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Demons Of The Past 03 – Retribution – Chapter 01

Demons of the Past: Retribution


Ryk E. Spoor

Section One: The Shadowed Hand

Chapter 1


I stumbled forward through the door, still somehow clinging to Tor‘s Mind Center like a man maintaining a precarious grip on the edge of a precipice. I turned, seeing the portal slide shut slowly, locking shut with a ringing clang of finality.

It was a measure of how much was still wrong with me that I found being locked in my prison cell a relief. At least this way I did not have to face the Zchorada.

It’s been years. Are you so weak, so incapable, that you can’t —

I cut that thought off as best I could, though the feeling of failure remained. I knew perfectly well that phobias don’t go away by themselves, and that the events of the past few years had pretty much minimized any chance of my getting therapy. The initial therapy work had done enough to make it possible for me to control the reaction, but the rest had been cut off when Taelin came and dragged me back to Oro for Prime Monitor Shagrath’s secret project.

I suppose I could have arranged for something during the year I commanded Teraikon, but Vick and I had our reasons for minimizing anyone’s chances for noticing anything unusual about my psychology . . . and fortunately there had been only one Chakron in the crew. Or maybe it wasn’t fortune; if Shagrath had selected me to be captain, he knew my limitations and could have catered to them, to keep me controlled. Knowing that I had a weakness would be useful to him.

Teraikon . . . I wondered if the Eönwyl had managed to receive that idea I sent her. I was pretty sure the mindscreens — which still pressed in like sand-weighted blankets on my consciousness — had disrupted the details. But hopefully she got enough.

Relax, I told myself, though part of me wanted to start giggling at that, and I knew if that happened I might never stop. Relax. In the middle of the most secure prison in the capital warren of the Zchoradan Meld?

I have to find some way. And I have to trust the Eönwyl. I’d seen her face; it had pained her terribly, but that instinct, that psionic ability to sense, somehow, the future consequences of actions, told her that leaving me here was the right choice to achieve our goals. Trust that. It’s saved her, and saved us, more than once.

I forced my head up, looked around. It wasn’t a single-room prison cell; the rooms were wide and low, though not too low for me. I was standing in what amounted to a receiving room, a place where I could read, move around, and so on but where people . . . Zchorada. . . would be able to enter via the door. Just the thought was enough to make me think about moving immediately to one of the two other rooms I could see, but my basic stubbornness kept me still, just looking. One room was clearly a bedroom, with an Imperial-style bed somewhat incongruously located against a wall that was obviously carved by Zchoradan architects. I could see the edge of a table and a chest of drawers as well — not that I have anything to put in them, I mused.

The other room was a bathing room, and that was tempting. My clothes clung to me with the bitter smell of my terrified sweat from the past hour or so, and I could most certainly use a shower to both clean me off and calm me down, help me to relax some of the tension.

The problem was going to be clothing. I had to assume my jailers would arrange something; they were neither stupid nor, if they were giving me what amounted to luxury quarters for a prisoner, planning on making my life particularly miserable. That made sense, anyway; while one faction might be willing to bargain with the Reborn Empire using me as the prize, the Vmee Zschorhaza had made it clear they intended to give my friends enough time, and if we did prove our case, the Zchorada had absolutely nothing to gain by mistreating me.

I emphasized that in my head, trying to hammer that in with Tor discipline. They have no reason at all to mistreat me. I am in no danger here. In some ways, I’m safer here than almost anywhere.

I did manage a chuckle as the truth of that struck home. I was safer here than almost anywhere, other than on faraway Earth in the temple of the Lady, or on board The Eönwyl with my friends. I sincerely doubted the Kaital would find this place, filled with psi-trained Zchorada and secure thought screens, at all an attractive target until they’d really secured all the others. The bodiless psionic parasites probably could find a way to infiltrate this place, but I was pretty sure they hadn’t.


The receiving room had a small kitchen-like area, though some of the designs were more appropriate for Zchorada than humans. What was important right now was that there was a water dispenser and cups. I filled and drained one in a single long pull, realizing just how dehydrated I must be, filling another and drinking it nearly as fast before taking a third to sip at more slowly.

The door opened, and despite my attempt at control I jumped, shrinking away and spilling half the water down my shirt front.

I couldn’t tell if the glittering, faceted eyes above the ripping mandibles held an expression of curiosity, contempt, or pity; the surprise entrance triggered my phobia and colored everything with the dark shade of fear.

“From your vessel,” the Zchoradan guard buzzed. “Cleared for your use now. Other materials may follow.”

He set down a moderately large bundle and withdrew; I could see as he did so that two other Zchorada, armed with rannai rifles, had been covering him on his entrance. They were taking no chances on my escaping. The psi-screens on this cell were double-strength, probably two superimposed field generators combined, and I wouldn’t be entirely surprised, given my exaggerated reputation, if there turned out to be one or two additional layers available in case I went berserk.

I didn’t like the thought of going berserk, especially since it was a lot more likely than I wanted to admit, here on a world filled with centipedal monsters whose simple presence filled me with terror. I muttered something under my breath and moved forward.

The bundle was held together with one of my sleeping robes, a large comfortable expanse of dark cloth. Inside . . .

I felt a tiny lift of my heart. My uniforms. I might be, officially, no longer part of the Mada, the Navy. . . but in my heart I was still Captain Sasham Varan, Imperial Navy, and always would be, and the Eönwyl knew it. There were more clothes — she’d been efficient about grabbing the right things, too. But in the middle was something harder . . .

Three things suddenly tumbled to the floor, one bouncing away with a rattling roll, the other two flopping immediately to a halt, and my spirits lifted a tiny bit farther. The Book of the Fall and my Tor soul-journal, the notes of training and meditation that had been taught to me by my masters; each disciple of Tor had to write his book from the beginning and continue it to the end, and mine was thick and stained and weather-beaten. . . and still had many pages left to fill. I picked both books up and clasped them tightly, then looked at the other object.

And all other things were suddenly less important, because there was the face I had come to care for more than anything else in the world. Sharp-edged, narrow, high-cheekboned, with brilliant blue eyes and hair like a sunburst, The Eönwyl smiled at me from the imagecube she had sent. I reached out and gently picked the cube up, turned it slowly, seeing my old love Diorre Jearsen, Taelin Mel’Tasne, and then The Eönwyl again, and slowly straightened up.

The terror was still there, waiting for me. It probably always would be, and I had no idea how I could survive the next few months.

But now I knew, somehow, that I would survive.