Assur of Babylonia
voyages to an alien world in...
by Kirk Straughen
About the author
Voyage to the Moon
AASSUR STIRRED WEAKLY. Groaning, he slowly opened his
eyes, and raised himself to an elbow. He was chained to a wall, a
collar about his neck, his only injury several bruises from the fall.
The dragon's claws, his only potential weapons, were gone. A few feet
away on an ivory stool sat Amnon-Nur, gray robes folded elegantly about
his sparse frame, appraising him with cool dispassionate eyes.
The sorcerer spoke without preamble. "I should kill you, but I've decided you may prove useful. Your choice is this – a slow and painful death, or life and riches if you undertake a mission on my behalf. Well, what shall it be? Shall you serve me or die?"
"I've heard there are worse things to fear than death. Tell me more, then I'll decide which I prefer."
Such speech was sheer bravado of course, but to Assur's mind, better than an unmanly display of naked fear.
Amnon-Nur smiled thinly. "Don't confuse stupidity with bravery, boy. What I am about to tell you, you must know anyway, so listen carefully. I have, using my viewing sphere, discovered an artifact on the Moon that I suspect is a powerful amulet. It is hung about the neck of an idol located within a jungle-shrouded temple. In the temple is other treasure that is yours for the taking. The amulet, however, must be brought to me. Agree to this, and I'll let you live."
There was a moment of stunned silence as the full import of the sorcerer's words registered upon Assur's mind.
"You'd have me mount the air like a bird, and storm heaven's vault?" came the incredulous reply. "Why, it's common knowledge the god Sin dwells upon the Moon. He'd not want mere mortals knocking on his gates."
Amnon-Nur stood slowly, anger darkening his harsh features.
"Do you think me a fool, boy? I've thought long and hard about this venture. I'd go myself, but I'm old and the trip is not without its dangers, but not from the gods who dwell only in the hearts and minds of men. Well, what's your decision: a chance at life, or slow and certain death?"
Assur didn't entirely trust the man; he'd heard too many dark rumors to make that mistake. However, under present circumstances …
"Very well", he replied. "Since I've little choice I'll undertake your quest. But mark my words: I'm my own man, not your slave -- I'll not cower before you like a spineless cur."
Amnon-Nur grunted as he tossed Assur a key. Inwardly, he was mildly amused, his cynical mind contemptuous of what he thought theatrical heroics.
"I don't care how you act, so long as you bring me the amulet. Free yourself, but stay where you are. I must now summon the stellar elemental that will carry you on your voyage to the Moon."
Assur watched as the sorcerer moved about the chamber, wondering if it were really possible for men to sail the void like ships upon the sea.
"I suppose I'll find out soon enough," he thought.
From an ornately carved chest, Amnon-Nur brought forth six spheres of azure glass a foot in diameter, each supported by an ebony tripod. A silver rod ten inches long surmounted every globe.
The sorcerer arranged the spheres in a perfect circle, and joined them with burnished copper rods that somehow sank into the bosses projecting from their tripods. When the final connection was made he stood back, arms folded, and watched in silent satisfaction as the spheres revolved so their silver rods tilted towards the circle's center and began to emit fans of pearly rays that formed a swirling cloud of light.
The light expanded to a huge globe, darkened, condensed. A form stood revealed. It was a smoky gelatinous cone, man high, with six long ropy tentacles depending from the center of its base. Four faceted eyes, like large black jewels, were spaced evenly around its faintly glowing body.
"By the gods," gasped Assur. "What is that thing?"
"Your steed, my lord, by which you shall mount the air like a bird, and storm heaven's vault," was the sardonic reply. "Come, come; don't look so horrified. It's under my control. There's nothing to fear." And then, sotto voce: "At least not yet."
As Amnon-Nur rummaged in another chest, Assur approached the creature, his curiosity overcoming his initial fear. The thing hung placidly in mid air, its tentacles gently undulating upon the floor. Strange emotions radiated from it – wordless communication that impinged itself upon his mind, conjuring up images of interstellar space, cold, vast and utterly strange. His flesh crawled at the thought of its touch.
"Demons take Amnon-Nur," he thought. "I'm not letting that thing take me anywhere."
The sorcerer approached and handed him a weapon, thinking: "Let's see if this fool has sense enough to keep the sword in its scabbard."
In one fluid motion Assur unsheathed the blade and thrust with lightning swiftness at Amnon-Nur. But the sorcerer, with speed and agility that belied his age, had leapt aside.
"Ah, you wish to play," he purred. Very well then, boy, have at me, I'll not use my Rod of Power."
Amnon-Nur raised his left arm and, as his sleeve fell back exposing the limb, Assur was shocked to see it was of living brass.
"An experiment gone wrong," explained the sorcerer. "But still, it has its uses. Come, boy, are you afraid?"
Grimly, Assur struck and struck again; each time his savage cuts and thrusts were unerringly parried by Amnon-Nur using his arm of brass.
Sweat stood out upon his brow as he sought to pierce his foe's guard. Breathing heavily, he fought on, knowing the sorcerer was only toying with him, but refusing to give up hope.
"I tire of this game," said Amnon-Nur as his brass fingers closed about the sword and wrenched it from Assur's grasp.
The sorcerer tossed the weapon back to him. "You're more useful to me alive than dead. Keep the sword, you'll need it, for there are other swords across the void."
Assur buckled it about his slim waist, feeling like a small boy who had just been chastised for a childish prank – knowing he'd have to see this venture through and hope for the best.
"The stellar elemental will now embrace you and carry you to the Moon where it will instruct you further concerning your mission."
The sorcerer regarded him darkly. "Remember, you best serve yourself by serving me."
"That remains to be seen," thought Assur.
Amnon-Nur turned to the elemental, and it seemed to Assur that something passed between them, but what it was he could not say. Then, at a gesture from the sorcerer, the being enfolded Assur in its clammy embrace. Lifting him from the floor, it drifted to the balcony and, with appalling swiftness, shot into the starry night.
Assur tensed. It seemed as if his stomach had been left behind in the tower. He looked down and was alarmed to see the city shrinking to a child's toy, then a dot, then nothing. The night shrouded sphere of the earth hung below him, and he was amazed. It was a ball, not flat as he had thought. He felt overwhelmed by powerful emotions – the exhilaration of flight swifter than any bird, and the wonder of strange and marvelous things no man of Earth had ever seen before.
Everything seemed to shimmer as if seen through a heat haze, and the elemental conveyed to him the idea they were now surrounded by a bubble of force that trapped within it the air and warmth of Earth, without which he would perish in the airless void of space.
Looking up, he saw the Moon rapidly filling his field of vision. It seemed as if they were traveling with the speed of thought as they flashed towards its surface. Already continents, silver-green and cloud-laced, were discernable, their shores lapped by dark seas.
They were descending into the world's atmosphere when suddenly, from around the dark side of the globe shot a long sinuous body, its coppery armored segments glinting with reflected sunlight. Its pointed cylindrical head, covered with bands of crimson hemispheres, arrowed towards them with alarming speed.
Assur sensed the elemental's fear, and it fed his own. It jerked to one side, but too late. There was a bone-jarring collision of bodies. The Babylonian was torn free and plunged to the surface of the Moon, ignored by the two creatures now locked in mortal combat high above...
On to Episode
3 :The Dark Idol
Back to Episode 1 :The Sorcerer's Tower
Swords Across the Void and the character of Assur are 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.)