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Chapter 17

The tunnel was a wide thing, brightly lit. It was the only thing linking Landen-or any other dome, for that matter-to Aridia. The earlier system of catwalks had been deemed far to complex and been replaced by the large tunnel.

After Justin had cleared them through security, they began the long trip through the tunnel. Initially it sloped quite steeply, but leveled out most of the way.

"The tunnel will bring us up beneath the Tower, away from the radiation. There's a lift at the other end." He paused. "It's going to be a good four hours before we get there, so you might as well get comfortable.

He glanced at Rika in surprise when she sat down in the copilot's seat next to him. Outside, the tunnel shot past. "Wouldn't you be more comfortable in back with the others, Rika?"

Rika glanced over her shoulder to where Tamgren, Chaz, and Daughter were seated close together, talking animatedly. Kyra sat off to one side, staring distantly into space. "I like to see where I'm going," she stated bluntly.

Justin shrugged, set the Land Rover in autopilot, and leaned backwards, stretching his arms. He flinched, his hand going to his wounded shoulder.

"What happened?" Rika asked, half reaching for his arm.

"After I saved you back in Landen," he ignored Rika's scowl at 'saved you', "another man appeared. I managed to kill one, but the other got in a lucky stab. I wasn't wearing any armor heavier then leather, and with a good weapon like his…The next thing I knew I had become the Dragon.

"With the pain working behind me…I lost control. I'm Layan only on my mother's side, and with half-blood it's a constant strain to keep your own mind separate from the Dragon's body. I couldn't keep control of myself."

"What happened?"
"I tore out his throat," Justin said flatly.

Shivering and suddenly cold, Rika turned back forward, watching the tunnel slide past. After a while, this became boring, and she turned back to Justin.

"I'm…sorry about…" she touched her head. Justin grinned wryly and touched the ugly welt just below his hairline.

"I'm sorry. I wish there was something I could have done about it…that whole fight was just pandemonium."

"You could have done something," Rika snapped, suddenly angry. "You could have rebelled."

Justin shook his head. "I'm not an Orakian. I'm not a Layan. I'm the Dragon-Knight, I'm the figurehead for a people who barely accept half-breeds. Rika, all I have to cling to in my honor. Without that, I'd be lost."

"Coward."

"Maybe," Justin said with an edge of sadness in his voice. "You're very good, Rika," he said suddenly.

"Excuse me?"

Justin flushed. "I mean with your sword, Rika. You've been well-trained."

Rika smiled a little at that. "Thanks. You're better."

A moment of silence passed. "I don't know about that, Rika," he replied. "It's almost a shame we didn't carry that duel to it's end point. Might be nice to see who's better."

* * *

The doors of the Land Rover opened with a steely clang a moment after the lift shuddered to a stop. Quickly, the companions disembarked.

The loading bay for the Main Tower was a huge room, surrounded on three sides by eight foot thick glass plating. One of these walls was actually a huge door for arrivals that didn't use the tunnel.

Outside was Aridia, it's pale yellow sands unbroken, save for a mountain range rising up in the distance. The dual effect of the Alisian simulated sun and the Algo star was more pronounced here then it had been in Landen.

Everything outside seemed to be suffused in a pale green light. The air itself seemed thick, and thick tendrils of mist snaked lethargically across the ground.

"Bleed off from the Tower," Justin explained, seeing the others scrutinizing it. "It's toxic to breathe." He appeared about to say more, but was interrupted by the hissing of an opening doorway. He turned.

The one wall that wasn't plate glass was bare except for a single doorway, from which four men were emerging. They were clad in uniforms Rika recognized from Landen, and each wore short, wide bladed swords, as well as single handed firearms, at their belts.

Approaching Justin, one of the men saluted crisply. The other three approached Rika, Chaz, Tamgren, and Daughter, their hands resting lightly on their firearms. Rika felt a creeping fear working up her neck.

"Lord Dracon," the man addressed Justin. "We've just received word from Landen."

"From my father?"

"From the Chancellor, yes. We've been ordered to take these saboteurs into custody." He indicated the small group with a wave of his gun, which was suddenly drawn. "The Chancellor has discovered that these people are insurgent collaborators who were responsible for the murder of one butler, name of Arcus Quryith."

"Saboteurs?" Justin gaped. "There must be some mistake…" He took an involuntary step towards Rika, and suddenly found the nozzle of a weapon planted firmly in his chest. The man scowled at Justin.

"I'm sorry Lord Dracon, but I can't let anyone interfere with this operation. You'll have to come with me."

Justin's gaze was dark with fury, but he slowly turned and walked away, with the man still behind him, gun planted firmly in his back. He didn't look back as he was led away.

One of the men approached Rika, pointing his gun at her chest. "Please come with me," he ordered.

"We're not going anywhere," she replied.

The man, grinning, stepped forward and clubbed her in the temple with the butt of his gun. Consciousness fled.

* * *

When Rika finally came too, she was bound hand and foot, and carried between two men, one taking her shoulders, and the other her feet. She was being borne down a darkened hallway somewhere within the Main Tower. There was no sign of her companions. Warm blood was flowing from the wound on her head-she groaned involuntarily.

One of the men spared her a glance, grinning viciously at her. "Nice to see you're up, girl," he snickered. He turned away.

Rika quickly strained against the bonds wrapped around her wrists and ankles. Too solid to break or slip free of on her own. The cords were digging into her wrists, she could feel blood flowing.

She was going to die. Whatever had happened back in Landen was a lie, and now she was going to die for it. Her greatest concern was for Lant. She had failed him once again, it seemed. Why couldn't she do anything right?

A dream, half-remembered, almost totally forgotten, flickered and slid across her memory. Then it was gone.

Her carriers halted suddenly and with such speed that Rika lurched in their grip. Straining, she twisted her head painfully to look in front of her.

In the darkness a shape was defined-human, with drawn sword. A moment later, that shape stepped forward, it's features becoming easily recognizable.

It was Justin.

"Stop," he ordered, brandishing his sword. His face was cast in a cold fury that made Rika's blood run cold.

The next thing she knew she had been tossed roughly to one side, rolling across the ground and into a wall, painfully. She could see Justin and the two men from where she was standing. Her two captors were drawing swords.

"Lord Justin," one of them said warningly. He was the first to go. Justin's face knit in the most intense concentration for a moment, then a bolt of flame erupted from his outstretched palm, taking the man in the chest. There was a smell of burnt flesh, and the man collapsed.

His companion charged, raising the sword for a powerful overhand strike. Justin parried in sixte, throwing the man off balance. He quickly skewered him through the chest.

The entire combat had lasted no more then twenty seconds, and now Justin approached Rika and dropped into a crouch next to her, drawing a knife. "Something's wrong," he said as he drew her up into a sitting position and began to saw at the ropes binding her wrists. "I don't know what my father has found, but it's a lie, isn't it?" The ropes came free.

"Yes," Rika said fervently, rubbing at her numb wrists. "We didn't kill Arcus, you have to believe me."

Justin paused in working at her ankles, then looked up into her face. His eyes were green, she noticed. "I do," he whispered quietly. "I love you, Rika."

She slapped him, hard, across the mouth, knocking his head to one side. He turned back to her, eyes wide in shock, mouth hanging open.

"How dare you?" Rika hissed. The next thing she knew, she had grabbed his hair and fiercely pressed his mouth to hers. She felt his body tighten in surprise, but then relax. His arms went behind her back, drawing her close.

A moment only passed, and then she pushed him away. "We have to find the others. Untie me." Her face was either flushed or very red as she said this…she couldn't be sure.

Justin blinked. "Oh…yes. The others were being taken down to the dungeons-I'm not sure where those two were taking you…" He trailed off, then shook himself, and finished cutting Rika free. "Let's go."

They hadn't gone far before they encountered the others, coming up the tunnel towards them. In front was Kyra, her body aglow with magical energy.

"Rika, Justin," she said. "Good. This place has been taken over by the insurgents that you told me about. And, Rika, Chaz…" She paused. "Lant is here. I can feel him, nearby."

Rika gasped. Chaz reached out and grabbed Kyra's arm. "Where is he?" he yelled. "Kyra, we have to go to him!"

Kyra nodded, gently disengaging Chaz. "Yes. This way!" Quickly, Kyra did an about face and strode boldly off down the tunnel.

Justin gaped at Kyra's retreating back. "Abrupt, isn't she?"

* * *

"If I know the Tower," Justin said a few moments later, "and I do, then we're heading straight for the scientific quarantine room where the dangerous experiments are held."

"Lant's nearby," Kyra replied, not turning around. She stopped suddenly. "And so is…Light! It's the Elsydeon!"

A moment later a group of three men entered the passage from a side corridor. In the lead was a man carrying a sheathed sword - the black hilt identified the Sword of Orakio in his fist.

A bolt of light flashed from Kyra's palm and streaked towards the man with the Sword. He dodged to the side, and the blast struck-and killed instantly-a woman standing just behind him. The remaining man stood for a moment with his jaw hanging open, then turned and ran back the way he had come.

The man with the Sword began to draw it, then thought better and raced down another side passage. Kyra swore. "Come with me-we have to get the Elsydeon!"

Then she was off and running, with Daughter close behind. Justin hesitated only a moment before following her too. Ignoring Kyra, Rika raced off down the hall in the direction they had originally been going-straight towards Lant. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw that Tamgren and Chaz were right behind her.

* * *

Kyra slowed to a halt as she reached the empty hallway. The man with the Sword had vanished, but there were several doorways along the hall's length. He must have entered one of those.

By now they were high above the surface of Aridia, and a wide window at the hall's end showed the sloping dome of the Alisa III. Space stretched out before them.

Carefully, Kyra extended her mind outwards, combing all the nearby area with her mind. She found him moments later. He was worried, he had entered a dead end room, he didn't know how to use the Sword, and, even better, he wasn't a Layan. Kyra motioned Justin and Daughter into silence, and approached the door.

The doorway hissed open as Kyra approached and she barely had time to erect her defenses as a laser blast greeted her. She caught a brief glimpse of the man as he darted behind a piece of overturned furniture. Without thinking, Kyra returned fire, a ball of ultra-concentrated force that raced across the room and exploded in a shower of energy.

The force of the blast was sufficient not only to shred the intended target into very small pieces, but also to almost completely blow off the rear wall.

The entire room was laid bare to the vacuum of space.

Kyra felt her breath race from her lungs, but when she realized her mistake she had already been weaving the spell. A blue barrier shimmered into existence in the center of the room, expanding to fill the space and cutting off the vacuum. Gasping, Kyra collapsed to the ground.

And saw the Sword of Orakio slide across the floor with the remains of it's nameless keeper, and go shooting out the rift in the wall, into space.

"Damn!" Kyra swore. Quickly casting a spell about herself, she Jumped into the void, to the location of the Sword.

* * *

For one awful, endless moment, Justin's lung were without air. Then air returned and he gasped, looking up, just in time to see Kyra vanish in a flash of blue light.

"Lady Kyra?" he gaped.

Danielle grasped his shoulder in that oddly strong grasp and helped him up. "It would appear she has used the Esper technique of Jumping. Don't worry for her. Instead, it would appear that we have mislaid Rika, Chaz, and Tamgren."

Justin looked around, realizing for the first time that the others were not with them. "Oh, Laya!" He swore.

* * *

This door, the third down the hallway, was locked. Bracing herself, Rika threw herself against the doorway with all her strength. When it gave, she slammed against it again, and fell into the room. She looked up and cried out in horror.

"Lant!" She could feel tears filling her eyes. Behind her, Tamgren gasped.

Lant had been stripped naked and was fastened to a bare steel wall by rough cords tied to his wrists. His feet dangled above the ground limply, and his toes brushed against the ground. There was dried blood on his arms where the cords had cut him, and on his chest where…he had been whipped. Long red marks ran across his chest shoulders, and down his legs. Rika felt sick with fear and revulsion. One eye was so bruised it was swollen shut, and twin rivulets of blood ran down his face from his hairline.

Scrambling to her feet, struggling not to be sick from grief, guilt and terror, Rika slashed free the cords binding Lant's wrists and caught him as he limply collapsed. He was still breathing, shallowly. His lips were parched and cracked from no water, and as Rika enfolded his body, he thrashed irrationally, as if he was afraid she was going to hurt him. Moaning, he turned his one open eye up to Rika, staring blankly.

"Ohhhhh, Rika…" he whispered.

With a moan of intense pain, Rika clutched him to her, rocking back and forth, too lost in grief to pay attention to anything. She had a brief, fleeting sense of Chaz standing nearby, and then he was gone.

* * *

It felt as if a dam had burst inside his head, and everything rational about Chaz's being was eclipsed by rage. He became one with it, and then the Power was inside him again, like it had been before. When the Wren died, in the throne room, in the museum…it had all been because of the Power.

He was one with it now, like he had never been before, and it guided his steps, bubbled through him, told him what to do.

He looked down at Lant's form, clutched to Rika as if she was afraid he might float away, and the Power was there. Turning, he brushed past Tamgren, who, in his shock, seemed to ignore him. He raced past Justin and Daughter, ignoring the cries which slid across his consciousness, unnoticed.

He would kill them. He would kill them all. They would pay. Oh, they would pay.

He would kill them. He would kill them all. They would pay. Oh, they would pay.

He would kill them. He would kill them all. They would…

* * *

Justin started in surprise as Chaz rushed past them, his form glowing with some strange energy. The cry he directed after Chaz was more in shock then in warning, and then Daughter had taken off after him.

"Do not worry," she called over her shoulder. "I will deal with this."

What a strange woman. Justin turned and ran to join Rika.

* * *

She had lost Chaz-though just how he had managed to elude her she wasn't sure. Through the brief chase Daughter had gotten totally turned around and she had been wandering the halls aimlessly for several minutes when she detected the energy pulse.

It registered on an obscure bandwidth and wasn't obviously intended to be picked up by just anyone. Her brow furrowing in a singularly human gesture, Daughter began to follow the pulse to it's source, a stationary point some ten meters down the corridor and to the left.

The door of the room was both locked and soundproof. It was a small matter for Daughter to tear off the hinges and pull the door free. One of the benefits of a human form.

A diminutive figure rose in surprise to meet Daughter as she tore the door free. In the light, Demi stepped forward, regarding her almost mirror-image. Demi came up to Daughter's shoulder.

"Daughter!" she said. "How did you get here?"

"It is an extremely long tale, and the question could be retroactively applied, Demi. Where is Wren?"

"Nearby. Follow me." Demi started off down the hallway at a brisk jog. "The Alisans have installed several devices in Wren and I which cut off our internal weaponry units. I couldn't tear off the door the way you did. If I could get access to some decent tools I could deactivate the components. Ah, here we are." Demi slowed to a stop and gestured towards the door. "If you please?"

Daughter nodded, stepped forward, and ripped the door free of it's hinges. A moment later, Wren emerged, dwarfing both Daughter and Demi, and staring at Daughter in surprise.

"What are you doing here, Daughter?"

"There is no time for that," Daughter replied. "There are more important matters to attend to. I shall explain on the way."

* * *

Lant was slipping in and out of consciousness. Justin had been able to find some water and they had managed to get him to drink some, but his condition hadn't improved much. He was nestled against Rika, eyes closed, not moving, breathing shallow, enfolded in Rika's cloak.

Justin paced the cell in a cold fury. "I don't understand this, not at all. When did they take over the Tower? Why didn't my father realize…why didn't my father…My father…"

Rika looked up, her eyes wide, and met Justin's gaze.

"Nevak!"

It was then they noticed that Tamgren was missing.

* * *

The Power seemed to erupt all around him, fueled by his rage. Chaz stood in the center of the control room at the top of the Tower, the bodies of several insurgents lying at his feet. He wasn't sure how they had died, save that he had killed them.

It would only be a little while. When there was enough of the Power primed and ready, he would release it. Pure hatred incarnate. That was what it would be, and what he had become.

They would pay for what they had done to Lant.

A voice, a familiar voice, pierced Chaz's anger. Tamgren's voice.

The rage slipped a little, the Power waned. Rika…Lant…Tamgren…Daughter…they were all here. Was it worth killing them? He could hear Tamgren's voice coming in more clearly now.

"Chaz," Tamgren was asking, "What are you doing?"

"I'm going to kill them." To Chaz, his own voice sounded distant. There was a moment of silence before Tamgren responded.

"But Chaz, you'll kill us too."

"They have to die."

"But what if I could tell you who's been behind it from the start? What if I could take you straight to the person who's responsible for what happened to Lant? What then?"

"Tareela is dead."

Tamgren shook his head. "No, Chaz, not Tareela. From the very beginning, somehow, it's been Nevak. It's always been Nevak."

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