|Previously...Zen and Linis escape their mutinous crew, fleeing to the water even as the vessel burns behind them. They make the shores of Etru, where Caris Vay has established himself as the new god, thanks to his superior technology. But as Linis plans to sneak into Vay's seeming deserted space craft, Vay appears...
chapter eight: "you shall be the sacrifice!"
Pouncing upon his foe, Zen clubbed him with the torch, the vicious strike ringing harmlessly upon Vay’s helmet. The earthman threw a punch, Zen blocked the blow, was sent sprawling by its force, the torch spinning from his hand. He rolled to his feet, forearm numb from the smashing impact.
Vay advanced; arms raised, moonlight glinting off his impregnable armor, a stalking figure of silvered menace. Linis threw herself upon his back; Vay staggered, his weapons discharging wildly, the hissing rays missing Zen by an inch. The Etruan rushed forward, lent his strength to Linis. They both wrestled desperately with their opponent, amazed at his unnatural might.
“It’s no use,” cried Linis. “This armor must contain mechanisms that amplify his strength. We must …”
A sudden heave flung them off. Zen stumbled; fell, his head striking an ornamental column’s plinth. He sprawled unmoving upon the sward. Vay seized Linis by the throat as she struggled to rise, his gauntleted hands cruelly digging into her soft flesh. She sunk back to her knees, gasping in agony.
Behind the mirrored visor Vay’s lips twisted into a crooked smile. Initially, he had been shocked to find her alive, but now a wicked plan came to mind: “Tomorrow I will be crowned Lord of Etru, a ceremony accompanied by blood-letting. You could have been co-regent,” he sneered. “But now you shall be the sacrifice.”
The girl stared through a haze of pain at Vay. There was no mercy to be seen, only her own terror stricken features, distorted by the mirrored visor, looking back at her. She turned her eyes, glanced at Zen – motionless, inert. Was he dead? She desperately hoped he lived.
Linis opened her mouth to call his name. Vay squeezed harder; darkness descended upon the girl, and she knew no more.
Zen groaned, opened his eyes, and clasped his aching head. Darkness was all about, dimmed further by blurred vision. Something loomed over him, slowly resolving itself as he adjusted to the gloom – Sadur, his face a study of gloating cruelty, thrown into shadowy relief by the dim light of luminescent fungi growing upon the gray stone of the chamber.
They glared at one another for a moment, neither bothering to hide their mutual hatred. Zen lunged, fell, the chain about his ankle dragging him down. Sadur laughed. The Uramite roared profanities at his tormentor, then calmed himself, realizing his antics were a sweet pleasure to his enemy.
“Where is the girl?” He growled.
A loathsome grin curved Sadur’s thin lips. “Being prepared for the coronation sacrifice. Mean something to you, does she?”
With a great effort Zen maintained his self-control. “Not at all,” he lied, calmly, not betraying the raging turmoil within, determined to deny this sadist further satisfaction.
The High Priest’s grin broadened. “It may interest you to know you’re in a secret crypt beneath the idol of Mamax. You see that pipe over there? It’s a speaking tube by which we give the god a voice. It also conveys sounds from outside. If you listen carefully, I’m sure you’ll hear her dying screams.”
“I suppose I will,” was his nonchalant reply.
Sadur scowled. “I’ve more fiendish tortures in mind for you,” he spat.
“I’m not surprised.”
The High Priest snorted, muttered darkly as he mounted the stairs, and slammed the secret door behind him. Zen waited a while; then gave vent to his stifled emotions, howling with mindless rage, straining at his chain like a wild beast.
After a time he collapsed, mentally and physically exhausted; then fell into a fitful sleep haunted by dark nightmares.
Mid morning light bathed the struggling girl, bound lewdly to the hard stone alter. Linis gazed upon the hideous idol of bronze, revolted by its emaciated body, the four arms clutching grinning skulls of gold, its own twisted and hideous visage that seemed to leer at her with terrible malignancy.
Is this the end? came her tremulous thought. Can it be I’ve crossed innumerable light-years only to be butchered for the sake of base superstition, and one man’s burning ambition?
She thought of Zen, of her unspoken feelings, of what might have been; for too late she saw the noble soul that dwelt beneath the strangeness of his outward form.
The sound of drums broke the thread of thought – the barbaric ceremony was beginning. Sadur approached, face hidden by a golden skull mask, silent and menacing in his sable robe, crowned with a strange device of whirling prisms and mirrors.
Linis screamed as he drew forth a wicked blade.
For the hundredth time Zen hurled himself backwards, heaving upon the chain, throwing his full strength and weight against the weakened link he’d found, the faint sound of drums accelerating his frantic efforts.
Gathering his strength, he lunged again, hauling savagely. The chain snapped; Zen stumbled, fell heavily, swore. Leaping to his feet he dashed madly up the steps, threw his shoulder to the portal. It shuddered, but stood fast.
Calm yourself, man, he thought as he slumped against the door. Use your reason and find the latch.
In but a moment the task was accomplished. Squinting, he stepped out into bright sunshine, peered cautiously around the idol’s base, gasped in horror – the High Priest loomed above the struggling girl. She screamed again as the knife swept down in a gutting stroke.
Zen leapt forward, caught the descending arm in an iron grip, wrenched with utmost violence flinging Sadur to the ground. A flash of movement caught Zen’s eye. He leapt aside, barely avoiding Vay’s burning rays that flamed against the brazen idol.
The festive crowd began to stir. Someone shouted Zen’s name, others took up the startled cry. Tides of emotion swept the throng, chaos loomed. The High Priest struggled upright, hot with rage, his carefully laid plans in disarray.
Linis screamed a warning. Zen ducked; the sizzling beams slashing air as he rolled behind the massive alter. Vay advanced at a run, furious that his coronation was degenerating to a farce.
Sadur’s eyes flicked to the surging crowd. Things were rapidly slipping out of his control. I must act now, he thought as he pressed a button upon the weird device he wore.
Suddenly Mamax stood there, a towering figure of malevolence. Silence, like a smothering blanket, fell upon the startled throng. The god advanced, flaming skulls materializing in its hands. It hurled its macabre fires upon the crowd with explosive force.
Pandemonium erupted. People ran; others writhed beneath the leaping flames. A ring of fire arose, trapping the terrified throng. Men and women fell to their knees, wailing in utter fear. The titan gazed down upon the puny creatures, searching. Its eyes – pits of flame - alighted upon Vay. It reached for him, uttering a laugh that seemed to shake the very earth.
“This can’t be happening,” came Vay’s incredulous cry as he fired upon the thing without effect. With one mighty hand Mamax seized the man as he turned to flee, hauled him aloft. The titan’s mouth gaped; Vay gave a final shriek of utter terror as he was dropped within the fiery maw. The jaws clashed shut with a hollow boom. Silence.
Zen gazed in disbelief at the terrifying spectacle, not knowing what to think. The god was turning, looking about, searching – for him? Shaking himself free of horror’s paralysis, he snatched up the fallen knife, began sawing frantically at Linis’ bonds.
The thing spotted him, laughed in mocking cruelty at his desperate efforts, crouched beastlike, ready to pounce.
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.)