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Zodiac: Book of Aries - G. Russell Gaynor

The moment was absurd on many levels. T’Hamanathur was the home planet of her people but she felt no comfort upon the ground she stood. She stood amongst her fathers and forefathers but she was no longer a member of this family. She had been branded a traitor to her race and had spent the majority of her time arguing for her right to live.

The doors of the Council closed behind her as did her brown eyes. It would be some time before they were blue again. Perhaps she had spent too much time with her master as she looked down on her right hand clenched in a tight fist. Her anger was beginning to do more for her than add to her a taste of Celestial power. It was only when her nails pierced the flesh of her palm that she noticed her trembling fist. She quickly released her grip and looked at the blood in her hand. How the cerulean fluid ran across the palm. She pressed her thumb into the wound and it quickly stopped bleeding. But the effort brought pain to the top of the left hand.

“It would seem I am to have this wound for life,” Lioness thought as she once again rubbed the top of her left hand.
“Sub-Officer,” the guard called to her and she looked at his with rage in her eyes. But now she could she could clearly see her level of power among her people. The guard did not flinch. He actually looked as if he wanted her to make good on the claim her face bragged. “Your shuttle awaits Sub-Officer. The orders of the Council were more than clear. You can either walk of your own power or-”

“Or what?” she barked turning to face the guard who already had his rifle trained on her chest.

“That will be enough!” a young female voice commanded and though her volume was not half of the guard’s or Lioness’, both were compelled to respond. Lioness turned and looked at the walkway just over the main floor. Her eyes quickly became blue again.

D’Yalri stood in front of her royal entourage and looked down on her one time flight instructor with a measure of surprise.

“S’Kuba?”

“I prefer to be called Lioness, Princess,” she replied, bowing.

“Then the rumors are true, you have become a fanatic.”

“Does Her Highness deny all that the link with the Great Lion has brought to our people?”

“Forgive me, Teacher,” the young princess said as she walked toward the stairway down. “But now all I can see is what he has taken as part of his price.”

Moving to match her student and friend, Lioness walked to the foot of the steps. She did not dare ascend with two members of the entourage already too eager to attack and hopefully kill her.

“You must shift your focus, my Princess. The Great Lion has given me vision and an even greater purpose in my life.”
“A purpose that cost the Royal House of Xalzhur over three thousand of its children,” the princess replied, her orange eyes gazing deep into the blue seas in which she used to see so much hope and the potential to touch the impossible and claim it. Her stare did not last long.

Lioness closed her eyes, scored by the words of her monarch. There was nothing she could do or say. Three thousand of her men fought to the last against the Celestials and were destroyed without even claiming one of their bodies. Both the Council and the ranks found S’Kuba guilty of neglect and removed her from rank. She was to report to the infantry and be given a division of no more than five troops to lead on what would hopefully be one-way missions. Lioness knew she could survive their so-called punishment. But the words of the Council were so much further away from her. The Princess seemed to speak from within her own skin and her words cut quickly to her heart. But she would not cry… she could not for she was not ashamed of the duty she had provided to the Great Lion!

“Well, at least you are not beyond remorse,” the Princess commented. “Then there is something of the S’Kuba who taught me to touch the stars left within this frame I see here and now.”

“I will always remain, my Lady,” Lioness bowed. “And I still prefer Lioness.”

“Who cares what you prefer?” Browkull spat. Lioness had known it was merely a matter of time before he would speak. He had lost one of his own students to Sagittarius. “You do not know how fortunate you are to still be alive!”
“Browkull,” D’Yalri said softly.

“Perhaps that is a status you think your old bones can change,” Lioness challenged.

“S’Kuba!”

But the time for words had passed and the large Gyldrani warrior was upon Lioness at the very next heartbeat. His gray eyes turned brown as he drew his twin short swords and flowed into a tempered fury that had been witnessed to fell no less than a full dozen opponents. His black hair mixed with her blonde locks as the two of them spun about with only the sound of his blades cutting against the wind. As he reached the end of the technique, both his wrists were property of Lioness’ iron grip. His blades had not even claimed her uniform and she was still unarmed.

“You’ve gotten slow and weak, old one,” Lioness whispered as her eyes flared red.

“Stop!” D’Yalri shouted. Lioness cut her glare over to the princess she trained to pilot a starcraft and her eyes returned to a shade of blue. As she looked back at the large guardian, she could see his sweat, smell his fear.

“Only you know how close to death you were today,” Lioness whispered. “Cross me again and that news shall be made public!”

“I do believe the price has been more than I care to fathom,” D’Yalri said as Lioness released the Captain of the Princess’ guard detail.

“As when we first met, you speak again out of fear born out of a lack of knowledge. I taught you how to open your eyes once before Princess.” Lioness touched her face and smiled as she ran her fingers through the soft red hair that always drew her admiration. “There will come a time when you will need my vision again and when you do, you teacher will be there.”

D’Yalri applied her inspecting glare once again but there was no longer any pain in S’Kuba’s eyes. Only the belief that despite the losses suffered at the holding facility, the path she walked upon was strong enough to withstand those losses and still support her friend and student.

“I cannot say for now my teacher,” D’Yalri said swallowing hard. S’Kuba had taken her from being a scared little girl to a responsible member of the Royal House. Though she was the youngest of eight siblings, still she was respected and had actually flown into battle with Reldior, her oldest brother and Prince Regent. It was Reldior’s idea that S’Kuba train her as she had served as his wingman in his most famous engagement.

“You may not know where she is going,” the Prince said of the young pilot and warrior. “But follow her lead and keep her wing. You may find you will live through more what you thought was possible.”

“It seems so long ago,” D’Yalri thought of the events that were only two years ago. She looked up at S’Kuba and smiled surprising the Sub-Officer.

“Travel well… Lioness,” she said with a bright but shaking smile.

Lioness smiled in return but hers was much more assured. Her eyes flared a crystal blue as she bowed low and gracefully toward her Princess. “I will milady. And I will await your call.

“Now, if you will excuse me, my shuttle awaits.” Lioness turned and looked at the guard-escort who had a very new opinion of the Sub-Officer. Browkull was a master of the blade and was removed from active combat duty out of sympathy for the enemy and a majority of the ranks he intimidated with his skills and tenacity. He had meant to kill this woman who called herself Lioness. There was no question of it but throughout the engagement the woman smiled and avoided each blow as if she were training a fledgling. When she caught his wrists, she took a half step forward and the Captain of the Guard was off balance and hers to destroy. The guard snapped to attention and saluted her.

“This way Comman- er, I mean…”

“Sub-Officer will do soldier,” Lioness said straightening her uniform. The two had walked out of earshot of the Princess and her people when Lioness spoke again. “You don’t know how much I appreciate those who learn from their mistakes. I will remember you soldier and make no mistake, I will return!”

“Then know I am J’Narus,” the escort whispered. “And I am yours Commander.”

“Then you should know that I am his and the Great Lion is my master,” Lioness answered looking back on the Princess D’Yalri. Her student looked back and there was hope in her eyes.

“By the claws of the Great Lion!” Lioness thought. “She has grown!” Lioness turned back and continued down the hallway. “And she will grow a bit more before it is done.”

“But I thought the Great Lion was no more,” the guard inquired, bringing Lioness from her thoughts.

“He has returned to his Celestial state, J’Narus,” she answered looking up through the glass that was the ceiling. The stars hovered over her but they did not hold the same look as they did when she last looked upon the Great Lion. She remembered his departure and felt as if her very soul had been pulled from her. But before he descended out of sight, the Great Lion looked back at his most favored disciple and smiled.

“You will keep your power Lioness,” his thoughts fell to her mind. “This power will be called upon to perform the most awesome of tasks and what you possess now will not be enough. But I give you this; seek more of this power if you are of the mettle you proclaim. But do so in secret if not in the most trusted company. I taught you how to discern between that which you can trust and that which you keep close because you know of its treachery. Let the way of the Council prevail. So long as you live, my will be done!”

“It shall be as you command my master,” she thought wiping a tear from her eye. “Will you ever return?”

“My foolish child,” he answered. “Can you mark the time that I left? The stars were here before you knew how to look upon them and so shall they be even after your beautiful spirit passes. But I must be about the business of a Celestial challenge and have no doubt you will play a part in it! But still I must prepare and my attention will fall to more than you my most devout priestess. But make no mistake, you are the key to my ultimate victory and you will sit at my side when I rule the stars!”

All at once his body became light and sped up into the stars...
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