ZHOLAN RUNNING

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After twenty years of not actually having anything new to say about Tomb of Shadoss, I had an inspiration for a continuation. Whether it continues from here is anybody's guess.

 

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Zholan Running
Van Turner, 2008


Began: November 24, 2008

Her hearts pounding, lungs burning, she ran almost blindly hoping the ship would still be at the port.

Zholan stumbled yet again cursing under her breath as the sharp pain in her right shin cut through what little coherent thought remained in her mind. The thin material of her brown pants did little to protect.

Zholan got up as quickly as her tired battered body would let her. Her hands were badly scratched and bleeding a little from the fall. She’d tried ignoring the painful stitch in her side to no avail. It seemed it was there to stay.

Zholan crouched low to the ground her slit pupils expanding to allow as much light as the one half moon and the one three-quarter moon could give to the background clutter of the nearby city. Her almond shaped eyes saw the night’s small creatures out on their own business. Her small pointed ears swiveled like radar to try and hear her pursuers now hopefully far behind. Or had the sent a patrol ahead to cut her off, drive her to the center of an ever tightening circle.

The black fur on her neck stood up a little in the breeze that rumored of rain.

Please let it rain, Zholan offered the goddess in prayer. The rain would cover her scent. The beasts couldn’t track her as well.

After listening as long as she dared, giving her body a brief respite Zholan started running again. She didn’t dare stop running. The beasts could overtake her surround her. Images of Croath’s mutilated body came back to her unwelcome and she almost stumbled again as bile tried to force its way up her throat. They’d torn him apart, shredding his stomach open. He hadn’t been prepared. It had happened so fast that he couldn’t regenerate. One of the beasts had eaten a heart.

Stop it! She mind screamed. He hadn’t even been able to protect himself, having no claws. They’d torn them out during his interrogation but Croath, even through his agony, had held fast hadn’t given anything away. She could still see his yellow, orange and white striped fur covered in the almost black red blood. His eyes had gone sightless the minute the beast had torn into his most tender parts.

Enough! She cried again. If I don’t stop this someone is bound to hear. If they can hear my mind I’m as good as dead and so is my mission and that cannot happen.

Zholan ran on through the night, stumbling in dark, sometimes stopping long enough to get her breath, pick the thorns from her black vest or white shirt, the white fur on her face soaked with sweat. Then she saw it.

The ship was still there on the platform. For all that it was a highly unattractive vessel, at the moment it was the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen. The sun was still a few hours away but the light from the platform and those for the ship lit up the area for several hundred feet all around.

Vronda, bless him, had kept his word. He’d been good before at the Tomb. Now he had been better. She owed him her freedom and life. Now she owed him the mission. Damn Furalle! She’d trusted him, even when she knew better. Where had he come from? Why their group?

A bright red beam of light suddenly appearing in her peripheral vision interrupted Zholan’s reverie. It lanced out from behind her and touched the starboard wing of the cross-shaped ship. The spot where the beam touched sparked and briefly flared. Zholan risked a look back and to her dismay her pursuers had come at them from the left flank. If she couldn’t close the gap between herself and the ship she would be caught.

There was a dull thundering sound as the ship’s powerful vertical take-off engines started. The air shimmered beneath the ship. The gun mounted on top of ship toward the rear swiveled to face her pursuers. Twin red beams of light spat back in protest of being shot. The ground erupted in a fountain of dirt not a hundred yards from her.

Cover fire, she thought. They’re giving me cover. I have to make it because they’re waiting for me instead of running. What had Vronda promised the crew? Hopefully not something they couldn’t pay.

Zholan heard the snarl right before she felt the blow that sent her tumbling to the ground. She used her momentum to turn her headlong tumble into a crouch and roll that ended with her on her back as the beast launched itself at her.

The beasts were an abomination of nature. Created by the invaders from genetic manipulation of a native creature, the beasts were like a cross between a hyena and a cheetah. Long, lithe, limber, strong and fast the beasts didn’t seem to have a proper name but they didn’t belong in any evolutionary chain. Large ears, large almond shaped slit-pupil eyes, broad nose, long legs with incredible fixed claws and wicked teeth, the beasts were trained hunters and killers.

In a flash, the beast was on her, pinning her to the ground. Zholan scrambled to get her legs up under the belly of the beast. She kicked for all she was worth, throwing the beast up over her head as she rolled to a kneeling position.

The wire-haired beast spun to face her, lips pulled back in a snarl, eyes narrowed watching for a weakness. It growled low in the back of its throat, saliva dripping from its mouth.

Zholan didn’t give it a chance. She concentrated on the beast, one hand pointing toward it, aiming. Suddenly the beast yelped, then howled in pain. It fell over, eyes sightless, blood seeping from its ears and nose. Around her, the red beams danced back and forth across the field. Fountains of dirt erupted from the ground around her as she ran toward the ship, not even sure when she got up from her fight with the beast.

Just a few hundred feet, she thought desperately.

“Come on!” came a shout from the direction of the ship.

Just a few seconds more, she thought, coming ever close. The ship was hovering, the landing gear up, the hatch open. A figure stood in the open door, body braced against the bulkhead.

Zholan closed the distance and lept toward the waiting figure. For a moment, Zholan felt all was lost as she fell, then suddenly she was caught, arms almost pulled out of joint as she hung from the side of the ship. The pressure increased as the take-off engines kicked in.

“Hold on!” yelled the man holding her forearms.

Why do they always say that? She thought wildly. Like I’m going to let go!

With a stomach turning lurch the ship rolled and before she could even think about it she was being pulled through the hatch. Zholan and her rescuer rolled into the ship as the hatch and airlock closed. She lie panting on the floor, the short corridor spinning as her hearts tried to slow down.

“I thought the beast had you,” said her savior.

“So did I,” she said hoarsely.

“I couldn’t take a chance on shooting at it,” he said quietly. “Might have hit you”

“Thanks. I think.”

Zholan sat up slowly as her head stopped spinning, her breathing close to normal.

“You’re getting very good at that,” said the fellow of the orange, black and yellow patches. “Using your mind like that.”

“That was never intended to be used like that,” she said bitterly.

“I know. I’m sorry it’s come to that,” he said quietly. “You okay? Are you hurt?”

“Minor cuts and bruises. Nothing that won’t heal.”

“Good,” he said. “You should rest as well as you can. We still have to meet Croath.”

Zholan’s hearts went cold. Even as he helped her up from the metal grate floor, Zholan couldn’t help but stumble a bit. She steadied herself, gently shaking off his help.

“Vronda,” she heard herself call his name, unable to look at him. She took a breath. “We’re not meeting Croath.” I’m not going to cry, she told herself as the tears started down her face, her breath coming in hitches.

“Zholan,” said Vronda, eyes frowning in concern. “What’s happened to Croath?” He gently cupped her chin in both hands, forcing her look him in the eyes.

“The beasts,” she stammered. “They tore out his claws and gave him to the beasts,” she cried.

Suddenly Vronda was holding her, one arm around her back, the other stroking the back of her head, holding her to his shoulder as she cried.

“Come on. You need to rest.” He led her to one the crew cabins of the corridor. It was a plain room with two beds, two desks, two chairs, and two sets of built-in drawers. Vronda helped Zholan to sit in the firm bed with its utilitarian bedding. He sat beside her.

“I’m sorry,” he said simply. “I know that’s not even close but it’s all I’ve got. I barely knew him. I know you were life mates. I’m so very sorry for your loss. I could see the way he looked at you that he very much loved you. We have to go on though. Carry that anger with you, Zholan. Let it burn you like a flame. Use it to your advantage. Avenge him. Complete this mission in his name.”

Zholan knew in her mind that what Vronda said made sense. It just wasn’t in her hearts yet.

“Rest now. We’ve gotten away fairly clean. These people know their way around this star system and can have us on Gattiway without fear of pursuit.”

As Zholan lay down on the firm bed, one last chain of thoughts went through her head. Who were they? Why were they helping? What did they have to gain?

Vronda watched a sleep overcame Zholan, his yellow eyes concerned. He gently eased off her boots and pulled a blanket taken from a drawer over her.

Oh, Croath! He thought desperately. I am so very sorry. We will avenge you. Vronda turned out the light and closed the door.

 

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