The First Sdhlain: Sdhlai 3
She rose from the depths of
a healing trance. Funny . . . I don't remember putting myself
into one. Looking around, she realized the room had more
exquisite furnishings than anything her pack could afford.
Something danced on the cusp of her mind, trying to coalesce but
not quite getting there.
A loud thump on the door, and then a Guard walked in. Memories, of
the almost-victory over the first Guard and the subsequent capture,
returned in a quick burst. She leaped from the bed and growled.
The Guard snorted. "Looks like you healed fairly quickly. A shame.
Our compatriot--the one you threw off the Cliff--already recovered
from the slight injuries your feeble attempt at escape gave him.
The Master said to make sure he doesn't kill you . . ." the Guard
snorted again, his wide nostrils flaring, "but I'm not sure I'll be
able to restrain Red Star." The Guard paused. "Never you mind. The
Master wishes to speak with you. It would be best if you came
without me having to use force."
Walks-In-Shadow paused and considered her options. Fighting a Guard
one-on-one was suicide at best, and she doubted that her body could
handle another healing trance this soon even if she did manage to
stay alive. Another quick glance around the room revealed no hiding
spaces. Even a hard throw of some furniture would gain her nothing
more than a few seconds before the Guard bled her life like they
bled a snargh after a hunt.
Head held high, she sniffed. "All right. Take me to him."
The Guard walked up to her and snapped a pair of binders around her
forearms. Some unseen command--probably subvocalized, she
mused--brought them to life, and her forearms shot together with a
"Damn! You didn't have to up the draw that quickly." She licked her
lips, carefully watching the nuances of the Guard. Was that a
nervous tic, or was there a reason it kept scratching behind its
The Guard snorted. "Like I give a shit." It thumped her on the
skull with the staff in its hand. "Let's go."
As they walked down the halls, Walks-in-Shadow took in as much as
she could. Her last visit had been furtive by necessity, avoiding
all of the main passages and sticking to abandoned storerooms and
the occasional unoccupied library. Only her last mad dash to the
Key had been in the open, and the fire caused enough confusion by
that point to keep them from noticing its absence for at least ten
minutes. She ran fast, but the aerobikes flew faster, and only when
they neared the Badlands did the Guards have to leave the vehicles.
The same rocks and faults that forced them on foot slowed
Walks-in-Shadow down as well, and she barely had enough time to
stash the Key before her final sprint to the Cliff.
She wondered at the opulence of the Master's abode. How much of
my people's labor went into this? How many years of life were spent
so that the Master could have one more rare painting, one more
tapestry hung in a quiet alcove? She spat at one, a picture of
a far-away life on a far-away planet, and the Guard behind her
thumped the staff against her head again.
"You'd better watch that. Wouldn't want any more trouble on
your head, now would you? Speaking of trouble . . ."
Another Guard rounded the corner, and Walks-in-Shadow froze. She
had been too lost in thought, too busy looking at the scenery, to
pick up on his scent. It was overpowering.
It was Red Star.
Only eight or nine feet separated them. Two
big steps . . . for him . . . Slower than her, the Guard
took one more step before coming to a stop. Jerked into motion
again by the leash, she scuttled into his shadow but Red Star's hot
glare followed her and she knew the illusion of safety was
temporary. Closing her eyes, she strained her senses for any other
signs of life, but apart from the three of them, the maze of
looping hallways was empty. It was a perfect spot for an ambush
or a handover. . .
"Weeell . . . if it ain't me ol' buddy Gork . . . with the
spicimin that got me demoted. And here I thought me luck had
all run out!" The laugh that followed this heavy-handed witticism
was completely without humour.
. . . oh fash . . .
". . . Red . . . I . . ." Gork's voice came out as close to a
squeak as a rumble could get.
At Gork's lack of enthusiasm, Red Star's show of camaraderie
slipped, replaced by a hungry impatience.
"The bitch's gotta pay for what she did to me. You know that. Now
quit messin' around and hand her over!"
"Aw shit . . ."
His free hand raised in a placating gesture, Gork took a shuffling
step backwards while his right hand tried to free the stunner on
his hip and hold onto the leash at the same time.
"You 'n me, we're buddies right? But . . . orders is orders . . .
Walks-in-Shadow was as taken aback by Gork's unexpected refusal as
Red Star. Her respect for the Guard's courage went up a notch or
two. He had joked about not being able to protect her from Red Star
yet here he was, doing just that, or trying to. Either he was
incredibly gutsy or he was plain stupid. Any fool could see that
Red Star was the dominant one of the two. Physically, they were
fairly evenly matched--both nudging eight foot, both heavily
muscled, especially in the neck and upper body which made their
heads appear disproportionately small--but that was hardly
surprising given that all the Guards were hand picked for just
these characteristics. What made Red Star stand out was the air of
caged violence which surrounded him like an aura. Most days he just
enjoyed the release violence gave him. Today he needed it.
His skin seemed to give off waves of heat. His muscles bunched and
twitched as if they had a life of their own. Only his eyes didn't
move. They never wavered, staring through Gork--at her. By
comparison, Gork looked hesitant; and flabby; and slow. Even though
he carried a stunner and Red Star was unarmed it was obvious who
the winner would be. . . . If she was to survive then she would
have to find a way to help herself because Red Star would not,
could not stop until he had torn her body into bite-sized bits.
Something about Red Star's fixed stare must have penetrated Gork's
brain because he suddenly dropped the leash and tore at the
holster, almost ripping off the flap in his haste. It all seemed to
happen in a blur. The stunner was in his hand, coming up for a shot
and then they were both flying backwards like skittles before a
four hundred pound bowling ball.
Walks-in-Shadow was thrown back down the hallway, coming to rest
beneath the very painting she had tried to deface. Gork smashed
into the window embrasure, winded and fighting for his life as Red
Star tried to rip his head off with one hand while grappling for
the stunner with the other. The reek of blood lust was
overpowering. After he was finished with poor, stupid Gork, Red
Star would come for her. Barely healed, Walks-in-Shadow was in no
condition to out-run a maddened Thul but she was damned if she was
going to just sit there and wait for him either. Gathering the
leash into a ball she pushed herself awkwardly to her feet and
began edging past the battling guards. Unable to tear Gork's head
off with just one hand Red Star had settled for bashing it into a
bloody pulp instead. As he rhythmically smashed Gork into what was
left of the window frame, Walks-in-Shadow caught a glimpse of Red
Star's face. As she turned and ran she knew it would haunt her
The hallway seemed to go on for eternity,
occasionally bending off in a direction other than straight ahead.
The alarms hadn't gone off and Walks-in-Shadow prayed that Red Star
was still pummelling Gork into the woodwork, her absence therefore
going unnoticed. Walks-in-Shadow paused to catch her breath at a
turn off, leaning heavily against the wall. Her ears pricked up at
the sound of muffled voices, their origin unknown as they seemed to
be coming at her from every direction. She pressed her temple to
the wall and schooled her body into shutdown mode, letting the
adrenaline of her hastened escape drain from her pores. As she
moved along the hall, the recently indistinguishable voices became
clearer, detached from the buzz of pounding blood in her ear. There
were two people, male, moving around in a room somewhere behind the
wall. Their tones suggested that they were engaged in a debate over
something, or someone. Walks-in-Shadow furrowed her brow, straining
to catch their words. A bead of sweat made its amiable way down the
length of her long nose and fell unceremoniously to her feet. With
one ear spying on the conversation she kept her other free to
listen for the approaching footfall of guards. She often wondered
at the way part of her mind could remain analytically detached even
when the rest of her was engaged in more primal instincts.
Walks-in-Shadow thought she heard some reference to her lapse into
the debate and she forced herself to block out all other
"The girl hid the Key. It's still somewhere out there. With all
due respect Master, we need to interrogate her before she forgets
or decides to play dumb." There was a pause, a long, heart stopping
pause in which Walks-in-Shadow was painfully aware of the binders
still strapped to her forearms.
"Yes, I know. I'm having her brought in now. But we can't do
anything, we mustn't do anything to her until Lee'sar is
found. He's the only one who can track down the Key." The Master's
voice, like roughly woven silk passing over one's skin, was all too
familiar to her senses. She could almost smell him. That analytical
part of her replayed his words around in her head, and settled on
that name. Lee'sar.
"Master, he's been gone for almost two weeks. Do you really expect
him to help after this recent taste of freedom?"
"Well, yes." The Master shifted his body weight slightly, emitting
a soft thud. "He'll be back. He always comes back."
"But--" Static. Walks-in-Shadow held her breath, pressing herself
so hard against the wall that she was sure it would leave a red
mark on her cheek. "Master. They have him, they're bringing him in
Walks-in-Shadow leapt back from the wall as it burst open like a
door. She darted behind a bend, watching. Funny how she hadn't
noticed the door before. A Guard that was considerably more slender
than the others thrust his shoulders through and stood awaiting his
Master. The other came slower, his heavy footfall muffled, his
movements frustratingly precise. Walks-in-Shadow bit back a gasp.
The man before her was of indeterminate age, though the white
curtain of hair that hung in rat's tails about his long face could
have said otherwise. He pulled a large coat around his broad
shoulders and smiled at the ceiling.
Walks-in-Shadow furtively followed them at a safe distance. They
came to a white walled cafeteria for the Guards, tables surrounded
by buff looking males like Red Star. But Red Star was nowhere to be
seen. A few women dressed as nurses stood awaiting orders, eyes
locked on a pair of double doors leading to the outside world.
The doors burst open in a flurry of motion, and three figures
stepped forward. Two of them were Guards, the other was a normal
sized male who looked no older than Walks-in-Shadow herself, and
yet she didn't recognise his species. Electric pink spikes of hair
hung at odd angles around a deathly pale face where two dark green
eyes narrowed dangerously at all who surveyed him. He was
reasonably wide shouldered and lean muscle showed where his t-shirt
had been torn. A feral grin to match her own teased out the corners
of his lips.
"Ho! S'good ta be home!" He greeted, slapping his hard stomach.
"Any a youse miss me?" He winked at one of the younger nurses. "Hey
sexy, I know you missed me."
"Lee'sar." The Master's voice was low and dangerous. "You, among
others, have caused us all great amounts of trouble lately.
"I aim to please." The other said, and the sarcasm to his
undertones made Walks-in-Shadow smile. The Master came forward,
"And you escaped when we needed you the most of all,
Lee'sar quirked an eyebrow. "Aw, nice to know I'm wanted around
here." He cocked his head to the side and eyed the Guards, but his
green gaze sought out and pin-pointed Walks-in-Shadow with
"Sons-a-bitches . . . where's Jam'ee? Where is she?!" He growled,
advancing on her. " . . . Who's this?! Where's Jam'ee!" Lee'sar
halted and pointed a rigid finger at her. Walks-in-Shadow blanched.
All eyes were on her.
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Last Updated: 2002.10.06.1253