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Volume 3161b
Princess of Az-Lium
by Den Valdron

"I mean it," the Sergeant snarled, "I will not have her lies of treasure tempting you.  You men are well paid for this work, and easy work it is.  You'll get your bonuses."

"While generals and commanders reap the wealth of kings?"  A soldier said.  "Always the same, little but crumbs trickle down to the fighting man."

"Scavengers like you grow fat enough on crumbs," the Sergeant snapped.  "But defy me, and I'll slit her throat and then slit yours.  We'll see how fat you grow with no belly to fill."

The knife pricked my throat, drawing a thin line of blood.

"Tell them there's no treasure."

"But my refuge..."

"There's no treasure, say it."

"There's no treasure!"  I squealed.

"Tell them you lied."

"I lied!"

"There!"   And with a savage shove, the sergeant cast me to the floor, where I laid weeping real tears.  My desperate stratagem had failed.

"Satisfied?" he asked his men.

"Very much so," one of the soldiers said, drawing his sword.   "A clever girl might concoct a lie to save herself."

"Just so," said the sergeant.

Other soldiers were drawing their swords.

"And a frightened girl, might tell a lie, to save her life."

Sergeant Jha retreated a little, putting his back to a wall.

"But," the soldier said, his eyes gleaming with feral ruthlessness, "a frightened girl... well, a frightened girl always lies badly, that's how you know the truth."

And suddenly, they were on the sergeant, hacking away at him.  He barely had time to scream, as they cut him to pieces.  I shrieked and turned away from the blood even as it spattered me.

When it was over, the lead soldier strode over to me, and grabbing my hair, pulled my face from the floor.

"My name is Kavian Por," he said, "and you belong to us now.  We're not taking you to headquarters, we're not taking you anywhere.  Mind your tongue, do as you're told, show us what we want, and you live."

"Alas," one of the soldiers said, "it seems that some scoundrel hidden away in here with more courage than most surprised our dear sergeant, wouldn't you say?"

"You've got that right, Tega Or,” one of them laughed.  "You clever bastard."

They chorused agreement.

"And having murdered our dear sergeant, he fled, and so we pursue him," Kavian Por said smoothly, "even when he flees outside the city."

Por turned back to me.

“Listen to me,” he said, “we've committed murder for you.  No directions, no maps, you will lead us to the treasure yourself.  And when you've done so, then we'll let you go.”

I shivered.   They had committed a murder in front of me.  They could not let me go, or let me live.   I cursed my foolish scheming, things had gone from bad to worse, and I had only sealed my fate.    Doubly so, when they found there was no treasure.

The next hours blurred, as they dragged me hither and thither.  I lead them into the lower bowels of the city, the havens of actors and performers, places I knew well, in hopes of escaping.  But they kept too tight a watch upon me.

Several times, I rushed eagerly towards a collapsed building, or a place covered by falling rock, only to proclaim that a secret passage had been blocked.  They grew frustrated.

“This treasure,” Kavian Por said, “you know its location outside the city.”

I nodded.

“Well enough then, we'll get you out, you take us to it.”

I nodded glumly.

These were murderers, true and simple.  With them, my life was in danger.  But being inside the city, being around other soldiers and witnesses, offered some modicum of protection.  They had to conceal their crime, and thus could not do with me as they would.  Once we were outside the city, the last shreds of safety would be torn away.

I trembled, imagining the tender mercies of such evil men.

Straight away, they took me to the Exile's Gate, opened now for the first time in a generation.  Orovars of all sorts waited chained outside it.  Animals, soldiers, monsters milled about.   Night was falling.  Beyond the gate, I could see stars and darkness, an emptiness as forbidding as the pink sky of raw daylight.

We actually made it through without incident, but were halted just beyond the gate by an officer with his own troop of soldiers.  These soldiers seemed far more disciplined than the ragged mercenaries who had me.  I realized that the men I was with must be little more than bandits, soldiers for hire.

“Whose are you?”  The officer demanded.

“Beyer Jha’s men,” Kavian Por replied.  “Here to escort a prisoner.”

“Escort a prisoner?  Where?”  The officer demanded skeptically.  “I know Beyer Jha, he was on mop up duty.”

“That is true sir,” Kavian Por replied, “but he detached us to take the prisoner.”

“To who?”

“Captain Ullett, beyond the gate.”

“Ullett is within the city.  Where are your orders?”

“No orders sir.  Just instructions.”

The officer turned to one of his aides.

“Check to see if Beyer Jha has reported, perhaps he can confirm this.”

“Begging your pardon sir,” the Kavian Por.  “I assumed it was Captain Ullett.  What the Sergeant said, is take this prisoner to the Captain guarding the outer road, with my compliments.”

He leered.

The officer looked doubtful.

“This is highly irregular,” he said, “I'm not in favour of procuring...”

“Begging your pardon, Sir,” Kavian Por said, leering more openly, “I believe the Sergeant said he was returning a favour.”

The officer bit his lip, thinking it over.   I decided I did not want to be out in the darkness with these men.  There were things worse than death.  Being at their mercy out here, I had no doubt they would begin to torture me to force me to lead them to nonexistent treasure.   And when they finally realized there was no treasure...

“Oh, well....”

“He murdered Sergeant Soja,” I shrieked, pointing dramatically.   “He cut him down from behind.  Soja's blood is on me.  He's trying to flee!”

The mercenaries and officers froze alike.   Then Tega Or snarled and drew his sword upon me.  “You should have kept your mouth shut,” he snarled.   Kavian Por swore, drawing his own sword.

This was as good as a confession for the Officer and his squad.  But they began to draw their swords.  But the mercenaries were faster.  In a flash, the officer was down, his guts spilling out.  His men roared to the attack.  In an instant, the night was alive with sound of ringing swords.  No matter who won though, I knew my fate was sealed.

Between the wild thoat of fact and mad zitidar of certainty, I had only one choice.

I fled into the night.

If any pursued me, I do not know.   Whether the mercenaries of the officer's men won the battle of the gate that night, I have no idea.   All I knew was a sickening, blinding terror, that had me stumbling across the rocks, my chains dragging behind me.

A dozen times my chains were caught upon rocks, leaving my heart racing wildly in terror that imagined pursuers had finally caught me, but each time, I worked my way free, and stumbled onwards, falling, crawling.

Finally, I could go no further and lay where I had fallen, letting darkness overtake me.

The dawn woke me, leaving me bruised and aching.  I thirsted as I had never thirsted before.  I opened one eye, and saw a leather clad boot in front of me.

I opened wider.  Two boots.   A manlike figure loomed over me.

Above me stood one of the creatures who had accompanied the soldiers and mercenaries in the rape of my home.   I had glimpsed his kind again and again, but in all the stories and tales, I had never heard ot such a creature.

In some ways, he resembled the fabled green men, with fierce burning eyes and massive protruding tusks.   But this creature was no green man, he had only two arms, not four, and his head was crowned with a dozen short horns.   He was barely larger than a man, no more than seven or eight feet tall, and dressed in a sort of quilted armour that covered him from head to toe.  In one hand, he held a great curving sword, in another, a kind of cudgel.

He stared down at me, his alien face unreadable.

“Hello,” I said, my voice dry and cracking.

He did not respond, merely continued to stare.  What was he?  A mercenary?  A tribesman?  A barbarian creature?   I wracked my brain, trying to think of something to say to buy my life, or at least buy a few more minutes.

“My name is Tay See Lors,” I offered.

Again, no answer.   What could such an alien creature want of me.  I shivered with terror at the thought of unnatural possibilities.   Yet, what could I offer him.

“I am a Princess,” I told him, “my family will reward you, if....”

At that point, the strange alien raised his cudgel, and as he brought it down, I knew no more.


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