Alternate End #3
Seris broke his connection with Liz wearily, his whole body shaking with fatigue and the effort he had expended to heal her mind. “It’s done,” he said with relief. “I severed the connection Isabel and Khivar formed in her mind and I healed the damage they caused. Liz will be fine.”
Max rushed back to the bed and sat beside Liz. Gently he smoothed her hair as he studied her beautiful face, so relieved that she was going to be okay. He released a deep breath glad that he had the opportunity to be completely honest with her. Still he was worried about how she would react, but that seemed so unimportant compared with what almost happened.
Stroking her soft cheek with his thumb, Max considered everything he needed to confess. He had remembered a lot more about his past life than he had told her.
Khivar had certainly exaggerated and twisted the truth, and showed Liz outright lies, but some of what he’d told Liz was true. And for months Max had been terribly afraid of what Liz’s reaction would be if she learned everything. He had carefully kept the memories hidden from her in his mind, only discussing the circumstances with his mother and Jaetus to verify if what he remembered was the truth. But he couldn’t hide it any longer. It was time to confess everything to her, no matter what the consequences were.
Max looked around the room at the few people and waited until they left before turning back to Liz. Then taking Liz’s head in his hands Max opened their bond wide so that nothing stood between their two minds. He showed her everything that had happened, her false visions and memories, the connection that had allowed Khivar and Isabel to manipulate her, but most of all he concentrated on sending her his overwhelming love.
He wanted her to know with absolute certainty that he didn’t blame her and he trusted and loved her more than ever. Then slowly he woke her from the deep sleep. Through the connection he felt her come awake by degrees, her mind reeling to process the new information.
Suddenly Liz opened her eyes and focused on him and instantly she broke into tears as shame and horror washed through her. “Oh Max I’m so sorry,” she cried. “I never should have believed that about you, even with the evidence and the visions. You could never be like that.”
Max pulled her into his arms, cradling her head against his chest as he stroked her hair. “It’s okay Liz. It wasn’t you.”
“But I almost killed you,” she sobbed. “I let Khivar and Isabel manipulate me so much that I nearly murdered the one person who means more to me than my own life.”
Max held her tightly. “Liz, I’m fine. And none of this is your fault. You didn’t let anything happen. Khivar is more powerful than you are and there was no way you could have stopped him. But we severed the connection they put in your mind and they’ll never be able to get to you again.”
Liz shook her head. “But they’ll know they failed and they’ll come after you another way. Max you have to put the connection back. Maybe we can trick them or maybe through the connection we can figure out where they are.”
Max shook his head. “No Liz, it’s too dangerous. They damaged your mind.”
“But Max,” Liz argued, “I can’t lose you. We have to…”
“Liz,” Max said softly, cutting her off. “It will be alright. We’ll figure out another way and we’ll stop them. I won’t put you in danger again.”
“Okay,” Liz agreed, pulling back to meet his eyes. “We’ll find another way.”
He kissed her forehead. “I told you I wouldn’t survive without you and it is even more true now.”
Tears started in her eyes again remembering what she had intended to do. “Max…”
But he cut her off gently, pressing a finger to her lips. “I saw everything in your mind Liz. I know that it nearly destroyed you thinking you had to kill me. But it makes me love you even more to know that you were willing to do anything to save me, even from myself.”
He wiped at the tears that streamed down her face. “You never stopped loving me even when you thought I was evil, and you knew without a doubt that I loved you.” He smiled. “Nothing could make us stop loving each other. It just isn’t possible.”
More tears shown in her eyes. “I do love you Max. More than I even thought possible.”
“I know it,” Max said fiercely. “And I love you.”
He kissed her gently, pressing their lips together, savoring the moment and the closeness.
And Liz felt the same way. She leaned into him as she kissed him back, so happy and relieved to be proven wrong. But through their connection she could still feel that something was bothering him.
She pulled back to meet his eyes. “Max?”
He looked away briefly unable to stop the rush of guilt. “This isn’t your fault Liz, I want you to know that.” Again he met her eyes. “It is my fault.”
Liz shook her head, “Max no…”
But Max continued. “I should have had you checked after you saw Khivar. I should have known something was wrong with you. I should have felt it.” He shook his head. “I knew something was wrong…” he trailed off. “But it started way before that. I should have protected you from the war, from all the things I had to do. I shouldn’t have let you be involved in any of that.”
Liz touched his face. “Max, we’re partners, we share everything. The good and the bad.”
Max sighed. “But some of the things you saw me do in the war, no one should have to see Liz. And maybe it put doubts in you mind about me, and helped you believe Khivar.”
Liz was incredulous. “Max…”
“That’s not all Liz,” he admitted. “You were right to doubt me. I have been keeping things from you. I remembered a lot more from my other life than I told you.”
Liz’s brow creased. “But why?”
“You and Khivar were partially right,” Max admitted. “I wasn’t a good person in my other life. Some of the things in your visions were true.”
Liz shook her head, but Max quickly continued. “I wasn’t evil, not exactly, but I certainly wasn’t a good man. I was spoiled and petty and cruel and only concerned with my own pleasure. I neglected my duties and had multiple affairs that continued after I was married. I was quick to anger and negligent with my men, sometimes even abusive. I was concerned with the welfare of my people though and in war I was willing to do anything to win, maiming and torturing my enemies to get any information from them.”
He shook his head again. “In Antarian tradition men are the rulers, and even though Vilondra was older, I was the heir and my parents’ favorite. And Vilondra hated me for it her whole life. When we were small she was very cruel to me, teased me, played cruel jokes. But my powers developed quickly, and at a young age I became much stronger than she, and I started to pay her back.”
“I treated my sister horribly after that, doing everything she had done to me and much more.” He looked away. “And after my father died and I was made King it got worse. I controlled her life completely. I knew she was in love with Khivar but I forced her into an engagement she didn’t want.”
He smiled sadly. “I thought it was the perfect revenge for all of the things she had done to me. But in the end it drove her to hate me even more and ultimately is the reason we all died. She colluded with Khivar and they plotted to kill me and take my throne.”
Liz touched his hand. “And why didn’t you tell me this?”
“I didn’t want to believe it,” Max said. “I can’t even believe I did those things. I went to my mother and Jaetus hoping they would tell me it wasn’t true but they confirmed enough that I know it was.”
He looked up meeting her eyes. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to know. I thought you wouldn’t love me anymore if you knew the truth about who I used to be.”
“Max,” Liz said softly, “you are not Zan. You didn’t do any of those things.”
“But I am,” Max insisted. “I did the same kinds of things in the war. What if I…”
“No,” Liz said firmly. “You were never like that. You take care of your family, you are a loyal friend and a good man. You are not the person you used to be. Even when Isabel betrayed you, you let her go. You showed mercy.”
“I ordered her execution later,” Max said, “even though you begged me not to. And I killed Lonni, Rath, Tess.”
Liz nodded and tears gathered in her eyes. “I was wrong to ask you not to execute Isabel. She and Khivar have caused so many deaths over the years, and millions were killed in the war. I just couldn’t believe that she was really evil. But she tried to make me kill you.”
Tears spilled down her cheeks. “I’m sorry Max, you were right.” She shook her head. “And you had to kill Lonni, Rath and Tess too. They would never have stopped until they killed us. You had no other choice.”
Max met her eyes, tears trailing down his own cheeks.
Liz smiled. “You are a good man Max. That’s why I love you and that’s why I though you were worth saving.”
Max gathered her into his arms holding her tightly to him. “Liz I love you so much and I don’t know what I did to deserve you.” He stroked her hair gently. “But I swear that I’ll spend the rest of my life regaining your trust.”
Liz hugged him back. “I do trust you.”
Max kissed the top of her head. “My lies about my past placed a sliver of doubt in your mind even if you didn’t realize it. If I would have told you the truth maybe…” he trailed off. “I promise I won’t keep anything from you.”
“I didn’t mean to doubt you,” Liz said. “I didn’t even know I did until I talked to Khivar. I believed his lies for just a moment.”
“And that’s all he needed to work his evil on you,” Max said softly.
Liz hugged him tighter, her tears starting again. “I’m so sorry Max.”
”No, this isn’t your fault,” he said adamantly. Gently he kissed the tears from her face and then met her eyes. “You’ve had to carry this terrible burden alone. You’re just tired, exhausted. You need to get some rest.”
“No,” Liz said. “We have to figure out how to find Khivar and Isabel. How to save your life.”
“And we’ll do that,” Max promised. “But you’ve been through an ordeal and had your mind healed.”
“I don’t want to be away from you,” Liz said.
Max smiled gently. “I’ll just be in the next room. I won’t go anywhere else and I’ll watch over you while you are sleeping. I can feel how tired you are. Please Liz, just rest for a while.”
Liz was exhausted. All the stress she had been under had completely overwhelmed her and she nodded. “Okay.”
She allowed him to help her into bed and he pulled the blanket up to cover her. Max sat on the edge of the bed next to her and stroked her cheek. “Everything will be alright now,” he said softly. “I promise.”
Liz nodded, sighing in relief.
Max leaned down, kissing her softly and used his powers to lull her into a deep sleep.
Max went into the adjoining sitting room with the others, but he left open the connecting door and took a seat where he could see Liz in the bed.
“Is Liz okay?” asked Kasha.
Max nodded. “She’s very upset but I convinced her to get some rest.”
He looked around at the room’s occupants, his mother, the priest Jaetus, General Darius and the healer Seris. “I want the events of this afternoon kept quiet,” Max said. “No one outside this room needs to know what happened.”
Everyone nodded agreeing.
Max focused on Seris. “The visions Liz has been having of me being killed, were those real?”
Seris shifted uncomfortably. “I’m not sure, your Majesty. The Queen does get real visions but those could have been planted.”
“Or they could be real,” Max said. He turned to General Darius. “You locked down the palace. Did you find anyone or anything suspicious?”
“No, your Majesty,” Darius said. “We found nothing unusual.”
Max nodded and sighed wearily. “Let’s continue with the plans for the conference.”
“But your Majesty,” Darius objected, “now that we know Khivar is still alive it is too dangerous whether the Queen’s visions are true or not. Khivar and your sister will try again to kill you.”
Max turned to look at Liz. He would keep her safe at any cost, but he had responsibilities to his people too. And they couldn’t hide behind the walls of the palace and their guards forever. “We need this conference,” Max said, “and we can’t wait until Khivar is found. We’ll just have to put even more security in place.”
Darius bowed accepting Max’s decision. “As you wish.”
Max nodded. “Let’s discuss the security options and then I want to hear ideas about how we are going to find Khivar and Isabel.”
Khivar smiled at Isabel. “You really are a bloodthirsty creature, my love. I had no idea you hated your brother so much.”
Isabel looked away, turning introspective. “I loved him on Earth, so much. For a long time we were everything to each other, our only connection to home. But as we got more powerful and started learning about the past, we grew apart. It just seemed to happen naturally. And then Max started to control my life on Earth just like he had done on Antar.”
She looked at Khivar. “But I didn’t know that until you showed me the past. Then I remembered everything, and as much as I loved Max on Earth, I hated him on Antar. I remembered the cruel things he did to me, the tricks, the hold he had on my life, the control he had over me. And I remembered how he was favored in everything, how my parents loved him best just because he was male and the heir.”
Isabel shook her head. “But Zan wasn’t fit to be a leader, a King. He was a spoiled, selfish child just like Max, only concerned with his own happiness. I was the strong one. I should have been the leader.”
She reached out to touch Khivar’s face. “But more clearly than anything I remember that Zan forbade me from seeing you and gave me to Rath like I was some possession. That is when I knew my brother had to die.”
Max and the others had talked for hours trying to figure out how to find Khivar and Isabel, but apart from a massive door-to-door search they hadn’t come up with any ideas.
It was now late in the evening and Max suggesting breaking for the night and regrouping early the next morning. The others agreed and moved to the door, his mother the only one remaining.
Kasha approached him and Max hugged her tightly. She stroked his hair as she spoke. “How did Liz react when you told her the truth?”
Max grimaced and pulled away from her. “Liz forgave me completely. She said that I didn’t do any of those things because I’m not Zan.”
Kasha nodded. “It is true Max. You are a different man.”
“But he is in me,” Max argued. “I can remember what it was like to be him and it makes me sick.”
Kasha touched his face. “A lot of it was our fault,” she said softly, “your father and mine. You were our only son, the heir to the throne and we indulged you so much. But I had no idea that Zan and Vilondra hated each other so much until it was too late.”
She shook her head. “But all of that is in the past, another life, other people. You are man of strong principle, a good man.”
Max’s brow creased. “That’s what Liz said too, but it really isn’t true. I reverted to Zan’s habits pretty quickly, using my healing powers to torture and kill.”
“It was a war,” Kasha said. “You were greatly outnumbered and forced to do things to keep your people and your wife safe. You did what you had to do in order to win.”
Max met her eyes. “And we won, and now Liz has seen this side of me that has put doubts about me in her mind.” He shook his head. “Yeah, we won the war, but was it worth the cost?”
Even in sleep Liz could feel Max through their connection and sometime during the night she was aware that he joined her in bed. He spooned her body with his own holding her tightly. His warmth encased her and his love passed through their bond, and Liz sank into an even deeper, more contented sleep.
Hours later she awoke in an empty bed feeling groggy, and was surprised to see Jaetus sitting in a nearby chair.
She sat up alarmed. “Max?”
Jaetus spoke softly. “He is in the next room, your Majesty. He asked me to stay here and watch over you.”
Liz instantly cast her mind out for Max and sighed with relief when she felt him exactly where Jaetus said. But she could tell that Max was busy and quickly withdrew.
Jaetus rose from his chair. “Shall I get the King for you, your Majesty?”
“No, I’m okay,” Liz assured him. She looked into his face and instead of the creepy, fanatical expression she was used to seeing, Liz saw kindness and concern.
“Jaetus,” she said.
Instantly he was next to the bed on one knee. “How may I serve you?”
“Please,” Liz said, “sit next to me.”
He did as she asked and Liz smiled at him sadly.
“Jaetus, I’m sorry.”
A look of confusion passed over his face. “Your Majesty?”
“I have been suspicious of you almost since we arrived on Antar. I thought you were trying to do something to Max or convince him to turn back to his old life. But I know none of that was real now and I’m sorry that I suspected you.”
Jaetus shook his head. “You have nothing to apologize for, your Majesty.”
Liz smiled. “Won’t you call me Liz since we’re alone?”
“That would not be proper, your Majesty. According to Antarian tradition…”
He continued but his words triggered a memory in Liz’s mind.
“Jaetus,” she interrupted. “You are the Order of the Angel.”
“Yes, your Majesty,” he answered.
“Khivar told me that Zha’an was originally two words that meant Angel of Death. And I remember looking it up to make sure it was true.” She shook her head, her brow creased. “I’m not sure if that was real or not but it was one of the things that helped convince me Max was evil.”
“Why?” Jaetus asked. “Why would that trouble you?”
“On Earth the Angel of Death is a mythological being who collects the souls of the dead and takes them to the afterlife,” Liz explained. “But somewhere in our lore it started being associated with an evil being who caused deaths. Now we give the name to some of the worst murderers throughout our history.”
She met Jaetus’ eyes. “So why was Zan called the Angel of Death?”
Jaetus nodded. “Now I understand your concern, your Majesty. But on Antar the phrase Angel of Death has an entirely different meaning. It refers to someone who can bring souls back from the brink of death, and is reserved for only the best healers. All the males in Zan’s family have possessed remarkable healing powers and their line became known as the Angels of Death because they could preserve life when no others could. And our order was founded to serve them and help them with their gift.”
Liz nodded. “And Khivar must have learned about the Earth meaning of the phrase and used it against us.” A shudder raced through her as she realized the most likely way Khivar would have gotten the information.
Jaetus noticed her reaction immediately. “Your Majesty, what is wrong?”
Tears started in Liz’s eyes as she met his. “Isabel told Khivar.”
Suddenly Max burst into the room, having felt Liz’s distress through their connection. “Liz?”
“I’m okay,” she assured him. “I’m just still realizing how much Isabel was working against us.”
Jaetus bowed low and silently exited the room closing the door behind him and leaving them alone.
Max sat beside her on the bed. “I’m sorry. I know how hard it is.”
“For you too,” Liz said.
Max nodded and took her hand. “Liz, the visions that you’ve been having almost since we arrived on Antar that I was going to die,” he paused and looked up to meet her eyes. “Are those real?”
Liz shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“But yesterday,” Max continued, “you said you had a vision of us both being killed.”
Liz squeezed her eyes tightly shut, her answer coming out in a whisper. “I’m so sorry Max. I made that up. I knew if you were concerned for my life that you would never leave me alone.”
“Oh,” Max said with realization. Liz had lured him to their room where they could be alone so she could kill him.
Isabel paced restlessly around the room. If Max blamed Liz for trying to kill him, he would have already announced her treachery and a date for her execution. Her brother was unswerving when he made a decision if nothing else.
So Max must have discovered that she and Khivar were behind the attempt on his life. Isabel smiled, knowing how incredulous he would have been when he realized she was still alive. And how he must be brooding overtime to try and figure out what she and Khivar were planning.
“But you won’t have to wonder for long, brother dear,” she said aloud. “We’re coming for you, and you’ll never even realize what happened.”
Max had scheduled meetings most of the day, but he hadn’t wanted Liz to be put through the stress of attending so soon after her mind was healed. So he had talked her into taking it easy for a few days and asked Jaetus to stay with her to protect her.
Currently Liz was walking through the domed atrium with Jaetus just behind her. She’d wanted to go outside and get some fresh air but Max had asked her not to unless he was with her so she’d settled for the greenhouse. It was almost like being outside. The sun streamed down warming her skin as she looked at the flowers and listened to the gurgling of the small stream. In the peaceful environment it was almost possible to forget all the troubles outside and she wished that Max was there to share it with her.
The sound of Jaetus’ voice made her jump. She had momentarily forgotten he was there and she turned quickly toward him and almost fell.
Jaetus automatically reached to steady her and Liz flinched away from him.
Immediately he apologized. “I am sorry, your Majesty. I didn’t mean to startle you.” He stayed carefully still. “Your Majesty, would you feel more comfortable with someone else protecting you?”
Liz shook her head. “No. And I’m the one who’s sorry. I trust you Jaetus. It’s just the last time you touched me I had a horrible vision, and it probably wasn’t real but that is why I reacted like I did. I’m sorry.”
Jaetus nodded but remained otherwise still.
Liz smiled at him. “What was it that you asked me a moment ago?”
“I asked if you were getting tired,” Jaetus said.
Liz nodded. “I am a little tired.”
Jaetus motioned to a nearby bench. “Would you like to rest for a few moments?”
Liz held out her arm to him and after a moment Jaetus moved slowly toward her and took it, walking with her to the bench. She sat down and looked up at him smiling. “Thank you.”
Jaetus bowed. “Thank you, your Majesty.”
Max sat in the meeting struggling to pay attention but his mind kept wandering to Liz. Even though they had discovered the connection that Khivar had forced on her and healed her mind he couldn’t stop worrying about her. As long as Khivar was alive she wasn’t safe. None of them were.
And the discussion in the meeting about security and safety wasn’t helping. It kept drawing Max’s mind back to the war and the terrible things he had done, and his reasons for doing them. Yes he had wanted to win the war for his people and to get rid of the tyrant Khivar, but even more importantly he had fought to win the war to keep Liz safe.
Everything he had done was for her and he knew without a doubt that he would do it all again. Briefly he wondered what kind of person that made him, but it really didn’t matter. Liz’s safety was the only thing that mattered. When it came to Liz he would do anything.
Liz’s sleep was troubled.
It was the first day of the conference and it had been a long day, packed with receptions where they were introduced to Max’s many supporters, and meetings geared toward reorganizing the government. There had been so much going on that Liz had barely had time to think. But as the afternoon progressed into evening she’d had a vague feeling of unrest that steadily grew.
Max had been worried about her but she had assured him she was okay, and they had made slow, sweet love which had chased her fears away. But now that she was finally asleep the feelings returned and followed her into her dreams.
Dark, menacing images flickered through her mind, Khivar, Isabel and countless others with no names and no faces. They were simply shadows with no form, hiding in the darkness, ready to pounce when they got an opportunity.
With a gasp Liz awoke, sitting in bed. For a moment she felt relief that it had only been a dream until she realized that something had woken her.
She glanced quickly around the dark room, looking into every corner, listening for any sign of trouble. But she heard only Max’s soft breathing and saw nothing but shadows, and she released a deep, shuddering breath. It had just been a bad dream, they weren’t in danger.
She lay back down and turned to Max, and even though he was soundly asleep he took her in his arms, cradling her against his chest. Liz breathed deeply letting his familiar scent fill her senses calming her instantly. She blinked sleepily, letting her eyes slide shut, but a small movement drew her attention.
A shadow on the wall wavered slightly, gently swaying back and forth. It was cast from a branch, was her first thought, moving in the wind. But as she continued to watch it the shadow started to twist and swirl. She couldn’t seem to look away as its movement quickened, and it seemed to fold back onto itself growing in size. The other shadows in the room started to move too and they gathered together, joining with the original to create a huge swirling mass.
Liz tried to cry out, tried to move but she was being held in place by a force she couldn’t see. The shadow detached itself from the wall and moved toward the bed. It twisted faster and faster and Liz was shocked to it see form into a person. She felt panic rise up within her as she recognized Khivar.
He stepped out of the shadow holding an enormous sword and swung it directly at Max.
And Liz screamed, sitting up as she finally came awake.
Soaring With Angels |
Alt End #3 Part 1 - Alt End #3 Part 3
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