A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
Previously: Seagrave made a mortal enemy of Bramal Bren, who jealously desired the blue slave girl for himself, and who swore vengeance on them both. Then the slave girl explained the situation: Royal Advisor Khomas Khan had desposed the queen and signed a non-aggression pact with the invading Trayken whereby the Royal Fleet was to be surrendered. But Princess Shyrin Shas escaped and, while at large, Admiral Nysram Nyl will never surrender the fleet, owing his loyalty to her. Now, everyone is searching for the princess who, Seagrave realized, is the orange-skinned girl who may be his only hope of returning home.
Now, in the throne room...
He halted abruptly between the two marble posts in front of the dais; a brief shadow glided over his eyes as he saw the figure unexpectedly seated in the hanging jewelled throne.
Draykhis Dol Hashar raised his tiny ebony eyes with a careless ease, as if mildly annoyed to be interrupted in his amusement. Khomas Khan's gaze barely flickered to the girl beside the throne.
She knelt very low, her slender body tightly folded with her dark head thrust desperately to her knees. She was entirely naked, denied even her thong garment, and her wrists were trussed tight with cord to the bottom of the throne. Her smooth back was beaded with sweat, and orange scratches lay between her trembling shoulders around the sensitive roots of her translucent wings. The draykhis's gloved hand rested lightly on her back, the black claws just dimpling the glistening skin. Khomas Khan couldn't see the girl's face, but her flesh was a pallid blue. Please not, he thought in despair. Not Montaz...
"Khomas Khan." Draykhis Dol Hashar acknowledged the advisor's presence with a slow nod. "I have been meaning to speak with you. Our Rayvers have encountered some resistance searching the catacombs. It seems they have been attacked repeatedly by creatures of some sort -- there have been casualties, but nothing major. I have instructed the Rayvers to respond with worm cannon, so the problem should sort itself out shortly." The Trayken paused, and his cooling gills opened slightly on either side of his head. "We would however appreciate any advice you could give regarding this matter, or any other unforeseen complications which might arise during our search for the Princess Shyrin Shas."
Khomas Khan regarded the draykhis a moment, his back rigid with a stern, uncompromising dignity. "Why have you changed the guards at the throne room door?" he asked tightly.
The Trayken licked his bottom fangs and waved his other hand casually. "We wish to assist in any way we can," he replied mildly. "Your Kamir guardsmen seemed tired -- Trayken Rayvers never tire. Have we offended you, Khomas Khan? I hope not. I would not wish to act in any way which might jeopardize peace between us and precipitate a conflict -- would I, Khomas Khan?"
Khomas Khan was silent for a space, his crystal blue eyes fixed steadily on the draykhis. His hands knotted at his sides. "The girl," he asked guardedly. "Where did you find her?"
Dol Hashar glanced down at the naked figure trussed to the throne, almost as if he had forgotten she was there. Lazily, he stretched out his gloved hand, gently stroking his claws down the ridge of her spine below her wings. With deliberate cruelty, his fingers began to make slow circles in the flesh, bringing the blood to the surface and darkening the skin. The girl began to writhe miserably under his caress, desperately pressing her face more tightly to her knees.
"This girl?" Dol Hashar asked. "The Rayvers found her for me somewhere in the city -- I do not have the specifics. Her pain is quite invigorating -- though she exhausts too quickly for my pleasure." Dol Hashar glanced up, his brow ridges arching. "Is there a problem with this?"
"You found her in the city?" Khomas Khan could not conceal the tension in his voice.
Dol Hashar regarded him closely, suspiciously. "That is correct. Where else would they find her but in the city?"
The advisor was silent a moment. In his head, he cursed himself for saying too much. Not Montaz, then...
Quickly, he said: "These people are my responsibility, Draykhis Dol Hashar. They --"
"They depend upon Khomas Khan to act properly and with discretion at all times," the Trayken interrupted sharply, his voice low, ominous.
Abruptly, without warning, the muscles of his upper arm hardened beneath his blue-grey skin. The girl began to scream, horrible, frantic peals. Khomas Khan swallowed and held his eyes steady. After a moment, the Trayken's arm relaxed and the screaming broke up into muffled, choking sobs. "This girl -- she understands what it means to submit," Dol Hashar continued mildly. "She understands that she has no choice -- if she is to survive."
For a moment, a grim silence quelled the heavy air like a finger touched to a bell. Without a word, Khomas Khan wheeled and strode quickly from the hall, his wings partly spread like a cape.
His thoughts were of escape.
Gradually, as time passed, the swollen orb of the great planet, Korash, began to wane, until, just before sunrise, it formed a vast half-circle. The scarlet sky darkened steadily into velvet blackness, and more and more numerous grew the stars encrusting the vault. Then, finally, the sun broke over the distant horizon, rocking majestically upward, and a blue mantle rolled slowly before it, until all that remained of the night were the ghostly waning crescents of the giant planet and its moons adrift in a cerulean sky.
But his mind wasn't on the beauty of the scene. When Dol Hashar came to torture him, the pirate planned to be long gone.
Aye, but how?
This was hardly Seagrave's first prison; iron bars were an accepted hazard of his trade. But he had never known a cell quite like this. There were no bars; there was no need. Only two routes offered a way out, and neither seemed especially practical. He could either go up or down.
To go up, he would have to find a way through the locked hatch in the ceiling. Since guards were constantly on station outside that hatch, any attempt to force it would have to be made in the face of their deadly leisters.
To escape by going down was even less likely to succeed. The terrible plunge to the water far below would smash him into paste. Even if he were to somehow survive the dizzy leap, what then? He would find himself in an endless ocean with no land to swim to. Exhaustion would finish him -- provided he was not first devoured by the many fierce sea creatures, which Montaz assured him forever lurked in the waves below the island.
A more hopeless predicament could hardly be imagined. And, yet, just the same, a plan began to take shape -- albeit, incompletely.
Seagrave had never been one to give up without a fight -- especially when properly motivated. It was not his own hide alone that concerned him; he feared for Princess Shyrin Shas. What if Dol Hashar succeeded in loosening his tongue? He had endured brutal torture before without breaking -- but to be repeatedly skinned alive? Such unimaginable torment might truly drive him mad. In his madness, might he reveal what he knew about the princess?
Of course, Seagrave wasn't entirely sure just what it was he did know. He was certain it was the orange princess who had tumbled into his arms aboard the Sea Dog; and he knew, too, that he had seen the princess attacked and captured by a hideous creature with two heads and bulging white eyes. Perhaps that information would tell them nothing. But perhaps it would be enough to lead them to her. And if she once fell into Dol Hashar's sadistic clutches...
Seagrave knotted his fists.
Then, too, there was the two-headed monster to consider. Grimly, the pirate recalled the dread-filled trembling of the princess' soft tangelo flesh, her fear-bright eyes, her final anguished plea as she was ruthlessly torn from his arms. His features hardened with determination.
Aye, she might be his only hope of getting off this hellish moon and back to Earth, but that didn't explain the sudden pounding of his heart, nor the grinding of his teeth.
He would escape this prison; for her sake, he had to.
By the time Montaz roused with a litheful stretching of limbs, Seagrave was ready to tell her his plan.
Twice since his arrival the previous day, one of the fantastic wingships had passed almost directly beneath his prison as it tacked gracefully into line with the suspended docks farther over. The bloated gasbags which upheld the ships looked soft. If he could jump to one of those gasbags as it passed below, he could ride the wingship into port.
One problem with this plan, however, was that it depended on the chance passage of a ship beneath him; he would not be able to plan the time of his escape.
Then there was a more serious obstacle. As he had noticed before, a small structure hung down only a short distance away -- little more than a narrow booth. The balcony was constantly occupied by an alert guardsman, his steely gaze fixedly scanning the waves below. There was no way for Seagrave to leap to a passing wingship without being spotted by this guardsman; once alerted, they would be waiting for the pirate when the wingship docked.
Seagrave explained his plan to Montaz, describing his problem. When he was done, he asked: "What is that guard doing there, anyway? And what is that machine mounted to the balcony beside him? It looks like some sort of narrow-barrelled cannon."
"He is a watcher," Montaz explained, beside him on the balcony. The wind thrummed the tips of her wings. "He stands guard watching for manatyrs. It is a very important job."
She nodded gravely, her flashing eyes momentarily casting an uneasy glance at the sea below. "They are a great danger, so we must post guards to watch for them."
Seagrave frowned sceptically. "But, girl, we've got to be over a thousand feet above the water. How could anything reach us up here? What are these manatyrs -- "
"Please." Montaz hugged herself tightly, her voice anxious and pleading. "I don't want to think about it. It is too frightening. Can't we speak about something else?"
Seagrave considered pushing the issue, but recognized that it would do no good to upset the one ally he had in this whole strange world. After a moment, he commented: "Well, so long as that guard is looking, I can't jump to one of those ships." Then he had a sudden thought. "I don't suppose you would be strong enough to carry me?"
Montaz's slim brows arched questioningly. "Carry you where?"
"Where? Not far. You'd just have to fly me to the nearest balcony. The guard would still see us, but we could be gone before he could raise the alarm."
Montaz regarded him with a look that seemed to question his sanity. "How could I carry you?" she asked in amazement. "I can't fly."
"What do you mean you can't fly? Of course you can -- I've being watching people flying all morning. True, it looks to me like they never fly very far, but --"
"Men fly, Moryan -- not women." She spoke with a haughty cadence, as if he had somehow insulted her personally by the absurdity of his suggestion.
Seagrave stared incredulously. "You can't fly? But, then, what the devil are your wings for?"
Abruptly the girl's shoulders stiffened and she inhaled sharply. Without a word, she spun and disappeared into the cabin. When Seagrave followed a moment later, he discovered her standing across the room with her back to him, her sleek spine rigid with smoldering affront.
"Damn it, girl, what did I say?" His hands sought her round shoulders, but she shrugged lithely and stepped defiantly out of reach.
"You think my wings are ugly," she said, her voice bitter, trembling.
Slowly Seagrave's frown gave way to a bemused smile. "You mean to say, your wings are just for show?" He chuckled softly and shook his head in wonder. "Oh, come on, girl, don't pout. I didn't mean to insult you. I didn't know. Where I come from, the women don't even have wings."
The girl glanced over her shoulder, suspicion slitting her beautiful eyes. "I don't believe you. No one could live in a world with such ugly women."
Seagrave smiled lightly and set a hand on the nape of her neck, turning her gently around. "Well, we get by as best we can," he murmured wryly.
Her ire was soothed temporarily, at least. Seagrave took the opportunity to ask her other questions, about her people, her world. The more he learned, the more his amazement grew.
Her race was the Kamir -- one of many on Miraya. They were not born in the proper sense, but developed in chrysalises so that, by the time they "emerged", they were already adults. They might appear to be any age when they emerged, from very young, like Montaz, to middle aged, like Khomas Khan, to, on occasion, elderly. No one aged on Miraya, and no one ever died of a sickness. In theory, a Kamir might live forever, always looking exactly the same; in practice, life was so dangerous, death always came sooner or later.
As Dol Hashar had said, any injury would heal within a day or two, provided it was not quickly fatal; any injury, that is, except damage to the delicate wing muscles, which left a Kamir permanently crippled and flightless.
The double-corded silth whips used by both the Kamir guardsmen and Trayken Rayvers were made from the vines of the silth plant found on the Trayken homemoon of Shek. The plant was partly crystalline, a sort of flexible glass, which coiled easily but resisted tension -- something Seagrave had discovered for himself. The vines responded to contact with living flesh by coiling as a means of trapping prey, an automatic reflex which continued even after the vine had been cut away. The guardsmen wore gloves when handling these lashes to prevent contact with their own skin.
One question Montaz could not answer however was how Draykhis Dol Hashar knew English. She had never heard of the language, nor the planet Earth, for that matter. It was a mystery that bothered Seagrave more than any other...
As the morning wore on, Montaz left to prepare another meal. Seagrave waited for the slave girl out on the balcony, his eyes keenly studying the wingships, hoping blind luck might lead one to pass below at the same moment that the manatyr watcher was not looking.
Through the circular doorway behind him, he heard Montaz returning. Casting a final truculent glare at the guardsman across the way, Seagrave turned and ducked into the cabin, his stomach already growling.
"It's about time, girl," he snarled in mock anger. "I was beginning to think I'd have to go get you my --"
He froze with a start.
Three Kamir guardsmen regarded him menacingly from behind the raised points of their leisters. The foremost guardsman stepped quickly around behind him and pressed the weapon lightly to the back of his neck so the prongs spread slightly. A single forward thrust would rip into his spine with the main tip; a quick jerk back again would tear out the sides of his throat with the side points. He stood stock still as if carved from stone.
"Down on your knees," ordered the guardsman behind him.
"Why?" he asked grimly. "To be tortured?"
leister pressed harder against his neck. "No."...
Previous episode Next episode
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!)