TEMPTATION SERIES: 24. "The Devil's Lair"
Friday, September 30, 2005

"River sets the rescue plan in motion. Mal is reunited wtih his nemesis and Shen Ling reveals her true face."



SUMMARY: "River sets the rescue plan in motion. Mal is reunited with his nemesis and Shen Ling reveals her true face." The usual disclaimers apply. The characters and 'Firefly' are the property and gift of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement of copyright is intended.


"Firefly" story

Written by Alison M. DOBELL

* * * * *

Shepherd Book couldn't help glowering. His face was still painful from where Zoe had ripped the duct tape off his mouth but it was River he was glaring at. They were all in the infirmary, Simon carefully stitching the cut on Book's head. "You should have let me out. I could have helped, gone with the Captain."

"*Bu qu*." Said River, shaking her head.

Zoe frowned. "You knew Book was tied up?"

She nodded. "Had to stay, keep the illusion intact."

"Told ya, she's crazy." Jayne grumbled. Everyone ignored him.

"River," Said Zoe, her voice even and calm. "Why did you do that?"

"Because you would have stopped him and he has to go."

"Go? Who are we talkin' about?"

"She means the Cap'n don't you River?"

River nodded, relieved that she did not have to spell it out for Zoe but also worried. Just not about what they would expect. Wash still didn't get it.

"You could have just told us, River."

"No I couldn't. Captain's the key, only one who can fit in the lock and open it."

Shepherd Book winced as Simon tied off the stitching then applied a sterile dressing. The doctor gave him an apologetic look but the Preacher hardly noticed. He was mulling over River's words. "What do you mean, the only one who could open the lock?"

Bright over-sharp eyes looked back at the Preacher then River looked from one anxious face to another, drawing them all to her until everyone's attention was on the youngest Tam. "If anyone else had gone with him it wouldn't have worked."

Zoe was giving her a hard look. "*Wo bu dong*, you're not makin' much sense River. Why wouldn't it have worked?"

"Yeah, at least the Cap'n wouldn't be walkin' into a gorram trap." Added Jayne sourly. The mercenary looked mighty pissed off but whether it was because of River taking the decision out of their hands or worry for the Captain wasn't clear.

"River, what are you talking about?"

She glanced at her brother then back at the others. Wash held his breath, peripherally aware of Kaylee worming in closer to hear what was going on.

"Chung-li is bait."

Kaylee gasped but Zoe had not moved a muscle, not a flicker of anything on her face to relieve the stony look fastened on the young genius. It made the Shepherd think she had known as much from the start.

"If we had gone with the Captain we'd be in the same trap. Can't get out if you don't leave someone on the outside to open the door."

"Huh," Grumbled the mercenary. "Thought ya said Mal was the key. How're we gonna get in an' get him out?"

River smiled almost affectionately at him which made the big man squirm then glare at her. Gorram girl wasn't right in the head. Was gonna get them all killed.

"We're not going in the door. It'll be like Christmas!" She said suddenly cheerful, the wrongness of it setting more than a few teeth on edge.

"I ain't goin' down no gorram chimney!" Growled Jayne.

Everybody started talking at once. "*Bizui*!"

The sudden crack of command in River's voice silenced them all. The girl nodded once, her face suddenly solemn as a grave and all grown up. For a split second they saw a hundred per cent woman staring back at them, a light and fire in her eyes that held them in thrall.

"I know what I'm doing and they don't want him dead." She paused for a single heartbeat, everyone hanging on her every word. "Yet."

Very very quietly Kaylee asked the question simmering unspoken in the crew's minds, her voice trembling. "You know who's got him?"

River nodded. Zoe held her breath, only the feel of Wash's hand in hers giving a hard squeeze kept her grounded. "The vulture."

For a moment no one spoke. Shepherd Book looked over River's head and met Zoe's eyes. "*Wode ma*." This was worse than he had thought.

Tight lipped and so angry she had to force the word out between gritted teeth, Zoe spat the name out like the curse of the Devil's spawn that is was. "Niska."

Kaylee gasped and put a hand over her mouth, tears welling up in her eyes in a watery glaze. River gave a hard enigmatic smile, everything that had been girlish about her was gone leaving behind something - someone - that made them think they had never really known River Tam at all. The woman standing in her place was composed, everything about her sharp and focused with a deadly intent. Coiled and ready to strike. A smile flashed a brittle warning across that pale face. A look so close to triumphant revenge that the Angel of Death would have quailed at the look in her eyes. An almost manic grin held them in stunned silence. "No power in the verse can stop us!"

* * * * *

Mal followed Shen Ling's directions to the letter, settling Shuttle 2 on a relatively flat apron of rock on Deimos. The whole gorram planet looked like an abandoned quarry only it didn't look like it had anything worth mining on it to begin with. A more sorry assed place he couldn't think of. There was nothing to see but rock and dust. No soil to speak of and not nothing growing in that bleak and empty place. His eyes narrowed as he slowly scanned the area, a bit confused and mystified if he was being truthsome. What the good gorram was this? If it was a joke he wasn't laughing. "Shen Ling, I thought we were gonna rescue your brother?"

"We are."

Something in her reply made him look at her more closely. "What ain't you tellin' me?"

A slow smile warmed her disingenous face with false humour and bon homie. Mal had seen through enough masks to know that for this woman at least there was nothing of value underneath it. "*Zaijian*?"

He did not look surprised. Disappointed maybe but not surprised. The Captain noticed Manning and Hobbes had their sidearms out. "*Weishenme* Shen Ling? What's in it for you?"

Shen Ling nodded to Manning and watched as the Captain was disarmed. A rough shove and he was moving towards a large outcrop of rocks, only as they came right up to it he noticed a cunningly concealed door cut into the rock. Raising his eyebrows Mal felt an uneasy stir in his gut. What the hell was going on here? He looked at Shen Ling. "This has nothing to do with Chung-li, does it?"

A little harsh laugh seemed to echo in the cold air as if the very atmosphere could hold and expand sound. Amplifying his own stupidity in trusting her. Made everything around him feel more than a mite artificial and surreal. "You really aren't very bright are you, Captain Reynolds?" Shen Ling paused as she let the familiarity of her words strike a chord. "Oh yes, I've met Patience. Met a few other colourful characters you've managed to alienate in your time."

Her words made him go cold. "Why? Why all the play actin'?"

Shen Ling raised her elegant eyebrows. "You think this is an act? As for Patience, Badger, Harkan and every other low life you managed to piss off that I could track down there's an old saying - 'know thy enemy'." She paused, shrugged, then let her face harden again. "I was just doing my homework, Captain."

Manning removed something from his jacket pocket and fiddled with it. A low grinding sound made Mal snap his head round to see what was happening just as a section of the rock face swung open on a carefully engineered pivot. Had his situation not been so dire the Captain would have admired the ingenuity of it. Hobbs shoved him hard in the back and Mal stumbled through the opening, the door sealing shut behind them. At first it seemed too dark to see but after a moment or two his eyes adjusted. Lights set into the walls guiding a rough hewn path that sloped downwards. Deimos was well named. Idly Mal wondered which of the nine hells he had been consigned to and whether he would ever look out on the wide 'verse again.

* * * * *

Everybody wanted to talk. Had an opnion. But River ignored them all. She was on a timetable. Turning to Wash she grabbed his hand earning a dark scowl from Zoe which River ignored. "Come on, clock's ticking. The Devil is in the detail."

Angry now, Zoe was a hair's breadth from snatching River's hand away and demanding answers but Simon slipped imbetween them. "I think maybe we should go along with the plan for now."

She glared at him then pushed passed the doctor to follow River and Wash to the bridge, the rest of the crew coming up behind her. Wash was puzzled when instead of being urged to set a course River showed him what she had done. For a moment Wash just stared at the blinking light on his console. Zoe looked at her in alarm. "What is it?"

River ignored her and smiled at Wash who slowly grinned back, the tension easing out of him as he looked at his wife. "It's a signal, a tracking device." He paused to check the co ordinates they were picking up. "Unless I'm much mistaken we now know exactly where the Captain landed the shuttle."

All of sudden River's actions made more sense but still it irritated Zoe something bad that she had not been let in on the plan. "Okay, let's go an'..."

River cut her off. "No! We have to wait."

"What for? Hell to freeze over?" Snarled Jayne impatiently. Now his John Thomas wasn't causing him pain he couldn't wait to unleash some death and destruction.

River tilted her head as if listening for something. A second later Wash's attention was diverted. He looked up in surprised. "We're bein' hailed."

"*Shenme*? Who is it?"

"It's Inara."

Everyone looked at River. She shrugged nonchalently. "We need the other shuttle."

* * * * *

Mal had a bad feeling about this but right now there was nothing he could do but go along with it. As they went deeper it grew warmer, the air stifling or maybe it was his gorram imagination. Not that he let it show how unsettled he was feeling. And didn't that lying *pofu* Shen Ling look like the cat that got the gorram cream? After ten minutes of slow winding descent the tunnel widened out into a rough hewn room carved out of solid rock but that was not what caught and held the Captain's attention. Ignoring Adelei Niska, Malcolm Reynolds' stared in anguished horror at a sight he had hoped never to see. Chung-li was hanging from a hook in the centre of the room, his arms above his head, the manacles clipped to the big heavy meat hook suspended from the rocky ceiling. His clothes were ragged, blood splattered and hanging off him in strips. His skin glistening with perspiration but his eyes bright and oddly calm. Fury roared in the Captain's ears, forgetting his own predicament in his concern for his friend.

Moving forward with unanticipated speed, the Captain's right fist connected solidly with Niska's jaw, his head snapping back before Manning and Hobbs could grab hold of Mal and knock him to the ground. Niska staggered to his feet, a thin trickle of blood running from his nose and mouth but eyes sparkling with malicious delight. The smile returned to the *liumang's* face as he slowly brushed the dust off his suit and glanced at Shen Ling. He dipped his head towards her in what might have resembled old time courtesy but for the circumstances. She gave a short curt nod back, an acknowledgement no more. Her eyes flicking to her brother then back to Niska.

The old man's smile seemed to deepen as he straightened and lifted his head back, the light reflecting off his glasses and momentarily hiding his eyes. "You have delivered your promise. Because of this, your reputation it is solid."

"My brother?"

"Ah yes." Niska turned and clapped his hands. Two men came out of the shadows and lowered Chung-li so that his feet could touch the ground. Shen Ling watched them remove the manacles, no expression or emotion on her face. "You will of course be well paid."

Shen Ling said nothing in response but walked over to Chung-li who was now kneeling, head down as he caught his breath. The air being drawn rythmically deep into his diaphram to oxygenate mucles as well as lungs. When he raised his eyes to meet hers she inwardly flinched but showed no outward sign. Niska waved a hand and his men eased Manning and Hobbs off the Captain. Silently they gravitated back to Shen Ling, ready to help her with her brother. Niska looked down at the Captain and watched with satisfaction as his men dragged the man to his feet. The Captain saw more of Niska's men drifting out of the shadows and tried to ignore the glitter of happy excitement in Niska's eyes. "I think we have much to talk about, yes?"

The Captain tried not to wince where several heavy blows had cracked a rib or two as well as almost closing his left eye. "If you're aimin' to quote any more of that Shan Yu *goushi* I'm gonna cancel my book subscription. Demand a refund."

The old man chuckled, the pleasure on his face at odds with his favourite past time of torturing people. "Always with the jokes." He paused a beat, the humour vanishing. "Now you must learn what it is to respect reputation."

Heavy hands dragged the Captain to one side of the room and Niska turned to look at Shen Ling. "You do not look happy."

"You said you would not touch him."

The smile did not reach Niska's eyes. "I did not." He paused, pursed his lips. "My men," He shrugged, voice mildly apologetic. "They grew restless waiting for Captain Reynolds."

"You knew I would come."

Niska nodded. "You, yes. Malcolm Reynolds? Perhaps. He is not, as you would say, 'reliable'. Now our business, it is done *dong ma*?"

Niska turned back towards his men as they brought a now bound but shirtless Captain back into the centre of the room. Shen Ling moved away to kneel beside her brother. For a moment neither spoke then Chung-li said what was in both heart and mind, his words quiet but clear in the silence of the cavern. "You would trade one brother for another?"

"Blood is blood, *da ge*."

A look of deep sorrow filled his eyes but she could not look away. "And what of honour?"

"Honour will not heal your wounds nor keep you safe, *xiongdi*."

"Neither a faithless heart." For a moment it looked as if she would spit on him for the insult but her mask did not slip. She had come for him no matter the cost but he was not deceived. He knew at whose feet this calamity lay. While she had been plotting to trap his friend, Chung-li had been discovering more about her true allegiances. It sickened his heart with a sadness time could not heal. "You are no longer my sister. I do not recognise you."

"*Da ge*..."

The look in his eyes stopped her. Chung-li got to his feet, more grace and control in his movements than should have been possible. Body turned towards his sister, Niska and his men were not prepared for the whirlwind about to be unleashed. As Niska's men hung the Captain from the hook above their heads Chung-li flowed into action, his feet striking out as his body turned and rolled, hands forming fists and chops that struck at throats with a precision that broke windpipes and scattered a crimson tide from shocked mouths. The delay of shock was momentary, then Shen Ling was adding her own deadly ballet to the fray but using her skill to shield Niska in the unexpected assault. Mal blinked and tried to follow the blur of movements but it was too quick for the eye and he was still a mite dizzy, the flash of colour at least telling him which was Shen Ling and which was his friend. And still Niska's men poured into the room. As he spun from the hook he cried out a warning to his friend. A cry cut off with a savage blow. Insensate to the creak and swing he did not feel the hard hands that swiftly unhooked him and bundled him away as he lost consciousness. As feet hurried and slipped in the greasy blood an awful silence seemed to suck all the life out of the room apart from the last two combatants.

Chung-li ignored his bleeding wounds, his stance preparing for the final battle. Eyes locked on ones he had known from birth and now knew not at all. Shen Ling gave the smallest nod, her only concession to the last disagreement they would ever have in the mortal realm.

* * * * *

CHINESE GLOSSARY: (Mandarin - Pinyin)

*bu qu* = no (lit. no go) *wo bu dong* = I don't understand *bizui* = shut up/be quiet *wode ma* = mother of God *zaijian* = goodbye *weshenme* = why? *shenme* = what *pofu* = bitch *liumang* = bastard/criminal/asshole/gangster *goushi* = crap/dog shit *dong ma* = understand? *da ge* = big brother *xiongdi* = brother


Monday, October 3, 2005 1:22 AM


Whatever lock it is that Mal's going to open, I hope it's going to lead to something worthwhile because it looks like the poor old Captain's up to his ears in it again! Be gentle with him ...

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 1:26 PM


Really appreciate the feedback Kispexi2, and don't worry too much about our boy. We are coming up to the last parts of the story. Thanks for sticking with it. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, January 12, 2007 6:17 AM


>Chung-li ignored his bleeding wounds, his stance preparing for the final battle. Eyes locked on ones he had known from birth and now knew not at all. Shen Ling gave the smallest nod, her only concession to the last disagreement they would ever have in the mortal realm.

So well written, I would read this story just for these two OCs.


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