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Volume 3171b
Princess of Az-Lium
by Den Valdron

Luana - Frank Frazetta
Consciousness came slowly as a dawning awareness of pain.  My shoulders ached like fire, bonds cutting into my wrists.  I could feel my feet swinging, toes brushing the floor.   I was chained, I realized.  Suspended.  Muddled voices came to me.

I wanted to be unconscious, I did not want to wake.  I let myself hang, trying to ignore the pain.  All that I could be certain of was that whatever pain I endured, it would be much worse.  Still, consciousness came on its own.

I tried to listen to the voices, to pick up names, sentences.  Who were they?  What did they want?

Cold water splashed me, ice cold, I gasped.   No choice now.  I opened my eyes.

I was in a large room with high ceilings.   A barracks.  The room was half filled with Orgus warriors.   No humans, no slaves.  I did not know whether that was good or bad.

A large Orgus stared at me.

I stared back.

For a few minutes, we did not speak.   I did my best to look focused and confident, without fear.  I'd learned from Aspar Aguus that it was not good ever to show fear to the Orgus.  They were a stoic race, but fear aroused them to bloody passions.

He slapped me.  I felt blood in my mouth.  I turned my head and spit, and then went back to staring at him.   Look hard, I said.  Look indifferent.  The profound and subtle evil of a Thern priestess?  No, that would be wasted on them.  Something cruder.  Our eyes locked.

He grunted.

“Aspar Aguus,” he said finally.

I blinked.  But gave no other reaction.   He hit me again, but this time I was ready for it.  It was not such a shock.   Show strength to these creatures, I thought to myself.   I had no illusions about torture, I knew that if that began, I would say and do anything.  But right now?  Now I had to convince them I was strong.

“We can kill you,” he said.  “Whoever or whatever you are, you can vanish and none will know they ever existed.”

I waited.  I already knew that, we both knew it, so he was simply trying to frighten me.   It worked, I was terrified.  But in my terror and helplessness, I desperately needed to think clearly. Perhaps he merely wanted random terror, and I was just a random stranger they'd abducted.

But that didn't make sense.  I'd been altogether too prominent.  My abduction had not been random.

So, if he was trying to frighten me, then it was for a reason.  He wanted something.  He wanted to know something that he thought I knew.

Somewhere behind me, there was a cough.  Vadak Eth?  I doubted that he was in any shape to rescue me.   No one was going to rescue me.   All I had were my wits.

“We can peel the skin from your body and anoint you with salt.  We can cut out your eyes.  We can roast you alive, bit by bit.  This is my art.  You will be my art, unless you answer my questions.”

Yes, now would be a very good time for someone to burst in and rescue me.  I waited a few heartbeats.

No luck.

“You haven't asked any questions,” I said sullenly, showing no fear.  Buy some time, I thought.   Some of the Orgus laughed.

He raised his fist to strike me, and then thought better of it.   Interesting.   Even as relief sent my heart pounding, I wondered why he'd hesitated in this bit of brutality.  Perhaps he was not quite secure among his followers.    Not that it would make a difference, they would not rouse themselves to defend a helpless prisoner.  Still, it was something.

Lines from hard boiled noir flitted through my head, but I suspected that I had not the presence to carry them off, or the courage to provoke him again.  So I just stared.

“I am Kon Andoyl, tenth jed of the Orgus, master of all the Orgus race in this city.”

“Something happened at the Temple,” he said portentously.

“The Orgus gathered,” I said neutrally.  “They gathered around the temple that day.”

Should I play ignorant?  No, then I'd be worthless to him.  He wanted an answer.

“Why?” he asked.

Thern Priestess, I thought.  Ice and malice.

“Because I wished it,” I said, coldly.

“What were you doing at the temple?  You are no Thern,” he said, “they are a bald race.  You have hair, which makes you an Orovar.”

“Only Thern men are bald,” I told him.

He blinked.   A moment of confusion then, he hadn't expected that.  He knew Thern men were bald, but now that I'd asserted it, he wasn't sure if the women were.   He'd been going somewhere with that, though.

“Are you the Demon Princess?”

I laughed.

“I am the High Priestess Linku Lans, of the Thern temple, favoured of Markath Khan.”

A murmur went through the throng.  They had been expecting something very different.  They'd been expecting the Demon Princess.   But they wouldn't care about the Princess, not in and of itself.  No, the Princess in their minds would lead to something else.   Aspar Aguus?

The Orgus Jed struck me across the face again.  He had to, I realized.  He was losing control, and he needed violence to reassert his authority over me.   Blood trickled across my lip.

“Only a Jed of the Orgus may command the Orgus,” he announced.   “Who was it that ordered those men to gather around the temple.”

They hadn't told him.  Or he hadn't been able to obtain those Orgus to interrogate.  Which meant that he wasn't in control of all of the Orgus.  He was trying to find out.  Something had happened that should not have happened, and it frightened him.

“Markath Khan gave the order,” I told him.

“Nonsense,” he said, “I rule the Orgus.  Markath Khan would have requested such a thing of me.  No request was made.”

“And yet, Markath Khan made the order,” I said, “and it was obeyed....  oh ‘Jed.’”

I allowed just a trace of mockery in the final word.

“No,” he said, “there must be another Jed.”

I laughed, and let evil contempt drip from the sounds.

“You fear that Markath Khan has found a new servant to command the Orgus.”

He blinked several times.

“I serve only Hedo Lettus, the Great Jeddak!”  He spoke a little too loudly.

“You serve Markath Khan,” I snapped.

He slapped me again.  A mistake on his part.  The Orgus moved about uneasily.  He was weak, there was an edge here.

“Only a Jed may command the Orgus,” he told me, “and only the great Jeddak commands the Jeds.  This is the law!”

“And a Jed may not slay another Jed,” I replied.  “That is the law too, but the laws are broken.”

Was that actually a law?  I thought that Aguus had mentioned something of that sort.  It had the desired effect.  Konand Oyl’s facade of power cracked.

“No,” he said desperately.  “there is a hidden Jed here.  You are the Demon Princess, you are the Orovar we have heard of, and Aspar Aguus is here with you.  I will make you tell the truth.”

My stomach clenched.  He was frightened.  The torture would begin soon.  But I had to play this out.

“Aspar Aguus is dead,” I announced.   “You know this because you killed him.  You slit his throat with your own hand.”

There was a murmur from the gathered Orgus, a mixture of shock and anger.  His followers would not tolerate that.

“I did not,” he shouted.

“You shed his blood.”

“I did not.  We left him bound for the beasts.”

Shock from those behind.  An advantage.  Press it quickly, I thought!

“By your words he is dead,” I howled, “by your hand he is dead.   Seize him!   Seize the traitor!”

No one moved.

Oh oh.   Darn.

I had overplayed my hand.   However precarious his position, the Orgus would not obey a stranger against one of their own Chiefs.  Konand Oyl drew his flensing knife, his eyes white with panic.   If I was lucky, he'd be frightened enough to kill me quickly.

“Aspar Aguus is here,” he said, “and you will tell us the truth.”

No luck.

“Wait,” a booming voice rang out.   Konand Oyl hesitated.  We looked.  It was a tall scarred warrior who came forward.

“I am in command, Turn Hep,” Konand Oyl asserted.   The tall warrior ignored him as if he'd not spoken.

“Aspar Aguus is dead?” he asked.  “This creature, Konand Oyl, who poses as Jed admits murder...  Or seems to.”

The room was quiet.  Konand Oyl stared at him, but the scarred fighter was oblivious.

“If this is true, then Konand Oyl has broken the law, perhaps he has broken the other laws as well, we have wondered....”

He paused reflectively, trying to work thoughts out, putting together pieces to see what fit.  He seemed to give up on whatever idea.   Just my luck, my new champion was a dolt.

“... But still, there was the gathering at the temple.   And while I might believe that Konand Oyl kneels to Markath Khan, rather than our true master....”

Wrong piece, you Orgus idiot, I thought.  Why couldn't he be smarter.

The Jed swore an oath, but somehow, the scarred warrior's voice carried over.  There were subtle movements around the room.  Konand Oyl had backed away from me, towards those he deemed trustworthy.

Everywhere, the Orgus shifted, pulling apart from each other here, clustering together there.  Weapons were fingered nervously.  Tur Hep's jaws worked silently before he spoke.

“I do not believe that Markath Khan has made other...  slaves... among the Orgus.”

There was a quick draw of breath at the warriors' use of the word slave.  Even I could tell this was a grave insult.  Turn Hep continued his plodding.

“The rumour is that the great Aspar Aguus ordered the gathering at the temple.  There are rumours that Aspar Aguus is in Diome.   There were rumours that he was in Az-Lium.  There are rumours he serves the Demon Princess.”

Wait, I thought, replaying his words.  He might be smarter than I thought.

The scarred warrior drew close to me.

“You should not think that lies will save your life, creature.  That is forfeit no matter what you say.  So speak truthfully.”

I nodded, swallowing.  I'd provoked dissension among them, but that hardly made me safe.

I cleared my throat and spoke as loudly and clearly as I could.

“Konand Oyl and one other did murder Aspar Aguus.  They set upon him, and bound him for the beasts, and cut his flesh open so that the scent would draw him.  A Jed may not slay a Jed, that is the law.  They tried to evade it, but they broke it nevertheless.   They broke it because they had pledged slavery to Markath Khan and forsook their oath to the great Jeddak   They broke the law of faith.   Aspar Aguus learned of their betrayal and so they had to murder him.”

It seemed plausible to Turn Hep.   He nodded.

“Konand Oyl has admitted as such.  How is it that you know this?”

“I am the Demon Princess,” I replied.

My lies were piling up and colliding with each other, jamming into an incoherent mess.   A Thern Priestess would not have been witness, only the Demon Princess would have been in believably in the right place.  But I'd told them that as a Thern Priestess, Markath Khan had ordered the Orgus about and made a slave of Konand Oyl.   If these creatures paused to try and straighten out my statements, then I was going to be roasted over an open spit.

The warrior nodded.

“It is sufficient.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.   They didn't seem to be keeping track.

He drew his blade.   That didn't seem good.

“We have much to sort out among ourselves.  Your words are a mixture of truths and lies.   I do not care to sort them out.   Prepare to die!”


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