she said and tried to get up to get to him.
He smiled and held his hands out to her, grasping her under her arms and helping her up onto her feet. “What’re these tears for?” he asked as he raised one hand to gently brush them away.
“Da,” Amela repeated and slowly walked towards him, her legs wobbly as she took a few steps.
“You’re getting steadier on your feet,” he said proudly.
“She’s practiced a lot,” Tess said. She had been leaning in the door frame for a few moments, watching them.
He looked over his shoulder. “Beat any princess ass?” he asked with a smirk.
“Just one,” she replied coolly and came further into the room.
He snorted. “Good.”
Amela took another step forward, but suddenly lost her balance and shrieked when she fell forward into the arms of the man in front of her.
Michael chuckled gruffly and stood with the little girl in his arms. “It won’t be long before she’s into everything.”
“Yeah,” Tess walked over and tickled the little girl’s feet. “Maybe we need a second caretaker for her.”
He sighed and held Amela up so he could look into her face. “Someone else to keep up with this little one?”
“Unless you wanna surrender on the field and take that job,” she teased.
He snorted and made a face at the little girl when she laughed at the sound. “Surrender,” he muttered, his derisive tone expressing his contempt at the very suggestion.
“How was your day out there?” Tess asked since they hadn’t had a chance to talk at dinner.
He sighed and shook his head. “We raided one of the enemy camps and took in quite a few prisoners. Cowards who refused to fight to hold their position.” He turned to walk to one of the windows that ran from floor to ceiling, his gaze distant as he stared into the fading light.
His body language spoke volumes, she thought as she watched her brother. There was more to it, but she knew that she didn’t need to ask. Either he was willing to tell her of his own free will or he would just go on with something else.
“I suppose you’ll find out soon enough,” he said after a moment of contemplation. “There was a woman at the camp...” He swallowed hard, still uncomfortable with the connection he had experienced. “She was victimized by the camp commander.”
“Well, that’s nothing new. We find them at almost every camp.”
“I had her brought here. I have medical staff attending to her and sentries watching over her.”
She frowned. “Why?”
“You won’t like the reason.”
“Yeah,” she grumbled. “I have a feeling you’re right.”
“When I went to free her I was checking to see if she’d been branded and when I did,” he inhaled deeply, “I connected with her.”
“Connected?” Tess asked, confused. “You got flashes from her?”
He shifted and turned to face his sister. “Yes.”
She let out the air of her lungs loudly while she thought about the situation. “What’d you see?”
“It wasn’t clear. A lot of it was more emotion than actual images. Any images I saw were overridden by the emotions.”
“Do you know where she comes from?” The fact that the woman was in the castle made her nervous. Why had he brought her here? There were other places to take care of her.
“She’s not Antarian. She’s from Earth.”
“From Earth?” Tess asked stupidly. “But why would you get a flash from an Earthling? That’s not even possible as far as we know.”
“I don’t know! Don’t you think this’s confusing for me too?! I’ve never heard of the connection happening with an Earthling. Hell, the connection shouldn’t even happen with someone who doesn’t have the blood of royalty running through their veins.” That had been drilled into them from a very young age.
“Maybe it was just a flash because of danger. We get them in dangerous situations.”
“There was no immediate danger. Our troops had swept through the camp by that point.”
“Then maybe it’s a trap,” she insisted. “Maybe she or someone around mind warped you with the flash.” It couldn’t be the other way, she thought. She had never gotten a flash from her lover, so whatever Michael had felt couldn’t be real. “You shouldn’t have brought her here, Michael. What if she’s a spy?”
“She’s not a spy,” he snapped. There was something about her, something that spoke to him and he didn’t understand it. That confusion wasn’t being helped by his sister’s theory. “I have sentries posted at the entrance to the room she’s in and even if she was a spy she’s in no condition to pose a threat to us.” No, she wasn't a spy. He was as certain of that as he was of his own name.
“I’ve seen people hurt themselves to appear to be victims just to get into our camps,” Tess said, trying to put some sense back into him. “She could be also a servant of Khivar and his men. You know they’re cruel and would do anything to kill us.” She stood in front of him, lifting her head to stare into his eyes. “Including hurting people badly and getting them into our castle to win our trust…”
“I know that but what she’s been through...” He shook his head. “She’s not a plant, Tess. I know how cruel and unforgiving our enemies can be, and I’m well aware of the lengths they’ll go to in order to infiltrate our ranks, but you didn’t see her.”
“God, Michael, the first time you see something in a woman and it has to be her?” Tess sighed and let it go. She still wasn’t convinced, but her brother was stubborn and wouldn’t listen once he’d made his mind up.
“I don’t know why and I can’t explain it.” Not that he would if he could, he thought. “There’s no reason anyone else needs to know about her. Not for now anyway.”
“I’ll keep an eye on her, beloved brother,” she told him.
He knew his sister well and while she could be loving and gentle with those she cared about he knew what she was like with anyone who didn’t fall into that category. “I don’t want her upset, little sister.”
“Well, then she’d better not be a spy, huh?”
That was as much of an agreement as he would get out of her and he knew better than to push it. She had come face to face with a spy in their ranks before and her response had been swift and lethal. “I don’t anticipate that being a problem.”
“Are you taking her to bed?” Tess asked, gently running her hand over Amela’s back.
He looked down at the little girl. “Yeah, I’ll put her down in a bit.”
“Alright,” she agreed. “I’ll get some rest then. G’night.”
“I’ll be on the field late tomorrow.” He rolled his eyes. “The King has declared an official meeting for first thing in the morning.”
“And I’m not invited,” she gasped playfully.
“Maybe once you’ve married that ass you’ll be invited to all of his stupid meetings.”
“The day I marry him I’ll seriously consider suicide as a viable option,” she wiped her face.
He scowled. “What was our father thinking? Setting us up to marry the two of them?”
“Hell, I don’t know. You know the good thing about the war is that as long as it continues there will be no time for a marriage. Not at all.”
“What a shame.” He shuddered at the thought of getting into bed with the ice princess.
Tess entered her private quarters and turned the lights on, adjusting the setting so that they were dim. She snapped her fingers and the large fireplace in the spacious bedroom burst into life, emitting light and warmth. She stood before it for a moment, absorbing its warmth and letting her mind drift free of thoughts. She stripped out of her clothes and tossed them aside to be dealt with later, heading to the bathroom and leaving a trail in her wake.
Her quarters were comfortable, a direct contrast to what she was used to when she was in the field. The bathing area with its large sunken tub was situated close to the floor to ceiling windows that let in natural light but revealed nothing of what went on inside the castle. She snapped her fingers again and fire leapt to life in the small fire pits built around the tub before turning the water on and adjusting the temperature.
The moons were rising, casting white light over the land that had belonged to her family for generations. She had fought to protect the territory and their people, had bled for them, and nearly died for them on at least two occasions in her young life. She tried not to think of her impending marriage to the king, fought to keep the stifling thoughts from weighing her down. She couldn’t imagine being linked to the man for the rest of her life. As much as she had loved her father she hated that he had agreed to marry her and Michael into the Evans family in order to unite their kingdoms.
She felt like marrying Max would suck the life out of her. It wasn’t his fault and she knew he wasn’t any happier about it than she was. But the fact remained that she was a warrior and he wasn’t the kind of man who could ever fully appreciate her abilities on the field. He would never understand what it was that drove her and as his wife she would no longer be permitted to remain as an active leader in their military.
“You’re thinking of him again.”
She smiled slightly at the jealousy underlining her lover’s tired voice. She turned her head to watch him as he bent to turn the faucet off. He dipped his hand into the water, dragging his fingers through it, and she recalled him telling her that it was thicker than the water on earth. It was put through a process that made the water thinner, more suitable for consumption or use indoors but she knew it was still different than what he had known on earth. She could see the exhaustion in the lines of his body, but there was also tension in him. That was probably what was keeping him awake, she mused as he glanced up at her.
Kyle’s eyes traced over her naked body, lit by the moonlight behind her and the firelight dancing around the tub. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He had thought it the first time he had ever seen her standing on a field, the chaotic aftermath of a battle surrounding her. She wasn’t vain about her looks but she was well aware that she was an attractive woman. He rarely saw her on social occasions and when he did they had to act as if they were nothing more than two people who shared a common career. He knew they would never have an actual relationship; she was royalty promised to the king and he was a human soldier. It would never be allowed and they knew and accepted that what they had was temporary.
He stood and began to unbutton his uniform jacket as his eyes moved over the long blonde hair that fell across her back in a wavy mass. His gaze slid down to her ass and then lower, making a sound of approval low in his throat. “I heard your unit did well today,” he rasped as he dropped his shirt on top of his discarded jacket.
“Taking down one of Khivar’s camps is always satisfying,” she murmured as she watched him reach for the fastening on his pants. His upper body was toned from the years of training and fighting, scarred in places from battles with their enemy, and she knew every inch of him as well as she knew herself.
He bent to unlace his boots, toeing them off along with his socks, and then kicking free of his pants. “We captured several high ranking officers, brought them in for interrogation.” The last of his clothing hit the floor and he moved across the room soundlessly, pausing to take her in when she turned fully to meet his gaze.
He caught her hands and held her arms out at her sides, his blue eyes raking over her skin. He noted a new bruise high on her left shoulder before dipping lower to momentarily rest on the nearly healed wound above her right hip that she had sustained in a previous battle. He pressed her back against the glass and he captured her shocked gasp as his mouth settled over hers in a heated kiss. He released her hand long enough for her to press her palm to the glass and use her powers to warm it. After a moment her hand returned to his and he caught her wrist in a firm grip. He raised her hands over her head and pinned them to the glass with his left hand.
Tess watched his eyes as he touched her, intrigued as always by the maelstrom of emotions that were unleashed in these stolen moments. She had studied him on the battlefield, in strategy sessions, and during training with the soldiers under his command. At those times he was focused on the task at hand, but she knew his mind was going over countless tactics, situations, and possible outcomes. When he was with her like this his focus was solely on her and she enjoyed having all of his attention.
She tipped her head back when his mouth moved to her neck, licking and nibbling her flesh before he continued to move down. She had never allowed another man the freedom Kyle had been given when they were together like this. She could easily free her hands from his hold, take control of the moment, and he knew it. But he didn’t care. That had fascinated her from the beginning. He was the only man she had ever considered an equal in the bedroom.
Kyle captured a taut nipple as he slipped his hand between her legs. He brought her to the edge and kept her there as he slowly released his grip on her wrists. He made a guttural sound deep in his throat when she immediately reached for his erection. Her grip was sure and her palm, slightly callused from years of wielding a weapon, stroked him to full hardness. She wasn’t a passive lover and as she kissed him she lifted her right leg high against his hip, letting him know what she wanted.
He caught the backs of her thighs and he lifted her, feeling her legs lock around him as he used his body to press her back against the window. With the hand she had wrapped around him still stroking him maddeningly, she guided him to her entrance and sighed into his mouth when he entered her with one deep stroke.
Tess groaned at the feel of him inside her and her nails dug into his back as he started to move. They didn’t often talk during sex, saving that for afterwards when they were both sated. When they were together like this she could forget her duty to king and country for a brief time and focus on being a woman. He understood that need in a way other men didn’t and he didn’t see her as less of a capable soldier because of it. She concentrated on him in, on, and around her. All of her senses were focused on the sensations he created in her body and her head dropped back as he thrust hard causing her sweat-slicked back to slide against the glass.
One of his hands came up to tangle in her wild mane of hair and he brought her mouth to his for a kiss as they raced for the finish line. She was close and he was too far gone to draw it out any longer. Her cries of completion echoed in his ears as he found his own release and he slumped against her heavily.
Tess combed her fingers through the sweat damp hair at the back of his neck as she rested her head against the glass. She could feel their hearts racing in tandem even as their breathing slowly began to return to normal. She smiled when he lifted his head to look at her and she saw the lazy look in his blue eyes. She ran her free hand up over his chest, pausing to rub over a scar left by an enemy’s sword. “I think we’ve earned that bath now, Captain.”
He smiled and let her slide down his body, kissing her once more before following her over to the sunken tub. She held his hand as she walked to the end and took the three steps that weren’t visible beneath the surface of the water. He stepped in after her and released her hand as they sank into the warm water facing each other. “It’s really not fair that you’ve got a tub this large to bathe in,” he grumbled tiredly as he leaned back. As his head came closer to the edge the panels slid back and a cushioned surface moved forward, providing a soft place to rest.
“That’s not all I do in it,” she said as she mimicked his position. She sighed as the thick water cradled her body.
“I’m well aware of that, Corporal.” He grinned as his legs tangled with hers. They used their ranks instead of their names but somehow it seemed more intimate. Before dawn he would have to sneak out and go back to his personal quarters in the barracks but for a few stolen hours he would remain here, miles away from the reality that lay on the other side of her door.
Alex stood on the platform as he waited for the transport to arrive. He checked his watch and frowned before walking over to the station attendant to find out what the holdup was. He knocked on the window and after a moment he heard a hiss of air as the pane slid up and he found himself facing a full-blooded Antarian. He could still remember his shock the first time he had met one of them but it no longer surprised him to see the blue-skinned aliens that comprised a large portion of the population on Antar.
“The transport from Earth should’ve been here half an hour ago.” It wasn’t unusual for the transports to run a few minutes behind but this was excessive.
The Antarian lifted one white eyebrow as he studied the human, recognizing him as the king’s assistant after a moment. He punched in a series of numbers on the console in front of him and the information began to flow across the screen. “They encountered a meteor field and sustained minor damages that the captain determined required repair prior to completing the journey.”
“What time are they expected?”
“Within the next half hour, sir.”
Alex nodded and resumed his position on the platform. He pulled Antar’s equivalent of a PDA out of his pocket and started browsing through his appointments for the week. When he wasn’t tied up in meetings he was either preparing for more meetings or studying to keep up with Antarian law. Their system of law was complex and so much of it dated back hundreds of years. His main focus at the moment was seeking a way for the king to avoid his impending marriage to the only daughter of the Guerin clan.
Tess came from a warrior family. Her people were known for their tactical superiority and they were a formidable enemy. The merger agreed upon by the patriarchs of the Evans and Guerin families had been celebrated by both territories. The Evans family was wealthy and like the Guerin family, their territory was coveted by their joint enemies. The Guerin family had been richer in territory rather than money and their armies were far superior to any under the reign of the Evans family. The merger had benefited both families, but the cost of uniting the two territories came at the expense of marrying their offspring. A price none of them had been happy to pay.
He was pulled out of his thoughts when the air around him began to swirl, kicking up dust and making him squint. As the transport settled into the docking station the doors slid open and he stepped forward as he searched through the disembarking passengers for the woman he was there to meet. He saw her hesitantly step out onto the platform and he raised a hand. “Miss Parker, over here!”
She nodded and slapped her hand over her mouth when sickness rolled over her again.
Alex grimaced and took a step back. “Space travel doesn’t agree with you?”
“God, I’ve never felt so sick in my life,” she muttered and steadied herself by gripping the railing in front of her.
“I can assure you it passes. Once you get used to it it’s not that bad.” He reached out to pat her arm in a consoling gesture. “You’ll feel better once you can rest for a bit. Unfortunately, that means a bit more travel, but nothing like what you’ve just been through.”
“One moment okay,” she pressed out and glanced around, finally noticing something that looked like a trash can. She ran towards it and just made it in time to throw up.
Alex made a face and wondered if he should tell her that wasn’t a trash can. Maybe later, he decided. She was feeling bad enough right now. He went into the station to get her a drink and came back out just as she leaned over the railing and whined pitifully. “Here, sip a little of this. It’ll help,” he promised.
Liz took the drink he offered thankfully and swallowed a bit of it. “I am so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he said with a smile. “You think this’s bad? I actually threw up on the king’s shiny shoes when I arrived. Be grateful you didn’t meet him that way.”
“Really?” She chuckled weakly. “Ouch.”
“Yeah, I did. Although, if you’re gonna throw up on royalty here, better the king than his sister.” He smirked. “She was there for that glorious meeting and she actually threatened to have me locked up.”
“Well, thanks for the warning.”
“Don’t worry, she’s a pain in the ass but you’ll learn how to deal with her.” He shrugged. “She threatens to have me arrested at least twice a day.”
“A real princess by any definition, huh?”
He chuckled. “Yeah. She can make life miserable but you’ll be dealing primarily with the king and as long as he’s happy you’ll be afforded a certain level of freedom from her particular brand of persecution.”
“So I’ll be in contact with him directly?” she asked as they walked towards their next transport.
“Yeah, he’ll meet with you tomorrow. He has specific dietary requirements and he’s very picky about the way his food is prepared.” He smiled. “You passed every one of the tests in food preparation and you’ll be provided with a list of her preferences.”
“Okay,” she said, feeling a bit nervous about it.
“Don’t be nervous. He’s a difficult man to get to know and quite honestly he’s used to people who cater to him without question because of who he is. I wouldn’t recommend being overtly out of bounds with him, but he enjoys a good challenge.”
“Okay, what is this?” Liz pointed at the... thing in front of her.
“This would be our transportation. Looks a bit different than vehicles back on Earth but it’s safe and it won’t be as rough as your trip here.”
“Let’s hope not,” she could already feel her stomach tightening again.
“The local transportation is fairly smooth. As long as it isn’t intercepted by enemy soldiers.”
“It does happen on occasion.” He winked. “We have a protection detail so in that event we would be safe. The penalty for attacking one of the king’s transports is death so it’s a very rare occurrence.”
“Okay,” she said quietly and stepped into the vehicle, wincing when it closed behind them with a loud whirr.
The trip would take less than 20 minutes and Alex decided to let her rest and work through the nausea. There would be plenty of time to go over her duties in more detail once they had arrived at their destination. “Did you leave any family on Earth?” he asked. He had read her dossier so he already knew the answer but he thought it might help make her feel more comfortable if he talked about something to take her mind off of her current situation.
Liz frowned at him and wrapped her arms around her still upset stomach. “My family died during a robbery of our home,” she grumbled a bit angrily. How could he ask a question like that when she was already feeling bad? He had certainly read her dossier more than once and was pretty much informed about her former life. Maybe his surroundings had already deadened him, she thought. I’ve heard Antarians tend to be more unfeeling than humans.
Alex winced. Damn it, he must've mixed up the dossiers. What the hell was wrong with him? “I apologize, Ms. Parker. I wasn’t being intentionally insensitive. I’m usually better at remembering details.” Good job, Whitman, he berated himself. He had spent so much time recently poring over Antarian law that he hadn’t been sleeping much and he had just crossed his wires with the dossier for another perspective employee.
Ignoring him, she stared out through the window, but the vehicle was going so fast, that there was barely time to recognize anything outside. She squeezed her eyes shut when it brought her dizziness back. God, let this nightmare be over soon, she begged silently and wondered if the idea of coming here had been totally stupid.
“It won’t be much longer,” he assured her. “You’ll be permitted to rest without interruption once we arrive.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” she told him, her voice revealing her exhaustion. A shower and a bed sounded really nice. Although… she wasn’t sure about the shower. From what she’d read the water was a bit different on Antar.
“We can go over your duties in the morning. I can introduce you to the staff, show you what’s expected, and what the king’s preferences are. And then once you’re a little more comfortable I’ll introduce you to the king.”
“Okay,” she agreed. “When should I be ready?”
“The king has meetings first thing in the morning.” There was a good chance that the king would be in a pissy mood after spending the morning with the Commander and there was no need to subject her to that. “I’ll show you how to use the communications system when we arrive and you can just give me a call when you’re ready. It’ll be your first full day here so we’ll get you situated and give you a little time before we just throw you into the mix.”
“Alright,” Liz leaned back and tried to relax. This was all so new to her and it felt weird. What would the king be like? An arrogant ass who thought he could say and do anything to her or more the opposite? There were so many unanswered questions, but in a way she was also looking forward to her new tasks in her completely new life.
Posted: Sat Nov 30, 2013 1:38 pm
The king walked through the dimly lit corridors, his footsteps silent and unhurried. He had been trying to enjoy a book when his stomach had started growling and prevented him from focusing on what he was reading. It wasn’t until he had stopped to think about it that he remembered his earlier discussion with the Commander. No wonder he was hungry, he had barely touched his dinner before that had ruined it.
The more he thought about it the more irritated he became. He and the Commander had nothing in common. The man was so certain that war was the answer. Even he’s tiring of the war, he thought as he recalled the man’s argument. They disagreed over certain tactics but when it was all said and done he was the one who carried the responsibility for the decisions that were made.
The Commander wanted him to employ the use of assassins, to use them to begin picking off the highest ranking officials of the opposing forces. Tactically he could rationalize their use, but did it make them any better than their enemies? He could bring in assassins, send them out into the night to begin wiping out the opposition at the highest levels, but somehow it seemed wrong. He pushed the thoughts aside as he entered the dining area that was used for unscheduled meals and he was nearly knocked off of his feet as his sister entered from the opposite direction.
“Watch where you’re going, little brother!” she snapped in annoyance.
He wasn’t in the mood for a fight with his sister but he wasn’t about to put up with her bitchy attitude tonight either. He pulled one of the chairs out and sat down before pushing the button next to his right hand to summon whichever servant would be catering to the family after hours. “Problem finding someone willing to sleep with you?”
Her eyes narrowed at his words and she let it go when the servant rushed in to ask what they would like to eat. The woman hurried away again as soon as they had given her their requests and Isabel turned her icy gaze on him once more. She had spent the better part of the evening arguing with their father over being forced to marry the Commander and she was pissed that he refused to give in to her wishes. “Don’t talk about things you don’t understand.”
“I understand that you’d better get it out of your system.” He shook his head in disapproval. “As a member of the royal family you know better than to risk such foolishness. If father finds out…”
“I will not live under this double standard. The Commander sleeps with whomever he chooses and no one says a word to him. His needs are not more important than mine simply because he’s the one with the penis.”
“I can’t control who he chooses to sleep with and I have no interest in controlling who you sleep with – “
“I’d like to see you try,” she challenged. “Perhaps you should focus on working through your controlling issues with a little sex of your own and quit worrying about what everyone else is doing. Unlike you, I can assure you your intended bride will not come to the marriage bed a virgin.” She quirked an eyebrow and waited to see if he would deny it. She loved her brother but he was too uptight and rigid. She had her doubts that he had ever been introduced to sex because if he had she was certain he would lose at least some of the anxiety that always seemed to surround him.
“I don’t care what she’s doin’,” Max snapped. “I don’t care about her at all. Maybe her sleeping around will help find a way to cancel this marriage. Now, isn’t that a good thing?”
“Interesting how defensive you are about this topic,” she mused, feeling as if she now had the upper hand. “You didn’t deny your status as virgin king.”
“I’m not talking to you about this. Unlike the rest of you I do have some sense and prefer to keep my sex life private.”
She snorted softly. “That’s just denial talking, little brother.”
“Whatever,” Max muttered.
She smiled triumphantly. It was true! He only ever got this way when he didn’t want to admit she was right about something. “At least you don’t have to marry that uncivilized Commander.”
He had to chuckle at that. “And here I thought most women go for the badass type.”
“I am not most women and he’s just an ass.”
“At least he does what men do,” he snorted. “Look at my soon-to-be-wife. She’s out on the field like a warrior.”
“You know the women in their family have been involved in the military and whatever else goes on for generations. Can you imagine what your children will be like?”
“Children?” he asked, horrified. But well, yeah, if they wanted to keep the royal family alive, there had to be, right? “I think they’ll come out of the incubators already wearing a uniform.”
“Probably be armed already.” She shook her head and drummed her fingernails on the surface of the table when the servant didn’t return with their food. “Where is that woman?”
“Relax, she’ll be here soon enough.”
She sighed. “We have to find a way to convince Father to change his mind. I cannot possibly spend my life married to the Commander.”
“Well, you could have one of those silent agreements about no sex,” he whispered in amusement even though it wasn’t funny at all. “So nothing will really change other than the brand on your bodies.”
“I have news for you. I have no intention of ever sharing a bed or anything else with him.” She made a face. He was probably a selfish lover.
“Better be glad you don’t have to have kids the human way, Isabel.”
“I can assure you it would never happen.”
Yeah, he really couldn’t see his sister going through a human pregnancy. Not with the Commander and not with anyone else either. “I’m shocked.”
She shook her head. “That man is in for a surprise if this marriage nonsense happens.”
Max sighed and ran his hand through his dark hair. “If the war keeps going like this we won’t see them much anyway.”
“We had territorial disputes before our fathers united the territories, but the war didn’t break out until after. Do you think it would’ve happened if they hadn’t made that agreement?”
“Kivar is a selfish, greedy bastard. I’m pretty sure he had an eye on our territory before the union.”
“I don’t understand why marrying them was part of the agreement. Can you imagine the Commander ever leading the country? He wouldn’t want to do it, which is a good thing, so the obvious choice for a leader is you. And a marriage isn’t necessary for that to happen.”
“We’ve discussed this a thousand times now, Isabel. I don’t know why the hell they came up with this stupid idea.”
She sighed. It was true and so far they hadn’t been able to figure a way out of it. She knew it was up to her and Max because their father was still alive and since Max was ruling their country the choice to uphold the agreement or not fell to their father. “There must be a way to convince him. Why hasn’t your assistant found a way out of it yet? Isn’t that what he’s here for?”
“Alex can’t do anything about Father’s stubbornness either.”
“It’s his job to determine the relevance of the law and under these circumstances I would think he would work a little harder.”
“Obsessing over my work as usual, Princess?” Alex asked in amusement when he entered the kitchen. He was hungry after the trip to the space station and he wasn’t surprised to see the dining area outside the kitchen already occupied after their brief dinner.
“Where have you been?" she demanded before she could catch herself.
“Picked the new kitchen staff up from the space station.”
“New staff? Who?”
“Her name’s Liz Parker. I’ll introduce her tomorrow.”
“She’s human,” she guessed.
“Yes, she is. Got a problem with that, your highness?”
“I have many problems but none that you can solve.”
“Such as marrying the Commander?” Alex teased and ordered something when the servant came back carrying the others’ plates.
“Yeah, if you think you’re so good at your job, solve that one.”
“Why don’t you just kill him?” he suggested with a shrug. He had no doubt that if the Commander and the princess were married one of them would eventually kill the other.
Max sighed. “Can we please stop this discussion and eat for once?” He looked at both of them.
Alex smirked and settled back in a comfortable sprawl. “Interesting solution to the problem, Max.”
“I’m not trying to solve anything right now. I just want to have a silent dinner where I can actually eat something.”
He nodded and decided not to pursue the current topic of conversation. “I think you’ll find the new servant interesting.”
He smiled. “I just think you’ll find her...” he searched for the correct word, “intriguing.”
“Intriguing,” Isabel mocked. “The king is not interested in kitchen staff.”
“Not yet,” he said because it was true and he knew it would piss her off.
Isabel dropped her fork and glared at him. “Why is he allowed to eat with us?” She directed the question to Max. “He isn’t a royal so I don’t see the point why I should always have to bear his presence – “
“Because he’s my advisor,” Max bit out.
“He’s a sorry excuse for an advisor.”
Alex simply shot an amused glance at her. She would try her brother’s patience even though she was trying her hardest to get a rise out of him. It annoyed her when her baiting tactics didn’t draw him into a fight.
Loud, panicked screams resounded through the long corridors of the castle, drowning everything other sound. He sat up straight when he heard them and pushed the blanket away from his body. He glanced down at himself and watched the sweat running down his chest, which moved up and down heavily in tandem with his hammering heart.
Michael was ready to jump up to protect his castle and the people who lived in it with every ounce of strength he had when he suddenly realized that the screams… her screams… had only been in his dreams. “I’m losing my mind,” he muttered and swung his legs over the side of the bed to get up.
Like every morning he got ready quickly by splashing water in his face, using his powers to brush his teeth and then got into his uniform. When was the last time he had put on normal clothes in a morning, he wondered and glanced outside. The larger of the two suns was barely up, while the small one was already high in the sky, a good sign that it had almost been time to get up anyway.
There was still a weird feeling in his chest, thanks to the dream he’d. It wasn’t like he could really tell what it had been about, but the emotions he had felt had been just the same as those he had felt when he had touched her for the first time.
What are they trying to tell me? he thought. There was no way he had felt this by accident, there had to be a reason. Was she the key person to the war? Was she finally the mercury of change? Or was she the damnation of the realm?
Michael shook his head. The more he thought about it, the more confusion he felt. His feet carried him down the long cold and still dark corridor and down the stairs to the room where he had left her the last evening. Something was drawing him towards her, but he couldn’t pinpoint what it was exactly.
The door was opened and he immediately took a step back, his hand reaching for the weapon at his belt.
“Commander,” Dr. Collon greeted in surprise and grabbed the door frame.
“What are you doing here at this time?” Michael asked.
“I was checking on her since the effect of the sedatives we gave her are beginning to wear off.”
“I don’t think she needs more right now. The blood results and other values say that she’s stable right now and the pain is manageable.”
Michael peered into the room behind the doctor, but couldn’t see anything. “You’re sure about that?”
“Well, of course she’s still weak and some of the bruises are deep and will cause pain, but the stronger sedatives aren’t healthy over an extended period of time and since we can’t be sure of anything given to her by the enemy, my advice is to minimize the dose now.”
He glanced back at the door. “Where are the sentries?”
“They are just changing the guard, Commander. One of them is on the inside of the door.”
“A male sentry?” He shook his head when the doctor nodded. “I don’t want a male sentry posted on the interior.”
“Miss DeLuca actually asked for it, Commander, but of course we will defer to your wishes,” Collon said and bowed his head slightly.
“No, Collon, if that was her wish... leave it as is.” It was an odd request for a woman who had been victimized by a man. But perhaps it was her way of protecting herself against him. “You called her by name. We were able to obtain her identity?”
“Yes, Commander. Her name is Maria DeLuca. She came here a year ago and worked as a nurse in one of the camps in the south. From what we were able to learn, she was kidnapped approximately three months ago.”
Three months, he mused. How much of that time had she been at the mercy of the camp commander? “Has she spoken at all?”
“Not at all. She just nods or shakes her head in response to questions.”
He sighed. “Is there any indication that she’s incapable of speech?”
“No, I think she’s just in shock.”
“Very well. You’re dismissed, Collon.”
“Of course. Have a nice day, Commander,” the doctor said and disappeared.
He inhaled deeply and then stepped into the room, glancing at the sentry who was smart enough to keep his gaze straight ahead. He walked over to the bed, his eyes narrowed as he tried to determine if the woman lying there was awake.
Maria was lying in the bed facing the wall with the small window. Even though she didn’t see it, she could feel that there was someone new in the room.
“Hey, earth girl,” he murmured gruffly. She looked so lonely that he started to reach for her hand but stopped himself at the last moment.
Her whole body tightened when she heard his voice. She would recognize it among thousands of others. The only thing different was that there was a calm, almost gentle note in it this time, which irritated her.
He frowned when he saw her tense and he felt anger burst to life in him at the reminder of the source of her fears. He wasn’t good at consoling people or dealing with women who were emotional. He was at his best on the field commanding his troops and fighting the enemy. But for her he wanted to try. He frowned at the notion because he didn’t understand it. “I don’t know how to help you,” he admitted after a moment.
Help me? she thought, confused. Why would he help her? There was darkness in her head when it came to remembering the last 24 hours. What had happened? And where was she?
His fingers gripped the bedrail and he sighed as he ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know how much you remember since the sedatives can mess with your head but you’re safe here. No one can hurt you.”
Safe? How could she be safe when he was around? Or wasn’t he HIM? But he looked like him. “Where…” Her voice cracked and she swallowed to wet her lips when everything felt so dry. “Where did you bring me?”
“We brought you to Zander’s Kingdom.” He shrugged his left shoulder, his silver rank insignia catching the light. It still stung that nothing of his family name remained over the territory. “King Zander’s son has taken over the duties of the king but until his marriage the title won’t be officially transferred.”
The Zander Kingdom, she realized. Was she really back in the safe part of Antar where everything had started? But if she was, who was he? Slowly… Uncertain and scared she turned her head to look at the man next to her bed.
The commander stood there, unmoving, as she turned to face him. He didn’t know if she would start screaming again or if she would know instinctively that he wasn’t the man who had hurt her. Without realizing it his breath caught and held.
He looked like him, she thought, but it was obvious that it wasn’t the same man who had hurt her. The man who had done all of those cruel things to her had never bothered to say a nice word to her and he had never let her sleep in a warm room with a comfortable bed. “You’re the Commander, aren’t you?” she asked hoarsely. She had heard about their similar looks from different sources, but she hadn’t expected them to be like twins.
His eyebrow quirked, the only physical indication of his surprise. “I am, yes.”
She nodded slightly and her eyes watered with relief when his words sank in and she finally believed him. Yeah, she was finally away from that bastard.
“I will make sure he pays for what he did to you,” he swore quietly.
Maria curled up in a ball again at his promise. It reminded her of the cruel things people had done to her in the past month.
He mentally kicked himself. He had meant to reassure her and all he had done was cause her pain. “When your strength returns perhaps you’ll want to look around the castle.”
She didn’t want to leave the room, who knew what was out there? Fear that she could get caught again by the enemy overrode everything and crippled every muscle in her body.
“You’re safe here, Maria,” he said, using her name for the first time.
“I know,” she whispered barely audible, but she couldn’t believe it yet.
“My men will remain here to ensure your safety and if anyone bothers you or makes you uncomfortable in any way tell one of them or the doctor to send for me.”
Why was he doing this? she wondered. It wasn’t like she was anyone important. Hell, she wasn’t even an Antarian, so why would he care about her being safe or not? Would he really come if she asked for him? HIM, the Commander?
He tipped his head to one side. “Do you have someone we should contact?”
Maria’s thoughts immediately went to her mother. Had it been wrong to go to Antar while the woman – her only remaining family – was still on Earth waiting for her? How scared was she now since she hadn’t sent any video mail down to her home planet for so many weeks? “My Mom…”
“I can have her contacted, brought here, if you wish.”
“Brought here?” she asked in disbelief.
“You do not want that?” he asked, cocking his head to one side.
She snorted slightly, trying not to be flippant with the Commander. “She wanted to, but they told us she didn’t pass the test to live on Antar, whatever that means.”
His eyes narrowed. “I am the Commander,” he said as he straightened up to his full height, unaware of his self-important tone. “If I say she can be summoned to Antar then my orders will be carried out without question.”
“Summoned?” she gritted out.
He fought the urge to do something un-commander-like in response to her disapproving tone. “To come to Antar, yes. That is not what you want?”
“We humans prefer to be invited, not summoned.”
His back teeth ground together. “The summons would simply be for the official report. Your mother would not be forced to leave Earth.”
Antarians where just so cold when it came to words, she realized again and wished the situation on Earth was better so she could just go back and forget about this planet’s existence. “I would like to send her a video mail to invite her, if that’s possible, Commander,” she said quietly and didn’t dare look at him. He was one of the royal four and she knew she had no right to complain about anything or demand anything.
“As you wish. I will have the necessary equipment brought to you.” He reached out to tip her chin up, not liking that she felt the need to lower her gaze as she spoke to him. He dropped his hand again when she flinched before he could touch her and he was immediately reminded of the reason for her presence in the castle. He backed away a step and moved to rest his hand on the hilt of the sword that rested at his right side. “I’ll send a communications officer to you when you’re ready.”
“Thanks, Commander,” she said quietly.
He nodded. “If you feel like being outside there’s a protected courtyard at the center of the castle.”
She nodded but doubted she would go there.
The Commander stood there uncertainly. He wasn’t used to not knowing what to do in any situation but he felt out of his depth with this woman. He wanted to help her if she would allow it but he really had no idea what to do. “I must take my leave. I have a meeting with the king.” And since when did he explain his reasons for anything to anyone?
“Of course,” Maria said and looked at him. He was tall and muscled just like his identical and evil twin, but he radiated trust… something the other man had never been able to.
“I will return at nightfall to see that everything has been arranged.”
“Okay,” she lay down comfortably again when he started to leave. “Be careful,” she blurted out when he reached the door.
He paused and glanced over his shoulder. His mother and sister always issued those words before he departed but somehow this felt different. He finally nodded and looked at the guard. “Protect her with your life,” he stated quietly.
Posted: Sat Nov 30, 2013 1:39 pm
Alex stood off to the side, observing the King and the Commander as they faced off over the table. The meeting had quickly disintegrated as the two men disagreed on how to handle the higher ranking officers as well as the ruling cabinet of their enemies. He had known it was only a matter of time. The men were both headstrong and they each believed their way of handling the situation was the right way.
He wished he knew how to resolve the differences between them. At least as far as the war went. It would be an important step and he was certain if he could just get them to really listen to each other they would see that there were valid points on both sides. They wanted the same things but they couldn’t agree on the best way to achieve them. Compromise was not a word that either of them understood the meaning of and until they did he feared they would never be able to put an end to the war.
“I will not have you tell me how to command my troops! You do not have field experience and you do not know how to handle battle situations!”
He winced when the Commander’s fist slammed down on the table and the lights beneath the surface blinked in protest. He could see what was left of the King’s composure slipping as his hands rested flat on the table and his upper body leaned forward until he and the Commander were nearly nose to nose.
“I am the King and if you choose to disobey – “
“You’ll what? Have me charged with treason?” He pushed back from the table. “Charge me, Your Highness, because I will not assault that position. It would be a bloodbath and I will not sacrifice my troops to take a position that is not needed at this time.”
“You never listen!” the King shouted angrily. He hadn’t once told the Commander to take the position. He had merely suggested that at some point it would be an advantageous position to take control of. “I expect you to behave in a civil manner and listen to my suggestions!”
“There’s your first mistake.” The Commander stalked away from the table, heading for the entrance.
How could his father have ever deemed it beneficial to join their kingdom with one that was so backwards and completely uncivilized? To his credit he didn’t so much as flinch when the heavy doors slammed behind the Commander. He looked at his advisor who had remained silent throughout the meeting. “He’s insufferable,” he bit out.
“Heard his father was too,” Alex replied, remaining unaffected. With the passage of time he had gotten used to these situations and he knew that neither the King nor the Commander would harm each other physically.
“The only thing that separates them from the wild animals on this planet is that they clothe themselves.” He stared down at the map and his fingertips brushed over the area he had been trying to discuss with the Commander. “If we took this position it would cut off one of their trade routes. Why can’t he see that?”
“There would also be no safe place for a withdrawal,” Alex said. He had little interest in war tactics, but the Commander had a point that seemed to be logical.
Max straightened up and looked at his advisor. “You agree with the Commander?”
“On this point… maybe, on others not so much,” he lifted his hand. “I’m not an advisor in war tactics though.”
Max shifted and tipped his head as he studied the map. “You think his argument was valid though.” He glanced up at Alex and felt the anger slowly easing into the background. “Show me,” he said and motioned to the map.
Alex sighed and walked over to the map. He really wasn’t interested in interfering here, but he knew he had no choice. “That’s the position you’re talking about, right?” Alex pointed at the map and continued when the King nodded. “Well, it would be advantageous to have this area under our control, but we don’t know yet how many of Khivar’s troops are stationed there.” He drew a circle around the position, letting his fingertip wander over the green mark. “There’s a lot of forested area to hide in… for them and us, so if it’s a trap, they would just hide until we reach this open area here and then surround us.” He shook his head. “If that happened I doubt any of our men would walk away.”
Max studied the map, moving around the table and looking at it from different angles. “Then we would need to draw their men out into the open and remove that threat prior to taking the position. Well, why didn’t he just explain it like that?”
“Think the problem isn’t so much the talking, but the listening,” Alex said. “On both sides,” he hurried to add.
He grinned when Alex stated his opinion. It was something he appreciated. “I don’t know why we can’t simply communicate without aggravating each other.”
Uh-huh, me either, the other man thought.
Max glanced up to check the time. “We should go or we’ll be late for breakfast.”
“Yeah, we’d best not leave the Princess alone with the staff.”
“Not unless we want to be served while being showered with tears.” He sighed and glanced at his advisor. “The new staff member, what does she do?”
“Spit in the Princess’ soup?”
“Let’s hope not. I can imagine my sister’s reaction to that.” He stretched and then ran his fingers over the surface, putting the battle maps away and turning away from the table.
The other man opened the double doors and nodded at the two men standing in the hallway. He waited for the King to join him and then they walked down the long corridor to have breakfast.
Isabel sat at the dining table, nails tapping out a staccato rhythm as she waited impatiently for her brother to join her. Thankfully her husband-to-be and his wretched sister had chosen to eat separately this morning but even with that happy news she didn’t like to be kept waiting.
“Can I get you anything, Princess Isabel?” one of the servants asked, her voice trembling with a fearful note.
“Begin serving breakfast. I’m sure the King will arrive shortly.”
The door opened as if by command and the two men stepped inside. “Good morning, Isabel,” Max greeted his sister and squeezed her shoulder when he passed her.
“Princess,” Alex greeted shortly.
“Can I assume your meeting with the Commander was a complete failure?” she asked, ignoring Alex altogether.
“Not completely,” Max denied, not wanting to admit it had been.
“Um-hmm.” Somehow she doubted that it had been anything but a failure. “They’ve decided to eat separately this morning so perhaps we’ll make it through a meal uninterrupted.”
If you don’t blow it by accusing the staff again, Alex thought with amusement, but didn’t say anything.
Isabel's eyes narrowed when she caught the slight smirk on the advisor’s face when he glanced at her. “Did you have something to add?”
“Nothing I’m going to share,” he countered.
She started to respond to his comment but the servants began to filter in with breakfast and drew her attention away from him.
“Where’s my juice?” she asked, annoyed.
“It will be served right away,” the nervous servant next to her answered.
“It’s freshly squeezed,” another one said and hurried to place the glass next to the Princess.
“The last time I nearly choked on a seed,” she said with a scathing look at the server.
Max looked down when the food was placed in front of him. It looked different than usual. Tastier somehow. “It would appear the new staff is doing her job.”
Alex smiled and nodded. “I told you she excelled when we had her prepare Antarian dishes.”
“Did she make the juice as well?” Isabel made a face and pushed her glass back. “It’s way too sour.”
“No, that wasn’t her.” One of the servants rushed to remove the offensive glass. “I’ll take it to the kitchen and return with a fresh glass.”
“Wanna bet the next one’s too sweet,” Alex muttered to himself with a roll of his eyes.
A moment later the servant hurried back in, wiping away a drop of juice that sloshed over the side before setting it before the Princess. The new servant had listened to the complaint and then offered to make the juice without hesitation. Freshly squeezed juice, sweetener added, and then a twist of the spicy sauce Antarians preferred. She held her breath when the Princess reached for the glass.
“The eggs are really good,” Max said after swallowing his first bite.
Alex nodded in agreement. As long as the King was happy things would go smoothly with the new servant. Isabel of course, was a different story, but if Max was happy with the woman then her job would be secure whether or not the Princess took issue with her.
“The food’s as bad as usual if you ask me,” the princess said and shoved her plate away from her.
“Then it’s good no one asked you,” Alex said and shook his head. “You’re just saying that to be contrary.”
“No, I’m saying that because obviously humans are not capable of preparing decent food, but you seem to ignore that.” She shot an annoyed look at him. “I suppose it’s because you’re human.”
He shrugged, unconcerned with her insults. “Considering its Antarian food I’d say she’s doing a good job making it edible.” The food on Antar wasn’t that bad but Liz had added her own touch to it and he thought it tasted pretty damn good.
“Max,” Isabel insisted.
He looked up from his breakfast, his eyebrows raised in question. “Yes?”
“Would you please say something?”
He paused with a forkful of food suspended before his mouth. “What would you like me to say?”
“That I’m right, maybe? Why can’t we have an Antarian cook?”
“We had an Antarian cook and you reduced the man to tears. A full-blooded Antarian, Isabel. You know how difficult it is for full-bloods to show emotion and you annihilated the man! Besides, Alex found the new cook and she was obviously the most qualified if he hired her.”
“Oh yeah,” she snorted, “as if he knows anything about Antarian tastes.” She got up from her seat and glared at a servant when she stood in her way. The other girl hurried away quickly, afraid that she might be punished for daring to stand up to one of the royals.
“Isabel…” Max tried.
“I’m not hungry anymore,” she grumbled and left the room her footsteps loud on the wood floor.
Alex shook his head at her behavior. “I can have a second cook brought in if you think it would improve her disposition.” He knew what would improve her disposition and it had nothing to do with food.
Max waved him off. “We won’t have another cook just because my sister acts like a princess,” he said and then grinned at his words.
He snorted. “She’ll have to give in eventually if she wants to eat.”
They ate in silence for a while, the atmosphere in the room a lot calmer after Isabel had gone. The servants breathed easily with her departure and the quiet was enjoyable.
“I thought once we’re finished with breakfast I’d introduce you to the new cook.”
“Very well,” Max agreed. After nearly killing a new member of the staff because he looked like a stranger, he wanted to know who worked in the castle.
“I think you’ll like her. I was able to show her around briefly but she was tired after her trip and she had a rough time of it so we didn’t spend much time on the tour.”
“Make sure you show her the storage rooms in the cellar and the protection area in case of attacks from Khivar,” Max said and finished his coffee. “Make sure she signs all of the documents, especially the new one pertaining to confidentiality.”
Alex nodded. “We took care of the paperwork last night. I wanted to get the formalities out of the way before she started to work. But I’ll take care of the rest once her shift is over.”
The servants hurried to take the empty plates again when the men were finished. “Can we get you anything else, King Max?”
“No,” he waved them off slightly. “Go now.”
“Would you like me to bring her in now?” Alex asked.
“Why don’t we go to the kitchen?” Max suggested. He wanted to see how her work area was kept.
That surprised him but he controlled his expression. He stood and picked up his cup. “Alright.”
Max straightened as well. He didn’t like it, but he knew he had to act like the King among the servants and that called for some concentration. “Let’s go.”
Alex led the way back to the kitchen, familiar with the path. He was no stranger to the occasional trip to search for a midnight snack. He smiled when he saw Liz studying the items in the pantry area and checking things off of the list on the clipboard she held. “Good morning, Liz,” he called out to get her attention.
She glanced up when she heard the familiar voice. “Oh, hey, Alex,” she greeted and then went silent when she saw who was behind him. The tall dark-haired man stood high and studied her with a serious look, while his jaw moved just a bit. Liz couldn’t help but think that the King seemed to be a lot more attractive than she had imagined him, but there was no doubt that he was who he was. “King Max,” she said and bowed slightly.
He nodded his head. “Miss Parker. Welcome to Antar.”
His voice sounded rough and soft at the same time, she thought and was glad for the long sleeves she wore to hide the goosebumps on her skin. “Thank you.”
“I enjoyed breakfast very much.” He watched her, intrigued by the slight flush on her cheeks.
Liz lifted her eyes just slightly to look at him, but she couldn’t maintain gazing into the deep brown eyes for long. “Thank you. I’ll do my best to satisfy your tastes, King Max.”
His lips quirked up in a smile and when it felt unnatural he wondered how long it had been since he had smiled openly.
Alex tried to hide the smirk when he realized the reaction of the King towards the new kitchen staff. Oh yeah, there was definitely some electricity in the room.
Max glanced around the kitchen. He had any one of a dozen things he could be doing but he was reluctant to leave. “You’ve found everything you need?”
“Yes, the kitchen really is amazing,” she started to babble. “I really have more than expected and there is such a great choice of different kinds of vegetables and spices.” Shut up Parker, she told herself.
The smile appeared again when she kept talking. “We pride ourselves on the ability to grow and produce a number of fine foods. Perhaps when we’re both free I can show you the valley where a majority of our agriculture is cultivated.”
“Oh, that would be cool,” she started and then realized who she was talking to again. “Um, I mean, I’d really like that, Your Highness.”
“Cool...” he looked at Alex with a frown, not understanding the meaning of the word as she was using it.
The other man laughed. “Cool means great.”
He nodded. “Excellent. Alex will set some time aside for us to tour the valley.”
“Sure,” he pulled out his notepad and wrote down a few words to remind him later. “The King has a meeting, so you’ll have to excuse us, Liz.”
Max bowed his head slightly. “Until later, Miss Parker.”
“Goodbye, King Max,” she replied with a curtsey, lowering her gaze again.
He turned on his heel and left the kitchen area, fighting the impulse to turn and look back at her. “Who am I meeting this morning? Townspeople?”
“Some farmers whose land has been destroyed by the war.”
Max sighed. “Can we move them to another location?” He hated this war and the damage it was doing to his people and the land.
“That’s what they’re coming here to discuss, Max.”
“You’ve already prepared for the meeting so you’ve researched possible relocation placement, correct?”
“Of course,” Alex nodded while they walked along the semi-dark corridor to the conference room. “We have some problems to solve, but there are several possibilities.”
“Contact me if there are any problems with the video mail,” the Commander ordered the communications officer. He was about to leave, but turned to the man again. “The woman belongs to my personal staff so be sure you treat her right. She’s recently been rescued after being held prisoner by Khivar’s army, so if anyone or anything bothers her you are to talk to me first.” Okay, Maria DeLuca was not technically personal staff of the royals, but he would create a position if it meant keeping her safe.
“Of course.” The man straightened with a nod, sensing the importance of his assignment. He saluted before turning and hurrying down the corridor.
Michael watched him leave, wondering if he was overreacting to the woman. What if his sister was right and this was all a setup, some trap set by Khivar’s men? No, he shook his head, those flashes had to mean something. He didn’t know what it was, but the feeling that somehow Maria DeLuca was an important key to recent events didn’t disappear.
He turned and took off in the other direction, his long legs taking him down the hallway to the little dining room on his own side of the castle. It wasn’t as luxurious as the King’s and the servants were fewer, but at least it was quiet and he often used it to discuss events of the day with the Captain.
On his own, he opened the heavy door and stepped into the room, nodding when he saw Kyle already sitting on a chair with his breakfast in front of him. “Captain.”
The other man glanced up, knowing there was no need to straighten up and salute since he and the Commander had been on friendly terms for a while now. It was a different story on the field or around their men, but things remained relaxed when they were alone. “Good morning.”
“You look rested,” he noted as he sat down at the head of the table.
Kyle had to bit his inner cheek to keep from grinning when thoughts of his night with Tess came to mind immediately. It was the only thing that stood between him and the Commander but there was no way around it. They couldn’t tell anyone the truth since the rules on Antar stated clearly that only royal blood could be paired with royal blood and he was far from royalty. “I slept good,” he said instead. “You look… as if the morning started less than ideal.”
“The morning started out fine. Just went downhill after meeting with the Royal Ass who thinks he has any idea how to make a tactical assault.”
It was no secret that the King and the Commander didn’t get along, but Kyle was probably the only one who had the opportunity to enjoy Michael’s truest thoughts. “He’s not a warrior.”
“There’s no doubt about that.” He reached up to scratch the back of his head. “I’m tired of his bullshit,” he growled and glanced up when a servant entered with a tray. He had quickly learned and adopted the use of the Earth slang that Kyle used.
“Anything worth discussing?” the other man asked and chewed on his toast.
“No.” He smirked as he recalled the King’s expression just before he had stormed out of the war room. “Have we learned anything from our new prisoners?”
“Turns out three of them were Skins and they eliminated themselves as soon as we started to interrogate them…” Kyle sighed, “the other hasn’t said anything so far.”
“Skins. Of course.” He shook his head. For the most part they were completely untrustworthy. They were easier to kill than most of their other enemies though. “We’ll stop by the prison on our way out. I’d like to take a look at the officers we captured.”
“Sure,” Kyle finished off his coffee. “Have a look at the woman we brought in yesterday as well?”
“I’ve been to see her, yes.” He reached for a piece of toast and bit into it. “She has spirit.” Amusement lit his dark eyes when he remembered her annoyance at his declaration that her mother would be summoned to Antar.
“Spirit?” the Captain asked, confused. All he knew was he had brought a very wounded and broken woman in yesterday, and now she had spirit?
“She’s a fighter, Captain. She’s been through hell but she’s still in there.” He finished off the toast and washed it down with coffee. “She isn’t comfortable looking at me but I can’t really blame her for that.”
“Yeah, considering who she’s been with the last few weeks or months,” Kyle agreed, wondering why the other man seemed to have such an interest in the woman.
“Have we received any new Intel about his location?”
His fist slammed down on the table. “I want him found!”
Kyle hesitated to empty his coffee when the other man shouted. “We will,” he said carefully, “but don’t let thoughts about the woman cloud your mind on the field when it comes to him. Rath is just waiting for you to make a mistake.”
“When I’m on the field nothing interferes with my concentration. Rath will pay for what he’s done and I will be the one to exact revenge.”
“Of course.” He wasn’t really convinced, but he decided to let it go for his own good.
Michael glanced up when the doors were pushed open and he nodded at his sister when she entered the dining hall. “Did you have a good night?” he asked as he turned his attention back to his food.
Her gaze settled on Kyle just for a brief moment and she smiled before her features turned to iron again. “Yeah, thanks, it was okay.”
Just okay? Kyle mouthed since the Commander wasn’t looking at them.
She rolled her eyes and ignored him. He knew very well that they were walking a fine line here. “Yours?”
Michael shrugged. “It was short.” He hadn't slept much but he had become accustomed to his sleeping pattern. They didn’t require much sleep but he slept even less than what their people normally required.
“Any information about our newest…” she made a face, “guest in the castle?”
“She’s stable this morning,” her brother answered. “She’s contacting her mother.”
“Or maybe just another spy?”
Kyle glanced between them when he sensed the tension there. “Her condition when we found her would seem to indicate that her situation was genuine.”
“Yeah, that’s what worries me most, Captain,” she snorted and glared at him, knowing she would never hear the end of it when they were alone again. “I still think it’s negligent to let her wander around the castle just like that.”
“She’s under guard,” Michael said. “She’s not just wandering around unsupervised. She hasn’t even left the infirmary yet.”
“Oh, right, and you told those guards she’s not allowed to leave the room?” She snorted when she saw her brother’s expression. “No, if she wants to they would let her.”
“I didn’t say she was confined to the room. If she wants to move around then yes, I will allow it. But the guards will shadow her moves.”
“Captain,” Tess looked at her lover, her eyes challenging. “Do you agree that it’s a good idea to trust her like that already?”
Kyle cleared his throat. He didn’t believe the woman was a threat but he knew Tess would be highly suspicious of her until she could prove herself trustworthy. “I think the Commander’s taking the necessary precautions until she can be cleared of any allegiance to Khivar.”
“Why do I have to put up with men,” she muttered under her breath when her breakfast was served.
“The princess is just a few minutes’ walk from here,” Michael commented. “Go have breakfast with her.”
Posted: Sat Nov 30, 2013 1:39 pm
The King stood in the observation room, hands resting at his sides as he watched the prisoner being escorted into an interrogation cell. He was troubled after meeting with the displaced farmers and he had no outlet for his emotions. Expressing such deep emotions publicly was unacceptable for anyone of royal blood so as usual he was forced to bury those feelings and act as if he was unaffected.
Sometimes he wondered if that was why his father insisted on holding to the marriage pact he had made with the Commander’s father as part of the conditions for merging their territories. He would be the one to lead their combined kingdom but perhaps his father believed that marrying that feral female would temper the human side of his genetic makeup. The Commander and his sister were also hybrids but the more emotional side of their personalities seemed to express itself through anger and frustration rather than through the softer emotions.
To be fair, he didn’t know either of them that well. Sure, they had spent time together on Earth now and then, but after their return to Antar, the memories of that life had been forced to the background. For the most part, there was little that remained of those memories. They knew each other well from the meetings originally forced upon them by their parents upon their return. In recent years they had spent time together at political functions and meetings, and once the absurdity of building a castle to house both families had been completed, there had been the requirement of taking meals together. Now that the Commander’s father had passed on and his own father’s health was slowly declining they were able to get away with not spending much time together. Something that made the four of them perfectly happy. Things would probably be different if it weren’t for the marriage agreement their fathers had made.
It wouldn’t last though. One day the war would come to an end and he would be required by law to fulfill his destiny. He would have to wed a woman he was not interested in. It was his duty to produce an heir, although he supposed he should count himself lucky that consummation of the marriage would not be required to achieve the desired result. His position was envied by many but he wondered how envious they would be if they knew just how miserable he was.
His attention was pulled back to the present when the bars to the interrogation cell slid back into the wall with a nearly inaudible hiss and the Commander strode in, accompanied by the Captain. The Antarian sitting at the table showed no sign of emotion as he was faced with the man who was easily the most feared member of their military. He watched as the Captain walked around the table and kicked the chair out from under the Antarian, snatching it up and throwing it across the room. He didn’t understand the tactic and could only imagine it had to be some form of intimidation used on earth because he had never seen any other officer use it. The prickling sensation of a memory trying to form pulled his attention away from the scene for a moment, but it vanished from his grasp the moment he tried to take hold of it.
His eyes shifted to focus on the interrogation cell once again. The Commander moved to stand before the Antarian officer when the Captain moved the table out of the way and his eyes narrowed when he noticed the single bead of sweat that appeared at the man’s temple. He leaned forward, hands braced on the base of the viewing pane as he studied the men, taking in their actions, their words, and the silent communication that passed between the Commander and the Captain.
Michael stared into the cold ice blue eyes set into the Antarian’s face. He hid the feeling of triumph when he saw the tiny tic that indicated the man was not as calm as he wanted to appear. “What was your purpose at the camp?”
The Antarian stayed silent and straightened up every muscle in his tall body while he waited for more punishment.
“Speak,” Michael said, his voice emotionless and cold as steel.
Again, not a word passed the prisoner’s lips. He just stood and stared back at the Commander, well aware of who he was talking to. His eyes narrowed slightly, the motion hardly visible, but Kyle saw it and pulled his head back by his long white hair.
“Don’t even try your mind-warping shit on us.”
The Antarian’s gaze shifted to him and his eyes expressed disgust as they slid over the human. “Holding an officer is an offense punishable by death. Khivar will take pleasure in killing you.”
Kyle snorted. “Do you think Khivar gives a shit about you? He wants us dead with or without your captivity. He won’t even blink over your death.”
“You are mistaken, human,” he sneered.
Michael’s right hand shot out to wrap around the thin blue throat and pinning the officer to the wall. The presence of so many officers in the camp indicated that something was going on. Something big was being planned. “As much as you despise humans you should know that oxygen deprivation to the brain is something that affects humans and Antarians alike,” he said as his grip tightened.
“At least we are smart enough to not destroy our planet, which gives us that much needed oxygen,” he croaked and focused on Kyle again. “OUR planet, human.”
The Commander squeezed his hand tighter and tipped his head to one side to study the prisoner when his shackled hands came up to wrap around his wrist. “You are of no use to me if you do not answer my questions,” he warned.
“Neither … am… I… if I die silent,” he replied, his voice strangled.
“I don’t negotiate,” Michael grated out. “If you won’t speak while you’re alive then it makes no difference to me if you’re dead.”
“You will kill me afterwards anyway.”
Michael smiled slowly. If only it were that easy. “We imprison our captives. Death is your choice.”
The Antarian stayed silent for a moment while he weighed his options. It was either tell them something and go back to prison and probably die later at Khivar’s hand, or die now. He gave the Commander a slight nod, as much as his current position allowed.
Michael slowly eased his grip, allowing the man to breathe, but didn’t remove his hand from his throat. “You provide us with information or you will be executed.”
“We were meeting at the north camp to upgrade our weapons,” the blue-skinned alien said.
In the observation room Max’s eyebrows quirked. His gaze shot to Michael to judge his reaction, not surprised by the lack of emotion on his face. They had picked up chatter about weapons being upgraded but so far they had learned nothing they could act upon.
“There were no weapons caches found at the north camp,” Michael said as he ran over the list of contraband that had been confiscated.
The alien laughed, but to Kyle’s ears in sounded more like a growl. “The weapons storehouse was not in the camp. We are not fools.”
“Give us the location.”
“2° south of sun 1, 56° west of sun 2.”
Michael studied him for a moment, assessing his demeanor. “How is it guarded?”
“I do not have that information.”
Kyle shook his head. “You’re an officer.” Foot soldiers wouldn’t know how it was guarded, but as an officer he would have knowledge of the protection assigned to a weapons cache.
“Smart human,” the Antarian hissed.
“The implication is that you know exactly how it’s guarded,” Michael warned, tightening his grip again.
“It was set up only a few suns ago because of our losses in the western camp. Considering the distance I’d say it has fewer guards than necessary.” He looked at the Commander intensely. “I haven’t been there, I do not know if all of the guards who were assigned to it made it there.”
“Do I need to remind you the punishment for falsifying information is death?” he asked calmly.
The alien laughed. “Death is the top prize for anything lately, isn’t it?”
“It is in the case of our enemies.” He turned and motioned to the sentries posted at the doorway. “Take him to his cell.”
Kyle waited until the prisoner was taken away. “Do you believe him?”
“If the information is false he knows his life is forfeit.”
Kyle looked at the now closed door. “I don’t trust him.”
“Neither do I.”
They turned at the sound of footsteps and a moment later the King appeared in the doorway.
“If there is a storehouse of upgraded weapons we can’t risk it falling into enemy hands,” Max said.
“This smells like a trap,” Michael barked.
“They’re killing innocents and they’re moving further into our territory!” Max argued. His mind was still on the meeting with the farmers.
“They will kill many more if this is a trap and they ambush us.”
“And if his information is accurate? What then? Our enemy will be armed with upgraded weapons.” Max shook his head. “If there are weapons we must confiscate them.”
The Commander moved forward to stand before the King. “You don’t have to tell me that. It’s my job. So why don’t you just let me do my job and you do yours, Your Highness?”
The King’s eyes narrowed. “Part of my job is making sure you do your job,” he said, knowing it would piss the Commander off. His voice hardened, “Take possession of those weapons.”
Michael’s jaw clenched a few times as he tried to control the urge to become violent. He stared into Max’ eyes coldly but his words were directed at Kyle when he spoke. “Captain, we’re leaving.”
“Commander,” Max said, his voice authoritative.
Michael stopped in his tracks but didn’t turn to look at him.
“What do you intend to do about the potential weapons cache?”
“If there are weapons, you’ll get them,” he growled back, indirectly answering the question.
Max stood there when the Commander waited a moment before continuing on his way. His back teeth ground together as he followed him out of the room.
Liz cursed under her breath as she ran down yet another corridor. The damn things all looked alike and she felt like she was running in endless circles. The day before Alex had sent someone for her to show her the way and she had assured the woman that she would be fine on her own going forward. “Nothing like looking like a moron your second, no, your third day on a new planet,” she muttered as she backtracked and turned down another corridor.
Not to mention being late. She had been warned that the man charged with managing the kitchen and staff was not a tolerant man. But if anyone had bothered to explain that Antarian alarm clocks were so complex she might have set the damn thing correctly. The scent of food caught her attention and she decided she had to be going in the right direction. She made another turn and heard the noisy clatter of the kitchen staff as the preparations for day’s meals got underway.
The day before had been an easy day and she’d had the opportunity to familiarize herself with the smaller kitchen the staff used at times. She hadn’t met the man who managed the kitchen staff yet and from what she had heard about him she wasn’t in any hurry to. The few staff members she had met the day before had muttered the word tyrant several times in conversation so she wasn’t holding her breath that this guy was going to be pleasant to work for.
She burst through the doorway and was forced to come to an immediate stop when a tall man suddenly appeared before her. She tried not to stare but she still wasn’t used to coming into contact with the blue-skinned Antarians. She took a calming breath and smiled up at him. “Hi, I’m – “
“I know who you are,” he bit out, his tone cold and unfriendly. “You humans have no respect for time and no appreciation for the work that must be done to maintain the royal family.” He tipped his head back to stare down his nose at her and one white eyebrow quirked as his golden eyes narrowed. “You will be charged with cleaning after the meal.”
Liz decided to ignore his obvious dislike. For the moment. Besides, how seriously could you really take someone named Wilgor? “I was hired as – “
“It is not my concern what you believe your duties to be. I am Wilgor, manager of daily duties, and you will follow my orders without question. The royal family will not be kept waiting.”
She gritted her teeth. What a pompous ass! “I was under the impression we prepared meals for both families.”
“We may prepare meals for both families, but our primary duty is to King Zander and his family.”
Which would also include the ice queen, she thought. “Of course.”
Wilgor took a step back. “You will assist Nisha with preparing the meal and then you will serve the princess.” His lips curled slightly at the thought. A mistake would be unnecessary to unleash the princess’s temper. “After the meal, you will clean.”
She was about to protest and tell him that she was a cook, not a waitress, but bit her lip when she could see his eyes widening and nearly ready to pop out of his head with the realization that she wanted to object.
His golden eyes gleamed at the prospect of a challenge. That type of disrespect would allow him to remove her from his staff. Technically the staff belonged to the royal family but he considered it his own because he was the one who managed every detail of the day-to-day operations. “You have something to say?”
“Not at all,” she mumbled and walked past him, wondering why the real Antarians where so different from the hybrids. Well, maybe not if you were the princess, she thought.
“I have heard that humans are unaware of their place,” Wilgor said conversationally. “You will do well to learn quickly.”
“Unaware of their place?” she asked with a frown on her face as she realized that all the others in the room had ducked their heads.
“It is no wonder that your civilization has failed,” he went on. “And now your parasitic race is latching onto ours in an effort to crawl up from the hole you have created.”
“If I remember right it was Antarians who first looked for a safe place on Earth, isn’t that so?” she snapped back.
“You blame Antar for the decline of your civilization?” Humans really were delusional, he mused silently.
She snorted. “I don’t blame anyone. I’m just saying that your race is also not perfect.”
His head lifted again, his nostrils flaring as her defiant tone succeeded in aggravating him. “Antarians are superior to humans in every possible way.”
“If you mean your coldness and the incapacity to love, then I’d have to agree with you.”
“You refer to your emotional weaknesses.” He snorted derisively. “Go and help Nisha before you make everyone late.”
Emotional weakness, she thought with an eye roll. The human race might have been weak and the things that had happened on Earth could probably be blamed on some of the weaknesses in people’s behaviors and the human races tendency to destroy good things, but love was not a weakness.
Wilgor moved on to the next station, his mood setting the others on edge. He was rigid and his management style ensured that everything ran smoothly.
Nisha looked up when she was joined by the new help. She smiled in greeting and nodded at their manager. “Wilgor is not easy to work for but the princess favors him.”
“Yeah, I can see why,” Liz winked at her.
“Have you been presented to the princess yet?”
“No, but I have heard about her…”
The woman laughed and reached for a knife. “She is also not easy to please.”
“Well, I guess there are always people who like to be the reason for trouble, doesn’t matter which race, huh?”
“She enjoys being the center of attention and she especially enjoys tormenting the King’s advisor.”
“He picked me up from the space station yesterday,” Liz nodded. “I had the feeling they have kind of a hate/hate relationship, but there was also some sexual tension.”
Nisha laughed but quickly subdued it when she caught Wilgor’s disapproving look. “Yes, it is obvious. The advisor is...” she frowned as she tried to get the words right. “Hmm, I have heard the Commander’s second use the term... winding her up? Is that correct?”
Liz chuckled. “Yeah I think that’s correct.” She grabbed some what looked like onions but smelled like cheese and started to cut through it. “How’s the other family? Ya know, the Commander’s side?”
“They are... difficult,” she said after a moment. “Their family is made up of warriors and they do not understand diplomacy. It often creates conflict between the families.”
“What about how they treat their servants?”
“Their servants are treated differently. I do not wish to say better because we are not ill-treated.” She chuckled softly. “Yes, dealing with the princess is a challenge and she makes many servants miserable because she herself is miserable, but the job is not so bad. The Commander’s family is not as demanding though; they are more self-sufficient and often prefer to do things for themselves.”
“I do not think any of you is here to run your mouths about the people you work for,” Wilgor growled angrily when he picked up just a few words from the conversation going on. He slammed his fisted hand on the table, so that it cracked down the middle.
“If we aren’t saying anything that isn’t true why should we be forbidden to say it?” Liz asked as she met his gaze directly. This man was unbearable.
He narrowed his eyes at her and waved his hand. “Balmor,” he barked, calling for a servant at the entry to the kitchen. “I think the new kitchen help wants to experience what we do with rotten little humans who do not obey the royal family.”
“Come with me.” Balmor motioned for the new servant to accompany him as he turned to leave the kitchen. He led the way down another corridor and he nodded at the sentries posted at the heavy double doors. The men opened the doors and he gestured for her to go ahead of him.
Liz gasped when they stepped out and the burning heat hit her exposed skin. “Where are we going? Is it supposed to be this hot in the mornings?” She felt like she was burning under the suns.
He barely spared her a glance. “Is it hot?” he asked snidely. He was Antarian and accustomed to the heat. It was just another reason why Earthlings were not suitable for life on Antar.
“Don’t worry,” someone hissed at her and it sounded like another human. “The sun here is different. It feels like it’s burning through your skin, but it won’t harm you no matter how long you stay outside.”
Balmor walked down the stone steps and around the side of the castle. “This central area here is where the soldiers housed in the barracks take their meals when weather permits.” He motioned to the rows of tables set up with dirty dishes strewn across the surface. “As you can see, the morning meal has been finished.” He glanced up at the sky. “The off-duty soldiers will expect lunch when the larger sun is at its highest point in the sky.” He nodded at the tables. “You will be expected to have this cleaned and the tables prepared for the noon meal prior to their arrival.”
She didn’t feel like working in the heat was possible and she checked her arms again, sure that there were already blisters on her skin, but it looked fine. Sunglasses were handed to her from the Antarian in front of her and she sighed thankfully when she slipped them on and could feel the release at least in her eyes. Must be the golden color that protected them from the aggressive sunlight, she mused. “Where I am supposed to wash the dishes?”
“There is a washroom right through here,” he turned and motioned to a smaller entry. “Once the dishes are cleaned, dried, and stacked, they can be carried back out and set up.” His eyes hardened. “The soldiers are responsible for the protection of the kingdom. The least you can do is to make certain their dishes are clean and their food is hot.”
I doubt anything can get cold in this heat, Liz thought with an internal eye roll, but she didn’t say anything and reminded herself that she was here of her own free will and she had wanted this job. Anything was better than staying on Earth!
“Today is an easy day. There are less than a hundred soldiers in the barracks today.” Balmor watched her, waiting to see if she would refuse to do the job or try to whine her way out of it.
“Better get to work then,” she muttered and walked towards the tables, aware of the fact that all eyes of the few servants and soldiers around were set on her when she did.
Wilgor stepped outside. “Watch her. Report to me when she has completed her task.”
“… so don’t worry about me, okay? I’m fine.” Maria forced a smile and could only hope that it didn’t look as fake as it felt. “I love you, Mom,” she whispered and turned the camera in front of her off quickly so the tears that spilled over wouldn’t be seen on the video mail she was allowed to send to her mother back home.
She wiped her face with both of her hands, taking in some deep breaths to collect herself when the door was suddenly opened again. She flinched and looked up, relaxing when she noticed the doctor from the day before.
“Are you finished?” Collon asked her.
Maria nodded wordlessly and moved back further into her bed again when he took her wrist to check her pulse. It took all of her strength to stay calm and resist the urge to rip her arm from him when the feeling of being touched was worse than the burning suns outside in the mornings.
He nodded to himself and wrote something down on a notepad before he looked at her. “I want you to go out into the courtyard for a bit. The temperatures are comfortable for humans now and you need to loosen your muscles a bit while a servant cleans this room.”
She shook her head in refusal, but when he looked at her with his piercing golden eyes, she just got up slowly and winced at the stiff feeling of her muscles.
“It will not seem like it now, but some time outdoors will make you feel better. Lying in bed too long is not good for the body and fresh air and sunlight are a necessity.”
“I’m going,” she said defensively and took a step back when he reached for her arm to guide her.
“Very well.” Collon reminded himself that she needed to feel in control, especially of her own body. And while he didn’t understand the Commander’s interest in the patient, he had no doubt the man would be displeased if anything upset her.
Maria went to put her shoes on and gestured to the door. “Lead the way.”
He nodded to the guard at the door, giving just the slightest incline of his head to let the man know to follow them. He glanced at his patient, noting the stiffness in her movements. “The more you move the more your body will begin to lose the stiffness you are experiencing,” he assured her.
“Okay,” she said hoarsely and kept walking. There was a light pain in her upper left leg that came upon her suddenly, but it wasn’t that bad so she ignored it instead of having the doctor have a look at it.
“Our records indicate you were working in a field hospital. Were you a medic on Earth?” he asked curiously. His access to her records only extended to what he was required to know to treat her.
“I was a nurse still in training,” she said while they walked down the long dark corridors.
“Much of our medical treatment is different here. The treatments are not as lengthy and healing time is not as it is on Earth.”
“Yeah, well, we didn’t have all those secret powers and healing plants and stuff on our planet.”
“Secret powers?” His lips lifted at the corners at her humorous description. Perhaps on Earth they would have been secret, but on Antar the powers shared by certain Antarians was public knowledge. Not every Antarian had powers and not all that had them shared that information with the public, but it also wasn’t a protected secret.
“Well… whatever you wanna call your mind warp and dream walking and healing,” she grated out. Healing was probably a good one, but the rest were just cruel and she had experienced them more than once while she had been held at Rath’s camp.
He wondered what she was thinking when her expression became distant. “I understand on Earth you have something called a counselor,” he started uncomfortably. Even though he was a doctor he was out of his comfort zone when it came to discussing emotions. “If you wish to talk...”
She shook her head. “Talking about it will sure as hell not help me to forget it.”
“Of course.” Relief flooded his system. The concept of discussing feelings was beyond his understanding. “Have you made alliances since you arrived on Antar?” What was the human word? he wondered when she looked at him in confusion. “Friends. I believe that is the word your people use.”
“Do dead people count?” she asked bitingly. After Rath had overrun her camp and taken her as his own prisoner, she doubted that there was anyone left who had survived that cruel bastard.
“Perhaps there is someone you bonded with? A...” he searched his Earth vocabulary again. “A lover? Someone we can contact for you to let them know you have been found.”
A lover? She almost laughed at that. Almost. “There’s no one,” she told him quietly.
“Of course.” He nodded at the sentries as they approached the doors and they quickly complied, pulling them open and allowing the sunlight to stream into the corridor. “You should feel better after some time out here,” he said, grateful to escape because he felt like he was making things worse. “I will leave the sentries to watch over you.”
Maria stepped out and squinted a few times against the bright sunlight until her eyes slowly got used to it. It wasn’t as bad as it was in the mornings and she didn’t need sunglasses at this time of day anymore.
The sky was bathed in a slight red, announcing the setting of sun number one in the near future. Her steps were small and unsure first as she walked further outside, not really having a clue where to walk to.
Across the courtyard a young woman watched over a child as she played. The little girl clapped her hands before making a lunge for a colorful insect that was similar to a butterfly. She scrunched her face up when her intended target flew away and she reached out to hold onto her caretaker’s leg as her gaze moved around. Her eyes widened in interest when she spotted the new arrival and she slowly started to cross the yard, chattering happily even though no one knew what she was saying.
Maria watched the carefree little girl as she made her way over the soft grass. Her eyes widened slightly when she realized that she was coming towards her, her intention obviously to take a hold on her. Torn between running away and bending down, she just froze in place and waited to see what would happen.
Amela’s last couple of steps faltered and she made a sound of surprise as she reached out and latched onto the woman’s legs. She tipped her head back and smiled widely, revealing four little teeth.
From all appearances, the little one was human, but she could also be a hybrid. Maria struggled with herself until she finally gave in and crouched down in front of her. “Hey…” she said and her voice still sounded weak to her own ears. “Who are you, huh?”
The little girl started to converse unaware that the woman she was talking to had no idea what she was saying.
Maria smiled sadly and ruffled Amela’s hair. “Be glad to be so little these days.”
Amela reached up to touch the woman’s hand. “Da?”
“Hmm, if you’re referring to your daddy then I really have no clue who or where he is.”
The little girl frowned and her mouth worked as she tried to formulate another word. “No Da?” She looked around for a moment before lifting her gaze to the woman and holding her hands up.
“I don’t know if this’s such a good idea, sweetie,” Maria whispered when the girl wanted to be picked up. She looked up to find her caretaker, but instead she came into contact with a pair of ice blue cold eyes, staring down at her.
Posted: Sat Nov 30, 2013 1:40 pm
“What do you think you’re doing?” Tess demanded as she scooped Amela up in her arms.
Maria got up quickly and took a step back. She wasn’t quite sure, but from the woman’s looks she could be speaking to the princess. “She came to me, I didn’t mean to…” Did she know about the Commander bringing her here to the castle? she wondered. “Dr. Collon wanted me to go outside for a bit.”
Tess narrowed her eyes. Was the human being smart with her? Or was that a genuine answer? “Not what you’re doing outside,” she barked. “What you’re doing here, in the castle.”
Maria narrowed her eyes at the other woman. “Did the Commander not tell you?”
“I’m not asking the Commander, I’m asking you.” Her annoyance spiked when the woman came right back at her with a response.
“He had me brought here,” the human woman said, sure this was just a baiting game for the princess and she knew exactly the reason she was here. “I….” she swallowed, unable to get the words out that reminded her of what had happened back in the camp.
Amela whimpered when the tension increased and she looked at the woman holding her. “Da?”
Tess’ features softened when she looked at the girl in her arms. “He’s not here, baby girl.”
“Is her father one of the soldiers?” Maria asked hesitantly.
“You have no right to asks questions here,” the princess spit out. “I don’t trust you and I don’t want to see you anywhere near this child.”
She shrank back at the venom in the other woman’s tone. “I wouldn’t hurt her.”
“I don’t trust anyone who was found on the other side. Wounded or not, my brother might be blind to it for some reason, but I’m gonna watch you, Earthling. Be sure of it.”
“Your brother... is the Commander?”
Tess narrowed her eyes on Maria and concentrated when she was asked a question she was sure as hell the other woman knew the answer to.
“No, don’t do that!” The human woman panicked when she realized what the princess was going to do. She was going to use her freaky powers to read what was on her mind. Her hands came up to protect her head even though she knew it was useless because it wouldn’t help at all. It had never helped when Rath and his men had tried to get into her head again and again.
Tess felt a moment of triumph when she found a tiny opening and she pushed her way in. Images hit her, but most of them were muted and dark, and she was unable to distinguish one from the next. Her eyes snapped open and she stared at the woman when she was suddenly pushed back, mentally catapulted from her mind. “You can try to hide the truth but I will find it.”
Maria just shook her head in pain, thrown back to the days when she had been in the enemy camp, when the mind warping thing had whirled up all the memories buried in her mind. She held both hands against her temples while she tried to breathe evenly, but the air came out in ragged pants. “Why are you doin’ this to me?” she whispered thickly. “The Commander said I was safe here…”
Tess glared at her. “My brother is not your savior. He may have brought you here to keep you safe for whatever reason but I know differently. You’re not the one who needs to be kept safe.”
“I’m going back inside,” Maria said and stumbled backwards, desperate to get away from the woman who was hurting her. She didn’t expect it when a stinging pain in her left side suddenly made her gasp for air and both of her hands shot to that part of her body to hold onto it.
The sentries that had been ordered to remain at their post by the princess moved quickly when the woman began to fall. They caught her to prevent her from falling to the ground and even though she was holding her side she tried to fight their grip. One of them grabbed a communication device from his belt and shouted for Dr. Collon to be sent to the courtyard.
The man was out in a matter of seconds and he looked around in irritation until he located the men holding his patient. “What happened?”
The shorter of the sentries glanced at the princess but remained silent when the other man spoke up.
“She grabbed her side a moment ago and she appears to be in pain, sir. She began to collapse for no apparent reason.”
“Can you walk?” he asked Maria when it seemed like the pain has faded a bit.
“I think so,” she breathed raggedly.
He nodded and signaled for the sentries to leave her alone so he could walk her inside. Once they were back in her room he helped her to lie down and went to get his equipment. “Please release the area which was causing pain free of any clothes,” he told her.
Maria pushed the material out of the way, reluctantly revealing her skin to the doctor.
“What did you feel?” he asked, confused when he applied slight pressure and ran his hand over the section she had indicated but couldn’t find any sign of damage.
“A sharp, stabbing pain that was hot.”
“Can you still feel it?”
“Barely, it’s like it’s fading.” Her expression was confused as she looked at him. “What was it?”
Collon looked just as confused as Maria felt. “I am not quite sure, but you seem to be okay. Tell me immediately though if it happens again.” He scratched his neck. “It could be a pulled muscle; perhaps you just moved the wrong way.” It was doubtful though. He made a mental note to talk to the Commander about it. If he agreed they could run her through a check in the laboratory to make sure she didn’t have some kind of implanted communicator or something else.
Maria frowned. He was a doctor that worked directly with the Commander so he had to be one of the best on staff. Shouldn’t he be able to determine what had caused the pain?
“I don’t have a good feeling about this,” Kyle said, pressing his back against the rock formation where the Commander and his troops were hiding from hostile attack.
Michael glanced at the sun-oriented compass in his hand to make sure they were at the position the prisoner had given them. “Haven’t had a good feeling in a very long time now,” he growled, not liking this situation either. It had been too easy to get the information out and it stunk of a trap. He lifted his gaze and made eye contact with an officer crouched down across from him several feet away. His hand came up and he made a sign to his left with his index and middle finger, then turned his hand and showed him four fingers up.
The officer nodded and took four of their soldiers to sneak over the ground to get to another rock formation a short distance from where they were right now.
“Take four men and make it to the trees on our right,” the Commander ordered further with a low but unambiguous voice. “You wait there and wait for further instructions.” He took Kyle’s radio out of his uniform and turned it off. “Keep eye contact, no radios.”
The Captain nodded and pointed at the men who he had chosen to follow him, nodding to the trees and leading them on.
The Commander studied their target, unable to stop the annoying itch at the back of his neck that warned him this was a trap. It was a suicide mission. He knew he was going to lose men to get his hands on a weapons cache that might or might not exist at this location. The men under his command were brave, they were fearless, but they weren’t fools. He had spoken with them, explaining the mission and his belief that it was a trap, and then requested volunteers. He refused to order good men into what he was certain was a trap. Not a single one of his soldiers had stood back and in the end he’d had Kyle select them using a lottery of sorts.
His eyes narrowed when he caught just the slightest flash of movement and he shifted cautiously. He brought the field glasses up to his eyes and focused them on the area of movement. He recognized the uniform worn by Khivar’s troops and he felt himself tensing for battle. He scanned the area, searching for more movement and not finding any. They were hidden well, he decided.
He glanced at his second in command and gave a nod.
Kyle turned to the soldiers with him and gestured to a section to their right. He stayed on the ground as they started to steal along the dry ground, careful to make as little sound as possible.
His body came to a sudden stop and he held his hand outstretched behind him to tell his men to stop where they were. There was a single enemy soldier hiding behind a small thicket of brush. He hadn’t detected them yet and he was desperate to eliminate him before he could blow the horn to announce an attack.
Michael pressed a button on the side of the field glasses, zooming in on the area Kyle was moving in on. He caught the edge of the uniform worn by the lookout as the man turned, bringing him into full sight. He watched dispassionately as Kyle lunged, left hand over the Antarian’s mouth as he drew his blade across the man’s throat.
Blood that was white in color and only existed in full-blood Antarians spurted from the gaping wound, the arterial spray covering Kyle’s uniform and soaking it in places. How many times had the two of them joked about the white blood? He shook the thought off and looked to his right, motioning for the four-man unit to move in.
The officer nodded and moved along the outcropping of rocks on his left. He pressed his back against them as he reached the very end and leaned around them just enough to get a look at what was ahead of them.
“Two sentries about ten sword-lengths away,” he told his soldiers and pointed at two of them. “No protection after this, so we need to take them out from here.” He looked back at the Commander, making two sharp moves with his hands to let him know that they couldn’t operate covertly from their location. He waited patiently, ordering his men to take bows and arrows out, and took a deep breath when he got the nod from his superior to begin the operation.
Michael wasn’t in a position to see what his men were faced with and as much as he hated that he had learned long ago that he had to trust his men to do their jobs. He could easily picture the men taking up their positions, locking the arrows into place, lining up their targets, and firing as a single unit. They would take out their targets in a way that would leave them unable to warn the others, getting them one step closer to their goal.
The officer signaled him, giving him the all-clear and he nodded. He motioned, giving the order for the man to move his team in closer. He would take his team straight up the middle once the other two teams were in place.
Kyle squinted against the sun when movement caught his eyes, but it was gone by the time his eyes focused on the dusty ground. The air glimmered from the second sun, making it hard to see anything that might be hidden at ground level.
There is was again. It looked like a small part of the helmet their enemies wore, but he wasn’t quite sure, so he blinked a few times to clear his vision and get a better view. His heart stopped beating for a few seconds when he caught another small movement that indicated hidden enemy soldiers. His gaze shot over to Michael and he made the sign to cancel the operation, but it was already too late. As soon as he lifted his arm he heard a whizzing sound and a moment later one of his men let out a quiet groan and his body fell to the ground lifelessly as an arrow pierced his heart.
Michael led his team into the nest occupied by the enemy, not looking back when he heard a body fall to the ground. It was the price of war and in a situation like this casualties weren’t a questionable variable, they were a known fact. Arrows were a silent, but deadly weapon, effective for putting an enemy down and undetectable if you weren’t listening for the disruption in the air around you.
He felt the slight burn in his upper left thigh as one shot by him close enough to wound but not bring him down. He pushed forward, raising his sword and slashing it through the air to drop the Antarian that was charging him. He moved on, not sparing a glance at the fallen man and not looking over his shoulder when another of his men fell.
Kyle was the only one left from his team when he saw the last solider at his side going down from the corner of his eye. He ducked and rolled over the ground when a row of arrows flew through the air. He could feel something wet on his cheek, almost certain it was blood from a graze, but he didn’t care at the moment. It was a battle against time. Whoever was faster in taking the enemy down won the battle. His sword cut through blue skin when he reached the hostile front; Antarians were going down on either side of him while he kept moving forward.
A determined scream made him shift his gaze slightly and he saw an Antarian soldier, probably no older than 16, running towards him, holding a sword high over his head. He already saw his own death before his eyes when the young soldier suddenly went down and the Commander came into sight as the body fell to the ground. They nodded at each other silently before the battle went on.
The battle went on for what seemed like hours but Michael knew the passage of time was so much shorter. In the brief moments he had to do a visual sweep he located his men, only able to account for a small handful of them. It was a bloodbath and as he and Kyle fought their way to the center of the fight to take out the archers that were dropping their men, two more fell. When he had first gone into battle he had arrogantly kept a mental scorecard, counting off the bodies he had left lying on the field. War had made him older and wiser and he knew now that the body count didn’t matter.
He felt the air shift around him and as he raised his sword, turning to bring it down against whoever was attacking from the rear, he felt a sharp, searing pain in his left side. He fought against the urge to fall, forcing his knees to lock as he cut down the soldier before he could bring his own sword down against him. He glanced down at the arrow that had punctured his skin. Pulling it out wasn’t an option and punching it through wasn’t either because he would bleed out if it had hit any vital organs.
“Captain,” one of the soldiers called to get his attention when all enemy soldiers around them were taken down for the space of a moment. He pointed at the wounded Commander five sword-lengths away from them.
Kyle nodded. “Take the right flank,” he ordered and went on immediately to help his friend and superior. He brought his sword up high and slammed it into the muscled midsection of the Antarian that was coming up to attack Michael from behind. The Commander was busy with taking out another one and the Captain could see his rather uncoordinated movements, indicating that the injury was already affecting him.
Michael dropped the tip of his sword to rest on the ground when the last soldier fell. “Captain, secure the weapons. Let’s find out what we’ve got. Set up a perimeter and let’s get a team out here to collect our dead.” He aimed a kick at the rebel soldier at his feet, ignoring the pain the move caused. “Burn the rest.”
Kyle ignored his orders for a moment when he had a better look at the arrow still protruding from the Commander’s left side. “Understood,” he muttered and looked up. “You should head back to the castle. I’ll handle things here.”
Michael shook his head, grimacing in pain as he held the arrow steady and broke the longest part of the arrow off. “I need to know what my men died for today.”
“Put them in a stack,” Kyle hollered to the few remaining soldiers, motioning to the dead bodies of their enemies. “Check them for any plans, orders for camps, and weapons before you move them.” He pointed at two men. “Follow me.”
The Commander watched his men as they checked the enemy soldiers for anything of use before dragging them over to a clearing and piling their bodies up. Only seven, himself and the Captain included. He shook his head at the senselessness of the mission. He didn’t care how much pain he was in; if they didn’t walk away from this with something of value his first stop would not be the infirmary.
“Nothing here, Captain,” one of the soldiers said when he stepped back out of a small hole that led into a cavern underground. “Just some swords, a few sacks of corn.”
Kyle heard what he said and moved on without looking around. He walked to a small lonely building and used his booted foot to kick the door open, ready to kill whoever was inside. A soft scream could be heard and his eyes collided with two young female Antarians, crouched down on the floor. They were the only occupants in the room and after he had checked them for brands and finding none, he moved them out into the daylight. “Out,” he barked.
Michael was leaning heavily on his sword when two females rushed through the doorway and the look on the Captain’s face identified them as rebels instead of prisoners. He called to one of the men hauling enemy bodies to the pile and then motioned to the women. “Shackle them. We’ll take them back to be questioned. Be careful of their hands,” he warned. The women were both full-blooded Antarians and they had the ability to extend their nails at will. He had seen the razor-sharp nails slice cleanly through flesh before retracting.
Kyle waited for two other men to report back before he went to Michael again. “Nothin’. A few swords and what appear to be plans for a small camp in the south. That’s it.” Frustration could easily be seen in his face when he crouched down in front of a fallen solider. He opened the uniform the hybrid man was wearing and tugged his dog tags out, ripping them from his neck and resting his flat hand against the stiff body for a moment of peace.
“Find out where the king is. I don’t care if he’s in a diplomatic meeting or taking a crap, he and I are about to come face-to-face over this.”
“You’re gonna see a doc first,” Kyle said, knowing he had no right to order the Commander around, but he was speaking as a friend to him and not as his Captain.
The Commander growled, the sound feral and intimidating to most people. Not the Captain of course, he noted with some annoyance. “I’ll see the doctor first, but only so I don’t fall on my face in front of the king. I wouldn’t want him to mistake it for a worshipful pose.”
The Captain nodded and glanced around the field, taking in all of the dead bodies. “Let’s get outta here,” he said, his voice exhausted and resigned.
“The families will have to be notified.” The Commander rubbed his face, drawing in a deep breath as he straightened up and sheathed his sword.
Liz walked outside feeling like she was walking on broken glass. Her feet were killing her after being on them for the past few hours nonstop. The shoes she had been given to go with her uniform didn’t fit as well as they should and as a result they hurt so bad she wanted to cry. But since that wasn’t an option at the moment she was limping along like she was about a hundred years old.
She stepped out into the early evening air, thankful that it felt much cooler. She looked around the courtyard and spotted the reflecting pool that dominated the center. Tall trees grew up on either side, their tops bowed over the pool to form a soothing, shady place to relax. She hobbled out to the pool, sitting on one of the benches placed on either side of it to take off the ill-fitting shoes. She placed her feet against the concrete, surprised to feel that it was cool to the touch. She had expected it to still be hot, retaining the heat of the afternoon suns.
She gingerly made her way over to the pool and sat at its edge, thankful that the uniform skirt kept her from having to do anymore work. She dipped her toes into the pool, sighing in relief as the comfortably warm water surrounded her aching feet. She leaned back and rested her hands on the concrete, absentmindedly running her hands over the surface and realizing that it wasn’t concrete at all. It was smooth and looked polished but she couldn’t identify the material.
Her mind went back over her day and that asshole Wilgor. She would be happy to never see him again but unfortunately he was now going to be part of her daily life. At least every single day that she worked. He took his job seriously, and she could appreciate that, but he was a tyrant when it came to those who worked under his authority. One person to clean up after an entire unit, regiment, or whatever they called that many soldiers? Was he insane? He probably was after spending so many years being subjected to the suns. The part of her that had wanted to be a scientist since she was a little girl wondered at the effect of exposure to the suns. Antarians insisted that in spite of the heat, humans and Antarians alike were safe from exposure, but her brain wanted to understand how that was possible. It was so much hotter on Antar than it was on Earth, and even limited exposure to their single sun had always posed a threat.
She chuckled to herself as she remembered some of the things Nisha had told her about Wilgor. Apparently the rumors of his princess worship were true and for some reason the princess favored him according to the woman. She hadn’t said it in so many words but she had basically said that he kissed the princess’s ass on a regular basis. “Ungh,” she muttered, “that guy needs to get a new hobby.”
She heard a sound behind her but she was so busy with her thoughts and the relief her feet were getting that she didn’t pay any attention to it.
“Interesting,” Isabel snarled from where she was sitting on a bench a few feet away from Liz.
She turned her head to glance at the woman who had spoken. The princess, of course. She had seen her picture in several rooms when Alex had taken her on a tour through the castle but she hadn’t met her in person until now. “Interesting?” she echoed.
“I appreciate Wilgor’s work very much,” the taller woman said with a smug grin, letting the little servant know that she was aware of what she had been thinking.
Liz shifted away from the other woman as her insinuation became clear. “You were reading my thoughts?” She had heard that some Antarians had that ability but she had been assured that it was considered an invasion of privacy.
Isabel shrugged and relaxed in her seat. “I like to know who to trust.” It had been easy to read her since she had been occupied and unaware of her. It was a different story when people actually knew of her presence.
“Considering the process I had to go through to be hired, I would think that would be assurance enough.” Talking to the princess like this probably wasn’t wise, but she wasn’t comfortable with the other woman having access to her innermost thoughts.
“Considering the process,” Isabel mocked, “you should know better than to bathe your feet in a royal fountain.” Isabel glared at her.
“Alex said the courtyard was open for anyone to enjoy. He didn’t say anything about the fountain being off-limits.”
“So just because we allow everyone to enjoy the beauty of our courtyard means you can bathe your feet in here?”
Liz swallowed hard. Surely if there was some rule against sticking her feet in the pool Alex would have mentioned that. Right? “Is it against the rules?”
“It’s common knowledge,” Isabel spit out.
She sighed. Somehow she just knew there would be no pleasing this woman. “I think I’ll just go back to my room.”
“Isabel,” someone called and Alex grinned when she rolled her eyes at hearing his voice.
Liz turned her head and smiled at the friendly man. He held an important position with the royal family but he maintained his own personality. “Hi, Alex.”
He greeted her with a friendly nod before he turned to the princess again. “The King wants to talk to you.”
“Then the King should put his feet to use. I am not here to cater to him.”
“I knew she would say that,” Max said when he joined them and got a glimpse of her shocked face before the emotions were locked up again.
“What could you possibly need that you have to send your pet out to summon me?” she asked, her tone bored.
“I don’t want anything, I just have information for you.”
“Father’s finally decided to be reasonable?”
“Yeah, right before hell froze over.”
She sighed. “Then what news do you have that could possibly interest me?”
“Your fiancé was wounded in battle today,” he stated, wondering if she would shrug it off or show she had a heart for once.
“Obviously he’s still alive, which means I’m still engaged to that animal.” She shook her head at him when she realized he was watching her. “What do you want me to do? Weep for him? Pretend that it hurts me in some way that he’s injured?”
“I guess that would be too much to expect,” Max said and took a seat next to his sister while his eyes focused on the new kitchen staff member who hurried to dry off her feet. “Don’t leave on our account, Liz Parker.”
“Oh, I... I didn’t know the pool was only for use by royals.” She didn’t believe it was but she had a feeling he would clarify that for her one way or the other.
He frowned. “It’s not.”
“That’s nice.” She smiled. “I was led to believe it was.”
Max’ eyes shot to his sister immediately. “My sister likes to have her way about things. Forgive her. She’s just trying to fit her role as the ice queen.”
Alex grinned when he saw Isabel’s mask slipping. Uh-oh.
Isabel shot to her feet. “I have every right to have my way with things!” she shouted as her grasp on her temper slipped.
“People are not things.”
She fought the urge to scream in frustration and it was only made worse when she became conscious of the smirk on Alex’s face. “Shut up!” He hadn’t said a word but she could easily read his thoughts.
“I didn’t say anything,” he said, amused.
Her right hand flexed as she tried to control the urge to slap him. “Remove yourself from my path,” she ordered as she took a step towards him and he didn’t move.
“Or what?” he challenged her with glistening eyes.
Excitement thrummed through her veins at his opposition. He didn’t back down. In all the time she had known him she had never seen him back down to anyone. She wanted him and that infuriated her. Her right hand shot through the air, but instead of connecting with his face she used her powers to fling him bodily into the pool.
Liz watched the scene in front of her with wide eyes and checked on Alex when he surfaced again. “You okay?”
He ran his hand over his face and shot a smug grin at the princess. “I’m fine, Liz. The princess and I just don’t see things eye to eye very often.”
Max rested his back against the bench while he watched his sister storm off and disappear from sight. He was sure something would be destroyed as soon as she was inside the castle.
Alex hauled himself out of the pool and stood next to it, dripping water everywhere. “I suppose I’ll go find something dry to put on and hope she hasn’t gotten to my room and shredded my clothes before I get there.” He glanced at the King. “I’ll check in on the Commander and send you a report on his condition.”
“Make sure his second reports the necessary details for the meeting tomorrow,” Max said with a nod and tried to shove his worries away. As much as the Commander and he disagreed on almost everything, they could consider the war lost without him.
Liz watched Alex as he walked away, his shoes making a squishing sound. “Is the Commander a friend of yours?” she asked, seeing the concern on the King’s face.
Max almost snorted at that. “Wouldn’t call us friends, no.”
“You seem worried about his condition.”
“He’s important for us... for the war.” He shrugged and didn’t explain further. She’s just kitchen personal, he reminded himself. You’re not supposed to talk about things like this with her.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry,” she apologized when he seemed reluctant to say more.
He got up from his seat and started to mumble a goodbye when he noticed her feet were swollen. “Do your shoes not fit correctly?”
“Um...” She glanced down at her feet. “No, not really.”
“Tomorrow you will go to the clothing depot and get a pair which fit.” He pointed at a little building that looked like a shop at the other end of the courtyard. “Tell them I sent you if they won’t exchange your current pair.”
“I will, thank you.” She bit her lip to keep from saying more because his features had slipped back into the royal mask, hiding the friendlier, more open man he was capable of being.
He nodded and turned, his back straight and his head held high as he returned to the castle and the work waiting for him.
Posted: Sat Nov 30, 2013 1:40 pm
The Commander’s stony expression remained in place when the transport shuddered in response to the wind battering it. The Captain had insisted on calling for a transport once they were safely out of the area where attack by the enemy could be a potential threat. He was annoyed by his need to rely on anything, on anyone, to get him from the field back to the castle. He was aware that the longer the arrow remained embedded in his flesh the better the chances of infection were. Not to mention the imminent threat to his internal organs should he move the wrong way or too suddenly and the arrow shifted to damage something vital.
The storm had blown up out of nowhere. The only warning they’d had of the storm had been the crackle of electricity in the air. As a child the storms had always been infrequent and would pass quickly but over the past few years they had increased in both frequency and severity. Antarian historians and scientists were predicting a dangerous storm within the coming months, insisting that the smaller storms they were experiencing so often were a warning that the time was drawing closer.
He shifted to counter the turbulence that caused the transport to shudder and he tuned out the sound of the Captain verbally flaying the driver. Under normal circumstances he would be smirking at his second’s behavior but the arrow that shifted slightly with every jolt the transport received was anything but humorous. His mind shifted back to the storms. The last time Antar experienced one of the super storms had been several generations back and according to the historians the damage had been significant.
He didn’t understand all of the scientific data, nor did he wish to because there was nothing he or anyone could do to stop it from happening. All they could do was prepare. Precautions were being taken and plans were being made to minimize the damage when the big storm hit. The scientists were closely monitoring the situation, considering the possibility that the ruling family’s combined territory would not experience the worst of the storm. Even if their territory wasn’t in the storm’s direct path, they would still have the outlying areas that would likely be destroyed. A lot depended on gravitational shift and other things that were better suited for the scientists to figure out.
“We’re docking now.”
He shook the thoughts off and looked up when the Captain reached out to brace himself against the side of the transport. He glanced out through the window across from him and frowned at the flurry of activity. Dr. Collon led the way as a contingent of doctors and nurses rushed to greet the transport.
“They’re not here for you, Commander,” Kyle said with an amused smirk at the dark look on his commanding officer’s face. “The good doctor knows you’re injured but that you will arrive at the infirmary to inquire about your men. He’ll oversee the soldiers transport from the dock to the infirmary and see to their treatment. At that point he will examine and treat your injury.”
The Commander nodded and stood, growling when the Captain reached out to help him. The warning sound went ignored but the other man wisely dropped his hand as soon as he was on his own two feet. “See to the men,” he barked and carefully arranged his long coat to hide the arrow protruding from his side. He felt weak and that made him irritable. The pain he could deal with even though every step was torture because there was no way to stabilize the arrow when he moved.
“Dr. Collon,” he said with a nod when the doors slid open and the man hurried inside.
The doctor glanced over him, not liking the lack of color in the Commander’s features or the sweat beading up on his skin. He had the power to pull rank in any situation where a soldier was injured regardless of rank, but he knew better than to suggest treatment for this man before seeing to his men first. “Commander, it would be best for you to wait in my office to hear about your men. If you remain here or follow us to the infirmary you will be in the way.” He turned to the Captain. “I trust you can convince him it is best for him to be elsewhere while we treat the soldiers.”
Kyle nodded. The doctor was doing what the Commander wanted, making certain that the man’s injuries would not be visible to anyone else. The Commander refused to appear weak in the eyes of their people and as long as he could stay on his feet the doctor would follow his wishes. “I’ll see to it, Doctor.”
“Your sister’s on her way,” the Captain pointed over his shoulder to warn Michael, trying to hide his relief when he saw his lover still alive and obviously not injured after a day on the field.
“Let’s move.” The Commander had to grit his teeth against the pain as they stepped out of the transport and into the heavy wind.
Tess’ face was full of worry as she approached them. She had seen the list of fallen soldiers and it could only mean that her brother and her lover’s day must have been horrific. “Are you okay?” she demanded, looking at the Commander and hiding the slight squeeze she gave Kyle’s arm with her hand.
“I’m still standing,” Michael bit out, his response unintentionally harsh.
“No need to be mean,” she said and was about to smack his side with the back of her hand, but the Captain reacted quickly and caught her arm firmly before she could carry through.
“We should go inside as the Commander suggested,” he said, giving a sharp shake of his head to let her know the questions could wait.
Michael ignored them and stepped out to go through to the castle. He didn’t pay attention to the questions that were asked or things that were said to him, heading straight for the huge double doors.
Tess fell silent as she turned to watch her brother, studying his careful gait. “He’s injured,” she hissed at Kyle. “How serious?”
“We’ll talk inside,” he bit out.
She growled under her breath and hurried after Michael. They would discuss this later. In private. Her brother disappeared into Dr. Collon’s office and she followed without an invitation. She felt her throat clench tightly when he shrugged the heavy leather coat off of his left shoulder and then carefully eased it off of the right. Her eyes dropped to the broken arrow sticking out of his right side. He had to be in an excessive amount of pain. Wounds inflicted in this manner always were. He wouldn’t want any of their people to see him wounded because he didn’t want to appear weak in front of them. And that was something she could understand. “Michael...”
He turned to look at her and had to blink a few times since he vision was getting blurry after walking into the castle. “Get outta here, Tess.” His voice wasn’t as strong as he wanted it to be.
Kyle watched the two of them as they engaged in a battle of wills. He knew Tess understood the need to be strong in front of others but sometimes it was hard to respect those boundaries when it was someone you cared about who was pushing you away. “He’ll be fine, Corporal. The doctor will see to him as soon as the men are brought in and being seen to.”
“Why is it that you put their lives over yours?” She glared at the Commander. “Do you think it’ll help anyone if the soldiers are taken care of why you rot away slowly?”
“I seem to recall you doing the exact same damn thing when your arm was nearly severed on the battlefield! Do not tell me my men are not as important as I am!” That wasn’t what she was saying but he was in so much pain that he couldn’t focus on being patient with her.
“You should…” she stopped herself when the door swung open and Dr. Collon walked in.
“There’s no way you’ve looked over the men in such a short time,” Michael insisted, ready to send him back out.
“I have nearly a dozen doctors taking care of them,” Collon shook his head. “There are not many left to take care of,” he added quietly.
“Maybe we should give the doctor some room to work,” Kyle suggested, looking at Tess meaningfully.
“Talk to them,” Michael told the Captain before he could leave. He knew his second would know that he meant the soldiers. Normally he would speak to those who had survived himself, but he had a feeling that he just couldn’t today.
“I’ll handle it, Commander.”
Collon waited patiently until everyone else had left the room until he walked over to his equipment to get a pair of scissors. He stood in front of Michael and glanced up, thinking once again that the man before him was huge compared to most males on Antar, human or not. “I am going to cut your clothes off of you first.”
Michael nodded. “Make it quick, Doctor.”
Quick was not an option, but the doctor knew better than to say argue against his wishes. He started to cut through the fabric of the Commander’s clothing and pulled it away from the injury carefully. He could feel the muscles under his hands tighten in an effort to control the pain. “As soon as we have it out you can lie down and I will give you some meds against the worst of the pain.”
“The meds are unnecessary. Once the arrow’s out the pain will lessen.”
Collon walked over to place the scissors aside when Michael’s upper body was free and he went to get the mobile body scanner from a locker, turning it on and punching in a few numbers before he ran it in up and down in front of the arrow. It took a few seconds before the air started to rustle and a semi transparent picture of the Commander’s inner body appeared in front of them. He moved closer and his eyes narrowed as he studied everything he could see. “Your left kidney appears to be bruised from the arrow, but it doesn’t appear to be damaged beyond that.”
“The impact only bruised the kidney?” He had no idea how that was even possible. “Alright, well, get this thing out.”
“I have to saw off the end of the arrow first, so the broken ends won’t do any more internal damage when we push it through,” Collon said while he gathered everything he needed. “That will hurt, but if you manage to stay upright while I do it, it will be the best position...?”
Might hurt? he wondered. Sawing off the jagged end was going to keep the arrow moving, of course it was gonna hurt! “Go ahead.” He tensed and gritted his teeth in anticipation of the pain.
The doctor took a deep breath and took the arrow in hand to keep it as steady as possible while he placed the little saw in position. Out of the corner of his eyes he could see the man’s arms shoot out in front of him to hold onto the desk and the window to support himself when the pain increased.
A muffled sound reached Collon’s ears and it took a few seconds before he registered that they weren’t coming from the Commander. His movements stopped slowly while he listened carefully.
The Commander’s head turned sharply and his trained ears listened for the sound to repeat. He was breathing slowly in an effort to control the pain and he looked at Collon when he didn’t hear it again. “Doctor?”
“I thought I heard something,” Collon said and continued with his work. It didn’t take long until the quiet cries could be head again.
The Commander’s eyes sharpened when he recognized Maria’s voice and he glared at the doctor. “She sounds like she’s in pain. Has something happened to her?”
The doctor straightened up and was glad when the small bit of sharp arrow fell to the ground. “She was in pain today for a short while, but I could find nothing that was responsible for…” his voice faded when he realized that her pain had come from the exact same part of the body where the Commander had been wounded by the arrow.
“What is it?” he snapped when he saw the doctor’s thoughtful expression.
“I need to look in on her,” Collon said and hurried to leave the room. He would only make a fool of himself if his suspicions were wrong.
Michael shifted, doing his best not to move the arrow. He took a deep breath and held it as he moved to follow the doctor.
Maria held onto her left side firmly when the burning pain inside of her made it impossible to breathe. She sank down against the walls in the corner of her room where she had been standing at the window to look outside. What had they done to her? she wondered as she whimpered in pain. It felt worse than this morning and it wasn’t fading as quickly.
Had they done something to her body while she had been passed out so many times in the last few weeks? Another wave of pain rushed over her as if someone had rammed a stick into her side and twisted it. She curled up as much as possible, panting as sweat broke out on her face and sickness rolled over her. They should have killed me, was all she could think in that moment.
Suddenly the door to her room flew open and the doctor rushed in, glancing around furiously. He didn’t locate her immediately since his view of her was obstructed by several pieces of furniture.
Should she hide? Maria wondered for a moment, not sure if the doctor was really there to take care of her.
Dr. Collon moved around the various pieces of furniture and he paused when he located his patient, curled in on herself as if she were in excruciating pain. He glanced back at the doorway as his suspicion increased. “Tell me what is wrong,” he requested as he moved to kneel beside her.
Instead of answering him her gaze lifted when the Commander stepped into her view as well, his stern face rattled when he saw her on the ground. She gasped when her eyes went over his bare upper body and she saw the arrow sticking in his side. As if in response the pain in her side – at the exact same place where the man in front of her was hurt – increased and she had to grip onto the railing of the bed next to her to not pass out from it.
“What is the meaning of this?” the Commander demanded to know.
Before the doctor could answer, Maria rested her weight against the bed and muffled her cries of pain by pressing her mouth against the side of the mattress. “What’d you do to me?” she whispered desperately when the wave began to wash over her again.
Michael’s gaze dropped to the side she seemed to be favoring and he frowned. He had reviewed the doctor’s report and there had been no mention of a wound to her side. He took a step forward and bit back a curse when the arrow shifted and he felt like he had broken glass embedded in his intestines.
The doc got up again and placed his hands under Maria’s arms to carefully lift her up onto her bed again. “Come on, lay down,” he said as gently as possible.
The Commander ignored his own pain to reach out and help the doctor maneuver her onto the bed. “Is it an old injury?” he asked as he met her gaze.
“It’s your injury,” she croaked out without any doubt that she was right. It wasn’t like she understood it, but she was absolutely sure that his injury was somehow causing her pain. She could just feel that it was the truth.
He frowned and looked down at the arrow. “No,” he denied, “that’s not possible.”
“Touch her,” Collon said and then realized that he was not in a position to tell the Commander what he should do. “I mean, if we can make a small experiment? It might be that her pain goes away when you touch her.”
Michael was uncertain where the doctor was going with his ‘experiment’. Why would her pain cease with contact between them? “Very well.” He reached out and then hesitated. “Just... anywhere?”
Maria looked at the doctor when he nodded and then back at Michael. What if Collon was wrong and it made everything worse? “Don’t hurt me anymore,” she begged.
“Never,” he swore quietly. His hand hovered uncertainly for a moment before cautiously settling on her arm.
They held their breath for several moments and listened to the silence. Would this work? Collon wondered. If not he was sure the Commander would give him hell over it. He shook his head at the thought. He had no idea what hell was, but he had heard the man use the Earth phrase and since it was apparently something bad it seemed to fit.
“It feels different,” Maria frowned as she tried to explain her feelings. “No pain now, just…”
Michael was still holding his breath as he stared at his hand. Why was this happening? What was it about her that had allowed this... he paused, searching for the correct word and hesitating to use it when he found it. Connection. It was the only word that fit the situation but it made him uncomfortable.
Dr. Collon’s right eyebrow lifted and he leaned closer without even realizing it as he waited for her to reveal whether or not it was painful. “It is...?”
“I don’t know how to describe it,” she said when she was finally calm again. Her gaze shifted to the Commander for help and for a brief moment she felt like there was lighting in her head when their eyes met and she could see pictures of what looked like a war scene. “W-what?”
The flashes, Michael realized and jerked his hand back. He looked at the doctor and frowned at the expression of fascination on the man's face. “Explain this,” he barked.
“It seems you two are connected,” Collon said, amazed. He had read a lot about it, had seen it happen between the former king and his wife, but he had never expected it to be possible between the Commander and a human. “The very first time you touched her…” he looked at the other man, “when you found her in the enemy camp, did you feel anything?”
“The connection cannot exist outside of Antarian royalty,” Michael insisted instead of answering the question.
Maria could feel the pain coming back again as soon as she lost contact with him. She rolled over on her side and curled up when it got worse again.
“Commander,” Dr. Collon urged with a nod at the patient.
Before he could react to what the doctor was suggesting, he felt a tiny hand slipping into his, searching for his touch to ease the pain again.
“How is this possible, Collon?” he asked when her features relaxed once more.
“I am not sure. I will have to do some research and possibly run some tests since I have never heard of it happening with a human,” he answered. “But at least it is an explanation for her condition. This afternoon she was in excessive pain and based on your biometric readings it was at the time of your injury, Commander.”
“But after that she was fine again?”
Collon nodded. “Yes, she was.”
“Then why is she in pain now?”
“The connection seems to become stronger when you are closer, so that would explain why she just felt the moment of injury and then was fine again until you came back here.”
Michael sighed in frustration. “If you are correct and proximity affects her then she’ll continue to be in pain throughout the removal procedure and the time it takes the wound to heal.” He squeezed her hand unconsciously.
“At least whenever you are close to her, yes” Collon agreed with a nod.
“How do you propose to sever the connection?”
“I can’t say that at the moment, Commander,” he said. “IF that is possible, I have not heard of it yet.”
“She can’t be allowed to suffer with my pain,” he snapped. “Find a way to stop it!”
Maria listened to the conversation going on and swallowed. How was it possible that they were connected? And why? “Commander,” she tried to get his attention.
He fell silent and his gaze dropped to the woman when she spoke, his left eyebrow arching to acknowledge her.
She shook her head. “You need to remove the arrow.”
He frowned and looked at the doctor again. “Removing the arrow will be painful for her.” Having the arrow punched through was going to be painful enough for him. He didn’t want to think about what she would go through if she had to experience that pain second hand.
“I am afraid there is just no way around that. Unless…”
He latched onto that single word. “Unless what?”
He would not like the suggestion, Collon thought. “Unless we ask the King to use his healing powers.”
“The King?” Michael repeated. Just the thought of allowing the other man to heal him made his skin crawl. He knew of the King’s ability to heal, knew that it set him apart from everyone else on their planet, but he had never resorted to asking for help from the other man.
“It’s not up to me of course,” the doctor said and got up from the bed. “We must decide soon either way to prevent anymore internal damage.” He pointed at the door. “I will wait outside for your decision.”
The Commander sighed and focused on the wall across from him as he considered his options. He had no idea what happened when healing took place, what kind of connection it might open up, and the last thing he wanted was to have Max in his head. His gaze dropped to Maria. But he didn’t want her to suffer any longer either.
“Maybe the doctor can just sedate me until the worst is over,” she suggested quietly.
He shook his head. “It would only be a temporary fix for the situation. I promised I would protect you and even if that means protecting you from me, I will keep that promise.”
“But you don’t want the King to do that,” she stated and knew it was true.
“No, but I will.”
She nodded and was sure he could feel her relief because she was really not looking forward to more pain.
“I will speak with Collon, have him make arrangements with the King.”
“Okay,” she said, knowing it would mean he had to let go of her.
“Your presence will not be revealed. No one will bother you here.” He had no idea why he was stalling because the pain was getting worse and no matter how stubborn he was the pain and blood loss would eventually take him off of his feet.
“Thanks,” she said and retrieved her hand from his slowly to take the decision from him.
The Commander took a moment to collect his self, drawing himself up to his full height and composing his features into a mask of indifference before walking over to the door and pulling it open. “Doctor, summon the King.”
Collon nodded. “Of course.”
Michael went into the next room and leaned against the wall. Lying down seemed like a good idea but every movement was causing more pain and he didn’t want to make her pain worse. He wanted to understand why he was connected to a human woman, but more than that, he wanted to know why the connection was so... intense. She wasn’t Antarian royalty, wasn’t even Antarian, but there was no denying the connection.
It took a few minutes before Collon entered the room again. “The King should be here soon,” he said. “A nurse will remain with Maria during the procedure.”
“He does not need to know of her presence in the castle.”
The doctor nodded. “Of course, Commander. I thought a bit of company would be good for her until it is over.”
“No, that’s acceptable. For now, especially with this,” he waved one hand between him and the wall that separated him from Maria, “I do not want more questions.”
They waited in the room in silence, trying to ignore the confusion about the situation between the Earth woman and Antarian royalty. Michael could feel his strength slipping with every breath he took. If the King didn’t make an appearance soon he would be passed out cold when he got there.
A sharp knock on the door was heard moments before it opened and one of the King’s personal guards stepped in, glancing around before opening it wide and standing against it. The King stepped inside and his gaze moved over the Commander. “The message said you requested healing,” he said slowly. “You have never made such a request before.”
“Well, I’ve never had an arrow stuck though my body either,” he growled.
Max sighed. “Perhaps not, but you have been wounded more severely and my help has never been requested. I am just curious why you request it now.”
“Because I should be out with my men on the field tomorrow and with this,” Michael gestured to the stick coming out of his side, “that won’t be an option. So just get it out and fixed so I can do my job.”
He was grinding his back teeth in an effort to rein his temper in. “The healing process allows a connection to open. Are you willing to accept that?”
“No, but do I have a choice?” Michael snapped.
“You have a choice,” Max said easily when the Commander’s attitude annoyed him.
“I made my choice. I want the healing.” God, it was just as painful to say that as the arrow, he thought. “I need to be out with my men by tomorrow.”
He glanced at the doctor. “I need you to clear the room.” He waited until they were left alone before he looked at the Commander again. “I’ll need you to maintain eye contact throughout the process, Commander.”
Michael felt sick to his stomach but he bit back another comment in case the King would just decide to not use his powers on him. He nodded with a stern look on his face and straightened up as much as he could with the stinging pain in his body. Hopefully Maria would be able to be quiet during the healing.
Max reached out and carefully placed his hand over the wound. His gaze locked with the Commander’s and he took a deep breath, relaxing and preparing himself before he let his mind open. He focused on the arrow, on the vital organs so close to it, and began the tiring process of dissolving the object and healing the damage.
Damn, you would think with the healing powers it wouldn’t hurt that much, Michael thought and fought the urge to close his eyes to keep the King out of his head. He had no clue what the other man could see during the process, he just hoped there was nothing that included the woman in the next room.
The damage wasn’t the worst he had ever healed but it slowly drained him as muscle and soft tissue began to come back together. Sweat broke out on his skin as he tried to block the violent images that were bombarding his mind. He wasn’t a warrior, he had never been on a battlefield, and he had no desire to witness the atrocities war brought out of people. He was a leader, a man who wanted peace and knew that the only way they would ever have it would be with Khivar’s death and the defeat of his armies.
He hated the violence, yet knew it was necessary to move forward. The images continued to assault him and they were too numerous to block. He knew the scenes would stay with him; fiery scenes of death and destruction, pain and agony of fallen soldiers followed by feelings of guilt and loss at the inability to prevent good men from dying. He stumbled back as the wound finally succumbed to the healing and he stared down at his hand, hating the sight of the blood covering it.
Posted: Sat Nov 30, 2013 1:41 pm
As the connection broke, Michael could feel himself stumbling backward a step and he was glad there was a wall right behind him. His gaze lowered slightly to his side and he focused on the silver handprint where the arrow had been sticking through his flesh a few minutes earlier. He had known that there was a connection through healing, but he hadn’t expected it to work both ways. It wasn’t so much the scenes that were confusing him, no, it was the feelings he had gotten from the King that bothered him. Desperation, loneliness, helplessness… a few of them mirrored his feelings.
Max worked to control his breathing and calm his racing heart as he stared at the Commander. It was unsettling to realize that beneath that harsh exterior perhaps they wanted the same thing. They obviously didn’t agree on what it would take to reach that goal, but maybe this was a sign that what they were fighting for was attainable if they could just find a way to work together.
Fucking great, the last thing he needed was sympathy for the King, Michael thought but wasn’t able to shake the feeling. He forced his mind away from it and tested out his newly-healed body instead. A turn of his upper body to either side didn’t hurt, so he nodded in satisfaction. “It’s a shame you’re the only one that got the power to heal,” he grumbled. “We could use powers like that out on the field. Especially days like today.”
He sighed and shook his head. “I didn’t ask for it.” Hadn’t asked for it and didn't really want it. It gave him the ability to connect with people, to see the darkest corners of their souls, to see the things they wished and dreamed for – things that would never happen for those he couldn’t save.
“Neither of us asked for any of this shit,” the Commander snapped when the King revealed that he wasn’t grateful for the power he had. To HEAL. To do good things! While the only power he had was one that allowed him to destroy things, to send people to their deaths. “We didn’t ask for our stupid destiny to save Antar. We didn’t ask to be sent to Earth to survive while our families here died. We didn’t ask for our roles in a war that isn’t even ours to fight in the first place.”
“You don’t understand,” Max said quietly. “You see the darkness people are capable of. You witness it every day on the battlefield; you see the broken bodies of your soldiers, the enemy... you see the victims of this war and you have to work through that. I don’t see it the way you do. I’m sometimes called upon to heal someone who appears innocent, but the connection reveals a darkness inside them, a capacity for violence that is just waiting to break free. Sometimes what I’m given access to through this power reveals a victim, sometimes it’s a monster, and sometimes it’s a darkness beyond what I’m capable of understanding. I don’t regret having the power to heal, but I hate having the ability to see the worst in people, whether it’s something they’ve done or something someone has done to them.”
Michael glanced around to see if there was anything to wear since the doctor had cut his shirt, but he couldn’t find anything. “Don’t expect me to feel sympathy for you, Maxwell,” he growled, calling the King by his name like he had when they had lived normal lives on Earth. It seemed like that had been another life. “We all see things we don’t want to one or the other.”
“No,” he sighed. “No, I would never expect that from you.”
The other man just snorted, not saying anything against the image the King had of him. He’d rather be known as the hateful, cold-hearted Commander than someone to pity. “Thanks for the healing, Your Highness,” he said formally.
“You care for the men under your command and there’s no shame in that, Commander.” He took a step back when the other man whirled to face him, his face a mask of anger. “I have no control over what I see during the connection.”
“What else did you see?”
“Only what you allowed me to see, nothing more. You were never an open book, Michael,” he said, using the man’s name for the first time in years.
The Commander’s eyes softened just a bit and his voice was less agitated when he smirked at the King just for a second. “I doubt I had any control over that because we both know if it was my decision you wouldn’t have seen anything at all.”
“True enough,” Max said, giving a slight smile of his own.
The Captain moved through the barracks quietly, his gaze straight ahead as he tried to block out the events of the day. It was frighteningly quiet in the soldier’s quarters tonight; something he knew could be attributed to their losses. The men had withdrawn into themselves as they grieved those losses. He stopped in the middle of the room when he reached the kitchen and glanced around until he found the man he was looking for.
“Hey,” he greeted and squeezed Abacus’ shoulder. He was a hybrid and one of the best men in his unit.
“Captain,” the other man said with a nod when he glanced up from his meal.
“Pretty rough day.”
Abacus snorted and pushed his plate away. He didn’t need a reminder of the past hours and he really didn’t want to think back.
Kyle nodded when he got the expected reaction from him and leaned forward to place a small item on the wooden table in front of him before he walked past him and squeezed his shoulder again to say goodbye.
“Captain,” Abacus called before he could leave the room. He turned and nodded slightly while he rolled the silver ring, which had belonged to his best friend and a fallen soldier on the field today, around in his hand. “Thanks… I wish it was still where it belonged though.”
“Me too,” Kyle said and left to go to his own quarters. He didn’t feel like eating and he would give it some time before he went back to check on the Commander’s condition. His feet carried him through the corridors without him having to think about it. He felt numb at the moment and he couldn’t care less about anything that was going on around him. The door of his quarters was standing open slightly and he kicked it with it foot just enough to slip in.
He immediately started to rid himself of his uniform. It all landed in a pile on the floor in front of the bed.
“Stay clothed,” someone said from behind him.
He finally snapped out of his daze, his hand immediately going to the weapon on his belt, but it relaxed when he saw his lover on the other side of the semi-dark room. “What’re you doin’ here?” She hadn’t been here more than two or three times in his time on Antar because the risk of being seen was just too high.
“That’s how you greet your woman?” she asked, pretending to be annoyed as she took a step forward.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you, not here,” he said pointedly.
“Everyone’s so busy with recent events,” she shook her head and closed the space between them, but kept her hands to herself as she leaned into him so that their bodies were touching. “I doubt any of them is paying attention to us right now.”
“No, probably not,” he murmured as his eyes traced over her features. “There’s plenty to keep their minds occupied.”
She sighed when his tone held a hint of sarcasm. “Come with me to my room,” her hands traveled down over his bare arms, loving the feeling of strength. “You can clean yourself up the right way and I’ll make you forget for a few hours.”
The corners of his lips lifted in a ghost of a smile. “That’s an offer I won’t refuse.”
“Come to me in a few minutes,” she whispered and leaned in for a very brief kiss before she hurried outside again after checking to make sure no one was watching.
Kyle smirked softly and dropped down to sit on his bunk for a few minutes, giving her plenty of time to return to her quarters. He leaned forward and covered his face with his hands. It had been a hellish day filled with the loss of good men. All for nothing, he thought bitterly. He forced the thoughts back, knowing if he allowed them to take over he’d be in a bad mood for the rest of the night.
He sighed and got to his feet, feeling the exhaustion pulling at him and ignoring it in favor of going to his lover. He left the barracks and slipped into the shadows, feeling the cooler night air brushing against his skin as he made his way to the castle, entering through a secret entrance Tess had shown him.
She was waiting for him, dressed in a long light dress that reached the floor and folded in around her body tightly. Her arms came around his neck as soon as the heavy door to her quarters closed behind him. “Hey, Captain.”
“Corporal,” he greeted, turning and pushing her up against the door as he took her mouth in a hot, wet kiss.
“Wasting no time, are you?” she groaned into his mouth and made no moves to stop him.
He grunted out a negative response as his hands ran over her back and sides. He wanted to feel her skin against his and what she was wearing was hot, but he was having issues figuring out how to get around it or under it.
Tess used both hands to push him away gently but with enough pressure to get what she wanted. Her eyes darkened when they moved over him and with one swipe of her hand his upper body was bare and his uniform fell to the ground.
“Maybe you could use that trick on yourself.”
“Or you could just pull on the fabric,” she said with a wink.
He studied it for a moment, looking for something that stuck out as a release for the material. He finally located a fold in the fabric and gave it a tug.
Tess smiled when her dress fell to the floor without any protest. His gasp at the realization that she wasn’t wearing anything under it made her smirk.
He braced his hands on the door on either side of her, letting his eyes rove over her body. His muscles bunched as he pushed himself back to run his hands over her.
A knock on the door brought a frown to both of their faces. “We’ll ignore it,” she whispered.
He nodded and was leaning in to kiss her when another knock sounded, more insistent this time. “What the fuck do they want?” he snarled under his breath.
She was ready to forget it, but her eyes widened suddenly. “Maybe it has to do with Michael’s injury.”
Kyle sighed and nodded. “Could be. I haven’t had an opportunity to get back to him and see how he is.”
“Go and hide in the bathroom,” she instructed and picked her dress up to from the floor to slip it around her body again.
He growled under his breath and leaned over to snatch up his shirt. “Go hide in the bathroom,” he muttered. A grown man resorting to hiding in the bathroom so his lover could answer the door.
Tess waited until he was gone, before she opened the door and looked at the servant outside. “What?”
The man visibly paled, his blue skin nearly appearing white, at her sharp tone. He bowed his head and stared at the floor as he spoke. “King Zander has requested your presence.”
“King Zander?” she asked, shocked. What could the senior King want from her at this time of the day?
“He wishes to speak with you immediately.” He dared to lift his eyes, but no higher than her chin. “I fear his highness is not feeling well this night.”
“Tell the King I’ll be there soon.” She closed the door in the servant’s face and cursed. “Why can’t he do something right and die right away so we can get out of this stupid marriage bullshit?”
Kyle was pacing back and forth in the bathroom, waiting for Tess to let him know the coast was clear. It was useless trying to hear anything through the doors since the rooms were soundproof. He hoped if it was news of her brother, it wasn’t anything to be concerned about.
Her hands rested on the door and she took a deep breath before she pushed it open and looked at her lover. “I need to go. King Zander sent for me. No clue what the old man wants.”
He sighed and nodded. It wasn’t exactly an option to just ignore a summons from the King. “I’ll go and check on the Commander.”
She stopped him before he could leave. “You could stay here,” her voice was soft, “take a bath and relax your muscles. I can check on my brother on my way back.”
He glanced at the tub. “Think you’ll want company after meeting with the old man?”
Kyle studied her for a moment before nodding. “I’ll wait here.”
“I’d better go,” she whispered against his lips and rested her hand on his cheek for a moment, using her thumb to graze over his cheekbone. Tender moments like this were rare between them. She was determined to maintain some emotional distance considering the destiny that awaited her, but it got harder every day.
“Go,” he urged. “Get it over with and come back to me.” There were only so many things the King could want with her and most of them revolved around the man’s son. He hated that she was duty-bound to marry Max; hated it for her and for himself. He pulled her to him for a quick kiss. “Don’t let the old man keep you long.”
Maria lay in bed, her arms wrapped tightly around her body as she slowly rocked herself and stared at the wall. The pain had finally gone, leaving her feeling weak and exhausted. She didn’t understand what was happening to her, and the fact that the doctor didn’t seem to have an explanation made it even more terrifying.
Was it because of something Rath had done to her? He had taken great pleasure in tormenting her every way he could think of. She wouldn’t put it past him to come up with something like this, but he hated the Commander, so finding a way to somehow link her to the man didn’t seem feasible. His mind was a maelstrom of emotions, dark, filled with hate and jealousy where the revered Commander was concerned.
She barely noticed when the door was opened even though she was staring at the wall next to it. The slight sound didn’t draw her attention. It was the subtle shift in the air, the electrically charged shift that alerted her to his presence. Her eyes moved to the left and she found herself staring at the silent, grim-faced Commander. He made her nervous and even though she didn’t feel like he would harm her, the feel of his hand on her was filled with contrasting feelings of fear and security, safety and danger. It was the darker feelings that overrode everything else though and every time he came near she unwillingly tensed in preparation of pain and humiliation. It never came with him but it didn’t stop those feelings from surfacing.
“Your wound is healed,” she said, trying to pull herself together. Her eyes locked on the silver hand imprint on his barely clothed upper body.
He shrugged. “It was necessary.” His gaze moved over her, seeing little since she was wrapped up tightly in her blankets. “You’re not in pain now?” The more time he spent around her the easier it was to allow himself to slip back into the more relaxed way of speaking he had learned on Earth.
“No,” she whispered and looked up when the nurse who had been with her during the time he was being healed came out of the bathroom with some freshly washed clothes in her hands.
Her eyes widened when she saw him in the room. “Commander,” she said, her voice hushed as she bowed her head, ready to duck out of the room. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were here.”
“Carry on,” he bit out, annoyed with the interruption.
She nodded nervously and placed Maria’s clothes on a shelf before she went to check on the woman again as she had been instructed. The woman had passed out from pain during the healing process, so she checked her pulse and temperature again before she made an escape.
His eyes narrowed. “Do you feel alright?”
“Just exhausted right now,” she said instead of a typical response about feeling like she had a major hangover the way she would’ve given back on Earth.
He looked around the sterile room. “I can have quarters arranged for you if you feel able to be on your own. I’ll assign a guard to you and he or she if you prefer, can summon Collon or myself should you need anything.”
The window behind her flew open from the wind outside and blew the blanket covering her when she moved. She grabbed for it desperately but couldn’t reach it in time to prevent herself from being exposed to the Commander in her underwear.
Michael tried to avert his gaze because he could tell the exposure made her uncomfortable but he froze when she lunged for the blankets and he caught sight of the silver handprint that was identical to the one on his own side.
The blanket came around her again as soon as she had the chance to grab it, but she had a feeling that he had seen the mark on her side. Would he make her show it to him again?
His hand came up to unconsciously rub against the handprint on his side. How much of the healing had she experienced? He wished he could understand this connection and how it worked. She had felt his pain when he was injured and somehow the healing had... transferred? He didn’t know but somehow this connection was deeper than anything he had ever heard of.
He had seen it, she realized with his unconscious move. “Why is that happening?” she asked quietly. “Why do I have to feel your pain? Is it some kind of punishment?” Her eyes watered. “But I didn’t do anything.”
“I don’t know,” he said as he moved a bit further into the room. “I can speak with one of the historians, try and find a way to sever the connection.” He didn’t know what else to do.
“Can I…” her eyes wandered to the shelf with her clothes.
He followed her gaze and nodded. “Of course.” He motioned to the door. “I should go. I have men to see to.” And notifications to make, he thought as the weight of his position settled over his shoulders heavily.
She sat up in the bed, blanket pressed to her body, while her eyes searched his. What was it that connected them? Why was she scared and drawn to him at the same time? “I’m sorry about the men you lost today.”
He nodded and his jaw set tightly. “They were good men.”
“Our species don’t seem that different at times like this,” Maria slipped from her bed, the thin white blanket wrapped around her body. Walking around sucked, she realized when she noticed that every muscle in her body ached when she stood.
He watched every move she made, easily detecting the hesitant movements that indicated sore muscles. There were similarities between their races. It was something he had become aware of during his time on Earth. Both were as capable of doing great things as they were of committing terrible acts against each other. “No, they don’t.”
“Guess you’d be out of work if not.” What a poor attempt to make a joke, she thought.
He shrugged. “Perhaps.” She was agitated, he realized. In spite of her cautious movements she acted much like a trapped animal.
Her hand settled on one of her dresses. She hadn’t worn it since the day she had left the castle shortly after her arrival here to become one of the nurses in a field camp. A dress... light blue and pink in color. She quickly changed her mind and reached for a pair of long pants and a shirt.
Something was bothering her but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He stood well away from her, allowing her the space she needed. “Has anyone bothered you?” He had left orders that she was to be under guard at all times and no one had reported any incidents involving her, but he didn’t question his instincts.
“Can you turn around?” she asked instead of answering his question. Obviously he wasn’t leaving as soon as he had first intended to.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Does it matter?” She felt trapped. She had no right to talk to him the way she was considering who he was. The Commander could just give her back to the enemy or worse… kill her himself. The sad thing was that she wasn’t even half as scared of the second option as she was of going back to the man who had done everything to destroy the person she had been.
Yes, he thought again, she had spirit. Rath may have broken her body but he hadn’t broken her spirit. It wasn’t as close to the surface as he suspected it had been before, but it was still there. “If someone has done or said something to make you uncomfortable, yes, it matters.”
It was probably all about his ego, she thought and held the blanket around her tightly. How would he react if she told him it was the Princess who had bothered her the most?
It took an effort to remain rooted to the spot. “Maria,” he said quietly but insistently, “if someone bothers you, threatens you, or makes you uncomfortable in any way, I need to know about it.” He shifted slightly. “I take the safety of my people very seriously.”
She swallowed hard, but the words were still stuck in her throat. If the connection between them worked both ways, would she be able to show him what was going on without actually saying anything? She had felt his pain earlier when he wasn’t touching her and she had gotten images from the battle outside when they had touched. Did that mean the connection worked in different ways? Physical when they didn’t touch, mental when they touched? It was weird to think so, but what if it was true?
When she blinked she noticed her feet had carried her over to him while her mind had been running over the possibilities of their connection. All she needed to do now was reach out and place her hand on him while she thought about the scene earlier that day. Should she risk it?
The Commander’s shoulders straightened imperceptibly when she moved closer to him. He could almost feel her fear, but she fought to keep those feelings from revealing themselves on her face. He wasn’t certain what she was trying to do and as he watched her he could see the conflicted feelings racing through her eyes. He held a hand out to her and without realizing it his breath caught and held as he waited for her next move.
He knew what she was planning, she thought as she stared at his outstretched hand. Do it, her mind taunted. “Okay,” she thought and then realized she had actually said it out loud before she lifted her smaller hand to place it in his.
The connection formed instantly, further cementing his belief that somehow, the day he had found her in the enemy camp, they had connected in a way that was not only unheard of between Antarians and humans, but was more intense somehow. He carefully closed his hand around hers as emotions hit him hard and fast. That part of it was going to take some getting used to, he thought. Fear and anger intermingled with pain, and at the outer edges there was the hint of... happiness?
That didn’t make sense, he mused. Where had that come from? He felt the jagged edges of her emotions begin to smooth out and flow into images that were easier to follow. An image of Amela, toddling across the grounds and holding her tiny hands up was suddenly replaced by an image of Tess, imposing and threatening.
Their eyes had locked right after the first touch and while Maria was getting no flashes from him, she could see by the emotions running across his face that it was working. She tried to concentrate on what she wanted to show him, afraid that maybe she wasn’t able to control it and he would see other things that she didn’t want anyone to see.
Another image began to shimmer but before it could solidify he felt himself being mentally pushed back. He allowed it, not intruding on whatever she was hiding from him. He had his suspicions but he was a tactician by nature and he knew when it was best to wait.
“It was my sister,” he said after a moment. “She approached you in the courtyard.”
Maria pulled her hand away slowly and nodded.
“Did she threaten you?” he asked, his voice low and rough.
“She…” Maria coughed slightly when her voice sounded broken, “she made it pretty clear that she doesn’t want me here.”
His back teeth were grinding. “I’ll speak with her.”
“Maybe I should leave,” she suggested. The Princess wasn’t a woman who would just obey the Commander.
“No.” The denial was immediate and the word was out before he could stop it. “She has the right to be suspicious but I will not have her treating you like an enemy.”
Being treated like an enemy wasn’t a problem, she thought. Being treated like an animal was worse.
He knew he couldn’t control his sister. Tess was a force to be reckoned with and if she didn’t want to listen she would just ignore him and do what she wanted to do. “I promised you would be safe here and I intend to make certain you feel that way.”
“I doubt there’s a place I could feel safe right now,” she said quietly and looked at him briefly. “In this world or the other.”
He was out of his comfort zone. He wanted her to feel safe but he didn’t know how to make it happen. “What would make you feel safe?”
She tried to come up with something, tried to pinpoint something or someone who could give her the feeling of being safe. “I don’t know, Michael,” she finally said, her tone sad. Her expression suddenly turned into one of panic as she realized what she had said. “Um, Commander I meant, I… sorry, I didn’t even know…”
He stared at her for a moment. Had he ever introduced himself, given her his name? No, he decided, he hadn’t. Very few people called him by name, most referred to him by his rank. His name wasn’t a secret but he had a feeling she knew it through their connection. He shook his head slowly, wondering if the familiarity of using his name would make her more comfortable. “You may call me Michael.”
“It’s hard to tell what you actually told me and what… ya know,” she pointed at his head and then hers.
He nodded, wishing he understood this connection better. “Perhaps you’d be more comfortable if you had something to do? If you’re busy your mind would be occupied.”
Maria walked back to the shelf with her clothes. “I’d like that.”
“What do you like to do?” He couldn’t imagine she would be interested in returning to medical duty any time soon.
“I can choose?” she asked in surprise.
“If you have a preference I may be able to accommodate you.”
“I’m not sure…” she said slowly and chewed on her bottom lip. “Do you have something like kindergarten here?”
“Kindergarten?” He mused over the word for a few moments before he placed it. Sometimes his life on Earth felt like it had happened to someone else. “Yes, the children here attend school.”
“If there’s any help needed…”
“I’ll make the necessary arrangements and let you know when you can expect to begin.”
“Okay,” she nodded and felt a little bit of enthusiasm for the first time in a very long while.
Michael nodded. “I imagine you’d like some time alone.” He started to back away, his hand reaching behind him for the door.
“You mentioned quarters earlier,” she hurried to say before he took off. “If your offer still stands… I’d like to take it.” Was it too much to ask now that he had offered her something to occupy her time?
“Of course. I can show them to you.”
She nodded with a slight smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “It can wait until tomorrow if you have places to be right now. I’m pretty tired anyway.”
“Very well, it’ll wait until tomorrow. I have a meeting with the King before breakfast. I can send... come by for you after that.” No reason to upset her by telling her he would have her summoned, he thought with an internal smirk.
She rolled her eyes slightly when he turned to open the door. “Try to not hurt yourself until then.”
“I’ll do my best,” he promised. He wouldn’t promise the same for the King once they faced each other and started going over the mission.
“Alright,” she grabbed the clothes from the shelf. “I’ll see you soon, Michael.”
He nodded, accepting the dismissal. “Until tomorrow. Maria.”
She waited until he had left and stared at the now closed door. Why was she connected to him? The Commander of Antar? Was there some higher reason for their connection?
Posted: Sat Nov 30, 2013 1:41 pm
King Zander brushed his wife’s hand away with an annoyed grumble when she reached out to help him. He braced his weight on the walking stick, his gnarled right hand gripping it tightly. He slowly made his way over to the balcony, stepping out into the cool evening air. His eyes lifted, searching out the moons and sighing in relief when the feeling of being closed in eased. For so long now he had been confined to his personal wing of the castle due to his failing health. He rarely ventured out past his quarters, too weak and tired to move very far from his bed.
The slight breeze lifted his white hair and he moved closer to the edge to look down over the courtyard. He and the Commander’s father had planned every detail of the castle, designing it to house and protect their families for generations to come. Perhaps it had been foolish to expect their children to marry, but it had been part of the agreement and the people had expectations that needed to be met.
Lonella cleared her throat behind him and he turned slowly. “You should come inside,” she said softly. His blue skin was pale and drawn, and the moonlight cast over him highlighted his sunken eyes.
“I should be ruling my kingdom,” he countered.
“Zan,” she shook her head, “Max is doing his best.”
“He’s still a boy. What does he know of leading a country? He is unable to place his focus solely on what must be done. He is torn between his heart and mind. It is a luxury a man in his position can ill afford.”
“That is why you have summoned Max and Tess?” Neither of her children was pleased with their pending nuptials and though it hurt her to see their pain, she knew it was necessary.
He was spared having to answer when the sentries posted at the entrance to their private quarters knocked. “It is time.”
Lonella sighed and followed him inside. He settled into the replica of the throne he had ruled
from for decades and she took her place beside him. She watched him signal for the sentries to allow the visitors entrance and she remained silent as they were escorted inside. Her son stood tall next to his intended bride and the small distance between them spoke volumes.
“You requested our presence, Father?” Max inquired, giving a polite nod in his mother’s direction. He had been displeased when he arrived just as Tess was coming from the opposite corridor.
“There is discord among our people. It has been many years since your marriage was announced and there is talk that it will not happen because of the war.”
“Father, this is not the time for a wedding,” Max said.
“I have to agree,” Tess spoke up, unwilling to lose the opportunity to get her opinion in. “The war is going strong and taking time – “
“Silence!” King Zander shouted.
She was biting her lip so hard she nearly drew blood.
“You continue to find excuses to postpone the wedding.”
“Father – “
“When was the last time you worked on connecting with each other?”
Of course he would bring up the connection again. “There hasn’t been time. We have other things to concentrate on right now. More important things,” Max urged.
Tess fought the urge to do something un-soldier-like. Something like make gagging noises. Or reveal the hatred she harbored against the man for insisting they uphold some stupid agreement. “Khivar’s armies are moving closer into our territory from the north. We have to stay focused on the – “
“The connection is an important part of the union between royal blood. Because you are not full-blooded Antarians it will require an effort to make the connection work.”
But I don’t want this stupid forced artificial connection with this woman, Max screamed… but only in his head. “We’re aware of that, Father. It is easier though to connect if you actually love the person though.”
Zander shook his head and turned to look at his wife. “This is the human influence.”
“We didn’t ask to be hybrids,” Tess reminded him. “I think that’s what you and my parents decided, oh… before you sent us to Earth.”
Lonella moved her arm just enough to bring the back of her hand into contact with her husband's, warning him to remain calm.
The ailing King lifted one white eyebrow as he looked at the girl. “You were sent to Earth for protection, to learn and to develop, not to become malleable. Our enemies will see that weakness and exploit it.”
“But those human habits have shaped us,” Max jumped to protect Tess. He didn’t want to marry her, but sometimes he felt even more connected to her than to his parents – in a totally unromantic way of course. “You can’t expect us to live there for more than half of our lives so far and not be affected by it.”
“As a ruler you do not have the luxury of relying on emotions. You have a responsibility to your family, to your people, and to this territory, to rule wisely.”
“Then why marriage?” he asked, agitated.
“Because it is symbolic, and the people wish to see that promise carried out. A man can rule his kingdom alone but the people want to see him as...” he searched for the word, “normal. Capable of understanding what they need and want. A woman at your side provides them that illusion and it satisfies them.”
“People just want peace in our country,” Tess insisted stubbornly.
“Peace that will never happen if the two of you do not marry and present an heir to the throne!” he yelled. He inhaled sharply to catch his breath and it set off a coughing spell.
Lonella reached over to rub his back until it passed. She glanced at her son and saw the concern in his amber eyes warring with his father’s wishes that he remain unaffected in the presence of his illness.
“Why would our marriage be important for the war on our planet?” Tess asked, confused.
“Because your child will have powers unlike any other. He will be more powerful than anyone before him.”
“W-what?” they both asked at the same time.
“Our scientists discovered a rare gene that does not exist among our people. They procured the necessary gene and when you were engineered it was used as part of your genetic makeup.” Zander shifted in an effort to get comfortable. “Your child will be the key to defeating Khivar.”
Tess and Max exchanged a look of shock that quickly turned to horror. “That’s why you engineered us, isn’t it?” Max demanded after he had gotten over the worst of the shock.
“Does Isabel have the same gene?”
“Defeating Khivar will be significant and it will guarantee our place as the ruling family for generations to come.”
“So just Tess?” Max frowned while his mind was running over all they knew about their past lives and how things somehow looked different now. “Isn’t it a bit risky to just produce one woman who has….” he trailed off when another thought hit him. “Ava. She’s got the gene too, right? But that would mean Khivar can…”
“Silence now!” the king demanded loudly, which made his wife sit up straighter. “Your copies were just our first attempt at mixing human and Antarian DNA. We realized out mistakes and corrected them.”
“So does that mean Ava doesn’t carry the gene?” Tess asked. She hated being reminded that they had been created for a purpose.
“No, it didn’t work out the way we had planned.”
“Do you even realize what you’re saying?” Max growled, his hands fisted at his sides. “You created four hybrids before us and you turned them loose, giving Khivar the perfect opportunity to make them loyal to him.” He snorted. “Being nothing more than the poor failure of your DNA experiments… no wonder they decided to defect the enemy.”
“You have an obligation to this family,” Zander insisted. “Yes, the original four were defective but they were never expected to return to Antar.”
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Tess said and made a face when the truth of their existence was even lot worse than she had anticipated. For the first time in her life she was glad to have Max at her side.
“We can defeat Khivar without producing an heir,” Max insisted. “Our armies are making headway and just this week Tess’ unit pushed them back in the southern valley.”
King Zander looked at the Princess. “So you are still out on the field?” he asked angrily. “I told you I want you to stop that. We have the Commander; we don’t need the future Queen of Antar out on the field. Especially not one with your destiny. You have to be safe!”
Tess bristled at the order. “My father trained me to become a warrior before his death and until I am forced to give up my freedom I will not retire from the battlefield.”
“Your father wanted you to fulfill your destiny when the time came,” Zander said harshly, his hands gripping the armrests of his throne tightly as he leaned forward to look at her. “You are the only hope this kingdom has and if you refuse to listen then we are all damned.”
“Father, we can defeat Khivar without this marriage!” Max interrupted. “Tess and I aren’t suited to be paired for life! You’re condemning both of us to a life of misery!” He glanced at her apologetically. He was finally seeing things from her side and realizing just how much weight she was carrying on her own shoulders.
“You can learn to love her, if that is necessary for you. I expect you to work on your connection. It is the only way a powerful offspring can come from this union. And that is my last word,” Zander said sternly and waved to the sentries so they would open the doors. “Out. NOW.”
Max looked at his mother. His parents were both full-blooded Antarian and lacked the emotional connection he had shared with his Earth parents. But even though they weren’t able to show emotion he knew they shared a connection. “Mother, you have to make him see reason,” he pleaded.
Tess hoped to see some kind of agreement in the woman’s face, but there was nothing. She turned to Max, her heart heavy. “Come on, let’s go,” she said quietly.
“Well, if that isn’t some freaky shit,” Kyle muttered and ran his hand over his face. He had known from the look in her eyes when his lover had returned to her quarters that there wouldn’t be any place for sex anymore. She had been upset on a whole new level and it had taken him some time and effort to get it all out of her.
“I still can’t believe it Kyle,” she shook her head and got up to stand near the large window, her gaze wandering over the landscape illuminated by the light of the moon. “I knew we were just engineered and all, I just didn’t know that it was all so calculated and… I don’t know… What am I? Some gene-freak, who turned out right to be the mother of a super-kid?”
He got up and walked over to her slowly. She needed space when she was in a mood like this and sometimes it was still hard to tell how much he should give her. “You are not a gene-freak, Tess,” he said gently. “Not in my eyes. And sure as hell not in your brother’s eyes.”
“Did they even think about what they were doing to us with this kind of destiny?” she yelled in direction of the window and wrapped her arms around herself. “Sending us to Earth and not expecting us to develop any human habits and feelings,” she snorted. “You’d think they’d be smarter than that.”
Kyle bit his lip and stopped a few inches behind her without touching her. “They probably can’t understand your feelings. They don’t know them…”
“Are you trying to defend them?” she asked agitatedly.
“What?” he asked in surprise and reached out to turn her towards him. “No, I’m not trying to defend them. All I’m tryin’ to say is that there’s nothin’ wrong with you, Tess. Our races might be similar in a lot of things, but emotionally isn’t one of them.” He nudged her slightly. “You got the best of both sides – so if you wanna call yourself something then I’d say you’re very damn lucky. Human with alien power…”
“Shut up,” she rolled her eyes but managed to smile a bit.
“I guess I could shut up,” he mused thoughtfully as he moved closer. “Gonna have to find somethin’ to occupy my mouth with though.” He tipped her chin up and stared into her eyes for a moment before his gaze dropped to her lips.
“Will you stay with me when I’m forced to marry him?” she asked in a whisper.
His gaze lifted to hers again. Being married to the King would clip her wings, essentially leaving her a prisoner to the throne. “As long as you’ll have me,” he swore quietly.
Her nod was hardly visible. “You’re my only reason for living, Kyle,” she confessed and pressed her lips to his before he could start listing other things worth living for.
He would’ve broken the kiss to tell her she was wrong but before he had the chance the doors to her quarters were thrown open and they pulled apart. His hand shot down to reach for his weapon but remembered at the last second that he had removed it earlier and it was across the room. He saw Tess’ hand lift, palm facing out as she faced off against... His eyes widened in shock when he saw the Commander shove the doors the rest of the way open, his big hands curling around the wood so tightly he was sure he could hear it cracking beneath the pressure.
“Well, I guess I shouldn’t try to mindwarp you,” Tess said dryly when she faced her brother. She was surprised how calm her voice sounded because her heart was anything but calm.
Michael’s gaze bounced between the two of them for a matter of moments before he shook himself. “Captain, you can return to the barracks now,” he bit out.
Fuck, Kyle thought. He had always feared the moment the Commander found out about him and Tess. What would happen now?
“No, he should stay,” Tess said.
He drew in a deep breath and his hands fell away from the door. He flexed them without revealing the discomfort that accompanied the movement. “You cornered Maria in the courtyard today,” he said instead.
Her shook turned to confusion. “What?”
“She was given the expectation of safety and you threatened her.”
Tess turned to Kyle to see if he also thought her brother was out of his mind. “You really wanna talk about that woman now?” she asked carefully.
“I gave her my oath that she would be safe here and you’ve undermined that!” he said, his voice dangerously low. “She does not need to be treated as an agent for Khivar.”
It was weird and somehow alarming that Michael was ignoring the obvious with his stupid girl, but she played along for now. “And I told you I will keep an eye at her.”
“Keep an eye on her, Tess, I have no problem with that. Do not make threats against her. Stay away from her. If you feel the need to watch her, do it from a distance, are you clear on that?”
“She was with Amela. I won’t stand back and watch while she’s in potential danger.”
“If I felt she posed any kind of threat to anyone in the castle, and especially to Amela, I would not have had her brought here!” he snapped.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “What is it with that girl, Michael? Why is she even here?”
“Because prior to her capture she was a nurse in one of our field hospitals, Tess. She cared for our wounded. She was in danger on a daily basis like any other field personnel. I would have any of our people rescued from Khivar’s camps treated well.”
“In our castle,” she pushed, aggravated. “The medic station here must be full then even though I didn’t see more than her here.”
“I told you the last time we discussed this that I had my reasons for bringing her here.” He shook his head sharply. “I will not repeat myself.”
He was hiding the fact about the flashes because Kyle was around, she realized and looked at him. “Do you mind leaving us alone?”
Kyle nodded. “I’ll wait to hear from you,” he said and went to collect his things. He paused on his way back to the door, looking at the Commander. He wasn’t surprised when the man’s stony gaze stayed focused straight ahead, his only acknowledgment of his second’s presence the clenching of his jaw. He nodded at Tess and disappeared through the doors.
She waited until he had left the room, almost expecting her brother to go off on her as soon as the other man was out, but he stayed quiet. “Did you get flashes from her again?”
“I don’t know why it’s happening,” he said as the anger began to recede. “She’s not Antarian or a royal but there is no way to deny that the connection exists.”
“Just flashes? Or is there more?” The way he said it made it sound a lot more important.
His jaw clenched. “All our lives we’ve been told about the connection but this... this connection I’ve experienced with her is beyond what we know of it.”
“You’ll have to explain that,” she said with a frown. “What’s different?”
“Collon informed me that she experienced pain around the time that I was wounded. She could feel my pain as if she was the one who had been shot.”
Tess’ eyes widened. “I saw it.”
“You saw what?”
“I was outside in the courtyard with her when it happened. She sank to the ground from pain all of a sudden.”
“How could she fake that, Tess? She had no way of knowing I had been wounded.”
She didn’t have an answer for that. “How’s your side?”
He shrugged and lifted his shirt to show her the area. “Like it never happened.”
She stared at the silver handprint. “You let him heal you?” she asked, shocked.
“If I hadn’t allowed it she would continue to experience my pain until the wound had healed.”
“You care about her that much, don’t you?”
“I’m connected to her, Tess. I told you I don’t understand it, but it’s there.”
“Can you feel her… like right now?”
Tess had no clue what to think about this information. It wasn’t like she had ever experienced a connection and she doubted that a forced connection between her and the King would be the same. “Just promise you’ll be careful, Michael.”
“When have you known me to be anything less than careful?” he asked with a teasing grin.
“I’m not commenting on that.”
“Maybe you’d like to comment on the presence of my second in your private quarters.”
“I’m…” she shook her head at her stuttering. “The Captain and I have been seeing each other for a while now, Michael. I didn’t want to keep it a secret from you, but…”
He shook his head. “I think we can keep this just between us.” His lips turned up in a slow smile.
“I don’t know if I like that smile, brother,” she said doubtfully. “Will he be in any trouble?”
“Will you leave Maria alone?”
She snorted. “So you’re going to blackmail me?”
“Guess that depends on how much you’d like to avoid getting the Captain in trouble.”
“I’ll stay away from her,” she promised. “Unless she gives me reason.”
He nodded in agreement. “Feel free to observe her. Just don’t terrorize her.”
“Ditto on Kyle,” she warned him and slapped his shoulder when he snorted. “I mean it, Michael. It’s not just a passing thing between us, okay?”
“And what happens when we can no longer hold off our impending marriages?”
“I don’t know,” she said quietly. “I was ordered to King Zander’s quarters earlier and… Gosh Michael, it’s a lot worse than we thought it was.”
“Worse than being chained to them for the rest of our lives?” he asked doubtfully. What could be worse than that?
She looked at her brother and nodded dumbly. “I wish our lives meant something more than what they planned for us. We’re just their little puppets and they expect us to follow their path and do what they want.”
He shrugged. “How is that anything new? We’ve known about our destiny from the beginning.” He could see the signs of agitation as she began to pace and it worried him. Tess had learned something that had rattled her and whatever it was had her stalling instead of facing it head-on. He leaned back against a chair, crossing his arms over his chest and calling her name sharply.
Her eyes snapped up to meet his. “They did some kind of genetic manipulation or used the right human DNA or whatever…” she shook her head, “but I have this special genes and… they want me and the King to produce a child with unlimited powers.”
“Limitless powers,” he murmured and shook his head. There were so many things wrong with that scenario that he wasn’t even sure where to begin. “Because they think that’s the answer to the war?”
“Obviously. Zander said it’s the only way to kill Khivar.”
He shook his head. “I don’t believe that.” He paused as he mentally ran over the possibilities. “Wait, what about Isabel? She has this genetic mutation too?”
“No, he said it’s limited to the ruling family,” Tess rolled her eyes. “Leave it to them to unite our castles but still think that way.”
“So to their way of thinking, our only way to defeat Khivar rests on a child you and the King are expected to produce?” His tone was incredulous. “That’s ridiculous!” he exploded after a few moments of consideration.
“I know,” she said, but the thought that it was the truth didn’t leave her mind. What if it was? “Ava doesn’t have the gene,” she added before he could bring it up. “They wanted her to have it but failed. Apparently they failed with some other things while producing the first set.” She turned to look out the window, letting her eyes wander over the landscape. “If the first set had been the way they had planned we wouldn’t be here.”
He snorted at that. “There are so many flaws with that first set.” He didn’t know where their scientists had gone wrong but the dupes seemed to only contain the darker, more violent parts. Somehow humanity seemed to have been left out of that first batch of hybrids. “We will find a way to defeat him, Tess.”
“I’m not sure how long I can avoid this marriage.” She wanted to believe her brother, but right now all the signs were against them and the countdown was ticking loudly.
“Zander’s pushing the marriage timetable again?” He suddenly realized why she seemed so agitated. “He pushed about the two of you connecting.”
“Yeah, he wants us to work on it.”
“Keep putting him off,” he advised.
She sighed. “Yeah.”
“Don’t get in his head and don’t let him get in yours. It’s... disconcerting.”
Tess looked at him. “Speaking of the King healing you or the woman?”
“I’ve never connected with the King so I can only imagine you’d be bored stupid.”
“Do you think it’s different to be connected to a human than a hybrid?”
“I’d say it’s likely there’s a difference. To what degree, I don’t know.”
She nodded absentmindedly, not really paying any attention to him while she was lost in her own thoughts. Get yourself together, she ordered herself and straightened up. “Maybe I should go and spend some time with Amela now that you’ve ruined my night anyway.”
He chuckled. “If you’ve been seducing the Captain on a regular basis I doubt it’ll be hard to tempt him back to your quarters.”
“Yeah, sure,” she snorted, “Kyle has too much respect for you to just come back now.”
“But not too much respect to avoid sneaking around with you behind my back?”
“We wanted to tell you, but…” she stopped, not really knowing what to say. She had been scared of her brother’s reaction. Though they got along good and he didn’t care about their stupid destiny either, he had also always been a bit overprotective with her and dating the Captain could mean trouble if the wrong people knew.
He shook his head. “He’s a good man and I have no doubt he sees you as both a woman and a warrior.” Something he knew the King would never be able to appreciate. “Don’t ever underestimate the danger such a union poses though.”
“I’d rather die because Zander found out than marry his son.”
“A sentiment I understand, but knowing what we know now it’s even more dangerous for you.”
Tess nodded. “If you don’t mind, I think I wanna ba alone right now.” She hated it when she felt like this. Unable to prevent things… the marriage, the war, many more of their people dying.
He nodded. “I could have the Captain summoned...” he offered, letting the words trail off into nothing.
“Not now,” she told him and started to walk to her bathroom. She wasn’t in a good mood and sometimes it ended with a fight when she felt like this, so staying apart was maybe the better choice for now.