Chapter 20:  Shi Kari

 

 

 

We are.

 

The two words made up the very backbone of Shi Kari society, made up the very essence of what they embodied.  They existed as many, yet they were one.  They existed for the Lavoids, yet they had no purpose.  They were the creators, and they were the children.

 

On the tenth level of what the Hunters had come to call the Black Tower, they existed.  It could not be said that they sat, nor that they stood, nor that they did anything along those lines, for they had no bodies left to them. 

 

They were the Inner Council, the Hive Mind of the Shi Kari Fleet; they were those so permeated with lavoid energy that nothing was left but an essence.  There were over fifty of them in the huge antechamber, which was the only part of the Black Tower that remained unaltered from the days when it had been a huge spacecraft.  The only way one could tell their location was through the many glass tubes that laced the room, each going from floor to ceiling, and each glowing with an inner light.  The colors of these lights differed slightly from tube to tube, but each was a variation on either green or red hues.  Some were pleasing to the eye, soft and delicate, while others were so hideous a shade as to be almost horrifying.  No matter the color, each pulsed in sync with the ones around them, the whole resulting in giving the feeling of an unheard rhythm, an inaudible melody of death. 

 

These minds, the final remnants of the human scientists of Earth, were speaking, insofar as such things could speak.  It was truly a form of telepathy, but worked in such a way that their brainwaves echoed throughout the tower.

 

‘The human challenged a full six of our Farilii… and yet he lives.’ One voice, coming from a tube the color of blood, said.

 

‘He lives only through our commands, Kafka.  They would have killed him in his weakened state.’ The response came from across the room, with a pulse of green and light.

 

‘Either way, he came too far in his work.  He killed three of them before he was fully subdued, despite their regenerative abilities.’

 

‘All the more reason that he should be brought before us, brought before Shi Kari.’

 

‘He is dangerous.  We should kill him, now.  The lavoid would not want us toying with hostages.’

 

‘The lavoid is no longer here.  We know this, the Shi Kari know this.  He is far from us, on Earth, and has been for over forty years of human time.  He can do nothing to us.’

 

‘That is a rebellious thought.’ This comment set off a cacophony of sound and flashes of green and red light throughout the room, as the many minds argued and fought over the dangers that the very acknowledgement of that brought.  After several long minutes passed in this blinding fashion, a single thought superseded itself over all the others.

 

‘No, it is not.  I merely state the facts.  The lavoid would not have approved of the Doppelgangers, but they have done much good for the Shi Kari.  The lavoid would not approve of this human in our midst, but properly interrogated, he too can do much good for the Shi Kari, and for the lavoid.’

 

‘I believe he bears much harm for the Shi Kari, no good.  There is no good in his race, in his kind.  Only hypocrisy, only destruction.’

 

‘And what have we against the destruction?  It can be turned against his kind.  It shall be turned against his kind.  He will have no choice.’

 

The pulses changed tempo then, faster, faster.  ‘What is in his mind, then?  He is not of this planet, but he is a Hunter.  He is young, and he is old.  We cannot comprehend his being.’

 

The voices cried out as one then, called out to their servants, called out to the Shi Kari.  ‘Bring the Human before us… bring the Hunter before us.  He shall learn of terror.  We are Shi Kari.’

 

The thrumming went out over the whole of the tower, the pulsing wave of energy reverberating in the mind of every Farilii, Doppelganger, and lesser servant on the planet.  The voice of the Shi Kari as one, as a single presence of Lavoid Energy knew no bonds of distance.  Had a one of the Shi Kari been across the very universe, he would have heard the call, would have instantly understood it.  There was no escaping it.

 

Darrell Shanning, lying wounded in a cavernous cell, could almost hear the call, lying as he was within the bowels of the tower.  It echoed in the rocky depths that surrounded him, it bubbled up from the stony ground.  It shook the very metal grates that held him where he was, and threatened to tear open anew his many wounds. 

 

He was alive.  He didn’t know how he was alive, or why.  The fight with the Farilii had gone just as he’d expected, at least initially.  He’d taken a few of them out – honestly, more than he would’ve wagered – and had in turn been injured to the point of no return.  But when he’d finally given up, when he’d finally let sweet darkness overwhelm his being, they’d done something.  He had never expected to awaken when his eyes shut on the twisted ruins of that fallen building, yet he had.  His wounds were still just as they had been, but no more had been added to them, and they did not bleed. 

 

They had kept him alive, and even with the half-heard call, he could not understand why. 

 

He heard his visitor before he saw him, so absorbed was he in his pain, and in the faint remnants of the call.  Click-clack.  Click-clack.  He wore black boots, and they beat harshly against the ground as he walked.  Those were the first things that Darrell saw, laying as he was on the ground.  With a struggle, he lifted his eyes, expecting death, expecting pain. 

 

Instead, he was greeted with a strangely human figure.  The man who stood before him was no older than twenty-one, with stringy black hair that fell about his face in unkempt clumps.  His skin was incredibly, unnaturally pale, and his eyes were purple. 

 

“Human.” The thing’s mouth opened with these words, yet the deep basso tone that gave the sound almost seemed to come from somewhere else.  It didn’t fit the man’s appearance at all.  “Can you stand?”

 

Darrell would have shut his eyes, almost wanted to, but he knew that it would not end anything.  He would awaken, probably very abruptly.  He would not escape this insanity, this confusion.  “I…” he started to push himself up.  His temples throbbed with the effort, and cuts along his thighs and forearms opened and bled freely, but he did not let himself fall.  He would not let this thing before him aid him.  “Yes, I can.” He said finally, struggling to keep his balance as he finally gained his feet.

 

“That is convenient.  You shall accompany me.” The being was not asking, yet there seemed no threat behind his words.  He held no weapon, and did not appear to have a spell ready.  He just expected Darrell to obey.  The young man was completely unwilling to do that, not without some sort of fight, and prepared to tell him so. 

 

No words came out.  The young man walked, and Darrell followed.  It seemed a foregone conclusion.  As they came to the grates that held Darrell in the cavern that was his jail cell, the being simply kept walking.  They bent back before him, allowed him to pass.  Darrell, fully intending to study the things at least briefly, walked straight past them without so much as a glance. 

 

“Where… are you.. taking me..” the words were forced, and his voice sounded as though it were coming from deep underwater.  It was very disturbing for Darrell, so used to being completely in control of himself and his surroundings, but he couldn’t concentrate enough on it to figure out what was happening.

 

The pale man didn’t even turn around, though his words had the slightest tone of surprise at the question.  He obviously hadn’t expected Darrell to say anything.  “You will see the Shi Kari.  It is their will, it is our will.”

 

“You are Shi Kari?” Darrell asked again, the words little more than a ragged whisper. 

 

The being did not bother to respond, indeed, he saw no need.  It was obvious. 

 

They walked on through the bowels of the tower, dark stone eventually giving way to ether-lit steel and glass.  They walked on through narrow hallways that twisted and turned every few feet, that almost seemed to writhe like a thing alive as Darrell passed through them.  Every once in a great while, they would pass a Farilii, or some other lavoid soldier.  They regarded Darrell with open hatred, if they even gave him a glance.  To his credit, the young Zionite managed to at least return their bloodthirsty stares, though he could not make himself speak, though he could not make himself stop walking.

 

Click-clack.  Click-clack.  That was the only audible noise in the whole of the tower.  None of the Farilii spoke, none of them walked from place to place in the tower.  Most of the ones that Darrell saw were simply standing there, as though at guard.  They did not move; indeed, they didn’t even seem to breathe.  It was a very sobering experience, and as Darrell noted their human features, he began to think of a reason that he might have been kept alive.  And that reason shook him to the very depths of his soul.

 

Eventually, after they had walked… how long had it been?  Perhaps they had walked but seconds, perhaps they had walked for hours.  It was impossible to gauge.  However long it had been, their journey came to an end before a huge door wrought of the same black stone that the lower areas of this strange facility had been composed of.  The strange almost-human before him knocked once upon it, surely unnecessarily.  The noise from it reverberated throughout the hallway, and surely – from Darrell’s perspective – throughout the rest of the building.

 

And then, most shockingly, a thought penetrated his brain, laid itself over his thoughts like a voice.  But no one had spoken.

 

‘Enter, Taloncreed.  Bring the Human with you.’

 

And, with that almost-voice, the huge stone door swung back, revealing behind it a huge chamber filled with twisted beacons of glowing glass.  They ran from floor to ceiling, glowing hideously as they arced in bizarre designs.  Thankfully, the black stone that made up the rest of the room absorbed much of the light, but it gave the one Darrell assumed to be Talon Creed a sickly sheen, and no doubt did something similar for himself. 

 

Talon pulled Darrell to the forefront of the room without laying a hand on him, and thrust him upon something of an inclined bit of ground.  As he stepped upon it, the tubes glistened brightly, and began thrumming as if in beat with some unheard song.  It was almost painful to watch, but the young scientist couldn’t shut his eyes.

 

‘Tell us your name, Humanhunter.’

 

Darrell shuddered at the way they had run the two words together, completely perverting the meaning of the latter.  He didn’t intend to respond, wanted desperately to keep his silence.  Talon Creed cast him an emotionless glance.

 

“Darrell Shanning.” He said.

 

‘Who are you, Darrellshanning, Humanhunter?’

 

The words echoed in his mind, and it occurred to him that they were coming from the beacons of light that surrounded him.  He had not read of this in his book.

 

“Who am I?  I don’t understand your question.” He was amazed at how calm he sounded, when every fiber of his being urged him to panic, urged him to attack.

 

‘Why are you on Riven, Humanhunter?’

 

Darrell tried desperately to keep his mouth shut.  He could not, would not betray his mission to these things. 

 

“I seek…” he choked off the words, amazed that he had nearly said them anyway.  He looked over at Talon, who was staring at him intensely now.  He felt his mouth open.  “I seek a way to… NO!!!” he shook his head violently, and with a burst of energy, stepped back from the black altar of stone.

 

This action didn’t seem to affect the tubes of light in the least.

 

‘We have all the time required for your words to pour forth, Darrellshanning.  You will tell us, but the longer it takes, the less you will like it.’

 

Darrell opened his mouth, this time to spew words of defiance, but suddenly felt his body wracked with pain.  He fell to the ground instead, thousands of watts of electricity coursing through him.

 

‘Remember respect, Darrellshanning.  We are Shi Kari.’

 

In a great exercise of will, Darrell showed them what he thought of that.  He spat on the ground.  This led to another jolting of electricity, but he just spat again in response.

 

“I will not bow to you lavoid dogs… you murderers.” He whispered, almost inaudibly.  But this was the chamber of the Hive Mind; no spoken word went unnoticed.

 

‘You are a hypocrite and a fool, Darrellshanning.  What have we done wrong?  What have the lavoids done wrong?’

 

“The lavoids have killed billions… and you helped them do it.”

 

‘The lavoids have killed billions, Darrellshanning?  This is the cycle of life.  They have done nothing ‘immoral’.  They created you – yes, we recognize your inner energies, Darrellshanning of Riven, whose parents were of Draconus VI – and it is their right to destroy you.  You were born for the harvest.’

 

“Who gave them the right to ‘harvest’ us, answer me that!!” Darrell yelled, struggling back to his feet.  He ignored the now constant thrumming of electricity down his spine, though it set him staggering.

 

‘Hypocrite.  What they have created, they may also destroy.  You are the same way, Human.  You raise plants, you raise animals.  You treat them well, cultivate them to prosper.  And then, when you hunger, you slaughter them.  This is no different.’

 

“We do not kill our very equals, other thinking, feeling, intellgent beings!!” Darrell pushed out, forced back to the ground by the constant pain.

 

‘Ha!’ the pulsing of the tubes quickened momentarily, in a cacophony of flashing light.  ‘You are nothing more than an animal, Darrellshanning.  Your people are no more than animals.  The animals fight each other at but a whim; how many wars have your people had?  How many times has brother fought brother, over your worthless monies, over your worthless sense of ‘property’?  The lavoids do not fight amongst themselves, Human, and in this they are the only true sentience, the only true things above animals.’

 

“We created… the Lavoids…” Darrell said between clenched teeth, an especially vicious blast of lightning setting his hair on end and his conscious state to the very edge.

 

‘No, Shanning.  You did not create the Lavoids.  We are among the final surviving creators of the Lavoids, we who recognized their place as the next step in evolution.  It does not matter how they were born; do you pay homage to the apes from which you sprang?  All that matters is that they are the true masters, and we are their servants.  You humans are on a lower rung of the evolutionary ladder, and can but weep impotently as you realize you’ve become outdated.’

 

Darrell tried to respond again, wanted to curse every one of these beings, wanted to force the fact that they were making sense from his mind.  All he got out was one word.  “Die…” and with that, he passed out. 

 

He was lucky in this; he did not have to hear the Shi Kari’s response.

 

‘You shall have no such blessing, Darrellshanning.’

 

.

 

Terra beat against the metal grates of her underground cell, seeking some way, any way, to get them to open in they that she’d seen them open for Mishra Bishop.  Mishra… that cursed lavoid-loving scumbag.  She’d thought something strange about him, but had been powerless to do anything but follow him, straight into the Black Tower.  It was most bizarre how it had happened.  They’d stepped straight up to it, and just as Terra began to think they were going to be teleported to the other side by the shield spell, the surroundings disappeared.

 

And when their impromptu teleportation spell had ended, she’d been here, in this cavernous prison. 

 

They hadn’t taken her Kaiser Knuckles; they obviously didn’t see her as any sort of threat, even armed.  The sad thing was, they were probably right.  She wouldn’t let that stop her, though.  She continued to pick at the grate with her clawed fists, looking for a corner, anything that would let her pull back on them.

 

After several minutes of rather aggravated effort, she thought she found it.  She slipped her clawed glove into a space just below the door, and started to pull on it.  To her great satisfaction, it started to give way almost immediately.

 

The reason for this became apparent as the door opened up, throwing Terra backwards and revealing several Farilii, carrying an unconscious figure in their arms.  Before she could react, they tossed the body in, and let the door slam shut behind them.  As it did, she cursed for but a moment, then realized who they had thrown in with her.

 

“D… Darrell?  Darrell!” she knelt down next to him, and noted with a wince the many cuts that laced his body.  Thankfully, none were bleeding at the moment – the dried blood on the surface was blackened, as though someone had dried it with heat or a blast of electricity – but he still seemed to be in rather bad shape. 

 

She pressed her ear up against his chest, and noted with relief that his heartbeat, at the least, was strong.  She shook him slightly, trying to see if he could be woken up.  “So help me, if I can get my hands on these things…” her eyes narrowed, and she continued to shake him.

 

“Ow!!  Ack, geez!!” Darrell’s voice startled her to no end, and she realized that she’d been squeezing his arm with her gauntlets as she shook him.  “What in the…” the young man’s eyes fluttered open, and he looked up right at Terra.  Immediately, he closed them again, and rubbed them with his eyes. 

 

When he opened them again, she was still there.  “Dear God…” Darrell couldn’t recall ever invoking any higher power’s name before, but it seemed an appropriate phrase at the moment, “Terra?  You’re… alive?”

 

“Somehow, yeah.  I’m not really sure why, though… but how did you end up here?  Did they catch Cyne and Meryl, too? Did they…”

 

Darrell pressed a single finger to her lips, struggling to sit up.  “No, I don’t think so.  As far as I know, Cynewulf and Meryl made it off with those Hunters.  They should be safe.”

 

Terra cocked an eyebrow.  “Well, what happened to you, then?”

 

“I…” the young man trailed off for a moment, seeming embarrassed to say.

 

“What?”

 

Darrell sighed, shrugging in a nonchalant manner.  “After you got knocked off the building… how did you manage to live through that, anyway?  Not to say that I’m not glad you did, I’m ecstatic, it just seems that…”

 

“Hey!” Terra put her hands on her hips and stuck out her lower lip.  “No fair trying to change the subject.  I’ll tell you about that in a minute.”

 

“Saw right through that ploy, did you.” The young man ran a hand through his hair, noting with some annoyance that it ran down past his neck now.  Most unkempt.  He considered telling Terra about it, but realized that wouldn’t get him out of telling her either.  “Well…  after you got knocked off the building, I kinda lost it.  Told our friends and those Hunters to get going, and I fought with the Farilii.”

 

To say that Terra’s eyes widened would be an understatement.  They opened so much that Darrell though he could see the entire white of them, which didn’t strike him as something someone should be able to see.  “Are you…nuts, Dar?!  There were at least four of them there!!!”

 

The scientist coughed.  “Er… six, actually.”

 

“SIX?!?!!” Darrell’s best friend jumped to her feet, and looked for a moment like she was going to cuff him.  But it faded after a moment, as tears started to stream down her face.  “Darrell… that was really stupid of you.  You could’ve gotten killed, and then what would I… would I have…”

 

“Hey, Terra, it’s okay.” Darrell stood up and looked at the young woman in concern.  “Don’t cry.  I’m okay, well…” he looked down at his bruise-covered body, “No permanent damage, anyway.  Don’t cry over me…” he looked at her pleadingly, and, after a long moment of hesitation, pulled her into his arms. 

 

“Don’t ever do something that stupid again, Dar… don’t you ever.” Terra whispered, still crying.  “I couldn’t make it without you.”

 

Darrell had a million things he could have said at this point.  He decided, after but a split-second of thought, that saying something would ruin the whole moment.  For once in his life, he kept his silence, just let himself hold Terra, and be held.  And in that moment of time, the whole of the Black Tower slipped away; indeed, even the thoughts of Grendel went away.

 

.

 

“ ‘You ARE aware she’s got a thing for you, right?

 

  ‘What are you talking about?’

 

  ‘You don’t see it?!  Can’t you hear the way she talks to you?  The way she looks at you?’ Tristan Tenser and Jack McKlane, Chrono Trigger:  The Planeswalkers.

 

.

 

Back to Nightsong's Fiction