Savage Miraya


A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE

BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA


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EPISODE 22: The Fenfyr!


The pounding of the drum served to mask Seagrave's approach; the creatures continued their wild gyrations until he was nearly upon them. Then, at the last moment, one dancer turned, just as Seagrave raised his cutlass for a murderous slash.

The pirate staggered to a halt, nearly tripping in his surprise, his eyes expanding to white circles of horror.

Physically the creature looked like a fenok; it had the same rangy blue-grey frame, the same two heads, the same grotesquely hooked chin and nose. But, whereas the fenoks had bulging white eyes, this creature's orbs were bloody scarlet; and, whereas the fenoks were toothless, this thing's lips drew back to expose jagged, glistening fangs like shards of broken glass.

Worse than this, the expressions assumed by those two hideous countenances were unspeakably malevolent, imbued with a cunning evil, a sadistic intelligence that curled the lips and contorted the brows and seemed to radiate pure, undiluted malignance.

In his surprise, Seagrave hesitated for just a moment. In that pause, the other creatures had just enough time to surround him like a ravenous pack of wolves. Recovering, Seagrave cursed as one creature thrust at him with a prod. The pirate hacked downward, cleanly severing the sinewy arm clutching the prod; the limb spun away in a grisly orange spray.

Seagrave whirled, snarling like a cornered beast. Briefly the creatures fell back, unnerved by the ghastly fate of their comrade spasming on the ground. But then, too quickly, the circle closed again and another prod lanced at Seagrave's flesh. He beat at the prod with the flat of his blade, meaning only to deflect the thrust -- but, the instant his cutlass touched the budded weapon, a web of scarlet light surged up the blade to his fist.

Seagrave nearly blacked out as staggering agony shot up his arm and blossomed in his chest. It felt as if broken glass coursed through his veins, the brittle fragments rending and burning muscles and flooding his bursting heart with fiery, shattering pain.

The cutlass spun from his hand as he crumpled, clutching his chest with clawing fingers. Another prod touched him between the shoulders. This time he screamed, his back arching as more glass seemed to flash from the point of contact directly to his heart as if following every shrieking nerve along the way.

Even as a third prod dropped him writhing on the grass, he dimly realized that this must have been how the fenoks had been massacred without leaving wounds...

***
Having failed to warn her rescuer, Shyrin Shas resolved to carry out his last instructions as best she could.

Even as Seagrave paused at the unexpectedly evil aspect of his opponents, the princess sped through the twisted shadows rimming the glade, urgently seeking a way to reach Pallin Pol. In a moment, she saw her chance as the fenfyr -- which is what these creatures were called -- encircled Seagrave, leaving their blue prisoner unguarded. Shyrin Shas dashed recklessly out into the open, crossing the glade to the hanging cage. Instantly, her eyes fell on a lodestone key hooked on one of the cross-braces as if placed there to taunt the helpless captive.

She snatched up the key and unlocked the cage. In a moment, Pallin Pol lay sprawled on the ground, his vision clouded and dazed. As his eyes fixed on the slender tangerine girl leaning over him, gradual recognition flickered and a weak smile touched his lips.

"Princess," he gasped. "You're alive."

Shyrin Shas cast a despairing glance over her shoulder as Seagrave's shivering scream broke from the circle of fenfyrs. "Quickly!" the princess exclaimed. "You must rescue Moryan! He needs you!"

Grimly Pallin Pol struggled to rise -- only to collapse again with a moan. "The pain," he gritted. "They used those damn prods on me. It feels like my heart is filled with glass."

Urgently, Shyrin Shas cast around, her eyes wide with desperate need. She could not see Seagrave, only the throng of fenfyrs as they bent over him, sadistically tormenting him with repeated thrusts of their prods. Abruptly, her eyes narrowed and her slim back stiffened, her beautiful features hardening with sudden steely resolve.

"You must help him into the woods," she instructed Pallin Pol. "I will fight off the fenfyr."

"Princess -- no!" Pallin Pol grabbed at her ankle, but she sprang nimbly away.

Shyrin Shas snatched the prod from the lifeless clasp of the dead fenfyr's severed hand. With a wild shout, she drove the weapon into the bowed spine of the nearest fenfyr. The creature shot erect, its thin fingers clawing at its sinewy chest, shrill shrieks breaking from its two fanged mouths.

The princess didn't pause, but pressed her attack with a frantic speed that allowed her to lance two more fenfyrs before they knew she was upon them.

In an instant, the creatures wheeled to face this unexpected threat. Shyrin Shas caught a glimpse of Seagrave curled on his side behind their legs -- then she leaped away, drawing the ghastly horde in shambling pursuit.

With their long, gangly strides, the fenfyr easily overtook the princess before she could reach the safety of the woods. They encircled her in an instant; she turned at bay, fear exploding in her panting lungs. Before they had time to attack, she thrust out with her prod. Another fenfyr staggered backward, shrieking hideously. Clearly they weren't used to being assaulted by their own weapons.

Shyrin Shas was emboldened by her success. She flew at them again and again, lashing left and right, striking rangy limbs and lean chests, whatever part she could reach, until the air knelled with the shrill cries of the wounded creatures and they fell back before her assault as if before a raging jampan.

Lying on the grass, Seagrave's pain eased enough for him to struggle up on one elbow. Pallin Pol crawled to his side, and shouted over the horrible din: "Can you stand? She told me to get you to safety."

Seagrave stared in dumb amazement at the scene of furious defence. His pulse pounded at the sight.

The princess was magnificent. Her tangerine body was like a dancing flame as it swerved and flexed, spun and twisted, her lithe legs barely touching the grass as she moved. The sweat flashed on her naked limbs, gleaming on the gliding ridges of her straining arms and back as she thrust again and again at the hideous two-headed creatures nearly twice her height. Never in his life had Seagrave witnessed such a breathless display of unbridled courage; she seemed the embodiment of primitive resilience; the primordial survivor reborn and given definition in the vibrant flesh of a lithesome orange princess from an alien world.

But it couldn't last.

First one of the prods found the princess's soft flesh -- and then another. She collapsed with an anguished scream. Instantly, the gangly creatures circled her, their bulging eyes burning with a vengeful lust. But before another prod could touch her trembling orange body, Seagrave staggered to his feet, and, snatching up a dropped prod, bounded to her defense.

He swung the prod like a belaying pin, bashing the nearest creature square on the crown of its right head. The thing collapsed in a grotesque heap, its right skull shattered, the left either dead or unconscious. The other creatures spun in surprise, but Seagrave swung again, this time snapping an arm with a loud, brittle crack.

The maimed monster fell back with a horrible shriek. A prod was thrust at the pirate but he parried it as if fighting with cutlasses on the deck of a frigate. He lashed out in return and a third creature stumbled back, its wrist bent at a terrible angle.

Then, suddenly, Pallin Poll was at Seagrave's side. The blue man seemed slow and weak from his ordeal, but he showed a brave heart. He followed Seagrave's lead, lashing out with a captured prod. Another creature screamed in pain.

It was all too much for the monsters. Suddenly the gangly throng broke as if shattered by a sudden blow, wheeling in fearful flight and scattering -- many barely able to stand -- across the glade. In a wild, mindless rush, they began to scramble up the knotted ropes to the safety of their hanging dome houses.

Seagrave watched the retreat -- then turned to the princess. On her knees, she had recovered sufficiently to take vindictive satisfaction in the creatures' wild flight. She watched them run with angry, slitted eyes, her breast rising and falling with her breathless panting, then looked up as her wingless saviour took her wrist and helped her to her feet.

Without a word, the three staggered away into the nighted woods. They had no idea how much time the princess's defense had bought them; Seagrave was certain the creatures would set out in pursuit as soon as they recovered their nerve. In the meantime, the fugitives stumbled blindly through the clawing verdure, moving as quickly as their anguished hearts would allow, wanting only to put distance between them and their tormentors before they dropped from exhaustion.

At last, they tumbled from the woods into a small skylit clearing, all three sprawling on the cool grass with gasps of relief. For a time, they lay in silence, simply striving to recover their breaths. The night air soothed their damp backs and rustled gentle fingers over their aching limbs.

Finally Seagrave raised his head and regarded the slender tangelo figure stretched at his side. "What in God's name were those things?" he muttered bitterly. "They looked like fenoks -- sort of."

"They are fenfyrs," Shyrin Shas replied. "They are far more dangerous then the fenoks. The poison from the prods causes intense pain -- even death if the contact is prolonged. The poison flows through metals. I tried to warn you, but you had already gone."

"I take it they don't have rules against injuring prey?"

The princess missed the wry humour in his tone. "No," she replied quickly. "They delight in torturing their food before they kill it."

Pallin Pol lifted his head on the opposite side of the princess. "I thought you were dead," he told Seagrave. "When the fenoks lowered that crystal plug into your pit -- and then the rains began..."

He shook his head amazedly. "Then, suddenly, a whole party of fenfyrs sprang out of the woods, attacking the fenoks with their vicious prods. They'd found a worm cannon somewhere and fired off some flash worms -- but, of course, in the rain they did little damage. The whole thing was over before I knew it. The fenfyrs knocked over their worm cannon, disgusted I suppose, then carried me back to their village. They amused themselves torturing me with those prods, but I think they were getting ready to finish me off when you two arrived."

His eyes fixed on Shyrin Shas, clouding with emotion. "Princess," he said. "When we learned you had been captured by the fenoks..." The words choked in his throat, but Shyrin Shas smiled, understanding.

"You were very brave to come looking for me," she said softly. "As I lay shivering in that awful pit, I began to wonder how many others might so easily betray me as had Jakar Jet. You have given me hope and faith once again."

She glanced furtively at Seagrave's bronzed shape beside her, her eyes narrowing. "I have found pure motives hard to come by of late. Too many are moved by self-interest and personal reward."

Seagrave frowned at the critical edge to her voice. He opened his mouth to respond -- then closed it again, his gaze casting up at the dark palisade of trees behind them.

"Ssh!" he cautioned, raising a hand. With questioning looks, the others followed his glance, their bodies rigid with apprehension.

Abruptly two armoured Rayvers mounted on scarlet narses soared out over the tiny clearing. A heavy gilded worm cannon hung suspended in a net between the two serpentine mounts. For a moment, the rosy skylight glinted off the polished weapon and flickered illusively through the humming wings. Then the two riders passed from view over the serried ranks of whispering forest at the opposite end of the glade.

"Come on!" Seagrave exclaimed, bounding to his feet. He was galvanized into instant action, moving with swift reckless assurance as if his recent torment never happened.

Without even waiting for his companions, he bolted across the clearing and dived into the wild thicket. To his surprise, he broke through the tangled phalanx in a dozen strides, lurching to a cursing stop on the edge of a steep crumbling cliff.

A moment later Shyrin Shas and Pallin Pol staggered to his side. All three gaped in stunned disbelief.

Beneath their cliff, a forested plain stretched away to the ragged edge of the island. They had a breathtaking view of the night sky now shading to soft rose, and strung with half moons like beads on a necklace set on red silk. Beneath that cluttered sky, the two Rayvers grew smaller and smaller as they soared in a graceful descending arc over the shimmering plain, eventually dwindling amidst the great swollen gasbags that loomed darkly above the treetops like low-hanging clouds.

There were at least nineteen wingships, their massive gasbags painted jet black, so that even the moonlight spurned their vast leviathan curves. The wooden ships themselves were hidden from view, nestled in the carpeted forest, their presence betrayed only by the glimmering light of lanterns which speckled the dark woods like innumerable fireflies.

Seagrave heard Shyrin Shas breathe in quickly, one soft hand catching at his elbow as if to steady herself. A glance showed him her eyes were immense with horror.

"Those are Trayken wingships," she whispered breathlessly. "The entire Trayken Armada is hidden atop the island of Nakris!"



Next episode...Assault on the Armada


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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!)