Author Notes: If anyone is reading, do tell me what you think. The main reason I don't write short stories is because I want to tell everything, and condensing it into 'short story' format makes everything feel rushed. True or not?
Dain Suki had been a hero once. A living, breathing, sword master. Cursed, diseased, mentally unstable for years, but still a hero when he managed to control himself. Now, the curse, the Swordsman Disease, was gone, cured. The cure had taken a life he had loved, but the shock, her last kiss, her prayer, maybe magic, whatever it was – he had never lost control of his mind again.
Perfect still remained strapped to his belt to this day, of course. He never took the sword out of its sheath, but he couldn't seem to leave it. So, he was cured, but not completely. Not the way his sister would have wanted. But it was enough.
He had become a hero on his own. With Reda and Jake and Riku fighting the battle elsewhere, he had protected the home planet. Once the disease was gone, of course. The little he did was enough, though. Enough to be voted into "Emperor" position, or perhaps "forced" would be the correct term. Once upon a time he had wanted this job. Now, he would have preferred to have lived his days following the stars, answering as many wishes as he could.
Then again, in his powerful position he could answer more wishes than elsewhere. Or at least the wishes of his own people. Amy's religion had returned when he had found her people in the north – the religion that had manifested itself in his own abilities. Some called it magic. Her people, and now others, called it a gift of the stars. To them, he was the last Wish Granter. The ability to not only listen to the stars, to understand their pattern of blinks as words, but to answer the wishes asked through them.
Quite a position and he tried his best to live up to it. Reda didn't believe in the stars the way he did – but she knew, or had known, that he had been gifted or was just crazy. He could sense her doubts at times and accepted them. As long as she didn't stop him from his journey, and as long as he didn't stop her from hers. Jake had been angry to find that Dain had known about Reda's final journey, angry to have been kept from stopping her. But the demongirl had to return at one time or another. She had been born, created, through divine intervention, whether one believed in her God or in the stars or in something else, everyone – at least on Jerchu – had accepted that much. And when God, or the stars, or whomever, called her home, Reda had gone home, disappearing in the shadowy mountains where her powers had been realized.
Dain sighed as he thought back on that terrible night. The night he had to grant her wish. The hardest wish he could ever give. To let her be free. Jake's wish had followed, but it had come too late for Dain to use, too late to do anything. Things happened in order for a reason, following a pattern only the stars understood. He was just a caretaker, a follower, a granter, not a star himself.
But he had been a hero, once.
What a foolish time that had been, too. Foolish, craz y, and yet he missed those days of youth. What he wouldn't give to be back in the time of his younger days, in a time when everything was simple, when right and wrong were easy to tell apart, when good and evil were distinct.
"Uncle, there's so many buildings! I'm sorry, but this place makes our capital look so simple!"
He smiled at Celest's exclamation. To be young again, indeed. At the very least he could live the young dream through her. She was the daughter of Reda and Jake, born after the Zoranians surrendered, born into a time of peace. The lucky daughter. She had her father's bright green eyes and her mother's smooth, long, and thick brown hair. Her mother's curiosity and, unfortunately, her father's defiance.
"Earth has been around longer than Jerchu – our ancestors migrated from here, if you believe what their scientists say," he said, defending his people's lack of architecture.
Celest kept her hands on the upper-atmosphere hover-car glass window, but she pushed away from the nighttime sight of glowing lights from tall sky-scraping buildings. "But didn't the Elvian and Xenese fleets wipe everything from the Earth surface?"
Good girl, reading your history. Dain nodded, glancing out the window himself once before returning to staring at the floor. These air vehicles always made him nauseous. He hadn't liked spaceship travel, either, except when under the influence of his insanity 'disease' in the past – but it had become a necessary thing if he was to keep ties with Earth.
"Earthers are pretty notorious for building things back up no matter how many times someone knocks them down. Much like us, if they set their minds to a big task, they'll get it done in twice the time with half the people you would expect. We simply spend our efforts on trade and cultivation and the necessary demon slaying to this day. They only have their own exploding population to worry about."
"And inner politicking," Celest added. "I'm glad we don't have that."
Dain chuckled. Better you don't know what goes on among my own "circle of friends." He was Emperor now, blue, silver, and black uniform, complete with the golden travel cape he wore for public visits. Normally, he sent an ambassador to handle Earth trade discussions, but every once in a while his bodyguards agreed to let him off-planet, especially at his insistence that he wanted to show his niece what other planets were like. She would take up the mantel one day, if he had any say in the matter. If she would accept.
Two bodyguards had come along for the trip. His most trusted. Tall, quiet, serious militaristic-to-a-point Zran and then happy, curious, but still quick to respond Ray. Dain himself had been confident in his own abilities, but he had made a vow not to use Perfect except in dire situations…and then there was the hard fact that he was at his fifth decade. His wrists didn't particularly like the idea of using a sword again, either. And he didn't like the idea of guns, no matter how popular they were on other planets. Jerchu had remained separated from the idea of technology increasing through war necessity, and demons seemed to be easier to fight off with cold steel.
As Celest went back to staring out the window, the shuttle or hover-car or whatever Earthers called the bothersome vehicle slowly made its way to its destination – the Earth Council Trade Center. Dain Suki, once crazy brother of the demongirl, now Emperor of Jerchu, dozed in his seat, meeting memories even in travel dreams.
"Traes al anir!"
"Yes, I know. You always say that when you look at her. She is the awakened demon. Our savior and our curse. But what about me, Dain? You must see something else. Something about you. Or my people. Our people."
Her voice was soft, quiet, gentle. Like a light wind against his face. He held his sword, Perfect. These days he couldn't seem to even sheathe it without feeling like a glass half-empty.
The stars took up most of his vision these days, too. The same pattern, over and over. The same warning. He shouted but no one seemed to take him seriously. Did they not understand?
No. They did not understand. Except for her. And Reda. What was this one's name? He had problems with names these days, too. Perfect should have helped him, but Perfect could only remember the names of those he had killed. The Zoranians and the humans and who knew what else.
The stars continued to blink. He stared at them. She said there was another message. But he did not see it. He could not see it. There were clouds in the way. Clouds and blood and faces he remembered but couldn't name. Perfect knew their names but wouldn't tell.
Lost. He felt it again. Lost. Lonely. Sword still in hand, he fell to his knees. His chest hurt. He couldn't think. He couldn't understand. Why was he here? Why was he still alive? Insane and searching. Always searching.
She was there, again. Moving beside him. Kneeling in front of him. A hand on his face. Lips on his cheek. "Dain, may you one day be free of this ailment, and be a better man for suffering through it. May the stars make you their messenger and may you have the courage and the will and the power to carry it out. I will always be your friend, Wish Granter. I think I am more, just as you are more than you are now."
With her touch, the wall seemed to break. A temporary breach of the insanity. The moments were fewer now, but always with her.
Dain sat up suddenly, waking from the dream with a familiar ache in his heart. It was more than the ache in his bones, the arthritis pain built up in his wrists. That he could ignore. The pain of the heart was a different matter entirely.
He wondered what she would have thought of this new world. What she would have thought of Earth or Dheru or Zoran, even. All so different. The Elvian had become secluded, their space fleets retreating to help rebuild their once wondrous nation. The Zoranians had done much the same, but now with a representative from each world they had ruined or controlled – Earth, Dheru, Jerchu, Elvian, Pzkel – to make certain they followed the accords forced on them after the war. The Xenese had disappeared, and thankfully Dain had never come in contact with one of the strange squeaking aliens.
Amy would have loved the space adventure, or at least loved to see the different ways humans progressed. Earth with its large buildings and focus on always better government – how best can the small serve the many? Dheru with its focus on space travel and becoming a trade district for all travel – its location and previous position in Zoranian space helped their dream become reality. Meanwhile, Jerchu, the "lost colony" as old Earthers once told him, had developed an interest into magical arts, a place for the misunderstood or the foolish young heroes wanting to prove something against the "monsters" of Jerchu.
They had also become a home for the telepaths of the newest generation. Amy had been one, though Dain only realized that now when he looked back on his memories. He had been so far gone when he knew her, it was no wonder he hadn't known. Celest harbored the talent, too, though how he could only wonder at. After her first accidental moments of overhearing a thought and responding to it, she had learned to keep her ability a secret, learned from Amy's people to block unwanted thoughts and dreams. From what Celest said, she was better at reading dreams than thoughts. Whatever the case, it would turn her into a great ruler one day, if she didn't let the power corrupt her.
Dain twisted his body in his seat, trying to push down his worry for Reda's daughter. Sometimes he reminded himself of his father. Always worrying about kids, whether they were his or not.
"We've arrived, Your Grace."
Dain nodded in response to Ray, pushing himself up from his seat and placing himself and Celest between the two overprotective – or just protective enough? – bodyguards. He had to readjust his sword on his waist belt, feeling a moment of wonderful bliss at the feel of the Perfect on his hand again, but he forced the urge down and focused his attention elsewhere.
The shuttle – or hover-car – doors opened and they stepped out to an Earth military honor guard. Of course. Earth had become a militaristic state after the war. The majority of the planets in the explored space region had adopted military standards for rule. Maybe it was Zoranian rule bleeding over. Or maybe not. Earth had never been ruled by Zoranians after all – and Dheru, one of the few not ruled by military, had always had more of a merchant-based hierarchy.
So, of course, he didn't suspect anything when the military unit escorted him into the building. It was Zran who stopped and caused Dain to look around at the very unfamiliar layout. Something was definitely out of place.
"What's this about?" He asked, keeping a steady hand on Celest's shoulder, thinking as hard as he could how much she needed to stay quiet for a moment, trying to tell her to listen and not talk now.
The lead man in the green military uniform spun around and gave an apologetic shrug. Dain read the nametag as S. Zachary, then stared into cool, hard blue eyes. Eyes that reminded him of an Elvian military leader.
"A councilman was murdered last night, and we have been ordered to take you into questioning. No charges as of yet, but the detectives in charge would like very much to see if you know anything."
Dain snorted and crossed his arms. "Why would I have anything to do with Earther political assassinations?"
S. Zachary responded crisply. "It is quite normal to suspect another planet government of a councilman murder, simply because it can be an act of terror or a step to planetary take-over. It's happened before, Emperor; do not hate us for being extra cautious the second time around."
Mmf. Great. This was certainly a bad time to visit. Frowning, and resisting an urge to hold the hilt of his Perfect sword, Dain gave the man a nod. "All right. But surely my niece and bodyguards have nothing to do with this. Can they at least be escorted to a hotel while this business is sorted out?"
"I can escort them, Your Grace, Sir." Looking to the left, Dain saw a young man with lengthy – for a military cut – red hair and a dark green armband with a familiar symbol that caused him to relax. What was a resistance member doing in this bunch? Was there something bigger at foot here than a simple murder case?
Most definitely a bad time to visit. He groaned, but gave a grim smile when the man in charge nodded, handing over Celest. At first his bodyguards tried to protest, but he made the point that he was old and Celest next in line, that she was more important, and that certainly this wouldn't take all too long.
Hopefully, this wouldn't take too long. Unless he was right, and there was something bigger going on. Political battlefields were always the hardest to escape from.
Celest stared as they escorted her uncle away to a questioning cell. She had no doubt that things were going very wrong very fast. Even her uncle had thoughts of being trapped in a web. An unsuspecting, innocent fly.
She knew she wasn't supposed to eavesdrop on other thoughts, but she couldn't help it when she was worried. Anxiety seemed to break her control. At the very least she knew how to keep the flood of thoughts organized so she wasn't assaulted by continuous words that would bleed into a loud crowd buzz she wasn't at all accustomed to. Now, with her uncle and his captors out of sight, she used her ability to gauge this newcomer who had so quickly volunteered to be an escort and yet was moving ever so slowly out of the building.
Have to report. Have to get them to safety first. Things are spiraling out of control fast. If they do anything too quickly, we could have a war between human empires. I was born to resist, trained in what to do and how to recognize a serious threat. I think this is becoming one.
Strange to have his thoughts so organized. He had to have been thinking hard and precisely, trying to decide what to do now. She didn't feel anything bad, but she was still wary. His immediate thoughts weren't indicating evil intent; after all, he had said something of safety. But what were his long-term plans?
Zran and Ray were staring at her, both worried, unsure. She shrugged and took a breath. "Sir, if you're going to take us somewhere safe, I suggest you do it quickly."
The stranger with the armband turned to face her, his eyes wide. He probably had not expected such words from her. After all, he had probably misjudged her age to ten or younger – such was her luck with height and looks. Most strangers tended to miss her age by five or more years.
"I'm fifteen and quite capable in things you have yet to possibly imagine. My uncle's bodyguards here were quick to cave in to my uncle's demands, not because of his position, but because of me. Need I stress the need for urgency any longer?"
The stranger's mouth hung open for a second more, then he gathered himself, nodded, and ushered them out of the building by a side exit less watched than the other doors. "Yes, yes, excuse me, I was thinking. They moved so fast, I-" He looked in her direction then shrugged.
Celest followed, Zran and Ray trailing close behind. There seemed to be a pattern to the twists and turns they took through abandoned, darkened streets, though she did her best to ignore the pulsing of images and thoughts coming from the red-head. A map had formed in her mind and she knew where they were going before they moved, a strange feeling when she had never walked these streets before.
Sometimes her ability made her sick.
Finally, they came to an end at an empty abandoned warehouse. Very original, she thought, her mind sarcastic even when worried. The red-head went in first, gesturing them to follow. Zran immediately followed and then Celest walked into the supposedly safe house, followed closely by the light haired bodyguard behind her. She took a quick look around at the weapons hanging from walls, the boxes undoubtedly holding foods, hiding people or prisoners or both.
A new mind became known to her and she latched onto it, feeling a familiar warmth and yet coldness that reminded her of her uncle's hard moods. She frowned as the red-head disappeared in the darkness, refusing to follow him, preferring to stay near the door in case she had to make a quick escape. Her bodyguards seemed to appreciate the idea.
No thoughts hit her here. Just feelings. A welcoming warmth and a deterring coldness. There were several minds here, not just the one she had stupidly expected. Some were ready to accept, others wanting to stay hidden and secret from as many as possible. Celest took a step forward, cautiously, and the feelings intensified.
A figure stepped forth from the darkness. He had more weapons on him than she had fingers, and her eyes grew wide when she saw the scar across his face and the graying hairs circling his head. He had the same armband as the red-head, and the same symbol apparently tattooed on his opposite arm – a symbol consisting of a circle surrounding three triangles touching points in the center.
"Welcome to the remnants of the Human Resistance Force. Zak tells me you are the daughter of Jake and Reda, and seeing you up close, I can believe it. With eyes like that, there's no doubt you're one of his." He paused, and Celest found herself at a loss for words. "But sadly this doesn't mean we can trust you. After all, his son betrayed us all."
She narrowed her eyes at this, thinking the name of her brother even as she refused to speak it. Blake. I still pity you even after what you've done. "I am not my brother, nor do I appreciate being brought here only to be accused of his crime. I have just landed and my uncle, Emperor Dain, has been taken by the police military here. Something bad is happening. We have nothing to do with it – certainly, he had no idea what was going on, either. So you'll have to take me at my word when I say I mean no harm and would rather information over protection."
The old man grinned. "Definitely Jake's. Too bad the old hero can't be here now."
"Well I am, so deal with it."
"And that's Reda talking," he paused. "Seeing as I can tell you were raised by them and not Zoranians, as your brother happened to be, I suppose I can trust you, girl-"
"Celest," She corrected quickly.
He grinned again. "Celest, then. I'm Austin. A friend of your father's from before he was a hero. Hell, from before he met your mother."
Zran and Ray relaxed behind her, and Ray began moving around, being his naturally curious self, though Zran's eyes moved as much as the younger bodyguard's. She trusted their instincts as much as her own, so she relaxed as well. Besides, the name did sound familiar. Father didn't talk much of the past – he seemed to want to live in the present more than anything – but he did bring up stories occasionally, mostly only if she asked specifically.
"What's the situation, then? Why take my uncle?"
Austin shrugged, his arms crossed at his chest, the many weapons hanging from his belt clanging as they clashed against each other. "That part I hadn't anticipated. Zak brought you back here on improvisation, seeing as I sent him on a different task entirely. Setting things up so he can be back in position…" Austin drifted off while he sent a glare toward the red-head, who cowered back.
"I could just uh…go now?"
"No good. Too soon." Austin took a deep breath and let it out slowly as his thoughts coalesced. "They're going to have to interrogate Emperor Dain – I still find it funny that Reda's crazy brother rules a planet now," he chuckled. "Maybe tomorrow you can get in position again, but not tonight. I'm worried about moving as soon as tomorrow, even. But we're running out of time. If we don't get Trent out of there, they'll steal all his memories we worked to put back in him after the Xenese took most of it."
Celest blinked and held up her hands. "Wait a minute. Trent? Who is that? What about my uncle?"
Zak piped up from where he was now sitting on a wooden box near the entrance. Come to think of it, she felt like sitting, too, but then again, she was too worried to keep still as it was – her fidgeting would only get worse if she were to sit down. "I can rescue both of them if they're close enough together, which they should be, considering they only let one detective on a case this big at a time. Foolish idea, but then they insist on being as secretive as possible, and he's one of the best they have, so I've heard."
Austin cursed, "That means he definitely has that evil device and is most assuredly using it on Trent – and possibly Dain as well."
Celest found herself hating the confusion, and the fact that Austin's thoughts had a wall around them. Had he known about telepaths? And knowing that, he had a way to block them out? "What device?"
Once again, Zak filled her in. "They call it memivro. It finds and sucks out your memories and puts them on file. Not a bad idea if you're trying to save a fresh memory and it's your personal stash. But, see, they use it to search out crime scenes in witnesses or accomplices or suspects. The problem is, once the device takes the memory, you don't have it anymore in your mind. So, if it's someone else's device and it's a cherished memory." He held his hands up and closed them together. "Gone. Locked away forever in someone else's files."
Celest found her eyebrows lowering. "They wouldn't do that to an old person, would they?"
Austin laughed. "He's only six years older than me. If I hit fifty Earth years old, you better not call me old. Hell, your father's only three years behind me, too."
Zak shrugged and returned to the question. "If they suspect, they have enough cause to use it. Old, young, memory-wiped or not."
This time Austin sighed. "Trent was held by Xenese in captivity for a time during the war. Jake and Reda and Riku together managed to break him out, but the damage had already been done when they got there. They ate his memories as surely as that device humans have now created. He's got next to nothing left, most of which we've spent ten years putting back slowly to help him out. He went from a photographic memory, excellent at code-memorizing, to nothing. And now they're taking more from him. And they have Reda's journal, which she gave him to help, too."
Celest felt her eyebrows lower and her anger grow. She didn't know this Trent person, but apparently her parents had known him well enough to walk into danger and risk their lives – and their memories – to save him. Now he was in custody and being treated no better than his prisoner of war days. And they had her mother's journal! A special artifact to her, if nothing else mattered.
Not only that, but the local law enforcement had taken her uncle, an Emperor, into similar custody and was probably enacting the same treatment on him, trying to find their killer through innocents without caring about the innocent's wellbeing at all. She clenched her teeth and closed her hands into fists.
"We have to save them."