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All materials copyright 1996-1997 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this Webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).
Black Promise: Parts Three and Four
by Loren W. Cooper
Stars rose incandescent against the velvet night like clouds of fiery smoke. Hailing from
much farther Rimward, Temenus never failed to marvel at Hope's night sky, braced as it was
by mighty columns of starlight, washing the Lady's rolling deck with a tangible mist of spectral
light. On nights like this, a man could forget all about mortality and listen only to the voices of
wind and wave and soul.
Every human sensation is capable of infinite variation, and the edge of intensity can never be wholly exhausted. So it is with love; so it is with hate; so it is with pleasure; so it is with pain.
Pain shocked Temenus to the razor's edge of alertness, old instincts reawakened from enforced quiescence. Ceis backed away from the sudden darkness filling Temenus' face, the fire burning behind his eyes. "How did she die, Ceis?"
Ceis stopped himself suddenly, stood straight, and glared at Temenus. "You tell me. As far as I can tell, you saw her last. Did you take her out on the boat with you? Did you mean to kill her?"
Temenus' lips skinned back from his teeth, but no other reaction could be seen on a face suddenly cold and lifeless. "Take me to her, Ceis."
Ceis drew in a breath to argue, saw the black promise in Temenus' eyes, thought better of it, and turned away. The wind whispered over the sand and tugged gently at the two of them as Temenus followed Ceis across the strand and up the white rock path to the Ship. Echoes followed them down the gray walls of the Ship, until at last they came to the gleaming room smelling of purification.
She lay on the only one of the tables folded out from the wall. Temenus rested one hand on the edge of the table as he studied her in silence. Eleythia's face had none of the masklike control she had cultivated in life, leaving her with an air of youthful innocence Temenus had only seen while she slept. His own face softened as he traced the line of her cheekbone with one finger. Then his gaze dropped and the hardness closed back over his features as he covered the clean wound underlining her sternum with two fingers.
Hot grief ran down his face unheeded. Death came to everyone he touched. Eleythia should have let it be.
Ceis stepped out of his way as he turned and left that place behind. His feet carried him toward his cabin as he rubbed harshly at his face with the heels of his hands. The sun had lit his own pyre in the western clouds. Temenus slowed to watch splashes of crimson spread across the banks of white and think about the Concilium, and the reports filed on his work, and the panicky response of men suddenly confronted with a Movement presence. He turned to look back, caught sight of Ceis hurrying toward the pier and set out after him.
Ceis must have heard him, since he stopped by the quiescent Lady and waited for Temenus. Temenus backed Ceis into the rail and spoke with a deceptively soft voice. "Who killed her, Ceis?"
Ceis shook his head, face pale in the bloody light. "I didn't ...."
Temenus saw Makali walking toward them over the rusty sands, teeth gleaming as he smiled and waved. Temenus bent close to Ceis. "How many reports have you filed on my work lately, Ceis? Did they have you watching me, or did you believe that you had an inside track to fast promotion?"
Ceis flushed and sputtered as Makali coughed politely. Sudden realization hit Temenus then, and he stepped into Ceis, pushing him with vicious force back into Makali. Ceis' body muffled the report of Makali's weapon: he convulsed as plasma erupted from his lower torso. Temenus kicked Ceis' dying body with savage ruthlessness, entangling Makali. Temenus locked the wrist holding the LR pistol as Makali swept the corpse aside. Temenus twisted Makali's arm outside and broke his wrist as the weapon fired again.
The world tilted as Makali caught Temenus above the ear with his free hand. The pistol clattered to the pier, and Temenus hastily kicked it into the water as he backed away. Shaking his head to clear any cobwebs, he watched Makali's grimace blossom into a smile as he reached behind him with his good hand and brought a long knife up between them. "It's better this way. I've always wanted to take the Movement's best, and now I'll have two in one day."
Temenus drew his own knife from its arm sheath. "Death isn't a game, Makali."
Makali's grin widened as he slid into a crouch and spun the knife down to lie along his forearm, blade out. "What else could it be?"
Makali lunged, sweeping the blade in a steely horizontal arc. Temenus twisted, stepped inside and caught Makali's forearm with his own as Makali swept the knife back. Temenus closed, brought his trailing hand up in a stab, and felt Makali's knife rip along his shoulder as Makali rotated, pulling the knife free and entangling Temenus' legs. Temenus heard Makali grunt as the knife punched into his torso. Temenus twisted the knife savagely to break suction as he ripped the blade out and lost his balance. He grunted as he fell free of the pier to Lady's deck. Makali lunged down after him, stabbing with his own weapon.
Temenus rolled free, catching a slash across one forearm and losing his knife. Makali rose from his knees to his feet, the grin still on his face, the front of his loose shirt dark with his own blood. He lunged at Temenus with sudden silent ferocity.
Temenus caught Makali's extended forearm and shoulder, levering his moving weight across his body. Makali shifted his own weight as Temenus threw him, sweeping Temenus into the water after him. Temenus lost contact with Makali when they hit the water, and kicked for the surface. The water came alive around him then, boiling with the presence of Bloodfish. But no teeth touched him as he pulled himself back to the Lady's deck.
Leaning heavily on the rail, blood ran in a hot line down his side as he looked back out over the dark shallow waters foaming around the pier and saw their terrible beauty as they closed around Makali's struggling form. And as he stood there, wrapped in fire and darkness, Temenus watched death, burning like an angel, delicately stripping the flesh from the struggling man with needle teeth.
Eleythia had known that he was promised to death. So did he, but he had allowed himself to forget. And there, in that place, watching the tide run red in the setting sun, he saw death following in the wake of the shadow war. He saw the Movement and the Concilium feeding on the carcass of society, feeding on one another, and he suddenly hated the White Lady for turning away from this thing she had set in motion.
Chrysippus had shocked them all, but it had not been enough. The shadow war still raged. Temenus looked out on the face of the deep and charted his course. He would see the end of this war, if he had to bring the darkness raging down on them all. He would take them all to himself, shoulder the burden of whole worlds blackened with fire, if he could but bring this thing to an end. Drawing strength from the gathering shadows, he turned his back on Hope and left it behind.