This book will be available now, so this is the last snippet.
Demons Of The Past 02: Revolution – Chapter 21
Downbreak this time happened precisely on schedule, with both myself and The Eönwyl in place, rested, and ready.
Thann’ta’s sun was slightly more orange than standard, but Thann’ta itself orbited closer to its star by enough to make it a hotter world than most Imperial planets – one that would have violent weather and, if experience was any guide, a lot of thick and deadly jungle over much of the surface.
The close orbit also meant it was deeper in the exclusion zone. This made neither The Eönwyl or myself comfortable, especially as we picked up several Imperial vessels in the area. What do we do if Thann’ta doesn’t want us here?
Time to worry about that if it happens, Vick answered. Lower the psionic shielding.
There were other ships – daggerlike, slender, some like clusters of blades, others like single swords. It was my first look at R’Thann design, and it somehow looked exactly as I would have expected it. A species that thinks in terms of claw and warfare would be expected to make ships that reflect that attitude.
The Eönwyl had lowered the psi shielding as directed, but was noticeably more concerned with the fact that three Imperial vessels were already altering course towards us. “Incoming transmissions,” I said.
She shrugged, but activated the D-comm. “This is The Eönwyl. Go ahead.”
I could feel a faint tickle at the back of my mind – a sense of a psionic communication going on between Vick and someone else that I couldn’t make out – as the response came back immediately. “This is Imperial warship Tempest of Dawn. Eönwyl, you are believed to be carrying traitors to the Imperium. Shut down all engines and surrender, or be destroyed.”
I couldn’t help but laugh slightly. “I thought it was bad before? Tempest of Dawn‘s a Cyclonic-class.”
The Eönwyl looked grim, as well she might; a Cyclonic had more firepower than three of Morno’s carrier class, and was probably the single most formidable class of vessels in the Galaxy – outside of the few functioning Atlantaean warships like Niaadea, of course. And the other ships turning towards us weren’t small, either, though Tempest of Dawn was the only full-size battleship.
I reached out cautiously, afraid of what I’d sense, but to my surprise I didn’t hear any of the distant-screaming voices.
Another voice came over a general carrier, broadcast to us and to the Imperial vessels. “Recognized is Eönwyl. Landing capital directed to. Tolerated not will be interference.”
The R’Thann fleet had suddenly shifted direction in a chillingly coordinated fashion, redirecting in triple spearhead formation towards the three Imperial forces. It was clear that the transmission was neither diplomatic nor negotiable; the R’Thann were making it abundantly clear that if the Imperial forces attempted to intercept, the R’Thann would fire. And scanners showed major installations on every single planet and large-scale moon in the system, all raising defenses and energy signatures soaring towards levels I associated with Imperial fortresses.
Whoever was commanding Tempest of Dawn and the rest of the Imperial detachment was no fool; he could see as well as I that in their home system, at least, the R’Thann had enough firepower to wipe them from the sky in about ten seconds flat and suffer almost no losses themselves. And most likely had picket sensors and fast-scout observers to alert them to incoming reinforcements. The entire task force backed away, regrouped, and Converted out while we were still heading in-system.
“Thann’ta control, this is The Eönwyl. Please provide a beacon and any additional instructions or precautions we are to take en route.”
A glacier-hard and cold thought-voice replied. Your landing location will be here. We all could see the path and ultimate destination in our minds, and I was astounded by the precision. I knew that if I followed those directions, I would land exactly where they wanted us, to within millimeters, even if I never glanced at a single exterior sensor.
Prepare yourselves. Your Testing begins upon landing.
“I suspect it began when we were caught by Kukanaro’s blockade,” I muttered.
A sense of laughter from Vick. That is certain, yes. Yet that Test was merely to determine if you were worthy to speak with. This Test will determine whether you are worthy to live.
“And yourself as well, yes?” Guvthor rumbled, audible over the intercom.
Undoubtedly. There was no mistaking the predatory glee in that thought.
Thann’Ta grew swiftly before us. It was a larger world than Oro, about the size of my own Korealis, and the five major landmasses were thickly covered with blue-green vegetation in most areas; very small icecaps emphasized that this was a much warmer world than many, probably as warm as Xaltine and as humid, for the landmasses were still dwarfed by the ocean, which also showed blue-green as we approached.
Unlike Thovia, however, the nightside blazed with the lights of cities; the R’Thann may have left much of their world looking wild, as we had glimpsed in many of Vick’s tales, but they were a powerful and fully industrial world; the familiar network of earthbound stars and glowing strands like faerie-spinners’ webs covered the planet’s darkened land and even glowed from beneath the seas.
As we descended, I felt a hint of softer emotion from Vick. Have you been homesick?
The instant response was something sharp and defensive, but almost instantly repressed. When Vick allowed himself to answer, his mental tone was surprisingly soft. Yes. Yes, I suppose I was. We teach ourselves to be independent, to survive and recognize our Testing as our proof of our worth, to become too attached to nothing; yet to finally return to the world where I was hatched, the world which banished me, and to do so in hope that they will accept me again… yes, I am perhaps foolishly emotional, but Thann’ta is beautiful, is it not?
It is, and there is nothing foolish about treasuring the world that is your true home.
The Eönwyl vibrated as it entered atmosphere thick enough to feel, and slowly Thann’ta changed from a sphere to down, a world on which we were landing. Ahead a city, a shining bladed-spire weapon held against the sky, blue-green with the vegetation and tinged with blood on its many edges as the sun was setting.
Hundreds of other vehicles – skyskimmers, larger shuttles, freight vessels – shared the air, following no obvious patterns but evading each other with what seemed supernatural ease. I suddenly realized what I should have thought of ages before. Your people… they’re all psionic. So they can sense each other, even know when they’re going to turn their vehicles, what their intent is, and thus there is no need of any special traffic direction.
That is correct. Although, he continued in his “lecturing scientist” tone, do not make the mistake of thinking us a … collective entity, or a united group of perfect collaborators. Our minds remain our own at nearly all times, and the “driving mind”, as one might call the mode of thought we would maintain while piloting a vessel like this one, only gives others access to your location and driving intentions, nothing else. To read a mind without permission… is a deadly offense.
I got the impression that most real offenses would be deadly on Thann’ta. I glanced over at The Eönwyl, controlling our final approach; she showed little tension on the outside, but I could tell she was nervous – very, very nervous.
The path took us between rows of the sharp-edged buildings, sometimes so close that we could easily see The Eönwyl‘s reflection travelling in the windows that lined the buildings. Then it opened up, the huge city falling away to either side, replaced by a great open space of alloy-edged landing tarmac – a major land-space port. The Eönwyl brought her ship down precisely at the point indicated in our psionic instructions.
The Eönwyl looked at me and, in a sort of mental way, at Vick. “Now what?”
Now, replied the hullmetal-hard voice that had directed us before, you will proceed to the Towers of the Light and there I shall Test you.
I sensed a jolt from Vick and was able to guess the reason; he had not realized until that moment who he was talking to, and by that last bit he must have finally put it together. I replied, Understood. I then addressed a quick question to Vick. I presume you know where the Towers of the Light are?
Vick’s slightly chaotic thoughts solidified swiftly. Yes…. Yes, of course I do! What idiocy! How foolish would I sound had I asked you when on Oro if you knew where the Emperor’s palace was?
I laughed, trying to use the humor to keep me relaxed. So it’s that obvious? Then… the largest set of buildings? Over there, the three tall blades set together in a triangle?
“Go on,” The Eönwyl said as I unstrapped. “I’m going to shut her down properly. I’ll meet you all in a few minutes.”
I nodded and headed down. I knew that following a shipboard routine like that – alone – was a soothing process to a shipowner. I was tense too, but I was finding it a little easier now to just throw myself into these situations. And I wasn’t in a position to choose, really, while she was.
I joined Vick and Guvthor as they descended the ramp to the tarmac. “She’ll be with us in a moment.” I took a moment to look around.
I was instantly startled by what I saw. There were many R’Thann moving back and forth to various ships in the port, often entering doors in the alloy-edging that I now realized was a network of corridors, probably with built-in transport, to shuttle passengers and cargo efficiently from one landing point to another, or to the interior of the city. But the startling point were the R’Thann themselves. While they were in outline very much like Vick, they were – in comparison – huge. Most of them stood tall enough to look me in the eyes, while Vick’s eyes were a full sixty centimeters lower than mine. “I hadn’t realized…” I trailed off.
… that I was a dwarfed as well as powerless exile? Vick managed to keep too much bitterness from the thought. No reason that you should have. I am the only one of my people who has ever entered your Empire as anything other than an emissary or Ambassador. Not that I expect many of either to be travelling there in future.
No, probably not, I agreed grimly. I suspected that the attempts to negotiate with either the R’Thann or the Ptial were doomed to failure now; the one was an entirely psionic species and the second revered psis as emissaries of the gods. Not much chance the current Empire could live with them in peace.
“Let’s go.” The Eönwyl walked past me, tucking her ship’s key-control into her belt pouch.
Vick led the way; not only did he know where exactly we were going, but he understood how to make one’s way through the city efficiently. This turned out to be important because most R’Thann ignored us with a supreme indifference; they would detour around us – mostly, I suspected, because of Guvthor’s immense bulk and unusual mental capabilities – but they would not interrupt their activities for us. This included the R’Thann equivalent of hirecars. They would instantly pick up and carry away any other R’Thann that signaled, but would ignore us entirely; they even ignored Vick when he signaled, which he was reluctant to do but did when I insisted he try.
“Never mind, Captain Varan,” Guvthor said cheerfully. “None of their cars are large enough for me in any case. Do you really wish to abandon me here?”
“No, of course not,” I answered, a bit testily. “But why are they ignoring us, Vick?”
You truly do not understand? Overtones of disappointment. I would have hoped you could deduce it. Because we do not exist here, Captain Sasham Varan. We have not passed our Tests of Adulthood, and you are not even of The People. I am an exile, a nonperson until I regain my rights before one of the Masters, and you must do the same.
I supposed that made sense, given what we’d already learned about the R’Thann. “An… interesting people, but not very comfortable to be around,” I said finally, glancing at The Eönwyl.
She smiled thinly. “And I am sure they mean to give exactly that impression.”
It took nearly an hour of walking to reach the base of the Towers of the Light. As we walked through the entrance, something else struck me. “Vick… there aren’t any guards here.”
“Well… I thought this was the seat of your… local? Planetary? Government, and we’re going to see your equivalent of …?”
One of the Masters of the Light; I do not know – yet – which has chosen to see us. But the highest of them would be the equivalent of your Emperor, the lowest, members of your Five Families.
“And there isn’t a single guard?” We were inside now, heading toward what I presumed was an elevator. Nothing seemed to be stopping us, and none of the R’Thann in the building’s sharp-ceilinged lobby even seemed particularly interested in us. “You’d never get near His Majesty without a dozen guards around him and going through I’m not sure how many layers of security.” The elevator doors closed and I sensed the lifters send us shooting up at dizzying speed.
That, Vick’s mindvoice said with a very patronizing tone, is because your rulers are not of the People.
Inside, I thought to myself that it’s true that all of us think of our species as “The People”, and all the others are “Other People” (or in the more xenophobic species, “Intelligent Enemies/Vermin”, and for the Ghek’Nan, “Food”). But there were… backtones, echoes, implications behind Vick’s thought of “The People”, subconscious elements which carried much more force. It was not merely the thought of “we’re the real people and the rest of you are… well, not quite as real people as us”; it was more… powerful, deeper. More dangerous.
“What exactly do you mean by ‘The People’, Vick?” The Eönwyl asked, just before I would have done so.
The People of Creation’s Light, answered the crystal-hard mindvoice that had spoken to us before, as the elevator doors slid open.
Standing a few dozen meters away was an R’Thann, draped with elegantly-worked fabric which had to be some sort of symbolic or ceremonial robe. The room in which we stood occupied, I realized, the entire top of the central tower of the three Towers of the Light, a single room fifty meters across, a hundred and fifty meters long, and seventy meters high at the peak. But despite dramatic and normally eye-catching sculptures, hangings, a high crescent-shaped group of chairs, the only thing that drew the eye was the R’Thann himself. He was little if any taller than the average R’Thann but somehow seemed to tower above us all.
We are the Testers of the Universe, and those Tested in the ever-ascending journey to reach the heights of the Creator, as It commands us. We do Creation’s work, that one day we all shall be as the Creator, and It will no longer be lonely.
Vick dropped low to the ground and vibrated his crest in a chiming rhythm. Not having Vick’s crest or – quite – the ability to bend and balance like that without a tail, I gave the R’Thann a formal Six-And-One. Guvthor merely nodded.
You are well known to me, Captain Sasham Varan, born of Korealis the cold, the frozen; and you, Guvthor of Guvthor, spy and agent of Thovia; and you, Eönwyl, born in darkness eternal. The exile who would return I of course know well, for I made the decision that permitted him that journey.”
“And you are…?”
No longer do I have a name, the R’Thann said, regarding us with a terrible calm. I am the Master of the Final Light, the Weapon and the Wielder, the Hunter of Hunters, Death of Fear, Arbiter of Creation’s Word.