Savage Miraya


A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE

BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA


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EPISODE 19: The Pit of Doom


They were just as hideous as Seagrave remembered.

Just as he remembered from that brief glimpse aboard his ship, the Sea Dog. With their grey-blue skins, weird hooked chins and noses, bulging white eyes, bald pates and toothless mouths, the fenoks seemed like grotesque parodies of old men. Each had two heads set on a single repellently lanky body, their rangy frames nearly half again as tall as the pirate. They wore loose skins draped carelessly over their sinewy shapes, and a faceted jewel flashed incongruously in the middle of each narrow breast. Each fenok carried a wooden quarter-moon shield and a long green staff studded at either end with bud-like protrusions.

Instantly, Seagrave's hand leapt to the hilt of his cutlass. But before he could snatch the weapon from its scabbard, one fenok reached out with his staff, barely touching the pirate's chest.

At the contact, a numbing chill swept Seagrave's powerful frame as if ice water coursed through his veins. A sudden weakness weighted his limbs, his breath shallowing. With a groan, he dropped to his knees.

A single glancing touch of the fenok's staff had rendered Seagrave completely paralyzed. In his mind, a titanic battle was raging as he struggled to rise to his feet; but his legs seemed detached and numb, and his powerful arms hung useless at his sides. In his ears, his hot blood rushed in furious roaring surges; but his features were slack and impassive, in no way reflecting the bitter turmoil in his breast.

Beside him, Pallin Pol had been likewise subdued, now kneeling docile and silent. With quick efficiency, the ring of fenoks parted and two small wooden cages were brought forward, each supported by a single stout bearer's pole like a palanquin. The cages were opened and the two men were squeezed into their separate prisons, the cages being too constricted to allow them room even to kneel upright; instead, the captives crouched low with their chests almost to their knees.

With a rangy fenok taking up each end of the two poles, the party set off without delay.

For a time, Seagrave found he could do no more than stare at the floor of his cage. But, gradually, the sensation seeped back into his neck and shoulders, and the paralysis retreated enough for him to move his head.

Looking around, he could only gawk in wide-eyed disbelief at the weird delirious topography that surrounded them like a madman's dream. The upside down world beneath the floating island had seemed surreal enough, but inverted forests were nothing compared to this phantasmagoric vista.

Though the island itself could have been no larger than a few miles, its upper surface was so riven with twisted valleys and heaped with clustered hills, so thickly mantled with tangled forests and dense emerald woods, it seemed far vaster than it really was, requiring considerable effort even to travel a short distance.

But what astonished Seagrave, what caused his jaw to drop and his eyes to flare, was the dizzy sight of richly draped hillocks hanging suspended just above the treetops like foamy jade clouds.

Spartan thickets sprouted from atop some of these hovering islets, and twisted boughs of lush creepers linked some in twos or threes like gorgeous floral bridges. They seemed like tiny toy replicas of the far vaster island beneath; and, like that floating island, it was impossible to understand how these luxurious peacock eminences could so blatantly defy the implacable law of gravity.

The fenoks travelled in silence. Though there was an easy pace to their long strides, Seagrave noticed that for each creature there was rarely a moment when one of its two weird heads wasn't engaged in scanning the snarled verdure with a wary stare. Glancing back over his shoulder, Seagrave saw the same nervous attitude inscribed in the features of Pallin Pol.

"The fenoks seem afraid of something," Seagrave called back to his crouched companion. "They keep searching the woods."

"We are on top of the island," Pallin Pol responded grimly, as if that should be answer enough. Then, perhaps remembering that Seagrave was a stranger to this land, he added: "There aren't that many animals adapted to life beneath the islands; that's why we Kamir chose to live there. It's safer. On top, many creatures make their homes -- many dangerous animals. A fenok who wasn't wary wouldn't last long up here."

Seagrave frowned, and his own dark eyes swept the passing woods with a nervous gleam. "I don't relish the thought of being trapped in this tiny cage if something should attack our captors," Seagrave called back soberly. "Couldn't they just tie our hands behind our backs? They could bind your wings so you couldn't fly."

"They couldn't take the risk that we might try to escape," Pallin Pol responded.
"We wouldn't get far on foot," Seagrave observed; "not on this ground and not with those damn paralyzing prods they use."

"You don't understand," Pallin Pol explained. "They know we couldn't escape. But they can't risk our trying for fear they might accidentally injure us in recapturing us. You see the fenoks are very religious. Their beliefs forbid them to hurt a living creature or to take a life. That's why they use those prods -- so they can capture prey without hurting it in any way."

Seagrave's brow furrowed and he shook his head as if to clear his ears of water. "What are you talking about? You told me these fenoks eat you Kamir. You said they would eat the princess. Now you tell me they aren't allowed to hurt or kill us. Well, which is it? You can't have it both ways!"

Before Pallin Pol could respond, a fenok passed a prod between the bars gently brushing the blue man while another fenok did the same to Seagrave. Instantly, Seagrave's angry brow settled and his features relaxed, even as a fury of helpless frustration seethed in his chest. Evidently the fenoks did not want the prisoners talking. Most likely they were concerned the noise might attract one of the dangerous predators to their caravan. Still, Seagrave raged inwardly at the casual ease with which they enforced his silence.

In a short time, the midday sun began to wane as it crept behind the planet Korash. The party halted in a narrow glade, setting down the cages, while some of the fenoks gathered wood for a fire. Gradually the darkness thickened, the air cooled and glittering stars misted the ebony vault overhead. Liquid flames veered and swerved as the fire caught and hot sparks spat upward, spiralling into the dark. This was the first use of fire Seagrave had seen since coming to Miraya. He suspected a fire would be a dangerous thing beneath the island.

With agonizing slowness, feeling returned to his limbs as the prod's poison wore off. Not wanting a further taste of the prod, he avoided talking to his companion, instead concentrating on studying his captors and looking for a means of escape. Before squeezing him into his cage, the fenoks had taken Seagrave's cutlass, scabbard and punch spike. Even though they couldn't have known what the cutlass could do, they had seen him reach for it, and so undoubtedly recognized it as a weapon.

Then too, the wound in his thigh was healing too slowly; the pain would be a hinderance to any escape plan he might concoct. As for Pallin Pol's shoulder wound, it was evidently shallow and healing quickly.

To Seagrave's annoyance, he found that the fenoks' two heads served a vital function. The fenoks used the two hour eclipse to sleep, but their heads took turns slumbering. Even as one head closed its bulging eyes, the other remained fully alert. After a period, the first head would awaken and the second would take its turn sleeping. Even in his frustration, Seagrave could not help but feel grudging admiration for such cunningly adapted creatures.

Idly he wondered if the jampan also had two heads -- in a sense; but two heads which had somehow combined into one with four eyes. He suspected that the jampan never slept with more than two eyes at a time. Such a world -- it was a chilling thought.

When the sun once again threw its topaz warmth across the emerald land, the party took up its caged captives and resumed its steady trek.

Their passage sometimes took them through the flicking shadows of misty tangled woods where weird squawking cries rang out with startling suddenness. Or else they crested broken mossy ridges, only to find their view obstructed by low green hills further on. And everywhere hung the bizarre floating hillocks, clustered with vines and trees, casting soft shadows on the thin verdure beneath.

Abruptly, the jade foliage split before them. Staring through the bars of his cage, Seagrave could see they had reached the edge of the island. Across a staggeringly vast chasm, perhaps a mile in extent, lay the emerald shores of Nakris, its outlines softened with blue distance.

Seagrave felt his hair prickle as his captors bore him steadily toward that colossal drop without slackening their lanky strides. What did they intend? The fenoks did not have wings; they couldn't fly to those far shores. And yet, they seemed determined to cross with their captives.

As he was carried closer to the island's edge, Seagrave noticed for the first time a slim string of flagstones reaching out over the howling void. Nothing supported the surreal footpath; the stones hung in the whispering air as stationary as if placed on solid ground. His heart chilled and he swallowed tightly. It was a thousand feet to the waters below. Did his captors intend to carry him for a mile over that perilous gorge walking only on those tiny stones?

His silent question was soon answered. One by one, the fenoks stepped out onto the suspended string of stones. Soon came the turn of his bearers. Seagrave held his breath as he was carried inexorably out over the fabulous void, abruptly exchanging solid earth for windy spinning space that plunged breathlessly to silvery sparkling waters far, far below. He grew dizzy at the sight, his body tensing, his vertigo exacerbated by the persistent swaying of his puny cage.

Farther and farther outward the fenoks moved, until Eukara hung dreamily in the soft backwards distance and Nakris hovered spectrally far ahead. The string of stones dwindled into invisibility before and behind, further heightening the numbing sense of impossible suspension and dreadful isolation. Seagrave noticed that the fenoks walked with cautious, testing strides now; an observation which only increased his concern. Clearly they had suffered missteps in the past.

Nor were the stones so solidly suspended as he had thought. As each stone took the weight of a fenok's foot, it sank slightly as if set on spongy soil, only to drift sluggishly back to its former height as the pressure was released.

Seagrave inhaled in relief as his bearers finally stepped onto the firm shore of Nakris, leaving the horrible string of stones behind. A further journey through flickering woods, and they came suddenly upon a cluster of suspended hillocks hanging over a vibrant green glade covered with short grass. Crude wood houses, like inverted domes, hung beneath the hillocks as if in imitation of the Kamirs' homes beneath Eukara. Stringy fenoks clambered down knotted ropes from holes in the bottoms of these domes, their eager attitudes suggesting they had been apprised of their comrades' success in the hunt.

The party descended a green slope into the glade, where the village's inhabitants clustered to greet them -- and to gawk with white eyes at the two crouching prisoners in their small swaying cages.

Seagrave cringed, thinking the fenoks would delight in tormenting their helpless captives; but the strange creatures showed no inclination to torture. Seagrave recalled what Pallin Pol had told him: the fenoks were forbidden to injure or kill. And yet, they would eat their prisoners? He wished he had been able to learn more.

Seagrave noticed a wide round pit in the middle of the glade, perhaps six feet in diameter. Beside the pit was a large clear cylinder, the same width as the pit, and three feet in height. The cylinder appeared to be made of some glassy crystalline substance, and, as Seagrave was carried closer, he saw it was hollow and open at the top.

His bearers halted beside the pit and his cage was lowered to the soft grass. The pole was smoothly withdrawn from the rings on top and two heavy ropes were secured in its place. The lock on the cage door, as near as Seagrave could tell, was operated using a piece of lodestone for a key; there was no keyhole, but the lock clicked when the magnetic stone was touched to its surface. A fenok now unlocked the door -- but before Seagrave could move, his cage was slid out over the open pit, instantly dangling by the two ropes.

The ropes creaked under the strain as the cage was gradually lowered into cloaking darkness. Before the light faded, Seagrave noticed the walls were made of stone polished to a metal smoothness. Abruptly the cage was tilted, tumbling Seagrave against the door and spilling him out onto the dirt floor of the pit. In an instant, the empty cage was drawn back up and out of the hole.

Seagrave sprang to his feet, his baleful glare staring up at the light at least twenty feet above. He snarled in disgust, turning quickly in the confined six foot space of his prison -- then started in surprise as his foot struck something supple and yielding. Something sobbed weakly in the shadows, a tremulous whimper half of fright and half of despair.

Seagrave's eyes had not yet adapted to the dim illumination, but his nostrils flared as a sensuous fragrance woke slumbering memories. In spite of everything, a wry smile turned his lips. It was the subtle scent of lilacs.

"Princess Shyrin Shas," he rumbled, and found the name strangely satisfying on his tongue...

***
Seagrave knelt and reached out, feeling smooth cool flesh and naked curves quivering vitally beneath his questing touch. The lithe shape trembled and wriggled back as much as it could in the confined space of the pit. A frightened moan breathed in the darkness.

Gradually the pirate's vision grew accustomed to the spectral light. First he discerned the hazy shimmer of slim wings; then the emerald scintillance of wide dread-filled eyes; then, finally, the pale tangerine gloss of her liquid body drawn back against the curve of the wall, her knees pulled tight, her hands raised before her delicate face as if to ward off a cruel blow.

"There's no need to be afraid," Seagrave told her with a low chuckle. "I'm here to rescue you." His wry laugh showed that the irony of the situation was not lost on him.

"Who -- who are you?" The princess's lush voice was weak and hoarse, as if she hadn't spoken in some time.

"I'm insulted," Seagrave smiled, feigning affront. "Don't you recognize me? I damn well remember you. It isn't every night a beautiful naked orange girl tumbles into my arms."

For a moment, Shyrin Shas's slim brows knitted -- then, abruptly, understanding widened her eyes. "You are one of the Naxas," she gasped, her voice breathless with awe. "I remember you."

Seagrave shook his head quickly. "You remember me, aye," he said. "But I'm not one of the Naxas. You never made it to Lin as you'd thought. Jakar Jet switched tal-stones on you. Instead you travelled to my planet -- Earth."

"Earth?" She struggled to assimilate this startling revelation. "Not Lin? Jakar Jet..." Suddenly her sleek body tensed and one slim hand flew to Seagrave's wrist with a fierce strength. She nodded vigorously. "Jakar Jet betrayed me. He tied me up and left me for the fenoks to find. All this time I've tried to understand why he would do such a thing."

"For the Lin tal-stone," Seagrave responded grimly. "We think he sold it to the Trayken."

"That evil man." There was a strange regal conviction to her whispered tone, but it was mixed with a waifish innocence, like a child grappling with an unpleasant fact of life. At one and the same time, she seemed imbued with imperious assurance, yet oddly fragile and naive.

"Aye," nodded the pirate. "He is an evil man." For a moment, his narrow eyes cast up toward the burning circle above, disconsolately noting the slick polish of the pit's walls. "There's no hope of climbing out of here, I guess," he commented soberly. His gaze dropped to the princess and he stroked a strong hand over her flinching shoulder. "Damn me, girl -- you're shivering. Have you been down here all this time?"

She nodded silently, biting her bottom lip. "I've had nothing to eat since they put me here," she said. "Sometimes I just wish they would get it over with and end my misery."

"Now is that any way for a princess to talk?" But the pirate's grave tone revealed more than his heartening words. At the moment, he could see no way out of this trap. Worse, he had no idea what fate was intended for them. That the fenoks would eat them both seemed certain. And yet, the fenoks were forbidden to kill or injure...

"Tell me," he questioned after a moment; "just what do these fenoks plan to do with us? Pallin Pol told me --"

"Pallin Pol? He knows I am here?" Her tone was an urgent mingling of hope and fear.

"Aye, he does," Seagrave told her, with a rueful shake of his head. "For all the good it does us. Pallin Pol was captured with me. I only saw one of these pits so I guess he's still locked in his cage. We were travelling with three others -- Fanas Fel, Bishras Bid and Zhanak Zen -- when we became separated. I don't know what happened to the others."

With a despairing sob, the girl's dark head bowed and silver tears rained on her naked breasts. Seagrave slipped a finger beneath her chin and lifted her face, gently stroking the salty water from her quivering lips with his thumb. "There now, girl -- there's no use crying. We'll get out of this trap. How hard can it be anyway? I'm told these fenoks are forbidden to injure us; there's a pretty powerful advantage right there. If I can lay my hands on my cutlass..."

Abruptly he faltered, his gaze jerking upwards as the light subtly changed its quality. "What the devil?"

Over the mouth of the pit, a clear glass circle was sliding, quickly spanning the six foot aperture. A moment's thought and Seagrave realized what was happening -- and his features darkened with worried bafflement.

Before being cast into the pit, he had noticed a hollow crystal cylinder, three feet high, open at the top. Now the fenoks were fitting that cylinder into the pit. It was fashioned so precisely that it slipped into the smooth passage as snugly as a sword into its scabbard. So frictionless was the contact that the cylinder made no noise as it was slowly lowered down by ropes.

Seagrave straightened and raised his arms -- then grunted in surprise as the cool crystal met his splayed fingers. The cylinder weighed no more than cork, and yet it felt as hard as thick glass. In spite of its six foot diameter, he could hold it up without effort using only one arm. Gazing up through its clear base, he could see the dazzling mouth of the pit where black figures leaned over, silhouetting against the burning sky.

"Just what are those fenoks up to?" Seagrave mumbled uneasily. "So far nothing I've heard about them makes any..."

His eyes fell on the dim tangerine figure at his feet. The princess's face was a mask of terror; her young body twisted and writhed against the curved wall as if thrashing in a silent paroxysm of physical anguish, her small fists clenching again and again against the well of her throat. "What is it, girl? What's the matter?"

But her fear prevented her from speaking. Seagrave glanced up through the crystal surface -- then scowled. Gradually his scowl changed, sculpting his clean features to match the sudden tightening fear stirring in his breast.

On the transparent glass over his fingers small drops of rain were falling.

At first the drops speckled the crystal surface with random spray like pebbles cast on a still pond. Gradually, the drops increased both in number and size, until the rain grew to a steady downpour -- and then to a hissing torrent that blotted out the pit mouth in a seething ceiling of glowing white.

In seconds, Seagrave could feel the weight on his fingers slowly but steadily increasing. His throat constricted and his pulse pounded as he finally understood what was intended. So -- the fenoks were forbidden to kill or injure; but apparently they had no strictures against allowing the rain to do their killing for them.

Seagrave felt a tightening in his chest. Death by leister would have been infinitely preferable to this terrible grisly end.

They were to be slowly, inexorably crushed...



Next episode...Massacre!


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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!)