BOOK 12 DESTINY DERIVED
(THE ROYAL FOUR RECLAIMED)
(Capitol city of Roistar - formerly Tageonon)
(Secret Headquarters of the Resistance Loyal to the Tageonants)
(Earth Date - Saturday, June 8th, 2002)
(Antar date - 2.28.23692)
Max and Liz held hands as they entered the chamber where the Granolith had been set up. It seemed to flicker and pulse as if it anticipated the contact and Max squeezed Liz's hand to signal his readiness. Together they sat on the floor, their knees touching the base of the enigmatic machine, and they allowed the connection between them to open fully.
They both experienced the rush of images and emotions that were typical of their connection and felt their minds and souls yearning to become one. The urge to complete the connection and lose themselves in each other was strong but they controlled the link so their minds and souls were just touching.
At the edge of their combined perception, they sensed the energy of the Granolith and together they widened the connection to include it. For a moment nothing happened, but suddenly an additional rush of images and emotions slammed into them. The images flashed through their linked minds faster and faster, like a movie on extreme fast forward. There was so much information and they tried to comprehend what they were seeing, but the intensity of the emotions accompanying the blurred images was so overwhelming that tears flowed down both their cheeks. There was extreme joy, debilitating sorrow, betrayal, and terror.
And as suddenly as the images had started, they stopped.
Max and Liz were breathing hard as if they had been physically pushed to the edge and gasped for air trying to catch their breath. For long minutes there were no other sounds in the room as their overwhelmed minds tried to decipher what they had seen. But gradually, one by one, the pictures started to form in their linked minds and become clear.
Liz gasped as she realized what she was seeing. More tears spilled down her cheeks and she spoke to Max through the connection. Max, I remember you. I remember everything.
I remember too! Max exclaimed. He reached out to touch her face. I remember meeting you, loving you, our life together, everything.
They embraced one another, tightly, laughing with joy. But after only a few moments, the sorrows came back to them too.
I also remember my family, our plan, the war, Max sighed. Everything went bad so quickly, he said, referring to the brief war and Khivar's usurpation. I would have never believed it could happen so fast, even with your predictions.
But at least we were together until the end, Liz reminded him.
Until Khivar told us about the traitor Chanya, and then Nicholas and T. Greer killed us, Max said angrily.
Liz gasped as realization dawned.
What? Max asked, concerned.
Don't you see? Liz asked. It couldn't have been a mistake sending Chanya to Earth instead of me. None of our followers would have confused Chanya with me. But Chanya knew about the plan, she was helping your mother, and she was working with Khivar. She would have had access to our bodies after we were killed. Chanya must be the one who took your genetic material and substituted her own for mine. So in part, we have her to thank for the three of you being alive.
Max shook his head. She did it for completely selfish reasons. Chanya wanted everyone to think she was my wife, and it almost worked. And she tried to make sure that you were dead. Max grew angrier with every word. As far as I'm concerned, Chanya murdered you. And Tess definitely inherited Chanya's bad habits. It didn't take much for her to betray us again.
But Ava isn't like that, Liz reminded him. She helped save your life when she had no reason to and I will respect her for that the rest of my life. Liz reached up to touch his face. I remember liking Chanya very much and I always regretted that I didn't have the time to get to know her better. I thought that we could have been good friends, and I feel the same kind of connection with Ava, but it's even stronger. Maybe because Ava has been kicked around her whole life and it made me feel protective toward her.
Max nodded. We've seen that the clones can be very different. I mean look at Lonni and Rath compared to Michael and Isabel. So I'm sure you're right, Ava is a very different person than Tess. Ava got the majority of the Chanya's good qualities and Tess got the majority of the bad ones.
Liz could feel Max's sorrow through the connection as if it were her own, and she instantly knew the reason why. Max, she said, making sure she had his full attention, I know it's hard for you having Tess as your son's mother, especially with everything we've found out. But we'll make sure that your son is raised in a loving family and he will turn out to be a good man, like his father.
Max took Liz's hand in his and brought it to his lips. You always make me feel better.
It's just the truth, Liz said with a smile.
Max took her other hand. I remember in our other life, how I used to draw strength from your presence and that hasn't changed. I feel stronger, my mind clearer when you are with me.
Liz nodded, I feel the same way. Its because we are two halves that make a whole. We aren't complete without one another.
After heading an extensive search for Max and the Granolith, Nicaron finally arrived at the palace to face Khivar. He bowed formally before his master, who sat on the King's throne. "Your Majesty."
With a wave of his hand, Khivar dismissed the others from the room. "Rise General," he said, and then waited for the others to depart before continuing. "There is no progress?"
Nicaron shook his head. "No, Max's transport just seems to have disappeared."
Khivar nodded thoughtfully. "I want every available man assigned to the search, but be sure that no one knows exactly who we are searching for. Just say they are aliens wanted for crimes against the crown. If word got out that Max was back on Antar it could cause his supporters to rally. But more importantly, I don't want Isabel to know. It is obvious that Max only came back now to retrieve his sister."
"What about their powers?" Nicaron asked. "Can Max contact Isabel?"
Khivar shook his head. "I don't think so, but Liz can. Isabel told me she has the power to astral project. So when you alerted me they were on the planet, I gave Isabel a sedative until I could get Sendoa to block any connections she might have with Max or Liz."
Nicaron nodded. "How do you want us to continue the search?"
"A complete martial law lockdown and an early curfew. Anyone caught out afterward is to be imprisoned. I want checkpoints at every city gate and all the spaceports. Send some of your best troops to watch Duke Varros' estate and Governor Telnada's mansion, in case Michael or Liz attempt to contact their parents."
Khivar sighed, "Of course, it won't do any good. Nedra and her followers have successfully eluded us for over sixty years and I am positive they have been in Roistar for almost the entire time. They have become very adept at hiding."
"What do we do if Max announces to his followers that he has returned?" Nicaron asked. "It could cause an uprising or at the very least civil unrest."
"He won't," Khivar said confidently. "Max will lay low for a while until he decides how to rescue Isabel. If there is one thing I know about Zan, and it has definitely carried over into Max, he never acts on impulse."
(Secret Headquarters of the Resistance Loyal to the Tageonants)
Rath stuffed another heaping scoop of food into his mouth and chewed noisily. "Not bad," he said, talking with his mouth full. "I could get used to this."
Michael watched him with disgust and leaned into Maria. "Is that what I look like eating?"
Maria patted him on the arm. "Sometimes honey."
"Remind me to take some etiquette lessons," Michael said.
Ryan glanced at Rath and turned to Maria and Michael, rolling his eyes.
Ryan had removed his husk when they arrived on the planet and Maria was surprised how closely his real self resembled the husk. He really did have red hair and green eyes, but his eyes were a deep, bright green that had never existed on Earth. He had also asked them to call him by his real name, Ryden.
Alex spoke up, breaking the silence, "Are you glad to finally be home, Ryden?"
He nodded. "And I am certainly glad to be out of the husk."
Sean motioned to him with a jut of his chin. "Why did you decide to stay with us instead of going home to your family?"
Ryden shook his head. "I don't have any family."
Rath ignored their conversation and motioned to the door where Nedra, Max and Liz had disappeared a few minutes before. "So it turns out that Liz was the real Queen and not Ava after all."
Ava glared at him.
Rath shrugged. "Sorry Ava, but it does make a lot of sense. Like why Zan never wanted you."
Tears started in Ava's eyes and she quickly jumped up and left the table.
Maria rose and went after her, hitting Rath as she moved past him. "Jerk."
Rath turned to the guys left at the table. "Women, huh?"
"Smooth," Sean said.
Rath rolled his eyes. "I never liked that chick anyway, and now we know she's nothing special."
"She isn't the Queen so you have to treat her like crap?" Kyle asked.
Rath ignored him and continued, "But it's for sure though, right? I mean, how is it possible that Liz, who was born a human, is the former Queen of another planet?"
"I think it was reincarnation," Kyle said. "And yeah, it's for sure. Max remembers her."
"Reincarnation," Rath mused. "I guess that would explain it." He turned his gaze to Michael. "So then who screwed up and sent the wrong genetic material?"
Michael shrugged, Rath's questions making him uncomfortable. "Don't know. We don't remember what happened either."
Rath's eye's narrowed briefly but he nodded.
Michael nudged Rath. "You should apologize to Ava."
Rath held his gaze for a moment and then bobbed his head to the side and smiled. "Yeah, you're right."
Tess had been waiting impatiently to talk to Khivar since he had brought her back to Antar against her will. She had sent message after message to him but she had received no answer and when she tried to leave her quarters, she was reminded by the guards outside her door, that she was completely under Khivar's power. There was nothing she could do until he sent for her.
She spared a quick glance for her son, being held by the nanny Khivar had sent to her, and once again Tess wished she could have found another way to get Max to be with her. The idea of having a baby was wonderful. They were so cute and cuddly and smelled so good, but she had never really been around a baby for more than a few minutes, and the reality left a lot to be desired. Little Zantas demanded so much of her time, with feeding and changing and waking her in the middle of the night, and she was beginning to hate the sight of him.
And what good was he now anyway? she asked herself. Khivar had taken her away from Earth and Max, and there was no chance of him coming after them now.
Her musings were interrupted by a knock at her door and she turned to answer it, eager for any distraction. Tess was only momentarily surprised when she saw two men. She recognized Khivar, from the brief greeting he had given her on her arrival, but the other man was a stranger. "Oh," she said stepping aside, "come in."
Khivar and the other man entered. Khivar motioned to the nanny but spoke to Tess. "Perhaps the nanny could take the child for a walk. I would like to have a talk with you."
With a negligent wave of her hand, Tess dismissed the nanny and her son, and turned back to the men, eyeing Khivar's companion with interest. He was a tall man, almost as tall as Khivar and the pair of them towered over her. Khivar's companion had jet-black hair, a striking contrast to Khivar's golden beauty, and he had a rugged, handsome face that held an edge of cruelty. He stood quietly but there was an energy surrounding him as if he were poised to pounce, his dark eyes taking in everything around him.
"What do you and your friend want to talk about?" Tess asked.
Khivar suddenly realized that Tess didn't recognize his companion and motioned to him. "Perhaps you don't remember Nicholas' true form."
Tess' eyes grew wide. "Nicholas?"
The General sank down onto a chair. "Nicaron actually. General Calles Nicaron. Nicholas was just the name I adopted for my time on Earth."
Tess shook her head. "Why is he back on Antar? You didn't kill Max did you?"
Khivar shook his head. "Of course not. I have simply recalled all troops from Earth." He took a seat next to Nicaron and motioned to a chair across from them for Tess to do the same. "I am sorry I've had no time to see you since your return to Antar," Khivar started smoothly. "You have sent several messages indicating that you wished to see me and I think I can guess the reason."
"Yeah," Tess said petulantly. "Like why did you bring me here before I was able to get Max to come with me?"
Khivar looked at her with sympathy. "I am sorry to tell you Tess that Max won't come to you even though you do have his son."
"Of course he will," Tess argued. "He is an honorable man. He will take responsibility for his son."
Khivar nodded. "Yes, he will claim his son, but not you. I have discovered that Max knows your true identity, and he wants nothing to do with you."
Tess shook her head. "No! How did he find out?"
"Apparently Larek knew who you were all along," Khivar said.
"I know," Tess said, "so I mind warped them to stay away from him."
"It wore off," Khivar said simply. "Larek told them the truth the day you left in the Granolith."
Tess was dumbfounded. Max had known for over a year who she really was. She didn't have a chance with him, but she still had the baby.
Khivar continued when Tess remained silent. "Larek also told them what really became of Ava."
Tess' brow wrinkled in confusion. "What do you mean? I assumed she was dead."
"She did die," Khivar said. "But apparently was reborn, into a human."
"A human? How is that possible?" Tess asked. "And who is it?"
Khivar smiled. "A human girl, Max's soul mate and best friend, someone with an unearthly connection to him. Someone for whom he was willing to risk everything."
"Liz!" Tess hissed angrily. She rose from her chair and paced angrily, motioning wildly with her hands. "That bitch always ruined everything, and now you tell me she's his real wife!"
"So," Khivar said softly, "you can see that the life you wanted with Max is impossible, but I still wish to continue our deal for control of his son."
Tess' first reaction was to tell Khivar he could have the kid, but she quickly realized that baby Zan was her only bargaining chip, and the only chance she had of getting Max's attention. Knowing who she was, Max might not come to her willingly but he would come for his son and she would take full advantage of that opportunity.
She looked at Khivar calculatingly. She should still be able to get everything she wanted from him and maybe he would be willing to compensate her for the loss of Max in their deal.
Tess smiled. "In exchange for Max in our deal, I think you should elevate me to Duchess, compensate me monetarily, and allow me to live in the palace for as long as I want."
Khivar nodded. "As you wish."
Tess smiled and then turned her gaze to Nicholas. No, she corrected herself immediately, not the child Nicholas any longer. Nicaron was definitely a man. He was Khivar's most trusted General and the second most powerful man on Antar. She allowed her gaze to take in his lean, muscled body and handsome face. If she couldn't have Max yet, she would look elsewhere for companionship.
If she thought she had a chance, she would have attempted Khivar himself, but with Isabel around, she knew it wasn't possible. But Nicaron was an acceptable substitute until she could get Max back.
Tess knew it wouldn't be easy, but when she got her chance with Max she would make sure to erase all evidence of Liz from his mind, and then they could be happy together.
Khivar watched the flashes of emotion across Tess' face and knew exactly what she was thinking. He had also seen her telltale gaze at the General and wondered if he would be able to use her interest in Nicaron to his advantage.
Khivar looked to Nicaron and motioned to Tess with an almost imperceptible jut of his chin.
Nicaron answered with an equally imperceptible tilt of his head.
Khivar spoke, drawing Tess' attention to him. "Perhaps General, you would show the new Duchess around the palace, since it is to be her home."
Nicaron smiled and rose, offering his arm to Tess. "It would be my pleasure."
Khivar watched as Nicaron, with Tess on his arm, disappeared into the winding passageways of the palace's guest quarters, and then turned the opposite direction. It was amazing that Tess thought she could conceal anything from him. She was still only a child and her face was as open to him as a book, and even without the skills of an empath, he could read her every thought.
Tess still thought she had a chance with Max, even though she was obviously shopping for a temporary replacement for him in her bed. And it looked as if Nicaron was her first choice.
Khivar had agreed to her terms readily, hoping to pacify Tess until the current situation with Max was resolved. If she learned Max was on the planet, she could make things difficult. So Khivar had told her of Max's discovery of her true identity to keep her off balance. And as Khivar had anticipated, Tess had greedily grabbed at the chance to stay in the palace and play courtier.
Perhaps it would have been easier to simply keep her locked in her room, but this way, Tess would cooperate because she thought she was being compensated. Later he would have to warn Tess to keep her distance from Isabel. Understandably, Isabel was still furious at Tess for betraying them and Khivar wasn't sure what she would do to Tess. Of course, Khivar thought, if Isabel did kill the meddlesome blonde, it might solve several of his problems. But for now, he would keep Tess alive and under his control.
Khivar stopped at the door to Isabel's suite of rooms and entered without knocking. Isabel was still sedated and Khivar had sent for Sendoa, the man he employed whose special ability was blocking mental connections and powers.
Khivar walked through the sitting room and into Isabel's bedchamber, sitting on the edge of the bed next to her. With a gentle hand, Khivar smoothed a stray tendril of hair from her face, as he lovingly gazed down at her. While Isabel was asleep, Sendoa would obstruct any mental ties Isabel had to her brother or Liz, and then Khivar wouldn't have to worry about Isabel discovering they were on Antar.
He had thought when he finally got Isabel to Antar that there wouldn't be any further problems between them. He had never even considered that Max would find a way to come home. And Khivar had to keep her away from Max and the rest of her family. He wouldn't lose Isabel to her brother again.
(Secret Headquarters of the Resistance Loyal to the Tageonants)
Max and Liz emerged from the Granolith room to find Nedra waiting for them.
Max pulled his mother into an embrace. "We remember everything, mother."
Nedra hugged him back, tears streaming down her face. "I'm so glad to have you back, Max." She turned to bring Liz into the embrace, "Liz."
After a moment Max reluctantly broke the embrace. "Mother, we have a lot to tell you but we didn't want everything revealed in front of everyone."
Nedra nodded. "You mean Rath."
Max nodded. "We'll tell you what happened, and afterward we'll have a meeting with the others to figure out how we're going to get Isabel back."
Ava closed herself in her room and let her tears fall freely. Rath was right, of course. Somehow her Zan had sensed that she wasn't his wife and he had never loved her. She had loved him, or at least she thought she had until she met Kyle. The relationship she had with Kyle was still new but it was deeper than anything she had ever experienced with Zan.
A smile lit her face as she thought of Kyle, and Ava wiped at her wet cheeks. She had to admit that her tears were more from a sense of disappointment and frustration than a real love she had left for Zan. Because no matter how much she thought she loved Zan, how could it be real love when he hadn't loved her too? It was just still so hard for her to believe that she wasn't who she had thought she was.
A soft knock at her door drew her attention. "Come in."
Maria pushed the door open. "Are you okay?"
Ava nodded, "Yeah. Rath just knows how to get to me. He's been doing it his whole life."
Maria sat next to her. "I thought you and Kyle were getting close."
"We are," Ava said. "It's just hard to have everything you've ever known your whole life, pulled out from under you."
Ava continued, "I don't remember very much from my other life, not even my friends or family. Sometimes I'm scared to remember. I mean what if I'm a bad person, like Tess? She betrayed all of you, and I let Lonni and Rath kill Zan. We're the same."
Maria shook her head. "No way. You didn't know they were going to kill Zan and you would have stopped them if you could. Tess was evil from day one. She manipulated everyone to get what she wanted. She used Alex and nearly killed him and I'm sure she would have killed Liz if she thought she could get away with it. Tess wanted Max and she used ever dirty trick she could think of to get him. She didn't even care that he didn't want her."
Maria shook her head again. "You're nothing like Tess, believe me Ava." She smiled. "I didn't like or trust her from the first, but I really like you and I know Liz does too."
Ava smiled. "You guys have been great, welcoming me into your family. I never had girl friends before."
Maria pulled her into a quick hug. "Well you do now and it's not just me and Liz. You get one of us, you get the whole gang."
Ava nodded and another knock sounded on the door. "Come in," she called out.
Kyle stuck his head around the partially open door and saw Maria. "Oh, you guys are still talking. I just wanted to make sure you were okay Ava. I'll come back later."
"Hang on, Kyle," Maria said, with a wink to Ava. "I was just leaving." She smiled at Kyle and quickly left the room.
Kyle fidgeted just inside the door. "I'm sorry Rath is such a jerk. He doesn't know what he's talking about anyway. I'm sure that what you and Zan had was very special."
Ava smiled at his nervousness. "We were great friends and I thought I wanted more than that, but he never loved me." She rose from the bed and crossed to Kyle, taking his hand, "What you and I share is special, more special than anything I've had before."
"Really?" Kyle asked, surprised.
"Yeah," Ava said. "I love you Kyle."
A huge grin broke out on Kyle's face. "I love you too."
Max looked at the anxious faces gathered around him, to decide how to rescue Isabel. Liz was at his side of course, and all of their friends from Earth were also there, only absent was Rath. Also present was Cuerena, General Toaks and Max's mother, Nedra.
Toaks started, "Even though we have heard nothing of the Princess' arrival, I think we can assume Khivar has her with him at the palace."
Nedra nodded. "We have a spy on Khivar's staff and we sent a message to him when you contacted us Max, but we haven't received a reply. But it usually takes a few days for him to get messages and then another few days to respond. It is the only completely safe way, but it is frustratingly slow."
Liz spoke up, "Khivar hasn't announced Isabel's arrival on the planet. He must be waiting for something specific because Isabel's support would strengthen his position and could end the war."
Toaks nodded, "I don't think Khivar is concerned about the war. There are those who speculate that the war allows Khivar an excuse for his continued despicable treatment of the people."
"What exactly has been happening since we died?" Max asked Toaks.
"The entire planet has been under martial law since Khivar took the throne," Toaks said. "There are curfews, trade restrictions, decreased personal freedom, increased government interference in day-to-day life. The planet's economy is suffering, the crime rate is steadily rising and there is widespread disease and starvation among the common people. Khivar controls all media sources, all of the food and medical resources and their distribution."
"Sounds like Russia when the communists were in charge," Sean said.
Toaks continued, "Khivar has severely limited the power of the Council. It is just a figurehead now, echoing whatever Khivar tells them. At first there was some dissent from the stronger members, like your father the Duke," he motioned to Michael. "Duke Raltos stood against Khivar on a number of issues and in the beginning he had a lot of supporters. But Khivar had some of the members removed from the Council on technicalities of law, other members were imprisoned, and some simply disappeared. Now there are few left who would openly challenge Khivar."
"What about my father?" Michael asked.
"He is still on the Council," Toaks said. "He's the only one who voices dissent against Khivar. He is too strong and well liked for Khivar to remove him from the Council, but the Duke is only a single voice and he is growing old. Perhaps Khivar thinks he can just wait him out."
"Why don't the people just revolt?" Maria asked.
"Because Khivar controls a vast army that he has been building for the last sixty years," Toaks said. "It is nothing like Antar has ever seen before, containing tens of thousands of loyal, well-trained members. Khivar offers a good life to those who are loyal to him. They are guaranteed housing, food and medical attention for themselves and their families. Many of the noble families have agreed to support him for these reasons."
"Khivar also considers the commoners to be inferior because they have little or no powers and he is severely limiting supplies to them, probably hoping to wipe them out." Toaks turned to Max, "The common people could be a resource we can use against Khivar since it was well known that you always cared for them."
Max nodded. "What about other resources? My supporters? The other planets?"
Toaks nodded, "We have a growing band of supporters who make small raids against Khivar's stores, taking food, medical supplies and weapons."
"How many is a small band?" asked Michael.
"Five thousand, perhaps ten," Toaks said and then turned to Max. "But if it were announced that you had returned, your Majesty, I believe the number would easily triple overnight. As for support from the other planets, I don't know. Khivar's ships control the shipping lanes and he charges the other planets outrageous tariffs on all imports because they won't declare him the ultimate ruler of the system. The planets must have the supplies and they are forced to pay for them. Paying Khivar for all of these years has taken a toll on the planets, severely limiting their resources and I don't know if they would help if they could. They have taken to attacking one another to try and steal supplies, and after the summit on Earth, Kathana openly aligned with Khivar."
"Okay," Max said, "the first thing we need to do is find out for sure where Isabel is. The spy may or may not be able to tell us anything and we can't wait." He reluctantly turned to Liz, "Would you try to contact Isabel?"
Liz nodded and closed her eyes, concentrating on Isabel. She felt the familiar sense of flying for a moment, Isabel's essence leading Liz to her, but suddenly it seemed to Liz like the connection had been cut and she felt herself falling. Frantically she tried to sense the connection again but it was gone. Without the connection to lead her, she felt like she was spiraling out of control and she struggled to manage her power and settle back into her body.
After a few uncertain moments, Liz succeeded and opened her eyes, breathing heavily after her frightening experience. "I don't know what happened. I can feel Isabel but the connection isn't there any more. It's like someone put up a brick wall between us."
Max was concerned, "You couldn't see anything? Even where she was?"
Liz shook her head. "I am pretty sure I was traveling north before I was stopped."
"The palace is north of here," Toaks said.
Max turned to his mother. "Could Khivar have somehow blocked Liz from getting to Isabel."
Nedra nodded. "Khivar employs a number of people who have the ability to block connections. He uses them to punish those disloyal to him, blocking them from friends and family, their spouses."
"And he's done this to Isabel?" Michael asked. "But wouldn't that block any connection he would have with her too?"
"No," Nedra said. "The blocks can be directed to specific connections and I am told can even be reversed."
"Khivar must have really wanted to make sure we didn't contact her," Maria said. "He has her in that palace and he can control everything she hears and sees, and he doesn't want her to know we're here."
"But how does Khivar know we're here?" Liz asked. "If the blocks can be specifically directed, he wouldn't have blocked me from her mind unless he knows we're here."
"Maybe he was afraid you would contact her from Earth," Alex suggested.
"It wouldn't be possible," Cuerena said. "No one has that much power."
"So Khivar knows we're here," Max said softly. "It could be a traitor in our midst again or maybe he found the ship and guessed we stole it."
"Either way," Michael said, "he knows we're here and our job just got ten-times harder."
Max nodded. "We'll have to wait for the message from the spy, but in the mean time we need a current layout of the palace. Has Khivar remodeled? Did he find all of our secret tunnels? What kind of guards does he have at the palace and what are their routines? Also now more than ever we need the information from Hale, Raltos and the amplifier. We need to know about any weakness in Khivar's powers or his army. Anything could be helpful."
He looked at each of the people before him. "We're not ready for a full scale war against Khivar. That's a battle for another time. But we won't let him keep and use Isabel. Our mission is simple, we get her back and we get out."
Khivar carefully watched Isabel across the dinner table. She had awoken just an hour earlier and seemed to be totally unaware of the procedure preformed on her.
When he had first brought her to the planet he had worried that Isabel would demand an immediate end to the war now that she was with him. Khivar had even prepared excuses hoping to use her own insecurity against her.
He had laid the groundwork when they returned and he had revealed his true form to her, telling her that he understood she would want to take things between them slowly. He had put her in Vilondra's old suite of rooms in the palace and assured her he wouldn't pressure her in their relationship, telling her to take as much time as she needed to ease in to her life again. Additionally he had told her that he wouldn't announce her presence on Antar until she was ready to face their people and her mother.
And he could tell that Isabel was relieved and grateful for his concern and patience. As he suspected, she was afraid to face her mother, fearing that her mother wouldn't approve of her decision to be with him.
Khivar knew the news of Isabel's support for him could strengthen his position. It could put Max's followers off guard or perhaps even divide them, but Khivar had decided to wait to announce Isabel's presence until it would do him the most good.
He looked at Isabel again, noting the dark circles under her eyes. It was almost like they were dating again, he mused. He joined her for every meal in her sitting room, took her for walks around the palace grounds and on the nearby shore, simply letting her get to know him again. Or letting Isabel get used to him and her new surroundings, he admitted.
Khivar spoke, breaking the silence. "You slept a long time today," he said. "How do you feel?"
Isabel met his gaze across the table and shrugged. "Tired still. Is there such a thing as space-lag? I've only been her a couple of days and I don't think I'm used to the time difference yet."
Khivar nodded. "It happens frequently with all of the interstellar and interplanetary travel. Or perhaps your body is still recovering from your illness," he suggested. "I could call for the healer again."
Isabel shook her head. "I'm sure it will be fine. I just need a little longer to acclimatize."
(Secret Headquarters of the Resistance Loyal to the Tageonants)
Max and Liz took Michael aside as the others left.
"What's going on?" Michael asked with narrowed eyes. "You two seem, I don't know, different."
Max took Liz's hand. "Michael, when we connected with the Granolith, we got our memories back."
"All of your memories?" Michael asked. "Like everything about your past lives?"
Liz nodded. "Everything Michael."
"Well I want to try it too," Michael blurted out.
"Are you sure?" Max asked. "You are the one who wanted to stay on Earth and make a normal life. We don't want to do this if you're not sure."
Michael sighed, "It was different before. And as I remember," he said to Max, "that's all you've ever wanted was to stay with Liz and make a normal life, but here you are, accepting your destiny as the King of the planet." Michael smiled. "I know I'm not as important as you and Liz, but I was a warrior and your second in command, something in my memory could help us save Isabel."
Max smiled, "Okay. Tomorrow after breakfast we'll take you to the Granolith."
Ava watched Rath throughout the late dinner. When she had first entered the room, he had issued an uncharacteristic apology and she wondered what had prompted his action.
And when he finally rose from the table, Ava followed him, calling out when they were a sufficient distance from the others. "Rath."
He turned toward her. "Yeah?"
Ava stopped a few feet from him. "I just wanted to know why you apologized."
Rath shrugged. "I was rude and I hurt your feelings."
"But you never cared about that before," Ava pointed out.
"I always knew it was mean," Rath said, "but I just went along with how Lonni treated you. But she's not here and I'm trying to be nicer, to fit into the group better."
Ava nodded. "Lonni always hated me but I never knew why."
"Neither did I," Rath admitted. "She never told me, but I think she must have known your true identity for a long time. Lonni started remembering stuff from her other life when she was really young and I know she remembers a lot. I think she figured out who you were and kept it to herself, maybe to blackmail you or something. That's what she did with Tess."
"That sounds like Lonni," Ava said. She studied Rath for a moment. "Do you remember anything from your other life?"
Rath shrugged. "Not very much, and most of it was what Lonni showed me from her memories. She showed me that I was a General, her brother's second in command and heir to a huge estate, but Cuerena had already told us that. Lonni showed me that we were engaged and the kick-ass parties we used to go to."
Rath motioned to Ava. "What about you? What do you remember?"
Ava shook her head. "Nothing," she said softly. "Nothing at all."
Liz watched with a touch of jealously as Max said goodnight to his mother. Now that she had regained her memories, Liz could remember every detail about her own parents and she mourned the time that she had lost with them. They were good people, who loved her deeply and she knew her death must have devastated them.
She hadn't seen her parents for months before her death and they were unaware of the plan to send the Royal Four to Earth. They most likely still thought she had died and Liz felt a terrible sorrow for their pain.
Her parents lived less than a hour's journey from where they were and Liz longed to contact them and tell them of her return, but it was simply too dangerous. Maybe after they got Isabel back there would be time to send a message to her parents, before the group returned to Earth. It was possible she would never see them again but at least they would know she was okay.
Song Playing: Loving the Alien by David Bowie
Isabel crossed to the window in her bedchamber and looked out into the night. The lights from the city glowed brightly in the distance, illuminating the dark sky. Stars shone above, and except for the two extra moons, she could have been on Earth. But, Isabel corrected herself, on Earth she had never seen surroundings as opulent as this room.
Khivar had told her this room had been hers, when she had been Vilondra. Nothing had been moved since her death, he assured her, everything was exactly the way she had left it. It was the room she had grown up in, the room where she had played, and hoped and dreamed.
Isabel had carefully examined the things that had belonged to her, things that had meant something to her once, but she didn't remember anything.
Khivar had led her to this room when they arrived two days ago, explaining that she still needed to rest and recuperate. But he had also told her he wanted her to stay in her own room until she felt comfortable with him. He had assured her he wouldn't rush her into sharing his room or his bed.
Isabel thought being in her own room would be comforting, but being surrounded by her things that she didn't remember, was depressing. Somehow it reminded her of everything she had left behind on Earth, her parents, her friends, Michael and Max and the rest of her family.
She hadn't even asked Khivar about her mother, her real mother. Isabel was afraid of what her mother would think of her when she found out she had voluntarily agreed to return with Khivar, to be with him. Isabel knew it didn't look good. It would seem as if she had betrayed her family. Khivar was the enemy. They had been at war with him for more than fifty years. He had taken her brother's throne and he was the reason they had all been killed. But maybe she could explain to her mother how she loved him anyway, and how she had agreed to be with him to save Max and the others. Maybe then her mother would understand. Maybe.
Isabel pushed the disturbing thoughts to the back of her mind and suddenly making a decision, she put on a dressing robe and headed out of her room. She walked down the hall to the suite of rooms at the end, that Khivar was occupying. He had told her the rooms had belonged to her parents, and then Zan and Ava when they had been King and Queen. It seemed weird that the rooms would be hers, but they were intended for the King and Queen, and when she married Khivar that is exactly what she would become, the Queen of Antar.
Isabel slowed her pace as she reached the guards near Khivar's door. They took notice of her approach but neither of them moved, and she remembered that Khivar had said she could come to him at any time.
She moved past the guards and knocked softly on the door. "Khivar?"
A deep, rumbling voice answered her from inside. "Come in, Isabel."
With a shiver of awareness, she turned the handle and pushed the door open slowly, almost afraid to step inside. Her eyes darted quickly around the room but she was relieved that she didn't remember anything. Finally her eyes fell on Khivar, seated at a large desk with papers spread out before him. He was watching her silently, waiting for her to speak.
Isabel's eyes traced his true form. It was strange falling in love with someone and then discovering that they looked so different. Khivar was still tall with an athletic body and golden hair, and his eyes were an even more beautiful green. His face was different from Hale's but there was a definite resemblance, like he was Hale's cousin. But some things hadn't changed at all; his voice, his essence, and his ability to draw her to him.
And her love for him hadn't changed.
Stepping into the room, Isabel shrugged as she leaned against the door, closing it behind her. "I was lonely."
Khivar nodded solemnly. "You never have to be alone again." He rose from his chair and walked slowly toward her. "We were made for one another, meant to be together."
Isabel closed the last few feet between them, throwing her arms around him. "I never want to be away from you again."
(Secret Headquarters of the Resistance Loyal to the Tageonants)
Song Playing: On Fire by Switchfoot
Max led Liz into their bedroom and shut the door behind them, glad to finally be alone. "This isn't quite how I pictured our honeymoon."
Liz smiled, "Me either."
Max advanced toward her slowly. "I pictured a nice honeymoon suite with candles and flowers, maybe a big bubble bath, on Earth of course. I never imagined we'd be in a bedroom in a borrowed house, with a group of revolutionaries, on another planet."
"After hours of intergalactic travel, meetings and revelations, on a mission to rescue your sister and son," Liz added. "Our honeymoon in our other life wasn't so great either. Your father had just died and you had just been made King. We never left the palace."
Max took another step closer, causing their bodies to touch and he reached out to brush a gentle hand across her cheek. "And you were so young, not yet of age to be married."
"But I loved you with all of my heart, just like I do now," Liz said.
Max smiled sadly. "I never believed I deserved you then, and in this life the feeling is even stronger. After all of the things I did, how I acted, I have no right to your love." He sighed, "It seems like just when we start to get things right, that's when the floor falls out from under us."
"Max," Liz started soothingly but he continued as if he didn't hear her.
"I mean, after all of this horrible stuff we went through, we finally made love and it was wonderful, more than I had ever hoped, but afterward it was all ruined by you seeing my memory of being with Tess."
Liz inched closer and put her hands on his chest. "Max."
Max shook his head. "I can understand why you wouldn't want to be with me after that and I've been trying to take things slow. I just need to be close to you so much. You make me feel so strong, so alive, and I really need that right now."
Liz raised her face to him. "Max," she whispered.
"Liz," he growled, "I know it's been a long day and I can feel your physical and mental exhaustion through our bond." His face inched closer to hers. "So you had better tell me right now if you don't want me to kiss you."
She couldn't think of anything she wanted more at that moment. "Kiss me, Max."
His lips were against hers even before she finished the words.
Max's hands twined into her hair and Liz melted into him. His kisses were soft and warm and she let herself drift off to the place that only Max was capable of taking her. She floated on the electric sensations that were coursing through her body and gasped as his lips left hers and found her sensitive neck. She fully opened the connection between them and their souls rushed together, the long hours of separation making them desperate for the joining.
Max continued to rain kisses over her neck and Liz clutched at him as her knees turned to jelly. "Liz," he said between kisses, "I know I don't deserve you, you are so good, so perfect. But I swear I will spend the rest of our lives making up for every harsh word I spoke, for every hurt my actions caused you."
"Max," Liz gasped, "I'm nowhere near perfect and maybe it's me who doesn't deserve you. I could have fought for you, fought to keep you, and we could have faced the future together, but I didn't. I pushed you away because I was afraid. I allowed myself to be caught in a kind of limbo because I was afraid that any action I took could be the wrong one. At least you were brave enough to do something, even if you regret your actions now, and I admire that strength."
"Liz," Max sighed.
One of his arms slipped around her waist bringing her closer to him as his lips returned to hers. He kissed her hungrily as if he couldn't get enough of her and she felt the same way, welcoming him. His kisses grew more insistent and she leaned her head back to give him the access he demanded. She eagerly parted her lips for him, allowing his tongue inside.
Suddenly Liz felt the bed beneath her and somewhere in the back of her mind, realized that Max must have carried her there but the thought drifted away, her entire being focused on Max. Through the connection, Liz could feel Max's desire but it was tempered with the fear that he was going too fast, that he might push her away, that he didn't deserve her. They had been together, kissing, connecting, many times after Liz had seen Max's memories of Tess, but Max had shied away from making love, and Liz knew it was because he was afraid of what else she might see.
I love you Max, she sent through the connection, all of you, and nothing is going to change that. I need you too Max, and I want this as much as you do, she assured him. And taking matters into her own hands, Liz started to unbutton his shirt, while she sent him her memories of the other times they had made love.
The images of their bodies entwined and Liz's overwhelming emotions accompanying them, finally pushed Max's fears away and he eagerly accepted Liz's invitation.