Talonka changed her pace and tone, entering into a summary of sorts.
“Time, as is its way,” she said, “passed more quickly than anyone anticipated. The portions of history that I have thus far related are far from complete. Much more could be said about the lives of Iskender, Simay, Atara, Ibrahim, Yoav, and Seda. And perhaps one day you will hear those stories, but as I tell this history to you, I fear that time is of the essence and there is one more portion of our history that you must know in order to understand, my son.
“As for the generations of the family of Simay, Malcus and Iskender, they continued on.
“Hadassah and Drahim were eventually married and raised three children: Gideoni, Miriam, and Caleb. The youngest child, Caleb married a woman named Ari and became the father to a son, Avraham.
“Ibrahim lived a long life and never remarried. His daughter Atara was joined in marriage to a Jew named Moshe and they became the parents of a son whom they named Penuel. He, in turn married Elisheba and fathered a daughter, Havilah. She married a man named Orin and bore to him two sons, Kingdon and Elishama.
“The line of Seda Guardiana – a title given to her and her line sometime during the long journey – also continued on in its sordid fashion, eating away at itself, yet somehow surviving. After the birth of Yoav, Seda bore a second son, Noach whom she abandoned to strangers. She finally bore a daughter, her heir, and named her Achinoam. This daughter carried on the legacy of Diana and when she came of age she took up the mantle of the Guardiana. Achinoam married an odd man named Baldemar Boyar and became the mother of a son, Adrian Boyar, and a daughter, Ekaterina.
“Ekaterina became the next Guardiana and on her sixteenth birthday she was wed to a dark-skinned adventurer named Zuberi. Soon they announced the impending arrival of their first - and only - child, Desta Guardiana. This new Guardiana married a Tarsian, Calisto, a descendant of a freed slave. Desta gave birth to a daughter whom she named Delmy, the next Guardiana.
“Of these descendants, four in particular distinguished themselves, not because of what they did, but because of who their descendants were.
“Adrian Boyar, son of a man from the far North of the world the pilgrims had left, became the father of the races we have come to know as the Bolar and the Cometines.
“Ekaterina’s granddaughter Delmy Guardiana is the one from whom the woman Kyren Guardiana descended. Her life was a pivotal moment in the history of Gamilon and many other worlds.
“Elishama, great-grandson of Atara was the ancestor of a man named Asher who married Kyren Guardiana and set in motion the series of events that Gamilon now finds herself in.
“Avraham, grandson of Hadassah, became the father of a great race – named for their long ago patriarch, Iskender – the Iscandari."
“The Mnasonim spread far and wide across the known universe, and the Sedan, Ibrahemic, and Hadassian lines became well-established in the 1,890 years that transpired between the birth of Delmy Guardiana and the advent of the saga of Kyren Guardiana, whom I, Talonka descended from.
“Also in this interim, many of the people groups that were a part of the original derekh were consolidated into one while others split apart. Despite the guarantee of the Guardiana, racial prejudices resurfaced. They became so severe that they often led to bloodshed.
“The original three ships that set out turned into a countless sea as more and more people were born and their knowledge of technology and the universe around them increased.
“Many people found homes on worlds they never dreamed of. The Bolar homeworld and the original Cometine pioneer worlds were settled. Telezart, Bemera and Balan became established centers of technological, geological and genetic research.
“Throughout all of this, the races began to further diverge, and to mark their divergence, they began to use what they knew about genetics to place a mark upon every future descendant of each race: widely diverse skin tones. Of all of the races, only those of the Hadassian line refused to be marked in this way, which resulted in the Iscandari retaining a diluted version of the skin tones of their ancestors.
“As it is with all things, even the genetic manipulations concocted by our ancestors have begun to break down. There have been increasing reports of children born to marked parents who lacked their parents’ mark and were born with a version of the original skin tones of the Mnasonim. There have been other cases, as with you and I, my son, where children have been born with strange marks on them – portions of skin left unmarked by the proper genetic differentiator. Such things are especially prone to happen in genetically engineered offspring and their children. Such children are not cursed, as some have alleged. They are simply devoid of the mark that has been inflicted upon their people group for centuries. They are free of the stigma attached to their races – liberated from our imagined ethnic barriers.
“Do not be troubled by this mark you bear, my son. It is no shame to you – no matter what any may say. It is an acknowledgement of the oneness of the divergent races – a mark of unity, not chaos. With this mark you have been given a great key. Conceal it from those who would use it against you, and proudly display it to those who would be your allies.
“Never forget the things you have heard here thus far. They will help you to understand things that no one else will be able to. This history is another key that you have been given – it is to be treated with equal care as the first. Reveal it to no one whom you do not trust with your life.
“As for you, Masterson, this key is now yours as well. Use it well and guard it with your life, for it could cost you your life to reveal it to the wrong people. To reveal the role of the Guardiana in Gamilon history could ignite a religious war worse than any this galaxy has ever seen.
“I trust you both to know who to trust and who to keep at arm’s length. Choose wisely and never stop connecting your present with your past. The relationships will astound - and sometimes frighten you.
“And now, I must reveal to you the story of Kyren Guardiana, and the more recent past.”
Before his mother could launch into her next portion of history, Desslok raised a hand to halt the hologram. The image of his mother acknowledged his request and stopped talking.
Masterson quietly watched as the prince looked down at his gloved left hand. He clenched his fist once, then twice, flipping it over slowly a few times, studying it. Then he eased off the glove in one fluid motion and flicked it towards Masterson who deftly caught it.
Masterson could just make out the muttered words that escaped his friend’s lips, “A key… to what…?” Then Desslok turned to Masterson, a strange thoughtful look in his eyes.
“I need to clear my head.” The prince said.
Masterson nodded. Usually when the prince said he needed to clear his head he meant he needed to go hit something.
In a few minutes the two were stepping outside the palace and into an area ringed by trees. It was not very well-kept. Weeds, wildflowers and grass were growing up between the cracks in the cobblestone circle. A stone bench, long ago covered by vines, seemed to grow up from the ground to the far right of the area.
“Shall I send out the drones, sir?” Masterson asked.
“No, Talan.” Without turning around the prince said, “Today, it will be you and I.”
Masterson cringed. This was not a good sign. Whenever Desslok said that, it meant that he wanted something more challenging than robotic foes – something with a mind and will – something he could match wits with. Masterson seldom won these vicious bouts.
“Yes, sir.” Talan replied before peeling off his shirt and tossing it onto the aforementioned bench.
The two young men stretched before their sparring match, but just before they went to the center of the circle, the prince turned his back to Masterson and slowly removed his own shirt. Before today he had always fought with it on. When Masterson saw the prince’s back, he understood why.
“He may be my brother, Masterson.” Desslok said, tossing his own shirt next to his friend’s. “But he would happily kill me if given the chance.”
Snaking down the prince’s muscled back was an ugly white scar, traveling from the top of one shoulder down to just above the opposite hip.
“He would’ve killed me then had the instructor not had conscience enough to stop him.” Desslok said into the silence. “After that, I knew I had to be ready for anything – even from my own flesh and blood.”
With that Desslok turned and walked to the center of the stone ring. Masterson went as well, not saying a word.
The fighting commenced upon a silent agreement between the two teenagers and they both crouched and began to circle one another, studying every move and twitch that the other one made, trying to anticipate who would make the first move.
Masterson feigned a jab at his opponent’s unprotected stomach, then threw a real punch at the prince’s shoulder with his off hand.
Desslok easily dodged him, sending in a punch of his own, making contact with Masterson’s right side.
Talan recovered almost instantly and dropped to the ground, flinging out a leg to try to catch his opponent off guard.
The prince almost missed the flying obstacle, but one foot caught on it and he tumbled away, turning the fall into a roll and coming back up on his feet, then immediately flying back into the fray, executing a perfect flying roundhouse kick aimed at Talan’s head.
Masterson spun away from the boot speeding towards his face, not wanting the promise of a broken nose that it brought with it, and catching the follow through leg, sweeping his own leg behind the prince’s planted foot, making his opponent topple over.
The prince picked himself up within half a second and came at Masterson with a vengeance, his eyes filled with the inner fire that he always had during a fight.
The bout went on and on until finally the admiral’s son was once again overpowered by Desslok.
It was always interesting to Masterson how two twins could be so vastly different. Even the way each one chose to fight was different. Deun preferred a more krav maga style, up close and ruthless. His twin however, preferred a more intellectual fight – one requiring more thought and finesse and less mindless beating. Both approaches had their strengths as well as their weaknesses, and when the brothers fought one another their divergent styles threw both of them off balance. Deun spent most of his time trying to get close to his brother; Desslok spent of his time untangling himself from his brother’s too-close methods.
The few spars that Masterson had watched the brothers engage in always ended bloodily, with both young men to blame. The two were merciless with each other, taking every opportunity to add more pain to the other’s experience.
Perhaps the breach between the brothers was one thing that had made Desslok the way he was. Masterson did not know when Deun had changed into such a ruthless individual, but as recent revelations had shown, he was not even above selling out his own family if it bought him an advantage.
Desslok and Masterson retrieved their discarded shirts. Masterson slung his over his shoulder, not bothering to put it back on and have it end up soaked in sweat. The prince however, did slip his back on, hiding the vicious slash from view.
No one gave either of them a second look as they returned to their separate living spaces and made themselves presentable once again before reconvening in the prince’s quarters.
“Now that you have sufficiently beaten me, sir, I have a suggestion.” Masterson said.
“What, Talan?” the prince asked, genuinely curious.
“My father should know.” Masterson met his friends’ gaze unwaveringly as the silence between them began to grow and the admiral’s son began to think that he had made a mistake in offering his opinion.
After another long moment the prince looked thoughtfully towards the hologram, which had shut itself off upon their original departure from the room. Then he looked back at Masterson and calmly said, “No.” then he added, “Not now.”
“Do you distrust him?” Masterson asked.
“I trust your father with my life, but as a soldier in my father’s service, I have a duty to do what I can to protect him as well. Knowing everything that my... that my mother has said thus far would put him in jeopardy. I cannot do that to him – to you. You’re too valuable of a friend… and so is your father.”
Masterson nodded in understanding then said, “We should finish it then. As soon as we can.”
“Agreed.” Desslok said. “There is something coming to Rapha’owr…”
“Something dark and terrible…” Masterson said, “Something we may only be able to face if we can wield the past as our sword.”