Chapter 4: Treasure of the Edler Gods
Vesula rose dazedly to an elbow; saw Torquimis trip Taxa and wrench the axe from his grip as he tumbled to the floor. As the pirate raised the weapon to give the killing blow, she snatched her weighty dagger and made a desperate cast. The throw was not her best for the pommel, not the point, struck his skull. Nonetheless, it sent him crashing unconscious to the deck.
From where he lay, Taxa saw the pirate hoard burst in and charge towards them, weapons waving in a whirlwind of fury. The mechanisms of the ship began to howl like a dying beast, echoing the cries of the maddened men. Suddenly, a pipe burst, spraying the yelling mob with scalding vapors. Acrid fumes filled the air. Bedlam reigned.
Quickly, Vesula helped Taxa to his feet, snatched the scroll that was still lodged in Torquimis’ sash, thinking: You owe me this at least, oh spawn of demons. And then aloud:
“This way, she cried. “And hurry or we’re lost.”
Stumbling through the swirling vapors, they found an airlock that opened under Vesula’s knowing hand. A pirate, like a wrathful phantom, loomed from the churning mist, swinging his axe with a lusty stroke. Taxa blocked the blow, countered; split the snarling face with his weapon.
The ship gave a convulsive shudder, tumbling them into the lock. Through the second valve they raced, gaining egress to the falkor. Vesula slammed the hatch, threw a lever and the craft, like a startled bird, took flight.
An explosion of light flowered in the void, blasting the corsair to a thousand whirling fragments, strewing her wreckage across heaven’s breadth as the smaller vessel sought to outrace the all-consuming flare.
Vesula sat tensely within the racing ship, gripping Taxa’s hand, the controls with the other. Both their eyes were locked on the image disc that showed the frightful scene, both praying they would live to see another day.
The explosion, like a flaming maw, expanded before their eyes, seeking to engulf them within its fiery throat. Slowly but surely, their falkor pulled away, the roiling conflagration diminishing with distance as their tiny craft fled towards the safety of Vesula’s world.
For a time they sat in silence, simply luxuriating in being alive, watching Besminur loom before them, its amber seas and vermilion continents becoming more distinct with every passing moment.
Slowly, Taxa became aware of Vesula’s hand upon his own, her touch infusing him with the presence of her vibrant beauty and again that strange sense of familiarity, even stronger now, that sundered all inhibitions.
He touched her face, traced the lines of its splendor. Their eyes met, their lips joined, souls entwining in a timeless moment of wonder. Then the spell was broken, and she turned her face away.
“I will not love you,” she whispered, her heart a maelstrom of turmoil. “For love brings troubles of its own, and I’ve had my full of suffering.”
“But to suffer without love, is that not the greater tragedy?” was his insightful reply.
She picked up the scroll and handed it to him, sadness shadowing her face. “I’ll tell you the truth about all of what has happened, and then we’ll see how you feel about me.
"The Jewel of Besminur is a treasure of the Elder Race, a long gone people of my world. Legend says it holds the secret of immortality, and many have sought it through the ages, Torquimis included. Indeed, it was his life-long obsession, and he spared no amount of time and expense tracking down all clues as to its whereabouts.
"This scroll is a map that leads to its location, or so Torquimis believed. It was recently found in the vast archives of the Temple of Wisdom at Massan, but was quickly stolen and made its way by a circuitous route to a dealer in antiquities in Etra, eventually being purchased by agents for the Prince of Vetu who, I suspect, engineered the entire affair.
"Do you think that chance alone made you the target of the Nemesis? How do you think Torquimis knew where to lie in wait? He knew your course, that’s how. And how do you think he obtained that knowledge?”
Taxa’s face assumed a shocked expression. “You were that woman in Etra,” was his startled reply, his mind churning with contrary emotions. “You betray me, save my life, and yet say you will not love me. I am greatly confused.”
“A slave must obey her master or be killed,” was her hot rejoinder. Then, more gently: “But when I saw you dying before my eyes I … I was compelled to act. I have known many lovers but never felt this way before. I am as confused as you and also, a little afraid.”
Taxa sighed. Odd, I should hate her, he thought. But I don’t. Still, love is a strange thing that not even the great sages fully understand. Best change the subject for now, and give her time to think.
Unrolling the map he laid it on the control board and studied it carefully. It was very old, and faded almost to illegibility. Although the hieroglyphics were meaningless to Taxa, it was a masterpiece of the cartographer’s art, sufficiently detailed for him to identify familiar Besminuran landmarks.
Vesula studied the map with him; relieved he had moved on to other things.
“Here is the Bay of Natoor,” he said. “And there, in the middle, the Island of Nashret. Note the golden glyph in the island’s center. It’s the only one of this color on the map, and therefore may be significant.”
Vesula looked thoughtful, then replied excitedly: “I do not know that symbol, but Nashret in my tongue translates as ‘jewel’, deriving as it does from ‘neshet’, which means the same in toparr, the language that was spoken by the Elder Race. There are also ruins of great antiquity on the island. I do believe we have solved the mystery.”
Taxa was skeptical that the Jewel contained the secret of immortality, for his philosophy saw death as a natural and inevitable consequence of life, but Vesula’s excitement was infectious and, despite his earlier misgivings, he found himself saying:
“Then let us go there at once, for I have a sudden urge to see this wonder.”
Like a feather, their craft drifted down towards the island, and on the horizon both could see the orbital band impinging upon the globe. Here, where its ghostly circuit touched the world, strange forces reacted with the orb’s own field, throwing off a coruscation - a kaleidoscope of opalescent light - whose emanations shot forth in rays of brrilliant color that tinted heaven’s vault with peacock hues, crowning Besminur in radiant glory.
Taxa watched the image disc intently - the vessel’s low speed now made them most vulnerable to attack. Suddenly, another falkor swept down upon them, coming out of the blazing light, its four mechanical talons extended for the kill.
Taxa cried a desperate warning. Vesula rolled their craft belly up, the metallic claws springing from its keel like glittering scythes. The two craft collided with shattering force, the terrific impact absorbed by resilient springs supporting each hull’s kinetic shields.
Claws dug into metal,
shields crumpled, sparks flew. The two falkora, like iron hawks, locked
in deadly tumbling rolls, clawed each other as if birds of prey. Long
lances telescoped from their bellies, thrusting at one another in
deadly rapier play. Each speared through the other’s hull, injecting
volatile toxins to kill the occupants within, all the while both
falling closer and closer in dizzying descent to the island’s rugged
This story is copyright by Kirk Straughen. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)