One word and he was awake. He wasn't sure if he had even been asleep but he was crawling over to the woman's place on the floor. She wasn't curled into herself any longer. Lying on her back staring up at the top of the cavern that served as their shelter. Orange and brown sand surrounded him in the cavern, clinging to them both like dust.
She looked lifeless, and if it wasn't for her eyes being open and the occasional blink, Rath would have thought her to be dead.
"Go get your mother some water will you?" She hadn't breathed a word to him in nearly three days much less a full sentence. He nodded and was on his feet in a beat, quick to obey her request. Not so much out of respect but fear. Fear for her.
Fear that she had reached the point of desperation in which she absolutely needed his help. The help of a child.
He was aware enough to know that he did not know how to help her. He was knowledgeable enough to know that she needed serious aid.
He was special enough to know that she was going to die.
The pail made of Banke's crystal-Banke's she had told him was a special strong crystal that didn't crack- clanked behind him as it dragged. It doubled as their bathing and cooking pot. His mother had only shown him the way to the lone stream that ran through the dunes once but he remembered. Besides the stream, the dunes were a desert wasteland for criminals to be banished and the lowliest of lows to survive. Most didn't and statistically, Rath wouldn't be expected to live longer than three days past the death of his mother.
He filled the pail with water managing to catch a slow moving water creature. Perhaps a bit of food would do his mother good. But he wasn't completely sure how to cook it and he knew she wasn't in any shape to do it herself.
Rath paused outside of the cavern. It was starting to reach midday, the time when it was suicide to walk the dunes. The heat was unfathomable as Antar's three suns bore down on it simultaneously, causing fires and dry air to run rampant. Rath could already feel his feet becoming uncomfortably warm being bare on the desert sands. He remembered one day he and his mother had watched a man erupt into flames and burn to death in the midday sun. The memory caused Rath to run just a bit faster.
He quickly moved to where his mother laid, in the depths of the cavern, the coolest place they could find. The pail slowed him down, it being a little over half his height. He pulled the water right next to her.
Her lips were chapped and her eyes were dull. Rath could hear her soft gasps as if she couldn't breathe deeply.
"You brought water." She tried to smile at him but it was a grimace. As soon as she tried to move toward the pail, he ran to gently stop her. "Good boy."
He poured some of the water into a bowl shaped rock. He moved a safe distance away from his mother and stretched out his hand.
"Don't spread your fingers," his mother warned quickly. He moved his fingers together as instructed. He didn't want to risk a large flame. A moment of concentration and he managed to start a small fire in the pit area. He turned feeling the pride of his tiny success and his mother managed a small smile as well. It wiped from his face as soon as he remembered how weak she was. He moved to the pail and pulled out the small creature by its fin. "Cut off the head and then skin it."
He grabbed the sharp flat stone that served as their knife and only hand weapon. He did as instructed being very careful with his tiny hands. His tongue hung out of his mouth in the midst of his concentration. When he was done he cut the meat in half and presented it to his mother for her inspection.
"Good boy," she said this time running a comforting hand through his long tresses. His hair needed to be cut but she hadn't been in well enough health to do it herself and his hair grew fast. The gold brown locks went to his lower back, the color a mix of his father's and hers. She had feared the color. A child born with two distinct hair colors was said to be the product of an unhappy home; that the genes didn't mesh as they were supposed to into one unit. "Cook them over the fire. You will know when it's done."
She watched as her little boy, her only child moved toward the fire he'd created with the meal he had caught and prepared. The day before she had taught him to mend his trousers. And a few days before that she had told him about water extraction.
His father was no longer around to teach him to hunt or to fight. He was learning his extension on his own with little guidance from her. She had been able to teach him to survive. It was all she could give him and she could only hope it would be enough.
Rath sat completely still as he watched the meat sizzle over the fire occasionally turning it as he remembered his mother once did. He was afraid though. Inside, his mother was right there speaking to him but it felt like she was already dead and he was already mourning her passing.
The connection between an Antarian mother and her child lasts for the first few stages of life. Although Rath was unsure of his exact age he knew he was barely through his third early stage.
He could feel his mother dying. He could feel her slipping away. He was young but he wasn't ignorant. He knew why she was making him do everything on his own. So that he would live. But part of him didn't want to. The part that could feel her essence disappearing wanted to follow her.
As he turned the meat once more he decided that if it became too unbearable he simply would follow her.
"Don't you dare, Rath!" Her strong command startled him and he nearly dropped the meat into the fire. "Look at me." He turned slowly, awaiting a reprimand. "I teach you these things because I want you to live. I can feel that hopelessness within you. Don't let it consume you. I know you're young and I ask so much of you but you live. You live for me. And for your father. You are the only one to show for our existence. Don't just survive. Live."
Her essence dispersed sometime during the night while he was asleep. He had cried when it happened even though he wasn't conscious. He felt the pang of loss in his dreams. That bond that existed between them since he was conceived- the one that as he aged, both weakened and strengthened- simply crumbled into nothingness.
He woke that morning wiping away the dried tears, looking over at the still body of his mother and grabbing the pail to retrieve fresh water. He was angry and frustrated. She had left him with that command practically binding him to this world. Binding him down to the land of the living and he would do it because he was a good boy.
Three days later he left later than normal to go fetch water. He felt the blistering heat of the sands as the suns' heat pounded on his back. He was sweating and grimy and dirty. Dirty, because he fetched the water every day only to watch it and not use it outside of cooking.
He was a little boy and he wanted to die. He wished for it. But he didn't have the gall to go against his mother's command and outright kill himself.
He thought of the man they had watched walk into the midday sun.
He would allow himself to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and hope the cosmos would take pity on him and do it for him.
Five days after his mother's death he dragged the pail, far too full of water. Too heavy for his weak body that had only water for its sustenance in the past few days. His stench was almost unbearable to himself.
"Aye ho!" He nearly jumped out of his skin at the shadow that blocked out the suns and the voice. The water exploded out the pail and landed on and around him. He crouched, snarling as if he were little more than a wild animal faced with a threat.
"Calm boy." The voice rumbled easily and he found himself straightening involuntarily. It demanded his respect and inherent trust. It was like the voice of his father a man he could barely remember outside of his voice.
He moved from the path of the glare and realized the vehicle. It was a shiny silver that bounced the rays of the suns in different directions. The effect was blinding to those following. Rath was small enough to only suffer the shade it provided.
The man that stepped out of the back of the vehicle was powerful, Rath could sense immediately. He had never seen such elaborate clothing and the man's height made Rath feel as if he were an insect. His hair was long and tamed, it flowed in the slightest of breezes. Rath's was stiff and wild and two colors. The man wore a robe and cape and parts of his clothes glittered from the shine of the suns on metal. He fought the urge to cower and wondered if this black haired man would be the one to grant him his last wish.
Surprisingly the man lowered to his level and looked him in the eyes.
Rath immediately opened his mouth but stopped and shook his head remembering.
"I don't believe he has learned speech yet, your Highness." The driver stated from his position behind the tall rich man. "He is possibly still in his third or fourth stage." Rath looked down. Coherence of spoken word was learned early. The ability to replicate was something Antarians took longer to develop. "Severely underweight for his height."
He looked down feeling ashamed at his youth. Fearing that he would remain mute now that he had lost his mother.
"You lie," the man said astonished at the boy in front of him. "An able Destroyer before he can even speak?"
The word flittered through his young mind as he tried to make sense of it. He wondered if that was what he was. The man looked around behind the boy before returning his eyes to the noble servant.
"Re route the other vehicles. Have them search the immediate area for his abode." That brought Rath back and before he could stop himself he reached to tug on the man's clothes. "What is it?" Again he opened his mouth not knowing what would come out so he closed it again. "Of course. Show me then."
Rath grabbed onto his pant leg and pulled him towards the cave. His mother told him it was dangerous for people to know where he lived but he couldn't help but trust the mysterious man that came in a shiny vehicle. He pulled him into the darkened cave and only after minutes of walking, both were sweating profusely.
Rath released his grip on the man as he walked deeper into his home. The man gasped when they reached the end.
"That woman. She was your mother?" Rath nodded looking at the decrepit body that gave off an abhorrent stench. The husk around her had continually crumbled at Rath's hand and reformed. "And your father?" Rath shook his head. "I see."
It wasn't long before the caravan of men found the place. They wrapped his mother's body and took her somewhere. Rath didn't put up a fuss as they did so. He simply stood and watched as they inspected him and his meager provisions.
The driver from before approached the man and whispered something in his ear. Rath's curiosity wasn't strong enough to make him move closer to hear.
"We heard that there was a recent Haut attack in the dunes. Was your father an outpost sergeant?" Rath nodded. "And he was killed in this attack. Your mother died from an untreated internal wound. Were the Rebels the cause of this?"
Rath shook his head slowly. Then pointed to himself.
"You killed her? You couldn't possibly. It had to be an accident." Rath ran to grab the knife and began drawing in the sand. He drew the aftermath of the large explosion. It had killed their enemies that day but it had taken many unsuspecting innocents in the process. Wounding his mother.
Killing his mother.
The two men crouched behind him to look at the picture. They shared a glance.
"You caused that?"
"Unbelievable," the driver gasped as the rich man looked at him in shock and awe.
"I can offer you food and shelter if you will come with me." Rath pulled away from the man and his request. He didn't know these people nor this man that had obscured with his mother. He had thought they were there to kill him. "Forgive me I lost my manners. I'm Azion. King of Antar."
Rath's eyes widened. Certainly he would be punished. He could only hope they would kill him swiftly and not torture him. The King immediately recognized the tensing of the young boy.
"I don't mean you harm." Rath glanced at the driver and the men moving about. "None of us do. The blast brought us here. We weren't sure of the cause until someone informed us that it had to be caused by a being. We never expected it to be by the hands of a young one."
Rath lowered his gaze thinking back on that day. It hadn't been long ago, he simply remembered his mother panicking and the other people of their commune running around. They tried seeking safety for the unequipped but the attack came too quickly. The bad men had swarmed them killing blindly and stealing their meager goods.
They weren't prepared as they had been just attacked a few days prior and it took the lives of most their men, his father included. The women left were torn between fighting and keeping the children out of harm's way.
Rath's mother had tried to fight but she couldn't do it by herself. Rath tried to help her. The huge explosion was the response. It was uncontrolled and it had gotten rid of the enemies but mostly everyone got hurt and those not immediately killed by it died within hours.
His mother fought for weeks to stay alive for her son. A son who cried unable to do anything to help her because of the pain he had inadvertently caused her while trying to protect her.
"Won't you come back with us to the palace? Perhaps you can atone for whatever sins you may think you have committed."
Rath had only nodded.
"Any word on the boy's parents?" Azion looked on from behind the glass as the maid servants encouraged the other young noble children to play with the child their king had procured from the dunes. While the children were wary of him they tried to interact with him.
The child would not allow it though. Most were already speaking, being the children of nobles who could afford private tutors to help their children learn speech earlier than normal. The child, being so poor was probably much farther behind in his development. In that area at least.
"Yes." Azion glanced at his left to his Second whose eyes never left the boy. "His father as suspected was Raldin, one of the outpost sergeants. His mother on the other hand was deemed missing in action after the Selicity fiasco a few years ago."
"Soldier?" The general nodded. "Was she a Destroyer?"
"Both of his parents were. Though that's not the point. That peasant boy in there is the son of a low class soldier and a deserter. What do you plan to do with him?"
"That peasant boy in there caused a type 8 explosion in the southeast sector of the dunes." The general met the eyes of his king. "Now you tell me, general, when's the last time you created such a feat without the help of an entire platoon of Destroyer soldiers."
"Never, your highness."
"I want him trained. He is my children's age. Perhaps they will have better luck coaxing him out of his shell."
"Vilandra! Give it back!" The small dark haired child grumbled in frustration as his blonde haired twin taunted him by keeping his favorite medal-a gift from his mother-out of his reach.
"No. Not until you return to me my hair brush brother Zan." Vilandra crossed her arms keeping a firm grip around the medal. Zan huffed. He had only borrowed his sister's brush. It worked better on his hair than his own. He didn't think she would mind.
Zan often wished for new playmates. Being the unofficial prince and princess or rather the son and daughter of the King and still in their early stages they were not permitted to interact with their peers until they began their studies.
"Come along, Vilandra," both children turned to see a maid servant enter their play room. "It's time for your lesson." The maid servant had short burgundy hair. It fell to only her shoulders. Vilandra's tiny hands slipped into her grip easily as she allowed herself to be led away through the door on the opposite side of the room.
Zan moved to grab another thing to play with when the first door opened again.
"Zan." The young royal was on his feet immediately upon hearing his father's voice. He kept his head bowed as the King entered. "I would like for you to meet someone." In his excitement Zan forgot himself and peeked up to see his father holding the hand of another young child that looked about his age.
His hair was long but Zan could definitely sense the masculine vibe that indicated he was a male. He was dressed as if he were a lower noble's child but Zan had never seen him before. Even if he was not permitted to play with them yet, he had caught sight of all the children in the palace or at least he thought he had.
"Is he my new servant?" The prospect was glorious to young Zan. He hoped that he could have someone who would play with him whenever he wanted. His father's chuckle made him feel ashamed instantly.
"No, I was hoping you two could get to know each other." King Azion lightly pushed Rath forward toward his son. The boy stopped only a few steps in front of the King. "He cannot speak yet." Zan frowned at this notion. "But with a little encouragement he may progress quickly."
"What's his name?"
"You'll have to find that out yourself. He cannot tell us." The King turned to leave and Zan watched as the boy seemed to panic momentarily.
While Rath grew to trust this man over the past few weeks, he had never met the boy in front of him. Zan stepped up to the child with the wild colored hair. He remembered some of the maid servants talking about the trouble of having two-tone hair. He reached up to grab a strand.
Only for Rath to stop him by grabbing his wrist quickly.
"Touching a member of the royal family is punishable." Rath didn't seem phased by the comment, he simply stared at the boy that had dared to invade his space. Zan tugged his arm away somewhat startled by the boy's strength. "What is your name?"
Rath ignored the question choosing instead to glance around take in the room. He had been placed with other children before in a room but there were usually many others. He didn't understand why this boy got an entire room to himself.
"I'm Zan. King Azion is my father." Rath looked at the boy again, this time noticing the physical similarities between the boy and his father. Their noses and eyes were the same. The hair color was a shade darker than his father's. "Why haven't you learned speech yet?" Rath's shoulders lifted slowly in indifference. "Perhaps you are partially dromeinian."
Rath opened his mouth to contest that statement but again nothing came out. Even Zan seemed disappointed at the sudden turn of events.
"Can you write?" Rath shook his head. Zan lost interest and moved to go play again. After a moment he implored the boy to join him.
They played together. For days. Their interactions went on with playing and one sided conversation but they became comfortable with each other and Rath found himself looking forward to the time spent with the young royal.
They fought sometimes but the rough housing wasn't stopped. It was encouraged for youth to tussle and challenge one another. It improved their skills later on and made them more accepting of their strengths and weaknesses compared to others.
"…and the men of the Skire galaxy raised their weapons in triumph because they tired of the oppression besought them by the god like beings." Zan had taken to reading his daily novel to Rath who was an accepting audience. He did not interrupt as Vilandra would. He would sit there intently taking in every word as if it were sustenance. "But they did not find peace. For they soon suffered the wrath of their ene-what is it?" Zan stopped reading when his young friend grabbed his arm to stop him from turning the page.
Rath had jumped hearing his name said aloud by Zan whilst reading the book. He had wanted someone to learn his name, the name his mother called him because he tired of being called 'peasant boy' and 'dunes child'.
"What do you want?" Rath kept his hand on the page, being unable to read it would be useless for him to try to find the word so he pointed in the general are where Zan's guiding finger was and then pointed at himself with the other hand. "You? You what?" He tapped the book then himself. Zan's eyes alighted. "You! Your name?"
He nodded in excitement. Zan re-read the sentences slowly. When he stopped on wrath, the boy nodded his head furiously.
"Your name is Rath?" Another nod. Zan smiled in his own triumph before jumping up and pulling Rath with him. "We must tell father immediately!" They dodged maid servants, military personnel and nobles as they skittered through the palace halls. Zan never released his hold on Rath the entire time.
When they finally found the King in the throne room, Zan burst through the doors with Rath by his side.
"His name is Rath!" The King went to smile but it turned into a grimace. The men around him began murmuring to each other.
Rath tensed finding all eyes on him soon. Zan was oblivious to the change in the room as he continued to smile, happy that he had accomplished something for the King. But this news, somehow revealing his name had upset the people that now cared for him. He backed for the door ready to run if need be.
"Leave us." The crowd began to disperse. "You stay." The King ordered Rath and he found himself having to obey. Soon all that were in the room was the King, his second and the two boys. "Zan I want you to go find your sister."
"Now." Zan bowed his head before vacating the room quickly.
"First he destroys a commune and now he bears a cursed name." The Second seemed to sneer at him with his eyes. Rath looked away from him and towards the King who had momentarily lost his voice.
Azion made his way slowly to the boy that was proving to be more than he expected.
"A prodigy child that bears the name of doom…" His large hands hovered over the boy's head. "Ages ago our people, our blood was able to conjure the brunt of their powers long before adolescence but never with such magnitude at his age."
"Sons of Kings have not been able to do what he has done in the past ten generations." The general began pacing. "If word gets out that a dunes rat can conjure more destruction than a master Destroyer, the lower classes will have a field day. They'll be begging for your head Majesty."
"You see this boy as a threat."
"That boy will grow into a threat. And you allow such a thing to fraternize with your son." Rath had never experienced such hate towards his person in his short life. "He should have been left where he was and allowed nature to run its course."
"To allow a gem like him to die uselessly out in that desert?" The King turned the ferocity in his eyes was evident by the dark glow that emanated from them. His Second dropped his gaze immediately. "This child is a canvas. He does not know evil yet. Let him grow and learn in our care. He can be the greatest of allies to us. Do you not see that?"
The general cast his eyes toward Rath. Neither dared look the King in the eye so they settled for glaring at one another.
"There are being made weapons and there are beings made into weapons. The latter almost always ends badly." He stepped down from the pedestal and stood between the King and the boy. "You are risking more than you know if you bring him into our fold. You know the prophecies about that name-"
"Peasant legends. Stories they tell each other to keep alive the rebellion. Hope that one day my head will sit on a pike while the palace goes up in flames."
The finger aimed at Rath made the child want to cower away from it. The general did not like him that was certain but a prideful part of him refused to shy away. He would stand there as a young child and await the judgment the King would pass on him.
"It's not just the peasants who believe those legends."
Azion was at a crossroads. He and his Second often found themselves on two sides of a divide but this time it was cavernous separation and neither was willing to back down.
"And if you're wrong," the King suggested as he began to circle around the general to get closer to the boy again. "You would have thrown away a great gift to this kingdom."
"I err on the side of caution, you know that Azion." The general sighed feeling defeat licking at his heels. "The fact of the matter is that we don't know what he will become. With his power he could become the final thing to destroy our weakening kingdom-"
"Weakening?!" The king roared in outrage.
"Yes, weakening. The royal blood of Antar is losing its power. Your son is barely showing signs of developing powers and Vilandra is incredibly fragile." Azion took threatening steps towards his Second who didn't back down. "Peasants are being born with more power than the royal family so yes the Kingdom of Antar is weakening."
He took steps around the King to look at the boy again.
"Then say it plainly."
"I don't know the future Azion!" He lost his cool for only a moment, being quick to reign himself back in. "You keep this child and you are risking a lot. He could prove to be the destruction of our kingdom for good or- or the salvation it needs." He murmured the last part.
"Then we seek out a Seer."
The word resonated within Rath in a strange way. It was similar to when the King had called him a Destroyer. But he didn't understand its significance.
"I mean this with the utmost respect sire but are you mad? There are only a handful of Seers left alive in the galaxy. And most are in hiding. That power is dead."
"A Seer will be able to tell us the fate of that boy."
Rath couldn't sleep that night. His body broke out into chills and he trembled every time he dozed off. He was haunted with images. It was the same when he knew his mother was going to die. But these were worst. They were a never ending barrage of images he couldn't make sense of. Beings he had never met screaming his name for him to save them. Destruction he didn't cause but felt responsible and overwhelming guilt for.
There were too many and a child his age did not have the capacity to internalize all of it. He cried out.
"Mama! Mama!" He called for the woman he would never see again. The woman that died next to him. The woman that made him promise to fight to live.
He called out for the woman that would not be there to comfort him.
"Rouse, child." He stilled. His fingers gripped the sheets of his bed so tight that his nails had ripped through the material. The other coverings lay on the floor in disarray. There were hands, soft hands, around his midsection but it was the soft voice that calmed him and woke him from his latest nightmare. "Relax."
He released the tension in his body as he turned to face up. There were a half dozen servants staring at him in concern. He looked at the woman holding him on his bed last.
"You're alright." She had long blonde hair and Rath knew immediately she was related to Zan. When he observed the rest of her attire he knew her station.
"Queen Vasa, I can take him."
"No, I've got him." The Queen ran a soothing hand down his back, her caressing fingers chased away the last bits of tension in his spine. "A night scare is all he had. He'll settle." There was a hint of a lie in her voice but the servants didn't catch it. Only Rath did because he was the only one who saw the light in her eyes dim. He kept quiet though, pulling more into her embrace.
Rath spent the next few days being tended to. His screaming had viciously torn the tissue blocking his vocal chords. He could speak but his throat ached and he hadn't spoken a word since he had screamed his first one.
Zan did not understand why he was not permitted to see his friend so he snuck through the palace, easily locating Rath's room and sneaking inside.
The young royal found Rath lying on his bed pretending to be asleep. His eyes were closed but there was too much tension in his body. When Zan climbed into the bed he noticed the material wrapped around Rath's neck.
"You can speak!" He declared causing a semi relaxed Rath to grumble. "Say my name!" He was rewarded only a groan. "Oh please, say something. I want to hear your voice."
"Nnn-" His voice was raspy he could tell right off. "No…Zan."
"Two words!" Zan was far too excitable for being rejected, Rath decided. "We should tell father."
"Already…knows." Rath tried to turn away. Couldn't Zan understand how much pain he was in? It hurt to speak and yet he continued to push him to do just that. Rath figured he must have been very young when he spoke first and could not remember it.
"Have you said your name yet?" Rath didn't answer. He hadn't. After having heard the conversation between the King and his General, he held an unknown fear of what weight that name carried. So he kept silent and didn't speak it.
"Leave the poor child alone, Zan." Both boys looked towards the open door to see the Queen standing there. "He'll speak when he's ready."
Vasa moved to the other side of Rath's bed, quick to massage the pain in his throat. She used some healing ability on him gently, the result causing him to cough some excess mucus.
"Will you teach me to do that some day, Mother?" The word made Rath's stomach clench.
"If you turn out to be a Healer, you'll have the best instructors in the Kingdom teaching you."
"But I want you to teach me." The Queen chuckled at her son's insistence. She patted his head once she was done with Rath.
"You'll have many teachers in life, Zan." Rath swallowed back a lump in his throat as he watched the way Vasa stroked Zan on the head in affection. He wondered on his own mother. Had she lived long enough would she have shown him the same amount of affection? He had been bestowed verbal approval but it was always in response to him completing a task he needed to learn quickly to stay alive. She was dying and she spent her final days trying to make sure he knew how to live. There had been no time for true affection.
"And I can teach Rath," Zan exclaimed. "I'll teach him to read and to write and he'll be the best speaker ever!" A final pat and hum from his mother seemed to warm the very room in familial love.
Rath felt ill.
He kept seeing images of his mother in those final days and no matter how hard he tried he couldn't remember her before the accident. It was as if she didn't mean anything to him until she was about to die.
Vasa sat before him, regal and tall and beautiful. Motherly. Then there was his mother. Yet all he could see was the woman that was nearly a corpse. Her sad dim eyes. Her weakness and poverty. Dying in a cave in the dunes. Vasa was warmth and life. His mother was cold death.
He shivered just as a hand came to rest on his cheek.
"You're sad." It was Zan with young concerned and astute eyes that looked into his curiously. The Queen observed him as well. He clammed up under their stares and began shaking his head.
"Just…tired." It was a lie and Zan's frown showed that he didn't believe him.
"Come Zan," the Queen intervened seeing that Zan was going to protest. "Let's leave the child to his rest."
Even she didn't want to speak his name.
Rath smelled the smoke before he felt the heat. It was different from the fires he'd witnessed in the dunes. The smoke there was purely of burning. Here it melded the palace smells together, heated metal, flesh- He jumped from his bed. He felt strange though as if he weren't moving his own feet. He moved to hide under the bed instead of checking his surroundings. He was smarter than this.
Why was he hiding?
He felt fear. Cowering under his bed as the palace could very well be going into flames. He'd be trapped and no one would be able to reach him. He needed to leave this place but he couldn't.
He sighed when the door was burst open. Someone would remember to save him. When he looked at the bare feet of the people that entered he tensed again. The braces on their ankles screamed danger.
The feet halted stepping quickly to his bed. A moment he held his breath.
Then a face appeared right in front of him, and arms were yanking at him as he tried to escape their reach. He couldn't with two pairs of arms grappling and dragging him from his spot. He knew they weren't here to save him. They grabbed at his short hair.
They threw him back onto his bed. He could see the flames enveloping the outside of his door but these two were unaffected, focused only on trapping him to his bed. He began to cry and yell and scream for aid but no one came. No one heard because everyone was screaming. The palace was on fire.
"The cursed royal blood ends with you." The dark clad male hissed to him. Both had wild hair. They were poor. But deadly. The other pulled a heated katana from her side and handed it to the male. "Goodnight prince."
Rath screamed his already sore throat raw as he woke. His breath came in pants as his body settled, shivers of fear still wracking his body.
Zan was a prince.
Rath jumped from his bed in haste, throwing his bedroom door open. He sprinted for Zan's room moving far too swiftly for the few servants to stop him. He skidded around a corner using a wall to swing his momentum. Just as he approached Zan's corridor, a large blast rocked the palace from the other end of the hall.
People started screaming as they escaped their suites and rooms. The fire raged quickly down the hall and Rath could smell the flammable substance coating the floor. How someone had even done this he wasn't sure but he couldn't dwell.
Zan was in trouble.
The two figures from his dream were soon walking down the hall, through the flames as if it didn't affect them.
Rath ran to beat them to the room. When they spotted where he was going, they increased their speed. The female raised her katana ready to throw it at him. The male placed a finger to his temple.
Rath ducked as the metal sliced through the air only nearly missing him, he slipped on the clear substance on the floor. The woman was already readying another weapon. Rath held up his hand. But the sudden image of the explosion and his mother made him hesitate. Instead he sped the rest of the way ducking into Zan's room.
"Zan!" His voice came out stronger than it had but it still hurt.
"Rath!" Zan scurried from his hiding place under the bed running to his friend's side. "The fire!" Rath looked around for an escape. The prince did not have a window since his suite was an inner suite. He supposed it was smart, it kept fiends from sneaking into the young prince's window but it was foolish at the same time. The prince only had one route of escape.
The two reached the door before Rath could come to a conclusion. He placed himself between Zan and the intruders again raising his hand. The woman raised her hand sword, it glowed a brilliant orange as she pushed her power into it.
"Don't spread your fingers."
Rath couldn't hesitate any longer.
His blast was big but concentrated enough only to knock the male back through the door. The fire alleviated almost instantly as if it had never been there.
"He's an Illusionist," Zan whispered harshly as he tugged Rath. "We have to leave now!" The woman swung her sword sending a blast straight towards the two boys but Rath was quick to dodge pushing Zan out of the way as well. He remembered his mother doing the same to him when his explosion had gotten out of control. The boys crawled quickly to a shelf as the woman recharged her weapon and running for them at the same time. Zan pressed something causing both boys to fall through the floorboards. They yelled as they fell, Rath looked up seeing the woman's face briefly before their entry way closed once more.
Rath landed on top of Zan who let out an 'oomph.'
"Where?" He asked immediately not used to these surroundings. He got to his feet quickly still feeling defensive.
"We're in the lab." Zan brushed himself off. Rath looked around at the eerily glowing machinery. It was unnecessarily dark down there. And cold. Being only clad in his sleeping attire and bare foot, the chills seeped into his bones quickly. Zan walked cautiously to a pad on the wall. He pressed in a few numbers. "Now father will know we are down here." The royal seemed unaffected by the cold even though he was hardly faring better in terms of attire. Rath supposed his own body was still accustomed to the warmth of the dunes.
"What's illusionist?" He had never seen such a thing. Most of the people in the commune in the dunes did not have an extension. His faceless and nameless father had been a destroyer. He was a destroyer. His mother had told him as much.
"They can make you see things that aren't really there," Zan explained. "The fire was fake but they made enough people see and feel it to vacate the area."
"They want to kill you." Zan nodded.
"It's hard to get to my father. I'm technically not a prince yet but I'm in the line. They are a peasant militia. They believe Antar should not be led by a King but rather by an elected official. Since father refuses to abdicate they settle for trying to murder us."
"Does this happen a lot?" Rath already knew the answer based on how calm Zan was.
"There have been many attempts but they usually fail." Zan frowned. "That was the closest they've actually come to succeeding. If you hadn't been there…"A deeper frown appeared on the prince's face. "How did you get to me?"
Now it was Rath's turn to frown. He didn't want to explain this but there was no way he could lie to his friend.
"I had a dream before it happened. I saw them grab you. And-" he couldn't finish but Zan's wide eyes told him that the other boy understood.
Light flooded into the room as a door opened. The king and a few guards surrounding him stepped inside. Zan ran quickly to his father being enveloped in his arms.
"Oh my son," he breathed into the boy's shoulder. He looked over it at the rigid Rath. The guards assessed the boy, some of whom had been there the day he was found in the dunes. "You're alright."
"They were going to kill me." Zan pulled back from his father to explain. "Is Vilandra safe?"
"Yes, she spent the night in your mother's suites." Zan sighed in relief. "We captured the Illusionist."
"And the female?" The group frowned at the young royal's question.
"There were two. They both came to kill me, the female was in my room but Rath blasted away the man and-" Azion slowed his son whose speech steadily increased in speed as he spoke. "He saved me father."
Azion stared at the boy who still seemed on the defense. His newest charge continually surprised him but his suspicions were peeked at this bit of information. The fabricated fire had been quick, the attack had been too perfect yet this boy, this peasant boy from the dunes who had been bed ridden just happened to be in the right place at the right time? Azion was too intellectual to believe that.
"Send a platoon, trace the female from my son's room," Azion ordered over his shoulder. "Inform the General that we may have Peasant militia in the capital. And have some servant clean, assess the boys, and bring them to my suite."
"Yes your majesty." The group dispersed quickly. A few moments later, men and maid servants flooded in taking the boys by the hands and leading them away.
Rath remembered how startled he had been the first time he had used a bathing unit in the palace. The room was open, rectangular. There were nozzles surrounding the ceiling and wall. They followed his movement. The maidservants stripped him of his clothes and then shoved him inside. The floor had filled with the liquid, a pink color as opposed to the natural crimson of water. It vibrated around his feet.
And then the nozzles had shot the same liquid at him. Drenching his entire body in never ending streams of water.
He had jumped and squealed but the pressure of the water had been so great that his cries of shock had been silenced.
The bathing was over quickly and the maidservants had converged on him to dry and redress him and pull his hair in too many different directions.
Thinking back on that first time, Rath didn't understand why he needed to be scrubbed so raw only to go back to sleep soon, though he wasn't sure how much sleep he would get given the night's activities.
The King's suites were huge. He had seen the entry to them but he had never entered. The women walked the boys through the doors but Rath was aware of the group of guards escorting them from a distance.
The vibrant colors awed Rath as he stepped into the palace. It was as if the walls were made of gold and eisley. He never found eisley beautiful. It was the mineral drilled under the dunes. Because of its scarcity it was often valued at greater than gold. His father had been the sergeant over the platoon instructed to protect the drill near their commune. He lost his life over that material. And here it was donning the King's walls as an accessory.
The King's bedroom was large and spacious as well. The servants and guards stayed outside as the two boys entered. The King sat on his bed while both boys remained standing just inside the closed doorway.
"Now, you're going to tell me what really happened tonight." Rath instantly lowered his gaze, Zan wanted to do the same.
"Rath saved me-"
"You said that. What I want to know is how." Azion rose to his feet when both remained quiet. "Well?" Nothing. Rath feared relaying what he had said to Zan. Something told him to keep quiet as if this was in direct opposition to keeping him alive but he was going to end up backed into a corner. "Look at me child."
Rath raised his head slowly. The King wasn't angry as his eyes weren't glowing but he could feel the frustration.
"Tell him." Zan urged quietly.
"…I saw it. I saw them kill Zan before it happened."
"He had a dream," Zan added impatiently. "Tell him about the dream."
"They walked through the fire and Zan hid under his bed. At first I thought it was me but I would never do that. I wanted to check the halls find an escape but Zan was scared so he hid. They came into his room because everyone was running and forgot to check on the prince. They grabbed him and held him to the bed. I woke before I saw them but he raised the woman's katana and…"
The three stood in silence. Zan was still in shock at the prospect of his premature death. Rath awaited more judgment while Azion focused only on three words.
"You saw it?" Rath nodded lowering his gaze once more. The King moved towards them but Rath could not bear to look up. Then hands were on him and Zan. He looked up. "My boy this is nothing to be ashamed of. This is something to be proud of. You're a Destroyer and a Seer." The terms made no difference to Rath at this point.
He only feared that he was going to turn out to be something that needed to be destroyed.
"You speak this to no one." The command surprisingly caused Rath to settle. "You'll place yourself in more danger if more learn of this. Zan, my boy, you heed that. Rath has saved your life. Make sure you protect his secret." Zan was quick to agree, as he too had felt the fear and anxiety rolling off his friend.
Azion didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The boy was going to be as important as his children. They were strong for their age but they would need protecting. And he would be a fool to let either out of his sights.
By the time an Antarian reached pre-adolescence, their main extension -if they were to have one- would have revealed itself.
Vilandra and Zan were fast approaching adolescence and the age in which the crown would be propositioned to the eldest of them. Vilandra, technically being the oldest twin, and the one who had discovered her ability of Manipulation not long after the attack on the palace, was clearly being favored by the nobles.
Zan, who was previously deemed to be the stronger of the twins was showing no more signs of an extension than he did as a child in his early stages. This frustrated the young royal in more ways than one. Not only did he have an extraordinary best friend whom he paled in comparison to, but now he had to worry about fading in his sister's background as well.
Rath, the loyal friend that he was, took the brunt of the pain this caused.
"Zan," Rath sighed.
"Again, Rath." He shook his head as he got into position again. They were sparring, an activity Rath usually enjoyed but the ferocity Zan put up against him, not to mention the sloppiness of his attacks was wearing on him. That mixed with the fact that Zan had kept them fighting for the better part of the day was grating on the other boy's nerves.
The swish and clangs of their weapons was a type of music to Rath. It told a story, a story of battle of struggle of war. He was beginning to learn that simply by the sounds and impacts the weapons had on one another, he could distinguish what the fighters were feeling.
He didn't really have to rely on it though whilst fighting Zan considering the royal's heat of anger was nearly palpable.
"I think we should rest, Zan." Rath tried to get him to stop, to slow, anything besides the constant barrage of hits and strikes. Truth was, both were getting tired but Zan's anger was fueling him. Rath was tired of blocking. He had seen how this day was going to go and he knew it would one of two ways. One way was preferable but the other…well he just figured he didn't think he could take an entire lifetime of Zan's jealousy anyways.
"We'll rest," he struck out twice, "when we've improved." Their swords locked in an X form as they pushed against each other. Being so close, Rath took the moment to study his friend's eyes. He could see the sadness there, the steady dwindling of innocence that was once prevalent in the boy he had befriended.
It was that thought that eased the anxiety he'd felt about the day.
"…Rath!" Zan had turned out of the stalemate and swung. Rath would see it coming and block him but he didn't. Zan's sword sliced through the thin armor and cut through flesh. Rath's sword slipped out of his had as he dropped to the ground. The blood pouring from his midsection told Zan the wound was deep.
Rath was lying on his back in seconds. He wasn't used to being so helpless but he knew these moments were crucial. The pain brought tears to his eyes but he refused to allow them to fall.
"You fool! You blasted fool!" Zan screamed at him as he panicked. He'd killed his friend. They were only supposed to go to First Blood not to the death. He'd killed Rath. One moment he's silently cursing his name, his gifts and the next he's watching him die.
His father had told them to protect each other. Rath had already saved his life and now he had just killed him.
"I need a healer!" Zan yelled but the walls were sound proof. It was silly really, to have a training room blocked off from the world where one couldn't easily call for help. He moved to go find someone but Rath grabbed his arm.
"No," he choked up and some blood came with his words. "Please just…" Rath couldn't quite form what he was asking for. He needed Zan to figure it out before it was too late but he feared that maybe he'd put too much stock in his own vision. Maybe Zan wasn't ready.
"Rath!" he yelled as his friend's eyes began to lull. He lowered to his side, watching as the dark black blood flowed like a river and streams from the wound down the pant of the white armor. Zan didn't really know what he was doing, he just knew he couldn't lose his best friend-his brother. He simply worked on instinct.
He ripped the armor, placing his hand on the torn flesh. His fingers splayed across the area causing Rath's body to shudder from the sudden cold air.
Zan's eyes closed as he focused on the wound, on the pain, on the damage he'd caused his best friend. He wanted to fix it. He needed to fix it.
Rath felt the alternating warmth and coolness that flowed through his wound. The sensation was all he could feel as he was slowly brought back from the brink of death. He wondered why he ever doubted his friend.
Zan could feel things changing but he didn't dare open his own eyes or break his concentration. He could satisfy his curiosity when it seemed Rath would be stable.
It took moments when the blood stopped flowing, the wound closed and Zan could feel the seal. He opened his eyes watching as he slowly pulled his blood stained hands away to reveal a silver handprint that quickly faded. His eyes shifted up to Rath's face.
"You're alive!" Rath smiled though it came out as more of a smirk.
"And you're a Healer," he countered. "I was afraid for a moment there." It took only seconds for Zan to realize.
"Are you mad?! You did that on purpose!" Zan got to his feet quickly in anger as Rath did nothing but silently laugh at him. Zan wanted to hit him. "You could have died!"
"I didn't obviously." Rath got to his feet as well only feeling slightly woozy at the amount of blood loss. He didn't dare look down at the bloody mess on the floor and his clothes. He already got a full view of the black liquid coating Zan's hands and wrists. "And something had to break to get you to realize you were a healer."
"And if I didn't in time?" Zan challenged. Rath frowned not wanting to relay. "You were willing to risk that?" The anger quickly left Zan's body and was replaced with awe, surprise. Humility. "You would trust me with your life." Rath only shrugged.
"You trust me with yours."
Rath couldn't focus. He was always the first one to lessons and the last to leave. He knew his purpose, he knew what needed to be done. He couldn't slack, he had to be ready for everything. He wasn't an ingrate he knew that Azion's kingdom was slowly crumbling and Zan was going to be walking head first into a battle zone whenever he took the crown.
Rath would have to watch his back in any capacity he could.
But his mind kept drifting to her. Vilandra. In their early years, she was a type of fantasy, almost mythical considering he never met her until the beginning of his adolescence.
But he had met her. And he dreamt about her. And seeing her on the other side of the river, a river that he didn't even believe existed made it all too real.
Vilandra was his counterpart.
He could hardly face Zan everyday knowing that he'd been in a dreamscape with his sister. It was something that he would normally entrust to his closest friend-his brother- but he couldn't. Conflict of interests.
"Rath." He looked up to see the prince standing in the doorway. Behind him were some of the nobles sons that shared their lessons. He knew their names but he never bothered to reference them as such.
There was the youngest son of an Antarian royal priest and the head healer of the palace. While he was their youngest son, he was also their only son. Being tormented by five elder sisters all his life tended to turn him into a bit of a push over.
The eldest son of a line of nobles that were in line for the Antarian throne-if the entire royal family were killed as well as half of Azion's blood relatives. Zan usually just referered to him as a distant cousin. Their son though had been favored to be a close confidant of the young prince. In an ideal world-one where Rath was still stranded in the dunes or dead-he would be expected to be chosen as Zan's second. Of course his skills and personality paled in comparison to the fierce youth and so he sat albeit unwillingly on the sidelines.
The most timid boy Rath had ever met in his life was easily convinced into bad decisions by his peers. His small size coupled with his lack of presence would have made him a prime target for taunting by the other boys-a practice the adults would not have discouraged as they would hope it would build character and toughen him up-but considering his father was rumored to be the richest noble outside of the King himself…
Rath always kept a special eye on the silent boy of their group. He was nearly as fearsome as Rath, found mostly people watching-studying-having his arms crossed as if he were always waiting for a battle to break out. Rath could tell that the boy was instinctive, talented, skillful. But he was silent. Rath had never heard the boy speak and he briefly wondered if he had never ripped through speech in his early stages. Zan later assured him that the boy could speak, and that he was quite eloquent. Rath still doubted.
A few snickered at him. Rath stood. He was half a head taller than they so when he did the sounds stopped. They only ever challenged him in groups or if Zan backed them because they knew Rath would never outwardly go against him.
"I see you have the group of inbred idiots with you." Their eyes flashed angrily at his insult. Rath was not perturbed. "What mischief have they talked you into this time Zan?"
"Mother has invited a few of the princesses from the Alliance to the palace for a few days." The message was clear. The group wanted to spy on them. Rath hesitated. If the princesses were here that meant they would send most of their time in Vilandra's quarters. That had appeal of its own. "Are you in?"
Of course Rath was in. He had to watch Zan's back even when he made wrong choices. The group he had with him certainly wouldn't do a thorough job of it. The group of young men walking through the corridors of the palace had the look of complete innocence but most of the servants knew better. Where the entire gang went trouble was sure to follow. Rath smirked seeing the servants whisper and alert others as the passed, no doubt preparing for whatever near catastrophe the boys would cause.
Zan turned a corner but Zan's cousin grabbed his shoulder halting him.
"What are you doing?"
"We're going to the maiden quarters."
"You may be able to walk right into your sister's quarters but we can't." The group frowned. Rath looked up seeing the elite corridor entry. He had found them nearly a year ago, the hidden corridors in the wall of the palace. It was used mostly by the King's Elite and upper military officials. It was the quickest way to getting around the palace but without knowledge of the pathways it was easy to be overwhelmed and lost.
After months, Rath had only managed to decipher one definitive path. The one that led from the corridor outside his suite to the maiden quarters. It had been his most frequently used path to visit Vilandra, the princess he should not have met yet, that was hidden from the public.
"Maybe we can go around and sneak in through a window somewhere?" The suggestion was inane. The maiden's quarters didn't have windows-they were isolated in an inner part of the palace. But because two of the boys seemed to vouch the idea, Zan was considering it.
Rath sighed. Part of him felt as if he were betraying a great secret but he knew that the guys would be more focused on finding the princesses than memorizing the secret passageways. Zan on the other hand might commit some to memory as well as their silent companion but he could never be sure.
"I know a way." They turned to find Rath already checking the two connecting corridors for stray servants or other personnel. When he was sure it was clear he pushed against the section of wall that could slide away. It lowered silently like a well-oiled piece of machinery. He ignored the gaping boys behind him as he wondered if he was going to regret this later.
"How did you-" Zan stopped seeing Rath's expression. A ripple of betrayal went up his spine as he wondered on his friend keeping such secrets from him. But he knew better than to bring up such topics in present company.
"Up and in," Rath ordered in a tone that said hurry up. The boys scrambled into the opening in the wall just below the ceiling. The cousin was first followed by silent then the priest's son. Rath shoved the pushover in next before holding Zan back. "I'll tell you later." Then he gave his friend a boost. He had one more quick look before he followed in, closing the entrance behind him.
"This is very ingenious of you Rath." The Destroyer could hear the unwilling praise in the cousin's voice. "Though I'm sure the General won't be too pleased to know his Tunnels have been compromised by a peasant."
"Taunt now, I'm sure this is the last you'll even see of them." The boys made instigating noises at Rath's rebuttal. It was an insult to insinuate that the other boy would never be talented enough to join the ranks of the Elite. Zan touched Rath's shoulder. It was a low blow. They all knew the cockiness he exuded was a cover for his low self-esteem.
The whoosh of cold air was a continual beat to the Tunnels. Rath learned this the hard way, having nearly succumbed to hypothermia the first time he dared venture through them in nothing but his sleeping garments.
They were pretty dark, a thin blue illuminant light ran across the ceiling every few meters or so but it was obvious that the Elite hardly needed them. They could feel their way around. They knew these tunnels better than their own homes probably.
"Don't wander," Rath commanded as he moved in front of them. "If you get yourself lost in here, that's on you." The boys knew he was serious. They stayed close behind him though their eyes drifted in awe. There wasn't much to see but being able to hear was another thing entirely. They went from the halls to a suite of servant quarters to someone's bedroom. It was as if they were the walls themselves learning the secrets of the palace simply by traversing its rooms.
"No wonder they only allow the most trusted here." Rath cringed. He was feeling worse with each step, as if this were a bad idea to bring the boys. The priest's boy may or may not blab this as he would weigh the probability of him getting in trouble as well if he did. The cousin might- for the sole purpose of bringing Rath down- his own punishment wouldn't bother him.
Rath had been so lost in his thoughts that he realized he hadn't paid attention to where he was going. They were in the maidens' quarters, that was sure. He just wasn't sure which room. He looked around and Zan could feel his sudden perk of anxiety.
"Are we here?" The boys started looking around as well, not knowing why they were but doing so because they were alert. He leant down finding the opening and hoping it was the right one. As soon as he did though, it felt as if he was being sucked into a turbine as he fell through before any of the guys could react.
"What are you doing here?" Rath looked up to see Vilandra standing, her eyes were glowing angrily. He pointed up in confusion at the entry he'd just fallen through. The other girls giggled at his ineloquence.
He tried standing but his equilibrium was off. He had been standing up straight in the tunnel. How had he fallen?
"I can see that. But you're not supposed to be here, Rath." The glowing stopped as she moved to help him up. Rath was still staring perplexed at the entry that didn't obey natural laws. Vilandra looked as well. "Is someone else up there? Did Zan put you up to this?" At the sound of his name, her brother's head came into view of the entry. He looked sheepish but at the same time ill. Rath realized he must too feel the difference in his bearings.
"Rath, how are we…?"
"I don't know." Zan was standing straight up but as soon as he put his head in the opening it was as if he were falling. His body was still upright but it was plastered to the wall as he felt gravity pull him. Yet at the same time he couldn't imagine trying to stand on the wall he was leaning against. It confused him in more ways than one. "Just fall through, I'll catch you." The girls giggle again while the boys snickered at Zan's embarrassment. "And tell the others they're going to have to do the same, they'll never find their way back without me." That silenced the boys at once.
Zan did a combination of pulling and dragging his body through the entry leaving him falling head first into Rath's arms. Besides a small huff, Rath managed to have a firm grip on him. He hadn't realized when his friend had gotten so strong. He added a tick on his agenda to build his own upper body strength.
The others followed suit though Rath smiled when he almost lost his grip on the cousin.
"Still waiting for an explanation, Rath." He turned back around to see Vilandra tapping her foot impatiently. He opened his mouth to answer but Zan beat him to it.
"How do you know, Rath?" The question made both of their eyes widen. Of course Zan didn't understand how that could be, considering Vilandra shouldn't know any males outside of her immediate family yet. She would not be properly introduced until after the crowning.
"We er um-"
"You talk about him all the time, brother. I knew who he was as soon as he came through." The false smile on Vilandra's face wasn't convincing anyone. "He visits me sometimes."
It took Zan all of three seconds to jump to conclusions. And another two seconds to jump on Rath.
"You conniving ingrate!" He began pounding his friend, eyes already pulsating deep brown. "What are you doing with my sister?!" The boys watched on as the girls backed away. Vilandra immediately tried to separate them.
"Stop it, Zan! That's not what I meant!" Zan wasn't listening, too intent on beating his friend into a bloody pulp. "He helps me control my extension!" At that Zan froze.
"What?" His teeth clicked together as he got off of Rath and Vilandra repeated her answer. The other youths stood watching with varying degrees of anticipation and fear in their eyes. "You hardly even show me your extension and yet you let him train you? I'm your brother! Your blood, Vilandra!"
Vilandra sent a worried glance at Rath. He took a few cautious steps to try and calm Zan but he knew Zan wanted nothing to do with him at the moment.
"You know why I hesitate to show you, Zan," Vilandra hissed her eyes darting to their audience. "Besides, you're not interested in manipulation anyway."
Zan's eyes dimmed in genuine hurt at her words.
"You're my sister. I'm interested in anything that concerns you." That disarmed the blonde. Her arms fell to her sides. She hadn't heard her brother say such sincere words to her before. He had been aggressive towards her in the past few weeks-the crowning was coming- and the logistics had been explained to both twins. Vilandra, being the eldest would be offered the crown first. Zan would only have a choice if she turned it down.
Zan had only recently developed his healing extension. Vilandra had manipulation for years and was already introduced to her Master Teacher.
Jealousy, Rath could see it plainly on Zan's face. He remembered when they were younger and Zan had ordered the servants cut Rath's hair to his similar style. Long hair reminded him of his sister. He wanted Rath to belong entirely to him.
He didn't have the heart to tell Zan the depth of the connection between he and Vilandra.
Rath knew of the position that was intended for him after his post military school assigning. Even though he was selected to be the Grand Commander's apprentice of sorts, if he were to even have a chance at holding the position at Zan's side he would have to prove himself, and that meant working through the ranks.
He left school as a Junior Lieutenant, a few ranks higher than someone who dropped out of military school, and almost 7 ranks above a fresh non trained recruit.
A few years later he was a Senior Captain over a dozen platoons. Whilst he had two sub captains to manage 6of the platoons each as well lieutenants for each platoon, he made it his job to get to know each of his soldiers.
It was his second year as Senior Captain and he was up for a promotion to Quadrant Sergeant. It was when he was set to meet with a wave of fresh recruits when he first met Ava. The recruits wore the basic armor given to all privates as they stepped off their tram and glanced at their barracks.
Rath had just signed off on something when he saw her. Amongst the others she was tiny, her blond hair was curly and short. He frowned because she looked far too innocent and he hoped that she was too young and he could send her away.
But it turned out she was old enough and he could tell that she was determined. There was both sadness and a fire in her eyes and Rath was interested to know what her story was.
He didn't learn it that day. He ran the recruits through a few drills after speaking with them. Then he dismissed them to get to know their environment.
He was promoted a few days later.
When he earned the title General, he met her again. As she was recently promoted to Senior Captain. It was a military counsel, Senior Captains being the lowest rank expected to attend. With a few dozen Generals who all fell directly under a Commander General, Rath was seated when he spotted her.
She was studiously taking notes-something Rath had never done considering his memory was impeccable-and silently responding to everything said and discussed. She was attentive, overly so, and he could tell she had an eye for detail. Not only that, her multitasking skills seemed better than normal. Heightened and displaced brain activity-it was a clue to someone having one of the mental based extensions.
"General Rath." The young general played off his surprise at his name being called by the Grand Commander.
"Your report?" He hadn't been paying complete attention being distracted by the blond girl at the other end of the table. Yes he turned to glance around as everyone had fallen silent waiting for him but he found it surprising that his distraction was staring at him intently…with a knowing smile on her face.
He delivered his information flawlessly also throwing out some suggestions to help the other Generals. His assessment was met with praise, as always, but sometimes he wondered if people simply agreed with him because of the King's approval. The only one that ever outwardly contested him was the Grand Commander himself.
That was until he officially met her.
"My offer still stands, Captain." They were in recess, free to partake in a meal or to simply endure some exercise as they had all been sitting for hours. Rath was about to round a corner when he heard the familiar voice of his old nemesis-Zan's cousin- talking in hushed tones.
"I'm sure it is, sir. But as I've told you before, I have little interest in pity marriages." Rath knew that belonged to her. He'd heard her voice before with its childlike essence yet its adult firmness.
"It's not a pity marriage."
"Offering to marry me to save my family's silke farm and restore my nobility most definitely is pity-"
"I love you, Ava." He could hear the harsh tone that contrasted with the man's words and the way her breath suddenly caught told him she'd just been grabbed roughly.
"You fancy me, sir. Nothing more."
"You dare to-"
"Unnecessary contact between military personnel is an offense." Both turned to stare at the general who seemed to materialize out of no where.
"Not if one person is of a lower rank."
"But if that person carries a substantial title-Senior Captain being that title-your rights to manhandle her like she's a recruit is null and void." He released the woman before sending her significant look.
"We'll talk later. General." He left with a rigid bow. The slender hand came out to shake his.
"Senior Captain Ava," she introduced with a smirk. "And I could have handled my superior officer, General Rath." They shook. "But thank you."
"I'm sure you could have. But that was an opportunity to harass an old acquaintance of mine that I could not let slip by." The bright chuckle that bubbled out of her had Rath sharing in a genuine smile he hadn't felt in a long time. Vilandra's long term absence weighed heavily on him. "I see you've advanced admirably in your military career."
"I try my best. But you, sir not that it's much of a surprise have become a prodigy." Rath slightly lowered his eyes at the praise. It was hard for him to keep a humble mind. With his position and talents it would be easy for any to fall into the trap of arrogance. He made sure to be grateful for everything he was given. "I hope to serve under your unit again someday."
Speaking with Ava that day became an eye opener to him. She was very logical and insightful. There was some sass as well which he found to be refreshing. They always found each other at military events such as this. He should have known that his interest in her would peak other's interest as well.
He accidentally pushed her into the eye of her superiors and though she would never mention it, they always came down harder on her. While it was a jealousy thing that kept them curious, it was a study to Rath. There was something about Ava that he wanted to uncover.
And that prospect seemed to frighten her more.
It wouldn't be until she had taken a relief period that Rath would follow her to her place of birth. The abode was larger than most middle class citizens of Antar but Rath could see the signs of wear and age. It hadn't been under suitable updating in years. The fields were unkempt. The silke plants had long since grown far too ripe and died.
He stood on the doorplate.
"Welcome, General Rath," a computerized voice stated and the door opened seconds later. He stepped inside.
"Captain?" There was no answer. He made his way around the home finding an older man going about his business without any regard to the mysterious man in his home. "Sir?" The man ignored him reaching for a novel and settling into a chaise. Upon closer inspection, Rath realized he knew who the man was. "Nobleman Ascher?"
Growing aggravated at the lack of response Rath stepped in the man's path and reached out to touch his shoulder.
"Don't!" He turned quickly to see the young Captain in a state of undress. She seemed panicked as Rath's hand was only inches from the other man's shoulder. "Please don't touch him."
Rath looked back at the man that was not paying attention to him nor aware of his presence. He took a step back folding his hands behind his back and waiting for an explanation.
"What's wrong with him?"
"Nothing." Rath raised an eyebrow. Ava sighed. "He has a brain disease."
"That makes him unable to sense me standing in front of him?" Rath asked with heavy doubt in his voice.
"That sends him into screaming fits and tantrums destroying the house." She moved next to him and placed a drink down, summoning the side table from the floor.
"He seems fine now."
"That's because I'm keeping him calm." Ava looked sadly over the man. "He's my father." Ava D'Ascher. Of course.
"And I know the only reason you followed me out here is to figure out what makes me tick. You've been studying me for years, trying to find out something. Well here it is General: I'm an Illusionist." She accented the statement by crossing her arms across her chest in a challenge. It didn't matter that she was only a Captain and he was General. Here, in her home, she had the advantage and they were on equal footing. Besides it was obvious even if he wanted to attack her it wouldn't do if he wasn't completely sure of his surroundings thanks to her extension.
"And you've hidden this from your superiors, why?" It was an offense, a grave offense. She was withholding her talents one that was already rare on their planet.
"I have five older sisters. My family once the great and powerful noble Aschers, was forced out of their place in the palace because King Azion's father decided it would be cheaper to import silke from an Alliance planet. We lost everything. My sisters and I are all that's left to run this place and considering the five of them ran out and got married or died that left me. I obviously couldn't do this by myself and my father became a broken man. I love my planet, General but I have to look over him and his well being. Tell me General, what would have happened to me had I shown up that day as a recruit boasting about my mental extension?"
Rath didn't have to say anything. She would have been taken aside and forced into a special program. Special Services.
"I would never be able to come back to my father. He needs me or he'll die. He lost mom, the business, five out of six of his daughters- I couldn't."
"Perhaps I could speak with the King about getting your family reinstated in the palace so that your father-" Ava scoffed and began to walk away from him shaking her head. Rath followed her. "Your father can be in the company of healers."
"Healers can't heal a broken-hearted sad man!" He could sense that sadness in her voice that he had sensed the first time he met her. The anger and distress. She was solely responsible for shouldering the problems of her family. Where a daughter should be able to lean into the comfort and security of a father, she was instead shielding him from the pain. Now he understood. She had come to the military as a last resort. They needed money. The silke was obviously bringing in no revenue with no one to tame their lands.
"What happens when you're promoted to Quadrant Sergeant?" He wasn't supposed to tell her. It would be announced officially when she returned from her relief period.
"What?" The statement caught her off guard and Rath could see the briefest hint of pride in that look. "I can't. I would be moved to Sector 13 and that's-"
"No where near here," he finished for her. "So this is why you've ignored the last three chances for promotion." Her superiors always put good reviews for her performance but the council was always confused about her lack or formal interest in promotion. This time they simply ignored the fact. She was the best one up for the position, they weren't going to settle or allow her to anymore.
"I'll simply have to thank the council for their thoughts but I can't accept the position as I feel unready and ill prepared-"
"They won't accept that you know it." She tensed, aggravated once more. She couldn't up and move her father in his fragile state and she couldn't suddenly disappear from his life. He would crack for sure.
"Then what do you suggest I do General? I'll be tried for treason before I leave my father to fend for himself."
"Excuse me General but what exactly are you asking for?" The other Generals were present for this meeting as well as the Sub Commanders, the Grand Commander and all of Ava's immediate superiors.
"To take on Senior Captain Ava as a prodigidal."
"We heard what you said General," the Grand Commander snapped. "What I'm confused about is the why? And how you actually think you're in a position to do this?" It was a valid question. The Grand Commander even with his prestige was barely qualified to take on Rath as a prodigal when he did.
"Senior Captain Ava has shown exceptional skill compared to her peers. That's because compared to the others she has not been truly challenged."
"And you think because you're some sort of prodigy that you can challenge her?"
"I'm the only one that can," Rath answered assuredly, "Especially given that Senior Captain Ava is an Illusionist." Murmurs started immediately. The Grand Commander jerked back in slight shock.
"She's a what?" he asked loudly quieting the group. Even Rath stops himself from jumping. Ezra's sharp tone to his voice is only one of the few signs that he's angry. His dark eyes harden, actually his entire visage just sort of stiffens. And he glares as if by sheer will he can set his target of ire ablaze. "Repeat that for me once more, General. Did you just say that one of my Senior Captains has an Illusionary Extension and has not reported it during her entire tour of-"
"Before you begin crying treason, Grand Commander, let me assure you her deceit was for honorable reasons."
"A noble liar," Ezra scoffed. "That's rich." No one laughs because the men and women present aren't rookies or underlings. They've all been working under the Grand Commander for years. And they know when he's furious. Rath knows this too and when to proceed with caution.
Of course, sometimes Rath likes to be rebellious.
"She wanted to prove herself in this military for her own strength and physical prowess," Rath continued un perturbed. "Not because of the instant celebrity being an Illusionist brings."
"That's not the point General. She concealed information that could have been used to better this military to protect our planet. I don't care how honorable her actions may seem to her, she still lied to the throne."
"I understand that Grand Commander but you are suggesting punishing someone who has something we need. She's coming forth now. Let me control her training from now on and she will become a brilliant soldier to the throne. And you know I won't go easy on her, sir." For a moment it was only Commander and General, mentor and mentee in that room playing a tug of war that would change how their relationship was perceived.
Ezra stared Rath down unblinking. Rath never looked away.
"Senior Captain Ava will be seen before the entire council. She will admit to her crimes. If proven suitable she will pay her penance for her actions under our guidance. You take her on as a charge you take sole responsibility for her actions. I hope you've made a wise decision General." Rath thought back to dream he'd had the night before.
"I'm sure I have, sir."
Michael woke with a groan. He felt sluggish, far more than normal. He felt hungry but could taste a feint broth on his lips.
"I think I know why Nasedo was always so short with us." He looked over to meet the others' eyes. Tess looked up first but she was seated behind him at his kitchen island.
Isabel was on the arm of the couch, his head near her lap. Her clothes were different. So were Tess'. Alex wasn't around.
"How long have I been asleep?"
"Four days," came the answer and Michael tensed.
Max was standing over him dressed in his UFO Center uniform. They were all trying to appear normal but he could tell by the tension in Max's shoulders, Isabel's death grip on the couch, and Tess' cracking voice that they had all struggled with his wish: To not wake him up when he started seizing. Max, he assumed was angry about something else.
"I heard Isabel and Tess' lies. Thought I might give you a chance to explain yourself." Max circled the couch with arms folded. Neither of the girls was looking at him but Michael followed him with his eyes. "Well?"
"It was my idea."
"I gathered that."
"I needed to find out about my past. Our pasts. What we're dealing with-"
"And you did that with no regard to my sister." Michael glanced over at Isabel. "She could have been hurt. I haven't seen nor heard from her in days. My mother asked me if Isabel ran off with some guy. Little did I know it was just you."
"Isabel could have stopped at any time. Yes, I told her to do what she could but not at her own expense. If it hurt her she knows to stop. My own well-being doesn't matter."
"You're right it doesn't, not when it concerns her. But she doesn't see it that way. You told her to go as long as she could. She's been awake for 4 days Michael! And what have you been doing? Sleeping!"
Michael looked at Isabel with wonder in his eyes.
"Four days?" His hand came up to touch her but before he could stop himself she leaned into his fingers. "How did you-"
"Alex said I was… filtering," she falters as if she doesn't quite understand herself. "I told him how you were building up excess energy because I was keeping you asleep. I manipulated your excess into myself to keep me awake. Leaving you in a state where your brain continued to require sleep. I didn't get tired. It was like…Michael I felt like I could have kept going. Forever." And the awe and fear in her voice made Michael wonder.
"Why did you stop?"
"I told her to." Max was glaring again. "You seized seven times in the past 6 hours. She thought she was killing you but we had no idea what was going on. She kept saying she could keep going she could keep going. She may not have felt tired but she was exhausted mentally. I come here to Tess trying to restrain her, my sister going out of her mind. She tried to fight me, said you told her she had to keep going. Like you ordered her and she had no choice but to obey-"
"I didn't mean for that to happen-"
"Well it did!" Isabel flinched back from the tone. "Isabel is to never strain herself like that for you again. Ever," he forced when Isabel was about to protest. "You can argue all you want. You're my sister. I protect you. Even from Michael."
"Michael would never intentionally hurt me, Max. You know that."
"Michael obviously has little regard for his own wellbeing, what makes you think he gives a care about the rest of us. It's a wonder we're not dead yet."
"Now hold on!" Michael stood but Max didn't back down. "What are you implying? That I'm suicidal? Crazy?"
"You are outside of your mind. And you're infecting everyone else. You've got Tess, Alex, and Isabel bowing to your whims."
"Oh I get it," he chuckled darkly. "You're angry. Jealous that they're not coming at your every beck and call now. Did it ever occur to you Maxwell, that maybe they want answers too?"
Max paused before answering. He looked to see Tess and Isabel looking at him. They didn't deny Michael's statement. He turned back to Michael.
"Answers to what?"
"The Four they were…" He ran a hand through his hair trying to find the right word. "Extraordinary." It felt lacking somehow. His eyes flitted up to Max. "Zan was one of the youngest Kings ever and yet he earned respect even from many of his father's enemies. He was on the verge of being able to heal without physical contact." Michael looked to Isabel. "And Vilandra she was the least combat trained and yet she could take out hordes of men on her own. And Ava," Tess tensed at the mention of her former life. "She was one of the most prized fighters in the military. And Rath he-" Michael stopped not understanding why when thinking about his former self he continued to feel more and more inadequate.
"Michael?" Isabel's concern pulled him back to them.
"Nothing it's just I understand how Nasedo could be so frustrated with us. Why the Alliance was probably so angry at Max. The Four were tall and powerful conquerors and we're just a ragtag group of teenagers who have the skill level of toddlers on their planet."
Max backed away gritting his teeth in an effort to keep quiet. He understood part of Michael's frustration. They thought he was denying his alien half simply because it was alien. But part of it was an ingrained pride. He could tell from what he had heard and what he felt that he was underwhelming to the King of his past life. The idea of being unable to measure up hurt him in way that made it easier for him to want to shun his old life.
He could barely keep his closest friends in check, how could he run an entire planet?
"Then we just need to practice," Tess announced ever the encourager. "We hone our abilities and become better soldiers. We train."
"Why?" Max snapped turning to face the group again. "If what Michael says is true, we don't have a chance of becoming whatever we were before." Tess sent him a disgusted look as she stood from the counter and made her way to the center of the room.
"Why?" she asked mockingly. "Because whether you think it or not, we're in a war. Kivar is not going to be satisfied with knowing we're marooned here. He's an enemy and he's a crook. He's thorough. He's going to make sure we're eradicated for good this time."
"According to Michael we're not even a threat."
"She's right Max." Isabel sighed. "Even if we don't go back to Antar what's to stop Kivar from bringing the war here? To make sure we never have the chance to become a threat. I don't know about you but I'm not comfortable being a sitting duck."
Max seemed to growl out his anger.
"It's four of us. Four! If Kivar brings an army here, what could we possibly do?"
"So we're supposed to just give up?" Tess screeched in outrage. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Before her very eyes, Max was dwindling into some coward. It was as if every insecurity that Zan kept hidden so well was magnified in Max. It sickened her to hear day in and out about his resistance to their past lives. He was some mockery of the man she had loved in her previous life.
Whatever rose-tinted glasses Ava wore when watching Zan, Tess was watching Max shatter them.
"Did we give up with the Skins? Did we give up trying to get you out of the White Room? Or how about the countless times you've put Liz before Isabel and Michael?" She was careful to leave herself out. She wasn't deluded. Max hardly cared for her. "They always follow you. And now there's something we all are part of and you say no? Do their lives really mean that little to you Max?"
"Of course not!"
"Then stop being such a coward and do something! Our people didn't sacrifice their lives for us to just turn around and surrender with our hands raised!" The silence echoed through Michael's apartment after that. Michael wasn't sure who would give first. Both were adamant in their stances and for once, Michael hoped Max would lose.
Some part of him felt bad about his thoughts. He was reluctant even given his and Max's recent pasts of butting heads, to go against him. He was fiercely loyal to his friends and it pained him to find himself constantly on the other side from his best friend. The closer he came to accepting his previous life the farther he was pulled from Max it seemed. But he couldn't let it pull him back. As scared and anxious as he felt, he had a deeper responsibility to their People and he intended to fulfill his end. Tess knew this about him and perhaps that gave her some confidence to stand up to Max.
A/N: Updated: 10/2/12 Really long chap! This gives a longer section of background story. But it's more intricate. I drop a lot of hints and introduce/vaguely mention characters/plots that become important later. Also I'm reading reviews like daily.. They're great but I might not respond until I get the next few chapters out of the way. But thank you for reading!
Antar-Home Planet of Royal Four
Dromein-A small planet situated between the five planets of the Alliance. . Science hub of the galaxy as well birth place of some its greatest literature, architectural feats, philosophies, and religious. Inventors of the life regeneration which the Roswell and New York Royal Four are products of.
Queen Vasa-Queen Mother of Antar. Mother to Zan and Vilandra. Widow of King Azion.
Karsis- Larek's younger brother and general to Yervay's armies. He is a good friend of Rath. Assumed to have died not long after the Royal Four sacrificing his life by making a detour for Dromein to deliver the weapon carrying the Four's DNA during the final evacuation of Antar.
Azion-Zan's father and King before him. He is the one to find Rath in the dunes when he was a young child and bring him to the palace. He forces Rath and Zan to keep the secret about Rath being a Seer. His interest was to surround his children with those with massive potential in order to buffer the decrease in nobles and royals born with powers.
Ezra- Grand Commander of Antar's armies during Azion's reign, before Rath. While he cannot deny Rath's power even from a young age he is far more cautious of the boy than his King. He hints at Rath being the catalyst of an Antarian apocalyptic prophecy and on more than one account suggests Rath would have been better off dead. He still trains and takes the younger male as his prodigidal. He knows Zan under the influence of his father will without doubt name Rath his Grand Commander so he grudgingly prepares the male for the role.
Commander Palatin-A Commander General under Rath's predecessor. Would have been next in line to command Antar's armies but evidently fell on his sword in an act of loyalty to the fallen Grand Commander leaving Rath as the next choice.