A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
His fingers touched the prongs of a leister; the central spike bit through his breeches deep into the back of his leg, the reversed side-spikes wreaking excruciating havoc nearer the front. Grasping the weapon, he tired to tear it free -- only to scream as his efforts caused the side-spikes to bite still deeper between spasming sinews.
Seagrave could hardly claim this was the most helpless he had ever felt--for that honour, nothing could compete with being hung from his own yardarm and flogged nearly to death--but the present situation had to come a close second. He could barely stay conscious, let alone expect to fight his way to those narses.
But then, with a sort of detached curiosity, Seagrave wondered why he was still alive at all. Surely the Rayvers should have finished him by now.
For the first time, he raised his eyes. His vision was still blurred with blood, but he could see there was an open space between him and the narses tethered by the taffrail. Dimly, he noticed angry shouts, the quick rasp of frantic feet on the blood-slicked deck, screams of pain. A desperate fight was waging just behind him -- but there was no time to learn the source of his salvation.
Clenching his teeth, he gripped the leister's prongs on either side of his leg, then, groaning, pried them apart. Tears squeezed from his eyes, the agony unbearable as the spikes tore from his flesh.
Dropping the weapon, he lurched drunkenly to his feet. Shyrin Shas was dazed from her own savage beating. Half-leading and half-dragging her, Seagrave hobbled desperately across the deck, expecting at any moment to feel another leister catch him from behind. But he reached the narses unmolested.
His cutlass flashed through a tether, and he heaved the princess into the saddle, scrambling up after her.
Unbeknownst to the pirate, on the bloody deck, surrounded by a ring of guardsmen, Jyleesha turned in tight circles, like a trapped animal. Those men the Trayken captain had killed lay sprawled at her dancing feet; others, only wounded, now kept a wary distance.
Jyleesha had come up on deck purely by chance; she couldn't have said what had impelled her to venture from below -- but it was a cruel jest, just the same. Hearing the shouts of alarm, she had seen the crowd of Rayvers battling in the waist -- and then caught a glimpse of brown skin vivid against the blue-grey of the Trayken.
Her heart had leaped to her throat.
In many ways, she was correct when she claimed she and Seagrave were two of a kind. Like the pirate, the Trayken captain was a creature of instinct, of impulse. No sooner had she recognized the lithe figure fighting for his life against impossible odds than she rushed across the deck and hurled herself into the fray.
Even as she arrived, Seagrave was struck on the forehead, stretching him on the deck. She saw one Rayver drive his leister into the pirate's leg -- and then her claws tore out that man's throat with a single, brutal swipe.
Seagrave had called her magnificent. Could he have seen how she fought to protect him, he would have found that word wholly inadequate to describe her ferocious, unbridled beauty. She was...sublime.
Her only weapon was her claws -- but with those slim talons she reaped a harvest as terrible as Seagrave had managed with his keen blade. Men screamed under her frenzied assault, staggering back in alarm, hides streaming from long, ragged slashes. Her smooth-limbed reflexes allowed her to evade the driving thrusts of their leisters, her sleek body twisting and flexing, her sapphire flesh alive with the pulsing of fast, sinuous thews.
And then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Seagrave struggle to his feet, saw him drag the orange princess as he hobbled painfully to the narses by the taffrail. In her pounding breast, Jyleesha felt conflicting emotions collide like two ships in the sky.
As the pirate climbed into the saddle, victorious elation filled Jyleesha to know that she had saved his life. At the same time, she saw the tangerine princess, the way he held that girl so protectively to his chest. Instantly, tears stung Jyleesha's exotic eyes.
Desperately, her heart breaking, she pleaded for him to turn and look; a single glimpse was all she desired -- a glimpse that he might at least know what she had done to save him. Please! she begged. Please, look!
Instead he drew his arm tight around the princess, nestling her covetously against his powerful body as if cuddling a sleeping child. He jerked the reins and the narse swept out over the open sea.
He did not look back.
Miserable tears trailed down Jyleesha's face as she watched them go. In her suffering, she nearly missed the leister that thrust at her from behind. She dodged just in time, the weapon licking the air at her back. Still weeping, wanting only to fly as far away from this place as possible, she didn't bother to face her enemies again but bounded across the deck, then sprang into the air, her wings whirring...
With a cry of horror, she landed sprawled on her belly. Too late she remembered: her wings had been cropped.
She could not fly.
In an instant, the game had changed. Her only hope lay in reaching one of the other narses. But, even as she shot to her feet, she felt cool silth whips snap tight around her arms; their glass loops constricted on her legs, encircled her waist, choked her twisting throat. In seconds, she was locked in a creaking web of unbreakable glass cords, all held rigidly tight by a ring of bleeding, vengeful Rayvers.
She was barely able to move, barely able to breathe. Her sleek body strained and shuddered, flinching futilely against the unbearable tension. It was as if she were some incredibly dangerous wild animal surrounded by hunters, her savage spirit precariously mastered only through the use of hard ropes and powerful backs.
Her legs jerked suddenly from under her, dropping her to her knees. Panting with exhausted frustration, she looked up -- and a dark form loomed, his black cape rippling in the wind.
Dol Hashar regarded Jyleesha. His tiny eyes appraised her lithe, trembling body as if already envisioning the possibilities it offered. Then he fixed on her face. His voice was calm, but with a deadly edge.
"You helped them escape," he muttered softly. "You disappoint me, Captain Jyleesha. After assisting in the princess's questioning, I thought perhaps you could be trusted, after all. It seems my first impression was more accurate. Somehow the alien has clouded your judgement. That is unfortunate for you."
He paused, his gaze shifting to the taffrail, then returning to her face. With a peculiar gentleness, he touched her cheek with his gloved hand. She flinched, inhaling, eyes closing, unable to pull away. He smiled, pleased by her response -- and nodded slowly.
"I think I will take great pleasure with this one."
Turning away, he instructed the straining Rayvers: "Confine her below. Make certain that she does not escape." His eyes took in the many black wounds left by Jyleesha's attack, the vengeful glares of her captors -- and his lips curled with dark mirth. "Please remember," he added, "I expect to find her alive when I return."
Wearily, he pulled Shyrin Shas out of the saddle, laying her gently on the wooden boards of the suspended platform. Both figures gleamed damply from their passage through the strange water curtain that ringed the city of Jinja Khyam. The moment Seagrave released his grip on its saddle, the narse sped away on frantic wings.
Seagrave could no more account for the mysterious water curtain than he could explain his escape from the flagship -- nor did he try. It had required all his attention simply to keep clear of the vast sea of battling men just outside the city limits. Dimly, it occurred to him that he might have just jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. If the city fell...
At his knees, the princess whimpered softly, pain furrowing her brow. Seagrave regarded her grimly, glad the water had at least washed the blood out of his eyes. His heart boiled to see the burning stripes that laced her smooth flesh. Truly naked, Shyrin Shas sobbed, closing her legs defensively, shame crowding out even physical agony.
After a moment, he murmured: "It's all right now, girl. We got away from them. Those bastards can't hurt you anymore."
Mention of her ordeal suddenly galvanized Shyrin Shas. Her emerald eyes opened wide as she grabbed his arm.
"The Earth tal-stone!" she exclaimed. "Moryan, that was what they were after all along! That was why they came here in the first place!"
Seagrave scowled. "Slow down, girl. What are you going on about?"
"Dol Hashar told me!" She dragged urgently at his wrist. "He had traced the Earth tal-stone to Eukara. Jakar Jet must have bought it in the market without knowing what it was; he only knew that it looked enough like the Lin tal-stone to fool me."
In an instant the whole picture came clear to Seagrave. Dol Hashar had wanted to know who had given the pirate the green tal-stone which had brought him to Miraya. The draykhis knew that whoever had given it to Seagrave must have first used the Earth tal-stone to reach Earth. But Seagrave had escaped without telling Dol Hashar that it was the princess herself who had travelled to his planet.
Unaware of his racing thoughts, Shyrin Shas continued in a breathless rush.
"When Jakar Jet told Dol Hashar how he had switched tal-stones with me, the draykhis realized what had happened, that I had the Earth tal-stone."
Of course! On Nakris, Seagrave had overheard Dol Hashar speaking to one of his men aboard his wingship; the draykhis had asked if they had found the princess...or the tal-stone. Seagrave had assumed Dol Hashar meant the Lin tal-stone. In reality, the search was for the Earth tal-stone, and the princess who was presumed to possess it. Seagrave cursed his blindness.
But all this simply added to those questions already beguiling the pirate. How had Dol Hashar been able to speak English? How had he known Seagrave would not be affected by the green squall? How had he known Seagrave's presense on Miraya proved someone had travelled to Earth, a planet no one here had even heard of?
More important, where had the Earth tal-stone come from in the first place?
Suddenly, the answer came to him. There could be only one explanation...
But then, Shyrin Shas distracted him with a wretched sob.
"I told them," she cried, burying her face against his leg. "I tried not to but the pain just kept growing. I told them that I had given you the tal-stone." She writhed in a paroxysm of guilt. "Forgive me, Moryan! I thought you were safe with the fleet! I didn't know you would come after me! I thought you were safe!"
"There there, girl."
Seagrave spread the tears back from her anguished eyes.
"You've been through hell and no one can fault you for a moment of weakness. God knows, you've shown more courage than anyone should be called on to muster. There's no harm done. The important thing is we got away..."
He caught the startled shifting of her eyes, her look of sudden fright -- the whirring of wings in the air behind.
He cursed, twisting
awkwardly on his wounded leg. But even as he dragged up his cutlass,
something slashed his arm like razors. The pain opened his fingers
and his keen blade spun away across the boards...
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!)