In the central desert of the planet Tetra, two days after the battle on A'ya's ship
The nose of the Sabre swung over the sand through a slowing turn on its nosewheel as the turbines spun down. A rapid application of the brakes made the nose of the battered craft bob a little, but the dampners soon stopped that undesired movement. Facing the craft was a snarling and barking blue dog who wasn't shy about showing her disapproval of strangers coming too close to the habitat. Her teeth were bared and the deep blue fur on her back raised fully. Flare stood her ground angrily until a familiar voice shouted to her from an open side window of the cockpit.
"FLARE, YOU JUGHEAD, GET THE HELL OUTTA THE WAY!"
Flare froze with her ears straight up. That voice sounded so familiar! The voice returned.
"DAMMIT, FLARE, MOVE!!"
There was no longer any doubt in her mind that her Master had returned in this strange looking metal thing. Her tail swung so hard and so rapidly that her large rump oscillated as well. Crooning her desire for William to come out, Flare ran in circles as she bobbed and jumped, getting completely carried away with excitement. Unfortunately, Flare was still performing her antics in the way of the taxiing Sabre. William finally could only shut down the engines with a quick curse. He would have to carry Lillith the last quarter of a mile.
It had taken two long days to fly back to Tetra. In all that time, Lillith remained silently strapped in her seat without moving or taking a breath. Her bruises darkened, particularly a large area along her right side which had become so terribly blackened that William wondered if it were gangrenous. He didn't even know if that was possible or even what he could have done about it if it were. William had never seen her in such a condition before, but he did remember the boastful warnings of A'ya concerning Supremis death. "It's in the eyes", she had said. So he had tenderly raised one of Lillith's eyelids to see for himself and it was there that he saw the indication of a life still present. A tiny luminescent helix danced merrily within her pupil. To William, its meaning didn't go beyond a sign that his lover hadn't been killed. Whatever else it meant beyond that, he didn't care. She was alive, although barely so.
It was, he soon recalled, a last connection with the Matrix of the Universe. She was in a Supremis Coma, a deep comatose state of energy management where her body shut down when there was too much damage for it to regenerate itself normally. Nearly overwhelmed with the devastating destruction to her body, it now fought against giving in to that destruction, putting all of its energies and resources into emergency repairs so that she might live. He knew that there was still a chance that her injuries might be too severe for her body to cope with, even in this extreme state. If that were the case, then she would quietly die. No grand pronouncement, no dramatic moment, just a subtle change in a still body from living to dead.
It was hard for him, seeing her like that and being unable to do anything about it. He fought against grieving; fought against even the thought that she might have already died just a brief moment before he checked her yet again. A silly thought kept repeating to his mind. A thought that told him that she wouldn't dare die without his permission. That was a promise they had made to each other and Lillith always kept her word. Always.
Inside of her was a battle over whether her wounds would heal or whether they were too overwhelming for her system to deal with. It was that simple and that complex and William could do nothing but wait to see the outcome.
The rear hatch of the Sabre swung noisily to the side and the ladder deployed with a loud scraping sound. The noises told William that there probably wasn't a drop of lubricant on the whole damn ship, but he would deal with that later. Now he gently carried Lillith's motionless body in his arms, down the ladder while he kept an eye on an overenthusiastic blue dog.
Flare seemed to sense something about the situation and calmed immediately. William stopped for a moment when his boots crunched the Tetra sand to let Flare sniff along Lillith's arm. Nudging the same arm once, the dog watched it swing with only dead weight to move it. Golden eyes looked up at William, filled with new concern. There's something wrong here, they seemed to say, please, please make it right again. Doing what she could, Flare's huge tongue slathered repeatedly along the dangling arm.
"Alright, alright, Flare. That's enough", William said calmly. He understood how this was affecting the dog. Flare immediately stopped and waited for her master to tell her what she could do to please him.
"Where's Phil?" His voice had a touch of excitement to it to encourage her. "Go get Phil", he called out. Flare's ears perked straight up just before she galloped off in the direction of the habitat to find him. William looked down at Lillith and nodded once. "Alright, honey, let's get you home."
A blur raised tall columns of sandspray as it wove through the nests and rocks of the Tetra desert. Tetrites turned to look at the phenomenon that covered the quarter of a mile between the battered spacecraft and the Protector's habitat in less than three seconds. They knew.
The Protector and her mate were home.
The bedroom of the habitat, that evening
Lillith was lying on her back, her head supported by large pillows and her body covered with a single white sheet. All around her were her favorite small, satin tourist pillows, the multicolored pride of her collection. An ancient oil lamp burned brightly on the table next to the bed, the only source of light in the darkened room. She didn't move. She didn't breathe.
At the side of the bed, William rested his head in his hands as he supported himself on his elbows. He leaned forward on the bed. Sighing a bit, William reached across the bed to pat a damp rag lightly over her forehead. Setting the rag down on the table, he took up her hand, cupping it between his own hands. He kissed the side of her little finger tenderly as his eyes searched her face.
"You know, kitten", he spoke quietly, as if trying to caress her with his voice. "You know, I must have told you that I love you a hundred times, maybe a thousand. I don't know. But there's something that I need to tell you now. I should have said something sooner, but it's all a bit silly. I guess I just felt funny about saying this to you." William shifted forward a bit. Lillith remained still. "Lillith? I don't know if you can hear me, honey, but I want to tell you. I want you to know that you're the finest....." William's emotions were catching up with him, the words choking away in his throat. He took a moment before trying again, his voice filled with respect.
"You came for me without a moment's hesitation, didn't you. You did what you did for me. You could have been killed out there, I know that. You could have been killed but still you came for me. What have I ever done to deserve that? What have I ever done to deserve you? Lillith, of all the beings I've ever known...." Again, his voice caught in his throat, his eyes swelling with tears. Try as he might, he just could not force such a deeply held emotion out for her to hear. He finally lowered his head to her side to bury his words away in a smaller, more private world among the satin pillows.
"Oh, God, Lillith, I wish I were even half the person you are."
Near the habitat, two days later
Mina was not an uncommon name for a young Tetrite female. A lot of little females were named Mina. Over the years, everyone forgot what it was shortened from, but it didn't really matter. Mina was a fine name as it was. A fine and common name. Even for an uncommon little female, like Mina.
Mina was about the size of a softball, not including her legs. Covered with dark brown fur, Mina was as inconspicuous a Tetrite as any Tetrite could be. To put it simply, Mina looked like hundreds of other Tetrite youngsters. The thing that set this Mina apart from the others was that she was, well, to be polite about it, curious in a rather bold way.
"I REQUIRE INFORMATION!"
Phil nearly stumbled from surprise at being hailed so loudly on the path to the habitat, Mina's little pixie-like voice was still quite capable of sounding rather demanding as this small, frantic ball of fur scampered right up to Phil as if she were being chased. Almost stumbling into him, Mina let loose with a frantic monologue to a stunned and very confused Phil.
"I simply must know about the condition of the Mother of Us All! I have received a great deal of information concerning her that doesn't make sense to me because this information is different from that information and it simply won't do because something must be invalid and invalid information is never welcome and I thought that you might be able to help me know about the Protector and..."
"Mina, MINA!", Phil calmly interrupted. "The Mistress is still comatose. Nothing has changed."
Mina blinked once. "I am particularly concerned for the William!"
Phil nodded. "As are we all, Mina. He remains at her side, never leaving it except to tend to his young."
Mina nodded her approval. "He is nice!"
"Yes, most admirable behavior. Our Protector chose her mate well." Phil turned to continue on his way, but Mina followed.
"I think the William needs my help now." Mina was not asking. Her words sounded more like an announcement. Phil stopped and turned back to her as she walked directly into him.
"And what...oh, my goodness, Mina, watch where you are going....And what do you base this assumption on?"
Mina never skipped a beat. "Because he does not have my help now!"
Phil thought a moment, but couldn't find a way to argue the point without feeling silly. He merely sighed and resumed his original course. Mina, of course, was at his side. The two Tetrites crested the hill as Mina looked up at Phil with another thought.
"You need more legs."
Phil sighed and nodded.
In the bedroom of the habitat, that evening
William had put his daughter to bed and took up his nightly vigil at Lillith's bedside. The bruises seemed to be fading now, particularly the largest of them along her side. William was starting to feel that maybe the worst was over. Still, he'd feel a lot better about the whole thing if she'd just....
Suddenly, Lillith lurched upward violently into a steep arch, gulping for air with loud wheezing sounds. William was so startled that he fell backward on his chair, tumbling to the floor with a bang. Lillith continued to flail on the bed, her mouth wide open, sounding like someone who nearly drowned but who had somehow just made it to the surface in time. Her hands gripped the sheets tightly, pulling them up from the mattress of the bed.
William had just recovered and reached the bed when her eyes flung open wide, her body still struggling wildly. Then, just as suddenly as she had started, she dropped limply back onto the bed. She now panted rapidly, out of breath. Her eyes darted quickly around as if she didn't know where she was. Then she saw William.
"Will'm? Will'm, I..." She barely got her weak words out before William took her hand and leaned close, smiling.
"Yes, dear, yes, I'm here!" His broad smile widened even more. She was back!
Lillith returned a weak smile to him just before her eyes moved quickly around the room again. She shook her head just a bit as if she didn't believe what she was seeing.
"Will'm? Am I... am I dead?" William laughed as he kissed her fingers.
"No, kitten. You're home with me. You're fine."
Lillith's blue eyes closed as if in a prayer of thanks, but simply said, "Good."
William squeezed her hand. "That's what I think too, honey", he said. "How do you feel?"
Lillith slowly opened her eyes again. "I feel fine, I guess. Just a little sore. Just a little sore's all. The baby. Where's the baby?!" William soothed her with a light caress and pleasant shush.
"She's fine, honey, she fine. She sleeping right over there. See her?"
Lillith turned her head in the direction that William had nodded. A glint of blue flashed momentarily in her eyes before she smiled. The walls were no barrier to her sight.
"Aw, my baby", she whispered. "My little Mara."
"Would you like to hold her, Lillith?"
"No, not now." Lillith momentarily closed her eyes as she slowly shook her head. "No, let her sleep. I'd hate to wake her. I think I'll get up though."
William stood back, still holding her hand as he helped her out of bed. The bruises were all completely gone now. He noticed that she looked somehow different, a little more buffed, maybe even a bit more powerful looking. She rose to her feet and slipped forward in one swift movement to wrap her arms around his neck. She nibbled along his neck playfully until she could whisper into his ear. There was an emotion to her voice that raised goosebumps everywhere on William's body.
"I have you back", she purred. "I have you back and I will protect you always. I promise. Oh, darling, I promise!"
She held him tightly, as if in doing so affirmed her promise to him. They remained like that in silence, holding each other, thankful that they could, until William broke the spell.
"Lillith, are you hungry, honey?" A rapid, silent nod could be felt along his neck. "Want me to make you some waffles?" Again the silent nod was felt, this time with a light kiss as a nice addition. William smiled. "You want me to carry you, don't you." A muffled giggle preceded a third silent nod. William slipped his hand under her firm, contoured butt to hold her. "Okay, honey. Gear up."
Supported by her arms still tightly around his neck, Lillith slowly raised her legs and wrapped them around William's lower waist. The heels of her cupped feet pressed firmly into the opposite sides of his ass. Deep within him, William loved when she held on to him in this way. Even without him saying a word about it, she knew how much he enjoyed it too.
So it always was between these lovers on Tetra. For the other, always for the other. Everything else, they knew, came from that and always took care of itself.
As he walked out of the bedroom on the way to the kitchen, William remarked, "I spoil you, don't I." The blonde head buried in his neck nodded rapidly as Lillith's muffled giggling made him laugh too.
William heated the ancient waffle iron with his heat vision to prepare it to make another pair of waffles. At the table, Lillith rapidly filled her cheeks with the bits from the stack of waffles already set before her. William thought it wise to slow her down.
"Easy, Lillith, I can't make them as fast as you eat them."
"Yes, Lillith", he insisted, "I know you're hungry but slow down anyway. You don't want Mara to see you eating like that, do you?"
William received a very apologetic look from a face whose cheeks were now so overloaded with waffle bits that the lips of that face were reduced to a mere pucker. It was obvious that the face was unable to support communication until the rapid chewing now underway eased the pressure on the mouth a bit more. William shook his head in dismay.
"And to think it was your charm that first attracted me to you."
"Whoovies!" said Lillith with great difficulty as she waved her fork back and forth across her chest. William nodded.
"Yes, dear, your boobies too. Those attracted me too." William moved behind her and kissed her on the shoulder. "And your eyes, and your hair, and your smile, and...."
Lillith had a twinkle in her eye as William listed every part of her anatomy from top to bottom, each identified as the particular component that first attracted him to her. He finally finished the list just as she swallowed the last of the waffle bits. She gave him a quick kiss on his cheek, leaving a trace of syrup. He turned his face toward hers, only an inch away, and whispered.
Just then, the sound of a baby came from upstairs. Not a full cry yet, but unmistakable sounds that Mara was awakening. The full cry was about to happen at any moment. Lillith sprung to her feet, nearly upending William.
"Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh! Mara's up! Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!" She appeared to run lightly on her toes as she scampered from the kitchen, nearly running over Phil and Mina as they came in. A quick sidestep by Phil prevented any problem. On seeing her pass by, Phil called out to her.
"The warmest of good evenings, Mistress! It is good to see you conscious!"
"Hi-eee, Phil!" she called back as she retreated quickly up the stairs. "Be right back!"
Phil continued his original course into the kitchen where William was saving what he could of the waffle batter.
"Hi,ya, Phil", William said. "Want some waffles?"
"I have information that waffles are traditionally eaten in the morning, sir."
William shook his head. "Not around here. Want some?"
"Indeed, sir. Will you join me?"
"Sure, might as well finish this stuff up. I think Lillith's done. How about your friend?"
"My what, sir?"
Lillith lit the oil lamp in the
room with her eyes before gently raising her daughter from the
crib. The large blue eyes of the tiny baby fixed on her mother's
face as Lillith spoke to her gently. A subtle smile would come
and go from time to time as Mara watched her mother's face smile
too. A contented coo, ah, or ah-boo would
come from Mara's mouth, while Lillith was a bit more articulate.
"Hello, my little precious one! Mommy's here! You're so cute, yes you are! Teekoo, teekoo!" The Velorian word for `tickle' always made Mara smile, especially when it was accompanied by the light touch of a finger under her chin. "Mommy missed you, precious one. Did you miss Mommy?" A series of vowel sounds came from Mara, as if she were saying "You bet, Mom! I really missed you!", at least that was how Lillith took them to mean. The smile on Lillith's face grew wide, her nose scrunching a bit. "I love you, velorina. Mommy loves you so much!"
The baby began to make suckling motions with her mouth, so Lillith turned the baby to guide her to her mother's breast. The feel of the baby nursing on her nipple again filled Lillith with such a warmth of contentment that...
A bright light flashed once and Lillith found herself suddenly standing on a jagged ledge of black volcanic rock on the edge of a huge lava pit. The lava glowed white hot in places, the rest of it a cherry-red as it boiled angrily beneath her. Lillith stumbled immediately, almost falling in, but caught her balance in time. Mara wasn't in her arms and Lillith instantly looked all around herself in panic! No! she thought, not into the pit!
Nearby, the hooded figure from an old dream stood silently, his head bowed to hide his face.
"YOU!" Lillith screamed as she charged at the lone figure. With the slight raising of his bony hand, Lillith was repulsed by an energy screen. Falling hard on her back, Lillith raised herself up a bit to scream out at him again.
"Where's my baby? WHERE'S MY BABY!!!"
"How many mothers will be asking that question tonight?", the figure growled at her. "Yours lives; theirs dies. What does any of that matter to you? If it were the other way around, what would that matter to them?"
Lillith was on her feet again, resenting everything that was happening.
"It matters! It all matters!", she said angrily.
Another white flash occurred and Lillith was standing in the middle of a dark, gray wasteland. Skeletons were strewn everywhere across a bleak, dead landscape. The daylight sky was black from the fires that burned in small and large places around them. Nothing there moved; everything was dead. Behind her, the familiar rough voice returned.
"The Fallen grows ever more demented and ever more to be feared. Do you fear?"
Lillith swung around angrily. "I fought A'ya! She took my mate and threatened my child! I..." The figure raised a hand, silencing her.
"Do you know this place?" the figure asked calmly. Lillith looked around again nervously.
"No, I don't think so."
"Do you not? Walk with me."
The figure led the way a few steps ahead of Lillith as they quietly walked through the carnage. In some places, fresh bodies covered the bones of the old. This was a place of death. Everything was destroyed. Not a single tree still had a leaf. There were no dwellings and no one to live in them if there were. Only the wind made a sound here as it whipped through the flames and tossed the dark dust senselessly around in circles. The figure stopped and pointed.
"There life still exists, such as it is."
Huddled beneath a shroud of a torn metal sheet for shelter, a humanoid mother cradled her baby in her arms as she rocked continuously before a dim candle. The mother stared straight ahead blankly, with tombstones for eyes. A song was muttered without melody from dry lips as she rocked and rocked and rocked. The baby didn't move nor made any sound at all.
Lillith's eyes flashed blue for an instant as she scanned both the mother and the baby. She sighed.
"The poor little baby is dead. I should tell the mother." Just as Lillith took a step, the figure stopped her.
"She knows. Do not disturb her mourning for she too will be dead soon. That part she does not know."
Lillith felt terrible at what she was seeing. That mother could have been her, the child could easily have been Mara. It was unforgivable that it had to be any mother or child anywhere at all. Lillith's sadness deepened and she could only mutter the question, "Where is this place?"
The figure turned and began to walk slowly away. "You still do not know? Come then. Come and leave them. We have other business here."
Lillith followed, looking back toward the dim candlelight under the metal shell until they were out of sight. A chill touched her as the darkness surrounded them. There was an eerie feel to this place; an ominous, strangeness about it all. A familiarity that she couldn't quite place. The figure stopped and turned toward her. His voice croaked terribly as the words escaped.
"Tetra is your planet, but your home is the Universe. If someone were to come into your home to do harm to it, would you not stop them?"
Lillith resented what he was suggesting. "I told you! I fought A'ya already! She was just too much for me, I guess! I dunno! Where is my baby!"
The figure shook his head within the rags of his hood. "You care for your own, Protector, and that is good. It is only your ability to know who of the Universe is truly your own that I put to the question. Worry not for your baby, for your baby lives. Worry not for your mate, for your mate awaits your return."
The figure took a step toward her and lowered his voice.
"Worry instead for the full family of the Universe around you, Protector. Worry and fear for their safety as deeply as you fear for your daughter's. For your single confrontation with the Fallen means nothing until the Universe no longer needs to fear. The fear still exists and death finds more each minute. Your single combat means nothing, do you hear? It means nothing because nothing ends with it. You are the key to the ending of it all, Protector. It is to you whom the Universe turns to for that ending. The fear rests only on your shoulders since the fate of all in harm's way cradles in your arms like your baby's sleeping form. Do you fear what I say to you, Protector? Do you fear my words or do you fear the Fallen?"
Lillith thought about her encounter with A'ya. She dreaded ever meeting up with that woman again. She had William and Mara safe at home now and that was exactly where she wanted to remain. Home, safe, with those whom she loved so deeply. Her pride made it difficult to say, but now she had to admit to the question that this hooded apparition kept putting to her.
"Yes", she murmured, "Yes, I do fear the Fallen one. She is capable of hurting those I love, so I fear! Is that what you wanted to know?"
The figure raised his head enough for Lillith to see a small part of his sneer. "Yes", he said. "That is what I wished to hear from so great a Protector. So you are capable of fear after all."
Lillith looked at him as if he were crazy as she waved a hand in response.
"Of course I can feel fear! Who doesn't? There's all kinds of creepy stuff around and every time I have to do something to protect Tetra from something, I'm scared to death! I'm scared someone will get hurt. I'm scared that I'll have to kill some big Arion or something. I don't want to hurt anyone but I can't let anyone hurt the Tetrites or my family! It's just what I do! I'm not a goddess or something, I'm just me!"
"And that is enough?" The hooded figure sounded incredulous as Lillith immediately quieted down and looked down as if she were embarrassed.
"It has to be", she said meekly. "I'm all I am."
The figure reached out, placing his leathery hand under her chin to raise her face upward.
"Now you know why", he said calmly. "Now you know why you were chosen. You must fear to know courage. If you do not know fear, you will never know the wisdom needed to overcome it. All that is needed is within you, Protector. You are the key."
"I only wish to return home", Lillith pleaded, but the figure shook his head as he turned away.
"Home? Where does the heart of the Universe call home? Call anywhere home, Protector, but you will not be able to safely return to it until this thing is done. Only when all may return to their homes in safety, will you find your own way home. For if you turn your back on your Universe to return to your warm, safe home, then know the consequences."
The figure stepped back from Lillith and pointed at a nearby pile of debris that instantly burst into flames. The firelight illuminated them both and a nearby tree in a macabre light.
"Behold, Protector." The hand of the figure raised and swept upward in a wide arc, guiding her eyes up until she saw and her mouth fell open with a gasp.
Swinging slowly in the breeze from a creaking branch of the dead tree, the lifeless and devastated body of Carpathia, Protector of Tolan, hung by her own cape that was tied tightly around her neck and to the tree branch. Something or someone, some powerful force, had literally destroyed her, beat her terribly to death, and then hung her corpse as a warning or, possibly, just as a trophy. The sight of her dearest friend hanging dead from a tree made Lillith collapse to her knees with grief!
"Oh, Carpie!" she cried out as her face distorted into tears. "Oh, Skietra, Carpie, NO! Oh, nooooo!"
The hooded figure stepped forward.
"You know this place now, do you not? It is all that will remain of Tolan and so many other worlds. The Fallen awaits, Protector."
"NOOOOO!" Lillith screamed. "NOOOOOO!!!!!"
"Lillith! LILLITH!" William's voice finally broke through to her conscious mind as he shook her shoulders. Lillith blinked as if she had just awakened from a bad dream, a look of confusion filled her eyes. In her arms, Mara suckled hungrily at her breast, just as she had been doing before she had seemingly been swept away from her mother's arms. Immediately in front of Lillith, a very worried William spoke nervously.
"What is it, Lillith? You were yelling! What's wrong?"
Lillith slowly raised her wide eyes to meet his. Her lip trembled a bit, her voice barely above a whisper.
"I have to go."
The Fallen continues....
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