A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
Previously: Thrown to the sharks, Morgan Seagrave grabbed the emerald (dropped by the mysterious orange girl) and instantly found himself in a dark cave, with no memory of how he had gotten there. Leaving the cave, he found himself on a ropebridge with an endless ocean below, and a vast roof of stone and upside down trees overhead. A blue-skinned man appeared, pursued by four humanoid monsters armed with leisters (prong-tipped spears). The blue man apparently leaped to his death, leaving Seagrave to face the creatures alone. The creatures made no attempt to protect themselves as Seagrave killed one with his cutlass, then cut away the bridge -- as if unfamiliar with the weapon. But then they attacked again...flying with moth-wings.
And now, as they close in...
They could fly!
As if sensing his paralysis, the creatures steadily closed in, their leisters threateningly presented, their black eyes vindictive slits. The whirring of their wings seemed to fill the air, the sound thrown back and magnified by the stone ceiling overhead. The noise rattled in Seagrave's brain, almost hypnotic, suffocating. It was only through an effort that he raised his cutlass higher than his shoulder. Onward the creatures came; the nearest seemed completely fearless, advancing so close Seagrave could have touched him with his outstretched hand. The monster gave no notice to the blade, but lifted his leister and jabbed at Seagrave's stomach. Seagrave hacked downward with all the strength in his arm --
And was surprised as his blade sheered cleanly through the monster's shoulder plates and diagonally through the blue-grey body beneath.
For the briefest instant, the creature's black eyes flared wide, revealing a ring of white at the edges, apparently as surprised as Seagrave. Then it gave a gurgling shriek, and tumbled from sight, nearly dragging Seagrave's cutlass with it.
The three remaining monsters immediately checked their advance, their tiny eyes following their comrade's plunge to the water far below. When they looked at Seagrave again, he could see they were uncertain and shaken.
Sudden hope surged in his breast. So -- they could be killed! Monsters or not, wings or not, a keen edge could finish them as easily as any man.
But if Seagrave had learned from the encounter, so had the remaining three. For some reason, they had not realized what his cutlass could do; now they knew. They would not make the same mistake as their comrade.
With new wariness, the creatures began to spread out, two moving to his left, one to his right. Grimly, Seagrave brandished his weapon, playing it slowly from side to side. At least he had a wall to his back; they might outflank him, but they couldn't get behind.
One of the creatures -- the one dressed in gilded armour -- snarled something to the other two. Immediately, the two tied their leisters at their hips, so the weapons swung horizontally. From their opposite hips, they unfastened other weapons.
Seagrave gritted his teeth against a sudden weakening chill, fighting down a surge of panic.
The weapons were lashes of some sort, but strange ones. Each weapon had two sinuous cords, one hanging from either end of the handle. The lashes themselves were made of some nearly clear vitreous material, almost like pliant glass. The monsters carried the handles loosely in their gloved fists, the flashing strands swaying menacingly at their sides, the flickering tips licking the air below their feet.
Until today, Seagrave could truthfully have claimed there was no weapon he feared. In his travels he had been peppered by grapeshot and stabbed by cutlasses, scarred by the hot ball from a musket and clubbed by belaying pins more times than he could count. In all those encounters, the wounds had gone no deeper than his damaged flesh; they had been a part of the dangerous game he chose to play. But now the game had changed. His traitorous first mate had taught him a new lesson, and it was a cruel, numbing thing that writhed like a monster in his gut. Hengist had taught Seagrave to fear the whip as he had never feared anything before.
Slowly Seagrave backed up against the wall, still playing his flickering blade back and forth, back and forth. The monster on the left swung back his arm, and cast the double-lash underhand with a strange smooth ease, as if gently tossing a ball. There was no force behind the movement, and Seagrave saw that the clear cords would reach him without strength. A smile touched his lips as he threw up his arm, meaning to ward them off as he might brush aside a spiderweb.
But the instant the cords brushed his forearm, a sinuous convulsion race through the ropes and they seemed suddenly imbued with an impossible vitality. Seagrave shouted in surprise as the two cords encircled his forearm like living glass snakes, sliding around and around the limb, winding quickly to his knotting shoulder. He lurched back against the wall, his eyes flaring with dumbfounded astonishment. Frantically he fought to free his captured arm, dragging furiously at the writhing cords, but the bonds merely constricted all the tighter. Then, remembering his cutlass, he raised the blade meaning to sheer through the cords just beyond his fist.
But, before he could land a blow, he felt something brush his upraised wrist -- and too late remembered the monster to his right. The creature had cast another double-whip from that side. One cord slithered tightly about his forearm; the other missed its target and instead landed on his foot. Instantly, this second cord leapt about his ankle, coiling around his calf and nearly tripping him before he could catch himself.
Now Seagrave saw that he was trapped, but his instinct would not allow him to give up without a struggle. He braced his feet widely, his teeth grinding, his muscles rippling like cable under his tanned skin as he snarled like a wild beast. But the creatures clearly knew their job; they maneuvered to either side of their captive, the whirring of their wings growing loud and shrill as they dragged hard back on the cords.
Their strength was incredible. Slowly, inevitably, Seagrave's powerful arms were drawn out to either side. He disputed every inch with shuddering superhuman resistance, but, gradually, his left hand opened and the emerald rattled on the boards at his feet. He shouted in savage rage and trembling frustration, veins snaking on his temple as his cutlass tumbled from his other hand.
The tension was relentless. They were trying to tear him in half!
Abruptly, the pull from the cord about his leg proved too much, and his foot skidded from beneath him. He went down hard on one knee, momentarily hunching forward, kept from falling only by the terrific strain on his arms. As he looked up again, he saw the gilt-clad monster loom suddenly against the dazzling light, towering over him, saw the raised haft of a leister -- then saw only darkness...
Slowly his senses took leisurely stock of the situation. He lay on his side stretched on a mattress; a sheet covered him only to the waist and the air was warm and soothing on his skin. His nose detected the subtle fragrance of freshcut flowers, roses perhaps, though maybe not.
Flowers. What was it about flowers -- something he needed to remember?
Then the memories returned in a rush: the tangerine girl, the betrayal, the flogging, the shark. They flickered like candlelight behind his eyes, tantalizing, fleeting. The wakening in the dark, the ropebridge, the blue man, the monsters, the wings --
He felt something lightly brush his shoulder.
In an instant, he was over and springing like a blood-mad panther, all his muscles tensing as he bore his attacker hard to the reed mats on the floor.
For a moment his eyes dilated as he felt the slim body struggling lithely beneath his weight, felt soft flesh throbbing under his hands, saw the wide terror-stricken eyes of a young girl with pale blue skin and a smoldering ruby fixed between the glossy domes of her naked breasts.
Then his hand leapt to her slender throat, and tightened viciously. "Where am I?" Seagrave snarled. "Tell me before I twist off your damn head!"
The girl's only response was a breathless whimper made through full quivering lips. Her emerald eyes were enormous and stared up at him unblinking. A shiver coursed through her.
"Speak, damn you!"
But the blue figure remained mute and staring -- and not through lack of fear, either; she was obviously terrified. He recalled the orange girl had spoken in some unknown language; perhaps this girl didn't speak English, either. He released her throat, and she gasped, coughing weakly. He gave her a moment to catch her breath.
"Do you understand English?" he asked.
She regarded him dumbly. He cursed, and stroked his chin with a pensive scowl. He was kneeling with the girl's body clamped between his knees. His eyes travelled slowly down her slender length, confirming that she was, in fact, entirely blue. Her clothing was a scanty thong garment bound snugly between her long legs and fashioned of a soft chamois-like material. Apart from this, she wore only a decorative red scarf tied around her waist and small gold bangles on her wrists and ankles.
His eyes returned to her staring face. Like the tangerine girl and the blue man, her black hair was short and grew in a line down to the bridge of her nose. He reached out and ran his hand over her head. Her hair felt like soft fur. He snatched back his hand as if burned; then, just as suddenly reached for the magnificent ruby reflecting scarlet gleams on the inner curves of her breasts.
His fingers barely brushed the gem.
Instantly she gasped, her eyes squeezing tight, all her body momentarily straining convulsively between his thighs. For a brief space, the stone seemed to radiate a pallid rubiate glow all its own, triggered somehow by his touch. He started in surprise, and drew back his hand. Just as suddenly, the light faded and the girl blinked open her eyes, her fear of him now, if anything, more intense than before.
But that one touch had been enough to confirm: the ruby was somehow attached firmly to her chest, not hung by a chain or fastened with straps. In fact, it almost seemed as if the fabulous stone was set into the very flesh and bone of her cleavage like a gemstone set in gold. But surely that wasn't possible. Surely --
He froze as his eyes noticed something else. With unthinking roughness, he seized the girl and twisted her onto her front, causing her to cry out in surprise. Her thong cut deep between the globes of her squirming bottom and, under other circumstances, Seagrave might have been aroused by the sight; but he found his attention more convincingly held by the vision of her shimmering wings.
Aye, he though dazzedly, wings.
He swallowed and blinked quickly -- but the vision remained. Two sets of wings grew from between her delicate blue shoulder blades, each comprising a long slim upper wing which reached to a point above her head, and a slightly wider lower wing which reached down to the small of her spine. These were nothing like the moth-wings which Seagrave had seen on the creatures which had attacked him; these were slender as cutlasses and sheer as gossamer; their surfaces rippled with liquid iridescence and they seemed as delicate as soap bubbles.
His mind racing, Seagrave sought for an explanation to this impossible phenomenon -- even as he realized that it was just such wings which he had seen opening and closing on the tangerine girl's back just before the two-headed monster had taken her from aboard the Seadog.
Groping drunkenly, he pressed at the smooth flesh between the blue girl's shoulders, frantically feeling for paste or hidden straps. Even as he prodded, the wings began to move, slowly spreading like praying hands, then coming together again. The movement was exactly like the languorous opening and closing of a butterfly's wings. But worse -- Seagrave could feel the supple muscles tensing between her shoulders, flexing and releasing beneath the soft skin in concert with the pulsing of the wings.
With a strangled shout of horror, he lurched to his feet and stumbled backward, crashing heavily into the wall. The girl instantly twisted over, scrambling frantically backward on her bare bottom until her wings flattened between her shoulders and the opposite wall. For a moment they regarded each other across the room, panting and wide-eyed.
"What in God's name are you?" Seagrave whispered weakly.
The girl didn't respond, but, after a space, Seagrave noticed her emerald eyes briefly travelled down his body. For the first time, Seagrave realized he was naked. Her wide gaze seemed to linger a moment on the smooth ridges of corded muscle and sculpted tanned thews. When she looked up again, the fear in her green eyes was strangely altered.
Cautiously she crawled forward on hands and knees, retrieving his black breeches from the floor beside the bed -- a bed which he now saw hung from chains set in the ceiling. She crawled across the room and offered the breeches in a timorously outstretched hand. Seagrave took up the clothing and saw that the blood had been washed clean.
He eyed her doubtfully. "You cleaned these?" he asked.
She continued to stare, uncomprehending, and, with no little shame, he realized she had merely been returning the clothes when he had woken and attacked her. With a shrug, he drew on the breeches, then looked around for his belt. This time, she understood and, retrieving the belt from under the bed, brought it to him. To his surprise, though, she did not give him the belt but drew it herself around his hips. The touch of her fingers was soft and gentle as a bird's wings. He realized too that the fragrance of roses was on her skin and in her hair, even on her breath. It seemed less like perfume than a part of her natural scent. The tangerine girl, he recalled, had smelled of flowers too, of lilacs.
As the blue girl struggled with the buckle -- almost as if she had never seen one before -- he took over the job.
The girl crawled quickly back to her place against the opposite wall, only the rapid pulsing of her chest hinting at the courage her journey had required.
Seagrave glanced down at his clean apparel and frowned. "You wouldn't be able to hunt me up a spare shirt, eh, girl? My last one took a worse beating than I did." Her eyes were wide and uncomprehending. His glance dropped to her young breasts and a wry smile touched his lips. "No -- I guess not."
Then, suddenly he had an idea. Without warning, he crossed the room and, bending, snatched the red scarf from about the girl's waist. She gasped in surprise. He bound it about his head, the knot down the back. "Well, that's something at least," he said. "Now, if you'll just get me my cutlass..."
But, of course, she could not understand, and, casting around, he saw that the cutlass was no where to be seen. An ominous sign, he reflected.
Then, suddenly, his brows knitted. A thought had just occurred to him. There was no pain in his back.
He reached a hand up along his spine -- then grunted in disbelief. The wounds were gone; not just healed, but gone -- without even scars to recall his terrible flogging. Too, his wrists should have been raw from his bindings; yet there were no marks. A touch assured him that the wound on his temple had similarly vanished, as had the cut on his ribs.
He looked at the girl, uncertainly, his relief tempered by a recognition that such a thing was not possible no matter how long he had lain unconscious. Wounds as he had received should have left scars to last a lifetime -- should, in fact, have killed him by now, crippled him, at the very least. And yet there was no denying the evidence of his own fingers; the wounds had healed without scarring; his back felt as good as new. For that matter, his whole body felt strangely invigorated, alive.
Not a dream; he knew that now. But then how to explain this? Wounds miraculously healing? Winged people? Strangely-hue girls with the natural scent of flowers? Moth monsters?
For the first time, he allowed his eyes to take in his surroundings, a small room with bare wood walls. He noticed there were no nails used in the construction of the place; the wood had been sewn together using strong fibres resembling coconut husks. He had seen ships sewn together this same way along the Malabar Coast. Was he somewhere in the Indian Ocean then?
Apart from the wood-frame bed hanging from the ceiling, there were no other furnishings. The floor was covered with reed mats and there was a sealed circular hatch in the ceiling reached by way of a peculiar ladder next to the girl -- a single pole secured at top and bottom and crossed by stubby rungs.
He noticed two thick wooden rings set in the ceiling several feet apart and two more rings fixed in the floor directly beneath these. Momentarily he wondered what purpose they might serve. But just then, a spilling gust of warm fragrant air drew his attention to a doorway in the wall on his right -- a circular hole raised up so the bottom was on a level with his shins. He stepped to the doorway, lifted a leg over the rim and ducked through.
He found himself standing on another balcony. His room, it seemed, was the only room in a small cabin which the balcony encircled. His wondering gaze travelled out over the railing --
He clutched with pallid hands to steady himself.
No imprecation sprang to his lips this time; no words could convey his emotions. Slowly, he began to work his way around the balcony, gripping at the rail hand over hand as he went, all the time staring unblinking with a mounting disbelieving intensity. By the time he had returned to his starting point, his eyes were as wide as Spanish doubloons.
He stopped and struggled for breath, his chest tight as if banded with iron straps.
Where in God's name was he?
Beneath him -- far beneath -- lay the rolling crests of the whispering sea, deceptively familiar. His journey around the cabin had shown him water in every direction, as far as the eye could reach, a shimmering silver-blue plain to the distant horizon. He was a pirate; the sea was his home. And yet, he knew this was not home.
There was land, to be sure; no less than four islands, if he counted right. But such islands had never been seen by man nor beast. They were not islands set in the bosom of the heaving sea, as islands were supposed to be; these were ludicrous, dream-born, fantastical isles poised floating in the stark sky a thousand feet above the spuming swells.
Aye, thought Seagrave, shivering in spite of the warm wind that brushed his face. Green islands floating like clouds. And nothing but air beneath.
His cabin hung below one of the islands, very near the centre, it seemed. At this near distance, it would have been impossible for him to determine the shape of his island, did he not have the examples of the other three to examine.
They stretched in a ragged line, two in front and one behind. All were similarly contoured. On top, they appeared as islands should, all vibrant emerald and sun-bright jade, cresting here and there into low sculpted hills or smoothing into level forests nearer the edges. But on their undersides -- here there was the green of vegetation as well, but a verdure of a darker hue, its lushness broken up by grey rocky outcrops, producing a rugged inverted landscape of winding valleys and knife-edge ridges, hillocks and peaks, far more complex than the ground atop.
The underside sloped gradually downward as it crept in from the edges, until, abruptly, near the centre, it formed a spectacular twisted green stem that plunged straight down, ending in a pointed tip a hundred feet shy of the waves. It was as if the islands had somehow been torn from the seabed, bringing with them impossibly vast stone roots as mementos of their earthly origins.
Seagrave had gotten a close look at his own island's root during his circuit of the balcony. It lay in the island's centre on the opposite side of the cabin, so near and so enormous it seemed like the trunk of a gigantic tree, thick with emerald moss, reaching down and down until the senses spun and the mind grew faint trying to fathom its distant tip. The vastness of its scale was made vividly evident by the clusters of wood huts and larger buildings that clung like barnacles to the island's underside. The structures dwindled to tiny specks before finally abutting against the steep foothills of the root.
On this side, Seagrave had no such obstruction to his view. He could see the rolling vales and gentle hills that blotted out the sky and reached like a vast breathless shelf to the broken rim in the hazy distance. Living structures nestled snugly in the inverted verdure, concentrated in the foreground as if to form some sort of city. Here and there, other buildings dropped farther down from the greenery, suspended by slender frameworks of wood, much as Seagrave supposed his own cabin must. He could see figures moving on the balconies of some of these lower buildings. One tiny structure hung only a short distance away so that he could discern the features of a red-skinned man who stood motionlessly scanning the sea far beneath.
The amber globe of the sun was visible in the wide swath of clear sky beyond the island's rim. It slanted its smoldering rays on the waters, reflecting warm brilliance against the underside of the island.
Finally, to complete this mad vision of fantastic impossibility, weird airborne ships sailed their tacks back and forth beneath the clinging houses. Ships, yes, with wooden hulls and open decks; but ships with sails hung on masts that reached out from their sides, like the wings of bats; ships suspended by webbed cords from vast gasfilled bags with tail fins.
Even as Seagrave watched, one of the wingships drifted ponderously nearer, its steady course carrying it slightly below his cabin. As it passed majestically beneath his feet, the wooden vessel was hidden by the vast bulk of the gasbag, the sunlight flashing dazzlingly off the tight brown fabric --
Seagrave had seen enough.
Numbly, his mouth agape, he stumbled backward, groping for the circular doorway without turning. Finding the hole, he nearly lost his balance in his frantic haste to clamber back through into the comparative sanity of his chamber.
Inside, he turned -- then froze.
Two men stood in the room, one dark purple, the other sombre scarlet. They wore protective shoulder plates and loin plates, banded sandals and short skirts around their hips. They carried menacing leisters and, even as Seagrave saw them, they were upon him...
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Savage Miraya is copyright 1998, by Jeffrey Blair Latta.
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