Demons Of The Past 03 – Retribution – Chapter 04

Chapter 4


I concentrated, mind in High Center, focused on the stylus I used for my journal. Calm and focused. Strength through will, order of thought from the chaos of fear. There is nothing to fear here and now. There is only the moment and the will.

The stylus trembled, and then — slowly, slowly — rose, first one end, then the other, as though being picked up by invisible fingers. It was hard — Torline’s Name, it was hard! — but the writing implement now floated in the air, held purely by the focus of my psionic power, even here in a double-strength psi shield.

I had no idea how long I was going to be held here — and even the thought of here made the stylus tremble with the denied awareness of what lay just outside of my room. If the Eönwyl had managed to catch the thought I’d sent her, even just the hint of Teraikon, I was sure that together Guvthor and Sooovickalassa would come to the right conclusion eventually: Hmmmseeth’s research, whose model had consistently been failing to produce the results that reality showed, and who had been suddenly struck by a huge insight when I mentioned, casually, that there must be another factor not accounted for.

I’d been right; I just hadn’t realized what it meant at the time. Shagrath’s activities throughout ancient history would have affected all civilizations in the region, at least, and any model — however detailed and careful — that didn’t take into account that master manipulator would fail.

In any event, assuming they made that connection, they’d have to find Hmmmseeth and convince the Mydrwyll to risk its life by coming with them to testify before the Vmee Zschorhaza. I had no idea where Hmmmseeth was; he could be all the way across the Reborn Empire, or even past the borders at Mydrwyll itself. Even at the speed of The Eönwyl, that meant . . . months, at least.

I grimaced, almost losing control of the little object. It would be painfully ironic if Shagrath made his final move and the unstoppable war erupted across the galaxy just now, when we’d finally figured out a way to prove he existed.

In any event . . . I was stuck here for a long time, and to keep myself sane and in decent shape, there were only two things I could do: Tor and psionics, and attempt to learn — really learn — how to blend them. Raiakafan and Khoros had both told me that it was possible, and in fact necessary if I was going to have the slightest chance against Shagrath.

Moving a stylus didn’t seem like much, but under a double-strength field it was a major accomplishment. The average citizen believed that even a single psi-screen was enough to shut down any psi, and for peace of mind that was probably a good thing to believe. But I knew from my training with Shagrath that it wasn’t true.

If Shagrath’s more powerful than me — and they’re all sure of that — then my only chance is to try to make use of my powers better than he does. Skill and precision — and Tor — against power.

Of course, Shagrath was also incredibly ancient and probably had ridiculous amounts of skill. But if he was used to being overwhelmingly powerful, he might not use that skill all the time. Maybe.

It wasn’t much of a chance to hang hope on, but it was a chance. I focused again, imagining that I was gripping the stylus in my fingers, and began — with slow, painstaking, and terribly sloppy strokes — to write in the journal the exact task I had set myself.

The door to the hallway buzzed, sending a spurt of unwanted fear through me; the stylus clattered to the floor and I stood up clumsily, fighting the impulse to move back against the wall, or drop into a Tor combat stance.

A few moments after the buzz, the doorway slid open; one of the guards, with three darker patches on his exoskeleton that I’d noticed before, surveyed the room with his weapon trained on me before lowering it slightly and allowing a somewhat smaller Zchorada to enter. This one had the polished-enamel rank markings of what they called a Grasper of Sealed Holes — basically the highest rank of prison administration. Noting the structures on the last and next to last segments, I knew this was a female.

I stood very still. Not only did this help me focus on controlling my incipient panic, but also was the best way to not get shot in prison.

The Grasper slowly walked in, then clicked her mandibles twice; instantly the guard holstered his weapon and backed up until he was just outside the door. She turned her glittering, faceted gaze to me, and I struggled to see it as at least a neutral regard, not an evil glare of something deciding when to consume me.

“Captain Sasham Varan,” she said after a moment, in the buzzing tone that sent shivers of gooseflesh through me, “You are a prisoner of considerable importance. In honesty, the most important single prisoner in the custody of the Vmee Zschorhaza.”

I said nothing; this was a statement and thus far she’d asked nothing.

“In view of your unusual case, we are inclined to permit you . . . some latitude in privileges. You have been a very cooperative prisoner in the weeks since you were first imprisoned, and we are aware of the . . . psychological incapacity you suffer from.”

“I appreciate your consideration, Grasper,” I said. I was surprised to hear no tremor in my voice, because I certainly felt like I was shaking. “I do not ask for any additional privileges, but I will gladly accept anything you feel appropriate.”

“There is a matter I must address first. The psi-screens have shown significant pressure from you today, and twice yesterday. Explain why you are doing this.”

Of course they would be able to detect the stress on the psi-screens. “I am relatively new to the use of these abilities. I do not see any reason I should neglect their use, any more than I intend to neglect my physical skill and fitness while imprisoned. Is this forbidden?”

Again the unreadable tilt of the head. “In the ordinary run of prisoner, no. Physical and mental exercise is an expected part of any prisoner’s routine, and assists in maintaining health. While we are unaccustomed to humans having such powers, your intent is certainly reasonable. You appear to have considerable strength, however. If you push against the screens too much, we may reinforce them.”

“I have no objection. Reinforce the psi-screens as much as you feel necessary.” It wasn’t as though I was going to do a break-out and escape even with a ‘mere’ two screens around me. I was on their homeworld in the middle of their largest and most powerful base, and there was no Sooovickalassa to help me escape this time.

“Good. You seem a reasonable being. As such, I will permit you another privilege. If you abuse this privilege, of course, I will revoke all privileges.”

As I wondered what she meant, she gestured and another guard, this one with a sort of zig-zag scar on its chitin, entered, carrying . . .

I found my mouth open as I stared in disbelief. My vya-shadu. The traditional swords of a Tor master . . . but in this case something so much more. These were the weapons that V’ierna Dhomienka, the Sh’ekatha of Eonae, had given me, the swords he had been given by the hand of Torline himself. The guard laid the scabbards on the floor and backed out; the Grasper also backed up, but did not leave yet.

“You . . . you will trust me with these weapons?”

“They are the other items given into our trust by your lifemate, the Eönwyl. While arming prisoners is generally considered the height of idiocy, we know that you are, in a sense, a voluntary prisoner. You may not have intended this situation, but you did come here of your own will. And,” for a fleeting instant I saw a glint that did not seem threatening, but hinted at a lighter emotion, “no matter how skilled you may be, I doubt that a single human armed with two swords will be a threat to my base, or even a few guards. Do I have your word that you will use these only for your practice and other rituals, not against my people?”

“Absolutely,” I said fervently. “Grasper, you have no idea what these blades mean to me, but I assure you, I will not dishonor them or you by any misuse. I thank you with as much sincerity as you can imagine.”

A sound I recognized as a chuckle. “You may underestimate the span of my imagination. Your gratitude is noted, however, as is your promise. Continue this behavior and we will have no problems.”

She click-clacked a farewell with her mandibles, then exited. The door slid shut and locked behind her.

I caught up the swords and found myself simply embracing them. It must have looked odd, to anyone watching, but to touch them again — to feel the unique, tingling presence that was a part of them — was to assure myself that everything I remembered had indeed happened, that we had found the homeworld itself and met with people out of legend — with a man who had walked the streets of Atlantaea himself, who assured me that the legends were real.

They were touchstones of sanity and strength, and with their very presence I was stronger. I was more myself. And with that, I could finally contemplate the future. I knew what I had to do when — when, not if — my friends came back. Our journey had given me the key I needed to just possibly deal with Shagrath in the way we had to — a way that revealed to the Empire just what sort of a monster he was.

And here, in the most secure prison outside the Empire, I had a chance to practice and prepare for that single throw of the dice.