A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
Two Trayken Rayvers
flanked the heavy round doorway, their tiny ebony eyes rigidly fixed on
the opposite wall of the corridor as if the heart- rending sounds meant
no more to them than the steady pulsing of blood in their own black veins.
Though muffled by the
door and distance, the screams clearly broke from a woman's tormented lungs.
Hearing them, Khomas Khan paused abruptly, checking his long, rapid strides
just in front of the doorway. For an anxious moment the cries stilled
and he found himself desperately hoping, praying that he was already too
late -- that there was nothing to be done to save her, whoever she might
But then, from beyond
the door, he heard a small sobbing voice pleading with sudden quickening
desperation: "Not again -- please, oh please, not again --"
And then the screams
resumed, chilling the listener's blood and filling his mouth with a bitter,
He resumed his stride,
more rapid than before, passing on down the corridor and fleeing the sounds
as if a mortal foe...
The screams had begun early in the morning. At least, that was when Khomas Khan had first heard the terrible cries -- while passing the throne room on his way to his chambers.
Two Trayken Rayvers flanked the heavy round doorway, their tiny ebony eyes rigidly fixed on the opposite wall of the corridor as if the heart- rending sounds meant no more to them than the steady pulsing of blood in their own black veins.
Though muffled by the door and distance, the screams clearly broke from a woman's tormented lungs. Hearing them, Khomas Khan paused abruptly, checking his long, rapid strides just in front of the doorway. For an anxious moment the cries stilled and he found himself desperately hoping, praying that he was already too late -- that there was nothing to be done to save her, whoever she might be.
But then, from beyond the door, he heard a small sobbing voice pleading with sudden quickening desperation: "Not again -- please, oh please, not again --"
And then the screams resumed, chilling the listener's blood and filling his mouth with a bitter, strangling bile.
He resumed his stride, more rapid than before, passing on down the corridor and fleeing the sounds as if a mortal foe...
There was no window in his chamber, but he knew instinctively when the midday eclipse began, sinking Miraya into deep cooling shadow. Then the eclipse ended and the afternoon passed. Finally, in the evening, Khomas Khan gathered up the tattered skein of his courage and walked slowly back to the throne room.
Even as he approached the doorway, he heard the aching screams still continuing -- and a terrible weakening cold settled in his veins.
There was a different quality to the sound now: a note of breathless exhaustion. The girl did not scream so often as before -- but, out of the long silences, sudden shivering peals, like hysterical laughter, shrilled up with horrible abruptness, wrung from the tormented creature in direct response to whatever new punishment was then being inflicted.
This time Khomas Khan forced himself to stop, to face the expressionless Rayvers.
"The woman," Khomas Khan asked sharply, "what has she done? Who is she and why is she being tortured?"
The black eyes remained steady. "We have no information concerning the subject under study," the left Rayver intoned. "You will have to speak with Draykhis Dol Hashar."
Khomas Khan swallowed, then nodded. "Very well. Open the doors and I will speak with him."
Neither Rayver moved. "We have been instructed, no one is to disturb the draykhis while he is questioning the subject. You will have to return later."
For a moment, Khomas Khan found his throat too constricted to speak. A long shivering scream drifted through the gold-banded wood, rising to a shrill climax, then breaking up into choking sobs.
"You are here as my guests," Khomas Khan stated in a low, even voice. "This is my throne room. Do you dare keep me out of my own throne room?"
The Rayvers stood silent and still as if carved statues. Khomas Khan's hands fisted at his sides, his jaw set.
"You will open the throne room door," he instructed evenly.
"Dol Hashar has not told us we may admit anyone," the Rayver repeated without heat. "You will have to return --"
Khomas Khan was in no way a weak man. His lofty station in life rarely required him to resort to physical exertion, but he kept his jade body trim and leanly muscular. There was a supple vitality in his thews masked by a deceptive rigidity. It was precisely this deceptiveness which prevented the Trayken guards from reacting in time.
Before the Rayver could finish his sentence, Khomas Khan lashed out with a fist, striking the guard across the face. At the same moment, he lunged forward, hurling his shoulder against the heavy wood doors. The doors parted leadenly, but before he could slip through, the other guard had seized his arm in a powerful crushing grip. Khomas Khan reacted instinctively, throwing himself back against the guard even as the guard tried to pull in the same direction. Caught by surprise, the Trayken tumbled backward, releasing his hold as he fell. Khomas Khan stumbled desperately over the raised threshold -- then felt the first guard's hands clamp furiously on his shoulders with a force that dashed him to his knees --
"Enough!" The hands instantly released him at Dol Hashar's shouted command. "What did you think you were doing?" The draykhis's voice echoed hauntingly from the far end of the throne room. "This is Khomas Khan's throne room -- you do not keep him out. Now leave us -- and close the doors."
Rising stiffly to his feet, Khomas Khan heard the ponderous doors thunder behind him. Slowly, he began to walk down the centre aisle toward the dais at the opposite end. As he walked, he concentrated on maintaining his expression, his poise.
He could see the girl.
She hung suspended between the two blue posts, her legs folded and bound tightly with silth cord. Mercifully, she had lost consciousness. Either that or she was dead. Her slender back was to him, and, as he approached, he puzzled over why it seemed somehow wrong, barren. Then he realized: her wings were missing. There was only a terrible tangerine wound between her blue shoulders -- the one wound which could never heal.
He stepped around to the front, maintaining his distance, his features impassive. From a chain in the lofty ceiling, a rack hung down cluttered with the instruments of torture like a grotesque metal tree.
The girl's slim, young body was marked with the many signs of her ordeal. Khomas Khan took these in, then slowly, painfully forced his eyes to her face -- and, for the first time, he realized who she was.
It was a moment before he could find the breath to speak.
"What has the girl done?" he asked in a muted voice.
"Done?" Dol Hashar reached out and lifted her chin with one hand. A thread of orange ran from the corner of her lips. "She assisted the wingless prisoner in escaping. We believe this slave girl may know where the prisoner is hiding."
"This slave girl..." Khomas Khan faltered as the words caught in his throat. He began again. "This slave girl... belongs to me."
"Montaz -- yes, I believe she does. I apologize if her death will inconvenience you, Khomas Khan -- we will, of course, compensate you for the loss." With a crawling smile, the draykhis added: "While it is not my place to say, perhaps you should not have placed her in such a dangerous situation."
It was a moment before Khomas Khan could speak again. Then, weakly, he asked, "You say she helped the prisoner escape. How do you know this?"
"There was a witness," Dol Hashar replied easily. "Thus far she has shown astonishing resistance for such a fragile creature, but eventually I will break her. She will soon tell me where he went. She is very near, I think."
"But what if she does not know where he went?"
Dol Hashar studied the tormented figure with a lazy contemplative air. "I feel certain that the girl does know," he replied with quiet conviction -- then, after a moment's thought: "And, if she does not..." He laughed and carelessly gestured.
With the smile still curling his mouth, Dol Hashar retrieved a cup from the metal rack and brutally splashed water in the girl's face. Her green eyes fluttered open dazedly, then widened with sudden horrible comprehension. As Dol Hashar selected another instrument from the metal rack, Khomas Khan jerked sharply away and strode from the throne room. Behind him, Montaz began to scream again...
Then he found himself out in the cool carmine night, fists grasping a platform rail, nostrils dilating as he breathed deeply of the fragrant air. He closed his eyes, steadying himself, regaining the poise and control which had always served him so well in the past.
Dimly he sensed a vibration in the platform -- approaching steps. Opening his eyes, he turned just as a gold-armoured Kamir sergeant started to pass.
"Sergeant." Khomas Khan's voice felt alien to his ears; but, if it was evident to the sergeant, the man's expression did not reveal it.
"You will take four guardsmen to the throne room," Khomas Khan instructed in precisely measured tones. "You will find Draykhis Dol Hashar there and you will inform him that Khomas Khan requires his attendance immediately in my chambers. Tell him it concerns the princess. It is possible you will encounter resistance from the two Rayvers stationed outside the throne room. Kill them if you must, but deliver this message. Do you understand?"
The sergeant's eyes widened, and he gave a short laugh. "Sir, you can't be serious? Kill Trayken Rayvers?"
Khomas Khan's normally impassive features suddenly contorted as he hurled the sergeant back against the opposite rail. His voice dropped fiercely. "I am still your commander, whatever Dol Hashar may think," he hissed. "And you will do as I instruct or your wings will be trimmed two full hands' width -- do I make myself clear?"
For a moment the sergeant regarded Khomas Khan in dumbfounded amazement. The advisor stepped quickly back as if ashamed by his show of emotion. The sergeant nodded slowly, swallowing as he contemplated what might lie ahead. "Yes, sir. Right away."
"You speak Kamir," gasped the green-skinned Zhanak Zen. "But I was told --"
"Aye, not until I drank some of that damash, I didn't," Seagrave replied easily. "But I understand you well enough now. And, unless I've misunderstood, you men have as little love for Dol Hashar and his dogs as I do. I was told before about your missing princess; am I right in thinking she still hasn't been found?"
The men regarded him with concerned eyes, restlessly exchanging uneasy glances. Finally the brawny man, Fanas Fel, growled guardedly: "What do you know about the princess's whereabouts?"
"Let me down and maybe I'll tell you."
Jakar Jet stepped quickly forward. The punch spike licked at Seagrave's ribs and a red thread trailed down his tanned flank. Seagrave swore in angry surprise, twisting helplessly.
"You'll tell us right now," his tormentor hissed viciously, readying the weapon for a second jab.
"I don't like hanging by my ankles and I don't like worms with sharp toys," Seagrave gritted. "Someone call him off or you won't get anything."
"Enough, Jakar Jet!" Pallin Pol shouted furiously. Then, to Seagrave, he said, "You must understand, though you saved my life, there are so many other lives at stake here. Tell us what you know and then we may let you down." Then again, his tone seemed to imply, they might not. "What do you know about the princess's whereabouts?"
Recognizing he had little choice, after a moment's thought, Seagrave explained: "I come from another world. Not one of your moons but another planet, like Korash, but far, far away. My world is called 'Earth'."
Blank expressions told him the name meant nothing to them.
"I was captain of a ship on my world when I saw your princess. She appeared to me suddenly in the night. She fell into my arms and then, before I could react, a weird monster tore her away and made off with her."
There was a rustling of sharply drawn breaths, and Seagrave saw he had their full attention.
"Aye, though we searched the ship," he continued, "we could find no trace of girl or monster. But in my cabin I discovered a small emerald, what Dol Hashar called a tal-stone, which the princess must have dropped. I think somehow that emerald had a part in bringing me to your moon -- and certainly Dol Hashar was interested in finding out how I had come by it."
"This monster?" questioned Pallin Pol anxiously. "What did it look like?"
"It had too heads, long ugly affairs with grotesque hooked chins and bald pates and bulging white eyes. Its noses were jutting and beaked, and it appeared to have no teeth."
"A fenok," whispered Pallin Pol, his blue features suddenly paling.
"How could this have happened?" groaned the youth, Bishras Bid, shaking his head. "What went wrong with our plan?"
"Hush!" Pallin Pol admonished, regaining a measure of control. "Not in front of the stranger. Come -- we will discuss this in the other chamber."
First though, Fanas Fel released the silth whip by which Seagrave was suspended, lowering him gently while the other men pulled him clear of the hole. To his chagrin, the big man then bound the pirate's hands behind his back to ensure he could not escape in their absence. Scowling, Seagrave settled on the floor to wait.
The air had already grown murky with the onset of the midday eclipse. Soon dense darkness shouldered close around the pirate, the shadows softened only by diffuse light filtering through the star-shaped door to the adjoining chamber. Seagrave could hear muted voices rising and falling in heated exchanges.
He had assumed the discussion would only require a short time to reach some sort of consensus; instead, the debate lingered on and on, even as the sun reemerged and the afternoon passed and then the evening darkened into night.
Finally, near midnight, his captor's shuffled back in looking as tired and dishevelled as he felt. Zhanak Zen untied the cords binding the pirate's hands. Seagrave frowned as he massaged his wrists.
"We do not know how the princess found herself on your world," Pallin Pol stated, obviously having been over the question many times with the others. "We have decided to tell you all we know in the hopes you can help us." He paused, recognizing the risk he ran, then continued: "We knew it was only a matter of time before the Trayken turned their attentions to our tiny state. Queen Itazara Tal resolved to fight them when the time came -- but of course, our military is puny, as is our fleet. We needed allies. To this end, we purchased a tal-stone from the neighbouring state of Jimnyr."
"And just what are these tal-stones," Seagrave interrupted.
Fanas Fel stepped in. "Tal-stones are the gems that passage us instantly from place to place, just as the green tal-stone passaged you here. All you need do is hold one in your bare hand and concentrate."
"Each tal-stone seeks to return to its place of origin," elaborated Pallin Pol. "Your green tal-stone was mined here in Eukara -- thus, when you willed it, the stone carried you here. The tal-stone which we purchased from Jimnyr was said to have been left on Miraya by powerful beings, the Naxas, from Lin, the first moon of Korash. Almost nothing is known about the inhabitants of that distant moon, but the beings who left the tal-stone told us to use it to seek their help if we ever needed it. Thus, with the Lin tal-stone, the queen hoped to passage to the first moon to forge an alliance with the Naxas and so to hopefully defeat the Trayken."
"But then Khomas Khan scuttled the queen's plan," Seagrave said grimly. "He locked up your queen and signed a pact with the Trayken."
"Khomas Khan." Bishras Bid spat on the stone floor in disgust. "Someday I will see he suffers for his treason. He will suffer like no man has suffered."
"Acting quickly, and with our help, Princess Shyrin Shas fled before she too could be captured," Pallin Pol resumed. "She resolved to take the queen's place and passage to Lin. We had previously hidden the Lin tal- stone in the catacombs and we sent her there with Jakar Jet. Jakar Jet assures us that she recovered the Lin tal-stone and vanished before his eyes. Since then, Khomas Khan and Dol Hashar have searched for her; but we remained confident that she was safe on the first moon -- that is, until we heard your story."
"Somehow," interjected Zhanak Zen, "she reached your planet instead of Lin -- which could only have happened through the use of a tal-stone taken from your world."
"But how?" Seagrave asked, frowning. "Where would she have come by such a stone? " His interest was personal indeed; that tal-stone was the means by which he could return home. If the princess had it...
"That we don't know," Pallin Pol admitted ruefully. "But clearly something went terribly wrong. As Jakar Jet saw her vanish with the Lin tal- stone, she must have first travelled to Lin and then, somehow, to your world."
"And the monster?" Seagrave asked. "This fenok?"
"The fenoks are a dangerous race living on top of our islands," Fanas Fel explained, his heavy features gravely furrowed. "Somehow a fenok must have grabbed hold of the princess when she passaged to your world; it would have been carried with her. The fenoks also use tal-stones and the fenok no doubt brought her back to Miraya which is why you could not find either of them on your ship."
Seagrave began to see why the debate had raged far into the night; the puzzle was truly bewildering. If Princess Shyrin Shas travelled to Lin, where did she encounter the fenok? Had she returned to Miraya? And where had she gotten the Earth tal-stone?
Suddenly Seagrave had a thought.
"Before the princess was recaptured," he said, pensively replaying the scene in his memory, "she said something to me. Even though I understand Kamir, it still means nothing."
"What did she say?" asked Pallin Pol.
There was a momentary mumble of astonishment. Then Pallin Pol explained in a tight voice: "It is not Kamir, but Naxas. The princess obviously believed she was on the moon Lin, which is why she spoke to you in that language."
"But what does it mean?" asked Seagrave.
Pallin Pol's voice lowered dismally. "It means: 'I am betrayed'."
"Betrayed?" Seagrave's brows contracted. "Betrayed by whom -- and how?"
"There is only one explanation," Pallin Pol reasoned, scowling. "Someone must have switched the Earth tal-stone for the Lin tal-stone without her knowing. That would explain why she spoke to you in Naxas."
"But," contested Seagrave, quickly spotting a flaw in the reasoning, "if she thought she was on Lin, how did she know she had been betrayed?"
"Perhaps it was not the switch she referred to," Fanas Fel interjected. "Someone must have given her to the fenoks atop our island. This was what she meant by betrayal. She used the stone in a futile attempt to escape, thinking she was fleeing to Lin."
"But who would do such a thing?" gasped Bishras Bid, trembling with outrage. "Who would leave our beautiful princess in the hands of the fenoks?"
Seagrave raised his head and swept the scarlet gloom of the vine-bearded chamber. "Where is Jakar Jet?" he asked suddenly. "You said he was the last to see the princess."
The others looked around in wide-eyed surprise, quickly giving way to alarm.
"He was with us in the other chamber," insisted Zhanak Zen.
Instantly, Bishras Bid rushed from the room, only to return moments later panting and grinding his teeth.
"He's gone," the youth cried. "And one of the narses is missing. Jakar Jet was her betrayer!"
"Aye," nodded Seagrave darkly. "So it seems. And now he'll betray us all."...
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Savage Miraya is copyright 1998, by Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not
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