20 April 2011

Border War (a Dez Marlowe story)

Dez's heart was in his throat. Again. If he wasn't too terrified to think, he'd be tired of being terrified. The dragonfly girl was clutching him with one arm and both legs, soaring thousands of feet in the air. She'd marched him through the flower forest, which turned out to be a few hundred acres of the giant flowers planted in orderly rows on a mountain-top. Firayla, the girl-creature, had call it “the Harvest.” At the edge of the forest the ground dropped away precipitously. Dez glanced over the edge and saw, hundreds of feet down, splotches of gray cloud. Without a word of warning, Firayla had wrapped her arms around him from behind and leaped into the air, springing a dozen feet aloft with Dez in her grip as if he were weightless. Her wings buzzed above him, loud even over the rushing wind in his ears, pushing them away from the rock face. Once clear, her wings went still and they fell downwards, plummeting straight down, parallel to the sheer cliff wall, a scream caught in his throat. Once through the cloud bank Dez saw the world spread out like a map. They were above a mountain chain, knife-sharp spikes of rock with an ocean to one side, an endless expanse of blue, diamond-studded in the sun, to other fields and forests, rivers and lakes, and in the distance, what might have been a city.

Dez heard a piercing screech, like an eagle's cry, from off to the left. Firayla uttered a word that Dez couldn't make out, but that sounded much like a curse. She twisted in the air and Dez saw a flying beast that looked like a cross between a baboon and a vulture, quadrupedal and furry, with a long, hairless pink neck topped by a dog-muzzled face and wide, feathered wings. The thing was rocketing towards them, clawed legs and arms outstretched, teeth gnashing. Firayla put her mouth to Dez's ear and said “I cannot fight off this demon-thing as well as hold you. Do not panic, I will catch you.” Catch him? She let him go, put her feet to his midsection and pushed off of him, soaring away. Falling downwards on his back, Dez watched as Firayla and the baboon-vulture fought an aerial battle unlike anything he'd ever seen before. Firayla reached behind her between her wings and drew a short spear with a wide, leaf-shaped blade, at the same time firing gouts of purplish flame from her pistol-like weapon. The balls of fire hit the creature, knocked it spinning, but it righted itself almost immediately, lashing out at Firayla and catching her across the torso with a claw, loosing a ribbon of blood. Firayla spun away, slicing at it with her spear. The thing set its wings, abruptly stopping its flight, bellowing at Firayla, who fired twice more at it. Her accuracy, considering she was in flight and bleeding, was impeccable. One bolt of purple flame hit it in the chest, the other in the head. It cawed weakly, fluttered its wings and plummeted to the ground. Firayla wasn't satisfied apparently, for she curled in the air like a swimmer reversing directions and flew after it, decapitated it with her spear. She righted herself and hovered in place, watching it fall for a moment. The entire melee had taken less than a minute, and there was still several thousand feet between Dez and the ground, but it was hard not to panic as he free-fell helplessly. Firayla returned her spear to its place between her wings and flew down after Dez, matched his speed and caught him easily in her arms.

She flew them swiftly across the landscape, passing over forests of trees whose foliage was blue rather than green, furrowed fields, terraced hillsides, small villages of low round huts streaming smoke. They approached a high stone wall stretched across the landscape, broken by crenelated guard-towers every mile or so, and it was towards one of these that Firayla was aimed. She stopped a foot above the wall, hovering in place, dropped Dez and alighted next to him. From the guard-tower several soldiers emerged, each of them easily seven feet tall, heavily muscled, their skin green like Firayla's but of varied shades. They too had two pairs of dragonfly wings, iridescent, translucent, tapered, held perpendicular to their bodies. They each held spears in their hands, ten-foot long versions of the leaf-bladed short-spear that Firayla used on the flying beast, and the same pistol-like weapon.

“What do you have there, Firayla?” One of them asked. Dez pegged him for the ranking soldier, as he wore intricate, brightly-painted armor, standing out conspicuously from the drab, unadorned armor of the other soldiers.

“His name is Dez. He calls himself a 'human'. I found him while patrolling the north Harvest.”

“What was he doing there? And how did he get there? He cannot fly, I assume, since you bore him here?”

“Correct sir. He was just there, walking, looking lost.”

The guard-captain approached him, circled him as Firayla had done, examining him carefully. “What should we do with him, do you think?”

“I don't know, sir. That's why I brought him here. I couldn't very well leave him there, but he wasn't doing anything harmful to the harvest, so I couldn't just kill him.”

“No, I suppose you did well enough.”

“How did you get here, human?”

“I...” Dez realized he had no idea how to explain what had happened to him. Lie? Screw it. Might as well tell the truth. “I don't know. I was on my world, or home plane, or...I don't know what to call it. I don't even know what this place is, or where, or when. What happened was, I had a scroll that made time go backwards, and then a giant snake appeared and took me outside of time, to a place between the stars, and then we were here, in a forest of giant flowers and the snake jumped into the air and turned into this giant manta ray thing...” That sounded nuts, said out loud.

The guard stared at him. “You are deranged.”

“No! I know it sounds crazy, and I don't get it either, but here I am. Wherever here is.”

“You are on the border between the Kingdom of Coriolis and the Wilds of Arnam. You have appeared at a bad time, I fear. There is about to be a war at this wall, and you will be part of it, it seems.” He pointed with his spear at a long dark moving line spreading from one end of the horizon to the other. “That is the horde of the Barren Queen, Empress of Arnam.”

No comments:

Post a Comment