Savage Miraya


A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE

BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA


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EPISODE 14: "WHATEVER HE SAW...HE CAN TAKE TO HIS GRAVE."

His hunger satiated by the flesh of the jampan, Seagrave resumed his journey through the weird emerald fastness of the hanging forest. He was too near the bottom of the island to sight the sun and so he had no idea in what direction he might be headed. From time to time he descended to the very lowest boughs and, by hanging upside down by his breeks-clad legs, he sought to peer beneath the sea of trees -- but without success. The terrain was too rugged and broken to see anything beyond his immediate vicinity. He could not find his way back to Jinja Khyam -- let alone to the hideout Montaz had told him about.

As he clambered, leaped and crawled his way through the rustling verdure, the swaying boughs were heavy with gorgeous nodding blossoms that exploded into swirling riots of rainbow petals in his wake. Crimson, lavender, and cerulean flora grew in sumptuous profusion all around, suffusing the sultry air with rich intoxicating fragrances. The wild chattering bedlam of strange half-glimpsed animals echoed ghostly and mysterious from the misty tangled depths; from time to time, he checked his advance, freezing as some dark illusive shape flitted momentarily across his track. And all the while, through the jade and peacock skein beneath his feet, he could see the silver-blue sparkle of the sea-wash far, far below.

Gradually the musical tinkle of rushing water reached his ears like a woman's seductive laugh. Intrigued, he moved quickly toward the sound. Abruptly he came upon a slender winding waterfall that poured almost vertically from a hole in the stone ceiling. The forest grew thick and vibrant green around the water source, bowing branches reaching deep into the tumbling wash like bathing hands.

Gratefully, Seagrave climbed beneath the shimmering stream. The water was cool and clean as it frothed luxuriously over his naked shoulders, quickly removing the blood and grime and invigorating his aching thews like a vigorous massage. When he finally emerged, his skin shone like polished sandalwood, and his eyes were clear and sharp. He tossed his head, misting the air with a silver glittering spray, then slipped lithely into the trees, as agile and silent as a cat.

Onward and onward he climbed, at times barely catching himself as a rotten branch shattered sharply underfoot to tumble down and away until lost in the dizzy blue void beneath.

Then, unexpectedly, the emerald screen parted, and Seagrave found himself gazing across forty feet of stone ceiling mantled only by scattered patches of turquoise moss. Beyond the open expanse lay the cloudless azure sky, stone and void meeting in a ragged line that trailed into the distance on either hand.

He had found the edge of the island.

For a moment, Seagrave felt a giddy sense of unreality stirring in his soul. Somehow, to finally stand so near the island's edge, to know that, just above him, lay the upper surface of this surreal floating world, served to crystallize all he had seen and experienced since his arrival. In that moment, suddenly, for the first time, he understood how bizarre it all was; and, for the first time, a question rose in his mind which he had not had the will to ask before.

How?

How could an island hang suspended in the sky? How was this possible?

But before he could think further, Seagrave breathed in sharply, drawing quickly back into the dense foliage. His eyes narrowed and his pulse quickened. As he watched, a great, repulsive jampan scrambled into view, climbing down from above the island's broken rim. Its grotesque legs jerked and thrust against the barren stone, trails of grit spilling from the holes left by its claws. For a moment, the jampan hung perched on the edge, its nightmarish head rotating hideously. With a sudden surge, it scurried forward until it hung upside down from the stone ceiling. Seagrave held his breath. The creature was only a short distance away; though he had killed one jampan, he did not relish a second encounter.

The jampan seemed aware that succulent prey was near, its head turning over and over as if unable to decide which pair of eyes might best serve to locate its meal. Could it hear him? Smell him? How did such a monster track its prey? Stealthily, Seagrave reached for the golden handle of his punch spike.

But even that subtle movement alerted the jampan to his position. In an instant, the creature's repellent head fixed in the pirate's direction. Slowly, like a stalking tiger, the jampan crept toward the line of trees where he hid.

Seagrave eased back a step into the shadowed greenery, his mouth dry as sawdust, his pulse crashing in his ears like a throbbing surf. Closer and closer the jampan stalked, its four fangs gleaming like damp stalactites in the dusky cavern of its gaping jaws. Seagrave took another step back, and then another --

Without warning, the tree lurched drunkenly beneath his weight, then lurched again. Before Seagrave could spring to safety, the entire tree tore away from the stone ceiling, instantly plunging downward in a crackling flurry of whipping, snapping branches. A blur of jade gave way to open sky, and Seagrave's upturned eyes watched in horror as the forest seemed to rush away from him.

Even as he plunged, he heaved clear of the plummeting tree, aware that the maneuver could make no difference to the eventual bloody outcome --

But then, suddenly he heard a deafening crack, and briefly wondered if another tree had given way. He felt his legs jerked from beneath him and, the next thing he knew, he hung head downward, staring amazedly at the shimmering ivory-blue waters still far below.

Glancing up along the line of his body, he first saw clear silth coils looped about his ankles; then, above, he discerned the compactly muscular figure of a dark green Kamir, wings flickering furiously as the man hauled grimly on the silth whip, gradually halting Seagrave's dizzy plunge. Slowly Seagrave began to rise again until bearer and burden hovered just beneath the forest; then the Kamir began to carry Seagrave swiftly along.

Only seconds passed before the Kamir checked his flight, then ascended into a star-shaped hole set in stone in the bottom of the tangled forest. For a moment, Seagrave remained suspended upside down over the whispering void; then he was hauled steadily up through the aperture.

He found himself in a large stone chamber with walls thickly matted by twisting vines. He hung head down from a stone hook mounted over the star-shaped entrance in the floor. The silth whip had been looped over the hook, and his rescuer was just securing the handle to a ring on the wall. Recognizing the fragility of his position as he rotated slowly over the open hole, Seagrave began to feel a vague unease. What was his rescuer's motives? Had he been saved from a swift death only to be cast into some other perhaps worse fate?

"I don't relish being hung up like a damn turkey," gritted Seagrave warily. For a moment, in his anger, he had forgotten which language to use and had spoken in English.

Three other men had joined the green Kamir. All were dressed in short skirts and boots, with a scattering of metal wrist and arm bands. The rescuer wore gloves to handle the silth whip. One of the men -- the largest and oldest, in appearance at least -- stepped forward and scrutinized Seagrave truculently, then thrust out a powerful paw to halt the pirate's dizzy spinning.

"What are you doing here?" he snarled fiercely. "How did you find this place?"
Before Seagrave could respond, the green Kamir interjected: "There's no point in questioning him, Fanas Fel. I spoke to one of the guardsmen who was present when they brought him into the throne room. He doesn't speak Kamir. Only Dol Hashar was able to talk to him -- using some strange language no one had ever heard before."

The burly man, Fanas Fel, scowled and stroked his chin pensively. "Doesn't speak Kamir, eh? That could prove a problem. How do we find out how much he knows and who sent him?"

Another man, with lavender skin and a ferret face, shouldered closer, eagerly fingering the shining tips of a punch spike. "Give me a day to work on him and I think I can teach him to speak plainly enough," he grinned. "I think he just needs incentive to loosen his tongue."

Fanas Fel cast a disapproving glare at his companion, lightly brushing aside the punch spike and shaking his heavy head. "Why don't you join forces with the Trayken if you want to inflict pain, Jakar Jet," he criticized gruffly. "We do what we must to save Eukara -- but we must draw the line somewhere."

"I tell you he doesn't speak Kamir," insisted the green man again.

"Then what do we do with him?" The question came from a younger man with deep scarlet skin. "We can't just let him go. Even if he doesn't speak Kamir, you said yourself: Dol Hashar can question him. Even if he didn't see anything before, he certainly has seen enough now that you brought him here." Biting disapproval was evident in the youth's rigid tone, and the rescuer glanced at him, frowning.

"I had no choice," the rescuer countered bitterly. "He stumbled into one of our traps -- I had to act fast. If I'd let him fall to his death, we could never have found out how he discovered us, or who else might already know."

"We don't criticize your actions, Zhanak Zen," mollified Fanas Fel, laying a meaty hand on the other's shoulder. "You had to make a split second decision." His dark gaze cut back to Seagrave, and a grave note entered his gruff voice. "But I'm afraid you saved him to no purpose. Young Bishras Bid is right -- we can't let him go. And, since we can't question him, we'll just have to hope he stumbled onto our hideout by accident. Whatever he saw, if anything, he can take to his grave."

The thick-set man stepped to the ring in the wall and began untying the silth whip. Seagrave's mind was racing. If he spoke, he would reveal he knew Kamir and risk having them torture him. Nor could he offer much in his defense. Though he had not happened upon their hideaway as they seemed to fear, it was certainly true he knew about it now. He could assure them that he was not in league with Dol Hashar -- but he somehow doubted they would take his word for that, given that Dol Hashar was the only one who spoke his language.

Before Seagrave could see a way out of his dilemma, Fanas Fel loosed the silth whip and, once again, Seagrave dropped toward the sea --

"Wait!"

The urgent shout and Fanas Fel's response were almost simultaneous as the big man sprang forward, catching the silth whip just before it would have swished over the stone hook. Even so, Seagrave's weight nearly yanked Fanas Fel off his feet before the big man was able to drag the pirate back up through the star-shaped hole. A blue-skinned Kamir strode into the chamber, shouldering his way quickly through his companions to regard Seagrave in wide-eyed amazement.

Viewing his saviour upside down and spinning, it was a moment before Seagrave recognized him.

"What did you think you were doing, Fanas Fel?" the newcomer scolded sternly.

"Pallin Pol," Fanas Fel stammered, hastily retying the whip to the wall. "We thought you were dead. We heard that you were captured sabotaging the worm gem depot."

"And I would have been," Pallin Pol responded hotly, "except this wingless stranger came to my rescue. With four Trayken Rayvers following close on my heels, this man faced them armed only with a stick of metal allowing me time to escape. Since then, I've been in hiding, but I heard two guardsmen talking. They said this stranger broke one Trayken clean in half with a single blow of his stick."

Weaselly Jakar Jet snickered mockingly. "I heard the same story," he said. "But that's all it is -- a story. The people are frightened; they see all the Trayken Rayvers wandering about and they want a hero to protect them. There's nothing more to it." Then, thinking, he added, "After all, if he could really break a Trayken in half with one blow, how did they capture him?"

"Assuming they did capture him," young Bishras Bid commented significantly. "How do we know he wasn't working for the Trayken all along? Perhaps they were the ones who started the rumour, just so we would trust him. As Zhanak Zen told us, only Dol Hashar was able to speak his language. He could have been brought here from one of the other moons."

For a moment the group fell into a meditative silence, their eyes appraising Seagrave's hanging length with worried lines cutting their brows.

Having thought the matter over carefully, Seagrave finally decided to take a gamble. If he were wrong, it was not his life alone that would be at stake.

"I may be able to help you find your princess," he said softly -- in Kamir...



Next episode..."I am Betrayed!"


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Savage Miraya is copyright 1998, by Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)