BOOK ONE: CHAPTER 18 – Kidnapped!

CHAPTER 18 – Kidnapped !


Warning to Readers: For our more sensitive readers, there are references to human trafficking in first part of this chapter. If this topic makes you feel queasy, pass it by.

The morning Raphael left Alyona on the shuttle taking him to Arconia, the line commander never imagined that he would be again thrown into a world filled with personal danger.  The shuttle was carrying Raphael along with several young candidates heading for the University at Arconia.  There he wanted to connect with some of the instructors who focused on instructing students in remote viewing and reading frequencies to establish criteria by which they could test future students’ aptitude for these subjects.  Raphael’s former instructor, Master Li Tzulo, had given him some names of people to contact, as well as sending word ahead that he would be visiting for a short time.

For some unknown reason – unknown to Raphael at any rate, it wasn’t deemed necessary for Raphael’s Eagles to accompany him on this trip or even some of his Feline friends.  Raphael’s mate, Julia, had already returned to Medina and was visiting with their foster family there.  Raphael planned to join her later after his visit to Arconia.

The passengers on the shuttle were mostly children ranging from about five to fifteen year of age. Some had been attending University for years; others were just beginning.  They were all very excited about embarking on this next phase of their young lives. 

Some of the children had bodyguards assigned by their families, so it wasn’t felt necessary for Raphael to draw attention to himself by having a couple of Eagle escorts.  The ship the passengers were on was a Command shuttle, equipped with faster than light technology, although not as fast as the battleships and fighters he had been on before. 

As the shuttle left the auric field of Alyona and its great solar guardian, Jayha, Raphael began to feel something was wrong; there was a heavy dark energy approaching their ship.  Raphael tuned into the familiar and dreaded energy of an intergalactic slave ship, one of the big dark gray ones he had had the misfortune to have seen and been aboard as a child.  Despite being a command vessel, the shuttle was not armed or ready for any confrontation and probably a lot smaller than the slave ship.  Alarmed, Raphael reached out with telepathy, trying to contact with Lord VaCoupe and Tomás and was able to reach his cousin first: “Cousin – we’re already in trouble; there is a slaver approaching. This shuttle isn’t armed and there aren’t any warriors on board!”

“I hear you – we will monitor the activity and send out rescue ships STAT!  I’ll also notify Lord VaCoupe!”

“Thanks”, replied Raphael, bracing himself as a shudder ran through the entire vessel.  Some of the students started to scream and cry.  The body guards jumped up, looking alert, seeking to shelter their young charges as the passengers felt the shuttle caught in a tractor beam.  The young commander sensed the larger vessel above tractor beam pulling the shuttle into its landing bay.  There was a lurch as the shuttle set down on the deck. Looking out the window, Raphael had an ominous sense of impending danger as the occupants of the shuttle could see a large force of soldiers dressed in dark gray uniforms gathering outside on the deck, weapons drawn and ready.  As the loading ramp was lowered to the deck, large fists began to beat on the outside doors demanding entrance.  The pilot was forced to comply as the passengers and their escorts were severely outnumbered and unarmed.  Soldiers burst through the compartment door waving their weapons and demanding everyone to get off the shuttle without exception.

A large barrel-chested man in an officer’s uniform with an angular scarred face stood aside up front observing, as the soldiers ordered everyone out of the shuttle.  When the children moved too slowly, the soldiers began pulling, dragging or carrying them out of the vessel.  A couple of the soldiers marched to the back of the passenger cabin where Raphael was sitting and ordered him up out of his seat.  One of them searched the back hold to see if anyone was hiding there and then followed the commander outside.  As Raphael emerged from the shuttle, he was pushed and shoved to the end of the line being formed on the flight deck.

Some of the bodyguards resisted, attempting to guard their charges; but when the soldiers had weapons drawn and ready and pointed them at the children, their guards relented and obeyed the demands of the soldiers.  When the shuttle was empty, the captain of the enemy squad methodically paced down the line of captives, pulling off hoods, turbans, and scarves from heads and examined the young faces of the children, then the bodyguards and the pilot.  Then he stopped in front of Raphael, looking up and spoke in a gravelly voice, “Hmm, this man might be the one that the lord wants…”

The soldier signed a couple of his men to hold Raphael securely as captain examined his captive’s face more closely.  He gave Raphael a hard stare and then slowly pulled off the head scarf the Medinian was wearing.  The captain gave a smirk as Raphael’s long golden blonde hair was revealed.  Forcing his chin up, the captain traced with a finger the scar on Raphael’s neck from the control collar still showing faintly all these years later.  The captain nodded with a grim satisfied smile: “Yes, this is the one!  This is the escaped slave the lord wants!”

Hold him tight”, ordered the captain and took Raphael by his braid, twisting it in his hand and pulling Raphael’s head down and then shoving aside the thick braid.  The captain brought out something from a large pocket in his uniform coat; it was a flexible control collar.  The soldier snapped the collar about Raphael’s neck and then cupped his chin with his hand and lifted Raphael’s head up.  He glared in his captive’s face and spit, snarling at him, then hissing, “You belong to us, slave!”

Raphael was a captive once again. The captain gave his prisoner a triumphant look as he signed some of his men to drag Raphael off to another vessel waiting nearby.  The rest of the shuttle passengers and crew were led off in a different direction, but the line commander was prevented from seeing any more as a phalanx of solidly built soldiers blocked his view.

Apparently, the captain had been warned Raphael was dangerous as before he was dragged on board the smaller vessel, the cautious captain ordered the men to place irons around his captive’s ankles and wrists.  The captain grimly tested the irons to make sure they were secure and then stood up and struck Raphael hard across the face. Dazed from the heavy blow, the Pleiadian prisoner was dragged up the ramp and pushed into a storage compartment inside the small trading vessel, his set of irons hooked to the superstructure.  From the look of her, the vessel was Morovian.  There was no point wasting his energy in struggling; Raphael would just have to see where he was being taken.  When the compartment door slammed shut, Raphael felt the ship lift, gliding out of the landing bay and into space. 

Dizzy from the blow he had received Raphael concentrated on breathing deeply to regain his calm center.  After a long while he finally found his center again.  Then, Raphael allowed a whisper of his consciousness to slip out, and succeeded in deactivating the control collar and then clicking the lock open.  He shook the disgusting device off of his neck and then concentrated on freeing himself of the irons.  The locks were easy; in a couple of minutes, Raphael was sitting cross-legged on the deck of the hold and concentrating on sending coded messages in Morovian battle language to both Tomás and Lord VaCoupe, who by this time had been alerted to the fact that their friend and foster son had been kidnapped.

Periodically, Raphael scanned space attempting to locate the position and route being taken by the enemy-controlled vessel.  He did not know whether the ship was heading for Morova or BerWare; Raphael had enemies on both isles that would pay dearly to get their hands on the line commander.  To his knowledge the agent who had tested the young Raphael had never been caught; he was as elusive as a ghost flower disappearing before patrols could search his hiding places.  Conditions on Morova had improved slightly, but it was evident from all recent scans the enemy was still attempting to gain a solid foothold on the planet in order to build a base for staging further incursions into the star federation. It was difficult for the Command and others working on Morova to change the situation given the nomadic people were resistant to changing their ways, which left them vulnerable to attacks and penetration by off-worlders. 

Then after several hours where the prisoner had received neither food nor water and was feeling faint and sick, Raphael finally felt the familiar frequency of his home world, Morova.  Utilizing the crystalline core of the isle, Raphael sent out the approximate coordinates of his location to the Eagles, who were, by this time, activated to begin a search for the ship carrying the line commander as a prisoner.  While he was performing his scans, Raphael also remembered that The Golden Falcon headed by its new top commander, Myka Strom, had been recently staging operations just outside of Morovian space.  Raphael sent a message in code to Strom: Myka, in trouble. Captured– on slave ship heading your way, going to PoLiafee.  Don’t know who arranged this kidnapping.

Raphael instantly felt a confirmation. The last time the line commander had seen Myka was when he was informed of his new command and just days after Raphael had been reinstated as a commander himself. It had been a happy day for Strom.  Now six years later, the Medinian commander would be well-acquainted with the new ship and familiar with most of his crew.  The man was nothing but thorough and experienced with dealing in personnel matters, having served under Lord Lyonell for decades on The Golden Lion.

Strom’s telepathic voice sound both irritated and amused at the same time: In trouble, again, Kantor?

Yes, Commander, I was singled out and placed on a small trading vessel heading to Morova.  Might be another conspiracy involving the BerWarian king or the dark agent who tested me long ago.  I think it’s the dark agent, sir; we were boarded by a slave ship crew.

This time Myka’s telepathic voice sounded alarmed:  Either one of those is a tough customer. The dark agent is as elusive as a whirl-a-wisp in a sandstorm… I’ll get my line communications team working on getting your position; we’ll get out ships and patrols to search for you.”

Be cautious, Myka – we need to have that agent captured.  And I wouldn’t mind surviving this ordeal, too.  An amused chuckle was all the top commander said in return.  Raphael had no other choice than to attempt to remain calm, sit back and see what the next hours would bring.  Although freed from his bonds, he was still a prisoner in enemy hands.

It was night when the ship landed.  The soldiers who opened the hatch door to the hold were not amused when they saw their prisoner sitting there unconcerned on the floor of the compartment.  They jerked Raphael to his feet, bundling him into a long, hooded robe, pulling the hood over his bright hair.  Then finding some camelhair rope, the guards bound Raphael’s hands behind his back with a length that cut into his wrists.  Each grabbing an elbow, they guided their prisoner roughly through the ship and onto the landing pad, which was located outside a large warehouse.  Raphael was pulled and shoved inside and placed into a small windowless cell.

For a few moments, Raphael had to concentrate on breathing deeply to calm himself. He still did not know exactly who had ordered this kidnapping, but he had a bad feeling about it.  The uniforms of the men involved, the location of the warehouse, all of these things echoed from his early childhood experiences.

His hands still bound, Raphael awkwardly pulled himself to an upright sitting position and continued to meditate.  He was faint with hunger but strove to elevate his consciousness above his bodily needs and began to methodically send Morovian battle code to Myka and to the Eagles… who were far, far away.

After a long time, the door abruptly opened and a new guard peered in to see if the prisoner was still securely bound.  He entered in, cut the rope off from Raphael’s wrists and handed him a bowl of soup to drink, with a few pieces of fruit.  He waited as Raphael ate, then the guard rebound his hands with rope, this time in front of Raphael’s body and shoved him back onto the sleeping pad.

Raphael tried to sleep a bit, but his sleep was soon interrupted as the door burst open again. Two heavy-set guards hauled their prisoner out of his tiny cell.  This time there was a solitary rape tree erected in the main room of the warehouse and one man standing next to it waiting.  It was the enemy agent.

At this point, the nightmare became real to the prisoner. Suddenly, everything that Raphael had experienced in the ensuing years from the time of his rescue from slavery to this moment disappeared from his consciousness.  Raphael began to struggle and cry out, fighting with the guards who just held him tighter.

The Pleiadian’s struggles and shouts brought out a couple more guards who emerged from one of the side rooms. One of new guards hit the prisoner with a precise blow to the back of the neck, knocking Raphael unconscious until the other guards could secure the prisoner by wrists and ankles with rope to the rape tree.

While Raphael was out, he had been stripped down to his loin cloth and gagged to prevent him from crying out any further.  Waking up flinching as he felt damp hands caressing his flanks and torso, Raphael braced himself energetically for what he knew would come next.

A low gravelly voice was speaking, “You’ve grown quite a bit since we last saw each other, golden one. I wonder if you remember the routines your old master Gar taught you.”

Raphael took a sharp inbreath as the dark agent’s blunt fingers pinched his side, remarking casually, “Despite being older, you’re still beautiful – is that why you wear a beard, golden one, so men won’t mistake you for a woman?”

With his build, broad shoulders and large strongly boned facial features, Raphael looked anything but like a woman, but this was one of the ways the dark used to insinuate themselves into a captive’s consciousness.  They enjoyed being in control, dominating, and making their prisoners, captives, and slaves wallow in fear.  Fear was food to these dark individuals, who had little or no soul light of their own.  They were parasites feeding on the fear of others.  And in the case of Raphael who did not fear them; they viewed him as a challenge – to see just how long it would take to break him to their wills.

There was a harsh laugh from the agent – who was enjoying the rare opportunity to verbally torment someone like Raphael.  Then, he stepped in front of Raphael, and intentionally pulled off his loin cloth.  He pinched Raphael’s nipples and bent forward biting them, laughing as his tightly bound prisoner tried to move away.  Then fondling Raphael, he pinched again, pulling at the delicate tissue, laughing as the prisoner flinched involuntarily.  The agent looked up at his prisoner with a triumphant look and commented, “You don’t know why I brought you here, do you?”

Being gagged, Raphael couldn’t answer, but he shook his head and stared through the little man. The agent straightened up to his full height, peering up at into Raphael’s face. The agent probably stood about seven feet tall, while his Pleiadian prisoner was over eight feet in height.  He laughed again as his prisoner managed to keep his face blank of emotion, “Still think you’re in control, eh?  Well, my lord has given me permission to break you this time.  And I’m going to enjoy every moment, starting with this…”

Helpless to avoid what was coming, Raphael closed his eyes.  He endured the smell of male lust and the sensations of being abused, again, by other males, this time as an adult.  He endured the abuse as best he could. After the men were done with him, Raphael hung there, numbed, and in a semi-conscious state of shock until he was taken down and half dragged back to his cell. His guards pushed Raphael inside and slammed the metal door shut with a heavy clang. He lay on the stone floor as if dead, finally stirring as he came back to consciousness.

Waiting there in the cell was a bit of cloth and a basin of water for the captive to clean himself off.  There was short gown for him to put on after cleaning his body off. As he slowly cleaned himself, he realized he was weeping silently, tears flowing down his face.  Despite being full grown, Raphael felt like he had reverted back to the nightmare of his sorry childhood.  And indeed, he had.

Exhausted, despite the pain at some point Raphael fell asleep.  When he woke up, he discovered a bowl with some nutrients sitting on the floor, along with a cup of water.  As Raphael slowly and methodically ate his meager rations, he started sending out Morovian battle code once again.  This time, Raphael tuned into the crystalline heart of the planet to magnify his message and felt an acknowledgment in return.

It was Commander Monteras replying: Where are you?

In the warehouse district of PoLiafee, east side of the city; the dark agent has me…” He sent a vision of what had happened already…

His cousin replied: Hang on, Rafe… we’re close. We’re with some of Strom’s men; he’s really upset you’ve been captured and hurt!

At that moment, Raphael heard a ruckus in the outer room, what sounded like the entrance of some unexpected ‘guests’ and raised voices.

Raphael could hear the agent’s gravelly voice and then another answering voice… with a low frequency edge to it that grated on the line commander’s finely-tuned nerves.  The footsteps approached his cell and then, the door to the captive’s cell was flung open revealing the presence of two men, one the agent and the other… As Raphael put up his hand to ward his eyes from the bright light in the outer room, he felt the presence of a dark cold jagged energy as one of the individuals entered – it was an enemy officer, a dark lord!

Instinctively, Raphael backed up against the wall on the sleeping pad, and as he did, elicited a sneering laugh from the agent. The man was interpreting Raphael’s withdrawal as fear instead of disgust and utter loathing of the low frequency of both individuals.  In a grating voice, the agent bragged to his guest, “See, my lord… he already cowers away from me.  We will have him tamed in no time.”

The dark ‘lord’ or whoever he was, was not impressed with the agent’s statement.  He snapped, “Well, see that you do – my brother died because of this miserable scum – although I see why he lusted after the boy.  Bring him out into the light so I can see him better!”

The two men stepped back out of the cell, while the agent ordered his guards to bring the Pleiadian captive out into the cavernous main room of the warehouse.  Raphael’s skimpy robe was removed and his hands were bound as a precaution.

Exhausted and half-starved by now, Raphael was half dragged out of the cell into the larger room.  As the two guards held the tall Pleiadian securely, the agent displayed his prisoner like a piece of merchandise to the dark lord.  The dark lord frowned when he saw the beard and ordered it removed.  “I want to see his face when he pleasures me!”

After one of the guards finished shaving off Raphael’s beard, the dark lord put out a hand to tentatively stroke his captive’s side.  Raphael attempted to pull away. A cold laugh met the reaction and the dark lord deliberately put his hand on the captive’s belly and began to stroke downward and fondling him with a clammy hand.  Involuntarily, Raphael’s body responded to the overtures. The dark lord laughed and remarked casually to the agent: “Yes, he is well-built, like a bull.  He should be useful providing my lord with babies…such a stud!”

Raphael refused to look at the dark lord, staring ahead, endeavoring to keep his face blank, and falling back into the patterns of his childhood slave days. Then, the dark lord withdrew his hand and walked around his captive, touching here and there, stroking the Pleiadian’s small firm buttocks, looking closely at some of his old scars.  Then the dark lord stepped back after lifting the Pleiadian’s long braid out of the way and examining the old scar on his captive’s neck.

Finally, an important thought occurred to the dark lord, who turned to the agent and inquired in an irritated tone of voice, “You know this one is a strong telepath; have you done anything to block his channels – I don’t see a control collar on him.”

The agent groveled, saying, “The guards who brought him from the ship said he unlocked and removed the collar and the irons with his mind. He’s a powerful psychic, my lord,” The agent paused a moment and then suggested: “Perhaps we can drug him?”

“Drugging him would diminish the pleasure of letting the slave know who owns him now. I don’t care if he unlocked the collar; get another one that can be welded on”, ordered the dark lord, his voice angry and agitated.  Then he began to stroke his prisoner’s body once again, sniffing at the man’s skin and asked the agent, “Have you tried out the goods already?  I see some stains on his legs.”

“Lord, I apologize – I did not expect you so soon”, said the agent.  “Some of my guards and I enjoyed him last night.  He paused and then said, “It was very satisfying to see this miserable wretch cry…”

The dark lord looked very annoyed and said, “Well, clean him up! I would like to try out the goods for myself!”

The dark lord waited impatiently as the agent ordered the guards to wipe down Raphael’s body.  When they were done, he ordered: “Make him kneel!”

Obeying, the guards forced the Pleiadian to his knees in front of the dark lord, who growled, “Show me you remember what Gar taught you!”

When Raphael attempted to struggle, the guards gripped him tighter, with one of them forcibly pushing his head down.  Raphael still resisted and managed to briefly pull away.  For his troubles, the agent took out a whip and struck him hard across the shoulders and buttocks, yelling in Raphael’s ears, “You will obey, you stinking slave!”

The dark lord ordered the agent to stop beating the captive; after all, he was willing to pay good money for the valuable commodity, this unusually powerful psychic golden haired Pleiadian, who could provide his masters with much pleasure as they abused him.  He signed the guards to reposition Raphael, ordering the guards, “Cut his bonds so he can hold on properly.” And to the guards: “Hold him securely while he works on me…”

Closing his eyes, Raphael automatically fell back into the once daily regime his guards and Gar shared with him when he was a child sex slave. The dark lord, agent, and several of the guards all took turns abusing their captive.

When Raphael attempted to struggle, the guards gripped him tighter, with one of them forcibly pushing his head down, beginning yet another cycle of abuse. Raphael still resisted and managed to briefly pull away. For his troubles, the agent took out a whip and struck him hard across the shoulders and buttocks, yelling in Raphael’s ears, “You will obey, you stinking slave!”

The dark lord ordered the agent to stop beating the captive; after all, he was willing to pay good money for the valuable commodity, this unusually powerful psychic golden haired Pleiadian, who could provide his masters with much pleasure as they abused him. He signed the guards to reposition Raphael, ordering the guards to hold the captive securely for another cycle of abuse.

At one point, the guards dragged their prisoner over to the table and bent him over it.  Raphael felt his backside being oiled and then finched.  The lord pinched the Pleiadian angrily and said to both the guards and the agent: “Hold him still!  I see he is need of some discipline and training.”

Raphael closed his eyes from the pain as his already damaged flesh began to bleed once more, the blood and fluids dripping down his legs.  When the dark lord was finished, he stepped back and examined the blood and fluids on his captive’s legs, “Wipe him off! This slave will have to be conditioned all over again.  Before I leave, see to it!”

The agent nodded, “I will see it’s done, my lord; now… since I found him for you, once again…may I use him again, my lord?”

“Oh, go ahead and let the guards have a go at him, too”, the lord said, “The slave needs to know who is in charge of his life now!  And see that you beat him once you’re done.  I don’t want him getting any ideas about escaping.”

“Yes, my lord… we will do as you say”, replied the agent.  Raphael could smell the scent of male lust rising in the room as the agent and guards anticipated enjoying raping their victim yet again.

Before you get started, send one of the guards to get that collar I spoke of – we need to keep him from communicating to his friends!” growled the dark lord, suddenly concerned for his own safety.  “If he has managed to send out messages, he could soon have half the Eagles down on this place!”

“But, my lord – the slave hasn’t been on this isle for years and there aren’t any Eagles here in the city that we know of”, protested the agent, his growing lust overtaking his own sense of self-preservation.

“Okay – just have one of the guards get that collar before taking their turn!” said the dark lord, sounding more annoyed. Raphael could smell his fear…

After ordering one of the guards to get the new collar, the agent abruptly grabbed at Raphael’s shoulder.  The agent finished and then the guards took their turn. The last man was breathing hard as he leaned against Raphael’s back, even as there was a sudden commotion outside the main door of the warehouse, some men banging and pushing at the heavy locked doors.  Alarmed by the noise, the guard pulled out and stood away from the table.

Barely conscious by then to register the noise, Raphael felt the final arrival of his rescue.  Gathering up his remaining strength, the line commander sent forth a wisp of his consciousness to unlock the warehouse doors.

In a panic, the dark lord screamed out, “There’s someone out there!  Get the slave, knock him out if you have to, but bring him.  I want my revenge!  We can condition him later!”

The closest guard struck at Raphael’s head, but the Pleiadian avoided the blow by wrenching his other wrist free from the other guard and twisting away from the table stumbling over the agent who was standing close by.  The agent grabbed at Raphael’s wrist seeking to pin him down, but the Pleiadian was heavier and stronger and managed to pull away and stumbled across the room.

The dark lord screamed again, “Get him under control!”

It was too late – for the agent and the dark lord – as a squadron of heavily armed Eagles and Feline warriors pushed open the heavy door and swarmed into the room.  Exhausted, bleeding and in pain, Raphael collapsed to his knees on the hard stone floor.

Aiming their laze guns at everyone present in the main room of the warehouse, the Eagles started separating the men, and started looking for captives.

One of the Eagles spied the line commander’s signature tangled golden mane, approached him slowly as the commander lay on the stone floor partially conscious. The Eagle’s eyes widened as the young man noted Raphael’s nakedness and the blood on his legs. The Eagle asked cautiously, “Are you Commander Kantor? We’re here to rescue you, sir, and anyone else in need of help!”

Raphael managed with some difficulty to push himself up slightly on one elbow.  He nodded wearily and spoke with a hoarse voice. He had not drunk anything for hours, “Yes, I am – what took you so long?”

Fainting again from the pain and loss of blood, Raphael slid the rest of the way down onto the stone pavers.  When he regained consciousness, he found his aching and still bleeding body had been wrapped in an old blanket and propped up against a wall.  One of Eagles peered into his face, “The Commander needs to know who the agent is and who are the other men, sir?  Can you help us, sir?”

“Gladly, son”, replied Raphael wearily.  With the help of the Eagle, who steadied him, Raphael looked over at his captors and tormentors who had been lined up in the middle of the room, surrounded by the powerfully built Eagles and some tall, shaggy Feline warriors.  Raphael pointed out the agent and the dark lord and then indicated the rest of the men present were guards… but that they had also been party to abusing him.  Some of the Eagles seized the agent and the dark lord and took them to the end of the room and summarily shot both of them down.  Raphael fainted dead away, once again, even as he sensed his ordeal was finally over.

Moments later, Raphael woke up slowly and mumbled, “Let me rest a few minutes – do you have any food with you?  I haven’t been fed much for the last couple of days…”  And then he fainted dead away once more.

Hours later, Raphael woke up in a narrow bed. As he stirred in his bedclothes and opened his eyes, he saw a concerned Tomás sitting nearby. He mumbled, “Where am I? Tomás? What happened?”

“You passed out, Rafe. You are in the Command medical facility outside of PoLiafee,” replied Tomás as he stood up and brought his friend a glass of fresh water to drink. His dark face was filled with concern. He asked, “How are you feeling now?”

Raphael patted his body briefly and then winced as a few bruises made their presence known. He groaned as he began to feel other foci of pain and discomfort. He replied, “I guess I am a little worse for wear, Tomás…”

You do look a bit battered and a little thinner!” chucked Monteras.

Raphael closed his eyes and began to replay his recent ordeal in his mind. “It was not anything that I have not been put through before, but it brought everything back – that I thought I had forgotten,” confessed Raphael. “I was raped and beaten, Tomás. I was told by my captors that they meant to break me this time and take me back to Asab’a. The dark lord that was killed today was the brother of the one who was going to buy me just before I was rescued long ago! Then you and the Eagles showed up!”

“Well, it sounds like we came in the nick of time, Rafe. Sorry you were put through all of that,” Tomás said. Something in his tone of voice made Raphael look at him sharply. For once, Tomás looked away, unable to meet his cousin’s suddenly suspicious gaze.

I was bait?” demanded Raphael, shocked. The Eagle commander nodded.

Sorry, Rafe – we have had a hell of a time trying to catch this agent of yours. We thought having a tasty tidbit like you unguarded for once would be too great a temptation for the likes of him and driven on by the dark lord’s desire for revenge – well, your sacrifice may have led to the eventual destruction of the dark web on Morova,” replied Tomás, feeling both guilty for the suffering his friend and cousin had been put through and triumphant to have made significant inroads in eradicating some of the dark sex-trafficking network on his home planet.

Tasty tidbit? I have been called lots of things in this life, but never that – cousin,” replied Raphael, his voice thick with sarcasm and outrage.

Another deep voice interrupted the tense conversation between the two cousins as Commander Strom strolled into the room, accompanied by a young Eagle. Raphael remembered the Eagle’s face peering at him as he had lay on the floor of the warehouse. Storm said, “Ah, Kantor, it sounds like there’s still life in that carcass of yours! Are you hungry after all that ill treatment? I brought young Eagle Gareth with me in case you want to eat or drink anything. He will be your guard while you are here in hospital. The healers said give it a couple of days before your stitches are ready to come out.”

“So, now you are my doctor? Sir…” inquired Raphael sarcastically. His shock in discovering that he had been set up to be captured during a sting operation was still registering on his consciousness. He blinked, his eyes watering with pain as he shifted his leg and hit the bruised knee.

Strom grinned to hear the sarcasm. He was just relieved to see that Raphael was still more or less in one piece, in body and mind. Lord Demetrius would have been extremely upset had his foster son been really damaged beyond his pride and some bruises in inopportune places. “No, Kantor – merely your immediate senior officer on location; remember you are still in the Command. The medics told me that you’ll be here for a few more days and then you can return to your original itinerary – that is…”

As Strom hesitated, Raphael surveyed the commander’s face carefully; the man wanted something from him. He asked, “Did you want to say something else, Commander Strom?”

“Well… hmmm, why don’t you get some food in you and then sleep some. I will be back in the morning and have another talk with you then,” replied Strom, carefully. Raphael noticed that a few discreet signs passing between Tomás and the mothership top commander. Something like: better wait; he is angry – he knows!

Strom cleared his throat, again, and then spoke to the young Eagle, “Gareth, get the line commander some food and…. he prefers herbal tea to drink, mint, if you can find some.”

As Gareth was leaving, a medic strode in, saluted the commander, and glanced over at the patient, “Oh, I see you are finally awake, sir. I am here to prep you for surgery… so no food right now!”

The medic then proceeded to shoo all military personnel from the room. Eagle Gareth glanced over at Raphael as he carefully shut the door after Strom and Monteras. Then, with a sigh, the medic turned back to his patient who was now wide awake and becoming more aware of his pain-filled body with every passing moment.

The medic proceeded to fill Raphael in on the discoveries made during the preliminary examinations, performed while the patient was unconscious. The verdict from his preliminary report was that Raphael would have to receive some stitches in a very tender area. He explained, “My assistant and I had to wipe down your body. There is a healing bruise on your face; you must have been struck by a heavy hand? Then, you were covered all over with blood, dirt, and assorted dried fluids, sir. It was rather obvious that you had recently been subjected to some manner of trauma and abuse. You have several cuts, bruises, and even some whip marks on your shoulders and buttocks. There is a sizeable bruise on one knee… ah, I see you’ve already discovered that, sir – apparently you fell on a hard stone floor near the end of your trials. We had to apply balm to the cuts and bruises but did not want to perform any surgery until you woke up and had given consent. Do you have any questions, sir?”

Raphael was still not thinking very clearly, but he remembered to ask, “Has a Shay seen me yet? I was handled by all kinds of low-frequency beings and briefly had a control collar around my neck!”

“Oh, sir; we will have one of our Shays to give you an examination before surgery,” replied the medic in soothing tones. The medic was aware of some of Raphael’s immediate history, having been advised briefly by Monteras and Strom while the line commander was still unconscious.He instructed his patient briefly, about only taking fluids before surgery and then left the room.

Some hours later, the Shay found and had another attendant remove a shallow implant from the line commander’s neck. Raphael shuddered when he saw the small device dropped into a cup of water. Surgery came soon after; Raphael was sedated as the area being repaired was a tender region of the body. He woke up soon after the surgery was completed, still groggy from the sedation. As he was returned to his room, the medic suggested that Raphael would have to lie down on his belly or side for a few days while the stitches healed up, buffered with pillows. The patient was sent to bed after a sponge bath, dressed in a light-weight gown, but fed a good meal and plenty of liquids before he fell asleep in the comfortable bed.

The next morning found Tomás napping in a chair in the patient’s room. When Raphael stirred, Tomás jumped up and yelled at the attendant to bring his friend some more food. There was already a pile of clean new clothes waiting for Raphael on a narrow table nearby for when he was ready to dress. 

When Raphael woke up more fully, Gareth informed the line commander that he would be receiving Commander Strom, again, as a visitor later that morning. The line commander was sitting up, propped up by pillows, eating some nutrients when he overheard Strom greeting the Eagles standing outside the ward door. The commander walked in attended by one of his Aides, Head Commander Lucian Del Campos, and two Feline warriors. He was attired in full uniform, so it appeared this visit was going to be an ‘official’ meeting. Consequently, Raphael carefully laid aside his food tray and greeted the commander: “Good morning, sir!”

“How are you feeling, Kantor?” asked Strom, as he surveyed the room and then focused on the bruised and cut face of the young line commander. Yes, Raphael knew the man; Strom had something on his mind— probably something to do involving tentative plans for the line commander’s future. Raphael replied: “Better, sir – the medic says I can leave in four more days. I was heading to Arconia when our ship was waylaid. I was removed and placed on another vessel almost immediately. Say…what happened to the children, the bodyguards, and the pilot? Do you know, sir? I have been so involved in just staying alive that I was not thinking about anyone else…” Raphael knew he was chattering nervously, momentarily putting off whatever Strom was going to ask him.

Strom put a hand up to silence the chatter and replied to Raphael’s inquiries: “The children and the others are fine – the slave ship was intercepted before it got underway again. We were not there soon enough to stop the ship that took you to Morova. The slave ship’s crew was all taken into custody so they could be scanned for A1 and then the slave ship was destroyed after a good search was done to find out if anyone else had been on it. Everyone including the shuttle pilot have been in Arconia for a few days now.” 

Strom paused for a moment, cleared his throat, and then started again: “What I came here to say is I would like to offer you a Specialty Commander position on The Golden Falcon under 2nd Level Line Communications Commander Apollo DeAires. You’ll find he is an uncle of yours from your life as Raphael DeAires, the camel boy. Like Eagle Commander Monteras and Master Aidan Monteras, he chose the Command rather than the desert. I am not guaranteeing that you will have a good relationship with him – he is a stickler for details, but you are good with those. Your work is amazing – I have seen the reports when they’ve come in. Commander DeAires is willing to let you train some more Feline line technicians. He already has some good Communications Line Commanders, but I am sure you could teach them a thing or two.”

Strom paused a few moments as he studied Raphael’s face closely; he noticed the line commander was not openly reacting to his generous offer. Then he continued: “I know you were making plans to work at the University Ship now that the Command Center on Alyona is up and running. Some of the Line Commanders on board The Golden Falcon are men that you originally trained. They would be thrilled to work with you, again, Kantor. Do you want to think it over for a while? I know I am not Commander Lyonell, but I have great respect for your methods and work ethic. You’ve been a pain in the arse at times, but you are honest, hard-working, and capable. Think it over, boy, while you are still recovering. I know you want to get to Arconia and then on to Medina to see your family and mate… but think about this offer before you leave here.”

As Raphael half-listened to Strom’s proposal, he was recalling how his own cousin had not been able to look him in the eyes after telling Raphael how he had been set up by the Command forces… He abruptly interrupted Strom and asked, out curiosity, “Did you know about the plan… to use me as bait, sir?”

The experienced commander knew Raphael well enough to realize it was pointless to prevaricate, so he was blunt with his reply, “Yes, Kantor; the orders came from your foster father, Lord Demetrius.”

Raphael stared at his friend, remembering the man was a superior officer, he nodded and replied, “Thank you, sir, for your honesty, but I would prefer to not accept your offer now. I have already made a commitment to go to Arconia, then to Medina, and to the University Ship. I would prefer to keep to those plans right now.”   And the fact that Strom was in the know and had, apparently, approved that he be used to capture an elusive dark agent – well, to put it mildly, Raphael was not in a mood to comply with any requests from the people who had just effectively betrayed him to the enemy, if temporarily. Raphael looked at Strom

Sorry, Rafe – we’ve had a hell of a time trying to catch this agent of yours.  We thought having a tasty tidbit like you unguarded for once would be too great a temptation for the likes of him and driven on by the dark lord’s desire for revenge – well, your sacrifice may have led to the destruction of the dark web on Morova”, replied Tomás, feeling both guilty for the suffering his friend and cousin had been put through and triumphant to have made significant inroads in eradicating some of the darkness on his home isle.

Tasty tidbit; I’ve been called lots of things in this life, but never that – cousin”, replied Raphael, his voice thick with sarcasm and outrage.

Commander Monteras winced at the tone of his cousin’s comment and then turned his head to check out some noise at the entrance to the warehouse, Commander Strom had arrived with some of his Feline warriors, striding in and looking tough.  Thankful for the distraction, Tomás stepped away from his cousin to greet the newly arrived top commander, “Commander Strom – Kantor is okay and we’ve found thirty children tucked away in this building.  One of the older boys told us that there were plans to ship them all to Rigel in a couple of days.  Since there was a dark lord here checking out Kantor, I would have to say the boy’s assessment was correct.”

As the two officers were conversing, Raphael completed dressing himself in the Medinian gown and robes that he had worn on the trip.  They were somewhat torn and dirty like his body, but could be replaced.  Quickly rebraiding his tangled hair, Raphael limped slowly out to greet Commander Strom with Eagle Gareth still aiding in keeping him upright, “It’s good to see you, Commander!”

“Ah, Kantor – how are you?” inquired the Top Commander who surveyed the evident damage, the bruised cheek, the prominent limp, the weary eyes of his friend.

Obediently, Raphael reported, his voice harsh from a combination of thirst and fatigue: “Exhausted, hungry, sore, and dirty, sir; I’ll have to be checked out – I was handled by all kinds of compromised individuals, including the dark lord, the agent, and a series of guards.  I have some bruises, suffered some indignities, but I’m alive and glad to see you! And, did I say I’m hungry?”

“Hmm, sounds like there’s life in that carcass if you’re hungry after all that ill treatment – Kantor, sometimes you amaze me!” replied Strom, looking relieved to see that Raphael was still more or less in one piece, in body and mind.  “Yes, we’ll have you checked out at the Spaceport Sick Bay.  You’ll have to stay there a couple of days for observation to make sure nothing is out of sorts – you know the drill.  This time we’ll have around the clock guard on your room while you rest and recover.”

“Thanks, sir. Right now, I could use a bath, some food and fluids, and some new clothes – plus a couple of scans from a Shay.  Being touched by a dark lord, again, was pretty creepy, sir”, said Raphael, shuddering a bit as he remembered the sensation of being handled by the low-frequency individuals. 

Okay, Kantor – have young Gareth assist you to a viscar and we’ll get you over to the Sick Bay for an examination”, replied Strom with a grin.  As he observed Raphael’s pronounced limp, he called out to Gareth, “Better put Commander Kantor on a stretcher; he looks like he’s about to fall over any moment…”

Later on, at the Morovian space port’s Sick Bay, the medic examined his patient carefully to account for all possible damage.  The verdict from his preliminary report was that Raphael would have to receive some stitches in a very tender area.  The medic carefully wiped the commander’s legs clean, noting the bruises, cuts, and whip marks.  Raphael’s face was still slightly swollen, black and blue, from the blow he had taken when captured and there was a large bruise on his knee when he had collapsed to the floor. The medic suggested that Raphael would have to lie down on his belly for a few days while the stitches healed up, buffered with pillows.  Applying healing balm to the abrasions around the commander’s wrists and ankles and on the whip cuts, the medic declared the commander fairly healthy, although Raphael would have to be checked out by a Shay the next morning.  The patient was sent to bed without a bath, dressed in a light-weight gown, but fed a good meal and plenty of liquids before he fell asleep in the comfortable bed.

The next morning found Tomás napping in the patient’s room, in a chair.  When Raphael stirred, Tomás jumped up and yelled to the attendant to bring his friend some more food.  There was also a pile of clean new clothes waiting for Raphael on a narrow table nearby.  The commander still needed a little surgery and the scan before he could be released, so Raphael thanked Tomás and sent him out of the room to check on the other Eagle guards.

After the surgery, the bubble-like “Crystalline” healer was brought in.  Shays were very particular about whom they worked on, but Raphael had been scanned by them before a couple of times.  This time, the Shay did find a shallow implant on the back of Raphael’s neck, probably from the control collar, and had it removed by an attendant.  Then, Raphael was taken back to his room and lightly sedated for any pain after the surgery.  He was sleeping when Gareth came in to guard the sleeping patient.  When Raphael woke up, Gareth informed the line commander that he would be receiving Commander Strom in the morning.  Apparently, the top commander wanted to talk something over with Raphael.

The next morning, Raphael was sitting up, propped up by pillows, eating some nutrients when he overheard Top Commander Strom greeting the Eagles standing outside the ward door.  The commander walked in attended by one of his Aides, Head Commander Lucian Del Campos, and couple of Feline warriors.  He was in full uniform so it looked like this was going to be an “official” meeting.  Consequently, Raphael carefully laid his food tray aside and greeted the commander: “Good morning, sir!”

“How are you feeling, Kantor?” asked Strom, as he surveyed the room and then focused on the bruised and cut face of young line commander.  Yes, Raphael knew the man; he had something on his mind—something to do with plans for the line commander’s future.

Better, sir – the medic says I can leave in four more days.  I was heading to Arconia when our ship got stopped – say…what happened to the children, the bodyguards, and the pilot?  Do you know, sir?  I’ve been so involved in just staying alive that I wasn’t thinking about anyone else…” Raphael was chattering nervously, momentarily putting off whatever Strom was going to ask him.

Strom put a hand up to silence the chatter and replied to Raphael’s inquiries: “The children and the others are fine – the slave ship was intercepted before it got underway again. We weren’t there soon enough to stop the ship that took you to Morova. The slave ship’s crew was all taken into custody so they could be scanned for A1 and then the slave ship was destroyed after a good search was done to find if anyone else had been on it.  Everyone including the shuttle pilot have been in Arconia for a few days now.”

Strom paused for a moment, cleared his throat, and then started again: “What I came here to say is I would like to offer you a Specialty Commander position on The Golden Falcon under 2nd Level Line Communications Commander Apollo DeAires.  I believe you’ll find he is an uncle of yours from your life as Raphael DeAires, the camel boy.  Like Eagle Commander Monteras and Master Aidan Monteras, he chose the Command rather than the desert.  I’m not guaranteeing that you will get along with him – he’s a stickler for details, but you’re good with those.  Actually, your work is amazing – I’ve seen the reports when they’ve come in.  Commander DeAires is willing to let you train some more Feline line technicians.  He already has some good Line Communications Commanders, but I’m sure you could teach them a thing or two.”

Strom paused a few moments as he studied Raphael’s face closely; he noticed the line commander was not indicating how he felt about the offer.  Then he continued: “I know you were making plans to work at the University Ship now that the Command Center on Alcyone is up and running.  Some of the Line Commanders on board The Golden Falcon are men that you trained.  They would be thrilled to work with you, again, Kantor.  Do you want to think it over for a while?  I know I’m not Commander Lyonell, but I have great respect for your methods and work ethic.  You’ve been a pain in the ass at times, but you’re honest, hard-working, and capable of doing amazing things.  Think it over, lad, while you’re still recovering.  I know you want to get to Arconia and then on to Medina to see your family and mate… but think about this offer before you leave here.”

As Raphael half-listened to Strom’s proposed, he was thinking how his own cousin had not been able to look him in the eyes after he was rescued from the dark agent.  And the fact that Strom was in the know and had, apparently, approved that he be used in such a manner to capture an elusive dark agent – well, to put it mildly Raphael was not in a mood to comply with any requests from people who had just effectively betrayed him to the enemy, if temporarily.  Raphael looked at Strom, an officer for whom he had enormous respect, but right now the line commander just couldn’t say “yes” to the man’s offer.  Raphael knew he needed to heal from this last incident where his life had been put on the line for the sake of Command business.  Raphael realized that Strom could force him, as a junior officer, to comply to the offer, but he didn’t think the top commander would sink to that level just to carry him with all of his gifts off as a prize.  At least, Raphael hoped he wouldn’t, but right now Raphael wasn’t feeling too sure about anything.  He was feeling extremely vulnerable and unable to trust those who had just used him almost as carelessly as his former slave handler and guards.

“Sir, thank you for the offer, but I have already made commitments, to go to Arconia, then to Medina, and to the University Ship.  I would prefer to keep to those plans right now”, replied Raphael firmly. 

Strom looked at the line commander with some concern and waved the other men from the room.  After closing the door behind the last one, he turned back to Raphael and asked, “Are you sore that you weren’t consulted about the plan to entrap the dark agent?”

“Sir, yes, I am sore, literally and figuratively”, snapped Raphael, grimacing from his body’s numerous aches and pains.  Then he moderated his tone a bit; despite the two men being friends, Strom was a senior officer: “I was used as bait, sir, live bait.  You do know it has taken me years to recover from the usage I suffered as a child.  And for the last couple of days, I was dropped back into that violent dark world.  I can’t even express coherently just how I feel right now…sir.  I would rather not accept your offer.  I would have gladly considered it a month ago, but not now, sir”, replied Raphael, his voice trembling a bit from the intensity of the emotions he was experiencing.  “I just lived through one of my worst nightmares and if your men had not arrived in such a timely fashion, I might very well be on my way to Rigel right now.”

“We were close behind you, Raphael – you weren’t in any danger”, replied Strom.

Sir, it didn’t feel that way when I was being abused and beaten, sir. The answer is still ‘no!’.  Sir.  When I’m healed up, I’m going to honor my previous commitments to go to Arconia and then on to Medina.  I’ll let Lord VaCoupe know where I’ll be going after that – I need some time to process what has happened here on Morova.  Again, thank you for offer, sir – but right now I need some rest”, replied Raphael as he adjusted his pillows.  It hurt to stay in one position for very long and he was still tired from the ordeal.

Strom knew his friend well enough to realize that Raphael had made up his mind and wasn’t going to cooperate and do what he and every other head commander had ever wanted from him.  In that bitter and angry moment, Raphael regretted his decision to remain in the Command made six years ago in Alyona. 

Okay, Kantor – I’m sorry you’re not going to take me up on the offer, a good one for someone as young as yourself.  I’ll let myself out.  And by the way, your cousin Monteras was going to sign up for duty on The Golden Falcon, but now I’ll have to assign him with some other Eagles to accompany you on your trip to Arconia and Medina”, replied Strom, sounding disappointed with Raphael’s decision. 

Thank you, Commander”, was all Raphael managed to say in reply and turned away. 

Strom left the room, closing the door behind him.  Meanwhile, Raphael began to cry and shake in reaction as his mind began to replay the trauma he had just experienced during the last couple of days, bringing it to the forefront of his consciousness.  It was all he could do to attempt to pull himself together, again.  He dropped into a regime of deep breathing and meditation to calm himself back down. 

After a short while, there was a knock on the door; Eagle Gareth opened it and peeked around the door: “Is it all right to come in, sir?”

No, Gareth – I would rather be alone right now and rest”, replied Raphael from under his covers.  The last person he wanted to be around at that moment was an Eagle.  The sense of betrayal was still so strong within him at that moment that Raphael felt sick to his stomach.  Gareth looked puzzled and began to withdraw – Raphael had nothing against this young Eagle—it was this man’s commander, Raphael’s own cousin, Monteras, with whom he was upset.  He ordered: “Gareth – could you get word to Commander Strom that I would rather be assigned four Feline warriors as escorts on my trip to Arconia and Medina.”

Young Gareth looked confused by the request, but just nodded in return, left, and shut the door.

That night Raphael attempted to sleep but only succeeded in tossing and turning, twisting himself up in the bedclothes.  Half-awake, he began to feel a strong energy fill his heart center with golden light.  Raphael opened his eyes and saw a tall golden form standing next to his bed.  He whispered: “Who are you…?”

The telepathic reply was deafening, powerful: “I AM Michael and you are one of mine.  We have known each other a long time, Raphael.  My Eagles are here to protect you.  I want you to take four of them to Arconia and Medina.”

Raphael knew he was receiving an unexpected celestial visit from a powerful Being, but after all he had recently endured due to people, he thought he could trust, he was being stubborn and whispered, again: “Lord – they betrayed me!”

Archangel Michael replied, “It was not of my doing, Raphael – the Eagles are for your protection by my orders! Their life vows depend on it!”

Still unconvinced, nevertheless when morning came, Raphael requested Tomás to notify Commander Strom of his change in heart.  Hours later, the line commander still felt the golden glow of Michael’s Presence within his heart center as he wondered why this great Being had chosen to visit him.

The day before Raphael was scheduled to leave for Arconia, Strom returned to see him, with time accompanied by his cousin, Commander Monteras.  They related to Raphael the stories the guards told them about finding him on the trading ship with the control collar and irons discarded on the floor beside him.  The guards told the Eagles that they had never heard of anyone being able to do that kind of thing – to free themselves from a control collar or irons — which is why rope was used to bind his hands once Raphael was taken to the warehouse.  Why the agent had not tried to place a new collar on his captive was another mystery, but he didn’t and that oversight brought him to his death.  The guards were afraid of Raphael and apologized for hurting him.  They would have to be kept imprisoned as they were not Pleiadian, but from another star system within the Orion Zone.

To that last comment about imprisoning the guards, Raphael replied coldly: “You do realize, Commander, that the guards participated in raping me along with the dark agent?”

Strom stared at the line commander, “They just said they ‘hurt you’, Kantor.”

“They participated willingly and eagerly, sir, in raping me…sir”, replied Raphael, firmly. 

“Well, then – they were lying to protect their own skins.  We’ll test them for the AI dis-ease and determine whether or not to shoot them, too”, replied the commander.

“I was wondering, Kantor”, said the commander after another pause: “… why you have been see-sawing with the request for Feline guards, and now the Eagles.  What is a matter, Kantor, if I may ask?”

“The other day, I was feeling a deep sense of betrayal, sir, by those who have guarded me since I was fourteen”, replied Raphael bitterly.  “I am going to take time some healing to get over this last incident involving the Eagles.  While I’m not eager to be around you, Tomás”, said Raphael glaring at his cousin, who looked away: “…or any other Eagles, I’ve been advised that they are here to protect me.  I hope they do a better job this time.  I will speak to Lord VaCoupe about this matter, sir, if you don’t mind when I get to Medina.  At this moment, I am considering leaving the Command altogether…”

“Whew, Raphael – I didn’t realize you were so – mad”, exclaimed Raphael’s cousin, looking uncomfortable.

Well, I guess you do need some time to heal then. Talk it over with your foster father before you make a rash decision, son; the Command needs men with your talents, Kantor”, replied Strom, but it didn’t make any difference to Raphael at the moment feeling the way he did.  “Are you still willing to take Commander Monteras, too?

Raphael nodded reluctantly, confessing, as he was deliberately ignoring his cousin who was standing in the corner: “I’m going to have to work on forgiveness, but, yes – he’s been with me since I was a child.  And he is one of my few living relatives still around – save a couple I’ve learned about.  I’ll be seeing Master Aidan Monteras when I get to the University Ship.  He’ll be happy to see Tomás and me. Tomás was also with me when I attended Arconia; he’ll know some people there, too.”

Strom paused a moment and then returned back to what the guards told him, asking Raphael: “You know, Kantor, what we mentioned earlier about the guards telling while they were being interrogated; they claimed you had the ability to unlock a control collar and irons.  Do you?”

The question irritated Raphael, who was beginning to feel like a performing pet and answered reluctantly, “Yes, sir; when I was taken captive, I was immediately placed in irons and a control collar.  Once onboard the ship and alone, I deactivated the collar and unlocked it first and then the irons.  The guards found me seated on the floor when they opened the compartment door.”

“Well!” exclaimed Strom, “When did you learn how to do that, Kantor?”

Raphael thought a moment and then replied, “I really don’t know, Commander.  I could deactivate my collar when I was a boy; this was just another step or two beyond that ability.  I never took off the collar when I was slave else, I would have been severely beaten – this time I was older and knew that help would come – eventually.”

“I guess I also knew or sensed that I wouldn’t be killed as it was apparent, I was brought to Morova for a purpose – the agent wanted to sell or give me to the dark lord to take back to Asab’a. The agent did say that he had been given “permission” to break me this time, whatever that means, before I would be shipped off, so I was a bit surprised that the dark lord showed up for a viewing so soon.”

Raphael wanted to glare at Strom, too, besides glaring at his cousin but the top commander was a senior officer and the young man was still a junior officer in the Command, so he moderated what he really wanted to say by replying, “I know the agent needed to caught or killed, but don’t ever use me as bait, again…sir!”

Strom shrugged the young man’s comment off, “Sorry for that, Kantor – but Lord VaCoupe also approved the mission.  You couldn’t know else it wouldn’t have worked – we were that desperate to take down this fellow.  You had a unique history and appeal for these slavers… you with that golden hair of yours!”

“Hmmm—next lifetime, I’m coming in with black hair like yours, Commander!” replied Raphael empathically.  He was done with being singled out by people due to the signature golden locks of his now defunct family. “Actually – it has more to do with my energetic frequency than my hair, but I can’t do anything about that except try to stay out of the way of dark lords and their agents!”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that, Kantor – not being psychic like you, but we’ll try to keep you from being stolen away, again!” quipped Strom.  “By the way, who advised you to take the Eagles?”

“Archangel Michael”, replied Raphael.  Strom looked mystified. The line commander shrugged, “Whoever He is; he’s very powerful.  And He wanted me to have the Eagles, so I will.  I’ll have to ask a priest who He is…”

Raphael continued to ignore his cousin, keeping his true feelings to himself.  Raphael would have to go straight to Lord VaCoupe for an explanation of why he was not consulted or told, about the operation first, to allow him to make a decision as to whether or not he wanted to participate.  The young officer wasn’t too happy about how he had been treated by practically the entire Command structure.  Raphael understood the necessity, the need to take down the dark pedophilic web on Morova, but he really didn’t appreciate being live bait for an operation.

This time the trip to Arconia went without a hitch.  Actually, Strom sent Raphael and his Eagles there on a fast fighter.  As he had recently discovered, the vast reaches of space within the Federation were still not safe for civilian vessels and some shuttles had to be escorted by fighters to ensure their safe arrival at their destinations.  As it had been a while since Raphael had traveled far, he wasn’t paying attention earlier to the lack of an escort – he would from now on.  Plus, he realized, now, that he had been allowed to travel alone without escort by design – a thought which just managed to upset him even more.

Word had been sent ahead to Arconia that Raphael had been waylaid and unable to make his original schedule, but was now on the way.  As the fighter set down on the spaceport outside the compact and beautiful city of Arconia, Raphael could spy a small delegation waiting for his party to disembark.  It was a group of instructors from the college Raphael had attended in the couple of years before he graduated and transferred onto the University Ship.

Devin La’Castro had been one of his instructors while Raphael studied in Arconia.  The line commander saw La’Castro’s tall lanky form towering above the others standing there and went to greet him.  The waiting instructors looked a bit startled when they saw Raphael accompanied by a large Eagle escort including Commander Monteras, Felipe Diaz, Paul Dominguez, and young Gareth. Master La’Castro looked around for Commander Monteras as the two had become well-acquainted when Tomás accompanied his young cousin when Raphael first came to Arconia as a teenager, acting as the boy’s bodyguard and martial arts instructor.  Master La’Castro eagerly shook Commander Monteras’ hand and then graciously greeted the other three Eagles, shaking their hands and acknowledging them and welcoming them to the beautiful city of Arconia.  Other than Monteras, the other three Eagles had never been to the storied city of Arconia and its university.  Master La’Castro was eager to share its beauty with the visitors…even if they weren’t there as tourists.  He was a lovely, warm-hearted man and had been very kind to a sensitive shy teenager years ago.

Master La’Castro had been an instructor in the University for decades; he was quite a fixture, a cheerful man who loved children of any age.  He was delighted to see Raphael and to learn of his young friend’s latest work at the Alyona Command Center.  LaCastro told Raphael’s companions that the young man had been one of the brightest students he had ever had the pleasure of working with; and he was delighted to honor Lord VaCoupe’s request that Raphael set up a more stringent delineation of the abilities and gifts the communications officers were seeking in students who wished to go into line communication.  However, first, he insisted in giving Raphael’s party a tour of the ancient city perched picturesquely above the sea. 

Situated on a rugged coast, Arconia had a pleasant climate, being much cooler than the rest of Medina, Morova, or BerWare.  It had a year-round daytime temperature running in the ‘80s, which was cool for most desert dwellers, but recently Raphael himself had become acclimated to Alcyone’s more moderate climate.  Traveling in a small viscar, the party drove up and down the narrow streets, sometimes barely missing students who were busy walking to classes.  Raphael gazed up at the colorful high towers and turrets, wondering at the amazing architects who designed this dazzling gem of a city.  There were some beautiful gardens and small parks in the city, their plants and trees thriving in Arconia’s mild climate.

The five men, the four Eagles and Raphael, stayed in the quarters of one of the staff who was on temporary leave from the University.  The three-bedroom suite was quite luxurious… and Raphael finally got that bath he had been begging for ever since his rescue.  The young commander was eager to clean off the last reminders of the darkness touching his skin and body once again after so long.  At the sick bay in Morova there were only sonic showers.  However, nothing felt as wonderful like good clean water on the skin and so Raphael wallowed around in the large tub for over an hour, being completely indulgent.  The Eagles, especially Felipe, teased their friend and charge by saying that Raphael was going to turn into a sea creature if he stayed in the water too long, but the line commander loved the soft liquid warmth.  Raphael just growled at them and ordered them out of the bath.

The Eagles sensed that Raphael was out of sorts, disturbed about something and kept to themselves within their own rooms in the suite, leaving him alone with his dark thoughts.  It suited his mood; he wasn’t good company just then.  Raphael had too much to ponder and considered what to say to Lord VaCoupe when he saw him next.  To say Raphael was upset that his senior commanding officer deliberately put him into danger was an understatement.  Even though Lord Demetrius was his commanding officer and his foster father, Raphael didn’t approve of the high-handed fashion in which he had been used without the courtesy of being consulted beforehand.  Since becoming an adult and an officer, Raphael had begun to develop a better sense of well-respect.  That self-respect was feeling rather damaged right now.  He wasn’t even certain at this point, if he was willing to continue trusting his foster father in the future.

Finishing his bath, Raphael applied lotion given to him by the medic onto his still healing skin.  The young man still had some bruises, cuts, and scrapes from his brief but violent bout of capitivity, some of them physical, but others emotional – scars that had been so brutally reopened after so long.

That evening, Raphael’s party had dinner with some of the instructors at the Command section of the University, some of whom were retired officers.  Master La’Castro and Commander Monteras happily engaged in some long discussions, while the other Eagles listened to some interesting stories about past battles from a few of the older officers; Raphael just wasn’t in the mood.  Raphael begged off early in the evening citing fatigue from a recent illness.  The Eagles looked at each other, knowing the truth, but said nothing to the instructors.  And they left the line commander alone to process some intense grief that was coming up.

Now that he was away from Morova and the recent revisitation of his old childhood nightmare, Raphael was experiencing an upsurge of some complicated emotions, a combination of grief, anger, even rage at being used.  Even though Raphael realized he potentially had great a value in the eyes of the dark lords, being a Child of Light and former slave of theirs, he still felt violated by those Command staff who set him up to be abused once more.  Raphael knew or at least hoped the dark lords would have never killed him outright, but frankly there wasn’t any such guarantee, unless someone knew the disposition and intentions of one of the dark lords in advance.  Raphael was told by the dark lord they wanted him to act as a stud for their slave breeding program and whatever else they could dream up for him.

Raphael tried to draw his attention back to the program he wanted to develop in Arconia, but there were some nagging thoughts as he wondered why and how the dark lord had been contacted so fast. Or had news of his arrival been telegraphed to certain undercover agents within the dark pedophilic network.  Then, Raphael suddenly remembered that Tomás had been such an agent when Raphael was a child and very young. Perhaps Tomás and other Eagles still had some secret contacts located on Alyona, not just Morova or even within the Command.  That the dark lord had shown up the very next day after Raphael’s capture was, indeed, very suspicious…unless he just happened to be there to claim the next shipment of children off-planet.  Raphael thanked the merciful Goddess; grateful he had been rescued and was not on his way to Asab’a…

The next day, using all of his considerable will, Raphael had to suspend his personal reflections on his recent misadventure as the young officer spent the day in the company of Master La’Castro and a few other instructors who specialized in preparing students to enter into line communications and research.  The two subjects were related, as the line communication technicians and commanders had to utilize the reports put together by research vessels that went out to measure various readings from planets.  Of course, Raphael had widened the methodology by doing his own scans utilizing the readings coming from the planetary bodies themselves.  Raphael encouraged the instructors to be alert for students with high but stable psychic abilities, those who could naturally read frequencies or who could learn to do that delicate art.  As usual, Raphael also spoke well about the Felines whom he had trained and worked with in the past.  Many younger Felines were drawn to becoming a part of the Command, sensing opportunities to travel to and experience other worlds beyond their own grassy savannah-covered isles. 

Raphael also spoke at length about the original project that had led to the establishment of the Alyona Command Center with its emphasis on line and Intership communications in a system-wide attempt to follow the trends and patterns of enemy attacks.  The Federation was a complex set of star systems, some with double and triple suns, nebulas, and clouds of stars, with thousands of isles, large and small.  Six motherships and their attendant battleships and cruisers couldn’t be everywhere at once, so the officers within the Alyona Command Center had set up a monitoring system to warn of the approach of large enemy fleets.  And the men of the Alyona Command Center continually monitored the condition of the main worlds in order to determine which of the star systems required a greater presence from the Command to clear out any enemy bases or slave trade ratlines.

Lord VaCoupe had ambitious plans to build and commission ten more motherships in the future, but each of the complex and massive ships took about two to five years to complete construction and there was a matter of gathering the needed components and materials for each ship.  And when the ships were complete, they needed to be manned, so the Pleiadian universities and University Ships were even more important than ever.  To run a ship with a crew of 800 demanded a high degree of organization and forethought, much less experience. 

Ironically, the war was providing the Command with the raw material for future crew members, officers, and warriors in the persons of the many children orphaned by the attacks that had destroyed an untold number of families.  Raphael knew what it felt like, being orphaned, having experienced being bereft of his own blood family save a few individuals for most of two lives.  The Command would also be open to accepting applicants from other space forces to join the Pleiadians if they so chose; these applicants would have to attend a minimum of a year’s training to bring them up to speed with Command protocol, unless the individuals were already highly trained commanders or captains.

Master La’Castro was impressed with the plans that were beginning to unfold.  The Pleiadian Fleet was going to be expanding and growing in sophistication in the coming years, and Raphael was involved in the midst of some of the most vital planning.   

Raphael and the Eagles ended spending a couple of days in Arconia and then it was time to leave for Medina.  They would be traveling via military shuttle to the Elexa spaceport first and then transfer to a private ship loaned to Raphael by Lord VaCoupe complete with a pilot.  Raphael had never done any flight training and given his past record as Lord Delos; it probably wouldn’t have been approved anyway. 

As their ship came close to the space port, Raphael was stunned to see the amount of activity taking place there.  A huge mothership was suspended in space, above the small continent of Elexa.  Workers had to travel to their work stations by viscar each shift and the shifts were running around the clock.  The travelers arrived in the evening and had to stay overnight before continuing their trip the next day.  There were floodlights on the huge vessels suspended in space.

Watching a great vessel being built was fascinating for the five men.  Raphael knew the basics, but to see it being done in real life was magical.

The center of the craft is constructed first, the Mother Crystal placed within its housing… and when that is complete, the vessel is suspended in space above the ground, with the remaining structure being built from the inside out.  To assist in this process, the Pleiadian Command had enlisted the assistance of thousands of talented Ashkerian engineers and builders.  Other smaller vessels were also being constructed, but Raphael’s party didn’t go out of their way to explore the construction sites.  All in the party, especially Raphael, were tired and ready to rest in the Command HQ where there was some overnight housing for crews traveling through to report to their assignments.

The next morning Medina’s bright sunlight was hammering down on Raphael and his companions as they went to find the private VaCoupe ship that Raphael’s foster father had loaned them for this final leg of their trip.  It was a beautiful sleek vessel and as fast as any fighter.  The trip to Medina was a short one.  The ship passed over the sea, and then crossed the desolate and rugged peaks and came to the plains on the outskirts of the desert village of Medina, home of the VaCoupe Family.

Three of the Eagles had never been to Medina before and were pressing their noses to the windows as the ship banked around the edge of the settlement and approached the village, with its ancient towers rising above swaying palms and white-washed garden walls.  The great Shemont temple was located in the northeastern corner of the town on a high rise, overlooking the broad cactus-punctuated plains and dark mountains beyond.  The pilot set down the vessel behind the VaCoupe Family compound, in a small field.

The travelers entered the compound via the “back” gate, but already family members were gathering there. The line commander’s beautiful mate, Julia, came running towards him; Raphael gathered her up in his arms and held her tight, overwhelmed with gratitude and relief to see her.  Raimundo approached the small group at a slower pace, followed by a bevy of aunties and cousins, some of them very young. 

When Raphael finally let Julia go, Raimundo stepped up to give the young man a hug, also.  Raphael allowed the embrace, but winced when a few of his bruises and whip cuts were squeezed.  His foster uncle held Raphael by his shoulders and looked deep into the young man’s large blue eyes, seeing the pain and confusion there.  Finally, he asked, “Are you all right, Raphael – we heard you had been captured…”

Raphael sighed, looking after his mate who was graciously greeting Tomás, whom she knew well, and the other Eagles.  She already knew Paul Dominguez and Felipe from Alyona.  Then she greeted Gareth, who despite his great height was sometimes very shy around people who he considered as chieftains like Raimundo.  Raphael turned his attention back to Raimundo, finally answering his question: “Uncle – I would rather not speak about my misadventures around the children, but yes, I was captured – and then, eventually, rescued.”

Raimundo’s eyebrows rose as he heard the word, ‘eventually’.  “Ah…we will speak of it in private later then.”

“Raphael!” rang out a tenor voice in greeting; it was Carlos, his foster cousin who had years ago become a healer.  The two boys had attended Arconia together, but thereafter had only seen each other occasionally when their paths crossed or on home visits.  Carlos was one of Raphael’s first real friends besides his own Morovian cousin, Commander Monteras.  “How are you, cousin?”

Carlos could always read Raphael like a book; he was nearly as sensitive as his foster cousin in his own way.  For a moment, he searched Raphael’s face, noting the fading yellowish bruise given to his cousin by the captain on board the slaver, the healing cuts on his face where the guard had cut it while shaving off his cousin’s beard, the limp in his walk… Carlos spoke softly, “It looks like you’ve had a rough time of it recently, cousin – why don’t you make your way to your own quarters with Julia – I’ll see that some food is sent to you later.  And I’ll bring by some of Mazzie’s herbal balm to ease your hurts.”

Raphael smiled wearily at Carlos; he knew his foster cousin well.  Raphael still tired easily after his ordeal and despite the short trip, was about set to physically collapse.  Seeing the pain in Raphael’s face, Carlos discreetly ordered a couple of the Eagles to assist with the luggage, while one held his foster cousin upright until they could reach the quarters Raphael shared with Julia when at home.  Carlos was in control, gently stating: “Raphael has been ill lately – let him go rest.  Greetings can take place later after he’s rested…”

And so, Raphael’s foster cousin graciously allowed him to escape the loving onslaught of his numerous foster relatives.  Raphael limped through the great audience room and rooms beyond, leaning on Gareth for support, as Tomás guided the other Eagles to the quarters Raphael shared with his mate.  When Raphael finally got to the rooms, he went straight to his sleeping room and collapsed on the sleeping pad.  Looking at Raphael with alarm, Tomás shooed the other Eagles out of the suite and led them off to their own quarters.  In a few minutes, Julia came in and sat down beside her mate on the sleeping pad and asked, “Raphael – what is it?”

“Julia, my love – I was raped and beaten during my short imprisonment…” whispered Raphael, choking on tears as they started flowing down his bruised cheek.  “It brought back all the pain from when I was a child…”

“Oh, Raphael…I’m so sorry…” Julia sighed.  She stretched out beside her mate and just held him close in her arms, knowing Raphael just needed to be loved unconditionally in that moment.  No further explanations were needed; she knew Raphael’s heart intimately.

Together Raphael and Julia fell asleep in each other arms; that is how Mazzie found them when she came to inform the young officer that Lord VaCoupe had arrived with Francis… and if Raphael could manage, his foster father would like to speak to him…

Raphael sat up slowly as Mazzie continued: “Carlos told me, Raphael, that you were hurt recently.  I’ll bring some of my salves so Julia can apply them for you later.”

As Mazzie observed Raphael moving stiffly, she recognized his pain wasn’t just physical; there was a cloud over his countenance and a great sadness around his heart.  He had been recently hurt emotionally at a deep level.  She remembered the shy damaged teenager who had first arrived in Medina many years ago and knew Raphael’s present pain was somehow related to the past, but she didn’t speak.  It wasn’t her place…she was a healer and would do what she could for Raphael, what he allowed.  She knew he was a very private person and respected it.  She loved him for his gentleness and kindness with which he had always treated everyone in the family…

Raphael gave Mazzie a peck on her cheek and thanked her for her kindness.  Then he turned to Julia who also stood up, “I’ll be back later, my love.  I need to speak to my foster father…about things.”

Mazzie and Julia stood together with their arms wrapped around other watching as Raphael left the room.  Julia turned to Mazzie, “Something happened to him – I haven’t seen him so sad for years…”

“Yes, Julia – and I have a feeling that Demetrius is somehow involved…” replied the wise healer.

Raphael braced himself, bringing up his shielding as he knocked on the door to his foster father’s quarters, a large suite of rooms a short way from his own.  Lord Demetrius opened the door, looked at his foster son’s still bruised and cut face and took him silently into his arms, pulling him into the room and shutting the door behind them.

Raphael began to sob uncontrollably as his foster father held him tight, supporting him, and allowing the grief to be expressed… whispering, “Let it out, Raphael… breathe and let it out…”

Finally, Raphael managed to speak one word, “Why?”

Demetrius steered his foster son to a chair and answered him directly: “You, of all people, know the answer to your question better than most.  The enemy is striving to establish bases…bases… on Morova – the slave trade is just an adjunct to their true intentions – to invade our Federation with an insurmountable force using Morova as their base of operations…”

The lord pulled another chair close to Raphael’s and gathered up his foster son’s hands into his own, “I’m sorry you were hurt, Raphael – I know this brings up all the pain you thought you left behind years ago, but that kind of pain lingers as you have found out much to my regret.  I fear we have reopened the old wounds, unintentionally… and only out of great need.”

“I know, my lord… the pain…” Raphael whispered, as more tears began to streak down his cheeks, dropping onto his hands.  “Yes, I have seen what is being done to Morova… to my once home… what was done to my family is being done to other families there.  And could be done all over our Federation if allowed; I understand, my lord, but it doesn’t stop the hurt in my heart and the sharp sense of betrayal…”

“Yes, Raphael – you were chosen to be the sacrifice for all of us, so we might begin to break the dark web that has infected Morova and dare I say, your own heart since childhood.  We all need to cleanse the wounds and heal, my dear son,” replied Demetrius.  “I wish you had been one of my sons…then this never would have happened to you.”

“Well, foster father… the operation was successful – the dark agent who infected my father and was going to sell me to the dark lords is dead.  And another dark lord has fallen beside him – the brother of the one who killed my mother!” replied Raphael, pulling his hands loose and sitting up straight.  “I just hope the price wasn’t too high for me, for Julia…”

“Julia loves you and will wait until you have healed…” replied Demetrius.  “She is going with you to the University Ship after all.  Not everyone has their mates there, but I think it would be advisable for you to have her stabilizing presence there with you, Raphael.  There is much before you – not just related to line communications – but more in the future development of our ships and fleet.”

Demetrius got up and went around his desk, sitting in his large, comfortable desk chair.  “During the last High Council meetings, I met with my daughter Claudine, and Lady Arla – you remember the high priestess who serves in BerAir?  She will be here in a few days to make pilgrimage to the Shemont.  I want her to stay here with the family and have some talks with you.  I have a sense there is something you will do in the future involving crystals.  You do talk to them, don’t you?  And my son has told me that you have even trained some of the crystals…”

“You’re speaking of Commander Esturias, sir?” asked Raphael.

Yes – after the incident on that unnamed isle where your brother and so many were killed…”

“Ah…yes”, replied Raphael, heaving another sigh.  “So many died needlessly that day because of the dark energy fog created by the five dark lords; the ship scans could not see through it – so I “taught” the Mother Crystal how to see through it and she passed on the knowledge to her sisters in the smaller ships…”

“And it is because you are capable of doing things like teaching the crystals, seeing through darkness, utilizing the crystalline hearts of isles to amp your telepathy… Raphael, you are so ahead of your time… which is precisely why we need you!  I’m sincerely sorry you were hurt during in this last operation but there wasn’t any time to consult you whatever the others – like your cousin or Strom told you – We had to make a snap decision when the Intel came in from Morova that a dark lord was shortly expected.  We knew the agent would probably be involved in any transaction going down and we were correct in our assessment.  Yes, you were used as bait, irresistible bait for both of those creatures.  I only wish the Eagles would have been allowed to rescue you earlier, but we had to make sure the dark lord was present”, explained Demetrius.  “I sincerely regret the abuse you were made to suffer as a result of our decisions and I take full responsibility for them.  I am so sorry, Raphael.”

“Foster father, I will not lie to you and try to repress my feelings at present – but I understand the necessity of the moment.  Times are desperate.  My pain and sense of violation will heal – in time, but our people are in danger… and so I accept the need for the decision you made.  It was a desperate one, a dangerous decision… but you were right.  I was the irresistible bait for both men.  I was told by the dark lord that “they” wanted me for a breeding program – they need babies for their infernal sacrifices and lighted slaves to abuse like I was as a child.  Beyond that I don’t know what their intentions for me were.”

Demetrius was shocked, “What a horrible thing to be told, Raphael.  We treasure every child we are blessed with – even ones we adopt into our families like you.” 

Raphael managed a smile, “I couldn’t believe my ears when you told me you would foster me, my lord.  Sometimes I wonder what you saw in me then…”

“Raphael… you are precious to me, to all of us, and important to the survival of our people.  We need your gifts and at times it makes us overlook the great cost to you personally, these demands”, replied Demetrius, giving his foster son a gentle, loving smile.  “Am I forgiven, Raphael…?”

“Yes, my lord, I forgive you.  I love you.  You have been my only true father in this lifetime”, said Raphael.  “I lost one to the enemy and then gained you, my lord.  One of the only reasons I keep going is I know in my heart the truth of your love for me – which is why I felt so betrayed and shocked after my rescue to be told by Strom and Monteras that I could have been rescued earlier…”

“Strom messaged me that you turned down an assignment and new commission on board The Golden Falcon – was that because of what happened”, replied Demetrius.

In part, foster father… I had already made other commitments in Arconia, to my mate, and at the University Ship.  And I was in no mood to be cooped up on another Command vessel subject to ship politics and co-worker envy.  At least some of the Masters on the University Ship appreciate my abilities even if they don’t fully understand them.  Working with mostly Felines during the past several years has given me more confidence and greater freedom to continue to extend my abilities even farther than before”, Raphael paused, reflecting for a moment on something Demetrius had shared earlier: “You mentioned Lady Arla was going to be visiting in the next couple of days, sir?”

 Lord VaCoupe indulged in a little internal smile observing that his foster son’s inventive mind was fully engaged on the present moment, rather than what he had just suffered through for the sake of so many millions.  Just like Lord Delos, Raphael had also been a sacrifice for the sake of his people, only this time he did not need to die.  Perhaps that particular karmic ghost could now be laid to rest.  For Raphael’s sake and that of the Pleiadian people, his foster father prayed it would be so – as so much was resting on the bruised shoulders of one sensitive man.

When Raphael returned to his quarters, he felt lighter.  He smiled at his mate who was patiently waiting for him.  She was also sensitive to his moods, her face brightened when she saw him approaching, “You had a good talk with your foster father, Raphael?”

He nodded and pressed his forehead up to hers, “Yes, Julia – I begin to feel better.  And my foster father told me we are going to have a guest in a couple of days – someone I met on BerWare, Lady Arla, and high priestess of the Mother.”

“Lady Arla?  I heard Tomás speaking about her in the past – how she insisted you go to the surface on BerWare and visit with her Lady”, replied Julia.

Yes, the very same woman – a very intelligent, persuasive woman.  She had all the commanders wrapped up in her little fingers while on board The Golden Falcon – it was amusing to watch her manipulate those powerful men”, replied Raphael with a smile.  “I wonder what she wants to speak to me about… crystals, perhaps.”

“Crystals?” asked Julia, puzzled.

I’ve spoken of how I use crystals to you… now, perhaps, Lady Arla will ask for a demonstration.  I really couldn’t do that on BerWare – the king would never have let me go and Commander Esturias knew it.  People tend to want to possess me for the sake of my gifts”, replied Raphael.

I’ve noticed that – well, whatever she wants, I would like to be there with you”, said Julia firmly kissing her mate’s forehead.  “And I would love you to teach me some ways to work with crystals.”

Raphael smiled, touching his finger to Julia’s nose in a gentle gesture of affection, “I would love to share what I know – which is little – the knowledge comes from deep within when it’s needed, but I can teach you some things.  You’ll have to be patient, my love.”

Like Lord VaCoupe, Julia was heartened to see Raphael more “here” and releasing the obvious pain he had endured through the experiences of the last couple of weeks since she saw him last.  “My love, Carlos and Mazzie brought some food and drink for us.  And later, if you’re feeling up to it, I’m sure the rest of the family would like to embrace you, too.  Everyone is aware that you need to heal from your latest adventure and they want to help – or give you the space so you can do it in your own time.”

“Thank you, my love, for being here with me”, replied Raphael.  Together they went into the sitting room to partake of the generous spread brought by their friends. 

In the next chapter, Raphael and Lady Arla share dreams for the future involving the use of crystals and Raphael takes on a new role…

© All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, videos and recordings of this material are not permitted; and


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