This summer I have not gotten nearly as much done as I expected to. Still, I am ahead of my most minimal writing goals. I’m a chapter and a half away from finishing a fairly large book. Then I plan on finishing one that I have been putting off for years. Then I’m moving on to another one. My goal is to finish up many of the half-done and three-quarter done manuscripts that I have. One would think this should be quicker work than starting new ones from the beginning. As I said before, watch the month of August for some announcements. Since August 12th will be this blog’s official 8th birthday, that might make for a good announcement day.
Many times on our journey I pressed the knight to tell me about his city. On these occasions he would simply smile, and say that I would have to see it for myself. Of course my personal interests were constantly being drawn to the subject of his sister. I didn’t want to arouse Norar Remontar’s ire by accidentally disgracing her somehow, and truth be told, I was somewhat embarrassed by my single-minded desire to see this woman again. Of course being no fool, he saw through my efforts to artificially generalize the subject, but played along with me anyway. It seemed that in Amatharian society, both the men and the women were able to become knights and pursue careers in any field. The culture was a matrilineal one. The Amatharians passed on their family name from mother to daughter, but even more important than the family name, were the family crests, and these were passed from elder family members, to those children, grandchildren, and even nephews and nieces, who managed to achieve knighthood. Norar Remontar and a cousin had received their crests from an uncle who was a war hero. His sister inherited her crest from her grandfather.
We crossed planes and hills and valleys and an occasional mountain range, and must have been some thousands of miles from the sight of the airship battle when we reached the edge of an immense forest. It stretched to the left and right as far as the eye could see. Of course as with all things of this scale, when we came up close to the edge of the woodland, we found that it was not one great forest, but a vast area of connected forests with small glens and meadows scattered here and there. We plunged into this new terrain and continued on our way.
The first several hundred miles of the forest land was lightly wooded. There were a great many open areas and we found many fruits and vegetables along the way to supplement our hunting. As the miles went on by though, we left the lightly wooded areas behind us, and entered an increasingly dark and forbidding landscape. It was the kind of forest that one might find in an old black and white horror movie, or one of those fantasy novels with pointed-eared goblins peaking out from behind large oak trees. In this densely wooded country, hunting became more difficult, but because of the urgency of our quest, we could not take any more time than was absolutely necessary in any one location. So it was that when once more we had to make camp, for the first time, we sat looking at one another over an empty spot on the ground where our food might normally be found roasting on a spit above a small camp fire.
“This is most discouraging to me,” said Malagor. “It is not right for a Malagor to go without food.”
“At least we have water,” said Norar Remontar. “I am surprised that we have been able to stay as well fed as we have. Before this trip I had been hunting only three or four times with my uncle, and I mean no disrespect when I say that Alexander seems to be as unskilled as I am in this arena.”
“He has led a soft life,” explained Malagor. “I am guessing that even though you have done little hunting, your life has not been soft. You are a warrior.”
“You are mistaken my friend,” the Amatharian replied. “My life has not been a hard one. We in Amathar live well, and I as the son of a Kurar Ka have lived too well. I have never wanted. All my life I was provided for, was given everything that I desired, and was tutored by masters in every subject.
“When I reached manhood I set out to explore the distant lands of Ecos by signing on to my uncle’s trading group. As a warrior and then a swordsman, I was required to fight pirates and monsters, and I did so without fear. I proved myself in battle, at least my soul thought that I had. I went to the Garden of Souls and I found my soul. Then on my first mission as a knight, in my first confrontation with the enemy of my people, I lose my ship and my sister.”
“That wasn’t your fault,” I interjected quickly. “It was a tremendous battle and you fought bravely.”
“It was my duty to protect my sister,” said the knight. “She was conveying an important diplomatic mission for our grandfather. Beside, she is my sister.” He lay down and then rolled over so that his back was facing Malagor and myself.
Malagor looked at me, nodded, and lay down. There was a chill in the air, and the sky was becoming overcast, so much so that I almost imagined that the sun was going down. Of course it remained directly above, as always, but it did grow rather dark. I began to wish that we had built a fire, despite the fact that we had nothing to cook over it. I leaned back and prepared for my turn at watch. I was very tired though, and after a moments reflection, as I have just recounted, that the thick green canopy above, in combination with the storm clouds rolling in provided almost enough darkness to remind one of night time, I fell into a state of half sleep.
The first thing that aroused me from my slumber was a low growl coming from Malagor. I rolled over and looked at him. He was trussed up tightly in some kind of white netting, and he obviously didn’t like it. Suddenly I was knocked back onto my back by something large and black and hairy. I stared, horror-struck at a big black spider, fully fifty pounds, and with a body fully three feet across, sitting astride my chest. With the strength of my earth-born muscles combined with a great rush of adrenaline, I thrust the creature away from me. It was quite an impressive push, for it flew a about twenty feet and crashed with a splat into the bole of a large tree. I stood up, but before I could draw my sword or do anything else, I found myself being wrapped by strands of sticky white netting, and I looked to find a dozen more of the spiders encircling me and coating me with webbing silk. Scant seconds later I fell down onto my side, completely incased, with the exception of my head, in a silk cocoon.
My position on the ground put me face to face with Norar Remontar, and he looked at me and shook his head.
“You fell asleep.”
“Yes,” I replied.
“You were supposed to be on guard.”
“Now you have killed us. These are Pell.”
“We’re not dead yet,” I offered.
“You will be soon.” A grotesque, high-pitched, squeaking voice said.
Slowly the victorious warrior scanned the battlefield around him, and as he did so, his eyes alighted upon Malagor and myself. He started slowly toward us. I did nothing but stand and stare at the alien knight. He came toward us slowly at first, but as he got nearer, he seemed more and more menacing, and when he was only several yards away, he began to raise his wondrous sword.
“Stop!” Called Malagor, backing up his command by brandishing his light rifle. The blue-skinned man stopped and stared at us, and particularly at me for a moment.
“You carry a dead sword.” he said to me.
“I carry this sword that I found. It is not as marvelous as your own….”
“Just where did you find this sword?”
“It was in a cave, along with these light rifles.” I replied.
“You took these weapons from the dead!” he accused.
“There was no body.” I said. “Only the weapons and some food items.”
“You lie!” He stepped forward.
“He tells the truth,” said Malagor. “Do not take another step, or I shall have to kill you.”
The Amatharian looked carefully at my friend as if for the first time. “You are a Malagor?”
“My clan, long ago, dealt with the Malagor. They were a people of honor.”
Malagor nodded his head slightly in acknowledgment of the compliment, but didn’t lower his weapon.
“You affirm that this pale one did not desecrate the bodies of my people?”
“I swear it.”
The Amatharian looked back at me, the fury of battle now fading from his eyes. He straightened his back, and then carefully sheathed his sword, which now appeared to be nothing more than a metal blade of the non-glowing variety. This fellow was a magnificent specimen. He was almost a head taller than I, at least six foot seven. He was muscular and handsome, and wore the typical Amatharian fighting clothing, the black body suit and white tabard. His own tabard was surrounded by gold braid and bore his insignia, a flaming sun with outstretched wings.
“May I see your weapon?” He asked.
I handed him the sword, hilt first. He carefully examined the blade and its edge. Then with something akin to reverence, he carefully removed the jeweled hilt and opened a here-to-fore hidden compartment in the base. He sighed. Then he carefully replaced the hilt, and handed the weapon back to me.
“I offer you my apology,” he said. “A sword this fine was designed for a remiant, and yet this sword has never lived.”
“I accept your apology,” I replied.
I could feel Malagor breathe a sigh of relief. It was obvious that he didn’t want to have to kill a brave man, especially over a misunderstanding. I certainly didn’t want to force him to have to do so. The knight bowed his head.
“I am Homianne Kurar Ka Remiant Norar Remontar of the Sun Clan,” he said. I later learned that he had given me his name as Norar Remontar, his rank as Remiant or knight, and his social status or nobility as Homianne Kurar Ka which literally means child of the overlord, and implies that one is a prince or princess. In Amatharian society the head of each clan is called Kurar Ka or Overlord and his direct heirs are his Homianne. Just below them in rank are the Kurar or lords, and below them the Kur or lesser nobles.
Malagor replied with his own name, which as I have previously explained, defies all attempts at transcription. It is a kind of a growl and a cough and he seemed to throw in something else, perhaps a title, though I didn’t press as to what it might have been. I must confess that at that moment I felt somewhat inadequate in the name department, as I had neither a particularly long or eloquent name nor an impressive title.
“Alexander Ashton” I said.
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The Amatharians were, as Malagor had said, much like me, or for that matter much like any humans. They were human, and but for a few racial characteristics, they could have seemed at home anywhere on earth. Those racial characteristics however, were a bit unearthly. They were tall, ranging in the six foot to seven foot range. Their hair was universally straight and black. The men wore it cut straight across the forehead and straight at the back of the neck. The women wore theirs in a variety of lengths, though in each case it was straight and evenly cut, whether at the shoulders or across the middle of the back. Facial hair was not in evidence, and I was later to learn is completely unknown among them. Their skin was blue in color, with a wide variation of shades. Some were as dark as the inside of a Teflon frying pan, while others were almost a baby blue. The clothing they wore was an interesting contradiction of utilitarianism and style. They wore a black body suit from their necks to their ankles, which was tighter, and of thinner material than the spandex biking pants that had been popular shortly before I left my home planet. Through the material, every muscle was visible as it strained to heft the swords which almost every Amatharian used in his defense. Over their body suit the knights of Amathar wore a tabard– nothing more than a long strip of cloth eighteen inches wide, with a hole so that it fit over the head. It reached down to below the knees in front and in back, but was completely open on the sides. On both the front and back panels was emblazoned a great symbol, that was the coat of arms for that knight, and which was different from one to the other.
I waded into the closest skirmish where four Amatharians, two men and two women, were holding off a score of the Zoasians. One humanoid had drawn his sword and was cutting up the nearest foe. The others used their light rifles. The snake-men were using rifle and pistol versions of their ugly death ray. They didn’t carry swords, apparently being too slow to use them effectively. With a great leap of my earthly power, I closed the gap between myself and the nearest Zoasian. I swung my sword but it was deflected by the beings body-armor, a feature I heretofore hadn’t noticed. It covered his body from neck to tail, and appeared to be made of some type of synthetic plasticized leather material. It was studded with horns and crests of bright metal, but was otherwise as black as the snake-man himself.
The Zoasian was evidently not hurt by my blow, the armor having absorbed the shock, but he was surprised. He opened his mouth wide and hissed at me with a great forked tongue. Then he brought forth his powerful hand with the ray-weapon in its grasp. I was too quick for him though, and with a mighty sweep of my sword arm, I removed his hand between the wrist and the elbow. He didn’t cry out, but reeled backwards in pain. I should have finished him off quickly, but I didn’t. Something instead caught my eye.
Just over the shoulder of my opponent, I spied one of the Amatharians fighting against great odds. It was one of the females. She was breathtakingly beautiful. Her straight black hair was slightly longer than the other women that I had observed. Her skin was flawless and of a deep metallic blue color, like the steel beams of a building under construction. She was about six foot two and powerfully built, though not by any means unfeminine. Her black body-suit covered her from the top of her neck to the top of her shining black boots. Her white tabard was surrounded by gold braid and was emblazoned with the most beautiful crest– two crossed swords over a flaming sun– and the back of it trailed behind her in the wind like the cape of some fantastic comic book heroine. She had abandoned her light weapon and was using her sword, carving up several Zoasians at once like a butcher with a row of fresh steaks. With each stroke the sword blade seemed to glow with the pride and the glory of battle. I had decided to rush to the aid of this beautiful vision, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a looming form. It was the Zoasian with whom I had been previously engaged. Before I could turn toward him he slammed his remaining fist into the side of my head. I was tossed twenty feet by the force of the blow. I fell to the ground and everything went black.
I opened my eyes to look into the face of my friend Malagor. He opened his mouth and snarled at me.
“You are not smart,” he growled. “I teach you all that I know, and still you know nothing.”
I pulled myself to my feet and looked around. Nearby was the Zoasian who had hit me, easily recognizable by his missing hand. Malagor had shot him with his light rifle before the reptile had the chance to finish me off. That I had been out for a while was evidenced by the fact that there no longer remained any living warriors of either race within a good hundred yards or so. Bodies, both human and reptilian though, were strewn everywhere. In the distance I could see the Zoasian armies being hauled by cable up onto the deck of their disabled battle-cruiser. Suddenly remembering the woman that I had seen just before being knocked senseless, I began examining all of the Amatharian bodies nearby. I could find none that matched the vision that I had previously beheld. I turned to ask Malagor if he had seen what had become of her, but something beyond him caught my eye. Malagor turned to see what I was looking at, and we both became witnesses to a fantastic scene.
Standing in the blood of friend and enemy alike, was a single Amatharian knight. He was exceptionally tall and muscular– the perfect specimen of the timeless warrior. He held high above his head that weapon that so epitomizes the Amatharian– his sword. It was almost as highly crafted and ornate as the ancient swords that I had found, but it had something that mine did not. The blade of the weapon glowed. It more than glowed. It was actually lit up like a fluorescent light bulb. This was all the more fascinating for the fact that the metal of the blade seemed to be the same type as the unknown, but mundane metal, of which I found my own new blades to be composed.
He held his sword as if waiting for an enemy, and indeed he was. Bearing down upon him from the sky, at a speed equaling any terrestrial fighter jet, was one of the Zoasian fighter aircraft. It swooped down lower and lower, until it became apparent that the pilot was planning to fly right into the man on the ground, and splatter him on the front of the plane like a bug on the front of a Buick. It covered a mile in less than a second as it headed toward its intended target, yet the warrior on the ground did not turn or run away. It was the most heroically stupid and futile thing that I had ever witnessed, and it my heart filled with admiration for brave man. Then when the jet was no more than fifty feet from him, the knight dropped to one knee, still holding the sword high above him. The fighter continued on into the sword, but the sword was not ripped away from the man’s hand, and it was not destroyed by the force of impact. Instead the sword sliced through the aircraft, through metal, plastic, fuel tanks, and pilot. The craft blew apart and a huge fireball replaced it on the battlefield. Both Malagor and I dropped to the ground to avoid flying debris. Moments later I was back on my feet, looking for the remains of the brave Amatharian.
To my surprise I saw him rise to his feet, burned but not gravely injured. He looked at the remains of his dead foe, and raising his face to the eternal Ecosian sun, he cried out in victory and challenge.
As we circumnavigated the hill, Malagor explained the rifle to me. For all its unearthly beauty, it was quite terrestrial in method of operation. The stock and the barrel were designed much like those of an AK-47, with a trigger and trigger guard in the usual location, but instead of a clip of ammunition projecting just in front of them, there was a slot where the power source plugged in. The sights were placed along the barrel, if such a term applies, just as with any rifle of earth. Malagor handed one of the weapons to me, and together we practiced plugging in the power source replacements. Then we slung the rifles over our shoulders and continued on our way.
When we had reached the other side of the hill, I had to stop and laugh. As far as berry picking was concerned, we had certainly chosen the poorer side of the hill. From where I now stood, the hills beyond were completely covered with the berry bushes. We were both in the mood for breakfast after having slept a long time, so we began wading through the thicket, picking the ripe berries and transferring them to our mouths. The little fruits were juicy and tart, and I am sure would not have been all that good if tasted at home with dinner, but here in the wilderness, picking them straight off the vine, they were delicious.
Malagor and I had moved apart as we picked. He was about thirty feet or so away, but there was nothing to be concerned about. We were two grown men, or in any case, two grown beings, in sight of one another. I must admit that I was not being all that watchful, and I suppose that Malagor wasn’t either. Suddenly I heard a noise from him that I had never heard before. It was a lot like the startled yelp that a big dog makes when his tail is accidentally stepped on. Then a tremendous roar reverberated through the hills. I turned to a scene that made my pulse quicken.
There, standing above the berry bushes, a full fifteen feet tall, was the most frightening apparition that I have ever beheld. It was a huge beast. It might have seemed like a bear or a large ape at first, because it stood on its hind legs and had a shaggy but almost humanoid form, but it was neither bear nor ape nor any combination of the two. It was covered with long black fur, and it had a large head. Its eyes were large, round, multifaceted, insectoid orbs. It was obviously an omnivorous beast, having like humans a variety of tooth types, but at the moment I was concerned with only one type– the great long fangs with which it was attempting to impale Malagor. The creature held him in a tight grip and was attempting to reach his throat with those great ivory tusks. For his part, Malagor was struggling to hold back the giant head and at the same time find a spot in which to employ his own considerable canines.
If I had thought about it, I am sure that I would not have bothered trying to use the light rifle; because I was fairly sure that there was no way that the power source could still be viable. But the fact is that I did not think, I just did. I put the weapon to my shoulder, took quick aim, and fired. The gun spit a thin stream of energy from its barrel. It was not like a laser or a beam. It was like molten sunshine that bubbled and churned as it flew through the air. It went past Malagor’s shoulder and into the eye of the giant beast. Then with a big explosion, it blew a large hole out of the back of the thing’s skull. The beast’s head collapsed in a most disgusting way, and then it fell to the ground.
I ran over to where the monster had fallen. Malagor jumped up to his feet, as if to prove to me and to himself that he was all right. He looked at me with a blank expression.
“Finally, an animal I know.” He said. “This is a stummada. It is not good to eat.”
“I don’t think he had the same opinion of you,” I replied.
“No it did not. But it is not a he. It is a female. The mate of this one may come along at any moment. Let us return to our side of the hill.”
We started on our way home. I would like to if I might, interject a small commentary at this point. As I tell this story it must seem that I was well versed in the language of the Amatharians. I must confess that at the time I was not, although I count myself now, to be quite fluent in that beautiful language. For example, in the previous conversation between myself and Malagor, we had a great deal of trouble at first with the Amatharian terminology for the animal’s mate, but after examining the context of the word, and a little impromptu tutelage by Malagor, I was able to piece together the meaning. So it was with a great deal of the language that I learned during my time with my alien friend. If I do not fully detail every element of my conversational education, please believe me when I say that it is not an intentional effort to make myself seem more intelligent. Rather it is just that in looking back I remember the content of our conversations rather than the exact wording.
Malagor and I made our way back around the mountain to our cliff camp. There we slept and then went out once again to fill our water skins from a small mountain brook, and to hunt for our dinner. This time Malagor let me stalk and hunt the game. He guided me, carefully giving me helpful instruction. I eventually managed to bring down a small rodent-like grazer which proved to be quite tasty.
During what seemed to me to be a few weeks, Malagor and I went hunting frequently and he seemed to take great pleasure in teaching me how to track and kill animals of all types. After a while I became relatively adept. I began to notice that when we hunted, we did not follow a random pattern. Each time, Malagor would choose a direction just to the left of the direction which we had taken upon the last hunt. While we hunted, he was surveying the land around us in a very systematic way, dividing it up like a giant pie, with us in the very center of the search pattern. On one occasion I asked him what we were searching for, but he seemed to clam up, and become positively morose for the rest of the trip, so I didn’t ask him again. He had been very good to me, and indeed we had become close friends, so if there was something that bothered him too much to talk about, I wasn’t going to pester him about it. After all, I had nothing else to do in the world of Ecos. So if Malagor wanted to conduct a search while we hunted for our game, what difference did it make to me?
One time when we out were hunting, we began tracking a particularly large bird-like animal about the size of a cow. Neither Malagor nor I had any idea whether it was edible, but we were beginning to tire of our usual catches, so we decided to experiment upon the unfortunate creature. We were still outside bow range of the beast, crouched in the tall grass, when the hair on the nape of my neck began to stand on end. I glanced at my arm and found that the small hairs there were acting in a similar fashion. Then I looked at my friend and almost laughed. He looked like he had just been blow-dried, every hair sticking straight out.
Malagor was looking at neither me nor our prey however. Then I noticed a distant hum and followed Malagor’s gaze to discover its origin. Sailing along above the countryside at an altitude of about a thousand feet was the most remarkable vehicle that I have ever seen. It was many times the size of the largest modern aircraft carrier or battleship of earth, fully a mile long and nearly half that wide. It was only a few hundred feet tall over most of its span, but there was a tower rising a hundred or more stories from the top middle of the thing. The entire vehicle was painted black, and was bristling with weapons or instruments of some kind, and the closer it got, the more obvious it was that this was the source of the strange magnetism in the air. This was some kind of great cruiser riding through the air on a field of electrical energy.
“What is that thing?” I asked.
“It is a Zoasian Battleship,” replied Malagor.
“You never mentioned the Zoasians.” I pointed out.
His voice became low.
“The Zoasians destroyed my people,” he said.
Anyone who knnows me, knows that I am a huge Apple fanboy. I have an iMac, a MacBook, an iPad, and iPad Mini, and an iPad Pro, an iPod, and of course a iPhone. Everyone in my household has at least two of those of their own. So when I found out that they were offering Apple Camp to teach 12-year-olds, I just had to sign up my sweet niece.
Well, halfway through the 1 ½ hour class, I passed out. It turns out I accidentally overdosed myself on my antibiotics. The Apple store employee helped me find a cool place to lie down, brought me a pillow for my head, a cold cloth for my face, and a bottle of water. He offered to call someone for me, but I had already called my wife by then. He and another Apple Store employee checked on me about every three minutes, even after my wife had arrived.
That’s going above and beyond. And believe me, they treat you just as well if you have a computer problem.