"Very well, Vark," she said aloud. "My consort and I will deliver the skull. Indicate a rendezvous--upon our arrival you will release my parents and you will take us as hostages instead."
Vark stared at Aislinn's implacable expression. Normally he would not tolerate such insubordination from a woman, but Shakan's betrayal had damaged his plans more than he dared admit. He needed the skull now, if not for the greater good of Klatria, then at the very least to ensure his own survival. His entourage was dwindling even faster than the general population. Despite the bravado he attempted to convey, he knew the demands on the elite to produce the ever-spiraling technology required not only to maintain their tenuous existence but to present an aggressive face to Nirvana, had exhausted them beyond their capabilities. Though the planet's isolation gave them relative protection from the attention of other hostile races, it had also served to isolate them from any immediate source of assistance.
The thought broke off, confusing him. He shook his head against a brief sense of vertigo. Assistance? Why would he think of that? Conquest was his goal, not assistance. Yet somewhere in the depths of his rapidly fading memory emerged an image from a time when he lived in the light and the thought of such aggression was an alien one. He stared at his gloved hands as though seeing them for the first time. Suddenly he glimpsed a fleeting vision of ... of some kind of instrument. But what was that glint of metal? Try as he might he could not put a name to the baffling object. Only the image of his ungloved, unmarred hands was clear, and the faint, taunting sound of music. Music? The concept seemed vaguely familiar, but he could not quite remember what it--
"Vark, is there a problem?"
Aislinn's head cocked slightly at Janku's question.
Janku's sharply inquisitive voice banished Vark's erratic thoughts. Suddenly aware of the Clan's intense scrutiny, he uttered an impatient grunt and turned to Samara and Bonerus. Their calm demeanor rankled him, the clarity of their eyes indicating that the post-kansu effects had now completely worn off. Yet there was something else beneath their vaguely condescending gaze, a sense of mockery or veiled amusement. Though sorely tempted to strike them, to mark them in some way, he refrained. Without knowing the complete truth about their powers, he could not take the risk of incurring their anger. Later, once the princess was in his hands, he would find a way to dispose of them all.
"Your behavior from this point will determine the reception your daughter will receive," he said, his voice lowered to a barely audible croak." If there is even any hint of treachery, I will leave you in a golak cavern to be devoured and present your bones to her. Do you understand me?"