Assur of Babylonia
voyages to an alien world in...
by Kirk Straughen
About the author
City of Intrigue
THE ZARUSA FLEW TOWARDS THEM, crimson bullet-shaped things
propelled not by wings, but by compressed air from six powerful lungs.
Their yard long bodies, encased in tough chitin, were living
projectiles they used to ram their foes.
Lunala sat tensely at the controls judging carefully the rapidly closing distance of the approaching swarm, knowing what she must do, and that the slightest error would end their lives.
Assur watched the dangerously looming zarusa with
growing alarm, wondering why Lunala had not changed their course.
“Gods,” he thought. “I hope she knows what she is doing.”
The swarm flashed past with an angry roar, missing them narrowly as, at the last possible moment, Lunala swung the sky-boat hard to port and plunged the craft into a steep dive that caused it to vibrate alarmingly under the dangerous strain of its mad descent.
Looking back, Assur saw the zarusa had come about, an angry red cloud that grew ominously with each passing second. Below, the ocean swelled – a vast black maw into which their tiny craft was falling. To the Babylonian it seemed they were caught between the very jaws of death.
Closer and closer came the zarusa, nearer and nearer the dark sea. Then, just as Assur thought they would plunge beneath the waves, Lunala pulled the sky-boat from its suicidal dive and soared towards the heavens.
The zarusa, possessing swiftness but lacking maneuverability; unable to stop their headlong rush or turn in time, struck the sea in a hail of bodies that churned the waves to foam.
Lunala relaxed her grip on the controls, and wiped the sweat from her palms. She turned to Assur, and he grinned at her. They both burst out laughing. It was a form of relief from the tension of death’s imminence.
After another hour’s flight an island appeared on the horizon. At first just a dot, then slowly growing in size, resolving itself into a crescent shaped landmass of considerable extent covered in lush jungle that flung itself in wild abandon against a coastal chain of rugged mountains.
The sky-boat arched in a graceful curve as Lunala turned its prow towards the northern tip of Rin. Shortly, their speed diminished as a coastal city came into view. The buildings were domes of rose-colored stone, each surrounded by lush gardens filled with brilliant color. Far below them lay the city’s mass, broken by wide tree lined streets paved with milky cobbles. At its heart lay a single enormous circular plaza fringed with spreading stately trees, and at its center rose a large terraced cone -- the palace -- its gilded apex reflecting spears of light.
Beyond the city’s high walls lay the fields of its territory, the rich soil providing bountiful harvests, and in the bay strange ships lay at anchor, their white sails neatly furled.
As their craft spiraled towards the uppermost terrace of the palace in lazy descent, Assur spied figures waiting for them -- one, a stranger in scarlet robes, the others in glossy ebon armor. Lunala brought the sky-boat to rest within a few yards of the group, and no sooner had its runners touched the lawn of the terrace garden than she leapt from the craft to embrace the crimson man.
She turned to Assur as he followed: “This is my twin brother, Prince Azmonaz, whom I feared I would never see again.”
Azmonaz regarded her, his aristocratic features marred by the cruel smile that curved his lips. He had planned for the possibility that she might, by some miracle, return, and had posted lookouts equipped with optic-tubes about the palace.
“I can’t say I reciprocate your feelings, sister dear.” And then, sarcastically: “Any trouble with your sky-boat?”
Lunala stepped away from him, disbelief written large upon her face. “You’ve always been ambitious, but never did I think you’d stoop to this. Guards …”
“Enough! You are no longer Queen. Loyal followers, arrest the wench and convey her to the Arena of the Beast; the stranger to the dungeons.”
With a curse upon his lips Assur leapt forward to seize the usurper, meaning to use him as a hostage, only to be blocked by a burly warrior. The man, like his fellows, was clad neck to knee in scale armor, his head protected by a leering helmet-mask.
Lunala screamed as the guard lunged at Assur, weapon extended. But the Babylonian twisted agilely aside, caught the warrior’s sword arm, and threw him heavily to the ground.
“Damn this city of intrigue,” he thought.
“Run for the sky-boat,” he shouted to the girl as he wrenched the sword from his assailant’s nerveless fingers and charged the converging guards. One man went down, dark blood spurting from a slit throat, whilst the other three encircled him.
“Not while you’re in danger,” cried Lunala, throwing herself fearlessly upon a warrior about to stab Assur in the back. Snatching a dagger from the guard’s belt she plunged it into his neck. A gurgling cry burst from the man’s lips as he collapsed upon the lawn.
“Take them alive. They shall perish in the arena,” shouted Azmonaz, who had summoned more guards from the interior of the palace. These were armed with pincer tipped staves that caught Assur’s and Lunala’s limbs in a vice-like grip, subduing them with ease.
The last thing Assur saw was Lunala’s tear stained face as they were dragged apart. “I’ll always love you,” she cried.
He struggled fiercely, then a rock hard fist crashed against his skull, plunging him into oblivion...
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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.)