Authors: Alan Burt Akers
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Fantasy
Legions of Antares
Alan Burt Akers
To survive on the savage and unpredictable world of Kregen Dray Prescot needed to be strong, resourceful, cunning and courageous. Prescot not only survived his headlong adventures on that exotic world orbiting the double star Antares, he has built there a life that has meaning, filled with the love of Delia and the friendship of his blade comrades. Yet his character is far more complex than mere savage survival would require.
Dray Prescot is a man above middle height with brown hair and eyes and a physique of exceptional power, and he moves like a giant hunting cat. He was educated in the harsh environment of Nelson’s Navy, and by the Savanti nal Aphrasöe, the well-meaning superhuman but mortal men of the Swinging City who brought Prescot first to Kregen. Although he describes his face as “an ugly old beakhead,” other sources state that his face is “noble and fierce.” Expert with weapons and a master swordsman, he is aware of his own limitations. That he so often transcends them is a testament to his attitude toward life.
The Everoinye — the Star Lords — have employed Prescot over the years in pursuance of their own schemes for the world and he is now gaining insights into their objectives. Prescot has acquired titles and estates over the seasons of his adventuring. The people of Vallia called him to be their emperor in times of troubles, and now the dawn appears to be breaking for that island empire. The hostile Empire of Hamal, ruled by the Empress Thyllis, is now markedly on the defensive. The Wizard of Loh Phu-Si-Yantong, who cherishes schemes equally as ambitious and insane as those of Thyllis, is now confined to the island of Pandahem. Now, as a fresh set of adventures begins, Prescot knows he must say good-bye to Delia in Hyrklana, an island of which their son Jaidur is the new king. With the dawn as the twin Suns of Scorpio rise, Dray Prescot knows he will be hurled into unknown perils...
Concerns What Followed an Arrangement with the Star Lords
You don’t argue with the Star Lords. At least, if you make the attempt you’ll regret it and that may exclude your chance of living to regret it. All the same, I’ve hurled some hard words at the Star Lords from time to time, and as for their messenger and spy, the scarlet- and golden-feathered bird of prey, he and I, the Gdoinye and I, have indulged in a few scathing slanging matches.
There can’t be a winner from the ranks of mortal men, as I then believed, in any contest with the Star Lords, and I had learned caution.
The spangled stars of Kregen sparkled still in the night sky and the quietness of waiting in those moments before dawn cast an expectant hush over all the rolling world. Delia half-rose in the bed, leaning on an elbow. The sheets slipped down to her waist as she regarded me. Her hair lay in shadow from the bedpost and her face looked upon me woefully.
“When the twin suns rise, my heart,” I said.
“I hate the Star Lords!”
“As well hate the storms bursting around your head, or the thunder and lightning. They are not affected by our feelings or what we do. Although,” I said, bending to pick up the scarlet breechclout, “although I fancy what we do may have some small effect on the Star Lords. Their man in Hamal has failed and they need me urgently, yet they gave us this night together.”
“And I am supposed to love them for that?”
Determination in Delia is a live force. What she knows she knows, what she holds she holds.
“No, you cannot be expected to love the Everoinye. I believe they are beyond love or hate, although once they were mortal human beings like us.” I threw down the scarlet breechclout. “I shall not need that.”
“I think, my heart — there is light. There... On the window frame...”
The windows of this sumptuous bedchamber high in the fortress of the Hakal in the city of Huringa in Hyrklana were deeply set into the masonry. Rich damask clothed the harsh stone. I looked. A strigicaw embroidered in bright silks shone more clearly than he had before, his snarling muzzle lifted, his ears pricked. Yes, there was light. The red sun and the green sun, Far and Havil, were lifting into the dawn skies over Kregen and it was the time appointed.
Useless to try to stumble out words to say what I felt: Delia saw all that in me as I looked upon her, standing drinking her in, feeling, feeling... She smiled. She made herself smile for me and she stretched out her arms.
I leaped for the bed and clasped her, warm and soft and firm and glorious, glorious. Then, with the feeling of the tormentors in their black hoods at work on me, I released her and stepped back.
All naked, staring forlornly upon Delia, I waited for the Summons of the Scorpion.
“Remberee, Dray, my heart—”
“Remberee, Delia, my love. Remember always, I love you and only you—”
Blue radiance dropped about me, blotting out the world and all I loved, and the bloated shining form of the Scorpion beckoned and whirled me up in the maelstrom of supernatural forces.
As I swirled up in the all-encompassing blueness I realized that, at the least, this time I had not lived with the doomed sense of insecurity, of unsettling expectancy that at any moment, at any damned inconvenient moment, I would be called on by the Star Lords to be flung miles away and dumped down into some barbaric spot on Kregen and hurled headlong into downright unhealthy action. That was like living on one of those half-forgotten islands of the Shrouded Sea, plagued with volcanoes and earthquakes, there one minute and blown up the next, and reappearing somewhere else a few years later.
“Delia!” I bellowed as I went up head over heels. She would not hear me. She would see — what would she have seen? I’d ask her when I got out of this little lot. If I did. If, this time, I managed to scrape through and once more win my way back to my Delia, my Delia of Delphond, my Delia of the Blue Mountains.
The blueness roared about me. I felt the supernal chill. Somewhere in Hamal, the Everoinye had said they needed my help. Well that suited our plans. This time, I vowed, the parting from Delia would not be long. This time I’d do what the Everoinye required in double-quick time, and then I’d take the foul empire of Hamal to pieces and deal with mad Empress Thyllis as we had dealt with fat Queen Fahia. Those were the plans, simple and straightforward. Ha!
Anybody who didn’t have a skull as thick as mine would by now have realized that on Kregen, that beautiful and terrible world four hundred light-years from the planet of my birth, nothing was ever simple and straightforward. There was to be a deal of skipping and jumping and skull-bashing before this imbroglio was anywhere near settled.
Naked and weaponless, I landed with a bone-jarring crash. The Star Lords had really flung me hard, picking me up from Hyrklana, that island realm off the east coast of the southern continent of Havilfar, and slamming me down in Hamal in the northeast of the continent. Gritty rock scratched under my hands and knees. I stood up. My head hit rock. All the famous bells of Beng Kishi clamored in my skull. Damned Everoinye!
Putting out a hand as the blue radiance died, I touched rock. I was in darkness so positively pitchy I could see nothing, nothing except the flakes of light floating in my own eyeballs.
Rock under foot, rock over head. Rock at my sides, and rocky grittiness in front. Turning around cautiously and shuffling like an old gaffer in carpet slippers I tested the air. Only one way lay unblocked. I sniffed. Stale air, flat and dusty and in it a taint of some indefinable odor, gave me no clue to where I was. Slowly, testing every inch, I started to shuffle along this inky warren. The rocky sides of the tunnel narrowed and I started to feel a lively interest, and then — thankfully — they opened and widened so that I walked along with one hand trailing on stone and the other held up into emptiness to protect my head.
The bells of Beng Kishi donged away to silence. I shook my head. It did not fall off, so that was all right.
Slowly, as my eyes adjusted, I began to see tiny spots of radiance festooning the walls. Peering closer, squinting, I made out little clumps of the phosphorescent lichen the Kregans call estilux growing clamped to the rock in crevices and folds. As I stumbled along, the light strengthened, both from the dilation of my pupils and the thickening clumps of estilux. By the time I reached the first carved cavern I could see reasonably well.
Not that there was much to see down here.
“Sink me!” I burst out. “Where’s this hell-spawned kregoinye I’m supposed to bale out?”
Although I’d once refused to be called a kregoinye, I was in fact one of those men and women selected by the Everoinye to serve their mysterious purposes on Kregen. Whether I liked it or not.
As though in answer to my rumbled bad temper, a figure rose from a bundle of rocks ahead.
A thin stream trickled along there and he’d been filling a pottery bowl. He saw me. He was not a member of Homo-sapiens, having a beaked birdlike face with fluffy yellow feathers and goggling eyes. He was a Relt, one of those races of diffs on Kregen renowned for their gentleness and when slave more often used as stylors and domestics. The pottery bowl flew up in the air. The Relt let out a frightened squeak and ran stumbling and slipping away across the stream and into the shadows past a rocky outcrop.
The bowl was smashed so there was no use picking it up to return it. And, truth to tell, I suppose, I must have looked a most demonic figure, abruptly appearing all naked and hairy from the shadows. He must have thought me some demon from a Herrelldrin Hell.
Now my face has often been called an ugly old beakhead. In truth, when I look at people at times when I am feeling a little intemperate, I — again — am told that my scowl will stop a dinosaur in its tracks. So I consciously put into use the technique taught me by a master Wizard of Loh, who are a pretty scary bunch of sorcerers, old Deb-Lu-Quienyin, among the most renowned of all Wizards of Loh, and changed my expression. I put on a benign look. No — do not scoff. Dray Prescot, the rascal and ruffian, brawler, Bladesman, Bravo Fighter and much else, including reiver and mercenary, can assume a face that masks all that violent energy. Mind you, a very different face if held for too long exacts punishment, for my face feels as though a million bees have been stinging away happily all night.
So, with a cheerful, friendly expression, I blundered on, shouting: “Hai! Relt! I mean you no harm! Where away are we?”
Only the echo of a squeak floated back.
Still wearing that silly grinning physiognomy, I rounded the outcrop. Fifty paces on, torchlights threw orange streaks from a buttress that soared into shadows.
This looked promising. I did not think the Relt with his soft ways and timid life-style would be the man I was looking for. The Star Lords use tougher material than that. Even so, he might be, for I was becoming more and more aware that the Everoinye’s plans for Kregen were far different from those I might once have envisioned.
A rumble began in the ground. The rock all about me shook. Dust drifted down from high overhead and within the dust, chips and shards of razor-edged stone. The noise boomed and buffeted so that, staggering, choking in the dust, I put my hands to my ears. The earthquake roared on, filling the world with haze, rending at my senses, wrenching away at my primeval feelings of solidity with this land I loved. Perhaps only a dozen heartbeats the quake reverberated in that cavern; it seemed like a couple of lifetimes and more.
Dust stung in my nostrils and inflamed my eyes. I squinted, and took my hands away from my ears, and tried to hear and see again. I swallowed. A scrabble, barely heard, down by my right foot, attracted instant attention.
From a rocky crevice newly widened crept a thing like two soup plates jammed together, top and bottom, with a pair of stalked eyes and a long rapierlike proboscis twitching angrily. At the tip of that three-foot-long spiny shaft glittered a drop of poison, green and thick and evil.
This yenalk made a stab at my bare foot.
With a yelp I dodged away.
It trundled after me hungrily, rolling along on a multitude of thin short legs. It moved damned fast. There was only one thing to do, for it would persist in keeping after me until it sank its poisoned proboscis into me, and settled down to eating.
Leaping to the side, I put a foot down on a flat shard of stone. It started to spin around like a loco on a turntable... Without halting the movement I leaped clean over it. On its other side I bent, got my fingers under the lip of its shell and heaved it over onto its back.
It rolled like a dummy figure for a moment. All its legs waved like a forest lashed by a gale. I stared down.
“Rest there a space, yenalk, and if I am minded to come back for you, don’t go away.”
It rocked slowly to stillness, and its legs writhed helplessly.
Drifting dust still fell in patterns across the torchlights and as I walked up to the buttress I saw that this drifting light-irradiated dust was very beautiful. An odd, irrational thought, perhaps, but for all my uncouthness and barbarity I have, as I think you will understand, an eye for beauty found in places where beauty is not expected to be discovered.