Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chapter 15: The Golden Dragon

A phantom monstrous in the gloom,
He rose out of the waves to stand
Before the awesome Lamp of Doom,
And naked steel was in his hand.
- Thongor's Saga, Stanza XIX

Thongor was upon the first guard in an instant. He bore him to the deck before his rush, like a charging lion. Before hte corsair had time to utter a single cry, the iron hands of the Barbarian had crushed him to silence. And even in the same instant Thongor sprang upon the first guard, Charn Thovis hurled himself upon the second. Bright steel flashed and red blood spurted, and hte second watchman sank to the deck without a groan.

Guards dispatched already? Nothing to stop them from destroying the machine? Sadly not. As befits a clumsy sidekick, Charn Thovis's victim had a sword which accidentally struck the base of the lamp as he fell, and made a noise like an alarm bell. (?) Pirates start to swarm up the stairs - the fight is on!

Thongor tells CT to get destroying the machine while he holds the stairs, and promptly starts hacking his way through a bunch of pirates.

Little there was in life the great Valkarthan loved more than a good fight - and this was one of the best! His broadsword rose and fell tirelessly, and soon with every sweep the blade left a curve of crimson droplets traced upon the air. Blocking the head of the stair as he did, the Barbarian had the great advantage of height - and a second, in that the maddened pirates could only come at him one at a time. For a short while he killed and killed, sustaining no more than a sabre-cut on his bare thigh and a scratch or two on chest and shoulder.

But! A mysterious silence at his back tells him that all is not well with CT's machine-destroying duties. He glances back - and Belshathla taps him with a paralysing wand!

His arm goes numb and he drops the sword, and the pirates crush him to the deck, though he manages to break a few jaws and ribs as they do so. Belshathla got a better shot on CT, who is totally unconscious, but Thongor is only half-paralysed and is otherwise in possession of his faculties. Kashtar comes out to see what's going on, a mirthless smile on his lips.

"Shall we slay him, Lord?" the Gray Magicial asked. "It is dangerous to permit him to live, even though a captive. For, although many men have held the Barbarian prisoner ere now, none of them are now alive. He has a way of eluding captivity..."

Kashtar shook his head.

"Wizard you may be, but you are also a great fool, you grey dog," he said. "For you would throw away the key that Fate has set within our very grasp! Aye, here's the key that will unlock the gates of Patanga before us... think you they will dare oppose us, when we hold a knife at the heart of their Lord and King?"


Belshathla is still dubious, but can't really do much about it as Thongor is shackled and dragged across the deck, where they plan to bind him to the prow. But! Even as the hand of one burly rogue went forth to lock the shackles, they are interrupted by... Charn Thovis, who has evidently gotten over his paralysis and is now at the controls of the Lamp of Madness!

The pirates all withdraw in horror, and Thongor grabs the keys and unshackles himself, then picks up his broadsword from where it lay in a welter of gore. But there's someone else we'd forgotten about - Duranga Thool! He grabs CT from behind just as Thongor starts hacking away with his sword again, battling like a trapped tiger amidst the howling mob. All was howling pandemonium at the next instant! To be fair to Mr Carter, there are actually 8 lines between the two uses of "howling".

Grinning, Duranga Thool beat Charn Thovis back with lusty blows from his cutlass. The pirate chieftain was the taller and the heavier man, and his burly shoulders drove the blade against the youth with telling force. Step by step, Charn Thovis was driven back until at length he stood against the rail and could retreat no further. With every ounce of skill and strength within him, the young warrior strove to keep the edge of that flying blade from his throat.

Sidekick fight!

It's not looking good for Thongor either, so much so that Carter even loses his masterful grasp of the simile - T's latest victims lie heaped about him "like a wall of gory corpses". Exactly like a wall of gory corpses, in fact. But he's now surrounded, and knows that within moments he will be struck down from behind...

Duranga Thool finally manages to beat CT's weapon aside, and is but a split second from plunging his sword into the young warrior's heart... but then something happens!

Then, even as he watched, a miraculous change came over the face of Duranga Thool. From a snarling mask of murderous fury it was transformed to blank astonishment. The eyes goggled unbelievingly and the sword, drawn back for the final lunge, went wavering aside.

Chran Thovis knew not the cause of the gap-jawed amazement that had struck the other, but his hand flew to seize this momentary advantage. And in the next instant, with the last dregs of his strength, he had thrust his own sharp rapier through the hairy breast before him.

But what could this distraction be?

For looming out of the phantasmal mists, the contorted face of a dragon towered above the rail. Light glinted gold from its burnished beak and frowning brow.

In the next instant the deck shuddered under their feet as the brass-beaked dragon prow of the Scimitar drove full against the hull of the Red Wolf.

It's Barim and his crew, to save the day!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Chapter 14: Naked Steel

After making such a fuss over the fact that the "magic" mist is actually just Science!, Carter now decides to give it supernatural properties after all.

All about the decks, gray streamers of the clammy fog swirled like the impalpable draperies that clad the skeletal limbs of the spirits of the dead. Queer tricks were played by fog and wind: leering mask-like faces appeared out of the sliding film of fog ,eye-holes and maw but gaping rents in the mist, torn by unpredictable gusts of wind.

Long coils of mist drifted out, like reaching arms, as if to seize the sailors clustered on the mid-ship deck. Although they knew the nature of the mist to be Belshathla's demon sorcery, tihs did little to allay the superstitious fears that arose in many of the seamen. Many a grim-faced wrrior, standing with naked steel in his hands, ready to face death on the signal, felt his heart go cold and the chill sweat of terror on his brow. Even fat old Blay felt the clammy fingers of fear clutch about his stout old heart as he blinked and gawped at the gliding phantasmal forms that flickered eerily across the deck, borne on the invisible wings of the wind.

Not sure that their superstitions are so unjustified. "Don't worry, it's just demon sorcery!"

The Scimitar sneaks out of the fogbank into the clear air beyond (phew!) and then zooms forward to the head of the fleet (using Barim's master seamanship) to catch up with Kashtar. The original plan (give me ramming speed!) has been demoted to Plan B, however, as Thongor has had a better idea - he plans to board the flagship and destroy the Lamp of Madness himself, and save the ramming idea for if he fails (cos that's totally likely).

Barim is not best pleased at this.

Growling at this, the pirate captain grudgingly agreed. To his simple way of thought, direct action was the only route to success, but the Lord of the West was his Lord as well, and he had no recourse but to submit. Far rather would he have preferred to send his brass-beaked prow crashing like a brazen ram deep into the timbers of the flagship's hull, and sweep aboard the decks of the enemy with a naked cutlass flashing in his hand. But he would yield to Thongor in this.

Thongor strips back down to his harness, and Charn Thovis does likewise (but not in a gay way), then they dive into the sea!

The stinging shock of the chilly waves struck new vigor into Thongor's mighty thews. Setting his heels against the waterline of the Scimitar, the Valkarthan kicked out and propelled himself away from the vessel. His great shoulders rose and fell, his long powerful arms clove through the waves, as he swam towards the dim hulk of the pirate flagship that towered up, a vague and fog-wreathed silhouette, across the dark waters.

The magic mist conveniently stops a few feet above the waterline, so he has a good view of where to go, and has no trouble getting to the flagship. The two climb up via a carved sea monster which adorns the prow, and spot the Mind Ray machine which is guarded by two guards (the mist machine is unguarded, and Thongor whispers a plan to Charn Thovis which presumably involves them taking out one machine each).

Then, silent as a phantom, his mighty figure all but invisible amidst the ghostly fog, the Valkarthan glided up and over the rail. His wet feet crept along the planking as he advanced upon the two unsuspecting guards. As he approached them, a ghostly and silent figure in the grey gloom, his strong fingers closed about the massy hilt of Sarkozan.

With but the faintest whisper of steel against leather, he drew the glistening length of the broadsword free from its scabbard. With naked steel glistening in his hand, he advanced with the soundless tread of a stalking vandar upon the two guards...

Does anyone else feel just slightly dirty after reading that?

We now cut away to a scene in Patanga, where air traffic control officer Changan Jal is sitting bored at his desk. Yes, that's right. Well, actually he's a guard captain of some kind, but his job involves sitting in the signal tower and collating reports from the floater fleet, and as usual, there's nothing to report. Once a night he likes to go up in his floater for a spin, and it's time for him to do so right now.

Seating himself in the snug little cabin, he held the controls steady while Anzan Varl loosed the mooring lines and took his place in the pilot's chair. Then, in the observer's position, the older officer watched as the Otar took the trim little craft up to the twenty-thousand-foot level and began a tour of the city.

Wait. What?? No wonder his floater fleet can't see any trouble brewing, if they are patrolling at twenty thousand feet. What with them passing out from oxygen deprivation and whatnot.

Anyway, he spots a mysterious fogbank approaching up the Gulf, which arouses his suspicions, but despite the "formless feeling" it gives him, he decides it's probably nothing to worry about... probably....

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chapter 13 - Magic Mist

The fleet sails unhindered up the centre of the gulf, staying out of sight of land and intending to sink any merchantmen who were unlucky enough to espy them - however, these being the days of the stormy months that straddled the year halfway between late fall and the beginnings of winter, and few merchants dared risk craft, crew and cargo to the sudden squalls and unexpected lightning, so they sailed north all that day unseen.

Not sure how the jungly shores are affected by these dramatic seasonal changes. I suspect not at all.

Aedir the Sun-god declined slowly, hour by hour, in the West, until at length the azure sky darkened gradually with film on film of deepening gloom, while the horizon of the West became a glorious furnace of crimson and gold.

Thongor's gold eyes burn with inscrutable fires when considering the speed of their passage - probably Belshathla is using some kind of magic to make the ships go faster, with the cunning skills of his demon-wrested arts. On board the ship, Barim's pirates are all preparing for battle. I hardly need to tell you how mighty Thongor is looking right now, but Carter has no such reticence, and gives us the full money-shot:

Erect, masculine, masterful in his black war wizard outfit, he looked as if he could be posing for a statue of who he was... Sorry, wrong book.

...Thongor towered over [Charn Thovis], aye, and over all the seamen that stood near; thewed like some savage gladiator of the Gods was Thongor, with the broad shoulders, the deep chest, the long and powerfully-muscled arms of a mighty champion. His coarse mane of thick hair was held back from his scowling brows by a band of unadorned leather. The massy hilt of Sarkozan lay near his strong hand. His great chest rose and fell with deep. quiet breathing. His face was dark and expressionless, but his eyes blazed with golden fire like the burning orbs of a lion in its kingly wrath.

Funnily enough, my eyes are also burning after reading that. Yowch!

The sun flares crimson in the West one last time (for now) and the crew waits silently for fall of night.

Barim was hoping for a dark and moonless night, but alas, he is disappointed.

...Illana the Moon Lady showed the full splendor of her shining face this night, and torrents of silver fell across the decks and glittered, flashing, on a thousand dancing waves. It was as if they sailed through a mirror of silver flame, and against the brilliantly illuminated waters of the moonlit Gulf the low black mass of the Scimitar would be all too distinclty visible.

Growling barbarous oaths, he chewed fiercely on his mustaches, eyeing the flashing waters about them. Mayhap, in an hour or two, the Moon would hide her golden face behind thick clouds, for the winds of this cold month of Zorah were at work far above the world, and their swift and viewless wings had built tall castles of dark clouds athwart the West.

Barim is not the only one snarling curses at the shining glory of the Moon; Kashtar is also less than impressed at the clear skies, and would much prefer some clouds to hide his fleet's approach from the vigilant eyes of the floater pilots. Luckily, he has on board one of the mightiest adepts of the Secret Science then alive upon the bosom of the Earth, Belshathla, the last of the Grey Magicians of God-cursed and demon-haunted Nianga, armed with the hellish lore of a lost age of sorcery and science.

After considering a few options involving giant magnets and extra (unavailable) wizards, B decides his best option is to summon Yathlabnazoor the Demon of the Mists and force him to enshroud the entire Tarakan fleet with the airy cloak of insubstantial vapor.

This magical Operation he set about performing... and thus, in his ignorance, he veiled behind the symbolic terminology of Elder Magic a simple scientific experiment which utilised an understanding of the forces of nature, and was not really built upon the Shadowy Lords of Chaos at all. But since Belshathla would get the result he wanted, it did not really matter whether he worked through science or sorcery; the result was the same.

Well that's OK then. It means we don't actually get to meet Yathlabnazoor though. :(

Basically he has a huge electrical generator, and even though he thinks the sparks are Elementals from Sithya the Dominion of the Fire Spirits, and the ozone smell is sulphur from the Ultimate Pit, he nonetheless manages to create a load of mist which envelops the fleet (with magical swiftness - in your face, science boy!)

Barim, of course, thinks this is hilarious.

Then his awe gave way to mirth, and Redbeard broke into peals of laughter. What a grim jest, if the very methods whereby Belshathla sought to protect them from discovery, were to prove an agent that permitted the Scimitar to fall upon the flagship unobserved, and take it by surprise!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chapter 12 - When Comrades Meet

Can you guess what happens? I bet you can.

1. Thongor steps out of the jungle to confront his armed attacker.*
2. He realises it's KK
3. They do some back-slapping and "I'm glad you're alive!" and "How did you get here?"
4. But what do we do now? Oh no Patanga is doomed!
5. Oh no a pirate ship is approaching!
6. They realise it's Barim
7. Repeat steps 3 and 4

*this gives us the one quotable passage of the entire chapter:

Swift as a striking cobra his hand flew to the hilt of the great Valkarthan broadsword that lay against his thigh. In a blur of motion he whipped the long blade from its scabbard, in a hiss of steel rasping against leather, and blocked the darting point that strove for his naked flesh.


Lazy writing merits a lazy update. I guess it was a scene that had to be written, but as payoff for all THREE of those cliffhangers, it's extraordinarily lame. Carter is really phoning it in, at this point.