by Den Valdron
ALIEN VERSUS HUNTER
Without releasing me, the Orgus turned his head to stare off to the left. Struggling and choking, held in his grasp, I moved my eyes to follow the direction of his gaze.
A horror slid stealthily into the clearing, moving sinuously on six legs, it yawned, exposing massive jaws lined with venom dripping fangs. It was twice as large as the two of us together. It gave another screech, a sound I recognized well.
It was just one damned thing after another, I thought.
Abruptly, the pressure on my throat ceased, and I was flung through the air, landing on my rump.
Slowly, the Orgus turned to face the creature, my stolen knife at the ready, loose in his hand.
“It would be best for you to flee, girl,” the Orgus said. For a surreal moment, I thought he was addressing the creature. Then I realized he must be speaking to me. “The Sadok is a relentless hunter, but perhaps he'll find enough meat in me and my companion that he will forget about you.”
As the Sadok approached, the Orgus lowered his stance, knife at ready, and began to circle to the side. I could see he was working his way to the fallen sword. The Sadok tracked his movement, and the multi-limbed dragon slid forward, fixing on its prey.
I could not run, my legs shook with terror. I could only bear witness to the grizzly drama unfolding, a drama which could have but one outcome. The Orgus lunged, the sand dragon backed a step, roaring. It leaped forward, and the Orgus danced to the side. He swung to ward the creature off, it barely stepped back. The Sadok snapped its jaws, missing the Orgus flesh.
Run, I told myself, but my legs would not obey. Run from something like this? It was hopeless. I desperately wished I had the knife back, despite knowing how useless it would be against this monster. I craved the comfort of any weapon, no matter how trivial. Carefully, watching the doomed battle, I knelt until my fingers closed around a fist sized rock. I held it to my breast, the momentary security of it bleeding away in the face of its utter triviality before such a monster. It made me feel a little better to fit it uselessly to my makeshift sling.
The Orgus gave a good account, for every time the Sadok lunged with its jaws, or lashed with its talons, somehow, the alien would dance away, the knife taking another taste of the monsters flesh. The beast was soon maddened with a dozen small cuts.
I saw that the Orgus had worked his way over to his companion's sword. The weapon was his only chance. There was a moment of expectant waiting, myself, the dragon, the alien. Perhaps the dragon knew its enemies plan. It was too close, if he went for the sword, it would have him. But if he did not, then it would still have him. And after him... Well, I had no chance at all.
Then it happened. The Orgus dove. The Sadok roared and lunged above his helpless victim. Without even k nowing what I was doing, I slung my pathetic stone at the creature, the rock flew through the air, bouncing futilely off its head. Startled, it paused in its lunge, its timing off, its head swivelled towards me. It roared.
And suddenly, the Orgus was up, bringing the sword against the suddenly unprotected neck in a mighty swinging blow as if to slice its head clean off. The Sadok roared with pain, lashing out. The Orgus flew backwards through the air, the sword torn from his grasp, landing heavily as if stunned.
But the blade was embedded deep in the creatures neck. As we watched, it took two steps towards me, and then turned, lurching toward the Orgus. It swayed for a moment, as if trying to decide who to kill first. It pawed in confusion at the sword buried in its neck. Then suddenly, it fell over, convulsing in death throes.
On opposite sides of the monster, the Orgus and I watched as its convulsions faded to twitches, and then watched as even those ceased. Still, the creature's unnatural vitality was such that its sides still heaved.
Carefully, the Orgus retrieved the knife and crept upon the creature. With a sudden lunge, he drove the knife hard into the monsters forehead. It convulsed again, jaws yawning, as the Orgus flung himself backwards.
Then it was dead.
The Orgus pulled itself to its feet. With confident strides it went up to the Sadok and pulled the great curved sword from the creatures neck. Then it placed one foot on the dragon's head to brace itself and grasped the knife, freeing it with a couple of rough yanks.
Now would be a good time to run away, I told myself. I still could not move.
It stood then, and confidently walked towards me, wiping the knife on its sleeve.
“I am Aspar Aguus, Third Jed of the Orgus,” it announced in a croaking voice, “I am in your debt, Princess Tay See Lors of Az-Lium. You have given me three gifts for which I am bound to your service.”
“Oh,” I said. And kicked myself mentally, but no good line came to mind. I hoped he didn't notice my lack of response.
“The gift of freedom,” he continued, “the gift of honour, the gift of life. You are worthy to bear the sacred knife of the Orgus. Command me as your own.”
He offered the knife, pommel first. I took it, blushing. What was the appropriate reply to this. What would a Princess do? I wracked my mind for a play or script for alien monsters. Time to improvise.
“Thanks,” I replied. “A lot. Seriously.... It's a splendid knife.”
He gazed impassively at me. That wasn't so bad, I decided.
“So... is there anything to eat?”
As it turns out, the only thing worse than eating the flesh of a Sadok is not eating at all. Later on, with a full belly, I sat watching the Orgus, Aspar Aguus, dress the remainder of the Sadok's corpse, slicing up the edible flesh and wrapping it in bundles. I admired the clean competence with which he performed his tasks, burying his companion, organizing a makeshift camp. Skillfully, he employed tools whose functions I barely understood.
It made me realize how utterly helpless I was, how little my existence had prepared me for this strange wasteland. The skills I had devoted my life to: oratory, drama, dancing, singing, light comedy and a little bit of ventriloquism, seemed trivial and useless in this harsh landscape.
“What are the Orgus?” I asked. “Where do you come from? The histories of Az-Lium have no record of anything like you.”
“We are the youngest race upon Barsoom. As our name renders us,” he replied, “we are bad eggs. We are born from deformed eggs of the Green Man race. Normally, the Green men destroy those eggs which do not meat their standards. But long, long ago, one was allowed to hatch. This was our Great Jeddak, Hedo Lettus.”
“Lettus grew smaller than the others of his hatchery, and his midlimbs failed to develop fully. Yet, he distinguished himself with his strength and his courage. Soon he discovered that he could endure far more hardship than the Green men.”
“But he was not allowed to reproduce, he could rise no further than a chief among the Green Men. So one day, Letus broke into a hatchery, searching for eggs, deformed in his own manner. Finding them, he spirited them away, and leaving the Green men, raised them each by his own hand. These became our ancients, though none were so ancient as the great one.”
“Thus, we became a band. And with the acquisition of more eggs, we became a tribe. Letus became a Jed, contending with the Jeds of the Green men. He began to trade for more deformed eggs, these had no value to the Green men and were usually destroyed. But now, through trade, they became valuable and were preserved. They were traded to us, and raised, increasing our numbers.”
‘The band became a Horde in its own right. Some of the Eggs produced females of our new race, not many, but a few. Letus became a Jeddak. He named Jeds to work his will. He is our father, and our god.”
And passed sentence of death upon me, I thought, the senile old monster.
“Tell me, Aspar Aguus, Third Jed of the Orgus,” I said formally, “how is it that you came to be tied out on a rock here at the edge of the Jagged lands.”
I'd learned a little geography from him. Az-Lium, my home, lay within the center of the Jagged lands. These were the foothills. Beyond were the plains of the Orgus.
“There are twelve Jeds,” he said, “appointed by the will of Hedo Lettus, as his fists in war, and his voices in counsel. Some of us are not in agreement. The second and tenth, and their men, set upon me as we returned from the sack of Az-Lium.”
At the casual mention, I fought down bitterness. This creature had been part of a horrible thing. But at the same time, he had pledged my service and I needed him to stay alive.
“Why didn't they simply kill you.”
“It is forbidden for a Jed of Hedo Lettus to kill another Jed.”
“But not to tie them out in the middle of nowhere, and let them starve to death or get eaten by Sadoks?”
He nodded. Well, there was a subtle distinction, I thought.
“So,” I said, “what will you do now?”
“We will return to the Temple of Skulls,” he said, “where I will return to the service of the Great Jeddak, to do his will and slay his enemies.”
“Oh,” I said quietly. My heart began to pound.
“So if the Great Jeddak sentences someone to death?”
“Then,” replied Aspar Aguus, “I can have no higher duty, there can be no other obligation, before carrying out that sentence. I would perform this mission, but return to your service thereafter.”
“That is honourable and virtuous,” I replied. Inwardly, I was cursing. “When do you plan on returning to the temple.”
“Right now,” he said gravely.
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