|Previously...After Zen escapes a slave gallet, he and Linis meet when Zen saves her from a wild beast. From Zen, Linis learns something of the history of this primitive world. But then, Caris Vay attacks in his shuttle craft -- leaving the two for dead...
chapter four: flashing blades
Slowly, their buffeted bodies recovered. Linis felt Zen’s weight upon her, smelt his strange but pleasant odor so reminiscent of cinnamon, the pressure of his body against her soft breasts and loins, disturbingly sensuous.
Linis knew he wasn’t a beast, yet also that he wasn’t human, either. But even so, she felt an undeniable desire that stirred her deeply. The girl was no blushing virgin, true, but in all of human history no woman of Earth had ever been in this position before.
“I think you can get off me now,” she said, somewhat breathlessly, realizing he was aroused and impressively so.
By reason’s light, she thought. He’s not human, yet I experience a strange attraction. Would the consummation of such desire count as bestiality? It was a troubling thought indeed.
Zen levered himself up, sending a cascade of concealing leaves and branches sliding off his broad back. He’d been utterly terrified, had thought the world was coming to an end, but would rather die first than admit to that. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the distracting presence of Linis no doubt he’d still be in a panic.
“Don’t worry girl,’ he said gruffly to cover his embarrassment. “I like my women willing.” Then, pointing at the surrounding devastation: “Besides, we’ve more important matters to discuss – namely, this demon you call Vay.”
Thanax, captain of the Laylia, hacked a path through the lush undergrowth, his men trailing behind him. They had been tracking the escaped slave since early light when, without warning, a series of thunderclaps had rocked the earth, sundering the steamy air with their rolling blasts.
Several sailors (ones who had glimpsed a glowing thing in the night) had become terrified, began speaking wildly of demons, monsters and other terrors of the Dark. Fear spread like a contagion - men muttered, eyes wide with fright; mutiny reared its ugly head. Thanax had crushed that head - silenced those fools with his heavy blade, threatened further death to any coward who dared turn back.
“This slave butchered your shipmates; tried to burn our vessel,” he had roared, glaring at them as he wiped his bloody sword. “Are you so unmanly that you will let these crimes go unavenged? Besides," he continued, holding up a golden amulet on the chain about his neck. "Each one of you has a hebara to guard your soul, so what is there to fear?"
They’d cast their eyes down at that rebuke; marched on with the odd grumble, but no further rebellious talk. What had caused the frightening sounds Thanax could not guess, but according to his tracking skills the thundering had come from the direction in which the slave had fled.
With unwavering purpose he forged ahead. I’ll follow the wretch into the underworld itself if need be, came his determined thought.
“So you see,” concluded Linis after she and Zen had each given a full account of their origins. “Vay means to have your throne, to enjoy all the privileges of a Lord of Etru.”
Zen grunted. “First Sadur, now this Vay. No matter, I’ll pursue him; find a way to crush them both, but how? Your flying ship is ruined …”
A wild battle cry rang out, men charged from the underbrush, flashing blades sparkling in the sun. Zen pushed Linis within the shelter of some crimson bushes, snatched up a weighty branch; prepared to defend her.
“Spread out, surround them,” cried Thanax as he rushed towards the pair, his face hard with the lines of vengeance.
Zen swung his makeshift club. The captain blocked the savage blow. The sword bit deeply into the branch, stuck fast. Thanax’s arm went numb from the jarring impact. Zen jerked back his club, tearing the sword free from his foe’s deadened fingers. The weakened branch snapped with a mighty crack.
With lightning speed Thanax drew his dagger, lunged. Zen stepped aside, dropped his ruined club, caught his opponent’s arm, and savagely wrenched the thrusting limb. The captain howled, fell to the ground, his arm twisted painfully behind his back. The sailors closed in, swords swinging.
Linis leapt from concealment, fired the shock-pistol, its hissing beam lashing the charging men. They convulsed with the agony of electrocution, collapsed in writhing pain, lay still.
“They’re only stunned,” she cried. “Let us flee while we can.”
“No. I have a better idea,” replied Zen as he placed one foot upon Thanax’s neck, tore the hebara from its chain, and dangled the amulet before the frightened captain’s eyes.
Zen grinned viciously, spoke to the captain in his native tongue: “As you can see, my companion is a powerful sorceress. I’m going to give her this. You know what that means …”
Thanax’s eyes darted to his stricken men, back to Zen. A brave fellow, this captain, but like most Runimites, was prey to superstitious fears that could unman the strongest warrior, for it was a common belief among his people that if a sorcerer gained possession of this amulet he gained possession of the wearer's soul.
“What do you want of me,” was his tremulous reply.
Zen leaned against the crenulations of the galley’s stern castle, Linis by his side, her nudity concealed by an intricately embroidered sea-cloak wrapped sarong-like about her shapely form. He was glad of her presence, and not just because she had promised to aid him in defeating Vay. Shifting his gaze, he eyed Thanax moodily as the captain steered the vessel. The man appeared subdued, broken by the thought his hebara was in the hands of a mighty dasan.
Was his seeming placidity an illusion? Zen thought so. No doubt beneath that submissive exterior boiled all manner of plots to regain his valued amulet. Their position was precarious – they controlled the captain, he controlled his crew, but if he for a moment suspected that Linis was an ordinary girl (which she claimed to be); well, that didn’t bear thinking about …
Time passed. The wind rose slightly, sending clouds scudding before its breath like airy galleons, their belly’s tinged with rosy light. Linis looked out to sea, lost in thought. Zen gazed upon her, saw a sudden gust of wind catch her hair, marveled at how its golden strands snared the light.
He desired to reach out, to touch her fluttering tresses, fine as silken threads, but held himself in check. They were strangers to each other still, and he was afraid unwanted contact would disturb the wondrous scene.
The girl stirred, became aware of his rapt attention. Their eyes met and she blushed, as if aware of his thoughts; dropped her gaze. The jealous wind shifted, veiling her face with hair.
Zen opened his mouth to speak when, without warning, the sea erupted before them with volcanic force. Spray thundered upwards in a mighty rush, then cascaded from the fearsome shape the stygian depths had vomited forth.
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.)