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Volume 1681
Michael A. Wexler
Chapters 1 - 5


Strange to write the ending first, but for me there is no other way.

It is barely midday, the sky fittingly black. I sit in a sodden alley, a rusted awning sheltering my precious packet of papers from a blowing rain. I am tired, tired and old. Older than I have ever been. Too long wayward Destiny left me here forgotten and alone but, at last, the fire burns.

Soon, the indescribable warmth touching my soul, foretelling my death, will become a roaring beacon drawing me to the next life and next adventure. Beckoning with the promise that we, Mecca, Bodine, Falsworth, all the infinite others Fate has gathered in my undying spirit will continue. Death denied

Even now, the dampness feeding on my bones and numbing my hands fades. I must hurry if I am to finish these few, final lines.

Read what I have left this world with an open mind and when next you stand beneath a starry sky dreaming of love, adventure, and worlds to believe in, think of me.

I will be there.

Gray Allen
Malta, Illinois


I have never known the truth of it, not in all my lives before or after.

Named Gray Allen for the dreary, rainy day of my birth, I passed beyond this incarnation in 1864. The Great War between the Northern and Southern States of America, that had taken me from my Virginia home and as far north as the bloody fields of Gettysburg, had come full circle. When Ulysses S Grant charged into Cold Harbor, doorway to Richmond and the heart of the Confederacy, I was there; and there I died.

For the fire burned.

I recall a nebulous rush of blue and gray, a flash of powder in sweat-thickened twilight, and then nothing beyond blackness momentary or infinite until, as a wing unfolds, the darkness lifted. The flutter of a fresh heart tripped against my ribs, my blood cooled and I was reborn.

No poetry to recite, no secrets to betray. Just a private affinity with a jealous Creator that had carried me to a vast ochre plain bathed by a fire-red sun; a crimson furnace hung in a lightly clouded peach-colored sky.

A man of gold, not the desert-bronze of that other world but a lithe blush that rippled across steel sinew, I stood a hundred yards shy of a wildly twisted wood. Boles of red, green, and heliotrope reached out like gnarled fingers, their boughs sagging under unearthly rainbow foliage. My eyes closed. A breeze scented as jasmine filled my lungs and I tingled with the seductive lure of a new life on a New World, dramatically filled with new death!

I walked in the aftermath of a great confrontation. Corpses lay thick in all directions, the grass bloodstained and matted from a torrent of mortal wounds. I had a fleeting memory of that other life and that other war, recent and distant, now meaningless compared to this.

The fallen from whose numbers I had risen wore cured animal skins stitched into loincloth and moccasin. Dark leather straps crossed each warrior’s chest and circled their waists. In the embroidered scabbards nested red-tempered longswords and daggers with bone-handles carved into the likeness of an unknown winged creature, the dagger blades curled as a gleaming talon. Strewn about, or protruding from the dead, were numerous short, heavy spears. I noted the blue eyes painted upon the whetted points and smiled grimly.

I held an easy kinship with a majority of the slain, with my black hair and golden skin. Others were quite bald and but distinctive tuffs of hair upon their chins while some, though far less, had red hair and markedly white skins. Starkly white, when matched against the gold of their comrades. Warriors all, natural brethren of a genus that was human.

Not so the others.

Alive, the creature I examined would have reared seven feet with the arms of a gorilla, the chest of a buffalo, and the stench of perdition. Long bony hands and heavily nailed feet hinted at a clumsy grasp and gait, an impression opposed by a narrow waist and powerful, upswept chest. Covered head to foot in a coat of curly black hair the beast reeked of sweat, gore and personal waste.

Sunk between bony shoulders, the head thrust outward a bulbous deformity without visible neck. Cadaverous cheeks and a sharply jutting jaw conspired to form a foul, toothless opening that was more a black cavity than anything I could sanely call a mouth. Red-raw slits served the purpose of nostrils.

Above this grim muzzle bulged oversized, multifaceted eyes. Rimmed in blood, conical and lidless, they held a hundred riveting reflections of both I and the carnage spread around me. Even in death mirroring life, was the involuntarily thought filling my mind.

The countless numbers of this heinous dead wore the same simple attire and carried the same basic weaponry as the human of the slain.

Too many lives lived on too many worlds for me to discount the ways of Nature. Man, as we envision him, may not be the crowning achievement of creation. Still, I found the notion this loathsome thing was my equal or possible superior repellent.

I attempted to shrug my natural prejudice aside. I knew Nature and expected better of her.

It may be my unique ability to transcend death, to recall other lives and other plains of existence prejudicing my opinion, but I do not believe in instinct. For others perhaps, but not me. Instead, I possess (what I have fancied calling) a collective memory, a reservoir of previous life experiences drawn upon in times of emerging crisis. It might explain something of the common personality that runs unbroken through my incarnations and my apparent blind trust in Fate. A trust that, at a sudden snapping of branches and rustling of brush, sent me racing across the littered landscape towards a living dozen of these nightmarish creatures pursuing the slim figure of a golden girl.

The girl saw me first and hesitated in her flight, casting a frightened look back toward the advancing horde. Her breasts heaved within a soft leather brazier and a girdle of bright shells encircled her muscular waist. I shouted an encouragement and her eyes swung back to me, a lone warrior, pushing to her aid.

Those eyes! Even now, writing this story, eons removed from those first, chaotic moments, I recall those eyes. Alluring, exotic, bright green and almond shaped, set in a perfect oval face surrounded by a tousle of raven hair; smoke circling fire.

Her lips drew a determined line that seemed to shed her hesitancy and she ran towards me. The beasts followed, covering the ground with an undulating swiftness I would not have thought possible given their ungainly size and physique.

I moved forward swiftly and we met, the girl speaking in a breathless stream I could not understand. I shook my head and watched those wondrous eyes cloud in question then toss back to the advancing beasts. She spoke again, one word uttered with all the contempt and loathing a being could muster into a single phrase.


Reacting to the first rule of Nature, survival, I hefted the spear of a dead warrior. He did not need it now. I did.

Backed by the muscles and memories of a thousand fighting souls, the painted eye of my missile split the intervening distance and plowed through the breast of the lead Hisl, impaling a second creature that followed too close behind. They went down in a skewered heap that brought the balance of the pack to an abrupt halt.

The golden girl turned to me in wide-eyed amazement and I smiled, understanding that I gazed upon the face of a Destiny plotted and planned ere I had drawn first breath upon this strange and savage world.

The Hisl were moving again as they fanned out in a circle, stepping indiscriminately on expired friend and foe alike to spin an entrapping web. I noted the intelligence in their action and shuddered once. All the time I could spare for fear or trepidation.

Handing my dagger to the girl, I nodded toward our only option, an open space in the ring of Hisl that led straight back into the fantastic forest she had just escaped. She placed her free hand in mine and nodded grimly. I felt her tremble and measured it against the anxiety filling my own heart.

We ran a race with death, through the dead, as we picked our way across the corpse littered plain. Two of the beasts, at the far extremity of their closing formation, pushed to intercept us. My longsword flashed with an effortless grace and I sliced through them, sunlight through shadow.

As the Hisl fell, the golden girl tightened her grip upon my free hand. Her almond-eyes seemed to smile and I marveled at the resources a man summons forth when given so striking an audience.

A few feet more and . . .

Perhaps it was a dead beast reaching back across the void for a final vengeance. I did not know nor care. It was enough that I tripped and fell. The golden girl, unable to check herself, stumbled over me and ran headlong into the arms of the closing Hisl.


They were on me before I could get to my feet. My sword, jerked from my grasp, disappeared into a mass of fetid bodies.

Grunting loudly, I struck out left and right, bare knuckles pummeling hairy flesh, flinching involuntarily at the incongruity of these Hisl who fought and died in an eerie, unbroken silence. The silence of the grave I have never known, though loud enough I heard bones crack beneath my furious fists.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, in that nameless region functioning dispassionately from the violence of my realities, I realized the Hisl simply had no capacity for sound.

I had only a quick glimpse of the golden girl stabbing at the Hisl with my pitifully insufficient blade, a wild fury firing her eyes. My heart cheered and then something struck the back of my head and there was only darkness.

That I had lain insensible a considerable time I read in the peach sky folded into a blood-red dusk, the sun setting in a fiery, fast falling arc. Gore cached my right cheek. A dried and nasty gash clotted my scalp.

Fighting waves of nausea, I stood and surveyed the landscape. No Hisl, no golden girl, only an omnipresence of death and a trail of blood, testament to my aching knuckles, that led away into the so close but so far forest.

With a growl suspect more of my heritage than my humanity, I glanced up into the deepening night sky. Then to the corpse of an unknown brother of dark hair and golden skin with a bloodied sword still clutched in his lifeless hand.

“I need your blade.”

My statement beckoned no complaint. Gently, with an innate reverence, I freed his metal that it could live again. Adding a fresh dagger and a blood-encrusted spear to my armament, I entered the fanciful forest in pursuit of the golden girl with the emerald eyes.

As to why, call it Destiny. It wears well in the telling of my tale. My relentless search for a purpose, an explanation of the question consuming my every incarnation; why am I here?

Night fell as a door closing. I glowered skyward, my eyes narrowing, for nowhere in the sparsely mottled star field above did I see sign of a rising moon. The darkness was absolute. I drew a deep breath, my head filling with fresh air and fresh doubt. However, I never looked back.

I said that I knew Nature and expected better of Her. She did not disappoint.

Dimly at first, then brighter and bolder as I advanced into that mangled maze, the trees began to shimmer. The forest grew incandescent, every leaf, blade of grass, clump of moss or looping liana, radiating singular and indescribable hues. Though Night descended an inviolable black, Nature lit the path before me, painting with bold strokes on a dark and forsworn canvas

I followed the primary corridor, wending my way through the weirdly bent and ghostly-glowing underbrush. Though I passed numerous diverging paths, they did not draw me. I kept to the predominant trail.

For a time, I made rapid progress, but gradually the boles of the trees crowded and cramped and my passage slowed. Doubt assailed me, for this thick inner forest looked pristine, lacking any sign of passing Hisl or other beasts yet unknown.

Trusting Fate and stubborn to a fault, I drew my sword intent upon hacking my own path through the misshapen forest. I sliced into a rubbery vine and then stepped back in awe.

Sap bled as liquid light. Where it splashed upon the spongy carpet at my feet, roots pushed upward like starving worms escaping an earthen grave. Roots that blazed, pulsed, and grew vines with stunning speed while the severed bough above glowed, healed, and flowered anew.

I estimated an hour, a little more, a little less, before the self-regenerating forest erased all trace of my passage, as I now believed it had done with the golden girl and the Hisl. While I had lain unconscious at the edge of the great plain a hundred beasts could have hewn through this alien wood, all vestige of their transition swallowed by the perpetually renewing flora.

Dangerous flora! Lost in thought, almost too late I realized the wildly growing roots and vines had become tentacles snaked around my ankles trying to drag me down, to what ghastly purpose I could only imagine. To linger was death.

With a snarl of disgust, I hacked free and drove deep into the timbre. Where the fancifulcolors subdued and the encroaching foliage grew so dense as to be black. Where within shadows sleek and sinister life stirred. An occasional cough or roar floated to my ears and I heard, or thought I heard, the stealthy fall of padded feet. While from the impenetrable terraces above, a suggestion of fluttering wings and the rougher passage of something heavy, something unknown.

Though I carried this blackness as an unwelcome weight, nothing physical emerged to interfere with my journey and so I grew philosophical. Ahead lay the surviving Hisl and the alluring green-eyed girl; to what lay between I was unaware and unafraid.

My distance lengthened. The depressing stretch of dark forest teased me with occasional breaks where the more brightly colored flora reappeared. My steps and hopes would quicken then, until the darker boles and a darker mood would again close about me. My natural if misplaced sense of optimism fading in the dusky and discordant interior.

Unable to rest amongst the wildly regenerating wood, I grew arm weary from incessant chopping. Again, the low growl of a primitive soul, unhappy in the dark, pursed my lips. I smacked at a mesh of spidery veins entangling my ankles with unreasoning violence. A clawing chill running down my back. How long I waged my battle with that dark and twisted path I cannot say. Fatigue, and that throbbing crack upon my skull, made my steps leaden. I pressed on by power of will, though my sword felt made of stone.

Then, at last, the forest again changed faces. The air grew dank, the leafy mold underfoot sodden and pasty, but the trees had thinned and I was free of the seemingly endless miles of thick brush and leaf I had just traversed.

In this more open space, a diaphanous haze covered the forest floor and I felt as primitive man walking a path from the dawn of creation. Sheathing my sword, hurting and exhausted, I stumbled into a park-like clearing bathed in milky fog and centered by a red glowing tree, at the base of which, nearly buried in ochre grass, lay a small burnished shell. That it had dropped from the girdle about her waist I never doubted. Elated, my faith in Destiny affirmed, I slumped against that shining bole, the tiny prize clutched to my breast.

The gentle radiance of that glade baited an irresistible trap. Weak and wearied, my defenses dulled by an outraged nature I had forced too far too long, my eyes closed.

Dawn filtered through the restored canopy of wildly colored leaves a pale stream of warmth. An ethereal gown perceived through some introspective corner of my mind. For nothing could have long drawn my attention from the feline creature crouched menacingly at the edge of the clearing, glaring balefully at the sleepy fool at the base of a phosphorescent tree. The fool, who should have been in the tree had he wished to live.

Sight of the beast drew an immediate comparison to the great sabretooth tigers of a different world’s earliest epochs. The great curving incisors had transferred complete, partnered with a third tusk centered obliquely between feral eyes.

From snarling countenance to muscled flanks it was snow-white but for a single blue streak that blazed from trebled tusk to twitching tail; a hauntingly beautiful, deadly-dangerous creation.

Its head lowered almost imperceptibly, blood-red eyes narrowed into serpentine slits. Bloodthirsty drool glistened upon exposed canines while I, Don Quixote, vulnerable and exposed, rued the deceptive serenity of that entrapping glade.

Cautiously, my hand sought my spear where it had dropped in my ill-advised slumber. At that first quiver of muscle, the blue-tipped tail shot rigid. With a roar meant to freeze a less sentient soul, that mountain of white muscle and yellowed fang hurtled for my unprotected throat.

Reaction was innate or not at all. I met the beast in a half-crouch, spear unconsciously extended forward. A bone-jarring crunch buried me in a blur of snowy-rage, driving me hard against the unyielding tree. My backed screamed in agony, my lungs felt separated from my body.

Breathing pain, smothered in the hot odor of that fearsome cat, I closed my eyes and waited to die.

Eternal death, the end I have always suspected of lurking over the next horizon. A stalking tiger of another kind, watching, waiting for that one time when the fire did not burn and life would not continue, such as that ghostly gray morning in the heart of that alien forest.

Hot, fetid breath lingered on my cheeks. A single, well-clawed forepaw rested over my heart. My eyes opened and I saw the blue-eyed spear protruding blood red from the carnivore’s spine. The beast had impaled itself. Heart pierced, it lay silent. The bestial countenance pressed flush against me, fangs frozen in death.

With shaking hands I pushed the heavy carcass from me and rose to my feet. Once more, I had cheated Death . . . perhaps.

Like the moth drawn to the flame, adventure courts Gray Allen.

Have you ever heard of the Harpy, mythological demons carrying departed souls to Hell? This, upon my word, is what now faced me across the vanquished saber-tooth.

Baleful and bizarre, a perplexing contradiction to all the rules of nature as I have known them, it stood at five feet with a pronounced stoop caused by the large, bat-like wings hinged and folded behind its shoulders. Well-muscled legs buckled thickly outwards. The sinewy arms were slender but tipped with hard talons menacingly curved for raking and tearing.

Its sex eluded me, though it was quite naked, a nudity that was the most exceptional feature of this strange inhabitant of this increasingly complex world. Like the forest, the Harpy had luminous skin but wholly transparent. Every muscle, every fiber, every vein coursing blood exposed in glaring clarity. When it moved, it churned. When it flexed, it gurgled. The thing struck me as obscene, deviant on an emotional level I cannot defend.

The creature was observing me from under dark, beetling brows that furrowed over deep, bloodshot eyes and black nostrils stretched flat above a slattern muscular jaw that angled outwards, bill-like, and added to the overall avian impression. Two cracked and yellowed fangs hung from the outer-edge of that bill and twitched spasmodically with its every breath.

I had no need of a collective memory to divine my situation. Again, trouble had found Gray Allen.

Oddly impinging upon my consciousness was something unusual, something common to the Hisl, the birdman, and the great cat I had so fortuitously slain, a complete lack of discernible ears. Wondering what it could mean, if it had any meaning at all, I also pondered why I so often thought of these things at such inappropriate moments.

The Harpy, as I had dubbed him, pawed tenuously at the remains of the dead cat with its flat, flayed feet. If the saber-tooth was food, the Harpy could have it. I was in no mood or condition for further quarrel.

I began to withdraw from the clearing, slowly, wanting only to escape with body and soul intact. The birdman’s brow snapped up sharply. It stepped over the body of the tiger, wings expanding, head thrown back to vent a shrill, whistling scream.

My longsword flew from its scabbard. I had come in pursuit of the golden girl and the greater destiny embodied in those emerald-green eyes. I wanted an end to this forest, these beasts, and these sidebars of danger.

Without warning, I stood as a stag between two wolves. The air teemed with brightly colored, loudly scolding little birds, hundreds of them. So intensely plumed as to be incongruous with the morose, milky haze that shrouded the glen and distorted my perception.

That the Harpy’s scream had summoned these tiny devils went without challenge for a second cry, one higher and more emoting, sent them darting at my arms, my legs, my head, and my eyes. There is no defense, no cover. Minute beaks as needles pierced my skin. In the space of a ragged thought, I bled profusely from dozens of tiny, painful bites.

The sepulchral Harpy undulated from side to side, wings beating in a frantic tempo that stirred the birds to new heights of hostility. A height I had to match or perish. One arm thrown protectively across my eyes, I charged through the diving, whistling circle of birds and closed with the birdman, the true author of my torment.

A hissing growl met my rush. Ivory talons swept aside my longsword, the blade snapped at the handle in an appalling display of speed and power that brought the battle to primitive terms, muscle against muscle. A battle I am too weak to win.     Sinewy hands clutched at my throat. Sharp claws cut my veins, letting blood. My senses swam and my breath came in quick gasps. My eyes misted but a voice rose from the veil. I was a man, facing a dumb brute. I had reason; it had nothing.

My fingers found my dagger. Contact ignited my flagging senses and the blade flew upwards and arced downward. I shouted in triumph, eyes flashing. Elation expressed too soon. For a furious blur of motion met my action and a powerful talon-like hand gripped my arm, the blade held at bay.

Dumb brute? The pomposity of man!

With the inevitable certainty of a leaf drifting to earth, the creature turned my hand, bending it backwards. Again, Death swirled before my winded consciousness. Did I only imagine my antagonist grinning?

Whether inspiration or desperation, my mind’s eye saw the snow-white carcass sprawled behind the Harpy. With faltering strength scarce equal to the task, I rammed the creature hard. It staggered, and I slammed forward again. This time, its left foot struck against the dead sabretooth and, equilibrium disturbed, the birdman teetered. A moment plucked from time, but all that this warrior needed!

My hand wrenched upward and the freed dagger plunged downward, driven to the hilt between the narrow eyes of the doomed birdman. With a long shrill whistle that seeped into the soil as sand swallows water, the Harpy died.

For a small part of forever, I panted wild-eyed over my fallen foe. I felt the unbridled flush of triumph and a savage, primordial urge to pound my chest and roar my victory. An ardor that blinded me to the unresolved dilemma of the biting birds now demanding a bounty, revenge for their slain comrade and fallen master.

How else do I describe this strange triad between tiger, Harpy, and scolding birds?

They encircled me in a dizzying ring of hateful color hitched to biting beaks, but now I had a shield. The body of their Lord sheltered me!

Eyes alert, heart pounding, I backed from the glade, stopping just long enough to hurl the cloaking carcass at the strafing birds. Then, without a backward glance, I turned and plunged into the rapidly brightening forest beyond.


I bolted through the thick underbrush, now upright, now bent, until outraged and exhausted nature forced me to stop.

Paused among the mighty forest giants, hands on my knees gasping great mouthfuls of air, my ears strained for sounds of a pursuit that did not come. Buoyed, but not convinced, I forced my pace, every fiber of my being alert. I knew what lay behind. I could only imagine what lie ahead.

At last, at the base of another great forest giant with tempting, low hung limbs, I ended my flight. Clambering laboriously into the lower terraces and nestling snugly into a suitable notch that I had tapped as my refuge, I closed my eyes and slept the deep slumber of total exhaustion.

Though some ancient voice whispered that I forfeited the trail of the Hisl, and therefore the girl, a more sanguine Nature demanded I lay up and regain some measure of strength. To have pressed on would have been foolhardy, which upon reflection, was an apt description of my behavior for having ever ventured into this vile wood.

I awoke stiff and sore, covered in bites and scratches. The latter more nuisance than hindrance. My spear and sword were gone, but I retained the dagger. Some natural reserve over my ability to deal with the future in general and the Hisl in particular crossed my mind, but I ignored it.

The hot sun, sitting high in the peach sky, beating down through the canopy of green, gold, and blue colored leaves, had restored the forest to full brilliance. Free flowing sweat stung my wounds. The welts on my body, rubbed raw against overhanging limbs and vines, pained me greatly.

I needed to eat. I needed to bathe. Food and fresh water being the tonics to cure my ills. However, nothing that could pass for food or water presented itself, and, though, for the present, I did not suffer from hunger or thirst, a sense of jeopardy wormed into my consciousness. A feeling as real as the nasty, biting insects I swatted with irritating regularity.

From leaves, I suckled a few drops of dewy moisture, enough to keep me moving but wholly inadequate to my growing needs. I tried a few plants and tubers but nothing passed further than my lips.

I trudged on, thinking often of the golden girl with the emerald eyes, never doubting she still lived, trusting Destiny would reveal the purpose of her presence upon that death littered plain. The sole human thus encountered upon this fantastic world.

Two or three miles further into the shifting colors and twisted boles of this hypocritical forest, I came to an abrupt halt. From ahead, came the distinct sound of running water. My pace quickened, my feet moving with a reservoir of strength long thought emptied until, as a child from a maze, I burst into an invigorating openness. A sun drenched vista teeming with life.

And such life!

Swiftly bounding deer that were not deer, with their red hides and blue-bellies. Small, curious rabbits that were not rabbits with flat backs and green fur, and lack of ears. Birds filled the sky or grouped upon the branches of nearby trees. Gentle things, starkly contrasting the sharp beaked fiends so recently escaped, these brightly-feathered songsters filled me with an effervescence of life, hope reborn.

Wonders surrounded me, though none so at once inspiring as the towering snowcapped peaks thrusting boldly skyward above the timberline. A ragged range caressed by the sun, whose embrace wrapped the mountain in wondrous almost celestial swirl of color that surpassed the mightiest rainbows of my recollection.

Nature had truly given the foundations of this planet a unique set of rules. Boundaries of beauty and ugliness that were as opposite horns on the same goat.

A hundred yards to my right ran the clear stream whose steady flow had drawn me from forest to field. Losing not a moment more, I stripped and immersed my tired, battered body. The water was cool, surprising so, given the warmth of the sun above. However, I did not dwell on speculation, opting to slurp mouthfuls of lifesaving elixir while splashing about with the innocence of youth, an immortal youth, forever old yet eternally young.

I found the stream stocked with a variety of brightly colored residents. Fish that were not fish because they had feet and could climb out of the water and run away, though not all. Retrieving my dagger, I skewered a satisfying if salty meal.

Whether a lingering memory of some early progenitor or a natural act of this wondrous world, I feasted raw.

Limbs flushed, mind focused, my body cleansed and soul enervated, I lay back upon the soft ochre grasses and let my eyes rove over the spellbinding rock fortress in the distance. Lost in the lights, I daydreamed of marvels, miracles, and golden girls with emerald eyes, or rather the one, and wondered: What next?

A scream!

I had covered a hundred yards before that timorous note died. The cry did not repeat. It did not have to. Endowed with eternal conceit I knew it was she, the golden girl with emerald eyes, and danger threatened.

The landscape changed rapidly. The ochre grasses faded into hard clay that gradually inclined. The woods receded and the mountain approached. The stream, which I paralleled, widened. At once, I drew up before the body of a dead Hisl, badly mauled, face down in the flowing water. For a breath, I paused before that stinking omen. Just long enough to arm myself with a confiscated blade.

Now came the roar of beasts and a sound I knew as metal eating into flesh, cutting bone. A second scream and I fairly flew round a rocky bend at the threshold of the incandescent mountain. Clustered on a ledge twenty feet up from the base, facing a sea of savage tigers and screaming Harpies, I saw the seven remaining Hisl and the golden girl.

If insanity is a measure of courage, I am the bravest man ever born. If not, then I am the most foolish.

Brandishing the blade of that dead Hisl so briefly met, I bounded into the narrow trail howling madly. I thought to appear an entire army fallen upon the rear of the attacking beasts, trusting deception to win me passed claw and fang to the side of the girl.

Again, I had underestimated the intelligence of the Harpies! Almost at once, the birdmen realized only one foolish warrior challenged their position upon the mountain, their claim to the prize. They beat their wings and whistled, and a dozen tigers turned snarling canines my direction.

Too late, I reconsidered the dubious wisdom of that mad charge onto the mountain and attempted to withdraw. Surrounded, hemmed by growling beasts, there was no choice save stand and fight.

What an astounding Destiny I serve! I had followed and endured to kill the Hisl. Instead, I owed them my life as they waded fearlessly into the thick of the leaping, roaring denizens of the deep woods. We stood shoulder to shoulder and braced each other. The hunted joined with the hunter.

A tiger leapt at my throat, and met a fierce cut from my longsword. A Harpy clambered over its back, whistling, furiously seeking me out and quietly dying at my feet. Fur, blood, sweat and drool whipped round my head. My eyes watered from the stench of the Hisl and the odor of the great cats.

Another birdman fell at my feet with gushing gore visible the length of its gutted corpse, emptying as sap from a broken vessel. Heavily nailed hands grasped at my shoulders and raked downward, drawing blood. I dropped to a knee and stabbed blindly backward. A Harpy wailed hideously and the pressure withdrew.

The battle madness of Mecca, Lord of the Seven worlds of Caan, fighting before the Walls of Asynth, touched my eyes. My muscles filled with adrenaline and I swung my sword in an impenetrable circle. The head of a birdman, lopped clean from its shoulders, turned oddly upside-down and rolled away. The circle widened. A saber-tooth went down beneath the spear of a Hisl, whose numbers had shrunk to two, and the battle ebbed into an unspoken truce. A silent communication never voiced but mutually accepted.

Neither noting nor caring if the Hisl followed, I turned from the beasts and, over the backs of the dead and dying, vaulted to the ledge. Once more, I found myself face to face with the golden girl with the emerald eyes.

She spoke quickly, her eyes filled with wonder and curiosity. I shook my head, incapable of comprehending the lyrical questions spilled from her ruby lips. She abandoned her attempt and turned instead to the myriad of wounds covering my flesh, and I thrilled at the intimacy of her delicate hands. Her sympathetic smile a salve for my hurt.

The Hisl stood downwind, no inkling of intent visible in their cold, insect-like faces. Though they made no move against us, their ultimate designs remained suspect.

The ledge was a cul-de-sac of crumbled shale and broken stones. The upward trail clogged by a great slide, a wall fallen. Hoping against hope, I circled left in search of an avenue off the horns of our dilemma and came upon a curious phenomenon. An exotic outcropping of rock half-covered or half-exposed in the debris, a wholly natural formation that bore a striking resemblance to the winged handles of my blades.

To me, it was a remarkable oddity, but to the golden girl, it was something more. She stood open-mouthed before the fanciful outcropping, eyes transfixed on the structure with awe I did not understand. Watching her, I longed for wings of my own!

I laid my bloodied fingers over hers. She turned, smiling warmly through the dirt and gore that smeared her face. A sudden awareness of my own condition, covered head to toe in the blood of my enemies, flustered me. Though this disheveled maiden of an alien world was not one bit less bloodstained and weary then I, how different my perception. How magnificent she looked standing there, proud and defiant, awaiting the renewed assaults of the Harpies and the tigers, puny knife in hand.

Do I sound like a fool? No more so than I felt watching her lithe form move away from the rock formation to view the beasts regrouping at the base of the mountain. Shamelessly, my eyes devoured the flawless symmetry of her form, the wild sweep of her hair, the determined square of her slender shoulders.

Perhaps she sensed my gaze, for she turned quickly. Our eyes met. There was neither anger nor rejection of my frank appraisal. Nor could I mistake the gentle flush that stole across her cheeks.

A thousand lifetimes, countless destinies, two bedraggled figures perched upon a glowing mountain ledge with the inhuman Hisl facing a snarl of hostile creatures. Yet, there was time to hold hands and wonder.

When the beasts of the deep woods came again, I was Mecca, Bodine, and Falsworth. I was the eons and I was the cosmos.

I swung my longsword until the last Hisl fell and only my solitary metal stood between life and death for the strangely compelling, starkly beautiful golden girl with the emerald eyes.

Suddenly and dramatically, as I remembered the locusts covering the fields of Pharaoh, a great shadow obscured the sky, a moving darkness that stretched over the startled creatures of the forest provoking an unexplained hysteria. As one, birdman and tiger turned and fled the mountain, a riptide of panic that separated me from the girl and trapped me within their sweltering mass.

The shadow followed, floating eerily above the fleeing predators. Then it turned and swung back over the ledge. I heard her scream; one drawn out cry as that mysterious black specter swooped, steadied, and lifted away just as I lost consciousness beneath the suffocating weight of those savage bodies.


Consciousness returned.

I lay prone upon my back staring blankly upwards breathing stale air. The strange luminosity of this world present but faint, making images indistinct.

In hindsight, I learned the light-giving properties of the planet originated in the photosynthesis process. The further removed one was from the source, the weaker the effect. Thus, the torpor light in this suspected tomb compared with the extraordinary displays witnessed on the sun-doused face of the mountain.

I growled, and a shadowy figure stirred beside me.

Startled, I sat up sharply and simultaneously discovered two points of interest: my empty scabbard and the painfully scant distance between floor and ceiling. Falling back, I howled smartly. The vague shape beside me laughed. A chortle really, a human reaction. Someone had found merriment in my discomfort. Though if friend or foe I did not yet know.

Sitting cramped, head bent, scarce drawing a breath, I waited for my eyes to adjust. Tense moments that passed without incident, the stranger beside me equally silent and still.

At length the darkness lessened to reveal a golden warrior less than a foot from me. A handsome, open countenance with broad shoulders and steel bands for arms. Bald of pate and adorned with the elaborate chin-hair seen upon many of the dead that covered the plain of my rebirth, he regarded me curiously. I noticed that he too wore empty scabbards.

Perhaps two feet from floor to ceiling and no more than fifteen feet square, neither of could sit upright in our sepulcher-like prison. However, stretched upon the floor, Hercules had a frame several inches taller than my own.

Turned sideways, head propped upon an elbow, the warrior essayed a conversation. As with the golden girl, I shook my head and smiled benignly. For a moment, the stared at me quizzically, then lay down and soon snored soundly.

My options sorely limited and conservation of resources a reasonable priority, I followed my companions lead and slept.

Nothing in all the cosmos galls at a warrior more than confinement.

I awoke to a world tented by dark rock, bounded by feeble glimmer. Though I felt refreshed of body my soul ached, chafed by the narrow, sunless tomb and the unexplained nature of my confinement.

My cohort was also awake and again lay on his side regarding me, one hand supporting his head while the other stroked the Mandarin hair on his chin. Over time, I learned to appreciate the Aal as a respected symbol of manhood. At length, this warrior tapped his chest in a universally explicit gesture.


What of this gift, this singularity of incarnation to which I am privy? To what marvelous conspiracy of Fate and Destiny do I owe what followed?

From some darkly stirred, inexplicably tapped corridor of my subconscious strode the voice of this turbulent new destiny, adding itself to the ancient chorus that is the sum and substance of Gray Allen. With uncanny ease, I answered T’lu.

“I do not have a name.”

“You have a name,” he commented smiling warmly, then reached out and touched the half-healed laceration upon my forehead. “Perhaps you have just forgotten. Well, until your memory returns, I will call you Kdal.”

It meant Stranger, a label apropos to my situation.

As unmeasured time passed, T’lu displayed an impressive strength of character. A warrior spirit unbroken by our confinement or the unstated fate that waited like a stalking beast. I felt heartened by his companionship, and saddened by the wall of suspicion rising between us at my open ignorance of Jatora, the world to which I had journeyed.

In some matters, T’lu was loquacious and outgoing in answering my questions. We were captives of the Kiida; the birdmen of the Mu Derj (the great forest). Held in their sanval somewhere deep in the heart of the Val Ponada, the Mountain of Lights, we awaited a disposition that ultimately involved our deaths, though the exact nature of that demise T’lu did not disclose. However, when I asked the wrong question, he would frown and say: “You are not Odanal.” Then withdraw, becoming reticent. Nor did I ever fully understand what, in his eyes, constituted a right or wrong query. What I did understand, emphatically, was my need for a tutor and confidant; and a good second sword when the chance to escape came. As I never doubted but it would.

Vexed at the distance between us, I determined to tell T’lu the truth of my origin; or such scarps and fragments as permeated this new existence. As difficult to express as it is to understand, what Gray Allen remembers, here, in the path, writing this tale, is not the whole of what Kdal remembered there, upon Jatora, in that claustrophobic prison.

I know who I am, and what I am, but pieces of the puzzle drop out, fall away. I can remember a war, but not the people in it. I can remember circumstances but not outcomes. The images grow vague. The longer the new life carries on, the further removed from my mind they become until they grow nonexistent and there is only the one life, this life to which I reincarnated.

Do not bother trying to understand it. If I cannot, how could you?

T’lu heard my tale without comment. When I had finished, he offered the following observation. “Yours is not the most fanciful I’bar I have ever heard, though it is close!”

An I’bar is an ode, or recounting, an interesting turn on the grandeur of my eternal travels. As to the incredulity commonly engendered by my improbable birthright, T’lu sounded pragmatic in his evaluation.

“You do not seem like a liar, Kdal. I will assume you have not lied.”

I wondered if the rest of Jatora shared T’lu’s uncomplicated philosophy, a point-of-view that would not have survived the distrust of Gray Allen’s native Earth.

T’lu displayed a keen interest for my recent travails within the Mu Derj and upon the Val Ponada. He asked numerous questions concerning my pursuit of the golden girl and subsequent battles. He seemed continually verged upon making a point, only to drift into introspection, my questions left unanswered. T’lu may not have thought me a liar, but clearly, he continued to nurse reservations.

“I believe you exited the Mu Derj at the Ki’ Krvala, where the K’ris end and the Kiida begin.” The K’ris being the feathered devils of the inner forest.

“There are no K’ris here?” I said. T’lu returned quietly that the Kris never leave the Mu Derj.

“The great forest is there S’ti.” The word meant stop. “The K’ris are the Hon djar of the Kiida. None has ever progressed beyond the Mu Derj, just as no Kiida will T’al (go) beyond the Val Ponada.”

I had my first primer on Jatoran evolution! The Hon djar I understood as an evolutionary demarcation. A perceived physical boundary where one line of inherent adaptation ended and another began. Jatora marked evolution by geography instead of epochs. Intrigued, I vowed to pursue the subject further, but at a more appropriate time.

“You were fortunate to have crossed the Mu Derj alone and survived. Ana must have must rode in your scabbard.”

Ana being the supreme Jatoran deity.

“Perhaps,” I said with a rueful smile. “But at the moment, my scabbards are empty!”

T’lu glanced at his own vacant sheaths and flashed an understanding smile.

Talk of that grim and dangerous forest always returned my thoughts to the golden girl with the emerald eyes. That shadow, that last scream, what had happened? I knew, with conviction born in the unrelenting Fate I served, if she lived I would find her. She was part if not all of the destiny that awaited me upon Jatora, the intermingling of our paths an inescapable certainty.

Provided I escaped the Kiida, and the Votag!

I pressed T’lu for an explanation of our possible fate. He smiled at my use of the word possible, and at last, grudgingly acquiesced.

“They will keep us until Ki’ Juva, and then kill us.”

“You say that very casually.”

He shrugged his broad shoulders. “It is only the truth, though I suspect we will be harder to kill than the Kiida anticipate.”

My turn to smile. “What is a Ki’ Juva?”

“It is a Kiida ritual. One in which we die.”

“So you keep telling me,” I shot back with some irritation. “It is how we die you continually avoid.”

“If you must know, the I’bar says the Kiida will eat us.”

The import of his words had me spitting denial. “How can you say such a thing so, so . . . Calmly?”

“Yes. You should be outraged!”

“At what? It is as natural to the Kiida as it is unnatural for us. The Kiida do what Ana intended they should do. No more, no less.”

I was taken back at the appropriateness of his answer, and the moral arrogance passed from Mecca to Gray Allen to Kdal. A conceit no number of incarnations would ever shed.

T’lu drew my attention with stern eyes and a cold voice. “Understand me well, Kdal. I have no particular desire to wind up in the belly of a Kiida. I am a Warrior of the Blood, one with a purpose in life and reasons to live.”

“But you seem so . . .so unaffected!”

T’lu smiled. “Unaffected? No, is just facing the reality. I will always choose life over death, but some day, somehow, I will die. I will not to waste my time fretting the manner of that death.”

“Well then,” I told my golden companion as he lay back to sleep, “I suppose I will just have to sit here and worry for the both of us!”

Six sleeps counted since awakening in this suffocating coffin. Thirst, hunger, and our own foul scents tolled upon my patience. My concentration wandered. I thought of the golden girl and what had become of her, and I thought of T’lu and the guarded friendship between us.

Circumstances had thrust us together; reticence still held us apart.

Clearly, my golden companion struggled with my I’bar. He did not remark as much aloud, but the inferences were apparent. He continued to withhold selective information. When approached on the intimacies of his people, their beliefs and customs, he hesitated, artfully skirting the subject of politics entirely. I knew only that he was from Amata, a proud, ancient city somewhere in the vast expanse of the Val Ponada. There, the trail of disclosure ended.

Respectful of his restraint, knowing confidence to be a function of time, I pursued other commonalties such as how he came to be prisoner of the Kiida. However, even here, the exchange remained ambiguous.

“I left Syjal, the sister-city of Amata, to search for the Dulara Olana. The trail lead to the Mu Derj, where, after much argument, an avan of Hisl took me prisoner. I had thought my fate settled. However, the Kiida attacked the Hisl and again my destiny changed hands. I arrived but one dar before you.”

Upon Jatora, the passage of the great sun Emo across the firmament is one O’ Dar or Light Day. The passing of Ias, the Invisible Demon (my interpretation) who chases the fleeing Emo, causing the darkness, is the N’dar or Dark Day. The combined time is one Dar. The N’dar and the O’dar are divided into twelve parts, or n’ar, each n’ar having seventy ar or minutes. Twelve dar equals the uldar, or week. Six uldar equals the dur, or month. Twelve dur equals one lur or year.

All of which are approximations based upon Jatoran standards of measurement; however, you should now be able to follow time as a Jatoran. 

“Who is this Dulara Olana?” I knew Dulara to be the rough equivalent of a Princess.

“Let us rest, I sense we will need our strength, and soon.” Fast as Emo, the great red sun of Jatora sets, T’lu had drawn the veil of caution.

I had been dozing fitfully, hungry and parched, when suddenly and without warning, a crack appeared in the wall of our prison. A slim stream of light seeped through and rudely invaded our Stygian world.

Quickly the crack widened. By the scrapping sounds and the aced shape of the expanding light, I knew that a great oval stone was being rolled away. The darkness exited and Emo entered. Not as welcomed warmth, but as a sudden, blinding heat, like a baker opening his oven.

With an arm thrown across half-shut smarting eyes, I peered upwards at a snarling Votag framed beside the misshapen shadow of a giant Kiida. Symbolic of my lives in transition, I harbored no surprise at the throaty, canine snarl of the Kiida as it barked, “Ki’ Juva.”


Truly the blind leading the blind, struggling to stand on limbs uncertain as newborn foal, I followed T’lu into the bright light of the Jatoran day.

Four Kiida and two Votag waited. Rough creatures that displayed no sympathy for the stiffness tightening our cramped and aching joints. They poked talons in our backs and barked commands. Snarling Votag skulking at our sides, we fell into a coerced march along a lazy stream trickling out of the mountain.

The pain in my eyes subsided and, as I acclimated to the brilliance of Jatora’s fiery sun, saw that the Kiida compound sat in a natural box-canyon. Sheer cliffs soared a thousand feet straight up, weatherworn and impressive but useless as an avenue of escape. The entrance to the canyon held promise, being a narrow notch hemmed on three sides by those insurmountable glowing walls, but it receded behind.

As I gazed upon the ragged cliff-face, a rustle of wind whipped through the Kiida sanval and murmured she is out here, the golden girl with the emerald eyes. Emotions impossible to convey welled in me. I shivered in the hot noonday sun.

I saw now that the stream emptied into a large pool in the center of the village, such as it was. For I saw naught but misshapen mounds of dirt littered with twigs and occasional bits of broken bone, the filth-laden nests of the Kiida. Hundreds of Votag lolled about these nests or laid-up in the heat, excepting those that paced menacingly alongside our weaponless captors.

Weaponless! A grim smile touched my lips, for what blade fashioned by man could be more deadly than these ill-tempered carnivores snapping at our heels.

The Kiida populace, having emerged from their warrens, milled eerily in our direction. Hundreds of animated cadavers of both sexes, though it is T’lu’s word to the females. I discerned no visible difference between the genders except, perhaps, that the female of the species had appreciably smaller wings.

Candidly, the Kiida had no visible reproductive organs. That being the only bodily process not painfully in evidence. T’lu maintained the Kiida reproduced asexually. When a female ovulated, her genital glands swelled and opened that she might deliver her eggs. The males fertilized the eggs independent of the female, the seed carried in its saliva glands. Unique as their reproductive process was, it sufficed the Kiida and worked to maintain a semblance of a family unit.

The Kiida children, diminutive versions of their heinous parents, were notable for their underdeveloped wings and overdeveloped sense of cruelty. They taunted T’lu and I with shrill whistles, hurling twigs and stones at our unprotected heads until blood spilled and a thin, stubborn line pulled my lips.

Their parents watched in stoic apathy. Once, when a particularly sharp bit of rock glanced off the side of my head, I thought to step amongst the bastard things, but Votag shrunk close to their skulking charges and growled, ominously protective. T’lu took my arm and bade me reconsider.

“The blood ties are deep, as you will learn soon enough.”

Using that cheery optimism to buoy my spirits, my eyes returned to long sweeps of the sanval. I sought inspiration and found Kiida, Votag, and the insurmountable cliff-face of the gleaming Val Ponada. I knew Gray Allen had survived worse, though the exact memory of that circumstance escaped me.

“Ki-kival,” T’lu said.

The word loosely meant birthing place. We had reached the pool, site of the Kiida Ki’ Juva. Boulders, of various sizes placed in an irregular circle about a twenty-five yard circumference, ringed the shallow waters and formed a natural amphitheater. The largest rock deposited centrally in the ceremonial pool. Upon the far bank grew a solitary tree, forlorn and leafless, as unable to escape the barren squalor of the Kiida sanval as T’lu and I.

Now the macabre activity within in the pool drew my undivided attention.

Spread upon a bed of multicolored pebbles, hundreds of pale-blue eggs leaped about, bubbles in boiling pot colliding violently. Each agitated contact producing pulses of blue lightning that scourged the waters and sent the glowing shells into increasing discord. I gasped at this pell-mell behavior.

A barking misanthrope, that evidently desired my presence on that singular boulder in the center of the pool, shoved a hard talon into my already tender back. Outraged, blind to common sense, reacting to the violence below and the peril beyond, I turned on the stinking thing. A good right hand dropped it face down in the turbulent water even as a pair of snarling Votag reared up as if breaching white stallions. Only T’lu’s muscular clamp around of my waist, hauling me backward, saved me. Heavily nailed paws raked empty air inches from my heart.

“There may yet be a way out,” T’lu cautioned as other Kiida, amidst much hissing and whistling, extracted their unconscious member and calmed the angered cats. “I will need you alive to find it.”

I nodded and followed T’lu through the agitated pool to the boulder, doing my best to avoid the wildly dancing eggs. Looking back, I saw the Votag huddled at the sides of the birdmen, glowering but quiescent.

“How do they control them?” I asked of T’lu, straining to keep my emotions under control.

“It is the D’ jarval,” T’lu indulged me, showing no outward regard for the terror our situation warranted. It meant the Joining or the Alliance. “The I’ bar of the Kiida sings that Ana, in remorse for abandoning the Kiida at such a primitive state of Hon djar, gifted them the Votag as her penitence. D’ jarval!”

My rumination, on the lack of weapons amongst the Kiida, answered.

As we stood waiting, watching, the hostility in the water noticeably increased. Meanwhile, the Kiida had formed a multi-layered queue upon either side of the stream. A cordon of beating wings growing louder by the moment that ran from the largest nest of the sanval directly to the edge of our pool, a distance of one hundred yards. I perceived a ritual performed a thousand times before. A barbaric rite with origins buried in savage, undocumented antiquity.

“Now,” T’lu offered with a grin, “things should get interesting.”

Fighting, loving, dying, it made little difference to T’lu. Seize the moment. Take what Ana offered and leave no challenge unmet. If it was time to fight, then fight. If it was time to die, then die, but do it bravely, not bewailing the moment.

The violence in the Ki’ Juva pool increased to match the steady, monotonous cadence forged from beating Kiida wings. Summoned by that savage symphony, he emerged from the central nest at the head of the sonorous corridor, a mountain of transparent muscle a foot taller than his nearest rival and the first to wear any manner of personal adornment. Atop his head, a grotesque headdress culled from broken pieces of Kiida wings and laced with colorful feathers pulled from the K’ris. Rings of dried bone hung around his neck and whitened skulls looped through twisted vines circled his waist; trophies secured in his violent rise to power. Left and right of this colossal beast-man slunk the two largest Votag in the compound.

“The Dular,” T’lu said simply.

There stood the King!

Look how he preened, this insignificant chieftain walking out of the twilight of evolution, his transparent wings spread wide, unconscious of his Lilliputian status in the cosmos. My blood burned. My ingrained sense of self-worth screaming, “How dare this vainglorious creature sentence me to death.”

Joined left and right by several Kiida I assumed to be lesser dignitaries of the tribe, the Dular and his court marched to the pool. They took seats upon the many boulders that circled the agitated, egg-filled tarn, the Votag creeping onto slabs upon either hand. Royal etiquette satisfied the balance of the sanval scrambled for any available perch. Some contests grew quite violent. It would have been amusing, had not our immediate situation been so perilous.

Seating complete, the Dular rose and inspected the pool. I wondered what emotions, if any at all, passed through that primitive brain. Did the Kiida feel for the children encased within those wildly gyrating shells? It occurred to me that a creature capable of love was capable of compassion. Was it foolish to hope? I grinned wickedly, for Hope is never foolish.

Eons of ritual rendered the Kiida timing impeccable. The eggs, glowing red, were beginning to hatch. Hideously dwarfed replicas of the grown Kiida, hairless and covered with the transparent saliva membrane that passed for Kiida skin. Obscene little beasts that burst into the world fighting and eating; eating each other!

I paled at the ferocious, inherent cannibalism. Born with raking talons fully developed, presumed brothers and sisters battled to the death for the nauseating right to devour one another in a feeding frenzy that quickly turned the blue pool a bright-bloody red.

The skirmishes were grizzly and quick as, for the majority of the Kiida young, birth and death came as one moment. Nor did devouring their gutted siblings satiate the horrid little creatures. Not satisfied with meat and bone, they sucked the slimy birth residue from the emptied shells, their distended bellies digesting in garish clarity.

Remarkably, they seemed quite at home breathing underwater. A facility they lost upon extraction from their liquid incubator.

Even T’lu, accustomed to the savagery and brutality of his world, blanched at the rabid display in the Ki’ Juva pool, shaking his head and muttering under his breath. While I, a traveler, a sojourner of worlds and lives beyond the greatest imaginations, found my lips curled and my stomach turned. I recalled T’lu’s earlier reprobation on our impending fates and smiled grimly. Who was I to question Nature?

At once, the Kiida Dular gave forth with a guttural bark that sent his warriors into the fading carnage searching for survivors.

Eggs yet to hatch they summarily destroyed. T’lu said it was to maintain the eon’s old rhythm of the ritual. I had no reason to believe otherwise.

The survivors they placed in small mud and grass nests carried to the water by the females of the tribe. Of the thousand or so eggs that had begun the savage ordeal of birth, only a dozen new Kiida survived. Inexplicably, upon exposure to the warm sun of the Jatoran day, all hostility in the brood ended. Afforded a chance to view these ghastly children in these early moments of birth, I solved one Jatoran riddle, the lack of discernable ears. The organs were camouflaged under the flat skin of the temples and, as the beasts matured and the skin thickened, they became nearly invisible. A faculty common to all beats upon Jatora, though possession of that knowledge offered nothing of value in my immediate crisis!

The Kiida Dular descended to preen, prance, and make what I construed as a ceremonial tour of these newest members of his empire, then clambered apelike back upon his stony dais.

Deep in my being a voice whispered. It is time!

The warming tingle of imminent combat pounded my temples. My hands clenched into fists ready to batter and bruise. I would not sell my soul cheaply. The Kiida Dular, oblivious to my rising ardor, regarded T’lu and I balefully through red-rimmed eyes. I wondered if he could sense my readiness or fathom the utter contempt filling my soul. Perhaps he could, for the King of the birdmen seemed to answer me. Throwing back his head he let loose and long, almost plaintive whistle, beating his wings in a new rhythm, different from the one proceeding the Ki’ juva.

His eager flock flapped and whistled in excited response, the sanval reverberating to this wild, primordial rhythm. Several of the tribe began to leap and sway, their grotesque bodies undulating in an awkward yet compelling series of motions. The spellbinding, primitive dance of the Kiida Ki’ Juva, a bizarre ballet that incited the tribe to the brink of frenzy.

Their eyes blazed. Their bodies contorted. The Votag snarled ominously, sinewy frames crouched menacingly with hungry eyes fixed upon the supposed weak and helpless flesh before them. Waiting on the command that would send them at our throats.

T’lu stood steady, stood silent. There was nothing worth saying, so he said nothing. My own thoughts turned to a slim, golden girl lost somewhere in the hushed vastness of the incredible Val Ponada. I smiled and looked upon the Kiida with sudden compassion.

They were not the Destiny that Gray Allen had crossed the eons to challenge. Today would not end what had so promisingly begun. I thought of a distant I’bar that I knew, of the fisherman caught in his own nets. I swore I would not be that fisherman, this day in these nets.

There would be more!

I watched the Kiida Dular dance, his mighty wings stretched to their apex, furrowed brows drawn low over his flat, dilating nostrils. At once, he halted in mid-stride. His slim, avian hands opened and closed. His head arched backward, nestling into the knot of muscle that hinged his wings to his shoulders. With a suddenness that startled me, so rapt my fixation, he unleashed a chilling scream that rang loud and long above the thumping, pounding volley of the gyrating Kiida. A voice lifted undiminished from the creation of the first demon.


As from the mouth of our cul-de-sac erupted a whistling-roar unlike anything I had ever heard before.

JATORA     Approximately 73,500 Words
Michael A Wexler  Phone (508) 543-8639
29 Putnam Road - #8        Fax (509) 356-5965
Foxboro, MA 02035
Chapters 1-5
Chapters 6-10
Chapters 11-15
Chapters 16-20
Chapters 21-25

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