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Chapter 11

Chaz had never been fond of museums - they tended to be musty, stuffy, and overly solemn. He understood his grandfather had been quite fond of schools - but he had never known Chaz Ashley.

The museum at Landen, to which Justin led them at Rika's behest, was no exception. It was a single rectangular room with a high, vaulted ceiling. Set at regular intervals along the walls were ornamental marble pillars, carved in relief to resemble men and women supporting the ceiling. Set in the niches formed by these pillars were the various 'displays' - paintings, mostly. He noted the small plaques below the ones nearest to him. Alis Landale the First, Queen of Algo, Rhys Landale V, Lena Landale. Laya, Orakio.

His vision swam a little. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, and it passed. That had been happening more and more often, he noted. Chaz had stopped keeping track, and hadn't mentioned it to anyone…he just didn't care.

Rika made a bee-line straight towards a large display case set at the far end of the room, which Justin was indicating with a pointed finger. They must have been talking. Chaz nodded and followed her sister.

Somewhere within him, Chaz considered telling someone about his recent experiences…the Wren, last night in the throne room, the growing detachment he felt…but he just couldn't be bothered. He didn't care.

Rika was standing by the display case and the others had joined her. Chaz quickened his pace to keep up.

What was it he had been thinking about?

Oh, well.

* * *

"These are the weapons?" Rika asked, disappointed. "They don't look all that impressive."

Justin frowned deeply at her. "If we judged things by their appearance, Rika Lain, you would be dead." He ignored Rika's stiffening beside him. "The only weapon that could be identified by appearance alone is the Sword of Orakio, which isn't in this display as yet."

The display case was in actuality, more of a display-wall. It spanned the width of the room and stretched from ceiling to floor. There was a smaller display case set nearby it, but black curtains were drawn over it.

Prominently displayed in the case were four rather plain looking weapons, arrayed in a square pattern about a suit of beaten armor, arranged as a figure with one arm raised. The gauntlet was clasped in a fist, as if it was meant to hold something. Hanging above the suit of armor was a pendant someone had set on a chain - the massive red stone set into it looked extremely valuable.

Justin indicated the suit with one hand. "The Sword was displayed here for a brief time, but disappeared late one night. The Layans said magic had been employed, but they couldn't track the Sword's path. That was almost a thousand years ago. None of the weapons have been disturbed since."

"What do they do?" Lant asked. He was fingering the Sword again - he'd been doing that a lot lately, Rika noticed.

"Do?" Justin looked confused. "They are the weapons - that is all."

"No powers or anything?"

"They are the weapons, Lant." Again Rika chafed at that familiarity - he'd probably read her mind to pick up the nickname. And again she found herself asking how much Justin had stolen from their minds. Her skin crawled. "That is all that needs to be said."

"Oh." Lant looked confused. "Does the Sword do anything?"

Justin's face darkened momentarily. He recovered fast. "No," he said, a little to quickly for Rika's taste. "It is the Sword. That's all."

A moment of silence passed. "As a matter of curiosity," Tamgren ventured slowly, "what became of this Adan?"

Justin sighed and turned away from the display case. He crossed the room to a painting of a handsome blonde-haired man - handsome, save for the red gemstone protruding from her forehead. He was holding the Sword of Orakio in his hands. "He died," Justin said slowly.

Rika's eyes narrowed. "What happened?"

"He killed himself shortly after the sword vanished." Raking a hand through his hair, Justin became even more uncomfortable. "He stabbed himself to death."

"Why?"

"The Layans who probed his body said he was suffering from…withdrawl. Because of separation from the sword." Justin sighed. "He couldn't deal with the separation, so he killed himself."

Lant had been toying with the hilt of the sword with his fingers, but released them quickly. "He killed himself?"

"Yes."

"Am I to understand that the Sword of Orakio has addictive properties?" All eyes turned to Daughter. "I find that extremely difficult to believe. As near as I can tell, the Sword is a Laconium-derivative substance, and has no toxic or chemical properties. That the Sword of Orakio is in some way addictive is extremely unlikely."

Shrugging, Justin padded farther down the hallway, idly inspecting the various paintings and displays. "Believe me or don't, however you so choose."

"You're lying." Chaz spoke for the first time since they'd entered the museum. "You're with Tareela and you're trying to frighten us."

Justin slumped a little. "My oaths are to Tareela, as is my honor."

"And your loyalties?" Chaz's voice was calculating. He followed Justin as the Dragon-Knight retreated farther down the hallway.

Justin turned to face Chaz, his eyes flashing. "That's another matter. Very few people here, you'll find, are fully loyal to Tareela." He blinked, as if he'd said to much in anger.

"If your loyalties aren't to Tareela," Rika said, cocking her head at Justin, "why do you fight for her?"

Justin shrugged, and turned away. "When I was a child, I was brought before Tareela. She was just a girl, then, too…she's not much older then I. I was made to swear fealty to her and to the Layans." His voice became mechanical, as if he was repeating something he had memorized long ago. "'My blood before yours, my life before yours. My honor before my soul, my oaths before my heart. In life and death, forever, I serve my people and my crown.' That's what I said."

"Those are words," Rika told him. "Do you agree with the invasion?"

"It's irrelevant!" Justin snapped. "I am the Dragon-Knight, and I'm sworn to defend the Layan people. I can't risk them by defying Tareela…and my honor is all that I have. I cannot - will not! - risk that. Without it, I am nothing."

I think we may be more alike then either of us know. Rika shook herself - where had that come from?

"Am I in danger, Justin?" Lant's voice was lowered - partially from the echoing qualities of the room, and partially from fear. "From the Sword?"

Justin threw up his hands. "I don't know. Adan's son, Culirus, was an adult when the Sword was stolen and his father killed himself, but the addiction didn't show up until then. It could take a while to bond with you. But…maybe if you entrusted someone here with the Sword - not Tareela," he said placatingly to them, seeing their eyes go hard, "but someone. My father, perhaps?"

Rika shook her head. "We have no reason to trust any of you, Justin. I think we'll hang onto the Sword for now."

* * *

There was a woman standing at the far end of the hall, Chaz noticed with detachment. This wouldn't have bothered him, or even interested him, had he not been struck by the impression that the woman had quite suddenly appeared there, as if out of thin air.

And she glowing, too. Her body seemed vaguely misty to Chaz's vision, and she was surrounded by a subdued green nimbus, that alternately obscured portions of her body and exposed others. Any particular features of her were difficult to focus on, and Chaz somehow knew that even seeing her was more then she intended.

She was cloaked, she didn't want to be seen, and she was aware that Chaz could see her.

There was a sudden flash, and Chaz forgot all about the woman.

* * *

They conversed for several more minutes before Rika finally lead them out of the hallway. The eyes of their silent observer lingered on Chaz, with a mixture of curiosity and anger.

What in the Light were they doing here, of all people?

She recognized all but two in their party - the young man who had been arguing with Rika and the rather radiant blonde woman were both strangers to her. She supposed that she shouldn't be surprised, really, since Chaz and Rika's blood tended to draw their descendants into the heat of the conflict. Any conflict, and that was what irked her. She hadn't counted on wild cards any more then she liked them.

They might be in league with the invaders.

A stray thought, but one which stuck. Her gaze narrowed.

And they walked past her as if she wasn't there.

Which, for all intents and purposes, she wasn't.

* * *

Rika allowed herself to lag farther and farther behind Justin, until she trailed a short distance behind the others. The castle halls were labyrinthine, but she was sure Justin was leading them back the way they had originally come.

Tareela remained a mystery to her - the woman had insisted on this morning's meeting, but had called it off before anything useful could possibly have been gleaned. So why did she call it? To cow them with a display of Justin's power? Possible, but unlikely. Tareela struck her as a shrewd politician, and no one struggling for power puts herself at risk the way Tareela had. What if Justin hadn't reacted fast enough-or, judging by the conversation from the museum, not at all?

But she doubted Justin would have ignored the threats. The man was enigmatic to her, and she didn't like that at all. He claimed to be unable to assist them against Tareela, because of his oaths. But he knew it was wrong…Rika supposed it all came down to definitions of honor. Was honor obeying your oaths, as Justin thought, or defying everything to do what you thought was right?

Perhaps she was wrong to condemn him. His words echoed back to her…My honor is all that I have. He was a half-Layan, and a half…she wasn't sure a half what else. But the way Nevak had put it, as if telepathy and magic was a Layan skill…perhaps the Dragon-Knight abilities sprang from that. A man trapped between worlds, perhaps. She could relate to that. Unconsciously, she reached up and ran her finger along the edge of her ears. She had hated her heritage, sometimes, despised it with every fiber of her being, but when it came down to it, she wouldn't change.

Maybe Justin was clinging to his honor because he was cast adrift every other way…in both worlds, belonging to none. For a moment, she actually pitied him. It did explain a lot.

They rounded a corner and the door came in sight. It had attracted Rika's attention because it was unlike all the other doors she had seen, more at home in Zelan or Kuran then that Palace of Landen. It was a smooth steel, slightly indented from the wall around it, and unguarded.

It was an enigma, and that was something Rika couldn't stand. She slowed to a stop as the others passed the door, then, making sure no one was watching, darted through.

The door slid shut behind her automatically, but she didn't noticed.

The room she was in was seemed made of a single piece of steel, wide near the doorway and tapering at it's far end, where there was another door. Otherwise the room was bare. Quickly, Rika made for the doorway.

It slid open accommodatingly, and Rika entered a cubical room with no exits. As the doorway slid shut, the room lurched suddenly, and Rika was struck by the sense that she was rising.

The sensation persisted for several moments, then the room lurched once again. The doors slid open of their own accord and Rika left the small room, entering another room entirely.

She had risen - and higher then she would have expected in such a short time. The room was a long hallway, dominated on one side by a massive window in which the whole of Motavia was visible. There was a shiny surface extending away from the window, and it took Rika several moments to place.

It was the surface of the biodome.

Beneath her, at a dizzying distance, and through a light cloud cover, she could see Landen and the surrounding lands, and also a portion of the adjacent biodome. She was immediately struck by the sheer size of the ship.

Spaced evenly along the hallway were three doors, each labeled in red - UNAUTHORIZED ENTRY PROHIBITED. SECURITY CLEARANCE 3 REQUIRED BEYONG THIS POINT.

It didn't take Rika long at all the realize she was in one of the huge towers rising from the surface of the ship.

* * *

Justin was still swearing as he stepped into the Carrier. The Carrier lurched and he felt himself being carried up into the Turret. He had given over the Bearer and his companions to one of his subordinates upon realizing the Rika had vanished. This was the only way she could have come, and the worst place she could have come to.

Not that Justin was particularly worried Rika would wreak havoc on the systems - the only people with Clearance 3 were Tareela, himself, his father, and a few assorted members of the command staff. Rika couldn't even get past the doorways without a keycard, and his was safely in his room, guarded by a fire trap spell he had rigged himself.

He sighed. His conversation in the museum had unnerved him, and now honor and loyalty and peace and war were all swirling about in his head. The last thing he needed was more guilt. Tareela was his queen, and the was all that mattered.

Tareela was his queen.

That was all that mattered. He shook his head. Without his honor, what did his life matter?

The Carrier's doors slid open and he saw Rika, standing by the Overlook window and staring at Mota. She was slumped a little, and still. He had seen her tense, though, when the Carrier doors opened, and he wasn't naïve enough to believe Rika didn't know he was here.

He walked forward slowly. "Rika, you're not supposed to be here…"

That was as far as he got. With a scream of rage, Rika spun and hurled herself at him, slamming him against the wall. "Damn you! Damn you!" She was sobbing and snarling all at once. "Why? We never hurt you…Never!" She had him by the wrists and Laya! She was strong. Justin was stronger, he knew, but not by much, and Rika's strength was only enhanced by her rage. "You killed them! You killed them all! Damn you, Justin!"

She went limp, suddenly, and the iron grip on his wrists slackened. "Damn it, Justin, why? Why am I here?"

He knelt, gently lowering her to the ground, but wary of another outburst. "I don't understand, Rika…"

"I shouldn't be here," she whispered. "I should be down there, with my people. All I'm going here is hiding, Justin, while my family and friends are dying…I couldn't…couldn't save my father, Justin."

Justin blinked. "Your father? Rika, I didn't know…I'm sorry."

She went tense again. "Would you have cared?" Her voice was almost a whisper.

"Yes."

She looked up into his eyes, confused. His face was grave as he regarded her. "Yes," he repeated. "With all my heart, Rika."

She shook her head, breaking the eye contact they had made. She almost believed him. Almost. "I have to stop Tareela, Justin, you should know that."

"I do."

"And if you get in my way, I'll have to kill you." For some reason, thinking of that hurt.

"I know."

"Help us, Justin. Please."

He shook his head slowly. "Rika, I can't…"

Snarling, Rika tore free of his hands and rose, tossing her head like a wild stallion to settle her hair. "I thought as much."

Justin sighed and rose to his feet. "Come on, Rika. You shouldn't be up here."

* * *

"You're awful quiet, Rika."

Tamgren's voice snapped Rika back to reality with a shock. "Oh, I'm sorry. What did you say?"

Tamgren gestured at her plate, the food on it hardly touched. "Your food's cold. That's all."

"You really should eat something," Lant told her, looking at her across the table. "It's been a long couple of days."

They were all seated in a small, private dining room near their quarters. A wide bay window overlooked nighttime Landen, reminding Rika vaguely of her own home, Aiedo. But all she needed to do was look across the room at Justin, leaning against the doorway, to remind herself where she was.

Lant had removed the Sword and now it lay on the center of the table, it's black surface seeming to absorb light and emanate it's own strange glow. To the touch, it was both warm and cold - a strange sensation, to say the least.

They had made a mutual decision for Lant to wear the Sword as little as possible, not at all when they weren't about the castle or meeting with Tareela or Nevak outside their quarters. Daughter had even taken Rika aside to suggest that she carry it - despite her skepticism of Justin's claims, she didn't want to take risks. Rika had rejected the notion - in the eyes of their enemies, Lant was the Bearer, and for the lady Danielle Vahal to start bearing the Sword might raise too many suspicions.

The door opened suddenly to admit Tareela. The visit came as a surprise, and that was obviously the way the Queen had intended it. Virtually ignoring them, she glided over to a divan and lowered herself into it. Her body had a languid grace about it - at times, it was as if she had no bones at all.

Nevak followed her, remaining a fair distance from his Queen. Justin moved to stand next to his father.

Rika half rose, brushing her plate to one side. She motioned quickly for Lant to take the sword. At her side, she felt Chaz rise as well.

"We didn't expect you, Tareela." Chaz's voice was like ice, and it suddenly struck Rika how rarely her brother had been speaking, which was unlike him. She would have to deal with that later.

Tareela stiffened a little, but her ivory mask of calm never slipped, even though she likely deduced, as Rika did, that the omission of her title was deliberate. "I thought I should visit my most honored guests," she told him sweetly. Her eyes were like agates, and her courtly, distant smile didn't reach far past her lips. "I've come to talk with you - and with, I hope, none of this morning's theatrics. Come," she gestured to the nearby chairs, arrayed in a semi-circular pattern, "sit down. Nevak, send for tea. Justin, please join us."

Once they had all seated - as far away as possible from Tareela and Justin, the Queen leaned forward, her blue hair cascading about her face quite elegantly. She must practice a lot, Rika reflected.

"I've come for several reasons," she told them. "First, I have been considering your abrupt arrival on my ship, and your intentions as well. It's obvious to anyone that you intend to try and stop the invasion, at any cost." She paused, as if expecting some reply. A moment later, Nevak rejoined them, seating himself next to Tareela.

"But you should be warned," and now Tareela smiled, "that the only way to recall the Cyborgs is through the terminal in my quarters. Not only is that terminal carefully guarded, but you will need my command codes, which only I know."

Daughter's brows came together noticeably at the mention of 'Cyborgs', but the word was unfamiliar to Rika. She resolved to question the Android later.

"Also, I've given orders that you are to be given free run of the castle and the town for the duration of your stay. I want you to feel that you are my honored guests, of course. I have placed Justin at your disposal, and Nevak and I may converse with you whenever we are able.

"Naturally, though," Tareela trailed off as a serving woman entered, bearing a tray laden with steaming cups. She quickly passed them to everyone but Daughter, who declined courteously, and Lant, who didn't like tea. "What was I saying?"

"The town," Nevak prompted.

"Ah, yes. You'll have to have a small escort when you head to the town - no more then Justin and two of his men. Of course, Lady Rika, when you descend into Landen, you'll have to be hooded."

Rika blinked and her eyes went hard. The barb was intentional, though if Tareela was so interested in her heritage, why didn't she simply ask Justin? Perhaps because he had given her his honor…the process might be more complex then she had originally imagined. "Of course," she replied as levelly as she could. "But with all due respect, Tareela, I am no Lady." She smiled venomously at Tareela's momentary surprise.

"Naturally." Tareela recovered quickly. "I'd expected as much." Rika did her best not to let her smile become sickly.

Tareela was silent for several moments, swirling the tea about in her cup, sipping at it rarely. Justin had set his aside almost immediately and was ignoring the drink. Rika saw that he was tensed for battle, and after that morning's fiasco, he was justified, she supposed.

"Third," Tareela said after a long silence, "I have come to make a request." She paused and let her gaze flicker over all of them, including Justin and Nevak, gauging their reactions. "The Sword of Orakio. It is the sword of my family, the Landales, and I ask that you return it to me for safe keeping."

"And if we don't?" Lant offered warily, stepping in before anyone else.

Tareela sighed and leaned back. "Then I shall leave this room and forget we ever had this conversation, Lantamaral. Should you refuse, I will not make the request again, and I will leave it be until such time as you broach the subject yourselves. However…"

"What?" Tamgren's voice was wary.

"Should I receive the Sword in all good faith," Tareela paused once more, drawing out the moment interminably, "I will withdraw the Wrens from Algo. Immediately." Seeing Rika's eyes narrow in shock and suspicion, she continued. "Of course, if you are not willing to bank on my good will, I would withdraw the Wrens if and only if I was given your word of honor that the Sword would be delivered to me immediately upon withdrawl of the invasion force. On your honor, mind."

A long moment of silence passed again. Rika's mind was a jumble. End the invasion! But could she trust Tareela? But an end to the invasion, even the chance of one…her father was dead. The emotions welled up again, and she shoved them back. That was becoming easier, she was growing a shell. Mourn later, mourn later. A chance to end the invasion, save Algo…do her heritage proud, also.

"Well?" Tareela prompted. "What do you say?"

Rika cleared her throat loudly, and every eye in the room fell on her. "We'll need to discuss it privately, you understand. Perhaps, tomorrow morning we could discuss the matter more fully, Tareela?"

Tareela scowled for a second. Then, she smiled. "Why, of course. Tomorrow morning then. I look forward to your decision." Rising, she beckoned to Nevak and Justin as she swept out of the room, graceful as a zephyr.

Justin paused as he walked past Rika, then leaned towards her. "On your honor, Rika. If you swear to hand over the Sword, then refuse, I'll be honor bound to take it from you. Make sure you understand what you're doing." Then he was gone.

* * *

"Milady," Nevak said, out in the hall, "I don't understand."

"Nevak, it is the Sword of Orakio. With it's power, harnessed properly, I can take Algo overnight!" She laughed as she stalked off down the hall.

Justin and his father exchanged long, sad looks after Tareela vanished. A moment later, Nevak turned and followed the Queen.

Justin leaned backwards against the wall, breathing heavily. Tareela planned a double-cross, then. He resisted a sudden urge to race into the dining quarters and tell Rika everything…but no. He had made his priorities long ago, and he wasn't going to break them simply because he was…

He shook his head. Honor first.

Like always.

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