The First Sdhlain: Sdhlai 4


She bolted, but the binders hitched into their secondary mode. Pain lanced through her arms, shooting into her chest. She dropped to the floor, panting. The binders went back to merely restraining her, but a dull red pain throbbed in her head, in her chest, in her legs.

She heard footsteps, muffled, shuffling. Someone cursed.

"Damn it, I told you not to harm her. She won't be able to tell us where the Key is if she's dead, now will she?"

That voice. The Master's.

Something leapt inside of her, a white-hot filament of anger, of rage, of terror, and she leapt from the ground. Snarling, she charged towards the shape in front of her, her eyes still swimming with spots. She hit, and with a loud oomf, they were in a tangle on the ground.

Someone whispered in her ear. "Well, love, we hardly know each other, but I suppose that's one way to get my attention." He chuckled.

The Master spoke again. "Looks like our little cur has got a bad case of . . . something. Perhaps . . ."

Once again, she felt soft fingers running down her neck and back. Almost instantly, she felt the pain drain away, and with it the white filament inside burned down.

I won't let it disappear . . . smoulder, perhaps, but not disappear.

Then, again, darkness.

The transition to full consciousness was abrupt. She knew she was awake but her present bore no relationship to her past. The last thing she could remember was a desperate need to remember something but 'it', whatever it had been was gone and with it a time and a place that still felt like now. Part of her wanted to leap up and find out where the hell she was but the urgent impulses of her brain didn't seem to be finding their way to her body. She could feel all her limbs and the gentle give of the surface on which she lay but she couldn't do anything. Only her eyes obeyed her commands, darting from side to side in helpless panic.

" . . . calm, calm . . . breathe in, two, three, out two three . . . "

Like a kit learning its first trance level, she forced herself to breathe regularly, gradually increasing the count until her heart-rate slowed and her brain could think rationally again. She was alive and nothing hurt, her senses seemed to be functioning normally and she still had her eyes. It was time to put them all to work. Wherever she was, it wasn't there anymore. Fact. Slowly and methodically she swivelled her eyes from right to left.

Here was a pleasant room, at least by non-Khur standards. The ceiling and walls were coloured a soft apricot, which was quite pleasing to the eye, although nothing could soften the hard edges where they met. The lighting was also subdued, flickering gently inside two strange torches, one on either side of the . . . bed? Whatever she was on was raised off the floor like a Khur nest but there the similarity stopped. At home, her bed was rounded, with no hard edges and big enough for three or four siblings to curl up comfortably at once. This 'bed' was like everything else here, flat, straight, alien. That much she could see and feel.

Closing her eyes she let her other senses take over. The air smelt of flowers and stale body sweat, some of it her own, none of it Thul. It should have tasted fresh, like a spring meadow dotted with Lady's Tears but instead it was undercut with a metallic flavour, and there was no smoke . . . at all. Fact. The flames inside those torches were not real. Fact. The alien comfort of this room was real, but it was still within the Master's fortress and it was still a cage . . .

With her senses wide open, the change in air pressure as the door opened was unmistakable. Fact. The door was there, in the wall directly in front of her. Fact. She was no longer alone. The footsteps which approached her bed were soft and light, barely whispering over the floor covering. No Thul could move like that. They were just too big. Him? No, a her. As if to confirm her thoughts a light, high pitched voice piped up. "Don't be afraid. I'm Jam'ee. I'm supposed to explain things to you . . ."

. . . ah . . . his woman. Things? . . . what things? To her complete surprise, Walks-in-Shadow suddenly found herself sitting up, supporting herself on arms that belonged to her again! However when she tried to move her legs as well, the only response was a warm buzz around her throat. Lifting one slim, brown hand she discovered that an impossibly fine thread encircled her neck. It was so tight that she couldn't even slip a nail beneath it yet, when she swallowed nervously, it moved with her muscles and constricted her throat not at all. Eyes narrowed suspiciously she looked at the Jam'ee person. She held something small and metallic in her hands. The expression on her face was apologetic.

"I've got one too . . . it's a . . . special sort of binder. If you promise not to hurt me I can release your legs?"

Walks-in-Shadow settled back on her elbows and stared down the length of the bed at her useless feet. So, a binder, on both of them. She was the prisoner of a prisoner. The situation would have been almost funny . . . but for the mention of a promise. Did the Jam'ee know that promises were binding? In all her life Walks-in-Shadow had made only three promises. She knew, intellectually, that other races used the word lightly, but no Khur could. If she promised not to hurt the Jam'ee then she would never be able to lift a hand against her, or knowingly endanger her. Yet, if she didn't promise she might never walk again. Looking up again, Walks-in-Shadow surveyed her strange guard. This one's hair was long and a delicate shade of blue but otherwise she was just like him, Lee'sar. Slighter though, and younger, much younger. If she had been a Khur she would have been a tween, on the cusp of fertility but still a kit. Not his woman then. Not yet. Or perhaps a sibling? Twitching her nose irritably Walks-in-Shadow focused back on her dilemma. Freed, she could break the kit like a twig, but only a promise could free her . . The inevitable logic chased it's tail inside her head and went nowhere. . . . fash, fash, double fash . . .

Sitting up in bed was hardly a dignified way to make a promise but it would have to do. Right thumb pressed over her heart, Walks-in-Shadow locked eyes with the Jam'ee and spoke the words which would bind her.

"I, T'thup promise not to hurt the Jam'ee person." Sinking back onto the bed, Walks-in-Shadow sighed. It was done. For good or for ill it was done and there was no undoing it while either of them lived.

"You see, it's not so bad, really, ya get used to it . . ." Jam'ee said as she sat at the foot of Walks-in-Shadow's bed, idly toying with a dead . . . animal, of sorts, "but . . . it'll tighten if ya try to run away." Walks-in-Shadow took a moment to feel disgusted, then switched all primal emotions off, senses open and raw as another loud crash echoed around in the hall beyond her cell. A voice, followed by a smell meshed together and a face that would haunt her dreams flashed behind her inner eye. Red Star.

"Get out Lee'sar!" she heard him bellow.

"I'm not in your room Red, I'm right here." The sweetness that edged the other's sneer repelled her.

"Get out!" And a door slammed home.

Walks-in-Shadow propped herself up by the elbows and levelled her gaze with the Jam'ee person, who seemed blissfully unaware of the quarrel, her childlike face smiling innocently at the dead animal that hung between her fingers. All at once their door flew open and a very self-satisfied pink head loomed above them.

"'Allo lady and girl!" He ruffled the Jam'ee person's blue hair, beaming fondly at her. "Jam'ee, thought them bastards took youse away from me." "Nah-ah." She shook her head, pressing the dead animal to her breast bone.

Lee'sar pouted thoughtfully, head turning slowly in Walks-in-Shadow's direction. She pulled her body erect, self conscious of the way her copper hair was floating about her dark face like a wraith. Lee'sar clucked his tongue, eyeing her with as much respect as a cat eyes a dog. He whipped a chair out from its position in the corner and straddled it, elbows leaning on the back, chin on his arms. He quirked an eyebrow at her, pulling his full lower lip up in a lopsided grin. Walks-in-Shadow felt the fine copper pelt on her limbs prickle.

"What?" She snapped, mindful of the way his eyes roamed over her body appreciatively.

He inclined his head towards the Jam'ee person, but kept his eyes on the object of his fascination. Which happened to be her.

"Ho, Jam'ee, go ask Red Star if he got any of them smokes I asked for. He dun' wanna talk to me."

An evil expression ghosted across his face and was gone. The Jam'ee person gently placed her toy on the floor and smoothed down its fur before scuttling out the door. A muscle in Lee'sar's jaw twitched.

"What're you really doin' here?" He lowered his voice into a husky whisper. Walks-in-Shadow pursed her lips, eyes narrowed. "Why do you want to know?" "It's in my nature to snoop." His mood lightened a little. "So, guess I'll ask you later, when you're in a better mood, whatever mood that might be."

He raked his teeth over his bottom lip. Walks-in-Shadow was about to retort, when the Jam'ee person cut her off, scooting across the floor to Lee'sar. In her hand she held out a small metal box and a small plastic box.

"Thanks sweetpea."

He winked at her and flipped the top of the metal box off. A flame burst to life. The Jam'ee person produced a thin rolled up piece of paper from the other box and held one end over the flame. Once lighted, Lee'sar shoved the safe end between his lips and breathed deeply. With a flippant gesture, he stuffed both boxes into the pockets of his pants, which were made of some soft, black material. The Jam'ee person retreated into a corner of the room, dead animal in hand.

"So," Lee'sar began, blowing smoke out the side of his mouth. "have you been to see the great and wonderful Doctor Dick yet?" "He means Doctor Richard Kelp." The Jam'ee person explained from her corner. "That's right sweetpea," Lee'sar grinned. "Hence the nickname." Walks-in-Shadow shook her head, nonplussed. "No, I've never heard of him." "He means the Master, T'thup." Once again the Jam'ee person was very helpful.

Lee'sar sat back in his seat and blew smoke at the ceiling with a long, satisfying sigh.

"Ah, T'thup, is that your name?" Lee'sar chortled. "Oh, a should'a known." "Known what?" "You're a Khur, right? T'thup means . . . oh, I dunno." He nodded, more to himself than anyone else. "We've heard of youse."

Walks-in-Shadow frowned deeply. He's heard of my people, he's heard of me, but from who . . . ? Red Star?

"You said you wanted to know why I was here. I'll tell you, for a price." she said.

This seemed to spark a look of enthusiasm on his pale face.

"And the price being . . . ?"

Now it was her turn to grin.

"Quid pro quo. I tell you what I'm doing here, and you tell me why Red Star is afraid of you, yes? Agreed? And you also tell me how to get out of here, like you did."

He licked his lips, considering her offer.

"Alright, sweetness, you got yourself a deal."

And they shook on it.

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Last Updated: 2002.10.13.1004