by Den Valdron
PIRATES OF TAZOR YLAN
From a distance, it looked like a live city, the unmistakable shapes of human construction, angles and rectangles, resolving before us. As we approached, it loomed larger and larger, taking up a steadily widening arc of the horizon. Blocky silhouettes resolved themselves into towers and domes, minarets, pylons and obelisks, buildings of every shape and size crowding on each other, piling one on top of another, as if caught in a rush to be the first to our gaze. Wide boulevards yawned empty, as if traffic had momentarily abated, and would commence any moment. There was a sense of expectancy, as if the city merely held its breath.
We trudged along, approaching it. I dragged a rough hewn sledge made from the bones and poorly cured leather of the Saddok. Aspar Aguus walked beside me. It was, I thought, a matter of cosmic unfairness that I, frail and small, had to drag the load, while the great warrior strolled unencumbered.
I had in fact complained about it a number of times, and once in a while, Aguus took his turn pulling the sledge. But then we'd hear a noise, or he'd spot a footprint or the mark of some fierce unseen beast, and then I was back pulling, so that he could walk free to defend us from attack. Somehow, there were a lot of noises, footprints and marks, when he was dragging the sled.
We approached silently, passing along an ancient shoreline, coming upon the first of a series of docks and harbour buildings. The buildings yawned silent and empty, massive doors had fallen from hinges, roofs had fallen in or rotted away. Every now and then, we could see a section of wall that had collapsed to rubble. The remains of lifting cranes, sometimes whole structures almost intact, some merely foundations, were spaced along the docks.
As we passed the first of the docks, I could see the construction of dressed stone and wooden beams. The wood had petrified.
We turned inward, climbing the shore, reaching the first of the great boulevards. Dunes collected against the sides of buildings. Walls fallen over, roofs collapsed. The marks of scouring wind had left everything pitted, corners worn away. Up close the emptiness and decay was apparent.
Empty windows opened onto darkness. It was slow and subtle, but it was real. Buildings slumped against each other, like tired men leaning in the dark, twisting doors and windows. Balconies had fallen from upper floors, stairs collapsed. Statues lay fallen, or broken into fragments. We could feel the desolation and emptiness as we walked down the boulevard. Once, this had been a live place. But for thousands of years, it had been empty and abandoned, a place of dust and howling winds. Not even scavengers remained. Nothing lived here.
“This city,” Aspar Aguus said, “abandoned so long ago that no one even remembers what it was called.
“It was called Tazor Ylan,” I said softly.
“Long dead,” he repeated.
“This was a harbour once,” I said quietly. “All the wealth of the Pan Hathor, what you call the Jagged lands, flowed down like trickles feeding into brooks and brooks joining rivers, until it came here, and from here, to the length of Barsoom.”
“What wealth could come from the Jagged lands,” Aguus asked, “was it other than the dread emptiness it is now? Was it too a place of life in your peoples’ day?”
“Everything was alive then, the whole world was alive” I said, “the Jagged lands were barren then, though perhaps not as barren. But it was rich then. It produced jewels, metals, gold, silver, copper and iron, radium. There was vast wealth in the Jagged lands, enough to bring prospectors, explorers, mines and miners and factories, garrisons and settlements. That's how Az-Lium was founded.”
“Everything that came out of the Pan Hathor came down through here. And everything that went into the Pan Hathor first passed through Tazor Ylan. It was the wealthiest city that had ever existed in the world, its streets were paved with gold, buildings were surfaced with gems. It was the wonder of Barsoom. They called it the Island of Treasure.”
“Indeed,” he said.
I waved at the docks.
“Even when the oceans retreated, they just kept building the docks further and further out, the city further onto new shores.”
“A futile effort.”
“When the sea had retreated too far, they dredged a great canal from the docks to the sea, so they might maintain commerce. That canal was one of the wonders of the world, a testament to the pride and strength of the Orovar nation. Proof that no matter how the world changed, we would endure, that we could only triumph.”
He laughed, evincing the strange cruel humour I had come to associate with the Orgus.
“That at least is known to us,” he said, “It is called the dead canal, or the fool's path.”
“This,” I said, “was the boulevard of Heroes. It led to the palace.”
I gazed at a fragment of broken statuary, a face larger than both of us, half buried in sand, pieces of arm and torso laying in drifts of dust.
“Along this boulevard were the hundred gods, heroes of myth and legend, the life's work of the sculptor Ybling Rhs Dan.”
I looked up. Across the Boulevard, fronting an intersection, was a three cornered building, two of its faces paneled with stylized suns, the rays stretching out in all directions.
“That was the temple of Tur,” I said, “the facings were inlaid with gold.”
“Stolen long ago,” Aguus said, “and forgotten.”
“And nine blocks beyond that would be the great Arena and the Ampitheatres,” I turned and pointed. “And down that street would lie the great library. Past the palace were the Nobles Gardens, with soils imported from the Valley of Ophar, paid for with their weight in gold.”
“How is it that you know these things?”
“I learned about it growing up. We studied the maps, memorized the great buildings, looked at pictures. I learned about all the cities, all the wonderful places.”
“When I was a child, I dreamed of leaving Az-Lium, of going out. I dreamed of walking the streets of Tazor, being among the merchants and nobles, seamen and artisans, hearing the sound of the sea, and the call of a thousand voices from a thousand lands.”
“All gone ten thousand years before you were ever born.”
“So many of the plays I learned, the oratories, the soliloquies, the performances were set here. The tragedies, the comedies, the epics and the bawdy songs. Tazor was the place of marvels, the place where everything passed through, it was so large in our stories, our legends, it was bigger and more alive than Az-Lium. It was the City, and we were just a provincial town. We were the hinterland, the backwater. Tazor was the metropolis.”
I put up my hands. Waving it around, turning in slow circles.
“It's dead, it's all dead! How could this be?”
The Orgus, stopped and stared warily at me. “It was a long, long time ago Princess. No one cares. No one even remembers. It is the way of things.”
“But... Tazor! We thought the world had died beyond our dome. But still, believing that, I don't think... This city was life. It embodied life. Tazor as a dead place, that was unimaginable. Even in a dead world, I thought .... That there would be survivors. Inhabitants. Maybe even a dome like ours.... This is... empty.”
“Tazor like this, it is too awful to bear. What of Horz? Of Torquas and Thark? What of Lothar home of philosophers and warriors? What of Torquas and its mighty fleets? We were the Orovar! Our ships ruled the seas! We walked every corner of this world.”
“Gone now,” Aguus said, not unkindly. “The Orovar, their cities, their empires. The very seas. All gone. Nothing left, but ruins returning to the sands.”
“So Az-Lium was all that was left,” I sank to my knees. “And Az-Lium is fallen. This truly is a dead world.”
Tears began to crawl down my face, leaving trails in the dust and grime. I did not sob. But in that moment, I wished I was dead, that I had joined my friends, that I joined my lost people.
“What point is there to live?” I whispered. “An illusion out of time. Ghosts and we did not even know it. We thought we were the last people alive. We were just dead and did not know it.”
“The Orovars are gone," Aspar Aguus said, putting his hand on my shoulder, “their world is gone, so long ago that time has lost all meaning. You speak of a dead world. The world I know is not dead. It is a world of cities of peoples, of nations, and races old and new. It is a world of war and passion, and even love, a world of ambition and struggle. My world yet lives. As do you.”
“I live,” I said bitterly, “to what purpose?”
“Have you not voiced this purpose?” he asked. “Come, cease this whining self pity. Retrieve the Secret Sacred Royal Jewels of Power and let us be on our way. I grow sick of dried Sadok meat.”
“Damn the jewels of power,” I said bitterly.
Anything to keep from returning to the temple. The promise of wealth had no sway, the lie had grown and grown, from jewels to secret jewels, secret jewels to sacred jewels, sacred jewels to jewels of power, and in the end, he had been diverted from dragging me back to the Temple of Skulls.
But to here? Oh despair. I had thought if there was anything left, it would be here. We'd traced a path I remembered from ancient maps. And for what?
“Well,” said a smooth voice from behind, “Princess Orovar from out of lost time, if you do not care for your valuables any more, we'd be glad to take them from you. In fact, we'd quite insist”
My blood froze. Aspar Aguus whirled, sword at ready, but it was too late. A rifle was trained hard upon him, he would be dead before he could lift his blade. Other men, red men, armed as mercenaries, as bandits, as pirates stepped from their hiding places, advancing on us.
“We'd be glad,” he repeated, “to have these jewels, if you don't want them.”
More men came out.
Aguus held up his hands in surrender. We were surrounded.
Captured again. Damn.
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