Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chapter Two

Ishtura and Anesidora

The brightly-lit docking bay was as immense as Eena remembered from when she had first set foot on Derian’s ship.  Somehow it seemed fitting that these colossal Viiduns arrived in an expanse as significant as their presence.  The Triac 38 stood five times as large as the Abbos One and appeared radically more elaborate in design.  Derian, Eena, and Ian stopped ten yards before the copper-adorned ship.  It sat closer to the ground than adjacent clusters of battle cruisers that now resembled silver flies hovering around a large, russet toad. 
As anxious as Eena felt about meeting these men in person, her attention was initially drawn to the embellishments on their hull.  Circular, gold swirls of metallic design covered the edges clear around, while copper-stained creatures froze in nightmarish poses on the heightened forward.  The ship resembled two great boats, one upturned upon the other, the forward sharpening to more of a point than the aft.  Dark windows extended across the front and continued in even sectors clear around.  Arms jetted from either side like the arched spikes of an anchor, ends pointed aft and finishing with curved copper tips.  On these extensions were painted the ship’s designation: Triac 38.  The script was a foreign display of thick, black scratches. 
Unlike Derian’s battle cruisers or Gemdorin’s gliders, the Viidun vessel opened from the side, not the belly.  A heavy hatch released, extending outward and down to the ground, providing its own exit ramp.  Eena automatically held her breath in anticipation. 
Shanks was the first to appear, towering over the ramp like the mythical Hercules.  He was dressed in dark leather, including fitted gauntlets and heavy boots that reached below his knees.  A minimal amount of armor enhanced his attire—a chain mail apron, a U-shaped chest plate, and an oversized belt with an unfamiliar beast engraved in the wide buckle.  Clasped to his belt were two protective sheaths, one for his sword and one for a gold-hilted dagger. 
Layered lengths of blonde hair were secured by the same leather circlet Eena had seen wrapped around his forehead during the visual transmission on the bridge.  His energetic violet eyes focused in on her once again.  She took an apprehensive step rearward, placing a wary hand on Derian’s back.  It wasn’t the man’s appearance that frightened her, not like the ghastly Ghengats.  It was the sheer might of his presence that made her nervous.  His stature, girth, manner……the very air of a warrior’s legacy seemed to surround him.
With a charismatic smile, Shanks announced his arrival. 
“Derian, my friend, we’re here!  I assume you’re prepared for my crew of ruffians?”  Shanks bounded down the ramp in three pounding leaps. 
Directly behind him, two additional men of equally great stature emerged from the open hatch.  They were dressed in similar fashion, the first wearing his blonde hair loose and straight to just above his shoulders, framing a vibrant pair of blue eyes.  The second wore short, disarrayed locks of red.  Combined with his bright green eyes, he reminded Eena of the brother she never had. 
“He looks like me,” she breathed.
“Hardly,” Derian whispered back.
The three Viiduns strode forward like a determined den of grizzlies on the hunt, only with jovial countenances unbefitting the picture.  Their immense stature became more and more apparent with every approaching step.  Derian was at least a foot taller than Eena, and likewise, Shanks towered well over a foot above Derian.  The thought crossed her mind that if Gemdorin’s allies were to engage in hand-to-hand combat with Derian’s allies, these Viiduns would positively crush the Ghengats. 
Shanks addressed the captain first, grabbing him up in a squeezing bear hug. 
“It’s been far too long, friend!  Far too long indeed!” 
Derian wheezed through the air-restrictive greeting, “I agree, Shanks.”
When the Viidun released his hold, he turned his bright eyes on the only woman in the room.  Eena stood her ground while her captain balanced himself by gripping onto her arm.  He struggled to catch a decent breath.  Given the opportunity, she might have bolted over honest concern about being squashed by a smiling giant.
“Sha Eena.”  Shanks pronounced her name with reverence, bowing deeply at the waist.  Following his example, the two other Viidun characters did likewise.
“Sha Eena,” they chimed in unison.
For a second, she assumed herself to be exempt from the more aggressive greeting Derian had endured, but before she could gasp, Shanks had the young queen trapped in his arms, twirling her around in a firm embrace.  He set her down, clutching her elbow as she stumbled finding her footing and a supply of air for her lungs.  The Viiduns laughed with amusement.
“Fragile little beauty,” Shanks chuckled heartily.
“She’s no warrior,” Derian remarked as if he hoped to make the point clear.  He then proceeded to introduce his large friends.  “Eena, I’d like you to meet Shanks and his companions.  This is Heth.”  He motioned to the blue-eyed Viidun first.  Then he pointed to the redhead and announced, “This is Efren.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Eena said politely.
Efren winked over an impish grin.  “Likewise, my lady.”
“Ho, Ian!”  Shanks’ sudden bellow startled nearly everyone.  Ian was standing in his customary spot behind his queen, but it seemed as if his present intent was to take cover.  Eena scurried aside when Shanks started forward.
“Come get a proper welcome, my friend!”
“That’s perfectly alright,” Ian assured the eager giant, retreating a few steps as he pressed a halting hand against the air.  “I’m fine, thanks, really.  It’s nice to see you though.”
As quick as lightning, Heth and Efren skirted the company to squeeze a welcome out of the nervous man.  When they left Ian bent over, gasping for a decent breath of air, Eena couldn’t help but share in a good Viidun laugh.
“Would you like some assistance with your luggage?” Derian asked, attempting to move things along.
Shanks waved off the offer.  “Nah, we got it covered.”
“Well then, the usual quarters have been prepared for you.  I know you’ve had a long trip, so how about a few hours of undisturbed sleep?”
Shanks, Heth, and Efren stopped and stared at their host as if he had gone mad. 
Grinning, Derian extended another option.  “Perhaps you’d prefer a good meal first?”
“Hell yeah!” was the unanimous response.
“I see you still got that ribbin’ sense of humor,” Shanks said, patting Derian roughly on the back.  “Let’s get to it man!”
Ka-thud!  Bam…bam…bam…….crash!
All eyes turned at a loud ruckus arising from the Triac 38.  They caught sight of a pair of luggage bins plummeting from the open hatch.  The bins landed at the foot of the ramp.  A second later, two more large containers tumbled out, colliding against the first with loud thuds.  The party stood watching as a fourth, brown-haired Viidun bounded down the ramp.  He stooped over to set the bins upright.  His violet eyes sparkled as he glanced in their direction yelling, “Hey, Derian!  Good to see ya!”
“Agus?”  Derian paled, staring in wide-eyed astonishment at a dead man.  He turned on the Viidun captain.  “Agus is alive?  Why you crazy, crooked, spurious son of a…”
Shanks burst out in a jolly fit of laughter, joined by his two companions. 
“This is Agus?” Eena asked uncertainly.
“Yes,” Derian confirmed with a disgruntled groan.  He was clearly not amused by Shanks’ sense of humor.  “Why the criminy did you tell us your brother was dead?”
“Ah, hell,” Shanks smirked.  “It was worth it to see the bowled-over look on your face!”
“So your brother isn’t dead?” Eena asked, still trying to clarify things.
Agus broke in, overhearing the whole exchange.  “For crying in the night, Shanks, you told ‘em I was dead?”
“Well, you shoulda been!” Shanks bellowed.  “The sorry way you almost lost your head to that brainless Deramptium, you nearly got the whole lot of us killed!”
I nearly got us killed?  If you’da kept your medlin’ hands out of my business, I wouldn’t’ve been fightin’ the cretin in the first place!”
“I don’t back down from a blatantly insolent challenge, Agus, especially not from a filthy Deramptium!  Unlike you!  And that’s why I’m the captain of this crew and you ain’t!”
“You want a challenge, do ya?”  Agus charged forward, threatening his big brother with a clenched fist.  “I’ll give you a bloody challenge!”
Before the two could physically contend with each other, Derian boldly stepped between them.  “Hold on!  This is my ship and I am not in the mood!  Back off….now!”
Shanks and Agus stood towering on either side of Derian like two cobras contemplating whether or not to strike.  They glared at one another, locked in a tense stare down.  Then Shanks growled, “You’re lucky he was here.”
“Not half as lucky as you,” Agus hissed through gritted teeth.
Derian broke in again acting as referee.  “Ian, go help Agus.  You can haul their belongings to their quarters on deck five.”  Shifting his attention to the others, he ushered them on.  “Let’s go eat.”
“Those are magic words!” Shanks crowed, his mood suddenly back to its jovial quality.  He wrapped a muscular arm around Eena and began walking her toward the exit.  “You can lead the way, Princess!”
She looked up nervously and admitted, “I don’t know where we’re going.”
“That’s alright.”  With a reassuring squeeze and a wink he told her, “Sure as a slick scarpe can find her way back to birthin’ grounds, I can find my way ’round here!”
On the elevator, it crossed Eena’s mind they might be taxing the weight limit, whatever it was.  But somehow the party managed to reach their desired deck.
Shanks was certain of his path, having dined aboard the Kemeniroc before.  He and Eena were the first to arrive at a formal dining hall with the others at their heels.  When the doors parted, a spread of enticing foods beckoned them from across the room.  Shanks beamed at the view, evidently pleased.  There was no reason not to be.  Piled high on a long, maroon-clothed table was a feast fit for a king!  Or four very large kings. 
A pleasant aroma saturated the air, originating from trays overflowing with assortments of steaming foods—braised meats, fried root vegetables, hot sauces, and freshly baked breads.  The sight was enough to make Shanks release his captive princess and hustled across the floor to sample the delicacies.  Heth and Efren were right behind him.
“Are you coming?” Derian asked.  He stopped beside Eena who was thoroughly taking in her surroundings.
Three candelabra chandeliers were spaced across the ceiling, bathing the openness in a soft umber glow.  Shifting artwork adorned the walls, flashing breathtaking landscapes that Eena was eager to observe more closely.  Wide mahogany tiles covered a roomy dance floor beneath their feet, bordered by cushioned chairs and clusters of colorful throw-pillows.  The scene was warm and inviting. 
She whispered to Derian, “I thought you said those brothers got along.”
“They do, usually.  I don’t know what happened back there, but I promise you, a real Viidun challenge is something you don’t want to witness.”
“Why not?”
“If he so chooses, the one accepting the challenge can make it a fight to the death.  More often than not, that’s how it ends out.”
Eena looked horrified.  “Shanks and Agus wouldn’t dare!  Would they?”
“I don’t think so,” Derian said, sounding fairly certain, “but when Viiduns set their minds on a challenge, it’s hard to put a stop to it.  A potent thirst for victory takes over.” 
Shanks called to the couple.  “Come join us!  We’re ready to offer the Brahshna.”
Derian whispered to Eena as they approached the table.  “It’s a Viidun blessing.  They always recite it before a feast.”
“Oh, like grace,” she smiled.  “That’s nice.”
All heads bowed as Shanks rattled off the memorized Brahshna.  Eena didn’t understand a word of it, being recited in old Viidian tongue, but she admired the reverence with which the blessing was spoken.  Once finished, it was every hungry man for himself.  Shanks found a seat at one head of the table, while Derian sat at the other.  Eena chose to remain beside her captain, even after being teased and prodded to join the lively Viiduns.  They seemed highly amused by her reservations. 
It was difficult not to stare at their guests, given their dynamic behavior and appearance.  Not to mention the fact that never in her lifetime had Eena seen anyone put away as much food as these men.  Plate after plate of tasty victuals were gulped downed while the young queen merely nibbled on warm bread and preserves—a genuine treat, having been without the pleasure of fresh homemade bread since her time on Earth.
Agus and Ian showed up shortly after the feasting began.  They lugged in a hefty set of wooden, musical pipes and what resembled an oversized cello with additional strings.  Both instruments were left on a bed of throw pillows, and the two stragglers joined in the party.  Shanks gave Agus a continual hard time, but his brother simply tossed lines of witty sarcasm back at him without missing a beat.  They acted like brothers.  It was as if the bad-tempered encounter in the docking bay had never occurred.  
For the first half an hour there was minimal conversation while hungry stomachs were filled, but as the gorging slowed to grazing, the real stories began.  Shanks started in on a tall warrior’s tale that captured Eena’s full attention from the start.  
He was narrating his latest trading adventure which had taken place light years away in the Reilian Solar System, the home of the planet Dinahr, largely controlled by the Deramptium Nation.  Shanks’ trading party had agreed to meet a small ship of Deramptium soldiers off world in a mutually-agreeable, neutral location—Luseik, an uninhabited planet with a tolerable atmosphere in the same system.  
“They showed up, alright,” Shanks said partway into his story.  “And they had the nerve to accuse me of tryin’ to pawn off low-quality vartanor oils.  I knew what they were schemin’.”
Efren noted, “You know they ain’t nuthin’ but common thieves, and still you insist on trading with ’em.”
“They’re idiots!” Shanks chuckled.  “And I like messin’ with their heads!”
Heth and Efren snickered right along.  They banged their mugs together and chimed, “We’ll drink to that!”
“But what happened?” Eena asked, wide-eyed with curiosity.  She was still seated next to Derian on the opposite end of the table but leaning in Shanks’ direction, intrigued by his tale.
“I walked away.  Called their bluff!  Told ’em they could forget the whole deal if that’s how they felt.  I’ve got plenty enough more buyers.”  Shanks was animated, painting the picture as much with his actions as with narration.  “They were shocked as shivers, I’ll tell you!  That’s when they changed their tune.  Next thing you know they’re feedin’ us a line about not havin’ a sufficient quantity of mezolian bars to trade.  Asked us to follow ’em back to Deramptium where they could get what they needed and complete the deal.  I knew exactly what they were up to, but I like a little fun, so I played right along.”
Eena interrupted at the risk of sounding ignorant and asked, “What are mezolian bars?”
“Oh, a durable metal they mine on Dinahr.  They sell it in these bars.  We use the stuff in the construction of our ship’s hulls on account of it bein’ light but durable.” 
Eena appeared satisfied with his explanation.
Heth stepped in at that point, taking over the story.  “Those crazy Deramptiums led us plum to the front steps of the Terashta Palace.  The place was completely swarmin’ with soldiers!”  He spread his hands out wide, indicating the numerous amount of men he referred to.  “But did Shanks take off?  Nah!  He sets down smack-dab in the middle of the square!  Ticked ’em off good, I tell ya.  Acted like he had no idea it was offensive to ’em, him landin’ there.  Put ’em all in a real foul mood.”  Heth turned to Shanks, remarking, “I still ain’t sure how smart that was.”
With a slighting grunt Shanks continued the tale.  “We had a whole swarm of them buggers surroundin’ us the minute we stepped foot off the Triac, just as I figured we would.  They started in hollerin’ somethin’ about us desecratin’ royal ground!”  Shanks laughed.  “You shoulda seen Agus, carryin’ on right back at ’em!  Apologizin’ profusely up and down the line, tellin’em we’d be more than happy to move on as soon as we got our bars.”  A glance at Agus caught a crooked grin on his lips.
“So did you get the bars?” Eena asked.
Shanks held up a thick finger.  “Hold on, Princess, I ain’t there yet.  Those incompetent soldiers pressed us to move our ship immediately!  Agus agreed to hightail it outa there, saying he’d just haul the vartanor oils on to the next tradin’ post.”
“That caused a rise out of ’em too!” Efren broke in.  “Then all of a sudden those blitherin’ fools started hollerin’ that we ain’t allowed to move!  And Agus, man oh man, was he ever puttin’ on a good act for ’em!  All flustered and impatient, tellin’em to make up their ditherin’ minds.”
“Playin’ with their heads I tell ya,” Shanks said, winking at his captivated listener.  “We demanded either the bars or our release!  We knew they’d be in a boilin’ tub of trouble if they didn’t get that oil for their queen.  You know what those leadin’ ladies can be like!”  Shanks winked at Eena a second time, receiving nothing but a scowl in return. 
“Anyhow,” he continued, “the bars were directly delivered to our ship.  It was what we’d agreed on, so we hauled out the oils for ’em.”
Heth and Efren burst out laughing again.  Efren explained.  “While we’re unloadin’ the bars, one of them soldiers tries gettin’ Shanks and Agus interested in a genuine magical treasure.  Says he’ll offer a real good deal for it, but they need to try it out first.  If you knew anything about these Deramptiums, you’d know their treasures are…”
“Booby-trapped,” Eena grumbled, finishing his sentence.
“Darn straight!” Shanks exclaimed.  “How the devil did you know?”
“Gemdorin.”  Eena murmured the name with detest.  “He once showed me a headdress and some golden gloves from Deramptium.”
“Did you try ’em on?” Shanks asked.
“Yes,” Eena admitted, recalling her embarrassment at the time.
The Viiduns burst out laughing, knowing how she surely had been trapped in the head gear.
Eena cleared her throat and protested, “It’s not that funny.”
“Well, I know better than to go puttin’ my hands or head in a Deramptium booby-trap!”  Shanks topped off his amusement and then continued with his story. 
“Anyhow, this soldier shows Agus a couple of metal wristbands.  ‘They’re magic,’ he says.  Looked like cheap armor to me.  Then he tells us they’re priceless antiques from some ancient monarch’s tomb, charmed by a genuine sorceress to protect the wearer from evil curses.  He handed one to me and one to Ag.  That idiot figured he’d get us to try the armor on and we’d be stuck in one of their traps.  Then they’d deal their own bars back from us.  Agus downright refused their magic trinkets.”
Eena sat back in her chair, arms crossed.  “There’s no such thing as magic anyway.”
Shanks disagreed with keen emotion.  “There very well is!  I doubt those armbands had any magic in ’em, but I’ve witnessed and endured the effects of magical powers.”
“It wasn’t magic,” Eena insisted, sitting defensively upright.  “If you understood it, you would realize those illusions of magic are accomplished by nothing more than knowing how to manipulate the laws of nature by making use of advanced technology.  The feat itself is not achieved by magic.”
Shanks pointed a hot finger at her.  “There is such a thing as true, mystifyin’, mind-bunglin’ magic, Princess!  And I can prove it!”
“And I can prove otherwise.”  Eena lifted her hands in the air and flicked her wrists in a knob-turning gesture.  A moment later, every candle on the chandeliers above snuffed out.  The entire party sat in the dark, excepting a slight afterglow from the necklace. 
Four chairs scratched the floor, scooting backwards as the Viiduns jumped to their feet, ready for anything.  The candles relit in an instant, sparking with a dim glow that increased as the flames picked up.  The wide-eyed Viiduns stared in astonishment as Eena lowered her hands to her lap.  A confident smirk rested on her lips.
“See,” she said smugly.  “It’s not magic if you know how to do it.”
“How in the blazes…?”  Shanks stared at the sudden sorceress while the others took their seats again, convinced there wasn’t any real danger.
Eena’s hand automatically moved to her upper chest.  “The necklace allows me to control energy.  I used it to create an impermeable force field around the candles.  When the oxygen inside burned out, the flames extinguished.  Then I relit them with a hot spark.  It’s simply a manipulation of energy, not magic.”
“Bly me,” Shanks muttered.  “Derian, why didn’t you tell me your Shas could do such things?”
Derian gave Eena a disapproving look and then answered Shanks’ question.  “No other Sha has ever exhibited this kind of skill.  Eena is…….unusual.”
“No, I’m not.  Any Sha could have done this if she had chosen to.”
“Which makes me think there’s a good reason none of them chose to.” 
Eena understood that his curt reminder was for her benefit.  She knew full-well Derian was referring to the unspeakable consequences her mother had warned her about if she were to abuse the necklace’s powers.  But Shanks’ interest was perked now, and he wasn’t about to let the subject die.
“Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that kind of magic if you had access to it?”
“It’s not magic…” Eena persisted.
Derian answered the question.  “Our Shas have been warned about undesirable consequences attached to using these powers beyond their traditional, necessary purposes.”
“Such as?” Shanks pressed further, scrunching up his face in a look of profound curiosity.
Eena crossed her arms and turned on her captain, repeating the Viidun’s question with a slight degree of derision.  “Do tell us—such as?”
Kahm Derian narrowed his eyes, reproving the young queen for her behavior.  Then he admitted, “We don’t know exactly.”
The statement elicited a Viidun uproar.  Boisterous laughter filled the room until Heth finally spoke up, stating what they were all thinking.  “So for centuries your Shas have suppressed their magical powers because they feared there might be consequences?”
“It’s not magic!” Eena exclaimed with exasperation. 
“I’m sure the warning wouldn’t exist without good reason,” Derian argued.
“Good enough it wasn’t worth mentioning!” 
Derian’s jaw went rigid at the sound of Shanks’ scoffing guffaw, at which he voiced a defensive comeback.  “Any warning proclaimed by more than one predecessor in a line of highly regarded Shas should not be taken lightly.”
“All I know,” Agus piped in, “is I wouldn’t lay down my sword without someone givin’ me a darn good reason for doin’ it.  And even then…”
“You never surrender your weapon,” Shanks declared.  His hand fell protectively on the sword resting in its sheath beside him.
Derian unconsciously curled his fingers into fists and stated firmly, “Her powers are not a weapon; they were never meant to be.”
“What is magic if it ain’t a weapon?” Shanks argued.
“It is not magic….ugh!”  But no one appeared to be listening to the young Sha.
“It’s a means for preserving our world,” Derian asserted, pounding a fist on his upper thigh.  “That is the purpose for which it was designed and for which it should be used.”
Eena could see he was growing upset.  Not wanting the tension to escalate, she stood up and raised her voice in an attempt to change the subject. 
“You haven’t finished your story, Shanks.  Whatever happened with the…magical wristbands?”  There was a note of detest in the word she emphasized.  Shanks took the bait and started up his narration right where he had left off. 
“Right….well, when Agus refused their trinkets, that foolish Deramptium soldier got downright belligerent.  He called the lot of us some sordid words.  Now, I could’ve walked away from him then, but when that insolent bastard reached out and grabbed Agus by the arm, he crossed the line!  It was an aggressive act!  A challenge by any self-respecting Viidun!” 
Shanks looked sharply at his brother.  Eena also glanced at Agus who was growing hotter by the second.  He jumped to his own defense, unwilling to let criticism of his actions go undisputed. 
“He wasn’t worth the effort, Shanks, and it ain’t like his grip could’ve held me!  I shook the fool off.  We were set to go without incident if you’d’ve kept your big, fat, meddlin’ nose out of my business!”
“You turned your back on him, Agus!” Shanks barked.  “You never turn your back on an enemy!”
Shanks turned to Derian and bellowed, “You wanna know what happened?  That cowardly Deramptium swung his sword at Agus when his back was turned, nearly takin’ off his head!  If I hadn’t stepped in and killed the bastard first…”
Agus stood up and growled, “I heard his sword leave its sheath!  If you’d’ve stayed out of it, Shanks, I’d’ve dealt with him on my own!”
Shanks rose to his full height to meet his brother’s glare, “You didn’t stand a chance with your back turned!”
“Bite me!” Agus cursed.
“You gonna make me?” Shanks dared.
Derian and Eena were both on their feet now, concerned about things getting out of hand.  Eena quickly approached the brothers, much to Derian’s dismay.  She looked up between them.  “Please don’t fight.  Not here, not now…please?”
Her gentle plea was enough to soften the air, and each man put his temper in check, nostrils still flaring.   
“Don’t worry, Princess,” Shanks assured her.  He took a seat, but Agus remained standing, ready to relate his own version of events. 
Eena leaned against the table near Shanks, keeping between the bitter pair.  Derian found his seat again, as relieved for Eena’s safety as for the extinguished confrontation.
Agus continued with the story.  “After Shanks found it necessary to kill that reckless soldier, we found ourselves in the middle of a bloody battle.  The four of us were ridiculously outnumbered—a fact Shanks apparently didn’t think was much of a concern.”  Agus cast his brother a nasty look.
“But you’re here,” Eena pointed out.  “So you must have defeated them.  Did you return to your ship and leave?”
“No, we didn’t make it to the ship right off.  Shanks took it as a personal challenge and attacked ’em all.  Heth and Efren joined in after they erected a force field around the Triac.  The Deramptiums wouldn’t be able to breach it no matter what happened to us.”
Eena didn’t understand.  “Why didn’t you just board your ship and fly away?”
“Because you never turn coward in a challenge!” Shanks declared. 
“It wasn’t your challenge!” Agus hollered back.
“When you swing at my brother, it’s my challenge!” Shanks growled, eyes bulging with ferocity.
“That’s sort of thoughtful, isn’t it?”  Eena hoped Agus would discern some brotherly love in the sentiment—as warped as it was.
“Ehh,” Agus growled, and he fell back into his seat.
Efren, the redhead, took over the story.  “It was a bloody slaughter before the Deramptiums called in even more troops.  By then we were too far from our ship to safely turn back.  Shanks ducked into the palace and we followed him in.  That place was like a maze, hallways going every which way.  Somehow, we found ourselves headed down a cold, dark corridor that led to the dungeon, of all places to end up!”
Heth laughed, “Yeah!  We may as well’ve locked ourselves in with the other prisoners!”
“Next time I’ll remember to leave you in your own personal rogue hole,” Shanks growled at Heth.  “It was warrior’s luck we did end up there.”  He turned back to Eena and explained.  “We released every last prisoner in that awful dungeon and used ’em as a distraction to get back to our own ship.  Those stupid soldiers were so busy chasin’ after runaways, they were too confused to be concerned with us anymore.  We got away slick as vartanor oil.”  Shanks puffed up his chest; he looked rather pleased with himself. 
Eena summarized his adventure in amazement.  “You escaped and you released all their prisoners too?  I wish I could do that.”
Shanks laughed, “What in the blazes for?”
“I would rescue my people on Hrenngen.”  Her eyes longed for a way to make it actually happen.
“Eena, that’s enough.”  Derian’s cautioning voice caused her to twist her neck and look at him.  His mouth was pursed in a firm line, his tightened gaze a clear warning.
Shanks wasn’t fazed by the look at all.  “What are your people doin’ on Hrenngen, Princess?” he asked.
Derian immediately interrupted.  “Eena, Shanks has helped us out more than enough.  We are in his debt significantly as it is.”  He hoped she would drop the subject. 
“Don’t be afraid of him,” Shanks whispered to her.  “You can tell me.”
“But you’re going to leave,” she whispered back.  “Him, I have to live with.”
“I can stay if you want.”  A big grin stretched the Viidun’s thick lips.  “Now tell me what’s on your pretty mind.”
By that time Derian had made his way to Eena’s side.  He didn’t look happy at all.  He spoke to the Viidun captain first. 
“Shanks, don’t encourage her.  Eena would have you save the entire universe if she could.  She has a compassionate heart, which is admirable, but what she’s proposing is not practical.  Not right now.”
“You haven’t even told me what sort of damage she’s proposin’?  Spit it out, man!”
Eena was determined to tell Shanks herself.  It was her desire to save her friends, and if there was any possibility this man could help, it would be worth having Derian upset with her—again.
There was a desperate edge to her voice as she spelled out the situation.  “My people are being forced by the Ghengats to work as slaves on Hrenngen.  Those awful creatures are using them to mine quarrin from beneath the volcanoes there.  They treat them terribly, Shanks.  I want to rescue them.”
“So what are we waitin’ for?  Let’s fire it up and go crush some blueskins!”  Supportive whooping and hollering sounded from Shanks’ companions until Eena cut short their enthusiasm.
“Wait….wait….there’s more.”  They quieted for an explanation.  She sighed, already showing signs of defeat.
“The Ghengats have a huge fleet of cloaked starships.  We’d be fighting invisible targets.”
Derian broke in at this point.  “We can’t win against a fleet of cloaked vessels, Shanks.  It would be suicide to try.  Besides, Eena is on her way to Harrowbeth.  It’s imperative to our world’s survival that she return home soon and safely.”
“I see,” Shanks said.  His eyes scrunched, and he stroked his chin as he reflected on the matter.
Derian stole a moment to whisper in Eena’s ear.  “I’d appreciate it if you would not bother our guests with anymore requests.  I told you before that this was an unreasonable mission.”
“Not necessarily,” Shanks disagreed, overhearing the hushed reprimand.  “I’m just wonderin’ where the Gats got their cloakin’ ability.  I’ve traded with the likes of ’em before for quarrin, but I don’t recall their ships being able to ghost.”
“Gemdorin robbed a more advanced people for the technology,” Derian explained.  “He’s allied himself with the Ghengats, so I’m sure they gladly took advantage of his find.”
“Ahh, I see.”  Shanks supportively patted his friend on the back and announced, “There’s a good possibility we can get our hands on the same stuff.  I happen to know a good man with that kind of expertise.  King Wennergren.  He’s not that far from here, probably three days journey on the Triac to Primas Quar.” 
“Primas Quar?”  Derian inclined his head the slightest bit, having heard of the planet before.  “I was told the stolen cloaking technology came from Primas Quar.”
“All the better for us!” Shanks declared.  “It might be just enough reason for King Wennergren to lend us a hand.  If he helps us fly invisible, we’ll strike back at his wanted thief!  I’ll talk to him.  He’s a bit of a hard one to barter with, but I’m sure we can make a deal.  If he only lets us borrow the technology, that’d work for our goals, right?”
“You mean you’re going to help us?” Eena asked, hopeful she was following him accurately.
Kahm Derian spoke up before the Viidun could answer.  “Shanks, you don’t have to do this.  I’m far indebted to you as it is for all your previous…”
Shanks cut him off.  “I ain’t doin’ it for you, Derian, I’m doin’ it for the princess here.  It’ll be mighty nice havin’ this beauty indebted to me.”  He winked at her over a wily smile and made her blush. 
“Besides, I came here to do a job.  You already rescued the damsel without me, so this’ll have to do.”
Derian wasn’t finished objecting yet.  “Eena cannot be involved in this, Shanks.  If we were to fail at this mission it would put her right back in Gemdorin’s grasp again, and I cannot allow that.  She must proceed to Harrowbeth.”
Shanks agreed.  “Heth and Efren can take her home on the Triac.  It’s faster than your ships anyway, not to mention, Gemdorin wouldn’t be lookin’ for her on a Viidun vessel.  She’d be safer than stayin’ here with you.  That’ll free up you and your crew to accompany Agus and me.  We’ll go kick some blue Gat tail on Hrenngen!”
Ian, who had remained quietly seated at the far end of the table, listening, stood up and interjected his wishes.
“Derian, I want to go with Eena.  Maybe Jinatta ought to accompany her too.”
The captain frowned.  “I can’t afford to let Jinatta go; she’ll be needed in the medical bay.  But you’re right, you ought to accompany Eena home.”
Ian uttered a “thank you” and tried not to appear as relieved as he felt.  
It occurred to Derian that Shanks was probably right about everything.  Their queen would be safer on a Viidun ship, not to mention her arrival in Harrowbeth would be that much sooner.  Reluctantly, he agreed to the terms.  “But only if you can acquire cloaking technology from your friend.”
“Good as done,” Shanks said, and the two men shook on it.
Eena cleared her throat, requesting everyone’s attention again.  “There is uh….one more thing that maybe you should know.”  All eyes landed on her, waiting as she glanced between Shanks and Derian.  “Well, you see, Gemdorin has this gemstone.  It’s called the dragon’s eye.”
Shanks bellowed out a staggered remark.
“You know of it?”  She presumed by his reaction that he must.
“Yes, I know of it!” he exclaimed, openmouthed.  “But no one could’ve got their hands on it.  It’s impossible!”
“I did.”
“With your magic?” he guessed.
“It’s not magic, but….yes,” she admitted.  “I didn’t want to get it for him.  I tried to keep it from him, but…well… he…”
Derian helped her out.  “She was coerced into recovering it for him.”
Shanks looked suspicious.  He kept eyeing Eena like he expected her to admit at any moment it was all a joke.  “Where did you find it?” he finally asked.
“On Hrenngen, deep below the Avortacrec Crater within the magma reservoir.”
“Incredible,” Shanks muttered.  “…buried on an uninhabited isle, within a powerful viscous liquid, guarded by the most ferocious creatures, deadly to mortals.”  Shanks was quoting something he had read.  He examined the young woman sitting on the table next to him.  She was nothing to fear by her looks, not worthy of such an impossible feat.  He was still unconvinced she was telling the truth. 
“How could you have claimed the dragon’s eye?  Those guarding it would never’ve let you take it alive.”
Derian assured him her story was true.  “I saw it all, Shanks.  There were guardian creatures like you say: hundreds of trillots and a fierce dragon.  She used the powers of the necklace and managed to come out victorious.” 
“Many have searched for those gems, but no one has ever come close to findin’em.  Are you aware what the dragon’s eye does?” Shanks asked.  He looked deeply concerned about its discovery.
“Yes,” Eena said, “It foretells the future.  But I don’t think Gemdorin can use it yet.  I don’t think he has…”
“He ain’t got the armor!” Shanks finished. 
“I don’t think he does,” Eena concurred.
“You better hope he ain’t got that armor.  Otherwise, we’ve got bigger problems than rescuin’ your friends.  If he really has the dragon’s eye and puts it to use, Gemdorin will be watchin’ everything we do before we even set one foot in action.  He’ll find you no matter where you are, Princess.”
“I know.”
“Are you two serious about this?”  Derian was stunned to learn that the red jewel Eena had acquired for Gemdorin held any kind of significant power.  “He can actually see the future in that thing?  Honestly?”
“Yes,” Eena and Shanks answered in unison.
Shanks slammed his fist on the table, causing every dish to bounce and clatter.  “We’re going after the cretin, cloaked or not.  The dragon’s eye is too dangerous to remain in his hands.  Besides, it rightly belongs to the Viiduns.  This is a personal matter now.”
“What do you mean it belongs to the Viiduns?” Eena asked.
Shanks looked surprised by her question, as if Rapador world history ought to be common knowledge.  “Don’t you know where those cursed gems came from?” 
“Gems?  You mean there’s more than one?”
“Two, in fact.  The dragon’s eye and the dragon’s heart.” 
“One red and one blue!” Eena burst out, finally understanding her dreams: the young dragons—one blue-eyed and one red-eyed!
“Right you are,” Shanks said.  “They both foresee the future.  They were created by a pair of goddesses who once threatened our home world.  The gems originated on our soil.  They belong to us.”
“I saw this in a book!”  Eena spoke excitedly, piecing things together.  She was getting answers she had wondered about.  “The book had an old, detailed drawing of a great battle scene with two beautiful women, or goddesses as you say, standing above each army.  There were two glowing gemstones on their armor—one embedded into a helmet and the other mounted on a shield.  Are you telling me that was a Viidun battle?”
“You got that straight,” Shanks confirmed.  “It was a terrible civil war that broke out ages ago.  One day, mid the war, this magical beauty appeared to the leader of the Hotchret’s Battalion.  She professed herself to be the goddess, Ishtura, and claimed she’d been watchin’ over him.  She convinced him he’d win the war if he and his men’d worship her.  He readily agreed, not able to withstand her charms, and so she gave him a fortune-teller’s gem used to foresee the future.  They called it the dragon’s eye.  It worked brilliantly!  The Hotchrets quickly overtook the opposing battalion, the Vollians, knowin’ their every design and strategy beforehand. 
“But that wasn’t the end of it.  It seems the goddess, Ishtura, had a jealous sister.  The leader of the Vollian Battalion was paid a visit by the goddess, Anesidora, while he was imprisoned, awaitin’ his own execution come daybreak.  She claimed she’d help him rise up and defeat the Hotchret Battalion if he’d worship her.  He agreed without a second thought, and that day the dragon’s heart was given to him.  The Vollians used the dragon’s heart to foresee every enemy strike, successfully winnin’ back their freedom.”
“Then who eventually won the war?” Eena asked, her face all tight with curiosity.
“No one,” Shanks murmured in a grave tone.  “That was the blackest period in our Viidun history.  Those wicked gems did nuthin’ more than allow each side a chance at slaughterin’ one another time and time again.  As one side read the future and changed strategies, the other side would see the future altered and modify their plans as well.  It was a never-endin’, vicious game.  There were no victors.” 
Eena noted the downcast faces on every Viidun in the room as they recollected a devastating time from their world’s past.
“Somehow your people survived,” she pointed out.  “Because you’re here.”
Shanks nodded.  “One day both goddesses vanished.  The dragon’s eye and the dragon’s heart went right along with ’em.  Witnesses recorded seein’ another magical figure—a glowin’ man appearin’ from a ball of white light—who forced the sisters to leave.  He had companions helpin’ him out, just as magical and bright as he was.  They took the gems too.  Said they were too dangerous for mortals.  The gems were rumored to be buried by these beings someplace no mortal man could uncover ’em.”
“Why not destroy them rather than bury them if they’re so dangerous?” Eena asked.
Shanks had an answer.  “They were created by immortal hands.  They’re indestructible, except by the one who created ’em.”
“After the goddesses left, the Viiduns stopped killin’ each other.  We became a united world that day, and stronger for it, but it took our near ruin to cause such a change of heart.”
“Wow,” Eena whispered, troubled by the tale.
“And now you’ve gone and dug up one of those vile gems,” Shanks said.  His words were saturated with accusation.  “I don’t know if you’ve any idea what you may have started.”
Derian spoke up in defense of his queen.  “We’ll get it back; it’s not too late.” 
Eena was thankful for the vote of confidence, but Shanks’ comment hit her with eye-opening force.  If they failed to recover that gemstone….  She swallowed hard, fearing the possibilities.  “What have I done?”

Copyright 2009 Richelle E. Goodrich




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