Into the Palace of Death

“Tell Ginny I love her,” Rebecca said as she stepped back from kissing Viktor deeply, tears in her eyes, and her blaster aimed straight at his chest.

She answered his look of surprise with a voice that broke. “Vik, there’s a way everyone can live through this, and if the Spirits are aiding, these poor people will be saved in the process. There’s no fucking time to explain. Just get in that ship now, or I swear I’ll kill you myself.”

He took a step forward and she fired. Crying, she bent down and touched her lips to her husband’s, “Stupid, noble idiot. You weren’t supposed to call my bluff. Darrien, get him aboard, and get out of here. Me and Darla have something reckless and stupid to do that’ll let all of you keep your skins.”

Sighing, she looked at the unconscious Viktor being slung over Burok’s shoulder. She half chuckled, half choked as she said, “Maybe some of his luck is contagious and we’ll see you later… somehow.”

The two women hurried away as the rest of the fledgling adventuring band got aboard, saluting the pair’s fleeing backs — tears or their equivocal freely falling.


The huge orbital palace’s weapons locked onto the fleeing ship as the tractor beams sputtered and failed. There was a series of explosions as the sabotaged weapons systems all overloaded. This the Daggers had expected. The trouble was keeping those on the world below from suffering mass atrocities in punishment for this. The labs where the plagues were manufactured and the bulk of the giant ship’s armament were too well guarded for such a small force to destroy them without destroying the ship … something that would have been suicide. The only accessible way to do it was almost a maldri from any means of escape and would cause the ship and anything smaller than a Borlothan Battlestar within a thousand maldri radius to be space dust in less than ten piclanid.

The Daggers’ ship had barely reached a safe distance before the moment an explosion happened large enough it could literally be heard around the world whose liberation it heralded. Winters would be longer and summers shorter and milder on Midgrothis for another century — but it was a small price to pay for their lives and freedom. Nothing larger than a cooking pot remained of the enormous flying palace from which The Supreme Majesty, known to the resistance as The Usurper or The Terror, reigned over the whole of the Midgorthan people.

Darrien and his band landed on the world a nulair later to cheers and feasts. A royal funeral was prepared for the heroines of the people, who believe that any who make such a noble sacrifice are reborn instantly as Gods and their names are whispered in —

Salandra closed the book and began to cry. She put the unfinished novel down, ran to her father, and climbed onto his lap as she sobbed into his chest.

Viktor held her close. Salandra was certainly one of his more emotional children, but he’d never seen her this distraught – even when she was convinced her uncle and older sister were terrorist agents being controlled by rogue circuits in their prosthetics.

He was deeply concerned as there was little he could conceive of that could have put her into this state given that the pair were presently the only people in the house over the age of two; but he knew that she’d need to calm down quite a lot before she would be capable of making anything approaching sense, so he just murmured soothing words until her sobs quieted down enough then asked, “What’s the matter?”

She was saying “Poor Daddy and Ginny” over and over – which made no sense at all since his eldest daughter was in a different galaxy than his husbands at the moment.

“Salandra, honey? What are you talking about?” Viktor expected that Sal had just had another far-fetched, barely even plausible idea. She had a very active imagination that would at times override her common sense.

Her present state of distress had been a complete shock, nonetheless her reply made it seem planned and expected by comparison.

“Was that really how Rebecca died? How she became a hero instead of one of my mommies?” She met his eyes with her own.

“Was what really … what? Kjære, please try starting from the beginning. You’re easier to understand when you do.”

Into the Palace of Death, was that really what happened to Rebecca?”

Of all the stupid, absurd, pulp trash available in that damnable series of Dagger novels she would have to pick that one, he thought to himself, fighting back tears as painful, bittersweet memories began to surge through his mind. It was no secret that his first wife and another Dagger, Darla, had been the first Daggers to die in a mission, but the details were generally not asked for and certainly never volunteered.

Softly, his voice closer to a whisper and husky with powerful, deep emotion as the memories flooded back just as painful now as they’d been all those years before, he spoke, “Ja. Den er sannere enn de fleste av de bøkene.”

He paused as his words reached his ears and he realised he’d spoken Norsk rather than Galfarran. As Salandra did not show signs of confusion he decided she’d recalled what the words meant and pressed on rather than backtracking to offer translation, but did force himself back to the child’s native tongue. “That part especially – Darla’s brother swore to eat the author’s still beating heart if one detail were changed or omitted, as I recall. I rather agreed with the sentiment,” he said, shuddering as the sentence triggered memories of more recent traumas and struggles, “and wouldn’t have approved any version that did anything that dishonoured their memory or their sacrifice. How far did you read?”

“Oh, yeah …” She sniffled in answer. “You never said she’s a goddess now! And I’m pretty sure Ginny hasn’t either.” She put an accusing glare on her puffy, tear streaked face that caused Viktor to chuckle slightly in spite of himself.

“She’s not quite a goddess, exactly. They were taking literary license with a difficult to translate term. A closer analogy would be Donovan’s saints, or maybe angels. Or some sort of cross between a Valkyrie and a warrior of Valhalla? It’s complicated. Uhm … possibly a …” He wracked his brain for a term from Faeshild or Kiva’uptkasi. “Il…uh…ilktharvë? They’re not so much worshipped – as I recall that book suggests – as revered and prayed to in times of need.”

“Ilk’ythrvëtr,” she said absent-mindedly correcting his pronunciation of a word that is literally physically impossible for a Human to say, and in Ruragak’s home dialect rather than Imperium standard Kivanian.

Seemingly unaware she’d yet spoken she put her head to one side, blinking in that disconcertingly slow way of her race, and making it clear her ancestors had evolved from something more akin to birds than had his own. “Oh. Daddy? Didn’t she want to see Ginny again? Most Daggers don’t have little girls; they didn’t then either, did they? Why’d it have to be her and Darla? Couldn’t you have …” She paused, her imagination working in overdrive for a solution to the problem. “Couldn’t you have brainwashed some ‘bot to do it?” She thought another moment then added, “What exactly did they do anyway; the story doesn’t say, only that there was a massive explosion that altered the planetary climates.”

Viktor sighed heavily, wishing that Renata were here as she could explain this without having to relive it and also while having the faintest idea what Rebecca and Darla might’ve done … which he never had understood himself.

“She would have done anything to see Virginia again, sweetheart. She had no choice. There were no ‘bots on that ship to brainwash – and they’d have never been able to do the job; their core programs would stop them or something – I’m sure Ren or Kris could explain that to you better. What Rebecca and Darla did was some incomprehensible thing to the ship’s reactor or hyperdrive that overloaded – umm … reactors and drives that big have systems to keep them from suddenly becoming tiny, momentary stars. They worked together to wreck those in some fashion which, I gather, made it (them?) rather like a small, short-lived supernova instead. Few of us had even the slightest idea how to do that, and of those who did – some of whom had no family and begged to go instead so that Becca and Dari could go home to those who loved them – none but Becca and Dari were still fit to fight the scores of guards along the way.”

Tears were flowing freely from Viktor’s eyes and he had to pause for a moment to regain his composure. Salandra cuddled closer against him. “Sal, don’t believe for a moment she would rather have been a hero than Ginny’s mother. But she couldn’t let millions, possibly all ten billion, of the people of that world die just to see Virginia again. Her choice wasn’t hero or mommy; it was hero or monster.”

Viktor had always been proud of his wife’s courage – but pride couldn’t talk to him or sing to the babies. Thirty years had only eased the pain. He would miss her until he died. Then, he suspected, they would meet again in Valhalla, a place – in his opinion – he had no business nor right to ever find himself, despite what most people who knew him said; but, he mused, she probably had Thor, Loki, and Odin calling her ‘min dame’ and bowing by the third day and she would have demanded he be saved a seat.

Salandra was soon fast asleep in his lap, her tears exhausting her. Viktor slid her glasses off and watched her sleep as he wandered fondly through old, bittersweet memories.