CHAPTER SIXTEEN





“We all know what must be done,” Eldrin slowly began. “And we all know it will not be easy.” He hesitated for a moment then slowly walked to a nearby door. “But I thought it best if we have a clear understanding of what will happen if we fail.” He opened the door and motioned for someone to enter.

Odan’s eyes narrowed as Alyxa, her hand on Ana’s arm, slowly entered the room. She nervously looked at Eldrin who slowly nodded in encouragement. Odan quickly stood and walked to them.

“What is this?” he hissed to Eldrin.

“Please, Odan,” Alyxa whispered putting a hand on his arm. “This is necessary.”

Odan scowled at Eldrin but escorted his wife to his chair at the conference table. Ana gently squeezed Eldrin’s hand and backed away to stand in the corner.

“Alyxa!” Hector beamed. “How beautiful you look this morning!” Most of those at the conference table hid smiles as Odan openly glowered at him. Hector blandly stared at Odan. “Well, she is,” he amended.

“I’d like to present Alyxa D’Nar,” Eldrin quietly took his seat. “Formerly Queen of the Misty Isles.”

“We thought...” Maire started to say.

“You’re supposed to be dead,” Kathlyna bluntly interrupted.

“If not for my husband...his brother and sister...I would be,” Alyxa softly acknowledged. She glanced at Eldrin who gently nodded. “Eldrin believes it will help if I explain what happened...” She took a deep breath. “...what happened to us...

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THE MISTY ISLES

“My Queen, we have no choice!”

Alyxa wearily rubbed her eyes. “We offered to surrender,” she mumbled. “Why do they persist?” She shuddered at the shrill sounds outside. Massive bird-like creatures hovered over the streets waiting to snatch anyone who ventured outside. Those caught in the talons of those creatures were taken skyward and never returned.

“We had a chance as long as your father lived,” Kraden, Alyxa’s chief adviser pleaded. “At least his magic helped us fight. Now we cannot fight any longer. They do not want just our surrender. You...You must give yourself over to them.”

“How do we know they can be trusted?” Alyxa demanded. Unconsciously she wrung her hands.

“We have no choice!” Kraden’s fist slammed onto the table. “Will you see everyone die because you hesitate?” He edged closer. “Your sacrifice can save everyone!”

Alyxa covered her ears trying to drown out the shrill cries of the bird-like creatures outside. “I’ll do it!” she screamed. “I’ll do it! Just make it stop!”

Kraden quickly ordered the royal flag be lowered and three white flags hoisted. He contemptuously looked across the table at Alyxa who sat with her face in her hands openly sobbing.

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“There!” Odan pointed to the white flags clearly visible at the top of the palace. “They have agreed to our terms!” He looked over his shoulder at his father.

Leodin D’Nar slowly smiled. “So they do,” he nodded.

“Father...the creatures,” Odan prodded after a few moments. When Leodin looked at him, he pressed. “You promised the creatures would be removed.”

“And if it’s a trick?” Leodin pointed out.

“How can it be?” Odan shook his head. “They have nothing left to fight with.”

“Odan’s right, Leodin,” Solitaire’s airy voice came from behind them.

Leodin turned to look at his wife. After a moment, he nodded. “Very well, my dear,” he agreed. He turned to Odan. “Prepare a group to escort us to the palace.” Odan flashed a smile at his step-mother and left.

Leodin smiled at Solitaire. “Not that I’m arguing, mind you, but you seem to take great pains to keep him happy. Far more than with your own children.”

“Perhaps because the others are my children,” Solitaire pointed out. “Odan shows remarkable promise as a field general. Something that neither Evan nor Careen show.”

Leodin grunted as he turned back to stare across the bay at the palace. With a sigh, he waved his arm to recall the hovering creatures.

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“Why so many troops?” Evan murmured. He glanced at his sister from the corner of his eyes.

“You really think they’re going to just accept a surrender?” Careen barely nodded to where their parents had disappeared into the palace.

“Odan believes it,” Evan pointed out.

“Odan still believes in them,” Careen replied. She flushed slightly at Evan’s expression. “Or at least he seems to.”

“Odan’s not a fool,” Evan argued. He casually glanced around. “I don’t like what I’m seeing.”

Careen edged closer to her brother and looked down towards the streets of the capital. They saw Leodin’s personal guard herding people towards the square. “I knew it!” she hissed. “I told you!”

Evan ironically nodded. “How in the world did you convince Lucas to tell you their plans?”

“He didn’t,” Careen snorted. “I eavesdropped.” She glanced around. “We’d better try to save as many as we can.”

Evan shrugged. “How do you plan to do that?” he humorously asked eyeing the armed men to their left. “Those guards aren’t there to protect us, you know.”

Careen shrugged. “Probably the same way you do,” she answered. The two eyed each other for a few seconds then slowly turned to face the guards.

Before the guards could move, Evan had them caught within a ring of paralyzation. Careen uneasily eyed her brother who shrugged. “What kind of chance are they giving the people here?” he asked.

Careen took a deep breath and quickly cast a spell of withering.

The guards’ eyes widened in shock and pain as their bodies began withering. Not able to scream because of the paralyzation surrounding them, their eyes pled for mercy. Careen looked away feeling her stomach lurch. Evan eyed them dispassionately. He knew they were no better than merciless killers. “Getting soft, sister?” he asked when the last of them had disappeared.

Careen glanced at him with angry eyes.

“Start trying to save as many as you can,” Evan advised. “The virtuous Lord of Rhyane won’t turn away any refugees.” He smiled coldly. “Especially once they begin telling what happened here.”

Careen eyed the harbor. “I can liberate a few ships,” she decided. “Everyone’s attention is going to be elsewhere. What are you going to do?” When Evan didn’t answer, she glanced over her shoulder only to find her brother had disappeared.

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Odan thought Alyxa was the bravest woman he’d ever seen. She was obviously terrified of Leodin and Solitaire. He scowled when Lucas eyed her with an almost wolfish gleam. Nonetheless, Alyxa’s back remained straight even as she carefully enunciated her personal surrender.

It was obvious she’d been cosseted and protected most of her life by her father. Unfortunately, he’d been one of the first to fall while defending the main island. Odan shook his head. She should have been sent away well before the fighting began. He glanced over his shoulder as Evan silently appeared next to him.

“It’s beginning,” Evan murmured eyeing his parents closely. “Just as Careen said.”

“Why?” Odan’s fists clenched. He glimpsed Solitaire’s head turn in his direction and forced a condescending look on his face as he stared at Evan. He saw Solitaire’s lips move in a contented smile. “What’s the point?”

“A sacrifice to the Jackal,” Evan shrugged. “An offering to increase their power.” He coldly smiled. “Don’t be surprised if you’re not pressured to swear obedience to the Jackal.”

Odan frowned. He’d heard the many loud arguments between his siblings and their parents regarding their refusal to submit to the Jackal. He’d wondered if Careen had changed her mind since she’d been in Lucas’ company for the last month. “Careen?” he finally asked.

“Trying to save as many as possible,” Evan answered. He smiled to himself at Odan’s obvious look of relief. “So far, she’s still her own mistress.” He glanced back at his parents. “What about her?”

“We save her,” Odan quickly answered. He flushed at Evan’s expression.

“I’ll let you play hero,” Evan sardonically offered.

Alyxa turned towards the window as echoes of screams wafted towards them. “What’s going on?” she demanded walking towards the window.

Before Odan could stop her, she looked down to the open square below....saw men...women...children being cut open while alive. She winced as Odan’s hand closed on her wrist and he pulled her back.

“Your personal sacrifice will please the Jackal,” Leodin smiled. “However, your resistance has cost much in both time and alliances.”

“And let’s not forget that terror and butchery will be a lesson to the next island kingdom. Isn’t that right?” Evan coldly smiled.

“You always lacked a certain amount of sensitivity, Evan,” Solitaire shook her head.

“You look for sensitivity while unarmed people are being butchered?” Evan coldly eyed his mother. “That’s an interesting concept.”

“You promised this would end, Father!” Odan shook his head. “This isn’t necessary.”

“I’m afraid it is,” Lucas interrupted. He eyed the younger man with open humor. “But the little Queen will become the exclusive property of the Jackal...for a while at least.”

Odan stared at Lucas. “Is that what you want, Father? Solitaire?” he finally asked.

“I’m afraid it has to be this way,” Solitaire nodded. “I’m sorry, Odan.”

“Are you?” Odan sadly asked her. “I wonder.”

Evan suddenly raised his hands. Odan pulled Alyxa against his chest and closed his eyes. A split second later, a thunderous boom threw him against the wall. He coughed as plaster and dust from the cracked ceiling rained down on them. One part of his mind wondered what Evan had done. He opened his eyes somewhat to see a bright light quickly flashing. He heard Lucas cursing and for a second saw Evan outlined with a red glow.

Odan spied the open door and ran towards it pulling Alyxa with him. “Come on!” he hissed to her. “If you want to live, we need to run!” He pulled Alyxa close to him as guards came running up the stairs. “I’m taking her to safety!” he answered. “Set a close perimeter to the palace! Begin an immediate search for any further resistance!”

“What about the King? The Queen?” one the guards asked.

Odan managed to laugh as he heard another boom from over their heads. “I believe they can handle those upstairs,” he assured them. “Now do as I said!”

The guard saluted and ordered his men throughout the lower part of the palace.

Odan glanced over his shoulder one more time hoping Evan would have enough sense to leave. But he’d rarely seen Evan so cold....He heard Alyxa sob as he pulled her after him. “Don’t look!” he snapped as he tried to keep away from the square. But he couldn’t help but hear the screams of terror and pain...pleas for mercy and life...and he knew Alyxa heard them as well.

He was glad when they reached the harbor. Though hectic, it was almost calm compared to the scene at the palace. He saw some of the guards’ bodies littering the quay and two ships already sailing out of the harbor. He saw Careen kneeling at the end of one pier as people ran up the gangplank to another ship. Coming closer, he saw Careen slip something gold into the hands of a merman who nodded and slipped back under the water. “Trying to outbid Fa...Leodin?” he asked stopping by her.

“He hasn’t paid them yet,” Careen pointed out as she stood. “And they have no particular liking for the Jackal.” She nodded her head towards Alyxa. “What’s wrong with her?”

Odan looked at Alyxa closing his eyes briefly at the blank expression in her eyes. “She saw too much,” he gently rubbed her hand. “It’s...brutal back there.”

“I imagine so.” Careen coolly looked over his shoulder where the upper part of the palace was in flames.

“Evan’s in there,” Odan winced.

“He’ll get out,” Careen shrugged. “He has a healthy regard for his own safety.” She nodded towards the ship. “This is the last one. It’s the best I could do. Some of your men are on board...and on the others.” She grinned. “Apparently they have no particular liking for the Jackal either.”

Odan grimly nodded. “We’ll sail together,” he decided. “Any suggestions?”

“Evan suggested Rhyane.” Careen helped Alyxa onto the gangplank. “They’ll take refugees.”

“Aren’t you coming?” Odan asked in surprise when Careen moved away.

“And miss what Evan’s doing?” Careen laughed. “Besides, we’ll keep them occupied until you get all these people as far away as possible. The mermen will help protect you from the undersea creatures Leodin is allied with.” She hesitated. “Your medallion has a small amount of protection magic. If possible, we’ll find you through that.”

“Don’t stay here!” Odan shouted even as he pushed Alyxa up the gangplank. “Get Evan and get out!” He looked over his shoulder as Careen disappeared along the quay. “Careen!” he yelled. Stifling a curse, he ordered the ship to cast off. Holding Alyxa close to him, he frowned as he saw the palace slowly crumble in flames...and wondered if he’d see any member of his family again.

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DEDRESIA

Alyxa slowly looked at each person sitting around the table. “You must understand that surrender means nothing to them,” she softly urged. “There is no option but to fight...to win.” She shivered as Odan put his hands on her shoulders. “So few of us survived...only those who managed to sail away. Everyone else was put to death...even infants.”

“You know this for sure?” For once Macedin’s voice was gentle.

“We know,” Careen grimly answered. “Evan and I were there long enough.”

Macedin nodded noting the emotions on her face. He also noted the detachment on Evan’s face.

“Some of my...the survivors settled in Rhyane,” Alyxa sighed. “Some came here with Odan and myself.” She glanced at Eldrin. “I don’t know if you understand...or if what I’ve said makes a difference.”

“I think it has,” Eldrin stood and nodded towards her in respect. “Thank you for telling us. I apologize for asking it of you.”

Odan helped Alyxa to her feet. She hesitated then turned back to the conference table. “They will do this everywhere,” she cautioned. “Everywhere.” Her voice tailed off as Ana gently took her arm.

Eldrin nodded at Odan who gratefully followed his wife and Ana out of the room closing the door behind him.

Eldrin slowly sat down at the conference table and looked at the others. Careen and Simon both looked troubled. Evan showed his usual cool detachment. Christien and Maire looked almost sad. Stefan and Kathlyna both looked absolutely furious. Macedin studied the tips of his fingers. Hector looked lost in thought.

“That is what we face,” Eldrin quietly spoke.

“They sound like perfectly awful people!” Hector burst out. “We must stop them, Eldrin!”

Most of them smiled as Hector’s outburst broke the strained silence.

“We’re all grateful you feel this way, Hector,” Macedin sarcastically replied.

“Well, they are awful!” Hector argued. He suddenly looked across the table at Careen and Evan. “Oh, dear, I meant no offense to you.”

“They are nothing to us,” Careen evenly replied. “No offense was taken, Hector.”

Evan’s green eyes glittered although he remained quiet. After a moment, he glanced at Eldrin. “We’re still faced with the questions of how to proceed.”

Eldrin looked almost apologetically at him. “What do you think, Evan?” he asked. “Like Hector, I mean no offense. But you, Careen, and Odan have the best knowledge of them.”

Evan exchanged a quick look with Careen. “We’ve thought about it,” he admitted. He glanced up as Odan quietly reentered the room. “Odan is a much better strategist. Perhaps he should explain.”

Odan quickly took his chair casting a curious look at his brother.

“Any ideas what Lucas may be planning?” Eldrin asked.

“If it were me, I’d look for a two-pronged attack.” Odan’s brow furrowed slightly. “Lucas has made his presence well-known in Green Hills. In fact, he’s made it almost too well-known. He prefers to work behind the scenes.”

“A decoy?” Christien frowned.

“I wouldn’t call it that.” Odan shook his head. “More of a mis-direction.” He glanced at his siblings. “I’d expect an attack on Rhyane. Leodin and Solitaire will attack along the coastline. At the same time I’d expect Lucas to attack Shi’ar.”

“Lucas might attack us,” Macedin pointed out. “The desert wouldn’t stop his magic.”

Eldrin leaned back as the warriors began debating military tactics. He noticed that Careen and Stefan went to great pains to ignore one another. He listened as everyone brought forth their own strategy.

“And this is all well and good but we don’t know what’s planned!” Macedin finally shouted. “We have no reasonable intelligence about their plans!”

“What about the Stones of Maxen?” Kathlyna looked at Eldrin. “People went to a great deal of trouble to get some of them. Can’t they help us?”

“Possibly,” Eldrin admitted. “But the Stones aren’t everything.” He took a deep breath. “I told some of you this at an earlier meeting. There were other artifacts besides the Stones. They were taken away before Maxen’s Tower fell. We’ve managed to find some of them. One is Maxen’s Sword.” He hesitated. “The other is the Orb of Prophecy.”

“By the Light and Stars....” Maire’s voice trailed off. “If you have that, Eldrin...”

“Magic,” Macedin’s lip curled. “So far it’s not doing us much good. No one can use the damn thing.”

Careen’s hand closed around Evan’s wrist. He glared across the table at Macedin who evenly stared back at him.

“Why can’t the Orb be used?” Stefan demanded. “If it’s magic, wouldn’t any magician be able to use it?”

“Not necessarily,” Simon quietly interjected. “Spells can be learned from one another. But the Orb is different. The Orb is protected by a spell that only the Sword of Maxen can break. And the Sword of Maxen can only be wielded by the fair son of the honest man.”

“As you might ascertain, it’s been difficult to find an honest man,” Macedin sardonically quipped. “Let alone his fair son.”

“I assume someone tried to wield the Sword,” Maire’s eyebrows rose in question.

“Several,” Eldrin slowly nodded. “They...died.”

“Actually, they were burned from the inside out,” Hector loudly whispered. “Their insides seemed to burn until they literally exploded.”

“Thank you, Uncle Hector,” Eldrin quickly interjected.

“Exactly what is the Orb supposed to do?” Stefan demanded. “Tell the future? Do we need it?”

Eldrin saw Macedin nodding in agreement. “I’d prefer to know what the Orb’s Prophecy is. Legend has it that the Orb will prophesy for anyone who comes before it. That is, once the Spell of Protection can be broken.”

“If we know the Prophecy regarding the Jackal and the Stones of Maxen, it could help determine our best course of action,” Simon added.

Macedin and Stefan exchanged unconvincing looks but neither argued.

“Is that all the legend says?” Christien hesitantly spoke up. “The fair son of the honest man?”

Eldrin quickly nodded then stared at Christien who absently frowned. “Any thoughts?” he prodded.

Christien started slightly. He reddened as he glanced at Kathlyna. “Garn of Rhyane is the most honest man I know,” he slowly answered.

Kathlyna grimaced. “As I’ve found out many times,” she agreed in mock disgust. Her eyes slowly widened as she stared at first Christien then Maire. “Josef?” she frowned.

“Who’s Josef?” Hector loudly whispered to Simon.

“My son.” Kathlyna looked at Maire. “Josef?”

“Fair son of the honest man,” Maire considered before slowly nodding. “It’s a possibility.”

“Lord Rhyane’s honesty is well known.” Eldrin mentioned.

“Painfully honest,” Kathlyna grunted.

“And Josef’s a fair man?” Hector added. When the others looked at him in puzzlement, he continued. “Fair son of the honest man. He doesn’t cheat or lie, does he?”

The magicians quickly looked at one another. “Or fair as in fair in coloring?” Evan mused.

“If it’s Josef, it won’t matter,” Christien pointed out. “He’s both.”

“So, Josef is part of the prophecy,” Kathlyna frowned.

“Maybe,” Christien quickly interrupted. “We have to think about this carefully. What if we’re wrong?”

Kathlyna slowly patted his hand. “And we both know what Josef would say.” She looked at Eldrin. “We’re guessing that my son...my only son who is heir to Rhyane is the one who can raise Maxen’s Sword. If we’re wrong, he dies.”

“Then who would be heir to Rhyane?” Macedin asked.

“My daughter, Briar,” Kathlyna wryly answered. “Who is married to Thane, the heir of Green Hills.”

Evan startled everyone by cursing under his breath. He saw Careen’s slight smile and stiffened. “Either we take the chance or we don’t,” he finally spoke up.

“I don’t see you’re taking any chance at all!” Kathlyna shouted. She glanced at Maire who was patting her arm.

“We’re all taking chances of one sort or another,” Eldrin sadly spoke up. “As I was reminded, some of us will die.” He sat quietly for a moment then looked across the table at Kathlyna. “I can’t tell you what to do, Lady Kathlyna. I honestly don’t know what I would do if it were my son.”

Kathlyna angrily looked around the table. “I hate ethical dilemmas!” she burst out. “Especially when I’m involved!” She saw Christien guiltily staring at the table in front of him and relaxed. “I’ll leave now,” she said in a more quiet voice. “I’ll discuss this with Lord Garn and Josef.” She took a deep breath and sarcastically added, “But knowing my son, who’s a lot like his father, I expect he’ll be here as soon as he can make the journey.”

“I hope he’s the one, Lady Kathlyna,” Eldrin quietly said. “For more reasons than one.”

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“I don’t like it,” Garn of Rhyane frowned as he looked at his son.

You don’t like it!” Kathlyna angrily stomped back and forth in front of the fireplace in the Great Hall of Rhyane. “YOU DON’T LIKE IT?!!” she repeated.

Josef hid a smile as he glanced at his father. He knew that although his mother’s fiery temperament sometimes appalled him, Garn nevertheless never failed to be entranced by it.

“So it seems,” Garn finally said.

“Egads! I must have enemies!” Kathlyna shouted. “First my daughter marries that...that...Thane of Green Hills! And just why didn’t you stop that?!” Kathlyna angrily turned towards her husband.

“Because my daughter was in love with him,” Garn heavily replied. “I was never happy about it either. I would have preferred her to marry either Duncan or one of Rik’s brothers.”

“She was never attracted to Duncan,” Josef pointed out. “And Christien wasn’t interested.” He solemnly winked at his father behind Kathlyna’s back. “So it’s obviously all Christien’s fault from the beginning.”

“Don’t be flippant, young man!” Kathlyna whirled on her son.

“Kath,” Garn quickly rose and put his hands on her shoulders. “Kath.”

“Don’t Kath me!” Kathlyna irritably tried to shrug Garn’s hands away. “I don’t want to be soothed!”

Garn patiently kept his hands on her shoulders until she finally looked up at him. Slowly Garn put a hand under her chin and stared into her blue eyes. As always, Kathlyna felt her anger fading. “I don’t suppose there’s a chance you won’t go?” she said to Josef.

“No,” Josef quietly replied. He stood and faced his parents. “But if I’m not the right person, it leaves Rhyane in a bad situation.”

“It’s happened before.” Garn’s green eyes quietly studied his son. He silently nodded his pride evident. “You do what you need to do, Josef.”

“I’ll leave in the morning,” Josef quietly left the room.

“How can you be so calm?” Kathlyna hissed.

“Because I won’t make it any more difficult for him than it already is.” Garn wearily looked down at his wife. “From the time he was small, he’s wanted to help me run Rhyane....to be a responsible caretaker.”

“I warn you, Garn!” Kathlyna’s eyes flashed. “I won’t have Thane Axter as Lord of Rhyane!” When Garn quizzically looked down at her, she stomped her foot. “I’ll destroy it all first!”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Garn drily replied. He pulled Kathlyna close to him.

“Christien was staying in Dedresia,” Kathlyna murmured against her husband’s chest. “I know Maire’s told Duncan so he’ll be there as well.” She took a deep breath. “Christien promised to bring Josef home...if we’re wrong.”

Garn said nothing as he stared over his wife’s shoulder into the flickering flames.

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Josef quickly trod down the steps to the Great Hall. It was an hour before dawn. He hoped his father would not yet have risen. He also knew that given normal circumstances, his mother wouldn’t be seen until mid-morning. But today was not normal circumstances. He hoped to be gone before they looked for him. He stopped on the bottom step and glanced around the Great Hall suddenly struck with the thought he might not see his home again.

“About time,” Duncan said from the shadows.

“Duncan!” Josef peered into the darkness in confusion. “What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for you,” Duncan grumbled. “I don’t know why you and Christien think everything has to be done early in the morning. Any civilized person knows you should wait until the sun is up three or four hours at least before getting out of bed.”

“You know,” Josef accused.

“I know a lot of things,” Duncan continued to grumble. “I know that one of these days either you or Christien or both of you are going to get me killed. You with your noble thoughts and deeds and Christien with his stubbornness.”

“Is that a fact?” Josef half-smiled.

“I hope not!” Duncan shivered. “I have a lot to live for. My darling Starra, for instance.”

“I heard she wanted to get married,” Josef teased. “Better not let Christien know you turned her down.”

Duncan eyed his friend as they walked out the front door. “Who told you that?” he indignantly demanded.

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Careen suddenly looked up as someone approached the fountain. She quickly thrust her bare feet into her boots and stood peering into the shadows.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” Christien apologized as he slowly came closer. He saw Careen’s eyes looking past him for a few seconds.

“I thought everyone was asleep,” Careen shrugged. “It’s very late.”

“I couldn’t rest,” Christien admitted. “The heat, I suppose.” He hesitated. “I asked Odan earlier if I could speak with you.”

“He told me,” Careen sat down on the stone foundation of the fountain. “Something about an apology.” She humorously glanced up at Christien. “You take things far too seriously, Christien. It doesn’t matter.”

“It does to me,” Christien slowly sat next to her. “And, yes, I do take things seriously.”

“You shouldn’t,” Careen advised. “Who knows? By tomorrow all this could be destroyed. Then who would know or care who apologized to who?”

“And Dedresia could be standing a thousand years from now,” Christien’s blue eyes twinkled. “And the legends would tell the story of an apology.”

Careen chuckled. “An optimist as well as an idealist,” she teased. “No apology is necessary. You had a reason to think what you did.”

“Did I?” Christien asked.

Careen stared at him for a minute. “I could have tried to save Devora from falling,” she replied. “But no one could have saved her from Lucas’ revenge. And that would have been a lot worse than falling from that tower.” She smiled at his expression. “Yes, it’s a cold and heartless answer, isn’t it? I guess I gave you wrong impression earlier. I am cold and heartless.”

“No, you’re not,” Christien argued. “I suppose part of you can be. But I’ve seen another side of you.”

“Well, keep it to yourself,” Careen lightly requested. “I’d hate for anyone to believe otherwise.” She saw Christien’s frown and took a deep breath. “Evan and I are the children of Leodin and Solitaire. We prefer that others believe we are as cold and ruthless as our parents.”

“It’s a good defense, I suppose,” Christien acknowledged. He ignored her angry scowl. “What about Odan?”

“He’s Leodin’s son,” Careen pointed out. “Evan and I figure he’s different because he doesn’t have Solitaire’s blood in him.” She grinned. “Not that Leodin is any saint,” she pointed out. She shook her head at Christien’s look of confusion. “Don’t try to figure us out, Christien,” she advised. “Put your time and energy into something more constructive.”

“Do you want me to try and talk to Stefan?” Christien hesitantly asked after a moment of silence.

Careen silently studied Christien. “Now why would you want to do something like that?” she mused.

“Because he’s miserable,” Christien pointed out. “And so are you.”

“And you think we won’t be miserable if you intercede in some fashion?” Careen’s emerald eyes twinkled. She smiled when Christien flushed. “I’m an awful tease, Christien. I forget you’re not used to it. My brothers shrug it off.” She shook her head. “Don’t bother. I hate to admit it...and I swear I’ll deny I ever said it...but Evan was right.” She absently frowned. “What Stefan and I had...that trust is gone. It can’t be replaced.”

Christien looked away inwardly sighing at the sadness in her voice. He wondered if she realized it was there. “I’m sorry,” he finally said. “I know it’s not enough...”

“Thank you,” Careen softly interrupted. “It is enough.” After a moment, she turned her head to face him. “Any more nightmares?”

“No,” Christien looked surprised. “None at all.”

Careen nodded. “Lucas always was a perceptive one,” she mused. “Or else he’s occupied with some other deviltry.”

“Can I ask you something?” Christien prodded. When Careen stared at him, he slowly continued. “How did you and Evan get away from the Misty Isles?” He stared at Careen in astonishment when she threw back her head and laughed.

“I’m sorry,” Careen finally apologized. “From anyone else I probably would have seen that question coming. But you prefaced it so well with....”

“I don’t play games like that,” Christien angrily interrupted. “I was curious, that’s all.”

Careen chuckled. “Don’t take it personally, Christien,” she advised. “I’m just in a nasty mood, I suppose.” She took a deep breath. “So you want to know how we managed to get away? Or did we make a deal? Are we in collaboration with them after all?” Her eyes twinkled as she stared at Christien.

Christien took a deep breath to control his anger. “You’re not in collaboration,” he finally spoke. “I have no doubts about that.”

“Really?” Careen eyed him curiously. “How do you know that?”

“Trust,” Christien quickly retorted. He saw her eyes briefly shadow and inwardly winced.

“Trust,” Careen nodded. She carefully took off her boots and lowered her bare feet into the water. “I miss the water,” she casually mentioned. “I don’t think my brothers do...or they’ve grown accustomed to not being around it. But I miss it.”

“I imagine it’s quite a change,” Christien quietly observed.

Careen flashed him a quick grin. “In more ways than one,” she admitted. She stared down into the water. “I watched Odan’s ship clear the wharf.....”

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THE MISTY ISLES

Careen slowed down to a casual walk as she approached the palace. Most of the soldiers were eyeing the burning building with some trepidation. It was obvious that a great deal of magic had been used. Smiling casually, Careen edged through the crowd and into the building.

She saw a group of people at the bottom of the stairs. Solitaire cradled one arm against her chest a red burn running from shoulder to wrist. Two guards held an obviously exhausted Evan between them. Leodin, blackened from several magical blasts, angrily slapped his son across the face.

“It seems your brothers have become traitors,” Lucas murmured in Careen’s ear. “Queen Alyxa is also missing.” Careen glanced over her shoulder. “I don’t suppose you know anything about that?” Lucas whispered.

“Does it matter?” Careen smiled. She glanced back at Evan. “Looks like the line to inheriting Leodin and Solitaire’s throne just became a lot shorter.”

“So it seems,” Lucas agreed. “Just imagine what lies before you....just ready to be scooped into your ambitious little hands.” He caressed her wrist then slowly kissed her palm. “And Devon is such an active child. He’s always having accidents.”

“That’s why they’re called accidents, Lucas,” Careen reminded him with a cold smile. She slowly walked forward. “You don’t look well, Mother.”

Solitaire gave her daughter a cold look. Leodin glanced at his wife in consideration. “Perhaps you should return to the fleet,” he suggested with a meaningful look.

Solitaire glanced from Leodin to Careen then slowly nodded.

“Allow me,” Lucas gallantly offered Solitaire his arm. “I suppose we can consider today a partial victory.”

Solitaire nodded in agreement as they left. She glanced over her shoulder at Leodin who coldly nodded.

“So I’m to be executed,” Evan’s voice grated. He eyed his father with cold hatred and ignored his sister.

“Of course,” Leodin agreed. “You have no magic left, Evan.” He coldly slapped his son once again. “And you should have never...NEVER attacked your mother.” He stood back as the soldiers released Evan who fell face-first onto the marble floor. “Finish him,” Leodin ordered Careen.

Evan and Careen exchanged one long look. Leodin’s eyes narrowed as he watched their green eyes connect. Slowly Careen gave her brother a cold sardonic smile and raised her hands. Evan tried to get to his feet then dropped back to the floor as he felt a blast of heat over him.

Leodin looked stunned as fire from Careen’s fingertips incinerated both guards. He slowly turned to look at his daughter.

“And you should never attack my brother when he’s defenseless,” Careen coldly mocked. She shook her head as Leodin’s fingers twitched. “I wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be prudent.”

“Really?” Leodin’s green eyes glittered. “Why is that, my darling little girl?”

Careen’s equally green eyes flashed in anger. “Because if you do, you won’t have anyone left to inherit what you’ve taken.”

Leodin’s eyes flickered as Evan managed to pull himself to his feet.

“Lucas thinks he has a better chance backing me than Devon,” Careen coldly smiled. “For obvious reasons, of course. He just mentioned before leaving how an active child like Devon might have an accident.”

“You little idiot,” Leodin shook his head. “He was suggesting you arrange an accident for Devon.”

“Perhaps,” Careen conceded. “But are you willing to bet your dynasty on it?” When Leodin didn’t answer, she moved closer to Evan. “Odan’s gone. Evan and I will be gone. If you want Devon to inherit, you’ll deal with me and deal with me now.”

“What do you want?” Leodin curiously asked.

“To leave.” Careen smacked Evan’s arm when he started to protest. “I’ll take your ring. The teleportation spell in it will get us far away.” She took a deep breath. “In return, you’ll have Devon to inherit everything. Not even Lucas will move against him if he’s the only one left.”

Leodin studied his son and daughter carefully. Then he slowly pulled the ring from his finger and tossed it to Careen. “Don’t ever let me see either of you again,” he warned. He looked at Evan. “And I won’t forget what you did today.”

“Neither will we,” Careen coldly replied. She and Leodin eyed each other for a moment before he turned away.

Evan put his hand on Careen’s shoulder as she activated the ring. He clutched her shoulder even harder as the sickening sensation of being teleported shot through him. He dazedly opened his eyes moments later and looked around. “Where are we?” he asked eyeing the deserted white sandy beach.

“Who knows?” Careen muttered. She stared at the ring in her hand for a moment before throwing it as far away as she could.

“You know he’ll follow,” Evan pointed out.

Careen nodded. “I can teleport us around a few times before going to Odan. He won’t be able to track us.”

“Will Lucas?” Evan wondered even as he took Careen’s arm.

Careen shrugged. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “But I think he’s going to have to take the time to regain some of Fa...Leodin’s trust after what I told him about Devon.”

Evan eyed his sister curiously. “Did you plan on saving me?” he asked. “After al, you could have had it all.”

Careen returned his stare. “I did have it all,” she pointed out. “I decided I didn’t like who I’d have to share it with.”

--------------------------------------------------

DEDRESIA

“Did they come after you?” Christien curiously asked.

“Not that we could tell,” Careen shrugged. She took a deep breath. “You have to remember, it was all very chaotic then. Other island kingdoms were in turmoil not knowing if they would be attacked. Even the alliances Leodin and Solitaire had made with some of the undersea creatures were in jeopardy.”

“I know most of the refugees landed in Rhyane,” Christien mused.

“We didn’t,” Careen continued. “We couldn’t take the chance. We didn’t even stay together. It was too dangerous. We separated as soon as we could. Odan decided to bring Alyxa to Dedresia believing it was the best place to hide her. Evan and I traveled elsewhere. We agreed to meet in Dedresia after a certain amount of time. When Evan and I arrived, Odan and Alyxa had been married, and he’d started a life here. Eldrin invited us to stay.”

“Did he know?” Christien asked.

Careen nodded. “Odan had told him thinking it was only fair,” she grinned. “Eldrin told us he would probably be fighting the Jackal at some point. He didn’t want us to be caught in the middle.” She grinned even wider. “He thought it was only fair to tell us that.”

“And you agreed,” Christien slowly smiled.

Careen eyed him for a moment. “Don’t go believing we’re being noble about this,” she admonished. “As far as Evan’s concerned, revenge is what matters.” She hesitated. “I don’t know what happened, but he and Solitaire tried to kill one another. That hatred runs deep for some reason.”

“You don’t hate them?” Christien frowned.

Careen shrugged. “Hate covers a lot of things, Christien,” she lightly replied. “Unlike my brothers...and you...I don’t take much seriously. To really hate, you have to take it seriously.” She glanced towards the east. “It’ll be dawn soon. Your friend will be here later today. I suppose we should get some sleep.” She glanced at Christien. “It’s his decision, Christien...not yours. So it’s not your responsibility.”

“I brought up his name,” Christien flatly replied as he stood. “That made it my responsibility.” He hesitated then leaned down and hugged Careen. He saw her surprised look. “I consider you to be my friend, Careen, and hope you consider me to be yours. You’ll always be welcome in Elhalyn as long as I’m there.” He saw the stunned look of surprise in her eyes and quickly walked away.



GO TO CHAPTER SEVENTEEN



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