- Chapter 11 -
the base of a blind canyon on Tolan
Carpathia's battered body thudded hard to the ground just a moment before A'ya settled lightly to the surface on her feet next to her.
Around them on three sides, vertical walls of rock rose up from a flat surface to a height of nearly three hundred feet. The canyon was little more than one hundred feet wide. The north wall stood about five hundred feet away. To the south, the canyon opened up to a broad vista of flat Tolan land that stretched all the way to the sea, but A'ya stood with her back to this exit, blocking the way. No one was leaving this small canyon and no one would dare bother them here.
A'ya's sneer revealed her pleasure that no more interruptions would prevent her from killing the Tolan Protector. Reaching down, A'ya lifted Carpathia's head by her golden hair. Two quick slaps to her face sounded like rifle shots within the canyon produced a groan from the defeated Velorian. Unfocused eyes slowly opened just before A'ya let her head drop to the ground.
Carpathia raised up slightly and looked around weakly. Glancing up at A'ya, Carpathia could also see the clear blue sky in the distance behind her. With a pained groan, Carpathia rolled onto her side and tried to pull herself along the rocky ground. There was all the time in the Universe, so A'ya took a moment to enjoy watching Carpathia try to blindly crawl away.
"Where do you wish to hide, Protector?" A'ya purred. "Why not stay with me. Don't you like my company? Come, let me finish you quietly, Velorinna."
Carpathia raised her bruised face to speak, but her voice was barely more than a whisper.
"Oh, you're finished, my sister. There is nothing more to be seen from you. Your time is over."
Again Carpathia's weak voice spoke, but she didn't stop crawling.
Reaching the base of the rock wall, Carpathia painfully pulled herself up to rest against it. She was fighting to stay conscious and gulped for air as she pushed her long hair from her face.
"Your stupidity hides your bravery, Carpathia." snarled A'ya, taking a step toward her. "What do you..."
Carpathia quickly raised her hand The unexpected motion interrupted A'ya and stopped her forward movement just as quickly.
"Wait." said Carpathia, her voice still weak. "Wait there."
A'ya put her hands on her hips, an expression of disgust came to her face.
"Wait? Wait for what? What are you talking about?"
Carpathia continued to hold her hand up as she struggled to speak again. She was in agony, fighting hard to keep from losing consciousness for just a moment more. Then, for no apparent reason she smiled as her upraised hand reformed her fingers to point.
A'ya looked behind her just in time to see a flash of angry blonde Velorian a millisecond before impact. Having accelerated to incredible speed throughout her long dive through the atmosphere, Lillith had left behind a long trail of ionized air and ice particles. A track through the sky that Carpathia had seen immediately.
A'ya had not.
Lillith struck with such power that she had the force of a small nuclear weapon. The impact explosion drove A'ya into the ground and blasted a huge crater that flung debris, along with Carpathia, away from ground-zero. A gigantic, gray plume shot hundreds of feet up into the air that billowed into a towering mushroom-shaped cloud.
If anyone was watching, there was no doubt now where the Velorians were.
Bits of dust and rock rained back into the canyon as the ground shook violently from the battle that now raged below ground. Unseen punches and kicks cracked and thudded loudly followed instantly by sharp quakes that rocked the canyon repeatedly. Carpathia was knocked from her unsteady feet again and again as she continued to try to stand and join the fight.
With the loudest punch yet, A'ya rocketed from the hole. Her head thrown steeply back and her powerful back arched tightly from the impact. She slammed hard against the vertical canyon wall at the far side, shattering rock a foot deep with her body. The stunned Velorian fell slowly from the newly formed cavity onto the floor of the canyon just as Lillith flashed up from the hole in pursuit.
Suspended overhead, Lillith held her tight fists out from the sides of her body. Her physique overwhelming with chiseled musculature. Never before had she felt so powerful. Every muscle of her body was taut, ready for battle, eager to fight this fallen Protector. Lillith looked intently at the motionless form in the dirt, waiting for her to rise and continue the fight, but A'ya did not rise. At first, Lillith slowly descended toward A'ya, but then noticed some movement to her right as Carpathia again struggled to rise. Without another thought, Lillith rushed toward her friend, taking her into her arms.
"Carpie! Carpie, oh, are you okay? Are you hurt bad? Can I get you something?
"You really have to watch that A'ya. She can be pretty tricky sometimes."
"Carpie! I was so worried! Oooo, you don't look so good. I can go get..."
Carpathia raised a finger, touching it to Lillith's lips, silencing the agitated young Velorian immediately.
"Lillith, shut up a minute and let me talk too." Carpathia said weakly with a smile.
"Sorry." murmured Lillith, her soft voice barely heard.
The large blue eyes of Lillith showed her concern for her dearest friend, but the demented, hesitant sound of laughter behind her made those same eyes narrow.
Lillith slowly turned her young head to peer coldly at the figure of A'ya now struggling to her feet. A'ya looked crazed, a strange, wild look in her eyes. Her face was battered, but the bruises were fading. Then there was the laugh, a strange, sick laugh meant more for the world of the deranged; a laugh out of place in a sane world.
"So, my little mommy, you came back, eh?" A'ya said contemptuously. "So strong now, my, my. You survived your little coma well, my beautiful creation. That's right, MY creation, in MY own image. How do you like you new power, little one? Do you feel it down to your essence? Do you feel it in your soul? Does it wrap you in its arms and make love to you? I know that feeling; such a wonderful feeling. I know it so well. So very... very... well."
A'ya flexed her body, causing her muscles to flare into a massive display of unbelievable Velorian power. A display not really meant for Lillith or Carpathia, but for herself. A'ya was merely indulging in the feel of her own strength and Lillith shook her head in disgust.
"Am I supposed to be afraid of all that? What are you trying to say, A'ya?"
A'ya's eyes turned quickly to cold slits of hatred as she slowly lowered her arms. She arched a finger at Lillith and spoke with a contempt that was barely held in check.
"I will teach you respect, Lill'th'a Veloor. You will know to fear me in time for your death."
"Don't listen to her, Lillith." said Carpathia as she struggled to her feet with Lillith's help. "She's the one who's afraid."
"Silence, you weak bitch!" demanded A'ya.
Carpathia slowly shook her head as a broad smile crossed her lips. She understood now.
"No... no, you know what I'm talking about, don't you, A'ya. You didn't kill Lillith for a reason, just like why you're not attacking her now. Oh, no problem with getting someone else to do it, like a Geheimite, but you don't dare do it yourself.
"Shut up!" yelled A'ya.
"You could have killed her anytime on that ship of yours, but why didn't you? You've killed so many other Protectors. Why not this one?
A'ya closed her fist tightly and raised it toward Carpathia. "I'll add you to the list gladly, Carpathia." A'ya's menacing tone made Lillith tighten her combat stance, but Carpathia only grinned slightly before she continued.
"It was the baby, wasn't it, A'ya. I can see it in your eyes. You know about the secret. You know all about the Khant'r. You know, don't you. You know why they call it `The Gift'."
A'ya said nothing, but her left cheek quivered slightly.
"The idea that there are forces in the Universe and within us that you have no control over scares you." Carpathia continued like a prosecuting attorney. "A goddess is suppose to be a supreme being, but you're not even close, A'ya. Was it that or was it just that Lillith was loved so much by someone that she received `The Gift'? Which bothered you more?"
"SHUT UP!" erupted a wild-eyed A'ya.
Carpathia sneered as Lillith merely looked confused. Still, Lillith remained locked in a combat stance with her fists at the ready to counter any aggressive moves by A'ya. Carpathia placed her hand on Lillith's shoulder and spoke gently.
"You don't care about any of this, do you Lillith."
Lillith pulled the corners of her mouth back, her eyes widening in an expression that matched her simple shrug. She didn't understand anything about goddesses or absolute power or even what receiving the Khant'r really meant. All she knew was that A'ya was evil, that this evil woman had tried to steal William, had killed Protectors, had killed innocent beings across the Universe, had hurt her best friend, and had to be stopped. It was simple right and wrong, good and bad, and that was enough within the innocence of Lillith to bring her to this place.
"Tell me, Lillith," Carpathia asked simply, "don't you want to rule the Universe?"
"The WHOLE Universe?" asked Lillith.
"Yep, everything. Just like A'ya here."
"Oh, jeez, that would be a lot of work. There's so many planets and beings and stuff to take care of. I wouldn't know where to start and...."
"This imbecile doesn't understand power!" shouted A'ya with a wave of her hand. "To rule means to wield absolute power! This idiot would waste her time on lesser beings across the galaxies!"
"Waste her time on living beings?" asked Carpathia with mock surprise. "Lillith, why would you do such a stupid thing?"
"But," Lillith said calmly with a shrug, "they ARE the Universe."
Carpathia kissed Lillith's shoulder lightly before smiling at A'ya.
"You see, A'ya?" said Carpathia defiantly. "She has an uncomplicated greatness in her. This simple girl, this young girl who's never demanded anything of the Universe received its blessing. The Universe chose her, not you, and that scares the pistu out you, doesn't it, A'ya."
"SILENCE!" A'ya snapped. "This worthless idiot means nothing to me. She's afraid of me! I can see it in her!"
Carpathia leaned toward Lillith, speaking softly into her ear.
"Lillith, do you fear? Do you fear this fallen Velorian Protector?"
Lillith slowly nodded before she spoke, her eyes never leaving A'ya's.
"T'aye, I fear. I fear the Fallen. But it is not that I fear that I will die - that will happen soon enough. It is that I fear.... that she will live."
"And THAT is why you didn't dare kill her, A'ya." said Carpathia sternly. "Because in her you saw the Universe you tried so hard to conquer turn on you and refuse you. The Universe, Skietra, everything good and great denies you, refuses you! Everything turns its back on you and what you are. That, more than anything else, scares you."
Carpathia took a step toward A'ya, lowering her voice to almost a whisper.
"And it should, A'ya. That should frighten you down to your soul. Because in spite of everything your sick ego tells you, your greatness is an illusion. You can only destroy, A'ya, and without creation Skietra is not threatened and the Universe merely turns away. Lillith creates and you....you are.....just a problem."
The three Velorians faced each other in tense silence, A'ya's face a contortion of emotion. The voices screamed within A'ya's mind, fighting for control, fighting to decide. It was the loudest that forced the others down.
The loudest always decides.
A'ya sprung forward so quickly that Carpathia and Lillith barely had time to react. A blur struck Carpathia, smashing her back against the rocks just a fraction of a second before Lillith shouted and instantly swung her fist with every ounce of strength she had.
The explosion of the impact of Lillith's fist against A'ya's face shook the canyon. A visible spherical shock wave radiated out from the point of impact that raised the planet's surface like a rolling wave for miles around the opening to the canyon. A blur that was A'ya tumbled violently over the ground, kicking up plumes of dirt, and slamming into the rock wall hard. She shattered the surface of the rock, leaving deep, jagged cracks that extended for fifty feet in all directions before rebounding hard off the wall to land face-first on the dirty ground. She slid twenty feet before stopping in a cloud of dust.
Still barely conscious, A'ya rolled quickly onto her back, gripping her face with both hands as she groaned loudly and writhed in pain.
Lillith glanced down at her hand, the knuckles still glowing red from the impact.
"Woooowwww!" she crooned. "That was really something!"
"Yeah." gasped Carpathia just before her eyes rolled back and her body slumped to the ground. A'ya's blow was effective too.
"CARPIE!" screamed Lillith, dropping to her knees next to her motionless friend. Checking quickly, Lillith saw that Carpathia was still breathing. When Lillith raised her eyelid, there was no dancing helix and the iris dilated normally. Carpathia was only unconscious and Lillith sighed with relief. She deeply hoped that her friend would be spared "all that terrible coma stuff" and her hopes were fulfilled.
"I'll take you back to your habitat, Carpie." Lillith said tenderly. "You have so many lovers, I don't know who to tell to come for you. Would you like them all there? I dunno if that's a problem, but whatever you want. They'll take care of you. And me too. I'll stay as long as you want me to. I know I liked having you with me when I had the baby. It'll be fine, Carpie, you'll see. It will, uh-huh, I know. And we'll...."
Lillith noticed something strange.
She watched with fascination as pebbles and dust danced along the ground from a low rumbling sound that began to vibrate everything in the canyon. The dancing turned into frantic leaping as the rumbling grew louder. The sound was familiar, something she had heard before. Then she remembered and a cold feeling rushed through her. She turned her head, looking upward at the clear, open sky above the narrow canyon. Her eyes filled with terror at the first sight of the metallic tip that appeared above the rim of the far canyon wall. She shouted out.
High above them, the top of the canyon was sheered away by a gigantic Arion battlecruiser that settled rapidly into position over them. A terrible blue-green pin-point of light indicating the charging of the Arion siege gun came into view and grew in intensity. Thrusters along the underside of the gigantic Arion ship created a swirling whirlwind throughout the closed canyon area, whipping the air and dirt like a hurricane.
The Arion ship blocked the sunlight completely, bathing the canyon interior in the ghostly blue-green light of its primary weapon. A powerful magnetic field enveloped A'ya, attracting small bits of loose metal. Torn remnants of Lillith's and Carpathia's chain uniforms jumped the distance to hang rigidly in the powerful containment field encircling A'ya.
Barely conscious, A'ya struggled to her feet. The voices in her head were screaming now, hundreds of them. All demanding to know why this was happening. She was a goddess, the Universe was hers. How had a mere Velorian girl done this to her? Then, in her mouth, a taste of blood. She bled. She bled! IMPOSSIBLE! That would mean....
A tiny seed of doubt took root in A'ya. Branches of reality began to grow, pushing back the darkness of A'ya's insane world. A'ya's eyes met Lillith's.
Could they be right? Could creation and destruction be the true difference between greatness and nothingness in the Universe? Could the voices have lied to her all this time? The intense eyes of the Fallen looked deeply into the wide eyes of Lillith, neither could tear away from the gaze of the other until A'ya silently mouthed a single word.
Lillith's eyes flared open even wider at the realization of what A'ya had just said to her. She jumped to her feet and gathered Carpathia in her arms. A'ya was giving her a chance and it was time to go.
A'ya spun around to glare defiantly up at the blinding light above her, her hair whipping wildly around her head.
"You Arion bastards! You stinking Arion bastards!" she hollered over the rumbling of the massive Arion ship and the tornadic winds. "You found me, eh? Well, come on! Come to me! Join my Universe! Ah-hah! Come on! What are you waiting...."
The voices left. Every one deserted her, even the one who led her to this place. In a brief instant of time, the only voice heard by A'ya was her own. With only her own beating heart as company, she closed her eyes and whispered softly.
The discharge from the Arion siege gun impacted the canyon floor like a thermonuclear sledgehammer. For a few milliseconds, A'ya writhed in shrieking pain before even her invulnerable body succumbed to the intense plasma heat. The instantaneous explosion of the million degree plasma ignited the air in a rapidly expanding corona that followed an intense shock wave.
Lillith, with her friend in her arms, had only risen into the air about fifty feet when that shock wave tore her and Carpathia violently to the side, slamming them both into the canyon wall. They impacted so hard that the upper half of the rock wall shattered, collapsing down on top of them. Tons of rock buried them amid the swirling, superheated air of the hell within the canyon.
Boiling bluish-green plasma churned out through the south entrance to the canyon, churning up over the side of the massive Arion battlecruiser that capped its power within that confined natural space.
The canyon had become a kiln of death.
It was all over in a matter of seconds. The actual discharge was a half-second burst, but the fusion it triggered sustained itself for quite a few seconds more. As the air cleared and cooled, silence returned to the dark, scorched canyon. The Arion ship had settled down onto the mesas over the canyon, allowing the thrusters to shutdown. The blue-green pinpoint of the siege gun winked once, then again, then turned off with a loud snap that echoed off what was left of the walls. The canyon became a silent tomb where nothing moved.
On Tetra, about 2:00 AM
William awoke with a start, flailing the sheets with his arms and sitting up in the bed in an instant. A wide-eyed, confused look finally settled down to the realization that whatever bad dream had awaken him was only a bad dream. He sighed and rubbed his face rapidly with his hands to wipe away any sleepiness that might remain.
"Oh, man." he groaned. A vague idea nagged him. Something was wrong with Lillith, but he didn't trust the feeling. Just his imagination, maybe? He wasn't one for that premonition stuff. Lillith was into all of that weird mumbo-jumbo, but not him. He tried to shrug the feeling away when he heard the baby crying.
William was at the crib in an instant. It was unusual for Mara not to sleep through the night. For some reason, she cried fitfully now. William cradled her in his arms, lifting the tiny bundle from the crib. At the sight of her father, Mara quieted but remained a bit crabby, threatening at any moment to begin the cry again. William cuddled and cooed her.
"Aw, little bunny, is something wrong? Are you hungry?"
Mara rejected the pacifier without even trying it for food. That wasn't the problem.
"Perhaps the little Mistress feels the absence of her mother, sir." Phil was awake too and stood in the doorway of the nursery.
"I'm sorry, Phil." said William. "Did we wake you?"
"Not at all, sir." said Phil, trundling forward into the light. "I suddenly found myself awakened with a terrible foreboding. Most disquieting, sir."
"Hm, me too." mumbled William as he swayed and rocked Mara. She soon quieted completely and only stared at her Daddy. "I can't put my finger on it, but it's something....something to do with Lillith."
"Indeed, sir. The Mistress was in my thoughts as well."
William looked at Phil with the incredulous notion that they had both felt the same thing. The thought occurred to him that Mara might have cried for the same reason.
"Phil, you don't think Mara..." William interrupted himself as he looked down at the unhappy face in his arms.
"There is something very wrong with the Mistress, sir. We can all feel it."
"But how could a little baby feel that kind of thing, Phil?" William still didn't believe any of this completely.
"I do not know, sir." said Phil quietly. "I only know we are awake and she cries. Perhaps a valid question would be: `Why would she NOT feel something?'"
William thought a moment and sighed before leaning down to kiss Mara lightly. When he did, she cooed, looking up at him with her big blue eyes. William spoke to her so gently that it soothed her, comforted her.
"I know, little bunny, I know. I miss Mommy too. Maybe she got into some trouble tonight and needs our help. Maybe if we feel something from her, maybe she can feel something from us too. Let's wish real hard that she comes home soon. Let's tell her that we hope she overcomes whatever kind of trouble she's in. She's a Protector, little bunny, and they're really tough to hurt. But it's not impossible and we don't want Mommy hurt, so let's hope with all our hearts for her. Come on, let's go tell her."
Turning down the light, William, Mara, and Phil walked to the nursery window to peer up at the star-filled sky. The dim, violet light of the three-moon night illuminated their faces, their eyes glistening as they reached out with their hearts into the Universe, to the one not there.
"I wish she were home." William sighed heavily. "I miss her so much."
Mara quietly looked at the night sky, dazzled by the nebula.
The Fallen continues....
and suggestions are always appreciated!