Culmination, Part 16

Shala woke up slowly, her eyes opening gradually and then snapping back shut to block out the harsh light that shone in. She groaned and tried to turn over, but found that she couldn’t move at all. Where am I?, she thought groggily. Slowly, very slowly, she opened her eyes again and tried to accustom them to the light. She realized that she was in a very small room with four gray, metal walls. A cell, she thought in despair. He’s stuck me in a prison cell!

Once again she attempted to move her body, but her body wouldn’t respond. She didn’t know if she was being restrained in some way, or if the drug that Jefmin Lakatai had given her hadn’t worn off yet. She could feel panic rising in the pit of her stomach, and she stubbornly fought it down. She couldn’t afford to give into panic now. She had to keep her wits about her and keep her mind clear. Her father would be determined to break her once and for all, after she had defied him for almost a decade. If she was going to avoid that fate, she’d need every ounce of her cunning and courage.

Slowly, very slowly, she began to realize that her inability to move was a result of the drug, and gradually that ability began to return to her. She tested one arm, and then the other, and then both her legs, and then she very carefully pushed herself into a sitting position. A wave of nausea washed over her once she sat up, but it passed almost as soon as it arrived. Still, it was enough to make her take a short break before she attempted to stand up.

Before she could make that attempt, though, there was a loud buzzing sound that made her cringe and cover her ears, and the door slid open. For a split second, she thought about making a break for it, but that thought didn’t make it very far before someone entered the room. One look at this person made her gasp in astonishment, but she quickly regained her composure.

“Hello,” said her father with an arrogant smile as the door slid shut behind him.

Shala just stared at him defiantly. As she did, she studied him closely. He had aged considerably, his muscles having turned to fat and his thick, wavy hair having turned gray and stringy. One thing that hadn’t changed, however, was the malevolent, predatory look in his cold, dark eyes.

“You’ve made life very difficult for me, my beloved,” Neminatrix said with a twisted grin.

“I certainly hope so,” Shala retorted with a sneer, and then her head whipped back as Neminatrix slapped her hard across the face.

“Your time spent with young Belfamor has ruined your manners, I see,” he said with a cruel scowl. “Well, now that you are back home where you belong, we can do something about that.” Shala just glared at him, ignoring the blood that was running down her cheek. Neminatrix’s scowl slowly turned back into a twisted grin as he leered down at her.

“You know, I’m hoping that someday soon, I get a chance to know your son better,” he said conversationally, although a predatory gleam in his eyes had deepened. “A boy should have a chance to spend time with his relatives, don’t you think?”

“If you so much as think about laying a hand on Vendamil, I’ll rip your heart out with my bare hands,” Shala hissed viciously, but Neminatrix just laughed.

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that, my dear,” Neminatrix said, wiping a tear of mirth from his eyes. “Your son is perfectly safe in my hands. After all, I would never do anything to harm the person who delivered you to me.”

“What?” Shala gasped, feeling all the defiance drain out of her.

“Oh yes,” Neminatrix said with a nasty smile. “You see, he was quite upset that you wouldn’t let him come and study at Imperial University, and he figured that getting rid of you would remove the primary obstacle in his way. Such a clever boy, don’t you think?”

“I…I don’t believe it,” Shala whispered, shaking her head.

“Oh, you’d better believe it,” Neminatrix replied, his twisted grin deepening. “And once he comes here to go to school, I’ll be able to mold him in my image. Once someone as brilliant as him is in charge of House Votalin and the Empire, our power will be absolute!”

“Belfamor will never allow him to come to Trisitania,” Shala said, her voice hoarse.

“Perhaps, for a time,” Neminatrix said dismissively. “But your husband will be coming for you soon, and when he does, I have a little surprise waiting for him this time.”

“I wouldn’t dismiss him so easily,” Shala rasped, fear, rage and sorrow warring to make it difficult for her to speak.

“I would,” Neminatrix smirked. “Hemetals are terribly predictable. He’ll come here with a small team of elite operatives, hoping to spirit you out the same way he did ten years ago. But he will find that the Palace’s defenses are much more…formidable, than they were before.” Neminatrix’s smirk deepened, and he leaned forward, putting his face so close to Shala’s that she could smell alcohol on his breath. “I have you now, my dearest daughter, and soon I will have your son and your husband.” He stood up, sneered down at her for a moment, and then turned and left the cell.

Shala just sat and stared at the door for a long time after her father left. To be honest, it wasn’t as if there was anything else to do in the cell, although Shala had too much on her mind to worry about it. The biggest thing, strangely, was the smell of her father’s breath. Her father was many horrible things, but a drunk had never been one of them. Had he really been so distraught at her absence that it had driven him to drink? If so, that was potentially a weakness she could exploit.

To be continued…

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