Savage Miraya


A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE

BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA


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EPISODE 25: The Deadly Vortex!


Even with the rubiate light that angled through the interwoven branches, Seagrave could never have found his way back to the fenfyr village without the pounding of the drum to guide him. As it was, it seemed an eternity before he reached his destination -- an eternity in which Shyrin Shas remained at the mercy of her sadistic captors.

Then, once again he peered through the tangled branches onto a firewashed scene of lanky, twirling bodies, flashing quarter-moon shields and wildly flailing prods. In the midst of the grotesque saraband, Shyrin Shas crouched quivering in the tight confines of her hanging cage, achingly tiny compared to the rangy giants spinning around her.

Her eyes flared with hopeless terror and her slim wings shivered along the bowed ridge of her spine. Her wrists had been pulled forward and trussed with thongs to the corner bars of the cage, and her slender arms struggled futilely at their bonds. In spite of her deadly peril, Seagrave couldn't help but feel a rush of grim satisfaction; even locked in a cage, they feared the princess enough to tie her down.

But then his features darkened and a low growl rose in his throat. One of the fenfyr thrust a prod through the bars of the cage barely touching the girl's glossy ribs.

The effect was instantaneous. A heart-breaking scream surged from her lips and she writhed in sudden frenzied agony, barely able to do more than twist vainly back against the unyielding bars. Then a second fenfyr touched his prod to her other flank, causing her to leap away from those bars too, as if seared by a smoldering brand.

Having experienced firsthand the explosion of glass-shard pain which those prods induced in the victim's heart, Seagrave barely paused as the girl's shivering cries reached out to him like pleading hands over the steady pounding of the drum. He sprang from the foliage and bounded across the glade, the bonfires leaping in his gaze as if flames kindled in his raging soul.

He had only the puny punch spike for a weapon -- no weapon at all against the tall, two-headed fenfyrs. His cutlass lay where he had dropped it before, but, to reach it would require breaking through the creatures. Shyrin Shas had proven that it was possible to defeat the monsters using their own weapons, but Seagrave neither had a prod to hand nor was certain he could fair as well as she had now that they knew what to expect. A single touch from their prods would be enough to immobilize him.

He couldn't take that risk.

Some of the fenfyrs spotted the pirate as he raced across the glade. On each creature, first one head and then the other rotated with a malevolent hiss. Other fenfyrs had joined the first two in tormenting their writhing captive and these were last to sense the intrusion, turning almost reluctantly from their brutal amusement to face Seagrave's futile charge.

And futile it seemed.

There were twelve of the giant fenfyrs; though slim and wiry, their long blue-grey limbs were thickly braided with lean sinews like sinuous gleaming creepers and their gaunt fingers flashed with vicious rapier-like claws. Their height and reach gave them an advantage that could not be ignored, rendering a direct hand-to-hand assault nothing short of mad folly. Add to this the impenetrable bristle of prods which they held out to receive his attack...

But Seagrave had no intention of madly plunging into that forest of prods. Almost at the last moment, he cut to one side, swerving and rushing to the nearest bonfire. Hardly checking his dash, he caught up two flaming brands and hurled first one, then the other into the circular doorways of two of the hanging domes under the hovering islets. In seconds a furnace glow began to build in the gaping mouths, spilling forth currents of black smoke that rose and twisted in the night air.

Behind him, the fenfyrs released shrill peals of mingled fury and horror as they saw what he had done. He wheeled to find them shambling toward him in a wild, gangly mob, their prods and shields raised over their double-heads, their jagged teeth bared.

Desperately Seagrave hurtled himself to one side. They passed him in a welter of jutting limbs, too concerned about the spreading fire to bother with the figure tumbling on the grass.

Seagrave leapt to his feet and sped to the cage in the middle of the glade, catching up his cutlass as he ran. Shyrin Shas slumped motionless in the tiny space, her orange body gleaming with sweat, her wrists bleeding a darker orange under the thongs.

The cutlass flashed as the pirate hacked away her cords, feeling a tightening in his chest as her trim wrists dropped limply to the bottom of the cage. He grabbed a lodestone key from one of the crossed bars upholding the cage's bearer's pole, and unlocked the cage door at her heels. Tenderly, he drew the slim girl from the cage. Her damp skin was cool against his chest, and her slender length sagged lifelessly in his arms.

For a moment he wondered if he had reached her too late -- but then her head stirred feebly against his shoulder and a suffering whimper rose from her parted lips like the cry of a dreaming child. Her dark lashes fluttered and she looked up into his face, wincing; slow recognition rose through the lingering pain in her breast.

"Moryan?" she asked, as if unwilling to believe the evidence of her senses.

"I told you to stay on the cliff," Seagrave smiled, growling in mock anger.

Shyrin Shas missed the humour in his voice and weakly insisted, "I tried to but the fenfyr attacked us -- Oh, Moryan, I thought they would kill me." Then a sudden thought intruded into her suffering. "What about the others? Pallin Pol and Fanas Fel --"

"They're all right," Seagrave told her. "I sent them back to Jinja Khyam."

He cast an urgent glance at the burning huts. The fire was out of control, engulfing the two huts like wind-whipped veils. Recognizing there was nothing more to be salvaged from the seething flames, the fenfyrs one by one turned back to face the author of their misfortune. Their red eyes burned with hellish hate.

"This may be a rough ride," Seagrave muttered into the girl's ear. "Just hold on -- I'll have to carry you."

Even as the fenfyrs broke into a shambling run, Seagrave sprang for the shelter of the dark forest. Protecting the princess as best he could, he plunged into the tangled thicket, crashing recklessly through the clawing branches, mindless of the lacerating brambles that raked his face and lashed his hunched shoulders.

Misty skyglow speared his path with ghostly, frosted columns, affording just enough illumination to keep him from tripping over the many fallen logs that littered the way. From the snarled darkness behind came the rustle and crashing of frantic pursuit, but, otherwise, the fenfyr tracked their prey in spectral silence, far more unnerving than any bestial cry.

In his mind, Seagrave knew he couldn't keep up this pace much longer. His strength had been spent before he'd even reached the fenfyr village -- now he was driven only by desperation.

The feel of his cutlass bouncing against his thigh was at once a comfort and a torment. At least, he could spare the girl a renewal of the horrendous torture -- but the thought of striking the terrible blow to end her misery filled him with strangling revulsion. When the time came would he have the courage to do what had to be done?

The trembling figure in his arms seemed so fragile, so dependent. He could feel the fluttering of her small heart where his fingers pressed her narrow ribs, could smell the lilac-tinted breath that stirred softly against his neck. Every stride caused her smooth flesh to tense with sudden stabbing pain, but no sound escaped her lips. How could he silence that brave heart even if for mercy's sake?

For the first time, he found himself driven by an alien but insistent urgency. In his life, Seagrave had never feared death. His earliest memories had been those of men screaming under the biting chop of crimson cutlasses and the rattling rain of grapeshot in the canvas. The will to survive was strong in the pirate, but it was an imperative tempered with a harsh, even fatalistic realism. No -- he did not fear the death that dogged him through the rose-hued night.

But for this soft, quivering bundle in his arms he desired life -- desired it as he had never desired anything before. He knew he couldn't bring himself to kill her no matter what the odds against them; he would fight to his last living breath before he could give her up.

He told himself it was the courage she had shown in rescuing him from the fenfyr which roused such a fierce response in his pounding breast -- told himself his feelings were merely a response to her unexpected bravery -- and yet, he knew he had never before felt such an overpowering need to protect, to shield. He felt a desperate, insatiable hunger to defend the fragile life in this young girl's tangerine body as he might guard a dying candleflame twisting weakly in the rising storm.

Then, abruptly, Seagrave staggered into the open, and his heart grew cold and heavy.

Before him, escape was cut off by a black, curving escarpment that loomed starkly against the stars, its face bearded with vines and night-closed blossoms. A slender waterfall cascaded over the broken brink casting down into a wide dark pool that glimmered with misty skyglow.

His eyes swept the brooding cliff, searching for a place to climb -- but the surface was sheer, without even fingerholds. His features darkening, he turned slowly as the crashing of their pursuers drew ever closer.

The cutlass seemed an imponderable weight at his hip.

The princess whimpered softly as he set her feet on the soft grass. She continued to cling to his neck as he pushed her behind him.

"Into the water, girl," he instructed tightly. "It's your only hope. If you can hide under the waterfall, maybe they'll think I dropped you somewhere."

His words roused the princess from a drifting stupor. "But what about you?" she asked, slowly raising her dark head and blinking perplexedly.

"Never mind me!"

The princess clutched futilely at his arm, gasping in surprise as he pushed her sharply over the brink of the pond. She sank instantly, and for a terrible moment, Seagrave wondered if she had forgotten how to tread water -- but then her head broke the surface, soft light sparkling on her wet- beaded fur.

"Moryan!" she cried, breathlessly thrashing to keep afloat. "I won't leave you!"

"Get under the waterfall, damn ye!"

But then it was too late. In an instant, the gaunt nightmare shapes of the fenfyr molded out of the darkness as if shadows given ghastly substance. They formed a menacing semicircle around the half-crouched pirate, cunningly containing him with the pond at his back.

The rose-light of Korash played on Seagrave's naked torso, softly emphasizing the sinuous curves and gliding ridges of his ready muscles and lending a grisly scarlet gleam to the slim blade that sprang up before his snarling face. He seemed a formidable opponent, like a vengeful demon steeped in blood.

But against that steadily closing rim of shadows, he knew resistance was futile. Even his cutlass was useless against those terrible prods which could transmit their poison through metal. If only the girl had had sense enough to hide while there was still time -- he might at least have sold his life knowing she was safe. Now he knew there could be only hideous torture and lingering death in her future.

The thought brought a bestial growl to his curling lips. Whatever the odds against him, he would try, at least.

Momentarily, his body tensed, the cutlass rising in a silver flicker. Then a scream:

"Moryan!"

Startled, he dared a sharp glance behind him. For a moment, his gaze searched in vain for the sparkling head amongst the glimmering rose- frosted waters -- then he spotted her.

She treaded water almost under the silver spill of the waterfall, the ghostly mist softening her dark shape behind a roiling veil. He sensed the ring of shadows slouching closer, but he couldn't take his eyes from the pond.

There was something odd about the water around the girl; it seemed to slope inward like the sand at the top of an hourglass.

His brows contracted even as she called his name again. This time there was breathless urgency to her cry, a sob of despair. Barely had the final syllable passed her glittering lips than she slipped beneath the surface without a ripple to mark her passing.

Seagrave was galvanized by sudden dawning comprehension. Even as the shadowed fenfyr lunged forward with thrashing prods, the pirate wheeled and dived smoothly into the pond.

Amongst an opalescent trail of rising bubbles, he sheathed his cutlass and stroked for the waterfall with all the strength remaining in his exhausted flesh. Subtle rosy effulgence filtered down through the darkness, dancing across his lean form as he rushed like a dolphin to where the girl had gone under.

Abruptly, a darkly tangerine blur wavered in the downward night. Seagrave angled steeply, diving until his fingers closed on a slender wrist. In a moment, he drew the girl into his arms, feeling the fearful shivering of her sleek torso, her small hands clutching frantically at his shoulders. Grimly he stroked for the luminous spiral overhead -- only to find that he could make no progress in that direction. He was caught in the same relentless vortex which had dragged the girl under the water in the first place.

Furiously, Seagrave sought to swim up through the downward current, stolidly ignoring the fiery knotting of his muscles, determined only to reach that tantalizing ring of light.

But the force of the suction was inexorable, and gradually Seagrave realized that they were being drawn downward. At the same time, the spiralling waters began to spin them around and around, until the pirate was forced to give up swimming, requiring all his strength just to keep hold of the slippery body straining in his arms.

Suddenly a greater darkness reared up to surround them, instantly cutting off what little light had remained. With mounting horror, Seagrave understood that they had been sucked down through a sinkhole in the bottom of the pond. The swirling current was carrying them down -- down through one of the many waterways that connected the top of the island with the base.

Even in his horror, he found a dark irony to the situation. They had escaped seemingly certain torture and death -- but at what price? Even if they could hold their breaths long enough, there could be only one conclusion to this mad torrential ride through thundering darkness. Seagrave had seen for himself how the waterpassages emptied out into the windy abyss beneath the island.

Even if they survived the voyage, at the end lay a thousand foot plunge and shattering death on the hard sea below...



Next episode...A Rain of Stones


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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!)