Demons Of The Past 03 – Retribution – Chapter 09
The vya-shadu hovered before me, moving only the tiny amount expected from a weapon held in a steady hand. I could feel a sheen of sweat already forming on my face, echoing the tremendous strain I was feeling on my mind as I slowly rose from my meditations and drew the other sword.
I’d done this kind of training before, of course; first onboard the Teraikon, hidden in a clear bubble within the mindshields, and later on board The Eönwyl, many hours of practice indeed. But here I was under at least two, and possibly more, psi-damping shields. What would have been trivially easy elsewhere was virtually impossible here. I had learned, in my months on board Teraikon and in the many more on Eönwyl, how to separate my mind, practice against a phantom projection of my own mind that was nearly as capable as a real adversary. Here, I’d barely be able to move while keeping the first sword in the air.
Nonetheless this was worthwhile practice. It gave me discipline, focus, kept me aware of my limits as well as allowed me to practice my talents — psionic and physical — so that I wouldn’t lose the edge I’d built up over all the time I’d been on the run.
I rose to my full height, brought the sword parallel with my other arm in classic Tor salute pose; the other sword mirrored the gesture. Light though the blade was, it felt like I was trying to keep a skycar afloat while juggling electrified batons.
A swing — slow and sluggish compared to any real combat — and parried, with equally slow and clumsy motion by my invisible notional duplicate. Another, the blades ringing cleanly despite the ragged motion of my control. Rivulets of sweat were now running down my neck, faint tickling movement to distract me even more from the exercise.
The door chimed for attention, and I almost lost control; the vya-shadu dipped, fell, nearly reached the floor, but I stretched out my mind desperately, against the sensation of being mired in weighted mud, and just managed to halt it a scant two centimeters from the floor. “Enter,” I grunted out as I forced the blade back to position.
So focused was I that the sight, to my left, of the Grasper entering the room on her rippling legs gave me only a distant twinge of fear, a fear I fought off to keep the weapon steady. Focus is all that matters. The pure focus of White Vision erases passion, focuses all on one. “How . . . can I serve you . . . Grasper?”
“We have observed your behavior in the months you have been in our care,” she said. “You have kept to your agreements scrupulously and I have no complaints on your use of the privileges granted you. On observing this exercise — which you have attempted several times before, it has occurred to me that you may be lacking in effective ways to practice your art of combat.”
My head felt as though a padded vise were slowly tightening around it, and I smelled the faintest hint of blood-iron. That’s enough, I guess. I reached out my hand, caught the other sword and released my telekinetic hold. “Whew. Niaadea’s Name, that’s hard to do,” I said. “You are of course correct, Grasper. Naturally, most prisons — even the most comfortable — are not generally equipped to allow the prisoner such practice.” I wiped the blades, though they didn’t really need it, sheathed them, and placed them in their proper locations.
“The practice — both ritual and practical — is clearly of great importance to you.” This was a statement, and a true one, so I saw no immediate need to comment. “In view of your exemplary behavior, I am inclined to offer you an opportunity to practice in a far more effective way.”
That would be an excellent opportunity. I couldn’t really keep progressing in Tor, or in any of my other disciplines, without opponents other than myself. I had pretty much exhausted what there was to learn from the reflection in Water Vision. “I would be extremely grateful for anything you would grant, Grasper.” The Zchoradan prison officer still looked sinister, but I was slowly regaining my ability to read the real expressions and I could see that she was sincere in her offer and in her concern for my well-being.
“Then I offer myself as a sparring-partner.”
The startlement made me stare at her without a hint of fear, because I was so utterly stunned. “You? Grasper, I am honored beyond words, but surely the Vmee—”
A vibrating shriek of derision. “The Vmee Szchorhaza has little to say in how I run my prison. You have been armed with blades and done nothing to threaten us; while you did not seek this prison you did accept our judgment. I do not think I have anything to fear from you.” A clicking of mandibles in a Zchoradan laugh. “Of course, my task-nestmates will watch any such sessions, so it will not be as though you could strike me down without notice, even if we suspected such intent.”
I felt a genuine smile cross my face, one of the first I’d managed facing a Zchorada or Chakron since that terrible day. “I would gladly accept your offer, Grasper; but I would ask . . . what do you gain from this? For such kindness by itself does not necessarily serve a jailer well.”
Another click-laugh. “A surprise you might find indeed, were you to examine our jails for our own people; kindness rather than cruelty is preferred. But in this case it is both kind and practical. I have had no opportunity to practice combat against humans, and little against any species other than my own. You will be teaching me much about my own assumptions and limitations in combat, and you are known for your prowess against my people.”
That made sense; the chief officer for a military prison might very well have such interest. “Then certainly, let us practice together when you have the opportunity. Of course,” I gestured to the swords, “you will need to supply something not quite so dangerous for our practice.”
“We have records of practice swords and other items. We shall fabricate appropriate sparring weapons, and I shall of course use appropriate padding on my natural ones. Our first match shall be . . . the third hour after rising, tomorrow?”
I gave a deep bow. “I will look forward to it.”
She sank down in the closest approximation to a bow that a Zchorada could manage. “And I, as well.”
I lowered myself shakily to the bed as the door closed behind her. Torline’s Swords! I could barely believe what had just happened. Previously I’d been a very much wanted criminal in the Meld; apparently my behavior was starting to change how they viewed my prior work in the Empire. I wasn’t quite sure what to think of that; I had, in fact, killed an awful lot of Zchorada in that battle, and I’d never really regretted it . . . until now.
Having a lot of time to think things through gave you a lot of perspective, as did seeing things from different points of view. I remembered who I’d been then, and saw who I was now . . . and by the First World, were they different. Not completely different, of course — I was still Sasham Varan, I still had the same core beliefs and hopes and dreams, or so I thought . . . but I had so very much more understanding of things I hadn’t grasped at all back then. The Empire, my shining beacon of justice and rightness . . . suddenly a flawed gem, a berry with vile rot at its heart. The stories of the Book of the Fall . . . not stories at all.
And now the dreaded Zchoradan Meld, a place of studied, careful justice, of beings that might look like nightmares but were concerned with right and wrong and desperately worried for their own families, their nests and allies, just as much as were those of the Empire. Looking at the entire sequence of events now, calmly, months separating me from that horrific moment in the chamber of the Vmee Zschorhaza when I had learned I was sentenced to remain here, I had to admit that the Zchorada had been amazingly tolerant and prudent. If — no, when — my friends returned with the proof we needed, I was starting to feel a growing confidence that they would listen.
And they would be very, very good allies as long as they were convinced we were playing straight and true with them. I resolved once more to give them nothing but reasons to trust us.
Pouring myself a glass of icy water, I slowly drank it down and began to prepare myself again for meditation and practice. Grasper, you’ll get the best I can give you!