Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Fantasy  ➡  Paranormal  ➡  Science fiction  ➡  Military

Into Darkness

p<{color:#000;}.

Into Darkness

 

The Song of the Lorekeeper

 

Book 1

 

 

Patricia Renard Scholes

Copyright © December 2015 Patricia Renard Scholes

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No portion of this work may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the explicit written consent of the author and the author’s publisher. This work contains people who have been used in a fictionalized setting for the purpose of historical reference. Any resemblance to persons living or deceased is used strictly for the embellishment of the story to lend creditable influence to the fictionalized work. The copyright laws of 1988, namely the Berne Convention Copyright Laws of 1988, and the Digital Millennium Copy Right Act of 1998, enacted by Congress protect this work from piracy and any transmission, trade, or sale through means electronic, printed, shared, or otherwise is strictly prohibited and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

ISBN-13: 9781523321964

ISBN-10: 1523321962

DEDICATION

 

 

This book is dedicated to the many talented people out there. The truly talented know that it is not their abilities that make them unique and valuable, but their availability to the Maker of All.

 

 

 

In its ebook form, this book is permanently free. I want everyone to have a chance to enjoy their first taste of this new series, The Song of the Lorekeeper.

The next three books in this series are finished, with eight more planned, so it may take a while to get through them. Don’t miss out.

The next three books in this series are:

Counterweave

 

New Thread in the Tapestry

 

Broken Thread

CONTENTS

 

 

table=. =. |=.
p>{color:#000;}.  

|=. p={color:#000;}. Acknowledgments |=. p<{color:#000;}. | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 1 |=. p<{color:#000;}. The Nightmare |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 2 |=. p<{color:#000;}. The Man in Assassin Black |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 3 |=. p<{color:#000;}. Exceptional Service Rendered |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 4 |=. p<{color:#000;}. Restrictions |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 5 |=. p<{color:#000;}. Growing Alarm |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 6 |=. p<{color:#000;}. Deceptive Assignment |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 7 |=. p<{color:#000;}. Managing the Heiress |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 8 |=. p<{color:#000;}. Double Meanings |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 9 |=. p<{color:#000;}. The Duties of a Life Weaver |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 10 |=. p<{color:#000;}. Third Mistake |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 11 |=. p<{color:#000;}. Watching from a Distance |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 12 |=. p<{color:#000;}. An Unusual Ability |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 13 |=. p<{color:#000;}. Strange Clothing |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 14 |=. p<{color:#000;}. An Unidentified Wrongness |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 15 |=. p<{color:#000;}. A Reason for Avoidance |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 16 |=. p<{color:#000;}. The Arrangement |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 17 |=. p<{color:#000;}. Beginning the Absorption Process |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}. 18 |=. p<{color:#000;}. The Hidden Place |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}.   |=. p<{color:#000;}.   |=. p<{color:#000;}.   | =. |=. p>{color:#000;}.   |=. p<{color:#000;}.   |=. p<{color:#000;}.   |

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

 

This list is endless. My husband provided me the time and space to turn this work into a reality. My children have always been my fans. Lisa is an inspiration as well as a great beta reader. Patsy is a terrific proof reader. And all my friends who cheer me on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

the nightmare

 

 

Zilla gasped at the intensity of the dream. In the dream, darkness flooded the City, then grew until it covered the whole planet. At its center stood a blank-eyed Tadessa, the Krindarwee Daughter. Instead of saving her people, as she was born to do, she betrayed them. A Zocassari roared with laughter as it played Tadessa like a puppet on strings. Everything the entity wanted, the mindless doll complied.

She lay in bed, stilling herself with deep breathing. Khaadi, she prayed. Is this a true dream, or just a possibility?

She remembered when her people had asked for a Daughter. Visitors from the stars assaulted them with horrendous weapons, capturing children, killing or enslaving the adults. The harassed people gasped out prayers of deliverance, and they ran. They ran into the forests, asking their Nulls to hide them.

The overworked Nulls fell asleep while on watch, and the Neevee came with huge transports large enough to capture whole villages. Elders tested the villagers to find more Nulls with fields large enough to hide whole villages. Most failed the tests, and the enemy captured more villages. In the southland, people learned new, alien, ways, such as slavery, war, and desperation. Hundreds of thousands of people fell to the Grey-Skins.

The free forests of the southeast turned into farms and ranches, the Neevee gobbling up territory as quickly as a baskeg’s unborn devoured its host. In addition to slavery and war, however, the Neevee brought a far more sinister invader with them as they conquered the planet, setting up Sector Cities, driving all who roamed the countryside into their cities, coercing them to do their bidding. Incorporeal entities accompanied the Neevee with persuasive words that seduced the people with lies.

“These things should not be!” she told Simbal, her best friend, a Thread Weaver, the one who perfected the skills of the Many-Threaded.

Zocassari,” he agreed. “Those-Who-Should-Not-Exist. They are an affront to Khaadi’s design. The Neevee know about them. They brought them to us because they believed them to be as common every as sand is on the beaches, thinking that we, also, knew they existed.”

“But we don’t…”

“My Sister.”

She silenced.

“They know how to resist them. They teach their children from infancy in this skill.”

“Then we must do the same!”

He nodded. “The Zocassari feed off negative emotions. They love our despair and are drawn to it. So far, very few of us have been affected because we choose not to harbor negative emotions for long. Instead of deliverance, however, we must ask Khaadi for a Deliverer.”

“A Daughter,” Zilla said, exhaling a sigh of relief. A way to defeat these enemies existed after all.

“Khaadi has answered those prayers before, although our first ‘daughter’ was Janolly, the young male who taught us how to hide inside this image.” He gestured to his body, laughter in the back of his mind.

“I’ve read, and sung, the tapestries,” she said, a little disgruntled. “Lateka, the next Daughter, brought Janolly’s invaders to the Mother Tree who changed them into the Zarindan.”

He laughed out loud. He loved to banter with her in this way, stating the obvious as if he addressed a child.

In retaliation, she named the next four Daughters, all born to meet a crisis. As they laughed together, others in the village drew around them. Simbal presented their solutions, causing those who heard to laugh with them, in relief.

As one, the whole village prayed for Khaadi to send a Daughter to not only release them from slavery, but to defeat the Zocassari, a seemingly formidable task. But with a Daughter, who knew how Khaadi would provide?

All those stories are in our songs and tapestries, Zilla reminded herself as she dressed in a hurry to call the Elders.

This Daughter has taken a most circuitous route. She became known as the Second Daughter, after the First Daughter was adopted by a Neevee couple right after birth. Tadessa, the Second Daughter, learned both her mother’s Irelli heritage as well as her father’s Krindarwee ways. Who expected Tadellin to be offered a second seed when the Many-Threaded were so rarely provided more than a single child? Tadellin, called Snake by the Irelli, spent the remainder of his short life teaching Tadessa Krindarwee ways.

Then the Neevee General adopted her away from both her mother and her father. She now knew the ways of three peoples. Not for the first time Zilla questioned Khaadi’s logic. Shouldn’t the Daughter be all Krindarwee?

This time, however, an alien species, more alien in culture than even the Neevee, threatened to overtake her. If a way existed to stop them, Zilla intended to find it.

She put on a coat and added leggings over her plastiform clogs before she entered the dark winter morning. How she hated this northland with its short winter days and constant cold. Even the summers failed to bring enough warmth. She pounded on the door of the reigning elder until he answered.

He opened the door, blinking away the sleep that still clouded his mind. She touched her forehead in respect. “Beneree.”

He repeated the gesture, but said instead, “Come in, Grandmother. Will you breakfast with us?”

She hesitated. “I don’t mean to be rude, Lafwellen.” She hesitated again. “Yes. I’ll have a little something with you and your family, but time slips by as we tarry.”

“What is it?”

“The Daughter is in danger. We must assemble the elders and plan how to counter this.”

“Why didn’t you announce this with mind speech?”

“Because the Xantis Tey listen,” she said.

He gestured dismissal. “They are just another invasion force, like the Neevee.”

“No,” she said. “Compared to these new people, the Neevee are no more than an irritant.”

He stared at her. Nevians had enslaved their people in Sector One. “An irritant?”

She nodded.

He jerked his head toward the back. “Marre, send Bessimi to the others. No mind speech. We meet now. We meet here. I will fix us breakfast.”

Zilla made them tea. She needed something to keep her mind busy, away from her fears. As she pulled her thoughts toward Khaadi, the fear began to dissipate.

The dream was a warning, she realized, not a vision of the future. Khaadi’s will still prevails. Why must I always remind myself of that?

By the time all of them arrived, Lafwellen sat them at his family’s low table, filled with enough food for twice their number. After breakfast, he sent his family away, cautioning them to silence. No one wanted these new invaders to know anything at all about the Krindarwee. Everyone understood. Most had lived their lives under the threat of extinction.

Zilla raised her arms to pray. “Khaadi, we thank you for your gifts, not only for the food you provided, but for the wisdom you will offer as we discuss this issue. We honor you with gratitude. Teach us how to align ourselves with your will, because we know you have already worked out the solution. Our lives are yours.”

“Our lives are yours,” the Elders replied.

“I had a dream, a nightmare, rather,” she began. As she shared it with them, she also explained she doubted the nightmare was a true vision, but a warning. They all knew her gift, and that she was never wrong in her predictions.

But a foreboding vision was something else. She hoped her people would be given the ability to overcome such a horrible future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

the man in assassin black

 

 

The man in assassin black attacked the girl in red silk. Twice her weight, his reach longer, he gave her no slack. His thrusts, coming close enough to kill, flashed toward her in fury. Still, she matched him block for thrust. Each time his knife came close, she kept his blows from connecting to vulnerable places like her neck, chest and face. He watched as her eyes took in each flicker of movement.

The band at her brow held her damp, braided curls away from her eyes. The red silk that flew around her tossed droplets of sweat. He hoped to push past her barrier, to bloody his knife on her smooth skin. Only one other person had done so, years ago. She killed him.

Her knife caught a stripe of white hair at his temple, tearing it loose from its binding. Why go for my hair and not my neck, he wondered? Why give me this advantage?

The lock of hair swung across his face. He refused to let it distract him.

The next instant he slashed his knife in return, aiming not for the hair at her temple, but for the sweet, young flesh of her neck.

An exchange of red and black silk blurred as they battled faster than Normal eyes could follow.

“Enough!” The man smoothed the lock of hair back into the knot at the nape of his neck, his chest rising and falling with exertion.

The girl did not lower her guard until he bowed. Then she returned the bow, student to master.

“You possess the ability to best me, Chalatta,” he said. “But you always hold back. You never go for the kill. Why is that?”

“Am I supposed to want to kill you?” She took deep breaths.

Sweat ran in little rivulets down her neck and back, sticking the red silk to her skin, showing that she still possessed the figure of a child, even at nineteen. According to her mother, she had not yet come into her womanhood. This bothered him. Being a child, she needed protection from what would come this day, or learn to protect herself, neither of which seemed likely.

He laughed at her question. “I hope not, Chalatta, but the thrust that loosened my hair should have nicked the skin of my neck. Why aim for my hair?”

“I… Father, I can’t…”

“Yes. I know. My question is why?”

“The Krindarwee don’t kill.” She said. “You pose no danger to me. Even if you suddenly became irrational with rage, I would still have trouble harming you.”

“So you’ve mentioned before.” He stared at the curved scar beneath her cheekbone, given to her by her mother’s brother, just before little twelve-year-old Chalatta killed him. Next, she destroyed the Moloch who once dominated his mind. She never demonstrated her incredible Talent afterward, not in all these years.

She returned his stare in question.

“Let me ask you. What if your enemy came at you in smiles, with charm and persuasion? What if this person wanted, not your death, but your subversion?” He laced his words with energy to make sure she never forgot them.

She opened her mouth, but no words came. In that moment, she looked so childlike, so innocent, it took all his resolve not to whisk her away into hiding, no matter the consequences.

“At least I know you have no restrictions against killing your enemies, although that hasn’t been tested since you were a child,” he said instead.

“That one time,” she said. “I showed you what it meant for me to be Krindarwee.” And you rejected it, he heard her mind echo.

Maybe so, he thought from behind his shield. Instead, he tried to replace her heritage with his own, to keep her safe, not to reject her identity. The militant faction, strong in Sector One, would have destroyed her years ago if they had seen what she did that night. A part of her understood that, but now she struggled.

Her abilities soared beyond anyone he ever knew. He wanted to see it again, so each time they practiced, he pushed her as hard as possible. She always defended herself well, but she never attacked.

“Besides, you’re Nevian.”

“Nevian! I am your father! When will you get past that ridiculous restriction?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “My Krindarwee father placed the restriction so long ago, when it was dangerous for the Krindarwee to show Nevians our abilities.”

He paused, recognizing the truth in her statement. “It still is, except here in Sector Five. However, as you said yourself, I’m not dangerous to you, yet you still refuse to press forward in your attacks. I do not understand.”

“Even after all this time you still don’t know me?”

He watched her eyes flash in uncharacteristic anger. She followed her ire with something even more uncharacteristic. She sang the Song to him.

He knew the Song existed. Before taking the assignment here in Sector Five, he lived in Sector One. The Sector One slaves sang it daily. From all reports, they still did. It vibrated like an undercurrent throughout the whole Sector, all day and all night. Never free from it, some abandoned their holdings rather than listen to the incessant humming.

His daughter, who lived her whole life in this northwestern-most Sector, who never once stepped foot in the tropics of Sector One, sang it to perfection as if she lived it. Her voice, clear and sweet, rang with more than the words. She pulled in the scents of flowers, the melodies of birds, even the heat and humidity of her Krindarwee father’s southeastern forest home, even though his was a land she had never experienced. She allowed him to feel their longing to live in free exercise of how they once lived, and the constant caution within which all of them now existed. She made him ache with sadness.

We are Krindarwee.

The Krindarwee are peaceful.

The Krindarwee do not kill others created for Life.

We do not kill.

We do not wage war.

We never let the Enemy know how powerful we really are.

We hide our threads from them.

We never direct the full thrust of ambigah to harm others.

We obey the First Rule.

We never force our will on another.

We obey the Second Rule.

We are Krindarwee.

Stunned, General A’nden stared at the girl he adopted. His eyes fell again to the scar beneath her cheekbone. No matter her mood, its curve gave the impression she smiled. Right now, when he searched the surface of her mind, he felt her frustration with him. This, too, she had never shared with him.

“Shower and dress,” he said instead of voicing his rising alarm. “Your mother waits to breakfast with you.”

He watched her rush toward the showers, wondering how that one young girl amazed him so often. He realized that even after all these years he understood almost as little as on the day of her adoption. Since the adoption, he helped her conform to her new culture, his Nevian heritage. She learned everything he taught her, but she remained Krindarwee, not safe at all.

The Intergalactic Faj, unable to understand her inability to harm them except as a defense, would notice that her Talent refused to conform to the Discipline. If they attacked, she would then defend herself with deadly force. He had watched her do it once. He had not seen her become dangerous since.

He wondered how to keep her unharmed. Representatives from the Faj ate breakfast in the formal dining hall at this very moment.

Not just representatives, as if their new guests carried diplomatic charters, but Xantis Tey, relatives of the High Emperor himself. A’nden stared at the door to the lockers and sighed in defeat. He wished for one last action to save her.

General A’nden’s shoulder brushed against Prince Salettin’s as the general exited the men’s side of the locker room.

The prince bowed. A’nden returned it, a deep bow reserved for royalty. “Your Majesty.”

“You trained her well. I’m impressed.”

A’nden nodded, keeping his face neutral, hiding his hatred for the man’s species. They not only conquered those around them, they Absorbed them. Eventually, no other culture would remain on this planet. All the people groups, including his own, would be Xantis Tey, enslaved, or dead.

As for Chalatta’s skill, it took very little to train the girl. Her time on the streets, with her biological father’s instruction in self-defense, left only refinement. She told him Snake started teaching her soon after she turned seven. By the time A’nden adopted her, she excelled. He wished her new enemies were as easy to identify as the Blades she had killed as a child.

“Thank you,” he said, “but she needed very little from me.”

Salettin nodded, a gesture of dismissal, and walked away.

A’nden stood still, deep in thought, no match for the authority-backed smiles of the invading enemy. We were promised our own planet, he thought, but on a whim, the High Emperor sent his cousin to rule us. The General knew, and taught, skill in battle, but none of his training prepared him for this kind of an onslaught.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

 

exceptional service rendered

 

 

The general returned to his office, his jaw grim, his brow clouded in fury, glad that the Xantis Tey prince no longer stood to one side, eavesdropping. Even so, A’nden held his shield tightly against his mind. He recognized the waves of energy coming toward him as the young man probed to find out more about his daughter. Although relieved that he never pushed past A’nden’s shield, and grateful that his true emotions failed to show, even in his body language, he felt helpless.

He sat at his desk and searched through every communication that had flown from him to the young man, examining each one with extreme care. What could I have said differently? Where did I err?

This one, the thought as he pulled up the very first missive the Xantis Tey prince sent, and returned it to the file. A greeting, nothing more. He found no hidden message, nothing that indicated a problem of misinterpretation.

One by one he brought page after page on his screen, examining each one closely, and found nothing. General A’nden, who had faced in battle enemies of several species, sweated in desperation to find one small thing that would save his daughter.

Finding nothing, he stood and closed the screen. He messaged his elite, scheduling an exercise for later in the day. “In the training room,” he said, his voice filled with anger. Maybe if their guests saw how military-ready his forces were, they would not pursue this course of action.

The General had given his life to the Intergalactic Faj. Born the second son in the A’nden House, his father sent him to military school. He never envied his older brother who inherited all their Holdings. His time in the military filled a special need inside him. He excelled, worked his way up in ranks, gaining medal after medal until his collection nearly covered his chest when he wore them all.

When their sun became unstable, and more and more of their young ones lost their fertility, they requested permission to settle on the newly discovered planet in yet a third galaxy. Most Nevians had already moved off-planet into the core planets, but those who remained wanted to preserve their heritage.

The High Emperor agreed, giving them time to conquer the planet and bring it under Faj domination. After that time, the Faj would send a ship to collect the required tithe to the intergalactic empire. With all contracts signed, the charters filed, the Nevians conquered this outpost and took control.

Almost took control, the General reminded himself. Two people groups fell readily to the takeover, the Zarindan and the Irelli. True, pockets of resistance still plagued them, but in time all would fall to the might of the Faj, A’nden never doubted.

The Krindarwee remained a problem. The planet nearly hummed with their energy, even after their enslavement. Captured Krindarwee, quiet, respectful, peaceful, resisted in ways no one expected. While they accepted slavery, they retaliated with the Song, a constant reminder that they remained unconquered, and that their conquerors were monsters for violating their freedom. No matter what changed around them, the Krindarwee refused to change. They remained true to their culture.

However, they resisted in still another way. They failed to reproduce while in slavery. The youngest slaves were now in their fifties. No one knew what to do about it. It was as if they determined to die out before they bowed to their rulers.

What A’nden found puzzling about them was that it appeared that when one of them chose an action, such as the Song, all the Krindarwee knew it. Chalatta had never once come into contact with any Sector One slaves, yet she sang it perfectly. He wondered how the Krindarwee would eventually interact with the Xantis Tey.

A’nden’s chest tightened. Even though Chalatta knew every nuance of Nevian culture, she remained Krindarwee. Her mother said she prayed to her deity every time they ate breakfast, not that A’nden would ever refuse her to exercise her faith, but it was a reminder that no matter what she learned, her loyalty remained with her people.

The Xantis Tey would change that. It was their way. A’nden, frustrated and afraid for her, strode out of his office to return to the exercise floor to help the trainers with the new group of Security Watch recently hired. He needed to release his anger before he revealed his position to the Faj.

Then he sighed. The Emperor and his son probably already knew, and probably laughed at his impotent rage. They never needed to punish him for his attitude when they controlled his ability to express it.

Be a good little soldier, he reminded himself, clenching his jaw. The Intergalactic Faj rewarded those who complied. Maybe the Xantis Tey would too.

But he wished with all his heart they never required his daughter be the sacrifice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

 

restrictions

 

 

After dressing in a day gown of sunny yellow, Tadessa mulled over her father’s words, still irritated. He knew about her conflicts with Blades while she lived on the streets with her biological father, Snake. She never wanted to kill anyone, but Blades remained relentless in their attacks on those with Krindarwee-dark skin, even on those of obvious half heritage, such as hers.

The worst incident, a story she never told even her mother, occurred the year before her Nevian father stole her away from Snake. The event exploded in their faces without warning. As they stepped out of an airway, their backs to the entrance, a group of about thirty Blades surrounded them on three sides, most blending into the shadows as dusk stole the light.

She felt her father’s fear. Back to back, he told her in mind speech, as they eased into the first steps of the Dance, pulling their knives.

The Blades sprang toward them. They rushed the little girl and her father, attempting to bludgeon them with their numbers as well as their knives and clubs. She and her father, their sharp knives flashing at hands, wrists and arms, their feet leaping to strike an unprotected belly or throat, fought back in desperation. Daddy Snake halted two with his mind while he fought two more. Tadessa stopped a knife before it reached the skin on her neck, while she kicked the knee of another. They slashed in a blur of energy. Blood flowed each time she or her father connected with a Blade’s skin until the ground became slippery.

As suddenly as it began, the battle stopped. The remaining Blades fled. Those unable to flee tried to crawl away, but many bled into the ground, dying or dead.

Tadessa vomited into the carnage. She always did. Death, even the death of an enemy, violated her to her core. She wept for the fallen.

Tears clouded her eyes again as she remembered that battle. With his military background, her Nevian father never understood how much “going for the kill” cost her, no matter how many times she explained it.

She swiped at her tears before taking one last glance in the mirror, pausing to admire the yellow day gown she selected for today, her favorite color. She touched the yellow ribbon she wove into the dark braid she wound around her head. Her half-sister, S’ar Wenda, laughed at her refusal to call one of her maids to iron and style her hair, but Tadessa preferred not to waste the time when she found it easier to braid it herself. She resented this evening’s formal dinner, when her family entertained the representatives from the Intergalactic Faj. She wondered what kind of an elaborate hair style Sentille, her maid, would choose. That irritated her too. So much angst, she thought, afraid of it. Everything upsets me today.

Tadessa quickened her steps. Right now, she needed to hurry to breakfast if she intended to see her mother at all. Mama’s office as High Commissioner kept her far busier than either one of them liked.

As she left the training room her two bodyguards fell into step behind her. She let her mind drift back to them, skimming their surface thoughts. For some reason they were hyper-alert today. Dedicated, serious, they scanned everything around them, as well as her back, as if they expected trouble. Their vigilance concerned her. Surly the presence of the Emperor’s family was no more than another affair of state. Her family had hosted numerous events for visiting dignitaries, making the necessity of two guards instead of just one. Usually Lance Winn and Brint Shuwey took turns guarding her, except when her family entertained visitors. She expected their presence, just not their excessive watchfulness.

She wanted to ask them, but knew they would refuse to answer. Colonel Berti, who scheduled the A’nden House guards, forbade them to socialize with her, no small-talk, no questions. That was easy with Officer Winn who never showed emotion, and always kept her at arm’s length. Officer Shuwey, on the other hand, sometimes allowed a small smile to touch him, especially when she addressed him as Brint and not Officer. His smile brightened his blue eyes, and seemed to give his brown hair and freckles a bit of a sparkle as well.

Fanciful thinking. They are my bodyguards, not my suitors.

But sometimes she wondered how curling into Brint’s arms would feel. She imagined his blue uniform jacket slung across a chair, and his pale blue shirt unbuttoned. She sat on his lap and ran her fingers through the thick brown hair on his head…

She shoved the image away, hurrying faster. Although late for breakfast, she halted the impulse to run. Running is not appropriate for ladies in her position, she had been told often enough. Instead, she strode briskly down the hall toward the elevators.

She found it hard to follow all the rules. She knew them, how to stand, when to bow, how keep her language acceptable while making her body convey a hundred different contrary emotions. Every movement expressed something.

Her mother could give a compliment while her body mocked the same person. No more Nevian than Tadessa, she used Nevian body language with extraordinary skill. More than one person fled from her mother’s presence, either afraid or embarrassed, some of them in tears, even while Mama’s words said nothing objectionable. Tadessa admired her mother’s grasp of Nevian culture—some of the time.

Mostly, Tadessa just wished none of the posturing and innuendo was necessary.

Today, however, Tadessa struggled with everything. All her emotions felt too intense. Her father didn’t know how close she came to hurting him. In a split-second decision, she moved the knife from its intended target, his neck, to the stripe of white hair at his temple. She knew his speed, gauged it, and could have slipped past his response, too easily. The slice she intended, deep enough to kill, would have come too quickly for him to counter. A growing vicious part of her wanted to break free from all the restrictions, and cause havoc, just the opposite of how she lived. She had no idea what to do with herself today. Something hung in the air, a menace without a name that seeped into everyone’s actions and left her emotions on edge.

The reason she felt it necessary today to be totally Krindarwee evaded her. It grated on her that her father wanted to force her into his Nevian mold, even though she never felt that way before. By now she surely knew he would never grasp her Krindarwee culture. This wasn’t the first time she had allowed him to see her as fully Krindarwee, and watch as he turned from it. Still, she should never have sung that way, in full expression the way Daddy Snake taught her. When he still lived, Snake read from the Tapestries the way she sang the Song. He made them come alive in scent, sound and color, wind, water and sun. But she hadn’t sung the Song to share her people’s sorrow with him. She had sung it to dig under his skin, to let him know that he couldn’t control her—that no one could.

What is wrong with me?

You need to come to me. The emotions you feel are natural, but they need guidance.

Zilla. She almost breathed a sigh of relief. Grandmother Zilla provided her the only connection she had with her people. Through her guidance, Zilla taught her more about being a Lorekeeper than either parent knew. I need to see my grandfather.

Yes. But before you lose control, you need to see me.

Tadessa sensed another, hidden, reason Zilla wanted to see her. A sudden urge to leave right now, this very moment, nearly overwhelmed her.

Yes! Zilla said, reading her emotion. Now, before it’s too late.

She stood in front of the elevator doors. Tadessa knew she could step into Null in an eyeblink and escape this place.

Brint pressed the elevator button. Neither one took their eyes off her. Both guards stepped through the doors with her. Lance pressed the button to the rooftop garden. They knew her schedule.

Too late?

In the next moment she desperately wanted to be with her mother, as if she were a child again, suddenly fearing her whole world might come crashing down.

Tadessa, come to me.

She heard the old woman’s urgency, and knew she needed to obey her. Her head felt hot, flushed with confusion. This, also, had never happened before.

You’re coming into your Time.

Her sister, S’ar, who had already passed her Time, told her that at first nothing seemed to happen. Zilla worked with her on control and submission to Khaadi’s will, nothing more. Tadessa felt less urgency about approaching her Time than with the unidentified urgency behind Zilla’s invitation.

The first part of a transition works slowly, giving the child time to learn control. It may feel as though you may not need my guidance for a while yet, but never underestimate the value of these primary lessons.

Later, she said.

Today, Zilla insisted.

She pushed the feelings aside and focused her attention on seeing her mother. Most mornings, in her mother’s garden retreat, she enjoyed Mama’s presence without being watched, as if the two of them were alone in the world. She cherished this part of her day. Not even Zilla’s mandate would keep her from this one appointment.

Two of Mama’s guards already stood outside the double doors. Their maroon D’ey Sol uniforms contrasted with the A’nden blues that always surrounded Tadessa. Adopted by General Del A’nden, Tadessa represented the A’nden House, while her mother, even though married to an A’nden, kept her D’ey Sol House colors. Mama had also kept her name, refusing to become an A’nden, no matter what society expected. Her name reminded people that a D’ey Sol still ruled.

Outside this retreat, servants and guards, busy with their appointments, littered the halls. Since the arrival of the Faj representatives, she never knew who might be listening, watching. Their guests arrived with even more servants. With all the preparations for tonight’s feast, her mother hired additional people to tend to their many guests.

Servants and guards, she mused, their constant presence frustrating her. They seemed to overhear everything. Tadessa could tell just by listening to their surface thoughts, floating thoughts, she had called them as a child.

Her guards, as was their custom, posted themselves outside the doors to the rooftop garden. The doors remained locked, even when K’arrala D’ey Sol sat inside alone. Aside from her parents, only Tadessa knew the code. She pressed it and paused to feel the quietness of this place as she entered. The doors locked behind her.

This arborium was Mama’s favorite place. K’arrala D’ey Sol, the Lady Commissioner of Sector Five, cherished these moments of peace away from the demands of the Council. She watched the seasons changed without feeling the weather. In this place the bitter winters never touched her. In the summer, the glass dome over the indoor garden allowed light, but never too much heat into the room. Tadessa loved this room too.

She placed a kiss on her mother’s cheek before taking the chair across from her at the small round table.

“Good morning, Mama.” She admired her mother’s elegant hairstyle. Piled in an elaborate weave and studded with garnets, her brown hair streaked with strands of silver, no longer showed the red and gold highlights that once lit it with warmth. Mama needed to get out in the sun more.

“Good morning, darling. Have some of the fruit fritter. It’s delicious.”

Tadessa scooped several fritter patties onto her plate. One smell of the aroma was enough to make Tadessa’s mouth water and her stomach growl in anticipation.

As was Tadessa’s practice, she raised her arms and gave a quiet prayer of thanks to Khaadi, her peoples’ deity. Her mother never corrected this daily ritual, even though her father forbade every other aspect of her Krindarwee heritage, to keep her safe. In every other place except Sector Five, being Nevian was the only way to avoid conflict with authorities from other Sectors, probably Faj authorities too.

“So how did your morning martial arts with your father go, Chalatta?”

Tadessa frowned at the name, not the question. Aside from her half-sister, she was the only one who still called herself Tadessa. Complaining always earned her a reprimand, so she kept silent.

Her mother’s name also changed since moving here. People addressed her by her title, sometimes even reciting all of it[*:*] “Lady Commissioner, K’arrala D’ey Sol, the adopted daughter of the deceased Master of the Discipline, Prince Virol D’ey Sol, the last Priest of the Formalist Path, and heir to the Imperial House.” She found that amusing when they went to that much trouble.

“The way it always goes.” Tadessa picked up her fork and cut into one of the fritters. “He’s upset with me because I never press forward in an attack.”

“Why don’t you? You fought Blades when you lived in the Area. You weren’t afraid to attack them.” Tadessa felt her mother’s gaze on the scar on her cheek. “You also defended yourself well against my brother’s assassins.”

Like her father, Mama seemed to have forgotten that the Krindarwee never killed except in self-defense.

“He’s not a Blade. Most Blades are Normals. I never tried to kill any of them. They had one thought: ‘kill the Krindarwee girl.’ All I ever needed to do was defend myself, and they made stupid mistakes that killed them.”

She always hated it. She wondered why her mother never seemed to remember how much the carnage sickened her, even when it consisted of stupid Blades.

To her delight the food was not cold. She dug in.

“Your father is more of a challenge, is that it? You let him beat you every time.”

“His ability with a knife, weapons, any of the martial arts, or even weaponless hand-to-hand combat challenge me, true. I match him each time we train. But I don’t press forward because he intends me no harm.”

“You can’t know what he’s thinking. He shields his thoughts from you, right?”

Tadessa never told either parent that it took no more than the single tug of a thread to know what her father thought, even though she refused to pry. It was rude to pry into the minds of others, Zilla insisted. Both parents underestimated her abilities, and she was very careful never to let them know the extent of her ambigah. Talent, she corrected a heartbeat later. They called it Talent. Only the Krindarwee used ambigah to refer to the use of her natural abilities. In her mind, however, ambigah, which literally meant The Threads of Life, was more accurate. Whether people possessed or lacked Talent, Khaadi gifted people with access to Life itself.

“He shields well,” she said. “Mostly I don’t press toward a kill because he’s Nevian, and the restriction remains never to let them know what I can really do.”

“You’re Nevian too, in culture, if not biogenetically. For some reason you don’t choose to accept that.”

They had been through this discussion before. Her mother never quite understood, no matter how many times Tadessa tried to explain it. “The restriction remains, Mama.”

“Why would that make any difference?”

“I’m Krindarwee. It makes a difference.” She needed to stop wasting her breath. Neither K’arrala nor Del seemed to hear her when she mentioned her race and culture. She wanted to scream in frustration.

Then she stopped the thought with a jolt of panic. She never wanted to scream in frustration before. For eight years now she lived with being a Krindarwee in a Nevian world, and it never bothered her to this extent before. What was happening to her?

Your Time is Crisis is approaching. You need to come to me.

No Talent survived adolescence without help. Being extraordinarily Talented, Tadessa needed Grandmother Zilla more than she needed anyone else right now, except her grandfather.

I will, she promised. Right after breakfast.

Then she made her second mistake of the day and sang into her mother’s mind too.

It wasn’t until Mama’s eyes widened in fear that she realized the severity of her mistake. Daddy Snake always made his wife forget when he shared his culture internally with her. For some reason, her mother never accepted the strength of his Krindarwee abilities. Mama had never heard the Song before. She had never smelled the flowers, heard the birds singing, or felt the heat and humidity of a southern forest. When Tadessa sang, she filled every sense with color and texture, scent and sensation, the way she learned it.

“No.” Mama got up from the table, still staring at her daughter. “No, you cannot be like that. You cannot be…”

“Like my father, my real father? Why not?”

“This is your world now. You don’t know how important it is for you to fit in here.”

“As in my life depends on it? I know it does, but I can’t stop…”

“Enough. We will not discuss this further, and you will never do…whatever it was you did…again. Do you understand me?”

Tadessa stifled a sigh. “Yes, Mama.”

“Finish your breakfast and then see Counselor B’sheer. He has planned a series of qualifying exams for today to determine which of the professions you are to enter. I will see you this evening at dinner.” She gave Tadessa a piercing look. “I meant what I said, Chalatta. Representatives from the Intergalactic Faj arrived early this morning. They will never allow you to explain your abilities to them.”

Tadessa did sigh then. “Yes, Mama.” She was not looking forward to the extensive dinner planned in their guests’ honor.

“That goes for the how you act around the help as well. We have hired dozens of extra people to see to our guests. Watch yourself.”

Tadessa said nothing. There was nothing to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5

 

growing alarm

 

 

K’arrala cursed under her breath as she watched her daughter leave. What does that girl think she is doing, displaying her Talent like that? Once they discover she has never been trained by the Discipline, they’ll kill her, and she knows it!

Instead of heading for the Council chamber where her advisors waited, she paced, wondering what to do. What upset her the most was that her husband had adopted their daughter years ago, making him her sole guardian. Legally, he possessed the right for all final say as to what happened to her daughter’s future, no matter what she wanted.

No, that wasn’t quite true. Sometimes no choices existed.

She returned to the small table and stacked the dishes and wiped away the crumbs. She, not her maids, took care of this place. This garden was a treasure, one she valued highly. No one except her family accessed this place. She made sure of it. Even the gardener needed her to escort him to care for the plants. She followed him about his duties until he finished.

After cleaning up, she entered the elevator to one of the lower floors where the Council waited for her presence. Before she entered, she swallowed a knot of fear and dismay. No one must know her struggle. Lives depended on it.

The Lady Commissioner K’arrala D’ey Sol entered the Council chamber, chin firm, head held high. Everyone rose. They sat as soon as she took her chair.

“Gentlemen, ladies.” She met everyone’s eye. “We will keep business short today because of tonight’s festivities.”

Several nodded.

“I want a report from the Wall,” she said, with a nod to Bre’nton Vicosal, the Councilwoman in charge of imports and exports.

“We have closed off the perimeter, sending all aircars back. We set up a parking area outside the Wall to hold them until traffic resumes. We are secure.”

K’arrala acknowledged the report. “Just a quick question. How is the Emperor’s villa progressing? He was advised not to start building his residence until spring.”

“They blasted a place for, I guess it was the foundation, but it was far deeper than seemed necessary to me. Then the snows came, and buried everything. The Emperor was not pleased. He made sure everyone knew it.”

“As if he could stop the weather.” K’arrala chuckled.

Several others echoed her humor.

“Well, let’s do what we can to keep him happy, but surely he knows that the structure will take a couple of years to finish.”

“In half a year they could move in, if they didn’t mind the chaos of construction going on around them.”

“They’ll need to wait for spring, now,” K’arrala said, still amused.

“Some say he’ll bring slavery to Sector Five,” Causwell True, Councilman for City Governance said, a frown knitting his brow.

“He will not. He does, of course, own his own slaves, and he brings them with him wherever he goes, but Sector Five will never take an active part in that particular abomination.”

“He’s Xantis Tey,” True said. “They get their way eventually.” He paused. “I hear.”

K’arrala gave a grim smile. “Not here, Master True.”

“I came across a publication regarding their people. It confirms what I just said. You might be interested.”

“I might,” she said, a thoughtful expression on her face. “Masters, Mistresses, I need not tell you that none of us are pleased that the Xantis Tey have invaded our planet, but we must make peace, wherever possible, without betraying our City Charter and the purpose that settled this community. They ask…” She cleared her throat. “They ask too much. They expect us to change not only our Charter but our way of life.” As Chalatta crossed her mind, she realized she fought tears. “Regardless, we will do what we can to promote peaceful solutions.” She swallowed again, surprised at how difficult it was, then forced a smile. “Wherever we can,” she said.

“We were promised out own planet.” The voice of Farlantuan Dutmi cracked slightly, his anger evident. “They take what I have worked so hard to achieve.”

She sighed. “I’m sorry they confiscated your land to build their mansion and grounds. You have other Holdings, I believe, and they did pay you a handsome amount?”

He stood. “I ask for permission to return to my wife who is not well. We will not be at this evening’s festivities.”

“Your attendance…”

“Is required, I know.” He sat back down. “We were promised,” he muttered. “We lost our planet to our errant sun, and now, it seems we will lose this planet as well.”

K’arrala said nothing. We all have our duties, she reminded herself. Finally she spoke, with reluctance. “I’m sorry, Master Dutmi. Someone must represent your House.”

“No one remains, Lady Commissioner.”

“The two of you are just past middle age,” she reminded them. “It’s not too late…” She stopped speaking. If they were human, they might still hope for progeny, but both Farlantuan and his wife were sterile, a leftover hazard of their unstable sun, and the hope for a future that brought them here.

“We were young when we left Nevia, too optimistic, it seems. Last year, when we finally came to terms with the reality that we would have no children, we petitioned to adopt a Krindarwee child, like you and your husband have, but none are available, we were told.”

“There are always Irelli children,” K’arrala said, not explaining that Chalatta was her natural child. Most people believed that she and Del had adopted her, a foundling from the Area streets.

“We know.” He paused, a twist of agony marring his face.

“Your attendance for tonight’s event is required, Master Dutmi. If the Emperor arrives and no one from your House is present, he will consider it a personal affront and confiscate the remainder of your holdings. Surely you know this.”

“I do, and yes, he will,” Dutmi said, his voice nearly a whisper. He stared into her eyes with a bleak expression. “Until it happened to me, I was unaware of what our people did to yours, Lady Commissioner. I’m truly sorry.” He stood again, and this time he walked to the door of the Council Chamber where he hesitated.

“You may place your resignation on my desk in the morning.”

“It’s on the table,” he said as he left the room.

It was then she noticed that on the table in front of his chair lay a single sheet of paper.

“Please hand it to me,” she said, addressing one of the people seated next to his.

She read it aloud.

To All Concerned,

In our public protest of any Xantis Tey taking what the High Emperor promised the Nevian people, we have withdrawn all support from them. They may have our land. This Sector may have our position. But we refuse to watch as they destroy what our people hold so dear, our own minds and our freedom. Our planet’s Charter clearly states we wanted no centralized government, and certainly no emperor ruling us. Furthermore, my wife and I refuse to succumb to any Xantis Tey mind control. We would rather be dead. Since no one remains to inherit our House, Home and Holdings, we relinquish it into the care of the Lady K’arrala D’ey Sol to distribute it as she sees fit. We will no longer take any part of this mockery.

Signed,

Farlantuan and Mirvel Dutmi

K’arrala stood in alarm. She raced for the door. “Master Dutmi!”

Colonel Motz, her Chief of Security, met her, entering as she attempted to leave.

“You must stop Master Dutmi!” she said.

The Colonel shook his head. “We found him and his wife in the public lounge,” he said. “They took poison. I came to tell you.” He handed her a note. “We found this on his lap.”

Better dead than living under Xantis Tey rule, the note read. This note is a public statement of what we think of the Emperor, his people and his entourage. We submitted a copy of our physical protest to the local new outlets. Our minds are our own. They will never be subject to Xantis Tey Absorption.

Barely holding herself together, the Lady Commissioner of Sector Five re-entered the Council Chamber. She noticed someone returning his letter of resignation to her place then withdrawing quickly. She took the letter of resignation and the suicide note, handing both to a page, her jaw clenched.

“When the Council finishes reading these, file them in the Archives,” she said. “These are a permanent record of protest.”

The page bowed, waiting for the now official, documents.

Still standing, she waited until they had all read both communications. We will find a way to defeat him, she told all of them in mind speech as she handed the documents to the page.

The page bowed, then hurried to scan and file them.

“The Council is dismissed,” she said aloud once everyone had read both. No one left smiling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6

 

deceptive assignment

 

 

Tadessa wanted to slip into Null as soon as she rounded a corner ahead of her guards, except the hall from the elevators ran straight to her study, no corners. She felt their eyes on her. Null worked best when no one watched.

Freshly fallen snow viewed through arched window along the hall caught her off guard. It sparkled the walkways like diamonds under the brilliant walkway lights. It mesmerized her. So beautiful, and so quickly gone. The Inner City’s heated walkways melted the glistening snow before her eyes.

She wanted to dart outside and run through it before it disappeared. Not once since moving here had she experienced the simple pleasure of playing in the snow. Instead, all her time needed to be dedicated to learning how to be Nevian. For an instant, completely by accident, she blinked into Null and back. She felt the startled guards behind her come to attention, renewing their focus on her. Usually she controlled her Null. Never once had she blinked out, even when startled. Always before, she chose when she wanted to disappear. It never happened by accident. I really need to see Zilla, she realized, wondering how to avoid the sudden tests. Once inside her study, it would be harder to leave this place.

She resented the sudden tests. True, she had never chosen a specific field of study. Even though she excelled in school, she considered her Nevian education, however interesting, as nothing more than busy work to satisfy her parents.

She turned around to face her guards. “I need to go to my suite,” she said.

“No, Mistress,” Officer Shuwey said. “We are under orders to escort you directly to your study.”

Evidently her split-second disappearance had startled him to over-caution. “But I need to get something.”

“Just tell me what it is,” he said, being as accommodating as possible. “I will fetch it for you.”

“As soon as we call another guard to take his place,” his partner added.

“Am I being watched?” Anger furrowed her brow.

“Yes, Mistress. Never before have the halls been filled with so many guests before. Suspicions as to their true motives abound. Our orders to keep you safely watched are strict.”

They included orders to keep her out of Null, she read from their surface thoughts. She jutted out her chin and proceeded to her study.

Her guards placed themselves outside the door as she entered. She stopped at one of the towering bookshelves and pulled out a favorite book. This side of her library contained fiction. The other side of the room contained history, finance, biographies, science and other academic books. She took her book to a reading area, one that let in sun soon after spring arrived in this northland. In the summer this was her favorite place, because the window opened to let in a fresh breeze. Not all the windows in this room opened.

Toward the back of the room clustered another grouping of chairs, and A’nton B’sheer’s desk. Counselor B’sheer, her mother’s legal and financial advisor, had been her first Nevian teacher.

“Good morning, Mistress Chalatta.” His smile was as bright as the walkway lights. “It seems I am, once again, in the position of being your tutor, although I suppose today ‘test monitor’ would be a more accurate term.” As he glanced at the book she held in her hand, he said, “I doubt you’ll have time to read a novel, however.”

Without an explanation, he shoved a book at her. The Xantis Tey Expansion, she read.

Put it in your desk and read it as soon as you’re able.

The caution startled her.

She sat at her desk, carrying both books. She opened the book Counselor B’sheer gave her to a random page.

Because the males require so many females to attend to their needs, they must constantly expand their territories. They enslave whole societies to fill their lusts and their desire for excessive progeny. A female Xantis Tey is required to bear at least six children. Divorce is not permitted. If she cannot bear the required number, the male will require his female slaves to do that duty. Although they have only one wife, common practice among the men is to have several female slaves in the household to bear children. If a female slave does not produce a child within five years, she is often sold.

 

The Xantis Tey value those with Talent. Even those born into slavery can be released if they demonstrate Talent. The male child will remain a slave until he reaches his majority. Male slaves may gain work in any Talent-dependent position, but it is rare for them to gain permission to marry, although they, also, may own female slaves. Their methods provide many Talented people in the workforce. The Talented female will be sold before her majority to a man willing to take her to wife. She will be cherished and protected, and will live the rest of her life in her husband’s family. Because divorce is forbidden, she cannot be replaced with another wife. She will never, however, be her husband’s only partner, since he will buy female slaves to fulfill his desires and his society’s progeny requirements.

 

This constant requirement for many females populating their society makes it necessary…

 

Confused, Tadessa closed the book and shoved it, along with the novel, into her desk, wondering why B’sheer had given her the book. A glance at him revealed nothing.

“You’re in for a busy day,” he said. “We’ll be doing a series of interest questionnaires, qualifying exams, personality evaluations, and so on. You should enjoy most of it, but it will take all day…”

At that moment a strange man entered the room. He leaned against the doorframe, a look of curiosity on his face. A shock of honey-blond hair, lit with a dash of copper, curled attractively over his forehead. Unlike her father’s, who kept his hair knotted at the nape of his neck, this man’s hair was too short to knot. Curls fell around his ears and brushed his collar. She couldn’t see the color of his eyes from across the room, and for an instant she wanted to. He wore a dark red jacket with gold trim over a pale gray shirt, and gray slacks with a dark red stripe down the outside of each pant leg, the stripe outlined with a thread of gold. A dark silk tie billowed down the front of his shirt and tucked inside his jacket. She thought it awfully ornate for daywear. Maybe he had an appointment later today.

“Your Imperial Majesty.” Master B’sheer bowed formally.

So he was one of the Faj guests. She eyed him with interest.

“I was not aware you would be here today, or any day, to tell you the truth. This is the young Mistress’s study.”

“I’m just observing,” he said as he straightened from the doorframe. “I was curious as to what the young Mistress was learning. I was informed that she had already graduated, years ahead of the rest of her class, and with honors.”

“Nevertheless, Majesty…” A’nton B’sheer stopped speaking when the man put a finger to his lips. His Imperial Majesty strode forward, a determined look on his face.

The young man pulled a chair next to Tadessa’s. “Pretend I’m not here.”

Ignoring him would be hard to do, since he was right at her elbow. His presence bothered her. She did notice that the centers of his blue eyes surrounding the pupil were yellow, like blueflowers. She frowned at him.

“Ah, so she shows emotion besides that bit of a mocking smile her scar gives her.”

Tadessa hadn’t been aware she had been keeping her face expressionless.

“I also understand the young Mistress studies martial arts with her father. Ken’di?”

“Also Fotu Jan, Mari’chen Diometin, among others.” She did not tell him that her classes always ended in her failure to “press forward in the attack.”

“I practice Fotu Jan also, and As’wendi Yom.”

“Why do you limit yourself to unarmed disciplines?”

“My masters tell me one cannot guarantee that a weapon will be available when one is attacked. Both martial disciplines have kept me alive so far. You missed my early morning workout. You would have been impressed.”

“I cannot see how.”

He ignored the slight. “Why do you practice so many? Oh, yes. Your father is a general. Maybe he should have adopted a son instead.” The young man laughed at his own joke.

“Mistress Chalatta Deena A’nden, may I present his Imperial Majesty Prince Salettin ba Tir, the son of our new Emperor.”

Disturbed by what she had just read, she didn’t rise, but nodded formally from her chair. She wasn’t about to allow this rude man think she would cater to him because of his position. Although B’sheer frowned at her flagrant show of disrespect, the man laughed as if delighted. “Stubborn, too.”

She met his eyes, surprised.

“I thought you finished school. What could you possibly be doing today?”

“Since she did not choose a career at the academy she will be doing some evaluation testing for career placement,” B’sheer said.

“I see. What kind of a career would an heiress have?”

“If she qualifies, she will be the page to the Lady High Commissioner.”

Tadessa shot a look at B’sheer. No one had told her that. Were today’s tests a sham? She sent out a thread, and as his mind reviewed the purpose of the exams, found that they were no more than a cover to make her believe that she qualified for the one thing Mama knew she would never do, have a hand in her mother’s politics. Worse, her father approved of these tests.

Confused and hurt, Tadessa rose to her feet, startling the men in the room. Her temper flared. She refused to be manipulated in this way!

“Mistress Chalatta.”

She did not turn at B’sheer’s call, but strode out of the room.

She, who before today never forgot anything, forgot about the guards at the door. Her plan had been to wrap herself in Null and disappear, but her guards followed as she flew down the hall. As soon as the hallway turned, she pulled Null around her, just in time. A maid came out of one of the rooms.

Null worked best when no one ever noticed the person in the first place.

Her guards never saw her disappear, but everyone knew she had been here only a moment ago. She would not be able to leave their thoughts.

Neither parent approved of her using Null, but right now she didn’t care.

Her planned to go to her suite and change into winter clothing, then leave for Zilla’s.

As if they read her mind, everyone, her two guards, B’sheer and that arrogant ba Tir man, all headed for her rooms as if they could see her. If she had chosen to use shadow, anyone of Talent, definitely B’sheer and probably the Emperor’s son, would still have been able to find her through her life pattern, a unique pattern of energy that remained visible to the Talented. Instead, with her inside a Null field, they shouldn’t have been able to follow.

How silly I am! They aren’t following. They are heading where they think I’m going next. I am far too predictable.

As if he decided she had gone into her suite, B’sheer shouted into her apartment, chastising her for her lack of manners. Prince Salettin and her guards said nothing as they stood behind her tutor.

She leaned against the wall across from her door as all of them rushed inside her sitting room behind B’sheer. Suddenly it all seemed incredibly funny, four men chasing after her in this way. She started giggling until tears ran down her face. Not even her parents knew she could hide sound also.

She waited until they left, then went inside, past the sitting room and into her bedroom. She moved a small end table out of the corner where it stood, and placed it to one side. Kneeling in the corner, she pulled up the carpet. Digging at the flooring under the carpet, she pried loose a floor panel. No one knew she made this hiding place in her suite. Soon after their move, her Nevian father ordered her to get rid of the things from her time on the streets with her father. Hidden under the flooring she secreted a locked box containing the items she carried in her pockets the day she arrived, a ball of string, a top and string, the jewelry Snake made to hide the fact that some of them were lock picks, stubs of candles and lighting sticks, the intricately carved knife Snake made to teach her how to use the Dance as defense, a real knife in its sheath and belt, and her flute that she used as a tool to reach her grandfather. Warm clothing wasn’t enough. If she intended to enter the Area, these were necessities.

Someone approached! Tadessa replaced the box, panel and the carpet, and adjusted the end table back into position. She let go of Null as she threw herself onto her bed, acting as if she had been weeping there.

“Daughter.”

Her father’s voice surprised her. She had expected B’sheer. She realized she should have used a thread to identify who approached. Why can’t I think of the most obvious things? Why wouldn’t I send out a thread? I’ve done that all my life. Why are my thoughts so chaotic today?

“Master B’sheer told me you ran out of the classroom.” He sat on the edge of her bed and stroked one of her shoulders.

She rolled over to face him. “The testing is pretense,” she said. “I read it from his thoughts. I don’t want…”

“There are a great many things in this life we don’t want.” His voice was gentle, not accusatory. His thumb stroked the scar under her cheekbone. “But we do what we must. Always.”

She threw herself into his arms as when she was much younger. A few tears leaked from her eyes and she wondered how to confront the confusion of this day. His dark blue uniform jacket scratched her face, but as always, his hands soothed her.

She wanted to talk to him about her uncharacteristic emotions, and sent out a thread first to examine his surface thoughts. Sometimes he was easier to talk to than her mother, and hoped this was one of those times.

Not her mother at all, but her father had orchestrated the farce of her new evaluations today. The realization startled her.

But there was something else at the back of his mind, something that worried him, and she found she could not access it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

7

 

managing the heiress

 

 

B’sheer watched his charge work on the sheets of questionnaires set before her, his heart heavy with sadness. He had watch this urchin from the streets blossom into a fine young lady, and had come to love her the way he imagined a father might love his child.

“She knew the purpose for the testing was fake.” General A’nden whispered to him out in the hall before he left.

“She has always known more than she should.”

“She must not know this. We cannot give the Emperor any advantage over us.”

“So we sacrifice her?”

A’nden hesitated. “I intended another future for her.” He stared at the closed door as if he could see her through it. “But she will lack for nothing.”

B’sheer couldn’t even nod. The General went to his own appointments, and B’sheer entered the room, pretending not to watch her as he returned to his desk. She ignored him, her mind as closed as a prison gate. In that moment, he held gratitude for only one thing—the Xantis Tey prince seemed to be nowhere near.

The silence in the room disturbed him. Always before, except when engrossed in reading, she interrupted the silence with questions, searching for his opinion. She paid attention when he answered, taking his thoughts more seriously than any of his former students or clients. But now, even with a light probe, all he met was her shield.

An exceptional shield, that one. None penetrated it, even on the day she arrived as a twelve-year-old child. He caught few things about her that she wasn’t willing to share. Still, even though she hid it from her father, she never hid her intelligence from him. With her father, she acted more child-like. With him, she hid nothing, at least not her capacity to learn anything he taught.

Everything felt on edge today. Indeed, he realized, the whole world rested on what happened tonight. Under the pretense of needing extra guards because of the extraordinary number of guests, her father tasked her guards to keep her from disappearing into Null. Even so, she still managed it. If she refused to cooperate, who knew what the Emperor might do?

B’sheer had heard stories. All of them had. With his eye on Sector Five, the only Sector that forbade slavery, the Emperor had decided to make it his capitol City. He wasn’t above simply taking over, the Charter he was supposed to follow be hanged. He was Xantis Tey. He ruled absolutely, or thought he did. But B’sheer and her father knew Chalatta. If she ever got wind of what was about to happen, she would disappear, and no one would find her. The one thing that kept her in line, aside from the fact that she was Krindarwee, and it wasn’t like her people to rebel, was her trust in all of them. She believed all the adults around her loved her, and they did, but sometimes forces existed outside their control.

B’sheer’s attention was stolen by a sudden splotch of water on his desk. A tear? How long ago had he felt the urge to cry? He stopped the next one before anyone noticed, although he couldn’t stop the heaviness and burning in his chest. He pulled out some papers and pretended to work on them. They were old accounts, previous clients, their issues long settled. Sometimes it helped to save old paperwork. They made a good cover when he longed to be alone with his thoughts, or when he needed to hide his actions from others, or, in this case, his reactions to events beyond his control.

As he busied himself by making notes in the margins, Intergalactic Faj Prince, Salettin ba Tir, son of the Emperor and Empress Orvinet ba Tir, rulers of Nevia II, entered the room, wearing his usual sardonic grin. B’sheer hated few people, but he hated this young prince.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8

 

double meanings

 

 

B’sheer made a formal bow to Salettin as the young man entered.

Tadessa watched from under her eyelids. Subdued, she refused to meet either man’s gaze, even though the prince’s presence seemed get under her skin. When she did dare to peek at B’sheer, he looked angrier than Tadessa had ever seen him. The prince simply appeared amused.

I can’t come to you right now, Grandmother. I’m being watched too closely today.

I know, My Heart. She felt Zilla’s frustration.

She glanced again at B’sheer.

He returned a hard stare of disapproval.

She swallowed, and took out another sheet from the stack on her desk. I’ve upset everyone today, my parents, my tutor, even my guards, she thought, keeping her shield impenetrable. Given enough time, I could probably offend that arrogant, sneering Xantis Tey prince. All I want to do is see Grandmother and have her help me work through this cloud of confusion. She also wanted to run to her room and cry, because nothing about today made any sense.

She stared at the stack of papers and stifled a sigh as she took yet another on off the stack. She considered answering the questions all wrong, no matter that there was no right or wrong to these evaluations, so she doodled in the corners and filled in spaces with her pen.

But as on each previous sheet, she also answered each question honestly.

While she worked on the papers, the two men talked in quiet tones. She listened to their surface thoughts to find out what they discussed. It seemed the prince wanted to know everything about her, including her favorite foods.

“She does like her sweets,” B’sheer said.

“The Xantis Tey do not like their women fat.”

Tadessa reviewed what her classes taught her about the Xantis Tey. True enough, the ruling class liked their women as thin as sticks, except when pregnant. Pregnant women came in all sizes. Female slaves, on the other hand, were often pictured as plump.

“Well, one can hardly call the young Mistress fat, Your Majesty. By our standards, she is perfect for her maturity level.”

“She looks like she’s twelve,” Salettin said. “I thought I had been sent an old holo.”

“The Krindarwee mature slowly. When she first arrived here, when she really was twelve, I thought she was nine. This spring she’ll be twenty.”

“Twenty.” He made a thoughtful pause. “And yet she graduated from Honir’weh’s Academy for Women. From what I understand, most graduate in their middle twenties. Could she be five years ahead of her class?”

“She is brilliant, which I discovered when I hoped to catch her up to Nevians her own age. I thought that since she had only attended Outer Area schools, and had never spoken any language except Irelli, she would be hopelessly behind, but to my surprise, she tested out of the Irelli Basic Education, even though she had attended only four of the seven years offered. So I tutored her in Nevian language and in necessary courses until she satisfied the Nevian Basic Curriculum. Then I entered her into Honir’weh’s. By that time she was fourteen, the youngest girl in her class. She took the eight-year General Studies curriculum in five years, but never chose a profession.”

After that, she shut them out entirely, especially that Xantis Tey prince. Although her classes in other Intergalactic races extolled the virtues of his race, she decided to be wary of them instead, especially after several peeks into the book Counselor B’sheer had given her. It seemed they specialized in mind control. She wanted nothing to do with those who would pervert Khaadi’s gift in that way.

Her thoughts turned to school. She never wanted to attend a boarding school. She wanted to live with her mother, but as she discovered, once her mother became Sector Five’s High Commissioner, Mama was never around anyway.

She remembered how hard it was. Naturally a little shy, in a new culture, with all her classmates five years older, she struggled. She studied. She excelled in her studies. She made no friends.

“Did you remain friendless?”

She hadn’t noticed the Imperial Prince standing over her.

“No.” She turned back to the next test she was working on.

He took it off her desk and pulled a chair next to hers.

“It doesn’t look like you got off to a good start at that women’s academy. What did you do to turn it around?”

“Give me my paper back.”

“You don’t want to do it anyway.” He wadded it into a ball and threw it across the room, causing it to land in the center of the wastepaper basket beside Counselor B’sheer’s desk.

Good shot, she thought. Still, she glared at him.

“I’m getting mixed messages. You act angry, yet you approved my basket shot. Which is it?”

“Both. You’re insufferable.”

He inclined his head. “Thank you. I was beginning to think I had no effect on you whatsoever. Now, back to your misadventures at that women’s academy, what turned things around for you?”

“My sister.”

“S’ar Wenda? She’s your half-sister.”

“How do you know that? You only just got here today.”

He winked at her. “I’m all-knowing.”

“Then you already know the answers to your questions.” She took out the next sheet.

He replaced it in the stack. “Indulge me.”

Tadessa sighed. “S’ar followed a more traditional educational route. It turned out we were in the same school, if not the same classes. We both graduated this fall. When I was at school, she introduced me to a few people from some of the other families. I became a kind of kid sister to them.”

“So tell me about S’ar. How is it that you two are sisters? She’s culturally a Nevian and you’re, well, I don’t know what you are.”

“Like me, she was adopted into a Nevian family, but she was adopted at birth. We have the same biological father. The Irelli called him Snake.”

“Why?”

“It’s the closest interpretation to his real name, Tadellin, which means Greenware, a snake not found around here.”

“Are there any around here? Isn’t it too cold for snakes?”

“Crystal icesnakes make their homes in rat burrows. The poorest in the City follow them to do what the icesnakes also do.”

“What’s that?”

“Eat them.”

The prince made a face. “Have you ever…? His frown of disgust returned.

“No. Daddy Snake was a better provider than that.”

“Continue with your story.”

“Aunt Berita, S’ar’s mother, was abducted by Blades when she was very big with her baby. They kept her for a tenday or longer. No one knows. When the Blades got done with her, they left her for dead on the Mound. That’s the place the Area dead are taken.”

“Evidently S’ar didn’t die.”

“The Blades tore Berita’s baby from her belly. It was the baby’s cry that told a passerby that someone still lived. The passerby took both Berita and S’ar to the closest clinic, Sann’s Health Center, an abortion clinic, who managed to save the baby first. They were not sure about the mother. They allowed a Nevian family to adopt the baby, without even asking if other family members existed. The couple who adopted her named her S’ar.”

“I’m guessing your aunt lived through it too.”

“Daddy Snake tried to find his wife. By the time he did, his daughter had been adopted, and his wife was never the same again. Sann’s patched up Aunt Berita as good as they could, but she never could have children after that. Both Daddy Snake and Aunt Berita were devastated after losing their daughter. Forever prevented from having another child, Aunt Berita put on the scarf. That’s a public declaration that the woman has removed herself from all sexual relationships.”

“Even with her husband.” He studied her a moment. “But I understand. He would need children. She was right to withdraw from him.”

“From that moment on, Daddy Snake cared for his wife as a sister, which was why I called her Aunt Berita. Later he met Mama, and they had me. S’ar grew up Nevian, while I learned the ways of the Krindarwee.”

“And yet you two Krindarwee maidens arrived in the same part of the City. How interesting. So, are you Nevian, Irelli or Krindarwee?”

She cocked her head to one side. His words were not asking the same question as his mind was, and she couldn’t understand what he meant.

Ah, so you heard the discrepancy. I’ll ask my question another time, then.

I am Krindarwee.

And what does that mean, to be Krindarwee?

More than you’ll ever understand.

He laughed, again with that double meaning.

She stared at him in confusion.

The Faj royal rose from his chair and jostled her elbow. He added a mental farewell and offered a listening ear, all without words. He was the first to have spoken to her in that way, even though she had spoken to others in a similar fashion.

She stared at his back as he left. B’sheer caught her gaze, but responded with no expression, not even his former displeasure. When he looked like that, he hid something. Mama called it an alien stare, not understanding the depth of the emotions involved. It seemed strange to Tadessa that although Mama was culturally Nevian, this one nuance escaped her. Tadessa could have pried into her tutor’s thoughts with a thread, instead she returned to her tests. Get them done, she ordered herself. Get out of here, walk to the Village, and take my place among my people. It was time.

She fought tears.

By the time she finished, hours after lunch, she nodded to B’sheer, then left the study. In her mind she planned what she intended to wear to keep out the winter cold. Here in the Upper Third Level, she rarely needed more than slippers on her feet, but she owned some sturdy boots, plus a very nice fur-lined coat. Although overdressed for the Area, at least they would keep her warm while she made the two-day trek to the Village at the far southern end of the City.

Her guards followed, as usual.

She wanted to run from them, to fly free, to soar into the winter wind with no regard for anything besides her freedom. Why do my guards make me feel so confined when they never did before?

“We never go anywhere without guards, do we?”

Startled, she spun toward the speaker, and found herself facing the Xantis Tey prince again. Behind him two white and gold guards stood.

“You missed my early-morning workout, so I decided to take you to the training hall and watch me work.”

How arrogant, she thought, clenching her jaw. “I have better things to do than…”

“What is it that you need to do? Follow me.”

She glared at him, angry that just because all her appointments happened much later this afternoon, he dared to organize her afternoon for her.

“I need some private time. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” Besides, she needed to get rid of him so she could gather her things and leave.

He touched her hand. “I insist,” he said, wearing his disarming grin.

The touch electrified her. She jerked away, surprised at how warm she felt.

“What could it hurt, just to watch?” he asked. “Afterwards, you can snub me, and tell me all kinds of unfavorable things.” He laughed.

She followed, standing at the perimeter, trying to appear disgruntled while he entered the lockers to change clothes. She spied her mother, still in her black silks, her hair in disarray from her own recent workout.

For the first time she watched her mother’s personal bodyguard, Colonel Motz, train a small group of men in the finer points of As’wendi Yom. She had never seen him work martial arts before. Being a Normal, the colonel’s paces seemed to move with exaggerated slowness. When he finished with the group in maroon silks, he gestured to several young men in dark blue silks to stand in line for their training as well. She never knew he trained the D’ey Sol guards.

It made sense, she realized when she noticed her father with a group of his elite, all Talented. Motz trained the Normals, and A’nden worked with the Talented. A’nden’s elite spread before him using the Ken’di form, their poles fanning before them like dancers’ skirts. She had never watched those in training before, not at all interested in men’s sweaty bodies, until today.

Her father fought, his face wearing a determination as hard as stone, fighting off all his elite by himself. Other than their early morning daily exercise, she had never watched him perform any martial arts on the exercise floor before. Not one of the five men who faced him, even though all of them were Talented, connected their poles to the general’s body. His skill amazed her.

As she watched her father, she felt both her mother’s and the colonel’s eyes touch her. She found them gazing in her direction, noting her presence. To her relief they ignored her. For some reason she found it important that no one knew she stood watching just because Salettin wanted her to.

As Colonel Motz finished with his team, Salettin entered, his white silks edged in gold flowing around him like a waterfall. He gestured toward Motz, inviting himself to take over the training. Motz made a bow of respect, and backed to the perimeter, gesturing for another five to take their places.

Salettin picked the poles, throwing one to each guard. With Salettin being Talented, the guards could never hope to defeat him, but the prince measured his movements so as not to harm any of them while challenging each man’s skill. Salettin showed no arrogance this time. He fought well and with respect for the Normals in front of him.

When they finished, her father motioned the men away and faced Salettin. “Let us give you a challenge, shall we?”

She stared at her father. Something hard and angry churned inside him, as if he challenged the young man to his death.

They bowed.

Their first movements tested each other, a strike here, a block there, a double strike and successful blocks. Slow at first, the tempo increased. Within minutes their bodies blurred as they fought each other. Salettin’s pole connected first. But her father recovered in the next breath. Then his pole caught Salettin’s shoulder and thigh in two quick moves. Salettin retaliated with a blow to her father’s temple and another to his shoulder. All at once, her father doubled his speed, striking multiple times before Salettin recovered. Salettin, realizing that his opponent’s intent rampaged past mere sparring, renewed his efforts, a slight mocking smile to his lips as he brought her father to his knees.

A’nden’s elite stood ready to defend their master, but the Lady Commissioner strode across the floor, obviously intending to stop them.

Before she reached them, A’nden lashed out with his pole, tripping the young prince.

As they both stood, Mama stood between them. “I don’t know where you planned to go with that,” she said, her voice so low Tadessa needed to read her surface thoughts to hear her, “but you will cease immediately.” She looked first at her husband, then at Salettin.

A’nden glanced at his elite and made a small gesture. His elite lost the tension in their bodies, and Salettin bowed.

“An excellent workout, General. I found it a good reminder: never expect the expected.”

A’nden bowed low, but said nothing. He turned on his heel and left for the showers.

Deep in thought, Tadessa slipped away before either of them noticed her. Before her guards realized it, she pulled Null around her. It was time to leave.

When she reached her rooms, she sighed in relief to find them empty. She entered her closet and pulled out a fur-line coat, a pair of boots, a long wool skirt and a sweater, placing them on the bed. This time she sent out several threads before she approached the corner where she had hidden her box.

No one approached, she noted as she moved the end table and peeled back the carpet. She loosened the floorboard and pulled out her box. She dialed the combination, opening the lock, and gave a sigh of relief when she stared at the odd mix of things she collected, hiding them away from her Nevian father. A long time ago he insisted she get rid of the mementoes. She made her hiding space for them instead. These were the things she had shoved in her pockets the day Motz took her mother and her away from Daddy Snake.

Remember who you are, she said, as she always did when she touched these special items. She pulled out the ball of string, caressing it as she would a dear friend. She placed it back in the box, examined the stubs of candles and lighting sticks, wondering if she should take them with her. She wanted to take everything, the ornate hair clips that hid their purpose as lock pick within their design, the beautifully carved knife Daddy Snake had carved for her, the knife belt, sheath and real knife he gave her when she graduated from the toy. Most treasured, however, was her flute. With it she could, while in Null, contact her grandfather. Neither of them knew why it was possible. Null should have removed every trace of them, even from each other. He, hidden by Nulls with the rest of his village, and she while hiding in Null, should never be able to connect with her, but they did when she played her flute.

As she studied her things, she decided to take it all, even the top and string toy she used to carry around with her everywhere.

Just as she decided to empty the box on the bed with her clothes, she felt people approaching. She extended her Null field to include the top of her bed along with her box of things, and sat very still while she sent out a thread. Mother, she noticed, with Colonel Motz and her father beside her. Salettin walked behind them, with two of his own guards. Her day guards, Lance and Brint also followed. She gritted her teeth.

Can’t I be left alone for even half an hour?

Keeping Null around her, she waited. Her mother entered first. “Darling, if you’re in here, please make yourself visible. This isn’t the day…”

“Maybe she found out,” her father whispered to Mama.

Salettin entered next. “Only if you told her. All shielding is intact. I’ve been checking.”

Neither parent acknowledged his statement.

A worm of fear crawled inside her. She stood perfectly still while they roamed through her rooms. Even though she hid any sounds she might make while within Null, she held her breath. Her field wasn’t large, but it covered herself, the things she placed on her bed, the night stand, and the gap in the flooring. She still held her box.

Her father edged around to her side of the bed. If they touched, he would feel her presence, but there was no place for her to go if she wanted to keep the clothing on her bed hidden.

“Did you tell her?” Salettin persisted.

“No,” her father said.

“Then why is she running from me?”

“Did you ask her?”

“She said she wasn’t.”

“Then you heard the truth. The Krindarwee don’t lie.”

“About anything?” The prince eyed her father with suspicion.

“Anything,” her mother said. “So if she’s running, it’s not from you. It’s for another reason.”

“Whatever could it be?”

“I have no idea.” Mama took one last look through the apartment. “She’s not here. See for yourself, Prince ba Tir.”

Salettin looked through each room, each corner, except the one where her father stood, right in front of her, watching everyone, but not taking part in the search.

Finally they all left, all except her father, who appeared to still be looking for something. “If you’re in here,” he whispered, “I can’t advise you to remain hidden. Neither can I advise you to seek out Zilla.”

With that cryptic comment, he also left her suite. A flood of questions followed. Was he telling her to disappear and run to Zilla? What was it that everyone else seemed privy to except her? A cold fear touched her skin that added itself to the constant edge she had been feeling ever since her early morning workout with her father.

She waited until she heard their footsteps go down the hall, then sent out a thread to make sure all of them were gone. Satisfied, she let out a long breath. Then she took everything out of the box and shoved all the items in the pockets of her winter coat. She rushed into her winter clothing, making sure she hung up her yellow day gown. Leaving it on the bed would alert Sentille, who would tell her mother.

Satisfied, she placed the unlocked box back in its hiding place, replaced the flooring and the end table, and left her rooms.

She got as far as the elevator doors when she noticed the wavering of an energy field. Someone stood in shadow right in front of the doors. Probably waiting for her, she decided, heading for the stairs instead. She touched the panel with the most recent code. To her surprise, it flashed red, refusing to unlock the door. The code changed once a mooncycle, usually.

No other way out remained except the elevators. She glanced back at them, noticing, to her relief, the energy field was no longer there. Just as she charged back to the elevators, eager to escape this place of secrets, almost desperate to evade the gathering storm that seemed to permeate her thinking, she bumped into someone.

Startled out of Null, she found herself face-to-face with the ba Tir prince.

He grinned at her. “I think it’s time for a late lunch, and I want you to dine with me.”

Her eyes blinking in confusion, she stared back at him. Just as she started to push past him to enter the elevators, he pulled her back.

“I need to see someone,” she said, attempting to push past him again.

“Not today,” he told her. “Let me escort you back into your suite so you can put up your coat.”

She looked into his blueflower eyes, waiting for harsh words, for a reprimand, something to let her knew that he didn’t approve of her leaving him, but he stared back at her in humor, not accusation. “Mistress Chalatta, it has eight been hours since breakfast. Aren’t you the tiniest bit hungry?”

She was, very hungry, in fact. When he began walking she found herself walking alongside of him, and wondered at that. What if your enemy came at you in smiles, with charm and persuasion? What if this person wanted, not your death, but your subversion? her father had asked. Was Salettin an enemy? She knew her father hated him, and might have killed him on the training floor earlier today, had Mama not intervened, but as she looked at him, she refused the idea that he meant them harm.

“Why were you running from me?” he asked as he stopped outside the door of her suite.

“Not from you,” she told him. “I need to see someone, as I said.”

“Why today?”

Because today my emotions are out of control, she wanted to say. What should be easy, is hard, because events are happening that confuse me, such as why this prince cares where I go, because people seem to want more from me than I am willing to give, because I want to flirt with my bodyguards, because I’m getting angry for no good reason, because there is something foreign in the air that colors everything with fear and desperation, and mostly because Zilla wants me to see her.

Tadessa said nothing aloud, but entered her suite to put her coat in the closet. Instead, however, she returned to Null and crouched down in the back of her closet and wept. She kept asking herself what was happening, and no matter how she analyzed the strangeness of the world around her, she could come up with no answers.

Zilla!

I know, My Heart. I know. She sounded resigned. Hang up your coat and go with him. The opportunity to flee from there has passed.

By the time Tadessa joined the young prince, no tears remained, but her stomach fluttered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

9

 

The duties of a life weaver

 

 

Exhausted from watching Tadessa all day, Zilla lay back against her pillows, staring past the door of her plastiform hut at nothing in particular. All day she had neglected her duties, which included preparing two young women to become Lorekeepers, watching events in the City, and gathering the ingredients for the Rite of Eswe’in to place one of the Lorekeepers in the Fabric of Life. She needed to search for more Nulls, since it seemed far too many were being born lately. She also needed to regroup the Elders to inform them of her lack of success so far. Every one of them looked forward to finally meeting Khaadi’s Daughter, as did she.

She found it odd that as close as she had become to the young Lorekeeper, they never once met in person. Through mind speech and visualization, she had taught the girl everything she knew about healing, one of the duties of a Lorekeeper. She included all the nuances of every tapestry in her possession, how to weave barriers, nets of power, blankets of peace. Tadessa learned. Not one thing that Zilla offered did she refuse. Even today, when she insisted the girl come to her, Tadessa tried to obey.

Tadessa possessed the ability to break free from Prince ba Tir, physically, but not surreptitiously as was necessary. Everything the girl did reflected on her people. If she fled from the obligation soon to be imposed on her, all her people would be seen as rebellious. But if she demonstrated that she was coming into her Time, those around he would be forced to send her to her people for instruction in how to manage her increasing emotions, so Zilla had fed her mind with chaos and confusion, hoping to encourage her loss of control. Unfortunately, the girl, without instruction, squelched her impulses. It was a great testimony to the child’s resolve, but it did nothing to keep her safe.

In truth, Tadessa was still mooncycles away from needing training in how to safely discharge the energy that built during puberty. Besides, the girl needed to submerse herself in the culture of her people. She had never lived with them. Her father, through a series of unforeseen circumstances, raised her apart from them.

Zilla’s main purpose, to rescue her from the Xantis Tey royal family, was thwarted by that pompous prince who seemed to possess an uncanny ability to see where the girl intended to go.

Zilla stood, intending to fasten her leggings and fling on her coat for still another meeting with the Village Elders. They needed to know the Daughter’s status. Instead, she sat back down.

My place, she sent to Lafwellen. The message was too short to arouse the invaders’ suspicions. She straightened her small home, placing floor pillows around her low table, pinching dead leaves from her small indoor herb garden, starting water for tea.

Lafwellen arrived a few minutes later. The aroma of a freshly cooked meal greeted her, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. I need to take better care of myself if I expect to see this through.

Lafwellen chuckled as he walked inside. “Yes, you do. While you’ve been watching, we’ve put together a group who will care for your needs while you do what you can to keep the Daughter safe. We’ll discuss this after supper, however. Right now, though, you need a good meal.”

Grateful, she sat on her favorite cushion. Lafwellen joined her at the low table. When the water began to boil, he made them some tea. While she ate, they spoke about unimportant things.

The Elders arrived just as Lafwellen was cleaning off the table and heating water to wash the dishes. He continued working until everyone arrived, not allowing Zilla help with any of it. When he finished, he heated more water for tea for all of them.

“When does the Daughter arrive?” Lafwellen asked as he sat with the group around her table. His eyes gleamed with anticipation.

Zilla sighed. “She doesn’t. They watched her too closely today, in case she managed to read a stray surface thought and decided to flee. They’ve saturated that floor with an edge of suspicion that she noticed. She feels like something, besides coming here, is expected of her that she can’t fulfill.”

“Yet their real reasons evidently escape her,” the youngest, Harbini, said. “The Emperor himself keeps a firm hold on all shields. He’s amazingly Threaded.” Harbini, an extraordinary Watcher, often took Zilla’s place to give her time for her other duties. He often took her place scouring the City for danger, especially danger that threatened their people. “No one’s thoughts escape that floor where she resides. But if I can see that, why can’t she?”

“You’re watching from the outside,” Zilla explained. “If you were on that floor, your shield would fall under the Emperor’s dominance. However, she isn’t a Watcher. If she ever becomes one, it would be because Simbal, her grandfather, took her through the male Rite of Eswe’in and trained her in that skill. It doesn’t come naturally to her as it does you.”

Harbini sighed. “I keep forgetting that the Grandfather is her grandfather. I wish our village were whole again. Will she ever undergo the male Rite?”

“If she is to be the Daughter we need, she must. I was hoping to take her away from all of them and find a way to get her to the mainland so she could locate him.”

“She would need help. She couldn’t possibly walk that distance by herself. It would take years!”

Zilla gave a slow nod. “That’s a problem we will not solve tonight. This evening I will need your help. I’m too tired to watch her until morning. They plan an all-night party, and may attack when her mind is at its weakest.”

“Will they attack her?” Surprised expressions came from several of them.

“I honestly don’t know. We have never encountered people like these. They look as human as the Irelli, but the way they use Threads is an abomination.”

Nennet touched her temple in thought. “We nearly succeeded in taming the Nevians in this Sector, and now we get another group even more challenging. I wish we knew how the other Sectors fared.”

Zilla agreed. She especially wondered how Simbal, somewhere in Sector One, was doing. Soon, probably before any of them realized, Tadessa would need to see him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10

 

third mistake

 

 

As Salettin walked Tadessa toward the kitchen, she noticed that of her two guards only Officer Shuwey remained.

Noticing the direction of her gaze, the officer said, “Ah, Mistress Chalatta, we are off duty. Officer Winn has gone to notify your evening shift guards. Will you be here for a while?”

“Are you afraid I’m going to disappear around a corner, or something?”

“Exactly, Mistress. With so many guests and their servants, we’re under orders that you are to have two guards at all times. When you’re not where expected, you not only put yourself at risk, you make our assignment difficult for us.”

Just as she opened her mouth to apologize, Winn returned with her two evening guards. At his heels also followed two gold and white liveried guards.

“Thank you,” Salettin said to her guard, giving a nod of acceptance. “My father worried while I searched unprotected for the young Mistress. As you can see, I have found her. All is well.”

Winn gave a deep bow, but said nothing in response. Shuwey accompanied him down the hall leading to the House Security wing.

Everyone knew! She needed to leave, but from her guards’ surface thoughts she discovered they saw her as an undisciplined adolescent.

Which you are, Zilla said. Although today has been compromised, you need to see me so that you learn to reign in your emotions and make better use of them, but because they watch you so closely, we must wait for a better time.

She wanted to protest, but before another word passed her lips, Davvi Greer, her mother’s head chef, bowed to her. “Young Mistress, please allow me to seat you in the alcove just off the kitchen. Your guest will appreciate the privacy. Everything is arranged. The Imperial Master Chef insisted it be prepared for you when the two of you arrived.” He inclined his head again, a conspirator’s smile on his lips.

Already arranged? The two of us? She chafed under the assumption that this alien prince planned her actions in advance.

Usually, when not taking a meal in her study, the alcove was her favorite place to dine. Although private, it resonated with the muted sounds of kitchen staff, and eating here helped her feel less alone. Usually the table was bare, but today an embroidered cloth covered it. The addition of a single sugarflower bud in a slender vase stood in the center of the table gave her pause. The table, set for two, boasted of dinnerware she had never seen before.

Salettin sat across from her. “My mother’s,” he said when he saw her examining one of the plates.

“She brought her own dishes?”

“She’s eccentric. She prefers to eat alone in her rooms, and insists on using her own service. Your kitchen staff is nice enough to keep them ready should she want a tidbit of something.”

The next moment a kitchen helper placed a plate of sliced meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables to one side. Tadessa helped herself to a crusty bun still hot from the oven, and a selection from the plate. Salettin did the same. The servant removed the tray while another brought a pot of tea and two delicate cups. Then the staff left them alone.

“Are you my shadow?” Tadessa still glared at him.

“Not exactly. We didn’t hit it off very well, did we?”

“You did your best to annoy me!”

He laughed. “I did. I thought it worked rather well. I find that people are more honest when annoyed. It’s harder for them to hide behind a shield, don’t you think? I didn’t expect you to run from me, though.”

“I wasn’t running from you.” She stabbed a slice of meat with her fork.

“Really? Aside from your teacher, I was the only other person in the room when you disappeared the first time. Then later, on the training floor, I can only suppose you ran from me, since you wouldn’t run from your parents.”

She refused to repeat herself that she needed to see someone. She doubted he believed her.

“I ran from B’sheer because he knew the testing was bogus.” Tadessa arranged the meat, cheese and vegetable slices on half of the bun, then topped it with the other half. “My parents ordered B’sheer to tell me that I was being tested for a position as my mother’s page, since I never declared a profession while in the Academy. I suppose they want me to follow Mother into politics, which I despise, and she knows it. I ran when I discovered what was really happening.” She scowled. There wasn’t anywhere she could run except to the Village, a walled community in the Area where most of the Krindarwee in this Sector lived. She wished Salettin hadn’t interrupted her flight with his presence.

“A career?” He seemed genuinely surprised. “I thought heiresses got married.”

“That’s what my father wants. He wants me to settle down and make him lots of grandchildren.” She watched as he arranged meat and cheese on half of his bun as well.

“Is that why he trains you in Nevian martial arts, to attract a suitor? Seems odd.” He took a healthy bite.

“He has me train because even an heiress has enemies.”

“As do all those in authority. There are plenty of malcontents around. Is that where you got your scar?”

“No. My uncle, my mother’s brother, who was dominated by a Moloch, gave me this.” She touched the scar under her cheekbone.

He gave her a respectful nod, impressed. “I assume your father reached you in time, or we would not be talking today.”

She stared at him in surprise. “No. I was busy disengaging my uncle from the Moloch that controlled him. I ignored the slice of his knife to my cheek while I finished. My father is unable to release someone from a Moloch. There was nothing he could do. It was up to me.”

“Release…? Mistress Chalatta, you exaggerate. Only a Discipline Master can disengage a Moloch from its host. And afterwards, the host always dies. The only way a host can be free from one of those beasts is if they choose to banish the Moloch themselves, which almost never happens.”

“Not all of them die.” She remembered Kirimina, one of Jem’s assassins who had also been dominated, and her successful release from the Zocassari (Moloch, she reminded herself) who thought it controlled her.

He shook his head, not believing her. “So you like martial arts?”

“I do, and I’m good at them.” She was glad she had stopped herself from revealing too much to this prince of the Faj.

“Why?” He caught himself. “I mean, why are you pleased with being good at martial arts? Do you want to be a soldier?”

“No. I like the dance.”

Now he really looked confused. “The dance?”

“That’s what it feels like to me, a flow of energy like a bird in flight, a dance. That’s not how my father sees it, of course. He wants me to be more aggressive, go for the kill.” She shuddered. “I would make a horrible soldier.”

“Not from what I saw.”

“You were watching?” Even then? She knew the Intergalactic Faj representatives arrived early this morning, but she thought they busied themselves settling in, not watching her. Did her father put her on display for him? She pushed back her plate surprised that most of her food was gone, and stood. Is nothing the way I saw it?

“Please, Mistress Chalatta. Sit with me a little longer.”

“I have to get ready.” True enough, but she still had an hour before Sentille

expected her.

“Not yet. Please.”

“Why? So you can watch me fumble through this maze of crazy expectations and laugh at me some more?” To her horror she found herself fighting tears. “I’m not hungry.”

“Neither am I.” He rose. “Please, take me on a tour of your home. I would love to see it.”

“You’ve already seen my suite and the training facility. You’ve seen the kitchens. You’re staying on one of our guest floors. We’ll be having dinner in the Grand Dining Room, and tonight you will most likely dance in the Grand Ballroom. That floor is off-limits while the rooms are being readied, and we can’t enter any of the private apartments or House Guard quarters. Aside from the servants’ quarters, my parents’ apartments, and the lower offices in this building, what else is there?”

“Then let me see everything again, through your eyes.”

When she thought of her mother’s rooftop garden, its beauty enjoyed by so few, she said, “I know one place you are never likely to see without my assistance. Would you like to see it without guards?” she whispered, her eyes lighting in mischief.

“That’s not possible. I know. I also grew up heavily guarded.”

She smiled. “All we need to do is go around a corner before they do. Stay close, and be ready. We will pretend we have nothing better to do than walk throughout this building.”

Salettin strolled beside her, conversing with her about his family. His mother, he claimed, was shy and soft-spoken. She frightened easily. His father was just the opposite, loud, boisterous, and filled with himself. He laughed at that. “Now you must tell me about your family.”

“My father is both strict and loving. Everything in his household must be Nevian. He allows for no other culture, not my mother’s Irelli culture nor my Krindarwee one. Even so, I always know that he loves me.

“Before we moved here, my mother sacrificed herself for me on many occasions. She is neither shy nor soft-spoken. She is sharp and determined to do whatever she needs to accomplish her goals, no matter what she must do to reach them.”

“I imagine so, her being the High Commissioner of this Sector. I believe our mothers are exact opposites. I also watched your mother work out. She is exceptional.”

“My father, rather, my Krindarwee father, taught her. He called it the Dance. Everything depends on balance, no movement out of place. The Dance adapts itself to any martial discipline.”

She hadn’t shared even this much information with her Nevian father. He insisted she attempt to master every martial art he knew, surprised when she excelled at all of them, but she had never explained the reason. Why is it so easy to tell this Faj prince what I have always kept hidden?

“Maybe someday you’ll teach me this Dance.”

She refused to answer, reminding herself that Salettin represented the Faj. She would teach him nothing about her people any more than she would have shared the Dance with her Nevian father. But she wanted to, and that made her uneasy.

They appeared to be in no hurry as they chatted. The guards were not far behind, but not at their heels.

The moment they rounded a corner, Tadessa pulled Null around them, and led him a short distance down the hall. The guards followed, becoming alarmed the moment both their charges seemed to vanish.

When Salettin started to speak, she placed two fingers on his lips, liking the warmth of his lips. More fanciful thinking, she told herself, giving herself an internal shake to clear her head, irritated that she needed to clear it in the first place. Zilla’s right. I’m an undisciplined adolescent.

She delighted in his surprise as the guards passed them, never even looking in their direction.

Then she took him back toward the elevators. They had to wait until the hall in front of the elevators cleared before she entered the code accessing the rooftop garden.

“You’re a Null. I guessed as much when you threw us off so quickly earlier today. I thought you might have used a variation of shadow, which is what most of us do when we want to disappear. It leaves that tell-tale energy pattern, however. Anyone of Talent can see us.”

“Yes.” But she didn’t tell him that she could have hidden the sound of his voice as well. It surprised her that she wanted to.

“My parents forbade me to use Null. They claimed it left me unsafe.”

“I can see their point. What if I suddenly attacked you?”

She laughed. She had been listening to his surface thoughts. Although he kept most of his thoughts behind a very strong shield, a sudden attack was not on his mind. Instead, he seemed far more interested in getting to know her. She found his curiosity intriguing.

The elevator doors dilated and they stepped into a small room with two access doors, one to the rooftop parking garage, the other to her mother’s garden. Tadessa entered the code that opened the doors to the garden. When she waved on the lights, his look of appreciation gave her a slight thrill.

“Do you like it?” She felt silly asking. With the pull of a single thread she knew he loved it.

“This place is amazing.”

“It’s my mother’s retreat. She and I breakfast together here most mornings. I’m pleased that you like it.”

Once inside she identified the plants, and described how each one was tended.

“You could be a botanist.”

“My half-sister already is. She wants to be a Landkeeper someday.”

“What’s a Landkeeper?”

“It’s a Krindarwee profession, not something you can learn in a Nevian academy. If her parents have their way, she’ll never get the chance.”

“So since you’re not going to become a botanist, what profession would you choose?” He grinned at her as if his question was some sort of impossibility.

“I’m a Lorekeeper. My purpose is to preserve and share the history, stories and songs of my people, to release those held in slavery in Sector One, and to rid this planet of all Zocassari, the entities you call Molochs. To do that I must escape from this place.”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she realized she had just made her third mistake of the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11

 

watching from a distance

 

 

Zilla watched in alarm while the Daughter, the Hope of her people, succumbed to the enticing prince of the Faj. While she could easily resist a physical or verbal attack, the prince did neither. He remained amused, using humor in a non-accusatory manner as he manipulated her thinking with amazing skill. He never challenged her. He gave her no reason to resist him, and instead encouraged her to talk about herself.

Tadessa possessed the ability to leave him. Within the blink of an eye, she could disappear into Null, and run straight for the elevators, right now, if she chose. Even if he stopped her with the strength of his body, which was exceptional, if she used the Dance, her skill would defeat him. But she failed to see him as the enemy.

Prince Salettin used his mind by bending hers in miniscule actions, similar to the way she healed her mother when K’arrala escaped from prison all those years ago. Starved and beaten, suffering from nerve damage due to a gunshot wound, Tadessa healed her a little at a time. Every time she sat next to her mother, she did something, repaired a nerve here, dissolved a bone splinter there, increased blood circulation to a muscle, until the woman regained the strength and body function she once enjoyed.

As the Daughter, designed one day to be a teacher of Lorekeepers, not just a Lorekeeper herself, healing came naturally to her. Her propensity to listen to what others told her, to feel their message and act on the information she received, had just become a liability. The Faj prince’s abilities promoted deception. He left the impression that everything he told her was desirable, even while he twisted Khaadi’s gift to his own agenda.

“Grandmother?”

Zilla turned toward the speaker.

“How is the Daughter doing?” Lafwellen hesitated. “We were discussing how to manage tonight’s party, who would watch during the dinner, who would stay awake for the remainder of the proceedings, and you seemed to drift away.”

“I don’t know how to answer your questions. How is the Daughter doing? I have no idea. She was taught to be non-intrusive and to offer little resistance unless it challenged her person or her people. The prince is using this against her.”

“Is that so bad?”

“She doesn’t see how he twists her mind, a little bend here, an alien thought there, the tiniest of actions.”

“You see them. Why doesn’t she? You said she was more powerful than you are.”

“She’s a child, Lafwellen. She has little life experience. Come with me. Let me show you what I mean.”

Lafwellen let Zilla draw him into her mind, then followed her path toward the Daughter.

They saw Tadessa showing Prince ba Tir through her mother’s indoor garden.

She has never taken anyone there before, Zilla whispered in mind speech.

She’s as delighted as child with a present, he said. She wants his approval.

That’s what I saw him encourage. First he insulted her, then he gave her a way to like him. He has been playing her all day.

Tadessa began talking about S’ar wanting to be a Landkeeper. Both Lafwellen and Zilla stared in surprise. No one shared anything about the Krindarwee to outsiders, ever. What was she doing?

“What’s a Landkeeper,” Salettin asked.

“It’s a Krindarwee profession, not something you can learn in a Nevian academy. If her parents have their way, she’ll never get the chance.”

“So since you’re not going to become a botanist, what profession would you choose?” He grinned at her as if his question was some sort of impossibility.

“I’m a Lorekeeper. My purpose is to preserve and share the history, stories and songs of my people, to release those held in slavery in Sector One, and to rid this planet of all Zocassari, the entities you call Molochs. To do that I must escape from this place.”

No! Zilla shouted into her mind. What are you doing?

Tadessa clamped her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide with horror. I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I don’t know what came over me! She backed toward the door.

Zilla brought Lafwellen out of the scene. “Get Harbini,” she hissed. “I need a Watcher to help me keep her steady.

The Elders were already arriving.

“You also need Nennet to steady you,” Lafwellen said, gesturing for the greatest Lorekeeper the Village had ever known, aside from Zilla.

What’s happening?” Nennet said.

“The Daughter is falling for the Xantis Tey prince’s persuasion, and Zilla no longer has the strength to support her. Please, do what you can for her while Harbini watches for a while.”

“Thank you, Lafwellen,” she said reclining on her pillows again. She closed her eyes, shutting out Tadessa. She could not stand to watch any longer. She had nearly fallen asleep when Nennet touched her shoulder.

“I wish I could give you a draught to let you sleep,” she said, her brows furrowed with worry. “But you must be rejuvenated, not allowed to sleep, not while Tadessa struggles with this new threat. Harbini will watch until it comes time for you to intervene. So you must let me tend to you. Drink this. It will restore your mind, and make you alert again.”

“Asbine Tea,” Zilla said, inhaling the fragrance. “Good choice. Yes, you’re right. Besides, we must make plans.” She took a sip of the tea and let it fill her with its scent and the gentle flow of its energy.

“In this Sector, we used to face the threat of the Neevee,” she said. “Much like this prince is doing to our Daughter, we have done to Nevians, but never with force.”

“The Second Rule,” one of them whispered.

“Just so. We influence; we whisper truth; we encourage; we heal; we make ourselves available to them for whatever they need.”

“Almost whatever they need,” Lafwellen said. “We don’t heal the Neevee of their infertility, not until our people in Sector One are freed.”

She nodded. “Exactly. The point is, they are coming around.”

“It helped that the Nevian general adopted our Tadessa,” one of them said.

“Yes. That was a great beginning. It also helped that her mother changed some of the laws that restricted us. We’ve enjoyed a measure of free movement throughout this City that we never believed possible. We are not harassed simply because we use ambigah, for example.”

“That may change,” Nennet said. “You told us they were listening. Are they?”

“In ways that make my skin crawl. It never comes from a single source. They use their abilities the way we use the Song. They permeate the air with their presence. But there the similarity ends. Instead of restoration, I feel disruption. They want control, not balance. We must watch ourselves like never before. These people twist Khaadi’s gift to their own misalignment.”

“How do we stop them?”

“I have no idea. That is what we must discuss tonight.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12

 

an unusual ability

 

 

Sentille placed the young Mistress’s gowns onto the girl’s bed. She admired the lovely shades of A’nden House blue, and the pride in which her little girl would wear them. She had helped the child pick out the gowns herself, the rich, dark blue high-necked bodice embroidered in silver, the long, flowing sleeves, gathered in silver ruffles at the wrists, the beautifully decorated skirts with fans of silver lace scalloped around the hem. She would be the darling of the Emperor’s court.

A single tear escaped as Sentille placed the dainty silver slippers on the floor beneath the folds of fabric. She had enjoyed every year she spent as the girl’s maid. When Mistress Chalatta first arrived, right off the streets, wearing all that atrocious jewelry, boy’s trousers, a flannel shirt and worn boots, she had hidden her gasp of distress just in time. The girl was very perceptive, she realized at once, and would notice such stray thoughts. So she hid them while she ran her bath.

Mistress Chalatta stared at the foaming water in amazement. She had never soaked herself in a bath before! All the bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotions, powders and oils completely confused her. Trained by her mother to be a lady’s maid, Sentille knew nothing about caring for a young girl who never expected these normal amenities. No more than a girl in her teens herself, she felt suddenly protective of the child under her care. Rather than embarrass the child by reading the purpose of each bottle and jar, she simply told her that the foam had been added to the water, and showed her the bottle that held it. She suggested that, if the girl were curious, she could read the ingredients and instructions for each one’s use herself.

Then she chastised herself, wondering if the Area girl could read that well, until with a flick of attention she found that her new charge read everything quite well.

Sentille was not Talented. Not a whit of energy had ever graced her abilities, save one. She could read even the most hidden thoughts. She kept that ability to herself, not even telling her mother what she possessed. Such a skill had helped her make good grades all through school, and, she realized, would help tremendously in serving such a Talented family.

Sentille was also a Null, another ability that never depended on Talent. She had heard of Nulls able to hide whole communities. Her field of energy hid only herself. During her time off, she often roamed the halls of the huge mansion, picking up thoughts as she explored corners.

When she discovered that Mistress Chalatta was also a Null, she nearly ruined everything by sharing that they held this one thing in common. But how would that serve the girl or her family? No, she needed to keep her two abilities close to her heart, she decided. That way, if something unforeseen happened, she might be able to act outside of expectations. Where, she wondered often, had such a caution originated?

As she thought about the question, she knew the answer. The Krindarwee, always reluctant to share their abilities with outsiders because of the damage invaders had done to their people, nearly screamed discretion. Well, it seemed to Sentille that if they screamed, she may as well listen.

As a result, she heard the old Krindarwee woman everyone called Grandmother speak to her charge, teaching her the ways of a healer. She stood amazed when she realized that the Krindarwee leader used mind speech to train her girl in the most intricate of surgeries, impressing into the child’s mind the feel of a knife as it cut into skin to remove a foreign object or a baby gone breech. To her further amazement, the little girl learned everything Mistress Zilla taught with ease, especially fascinating since Sentille understood so little of it.

This child, who looked to be no older than twelve, knew all about human and Nevian anatomy, human and Nevian diseases. Her young mind possessed a library full of cures and remedies. She should be a doctor. Instead…

Sentille shook the thought away. The young Mistress could also read stray thoughts, and now was not the time to distress the girl.

“You, there!”

The strange, sharp voice startled Sentille out of her reverie.

“What are these rags doing on Mistress Chalatta’s bed?”

The icy rage of the Empress left her speechless. This is what the young Mistress chose for tonight, she wanted to say, but nothing came out. Neither did she bow, so startled was she at the intrusion.

Two women in transparent tunics entered after her.

Transparent! Beautifully formed bodies moved within the cloth, which made it all the more embarrassing for Sentille. She couldn’t seem to keep her eyes off the women as they stood just behind their mistress.

Empress Alrenn ba Tir waved one of them to the bed. “You will remove this Nevian over-abundance of fabric from this room and toss it into the nearest incinerator. She will never again be subjected to such nonsense.”

The second woman held a bundle in her arms. As soon as the first woman removed all the lovely clothing from the room, she spread an alternate set of clothing in its place.

“Who are you?” the Empress asked.

Remembering her manners, Sentille bowed low. “Sentille, Majesty.” She was afraid to raise her head and look into the Empress’ eyes, even after she straightened.

“I see you have more decorum than I first thought. You are wise to keep your eyes lowered. You have no place in my presence unless I allow it.”

Terrified, Sentille said nothing.

“And you please me with your silence, as if you already know not to speak until I request it. I believed the A’nden slaves to be the most disrespectful, disgraceful servants I have ever encountered until now. You may leave.”

Sentille bowed again, still keeping her eyes on the floor. I’m not a slave, she thought, knowing the folly in sharing such an opinion aloud. She encountered wave after wave of energy coming from both the slaves as well as the Empress. As she tried to decipher what she read from them, the Empress spoke again.

“But I expect you to return when it’s time for your charge to get ready for tonight’s festivities. You will provide the transition to her new slaves.” She gestured to the two in sheer tunics who remained motionless, their eyes also on the floor.

She bowed again, not knowing what else to do.

“Should she ask, you will explain that you have been assigned to her mother.”

Sentille considered bowing yet again, but with that statement, the Empress swept from the room, her two slaves right behind her.

Trembling, she realized the flood of energy coming from all three of them meant that even the slaves were Talented. What was happening? Tonight was supposed to be special, an honor for Mistress Chalatta, but these people were far from honorable. A dark evil seemed to permeate their use of the energies as well as their thoughts.

Afraid if she stood there much longer, she would collapse, she ran from the suite to her own room in the servants’ quarters, and locked herself in. She sat on the edge of her bed, too traumatized to even cry. What had happened? Why had that encounter upset her so?

She realized she was no longer happy for her charge. The word “transition” kept echoing in her head. It carried far more potency than it should. The Empress put an emphasis on the word that indicated a huge, enveloping transition, as if all of Sector Five were plunged into it.

She realized something else. The real purpose of the royal family’s arrival in this Sector was a lie. Oh, tonight’s events were true enough, but those only scratched the surface. The Emperor had chosen this Sector for a much darker purpose that not even Sentille could discern.

As she recalled the hidden thoughts that the Empress refused to share, Sentille knew that the whole family was in trouble, not just the young Mistress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13

 

strange clothing

 

 

Salettin regarded her with a mocking grin. “I’m sure I have no idea what you just said, except for the escaping part. Isn’t that a bit immature?” The grin vanished. His next words came with deadly seriousness. “You were born to rule, Mistress Chalatta. It is your ‘profession,’ if you will, to learn how to govern people. Don’t you realize how fortunate you are to have a mother willing to take you on as a page? You get all the necessary instructions first hand rather than through boring instructors.”

Tadessa stared at him, open-mouthed, angry at herself for revealing her purpose to him. He stared back as if waiting for her to reply, but she could find nothing to say. She fought against shadows. She felt as if everyone expected her to speak in a language she had never learned. I’m so sorry, Grandmother, she said. I will come to you right now. I seem to have no control at all today.

She wrapped herself in Null, ignoring his protests. Besides, it was time to see Zilla, regardless of who saw her use Null.

“Is that all you know how to do, run away?”

The lock to Mama’s garden clicked as she left him, indicating he had left also. She failed to hear him right behind her until one arm slammed against her shoulder, startling her out of Null.

“You are hard to find in Null,” he said, grabbing her wrist. “I have no idea what you hoped to accomplish by that nonsense, but I’m returning you to your suite.”

“You have no right to return me anywhere,” she said, trying to twist free.

He laughed. “Oh, my dear, but I do. We’ll talk about this later, this evening after dinner.”

She twisted away, returned to Null, and fled for the elevators. She heard Salettin right behind her. When she reached them, the moment it took to press the button, put him at her back. He slammed into her.

“You will not run from me.” This time his grip carried enough force to bruise her.

“I wasn’t…”

He smiled and marched her inside the elevator to take the next floor down, her floor.

Zilla! she called.

I heard. This evening must play itself out after all, she said, adding to Tadessa’s confusion.

When they reached the door to her suite he opened it, and shoved her inside.

She faced a flurry of activity.

“Young Mistress!” Sentille, along with two others she had never seen before, descended on her. “Why did you wait so long to get here? We have much to do to get you ready for this evening. And where have you been? Your guards have reported your absence, and that of Prince ba Tir, to your father, and to his. Neither parent is pleased. I would not like to be in your slippers this evening.”

Sentille wasted no more time lecturing. She ordered a bath to be drawn, and began at once helping Tadessa out of her clothing.

“Mistress, let me introduce your new maids to you. Raeta is your personal assistant. She will bathe you and see to all your appointments. From what I understand, she is also an excellent masseuse. Emree, I’m told, is your personal dress designer. She will dress you for every occasion. She will also see to your hair, nails and makeup.”

Makeup? What did she need with cosmetics? She’d never worn any before. Why did she need them now? Instead, another question pushed past her thoughts.

“Where will you be?”

“I have been reassigned to your mother, but I will come by your suite to check in on you occasionally.” She bowed a farewell.

Tadessa stared at her two new maids. They bobbed in return. They were of a race she never knew existed, even with her course in Interplanetary People and Their Cultures. Both had copper skin, golden eyes with vertical pupils, and pointed ears. Emree’s hair was a light brown with streaks of blonde running through it. Raeta’s hair was in shades of green. Green!

“Pleased,” she said, not knowing what else to say.

“She is pleased with us!” Raeta chirped as she led her into the bathing room.

She stripped her charge down to her skin. Tadessa tried not to squirm as the woman’s hands brushed against her bare body. Holding her in a firm grip, Raeta eased Tadessa into a full tub. Her hands became very intimate as she bathed her, bringing her to a height of feeling she never knew possible. Tadessa’s cheeks flamed in embarrassment. When she finished, as if to keep her from running away, the maid brought her to her feet, then turned on the shower to shampoo her hair.

Helping her out of the shower, the servant dried her body with a large towel. “No, you must let me,” she said as she blotted every patch of bare skin dry, after which she applied lotion, smoothing it into her body in disturbingly sensual motions.

Tadessa wasn’t allowed to do a single thing for herself, even though she wanted to. The caresses of a stranger’s hand all over her body nearly brought her to tears. Although not one of the woman’s caresses hurt her, Tadessa felt…

She didn’t know how she felt. The strange touching both excited her and repulsed her. She wanted to protest, but found no words to say.

After being patted dry, Raeta handed her off to Emree who put her in a sheer robe so revealing Tadessa felt exposed and uncomfortable. Emree sat her at her dressing table where she dried, ironed and styled her hair, leaving tendrils unbound that framed her face. No one in her social circle wore her hair this way. Everyone else’s would be upswept, styled in various ways, but with every strand away from her face and off her neck.

To her surprise, Emree also added a white comb with white flowers edged in gold. The flowers cascaded down her left cheek, gracing her ear, just brushing her shoulder.

What was this? She knew she should not be wearing any colors but blue and silver, her House colors, tonight.

Then the maid applied makeup. When Tadessa looked at her reflection, she saw an exotic beauty staring back at her. She no longer looked twelve. Her large, dark eyes appeared even larger. Her brown skin, so unlike anyone in her family, seemed to glow slightly. She looked like a stranger, not the schoolgirl she had been just moments ago.

Emree took over. Tadessa’s elegant gowns, like diaphanous clouds, lay spread across several chairs. Tadessa had chosen the clothing for tonight last mooncycle, but she saw not one of her beautiful gowns. The underdress, a sheer white drape of silk, all but covered her hands, bloused around her chest, and trailed behind her when they put it over her head. Over that they placed an opaque pale blue gown with bell sleeves that would show her arms to her elbows if she wasn’t careful. Furthermore, the pale blue gown only reached to her knees. Everyone would be able to see her legs!

Her face felt hot suddenly as she looked at her legs, which were not hidden by the transparent cloth. She had spent the last eight years learning how to be Nevian, where clothing covered her neck to wrist to ankle in a variety of styles, but never revealed more skin than her face and hands.

The silky sheer white cloth spilling past her hands and at her throat and chest hid nothing. To top off her ensemble was a deep blue velvet vest that laced just below her breasts. The lighter blue fabric blousing over the top of the vest gave the impression that she possessed a young woman’s chest, when everyone who dressed her knew she still possessed a child’s figure. The vest, which fastened close to her waist, also gave the impression she had hips as well.

That part didn’t surprise her. She had been wearing clothing that made her appear more mature for years now. The gold embroidery on the vest and the white comb that spilled white, gilt-edged blossoms flowing down the left side of her head, worried her. Emree placed white blooms throughout her hair. Tadessa feared the dinner party more than ever now.

“I can’t wear this,” she told her new maids.

Raeta giggled, sounding something like wind chimes. “Surely the young Mistress will not go to a formal dinner naked!”

Emree joined her, their laughter making a kind of strange harmony. “I have dressed the young Mistress in the clothing chosen for her by the Emperor himself. She will not insult the Imperial Guest.”

Head high, because it was her only remaining defense, and escorted by blue-uniformed, A’nden House guards, she rode the elevator to the “the formal floor.”

Colonel Motz, her mother’s personal bodyguard, bowed low as she entered the Grand Hall. The depth of his bow bothered her as well.

“Colonel…” As usual he ignored her. Her mother’s Chief of D’ey Sol Security had not spoken to her ever since she discovered that he had been the one who killed Daddy Snake. He acted as if he couldn’t face her, walking away every time she had tried to tell him that she knew Motz had acted in self-defense.

“I don’t have such status…,” she tried again, desperate for some answers. Why had he bowed so low?

To her surprise, her mother’s Chief of Security, hesitated. He stared into her eyes. “I know you don’t hold me accountable for your father’s death. I am the one who can’t forgive myself. If you ever remember this conversation, please understand that I have always held the utmost respect for you, but I will not support…” He stopped speaking, and again bowed, even lower that before. “Forgive me, Mistress. I spoke out of turn.”

That was so unlike Colonel that she stared, as confused as if he spoke in a foreign language. What was happening today? A worm of fear wriggled into her thoughts.

Zilla! she cried, very near tears.

You must see this through, Zilla said. Remember that everything you do from this point on reflects on your people.

Another cryptic comment from the Krindarwee leader! She wanted to curse, even though she said nothing.

The Colonel placed her in a receiving line with her parents on either side of her. She gave him a respectful nod of her head.

Tadessa’s guards of the A’nden House, and her mother’s of the D’ey Sol House, stood behind them. Her mother wore the maroon and gold of her House, the D’ey Sol House, Home and Holdings, as did her guards. Tadessa was supposed to be wearing A’nden House colors.

“We will talk later, daughter.” Her father did not look pleased.

Neither did her mother. “Your behavior today was unacceptable.”

Tadessa swallowed, wishing she had a legitimate excuse. They would never accept “feelings of being misunderstood” or of her constant confusion. Neither was this the place to voice her growing fears. All she could do was hold her head high and get through this evening. Somehow.

She bowed to the next person who approached, a gracious smile plastered on her face, probably very like her mother’s fixed expression as she also greeted guests.

In need of a distraction, Tadessa began concentrating on the Houses attending, running through her knowledge of them by the colors they wore, since all guests wore their House colors this evening. The incredible variety of House colors caused the Hall to look like a garden whose gardener cared less for organization and more about the varieties of flowers jammed into one space.

The Al’daris wore yellow, as did the Bet’sus, but the Bet’sus’ yellow had an orange tint. The Taren Tis House wore orange, highlighted with a shade of red. The Cadswens’ orange was edged in brown. The D’ar Darens wore a vibrant pink, while the Wal’trens’ pink paled to near white. The Xanta House’s red was brighter than her mother’s maroon, and the Fortinati’s red held a purple hue. The Se Battin House edged their red with cream. The Enmis House wore green, while the D’in Garish’s green was almost blue.

In some cases, it was hard to tell one House from another, their colors were so similar. To compensate, they also wore their secondary colors as trim and accessories. She wondered if that was why the gold had been chosen to accent her blue. A touch of gold highlighted her mother’s maroon, after all.

Her father stood beside her, very handsome in his A’nden House attire. Because of the occasion, his dark blue dress uniform included silver ruffles at his neck and wrists, and edging his vest. In addition, tonight he wore his medals. His chest literally glittered with them.

The ruffles at his wrists and throat reminded of the exquisite gown she had chosen for this evening. She wondered where it had gone, missing it as if it were a best friend and not just layers of cloth. Nothing felt right, certainly not her clothing. She wanted things to return to normal. She wanted to sit in a corner and braid S’ar’s hair, the way she used to as a child. She wanted to run through the halls and get into trouble again for running. She wanted to learn Nevian all over again, and feel the accomplishment in learning to use another language. She wanted Counselor B’sheer teach her. She wanted her life to be simple again, no longer strange and terrifying.

Terrifying. She tasted that word, realizing that beyond all the confusion, it described her underlying emotion. Because she found herself unable to understand what was happening, she was frightened. She looked at her mother who returned her gaze with a flash of anger, an anger not directed at her, but at something else. A look at her father revealed a wave of helplessness, something she had never felt from him before.

An orchestra played soft music, distracting her from her uncomfortable thoughts. She continued to greet the families as they arrived, relieved to be doing something she understood.

Dr. Gilliam and his family enter without House colors. His social status had been elevated when he became her mother’s personal physician. In fact, because their position indicated the possible need a physician close at hand, her mother invited the Gilliams to every public function. He had no House affiliation, even though he wore the dark blue of the A’nden House. His wife and two daughters, however, entered wearing maroon velvet with sprays of silver lace, honoring the D’ey Sol House while acknowledging the silver of the A’nden House.

Tadessa gave his daughters a special smile and touched their hands with the affection of a friend. She wished time permitted her to do more, wanting to renew their friendship. She had socialized with Dr. Gilliam’s two daughters when she was younger. They were very close to her in age, but once she started at the private women’s academy, she only saw them occasionally. Her holidays away from school never coincided with theirs. Being human, they looked like adults now, while Tadessa still appeared to be no more than thirteen.

Did Salettin ba Tir actually think she looked twelve? And why was that man interested her in the first place? He surely had better things to do with his life than to hang around with a child who got him into trouble with his father.

Some of her classmates arrived with their families, some with their spouses. She had attended more than one engagement party these last few mooncycles since graduation. Their engagements had been arranged, as was the Nevian custom. She felt sorry for them, being unable to choose their own husbands. She was glad she had already informed her parents she never intended to marry.

Two classmates appeared pregnant, which delighted her. Too many of them were sterile. As a Lorekeeper she could heal their infertility, but her people forbade it.

When they release the slaves in Sector One, then we will freely offer our healing, Zilla reminded her.

She gave the Grandmother an internal nod as one of the pregnant women reached her.

“You’re so lucky to be pregnant,” she said under her breath. “You will have a healthy daughter, with no defects.” Your daughter will be fertile, too, she kept to herself.

“How do you know?”

“I’m a Krindarwee Lorekeeper. It’s my job to know.”

Zilla? she asked, surprised that the words came out so easily.

You are coming into your own. It’s time people knew.

Now?

A little early, but yes.

But I haven’t passed my Time of Crisis yet!

You will. If you can’t come to me, I can help you, for a time, from here.

Tadessa greeted family after family as they entered the Grand Hall, wearing a delighted expression as she received each one specially. All the while she searched for one person in particular, S’ar Wenda, her half-sister.

When first brought to this part of the City, Tadessa knew her older sister lived here with her adoptive family. Her first request of her new father was to ask him to allow her to contact her. She knew the name: S’ar Wenda. Pleased when she mentioned the Wendas, one of the leading families in this Sector, Del A’nden offered no objection. They became best friends.

To her delight she found the Wenda family next in line. It took all her resolve not to hug her sister, but she kept protocol and nodded, even though with more enthusiasm than appropriate. The Wenda parents wore sable edged in black. Their daughter, in a gown of sable and cream, held a splash of red interwoven in the fabric. S’ar was engaged! Why hadn’t her sister told her?

As S’ar reached her, Tadessa fingered the cream and red addition to her clothing, raising one eyebrow in question.

“Later,” S’ar hissed, evidently not pleased with her new status. “What about the white and gold in your gown?”

“I don’t know.” But the thought caused a ripple of fear. Was she engaged too? If so, why had no one informed her? How could she not know if she was engaged?

Finally, officially announced with trumpets, the Imperial House arrived, led by the new Emperor of Nevia II, his son, then his wife. All of them wore the white and gold of their office. What their House colors had been before the Intergalactic Faj had elevated them to the Imperial House for Nevia II, no one knew.

Salettin, a quirk of a smile on his lips, made his bows.

While Tadessa’s father and mother both offered very formal, deep bows, she kept her bow to Salettin as to an equal, which set off a series of murmurs to everyone who noticed. She didn’t care.

Salettin almost laughed aloud. Only a nudge from his father kept him silent. Salettin received a meaningful look like the one Tadessa’s father had given her earlier, but he put on a mocking grin.

For the first time, Tadessa witnessed the Xantis Tey familiar greeting. The Emperor grabbed her father’s hands, brought them to shoulder height, and leaned forward in a brief hug. The Empress did the same with her mother. Everyone, even Tadessa, stared at the unfamiliar gesture.

“We are so pleased to be here,” the Empress said to K’arrala D’ey Sol, as if they were the only two in the room.

“The pleasure is ours,” her mother responded as if she had rehearsed her words. Perhaps she has, Tadessa thought.

The Emperor gave her father a similar address, which her father acknowledged with an appropriate reply. But Tadessa could tell by his body language that he spoke no more than a formality. General A’nden regarded the Emperor as an enemy, contrary to the familiar salute and his gracious words. Either the Emperor didn’t notice, or didn’t care. He ushered his wife and son to the center of the room.

Every family noted the discrepancy. Whispers of intrigue and questions buzzed around the room.

Once the Royal family had passed, the Emperor and Empress began making small talk with several families. The receiving line broke up, and Tadessa was free to locate S’ar again.

The guests began milling around in conversation groups, many of them looking for ways to approach the Royal family. The avenue to security, many believed, was to align oneself with the ruling authority. Waiters provided fruit drinks, teas and bits of food on plates. No alcoholic beverages appeared in the homes of the Talented. Alcohol dulled their ability to access the energies.

Tadessa, her guards now at her heels, rushed to where S’ar stood leaning against a pillar. She ignored the guards’ hyper-attention. For all she cared, they could eavesdrop on her whole conversation with S’ar, and report every word to her parents.

They hugged like schoolgirls. Tadessa, finally free to be herself, wanted to weep for joy.

Then S’ar touched one of the curls brushing Tadessa’s shoulder, one eyebrow raised in question.

“I don’t know. I have two new maids. My hair, clothing and make-up, can you believe make-up? were ordered by the Emperor himself, I was told. They bathed me as one would an infant…” She hesitated as the memory of the intimate probing caused her breath to catch. “I’m frightened,” she finally admitted. “I feel like I’ve been plunged into a deep well with no way out.”

“Isn’t that a bit dramatic?”

She hoped so. She felt so lost she wanted to weep.

“So how did you spend your day? Weren’t you excited about hosting the Imperial Family?”

I spent it trying to leave, she never said, but the statement burned in her chest and her eyes watered for a moment. “I don’t know anything about the Royal Family. I did get a chance to meet with Prince Salettin, though. We ate lunch in the alcove off the kitchen.”

“Really? What’s he like?”

“Arrogant, irritating, interesting, excellent in martial arts.”

“You watched him do martial arts during lunch?”

“No, he invited me to watch him spar with my father. It was a draw.”

S’ar smiled. “He must be very good to come out even with a military general.”

Tadessa nodded, wondering what would have happened if her mother had not stopped them. “I think my parents hate them.”

“The Royal Family? Why?”

“I don’t know, but all around them is an awful feeling of fear and anger. I don’t understand it, or them.” Or Salettin, she added to herself.

“Well, you’ve always been more perceptive to surface thoughts and emotions than I am. My parents aren’t too impressed with the ba Tirs either, but I think that’s because the royals promote slavery, an attitude which will never succeed with the Sector Five families.”

Tadessa laughed. “True.”

“Has the prince said anything about slavery?”

“Not a word, but I didn’t ask.”

“I guess we’ll just need to wait until they make something public.”

Tadessa touched the red and cream weavings in S’ar’s gown. “Tell me about these colors.”

“The Se Battin family, Kadel Se Battin is my betrothed. My parents wouldn’t let me announce my engagement.”

“So you are engaged, then.”

“I am, but it’s not quite official. I am to wear his colors, but my Celebration of Glory won’t be until after the Faj officials leave this Sector. They wanted me to have my own parties all to myself. After all, a girl only gets engaged once in a lifetime.”

“But you said you weren’t ever getting married.”

S’ar took several deep breaths as if struggling for control. Her eyes watered slightly before she blinked them dry. “I almost made it, too. I will be twenty-five in nine more mooncycles and could have chosen to remain single.”

“But your career! You excelled in botany…”

“I think I can keep my career. At least that’s a blessing of sorts, unless he wants to adopt right away.”

“Regardless, he’d have to adopt children since he chose to marry a Krindarwee. There are so few of them our age. Shouldn’t he be looking for a Nevian wife?”

“He’s sterile. I guess they did some tests. None of the families with Nevian daughters will allow marriage to a sterile man.”

“Their sterility is so unnecessary.”

“Why do you say that? Did you study Nevian reproduction?”

Not even S’ar Wenda, her sister and best friend, knew what being a Lorekeeper meant.

At that moment a tiny bell chimed.

“Someday maybe I’ll have a chance to explain it to you,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14

 

an unidentified wrongness

 

 

S’ar watched Tadessa head for the dining hall, puzzled. Her sister, who always acted a little strangely, being raised by her Krindarwee father, seemed genuinely afraid. But of what? She had heard the stories, how she and her father had fought off Blades while living in the streets. Then the scar on her cheek, more evidence of her fearlessness, testified to her courage in not only confronting the assassins that had invaded their home, but her evil uncle who had been possessed by a Moloch.

Once S’ar had asked Tadessa why she refused corrective surgery to get rid of the scar. The answer, even now, made no sense. “I earned this scar,” she said. “It’s a visible reminder of my purpose,” whatever that meant.

More than frightened, though, S’ar noticed that Tadessa looked lost, almost as lost as when she first arrived in the Upper Third Level, which was about as far from the streets as a person could manage. It surprised her that the A’nden heiress had asked for her personally. S’ar, with no idea what to expect, arrived with her parents, who already knew Former Commissioner Del A’nden. S’ar had never met the man.

After introductions and a light lunch, their parents shooed the two girls into Tadessa playroom/study to get to know each other.

“I’m your sister,” the little girl said, even though they had already been introduced. “Our daddy was Snake. We have different mamas.”

“You knew my parents, my real parents?”

“Yes. I wish you could have met them. They’re wonderful people.” She paused. “I need to keep reminding myself that Daddy’s dead. It’s hard to imagine, and even harder to accept.” A few tears escaped before the girl gained control.

“What’s my mother like?” S’ar asked in a hurry to sidetrack the sorrow.

“She’s big, with a heart that’s even bigger. You look a lot like your mama. I look more like our daddy.” Then she put in S’ar’s mind a picture of her mother.

No one had ever communicated with her in this way. She stared, open-mouthed, at her new sister. “How did you know about me?”

“They talked about you, how your mother was snatched from the Village by Blades and tortured, and how, two tendays later, our father found Berita in the care of Sann’s Health Center, still too badly injured to go home. But you were adopted out. They never figured out how to find you, and thought you lost to your people forever.”

“But I’m not lost,” S’ar was pleased to say with pride. “I see Grandmother Zilla every tenday because I’m going through my Time. We tried the Discipline, but …”

“… it doesn’t work on the Krindarwee,” the girls said in unison.

They laughed together, breaking the barrier between them.

“What did my mother name me?”

“Tadessa, the same name they gave me. It just means ‘The Promise of Khaadi,’ nothing more. You would have been the Promise if you hadn’t been taken away.”

“What do you mean, ‘the Promise’?”

“I was born, you also, I think, to solve three problems. We are to share our lore with our people, and anyone else who wants to learn. We’re to free the slaves in Sector One, and we’re to get rid of the Zocassari.”

“What are those?”

“You call them Molochs.”

S’ar shuddered. “No one can do that.”

“I can, and I did, before we moved here.” She touched her cheek where the new, pink scar curved just under her cheekbone. “My mama’s brother sent a group of assassins to our other place to kill Mama and Daddy Del, and to abduct me. The Zocassari that controlled my uncle wanted to possess me. That’s not possible, because of who I am, but it didn’t know that.” She paused, probably remembering the incident, that even though related in such a matter-of-fact tone must have been traumatic. “I couldn’t stand the thought of my uncle under that thing’s control, so I removed all the threads binding it to him.”

“He died.” S’ar knew what always happened when a Discipline Master tried to release someone from a Moloch. “They all do.”

“They wouldn’t have to, but Uncle Jem wanted that monster more than he wanted to be free. Kirimina, one of his assassins, was also possessed, and she didn’t die when I release her.”

You can’t do that, S’ar almost said aloud. As she examined the girl’s expression and her surface thoughts, she realized that her half-sister not only claimed to do such an amazing feat, she actually accomplished it. That was her first example of Tadessa’s strangeness. Even though she had been seeing Grandmother Zilla for a couple of mooncycles, she never really came to know any of the Krindarwee. If they were all like Tadessa, she came from a bizarre people group. S’ar preferred to be Nevian, like her adoptive parents.

From that moment on, she took it upon herself to help Tadessa become as Nevian as possible. To her delight, the girl learned quickly. By the time she entered the women’s academy, where elite young ladies attended school, Tadessa could pass, culturally, as Nevian as anyone else, at least most of the time. However, an aura of strangeness never quite disappeared. Tadessa looked at the world in a very un-Nevian way.

Maybe it was that un-Nevian approach to life that caused the fear her little sister experienced right now. Maybe she felt a threat no one else seemed to see. S’ar knew that Tadessa was extraordinarily perceptive, more so than anyone else she had ever met. One thing she knew for certain, Tadessa was not the sort of person to imagine a threat. So she entered the dining hall with more than a little trepidation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15

 

a reason for avoidance

 

 

Colonel Mozt kept his eyes fixed away from the young Mistress. He heard her plea wanting to know what was happening to her, and dared not respond. The Royal Family had made it clear. Until they made their demands known publicly, no one was to say anything. In fact, even if he wanted to, no words would come. They had placed some kind of an inhibitor on everyone in this building.

He hated them. The Colonel hated no one that he remembered, except for them. He never even hated the Blades who put a death mark out on him the day he left them. He feared the gang of felons less than he feared the royals. It was just that he felt something terribly wrong about them. Motz wasn’t any more Talented than the next man, but he couldn’t shake that feeling of something being off.

He felt sorry for the young Mistress. He wished he could have remained her good friend Bil Motz, friend and accomplice to Snake, her father. He had liked working with the man. Snake never enjoyed burglary, but he needed to break his wife out of prison before they killed her. In fact, they almost did kill the Lady before he and Snake rescued her. That was the only time Bil believed he did the right thing when he broke the law.

His one regret was that he never found the courage to allow the young Mistress back into his life after he killed her father. She tried several times to tell him that she forgave him. He thought that bringing to the Lady’s attention that he had killed her husband, solely in defense, not murder, never murder, would be his hardest job. As it turned out, facing the young Mistress’ agony of losing her father, the only parent who really understood her, became more than he could bear.

The young Mistress, as he called her, never Mistress Chalatta, because no matter what her parents called her, he knew she was some kind of a daughter of prophecy, Tadessa, Tad, as he knew her then. Now she was a prisoner of the Faj. The royals would have their way, sure enough, and he hated what was happening to her.

He wanted to warn the girl, but there was nothing he, or anyone else, could do. It wouldn’t matter, of course. She’d never remember who she used to be. That was the way of it, when those mind workers gained control. He felt especially sorry for the Lady. She had to watch it. She, who had done everything she could to get things back to right again, had to watch it all fall apart again.

Colonel Motz kept his face impassive. He kept his mind impenetrable. Not Talented, not at all, but his shield was stronger than plastisteel. They wouldn’t get to him, and they wouldn’t get to his Lady.

But the girl… Who was there to protect the girl?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16

 

The arrangement

 

 

 

Everyone filed into the Grand Dining Hall, their places assigned to them. Tadessa anticipated sitting at one end of a gigantic table with her parents. Instead, her parents led her to a head table on a raised dais where her House, her mother’s House and the new Imperial House were assigned together. Everyone else sat at smaller tables throughout the Grand Dining Hall.

Salettin looked splendid in a white satin suit with golden lapels and a cascading tie of B’anu silk. His hair seemed as golden as the accents on his suit.

Tadessa gave her head a mental shake, upset at how dreamy-eyed she felt when around him.

To her dismay, she had been placed next to Salettin. As if it was his fault, she glared at the Imperial Prince.

He kept his voice barely above a whisper. “I had nothing to do with the seating, but I think we’d best not make waves.”

She couldn’t agree more.

Tadessa glanced at her mother for a clue, but her mother avoided her gaze and adjusted one of the golden ruffles that covered all but her fingertips.

Her eyes traveled toward Salettin’s mother, Alrenn, whose thin arms were bare and her beautifully rounded bosom was not even covered with sheer cloth. Furthermore, she seemed unaware of how unacceptable her clothing was to Upper Third Level society. Alrenn, a pale blonde with a porcelain complexion, sat with practiced ease in her own form of seductive beauty. Her exquisite chiffon and satin gown hid none of her slender frame.

General Del A’nden, gave a short welcoming speech directed mostly at His Imperial Majesty Orvinet ba Tir. His words were gracious. His body language was rigid and icy. Emperor ba Tir did not seem to notice. The Emperor’s brocade vest seemed puff out with pride as he accepted her father’s words.

Tadessa’s mother gave a similar speech to Her Empress Alrenn ba Tir, but her body showed a stiff hostility, even though her words dripped with platitudes. What was happening?

Tadessa hoped she wasn’t supposed to give any kind of speech. She had nothing good to say to anyone, certainly not Salettin.

Salettin rose next, and said a few pleasant words to no one in particular and sat down.

K’arrala stood and bowed low to the Imperial family, inviting her guests to partake in the celebratory meal.

Everyone applauded.

Servants brought around the first course of food, a luscious soup that smelled terrific. Tadessa was very hungry. It was already past her bedtime, so she was sleepy as well. She had been warned that the Imperial couple expected to be entertained all night.

Just as Tadessa reached for her spoon, someone’s probe touched her mind. She snapped her shield into place. At first she thought Salettin was playing some kind of prank, but when she traced the probe back to its source, it wasn’t the ba Tir son. His father gave her a nod and a smile, and tried again, this time with more force.

“Is your father a Discipline Master?” Tadessa whispered to Salettin.

“Yes. Why?”

“He’s trying to invade my mind.”

“You should let him. Life is easier on all of us when he gets his way.” But his face was pale, and he looked shaken. He would not meet her eyes. For some reason he found his water glass very fascinating.

Tadessa faced the Emperor, furious. Stop it!

His smile broadened. So you can use mind speech.

Of course I can.

My son tells me you’re a Null.

Yes. What else has he told you about me?

Not as much as you will tell me yourself. Those tests I insisted your father place before you, on the pretext of you being your mother’s next page, revealed too little. I want to know far more. I especially want to know about your people, the Krindarwee.

Never! While she might have allowed him to know more about herself, she absolutely refused the Intergalactic Faj to access anything about her people. It was at their insistence that her people were enslaved in Sector One. She hadn’t been completely forthright with Salettin when she told him about her purpose. But there were no words to explain that she was the one destined to liberate the whole planet from domination by the Faj.

Let me strengthen you, Zilla said. The Promise of Khaadi does not fight her battles alone. She has the strength of her people behind her.

The next moment she found his probe trying to penetrate her thoughts like a white-hot needle trying to lance a boil.

Tadessa grimaced and allowed Zilla to strengthen her shield, breaking his needle. She did not exhale in relief, although she wanted to.

That grimace you gave a moment ago fed his desire to dominate you, Zilla warned. His kind take advantage of weakness.

Tadessa nodded internally. As the strength of his probe increased, Tadessa smoothed her features and began a conversation with Salettin, keeping her shield as solid as a rock wall.

“So what was it like growing up? What were some of the things you used to do as a boy?”

“Actually, my favorite times were when I was away at school. I’m sure you understand.”

“I’m beginning to.”

Salettin’s hand shook slightly as he reached for his glass of water. “He’s still trying to get past your shield, isn’t he?”

She gave a light laugh, as if it was no matter, but fighting Salettin’s father was getting difficult, even with Zilla’s help.

“He’s trying, and not succeeding. So what did you do at school, then?”

“How can you resist him? I never could.”

Without Zilla’s help, Tadessa knew she would be unable to resist him much longer. “Please, let’s talk about something else. What did you do for fun? Did you swim in an ocean, race air cars, climb trees, run foot races, build snow forts and have snowball fights? I kind of wish I could swim in an ocean, just once. The pool at the academy was hardly an ocean, and I can’t believe how frightened I was of the water, especially at first. I was never a strong swimmer, but I did manage to pass my class.” She was babbling, and she knew it, but she had to get Salettin talking, quickly, before her face betrayed her struggle with his father.

Salettin gave an indulgent chuckle. “All those sound like so much fun. I can’t say I had the pleasure of doing very many of them, especially anything to do with snow. To tell you the truth, I hate snow and this whole northland. I lived on a tropical coast when I wasn’t away at school, so I was able to swim in an ocean. And since aircars were always available, some of us did choose to race them, and wave skimmers too. What about you?”

“I’ve run foot races, built snow forts, competed in snowball fights, and climbed trees. Do you know what my favorite childhood memory is?”

“No.”

“I was living on the First Level with my biological father, Snake.”

“The one you so affectionately call ‘Daddy Snake’?”

“In my child’s mind, that was to differentiate him from ‘Daddy Del,’ my adopted father. Snake still lived when I was taken to live with my new father. I couldn’t bring myself to call Del ‘father’ at first.”

“You were adopted before your father died?”

“He was killed soon afterward.”

“General A’nden killed your father?”

“Colonel Motz killed my father. I was already adopted, although I didn’t know it at the time. The Colonel was under orders to take me, and not to inform Snake that I had been taken, but Motz felt it more honorable to tell Snake anyway. Daddy Snake never gave him a chance to explain. If he hadn’t still been under the influence of the drug Motz had given him to steal my mother and me away, the Colonel wouldn’t have survived. Snake came at Motz with a knife. Motz fired his gun. I had a very difficult time accepting Daddy Snake’s death.”

She regarded Salettin with curiosity. “I don’t know why you needed to hear that, Prince.”

“Then, please continue with your favorite childhood memory.”

“We, my father, my mother, and Aunt Berita were hiding from Mama’s brother at the time.”

“The one who gave you that scar on your cheek?”

“Yes. There wasn’t anywhere we could go to escape him. He was determined to kill my mother and abduct me.”

“Why?”

“His Moloch wanted to control me. My uncle wanted to control Sector Five, so he invaded our home with assassins. This is not a favorite childhood memory, Prince Salettin.”

He waved his hand for her to continue.

“Aunt Berita was posing as my mother. We were pretending to be Illegals. I had made some Legal friends who went to the local school. While pretending to be an Illegal I couldn’t go to school, but I did enjoy twine cycling with my friends.”

“What is twine cycling?”

“A twine cycle is a lightweight contraption consisting of a frame, wheels, string and elastic bands. It takes a lot of concentration and balance to ride one of them. The best part of it is, once a child gets to a certain weight, he becomes too heavy to be a very good twine cyclist. So it’s a sport only for children, and I was a small child. I received special permission from the school to be part of the twine cycling team. The last year we could play, our team won the tournament. That was so much fun!”

Dots of sweat beaded on the Emperor’s upper lip. He was no longer smiling. A lock of his auburn hair hung over his brow, and a snarl of grim determination had replaced his mocking grin. If he ever looked friendly, nothing about him appeared so now. The challenge of battle lit his eyes. He renewed his attack with ferocity.

Zilla!

I’m here, My Heart.

To distract herself, she turned her attention to his wife. Alrenn ba Tir stirred the food on her plate, but not even a nibble reached her mouth. Every so often she glanced at Tadessa, a frown gathering at her brow.

“Your mother isn’t eating,” she said, curious.

“Xantis Tey women don’t eat very much in public. It’s considered rude and gluttonous. And they never eat dessert, especially in public. Some refrain from eating any dessert even in the privacy of their own homes. Others, however, allow themselves a few slices of fruit as a substitute. If they ever do, Xantis Tey women wait until they are in the privacy of their own apartments if they would like to indulge in a bite or two of something sweet.”

A bite or two. How strange.

Not at all. Nothing is considered more unattractive than a fat woman.

Your father is huge.

He’s a man. He’s considered robust.

Robust, is it? He’s just plain fat, Salettin.

He laughed into her mind. You, my dear, would be considered chubby in my culture. I notice you aren’t eating much.

She glared at him, wondering how she could eat when his father’s mental attacks were leaving her nauseous.

“You’re still fighting him. Chalatta, he’s a Discipline Master. He knows it’s his right to examine the thoughts of others, especially when those others affect me. He has always been protective of my position, and has destroyed those who…”

“So what is your favorite childhood memory?” She hoped she could get him talking about something else besides his father. If the severity of the probes increased, ba Tir’s next assault would soon be taking all her attention, and she wanted no evidence of her struggle where the Emperor could see it.

He must believe you are completely unaffected, or he will never stop trying, Zilla reminded her. You know his kind from living on the streets.

She did. With deliberation, she forced her attention back to Salettin.

“I… Well, I was part of my school’s Raska Team. A raska is an eight-legged creature with extreme flexibility. It can twist and turn upon itself. Learning how to ride one is a skill most never master. Those who qualify for the Raska Team can compete with other schools all over the primary galaxy. The competition is extraordinarily fierce…”

Tadessa kept her face calm, but she could no longer listen. Emperor Ba Tir blasted her with flaming probes, icy probes, razor probes, battering probes, until she thought she might start whimpering from the pain of them. But she held her shield firm, and kept her face pleasant.

If you’re so determined to resist him, you should return the attack, Salettin said in hardly more than a whisper of mind speech.

She felt his fear for her.

I was trained never to use threads that way.

Threads?

Later. Please keep talking.

Please, my dear, Alrenn ba Tir said. Chalatta hadn’t expected for the Empress to speak to her at all. Don’t resist him so. It will only get worse for you.

You’ve tried?

But she didn’t answer.

The assault lasted through the whole meal. Tadessa ate little. Her stomach threatened to toss every bite back up with each swallow.

With a suddenness that startled her, the assault stopped, and Zilla withdrew, offering the equivalent of a mental pat on her shoulder. The Emperor mopped sweat from his red face. The lock of hair, now damp, had darkened to brown.

Maybe Orvinet said something to his wife in mind speech. The Empress Alrenn stroked his arm as if concerned. He shook his head, and managed a fake chuckle, but when his eyes fell on Tadessa, only hatred remained.

Tadessa tried not to shiver. Your father is a monster.

He was more than a monster, she discovered when she sent out her own thread. A Zocassari darkness hovered around him briefly, and the next instant it was gone. She wasn’t sure how that could happen, that one of those beasts could hide its presence. She had never seen one hide before. She doubted if anyone knew the Emperor was infected, not even his son.

You won. Salettin was surprised. I’ve seen him bring hardened warriors with exceptional Talent to their knees sobbing, begging for mercy. My father does not grant mercy.

I haven’t won. He’ll find another way to attack me. She knew the tenacity of a Zocassari, which was the real reason behind the Emperor’s attack, or his first question would not have been about her people. Aside from Blades, who were physical, no one hated the Krindarwee more than these incorporeal entities. She touched the scar on her cheek. Her uncle’s beast had been at least as powerful as the Emperor’s. But the strength of the beast never mattered. It was the strength of the host that provided a Zocassari with its power. Salettin’s father, as a Discipline Master, was extraordinarily Talented.

The prince regarded her with serious eyes, but he offered no advice. Perhaps he had none.

After dessert, which Tadessa ate regardless of a glare from Salettin, General A’nden rose to his feet, bowed to the Emperor, the Emperor’s wife, and Salettin. The room quieted.

“As you know, I have spent my life in service to the Intergalactic Faj, first as a loyal soldier, later as the High Commissioner for this Sector, and more recently as the advisor to the current High Commissioner.” He bowed to his wife. “But now I wish to serve my empire in another way. If he will have her, I offer my daughter as betrothed to the son of Orvinet ba Tir, His Eminence and Prince of the Imperial House, Home and Holdings, Salettin ba Tir.”

Tadessa stared, appalled at her father, who gave her a nod in addition to a sympathetic smile. Then she stole a glance at the Emperor, who grinned in triumph. This time she could not hold back her shiver of fear.

As if he had already rehearsed this, Salettin rose from his seat, bowed first to his father, then to General A’nden. “Having reached my majority years ago, I do not need permission from my father to choose the daughter of any of the Houses on this planet. But out of respect, I have consulted with my father and General A’nden in this matter. I do accept your offer, General A’nden. Your daughter is to my liking.”

Rise with me, Chalatta. It was not an invitation.

Too stunned to argue, Tadessa rose. Her face felt bloodless, her hands like ice, and she trembled visibly. She had been betrayed by everyone. She glanced at her mother, who returned her stare with a fixed expression that indicated nothing. Was even her mother a part of this?

The room erupted in cheers.

“Then let us celebrate in the Grand Ballroom,” A’nden announced, taking his daughter’s arm as he led the way. As they entered the ballroom, the orchestra struck a dance tune, and A’nden danced his daughter onto the floor. “I am pleased you did not rebel this time,” he said into her ear.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“As I indicated this morning, very often we are not given what we want, but what we must do. The Emperor’s son was looking for a wife. He did not find one he liked in any of the other four Sectors. I thought you had offended the royal family by your misbehavior today, which would have been disastrous.”

“Disastrous? How?”

“Your rebellion would have been detrimental to all the Krindarwee.”

“But that’s…”

“Were you about to imply that it wouldn’t be fair to your people? People like the ba Tirs rule whole worlds. Being fair is not a part of their vocabulary. For the sake of your people and the peace of this planet, you are required to marry Prince Salettin, Chalatta.”

“Did you arrange this?”

“No.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

17

 

beginning the absorption process

 

 

Tadessa danced awhile with her father, in silence, because she had no idea what to say.

“I notice you are feeling betrayed,” he said.

“Yes.” Her voice was barely above a whisper.

“All young women feel this for a time. But as your father, it is my responsibility to find the best match for you, which I have. There is no one of higher status than Prince Salettin ba Tir.”

“You sold me to him.”

“I suppose you can interpret what a father must do that way. Did you really believe I would leave you unmarried?”

She had.

“Chalatta, there is more you need to know. I wish this were as simple as a father caring for his unmarried daughter. The emperor’s son was looking for a wife before he ever left his home world. When the High Emperor promoted Orvinet to the position of Emperor of Nevia II, ba Tir offered his remaining unmarried son the chance reign with him. Although Prince Salettin was not swayed by that offer, he was enticed by his choice of a planet filled with the daughters of leading families, any one of them available for his choosing.”

“He could just take anyone he wanted, without asking?”

“An Emperor’s son does not need to ask permission from anyone to take any woman to wife, not even the permission of her father.”

He hesitated as if his next statement would be difficult. “When he was a year out, Prince Salettin required the holographs and the biographies of all the daughters of reigning and high status families. That list contained almost two hundred names. I never thought you had a chance. You were too young, which I emphasized in our frequent communications. He looked at your physical age, not your physical maturity. When he indicated his interest in you, I insisted he sign an addendum that required him to spend time with the daughters of the other families first. After he landed, he complied, and did spend time with other young women. But he still insisted that all contracts, except for the final wedding contract, be signed before he landed. You became his legal wife mooncycles before he ever reached this planet, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it.”

“But the wedding contract hasn’t been signed, has it?”

“The wedding contract finalizes the exchanges of wealth and title. It does nothing else.”

“Father…”

“Chalatta, I need to tell you something else. “You are a Xantis Tey now, his people. They expect you to become one of them in thought as well as in action.”

“In thought?”

“Yes. They will expect you to think like they do. They have a proven system that changes the way an ‘Outsider,’ their word for anyone not born into their culture, thinks about him or herself, as well as how they think about everything and everyone else.”

“A proven system? It always works? They can’t know how I think.”

“They can, and they will change you. I would have preferred that almost any other species had been chosen to rule this planet. When this dance finishes, I will hand you over to your husband.”

“Father…”

“I have one request, if you are able, Princess ba Tir.”

Her heart fluttered. What was he saying?

“Keep your Krindarwee heritage close to your heart. Do not let them change that, above all else. If you are able, find a place in your mind to keep that one thing safe.”

“I don’t understand…”

“I hope you will, and within the next few seconds, because from my association with you, I have discovered that the Krindarwee do not change, and the future of your people may depend…”

Salettin did not wait for her father to finish. He nodded to the General and took her away.

She stared at Salettin, attempting to pull on a thread to help her understand how she could become engaged without finding out, but all his thoughts were on her.

Xantis Tey, she reminded herself. Their rulers used mind control, she remembered reading. She wondered what that meant. Were they all like his father who believed he had the right to invade a mind without asking? A flash of panic followed. In an eye blink, she hid all knowledge of her people in an unreachable place deep within her mind and shielded it with a film of random thoughts of no importance.

“What was that?” Salettin asked. “I felt a moment of fear.”

“I… I don’t know what it means to be one of your people. Your father intruded where he didn’t belong. I was afraid you were the same.”

I will teach you, he said, pleased she had asked. You need not fear me. He let her feel his assurance.

“By the way, thank you for sharing your mother’s retreat with me. That is an extraordinary place. As busy as she is, I’m sure it’s necessary.”

“It is.”

She felt his hands on her body through her gown, and realized that he believed they belonged there as they explored her back through the fabric. Did they?

“I’m sure you enjoyed the times you were able to have breakfast with her.”

“As if I’ll never breakfast with her again?” She laughed.

He smiled at her, his eyes holding her as if he couldn’t get enough. “I am infatuated with you,” he said. “So much that I have a pet name for you. Chala. In my tongue it means ‘My Delight,’ for you have delighted me beyond measure.”

Before she considered challenging his statement, she accepted the name. In that single breath she became his delight, his Chala. Any other names she might have had vanished in the next second. Salettin’s name for her seemed to fit in a special place in her heart where she was his cherished and chosen wife.

Chala stared back at Prince Salettin in wonder as thought after thought seemed to enter her mind and settle there before she a chance to examine any of them.

He smiled at her, holding his lips beside her ear. I am pleased you want to be one of us.

Do I?

Don’t you? Am I not feeling your desire to learn all about us?

Yes. Did she? Wasn’t there some kind of a warning that she should be wary? But if there was, she couldn’t find it.

She pulled back so she could see him better. He was not a boy, she realized, even though he had presented her with a kind of boyish charm all day.

“I want you to know how much I appreciate you not making a scene this evening.”

“What else could I have done? Does a place exist where I am not sold to the highest bidder? You got what you wanted, as did my father.” Except that her father warned her about…something.

He shook his head in dismay. “It’s not like that, Chala. You were adopted into a high-ranking family, which made you available to me. Of all the other women on this planet, I chose you. In return, you receive an empire.”

She blinked back tears. She didn’t want an empire.

He touched a tear that escaped. “You’ll grow into your position. You’re young yet.”

How would she grow into her position? Chala had never wanted to run away more.

“Did you appreciate my bridal gift? Emree and Raeta are very rare. I can see their talents are not being wasted on you.” He spun her away from him until her skirts swirled away from her body, revealing her legs halfway up her thighs. She burned with embarrassment.

He pulled her back so that his one hand stroked her shoulder, and the next slid down her side from her underarm to her waist. No one danced like this!

“You can’t just give people to someone,” she said, trying not to sound as breathless as she felt.

“Of course I can. I purchased them on Trellon Six for my bride, whoever she might be, knowing I would be able to choose from a whole planet of beauties. Emree and Raeta are Duswani. I doubt there are ten thousand Duswani left in the whole empire. They don’t really breed very well in captivity, so the Emperor of Trellon Six is planning to release a number of them back into the wild, hoping to harvest a few every so often. None, though, are as gifted as Emree and Raeta as personal maids. I was lucky to find them.”

“Lucky,” she said.

“Yes. They know exactly what I want for you. You are indeed beautiful!”

She had nothing to say. She pulled thread after thread, discovering bits and pieces, but nothing that gave a clue as to what he planned. Yet she felt connected to him somehow, but couldn’t explain how she could connect with this stranger, a person who believed he could take someone without asking, Emree, Raeta. Herself.

The dancing lasted the whole night. He kept her in his arms, not releasing her until six-hundred the next morning, although dawn in this northland was still hours away.

He escorted her to the elevator, but entered the wrong code.

“My suite is on the top floor, Salettin.”

“No longer.”

“No, you can’t have moved me away from my family and my things.” Her protest sounded feeble.

“All your needs will be met,” he assured her.

She stared at him.

We’re connected now, he said with a disarming smile, as is right for a husband with his wife.

She remembered the things hidden in the pockets of her coat, but kept the thought behind her shield.

Your shield is unnecessary between us, planting a kiss on her lips as the elevator doors opened, where he handed her over to a couple of his guards. When he left, it was as if he took his support with him. She felt very tired all at once.

The guards led her down the hall, and opened a door for her, but she paid no attention. All she wanted was to get some sleep.

When she reached her suite, the two new maids, who had prepared her for this evening, greeted her.

“It is time for us to get the Princess ready for bed,” Emree said as she began unbuttoning her dress.

“I can get myself ready for bed.”

Emree squeaked in distress. “Is the Princess displeased with me? Oh, if the Princess is displeased and she tells her husband…”

“He will sell us. He is a good master. We do not want to be sold. The Princess cannot be displeased.”

“Oh, for the sake of the Ancients. I’m not going to tell my lord Salettin that I want him to sell you.” My lord Salettin?

Emree chittered in gratitude as she continued to undress her charge down to her skin. She handed the naked princess to Raeta who guided her into a large, deep tub filled with foamy water, and bathed her. Much like before, her hands stroked private places, bringing Chala to a pleasure she never knew existed. After drying her, she helped her onto a table in one of the other rooms.

The new Princess experienced her first full-body massage. It put her right to sleep. She never felt them pull a transparent nightgown over her head or place her into her bed.

You are Xantis Tey now, her lord Salettin said into her mind during her first dream. You are safe with your people.

My people are… The thought escaped into a hidden place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18

 

the hidden place

 

 

Exhausted, Zilla lay back on her soft pallet. The Daughter would be Xantis Tey. Nothing could be done to prevent it, but she was also, still, Krindarwee. Somewhere in her mind, all her memories, all her training, remained. The Faj prince would never be able to access it.

Nennet stroked her shoulder with one hand while she covered her with the other.

Harbini murmured a prayer of blessing over her. “I’ve never seen you work before,” he said when he finished. “Not like that. You supported our Daughter all through the prince’s Absorption, keeping the hidden things hidden. It’s good to know that we have not lost the Daughter to these mind workers.”

Zilla heard them, but she drifted to heavily toward sleep to respond. She’s safe, she repeated to herself. And so are we. She found a place to hide everything from these new invaders. All Zilla had done was cover the memories with a heavier blanket of unimportant memories. The Daughter might have trouble finding the hidden cache of history and knowledge, but at least it was safe. She would never betray them, even by accident.

Her skills as a Life Weaver far surpassed anyone’s in the Village. Harbini was right to be impressed. But the Daughter was far more Threaded than anyone had ever foreseen. The Krindarwee could not afford to lose her. She would find a way to defeat these Xantis Tey.

In her dream, Zilla watched helplessly as the Xantis Tey witch, Alrenn ba Tir, enslaved the girl’s mind. In horror, she saw Alrenn order a Xantis Tey Colonel solder a band of bells to Tadessa’s wrists, deliberately allowing the flame to get too close to the skin, burning it. Tadessa did not scream, however, but offered her other hand for the same treatment, believing she deserved it.

Both wrists, then both ankles, received a band of beautiful silver bells as the flame bubbled and blackened the skin where the flame touched it.

What are they doing to her? Zilla wondered, weeping in her sleep as the prophetic dream refused to release its hold on her. She realized that her job to watch would require even more perseverance than she first realized. Why were they torturing her?

Zilla realized, even as the dream dissipated that her duty to watch and protect Tadessa had just begun. She was going to need to get other Lorekeepers like Nennet to oversee and train the new ones coming up. Khaadi was sure providing far more of them than was necessary for one small village. She wondered at that too as she finally fell into a deep sleep.

Counselor A’nton B’sheer woke later that day, fully aware that everything had changed. He paced through his apartment, angry, an uncharacteristic feeling for him. He agonized with his best friend the General Del A’nden. They hadn’t grown up together, but met in Discipline Master Virol D’ey Sol’s study back on Nevia II. From the time they turned three, they studied under the old Formalist priest daily, two hours a day until they were old enough to enter their separate academies.

But they never lost contact. After the fiasco of losing their families to the unexpected solar flare that took the last ship to leave Nevia, the one that held their parents, wives, and children, they held each other, weeping like babies. It was the only time B’sheer had ever witnessed A’nden in so much pain. His friend lost everything that day, except his title.

Although B’sheer never married again, A’nden did, adopting his beloved’s daughter, raising the girl as his own child. As he thought about the girl, who was now Princess ba Tir, and would forever be inaccessible to them, he grieved as if he, too, had lost a loved one.

The Xantis Tey never gave up one of their own. If she failed to comply to their Absorption process, they would kill or enslave her before they would let her go, a fact A’nden knew, a fact A’nden kept from his wife—a fact also hidden from the new princess. The Xantis Tey were a cruel race to those who refused their ways.

May the Path guide you, Princess ba Tir. Learn how to keep yourself safe.

 

 

 

 

 

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

Born into an abusive home, Patricia determined to make a better home when she married. She realized as soon as her first child was born that she needed to relearn how to parent. After much reading, trial and error, and advice, she accomplished her goal so well she began to parent other children in her home.

That is the background Patricia brings into her stories. Her “children” are heroes, survivors who lived through tough childhoods and went on to become successful adults. Although her work is mainly science fiction, her characters are based on composites of real people who also must live with their decisions.

Patricia and her husband, live outside of Durango, Colorado, surrounded by national forest, a great environment for a writer.

To contact Patricia:

[email protected]

@PatriciaRSchole (Twitter)

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/PatriciaRenardScholes

Make comments. She would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Books by Patricia Renard Scholes

 

Herbal/Survival:

39 Healthy Teas You Can Make at Home

Healing Herbs from Your Kitchen

30 Powerfoods – Plan Your Diet from These Foods

A Willowbark Tea Herbal Garden

Willowbark Tea and Other Backyard Remedies

Surviving Hard Times – A Livingbook

 

Lorekeeper of the Tapestry series

Her Darkest Beauty

Steps of the Dance

Her Dark Inheritance

 

Song of the Lorekeeper Series

Into Darkness

Counterweave

New Threads

Broken Thread

 

Bible Study

I AM – The Words Jesus Said About Himself

 

Co-edited with Christopher Renard:

The Fox and Abd al-Qadir, My March Toward Freedom,

as told by a prisoner of the Third Jihad

 


Into Darkness

The Intergalactic Faj conquer whole worlds. Over a generation ago, the Faj sent Nevians to conquer the planet, a peaceful homeland holding three separate cultures. They introduced strange and horrifying concepts like slavery and slaughter. They confiscated the land and forced the people into Sectors. The Krindarwee in Sector One, the ones hardest hit by the invaders, prayed for a deliverer. Twenty years ago, the Daughter was born, and trained into her purpose to share the stories and songs of her people, to release those held in slavery, and to eliminate the Faj from their planet. No one expected for the Daughter to become infatuated with the Prince in the Faj, or for the Faj to have the ability to completely dominate a person’s mind.

  • Author: Patricia Scholes
  • Published: 2017-03-05 04:50:17
  • Words: 33135
Into Darkness Into Darkness