Savage Miraya


A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE

BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA


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EPISODE 23: Assault on the Armada


As Seagrave soberly surveyed the black Armada furtively concealed atop the floating island of Nakris, a vague uneasiness stirred in his mind. He spoke to the princess without shifting his burning eyes.

"This island state of yours," he asked quietly; "Eukara -- just how important is it to this moon? I was told Eukara was insignificant."

The tangerine girl nodded distantly, the skyglow glimmering in her gaze as if on restless waters. "We are a very minor state," she replied. "We have no great industries or commerce. Our army is tiny; our navy is limited to a fleet of six wingships."

"Then why should the Trayken take such an interest in Eukara?" Seagrave's distracted mutter showed he was only half speaking to the girl at his side; his mind grappled with the problem as if with a mortal opponent. "Why would they bring their Armada here? Merely to punish you for resisting them? To set an example? I don't know that much about the Trayken, but they don't strike me as the type to waste this much effort without expectation of gain. Do you have anything they need? Is there some strategic importance to your islands?"

Shyrin Shas pondered the question a moment, her slim brows troughing pensively. After a moment, she shook her head hopelessly. "I don't know of anything," she responded. "They have already subdued the major states of our moon. Their Armada serves largely to police their conquered territories. Perhaps they fear our brief resistance might lead others to fight back, as well."

Seagrave grunted sceptically. "I don't doubt they would like to make an example of you," he said. "But there are easier ways to do it than to bring their entire Armada down on your furry heads. They'd be breaking a butterfly on a wheel."

"A butterfly?" The princess glanced quizzically up at her dark companion. "What is a butterfly?"

Seagrave seemed not to have heard the question; he was too immersed in unravelling this puzzle. "There must be something," he mumbled determinedly. "There must be something about this tiny state of yours -- something important enough to warrant all this effort. Something --"

"Listen!" It was Pallin Pol who hissed the startled warning.

Instantly Seagrave heard the sound as well -- the whirring of approaching narses. With a sweep of his arm, he drew Shyrin Shas back into the covering foliage, dropping to his haunches at her side. His slitted gaze scanned the star-bearded vault overhead. Pallin Pol crouched with them. For a moment, they waited, rigid with tingling nerves.

Abruptly four narses soared from over the trees behind, flying gracefully out over the forested plain, the red skyglow glinting from the lacquered armour of the Trayken Rayvers upon their backs. Seagrave caught only a glimpse of the caped rider in the lead, a view from below and from behind -- but it was enough to fire his blood and bring him bounding to his feet.

"Dol Hashar!" he snarled.

Almost at the same moment, four more mounted Rayvers swooped past overhead. They flew low and in single file. There was no time to reason or weigh the wisdom of his actions; the opportunity presented by this chance encounter would not come again.

Shyrin Shas could only watch in wide-eyed horror as the wingless pirate hurtled to the cliff's edge and sprang recklessly out into the void. She cried out, clenching her fists so the nails cut her delicate palms -- then gasped in mingled relief and dread as his strong arms caught hold of the cinched straps under the scaly belly of the rearmost narse.

In a flash, Seagrave was carried out over the rose-dusted plain, his lithe body swinging wildly against the stars as he fought to secure his perilous clasp. Shryin Shas rushed from the trees to the cliff's edge, a low moan rising from her lifting breasts, fists bunched to her throat.

Only after he had jumped did Seagrave realize how insane his actions were; by then it was too late. Catching hold of the narse's saddlestrap, he could only cling for dear life -- and pray his weight wouldn't alert the Rayver riding just above his head.

Glancing down, he saw the forest far below; the swollen black gasbags passed beneath his swaying feet, looming steadily closer even as his sweat-damp fingers gradually lost their purchase. His muscles knotted on his arms and back as he struggled to regain his grip. The movement served to irritate the narse, already discomfited by the creature clinging to its scaly belly. Almost disdainfully, it flicked at him with its long snake-like tail. Seagrave gritted his teeth as the slender tip snapped across his wrists, leaving a stinging red line. The tail curled the opposite way, then flicked again, catching him on the other side.

He was still too high up to jump. The Traykens began to circle above a wingship, waiting while Dol Hashar and his three Rayvers dismounted on the deck below. Seagrave grimaced as the tail stung him again, this time making an audible crack which he felt sure must alert the Trayken above. The pain he could endure, but discovery would mean certain death. He cast another glance downward, then released his grip, dropping instantly away in a dizzy breathless plunge...

He landed atop the black gasbag. Though the surface yielded to his weight, there was sufficient resistance to drive his knees up into his chest and blast the wind from his lungs. For a moment he sprawled on the cool fabric, dazed. Slowly he regained his senses, struggling to his knees and shaking his head -- then clambered quickly down the net stretched over the curve of the bag until he was hidden from the four Rayvers still circling overhead.

Dol Hashar had vanished with the other three Rayvers. After a moment, the waiting Traykens soared off over the sea of wingships, their vigilance no longer required.

Stealthily, Seagrave scrambled down the ratlines to the open deck. Much of the ship was painted as black as the gasbags, though the boards underfoot were wooden and plain. The deck was deserted, and Seagrave glided from shadow to shadow, allowing only brief snatches of light to flicker on his tanned skin. The four narses eyed him nervously as he passed, their swollen limbless bodies hovering just above the deck, wings humming insistently in the cool silence.

In Seagrave's mind, one thought crowded out all others: to kill Dol Hashar. He had sworn to avenge the slave girl, Montaz, tortured to death by the Trayken draykhis. But, until now, no opportunity had presented itself. Now he had Dol Hashar trapped somewhere aboard this ship. That he had been easily bested in his last encounter with the draykhis hardly bothered his vengeful thoughts at all...

There were several raised hoods, like airvents, ranged along the deck. Passing one of these, Seagrave was brought up short by a sudden scream - - a man in excruciating pain. He sprang to the hood and peered through the narrow slot along one side.

His breath hissed explosively through his teeth.

He was looking down into a large chamber with wooden walls and slim brass beams. Hanging gem-lanterns cast a lurid topaz glow over the scene. A heavy wooden door, shaped like an upside down triangle, was set in the far wall, a prisoner's meaty fists constricted around the bars of the door's single window.

In the middle of the chamber, Bishras Bid was bound to one of the slender support beams with his back to Seagrave, facing the door. The red-skinned youth's arms were drawn up and around to the back of the pole, then bound in place with chains. His body hung with toes barely reaching the floor, wings quivering futilely on either side of the column at his spine. A muscular Trayken stood in front of the captive, placidly replacing a glowing poker amongst the fiery coals of a small gilded brazier. Seagrave couldn't see what had been done to the youth, but the rebel's voice was a dry anguished croak.

"You monsters!" Bishras Bid gasped. "Ask me what you like, I won't tell you anything."

Abruptly Seagrave dropped low behind the vent as something landed softly on the deck in the far shadows. A moment later, Shyrin Shas and Pallin Pol glided out of the darkness, the blue man winded and streaming with sweat. Scowling, Seagrave rose and motioned them over.

As they reached his side, Pallin Pol hurriedly explained: "She commanded me to carry her after you. I couldn't refuse her -- she is my princess."

Seagrave raised a hand to forestall further comment, then indicated the slit in the vent. Shyrin Shas crouched and peered through the slot. Her supple body stiffened at the sight beneath.

Even as Seagrave returned to the aperture, a side door slid open in the chamber below and Dol Hashar shouldered through the triangular threshold followed by a Rayver. The draykhis barely glanced at the tortured youth as he continued listening to the words of his underling.

"What are they saying?" Seagrave whispered to Shyrin Shas. "I don't understand the language."

After a moment, she translated: "The Rayver tells Dol Hashar they have recovered the stolen worm cannon from a fenok village which was massacred. They don't know who stole the weapon nor who killed the fenoks." She paused as Dol Hashar spoke. Seagrave noticed how she shivered at his words. "Dol Hashar asks if they have found me yet; he says he is not pleased by the delay and wonders how hard it can be to find one woman imprisoned with the fenoks. The Rayver replies that they are still searching." Again she paused, listening -- then continued: "Dol Hashar reminds him that the recovery of the tal-stone is of the utmost importance. More Rayvers are to be dispatched on the search."

Seagrave nodded, mildly gratified. "So, they don't have the Lin tal- stone. Jakar Jet's deal must have gone sour. That's something, I guess."

Abruptly Dol Hashar wheeled, turning his back on the Rayver and coming around to face Bishras Bid. His tiny black eyes surveyed the hanging youth with a caressing glance, and he nodded slowly. "Very good," he told the torturer. "I see you have already been at work on this one. Has he told you anything concerning the tal-stone or the princess?"

Dol Hashar spoke in Kamir, presumably wanting the prisoners to understand.

"I have only just begun," the torturer replied evenly. "Shall I continue?"

Dol Hashar placidly waved the torturer aside and stepped closer to the rebel. Bishras Bid stirred weakly in his bonds.

"Dol Hashar," he gasped, his voice quivering as much with rage as with pain. "You monster! Undo these chains and I'll tear out your black heart!"

A malevolent smile twisted the draykhis's mouth, one finger tapping pensively against his outthrust jaw. "I understand you were discovered with the two other prisoners atop Eukara," Dol Hashar hissed softly. "No doubt you were searching for the princess even as we were. Tell me -- did you have any luck in your search?"

In response, Bishras Bid spat full in Dol Hashar's face. For a moment, the draykhis regarded his trembling prisoner in silence, his gaunt features unreadable. Only the slight opening of his cooling gills on either side of his head hinted at the ghastly scene about to unfold.

Dol Hashar chuckled in a deep, rolling growl. He casually raised one gloved hand and curved ebony claws slowly grew from the fingertips. He reached down on a level with the rebel's hips, his hand sliding from view behind the scarlet body.

Shyrin Shas clutched Seagrave's arm as Bishras Bid began to scream. The scream rose quickly to a shrill, horrible shriek of frenzied, unimaginable torment. Slowly Dol Hashar raked his claws up the youth's writhing figure, his powerful muscles cording as he pressed deeply, forcing the twisting captive back against the pillar. Even as the claws reached the rebel's ribs, the screaming abruptly stopped, and Bishras Bid slumped motionless in his fetters -- disembowelled.

With hideous leisure, Dol Hashar wiped his dripping claws on a towel passed to him by one of the two Rayvers.

"Feed the body to the jampans," Dol Hashar told the Rayvers, again speaking so the other prisoners might understand. "Then bind up one of the other two -- it doesn't matter which. I will return shortly."

Even as Dol Hashar spoke, Shyrin Shas buried her face against Seagrave's chest, all her orange flesh trembling with horror at the grisly spectacle she had witnessed. Seagrave enfolded her in his arms, softly stroking her fur, knowing no words could erase the memory of Bishras Bid's ghastly death. His features were pale, but his eyes smoldered as he looked at Pallin Pol and muttered tightly: "Take her back to the cliff. This time, keep her there. I don't care if she threatens you with death -- don't bring her back here again. If I haven't returned by morning, you will have to get her back to Jinja Khyam yourself."

Surprisingly, Shyrin Shas offered no resistance as she was gently passed into the arms of the blue Kamir. "What are you going to do?" Pallin Pol asked Seagrave.

"I had intended to kill Dol Hashar," Seagrave replied grimly. "But now I have to rescue Fanas Fel and Zhanak Zen -- if I can. Now go."

Seagrave watched as Pallin Pol lifted the trembling girl, spread his shimmering wings and lofted into the reddening night.

The ship's deck was flanked by four large circular platforms or turrets, raised up like quarterdecks and hanging half out beyond the hull on each side. Each turret was large enough to accommodate twenty men on top. The ship's lower decks were reached by triangular doors set in the curved wooden walls of these turrets.

Barely had Pallin Pol and Shyrin Shas dwindled into the upper darkness than one of these doors slid open, heaving a slim carpet of light across the nighted boards, almost revealing Seagrave in its unexpected wash. The two Rayvers emerged, bearing between them the limp corpse of Bishras Bid. Seagrave dropped to his haunches behind the vent and waited for them to pass; then he sprang erect and crossed to the open doorway in six hungry strides.

A companion ladder led down from the doorway. Warily descending this, Seagrave found himself in a long corridor dimly lit by topaz glim-gems set in silver and gold cressets. Triangular doors flanked the hallway, but, through the open door at the end of the passage, he discerned the gilt gleam of the brazier used to torture Bishras Bid.

Seagrave glided down the corridor, making no more sound than a whispering breeze. Once in the torture chamber, he slid closed the door behind him, then rushed to the cell door with its barred window.

"Fanas Fel?" he hissed into the darkness beyond the grille. "Zhanak Zen?"

There was the sound of indrawn breaths and the rustle of rising limbs. Then heavy fists clasped the bars and Fanas Fel's pallid features loomed in the shadows.

"Moryan," he exclaimed. "Bishras Bid --"

"I saw," Seagrave told him soberly. "There was nothing I could do. How do you unlock this damn door?"

"The key on the wall," Fanas Fel instructed, motioning with his fingers through the bars. "Hurry -- they'll be back any moment."

Snatching the key from its hook, Seagrave saw it was merely another lodestone. He touched the key to the metal plate at the top of the door, gratified to hear the sharp click as the lock opened. He jerked open the door, which, like all the doors on this ship, slid into a slot in its frame. Fanas Fel and Zhanak Zen stumbled out into the light.

Without a moment to lose, Seagrave sprang to the hall door and opened it just a crack to check if the way was clear. Satisfied, he rushed the rebels out into the hallway, then down the dim passage to the companionway. Halfway up the ladder, he paused abruptly -- then bounded back down.

"Where are you going?" hissed Fanas Fel urgently.

"Go on without me," Seagrave paused to whisper. "I should have closed the cell door. It might buy us a little more time to escape."

Speeding back to the torture chamber, Seagrave sealed the cell door, hearing the lock click as it caught. He picked up the lodestone key from the floor where he'd dropped it, cast about for some place to dispose of the key, then tossed it into the coals of the brazier provoking a mist of spiralling sparks.

Bounding back out into the hallway, he was halfway to the ladder when a door opened at the foot of the companionway and a tall Rayver shouldered into the passage. Even as Seagrave stumbled to a halt, a second door opened behind him and another Rayver emerged. The two Traykens spotted the breeches-clad intruder at the same moment. Neither Rayver carried a leister, but, if their strength was anything like Dol Hashar's, Seagrave knew they really didn't need one.

For a moment, the pirate looked sharply from one to the other, his muscular body deeply crouched like a cornered panther, a low snarl curling his lips. His hand leapt to his cutlass -- only to touch the barren mouth of his scabbard. With sudden horror, he recalled that he had dropped the blade during his fight with the fenfyr.

In his hurry to escape, he had left the cutlass behind...



Next episode..."What Happened to Shyrin Shas?"


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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!)