A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
Closer and closer the jampan crept, its head nightmarishly reversing again and again, jerking and thrusting with its skeletal limbs as if wading through clinging mud. Though it moved slowly, it was the approach of a stalking panther; Seagrave suspected the jampan's long limbs could overtake him easily enough were he to turn and flee.
Then, as if to prove the truth of his suspicion, the jampan suddenly attacked.
The creature moved like a scuttling crab, charging forward with terrifying speed, crashing recklessly through the hanging greenery in a furious leonine rush. Seagrave barely had time to throw himself prone on the branch as the jampan's jaws snapped on empty air just above his head and he felt its bristling fur brush horribly across his naked back. The creature's momentum was so great that it could not instantly check its rush.
As fast as Seagrave regained his feet, the jampan was faster. It spun about and charged again. Seagrave knew the beast would not be fooled a second time; death seemed assured. But, still, the instinct to survive was strong in the pirate. As the creature exploded through the tangled growth like a nightmare incarnation of destruction, Seagrave bounded forward, meeting its charge head on and springing high into the air.
The move was so unexpected that the jampan could not react in time, its forward velocity serving to aid Seagrave in his attack.
Seagrave slid over the creature's head, landing atop the rough fur of its body. Instantly he clamped his legs tight and grasped a fistful of matted fur with his free hand. On either side, the creature's slender legs pumped up and down, and he could feel the rapid pulsing of its powerful muscles beneath his straining body. Desperately he punched the two glass spikes into its throbbing ribs, feeling warm fluid splash his knuckles in a sudden horrible gout.
Instantly the jampan staggered to a halt, a terrible scream of vengeful pain shattering the air like the breaking of a mirror. In a maddened frenzy, Seagrave punched again and again into the brown matted flank, orange blood thickly speckling the leaves and branches beneath. The creature sought to dislodge its antagonist, drawing down one long forelimb and stabbing murderously with its vicious claw; but the limb would not bend to reach the relentless thing straddling its streaming bulk.
Suddenly Seagrave felt the jampan shudder convulsively, and a final sustained scream cut his ears. The creature sagged limply as life surged from the wounds in its flank, three claws still stuck fast in the stone overhead.
For several moments more, Seagrave did not dare release his desperate hold; if the creature was not dead, there was no safer place to be. But finally he slid down onto a branch and stumbled hurriedly back.
The jampan was dead.
Panting, one arm dripping with orange gore, Seagrave stood there for a time regarding the jampan in stunned silence. Slowly, like a beast himself, he shook his head; his lips spread, and his fangs gleamed, and he shouted a fierce wild laugh of grisly gratification.
He had killed a jampan! He had defeated this ravenous denizen of another world armed only with a glass punch spike! Perhaps it wasn't a battle of epic proportions, but its significance loomed stark and empowering nevertheless. This pirate from the planet earth was not to be at the mercy of this strange world; this pirate could deal death. This pirate could survive -- aye, even against monsters, he could survive.
Perhaps it was the heady confidence imparted by this realization that encouraged Seagrave to do what he did next. He had not eaten since just after noontime the previous day. He was famished and weakened by his hunger. If he was to survive on this world, he must have food.
Before his mind could balk, he knelt beside the vanquished jampan and thrust his fingers deep into a gaping wound. Using the punch spike, he dug ruthlessly at the orange flesh, grimly wrenching a strip of sinew from the gleaming hole. His strong white teeth clamped on the still-warm flesh, the orange blood trailing down his chin and spattering his breeches. In this way, he slowly sated his hunger and filled his belly, feeding on the raw meat of his kill like a wolf feasting on a deer.
If he had been able to step back and view himself from a distance, Seagrave would have been amazed by the spectacle. Only a short while before, he had stood on the quarterdeck of his rolling ship, a proud pirate captain clothed in breeches, sash and rich silk shirt, commander of men, scourge of the sea. Now he crouched like a wild animal, hard thews and black breeks spattered with gore, black mane dishevelled beneath his red scarf, eyes ablaze. A change had been wrought, a bizarre metamorphosis which he could not explain; yet, somehow Seagrave found that here, in this weird and savage land, he felt alive...
"You requested my presence, Khomas Khan?" she asked, still on her knees. "I am sorry I took so long. I was bathing when --"
At that moment she raised her shining eyes.
Dol Hashar looked down upon her from the hanging throne, the light glistening in his beady gaze. Montaz's slim winged back stiffened erect, and she glanced quickly about her. "Where is Khomas Khan?" she asked, a slight tremor to her voice. " I was summoned --"
"You were summoned by me," Dol Hashar corrected mildly. "Khomas Khan is not here -- I have seen to it that your master is engaged for some time. I trust you will not fault me for my ruse, but I suspected you might not attend otherwise."
"Attend?" Montaz's voice caught in her throat. "Attend... what?"
The draykhis's tongue lightly brushed his bottom fangs. He made a subtle gesture.
Montaz gasped in surprise and alarm as two Trayken Rayvers coiled silth whips around her trim wrists. Reacting instinctively, she twisted and fought desperately to pull free; but, with frightening ease, the Rayvers drew out her slender arms and lashed her securely between the marble posts. For a moment, she struggled frantically against her bonds, even though she knew that no amount of muscular exertion could break those pliant glass cords.
Dol Hashar straightened lazily from the throne and descended from the dais, his black cape billowing. He waited for her futile struggles to play themselves out, then glanced appraisingly about him, motioning with a grand sweep of his gloved hand, the light sparking off his claws.
"Our scholar's inform us that this place was not constructed by the Kamir, but by an earlier more war-like race," he mused. "The Kamir do not work in stone, but produce their flimsy hanging homes of wood and husk. Still, I find myself grateful for this happenstance and thankful for the ingenuity of those who did fashion this marvellous throne room. In a sense, I stand in awe and admiration and wish that I might have met such creatures..." His slitted gaze cast down on the panting girl. "...so much like myself."
He nodded to a Trayken standing beside a rich gold-threaded tapestry. The Rayver jerked the hangings aside revealing a large gilded wheel set in the blue stone wall. Grasping the gleaming rim, the Trayken began to turn the wheel -- and Montaz felt a numbing chill rush up her supple spine.
Slowly, relentlessly, the two marble posts began to grow from the floor.
Instantly her bindings pulled tight at her wrists, and she stumbled awkwardly to her feet to relieve the tension. But still higher and higher rose the posts, growing with sadistic leisure, until the slave girl's arms were drawn up widely above her head and she rose on shuddering calves and toes, sobbing in tremulous horror.
Dol Hashar nodded again, and the Rayver released the wheel. If there was another signal, Montaz did not see it, as her wide frantic eyes darted between the cords at her wrists -- but suddenly she felt rough hands seize her legs, folding them callously until her heels pressed the globes of her bottom. More cords were looped around the legs six times, then drawn tight. The hands released her, and she cried out as her wrists took the full weight of her straining body.
But, as great as was the pain in her arms, greater still was the blinding panic that surged in her breast to find she could not extend her legs to the floor. For a time, terrible strangling claustrophobia threatened to throw her into a wild maddened frenzy. She fought it down with a desperate quavering sob.
Dol Hashar studied his gently swaying captive a lingering moment, his black eyes gliding smoothly down her panting blue flesh, then returning sharply to her face. "Why did Khomas Khan send you to look after the prisoner?" he asked rhetorically. "You are very beautiful -- for a Kamir. I might almost think he was seeking to hide you from me." The cooling gills on either side of his head spread, a sign of heightened emotion. "Now then," he continued; "you assisted the prisoner in escaping us --"
"I didn't!" exclaimed Montaz, her voice shaking. "He went mad with fear; he attacked me; he jumped to his --"
Her words faltered as a tapestry rippled beside the dais and a figure stepped quietly into view. A cruel gleam of vindictive triumph smoldered in the newcomer's eyes.
She had not killed him as she had thought.
"As we were saying," Dol Hashar continued, smiling as he noted her glance and the sudden fear reflected in her emerald eyes, "you assisted the prisoner. The prisoner is a stranger to this world; the prisoner had no one to turn to. The prisoner required guidance." The draykhis stepped forward and gently caressed her narrow chin with his claws. She whimpered. "Where has he gone?" Dol Hashar asked.
The slave girl had no idea that Seagrave had failed to find the hiding place which she had directed him to. She did not know that he was lost somewhere in the forest fastness beneath the air-borne island. Yet, though believing she knew where he might be found, she also knew that she could not betray him. Though terror set her small heart quivering, she would not reveal what she thought she knew.
"I don't know," Montaz whispered, choking on the words. "He went mad with fear; he attacked me; he jumped --"
Dol Hashar touched a hand to her trembling lips, quieting her. With studied cruelty, his fingers descended to the glossy curves of her hips. Her smooth belly tightened convulsively. Tugging gently, he untied her thong garment, then drew the fabric slowly from between her bound legs. Montaz closed her eyes, moaning softly deep in her throat. A tear trailed down her cheek, her teeth clenching.
"Where has he gone?" Dol Hashar repeated again, his voice consoling, patient...
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Savage Miraya is copyright 1998, by Jeffrey Blair Latta.
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