Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12 [WIP]

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sablaine
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Re: Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12

Post by sablaine » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:33 pm

Spring 2000
Five and a Half Weeks Since “Departure”
~Chapter 12~
Outed
The meeting had gone badly, much as she thought it would. She knew because she had empathically focused on the group while she worked out alone, and she had felt the deterioration of rationality and the volatile discord that followed.

Maria had, of course, promptly driven over to Liz’s apartment to demand answers.

But Liz was not going to tell Maria any more than she had to. Maria was too young, too naïve, too innocent. Even with everything she had been through, Maria had only a cursory knowledge of Antarians and their dangerous neighbors and she knew next to nothing of the real danger being involved with “aliens” entailed, and Liz wanted to keep it that way.

She sighed and let the warm water of the shower run over her face. What a luxury a shower was. Even though it had been a little more than a month, she still had not quite gotten over the seeming extravagance living in the past had given her.

Maria would never understand that either, not even if Liz had tried to explain it to her. At least, Liz hoped she would not. Maria was used to the Westernized culture she had grown up in. She had a nice home, a comfortable bed, lots of clothes, a refrigerator full of food so that she could eat any time she felt like it, running water, sanitary bathroom facilities… and she lived without any real fear. It was a standard of living Maria was used to and one that Liz intended to keep her friend in.

They had not had any of that at the end. Not any of it. Fear was a knot that everyone carried in the pit of their stomach. They lived knowing they were going to die; they just did not know when. Liz was never going to allow Maria to go through that.

“Are you even listening?” Maria demanded.

Liz stepped away from the warm water and poked her head out of the shower curtain. “It’s a little hard to listen with the water running. Just wait a minute, okay?”

“Liz,” Maria tried again impatiently.

“No, I was serious,” Liz said. “You have to wait a minute. I’ll be done soon.”

It had been a time of difficult decisions – decisions that showed what a man or woman was made of. Did you have the strength of character to back your decisions? Were you willing to sacrifice everything, including your own personal comfort and dignity, to make it happen? Were you courageous enough to face unimaginable atrocities and then walk away knowing you were going to have to face them again the next day and the next and the next? Could you live knowing that everything everyone was suffering was your fault and that there was nothing you could do to redeem yourself?

“This is important,” Maria said.

“Everything’s important when you’re sixteen. Just wait a minute.” She ducked her head back behind the shower curtain and finished rinsing herself off.

“You sound like my mother,” she heard Maria complain.

I’m just about old enough to be your mother, Liz thought.

She shut off the water and grabbed for her towel. “Okay. Let’s have it,” she said from behind the shower curtain.

“Interesting choice of words,” Maria replied. “Okay, so, um… there was this big meeting at Michael’s…”

“Yes, I know.”

“Which you didn’t bother to come to.”

“And?” She wrapped the towel around herself and slid the curtain open.

“It was about you,” Maria said.

“Know that too,” Liz shrugged. She stepped out of the shower.

“Again, interesting,” Maria noted. “So, like, Isabel said she dreamwalked you…”

“Yes, Thursday night,” Liz agreed. “Came waltzing in completely uninvited.”

“And you were dreaming about having powers.”

“Among other things, but go on.” Liz opened the bathroom door and walked out to her bedroom.

“Um hm.” Maria followed. “So, I won’t go into detail about that since you, like, clearly already know. I’ll just tell you what happened at the end.”

Liz pulled off the wet towel and tossed it to the bed. “I’ll save you the trouble since I know that too.” She pulled undergarments from her drawer, then turned to face her friend. “Isabel informed you all that she thinks I have powers and the meeting deteriorated into a big fight.”

“Understatement,” Maria mumbled. “So?”

“So what?”

“So, I don’t see you denying anything,” Maria threw out.

“Nope. I’m not denying anything. I have powers,” Liz said. She slipped into her underwear while the flustered Maria looked on in abject horror. “It not a big deal.”

“Not a big deal?” Maria nearly exploded.

“No, it’s not a big deal,” Liz said.

“Liz, you’re turning into some freaky…”

“Afternoon, girls,” Nancy interrupted with a cheerful smiled pasted on her face, letting herself into the room.

“I’m not freaky,” she told Maria.

She looked over at her mother. "Mom." They had been at a stand off ever since Liz had lost her temper and walked out of the house. Her mother was still determined to find out the truth and Liz was still determined not to let her, and both knew they were going to get nowhere with the other.

“You girls want me to make some dinner for you?” Nancy asked.

“No, thanks. I’m good,” Liz said. She turned toward her closet.

“I’m gonna eat on a break,” Maria told her.

“All right,” Nancy said. “Just thought I’d ask.” She turned and left the room, leaving the bedroom door conveniently open.

Irritably, Liz glanced back and gave the door a shoved with her mind.

Maria gaped.

“Look, Maria,” she said to her stunned friend, “if you can’t handle this, how is anyone else going to? Seriously, you need to calm down. I can prove it’s not a big deal.”

“You can?”
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In the small confines of Liz’s bathroom, Maria stared at the jar of oil and water blankly and Liz knew her friend was wondering what those two substances had to do with her getting powers. “All right. Shake the jar.”

Maria complied, shaking the jar vigorously, and then she returned it to the counter.

“Okay, you see what’s happening?” Liz asked from her perch on the toilet. “See how the oil droplets are enlarging, converging and becoming a separate layer on top of the water again?”

“Yeah? So?”

“So, oil and water don’t mix,” Liz explained.

“What about it?”

Liz reached for a tall plastic bottle of clear liquid and a dropper. “Here. This is polysorbate. Open the jar and add about ten drops.”

Maria took the bottle and dropper from Liz and did as she was instructed.

“Okay, now watch.” Liz sealed the jar again, picked it up and shook the ingredients inside. She set it on the counter and the two young women watched the oil and water swirling around inside. “Do you see what’s happening?”

Maria shook her head. “No, what’s happening?”

“They’re staying mixed,” Liz said. “You see that? The oil and water aren’t separating.”

“Okay. So what’s the point?”

Liz straightened. “The point, Maria, is that much like oil and water, Antarian and human DNA don’t mix by themselves. It takes a third component, like polysorbate, to blend the two together and make them stay together. In my case, Gandarium was the third component.”

“Gandarium?”

“Yeah. Remember Larek’s explanation?” Liz asked. “Gandarium is, like, this parasitic, genetically engineered life form that is used to bridge DNA and RNA sequencing. I know that’s kind of beyond what you’ve covered in high school science class, but basically what that means is that, you know, I was born a human and then Max healed me, leaving some of… himself… behind…”

“Eww. When you say it that way…” Maria interrupted.

“Shush. I’m trying to explain this,” Liz said. “So, you know, some of Max’s cells were sort of co-existing in me and not doing much of anything. They were just remnants of his healing ability. But then I was exposed to Gandarium…”

“And it was like polysorbate and it bonded your cells with his,” Maria finished.

“Bonded. Yeah,” Liz sighed, relieved Maria was beginning to understand. “There was definitely some bonding going on.”

“So, are we all going to change?” Maria asked quietly.

Liz shook her head. “No. Not you. Not the kids in the hospital Max healed. Not even Kyle.”

“Not even Kyle? Why not? Doesn’t he meet the qualifications you just…”

“Uh, well… the Gandarium seems to be attracted to specific human DNA,” she explained.

“So, you’ve already checked Kyle out?”

“No, uh…” Kyle had not shown any changes in the last timeline, but then he also had not been exposed to Gandarium. It was one of those timeline differences she was still trying to figure out. “You know, I… I guess I don’t know that for sure, but the mathematical probability of that happening is extremely slim. Larek said that only one in fifty million human people have the specific DNA that Gandarium will bond with. It seems kind of unlikely that there would be two of us – myself and Kyle – within such close proximity.”

“I guess,” Maria conceded. “But what about what Ava said, about how being brought back from the dead changes you?”

Liz only shook her head. “She doesn’t have all the facts.”

“And you do?”

She shrugged. “When it comes to stuff like this…”

Maria frowned as if she did not quite trust Liz’s words, but Liz had closed off her empathic abilities for the moment. Maria was hard enough to talk to with her rapidly fluctuating emotions and transient thoughts. She did not need to feel Maria too. She was too busy trying to stay calm for her friend.

“You can trust me on this,” she said.

“Says the woman with secrets,” Maria grumbled. “This is, like, such a major development and you didn’t even tell me. You didn’t tell any of us. Don’t you think you should have said something?” Maria ground out.

“And what purpose would that have served besides to, you know, freak everyone out?” Liz asked.

“Hello,” she said. “Protection? Did you ever think you might need protection?”

“Protection from what?”

“Liz, what if you get hurt and end up in the hospital like Max did that once? What if they check your blood? Did you even think about that? How are we supposed to, like, protect you if we don’t even know you’re… you’re Czechoslovakian now?” Maria asked.

“Hm. I didn’t even think about that,” Liz said.

“And what if this change makes you sick? What if your body can’t handle it?”

“Oh, I’m… I’m not sick, Maria. I’m fine.”

“And what about me?” she asked softly. “You know, you… you’re as bad as Michael lately. You don’t barely talk to me anymore. You’re never around. You have secrets… We’re supposed to be best friends – the three of us: you and me and Alex. And now Alex is gone and you’re, like, basically gone too.”

Liz had no answer for that.

Maria shook her head and turned away. She picked up the jar, unscrewed the lid and dumped the contents down the drain. “So, how long have you had powers?”

“I don’t know how to answer that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Liz shrugged. “It means…” She sighed. “It means I’m confused myself. I… I know Gandarium is the catalyst. I know that. I did all the research and experiments. I know it is, but… But, god, I can’t explain what’s happening in this timeline. I mean, in the other one, it seemed like things followed a true sequence of events. You know, Max healed me, years later I get exposed to Gandarium and, bam, I start changing. But in this one…”

“Woe. Woe. Woe. What do you mean by ‘in the other one’?” Maria interrupted.

“The other timeline,” Liz said. “My, uh… in Future Max’s timeline.”

“You got powers in Future Max’s timeline too?”

“Yeah.”

“And you know this because…?”

“Because I know it. Because I just… do,” she finished lamely.

Maria stared at Liz. “How, Liz?” she asked.

Liz sighed. “Because, just like Max and Isabel and Michael, I get flashes, and when Future Max was here… well, I… I picked things up from him. I doubt he even knew it…” She paused. How had the Granolith done it? Some of the things she remembered were clearly from Max’s point of view, seen through his eyes. Some of the things came from herself, flashes that Max had gathered from her older persona and then accidentally transferred to her younger persona. And some of the things were a direct result of the Granolith bringing what she was – her memories, her persona, the very person she was – and transferring them to her.

“Anyway, we’re getting off the subject,” she said. “This timeline is different. I felt different before the whole Laurie DuPree crisis. Okay? That… that should have been the first time I was exposed to the Gandarium, but see, things are different. I felt different as soon as Max healed me, which was more than a year before I was exposed to the Gandarium colony. And then there was the whole heat wave, and you know what that did to me…”

“Yeah.”

“But I didn’t realize what was happening back then. None of us did.” She paused, reorganizing her thoughts. Maria could only know so much. “It just… this whole getting powers thing really snuck up on me. I mean, there were no fireworks or anything to tell me I was changing. It was just little things. I got flashes. I seemed to intuitively grasp all the alien stuff. Isabel was able to project me to Max in New York. You know?

“And then I started to realize that I could feel the emotions of everyone around me. And I could kind of like read the emotional signatures of people, like, I would know if you were nearby because I could feel you coming. You know, stuff like that.”

“You still could have told me something was happening to you,” Maria said.

“There wasn’t any time,” Liz returned. “The government was watching us, Nacedo died, the Skins were after us, Gandarium threatened our planet, Alex was killed… I mean, when did we have time to stop and breathe? When was I supposed to tell you?”

“God, I hate it when you make sense,” Maria said.
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After Maria left, Liz returned to her room and stood indecisively next to her bed. There were butterflies in her stomach stumbling around and implacable, though she had her hand pressed over them. She bit the inside of her cheek to suppress the tears her eyes threatened to shed.

It was one thing to deceive her mother; keeping her in the dark was for her own good and protection. But deceiving Maria? Maria was her best friend. She as part of the whole alien abyss. While Liz had not lied to her exactly, she had made sure that Maria was utterly in the dark. She had let Maria think that her hybrid stature was harmless and mild at best, but that was little more than the tip of a very large iceberg.

The fact that Liz had crossed timelines and lived instead of died, that she was a woman in a child’s body, that her powers were unstable and dangerous, that she was helping the King of Antar and the Granolith – none of this had she told her friend. She held Maria at arms length, making her believe one thing to be true when, the truth was, another reality was actuality present.

Only a few weeks ago, when Michael had thanked her for the sacrifices she had made, she told him that she would do it again. Little had she known how prophetic her words would turn out to be.

In her first lifetime, Khivar had stolen everything away from her – her home, her career, her family and friends, her dignity and self-worth, her freedom; in this lifetime, she was giving it away for free to save a people that would never know what she had done.

She wondered vaguely what would become of her once the Ambassador was found. Where would she go? What would she do?

Well, wondering would get her nowhere.

With the mood she was in, she did not think she would be able to get any studying done. “I need to get out of here,” she whispered. “Away.”

She went to her closet and took out a nice pair of black slacks and a matching tank top, and a sheer, black, long-sleeved top, embroidered with copper-colored thread and sequins. She dressed quickly and then stood in front of her mirror fixing her hair. She waved her hand and watched her hair pile itself loosely over her head, small ringlets falling loose. She puts the hairpins in the appropriate places and then donned a pair of black pumps and changed her necklace and earrings. She slipped a simple gold band over her ring finger.

She pulled out a black sequined handbag and dropped in her wallet and keys, checked her makeup, took a deep breath and headed out the door.
Image


She sat alone in the booth sipping a glass of wine from which she had removed the alcohol and half-heartedly nibbling at the marinated artichoke heart hors d'oeuvre. Every once in a while she sent a telepathic nudge to the manager knowing that sooner or later he would be inexplicably drawn to her.

Humans. She understood why the Antarians considered them to be an inferior species. They were such a gullible and easily manipulated breed.

But Antarians did not know her people as she did. They failed to see the depth of the human capacity to love, the profound expression of their cultures in the arts, and the capacity to grow in knowledge and skill. They did not see how humans could pull together in the direst of circumstances to support one another and care for one another, and this although they did not know each other.

Humans were not bound together by any sense of loyalty but instead by their own humanity, and that was greatest thing Antarians failed to see. Antarians were by nature a very loyal people and when they failed to see that in another species they simply disregarded the entire people as unequal and lesser.

The general manager finally came to her table and she was glad because she had no appetite and she did not want to sit and eat any longer than she had to. He looked at her curiously, as if uncertain as to why he should bother to greet this particular patron at all, young as she was. “How is everything this evening?” he asked.

“Fine, thank you,” she said calmly, returning his uneasy stare. “You have an excellent menu.” She took a sip of her wine and sent soothing sensations to him.

“I’m glad you are enjoying it,” he returned. “And how is your server?”

“The epitome of courtesy,” she answered. She brought her hand up and rested her chin upon it. “I have a question, Sir.”

“Yes?”

She could sense that he was beginning to relax under her ministrations. “I had hoped to hear your pianist tonight. Will he be arriving soon?”

Liz was manipulating the general manager much as she had manipulated Maria earlier. She knew very well that the pianist was not to play that evening. She had found the man in the parking lot smoking a cigar while he waited to clock in and had paid him to call in sick.

“Ah, yes,” the manager spoke. “Unfortunately he has called in sick.”

The curious thing was, the pianist, a Mr. Brent Haywood, really had been feeling ill, perhaps the reason why he had not bothered to protest at all when she offered him her proposition. He had been feeling a lot of dizziness as of late, he said, and when she spoke to him he also had a bad case of indigestion.

“Oh?” She gave all appearances of being surprised. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

She took another sip of wine, then set her glass down and, resting her arms on the table, leaned toward the manager whom was now completely relaxed. “You know, I, uh… I graduated from Harvard University with a Ph.D in ethnomusicology.”

“Did you?” he asked.

She nodded. “I can play.”

But the manager misunderstood. “That is very nice for you, I’m sure,” he said.

“No,” she corrected him, “I can take your pianist’s place.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am. We don’t…”

She interrupted him, while simultaneously increasing the soothing telepathic waves. “You see, I’m visiting from out of town and I’ve been here for about a month, and my relatives don’t have any instruments and it’s driving me crazy.”

“Yes, ma’am…”

“I had really hoped to hear a little piano tonight and I’m so disappointed there won’t be any. I drove all the way across town just to be here,” she continued. “Why don’t you let me play one song. If you hate it, I will go back to my booth and sit quietly for the rest of the evening and eat my dinner. But if you like it I’ll play for the next few hours. No charge.”

“A Ph.D?”
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She sat straight-backed and with her eyes closed, letting her fingers dance across the keys. The first melody she played had sold the manager and he left her alone to play what she wished, and so she sat for several hours pouring her heart into her music, letting the music cry for her and sing regrets for her and tell of her loneliness.

After a while her mood began to clear and she felt a little less discouraged and a little more confident. Wistful longing and hope infused themselves into the songs and the strains seemed sweeter, happier.

She opened her mind outward and let the music carry her far away. Like storm clouds billowing across the horizon and blowing across the land, she reached out to listen to the voices of millions, then billions of minds. There was no cacophony this time. Instead she felt a rich symphony of emotions rise to greet her, each person giving to the beautiful harmony.

She continued to play, her fingers caressing the black and white keys, lost to melodies that no one could hear but her. So many people. So many voices. So great and wonderful a world was this. So worth anything she might ever sacrifice for it.

She began to focus her empathic senses to seek out specific individuals from among the great crowd that lived and breathed on her planet. The Granolith was the first and easiest to locate. Rath or Michael, whichever one was dominant at the time, was curiously absent; there was not a trace of him anywhere, which only meant that he was intentionally blocking her. She did not waste time trying to find him; she just moved on.

Max and Isabel, Maria and Kyle and Jim were all located quickly, their anxiety for her prominent. Her parents were also easy to find. She brushed passed Tess and her son, Ti Eba. She sensed Ava and even Nicholas, but was unable to find Lonnie and Rath. And, remarkably, she found the difference between human and non-human signatures with a distinction and a clarity that she could not before remember.

At last, she let her fingers still and she opened her eyes and found the restaurant almost empty of patrons. She sighed softly. It was later than she was used to staying up since Michael began dictating her schedule, but she felt more rested than she had in a long time.

She was almost surprised to find her space invaded by the manager. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone make as much in tips as you just did.”

She glanced at the jar that sat upon the baby grand filled to the brim with bills. “I didn’t play for money.”

“Take it anyway,” he suggested.

She shook her head. “No, thank you. You can, uh… save it for Mr. Haywood or divide it among yourselves. It doesn’t really matter.” She rose and took her purse from atop the piano.

“I don’t suppose you’d like a job?” he asked.

She smiled at him. “Thank you, but no. I won’t be around that long.”

“Well, if you’d like to come play again…”

“We’ll see,” she said noncommittally. “Have a good night, Sir.”
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As he listened, he decided his Friend was far more positive than he, yet he did not discount Its words.

Ifuono zivne duara, /She still grieves./ the Entity spoke.

Rath studied his Friend, It looking much as It had on the day Tess had departed. Only a slender cone-shaped part showed, dark but undulating like a vortex with blue and white coils. Light impressions of It flickered and played across the walls of the Chamber in fanciful, impossible geometric patterns. Dancing.

Cless cona kalitupe ifuono vetar, he said, not bothering to hide his worry from the Granolith. Kalitupe cless cona pacalhunapi, juha ifuono vetar duara. Wakwael kalitupe ifuono somar yeh. /She fights the need to bond. She needs it to survive, but still she fights it. She will die without it./

Zwibaba ifuono esdla. Eme kausia perapera ifuono motua, the Granolith answered. /She does not understand. She is driven by many fears./

He knew the Granolith’s words were true. He felt her fears every time he was connected to her.

Rath lay his palm flat against the Granolith, feeling movements that were not there and angles and shapes that could not exist, strange sensations that washed over him and tickled his skin. He had long ago grown used to the fact that his eyes could not interpret the Being, but sometimes, like a blind man, his hands could.

Ia kausia paresk, tu iri. /Of which I am one./

But the Granolith disregarded his words. Inyoni parev cona suila sihamia. Inyoni nana ifuono hadihi undrea yeh, It said. /This time period is a burden for her. She will thrive better in another./

Maerokokua. /Agreed./

Ifuono arha nui Tu. Arawas suila Tu zin. /Bring her to me. I must prepare her./
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It had rained through the night, a warm spring rain that washed the streets of Roswell and scented the air with strong earthy smells. Glistening droplets clung to the blades of grass and dripped from the trees. A moist breeze traced its way through the streets and alleys. And the sky was painted over with the wet colors of winter: deep, rich blue, silvery gray, pristine white, yellow like the desert sun and burnt copper.

Liz looked a sorry state, panting heavily and covered in mud, but she was determined. She was only hardening the air a few inches above the ground, but running, keeping the air molecules solid, and maintaining her balance were difficult. Besides, air was slippery when it was laden with moisture and her shoes kept sliding. It was like running on top of the ice in an ice rink. She had fallen numerous times.

She patted her hands down onto the muddy track and pushed herself to her knees. Stray hairs, having escaped from her ponytail, tickled her face and she brushed them away and tucked them behind her ears, further smearing herself with mud.

“Need help?” a voice asked, and a helping hand reached out to her.

She glanced up at Rath’s dark eyes. “That’s okay. I think I got it covered.” She pushed herself up from the ground and stood on her feet.

“You certainly have.” He looked amused, but since he had his mind cloaked to her empathic senses she could not be certain.

She listened for the Granolith, whom had been hovering for nearly half an hour, but It seemed disinterested in providing any insight, It being content to simply watch over her.

“So, did you come here to mock me or was there another reason for your charming presence?”

He shrugged. “I thought I’d start out with mocking and work my way up.”

“Great,” she said. “Well, I’ve got two more laps to go so you’ll have to mock me from the sidelines.”

She pushed the air molecules together, forming a solid mass and stepped up. One of her feet slipped and she had to twist to keep her balance.

He grabbed one of her muddy elbows in his hand to steady her.

She studied where his fingers gripped her. “I missed you, you know,” she said.

“I was…”

“With the Granolith. I know.” She drew her eyes upward, able to see eye-to-eye for a change, boosted up as she was on the air. “I knew where you were. I just couldn’t feel you. It was a statement, not a complaint. I just thought, you know, that you might like to know.”

He said nothing and, because he was so closed, she did not expect him to.

“I’ll be back,” she said.

He let go and she took off running once again. She was still unsteady and she fell a few more times, but in the end she managed to make it around the track twice more, bringing the total distance to three miles.

Disciplining her body, however, was a far cry from disciplining her mind. Feeling rested and finding herself accepting her apparent destiny did not make her feel any less sad. Her husband was already gone. Rath and her alien friends would leave next. And by the time it was all said and done, she would likely not have much of a relationship left with her human friends and family. Even the Granolith would no longer be there to pester her and drive her away from her dark thoughts. Life was going to be very lonely for her someday soon.

Very lonely. For she was growing to depend on Michael and Rath, whomever was dominant at the time. She might be his akamaiotia, but he was fire to her. He warmed her heart, protected her with his quiet intensity and emblazoned her with the ability to use her power in new and unexpected ways. He was family. He was her friend. And his presence was branded upon her entire being.

And she did not want him to leave.

Stupid. She was stupid to think such things.

She let go of the air and walked on the wet ground, motioning her backpack to her as she passed by it. It rose and followed behind her until she stopped again and then it settled itself over one shoulder.

“Are you, uh… are you going to be around this afternoon or will I be working out by myself again?” she asked Rath.

He raised his brow. “You won’t be working out at all. We have other plans.”

“I see. And what are these other plans?”

“The Granolith is asking for you.”
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Liz touched the aged mirror with her finger and watched as the murky reflection repaired itself and clear. Better. She could see herself.

“So, whose vehicle are we going to take? Mine?” she asked hopefully.

“Mine,” Rath answered.

“Okay.” It had been a while since she been on a motorcycle. She would have to do something with her hair so that it would not be blown all over the place. Maybe braids?

She stared at her reflection, and for a moment she did not see herself as she was but as she used to be. She was in her own bathroom in her own house…

“They’re here,” Max said. “Are you ready?”

Liz looked at her husband. His hair was longer than it used to be, probably longer than it should be for a respectable county social worker but he would never hear her complain. “Yeah,” she said. “It seems weird, doesn’t it? We haven’t been all together in one place since the night you and I got married.”

“And we haven’t had a group meeting since we were kids.”

“Of course, with Jim gone and Rath and Vilandra instead of Michael and Isabel, it won’t be quite the same, will it?” she asked, but she did not expect an answer. They both knew nothing would be the same again. Their world was going to end, at least if Michael’s/Rath’s vision were correct, and there was nothing either of them could say to make it better.


“You okay?”

She glanced at Rath, the Rath of this timeline, and nodded.

He was very similar to her Rath, the two being crafted from the same cloth – driven, decisive men, selfless and unbreakable, with a strength that she had long ago learned to rely on. But sometimes she wondered about before… What was he like before he came to Earth? What was he like before he became the great military leader known as “Lord Rath”?

There was so much she did not know, so many answers she was missing about this timeline and its people and about her Antarian companions.

For heavens sake, Rath was one of her closest friends but she did not even know his real name. How was that for missing information?

“Leofori.” His voice broke into her thoughts.

Liz blinked, her fingers pausing in their task.

He leaned his back against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. Waiting.

She licked her lip. “Is that supposed to mean something?”

He gave a barely perceptible shrug. “I think it was meant to be a play on words, ‘iofori’ and ‘lufoi’.”

“‘Far away’ and ‘grand’?”

“When Ambassador Rawuri named me I believe he intended for our people to assume I was to someday become Zan Lufoi…”

“The Grand King.”

“Yes,” Rath agreed, “which pleased my father immensely.”

“I bet.”

“But the real message was for me. Zan Iofori. Far away king,” he explained. “Even my name told me I would not stay.”

“Why do you say that?” Liz asked.

Rath raised his brow in question.

“You were named by the Ambassador. Maybe your name wasn’t a message so much as it was a prophecy.” She shrugged. “When you go back, you’ll have crossed over from an entirely different galaxy… from very far away. And you will oust Khivar and make things right for your people, and they will see you as a far grander king than any they remember because you will have saved their lives.”

“I’m not sure my people were meant to make that connection.”

“Then you underestimate them.” She turned back to the mirror. “I know,” she murmured, “because I did too.”

The Antarians she had known were desperate, and desperate people did desperate things – things like leaving their ravaged world to travel to a backward planet in another galaxy, things like serving under the leadership of Khivar, a man they despised, things like committing atrocities in his name… And for what? In hopes that they might find their rightful king of Antar, their Granolith and Its Ambassador.

Instead they had found a human hybrid named Max Evans, a man whom they believed to be their king but whom could not remember his past, no trace of the Granolith and no Ambassador. And the one person they did find, Rath, was a hybrid himself and was leading a ragtag lot of human rebels. It was not what they had expected and so they had responded in just as desperate a fashion as had the Anapo Gudorian of that time period.

But then she had touched their minds – all of their minds – and, despite the terror the upoko had imposed on her, she had learned that the Antarian people were much more than she had bargained for. They were as focused and driven as Rath, loyal to the end, and filled with a compassion and tenderness unique to the telepathic race they were. Working with Khivar had been a means to an end for them, one that had hurt them terribly, but one necessary in order to get to Earth.

She had been wrong about them, but she would not make the same mistake twice.

Liz finished the braid, wrapping a rubber band around the end. “Well, I’m no biker chick,” she said, staring at her youthful reflection, “but I guess this will do.”

“Okay.” Rath pushed himself away from the wall. “Lets go.”

They walked side by side through the school, heading toward the parking lot. Liz ‘listened’ for her friends as they went, sensing that all four of them were present – Maria near the office, Kyle at the cafeteria, Max waiting by the door of Liz’s Trigonometry class and Isabel waiting near Liz’s locker. She frowned.

They passed by Jeff Croft and Liz momentarily let her attention slip so that she could read his shirt as they passed. “Help Wanted: Telepath. You know where to apply,” it read.

Liz smiled.

“Profound, huh?” he asked.

“Yeah, something like that,” she answered, amusement coloring her voice.

“Where you headed?” Jeff asked.

“Ditching,” she shrugged.

“Cool,” he said. “Have fun.”

“Sure.”

They continued to head out of the school and Liz returned some of her attention back to her friends. Kyle had not moved, but Maria was talking to some friends and Max, anxious and uncertain, had left Liz’s classroom and was heading in the direction of Rath and her, and Isabel, too, was on the prowl.
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Kyle had expected Liz and Michael to eat breakfast in the cafeteria just as they normally did and so was surprised when they passed by the eating area without a backward glance. He gathered his books from the table and left to follow them discretely, but bumped into Max instead, whom was not quite as discrete in his attempts to follow the pair.

“Sorry,” Max apologized in a rush. “I’m just trying to get to Liz.” He hurried off without checking to see if Kyle was all right.

“Valenti, you okay?” Dustin from the wrestling team asked.

“Yeah. Fine,” Kyle said.

“Evans still after Liz?” Dustin asked.

“Like a dog in heat,” Kyle grumbled.

“Dude, that’s just sad.”
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They walked down the steps in front of the school and stepped down to the parking lot asphalt, easily walking passed security personnel that should have noticed two students walking away from school rather than toward it.

Liz knew the moment Max had finally spotted them, his fear and anxiousness being replaced by recognition and surprise. He stood stock still for a moment before a false sense of relief washed over him and he set foot forward again, quickening his pace toward them.

They reached Michael’s motorcycle and Rath handed her a helmet.

She pulled on her helmet and buckled the chinstrap.

Her empathic senses were entirely trained on Max by then and she reached out and created a small bar of solid air in front of him. He tripped and fell.

Then she tied his shoelaces together.

Rath gave her a telepathic thump.

He’s bothering me, she told him, zipping her jacket. I don’t care how much he wants to know what’s going; he doesn’t have the right to stalk me.

She zipped up her jacket, while Rath slipped on a pair of soft, leather gloves with studded palms.

Don’t you think you’re being kind of obvious?

Liz shrugged. He can’t prove it’s me. It might have been anyone.

By ‘anyone’ you mean me.


Liz grinned mischievously at him.

“Very funny,” he said.

He climbed on his motorcycle and she climbed on behind him, tucking her feet up and holding onto the sides of his leather jacket. She ignored Max’s shock and confusion as Rath started the motor and the two of them took off.
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She walked in a daze, barely noticing the passing of the students around her as they headed toward first period class.

Liz had left with Michael!? It did not make sense. Why would Liz do that? Isabel wondered. Liz did not ditch school and she certainly did not hang out with Michael. And Michael? What was he up to? He was so impulsive. Had he taken it into his own hands to find out the truth about Liz? And, if so, why, when Liz clearly had kept this hidden, would she go with him? Didn't she know what Michael was up to? What was going on?

She had asked Max the same thing when he told her and he had not known either. But they were both very concerned about Liz.

She was jarred away from her thoughts when a student bumped into her. "Oh!"

"Sorry." It was Kyle. "Must be one of those days. You okay?" he asked.

Those were the first words he had spoken to her since Tess left five and a half weeks earlier. He had been avoiding all of them, everyone involved in the "alien abyss", as Maria called it. He had not been there at his own home the day they moved Tess's things out and he had not been at the group meeting to talk about Liz. He just… hadn't been there in a long time.

"Fine," she said abruptly, feeling in full the awkwardness of the situation. Poor Kyle. "You?"

"Fine," he answered.

"Do you know what's going on with Liz?" she blurted out before she could rethink the appropriateness of the question. He had been avoiding them, but he still might know something. He usually kept good tabs on her.

But he only answered, "No."

There was something in the expression on his face, though, something… strained. His brow furrowed slightly and a darkness seemed to wash over him.

“But I bet Michael does,” he said.

And without giving her a chance to respond, he walk away.
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One of the librarians stopped at the end of the aisle to check on Nancy. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

She shook her head. "No, I don't think what I'm looking for is here."

"What exactly did you want?"

In the background, up at the front desk, Nancy could hear an unusually noisy conversation between the other librarian and a patron over a library computer. "The site says I need an Internet Explorer browser to best view the page. I need you to put that browser on the computer I'm using."

"Ma'am, if you can see that page, you're already using that browser," the other librarian spoke evenly.

"So, you're not going to help me?" the irritated woman remarked.

Nancy attempted to drown the conversation from the front desk away and return to the conversation at hand.

"I need something about lucid dreaming." She was not even quite certain what lucid dreaming entailed, but, at that point, she was beginning to feel rather desperate and she was willing to take any advice, even if is was from someone like Mrs. Ada Windermere, who seemed not quite sane.

"Oh! Well, someone just returned a book about that. Why don't you come with me and I'll get it for you." She gestured for Nancy to follow her. "It's up at the front desk. We just haven't had the chance to put it away yet."

Nancy looked in the direction the librarian was heading and winced as the irate woman, who was still at the counter, demanded to speak to a supervisor.
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After breakfast at a local IHop, where Rath made her eat more than she cared to, they headed out to the Granolith.

They flew down the rain-dampened road with the speed of a dragon in flight. The engine rumbled beneath them. Warm, moist wind ripped passed them, pushing at their bodies and tugging at their clothes; it whistled in their ears. The sandy desert landscape rushed pass, rich with colors that only appeared after a storm – pinks and golds, deep greens and rust.

Liz could feel the Granolith thrumming as they approached, a song so low that it reverberated through her with a magnetic resonance. Her empathic senses narrowed of their own accord and settled in a singular fashion on the Being and she felt herself being drawn toward It. It wanted them to come and she thought that, even if they had not wanted to comply, they would be pulled toward It all the same.

A subtle connection opened between the three of them, the Entity linking their minds together. She leaned closer to Rath and closed her eyes, letting herself feel the gentle dance of emotions from her two friends as they shifted and settled and merged with hers.

Their movement softly buffeted against the walls she had set around her unsettled bond, but her barriers held fast and she felt the dance change again. Michael and she were drawn in even closer to the Granolith. She opened her eyes and watched the passing landscape swirl with sparkling colors that reminded Liz of cadmium compounds and copper phthalocyanines.

A hawk flew across the sky, its heat energy signature visible within the Granolith’s visual spectral range.

Rath moved off of the main road and along the sand-covered dirt roads leading passed the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge and then back into the hills. Rocky outcroppings jutted upward from the desert floor, still wet despite the warm breezes, but the ground itself was compacted enough to drive over.

At last they reached the distinctive rock formation with its angled layers that housed the Granolith’s Chamber. The metallic rivers that had poured from the Granolith when It spit Tess into the open sky on a direct path to Florida had since hardened into strange veins that shone brilliantly in the morning sun.

As Rath pulled the motorcycle to a stop and put the parking stand down, the low, resonating song of the Granolith seemed to intensify. She got down and removed her helmet and handed it to Rath to hang on his handlebars all the while listening, memorizing the intricate patterns and melodies woven together, letting the Entity’s welcoming joy wash through her in undulating waves.

And Rath – he was just as pleased that she was there, cautiously so, but pleased none-the-less.

The song slowed to a gentle lull and she heard the Granolith speak to Rath, but could not understand the words – words that were directed to him rather than to her – but she felt the effects, for suddenly she found herself pulled into his arms, desire and need pulsing through her and, even before their lips had the chance to meet, flashes surged forth.

___“Our ancestors were brought here so many thousands of years ago that we have lost the knowledge of where we came from,” the instructor explained. “Who told you we came from there?”

“My friend,” Leofori answered elusively.

“Your friend? And was it also he whom called it Auyana Ahamo – First Kingdom?”


___Ava knew something was not right, probably sensing the block, and stared at him with a frown on her otherwise beautiful face and Leofori just felt nauseous every time they tried. Perhaps now that they had called for Ambassador Rawuri, perhaps he would set his parents straight once and for all.

___He had pushed his mind into the Granolith’s then and grasped onto the entity’s powers, gaining understanding as he did so. What eluded him on his own became clear through his connection. He twisted the power and manipulated it into the form he wanted, then pulled it onto the Ambassador and himself.

Below him, time seemed to still. “Do you see?” Leofori asked. The gardeners had ceased gardening, the servants their forward movement, the birds their perusal for sustenance.

“By all that is holy,” Rawuri whispered. He gazed down upon Leofori, eyes wide. “You’re bonded to the Granolith. You’re the one I’ve been waiting for.”


___“Whoooo!” Sahal yelled from his position upon the other dragon, arms reaching upward toward the sky, head thrown back. Leofori laughed at his cousin, understanding the thrill and excitement of flight upon a dragon. The powerful muscles pumping beneath his legs. The rush of wind tearing at his clothing and hair. The way the rise and fall of the dragon made his heart pound in his chest. The ground spinning away far below him.

“First time?” the dragon rider, Zaman, asked from behind him.

“His very first,” Leofori agreed.

“Tuavaero ought to love that,” the rider laughed.


Liz stepped back out of his arms, staring at him breathlessly. She fought to maintain the walls she had erected around her bond even as she wished she did not have to. He had done it again, broken through her defenses and given her flashes and she – she, who should have prevented it from happening at all – had only wished there had been more. She was betrayed.

Rath held out his hand.

Come. The words seemed to be spoken by both Rath and the Granolith at the same time.

Rath’s need and desire was still there, easily felt through their connection, but it was submerged beneath the Granolith’s beckoning. The Granolith wanted her to come to It and that want overrode everything else.

She took his hand without hesitation and followed after him, up the damp pathway to the Chamber entrance.

“Open the door,” Rath instructed. He stepped aside to give her access to the disguised security panel.

“Me?” she asked.

He gestured toward the panel.

She licked her lips and stepped forward, and brought the palm of her hand up to the place on the rocky surface that she had seen her husband place his before.
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“Maria?”

Maria’s smile disappeared at the sound of the familiar voice.

“Do you know where Michael went?” the familiar voice asked.

“Excuse me,” she said to Jeff Croft. “Something just came up. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Hey. No problem,” Jeff said.

“Call me?” she asked.

“You bet,” Jeff agreed easily.

Maria took a breath and turned to face Max Evans. “What?” she asked impatiently. Darn alien abyss. It just kept sucking her back in at the worst times.

“I’m sorry,” Max apologized. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I just wanted to know if you knew where Michael was.”

“How am I supposed to know?” she asked irritably. “He doesn’t barely talk to me anymore.” Had she really just interrupted her conversation with Jeff for this? She definitely did not want to talk about Michael.

“Well, do you know where Liz is then?” he asked. “She left with him.”

She left with him. She paused thinking how strange that had sounded. Was Michael up to something? The man lived impulsively. Had he decided to question Liz on his own and find out the truth about whether or not she had powers?

But then, why would Liz agree to something like that? Liz had not even wanted to tell her best friend, Maria.

Unless…

Well, whatever was going on, Maria was in no mood to discuss it with Max. “Maybe he was rescuing her from her stalker,” she retorted.

“I’m not… I haven’t… I didn’t mean to,” Max said, flustered. “Is she avoiding me?” he finally managed to ask.

Maria was of the opinion that Liz was avoiding all of them lately, but she was sure her friend had a good reason even if she did not know what it was. She was not happy about it, of course, no more than she was happy about Michael's strange behavior, but Liz was her best friend and she would support her no matter what. “Max, Liz should be the least of your worries right now. You’ve got, like, much, much bigger Czechoslovakian problems. Okay? Why don’t you focus on those first and worry about Liz later?”

“But what if she’s got powers? What if…”

“What if she does?” she interrupted.

Max was instantly suspicious. “Did she tell you anything?”

Maria blew out a frustrated breath. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Michael was right. You need to wait. If Liz has powers, she’ll tell you when she’s ready.”

“And when will that be?”

Maria smacked Max upside his head. “Hello! What part of ‘wait’ don’t you understand?”

“Maria, please,” he begged.

She sighed. “Look, Liz and I have been best friends, like, forever. She’s always there for me when I need her no matter what. She’s really smart. She keeps me grounded. She’s like… air. Like, I couldn’t breath without her. She’s like the wings on my back.”

“What?”

“Like… like, I’m this ugly insect, you know? And she’s these beautiful wings. And when we’re together I feel like I can fly anywhere and do anything ‘cause nothing’s impossible and that maybe I’m not so ugly and imperfect after all.”

Max frowned, trying to decipher her words. “Are you still studying insects in Mr. Schulman’s class?”

“Look, all I’m saying is that I know that in your own slightly bizarre, otherworldly way you feel the same way about her, but, dang, Max, you’ve got to give her some space.”

“Space?” he blinks.

“Was I speaking too fast?” Maria asked, slowly enunciating every word. “Do you want me to draw pictures?”
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Polar Attraction ~ Experience true love for the first time

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sablaine
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Re: Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12

Post by sablaine » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:34 pm

Spring 2000
Five and a Half Weeks Since “Departure”
Granolith’s Chamber
Same Day
~Chapter 13~
Even Then
Bringing Liz to the Granolith was no casual affair, despite the Entity’s joyful receiving of her and Rath’s pleasure in having been the one to bring her. The Granolith wanted her prepared to leave in a few days and that meant forcing her human side to face some of its demons, while at the same time working with her more dominant Antarian side, appealing to its emotional and physical needs. Rath did not expect that this was, in any way, going to be easy for Liz.

While she did not seem to mind using and working with her powers, she had been consistently resistant to anything more than that – ‘more’ specifically, in accepting his Antarian culture as her own and re-bonding, both of which she needed. She clung to her humanity as if it were the only thing she had to keep her safe and sane.

While such a clinging was a temporarily acceptable solution, it was not an effectively workable plan for her future well-being. She had been born human and raised within Earth’s Westernized culture, but with each passing day she was becoming increasingly Antarian. Her emotional and physical needs were different now, and at some point she was going to have to face the truth of that matter.

That day – the first day she was summoned to the Granolith’s Chamber – would mark the beginning of both the Granolith’s and his attempts to mentally prepare her to face that truth.

And it had started with a kiss.

No matter what she said and no matter fears she expressed, she came undone in his arms. She craved his touch and the connection that flared to life so easily between them. Craved it. He knew because when they connected flashes were not the only things that surged forth between them; passion, desire and explosive need erupted as well, the bars that normally locked them so tightly away melting easily under the heat of their telepathic joining.

Her human side was afraid of what such longing might mean, while her Antarian side called out for more. She felt utterly betrayed. He knew because he felt that too.

But, at that moment, the pleasurable instability within her that he had purposefully caused was the least of his concerns as he watched over her.

They stood in the entryway to the Granolith’s Chamber, the thick, round, rock-like door sealing itself shut with a stiff gravelly sound.

Liz stared at the “door”, memories of the last time she had been there hitting her with a force she had not expected. And he saw them with her: the way Liz and her husband, Max, had clung to each other, hearts pounding, chests heaving, and the ground quaking beneath them in thunderous rolls as Khivar blasted the outer Chamber walls, trying to break through, Max’s last minute fears of leaving Liz, the way their bond stretched until it broke…

The memories hurt her as they replayed themselves, not just with the terrible emotional pain of the last moments she had with her husband, but with a searing, knife-like pain when her severed bond tried to reach out for Max and was unable.

It was the pain, perhaps, that pulled her back into their reality and, with it, her realization that she was not alone.

She turned to face him then, and he saw that she was biting at her lip in consternation. “I’m sorry,” she spoke softly. “I didn’t mean for you to see that… or feel…”

She seemed to gather herself together as she spoke, forcing aside the thoughts that distressed her so much and wrapping the whole smoldering lot away to a place in her mind where she felt she could ignore it for the time being.

But it was not really gone. It was only hidden.

“That you still miss him?” he finished for her.

She nodded, her face lacking all telltale signs of emotion. Even with his sight from the Granolith it was hard to discern exactly what she was feeling.

“It comes and goes,” she said. “I’m actually okay most days, but then every once in a while I remember something and… and I get lost. I forget where I am and for a minute… I’m there.” She wrinkled her nose. Her emotions had started to slip as she spoke, but she reigned them quickly back in again. “With him. In the other world. My world.”

“Sometimes where we come from has a stronger pull on us than the place that we are,” he said.

His words seemed to sink in and shake the walls she had erected around the ‘smoldering lot’. “Yes, well…” She took a breath to steady herself.

“I should have asked this before. I just, uh…” she asked. “Well, why did the Granolith send for me? Is this the day I’m leaving again?”

“Just like that.” It was a comment, not a question, one he had not realized he spoke aloud until he caught the puzzled expression on her face.

“I’m sorry?”

Soon, the Granolith spoke to her, but Rath heard the words too, but not today.

She glanced toward the doorway that led to the Chamber housing the Entity but made no move to join It. “Soon,” she whispered.

“Liz?”

She returned her attention to Rath.

He attempted to move within her mind to find the answers he wanted but she was wary because of her memories and had her mental walls set tight. She narrowed her eyes at his perusal but did not try to stop him, clearly confident he would do no harm. “Are you anxious to leave?” he asked.

“I don’t know about anxious. I don’t even know why I’m leaving yet.” She shrugged.

“You don’t mind being sent on an unknown errand ten years into the past?”

“I don’t know.”

“Alone?”

“I hadn’t given it much thought.”

“That seems uncharacteristic for someone who likes to have a plan,” he commented. When she had confronted Michael three days earlier, he had seen very clearly from her mind that she wanted to know as much as possible so that she could plan for the time move, although when Michael had asked her about her feelings on the matter, she had simply stated that she felt like the move might be like taking a vacation. So, it seemed unlikely that the woman had given the matter no further thought for the past few days, as she indicated. It was far more likely that she had given the matter considerable thought and planning.

But his comment had seemed to make her more cautious than before and she hesitated before answering. He sensed her telepathic touches as she attempted to assess his emotional state, and he wondered what she saw when she touched him like that.

“I’m a soldier,” she finally said, stilling within their connection. “If you, as my commanding officer, are allowing this and the Granolith, whom we fought to protect, is sending me, then who am I to question orders? Whatever I’m being sent to do, I’ll do,” was what she finally answered.

“You’re not being ordered into the past,” he said.

“No?” she asked. “Well, according to Gudorian and Monsieur Fournier, I’ve already gone, so it seems kind of a moot point, don’t you think?”

So, she had thought about it.

But how much planning had she already done?

“What about supplies?” he pressed.

“Covered.”

He raised his brow.

“Look, we already know I have contact with Gudorian and Pierre-Louis and, possibly, one other person and we know I have money. Clearly, I am provided for,” she said. “And if I’m wrong, I can always steal.”

“Steal?”

But she only shrugged. “It’s not like I haven’t done it before.”

“Aren’t you worried about danger? One woman, alone during a time period before Khivar’s Skin forces were destroyed?” he asked.

“Are you questioning my ability to perform a covert operation?” she returned. She began to assess him again with soft telepathic touches, tender and gentle, as if she were afraid to upset him by the mental invasion but determined to find her answers none-the-less. He let her do as she pleased.

“What if you’re hurt?”

She paused her perusal. “Okay, now you just sound like Maria,” Liz said. “Don’t forget I know people who can heal, Dahicru being one of them, if it really comes to that.”

“If it comes to that,” he repeated.

“Do you know something I don’t?” she questioned.

“I thought you hadn’t given this much thought.”

“I haven’t really,” she said. “I, uh… I figured I’d be given the specifics of my mission at departure.”

“Assuming this is a mission,” he said.

He walked away from her then and headed toward the glowing remains of the pods, complex adaptations of the ones used on Antar when breeding the shapeshifters.

It had been easier for the Rath of her timeline with respects to Liz, he thought. His primary focus with her had been of a military venture. There had been friendship, too, and a strong sense of family, but it had not been the primary focus. Her husband and the marriage bond they shared had prevented anything more.

But in this timeline he had a difficult line to walk with her. She was not just a soldier; she was a woman he cared deeply for and one that the Granolith had promised to him. But she still thought in terms of war, her whole being focused on doing whatever was necessary to protect their respective peoples. It made her ignore the grief she needed to express. It made her ignore her mind’s desperate need to re-bond. It made her misunderstand the very obvious clues that both the Granolith and he had given her.

And it made her less reliant on him than she should be. She went along with him, for the most part, because it suited her plans for Earth’s future, not because of any loyalty to him. And everything of consequence – her need to bond, her relationship with her family and friends, her personal goals, her grief… even him – had all been pushed aside for this plan.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

She had followed him.

“I’m fine,” he stated. He ran his hands along the edges of his own pod.

“You’re not fine. You want something from me,” she said. He felt her slide her hand over his arm. “What do you want?”

When he did not answer she slid her hand down further until it lay over his own. He looked down at her in time to see her close her eyes in concentration and the first telltale sharp inhalation of breath as flashes burst forth. She stilled.

And when she opened her eyes again there was a small smile on her face. “Even then,” she said softly.

“What did you see?”

She glanced up at him, her hand still resting on his. “My husband could never remember his past, not even when he was podded. But you’re not like him, are you? Even as a tiny, little boy you had moments of lucidity. You knew who you were and why you were here and you would call out for the Granolith and It would touch your mind and put you back to sleep.”

It was not time for him to awaken, the Granolith spoke in their minds.

No, it was not, Rath agreed.

“Why?” she asked. “What were you waiting for?”

The Child, It said.

“The Child?” she whispered, trying to work it out in her mind. “You mean the Ambassador?”

She must have felt the affirmation of the Granolith because she immediately plunged on, some of the pieces finally clicking into place for her. “That was a decade ago when you ha... uh, came out of the pod. Are you saying the one you’re looking for lived in Roswell a decade ago?”

“Yes,” Rath said.

She chewed on her lip as possibilities and scenarios ran through her mind.

“It’s not who you think it is,” he said softly, catching the trail of her thoughts.

“Well, you have to admit Serena makes a better candidate than anyone else,” she said.

“I do not,” he told her.

She is not the one I choose, the Granolith agreed.

She made a small humming sound in her throat and bit her lip in thought. “Well, I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”

“We?”

She let her hand slip from his, suddenly remembering that she had left it there for so long. “Well, we’ve now reduced the possible candidates for Ambassador down to 3,000… uh, that is, that’s how many children lived in Roswell in 1990. So, you know, maybe I’ll get some clues when I’m back there… then.” She shrugged. “And then when I come back, assuming I do come back… Am I coming back?” she asked.

“We’ll be back,” he said.

“We?” It was her turn to ask.

“You’re not trying to leave without me, are you?”

“Well I…” She paused as the pieces slipped into place. “Is that what you’re upset about? That’s what you want? For me not to want to leave you?” She looked at him with a frown. “But… why? What are you worried about? What happens then?”

“I thought I’d made it clear to you that family sticks together,” he evaded.

“I asked, if you’ll recall,” she said, exasperated. “Michael wouldn’t tell me anything. And you…” She jabbed her finger into his chest. “You just talk in circles. So how am I supposed to know what’s going on?”

The Granolith spoke to Liz then, but only to Liz, and Rath could not hear the words. Whatever It said irritated her further. “You keep out of this. This is between His Majesty and I,” she told It and he could feel the Entity’s amusement.

Rath raised his brow at her reference to him.

“Well?” she demanded.

“You should have more respect for the Granolith,” he said.

“Rath,” she said softly. Her eyes were soft and warm and filled with emotion.

“I told you that’s not my name,” he spoke just as soft.

“I have never known you by any other.”

“You’ve never had reason to,” he countered.

“You are Lord Rath, General of the Antarian Army, under whom I serve. It is who you are on my world,” she said.

“But it is not all that I am.” He reached out to tug gently at her braid.

“No, you are also Antar’s Zan, ruler of over 14 billion people and dragons. Why do you worry about one human girl?” she asked.

Energy from the Granolith splashed over them and tickled his skin. Soothing and comforting. He relished Its touch, but it was Liz that still consumed his attention, and she had closed her eyes in reaction to Its energy fluctuations.

So sensitive.

He traced his fingertips down her arm, leaving a silver wake in their trail. She inhaled and her eyes fluttered open.

“You’re not just a human girl,” he whispered.

“What do you want from me?” she whispered back.

“Your loyalty,” he said.

She considered him for a moment, attempting to ignore the way the Granolith’s energy flowed over her, although such a task took nearly all her concentration. Her tender telepathic touch returned, small brushes of her mind through his. Careful. Nearly imperceptible. Touches he would likely have missed if they had not been connected through the Granolith.

She had already given him her loyalty, had she not? That was the dominant thought in her mind. Clearly, then, he must want something more.

And then, just as quickly, she had pulled away, her mind dancing with a thousand different thoughts and questions the way sunlight glittered on water – too quick to catch, but indicative of the brilliant mind behind their dance.

“Fealty?” she finally asked.

“No,” he said. “Not from you.”

“Then what?”

The waves from the Granolith’s energy shift ebbed and her attention began to slip away with it.

Rath traced his fingertips in the opposite direction, trailing them back up her arm. She inhaled sharply, her attention returning back to him in full force. “I’d like a more personal promise of loyalty,” he said.

“Not a bond,” she said, wary again.

“A promise would suffice for the moment.”

“What kind of promise exactly?”

“I want you to stop trying to handle matters on your own,” he said. “And I want to be included in all your plans.”

“All of them?”

“All of them.”

“But…”

You must assent to Leofori’s request, the Granolith interrupted, Its intrusion clearly a violation if Liz’s frown had any say in the matter.

“What about searching out the Ambassador?” she asked.

The Ambassador is chosen ten years hence, the Granolith said. You both must be present and allied at the time of choosing.

“Yes,” she said. “Of course.”

Her turn of thought and quick acquiescence caught him off-guard. All of the glittering had coalesced into a broad misunderstanding of the reason for his request and that of the Granolith’s encouragement. In her mind, she still saw all of what occurred in this lifetime to be an extension of the war in the last timeline.

More than that, she saw herself as somehow having earned possession of her people. She was not just a representative citizen of Earth; she was owner of the entire planet. In Liz’s mind, her sacrifices in the last world, her being the sole survivor of 7½ billion people and the fact that the Granolith had brought her here had purchased that right and given her a directive and purpose in this life. Earth’s citizens were hers to do with as she wished. She had the power and knowledge to protect them, and all it required was that she give up one of those citizens to the Granolith. It was a fair trade in her mind – one more life, one more sacrifice of those whom she sought to protect for the safety and continued propagation of the rest. Military strategy…

And political alliance. “It’s the only thing that makes sense,” she continued to speak. “Earth and Antar should present a united front to the Ambassador.”

“That’s not what I meant,” he said gently.

“Then I don’t understand.”

It was the English. Her birth language befuddled her ability to understand his request. Perhaps if he spoke in his own tongue…

“Koholoa naia tu gaena, cha,” /It is not a for a political alliance that I ask/ he stated. “Awaawa huso tu wana; koholoa nakanai, amar tu matamata.” /I tried to explain before that what I seek is a family alliance./

“Parsa’a ta imi, nakanai sitam-sulakamaya. Nakanai timuhin cona mocho. Mocho ocles tsucoma. Nakanai wakwael, ru kwa…” /Among my people, family is all-important. Family takes care of one another. They support each other. Without family we are nothing…/

“Nakanai pahoe’a locuiesca ota ta, tu arha xoyan tu – Aporo Vilandra, Aporo Sahal, Nakuombia-Aporo Ava – juha ocles ipaki esdla ota temal tu teldla.” /I brought with me trusted members of my family – Vilandra, Sahal and Ava – but they do not remember their past and so cannot help me./

“Ur uri, Liz – ur uri – amar tu cless, moihuni tel,” he explained. “Temal tu, ur zin. Tsucoma tu, ur zin. Ur uri, tu kubi. Darfor utem, tu kubi zin.” /Only you, Liz – only you – can provide what I need. You must help me. You must support me. You are all I have. I must have your loyalty.”

“Vilandra, ur kubi tel,” she said. /You could have Vilandra./

“Cha. Ur, tu kubi yeh.” /No, it is you I will have./

“Tu moeseti ur,” she said in quiet protest. /I distract you./

“Cha.” /No./

She touched the tip of her tongue to her lip. “I thought maybe… I considered the reason that I was being sent away was so that you could focus better. I didn’t know…” She paused.

“That we would continue our search for the Ambassador in Earth’s past?” he finished for her.

“We’ve hardly been searching,” she said.

You have not been searching,” he stated. “I know precisely what I am looking for.”

“And?”

“Promise me,” he said not to be so easily deterred. A one-way promise, for he had offered her nothing in return – he saw that she noted that but she did not consider the option that she might ask for something of her own.

She made a quick nod, never taking her eyes from his. “All right,” she said. “You have my oath of loyalty.”

Awaawa urani hopoi, tola sa bissau ur yeh kubi, the Granolith said to only him. /You will have more than that before we leave./

Ti somui Michael avui yeh. Ifuono astuva undrea nui ichemay, he replied. /Michael will secure the rest. She responds better to him./

He saw Liz narrowed her eyes knowing that the Granolith and he were communicating but unable to ‘hear’ what they said.

He smiled. Someday, when her skill had grown more and her link to the Entity was stronger, she would not miss such communications, but for now…

Maerokokua. Amar ur wela, gungari yeh, the Granolith said. /Agreed. It will be as you said./

Liz clicked her tongue, suspicion still roused in her mind. “But it’s not much of a promise,” she said.

“Oh? Why is that?” he asked.

“I don’t think you plan on being here very long. It seems almost pointless to ask this of me.”

“You assume that my leaving ends our agreement?”

“It hardly has any meaning if you’re not here.”

“I believe I told you before that I would bring you with me.”

“And I said I wouldn’t go.”

“Make no mistake, Liz Evans,” he said softly. “I will have you.”

Her thoughts seemed to sparkle with more intensity. A section of them merged into a brilliant cluster and he caught that she had discounted his statement as quickly as she heard it… and something about his humanity muddling his thinking. The entire matter was discarded promptly and the brilliance disappeared to be replaced by another.

She stepped away from him and turned her attention back to the empty pods. She traced her fingers along the edges.

“Looking for more flashes?” he asked.

The Granolith was amused by the question.

It is a reasonable question, he telepathed. Hers was an unusual ability. Of all the sentient species he had encountered, his people alone seemed to be capable of receiving flashes, but, while they accepted the flashes matter-of-fact in much the same manner as one would accept dreaming at night, Liz appeared to see nothing matter-of-fact at all. She used flashes. He would never have guessed her capable of it without training. It could only be the younger Liz of this time period from which this ability came, because the older Liz had never shown such a talent.

“No, I saw what I was looking for,” she answered without so much as a look in his direction.

“And what was that?” he prompted.

“When your government fell apart and your counsel members were killed and your home lay in ruins, these were the only three you had left, the only ones you trusted to hold what was left of your people together while you fought…

“How do you know that?” he interrupted.

She shrugged, her back still to him. “I saw,” she stated simply.

“You saw that much?” Apparently her ability to grasp flashes was more of an unusual talent than he had guessed; she was catching more than flashes of memory. She was catching flashes of thought as well. Who would have thought to find such a talent on Earth?

“And that is exactly why you won’t have me,” she grumbled, allowing her thoughts to be derailed.

So, she had caught his train of thought through their connection.

“That’s your reason?” he asked.

“Among other things,” she whispered more to herself than to anyone else.

But then she rounded on him. “If you are in need of a mate, you should pick one from among your own people.”

“You are one of my people,” he said.

“I’m a hybrid. I’m tainted,” she said.

“My people respect and trust you.”

“In the other timeline,” she corrected, “and that was in context. You… he let them see me as their queen in the same way he let them think my husband was Zan. And they only respected that because they saw me as some kind of leader for my people. They hardly would have accepted me if I was on your world… Besides, I, uh… I can’t breed.”

“You can’t… what?” Her last statement startled him. It had come out of nowhere.

“In case you missed it in the benguela, Max and I didn’t have children. It wasn’t that we were trying and failed; it’s just that we weren’t trying at all. You’d think that in all those years of marriage without using birth control…” She paused and took a steadying breath, a mark that the topic upset her more than she let him feel through the connection. “Hybrids are rarely capable of producing offspring, especially triple-cross hybrids like us. We’re sterile.”

“Max and Tess…”

“I said rarely. There are always exceptions.”

She is not sterile, the Granolith informed him.

He raised his brow.

“What does your ability to breed have to do with…”

“You’ll need children. Heirs to the throne. I can’t give you that. You, uh… you should keep that in mind,” she told him. “But we’re getting away from the point.”

“Are we?”

“Yes,” she said. “The point is, you brought Sahal and Vilandra and Ava with you for a reason. You trust them with political and military endeavors, and as you said they are family. You should be using them. You need them…”

“It’s you I need,” he corrected.

She ignored his words. “The Granolith is clearly capable of awakening their minds. Take advantage of It. You need them,” she repeated.

He shook his head and brought his fingers under her chin and leaned in closer to her. “Ur uri, Liz,” he whispered, repeating his words from earlier. /Only you, Liz./

“But why?” she asked, but her question had nothing to do with his words but, rather, the desire for her that he did not bother to hide.

“I will have to show you.” She had received flashes twice before when he had intentionally caught her off-guard and kissed her in an effort to awaken her bond to him and show her what she could have, but he would not do so now. This time the choice would be hers.

He saw her thoughts immediately start up war against one another in two brilliant battlefields within her mind, for she understood what he was offering. The soldier and the scientist. The one who would sacrifice everything to achieve its goal and the one who hungered for knowledge. Who would win?

As he watched he saw the two come to an unsettling compromise: flashes without intensity of connection in much the manner Max had once done when he “reversed” the connection so that she could see him. But then, she knew that if that was what he had wanted to offer he would have simply said so; and as an empath she must have been well aware of his desire for her. And she must have surely been aware of the Granolith thrumming its encouragement.

The war ended as quickly as it had begun and the scientist won. Liz nodded hesitantly and the soldier in her bolstered her defenses in preparation, hoping to protect her vulnerabilities.

She reached out to clutch his shirt in her hands and stood on tiptoe.

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him, hugging her against his large frame – one hand gripping her shoulders and the other cradling the back of her head.

Her lips parted even before his mouth covered hers.

Sweet and metallic. That was what she tasted of.

The connection deepened with a sudden swiftness, and not merely between the two of them but with a third, with the Granolith as well. Three minds markedly linked. She gasped at the sensation and her eyes widened and he felt her begin to breath harder, but she did not pull away.

Nai? he asked. /Are you ready?/

Yes. I think so.

He kissed her again. Deeper. More insistent.

The Granolith’s energy began to fluctuate and shift again, sending waves of light sensations against their skin. She made soft mewling sounds at Its touch.

So sensitive.

Not that he was entirely immune himself, but he had to control the images he sent her.

The flashes exploded around them – selected from his memories of her, seen during the benguela, replaying out in holographic clarity:

___“Now!” The command was given. She sent one last burst of power at the Skin in front of her and saw that he burst into billions of flaky, white bits, which blew about like feathers. Then she ran to the others and reassumed her place in the foursquare – back to back – the four of them in a circle. All of their hands were extended and linked. She pressed one of her hands to the back of Lord Rath’s and the other to the back of Max’s. From behind her Vilandra did the same. Their powers built and combined and expanded. At Rath’s command they released the explosive energy…

___It was the first time she had worn Antarian dress. She didn’t even know where Rath had acquired it and he would not tell her anyway, but it fit her perfectly, as if it were made specifically for her. The intricate embroidery, the small, golden Antarian symbols crafted into the white cloth – someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make it.

“You’re beautiful,” Maria told her.

“It should be you,” Liz said.

“No,” Maria denied. “I was never meant to be queen. And I – I don’t want it.”

Liz turned away from the mirror and looked at her friend and smiled sadly. “Neither do I.”

Little Madison spoke up from her mother’s side. “You look like Daddy’s stories.”

“Yes, you do,” said a voice from the side.

She turned toward the voice.

Rath.

“Max is waiting,” he said. He held out his hand to her. “I need to present you to my people.”…


___”It’s Lord Malui, My Lady,” the messenger said. “You must come.”

She sensed what he did not tell her, that Malui had been killed. More than that, all or most of Malui’s men were gone as well. She knew because if it had been only Malui they would have brought the body to her to bless, but since they did not…

“I will come with you,” Rath said.

And she was correct. When the space shuttle set down, she was not surprised to see row after row of corpses, laying side-by-side waiting for her to speak the words that would consign them to the care of the Entity: “Imabuli xoyan, ceiba tsuwen waun urangi.” /May you find peace in the Granolith./

Somehow this strange task of consignment had fallen into Rath’s and her lap. The queen and her general. She did not know why the Antarian people looked to them for the task, but they did. And it was important to them, having something to do with their faith in the Being known as the Granolith.

They started on the end closest to them, Liz taking the first body and Rath the next, and then moving on down the lines. They spoke the words again and again and again for they had lost many men that day. And only after they had spoken the blessing were the bodies discarded of…


___Still connected to Max in his unconscious state, Rath forced himself into her mind and grasped hold of her unprotected bond. ‘It’s okay. Don’t be afraid,’ he told her.

‘Rath!’ she cried out to him telepathically. ‘Oh, god, Rath. I can’t… I can’t contain it. The upoko… Khivar gave me upoko…’

‘Don’t fight it, Liz. Stop fighting,’ he ordered her.

‘I can’t!’

Khivar’s sneering grin loomed before her. “Feel it, empath. Feel their pain and know that YOU are responsible.”

She squeezed her eyes shut.

Rath stroked her bond and sent soothing sensations coursing through her. ‘Don’t be afraid. Khivar will not win today.’

‘He has already won,’ she cried.

‘He has lost,’ Rath said, continuing to stroke her. His psychic touch began to have a telekinetic affect on her body despite what Khivar was attempting to do to her with the drugs. “Stop fighting. Don’t fight.”

She did not understand but she relinquished her battle all the same, giving in to Rath.

‘Come with me,’ he said calmly. ‘Come with me and I will show you how to force Khivar to respect his Queen.’

He began to absorb her bond into himself, pulling on it as Max had long ago done when he made her his. ‘We will do this together,’ he whispered in her mind. ‘We will show Khivar’s people who he really is and what he is really capable of.’

He absorbed her bond. Stroked it. Made it respond to him of its own accord. Her breathing grew difficult. Her heart beat rapidly in her breast. She struggled under the restraints Khivar had held her with.

‘Yes. Yes, come with me,’ Rath said. ‘Don’t fight the upoko.’

And suddenly everything that made Michael and Rath who they were flooded into her – their strength, their passion, their warmth, their determination. She cried out as her mind accepted him and made the adjustment to fit his presence.

With her physical release, her mind relented of its fierce grip as well. Her empathic ability went plunging outward, outward – rolling in waves across the planet Earth. Every sentient mind burst into a colorful, cacophony of emotive sound. ‘Let it go,’ Rath said, still stroking her despite her release. ‘Don’t try to fight it. Let the upoko do its job.’

Minds continued to light up – Antarian and what few humans remained.

‘Now remember all the things you’ve seen that Khivar has brought upon your world. Pull them into your mind. See them as clearly as if they were happening in front of you all over again.’ But even as he instructed her, he was forcing her mind to see those horrors and relive the pain of them.

And then, just when she thought she could take no more, he used her own powers and shoved those memories from her – shoved them into the minds of every Antarian she was empathically connected to…


With a cry she pulled away from his kiss, but her fingers still clung to his shirt.

___As Max was pulled upward through the Granolith, his form began to waver and disappear and their bond stretched until it broke. “Maaax!” she cried, pain at the loss of his connection to her stabbing like a knife through her head. The ground shook beneath her as Khivar launched yet another volley at the outer Chamber walls and she fell beneath the physical and mental assault.

The Chamber pulsated in eerie light and she thought she saw shapes that should not exist and heard sounds that should be impossible.

Words were spoken – telepathic words – but from where and whom she could not tell. ‘With you shall pass a world. But do not be afraid, Child. All will be made right again.’ Her pain suddenly eased and a sense of calm passed over her.

The ground shook again and then suddenly sunlight flooded into the room and she knew. Khivar had found his way in…


___’Aunty Liz,’ Madison telepathed, her thoughts suddenly insistent. ‘You have to give me the blessing.’

‘No. No, don’t say that,’ Liz returned, pulling Madison closer to her. In every battle, in every horrifying situation she had been presented with she had simply been numb. But being captured and taken by Khivar’s men… She was truly terrified for the first time. Not for herself, but for little Madison. She knew she had to protect the child, but she had no idea how to do that.

Only a few minutes before they had cleared Earth’s atmosphere and were now about to dock on Khivar’s mother ship, a huge, revolving disk-shaped ship that gleamed blindingly in the sun’s light. How could she protect her niece when she was the only one there?

‘Aunty Liz, please. Please,’ Madison continued. ‘Daddy says.’

Liz shook her head.

Tears formed in Madison’s eye as she looked up at her pleadingly. ‘Please, Aiza. Please,’ she said, referring to Liz by her title, the Antarian word for queen. ‘Daddy says it will only hurt a minute and then the Granolith will take me, but he says you have to give me the blessing. You have to do it now. Right now.’

Liz nodded, tears filling her eyes and sliding down her cheeks. She brought one of Madison’s small hands to her lips and kissed it. “I love you,” she spoke aloud.

“Aiza?” Madison questioned.

Liz uttered the blessing under the watchful eyes of her guards. Madison seemed placated by the words, but Liz saw that the guards were uncomfortable and she felt guilt emanating from them.

Madison snuggled against her. ‘Don’t be afraid, Aunty. Daddy says,’ she told her aunt, again speaking telepathically. ‘He says to tell you you’ll be okay.’ Madison patted Liz’s knee comfortingly. But Liz felt no comfort from the confident words or the loving gesture. Only a chilling fear…


___Except for nighttime when they all slept together, he had avoided her. He was busy making last minute preparations with his men or with his consultations with Serena or with any number of things. But the one person who most needed his attention was being studiously ignored. She was not going to let him do it any longer. Max was gone, sent on an errand by Rath, and with him Rath’s protection.

Or so she had thought.

When she arrived she found he was expecting her. He looked up from the holo-imager, not the least surprised she was there. “Evans,” he greeted.

“We need to talk,” she said without preamble.

“Yes, we do.”

She was being given her chance, but now she was not sure how to ask the questions that had been playing through her mind since she had been rescued from Khivar’s clutches. He was a such a private man and now with everything riding on the line… Did she have the right to demand answers from him?

“Would you like to sit?” He gestured toward a makeshift chair.

“No, I’d be more comfortable standing. Thank you,” she said.

He waited for her to get her composure, seeming to innately understand her discomfort, though how she knew that was part of what troubled her.

“I can’t seem to lock you out,” she finally told him.

“No, I don’t suppose you can.” His dark, dark eyes seemed to bore into hers.

She swallowed tightly. “What did you do to me?” Liz asked.

“I did what had to be done to rescue you,” he stated.

“And that was?”

He hesitated and Liz felt indecisiveness emanating from him. “The effects will disappear given time,” he finally said.

“I’m not worried about time, Rath,” she said. They had very little time left as it was. If Max was successful in his mission, there would be no more time at all. Everything she remembered, everyone she knew would cease to exist. “I’m worried about now. Right now.”

He did not seem inclined to answer so she tried again. “I feel you. Even when I shut down my empathy, I still feel you. Why?”

His jaw clenched and he turned away from her. “I can’t answer that.”

“Yes, you can. I know you can. I feel it,” she argued. “What did you do?”

He rounded on her, setting clenched fists atop his desk. “I used you,” he said. “I used Max’s bond to get to you so that I could send my people a message. I need as many men on my side as possible if we’re to pull this off. You were the easiest person to use to relay that message.”

“You used me,” she repeated flatly.

“Yes.”

“And did you bond to me in the process?” she asked.

But he did not need to speak the words. She felt the answer well up from deep within him.

“You did, didn’t you?” she demanded. “What about Max? God, there’s so little time – a few weeks at best. How could you do it? How could you take something so special…” She stopped, feeling the sting her words left on Rath. He did what he thought was right at the time, saving her in the process and buying them the time and manpower they needed to reach the Granolith.

Another sacrifice. That’s all it was. Another sacrifice.

“What am I going to do?” she whispered.

“This is hardly an ordinary bond, Liz. Max is unaware of my presence,” he stated. “And he will continue to be unaware.”

“He knows what’s in my mind,” she told him. “We don’t have secrets. What am I supposed to tell him?”

Rath glared at her with a ferocity that should have quelled her, but she looked passed that and into his mind and inside… Inside he was just as unsettled as she was. “Listen to me,” he told her forcefully. “He doesn’t know and he can’t feel me. I linked to you in a way that does not affect him,” he told her.

“Yes, but…”

“Trust me,” he said. “The effects are temporary. They will disappear before he is ever aware of it and you will be free of me.” His jaw clenched again and she could feel how tense and upset the conversation was making him.

Quietly she crossed the room to stand at his side. She laid her hand across his arm. “I didn’t say I wanted to be free of you. You – you saved my life. I don’t care how you did it or why…”…


___She cradled his head on her lap and stared down on his prone form. There was no blood, but the damage from the blast was irreparable… even if they had the time.

“Thank you for trusting me,” he managed to get out between raspy breaths. ‘For trusting us,’ a second thought overlapped telepathically.

“Always,” she whispered.

“It was worth it, wasn’t it?”

She nodded. She had to fight the emotional walls she had erected in her mind, fight them so that they wouldn’t crumble, for it was no longer Rath standing so strong beside her but Michael Guerin. She had not seen him in a long time. Months. Maybe longer. A gift from Rath to her, to let her say goodbye to her friend. “I want to believe it is,” she managed.

“It is. Trust me.”

A single tear slid down her cheek. “I do.”

“You have to finish this,” he said. Firm and insistent even though he was dying. A last battle, a last mission to put a final end to this war.

“I know.”

“My men will hold off Khivar until you and Max get to the Granolith,” he said, “but you’ll have to hurry.”

She nodded. They would have to leave him. Let him die alone. She hoped death would come quickly for him.

“Liz,” her husband spoke from beside her.

“I love you, Michael. We both do,” she said. He hated displays of affection, but she wasn’t going to leave without saying it. It didn’t matter that she knew he could feel it (for despite his promise, whatever-kind-of bond he had forged with her had remained); what mattered were the words.

“Liz,” Max said again.

“Go,” Michael ordered.

Liz carefully lifted his head from her lap and set it on the ground. “Imabuli xoyan, ceiba tsuwen waun urangi,” she whispered. /May you find peace in the Granolith./…


Rath held her tighter as she let her head slip backward and her eyes close. Her breathing was ragged. Powerful emotions cascaded through her – through all three of them: Liz and Rath and the Granolith, but because the memories were focused and on her and because she was an empath the effect was strongest on her. Her heart pounded so hard within her that he could feel it against his chest.

These were not quite the flashes she had been expecting, for in reality he had reversed the benguela and showed her her own memories, memories that had the most meaning to him when he had seen them the first time and ones that he hoped would help her to begin piecing clues together better.

Clues that continued to be added to her memories in this timeline…

___‘You know, that whole time I was married I had Max by my side, sharing my bed, keeping me warm at night. And then, during the war, when it was just you and… I mean, my Rath of that time… and Max and me and Vilandra and Madison, we would all sleep together. I liked it,’ she spoke telepathically, ‘the five of us huddled together. It’s probably stupid, but I did.

‘And then at the end,’ she continued, ‘when it was just the three of us, I felt safe tucked away between Max and you.’

‘That’s what you miss?’

‘That’s what I miss,’ she agreed.

‘Being touched?’

She nodded. ‘Mentally and physically.’

‘All the time?’

‘Yeah.’

He released his pull on her powers, but left his hand on the small of her back, holding her to him. ‘I’ll tell you what, Evans. You don’t need to have been married to miss that.’


___“Can I walk with you?” he asked.

“Of course.”

As they walked along the paved path, hand in hand, she thought about what Michael had told her. Maybe, she thought, now that he finally had the chance to do what he had set out to accomplish. He could find that Ambassador and return to Antar and save his people. Maybe the Granolith could even send the new Ambassador and him backward in time to prevent Khivar’s terrorism from ever beginning. He would never have to face the extinction of his world the way she had had to.

Maybe, she thought, that was the reason why the Granolith had spoken to her and had given her memories of the other timeline. Maybe that was why It wanted her to “understand” so badly. Maybe it was so that she could help him succeed this time around… because if Michael succeeded and was able to prevent the war on his planet from occurring, then it would rewrite events on her world. She would never have to face another end of the world.

“Michael?” she spoke finally, breaking the long silence. “I’ll help you find your Ambassador.”…


___“See how easy that could be?” he asked, his voice low.

She touched her lips, the taste of him still on her tongue. “We can’t,” she murmured.

“We can.”

Why had he given her flashes? “But…”

“You need to bond. You know you do.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Sure it is.”

She slowly shook her head from side to side. “Not with you. Never with you,” she said, though the bond within her, protected though it was, was crying out for completion. God, he must be able to feel that.

“Liz…”

Her chin trembled with the emotional battle she waged within herself and against him. “You are Zan,” she said slowly, punctuating each word.

“I’m more than a title. Didn’t you see that?”

“I have always seen that…”


___“And did you bond to me in the process?” she asked.

But he did into need to speak the words. She felt the answer well up from deep within him.

“You did, didn’t you?” she demanded.

Rath glared at her with a ferocity that should have quelled her, but she looked passed that and into his mind and inside… Inside he was just as unsettled as she was. “Trust me,” he said. “The effects are temporary. They will disappear before he is ever aware of it and you will be free of me.” His jaw clenched again and she could feel how tense and upset the conversation was making him.

Quietly she crossed the room to stand at his side. She laid her hand across his arm. “I didn’t say I wanted to be free of you…”…


___She stared at him, thinking. There were things she did not want him to see, even things she herself did not want to relive. Memories of another world best left locked away and forgotten. But then… this was Rath asking and what he wanted from her was important. This timeline had to be protected, the people kept safe…

So many people had given their lives to see this happen… including Rath.

He still had his hand pressed her cheek, and now he brought the other one up so that he held her. He leaned in until his forehead rested against hers. “Breathe,” he instructed. “Slow. In and out. Match your breaths to mine,” he instructed.

She knew. He had connected to her – to teach her – before… but then, he wouldn’t know about that and that sort of teaching connection wasn’t quite the same as what he had proposed now.

“Breathe,” he said again. “Keep your eyes on mine.”

Liz forced herself to put her thoughts aside and relax – relax until their breathing had slowed and synchronized and his eyes had darkened until they were black. Her internal mental walls began to crumble.

She felt him send out the calming telepathic sensations to put her mind at ease, and she made no attempt to stop him. She let him come to her. Gently. Tentatively. His mind reaching out to hers with unexpected tenderness and warmth. ‘Trust me,’ he spoke in her mind.

‘I do,’ she answered…


___“I didn’t say I wanted to be free of you…”…

___“You let me sleep in your bed and look into your mind. You held my hand in the park. You agreed with no prompting to help me find the Ambassador. And what you did for me in the last timeline… How many times were we connected? Why did you leave your husband for a month and a half to train with me alone in the desert? Why did you follow my orders without question? Why did you let me hijack your bond? Why did you sit with me when I was dying?” he said quietly. “Why did you do those things?”

“Why wouldn’t I? You’re…” She stopped, suddenly understanding. In each instance, she had pushed aside possible consequences – utterly ignoring them – in order to help Michael, her husband’s cousin, not because of his rank and position to the Antarian people, but because of whom he was to her. And she felt comfortable around him in a way that went beyond friendship.

“Family?”

“Yeah.” It made sense. “Why didn’t I notice this before?”

“It’s subtle.”

“Subtle,” she repeated…


___She grabbed hold of one of the telephone cables and let loose all of her excess energy into it.

“You know, there’s an easier way to take care of that,” Michael told her.

“Yeah, I know,” she said grumpily. “But Max isn’t exactly here, so I do what I have to.”

“You could take a new mate, bond again,” he said gently.


___“I didn’t say I wanted to be free of you…”…

___Liz took a breath. “So, uh… when all of you leave, I’ll… I’ll never feel that again, will I?”

“You could come with us.”

“Asylum, Rath?” she asked. “I’m not interested in becoming a political refugee, especially among a people that would look down on me and a family that would be ashamed of what I am.”

“My family and my people would never look down on you.”…


___“I didn’t say I wanted to be free of you…”…

___“You need to bond. You know you do.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Sure it is.”…


___“I didn’t say I wanted to be free of you…”…

___”You need to bond…”

The Granolith severed the deeper connection used to pass the benguela-induced memory flashes and hovered over both Rath and Liz to make sure they had suffered no ill effects from the strong linking of minds.

I’m fine, Rath said to his Friend, though he was breathing just as hard as Liz and his heart was pounding just as rapidly as hers.

“Liz?”

She took a moment to respond to him, but finally managed a single word. “You.”

“What about me?” he whispered.

She opened her eyes and he saw in them things he had not seen before. “You make me want things I should not have.”

“It was done on purpose,” he spoke softly.

She nodded. “I know,” she whispered back.

He kissed the top of her head and then pulled her against him again, letting her melt into his broad chest and holding her tight until he was certain those sparkly thoughts of hers would not be tempted to fight against him.

You have not won this battle, but you have made headway, the Granolith informed him.

I assumed as much, Rath said.

“But you take chances,” she murmured from the confines of his chest.

“I never take chances.”

“With me,” she specified. “You take chances with me.”

“Teltel cona parsa dicimbri arhara xoyan akamaiotia?” /Is it possible to take chances with lightening?/ he asked.

Liz gave a soft laugh. “You just have to keep bringing that up, don’t you?”

But despite her response to his teasing, she grew quiet in his embrace, subdued by thoughts so deep that, despite his connection to her, he was unable to ascertain what they were.

“Hey,” he said softly, giving one of her braids a tug. “Where’d you go?” he asked.

She returned to his piercing stare, tilting her head back to gaze up at him. “We… I was trying to understand something about us,” she explained. “About us and the Granolith.”

“Yes?”

Hope.

Perhaps the flashes had helped her.

“You said there are many kinds of bonds. Are you… do you have a bond to the Granolith?”

“Yes.”

“Do all of your people have a bond to the Granolith?”

His people? Where had that come from? Perhaps the flashes had meant nothing to her.

He took a deep breath and relaxed his grip on her. At least he could feel the Granolith’s interest was peaked. “They have an awareness of It to varying degrees, but it is not quite the same as a bond.”

“I see,” she said. “Like, uh… like empathy?”

“Something like that.”

She is attempting to piece together my activity in the timeline from which she comes, the Granolith informed him.

That was not quite what I had in mind, Rath replied.

Be patient. The connection will be made.

“So… your memories as Rath became activated at the same that the Granolith sent Tess away and brought me here?”

“Yes. When It brought you here.”

“When It brought me here,” she whispered. She traced the tip of her tongue over her lip in thought. “And on my world, my Rath became activated when the Granolith protected me from Gudorian and Kiaha. Is that correct?”

His jealousy flared briefly but he squashed it firmly and brought it under control. It was not the time. “It is.”

But something of his emotions must have been seen by her for he found her searching his mind again. Soft, gentle touches that made him wish to let go of his control and touch her bond the way “her” Rath once had.

“I’m sorry,” she said at last, retreating from his mind. “I didn’t know… I, uh… I don’t see the two of you as the same person. And I knew him for so much longer…”

Yes, “so much longer” was the key. She had a history with his alter ego. “Her Rath” had been there to help her after Gudorian’s attacked, had trained her to use her alien powers, had served with her during the war, had made her part of his four-square, had upheld her as the queen of his people, had rescued her from Khivar’s clutches, and had even forged a betrothal bond with her. Liz had spent years with “her Rath” and it was easy to see why she viewed him as hers, while she had only spent six weeks in this timeline and could not possibly be expected to have the same feelings for him.

“It’s all right, Liz,” he told her. Or at least the Granolith was attempting to make it right by sending them into the past. There they would have the time they needed to grow close to one another without interference and for him to also become Liz’s Rath.

“No, it’s not.” She shook her head. “It’s what you were trying to show me, wasn’t it? That we are connected by our circumstances no matter which timeline we live in?” she asked. “That we are fighting for the same cause?”

“I think,” he said carefully, “we are connected by more than that.”

“You mean his bond to me,” she corrected, speaking of it for the first time to him. “It only linked us empathically. It wasn’t… it wasn’t like we were married.”

“It was a kaliquape – a betrothal bond.”

“Betrothal? Is that what it was? I wondered. He wouldn’t tell me…” But she seemed to not want to speak of it and she cut her words short. Her relationship with “her Rath” had been personal and, while she might have let him see the relationship through the benguela, she still considered it personal and did not want to share her feelings regarding it.

It is more than that, the Granolith informed him. She does not know what she feels about her link to him. The kaliquape was used as a tool to remove her from Khivar’s clutches. She does not see it as anything other than that.

And she was only linked to him for two weeks,
Rath responded. Too short of a time for her to make any sort of emotional adjustment to it, especially under the circumstances.

Not to mention that technically it had only been two months since her release from captivity – six weeks in this time period and two weeks in the other. She was simply dealing with too much emotional baggage to think about her feelings. She had lost her world, her husband, her link to “her Rath” and she was having to try to cope with the repercussions of being tormented as a prisoner of war and the loss of her bond, all the while re-establishing her life in this timeline as a child. Yes, two months simply was not enough time.

No wonder the normally grounded and brilliant Liz Evans was having a hard time putting two and two together. She was trying to make sense of too much at one time.

Yes, It agreed.

“How strange,” she murmured.

“What is?”

“I can link to anyone empathically. The whole world can light up if… if I really try. But it’s not the same, is it? The kaliquape is permanent, and what I can do…” She was thinking aloud more than she was actually speaking to him.

“Yes?” Rath encouraged.

She shook her head. “Nothing. I’m wasting time. We should…”

You may have as much time as you need, the Granolith said.

Cha, veda, /No, thank you/ she said. I can sort things out later. May I have audience with you now?

Of course,
the Granolith said.

Rath brushed the back of his fingers softly down her cheek.

“I don’t want to do this right now,” she said.

“It’s all right, Liz.”

“No. No, it isn’t,” she denied. “We have things to discuss but I… I can’t do it right now.”

“No,” he agreed. “But soon.”
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Polar Attraction ~ Experience true love for the first time

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sablaine
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Re: Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12

Post by sablaine » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:36 pm

Spring 2000
Five and a Half Weeks Since “Departure”
Granolith’s Chamber
Same Day
~Chapter 14~
Ripple Effect
“Liz?”

She took a moment to respond to him, but finally managed a single word. “You.”

“What about me?” he whispered.

She opened her eyes and he saw in them things he had not seen before. “You make me want things I should not have.”

“It was done on purpose,” he spoke softly.

She nodded. “I know,” she whispered back.

He kissed the top of her head and then pulled her against him again, letting her melt into his broad chest and holding her tight until he was certain those sparkly thoughts of hers would not be tempted to fight against him.


They were pushing her - both the Granolith and he - needing her to begin her healing, needing her to understand, yet attempting to do so with patience and gentle redirection.

He sensed her desire to break the connection which held her fast to them so that she could be alone with her thoughts and knew she must be overwhelmed by everything she was being shown and the answers she was being given, but he could not allow that to occur yet. This "preparation" that the Granolith had summoned her for was not to be rushed. They understood she was frightened and confused, but if they let her alone too quickly their efforts would backfire and she would cling to her humanity more than before. Too much was at stake to allow that to happen.

“It’s all right, Liz,” he told her.

“No, it’s not.” She shook her head. “It’s what you were trying to show me, wasn’t it? That we are connected by our circumstances no matter which timeline we live in?” she asked. “That we are fighting for the same cause?”

“I think,” he said carefully, “we are connected by more than that.”

“You mean his bond to me,” she corrected, speaking of it for the first time to him. “It only linked us empathically. It wasn’t… it wasn’t like we were married.”

“It was a kaliquape – a betrothal bond.”


And a promise to him.

The kaliquape was an empathic bond linking a man to his future wife. This bond was often forged in childhood by parents whom wished to arrange their child's marriage. Once formed, the boy would be empathically connected to the little girl, able to sense her emotions and creating an awareness of her general state of mind. It created a unique, lifelong friendship between the two and, when the time came to marry, the young man and woman would find no hardship in the joining.

But such a betrothal should have been impossible. Rath, whom was bonded to the Granolith in a linking of minds known as the kaliquanupe, should not have been able to form a betrothal to Liz, nor should Liz, whom was married to Max Evans in a bond called the kalitupe, been able to accept such a betrothal bond.

But, through the benguela, he had seen what Liz had not. He was not the only one in Liz's mind the day Khivar had given her upoko. The Granolith had been there as well. Rath had used the powerful abilities of the great Being to form the "impossible" secondary bond between Liz and himself and, in the process, had sent himself a message…

Liz was to be his wife.

It was his destiny.

Rath brushed the back of his fingers softly down her cheek.

And he wanted that destiny.

But she wasn't ready.

And it was not time.

“I don’t want to do this right now,” she said.

“It’s all right, Liz,” he reassured her.

“No. No, it isn’t,” she denied. “We have things to discuss but I… I can’t do it right now.”

“No,” he agreed. “But soon.” There was more than enough time in the days ahead.

"Soon," she repeated, placing her hand on her stomach, an unconscious gesture he had seen her use in the benguela to steady the butterflies that flittered about when she was uneasy. Her nervousness at the idea of discussing such personal issues between the two of them filtered through the connection.

But she did not dwell on it. Would not dwell on it. There was something else she wanted.

"Uh, Rath…"

"Leofori," he gently reminded her.

She bit her lip at his mild correction.

"I've played many roles in my life, Liz. I've had to be many people and carry many titles," he explained. As Zan, he had ruled Antar. As General Rath, he led the Antarian citizens in war. As Michael Guerin he had hidden in plain sight on Earth. And, in his most carefully concealed identity of all, he had been befriended by the Granolith and secretly served Its interests. "I don't want to be those people, those titles with you."

Her lips parted as if she wanted to say something. And the question 'Who do you want to be?' formed strong and clear in her mind before she squashed it and pushed it away because she knew who he wanted to be with her and she was not willing to entertain that thought.

But Rath was not willing to give up so easily. "Use my name," he insisted gently, ignoring her words. "Give me that much."

Liz shook her head slowly, determination rising steadily within her. "I don't think that's a good idea."

He had no need to ask her why. He knew she was still single-mindedly focused on fighting a war and she still needed him to be Rath, the man who would stand up and lead the fight for her people.

Be patient. She is doing well, the Entity said.

No, I need this from her, he told his Friend.

The need for reassurance in even such a small thing as a name must have filtered through their connection, for suddenly she was moving within his mind again with those same soft, nearly imperceptible probing touches that she used before, those touches that made him wish he could take up the betrothal bond with her as "her" Rath had once done.

What do you see? he asked her.

Liz's eyes widened and her hand tightened into a ball, grasping the material of her blouse at her stomach. Her surprise at being caught was transparent and she recoiled from his mind, but he caught her movement and allowed her to retreat no further.

Stay.

I'm sorry.

Don't be. I don't mind.


He curled his hand around hers, loosening her grip and, threading his fingers through hers, pulled her back toward him. He wrapped his arm around her and rested his chin atop her head. Will you at least think about it for the next couple days?

Why? What's happening in the next couple of days?


But the Granolith distracted her when energy abruptly fluxed anew and flooded around them, pouring through the chambers like a gale of wind, blanketing their skin as it burst forth. Liz inhaled sharply, again undone by the touch of the great Being, and buried her face into his chest.

Even though she had physically stilled against him, those sparkly thoughts of hers that had, thus far, been calmed and resting suddenly awoke and exploded in brilliance and coalesced.

Abruptly, she pushed away from him, propelling herself out of his arms, and took several steps backward, turning toward the pods, which separated them from the great Being. "I know what You are," she both whispered and telepathed, speaking to them both. "And I know what You've been trying to show me."

What is that, Child?

The childish delight of discovery draped itself about her and her whole face seemed to alight. "You're a metallotropic liquid crystal." There was something triumphant in her words and she spoke a little louder.

The Granolith's energy seemed to flow more intensely in Its amusement, neither denying nor confirming her discovery but waiting for her to continue.

Liz rocked back slightly on the balls of her heels as it flowed around her but, this time, forced herself to remain immune to the Entity's energy. You're laughing at me but I'm right, aren't I?

Rath smiled at her reference. He had never known his Friend to "laugh" per se, but there were times when he himself could swear that if It were Antarian It would have.

She turned back to Rath, the grin still on her face. "Liquid crystals are a state of matter that have properties of both a liquid and a solid crystal. And metallotropic liquid crystals are both organic and inorganic. It's… it's what I've been missing in my equations," she explained aloud. "It's why my shape keeps collapsing. I haven't factored in the organic component, temperature variables, mesophases, electrical field… I've been missing the whole point of the exercise."

She was as close to correct as he could expect her to be with the limited information she had been given. Imabuli might look like a giant, glowing crystal on the surface, especially if It was holding very still, but appearances were deceiving, for It was not a crystal at all but a living Being, albeit One that did behave in much the way a metallotropic liquid crystal might.

She was also correct about the variables. Because the Granolith was both organic [living] and inorganic [non-living] it was affected by a different range of influences than a simple crystalline form would. Liz had even seen the affects of one such 'influence' happen on the day Tess was sent away. It had been a hot day and the Entity's activity had only increased that heat; that heat coupled with the force of shooting the traitor away through the sky had changed and liquefied It and It had burst through the Chamber walls, spilling outside the rock face into the desert.

"And what is the point of the exercise, Liz?" he asked.

Her smile grew. "To understand the Granolith."

What do you understand? Imabuli asked her.

Liz laughed softly. "I understand I need to go back and work on the computer some more."

"But this - this is what told me where you were," she said, speaking once again to Rath. She gestured outwardly toward the flow of energy, as if it were visible. "I couldn't feel you. You were completely closed off, but the Granolith - It's energy comes like…" She seemed to search for the right words and he felt her mind reaching, stretching. " …like ocean waves, ebbing and flowing. The energy surges outward like a wave crashing onto the shore. Then, when Imabuli rests, It goes into an almost sleep-like state, like a low tide, and, when It awakens, Its energy comes back like a high tide."

"Yes," Rath agreed. That was an apt description, perfectly describing the cycles and movements and activity of his Friend.

"And I - every time I open my empathic senses - I can feel It, feels Its energy. And piggybacked on this energy comes another sense, like… emotions, but - I don't know - more complex. And I can feel how the Granolith feels about you and it - the emotions - seem like they get stronger when you're near to It or when you're communicating with It."

He frowned, deeply interested in her words and comprehending for the first time the depth of her ability as, through her memory, a small part of the sensation filtered into him through their connection. "How does it feel?"

Her gentle smile returned, but this time accompanied by wonder. "It loves you. In a way I've never felt before. And It's deeply connected to you," she said. "I didn't even understand until you explained it. I'd never felt a connection like that before. I didn't recognize it as a bond…"

"You have nothing to compare it to."

"Well, I - I should have. I know how it feels to be bonded to the person that you're married to. And I have Gudorian's memory of being bonded to a dragon." She tapped gently at her heart. "I still have Madison's memory of her connection to her fath… uh, you. And now I know what that family bond is. So, you know, you'd think I would have recognized it for what it was." And then she added, "It's so strong."

Her empathy was 'so strong'. She felt deeply what others just barely sensed.

It is what makes her so important, the Granolith made note to him. Its energy began to wane again, like Liz's proverbial wave.

She followed its invisible retreat with her eyes. "What's it called?" she asked softly, her attention divided.

"The bond?"

She turned her head back over her should to study him. "Yeah."

"It is the kaliquanupe," Rath answered, knowing she would not understand the full significance of it by name only.

Her shoulders made a slight motion upward. "And?"

"It's like the kalitupe," /the marriage bond/ he answered. "It's permanent. Intimate. It has the same strength and intensity."

"Except that the kaliquanupe is trans-species like the kalitlaupe," /bond to a dragon/ Liz added.

"Yes."

"So, uh… how does it happen? I mean, how do you get bonded to the Granolith?" There was something very serious about her question; she was looking for a specific answer, something she very much wanted to know… no, needed to know, but what that was he could not ascertain.

The problem was not so tricky for the Granolith however. She understands the singularity of bonds such as the kalitupe and the kalitlaupe and wishes to understand how you bonded to her in the last timeline when you were already bonded to Me.

I cannot answer that,
Rath telepathed. She is not ready for the truth.

And what could he tell her? What could he explain that would make sense to her? That would herd her away from the direction her mind was going?

Sharing his own personal experience would hold no meaning for her. Unlike others in his position, it was not an experience he remembered. His link to his Friend had occurred before he was born. Perhaps he had agreed to such a bond in another timeline that he did not remember or perhaps the Granolith had simply chosen him. But whatever happened, the bond existed. To him, it simply was and always had been.

You wanted Me. I wanted you, his Friend said as if that was all there was to it.

Liz frowned, once again missing the content of their conversation, and he knew he needed to give her an answer.

He scratched his brow with his ring finger. "In general, Liz, there is a… a process, I guess you might say, that the Child must go through. The process begins by his being marked by the Granolith…"

"Marked?"

"An internal mark within the Child's mind," he explained. He casually stuck his hands in his pockets and studied her, the woman who so much deserved the answers. "It's kind of like an adoption. In your culture, when a child is adopted, he is given the last name of his adoptive parents to mark him as then belonging to their family. In the Granolith's case, this mark indicates that It has chosen this individual as one of Its Children.

"Remember that the Granolith has many such Children at one time. Upon being marked, these Children leave their families and take up residence with the Granolith in Its Chambers. There It protects these Children and, with the aide of Its Ambassador, It trains and guides them. They grow up there."

"But only one is chosen to be the next Ambassador," Liz recalled. "What happens to the rest?"

She meant him. She wanted to understand his exact relationship with the Granolith and how that affected her… had affected her in the other timeline.

He was not going to give her the information she was looking for.

"They are all considered to be Friends or Representatives of the Granolith," said Rath, giving her only the most general of facts, "and come under the direct jurisdiction of the Ambassador himself. Wherever they go, whatever they do others recognize that these men and women speak for the Ambassador. They are respected and honored…"

"But where are they?" she asked.

He raised his brow.

"You told me that Khivar killed the Children. Did he kill the Granolith's Friends, too?"

"He did."

"Not one of them survived? You're the only one left?" Her voice hitched on the words "only one", colored by her own feelings of being the "only one left" of her world.

"I am."

She nodded almost imperceptively, understanding and pity in her mind and a tired acceptance of the seemingly inevitable, and dropped her gaze from him. "Okay," she said softly. And then, almost as an afterthought, she whispered: "Why?"

"Why what, Liz?"

Her eyes flew back to him. And the emotive aura around her, visible because of his connection to the great Entity, fluxed in surprise. "Oh, I… I didn't mean to, uh… I didn't mean to ask that out loud," she spoke, somewhat flustered. "That was…"

"You may ask anything you want," he told her.

She started to shake her head but the Granolith interrupted her thoughts. What do you wish to know? It asked, drawing her attention in Its direction. She turned bodily toward the glowing blue pods, the only barrier between the Granolith and them. As both Rath and Liz watched, the pods' backlight changed green and a golden glow appear below from Max's pod.

Come ask your questions.

He saw the play of her throat as she swallowed reflexively before taking a single step forward and lowering herself down to her hands and knees so that she was level with Max's pod.
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Max paced anxiously.

God, he loved Liz. No matter what twists and turns his life took, he knew that he would never love anyone as much as her. But this - this Liz having powers business - made no sense at all. How could the love of his life have alien powers?

And yet he knew conclusively that Liz had powers. He had felt them that morning when Liz had tied his shoelaces together and tripped him. Those powers had felt distinctly Liz-like. But what he did not know was how she had done it. She had not raised her hand at all to focus the alien energy and direct it at him. She had just looked at him. How was that possible? The amount of control it must have taken her to accomplish something like that…

Up until Tess had left in the Granolith, the blonde had had Michael, Isabel and Max practicing their powers, strengthening them, honing them. They were not strong enough, Tess had insisted. They did not have enough control. But Liz… Liz had only been exposed to Gandarium, the "catalyst" according to Isabel's dreamwalk, a few month earlier. How was it that she had so much control over her abilities so quickly?

Better yet, who had taught her to use them?

Was it the same person feeding her information, answering her questions about the Granolith and bonding and upoko and all the other alien related mysteries in their life? Who was that person? Was he or she dangerous? Was the person enemy or ally? He would never forget how just a few months back, Liz had so easily been taken in by the Skin, Vanessa Whitaker.

And what did Michael suspect? Only days before, when they had had the meeting about Liz (which she had unfortunately not attended), it was Michael who had been the voice of reason, insisting that if Liz had powers that they should wait for her to talk about it when she was ready; confronting her and forcing her to talk about it was not the right way. Yet now Michael had taken Liz away. Why? Where did they go? What were they doing? What was Michael thinking? What did he want from Liz?

Max cursed softly under his breath. God, he wanted to tear into his 'brother' right then. Yell at him. Punch him. Throw him with his powers. Anything to make him understand that Liz was important, that she had to be kept safe, that if they lost Liz the entire world was lost too… That running off with her was reckless and risky.

And what was Liz thinking in going off with Michael that way? On his motorcycle?

She should have come to Max. He would have listened to her. He always listened to her; he listened to her even when he did not want to, even when his heart was broken. He could fix her, make her human again, make her into the Liz that she was before. He knew he could. And whatever her secrets were, he could fix those too. He could make things right for her, for all of them.

Max had tried calling both Michael's and Liz's cells. Isabel had tried, too. Neither one had answered. In fact, their calls had gone straight to voice mail, so he had to assume they were out of range or that they had their phones turned off. Again, why? What was going on?

"God! Stop pacing!" Isabel snapped at him.

Max stopped, but his heart still raced in near panic. "Sorry," he mumbled.

"This isn't right," Isabel said. "They should have been back by now. Where could they be?"

"I don't know," he answered. Second period had come and gone, and third period was about to begin. Students swarmed around them as they made their way to their next class, and a swell of voices filled the corridor.

"Well, where does Michael usually go when he ditches school?"

"I don't know. He's Michael. Who knows where he's gone?" Where Michael went was not as important to Max as why. To confront Liz? Or was there some other reason? Michael would not hurt Liz, would he? No, Max told himself, Michael would not go that far. But he might scare Liz. He might scare Liz into leaving, running away, hiding…

"Max, I've been thinking," she said, interrupting his thoughts, "about the Gandarium."

Max looked warily at his sister. She did not have to say it. He knew. He knew because the same thoughts had crossed his own mind. Knew that she was thinking about Grant Sorenson and the way the Gandarium queen had taken over his body and used him like a puppet. Sometimes the man had been well within his own mind, lucid, completely human and other times… He had almost killed Isabel, he had drugged and kidnapped a young woman, he had been volatile, and he had suffered memory loss. If Isabel's dream was true, then Liz was being affected by Gandarium just like Grant.

If Michael had drawn the same conclusion…

"I'm scared," she admitted. "Michael's wrong. We can't wait. We have to confront her."

"We may be too late," Max told her. If Michael had already taken it into his own hands to confront Liz… Or if the Gandarium had already permanently damaged Liz…

"No. No, don't say that. I lost Grant and I lost… Alex." Isabel looked pained as she fought back her tears. "I can't lose someone else. We have to find her."

He shook his head. "We don't know where to look." God, where had Michael taken her?

"Frazier Woods. Maybe Michael took her to Frazier Woods," she suggested.

Yes. Frazier Woods. Somehow the idea made sense to him, or at least it made sense that Michael might have wanted to take Liz back to the original location of the Gandarium colony to confront her. Maybe he wanted to have his proof at hand when he faced her…

"Okay." He was quick to agree. He loved Liz and he was just as scared for her as his sister, maybe even more so. And, if Isabel was right, if Michael had taken Liz to Frazier Woods to the place they had found the Gandarium hive, then they needed to go there too. "Let's go."

Isabel breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you."
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"Liz?"

Her breath caught in her throat as his voice pulled from the unexpected flash. "Sorry," she said softly, pushing through the back of Max's pod and into the small opening at the other side.

She rose to her feet and dusted off her pants.

"You okay?" Rath asked coming out beside her.

She stood up straight and lifted her chin to contemplate the man next to her. "Isabel found the Granolith," Liz told him.

"Yes."

"It was supposed to be you."

In the other timeline it had been Rath who had introduced them to the Granolith. It was he who protected It and kept Its location secret, he who had embedded into his mind the understanding of and instructions from the great Being. Because there had been no Ambassador, it was Rath who had acted like a spokesman for the alien Entity, but he had not done so until the last possible minute, until Khivar's spaceships had hovered in the skies across the globe and Earth's human population had been decimated by disease.

But this timeline was so different. In this timeline Liz had changed much earlier and her blossoming powers had altered everything. Her powers had been responsible for the flashes she received from Max, the impetus which sent them into the desert to discover the orb - the orb that had then communicated the whereabouts of the Royal Four to their enemies. Nasedo had come after that, much too early. He found the royals. He exposed them. He sold them out to the Skins. When he failed to get Max and Tess to pair up, he tried to get rid of Liz by handing her over to the FBI but he had not counted on Liz's ability to received flashes. Liz had alerted the others never realizing that this would inadvertently cause Max to be taken by the FBI instead. Max had been tortured, and because of that he was no longer the stable, capable young man they all looked up to.

When it became clear that Nasedo was a failure, the Skins took over. They killed Nasedo and then had tried to destroy the royals repeatedly, each time meeting up with their own failure. Max continued to fall apart and make bad decisions. Isabel was a wreck. Michael was angry and defensive. Their romantic and personal relationships destabilized. Tess had taken her own failure in love too hard and had switched sides, joining with their enemy. Their group, which should have been strong and close-knit, fought each other and made too many mistakes. People, like Alex and Grant Sorenson, who should have lived had died instead. It had been nothing short of a nightmare.

So many, many differences.

And all because…

All because Liz's early powers had begun a chain of events that had alerted their enemies and put all of them at risk.

Her brow creased as she studied Rath.

Rath stepped in front of her and reached out to cup the side of her cheek and stroke his thumb across it. "Everything," he told her, "has happened the way it has for a reason."

She said nothing, fighting the fact that every time he touched her their connection seemed to increase in depth and his feelings flooded more clearly into her, always with the threat that some part of her - the Antarian part - might respond, a luxury she could not afford.

She forced herself to focus. She did not yet understand why things were so different in this timeline, but she knew that Rath probably did, and it was important that she understand as well.

"Because of you, the Skins outed themselves when they were at their weakest and most vulnerable, Nasedo was killed before he could do permanent damage, and Tess revealed her true intentions but not before you kept her here long enough to destroy a major faction of our enemies. It is the way it had to be."

She brought her hand up and laid her palm flat upon his chest. "I put you in danger before you even knew who you were," she said, her voice hitching upward.

"I was never in any danger."

"But I…"

"We all have our purposes here, Liz. I speak for the Granolith and protect Antar's interests. Vilandra, hidden within Isabel, is our warning system; she gives us insight into Khivar's movements when necessary and can access people's subconscious. The ones you call 'dupes"? Their sole purpose was to reveal our earthly enemies to us; they look like us and have just enough implanted memories and programming to be credible counterparts, enough to confuse our enemies. Ava, was sent to act as an espionage agent. And Sahal, whose memories sleep within Max…"

"…is your decoy," she finished for him. She knew.

"Among other things," Rath agreed, and Liz could feel the caution in his answer, caution directed toward her. His thumb drew small, distracting circles along her skin while his caution gave birth to indecision. But indecision about what? What did he know about her husband that she did not?

He said nothing for a moment, only holding her gaze and continuing to softly stroke her cheek, lost in his own mind with thoughts so deep that she could only look on with wonder.

"Tell me," she commanded quietly, her voice, though low, breaking through the silence.

She felt the Granolith's telepathic presence shift slightly within their connection, expanding as It watched on curiously. Waiting with seemingly eternal patience.

Rath tipped his head to the side a bit as his indecision faded away, locked beneath his firm hand of mental control. "Sahal was not only my decoy. He was also encoded with instructions, one of which was to locate and protect… you."

His unexpected words and the importance attached to them startled her. She brought her hand away from Rath to herself, clenching the material of her shirt in her hand. "Me?"

Her eyes glassed over instantly with tears she would refuse to spend. The memory of how her husband had saved her life so long ago in the CrashDown flooded through her mind, risking himself and everyone associated with him. Saving her had endangered all of them.

Lo sama naoba xoyan ielmisipopui, gungari da chagoi'a dojka, the Granolith telepathed. /When the tree plays with the wind, it sheds its leaves./

A low laugh rumbled through Rath, and amusement slipped through their connection, his caution vanishing. Thank you, Friend, he replied.

"What does it mean?" Liz asked.

"It means," he began and then paused, growing quickly serious again and searching for the translation within himself. "It is… an Antarian proverb - our way of describing what you call the 'ripple effect'. The wind - it is just one thing, one force. But when it touches the tree, the tree drops its leaves. They fall to the grass. They drop onto the pond. They fly through the air until they land in a garden. They are picked up by birds and used in their nests. They disintegrate and become part of the soil, nourishment for growing things. Little insects take them into their burrows. This wind - this one thing - affects so many." He paused his words and pressed in closer to her mind. She inhaled as her mind accommodated his growing presence. "You are the wind. You are one person, but look how many lives you have touched.

"This is who we are, Liz. We are the ones whose lives have the most affect on the timeline. It is why all of us, including you, have been brought here."

Urangi ru cless, he spoke telepathically. /We need you./

Kokua. Urani tu cless, she replied. /I need you both, too./ She would not be able to accomplish what she needed without their aid.

He leaned forward, then cupping both of her cheeks with his hands, and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead, his desire to form the kalitupe with her once again flooding through their connection in a willful misunderstanding of her words. He knew what she meant - she could feel that much - but he chose to see them in his own way. The Granolith, shifted again, filling her mind in display of Its approval. Goosebumps prickled across her skin at their touch.

She closed her eyes and exhaled. Her hand tightened its grip on her shirt, steeling her mind in her unwillingness to give in to their scheme.

The connection enfolding the three of them was so strong. The flashes, the touching, the infusion of emotions and needs being exchanged back and forth, the electrical intensity - it was all so… alien. There was a part of her - the human part - that wanted to pull away, that wanted to be alone so that she could think over everything she had seen and learned. Alone so that she did not have to fight her broken bond that ached to answer Rath's telepathic call and the Granolith's encouragement. But there was another part of her - her Antarian side - that wanted this, craved it, needed the intoxicating connection - the connection linking her to the rightful king of Antar and his 'Friend" - a part of her that wished she did not ever have to let go so that she would never have to feel alone again. A part of her that would have even asked for more if she thought it at all safe.

The Granolith's touch shifted yet again.

Brushing through her.

Gently pulling at her.

Calling.

Before she could respond, Rath's hand drifted downward, coming to rest on her upper arms near her shoulders, and he bent lower to whisper in her ear. She inhaled sharply, even as he spoke.

"Come. The Granolith has something you need to see." His emotions twisted their flow when he spoke those words. His caution had returned, but with it was also an excitement of sorts, the kind one felt when they were about to get something they wanted very much.

She opened her eyes and turned her head toward his warm breath on her ear, only to be confronted with Rath's beautiful, dark eyes.

"What does It want to show me?" she murmured, fighting to focus on his words and not her primal need to forge a bond with him.

There was a small smile that tugged gently at the corners of his lips, threatening to make itself known, but he did not answer her. Longing, hope, worry slipped through the connection - dampened by Rath, diluted almost, but still audible in Liz's empathically receptive mind - and want. "Please try to understand," he said.

A splinter of apprehension stabbed through her. "Understand what?" she asked.

The Granolith's and Rath's consciousnesses seemed to press in even closer to her, tucked around her like a warm blanket, their desire to see her at ease and comfortable paramount in both of their minds. Whatever it was that they wanted to her to see was very important to both of them, something not to be shared with just anyone.

"Just try… to understand," Rath spoke slowly, "what we show you." Touching her. Sliding his hands in a caress down her arms.

She shivered.

"Can you do that?"

She nodded, fighting as always the sensations he created within her.

The Granolith gave a gentle tug again at the same time as Rath took her hands in his. "Then come."
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The Chamber was gone. Vanished.

The physical word ceased to exist.

In its place was a void.

But the Granolith and Rath - they were with her, touching her, holding her, cradling her between them. Soothing her fears with their quiet words. Whispering to her. Caressing her. Stroking her. Disarming her defenses. Arousing senses she did not know existed.

And suddenly the Granolith seemed to explode through her, their minds colliding and adhering and Liz felt as if she was pulled into trillions of pieces and scattered across the jewel-like galaxies. She spun through the universe faster than light - passing by enormous stars, planets of greater beauty than any she had seen in her own solar system, satellites, and comets whose tails were already beginning to burn out - spreading all the way to its very edges, presenting itself to her before her in all its glory and majesty. Time, too, stretched out like an eternal mathematical string before her, ready to be manipulated - cut, bent, singed, or split off into a new direction. And everything… everything made sense.

Then her scattered self began to come back together, to reform, to become "Liz" once more and the universe gave way to impossible colors that danced around her in dizzying, frantic displays. Physical sensations returned. What had been once understood became foreign again.

And then even the greatness and the power that bound them together began to rush away.

Wind roared in her ears.

Bright white light exploded.

A rush of blue and green tumbled passed her.

She felt solid ground firmly beneath her feet.

The world around her stilled.

The roller coast had ended.

Liz blinked open her eyes and found herself on the edge of a large clearing, enfolded by Rath's strong, steadying arms. She felt spent, satiated and out of breath. She felt the heat of the sun on her back. The air was warm and humid. The sound of rushing water came from somewhere nearby.

But her connection to the powerful Entity no longer was.

She reached for the Entity only to have Rath immediately block her search and gently pull her back. Tonu. Tonu, he told her. /Not yet. Not yet./ There was a softness to his words and he stroked her telepathically.

Juha Imabuli…, /But the Granolith…/ the question rose in her mind.

Cha, Liz, he said. Sempra, Imabuli sempra dla. Juha, gungari reim'a tsemal aloka, Imabuli arharani yeh. Parubiro kailasa ia Imabuli hopoi nui ru zin cona semga Da. /No, Liz. The Granolith is not here, but it will return in a few days. We must journey to meet It at Its next location./

Tshéma. Vivan? she asked. /Okay. Where?/

But Rath hesitated and Liz sensed apprehension that he was trying to hide and knew that something was not right. She slipped from his arms and stepped back just far enough so that she could see his face, noticing for the first time that he was in full Antarian dress.

Her lips parted slightly and she raked her eyes over Rath's apparel - a mid-thigh length tunic and pants set (vaguely reminiscent of an Indian kurta), turquoise, with Antarian symbols embroidered in gold thread.

And then she looked down at her own clothes and discovered that she, too, was in Antarian dress. She glossed her fingertips down the material at her breast. Similar to Michael's tunic, but more feminine (like the salwar-kameez), her tunic was red and emblazoned with golden flowers, interwoven with complicated golden designs, and embroidered with tiny golden Antarian symbols, and she had a transparent red shawl to draw over her shoulders or arms that, also, was filled with golden scrawlings.

She looked back up at Rath, confusion slipping through their connection. Vivan, Rath? /Where, Rath?/ Where could they possibly be going that they would need to be dressed in that?

Wiekoma, he answered. He studied her, waiting. For something he thought to be inevitable.

But waiting for what?

Wiekoma tu indaldla. Bissau vivan? she asked with a slight shake of her head. /I have not heard of Wiekoma. Where is that?/ There was wet, thick forest all around them and the sounds of many animals. Where were they? she wondered. South America? The Congo of Africa? Who were they to see in this place that would require Rath and Liz to wear official Antarian clothing?

Antar, he admitted.

Absolute shock colored her countenance. Her eyes opened wide. Her brows raised. Her mouth parted when she inhaled.

She leaned forward, staring at him in disbelief. "What?"

But because she sensed only truth from him, the next words she uttered were: "But I told you I would never…" And then she broke off, the full weight of his confession abruptly hitting her, and started backing away from him and turning to look at the world around her for the first time, at the forest that should look foreign to her but instead felt familiar.

Rath had no intention of letting her panic. He strode forward, closing the space between them once again, and grasped her shoulder; but Liz was already on edge and she stiffened at his touch, balling her hands into fists. Kaliua, Evans, urangi yeh, he telepathed. Gungari parev cona reim'a tari uri. /You're going back, Evans. It's just for a couple of days./

Liz looked back and glared up at him, a rather fierce expression on her face.

Rath looked down at her. "Are you going to fight me, little one?" he asked, his words deceptively quiet. A look of amusement crossed his face. "You won't win."

But he was not really amused. Waves of dread and worry flowed through the connection, even as the sense that he was truly steeling himself to do battle with her also filtered through.

"You tricked me!" she bit out between clenched teeth, but she made no move against him, simply standing frozen and poised to fight.

His smile faded, but his gaze remained intent. "I did no such thing." Again his words were soft and low.

"The Granolith isn't here!" God. The Granolith was not there. It had left her alone - alone on a world she had never wanted to see.

You are not alone, he soothed.

"The Granolith, Rath. Where is it?" she demanded again.

"It will rejoin us at Wiekoma," he answered.

"No." Wings of madness. He had brought her to Antar. He was taking her to a place called Wiekoma. What was he planning to do? "No."

Everything was wrong, horribly, horribly wrong. She should not be on Antar. She should not be with its King. She should be on Earth helping to look for the Granolith's Ambassador… The Granolith, Who was not there…

She tore her gaze away from him, her eyes darting about her. Her breath was ragged with unspent emotion.

She started to pull away from him again but Rath tightened his grip.

Liz, he called to her telepathically, commanding her attention.

She turned back. You shouldn't have done this, she said. What were you thinking?

Rath rounded on her then, stepping so close that there was only a small space left between them and using his height to tower over her. He glared down at her menacingly. "I was thinking that you promised me your loyalty and support," he growled. "I was thinking that you said…"

"That's what this is about?" Liz broke in. "You're testing me? You brought me here against my will to test me?"

"I am not testing you," he denied.

"I promised you…"

"Yes, you did." His jaw pulsed as he repeatedly clenched his teeth together.

The emotions flowing from him were raw and jumble, angry and unsettled and fierce. He was very upset with her and she saw that every one of his defenses was well set in place… in preparation for anything she might say or do.

But despite his intimidating posturing and emotions, she was unafraid. This was Rath and, with him, Michael. Neither of these driven men would ever do anything to harm her, nor would either one ask her to do anything beyond what they thought she was capable of. She trusted them. They were her strength when she was at her weakest, the voice of reason through the insanity.

She forced herself to relax. Her shoulders dropped. Her hands unballed themselves. What was done was done; there was nothing to be done to change it. Besides, as Rath had noted, there was no point in fighting; there were no winners in a battle, only losers.

She dropped her gaze and looked away to the tree with the familiar yellow-green leaves and white flowers at the edge of the clearing. "Tuavaero loved to eat that. It is so bitter but she…" Liz swallowed tightly, refusing to allow the old sadness swallow her. "… she just loved it."

"Liz," Rath called to her again, a mild warning in his tone.

"Osieri ujibi esdla, Tsheroko Rath. Sitam ueda," she said softly, still staring at the young tree. /Do not be troubled, Lord Rath. All is well./

"Evans," he tried again more firmly.

But, as she looked about the clearing at the alien foliage that seemed so familiar to her, she was experiencing a sense of déjà vu that overpowered anything else. Even the call of her last name, which normally brought her to quick attention, was not enough to distract her.

"Taya'a aslora gungari heu, hoapili jahan nei," she murmured. /The eye never forgets what the heart has seen./ It was an old saying, though not an Antarian one. She drew a shaky breath. Gudorian's old memories, as well as the flashes from the many, many Antarians she had connected to two months before, lived in her mind as if they were her own. She had an overwhelming sense that she had been there before. If only Tuavaero were there to lift her up; she knew she would recognize the area from a height.

Rath lifted his hand from her shoulder and drew it under her chin, turning her attention back to him. He had grown calmer when she gave in to him, but she could still feel his defensiveness and worry. "Would you have come if I warned you?"

She blinked and tried to shake off the sense of déjà vu. "No," she answered without hesitation.

"Even though you promised me your loyalty?" he pushed.

Liz opened her mouth to answer, but as she looked at him, he suddenly reminded her of the old Rath she remembered - the careworn Rath from her timeline who wore such a burden of seriousness, stress, and anxiety. She would have done anything - anything at all - to ease that pain in him… in her Rath. Had, in fact, done everything she could to ease his burden.

In the last week and a half that they had had together - those precious few days before he had been ripped away from her when he died, when their bond had dissolved into nothingness - she had truly "seen" how great a load weighed down upon him, how haunted he was over those he had lost, and how much he wished things could have been different. With a desperation not unlike that of his people, he agreed to leave their fate with the great Entity. His unshakable faith in the Granolith emboldened and inspired what was left of their respective peoples, while in the privacy of his mind (and Liz's because she was connected to him) his regrets and worries threatened to overwhelm him.

She had gone to him then, whenever her husband was busy and whenever she could get away from her own duties as Queen, and sat with him in his quarters - just Rath and Liz. Alone. Away from the ever watchful eyes of their soldiers. Their empathic bond having pulled them together. They had held each other, instinctively seeking to quiet one another's mind.

"I don't know if you saw, uh… felt…" she stammered, uncertain how to explain. "When my Ra… when you died, I… I felt it. Max didn't feel it, but I did…"

"I saw," he said quietly.

She nodded.

The loss of her bond to him had made her stumble and fall. The strength of his will that she go on, despite his pain, had propelled her, but without it… "I lost you and I was about to lose Max. Everyone and everything that was important to me was gone. And all I could think about was how many regrets I had, how many people had suffered because of my carelessness… I can't make the same mistakes again…"

"Am I a mistake?"

And there it was again. That defensiveness. In his own way, he was just as good as Michael was in pushing people away. Maria had never put up with it and Liz had always done her best to ignore it. It was his way of being strong and aloof, his way of being the noble leader he needed to be.

But she was not used to seeing this side of him in this Rath, in this time. Perhaps he was as unsettled as she was without the presence of the Granolith. Perhaps his bond to the Granolith caused him pain when It was not present.

She raised her hand to touch him, to give him comfort even in such a small way, and then hesitated. She was still uncertain how to proceed with this Rath. This Rath, although he was so similar to the other in so many ways, wanted things from her, demanded things from her that the other did not. He had shared parts of himself that her Rath had not. He confused her.

And then she shoved her confusion away to give comfort to the man before her, to the man who lived. She reached up and traced her fingers along his cheek until the palm of her hand lay over it. He closed his eyes at her touch and let out a long breath. The walls within him shook.

"Do you hurt?" she asked gently.

"No," he denied, his answer spoken so low that it was almost a whisper.

It was a half-truth. He was not in physical pain (he did not hurt as she did from her broken bond), but he was in pain. The walls he had erected, however, would not let her see what it was.

So, instead she simply told him: "You're not a mistake." Never would she consider him to be so. She relied on him. She needed him. She still did not know what would become of her once he was gone. "But I'm afraid that… that being here might be. What are we going to do if we run into your people? We are hatugli'a…" /hybrids/

He opened his eyes. "We will not run into my people," he stated simply.

She felt the conviction in his words, the knowing that what he was said was so. She wondered how he planned to avoid the billions of sentient persons on his planet.

Liz bit her bottom lip. She withdrew her hand and started to bring it back down. "But how…" she began.

Suddenly the walls within him crumbled and his greatness shone through once more - his confidence and faith and steadiness - and just as quickly he had squared their powers and taken command of her empathic ability, understanding of its use filling him with a mere touch.

Liz froze, hand still held mid-air, memory of the last time he had taken control of her empathy washing over her with startling swiftness.

"Hey," he said softly. He slipped his hand into hers and gripped it firmly, their hands poised between them.

His touch was all she needed to refocus her. She straightened slightly.

"I only want to answer your question."

Liz gave him a nod.

Good.
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Nancy was not one to sit in bed during the day. She liked to be busy, whether it meant running errands, helping her husband manage the restaurant below their apartment, or visiting friends. But sitting in bed? She had to be pretty darn sick to want to do that.

Yet that was just what she was doing (and she most certainly was NOT sick). She had her library book tucked into her hand, a cup of hot tea on her night stand, and her most comfortable pajamas on. And there she was crawling into bed.

She pulled her pillow upright and leaned it against her headboard, crawled under her comforter, pulling it up around her waist, and then snuggled back against the pillow.

Only two weeks ago she would have felt guilty for even thinking about taking a nap or wearing pajamas in the middle of the day, let alone going to bed to read a book. Her own father and mother had never approved of such behavior. In her family, when one woke up, they were to get dressed and work (there was always work to be done). And Nancy herself had always stuck to that life principle.

Yet, there she was sitting in bed, relaxed as could be, and not feeling a bit guilty.

She wondered briefly if it had anything to do with Liz. When she had become so sick from Liz's strange computer and Liz had found her in bed, there had just been a… a rightness… about the situation. There was no other way to explain it. It had felt right that Liz found her in bed, familiar even. It felt right that Liz was there to take care of her. It felt right that Liz had taken charge and seemed to intuitively know what to do to make her feel better. It had even felt right that Liz had then told her to eat.

Strange.

But Nancy did not give herself much time to dwell on that. She was more interested in the book she had picked up from the library: "Lucid Dreaming and the Art of Dreaming Creatively*".

Ada Windermere had sounded so crazy when she spoke and yet… Nancy could not entirely write the woman off.

___“Dreams, Mrs. Parker,” Dahicru interrupted, “like time, should not be defined in so linear a way. Among our people dreams are shared, especially among family members.”

“In what way are they shared?” Nancy asked.

“We call it the ‘kermes benguel’.”
___

A few weeks ago, sure, she would have judged the woman as a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket and forgotten all about her, but she could no longer do that.

___“Do you remember your dreams?” Mrs. Windermere questioned as she contemplated Nancy over her cup of tea.

“Not usually, no,” Nancy told her.

“Yet, I would guess that you have been feeling particularly troubled lately, haven’t you, especially upon waking.”
___

That was certainly the truth, although Nancy was not entirely sure that had anything to do with dreams. It seemed far more likely that it was just her constant motherly worry over Liz.

She knew - knew - deep down that something was not right with Liz, but the more she investigated, the more confused Nancy became. She needed a miracle if she was ever to have any hope of getting to the bottom of the mystery. Unfortunately, she was running out of options.

___“If you cannot find the strength to talk to your daughter, then I would suggest you learn how to lucid dream.”___

Nancy did not think the finding of strength to talk to Liz was the problem. The problem was more that Liz outsmarted Nancy at every turn causing all of Nancy's inquiries to meet with dead ends. It seemed she had little choice but to learn about this "lucid dreaming" that Ada Windermere had told her of.

Not that it would do any good.

But she was feeling desperate.
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Her empathic senses, guided by Rath, flung themselves outward. They flew across his world with the speed of a dragon chasing after his mate. Her empathic ability rolled across the land, moving further and further. Hundreds, then thousands of miles.

But in all that space, there were no people, no dragons. No voices at all.

There was only silence.

Emptiness.

Nothing.

Liz drew in closer to Rath. I'm sorry. I didn't know.

He spoke as he continued to draw them forward: Ioseguedes, /You misunderstand/ he told her. This is the 'time before'. We are thousands of years in the past.

The words shook within her. The time before? Thousands of years?

Surely he could not mean…

But the answer was very clear in his mind, most likely because he wanted it to be.

At one time, thousands of years ago, Antar had been empty of people and dragons. Both were immigrants to the world that eventually became their home.

She looked out over the empty lands. Auyana Ahamo? she questioned, using the expression she had seen earlier in the flash. This is the time before your people immigrated from Auyana Ahamo? There is no one here?

No one.


The staggering amount of time they would have had to pass through to reach this point in his planet's history stunned her. Impatiently Liz tugged on their joined powers and pulled her empathic ability to a stop. She needed quiet and stillness to try to grasp the enormity of what Rath was showing her.

But the soundlessness was deafening. It was like standing in a mall or a school or a stadium or some other big place and knowing you were the only one there, that there was no one else around. For an empath like Liz, the implications were frightening. It was an aloneness that she could literally feel.

You are NOT alone, Rath repeated. I will not leave you.

You better not.

I am loyal.

I know.


She clung to him, remaining immersed in the person he was, needing to feel the only other living, sentient person on the planet. Needing to know she was not alone.

Wishing she could go home.

Why? she asked. Why here? Why now?

He touched her tenderly, stroking her through their connection, a desire for her acceptance and compliance strong within his mind. Your only objection to coming here was that you did not want my people to be ashamed of you, but there are no people here. This is the 'time before', he telepathed. So, when I show you what you need to see, you will try to understand.

Yes. She certainly had given that one objection as her only reason for not returning to Antar with him. Trust Rath's strategic mind to work itself around that one and still get what he wanted… and with a promise to "try to understand" to go along with it.

Everything seemed to make sense to him.

But Liz was very confused. As usual she was well aware that Rath was not showing "all his cards". He never did anything without a very good reason (or set of reasons) and he was not one to pander to those in his command. Bringing her to the Antar of the past might have served to assuage her fears, but she knew it was not the real reason he had brought her. No, there was some other purpose to their presence at that time and place.

Rath? Show me Wiekoma. I want to see it.

Rath needed no urging. He immediately rolled their conjoined power backward, reversing his earlier path. Narrowing it. Focusing it. Until, at last, he halted the empathic senses at a location about 55 or 60 miles away. /88.5 to 96.5 kilometers/

Hovering.

Waiting.

She studied Rath for a moment, moving softly through his mind, looking for some kind of reassurance, before gently retaking control of her ability and turning her attention to the place he had brought her to. To Wiekoma.

To the unexpected surprise.

Whispers.

Or something that reminded her of whispers.

Echoes.

Overlapping tones, like the low murmur of a crowd.

She could not define what she sensed. They were not pure emotive voices, like she would expect from sentient persons, but they were… people. At least they felt kind of like people. People that were there but not there. People that were mere whispers of their true selves.

If Tuavaero were there she might have understood and explained it to Liz. But she was not there. Only Rath was, and he was studying Liz the way she was studying Wiekoma.

What does it mean? she asked Rath.

Liz felt something equivalent to a smile come from Rath, sort of like the feeling a cat might have when it finally catches the canary… only Liz knew that she was that canary.

That is part of what I want you to understand, but you won't be able to figure it out until we actually get there.
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After that Rath led Liz from the small clearing and across the forested highland, following well-traveled animal paths, carrying a strong sense of relief with him.

He had done it.

He had brought Liz to Antar.

His home.

Rath drew in a deep breath of warm, moist air through his nose - the scent of green growing things and damp earth - crossed his arms and leaned back against a tree to study her.

A small swarm of mtiléha had flown down from one of the branches high above, their helicopter-like wings making soft whirring sounds. Liz had stopped and tilted her head back to observe them, and Rath sensed the recognition flooding her mind.

He let out his breath through his mouth.

Yes, he was home.

He had wanted to throw out his powers and touch every living thing in sight - his relief was so great - but he had had to refrain for Liz's sake. She had needed his comfort and direction.

But, by all that was holy, at least he was home, even if it was only for a little while.

And Liz was with him.

The seemingly impossible had been accomplished. The human girl had been brought to Antar.

His girl.

When he was very small he had not understood how it would happen. The Granolith had shown her to him in waking visions and dreams repeatedly, patiently explaining who she was to become to him, but it had not made sense. He had not wanted her - not on his planet and certainly not in his life.

Ambassador Rawuri gazed down in some perplexity at the king’s son. “Tell me, child,” he said gently, “what does the Granolith say about the kaliquape.”

“It says the kaliquape must not be performed by you,” the child answered dutifully. “It says I will not be joined with Nakuombia Ava.”

“Why is that?” Rawuri asked.

“I am to bond to another.”

“Whom?”

The Granolith spoke in his mind, showing him an image of a young woman pale of skin, with dark eyes and hair. She looked different from anyone he had ever seen before. “I do not know her name. She has not been born yet. And…” He paused as he considered the Granolith’s revelation. “I do not think she is from here. She does not look like us.”

“She?” Rawuri asked in surprise. Later he would tell Leofori that he had expected an entirely different answer. He had expected him to say he was to bond to the Granolith.

“But I don’t want to do it,” the boy had said then. “I don’t know why I have to. It won’t tell me.”


But later, much later when he was well into his adult years, he had grown fascinated with the idea of her, especially after she had appeared in the Granolith's Chambers on the Doju Islands to give the blessing to Ambassador Rawuri and to remove the tikava from the old man's body. She had seemed so… fragile and… small. She was so upset by the magnitude of the crime Khivar had committed in the Granolith's caves, so close to tears, and yet the little spitfire had the impudence to call him by his given name and had threatened to blast him as if she knew exactly who he was and was not the least intimidated by it. Oh, she had been respectful enough - he had had to give her that much - but she did not try very hard to hide the fact that she was displeased with him. Him. As if she had the right to judge.

He might have had a few things to say to the little trespasser to put her in her place if it were not for the fact that she was as taken with the Granolith as It was with her. He had not expected that. He had not known that the one he would take as a mate would be anything like her, let alone one that the Granolith would…

But that was neither here nor there, as they said on Earth. The event had not yet happened for Liz, and would not happen if he could not stay focused.

This was Liz's first visit to Antar. She had things to discover about herself, him, his world, and his people, and he had a very short time in which to show them to her - a couple days at best, as he had promised her - and then they would have to return to her Earth.

As he stood watching, the cloud of mtiléha swirled downward, and Liz reached up to touch one. A look of wonder crossed her face when one of the large white insect-like creatures alighted on her finger, clinging to it with its four thin legs. She lowered her hand to eye level so that she could get a better look at it, watching it as its long, white tail curled and wound in a coil over its back.

There was a tightness in his heart because he could not help but worry about making things right for Liz, making sure that she accepted the things he had to show her, that she gained the understanding she needed, hoping that she would accept these from things from him rather than from Michael (because the Granolith had insisted he was the one to show her)… And, yet, seeing her natural curiosity take over as she relaxed more and more gave him a powerful sense of relief that he did not know how to put into words, as well as an ever strengthening hope.

And then her eyes were trained back on him rather than the delightful little creature that still clung to her finger, an unreadable expression on her face and her thoughts so quiet that he could not tell what was going through her mind, whether or not…

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and stared back, silently checking to see if his mental walls were still in place. Her powerful empathic abilities were hard to keep at bay, for she could move so easily through his mind without him even knowing it, could read him so well, better, he suspected, than even she knew, and there were things he did not want her to see…

Things like the depth of his need for the small, part-human Liz Parker Evans.

A flicker of a smile flashed for the briefest of moments across her face before she lowered her eyes to study the mtiléha once more.

"The last time," she said softly, "we were alone like this was when we were hiking down to Echo Canyon so you could train me."

He remembered. He had seen the memories through her eyes in the benguela. They had known well before Khivar had arrived that they would not win, that the fight against him would prove to be futile, that, at best, they had only a few years left to spend with one another… and yet Liz had left her "soulmate" behind so that she could train with "her Rath", so that she could take Ava's place in the four square. She had been so courageous.

But it had been more than that.

Even though her husband had not been with her. Even though it had been hard for her to learn to harness her powers. Even though the dread of Khivar's impending attack on earth loomed over her - over them. Even though Rath had so often gone crawling through her mind to help her, to teach her. Even though… she had been happy.

"I was," she acknowledged without looking at him.

She blew softly upon mtiléha and the small, white creature unfurled its tail, spun its wings, and took off to rejoin the swarm. She watched it leave, her hand absently rising to her temple where she tracing small circles over the pain that was always there.

"Happiness can be hard to find. You take it where you can get it," she said.

"Even with me?" he asked.

Her gaze returned to him. "Especially with you."

Rath sensed the truth of her words through their connection and, with that truth, he felt something more ease within him.

He took a step toward her… "Kokua mnaisha xoyan tu." /It is the same for me./

… and froze.

Waiting.

A gentle breeze danced through the forest around them, whispering through the trees and causing the leaves to brush lightly against one another. It made the hems of their tunics tap softly against their legs and drifted wispy fingers through Liz's hair. Her shawl fluttered around her, the fancy, golden glyphs sparkling as they played in the "sun's" diffused light.

Her lips moved soundless, her mind glittering with a thousand old memories both touchingly beautiful and stabbingly painful, and she dropped her eyes and looked away, a nervous hand tucking some wayward strands behind her ear before dropping lay over her stomach.
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His simple words meant more to her than she knew how to express… and were far more dangerous, too.

Her eyes blurred with tears she refused to shed but, blinking them away, she looked back at him, at the great man of whom she was so honored to count as a friend. "Thank you," she said softly.

They stared at one another for a long moment, standing precariously at an emotional impasse that neither one of them could traverse.

And then it was broken when Rath's eyes narrowed and Michael's crooked smile appeared on his face and amusement rang through their connection.

"What?" Liz asked.

He gestured outwardly with his hand. We have a guest.

She whirled and found herself face-to-face with a rather large, rather purple animal. She tensed, not recognizing the creature nor knowing if it was friend or foe.

It stretched its head toward her and its nostrils flexed and it blew large breaths at her as if it were smelling her.

She took a couple of steps backward. "It's a… it's a cow," she stammered lamely.

Rath's amusement grew, but he said: "Is not a cow" as if he were indignant. "It is a yusawara. It is more like… a mountain goat."

"What does it, uh… eat?"

"People."

He said it so blandly that for a moment Liz was quite taken aback but then he started to laugh.

She turned back around, thrust her hands onto her hips and glared at him. "That's not funny," she declared decisively. "You scared me."

But he only laughed more.

She felt the yusawara nibble at her back with its lips. "Hey," she said, turning back, only to find that the creature had a mouthful of her shawl.

Rath had to help her. He ordered the yusawara to bimon, to behave, but the animal did not want to bimon, and Rath had to pry its mouth open and retrieve her damp shawl.

"Oh… wonderful," she said when he handed it to her.

"Like a goat," he reminded her.

"Noted."

The yusawara reached passed Rath and tried to get her shawl again, but Liz pushed its head away with the palm of her hand, adding a little zap to it with her powers to give the beast extra incentive to back off.

She looked over at Rath and saw that his hands were wet with yusawara slobber, which he was busily wiping away on his tunic. She wrinkled her nose. "Maybe we should, uh… go wash up."

Rath agreed and led her away to some shenwé'a. /small pools/

The shenwé'a were like nothing she had ever seen on Earth. Each shenwé was a perfect circle, no more than a few inches deep, with straight up-and-down sides, and a smooth, flat bottom. The size of each shenwé varied, with some being no more than a foot in diameter and others being as large as several meters (yards) across. And one flowed into the next by a miniature waterfall of softly tinkling water.

In the lower shenwé, a small herd of striped, spindly-legged jeshaka were drinking water with their long, thin tongues. A few glanced up at Rath's and Liz's encroachment, but they seemed unconcerned with the two strange beings and went back to drinking.

Nearby a flock of tiny mieri - a creature that looked like a cross between a miniature dolphin and a bird - were hopping about in the shallow water and making a game of disturbing slumbering mud babies (miseba'a), which then slithered and jumped away into underwater piles.

Liz let Rath lead her to an unoccupied shenwé on the furthest end.

There he crouched near the pebbly bank and, after washing his hands, cupped them together and drank water, while Liz stood, still looking about her. It was so beautiful, so peaceful.

She saw the troublesome yusawara again. It appeared through the trees a ways down and headed over to the furthest shenwé to drink, but it did not try to approach them.

Liz stepped into the water herself and dipped her shawl in, washing the slobbery parts. Then she lay it over a nearby branch and dried it with her powers.

When she turned about, Rath was right there, standing and watching her. Staring. As if he were fascinated.

She gave him a half-smile. What?

I like your freckles.


She blushed and looked down, biting her bottom lip. Her freckles. Right. Of course he would notice that.

We don't get freckles.

Yeah, I know.


She got the sudden distinct impression that he would like to examine her freckles more closely. She colored and covered her freckles with her hand just below the soft part of her throat.

Rath's amusement washed through their connection, but only for a moment. Then he stepped forward and held out his hand. "I found these for you," he said, holding out some stones.

He placed them in her hand.

Liz looked down at the stones he had given her - a fist-sized stone that was nearly black and several smaller stones of various, bright colors: turquoise, red, and yellow.

She gazed back up at him. "Thank you."

But he only shrugged as if his small kindness was unimportant and said, "I'll be back in a minute," and Liz understood that he was going to go find a place to relieve himself.

He walked off through the trees, leaving her alone.

Liz watched him walk away and then went and sat down by the shenwé. She wrapped her hands around the stones she had been given and concentrated, separating the molecules of the stones and restructuring them, changing their shape until a bowl grew in her hands.

When she was done, she opened her eyes again and turned the bowl about to look at her work. It was beautiful, smooth inside and out, and engraved colorfully with intricate designs set over a glossy sable. It was not as fancy as some Antarian bowls she had seen, but, like all the others she had created over the years, it came from her heart and was a testament to the fine teachers who had taught her the skill.

Her teachers who were all gone, she thought sorrowfully, their many faces flashing through her mind.

But then she corrected herself. No. Her teachers who had not yet been born.

Her teachers who would live long, full, happy lives if she had her way. Live their lives on the beautiful world Rath had brought her to with its amazing array of wildlife and plants and natural formations.

As she looked around her she thought of Michael's last words to her: It was worth it, wasn't it?

"God, it has to be," she whispered.

She bent forward and dipped the bowl into the shenwé and brought the filled container to her lips. The water tasted so good! She had forgotten that she was thirsty or that many hours had passed since she had last had a chance to drink.

She dipped her bowl repeatedly into the shenwé and drank to her satisfaction.

When she was done, she cradled the bowl on her lap and thought - thought of her own world and her own people. She hoped… no, she needed to make things right for them, too. And she would, she told herself, because she could not face another end of the world. Not again. Not ever.

She lifted the bowl from her lap and brought it to her forehead, in the customary way she had been shown. And then, gathering the memories in her mind of all the things she loved about her home, she implanted them into the bowl - the startlingly beautiful image of Earth from above (the one she had once seen when she had Madison were taken) with its vast blue oceans and small glimpses of the continents peaking through fields of white clouds; the smell of the desert when rain fell, the way the drops splashed down in puddles and the sound it made on her umbrella; snowflakes falling from the sky and blanketing the ground and trees, deep footprints in the icy drifts, the sound of children laughing; a green forest shrouded in fog, the damp smell of earth and plants, watching panda mothers and their offspring eating bamboo and seeing the babies play; catching grasshoppers that sprung through the tall, wet grasses and holding them in her hand, their long legs clinging to her skin; and Liz's own small hand holding on to her father's as they walked through Frazier Park, the sound of the wind as it blew through the trees in the forest and the way it felt as it trailed soft fingers through her hair; sitting on her father's lap and feeling so safe with his arm around her as they looked up at the stars. Sola ta. /My home./

Satisfied she let her memories fade away, sensing, as she did so, that Rath had returned, and brought the bowl away from her forehead and held it out before her. Such a pretty bowl. And now it was more. Now it was a memory bowl, a gift to future generations of people who might pass by.

She set it to her right and then rose to her feet and turned to face Rath, who was leaning against a tree and calmly watching her.

"What did you choose?" he asked, but there was no real curiosity in his question.

"My home," she stated simply.

He nodded and Liz noted that she felt no surprise from him either. No, it was more than that. He had expected her to choose that, almost as if… he knew she would.

How… interesting. She narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

But Rath only held out his hand to her. "Come."
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As they continued on, Liz found that she recognized some of the wildlife, like the small flock of eager mieri that followed them - little blue fish-birds, with black dolphin-shaped beaks, and thin, nearly-transparent fins and flippers colored like fall leaves, while others she did not recognize at all, like the kliernoacl with its long horns and scaled, plated back. She had startled when it unexpectedly ran out of the bushes in front of them. But Rath only broke a handful of twigs from the bush next to him, stripped them of leaves, and then knelt down and offered them to the creature, which came forward, sniffing with its long snout. It grabbed Rath's offering and darted off.

After it left, Rath looked over his shoulder at her, amusement rippling through their connection. It is a kliernoacl, he said.

Its legs are on backwards, Liz noted.

Its legs are on just right.

She bit her lip. It has too many eyes.

It is a noacl, a "many eyes".


In front of Rath, about twenty or so small kliernoacl younglings darted out of the bushes and ran by, following after their mother. A few of them stopped and curiously sniffed at Rath while others propped themselves up on their hind legs to get a better look at him before running off. They are also prolific breeders, he remarked offhand, referring to the "klier" part of its name.

When he rose again, it was only to turn to her and hold out his hand, upon which lay one last twig. Eat, he commanded.

I'm not hungry.

You should be. It's been hours.


Gingerly Liz took the long twig from his hand. Like so many other things, it looked familiar. She even thought she might recall the name. Daoin?

Daoin,
he confirmed. Eat.

Rath broke off another twig for himself and stripped it of its leaves. Then he popped the end of it in his mouth and continued on down the well worn, animal-traveled path.

Liz put the end of her daoin twig in her mouth and bit it. It was very hard, too hard to just bite off a piece, but the flavor of the wood inside, where it had been broken off from the tree, hit her tongue - a strong, sweet… something that she could not identify - and her stomach seemed to respond of its own accord. Suddenly she felt the hunger that Rath had said she should.

She began to work the wood with her teeth as she followed behind Rath, moistening it with her tongue and gnawing on it until the end splayed like an old paint brush, after which she as able to pull out wooden bristles to eat. It tasted wonderful, unlike anything she had ever eaten before.

They walked along for a while more - maybe for an hour - and eventually left the path they had been on and began cutting through the forest. Rath led her through a maze of ancient trees and thick underbrush and passed small murky ponds. They circumvented immense rock formations dripping with water and covered in something green and moss-like and splashed across wide but shallow waterways alive with mud babies (miseba'a) that were quick to scatter away in all direction, plopping through the muddy banks as they went.

After a while the forest began to brighten. Light flowed in, not just from the canopy above, but through the trees ahead of them. Strong light. Bright. The forest's end was upon them.

Rath turned back and held out his hand. "Come, Liz," he beckoned. "You must see this." His dark eyes glowed with excitement.

Liz put her hand in his. He closed his fingers around her and gave a reassuring squeeze.

He led her up a gentle incline through he last of the trees. His steps were quick and he fairly pulled her along in his eagerness.

And then they were at the top. The forest had dropped away behind them and Liz found herself standing at the edge of a steep cliff. Away to the left and right, the cliff extended all around, with trees rising tall and proud along its entire length and great vines creeping down over it, down, down to another great forest that extended below them. And, here and there, water from the forest above spilled over the side, dropping thousands of feet to the forest below.

Away in the distance, as far as her eyes could see, the land rolled away from them, green and lush with vegetation. Vast silvery lakes dotted the landscape. Rushing rivers coursed over it, flowing from the forest to the grassy plains, twisting and turning as they wended their way around hills, over flat prairies, into shallow canyons, and onward to a glassy blue sea.

Liz covered her mouth with her free hand, overcome with emotion. Her eyes welled up with tears she refused to shed. What a beautiful world it was! What an amazing world! She had seen pieces of it before from the minds of the Antarians whom she had touched, from their vantage points, but, under the influence of the upoko as she was, it had seemed like a fantasy, an unreality. But this - this was real! And it was the most incredible sight she could ever remember seeing!

This was Rath's land, his home. The world that he had once ruled and cared for and would so again. A world that would be inherited by his son and his grandson after him and generations of his progeny.

"Liz. Liz, look up," Rath said gently, giving her hand a little shake to get her attention.

Liz raised her eyes to gaze off far into the distance, only to see a great flock of flying creatures as they rose from an outlying hill and took to the skies - snake-like creature with huge wings - silhouetted by avanisi clouds. They weren't dragons, but they reminded her of them. They were… She tried to recall the name from others' memories. "Uperangi," she said, hitting upon the name. She inhaled in surprise and pointed. "Rath, those are uperangi'a."

She looked at her husband's cousin to find him smiling back at her, pride and satisfaction coloring his connection to her.

He turned his gaze from her and focused on the distant uperangi'a. He raised his hand toward them, as if beckoning them, and, although his hand did not glow, she knew it was only an outward gesture of a power she could not see.

Liz followed his gaze and saw the uperangi'a change direction. They made a wide turn in the sky, darting through the colorful clouds and back out, and headed straight toward Rath and her. Liz felt her heartbeat speed up a little with excitement. Rath had called them!

They flew closer and closer, their great wings outspread and their long serpent-like tails trailing behind them. Their iridescent scales took on a metallic gleam in the light. She began to hear the low whistles and chirps they used to communicate with each other.

And then the entire flock was suddenly upon them. Looking every bit like great, flying Chinese dragons, they flew overhead, their bodies twisting and winding as they flew. Their powerful wings pounded the air as they rose over the mountain, sending gusts of wind downward and blowing Liz's loose hair.

Liz, head tilted back to watch them, found herself holding her breath. The tears that had welled up at the sight of Rath's beautiful world finally fell unnoticed.

When, at last, the last uperangi had flown overhead, Liz discovered Rath studying her. "Urangi dahicru," he said somewhat mystified. /You're crying./

"Semier?" /Is that so?/ She touched her temple with her free hand only to find it wet. "Oh."

Then she smiled. "Bissau arabana." /That was beautiful./

"Juha urangi dahicru," he repeated. /But you're crying./

"Dahicru huila," /Happy tears./

He reached out to smooth the tear paths away with his thumb. "Iebo?" /Yes?/

"Bo." /Yes./

She felt his relief and happiness slip through their connection.

Liz thought they would continue on after that, perhaps along the cliff edge of the forest, but Rath decided that it was time to eat.

They sat among the massive brown and green "vines" that Rath called mueré. Their girth reminded Liz of tree trunks and they had roots that came out like branches that then split into sections and clung to the ground like great, gnarled fingers, clinging not just to the top of the cliff where they sat, but over the side of the cliff and all the way down, appearing to descend 2 or 3 thousand feet. /609 to 914 meters/ The mueré vines were covered with dark, spade shaped leaves and round, red berries (mari'a) that seemed to Liz to glow in the "sun" light.

Rath plucked a handful of berries and put them in her hand. "Mari'a raona," he said, giving her the name. /Raona berries./

When Liz cupped her hands together and tilted them so that the "sun" was no longer shining on them, she saw that they still glowed. She turned to Rath, the unspoken question clear in her eyes.

"Mari bellimi talada artix kamiri," Rath explained. /Each berry contains a single Artix./

"Artix?"

"Sabil iiuna nihii." /A tiny luminescent worm./ He raised his brow in a challenge and then scooped a handful into his mouth.

Liz's eyes widened slightly and then she looked down at her own handful. She picked one of the berries up and held it up to the light. Inside, just as Rath had said, she could see a tiny, glowing worm moving slightly within its confines. Her mouth parted in wonder.

Then her stomach growled.

It looked too pretty to eat (she still was not used to the luxury of attractive, palatable food), but she was hungry. Something about Rath's world made her feel that way. And so she popped it in her mouth and bit down. An explosion of sweet filled her mouth with just enough spicy to make it taste good.

"Mm," she intoned, touching her lips, "Akade." /Delicious./

They sat for a while in silence, resting and eating their fill of the mari'a raona and looking out over the beautiful world. If she had been with another man (like Max), he probably would have explained everything to her - the reason why they were there, the intricacies of his world… all of it. Rath, however, was not like that. He was a man with secrets. He was a man who was born to lead and did not feel obligated to explain his decisions. More than that, he was a man that did not like to explain anything that he felt one could figure out on their own.

That part of Michael and Rath - the part that did not like to explain things - had always driven Maria crazy. She was an emotionally driven woman who lived for having things all spelled out for her in a reasonable manner, while her husband was a man of action rather than words. They worked it out though, mostly because, as Maria always said, she was Teflon.

Liz smiled at the memory.

A part of her wished Maria was with them then, wondering what Maria would have made of Rath's Antar.

"She would have hated it," Rath spoke softly from beside her.

Liz's smile faded. "Probably," she agreed. She looked at her handful of mari'a and then stuck the whole lot in her pocket, where the other half of the daoin already was. Then she laughed softly. "She was always more happy dealing with the wilds of the local mall."

"Liz."

She glanced at her husband's cousin.

"Eat some more."

"I'm not hungry."

"Why?"

Liz only shrugged.

"You eat like a child," he told her, and she could sense concern from him, the same concern that he had felt for some weeks, but she ate no more and Rath did not seem inclined to push her. She knew, however, that in his mind he was not done with the subject and would likely remind her of it at another time.

At last Rath himself finished eating and rose to his feet. Liz followed suit, ready to continue on their journey to Wiekoma. She started walking along and over the mueré vines to head back to the original place that they had exited the forest from when Rath stopped her.

"Evans."

She looked back.

Rath nodded toward the cliff edge. "We're climbing down."

"What?" she asked.

"Down," he repeated.

Her lips parted in surprise.

Gently, as unobtrusively as possible, she felt along their connection, but could feel no playfulness on his part. He meant what he said.

"Volér ur?" The words left her mouth before she realized it. /You're serious?/

"Tsheshi," /I am./ his sincerity from within evident in the firmness of his reply.

Wings of madness.

She cautiously made her way across the great vines to the edge and knelt to look down the steep drop. Her heart quivered strangely within her chest and she laid her hand over it as if she could force it to behave itself. She was not scared of heights or of falling, she reminded herself. It was just that she wished…

She wished she had a dragon to carry her.

Drawing slightly away from the edge and sitting back on her heals, Liz gazed up at him - at Rath, who stood with his arms crossed over his chest, staring at her as if he expected her to refuse his directive.

Well, she might not have her dragon, but she had Rath.

Rath, who was a dragon of a man by his own rights.

Proud and powerful and determined. Single-minded in his devotion. A dragon that would only let a handful ever get close to him, but would truly only allow one to ever know his heart. Loyal to the death. A dragon that would give his life to protect his rider. She could trust him to keep her safe…

Rath's nostrils flared and the corner of his mouth twitched as if he were fighting a smile. Amusement slipped through their connection.

"Oh god," she said softly. She rolled her eyes and looked away.

From behind her she heard the low rumble of his laugh.

Liz shook her head slightly, crossed her arms, and could not help but smile herself.

Still, she sent a 'you're not funny' to him.

I'm hilarious, he said in reply.

Down below one of the Chinese dragon looking uperangi caught her attention when it made a low-flying sweep over the canopy of green far below, its iridescent scales creating a seeming gleaming streak of flashing silver as it sailed by.

She watched it dive in amongst the trees and disappear.

"It's feeding," Rath said, coming to sit next to her. He leaned toward her and set his hand to rest just behind her so that they were sitting shoulder to shoulder.

Liz nodded.

"They're vegetarians."

"I know that." Liz turned her head to gaze up at him.

"They thin our forests and keep them healthy."

"I know."

Rath looked down at her. "Some years the uperangi flocks come together and plow down an entire section of forest or eat up all the mueré vines."

"Really?" Now that was something interesting that Liz had not known.

Rath nodded. "We came at a good time."

"How's that?"

"There are mueré vines to 'climb' down on. We're lucky," he told her.
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Rath brushed aside the leaves of the vines so that she could get a good view of the mueré trunk. He showed her the lumps that grew all over the trunk and branches of the mueré vine. "See these… mpelé'a?" he said, looking for the correct word.

"Knobbles," Liz translated, her heart still beating in an erratic pattern.

Not scared. Not scared… she continued to reminded herself. She could not afford to be afraid right then. Fear caused people to make mistakes… deadly ones.

"Yes. They are easy to stand on with your feet and easy to grasp with your hand."

He lowered himself carefully partway over the edge and then stopped and encouraged her to come with him.

"Come on," he said. "I've got you." He held out his arm for her.

Liz drew in a deep breath, and then another. "I'm not scared," she whispered.

"You're very brave," he agreed.

He did not move at all, merely waited for her to begin her descent. The strength of his resolve to make the 'climb' and his belief in her to follow flowed purposefully through their connection.

Slowly Liz turned around and let him help her. He covered her body with his own, like a protective shield. And there, at the top of the high, high cliff, they clung.

"You're okay," he spoke near her ear.

"I'm fine," she said, although every muscle in her body was tense as she clung to the stiff vines. She did not try to turn to look at him.

He whispered words of encouragement to her - that he was proud of her, that he knew she could do it, that he admired her courage, that going down would be easy… - and all the while he never moved. He hovered over her protectively, speaking his easy words and stroking her softly through their connection - gentle placating touches that made her relax even though she did not want to.

After what seemed to Liz a long time, when it appeared certain that she was steady, he reminded her once again of how to thrust her hands and feet through the leafy plant, to feel for the knobbles.

And then they began their descent.

Rath kept on hovering, continuing to shield her with his body, making sure she knew what to do and was comfortable doing it, uttering encouraging words all the while. He did not move away from her until her was certain she was all right, and then he moved just below her.

It was awkward at first, but as they moved downward, it got easier. Liz began to find pattern to the placement of the knobbles and a rhythm in the way she had to coordinate her hands and feet to reach them. And after a while, as long as she did not look down, she found that she was able to move at a steady pace.

She also discovered that there were outcroppings all the way down, periodically jutting out from the face of the cliff. At each one they would stop and take a brief breather and then begin their descent again, with Rath always going before her and Liz always following behind.

She became so focused on the "rhythm", in fact, that she was surprised when they reached the first outcropping. Large though it was, it had been hidden from above, covered as it was in mueré vines.

They stopped and rested for a few minutes and then, at Rath's bidding, they continued on, 'climbing' down yet again to the next rocky, vine-covered outcropping.

And to the next.

_____ And to the next.

__________ And to the next…

Rath kept urging her on, never letting her rest long before beginning the next descent. Pushing her to continue.

The afternoon "sun" moved from its 2 o'clock position to its 5 o'clock position and began to drop low in the horizon. Orange emblazoned the distant skyline and started to creep upward across the sky in a fiery display.

Liz started to grow weary. Her arms began to ache. And she did not want to continue 'climbing' once it was dark. "Rath," she said, taking a careful step down onto the ledge.

Rath grabbed hold of her arm to steady her and guided her toward the cliff face and away from the edge. "Leofori," he corrected, but even though the reminder was gentle and firm, Liz was well aware of his own weariness, weariness that he could not hide from her empathy.

Liz grabbed hold of a knobby branch against the cliff and held on tight. The outcropping they were on was one of the narrowest she'd seen yet. "I'm tired," she said. "I need to rest. You do too. We need to find a ledge that's wide enough to bunk down for the night."

"There's a cave below us. It's not far. A couple minutes more maybe," he told her. "You'll make it."

Liz nodded.

Rath went first, as always, a sense of protectiveness emanating from him, as if, by going first, he would be there to protect her if something went amiss. And Liz followed closely behind, easily slipping right back into the rhythm of carefully seeking the knobs with her feet and hands and brushing leaves from under her tunic with her knees.

In her tired mind, she wondered absently if Sahal, her husband's Antarian predecessor, had ever climbed the mountain she was on, if he had clung to those same vines or bedded down for the night in the cave they were descending toward. She knew he had ridden dragonback on Tuavaero once - she saw that in one of Rath's flashes - but that was the only thing she knew about him. She wondered what he looked like (she had only seen the back of his head in the flash), what his life had been like on Antar and what he had done to become one so trusted by Rath.

She wondered what he would think of having two human-hybrids on his planet.

She wondered what he would think of her.

Liz gave herself a little shake and made herself focus.

Below her Rath had arrived at the mouth of the cave and he was reaching for her. She inched her way down to him and then let him help her slip through the vines and into the dim grotto.

She had to bend low to get into the cave because the opening was covered by so many vines, but was once she was in, Rath still did not let her fully rise. He put his hand on the top of her head and told her: "Sbelu novo. Ngawa shibesh'a pelor kiempra." /Duck down. There are sticky threads above you./

Liz rose slowly, head turned so that she could see what he meant.

Indeed across the entire ceiling was a blanket of threads hanging down - glowing white threads that descended from the roof of the cave like rain and hung downward about a foot or so. Just hanging there.

"What are they?" she asked.

"Nalumsibes'a," he answered.

"Which are…?"

"They are…" But he did not seem to know how to explain it, so he reach up to the top of one of the threads where it attached to the ceiling and scooped at something with his fingers. When he brought his hand back down, he had a tiny, green striped, wormlike creature with silvery blue wings draped over the length of his finger. It blinked its eyes at her but otherwise seemed content to stay where it was. "Nalumsibes," he said again. "They are… animals… that make sticky threads… like spiders' webs, but…"

"…they just hang," Liz said, finishing his thought.

"Yes," he answered. "When our 'sun' goes down the nalumsibes'a turn on the lights on their threads to attract insects. When they catch an insect, they turn their light off."

Liz's eyes grew wide when he then tipped his hand so that the "animal" would go to her. It wiggled and used its tiny legs near its head to move forward until its soft body sat on her palm. Then it blinked its eyes at her again and draped its silky wings over her hand.

She brought her hand up higher so that she could see it better. When she did she saw that pulsed with light every once in a while. A smile tugged at the corners of her lips. "Akamaiotia," she noted. /Lightening./

Beside her she heard the low rumble of Rath's laugh. "Not quite," he said. "It drinks from the phosphorescent pool over there."

Liz looked to where he pointed and noticed a shallow, murky pool toward the back of the cave. Water trickled down into it from the cavern ceiling.

The sight of the water made her remember that she was thirsty, something that she had pointedly ignored for the past few hours.

"You can't drink it, Liz, not unless you want to glow like our friend here," Rath explained. "But there's some water in the back for you."

"There is?"

Half-crouched, he led her to the back of the cave, to a darkened corner where there were no glowing nalumsibes strands hanging down and, from there, retrieved a large ceramic pot filled with water.

"What's this doing here, Rath?" she asked.

But Rath ignored her question and took a ladle and dipped it into the water. "Here." He handed her the ladle in exchange for the nalumsibes she held. Then, while she drank, he took the little creature and brought it back to its thread.

When he returned to her side, he asked: "Feel better?"

Liz nodded. "Yeah."

She wanted to know about the place he had brought her to - about the phosphorescent pool; about the nalumsibes'a; about how he knew the cave, hidden as it was, was here at all; about how a ceramic pot that was clearly made by a person was sitting filled with fresh water in that very cave - but he looked as tired as he felt and she could feel his hunger and thirst. So she did not ask.

"Cless'a ia modhai ahamo kayam cless'a ta." /The needs of others before my own./ That was what Antarians said.

"I hope you don't mind…" he began.

"It's perfect," she told him, interrupting whatever apology he was about to make regarding their accommodations for the night. "Thank you."

He studied her and suddenly she felt his misgivings slipping through their connection, and she knew he must be so much more tired than he was letting her see.

"Here," she said, and she passed the ladle forward to him.

When he took it from her, his fingers brushed over hers and for a moment he stilled. "You sure?" he asked in his uncertainty.

Liz smiled gently at him and only shrugged. "It's warm, it's comfortable, it's safe, I don't have to worry about being attacked… and I'm in the company of someone I trust."

She pushed the ladle softly toward him and then withdrew her hands. "Drink," she instructed him.

He did then, and he seemed to gain strength from the water because his mental walls grew stronger and his insecurities vanished as if they had never been.

She stuck her hand in her pocket and, when he had replaced the ladle in the pot, she showed him the handful of berries she had saved. "Here," she said, offering them to him.

But he only shook his head and gently pushed her hand back toward her, rejecting her offering. "I'll make us dinner."

"There's food here, too?"

"Yes."

He moved a short way away from her then and used his power to create a bowl-shaped indentation in the floor. Then, he brought out more supplies from the back, including a bowl filled with root vegetables. He handed Liz a knife and together they cut up the vegetables into small, bite-sized pieces and dropped them into the bowl-shaped indention. Rath poured a small amount of water over the vegetables. Then he heated a bunch of clay cooking balls until they were very, very hot and mixed them in with the cut vegetables. He waved his hand over the indentation with the vegetables, creating a solid rock cover, which sealed the food inside so that it would cook.

Liz was not unfamiliar with this way of cooking. She had done this thousands of times during the war herself. It was a very Antarian way of cooking and it was a good way to heat food without making a fire, which could potentially give away their position to their enemy.

She wondered, though, who had left the food and the clay balls for them?

But she did not ask. Instead she went and sat at the mouth of the cave to watch the "sun" drop out of the sky through the protective vines and wait for the first stars to make their appearance in the sky, content to rest in silence while Rath's dinner stewed in its rock container.

Rath joined her, coming to sit behind her. He pulled her against him and wrapped his arms around her, and Liz leaned back to rest her head on his shoulder.

It's your dinner, too, he telepathed.

Liz was sure it would be. No doubt Rath would insist she eat.

They sat for a while in companionable silence, happy to watch the night fall in each other's company. For a while the world below grew quiet as the wild animals found a place to settle in for the night, but once darkness began to descend an entirely new set of creatures awoke and once more the world became alive with strange and exotic sounds, creating a beautiful melody like nothing she had ever heard before on her Earth.

When she had woken that morning (on Earth, that is), she had never suspected she would find herself on an entirely different world. There was such a sense of unreality about it all. She felt so out of place - belonging to two different timelines of Earth, having been befriended by and transported by the great Entity Imabuli, and actually being able to see with her own eyes the wonderful world of Antar so empty of people and dragons yet filled with whispers emanating from the mysterious Wiekoma. Emotionally, psychologically, mentally - she did not know how to make sense of all of it in her mind.

If only Max was there for her to talk to.

Liz startled when Rath's voice broke through her thoughts. "When did you stop wanting to eat?" he asked.

She put her hand over her heart. "You startled me."

"When, Liz?" he asked again, undeterred.

"None of us ate much during the war," she said softly.

But that was not the answer Rath was looking for. "You ate at first," he said, "whatever we could find."

It was true. They had eaten at first. They took food from the markets that were no longer open and from gardens that were no longer attended to. They killed livestock and wild animals they found. And she had eaten then. She was hungry.

When food became scarce, she was even more hungry. The soldiers tried to make sure she ate first because she was their queen - their aiza - but she would not let them because by then she had learned to value their saying: "Cless'a ia modhai ahamo kayam cless'a ta." /The needs of others before my own./ She still ate; she just made sure they ate first. She had to keep her army strong.

They found tasteless field rations at military bases. They gathered wild growing things from the land. Even insects were not exempt from their foraging. She got used to eating very strange things, things she would never have considered eating before. She did not even think about it after a while, at least until…

"Khivar's ship," Rath said, putting the pieces together at last. "It was on Khivar's ship, wasn't it? That's when you stopped wanting to eat." His words were gentle, but pointed, and she sensed his determination to get answers.

She did not want to tell him. She did not want to talk about it at all. Living on Khivar's ship… Having to cope with the inventive things he did to her each day…

She sat forward and would have moved away from him, but Rath prevented her by a mild reprimand: "There's no place to run". Gentle he curled his arms back around her and pulled her back to him and pressed her head back upon his shoulder. He soothed her telepathically, softly stroking her over and over until she relaxed against him. He was very good at that.

"Tell me," he tried again.

But when she was quiet, he prompted her again. "I saw what happened in the benguela. I saw the things he did to you…"

Despite the safety of his arms around her and the comforting telepathic caresses, she shivered.

He held her tighter.

Things.

He certainly had done things to her, things that still played out in her nightmares.

"He gave me hamamelis," she said after a moment. A little bit, Khivar explained, acted as a relaxant. A lot, however, acted paralytically. But it did not just paralyzed her body; it paralyzed her mind too. She was not able to shut down her empathic ability. The terrifying physical paralysis usually wore off after an hour or so, but the mental paralysis could last for days.

She swallowed the lump forming in her throat.

"How could I eat when I could feel the people around me starving? When their hunger never let me feel full?"

"So, you stopped feeling hungry."

"Oh… I don't know what I did. I just didn't feel their hunger anymore."

"And you didn't feel your own either."

"No."

Khivar had come up with many other creative torments besides the appalling starvation of the prisoners with which to torture her, and through her Max.

"I hate him," she said softly, emotion coloring her voice. "I hate him so much."

Rath was quiet after that, thinking deep, worrisome thoughts that Liz could feel but not see.

As for her own thoughts, her own ugly memories, she pushed them away and tried not to think about them.

The stars became visible and began to twinkle through the vines. There were too many vines for Liz to see the constellations clearly, but she enjoyed watching what she could see of the tiny sparkles.

Liz began to grow sleepy after a while, comfortable as she was in Rath's warm embrace, and her eyelids began to droop.

"Hey, none of that now," Rath said softly.

"Tired. Long day," she murmured. And he made a good pillow.

But Rath rubbed her arms a bit to rouse her. "Look up," he ordered gently.

She did and drew breath in surprise when she saw that the nalumsibes'a threads, one after another, were lighting. The whole cave became bathed with their soft glow. And down below, the phosphorescent pool was illuminated with a blush of slowly swirling colors and tiny twinkling reflections of the glowing threads.

She angled her head upward so that she could see Rath's face. "It's beautiful," she said. "Onséi arabana." /Absolutely beautiful./

I hoped you would like it, he telepathed, gazing down at her.

"I do."

He smiled down at her in the dim light.

"We need to eat," he said gently.

Liz nodded.

They moved to the back of the cave again. Liz was exhausted and felt like she had to drag herself, but she did not mind really. Being that tired… that was a good thing. It meant that when she finally did get to go to lay down she would fall asleep quickly and deeply, probably too deeply to recall any dreams.

Rath handed Liz some stones - stones that clearly must have been transported there as they were colored differently than any of the rock surfaces in the cave - and he waited for her to produce pretty bowls from them.

When she was done, Rath opened up the cave floor and they used the bowls to scoop out the cooked vegetables. They ate the vegetable mixture with their fingers as was the Antarian custom.

"Want more?" Rath asked hopefully of Liz when she had finished.

But she shook her head. "No. Thank you." It had tasted good (that had surprised her) but she was not hungry. Not really. She was just very, very tired.

Rath only nodded his acknowledgment and took seconds for himself, resealing the remaining dinner beneath the cave floor once more after he had done so. His own exhaustion was once more flowing through their connection.

Liz set her bowl aside and waited. It was not cold in the cave but she preferred a warm body to snuggle up to for warmth.

When Rath finished, however, he surprised her yet again when he brought out some hecué'a /furs/ from the darkened recess at the very back of the cave. Liz helped him to spread them out in a circular shape (the usual shape for an Antarian bed) on the floor near the phosphorescent pool.

Without another thought, the two curled up next to each other on the soft hecué'a. Rath pulled more hecué'a to cover them and then draped his arm over Liz, pulling her close to him. Lulled by the warmth, the gentle trickle of water that slipped down the cavern wall to the shallow pool, and the soothing sounds of the forests above and below them, they fell quickly asleep.






*Lucid Dreaming and the Art of Dreaming Creatively by Pamela Ball, ©2000 by Arcturus Publishing Limited, Kindle edition published 2008 by Arcturus Publishing Limited, 151-153 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3HA
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