Savage Miraya


A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE

BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA


EPISODE 40: THE IMPOSSIBLE SHIELD!

To Khomas Khan and the others, the view projected on the wall looked out across the city showing the clusters of hanging cabins nestled amidst the thick verdure beneath the island like bizama feeding on a gasbag.  Beyond the city, the lush emerald forest stretched away to the island's rim in the direction of the early morning sun.  In the porcelain blue sky, the sun simmered with a dazzling amber heat, so bright the watchers had to squint against its warm rays.

Against the sun, the nineteen wingships of the Trayken Armada were nearly lost in the glare.  They formed a small black cluster closely grouped, like some insignificant meshmel cloud that a ship's captain would hardly think it worth sailing around.

Even as the party looked, the Armada descended from its tack above the island, dropping gently down to where it could more easily pound the city with its cluster cannons.

Khomas Khan heard the queen moan woundedly, her hands forming small fists against her breasts.  He swallowed stiffly and thought, My Queen, if you have a plan, there is no better time to employ it.

But, then, even before he could speak, he saw a flicker of luminous blue against the black of the ships.  It was a subtle effect, nearly swamped by the back-lighting sun.  He might have thought it his imagination...

But then he felt the ground shudder beneath his feet and a low rumble swelled through the walls, dim and detached like a giant knocking once on a wooden door.  The worm flash of a single cluster cannon would not have been visible from this distance; the Trayken must have opened up with an entire enfilade.

Khomas Khan grew cold and sick.  The carnage must have been appalling.

There could be no mistaking the intentions of the Trayken now.  They meant to shatter Jinja Khyam as quickly, as efficiently as possible.

A second blue flicker set the floor trembling again, the throaty concussion even louder this time.  The first enfilade had blasted the city somewhere beyond the view of the projected image.  Not so this time.  The five watchers stared in mute horror as whole sections of city exploded into blue, leaping flame, ragged chunks of rock and forest plunging grotesquely away into the sea.  Then a third salvo, and more fiery devastation rained from the island's undersurface.

Numbly watching the ravagement of his beloved city, Khomas Khan found only slight relief knowing that most of the population was protected in the tunnels.  No such protection was offered to the brave Kamir guardsmen who courageously stayed at their posts.  Khomas Khan could see them now, lines of armoured defenders crowding the platforms and ropebridges, their glittering leisters puny and impotent.

Other guardsmen manned the worm cannons mounted on low-hanging stations; their weapons, designed to deter manatyrs attacking from the sea beneath, were never meant to fight against an airborne enemy armed with weapons of far greater range and destructive power.  Still, however slight the hope, they waited, praying that through some miracle the Armada might yet venture within range.

All these men stood exposed, and many perished in the first three volleys.  Their charred bodies were lost amidst the plunging mix of black earth and broken stone, seared vegetation and shattered homes.  As further salvos tore strips from the island's aching belly, the air beneath swarmed with the wounded.  Those with strength enough managed to reach safety; the rest, too weakened by injuries and loss of blood, could only postpone the inevitable, eventually plummeting to grisly deaths when their wings could no longer carry them.

The five watchers viewed the death of their city in weak silence, sickened by the slaughter but unable to turn away.  In a lull between explosions, Khomas Khan spoke.

"My Queen, forgive me.  This is all my fault."

Itazara Tal barely seemed to hear him.  She stepped to the wall and set the globular lantern on the ground.  Glancing at her, Khomas Khan saw urgent purpose in the smooth line of her back, her slim wings folded rigidly together.  She gripped one of the gold wheels, bracing her long legs widely.  Muscles trembled beneath her red skin; she sobbed as the wheel resisted her strength.

Without hesitation, Khomas Khan hurried to help her.  He could not imagine what she hoped to accomplish; what could the turning of a wheel do to save them now?  Still, he grasped the rim and hauled with all his strength.  Even between the two of them, the wheel stubbornly refused to yield.

Then Fanas Fel appeared on the other side of the queen.  The big man knotted his meaty fists around the wheel; his powerful thews coiled over his thick arms.  Sweat sprang up on his brow, his teeth grinding.  In seconds, Pallin Pol and Zhanak Zen crowded in.  Then, gradually, with the five working as one, the wheel began to rotate.

As they worked, they were only dimly aware of the resonant groaning of gears and shafts, ponderous machinery set in motion somewhere in the living rock around them.

Barely had the wheel stopped than Itazara Tal slipped from the clot of men, stumbling backward, her amber eyes leaping urgently to the image on the wall.  The others rushed uncomprehendingly to join her.

Khomas Khan regarded the ravaged cityscape once more, wincing as another enfilade crashed into the city's core.  What had the queen thought would happen?  What could possibly change...

Then his eyes grew wide -- and then wider still.

At first he could not understand what he was seeing.  The dazzling glare of the sun seemed suddenly to mellow, dimming as if seen through dispersing clouds.  The blue sky along the horizon grew wan, hazy.  There was another blue flicker as the wingships fired a fresh salvo -- but, this time, instead of the worm clusters exploding in the city, a string of bright blue flashes suddenly flared up in the air just outside the city, momentarily hiding the Armada from sight.

And then the Armada vanished altogether behind a nebulous white curtain that trailed from the hanging forest in a straight fleecy line across the field of view.  The bottom edge of the curtain swirled with mist, like the spume off a wind-struck ocean swell.

Khomas Khan could only shake his head.  "But...how?"

Itazara Tal laughed with giddy delight, clapping her hands like a gleeful child.  "The scrolls told the truth!" she cheered exuberantly.  "The people who built this place constructed a network of passages to direct water from the lakes on the uppersurface of the island down to a string of outlets on the underside.  Right now, a thin curtain of falling water stands between us and the Armada.  The worm clusters cannot penetrate it.  Their cluster cannons are useless unless they are willing to risk taking their ships through the water -- which would bring them in range of our own worm cannons."

Slowly, understanding entered Khomas Khan's look.  His stern demeanour melted into a doubtful smile.  His reaction was subdued compared to the shouts of exultant joy that broke from the lips of the other three men.  They capered about and hugged each other, and Pallin Pol even embraced the queen before suddenly recalling who she was; he released her with a nervous apology.

But Khomas Khan's smile had passed as suddenly as a scudding cloud.  He studied the image on the wall, his eyes narrowed thoughtfully.  Nebulous blue flashes danced impotently along the white curtain.  After a moment, Itazara Tal noticed his concerned expression.  Her own smile reluctantly faded.

"What is it?"

He looked at her.  "This curtain is a brilliant defense," he agreed.  "But it must use a tremendous amount of water.  Whatever the source is, it can't be inexhaustible."  His eyes glided back to the projected image.  "Sooner or later, the water will have to run out -- and, at this rate, I don't think we have very long before that will happen.  The Trayken will recognize that and know they only have to wait."

Khomas Khan's words put an end to the merriment.  Grimly, Pallin Pol nodded.

"He's right.  I doubt the water will last until eclipse, if then."

"On the other hand," Khomas Khan continued, "Draykhis Dol Hashar is clearly eager to complete this invasion as quickly as possible.  No doubt, he is still worried the Royal Fleet may arrive."

Zhanak Zen anxiously wrung his hands.  "The question is, how much of a hurry is he in?  Is he willing to wait us out, or will he risk coming within range of our cannons?"

Suddenly, as if in answer, Itazara Tal gasped, her open palms thrusting anxiously against her sleek thighs.  Her wide eyes stared at the wall image.

As if magically materializing out of the air, slender, snakelike squadrons of black-armoured Trayken Rayvers mounted on scarlet narses emerged from the frosty curtain.  Stream after stream poured through the water barrier, the dull light glinting from leisters and glassy silth whips, from the gilded armour of sergeants and the harshly reflective caparisons of their limbless, burning-eyed, serpentine mounts.

Simultaneously, from out of the city in the foreground, thick squadrons of Kamir narsemen dropped suddenly into view.  Like a swarm of insects, the Kamir narsemen soared out and away beneath the emerald forest, their own leisters flickering like raised torches.

At last the battle could be joined...



Next episode...The Sleeping Army!

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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!)