This book will be posted M-W-F until Ryk says otherwise. This Chapter was posted yesterday on Ryk’s site and Chapter 02 will be posted Late Thursday/Early Friday.
Demons Of The Past 02: Revolution – Chapter 01
Demons Of The Past 02: Revolution
By Ryk E. Spoor
Section One: The Demon-Haunted Stars
He slammed his travel case down on the table. “It’s too sinking late to argue it, Trey! We arranged that meeting of the Greater Families a year ago in Osea, and that’s not getting changed, and you’re up for running it!”
“That much I’m not arguing.” He winced at his wife’s voice, once constantly warm and supportive, now cold, with more than a hint of contempt. “But there’s no reason for you to come along. I can take the Valabacal myself.”
He yanked up the case again and started striding for the launch area. “You’re welcome to your meeting, I’m not coming along for that. I–”
“Of course you aren’t!” she flared, walking with tight, controlled steps that seemed filled with anger. “You’ve been avoiding every single Family responsibility you could for months! You’re coming to Osea because of that killuk race –”
“–The Osean Seven Stars is not just a race any more than a warship is a lifeboat, and you know –”
“Oh, please, please, be quiet, Taelin!” Her voice was near to tears and Taelin was taken aback. He could also see, out of the corner of his eye, some of the staff staring at them. Whispering. “I don’t know why, but you’ve given up, as though what happened with Sash –”
“Don’t you even dare say that name!”
She cut off, swallowed, looked away. “I… Fine, Taelin. We don’t have any more time to waste on this. And there’s more than one cabin on Valabacal, anyway. But I just don’t know who you are, anymore. They’re talking kattasi and you don’t even seem to care!”
He said nothing to that; she’d take it as either assent or simply ignoring her. Valabacal lay ahead like a gold and silver dagger whose guard was two sharp arrowheads with mighty engines embedded within, a shape that seemed to be in flight even now, sitting on the ground with two pearl-gray ramps reaching down from the sides. But now that beauty that usually lifted his heart seemed hidden behind a grim veil.
She took the right-hand ramp with a glance that told him he had best not even use the same entrance to the yacht as she did.
He gave a theatrical and insulting gesture that went all the way back to the pre-Imperial days and finally responded to her last sally. “Why should I care? That’ll keep me out of all that waste of time, eh?” he shouted after her, then laughed, and skipped his way lightly up the ramp, aware that his parting shot must have been overheard.
He dropped the case to the deck without even bothering to bring it to his cabin, feeling the weight of gloom settling on him like a dark and freezing night. Kattasi; complete Family disgrace. They’ll be forced to kick me out, take my name off the rolls of the Five. If it’s bad enough, I may even be listed to a Lesser family. I won’t go farther down than that… probably… because of prior service. But I’ll be out of Councils, forbidden speaking privileges… my codes revoked.
Taelin threw himself into the pilot’s chair and sat immobile for a minute, gathering his will. I knew this would be bad. But knowing it… and living through it… that’s something really different. He took a deep breath, brushed his long golden hair out of the way, and put the carefree expression back on his face as he opened the channel. “This is Valabacal, Mel’Tasne estate, requesting clearance and departure vector.”
Even Oro Control’s response sounded chillier than usual. “Destination, Valabacal?”
“Osea system, for a Greater Families annual meeting.” While he was going for the races, even his self-centered new persona wouldn’t rub that in the faces of outsiders, especially when there was a perfectly legitimate and vastly more respectable reason the ship was departing.
The chilliness seemed to have faded with such a clear and official reason. “Valabacal, you have clear sky on Vector 15-30 with a wide margin. Seven Standing.”
“Standing and Unfallen, Control.” He touched the controls and sent the yacht climbing along the precise indicated vector. “Valabacal, enroute.”
And probably my last trip as a member of the Five Families… unless Lukhas and I actually win, somehow. This would be an ideal trip to make the decision, declare kattasi. He’d be far away from the capital, he could be allowed to keep the yacht as long as he stayed far away – much more convenient than having him kicked off their estates, and Trey could of course get home any number of ways, even buy herself a new yacht. He’d be able to disappear unless his goal was to embarrass the others, but they all knew that wasn’t the case; no matter how much they felt he’d changed, they knew he wasn’t malicious.
Mother would be devastated but not surprised, not now, and Trey had just made HER attitude abundantly clear. Without any other close members of the family, there wouldn’t be anyone to fight it; Lukhas, of course, intended him to follow this course.
But it’s so very hard, especially now, with Trey…
Still… if they were right, he wasn’t taking half the risk of Lukhas, let alone Sasham Varan. His best friend’s name was becoming a whisper of fear now; rumor had it he’d been sighted out on the border, destroyed an armed and ready patrol vessel, then disappeared. Rumors of course just enlarged the fear and the tales, but if you believed the secret official recordings, the truth was bad enough, with former Captain Sasham Varan displaying a terrifying level of telekinetic and telepathic power, wielding it in the classic fashion of a human psionic whose power was driving him ever more insane.
Of course, if he and Lukhas were right, the truth was even worse. Varan might or might not be a psionic, but he wasn’t the one who’d betrayed the Empire. That honor would be reserved for Prime Monitor Shagrath – the man most responsible for the security of the Empire, the right hand of the Emperor, the second most powerful man in all of the Reborn Empire. And unfortunately, the only evidence they had were deductions based on the few things they knew that Shagrath did not, including three cryptic words from the now-reviled Varan.
Valabacal reached the conversion limit, and Taelin set the course and watched as the sky flared and transformed to moving darkness and streaming light of conversion space. He sighed and stood up. Back to the play.
He turned. Just then, the door to the control room slid open and Treyuusei stepped in, looking just as grim as she had when they got on board. He decided it was best not to say anything, just let her take the room for whatever she wanted. He could head back to his cabin.
“Taelin.” Her voice did not allow for the possibility of ignoring her, and – truthfully – neither his real self or the kattasi-doomed version he was playing would.
“Yes, Trey?” he asked, turning to face her instead of stepping all the way through the door.
A bomb seemed to explode under his jaw. He staggered back and fell limply against the wall, sight glazed over with red. He shook his head, trying to clear it, blinking up through a ripple of pain-generated tears at Trey, who was rubbing her fist either because the impact had hurt… or she was getting ready to punch him a second time.
“What in the Emperor’s name was that for?”
Her lips tightened. “For not trusting me.”
As he tried to grasp that, she reached down and hauled him to his feet, her strength reminding him that she was every bit his equal – not a surprise, given the reputation of the Dellitamas, her own family. Her eyes were suddenly softer, shimmering with tears of their own. “I don’t know why you and Lukhas are doing this, but if he were here, I’d lay him out too!”
He blinked stupidly. “You… you knew?” He did not even attempt to deny it. There was nothing stupider than clinging to a blown cover. Oh, in some cases the cover wasn’t completely blown, you might be able to recover – at least enough to escape. But this was not one of those times.
“Taelin, I…” Treyuusei managed a tiny smile. “I didn’t know, not right away. But I knew you, and no matter what happened – even with what happened to Sasham – I just couldn’t believe that was the way his loss would affect you.”
Sort of the same reason Lukh and I didn’t buy Shagrath’s story about Varan. Evidence said one thing, but we knew Varan too well to believe it. “Okay, you’re right, Trey. But we wanted to keep you out of it.”
“The fewer who know the less chance of leaks, yes, of course.” She was no less familiar with the practicalities. “But now I can help you.”
The fear was stronger now, because he suddenly envisioned the danger she had just gotten herself into. But too late to keep her out. Now she has to come all the way in, if any of us are going to have a chance. “And you waited until now because in conversion space no one can be spied on.”
He looked at her grimly, and saw his expression get her attention. “All right, Treyuusei. But you have to keep everyone and I mean everyone – my sister and mother, your parents, your uncle, everyone – in the dark. We’re going to play through the argument at Osea, and I’m guessing I’ll be kattasi before that trip’s done.”
She nodded slowly.
“Then here’s what we know.” He told her everything, from Varan’s behavior to the three terrifying words hidden in associative code to the fateful images contained on the records of the Teraikon – and the even more terrifying conclusion that those images must have been faked. “And if you follow all the evidence, that means it’s either Shagrath himself… or one of his immediate subordinates. And I really don’t think any underling could hide this kind of thing under Shagrath’s nose.”
“Towers…” she breathed as the truth began to sink in. “Poor Sasham! He’s alone and being chased by –”
“Worse than that, Trey, much worse. Right now, wherever he is – and we both are pretty sure he’s alive – he’s being used by Shagrath and his company as a shadow enemy, as something to drum up fear and uncertainty. There’s always been agitation for increased power to protect us from various things, and psis are the obvious target and excuse. If Sasham’s gotten far enough away, that doesn’t help us – they can then accuse him of causing just about anything they want.”
“And without evidence…”
“… we don’t know enough to know what – if anything – we could use our codes on that would give us the evidence we need. We only have a few hours if we use them unilaterally.”
She sat quietly, thinking, for a few minutes. Then she smiled, and reached out, touching his cheek more gently than she had in a month. “And we’re going to have to go through with this. You’re going to be the ignored disgraced son… who’s a spy. Yes, I see where Lukhas is going with this. I don’t like it, but I see it, and it’s necessary. You’re going to be careless, a Lesser Family once of the Five, making his way by curiosity, peddling his little influence, an ego twice too large… Oh, Taelin, how hard that’s going to be for you.”
“I can’t pretend I’ll like it much. The hardest part will be making it look like I do like it.”
“And looking for clues as to what’s really going on. But I can help.”
“Well, first, our argument can finish things perfectly. But after that… people know how we used to be. It wouldn’t be hard at all to imagine me meeting you once in a while…”
He grinned suddenly, with a vision of occasional, brief joy to illuminate the grim future ahead. “… and if we then fought during or after, still you’d be a perfect way to get information back to Lukh… even better than associative code in some ways.” He winced slightly as his jaw made clear that Trey hadn’t pulled her punch. “Ow.”
She looked satisfied. “You deserved it. But here, let me take a look.”
“I suppose I sort of deserved it. But Lukh and I… we were trying to protect you.”
She ran some quickheal over the bruise. “I am of the Five, Taelin, and you two should have remembered that. If you didn’t trust me, that’s one thing – I suppose I can’t actually trust anyone else either. But we are the Five, and we don’t need protection from anyone. Even Shagrath knows that. He’s doing this because he knows.”
Taelin laughed and suddenly reached out, pulled her close. For a long time they kissed as they hadn’t ever since his path had become clear, and Taelin felt a sick, tight knot relaxing. He’d feared what his mother might think, shuddered at the words that would be spoken by his other friends in the Five and Great Families… but he had almost not dared to think of what it would mean to have left Treyuusei behind and hating or despising him.
Now I won’t have to.
She smiled, and he saw she understood that. “And when we get to Osea,” she said gently, “you can do what you’ll have to do.” She kept hold of his hand, but turned towards the door that led towards the cabins. “But that, my love, is almost four weeks away.”
It was a short reprieve… but as Taelin followed her, he felt his strength and courage returning. Short enough… but though she is now in danger, neither of us will die with the other thinking something hateful.
And that’s more than our friend can expect, if we fail.