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Through The Valley Of Shadow
Shadow Gods Saga: Book Seven
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-887-7
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 285 Pages
Published: October 2011
OUT OF PRINT

From inside the flap

His soul filled with hate, Master Scout Terrllss-rr goes to Anar’on, the world of the Wanderers, to find Teena his loved one, and to avenge himself against his brother Dharaklin. In a moment that would have unleashed the hand of Death, Terr is confronted by a shattering personal revelation. To slake his thirst with the blood of his brother, Terr must be prepared to forsake Teena’s love and face personal oblivion. Damaged in a running fight with the Orieli, a Celi-Kran warship takes shelter on a Serrll frontier world. Not believing the enormity of the threat confronting them, the Serrll Scout Fleet receives a vivid demonstration of the meaning of total destruction. With the god of Death in his hands, Terr faces the Kran menace.

Through The Valley Of Shadow (Excerpt)


Chapter One

"Teena!" Terr cried in torn agony, arms upraised reaching toward a turbu lent sky.

Jagged and stark, lightning touched the hills and made the dwellings along the skyline flare and dance with cold white fire. With a pealing crash, thunder ripped the heavens apart. The ground cringed and shuddered. Cold and biting, the rain came down in slanting sheets, pursued by the mournful thin wailing of the wind.

He stood there letting the power of the wind and the rain wash over him in a vain hope of replenishing something that had been drained, rent from his very soul. He lowered his arms and gripped the ramp railing until his fingers ached from the strain. A strangled sob escaped from somewhere deep within him. He buried his face in his hands and felt the hot wetness in his eyes leak between his fingers. He was not crying, just wiping the rain off his cheeks.

The hurt he felt was an agonizing throb deep inside him, of loss and betrayal and shattered faith. It was a feeling of being soiled, something the rain could not wash away. There was a pressure in his chest, an exquisite sharp pain that probed and cut, threatening to burst through him. He clenched his fists and exhaled with a shudder. Mouth set in a rigid grimace, he tilted back his head.

"Nooooo!"

It was defiance to hell sent with hate and forlorn longing. It was a cry of shattered innocence and lost dreams. But there was no one to hear his torment in the storm. There was only the sound of rushing wind and hissing rain. He wrung his hands and swallowed. It went down lumpy and hard.

Shoulders hunched, he turned and stumbled back into the house. The door sighed shut behind him. His footsteps were heavy and loud in the empty corridor. Flat echoes surrounded him like a cloak, a reminder of all his yesterdays and of what might have been - fool’s dreams. Now the echoes mocked him with each step he made. A wet rivulet slid down the back of his head and icy tendrils touched his neck. He leaned against a wall, weary and lost, wishing for oblivion and its peace.

Absently, he reached into his pocket and clutched her scarf, deriving a measure of comfort from its soft touch. The liquor bar lit up as he approached. He punched in something, not really caring what, simply to stop the hurt for a while. The frosted tumbler slid out and he held it with hands that shook with coiled tension. He drank the bitter mixture in hurried gulps. He breathed out the pungent fumes with a shuddering grunt.

"Anabb ought to try this," he mumbled and stared at the glass.

Rit!

Anger and hate boiled within him, burning with a flame that was consuming him. That was one name he did not care to think about. With a snarl of revulsion, he hurled the tumbler against the wall. The tinkle of broken crystal was a window into the fires of his mind, a glimpse into the chaos of his thoughts.

"Damn you," he whispered with hissing intensity. "Damn you to hell!"

Blinking rapidly, he stared at the scarf in his hand. He extended his arm and looked at the clinging material, hanging limp and lifeless. He opened his hand and tilted it slightly. The sheer piece of precious cloth slithered with a rush and fell without a sound to make an insignificant pile on the carpet. That is how easy it had been to snuff out two lives. He regarded the material and his eyes misted.

"I am sorry, Teena ... sorry..."

He did not know how much he drank, but it must have been a lot. His eyes felt gummy and his mouth was dry, tasting like rotting lawn clippings. The Wall was cycling through random color patterns and he could not remember having switched it on. He finally decided that it didn’t matter worth a damn.

He did not remember getting into the cable-tube and the upper level. Clutching the walls, he staggered toward the bedroom. The door slid out of his way and he blinked as pale blue light touched the walls. The bed was wide and right in front of him. He fell across it with a heart-felt groan and the lights went out, leaving only the faint green safety strip along the bottom of the walls. Her smell was everywhere; on blankets, pillows, everything. The very air held her presence and he could not see her. Moaning, he clutched the sheets as something hot broke within him and flowed, cutting deep as it went.

"Teena," he sobbed brokenly and twisted with the pain, willing her to be there. Her form shimmered beside him, pale and transparent and he reached for her. He thought she smiled. Then she was gone, leaving behind her the heat and smell of burned desert sands. He cursed feebly as darkness descended over him like a film of gossamer.


***

It was dark when he woke.

He lay with his hands clasped behind his head, staring into the dusky depths of the ceiling, thinking of black and evil things. Through the window screen, blinking points filled the eastern sky where the canopy of stars met the somber dark hills. There was no wind. It was quiet and still as the night held its breath. The storm had washed the land and gone, its rage and anger spent. Somewhere in the night his own anger and rage had also been washed away, leaving behind an emptiness and a coldness that surprised him. Disturbingly, he felt a hunger to reach with his hand and see Death walk again.

The words came to him unbidden. His skin tingled and he tensed as Death came and he stood in its shadow. The sands were hot beneath his feet and the sun was a white hole burning through an amber sky. His cape fluttered behind him and he held his arms high. Thunder echoed among the dunes. The power flowed through him and he was one with the desert and the sky. He tilted back his head and laughed with the echoes.

But his laughter was a hollow and empty thing, a mocking memory. He felt the weight of his transgres sions and knew himself unworthy of the power that washed through him, tingling in his hands. The towering buttresses of Athal Than rising out of the sands of the Saffal were sharp in his mind. Perhaps it was destiny that the call should come to him now when he was about to kill a brother. But he did not believe it. The gods do not beckon for nothing. He figured that taking another life now would not make much of a difference anyway.

The images faded, leaving him in the blackness of his turbid thoughts.

Small noises filled the night and the air smelled wet and cold. With the shadow of death upon him, he tried to still the turbu lence of his mind. To sleep meant to be at peace and his soul knew no rest in the fires within which he burned. He was not feeling sorry for himself. That had been someone else, someone in another life and another reality. Looking back, he could hardly believe how naive and stupid he had been. The same questions tormented him over and over, but there were no new answers. It was a futile effort that only fanned the storm of hate that raged within him. The peace he craved eluded him.

Among the murky shadows of political counter-thrusts within which they worked, he could almost come to understand why Dhar may have wanted to eliminate him. But why didn’t Dhar just kill him and be done with it instead of letting him crash? If he lived, Dhar must have known that he was going to come after him. And Teena. Why take her? She had nothing to do with his missions. Was it because she was his partner? That made sense. But why take her to Anar’on of all places? It was maddening.

Nightwings, my brother of the night...

Terr gave a heavy sigh and threw back the covers.

Rit!

Outside, it was a stillness between breaths, a silence that he could feel: thick, heavy and comforting. The air was sharp and crisp. Yet as he walked toward the railing, he did not feel the cold. The moment had a timeless magical quality and he remembered all the nights that Teena and he had spent beneath the veil of stars. Cloaked by their light, the two of them would sit and talk while the hills around them slept. It was a crazy madness where they used to explore and discover each other, becoming one. It had seemed all so simple then. My only love, to have you beside me now...

He turned and she was there, a phosphorescent shadow that smiled at him. Her pale green eyes, set slightly too far apart, were big and soft, filled with compassion and love. Her small delicate mouth was open, revealing even white teeth. Long black hair stirred as in a wind. He could smell the desert sands around her.

"Teena," he murmured breathlessly and reached with a faltering hand to brush her face, aching for her touch. Her eyes never left his as she leaned against his hand. He felt the heat of her skin and his heart hammered loud in his ears.

"I love you," she mouthed the words and her form began to blur.

"Don’t go!" he moaned with tragic longing as she vanished, leaving behind but a burning memory.

He dropped his arm and stared at the spot where she had faded, wishing her to be there. There was only silence and darkness to keep him company. His power can do a lot of things, but it cannot bring her to him. Staring through the curtain of night, his thoughts wandered through the dusty corridors of his memories. He was lost in another time and another world from which she was now gone. He leaned against the railing and stared hard at the cold and cruel indifference of the stars.

Even now it all seemed almost unreal. He could hardly believe that his life could be ripped apart like this and so swiftly. Everything was gone at a stroke, a nightmare from which he longed to wake and find her beside him. He chuckled with bitter irony at the fates that had led him down this road. What was really funny that last night, after all the things he said to Anabb, he could not even bring himself to kill the cold, scheming, evil old fart, him and his fancy speeches and world saving missions. May the canal worm crap on him, his missions, the Orieli and anyone else who got in the way. Besides, what in the pit was so damned important about the Orieli or Earth that was worth being slugged, shot, hunted ... being away from Teena. Because of the Krans? He has never even seen a Kran. It was probably only a slick con job spun by the Orieli for the benefit of simple-minded locals.

Like the man said, it was all high politics stuff.

Anabb had even said as much, cursed be his shadow. Terr could understand the twisted workings of that mind, the plots and counter-plots being hatched in some dark corner of his brain. That was how the movers and the shakers did business. It was a game played by the powerful. Terr was not that naive not to recognize it. And for what? To save them all from the Karkan Federation and the bad old Servatory Party? By all the ten gods! Was the hand of the Revisionists any cleaner? If it meant his honor, pride and self-respect, they can all go and screw themselves.

It may have been a game, but the results were just as deadly.

But why you, Nightwings, my brother?

Could Dhar really be working for the Servatory Party and Terchran? Was he trying to get even because of Gashkarali? He had admitted knowing about the mission. Terr stiffened and a shiver ran down his spine. He felt the fine hairs on the back of his neck rise in faint alarm. He remembered as though it were yesterday. After the Salina conference, back on Taltair, Enllss had invited both of them to a reception. It was an occasion to pour oil between the Servatory Party and Revisionist waters.

He cleared his mind and saw Dhar’s face before him as they sat with Enllss in Anabb’s office. His brother looked calm, but reproving, almost uncomfortable at the thought of meeting Terchran. It was a subtle reaction and anyone else would have missed it. Then again, Terr wasn’t anyone. What was Terchran to him? If Dhar was collaborating with the Servatory Party, he could not understand what possible motive Dhar would have to get involved with them, and with Terchran of all people. Like Enllss said, the guy was a big cog in the Servatory Party wheel - a seat on the Executive Council and head of the Bureau of Technology and Development. A very heavy mover.

He could not believe that his brother would actually support the Servatory Party. He knew Nightwings better than that, or so he thought. He told himself that Dhar was using the Servatory Party to gather intelligence for the Unified Independent Front. Dhar had never made a secret of that. If true, what threat did that pose to force Dhar to engineer the dart crash? No, it had to be something more personal than mere intelligence gathering. Playing both ends against the middle?

In frustration, he abandoned that line of thought. It wasn’t getting him anywhere. His facts were painfully skimpy and he needed to do some homework if he planned to mix it with the likes of Terchran.

In the end, he did not care what Dhar’s motive was. He only knew what he had to do. On the way to Anar’on, he would make a small detour to Captal and check a few things out. Enllss was there and might be in a talkative mood, or open to persuasion, he mused grimly. He had to remember that Enllss and Anabb were cast from the same scheming mold. It was a hell of an arrangement. Still, Enllss was family - not that it meant he trusted him. Then again, Karhide Zor-Ell would be there as well and he might have a few answers of his own.

The battle for dawn was savage and short that left the sky smeared with blood. With the dawn, he lost the last strands of inno cence, trust and hope for any happiness. He did not know whether again a word or caress would ever cover what had been exposed, unless he walked the road of revenge. He knew the road he had to walk was a dark shadow where Death lurked. That road was also a trek of pain. Each pebble a memory, each rock a word, a turning, a trial. At its end Teena would be there waiting for him. She had to be there! If through the valley of shadow must he follow the path and face his brother with the horrors of his mind, so be it.

With a slash of a golden scimitar the sky parted. Fire splashed the hills and the shadows fled. He could feel the sun’s heat and the silence of the dawn as it broke over him. Strung like crystal beads, dew hung from leaves, glistening with rainbow flashes. He watched a drop fall, almost pausing before it struck to shatter in a burst of diamond fire.

So he stood, his thoughts dark, colored with vengeance.