Savage Miraya




Queen Itazara Tal lead Khomas Khan deeper and deeper into the nighted maze of uncharted catacombs that riddled the stone core of the island.  Close behind followed Pallin Pol, Fanas Fel and Zhanak Zen.

The three former rebels cast anxious looks over their shoulders, their eyes white in the darkness, vividly recalling what had happened the last time they had ventured into these tunnels.

These catacombs were separate from the ones the three men had followed to reach the surface with Seagrave, but the jakdaks made their own small tunnels and could literally pop up anywhere.  Left undisturbed, the jakdaks were usually docile enough, rarely showing their wide, reflective eyes except to satisfy their curiosity as to the identify of a passing intruder.

But there had been so much commotion recently, first made by Rayvers tramping about in search of the princess, then, more recently, by skirmishes between Traykens and Kamirs.  The three men knew too well what carnage those innocent-looking jakdaks could wreak with their Y-shaped blow-tubes.  Fretfully, as they went, they scanned the stone walls.

Then, abruptly, Itazara Tal halted, gesturing for her companions to do likewise.  She carried a globular lantern which lent a honey gloss to her slim, red limbs, the gold of her high, draped collar and loin thong shimmering lustrously as she moved.  With a searching look, she studied the rough black wall on her left.  Finding what she sought, she reached up and activated a lever hidden in a cleft of rock.

Instantly, her four companions heard the hollow groan of ancient metal ponderously working somewhere within the wall.  Like magic, a section of stone retreated smoothly into the living rock leaving behind a star-shaped hole.

Without a word, Itazara Tal slipped easily through the doorway.  She carried the lantern with her and, for a moment, the star-shape smoldered weirdly in the suddenly darkened tunnel.  One by one, the four men followed after her.

The queen had been correct: Khomas Khan had known nothing of this hidden passage.  As he followed her down a narrow corridor, he could only wonder how she could ever have happened upon that concealed entrance in the first place.  He marvelled at her courage, since she must have explored these black tunnels all alone.

Soon the party came upon a second star-shaped doorway, this one already open.  They stepped through one at a time -- and then, as the last straightened and look around, they could only stare in silent wonder and disbelief.

They found themselves in a vast chamber with a lofty, curved ceiling nearly lost in nebulous, drifting shadows.  The walls were mantled with shiny tiles made of that same mysterious blue and gold-veined marble not found anywhere else on Miraya.  Like the star-shaped doorways, the alien marble revealed the hand of the unknown race which had inhabited this island before the Kamir.

The topaz light cast by the lantern had difficulty enough illuminating the immense span of the chamber, but its powers of revelation were further diminished by the fantastical array of suspended meshmel stones that littered the air like a flock of black holixes startled suddenly into flight.  The glassy stones dazzlingly flickered under the play of light, while casting dappled shadows on the ceiling above.

For all its size, there was less floorspace in the chamber than at first appeared.  In the very centre, a wide pit yawned, as far across as the great throne room, as black as the midday eclipse.

It occurred to Khomas Khan that they must be directly over the hanging root of the island.  Cautiously, he strode to the pit's edge and peered down.  There was only impenetrable blackness below, but he felt a crawling sense of unutterable distance.  Recalling that he could no longer fly were he to slip, he stepped back quickly, then raised his eyes.

On the far side of the pit, fifty or more large meshmel stones were formed into a wide, level curve hovering high off the floor.  The stones poised at apparently random distances from the pit.  Itazara Tal drifted to his side, raising the globular lantern as if grandly sweeping aside a curtain.  The increased light trickled along a huge fan of slim, taut cords that slanted out over the pit from a gold anchoring almost at Khomas Khan's feet.  Each cord fastened to one of the suspended stones, held rigid through tension; since the stones lay at random distances, each cord was a different length from its neighbour.

It was some time before Khomas Khan could think what to say.  Finally, inadequately, he asked:

"What is it?"

In spite of the impressive dimensions of the chamber, his voice sounded subdued -- the stifling effect of the meshmel stones.

Itazara Tal smiled, her amber eyes beaming.  "It is an instrument called the Handras Harp," she explained.  "It was built by the race that came before us.  It makes music."

Khomas Khan regarded her doubtfully, then studied the fan of cords with a new interest.  "A musical instrument? massive?"

"It isn't for making music as we would make music," Itazara Tal told him.  Her clean features grew suddenly sober, saddened.  "As we have always suspected, the people who built here before us were a terrible, war-like race.  To them, music was not for pleasure, but rather a tool of conflict.  This instrument --"  She drifted to the edge of the pit.  Khomas Khan stiffened, aware her slender wings couldn't save her if she fell.  As if sensing his concern, she stepped quickly back again.  "-- it is used to make music which is amplified by this deep pit that plunges down into the island's root."

"But for what purpose?"  It was Pallin Pol who had spoken, the first time the blue Kamir had ventured to speak in the presence of his queen.  "How can music possibly save us against the cluster cannons of the Trayken Armada?"

However well he tried to hide it, his tone conveyed his impatience.  It irked Pallin Pol to be so far from the sight of the coming battle, knowing that the Armada might attack at any time.  His allegiance toward the beautiful queen, like his loyalty to the princess, knew no bounds; but he could hardly see how some colossal stringed instrument could help them.

Itazara Tal turned her amber eyes on Pallin Pol.  She nodded concedingly.

"You are most likely correct, Pallin Pol.  It may be there is nothing we can do against the Armada.  With their cluster cannons they may reduce Jinja Khyam to rubble; I may be grasping at false hope."

She turned gracefully and gestured with the lantern.

"But, on the other side of this pit, there is another doorway -- one leading to a vast chamber, an archive heaped nearly to the ceiling with mountains of scrolls left by those who came before.  How many scrolls there are I do not know; thousands, surely.  The language written on those scrolls was alien and it required much time and effort for me to learn how to translate it.  But, bit by bit, I have worked through the meagerest portion of that vast storehouse of ancient knowledge.  I still don't even know the name of the people who left it --"  She smiled ironically.  "-- but I have gleaned some little understanding of what this instrument can do.  There is even a smaller version in the other chamber, one intended for practice; for some time, I have come here in secret and learned to play it."

For a moment, brooding silence followed her words.  Then, Khomas Khan asked uneasily, "And just what is it this...Handras Harp...can do?"

Itazara Tal considered her answer carefully, her lovely features struggling with a ponderous burden.  Khomas Khan had never before seen the queen quite so torn by indecision.  At last, evasively, she said, "Using this harp entails unimaginable risk, my Advisor.  Once unleased, it is a power difficult to control.  It could as easily destroy ourselves as our enemies."  She laughed faintly.  "Then again, it might fail to do anything at all."

Again she was silent for a space and Khomas Khan noted that she had carefully avoided answering his question.  He decided not to press her.  Whatever she had read in those scrolls, perhaps the less he knew the better.

Abruptly, Itazara Tal glided past him and crossed the chamber with a regal ease.  As she approached the far wall, her lantern light flashed on the gilt rims of large, elegant wheels mounted on its blue surface.  There were dozens of wheels, of various sizes, without any indication of what they might be for.  But the queen stopped before one of the largest, then gestured her followers over.  When they had reached her side, she instructed Khomas Khan to turn the wheel.

After her ominous words before, he felt some trepidation, but did as she bid him.  The wheel rotated easily, proof of the expert craftsmanship which had gone into it.  Again, the party heard the groaning of ancient gears somewhere within the wall...

Then they gaped in amazement.

On the floor a small hole opened through which a shaft of ghostly light shot upwards in a bluish column speckled with shimmering dust.  Instantly, the air was woven with a magical skein of crisscrossing beams as the light reflected back and forth, over and under, again and again amongst the polished glass surfaces of the innumerable meshmel stones.  The four men stared awestruck by the breathless faerie beauty of the effulgent display -- and their amazement grew to see the wide swath where the light finally played on the wall above the wheels.

In that one portion of wall, the blue stone gave way to a pure white marble.  On that marble, an image appeared, as sharp and vivid as if a hole had been cut through the wall and the island's core beyond had vanished, allowing them to peer out as if through a window.

With remarkable calm, Itazara Tal explained: "I do not entirely understand how it works, but it seems these meshmel stones have been specially polished, their surfaces shaped to a precise curvature, then each stone was positioned to bounce and magnify the light reflected from outside by other mirrors hidden in the floor.  The result is an image transmitted to us from beneath Eukara.  By rotating some of these other wheels, we can adjust the image and alter the view."

Khomas Khan's accustomed impassivity deserted him for a moment.

"It is incredible," he stammered, stumbling back to better view the raised image.  "To position all those stones --"

He faltered, his eyes flaring with sudden horror.  Following his gaze, the others looked up at the ghostly image.

Fanas Fel was the first to speak.  "The Armada," he breathed...

Next episode...The Impossible Shield!

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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!)