A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
Previously: Using a mysterious emerald left on his pirate ship by an orange-skinned girl who was snatched by a two-headed monster and subsequently vanished, Morgan Seagrave was transported from Earth to a weird water-covered world of winged, multi-hued people and moth-winged humanoid monsters. Captured by three of the monsters, Seagrave was imprisoned with a blue-skinned girl as his only companion. The girl could not communicate, but a glance outside the prison left Seagrave reeling -- he found himself beneath an air-borne island, one of four. Returning to his prison, he was threatened by two guards of the same race as the girl.
Now, in the prison...
The men stepped quickly back, and he saw the handles of the lashes were still fastened to their belts, so that his left arm was linked by two cords to the purple man and his right was similarly bound to the scarlet man. His purple captor motioned with a leister for Seagrave to move forward. They obviously wanted him to climb the ladder.
He hesitated a moment, his eyes going to the small blue figure of the girl standing in the corner. Her slim hands made anxious fists at her hips, and her teeth worried at the pink fullness of her bottom lip. There was fear in her eyes -- but no longer fear of him. Her emerald gaze was fixed on the purple-skinned man. Something about that look caused Seagrave's blood to course hot in his veins. He glanced at the purple man and saw sharp features and dark, angry eyes that returned the girl's stare with a devouring intensity.
Abruptly those eyes met Seagrave's -- and the purple man struck him across the shoulder with the leister, snarling something which Seagrave translated as: "Move!"
The red man started up the ladder ahead of Seagrave. The pirate had been raised on the high seas, his childhood spent clambering in the rigging and ratlines of sailing ships. Though he had never seen such a ladder as this, he managed to ascend as swiftly as his captors, quickly adjusting to the tiny foot and handholds on either side of the centre pole.
Once through the round ceiling hatchway, Seagrave found himself standing on an open platform, again affording a complete view of the surrounding panorama. The purple man climbed up behind him, then motioned for Seagrave to continue up another ladder. With the red man above and the purple man below, Seagrave worked his way up the inner side of the lattice frame by which his prison -- which he now believed it to be -- was suspended. It was a long, taxing climb, but no more difficult that an ascent to the crow's-nest. Reaching the platform at the top, his captors marched him across a slender ropebridge to another platform, which let onto a second bridge at right angles to the first. Here, he was very near the bottom of the island, and the inverted trees crowded in tangled jade ranks around him.
The party crossed other platforms, sometimes continuing straight and sometimes changing direction. Occasionally they encountered people, who hastily turned around and vacated the appropriate bridge to give them room. These people -- gossamer-winged men and women dressed respectively in skirts and thong garments -- scrutinized him with curious stares as he passed. Their skins were a veritable rainbow of hues, but he noticed that the men were always darker than the women. He also noticed that, whereas the women's wings were slender and apparently fixed vertically on their spines, the men's were wider and could be folded down their backs like the wings of flies. This explained why he had not seen the wings on the blue man who had thrown himself over the railing before.
Presently, his captors marched him through a round entranceway set in a portion of low hanging rock. He was now walking in a tunnel lined with blue glazed brick burrowed into the stone of the island itself. Nowhere did he see any sign of torches, but soft topaz illumination was cast by weirdly glowing gemstones set in gilded brackets along the walls.
Finally his guards halted him before a large circular doorway sealed with a wooden double-door crossed with shining gilt bands. Two other guards opened the door and the party continued through, stepping over the raised threshold.
Seagrave found himself in what was evidently a throne room, and a fairly opulent one at that. The floor was a dark blue marble shot with gold veins and flanked by large fluted pillars; the walls were hung with rich tapestries magnificently worked in gold thread. The hangings seemed to depict in vivid detail great battles involving those weird airborne ships, in which the air swarmed thick with flying men and winged serpent-like creatures.
Seagrave was marched down the centre of the chamber, finally halting in front of a wide dais reached by four low steps. Two more guards stood rigidly on either side of the dais, leisters resting vertically.
Seagrave had stopped between two short posts made of the same dark blue marble as the floor. He barely noticed these, for his attention was fixed on the jade-skinned man seated in a splendid jewelled throne that hung suspended by gold chains over the dais. The man was busy reading a sort of flat scroll and didn't seem to notice Seagrave's arrival.
The pirate didn't appreciate being ignored. After a moment, he rumbled cautiously: "I don't know who you are -- or what you are -- but --"
The haft of a leister struck him squarely in the stomach. Even as he doubled over, the same weapon rattled across his shoulders, dropping him to his knees.
Scowling from beneath his tousled mane, his eyes burning slits, Seagrave straightened on his knees. He would have taught his attacker a lesson or two, but then remembered the cords around his wrists. Then, too, the jade man on the dais finally rose from his jewelled hanging throne. Seagrave saw that the man's folded wings had fitted into a slot between the seat and the back of the chair.
Handing the flat scroll to a guard, the man descended the steps with a stiffly proper bearing, his hands laced behind his back. His green features were cleancut, sharply handsome, his figure slim and leanly muscular. A deep blue cape flowed liquidly down his back -- or rather, fell from either shoulder, for it was slit up to the nape of his neck to accommodate his glittering wings. He wore no armour, but only boots, a short skirt, and a gilded girdle. A jewel-crusted gorget circled his throat. A ruby shone in the centre of his chest.
He studied Seagrave narrowly a moment. His eyes were crystalline and azure as a still lagoon.
"An allada pak?" he asked with an officiously inquiring tone.
Seagrave scowled. "I don't understand a damn thing you're saying," he snarled. "But I don't relish being hit with those toys and I don't like being tied up like a horse, either. Maybe if you want to undo these things, we can find some way to communicate, eh?"
The jade man regarded him in silence a moment, then methodically repeated his question without emotion.
"Look," grated Seagrave, fuming. "I don't speak your language and you obviously don't speak mine. You're wasting your time. Can't you get that through your thick furry --"
One of the moth-monsters shouldered suddenly from behind a tapestry.
Seagrave stiffened, feeling a clammy wind whisper down his spine. The creature was dressed in shoulder plates, loin plates and a gorget all lacquered a gleaming ebony; a split black cape swirled at his heels. He circled around the dais, walking with a military bearing, spurs jingling with every imperious stride. He was followed by two others presumably of a lesser rank. In his gloved hands something flashed with silver -- and Seagrave's eyes blazed hungrily at the sight.
It was his cutlass.
The monster halted by the steps and addressed the jade man in that same mysterious language. Seagrave noticed that the man seemed ill at ease in the monster's presence, though he tried hard to hide his discomfiture. There was a sudden tightening of his shoulders, a more rigid clasping of the hands at his back; even his wings, though folded, opened just a trifle, as if responding to some primordial flight reflex triggered by imminent danger.
Briefly, the two conversed, the jade man's contributions being short and tightly spoken. Finally, the creature fastened his tiny black eyes on Seagrave, studying the kneeling captive with a clinical intensity that made Seagrave's skin crawl.
"You are not so large as I was told," remarked the monster, in a coarse, whispering voice.
It was a moment before Seagrave realized what he had heard.
It seemed grotesquely incongruous -- his mother tongue spilling from the daggered, outthrust jaw of this hideous thing. And yet, just the same, it was a relief to hear words he understood.
"You speak English," he said, amazed. "I don't believe it. I was beginning to think I'd never hear my own tongue again."
"I was told you were much larger, requiring three Rayvers to subdue you." The creature seemed not to have heard Seagrave. "You have a fine body, certainly." The monster stepped forward, studying the pirate. "Your anatomy is exceptional, but hardly sufficient to explain what I was told. Speak. How do you explain?"
Seagrave's brows furrowed. "Explain what?" he asked warily. "What the devil are you talking about?"
The creature regarded the length of steel cradled in his arms. "How did you break a Trayken in half with just this piece of metal?"
"Break him in half? Piece of metal?" Seagrave's laugh was a feral bark. "Are you mad? That's not just some piece of metal, that's..."
His voice trailed off. His mind was racing. Could it be? Did they not know what a cutlass was? If so, did he really want to enlighten them; it might be the only advantage he had against these winged monsters, these...Trayken.
"Speak." The Trayken was busily examining the weapon, precariously sliding his gloved hands over the flashing blade.
"I'm stronger than I look."
"Ah!" The creature jerked back his hand, a strange ebony ichor tricking from a cut in the glove. Without thinking, Seagrave chuckled, more in disbelief than humour. He had just watched as the Trayken calmly sliced his hand open on the keen edge.
In a motion too quick to follow, the Trayken lashed out, buffeting the pirate across the face with the bleeding hand. Seagrave had never felt such a powerful blow; his head twisted on his shoulders, scarlet blood misting from his lips.
Strong! thought Seagrave, dizzily fighting against a tide of blackness. Damn strong!
With a shake of his head, he straightened dazedly. He spat blood on the blue marble floor. "Un -- tie me -- and try that," he gasped in a thick voice.
The Trayken's black eyes gave no hint of emotion, but he nodded slowly, evidently impressed. "Your musculature is indeed exceptional. I will reserve..." The creature did a mental calculation. "...eight days for you." The Trayken passed the cutlass to one of his underlings. "Now," he said, turning back. "You will tell me how you arrived here."
"Go to hell."
"Where is this 'hell'?"
Seagrave realized it was lucky for him the Trayken hadn't understood his curse. He had to rein in his temper. His head was still ringing; another blow like the last one and he might not get up again -- ever.
"I don't know how I got here," he snarled grudgingly. "I don't even know where here is. I was hoping you could tell me."
Surprisingly, the Trayken seemed satisfied by this answer, at least for the moment. He spoke a word to one of his underlings, and was handed a flashing emerald jewel. It shone like jade fire in his palm.
"This tal-stone was found in your possession when you were captured. How did you come by this? Explain."
For a moment, Seagrave's thoughts went back to the beautiful tangerine girl seen aboard his ship, the Sea Dog. He was certain now that it was she who had dropped the gem, the tal-stone. It would have been easy to tell the Trayken the frank truth: an orange girl with wings accidentally left the tal-stone behind when a two-headed monster snatched her off his ship. But he recalled the pleading look in her flashing green eyes, the fearful trembling of her young body, the final breathless cry of despair. Why was the Trayken interested in this tal-stone? More to the point, what would happen if Seagrave told him about the girl?
Suddenly, the pirate felt an overwhelming need to protect the girl whoever she was, whatever the cost.
"I don't remember," he replied tightly.
The Trayken's tiny eyes narrowed to glistening slits and his black tongue flicked pensively over the palisade of his bottom teeth. Seagrave's body tensed in dreadfilled expectation, every muscle rigid as taut cable, prepared at any moment to receive another blow to the head.
The Trayken closed his hand around the brilliant gem, and nodded slowly. "You are lying," the creature observed, without ire -- as a simple statement of fact. "But you will tell me soon enough. I have sent word of this discovery to Ghellandak by tal-stone courier. A reply is expected shortly. When it does, I will know how far we may go."
Seagrave licked his suddenly dry lips. "And what exactly do you mean by that?"
Instantly, five gleaming black claws studded the fingers of the creature's left hand, protruding through slits in the glove, shiny like shards of glass. He touched the talons lightly to the arch of Seagrave's naked chest. They felt as sharp as needles.
"Your body is strong," explained the Trayken placidly. "If I am instructed to keep you alive, there are still many things we can do in eight days -- many ways to hurt you without causing death. Here, as you have already learned, all wounds heal within a day or two. Your skin is very soft, very supple. Perhaps I will remove that smooth skin and, when it grows back, I will remove it again -- and again -- as often as it requires. Before the eight days are over, you will answer my question. You will go mad -- but, I promise, you will answer."...
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Savage Miraya is copyright 1998, by Jeffrey Blair Latta.
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