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Authors: Alan Burt Akers

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Golden Scorpio

BOOK: Golden Scorpio
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Golden Scorpio

Alan Burt Akers

Mushroom eBooks

Dray Prescot

Dray Prescot is an enigmatic figure. Reared in the inhumanly harsh conditions of Nelson’s Navy, he has been transported many times through the agencies of the Star Lords, the Everoinye, and the Savanti nal Aphrasöe to the terrible yet beautiful world of Kregen under Antares, four hundred light years from Earth. In chronicling his brilliant adventures on that exotic world I have been forced to the conclusion that there is much he does not tell us as he records his story on cassettes. A fresh supply has reached me and will form the subject matter for the next cycle of Dray Prescot’s story.

His appearance as described by one who has seen him is of a man above middle height, with brown hair and level brown eyes, brooding and dominating, with enormously broad shoulders and powerful, even brutal, physique. There is about him an abrasive honesty and an indomitable courage. He moves like a savage hunting cat, quiet and deadly. On the marvelous world of Kregen he has fought his way to become Vovedeer and Zorcander of his wild Clansmen of Segesthes, Lord of Strombor, Strom of Valka, King of Djanduin, Prince Majister of Vallia — and a member of the Order of Krozairs of Zy. To this plethora of titles he confesses with a wryness and an irony I am sure mask much deeper feelings at which we can only guess.

Prescot’s happiness with Delia, the Princess Majestrix of Vallia, is threatened as the notorious Wizard of Loh, Phu-Si-Yantong, seeks to overwhelm the empire. Many factions rise to seize the supreme power and with the death of the emperor, Delia’s father, and the burning of Vondium, the capital, Prescot and Delia are forced to flee Vallia.
Golden Scorpio
tells how Prescot reacted and how he came to terms with himself, if not altogether satisfactorily in his own estimation.

The volumes chronicling his life are arranged to be read as individual books. A clearly-marked change has overtaken the character of Prescot as he relates his story, and, indeed, the story itself reveals this, illuminating him in ways of which he himself is probably unaware. Future volumes can only be awaited with the fascination of the unexpected.

The next cycle of volumes in the Saga of Dray Prescot I have called the
Jikaida Cycle,
carrying the linking word Kregen in their titles. Life is a continuing process and the enigmatic figure Prescot presents of himself might lead us to imagine that he understands only the belief that the effort of life is soldiering on dauntlessly against Fate. There is more to him than that. I feel sure he is fully aware of the many other facets of human belief in understanding our natures and harmonizing them, in the theory of abnegation, in the idea of letting oneself slide into the infinite, of bending with the current to cope with existence, of acceptance. But on the vivid world of Kregen under Antares, in the streaming mingled lights of the Suns of Scorpio, Prescot has had and will continue to have more than his share of setbacks and hurtful adventures. I do not think it is Dray Prescot’s nature to allow the destruction of himself or those he loves.

Alan Burt Akers

One

Dragons in the Fire

We flew from burning Vondium.

Sulphurous masses of smoke rolling from the doomed city cast dark palls between the streaming mingled radiances of the fading suns. The spreading fans of jade and crimson light cupped the city below. Vondium burned. Along the wide avenues rivers of fire, across the canal-bordered islands lakes of fire, upon the terraced hills volcanoes of fire — incandescent, lambent, roaring with unchecked power, spurting yellow and orange flames, shooting myriads of sparks like discharges from Hell’s furnaces, the fire burned.

Our airboat shook in the windrush.

“This was not planned,” said Delia, guiding the airboat out of the last swathing bands of smoke. The suns shafted light behind us and swiftly the emerald and ruby spears drained down across the sky, dwindling and shrinking as the pit of fire that was Vondium blazed up. She shivered. “Not planned—”

“The factions fight it out down there. They all struggle for the supreme power and,” I said, looking up, my fist closing on the hilt of the sword, “here come those who would dispute our passage.”

Two fliers spun out of the shadows ahead, the light glittering along their sides, glancing from their brazen embellishments. In the weirdly coruscating lights the two airboats looked dark and magical dragons, glinting with fire-jewels.

“Hamalese,” said the Lord Farris. He moved forward from the shelter deck aft, and his face lay shrunken in shadow.

At his side Lykon Crimahan spoke in words still slurred by witnessed horror. “They have destroyed all of value in life — I will have my due of them.”

“The queen?” said Delia, not glancing back, but guiding our airboat skillfully upwards so that the cramphs of Hamal might not have the advantage of us. The airboats flitted up into the night sky and the smoke dropped away and the clouds were tinged in orange and gold about us.

“The queen sleeps.” Farris had already drawn his sword. In the encroaching darkness the bulky firmness of his body as he moved up struck me as mightily comforting. “She is exhausted.”

We were all exhausted. But only a fierce continuing, a savage determination to go on, an unyielding struggle against all odds would get us through now and save our necks.

In this airboat I had taken from the Hamalese were ready racked a dozen crossbows. I took one up and spanned it and said to Farris: “Put up your sword. Delia will outfly these rasts.”

“Yes,” said Farris. “The Princess — I mean, the Empress — has consummate skill.”

The three airboats whirled about the night sky, leaves tossed in the maelstrom of the fire and the high winds of the night, darting and swooping, climbing to secure the height advantage. Delia swung us up superbly. I leaned over the wooden coaming and let fly. The bolt skewered into the dark mass of the Hamalian airboat below. In the wind bluster I could not hear a shriek of anguish, I did not know if I had hit; but I respanned the bow and let fly again as we circled in.

Farris and Crimahan joined in. They were unused to crossbows; but every bolt that hit the Hamalians would count.

And then in the way of these wild skirling affrays as fliers spin and grapple at night, one of the Hamalians flew awkwardly across and fell athwart our bows. Delia made a last frantic effort to avoid the onrushing mass. The two airboats came together with a great crushing of wood and ripping of canvas. But the craft I had selected was stoutly built, as one would expect from the damned Hamalese who made the things and denied us Vallians the right to make our own, and she was stouter than the other. Amid a shrieking splintering of wood the foeman’s airboat tumbled full into our own.

Men spilled out to stagger and stumble across our deck.

Over our heads through a rent in the clouds the fat blue shine of the first star of the evening suddenly caught me up with a swift and entirely unexpected sense of the beauty of the night. That first star that Kregans call Soothe was not as large or as fat now, as the conjunctions of orbits opened out, for Soothe is a planet of Antares as is Kregen, but that blue lambent luminosity reminded me of the fabled Goddesses of Love of Kregen. And as no Goddess of Love of two worlds has ever been or can ever be as precious as my Delia, my Delia of Delphond, my Delia of the Blue Mountains, I hurled the crossbow down and leaped yelling into action.

Delia was ready for the Hamalese from the wreck of their airboat. Together, we hit them. Like two perfectly-machined parts, we meshed, she taking her man with her rapier, I chunking the Krozair longsword around into his comrade’s ribs. Armor crumpled.

“Hanitch! Hanitch!” The Hamalese kept up their battle yells, fierce, predatory and yet highly disciplined fighting men.

“Vallia!” yelled Farris and hurled himself forward along the deck, his sword a glinting blur. “Vallia and Vomansoir!”

These warriors of Hamal did not carry shields, although their Air Service personnel habitually did so, and I guessed the shock of the collision had not so much left them with no time to seize up that article of combat as the demands of scrambling from the wreck of a flier about to plunge over into nothingness had made them concentrate wonderfully on having two hands free. Now, had they been Djangs, or Pachaks...

The little fight raged for a space. I squared off my man and thrust the next one through. Crimahan was bashing away and yelling all manner of frenzied insults and taunts, half off his head with grief for what had befallen Vallia and him.

With every blow he struck, Lykon Crimahan, Kov of Forli, took out a payment for his lost lands on the hides of his enemies.

“Hamal! Hanitch!” screeched the Hamalese, and fought and struggled and died. I feel the very fury of our vengeful attack threw them off balance. They had flown up from their empire to sack and burn and overthrow the Empire of Vallia, acting under the veiled orders of the Wizard of Loh Phu-si-Yantong whose maniacal ambitions knew few bounds, and if they were surprised at our vengeful resistance then they were fools. In that moment I felt the enormous weight pressing in on me that my own plans called for Vallia and Hamal to join hands in amity. To accomplish that with the blood-debt that now soaked the two countries seemed almost impossible.

So we fought.

Toward the end of the fight when but four Hamalese soldiers remained alive, the rest either slumped in death on the deck or pitched with a despairing shriek overboard, Queen Lushfymi tottered out of the aft cabin. She held a poniard. She looked distraught, her dark hair disheveled, her violet eyes wide and drugged.

She would have rushed upon the last soldiers; but I got her right arm in my left fist. I held her very very carefully.

The poniard she brandished with drugged abandon had two dark channels cut into the narrow blade, and in those runnels clung a virulent poison...

“Let me go. I will slay and slay—”

She spoke in a slurred, drugged fashion, her words heavy. Her face showed demoniac devilishness and exhausted despair, struggling to gain the ascendancy.

“They slew the emperor, they murdered my beloved — let me repay the debt.”

That she had to be held back was quite obvious, although she was a queen — the Queen of Lome in Pandahem — and therefore might be expected to know how to handle weapons. But the Hamalese soldiers of the air were no amateurs. Their swords flickered in these dying moments of the struggle as they sought to take us and so win all — and, in truth, even now we could lose. I shook Queen Lush.

“Hold still. Do you want to throw your life away after the emperor’s?”

That, of course, was a stupid thing to say. I recognized that. I gave her a push back into the cabin, before she could screech out some cataclysmic determination to end it all and die to join the emperor, and slammed the door.

I swung back to the fight, raging.

Delia had taken her man out with that neat precision of effort girls are taught in the military establishments of the Sisters of the Rose. Crimahan missed his stroke and had to duck and dodge back, his left-hand dagger fending off a thraxter blow. Farris was in the act of withdrawing his rapier from the throat of his man. So that left the fourth, the one I should have been attending to if Queen Lush had not staggered out brandishing her poisoned poniard.

“By Vox!” I bellowed as I leaped. “I should have let the silly woman at these rasts with her poisoned dagger.”

Then the Krozair brand flamed left, twitched right, sliced and was still, sheened in blood.

Farris looked at me and Crimahan staggered back, shaking with the violence of these last few moments. Delia tut-tutted and caught at a dead Hamalese by his belt.

“They’re bleeding all over the deck. What a mess. Give me a hand to push them over.”

We did so, with a will. If you imagine this to be strange behavior, insane, then you are not correct. Death is a part of life. Delia fully understood that. But, even so, even so, no girl should have to go through the things Delia had been through, events and horrors that would have destroyed a being of lesser fiber. But Delia was right. We had a way to fly and we already had enough blood to clear up as it was.

Highly practical, highly professional, highly commonsense is Delia of Vallia — just as she is highly romantic. Her father, the Emperor of Vallia, had been slain this night. No — Delia could not act completely normally, not for a space yet.

I made up my mind. You who have listened to my story as the tapes spin through the heads will know how wrought up I must have been to nerve myself, actually to pluck up the courage, to open the talk I had promised Delia for long and long.

Tentatively I spoke to her in one of the aft cabins as Farris took the steering, speed and height levers and Crimahan having indicated he wished to be dropped on his own estates, tried to sleep. Queen Lush slumbered, her demoniac energy temporarily exhausted.

So, Delia and I sat on a ponsho fleece spread on a bench and talked as the airboat slid through the nighted air of Kregen.

“A world with only one sun and only one moon! But you can’t expect anyone to take such a silly idea seriously.”

BOOK: Golden Scorpio
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