“You want to know me?” I blinked, heart rate rising.
He stopped walking and faced me. “Of course.”
His purple eyes seemed to swirl. “To make me more effective. That’s why I want you to know me as well. So that when we do face off we’ll give it our all. I’ll show you how I operate. Matter of fact, I’m taking you back to Earth soon,” he revealed.
Why the hell is he telling me all of this? I stared at him, trying to see into his mind but he was a fortress. “Earth,” I sighed, heart twisting.
He placed his hands on the wall behind me, caging me in. The wall turned dark red as he brought his face near mine. “Yes. Earth is part of the story but you know that already. Now you’ll know why. You’ll get to watch your pet Karia at work in real time. Jean told you not to look. I’ll make you look this time.” His body swung closer, nearly touching mine.
Momentarily, I thought about melting through the wall to escape him. “So be it. I can take it,” I responded firmly.
“I’d like to take you, you know.” His energy altered rapidly. He let his body brush mine and I jumped at the amount of pleasure suddenly running through me.
“Mikassa, no,” I protested, raising my hands.
He seemed about to press into me for a moment. Then his eyes flickered as he found something else in my head to latch onto. “Jean was here; were you aware?”
“He was in book 13. I read it,” I confirmed warily.
“I know where he went. I can take you to him if you like.”
I felt a spike of hope despite the fact that I knew he was full of shit. “You can?”
“Yes,” he whispered, running one hand down my front. That pleasurable sensation moved through me again.
Taking a deep breath, I warned him, “There are some things you should know first if you want to fuck me, Mik. Perhaps you should wait until you find out what they are.”
“Really? Now I’m very curious. Does that mean you’ll come to my bed, then?” he inquired.
“That depends on how things go with this trip of yours,” I shrugged.
He moved back, no longer trapping me. “I don’t know whether it’d be more fun to seduce you or break you.”
“Try me,” I dared, heading off down the hall.
“Oh, I’ll definitely take you up on that challenge,” he gushed, excited as he trailed me, staring at my ass. His energy was practically dancing with him.
I cast him a blank glance, wondering if he knew I could feed off of sexual energy as well. His mind was actually slightly open so I peeked inside. I read nothing from him suggesting that he knew. I smirked at him, thinking maybe the best way to fight back would be to go to bed with him after all. He thought he had the upper hand as far as that was concerned. How adorable! He’d definitely never fucked anyone like me.
*Ariel’s point of view
We took a bubble car across the planet in silence. Or rather, relatively. Mikassa was bubbling over and going off about something or other. Damon sat cradling me, shifting from desire every once in a while whenever my hair brushed him. Finally, despite our situation, he kissed me a few times. In my mind he spoke, Ariel, I’ve been meaning to discuss something with you.
Go on, I urged him, snuggling closer as Disami shot me a dirty look.
I want you, Ariel. I want to commit myself to you as I’ve committed to Aeryn. I don’t need or want to commit to Micala and I don’t think Michón’s quite ready yet. Razi doesn’t require commitment from me, either. Disami wishes I would but she’s become a bit like Iris and wants me to herself. I’ll never limit myself for a woman again, he vowed.
I appreciate the offer, Allishuan. I’ve actually wanted to ask you to be mine completely but got scared. I never thought I’d want you this way, I admitted.
I’m very glad you do. I’d like to build a home with you someday. With your own space, of course. What do you think, angel? He stared at me. I could feel his heart racing against my shoulder.
I’d enjoy that very much, Damon. If we survive this, I’d love to be yours. I reached up a few hands, one to his face, two to his arm, and one on his back. Happy, he let a few tears fall from his eyes as I drew him into my embrace and kissed him. Marry me, Damon. If we escape, I thought.
Oh, Ariel Shoud, do you mean it? His eyes widened and his lips trembled. Yes. Absolutely, love. Who would have ever guessed?
Mark examined us curiously; wondering what was transpiring but unable to enter our mental conversation. He was holding Michón in his lap jealously. Lombardi had attempted to sit with her but Mark had angrily cut in. I ached for my beautiful dark man. He was caught up in a struggle and hadn’t yet found a way out of it. I wished I could help. I shot him a loving look, releasing Damon before Mik became too wary. He was presently occupied ogling Aeryn’s thighs and breasts. She ignored it, instead playing with Mark Ulf’s hands to pass the time, occasionally glancing up to smile as Rafael dashed back and forth between us adults in search of snacks. He was growing quickly and was very articulate. He stopped in front of Mitchell, pestering him until he smiled. I think part of the reason Mitch was so attached to the tyke was because caring for him was the safest way to demonstrate his love for Michón. The other reason was simply that he absolutely adored the child that was half the woman he held most dear. It was bittersweet, Mitchell loving the Michón in Rafael just as fiercely as Michón the person. It was a way for him to love her from a distance.
How odd for all of us to have ended up here. To have ended up together under the rule of a tyrant. I wondered if any of us had had proper time to mourn the crew we’d lost, all the worlds that had been destroyed, the family we’d watched die. Were any of us still sane? Had we all broken? Did Mikassa plan on keeping us here indefinitely? I shut my eyes, clearing it all from my mind and waiting for our arrival at the factory. I began to hum to myself a song Damon and I had written. Around the cab of the car, everyone visibly relaxed, comforted by the sound. Even Mik’s babbling ceased and he calmed down. Rafael climbed into Damon’s lap and drifted off to sleep. It turned out that was for the best. What followed was an encounter nearly as traumatizing as seeing my friends and children brutally murdered before my very eyes.
The car stopped in front of an erect door standing in the middle of a crop circle. “We’ve arrived,” Mikassa announced, energy ramping up. “Come, my lovelies,” he directed us. He stepped out first then ushered the rest of us out. Damon strapped Rafael to his back and helped everyone else down. Mikassa strutted off toward the door, whistling. Reluctantly, we filed after him. Even Richard looked nervous. “You all have to look away when I open this door. You’ll get sick otherwise,” Mik warned us, placing a hand on the door handle. We obliged him. After about a minute he let us know it was safe to open our eyes. Through the doorway a factory had appeared. It was just like when he’d shown us the trillions of bodies on his ship. A different dimension all packed into one doorway. “Go ahead. Look around,” Mik instructed us, ushering us through.
One by one we went through. The factory was enormous-extending beyond my line of sight. There were millions of workers, elves and many other creatures, a few I didn’t even recognize. There were automated machines and computers running on both magic and subatomic particles. It seemed to be an assembly line. The walls were dancing bands of light maintaining the energy levels at non-explosive frequencies. And the smell. It was the most ambrosial scent I’d ever come across. Nearly all of us passed out in bliss as the smell took over our nostrils. I felt giddy, heady, almost high. But Ripley shouted, dismayed. “You didn’t! I should have known. You unforgiveable douchecanoe!” he raged, running forward.
“What’s he on about?” Arthur wondered.
“Ripley, what’s wrong?” Damon ran after the Japanese boy.
“It’s the fruit. It’s his fruit. They’re changing it. This is an ambrosia factory,” Mark Ulf said darkly.
“His fruit? Ripley’s? What do you mean?” Disami asked, perplexed. “The Black Tree never had fruit.”
“It did. Once upon a time,” Archie spoke up. “It last appeared in Aeryn’s universe nearly 1800 years ago. Perhaps he stopped producing it as a defense mechanism.”
“Take a closer look, why don’t you?” Mik invited us, gesturing broadly. “Meet me back here when you’re done. It’ll be story time.”
Patronizing son of a bitch! I rolled my eyes. The rest of us split up and flew, walked, or strolled slowly throughout the floors of the factory. The ambrosia, as Mark had called it, was being processed, diluted, and juiced. At the ends of the lines (which ran in nearly every direction) were tiny vials of bugs and bottles of liquid. Deenergizers and minergys. Ripley’s fruit, the immortal food of the gods, was being destroyed and sold back to Others in pieces. It was the most offensive process I’d ever beheld. Why? What was it all for? We all trudged back to Mik. Stricken expressions played across nearly every one of our faces. Mark B held Ripley in a bear hug, talking him down as he cried. Michón appeared a bit bored and sat yawning every now and then on a countertop. What the hell is wrong with her? She’d been a lot more withdrawn lately. I’d thought maybe it had to do with Mark or even Aeryn but I wasn’t so sure now. Her energy was odd, changing. I wondered what that meant for us. I prayed to the absent gods to watch over us.
“Are you all ready? Let’s begin…” Mik preambled and then began his tale. Once upon a time…
There was a great battle between the gods. The highest throne was up for grabs and the game was afoot. Each god sent forth her Faeries, her angels, her warriors to impress, to beguile, to conquer. A singular group of demigods descended from the god of sleep were charged with a difficult task: to alter the Tree of Life. Their job was to extend the games amongst the Other’s population, to even up the capabilities between humans and Others. There was a goal in mind. To harness the power of everlasting life into dissembled form that the god of sleep might gather new fighters and loyalists who would help him or Marduk seize the title of the god of gods. On a tiny and diverse blue planet the Tree of Life was cultivated with angels, demons, and Others watching over its inhabitants. They shaped and guided their favorites, restarted others, and always gathered the worship their gods fed upon. The project on Earth was highly successful until something happened amongst the Europeans. Tauro Minelaus was born. He grew up and then proceeded to turn every creature he met into a vampire. Abominations cropped up, many integral people died, and Earth had to begin anew.
This wasn’t like the tests humanity had been put through before. It was pure, rotten luck. It doomed Earth. The gods no longer wanted a part of such a tainted planet. It didn’t help matters that a dark force enveloped the Tree and damaged all Others. Seeing that the Tree would cease to bear fruit the group from the sleep god gathered all of the fruit they could over the years in preparation to shut down Earth. The fruit was moved to other factories, where it was analyzed and broken down before being provided to various pure energy-eating creatures. Yet there was something else the god of sleep discovered. A most wonderful device existed: The Spiral, created by a team of unmitigated geniuses. There were rumors of ways to power it. This is what led to the recycling of every en-sucker, incubus, succubus, ragnir-and any other individual who devoured energy-in service to the god of sleep. Each contained unique energy reserves and made quite lovely fuel. One of the planets on that list was Voltrozi. The Black Tree crew had put a stop to it once but eventually a way was found to finish the job.
“And now that you understand why, dearest Aeryn, let’s visit Earth. Let’s watch Karia in glorious action as he fulfills my god’s wish. Witness me take back all that wasted energy so that it may be turned to such purpose. The law of the conservation of energy is a bitch indeed,” Mikassa stated, releasing his power in full force.
The lot of us fell to our knees, some gagging. “I’m not afraid,” Aeryn spoke up, though tears ran down her face.
“You will be,” he threatened, stomping forward. He pulled her up into his arms and they vanished.
The rest of us sat mute for hours, fearfully waiting. Mikassa did not return. Finally, Karia piped up, “Let’s go back to the ship. He won’t be back for a while. We need a plan.”
“What about Lilith?” Lombardi protested.
“We have to hope she won’t break. We need to give her all the help she can get,” Karia reasoned.
“So that’s what became of our family, our race,” Mark reflected sadly, staring at the vials emptily. Micala and Mitchell pulled him to his feet and led him out.
“People for fuel. Sickening. Won’t even wait for them to die.” Stuart bared his teeth.
“This wasn’t the path we intended,” Archie sighed, shaking his head. “How can we fix this?”
“By making sure Earth survives. He’s not going to just make her watch him destroy Earth. He’s going to go further and further back, erasing her so that no one survives,” Richard let us know, surprisingly useful. “I’ve seen him do it to people who’ve really pissed him off. He will erase your entire bloodline while you watch, for as long as you last, until you disappear altogether. We have to stop him. Mark…we need you to send some of us back to make sure Aeryn is born as Allison.”
Mark’s head snapped up. Mark Ulf nodded at him. “I will find Soleceet in the past,” he offered.
“I want to help. It’s time I earned my original form back. I promised something to Lilith long ago. I’m ready to finish it,” Archie asserted as we all moved toward the A Seriesen.
“Uh, since you’re so clumsy and all, let me find Soleceet in the present first. He can help you.” Stuart cringed as Archie somehow slid up a tree.
“Travelers, I shall help you as well.” Lucian joined us. “50 billion screaming elves are fucking wrong. I am the only one immune to Mik’s charms. Let me assist you.”
“Guess we got no fuckin choice,” Mark groaned. “Mark, let’s lay out the timelines, shall we? Damon, we need any book that links to Queen Aeryn or Lilith that’s been written. Michón…stay out of our way, babe.”
“Gladly. Matter of fact, I think I’ll leave a while,” she decided mysteriously. Events are coming to a head, I thought as she disappeared. I hoped we’d survive.