Savage Miraya


A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE

BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA


EPISODE 38: RACE TO EUKARA!


Transported by the tal-stone, Seagrave opened his eyes to find himself inside a brick-walled tunnel lit by glim-gems.

For a moment, he frowned.  Was this Jinja Khyam or not?  There was only one way to find out.  But which direction was he to follow to reach the surface -- or rather the undersurface -- of the air-borne island?

Then he heard clamant voices echoing fuzzily in the distance.  Drawing his cutlass, he followed the sound.

Quickly enough, he encountered indisputable evidence of the grim and desperate struggle which had been waged in the tunnels only a short time before.  Here and there shattered plates of lacquered armour lay strewn about, and grisly pools of black Trayken blood shone in the topaz heat of glim-gems.  Puddles of orange blood contrasted starkly against the dark blue tiles, running in the seams and sometimes mixing with the Trayken gore, producing grotesquely beautiful tangerine patterns in the black.

Aye, Jinja Khyam it must be.

Soon the pirate came upon refugees from the city.  They huddled in the narrow passage, men and women with iridescent wings, nearly naked in their skirts and thongs.  Their haunted eyes regarded the tanned stranger with a sort of dazed incomprehension, fear and hopelessness tightening their lips.

From them, Seagrave learned what had transpired -- how the Trayken Rayvers had been captured and imprisoned; how the people had been herded into the tunnels in anticipation of the coming invasion.  More important, he learned that Khomas Khan was still alive and in command.

Continuing on, Seagrave eventually stepped out into the low sunlight beneath the island, gratified to once more feel the cool wind on his limbs after the confining oppression of the tunnels.

All around him, armoured Kamir guardsmen milled like the wild swirling of leaves caught in the angle of a cliff.  As he made his way through the city, again and again he was forced to wait his turn while sweating, puffing guardsmen lugged litters heaped with slim worm gems over the ropebridges.  He grumbled under his breath to see Kamir men take to the air with a whirring of wings.  Finally, unable to bear the delay, he sprang lithely into the hanging foliage flanking the paths, bypassing the crowds through his own peculiar mode of travel.

He soon reached the docks.  The vast berths were almost entirely vacant; even as he arrived, the last two wingships drifted ponderously clear and used capstans to lower their colossal wingmasts into position.  Anyone with a vessel and half a brain in his head had sense enough to flee the island while there was still time.

The harried guardsmen were too busy to give Seagrave the assistance he required, but he managed to snag three sailors before they quit the docks.  As he explained what he needed them to do, the guardsmen eyed him narrowly, as if half-wondering if he was mad as well as wingless.

But they had heard of him; he had gained an almost mythic reputation as the man from another world who could break Traykens in half with just a stick -- a result of the fact that they knew nothing of blades or sharp edges; to them, the pirate's cutlass was just a metal "stick".  Just now, Seagrave was in no hurry to disillusion them if their awe could be put to good use.

Then too, since his plan called for them to accompany him on his journey away from Jinja Khyam, by assisting the stranger, the men could justifiably evade impressment without feeling they were running away.

Under Seagrave's instruction, the three sailors gathered up the needed materials: poles, cords and canvas.  They located four narses and, loading these, set out headed toward the neighbouring air-borne island of Nakris.

It was early morning when they departed the city, with the lifting sun smoldering on the rippled horizon to their left.  By the time they arrived at the island's rim, the brazen orb had barely followed one sixth of its arc toward the orange and pink crescent of Korash in the cerulean sky directly ahead.  Overhead, the rich emerald of the hanging forest abruptly ran out, giving way to flat, moss-bearded stone for the final forty feet up to the edge of the island.

Seagrave remembered the last time he had come upon this lip of treeless rock -- and he eyed the approaching rim with a nervous gleam.  Even mounted on a narse, he didn't relish the thought of an encounter with a jampan clambering down from on top.

Then even the mossy stone slipped behind and brittle blue sky stretched liberatingly all around.  Out over the wind-tossed space between the islands the four riders soared; then, turning in a graceful arc, they crested back to the hanging coastline, the three Kamirs content to follow where Seagrave lead.  For a time, the group traced the broken rim of the island, passing the mouths of shallow indents and soaring around sharp jutting promontories.

Seagrave recalled what Princess Shryin Shas had told him: how once these islands had nestled in the restless bosom of the sea, until the waters had receded leaving the impossible landmasses literally high and dry.  It was not hard to imagine how rolling, spume-topped waves had once broken on this rugged shoreline, their white marching lines shattering around the finger-like points of land, or surging suddenly in the narrow confining coves.

Abruptly the pirate's meditations were interrupted as his dark eyes caught sight of a string of black specks forming a pale line nearly even with the horizon.  Steadily the specks resolved into the weird bridge of floating meshmel flagstones constructed by the non-violent, but deadly fenoks.

At Seagrave's command, the four riders urged their limbless mounts to the island's edge where the bridge began.  Together they dismounted, the three Kamirs flicking nervous looks toward the tangled forest gathered threateningly at their backs.

Seagrave passed his reins to one of the sailors and strode to the dizzy brink.  He eyed the impossible causeway with a slow, appraising glance, his eyes finally settling on a large flag five stones from the edge.

He nodded slowly, then turned back...

But, even as he turned, one of the men gave a startled shout and pointed a wavering finger at the sky.  Seagrave wheeled back -- then cursed.

The nineteen wingships of the Trayken Armada ghosted silently overhead, vast and black and sinister, their side-sails bellying like cobras' hoods.

The three columns of wingships had been concealed behind their invisible veil lens, masking their stealthy approach until they had nearly crossed the mile-wide gap between the two islands.  It was too late for Seagrave to seek cover.

But then, as the shadow-dark vessels glided majestically past, blotting out the porcelain sky like swollen thunderheads, the pirate realized there was no need to run.  Even if the four men had been spotted, it was doubtful the Traykens would care about such small fish -- not with an island state to fry.

Grimly, Seagrave watched as the mighty Armada steadily marched away over the jade forest, intending no doubt to descend nearer to Jinja Khyam.  Momentarily, Seagrave recalled what Jyleesha had told him about these wingships: how some could rise higher than others depending on the meshmel stone used.  Obviously, Dol Hashar was not one to skimp.

Even before the final wingship was out of sight, Seagrave hollered to the three gaping sailors, barking stern commands as he had commanded his scurvy crew on Earth.  They must have been impressed by something in his steely voice; they dragged their eyes from the sky and instantly, fatalistically, set to work, without even asking the reason for their task.

For a moment, watching them, Seagrave was reminded of his own ship, the Sea Dog, his own crew, his own world.  Without thinking, he touched the pouch jouncing against his breeks-clad hip and was reassured to feel the Earth tal-stone, its subtle warmth palpable through the soft fabric.  Then he eyed the serried rim of the treetops where the last wingship had silently glided from sight.  His eyes burned as he muttered coarsely:

"Hang on, girl -- I'm coming."
 



Next episode...The Island's Secret!

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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!)