Black Sun – Taklarsaza 2
April 18, 2011 § 1 Comment
“Why tell me this?” The child looked up at Kyrian with a frank and baffled expression, still speaking words in response to thoughts. Behind those words, Kyr could already feel the emotions, the subtle impressions. The boy was of the blood, there was no doubt. Could be no doubt. Despite being freeborn to long dwellers, he was Tsilath. One of the blood, and thus, he could not stay with the terrified woman and resentful yet horror-paralyzed man. If he had air in his lungs he might have sighed.
“Just listen.” Kyrian surveyed the tiny sun-baked mud and stone home the two long dwellers lived in. Like the rest of their settlement, it dated back roughly four thousand years. Kyrian often wondered why all the people, the Tsilath and the Naratsilath alike, counted time the way they did, in units handed down from before there was even a people as they now existed. In the rounded, carefully shaped dome of the house he felt the boy’s parents stares. There was no way to explain to them why their son would leave with him that night. Another of the Tsilath would most likely simply take the boy from where he found him. He knew his sisters and brothers would, and dump the child off to be raised with the bastards and orphans of the Tsilath, not truly kin but more than kind. Even Tatris probably would, for all that he doted on his own children. “When they came, they were… unconcerned. They knew that life like us existed. They knew that it often covered worlds with valuable minerals they use in their birth oceans. But they were neither convinced that anything made of what we are could be intelligent, nor were they particularly concerned with finding out. Like the ones we do not name, they were happy with a state of affairs which rewarded their convenience.”
“And so they took Klarakshton. Had they not, I would not have come here today.”
I was younger then, of course. Your parents have lived for a hundred years or so, and might live another hundred. I was already five hundred when the metal spiders first found mineral wealth on Hrad. We didn’t even have a garrison of armed People there, and the nearest Tsilath was a fungus eating disgrace named Kotash. He was ten light years away and out of his mind, reliving the civil war and the time of his own glory, and being daily confounded by Lokari smugglers. He didn’t even notice Hrad, and its one hundred and six of the People. Nor did he notice their sudden disappearance.
He also didn’t notice when Shova went dark, and seventy two settlers who had chosen the planet because it was on the edge of being suitable for agriculture were lost. If he had, I don’t know if it would have mattered. The Tsilath were busy at that time. My father was just arranging for my eldest brother to choose a mate, and Tatris had managed to impress Sevrilla Thyhal’ka, an intelligent and talented daughter of the Thyhal line. Rather than force Tatris to marry someone of their choosing, father and mother chose to let him mate with the woman he had settled on. This caused a minor scandal, as the Dorandan line felt slighted. If you cared about that kind of thing, it was very important. Kknarathtak assassins were active, and several of the Thyhal and Doranadans were killed, although as both lines were of the blood, many assassins and would be assassins were killed as well.
With entertainment like this, no one had any time to care about a couple of minor nickel-iron balls out there with less than two hundred Naratsilath on them. The loss of a possible farming world might have warranted more, had my sister Malan not been forced to kill a few Kknarathtak at a gathering hosted by the old Karnat, Nolgren. They were there to kill the family head as she had some Thyhal blood in her somewhere.
The planet Shorendek, where Kotash Mastendar Agrendhep engaged in his fungus eating and failed miserably at protecting the worlds assigned to him, was the next to fall under the shadow. Sadly, Kotash himself was visiting my father, who counted (and counts) the old mushroom chewer as an old friend for his help during the Fratricides. I know you’re confused, just accept it for now. So when Kotash returned home to find it stripped clean of life, and the few worthwhile patches of metal and mineral on the small, marshy planet also gone, he immediately returned and complained to my father.
I heard of this later. At the time, the shining mountain was abuzz with tales of assassin outcasts behind every wall, making deal with treacherous Tsilath to kill rivals they were too afraid to challenge to tsiaridron. While I personally would have liked to see a few of us settle things that way, no one really likes using it to solve disputes. It’s too clear cut. Most Tsilath like to preserve doubt in each other as to who is the strongest for fear of being thought the weakest. By killing three attackers Malan had outraged them with her lack of ambiguity, I suppose.
I was at that time on my third declining to serve. Tsilath are expected to serve in the Kandrakoleth, to be trained as a soldier and used as one. I didn’t see much sense in it myself. If you saw me then, you would have seen another self-serving, pleasure seeking, selfish Tsilath more concerned with my station than my duties. I was in fact the despair of my family. Say what you will about the Dytariex’s offspring, but I alone among them had not gone to the Kandrakoleth as soon as I was eligible. Even Arktiesh, one hundred years my junion, had already served. He was at that time Tatris’ second and commander of a small wing of Tsilath that, in retrospect, might well have been sent to investigate had politics not reached a fever pitch.
My sisters had all served. Malan was still in service, Rythe just recently joined. She, too, was younger than I was. Tatris had risen as far as was possible for a son of the Dytariex who would not be allowed to command more than a hundred. Too risky to let someone so close to the throne have that kind of power at his disposal. Personal power was the hallmark of the blood of the Dytariex, not troops. So I admit, my own behavior was in itself another minor scandal in a season rife with them. Why does Kyrian not serve? Is he a coward? In truth, I wanted to be thought so.
I learned early that my family, despite their very real closeness, was always locked in battle. Tatris and Malan were not, could not be, friends. Malan wished to be the Dytariex when father passed on, as did Tatris, and nothing short of outright treachery was beneath or beyond them. Arktiesh, despite serving as Tatris’ second, was not partial to either of them. Rythe didn’t want the job, but also wasn’t sure she wanted any of us to have it. And there I was, born after Malan and Tatris and before Arktiesh and Rythe. So I did very little that I thought anyone could possibly see. When I trained with my siblings, I made sure to always lose, no matter who my sparring partner was. When I trained alone, I watched and studied my teachers intently, then performed just above failing until they despaired of me, and a new teacher was assigned for me to watch, and study, and disappoint.
Kyrian was barely proficient.
Kyrian muddled through.
Kyrian, therefore, was not a threat. Malan and Tatris disregarded me entirely. Rythe would often try and show me pity, but her contempt for my ineptness was too strong and she’d end up stalking away. Arktiesh loved beating me at things. I say to you now,boy, if ever you have a brilliant antagonist, let him think you slow, and stupid, as long as you can. Let him practice his most outlandish strategies on you. Let him toy with you, ever watching exactly how he does it. Every humiliation my younger brother gave me was valuable in this fashion. Even among the status conscious, scheming Tsilath I was considered a fine guest at a party, an amusing and trifling bit of royal fluff to be laughed at behind hands. And I let this continue for more than two hundred years. If not for Klarakshton I might never have stopped.
I’m not sure if mother and father were deceived. Mother, for all her similarity to Malan, is a far shrewder judge of people, and had the advantage of knowing my mind before it was a mind. Father simply never shows surprise at anything. If he truly thought me a fool, he never let me know it.
The day everything began to change, I came late into the vast meeting hall for the ten thousand. Keep in mind that there are more than ten thousand of the Tsilath. Closer to thirty five thousand, in fact. We live long, we breed for more than replacement, and we don’t die that often even in times of war. If not for the careful restriction on who can breed with who, and the general tendency of the Tsilath to select multiple lovers to suit whatever tastes run to hand, many of which couldn’t produce children naturally anyway, who knows how numerous we’d be? And then there are those like you, born to Naratsilath but born Tsilath. Evidence that someone broke the rules.
Old old Katari Dolon, who had fought against my father during the Fratricide and whose acceptance had ended that war, who had loved Siharra my mother like his own child even while trying to kill her husband and who alone once held six ships full of colonists intact through an outsystem raid by literally thousands of alien ships was speaking. Well, more like ranting, really. Not many people in the ten thousand have position secure enough to attack a personal friend of the Dytariex, but the man who held the Dytariex’s wife on his knee as a babe and sang the song of Rytharen to her with his mind did, and he was.
“One world under his watch would have been too much.” Katari floated, his bones long since too old to support his weight, his body now almost gossamer inside his living metal brother. The armor and his will were all that kept it together, his brain now almost totally supported by his connection to otherspace. He could stop willing himself to live at any time, and yet, his thoughts were like clear, pealing thunder as he willed a gleaming arm to point a finger at Kotash. The younger man (and keep in mind he was only yonger than Katari, who was older than my father’s father had been) wore his brother over his face in a featureless mask and held his thoughts inside, but his posture betrayed that even through his fungus haze he would have loved to kill Katari if he thought he could manage it. The old man was all set to die, perhaps, but he wasn’t going to go easily. “One world would be an embarrassment, a disgrace, a thing kknarathtak in its loathsome color. He has lost three. One of them the world the Dytariex trusted him to hold personally.”
Sitting in the ancient silver and black seat left him by his sister, and their father before her, and every Dytariex before him going back to Harra himself, my father’s face showed no reaction from where I could see it. It didn’t matter. Katari was right in that father had trusted Kotash with a world, and that world was lost to us. Old friend or not, losing the Dytariex’s charge was tantamount to the Dytariex himself losing it, since he’d chosen the man. The fact that no one had imagined anyone wanting Shorendek, that the assignment had been a way to quietly ship Kotash off to die with mushroom dreams on his lips, did not matter either. My mother placed her hand over my father’s and any fool could tell they were intently thinking to each other on how to settle this without the closest thing she had left to a father killing or being killed by father’s oldest supporter when Rythe, in her midnight blue and ebony sister-skin, entered the room and very discreetly sent what you will come to know as a request for attention. Rythe has always been good at asking for things in a polite yet undeniable way.
“We have new information. We had a garrison of People, including ten blue and two gold, on the planet Klarakshton.” She held up her arm and her sister-skin melted and ran, forming an aperture with dozens of facets that flickered, casting light into the air. Not a mental recording, so the gold didn’t make it. What it showed me was something I had never allowed myself to see before. What it showed me was People. People like your mother and father, long dwellers, Naratsilath.
They were dead. Until that moment, I had never seen one of the Naratsilath at all. They live outside of the shining mountains, off Throneworld entirely, they fill the many worlds of the Dytariexenka in countless billions and their lives were no more real to me than those of the snarlcars I had taken to breeding as pets. Less so. If one of my snarlcars was hungry, I knew it suffered, and I would feed it. I would stroke their sinous fur and coo to their minds. I would let them swarm me and bite at my skin, feeling their fierce joy in the hunt, knowing they did not bite me to hurt and that if they wished, they could pierce even my skin. I knew them. I loved them. Before that day? Naratsilath were less than nothing to me. I was Tsilath, favored by fate and blood, born of an unbroken line back to the men and women who killed the not gods and freed us all.
Rythe showed us piles of corpses, some intact, some torn apart. Hewn apart, heads tumbled away from bodies, limbs hacked off, burned off. The insides of their torsos unspooled from their guts, dull shine in the dim light of the recorded images. I could not, but for the fact that they were dead, tell them apart from the Tsilath I had grown among. That dead woman could well be Malan, with her stern jaw now set forever, streaks of mud and her own blood running down her face.
Since I had never served, I had never killed. I had never killed an intruding force of aliens, or driven curious explorers out of our space. There are countless trillions upon trillions of beings in this galaxy alone, and only the Kandrakoleth alone among our people deal with them. With our lost Lokari kinsmen. With peoples who far outnumber us, with those who only live on one planet which has resources we desire. Our people have at times killed to gain such, but more often we simply offer things we don’t value for things they do. Had the metal spiders contacted us, and explained what they wanted, we would gladly have handed it over in exchange for a few breadbasket worlds they had no use for.
I had never been targeted by an assassin, never challenged to tsiaridron, I had never killed. I had never seen the dead at all. And so, as Rythe showed us the images of a couple of surviving blues hurling every solid object they could lift at gleaming sacks of moving, shining things that looked vaguely (as much as twenty limbed hexagonal shapes can) like desert rock spiders, crushing a few, but being ultimately overrun I was pushed far out of my comfortable, lazy, completely selfish world for the first time. I didn’t just dislike how it felt and how it made me feel about myself, I hated it. I hated myself for it.
Katari began to launch into a new tirade, but before he got very far something that had never happened before interrupted it. In retrospect I am sure it would have been a piece of masterful invective and the old man might even have gotten the tsiaridron challenge from Kotash he wanted, had not the unthinkable occurred.