Prologue: Unburied Memory
Damien dreamed of the towers on Proto Cinde, where he and Sabine had been trapped and where he had seen their mother Kalis, and been attacked by his father Yashim. In his dream, he was young. He couldn’t remember anything before his eighteenth year and he was younger than that now, and he was with Clara, the woman who had been his partner for most of his life. Her familiar face filled him with longing; her fine features were open and friendly, her salmon lips in a constant smile. Her honey-blonde hair was pulled back in a braid and hung to her midback. But he couldn’t enjoy the sight of her face, because there was something wrong with the towers, some reason he didn’t want to approach them. The feeling of dread swept through his dream and tainted the love that swelled at the sight of her.
“What’s wrong?” Clara asked in the dream.
“I don’t like it here,” he replied, glancing uneasily at the tower and the woods.
She pulled him forward and he clung to her arm tightly, wanting more than anything to leave and get as far away as possible. As they approached the tower, a dazzling sense of awe filled him, momentarily overcoming his fear. Then a branch snapped behind them and a man approached. His premonition had been correct.
Clara instantly transformed into Panzea and took up a protective stance in front of him while the man came closer, watching them with interest. Clara was Valeforan, which meant that she could change from a relatively human body into a fighting body, armed with weapons and sheathed in dense black material. Damien himself was an alien, but not Valeforan. His heritage was far more deadly, and he had to hide it at all costs. The man stepped into a ray of sunlight and Damien gasped. Although he had never seen the man before, he instantly recognized him. The fiery red hair, tinged with gray but still vibrant, the blazing emerald eyes, the tall figure and arrogant stance… His mother had warned him about this man, imprinted his appearance into his mind so many times it seemed he had always known him. And now here he was.
“Out of the way, Valeforan,” the man said. “You have no business here.”
“My business is to protect him,” Panzea replied. “You’re the one intruding.”
The man lifted his arm and his sleeve fell back, exposing the brilliantly violent tattoo of a dragon writhing around his wrist. Damien drew in a sharp breath and pulled farther away as Panzea drew a sword protectively. But the man was staring at him curiously.
“You’re Kalis’s son, aren’t you?” he asked.
Too frightened to lie, he nodded. Clara looked at him in surprise and he realized he had never told her who his mother was. He looked like his mother, with his aquiline nose and oval eyes, but his skin was hazelnut and hers was a deep russet, and his eyes were hazel where hers were a warm brown. He wondered if Clara had known his mother, because she was studying him closely now and nodding to herself.
“And she never told me,” the man mused.
Then, seeing that Panzea had her weapon still drawn, he gestured at her to put it away.
“I came here to kill him, but now I don’t think I can. I assume you know who I am?” he asked Damien directly. He nodded. “Then introduce me to your guardian.”
Damien swallowed hard. “This is Yashim,” he said haltingly, grateful when Panzea took his hand. “He’s my father.”
Panzea drew back with a gasp, staring at him in shock as he lowered his gaze, unable to face the instinctive hatred in her eyes at the sight of someone with mixed blood. His mother Kalis was Lithilien, and Yashim was Drakor. The combination of races was illegal. Yashim took a step forward and extended his hand.
“You know me, but I’ve never met you.”
“I’m Damien,” he said, but he didn’t shake the man’s hand.
“Wait,” Panzea said. “You’re saying he’s half-Lithilien, half-Drakor?”
She sounded stunned, but she was still in a protective stance between them and he was grateful. At least she hadn’t turned against him.
“And what are you doing with him? I suppose his mother sent him to you. Typical, trusting your kind more than me. I wouldn’t hurt my own son.”
“I didn’t know who his mother was,” Panzea said. “He showed up and needed help. I helped.”
Yashim shrugged and returned his full gaze to Damien. A malicious smile spread across his face.
“What would you do if I told you that I had found Kalis and killed her?”
Damien gasped and staggered back. Before he could think, a cold rage filled him and he narrowed his eyes. Lithiliens weren’t supposed to use violence, but Clara had taught him a few things. He probably couldn’t get revenge but he could try. He slid forward and grabbed a blade from Panzea’s side as he moved past her, flinging himself at Yashim, swinging wildly and hoping to cause some damage. Two hands over his and he blinked, freezing instantly. Icy metal scraped along his throat and his arms were bent painfully backwards.
“How old are you?” Yashim whispered in his ear.
“Fifteen,” he managed, wincing at the pain.
“Plenty of time,” Yashim murmured, shoving him forward. Panzea caught him and he clung to her. “I didn’t say I killed her, Damien,” he continued. “I wouldn’t kill the mother of my only child. I just wanted to know how you would react.”
Damien stifled a sob. “She’s alive?”
“As far as I know, yes.”
Panzea let go of Damien and attacked Yashim, who barely dodged her blow.
“Why the galaxy did you do that to him?” she hissed.
“To see whether his instincts were Drakor or Lithilien, obviously,” Yashim replied coldly. “Even though I won’t kill him, there are still plenty of others who would.”
“It hardly matters. The combination of races is illegal.”
“Would you kill him then?” Yashim’s voice was soft and Panzea glanced back at Damien. “Anyone who discovers someone like him is required to kill them instantly and without question. You didn’t know what he was before, but now you do. Will you kill him?”
His heart pounded loudly as a tear slipped down his cheek. Her eyes were so cold, an emotionless void of hundreds of years of racial hate all directed at him and urging her to destroy him. Anyone with a dual bloodline had to be killed. That was why he hid, why his mother had always been running, why she had finally sent him away. If he were Lithilien, or even half human, only the Drakor would want to kill him. But if everyone turned against him, there was no way he could survive.
“Damien, go wait inside,” Yashim commanded. “There are a few ways we can keep you alive, but I need to speak with your protector first.”
Too scared to disobey, he edged into the door of the tower and shivered. The room was round with the hint of a passageway in the back. He glanced over his shoulder at the two of them in close conversation. They didn’t want to kill him, that much was clear, but what did they want to do instead? Nothing good. His mother had warned him about Yashim for a reason.
He climbed the stairs awkwardly, feeling as though someone were watching him. The sensation of being watched grew until he had to stop. There was a door on the inside wall and he ducked inside. The eyes were still on him, watching and waiting for something to happen. Animosity. Rage. A deadly force lurking just beneath the surface of the crystal tower. Something that wanted to destroy him. He took a deep breath and tried to calm down. It was just his nerves; there was nothing here at all. The towers were built by Valeforans; he wasn’t one. Nothing else.
Clanking steps and he slipped into the shadow of the door and tried to breathe as quietly as possible as Yashim’s strong frame entered the room and looked around. Please, he thought, please go away. His heart was thumping loud enough to shake the tower and he wondered that Yashim didn’t seem to hear it. His breathing was forced and unnatural, an effort to control his fear and be silent at the same time. With a slight smile, Yashim shut the door and went to the center of the room, circling and grinning as his eyes fell on the shadow where Damien hid.
“There’s no use hiding, you don’t know how to do it yet,” he said, holding his hand out. Damien didn’t move, didn’t speak. With a sigh, Yashim walked over and grabbed his arm, yanking him into the light of the lamps.
“I’m not going to kill you, Damien,” he said, reaching a hand to trace Damien’s cheekbone and slide through his hair. “You’re far too precious to me. But you can’t stay the way you are, either.”
Damien retreated and managed to get halfway to the door before Yashim grabbed him and flung him into the wall. His back hit the stone hard, knocking the wind out of his lungs, and Yashim pressed against him while he struggled to get a breath. Black stars faded into his vision, then cleared as air once more flowed back in his lungs. Yashim had him completely pinned.
“Don’t be afraid, son. You’ll still be the same person. I’m just going to take away everything in you that’s Lithilien.”
He cried out in fear and struggled, unable to move at all. Frustrated tears welled in his eyes. Yashim cupped his cheek in his hand and kissed his forehead lightly.
“Your abilities, your memories, everything you’ve done so far will be destroyed,” he murmured. “You’ll still be the same person, but you’ll no longer be under your mother’s influence.”
“No,” Damien said. “No, you can’t, I don’t want this.”
“I’ll teach you to use your abilities, Damien, all of them. I couldn’t have found you at a better time. You’re young enough to be taught but I only have to wait a couple of years before I can use you.”
His denial was muffled by tears as he abruptly gave up and leaned against the wall in despair. There was nothing he could do. He couldn’t fight this man and Clara wasn’t going to show up and save him.
“Don’t give up, Damien,” Yashim said in a soothing voice. “You’ll be fine. In a week or so, you won’t remember any of this. But you won’t be alone. I’ll be at your side, helping you with the transition until you’re ready to go out on your own.”
He closed his eyes and refused to rouse. Dying would be much better than losing the only part of him that made life worth living. He couldn’t lose what he was. Everything in his personality and dreams and wishes were centered around his identity as a Lithilien; destroying that would make him an empty puppet for his enemies to use.
“Clara could have done this too, but she didn’t know how,” he continued, stroking Damien’s cheek. “But what do you really want, Damien? Do you want to be hunted all your life? The target of hatred and fear? You would be too afraid to use your powers for fear of being discovered and you would slowly fade away. Is that what you want?”
Damien turned his head away and ignored him. The words were too true for comfort; he had to hold firm to his resolve to die before losing his Lithilien past.
“Damien, your life is valuable. More than you know. If you come with me, if you let me help you, you can be safe and protected. I’ll teach you anything you want; I won’t try to limit you the way your mother does. You’ll have a home, a family, a chance at a real life. Don’t you want that?”
Shivering, he tried to think clearly. Yashim was offering him the life he had always wanted: a safe home where he could grow up in peace. But Yashim was Drakor, and they never lived in peace.
Yashim rested his hands on Damien’s shoulders and pulled him into a loving embrace before placing his hand over Damien’s heart. Damien met his eyes and for one brief moment, he wanted nothing more than to have someone protect him and take care of him, even if that person were Drakor. He wanted to belong to Yashim.
“Thank you, son,” Yashim whispered, and plunged his hand through Damien’s flesh.
Something snapped and agony rushed through his limbs. He collapsed to the floor and struggled to remember how to heal himself, but the memories wouldn’t come. He couldn’t heal. Utter despair filled him and he plunged down into the darkness of unconsciousness.
“No!” he cried, waking instantly.
He looked around. He was alone in the commander’s quarters of his warship. He had been having vivid dreams like this ever since he had recovered his full powers, and he often wondered how true they were. But the thought that Clara would have abandoned him to Yashim was chilling, far more chilling than any of his other memories had ever been. Surely she wouldn’t leave him alone like that, not when he was a child. Fifteen years old, he had said in the dream. That was three years before his memories started. What had happened in the three years between when Yashim found him and he started remembering things? Clara had somehow reentered his life, but how, and why? Why had she abandoned him at the tower when he needed her most?
His heart ached as he remembered the sense of abandonment when he realized she wouldn’t be rescuing him. What had she and Yashim talked about? What agreement had they made without his knowledge? She had always seemed to disapprove of Yashim, but she never once suggested that Damien stop serving him. Yashim was always a part of Damien’s life since he could remember, and Clara had always accepted it.
He lay back down in bed. It was still several hours before he needed to be alert and he wanted to be prepared for the day ahead. The Council of Nobles would be meeting soon and he had a lot of preparations to make in order to be ready for that. With a sigh, he tried to push the dream or memory or whatever it was out of his mind and get some real rest.