Revelation (Demons Of The Past 01) – Chapter 22
He wandered the halls of the Mel’Tasne estate, not quite sure where he was going. Treyuusei was off at the Dellitamas, since their vacation had been put on indefinite hold — the only thing I really hold against Sash, but it was hardly his fault — and now Varan himself was no longer available. Wonder what the hell they’ve been doing to him. He was so secretive, it was like they’d put a vacuum-seal on his mouth. That worried Taelin; it wasn’t so much the secrecy, which Sasham had basically said was required; it was the worry that Sash couldn’t really hide. There was something really dangerous or frightening involved and that wasn’t usually the kind of thing that affected Sash. Sasham Varan didn’t run from things that scared other people; he met them head on and broke them, even when it should be the other way around.
And if he didn’t, I’d be a dead man. Taelin shuddered, realizing one of the reasons he was awake: that scene was waiting behind sleep, waiting to spring out at him as though it was happening again. Rather than fight it, Taelin let the memory wash over him, hoping this would let the tension be released…
The tiny dome-tent, warm inside yet chill with the knowledge of the howling storm outside and above. Trying to rest, the keening wind a constant that might lull you to sleep elsewhere, but here keeping you on the edge of consciousness, as Taelin tried to prepare his mind for what he hoped would be the last day of Arctic Survival here on the ice plains of the northern reaches of Wyllas, one of the Guardsmen training worlds. Just a few more kilometers to make it back to base…
Then Varan’s shout in his ear, over the communicator link that they shared despite being perhaps half a kilometer apart. “Taelin! TAELIN! Wake up!”
The wind held a new note, a rising and falling shriek that was growing louder by the moment. His sleep-fogged brain trying to understand, and sudden panic burning the fog away. “That… that’s a windwailer!”
“It’s not from my comm! That’s yours, Taelin! Arm yourself and get out of –”
The shriek suddenly blotted out everything his friend was saying, and something out of nightmare rent the tough dome-tent as though it were paper, and in the fading last light of the illuminators he saw the bladed, grinding maw and screamed. Something struck him a double blow and he felt a stinging, felt the world start to fade around him.
Slow. Slow. Everything was slow. Light filtered in, a dim and chill light that seemed to draw the warmth from him. He tried to move, found his body was sluggish and almost incapable of movement… and it was held down, encased — now that he could force his eyes open — in what seemed to be layered ice. Then the full horror galvanized him, caused him to gasp within the mask that prevented the deadly cold of Wyllas from literally freezing his lungs.
A chittering shriek answered the gasp, and he saw, in the ice-tinted light, the huge jointed-legged windwailer turn slightly in his direction. This was its home, a shaped-ice palace many meters below the snow above, a lair to which it brought prey … and ate it alive. Taelin realized his communicator was dead, and fought against the rising terror, but he could see the scattered bones and exoskeletons of the thing’s prior victims.
It moved towards him now, mouthparts working, multiple gem-blue eyes still steaming in the cold; a part of Taelin’s mind, the rational part that was shrinking ever-smaller, remembered that the windwailer had a frighteningly efficient biological cooling system for its eyes, one that actually allowed it to chill the eyes drastically below even the temperatures found on Wyllas, making them almost as good at detecting heat and tracking prey from heat signatures as the best Imperial equipment.
And then the far wall exploded. Through the steam and broken ice, Sasham Varan stumbled, almost unable to stand after somehow tracking them through more than a kilometer of snow deep enough to swim in, Diorre Jearsen following him immediately behind.
The windwailer whirled on the intruders, screamed a challenge, and lunged. Exhausted as they were, Varan and Jearsen weren’t able to get a good shot before the monster barreled into them, smashing both into the wall like dolls. One of the main claws snatched up Varan, and the young Navy trainee struggled desperately against the windwailer as it tried to pull him into the grasping, crushing mouth. Jearsen had lost her sidearm and had no time to regain it; instead she leapt up and kicked one of the jointed legs hard, forcing the windwailer to half-drop Varan and kick out at the Guardsman novice, sending her spinning to the ground.
It readjusted its grip and tried to pull Varan in again, and Taelin saw Varan suddenly do something that looked insane: legs trembling, braced against either side of the windwailer’s carapace bracketing the hideous mouth, Varan stripped off his right glove, exposing a hand that Taelin could now see was broken badly, part of a bone projecting from the back of Varan’s hand… and then calmly, deliberately let the creature pull him down until he could suddenly jam that exposed hand into one of the windwailer’s blue-gem eyes.
The eye shattered on contact with something hundreds of degrees warmer than itself, and the monster dropped Varan, screaming in agony and fury. But before it could recover, Jearsen fired, joined by Varan, unleashing rannai-fire into the thing until it collapsed, a burning ruin.
Taelin found his heart pounding again on the recollection. Well, that didn’t work. I’m more awake now than ever. This wasn’t good; he had a race on for tomorrow, and then he was scheduled to preside at an administrative meeting for the Greater and Lesser Family heads; such meetings required someone from one of the Five to preside, and everyone else had ducked out this time; that kind of watchdogging was the least-favorite responsibility of the Five.
Taelin noticed a light from a side room — one of the second kitchens. What’s that doing on? Everyone’s asleep. As I really should be, but can’t.
Glancing in, he saw a familiar figure. “Lukhas?”
His brother raised an exhausted face. “Oh, hi, Taelin. What are you doing up, little brother?”
“Couldn’t sleep. Too many things bothering me. You finally home? You’ve been gone for days.”
“Busy.” Lukhas was eating leftover grittan roast from last night’s dinner. “Can’t sleep with Trey there?”
“She’s not here, unfortunately. Borell had just gotten back from Fanabulax and he got a call, had to go running out again. Some kind of disaster. So Trey got stuck running things, since Wannana’s also off to deal with some emergency on one of their other planets.”
“Heh.” His brother’s laugh was tired. “Lot of that going around. Half the monitor corps got dragged out of bed or wherever they were a day or three ago, sent out to a couple border problems. I had to send Intelligence agents on every ship with them. Don’t know exactly what it was all about yet, but initial reports for the first are a Ghek’nan outbreak.”
“Somewhere out towards Uralia. The rest of them might be headed for that planet Varan’s lizard-type friend is from. Right general sector.”
“Didn’t the Controller go along with your idea for an expedition after what you told her about the Monitor working with one of those things secretly?”
Lukh nodded, taking another bite. “Yeah, but the mission would barely have gotten there by now, even if they got all the breaks along the way. Whatever trouble there is started before that.” Taelin noticed dark circles under his brother’s eyes.
“Hey,” he said slowly, “you haven’t been sleeping at all, have you?”
“Noticed that, did you? Yeah, the Controller herself had to ship out to oversee some of the action. Wasn’t going to let the Monitors run the whole show.”
“Lukhas, it’s not going to do anyone any good for you to collapse. You’re not going back in until you get some rest.”
“You’re sounding like Dad used to. Sorry, kid, but I’ve got things that’ve got to get done –”
“Don’t make me wake up Mishel.”
“You wouldn’t dare.” A pause. “You would. Okay, I surrender. But only on the condition that you get to bed right now, too. You might just get a few hours of sleep before your race.”
“Okay.” He almost fell for that one. He stopped just before he left the doorway, then turned. “Oh, and Lukh — no going to bed and getting up after five minutes once you’re sure I’m asleep. You sinking well better be still sleeping when I leave.”
“You are getting just a little too smart for me these days. Okay, promise.”
“Good.” Taelin noticed, with some satisfaction, that he did feel tired. Doing something — even the small task of getting his overachieving brother to take the rest he needed — really helped.
Maybe he could sleep now.