The Bull and the Hyena, Part 23

A single shuttle touched down in the pouring rain outside of Haasadis Ventelin’s villa, and a solitary figure emerged and ran up the short path into the building. As he showed his ID to the guards and tried to shake the excess water off his clothes, Vor Shen scowled at the necessity of coming here in the rain. He would have preferred to wait until the rain was over, but it wasn’t supposed to stop for a few days, and he really wanted to get this meeting over with.

He was alone, a fact that disturbed Verdek greatly. He had to admit that he’d had second thoughts about telling her to stay with the fleet. She was quite…formidable, and she would have been an excellent counterweight to Ventelin’s horrible steward. But he was also determined to show Tromin that he wasn’t afraid of her. He knew that he held all the cards after his decisive victory over the Empire. If Tromin wanted to insist on trying to see his personal files, then he would tell Ventelin to choose between the two of them, and he had no doubt about which of them Ventelin would choose.

His confidence slipped a little as he approached Ventelin’s quarters and realized that there were no guards in front of the door. Why wouldn’t there be any guards? Ventelin was an exceedingly paranoid person. It was completely unlike him to leave his door unguarded, and it didn’t make any sense. Unless…he was planning to do something that he didn’t want witnessed.

Shen shook his head to clear it. He was getting paranoid himself. There was no reason to suspect that Ventelin knew anything about his plot, and even if he did, Shen had just proven himself indispensable. Ventelin wouldn’t dare harm him now. There must have been a perfectly good reason for the guards to be absent. He pressed his palm against the identity sensor, the door slid open, he entered, and…

***

Treben Holkas stood up with a scowl, gun in hand, as the door to Ventelin’s chambers opened and Vor Shen entered. He’d never actually met the man in person, but he’d seen enough pictures and holos of him to know what he looked like. He pointed the gun directly at Shen’s head, and was delighted when a brief glimpse of fear flashed across the man’s face, although it was gone almost as fast as it appeared.

“Who are you?” Shen demanded angrily.

“A ghost from your past,” Holkas said grimly, “come to exact bloody vengeance.”

“I see,” Shen said slowly. “Tell me…how long did you rehearse that little line before this moment?” Holkas growled angrily and wiggled his gun emphatically.

“Do not mock me, you butcher,” he said. “I hold your life in my hands here.”

“Really,” Shen said flatly. “Do you realize that we are in the heart of Midigallan power, and that I am the most powerful person in Midigal? And we’re surrounded by armed guards who are loyal to me? Do you really think that you can kill me and get out of here alive?” But Holkas just grinned at this.

“Awfully confident, aren’t you?” he said sardonically. “Don’t you think all the guards in this building already know I’m here? How do you think I got in?” Shen’s face froze for a second, but then he reassumed a nonchalant look.

“Okay, fine,” he said, folding his arms. “Let’s play this little game. Who are you really? Tell me what this is all about.” Holkas’s grin grew wider and nastier.

“My name, General Shen, is Treben Holkas,” he said, and waited. Shen thought for a second, and his face fell as realization dawned.

“You’re the one that Verdek hired to kill Ventelin,” he growled.

“Why, yes, I am,” Holkas said, still grinning like a madman.

“How much did Ventelin offer you to turn against me?” Shen asked with a snarl. “Whatever it was, I’ll double it! Triple it even!”

“Oh, this isn’t about money,” Holkas said. “It’s about you. Your little assistant apparently didn’t do a very good job of looking into my background. If she had, she would have realized that you and I have a history.”

“We do?” Shen asked, baffled. “I’ve never heard of you before!”

“You haven’t?” Holkas asked. “Are you sure about that? Think back about…oh, five years or so ago. Do you, by any chance, remember ordering the executions of a woman and her son?” Shen still looked baffled.

“Not…really,” he said.

“Their names were Harasai and Joras Holkas,” he said in a soft, dangerous voice, all hint of a smile gone from his face. “My wife and child.” Shen frowned.

“Nope,” he said. “Not ringing a bell. Sorry.”

“YOU KILLED THEM, YOU BASTARD!” Holkas screamed suddenly. “You killed an innocent woman and her young son, and for what!? They’d done nothing wrong! And now…now I am going to make you suffer. You are going to die a slow and painful death for what you did. I am going to take my sweet time killing you, and I am going to enjoy every moment of it.” Holkas drew out every syllable of every word of this last sentence, and began slowly stalking toward Shen. A look of terror appeared on Shen’s face, and he began backing up, but before he could get far, a shot rang out from behind Holkas, and Shen dropped to the ground, dead. Holkas spun around in shock and anger, and there was Kyla Vertrane standing there, still holding a smoking gun in her hands.

“WHY DID YOU DO THAT??” bellowed Holkas. “He was mine! I was going to make him pay for what he did to my family!!”

“He has paid now,” Kyla said. Her face was pale and her expression somewhat shocked, but her voice was steady. “You didn’t need to torture him for justice to be done. He just needed to die. And if I’d let you go through with what you planned, you would have been just as much of a monster as he was.” Holkas aimed his gun at Kyla’s head with a wordless growl, but after a few tense seconds, instead of pulling the trigger, he dropped the gun on the floor. Then he collapsed to his knees and started sobbing. Kyla set her gun down on the floor, and then kneeled down next to Treben and held him.

“It’s over,” he gasped between sobs. “He’s dead. I avenged them.” He sobbed wordlessly for several minutes, and then suddenly let out a primal scream, causing Kyla to recoil in surprise. He screamed for what seemed like an eternity, shaking with rage and anguish, and when he was done, he just sat on the floor with his head bowed, breathing heavily.

“It doesn’t change anything though, does it?” he said softly. “They’re still dead. Killing Shen didn’t bring them back.”

“Did you expect it to?” Kyla asked quietly.

“I don’t know,” Holkas said. “Maybe, in some weird, irrational way. Maybe I just thought that getting revenge would help me be at peace with their deaths. But it didn’t work. I’m just as empty now as I was before. Maybe even emptier, because now I don’t know what to live for.”

“I can’t tell you what you should live for, Treb,” Kyla said gently, placing one hand on his shoulder. “But I can tell you that you can’t give up now. I never knew your wife or your son, but I have to believe that they would want you to press on and find a new purpose for your life.” Treben sat quietly for a long time, just staring at his hands. And then he stood up.

“You’re right,” he said resolutely. “It is time to close this chapter of my life and open a new one. Harasai would never forgive me if I spent the rest of my life moping over her.”

“That’s better,” Kyla said with a smile. “Let’s go find Tromin and get our money, and then …we’ll see what happens.” She winked, and he smiled, and together they left the bleeding body of Vor Shen behind.

The End

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