Authors: Glenn van Dyke,Renee van Dyke
“Thank you for the update, Solon. And, Solon, I won’t order you to do so, but I would like you to remain here and protect Lady Ashlyn. I would like you to serve her like you do Lord Enki and myself.”
“Yes, Lady Ninmah. I would be honored to do so.”
“Thank you, Solon. Do you think you can find five others that will volunteer to stay as well? They need to be members of the crew which have not seen Lady Ashlyn in her current form, for she will be assuming my identity to enforce the Council’s decree. I have empowered her to do so. And no one, no one must learn that it is not me. Is that understood?”
“Very good. I am giving Lady Ashlyn command of Destiny. Take the ship to the Alulim Spaceport for repairs. Advise her and support her every decision. The Lords must obey the decree—or she will have to execute them. She will bear the Star of Elements and wield the Sword of Truth.”
“Yes, Lady Ninmah. We will prepare Destiny to return to Alulim for repairs.” He then turned and bowed to Ashlyn. “Lady Ashlyn, know that it may be a rough ride. There are many parts of the ship that are missing and not functional. But we will do the best we can to make you comfortable. All of us will serve you to the best of our abilities. My life is now sworn to you.”
“Thank you, Solon.” Ashlyn gave him a small bow before he departed.
Ninmah turned to Ashlyn. “Alulim Spaceport is in Eridu, the capital city. It is our home. It is the largest city on the planet, a great center of trade. Most of its occupants are loyal to you. At night, you will reside aboard this ship where you are safe from assassination from Enlil loyalists. This will be your quarters. All that is mine, is now yours.
“Is there anything—anything else that you need before I go?”
Steven shook his head. “Lord Enki needs you,” said Steven. “Take him home.”
“Thank you, Lady Ninmah. We will do our best,” said Ashlyn.
“I know you will. I know that what lays ahead of you is not easy. But know that Enki and I are grateful. Eternally so.”
Seeing that they had no further questions, Ninmah went to Tara and gave her a hug. “Tara, thank you. You have been a loyal servant and friend. You are a sister to me.”
Tara’s tears fell, speaking the words that she could not.
Ninmah then gave Ashlyn and Steven a hug and started for the door. Coming to a stop on the threshold, she turned around to them. “Lord Steven, you should stay here with Lady Ashlyn until the Arkane is ready to launch. Use the time—unwisely.”
Ninmah looked at Steven’s groin and grinned, then looked at Ashlyn. “May I suggest you take him fishing. He looks quite ready to catch a big one.”
The door slid closed behind Ninmah and Tara as she left, giving them time alone.
Alone, they looked at one another. “What a day.”
“I love you, Steven.” Ash melted into his arms.
“Ditto.” The heat of her body against his was overpowering. “Ninmah was right. You’re overdressed.” Steven grabbed the material of Ashlyn’s one-piece stretch and peeled it off her shoulders.
Leaning into her, Steven buried his lips into Ashlyn’s bare neck. The heat of his warm breath forced a sigh from her—and she wanted more. Shimmying out of her stretch, Ash let it fall to the floor. Steven’s hands came up, finding her breasts.
The fevered, desperate passion within Ashlyn drove her to nearly rip his shirt from him. Seeing his muscled chest, her lips pursed in anticipation. Slinking to her knees, she unbuckled his belt, feeling a torrential hunger she couldn’t explain.
A moment later as she took hold of him she said, “Lucky for you, I am one hungry little fish.”
As Ashlyn swallowed him hook, line, and sinker—Steven gasped out the words, “Little fish, my ass—I caught a largemouth—bass.”
Steven released his grip upon Ashlyn’s hair as she peeled off from atop him and fell into the bed beside him.
Ashlyn kicked the sheets down, so they could cool. “Wow. That was—amazing!” Ash managed to say. They were drenched in sweat, their breaths ragged and elusive.
Steven looked over at Ash. His eyes followed a drop of sweat that was racing down the side of her breast. “You’ve never been that intense, Ash. Where did all that come from? You were like a wild animal.”
“I felt like a wild animal. My emotions, my passions—they exploded. It was like I’d taken a drug that heightened everything. I think it’s part of the genetics the Keeper unlocked within us. I can feel it. This is what it’s like to be pure Anunnaki,” said Ash. “But you were just as wild, just as intense. You must have felt it?”
“I did. When I was thrusting inside you, I felt like I was going to tear you apart. And when I began to…” His voice trailed off as he searched for the words that could explain the experience. “It was so intense. So powerful. I wanted it to last forever. It was hypnotizing,” said Steven.
Ashlyn rolled over and gave him a sweet and tender kiss.
A chime sounded. Over the comm a voice came through. “Lord Steven. The commander of the Arkane has notified us that his ship has been repaired. They are ready to offer you support,” said Solon.
During the brief moments that Solon had been speaking, Ashlyn had slid down beneath the sheet. Her lips had found him, and her tongue had begun teasing him, coaxing him.
Gritting his teeth to stifle a gasp as Ashlyn slid down on him, “Thank you, Solon. Tell them we’ll launch in one hour.”
As the comm went silent, Steven’s hands fell atop her bobbing head.
“It’s been an hour, Ash. I have to go. I really do.”
“I know. I just wish—” Ash wasn’t ready for him to leave. She never would be.
“Me too, but the sooner I leave, the sooner I get back,” said Steven rising from the bed. “Wow, my legs feel so weak,”
“And to think, I did all the work,” said Ash, teasing him.
“Not all of it,” jested Steven. “Though, I think I now understand why there is more happiness in giving than receiving.”
Ash laughed and smacked her lips. “Thanks for breakfast.”
“Anytime.” He began to dress. “Ash, do you really believe you’ll be okay? Reassurances aside, I’m not feeling good about it. The things Ninmah alluded to seem near impossible. Enki and his whole fleet—with orders directly from the Council couldn’t bring the Lords under control.”
Ash rose from the bed and went to his side. “Do remember the day when I told you that I’d dropped the vile of Liberator 166?”
“I’ll never forget.” Steven’s voice was soft, reflective. He remembered the moment Renee had told him of the accident, and how the world around him had collapsed. And yet, it had opened a door, enabling the three of them to evolve into a new reality. Only Renee had known what was to become of them all. And though she now resided within Ashlyn, there were still moments of sadness, when he missed her smile and the individual person she had been. There would forever be a place in his heart where only she resided.
Ash took Steven’s hand in hers and held it tightly. “Well today, is a lot like that day. It was both the saddest day of my life and one of the happiest. I knew that in losing you, I would also find you. We will be together again. I’m sure of it. I can sense it. I can feel it.”
Steven pulled Ashlyn to him and wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug. After a long moment, he lifted her chin in his hand and leaned into her, giving her a tender kiss. Taking a step back, his eyes locked upon Ashlyn’s. “Keeper, beam me to the bridge of Destiny 2.”
Steven’s return to Destiny 2 was marred by their separation—the bridge felt empty and sterile without Ashlyn by his side.
“Keeper, who is the commander of the Arkane?”
Steven gave a small grin. He recognized the commander’s name as one of the earliest given names to Noah. It was one more piece of history falling into place.
“Keeper, tell Lord Atrahasis that I need to speak with him in person. Have him come alone. We have a lot to discuss before we make the jump.”
Steven had kept silent in his discussion with Ashlyn and Ninmah. Their words had inspired an idea that would put his life at great risk. The reward however, if successful, was worth it.
Ashlyn, having taken a quick shower, exited her quarters and headed for the bridge. In traditional Anunnaki fashion, like Ninmah had told her, she stepped onto the bridge, unclothed.
She found Solon, Tara and the crew waiting for her. She looked at those who were sworn to protect her. Tirion, the second in command beneath Solon, was busy at the navigational controls. The others were Jakarta, Ramses, Tibolt, and P’kur. Though she had never met them, she felt as though she had. The Keeper had given her everything in the download of information. They were five of the finest men that Lady Ninmah knew.
Only Solon and Tara knew her true identity, and they would keep it unto death. The other four of the crew, after a quick bow to Lady Ninmah, returned to their duties—taking no note of her newly chosen form. The sword, pendant, and familiar jewelry were all that was required.
“Lady Ninmah, what are your instructions?” asked Solon.
Ashlyn unslung the sword from back of her shoulder and took a seat in the command chair. “Take us to Eridu. Our first priority is to repair Destiny.” Ashlyn had never told Steven what the Keeper had revealed to her—which was a near overwhelming amount of information.
He had given her the faces and life stories of thousands of people, including the tiny subtleties that only a best friend might know. She knew the names of every city and village; the games that children liked to play and what shapeshifting forms made them laugh—and what forms scared them, even if only in fun. Their music and songs were now part of her. It was as if she had lived a hundred human lifetimes amongst the people—as if she had lived the life of Ninmah herself. Ashlyn believed she’d learned enough to convince anyone that she truly was, Lady Ninmah, be it friend or foe.
Tara stepped up to her. “Is there anything you need, Lady Ninmah?”
“Thank you. You can keep watch over the sword for me,” said Ashlyn handing it to her. Ashlyn nodded, giving Tara permission to take a seat. As was custom, she could only do so with permission. Tara’s smile was infectious, beaming at the invitation. Ashlyn could not help but return the smile.
Solon moved forward, staring out the forward window at Tiamat as Destiny began to enter the upper atmosphere. He hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d warned her about Destiny’s damage. The ship shook, jostling as its broken and misshapen hull caught air. “Increasing dampeners to maximum,” said Tirion. Though standing, Solon stood like a stalwart statue against the shaking of the ship.
Through the forward window Ashlyn began to see visible signs of the war that had taken place on the surface. Small portions of the continents were hidden beneath dark blankets of ash and dust. They would be areas of death, where not even an Anunnaki could survive for long. Tens of thousands of innocent humans had died as well, caught in the middle of a war between the Lords. As they were watching—a large explosion erupted; a bright flash of light emanated from beneath the veil of clouds.
“What was that? Where was that?” asked Ashlyn.
The look on Solon’s face told her that it was not good news. “It was Lord Oman’s territory. Enlil’s forces have again used one of the forbidden fusion weapons. That now makes it five.”
Ashlyn angrily rose from the command chair. “Do you know the locations of the Lords which used them?”
“We do not know the location of the Lords, but we do know the locations from which the weapons were launched.”
“And are all those locations under the control of Enlil’s Lords?”
“Yes, Lady Ninmah. They are.” A distraught look passed over Solon’s face at what she seemed to be suggesting.
“Does Destiny possess the same type of weapon?”
Solon looked over to Tirion and then back at Ashlyn.
“Yes, Lady Ninmah. We have the fusion missiles aboard, but it is forbidden to use them on a planet’s surface.”
“Enough. Fire one fusion missile at each of the five locations,” ordered Ashlyn.
“Lady Ninmah, it is forbidden. There are thousands of humans in each of the territories,” reiterated Solon.
Ashlyn turned and pulled the sword from the sheath that Tara was holding in her lap. She grasped the handle tightly, bringing it to life. The sword’s glow filled the room as did its vibrant hum. The eyes of the crew were wide with disbelief. Ashlyn pointed the sword at Solon.
“I gave you an order, Solon. Do as I say, or you will not live to hear me repeat it.” Solon swallowed. He looked at Tirion and nodded. He and the crew stared at Ashlyn. They had never seen such anger from Lady Ninmah before. Ashlyn’s gaze hardened, the hum of the sword grew.
Tirion’s eyes fell to the sword pointed at Solon. Just as Ashlyn began to sense hesitation, he announced. “Missiles launched.”
Solon stood steadfast, never flinching. He was not afraid to die, but he was afraid of displeasing his commander. “I am sorry. I beg your forgiv—”
“If you ever hesitate to obey me again, Solon—you will die. I am here to enforce the decree of the Council. I am the law. What I say becomes law. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, Lady Ninmah,” agreed Solon, giving a solemn nod of his head.
Ashlyn had learned that Lord Oman was a powerful leader and one of the few loyal supporters of Lord Enki. His death was going to make it near impossible for her to gain control over the remaining lords. A lesson needed to be taught, teaching them that disobedience would not be tolerated. “Send a message to all the Lords. Tell them that they must obey the decree of the Council or they will die. Tell them to lay down their weapons or they will not live to see another day. Tell them to pray that they are not one of those for whom it is already too late.”
“Sending message,” said Tirion.
Outside, Ashlyn was calm, collected and decisive. Inside, her heart was breaking for the innocent victims she had condemned to death. Faces of children filled her mind. She pictured them looking up at the sky, their finger pointing at the streak of light that was coming toward them. It was the last thing they would ever see. They were paying the ultimate price so that others might live.
Silently, the crew rose from their seats—staring at Tiamat through the forward window. A moment later, in quick succession, five bright flashes erupted. Some were nearer than others, spread across a vast section of the two continents in front of them. Lady Ninmah’s message had been received.
“Increase speed. Initiate evasive protocols,” ordered Solon. He turned to Lady Ninmah. “Not to worry, Lady Ninmah. I am just being cautious as we pass over the territories of the Lords that are loyal to Enlil. A higher speed decreases their time to target us.”
It wasn’t long before Destiny began to descend. Minutes later, the sea beneath them disappeared. On the land ahead, a pinnacle of light caught Ashlyn’s attention. She knew from the information provided to her that it was the gleaming capstone of the Alulim pyramid, the tallest structure within Eridu.
“Passing through outer perimeter. We’re safe now,” said Solon as they flew through the defensive perimeter of small hovering ships that had been placed around the city.
In the distance, stood a large harbor with hundreds of small boats, some with sails unfurled heading out to sea. Twelve massive stone statues lined the ring of the harbor, each representing one of the twelve members of the ruling Council. The ancient city held an intrinsic beauty, a majestic naturalness.
Ashlyn reflected back to Ninmah’s words, which had confirmed what the Keeper had shown her. Though the Anunnaki possessed advanced technology, they were still a barbaric race, capable of unspeakable cruelty. Enlil’s actions alone had shown her that. Many Anunnaki lived by the sword, and more often than not, they were going to die by the sword.
And when it came right down to it, Ash realized that mankind was no different. Her own conduct was proof enough. Steven had only been gone a couple of hours, and she had already taken thousands of human lives. Mankind truly had been made in the image of their creators.
Ashlyn hoped this wasn’t to become her legacy. The woman who destroyed cities. The woman who killed her own kind. The woman who killed children.
Solon interrupted her thoughts. “Lady Ninmah—we have arrived at the Alulim pyramid.” The large pyramid was passing beneath them, Destiny coming to a stop above it.
“Establishing dimensional energy link,” announced Tirion. Beneath Destiny a beam of light sprung from the capstone of the pyramid, supplying Destiny with the power she needed to begin molecular reconstruction.
“Repairs have begun, Lady Ninmah. Do you have further instructions or is there anything else you need at this time?”
Ashlyn could see that everyone was tired. They hadn’t slept in days. Though they had never complained, some had wounds that needed tending. Ashlyn rose. “Have the crew get some rest. Tomorrow will be a busy day.”
Solon’s gaze questioned her meaning.
“I need you to broadcast one more message to all the Lords. They must come to Eridu tomorrow at noon, alone. They are to arrive unarmed. Tell them that I personally guarantee their safety while in Eridu, be it friend or foe. Let them know, that regardless of where their allegiance falls at the conclusion of the meeting tomorrow, they will be allowed to leave.”
“Lady Ninmah, Enlil’s Lords will not come,” said Solon.
“They have the right to make that choice, but make it clear to them, that they will come or they will die. All Lords that do not appear before me tomorrow—will die before the sun sets.”
Ashlyn turned and took the sheath from Tara. Sliding the sword into it, she headed for her stateroom.
She was the sword, and she was wielding it with a heavy hand.
The eyes of the crew were upon her as she exited. To himself, Solon gave a small grin. To the crew around him he said, “She is the leader we have needed.”