The Guardian stood at the top of the Oklahoma State Capitol building three hundred years in the past. Night had fallen and a few stars twinkled overhead as I stared over the city. I remembered well the scents in the air around the city; it was early spring in Oklahoma. In nearby Nichols Hills, Gavin and I walked the perimeter of Winkler's borrowed mansion. If I'd known at that time just what my life might come to, would I have stood in the sun in a wheat field instead of digging into the soil to preserve my life? I didn't have an answer for that.
"Things have just taken a terrible turn," Griffin stared down at Wyatt, who slept peacefully in his crib.
"Brenten, what are you talking about?" Amara stared at her mate.
"I didn't bother Looking for all the Possibilities. I was afraid to go down those paths," Griffin sighed. "And now, Belen has removed my ability to Look into Wyatt's future. Since Lissa wouldn't punish me, he chose to do this in her stead. I've been Looking into the paths of others, now, and I don't know what to do. Deaths will come and there's no way for me to stop them."
"Tell me these deaths won't affect your daughter," Amara frowned at Griffin.
"I can't say that, Amara. I can't lie, so don't ask me."
"You just answered my question, Brenten. Whether you intended to or not. How many deaths will come?"
"Many," Griffin muttered before folding away.
"Any legitimate religion should welcome an investigation into their background." I'd stood when my turn came to speak. "Not only should the world in question have approval, but that approval should also come from the Alliance itself. The Charter Members look carefully into each world before it is admitted to the Alliance; why can't each religion bear the same scrutiny?"
"Many religions have bloody beginnings, but are now widely accepted and serve the people," someone else across the room stood up to have his say. He was right about that—the Inquisition came to mind, among other things.
"Then put a time limit on that," I countered. "If they've changed and haven't engaged in unlawful practices for the past two hundred years, then the older stuff can be ignored. I don't see Solar Red giving up their torture and sacrifice anytime soon, do you? Red Hand is right behind them on that front, and Black Mist, if they decide to declare themselves a religion—well, let's hope we're all spared that."
"You think Black Mist will go that far?" Someone else stood and asked.
"How far do you think they've gone already?" I demanded. "They move about freely outside the Alliance worlds and would love to gain a legitimate foothold on the Alliance itself. Believe me when I say that there's something else there besides a group of bloodthirsty assassins who'd happily kill you, along with the one you'd paid them to kill." I looked about me. My argument was falling on deaf ears; the Ra'Ak had seen to that. I felt compelled to make the argument anyway—to get my objections on record, at least.
"Therefore," I went on, "you have to ask yourselves what it is that these religions want. Is it control? Do they wish to take your worlds from you by treachery and assassination? If so, what comes after that? What will happen when they have those worlds and only their own live upon them? Will they then war among themselves? I see no end to it. The time to stop Black Mist, Solar Red and Red Hand is now. While we have the opportunity and they only have a slight presence in the Alliance. If we wait, then we fall."
"You only say that because Black Mist has a price on your head." Tamaritha of Twylec stood to give her two cents.
"So, you know for certain that it's Black Mist that has a price on my head? Until now, that has only been a rumor," I shot back. "I'd like to know how you came by that information. What would you do, if Black Mist had placed the price on your head? I haven't heard you speak up before, Queen Tamaritha, even though you have what you think to be Solar Red sycophants following you around like lapdogs. If you knew what they truly are, you'd run screaming from this hall instead of standing there, defending a caste of assassins in front of the entire Alliance."
I know—I shouldn't have let that last part slip past my lips, but just as I was always taught—words, once said, are impossible to take back. Looks like I hadn't learned that lesson yet. And when all three Ra'Ak changed inside the meeting hall and were immediately joined by their two remaining brothers, all hell broke loose. Alliance members were shouting and backing away, and some began screaming when the lengthy, coppery serpents gulped down Tamaritha of Twylec and her six guards and assistants with barely any effort.
Alliance guards began shooting at the monsters while Alliance Heads of State fled the meeting hall amid screaming, shouting and chaos. Only a few members stayed—some were shapeshifters and had gone to their animal shapes. They may have thought to help combat the Ra'Ak. I sent mindspeech, telling them to stay back—these had been full Dark Elemaiya before their turn to Ra'Ak, and all had le'meruh. We didn't need anybody else under the influence of these Ra'Ak.
"Lissa, more are coming, and they plan to destroy Nemizan," Thurlow whispered next to me. Garde, Erland and Reemagar were all for getting us off the planet, but stayed because I did. Six more Ra'Ak dropped in and went after anyone else left inside the meeting hall. As a second wave of Alliance guards and soldiers were killed and/or eaten by the Ra'Ak, I decided it was time to do something about them.
"Yes, I see them." Prylvis was on his communicator, watching the events on Nemizan through tiny cameras placed in one of his Ra'Ak servant's eyes. They all had them—Ringolar had seen to it. Viregruz hadn't wanted to call in a few of Prylvis' Ra'Ak, but had them on standby anyway. They'd left Prylvis' side quickly, when the call came from Ringolar.
"Yours will provide the distraction while mine handle the destruction," Viregruz replied. "The Alliance is within our grasp, Tetsurna."
The first five disappeared while I was busy causing the last six to explode by misting inside their brains. That was certainly different—I didn't expect them to run like that. Coming back to corporeality, I looked about me, wondering if the five were planning to return and attack me. Thurlow was beside me, as were Erland, Garde, Rigo and Reemagar. Erland sent Grant and Heathe outside the building with the others, after asking them to help the wounded if they could. Now we had five missing Ra'Ak and no idea whether they were going to return with backup.
"I cannot interfere, unless it is to save your life," Reemagar informed me softly, as more Alliance guards came forward to examine chunks of Ra'Ak dust. These chunks were bigger than their fists and someone in my group—either Erland or Reemagar—had shielded anyone left inside the meeting hall when the last two I'd killed had dusted. The chunks were nudged with laser rifles or boots as Alliance troops stared at them and then at me. I just shrugged at them, stalling for time.
"What do you think they're going to do now?" I asked quietly.
"I do not know, avilepha, but I think we should leave," Garde whispered back. "I do not think we are safe, although it is quiet, now." He hadn't turned Thifilathi—the Alliance cameras were still recording and we didn't need to see images of a High Demon on the rampage scattered across the Alliance—that was trouble waiting to be exploited.
"Yeah, I get that idea, too," I muttered. My skin was itching like crazy and I had no idea what to do.
Who knew that together—five of them—would have that much power? Had any of them ever pooled their energy before, to cause that much harm? I had the briefest moment to think about asking Kifirin if this was what he'd intended when he'd created them, but there wasn't any time to pursue that train of thought. When Thurlow said they'd intended to destroy the planet, I'd thought it would be a direct attack. It wasn't. Three inhabited worlds revolved around Nemizan's sun, all belonging to the Alliance. I knew what they planned the moment everything went dark.
The Ra'Ak meant to destroy everything in that sun's orbit, by destroying the sun itself. Planets, moons, lives, everything. I had a shield around Nemizan, but not around anything else and certainly not its sun. Even if my shield remained in place around Nemizan, without sunlight, the planet would freeze and die. It might take a week for the whole thing to freeze up, but it would.
I also had only a few minutes to do something—it would take little more than eight minutes for the blast caused by the Ra'Ak to hit Nemizan and its sister planets. Eight minutes to save billions of lives. No pressure.
Connegar and I will place shields around the other two planets, Reemagar sent to me. We dare not interfere beyond that. You must find a way past this or come with us and leave the others here to their fate.
What was I supposed to do? Five powerful Ra'Ak, who'd combined their power and destroyed a sun with it, had one major objective in mind—killing me. In order to accomplish that, they were about to kill billions. In doing so, they still wouldn't get what they wanted—I could fold away with my small party and live comfortably on my own world. And then wallow in depression and misery afterward, knowing that I'd caused billions—including children—to die. Could I live with that?
The short answer was no. I didn't have much time to fix things, either. What do you do when you're faced with three orphaned planets and the billions of lives that exist upon them?
I'll help, he offered. Well, why wasn't I expecting him to show up?
What are they supposed to do? I grumped mentally. File a change of address at the post office?
We don't have much time, he warned. Look for a suitable sun. The placement of these worlds is critical and we have to move them before the blast from their destroyed sun hits them.
He was right. The placement was critical if we expected to maintain climate, polar positions and a multitude of other things.