Savage Miraya


A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE

BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA


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EPISODE 26: A Rain of Stones


Seagrave opened his eyes with a startled shout.

For a moment, he thought he was still being swept along by the racing underground current and his muscles knotted instinctively as if to resist yet one more shattering impact on a jutting shoulder of stone. But, even as he stiffened, he felt the tight bonds confining his wrists, the cords cutting into his ankles, both preventing him from rising from his position on the ground.

He blinked in surprise.

He sat with his legs stretched out, his back against the wood slats of a pen to which his wrists were trussed in the form of a cross. His eyes swept the dull gloom of his prison. It was a stable of some kind in which a hazy half-light filtered amongst the wide stalls, dimly playing on the squamous necks and snake-heads of tethered narses. The steady whir of their shivering wings filled the stale air like wind moaning though a grove. At his outcry, the nearest narse regarded him idly, its dewlap swaying with the motion of its chewing jaws.

Dimly, snatches of memory returned. There was the relentlessly brutal race through the underground river -- the sudden almost euphoric plunge into open air beneath the island -- the numbing descent through black howling space -- and then?

Then there was the unexpected impact in a fine-meshed net and miraculous salvation. The pounding Seagrave had sustained during his wild ride had left him dazed and barely conscious; his next memories flickered like images half-glimpsed though a tattered curtain. He remembered fighting to rise on the unstable mesh of the net, clawing his way drunkenly up a slope -- then a face looming in the darkness.

Seagrave scowled at the memory. It had been a Trayken face. Then there had been the raised haft of a leister -- and then...

The pirate cursed bitterly under his breath. Once again he had allowed himself to be recaptured. His eyes swept the surrounding pens, his nostrils irritated by the musty stench of the narses.

He frowned, puzzled.

If he had been recaptured, what was he doing tied up in a stable? Surely Dol Hashar would have returned him to the prison cabin -- or perhaps taken him to the torture chamber on the wingship. Wherever he was, it wasn't intended to accommodate a prisoner.

Abruptly another thought rose to mind. Where was Shyrin Shas? All during their terrible ride, Seagrave had clutched her struggling form with superhuman determination. Even as they plunged into the dark void, he continued to hold her as if believing he could somehow protect her against the horrible impact that surged up from below. Finally, as they struck the net, the girl had been torn from his grasp. She must also be a prisoner -- but then why wasn't she here with him?

His muscles coiled beneath his tanned skin as he strained at the bonds confining his wrists. The thongs were strong and tied tightly, but the wooden slat at his back creaked protestingly under the pressure. The slat was sewn at either end to upright support beams. The wood seemed old and rotting, and Seagrave suspected he could break it without too much effort.

He relaxed and twisted his bound legs. Though his breeches prevented him for checking for certain, he could feel no pain from the wound he had received from the jakdak. If the wound had healed, at least a day must have passed since then; he must have lain unconscious for hours.

Suddenly Seagrave glanced up, starting as something clattered roughly against the wall of the stable. Something had struck the wooden wall from the outside -- something solid like stone. For a moment he strained to hear beyond his prison. Then a second crash sounded, this time startling the hovering narses, causing them to sway and twist like riled cobras.

"What the devil --?"

Now he could make out distant voices shouting urgently. Pounding footsteps rattled the boards overhead, causing grey dust to sift down from the cracks. More impacts struck the stable walls, resounding and solid, each one threatening to throw the restive narses into a wild panic. In the close space of the stable, the result might be deadly for the trussed pirate. But, in Seagrave's thoughts, one concern crowded out all others: to find Shyrin Shas.

He sucked in a breath, his head dropping onto his breast. Muscles surged on his trembling arms, the arch of his chest and ridges of his abdomen hardening like polished stone the hue of desert dunes. Behind his straining back, the wooden slat groaned dryly, then abruptly shattered. In seconds, Seagrave had worked his wrists free and was busily untying his ankles.

He was weak from long confinement and nearly overbalanced as he lurched to his feet. Steadying himself against the wall of his pen, he heard more footfalls pass rumbling overhead. Yet another impact smote the stable, this one so powerful it filled the air with a pall of spilling dust. Through the swirling grit, Seagrave spied a thin ladder leading up through a triangular hatchway in the ceiling. He staggered to the ladder and clambered upward, peering cautiously into the room above before proceeding further.

He found himself in a small room cluttered with buckets and implements obviously used to care for the narses below. One wall was gently curving and a triangular door set in this wall was the only way out.

Warily, Seagrave slid open the door and stepped through the threshold...

He found himself on the deck of an airborne wingship.

All around him was mad pandemonium as Traykens -- not Rayvers, but sailors clothed only in short skirts and boots -- rushed about the deck, brandishing leisters and longer gaff-like tools. The cause of their panic was immediately evident.

Seagrave gaped in astonishment at the sight.

Unlike the ships of the Trayken fleet which had two or three raised circular decks or turrets on either side, this ship had only two turrets in all, both set toward the bow and projecting half-out over the edge of the hull. Seagrave had climbed through a door set in the curved wall of the starboard turret; to his left the level deck swept away to the gilded railing of the squared stem; to his right he could see the bow decorated with two vast carved figureheads depicting some beaked creature he didn't recognize. Beyond the bow, the sun was a slim crescent just shouldering from behind the invisible circle of Korash. The curtain of stars in the ship's wake merged with crisp azure sky somewhere above the titanic gasbag that loomed colossally overhead.

Seagrave couldn't see beyond the broad port turret across the deck, but a glance to either side revealed a weird sight like some nightmare hallucination.

The sky was speckled with glassy black stones. At a distance, the floating rocks looked like a great misty swarm of insects -- but up close the stones assumed a more material and destructive aspect.

The ship was obviously passing through the impossible cloud, and massive vitreous boulders, some as large as a man, swept over the deck like careening birds, some crashing glancingly against the gunwales or bouncing off the curved walls of the turrets. Seagrave ducked just as a fist-sized stone narrowly missed him, shattering slivers from the doorframe at his back.

He straightened again, cursing amazedly.

Around the deck, the Traykens thrust frantically at the driving boulders, desperately striving to deflect the worst of the impacts with their leisters and gaffs.

In an instant, Seagrave took in the scene and dimly divined its cause. Obviously the boulders were meshmel stone. Shyrin Shas had told him how the weather gradually wore away at the floating islands; no doubt, eventually, the smaller islands could be eroded until only the meshmel stone remained. While the stone fragments stubbornly clung to their specific elevations, the wind gradually scattered them into a diffuse cloud hanging over the water.

In a sense, this flying ship was passing through Miraya's version of shoals.

Besides the Traykens there were other creatures on the deck, but these seemed entirely unconcerned by the spinning, hurtling boulders. Each creature had two heads with long brown hair knotted into dangling strings, their eyes concealed behind slitted visors such as Seagrave had heard the Eskimaux wore, their lower faces masked by dirty bandannas. They wore auburn cloaks like Arab burnouses, with voluminous hoods which could either cover both heads at once, or one head alone, falling in folds around the furry neck of the other head. From wide, swaying sleeves, fantastically long and slender arms thrust out, covered in lank chestnut fur all the way to the two hook-like claws at the ends. The grotesque limbs reminded Seagrave uncomfortably of the forelegs of the jampan.

Drawing upon Montaz's bequeathed memories, Seagrave recognized the creatures as Lan'lans.

They clustered in close enclaves, seated on crates around small fires near the stern. Even as Seagrave noticed them, he saw a furry three-fingered hand reach from beneath the folds of a burnouse, prodding the fire with a stick. For a moment, the sight so puzzled him that he forgot all about the deadly cloud of stones. Did the creatures have four arms -- two with double-hooks and two with hands?

Then, a closer inspection gave him his answer. The hands were really the Lan'lans' prehensile feet, their legs apparently so jointed that they could raise those feet up to their mouths, as some did when drinking from pointed cups.

The Lan'lans seemed ludicrously unperturbed by the deadly stones which passed sometimes scant feet from their heads; but Seagrave had to admit that it wasn't clear the madly flailing Traykens were having any better luck fighting off the boulders.

Then, abruptly, the air cleared of stones as the wingship glided steadily on course, leaving the peppery cloud to fade in its wake.

Seagrave turned from the Lan'lans to glance toward the bow -- then froze.

The Trayken sailors, returning from the bow, halted abruptly as their tiny black eyes settled on the figure clothed in breeches and scarlet head-scarf. Each one was armed with a leister or gaff; Seagrave's cutlass and punch spike had been taken from him. He knew he stood no chance against that powerful horde -- at the same time, he knew he had to find Shyrin Shas.

For a moment, the Traykens paused indecisively, surprised to find their prisoner freed of his bonds. Then a voice rang out imperiously from the turret's deck at Seagrave's back. Seagrave didn't understand the words, but the lush timbre of the voice caused him to turn and glance up in surprise.

It had been a woman's voice...



Next episode..."Forget Her!"


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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!)