Demons Of The Past 02: Revolution – Chapter 12
It all makes sense now, she thought, trying to adjust her view of the world. All the oddities about these people. They are no more primitive than we are.
Vick exhaled, a long, low hiss that conveyed his surprise as strongly as his thought voice. A mighty weapon hidden in this sheath of night, indeed. But one city, howsoever grand â€“ unless it be a true city of Those Who Went Before, with all their powers and mysteries intact â€“ one city is little enough before the threat we face.
“By itself, yes. But still we have, in some ways, the high ground. Thovia lies far indeed from Varan’s Empire, and no matter what suspicions the Prime Monitor, or the Empire itself, may have now or gain later, to mount a true expedition here would be no small undertaking.” They were now descending to the street level of that underground city. “The Empire, especially if the situation is as we guess, can ill-afford such adventures at this point.”
The EÃ¶nwyl had a vague idea of what she meant, but Varan asked, “What do you mean by that? The situation, that is?”
“She means,” Guvthor said, stepping out first and then bowing to let the rest pass, “that history gives us a mirror to hold up to what we have learned of your Empire, of Shagrath, and of the events thus far, and what that mirror reflects shows a dark course ahead for the Galaxy, or at least that part of the Galaxy in which we exist.”
The streets were filled with Thovians â€“ more on this single long street were visible than had been in the village where the Empire had held its embassy â€“ and these Thovians made no pretense to the primitive. They moved purposefully, respectfully, driving vehicles, walking, talking in the deep, rhythmic rumbling Thovian language, all of them giving the Thov Hok Shu quick gestures â€“ a hand gesture something like a check-mark, down and then high â€“ which were clearly meant as salutes of respect. Something about that is familiarâ€¦
Varan seemed to have been thinking along the same lines, because he suddenly nodded. “Ahh! Pardon me, I just realized something I should have guessed all along. This isn’t really a city; this is a military base. This is like Silan-Luria. Everyone here’s a soldier.”
“Well enough said, Sasham Varan,” Boduras said in his deep bass. “In truth, all of Thovia thinks of itself as a fortress and a vault. We are, in a very real way, the keepers of time, the memory of the past and the readers of the future, the sentries who stand watch against the coming of hatred and collapse and loss. Daramanda’s teachings have been built upon in these many centuries, and we have reconciled sanity with the cycle; our “collapses” do not lead to panic, do not cause death and destruction in the way that would be expected â€“ although an outsider who was not immediately present would believe otherwise, and would still find burned cities and what seemed reverted primitives on this world. But we retain our knowledge, prevent plagues and mitigate drought, reduce disaster and improve the lives of each new cycle in its own way.”
“You see our salute,” Hargan continued, giving the gesture herself. “This is a reflection of our beliefs and of the final form of Daramanda’s faith. We fall that we might rise higher, and each fall shall not descend as low as the last.”
The EÃ¶nwyl nodded and suddenly laughed as a thought occurred to her.
“Something amuses you, trader?” Hargan asked, with a smile of her own.
“It is suddenly clear to me why Guvthor was so certain I would find premium prices for my cargo here. You have undoubtedly mined out any shanellite or equivalent in your own system millennia ago. At the top of each cycle you probably try to lay in a stock, but â€¦ you’re near the end of a cycle, aren’t you?”
“Or, one might say, the beginning. The Ascent has begun, and given what we have learnedâ€¦ it may â€“ no, I believe, must â€“ accelerate drastically. You have shanellite?” Hargan’s tone shifted to one strongly touched with eagerness.
She looked at Guvthor. “You seem to have planned well.”
The huge Thovian burst into laughter that echoed off the distant cavern walls. “Would that my planning be that deep! She had already acquired such a cargo; I merely assured her that it would find a market.”
“Then I compliment your fortune.”
“Guvthor.” Varan’s tone brought them all up short, for it was suddenly cold. “After everything we’ve learned, it’s now obvious how you could be able to trigger a landslide so precisely. But I need answers as to why. They had no ship present. As we know now, they didn’t even know about me yet. We could have found out if any of them had a secret agenda without killing the entire group!”
Guvthor and the rest of the Thov Hok Shu turned to face Varan. Instead of Guvthor, it was Hargan who spoke, gesturing the scientist to silence. “After hearing your stories and deliberating on them, the Thov Hok Shu has agreed that Guvthor Hok Guvthor acted correctly; it thus falls to myself as their leader to answer you.
“It is indeed true that no general word of your actions had reached Thovia. However, that was not a concern. As you now understand, such a small force posed no threat whatsoever to our people, even supplied with the powered armor and weapons that such an outpost is expected to have.
“But the events upon Meletta â€“ where you were pursued and nearly captured by these beings that you know only by their mental touch â€“ made it clear that Shagrath’s reach is far greater, and far faster, than any ordinary communications could provide. We must assume that the number of these beings is severely limited, else there would be no significant individuals in the Empire who remained themselves. Thus the probability that he would just happen to have some of these creatures present and in positions to intercept you is vanishingly small. No, he had deliberately dispersed a huge number â€“ perhaps his entire force of these creatures â€“ across the Empire to strategic locations where you might be expected to seek assistance or to barter away what possessions you had.”
Varan was nodding unwillingly, and she suddenly saw it too. “And because we had Doctor Guvthor with us,” the EÃ¶nwyl said, “it would make sense that he would send such a representative to Thovia, or even more than one if he’s nervous about your people.”
“Precisely,” Guvthor confirmed cheerfully. “Now, when we did manage to kill one of those beings, it seemed much weaker, perhaps unable to live outside of its host. Thus it seemed to me only prudent to remove the potential for such trouble. Sasham Varan had enough difficulty fighting one before, when it had no idea what it was dealing with and had at least some reason to restrain some of its actions. Here on Thovia neither limit applies.”
Varan sighed and began walking again. “And we couldn’t know if it was one, or two, or even half a dozen of these things. But it would have to be in the military detachment. So you decided that wiping out the military would be the best choice, so you arranged the avalanche to do exactly that.”
The group was now entering a huge columnar building that reminded The EÃ¶nwyl strongly â€“ and quite deliberately, she suspected â€“ of one of the great trees outside, with bronze and ebony colored walls highlighted with golden windows at intervals up the kilometer-high structure.
It was exactly the right thing to do, and the fact is that the Thovian showed too much mercy in allowing any of them to live. Yes, the military was the logical place for such beings, but there could have been some hidden in the civilians as well. A wiser course would have been to destroy them all without warning.
“Then I’d rather have less wisdom,” Varan said, as she knew he would. “Thank you, Guvthor, for giving at least some of them a chance.”
“Always would we prefer mercy,” Hargan said, as Guvthor bowed his acknowledgement, “even if it brings us some risk, else we risk much worse: becoming as cruel as those we fear. It is this that has made us wary of your people, R’Thann.”
Vick hiss-laughed and rattled his crest. And your mysteries have made us wary of you. How fine it is to see that our wariness has been more than justified!
“This is related to your ‘Testing’, isn’t it?” she asked.
Exactly. We are the Testers and the Tested, and to find new challenges, new Tests laid before us, this is our quest. Ahh, if only I were given such a chance as lies before me; yet I cannot â€“ yet â€“ test these great game-players, for I must first become a Master of the Light, and only my people can grant that title.
“It is our hope you shall have that title soon, Doctor Sooovickalassa,” Hargan said; at the same time, the rest of the Thov Hok Shu stopped and bowed. The EÃ¶nwyl realized they now stood before a set of doors built for human-height beings.
Indeed? You wish, then, to be Tested by one of the People, the R’Thann?
“Not precisely,” she said with a rumbling chuckle that was echoed around the ring of immense fur-covered Thovians. “Though we will not shrink from such a ‘Test’, if it comes to us one day. No, we hope that because we believe that once we have told you what we can â€“ in the next few days â€“ you must go next to Thann’ta itself. Your people are wise and powerful in the ways of the mind; if any world can tell us what we face, what manner of being these screaming-mindvoices are, it would be Thann’ta, yes?”
Vick drew himself up proudly. The Masters of the Final Light will know, yes, and perhaps will even recognize that dark-seething hatred mind which Varan saw within Shagrath. And you speak wisely again. He turned and gave a deep knee-bending bow to Guvthor. You were correct to argue that we should come here first. With this knowledge, we know much to ask the Masters, and much to use to argue an alliance of claws between us.
“We are pleased to hear this,” Chondu said with a quick smile. “Alliances are needed now; your tests of claw and mind will be for later, once this enemy is dealt with.”
Varan gestured at the doors. “And this isâ€¦?”
“Quarters suited for those of your stature, Sasham Varan. Thalam Hok Shuvan has hosted many over the thousands of years it has stood, and we are well aware how difficult you smaller species find it to deal with properly-sized living quarters.” Boduras’ grin and wink took the edge from the words. “It has indeed been a long day for us all, and we invite you to rest and relax. In the next few days, we shall give you what information we can, and then you must prepare for departure. Many questions remain unanswered, and time passes, and neither can long be tolerated.”
“You’re right,” Varan said emphatically. Then he grinned back. “On both counts. I can really do with some R&R.”
The EÃ¶nwyl became aware of the ache in her legs, arms, indeed, her whole body. They had spent the entire day following the Thovians through the great forests and then through thickets, up and down slopes, and while she was used to exercise and stayed in shape, she realized that she â€“ and, she suspected, Varan â€“ had become unused to that kind of effort over that length of time. “I’m with you there,” she said as the normal-sized doors opened.
Varan bowed to Hargan. “Then we’ll speak again soon.” He looked over to Guvthor. “I suppose you’ll be staying with them?”
“I still have much to tell them. It has been years since I stood on my home soil, Sasham. But I will not be far away, and â€“ I assure you! â€“ we shall travel together again. This was my assignment, and now,” he touched his axe-haft and grinned ferociously at the rest of the Thov Hok Shu, “and now, by the First Tree, I will happily challenge any of you to deny that I should continue! I shall see your story to the end, Sasham Varan.”
Varan bowed deeply and gave the Thovian scientist a formal Six-And-One. “I am grateful.”
She found herself smiling. She realized that she, too, was grateful that they would still have Guvthor Hok Guvthor with them â€“ especially if they were to travel to Vick’s homeworld. Howeverâ€¦ “Don’t forget that we have some bargaining to do.”
Boduras chortled. “A trader indeed!”
She grinned back and remembered the Thovian’s formal introductions. “The EÃ¶nwyl, savant of buying low and selling high,” she said with an ironic bow.
Hargan could not repress what sounded like a delighted laugh at the EÃ¶nwyl’s domain of expertise, a laugh that Guvthor and the other Thovians joined. “A challenging field indeed, EÃ¶nwyl, one few of us would assay to match you in, I think. Rest assured, we shall not forget. As you have already guessed, shanellite is most in demand here to maintain our power supplies, and we shall, I am afraid, have vastly greater need of it in the future.”
The EÃ¶nwyl gave a more formal bow. “Then I look forward to it.”
She entered their temporary quarters with a sense of slowly-dawning relief. It has been a long several months of running and fearing what we would find. Maybe â€¦ just maybeâ€¦ things are turning around.
But even as she thought that, her gut knotted. No. We’ve come so farâ€¦ but something much worse is coming.