A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
The sea beneath the Trayken Armada was boiling.
The nineteen black wingships floated nearly as high above the swells as the air-borne island itself, and it was impossible to see how they could account for the effect. But there was no mistaking it; an immense swath of ocean seethed and stirred, the placid blue surface leaping and rippling with ridges of snow-white foam.
"What the devil--?" blurted Seagrave.
Two heads glided up through the swirling broth, tiny with distance, suspended on two slim blue necks. As the necks slithered snake-like from the sea, they merged to form a single thicker trunk. In the fork, a dazzling blue light blazed like a star seen through the cleft of a tree. A "heart-gem".
"A manatyr," Shyrin Shas gasped, the sight provoking dread in her voice even at this distance.
"Two of them," corrected Seagrave amazedly. "Look!"
Sure enough, two more heads emerged from the flurrying waters, their sinuous blue necks flashing with the liquid washing down their scales, sapphire heart-gem eerily glowing. Then two more heads sprouted into view -- then two more -- and two more...
In moments, fully six titanic manatyrs breached the surface beneath the unsuspecting Armada. Their combined mass was surely greater than the islands of Eukara and Nakris together, their colossal domed bodies crowded thickly together like smooth stones in a shallow stream. Higher and higher rose their gleaming necks, five hundred feet, six hundred, seven hundred, eight--
For the unsuspecting Trayken, caught off-guard, there was no time to jettison ballast and rise out of reach.
In an instant, the manatyrs were among them.
The creatures slashed left and right with vicious, up-curved beaks that ripped massive gashes in the black hulls, that shattered the wingmasts like toothpicks, that shredded cords and canvas, and slit open the swollen gasbags as smoothly as if gutting fish.
Mad to escape, the wingships began to unfurl sails, heedless of what other ships lay in their paths. They collided with a brittle mangling of wooden bows and crushed figureheads, fearful pandemonium turning retreat into mindless frenzied carnage. Sparkling plumes of ballast curled from the hulls of other ships; but the manatyrs found them before they could ascend to safety.
One wingship tumbled grotesquely free of its gasbag, its webbing ripped cleanly across. Frantic Trayken took to the air from its slanting deck, while terrified Lan'lans rode the vessel down, down to a horrible death amongst the crashing wreck.
Only one wingship responded quickly enough to evade the ravaging beaks. Seagrave recognized the great six-turreted flagship as it ascended swiftly up out of reach, quickly vanishing above the rim of the island.
"Manatyrs never travel in groups." Khomas Khan frowned ponderingly, struggling to make sense of it. "Why are their heart-gems glowing like that? Why--" He stopped, his shoulders stiffening. "Oh, my Queen," he breathed. "The Handras Harp..."
Abruptly, blue flashes flickered against the black of the ships. Khomas Khan cried out as if slapped in the face.
"You Trayken fools! Don't fire the cluster can--"
The three watchers flinched, Shryin Shas moaning in horror. In an instant, the Armada vanished, engulfed in a tumultuous orange cloud of spilling, curling flame. Grimly, Seagrave realized the raidraas gas in the gasbags had been flammable; the worm clusters had ignited it.
The Trayken's much vaunted Armada had become a funeral pyre.
In seconds, the inferno reached out with incandescent hands, hungrily clasping those few wingships not caught in the original explosion. More gasbags ignited, waves and waves of roaring, tendrilous flame marching steadily across their dissolving flanks, devouring them in seconds, hurling a searing rain of burning canvas down on the decks and the screaming men beneath.
Even those who took to the air were cooked to death before they could fly clear of the hellish furnace heat. Their charred bodies spiralled into the sea like sparks scattering from a bonfire, long tails of black smoke trailing gruesomely in their wakes. Conversely, some debris whirled upward out of the conflagration as if caught in a rising draft -- meshmel plates torn free from the burning hulks.
Apart from the flagship, no other vessel escaped. Watching the ghastly spectacle, Khomas Khan knew that the Trayken had suffered a terrible defeat on Miraya this day. Their Armada was destroyed; it would take time for them to rebuild. In that time, the states of Miraya would rise up, emboldened by the example of tiny Eukara. Never had he imagined a victory so utter, so decisive.
Two days before he had hung trussed at wrists and ankles, skinned alive, his agony intensified by the knowledge that he had failed two of the three creatures he truly loved. Eukara. The slave girl Montaz.
Now failure had turned to victory -- yet his agony only increased.
As fiery devastation tumbled liquidly into the hissing sea, as the manatyrs settled slowly back into their water home -- as he understood that Itazara Tal had summoned these terrible monsters through the music of the Handras Harp, calling them to attack as effortlessly as if tugging a narse's reins, he knew too that such fantastic power must have a price.
Such power was dangerous.
By allowing Itazara Tal to wield that power, he knew he had failed his beautiful queen just as he had failed so many. Watching the bright flames sink flickering into the quenching swells, his heart was heavy in his breast. For her sake -- for the sake of the third precious creature he loved -- he prayed he was wrong...
If the pirate Seagrave had been back on Earth, he would have said a month had passed. But this was Miraya, the ninth moon of Korash, where time was measured only in days -- the time it took for the ocean moon to circle its mighty planet once. They knew nothing of months, nor years, nor minutes, nor hours.
But, whatever the measurement, during that time, Seagrave had sought to grapple with his unexpected predicament.
With the loss of the Earth tal-stone, there was no way for him to go home. He was marooned here as if castaway on the most isolated desert isle. Wings or no wings, he would have to make the best of it.
It had taken him five days to recover from his brutal mauling. Under the moon's strange healing influence, his hide had knitted in the first three, but it had taken slightly longer before he could walk again.
Khomas Khan had seen he was well looked after. Slim, glossy-limbed slave girls administered to his every need; his quarters were richly furnished, his meals always delicious and hot.
He was kept informed as events unfolded in the wake of the Trayken defeat. The Archipelago of Aswanya had been first to resume its war with the Trayken moon Shek. Others had soon joined in. All over Miraya, the Trayken garrisons were captured. Their power had balanced precariously on the threat of their Armada; without that threat, the conquered simply shrugged off their chains.
Of course, how Shek might respond to all this still remained to be seen.
As yet, Jakar Jet had eluded arrest. Guardsmen had scoured the city (or what remained of the city), much of the catacombs and even searched atop Eukara, but all without result. Most likely the villainous Kamir had escaped aboard one of the wingships which had fled the island prior to the attack by the Armada. If so, he had almost certainly taken the Lin tal-stone with him.
All this was very interesting, but, for all the news, no one could tell Seagrave what he really wanted to know. Dol Hashar had claimed others had reached Miraya from Earth. Where were they? On Miraya still? On some other moon? Why was Dol Hashar the only one who had known about them?
Seagrave's interest was more than idle curiosity. Dol Hashar had carried the Earth tal-stone with him in his fatal plunge into the sea. With the tal-stone lost, Seagrave had no way of returning home. Almost certainly the other humans were trapped here as well, the Earth tal-stone being their only way home. But there remained the faint hope that they might know of another way back. It was certainly worth a shot.
But Seagrave was damned if he knew where to start looking.
And then there was another matter -- one which rankled like an open wound.
In all those thirty days, he never saw Shyrin Shas. Not once.
After all they had been through, he found this snubbing hard to bear. When he asked Khomas Khan, the advisor offered vague excuses, obviously uncomfortable with the situation.
"You must understand, Moryan," Khomas Khan explained in his sternly rigid way. "She is a princess. Some day she will be a queen. She has responsibilities to her people. Right now, with all that has happened, they need her more than ever. Perhaps with time..."
Seagrave scowled, frustrated by such an evasive response. Anyway, it did not ring true. From the slave girls, Seagrave had learned that Shyrin Shas had no real responsibilities unless Queen Itazara Tal were to die.
Finally, determined, but dreading the answer, the pirate asked Khomas Khan directly: "Is it by Shyrin Shas's command that I am not to see her?"
Khomas Khan paused, troubled. After a moment, looking Seagrave squarely in the eye, he replied evenly, "It is her wish."
And so there it was. Seagrave knew that Khomas Khan would never lie or mislead him. Shyrin Shas did not want to see him.
He could not really claim to be entirely surprised; God knew, he had seen her fickle changes of spirit often enough. But, for the life of him, he could not imagine what had set her off this time. That night on Nisram Nyl's flagship, Seagrave had thought he had finally won over her tumultuous little heart. Hadn't she practically pleaded with him to stay on her world? So what had he done to push her away again?
For a time, the pirate brooded, wondering what to do.
He considered going in search of Jyleesha instead; after helping with Shyrin Shas's torture, the Trayken captain had not been seen since. Had she perished when the manatyrs destroyed the Armada? Only the flagship had escaped destruction. If she had been aboard that ship, then she must still be alive.
In spite of everything, Seagrave continued to feel vexingly conflicting feelings for the gorgeous Trayken captain -- but not so much now that he could not see his way clear. Shyrin Shas had told him what part Jyleesha had played in the princess's brutal torture. His blood boiled to hear it, and, as he listened, he swore he would not let Jyleesha's magnificent beauty or anguished pleas sway him again. When next they met, he would crush the life from her slender throat with his own bare hands.
But that could wait.
For now, it was Shyrin Shas he desired. And so, at last, he determined to settle the matter once and for all...
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!)