The nubile Neekin
returns in...

The Garden of Death

A 5-chapter Sword and Sultry Saga!

By D.K. Latta
About the author

Episode Two:

A Debt Paid in Full

NEEKIN EVENTUALLY CAME UPON a cleft in the cliff. She scrambled down the slope, her bare feet stumbling painfully over scree, and found herself soon standing in what amounted to an open-sky corridor leading into the valley. She hesitated but a moment, then strode forward.

The short cliff fell back and the vibrant valley spread before her, the structures of the town as quiet and immobile as ancient sentinels. Immediately before her, and providing the sole path, was a stone walkway on either side of which were great pools of sickly brown liquid, preventing any alternative route. The liquid was thick, like quicksand, but resembling no quicksand she had ever seen.

She inhaled sharply with a start. A man's head sprouted from the liquid. Neekin raced across the walkway, then perceptibly slowed as his features came into focus.

He blinked, suddenly becoming aware of her presence. "Whu-? Neekin? Neekin, is that you?"

She crouched down at the edge of the walkway, almost within touching distance of the man. "Aye, Strev'n."

"I-I thought you were dead. Hurry. Before they return." Even as he spoke, he sank another hair's width. The liquid licked at his chin.

"Before who return?" Neekin asked. "I've seen no one."

He jerked his head, indicating the town behind him. "Strange-looking men, the like of which I've never seen. They bound my hands, left me to drown. Help me. Hurry."

"You want me to cut your throat? To put you out of your misery?"

His eyes went wide. "I want you to pull me out of here, damn you."

Neekin stared at him coldly. "I'll put you out of your misery -- I'd do that much for a rabid beast. But that's all. You made yourself my enemy, Strev'n. I'd have killed you the moment I laid eyes on you anyway. This just saves me the trouble." She touched her knife. "Well?"

"Are you insane, you stupid bitch? I order you-"

She cocked an eyebrow. "You lost the right to order me when you killed that boy, when you had me whipped and plotted to sell me into slavery." She rose. "I offer you more mercy than you show others, 'Sir'. If you don't take it, so be it, and I'll be on my way."

"Neekin!" He began squirming, fury reddening his cheeks as she started away. "Damn you, you whore! Come buh-buph-"

Neekin turned, eyes narrowing. His frenzied thrashing had driven him even deeper into the muck. It closed in around his mouth, his nose. There was a muffled scream, and then even the top of his hair vanished into the liquid. She shuddered. In truth, she was not sure she could have extricated the man even if she had wanted to, but she found herself wondering whether even Captain Strev'n deserved such a death. Then a hardness came into her ill-matched eyes and she thought, perhaps, that he did.

She looked once more at the collection of buildings. She considered retreating, but realized it would be wiser to assess the island's inhabitants. They were obviously unfriendly, and Neekin knew she would do well to know their strengths and weaknesses. The island could not be more than a few days sailing from the mainland, but it might be some time before she could construct an adequate craft to set out once more upon the ocean.

The stone bridge touched dry land and immediately became a dirt path, walled by lush, well-tended gardens on either side. Crouching, she slinked with panther-like quiet into the concealing greenery.

The warm air was thick with the sweet aroma of fruits and flowers. Inhaling, Neekin felt almost light-headed. But the hunger that had compelled her to seek a way into the valley had long since relinquished its hold. She was no longer in quest of pleasing victuals. Not now.

She froze, ears lifting from the breeze the soft rustle of grass. Instantly she launched herself into the lower branches and scrambled higher until a thin shield of leaves stood between her and the open ground. Carefully, she parted a thatch of fronds and peered down.

A man walked beneath her.

He was long and lean, dressed only in a brief purple skirt wrapped about his narrow loins. His shoulders were thin but wiry, strong but not bulky, and his skin was almost ivory in its paleness, and his short kinky hair had a snowy cast. He looked up and Neekin shrank back into the shadows. His features were southern, with wide nostrils and full lips, which seemed incongruous with his light colouring. Then she saw his eyes: two pale rubies like watered-down blood. An albino, she realized. He plucked a leaf from the tree and examined it in his big hands. From her perch, Neekin made out little splotches of rot. He scrumpled it up and tossed it in a straw basket depending from his other arm. He moved on.

A groundskeeper, Neekin thought as she dangled momentarily from one arm, then dropped silently onto the grass. She crouched there for a moment, her eyes darting back and forth, then she slipped quietly into the underbrush.

Strange people, she mused, that can cruelly leave men to drown in mud, but tend their gardens with such meticulous care.

She was about to emerge into the clearing immediately before the town when a shadow fell before her. She dropped to her belly and peered out from beneath the branches of a bush. Two men faced each other. One was the man she had seen earlier, the other was obviously a fellow islander. He too was an albino. Neekin gawked, amazed that there should be two such conditions in the same settlement.

The two grunted lazily to each other for a moment in a language she could not identify, their hands gesturing in dull, almost sleepy movements. Then the one with the basket sauntered back into the garden and his companion, turning almost heavily, lumbered slowly toward the town.

Once he had vanished into the collection of buildings, Neekin rose and sprinted across the clearing. She pressed up against the dry, sun-baked wall of the nearest building and peered through a window. Inside all was still.

Inhaling quickly, to steady her nerves, she vaulted the sill and landed in the interior. In the slanting rays of the sun, dust swirled up from where her feet hit the floor. Her knife flashed to hand as she waited expectantly.

No one was about.

She wiggled her toes, frowning, and looked down. The floor was covered in a thick layer of softness -- dust. Dust also coated the table that was set against the far wall, and dulled the colours of the curtains framing the window.

Had the local population so dwindled that whole buildings went unoccupied? she wondered. Or was the explanation stranger than that? She thought of the lazy, almost somnambulent movements of the two etiolated men she had seen and compared that with the obvious lack of maintenance in this room. She shook her head, unable to fathom why they would tend their gardens so well, and their homes so poorly.

She padded across the room and pried open the door. Beyond was a hallway, also unoccupied. She slipped out of the room and down the corridor. Along the corridor were doors, some closed, some opening onto empty, adjoining rooms.

She had just about concluded that the place was deserted when a breath of wind rustled her hair. She started to turn, realizing a door just behind her had opened. As she turned, she glimpsed a figure emerging into the corridor. The man's appearance momentarily startled her; a momentary hesitation, but it was enough. A heavy club came down upon her head and she fell without a sound -- fell at the feet of a third albino...

Back to Episode 1....Silent Buildings

On to Episode 3....Captive!

Back to Pulp and Dagger

Back to The Garden of Death: Table of Contents

"The Garden of Death" and the character of "Neekin" are copyright by D.K. 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!)