Authors: Laura Jo Phillips
Tags: #Paranormal Romance
“Thank you, Marqex,” Tristan said, glancing at Maxim who nodded in return. Captain Rolin approached, leaned in and spoke in a soft voice, then returned to his seat. “The map indicates that the eggs are all in underground rooms,” Tristan said, studying a view screen which now displayed an image of the area. “It will require extra firepower to be certain of their destruction. You may wish to brace yourselves, Marqex.
“Our village is hidden within a deep cave, perhaps fifty of your miles from where the eggs are located,” Marqex said. “Will my people be safe at this distance?”
“I believe so, yes,” Tristan said. “I suggest your people step out of the cave, just to be safe.”
Marqex nodded, then turned to someone else in the room and spoke quickly.
“I will await your confirmation that the task is complete,” Marqex said when she turned back.
“You are within the cave?” Tristan asked.
“I am,” she replied. “I am also old and of little consequence. Please proceed.”
Darck stood beside Marqex at her invitation, the rest of the village gathered behind them in a quiet group. He heard his daughter fuss briefly, then quiet as someone, probably Thelba, tended to her. He smiled as he always did when thinking of his family. Then Marqex made a tiny sound to gather his attention and he looked up to see a group of men and women walking toward them. There were three women in front, with three men following each of them. Two of the women moved like warriors, as did all of the men. The third woman walked with confidence, though she didn’t have the smooth, loose limbed gait of the others.
There was something vaguely familiar about two of the women. The red haired one and the small, dark haired one. He frowned, trying to dredge up the memory as he watched them approach. They stopped half a dozen yards away, then bowed politely.
“Welcome to Onddo,” Marqex said after returning their bow. “I am called Marqex, and this one, our new Liddari, is called Darck.”
The redhead’s gaze shot to Darck in obvious recognition, and he stiffened with the memories that suddenly flooded his mind, nearly sending him to his knees. He held one hand up slowly to stop Marqex.
“I apologize, Marqex, but I cannot stand as your Liddari. This woman,” he gestured toward the redhead, “and that woman,” he gestured toward the dark haired one, “have a blood claim against me.”
“A blood claim?” Marqex asked, shocked.
Darck nodded slowly. “On Earth, as a Brethren, I committed crimes against both of these women. They each have a claim against me which I must honor.”
“That was a different life, Darck,” Marqex argued.
“Yes, but it does not change my debt,” Darck said. “I am sorry, Marqex. But I cannot continue in my new life in honor with this taint hanging over me. I want my sons and daughter to be proud of me, even if it be only in memory.”
“What debt?” the small dark haired woman asked, frowning in apparent confusion.
“This is Darck Winicke,” the redhead said, her tone cool, but not as angry as Darck expected. “He is nephew to Stalnek, leader of the Brethren. He kidnapped me and put a Controller in my brain. He kidnapped Hope Bearen and your twin sister, Grace, from the base and took them to Texas, intending to bring all three of us here, to Onddo.”
“Did you kill my sister?” the dark haired woman asked.
“I did not,” Darck said, understanding now why the woman didn’t recognize him. “Nor did I know she was killed. That does not change my responsibility. My life is yours.”
Darck heard a soft moan from behind him, and turned to gaze into Thelba’s eyes. He saw the pain, but he also saw the pride. Pride in him, for doing what was right. He smiled, glad that his Narrasti heritage prevented him from crying tears. He mouthed the words
I love you
, then turned to face the women he had wronged.
He walked forward two steps to distance himself from the rest of the village. Hopefully the Jasani would not blame the others for his transgressions. Then he knelt on the ground and bowed his head, waiting patiently for whatever might come.
Aisling stared at the reptilian man kneeling before them as memories raced through her mind. He had kidnapped her, Hope, Grace, and Karma. He’d put a Controller in her brain, and kidnapped Grace a second time which had resulted in her death. He’d helped Berta’s captors keep her imprisoned for decades. “You are Berta’s son, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Yes, I have that honor,” Darck said. He raised his head slowly. “Do you know my mother? Is she well?”
“She is very well,” Aisling said with a sigh. This was not the same man. There was no denying it. She turned toward Faith.
“Faith,” she said, then waited for Faith to look at her. Aisling read the anger, pain, and uncertainty in the other woman’s eyes, and understood it completely. “Your loss was greater than mine, so I leave this decision in your hands.”
“What would you do?” Faith asked her.
“I cannot find the man who kidnapped me in the eyes of this man before us,” Aisling replied. “I don’t know if that makes a difference, or even if it should make a difference. Before you make up your mind, I would ask one favor.”
“Of course,” Faith said, her voice shaky.
“I ask that you accept this,” Aisling said, slipping the mobius bracelet that Hope Bearen had given her from her wrist and holding it out.
Faith looked at the golden bracelet glittering in the sunshine, the whirlwind of emotions and thoughts racing through her mind calming as she focused on it. And it’s meaning.
“No beginning, and no end,” she said softly. She looked from the bracelet to Aisling’s eyes and smiled sadly. “I also believe that there is a reason for all things, Aisling, and I thank you for reminding me of that. I do not need to take your bracelet. I understand.” She turned back to look at the male kneeling on the ground.
“I relinquish all claim against you, Darck Winicke,” she said in a clear voice that all could hear. “Now is the time for our peoples to come together in common cause. I will not risk this chance for the Thousand Worlds to be free of the Xanti for petty revenge. My sister would not approve.”
Tristan, Gray, and Jon listened to Faith, filled with so much pride they could barely contain it. Tristan took a step forward to stand beside her, and bowed to the Narrasti called Darck. “According to the Oraculum of the Arkandu, the Jasani and the Narrasti must come together as brothers, as we were before the Xanti poisoned us against each other. Therefore, since our honored cousins are now Rami to the woman known as Berta, who is also mother to you, Darck Winicke, we are, by the laws and customs of our people, family. We claim you as such, Darck Winicke, thereby forging the required bond of blood between our peoples. Will you accept our offer of kinship, and acknowledge it?”
Darck looked up, hardly daring to believe his ears. He looked into the male Jasani’s bright green eyes, and saw the sincerity in them. He rose slowly to his feet, drew back his shoulders and raised his chin proudly. “I, Darck of the Narrasti, who was once called Winicke, am deeply honored to accept the kinship offered on behalf of all of our peoples together. I shall acknowledge this claim with pride, as will my sons, and their sons, throughout time. In thanks for your generosity and the honor you do us all, I offer something in return.”
Darck turned, gestured quickly, then waited for a young male to hurry to his side with an object wrapped in heavy cloth. After the male handed the object to Darck he turned and melted back into the crowd.
“For uncounted generations the remnants of the Narrasti who landed on Earth carried this, and other objects with them. The meaning of the objects was lost, the stories twisted. Until now. With the help of Marqex, the meaning of this particular object has been made clear. We would share this knowledge with our new family, the Jasani.”
With that, Darck removed the cover from the object, revealing a glittering egg shaped crystal that flashed rainbows in the Onddo sunshine. “This is the
,” Darck said. “Within it’s depths lies the untainted truth of the destruction of both our worlds.”
Magoa stared at the remains of the five Narrasti he and Slater had taken from the three new settlements. They hadn’t wanted to talk to him at first. But he’d convinced them, in the end. The truth he’d eventually wrung from them had shocked him. At first, he hadn’t believed it, but when the same story was repeated by each of them, he’d had no choice.
Everything was gone. His people. The Xanti. And most devastating of all, the eggs. All of his precious eggs. His army of special sugea, gone. Destroyed. And his own mother was to blame. She had betrayed him at every turn, ruined all he had worked so hard to build. If he hadn’t decided to bring his captives to this training base, which was located far from town to ensure the safety of the townspeople from inexperienced pilots, he would surely be dead as well.
He left the room that had once been the office of the commander of this abandoned training base, and made his way to the control room. He entered quietly and moved toward the window, looking out at the deserted landscape. Behind him, the Brethren leader, Stalnek, and his pilot worked at the machines that he had not bothered himself to learn. The pilot, with his knowledge and skills, who was the real prize, but he was glad, now that the eggs had been destroyed, that he hadn’t destroyed Stalnek as he’d intended. The two Brethren had within them the means for a new start. It would be a small start, of course, but all was not lost. He had to remember that. All was not lost. He could begin again.
Slater’s green dragon flew into view, landed, and transformed before entering the building. He looked at Magoa and shook his head. Magoa sighed inwardly.
“I found ‘em,” Lerck shouted. Magoa spun around and hurried toward the pilot who was sitting before a vid terminal. “There’s a whole bunch of people there,” he said, pointing to the map on his screen. Magoa didn’t understand what all of the different colors meant, but he could read a simple map. The area Lerck was pointing at was to the Northwest. All of the other settlements had been south and east. That had to be it.
“Let’s go,” he said.
“What are you going to do?” Stalnek asked.
Magoa ignored him and kept walking toward the door, Slater right behind him.
“What should I do, sir?” Lerck asked. Stalnek thought for a moment. He wanted to deny Magoa the use of his pilot and his shuttle, but as frustrating as it was to have to admit to himself, he knew such an action would be a dangerous mistake.
“Take them where they want to go,” he said. “But be careful. Stay in the shuttle, no matter what Magoa says, and if things go bad, get out of there.”
“Yes, sir,” Lerck said. He stood up and followed after Magoa and Slater. When he got to the door he turned back. “I’ll be back, Mr. Stalnek.”
“See that you are,” Stalnek said with a nod. He watched the door swing shut behind the young man, wondering if he would see him again. He was surprised to discover that he actually cared.
Darlene stood beside Summer at the edge of the clearing, watching as the Jasani and Narrasti began to mingle. It seemed odd that the majority of the Narrasti were females, just as the majority of Jasani were males. Each race had their own issues to overcome, but they had all taken steps in the right direction.
The eldest Narrasti, the one they called Marqex, moved toward them. She bowed politely, if a little stiffly, though it was clear the stiffness was physical, not social. “Might I ask your names?” she asked.
“Of course,” Summer said. “I am Summer, and this is my friend, Darlene.”
“I see that congratulations are in order to you both,” Marqex said with a friendly smile. “Motherhood is a true joy.” Her smile faded and she sighed. “Usually. I confess that I am she who bore the one called Magoa, an act I cannot claim pride in. Would that I had the foresight to break his egg beforetime, but I was young and foolish, and ignored the signs the great Mother laid across my path.”
Summer and Darlene both stared at the female in shock, then at each other, then back to Marqex again. Summer struggled to gather her wits. “We bear our children, raise them, teach them all that we believe is right and good,” she said. “Then we must release them to make their own way. Their destiny is their own, and cannot be altered even by the strength of a mother’s love.”
“Wise words, Summer, very wise,” Marqex said nodding slowly.
“I offer to you my condolences on the loss of he was once your child,” Summer said gently.
Marqex looked at her in surprise, then nodded again. “I thank you,” she said, touched by the younger woman’s understanding. “Now, this is a time of celebration and hope, not sadness and regret. If you two would like to rest yourselves, come along with me and I shall have chairs brought.” She leaned in toward them and winked one large, knowing eye at them. “There are few times when we females are due pampering, so I suggest you make the most of it while you can.”
Summer laughed softly. A heartbeat later the laugh froze in her throat as a pair of gigantic, sharp toothed jaws clamped down around Marqex. Summer had time to see her eyes widen in shock, and then she was gone. By then her hand was already on the katana hidden in the folds of her skirt. She was still trying to draw it when a second set of jaws clamped down around her. Thankfully, she was wearing
a fabric impervious to blades, lasers, projectiles and, apparently, the teeth of a two headed dragon
Though her arm was momentarily too cramped to complete the drawing of her sword, the teeth slid off of her, unable to gain purchase. The green dragon widened it’s jaws slightly before attempting to grab hold of her again, and she heard a soft grunt of sound as Darlene shoved one of her knives into the beast’s right eye. The dragon’s roar of fury and pain threatened to burst Summer’s eardrums since she has standing half inside the thing’s mouth. When it roared, it widened its jaws again, this time enough for her to free her
. She swung sideways with it as she turned, cleaving the top of the dragon’s mouth in half lengthwise from the inside. She stepped backwards out of the monster’s jaws before the flood of blood drenched her. It had positioned its head sidewise on the ground during it’s attempt to grab her, leaving it’s neck exposed just a few short feet away. She leapt forward, screaming in both fear and fury as she gripped the hilt of the
with both hands and raised it high above her head. She landed on her feet next to the scaly, thrashing neck of the thing, and swung downward with all the adrenaline laced strength she possessed, slicing almost too easily through the thick green flesh, parting the dragon’s head from its neck, silencing it forever.