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Authors: Cara Lake

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Chapter Two

Destiny

 

Three days after meeting Luc and Cassi on Earth, Tanith
Laska closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. One more step was all she
needed to take. One more step toward the destiny that had shrouded her
existence since the day she was born. Opening her eyes to the shimmering
frosted ripples of the starportal vortex, she took that step, emerging in the
bright sunshine of the planet Ophiuchus. Tanith could only pray to Gaia that
everything would go as planned. Now that she was actually here the reality of
her mission settled heavily on her chest, a pressure from which there was no
escape.

Exiting the Rasal Gate starportal, Tanith made her way into
the crowded streets of Serpens accompanied by two burly guards, both shedu, a
common species of saevici, shapeshifters able to morph from their regular beast
form to an Earthani-like alternative. The general population would
automatically steer clear of a shedu; even in their Earthani form, they were
intimidating with their shaved heads and eyes that flashed yellow. However,
Tanith was not the type to be intimidated by size or aspect and was grateful
for the protection provided by her hostess as they escorted her through the
streets to the home of her benefactress.

The planet Ophiuchus was a dangerous place for anyone with a
heartbeat and females in particular, the streets of its capital Serpens rife
with thieves, murderers and skin traders. The skin trade in both male and
female flesh on Ophiuchus was a well-established atrocity the rest of the
universe could do little about. But as a member of the Eunomi Alliance, specifically
one of their elite warriors, Tanith was even more vulnerable should her
occupation be discovered, the Alliance being the sworn enemies of those who
engaged in that trade.

Skilled warriors like Tanith were the fighting arm of the
Eunomi Alliance and although their main focus was maintaining equilibrium for The
Balance, another part of their mandate included policing the many illegal and
nefarious activities undertaken by Discordants in their attempt to incite disorder
and chaos.

On Ophiuchus the Eunomi were unable do much other than
monitor the skin traders’ activities and throw the occasional spanner in the
works from time to time, as this particular planet was strongly aligned to the
Discordant cause. The warloki, beings who harnessed dark magick, and other
Discordant sympathizers who occupied most of Ophiuchus were a bloodthirsty
savage breed. These territorial warlords ruled through brutality and
intimidation, their support of the Discordants a continuing thorn in the side
of the Concordia, the Eunomi council.

Tanith had, in the past, been instrumental in helping
destroy various skin traders and knew well the horrors that could befall the
weak and powerless on this particular planet. She needed to keep a low profile.
Her presence here was more important for her mission than the need to crush the
skin trade.

Outwardly at least, Ophiuchi society appeared civilized, the
rich aristocrats hiding their cruelty beneath a thin curtain of protocol and
etiquette but as Tanith knew well, this was a fabricated veil of lies. Only the
strong and powerful prospered on Ophiuchus. The majority of the population were
oppressed, slaves to the whims of their masters. They were expendable, their
labor exploited, their freedom stifled and those unlucky enough to be born
workers or slaves had much shorter life expectancies and little hope of a way
out.

Tani’s path into Ophiuchi society had been organized through
Borealis, a Eunomi commander she knew well. He had access to a network of
informants all over the galaxy whom he paid well for the information they gave,
knowing that if discovered it would not mean just death but excruciating agony,
then death, if they were lucky.

Unfortunately these informants were often happy to be paid
by both sides. Tanith could only hope that Borealis’s informant had been paid
enough by him to not consider a double-cross. She would have to tread
carefully.

The cover story was that she, Tanith Laska, was as an old
school friend to Morana D’Ath, a wealthy female aristocrat who held property in
Serpens, the major city on Ophiuchus and the probable location of the man Tani
was searching for. Morana supposedly had information regarding a male who was a
possible Esseni and most likely the individual Tanith had been seeking all her
life. Once bonded, a pairing such as this working together in balance would
help ensure the continuation of order and stability in the universe. If they
did not bond—then chaos would reign.

Unfortunately Esseni were notoriously difficult to find. Potential
Esseni existed all over the universe but only manifested if they came into
contact with their other half and that usually only happened every eight
hundred years during the time of Realignment. Many potential Esseni,
particularly if they were Earthani, and therefore in complete ignorance of the
existence of other life forms in the universe, would never know what they were
or had the potential to be. But Tani’s family had a history of Esseni
potentials. A distant cousin, Carita, was the last of her family to house an
essence eight hundred years ago.

Carita’s story had taught Tani many valuable lessons and was
the probable source of her nightmares. Carita had been betrayed by her partner
duality who had pretended to care for her, then given her up to the Discordants,
having been seduced by their offers of power and wealth. Somehow Carita had
escaped but had been so broken she had taken refuge on Earth, too ashamed of
her failure to return to Lyra. She had survived on Earth for hundreds of years
and had even borne a son only to die tragically at Discordant hands. Long
before this, due to the lack of a bond at the last Realignment, the essence she
held had faded from her body and passed into the ether. It had probably passed
through many potentials until it resurfaced again in her family when Tani was
born. She had inherited the essence and Carita’s failure was hers to redeem.
Her family honor demanded it.

The shame of Carita’s failure had been an acid growth in her
family for the last eight hundred years, the weight of it heaped on her
shoulders, the lessons drummed into her insistently by her father. Tani could
not understand this shame. Carita had been betrayed—surely the betrayer was the
guilty party here. Hate. The personification of hate had lived up to his name
and betrayed a woman who would have given him everything. He would also be dead
now. Although many species in the galaxy had long life spans, only Esseni who
fully bonded could be essentially immortal, their bond tying them to The Balance
and keeping their life-force infinite.

So the current Esseni of hate was an unknown. An enigma. A
mystery. One thing Tani did know however. Any signs of betrayal and she would
have no option but to kill him.

Startled out of her musings, Tani realized the shedu had stopped
and were ushering her through a gate toward the entrance of a large townhouse.
The impressive double doors flew open and Tani was greeted by the whirlwind
that was Morana D’Ath. Bracelets jangling, Morana drew her into an embrace that
proclaimed Tani as an old friend or long-lost sister. “Darling Tanith, It’s
been so long! I’m so happy you were able to come,” she cooed, hugging her even
more tightly. “Follow my lead.” She leaned in closer, whispering the words of
caution in Tani’s ear. Drawing back, Morana met Tani’s eyes and acknowledged
her understanding, then she kissed both her cheeks and gushed some more. “We
are going to have so much fun. Your father wants you to find a rich husband and
let me tell you there are plenty here if you don’t mind a few wrinkles!”

“It’s wonderful to see you after so long. I can’t wait to
meet those eligible men you were telling me about,” Tani replied, trying to
sound excited at the prospect. It was important the servants around them
believed the cover story. There were too many Discordant sympathizers in
Serpens and plenty of avaricious warlords who would love to get their hands on
a potential Esseni. The reward money alone would fill their coffers to the brim
and the added prestige would be a bonus.

“Let’s get you settled in and then we can make some plans.”
Morana took her hand and led Tani up the opulent winding staircase and into a
first-floor bedroom. Everything about the house screamed wealth. The glittering
marble floors and walls, the lavish furnishings with gold and jewels decorating
various pieces of furniture, all proclaimed that Morana was a member of the
upper echelons of Serpens society.

Tani wondered how she made her money. She knew Morana freely
sold information to the Eunomi and it was probable that she also provided a
similar service to the Discordants. Borealis had assured her Morana would not
want to lose the Eunomi Alliance as clients by selling her out to their enemies,
but he had cautioned her to watch her back. He had given Morana only the bare
bones of Tani’s mission—that she was seeking an Esseni potential, but he hadn’t
told her that Tani was also an Esseni and that it was
her
partner
duality she was looking for. They couldn’t afford for the Discordants to get
their hands on a pair. That would be fatal.

Recently the Discordants had almost secured the duality of
War and Peace. Luckily for the Eunomi, both had resisted the lure of the
Discordants and fought for their freedom, escaping and bonding as a couple to
ensure War and Peace in the galaxy were stabilized. Tani had been part of that
mission and it had served to strengthen her determination to maintain The Balance
she was duty bound to protect.

To help ensure Tani’s safety, Tegid, a powerful wiccani
sorcerer, had placed a shielding spell over her Esseni signature, hoping to
mask her essence from the enemy. As added protection she also wore a bracelet
made from the shell of a chemosh, which Cassi had claimed would also help to
block out her signature. Unless the Discordants were actively scanning her for her
signature, she believed she would be safe.

They entered the room and Morana turned to Tani. “How do you
like your room?”

“It’s beautiful.” Tani surveyed the luxurious space. A large
four-poster bed was the central feature, a sensuous dream of gold satin and
silk sheets surrounded by sheer ruby drapes threaded with silver and gold
beads. The whole room was awash with velvet and silk fabrics, the furniture
hand-carved mahogany.

At the far end a huge window opened onto a balcony overlooking
a lush courtyard garden. Tani felt the bile rise in her throat but tamped it
down for the sake of the mission. She needed Morana on her side and therefore
could not afford to offend, even though it angered her that so much wealth
could belong to one person while poverty was rife in Serpens. She also knew
Morana kept slaves, which angered her even more. How anyone could think they
had a right to treat others as property was beyond her.

Tani swung around to face Morana, a fake smile plastered
across her mouth in an effort not to blurt out a comment that might cause offense.
Morana, although beautiful and angelic in appearance, was probably a heartless
bitch. She would have to be ruthless in order to have gained such a position of
power in this rabid society but even so, gazing at her gorgeous exterior, Tani
found it hard to believe there was nothing underneath but greed and
selfishness.

Her hostess was a tall female, at least six foot, making her
taller than Tani by a good couple of inches. This was unnerving to say the
least, as being tall herself, Tani was unused to feeling intimidated by other
women. Morana had a heart-shaped face and flawless mocha skin. Her hair
appeared dark but as Tani drew closer she caught glimpses of copper and blonde
mixed in with the chocolate strands. It was arranged in a bizarre coil, pulled
back from her face and twisted around some kind of ornate tiara studded with
blue sapphires and other gemstones.

Beneath dark arching brows, Morana’s turquoise slanting eyes
flashed with suspicion so that Tani could almost believe she had some inner
knowledge of her thoughts. She definitely had warloki powers and it was
possible she was psychic but Tani had learned to shield her thoughts, a skill
taught to all Eunomi warriors, so she would have felt any intrusion into her
mind if Morana was indeed trying to scan her.

“Well, Tanith Laska,” Morana said as she draped herself
across the velvet sofa at the foot of the bed. “I do hope your stay here is
productive and enjoyable. I will be happy to ensure that your stay brings you
much pleasure.” Lifting her red lips at the corners into a seductive grin,
Morana ran her tongue along the seam suggestively. She was obviously an
accomplished flirt. Her lips parted to reveal two sharp canine fangs and Tani
realized that her host was also sanguini, a blood-drinker. Had Borealis known?
Not that it worried her too much. One of her best friends was a sanguini healer,
but on Lyra most sanguini drank only the blood of lovers or willing volunteers.

On Ophiuchus however, she knew the sanguini were less
restrained in their appetites and much more like the Earthani legends of
bloodthirsty vampires like Dracula. It had always made Tani laugh that her
sanguini friend Ziad was closely related to Drakulus, the sanguini who was
directly responsible for spreading those vampire tales on Earth. He had been a
sanguini to avoid at dinner parties.

Tani was confident she could fight off any attempts by
Morana to drink her blood. It wasn’t that possibility that concerned her. Morana
was eyeing her as if she were the next treat in the candy jar and she swore if
she came out of this alive she was giving Borealis hell for not warning her
that Morana batted for the other team. “I’m sure I will love it,” Tani replied,
walking to open the balcony doors. “Can you tell me about this potential Esseni
and when we can meet him?”

BOOK: Rage to Adore
13.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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