BOOK 11 DESTINY'S DESIGN
Noises outside in the courtyard awoke Chanya before first light and she poked her head out the window just in time to see several transports disappearing into the foggy distance. People often came and went around the palace at strange hours but something about the transports seemed odd and she wondered vaguely if it might be something that Khivar would be interested in.
Over the past few months, she had passed all manner of information to him, from the lowliest gossip to the schedules of the guard patrols, but she sensed that nothing she had told him so far was what he was really interested in.
Chanya dressed quickly and went down the corridor toward Vilondra's bedchamber, but discovered the Princess was not there. More and more curious, thought Chanya. Vilondra was never up before sunrise.
She turned and hurried down the hall to the dowager Queen's chamber. Chanya suspected that Nedra and Vilondra had been keeping things from her and she was frustrated and somewhat hurt. She had been a good friend and companion to both women and she wondered what could possibly be so important that they would not confide in her, but she had only been able to conceive of one answer. Khivar. They must suspect his actions and she had to find out for sure.
She reached the Queen's chamber, found the door ajar and knocked lightly when she heard voices from inside the room.
"Come in," Nedra said.
Chanya looked around the room, quickly taking in Vilondra's tear-stained face and the anxiety in the Nedra expression. "Has something happened?" she asked. But when she didn't get an answer, she turned to leave. “Forgive me your Highnesses, I didn’t mean to intrude."
"No wait, Chanya," Vilondra said. "We may as well tell you, everyone will know within a few hours. We have proof that Khivar has been plotting against Zan and he will be arrested at the Council meeting this morning."
Chanya froze. They had discovered Khivar's plot but had they discovered her part in it? "What do you mean he is plotting against Zan, my Lady?" she asked cautiously.
"He is behind the riots and has been raising an army in secret to dispose Zan," Nedra informed her quietly. "Khivar wants the throne and is prepared to do anything to get it, including killing us all."
Chanya paled and struggled to keep her composure. With a quick curtsey, she headed for the door once again. "Excuse me, I am sure you would like to be alone."
As she walked back to her room her mind was working to sort out what she had learned. Khivar was ambitious and he could be after the throne, and she had no doubt he would say or do anything that would gain her help. She could not let him kill Zan but she also didn't want her part in the conspiracy to be discovered. Quickly making up her mind, Chanya donned a cloak and slipped out the door and into the fog.
Chanya let herself in the hidden door at the back of Khivar's mansion and was met immediately by the imposing figure of General Nicaron.
"Lady Chanya, to what do we owe this early morning visit?"
She was out of breath but spoke quickly, "I must speak to Khivar. It’s urgent."
The General nodded and escorted her into a room. "Wait here," he said as he disappeared through a door.
The General reappeared moments later followed closely by Khivar, a dressing gown hurriedly wrapped around his large frame. "Chanya, you have news?"
"Khivar, a special session of the Council is called for today."
He looked at the General for confirmation. "The notice came late last evening, Sir"
"And what is this special session about?" Khivar asked.
"I don't know exactly,” Chanya said, “but I suspect it is to inform the Council members of your treachery, and if you attend you will be arrested for conspiring against Zan."
Khivar's face showed genuine surprise. "They have proof?"
"Queen Nedra said they did."
Khivar turned to Nicaron. "Ready our things for immediate departure."
Nicaron nodded once and left the room.
Khivar smiled. "Little Chanya, I owe you a great deal. It would have been inconvenient to be incarcerated at this time."
"Just remember our deal Khivar,” Chanya said heatedly. “I want Zan alive and I don't wish my part in this little conspiracy to become public knowledge."
"Of course," he said smoothly. "I have already explained my motives."
"How do you explain your army?" she asked.
"Zan has an army at his disposal, and if he resists the new order of government," Khivar shrugged gracefully, "the Council will need an army under their control to counter him."
Chanya accepted his explanation for the present and stayed silent.
Khivar continued, "Since we will be deprived of these enchanting assignations in the near future, I have a gift for you."
He reached into a drawer on the desk and withdrew a chain with a black and silver charm in the shape an oval, and the swirling design representing their world. "It is a communication device. Simply press this," he indicated the triangle in the center, "and speak into it. It is new technology developed by my scientists. The transmitter will send the message in microbursts at different frequencies so it cannot be traced. I can send messages to you the same way. When there is a message waiting, the same area will turn red. Just press it to hear the message."
Chanya accepted the necklace. "I do not entirely trust you, but for now you are my best hope of obtaining what I desire."
Khivar was not offended by her statement, he simply smiled. "You will make a formidable Queen, my dear Chanya, but now is the time when your information could be of the greatest importance," he assured her. "Discover all you can and pass it along to me. Working together we can both get what we want."
Nicaron entered the room just as Chanya left. "So the simpleton has proven her worth."
"Yes," Khivar mused and then turned to the business at hand. "Of course, you know someone must have talked. There is no other way Zan could have obtained the position of our troops. I am expending a great deal of energy to cloak them."
"I will start an investigation and we will discover the traitor," Nicaron assured him.
Khivar nodded, "Have you alerted the troops?"
"Yes they are readying for the battle, Sir."
"Finally," Khivar said with satisfaction, "it has begun."
Rath awaited daybreak in the command center in the palace. Normally he would be with the troops, directing them, but with five battles being waged simultaneously, he needed the resources that the command center provided. Zan had the ultimate command of the troops, of course, but Rath felt great pride that Zan trusted his decisions.
Rath paced from one end of the room to the other, feeling strange that he was not with his troops. Ava's prediction of their deaths had unsettled him more than he wanted to admit but he was actively working to overcome the feelings. He was confident their troops would be a match for Khivar's and decided to push all other thoughts from his mind until after the battle was behind them. They could deal with each threat as it presented itself. He would not allow himself to waste energy trying to determine where a new threat might materialize. And as the sun slowly crept over the horizon, Rath waited anxiously for the first communications from his field commanders or the news from the Council of Khivar's capture.
At this moment Zan was addressing the special session of the Council. Khivar's treachery would be revealed and he would be arrested as the traitor he was.
"General Varros," said the communications officer, "there is a call for you from Major Tensel at the Council Hall.
Rath picked up the speaker. "Receiving transmission, Major."
"Sir, Khivar did not attend the Council," the Major reported. "I took the full compliment of troops to his manor but he has fled."
"Damn it," Rath snarled, "someone must have warned him."
"It appears that way, General."
"Take your troops back to the Council and be alert for attempts on the lives of the King, Queen and Princess Vilondra."
"Yes Sir," the Major signed off.
Rath turned to the communications officer, shoving the speaker at him. "Get me the city gates."
The Lieutenant pushed a series of buttons on the communications console and handed the speaker back to Rath. "This is General Varros. Have the city gates sealed immediately. Duke Roistar has been declared a traitor and is attempting to flee the city. Search all transports and I want reports of any suspicious activity."
"General Varros," the gate commander answered, "Duke Roistar and his party left the city two hours ago."
Rath swore again. "You are sure."
"Seal the gates and search anyone coming into the city. All weapons are to be confiscated and those possessing them arrested."
"By your command, Sir."
Rath switched off the channel and slammed his fist on the console. Someone had warned Khivar. It meant that they had a traitor in their midst, but with all of the activity concerning the build-up and movement of Zan's troops in the last few months, the source of the information could have come from almost anywhere. Khivar could have a spy in the troops but Rath thought it unlikely. He had personally screened the applicants and he had been sure they had all been loyal to Zan but perhaps he had missed something. After Khivar's treachery had been revealed, he had checked and re-checked all of the palace staff, to keep threats to Zan and Ava's safety to a minimum.
But he could ponder the source of the traitor later. Now he needed to concentrate on the battles that were being waged, and he would not be able to do that until he was sure that Zan, Ava and Vilondra were safe. Unable to leave the resources of the command center, Rath motioned to his trusted shape shifter bodyguard. "Kaldar, I have need of your services."
"Yes, General Varros."
"Take a squad of guards to the Council building to make sure the King, Queen and Princess Vilondra are returned to the palace in safety." Zan had not been equipped with a secure communications device when he left the palace but he needed to be aware of the events of the morning and this was not information Rath wanted to broadcast over an unsecured channel. He quickly scribbled a note detailing Khivar's escape and handed it to Kaldar. "Deliver this to the King personally. It is of vital importance that he receive this information."
"As you wish, Sir," Kaldar replied as he left the room.
Now that the emergencies had been dealt with, Rath was able to turn his full attention to the battles being waged. He checked the timepiece on the console and felt a cold fissure of fear rise up his spine. It had been too long since sunrise. He should have heard something from the field commanders by now, unless something was going wrong. Rath grabbed for the communicator and set it to the secure frequency used by the first legion of troops. "Come in Ground One this is Base."
As he was answered, Rath could hear the sounds of battle close to the speaker. "Base, this is Ground One."
"What is your status?"
"They were prepared for us, Sir. They did not wait until first light. They attacked us in the dark but we are holding them, Sir."
"Carry on, but make frequent reports. I will send reinforcements as soon a possible."
"Yes Sir, Ground One out."
Rath tuned to the Lieutenant. "Get me air support," he barked. Zan had hoped it would not be necessary to get into a full-scale war and had kept the air support on the ground, but ready to fly at a moment's notice. The Lieutenant motioned to him and he took the speaker. "Air One, this is Base."
"Yes Sir, Base."
"Scramble and rendezvous with Ground One."
"Yes Sir, by your command."
Next he tried Ground Two but was unsuccessful in raising them. He frustratedly tried to raise Ground Three and Four but there was no response. Just as he was about to attempt Ground Five a message came through.
"Base this is Ground Five. Do you read us Base?"
"This is Base."
"Sir they were waiting for us. They attacked before dawn and tried to destroy our communication equipment but we were able to repair it. Sir, they are attacking with air support and we are sustaining heavy casualties."
"Commander, pull back and I will send air support to you."
Rath spoke to the communications officer. "Get all of the air support scrambled, now."
The Lieutenant quickly made the calls and then turned to Rath. "I have scrambled air Groups Two and Four but I was unable to reach Group Three."
Rath swore, now expecting the worse. "Contact Colonel Detras in charge of the King's escort now!" he bellowed. The Lieutenant quickly complied and handed the instrument to his General. "Colonel, get the King and his party back to the palace immediately. Repeat my words to his Majesty exactly. Tell the King his presence is required at once."
Zan was disappointed to learn of Khivar's absence from the Council. A message dispatched from his manor stated that he would be late and to proceed without him. Zan motioned to Major Tensel. "Major take your troops to Duke Roistar's manor and arrest the Duke and anyone in his household."
"Yes, your Majesty."
Zan proceeded to tell the members of the Council the full extent of Khivar's treachery, and when he had finished there were a few Harcion Senators that still insisted on his innocence. They declared that Khivar must have been set up or perhaps his intentions were misunderstood.
Questions assaulted Zan from all sides and he answered them as best as he could but he did not have any current news of the battle. "Senators," he tried to reassure them, "I will give you all of the details of the insurrection as soon as I know anything."
A figure moving toward him caught his attention. He recognized Kaldar, Rath's personal bodyguard.
The shape shifter bowed formally before him. "I have a message from General Varros."
Zan quickly read the message and then turned back to the assembly. "I have news of Khivar. He and his entire household have fled the city." A roar of reaction raced through the crowd and hisses of 'traitor' echoed through the room.
Zan signaled for silence as Colonel Detras approached the dais. "Khivar will be found and punished for his treachery, have no doubt." Zan stepped down to hear the Colonel's news.
Colonel Detras bowed formally before Zan. "Your Majesty, I have a message from General Varros. I am to tell you that your presence is required urgently at the palace."
"Thank you Colonel, we will leave immediately." Zan turned to once more address the Council. "Senators my presence is required at the palace. I will keep you informed of the news."
Ava and Vilondra were immediately at his side. Ava could feel the worry radiating from him but she waited until they were away from the Council room. "Zan what is wrong?"
He spoke with a hushed voice as they were escorted out the back and into their waiting transport. "Rath and I have a code phrase between us. The battle is going badly. We must get back to the palace as quickly as possible."
Zan remembered his earlier words to Ava, 'The battle is going badly', and shook his head. He couldn't have made a bigger understatement.
Khivar was more prepared for this battle than they had possibly imagined. He had destroyed their air fleet, decimated their troops and sent the survivors scurrying back to the relative safety of the capitol. The only thing that now stood between Khivar and total victory were a few anti-air cannons and the shielded city walls, which Zan was reinforcing with his own power. So far Khivar's troops had not been able to penetrate the walls but Zan knew it was only a matter of time.
When it had been certain Khivar's army was heading for the capitol, Zan had quickly arranged for his mother to be sent to the secret lab to oversee the final preparations. He had tried to convince Ava to accompany his mother because he was fearful for Ava’s safety, but she had adamantly refused, saying that her place was at his side no matter what happened. He had thought he could not possibly love her more but in that instant his love for her had grown tenfold.
He had also tried to persuade Vilondra to leave with their mother, but she had insisted on staying too. Vilondra considered the entire situation to be her fault and she had to see it through, no matter what the outcome.
Khivar waited until dark to send a message to Chanya. He had been frustrated that the ancient city walls had been able to keep him out of Tageonon, his final goal, but other than the one minor setback, the day had gone exactly as he had planned. Zan's troops had fallen like so many blades of grass before a strong wind, and he laughed as he imagined Zan's surprise.
He was sure he could have the city walls down in a matter of days but he did not wish to lose the momentum that had been achieved. His countrymen within the city had obviously failed in their attempts to open the gates, either because of incompetence or because they had been discovered. And he had to admit, now that he was within sight of his goal he was eager to feel the throne beneath him. So he would turn to his traitor within Zan's midst.
Khivar pressed the activator on his communications device and spoke. "Chanya, I have need of your services."
She responded almost immediately. "Khivar, how nice to hear from you. Obviously Zan offered resistance to your idea of governmental restructure."
"Yes, he was less than enthusiastic," Khivar said drolly.
"I am impressed by your progress. Somehow I didn't really think you would be able to force Zan to his knees. He is very powerful."
"Yes but he is young and still naively believes in the inherent goodness of all beings. But I require your help to take the last few steps."
"What do you mean?" she asked apprehensively.
"The main city gate is preventing me from accomplishing our goal. I will be able to breach it eventually but if you were to open it, Zan would be yours that much sooner."
"I can not help you in that way,” Chanya protested. “What if Zan were to discover my part in the plan?"
"He need not discover anything. I have the ability to wipe any troublesome deeds from your memory. I was going to offer it to you as a reward for a job well done."
"But if others see me, I will still be exposed."
"Then you must use your abilities to hide your presence,” he said. “Simply open the gate and then return to the palace."
Chanya considered the plan for a moment. "I will do as you ask. Tonight just before dawn."
Vilondra could not believe the events of the last few hours. She was still in shock that Khivar could have overwhelmed them so completely in such a short time. He had gained access to the city at daybreak and had marched straight for the palace, meeting little resistance on the way. Zan had locked down the palace and though Khivar's troops had been repelled so far, she knew they would soon find entry. The guilt she felt was consuming her and if she didn't do something, she would go mad.
She decided to throw herself on Khivar's mercy once again. He had been blocking her attempts to contact him for two days and she felt she should have known something was going to happen, and cursed herself for being a fool. She really didn't believe Khivar would spare her family but she had to try.
Vilondra waited until dark and slipped out a secret corridor that led under the palace wall and into the heart of the city. It exited near Khivar's manor, where he had set up his headquarters, and as she pushed open the tunnel door, she used her powers to cloak herself in disguise.
Her power was somewhat similar to Chanya's. Vilondra was able to alter what people saw in their dreams, and to a lesser degree, she was able to alter her appearance to those who saw her. She could not hold the illusion for long periods of time but Zan and Ava were the only ones who had ever penetrated her masquerade. Even Chanya, with her abilities, had not been able to peel away the illusion and discover the reality beneath.
Vilondra soon arrived at the secret door in the back of Khivar's manor and boldly waited to meet her estranged lover.
After only a moment, General Nicaron opened the door. "Princess," he said with a suggestive leer, "we did not expect you this evening."
"I must speak with Khivar," she demanded in her most regal voice.
"Of course," he replied with a short, insolent bow. "Right this way."
He led her into a familiar room and as she expected Khivar was waiting for her.
"Vilondra," he smiled with satisfaction. "I knew you would return to me." He addressed Nicaron without taking his eyes off her, "Thank you General. Leave us now."
Vilondra waited until they were alone to throw herself into Khivar's arms. "It has been so long."
"Yes," he said huskily, "but now that we are together, we will never be separated again." He pulled her eager form into a kiss full of longing, sharpened by the months of separation.
They were locked together in a tight embrace for several moments, drinking in one another’s essence but Vilondra reluctantly broke away. "Khivar please don't. I didn't come here to stay. I came to beg you for my brother's life."
Khivar continued to hold her and gently stroked her hair. "Your loyalty to your brother is commendable but nothing has changed. He must die."
"But you have beaten his army," she argued. "Perhaps I could persuade him to step down and let you take the throne."
"Your brother is the last male in the direct Tageonant line. He must be eliminated. There would always be a faction of the populace that see him as the rightful King and I cannot allow it."
"Enough," he said softly. "The subject is growing tiresome. Come to bed now. Tomorrow we will breach the walls of the palace and your brother, his wife and your betrothed will be executed. You and I will be married and declared the new King and Queen of Antar."
"No Khivar," she said, taking a few steps away from him. "I cannot stay with you. I must be at my brother's side."
"Vilondra," Khivar said softly, reaching for her, "there is nothing more you can do."
"Maybe not," Vilondra said, stubbornly raising her chin, "but I will be with him to the end."
"No!” Khivar said heatedly. “I won't risk you!"
Vilondra was surprised by the extent of his emotion. It was the first time Khivar had raised his voice to her, the first time he had spoken to her in anger.
"It is too dangerous," Khivar continued more softly. "This is open war. You could be killed in the fighting. I will not allow you to leave."
She laughed mockingly, her anger growing with his every word. "You won't allow it! I am Vilondra Tageonant, Royal Princess of Antar," she said haughtily. "I shall do as I please and there is nothing you can do to stop me."
"I will tie you to the bed if I have to," Khivar growled, as he stalked purposefully toward her, and when he was close enough he grabbed her arm.
"Let go of me," she hissed. "Not you or anyone else will keep me from Zan." She used her powers to loosen his grip on her arm and threw him across the room and into a table. She could clearly see the surprise and anger on his face as he landed and she quickly headed toward the secret door. She knew that the noise of Khivar's fall would bring the General and she wondered if Khivar would send him after her.
Raised voices from inside the house reached her as she ran through the corridor. She could hear Khivar bellowing orders and the echoing sounds of footsteps following her. As Vilondra reached the outer door, she disguised herself with her powers. Even if the General did come after her, he would not recognize her.
Vilondra slipped through the outer door and proceeded slowly into the street, careful not to bring attention to herself. She continued as Khivar's men passed her, darting off in all directions looking for her, and after a few minutes she reached the hidden door that led into the palace. Using her powers to open the door, she took one last look around to make sure she had not been followed.
Nicaron spotted Vilondra at once but watched amusedly as his troops disregarded and rushed past the wizened form without a second glance. He had to admit that her disguise would fool most people, but then he was not most people. He could feel the power radiating from her like a tangible thing and it was a simple matter to pierce the guise and see her true form beneath.
He followed her silently, curious about her destination. He had suspected there must be hidden entrances into the palace but he had been unable to discover them. And when Vilondra had appeared at Khivar's mansion that evening, he knew his suspicions were well founded. She had sneaked out of the palace, of that Nicaron was sure. Zan would never have allowed her to come had he known.
Nicaron almost laughed aloud when he remembered the thunderstruck expression on Khivar's face when he had burst into the room. Khivar had been on the floor in a pile of broken furniture, shouting orders to bring Vilondra back to him. She had denied him, thrown him across the room and still Khivar wanted her. What a woman.
Nicaron slowed his pace as he watched her come to a stop. She used her powers to open a portal, and he hurried forward just as she turned.
Vilondra turned to face her worse nightmare, General Nicaron, and her mind raced with the fact that she had just led him to the palace door and given him the key. She watched his eyes widen with the knowledge of what lay beyond the door, but she could not let him take the information to Khivar or all of their fates would be sealed. She knew she could not win in a fair fight with him and quickly decided to use his attraction to her to distract him.
"General," she purred, "what an unexpected surprise."
"Yes, I imagine it is," he agreed.
Approaching him slowly, throwing a sway into her hips and a feigned hunger into her eyes, she frantically searched the area for anything she could use as a weapon. Finally she saw a large rock and knew it would have to do. She would only get one chance and she had to make it work. She allowed a knowing smile to curve her lips and when she reached him, and she drew her hand down his chest and leaned into him. "Calles," she breathed his name. "Do you have any idea how much I want you?"
Nicaron's eyes flicked quickly between Vilondra and the doorway leading into the palace. He wanted her so much he could practically taste it, and he dismissed the door for the present as he gathered her into his arms. The door would still be there when they had finished. "Not as much as I want you," he said, pulling her into a rough, devouring kiss.
Vilondra forced herself to melt into him, shielding carefully to not show any part of the revulsion she felt. As he pulled her even closer in an attempt to deepen the kiss, she slowly gathered her power and concentrated on hurling the rock at his head. She raised the rock and used all of her power to propel it toward him, but two things happened simultaneously. Nicaron grabbed her hand and used his powers to divert the path of the rock, dropping it harmlessly to the ground.
"You whore," he ground out, disgusted with himself for falling for her act. And with a tremendous burst of power, he threw her angrily from him, her body twisting in the air like a rag doll. In his rage, he threw her farther and harder than he intended and her head hit the side of a building with a sickening thud. Vilondra slowly collapsed to the ground, leaving a bright crimson stain on the once pristine, white surface.
Nicaron ran to her but he knew it was already too late. He had witnessed death many times before and he recognized its presence. He gently lifted her in his arms, erased the evidence of her blood from the wall and slowly walked back to Khivar's manor, devising a plausible story for her death as he proceeded.
When Nicaron saw a single guard in the distance, he summoned him to his side and struck him, knocking him unconscious. Then he called for help, to make sure he had witnesses to his story. When he arrived back at the mansion, he presented Khivar with Vilondra's body and her unconscious murderer.
The healer confirmed Nicaron's pronouncement of death and Khivar took great pleasure in torturing his beloved's killer to death. The guard protested his innocence to the end but if Khivar heard the words, he did not seem to care. Then Khivar sat, holding Vilondra in his arms all night, knowing it was the last time he would be with her.
In the morning General Nicaron brought news that he had discovered a secret entrance into the palace. It was what Khivar had been waiting for and it meant he was one step closer to obtaining the throne but without Vilondra the inevitable victory seemed to pale. Her last wish had been to return to her brother and Khivar wanted to honor that wish. He also knew her death would demoralize her family and their supporters, but he told himself it was just a convenient bonus.
He cleaned her body personally, repairing torn clothing and erasing all signs of blood. It was one last thing he could do for her.
And as they took her body to the palace under a flag of cease-fire, his camp buzzed with the rumors of Vilondra's death. They said Vilondra had betrayed her brother and sacrificed her life and a kingdom for the man she loved above all else, Khivar.
The news of Vilondra's death hit Zan like a physical object. It knocked the breath from his body and he collapsed to the floor, his knees refusing to hold his weight. A dark void offered him the sanctuary of oblivion and he felt himself float toward its inky promise but Ava was there to take some of his grief and help him stay anchored to the grim reality. He could not afford to fall apart. He had to stay strong for his family and his people.
Zan arranged for Vilondra's essence to be harvested and entrusted it to his bodyguard, Sodan to take to the lab to be prepared for cloning. Once again he begged Ava to leave the palace but she adamantly refused and Sodan made the journey to the lab alone.
Later that day, Princess Vilondra Tageonant was buried in a quiet ceremony and laid in the family crypt next to her father.
That evening in their bedchamber, Zan forced a promise from his young bride. "Ava, I love you with all of my heart and soul, and I could not bear it if you died."
"Zan, we will all die, I have seen it."
"I know and I believe you, but still I must do everything in my power to protect you."
She nodded her understanding.
"You must promise me that when I tell you to, you will get to a safe room and leave the palace."
"No Zan," Ava protested, "I will stay and fight by your side."
"No," he argued. "You must promise me. If I know you are safe I will be able to concentrate all of my attention on the battle, but if I don't know what has happened to you I will be distracted."
"Zan," she started, but Zan cut her off.
"Please Ava, promise me," he begged. "I can't do this if I am worried about your safety."
"I promise Zan," she said sadly.
He released a tension-filled breath that seemed to relax him. "And promise me you will leave the palace when I tell you."
She hesitated, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. "I promise. But Zan . . ."
He stopped her words with his finger on her lips. "Ava, no more of this subject for tonight."
She nodded her agreement and he replaced his finger with his lips.
Khivar waited until dawn the day after Vilondra's burial to renew his attack on the palace. The main body of his troops spread out around the palace wall and assaulted the defenses with renewed vigor.
Rath led his troops from the ramparts, attempting to bolster their flagging moral, even though he suspected they were doomed.
Zan briefed the palace staff on the rendezvous point and instructions for the evacuation if necessary. When the meeting was over, he took Chanya aside. "Chanya you have been a good friend to my family and a loyal supporter, refusing to leave us even when it seems the world is turning against us."
"I support you wholeheartedly, your Majesty," Chanya assured him, "and the least I can do is to stay with you in your time of need."
"Khivar will find access into the palace," Zan continued, "maybe today, maybe tomorrow, but he will succeed. I want to get you out of the palace safely. I don't believe Khivar would harm you but you might be accidentally injured in the fighting."
Chanya's heart swelled with his words. Zan was concerned with her safety. "Thank you for your concern, your Majesty, but I will stay here and offer whatever help I can."
"Thank you," Zan said with a sad smile. "All you have ever done, is trust me, been there for me whenever I needed you. I have never done anything to deserve that kind of loyalty from you."
Chanya moved closer to him and looked up through her lashes seductively. "Your Majesty, you are a great man and a great King. I would do anything for you."
But Zan was too distracted to notice her flirtation and continued, "I want you to know the rendezvous point for the family. I am sure my mother will value your company especially after losing her daughter."
Chanya could not keep the small smile off of her face. Zan was treating her like she was part of the family. "I will offer whatever comfort I am able."
The assault on the walls continued while a small band of raiders, led by Khivar himself, entered the palace through the secret corridor, triggering the alarm. They ran into the hall, spreading out according to the plan, using information provided by Chanya.
Khivar considered his foolish informant, Chanya. She had been useful and if she survived the coup perhaps he would reward her, but he didn't really expect her to survive.
Khivar had given strict orders to take the King and Queen alive. No one else mattered.
When the alarm sounded, Zan, with Chanya at his side, rushed to the command center where he had left Ava. Zan barked orders to the Colonel in charge, "The enemy has entered the palace. Send troops to intercept them."
Then he took Ava aside and reminded her of her promise to him. "Ava, go to the safe room down the corridor and seal yourself inside."
"But Zan," she protested.
He kissed her quickly. "Please, my love, you promised."
"Yes," Ava relented.
They embraced desperately, knowing it could be the last time and Zan escorted her to the room's hidden entrance.
"If we are successful I will come for you, if not . . ." he let the sentence trail off. "I love you Ava."
"And I love you. No matter what happens, nothing can change that."
Chanya watched the tender scene with great interest. She knew where Ava was hidden and she quickly sent the information to Khivar.
Khivar received Chanya's message and turned to a Major at his side. "The Queen is in a secret room down the corridor from the command center. Bring her to me, unharmed."
The Major bowed. "As you wish, my Duke."
Khivar quickly sent a message back to Chanya. "Where is Zan?" and received her reply almost immediately.
"He is heading toward the source of the alarm."
Ava watched the monitors in the hidden room with growing horror. She had known what their fates would be, but the reality was more terrible than she could have imagined. She tried to follow Zan's movements on the monitors, as he moved through the palace, but she would lose sight of him occasionally in-between cameras. Every time he was off camera she would literally hold her breath until he appeared on the next screen and then release it knowing that for now at least, her beloved was still alive.
A movement on one of the screens, in what should have been a deserted part of the palace, caught her attention. Khivar was traveling rapidly down the corridor toward Zan, as if he knew where Zan would be. She watched as Khivar entered a room Zan had to pass through and concealed himself in the corner, obviously waiting for Zan to come to him.
Ava concentrated on their bond. Zan, she sent to him, Khivar is hiding in the north corner of the Blue room and he is armed.
Thank you for the warning, my love, he sent back to her as he rushed into the room.
Khivar charged out of his hiding place and knocked Zan to the floor. Zan got up and charged Khivar, using his powers to throw him into the wall. Zan had no weapons, only his powers and fighting skills and he knew Khivar would not be fighting fair. Zan threw himself out of the path of Khivar's blaster and used his powers to knock it out of Khivar's hand and onto the floor.
Zan turned back to Khivar, threw him across the room and grabbed his blaster where it had fallen. Khivar used a grapple to pull himself out of the way of Zan's attack and as he swung past, threw a grenade. Zan used his accelerated speed to leap out of the way of the explosion but as he landed, Khivar rolled another grenade toward him. Zan could not avoid it and landed on the grenade as it exploded. He was able to raise a shield to protect himself, but the energy from the blast threw him across the room and into the wall.
Ava was frantic to help Zan but there was nothing she could do. She would never be able to reach him in time and had no way to communicate with the troops or the palace guard. She could see Khivar's men approaching them from all sides and knew if they caught Zan they would kill him.
Zan you must get away! She sent desperately through their connection. Khivar's troops are coming from all directions!
He replied softly as he climbed to he feet, We knew it would come to this. I have a chance to end this now by killing Khivar. And then he uttered the words she had dreaded, Ava you must leave the palace, now.
Ava knew that Zan didn't think he was going to make it out alive and he wanted to make sure she was safe. She stood watching the fight, trying to decide what to do, but Zan had made her promise if it ever came to this point she would obey him. But how could she just leave him? He was everything to her and if he died she didn’t want to go on living.
The decision was taken away from her however when she heard men trying to break through the door behind her, and she quickly checked the monitors. Khivar's men had discovered her hiding place and they would cut through the heavy door in a matter of minutes. She could not allow herself to be taken hostage and had no choice but to leave as Zan had instructed her.
Ava looked back at the monitor that showed Zan, to see him one last time. She raised a hand to the monitor as if she were really touching him and silently sent him her undying love. Climbing into the escape pod, she pressed the power button and then the self-destruct for the room. She would take a few of them out and they would not be able to follow.
From the shadows, Chanya watched the battle between Zan and Khivar, and for the first time she seriously doubted Khivar's intentions. She had wanted to believe so badly that Khivar would let Zan live, and she had followed him blindly. Zan and Khivar were evenly matched as combatants and it looked as if the fight might end in a standstill but Khivar's troops poured into the room from all sides, surrounding Zan, and he dropped his weapon and stood helplessly, waiting.
"Zan you are an accomplished fighter," Khivar complimented him. "It is too bad we could not have been allies."
Zan stood to his full height. "I don't recall there ever being an offer of an alliance."
"No," Khivar laughed, "you are correct. I did not think you would agree to my terms."
Zan held his gaze. "No, the price is too high."
Khivar looked stricken for a moment before he was able to mask his grief. "I would have done anything to avoid Vilondra's death."
"I believe you," Zan said solemnly, "but it was done none-the-less and now you can add me to your list of 'accidental' deaths."
"No," Khivar said simply. "I need you alive."
Chanya relaxed, Khivar was going to keep his word. She made her way silently down the corridor toward a side entrance that led into the city where Udac was waiting for her.
Zan laughed at Khivar's statement and used his powers to cause an overload in the light source above, momentarily blinding the occupants of the room. He forced his shield outward in a burst that sent Khivar and his soldiers flying to the ground and moved quickly toward the door.
Zan paused to take one last look at Khivar before he slipped out, cursing his weakness. He had so much power coursing through him, healing power, defensive power, but it was useless in the current situation. For the first time he wished he possessed Rath's destructive powers. He could have destroyed Khivar, as he desperately wanted to do, but instead he was forced to run.
Zan sprinted to another secret exit, just down the corridor. When he reached the door he used the control panel to sound the evacuation alarm for the palace. He looked quickly around at the place that had always been his home, and felt a sense of calm. He might lose the building and the kingdom but as long as he had family, allies and friends, he would always have a home.
He slipped through the door and hurried down the corridor that led under the palace and into the forest bordering the city. After a few moments, he knew he was approaching the main palace wall because he could hear the sounds of the battle more clearly. And then he finally saw the door.
Suddenly he was thrown violently back into the wall as an explosion caused part of the palace wall and the ground above, to collapse down into the tunnel. Not having time to erect a shield, Zan's head hit hard on the wall and then the ground as he fell.
The last thing he saw as he slipped into the waiting blackness was the debris that separated him from the outside door, freedom, and Ava.
The bright light momentarily blinded Khivar. "Don't let the King escape," he bellowed, but as he regained his vision, he could see that Zan was gone. "Search the palace," he ordered. "He can't have gone far."
His men left him and he spared a glance into the corner where Chanya had hidden herself. She was very good at her subterfuge but he possessed the ability to detect power being used and she had been straining herself to keep up the illusion. He had played the scene with Zan just for her benefit, telling himself that after all, she might be useful in the future.
The Major he had sent to retrieve Ava came stumbling down the hall, his uniform torn and bloody. "Duke Roistar, the Queen was in a room equipped with an escape pod. She activated it as we were breaking through the door and then the place collapsed on top of us."
"The Queen has escaped," Khivar intoned dryly. "It seems as if I am loosing all of my prizes today," he said to no one in particular. He knew he had done the right thing as far as Chanya was concerned. With her help he could destroy Zan's remaining troops and execute the King and Queen in a matter of days.