Disclaimer:
The following is a work of fanfiction. All characters and situations belonging to the animated feature film "Atlantis: the Lost Empire" are copyrighted to Disney Enterprises, Inc. A few of the words that are in the Atlantean language are from the actual language created for the film by Marc Okrand. The rest I have lifted and modified from Hebrew. Everything else, including original characters, is of my own creation.

Author's Notes:
This is the conclusion of my Helga/Rourke trilogy that was started in "Love's Illusions" and continued by "Love's Loyalties". It is strongly recommended that you have read both "Love's Illusions" and "Love's Loyalties" before you start this one. This is a direct continuation.
In order to emphasize that the characters are not speaking English, I have placed Atlantean words throughout the story. A few of them are from the actual language while the rest are modifications of Hebrew. For your convenience, I am listing, in no particular order, all the words used:

Official Atlantean: English:
Mahtihm Mother
Tahbtoap Father
Soopuhk Hello
Pahgen Thanks
Bahdeg Cool
Bahdegtoat Cooler
Alish Child
Mahkijtuhgsuhg Kings
Maht Great, awesome
Moak Great, big, powerful, grand

Created Atlantean: English:
Damkoht Bizarre, weird
Aifohm Aunt
Lamahp Uncle
Kisehm Amazing, neat
Prahtim Honey
Roshtseh Stink
Moaktahbtoap Grandfather
Pohyest Crap, shit
Gahnk Hell
Yahyimn Baby
Hahtomm Darling
Shahohptshoam Damn it
Hahev Cereal
Lisair Hot
Ohmlah Butt
Kahmoap Brother
Tahreen Monster
Mihlimn Love
Keert Suck (as in "you suck")
Lilahm Sweetie

This story contains violence, adult language, and adult content. It is not recommended for younger readers.
All comments and questions may be sent to me at: jhorwitz
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy the story.

Love's Legacy
by
Julie Horwitz

"Can you see it yet?" Saranikash called up to her best friend who was scaling the cave wall.

"Not yet," Christine told her, "but I know it's up there. We both saw it land."

The two girls had been exploring the caves surrounding Atlantis (without permission, as usual) when they had spotted a strange flying creature. They had trailed it for about twenty minutes before it had landed on a ledge high up on the cave wall. Chris, being the better climber of the two, had decided to take a closer look.

"So, where were we before this thing showed up?" Chris asked.

"Um," Sarani said, thinking, "I think we were up to the part after we reach the surface."

"Yeah, now I remember," Chris agreed as she continued climbing. "The first thing we'd have to do would be to find some clothes. We'd stick out like sore thumbs dressed like this."

"Not only that, but Tahbtoap and Aiform Helga say it actually gets cold up there," Sarani told her. "Can you imagine?"

"That is so damkoht!" Chris said. "I wonder how they keep warm?"

"I guess we'll find out when we get there," Sarani decided. "Okay, we find some clothes. Then what?"

"I guess we'd need some kind of transportation. You know, those car things your tahbtoap never learned to operate," Chris continued.

Sarani laughed. "Poor Tahbtoap. He had such a rough life before coming to Atlantis."

"At least he tells you about it," Chris said soberly. "Mahtihm doesn't like to talk about hers at all. She says it hurts too much to think about my tahbtoap."

"Yeah," Sarani agreed. "That is so sad how he died before you were born. Aifohm Helga told me how great he was."

"That's all she tells me too." Chris reached the bottom of the ledge. "Sometimes, I find her crying and she won't tell me why, but I know it's because she's thinking about him."

"She must have really loved him," Sarani said. "Did she ever tell you how he died?"

"Uh-uh," Chris replied, shaking her head though she knew Sarani couldn't see it. "And I've never asked. I'm not sure I want to know, you know?"

"Yeah," Sarani agreed.

Chris pulled herself up and peeked over the ledge. The flying creature was there, all right, and it was sitting on a nest.

"Bahdeg," Chris murmured as she lowered herself back down. "There's a nest!" she called to Sarani.

"Kisehm!" Sarani commented.

"I wonder what these animals are," Chris said.

"We'll have to see if we can find it in any of the books in the library," Sarani decided.

"We should keep an eye on this," Chris added. "I'd love to be here when the babies hatch."

"Yeah, me too," Sarani told her. "You know how I feel about babies."

Chris laughed. "Yeah. Especially ones that get you off the hook for being next in line for the throne." Sarani hated the fact that she was a princess because it meant that she couldn't become a singer when she grew up like she wanted to. However, this was something only Chris knew about. Sarani did not like to cause trouble and knew it would upset her parents terribly if she told this to them, which was why she silently suffered through rulership lessons three times a week. If not for Chris, Sarani would never disobey her parents.

Poor Sarani just couldn't handle it when anyone was mad at her. Sometimes it took hours just to get her to stop crying. So Chris, guilty for getting her best friend in trouble, always took the blame for both of them. It was the least she could do.

Chris slightly twisted so she could get a good look at the ground. It was pretty far away, but it was nothing she couldn't handle.

"Okay, I'm coming down now." And then she leaned back and let herself drop.

About halfway through the freefall, Chris called upon her strange abilities and caught herself, slowly lowering her body to the ground.

Chris had accidentally discovered her powers over a year ago. She and Sarani decided to climb one of the giant stone statues that Aifohm Kida and Lahmahp Milo were so fond of. "If they can do it," she had said to Sarani, "so can we." The fact that such an activity had been strictly forbidden to anyone under thirteen had not bothered her in the least. (The caves were just as forbidden and that hadn't stopped her from repeatedly visiting them either.) Unfortunately, just as she was about to reach the top, Chris' foot had slipped on some mossy overgrowth and she had lost her balance.

As she fell, she had prayed to both the gods and kings of the past to save her and then, miraculously, she had felt herself stop falling. Tentatively opening her eyes, she had seen the ground, which was still several feet below her.

She had been floating in midair.

Not knowing what had exactly happened, Chris had concentrated on lowering herself to the ground and then found herself going down. And that had been just the beginning. She was continually discovering new abilities that she didn't know how or why she possessed. So far, Sarani was the only one who knew, having witnessed Chris' discovery. She was afraid to tell anyone else, especially Mahtihm. There was no telling how someone would react if he or she knew.

"I hate it when you do that," Sarani remarked as they started walking back the way they came.

"Why? You think I'll forget to catch myself or something?" Chris smirked.

"It could happen, you know," Sarani told her. "You get distracted and splat! No more best friend!"

"There is something good that would come out of that," Chris told her knowingly.

"And what's that?"

"Atlantis would at last be free from the terror that is Christine Lyla Sinclair," Chris announced in a grand fashion. "The great sigh of relief would be heard for miles!"

Sarani punched her in the arm. "Yeah, but then who would I run away to the surface with?"

"Oh, tons of people! As princess, you can force anybody you want to go with you," Chris pointed out.

"Don't remind me," Sarani rolled her eyes. "Thank the gods Mahtihm is having a baby!"

Chris giggled. "And here we go again!"

Sarani saw Aifohm Kida's pregnancy as her "salvation" from the queenhood. She had her fingers crossed that her new brother or sister would want to rule so she could pursue her dreams of being a singer. Chris wasn't so sure things actually worked that way, but she went along with Sarani's version because it made her friend happy.

"I swear, if I have to go through one more rulership lesson, I'll kill someone!"

"I can just see the headlines now. 'Innocent bystander slain by irate Princess Saranikash'," Chris said theatrically. "And how would you perform this act of murder?"

"Hmm," Sarani seemed to think. "Let's see. How does hitting him over the head with a book sound?"

"It would have to be one big book," Chris decided.

"We'll just ask Tahbtoap to write one about all the stuff his moaktahbtoap did," Sarani said. "You know that would be huge!"

"Tremendous!" Chris concurred. "Gods, remember when we were really little and when we asked him to tell us a story, it would always be about him?"

"How could I forget?" Sarani laughed. "Once Tahbtoap got started, he wouldn't stop!"

"It would have been so maht to have met him though," Chris mused. "He sounds like he was a really bahdeg guy. One that wouldn't get mad at us for doing something like this."

"Or, worse yet, freak out like Aifohm Helga does when she can't find you," Sarani said.

"Poor Mahtihm," Chris shook her head. "She gets all upset if I'm one minute late home from school."

"Ever wonder why she's so overprotective of you?" Sarani asked. "I mean, we probably live in the safest environment in the world. What does she think could possibly happen to you?"

"That's another thing I've never asked her," Chris admitted. "I guess I should, but I'm kind of afraid of knowing. It's the same with knowing what happened to my tahbtoap." She sighed. "Hopefully things will change when I become an adult in less than a year."

Sarani snorted. "Please. This is your mahtihm we're talking about here. Besides, you know she's not going to think of you as an adult for another five or six years. Up on the surface world, thirteen is still considered a child."

"But we don't live on the surface," Chris pointed out. "We live in Atlantis and thirteen is an adult here. Heck, I could even get married if I wanted to!"

Sarani burst out laughing. "You? Married? Like that's ever going to happen!"

Chris smacked her arm. "Hey, are you saying no guy could ever fall for a girl like me? I've been told I'm quite beautiful on many occasions." She made exaggerated primping gestures.

"Beautiful or not, you think a guy's going to want a wife who runs off on adventures with her best friend whenever she feels like it?"

"Hmm, I think I see your point," Chris grinned. "I can just see the stunned look on the guy's face when I say, "here Prahtim, you mind watching the kids while I'm off on another adventure? And, no, I don't know when I'll be back. Have fun!'."

"I also think the world will be a much safer place if you don't multiply," Sarani continued. "You're bad enough. Who knows what kind of kids you'd produce?"

"Enough with the cracks already, Princess," Chris said, using Sarani's most hated nickname. "Let's concentrate on the only marriage of any real importance: Mahtihm's."

"Brykloap is such a great guy," Sarani said. "You know, if Aifohm Helga doesn't marry him before I'm thirteen, I'll steal him for myself!"

"Sarani, you surprise me," Chris smirked. "I never knew you were into older men!"

"Just one," Sarani corrected. "Anyway, he'd never take me. He's too much in love with your mahtihm."

"I know. And Mahtihm loves him just as much," Chris said. "So why the heck aren't they married yet? I mean, come on! They've been together since I was a baby! I want him to be my tahbtoap already!"

"Yeah. And from the way my mahtihm tells it, he's the one who got Aifohm Helga through the loss of your real tahbtoap," Sarani said.

"That must have been some trick," Chris commented. "Like I said, she still cries over him. Imagine how much worse she'd be without Brykloap."

"We've got to get them married already!" Sarani said. "You have a new plan yet?"

"Of course," Chris confirmed. "One that's completely fool-proof."

"Wait a second," Sarani said, folding her arms. "Isn't that what you always say?"

"Yeah, but this time I mean it!" Chris defended herself. "There's no way this one can fail."

"If you say so," Sarani said. "So tell me, Miss 'No Way This Can Fail', what are you going to do this time?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," Chris teased. "But wouldn't you rather hear about the progress of my plan to get us into the old throne room?"

"Ooh, tell me! Tell me!"

Chris grinned. This was something they had been planning for months, ever since they found that book in the palace library that had detailed the palace's construction. From the diagrams, they had determined it would be a really neat hangout, especially when they didn't want anyone finding them.

"I've figured out the route with the least guards," she said. "We start at your room, take the old unused servant staircase all the way to the ground level, and exit outside in the back of the palace. We go around to the side and reenter through one of the windows. There's about four halls we have to go through, each of them with about two guards. I've timed their patrols, so we should be all right. After we get through the halls, we'll reach the double doors to the throne room."

"Sounds good to me," Sarani nodded. "And, let me guess, you're going to pop the lock with your mind."

"I've already done it three times," Chris confirmed.

"Three times?" Sarani came to a stop and crossed her arms. "You didn't go in, did you?"

"Of course not," Chris informed her. "You're my partner in crime." She grinned. "Besides, I need you in case we get caught. There's no way I'm ever taking all the blame!"

She was kidding, of course, and Sarani knew it, but it was still fun to tease her.

"You roshtseh, you know that?" Sarani said.

"Really?" She made an exaggerated effort of sniffing herself. Wrinkling her nose, she proclaimed, "Yep! I sure do!"

Both laughing, they continued walking until they reached the end of the long cavern. They stepped out onto the large ledge that overlooked Atlantis and came to a halt.

"Oh, pohyest!" Chris cursed, her smile immediately melting.

"Our parents are going to be furious!" Sarani cried.

The city was covered in the dark of night.

((((())))))

Helga quietly sat in the palace throne room, feeling sick to her stomach. Even Brykloap's comforting embrace couldn't ease her worry and fear. Chris had never come home from school today and Helga had no idea where she was.

She had waited for her, as always. This had been their routine ever since Chris started school six years ago. The night before Chris had attended her first class, Helga had made her promise to come straight home every day after school ended. She had not told her why, but that should not have mattered. It was Chris' duty to obey her mother without question. She had not needed to know Helga's fears.

However, Chris didn't always keep her promise. In fact, she was late more often than not and never seemed to care that she had worried her mother sick. All that mattered to her was that she had had fun and her attitude had led them to have numerous arguments over the years. Chris never believed that she had done anything wrong. "Nothing happened," she would say. "Nothing ever does and nothing ever will. There's nothing to be afraid of." Her self-assurance was only one of the many ways in which she took after her father...

Helga had waited an hour for Chris before starting to panic. Many times Chris was late because she had stayed after class to talk things over with her teacher or she had walked Sarani back to the palace. Other times it was because she had gone exploring the forbidden caves. It was mostly the former and she came home safely. But when it was the latter...

Helga, fearing the worst, had rushed out of the house to try to find her, praying that Chris was somewhere in the city. She had first checked the school and spoke with Chris' teacher, a woman named Mertik. Mertik had informed her that Chris had left with Sarani as soon as class ended. She had assumed they were going home together. Thanking her, Helga had left, hoping that Mertik had been right and Chris had just lost track of the time, which was not uncommon for a girl who hardly ever wore a timepiece.

Instead of going directly to the palace, she had decided to check out of all Chris' known hangouts within the city, just in case. Each time she did not find Chris, she became more and more terrified and more and more convinced that she had gone into the caves. If he was out there and had found her...

When she had arrived at the palace, she had immediately gone to Sarani's room. However, when she had knocked on the door there had been no answer. Checking the handle, she had found the door unlocked and opened it.

The room had been empty.

This had been too much and she had lost the last remaining shreds of her composure. Quickly losing the battle against hysteria, she had gone to find Milo and Kida. By the time she had located them, she had been unable to speak. But, luckily, this was such a common occurrence that they had known immediately what was wrong. While Kida tried to calm her down, Milo had summoned the guards and ordered them to both search the city and bring Brykloap to the palace as quickly as possible. When Brykloap arrived, he had taken over calming and comforting Helga.

It was now two hours later and the guards had yet to return with any news at all.

Kida had become increasingly angry as the time passed. She was as certain as Helga that the girls had gone into the caves, which were strictly forbidden to anyone under thirteen without adult supervision. This was not the first time they had disobeyed and gone anyway. Kida was sure this was why neither girl had come home after school.

Helga silently watched as Kida furiously paced the throne room. If the situation had not been so serious and she had not been feeling so nauseous, she would have found the sight comical. Kida was having trouble walking due to the fact that she was in the seventh month of pregnancy. Her large belly made movements of any kind very difficult.

"What is taking the guards so long?" Kida wanted to know. "I am sure they must realize by now that the girls are not in the city."

"We don't know that for sure," Milo reminded her. "Atlantis is a big place. The girls could be anywhere. The guards have to cover everything before they start searching the caves."

"By then it could be too late," Helga softly said.

She felt Brykloap pull her closer to him. "Chris is fine," he quietly told her. "If, and I mean if, they are in the caves, Chris will bring the two of them back safely. Just as she always does. She probably knows them better than any hunter.

"And when she comes home, she will be furious that we were worried," he lightly added.

If she hadn't been so frightened, she would have laughed. "I just hope they're all right," she said instead.

"He is not out there," he said softly. "Chris will return home safely."

She looked at him. "You can't know that," she informed him just as quietly.

Ever since she had discovered that history book which recounted incidents in which the Heart of Atlantis had been used to deal with attacks, she had become more and more convinced that Rourke wasn't dead. The crystal never killed. It only banished or imprisoned. Killing wasn't in its nature.

Rourke was out there somewhere, still alive.

And probably waiting for the right moment to finish what he started.

That was why she became terrified whenever she couldn't find Chris. She knew that Chris would be the first person Rourke would go after when he returned. (When, not if, because she knew he would. She could feel it.) Her innocent daughter would be made to suffer, possibly even killed, for things that had happened before she was even born. Rourke would use Chris to pay Helga back for her final betrayal. As long as she knew where Chris was, she could try to protect her.

"It has been thirteen years, Helga," he reminded her. "He would have come back long before now if he was going to."

She knew what he said made sense and was probably right, but she couldn't bring herself to believe him. No one knew Rourke the way she did. He would never stop until he had either gotten his revenge or had been killed. And there was no proof that he had been killed...

"We need to somehow get them to stop doing this," Kida declared, pulling Helga and Brykloap's attention back to the current situation. "Perhaps we should try enforcing punishment again."

"It did not work the last time," Brykloap pointed out. "If it had, none of us would be here worrying about their whereabouts right now."

"And all it did for Chris was make her angry and very difficult to live with for two weeks," Helga added. Although that had not been the first time she had tried to discipline her daughter, that time had resulted in the worst reaction.

"Sarani just cried a lot," Milo said. "I hate it when she gets like that."

Kida sighed. "What other choice do we have? They must learn that they cannot disobey us whenever they feel like it. Especially at their age."

"So what do you suggest?" Helga asked. She doubted anything short of a miracle would make a difference in Chris' behavior.

"I think we should-"

"Excuse us, your majesties," a voice interrupted Kida before she could make her proposal.

All four eyes turned to look in the direction from which it had come. A royal guard was standing in the doorway.

"What is it, Cyick?" Kida asked. "Have you found the children?"

The doors opened wider to reveal Christine and Saranikash flanked by a contingent of guards. Sarani was openly sniffling while Chris stood with her arms crossed, looking annoyed.

"We caught them reentering the city," Cyick told her. "We can only assume that they went into the caves again."

A wave of relief washed over Helga at the sight of the two girls, especially her daughter. Chris was all right. She had once again returned home safely. Rourke had not been out there.

This time.

"You assume right," Chris said, stepping forward and dragging Sarani with her. She looked directly at Helga. "And nothing happened. Again."

Helga felt Brykloap's arms tighten around her at Chris' words.

Chris turned her attention to Kida. "And you didn't need to send the guards after us again, Aifohm Kida."

Ignoring Chris' disrespectful tone, Kida looked past her at the royal guard. "Thank you, Cyick. You may go now."

"Yes, Your Highness," Cyick bowed. He stepped backwards and pulled the doors shut as he left.

For a moment the only sound in the room was Sarani's soft crying.

Helga gazed at Chris. There was so much of Rourke in the way she was standing there, looking annoyed. This was just one of the many reminders of who her father was. There was no escaping the truth. No matter how much Helga wished she could.

"I sent the guards to find you, Christine, because no one knew where you were," Kida told her sternly. "Your mahtihm was extremely worried when you did not come home."

"She'd be worried if she couldn't find me in our own house," Chris declared.

She's right, Helga knew. She did panic when Chris was out of her sight for more than an hour. She couldn't help it. The danger of Rourke returning and harming her was too great.

"That is enough," Kida admonished her. "Your mother's concern for your safety is not the issue here. What is the issue is that you and Saranikash left the city without permission. You also failed to keep your promise to your mother that you would come straight home after school every day."

"Yeah, I did," Chris replied nonchalantly. "But I didn't really have any other choice, did I? If I had come home first and then asked to be escorted to the caves, it would have taken too long to actually get to the caves. So, I skipped the boring part and went directly to the caves." She turned her gaze to Helga. "I'm sorry I worried you, Mahtihm. But, then again, when don't I worry you?"

"Chris!" Brykloap said. "That is not how you speak to your mother."

"Brykloap," Helga quietly interjected. "It's all right. Let her get it out of her system. We're going to hear it from her all night anyway."

"I just cannot stand it when she talks to you that way," he told her.

"She doesn't mean any harm. She's really doesn't think she's done anything wrong," she explained.

"We really are sorry, Aifohm Helga," Sarani sniffled. "Please don't be mad, Mahtihm."

"Come here, Yahyimn," Milo said and Sarani practically ran into his arms. He hugged her tightly.

Kida turned to her husband and daughter. In a softer tone, she said, "I am not mad at you, Hahtomm. I am only mad at what you did." Returning her attention to Chris, she continued, "You are nearly an adult, Christine. This kind of behavior is unacceptable from a young woman of your age. The laws about the caves are there for your protection. There are numerous dangers out there, many you do not even know about. It is bad enough you continue to go there against our wishes, but for you to take Saranikash with you and place her in danger..." Kida trailed off, starting to pace again. "How can you be so irresponsible?"

"I'd never let anything happen to Sarani," Chris told her matter-of-factly. "You know that."

"Maybe not intentionally," Milo spoke up. "As Aifohm Kida has told you, there are many dangers out in those caves that you don't know exist. If you were to stumble onto one of them, you wouldn't know what to do and both of you would get hurt."

"I'm sure I could handle anything we came across," Chris waved him off, sounding perfectly confident in her own abilities.

"That is something I hope we never have to find out," Kida said.

"You can't stop me from going back," Chris told her.

"Maybe I can," Kida disagreed, stopping her pacing. She turned to face Helga. "Do you agree that a punishment is in order?"

Helga, remembering their earlier conversation, nodded. "Yes." She knew it wouldn't deter Chris for long, but it would prove that they meant business. Hopefully, she'd one day grow out of this reckless disregard for rules and regulations. If she was allowed to live long enough...

"Good." Kida turned back to Chris, who was standing with her arms crossed. "Christine, you are grounded for two months."

Chris did not say anything, but Helga could tell she was getting angrier. This was possibly the harshest punishment Kida could have ever given. Everyone knew how much Chris loved to explore and wander. Trapping her in her own house for more than a day would be like a prison. But, it was necessary and was for her own good. She had to learn that she this behavior was no longer going to be tolerated.

I'm sorry, Chris.

"The only time you will be allowed to leave your house will be to go to school," Kida continued. "There will be a royal guard assigned to escort you to and from the school. Another guard will be posted outside your house at all times to make sure you do not leave. The only other place you may go is here and that is only if your mother is going as well. Another escort will bring the both of you to and from the palace."

"What?! That's not fair!"

"I believe it is," Kida countered. "You have proven time and again that you cannot be trusted to remain in the city. You are not an adult yet and you must be made to understand that these laws have been placed to keep you safe."

"But, Aifohm Kida-" Chris tried.

"Silence," Kida ordered. "This punishment will go into effect immediately."

"Mahtihm," Chris beseeched Helga. "You can't let her do this."

"What choice do I have?" Helga asked. "She's right. You must be taught that you can't just run off whenever you feel like it, especially to someplace off-limits to you."

"Brykloap?"

"I agree as well," he told her.

Chris made angry sounds. Helga began to prepare herself for the verbal assault that was coming as soon as they got home.

"Saranikash," Kida said, turning once again to her daughter. "The same punishment goes for you."

"Yes, Mahtihm," Sarani obediently nodded as she tightly hugged Milo.

"Helga," Kida went on. "Take Christine home now. There will be a guard ready to escort her to school first thing in the morning."

"Thank you," Helga said as Brykloap helped her rise to her feet.

Chris glared at her.

Completely calm now, Helga ordered, "Chris, let's go. Right now."

Shooting Kida one last dirty look, Chris turned to leave.

"Go ahead," Helga said to Brykloap. "I'll be there in a minute."

He nodded. "I will make sure Chris does not go anywhere without you."

"Thank you," she said, kissing his cheek.

Brykloap went ahead and took Chris roughly by the arm, escorting her out of the throne room.

Helga went over to Kida, who appeared completely drained from the ordeal. "Thank you for everything."

"You are welcome. I am just glad we have our daughters back safely."

"Chris is furious," Helga told her.

"I could tell," Kida nodded. "I am sorry for the extreme punishment, but it was the best I could think of on such short notice."

"If it will keep her safe for two months," Helga said, "it's worth it."

"Let us know if you need anything," Kida said.

"I will. Thank you."

Giving Kida's hands a quick squeeze of gratitude, she turned to leave.

It was time to go home and face the consequences of getting Chris in trouble with the queen.

((((())))))

Helga looked up from her untouched dinner plate, no longer able to tolerate the sight and smell of the food. Her stomach, still queasy from the afternoon's events, could not take any more aggravation.

Her gaze traveled over the scene before her. It was a setting she had seen far too often. Chris, directly across the table from her, had that all-too-familiar expression on her face that meant she was going to explode any moment now. Next to her, Brykloap stared down at his plate, alternatingly picking at and playing with his food. Chris' plate, like her own, remained untouched.

A pregnant silence hung over the dinner table. Helga knew all of them, including herself, had something to say, but the three of them had refrained from speaking from the moment they had left the throne room. But, if Helga was correctly reading her daughter's body language, the silence was about to end.

As if she knew what her mother was thinking, Chris finally launched herself into the attack Helga had been dreading ever since the guards brought the girls to the throne room.

"This is all your fault," she announced, pushing her plate away. "If you hadn't gone crying to Aifohm Kida and Lahmahp Milo like you always do, I wouldn't be grounded. But, no, you had to go and get me in trouble because you were afraid I'd never come home again. Why is that, Mahtihm? What the gahnk do you think is going to happen to me in a few measly hours?"

Helga felt Brykloap take her hand under the table.

"I know every inch of this city and those caves," Chris continued hotly. "I probably know both of them better than anyone else. If there's anyone you shouldn't worry about, it's me."

Helga knew it would be pointless to say anything yet. Chris only got madder if someone interrupted her rants.

"Gods, Mahtihm! I'm nearly an adult. I can take care of myself. I know what I can and can't handle. And those caves are something I can handle pretty well. I've been there more times than I can count. It's just unfortunate I got caught coming back a couple of those times. You have no idea how often I've explored them, do you?"

Brykloap's hand tightened around Helga's.

"And, do you want to know what happened every time I've gone?" Chris continued. "Nothing! Absolutely nothing!" She snorted. "Gods, I wish something would! Might add a little excitement to the mix."

Helga knew Chris was trying to goad her into an argument. Most of the time she gave in and verbally sparred a no-win battle with her, but tonight she just wasn't in the mood. She felt too ill.

"There is nothing dangerous anywhere in those caves," Chris declared. "I should know. I've been almost everywhere in them." She paused. "Unless, of course, you know something that you haven't told me."

It was a challenge and Helga knew it. Purposefully ignoring the bait, she looked down at her lap and put her other hand on top of Brykloap's. She couldn't tell Chris the truth. Not only would she probably not believe it, she'd most likely never forgive her for lying to her all her life about her father-though she had done it with good intentions.

"I didn't think so," Chris said. "You want to know what I think? I think you worry about me because you have nothing better to do with your time. Sure, you teach for a few hours a day or go a couple of places with Brykloap, but that's it. You have no hobbies to keep you busy. So, you've created one out of worrying about me."

Helga had to admit Chris' logic was sound though her reasoning was way off base. Chris had no way of knowing why her mother constantly worried about her. So she had invented a reason that made sense to her.

Chris finally rose to her feet. "Well, I have a suggestion for you. One that will keep you way too busy to worry about me at all. Two words: get married. I'm sure being a wife will give you more than enough stuff to do."

Having said her piece, Chris turned on her heels and stomped out of the dining room.

For a moment, neither Helga or Brykloap could speak. The concept of marriage was the one sore spot in their eleven year relationship. It was something Helga desperately avoided discussing. She had lost count of the number of times Brykloap had proposed over the years only to have her turn him down every time. But for Chris to finally bring it up now, during an argument...

Helga and Brykloap both knew how badly Chris wanted them to get married, despite her usual silence about it. This was the first time she had ever openly admitted it, though it was not in a way either of them had ever expected. They knew it was inevitable that she would one day mention it, but her "suggestion" had caught them off guard. They were used to her usual indirect approach to the subject, such as dropping hints randomly into conversations or tricking them into some romantic situation she and Sarani had set up. Her out-of-the-blue remark had shocked them both into silence.

"Well, that is something I have never heard before," Brykloap finally said in light tone that Helga knew was forced. "Marriage as a hobby."

Helga ignored the attempt at easing the tension in the room. She didn't want to discuss marriage, even as a joke. Brykloap knew what her position was though he still refused to accept it. "How long do you think it'll be before she comes to apologize?"

Brykloap shrugged in response, seemingly taking the hint. "A couple of hours, probably. Like always."

"I did do the right thing, didn't I?" she asked, relieved that he had dropped the subject.

"Of course you did," Brykloap soothed. "Chris must learn that she cannot just break any rule she finds inconvenient. Kida's punishment is a step in the right direction. I think she will think twice before wandering off into the caves again without permission."

Helga sighed. "But in seven months it won't make a damn bit of difference. She'll be considered an adult and will be free to come and go from those caves as she pleases."

"Seven months is a long time," Brykloap told her. "A lot can happen between now and then."

"That's what I'm afraid of," she said.

Brykloap sighed, but didn't comment. Instead, he continued "I think that Chris did make one very good point though."

Helga turned her face to look at him. "Which is?"

"That you worry about her too much."

"I'm her mother, Brykloap," Helga told him. "I'm always going to worry about her, no matter how old she gets."

"You misunderstand me," Brykloap corrected. "I do not want you to ever stop worrying about her. I just think you should do it a lot less."

Helga just stared at him in disbelief. Did he know what he was saying?

"You let your worry for her control your life, Helga," he went on. "You are paralyzed from fear when you do not know where she is for even a short time. That kind of worry should be reserved only for situations like today, when she was gone for many hours. But when she is a minute late home from school? That is not normal."

"You know why I worry the way I do," Helga informed him, releasing her hold on his hands. "If it weren't for that-"

"It would be something else," he cut her off. "I know you, Helga. Chris is everything to you. She is more important than I am."

"Brykloap, I-"

He shook his head. "I realized this when I first met you and it did not stop me from falling in love with you. I accept the fact that your daughter will always come first in your heart. It is part of who you are. And you are the woman I love. Nothing will ever change that."

"I love you so much," she said. "I don't know if you realize how much you mean to me."

"I do," he told her, reaching out and cupping her face. "I just know by looking at you. I can see it in your eyes...your smile...

"But we have gotten off the subject," he said, releasing her. "I understand your fears. The gods know I do. But you cannot let them run your life. Chris is not a helpless yahyimn anymore. In fact, she has not been helpless for a long time. She is probably the strongest of all of us. If anyone can take care of herself, it is Chris. She has proved that to you time and time again.

"But you refuse to accept this truth. You believe there is danger lurking around every corner."

"I'm just so afraid for her," she told him. "She's so wild and reckless and, one day, she's going to get hurt."

"Truthfully, that may be the best thing," Brykloap said.

Helga's eyes widened.

"If she gets injured on one of her 'adventures', that may serve as the ultimate deterrent from any future unauthorized expeditions."

"Or it may make her even more determined to go back," Helga pointed out. "Chris doesn't like it when things don't go her way."

He nodded thoughtfully. "You are probably right." He sighed. "I am not trying to argue with you. I just want you to realize that you are doing yourself a disservice when you allow your fear to paralyze you."

"I just want for her to always be safe."

"I know," he softly said.

"I don't know what I'd do if I ever lost her." She looked away. "Like I almost did."

Brykloap gently caressed her cheek. "I know," he repeated.

"She's my miracle child," Helga went on. "Until Rourke told me that I was incapable of having children, I thought it was just bad luck that I had never gotten pregnant. Then, he told me and...and..." She couldn't go on. Even after thirteen years, she still felt guilty for the bargain she had made with him.

"That is in the past now," he soothed her. "But something wonderful came out of it. You had Chris."

"Yes," she nodded.

"But Chris was not the only miracle you walked away with," he continued.

She looked back at him. "What was the other one?"

"He gave you the ability to have other children," he said quietly. "Chris does not have to be your only child. You can have as many as you want."

Helga immediately knew where he was going with this. "Please, not now."

"Yes, now," Brykloap firmly said. "I cannot think of a better time. I love you, Helga. I want to have a family with you."

She turned away from him. "Don't do this. Please. Don't make me go through this again."

"I am going to make you go through this until I get the answer I want to hear," he informed her. "We are talking about moving on with your life. Let me help you do that. Marry me."

She stood up from her seat, still not facing him, and took a step away from the table. "Don't make me say it, Brykloap. Please."

"Marry me."

"You know why I can't."

"He is not coming back," he told her. "He is gone. Why can you not accept that?"

"Because I know him," she explained. "And I know that the Heart of Atlantis never kills. He's alive, somewhere. Planning. Waiting."

"It has been thirteen years. Do you not think he would have come back already if he was going to?"

"Not necessarily. Rourke is the type who won't make a move until he's absolutely certain that he'll be successful. After what happened the last time he was here, he'd want to be better prepared."

"I do not think such preparation would take this long," Brykloap told her. "If he is alive, he would have been back by now."

"You don't know him like I do," Helga emphasized. "When he wants something, he won't stop until he gets it, no matter how long it takes."

She heard him get up from his chair. "I do not believe even a man like Rourke would spend so much time planning revenge."

"As I keep telling you, you don't know him."

"Which I am starting to become very glad of," Brykloap said. She heard him sigh. "All right, say he is still alive and one day does come back for revenge. Do you think I am afraid of what he would do to me for loving you?

Why are you doing this to me? She turned around. "You know he'd kill you. Just like he killed Christopher."

"He would kill me anyway," he told her. "As he would all of Atlantis."

"Yes, but your death would be far more prolonged and painful if you were my husband," Helga said. "He'd want you to suffer for loving me. If there's even a slight chance that he'd leave you alone if we weren't married, I'm going to take it. It isn't fair that you should suffer because of me."

"Do you not think I should be the one to decide what is and what is not fair to me?" Brykloap asked, coming towards her. "I love you. I would rather face the possibility of being singled out and dying a painful death for loving you than live another day without you as my wife."

"You don't know what you're saying."

"I know exactly what I am saying," he insisted. He came to stand inches apart from her. "I love you. Marry me."

"No," she said, feeling the tears begin to well up. If only he knew how much she did want to marry him. "I won't put you in that kind of danger."

"Then think of it as my putting myself into danger," he said. "Marry me."

"No." The tears started falling down her cheeks. "I can't. I won't."

He took her by the shoulders. "Marry me."

She shook her head.

"Stop living in fear," he tried. "Start living. Let me show you how.

"Marry me."

A sob came from her throat. She wanted to say yes so badly. This was killing her, but she knew it was for the best.

After a few moments of silence, Brykloap let go of her shoulders and walked away. He did not look at her.

"You will not change your mind."

"No," she croaked, hating herself for saying that.

He was silent again for a minute.

"You could have told me this eleven years ago," he finally spoke.

"Eleven years ago I was convinced he was dead," she told him. "It wasn't until after I had fallen in love with you that I found that book."

"I wish to gahnk that you had not," he said, starting to sound angry.

"So do I," she said. "If you had asked me then, I would have said yes."

He whirled around. "Then why not now? What has changed?"

"You know what's changed."

"He is gone, damn it! You are the only person who believes otherwise. The only one!" he shouted at her.

"I'm sorry," she cried. "I'm so sorry."

"Gods damn it, I love you, Helga!" he continued. "But I am not going to waste any more time on someone who will not marry me. I want a wife and family."

I want to be that wife so badly. Believe me. "Then maybe you should find someone else," she softly answered, hating herself for saying those words.

He stared at her for a moment. "Maybe I should."

Helga could only nod, feeling sicker than when she had thought Chris missing.

Without another word, he started walking towards the doorway that would lead to the main entrance of the house. When he reached it, he paused for a moment.

"Goodbye, Helga."

And then he disappeared from sight.

For a moment, she just stared at the place he had been.

Goodbye, Helga. His words echoed in her head, the finality of them shaking her to her core.

He's gone, she realized. Oh, god, he's gone.

She had finally pushed him too far and he was gone. The one man she had believed she would have spent the rest of her life with was now out of it. Her fear and stubbornness had finally become too much for him and he had left her.

She was once again alone and heartbroken.

The reality of the situation hitting her harder than any physical blow, Helga burst into tears and sank down to the dining room floor on her knees.

((((())))))

We're going to have so much fun, Chris telepathically sent to Sarani.

Yeah, Sarani agreed. Provided we don't get caught again. Remind me how you're going to get past that guard Mahtihm posted outside your house again?

Chris grinned. It was good to hear Sarani sounding like her old self. When she had first contacted her about an hour ago, she had still been crying from what had happened. It had taken some doing, but Chris had been able to calm her down and then cheer her up.

I'm just going to float myself out the window, Chris told her. The guard's standing by the front door. If he doesn't hear anything, there won't be any need for him to come and investigate.

Is there anything that you can't handle?

Not really, Chris replied.

She heard Sarani mentally laugh. You are so kisehm.

I am, aren't I?

Remind me tomorrow morning that I owe you a smacking, Sarani informed her.

Sure! No problem! Chris agreed and nearly burst out laughing. She quickly caught herself. She didn't want Mahtihm and Brykloap knowing that she wasn't mad anymore yet. She wanted to tell them in person.

Truthfully, she felt bad for what she had said at dinner. Yes, Mahtihm did worry too much, but it was only because she loved her. She had not been mad because of that. What had ultimately angered her was the fact that Aifohm Kida had sent the guards out to find them again. It made her feel like some kind of escaped criminal, of which there were none in Atlantis.

But she really couldn't be mad at Aifohm Kida either. She really did cross the line whenever she put Sarani into what Aifohm Kida perceived as danger. Since no one knew of her powers, they had no idea that she could protect Sarani and herself no matter what happened. There was nothing that could harm them.

Her mother's overprotectiveness, however, was another matter entirely. Yes, it was because Mahtihm loved her and didn't want anything to happen to her, but did she really have to get so worked up about everything? She acted as if there was some great big cloud of danger that followed Chris wherever she went, even if it was only into the next room for a minute. She just didn't understand it. Maybe if Mahtihm knew about her powers...

Chris glanced at the clock next to her bed. Hey, it's getting kind of late and we have school tomorrow, so...

Thanks for cheering me up, Sarani said.

It was my pleasure, Princess.

That's two smacks I owe you now!

Chris grinned again. You know there's no way you can beat me in combat, Shorty.

Hey, I'm not that much shorter than you!

Chris continued grinning. Good night, Sarani.

Good night, Chris. See you in class.

Night.

Chris broke the contact.

She sat up in her bed and stretched, glancing at the clock again. She had only been gone an hour so Brykloap should still be around.

It was time to go apologize for her behavior.

Hopping out of the bed, she got to her feet and walked over to her bedroom door. She slowly opened it and listened.

She was greeted by silence.

Her guard immediately went up. It was very unusual for the house to be this quiet at this time of night. Mahtihm and Brykloap were still usually talking, laughing, and sometimes even kissing. (Though they didn't know Chris still knew about that. After about the fifth time she had caught them making out, they had started trying to be very quiet. It didn't make a difference, but they didn't have to know that!) (At least it wasn't as bad as what Sarani's parents had been doing one time when she had walked in on them. The two of them had made jokes about it for weeks, much to the chagrin of Aifohm Kida and Lahmahp Milo.) So what was going on?

This kind of quiet usually only occurred during the day, when Mahtihm thought she was alone.

It was the silence that accompanied her crying.

Chris pushed that thought away. It was ridiculous. Mahtihm would never cry when Brykloap was around. He made her too happy. They had probably just fallen asleep again or something.

Finding the two of them asleep on the couch in each other's arms was probably one of Chris' favorite sights. They just always looked so happy and peaceful. She never disturbed them when she found them that way. Not even to apologize.

So, forcing her guard back down, she moved out of her room and started down the hall to the living room. As she walked, she didn't hear a single sound coming from anywhere in the house.

They've gotta be asleep, she reasoned. My apology's probably gonna have to wait until tomorrow.

But, as she reached the end of the hall and turned left into the living room, she was surprised to discover that they were not there.

What?! Where are they?

Immediately, her guard shot back up. Mahtihm and Brykloap were always here in the evening. If they weren't, it meant that something was wrong.

Unless, of course, the two of them had just decided to go to bed early, which was another possibility.

I'm not going to panic like Mahtihm unless there's absolutely no way for me to find them, she told herself.

She decided to start by checking all the rooms of the house. The dwelling was small, even by Atlantean standards, and wouldn't take very long to search. If her mother and Brykloap weren't anywhere in the house, Chris would go to Brykloap's next. Then, if they weren't there, she'd go to the palace. If they weren't there either, she'd visit all the places she knew they liked to go together. If she couldn't find them after that, then, and only then, would she go to Aifohm Kida for help, grounding or no grounding.

The next closest room was the dining room.

That's as good a place as any to start, Chris thought as she walked over to the doorway. She peeked in and immediately saw that her search was over.

Mahtihm was lying on the floor, curled into a tight ball.

"Mahtihm," Chris breathed.

She rushed to her mother's side and dropped to her knees. She reached out and gently placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Mahtihm?"

She got no response.

"Mahtihm?" she repeated, giving her shoulder a small shake.

Still no response.

Concerned, she brushed some of her mother's long blonde hair out of her face. Mahtihm's eyes were closed but her cheeks were tear stained. Chris suddenly realized what had happened.

Mahtihm had cried herself to sleep.

"Oh, Mahtihm," she whispered. "What happened?"

She looked around. Where was Brykloap? She knew he had to have left because he would never have let something like this happen. But why had he left? Was it because he had had something to do with this?

The thought of Brykloap hurting Mahtihm was alien to Chris, but she couldn't think of any explanation for her mother's condition. She doubted anyone else had dropped by while she was talking to Sarani. They rarely had visitors other than Brykloap or Sarani and her family.

She decided that whatever had happened could wait. Now was what was important. Mahtihm needed her.

"Mahtihm," Chris repeated, shaking her again. "Come on, wake up."

Mahtihm slightly stirred, moaning.

"Wake up, Mahtihm. Please," Chris urged. She wanted to get her into bed, but she couldn't do it herself. As strong as she was, she was still a young girl. Mahtihm was both taller and heavier than she was.

"Please wake up."

"Chris?" came Mahtihm's groggy voice.

"It's me, Mahtihm," she assured her. "I'm here."

"Oh, Chris..." Mahtihm started to sniffle.

"Please don't cry anymore," Chris begged. "Whatever happened's over now."

"No it isn't, Yahyimn," Mahtihm softly told her, sounding like she was still going to cry again.

"Shh. It's okay. It's okay," Chris soothed, stroking Mahtihm's back and arm. She didn't want her to think about whatever had upset her anymore. "Everything's okay."

Mahtihm started to move and Chris helped her struggle into a half-sitting position. She then pulled Mahtihm into a tight hug.

"Everything's okay," she repeated.

"No," Mahtihm said again, breaking out of the embrace. She looked down. "It's not."

Chris desperately wanted to know what had happened, but she didn't want to ask Mahtihm yet. She was still too upset and dangerously close to breaking down into tears again. It would be best just to get her into bed.

"Can you stand?"

Mahtihm nodded. After a moment, she murmured, "He's gone."

Chris assumed she meant that Brykloap had gone home. "Yeah, I guess so. I don't see him anywhere."

Mahtihm looked up and shook her head. "No, you don't understand. He's gone.

"He's not coming back."

"What are you talking about?" Chris was confused now. "Why isn't he coming back?"

Mahtihm looked away. "We-we...fought."

"Fought?!" Chris repeated in disbelief. Mahtihm and Brykloap had actually had a fight? "What about?"

"It's not important," Mahtihm told her.

Of course it is, Chris wanted to yell, but she knew that was the worst thing she could do. Getting mad wouldn't help Mahtihm any.

"I love him so much," Mahtihm said.

"I know," Chris told her. "So do I."

Tears started to roll down Mahtihm's cheeks. "It's all my fault," she softly admitted. "All my fault..."

Chris moved forward and gathered her into another hug. "Shh. It's gonna be all right." She reached up and kissed her. "Don't worry, Mahtihm. I'll take care of you."

Chris partially released Mahtihm and started to stand up.

Mahtihm, seeming to understand what Chris was doing, began getting to her feet as well.

Chris took on most of her weight and helped her the rest of the way.

"Let's get you to bed now," she announced.

Mother and daughter slowly made their way out of the dining room and towards the bedrooms.

((((())))))

Helga came to a stop in front of the door to Kida and Milo's private chambers. She raised her hand to knock, but hesitated. The guard had told her that Kida was currently with Eyris for her weekly check-up. As badly as she needed to talk to Kida, she didn't want to disturb them. These check-ups were to insure that Kida and her unborn child remained healthy. Remembering how important these had been during her own pregnancy, she decided to wait until Eyris left.

She went over to the nearest chair and sat down. She had a couple of hours before Chris came home from school. (There was an advantage to teaching only classes for adult students. They had a much shorter school day than the children.) And, she didn't want to face Chris again without knowing what her next move was going to be.

Breakfast that morning had been an ordeal. Chris had relentlessly questioned her about last night, but she had refused to answer. She didn't want Chris to know what the argument had been about. It was already bad enough that she knew whose fault it was. Chris would be furious when she learned the truth.

Helga was all too aware of how badly Chris wanted her to marry Brykloap. He was like, no, was, a father to her in everything but the biological and legal sense. He had been there for her even before she was born. Helga knew that Chris would be devastated if Brykloap no longer came around.

Brykloap had forced his way into her life not long after Rourke's defeat. She had first met him when she stopped at his stall in the marketplace, one of many she had visited that day. Her purpose in going shopping had been to find some items that would add a personal touch to her palace quarters, where she had lived until Chris had been six months old. Though Milo and Kida had told her she could remain there permanently, she had wanted a place of her own. It would not have been right to continue living off of the king and queen's kindness, especially when they had a child of their own to worry about.

As she had browsed his wares, Brykloap had started pointing out certain items to her, insisting that she buy them because they would be "good for the baby". Of course, since she had begun to show, her pregnancy by then had been public knowledge. She had been the only customer at the moment and his attention had made her very uncomfortable. She had quickly determined there was nothing she had wanted to buy and hurriedly left, half-heartedly thanking him for his time. She had not given the encounter a second thought that day. After all, there was nothing unusual about attentive salesmen. Brykloap had just appeared to be another one of those.

She had been very wrong.

Brykloap had begun showing up everywhere she went. It did not matter what she had been doing. If she had been out shopping, he had unexpectedly come up behind her and had offered to help her either pick things out or carry her purchases. If she had been teaching a class, she had noticed him observing her from a distance. If she had gone somewhere with Milo and Kida, he had always been there too. She had not been able escape him. (It had made her wonder when he ran his stand at all.) It had been Christopher all over again.

There had been no question in her mind that Brykloap was trying to initiate a romantic relationship with her, just as Chris had been at first. The big difference, however, had been that Brykloap was not at all shy, making his presence known to her immediately while Chris had always tried to hide. And, just like with Chris, she had not been able to figure out his attraction to her. In fact, she had been under the impression that men were turned off by pregnant women. Brykloap had proved this assumption wrong by his relentless pursuit of her.

The attention he had been giving her had made her very uneasy. She had had no interest in getting into a new relationship so soon after Rourke. The pain of that loss had been too fresh. But every time she had tried to tell him that she knew what he wanted and wasn't interested, he would pretend that he hadn't heard and continue to offer her his services. Again, just like with Chris, she had not known what to make of him.

After three months of having him follow her everywhere, she had been at a loss of what to do. Talking to him had not made a difference. So she had decided to leave the palace only to teach her classes and nothing else. Brykloap had never approached her when she was teaching. And, for a while, it had seemed to work. He had even stopped appearing during the school hours.

She hadn't heard from him again until the day he had shown up at her quarters. It had been about a week after Christine had been born. Helga had been completely shocked. Brykloap explained that he had gone to the queen herself to learn where she had been hiding. It was at that moment that she had realized that Brykloap was not going to ever just go away. So she had invited him in and, for the first time, they had really talked.

After several minutes of making a fuss over the baby, Brykloap had finally explained himself. He had admitted that, yes, he was attracted to her, but that wasn't his main reason in keeping an eye on her. He was concerned for her. A woman having a baby alone was something that he had never seen before in Atlantis and it just hadn't seemed right to him. So, he had wanted to help her and her baby in any way he could.

Helga had been stunned, surprised, and flattered all at the same time. This was not something she had ever expected, especially from a man. Even Chris' original purpose in pursuing her had been to romance her. He had only switched to friendship after she had confronted him. Brykloap had been different and she had liked that.

Less than a year later, she had fallen in love with him.

Now, twelve years after he had entered her life, he was gone. And it was all her fault. Yet, in a way, despite the pain she was feeling, she was relieved.

By leaving her, Brykloap was ensuring his own safety when Rourke returned. Since he was no longer involved with her, Rourke would have no reason to single him out. He was finally out of danger.

Finally safe.

As hard as it was to admit, she knew deep down that even remaining unmarried would not have saved him in the end. Rourke would have tortured him anyway, just for loving her. But, it had been the one small hope she had clung to all these years. If there was even a chance that he would ignore him if he wasn't her husband, then she had to take it. She would do anything to keep him safe. She loved him that much.

The day she had discovered that damn book had been the day her heart had shattered all over again. Until reading that text, she had been happier than she had ever been in her entire life and had been looking forward to the future. A future with a man she loved more than life itself. (What she felt for Brykloap was deeper and more profound than anything she had ever felt before, even what she had felt for Rourke.) If he had asked her to marry him that very morning, hours before she had picked that book off of the dusty shelf, she would have said yes. But then she started reading and everything had changed.

And now she had nothing.

In truth, she could not blame him for becoming angry. She had known from the beginning that he wanted to marry her and start a family of his own. (As much as he loved Chris, she was not his child.) It had been unfair to stay with him for so long knowing that she could never give him what he wanted. By staying, she had been giving him the false hope that she would one day change her mind, which she would never do as long as Rourke was out there. Now he was finally free to go and have that family he wanted so badly with a woman who was not afraid to do so.

However, Helga could not let him disappear from her life completely just yet. There was someone else who still needed him. A someone who was too young to understand why he was going away.

Chris needed Brykloap. She loved him so much and would be crushed if he left. He was her father. He could not abandon her now just because he hated Helga. It would be cruel to Chris, who was innocent of her mother's wrongdoing. Helga needed to find a way to make sure Brykloap remained in Chris' life.

This was why she was going to Kida for help. If anyone would know what to do, it would be the queen.

After an indeterminate amount of time, the door finally opened and Eyris' back could be seen.

"I will see you next week, Your Highness," Eyris was saying. "Just promise me that you will try to rest more often."

"I cannot make any promises, but I will try," Kida's voice said from within the room.

"I will tell Milo to make sure that you do," Eyris informed her. "Good afternoon, my queen." Eyris bowed.

Helga stood up, ready to make her presence known as soon as Eyris left.

But, when Eyris turned around, she immediately saw Helga standing there. "Good afternoon, Helga."

Helga put a smile on her face. "Good afternoon, Eyris."

"You are here to see the queen?"

"Yes," she nodded.

Kida appeared in the doorway, wearing a robe. "Helga," she said, looking surprised. "You are never here this early in the day. Is there something wrong?"

"Unfortunately, there is."

((((())))))

"...And then he just left," Helga finished, struggling to keep her composure as she recounted the events from the night before. "The way he said goodbye... It sounded so final." She took a deep breath. "It's all my fault."

"Oh, Helga," Kida consoled, placing a hand on her arm, "of course it is not your fault. Brykloap knew very well what your answer was going to be before he even asked. It was unfair of him to become angry when you said it."

Helga looked at her. "Was it really?"

"Of course," Kida replied. "Although I do not agree with them, you have your reasons for not wanting to marry and Brykloap needs to learn to respect them as I have."

"I don't think he ever will," Helga sighed. "Anyway, it's too late now. It's over."

"You cannot truly believe that," Kida disagreed. "You only had a single argument. It does not mean that he does not love you anymore. One fight cannot change the way he feels about you."

"No," Helga countered. "You didn't see his face before he left...hear his voice. I hurt him, Kida. Badly. I don't think he can ever forgive me." She paused for a moment, looking down. "I don't think he should forgive me... Maybe what's happened is for the best. He'll be better off this way.

"Safer."

It was Kida's turn to sigh. Helga watched as she awkwardly pushed herself to her feet and walked away from the couch. "It always comes back to that, does it not?" she asked, keeping her back to Helga.

"He's out there, Kida. There's no question in my mind that he is. And he's going to come back. And when he does, he's going to come first after those I love the most. You know that as well as I do."

Kida turned to face her. "It has been thirteen years, Helga. Do you not think he would have already returned by now if he was able?"

Helga looked away. "You sound exactly like Brykloap."

"I am glad," Kida told her. "He has a very good point. One with which I, and I am sure all of Atlantis, heartily agree."

Helga knew arguing with the queen would not do any good. Kida was not easily swayed when it came to matters on which she had already made up her mind. Rourke's demise was one of them.

I came here for Chris, Helga reminded herself. For Chris and no one else. She returned her gaze to Kida's. "I didn't just come here to tell you what happened. I need your help with something."

Kida nodded. "Name it."

"Since Brykloap isn't going to want to have anything to do-"

"You are being ridiculous," Kida interrupted. "He loves you."

Helga shook her head. "You weren't there. You don't know what happened." Chris. Just focus on Chris. Please, just listen to me before you say anything else. Please."

"All right," Kida nodded. "I am sorry."

Helga gave her a weak smile to show her appreciation. Kida was such a wonderful friend and Helga knew that she was only trying to help. Unfortunately, this was a lost cause and nothing Kida could do or say would change that.

Kida came back over to the couch. With a groan, she lowered herself down to the cushions. Adjusting her body into the most comfortable position that allowed her to face Helga, she took Helga's hands in her own. "I am listening."

"Tell me how to keep Brykloap in Chris' life."

"Chris?" Kida sounded surprised. "I do not understand."

"As I was trying to tell you, Brykloap is probably not going to want to be around me anymore and I'm fine with that. Really I am." Liar.

"But," she continued, "I can't just let him walk out on Chris. She loves him so much. She wouldn't understand if he just stopped coming to see her. For all her talk, she's still just a little girl. She needs him.

"But I just don't know how I can tell him this without his thinking it's some desperate attempt on my part to get him back. How can I let him know that it's only for Chris' sake and not my own? I want him to understand how much Chris needs him in her life. He's her father, for god's sake. He just can't abandon her.

"What can I do, Kida? Tell me, please."

"You are worrying needlessly," Kida assured her, gently squeezing her hands. "Brykloap loves Chris as if she were his own daughter. He would never leave her.

"Just as he will never leave you."

"Kida..."

"He loves you so very much," Kida pressed. "He would not keep asking you to marry him if he did not. It is his own fault he became angry last night. I am sure he has realized this by now and is no longer angry with you."

"You can't know that."

"True," Kida agreed, "but I do know that there is only one way to find out."

"No," Helga shook her head. "I can't do that. I'll only talk to him about Chris."

Kida released Helga's hands and folded her arms. "Why? Are you afraid that I am right?"

Yes, she silently answered. She loved Brykloap so much and only wanted to do what was best for him. If he forgave her and took her back, she knew that his fate would be sealed. Could she do that to him?

"I only want to keep him safe," she finally said. "I don't know any other way of doing that except staying away from him."

"You truthfully believe that will make a difference?"

"Honestly? I don't know," she admitted. "All I do know is that when Rourke comes back, he's going to make it a top priority to punish me for my betrayal and just ending my life won't be good enough for him. He's going to do it by harming the ones I love. You, Milo...Chris. I can't protect any of you, Chris especially. He'll know her as soon as he sees her. My baby's going to die because of me and there's nothing I can do about it. Nothing.

"But Brykloap there's a chance I can save. If he's not involved with me anymore, Rourke won't have any reason to single him out and torture him. He'll still die, along with everyone else here, but at least it will be a merciful death."

"You are forgetting one very important thing," Kida said. "As long as you still love Brykloap, he is still in danger. Rourke will know it as soon as he reads your mind. Do you not think that will be reason enough for him to seek Brykloap out?"

Helga looked away, remembering all too well Rourke's ability to see into her mind. "It wouldn't be satisfying for him unless Brykloap loves me too, which he doesn't anymore."

"And what if he still does?" Kida tried again.

Helga looked up at her. "Then it would mean that everything I've ever done to protect him was worthless." If Brykloap did still love her despite everything that was said last night, then there was nothing she could do to protect him. He would be a dead man anyway if Rourke came back.

But, he couldn't still love her. Not after what had happened and what was said. It was impossible.

She decided to turn the conversation back to Chris. She didn't want to hear about Brykloap loving her anymore. He couldn't. He didn't.

"You never answered my question," she said. "All you told me was that Brykloap would never leave her. How can I get him to spend time with her?"

"You have to talk to him," Kida told her, sounding resigned. "That is the only way."

Helga sighed. It would be difficult, but Kida was right. There was no other way. "What do I say?"

"What you told me. Let him know that you are only there to talk about Chris and nothing else. Ask him to help you come up with a way for both you and him to spend time with her separately. You do not need to be there when she is with him.

"But," Kida continued, "if he tries to tell you that he still loves you, please, do not stop him. Accept it. Let him love you as you have these past years."

"He's not going to," Helga assured her.

"You cannot know that," Kida emphasized.

"I do," Helga disagreed.

The queen sighed. "Will you not even consider the possibility that he still loves you?"

"No." Because if I did, I know he'd never be safe.

"Let me ask you this," Kida went on. "You have loved this man for eleven years now. Are you really willing to throw your relationship away on the remote possibility that someone who everyone else believes is dead will come back?"

Why won't you let this go? Helga rose to her feet and walked over to a window. "There's nothing remote about it. He's coming back. I know it."

"When?"

Helga sighed and leaned against the window sill. "You know I can't answer that. I don't even know where he is."

"Yet you are certain he will return."

"He has to," she told her. "He has a score to settle."

"So he will never give up?" Kida queried.

"No. He'll never give up." Helga stood up straight and turned around. "Not until he wins.

"Not until he's killed us all."

A silence fell over the two women.

"All right. I shall give you the benefit of the doubt," Kida finally said. "Let us say that you are right and that Rourke is still alive. It has been thirteen years since the Heart banished him. What if it is thirteen more before he returns? Longer? Are you truly prepared to spend all of that time alone and unloved?"

"I..." This caught Helga off guard. She had never given much thought to how long it would take for Rourke to return, just that he would. Could Kida be right? Rourke was no longer human and time probably didn't have much meaning to him anymore. Was it possible that he wouldn't return for many more years?

"You have someone who loves you very much," Kida continued. "He even told you he does not care if he is made to die for it. He wants to marry you."

"Kida-"

"Let me finish," the queen commanded, cutting her off. "If you had not found that book, you would already be happily married to him, would you not?"

Helga wordlessly nodded.

"You would not give a single thought to Rourke's return until he actually came back," Kida continued. "Think of what your life would have been like without this burden you carry. You would be enjoying life. You would love and be loved by a husband who thinks the world of you. You would possibly have another child or two by now. Chris would not have a mother who constantly worried over her. Well..." Kida gave a small smile, which Helga weakly returned. "Maybe not that one, but do you understand what I am saying?"

"Yes." Kida had another point that Helga had never considered. If it had not been for that book, she would have married Brykloap a long time ago and be living in blissful ignorance of Rourke's inevitable return. The happiness she had felt her first three years in Atlantis would still be hers.

"Oh, god," Helga murmured as she made her way over to a chair and sank down into it. "What have I done?"

Both Chris and Brykloap had suffered because of her fear for them. All this time she had been hurting them because she thought it had been the right thing to do. Instead she could have been giving them the lives they deserved. In a way, what she had done was crueler than anything Rourke could ever hope to inflict upon them.

"Oh, god..." She fought back the urge to cry.

"Helga."

She looked up to see that Kida had come to crouch in front of her chair.

"It is all right. You cannot be angry with yourself. You were only trying to protect them."

Helga's first impulse was to help Kida back to her feet, that this position couldn't be good for the baby, but instead, she just sat there, silent and overcome with emotions she couldn't begin to describe.

"Oh, Kida. What have I done?"

"You have loved them," Kida told her. "That is all."

"What happens now?"

"Whatever you want," she assured her. "Believe me when I tell you that you have a man who loves you waiting for you. He will take you back, no questions asked. What happens after that is up to you.

"You have more choices than you ever realized. Do not let Rourke control you anymore. Live your life to the fullest while you can. Do not worry about what you cannot control. When he comes, he comes, but at least you will have had a good life until then."

"And if he doesn't take me back?"

"He will," Kida assured her. "I know he will."

Helga let out another sigh. "I guess there's really only one way to find out."

"Yes," Kida agreed. "You must talk to him."

"I don't know if I can yet," Helga confessed. "Not so soon after what happened."

"Then wait a little while," Kida suggested, "but do not wait too long."

"I don't know what to say."

"Then let him talk first. Just listen to what he has to say."

"And Chris? What can I tell her until I do talk to him?" Helga asked.

"The truth. You argued. That is all."

"I'll have to think this over," Helga informed her. "No matter what happens between me and Brykloap, things are still going to be hard."

"I know," Kida soothed. "But the best things always are, are they not?"

Helga gave another weak smile. "Yes, they are."

Kida grimaced as she started to straighten up to her full height. Helga reached out and helped her friend stand up, rising to her own feet in the process.

"Go home now and wait for Chris. When she arrives, tell her about last night. Do not keep her in the dark any longer. She needs to know what happened and what may happen in the future."

Their eyes held for a moment.

"Thank you," Helga finally spoke. "For everything."

"You are very welcome," Kida told her, pulling Helga into a hug. "Of everyone I know, you are the most deserving of happiness. You had it once before, but lost it when you found that book.

"Now it is time to take back what is rightfully yours."

((((())))))

Chris looked behind her and saw that her and Sarani's "escorts" were still there.

Think we could lose them if we tried really hard? she mischievously asked Sarani.

And risk getting in even more trouble? No way! Sarani replied, continuing their telepathic conversation. There's no way I'm screwing up tonight.

Such language, Princess! Chris chided.

Hey, don't call me that! Sarani cried.

I'll call you whatever I want, Chris informed her. Get used to it...Princess.

Shut up!

And there it is again, Chris said, making a low clucking sound with her tongue. What would your parents say if they heard you speaking like this?

Tahbtoap would just die! Sarani grinned. And what you've just heard is relatively tame. You should hear some of the things I say when I'm alone and I hurt myself.

By the Great Kings of the Past! Chris said feigning shock. My best friend has a side I don't know about! The horror!

That was only a glimpse of what I'm capable of, Sarani informed her in a mock serious voice. Be glad that's all you saw.

Oh, thank you, great and glorious one, was Chris' sarcastic reply. I shall strive to always remain on your good side.

You'd better, Sarani told her. She reached into her satchel. I have a book and I'm not afraid to use it.

I'm so scared, Chris said, dramatically wringing her hands.

The two girls burst out laughing. They were laughing so hard that they had to stop walking. It was then they realized their slip.

Whoops! Sarani sent, covering her mouth with her hands. We must look like lunatics!

Quick, say something out loud to make it look like we've been whispering! Chris instructed her.

"By the mahkijtuhgsuhg moak!" Sarani obediently squealed, jumping up and down. "You didn't!"

Chris didn't have to fake her laughter. Sarani's performance was hilarious. "I did!"

"Shame on you, Chris!" Sarani wailed. "What will your mahtihm say?"

Calling on her best acting skills, Chris loudly proclaimed, "She will not say a thing for she'll have fainted dead away at the shame I have brought my family!"

"Nice one," Sarani whispered.

Thanks, Chris sent, reestablishing the link between her and Sarani as they resumed walking. Since Sarani had no powers of her own, Chris had to read her mind to "hear" what she was thinking.

No problem. It was fun, Sarani grinned. Anyway, I can't wait until tonight. We're gonna have such a maht time! Plus, it will be neat to see where my moaktahbtoap ruled from.

And hopefully it'll be bahdeg enough to use as a secret hideout, Chris added. No one would ever think to look for us there!

Just remember what happens whenever poor Aifohm Helga can't find you, Sarani reminded her. Oh, by the way, you never mentioned how she was doing this morning. She was really upset when she left the palace yesterday. Is she okay?

Chris wasn't sure how to answer that. She hadn't told Sarani about what had happened last night. She had thought about telling her, but had decided against it. She herself didn't know the whole story and she knew Sarani would go immediately to tell her parents, which would result in them getting involved. Chris didn't think it would be fair to either Mahtihm or Brykloap to have anyone pick sides without knowing exactly what happened first.

Chris was determined to learn the entire story as soon as she got home. Mahtihm had avoided her questions this morning, but she wasn't going to be able to this afternoon. Chris wasn't going anywhere until she got some answers. Not that she could anyway. (For once, being grounded was coming in handy!)

We really didn't talk this morning, Chris told her.

Don't tell me you've already started with the cold shoulder act, Sarani said.

Chris laughed, relieved by the change in subject. No, it's way too early in the punishment for that. Besides, it's not like I'm being kept from hanging out with you this time.

Yeah, Sarani agreed. So does that mean you're actually going to behave for the next two months?

Maybe, Chris answered in a sly tone. You never know. Truthfully, she had already decided that she was not going to complain once for the duration of the punishment. (Well, not until she got the truth about the fight out of her anyway!) After what happened last night, she didn't think Mahtihm could handle any more aggravation. (Chris still felt bad for what she had put Mahtihm through three years ago. She hadn't meant to upset her. She had just been so mad and had wanted everyone to know it.) Besides, if Mahtihm and Brykloap couldn't work things out, Mahtihm was going to need all the love and support she could get.

Wait. Aren't we forgetting something?

What? Chris wanted to know.

Tonight! If we get caught, we're dead! Sarani reminded her.

I know I'm not getting caught, Chris informed her. You, on the other hand, I can't be too sure about.

Hey! Sarani said indignantly. That hurts!

It's not my fault you're a klutz, Chris told her. I'm not the one who falls down at least twice everywhere we go.

That's it! I'm getting my book!

Oh, look, there's my house! Chris quickly interrupted, starting to run away. Bye!

Hey, you get back here right now! Sarani called after her. You have a date with a heavy book!

Kiss the book soopukh for me! Chris instructed her. For good measure, she turned around and added aloud "See you tomorrow, Princess!" Until tonight!

"Not again! Stop calling me that!" Sarani called back. I can't wait!

"Never!" Chris promised as she resumed running to her house. See ya!

((((())))))

Chris came to a stop in front of the entranceway to her house. Like all Atlantean homes, there was no actual door. Mahtihm, however, had chosen, like many others, to cover the entrance with a curtain.

She took a deep breath. This is going to be really hard but it has to be done.

She was sure Mahtihm was going to try to avoid her questions again but this time she was prepared for it. She had been thinking about how to handle this all day. Mahtihm was going to spill. Period.

Pulling up to her full height and putting what she hoped was an all-business expression on her face, Chris pushed aside the curtain and walked in.

However, as soon as her eyes landed on Mahtihm, they widened in shock.

Mahtihm looked happy. Not just happy, but ecstatic! She was even smiling!

Trying to hide her shock, Chris managed to say "I'm home." What was going on? Had Mahtihm gone to Brykloap and worked things out with him?

"Hi, Yahyimn", Mahtihm greeted her. "How was your day?"

Chris, completely unsure of what to do now, put down her satchel before answering. "The usual. I was bored out of my mind." Should she really attempt to question Mahtihm now, when she was finally feeling better?

Mahtihm chuckled. "Maybe if you didn't insist on reading chapters ahead of your classmates, you wouldn't be so bored."

"Mertik goes too slow," Chris told her, deciding to drop the questioning for now. Why ruin things? "I really should start bringing something to read instead of staring off into space."

"That would be a good idea," Mahtihm agreed. "I'm sure Mertik wouldn't mind."

"She doesn't know what to do with me as it is. She keeps hinting that I should think about joining an older class. Personally, I think she just wants to get rid of me."

"Don't be silly," Mahtihm admonished her. "You're at the top of your class. I know from talking to her how impressed she is with you."

"I think she's the only one," Chris decided. "Sarani's always grumbling how unfair it is that I'm the most troublesome alish she knows and I still do better than everyone else in the class."

"It's not your fault that you're so smart," Mahtihm informed her.

"I keep trying to tell her that, but she won't believe me," Chris insisted. "So, how was your day?" It was an innocent enough question. She didn't think Mahtihm would mind answering it.

"It was all right." Then her smile faded. "Chris, there's something I need to talk to you about."

"Okay." Was it going to be about the fight? I hope it is.

"Come here." Mahtihm reached out and took her hand, leading her to the couch. The two of them sat down. "I want to explain what happened last night."

"I know you and Brykloap had a fight," Chris told her.

"Yes," Mahtihm nodded.

"And I know you believe it's your fault," she continued. "Why?"

Mahtihm took a deep breath. "I want you to promise that you won't be angry with me no matter what I tell you. All right?"

Chris nodded. "I promise." She had already decided she wouldn't get mad no matter what it was. Whatever had happened had made Mahtihm very upset and that was all she cared about. She wouldn't make fun even if it was as stupid Brykloap throwing a fit over a burnt piece of meat.

Mahtihm took Chris' other hand in her free one and squeezed both of them. She exhaled. "God, this is hard, but you have to know." She met Chris' steady gaze. "Brykloap asked me to marry him last night.

"I said no."

Chris stared at her in disbelief and shock. Mahkijtuhgsuhg Moak! Of all the things that had crossed her mind, this had never been one of them. Brykloap had finally proposed and Mahtihm had said no. Why? Why?!

Resisting the urge to scream at her mother, Chris calmly responded by saying, "And Brykloap got angry?"

Chris couldn't blame Brykloap for getting mad, even though it wasn't like him. He and Mahtihm had been together ever since she was a little baby. They should have gotten married a long time ago. Chris knew Mahtihm loved him very much. So why had she said no? It didn't make any sense.

Mahtihm looked relieved at Chris' calm reaction.

She was expecting me to yell despite my promise. Poor Mahtihm.

"Yes, he did," Mahtihm confirmed. "As he should have."

There was a silence as Chris waited for Mahtihm to continue. But when she didn't say anything, Chris realized Mahtihm was probably waiting for her.

Although Chris didn't want to risk upsetting her, there was something she had to ask. "Why? Why did you say no?"

Mahtihm took another deep breath. "It's not something I want to talk about right now. Not yet. Not until after I've talked to him."

She hasn't talked to him yet? But, why was she so happy when I came home? "When's that going to be?" She was a little disappointed that Mahtihm had avoided her first question, but she understood Mahtihm's reluctance to answer. It was a really painful subject for her.

"Tonight. After dinner."

For a moment, Chris allowed her thoughts to drift back to her own evening plans. Mahtihm's absence would make sneaking out much easier. Sneaking back in, however, would be tricky as usual.

"What are you going to say to him?"

"I don't know yet, Yahyimn,"Mahtihm told her. "All I really want to tell him is how sorry I am."

"Do you think he's still mad?" Chris asked.

"I don't know," Mahtihm said. "I just don't know."

"Do you think he'll forgive you?" Chris hoped he would, but after learning what the fight had been about, she couldn't be so sure. Brykloap had put his heart on the line and Mahtihm had rejected it for some reason.

"That's what I'm going to find out," Mahtihm told her. "All I can do is tell him that I'm sorry and that I love him. If he doesn't love me anymore..." She sighed.

"If he doesn't, he doesn't," Chris said. "Just know that I always will." She gave a small smile. "Even if I'm a pain in the ohmlah most of the time." She felt a little humor would do Mahtihm some good.

Mahtihm smiled back. "I love you, Chris."

Chris' smiled stretched into a grin. "Of course you do." She was glad Mahtihm seemed okay again. "I'm your daughter. You have to love me!"

Mahtihm gave a tiny laugh.

Chris reached out and pulled her into a hug. "No matter what happens tonight, everything's going to be okay. I promise."

Mahtihm squeezed her gently against her. "I know you do, Yahyimn. I know."

"Well," Chris said, breaking the hug, "I better go and do my homework before dinner." She stood up from the couch. "One good thing about being grounded is at least I won't have to pull any all nighters to finish my homework for a while."

"I'll call you when dinner's ready," Mahtihm promised.

"It'd better be something good," Chris declared as she went over to gather up her satchel.

"Lunch was really bad today!"

((((())))))

Helga stood a short distance away from Brykloap's house, her heart shuddering in her chest. The façade of calmness that she had worn for Chris' benefit had long since deserted her. She had no idea what to expect when he answered the door. And she was terrified to find out.

I have to do this, she told herself, her mental voice steady. I have to try.

Everything both Brykloap and Kida had told her was true. She had wasted the last ten years of her life. She had allowed her fear of Rourke's return to control her and keep her from living out her dream of a family. It had taken Brykloap's leaving to make her finally realize this truth. How could she have been so blind? But now she was going to try to set things right. She loved Brykloap too much not to.

She had been deceiving herself every time she had claimed that she could go on without him. She couldn't. She knew that now. Just like Chris, she loved and needed him in her life, if not more so than her daughter did.

Until last night, she had foolishly taken his companionship and love for granted. She had never once imagined that he would leave her for anything. She had believed that he would always be there, no matter what. Even though she knew she caused him pain every time she had rejected his proposal, she had never thought him hurt enough to throw away their relationship. Yet, last night, he had been.

Everything that had happened was her own fault. She should have realized that Brykloap would eventually tire of her rejections of him. She knew how much he wanted a wife and children. It had been the topic of one of their earliest discussions, one that occurred long before they had fallen in love. She could not blame him for finally blowing up at her. In her pathetic attempt to keep him safe, all she had ever managed to do was to hurt him terribly. And now she was paying the price.

Kida had made her examine her life and her choices since coming to Atlantis. If not for that damn book, she would have long ago married Brykloap and would possibly have had many more children by now. Instead, she had let the book convince her that if she married Brykloap, Rourke would give him the most horrendous death imaginable. Because of her intense love for him, she had chosen to remain unwed in the hope that it would be enough to save him in the end. What a fool she had been.

As much as she hoped Kida had been right in saying that he was no longer angry with her, a small part of her told her that he could never forgive her. She had selfishly clung to him despite the knowledge of how dangerous her love was. She had wasted ten years of his life. For ten years, he had stayed with her in the hopes that she would one day change her mind and marry him. Hopes, that until after their fight, had been in vain. She remembered the first time he had asked her to marry him. It had been about a month after she had found that book. She had been taken by complete surprise by his proposal. The words "will you marry me?" had come out of the blue.

At first, she hadn't known how to respond. She had almost said "yes" purely on instinct, but something had stopped her. It had taken her a moment to realize what that something was.

The book.

The book that she had discovered only weeks before. The book that told of the benevolence of the Heart of Atlantis and how it always spared its enemies. The book that had made her realize that Rourke was still alive and could come back at any time. The book that had finally driven home the fact that she would never be free of him.

The book that told her that saying "yes" would only bring Brykloap a fate worse than death.

Even then, saying the words had killed her inside. Brykloap's expression had been heart wrenching and had been forever etched into her memory. His eyes which had only moments before been filled with love and happiness had become wide with shock and hurt.

Immediately she had begun to explain herself. She had reminded him of the book and of what the evidence it gave meant for them; of how Christopher had been murdered only because she loved him. But even then, he hadn't cared.

Brykloap had told her he loved her and wanted to marry her regardless of the danger. His words, as they would always be, had been persuasive and she had nearly given in that first time, her resolve not as hardened as it would later become. But, her desire to keep him safe had prevailed and she had made it clear that she wasn't going to change her mind.

After a few moments of silence, Brykloap had given up and let her know that he wasn't angry. They had kissed and then he had told her that he would never leave her. And, for ten years, he hadn't.

Please don't let me have lost you, she silently begged as she started walking to his door.

Every step was a struggle, her heartbeat becoming faster and faster as she approached. She tried to stop her body from shaking with little success. The acting skills that had served her so well both in the past and with Chris only hours ago were failing her now when she needed them the most. If Brykloap rejected her, she didn't want him to see her anguish.

Finally, she reached his house. The curtain was drawn shut for the first time in years.

He's not going to let me in, she told herself. Oh, god, I was right. It's over.

But before she could knock on the side of the house, the curtain was quickly opened and she found herself face to face with Brykloap.

((((())))))

Chris held out her arm and Sarani ran right into it, grunting upon impact.

Shh! Chris warned her. She nodded her head towards the doorway. Guards.

How long until they pass? Sarani wanted to know.

Chris glanced at her timepiece, which she had fastened to her wrist. About five minutes.

Great, Sarani muttered. How many halls are just like this again?

Only three more, Chris informed her.

We'll never get there at this rate, Sarani pouted.

Chris shot her a look. You're not backing out on me are you?

No, Sarani replied defensively. But we have school tomorrow, remember? If we fall asleep in class, Mertik will know we were out all night and tell our parents.

Ah, don't worry about it, Chris told her. Mertik knows I zone out all the time as it is. This'll be a one time deal for you. You can just claim you had trouble sleeping because you were still upset about being grounded. See? Problem solved.

Sarani smiled. How do you do that?

Do what?

You know. Come up with this stuff. Always know how to solve every problem, Sarani explained.

Chris shrugged. It's a gift.

Definitely, Sarani agreed. I wish I could come up with bahdeg things like you.

You're perfect just the way you are, Chris informed her. Try to change and I'll hurt you.

Sarani crossed her arms. Is that a threat?

You bet it is, Chris told her. And you know I'll do it too.

Unfortunately, Sarani grinned. You're the only person I know who's not afraid of hurting a member of the royal family.

Ah-ha! So you admit you're the princess...Princess.

Not again! Sarani groaned.

Your Royal Highness, Chris said, bowing grandly. It is a honor to be allowed to walk in your shadow.

You're just asking for it now, Sarani threatened.

Oh, dear! Chris gasped. Her Highness is going to hurt me! I'm so scared!

Defend yourself, Commoner! Sarani ordered, raising her fists.

Chris silently dropped to her knees and held her hands up to her face. Mercy! I surrender! I surrender!

Chris then noticed the timepiece on her wrist and hopped back to her feet. Hey, look! We just wasted a full minute! Only four more to go!

You keert.

Thank you!

((((())))))

"Helga! Thank the Great Kings!" Brykloap cried, throwing his arms around her. He hugged her tightly before proceeding to kiss her all over her face. Between kisses, he managed to say, "When you did not come today... Gods, I thought I would never see you again!"

At first, Helga did nothing but stand there as Brykloap covered her face with kisses. His greeting had caught her completely off-guard. She had not been expecting anything like this and it had shocked her.

He had forgiven her? She couldn't believe it. But why? How? How could he have after the way she had treated him all these years? Last night it seemed as if he had finally come to his senses and left her. She had been so sure that she had lost him forever. Yet, here he was, hugging and kissing her as if it was the last time he would ever see her.

Then his lips met hers and all of her doubts melted away. Kida had been right all along. He did still love her. One fight hadn't been enough to destroy his feelings for her. And she loved him. More than he or anyone could ever know.

She began responding as passionately as she could. Tears that were a mixture of relief and joy began to spill down onto her cheeks. She wrapped her arms tightly around him, clinging to him as if for dear life. And, in a way, it was. She had almost lost him because of her own stupidity. She would not make that mistake ever again.

I haven't lost him! Oh god, I haven't lost him!

Not breaking the kiss, Brykloap began to back them into the house. Helga let herself be led, not caring where he took her. They were together again and that was the only thing that mattered. They had not gone very far when he finally separated his lips from hers.

"Oh, Helga," he said softly as he tilted her face towards his. He reached up and gently brushed away a tear. "I do not even know where to begin. I thought I would never see you again. And, after the things I said last night, I would not blame you for wanting to stay away from me. I love you so much and I cannot bear the thought of losing you. If do not think I can even begin to express how sorry I am. Please say that you forgive me."

She just stared at him for a moment. If his greeting had taken her by surprise, then nothing could have prepared her for this. He wanted her to forgive him? He thought she was mad at him?

You stupid, stupid man! she wanted to yell at him. I could never be angry with you.

"Forgive you? There's nothing to forgive you for," she told him, her voice filled with too many emotions to decipher. How could he even think such a thing? Didn't he know by now that she could never be angry with him? "You did nothing wrong, my love."

"How can you say that?" he asked her. "I became angry at the woman I love. There is no crime more horrible than that."

Yes there is. "You had every right to," she said. "I've been so terrible to you over the years. If anyone should be begging for forgiveness, it's me."

"No," he told her vehemently. "Oh, no! You are wrong. So very wrong, my mihlimn."

"No," she said, pulling away from him, "I'm not. From the moment I found that book, I've been treating you horribly. Why you ever stayed with me, I'll never know. I've been so unfair to you."

"Unfair?" he questioned, looking puzzled. "What are you talking about?"

"You know very well what I'm talking about."

He took a step closer to her. "No, I do not. Tell me what you mean."

"This...us," she began, gesturing between the two of them. "Our whole relationship. I know how much you want to get married...start a family. I've been keeping you from that."

"Helga-" he tried to protest, but she silenced him with an upraised hand.

"I love you so much. All I ever wanted was to keep you safe, but instead I've been hurting you terribly. I've made so many mistakes in my life already. The way I've been treating you for the past ten years is just another mark to add to the tally.

"But now I want to make it all up to you. I know how wrong I've been. So, if-"

He silenced her by placing his fingers against her lips. "Do you think I would have stayed with you if I thought you were keeping me from anything? You should know better than that by now. I love you, Helga. You and only you. No one else. You are the only woman I would ever dream of having a family with."

He removed his fingers from her lips and pulled her back into his arms. She laid her head against his chest. "It is true that I was hurt whenever you refused to marry me, but I knew you only did so with the best intentions. I know how much Rourke hurt you. I understand why you would want to protect me from him.

"But, as I have told you over and over again, I do not want or need your protection. I am willing to die by his hand for loving you." He began to stroke her hair and back. "I love you that much. Why do you think I continue to ask you to marry me despite the fact that I already know what your answer will be? It is my hope one day that you will realize that I do not care what happens to me. All I want is for you to be happy. Let me make you happy, Helga. I love you."

"Brykloap..." she managed, her tears coming more rapidly now. What had she done to deserve someone so wonderful? She was so unworthy of him. He deserved a woman who was as perfect as he was, not her. Why did he love her so much? Couldn't he see that she was no good for him?

Helga's mind returned to her conversation with Kida. The queen had told her that as long as Brykloap loved her he would be in danger regardless of their marital status. Brykloap had just sealed his own fate by telling her that he would never love another woman. There was nothing she could do to save him now.

Nothing.

After a few minutes of silence, Brykloap asked, "Wherever did you come up with such ideas?"

"You and Kida."

"I do not recall ever saying anything of the sort and I am sure the queen did not either."

"You did last night," Helga told him. "And, when I went to see Kida today, she basically repeated everything you had said. You both told me that I'd been wasting my life ever since I found that book because I let my fear control me."

He gently pushed her away from him and held her by her upper arms. "Helga, I never said you had wasted your life. Gods, how could you even think I did? And I do not believe Kida would have either."

"But, when you think about it, I have," she pressed. "You told me that I needed to move on in my life. You said I let my fear control me. You-"

"Helga," Brykloap interrupted. "You have taken everything I said out of context. As I am sure you have with Kida's words as well."

She looked down. "I can't get anything right, can I?"

She felt his fingers gently push up on her chin, tilting her face towards him once again.

"You cannot do anything wrong," he told her. He leaned down and kissed her. "Everything you ever did was out of love. Everything."

She did not have to be a mind reader to know what he meant by that.

"Now, come," he said, releasing her other arm and taking her by the hand. "Let us go and sit down before we continue this conversation."

"All right."

No more words were spoken as Brykloap gently guided her deeper into the house.

((((())))))

Just ten more seconds, Chris told Sarani as she watched her timepiece. They were now waiting to pass through the second of the four hallways. Only two more to go and then they would reach their destination.

As Mole likes to say, "I'm so excited!", Sarani grinned, barely keeping herself from jumping up and down. This is probably the best idea you've ever had.

Chris glared at her. And just what is that supposed to mean?

Um, nothing? Sarani answered sweetly.

Oh, really? Chris replied in a mock suspicious tone. Because I know how jealous of my genius you are.

Me? Jealous of you and your damkoht ideas? Are you insane?

Well, according to ninety-nine percent of the population, yes, Chris proudly answered.

Oh, kahmoap!

Time's up. Let's move, Chris announced and started to jog out into the hall.

Lead the way, Sarani said, following at the same quick pace.

((((())))))

Brykloap brought Helga into his living room and led her to the couch. He allowed her to sit down first before lowering himself beside her. He then took her into his arms.

"I spent all afternoon trying to find you," he told her. "When you did not come to see me after class today, I became worried and went looking for you. I searched everywhere but I could not find you."

"That's because I went to see Kida," she said.

"I know that now," he continued, "but I did not know it then. I was convinced that you were avoiding me, which made me even more determined to find you. I was terrified that you were angry with me. Gods, I was angry with myself."

"You shouldn't have been," she told him. "You had every right to feel the way you did."

"Stop saying that," he admonished her. "I did not. I was just still upset about Chris and I took it out on you. I was wrong." He bent down and gently kissed her on the top of her head.

"I finally saw you as you were walking up to your house," he continued. "When I saw how sad you looked, all I wanted to do was run up to you and beg for your forgiveness, but I was afraid that I was the one who had made you so upset. I was sure that you would never want to see me again, so I stayed away. I was convinced that final glimpse of you I got as you disappeared into the house would be the last time I ever saw you."

"Oh, Brykloap, it had nothing to do with last night," she told him, turning so that she could look at him. "It was because of how horribly I had been treating you all of this time."

"I still cannot believe Kida told you this. I have never believed her capable of such lies," Brykloap said.

She looked down again, swallowing. She had thought the hardest part of the evening over, but now she knew she had been premature in her assumptions. The worst was yet to come. Because once he realized that she hadn't taken anything out of context at all...

"It's..." She faltered, afraid of how he would react.

He pulled her closer. "You can tell me anything. I will not become angry again. I promise."

She nodded and took a deep breath, still not looking at him. "It's not what she said exactly. It's more what she made me realize."

"Go on," he urged.

"Kida told me that there's no way of possibly knowing when Rourke is going to come back," she began. "Like both of you have told me over and over, it has been thirteen years. She pointed out that it could be another thirteen years, maybe even longer, before he comes back."

"Or, as Kida and I have also been saying all along, he could never return at all," Brykloap suggested.

She finally looked up at him. "He's coming back. There's no question in my mind that he is."

"All right," he said. "I will not argue with you this time."

"Thank you," she replied gratefully. "You know that the only reason I haven't married you is because I believed that there was a slight chance that Rourke wouldn't harm you if you weren't my husband."

"I know."

"But Kida said something that made me realize that if we were together, our marital status wouldn't make a damn bit of difference in the end. Rourke's going to want to harm you because he knows it would harm me. As long as I love you, you're in danger. Now do you understand why I said I've been unfair to you?

"No, I do not," he told her. "Nor do I care. Your love is worth a thousand deaths."

She pulled away from him and slid towards the other end of the couch. This was the moment she had been fearing. Once he heard this, there was a chance that he would hate her. She took a deep breath and braced herself.

"We could have been married all of this time."

((((())))))

Okay, one more to go and then we're home free, Chris informed Sarani.

Maht! Sarani grinned.

Chris glanced at her timepiece. Okay, the guards are gonna pass by any second now. Remember, we wait one minute and then we book it.

Yes, Ma'am!

((((())))))

Helga knew that she had to stay calm no matter what Brykloap's reaction was. She could not lose her composure even if he became angry. There was still Chris' future to discuss.

Suddenly, she felt Brykloap's arms wrap around her from behind.

"Yes, we could have been," he said softly. "But you thought you were protecting me by not marrying me."

"I'm so sorry," she said, fresh tears beginning to fall. "I never meant to hurt you."

"You could never hurt me," he assured her. "Or anybody else."

"But I have. Over and over."

"Shh," he soothed her. "That is all in the past now. Do not let it bother you anymore. It is time to focus on the future. A future that I would like to spend with you...

"As your husband."

Helga's eyes widened as her head snapped up.

Brykloap slowly turned her around so that she was facing him.

"Will you marry me?"

It took her a moment to find her voice. "Yes," she barely managed. "Oh, yes!"

Brykloap only acknowledged her acceptance with a small smile before drawing her into a passionate kiss.

((((())))))

Is it time yet? Sarani asked.

Nope, Chris informed her glancing at her watch. We've got another few minutes before the guards pass and then a few more before we can actually go.

Dang it!

Chris cocked an eyebrow. Someone's been spending a little too much time around Cookie.

What can I say? He's my kind of man!

Hey, I thought Brykloap was your kind of man!

Nah! Aifohm Helga can have him! Sarani gasped and covered her mouth even though she had been speaking telepathically. Oh, Chris, I'm sorry! I shouldn't have-

It's okay, Chris assured her. Before they left, Chris had finally told Sarani everything about the fight and how Mahtihm had gone to talk to him. I bet she's still with him right now.

I hope they made up, Sarani said.

Me too. Me too.

((((())))))

Helga and Brykloap lay intertwined on the couch, alternating between kissing and just quietly holding each other.

Helga could not believe this was happening. After all these years of pushing him away for his supposed safety, she and Brykloap were finally going to get married. She felt like she was in a dream and, if she was, she hoped she never woke up. She was in a state of complete and total bliss.

"I love you," she whispered as she snuggled against his chest.

Brykloap ran his hand up her arm, onto her shoulder, and then continued down her back, which he began to gently rub. "I love you too."

She closed her eyes and let herself get lost in the moment. It was like heaven to just be with him like this. There was no need for any more words. His loving touch told her all that needed to be said.

For several more minutes, they remained like that, holding each other in complete silence.

Then, Brykloap broke the silence with a request Helga never thought she'd hear from him.

"Stay the night with me."

((((())))))

Can we go yet? Sarani wanted to know.

Almost, Chris promised.

((((())))))

Helga scrambled away from him and sat straight up. She couldn't believe what she had just heard. Did he even realize what he was saying?

She felt his arms wrap around her from behind. "I am sorry," he said, pulling her close. "I did not mean to upset you."

"You know I can't stay," she said. "It goes against every tradition. It would be wrong."

God, how she wished she could. She loved him so much and had been wanting to make love to him for a long time now. She had lost count of the number of fantasy encounters she had had with him in her dreams. But, in Atlantis, sexual intercourse was reserved only for the marriage bed. And, as a citizen of Atlantis, it was her duty to honor that tradition even if she had not in the past.

"Let me be the one to decide what is right and wrong," he told her. He gently turned her around to face him. "And I cannot think of anything more right than making love to you tonight."

"But we aren't married," she protested. "And I have class in the morning and-"

He cut her off with a kiss.

"We are engaged," he said after he ended the kiss. "We will be married soon enough."

"Brykloap..." Why was he making this so hard? In the eleven years they had been together, sex had never come up before. Why now?

"It is just that I do not want this night to end," he said, answering her unspoken question. "Your coming back to me was a miracle that I prayed for but did not believe would happen. I was convinced that I had lost you forever last night. I was afraid my mistake had hurt you beyond measure.

"When I saw you start coming to the house earlier, I knew my prayers had been answered. And, then, you granted me my most precious wish when you agreed to marry me. I did not think this day would ever arrive and yet it finally has. I only want to show you how happy you have made me. I want to prove my love to you in the most intimate way possible. If that is wrong, then let me be wrong."

She knew that he meant every word of it. He truly did not care that he was going against everything he had ever been taught. He was only thinking of her. He loved her that much.

She place a hand on his cheek. "You don't have to prove anything to me, my love. Although I don't understand it, I know how you feel about me."

"I want to," he said. "Please say you will stay with me."

Her mind drifted back to Chris. "What about...?"

"She will be fine," he told her, once again seeming to read her mind. "She is old enough to understand." He kissed her again. "Let us have this one night together. Please stay."

"Are you absolutely sure this is what you want?" she tried one last time.

"There is nothing I want more," he said.

"Let me make love to you, Helga."

((((())))))

Get ready, Chris warned Sarani. We have ten seconds before me make a run for it.

Finally!

((((())))))

Helga looked deeply into his eyes and knew that he would not stop asking until she agreed to stay. He wanted this as much as she did.

She took a deep breath. "All right. I'll stay."

((((())))))

Now! Chris instructed and the two girls took off running.

((((())))))

Brykloap began to kiss Helga more deeply and intensely than before as he first drew her close and then pulled the both of them to their feet.

He ended the kiss and offered her his hand, which she accepted.

He began to lead her down a hall she had never seen, bringing her towards what she knew had to be his bedroom.

((((())))))

As she ran, Chris reached out with her mind and found the lock that held the double doors of the old throne room shut.

((((())))))

Helga felt a nervousness grip her body as the open bedroom doorway came into view. This would be the first time she had made love in nearly thirteen years. She wondered if Brykloap was sharing the same nervousness despite the confidence he was displaying.

((((())))))

Chris began to fiddle with the lock mechanism. She felt the gears begin to turn in the direction she willed them to.

((((())))))

Brykloap drew Helga into another kiss outside of his room. He began to guide her inside.

((((())))))

Chris felt the lock pop open.

((((())))))

Helga allowed Brykloap to lead her into his dim room.

((((())))))

Still using her mind, Chris removed the hanging lock and placed it silently on the ground. The chains quickly followed.

((((())))))

Brykloap momentarily broke the kiss and used his pendent to turn on the light.

((((())))))

Chris and Sarani arrived in front of the door.

Let's rest a second, Chris said as she panted heavily.

Good idea, Sarani agreed, her own breathing labored.

((((())))))

Brykloap returned to Helga and pulled her into another kiss as he simultaneously reached for the door.

((((())))))

I think we've rested enough, Chris decided. Help me get these doors opened.

((((())))))

Brykloap started moving himself and Helga forward as he started closing the door.

((((())))))

Chris and Sarani each placed their hands against one of the doors and started to push.

((((())))))

Helga did not resist Brykloap's guidance as they kissed.

((((())))))

The double doors began to open with a quiet creak.

((((())))))

The bedroom door made little sound as it was slowly pushed closed.

((((())))))

Chris and Sarani quickly slipped through the small portal they had made.

((((())))))

Helga felt her back bump lightly against the door as it clicked shut.

((((())))))

Chris and Sarani pushed the doors shut behind them with another low creak.

((((())))))

Helga completely surrendered herself to Brykloap as he began to make love to her in the stillness of his bedroom.

((((())))))

"Wow," Chris breathed as her wide eyes tried to take in everything before her. "I can't believe Aifohm Kida locked this up!"

"Yeah," Sarani agreed, sounding just as awed. "This place is so bahdeg!"

The two girls had entered into what appeared to be a garden. They were now standing by a stone couch that looked exactly like the one in Aifohm Kida and Lahmahp Milo's throne room and were looking out into the most incredible place that they had ever seen.

A huge pool of water took up the center of the room and had large stepping stones for crossing from one side to another. The stones formed a design at the center of the pool that looked like the letter "A". Above the pool, supported by thick columns, was a partial roof. They could only see one wall and that was at the opposite end of the room. It housed a pair of doors very much like the ones they had entered through and Chris suspected it led to the back of the palace. In every other direction they looked they could see out into the city. The entire area was overrun by plant life and they could hear the sound of waterfalls nearby.

"This is definitely our new hangout," Chris declared as they descended the short set of stairs that led to the water's edge.

"Definitely," Sarani seconded. "So, what do we do first?"

"Hmm," Chris said thoughtfully as she glanced around. "I think we should just check the place out tonight then head on back. I don't want to be here too long since it's so late."

"Good idea," Sarani said. She hopped onto the nearest stepping stone. "Just make sure Aifohm Helga or that guard doesn't catch you sneaking back into the house."

"And just exactly who is it that you think you're talking to?" Chris asked as she made her way back over to the throne.

"I don't think you want me to answer that," Sarani's voice called back.

Chris turned to look back at her friend. "You're just asking for a beating, aren't you?"

"Okay, time to change the subject!" Sarani announced as she jumped to another stone. "Hmm, let me think..."

"Better hurry up or your brain may explode," Chris playfully warned her as she turned to investigate the area around the throne.

"Ha-ha, very funny," Sarani grumbled. "You know something? This would make a great place for a wedding!"

"Yeah..." Chris turned around again, her mind momentarily drifting back to Mahtihm and Brykloap. Had they made up yet? Gods, I hope they do.

"It would be so much bahdegtoat than Audrey's," Sarani decided. "I mean that church place or whatever it was called was nice, but nothing compared to this."

Chris had to agree. She had also seen the pictures when Mr. Whitmore and the rest of Mahtihm, Lahmahp Milo, and Aifohm Kida's friends had come to visit two years ago. The rooms in the pictures had been beautiful, but all of them paled in comparison to the place the girls now stood in.

Chris and Sarani had both been disappointed that Audrey hadn't been able to come on the trip, but they had understood that she had not been able to leave her two small children. ("Those two make these little hellions look like angels," Mr. Whitmore had told their parents though no one had believed him.) Although they didn't remember her too well since they had only been five when they met her, they did remember that she had been a lot of fun to play with. However, she had sent notes and pictures for everyone to see, including both of the girls, who still had them.

Another thing Chris remembered was that there had been some excitement over some piece of jewelry Audrey had been wearing (a ring) that neither Chris or Sarani had understood. ("Surface custom", Lahmahp Milo had explained.) Both Mahtihm and Aifohm Kida had gushed over it while Mrs. Packard, whom the girls found hysterical, had acted like it was no big deal. They had not been able to figure out which behavior was the right one, so they had ignored it completely.

Chris returned her attention to the throne itself. "So, this is where your moaktahbtoap ruled from. I wonder why your parents locked it up and turned another room into their throne room?"

"Beats me," Sarani answered with a grunt. (Chris assumed she was still hopping stones.) "They probably had a good reason."

"Maybe. Maybe not. You know how damkoht grownups are," Chris said, looking back at her friend.

"Very damkoht," Sarani agreed. She skipped a couple more stones before turning around. "If I wasn't going to be a famous singer and was going to be queen, I'd move the throne room right back here."

"Well, you never know...Princess," Chris smirked.

"Rub it in, why don't you?"

"Well, if anyone ever decides to rule from here, this place is in need of a major overhaul," Chris decided. "I mean, this throne doesn't even have any cushions! Sitting on it would literally give you a pain in the ohmlah!"

Sarani giggled as she hopped to yet another stone. "Maybe there were never any cushions to begin with. Maybe my moaktahbtoap had a really hard ohmlah and he didn't feel anything when he sat down."

"Saranikash Theresa Thatch, that is probably the single dumbest thing I've ever heard in my entire life!"

"Then I guess you never pay much attention to yourself when you talk!"

Chris put her hands on her hips and glared at her best friend. "You are so going to pay for that remark."

"Not unless you make me," Sarani informed her as she leaped again.

"Hmm," Chris said thoughtfully. "How does one make a royal do anything?" She dramatically threw her hands into the air. "I know! You usurp the throne!" She flopped down hard onto the throne. "Oww!"

Sarani laughed even harder. She had reached the part of the stones that formed the design.

"I, Queen Christine, order you to beg me for forgiveness," Chris cried as she rubbed her stinging bottom.

"No way!"

"Hey, you can't disobey me! I'm your queen!"

"I'm rebelling," Sarani declared as she started turning around to look at Chris. "I'm-

"Whoa!"

Sarani's foot slipped on the wet stone and she fell backwards, hitting the water with a loud splash."

"Sarani!" Chris jumped to her feet.

"I'm okay," Sarani groaned. "I'm just-" Sarani was cut off by a loud rumbling.

"Sarani?!"

Suddenly, Sarani started moving down.

"Chris! What's happening?!" Sarani sounded terrified.

"I'm coming!" Chris called as she took off running through the water. "Hold on!"

"Chris! Hurry!"

Chris ran as fast as she could. However, Sarani was starting to disappear from view and her fastest just didn't seem fast enough.

She was running out of time.

Calling on her powers, Chris lifted herself up and hurled herself down the hole after Sarani. She landed with a thud on the platform that Sarani had somehow triggered, jarring herself badly.

"Are you okay?" Sarani asked as she helped her friend to her feet.

"Never been better," Chris muttered as she stood up. She ached from the impact, but she didn't think she was injured.

"Where do you think we're going?"

Chris looked out and saw that they were being lowered into a huge cave that was illuminated with a dim red light. "I don't know." She shakily walked towards the edge of the platform to get a better look. "But I have a bad feeling about this place. Look."

Sarani came up beside her. "Great kings," she whispered.

Laid out below them, much the same as in the throne room, was a large body of water. But it was what was hovering above the water that shocked them.

A small red crystal floated near the cave ceiling. It glowed brightly and painted the stone walls a dark crimson.

"What is that?" Sarani practically whispered.

"I have absolutely no idea," Chris told her.

"Do you think Mahtihm and Tahbtoap knew about this?"

"I don't know," Chris said, "but you'd have to wonder why they kept something like another crystal a secret if they did."

"Do you think it's like the Heart?" Sarani asked.

"I don't know..."

Since the time they were small, Chris and Sarani had been taught all about the Heart of Atlantis. They knew that it was alive and could, in times of great danger, join with a member of the royal family. In fact, many years ago, before both of them had been born, Aifohm Kida had joined with it. ("You're next," Chris had often teased Sarani, who was frightened by the very idea of bonding with it.) And because of that, Aifohm Kida could, in a very primitive way, talk to it.

After discovering her powers, Chris had tried to communicate with it herself. She had been able to make contact, but hadn't been able to make out what she was receiving. She and Sarani had decided that it was because she was not royal, so Chris had come up with the idea of trying to talk to it through Sarani. This hadn't worked any better, but the "thoughts" of the Heart hadn't seemed as...alien. However, they still tried every so often in the hopes that something might change.

"...But there's one way to find out."

She reached out with her mind towards the red crystal...

((((())))))

Sensation.

Thought.

Awareness.

All of these things slowly returned to Rourke as he awakened from whatever that damn crystal had done to him. He had no idea where he was or how long he had been unconscious, but he was determined to find out.

He remembered everything that had happened. The betrayal, the merging, the woman...everything. His perfect plan had been ruined. All because that bitch had allowed her conscience to get the better of her.

He had been so sure that Helga was under his complete control. What had happened? How the hell had she broken free? When had the Atlantean people come to mean more to her than her baby?

It made no sense. Helga's obsession with motherhood should have been enough to prevent her from betraying him. He couldn't figure out what had made her decide that her baby's life wasn't as important as the lives of the Atlanteans. Such a turnaround hadn't seemed possible. Yet, it had happened and it had resulted in his imprisonment. For that, Helga would be severely punished. After he finished what he had started, of course.

But, first things first. He wouldn't be punishing anyone unless he got out of this crystal cage. And that was going to be no easy task.

The crystal had done a thorough job of trapping him. Not only was the prison unaffected by his powers, but it also served to dampen them as well. He could not do much of anything. And, even if he could, the small size of the cage would make taking solid form impossible.

Suddenly, he felt a telepathic brush against the back of his mind.

Who?

The contact was clumsy and undirected, as if the one making it did not know what he or she was doing. Yet, at the same time, it was very powerful and somehow...impossibly...familiar.

His vision cleared and he looked around to try and find the source of the contact. He was surprised to find that he was back in the very place this whole mess had started: the crystal chamber beneath the palace.

Someone has a sense of irony, he decided, though he sincerely doubted it was either Thatch or the queen. Then again, they could have put him there without realizing the significance of their actions, which was more likely. Neither of them were exactly mental heavyweights.

His crystal prison was floating above the water in the exact same place the Heart of Atlantis had been. It was smaller than the Heart, making the chamber look much larger from his new size and vantage point. He glanced around the cavern for the source and was surprised to see two little girls.

Well, well, what have we here?

There was a tall one with dark hair and a short one with a light brownish-blonde hair color. They appeared to be very young though the dark-haired girl seemed very close to puberty, signs of her future figure very apparent. They were both wearing Atlantean clothing despite the fact that neither of them appeared to be native to the city, especially the taller girl, though the second could easily have some Atlantean blood in her. She had the typical skin and blue eye color of an Atlantean. But it was her friend that captured his interest.

From her light complexion to her black hair, there was nothing remotely Atlantean about her at all. Her parents obviously had to come from the surface, but how had they ended up in Atlantis? His crew had been the first group from the surface to ever set foot in Atlantis and the only one who had stayed behind had been Thatch. (He was sure Helga had fled soon after his defeat and returned to Whitmore's mansion. She hadn't had anywhere else to go and was probably still there with their child.) The only way for this girl to be what she appeared to be was for more people coming to live in Atlantis. And, if that was true, just how long had he been imprisoned?

But it was not her origins that had him intrigued the most. It was her physical appearance. She was a natural beauty; absolutely gorgeous for someone so young. She was very tall for her age and had the beginnings of a figure that he had no doubt would dazzle any man once she reached maturity, which, from the looks of her, would be very soon...

Looking at her, he was reminded of Helga when he had first encountered her. Granted, this girl was much younger, but the same qualities that had attracted him to her were present. He wondered if her looks and figure had been as apparent as this girl's at the same age. In fact, she reminded him of Helga quite a bit...

Hello, he sent, wondering which of the two was the broadcaster. How one of them had telepathic abilities was a mystery, but one that could wait to be solved. The only thing that mattered to him at the moment was that one of them did and that she could be the key to his getting out of this damn prison.

His question was answered when the dark-haired beauty gasped in surprise. Her friend immediately started saying something in what he assumed was Atlantean since he didn't understand a word of it. The girl responded with an answer that caused the shorter one to look shocked as well.

They didn't know I was down here, he realized. Perfect.

The fact that they weren't aware of his imprisonment in this place worked to his advantage. All he had to do was convince the dark-haired girl to help him. If she had abilities beyond telepathy, it was possible that freeing him would be a relatively simple matter for her. The only trick would be to keep her or her friend from knowing who he was until after he was set free.

Although she hadn't been aware he was down here, he was positive she'd recognize his name immediately. If Thatch and the queen had even a quarter of a brain between the two of them, they would have made sure every single Atlantean knew about him and the danger he posed. All he had to do was be careful not to mention his name, which wouldn't be too hard. This girl was probably his only ticket out of this hellhole. He couldn't blow it.

Hoping she was as multilingual as all the other Atlanteans he had encountered, he sent Thank goodness someone's finally come! He forced as much desperation and relief in his voice as he could. This performance had to be flawless. Children had a knack for picking up on lies unless they were perfect. I thought no one ever would!

Who are you? came the calm and cool reply in perfect English.

Rourke smiled inwardly at the girl's reaction. Rather than expression sympathy at his "distress", she had instead displayed suspicion, which he found incredibly amusing. Dealing with this girl would be entertaining.

He took a moment to decide how to answer her. He needed to tell her something that would ease her suspicion of him. As long as she was apprehensive, gaining her trust would be impossible.

My name's Lyle, he told her, deciding one tiny truth was necessary in convincing her of his "sincerity". He had figured his first name was safe to divulge. He doubted any of the Atlanteans, including their "king", would recognize anything but his surname. (He was sure Thatch knew his given name, but he doubted the idiot would have been bright enough to share it with the Atlanteans.)

There was a slight reaction from the girl, but it didn't appear to be recognition. She probably just knows it's a surface name, he decided. Maybe this was something he could use to his advantage. A little "homesickness" would authenticate his story even more. The more believable he was, the easier it would be to convince her that he was telling the "truth".

I've been down here a very long time, he went on before she could say anything. All I want to do is go home.

How did you get here? she asked, still sounding suspicious.

Damn. What was it going to take to get this girl to feel sorry for him? Even Helga would have bought that line before she had come to realize the truth about their relationship. He had to try another approach.

Who is the king? he sent.

The girl's eyes narrowed. Why do you want to know?

Please, he said, attempting to sound as desperate as possible. Just tell me. It's important.

I'll tell you under one condition, the girl said.

Rourke fought down the urge to demand the answer from her. His initial amusement at her behavior had turned into annoyance. This little girl was turning out to be a pain-in-the-ass. If she wasn't his only ticket to freedom... What is it?

She folded her arms. How do you know about Atlantis?

That's not important, he told her, brushing the question aside. Please just answer my question. I need to know.

The girl started to say something, but then decided against it. The king's name is Milo.

Thatch. If he had been able to take solid form, the smile he would have formed would have been brilliant. Perfect. Thatch was the reason he was stuck here. Without him, revenge against Atlantis wouldn't be even half as satisfying.

The girl had once again turned to her friend, who was now looking absolutely terrified and was shaking her head at whatever the dark-haired girl was telling her.

That's a relief to hear, he sent to her as soon as she had stopped talking. It means I haven't been here as long as I thought. I assume Kida is still queen?

Yeah, the girl answered. By the way, how do you know them? Oh, and while I'm at it, why can't I see you?

Once again he held back the urge to say something that would ruin any chances of getting her to help him. She was a piece of work, this girl. She was starting to irk him as much as Thatch. Maybe more. Good thing he didn't have any qualms about killing children...

How I got here is a long story that I'd prefer to save for another time, he informed her. To himself, he added, Preferably never. He needed time to come up with a good fabrication to tell her. She was too quick and would see through any shabbily concocted on-the-spot lie.

As for seeing me, he continued, you do.

Really? Does that mean you're a rock?

The impertinent brat! Struggling to maintain a friendly tone, he said, You're not too far off. You see that crystal?

The girl looked directly at him, the dubious expression on her face priceless. "Oh, so you mean you're not a rock but a crystal?

No. I'm inside the crystal, he corrected her. Did she treat everyone like this? How did her parents put up with her?

Let me get this straight. You're inside the crystal?

Yes. He felt himself starting to lose his grip on his temper. If he didn't convince her to help him soon...

You're so full of crap, she announced. Why don't you stop all your lies and show yourself already? I'm tired of playing this stupid game with you. How do I know you even need help?

Goddamn bitch! he thought angrily. This had gone on far too long. He was sick and tired of putting up with her. It was time to take matters into his own hands. All he needed to do was reach into her mind and get her to do exactly what he wanted. He stretched out towards her...

Only to find mental walls thrown up as soon as he made contact.

What the hell do you think you're doing? the girl demanded furiously. Gone were the sarcasm and doubt. She was angry now, and if he didn't act fast to calm her down, he'd never get out of this godforsaken place.

Rourke cursed himself. How the hell had she done that? Granted, this was the first telepath other than himself he had dealt with, but he had had no idea it was possible to shield like that. Trying to hijack her mind had been a mistake. He hadn't counted on such incredible response time. Obviously, she'd been born with this ability and had been practicing with it for years. He'd have to return to his original method of trying to win her over.

Keeping his voice in the same calm and friendly tone he had been using, he told her, I was looking for information. You haven't exactly been very helpful. He mentally crossed his fingers that this would get things back on track.

And you haven't been very truthful, she retorted.

Yes I have, he informed her. You just refuse to believe me.

Can you blame me? she questioned. You haven't exactly given me anything concrete to work with here.

He openly laughed. Not only was she a pain-in-the-ass, but she was stubborn and hard-headed as well. He felt his fury giving way to amusement once again as he realized why she was ticking him off so much: she was exactly like him.

This girl possessed all the qualities that had made him such a good leader. Like him, she didn't take shit from anyone and refused to believe anything without proof. She shared his stubbornness and his need to be in total control of every situation. Then there was the fact that she liked to intimidate as he did. Maybe she wasn't as bad as he had first thought.

I think we've gotten off on the wrong foot here, he said placatingly. Let me attempt to correct that. How about this? We take turns asking and answering questions. Does that sound fair?

The girl's expression relaxed somewhat. I guess so. What do you want to know?

Wonderful, Rourke silently commented. To the girl, he broadcast, How long have Milo and Kida ruled?

Around thirteen years, she told him. They got married about six months before I was born.

This is better than I hoped. I've only been gone thirteen years. All of them should still be alive. Perfect.

Oh, and this is their daughter, she added, pointing with her thumb towards her terrified companion. Princess Saranikash.

Rourke's gaze moved to the other girl and, for the first time, noticed the resemblance to both Thatch and the queen. She had inherited her father's lankiness. From her mother, she had gotten her Atlantean coloring. Her features were a mix of both parents.

He couldn't believe his luck. Things were starting to look up for him. Right here in front of him was Thatch's daughter. She was both a weapon and a passport to freedom. Thatch or Kida wouldn't dare harm him if he had their child. And, even better, he no longer needed the queen to bring the Heart to where he could destroy it. He had the next best thing.

The dark-haired girl, whose name he had yet to learn, was once again talking to Saranikash. As they spoke, the princess began to back up towards what Thatch had named the "aquavator". After she finished, the girl turned back to him.

Okay, she said, my turn. How did you get inside the crystal?

He chuckled to himself. If only you knew. To her, he said, The Heart of Atlantis put me here.

Why?

This was a critical moment. If he gave her the wrong answer, he would blow any chance of getting out of here. She was still suspicious of him, but not as much as before. He decided it was time for another shred of truth.

Because I did a very bad thing.

The girl's expression changed again and she started backing up herself. What kind of bad thing?

It's not important, he told her, mentally kicking himself. He had made another miscalculation with her and had pushed her away again. He needed to show her that he was "guilty" about what he had done. All you need to know is that I've paid for my crimes and I deserved what was done to me. All I want now is to go home.

The girl caught up with Saranikash and grabbed her by the arm, hauling her along with her. Sorry. I can't help you there.

That's where you're wrong, he told her, finally getting down to business. You're the only one who can set me free.

The girl got up onto the aquavator and pulled Saranikash up next to her. As it started to move, she told him, I don't think so. Anyway, we've got to go now. We have school in the morning.

When will you come back? he asked her.

I'm not, she informed him. We're not even supposed to be down here now. Sorry.

Damn! he silently cursed. He reached out to her mind again and found that she was still shielded. Until she dropped the blocks, he wouldn't be able to reach her. The only way for him to communicate with her would be for her to contact him first.

He felt her start to break the contact. Wait! Will you at least tell me your name?

It's Chris, she said.

Chris?! It had to be a coincidence, just like everything else he had noticed about her. It had to. Yes, the girl was exactly the right age, but she wouldn't have stayed. Covering up his shock, he casually responded, Last I heard, that was a boy's name.

Chris smirked. It's a nickname. My real name's Christine. Mahtihm's the one who started calling me Chris and everyone just went along with it.

Mahtihm? he asked.

It means mother, she told him.

Christine isn't an Atlantean name, he said as the aquavator approached the top of the cavern. He knew she wasn't from Atlantis, but would she admit it to him?

Whoever said I was Atlantean? Mahtihm and I are from the surface, just like you. Anyway, I was named after my father. He died before I was born and Mahtihm wanted to name me after him.

Rourke paused thoughtfully before answering. Did your father's name happen to be Christopher?

He sensed her shock. Yeah. How did you know?

Lucky guess, he told her as she disappeared from view.

The contact was immediately broken.

For a few moments, Rourke just stared at the place where his daughter had been.

Then he began to plan how he would get her to come back and free him.

((((())))))

"Thank the gods that's over!" Chris declared as she and Sarani collapsed on the steps in front of the throne. They had both jumped off the platform as soon as it had stopped moving and dashed across the pool, trying to put as much distance between themselves and the freaky Lyle guy as they could. "This is one time I'm sorry I disobeyed Mahtihm."

"What happened? What did he want?" Sarani asked, still sounding shaken.

"He wanted me to free him," Chris informed her. "He claimed he was trapped inside that crystal we saw floating above the water and that's why we couldn't see him."

Sarani gave her a look. "Is that even possible?"

"He told me the Heart put him there, so you never know," Chris said. "Now that I think about it, there really didn't seem to be any place he could have been hiding. But being trapped in a crystal just sounds so damkoht."

"Why would the Heart do something like that to anyone? According to that book Aifohm Helga found, it just banishes people. Why would it trap this guy?" Sarani wanted to know.

"Well, according to him, he did, and I quote, 'a very bad thing'."

"It must have been really bad," Sarani decided.

"Yeah," Chris agreed. "I wonder what it was."

"Maybe he, um..." Sarani gulped. "...killed somebody."

"I wouldn't put that past him. He seemed capable of anything," Chris decided.

"Why does no one seem to know about him?" Sarani questioned. "Mahtihm and Tahbtoap never told me why they locked up the throne room. Tahbtoap always just said it was where Moaktahbtoap ruled from and that it held painful memories for Mahtihm. Do you think they locked it up because of Lyle?"

"Probably," Chris told her. "Whatever he did, it was either right before we were born or when we were still really little. Your parents were on the throne when he came. Anyway, I'm sure all the adults know about him."

"So why not tell us kids?"

"What would have been the point? Why scare us when he can't hurt anyone anymore?" Chris postulated. "Aifohm Kida and Lahmahp Milo made the right decision. It's our own fault that we found out about him."

"So much for our new hangout," Sarani sighed.

"Yeah. I don't think it's a good idea for us to come back here ever again," Chris agreed. "Besides, I don't want to give Lyle the chance to get into my mind if I let my guard down."

"What do you mean?"

"He tried to read my mind twice while we were down there," she explained. "Once when he wasn't getting the information he wanted and again when we were leaving. I have a feeling he's going to try again and soon. I was able to somehow shield this time, but I don't know what I did. I'm afraid to drop the blocks now because I don't know if I could bring them back. I'm just hoping that the further away I get from here, the less chance there is he'll be able to reach me."

"What if he can reach you no matter where you go?"

"Then I'll have to keep on blocking him until he gives up."

"But what if he doesn't?" Sarani persisted.

"I don't know," Chris told her.

"We can't tell anybody, can we?"

Chris shook her head. "We're already in enough trouble as it is."

"So what can we do?" Sarani wanted to know.

"Nothing except hope that either he can't reach me or that he gives up really fast," Chris told her. After a moment of silence, she said, "I still wish I knew what he did."

"Me too."

"Maybe there's a way we can find out..."

((((())))))

Helga sat in the kitchen nursing a mug of tea as she waited for Chris to wake up. She longed for the moment when she could tell her the good news. Chris had been wanting this to happen for as long as she had. The three of them would finally be a true family.

She was still on cloud nine from last night. First the proposal and then the lovemaking. And, god, what wonderful lovemaking it had been! It had been absolutely incredible. Brykloap had brought her to new heights of pleasure over and over again that she hadn't known existed. She had lost track of the number of times they had made love before falling asleep.

She had awakened extremely early with the intention of getting home long before Chris woke up but Brykloap hadn't wanted her to leave. But, then, she hadn't really wanted to go either. So they had proceeded to spend another hour making love before she had finally left. It had been hard to pull herself out of bed and away from him, but she had managed it by telling herself that Chris needed her a little more than Brykloap did right now. Her duties as a mother always came before anything else.

Her mind drifted back to something that had been said after their first full coupling. Brykloap had asked her if she thought that they could have made a baby. His desire to have a family far surpassed her own. She had told him that it was possible and that there was only one way to make sure they did. She hadn't needed to say any more. He had known exactly what she meant and had then proceeded to follow her unspoken advice. By the time they had fallen asleep, there was a strong possibility that she had become pregnant.

She hoped to god that she was.

"Mahtihm?"

Helga turned around to see Chris trudging into the kitchen. She looked absolutely terrible, as if she hadn't gotten much sleep at all. Dark rings had formed under her eyes and she was extremely pale.

"Oh, Yahyimn, are you all right?" She put the mug down and practically jumped to her feet, rushing over to her daughter.

A wave of guilt washed over her. Chris was sick and she hadn't been there for her. Had she come looking for her in the middle of the night and discovered that she wasn't home? Had she been forced to suffer alone while her mother had been selfishly spending a night of passion elsewhere? Here she was hoping for another child when she couldn't even take care of the one she had. What kind of mother was she?

"I'm okay," Chris protested as Helga began feeling her head. "I just had a little trouble sleeping, that's all."

Helga gave her a look.

"Honest, Mahtihm," Chris told her. "I feel fine. I had a few bad dreams, that's all. Nothing major."

"You promise?"

"Mahtihm," Chris pouted.

"Oh, all right, Yahyimn," Helga said, feeling immensely relieved. She hadn't been sick. She had only had some nightmares, a perfectly normal occurrence. She pulled her daughter into a tight embrace. "You know I only worry because I love you so much."

"I know," Chris told her. "I love you too." She pulled out of the hug and folded her arms. "Okay, enough about me. I want to know all about last night."

Helga resisted the urge to smile. She didn't want to give away the surprise too soon. "All right, but I suggest you sit down first." She said the words in a completely calm tone, once again calling on her acting skills.

Chris' face fell, but only for an instant. "Why? Did something bad happen?"

Helga guided her to a chair. "Just sit down, Yahyimn."

"Mahtihm..."

Her back to Chris, Helga allowed herself a small smile. She then walked around the table to her own seat and calmly took a sip of her tea.

"Mahtihm," Chris repeated, sounding agitated. "What is it?"

Helga put down her mug and raised her face back to Chris, a new smile openly on her lips. "I'm getting married."

"Married? You mean-?"

"Brykloap and I are engaged," she told her. "I'm getting a husband and you're getting a tahbtoap."

"Oh, Mahtihm!" Chris cried happily as she jumped to her feet. "This is so maht!" She ran around the table and dropped to her knees in order to embrace Helga while she was still sitting. "It's about time!"

Helga leaned down and wrapped her arms around Chris. She kissed the top of her head. "For once we agree about something."

Chris laughed. "I can't wait to tell Sarani! She's gonna die!"

"Then you better start getting ready for school, young lady," Helga told her with mock sternness. She kissed the top of her head again. "Now what would you like for breakfast?"

Chris released Helga and got to her feet. "Um, some hahev lisair would be fine."

"You go sit back down. It'll be ready in a couple of minutes."

"Thanks," Chris said as she headed back to her own chair.

Helga got up, taking her tea with her, and headed over to the cabinets. With one hand, she reached up and started rummaging for the hahev .

"Um, can I ask you a question?" Chris spoke up.

Without looking at her, Helga responded, "You know you can ask me anything, Yahyimn."

There was a momentary silence.

"Have you ever, um, heard of this, well, criminal named..." Chris trailed off, sounding unsure of herself.

"A criminal?" Helga asked as she took out the hahev container and placed it on the counter. "Is this something you're learning about in school?"

"Um, not exactly," Chris told her. "Sarani and I were reading a book we found in the library before we got grounded."

"All right. What's the name?" Helga questioned as she stopped breakfast preparations in order to take a sip of her tea.

There was another silence.

"Lyle."

Helga's entire body froze at the sound of the name. No... Not him... Not now... She barely registered the crash of the mug as it hit the floor and shattered, spilling tea everywhere.

After all these years of keeping him a secret from her, Chris had somehow managed to learn of his existence.

It just wasn't fair.

"Mahtihm?" came Chris' concerned voice. "Mahtihm, what's wrong?"

Helga forced herself out of her shock and knelt down to the floor. She began to silently gather up the pieces of the broken mug, placing them on the skirt of her dress.

How could this have happened? Milo and Kida had promised that the law would prevent him from being mentioned in any form of print or from being taught as a part of their history. So how had this book slipped through undetected and ended up where her daughter had found it? And why had Chris just happened to fixate on the passages about him?

"Mahtihm?" Through her peripheral vision, Helga saw Chris come to kneel in front of her. "Why won't you answer me?"

Helga couldn't bring herself to look at Chris. She couldn't tell her about him. There was too great a chance that everything about her past would be revealed. Chris was just too young to understand and would probably hate her for lying to her all of her life. She would probably hate her more for what she had-

Her thought was abruptly cut off when a shard cut deeply into her hand. She sucked in her breath as she painfully pulled the piece of pottery free of her flesh. Blood flowed from the wound and dripped onto the floor. But as she reached for her pendant, she felt Chris' hand wrap around her wrist.

"Let me," Chris said as she removed her own crystal necklace. Releasing Helga's wrist, she carefully took the injured hand in her own and turned it over to reveal to wound. Helga watched as she, with her other hand, brought the crystal to the cut and traced its length before pressing both hand and crystal against it for a moment.

Immediately, the wound stopped throbbing.

"Thank you, Yahyimn," Helga softly managed.

"You're welcome," Chris replied as she removed the pendant from the now-healed wound. There was not even a mark to show where it had been. However, she didn't release Helga's wrist.

"Who is he, Mahtihm?" she asked, locking eyes with her.

Helga broke away from her gaze. "I want you to forget about him," she said as she shook free of Chris' grasp and resumed cleaning up her mess. "I don't ever want to hear that name in this house again."

"Why?"

"Because I said so," Helga told her, hating herself for having to treat Chris like this. This was the only secret she had from her daughter and she intended to keep it that way. Chris was never to know about her father. She was too good for him to have her knowing about him.

"I also want you to put back that book exactly where you found it," she continued. "You are never to look at it or mention it again."

"But why?" Chris pressed, displaying one of the many traits she had inherited from him. "What did he do?"

Helga gathered the last of the broken pieces and folded the bottom of her dress, creating a makeshift basket. "That's not important."

"You knew him." It wasn't a question. "Why won't you tell me who he is?"

"Christine," she said sternly, "that's enough. Are we clear?"

Chris sighed heavily as she stood up. "Yes, Mahtihm, we're clear."

"Good". Helga got to her feet as well and carried the shattered mug to the trash can. "I want you to promise me right now that you'll do as you're told."

"I promise," Chris told her, sounding uncomfortable. "I just don't understand."

Good. "You don't have to understand," Helga informed her as she threw away the pieces. "You just have to listen to me." She turned to face her. "Now mop up the tea while I finish making your breakfast."

"Yes, Mahtihm."

As Helga busied herself making Chris' hahev lisair, she realized that it was imperative that she speak to Milo and Kida immediately after her class ended. If Rourke was mentioned in one book, it was possible that he was mentioned in others. And, if that was true, they all had to be found and disposed of before anyone could read them.

Chris had to be protected from her true heritage at all costs.

((((())))))

Rourke cursed as his efforts at communication were once again thwarted by Chris' mental shield. He knew he shouldn't have been surprised to find it still up despite his growing impatience to be free of this damn prison. This was, after all, his daughter, and stubbornness ran on both sides of the family.

His daughter. All the signs had been there from the beginning of the encounter but never in a million years would the idea have occurred to him had she not mentioned her name. The physical resemblance, the reminders of a young Helga...everything. Until the moment the realization hit, he hadn't believed that Helga would have stayed given her past track record.

As long as he had known her, Helga had always fled from situations that were too painful for her. She had even developed a persona for the very purpose of hiding from the world that hurt her. Very few people knew her for the weak woman she truly was. Her skills as an actress were exceptional. She could make any lie seem like a truth.

Her choice to stay in Atlantis baffled him. Given what had happened here, he would have expected her to run as far away as possible. What had made her remain behind when she would never have before?

Not that it was really important. All it meant for him was that it was that much easier to get her back. He had no intention of leaving Atlantis without her.

Or their daughter.

He couldn't say that he was really surprised by Helga's choice not to reveal to Chris who her real father was. He knew that she would had wanted the girl to believe that she came from a loving background. Her choice of Christopher Jenkins as the fantasy father made perfect sense. (He couldn't wait to find out how she had explained his death to Chris. He was sure he would find it highly amusing.) Jenkins had been the only man other than himself that she had wanted to have children with. Since she believed that her pregnancy was the result of rape, which it technically had been (not that she had put up much of a fight), she had told her daughter that it was her late husband to make herself feel better.

Rourke couldn't wait to see the look on Helga's face when he told Chris that her mother had lied to her and that Jenkins was not her father. The moment when he revealed who he was would be one he would treasure forever. Yet, ironically, it was because of those very lies that he was awake to enjoy such moments of vengeance.

The entire situation was one of irony. Thirteen years ago, he had intended to abort Helga's unborn child as punishment for betraying him. But, before he had gotten around to it, the Heart of Atlantis had engaged him in a battle he had unfortunately lost, imprisoning him for what he was sure was supposed to be eternity. The child had lived and grown into the insolent young woman who had unintentionally brought him back to consciousness because of the abilities she had inherited from him. If she had died that day, he'd still be asleep, just as the crystal had intended.

He had to admit he was glad he had failed to end Helga's pregnancy. Chris was an amazing child, and with his guidance, she would become an incredible woman. She had turned out spectacularly well, given who had raised her and where she had grown up. How Helga's weak morals had failed to rub off on the girl was a welcome mystery. With Helga, working around those morals had been easy. Her love for him had made controlling her simple. But they would have been an unbeatable obstacle in Chris.

From his one encounter, he knew that Chris had favored him. The behaviors that had infuriated him to no end could all be found in himself. If she believed in only doing what was right, nothing he could do would convince her otherwise. Luckily, she appeared to only do whatever she felt like whenever she felt like it.

He would have to use that in luring her back to him. Returning to the crystal chamber would have to be her own idea.

Once she was there, however, it would be a completely different story.

((((())))))

As Helga entered the palace in search of Milo and Kida, she once again wondered how a book containing illegal material had been left where anyone could find it. The laws on mentioning Rourke were very strict. Who had had the audacity to write, let alone print, such a thing?

It was so ironic. Just when she had finally put to rest the fears instilled by one book, another came along to wreak havoc in her life. But this time, it was not just her life that was being affected. It was her daughter's as well.

Why did Chris have to find it? Why? For over twelve years, she had been protected from the truth of her origins and Helga's past. If Chris pursued her quest to learn about the man she only knew as Lyle, there was a chance she would find out everything Helga had fought so hard to keep from her. And, once she found out, there was no telling how it would affect her and her relationship with her mother.

Before she had come to find Milo and Kida, she had gone to tell Brykloap what had happened and where she was going. He had been just as shocked as she and had offered to close up his stand early in order to accompany her, but she had told him that it was unnecessary and that it wasn't his problem. He, of course, had disagreed, telling her that her problems were his problems. However, in the end, she got her way, and after a passionate kiss goodbye, he had stayed behind.

She was about to turn a corner when she heard someone call out to her from behind.

"Helga! Wait!"

She turned around to see both Milo and Kida coming after her.

"I was just coming to see you," she told Milo as he caught up with her. Kida, slowed down by her pregnancy, was lagging behind her husband.

"We were actually on our way to see you, too," Milo said. "Chris told you about the book?"

She nodded. "I take it Sarani mentioned it as well?"

"This morning at breakfast," Milo confirmed.

"That's when Chris grabbed me too," Helga told him. "I didn't tell her anything, which upset her. She knows I'm hiding something from her. She's also convinced that I know him."

"That is not good," Kida commented as she finally arrived. She looked at Milo. "When Sarani passes on what you told her, there will be more questions." She turned back to Helga. "Questions that cannot be avoided."

"What did you tell her, Milo?" Helga wanted to know. She began to feel very nervous.

"Don't be angry with me," Milo began, "but she caught me off-guard and I, um, may have told her a little too much."

"I was, unfortunately, not in the room when Sarani brought the subject up," Kida quickly explained, making Helga suddenly feel even more afraid. "Milo was still groggy from sleep and did not remember all of what could and could not be said."

"Oh, god," Helga breathed. "Don't tell me you-"

"Oh, no! No, no, no! Nothing like that," Milo promised. "Your relationship with him is still a secret.

Relief flooded through her for the second time that morning. Her past was still hidden. "How much did you tell her then?"

"Pretty much everything else," he confessed. "Why he came and what he wanted. How he killed Kida's father and then tried to kill everyone else..twice. And then how he was defeated by the Heart."

"It is obvious that the book they found did not say much about him because everything Milo told her came as a great surprise," Kida added.

"If it had, they wouldn't need to be asking any questions," Helga pointed out. "Chris only seemed to know his first name, which is very unusual. Rourke didn't allow many people to call him that." I could have if I'd wanted to, she thought bitterly. "Could that be how the book got published undetected?"

"It is very possible," Kida decided. "Sarani only knew his given name as well. The law only states that the name 'Rourke' cannot be used. Nothing was ever said about his given name." She turned to Milo. "Could that have been a mistake on our part?"

"But I didn't think any of the Atlanteans other than you knew his first name," Milo said. "As far as I knew, most of the expedition team didn't either."

"There's really no use trying to figure out how it got published," Helga decided. "The damage has been done. The book is out there and the girls found it. What we need to focus on is keeping them from learning any more about him."

"We must also find that book and dispose of it quickly," Kida put in. "As well as any others that may have gotten through undetected. It would be disastrous if anyone were to read them."

"The best way to get it is to have the girls tell us where they got it from," Helga said. "It'll save us a lot of trouble in the long run."

"But don't you think that'll only make them more curious?" Milo wanted to know.

"It's a risk we'll have to take," Helga told him. "We have no way of finding it on our own. They probably hid it so no one else could find it until they were finished with it."

"How are we to get them to lead us to it?" Kida inquired. "We cannot just ask them. They will become suspicious."

"Chris would, but not Sarani," Helga corrected. "I told Chris that the book is never again to be mentioned. Sarani, on the other hand, got an answer to her question. If one of you were to ask her here-"

"I believe I know where you are going with this," Kida nodded thoughtfully. "Sarani would not have a problem telling us."

"Exactly," Helga confirmed. "However, before we do that, we have to convince both of them that you've told Sarani everything there is to know and that there is nothing more for them to learn. Chris is going to be the more difficult of the two to convince. Maybe we should distract them somehow?"

"A few nights reprieve from their punishment might be sufficient," Kida suggested. "A sleepover would give them something different to focus on for the next few days."

"That's a brilliant idea," Milo said. "I definitely think we should give it a try."

"Let's make a whole night of it," Helga told them. "Chris, Brykloap, and I will come over for dinner which is where we'll tell them the good news. We'll pretend that the dinner is in honor of the engagement."

"Engagement?" Kida asked. "Do you mean to say-?"

"Yes," Helga confirmed, realizing that after everything that had happened she had forgotten to share her engagement with her two closest friends. "It happened last night. Oh, Kida, you were right about everything."

Kida hugged her, acting as if the subject change were the most natural thing in the world. "Of course I was. I know how much he loves you. He would not have let a small argument be the downfall of your relationship."

Kida released her and Helga immediately found herself being embraced by Milo.

"Congratulations," he told her. "When's the wedding?"

"We didn't get that far last night. We were...distracted by other things." Helga knew she couldn't share the rest of her evening with them. Milo was as old fashioned as she had been before Rourke had convinced her to sleep with him that first time and Kida was an Atlantean. Neither of them would understand.

Kida gave her a look that indicated that she wanted to hear the entire story. "I am sure. There is no need to rush. You have plenty of time to plan the perfect wedding."

"We've gotten off the subject," Helga told her. "My engagement is nothing compared to what could happen if we don't solve the problem with Chris and Sarani."

"You are right, of course," Kida nodded. "When shall the dinner and sleepover be...?"

((((())))))

"You all have your reading assignments. Class tomorrow will start with a discussion," Mertik announced. "Have a good evening. Class dismissed!"

As the rest of the class gathered their things and started leaving, Chris slowly began to place her own items into her satchel. She had a bad headache from maintaining the shield since last night. Lyle had been trying to talk to her all day, each attempt badly straining the mental walls. She did not know how much longer she could keep it up.

She had almost dropped it once and that was when Mahtihm had told her that she and Brykloap were finally getting married. She had been so shocked and happy that she had lost her focus. Luckily, at the last minute, she had caught herself and strengthened the shield, because, at that moment, he had once again tried to once talk to her...

Who was he and why wouldn't he leave her alone? Mahtihm was obviously terrified of him. Chris had never seen her that freaked out before. She had to know who he was. She had to.

"Chris?"

She looked up to see Sarani standing next to her desk, a concerned expression on her face.

"He's still bothering you, isn't he?"

Chris nodded. "He hasn't stopped since last night."

"He's not going to," Sarani told her. "Tahbtoap told me all about him this morning. He's a bad man, Chris. I mean really bad."

Chris finished packing her things up and closed her satchel. "Mahtihm wouldn't tell me anything. She just freaked out when I asked her. What did he do?"

"Gods, where do I start?"

Chris stood up. "Just start from the beginning."

"Okay. Well, his full name is Lyle Rourke. He came to Atlantis at the same time as my tahbtoap, your mahtihm, and their friends. In fact, he was their leader," Sarani informed her as they started walking. She kept her voice low to avoid anyone overhearing their discussion.

"I knew Mahtihm knew him," Chris said triumphantly yet softly, her suspicions confirmed.

"You know how Mr. Whitmore was a friend of Tahbtoap's moaktahbtoap? Well, before Moaktahbtoap Thatch died, he went on an expedition to find something called the Shepherd's Journal. "

"What's that?"

"It was a book that gave the exact location of Atlantis," Sarani continued. "But it also had information about our culture. Including stuff on the Heart."

"Okay."

"So guess who led that expedition too?"

"Lyle," Chris answered.

"You got it," Sarani nodded. "According to Tahbtoap, Lyle read about the Heart, and thinking it was just a big crystal, decided to steal it and sell it for lots of money."

"Oh, gods," Chris breathed. "If he had succeeded..."

"We wouldn't be here," Sarani finished. "Anyway, Mr. Whitmore and Moaktahbtoap Thatch didn't know about his plan at the time. They both thought Lyle was a good man and wanted to use him for the expedition to find Atlantis.

"However, Moaktahbtoap Thatch got really sick on the way home and realized that he was going to die. He told Mr. Whitmore that my tahbtoap was the only one who could finish his work, which was to find Atlantis and tell the world about it. Mr. Whitmore promised my Moaktahbtoap Thatch that he'd make sure Tahbtoap did.

"Here's where it gets really interesting," Sarani continued. "Tahbtoap had no idea that his moaktahbtoap had gone on this expedition or that Mr. Whitmore even existed. He wanted to find the Shepherd's Journal on his own. He wanted to find Atlantis as much as his moaktahbtoap.

"He even had his own ideas of what the Heart was. He thought it was some kind of power source and that it would be a really great thing to share with the world. He figured it would help a lot of people."

"It probably would have," Chris decided. "If it hadn't been for Aifohm Kida and the other Atlanteans, who knows what the surface world could have done with it. It would have been a really good thing I think."

"Yeah," Sarani agreed. "But Atlantis still had people, so he changed his mind."

"Which is an even better thing," Chris told her. "Let me guess. Lyle didn't care."

"Not only that, but he thought the fact that the Atlanteans would die from the Heart being taken away would make it worth even more money."

"Oh, gods," Chris repeated her earlier sentiment.

"This is where it gets really bad," Sarani went on. "What Tahbtoap and Mr. Whitmore didn't know was that everyone else knew about Lyle's plan. They all wanted a share of the money they would get from selling it."

Chris came to a stop. "Everyone?" Mahtihm had been a part of that crew. Did that mean...?

Sarani stopped walking and went over to Chris. "Aifohm Helga was his second-in-command."

"What?!"

"I'm sorry, Chris."

No wonder she wouldn't tell me anything, Chris silently realized. This explained why she had been so upset when she heard that name. She had almost done something very bad.

"In the end, everything turned out okay, but only after a lot of people got hurt," Sarani continued. "One of those people was Aifohm Helga."

"What happened to her?"

Sarani gulped nervously. "She, well, she, um..."

"Sarani, tell me," Chris begged. "Please. I have to know."

Sarani silently nodded. "Lyle tried to kill her."

"What?! No!"

In that instant of shock, Chris lost her hold on her mental shield and the walls came falling down.

Within seconds, she felt the now familiar mental touch of the man who had tried to kill her mother.

Hello again, Christine.

((((())))))

Helga and Brykloap sat and waited for Chris' arrival home from school. Helga had told him everything that had been discussed with Milo and Kida and he had agreed that a distraction for the girls was the best solution.

"Why did this have to happen?" Helga asked for the hundredth time. "After all this time, why now? Why at all?"

"It is no one's fault," Brykloap soothed her, holding her close. "It is just something that happened. But, if the plan you, Milo, and Kida came up with works, you will not have to worry about it anymore. The girls will forget all about Rourke."

"I hope you're right." She sighed. "I just wish this whole thing was over with already. I want things to go back to the way they were."

"Not everything I hope," Brykloap said, taking her chin in a hand and tilting her face towards his.

"No," she smiled. "Not everything."

He leaned in and kissed her.

"I love you," he told her after he had ended the kiss. "I cannot wait for the day that you become my wife."

"Neither can I." God, she loved him so much. She had been completely convinced that she had lost him forever because of her own stupidity. She had never been more glad to be proved wrong in her entire life. "I'm so sorry I made you wait so long."

"When will you learn that you have nothing to apologize for? How many times do I have to tell you that I would have waited forever for you?"

"I love you," she said quietly.

He kissed her again. "You are the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me. I swear to all the gods and past kings that I will give you everything you deserve and so much more."

"You already do, my love," she informed him and pressed her lips against his, kissing him deeply.

The sound of a clearing throat interrupted them.

Helga sat up to see Chris standing in front of the couch. She was shocked to see that she looked as terrible as she had this morning.

"Chris! Yahyimn, what's the matter?" she cried, immediately disengaging from Brykloap's arms. This time she knew something was really wrong. No one suffered from nightmares and lack of sleep during the day. She started rising to her feet. "What is it?"

"Mahtihm, please. Don't," Chris stopped her. "Don't get up. Please. I'm, uh, okay. Really, I am. I'm just still, um, really tired. Lack of sleep last night, you know."

Chris' forced lightness set off alarms in the back of Helga's mind as she sat back down. This was not like her at all. She immediately knew something besides nightmares was bothering her daughter.

She felt Brykloap's hand come to rest upon her back.

"What do you mean?" he asked. "Why did you not sleep?"

"It wasn't anything serious," Chris told him. "I, uh, had a couple of bad dreams that kept waking me up all night. That's all. I promise."

"Why did you not mention this to me?" Brykloap softly asked Helga.

She turned to look at him. "I didn't think it was important. Everyone has nightmares every once in a while." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "But, now I'm not so sure that's all it was."

"Neither am I," he agreed just as quietly.

When Helga turned her attention back to Chris, she found that her daughter's eyes were closed, seemingly lost in thought.

"Chris?"

There was no response.

"Chris?" Brykloap tried, looking at Helga.

Still nothing.

"Chris!" Helga repeated forcefully.

Chris suddenly came out of it. "I'm sorry, Mahtihm. I'm just..." Her eyes shut again, but this time only for a second. "I just need to lie down for a while."

"What is it, Lilahm? What's bothering you?" Helga questioned. "Are you sick?"

"I'm fine. I'm..." Again, she seemed deep in thought. Then she opened her eyes. "I'm just really tired, that's all. I need to, um, take a nap before dinner. I'll feel better after that. I-I promise." She fiddled with the strap on her satchel. "Just...just call me for dinner, okay?"

"What aren't you telling us, Lilahm? Did something happen at school today?" Helga questioned. What was wrong?

"Nothing happened," Chris told her. "I swear. I just, um, didn't get enough sleep. I promise, Mahtihm. That's all it is."

"You swear you're telling me the truth?"

Chris started backing away. "I'm just tired, Mahtihm. I promise." She squeezed her eyes again. "I'll be fine."

"Would you like me to stay with you for a while?" Helga offered.

"No, no," Chris waved her off. "I just need to take a nap. Just call me for dinner."

Helga felt Brykloap place a hand on her shoulder.

"We will. We just want you to feel better," he told Chris.

"Thanks." She gave a small smile. "I love the two of you."

"We know, Yahyimn, we know," Helga acknowledged. "Rest up then. I'll come get you when it's time to eat."

"Thanks," Chris repeated. "See ya." She started to leave and then hesitated. "By the way, congratulations on the engagement." She then disappeared from the room.

"I'm starting to think she lied to me this morning," Helga said after her daughter was gone. "What could possibly be the matter?"

"I do not know," Brykloap answered. "But I do know that this is not like Chris at all. Whatever it is, it is affecting her very badly."

"She seemed...scared, Brykloap," Helga quietly told him. "It was almost like she was afraid to tell us what was bothering her. Usually she doesn't tell us because she's convinced she can handle it herself, but it wasn't like that this time. Something's really wrong."

"Do you think it has anything to do with the book or what Sarani told her?" Brykloap asked.

Helga shook her head. "No. That wouldn't scare her. Besides, she brought it up this morning after telling me she had a nightmare. This is something else.

"Something worse."

"What do you want to do?"

Helga looked at him. "What can we do? Unless Chris tells us what's bothering her, we can't do a damn thing."

"We will just wait for her to tell us then." He put his arms around her and pulled her close. "She will tell us when she is ready."

"But what if she never is?"

"You cannot know that," Brykloap told her, hugging her tighter.

"You just have to believe that she will come to us for help if she truly needs it."

((((())))))

What is it going to take to get you to go away? Chris demanded to know as she flopped onto her bed. Get it through your thick head. I won't help you.

Laughter sounded in her mind.

Unless you help me, I won't go away, the now-despised mental voice of Lyle Rourke, the murdering criminal who had tried to kill her mother and everyone in Atlantis and now had the nerve to claim he was "sorry", informed her. I don't think that leaves you much choice.

I'm not the one without a choice, she told him. I'm not a murdering creep who was imprisoned for, hmm, let me see...killing my best friend's grandfather and trying to kill everyone in Atlantis. You're not going anywhere. End of story.

I'm getting out of here, he assured her. And you're the one who's going to help me.

Dream on, loser, Chris retorted. The only way you're getting out of that crystal is if you find someone else who's dumb enough to believe your sob story.

That's just the problem. There isn't anyone else, Lyle told her. You, Chris, are the only one who can hear me.

Lucky me, she sarcastically replied. What an honor!

Again came the rumbling laughter. You have no idea of how special you really are.

Really? And what makes me so special?

An amused chuckle answered her.

Gods, she thought to herself, is there anything this nutcase doesn't find funny?

Ask your mother. She knows, Lyle said mysteriously.

Leave my mother out of this, Chris ordered him. You have no right to even mention her. Not after what you-

If you knew her like I did, you wouldn't be so quick to defend her, he cut her off. She's not the woman you think she is.

Do you think I even care? she retorted. All that matters to me is that Mahtihm loves and cares for me. Besides, why should I take your word for it? You tried to kill her.

Maybe I had my reasons.

Chris snorted. Yeah, you're a psycho.

Ask her about me again. See if she answers you this time.

It was things like this that completely unnerved her. Lyle knew everything about her just by reading her mind. She could keep no secrets from him.

I won't do that to her. As far as she's concerned, I've forgotten you, she informed him.

Which is exactly what she wants, he commented. Why do you think she's kept me a secret all these years?

Please. Everyone's kept you a secret. And I'm sure it's because they didn't want to be reminded of how annoying you are.

What makes you so sure it wasn't your mother's idea? You know how fond the king and queen foolishly are of her. It's highly likely that she was the one who told them to hide my existence.

Then my mother's even smarter than I thought, Chris decided.

There was silence for a moment.

My offer still stands, he finally said.

I wouldn't let you take me to the surface if you were the last man on Earth, she informed him. Earlier, Lyle had told her that he would take her to the surface with him if she helped him escape from his prison. She had immediately refused and would continue to every time he brought it up. As badly as she wanted to go, there was no way in gahnk that she'd let this creep take her. Just go away already.

You really think you and Sarani can make it on your own without a guide? he pressed, ignoring her. Help me and I'll show you everything.

Yeah, right after you kill everyone I know and love, Chris told him. Give it up, jerk.

If you think insults are going to scare me away, you are greatly mistaken, he calmly informed her. I'm not leaving you alone until I get what I want.

Lucky me, Chris sarcastically commented.

She rolled over onto her stomach. How much longer was she going to have to put up with this crackpot? What was it going to take to get him to give up?

Probably nothing, she mused as he droned on about what he'd show her if she freed him and allowed him to take her to the surface. If only she could figure out how to block him again...

Until she either succeeded in blocking him or he miraculously gave up, she was stuck hearing his annoying voice in her head. Hopefully she'd get better at covering it up. Talking to Mahtihm and Brykloap before had nearly been a complete disaster. Luckily, they were only convinced she was sick and had no clue that anything else was wrong.

She hoped they would continue to buy her sick act until she could figure out a way to deal with Lyle. She didn't want either one of them knowing about him. Especially Mahtihm. The creep had already hurt her enough.

He wasn't going to hurt her again.

Ever.

((((())))))

You can't keep ignoring me, Rourke told a still-unresponsive Chris. She had started this new tactic after Helga and her Atlantean fiancé had become extremely concerned over the girl's behavior at dinner last night. Chris wanted them to believe she was only sick. Unfortunately for Chris, neither of them was very convinced. I'm not just going to get bored and go away.

Normally, he would have been furious by now at the lack of progress he was making with her, but, instead, he was enjoying this battle of wills. Chris was a formidable opponent. She was most definitely her father's daughter.

Helga had been so easy to control. He had been immediately able to gauge her strengths and weaknesses, which had allowed him to wear her down relatively quickly. Once he had broken past her defenses, the "compassion" he had shown her had instantly placed her under his control. Chris' resistance was a welcome challenge.

So far, she was proving near impossible to sway in any direction. The stubbornness she had inherited from him was the main hindrance. It seemed that once she formed an opinion about someone, it would never change, no matter what he or she said or did. And, the opinion she had formed about him was very low.

It was imperative to his plan that Chris return to the crystal chamber. He needed her powers to free himself. Although the inside of his prison was impervious to any attack, he believed the exterior was not. The Heart had had no reason to protect the outside. After all, who could have known that the child Helga carried would have been born with the same abilities as its father?

His plan was very simple. All he had to do was take control of her body and abilities and use them to destroy the crystal that held him. But he could not do that unless she was physically near him. The dampening done by his prison severely limited the reach of his powers. It was difficult enough to keep up the constant contact with Chris. If she was in the same room, he knew he'd have no problem hijacking her mind and body.

The key to tricking Chris into returning to his location was to exploit one of her weaknesses, of which there were two. The first was her burning desire to visit the surface. The second was her love of her mother. Though any attempt to weaken her resolve with either had thus far been thwarted, he was not about to give up yet. She was his only hope of escape.

Of the two, Chris' devotion to her mother was the most likely to succeed. From reading her mind, he knew that she was already resigned to the fact that it would be years, possibly centuries, before she explored the surface. Promising to take her now would not be enough to push her over the edge. But making threats against Helga would.

Chris was extremely protective of her mother. She refused to hear anything unflattering about her and became angry whenever he tried to tell her anything about Helga's past. She was convinced that he was lying. In her mind, Helga was perfect and could do no wrong.

Which was why the truth would ultimately be what caused Chris to come to him.

From his scans of Chris' mind, he knew both mother and daughter kept secrets from each other. While Helga hid her past from her daughter, Chris had not informed her mother of her special abilities. Since discovering them a year ago, she had only told one person: Princess Saranikash. (Sarani was the one person Chris apparently did not keep secrets from.) While Chris' reasons were protective (she knew Helga wouldn't handle the news well), he believed Helga's to be purely selfish, hiding her past as a way of making herself feel better. If he helped Chris "discover" that her mother was not the gentle and kind person she thought she was, she would come to him either out of gratitude or anger.

Definitely anger, he decided. Chris would be furious at the shattered illusion of her mother's nature.

Despite Helga's poor attempts at alleviating her own guilt, Rourke knew that she truly loved Chris. Her daughter was her entire life. (This did not surprise him given Helga's struggle to have her.) From what he could tell from Chris' thoughts and memories, Helga was a fiercely overprotective mother. (Again, he was not surprised.) She feared anything happening to her child. If Chris was late from school, Helga panicked. If Chris did not answer her when she spoke to her, she panicked. Chris could not even sneeze without her mother getting upset.

Rourke found this extremely amusing. Here was a woman who was trained to kill with her bare hands yet she feared her child even getting a paper cut. It seemed utterly ridiculous, but it was pure Helga.

Chris, of course, couldn't stand her mother's overprotectiveness, which was ironic given her own need to keep Helga safe. Her nature was an unique combination of rebelliousness and protectiveness. On one hand, she was extremely independent and hated being told what she could and could not do, causing Helga to spend most of her days in a state of worry. (If he had been there from the beginning, Chris would have been severely disciplined the first time she misbehaved. There'd have been no other incidents.) While on the other, she always felt incredible guilt for making her mother upset and became determined to make it up to her. This dual nature would play a starring role in getting her to do what he wanted.

For a moment, he allowed himself to dwell on Helga rather than the problem at hand. After all, he owed his imminent escape to her. If she hadn't lied to Chris all these years, Chris wouldn't have stumbled into the crystal chamber and awakened him. She would have known to avoid it.

The life Helga had formed for herself was exactly what he had predicted it would have been no matter where she had gone. Her weak true nature shone through. Without him to guide her, she had nearly reverted to the meek housewife Jenkins had allowed her to become. Thank god she had had the sense to continue her career as a teacher.

Although she wasn't using her god-given talents as a fighter, teaching was better than nothing. He had discovered her talent for it when he had made her his training assistant. She had excelled at it, loving it immediately. It had been what sustained her during his absence after her husband's death. Now it was Chris that served the very same purpose.

The biggest surprise had been when he discovered that she had a fiancé, an Atlantean merchant named Brykloap. Based on her past reactions to heartbreak, he would have thought she would have once again sworn off falling in love. But here she was, engaged to a man she had apparently been in love with for nearly thirteen years. And even more surprising than the fact that she was engaged was that it had taken so long for her to become engaged.

From Chris' mind, he gathered that Helga loved the merchant as much as she had ever loved him. Chris herself absolutely adored him and wanted him to be her father more than anything. So why were they first engaged now?

He knew she hadn't slept with him either. If she had, she would have more than one child. When he had healed her, he had slightly increased her fertility to make sure she became pregnant when he had sex with her. His plan had depended on it and it had nearly worked. (He was still perplexed by her final betrayal. When he finally got her back, he would have to ask her about it.) The first time she made love to Brykloap, there was no doubt in Rourke's mind that the union would result in pregnancy.

But why weren't they married yet? He knew how badly Helga wanted a husband and family. Here was a man who could give her both yet she hadn't allowed him to do so until now. Why? What had caused her to wait? What was holding her back?

As for Brykloap himself, Rourke could understand Helga's attraction to him. He was the perfect combination of himself and Christopher Jenkins, the prior two loves of her life. He had all of Jenkins' weak traits but they were combined with an aggression that impressed Rourke. From the stories Helga had told Chris, Brykloap had pursued her even after she had tried to hide from him, going to the queen herself to find her. It hadn't been long after that that she had given in to him.

Once again deciding that solving the numerous mysteries presented by Helga could wait, he returned his focus to the sole person who could free him.

But before she would do that, he had to get her to stop ignoring him.

Well, if you aren't going to say anything, I guess there's nothing to stop me from telling you the truth about your mother.

He felt her annoyance turn instantly to anger.

Finally. Progress, he thought. To her, he continued, She's not the sweet innocent you believe she is. She's-

I thought I told you to leave my mother out of this, came the angry response.

It got your attention, didn't it?

Why are you even still bothering me? I told you I'm not going to help you, Chris informed him.

You will, he told her confidently.

You most certainly will.

((((())))))

"Chris, Yahyimn, is everything okay?" Mahtihm's voice softly asked.

Chris looked up from her plate to her mother. "Yeah, everything's fine." Not. "I'm still tired, that's all."

She, Mahtihm, and Brykloap had been invited to dinner at the palace in celebration of Mahtihm and Brykloap's engagement. What should have been a fun occasion had been a complete nightmare. Not only was Lyle not leaving her alone, which was making it incredibly difficult to pretend that her only problem was lack of sleep, but the fact that she was close to where he was imprisoned made his voice sound even louder and stronger in her head.

And, if that wasn't bad enough, he was being more annoying than usual tonight, if that was even possible. He was commenting on everything she thought or said, adding his own two cents just to irritate her. Even worse, he kept making rude comments about Mahtihm that made Chris want to kill him.

Until he had attempted to tell her his no-doubt lie-infested tale about Mahtihm, Chris had been successfully ignoring him. Anything else she could have pretended she didn't hear, but nobody, especially not murdering creeps, said bad things about Mahtihm and got away with it.

"Would you like to lie down?" Aifohm Kida offered. "None of us would mind."

Why don't you just tell them the truth? Lyle taunted. They're going to find out after you release me anyway.

Shut up, Chris shot back. To everyone else, she said, "No, no. I'll be fine. Really. I'm sure Mahtihm and Brykloap have mentioned that I've been having trouble sleeping lately."

Lahmahp Milo nodded. "Yes, they have. Is there anything we can do to help?"

Not unless you know how to shut this creep up. She smiled at Lahmahp Milo. "Not that I can think of, but thanks anyway. I'm sure I'll be fine very soon."

You've got quite a talent for lying, Lyle commented. Just like your mother.

What did I tell-?

Easy there, he soothed. I was just stating a fact.

I don't care. If you mention Mahtihm one more time, I'll-

You'll what, little girl? Hurt me?

Chris felt a hand gently placed on her arm.

"Chris?"

Chris turned to see Sarani worriedly looking at her.

"What's he saying?" she mouthed.

"Later," Chris promised in a whisper. She couldn't risk any of the grown-ups, especially Mahtihm, finding out about him. This was strictly between Sarani and herself.

Why don't you tell everyone? Lyle goaded.

Leave me alone, she told him once again.

"Chris? Sarani?" Brykloap's voice spoke up, bringing Chris' attention back to where she was. "We have something to tell you."

"What is it?" Sarani asked.

"Well," Lahmahp Milo started, "Helga and Brykloap's engagement isn't the only reason everyone's here tonight. We have a surprise for the two of you."

"Really?" Sarani instantly lit up.

Chris just smiled at her best friend's excitement. It didn't take much to distract her from her concerns, which was something Chris was grateful for. She hated when Sarani was upset about anything.

I'm so sorry you're having such a terrible time, Lyle said with mock sympathy.

Drop dead, Chris told him.

Sorry. Can't accommodate you there.

Chris could hear the smirk in his voice.

Did I forget to mention that I can't die? he added.

Chris refrained from rolling her eyes. This guy was so full of himself. She'd cherish the day someone put him in his place.

Can't help you there either, he said having read her unspoken thought. That is, unless you release me so I can meet someone who'll do that for you.

Instead of making a silent comment, she turned her attention back to the announcement.

"...lift your punishment for the weekend," Lahmahp Milo was saying. "Chris, your mother and Brykloap have given you permission to spend the entire weekend with us."

"You mean it?" Sarani gasped, grabbing Chris' arm and practically jumping up from her seat.

"Yes, we mean it," Aifohm Kida nodded.

Pohyest, Chris silently muttered. She had been counting the minutes until she could get away from here just so his voice would be lower.

Most people would be thrilled to get out of their punishment for good behavior, Lyle pointed out.

Hey, if you weren't here, I'd be too, she sent.

Admit it. You're enjoying this.

Hell no.

Good.

Chris looked at Mahtihm and Brykloap. "Are you sure this is such a good idea?" she questioned. "I mean, what if I'm sick or something? We still don't know why I'm so tired. I don't want Sarani catching anything from me."

"Chris?" Sarani asked from beside her, sounding upset.

"I'd rather just stay at home," Chris continued, ignoring Sarani.

Yes, so you can make your story about being sick look just a bit more convincing, Lyle put in.

Shut up, Chris shot back.

"Brykloap and I thought some time away would do you some good," Mahtihm explained. "Maybe spending some quality time with Sarani is just what you need."

"Yeah," Sarani insisted. "It'll do you tons of good."

Chris shot a glance at Sarani. "You don't understand," she whispered. "He's-"

"Chris, is there something you want to tell us?" Brykloap asked.

"I'm just worried about getting Sarani sick," Chris told him. "There's nothing wrong. I swear."

Like mother, like daughter, Lyle goaded.

Go away!

"Would you like Eyris to examine you?" Aifohm Kida offered.

Chris shook her head. "No, that's all right. It's just that I had plans to stay in bed all weekend and catch up on some sleep."

"You could still do that," Lahmahp Milo said. "Sarani wouldn't mind. Would you, Prahtim?"

"Not one bit," Sarani answered.

Great. Just great, Chris silently grumbled. She was stuck staying at the palace for the weekend. No one was going to let her back out of it.

Maybe you'll come down and pay me a visit, Lyle suggested.

Leave me alone!

Now, now, he said in a calming tone. There's no need to get nasty.

Oh, there is. Believe me, there is.

Chris pushed her seat away from the table. "Well," she said, standing up, "if I'm going to be staying here anywhere, I think I'll take Aifohm Kida's advice and go lie down."

"Your usual room is already prepared," Aifohm Kida told her. "I hope you feel better soon."

"Pahgen", Chris weakly smiled.

"We'll be by before we leave," Mahtihm promised.

Maybe by then I'll have convinced you to tell her everything, Lyle put in.

Chris ignored him. "I'm sorry if I've ruined the evening."

"Of course you haven't, Yahyimn," Mahtihm told her. "Your health comes before anything else."

Chris gave her mother a small smile. "I love you."

"I love you too. Now go rest up."

"Bye," Chris said as started walking out of the dining room.

Ah, just the two of us once more, Lyle said.

Go away!

((((())))))

Helga gently tried the door to Chris' room and, finding it unlocked, turned the knob and quietly pushed it open.

"Chris, are you still awake?" she softly called.

"Yeah," Chris said, sitting up in bed. She had changed into a nightgown and was under the blankets. "Is dinner over?"

"It's been over for about an hour. We've just been talking," Helga told her, walking into the room, Brykloap right behind her. "But we're going to head on home now."

"Are you feeling any better?" Brykloap asked.

"A little," Chris answered. "I've just been resting in here. No luck falling asleep yet."

"Oh, Prahtim, I'm so sorry," Helga said, walking over to the bed. She sat down beside Chris. "Maybe it wasn't a good idea for you to stay here this weekend after all."

"No, it's okay," Chris told her. "I'll stay. I think Sarani needs me to be here. She sounded really upset when I questioned the idea."

"You're such a good friend," Helga told her. "I don't know what she'd do without you."

"Never get in trouble, that's what," Chris smiled.

Helga gave a small laugh. "You have been a terrible influence on her, you know."

"I know."

"But none of us would have it any other way," Helga said.

"Let me just interrupt for one moment to say goodnight," Brykloap said, coming over to join them. "Good night, Chris." He bent down and kissed her cheek. "I will see you tomorrow." He put his hand on Helga's shoulder. "I will be waiting for you at home, my hahtomm," he whispered into her ear. "Take all the time you need."

She barely nodded. Before coming to see Chris, Helga had asked to have some time alone with her daughter to finally question her about what was going on. Brykloap had agreed and then told her he would go to her house to wait for her. They had planned on using the private time this weekend would provide them with to discuss their wedding and what would happen afterwards in terms of where they lived and other business matters, but now Helga wasn't so sure she'd be able to concentrate on anything but Chris. She hoped he would understand.

"Night, Brykloap," Chris said.

He and Helga shared a quick kiss before he stood up and left the room.

Once he was gone, Helga turned her attention completely back to Chris. She reached out and caressed her cheek. "Yahyimn, you'd tell me if there was anything bothering you, wouldn't you?"

"Of course, Mahtihm," Chris answered. "When haven't I?"

Helga suppressed the urge to smile. How many times had Chris tried to hide things from her over the years? Nothing serious, of course. Only minor things such as getting in trouble for not doing her homework or trying to heal herself with her crystal when she should have gone directly to a doctor. But never anything important.

Until now.

She stroked Chris' hair. "It's just that lately, you...don't seem like yourself. You come home and go directly to your room. You go to bed unusually early. You hardly talk to me anymore. And you're always so tired."

"I'm just having bad dreams," Chris told her. "And they keep me up all night, so of course I'm tired."

"But what about all the other things?" Helga pressed. "That doesn't explain why you hide in your room as soon as you get home from school."

"Homework and some projects I'm working on," Chris informed her. "I'm not hiding, I'm..." She trailed off, her attention seemingly elsewhere. Then she snapped out of whatever had momentarily possessed her. "I'm just busy. I promise, Mahtihm. Nothing's wrong."

"You swear you're telling the truth?"

"I..." Chris hesitated.

"Lilahm, I'm your mother and I'll love you no matter what. If something's wrong, I want you to tell me."

Chris looked away.

"Chris, please. Tell me what's wrong," Helga urged. "I promise I won't be angry with you. Please."

For a moment, there was complete silence.

"What aren't you telling me?" Helga asked.

"Just trust me when I tell you everything's okay," Chris finally answered in a very quiet voice. She still hadn't turned around.

"Look at me," Helga demanded.

Chris turned around. Exhaustion was etched on her face. In that moment, she looked very much like the tired little girl she was.

"I don't believe you."

"Believe me, please," Chris urged. She laid down against the pillows. "I'd really like to try and sleep now."

Helga knew that was her signal to leave. Sighing heavily, she leaned down and kissed Chris' forehead.

"Good night, Chris. I love you."

"I love you too, Mahtihm," Chris answered. "Please don't be worried about me. I'm fine."

"I hope you're right, Yahyimn," Helga said. She kissed her again before standing up. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Bye."

Helga stood next to the bed. Chris was hiding something from her. She was sure of it. But what could it be? What was forcing her to lie to her own mother?

Knowing that there was nothing more she could do tonight, she began to walk towards the door.

"Mahtihm?"

Helga turned around. "What is it, Yahyimn?"

Chris sat up again. "Why don't you talk about your past?"

The question took Helga by surprise.

"Why won't you tell me anything about your life before you came to Atlantis?" Chris continued before Helga could say anything. "Is there something you're afraid will make me not love you anymore if I knew?"

"Chris, I..." Helga didn't know what to say. She couldn't tell Chris the truth about her shameful past. She knew Chris wouldn't be able to look at her the same way again. Let the half-truths she had told her all of her life be enough.

"Like you said to me, I'll love you no matter what," Chris pressed.

"What brought this on?" Helga asked instead of answering. Despite Chris' assurances of still loving her if she knew the truth, Helga knew the girl would be disgusted with her and hate her for the rest of her life.

Chris shrugged. "It's just that Lahmahp Milo always tells us everything about his life before he came to live here while you never talk about it. The only thing I know is who my father is."

No, you don't and you never will. "Who I was before you came into my life shouldn't matter to you," Helga told her, hoping that would satisfy her.

"But it does," Chris pressed. "I want to know everything about you."

Helga walked back over to Chris' bed and sat down. "There's only one thing you need to know: I love you. You are the most important thing in my life. Yes, I've done some things that I'm not proud of, but who hasn't? You don't need to know what they were."

"But I want to know," Chris insisted. "It's important."

Helga stared at her daughter for a moment. Until now, Chris had never shown such an interest in the past. Could this sudden curiosity be related to what had been bothering her for the last several days?

"Chris, what's this really about? What's bothering you? Please, Yahyimn, tell me what's wrong."

"I told you nothing's wrong," Chris persisted. She flopped back on her pillows and rolled onto her side, facing the back wall. "Forget it."

"Prahtim, what aren't you telling me?"

"Mahtihm, drop it. Please."

Helga sighed. "All right. Consider it dropped. I didn't mean to upset you."

"You didn't," Chris said, rolling back over. "I just don't feel good."

"I know." She bent down and kissed her. "I just wish I could help you feel better."

"I love you," Chris told her.

"I love you too. Now you try to get some rest." She brushed Chris' bangs out of her eyes. "Good night, Prahtim."

"Good night," Chris said with a weak smile.

Helga waited a few heartbeats before standing up again. She was still sure Chris was hiding something from her.

She just wished she knew what it was.

((((())))))

Sarani raced up the stairs towards Chris' room. She needed to talk to her badly. (She knew Aifohm Helga was still with her, but knowing Chris, the visit wouldn't last very long.) Something was really wrong and she was sure it had to do with that creepy Lyle guy.

Chris' reaction to the sleepover had taken her by surprise. Chris usually jumped at the chance to spend a weekend at the palace. For her to try to get out of it scared Sarani. What was Lyle doing to her?

Though Chris claimed she wasn't keeping anything from her, Sarani had a feeling that Chris was, as usual, trying to protect her and was omitting stuff from her story. For the first time in her life, she resented Chris' protectiveness. She wanted to know everything that was going on because it was worse not knowing. Chris wasn't doing very well and Sarani was terrified that something bad was going to happen if Lyle didn't leave her alone soon.

Why wouldn't Chris tell anyone what was happening? Sarani no longer cared about getting in trouble. Chris' safety was much more important. If anyone could help her, Mahtihm or Tahbtoap could. Maybe even Brykloap. (She could understand Chris wanting to keep it a secret from Aifohm Helga, especially after what Tahbtoap had told her.) Getting in trouble was worth it if it could get Lyle to go away.

Sarani reached her destination and walked towards Chris' room. There was no sign of Aifohm Helga which meant she was still talking to Chris, though Sarani doubted the conversation was going the way she and Aifohm Helga hoped it would.

Sighing, she sat down on the floor next to Chris' door to wait. Although her own room was barely three feet away, she didn't feel like waiting in there. She wanted to go in the moment Aifohm Helga left.

A couple of minutes later, she heard the door open and out stepped Aifohm Helga, looking very upset.

Chris definitely didn't tell her anything, she knew. "Hi, Aifohm Helga," she said aloud.

Aifohm Helga looked down at her. "Hi, Sarani. Are you waiting to go in?"

"Yeah," Sarani told her, getting to her feet. She swallowed, a wave of guilt passing over her as she prepared herself to pretend not to know anything. "How is she?"

Sarani hated lying more than anything but often found herself doing it for Chris. Lying made her feel like she was hurting someone despite Chris' claims that the reason they lied was to keep people from getting hurt. (Chris often used Aifohm Helga as the number one example of why they lied all the time and Sarani really couldn't argue with that.) But she did it because it made Chris happy. And Sarani hated it when Chris wasn't happy.

Aifohm Helga sighed. "I wish I knew. She keeps insisting that she's fine, but it's obvious that she's not."

"D-do you think she's sick?" Sarani asked despite her knowledge that Chris was perfectly healthy.

"I don't know," Aifohm Helga admitted. "She's tired and hasn't had much of an appetite lately, but there are other things. Things that have nothing to do with feeling sick."

"She tells me that she's having bad dreams," Sarani truthfully added.

Aifohm Helga nodded. "She tells me that too, but something makes me think that she's lying."

Sarani gulped. "W-why would you think that s-she's lying?"

Aifohm Helga gave her a look.

"Oh," Sarani murmured. It was no secret that Aifohm Helga knew that Chris lied to her all the time. She was a very smart woman, which was why she was one of the best teachers. (Sarani hoped she would one day go back to teaching regular school rather than just adult classes. She'd love to have her one year.)

"Sarani," Aifohm Helga said quietly, "I know Chris is a lot more honest with you than she is with me. Has she mentioned anything other than the dreams?"

Sarani quickly shook her head. "No," she answered.

"Has she said or done anything you found unusual, then?"

"N-no," Sarani lied again.

"You sound nervous," Aifohm Helga commented, a look on her face that told Sarani something wasn't right..

Sarani's eyes widened. Uh-oh! That was the one thing Chris was always telling her to work on when they practiced lying. Her nervousness always shone through. "I-I'm just worried about Chris."

"Just worried?" Aifohm Helga questioned. "Or do you know something and are afraid to tell me?"

"W-why would you say that?" Sarani nervously asked. She braced herself to keep from backing away, an action that would confirm Aifohm Helga's suspicions. Please let me get through this!

"Sarani, I know you too well. You only get like this when you're hiding something."

"I-I'm not. I swear!" Sarani protested.

"Chris tells you everything. I know she does," Aifohm Helga pressed.

"B-but she doesn't! S-she tries to protect me," Sarani argued, a sinking feeling in her stomach. Keep it together. For Chris' sake!

"Not from this," Aifohm Helga decided. "You do know something.

"Don't you?"

Sarani shook her head back and forth. "N-no. No, I don't."

"Yes, you do," Aifohm Helga stated. "You're lying to me."

"I'm not!" Sarani nearly cried. She bit her lip to keep from saying anything else.

"Sarani, please, if you know anything-"

"I-I don't, Aifohm Helga. I-I promise," Sarani said, forcing herself to calm down.

"I only want to help her," Aifohm Helga persisted. "Don't you want me to do that?"

"Y-you c..." Sarani started to say before she caught her mistake. I'm sorry, Chris!

But she had caught it too late.

"Tell me what you know," Aifohm Helga practically begged, grabbing Sarani by the shoulders. "Please!"

Sarani opened her mouth to answer and quickly closed it again. As badly as she wanted to tell, she knew she couldn't. Chris would never forgive her. Feeling horribly guilty over this, she began to sniffle. "I-I'm sorry..."

Exhaling forcefully, Aifohm Helga released her. "No, I'm the one who's sorry." She took a step back. "I was out of line."

"I-it's okay," Sarani said softly. "You're just worried about her."

"I still shouldn't have done that," Aifohm Helga told her. She wiped at one of the tears that had slipped out of Sarani's eyes. "You're only trying to help Chris."

"I'm sorry," Sarani sniffled again.

"You go and talk to her now," Aifohm Helga gently instructed her. "It'll do her good to see you. I'll see you when I come by tomorrow. Okay?"

Sarani just nodded.

Aifohm Helga pulled her into a hug. "I just hope she knows what she's doing."

"Me too," Sarani murmured.

"Me too."

((((())))))

"It's okay," Chris repeated for the hundredth time to the still-crying Sarani as she hugged her. Sarani had burst into tears the moment she had entered the room, confessing that she had almost blabbed to Mahtihm. "Please don't cry any more."

"B-but I almost told!" Sarani sniffled. "I'm such a bad friend!"

"No, you're not," Chris informed her. "You're the best friend anyone could have. Anyone would have almost told."

"You're just saying that."

"I'm not," Chris said. "Who knows Mahtihm better than I do?"

Everyone apparently, Lyle broke in.

Give it a rest, Chris told him. She really, really didn't want to hear his voice right now. He had finally pushed her too far and made her upset Mahtihm. If she could physically get her hands on him...

You'd what, little girl? he inquired, once again letting her know that he monitored her every thought. Since he had gotten into her mind, privacy was a thing of the past.

Sarani pushed away from Chris and wiped at her eyes. "What are we going to do now? Aifohm Helga knows I know something. You know she's going to go to Mahtihm and Tahbtoap and they'll make me tell. I just can't lie to them and they know it."

Some friend she is, huh? Lyle remarked.

You wouldn't know what a friend was if it hit you in the butt. "I'm going to make sure you don't have to," Chris assured her. "This is going to end right now."

You mean you're finally going to free me? was Lyle's annoying contribution.

Chris refused to dignify that with a remark.

"How?" Sarani wanted to know.

Yes, do tell.

"I'm going to tell him off once and for all," Chris announced.

The rumbling laughter that echoed in her mind was so loud that she had to place her head in her hands.

"Chris!" Sarani cried. "What's wrong?!"

What's so funny? Chris demanded, holding up a hand to Sarani.

You, he told her. That is the single most idiotic scheme I've ever heard.

Really? Well, we'll see if you still think that after I'm done with you, Chris retorted.

You really think a few so-called harsh words are going to make me go away? Lyle asked in disbelief.

Let's find out, shall we? was Chris' cool reply.

Little girl, you have no idea what you're up against, he said.

Is that a threat? Chris wanted to know.

No, he informed her. It's a fact.

I'm not afraid of you, she said.

Good, Lyle told her, I'd be disappointed if you were.

"Chris," Sarani spoke up, "what's going on?"

"In a minute," Chris waved her off. Are you ready to find out what I think of you?

No.

No?! Chris repeated incredulously. Does that mean that you're afraid?

He laughed again. You don't have what it takes to frighten me.

Then what's your problem?

Think for a moment. You're sleep deprived and distracted. How do you expect to attack me when you can't think straight?

Are you actually giving me advice? was Chris' stunned reply.

I expect my opponents to be at their best when they attack me, he told her. And you are far from top form at the moment.

And who's fault is that? she retorted.

Another chuckle. Return to the place we first met tomorrow night. I want to see your face when you figure out that your best isn't good enough to get rid of me.

You're on, she accepted. You are so going down.

I highly doubt that, Lyle said, but I look forward to watching you fail.

Are you so sure that I will?

Get some rest, he said instead of answering. Good night.

And he was gone.

Chris' eyes widened in disbelief. For the first time in days, she was alone in her own mind.

"Mahkijtuhgsuhg moak," she whispered.

"What? What happened? Is he gone?" Sarani questioned.

Chris looked at her. "He wouldn't let me tell him off."

"What?!"

"He wants me to get some sleep first," Chris explained. "He wants me to be my 'best' when I face him. Anyway, I'm to return to that weird cave under the old throne room tomorrow night. He wants to see my face when I 'fail'."

"But you won't, right?" Sarani pressed.

"I'm going to try not to," Chris promised.

For Mahtihm's sake.

((((())))))

Rourke had listened as Chris and Sarani discussed the impending confrontation after his "departure". The biggest argument had been over whether or not Sarani was going to come along. Chris didn't want her there (despite her bravado, she must have realized that she didn't stand a chance and didn't want her friend to see her fail miserably), but in the end Sarani won. The princess would accompany Chris on her return to the chamber. And Rourke wouldn't have had it any other way.

It made things so much easier.

Sarani was the key in ensuring Atlantis' final destruction. As long as he had her, Thatch and the queen wouldn't dare touch him, even as he forced the girl to call down the crystal. Having her already there when he escaped made things so much simpler for him. He wouldn't have to waste any time finding her.

By this time tomorrow, Atlantis would truly be history.

((((())))))

Helga sat straight up in bed as the thought struck her.

"Oh, god..." she murmured.

"Helga...?" Brykloap's groggy voice called in the dark. "Is everything all right?"

She turned to where she knew he was next to her. "I think I've finally figured out what's bothering Chris."

There was a rustling sound and the lamp next to the bed immediately lit up.

"Tell me."

"Do you remember those things she could do as a baby?" Helga asked.

"You mean with her mind?" Brykloap wanted to know. "The ones you made her stop using until she forgot about them?"

She nodded. "What if she's rediscovered her abilities?"

When she was only weeks old, Chris had begun to display strange powers that had simultaneous astonished and frightened Helga. Objects had suddenly lifted into the air for no reason. Helga had started feeling emotions that she knew were not her own. Incoherent thoughts that seemed like babble had mysteriously crossed her mind. Until she had discovered the source, she had believed she was going crazy.

She had realized that baby Chris was the cause when she had noticed that the strange happenings only occurred around the infant. The alien emotions mirrored what Chris was feeling at the same moment. The realization had hit her hard: Chris was not entirely human. Whatever Rourke had become, he had passed on to his daughter.

All during her pregnancy, Helga had never once given any thought to the fact that Rourke had no longer been human at the time the baby was conceived. It had never occurred to her that the child might inherit the powers he had displayed during his last attempt to destroy Atlantis. She had just been so happy to still be pregnant...

She had begun immediately to discourage Chris from using Rourke's legacy. Whenever she caught Chris calling on her powers, Helga had yelled at her. It had not taken Chris long to associate her mother's anger with the use of her abilities. By the time she was a year old, she had stopped using them altogether.

Possibly until now.

"I was trying to figure out what could scare Chris so badly," Helga continued. "You know as well as I do how hard it is to frighten her. So, I started trying to come up with a list of out of the ordinary things.

"That's when I remembered."

It had been so long ago that Helga had put Chris' latent abilities out of her mind. Until now, she hadn't had a reason to remember them.

"What could have caused her discover them?" Brykloap asked.

"I'm not sure," Helga admitted, "but if I'm right, the damage has already been done. She's terrified."

"Could it be because she cannot control them?" Brykloap theorized.

"If that's the case, it could only be her telepathy that's been triggered and she's hearing the thoughts of everyone around her," Helga told him. "Anything else would have been noticed by now.

"I know she believes she can take care of herself, but she must know by now that this is something she cannot handle alone," Brykloap told her. "Why has she not come to us?"

"I don't think she wants to admit that she needs help yet," Helga guessed. "It's too difficult for her."

"You said Kida was going to ask Sarani about Chris in the morning," Brykloap said. "If Sarani confesses, then Chris will have no choice but to accept our help."

"If anyone can get Sarani to talk, it's Kida," Helga told him. She had told Kida and Milo about the hallway encounter before leaving and Kida had said she would talk to Sarani herself after breakfast. She sighed. "I was so close, Brykloap. Why did I have to overdo it?"

"I am sure you did not," Brykloap said. "Sarani is a highly sensitive child. She is upset by things that would not bother most people."

"Which is why Chris is so hell-bent on protecting her," Helga slightly smiled. "She's going to the put the royal guards out of work when Sarani becomes queen."

"And they will blame us for raising our daughter so poorly." Brykloap reached out and brushed a stray strand of hair out of her eyes. "Do not think of this anymore tonight. You need your rest."

"I'm sorry I ruined your evening," she apologized. "But with all that's going on-"

He cut her off with a kiss. "You did not ruin anything. You are worried about Chris and I understand that. I am worried about her too. Hopefully after Kida convinces Sarani to tell her the truth tomorrow, this whole thing will be over and everything will go back to normal."

"I love you," she said.

"I love you too," he told her, kissing her again. "Now," he said, pulling her close, "there is something I have been meaning to ask you."

"What is it?"

"You know that I have always said that I would adopt Chris when we got married," he began.

"Yes," she nodded. There had never been any doubt in her mind that Brykloap would adopt her. In fact, they had discussed it long before he had even proposed to her for the first time.

"I was thinking that we could have the adoption ceremony immediately following our wedding ceremony," he told her. "That way, not only would we mark that day as the beginning of our journey as husband and wife, but as an entire family."

"Oh, Brykloap, that's a wonderful idea!" Helga smiled, looking up at him. "Chris will love it!"

"I think she will too," he agreed. He kissed her forehead and laid the two of them back down as one. "Go back to sleep, my mihlimn. We will discuss this further in the morning."

Helga snuggled closer to him. "Good night."

She pushed away all thoughts of Chris' troubles and closed her eyes.

((((())))))

"So," Kida asked as she finished the last bites of her breakfast, "what are your plans for the day?"

Chris and Sarani both looked up from their private conversation. Kida noticed a considerable difference in Chris. She appeared well-rested as if she had gotten a good night's sleep.

"We really don't have any, Aifohm Kida," Chris told her. "Sarani and I both agree I need to rest as much as possible."

Kida nodded. "I agree as well."

"Me too," Milo added. "I'm glad you decided to spend the weekend here after all, Chris. You seem so much better already."

"Thanks," she smiled. "I feel better too."

"Your mahtihm and Brykloap will be by later today," Kida told her. "They will be very happy to see how well you are doing."

"Mahtihm especially," Chris agreed. "I think she's really worried about me."

"I know she is," Kida told her. "She is convinced you are hiding something from her."

"I know," Chris said matter-of-factly. "Well.." She pushed her seat back from the table. "I'm done, so I'm going to go and get dressed."

"I'll come up when I'm finished," Sarani promised. Kida had noticed that she had been picking at her food while Chris had eaten normally.

"Take your time," Chris told her. She stood up. "Aifohm Kida, Lahmahp Milo, thanks for breakfast and everything else. I'll see you later."

"See you," Milo smiled.

"It is always a pleasure to have you," Kida said.

"Thanks." Chris smiled and then left the room.

Sarani resumed picking at her food.

Kida turned to her husband. "Milo," she said loud enough for Sarani to overhear," I feel cold. Would you mind returning to our chambers and fetching my robe for me?"

"Um, sure. No problem."

This was their prearranged signal for isolating Sarani with her. Kida had promised Helga that she would get the truth about what was going on with Chris from Sarani and she had no intention of letting her daughter leave the table until she got it.

Milo quickly got up and left the room.

Kida allowed a seemingly natural silence to engulf them for a few moments. She sipped her tea while Sarani continued to barely nibble her food.

"Sarani," she finally said, "may I ask you something?"

Sarani suddenly looked nervous. "Y-yes, M-mahtihm."

She knows, Kida realized. And she's afraid to tell me. "I know that you are aware that Helga is very concerned about Chris right now."

"Y-yes," Sarani answered softly.

"I also know that you are aware that Chris refused to tell anyone what is bothering her," Kida continued.

Sarani nodded.

"Anyone, that is, but you."

Sarani looked down. It was an instant admission of her guilt.

"Helga told me that you know exactly what is going on but would not tell her."

"Yes, Mahtihm."

"Why?" Kida made sure it sounded more like a command than a question.

Sarani's face came back up. "Chris m-made me p-promise." She stuttered terribly when she was nervous or afraid.

Or both.

"Why, Sarani?"

"Um..." She looked down again.

"Saranikash," Kida sternly said. "You will tell me."

"I...I...can't, Mahtihm," Sarani meekly told her. "I'm sorry."

"You will look at me, Saranikash," Kida commanded. "I will not have this conversation with the top of your head."

Again, Sarani looked up. "I'm sorry," she repeated.

"Why did she make you promise?" Kida pressed.

"I...I..."

"Why, Sarani?"

"P-please, Mahtihm, don't," Sarani said softly, the expected tears already starting to well up in her eyes.

Kida hated seeing her daughter cry, but it was an unfortunately necessity in the current situation. It meant that Sarani was very close to telling her what she wanted to know.

"I am going to," Kida told her. "You are not leaving this room until I get some answers from you."

"Please," Sarani repeated, sounding desperate. "Mahtihm, please!"

"Do not be afraid to tell me," Kida said in a much gentler tone. "We only want to help Chris."

"But you can't!" Sarani burst out. She immediately looked contrite for her loss of control.

"Why? Why can I not help her?" Kida asked.

"B-because...because..."

"Why, Sarani?"

Sarani bit her lower lip and started twirling a lose strand of hair.

"Do not avoid the question," Kida ordered.

Sarani dropped the strand and tried to draw herself up to her full height in a sitting position.

"Mahtihm," she said in a steady voice, "I can't break my promise to Chris. I'm sorry. But, everything's going to be better tomorrow. You'll see. I promise."

"How is everything to going to be better?" Kida wanted to know.

"Just wait and see," Sarani urged. "Please."

"Sarani..."

"Please," she begged. "I swear everything will be fine tomorrow. Chris promises."

Kida sighed. "All right." She knew she could press the issue, but it would only upset Sarani to the point of incoherency. This promise of a return to normalcy was the best she was going to get.

"Thank you," Sarani quietly said, obviously fighting the urge to look away. "M-may I be excused now?"

"Yes," Kida told her, waving her hand.

"Thank you," Sarani repeated, rising to her feet. "Thank you." She quickly rushed out of the room.

Kida leaned back in her chair. This had not gone at all as she had planned. Helga was going to be more upset than ever at this new revelation.

Suddenly, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up to see Milo standing next to her.

"That didn't go very well, did it?" he asked.

"I dread telling Helga," Kida told him. "She will be so upset with me. I failed her."

"You did your best," Milo assured her. "What else could you do? Sarani's obviously as afraid as Chris is. Otherwise she would have told you."

"I know. And it frightens me more than I can say."

"Do you think she's telling the truth about this problem just going away?"

"I think she believes that it is the truth," Kida answered. "But we cannot not know for certain until tomorrow.

"Let us just hope that it is the truth."

((((())))))

Rourke had continued his silent observation of Chris all day long. As he had hoped, she was resting up in preparation for their confrontation, which was now merely an hour away. He needed her body to be in top condition for when he took control of her mind. Calling on her untapped abilities would put an incredible physical strain on her. He did not want her to burn out before he was finished here.

There would be plenty of time to rest and recover afterwards.

((((())))))

"Chris, I'm scared," Sarani nervously confessed as they approached the edge of the pool in the old throne room.

"I told you that you shouldn't have come," Chris said. "This is your last chance to turn back because once we're down there, there's no leaving until it's over."

"I-I'm coming," Sarani insisted. "I can't let you face him alone."

"Okay," Chris said, not wanting to start another argument with Sarani. "Just don't say I didn't warn you."

"It's going to be okay," Sarani asserted. "I know it will."

I wish I had your confidence. Chris walked out onto the first of the stepping stones. "He's going to be sorry that he ever even spoke to Mahtihm."

Chris didn't doubt that she was going to be able to make him go away. She had too much experience getting Mahtihm to back off not to. She didn't have an exact plan but knew enough about him to hit him where it hurt. Focusing on his failure to steal the Heart or even destroy it would be enough.

However, her doubts lay in her ability to not let him get to her. She had barely been able to ignore him as it was and that was when he was randomly picking topics to try and encourage her to help him. This time it was going to be different. He was going to be attacking her.

And she knew he was going to fight dirty.

She had no secrets from him. Lyle had had total access to her mind for three days. For all she knew, he could dig up incidents that, though she might not remember off the top of her head, had affected her deeply. She had to be ready for anything.

Silently, the two girls crossed the pool and stood before the aquavator platform.

"Ready?" Chris asked.

Sarani only nodded, though Chris knew she really wasn't.

"Let's go," Chris told her.

She stepped onto the platform and immediately felt it begin to move.

Sarani got on and the two of them began the short descent to where Lyle awaited them.

((((())))))

Right on time, Rourke sent as he saw the platform come to life. Are you ready to be taught a lesson?

He didn't expect the "confrontation" to last very long at all. All he needed was to distract her enough so that she wouldn't be able to throw up a shield when he entered her mind.

No, but I'm ready to give one, Chris retorted.

As always, her comeback was amusing. The girl was both creative and quick on her feet. He could think of quite a few ways in which he could teach her to channel this gift.

You're going to free me by the time this is over, he promised her. It was completely true. Although he would be in control of it, the energy needed to shatter his crystal prison would all come from her body. So, in a way, it was Chris that was freeing him.

Yeah, right, she told him. It's more likely that you'll be begging me to leave.

He laughed at that, the prospect ridiculous. So, how would you like to begin this?

You decide, she told him. The losing one should always go first.

You're so sure you're going to win, he mused. You haven't even considered the possibility of losing, have you?

Like you have? she retorted.

The platform had lowered to a level from which he could see her. Sarani was with her, looking as frightened and weak as before. (Getting her to do his bidding would be simple.)

I never lose, he informed her.

She laughed. Really? And what would you call getting your butt kicked by the Heart of Atlantis?

A minor setback.

I hate to break it to you, but what you call a "setback" was really a defeat, she told him. Face it. You lost.

The platform reached its destination and Chris stepped off.

You fought the Heart and it locked you up, she continued. End of story.

And if you ever did get out of that crystal, which, by the way, ain't happening as long as I'm around, and you pull the same thing, it'll just kick your butt again. So why don't you just face the facts and admit that you're nothing but a big, annoying loser?

For a moment, Rourke said nothing. Chris' argument was logically sound for someone who didn't have all the information, but the way she put it...

He burst out laughing.

You find that funny? Then how about this one? Read my lips: I am never letting you out, Chris went on. You can keep me up every night for the next thousand years for all I care and I still won't let you out. And you want to know why?

He regained control. Enlighten me.

You're a murdering criminal, she told him. You may claim that you're sorry and that you'll never do anything bad again, but that doesn't change what you've already done. I don't know anything about you before you came to Atlantis, but what I do know sickens me.

You killed my best friend's grandfather, you nearly killed her father, you were going to kill everyone else in the city, and, before that, you wanted to steal the Heart. But, worst of all, you tried to kill my mother.

And, for that reason alone, I'm leaving you to rot in that crystal.

It looks like we'll be spending a lot more time together then, he said, purposely pretending as if he hadn't heard anything other than the part where she refused to free him.

Are you stupid or something? Chris wanted to know. I said I'll never let you out. What's the point of bugging me? You're wasting your time.

I may be a criminal, but my crimes are nothing compared to the ones your mother is guilty of, he told her.

What did I tell you-

No, you're going to listen to me, he cut her off in a quiet but firm tone.

Why should I listen to anything you have to say about her? Chris demanded.

Because I can prove that she's been lying to you all your life, Rourke informed her.

Especially about your father.

((((())))))

To herself, she snorted, He has got to be kidding me. Folding her arms, she asked And why would she do a thing like that?

To keep you from finding out who he really was, Lyle said.

I know who he was, she told him. I'm named after him!

But do you know anything about him?

You know Mahtihm doesn't like to talk about her past, Chris reminded him. But she told me enough for me to know that he was a wonderful man and that she loved him very much.

She told you about the man she wishes were your father, he corrected her. Christopher Jenkins was her husband, yes, but it's impossible for him to be your father.

And just why is that? Chris pressed. Where the heck was he going with this? Could Mahtihm have lied about who her father was? Did it really matter? If anyone was her father, it was Brykloap.

Two reasons. The first and most important: Christopher Jenkins died six years before you were born.

And you know this because...?

I killed him.

Chris couldn't stop herself from gasping at the matter-of-fact admission. She knew he was telling the truth. He had no reason to lie.

Your mother's love for him was distracting her from what she should have been doing, so I got rid of him, he told her as if it were no big deal.

You...you... Chris couldn't find the words.

Now for the second reason he can't possibly be your father, Lyle went on like this was the most normal conversation in the world. Your mother wasn't able to have children until thirteen years ago.

Chris was afraid to say anything.

I know Sarani told you that I'm no longer human thanks to whatever the crystal did to me. What she failed to mention, because her father didn't tell her, was that it gave me many incredible abilities.

Abilities that you also have, Christine.

Great kings! Chris thought. If he was implying what she thought he was implying...

One of these abilities is healing, he continued. Your mother was badly hurt after her fall.

The one you caused, Chris put in.

Yes, he acknowledged. As I examined her, I discovered she couldn't have children.

And then I healed her.

Chris didn't want to believe what she knew he was telling her. She couldn't be related to this monster. She couldn't!

Another ability of mine, as you well know, is telepathy. Through it, I found out that children was something your mother wanted desperately, Lyle continued. Since your mother was the only person who could help me finish what I had started here, I made a deal with her. I'd give her a child for her help. At first she was reluctant to make the deal...

But in the end I persuaded her to see things my way.

No, Chris said, shaking her head. No way. She would never had made a deal with someone like you.

She was in love with me, he told her. She would have done anything I asked.

No, she repeated. I don't believe you.

You're the proof of the deal, Chris, he pressed. Your mother has no other children. She was only pregnant once and I was the father of her baby.

There's no way you're my father, Chris informed him.

Really? What makes you so sure? he questioned.

Because...because... For the first time in her life, she couldn't find the words to say. Lyle couldn't be her father. He couldn't!

Why do you think your mother keeps her past a secret? Why do you think she lied to you about who your father was? She's ashamed of what she's done. Things she only did out of love for me.

I don't believe you, Chris said again, pushing away the possibility that any of this was true. Mahtihm would never have loved a psycho like you.

That's where you're wrong, Christine.

No, she said vehemently. You're not my father.

Explain your middle name then, he challenged. Where did the name "Lyla" come from?

It's just a pretty name, Chris told him. Mahtihm said she liked it.

Yet another lie, he informed her. If only you knew what she was really like. You'd never look at her the same way again.

"Chris?"

She turned around to see Sarani nervously wringing her hands together.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"He's claiming he's my father."

"What?!"

Chris turned back to the red crystal floating above her. Nothing you've told me proves anything. I think this whole thing is just another way of trying to convince me to set you free.

Then I'll just have to show you something that'll erase any doubt.

And what's that? she wanted to know.

Open your mind to me, Chris.

Alarms immediately went off in her head. Why should I?

This is the only way to prove to you that I'm telling the truth. Give me access and I'll send you an image that will convince you that I'm being honest with you for once.

So you admit you've lied to me. She felt his familiar mental touch.

I never claimed that I hadn't.

What is this? Something was appearing in her mind.

You'll see.

The image cleared and Chris saw a man. He was tall and muscular but she could not tell his age. He wore strange clothes that she knew could only be from the surface. He had black hair and his skin color matched hers perfectly...

This is you, isn't it?

When I was younger, yes, he confirmed.

You look like... I look... she stammered. The resemblance was unmistakable. She could no longer deny what she was being told.

He was her father.

And it was at that very moment she realized that her mind was no longer her own.

((((())))))

Kida's eyes snapped open as her mind was flooded with a wave of thoughts and emotions she could not understand. As she saw the red light pouring in through the window, she immediately knew what was happening.

The Heart of Atlantis was calling for help.

((((())))))

Helga was awakened by something she could not explain. But when her eyes opened and focused on the bright red light coming in through the window, she knew something was terribly wrong.

Immediately her thoughts went to Chris.

She had to get to her.

((((())))))

"Sarani, get out of here!" Chris called into the darkness as she felt Lyle release his hold on her mind and body. She collapsed to the ground, feeling more tired than she ever had in her life.

The tahreen had tricked her, gaining access to her mind by sharing a thought with her. It was so simple and obvious yet she hadn't seen it coming. All because she was hoping against hope that she could prove him wrong. Now Lyle was free and it was all her fault.

The moment he had shattered his crystal prison using an ability she had had no idea that she possessed, the chamber had been plunged into darkness. She didn't know where anyone or anything was and she was afraid to move.

Not that I could if I wanted to, she realized. Whatever Lyle had done had weakened her body so much that she could barely remain conscious.

"I c-can't!" Sarani wailed. "I-I can't move!"

"Of course you can!" Chris informed her. "Just put one foot in front of the other and hop on that platform."

"No, she can't," came the voice that she had only previously heard in her head.

She felt a large hand take hold of her arm and haul her to her feet.

"I've made sure of it."

There was a flash of light and suddenly she could see again.

And for the first time in her life, she laid eyes on her father.

((((())))))

"Check Chris' room first," Kida instructed Milo as the two of them rushed down the hall to where the girls' rooms were. "Sarani usually sleeps in there when Chris is here."

She paused for a moment, her head throbbing from the input being received from the Heart. It was too much and she still couldn't fully understand it. All she knew was that it sensed danger and that it was imperative that she got the children to safety.

"Chris? Sarani?" Milo called as he knocked on the door. "Girls, wake up!"

"Do you hear them?" Kida asked.

Milo pressed his ear against the door for a moment. "No. Nothing."

"Try the handle," Kida urged as she approached.

Milo reached for the handle and found that the door was unlocked.

"That's strange," he said.

"Quickly, open it," Kida told him. "We do not know how much time we have."

Milo opened the door and stepped inside.

Kida quickly followed. When she got inside, she saw that the bed had been untouched.

"Where are they?" she demanded of Milo.

"I...I don't know," he told her.

"We must find them immediately," she said.

"I'll go find a guard," Milo said. "Someone's bound to have seen them."

"Go, my Milo. I will wait for you here."

He quickly kissed her. "I'm sure they're fine."

"Hurry," she urged.

"I'll be back," he promised as he ran out of the room.

Kida walked over to the bed and settled down to wait.

((((())))))

Helga made her way through the gathering crowd as she headed towards the palace. She was the only one heading in that direction, making travel difficult. Everyone else was headed for the center of the city, where the Heart was casting its deep red search beams. (Would Kida be able to join with it in her condition?)

She had to get to the palace and find Chris. She had a horrible feeling she knew what was wrong. There was nothing else it could be.

She had left the house without disturbing Brykloap. She felt bad about leaving him without a word, but it was important that she get to Chris. Even if this wasn't her worst nightmare come true (though she was sure it was), she'd feel better if her daughter was with her. She would find him once she found Chris. She hoped he would understand.

She finally broke through the crowd and made it to the path leading directly to the front doors of the palace. Pulling her robe tighter around her, she began to run.

"Mahtihm!"

Chris! She stopped in her tracks as soon as she heard her daughter call out. "Chris? Where are you?"

"Run, Mahtihm! Get out of here!"

Helga turned towards the sound of Chris' voice...

And gasped at the sight that greeted her.

Rourke.

And Chris was in his clutches.

"Hello, Helga. I was hoping I'd see you tonight," he casually greeted her.

Oh, god! Oh, god! So her suspicions had been right. He was back. Just as she had finally convinced herself that maybe, just maybe he was not returning, he had to show up. Why? Why did she have to be so unlucky?

But, more importantly, how long had he been back? Why hadn't the Heart sensed him before now? And how had he found Chris so fast? Unless...

There was no book. The night she had spent with Brykloap, Chris had somehow met him and he had been bothering her ever since. It was the only thing that made any sense. She didn't know how it had happened, only that it had. And her precious daughter was in danger because of it.

I can't let myself fall apart. Not while he has Chris, she decided. I have to be strong for her.

"Let her go, you bastard," she demanded, calling on all the acting ability she possessed. She kept her voice strong and steady, the complete opposite of what she was truly feeling.

"Well," he said in that infuriatingly calm tone of his, "is that any way to greet me in front of our daughter?"

"Let her go," she repeated. "She's done nothing to you."

"I'm afraid I can't do that," he told her. "I need both her and the princess here."

Princess? It was then that she noticed that Chris was not his only hostage.

"Sarani," she whispered. She could see that Sarani had been sobbing terribly but no longer had any tears left. "Let them go, Rourke. They're just little girls!"

"Mahtihm, run!" Chris cried. "Get out of here!"

"Please, Aifohm Helga! Listen to Chris!" Sarani begged.

"All the more reason why I should keep them very close to me," he informed her. "No one will dare go near me as long as I have them."

"You bastard," she spat. "You absolute bastard."

"And, as I said, I need them," Rourke continued. "They're going to call down the crystal for me. Sarani can't do it on her own, but Chris has enough ability for both of them.

"She takes after me, you know."

It took a second for what he said to sink in. Chris knew about her special abilities! And Rourke had found out about them and was going to force her to use them to help him destroy Atlantis!

"She's quite the little telepath," he was saying. "She's even managed to do what I couldn't before I was...detained. She's figured out how to make contact with the crystal through the princess. Why waste my time convincing the queen or doing it myself when I have these two to do the job for me?

"Besides, a little birdie told me that the queen's in no condition to do much of anything right now." A slight smile appeared on his lips. "A condition the two of you apparently have in common."

"What are you talking about?" Helga demanded to know.

"First of all, congratulations on your engagement," he went on, seemingly ignoring her question. "Though I would have thought that you of all people would have waited until after the wedding to expand the family."

Expand the family? Was he saying...?

"But congratulations nonetheless. You're pregnant."

At first Helga didn't know how to respond. She heard both Chris and Sarani gasp in surprise. She was pregnant! Pregnant by Brykloap, the man she loved, just as she had hoped. But to find out this way, from him?

No, I can't think about this now. Chris and Sarani's lives are in danger. They come first.

"Just let them go," she finally repeated, keeping her voice calm.

"Well, that's not the kind of response I expected from you," Rourke commented. "I thought you'd be thrilled to know."

"Forget about the baby," Helga said. "I want you to let my daughter and the princess go...now."

Rourke chuckled. "You mean our daughter," he corrected. "And you're wasting time you should be using to say goodbye to your fiancé instead of fighting a no-win battle with me."

"Goodbye? What the hell are you talking about?"

"Did you really think I was going to leave without you?" he questioned her. "I still intend to marry you."

"I'm engaged to someone else," she reminded him. "You aren't touching me ever again."

"You're coming with me," he told her. "There's no reason for you to stay. Your fiancé, Brykloap is it?, is going to die with the rest of his people. Anyway, I can't raise Chris on my own. I need you."

"I'd rather die by his side than go with you," she informed him. "Now let them go."

He sighed. "This is getting old fast, Helga."

She was at a loss for what to do. Rourke wasn't going to let Chris or Sarani go. Nothing she could do or say could change that. And as long as he had them, no one would go near him. He knew exactly what he was doing.

He had practically won already.

Unless...

She took a deep breath. "If you let them go, I'll willingly come with you."

"No, Mahtihm!" Chris shouted. "No!"

Rourke raised an eyebrow. "Really? And can you guarantee me the success that they will?"

"If you swear not to harm Sarani, Kida and Milo will do anything you ask. Even...call down the crystal. You have my word."

"You've broken your word too many times, Helga," he said. "Why should I believe you now?"

"Because you have...our daughter."

For a moment he seemed to consider her offer.

Then, he shook his head. "No."

Oh, god! "What can I do to convince you?"

"I don't have time for this," he declared. "I'll deal with you later."

And with that said, he shot her with a blast of energy.

"Mahtihm!"

"Aifohm Helga!"

Helga felt herself fly through the air, her chest burning where the energy had struck her, until her back hit something hard.

Chris and Sarani's voices were the last things she heard before the blackness claimed her.

((((())))))

"You tahreen!" Chris cried as she tried to break free of his grasp. He had given her her strength back as soon as he had gotten his hands on her.

"Come on," Lyle said as he started dragging her and Sarani with him.

"No! Let me go!" She struggled even harder, her fear giving way to anger. "Mahtihm!" She had to see if Mahtihm was all right. "If you've hurt her..."

"She'll be fine," he snapped. "Now, come on." He continued pulling her. "It's your friend here you should be more concerned with."

"Aifohm Helga," Sarani sobbed.

"You're gonna pay," Chris promised. "I swear to all the gods you will."

Lyle only laughed as he pulled them along.

Mahtihm...

((((())))))

"Milo, look!" Kida cried.

Ahead of them was a sight they had never believed they would ever see again.

Lyle Rourke, alive and well.

But he wasn't alone. He had two hostages:

Sarani and Chris.

"Oh, god!" Milo gasped. "H-how...?
"I do not know. But we must hurry now. I must join with the Heart immediately. It is the only way to stop him."

"What does he want with the girls?" Milo asked.

"I do not know," Kida told him. "But we must make sure no harm comes to either of them."

"Do you think Helga knows yet?"

"I can only pray to the mahkijtughsugh moak that she does not," Kida said. "She will be devastated."

"I just can't believe it," Milo said, shaking his head. "She was right all along."

"Let us go," Kida urged.

The two of them started moving as quickly as Kida's swollen belly would allow towards the center of the city, but their journey was cut short as they stumbled on yet another horrible site.

"Helga... No..."

Kida dropped to her knees and cradled her unconscious friend against her. She looked badly hurt. "Oh, Milo..."

Milo took his pendent off and gently pressed it against Helga's forehead in an attempt to waken her.

Helga began to stir. "Chris..." she barely managed.

"Shh," Kida quietly told her. "Do not try to talk."

Helga's eyes fluttered open. "Kida... He has her."

"We know," Milo said. "God, we know."

"Sarani... He's g-gonna..."

"Shh," Kida repeated. "You are weak. Rest now. We will go after him."

"No," Helga said, forcing herself up into a sitting position. "You don't understand. He's going to use them to get to the Heart."

"What?! How?" Milo questioned. He looked at Kida. "Is that even possible? Would it take Sarani?"

"Rourke said that Chris can talk to it through Sarani," Helga told them. "She knows about her powers and he somehow found out about them. He's going to make her call it down."

"Gods," Kida murmured. "When did she learn about them?"

"I don't know," Helga said, trying to get up, but failing miserably. "But we've got to get to them before it's too late. Help me stand."

"No, you are too weak," Kida told her. "You must stay here and rest. We will get Chris back for you."

"No," she shook her head. "She's my...our...daughter. I can't let you face him alone."

"I will not be alone," Kida assured her. "I will be one with the Heart. Just as I was last time."

"Let me come," Helga begged. "Please."

"No," Kida told her again. "You are in no condition t-"

"Kida, please."

"No and that is final," Kida informed her.

"Kida..." She began trying to stand again.

"Look at yourself," Kida said. "You can hardly move."

"I have to come," Helga said. "This is all my fault. If I hadn't-"

"That was a long time ago," Milo put in. "Stop blaming yourself already."

"Let me come. Please." Once more she tried to get up.

"Oh, all right," Kida finally relented as Helga fell back against her. "Milo, help me."

Between the two of them, they were able to get Helga to her feet.

"Thank you," Helga quietly said as she leaned against Milo.

"We cannot waste any more time," Kida told them. "Come on."

Together, the three of them continued towards the center of the city, where they knew the very future of Atlantis hung in the balance.

((((())))))

Chris began to struggle even more violently as Lyle dragged both her and Sarani into the crowd. The cries of shock and fear as he pushed through the people only made her more determined to escape and get back to Mahtihm.

"This'll all be over very soon," Lyle assured her. "Just be a good girl and I'll take you and your mother to the surface just like I promised."

"I don't want to go with you!" Chris told him.

He laughed his annoying laugh again. "You don't have much of a choice. I'm taking you whether you like it or not."

"What if I don't help you get the Heart?" Chris tried. "I never said I would."

"You're going to help me," he informed her. "Unless you want to watch your best friend die."

Sarani whimpered in fear.

"You're not hurting her," Chris told him.

"If you help me, I won't," he agreed.

"I hate you," she spat.

"So is that a yes or a no? Remember, her life is in your hands. If I have to get the crystal myself, you're going to wish you could join her in death."

"Don't do it, Chris," Sarani murmured. "Save everyone else."

"I won't let him hurt you," Chris promised.

"Yes, then," Lyle smirked as they finally arrived at their destination. He didn't release his death grip on their arms. "All right. Now do your little thing and get it to come down so we can get this show on the road."

"Chris!"

Chris twisted around to see Brykloap coming towards them. "Brykloap! No, stay back!"

But Lyle had already seen him. Suddenly, Brykloap was no longer moving on his own. He was lifted into the air and carried towards them.

"Let them go," he said in English as he hung inches above the ground.

"Brykloap," Lyle smiled. "So nice to finally meet the man who was going to marry my fiancé."

"You are Rourke," he said.

"Smart man," Lyle nodded.

"Helga has told me all about you."

"Oh, I'm sure she has," Lyle agreed.

"I will not let you harm either our daughter or the princess," Brykloap told him.

"Your daughter?" Lyle repeated. "I don't think so. She's mine. Which means I can do whatever I want to her."

"Let him go!" Chris cried.

"Will you help me? Or do I have to add another to the list of people who'll die unless you do?"

"I..."

((((())))))

"No!" Kida cried as a red beam from the Heart passed right over her without pause. "It will not take me! Why will it not take me?"

Helga watched the beam as it continued searching, her heart sinking. This had been their only chance of stopping him.

"It must sense that you're pregnant," Milo suggested as he took his wife in his arms. "It's probably afraid that it'll hurt the baby."

"There has to be another way of stopping him," Helga said, refusing to accept defeat. She was not going to let anyone die. Not like she almost did the last time.

"I don't know if there is," Milo told her. "I'm sorry."

"No..."

"We must get to them," Kida said, breaking out of Milo's arms. "We cannot give up before we try."

((((())))))

"Call it down," Lyle ordered. "Or Brykloap dies first."

Chris didn't know what to do. She couldn't let him kill Brykloap but if she helped the psycho, everyone died.

"Do not worry about me," Brykloap told her. "Just tell your mother that I loved her."

"You tell her yourself," Chris shot back.

"Chris, don't do it!" Sarani cried out.

There has to be something we can do, she sent to Sarani.

Like what? We're just kids!

But if we don't do anything, he's gonna kill everyone!

I wish Mahtihm were here, Sarani said. Then she could join with it like she told us.

Join... That gave Chris an idea. Wait, why can't you join with it?

What?! Me?! Chris are you crazy? I don't know how!

Didn't Aifohm Kida say that it took anyone of royal blood? Well, isn't that you?

Y-yes, but...

Maybe we have to call it first, Chris suggested. Aifohm Kida never told us how she got it to take her. We'll make Lyle think we're doing what he wants and then he won't kill you or Brykloap. He'll never know what we're saying to it. Then it'll take you and everybody will be saved.

I...don't...know...

Please, Sarani! It's our only chance of saving everybody.

Um...all-all right, she consented. Let's do it.

Thank you. She turned back to her monster of a father.

"All right. I'll do it."

"I knew you'd see things my way," he grinned.

((((())))))

Helga ran ahead of Milo and Kida, pushing her way through the panicked crowd. She could not hear Rourke or Chris, but she knew they were already at the center of the city. Thankfully, she could still see the Heart floating in its normal spot. He had not yet succeeded in getting them to call down the crystal.

She finally broke through, only to be greeted with her worst nightmare.

"Brykloap..." she whispered.

Now Rourke had him too. The two people she loved most in the world were in the clutches of that bastard.

"...I'll do it," Chris was saying.

"No..." Helga couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"I knew you'd see things my way," Rourke triumphantly announced.

"Rourke!" Helga called before Chris could do anything she would spend the rest of her life regretting.

"Helga," Brykloap cried out, "get away from here!"

Rourke turned to face her. "Helga, I didn't expect to see you again so soon. I guess I underestimated the effect the blast would have on you."

"My offer still stands," she told him. "Let them go and I'll do whatever you want."

"We're not going through this again," he said. "Besides, our daughter has already graciously volunteered to help. Haven't you, Chris?"

Don't worry, Mahtihm. I know what I'm doing.

The shock of hearing Chris' voice in her mind nearly caused her to gasp. But, she controlled herself. She couldn't let Rourke even think that Chris was talking to her.

"Let's get this over with," Chris said. She turned to look at Sarani. "Ready?"

Sarani barely nodded.

"Sarani!"

Helga turned to see Milo and Kida arrive behind her.

"We are too late," Kida murmured.

"No," Helga told her quietly. "Chris has a plan."

"How do you know?" Milo asked.

"She...told me. In my mind," Helga explained.

"Look," Milo said, pointing.

The two women's gazes followed his finger to the Heart.

It had returned to its normal blue color. But instead of it starting to descend, two of the beams had moved to illuminate both girls.

((((())))))

Help us! Please! Chris had sent to the Heart through Sarani hoping that it would feel the desperation in her mental voice and immediately take Sarani.

The speed of the response had shocked her. Two of the red beams had come towards them and landed on both her and Sarani, turning blue as they did so. In fact, the entire Heart had turned back to its normal shade of blue.

Chris felt Lyle lose his grip as a strange sensation overcame her. She could feel through their mental link that Sarani felt it too. It was calm and peaceful, which meant it had to be a good thing.

Suddenly, Sarani's presence became very faint and Chris had to concentrate really hard to feel her. Something else had inserted itself into their link and all but overshadowed Sarani. Something not human...

You are not one of the blood, came a mysterious female voice in her mind, which she knew could only be the Heart itself. Your companion is, but you are not.

Um, one of the blood? Chris asked, not understanding. I don't understand.

A child of the first one, the voice simply said.

Oh, a member of the royal family, Chris figured out. No, but the, um, "one of the blood" is my friend and we need your help.

The one known as Rourke has been freed, the voice said.

Yes, Chris told it. Can you help us stop him?

I must bond with one of the blood, it said.

Sarani's willing to join, Chris informed the Heart.

She is not ready.

Of course she is! She told me she is! Chris insisted.

She is not of the right age, the voice continued. The joining is too dangerous.

Please! Everyone will die if you don't! Chris cried.

I cannot.

You have to! Please!

The one of the blood could be lost.

Chris thought for a moment. What about me? Can you take me?

You are not of the blood, the Heart said.

Does that really matter? Chris wanted to know.

I can only join with one of the blood, the Heart emphasized.

What about the queen? Join with her then! Chris suggested.

I cannot. She carries another of the blood within her.

Chris' mind raced as she desperately tried to find a solution. The Heart wouldn't take Sarani or Aifohm Kida! She couldn't believe it. And it wouldn't take her either, but she could understand that. She was not "one of the blood". She wasn't even Atlantean.

But she wasn't exactly human either. Not with the strange powers she had. Maybe if she could protect Sarani...

You have to take Sarani then, Chris told it. I can protect her. I can keep her from being lost.

How would you do this?

I...have these...abilities, Chris explained. I can hold on to her.

There was a brief silence.

I will take you both, the Heart finally said.

((((())))))

Rourke watched with impatience as Chris appeared to be communicating with the crystal.

What's taking so long? he wanted to know. Even when Kida had joined with it for the first time, the crystal had taken her almost immediately. Was it because Chris was not Atlantean? Or was she trying to do something foolish as her mother often had?

Brushing aside that possibility (the girl was not that stupid), he glanced towards Helga. She looked strangely calm for someone's whose child was performing a supernatural feat that would lead to the destruction of everyone she knew and loved.

Behind her, Thatch and the queen were behaving more appropriate to the occasion. The very pregnant Kida was being tightly held by Thatch as they nervously watched what was happening. They knew that their fate and the fate of their people was sealed.

Good.

He returned his gaze to Chris just as the unthinkable happened.

Instead of the expected descent, the crystal intensified the beams of light sitting on the girls and the all-too-familiar flash that signified the joining occurred.

God damn her! Rourke silently cursed as he realized he had been double-crossed by a twelve-year-old after all.

((((())))))

"I don't believe it," Milo said in shock as the Heart of Atlantis began to pull both Chris and Sarani towards itself. "It's going to join with both of them!"

Helga didn't turn around, her eyes fixated on her daughter as she rose into the air in the exact same manner as she had seen Kida twice before.

I hope you know what you're doing, Yahyimn.

((((())))))

It was the oddest feeling. Chris felt as if she were both floating and falling at the same time.

What's happening?

You are with me now, the voice of the Heart told her. Protect the one of the blood.

Chris focused all of her energy on Sarani, who she could now feel strongly beneath the "mind" of the Heart.

Got her, Chris said. Now let's kick some psycho ohmlah!

((((())))))

The end result of the crystal/Chris/Sarani merge was not the usual human/crystal hybrid Rourke had come to expect. Instead the crystal looked no different than it normally did. The girls, however, were nowhere in sight.

He almost instantly felt the crystal's mental touch.

Right on time, he thought to himself. To the crystal, he sent, So we meet again.

This will be the last time, was the reply. It was the same female voice he remembered from thirteen years ago.

Yes, he agreed, it will.

Yeah, an unexpected voice chimed in. I told you that you were going down, didn't I?

Chris?!

Soopuhk, Lyle, Chris cheerfully greeted him. Bet you didn't expect to find me here, huh?

Don't think you're going to get away with this, he told her. After I deal with the crystal, I'll show you what happens to disobedient little girls.

Yeah, right, Chris snorted. The crystal's gonna kick your butt again.

You will never harm any of my children again, the crystal told him. And then she tried to trap him.

But this time he was ready for her. Throwing up a shield, the energy that was coming to create a new prison around him bounced harmlessly away.

You're not going to get rid of me so easily this time, he told her.

You will not escape, the crystal promised.

I have no intention of going anywhere until I've taken care of you.

You will not succeed, the crystal told him.

Watch me.

Then we have no choice but to battle this out, the crystal announced. Come.

And, with those words, the scenery suddenly changed.

This time Rourke did not find himself in a grassy field. The new location was a large cavern.

He looked around and, as expected, saw the same beautiful Atlantean woman as before. But, she was not alone.

Beside her stood a second woman. She was tall, beautiful, and shapely, with a long cascade of black hair, immediately marking her as non-Atlantean. It took Rourke only a moment to realize whom he was looking at.

"Chris."

For some reason, her mental image of herself was an adult.

"Ready to taste defeat again?" she queried, proving that it was only her appearance that had matured.

"You will be returned to your prison," the woman/crystal said.

"You only won last time because I wasn't ready for you," he told her. "This time I know you play dirty."

"She's not the one who plays dirty," Chris put in. "Mr. 'oh-I'm-so-sorry-for-what-I-did-and-I'll-never-do- it-again'."

"Stay out of this," he warned her. "You're in enough trouble with me as it is."

"Like I'm really afraid of you," she retorted.

"You should be."

Chris gave him a look.

"It is time to end this," the woman declared as she raised her arms in front of her. A large bubble of energy began to emerge from her hands.

Rourke didn't give her the chance to finish forming whatever it was she was trying to make and blasted her.

The woman did not even bat an eye as a shield appeared around her. "You cannot harm me." The bubble continued growing.

"I'm sure I can find a way," he informed her and sent another bolt in her direction.

Again it was deflected.

Damn!

Chris started laughing, the childish laughter seeming ridiculous from a gorgeous adult woman.

"You're really starting to piss me off, Christine." What he had initially found amusing was now getting on his nerves.

"Good," she grinned. "That means I'm doing my job."

He returned his attention to the woman. The energy bubble was about the same size as her body. He had to destroy her before she could finish forming whatever that was. But how?

His powers alone weren't enough to even dent her protective shield. He'd need an incredible boost to do the kind of damage he was aiming for. But how could he get the additional power he desired?

Immediately, he turned to Chris.

Chris.

His daughter.

His powerful daughter.

Without hesitation, he reached out towards her mind, intent on linking with her.

Chris quickly blocked him. "You really think I'm going to let you in there again? Are you nuts?" She paused. "Oh, wait. I forgot!"

"I've just about had enough of your mouth." He raised his arm towards her. If she wasn't going to cooperate, then she was of no further use to him. He'd gotten what he wanted out of her. She was only in the way now. Helga would have to be made to understand.

"Goodbye, Christine."

But before he could take her down, he sensed movement. He quickly turned to see the huge energy bubble hurtling towards him. With practiced ease, he dodged it.

"You're going to have to do better than that," he told the woman and once again shot at her.

This time he had caught her unprepared and she was knocked down to the ground.

"No!" Chris shouted.

Rourke once again sensed the attack before he saw it. Chris' weak blast barely bounced off of his protective shield.

"Shahohpt shoam!" she cursed in Atlantean.

Rourke quickly shot back at her, his energy at quarter strength, and knocked her to the ground.

Walking over to her, he shook his head. "If you had come with me willingly, I would have taught you how to use your powers."

"Be glad I'm resistant," she said, hatefully gazing up at him. "I would have used them against you."

He laughed. "You may be powerful, Chris, but not powerful enough." He grabbed her by the arm and hauled her to her feet. "But what you have will have to do for now." He started dragging her towards the fallen woman, who was weakly struggling to get up.

((((())))))

"Let me go!" Chris struggled, her adult form still not strong enough to break out of his iron grip. "Let go!"

Lyle ignored her and pulled her along with him until they were standing above the Heart where she was lying on the ground.

"It's time to end this once and for all," he told her. And Chris felt him pressing against her mental shield again.

"Stop it!" she cried. "I'm not helping you!"

"Yes, you are," he told her. He twisted her arm behind her back. "Drop your shield."

"No!"

He twisted it harder. "Now."

"No!"

He squeezed her arm so hard that it brought tears to her eyes. "Now."

"N-no!"

He roughly threw her to the ground, jarring her so hard that she momentarily lost her grip on her shield.

But it was long enough.

"Get out of my mind!" she shouted.

When I'm done, he told her, his mental touch starting to grip the parts of her mind that controlled her powers.

No! With all her might, she started pulling at his psychic hand.

Give it up, you little bitch!

No! she pulled even harder.

You can't stop me, he informed her. I'm stronger than you'll ever be.

I...don't...care! With that, she suddenly stopped pulling and delved deep into his mind, hoping to distract him.

She was assaulted by hundreds of thoughts and images, each of them more horrible and disgusting than the last. She saw vile acts of violence and cruelty that turned her stomach.

She saw the man who she had long believed to be her father murdered.

She saw Mahtihm...

"Nothing personal," this monster had said after he had pushed her to what he had thought would be her death.

Mahtihm! No!

See anything you like in there? he asked casually as he overpowered her and pushed her out of his mind.

"You bastard!" she shouted, repeating the name she had heard Mahtihm call him. She now knew everything he had done to Mahtihm. Everything.

He clucked his tongue at her. "Now, now, you're too young for that kind of language." He walked over to where she was. "I think I need to teach you some manners." He kicked her hard in the stomach.

Chris screamed and doubled over in pain.

"Don't you ever, ever try that again," he warned her.

She whimpered as she tried to roll over and he kicked her a second time, eliciting another scream of pain.

"Your mother was never this much trouble," he told her.

Chris got up on all fours and weakly began to crawl towards the Heart where she had risen to her feet.

((((())))))

Little bitch, Rourke silently growled as Chris tried to reach the woman/crystal. He never would have dreamed she'd pull this shit on him despite how much she took after him. After he was done with the crystal, he'd finish what he had started to do earlier.

Helga would just have to get over it.

He started walking towards the woman. "You're going to die now."

"Stop where you are," she ordered.

He kept walking.

"I have thus far been merciful with you. Do not make me resort to violence."

"I'd prefer violence," he informed her, still coming.

"Very well." She raised her arms again

"If you're going to try to trap me again, don't bother," he told her.

"I will not," she said and sent a blast a pure blue energy in his direction, scoring a direct hit on his chest.

Rourke's eyes widened in surprise and pain as he went flying backwards.

((((())))))

Yes! Chris cheered as the Heart finally got to the good stuff. Lyle was going down!

He quickly got to his feet, looking really mad.

"You shouldn't have done that."

"You have left me no other choice. You must be destroyed," the Heart simply told him.

"Goddamn you, you-"

The Heart proceeded to hit him again.

Lyle didn't get up as fast this time, but when he did, he sent another blast of his own at the Heart, who shielded once again.

"You will pay for all the suffering you have brought my children and many others," the Heart said as she blasted him for a third time.

This time, her energy was met by his own.

Chris watched in awe as the balls of blue and red energy pressed against each other, struggling for dominance.

"Come on. Come on," she whispered, urging on the Heart. She wanted Lyle to die. He was an evil man who had hurt so many innocent people, no one more than Mahtihm. It hurt her to think of what he had done to her.

Then, much to Chris' dismay, the red ball appeared to be winning, the blue one being pushed back.

No! He couldn't win! Not after all that he had done!

Concentrating as hard as she could, she sent her own energy to join with the Heart's.

Lyle looked up, surprised, as his energy suddenly began to give. He turned to glare at Chris.

For Mahtihm, she sent to him.

His eyes widened.

This time it's personal.

With that, she drew every last ounce of strength she had and put it with the Heart's energy.

The last thing she saw before losing consciousness was the blue ball grow brighter and larger and completely engulf the red one before hurtling towards Lyle.

((((())))))

Rourke didn't even have time for a last curse before the energy hit him.

There was a searing pain.

And then nothing.

((((())))))

Helga waited impatiently for whatever was happening to be over. Chris and Sarani had both disappeared and Rourke had become as still as a statue. She wished she could know what was going on. She only wanted to have Chris safely back in her arms.

"What's taking so long?" she demanded of Brykloap as he held her. As soon as the Heart had engaged Rourke, he had been freed and had immediately made his way over to her.

"I do not know," he told her.

"God, I hope she's okay," she softly said.

"She is," he assured her. "She is."

She turned to look at him. "I-"

"Look!" cried someone in the crowd.

Helga twisted back around.

Something was happening to Rourke. His body was losing its solid form and the energy was fading fast.

"Does this mean...?" Kida asked.

As if in answer to her question, two beams of light emerged from the Heart. And each of them contained a little girl.

"Chris," Helga whispered and broke out of Brykloap's arms. She slowly walked towards the beam that held her daughter. As Chris grew closer, she held out her arms to catch her.

Chris was gently deposited into her awaiting arms and Helga nearly collapsed to the ground under the seemingly dead weight. She went down to her knees, cradling Chris against her body.

"Oh, my poor yahyimn," she murmured.

She laid Chris' head down in her lap. It was then how she noticed how pale she was. Kida hadn't looked like this thirteen years ago after bonding with the Heart. She also didn't appear to be breathing...

"Chris?" She touched her face. "Chris!"

She felt a hand land of her shoulder. She turned around to see Brykloap kneeling beside her.

"She's not breathing!" Her attention went back to Chris as she hugged her close and rocked her. "Oh, god! Oh, god..."

"Chris!" Kida's voice cried out.

Helga's tear streaked face looked up at the queen. "This wasn't supposed to happen!"

"Oh, gods," Kida murmured.

Helga frantically began to check for a pulse. Her fingers dug into Chris' neck until they were rewarded with a very faint but steady rise and fall.

"Thank god..." She looked up. "She's alive! She's alive! Thank god!" Again her attention returned to Chris. "My yahyimn! My poor yahyimn!"

She again pulled Chris against her body as she sobbed tears of relief and joy.

((((())))))

Chris slowly became aware of the voices around her. She could not immediately make out the words but one voice in particular stood out.

"Mahtihm?"

"I'm here, Yahyimn," Mahtihm's voice answered. "I'm right here."

Chris forced her eyes to open and she was greeted by the smiling face of her mother.

"How are you feeling, Lilahm?" Mahtihm asked.

Instead of answering, she sat straight up and roughly threw her arms around Mahtihm. "Mahtihm!" Words couldn't express how happy she was to see her.

"Oh, my darling Chris," Mahtihm said. "I was so afraid..."

Chris hugged her tighter. "You're safe now. He can't hurt you ever again."

"I know, Yahyimn," Mahtihm told her. "I know."

"I made sure of it," Chris emphasized.

Chris felt Mahtihm suddenly change position and she found herself grabbed by the arms and pushed away.

"What do you mean?" Mahtihm asked, a strange expression on her face.

Chris suddenly felt nervous. Had she said something wrong? "I-I helped the Heart destroy him." Her eyes searched Mahtihm's face. "I only wanted to stop him."

"Oh, Yahyimn." Mahtihm pulled her into another embrace. "You're such a good girl."

"I know what he did to you," Chris told her. "He hurt you so badly. I couldn't let him do it again."

She felt Mahtihm kiss the top of her head. "I'm so sorry I didn't tell you about him, Chris."

"Don't be, Mahtihm," Chris said. "Please don't be sorry."

Mahtihm pushed her away again, but gently this time. "I shouldn't have lied to you about your father. I didn't want you to know about the monster who gave you life. You're so wonderful and loving, everything he's...was...not. He didn't deserve to have you know about him. You're too good for him."

"Oh, Mahtihm..."

"I just wanted you to believe that you came from a loving background," Mahtihm continued. "I didn't want you to share in my shame."

"But you have nothing to be ashamed of," Chris protested. "You loved him."

"She is right, Helga," Brykloap's voice said as he came to sit down on the bed. "You only acted out of love for him. You never once shared in his greed or hatred."

"Listen to us, Mahtihm," Chris urged. "Please."

Mahtihm reached out and caressed Chris' cheek. "I love you so much, Yahyimn.

"You saved us all."

Upon hearing those words, the realization of what had almost happened finally hit her. Because of her, everyone had almost died. Mahtihm, Brykloap, Sarani...everyone. It was only because she had been able to add her strength to the Heart's at the last moment that Lyle was dead and they were all still alive.

But none of this would have ever happened if she hadn't disobeyed Mahtihm and snuck out of the house that night. It was all her fault. She was the one responsible for releasing Lyle from his prison. She was the one who would have been to blame if he had succeeded in destroying the Heart.

A pit formed in the center of her stomach. She wasn't the "wonderful and loving" girl Mahtihm said she was. She was a horrible person. She did bad things and hurt Mahtihm all the time. If anyone should have been ashamed, it was her.

A tear slid down her cheek. "But I didn't," she murmured as she looked down.

"Of course you did, Yahyimn," Mahtihm reassured her.

"No, I didn't!" Chris cried, gazing back at Mahtihm. "It's all my fault! He would never have woken up and escaped if it weren't for me!"

"What are you talking about?" Mahtihm demanded to know.

"I'm the one who woke him up," Chris explained, more tears of shame falling. "I have these...these...abilities and...and..."

"I know you do," Mahtihm said. "I've known since you were a baby." She wiped at Chris' cheeks. "They're something else I should have told you about."

"Th-they're what woke him up," Chris went on, ignoring Mahtihm's confession. "H-he sensed me because of them. They're why h-he knew I could release him...

"T-that I was his daughter."

"Oh, Yahyimn, you can't be blamed for what you couldn't control," Mahtihm soothed her.

Chris shook her head violently. "You're wrong!" Mahtihm was wasting her breath. She didn't know what had happened. Nothing she could ever say could convince Chris that this wasn't her fault.

Chris began to cry openly. "It's all my fault!"

"Oh, Chris."

Chris felt Mahtihm draw her close once more and she buried her face against her chest as she sobbed for the first time in many years.

((((())))))

"It's your turn," Sarani insisted. "I've been holding him ever since Mahtihm put us here. My arms are hurting."

"But he's your brother," Chris informed her. "You should hold him the entire time."

"I need a break," Sarani pressed, holding out the bundle that was two-month-old baby Preston, the newest member of the Thatch family. "Besides, you need to practice for when you get your own baby."

"But that won't be for another five months!" Chris protested, gently pushing Preston back towards his big sister. "I'm going to enjoy the time I have left as an only child!"

"My arm's asleep!" Sarani complained, once again swinging the baby towards Chris. "Take him!"

"No!" She pushed him back.

"Yes!" Sarani urged, holding him out.

"No!" Back.

"Yes!" Forth.

"No!" Back.

"Yes!" Forth.

"Sarani!" Back.

"Chris!" Forth.

"I will take him."

And up went baby Preston into his mother's arms.

"Can I not leave the two of you alone for one minute?" Aifohm Kida complained as she checked to see if any damage had been done to her baby. "You are lucky that neither of you dropped him."

"What's going on here?" Lahmahp Milo questioned as he came into the room with Brykloap.

"Your daughter was attempting to shirk her responsibility to her brother," Aifohm Kida told him.

"Yeah, she was trying to make me hold him!" Chris put in. "I'm not supposed to do anything but get adopted today!"

She still couldn't believe it was happening. First, Mahtihm and Brykloap were finally getting married and then Brykloap was finally going to become her official tahbtoap. (He already was, as far as she was concerned, but now everyone else would know too.) It was a dream come true!

"You could have held him," Brykloap gently scolded. "It would not have killed you."

"Sorry, Brykloap." Until she was officially adopted, she did not want to call him "Tahbtoap".

"Is Helga almost ready?" Lahmahp Milo asked.

Aifohm Kida smiled. "She will be here any moment."

"Actually, I'm here now."

Chris turned in the direction the voice had come and gasped at the beautiful sight before her.

Mahtihm was absolutely gorgeous in her wedding outfit. She had chosen a simple white dress that Chris thought was one of the most beautiful pieces of clothing she had ever seen. Her long blonde hair was braided and coiled into a bun on top of her head and from her ears hung tiny gold earrings.

Chris thought she looked like the perfect bride.

((((())))))

Helga took a deep breath and stepped out from the doorway. She had dreamed about this day for so long that it was hard to believe it was finally here.

Brykloap walked up to her and placed a hand on her now-rounded belly as he gave her a gentle kiss. "Shall we begin, my mihlimn?"

"Yes," she told him. "I want to be your wife more than anything."

Smiling, he took her hand and led her to the center of the room. "In a few moments, we will be bonded forever."

"I can't wait."

She turned to look at the others in the room. Atlantean tradition called for at least two witnesses to the exchanging of vows by the engaged couple. (It was so much simpler than the surface custom of being married in a church only after getting a marriage license first.) They had four: Kida, Milo, Sarani, and her beloved daughter.

Chris was beaming. Helga hadn't seen her this happy in a long time. It relieved her immensely.

For a long while after Rourke's defeat, Chris had been in a deep depression. She had blamed herself for everything that had happened and had refused to be consoled. No one, not even Sarani, who couldn't remember a single thing after the Heart touched her mind, had been able to convince her otherwise. She had not left her room and had only eaten and drank enough to sustain herself.

Sarani, loyal friend that she was, had refused to leave Chris' side for almost the entire time. After she had recovered from her own ordeal, she had moved into Chris' room and set up camp. She had declared that she wouldn't leave until Chris did. Milo and Kida hadn't tried to change her mind.

The event that finally shook Chris out of her depression had been the birth of little Preston. When the baby was first presented to her, she had not shown any interest and had remained silent. But when Helga had sat down next to her and explained that there was another little baby on the way that was going to need his or her big sister to help care for him or her, Chris had finally begun to respond, although it was still negatively.

Helga had then emphasized that no one blamed her for what had happened and that they were only grateful for what she had done in the end. The new baby would not care about any of that. It would only want to be loved by Chris. She told Chris that she had a responsibility to love the baby as it wanted to be loved. By remaining depressed, she would only hurt the baby.

It was at that moment that Chris had realized what her mother was saying and promised to get better so she could be the best big sister a baby could ever have. And that was all Helga had needed to hear to know she had gotten her baby back.

She returned her gaze to Brykloap, the man who possessed her heart. "Make me your wife."

He smiled again and took her other hand. "Helga, from the moment I saw you, I knew that you were meant to be mine. Until I had seen you, no woman had ever stirred my heart. When my eyes fell on you, I felt things I have never before or since experienced. In that instant, I knew that we were destined to be together.

"I fell in love with you the first time we actually met. We only exchanged a few words, but they were enough for me to know that I had been right all along. My heart was yours.

"The day you said you loved me back was the most incredible day of my life. I had waited so long for you to say the words and I would have waited forever if I had to. And, when you kissed me, I knew it had been more than worth the wait."

Helga was moved beyond words. Tears came to her eyes as she listened to Brykloap. She loved him so much.

"You are the most wonderful thing in my life. You are my life. I could not live without you. You are the air I breathe, the food I eat...everything. My heart and soul are yours to keep forever. They have been since the moment I met you.

"Let us become as one for the rest of our lives. I pledge my eternal love to you.

"You are my wife."

Helga squeezed his two hands. "Brykloap, you love me more than anyone I have ever known. I still don't understand why, but you do. I often feel like my own love is unworthy of you, but you insist it is the only love you've ever wanted. You take it and give it back to me threefold.

"You accept me as I am, faults and all. You do not question me or judge me. You only love me.

"When I first met you, I was afraid of loving ever again. I had been hurt so many times before and I didn't want to be hurt again. For the longest time I resisted letting my guard down with you, but there was something about you that gave me no other choice. I think that's when I first began to fall in love with you.

"As we got to know each other, you slowly showed me how much you cared for me. It was all the little things you did. You taught me how to love again.

"I cannot express the gratitude I feel towards you for loving me as you do. I can only tell you and show you my own love for you. I can only pray that it is enough. My heart and soul are yours forever.

"Let us become as one for the rest of our lives. I pledge my eternal love to you.

"You are my husband."

"Then let it be known that we are now as one," Brykloap recited. "I am your husband."

"And I am your wife."

And then their lips met in a passionate kiss that sealed the vows.

After what seemed like an eternity, they separated. As one, they turned towards the bench where Chris sat.

"Christine," Helga said, "it's time."

Smiling brightly, Chris got to her feet and came to be bonded forever to Brykloap as his daughter.

The End