A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
He threw up his arms defensively -- but the motion merely exposed his ribs. With appalling speed, the claws raked his lean flanks, left, then right, spinning him first one way, and then the other, warm blood flushing down his sides. He stumbled backward, tripping over the princess and spilling on his back.
The fall at least gained him a momentary respite.
Shivering with the shock of his wounds, he looked up, blinking -- just as Dol Hashar stepped relentlessly over Shyrin Shas's cringing length, spurs jingling, his shoulder and loin plates spattered with red like a butcher's leather apron. Sickly, Seagrave realized the metaphor was all too fitting; the unbridled ferocity of the attack showed the draykhis had no intention of taking the pirate prisoner again. This was to be a slaughter, plain and simple; and, unlike the last time Seagrave had fought Dol Hashar, this time claws were mandatory.
Frantic to catch his breath, Seagrave tried to roll clear, twisting desperately onto his front and thrusting with his knees. He heard Dol Hashar laugh, mocking his efforts to escape. He screamed as claws ripped scorchingly across his back. The impact knocked him flat, his face buried in his arms.
Like some blood-crazed bear, the draykhis crouched over his foe. Implacably, he lashed at Seagrave's writhing body as if digging in soft sand, thrashing the pirate with furious, shuddering blows that jerked him again and again from the boards.
The speed and brutality of the attack gave Seagrave no room for defense; he could no more protect himself against the Trayken's claws than he could have fought off a lion. This was no fight between men. He was being mauled.
For the first time, Seagrave realized just how truly alien were these Trayken. They weren't just stronger than humans -- with their thews, their stamina, their wings, their claws, they were an entirely different order of being. Against them, humans were like rabbits to wolves.
And Dol Hashar wanted the Earth tal-stone.
Suddenly one thought surged up bright as a beacon against the black of Seagrave's agony: whatever it took, he knew he must not let the Trayken have the tal-stone. An entire planet, a world depended on him.
But how could he protect the tal-stone when he couldn't even protect himself?
It was a moment before he realized the fearful punishment had stopped. His entire body throbbed, his hide a constellation of streaming, searing wounds. Dimly he wondered if Dol Hashar thought he was dead. Then he wondered if he was dead.
But then he felt gloved hands grip him roughly at the hip and shoulder. He was lifted breathlessly from the damp boards as easily as a child. Opening his eyes, he found himself staring dazedly up at the barren stone of the floating island above.
In an instant, his eyes flared. He twisted frantically, flexing, desperate to break free as Dol Hashar carried him raised overhead -- bore him like an offering toward the edge of the platform. The draykhis paused at the rail. He inhaled, hefting Seagrave higher still -- then hurled the pirate downward with a snarl of cruel gratification...
But Dol Hashar had no intention of throwing Seagrave to his death. After all, the Earth tal-stone was still tied to the pirate's belt.
Seagrave landed atop the rail, the solid wood driving up into the small of his back with a force that snapped his body backward so his head struck the inside boards and his heels rattled on the outside. He heard a sharp retort like a snapping branch. The feeling washed from his legs and, for a moment, he thought Dol Hashar had literally broken him in half. Then he realized -- his spine had been shattered.
He was paralyzed from the waist down.
Seagrave hung balanced on the rail, breeks-clad legs over the abyss, wrists draped on the boards beneath his head. A steady tide of shock swept coolly up his ravaged frame. It would have been so easy to give in to it; so easy to have settled into its lush embrace, to escape this mad world once and for all.
But then he felt a quick tug at his belt. He forced his eyes feebly open and looked up at Dol Hashar. The draykhis emptied Seagrave's pouch into his glove. The lavender tal-stone glimmered through the draykhis's claw-tipped fingers.
Dol Hashar nodded slowly, his tongue glistening as it stroked his bottom fangs. He glanced down, his heavy brows rising as if mildly surprised to find Seagrave still breathing. He smiled.
"I have gone to far too much trouble for this tal-stone," he murmured placidly. "I suppose I have only myself to blame; I should have questioned you more fully when I had you in the throne room. But then, I have others I must answer to; I needed their permission to proceed." He waved one hand dismissively. "Still, I have it now. There is no use --"
"Whuh -- where --" Seagrave struggled to speak.
Dol Hashar regarded him as if amused by his efforts. "What is that? A question?"
"Whuh -- where -- did it -- come -- from?"
The draykhis's smile widened, his eyes narrowing. "Where? Where did the Earth tal-stone come from? Originally, do you mean?" He was clearly enjoying himself -- just as he had enjoyed himself as he tortured poor Montaz to death. "Surely the answer is obvious. Surely you do not think you are the only Human to have reached our world?"
"Thuh -- there -- were -- others?"
"Were?" His black eyes glittered as if at a private joke. "Are, Human. There are."
Tiring of the conversation, he closed his fist around the tal-stone. His beady eyes glided up Seagrave's chest to the pirate's drum-taut abdomen arched over the rail. With languorous ease, he touched his claws to the skin. Seagrave felt sharp pin-prick pains -- and a cold deeper than shock settled over his heart.
So -- it was to be Dol Hashar's specialty.
Seagrave had no strength left. His consciousness balanced as precariously as his ravaged frame. Still, he groped blindly at the draykhis's leg, galvanized by pure instinct, mindlessly fighting for survival with a blind will that did not know when to admit defeat. His fingers scrambled futilely even as he felt a sudden thrust of pressure and the pin-pricks exploded into five knife-edged epicentres of exquisitely precise agony...
Then something flashed in the air, dazzling silver!
Dol Hashar bellowed in surprise, and the sharp pressure instantly eased. The draykhis whirled around, his hand clutching his arm, astonishment flaring his cooling gills. Black ichor seeped from beneath his fingers, winding to his wrist like climbing vines.
Shyrin Shas hesitated uncertainly, the cutlass raised before her enormous emerald eyes. Trayken blood stained the keen edge, trailing onto the dome of the handguard. The Kamir Princess had seen how Seagrave had used the cutlass before, but still she was surprised by the success of her attack. She paused, unsure what to do next...
Dol Hashar felt no such uncertainty.
With a savage snarl, he lashed out. His claws raked her tightening belly with a force which would have torn her open had she not twisted instinctively. Instead, they left four thin scratches in her soft skin. She staggered backward with a frightened yelp, the cutlass flying from her hands, clattering on the boards. Her long legs tangled, sending her sprawling.
"Run, girl!" croaked Seagrave. "Run!"
Desperately, he made a grab for Dol Hashar's cape. His fingers clenched around the material -- only to find himself tumbling off the railing onto the boards, pulled over as the draykhis stepped away. He screamed gratingly as the impact set off his wounds. The cape slithered through his spasming fingers.
"Run!" he gritted again, cursing his paralysed legs.
But Dol Hashar had already reached the princess in six easy strides. She looked up at him despairingly, her fingers clutching the stinging scratches on her belly.
Dol Hashar reared back one hand, salting the air with blood. With a cry of horror, Shyrin Shas threw up an arm before her face...
Then the clear loops of a silth whip snarled tight around the draykhis's upraised arm. The two cords jerked rigid with a brittle crack, spinning Dol Hashar around.
"Draykhis Dol Hashar!"
Khomas Khan's voice was the calm heart in a whirling storm.
"I arrest you for crimes against the free people of Eukara and for assaulting the Princess Shyrin Shas."
The advisor stood in the mouth of a ropebridge where it debouched onto the platform. He clutched the handle of the silth whip in one gloved hand, a leister in the other. Grimly he levelled the latter and his eyes slitted.
"And for the torture and murder of the slave girl -- my slave girl -- Montaz."
Dol Hashar responded to this new attack as he had responded to Shyrin Shas's assault -- with blinding speed. His fist knotted around the silth cords. With a swift yank, he tore the handle from Khomas Khan's hand. Instantly, the advisor transferred the hand to his leister.
In his eyes, there was a flicker of fear.
But Dol Hashar knew when the odds were against him. He had what he had come for: the Earth tal-stone. There was no point in being greedy.
Shryin Shas had recovered the cutlass; she brandished it on Dol Hashar's right. Khomas Khan advanced a step with the leister, wary of the draykhis's deadly claws. With a laugh like a growl, Dol Hashar lashed at them both with the silth whip, the cords still coiled around his arm. They danced backward out of reach.
Dol Hashar laughed again, invigorated by their fear as if by a fresh breeze. His moth-wings unfolded, and he hurtled up into the air. In an instant, he hovered a short distance beyond the edge of the platform, wheeling to regard them tauntingly.
"That is twice now you have interfered, Khomas Khan," he hissed. "I am surprised you did not learn after what was done to you the first time."
The advisor flinched at the remark, provoking a secret smile of satisfaction from the Trayken. Then Dol Hashar's gaunt features hardened menacingly.
"It seems another lesson is in order. I have what I want; I could leave your pathetic city in peace. Instead, I will blast it into the sea. And then, Khomas Khan, you shall watch as I skin your miserable subjects alive one by one."
His tiny eyes shifted to the princess, his mouth twisting in a savage grin. "Last of all, you will watch as I flay your precious princess -- as I skin her sleek young body not once, but precisely one hundred times. One hundred, Khomas Khan! And I promise, long before that number is reached, you will wish for her death as you once wished for her life!"
Khomas Khan paled, recognizing that this was no idle threat. No horror was beyond the sadistic draykhis. Shryin Shas sobbed involuntarily, shrinking back as if afraid her unimaginable torment was about to begin.
Seagrave could barely form coherent speech, the pain thick in his throat. The Trayken looked at him in surprise, as if he had forgotten all about the pirate. In English, Seagrave gritted:
"I promised Khomas Khan I would kill you, you monster. I said, if I could, I would kill you for murdering Montaz. So pray to whatever gods you worship, because that's one promise I intend to keep."
A brief look of doubt weighted the Trayken's brows. Then he chuckled mockingly, but with a hint of uncertainty. "You?"
"Aye," nodded Seagrave slowly. "Me."
For a space, Dol Hashar's gaze played over the ravaged, half-paralyzed figure stretched in a pool of scarlet blood. Seagrave could barely raise his head, his eyes glazed with pain. A gradual grin of amusement lifted the corners of the draykhis's mouth. With a contemptuous laugh, he whirled in the air, turning his back and starting away with a whir of wings.
For a strange moment, Seagrave felt as if he had been transported back to the deck of his pirate ship, the Sea Dog, on Earth -- the moment when he lay nearly dead against the gunwale clutching a dirk snatched from a sailor. He remembered his first mate Hengist's taunting features, the feel of the dirk, then the desperate toss -- a toss which had stuck harmlessly into the mast beside the traitor's head.
He could still taste the bitterness of that defeat.
In one smooth motion, he tugged the punch spike from his belt, drew it back, and launched it with all his strength.
The weapon struck the draykhis in the centre of his back between his two humming moth-wings. It sank deep, to the golden handle, with an audible and entirely satisfying thud, and Dol Hashar grunted and stopped. Ruefully, Seagrave reflected that the Trayken's heart must not be located in the proper place or the draykhis would already be dead.
Still, the weapon had done its job. Dol Hashar twisted around, his stygian eyes showing white rims, a mixture of amazement and horror, his wings thrashing spasmodically. Even then, his implacable strength nearly got him back to the platform. But, at the final moment, his wings stiffened. He grabbed frantically for the rail, raking it as he fell.
Seagrave listened to Dol Hashar's shrill scream dwindle steadily away, fading to nothing shortly before the Trayken struck the sea far, far below. The pirate knew he should have taken greater satisfaction in the sound; but all he could think of was the tal-stone which Dol Hashar took with him to his watery grave.
Damn, thought Seagrave despondently. Damn it all to hell.
The toss had taken Seagrave's last ounce of strength. Semi-conscious, his eyes closed, he felt Shyrin Shas's gentle hands cradling his head, sobbing as she took in the cruel wounds marking his body. A moment later, Khomas Khan settled wearily beside him.
After a pause, the advisor said faintly: "Thank you, Moryan."
"Thank Montaz," gritted the pirate thickly. "She gave me that damn punch spike." He opened his eyes enough to smile faintly at Khomas Khan. "I guess you could say, she got the bastard in the end."
But then he frowned as he fixed on something behind the advisor. With surprising calm, he remarked, "I hope that wall of water wasn't important -- because it looks like it just ran out."
On the heels of his observation, a dazzling blue glare exploded in the heart of the city. A sound like thunder rocked the air rolling over them in a solid wave.
"The Armada." Khomas Khan sounded sick, his head bowing weakly, as if exhausted from running a race he could never win. "They don't know Dol Hashar is dead. They are still going through with the bombardment. Jinja Khyam is doomed."
For a moment, Seagrave closed his eyes, reflecting on the rotten mean-spiritedness of Fate. Had they really made it this far only to watch as Jinja Khyam was pounded into rubble?
Then, suddenly, he felt the princess's fingers tighten painfully in his hair.
"Careful, girl," Seagrave grimaced. "That's about the only place that doesn't hurt."
But, if she heard him, it failed to loosen her grip. In a breathless whisper, she said, "Look!"
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!)