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Heritage of the Lunatak Empire
Part Three

The front portion of Krystalin's quarters served as her office while the back was her personal area, it was in the former that the interviews were taking place. Knave had been in there for ten minutes already, and there had been shouting at one point. Cameo was half expecting his cabin-mate to be carried out on a stretcher any minute. Cameo and Psikaris were sitting on the floor outside, waiting for their turns. Cameo could feel the warmth of her hand as it nestled in his own, and her comforting presence beside him. Psikaris squeezed his hand gently and smiled at him, sensing his agitation.

His heart beat faster, dreading what was to come. He hadn't had many dealings with Krystalin, but just being near her frightened him, and he had overheard stories of what she could do to a person's body. She was as cold as the moon itself, it was said, and she had yet to lose a fight.

The door hissed open revealing a clearly furious Knave, who immediately stormed past the seated pair and went down to his quarters. Cameo feared what the state of the walls would be after Knave was done with them. He kissed Psikaris' head gently and entered the room, taking a seat in one of the hard metal chairs across from Krystalin's desk. Now that he was in here he could see that it was sparsely furnished, very few of the trophies that he would have expected from such a high ranking officer. There were two sets of shackles on the wall next to a cabinet that had blood stains on the door handles. Otherwise there was nothing. The security officer sat in an ornate chair, carved with demonic faces. She sat, staring intently at him, weighing his guilt by his every action. "So why did you do it?" she asked when she finally spoke.

"I didn't do anything," he replied, "I barely knew her. I think I saw her once in the med lab. I sat beside her when I was filling out my paperwork before coming on board. Beyond that..."

"Did she make some disparaging remark about you?" Krystalin asked, interrupting him.

"I don't remember. I think she may have smiled at me and said hello."

"Ah, so you were in love with her then. You asked her out, and when she turned you down, that's when you killed her?"

"What? That's crazy! I've got a girlfriend. And even if I didn't I can handle rejection a little better than that," Cameo snorted.

"Now you're making fun of me? Your friend earned a bruise, I could give you one too." Krystalin didn't move, didn't need to move, as Cameo flinched back from her.

"I wasn't insulting you. I was saying that me doing something like that is crazy. I could never hurt anyone like that."

"Oh really? I know all about your kind. The Whitestar family is one of the strictest families against interspecies breeding. They burned alive a son who had been fooling around with a Darkling. I imagine your type wanted revenge. A life for a life, show them what happens when they mess with one of your own?"

Cameo was certain that he had just answered such an allegation from the woman and wondered why she was trying it again, probably hoping he'd slip up and confess to something. He wasn't the brightest pilot in the fleet, but he was figured that was it. "I only vaguely remember hearing about that. I'd flown with the kid and was surprised, maybe a little angry, but again, I would not do something like that."

"Sure. Where were you last night?"

"In my quarters asleep. If Knave and 'Karis hadn't been sleeping too, they could vouch for me."

"What about Knave and Psikaris? Would either of them have a motive to kill?" Krystalin asked, leaning forward slightly, hoping he would throw one of his friends under the proverbial bus.

"I can't speak for Knave, I barely know the guy. Seems okay, maybe a little moody, but Psikaris I've known forever. She can't even kill a bug, let alone another Lunatak. You'd be wasting your time interviewing her," Cameo said, chuckling a little to himself.

"You find something funny? You're covering for her, aren't you? I'll get what I want out of her, even if I have to use stronger methods. We're done here," Krystalin rose, walked over to the cabinet and opened it. Inside were many objects, mostly metal but some of leather or wood. All looked to be built for inflicting harm. As soon as the cabinet was open and he saw the implements, Cameo leapt on to Krystalin's back ignoring the pain racing through his body from contact with her flesh. She staggered forward for an instant but was able to free herself from his bulk and throw him to the floor. "I guess we aren't done yet." She selected a metallic rod with needle like points around one end and advanced on him.

As he ran, Mystan went through a mental list of colourful words he would use if he ever ran in to Kaprenius again. He had joined Aristarchus and a few of his elite guard in running through secret tunnels until they had emerged on the outskirts of the former's estate. He'd taken a moment to glance around, observing the fighting going on between the cannon fodder and the representatives of the Ice and Graviton Moons. Things were not going smoothly right now, and it was precisely because of that whelp that they were not. If he hadn't rushed into things, they would be that much better off.

Mind you, he thought to himself, the father wasn't much better. Gloating over one's prisoners was a character flaw that Mystan didn't think he himself possessed. Aristarchus, at least, earned his favour because he had almost salvaged a bad situation, and was currently saving both their hides.

A transport car was parked nearby, in case of just such an emergency, and it was here that they were headed. Aristarchus pulled the camouflage tarp off the vehicle and climbed into the passenger seat, forcing Mystan to sit in the back with a half dozen heavily armed men. At least they were free for the time being and could regroup.

There were two unfortunate souls in the cargo hold when Knave got there, and both made the mistake of thinking that their muttered comments went unheard. The hybrid was in a foul mood to begin with after his interview with Krystalin, and having two lower classed individuals insinuating he was behind the murder was almost enough to send him plummeting over the edge of sanity. Except that Zanaya was there. He could see her clearly, seated on a barrel, one leg arched over the other, gently bouncing it and watching the show. His eyes shifted from the woman to the two gentlemen now only a few metres away. They had both put down the supplies they had been collecting and were now tensed for combat.

"You goin' to kill us too, freak?" one of them asked.

"You're not worth the effort," Knave snarled, forcing himself not to give in to his animal rages. Such actions would only show Krystalin that he was capable of the murder, and given her low opinion of him that would be tantamount to confessing.

The men decided to take advantage of Knave's conflicting mood to scurry past him to report what had happened. He watched them go for a moment before noticing a slow clap from behind him. "Nicely done. You Icewalkers aren't complete barbarians after all," Zanaya said, hopping down from her perch. "Though, given your interview, I'd say that your people are still in dire need of enlightenment."

Knave glowered at the Psion woman, though his mind reminded him of the guilt he'd felt earlier. "And I suppose your people are the ones to do it?" he scoffed.

"Of course. We are the ones closest to the gods. Who better?" she shook her head sadly, "Are your eyes still closed to the reality of your situation? Do I need to remind you what happened in that chamber? I told you that Captain Havallance and Krystalin were planning on killing you, and this is the perfect excuse to do it. Accuse you and those other two of murder, and execute you as traitors."

"Maybe I should point out who the real murderer is. Someone who happens to be an assassin perhaps," Knave said, enjoying the flicker of concern on her face. He'd considered doing just that, but had realized that doing so would cost him a valuable ally.

"Fair enough. Or you could potentially use said assassin to prevent your own death. My offer to eliminate Krystalin still stands. I believe I can override the controls to her room to lock her in and crank the heat. Given her physiology it should kill her swiftly," Zanaya said. "The idea came to me in a dream, which is a good omen to my people. We put a lot of stock in our dreams, you know."

"I do. It's one of the reasons my people laugh at you. No matter, the plan sounds reasonable. But not yet. Once we get to Third Earth it will be much easier to take over. Especially once we..." he cut himself off sharply.

"Once we what?" Zanaya asked.

"Never mind that. Look, I was wanting to run in to you again. I blame my Thunderian heritage for this, it's weak, it is difficult to control, it... it has urges that must be answered. What I did to you yesterday wasn't right, I can see that, this body of mine needed to be satisfied, and you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm sorry," he said, jerking his head away from her. There was still anger in his voice, but it was directed instead at his other self.

He'd caught Zanaya off-guard, though. She'd noticed his avoiding the question but was momentarily too stunned to try again to get answers out of him. His guilt and remorse could be used to her advantage, played up enough to earn his trust. And once he gave her the information she wanted she could kill him at her leisure. Her acceptance of his apology, however, was genuine enough as she approached him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I understand. We all have our demons. Even me. I'm an assassin thanks to the gods, but it comes at a price. When I turned twelve I received a vision. I would be granted the ability to kill others with no taint to my soul, and could grow in strength and skill by sacrificing an innocent in their name once a year, on the anniversary of my birth. But if I ever fail to pay tribute in this manner, the restless souls of all those I've killed will drag me down in to the nether world for an eternal torment. It's a warning I have never forgotten. You have no idea how difficult it is for me to take the life of a helpless child, I sometimes think I can hear them crying in the night. Our demons may be different, but we are very much alike."

Knave turned around to stare at her, stunned by her confession and the trust she had put in him to tell it. His heart cried out to this poor woman and he took her into his arms, anger completely gone.

Zanaya smiled inwardly to herself, pleased that he had taken it so hard. The vision was true, but she didn't fear it as much as she had let on. She knew that as long as she remembered, that she would be granted a place of honour in the afterlife. She decided to press her luck a bit more. "It's amazing. Two people from different worlds. Different cultures. People who are, by their natures, alone. And yet here we are, alone together. The gods must have willed this to happen, sent me to try and kill your father knowing that we would be suited to one another. Knave... I... think I love you." She forced herself to place her hand on his chest, wishing that there were a knife in it.

"I've never cared for anyone except my mother," Knave said, dazed and confused by the feelings that were swirling within him. "And yet... You're right. I have never met anyone like you. I felt such guilt for hurting you, and that's an alien feeling for me. I have never felt guilt. I don't know how to respond to these feelings."

"You're wrong," she breathed, sliding her hand lower, stroking him gently "you do know how to respond. Trust your instincts. And when we're done, maybe we can talk a little bit more about Third Earth?"

"Anything you want, just don't stop," he gasped. Had he been paying attention he would have noticed that the look of pleasure on Zanaya's face had nothing to do with the act they were engaged in.

Pain flared through every muscle in Cameo's body, though the worst of it seemed to be centred around his wrists and shoulders. At the same time, he felt detached from his body, and he wasn't quite certain why. What had he been doing? He'd been cuddled up to Psikaris, but that wouldn't cause him injury would it, there were no sexual positions that would do that, he didn't think. Her brother wasn't around, was he? No. He'd gotten up and been interviewed by... Krystalin! Of course! She'd made threats about hurting Psikaris. He'd attacked.

His innate powers, probably gifted to him on his father's side, allowed him to mimic the abilities of those he touched. Although he usually could control it, he suspected he'd done it automatically when he'd jumped on the ice woman's back. Flesh on flesh could kill if prolonged, and he'd been clinging to her for long enough that he probably would have been dead otherwise. She'd flung him to the floor and proceeded to use every instrument in the closet just to say she had. He must have blacked out at some point.

He forced his body to awaken, allow him to see if the torment was over or not, and felt a stinging sensation on his forehead. He instinctively jerked his head backwards and regretted doing that even more, as his skull collided with the metal wall behind him. His eyes flashed open, ready to stare daggers into the heart of his tormentor, if she had one, and was startled to see Psikaris standing in front of him with a look of concern on her pretty face.

"Sorry," she mumbled. She had her navy blue jacket wrapped around one hand and had clearly been tending to his wounds when he'd awakened.

"S'okay," he replied. Krystalin had taken a thin wire and lashed him across the face, he recalled now. That was the wound that his love had been taking care of. Seeing that he was at least paying attention now, she resumed her work. "Where's the bitch?" he asked.

Psikaris moved her ministrations to his chest, prodding a nasty looking welt. "She went to find Knave. He apparently tried to kill a couple of kitchen servers. It was awful, Cameo, she threatened to beat you more if I didn't confess. I couldn't bear it, I knew we were both innocent, but I wanted to say I did it just so she'd finally leave you alone. I felt relieved when those two came in. Do you think it's possible? Could Knave have really done it?"

"I... I don't know. There was a trace of blood on him when he came to bed last night, and he'd been in the showers... Something feels off here, like they *want* it to be one of us. But that doesn't make sense. The blood in our veins is still partly Icewalker, isn't it? That other part doesn't make us evil," Cameo gritted his teeth as she probed for internal injuries and broken bones, though Krystalin had made it clear that he would live through his torture to see an execution.

"Either way we're stuck here until she gets back. She locked the door," Psikaris said glumly.

Zanaya was feeling very pleased with herself. Knave's mind and body were exhausted from their play and that left him vulnerable to her suggestions. She'd often wondered whether she possessed a hint of mind control, she got what she wanted too often to be co-incidence, but the high priests hadn't found any evidence either way. Still, a woman had her own brand of mind control when it came to dealing with hormone-driven men. His naked body was, she grudgingly admitted, quite comfortable to lie against, like a giant teddy bear, but knowing what he was made up for any satisfaction she might have gotten.

Lazily trailing her finger along his chin she gently turned his head towards her. "You know, I've always wanted to see Third Earth, but I'm curious. Why do you think we're headed there?" she asked as coyly as possible.

"We're going on a secret mission, only Cameo, the captain and myself know," Knave replied.

She pouted and stared at him with eyes full of hurt. "Why can't you tell me?" she asked, managing to sound as though she were on the verge of tears. "You trust me, don't you?"

"I trust you but..." he jerked up, ears straining. "We've got visitors," he hissed, rising to his feet and dressing quickly. Zanaya cursed the ill-timing of the intrusion. Another few seconds and she would have had what she wanted.

The doors to the cargo hold opened, revealing Krystalin and seven security officers. They fanned out and began a systematic search of the room. "Knave Iespyk, surrender yourself immediately by order of Krystalin of the House Neijin. If you do not we will shoot to kill. You have to the count of five."

The odds were poor, even with her help Zanaya knew that Knave would be taken easily or killed trying. "Surrender," she whispered. "I'll take care of everything else."

He kissed her firmly on the lips once and then stepped out into the open, immediately being grabbed upon doing so. "I turn myself in, though I've done nothing wrong," he said evenly. The guards formed a ring around him and escorted him down the hall to his quarters.

"Go get the scum from my office. This room'll serve as a holding cell until we're ready to execute them," Krystalin said to the guards. "Your little freak uprising is over."

Nitro Iespyk was the first to cross the threshold of Aristarchus' manor, despite the protests of many of his people who insisted that it wasn't safe, that he was too important. He scoffed at their concerns. He didn't get where he was today by being soft and taking the easy way out. His mother hadn't been that way, not from what little he remembered of her. He'd been young when they, along with his father, had journeyed to Third Earth. His father often told tales of her daring exploits, and never once had she taken the safe route. No. She stood in the thick of things, doing things the Icewalker way.

The manor house was severely damaged. The site of the explosion looked the worst, naturally, but the heavy pounding from ground and air forces had decimated large portions of the rest of the structure and grounds. The loyal forces to Aristarchus were being rounded up or had surrendered, meaning the rescue operation of King Tycho could begin soon. Nitro led the way through the battered halls, stopping briefly to inspect a painting that had fallen, until they reached a Reptilian Mutant who had died with a stunned look on his face and a hole in the back. Nitro spat next to the body. "Kaprenius' work," he muttered, turning and seeing the formerly barricaded door. "Start the rescue operation here. I'd lay good money the king's in that pile of rubble somewhere. Be careful though. The surrounding structure's unstable, we don't want any more casualties."

The boy looked hopefully at the doctor as the latter sat at Shade's side. "I'm sorry, Tajengo, there's no change in her condition. I think you're going to have accept that she might never come out this coma. We'll continue to do everything we can for her. I promise," he said, patting the Darkling boy on the head. "Go home and rest. We'll let you know if anything changes."

Tajengo looked once more at the frail woman laying in the bed, her vital signs working steadily. He felt guilty deep down; the last words he'd said to her had been to calm down and wishing that he were anywhere else. Now he didn't want to be apart from her. The doctor was right though, he knew that much, there really wasn't anything else he could do.

It was typical of his memory. Whenever he was depressed, Tycho's thoughts would invariably turn to how he'd gotten in this mess in the first place. A family dinner with Aristarchus' family had been the start of it. The two families were tightly bound due to their proximity to the throne, but there was a debate going on over whether Tycho's mother or Aristarchus' father had the closer tie. And so this dinner had been arranged to try and mend any fences before the big announcement was made in a few days.

Tycho had been sick that day. He'd considered begging off, but knew that he was expected at the table. His illness had saved his life, as it turned out. Of the dozen at the function, all but himself and Aristarchus had died. The soup was to blame, a lethal dose of poison had been added to the broth. By an amazing co-incidence, to hear him tell it, Aristarchus was allergic to the fish in the soup and hadn't had any. Everyone knew he'd done it, but a serving boy was found to take the blame, signed confession and everything, and found hanged in his cell before further questioning could be made.

Aristarchus had milked the incident for all it was worth, lamenting how he could have been a victim of this angry serving boy were it not for a twist of fate. The gods, he insisted, must have had a hand in it to spare his life, ignoring that Tycho too had been spared. He didn't forget though, he couldn't; especially when the scholars decided that Tycho was the true heir to the throne and not Aristarchus. He'd been very careful about what he ate since that day, and had had the chief of police replaced at his earliest opportunity.

"Tycho?" Eluosi asked, interrupting his thoughts.

"Yes?" He replied, his voice sounding hoarse. He wondered how long they'd been there. Several hours at least by his rough estimation.

"Where are we?" She asked. He explained it to her as best he could, though he wasn't a hundred percent clear about Darius' powers. "Oh. That explains some of it. Ugh. I can't move my arm." Her voice carried a note of fear. Tycho could hear her feeling around and her shriek of terror made him jump. "It's on the other side."

"What is?" he asked, already suspecting and dreading the answer.

"My forearm is outside Darius' shell," she said, starting to become hysterical.

"Relax," he said, sounding unconvinced. "There's nothing we can do about it right now. Once we're freed the doctors will hopefully be able to do something about it. We don't have much air in here and panicking will use it up quicker."

"I know. I know. But I'm scared. I don't want to die like this," she sobbed.

"We're not going to die. Someone will find us," he said, mentally adding "I hope."

The scenery had been racing past at a good clip, leading Aristarchus and his entourage to think that they might get away after all. Mystan knew better than to be that optimistic. Icewalkers were notorious for being exactly where he didn't want them to be and Gravitons were unpredictable when enraged. So it was that he was the only one not taken by surprise when the car the eight of them were travelling in hit an icy patch on the road, and careened into a copse of trees. They looked so smug, the trio of Icewalkers who emerged from the brush. The one on the right seemed to be the one in charge, as he ordered the other two to round up the prisoners.

Mystan hated Gravitons the most, the foul beings disbelieved in the gods and flaunted their laziness as much as possible. Icewalkers didn't rank much better, however. They placed their faith in their kin and their brute force, resorting to religion only when that failed. Their only saving grace was that they believed at all. That wasn't true, he knew. They were formidable fighters and many even acknowledged that their strength was god given.

He reached out with his mind towards the leader of the group, while Aristarchus' people fumbled for their guns. He found the man's brain with ease, these fools were ill-equipped to contend with a Psion of his level. Knowing that time was of the essence, he began squeezing the man's brain with his telekinetic abilities, causing excruciating pain until the owner of the brain collapsed on the ground.

The other two Icewalkers were no fools. They knew that Mystan could kill them all with relative ease and speed, so they immediately encased the car in ice. They forgot that a good telekinetic didn't need to see his target. Mystan's mental eye slid from the dead man's corpse into the female Icewalker, the one who was in the process of laughing at their predicament. The laugh turned to pain as Mystan forcibly pulled her heart out through her chest, spattering her companion in her blood and gore. Methodically Mystan then grabbed the last one, even as he turned to run. Indulging in a personal bit of pleasure, Mystan made this one's death drag out a little longer. He started crushing the man's bones, one by one, stopping only when he sensed the life had drained from his victim.

As he brought his mind's eye back into his body, Mystan was aware that his companions were suitably stunned and horrified by what had transpired. Breaking free of the ice had been no trouble thanks to their laser weapons, and the view through the window was, no doubt, gruesome to Aristarchus' guards. Mystan wondered if any of them had ever actually taken a life before or whether they were merely toadies and yes-men. The only one who seemed unaffected by the circumstances was Aristarchus himself. He nodded his thanks to Mystan and gestured for the driver to continue on their way.

Krystalin's office was quiet. Even after detaining the three crossbreeds, she had interviewed a handful more people. None of them would admit to knowing anything about the murder. Frostella had been generally well liked, a paramedic on her first assignment. She'd been eager to prove herself worthy of the posting, but had maybe used her lineage a bit too much for some people's tastes. That still didn't blatantly give any evidence that the crossbreeds did the deed. Nothing did except for racial prejudice and Knave's threats against the kitchen staff. Still, the evidence against them was around somewhere, it just needed to be found.

Curiously, her door opened and closed of it's own volition. She walked over to examine it but could find nothing obviously wrong with it. She would make a note to have one of the engineers inspect it later. She was feeling a little warm, which was a curious sensation as her blood kept her body temperature very cold. Krystalin checked the thermostat and saw that it was acting normally. It was probably just the adrenaline dying down from her encounter with Cameo and Knave. She walked over to the desk and saw the door open and close again. Getting annoyed, she punched the intercom. "Krystalin to maintenance. Send someone to my quarters." She paused, waiting for a response that didn't come. "Maintenance. Respond." Still no answer. "Krystalin to the captain." She started getting annoyed and marched over to the door. She didn't know much about electronics but knew that some of these systems were tied together. Perhaps the door and the intercom were in this category.

The door wouldn't open. Not only that, but it was definitely feeling warmer in here. She could see the ice armour she wore dripping on the floor. Something was very wrong here. All the systems in her room weren't connected, were they? That didn't make sense at all. Krystalin marched over to her desk where she kept a side arm hidden away. As she stooped to pick it up she saw a fresh sheet of paper on her desk with a message written in red ink. "You were getting too close. Sorry," it read.

Sabotage. There was a killer on board and it *wasn't* the half-breeds. As she stormed towards the door, gun in her hand, she tried to go over every piece of information that her interrogations had revealed. What was it that she had been close to? Was one of the interviews the killer? "My own killer too, if I don't get out of here," she thought, irritated as the blast from her gun scorched the door and did little else. The heat in the room was becoming uncomfortable, chunks of the ice armour were falling off as Krystalin ran to her closet and produced a heavy sledgehammer. If she could crack open the door, the temperature might level off, or someone might hear her and come to the rescue. She swung powerfully at the door, the clang of metal on metal jarring her arms, but she struggled on, knowing that death lurked close by. Again and again the hammer crashed into the door, each swing becoming weaker than the last. The armour was completely gone, leaving Krystalin wearing little more than undergarments, and sweat was beginning to seep out of the pores of her skin, but she didn't let it bother her. She couldn't afford to.

The sledgehammer grew too heavy to lift and Krystalin knew that she didn't have much time left. The door was dented outward but hadn't bent enough. She slumped to her knees, fingers scraping against the door as she did. This was how it was going to end for her. Not at all like she'd expected. Contrary to what Mystan believed, Icewalkers did believe in god, one of them anyway. The warrior goddess Lunis. They believed that she would lead the bravest and strongest warriors to her kingdom, where they would feast and battle forever. Krystalin prayed silently that she found her worthy of this honour, that she would watch and protect Captain Havallance, and that she would be avenged.

"Yes, Chillaura? What is it?" Captain Havallance asked of the long haired woman seated at the communications position.

"Um, all inter-ship communications are down. Must be a bug in the thingamajig. I'll check it out," she replied, moving from her seat to the floor and removing a panel. He watched her for a few minutes before stretching.

"I'm going to retire for the night. If you get that thing working, inform Krystalin that I'll be by shortly to get a briefing on her interviews," he said.

"Aye-aye captain!" she replied.

Zanaya counted the minutes in her head as she lurked in the hall, invisible to anyone who might happen by. Almost an hour had passed since she'd begun hot-wiring the systems. The thermostat first then the intercom, as the latter was bound to be noticed by someone. The doors were trickier. She had known that once the letter was dropped off she would have very little time to get out and jam the doors. Luckily she knew a thing or two about sabotaging Icewalker equipment. The pounding on the door had stopped about fifteen minutes ago which likely meant that Krystalin had run out of strength or was trying something else. Either way, it didn't matter. The message had been sent, the blame for Frostella's murder shifted away from Knave, and if Krystalin died as a result, so much the better.

She had been tempted to stay in the room and watch the death, but didn't want to chance being found. Besides, she'd seen death often enough to know what a future corpse looked like. Just because there was a personal edge to this one didn't make it different.

The door at the end of the hall, leading to the stairwell that separated the decks, opened and the captain strode out, flanked by a security guard. Zanaya pressed herself further against the wall, not liking her lack of escape route. Krystalin's quarters were located near the end of the hall, with only the captain's room beyond it. She supposed that she could sneak into the captain's room, but that was tricky, and he might notice the door opening. She watched as he walked closer and paused at Krystalin's door. He could see it bulging outward and ordered his guard to fetch reinforcements.

"He's all alone," Zanaya thought nastily to herself. "I could kill him too. Knave said to wait, but he's not in charge here. I'm saving his sorry ass. No. Not yet. If there is no captain, the crew might take their frustrations out on Knave and I need him alive for a little while yet." Since he was all alone, however, she was able to slip past him and move further down the hall towards the stairwell.

Moments later a detachment of six security officers arrived and began the arduous task of opening the doors. A pair of paramedics soon joined the efforts until finally one of the doors was removed. Krystalin slumped forward into the hall, caught by one of the guards who happened to have been on one knee as he worked. He stared in surprise at the warm, almost hot, body before him. The captain gestured for the security force to sweep the room, Zanaya noticed that he seemed too overwhelmed to speak, and the doctors to tend to Krystalin.

The security staff emerged a few moments later, themselves starting to sweat in the heat, and shook their heads. Captain Havallance sent them on to check every room on the floor for any signs of intruders while he inspected the panel on the wall, searching for clues as to the killer's identity.

Zanaya watched the doctors lift Krystalin on to a board that they'd brought with them and cart her away. The security detail too, seemed very sombre as they methodically checked every room on the floor. Zanaya was good. She wasn't rated one of the best for nothing. Even though she'd been sleeping in one of the rooms up here, there was no trace anywhere to be found unless she wanted it found. Soon the commotion faded, the detail posted four people outside the captain's door while the rest retired for the night. Zanaya too decided to turn in, once she was sure that her stolen room wouldn't be searched again.

Tycho found that talking to Eluosi helped them both keep their minds off the horrible situation they were in. She recited lines from a play she'd been in the month before and he told stories of his family. He carefully avoided mentioning Darius, not wanting to bring her mind to their imprisonment and her arm. They'd discovered a small hole in Darius' shell that was allowing for some small amount of air to seep in. It wasn't much, but he suspected it would buy them some time.

It wasn't easy. Even the slightest bit of movement served as a painful reminder to Eluosi of her predicament, and the faint noises they could hear terrified them both. What was happening outside their prison? Had the loyalist forces come to their aid yet or was Aristarchus comfortably in command now that Tycho was presumed dead? He glanced in the direction of the actress and heard her singing a song from a musical she was looking forward to taking part in during the coming season. A story of lovers stranded on a strange planet, no friends, no family, just the creatures they met and each other. He'd promised to see it on opening night. Assuming they weren't still trapped in here then. They had no food, he realized. No water either. He could also feel his bowels churning and a sense of dread over the solution crept over him.

"So this is how it's going to end," Psikaris said glumly.

"Don't say that," Cameo replied, one arm loosely draped around her shoulders, though he figured she was right. He'd never thought it would end this way. A firefight in space, some lucky Darkling fighter craft catching him off guard. Something like that. Executed as a traitor? Not so much.

"Why not?" Knave asked, laying flat on his back on his bunk. "Why deny the truth? From the moment they found that body they had us pegged as the killers, and we hardly did anything to dispute their claims. Face facts, Cameo. They want us dead and they're going to make sure they get us dead. The whole interview process was a sham and you know it."

"Knave. Not in front of the lady. She's clearly upset by this and you're not helping things," Cameo said, wanting both to rise and shake the half-Thunderian and wanting to shield Psikaris from all of this.

She pulled away from him a bit and stood. "I can take care of this myself, Cameo. Thanks. I'm not afraid of dying, but I didn't want it to happen like this. That's all. A traitor's death. Psychro will be mortified. Anyway, whatever happens happens. There's nothing we can do about it now. I suggest we all catch some rest and see what the morning brings."

Zanaya drifted through the dream realm and found herself walking on a barren rocky surface. The sky was black, dotted with tiny stars. A chill went up her spine as she felt a presence. It was the gods. She'd encountered them only once before, and that had been with the oracle to guide her. It had been unforgettable, that day, the feeling of pure power and knowledge coursing around her. It was said that there were only four gods, and that they had divided the responsibilities of the universe evenly between them. She feverishly looked around, trying to find them, knowing deep down the futility of it. If a god didn't want to be found how could she expect to find them. But why bring her here otherwise? Was there a way to visit them on one's own?

"You are here because you have been summoned," a voice said, making the very air rumble. Her heart hammered at the sound of the voice, it was not the gentle masculine voice that had guided her career track, but a harsh feminine one, and it didn't sound happy at all. Where seconds ago had been nothing but air, now stood a muscular, heavily armoured woman. In one hand was a sword, in the other a gun. She gestured with the former. "You are correct. I am not pleased with you at all. I govern warriors, and one of my champions has fallen at your hands; a champion who cried out for revenge." The gun raised and pointed at Zanaya's head, she closed her eyes and braced for death.

It never came. She opened one brown eye and saw the barrel of the weapon still smoking. "You are fortunate that you are under another's jurisdiction. I am forbidden to kill you so long as his hand protects you," the goddess intoned. Zanaya knew enough not to feel relief at the pronouncement, this goddess was angry with her and there were many fates worse than death. "Though I govern the warriors I also am a goddess of love, and I have witnessed your tryst with the half-Lunatak. I have ensured that his seed takes root within your womb and you will bear him a child. I am also, I should point out, the one who decides difficulties in labour," The grin the goddess flashed was a malevolent one and Zanaya knew that Lunis meant that any complication or symptom a woman could have was about to befall her. "But do not believe that birth will ease your troubles, little worm. This child you bring in to the world will cause you heartbreak and pain. Before long, you will be begging me to take your life. Then, and only then, will you know peace."

Zanaya blinked and the goddess was gone and she was back in her own bed, drenched in sweat. She touched her stomach fearfully, remembering every word that had been said. Knave's child, heartache, pain, a lifetime of torture. It was too much to bear. She turned on her chest and wept in her pillow.

To the average creature of Third Earth, Dark Side was a place to be avoided. Accessible only by traversing dangerous terrain, including the Fire Rock Mountains, it was also the home to some very dangerous creatures; not the least of whom were Luna's Lunataks. The woman in question rode her Guardian, Amok, across the rocky terrain near which their movable fortress had landed. The others would have questions for her, assuming they'd noticed she'd been gone almost half a day.

A simple raid on a Wollo village. That's all it was supposed to have been. But then she'd come across that miserable Snarf, Pumyra and the Thunderkittens. They'd been telling a story about Luna's grandmother, the original Queen Luna, and her magic belt. That belt had been the main reason for coming to this backwater world and for all her searching for information, it was a Snarf that knew the location. Of all the creatures in the world that could have been harbouring this secret, it would be Snarf.

Getting Amok to damage the pyramid of Mumm-Rana had reduced the undead sorceress to a weakling, and had allowed Luna to don the belt. She'd grown in power and strength immediately. But the power proved too great for her, it overwhelmed her and caused her to act without thinking. She'd disposed of Amok and gotten over-confident dealing with the Thundercats. In the ensuing battle, the latter had freed Mumm-Rana thanks to the Sword of Omens' magic. Repairing the pyramid was an ability Luna didn't know the sword possessed.

With Mumm-Rana in the fight, Luna had fallen, the belt had come loose and Amok had taken steps to ensure that she could never regain it. She wasn't sure what to think of Amok's actions, really. He was always so loyal and helpful to her, so this act was almost out of character, but she knew, deep down, that she'd probably deserved it for treating him as she had. Not that she would ever admit it to anyone, but she did care for him. He didn't have ulterior motives for being nice, unless the occasional confectionary treat counted.

She stared up at the imposing Sky Tomb that was fast approaching. They had stolen most of the supplies from the surrounding villages, but had used what little was left of their original shuttle to complete it. Once again she found herself cursing Mumm-Ra for bringing their shuttle down in this desolate wasteland. If he hadn't done that...

Alternately, if they hadn't tried to wrest control of Third Earth away from him out of spite, he might have been only too happy to help them defeat Mumm-Rana. She shook her head. It was Mumm-Ra's fault. Not their own.

They finally got close enough that whoever was on monitor duty lowered the elevator. As the duo climbed in, it occurred to her that it would be best if she told the other Lunataks about the belt sooner rather than later. They wouldn't be happy to hear about it, but it was better that than them finding out about it on their own. She would let them vent a bit, if they wanted to, but Amok was good for quieting them down.

Alluro and Red Eye were in the control room when the doors hissed open. The Psion had spent his life reading people's emotions by their expressions and body language, and found the sight of Luna and Amok an odd mixture. Luna was definitely unhappy. She was slouched, her lips were pursed and her eyes challenged him to make a snide remark. Amok, on the other hand, looked smug. He walked a little straighter and his head was higher. Ordinarily the Guardian fed off his mistress' energy, mimicking her moods, but not this time.

"Welcome home, Luna," he said, deciding that Amok's good mood would allow him to get a few shots in on his boss. Reading Amok's posture was key in avoiding those large fists of his. "Judging by your lack of supplies and the hour, I take it the raid didn't go as planned. Or is running from Wollos a plan?" Red Eye decidedly kept his back to the Lunatak leader, preferring not to get involved, and made a poor show of looking at the various cameras they had inside and out of Sky Tomb. From his seat, Alluro could see a small smirk on the Darkling's face, however, and knew that he was paying full attention.

"I got... sidetracked. I found the magic belt but the Thundercats and Mumm-Rana destroyed it," she snarled.

Something in the way she said it told him there was more to the story than that, but she was in a stubborn mood and he knew there was no point in trying to pry the information out of her. "You mean your grandmother's belt?" he asked instead. "The belt we travelled half way across the universe to find, that belt? And it's destroyed now? Oh very good work, Luna. You've wasted time and resources to destroy a magical fashion accessory. I don't think even Tug Mug could have screwed up more." Alluro knew immediately that he had stepped over a line. Amok's eyes widened and he lunged at the hypnotist, narrowly missing. "I believe my watch is over," he said, bolting to the door.

Luna let him go. It had been a long day, and both she and Amok were fatigued. "I'm going to my room," she said icily to Red Eye, her tone indicating that waking her would be akin to signing a death warrant.

Once she was gone, Red Eye began to chuckle out loud. "Tug Mug could have screwed up more? Ha ha. Good one Alluro," he said.

Kaprenius lurked in a storeroom next to the kitchen. He'd made a serious mistake in not fleeing with his father, he admitted now. The grounds were crawling with Lunataks loyal to the crown, closing off any chance of using the secret tunnels to get out. He'd spent the last three hours trying avoid the search parties as they moved from room to room. Now it looked like his luck was running out. A pair of Gravitons had discovered the kitchen and were in the process of raiding the cupboards. He prayed that they would stay in there, as there were no other exits from the storeroom. "Maybe there's mustard een here!" he heard one of them say, in that accent of theirs that made them sound stupider than they really were.

"See eef they have any onions while you're een there," the other replied. The door opened and the portly Graviton waddled into the room, causing Kaprenius' heart to sink even lower at the sight. It was the same Graviton whom he'd had beaten. The man sported a deep purple bruise across his jaw line and a metallic glove to replace a hand that had been too badly mangled to save. The man surveyed the room, scanning the shelves and barrels until his eye alighted on the fugitive hiding behind a sack of flour.

"Come out, whoever you are," Roly Poly said, causing his companion to come to the doorway. Kaprenius took a deep breath and aimed his laser pistol at the Graviton instead.

A flash of light momentarily blinded the Royal Lunatak and his gun suddenly felt a hundred times heavier than before. "Oh no you don't," the second Graviton chuckled, tapping his gravity carbine.

"Wait a minute... Eet's Kaprenius!" Roly Poly said, an evil chuckle escaping his lips.

"Don't worry, son of Master!" Rodin cried, leaping on the back of the second Graviton. Kaprenius was mildly startled to see his father's Guardian still around. He'd assumed that the creature would have followed Aristarchus on the way out. Apparently not, and Kaprenius was not one to let such a diversion go to waste. He grabbed a handful of flour and threw it in the face of Roly Poly as he charged forward.

There wasn't much room to manoeuver in the storeroom, but that would prove a greater hindrance to Roly Poly, given his girth. Kaprenius was the less experienced fighter, however, more accustomed to the slow Mutants that he favoured hanging around. He connected solidly with a right hand on the already injured jaw of the Graviton and got a second punch in to the other side before Roly Poly could see clearly enough to retaliate. He shoved the Royal into a rack with assorted spices and let loose a punch of his own, mailed fist colliding with stomach. Kaprenius wheezed as the air was forced from his lungs.

"So, you theenk eet's fun to beat up people?" Roly Poly asked, kicking the younger man when he tried to stand up. "Ees that your idea of fun?" Another kick, this time harder. Kaprenius stopped the efforts and stared fear struck into the eyes of an angry Graviton. "I don't theenk eet's fun being hit. Why don't you tell me what eet feels like?" Roly Poly glanced behind him and saw that his partner had managed to bind Rodin. He reached to another rack and pulled down a rolling pin.

"No! Please! I'm sorry. I'm sorry!" Kaprenius implored, raising his hands in the air.

"Begging for mercy? I seem to recall doing the same thing as your men beat me," Roly Poly's eyes were as hard as his metallic hand. Kaprenius was certain that he would be killed in this storage room, surrounded by herbs and spices. Not exactly a glamourous death. The rolling pin swung down, the sound of wood crackling as it smashed the shelf over his head and Kaprenius' cry of terror mingled in the air. Nutmeg, pepper and a number of other spices showered down around the lad. "You're lucky I'm not like you." Roly Poly grabbed Kaprenius' still raised arms and hoisted him to his feet.

"Hey look. He wet heemself!" the Graviton chuckled, prodding Rodin forward with one hand and collecting his sandwich with the other.

"He'll be doing more than that when we bring heem before the court," Roly Poly replied, thrusting Kaprenius out into the kitchen and gathering his own sandwich. "I'm going to vote for an execution. We haven't had one een a long time."

Kaprenius could only swallow as the two prisoners were led out into the courtyard where all the prisoners were being kept. He wasn't sure what a Graviton death sentence entailed, but the look on Roly Poly's face indicated that it was a long and painful one.

There was noise. Tycho was distinctly aware of hearing a noise that wasn't being made by either himself or Eluosi. It sounded like many voices and things moving around. He nudged the woman gently and he heard her shift. "Listen," he said.

"Are we being rescued?" Eluosi asked hopefully, knowing that it was equally possible that it was Aristarchus' people going through the rubble.

"I don't know," he responded. "But it's a promising sign either way. We don't have to hold out much longer."

Nitro had abandoned the excavation site some time ago to inspect the prisoners they'd caught. Even though the local forces were technically in command, they still acknowledged his authority, and it felt good to reenforce this perception. The crown jewel of the prisoners was Kaprenius; his father had eluded the search parties thus far but it wouldn't be long. The discovery of three Icewalker bodies some distance from the compound indicated the direction that Aristarchus was going, and Kaprenius would break eventually.

The prisoners were gathered in a garage. The vehicles had been moved out, and the prisoners had moved the rest of the goods to one side. It had either been that or encasing them all in ice, and Nitro didn't want to expend the energy of his people on such a trivial task when there was a hopeful rescue to complete. He walked over to where Kaprenius was sulking, kept apart from the other prisoners and under constant watch by a pair of Gravitons. Nitro knew the fate that was in store for the boy and didn't envy him.

"If you tell me where your father went," he said, "I might put in a good word for you. It won't set you free, but your execution will go quicker."

"My father may yet be Lunar King," Kaprenius said, his cracking voice betraying the fear he felt. Nitro had a reputation. "If Tycho is dead, then Aristarchus is the true king. He'll free me. You'll see. I'm his son, after all."

Nitro laughed a good hearty laugh. The boy was right, but he reeked of urine and fear. It was hard to believe the boy was Aristarchus' son at all. "I wouldn't count on it. There are too many people looking for your dear old dad. They have permission to kill if he won't surrender. I suspect your father won't be saving anybody today."

"Coldwin to Nitro," a voice crackled over the radio. "We need you back here. We may have found them."

"Understood. I'm on my way," Nitro said. Then, turning back to Kaprenius, "You'd better start praying they're still alive."

The light was fading fast by now, Nitro noted as he returned to the explosion site. There was a team of people working on one particular spot. Off to one side he saw dogs being led by their Royal handlers, searching to ensure there were no other bodies. Nitro had been present when a Simian Mutant had been found, a discovery that had raised hopes momentarily. As he got closer he could see a large, green, egg-shaped thing on the ground, from which a hand and forearm protruded. There was still a fair amount of debris covering it, but the teams were working quickly to get at it.

From his vantage, Nitro could tell that the hand belonged to a Lunatak, or at least certainly not another Mutant. He walked briskly over and assisted in the removal of a large chunk of plaster. When the egg shaped thing was fully uncovered the team began trying to lift it and found the task almost impossible. Whatever it was, was hard as rock and twice as heavy. A Graviton with a carbine was called for immediately.

Slowly, the thing raised off the ground revealing the two prisoners, both blinking in the light of the flashlights that were being shone in their direction. Nitro could see that the hand belonged to Eluosi and was likely too far gone. The king, on the other hand, looked ragged and tired, but little worse for wear. He saluted as the paramedics moved in to tend to them and outlined what had happened since the transmission.

Tycho listened patiently, glancing over at Eluosi from time to time to see her progress. When the report was finished, and the doctors had finished poking and prodding him for injury, he asked a few questions of Nitro and Roly Poly, the latter having arrived shortly after hearing that the king had been found, and then insisted on seeing Kaprenius for himself.

A cheer rose from the onlookers as Tycho approached the garage, and he graced them with a wave of the hand. Word had gone on ahead to have Kaprenius brought forward for his interrogation. He stood, flanked by two Gravitons and an Icewalker, and stared, his jaw drooping, at the trio of commanders headed his way.

"Kneel before your king," Tycho said, eyes focussed on the man who'd tried to kill him. When Kaprenius hesitated, a Graviton kicked the back of his knees and held him firmly on the ground. "Good. Now then, where is your father?"

"I'll never tell you. If my father found out it was me who told you... I'm more afraid of him than I am of you," Kaprenius said.

Tycho turned to Roly Poly. "He's been like this since we got him," the Graviton said with a shrug.

"What I wouldn't give for a telepath right now. Alright then, Kaprenius. You can play your games. As king of the Lunar empire, I pronounce you guilty of the charge of highest treason against my person and the state. I sentence you to death in whatever form the Graviton people see fit. Take him out of my sight and do your worst, Roly Poly," Tycho intoned for all to hear. The Graviton councilman gestured to his men and they took their prisoner away to prepare him for transport. Tycho then looked to Nitro. "Send out heavily armed patrols to find Aristarchus. Advise your men not to engage him unless necessary, only follow and wait for us to mass our forces. We still have the advantage of numbers, that's something we must use to its full effect.

"Agreed. We will find him no matter what hole he crawls into," Nitro saluted.

Captain Havallance decided to let the three hybrids rot in their cells through the night. They certainly had nothing to do with Krystalin's murder, and probably not Frostella's, but that didn't excuse their recent actions. When morning came he went down to see them personally.

The door opened and he found Cameo and Psikaris cuddled together on the lower bunk talking quietly. Knave sat at the desk carving into the top with a knife, one that had somehow escaped a weapons search. All three turned around immediately on his entry. "I have no choice. I have to let you go, for now. I'm going to be watching your every move though, so keep your noses clean," he said.

"I told that bitch we were innocent," Knave said, jamming the knife into the table and rising to his feet.

"That bitch, for your information, is dead. If it weren't for the fact I know you were in here all night, I'd try you for her murder too," Captain Havallance said, eliciting gasps from all three.

"Krystalin? Dead? My god," Psikaris murmured.

"We apologize. We didn't know, right Knave?" Cameo said, casting a dangerous look at his room mate.

"Oh, of course. I'd never say something like that about the dead," Knave said, rolling his eyes.

The captain didn't seem to care either way. "I figured the three of you might want to make an appearance at Frostella's funeral ceremony. You've got two hours to get dressed before then."

The search patrols lasted well through the night with very little in the way of leads. All known residences and businesses owned by Aristarchus were investigated thoroughly, but no trace of the man could be found. Even though he was exhausted, Nitro insisted on staying up through the night. The king had gone with Eluosi to the hospital, but had since returned to stay with Darius. He'd tried to explain the process of shape changing to Nitro, but he'd found it far too complicated and just accepted it as being possible.

It wasn't looking terribly promising, he had to admit. The longer Aristarchus was out of sight, the more likely it was that he would find additional forces. There were reports already of an attack force building on the Psion Moon. The Darklings were likely doing the same, and that didn't bode well. But if they could capture Aristarchus, it might throw the opposing forces into enough disarray that any invasion would be called off.

"Still nothing," he said, hearing Tycho approaching.

"Why does it have to be this way?" Tycho sighed, staring up at the Icewalker.

"How do you mean?"

"All this conflict over the throne? I hate politics. But Aristarchus is determined. Too many lives have been lost over what amounts to a fancy chair and a glorified title."

"It is the way of things, my king. Lunataks have always striven for power and glory, through countless ages it has been this way, and for countless more it shall be. I too despise these political games, all the backstabbing and trickery. My people have been called barbaric and primitive, and maybe we are, but we are also honest and open about our true intents. We shed blood in defence of our home and our loved ones. We battle only for honour, and yearn for a death on the battlefield. This is why my people have never desired to rule the empire. We are content to be the ones called upon when the elite fighters are called for. Men like Aristarchus nauseate me. Were our roles reversed I would not be hiding with a motley crew, I would be standing here before you prepared to either kill or be killed."

Tycho stared at him for a long moment, uncertain as to how to respond. "And that is why I respect you," he said finally. "There are few who would speak openly and honestly. This is a virtue many lack, and why I am honoured to call you friend. For now, though, I'm going to return to Darius. Thank you." Nitro watched the young man depart.

"How barbaric! How primitive!" Zanaya seethed, watching the ceremony. The mess hall and been re-arranged somewhat. At one end was a wide open space with a podium and seating for six. After the space were the regular tables and chairs, compressed to accommodate this gap. Seated in the first group of chairs were three doctors, two security officers, and the captain himself. He had already said a few words, imploring the Lunar gods to accept Frostella's soul. The mere mention of Lunis sent chills up the Psion's spine, remembering the dire prophesy. Once again her hand unconsciously touched her abdomen where, apparently, a child was beginning to form.

The head doctor came up next and said a few words about her dealings with Frostella, and she was followed by a distant cousin of the deceased. Once the tedious speeches were done with, the captain gestured and a cart was brought out, revealing the source of the succulent smells Zanaya had detected when she'd entered. Frostella's corpse had been stripped, the body shaved of hair, and cooked. Zanaya suppressed a gag reflex at the sight and reiterated her sentiment on Icewalker behaviour. The captain gestured to the cousin who took a ceremonial knife and hacked a chunk of flesh from the thigh.

"It is by eating the flesh of our kin, that we honour their memory. I invite all those present to come forward and share in this moment," the cousin said, before chewing the piece of meat. Zanaya decided not to accept the invitation, but noted with some disgust that everyone else eagerly moved in.

She wasn't even sure why she'd come. It wasn't like she'd known the deceased. She'd only really met the woman as she'd killed her. That didn't count, did it? Zanaya supposed it was mostly to see how her murder of Krystalin had gone, how much people knew about it yet. There was certainly plenty of discussion and rumours going around. Some still thought that Knave, Cameo and Psikaris were behind it. That they had somehow rigged the systems in Krystalin's room before being locked up. And the dark looks they were giving the hybrids suggested this was a common sentiment. What of it then? The prisoners were free, she'd have Knave back where she wanted him, and she could find out the missing piece of information.

"You're not in a safe place," Knave breathed into her ear. She jumped, surprised that he'd managed to sneak up on her. She was usually pretty good about such things. Then again, she had a lot on her mind. He fumbled for her arm and pulled her out into the hall. From there they made their way to his room.

Zanaya kept quiet on the way. Though the halls were seemingly deserted, there was still a danger of running into someone. But when the door closed she could hold her tongue no longer. "You people are disgusting. Eating Lunatak flesh without hesitation. How can you do such a thing?" she said, this time giving into the wave of nausea that overtook her.

"What? That? That's nothing. You have to remember, food on the Ice Moon is scarce. Long ago we realized that we couldn't waste a chance to eat. The death of one meant life for others. Besides, it really doesn't taste bad. Not compared to some of the other races. When you try eating a Horse Mutant you'll understand," Knave said.

"You eat other races?" Zanaya asked, growing more disgusted.

"Sure. Why not? We get prisoners on occasion, and we make use of them. I don't see why you're so upset. Don't tell me your high and mighty Psions are so pure and innocent. I've heard my Psion prisoners begging me to send their brain back to their family," Knave said.

"That's different," Zanaya said, trying to come to terms with all she'd learned. "We honour our dead."

"So do we. To be eaten by ones loved ones is the greatest honour we can have."

"Maybe to barbarians. Remind me never to become part of your family," she snapped, wincing as she remembered whose child it was she carried. "When someone dies on the Psion Moon we carry their body into the middle of the desert to the great burial grounds. Because fertile land is so scarce we must do this far in the heart of the desert. I acknowledge that we do remove the brains, and they are placed beneath the great temple of the ages. It's believed that the residual psionic energy is drawn from the brain and flows back into the temple, strengthening our prayers and our spiritual leaders."

"So you're saying you believe in a lot of magic. I've eaten Psion brains and I've never gained anything from it except a stomach ache," Knave said, snickering.

"How dare you insult my people!" Zanaya said. "The power of the brain is sacred to us, and you despoil it by eating it? You disgust me." She turned on her heel and left before she could say anything more, a distant part of her brain reminding her that she needed him alive and in love with her. She would fake an apology later. Right now she needed to vent.

Cameo didn't notice Knave's abrupt departure, as he chatted with the three other pilots onboard, including Zero. It had been a pleasant service, very moving the way that Frostella's associates spoke of her. He remembered Krystalin's words, reminding him of her family's dislike for hybrids and wondered momentarily what they'd have thought of three such beings taking part in the funeral lunch.

"Not bad grub," Zero said, licking his fingers of grease. "Y'know, I've been to some of these funerals and they do a crappy job with the cooking. I remember one time they overcooked the body so bad that most of it was still left at the end. That's a travesty." Cameo nodded politely. He'd heard all about it the day after. "Now my mom's funeral, let me tell you, that was a good one. They over did it with the spices but I felt proud that day."

"The cook onboard is pretty good," Cameo said.

"Hey, I wonder what they'll do with Krystalin's," another of the pilots said suddenly, causing the other three to go quiet. "It's funny, but I wondered what she'd taste like a couple of weeks ago."

"You did, did you?" The captain's voice asked. "Perhaps we'll let you out of shackles long enough to find out."

The pilot's face paled, turning to meet the angry eyes of Captain Havallance. He glanced at his companions and knew that they could do nothing to help him. "I didn't mean it like that. I've wondered how a lot of people taste. Heck, I wonder how I taste. I wouldn't kill anyone to find out. Never. Not me, no." The captain continued to stare until the man shut up and resigned himself to his fate. He turned and allowed himself to be escorted out.

Tycho jerked awake, remembering where he was. His head rested on the protective dome that Darius had become, he must have fallen asleep in that position. At some point someone had draped a blanket over him and, presumably Nitro, assigned a guard to watch over him. Seeing that he was awake, the guard saluted crisply.

"No news to report sir. Aristarchus is still on the run and no new prisoners have been collected. Eluosi is still in intensive care, they're hoping to update us soon. Lunch is available near the prisoner area. I can take you there if you wish," the guard said. Tycho stretched and indicated the guard should lead the way. He'd slept longer than he'd expected, if they were serving lunch.

Things looked different in the harsh light of day. Aristarchus' once beautiful manor was now ruined. He cast his eye on the section where he had been held prisoner. Most of the larger pieces of masonry and debris had been removed in the effort to rescue him, so it didn't look too bad by comparison, though the sight of it still made him shudder.

Toran sat on a mat in the centre of a circular room. The room was strictly off-limits to all but the high priests, as it was a place of great power. The commonly held belief was that brains were stored throughout the basement in the temple and that the residual psionic energies were released back into the building. This was only partially true. When a Psion died his brain was sorted by the type of energy within; telekinesis, pyrokinesis, telepathy, and so forth. The powers flowed from the grey matter into a series of batteries. These could be drawn upon by the high priests to augment their own powers. The oracle roomed directly above where the batteries were stored, granting him extraordinary abilities.

It was one of telepathy that Toran was using, granting him the ability to transmit his thoughts across the spatial void and beam them directly into the mind of Mystan. "Mystan. The oracle has spoken, urging haste in putting Aristarchus on the throne," he said, relaying the vision as well as Psipe's interpretation.

"I see," Mystan said. He sounded strained and tired. "We've narrowly escaped capture and are reduced to very few. Our only hope now is Tycho's death."

"I concur. If Tycho were to die then Aristarchus would be king. The people will resist at first, but bloodlines are bloodlines, and the gods know we've had rulers with greater flaws," Toran said. Luna's husband, Piscaar had taken the throne in her absence, and there had been so much bloodshed afterwards that he'd been known as Piscaar the Red.

"I believe that Kaprenius may be of use to us in appeasing the people. I haven't spoken with Aristarchus yet, but if he were to distance himself from his son, blame him for Tycho's capture, there may be enough people who will believe such a claim as to make the transition between rulers easier," Mystan said, the mind link allowing him to transmit the image to better convey his meaning.

"Then I leave it in your capable hands," Toran said, feeling drained already from the effort. He broke the link and allowed himself to lie back for a quick rest. He wouldn't be able to enjoy it for long. There was much to do, and little time to do it in.

Shade too was remembering Piscaar and his reaction to the loss of Luna. "It is with heavy heart that I learn that Queen Luna was unable to return to our moons. As her husband I take the throne in her stead and will rule as she would have ruled. I am certain that Luna would want those responsible for her loss to be held accountable. Therefore, my first act as king will be to declare the senior staff of the Excelsior to be guilty of a conspiracy to commit vile treason. They will be executed at once and their properties declared the possession of the crown."

The response was immediate. Twenty people arrested on the spot, each taken to prison to await their deaths. Family members were evicted from their houses at the hands of the military, and known associates were rounded up for interrogation. The populace grew unsettled and rebellious even as the first person faced the firing squad. A distraught wife tried to prevent her husband's execution and met death as well, shot by a blast from Piscaar's own pistol; it was an event that marked beginning of the riots.

Shade had been there at the execution. She'd known some of the crew, and felt badly for them losing their lives, angry as she was over her father being gone too. She'd witnessed the infamous pistol blast, and watched as a Darkling nearby threw the stone that inspired others to join in the riot. She'd gotten caught up by the frenzy and joined in hurling projectiles at the new king, but had recognized the danger when the military began using deadly force.

The capital became a death trap. No one was permitted to leave, even though large sections were in flames. The military's full force was turned on crushing the rebellion, killing anyone in the streets who looked like they were up to no good. Paranoia and fear reigned, not Piscaar.

Things only got worse when a trio of Lunataks, two Psions and a Graviton, murdered Piscaar. Instantly a dozen claims to the throne arose, and forces from all five moons were gathered to argue their position. The riots spread further, engulfing first nearby cities, and then spreading to the whole moon. It was only when it threatened to spread to the other moons that things began to calm down. Leaders from the other four moons stepped in with their armadas and ordered a cease fire. It didn't stop the arguing, but reduced the violence accompanying it. With calm restored, the bloodlines of the surviving candidates were examined by a committee, and a leader was named.

When he was found dead in his bathtub, poisoned drink in his hand, the other moons gave up and retreated to their home moons, each believing that they should be in charge of the Lunataks. In the end, hundreds had been killed under Piscaar's reign, and thousands more after. Shade had never been more pleased to return home than she had when the spaceports were finally opened to general travel.

The funeral for Krystalin was a much more sombre affair than Frostella's, as word of what had happened to the pilot who spoke ill of her spread. He was present, but sported a fresh set of bruises on his face and refused to speak to anyone.

For his part, Knave felt unsettled attending. He knew far too much about what had happened to the woman, and his thoughts seemed to drift back to the argument he and Zanaya had had the day before. He wasn't sure why he was so upset by it either; he'd been in arguments before and had never felt this bad from them, so why now? Did it have something to do with his base emotions? That weaker Thunderian side of himself? He tried to recall if he'd ever felt this way when he'd argued with his mother, but couldn't conjure anything up and dismissed that train of thought. He scented the air, curious as to whether Zanaya would show up to another funeral, but couldn't find her. He decided to go looking for her, but was stopped at the door by the new head of security, Paeder of House Snowskin.

"Going somewhere?" she asked, blocking the doorway with her body.

Knave recognized her immediately and suppressed a snicker. From her appearance, she looked like she had escaped his father's harem and joined the space force. Such a notion made it hard for him to take her seriously. "Actually, yes. I was planning to go to my room. I find funerals rather boring," he said.

"Is that so. Or are you off to visit your accomplice in Krystalin's murder?" she asked. "You see, I figured that our murderer would be one of the first to leave the funeral, and you happen to be the first. Not very bright of you, especially given your recent actions. I think a little more time in the security office is in order." She took hold of his arm and pulled him out into the hall, headed once more for questioning.

Tycho split his time, in the two days now since his rescue, between Eluosi's bedside and Darius. The former was in poor spirits as the doctors tried to coax her arm into working again. The options were running out, and the fear was that she would have to have it amputated. Even with Tycho's assurances that he would have his best scientists create a fully functional robotic arm for her, she was depressed. It wouldn't be the same no matter how much science went into it. She bemoaned that they had better get married because her acting career was over.

It tore at the young king to see her in such pain. He felt guilty for her situation and promised that he would always take care of her. He would get Darius to work on the necessary preparations if she was still willing to get married when she was checked out.

Thoughts of that reminded him of the other burden weighing on his mind. Poor Darius. He still wasn't responding, trapped in that rocky form. He was alive, they could feel a faint pulse beneath the hard exterior, but was either stuck or unconscious in some manner. Roly Poly had graciously arranged for the changeling to be carried to a more secure location and a guard to watch over him, but there was little else they could do. Tycho felt so helpless and alone. Darius had been with him since he was very young, almost since birth.

He felt the presence behind him. "My king, you wear yourself out," Nitro stated. Tycho looked up at the older man and nodded weakly. He was right. Nitro was often right. He glanced over at where Eluosi was sleeping peacefully. She would be fine without him for now, as would Darius. He had people who would update him. But it felt wrong to return to his luxurious quarters while the two people he cared about weren't able to do likewise. "Tycho Lunar, you will go home and go to bed. The empire cannot afford a weak ruler. Aristarchus and his ilk would take advantage of that," Nitro said. Tycho nodded again and obeyed his elder.

Zanaya reclined on Knave's bed, waiting for him to return, and so was startled when the door opened and it wasn't her source. It was the other two, returned from the despicable funeral no doubt. She cursed inwardly at her predicament, unable to leave or move much without alerting one or the other to her presence. She watched as they sat on the lower bunk opposite her, Cameo's hands lovingly, massaging Psikaris' shoulders and neck, her hands lovingly holding a technical manual.

"You know, 'Karis, we've got the room to ourselves for a while. I doubt they'll be letting Knave out any time soon," Cameo said, brushing her hair to one side. Zanaya's eyes widened. Knave was caught again? How many Icewalkers did she have to kill for this man?

"I'm not like the women Psychro brings home," she said, scowling slightly, though the words were a relief to the Psion spying on them.

"I know, I'm not asking for that. But there's plenty else we could do," Cameo said hastily, trying not to offend the woman he'd only been dating for a few days.

"Fine. You get five minutes and that's all. I've got important catching up to do. What if they ask me to tune up the life support systems tomorrow? You don't want to die because I don't know which wire goes where," she said, setting the manual aside and turning to face him.

"You're all the life support I need," he replied, taking her head in his hands and kissing her gently.

Cursing all Icewalkers and their libidos, Zanaya weighed whether the lovebirds were engrossed enough that she could slip out the door. She doubted it. Cameo was facing the door, and opening it would doubtless catch his eye. There was nothing for it but to wait it out.

Knave stared into the cold eyes of Captain Havallance as he hung a set of shackles in the security office. "Let's review, shall we? We have reason to believe that you were involved in the murder of Frostella of House Whitestar, you threatened two members of my crew, and were possibly involved in Krystalin of House Neijin's murder. Am I missing anything? Are there any other bodies we should know about?" he asked. Paeder stood smugly behind the captain, holding a baton menacingly.

"Why should I bother answering?" Knave asked. "You've decided my guilt without evidence. You're going to come up with some flimsy reason I should be executed or left behind on Third Earth. I know it. You know it. Even your bimbo knows it." He yelped as the baton was introduced to his ribs. She was stronger than she looked.

"Such arrogance. I see why Nitro was hopeful you wouldn't return," the captain said, seeing no point in denying the truth.

"Icewalker law allows me to challenge your authority through combat. If you weren't a gutless coward, I would do so now," Knave hissed.

"It does indeed, and I will accept. Tonight, after dinner, we will fight til one of us can no longer stand, then I will deliver your skinned hide to Nitro personally, and he will reward me greatly for doing what he should have done long ago. Oh, and tradition also says nothing of what Paeder can do to you before we meet for battle. I'll have your last meal brought up in a few hours. That should give my, bimbo was it, plenty of time to teach you the meaning of pain." Captain Havallance chuckled at the hybrid's predicament and sauntered out of the room whistling, leaving Knave quite alone with Paeder and her closet of torture devices.

Tycho walked briskly through the halls of the hospital. He'd scarcely left the place, it seemed, before Nitro had called him back. Eluosi had awakened and was desperate to see him, Nitro had said, and it was imperative that he be by her side to attend her. This confused the king greatly. Two hours before, Nitro had been insistent that he go home. Now he was telling him that his place was with her? Something didn't feel right, which is why he had summoned the two Icewalkers that currently flanked him.

The room was dark, something that made him extra suspicious. One of the Icewalkers entered first and turned on the lights. Eluosi had a rag over her mouth and was out cold on the bed. Nitro was nowhere to be seen, but the guard he'd stationed in the room was dead.

A burst of energy struck the Icewalker, killing him almost instantly. Tycho's own pistol was out in the blink of an eye, locking on Aristarchus, standing just beside the door. The other Icewalker glanced at his companion and readied a fireball. The two members of the royal family stared hard at each other. "Another death on your hands, Aristarchus, and you won't be able to wiggle out of this one," Tycho said. "Surrender yourself."

"You think you have the advantage, do you?" Aristarchus moved out, further into the open. "We both need the same thing, Tycho, the death of the other. But only one of us has the courage to make the killing stroke. So long as I'm alive, I am a threat to your reign as king."

"Then I will be forced to sentence you to execution. I warn you, Aristarchus, surrender now and justice will be swift and painless," Tycho said.

Aristarchus kept his gun level with Tycho's chest. A single blast, as evidenced by the Icewalker's demise, would prove lethal. "You would let someone else mete out your justice? I was right. You are a coward. Enjoy this minor victory, the battle is far from over." The royal had, without Tycho really noticing, made his way closer to the open window. Without warning he leapt out. Tycho and the remaining Icewalker sprinted over and saw Aristarchus floating gently to the ground. Both ducked backwards as Aristarchus fired at the open window, cracking the surrounding brickwork.

"Follow him," Tycho said, cursing to himself. He should have had people surrounding the building before coming up here. Aristarchus had a telekinetic on his payroll, apparently, and that complicated matters. He joined the Icewalker in running through the halls and down three flights of stairs. But by the time they got outside, Aristarchus and his companion were long gone. Glumly, Tycho returned to the room.

Eluosi was still asleep, though one of the hospital staff, alerted by the commotion, had removed the rag. Knowing that he would be unable to enjoy the luxury of sleep himself, Tycho picked up his communicator and informed Nitro of what had happened. If they moved quickly enough, he hoped, they might be able to catch him this time. With that done, he sat down in the chair next to Eluosi and rested.

To the few Icewalkers who hadn't witnessed it before, Nitro's rage was frightening. To know how close they had been to capturing the traitorous Aristarchus, and to losing his king, aggravated him. That Aristarchus had used his own voice to pull it off made him even angrier. He posted extra guards on Darius and Eluosi, and increased the number on Tycho's person. If Aristarchus wanted to try to kill Tycho again, he would have to work for it.

Roly Poly's Gravitons likewise doubled their efforts, sending every available soldier out to comb the city and surrounding area. It didn't matter where the would-be king hid, they were determined to find him. They left no rock unturned in their efforts. And yet, with all eyes focussed on the ground, no one noticed the pair drifting silently through the clouds in a telekinetic bubble.

It was with an undignified thud that Knave hit the ground, his bruised and bloodied body slapping against the floor. Paeder had done her job well, she'd been ruthless and thorough. No bones broken, but every muscle ached and cried out for relief. A few minutes ago some soup and a glass of water had been provided as what was assumed to be his last meal. The food was bland and provided little in the way of sustenance, but he ate it anyway.

He was led down to the mess hall by Paeder and a pair of guards. The room had been transformed yet again, this time with the tables folded and stacked neatly in a corner. The chairs were arranged around the perimeter for an audience to sit and watch. Captain Havallance was doing some stretches as the group entered, but took a spot in the middle of the room soon after. The crowd quieted at Knave's entry, pointing and whispering. His condition was obvious to all, but well within the rules of the event. The guards escorted Knave to his spot, a few metres away from the captain, while Paeder stepped between them.

"According to the laws of the Ice Moon it is allowed that one may settle grievances with another through deadly combat. While this practice is rare, it is a useful tool, and its verdicts are final. Knave of House Iespyk has, today, challenged Captain Havallance of House Kolrad. They will fight unarmed until one or both can not continue. Anyone interfering in this sacred tradition will be killed on the spot. If, after two hours, there is no victor, the combatants will be permitted a short break and given knives. Every two hours after they will again be granted a short break," Paeder said, her tone indicating that she didn't believe the captain would need two hours to finish the hybrid. "Good luck gentlemen, and may Lunis guide you both."

Knave watched the woman walk out of the battle area and take a seat. He wasn't feeling very well, and knew that he would need a lot of luck to survive this combat. Blood trickled from many open wounds and the captain would take advantage of all of them. A whistle blew and Knave lunged forward, narrowly missing the captain's ribs with one feral swipe. Weapons may have been forbidden, but his claws were part of his person.

The captain cracked him sharply on the back as he went by, dropping him to the ground. It was only instinct that allowed him to roll free before the captain's boot caved in his skull. Knave stood slowly, watching the captain carefully to see where the next strike would come. As he'd expected, it came in the form of a stiff uppercut, one that Knave scarcely was able to avoid. Captain Havallance was quicker than he'd thought he would be. The two locked hands in a test of strength, the sneer on the captain's face grew wider as Knave was forced to back off a step.

In actuality, it was a calculated risk. The physical exertion and his rolling had left a thin smear of blood on the floor. As the captain stepped forward to press his advantage, his foot caught in the gooey mess and he slipped to the floor. Knave pounced then, his body crying out for a rest already, and savagely slashed his superior's chest. Knave was weak, though, and couldn't maintain his dominant position. The captain quickly pushed him off and wasted a precious second looking stunned at his shirt. "First blood," Knave hissed.

"Last blood is what counts," Havallance replied, closing the gap again.

The two traded punches and kicks for a time, with Knave taking the worst of it. He was getting desperate now. His blood stained the floor and the clothes of both men. He could feel his energy depleting rapidly, but he refused to give up.

"Your father will be pleased with me. My house might even gain a promotion," Havallance chuckled, circling Knave as he panted for air. The hybrid's eyes lit up at the mention of his sire, spurring the adrenaline necessary for him to lunge at the captain again. He punched hard into the groin of Havallance, causing him to crumple to his knees. Anger drove Knave's fists into the head and jaw of his opponent for a time before flowing away, forcing Knave to his own knees. The two men stared at one another for a long time, each trying to muster the strength needed to finish off his enemy.

Knave watched, his eyes a mixture of hate and horror, as the captain lurched to his feet. The man kicked out with one leg, but Knave found himself toppling forward at the last second, and the captain fell again. He crawled forward, summoning every scrap of energy he could to grab hold of the captain's leg and sink his teeth into the meaty calf muscle. A solid kick to the head tore Knave, and a good sized chunk of flesh, from the captain's prone form.

He begged the world to stop spinning long enough to mount a final assault. Captain Havallance writhed on the ground, his leg bleeding profusely and unable to support his weight. A dim part of his mind told him that the crowd was watching intently, each onlooker wondering who would come out of this alive. Paeder was leaning forward, trying to determine whether to call the match or not.

The captain cried out again and tried to roll on to his knees. He inched forward, closer and closer to Knave. His eyes were unfocussed and his movements shaky and jerky. Knave tried to will his body to defend itself but could hardly raise himself off the floor. "Do it for me," a voice whispered in his ear. It was Zanaya. What was she doing here? A final surge of adrenaline coursed through him. His lover had asked a favour and his honour dictated that he oblige.

Finally getting to a kneeling position he watched the captain expend his energy crawling closer. Knave gathered his reserves into one final strike, a vicious slash to the exposed throat of the captain. A fountain of blood erupted like a volcano at the attack, covering Knave's face with the fluid. Both men tumbled, one on top of the other, to the floor. Paeder rushed in, declaring the fight finished.

Cameo glanced over to the small desk, where Psikaris was making notes from a book. She'd muttered something about trying to improve the power efficiency of the life support system and had lost him after about the fourth word. He hadn't heard anything from Knave since his capture several hours ago and wondered what had happened. The duo was startled when the door opened, revealing Paeder. "Cameo of House Mymekon, come with me," she said, her gun drawn. Having no other choice he did as she asked.

Curiously, Paeder led him past the security office and into the captain's quarters, but he assumed it meant Captain Havallance was the one wanting to speak with him. It was doubly curious, then, when he found the office area empty. Paeder walked around the desk and settled on to the plain wooden chair the captain had had installed, and gestured for him to sit.

"Since the captain died, I have assumed command of this vessel until I hear from the Ice Moon," she said. Cameo's eyes widened, he hadn't heard of the captain's death and said as much to the woman. "Ah right. Your friend challenged the captain to fight to the death. He got lucky."

Well, that explained what had happened to Knave. Cameo found the woman's tone disturbing on some level. She clearly had a dislike for him, though why he couldn't say.

"We carry on with our original mission. There's just one problem. The captain's files are all heavily encrypted. What I *have* been able to learn is that only three others know the purpose behind this trip. Nitro and Knave of House Iespyk, and yourself. Of those, I can't reach one and the other is in the infirmary. Which leaves me with you. I don't like you and I don't trust you. While Havallance reluctantly felt that you were innocent, I do not. Your kind has mixed loyalties. Tell me, would you betray us to the Solarians?"

Cameo sighed. It was a lot of information to digest, and the accusations against him weren't helping at all. "Against a pig-headed person like you, I might," he snapped. He was used to dealing with questions about his heritage, but he'd never met such resistence as he had the last couple of days.

"I thought as much," Paeder chuckled to herself. "Now that we've established that you're not trustworthy, I want to know everything about this mission."

"We're going there because we want to see if you can breathe in space when we push you out the airlock. Look, I'm not telling you anything until I have proof that you're in command. Maybe this is a coup and the captain's really being held prisoner somewhere," Cameo snarled, standing up.

Paeder rose too and crossed briskly to the door. "You want proof? We'll go to the infirmary and get you your proof then."

"This ees Roly Poly to Tycho. Come een Tycho!" The communicator at his side sounded. The king and Nitro were talking quietly by the copse of trees where Aristarchus' Psion must have been hiding.

"Go ahead, I'm here," he answered.

"We have good news! I'm with Darius now and he's starting to wake up. You should come quickly," Roly Poly said.

"He is? We'll be there shortly," Tycho closed the communicator and placed it back on his belt.

He was about to leave when Nitro grabbed his arm. "Wait. This could be another trap. I believe that Roly Poly was out on one of the patrols looking for Aristarchus. They might be trying to lure you there now. I'm going to call in some of my men to surround the area."

Tycho considered protesting, but decided that there was every chance that Nitro was right. The enemy had tried the same stunt earlier, there was no reason that they might not try it again. Catch him off-guard. He yawned and realized that he'd been pushing himself too hard. He needed rest. He needed sleep. But both could wait if there was any chance that the news about Darius was true. He and Nitro climbed into his borrowed car and drove away.

The face staring up at him was definitely Havallance, and the vacancy in the eyes and gaping wounds told Cameo that he was very definitely dead. The medical lab was bustling with activity. Three doctors were running around, taking care of the assorted injured. An engineer who'd sprained his ankle lay in one bed, a fellow doctor who was feeling nauseous was in another and, receiving the least attention, Knave.

Paeder watched his expression carefully, and when she was satisfied that he'd seen enough, she took him by the arm back to the captain's office. "Happy?" she asked. "The mission, if you please."

"Your people will probably crack the captain's codes eventually, so here it is. We're headed to Third Earth because we have evidence that suggests Chilla and the rest of Luna's crew is still alive," he said, proceeding to elaborate with what he knew. Seeing the captain's prone form had cooled his temper too. Paeder was clearly under a lot of stress with her double promotion, and he could almost forgive her nasty remarks about him.

When he was done explaining she leaned back in her chair, folding her hands and considered what he'd said. "It sounds improbable, downright impossible. But if Nitro and Havallance believed it..." her voice trailed off. "I'm not letting you off the hook, I still think you're up to something, but I can't hold you here. You're dismissed." Cameo managed a sarcastic salute before heading out the door.

There were no words in the Lunar language that Tycho could use to describe what he felt when he saw Darius sitting up. He looked exhausted himself, his shaking body wrapped in a blanket. He was eating a sandwich of some sort when Tycho and Nitro approached. There was an equal look of relief on the changeling's face when he saw his ward. Immediately, the king gave him a hug and kissed him passionately. The two pulled apart, embarrassed slightly by the public show of affection. "What happened, Darius?" Tycho asked.

"I saw the grenades and I reacted. I've never tried such a difficult transformation, taking in that much mass and energy in one shot is so very painful and straining. I knew you were safe, I could hear the two of you breathing but I couldn't hold on to consciousness and maintain the shape at the same time. I fought so hard until my body couldn't take it any more. I had to make sure that I wouldn't shape change back and be immediately buried in rubble. I just couldn't bear the thought of losing you," Darius said. "Then I find out you've been outside for about a day, meaning I went through a lot of that for nothing." His eyes twinkled with mischief, but beneath them Tycho could see the fear. Darius had been terrified of losing both his own life and Tycho's as well, and only the eyes showed the truth.

More than anything, Tycho wanted to gather the changeling into his arms and hold him tight, reassure him that he would never leave. But they were in public, and both men preferred to keep their love more private. It was with that in mind that Tycho announced that they would be retiring back to the palace to rest and recover.

The one thing Mystan wanted above all else was to be away from the Royal Moon and back on his home moon. Mostly it was because at least there he was respected enough to be listened to. He'd told Aristarchus that he could handle Tycho's death more easily than he could. No pistols, no rifles, he'd hardly have to be in the same room as the king. But Aristarchus was a proud man, one who insisted on doing things his way. He'd wanted the privilege of the kill himself, and would not listen to reason.

Of course, back on his home moon Mystan would have the opportunity to rest. His mind had been pushed to new limits, carrying himself and Aristarchus through the sky for miles. It was a miracle that he'd been able to land in a dignified manner at all. The small group was hiding in a pastry factory on the outskirts of town, it was listed as being owned under one of Aristarchus' pseudonyms.

To make matters even worse for the Psion, Aristarchus had suddenly decided that maybe Mystan was right. Maybe he should let the telekinetic do the dirty deed. Now, of all times. He was asking the impossible, Mystan's mind could scarcely lift a sheet of paper, let alone crush the internal organs of another man. Rest. A lot of rest. He'd commandeered an office and locked the door, with instructions that he was not to be disturbed for at least a day. Until then he would be sleeping and meditating, building up his reserves and clearing his mind.

Likewise resting, though for different reasons, Knave lay in the medical facility aboard the Honour of the Moon. He watched the staff running around, performing their varied tasks. He wasn't sure what half the equipment in here was for, and figured he didn't really want to know. He examined his body, surprised that it was in such relatively good shape for all he'd been through. A bag of blood flowed into his veins, restocking the fluid he'd lost. He was covered in scratches and bruises, however, and it made it difficult for him to tell where one wound ended and the next began. He raised his hand to his temple and scratched at the scab there.

A nurse walked purposefully towards him and pulled his hand away from the injury. "Don't do that. It won't heal if you do," she snapped. He winced at the physical contact. "Oh, did that hurt? I'm so sorry." Her voice filled with sarcasm.

As Knave stared at her in confusion, a bulb turned on inside his head. She'd been at Frostella's funeral, the cousin who had said so many kind words about her kin and praying for vengeance for her killer.

"Word going around the ship has it you're suspect number one," the cousin said, knowing that Knave had recognized her. "A creature like you should have been killed at birth so that decent people wouldn't have to deal with you." She kept her voice low, and methodically applied an ice pack to his head, pressing as hard on the wound as she could. Her eyes challenged him to protest his treatment, knowing he wouldn't.

Gritting his teeth, both from the pain and to refrain from saying anything, Knave kept silent, feeling relieved when she finally let up the pressure and went off to do some other work. Once she was out of earshot he whispered a foul epithet in her direction. He would have to remember not to get injured again on this mission. He was just starting to drift off to sleep again when Cameo approached his bedside.

"I heard what happened," Cameo said, crouching beside the bed.

"Sorry you missed it. He deserved it," Knave said, still riled by the doctor.

"Yeah, well, I wouldn't say that kind of thing out loud. Paeder is the temporary captain and she's looking to put our heads on the wall. I told her about the mission, I think she would have turned this ship around if I didn't. Even money says she tries to leave us behind," Cameo said, checking his companion's injuries. The quantity was stunning. In many ways, Cameo was surprised that the half-cheetah was able to move.

"I wouldn't waste money on a sure thing," Knave sighed. If he couldn't figure some way to gain control of the ship, he might be spending the rest of his natural life on a planet he'd scarcely heard of while his father took the credit.

"Our best bet is Chilla," Cameo said. "Paeder will listen to her. If she says we go, we go. Only problem is, she's probably just as old fashioned as the rest of them. Crossbreeding was virtually unheard of in her time."

"That fashion was young when she was around," Knave snorted, but agreed with the reasoning. House Iespyk was one of the most powerful houses on the Ice Moon and Chilla, as the oldest member of it, would be the default head. He wondered if his father had realized that when he'd sent them on this mission. Either way, Paeder would have to listen to one of her ranking. "You'd better do the talking then, when we get there. It's obvious what I am, on you it's only there if you're looking for it. Create a good first impression before she knows it."

All was right with the world, Tycho thought as he draped an arm protectively around Darius' sleeping body. Sex had been out of the question, both were too tired to do much, but he'd found there was greater intimacy in some ways in just holding on to your partner. This was what made him happy.

On to Heritage of the Lunatak Empire - part four
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