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Volume 3166
Princess of Az-Lium
by Den Valdron

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
INTO THE AIR, 
A TIGHT BOARDING EXPERIENCE

 

The first to respond was the Captain of the Guard, who howled and dove out a nearby window.

“I will never stop fighting,” he yelled.

This was followed by a piercing scream.  “My leg!”

Well, so much for the unending battle, I thought.

Aspar Aguus stared.

“Send someone to collect him,” the Diome officer prompted.

“Yes,” said Aguus suddenly, and directed two of his warriors.  “Pursue him, follow and see where he leads.”

“His leg is probably broken,” the officer said.

“So he claimed,” Aguus replied.  “But I know these Orovars, deceit and deception are written into their very bones.  It is when they seem most helpless that they are most mendacious.”

He seemed to look at me as he said that.

As his chosen warriors departed, the rest of them moved into the room, collecting the few weapons against us, and placing us once again in chains.

“Oh foul, foul fate,” I began, the concluding oratorio from The Suicide of Balario.

Japh Leah fell to his knees.

“I had nothing to do with this,” he wept.  “It’s all her fault, hers alone.”  He began to blubber.

I was appalled.   He was stepping on my lines.   And it was terrible, cowardly, hamhanded, overblown.  Sometimes I despise real emotion, it’s utterly lacking in nuance.

“Could you shut up,” I snapped.  “I’m trying to speak.”

But he just blubbered all the louder.  What had I ever seen in this weeping ninny?

I sighed with profound disgust.

In chains we were lead out, the Orgus handling us roughly, to stand foolishly in a Courtyard as a middle-sized flyer approached.   Japh Leah continued to blubber, most of the others seemed to be in shock.

Me?  I should have been terrified, and I supposed I was.  But it wasn’t like I hadn’t been in this situation before.  Familiarity bred tedium.  I watched and waited, hopeful of an opportunity.

“You,” Aguus said, pointing at me.  “Not a word.  If you speak, I will order you gagged.”

Traitor, I thought, sourly.

“We will take it from here,” the Diome officer said, as the ship landed.

“No,” Aguus thundered.  “We will not be cheated.  My men will come.”

An argument broke out, as the Orgus and Diome contended.   The airship was not nearly large enough to carry the force of Orgus and Diome soldiers and prisoners.   Finally, after much to and fro, the balance of the Orgus and Diome soldiers remained behind.  Aguus and three Orgus came aboard, as did the two ranking officers of Diome.

“Third Jed of the illustrious great Jeddak,” an officer addressed him, once we were airborne, “I commend you.  With one blow we have crushed the rebellion before it has begun, we shall be made generals for this.”

Aguus bowed his head.

Japh Leah continued to blubber.  Aguus stepped forward and shoved him roughly.  Leah cowered back in fear against our companions.  I could hear the mumbled disgust as he was shoved against first one, then another.  Disgust turned to shouts of anger, and hands were placed upon him, until the men of Diome were forced to separate them.

The next thing I knew, he’d fallen weeping at my feet, babbling and begging my forgiveness.  As I reached down to try to push him away, I felt one of my cuffs click and go loose.  What?  I hesitated, but his moaning grew to new heights.  Another click.  I looked down, and he winked up at me.

“Coward,” Aguus sneered.  “The so-called Crown Prince of Shiaze is not worth the dust on our boots.  I will kill him now.”

“Wait,” the would-be general said, “but for the Princess, he’s our most valuable catch!  Leave him be!”

“Bah,” Aguus snorted, “if I leave him with his companions, they’ll do my work for me.”

“We can’t have that,” the Officer snapped.   “Separate him.”

“Where should I put him?”  Aguus snapped, holding the cringing man by his neck.

“Put him up at the Pilot’s section, he’s secure, he’ll cause us no trouble there.”

I watched as the weeping man was dragged to the front of the ship, into a chamber beyond.  Across from me, Ton Sabat nodded deliberately.

“Princess,” the officer addressed me with mocking courtesy, “I understand that you have never flown before.  None of your race ever has, except in chains.  Perhaps you’d like to see your city as your masters see it, from the air?”

I demurred.  But to no avail.   Aguus dragged me and the officer up onto the flat surface deck.

And then I gasped.  Beyond us, the city stretched out beneath us, the majestic boulevards, the temples and libraries, the great merchant houses, the canals and courtyards.  It was utterly beautiful.

“Exquisite, is it not,” the officer said, “a breathtaking sight.  Your city is a priceless jewel.”

He chuckled.

“Of course, he said, “it’s our city now.”

Which is when Aspar Aguus pushed him off.   He screamed all the way down.   And as he did, the ship seemed to lurch, its engines suddenly roaring.  Aguus caught me as I stumbled away and pulled me to a signal mast protruding from the deck.

“Abide, Princess,” he said, “there is work I must do below.”

From beneath the deck, there came the sounds of shouting and strife as the prisoners and Orgus fell upon the men of Diome.   Our men were weaponless, but for chains.  But I thought, the Orgus were armed, and no one could reckon with Ton Sabat’s hideous strength.

As the ship lurched and rocked beneath me, and cries of blood and pain erupted, I clung to the swaying mast, my heart racing, my guts twisting, tears of humiliation rolled down my cheeks.   How, I thought, how could I possibly have been taken in by such a terrible acting job!

The ship seemed to yaw around its axis, leaping suddenly forward in a new direction.  I stared.  It was heading towards a building.

Galvanized by fear, I left the false safety of the signal mask and dived for the deck hatch.  As I tumbled down, the entire ship lurched, as its bow collided with the building.   I fell on something soft, hearing bones breaking underneath me and a sudden stillness.  I looked down.  No one I knew.  I grabbed his sword and wrapped one arm around the deck ladder, watching the carnage around me.

Behind us, the engines roared again.  I could feel the craft beginning to descend all too rapidly.

A death scream from the cabin ahead signaled our fate.  My heart froze at the thought that the despicable, vain, scenery chewing Japh Leah might be dead.

Aspar Aguus and Ton Sabat took advantage of the scream’s distraction to dispatch the last of the defenders.

“Who flies,” Aguus called.

“We do!” Japh called back.

I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.

“But we’re going to crash, brace yourselves!”

Oh damn, I thought.  He wasn’t any better a pilot than an actor.

There was a great shuddering crunch, but we kept on going.  One of the motors fell silent.  The craft seemed to rise, for a moment, and then began to descend.

“Whose idea was this?”  I screamed.

“Mine Princess,” Aguus replied, holding onto webbing on the side of the airship.

“Yours?”  I snarled angrily.

“Japh Leah’s!”  He corrected.

Again, there was a long rolling crunch.  We must be sliding across the top of a building I thought.  I was right.  The rumbling crunch ended with a sudden plummet.  We all screamed.

The craft righted itself, flying level and descending slowly.

“What mad notion was this?”  I shrieked.

“We thought it was time to leave,” Aguus explained, “so we conceived a plan to hijack an Airship and escape with it.”

“By taking us all prisoner?”

“Pretending to take you all prisoner.”

“Oh, what a terrific plan,” I snarled sarcastically.

“Thank you, Princess,” he replied.   The big tusked alien monster was immune to irony.  “We improvised a lot.”

“What went wrong?” I shouted.

“Nothing,” he replied.  “It’s gone perfectly so far.”

I was about to snarl a blistering reply, or scream for my life, when all of a sudden, I felt all motion cease.  The engine hummed to a stop.

“We’ve landed,” Japh Leah announced.

We weren’t dead?   I was mildly surprised.

“Let us go up on deck again,” Aspar Aguus prompted.

I was seriously doubtful of this, but I followed the hulking monster up topside.   As I stood upon the deck and gazed about in all directions, I saw thousands of pale white faces staring up at me from every side, most in chains..  In the distance, Diome guards looked on in astonishment.

We’d crashed in the middle of the slave processing encampment.


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