Chapter VIII:

Dangers of the Empire


Well, this was an interesting spot that he had gotten himself into.

I wonder what they're all going to say about this.

Andraxus was standing out on the street in front of the Golden Seahorse hotel, and in his arms he held the limp, fully unconscious figure of the beautiful she-elf that he had just purchased as a slave. He had tried bringing her around back in Avor's office-room, but nothing he had done had produced the desired affect, which was her waking-up, and so he'd elected to pay off the prison warden, and leave.

From what he knew of elves—a race that was scarce indeed in the Empire—they were able to put themselves into a comatose-like state at will, and tended to do so when they were especially overwrought or distressed. That was what this slave, whom he had been told was only known as 'the Blue-Beauty', or 'the she-elf', or 'Prisoner 554', had done now. And she was outright refusing to awaken.

Avor had told him, while they'd traded Andraxus' credits—payment for the slave—for Avor's promised information on the contact within the Senate, that he didn't know the girl's name or anything else of her background. All Avor himself had been informed, when the imperial guard unit had arrived with her, was that she had tried to cause some trouble in the palace, and that Chancellor Glauros had had her imprisoned. There was nothing else that anyone needed to know about her, aside from that.

So she had become merely Prisoner 554 in the Deathtrap prison.

Now, as Andraxus stood where he was and looked in silence down upon the girl's beautiful face, he reflected that that simply wasn't a suitable appellation for her. She was much too lovely, much too perfect, much too young, to be a prisoner.

Gently, he shifted her in his hold so that he could cradle her against his chest with only one arm, and reached out the fingers of the other arm's hand so that he could carefully stroke back the few strands of her dark, dark hair that had fallen over her pale face. The ebony wisps were silky soft and very long, and full. He wondered what it would have felt like against his synthetic skin if he had buried his fingers in the depths of her hair, right against her scalp.

It would have been heaven, he was sure.

She had deep, dark circles under her eyes, beneath the coat of makeup that had been slathered onto her, and there were traces of fatigue, pain, and nutritional deprivation in her fine-featured face. She hadn't been well cared for at the prison. Andraxus' mouth etched into the beginnings of a snarl, and he rearranged his hold on her, protectively. No one would ever hurt his sweet, beautiful angel again! No one would dare harm her, when he was there to guard her.

She was his.

But what would the Raven Star's crew think of him bringing on board another female passenger—one who had a criminal past to her, nonetheless? As he looked at her again, though, he noticed how innocent and almost child-like she seemed in her sleep.

No.

He shook his head. No, this wasn't right. Something didn't fit, there. He simply didn't believe it: there was no possible way that this tiny, diminutive she-elf could have possibly done any of what she had been accused of.

Somehow, he knew it.

As for the crew, his friends…well, he had done some crazy things before, and led them on some of the most wild, reckless, and dangerous missions that could have been imagined by anyone in the galaxy, and they had always come through all right in the end. They would all have to have confidence in him now, just as they had in the past. They would learn to accept her, and befriend her, just as they had one another, many long years before. If they had been able to accustom themselves to everything else that had transpired in the past…

It didn't matter now, though.

This slave was, for better or worse, his own.

There was the slight problem of getting her back into the Spirit of the Wind hotel, and the crew's suite, though. After all, it wasn't every day that garishly costumed and painted slave girls waltzed in through the doors of an Alliacaran resort for any type of good and respectable reasons, and if this particular slave girl did just that now…

Well, it might cause just a bit of a stir.

So, after a moment's hasty thought, Andraxus shifted the still-unconscious elf-maiden in his arms, so that he could walk and not worry about jostling her unnecessarily at the same time, and took off down the street at a moderate pace. In a little under twenty minutes, he had reached the nearest street bazaar, and stood in the milling crowds, looking around himself with searching eyes.

Where the blazes do they sell women's clothing here?

Finally, he caught sight of a promising-looking little boutique: The Siren and the Swan, and with a smile he murmured to the unresponsive she-elf—

"Well, he called you 'the graceful, spellbinding Siren'…didn't he? I suppose that this would be an ideal place to find you something a little more…"

Then he ran his eyes over the gilded but false finery she wore, and shuddered at how cold she must have been in the dank, chilly air within the prison.

"Normal, to wear."


With good reason, the ladies inside of the fine women's wear shop were more than slightly bemused when a little street urchin boy ran into their store and asked them if they would please finding something for a lady "this tall"—indicating a height relatively near five feet and four inches with his small hands—and "this wide", which told them the lady in question was relatively petite.

The said ragamuffin then paid them with a rather official-looking credit authorization slip, and ran out with his bag of purchases. Andraxus handed the boy the pouch of gold coins that he had promised to him, and without waiting for him to disappear again into the crowd turned his attentions back to the motionless beauty in his arms. This was going to be somewhat difficult.

Somehow, though, in spite of his unfamiliarity with the workings of feminine clothing and the infuriating lack of dexterity his cybernetic fingers presented him with, he managed to get the she-elf clothed in the loose cover-all robe that he had bought for her, and bound her long black hair back in the long scarf that had come with the robe. Satisfied with her less gaudy new look, Andraxus swung her into his arms again, and began his walk back to the Spirit of the Wind hotel.


When he walked in through the door, Andraxus was appalled to find that not only Dexter was about in the suite that afternoon, but Jeminiah as well. Hoping to avoid notice, he slowly eased the door closed, and bolted silently for his room.

Then Dexter rolled into his path, startling Andraxus so violently that he nearly tripped over his own feet. Inquisitive at the sight of the unconscious newcomer, the little astromech droid began to bleep and trill questions at him.

Andraxus—petrified that Jeminiah would hear from the main room of the suite, where he was reading—attempted to shush him.

"Dex, shh! Please, don't—Dexter, I mean it; c'mon now, please just be quiet, I don't want anyone to hear—!"

Confused by this, Dexter backpedaled, and eyed him with the robotic equivalent of a raised eyebrow. Andraxus took the momentary pause as an opportunity to dash into his room, closing the door after himself. Jeminiah, sitting on the couch in the main room, lifted an eyebrow, and silently turned a page of his book.


Meanwhile, Andraxus carefully laid the sleeping woman down on his bed, and stood back: staring at her, wrapped up in his own thoughts, for a long moment. Then he returned to reality and uttered a miserable groan, clamping his hands to the sides of his skull as he gritted his teeth and sat down heavily in the swiveling desk chair.

"Oh crud, what have I gotten myself into?" he asked himself.

She's a convict, his mind's voice hissed at him. It's bad enough that you're a pirate, assassin, and thief who is wanted on four hundred lists throughout the galaxy… now you manage to snag yet another unnecessary set of baggage! And with Glauros in control of everything, you're going to have to be perpetually on the run as it is…and having her here isn't going to help solve your problemsit's going to make them worse! You are a moron!

"What have I done…?" he moaned, miserably.

"Well, for one thing, I might say, you certainly haven't picked up on any of Marina's helpful hints in regard to finding' the ideal look for your lady-of-choice. That's an awful clothing selection you've got on her there, Andraxus," said a tenor masculine voice with a thick, rolling brogue.

Andraxus sat up as if someone had just pushed a ramrod into his spine, and whirled around.

Terrific.

I've been caught red-handed.

This day just keeps getting better and better.

Jeminiah stepped away from the thresh hold, and walked over to the she-elf who lay on the bed, still not moving. He looked down at her for a moment, grey eyes scanning across her face, reading her.

Then, evenly—

"If you're waiting for her to just snap into wakefulness, it's no'a gonna happen, Andraxus. She's not only an elf, but a half-changeling as well. Would ye look at her bone structure? No pure elf is that delicately-built, or that petite, either! And when one of those two races decides that they've had enough, and puts their brain onto shut-doon mode…well, I canna say whether your waitin' will have any effect, lad."

"She was a slave, on the block at the Deathtrap prison auction…" Andraxus murmured, reaching out once more to run his fingers gently, almost tenderly, along the girl's warm cheekbone. He almost thought he had felt her stir at his touch, but then he realized that he'd only imagined it.

"I…she was so beautiful, Jeminiah! They said they'd put her in there for trying to cause trouble at the palace, but I don't think it's true…how could anything so beautiful, so flawless and innocent, be capable of evil?"

"Now you're thinkin' just plain naïve, son," Jeminiah said, casting a dubious look down at Andraxus over his gold-rimmed glasses. "Here's what you should do—go into the kitchen and get her some water, and lave some of it on her brow here, and try getting' a bit into her mouth as well. Eventually she'll just sleep it all off, and we'll figure everythin' out from there. All right?"

Andraxus felt genuine relief flood into him.

"Thank you, Jeminiah."

The older man smiled, and waved it off.

"Ach, don't worry yourself over it, lad; noow, it's what the rest of the crew will have to say about your lady-friend here when they get back that I'd be worryin' about, an' I were you. Just a lit'l heads-up."

Then he left.

Andraxus made a face at that thought, but it disappeared from his mind within a moment as he thought again of the slave who lay on the bed behind him. She was going to need some caring for, after having spent who-knew-how-long in the Deathtrap.

So he went to the kitchen.


"You brought a slave—a half-elf, half-changeling convict slave!—into this hotel, into this suite, and now you want to bring her back with us onto the Raven Star?! Andraxus Darknet, have you completely lost your mind?"

Both Joe and Marina were glaring at Andraxus, who was sitting calmly in his chair in the main room of the suite, looking quite unaffected by their outburst. Then Joe rounded on Jeminiah, eyes blazing.

"And you!—you knew about this, and you didn't tell him to drop her off at the nearest casino?! And you!!!"

He whirled around towards Dexter, who rattled off some mechanical droid phrases at him—phrases that weren't nice when translated into common. Ignoring him, Joe let off a growl of frustration, dragging a hand through his hair.

"She's a convict! A convict! Chancellor Glauros is going to have our heads—all of our bloody heads—on pikes in front of his bloody freaking palace when he finds out that we've got her here. Didn't you hear on the report last night that it was an unidentified she-elf who was spotted in the palace just after the Patriarch threw in the old towel? She was in prison because she assassinated him! And you brought her here!"

"I don't think that she did it, Joe."

The handsome younger man's eyes flared wide.

"Do you mean to say that you've simply assumed that she's innocent? Have you even talked to her yet, Andraxus?"

The mage shook his head.

"No."

"Joe, please, calm down."

So saying, Marina turned back to face the circle of her friends, and Andraxus noted, with relief, that his stepsister's green eyes were no longer as angry as they had been the moment before.

"Your yelling will annoy the neighbors, and they'll call the hotel concierge, who will come up here and arrest us all for disturbing the peace, and then it'll be you, not this girl, who put us in jail. Now relax."

She looked to Andraxus.

"How did you say you found her, again, Andraxus?"

So much for keeping his secrets to himself. Andraxus rose slowly to his feet, and crossed the room to the window in a rush of heavy black robes. The light from the sky outside was reflected in his ocean blue eyes as he stared through the glass, darkly.

"I got a message from Darus Avor, who is the chief warden over at the Deathtrap prison," he replied, finally. "He told me that he might have some information regarding Planet X, and I went down to get it from him. It turns out that he knows of a man on the inside of the Senate who would be able to tell me more about the reasons for the blockade, and the government's involvement with it, but he couldn't get the contact data I needed until this morning. When I got there, he was in the middle of an auction—an auction where the prison sells off its prisoners as slaves, a way for Avor to make some extra money."

Then he motioned half-heartedly at the door to his room.

"And then I saw her there."

"So, she's an elf, you said?" Marina questioned.

Andraxus nodded.

"Yes."

"Elves come from a mysterious place that most people would term a product of fables and children's tales…Evyrworld," Zack interposed, speaking for the first time since Joe and Marina's outburst. "So do the people known as the Changelings. If I remember right about their talents, they both have some really amazing powers."

"Such as shape-shifting, for the Changelings, and telekinesis, mind-reading…and 'magic' for both…" supplied Andraxus. "Think about this, Joe, Marina."

A pause.

"She might just be useful."


"There's only one problem with us taking her off-planet, now. Like all of the prisoners of the empire, she has a tracking device on her."

"So dispose of it."

Joe glared at Marina.

"Allow me to rephrase my wording, Marina Thraantapolis," he said in a low and succinct tone, making absolutely certain that she heard everything he said. "She has a tracking device inside of her left arm, just above the wrist. This tracking device is an eighth of an inch capsule that's injected into any imperial prisoner upon their initial incarceration—before they're thrown in their cells to rot—and unless it's deactivated or removed, it will release an emission of arsenial-cyanide into her bloodstream the instant that she gets more than two hundred thousand feet away from the prison. She'd be dead in a minute and a half."

Marina's expression remained unchanged.

"So dispose of it," she repeated, with greater firmness.

"Leave it to Avor to neglect that little detail of business…" Andraxus muttered darkly from the doorway, his voice strangely resonant—as always—from behind the full face mask that he wore.

It was night now, and at night, he generally wore a mask that covered his entire face: it was black and smooth, and kept his face well-hidden within the depths of his cloak's cowl-like hood. All the better for anonymity, he had always told Marina, Joe, and anyone else in the crew when they'd commented on it—and all the better for scaring off the fools who were unfortunate enough to get that good of a look at him, Marina had retorted. Andraxus had only glared at her shortly, upon hearing those words, and continued to wear the expressionless mask as adamantly as ever.

"I'm going to go back to the Deathtrap and make absolutely certain that he didn't leave anything else out of our minor transaction."

He said the words with a caustic and scathingly mocking tone. So much for a world where everything was always simple. His last command was thrown imperiously over his broad, black-cloaked shoulder as he strode away in a billowing swirl of heavy sable cloth—

"Get the Raven Star ready to go, you two. I'll be back in an hour."

"Aye, Captain."

Joe and Marina turned back to the unconscious she-elf on the operating table, both praying that they'd be able to help her, and not end her life by mistake.


The auction was finally over, and the patrons had long departed with the slaves that they had purchased; those prisoners who hadn't been bought were herded back into their cells like so many animals, to await the next auction in the darkness.

Darus Avor left his assistants to wrap up the few details that the day's events had entailed, and walked down the corridor to his office. He was responding to a few communiqués, planning on going back up to the Golden Seahorse and dinner within the next twenty minutes, when there was a chirp of the built-in intercom on his desk. Impatient, he responded—

"What is it?"

The voice of Marcus, the second-in-command at the Deathtrap, crackled over the speaker to him. "Sir, there's an imperial guard unit here, and their commander wants to speak to you—now."

"Bloody can't wait…" Darus grumbled under his breath, and then replied, "Very well then, send them up. I'll meet them in my office."

A seeming instant later, the alarm on his door chirped, and he called, distracted by his computer work—

"Come in."

The doors slid open with a hiss, and Darus looked up to see the scarlet-cloaked forms of fifteen imperial guards filing into the room. They were all completely masked, and armed with ceremonial pikes. He stood up, surprised.

Usually, the Empire didn't send such very official messengers to him.

A stern, commanding figure with epaulets that were made to resemble falcon wings stepped forward, making himself prominent among the other guards. A deep, harsh voice resonated from within the red mask—

"Darus Avor, have you in any fashion or manner set free the prisoner number five-hundred-fifty-four…one condemned fugitive of justice known otherwise as Arissyalen Inalda, daughter of the late Senator Joshua Inalda?"


Andraxus found, to his surprise, that Marcus was not present in the Golden Seahorse's lobby, standing beside its front desk as usual. Nevertheless, he managed to find his way down to the secret prison levels of the Deathtrap with relative ease, and was soon turning his mind to reaching Avor's office again.

He stopped short, though.

The halls of the Deathtrap were strangely still, and quite deserted: seemingly devoid of any kind of life.

Andraxus stepped silently to one side of the hall, putting his back to the wall, and slipped his blaster-gun out of the holster that hung comfortably at his hip. His artic blue eyes scanned the shadows intensely, shining behind the black mask.

But there was no sound, no movement, and even when he stretched out with his mage's skills—what little of them that he had chosen to retain—he could not detect any sort of immediate danger to himself. However…this was more than simply odd…and he could catch the very faintest echoes of fear, anger, and pain ringing in the distance.

He put his blaster on safety-lock, but did not replace it on his belt, as he made his way noiselessly down the corridor.

Still nothing.

There was a ray of light shooting out from a partially opened door; cautiously, Andraxus went to it, and stopped a safe distance back in the shadows, listening and watching, and waiting.

"Senator Joshua Inalda is dead…and oh, what a pity…so are you."

Then all at once a group of red-garbed imperial guards—not the common street guards of the Empire who patrolled on every planet, distinct in their white armor—came out of the room and into the hallway.

Andraxus stepped back into the shadows, his black clothing enabling him to blend into the darkness perfectly. He watched as the guards, unknowing of his presence there, filed out of the room and disappeared down the hall. Finally, when he could hear them no longer, he crept to the door…

The room inside was none other than Darus Avor's office.

And it was in flames.

Andraxus lunged into the room when he saw a pale, square hand resting on the desktop, a hand that was surely attached to a body that was sitting in the swiveling chair that was behind the desk.

"Avor!"

But when he turned the chair around, he discovered yet another surprise.

Darus Avor, chief executive of Alliacara's most prestigious resort and the head-warden of the Deathtrap imperial prison, was dead. He had been shot several times in the chest, and then once in the forehead as well. He had died with his eyes open, an expression of horror and denial on his face.

Andraxus recoiled.

Then he saw that the flames that were on the floor had already begun to climb up onto the desk, and were slowly reaching towards the slave trader's computer, which was—surprisingly—still on. A blinking icon on the screen warned: File transfer complete. New data disk written. Remove from drive now.

And the name of the new data disk, which Avor had apparently been writing just before he had been murdered?

Prisoner 554.

His elf.

Andraxus grated out a loud and exceptionally unpleasant curse in vampyric, and reached for the computer: hastily removing the disk from its drive before the hot plasteen surface was able to burn the skin of his one normal hand. He pocketed the disk in the carry-all pouch that was attached to his belt, and turned to brave the flames again.

"I'm sorry, Avor," he said.

And he ran through the burning door.

He had no time to concern himself with where the imperial guards had gone off to, since the entire prison was burning now: set afire by the guards themselves, presumably. He ran down the numerous winding hallways and corridors, trying to find the proper route through the smoke and the roaring yellow flames. Somehow, the fire-alert mechanisms in the prison had released the locks on every single door within the place. Now prisoners, employees, and all were running about in mad chaos.

Suddenly, a white-hot dart lanced across the ex-mage's shoulder.

He whirled around, bringing his blaster to bear. He caught a glimpse of his foe as the shadowy but unmistakably cloaked and masked figure darted for cover in the shadows. A glimpse was all he needed, however; his old powers blessed—and cursed—him with the gift of night-vision. He could easily see in the dark.

I can see you…

Without a moment's hesitation, he fired three times in the direction of his assailant, and then shot out his hand—forcefully tearing a chunk of the metal wall off with his powers—and heaved it at more of the imperial guards, who had spotted him and attacked. He didn't wait around to see or hear if the missile had actually made contact with anything or anyone; he was confident in his abilities, and knew that it had. He turned, instead, and ran, darting around flames and falling pieces of the prison's ceiling.

Great abyss, this place is going to cave in on us.

Ostensibly, this made him run all the faster.

After what seemed an hour of hurtling through the smoke-and-fire-engulfed prison, Andraxus finally found the stairway that he knew would take him to ground-level. The imperial guards who had survived his onslaught were in close pursuit…


The patrons of the Golden Seahorse who were in its lobby: walking, sitting, reading, conversing, sight-seeing, and whatnot, were terrified and startled out of their wits when there was an enormous explosion—followed by the caving-in of one of the lobby walls, and a black-cloaked and black-masked man suddenly appeared, running, with a troop of imperial guards immediately on his heels.

Andraxus, however, was too preoccupied to apologize for the fright he was causing, or to make amends for the damage he did to the resort. Under ordinary circumstances, he might have simply turned and done battle with his opponents right then and there, regardless of how many men there were, or how many and what kind of weapons they had with them.

This day, though, it was different: not only did these pursuing guards have enormous reinforcements waiting for them outside—as Andraxus belatedly discovered when he dashed through the front doors—

But they were also armed with five disruptor cannons.

Not things that Andraxus really wanted to toy with.

Taking hasty but calculated aim, hoping that his shot wouldn't go awry, he blasted several shots at the nearest imperial guard speeder-transport.

Truly and squarely hit, the vehicle immediately blossomed into an orange and red fireball, engulfing its two fellows with its flames. Guards went flying everywhere as the ground shook with the force of the blast, shrapnel and dirt pelting the hotel walls, and everything else. Andraxus took off running again, into the night, making use of the advantage that he had gained. With inhuman speed, he dashed into an alleyway, leaping over heaps of garbage and other refuse, as more guards—on speeder-bikes—came after him. Bursts of pure laser-energy lit up the warm night air as the guards fired at the elusive shadow-cloaked form of their quarry.

While running, Andraxus managed to dig his captain's comlink out of his shirt pocket, and switched it on.

" 'Draxus? Where are you?" said Marina's worried voice.

"Getting my afterburner whipped by a whole bunch of rather angry imperial red-guards!" he snapped into the comlink. "Never mind about my meeting you all back at the hangar—bring my Star to me! We've got to end our vacation tonight!"

"Aye-aye, Captain. We're on our way."

Concentrating, Andraxus reached out with his mind and grabbed a hold of the speeder-bikes, taking control of their inner mechanisms. He whirled around, then, and put out his hand—palm up—towards the bikes, beckoning to them.

At the mage's unspoken command, the vehicles suddenly flipped over, spinning wildly in loop-de-loops as their riders lost control. Andraxus released his hold on the metal, and let the bikes go crashing into a nearby pile of trash, completely and effectively disabling them. Losing the bikes would give him a little more time.

At last, he heard the roar of powerful engines overhead, and turned around as the Raven Star, expertly piloted at the dangerously low altitude by Joe, Marina, and Jeminiah, zoomed in towards him. The entrance ramp lowered, and Andraxus vaulted himself up onto it, in a mind-numbing display of his superhuman acrobatic training. Immediately he shouted above the noise, to his friends and crew—

"I'm in! Go!"


Five minutes later, the infamous Raven Star whipped out of Alliacara's misty atmosphere and broke the planet's strong orbital pull with liquid grace, going on to vanish into the ether of space, and the stars.

A very tired and frazzled-looking Andraxus Darknet made his way onto the bridge just as Marina gave Joe the command to put the ship on auto-pilot, since they were safe away from their pursuers. He was holding one hand to the side of his face, and his mask was slightly askew, looking as if it was hanging off him and only the pressure of his hand was keeping it from falling. There was a look of pain in his blue eyes, dulling them over with its give-nothing glaze. His sable robes hung off his tall and powerfully lean figure as loosely as ever, but she could see the stain of blood on his upper arm. Instantly, she was on her feet and dashing over to him: her normally serene attitude completely replaced by a look of concern and fear.

"Andraxus!" she said, rushing up to him.

The masked man gasped and then coughed, slightly, as his sister threw her arms around his waist and enveloped him in a hug.

"Are you all right?" Marina asked, her face buried in his chest.

"I was…" he grimaced, tightly. "Before you splintered my ribs."

"What happened, lad?" asked Jeminiah, as he and Zack left their respective chairs and came to join the step-siblings, Dexter rolling behind them. Andraxus shook his head, with a rueful and weary shadow in his eyes.

"I went back to see Avor—but he's been murdered."

There was a collective response of horror, shock, and disbelief from the group clustered around him, upon his news. It was to be expected.

"Apparently, a special unit of the imperial red-guards arrived at the Deathtrap right before I got there. I don't know why they killed him. But…"

He pulled out the data disk that he had rescued from the fire.

"I managed to snatch this from his office on my way out. I think that it may possibly have something to do with our new little elf-friend's past—and, unless I'm very, very wrong…perhaps even High Chancellor Glauros."


The beautiful, ebony-haired she-elf was lying on the examination table where Marina and Joe had left her after successfully extracting the deadly tracking device from her arm. She looked serene and peaceful in her deep sleep: all traces of the grime and makeup that the slave traders had painted her with was gone, washed cleanly away by her caretakers, and she was dressed in one of Marina's spare nightgowns. Her slender and graceful hands were folded over her stomach, just below her ribcage, and someone had even had the kindness to brush out her shimmering dark hair.

She looked even lovelier than before.

But there was an unearthly, cold pallor to her skin now, in her slumber, that reminded Andraxus too much of the icy, heartless queen of snow and winter that he had heard of once long ago in a distant childhood, in a story from a world of legends. He leaned down, until his face was on level with hers, and stared fixatedly at her profile, at the fringed line of her long eye lashes, the soft rounded curve of her cheek that was so near to his, though a thin layer of metal—his mask—separated them. How he wished that he could, if even for a moment, lay his cheek alongside hers: only to feel the warm butterfly-delicateness of her skin. Daring to touch her, he brushed his gloved fingers against her fine cheekbone, letting his fingers linger the longest in the curve of her mouth, where her lips narrowed.

"You were right, Andraxus. She is very beautiful."

Andraxus froze for a brief moment: his back visibly stiffening, and then he stood straight again, flexing his shoulders back as he let loose the breath that he had held pent-up inside of his lungs. He didn't turn around, however, as Jeminiah moved away from the door and came into the room: Marina with him. The two moved to stand on either side of him, also looking down on the sleeping she-elf.

"Do you think she'll ever wake up…?" Marina asked, curiously.

Neither she nor any of the others on the Raven Star had ever seen an elf, or a changeling—much less a person who was both—in real life before. Such people were the persona of dreams, and children's stories.

But to actually be in the same room as one…

Jeminiah shook his head.

"Oh, I should think she'll be comin' around soon nooow; it just depends on when her brain decides it's recovered enough from whatever shock it had in the first place. Dinna you worry. She'll be up sooner than you know it."

"Who do you think she is—or was, before she got put into prison? Why would a person like this go and commit some crime grave enough to merit the punishment that she got? I can't even imagine…" Marina said, looking steadily at the flowing locks of pure black hair that cascaded over the angled examination table.

"I saw her eyes, when they revealed her in that cage today."

Her brother's deep voice held an undercurrent of fierce, protective anger—

And an old, old bitterness.

"There was fear, and uncertainty in those eyes, and resentment. But there was also courage, and determination in her look—she was going to go down fighting, whether anyone in the universe willed it or not. And…and she looked sad, too, as if her world had just been destroyed."

"If she came from the capital…" Marina said, softly. "Perhaps it was."

Chancellor Glauros was now in power, and for many people, his rule had already prove to be—and would be, in the future—an unbearable tyranny. Perhaps this woman…whoever she was, whatever her life had been like, however and whenever it was changed…perhaps she had known such anguish, such trouble.

"It doesn't matter now."

Andraxus stepped closer to the still, pale form, and placed his large black-gloved hand over the graceful half-elf's delicate little hand. Marina and Jeminiah—knowing that it was for the better—both took a step back, and allowed him some space. Andraxus didn't even seem to be aware of them now. His eyes were locked on her.

"It doesn't matter…" he whispered, darkly. "It can't…because I'm going to take care of her now…she'll be under my wing, and I won't let them get to her again. I won't let anyone hurt her, ever. And maybe…maybe she might just learn…"

Suddenly, with a growl of horrendous repressed anger and frustration—whether it was with himself, or the world in general, could not be said—the masked man spun around on his heel, and abruptly left the medical room: leaving Marina and Jeminiah with the comatose half-elf. They briefly exchanged glances.

"I don't know who you are, girl…" Marina said to the unresponsive woman. "But I know this for sure—if you hurt him, you'll kill him. I can see that already."


"SHE'S MY WHAT?!"

Marina, Zack, and Dexter all instinctively cringed as Andraxus' incredulous and enraged voice roared through the Raven Star, causing the walls and floors to vibrate. They all looked at one another, and grimaced.

"Bloody chasms…" Marina groaned.


Meanwhile, on the bridge, Jeminiah and Joe were trying desperately to keep Andraxus from either destroying everything within his reach or turning the ship around and heading straight back to Alliacara, to wreak his vengeance there.

Jeminiah carefully spoke to the fuming ex-mage, mindful of the fact that one casual—or even not so casual—swat of Andraxus' cybernetic arm could make him a permanent addition to the ship's wall.

"Andraxus, please listen! It's an official regulation on the planet, and one you didna' know aboot, and unless I'm gravely mistaken, no one else did either—"

"No!"

Andraxus spoke in an unearthly and frightening voice: his eyes gleaming red at their corners. Jeminiah and Joe backed up, for safety measures. The ex-mage rampaged to the other end of the room in a furious whirl of black robes.

"Avor—that rat—he knew! He simply neglected to inform me of his little condition, and he probably had a good laugh at me once I'd signed her papers too! And don't bloody try telling me to calm down or any of that bloody garbage, Jeminiah Winters! I have a right, privilege, and responsibility to be bloody freaking out now!"


The uproar had all started when Joe had begun to go over the official license and purchase papers of the slave that Andraxus had bought: the Deathtrap's Prisoner 554. It wasn't long, however, before he'd stumbled across a rather surprising and alarming clause in the slave-purchasing regulations of Alliacara.

According to the laws of that specific planet, if any male was to buy a female slave, she essentially—to all intents and purposes—became his literal property. The Alliacaran laws stated that 'property', in this case, also meant just a little more than anyone generally thought that it meant.

On Alliacara, a female slave equaled a harem girl.


"But I don't even have a bloody harem!" Andraxus growled, murderously.

Joe shrugged, helpless.

"In that case, she's not a concubine or a harem girl to you," he said. "Since you've not yet been married, she is your first 'living possession'."

"And what does that mean?" the ex-mage asked, in a dangerously low and even tone of voice: blue eyes glaring through the mask at his friend. When Andraxus Darknet spoke so softly in a moment of anger, it boded a dire fate for all concerned.

Joe paused, nervously.

"That…means…she is now your wife."

"AAAAAAAAAUGGGGGH!!!"