December 23, 2998 - Obsidian Castle; Shaetari, Capital of Shaetarian Kingdom

9:17 p.m. LCT, 3:12 SST (Shaetari Standard Time)

I'm coming home now. You know what to do.



Expect me with a partridge on a pear tree.

Carefully, I folded the precious piece of paper and gave it to my favorite water sprite, Bacchus. He bowed deeply, almost tipping himself over. His short, chubby body wavered slightly, akin to a water bubble. In a sense he was. Bacchus was formed from a cup of water and an idea.

He looked human because I wanted him to look human. He even had a brain. But he was still merely a plaything. That spark of life was missing. All of my water creations seemed to lack that spark. They were robots, all mechanical and soulless. Maria would tell me I had to be God to create a living creature. I was still testing that assumption. Still, water sprites were extremely useful as messengers. I used Bacchus to carry my message to Princess Maria, my childhood friend, and knew it would get to her safely.

Over the past year, I had been sending her military secrets of the Shaetarian Kingdom to aid the Luna Empire. Now it was time to leave. My plot was soon to be uncovered. I had to escape before Queen Lilith discovered that her beloved General of the Shadow Forces, second in command only to her, was handing the enemy the key to winning this monotonous war.

I sent the message to her and not Mother. I knew Maria would be able to help me return to the Empire without too much of a fuss. Maria had begged me to go back home, after all. Plus I just wasn't ready to face my mother so suddenly after seven years.

Bacchus left, disappearing in a miniature explosion of water droplets. He would steal onto a battleship and use it to get to Lunaris – whatever method that enabled him to carry out my wishes expressly, he would use. He would do anything to obey me. I was a water elemental mage and its mistress.

I walked up to my closet on the far side of the bedroom and rested my palm on a sensor on its surface. A screen that covered the closet door came suddenly to life. It displayed my current inventory of clothes by category. Suddenly my heart clenched. The screen had displayed Justin's clothing as well as my own. The option appeared whether to prepare every article of clothing to pack.

I paused, then finally touched the screen, selecting "no", and then "customize selection". I sighed. If I left the Shaetarian Kingdom today, I would have to leave my lover as well. I had been living with Justin for the past five years. I didn't think I would have an easy time saying goodbye. I selected my own clothing, and commanded the wardrobe to prepare for packing. With a click and whir, the entire process of internally selecting clothing and folding took the closet nearly a minute. How slow. I needed to find a faster model in Lunaris once I got the chance. Pressing the screen again, the closet door opened, the selected clothes neatly folded by type.

All my clothes were placed into my Space Pocket. The Space Pocket was a neat little gadget that provided vast storage for the owner in a sub-dimensional "pocket". The portal for the storage space was in a pocket sized circular disk that opened in an unwinding spiral, like a lens, and then used a miniature vacuum to draw in selected objects. But I had to be careful not to change the setting for its vacuum for it relentlessly sucked whatever was in its range into the storage pocket. But getting items out was simple; just picture the item in one's mind and it would appear next to the caller.

I had many servant droids that could do this task for me, but I felt like doing something mundane today instead of fighting, messing with magic, or lamenting the loss of a lover and partner. Another sigh; I was on a roll today.

My pet wolf growled softly at my thoughts, padding to my side to butt the palm of my lowered hand. I tried to smile, and stroked the top of its head in silence, reflecting on my decision of clothes.

::Stop worrying so much.:: Blades grumbled. ::This is the time to pack, not mope around. You can do that later.:: The black wolf moved away to stalk back and forth across the carpet. Such compassion. But then again, a compassionate wolf wouldn't have lasted long with me. My Advisor, as he preferred to be recognized by, was right. I had to pack; after packing then I could worry about my loss.

Not long after my clothing was packed, and I had moved to my collection of books and scrolls, I heard the bedroom door open and close. Tensing reflexively, my mind-chip tentatively scanned the stranger. I never let my guard down, ever. My quick reflexes had saved me so many times that I've learned to trust them more than anything else.

The person's thoughts were carefully shielded from my mind, but I recognized the unique type of shielding. There was also the unusual fact that Blades hadn't growled at the stranger's arrival. I relaxed as I realized who my mysterious guest was.

Justin stood behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist, kissing my neck, trailing the skin with light kisses. I tilted my head back until it was resting against his shoulder.

"What do you want?" I asked; my voice barely above a whisper. I could never figure out why the slightest thing that Justin did to me affected me so much. But then again, what he was doing now wasn't very slight.

"Just you. Do you think you can give that to me?" His voice was seductive by nature, but when he tried to be seductive, his amazing talent increased hundred-fold. My right hand went up to caress the side of his face, brushing the chestnut waves of hair that fell over his right cheek. I stared up at him, trying not to smile possessively.

Justin was undeniably handsome. Apart from having a tall, well built stature, as befitting an army general, he had long, thick, waving chestnut brown hair. It was long enough to pass his shoulder blades, yet the length did not make him feminine in the least. But, somehow, his most amazing feature was his piercing green eyes that changed shades with his moods. They were a calm jade when he was amused or neutral, a fiery iridescent emerald when he was angry, and a beautiful dark green when he was moody or lusted after me, like now. I loved his eyes best as the dark green.

He had strong cheekbones and a nose that once had been portrait perfect but had been broken several times in battles. Now it seemed more perfect than ever. Tiny scars traced fine lines along the right side of his face. Justin was as battle-scarred as any war veteran was, and the scars on his face and body suited his rugged personality.

But it wasn't just his looks that caused me to be partners with him for so long – nearly six years. He was stubborn and crafty, an excellent general. I never wondered why he was in charge of all battle operations.

Justin was third in command in the hierarchy of the Shaetarian Kingdom. I myself was second in command but sometimes I thought that Justin had refused to challenge my rank on purpose.

To move up in rank of succession, at least in the highest positions, one had to slay the person ahead of them. Before Justin and I were lovers, we fought constantly for rankings. I just happened to fight the right battle at the right moment and became second while he was forced to settle for third. Justin seemed to get over the smashing of his ego after our relationship began. I would never forget the day he told me he would not challenge me. It was first time outside bed that he showed me he cared for me.

In a moment of perfect lucidity, I realized that I was really going to miss him. My eyes squeezed closed as I tried to fight back unbidden tears. I had never cried before and I wasn't about to now.

"Rachel, what's wrong? You're upset, I can feel it." He led me to the bed, holding my right hand that had been on his face in both of his large hands. Once he sat down on the bed Justin pulled me down next to him. He touched my blood-red hair, twisting a lock of it through his fingers as if my hair was silk. Then he leaned forward and kissed my forehead, then my eyelids, then my nose and finally my lips. After a long, breath-taking kiss, he murmured against my ear.

"I saw you packing. Where are you going?"

My mind still trailed on his kisses. Maybe it was love, maybe lust, but I knew I felt something strongly for him. I couldn't let him go.

"Away." I replied, almost sadly, nestling into his chest. He wore an open black full-sleeve shirt that displayed his finely honed muscles. I pressed myself against his skin, wrapping my arms around his waist, reveling in the heat that rose off his body. Justin was a fire elemental mage and his high body temperature was an effect of it.

Just as four elements existed in nature, so did four elemental mages, created by Mother's elite team of geneticists. I happened to know all of the mages, in fact. I was in love with one, best friends with another, and I used to be good friends with the last. What a happy family we were.

"Where are you going? I know you don't have a mission; I would have found out before you." he said, frowning. He stroked my hair, waiting for my answer. Although Justin was below me in rank, he usually had the prerogative to send me and my special force of shadows, one of the native species of Shaetari, to incapacitate the enemy before a battle. Sabotage saved money and men according to the Second General.

"I'm leaving the Shaetarian Kingdom." I said in a rush. I couldn't lie to him, although I desperately wanted to. He would try to stop me from going.

"Permanently?" He lifted my face from his chest to look at me carefully. I nodded and took a shaky breath.

"I'm going back home to serve under Empress Selene, my mother." I was proud of myself for saying this in a calm, almost bored tone, although I knew the fine trembling in my body was giving away my worry. Justin's eyes were nearly glowing now. His eyes were the reason many a warrior ran away from fighting from him. His glares were infamous throughout the Shaetarian Kingdom and beyond.

As Justin held me, his body temperature rose to the heat of a furnace. I would not be able to stand the heat soon. How could he sustain this kind of temperature within him?

"Have you lost your damn mind? Why the hell would you want to go back?" His temperature flared, growing more intense, and I winced finally, drawing away from him.

Suddenly his body temperature plummeted to normal levels and he pulled me close again, resting his forehead against mine to look at me. His eyes, so close, were still an angry emerald, but they looked muted, sad.

"Don't you have all you want here?" He asked in a quieter tone, "Have you finally tired of me?"

I closed my eyes. Why would it have to come to this? At that moment, I hated all the emotional dirt that came with relationships.

"No, it is because of that witch that you call a queen. I hate her and I want out of this damn war." I was also terrified of her finding out I was a traitor. Queen Lilith was a pure sadist; she delighted in seeing anyone suffer, sometimes in the most horrific ways. I stood up, out of Justin's embrace and walked back to the nearly empty bookcase and my space pocket, lying on the top shelf. We stood staring at each other in silence. Then I noticed a slight change in Justin's eyes. Small, but definite, was a glint of amusement. What the hell?

"Rachel, she has given us all we ever wanted since we came here," he said finally, sighing reluctantly. He seemed resentful, but then I felt a slight sensation in my mind. It resembled happiness, but it wasn't mine, I was sure of it.

"No, she hasn't given us everything. What about my freedom, my life back in Lunaris? We're glorified slaves here Justin, don't you understand? She messed with our minds; changed part of our genetic structures somehow and gave us 'dark' powers – basically a twisted version of our elemental powers – and then made me stop thinking of going home for seven years. We've been practically worshipping her, following her orders mindlessly. I'm sick of it!" I wrapped my arms around myself, thinking of the way I used to believe that the Luna Empire was to be destroyed and little else.

By some miracle, I found room in my head to lust after Justin. But after I fell in love with him a year ago, or at least something like it, my mind became slowly clearer, like a fog lifting. Lucky me, I suppose.

That was the reason why I told Maria, a high councilmember, elemental, and old friend, all of knew about the battle plans; I had hoped that losing the war would save us. But now I was dangerously close to being caught. A lower, avaricious general discovered that military secrets were being given out to the enemy from higher up and now Queen Lilith was performing a ruthless mind-search on each of the nine High generals. No one, not even me, could hide secrets from Queen Lilith's mind once she had Searched it. Using similar techniques to Mother's researchers, she had altered her genetic code to create amazing abilities for herself; one of which could tear through the memory of a human ruthlessly, no doubt inflicting permanent damage in the process. She would Search me last, as I was the highest ranking general, but I had only two short days to escape the interrogation.

"I've known the truth for a while, Rachel. Her spell wore off a year ago. But it won't change how I feel about Luna." Justin was frowning again, but his eyes were blank, neutral. Still, I had the feeling he was trying to tell me something. The sensation in the back of my head would not cease. "Queen Lilith considers you the daughter she never had. Why give that up for a mother that probably never cared for you. I mean, if she loved you so much why didn't Selene rescue you?" If Justin was helping me, he surely didn't seem like he was by these intense questions.

I glanced up at the ceiling. We both knew that two cameras were located on the ceilings of each room of our apartment, placed there by Lilith for security measures. But the delay between the processing of information and its retrieval by Lilith's computer was long enough for me to risk uncovering my plot and not incurring the wrath of hordes of battle drones immediately.

"I've been looking up the battle data since our abduction, Justin. It seems that Empress Selene tried to save us immediately after the kidnapping, but was thwarted by us, the ones she meant to rescue. Selene had to retreat; she didn't want to harm us." My hands balled into fists at the thought that I was brainwashed so entirely. "I'm not Lilith's daughter; I'm Selene's, just like you're not Michael's son, but Queen Edith's. We were both born in the Luna Empire. We have rights as citizens, and we have duties, as royalty. I'm leaving - but I'm also asking you to come with me."

As soon as I said the last, I knew it was true. I wanted Justin to come with me more than anything else at that moment.

"No." Justin said flatly. I sighed. I should have expected it. But damn, why did it have to hurt so much?

"Why? You know that it's hopeless staying here. Have you really turned to the Shaetarian Kingdom?" My heart sank to my feet.

"I have my reasons. One day I hope I can share them with you, but now is not the time. Right now, I'm going to inform Queen Lilith that you have deserted the Shaetarian Kingdom, while you will escape to Lunaris." I raised an eyebrow. The last part was said in the native shadow dialect, a language Lilith never bothered to learn. Justin walked over to me and stopped, looking down at me. His cold glare softened and he smiled gently, and then winked.

"Godspeed. We'll talk soon." Justin mouthed, leaning down and kissing me fully on the lips. I held on to the kiss, letting him know how I felt about leaving. His lips were the softest, yet firmest I'd ever felt them. I didn't really want the moment to end.

Finally, I tapped a point on his neck, rendering him unconscious. I wasn't quite sure why he was so calm about my leaving, but that was his problem, not mine. As he had said, we would talk later.

"I love you." I murmured over his body before walking out the door. I hoped he'd understand.