A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
Without waiting for a response, he set the princess down. She whimpered but managed to keep her feet, clinging to him with fierce, clutching hands. Seagrave slipped one arm around her waist.
"Hold on, girl. We're in for some rough weather."
Evidently, these Trayken had not heard of Seagrave's reputation for breaking men in half. Like the doomed Rayver Seagrave had killed when he had first arrived on Miraya, these men clearly did not know what his cutlass could do. Given the odds against him, Seagrave felt no guilt on that score.
His nostrils flared as he throated a wolfish growl -- then pounced in a whirlwind of dazzling silver...
Even had he known, there was nothing he could have done; that knowledge could only have compounded his misery, adding to the crushing guilt that squatted on his ravaged back like some monstrous ravening beast.
With growing despair, the advisor had watched the airbattle displayed on the wall of the subterranean chamber. Mercifully, the two armies clashed some distance outside the city, far enough away that the grisly details were lost in a swirling maelstrom of impersonal generalities.
The long streams of narsemen raced together, like trickles of dark water threading down opposite sides of a gully. The illusion continued as the squadrons crashed head on, shattering their orderly lines and spreading out laterally as if flowing into the imaginary gully's cleft. Still more columns rushed into the rapidly forming front, adding to its density, melting into its dark seething mix.
Khomas Khan could see in his mind's eye the details hidden by distance: the terrible leisters thrusting and jerking men from their saddles, ripping away whole limbs and chunks of ragged flesh from the plunging bodies; the silth whips coiling tight around arms and throats, constricting around men knocked from their mounts, confining their straining wings and hurtling them to screaming deaths.
And to what end? The moment the water curtain stopped flowing, the Armada would resume its bombardment. All the lives lost now could count for nothing.
Bleakly, Khomas Khan thought of those gaudy tapestries decorating the throne room, the vivid gold-thread depictions of heroic airbattles, the mighty clashing wingships, the clouds of gallant narsemen resplendent in the exultant glow of imminent victory.
If, by some miracle, Jinja Khyam survived her ravishment, Khomas Khan promised to tear down every one of those hideous arras with this bare hands.
Pulling his cape close, Khomas Khan dragged away his eyes, searching for Itazara Tal who had stood beside him the moment before.
"My Queen, I cannot remain here. My place is with those men. I must go to--"
He frowned, finding the queen squatting by the edge of the pit. She knelt at the gold anchor, the vertex of the Handras Harp. Even as he looked, he saw her smooth shoulders hunch beneath her gold collar, her bead-capped head bowing in deep concentration. The thong glittered against the glossy curve of her bottom. She inhaled slowly.
Then, with a soft stroking of tapered fingers -- she began to play.
It was alien music, of that there could be no doubt. Deep and resonant, each note swelled slowly into being, like a prisoner too long pent in a dark dungeon, timorously venturing out, blinking warily against the forgotten light. Note after hollow note rolled colossally from the quivering cords, the music seeming too loud, too vast to have sprung from the light touch of such a small creature as the queen.
And then, slowly, new notes added to the resonant song, complexity building on complexity. It was a moment before Khomas Khan understood. It was the echoes rising back up out of the deep stygian pit beneath the strings. The bouncing notes should have clashed with the original tune, but instead they joined with it, harmonizing, compounding the unbearable sense of power and majesty.
To Khomas Khan, it was like the cacophony of howling winds spilling across titanic gulfs of time and space; he felt his senses reeling as if staring into unutterable depths or gazing across breathless immensities stretching on and on as far as the eye could strain. The music was at once beautiful and frightening, sensually voluptuous and malevolently sinister.
Khomas Khan studied the slim, nearly naked figure of his beloved queen. She seemed so slight, so fragile compared to the massive engine she coaxed to life. Her gentle purity, her heart-breaking innocence only added to the appalling sense of wrongness about the scene.
Khomas Khan recalled what she had told him earlier: how the Handras Harp might as easily destroy them as their enemies. What other dark secrets might she have gleaned during her covert forays into the ancient archives? What powerful knowledge did this frail creature carry in her lovely head? What arcane forces were hers to control? -- and to what extent might those forces control her?
As the alien music throbbed like a living heart in the light-tangled air, Khomas Khan felt a chill premonition. Suddenly, he wanted to drag her away, to tear her from her task as if from the arms of a ravisher. And yet, he could only stand and listen.
My Queen, what have we begun? he silently pleaded.
As if empathically sensing his pain, Itazara Tal shivered suddenly, the sweat sparkling like frost on the bare ridges of her supple back...
There were at least two dozen Rayvers menacing him and the princess, with more coming all the time. Every one of them was constructed of thick slabs of hard, flexing muscle capable of tearing him apart with bare hands. His only hope lay in carrying the attack to them. Certainly, under the circumstances, the last thing they expected was for Seagrave to pounce on them almost as if it were they who were the prisoner and not he.
In an instant, the pirate was among them. His cutlass flickered and two gaunt heads jumped into the air, momentarily suspended on grisly fountains of pumping black blood. Then a diagonal slash, and a Trayken sank to his knees, spilling gore from his cloven chest.
Heartened by his successes, Seagrave pressed forward, his dazzling blade shattering the wall of leisters as if mowing tall grass, sweeping them aside with a crackling like wood on a fire. One arm clutched the princess's twisting waist, hauling her with him, terrified he might loose her in the wild frenzy and crush.
As the Trayken saw the terrible havoc wrought by Seagrave's alien weapon, they fell back, like waves gurgling down a beach, leaving Seagrave panting and standing with the dead piled at his feet. But it was only a momentary respite. With a roar, they closed in again. This time they knew better what to expect, seeking to keep out of reach of the pirate's licking blade, thrusting at him with their longer leisters.
But, again, Seagrave bounded forward, battering through their weapons, ruthlessly blackening the air as he hacked left and right, across and down, until his bare feet slithered on the gory deck and stygian blood trailed down his limbs writing ebony scrawls on his bronzed thews.
Through the bobbing heads, Seagrave caught a glimpse of the tethered narses near the taffrail. If he could just reach those he would at least stand a chance--
But even with that thought, he foolishly dropped his guard. Something struck him across the forehead; a leister, it felt like. The blow rocked his senses, dazing him and opening a wound that flushed warm blood into his eyes.
He stumbled and tried to catch himself with the princess, but only succeeded in dragging her down...
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!)