Pulp and Dagger Fiction Webzine

Sorceress of Time


"Swashbuckling" Kirk Straughen

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PREVIOUSLY: Carson rescues Mayet from the dungeons and hears from the girl the strange tale of the sorceress -- how a globe fell from the sky and the sorceress emerged from it, killing all those who opposed her (including Mayet's father) before establishing herself as Queen. But they also have more immediate concerns, as their flight has taken them to a chamber filled with snakes...

*chapter seven: the time-Wheel

"THE GUARDS," WHISPERED MAYET, TENSELY. “I hear them coming, their footfalls are rousing the cobras to anger.”

Carson stared at the hissing things, their flickering tongues; their flaring hoods. Several arched angrily, swaying from side to side, staring eyes glinting at him with cold malice.

I’ve got to risk it, came his desperate thought. If I’m bitten, then at least I’ll have carried Mayet to safety.

Then aloud: “Hang on,” he cried, rousing his courage as he tightened his grip upon her ankles and leapt forward, praying the thick leather of his calf-high boots would save him from the cobra's bite.

One serpent struck – its fangs stabbing Carson’s boot heel. Another lunged at his running form, and he barely dodged its lethal strike, the third, perhaps more timid than the rest, shied away. He was through.

A cry rang out; a spear flew past striking the wall, showering them with chips of stone. Quick as lightning, Mayet snatched it up mid fall. There was a sharp turn ahead and Carson put on an extra burst of speed, hoping to reach it in time, but expecting other spears to strike them down at any moment.

Mayet glanced behind them; saw the grim faced warriors, the dim light glittering on their raised weapons.

“Hurry,” she cried. “They’re much closer now, and won’t miss again.”

The lead guard was about to cast his spear, eager for the kill as were the others, and so focused were they upon the fleeing pair that none noticed the slithering shapes upon the floor. Into this nest of serpents ran the phalanx, their eager war cries quickly turning to yells of pain and fear as the cobras, like envenomed lashes, scourged their naked flesh.

Carson rounded the corner, pursued by nothing more than the desperate cries of stricken men. He staggered to a halt breathing heavily, and braced himself against the wall as Mayet slid from his shoulders.

“We must continue,” she said. “The temple where the Time-wheel floats is not far. We must destroy it, and quickly. The warriors have been delayed. Some have been bitten, no doubt, but not all. The survivors will kill the cobras with their spears and again pursue us.”

Carson nodded. “Lead on,” he gasped as he drew on reserves of strength and followed the girl at a run.

Mayet is right, he thought. Nefret must be very near the time she seeks, and who knows what terrible weapons she plans to unleash upon the unsuspecting world. We must stop her at all costs, if we can.

Onward they ran, through the maze of secret ways, their footsteps echoing through the passages, stirring up ancient dust in puffy clouds. At last Mayet called a halt to their headlong flight and Carson tottered to her side, wiping the sweat from his brow. He bent over; hands on knees, gasping air and watched the girl.

She leaned against a secret door, eye pressed to its spy hole, sweat streaked and as weary as he. Mayet was not at all self-conscious of her nudity, the rivulets of perspiration trickling between her firm buttocks, the beads of moisture dripping from the large dark nipples of her breasts. Carson’s eyes traced the lines of her youthful grace, which spoke to him in that universal language all men know.

“We’ve reached the temple,” said Mayet, focusing his attention on more important matters, aware of his eyes upon her, and not at all displeased. “Come, you can see the Time-wheel from here.”

Stepping to her side, Carson peered through the aperture and gasped at what he saw. Graceful columns of red granite, shaped like stylized palms, formed a cloister around an open court of polished marble paving, but it was not this classic grace that affected him. Rather, it was the weird object that floated vertically in the center of the court – a large wheel of dusky crystal at least twenty feet across.

From the device’s stationary spherical hub radiated six octahedrons that touched its rim, each one lazily turning upon its longitudinal axis. The rim, triangular in cross-section, also rotated slowly, surrounded by a corona of vermilion lightning that, like ethereal serpents, danced upon the air in flaming glory.

Never before had Carson beheld such strangeness, and he was at a loss to grasp the function of its whirling parts, which voiced weird harmonies - a subtle fugue of bass tones that played strangely upon his nerves. Clearly, the mechanism was a product of an alien science that far transcended the petty knowledge of Man.

“The temple is deserted,” said Mayet, her voice breaking his train of thought. “None but Nefret may enter now, with death by torture for all who defy her edict. This is our chance to destroy her talisman. You see the cedar paneling about the walls? We’ll set fire to that with the altar’s sacred flame. The heat from the blaze will crack the stone, and the temple will collapse crushing the Time-wheel.”

Carson thought for a moment, and then replied: “A good plan. But when the wheel is destroyed Amonubis will probably emerge into the present, and my world will then be at Nefret’s mercy. Who knows what other magical devices she may have that we know nothing of. Is there any way to hasten our flight through time to a more distant future where I’m sure the magic of that far age will be equal to the Sorceress’s?”

“You see the rod descending at an angle from the hub? At its end is a small wheel. Turning this to the left retards our progress through the ages, whereas turning it to the right hastens it, or so I gathered from Nefret’s ramblings.”

Carson nodded, grasped the door’s actuating lever, knowing what he must do, but suppressing the full import of his actions, which were too disturbing to fully contemplate. Did he have the right to plunge all these people into the unknown without consulting them? He cast aside the thought, realizing there was little choice.

Suddenly he froze, for a shape appeared in the distant portal giving egress to the temple. It moved within the building, walking closer, becoming more distinct - it was the Sorceress. Then, to the ears of the hidden watchers came sounds of running feet – distant, but growing closer with every passing second.

“The guards,” gasped Mayet. “They come!”

next -  Chapter 8 - A Span of Ages

back -  Chapter 6 - Demon in the Globe

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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.)