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Part Five

Drell heard the mental signal from Myrik. It meant that Psikaris had been taken captive and that someone had managed to call for help. If things went right, attention would be diverted from the palace and focussed on rescuing her.

They would wait exactly five minutes, then it would be time to move into action, and he relayed the message on to his own people. The death of Luna, queen of the Lunataks, would signal an end to order, and a return to power for a group like the Moons of Purity. He and his companion dropped the book they were studying, the need for pretense over, and ran for the throne room.

Luna listened with a degree of boredom as two of her advisors spoke. The Darkling named Nightsong was responsible for the royal treasury, which brought her in constant conflict with Totla, a Royal Lunatak who was in charge of the public morale. Often the latter seemed to think that throwing money on a lavish production or new buildings would help with his task. Nightsong disagreed, naturally, and preached fiscal responsibility.

At present they were arguing in her throne room over a statue that Totla wanted built to honour Luna. It was tempting, she did like the thought of a massive statue of herself, but the budget was running a little tight what with the financing of the Third Earth mission. Goods were starting to come in, but it wasn't much yet.

As they bantered she flipped through the sketches Totla had provided. Some looked quite good. Many of them featured Amok, though some didn't. Most were very generic poses, though there was one of her gesturing with her riding crop that she was fond of, such a pose was begging to have things draped over the outstretched arm.

The discussion was interrupted by the frantic arrival of a soldier. "Your majesty! We just received a transmission from our security forces. Commander Cameo's home has been attacked, none of our people are answering our calls."

"It must be the Moons of Purity. Get more soldiers there now, and someone contact Cameo on the Graviton Moon, he needs to know," she cursed. The soldier saluted and ran out, leaving the three alone again. "They're hitting too close to home now." There was no secret that Cameo was one of her favourites. He had put his life on the line for her, earning him the promotion, and wasn't afraid to give his opinion. Loyal and honest were two traits that she found difficult to find in any of these lackeys and sycophants.

"I'm just glad they're there and not here," Totla said, watching the soldier run off.

Luna's eyebrow raised. "What a curious thing to say. What do you mean?" There was a faint pinprick at the back of her neck, a niggling sense that there was something bigger going on. Amok picked up on it and lumbered over to stand protectively in front of the throne.

"I just mean that I feel safer... knowing that they're attacking over there. It means they aren't here, right?" Totla backed up a pace, clearly nervous.

Nightsong drew her sidewinder, and aimed it at the royal officer. "He's lying. His heart rate just spiked."

"Guards!" Luna's piercing shriek filled the air. She knew immediately what that meant: an attack was coming. Amok scooped her up and stared around the room, even as her personal guard entered the room from behind her. Totla fell to the ground, tackled by one of her men. And was dragged off to the side.

"Alright, maggots. Rotation two in position!" a gold suited guard called loudly. Black Tiger looked at the others, it was time. The half Psions had finished their labour and barely had had a chance to sit for a moment before that door had opened. A dozen guards watched the forty beaten and broken slaves. The odds were good, but some of them would die, she knew. How many had she really befriended? Just Merma and Chedra, really. She knew a few others by name, and more she recognized.

A picture of her father formed momentarily. Proud Captain Stalker. How would he react to all of this? He was very open minded and judged people individually on their merits. His last letter had mentioned a Thunderian/Lunatak hybrid named Knave who he hoped would unite the two cultures. That's the way it should be, she thought. Her father's letter had even jokingly pointed out that the man was single, though there was very little seriousness about it. She smiled faintly. Memories of her family often made her happy, today they reminded her of what was at stake. If things went badly she would never see any of them again. Her mother, father, aunts and uncles. There was something worth fighting for.

Revenge? Yes, there was that too. All those vile creatures that called themselves Lunataks. She might die today, but she vowed to take some of them with her.

Time seemed to slow, and Luna locked her eyes with the door. Beneath her hands she could feel Amok's muscles tensing, coiling. Whenever the attack came there would be no surprising her beast. He would either fight to the death or carry her to safety. The twin doors that had been there for generations flew open, as though propelled by strong winds. Amok moved out of the way of the first, and batted the second aside. Six people of varying races stood in the doorway, a Psion man who looked to be their leader seemed to be taking stock of the situation, and she could hardly blame him. He had probably expected only Luna and Nightsong in the room.

It was idiotic, of course. One didn't stay queen very long if they didn't have bodyguards nearby. But it also suited her purpose to keep their location a secret, it made their appearance even more effective.

Were she spiritual Luna might have had her life flash before her eyes at the realization of how close she had come to death. If not for the verbal blunder of Totla the ambush could have been successful. One of the doors, if she were inclined to look, was resting overtop the toppled throne.

Finally the Psion decided that he'd been quiet for too long. "Queen Luna. I, Drell of the Moons of Purity, demand that you give up the throne," he announced. He didn't move from the doorway. He was doubtless trying to think of an escape route without being shot at. There wouldn't be one. If she could stall him a little longer, more of her soldiers would arrive from behind, effectively trapping them.

"And why would I do that?" she asked. While she talked she tried to gauge how much of a zealot he was. Would he sacrifice himself for whatever perceived cause he had? There were six of them, and any one of them might have the lack of sense necessary to result in all their deaths.

"Because we have deemed you a weak ruler. You consort with half bred freaks. Genetic mistakes that weaken the blood of the empire. We Lunataks are strong, but you would have us dilute our strength through interbreeding. Only through purity can we survive. With us in command we will..." Drell began before she gestured him silent with a wave of her riding crop. She'd had enough blathering for one day already.

"And you think I'm just going to step aside because you say so? You don't know me very well. You think I'm weak? Maybe I am, physically, but even I know a losing situation when I see it. Surrender now, or else." She saw more soldiers filing in behind Drell and his comrades. Now was the moment of truth. If he was going to go out in a blaze of glory it would be now or never.

The guards were completely surprised by the sudden rush. Merma led the charge, spraying a fine stream of water in one man's face and wrested his gun away from him. Nineteen other women moved at the same time, employing their admittedly weak powers.

Flashes of light, streams of mist, miniature balls of fire, and more. Black Tiger knew her powers weren't refined enough for such situations, but she had been trained well. She knew where all the tender areas on Lunataks were, and that with the right force one could cripple, incapacitate or even kill.

She lunged at the nearest guard, driving her fist into the woman's neck. Another prisoner, Nysar she noticed when some measure of surprise, joined in, taking the gun from the guard. The woman was struggling to breathe, clutching at her throat, and Black Tiger found herself gawking. Had she actually done that? It had been so simple, come so naturally. "Pay attention girl!" Nysar snapped, pulling the trigger and ending the guard's miserable life. "We've got a revolution to perform."

The prisoners who had been in first rotation were quick on the uptake and readily joined in. Soon the twelve guards were incapacitated. Eleven were dead, while a twelfth wished he was. Both his legs had been broken in the frantic assault. Black Tiger took a quick look around. It didn't look like many of the prisoners had been hurt. Two were wounded, and a third had been hit by a lucky shot to the chest and had been killed instantly. "Let's go free the men," Merma said, leading the charge.

"I'm waiting," Luna announced. The longer it took, the more confident she was that he would see reason and surrender. She could see a smart man when she saw it. "Give up your friends and you might earn a lenient sentence."

The truth was that any skilled telepath would be able to rip the information that they needed from his head. She knew it, and he knew it. Even death wasn't a guaranteed out, and that in itself could be disconcerting as a concept. "You're weak, and you won't win in the end. The Moons of Purity will cleanse our system of all freaks." He sounded defiant, but he raised his arms and knelt. His companions followed suit, so Luna led Amok closer to him.

"Freaks? No true Lunatak would defy the throne, so that must make you the freaks. Take them to the dungeons. Torture them until they talk. I want to know where their base is, and who else I should publicly execute. I'm afraid, Drell, that you are about to find out just how 'weak' I can be," Luna said, smacking him on the head with her riding crop.

The guards were waiting for them, Black Tiger thought with the strongest curse she knew. It had been a gamble to start with. There were two routes into the men's barracks, through the mines or through the outer corridor. Any guards in the corridor were likely to be out of the heavy uniforms and more able to quash a rebellion. The guards in the mine tunnel would be busy still with their prisoners, only it looked like they weren't.

"Must've heard the noise," Chedra cursed, ducking back around the bend, and Black Tiger was inclined to agree. It hadn't been exactly a quiet revolution. Eight lay dead or wounded at the mouth of the tunnel.

"We don't have much choice," Merma said. The guards were alert to what was happening. If they stayed put the women would be caught in a pincer movement as additional support came through the women's barracks. "We're just going to have to chance it. Black Tiger, Nysar, you two create as much darkness down there as you can. We've got twelve guns, we'll run to the mouth and start firing. The odds will be even."

"I've got a better idea," Chedra said. "It sounds like a suicide mission, but if you guys can make it dark, I think I can get to the door to the men's barracks. That's where our back-up is."

Merma looked about to protest, but finally sighed. "We'll fire down the tunnel for twenty seconds. That will hopefully move the guards out of the way for you. Gods be with you."

Psychro couldn't tell what was going on, but the six guards watching over him were talking in urgent, if hushed tones. Three of them ran out the door, while the remaining three looked nervously towards the prisoners. Of course! There was only one answer. Not knowing that she had been killed, he assumed that Rathja must have gotten word to the authorities, and this was their jailbreak. It was just unfortunate that Myrik was off the base at the moment, but there would be a nasty surprise when he got back.

"Are you being serious?" Raven asked, staring straight at Myrik. Their transport was ready to go, but the space port had ordered all ships to stay on the ground unless they heard otherwise from Queen Luna herself. "The second we take off, they'll scramble every fighter they've got and blow us clear out of the sky."

Myrik scowled. He wasn't used to being disobeyed. The unfortunate pilot at the controls in front of them wasn't going to be of much use unless he wanted someone to avert his gaze. Raven was never this obstinate, especially in front of others. He knew his role, he was the muscle, the silent observer, the support staff. Oh sure, he had argued before, he'd done it any time he thought Crackle or one of the others was being an idiot, but he'd always maintained a unified front when others were around. "In case you haven't noticed, we have a VIP here, a very VIP. If they find Psikaris onboard, and they will if they conduct a search, they will arrest us or blow us right off the ground."

They stared at each other, locked in a contest of wills; neither of them was willing to give an inch, but deep down both knew the other was right. It was all crumbling apart too quickly, Myrik thought. The gravy train was ending and soon he would be either dead or in shackles. Either way was death, really. Lunar justice could be stern, and the upper echelon of the Moons of Purity was likely to receive death sentences. If they could get back to the Graviton Moon, though, there might be a chance to regroup, gather his prized possessions, and flee out of Luna's reach.

Luna's reach. He nearly chortled at his choice of words but then realized that Luna was the key right now. Obviously, if Drell was successful, Luna wouldn't be an issue and wouldn't be able to give the order that space flight could resume. "I'll convince them to let us leave, then," he said. "When I give the signal, start talking. Act as though you're Luna. Whoever is in charge up there will believe it. Trust me."

It was going to be tricky. It wouldn't fool anyone looking at the video tape afterwards, but that was hardly an issue. Raven would be the one they saw, not him. He sent his mind into the control tower listening in to the babble of conversations going on around him. There. A weak minded Royal who wasn't busy. He slipped into the man's mind and took control.

Chedra ran like her life depended on it, and in some ways it did. The corridor had looked to be about fifty metres long, a relatively smooth stretch with a carved in section where the guards were hiding. She only prayed that when she reached the end it was the door and not solid rock that she hit.

She was tired, mind and body, but it felt good to actually be doing something. Memories of Myrik's treatment, the savage beating he had inflicted on her because that Icewalker/Psion wouldn't do as he said. Punches, kicks, objects smashed against her. He'd torn fur off her arms and shoved it down her throat. Each violent memory brought back a surge of strength. She could do. She had to do it.

An energy blast whizzed by, informing her that the guards were on to the fact that something was happening. All things considered, she'd been lucky. The things that he had put some of the others through was disgusting. People who would never again have a good night's rest from the nightmarish visions he'd concocted. A helpless Monkian/Icewalker had all his fur scorched off, and salt rubbed in the wounds. She'd been paired with the man, and the guards actually let him tell what had happened. It sickened her.

Mercifully, with the return of her powers came the return of her sixth sense. It seemed, somehow, to guide her steps and she crashed bodily through the door, landing sprawled in the middle of about forty men. "Go help the others!" she gasped. Chedra needed time to recover, but she would rejoin the fight.

"What are you doing?" Eralorn demanded, walking up to the young man at the controls. With all the chaos, trying to placate angry pilots, seeing a ship taking off of its own volition was not making him happy. He didn't need this kind of stress, in fact his doctor recommended against it.

"Sorry, sir," the flight control operator said, turning in his chair and gesturing vaguely at the screen. "Queen Luna's on that ship. I saw her myself on the monitor. She said she needs to get to the Ice Moon immediately. Also, I am sleeping with your wife."

"Ice Moon? Wait, what? My wife, but I don't have a... look. Queen Luna just sent the message from the royal palace not to let anyone leave. She obviously hasn't had time to run down and hop on a ship. And if she was going to, she would have mentioned it. Track that ship, and report to me at the end of your shift. Someone get..." he paused. Suddenly he couldn't remember what he had been about to say. Coffee. Yes, that was it. He was thirsty and wanted some coffee. "Someone get me a coffee. On the double."

Myrik maintained his psychic hold as long as he could. The vast distance they were putting between themselves and the Royal Moon was stretching his limits. He hoped it would be good enough to get them clear. There was still traffic coming and going from the other moons, so they would soon be lost. The poor officer manning the controls would likewise forget what his commander had ordered him to do. He finally released his mental hold and flashed a winning grin to Raven. "See? I told you I had it under control."

A snort was the only reply, so Myrik decided to turn his attention to their guest, laying flat on the floor, still sleeping. Her towel had come loose during the commotion and her body was now largely exposed to his eyes, which, were she awake, would be mortifying to her. He had probed her mind, searching for anything useful he could use against her brother, and found nothing but love and devotion between them. They were so close, as close as any two siblings could be. He envied her that. He'd never had any siblings, just himself and his parents, and they'd barely paid any attention to him.

He would get a facsimile soon, but it wouldn't be real. How much effort, how much time, he wondered, would it take to get that from Psychro. The needs of the flesh were met so easily, so many tasty morsels bent to his whims through fear, but what about through love? It was a tempting experiment, but not with Psychro. Sadly, Psychro would never fall in love with him, his heart was too set on the female form.

Psikaris murmured something in her sleep, and moved on to her side. It was a great pity that Cameo wasn't particularly attractive, Myrik thought, watching her closely. There was another man who would do anything to protect Psikaris, a man whom he might also force into a night of passion. An opportunity that he couldn't savour. No matter, he thought, he still had the world's greatest lover under his thumb, and soon it wouldn't just be his thumb.

"She's been taken." The words resounded in Cameo's head. Numbly the communicator dropped from his hands and he started to sway backwards, caught and steadied by Nuiane. She helped him to a seated position on the bed and stared worriedly at him. He was dimly aware of her, but only vaguely.

This was a moment that would be etched in his mind forever, and the scent of vanilla would always be associated with it. They had stopped back at the hotel to reconvene and go over what little new information they had. Nitro was off in his room, trying to get a hold of people he knew on the Royal Moon, while Mystan had been going through a phone directory. Cameo had been debating contacting Luna to get her to shut down the space port when the call had come in for him.

Time seemed to stop around him as he listened to the Royal Lunatak explaining what had happened. Seven dead. Psikaris missing. A ship somehow by-passing security protocols and escaping. A Darkling man responsible, probably a Psion too. She was alive, but for how long.

It was a very unique feeling, the scene frozen in time, bottled for his benefit. Mystan yawning, Nuiane's vanilla perfume surrounding him as her hand rested almost in the middle of his back, the clock reading 10:33. The place, the people he was with, but most importantly that ache in his heart and the leaden lump in his stomach.

A memory of their bonding ceremony, standing in the middle of an arena filled with people. He'd sworn to protect her, to ensure that they would be happy together forever. He'd known then that there would be hardships, obstacles put in their way, but he had never imagined such words to be uttered in his presence.

Time snapped back into focus. Nitro had rushed from the other room, presumably called by one of the others. He, along with Nuiane and Mystan were worriedly around him. They were asking questions but he didn't hear them. "They've got her," he whispered, answering all their questions. His voice was trembling not only from fear now but pure rage as well. A soul searing rage that was threatening to consume him. He felt like a volcano primed for an eruption, and wanted desperately a target to vent on. One thing became clear, whoever had dared take his bond mate and his unborn children was coming here. "Let's go find those bastards."

The arrival of the men didn't help, Black Tiger realized the mistake even as she and Nysar ended the darkness in the tunnel. Half the guards were able to turn around and pick off the men as they emerged from the barracks' door. The other half kept their weapons trained down the hallway. It would turn into a massacre if they weren't careful, and soon enough any soldiers who had been waiting for them outside the barracks would come in.

There was, she realized, one hope. A mad sprint to narrow the gap, divert the attention away from the men, and allow more to come out. The only blessing was that the guards seemed to be reluctant to use lethal force. After all, she reasoned, if the slave labour was killed then there would be no new Caramium.

"For freedom!" she shouted, finding the nerve to sprint down the tunnel, energy blasts racing past, and hoping that others would follow. Some would die in the charge, she knew, very likely even herself. An answering roar behind her assured her that the others were there. The roar continued through the sprint, punctuated now and then by screams of pain. Black Tiger desperately tried to block those noises from her head. She didn't need to hear them to know what they meant, and turning to see who had made them wouldn't be good for her own mental health.

As she'd predicted, more guards turned to meet the rush, allowing a few men to slip out, jumping over fallen peers. The tide was being turned. A rictus grin spread across her features and was removed instants later by a beam catching her shoulder. It spun her to the right, where she banged into the wall and had to move to avoid being stepped on by those coming up behind. The evasion gave her the misfortune of seeing seven bodies sprawled across the tunnel floor. Most were motionless, though two might have been alive. Her arm tingled and she tried to coax it back to health by rubbing around the blackened tissue.

She stood uneasily and walked to where the guards were being bludgeoned to death. So much blood, so much death. This was the price of hatred and intolerance. "Okay, everyone. Let's bar the door and take a breather. We've handled some of the guards in this place, but you can bet that more are waiting outside the barracks," Merma said, ushering anyone who could stand on their own inside the men's barracks. Black Tiger wondered about the wounded outside, and realized that they would have to be abandoned for now. The safety of the group mattered the most, and limiting the ways in was important. They had two dozen weapons now, spread over the sixty some odd survivors. The half Psions were moving around, trying to unlock a few of the healthier people's powers. That one extra ability, they knew, could become crucial.

While the Psions worked on that, and several others moved the table and mattresses in front of the door as a makeshift barricade, Black Tiger went to the other door, the one that led to the main hallway. She blinked, a second set of eyelids sliding into place, allowing for a very weak infrared vision. The hallway appeared empty. It didn't sound right. The door behind them showed the cooling bodies of the dead, and the two still warm wounded. So where were the soldiers? Waiting at the security checkpoint, no doubt. As had happened moments ago, the guards would wait for them to walk through the door and pick them off one by one. It seemed grim, but what could they do?

"Give your mind up to me," the interrogator said. Drell shook his head violently. It wouldn't help, and his resistence wouldn't hold out forever. The Psion, whoever he was, had clearly been performing his job for years. He burrowed deep into Drell's head, shattering barrier after barrier, weakening his subject's resolve. It would take time to divulge the information he was looking for, time that would hopefully give the Moons of Purity a chance to escape. Every second bought more time for Myrik to escape the Royal Moon with his prize. "Myrik?" the interrogator asked, pulling back his mental faculties for a moment. Drell realized the mistake immediately. An aide tapped a few keys and the computer began scanning for the name. "We're going to find them. Make this easier on yourself."

"Never," Drell replied. The Psion stared at him for a long moment and then started rummaging through his head again. Images of his past surfaced, him finding out Myrik's dirty little secret, that he preyed on prostitutes to feed his deviant tastes. He recalled looking over the fence and seeing that healthy crop of trees, a luxury item on the Desert Moon, and realizing what or who he was using as fertilizer. A kind word directed those tastes to another sort, another group who wouldn't be missed. A group who deserved death for the murder of his wife.

The interrogator tried to pull his mind to more recent memories, something that would show where their headquarters was. "I think I've found Myrik in our archives. Wealthy, deemed unfit by the High Priests, they tried to tamp his telepathy. Moved off the Moon and went to the Graviton Moon..."

"...And after that he has had no fixed address. There's no record of him actually living on the Graviton Moon, but it's reasonable to assume he does," Mystan said, reading off the report. The group was moving at a pretty good clip back to the space port. It all kept coming back to here, he thought. The Graviton Moon, a place so full of joy that no one would suspect it of harbouring such a menace. And now two known Psions were presumed to be of rank within the group. Drell was putting up a good fight, mentally, and his subordinates weren't much better.

The Moons of Purity were good. They smuggled their people in, and kept exact locations a secret. They operated out of a warehouse, that much was known now, and had a hidden base underground. Access codes and secret tunnels were the theme of the day. Cameo was barely listening to him, focussed on getting what he wanted from the space port. Mystan hoped that he and Nitro could stop him from doing anything rash that would get him in trouble with Luna.

They entered the Graviton's office and, through some miracle, Cameo didn't immediately attack. "Where do the Moons of Purity ships go from here?" he demanded, his hands on the man's desk, knuckles whitening from the strain to keep in control.

"I don't know what you're talking about. I don't know anytheeng about the Moons of... Urk!" Cameo reached out and pulled the man forward over his desk, scattering paperwork and office supplies. Mystan watched, mentally imploring Cameo not to hit him.

"Last chance. They've got my bond mate and I want her back."

The Graviton furtively looked from one man to the other and saw that help wasn't coming. "I don't know. I swear eet. They pay me to look the other way when they come," he began blubbering, the faint smell of urine wafted through the air to Mystan's refined senses.

"You don't know? You're as responsible for the kidnaps as they are," Cameo said, his fist cracking into the Graviton's head. "Try looking the other way now." He managed two more strikes before Nitro was finally able to stop him.

"I'm sorry!" the Graviton said, scrambling off the desk and cowering back against the wall. Blood formed a tiny river from his mouth, dripping down to his curled up legs.

"Come on, Cameo. We'll find her. We'll just wait here until they come back and follow them to their base from here," Mystan said, hoping he sounded reassuring.

The weary warriors, half of whom had just spent hours in the mines, cautiously slipped out of the barracks and into the long hall. There was a single door leading out, unfortunately 'out' in this case meant into a security check point that was teeming with guards. A Darkling/Graviton, who was missing an eye, had approached the door and scanned the other side. He counted at least twenty heavily armed people on the other side, weapons trained on the door. It was a stalemate at best.

They had spent a good thirty minutes discussing plans, and very little had been agreed on. Almost every plan they whipped up ended in a bloody slaughter on the part of the former slaves. The plans became riskier and longer shots, one person even suggested that they try and negotiate with the Moons of Purity.

But finally a plan was set. A group of telekinetics and Gravitons locked hands in the tight corridor, others armed with rifles in front of them, and began a slow concentration. Black Tiger, among the latter group, didn't think it would work. It all hinged on the element of surprise and a large helping of luck. Merma, standing at the front of the pack, gestured.

"What's taking them?" Frostarn snapped. What she wanted, now more than anything, was to commence the slaughter. She'd cautioned Crackle from the get go that half breeds were an unreliable source of labour and should simply be exterminated rather than tolerated. Torture them first, preferably, but they should all be dead. Now, so bad short staffed, a revolution was on. Somehow, she thought, it was Myrik's fault. Or maybe Psychro, he was the cause of much of her family's misfortune, so this could be heaped on him as well.

"Earthquake!" one of her guardsmen shouted, breaking for the door as the ground began to tremble violently. Frostarn let out another colourful string of curses. As if things weren't going poorly enough, now this. Maybe it would collapse the tunnel on top of the bastards.

"Hold your ground!" she shouted, ineffectually, as several others broke rank and fled. Energy blasts filled the air next as simultaneously the earthquake stopped. Her own people were slow on the uptake, but soon a full fledged firefight was on. She took aim at a Darkling/Tiger cross and let loose a deadly barrage of ice.

Psikaris stirred at the gentle touch on her abdomen. She'd been having the most dreadful nightmare, but now she was safe again with Cameo. Her eyes fluttered open and she screamed. Realization dawned on her that it hadn't been a dream at all and she stared horrified up at her captors. A Psion man was still rubbing her belly, which she noticed with a start was as bare as the rest of her. A deep flush spread across her face. "You woke her up?" A Darkling with jet black hair demanded, walking over from a closed off area. As the door opened and closed she saw that it was the cockpit of a ship of some kind. That answered some questions, but not all.

"I thought I'd have some fun with our guest here. She's a perfect little hostage, you know. Her husband, sorry 'bond mate' is what the Icewalkers call it, is looking for her. He's on the Graviton Moon."

"And now she knows where she's going. You're insane. Just keep her quiet, you're going to do whatever you want anyway." The Darkling turned and went back into the cockpit. He would have slammed the door were it the right kind.

"You'll have to excuse Raven, he's a little moody. He has no sense of adventure. My name is Myrik and I've gotten to know you quite well this last hour. No, not that way, your honour is intact, my lady, though I know that you and Cameo 'bonded' well before the bonding ceremony, didn't you." She cringed and tried to cover her nudity as best she could with her arms. It would have been made less creepy if he wasn't drawing circles across her midsection.

"What do you want of me?" she managed to ask, her voice trembling.

"From you? Absolutely nothing. You are a carrot to dangle in front of your brother's nose. A means to an end. He will do as I say or he will watch you die, it's that easy. And when I'm done with him I will dispose of both of you." Myrik's hand moved from belly to her hair, ignoring her when she tried slapping his hands away. She started to get up, but he pinned her back down. "I suggest you co-operate. Your bond mate might save you yet, but if you get me angry all he'll find is one large corpse and two tiny undeveloped corpses."

He didn't need to elaborate, she understood exactly what he meant by that. "We have money," she said suddenly. "I'm sure Cameo can pay for our freedom."

She wasn't sure what kind of answer she'd been expecting, it certainly seemed like a longshot at best, but the derisive laughter was surprising. "Money? You think this is about money? There's only one thing that would get me to let you go unharmed, and it won't happen. Your brother's unconditional love."

Now it was her time to laugh, though she managed to stifle it. She knew her brother very well. Psychro was very definitely interested in women and women only. One penis per sexual encounter, he'd told her once. He'd been drunk, if she recalled. But would he change that stance to protect her? Certainly, were the roles reversed, were some woman holding Psychro hostage in exchange for a lesbian encounter, she would do it without hesitation. So that was what Myrik wanted. There was no way that the entire Moons of Purity operated on that basis.

Then it clicked in. Psychro was alive, and they were going to the same moon that Cameo was on. Hope blossomed, lifting her spirits. She could endure whatever this man threw at her, knowing that her odds of rescue were improved.

The Icewalker goddess, Lunis, called her servant to her side. Merma heard the call in her heart, and felt her body move of its own volition. The tender child, Black Tiger, was like a daughter to her, even though they had only known each other a few short days. Shards of razor-like ice pierced her skin even as she leapt to shield the girl from harm. Thankfully Black Tiger had some sense in her head and took advantage of the situation to return fire at Frostarn.

Merma knew the wounds were fatal. She'd been a doctor too many years not to recognize the signs. The world started to slow to a crawl, and then stopped completely. A woman dressed head to toe in armour and carrying a sword and a pistol walked among the statues. She beckoned to Merma to follow. "She will be fine," Lunis said, blessing the half Icewalker with the sound of her voice. "You have served me well. Come with me, your time is over." Obediently, Merma stood, staring back at her corpse. It was just a shell now, her place was with the goddess.

Black Tiger screamed, as Merma's blood sprayed across her. Even though she had seen so many die already, seeing this one hit hard. Her gun fired again and again, trying to hit Frostarn, the vile woman who had done this. The cowardly woman who was starting to pull back as she realized that the circumstances weren't looking good.

The number of guards was dwindling, as were the number of revolutionaries. The guards were armoured and skilled with their weapons, the prisoners weakened and tired, but the latter had nothing to lose. They had been pushed around for so long that, like a pressure valve, they could do naught but burst.

Frostarn broke from the room, sprinting with one of the guardsmen while the group gave chase. Sixty was down to less than forty. Too many good people sacrificed here, and each happy to have done so for the sake of revenge. Black Tiger would always remember Merma's effort. How she had given up her life so that Black Tiger could live, and she would honour that gift the only way she knew how. By living it well, by making sure such crimes and injustices were conquered.

They raced from the security check point towards the next one. Only as they opened the door did Black Tiger wonder whether there would be another ambush here.

"There eet ees!" the Graviton said, startling Nitro out of his daydreams. The group had decided to keep Cameo occupied by having him go through the computer's database, keeping track of the comings and goings of the various ships through the space port. The Graviton port master had been gracious enough to identify which ships he was supposed to ignore.

With all the information that was beginning to pour in, Nitro was feeling more and more confident that they would soon be announcing that they had apprehended the Moons of Purity's leaders. They knew Drell was high ranking, and that this Myrik was up there too. They had one but not the other. Yet. The positive identification of that ship was a major boon to them. It brought them one step closer to arresting or killing the lot of them. All they had to do was follow it to its home and victory would be theirs.

On that ship, and it certainly visually matched the markings of the one that had left the Royal Moon, would be Cameo's partner, so Nitro wasn't surprised at all when Cameo bolted from the room to a waiting shuttle that Mystan and Nuiane were keeping ready, forcing him to rush to catch up.

It was happening! Very dimly Fantasy could hear the commotion going on. Guards running around, weapons firing, she even dimly felt the earth tremble. It was time to show Myrik and his ilk that she was not some playful pussy cat to do tricks for their amusement. No, like her Tiger ancestors, this kitty had claws.

This 'kitty' also had a lock pick. She'd anticipated this happening someday and had managed to coax a bit of wire into a serviceable pick. Although she'd been tempted to use it for some time, the consequences for being re-captured had always been too great. Myrik, she knew, would make sure she wasn't killed and he would invent some nasty ways of punishing her insubordination. Today was different. Myrik wasn't around, and the rebellion sounded like it was going strong. Even one person could make a difference.

Picking locks wasn't her forte, her delicate hands were more accustomed to displaying jewellery than this, but she had done her share of illegal activities in her time. The finer things in life were expensive, and she couldn't always count on a man buying her these things. She wasn't overly proud of her past, but it was her life. The one piece jewellery she didn't need, she thought smugly as it snapped open, was the collar. She might never wear a necklace again, as a result of it. With that done, she put her skills to work on the door.

"Tell Crackle what's going on," Frostarn said, shoving a guard towards the elevator. "I've got something I need to take care of." She started estimating how much time she would have. One of the first things she had noticed when she'd joined up, recruited in her family home by Crackle himself, were the explosives buried in the walls of the massive complex. The Graviton obviously planned this in advance, it would be his little insurance policy to make sure that no one ever knew the full scope of what had happened.

Once that miserable guard told him what was happening, he would go to his secret ship and set off the charges. He was fat and lazy, a common trait she found in the lesser races, which meant she probably had at least a half hour to do what she needed and get out. Doubtless there was more time, he might decide that he needed an emergency sandwich or something, and the guard might have trouble finding him.

The revolt was well under way. The number of soldiers left was dwindling, only a dozen were at the security checkpoint. A large number of the escaping prisoners would be killed, but enough would survive to get through. That, in fact, was probably the shorter window of opportunity. If any of those prisoners caught her, they would kill her without hesitation. Common sense said she should flee immediately, live to fight another day, but vengeance spoke louder than sense.

All her life her family had been tormented by one man. Psychro of House Myntaello. His pathetic little House that insisted on crossbreeding, weakening the mighty Icewalker race, disgusting little worms that were a blight on the Moon. But that one man in particular... There had been the three of them. Glacin had been first, the middle daughter, and she had been led astray by Psychro. She had seduced him and she'd even teased her father mercilessly that she was going to bond with him. Only when Frostarn had stepped in and beaten sense into her did she realize that their father was right, so when Psychro did ask to bond with her she gratefully rejected him.

That should have been the end of it, and if it had Frostarn might not be running down this hall. Icilia, the youngest child, poor poor Icilia. Psychro corrupted her, violated her and turned her against her own family. He stole her virginity, and filled her belly with his demon seed. She even claimed that she loved him, but the truth was obvious to everyone else. Psychro had done it out of rage, the most Icewalker thing he had ever done. It had been an act of mercy to kill naive Icilia before she could be corrupted further.

And that was why he needed to die. Crackle would blow the place up, and Psychro would perish, but she needed to see his corpse with her own eyes, it was the only thing that would allow Icilia's spirit to rest at last.

Frostarn burst through the door to the special holding cells and drew a long knife from her boot. It was this same knife she had used on Icilia, and she had kept it all these years as a reminder of the sins of the past. "Psychro," she said flatly, approaching the cell door. "It's time to die."

The terrain rolled beneath them. The city's edge gave way to vast farm lands where the grains needed to brew the multitude of Graviton liquors were grown. Factories and distilleries sat side by side with a smattering of houses for the employees. A long and winding river wove its way through all of it, a patch of blue against the endless yellows and greens.

Under different circumstances Cameo might have found it fascinating in its difference. Compared to the almost entirely white Moon he came from, the Graviton countryside was like an exquisite work of art. At present, however, his thoughts were elsewhere. Nitro had told him off quite sternly for his continued pressuring to speed up, and so now he was sulking in the passenger seat.

He understood, he really did. They wanted to follow Myrik's ship, but they didn't want him to know they were being followed. There was a delicate balance to perform, but it made him feel uneasy. He didn't know what was going on in that ship or what they wanted with Psikaris. Was she still alive? Would they kill her in a confrontation? And how many people would he have to kill in return if anything should happen to her?

There were so many unknown variables and it wasn't helping his temperament any to be flying so slowly behind that sleek transport ship. He turned to Mystan, who was listening in on the radio. "For the fifth time, the authorities are on the way," the Psion said without looking up. That was good. Facing an unknown number of enemies he wanted to be prepared for anything. Of course, the way he was feeling there could be a hundred and he would wade in there for his bond mate. For the thirty-second time he prayed she was okay.

She squirmed under Myrik's hungry stare. She knew what he was doing, other than the obvious of stroking her hair. He was rifling through her mind, looking at all the memories she had of her brother. From their early childhood to more recent events. Sometimes, when he touched a particularly vivid memory she could sense which one it was. And she was powerless to stop him. He was too good at this, and the one time she had tried to put up a mental barrier he had slapped her hard across the face, the wound still stung and she was certain there was a mark there.

The mental link was broken suddenly, which almost more disturbing than when he'd been invading her brain. "We're almost there," he whispered, and she sensed an enjoyment from him in her discomfort. "I wonder what Psychro will say when he sees you. Some profanity, no doubt. Very uncultured. I bet I could get some profanity out of you too, if I tried. But you're too easy. Too modest and sheltered, so uncomfortable with your body." His hand shifted from her hair, trailing down her neck towards her chest.

A single thought came to her. He wanted a reaction and wouldn't stop his meandering progress until he got one. A litany of foul curses, ones she'd picked up working in the hangar, came from her mouth in such a string that it might have made those others blush. Myrik began laughing, but obliged her and removed his hand. His smile said that it wasn't her body he wanted to caress anyway. "Almost there," he repeated, his eyes glazing over.

Black Tiger didn't know where the burst of energy came from. In all of a half second her mind had registered that there was a collection of guards in the room, all pointing weapons at her, and the next half second she was moving, diving to the side and trying to bring her own weapon around. A scream of pain told her that the man who had been behind her hadn't reacted the same. She didn't have time to look. She blindly started firing, reminding herself that if she stopped moving she was likely dead. It was going to be a close call, anyway. A blast of energy struck a hair's breadth from her leg.

Another cry, another fallen friend. Black Tiger's weapon discharged again, this time hitting a guardsman between the eyes. The back of his head erupted, splattering the wall behind him with blood and brain matter. Dimly she knew that if she made it out of this alive, she was going to have some issues.

Warily Psychro stepped back from the force field. Frostarn was approaching, and her words left no doubt as to her intentions. The room was empty except for the Icewalker woman and the other 'special' prisoners, all the guards having left earlier to counter the revolution. That it was going well for the former slaves was obvious, he could hardly doubt that Frostarn would be here now if it weren't.

"Don't do it, Frostarn," he said, trying to pour on his psychic charm. It didn't work, his powers were still blocked. She reached over and deactivated the field. Now all that stood between them was about ten feet and a slender knife.

"You're a dead man." She closed the gap quickly and thrust her blade at him. Psychro jumped onto the bed, narrowly avoiding the brunt of her strike. But Frostarn was quick, she was a trained fighter, had a winning record in the arenas, and slashed across, spilling blood from his shoulder.

This wasn't his field. He was a brawler, used to drunken fights over such one on one confrontations. His only advantage was that she was angry and not thinking straight. She was bordering on obsession and that would lead to a mistake. He wouldn't be able to take advantage of it, however, if he was dead. She slashed again and he narrowly caught her wrist, trapping it for a moment. "You killed my sister," she hissed, punching with her free hand. The swing grazed his head, and he retaliated, landing a solid punch to her stomach.

He out massed her, he was on the high ground and she was disoriented for a second. Psychro pushed off the bed and drove her into the wall, her knife clattering to the ground. "I didn't kill her. I loved her. I loved both of them," he replied.

A knee to his groin ended further comment. "You made love to them, you mean," she gasped as she shoved him backwards on to the bed and straddled him, hands grabbing his throat. "You used them and ruined their lives. You're a disgusting excuse for a Lunatak, and soon you'll be dead, just like Icilia." Her thumbs were pushing down on his larynx, making it difficult to breathe let alone rebut her arguments.

Life flashed before his eyes. Lost loves and friends treasured, happy moments and sad. He fleetingly remembered Glacin telling him that she had used him to anger her father, how heart broken he'd been that day. He remembered the night before, being used by Myrik in a similar fashion. He had been used by so many, and had returned the favour ten times over. How many failed relationships had he had? The number was written in a book somewhere, his little black book.

Frostarn let go suddenly. His eyes jerked open, life returning slowly, and saw Frostarn's torso arched, flailing desperately behind her. Purple striped arms hammered violently on the Icewalker's back and head. "Fantasy?" he gasped, the words coming out as a feeble croak. Indeed, the Psion/Tigress had rescued him. He gathered his strength and decked Frostarn as hard as he could across the jaw, rendering her unconscious.

The two women collapsed on top of him, one rolling the other limply to the floor. "Are you all right?" Fantasy asked, staring down at him, worry in her eyes. She helped him to a sitting position.

"I've been better. You?" He rubbed his throat gently. It was sore, and would likely be sore for a long time after. There had been such malice and hate in that grip. Another minute and he would have been dead. He knew that for a fact.

"I'll be happier when Myrik's head is on a spit," she replied. He could see that she meant it. Whatever vile things he had made her do over her time incarcerated, he would pay for them, and the sentiment was similar in himself. "Here, finish the job."

A knife was pressed into his hand. He stared from the knife up to Fantasy. He knew what she meant. Frostarn had brought the knife, intent on killing him. It was only fitting that he use the same weapon to end her life. "I'll go let the others out," she said, leaving him alone to the task.

She left, as promised. Alone he rolled Frostarn on to her back and crouched over her. It would be easy, he thought. A single slice across the throat, a fitting way to die given what she had tried to do, or perhaps a stab in that cold black heart. She deserved it and he stared down at her unconscious body, trying to remind himself that she wouldn't have hesitated were the roles reversed, all he needed to do was swallow to remember that.

And yet... With the anger and hurt gone from her visage all he could see was Icilia. She had smiled so warmly, inviting him to take what she could never regain. Did the taking of one life balance out the loss of another? Blood ran down his arm, splashing on her chest. He stood slowly. He couldn't do it. His ability to love had been tarnished by this family, and nothing would bring that back. He'd had his revenge. Besides, Lunar justice demanded that some of the higher ups needed to be brought before a court of law. In an Icewalker court she would be put to death anyway. And it would serve a purpose, the only purpose here would be personal satisfaction, and he couldn't muster it.

Calmly walking out of the cell, wiping the knife off on his pant leg, he reactivated the force field. "If you don't have the balls, let me do it," a Royal/Graviton said. He was missing a leg, and one of his ears had been shredded.

"No," Psychro replied sternly. He gestured towards the cell with the knife. "Someone has to pay for what happened here. Nothing you or I do to her is worse than what Queen Luna will come up with. She killed for fun, and we're better than that. We're better than her. Besides, our kinsmen need us."

Fantasy walked over, carrying the rifle that Frostarn had dropped. "Don't expect that argument to work when we find the hole Myrik is hiding in."

Black Tiger felt like she was walking on air. The last of the guards was incapacitated. Nysar had, thankfully, managed to refrain herself from killing him, a squat Psion who was looking terrified at the one-time prisoners who were surrounding him. While there were other soldiers who were still alive, he was the one in the best shape. "You're our ticket out of here," Nysar told him. "I presume you know the codes?" He nodded vigorously.

Relief. They were finally going to get out of this place, the few that were still alive. So many dead or wounded. Black Tiger did a quick head count and saw twenty-three still standing, though they were all nursing injuries of some kind. For her own part, her arm was still feeling weak. Now that the surge of adrenaline was gone, her gun slipped from her grasp and clattered harmlessly on the ground.

Freedom to come. But there were still others here, the thought struck her. Fantasy, Psychro, and who knew how many others trapped in the rooms down the other hallway. "Someone come with me. The rest of you take the elevator. There are still friends who need us," she said.

"Don't worry about us," a voice said, causing many to turn their weapons towards the hallway.

"Psychro! Fantasy!" she shouted, running and hugging them, tears streaming down her face. It hadn't been so long, but there had always been the chance. She hadn't realized just how gripping the fear had been that either of these people might be dead.

"Let's save the introductions for later. I think you were about to hit the elevator?"

"He's landing," Nitro said, examining his screen to make sure that he was right. The last thing he needed was to get Cameo's hopes up now. "A weapons manufacturing warehouse, so we need to be careful." It figured, of course. A place that sold weapons would have numerous shipments coming and going, no one would question it, and it would be easy enough to smuggle people in. What they needed those people for was another question, one he feared they would find out the answer to.

"Now we've got him. Let's move." Nuiane snorted and Nitro bit back the remark. He understood Cameo's eagerness. His own desire to see the sordid mess resolved was mounting too, regardless of the need to state the obvious. Instead he sympathetically muttered an affirmative and guided the small shuttle towards the warehouse in question.

The ground shook as the elevator rose slowly up the shaft. Fantasy couldn't believe it. Two months in this godforsaken place and she would live to tell the tale. She would see the sun again. Once they were out of this place she planned on tanning herself on some beach for the next two weeks, as some waiter plied her with drinks. And the food, oh the food she planned on consuming. Something dreadfully extravagant and doubtless expensive. After all the crap she'd been through, she deserved it.

They all did. Looking from one haggard face to the next she could see disbelief written there. They were all survivors of this travesty, and they would try and return to their normal lives.

Normal? Could they ever have normal lives after all this? Not without a tight support network, they would need each other. Someone would need to organize a contact list, to keep track of one another, for who could fully comprehend what they had been through. And what of her own normal life? She'd had a hotel room, had been sharing it with some friends as one celebrated their wedding. What had happened to her possessions and her home? Daunting prospects to be sure.

A rumble and a jerking stop signalled that they had come to the top of the shaft. "Let's take this slow. When I came here there was a guard at the bottom of the stairs, and more up above," a Graviton/Darkling named Kraedon said, bringing reality crashing back into place. He was right. She'd momentarily forgotten that the Moons of Purity extended beyond those dreadful caverns. They had a base of operations. A warehouse and the gods knew what else.

"We've made it this far," a woman named Chedra said sternly. "They're not stopping me." And she strode forward, weapon in hand to the door. Fantasy held her breath, expecting a barrage of laser fire, but there was no guard. Was that a good thing? One more door, just a trap door between them and fresh air. It might almost be worth death to experience that again. Chedra placed her hand over the button and looked back.

Someone, she noticed, had gagged the guard they'd brought with them to prevent him from warning anyone who might be listening. Smart move, that. A rumble and scraping noise was heard as the heavy crates over the door shifted, and the door itself swung open. Chedra took the first step, followed by Black Tiger and Psychro, weapons drawn and swinging back and forth.

They spread out as quietly as they could, tracking down the small handful of factory workers and taking them down before they could alert their comrades. But while her friends worried about that, Fantasy was looking out the window. A large transport ship was slowly sinking towards a landing platform outside. "Myrik," she whispered. Somehow she knew that he was on that ship. She couldn't explain it, she just knew.

Psychro had never seen another being move quite so fast as Chedra did. The two had found themselves approaching a tall staircase leading up to a series of offices. They'd been moving quickly to begin with, hoping to catch whomever was in charge here. They heard a distant door slam and, instinctively, knew that was not a good sign. At the very least it meant that some head honcho, probably the 'Crackle' Myrik had mentioned, was getting away. Chedra was a blur, finding reserve energy and covering the distance to the offices in seconds flat, with Psychro close behind.

He entered the room and saw Chedra's feet disappearing through another trap door, this one in the ceiling. He left her to it. He didn't really know her outside a few brief encounters, but he felt confident enough that she could handle herself. She'd taken a nasty beating on his behalf, he remembered that much, and suspected that there was enough pent up frustration.

There were other things on Psychro's mind. An office like this probably belonged to someone important, which meant communications systems and computer access. Computers weren't his specialty, but he knew enough about them to get by. He shoved a chair that was too short and wide for him out of the way and examined the computer screen. "Chedra! Keep him alive!" he shouted, bolting up the stairs.

"Myrik." The word had been whispered, but it meant trouble to Black Tiger. She glanced over to Fantasy, standing a few feet away, and followed her gaze to the landing ship. Was Myrik on that ship? It was entirely possible. Anger mounted. She wasn't a killer, or hadn't been before this, but there was one man who she did want dead. As if transfixed, Fantasy began walking towards that ship, her gun at the ready.

"Incoming!" Black Tiger shouted. She didn't care if there were still factory workers free, the real trouble would be on that ship. More prisoners, no doubt, too. Her small army converged on the doorway, following Fantasy to the large garage doors.

Her army. The thought almost made her smile. It was amazing how she'd fallen into a quasi leadership role with Merma's passing. That Icewalker/Human would be proud to see her now, guiding the band. But she never would. Another friend who had been cut down, and for what? That blasted Caramium? Yet another reason for Myrik and his friends to suffer.

"On your feet, my pretty," Myrik said, grabbing Psikaris' arm, wrenching it from her bosom and hauling her to her feet. She scowled wickedly. "My, my, if looks could kill I wouldn't be feeling very well, would I? Welcome to your new home."

"Something's wrong," Raven said, coming up from behind. The appearance startled him, he had been so focussed on his treasured prize and the prospects of what was to come that he hadn't actually noticed the Darkling until he'd spoken. He managed to act unruffled, however and turned Psikaris' towards him while Raven exited the ship.

"He worries too much," Myrik explained. "Welcome to your new home, my dear. Enjoy those last glimpses of sun, because soon it will be nothing but a faint memory." He shoved her towards the door and escorted her outside.

Psychro reached the top of the ladder and found himself in a small square room. There was little of interest about the room. A single person ship took up seventy percent of the space and a control panel on the wall that obviously had been used to open a skylight. Most notable of all was the heavyset Graviton squirming and screaming beneath Chedra. His legs were covered in blood, and the rest of him didn't look much better.

Crazed eyes stared at him, a look he recognized. Chedra was consumed by bloodlust. Her mouth dripped with the flesh she had torn free. She looked like a wild animal defending its dinner. Why hadn't he seen it sooner? This, she had assumed, was the source of all the agony she had been put through. Her body swayed and the head swivelled back to eye the juicy morsel beneath her razor sharp claws. She'd have made her ancestors proud, incapacitating her prey and soon she would go in for the kill, probably ripping out his throat.

He stepped closer and those eyes turned back to him, accompanied now by a low growl. For an instant he thought she might attack. "Chedra. Don't kill him yet. We need him alive." The growl intensified, and now the teeth bared. He braced himself for impact. He didn't want to hurt her, but what he had seen downstairs prompted him to act. Psychro knew that he had to talk quickly before instinct took its course. "He set explosives, we'll all die, including your friends."

Recognition of his words sunk in, much slower than he'd have liked. Still growling she backed off. "Listen, Crackle is it, you're going to tell me how to deactivate those bombs. Co-operate and I might protect you from Chedra here."

"Okay! Just keep her away!" the Graviton burbled.

"Start talking then. What do I do first?"

Outside, Psikaris shuddered violently as she was pressed forward on to the tarmac. A large warehouse dominated the scene, with an equally large factory adjacent. There was a pair of picnic tables to one side, and a hefty dumpster on the other. A roadway led off into the distance where, faintly she could see the outline of another building. Probably a neighbour, she thought. No one around to see her plight.

No one except for Myrik, Raven and the six other people who were disembarking with her. Where was Cameo and would he ever find her in this place? She knew where Psychro was, anyway. He was in there, waiting for what Myrik had in store for him. "Let's hurry up," Raven said, "I, for one, don't intend on sticking around." He ran on ahead, presumably to gather possessions or something. From the conversations the two men had had, the authorities, namely her Cameo, were getting close. If they moved from this moon, it would take so much longer for Cameo to find them again.

Raven didn't get far before the large garage doors started to open. Almost immediately about twenty people armed with guns spilled out. Psikaris couldn't believe it. Such a wide variety of people of different races and all very angry if their expressions could be judged at this distance. There was hope. Twenty against eight were excellent odds, especially when the twenty in question were as determined looking as they were.

And yet, something was missing. The prisoners had revolted, but not Psychro. Psikaris' heart froze solid. The hybrids looked tired and wounded. Had Psychro been killed? Was that a possibility? She'd never been without him, she had barely even considered the possibility, and now it was a stark reality. No, he couldn't be dead. She would know somehow. Not until she saw his corpse with her own eyes would she believe it, and she wouldn't see it because he wasn't dead. Psikaris told herself sternly to stay positive even as the former slaves came closer.

Raven's colourful curse was countered by the words of joy singing in her heart, a song that faltered when the tarmac turned black. She stared helplessly at the Darkling, knowing him to be the source of the inky darkness. "Do something, Myrik," he snapped, calling over his shoulder.

"A trifle melodramatic, don't you think?" Myrik sighed. He pushed Psikaris to the ground and closed his eyes. Confused shouts and stray energy blasts erupted from the fog, making Psikaris wince as some came dreadfully close to hitting her. And then it went quiet, an eerie feeling as the silence became overwhelming. "There. They should be properly subdued now. You may disperse your cloud."

He did, and Psikaris could see what had happened. The telepath had placed a mental command on each of them to lie down on their faces. "You see, Raven? Everything is under my control. See to rounding them up, will you?"

Myrik had missed one. In all the confusion, Psikaris had missed seeing the Psion/Tigress walking methodically at the edge of the group. She was unarmed, her gait was non-threatening, and she seemed to be relatively unscathed. Perhaps, she thought, this was a spy working for the Moons of Purity. Perhaps the hybrids had been set up. "Ah, Fantasy. I'd like you to meet Psychro's sister. She'll be keeping you company from now on," Myrik said as the woman walked closer.

"That's good, master. I need to apologize. I haven't been the best of slaves for you and I want to make it up to you somehow." Fantasy was within a few steps now. Now that she was close Psikaris felt nervous about her. There was something undefinable in the way she talked, the way she moved, but she couldn't put her finger on it.

"What's the matter, pet, are you worried that I have a new favourite?" Myrik wrapped his hand in her hair and pulled her violently in for a kiss. "Don't worry. I will always have a place for you, like on your knees."

"Oh but master, there's something you need to know." Psikaris saw the flash of metal an instant before it moved. A knife slid easily into Myrik's heart, he gasped, eyes going wide as saucers. "Chedra removed your little mental blocks. I'm my own woman again, and you are dead." His body slowly slid from the knife and hit the ground with a resounding thud. Psikaris had never been so close to a dead body, and the experience was not one she wanted to have again.

For months Fantasy had planned it out. She'd considered all the possible ways to end Myrik's life and dreamt of each of them; cutting pieces of him off little by little and feeding them to him until he finally bled to death, burning him alive over a low fire, or just pummelling him with her bare hands. But when it came to it, a knife thrust to the heart had been needed. The truth was, deep down she knew how dangerously effective he could be. What had just happened only reminded her of that.

She might get personal satisfaction from a slow death, but there was every chance that he would escape, that his mind would reel her in again and she would suffer countless indignities for the attempt. She supposed that she'd always know that it would have to end that way. She'd been lucky. Fantasy had endured countless nights performing sexual favours to this depraved man, and had played her role perfectly. He hadn't perceived her as a threat. When he psychically subdued the prisoners he'd ignored her, assuming that she couldn't hurt him still. Fortune smiled on her yet again.

The prisoners. With Myrik dead, his psychic hold was released, as the guards were quickly finding out. There was also a shuttle approaching at high speeds. It was over. Blessedly over. A ragged sigh of relief escaped her lips, and she turned to the woman Myrik had identified as Psychro's sister. She looked terrified and worried, it wasn't hard to guess why. Between concern for her brother, and the fact that she was only wearing a towel, she had plenty to worry about. Fantasy pulled Myrik's coat off his lifeless corpse and held it out to her. "Last I saw, your brother was alive, he's inside still. We'll find him once we finish rounding up these scum."

Black Tiger was trying to figure out what had happened. One instant she'd felt the sudden urge to lie down, and the next she was pointing her rifle squarely at Raven's chest. "All right, Moons of Purity, this is over. Raise your hands and hope none of us have itchy trigger fingers," she said out loud, as the others got to their feet and began aiming their weapons at their former captors. The fight was over, though, the soldiers knew that they had been beaten, even Raven. "I hope it was worth it. You ruined so many lives, and for what? Money? Guess what, see if that money helps you when you're being put to death. Here's a hint, it won't."

He wouldn't meet her eyes, and it was probably for the best. He'd been as big a part of her torment as Myrik had. He'd been the one who had brought her to this place, him Drell and Myrik. And now one was dead. He knew that she wanted an excuse to kill him, and he wasn't willing to give it to her.

This was how it had ended, then. Lives lost, but she had come out alive and stronger for it. She could feel Merma's spirit smiling at her, a warm energy surging through her muscles. She'd been a good woman, a kind face in an evil place. How many other noble souls had passed through that trap door, never to emerge.

Black Tiger's thoughts were interrupted by the landing of a shuttle. Three men and a woman emerged, looking cautiously around at the gathering. One of the men, an Icewalker of some kind, broke from the pack and ran towards Fantasy and the woman beside her. "Ladies and gentlemen. I am Mystan, official representative of Queen Luna of the Lunatak empire. All members of the Moons of Purity are officially under arrest by order of the queen, and a full investigation will be conducted to determine what happened here, and to prevent it from ever happening again. Is this everyone?"

"Mystan, I've heard of you," Black Tiger said, approaching. "There are more inside. Wounded mostly, and a lot of dead." She began explaining the situation as best she could to the trio.

"He's dead," Chedra said, climbing down the ladder. Psychro glanced over from the computer. He wasn't surprised to hear it, the wounds had looked rather severe. Thankfully the crazy look was gone from her.

"I doubt that the courts would have let him live long anyway," Psychro replied. "I managed to stop the countdown, anyway. Someone's going to need to find the bombs and remove them manually, but that's not my problem."

"Look, I'm sorry about that. That wasn't me up there." She looked away shyly, and he saw a hint of an embarrassed flush in her cheeks.

He patted her on the shoulder. "I know. Let's go check on the others."

Psikaris held Cameo tightly, crying all down the front of his jacket. She'd been so worried about what would happen, and now here he was, her proverbial knight in shining armour. Fantasy had wandered off, and they were still standing next to Myrik's dead body, but that didn't bother her at the moment. Her world was slowly righting itself. There was only one thing missing from it.

"Save some hugs for me." And that was it. Turning around and jumping joyfully into Psychro's arms in a single bound. He was alive, just as she'd hoped. She couldn't tell what troubles he'd been through, knew that there would be hours of conversation between them to sort it all out. But that was later, there would be time to heal when they were away from this place. A groan drew her attention to his shoulder, stained purple with blood. "I'll be fine, 'Karis," he assured her. She noticed that his grip on her didn't slack, and she knew that he'd been just as scared as she'd been. "I'll be fine now."

He finally pulled away and walked to where Myrik lay, and placed his fingers on the man's throat. "Good riddance. That's one man the moons are better off without. Come on, there's a lot of work to do."

The local authorities and paramedics were starting to arrive, the prisoners, dead and wounded were gathered together and sorted. Psychro was right. There was a lot of work to be done and a lot of questions to be answered.

On to Purification - epilogue
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