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Key to Liberty

Shortly after the planet Charm was colonized 1,000 years ago, Earth finally suffered World War III. Almost everyone was destroyed and those remaining fell into a barbarian society when technology was lost. To prevent future wars, Earth's women took control and governed with a more sensible approach.

Over the next thousand years, Earth rebuilt itself to an advanced technological power again and now needed more resources for its continued existence and growth. To fulfill their needs, Earth's lost colonies must be found and brought back under control.

Now Earth has sent a ship with a planet-busting bomb to reclaim the colony Charm, and it appears that the only way Havoc and his planet can survive the invasion is if his children are sacrificed as hostages.

Book 4 of the ChroMagic series

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Piers Anthony

Twenty-one times New York Times Bestselling Author

Piers Anthony is one of the world's most prolific and popular authors. His fantasy Xanth novels have been read and loved by millions of readers around the world, and have been on the New York Times Best Seller list twenty-one times.

Although Piers is mostly known for fantasy and science fiction, he has written several novels in other genres as well, including historical fiction, martial arts, and horror. Piers lives with his wife in a secluded woods hidden deep in Central Florida.

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Excerpt

Chapter 1: Havoc

Havoc swept Gale half-clothed into his hot embrace. “Passion,” he said.

She smiled and kissed him. “Novelty,” she said with fond irony.

They laughed. It was the middle of the day, and they were preparing for a formal dinner. Havoc always desired her when he got her alone, especially when she was in partial dishabille, and she had gotten quite efficient at taking his edge off in seconds so as not to delay any formal function. Even after more than a decade and a half of marriage she loved his constant interest and enjoyed obliging it. But this time she paused. “What day is this?”

He checked her mind, but it was closed. He had to guess the occasion on his own. However, this time he was prepared. “The eighteenth anniversary of our marriage. You are exactly twice as old as you were then, but you look as young and lovely as ever.” That was true, as much for him as for her.

“Frustration! Ennui warned you.”

He nodded. “Affirmation. How else could I have remembered? She sets me up for every key event.”

“Agreement. Even this,” she said, frowning.

“Especially this.” His eager hands squeezed her breast and bottom simultaneously.

“Negation. For this occasion I want an hour, not a minute, and there’s not time now.”

“Minute now, hour later.”

“What do you think I am, the succubus? A minute’s not enough.”

“Swale is with you, isn’t she? She can do me in a minute.” Swale was the succubus Gale had tamed, a sexual demon. Havoc had come to really appreciate her talents, especially when it was Gale’s body she used.

“Not this day, wretch. She’s perfecting a new technique.”

“Question?”

“Normally she can take a man’s soul when he climaxes. She’s learning to reverse it, locking his soul irrevocably into his body.”

“What is the point? Isn’t that where he wants it?”

“Yes. She could do it to youths, protecting them from any subsequent succubi they might encounter. It might be useful. Mainly it’s a challenge for her to master. She likes sexual challenges.”

Havoc considered, intrigued. Adolescent boys still got taken on occasion by succubi; he had worried about their son Warp, who was rather too amorous with women. “I think I don’t want that for me. At times my soul needs to travel.”

Gale opened her mouth, but held her retort, for there was a knock on the door. “In, On,” Havoc said.

Ennui entered. “Voila is here. She says ‘Sire, I request a private audience.’”

“Mischief,” Gale murmured.

She was right. Voila normally just popped in without notice, even when they were making love. Sometimes she critiqued their sexual efforts, teasingly. Her normal phrasing was “Parents, got a minute?” In public she would say “Father, may we converse?” This super formality meant the matter was deadly serious.

“I’ll meet her at the illusion field,” he said. Ennui nodded, turned and left. Then, to Gale: “If I’m not back in time, use the mock. I don’t think we want anyone to know I’m gone.”

“And if you aren’t back thereafter?”

“Take him to bed, by all means.” It was only partial humor; she could and had taken the mock King Havoc to bed when necessary to conceal her husband’s absence, to the mock’s delight. She remained perhaps the planet’s most beautiful woman.

“Not this day, tempting as it may be.”

He smiled at the implication that she might prefer the mock, getting back at him for his mental “perhaps.” He kissed her, squeezed her bottom, waited a moment for his erection to subside, then popped out.

He arrived at the edge of the illusion field on Planet Counter Charm. He was in a comprehensive forest, standing before a shimmering veil.

Then Voila was there, fifteen and modest in appearance, a girl few would notice, by her own choice. She could be radiantly beautiful, or hideously ugly, but preferred what she termed “wallflower mode.” “Sire,” she said, and moved into his embrace. Her mind was closed.

“Daughter,” he said. Her extreme formality, even here, was ominous.

Then they held hands and stepped into the edge of the adjacent field.

The change was instant. They had been on a path in a forest; now they were in a burning desert. Voila looked like a standing six legged pig, and Havoc’s own arm resembled the limb of a similar animal. He spoke, but his voice was a guttural oink. She responded with a feminine squeal.

That was of course why they maintained hand contact. The illusions changed all senses but one, and that one had to be fought for. They focused, and in a moment recovered their voices as they walked slowly on through the desert.

“What is it, Voila?” he asked.

“Father, it’s here. The Second Crisis.”

He was amazed. “Why couldn’t it be something simple, like your falling in love with a married woman?”

The pig grimaced. “I would rather do that than this. This is the big one.”

Havoc quickly reviewed the situation. There were three major crises impending. The first had been the struggle between the Glamors and Mino, the alien machine. Voila had taken him on in a contest of future vision when she was only six months old, and defeated him, winning his loyalty to the folk of the two magic planets. The third crisis would be when the terrible devices of Mino’s home culture came to mine the planets, destroying them in the process. The second crisis was undefined. Until now.

“Speak,” he said seriously.

“Earth Planet is coming to recover her colony. Mino perceived their unit coming but could not clearly identify its nature, as it was both life and machine. He summoned me, and together we fathomed it: a space ship containing a crew of human beings. It possesses weapons of White Chroma we can’t safely balk. Mino could, but that would reveal his nature to the enemy. It is too early for that.”

“Science magic,” Havoc agreed. “But they shouldn’t work beyond their Chroma.”

“The ship carries its Chroma with it, and the weapons are large enough to do the same,” she said. “Mino understands this better than I do; it is the way he functions regardless of external Chroma. They have what he calls a bomb that can destroy our planet. We can’t stop them directly.”

“Which means we shall have to negotiate,” Havoc said.

“Mino says they will accept only our immediate subservience. They will depose you and put in a regent who answers directly to Earth. Charm will be a colony again.”

“Obscenity!”

The pig smiled. “Do I know that word, Father?”

“Naturally not, innocent child. Delete it from your tender memory. I am merely annoyed about being deposed.”

“But you didn’t even want to be king, Father,” she said teasingly.

“How do you know? As I recall, you weren’t there.”

“Ennui told me, of course.”

“That woman is a personal pain in the posterior.”

“And your oath friend. The one you trust before all others.”

“Who pretty well runs the kingdom, covering for my inattention.”

“Mom says that if it wasn’t for Ennui, you would have messed up much worse than you did, at the beginning.”

“Ennui and the Lady Aspect,” he agreed. “They took the barbarian in hand and made a king of me.”

“And Symbol. Without women you’d be nothing.”

“So you say. But you would; you’re one of them.”

“Oh Father, I love you.” There was a tear in the pig’s eye. “Hold me.”

He embraced her and held her close. He felt her shivering porcine body, and increasingly her mind, as her control loosened. She was truly awed and frightened. That was itself awing and frightening, because Voila was as potent and confident a person as existed, for excellent reason.

And she did have reason for her emotion, for with their mind linkage came more information on her role in the near future. She was the center of a horrendous nexus that put her situation in peril. Yet that was only an aspect of a much greater threat that concerned the entire Planet of Charm. As with the first crisis, everything oriented on her. It was an overwhelming responsibility she could not avoid.

“Who knows?” he asked grimly.

“Mino. Idyll. Me You.”

“Gale and Ennui must suspect.”

“They do.”

“I love you. I would take this from you if I could.”

“I know, Father. No one can take it from me.”

They separated and resumed progress through the illusion fields. The desert vanished, replaced by a heaving sea, and they were three-winged birds floating on it. Their plumage was light brown, matching their hair and eyes in normal life. Any stranger would know them for father and daughter, and they liked it that way.

“What do you, Mino, and Idyll fathom?”

“It’s vague as yet, but coming clearer. The odds are against us if we oppose Earth openly; they have the means to destroy Charm, if suitably aroused. The odds are for our survival if we capitulate at the outset.”

“Outrage!”

“The odds remain against us if we feign surrender and plot against them. They are experienced at dealing with unruly colonies.”

“The choice is between defeat and destruction?”

“There is an intermediate path. That is the one I bestride. Mino says it leads to mergence with Earth on acceptable terms. It leads to significant complications we can’t yet fathom, but is the one we must navigate.”

“Reluctance.”

“Inevitability.”

“Pain. We dare not risk you, beloved child.”

“The choices are risk or loss.”

He knew it. His own awareness of the near future was coming into play. It was not nearly as strong as hers, but was enough to satisfy him that she was correct.

They left the sea and were in an orchard with many fruiting trees. Here they were themselves; they had emerged from the illusion fields. They followed the path to a central glade. “Idyll,” Voila called.

A shimmer appeared in the air. “I respond, Voila, Havoc.” The words were ordinary sound, emanating from the shimmer.

“Glamor of the Ifrits, we need you,” Havoc said.

“As we need you,” Idyll agreed. “The risk is to Counter-Charm too, and not subject to nullification in the prior manner.”

“Voila is at the center of the intermediate path. Who else is there?”

“All your children, Havoc. They are central; others are peripheral.”

This was even worse than he had thought. “All? Warp, Weft, Flame? Gale will freak.”

“But she will recover,” Voila said.

“They should be here,” Idyll said.

“Summon them,” Havoc agreed with resignation. “And Gale.”

A handsome black-haired black-eyed youth appeared. “Hi, Pa. Hi, brat. What’s happening here?”

“We are at the second crisis, Warp,” Havoc said. “The four of you are central.”

Warp sat down suddenly on air, as if using an invisible chair. “Just like that? What is it?”

“Earth is coming to reclaim her colony.”

“And we can’t fight,” Warp said, picking it up from their minds. “So we have to finesse.”

A healthy slender red-haired young woman appeared, wearing the garb of the Amazons. “I was practicing,” Flame said. “Couldn’t wait to change. What’s so urgent?”

“Read my mind, hot stuff,” Warp said.

Flame did. “Hooo!” she said, blowing out a burning breath. “We’re in for a fight.”

A striking blonde appeared. That was Weft, who had in the past two years filled out into a startlingly shapely woman, and who made the most of it. She spied the four instantly, and oriented on Havoc. “Tell me, dad.”

Havoc smiled as he opened his mind to her. “You know I’d marry you if I weren’t your father.”

“That’s no necessary barrier,” Weft said. “Just divorce mom and I’m yours.”

Warp and Voila put up with the familiar by-play. Weft had always had a thing for Havoc, and the flowering of her femininity had only intensified it. The fact was that they were genetically unrelated, she having been adopted, so it was biologically permissible. They all knew it would never happen, which was why they felt free to banter. Within a year Weft would marry elsewhere, reluctantly; that might make it fade.

“Now if you’re quite done, Electra,” Flame said, “We have serious business.”

Weft had read it in Havoc’s mind. “Do we ever, hothead! The Second Crisis!”

“It seems that the four of us must go to Earth,” Voila said.

Gale appeared. “I had to roust out my mock on practically no notice,” she said, exasperated. “What is so expletive important as to require this meeting?”

“Mother, it’s the Second Crisis,” Voila said. “We’re in the center.”

Gale paused, assimilating that. “I would rather we had all lost our ikons.”

“Close, Ma,” Warp said. “We’ll have to take the ikons along.”

“To a White Chroma planet? Disaster.”

“We believe that no planet is pure single-Chroma,” Idyll said from her shimmer. “Mino reports that the machine culture explored thousands, and found none that were, up to the time of his own assignment here. There must be other Chroma and nonChroma on Earth. They will have to find them.”

This was new to Havoc. “Why?”

“Earth possesses weapons of Science magic we can’t oppose without rousing dangerous suspicion. Our own White Chroma efforts fall way short. We can try to nullify the weapons of the warship coming here, but this will have to be a matter of corrupting the human personnel rather than magic. When that occurs, Earth will simply send another ship, perhaps a robot that can not be corrupted. We have to nullify Earth itself, and we believe that can best be accomplished by converting it to a full Chroma planet. If Earth becomes like us, it should be less interested in destroying us for our independence.”

“This is feasible?”

“We ifrits have labored for millennia on the problem of converting Chroma, as it is vital to our nature. We believe we have distilled the Chroma essence that will shift one Chroma to another, in a matter of a few months after seeding. Earth’s volcanoes are said to be all White Chroma. They should be convertible. The problem is getting people there to do it.”

“But why our children?” he demanded.

“Only Glamors can accomplish it, and we think we can get these particular ones to Earth.”

“How.”

“By allowing the Earthers to take them hostage against your acquiescence to Earth’s dominance of your planet.”

There it was. Naturally the children of the king would make the king heed, when other hostages would not.

“This seems extremely risky,” Gale said. “I don’t want my children sent into this hazard.”

“Nor do I,” Havoc said. “Do we have a choice?”

“You can arrange one,” Idyll said. “Query your people. Maybe they would prefer to submit.”

Havoc came to a sudden decision. “I shall.”

“I’ll help, dad,” Weft said, taking his arm. She pretended not to notice Gale’s roll of the eyes, while Warp and Flame laughed.

“Pause,” Idyll said.

“Question?”

“The incipience of your decision brings new paths into view. There is great promise and great danger.”

“Familiarity,” Havoc said. “This is why I seek an alternate avenue.”

“Beyond what we have discussed. This is the intermediate future. You face the prospect of great new love and loss.”

That set him back. The ifrit Glamor’s specialty was the intermediate future, which was why she worked closely with Voila (near future) and Mino (far future). The three constituted the most important aspect of planetary policy. “I personally?”

“New love?” Gale echoed, while Weft looked perplexed and not particularly pleased.

“On Earth,” Idyll said. “Second only to yours for Gale, Havoc. And the planet in peril.”

“Which planet?” Havoc asked sharply.

“Earth.”

“Why should that concern me? We oppose Earth.”

“Because you will come to love Earth.”

Havoc was appalled. “Earth will be my new love? Treason!”

“Negation. But your new love is bound to Earth, and you must save her. The future of our worlds depends on it.”

This was both exciting and disturbing. “Fathom further this intermediate future, Idyll. I will put it out of my attention for the moment, so as to focus on immediacies.” Because he was genuinely shaken, and knew he would foul up if he allowed this nebulous love/threat to distract him.

“Agreement.”

“Meanwhile we will continue to read the near future, trying to fathom the motives of the Earthers, and plan for the trip to Earth,” Voila said.

Weft squeezed his arm possessively. They jumped together back to Triumph City. Somehow she managed to sneak another kiss in transit. He liked that better than he found it expedient to let her know, but of course the naughty vixen did know. She would have made a fine mistress, were she not his daughter.

And naturally she caught that thought. “I’d make a fine mistress regardless, Dad. Let me prove it.”

“Negation,” he said with insufficient force.