BOOK 12 DESTINY DERIVED
(THE ROYAL FOUR RECLAIMED)
Rath went into Nicaron"s office and slumped down into a chair, hanging one knee over the armrest. "So what have you got for me to do today? Baby sit some new recruits or maybe take inventory of the palace tapestries?"
Nicaron glanced at him and turned back to his paperwork. "Are you saying that you"re not being challenged enough in your new position?"
"I'm saying you are giving me a bunch of trivial jobs when I could be helping with the important things. I should be learning how to be a General. You are wasting my abilities."
"Not wasting," Nicaron corrected, "Cultivating. We are training you from the ground up, so you can learn every aspect of the job."
"You must think I'm pretty stupid to try and sell me that line of crap," Rath said.
"It's not crap," Nicaron said. "You have no memory of your other life and no practical experience running an army. You offed your best friend, that's the only reference you have. You're not ready for more responsibility."
Rath put both feet on the floor and leaned forward menacingly. "I think you and Khivar are jerking me around. I went to a lot of trouble to get here and bring you Liz, and I expect to live up to your end of the deal."
Nicaron put down his papers and met Rath's eyes. "What more do you want? You have free run of the palace, unlimited access to Liz and you have been given an honorary rank. After we get Max, you will be the third most powerful man on Antar."
Rath sighed. "Okay. What duties do you have for me today?"
Nicaron handed him a data disk and Rath left his office, walking quickly down the corridor. Khivar and Nicaron didn't trust him completely and he had expected that, he just needed to prove his loyalty and his abilities to them.
Khivar knocked before entering Liz's room and found her seated on the sofa, obviously out of breath. "I hope you are well."
Liz nodded. "Fine. I was just um, exercising."
Khivar's eyes narrowed as he took a seat across from her. "You are a terrible liar," he said. "You were attempting to escape."
Liz shrugged. "Could you blame me?"
"No," he said, "but perhaps I have a more productive use for you powers. A long-term plan, if you will."
"And what is that?" Liz asked suspiciously.
"I made a deal with Rath when he brought you here," Khivar said. "He agreed that I would hold you to lure Max into the open and when Max was dead, I would give Rath certain rewards, including you as his wife."
"What?" Liz asked incredulously. "I am not your property. You can"t just give me to him like some toy you are tired of."
"I can," Khivar assured her.
Liz remained silent and Khivar continued. "I believe that Rath desires you and wishes to make you his wife, but I question if that is his only motive. He is of Royal blood, and with the former Queen at his side, he could try to make a move for the throne."
"Even if Max were dead, I wouldn"t marry Rath," Liz said heatedly.
Khivar smiled. "Your consent to the marriage is of no matter. Once Max is dead, no one will stand against me and I can do with you as I please." He shrugged. "But even if Rath's only motive in wanting you is love, I haven't yet decided if I will give you to him. You are very powerful and I think you could be useful to me. So any deal I make with Rath concerning you would have to include the use of your powers."
"Your own private oracle," Liz said, "locked away in a back room."
"Something like that," Khivar said. "I can see now that I was too hasty when I killed you in your last life. I was only thinking of securing my position and I hadn't considered just how useful your talents could be."
Liz shook her head. "I would never help you."
Khivar smiled. "Never is a strong word, Liz. I know you aren't used to dealing with people like me and I will only warn you once that you don't stand a chance. I am used to getting what I want and I am willing to go past a polite request to get it. I can be extremely ruthless and cruel when the situation calls for it. So before you answer me again Liz, consider this. It would be quite easy for me to have any memories of your friends and family and Max erased from your mind. Then you wouldn't remember hating me and would be quite willing to help."
A cold shiver of terror raced through Liz and she shook her head furiously, rising from the sofa and backing away from him with an outstretched hand. "You wouldn't. You can"t take my memories of Max. We've just been reunited. He's everything to me."
Using a burst of super speed, Khivar was instantly beside her and roughly grabbed her upper arms, lifting her off the floor. "If that's what it takes," he said softly, "I will have every precious memory of Max ripped from your mind."
"Please," Liz begged desperately. She could feel the veracity of his words, his unfeeling, single-minded force of will. Khivar would do as he said, of that she had no doubt. Tears welled up in her eyes and ran down her cheeks as she trembled in Khivar's tight grip. Liz was more scared than she ever remembered being; terrified that Khivar would take Max from her, and the worst part was, after it was done she wouldn't even remember what she'd lost. "Please, Khivar."
"Then I expect you to be in a more corporative frame of mind, when I return," Khivar said smoothly. He pushed her from him and she fell roughly to the floor as he strode from the room.
Still trembling, Liz collapsed into sobs of anguish.
(Secret Headquarters of the Resistance Loyal to the Tageonants)
Max awoke as Liz's overwhelming fear burst through their bond and he grasped for the golden thread of connection anxiously. Liz, can you hear me? Are you okay?
There was no response from her but he felt her terror through the bond as if it were his own. And fury rose up in him to think of what Khivar or his people could be doing to her. He had waited too long and Liz was paying the price for his inaction.
Liz, I don't know if you can hear me, he sent through the connection, but I am coming for you. Just hold on a little longer.
With a wave of his hand Max dressed himself and left his room, pushing past the protectors. He burst into Michael's room across the hall without knocking, causing Michael to tumble out of bed and to his feet.
"Khivar is hurting Liz," Max said, his fury barely contained. "I am going to get her. Gather any troops you can and use that damned memory we recovered about Nicholas, anything that will help."
Michael nodded. "Okay. It will take a little time to get everything coordinated -"
Max cut him off. "Do it, but I"m not waiting." He turned to leave, but Michael's hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"Max, you can't go out there alone. You don"t have any offensive powers."
"Don't I?" Max asked. Without turning, Max used a small burst of his shield to propel Michael's hand off his shoulder. "I am going to save Liz. Follow as soon as you can. Khivar has gone too far this time. If he wants a war, we'll give it to him."
Maria watched the interaction in silence but spoke when the door closed behind Max. "I've never seen Max like that."
Michael shook his head. "That wasn't Max and it wasn't Zan," Michael said, understanding the bond between Max and Liz a little better because he had experienced it in their connection. "It was a man so deeply in love that he's willing to do anything to save his wife."
Max went out the front door, flanked by his guards, including Cuerena. "Follow me," he ordered, "but stay back, I don't want to hurt you."
The guards took a few steps back and Max threw open his mind, automatically bypassing the energy of the Granolith because of the warnings he remembered from his other life not to use it as a weapon. Instead, he reached for the power he had felt through the Granolith, the overwhelming power of the planet itself. He had been wary of it before, but now he allowed it enter him, welcomed it. Max gasped at the amount of energy rushing through him, and for a moment he thought he might pass out, but his fury came back full force at the thought of failing Liz and it helped him control the awesome force.
And the thought of Liz was all it took to burst through the barrier Khivar had placed in her mind and suddenly they had complete access to one another. Liz are you alright?
Max, I'm so scared, she sobbed through the connection. Khivar threatened to take all of my memories of you if I didn't use my powers to help him. I can't bear the thought of losing everything we've had.
Don't worry, Liz, I'll never let that happen, he assured her. I'm coming for you now.
You tapped into the planet's energy, Liz said. I can feel it. But it"s too dangerous, Max. I can't lose you.
You won't. Stay connected to me, let your power combine with mine and you will help me control the energy. Together we are stronger. Together we can do anything.
Max channeled the power into his shield, raising it around him, a giant green, pulsing ball of energy that lifted him off the ground and hovered a few feet above the street. And with a thought, he propelled the ball forward toward the palace and Liz.
Michael sounded the alarm waking the entire house and quickly told them what had happened. "We've got to do anything we can to help Max."
Michael looked at Kranon. "Get that memory about Nicholas ready to play on all the frequencies you can access, including Khivar's secret ones. Broadcast that Max is here to take back the planet and anyone interested in helping should rise up against Khivar."
"Yes Sir," Kranon said.
"I'll help with that too," Alex said.
Michael nodded. "And any orders you intercept from Khivar to his troops, relay to Toaks, so we can have people in place to counter them. This time we'll take his troops by surprise."
Michael turned to Nedra. "Your Highness, you are known to the people, perhaps you should record the message.
Nedra nodded, "Of course."
Kranon, Nedra and Alex hurried out of the room and Michael turned to Toaks. "Get any troops or allies you can find. Send a group toward the palace and use the rest to take out Khivar's troops in the city."
Toaks bowed and hurried off.
Michael nodded and turned to Ryden. "It's time to get the Michael worshippers involved. Show them my memories or whatever it takes, but get them organized and send them against Khivar."
Ryden nodded. "You've got it."
"What about us?" Maria asked, motioning to herself and Sean.
"You don't have powers," Michael said. "It would be too dangerous. You"re just going to have to sit this one out, or maybe you can help Alex and Kranon. I've got to contact the other planets to see if they will help."
Sean and Maria went in the direction of the lab with Michael, leaving Kyle alone with Ava.
Kyle motioned down the hall where Sean and Maria had disappeared. "They may not have powers," he said, as he headed to the front door, "but I do and I'm going to help get Liz back."
Ava hurried after him. "So am I."
Song Playing: Seven Nation Army by White Stripes
Max traveled for almost ten streets, in the sparse, early morning traffic, before he encountered any of Khivar's troops. They spread out in a line, with their blasters raised and ordered him to stop, but Max simply spread out his hands, extending his shield as a solid wall on either side of his sphere of protection.
As he approached them, the soldiers opened fire, but the shafts of red light simply bounced off his shield. Some of the soldiers attempted to run but the others held their ground as Max barreled toward them. His shield made contact with them and Max could feel each soldier's life force and knew he had the power to extinguish them all. His fury consumed him and he wanted to crush every one of them, but he held back, only using enough power to render them unconscious, and moved on.
(Secret Headquarters of the Resistance Loyal to the Tageonants)
Kranon handed one of the shape shifter guards a portable camera calibrated to work with their equipment and sent him after Max. Then he joined Alex to quickly connect the pendant and the chevron-shaped amplifier into the broadcasting terminal. Nedra recorded a message to be played with the memory they had recovered from Raltos.
Nedra finished her message and turned to Kranon. "It's done."
Kranon nodded. "So is this, your Highness."
Nedra raised her head proudly. This was the day she had been waiting for. "Send it," she ordered.
Isabel slumped down onto the sofa with a sigh. She really had to talk to Khivar about something she could do during the day, when he was working. She got so board just wandering around the palace and the grounds. She didn't have any friends to do anything with, and because he was concerned about her safety, Khivar wouldn't let her out of the palace alone.
With a wave of her hand, Isabel turned on the device that resembled a TV. There was some woman talking and Isabel switched it to another channel only to see the same woman again. Isabel figured it was a commercial and with a touch of annoyance, flipped to a third channel but the woman was there again.
Isabel sat forward looking at her for the first time and was shocked to recognize her mother. She quickly turned up the sound to hear what her mother was saying.
Again I repeat, my son, the reborn Zantor Tageonant and his wife Avalynd, the true King and Queen of Antar have returned to take back the planet. They call for any who oppose Khivar's tyranny to come forward and join in the fight to overthrow him.
"Max!" Isabel gasped. "Max and Liz are on Antar!"
Nicaron rushed into Khivar's office where he was doing some paperwork and bowed formally. "Your Majesty, the Tageonants are broadcasting a message that says Max has returned to take back the planet and calls for the rebels to come forward to oppose you."
"What?" Khivar asked incredulously.
"We also have reports of a man floating down the main thoroughfare in a glowing green sphere, taking out all of the troops he comes in contact with."
"Max!" Khivar growled.
"The message also contains a memory recovered from Corporal Raltos, who you used on Earth as a communicator. It shows a conversation we had where I revealed that I was a shape shifter. Some of the troop commanders are reporting rebellion in the ranks and even some blatant mutiny."
"Raltos," Khivar said. "How would they . . ." he trailed off as realization struck. "Raltos must have been on the ship when Max commandeered it."
"Send an order that any mutineers will be shot on the spot and for all troops to hold their ground against the pretender claiming to be Zan Tageonant. Activate all of the troops and reinforce the guard around the palace."
"Yes, Sir," Nicaron said, the light of battle lighting his eyes. He quickly sent the orders and turned back to Khivar, who had a thoughtful look on his face. "Max has been on the planet a long time, I wonder why he acted today?"
"I threatened her and somehow he knew," Khivar said with a touch of awe in his voice.
"What?" Nicaron asked. "Who are you talking about, Sir?"
Khivar focused on Nicaron. "I threatened Liz, and even though their connection is blocked, somehow Max must have known. He is coming for her."
Nicaron nodded. "Then I'll be waiting when he gets here."
Kyle and Ava ran along with Max's guards, who trailed behind him, mopping up any of Khivar's troops that he had missed. Kyle grabbed blasters off the fallen soldiers and he handed one to Ava.
It was kind of crazy, Kyle thought to himself, running down the middle of a deserted street, after a floating green ball that contained Max. But for some reason he felt he needed to be there.
Ava suddenly tugged at his sleeve and Kyle turned to where she was pointing. He had been so engrossed in keeping them alive that he hadn't seen the enormous building in the distance. It rose up from the horizon, grey shining towers and spires, and without anyone to tell him, Kyle knew it was where they were headed, the palace.
Liz paced back and forth in her room trying to dispel some of her nervousness. She had a strange feeling in her stomach that even the usually calming influence of the connection with Max couldn't remove.
Liz had never felt so vulnerable, so helpless. She was completely at Khivar's mercy and there was nothing she could do to save herself. Her whole body shook with uncontrollable shivers, fearing that at any moment Khivar would return and take everything from her before Max could arrive.
More people responded to Michael's call for help than he had anticipated. He sent the majority of them to the palace but took an elite group of soldiers, who had fought beside him in his other life, to the main city gate.
Khivar's soldiers were trying to hold the gate against a group of Max's supporters attempting to enter the city. They were so intent on their task that the didn't see Michael and his troops until it was too late.
Michael's men quickly overpowered the soldiers guarding the gate from behind. Several of Khivar's soldiers turned on their comrades when they saw Michael's men and then surrendered to him.
Michael opened the gate personally and greeted Ryden, who was leading the former Michael worshippers. "Glad you could join the party."
Ryden nodded. "I wouldn't miss it." He motioned to the troops behind him. "We have people all over the planet who are sending in reports of Khivar's troops mutinying and the common people and the nobles joining together to rise up against Khivar."
He handed Michael a small device that resembled a TV. "Have you seen the coverage that's being broadcast?"
Michael looked at the images on the screen of a glowing green ball, with someone inside, floating ever closer to the palace. "What the hell is that?"
"That is Max," Ryden said.
Michael turned to Khivar's men who had surrendered to them. He held up the screen, showing them the images. "Give your oath to follow Max as your true King, and you will receive a full pardon for supporting the usurper Khivar."
The soldiers readily agreed and with a swipe of his hand, Michael changed their uniforms from the black of Khivar's regime to the deep blue of the Tageions livery. He motioned to several of his men. "Stay here and keep the gate open to let in any of Max's supporters." Then he turned to the others. "Let's get to the palace."
Ryden motioned to his transport and he and Michael hurried toward it. "We'll be there in a few minutes." He climbed behind the controls with Michael next to him. As they drove, Ryden switched on the screen to check Max"s progress. "I"ve never seen or heard of powers like Max has," Ryden said to Michael. "I certainly wouldn't want to make him mad."
Michael shook his head. "Khivar already did."
Isabel had watched her mother's repeating broadcast several times before she left her rooms to find Khivar. The message had been inter-cut with a live broadcast showing Max floating down the street in a green sphere, obviously created by his shield. He was headed toward the palace and Khivar's troops were crumbling before him. Liz was nowhere in sight but on the broadcast Isabel had caught a glimpse of Cuerena, Kyle and Ava. So it wasn't a hoax, Max and the others were on the planet.
Isabel burst into Khivar's huge, ornate office and found him sitting at his desk. "Max is on the planet and you didn't tell me?" she asked furiously, as she crossed the large room to get to him.
Khivar shrugged. "Max has few followers. It is only a matter of time until we destroy him and I wanted to save you the pain of knowing your brother was really dead."
"And what about the others?" Isabel asked. "Are you just going to kill all of them too?"
"Only your brother must die," he said softly. "I already have Liz in my power and the others merely have to give me their oath and I will spare them."
"You have Liz," Isabel said with a shake of her head, realizing the extent of Khivar"s lies. She stalked around the desk, stopping just inches from him. "I won't do it again, Khivar. I won't choose between you and my family," she said with a finger to his chest. "It's time for you to choose. You can choose me and do the right thing, step down and end this war and accept whatever punishment is coming your way. Or you can choose to continue with this fight. But if you do, I won't be with you."
Khivar got to his feet with a growl, taking her in his arms. "I won't give you up and I won't give up the throne."
Isabel pushed against his chest. "Let me go, Khivar."
"Once your brother is finally dead, there won't be any more arguments," he said arrogantly. "You and Antar belong to me."
He lowered his head and kissed her roughly, taking possession of her mouth, and against her will Isabel felt herself respond. She kissed him hungrily, fearing it would be the last time, and tears of regret welled up in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks.
Khivar felt the moisture on his cheeks and ended the kiss, taking her head gently in his hands and smoothing away her tears with his thumbs. "Don't cry," he whispered. "It will all be over soon, my love."
Suddenly the lights flared, blinking brightly a few times, before they extinguished completely, and only the light of the emergency back-up system illuminated the room.
Isabel gazed up at Khivar"s handsome face, bathed in the soft yellow glow. "You're right," she said softly, "it will all be over soon."
Max had arrived.
The legions of guards around the palace were merely a minor annoyance for Max and they fell before him like the others, but the shield protecting the palace caused him to stop.
Max remembered in his other life how he had desperately used his powers to reinforce the shield to keep Khivar's forces out of the palace. But today, he felt none of that fear or desperation, only a certain knowledge that he would get to Liz.
He reached through his protective shield and placed a hand on the palace shield, and using only a fraction of his newfound energy, he overloaded and then disabled the power throughout the palace. He made a hole in the wall and floated through the grounds and up the ornate staircase. With a negligent wave of his hand, Max threw open the heavy palace doors and continued inside.
I'm here, he sent to Liz, even though through the connection she already knew. It was more to reassure her than anything because he could still feel her fear and her trembling body as if he were holding her. Briefly he let their souls touch to calm her. Only a few minutes longer, my love.
After Max went through the palace gates, Khivar's guards started to mount a defense, and by the time Kyle and Ava arrived with the shape shifters, there was no entrance.
The shape shifters joined the battle with Khivar's troops and Ava and Kyle took up positions with them. For several minutes the two groups traded shots through the main gate but they weren't making progress fast enough for Kyle. For some reason he had a sense of urgency and he turned to Ava. "There's a big hole in the wall at the side of the gate. Can you use your powers to hide us from Khivar's men while we sneak in there?"
Ava nodded and started the mind warp and the two of them skirted the line of fire and walked right past Khivar's men at the gate. They hurried across the stark front garden and up the grand steps, into the broken doors of the palace.
Once they were inside they ducked into a hallway and when they saw it was empty, Ava dropped her mind warp.
Kyle looked around for more troops but there was no one in any of the hallways he could see. The palace seemed to be deserted. They hurried down the hallway, to the end, and peered around the corner, again seeing no one. "I think we should go this way. I can feel Liz, through the connection I guess, and I think she's down here."
Ava nodded. "Okay, you lead the way."
They ran through several more hallways and with each passing minute, Kyle's sense of Liz grew stronger.
He stopped at the next corner. "I don't think it's too much farther now," he said turning to Ava. But the hallway behind him was empty.
Ava was gone.
Song Playing: The Dolphin's Cry by Live
Finally Max arrived outside the door where Liz was being held. I'm here, he told Liz unnecessarily.
How are you going to get the door open? Liz asked. There is some kind of code on the lock.
Get away from the door, Max said. Take cover.
Liz got behind the sofa and when she was safe, Max used his shield like a battering ram, slamming it repeatedly into the door.
The whole room shook with each blow, but after a few minutes, the door was knocked from the frame and fell onto the floor. A cloud of dust filled the dark room and Max moved slowly forward through the door. He couldn't see anything but he knew Liz was there.
As the dust slowly settled, he watched Liz rise from behind the sofa, bathed in the soft green light cast by his shield, the only light in the room. She was coated with dust and her hair was sticking out at strange angles but he thought she had never looked more beautiful.
For long moments they simply stood looking at one another and then Liz ran to him. Max's shield parted automatically to allow her to enter and closed behind her, sealing them inside.
They instantly opened the connection between them as Max gathered Liz into his embrace and she threw her arms around him.
You're safe now, Max assured her through their bond. I would never let anything happen to you.
I know, Liz said. I was just so sacred, but I shouldn't have doubted you. I should have known you would find a way.
I couldn't save us in our last life, Max said sadly, but there was no way I was going to lose you again in this one. You fill up so much of my heart that there would be nothing left if you were gone.
One of the hallways she and Kyle had passed looked familiar to Ava, and as Kyle went on ahead, she had gone back to check it out. She hurried down the corridor and turned into another. And a flash of memory stopped her in front of one of the doors.
Without opening the door Ava knew what the rooms inside looked like. She had been inside many times and she had a warm, comforting feeling associated with the rooms, almost like home.
Ava pushed open the door and went inside. The room looked exactly like she remembered, the colors, the furniture, the accessories, down to the last detail. She crossed to the window and looked down into the garden as she expected.
"Tess?" a soft voice asked from an adjoining doorway.
Ava spun around, surprised by the intrusion.
"You're not Tess," the lady said.
Ava shook her head, surprised that the lady's face brought a flash of instant recognition. "Udac!" she squealed and launched herself across the room, into the shape shifter's arms.
Udac hugged her back. "Chanya, my beloved Chanya."
Ava pulled back to look at the older woman. "My name is Ava now."
"Like the former Queen," Udac said.
"Because that's who everyone thought I was. That's who I thought I was until a few months ago."
Udac nodded. "That was your plan. You replaced the Queen's genetic material with your own to be sent to Earth."
"I don't remember," Ava said. "And I don't" want to. Chanya wasn't a good person and I don't want to be her. I don't want to be anything like her or Tess. She betrayed her friends and worked with Khivar to get what she wanted, just like Chanya."
Udac nodded. "And now she's using her son to bargain with Khivar. I warned her to be careful but she doesn't remember me, doesn't trust me."
Ava took Udac's hand. "I remember you and I love you. Come with me, Udac."
Udac squeezed her hand and smiled.
Tess had watched the footage being broadcast of Max's progress toward the palace with great interest. She knew he was coming to rescue Liz and it would give her a perfect opportunity.
And when she saw Max reach the palace gates, the power had gone out, and Tess knew that it was time.
She used a swipe of her hand to change her outfit and fix her makeup and then she went into the other room to get the baby. Tess hurried with her son, down the corridors to the room where Liz was being held.
The door into the secret part of the palace had been ripped off its hinges and the guards were lying on the floor next to it. Tess stepped carefully over the debris and hurried down the hall just in time to see a large glowing sphere, emerge from what was left of the doorway of the room where Liz had been held. Max and Liz were inside the hovering sphere, and it stopped when they saw her.
Tess took a few steps forward, holding the baby out. "Max, do you want to meet your son?"
The green sphere lowered to the floor and it dissolved into nothing. Max glanced at Liz and she nodded and he walked forward a few steps. He couldn't take his eyes off the small blond-haired, blue-eyed boy. "What did you name him?" Max asked softly.
Tess smiled. "His name is Zantas, after your ancestor, the first King of Antar." She took a few steps closer. "We're finally all together. We can be a family now, just like we wanted, and everything will be perfect."
"Can I hold him?" Max asked.
"Of course," Tess said. "He is your son."
Max looked at her for the first time and reached for the baby.
Cuerena had seen Ava and Kyle sneak into the palace and she feared for their safety. Neither of them had experience in combat.
It had taken Cuerena several anxious minutes to coordinate the other shape shifters into a diversion so she could sneak inside to find them. Once she was through the gate Cuerena had taken the appearance of one of Khivar's personal guards to give herself free roam of the palace. And she ran through the halls, doing a systematic search but curiously found no one.
Cuerena had just reached the corridor where the guest apartments were located, when she heard voices coming from one of the rooms. She approached the room slowly, attempting to hear the words.
With a hint of confusion Cuerena realized that two women were talking and suddenly she recognized one of the voices. She morphed into the form she usually wore and called out as she entered. "Ava."
The older woman with Ava stepped in front of her protectively but Cuerena didn't recognize her. Ava placed a hand on the older woman's hand. "It's okay, Udac. She is Cuerena, one of Max's protectors."
Cuerena stepped into the room and Ava made the introductions. "Cuerena, this is Udac, my handmaid and protector."
Cuerena nodded. "Where is Kyle?"
"We got separated," Ava said. "But he was going to Liz. He could feel her through their connection."
"Liz," Udac asked. "Who is that?"
"She is the true Queen," Ava said, "the reincarnation of Ava. It's a long story, but Khivar is holding her prisoner in the palace."
Udac nodded. "I think I know where she is. I followed Tess yesterday, as she followed General Nicaron. I feared for her safety and thought I might be able to help but she used her powers to go into a part of the palace that was highly guarded and I could not follow. And then a few minutes later the General escorted her out, neither of them looking pleased. When I asked her about it, she told me she was mad at the General because he had stopped her from settling an old score."
"That must be Liz," Ava said. "Udac, can you show us where?"
Udac nodded. "It's not far."
Ryden stopped the transport near the palace gates and he and Michael jumped out and joined in the fight. But even with the shield down, Khivar's elite palace guards were successfully holding the gate against Max's troops.
Michael positioned his troops, using the battle experience from his other life, grimacing at the irony that now he was breaking into the palace instead of defending it. He called Ryden to him and made a rough map of the palace and surrounding area, with a swipe of his hand. "There are secret entrances to the palace, here, here and here," he said, indicating the map. "Khivar might not have found all of the secret passages. Get a couple of squads together and try to get into the palace and you can take Khivar's troops from behind."
Ryden nodded. "You've got it, General." He motioned to a few men and they disappeared into the surrounding buildings.
A soft hum of an engine was followed by a sudden series of explosions among his troops and Michael looked up into the air to see Khivar's air forces circling around for another strike. "Take cover!" Michael shouted.
As the ships came into range again, Michael targeted the nearest one with his blaster and fired a series of shots that bounced off its shield. Frustrated he dropped the blaster as it passed overhead, and raised his hand building a tremendous amount of power before aiming it at the ship.
The blast hit the ship on the underside, burning a hole through the shield. A small explosion rocked the ship and it wobbled in the air for a moment, before diving uncontrollably to the ground and exploding.
A cheer went through Max's troops and Michael raised his hand to fire again but hesitated when he saw two more squadrons of Khivar's ships streaking through the air toward them. Another series of explosions rocked through Michael's troops as the new ships joined the melee. Michael took aim at another ship but his shot was wide and he shook his head frustratedly. "This is going to take forever."
Kyle had looked for Ava for some time without success but had finally decided to go find Max and Liz to get their help in locating her.
He followed his senses toward Liz, moving quickly through the halls until he reached a door that had been ripped from it's hinges, and knew he was on the right track. Kyle continued on, but stopped when he saw Max with Tess and the baby and Liz standing a little way behind Max.
Max had just taken the child from Tess and he cradled the baby gently in his arms, a bemused grin lighting his face.
Kyle unexpectedly felt a slash of jealously as he watched the scene before him and wondered if it was his own, or Liz's feelings he was picking up on. But before he could decide, Kyle started to sense that something was terribly wrong. And as Max continued to look at the baby, Kyle saw his smile slowly fade, as he started shaking his head.
Max looked at Tess. "This isn't my son."
Ryden took fifteen men and divided them into three groups sending two of them to the secret entrances Michael had indicated, while leading his own group to the third.
There was no one guarding the entrance and Ryden left his men under cover while he went alone to open the door. A wave of his hand illuminated the glowing handprint that activated the door and he pressed his hand onto it. From inside, a low click sounded, and the door swung easily open.
Ryden glanced quickly inside but it was too dark to see and he used his powers to make a ball of light and propelled it inside. Taking another quick look, Ryden could see that the tunnel had long been unused and he signed his men to come forward.
They moved quickly but carefully through the passageway, checking for traps or alarms but they found none, and in only a matter of minutes they reached the door leading into the palace. Ryden disarmed the hidden alarm, as Michael had showed him, and pushed open the heavy door.
They emerged from the dark tunnel into a dimly lit hallway in the palace, and Ryden relaxed when they found it empty.
But his moment of relaxation was short-lived as a familiar voice greeted them.
"How nice to see you again, Ryden," Rath said.
Captain Naire rushed into Khivar's office but stopped when he saw Khivar and his fiancée in an embrace. "Excuse me, your Majesty," he apologized, dropping to his knees.
Khivar kept one arm around Isabel but turned to the Captain. "What is it?" he bellowed across the room.
Naire glanced at Isabel and then rose and hurried to stand before Khivar's desk to make his report. "The gate shield is down and the man claiming to be the former King has entered the palace."
Khivar nodded. "I know."
"But your Majesty," Naire continued, "we are unable to find General Nicaron and the rebels are gaining ground. There are reports from all over Antar that the people are rising up against you."
Khivar put Isabel aside and with a growl, turned to the communications panel and started to manipulate the controls.
Naire followed him, passing close to Isabel and at the last moment he reached out, pricking her with a needle he had concealed in his hand. Isabel barely had time to realize what had happened before she slid to the ground, completely paralyzed.
But she could still see what was happening and watched in horror as Naire steadily approached Khivar from behind, with a large dagger in his hand. Khivar barked orders into the communicator, oblivious to what was happening and Isabel struggled to warn him.
Naire raised the dagger and plunged in downward into Khivar's back, but at the last moment, his arm stopped. Naire's surprise was evident, as he struggled against the force holding him in place, but as Khivar turned toward him, his surprise turned to horror.
Khivar causally reached out and took the dagger from the Captain"s hand. "I have suspected for some time that there was a Tageonant spy in our midst but I had ruled you out," he said with a shrug. Then he turned the dagger and with a flip of his hand sent it through the air and embedded it deep into Naire's chest.
Khivar didn't even wait for the Captain to hit the ground before turning his back on him and going to Isabel. "Don't worry, it is only a paralyzing agent." He laid his hands on her and pushed his power into her and suddenly Isabel's muscles eased and she could move again.
She wrapped her arms around him and he lifted her to her feet. "How did you know he wanted to kill you?" she asked.
Khivar motioned to a small device near his ear. "I am in constant communication with my commanders. Everything he said was lies, designed to throw me off guard. And just to be sure, I turned my back to give him an opportunity."
Isabel shook her head. "And how did you know he wouldn't kill me too?"
"He was your brother's spy," Khivar said. "He wouldn't have harmed you."
She looked past him to where the Captain was laying. "Is he dead?"
"Of course," Khivar said. "It was a poisoned dagger. He would have killed me if he could."
"I can't believe I nearly lost you," Isabel said, wrapping her arms tightly around him, "not like that. She shook her head. "This is crazy, Khivar, a war, spies, assassination attempts, a rebel uprising. You've got the power to stop it all now."
"Even If I wanted to stop it, I don't think I could," Khivar said. "Your brother has seen to that. His troops at the palace gate led by Michael, will soon be wiped out. Kathana is sending reinforcements to help crush the people"s rebellion. Rath and his men are waiting for the soldiers Michael sent through the tunnels, and Nicaron is dealing with Max."
Isabel shook her head, struggling against him. "I've got to go. I've got to warn them, help them."
"It's too late for that," Khivar said softly, as he kept a firm grip on her. "You don't remember, but that is how I lost you last time. It is too dangerous for you to be in the hallways. You might be accidentally killed by either side." He motioned with his hand, closing the door and the lock clicked shut automatically. "I won't let you out of my sight this time.
"So you're just locking us in here?" She asked incredulously. "As the planet is falling apart around us?"
"Like your Earth saying," Khivar nodded, "as Rome burns." He reached up to touch her face. "Today we will finally have an end to this, one way or another."
Another and another squadron of Khivar's ships joined the battle and Michael's troops were being rapidly defeated. He was taking out as many of the ships as he could, but the constant use of his powers was exhausting him and there seemed to be a never-ending supply of ships and troops. Khivar's forces had outflanked them and now they were pinned down on two sides and from the air.
Michael shook his head, they needed reinforcements badly or this battle would be over, practically before it had started. The part of him that remembered his past life, didn't mind dying in the service of his King, but the part of him that was Michael, didn't want to leave Maria.
And he didn't want to disappoint Max either. Max was depending on him and he just had to hold on a little longer until reinforcements arrived. Ryden had said that more former Michael worshippers were coming and he had ordered them to go straight to the palace.
Michael suddenly heard a sound he didn't recognize, a low hum of many engines, and he looked down the road, hoping the reinforcements had finally arrived, but he was disappointed to see nothing. He looked around puzzled, for a minute until he realized the hum was coming from above.
With a gasp of dismay, Michael watched as several more squadrons of ships approached. He shook his head, there had to be more than a hundred. "It will take a miracle to save us now," he said softly. "I'm sorry Maria."
When he heard Rath's voice, Ryden yelled, "Scatter."
But with a swipe of his hand, Rath threw the five of them against the wall, instantly killing Ryden's men.
Ryden's blaster flew out of his grasp when he hit the wall and for a moment he was stunned. He raised his hand, aiming at Rath, but nothing happened.
Rath held up a chevron-shaped amplifier. "Working with the skins for so long, I'm sure you know what this is and what it does.
Ryden nodded. "Of course. You've blocked my powers." He looked around at the dead men littering the floor, four of his own and another half dozen who were wearing Khivar's livery who he assumed had been with Rath. "What about these guys?"
Rath shrugged. "They would have gotten in the way of our conversation."
"What conversation?" Ryden asked.
"You know, instead of fighting each other, we could work together," Rath said smoothly. "I know your group has been working to put Rath on the throne. Well guess what? I am Rath."
Ryden"s eyes narrowed suspiciously. "How do you know about that?"
Rath shook his head. "You really should be more careful when you are having private conversations. Anyone could be listening. I learned about that remarkable power of yours the same way. All of Max's people talk way too much." He shrugged. "I figure after today, Max and Michael will be dead, so that only leaves Khivar between me and the throne. And I will have the former Queen, Liz on one side, and the Princess Isabel on the other."
"You want me to get my people to support you," Ryden said.
"With your help it would be a simple matter to eliminate Khivar and then I would be in a position to reward all of those who supported me."
Ryden nodded and sat up straighter. "Maybe we can make a deal."