Savage Miraya


A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE

BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA


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EPISODE 28: THE PRINCESS IN THE VAT!


The process had required most of the day in order to ensure the shock from pain and loss of blood did not kill him. And the Trayken draykhis, Dol Hashar, had made it quite clear: Khomas Khan, the queen's advisor, was not to die.

The torturer was a master of his calling, skilled to his craft. In his hands, the process was a lingering nightmare of unending, appalling horror. A brutal, callous relentlessness was coupled with exquisitely precise sadism as strip after slim, dripping strip of skin was torn from the advisor's shuddering flesh.

Throughout the torture, Khomas Khan suffered in the darkness and solitude of his blindfold and earplugs. The effect -- no doubt, intentionally -- was to heighten the already unbearable torment, irresistibly focusing his concentration until the entire world disappeared, all light, all sound, all distraction -- until all that remained was the screaming multitude of exquisitely sensitive nerves that mantled his flayed body like a curse.

He nearly went mad.

Then, at last they left him alone. All night he hung suspended in the abysmal nightmare of his suffering, every feeble movement awakening fresh agonies in his frame, muted inhuman sounds periodically croaking past the gag in his teeth.

Steadily the skin grew back, the pain of its recovery nearly as terrible as the torment of its removal. Worst of all was the knowledge that his captors were only allowing his skin to regrow so that they could slowly flay it again -- and again -- and again --

His mind drifted with delirium; aware he was hallucinating he remained unable, or unwilling, to resist it.

He smelled the lush scent of flowers. The luxurious aroma entered his nose and curled about the epicentre of his brain, spreading soft tendrils like rippling veils that teased and tormented his anguished senses.

Suddenly he felt soft hands gently caressing his shoulders, slim curving fingers as smooth as polished glass. Warm breath played across his cheek, tinged with the floral fragrance. In spite of the wax plugs in his ears, he heard a gentle laugh, musical and familiar. He struggled to form a name but the gag was twisted too thickly against his tongue and all that came out was an aching sob.

In his mind, he cried, "Montaz."

Poor dead slave girl.

And then he heard her.

She breathed a single word in his ear, her voice like the whisper of rain on water. One word. Then moist lips pressed against his drawn mouth, hands like wings cupping his face. For a moment, supple breasts and a smooth stomach slid fluidly against his naked front, soft, warm and vital...

Abruptly, the mask was whipped from his eyes, the gag from his mouth and the plugs from his ears. Like a snuffed flame, the feel of her hands, the floral scent, all vanished in an instant and Khomas Khan blinked dazedly into the daylight streaming down through the open hatchway in the ceiling.

The four Trayken guards lay strewn in grotesque sprawls on the floor, their spilled blood reflecting white on black. A throng of Kamir men bristling with leisters crowded the chamber, their wide eyes regarding him with mingled horror and relief.

Slowly Khomas Khan recognized a figure in the front: Pallin Pol, the leader of the rebels. Behind, stood Zhanak Zen and Fanas Fel. Pallin Pol was speaking to him, but it was only gradually that Khomas Khan found he could understand what was being said.

"There are ships hidden atop Nakris," Pallin Pol was explaining, his voice trembling with excitement and urgency. "They've brought the entire Trayken Armada here. We don't know why they want Eukara so badly, but it's obvious they intend to invade the minute Nisram Nyl returns with the fleet. They can't risk attacking us with the fleet away for fear they might be caught between our guns and the guns of the ships."

Khomas Khan could feel fingers working feverishly at the bonds securing his wrists and ankles. Unseen hands supported his aching frame, ready to take his weight the moment he was freed.

"We found the princess alive on Nakris," Pallin Pol continued, "but she was recaptured by the fenfyr and we had to leave her. The wingless stranger set out to rescue her, but he told us to return and tell you about the Armada."

Khomas Khan cried out in sudden pain as he slumped into the arms of his rescuers, then was carried to the hanging bed. He glimpsed a dead Trayken lying on the floor and realized succour had come only seconds before his torture would have resumed. He groaned as he curled on the soft mattress. A sheet was draped over his shoulders to cover his nakedness.

"You must do something," insisted Pallin Pol. "You command the military. Pacts mean nothing to the Trayken; they have already broken it by bringing their Armada here. We have to fight back while there is still time. For the moment, we still outnumber them here in Jinja Khyam. Will you lead us?"

For a moment, Khomas Khan lay on his side, clutching the sheet around him. Montaz, he thought. My poor Montaz.

Weakly he straightened until he sat on the edge of the swaying bed. Searing shards raced across his shoulders from the unhealed rent down his spine, the pain made more unbearable by the knowledge that his wings were gone forever. The one wound which could never heal. His eyes swept the anxious crowd as slow resolve kindled in his gaze. Finally, weakly, he nodded.

"Send word," he instructed. "Muster all guardsmen in the audience chamber. Open the auxiliary worm gem stores and distribute gems to all the manatyr worm cannons. Everyone is to be armed with leisters, silth whips and full armour. Order the civilians to take shelter in the tunnels. I will explain the situation to the queen myself."

For a moment, the crowd of faces studied him expectantly, as if waiting for some final revelation. "Well -- what are you waiting for?" he demanded, strength of purpose steadying his voice. "Let us show the Trayken what price must be paid by those who dare break their word to the Kamir!"

As one, the crowd roared their exultant approval, and men rushed eagerly out onto the balcony, soaring away to carry out his commands.

But for Khomas Khan there was little pleasure in the course he had chosen. He knew they stood no chance against the might of the Trayken Armada; that was precisely why he had signed the pact in the first place. Now though, he would do what he could, no matter how futile. If the Trayken desired blood, he would show them blood -- blood as black as the midday eclipse.

For a moment, his thoughts returned to Montaz, his precious blue slave girl tortured to death by the Draykhis Dol Hashar. He thought of her terrible ordeal, of the cruel marks on her ravaged flesh. Then he thought of the strange hallucination experienced just before his salvation -- soft lips, gentle hands, floral-tinged breath. It had seemed so very real to him. Had he only imagined it? With all his heart he wanted to believe.

Her one whispered word continued to play in his mind over and over. One word like the haunting recall of a lover's breathing sigh. One word as real or unreal as the soft kiss it presaged.

"Forgiven."

***
Seagrave frowned as his eyes fell on the triangular hatch set in the wooden deck.

The Trayken captain -- "Jyleesha", a sailor had called her -- had agreed to take the pirate to see Shyrin Shas, though making it clear this in no way changed the nature of her offer. If he did not agree to be Jyleesha's lover, not only would Seagrave be turned in when they reached Jimnyr, but Shyrin Shas would be killed in some horrible but undefined way.

If not for the seriousness of their peril, Seagrave would have found the whole thing humorous. He had set out hoping to recover the Earth tal-stone, only to discover that Shyrin Shas had lost the tal-stone somewhere atop Eukara. To find the stone he needed to return to that island; instead, he was being carried steadily farther from his goal. Now Jyleesha...

Even as she lithely bent to unlock the metal hatch, he couldn't help but admire the way the Trayken captain moved. Every graceful gesture was like the gliding stalk of a leanly muscular jungle cat.

In a way, she had been right. He did feel a certain kinship with her. Alien she might be, but she too smelled of the salt wind; her glossy sapphire skin seemed gently burned by the sun. There was a wild, untamed savagery about her that excited and aroused him and, though her methods might seem overly brutal, he sensed a strange sincerity in her.

Her craving for companionship was real enough and, in a way, he found himself sorely tempted by her offer; part of him wished he could forget about Earth and the tal-stone and sail away with her as she demanded -- to spend the rest of his days making fierce love to this moody, powerful creature and to cruise the windy skies of Miraya as if reborn to a new home.

Part of him...

With a metallic groan, the heavy metal hatch was raised by two Lan'lans, their long hook-tipped arms serving like gaffs. Seagrave's features darkened as a hot blast of air surged up out of the blackness of the storage vat. He cast a withering glare at Jyleesha, then sprang down into the darkness.

He landed on his haunches, then straightened, finding the vat low enough that he could easily reach the hatchway with his fingers. It was only a few feet wide, so that, even in the deep shadows, he could discern the nearly-naked, tangerine figure curled against the wall.

The air in the vat was furnace-like, each breath coming hard to his labouring lungs. There were no vents in the hatch and no circulation, so that the sun's heat gradually built up over the course of the day, relentlessly raising the temperature to a level where even the few hours of midday darkness made little difference.

Now he understood what Jyleesha had meant when she had said Shyrin Shas would be dead soon, anyway.

He dropped to his knees and drew the suffering princess into his arms. She trembled feebly, her lashes parting to reveal only the whites of her eyes. Seagrave bellowed furiously up at the triangle of light: "Damn you, get me some water for this girl!"

To his surprise, a few moments later, a gilded cup was handed down, its bottom decorated with a wolfish head with rubies for eyes.

Gently cradling the girl's lolling head, Seagrave placed the curled rim to her dry lips, allowing a silver trickle to spill between her white teeth. She whimpered as the water found her aching throat, then her eyes opened wider and she looked up into the pirate's face.

"Moryan?" she whispered.

"Aye," he nodded, giving her another sip. "Don't try to talk, girl. You've lost too much water in this killing furnace. Just drink."

For a moment, she complied with his command, urgently swallowing the cooling fluid with weak, timorous sips. Finally, strengthened, she regarded him closely, her emerald eyes shining in the darkness.

"They don't know who I am," she told him proudly. "I told them I was a slave girl."

"I'm surprised they didn't notice your earlobes," Seagrave commented wryly.

"They are Trayken," she replied, as if that explained everything. Then her eyes fixed on the overhead hatchway and a shiver coursed through her flesh. "They sealed me down here in darkness," she said. "Then the heat grew gradually worse and worse and there was so little air -- I thought I would surely die --"

"I'll get you out of here somehow," Seagrave assured her through gritted teeth. "I'll think of something. Just hold on a little longer."

Suddenly, as she understood he hadn't come to rescue her, tears welled in her eyes and spilled in silver threads down her orange cheeks, her narrow shoulders spasming with mute sobs.

Somehow the sight of this brave princess weeping despairingly was like a sword stroke to Seagrave's heart. He swallowed hard and pulled her closer.

"Don't cry, girl," he muttered gruffly. "You'll just waste more water doing that. Come on now -- I'll get you out of this."

Fighting back her tears, she weakly shook her head. "This isn't your problem anymore," she said. "I had no right to expect you to help me or my people. What I did was wrong -- I was angered because I wanted to believe you had come to save me. I had no right."

"What are you going on about, girl? You're delirious."

"No, I'm not," she insisted, and her fingers fumbled at the small pouch fastened to the thong at her hip. She had barely enough strength to place the pouch in Seagrave's hand before her arms slipped back onto her smooth midriff.

Mystified, Seagrave opened the pouch. A lavender gemstone tumbled into his palm, gold flakes glittering nebulously as if set in purple ice.

"What is it?" Seagrave asked -- though already he knew.

"I thought it was the Lin tal-stone," Shyrin Shas replied faintly. "But, when I used it, it took me to your planet instead. This is the Earth tal-stone. I lied to you when I said I had lost it on Eukara."

It took Seagrave a full five seconds to understand what this meant: he could return to Earth! He didn't have to return to Eukara; he didn't have to search for the stone atop the island; he didn't have to risk recapture by the fenoks or the fenfyrs or whatever other monsters lived there. In the palm of his hand was the way home -- and she had had it all along.

His brows contracted as a thought came to him. "But then what the devil have you been lying down here for? Don't you know this heat could kill you? Why didn't you use the tal-stone to escape?"

"Escape where?" she asked. "To Earth? I have no way of returning to Miraya. If I escape to your planet, I would have to stay there."

"At least you would be alive."

"I am a princess, Moryan." In spite of her exhaustion, her supple flesh seemed momentarily imbued with an electric surge of vitality. "My honour, my very life belongs to the people of Eukara. I cannot leave them -- not even to save myself. Until I have breathed my last breath, I must continue to act in their interests. If I must, I will die here -- but I won't run away."

"Damn you people," Seagrave snarled in disgust. "What is it about you Kamir with your honour and your duty -- first Khomas Khan, now you. No wonder the Traykens have conquered you so easily -- you're all mad. I'm beginning to like Jyleesha all the more -- at least there's a creature I can understand, a girl with a solid core of ruthless self-interest!"

"Take the tal-stone." Gently, her fingers curled his hand around the lavender gem. "Return to your world. You don't belong here. This isn't your fight and I had no right to make it yours. You have rescued me twice and there is no more I can ask of you. I thank you for what you have done -- now go." As if regally dismissing him, she turned her dark head away, closing her eyes.

For a moment, there was silence. Then, her lashes rose again and she asked him guardedly: "Do you really like that Trayken woman more than me?"

The question took Seagrave by surprise -- but, after a beat, he laughed sharply and gently prodded her chin with the fist holding the tal-stone. "Now that's more like it," he encouraged her, grinning. "A few more thoughts like that and we'll turn you into something a man can get a grip on."

She frowned, then turned quickly away to conceal the renewed tears glimmering under the sweep of her lashes. "Please -- return to your world," she sobbed bitterly. "You are cruel and heartless and...and I hate you."

For a moment, Seagrave was stunned. He held her in brooding silence, puzzled by her conflicting behaviour. Again he was struck by the strange mingling of child and woman in the same lovely form. How could the same person be so brave in the face of such overwhelming suffering as she had seen, and yet, at the same time, be so oddly sensitive?

He struggled to think what he could say to mollify her. At the same time, he wasn't sure whether he should even try. She was right; he had the tal-stone now. He could return to Earth. This wasn't his fight -- it wasn't even his world. What did it matter if this alien princess hated him?

But it did matter.

Quietly, he said: "Oh, come on, girl -- don't be angry. I was only --"

Suddenly, he felt powerful hands seize him from above. He fought to twist free, but was dragged up through the hatchway, snarling in frustration as the princess slipped tantalizingly from his fingers.

Placed on the deck with a Trayken at either arm, he could only watch helplessly as the heavy hatch was replaced over the black vat, a frightened whimper rising from below an instant before the metal cover ruthlessly quenched it.

Seagrave glared at Jyleesha as she calmly locked the hatchway, then replaced the lodestone key at the ring on her sleek hip.

"The heat will kill her down there," Seagrave growled angrily. "Let her up and then I will decide whether I will stay with you or not."

The Trayken captain swayed nearer, a challenging fire dancing in her exotic eyes.

"Not this time, Human," she refused, her cooling gills flaring heatedly. "I let you see her as you asked -- that was the bargain. You were quite right in your thinking; the strength of my desire gives you a measure of control -- but that control only serves you so far. I will not be toyed with."

"She will die," Seagrave repeated.

With cynical unconcern, Jyleesha glanced at the ponderous hatch, then up at the blistering orb poised over the ship's two-headed bow.

"Then you had better make your decision quickly," she replied, with a disdainful toss of her head. Then, to the two Traykens at his arms, she ordered brusquely, "Take him back to the pens. If he escapes again, your wings will be trimmed."

With a cruel laugh like the brittle crack of a whip, she spread her brilliant wings and sprang agilely into the air, soaring away toward the starboard turret...



Next Episode..."Do You Not Recognize Me?"


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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!)