Friday, June 27, 2008



Bolts of green flame spewed from the cuayabs.

“Hold!” shouted the commander. Instantly, the lethal jets veered away from the flaming cage imprisoning Flavius and Parric, dissipating harmlessly.

Flavius held Memory warily as he shot a questioning glance at Parric. Parric shrugged, dismissing the Crafting he’d constructed.

“Commander Balam, sir. Third flight squadron of the Ninth Wing,” the commander said, holding his fingers to the side of his helm. “Affirmative, two of them. One looks to be a barbarian--”

Flavius stiffened.

“--and the other may be a minor Ketza’qua variant from the Farther Cosms.” The Commander Balam paused for a moment, listening, then nodded. “Affirmative, sir. Green. Four wings. Six eyes.” Another pause followed, then he rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Negative sir, I have no idea. The barbarian’s speech is little more than garbled belches and the Ketza’qua variant just cackles. Wholly uncivilized. Hurts my ears just to listen to it.”

“I’d love to hurt his ears...” Flavius muttered.

“They can? Understood.” Commander Balam cast a disdainful glance Flavius’ way. “Affirmative. He is armed with a sword that fits that description.” A long pause followed, and the commander frowned. “Are you certain? We could execute-- Yes, sir. Immediately, sir.”

Balam snapped around and barked at the militia men maintaining the cage. “Disengage the restraints. The commandant says these lesser sentients are expected and are to be conveyed to Un-pic Ja’ab immediately.”

Balam’s wej settled to the ground. “Come on, you two, if you can understand me. You’re wanted upstairs. Unless you prefer to fly yourself.”

“No, riding will be fine,” answered Parric, slithering onto the wej as the two militia men gave him a wide berth.

“Gad! It stinks of vinegar,” one complained.

After a moment’s hesitation, Flavius sheathed Memory and followed.

Balam narrowed his eyes at Flavius. “You’re trouble, aren’t you? I’ve seen your type before. Just remember the commandant can rescind his order to suspend your execution at any time.”

Balam gestured sharply. The wej leapt from the ground.

“Nae a very friendly fellow, is he?” muttered Flavius to Parric. “Still, ya’d a given him a right good comeuppance, eh Parric?”

“Actualling, I’m concerning myself more with the Emperor. It’s not looking like we’ll be sneaking in undetected as in our original planning.”

“Oh, ya ken that, do ya?”

“Don’t be a smart assing.” Parric watched the great Ketza’qua as they approached. It’s scales were the size of warriors’ shields, the edges tinged with a glossy black that formed a striking pattern in outline. The scales rippled as it breathed and shifted, clattering against themselves like a her of horses galloping down a cobblestone street. Here and there, scales peeled back to reveal immature Ketza’qua of varying sizes budding from the parent. As they swung around the creature in a wide loop, a team of wejii came into view, grappling with one of the daughter Ketza’qua. Two had lassoed the head from opposite directions and struggled to hold it steady as a third darted in to try and cut the twenty-foot-long creature free. It writhed ferociously.

“They are separating naturally when twice that size, but the Ketza’qua are easier to domesticating when immature,” Parric explained.

“What would anyone want with ‘em for?” Flavius stared at the struggling wejii, incredulous.

“Some are installing on other palaces throughout the Eternal Dominion,” Parric said. “Others are auctioning off to other empires spanning other cosms.”

“What? Ya mean to tell me they run these things through Tradefare?”

Parric snorted. “There’s not enough wealthings in Tradefare to buying a dead Ketza’qua, much lessing a live one.”

As they flew past the head, the Ketza’qua’s slitted green eye followed the wej it rose above all the trusses and catwalks to the palace proper.

Flavius shuddered. “That’s one beastie that dinnae look too happy.”

“No,” Parric agreed. “It doesn’ting.”

The wej cleared the palace ramparts, settling on a broad plaza decorated in a mosaic depicting the Tricentennial Emperor holding five cosms in his outstretched hands. Crimson-clad palace guards--each wielding double-ended cuayabs--filed out onto the plaza in a double line. Flavius stopped counting when the number topped two dozen. It seemed the palace was disgorging its entire populace.

Commander Balam leapt lightly off the wej, his cuayab held lightly at the ready. With his free hand he gestured down the path between the twin rows of palace guards. “I’m to escort you to the audience hall. It seems you’re honored guests.”

Balam set off down the row at a brisk pace. Flavius and Parric followed, with the other two militia men falling in behind them. Twin bronze doors untwined and they found themselves back in the familiar sleek, sensuous corridors seemingly sculpted of liquid wood.

“Still nae going according to plan, eh?” Flavius said to Parric. “Damn suspicious, their being so ready for us. If they can keep that Ketza’qua beastie under the yoke, I dinnae see why they cannae send those eight-legged uglies after me as well.”

“Yes, the thought is crossing my mind,” Parric answered. “I may be guilty of misjudging the Emperor.”

“Right. So then, ya think we can fight out way out through a hundred or so of these red-suited bastards?”

“I’m doubting we’ll get the chance. The Emperor is killing you once already, for certainting. I’m expecting he’ll try to finish the job, permanenting.”

An interwoven set of doors before them untangled and pulled themselves open, revealing a brightly lit hall beyond. Balam stepped to the side, patting his cuayab meaningfully. “Watch yourselves,” he warned. “If you so much as--”

Flavius dismissed him with a wave of his hand, and with his hand on the hilt of Memory, strolled boldly through the doorway, into the audience hall to meet his doom.


No comments: