Princess of Amathar – Chapter 14 Excerpt

I had literally just closed the door after Nicohl Messonar had left, when the disembodied voice announced that Vena Remontar had arrived. I am sure that the two must have passed in the hall, though I was not fortunate enough to witness it.

“Are you ready?” asked Vena Remontar. “Wear your swords.”

I strapped my weapons belt on below my tabard and carefully sheathed my swords in their new holders. In spite of the fact that the swords were uncounted years older than the sheaths, they fit perfectly. We started out the door, and down the hallway. It was the first time I had been out of Norar Remontar’s apartment since I had arrived, and it felt good.

“We need to stop here first,” said Vena Remontar, as we stepped off the escalator onto the fifth floor.

The lower floors had much higher ceilings and seemed more spacious than those of the upper floors. Here were located restaurants, shops, and other facilities used by the people in the building. We entered through an open doorway to find a large gymnasium. There were two young girls; I would have thought them about ten years of age, practicing their swordsmanship in a haphazard manner, at the far end of the room. As they noticed us, they stopped to stare at me and giggle.

“I wish to see if the title of swordsman that Norar Remontar laid upon you is warranted,” the female knight said.

She drew her long sword and I followed suit. We nodded respectfully to one another. Then with a skill and speed born of battle, Vena Remontar charged at me, bringing her blade down directly toward my face. I raised my own to block the stroke, and just as quickly she swung two more blows. The only thing I could do was take the offensive, so as I blocked the third blow, I swung my weapon on around in a great arc toward her side. The woman was off balance from her attack, so the only way she could block the arc of weapon, was to turn her back on me, and swing her blade outward to meet mine. I expected that this would offer me a chance to attack her back, but it didn’t. As soon as she had done so, she tucked and rolled forward, spinning as she rose to face me. This was a brilliant maneuver and would have put several yards between us, but I wasn’t ready to let up. Using my gravity-enhanced strength, I jumped forward, almost landing on top of her. Vena Remontar thrust quickly several times. I blocked those attacks and countered.

“Not bad, thus far,” she said.

“Thank you.”

As I said this, I swung down. I knew that were we really engaged in battle, her sword would have glowed with power, and sliced through the mundane metal of my own, but for now, the soul was asleep, and we were on equal terms. Actually, I had an advantage of superior strength. She blocked my swing, but was unprepared for the added power, and it knocked her from her feet. Without hesitation, she swung toward my knees. I jumped up, and the blade passed harmlessly below me. The young knight rolled to her feet.

I could see by the half smile on her lips that she was enjoying herself. With a flick of her left wrist so quick that I almost didn’t see it, she whipped her short sword from its sheath and grasped it like a dagger. I chopped down with my blade in an attempt to catch her off balance, but she wasn’t off balance. She blocked my blow with the shorter blade and began to attack with the longer. Then she attacked with both swords, forcing me to defend, and I am sure, hoping to wear me down. Unable to attack for the moment, I began to leap quickly to either side, and then to the back, forcing her to chase me. I knew that it was I who would be able to wear her down first, and after several dozen parries, I could see in her eyes that she was coming to the same realization.

Here was the advantage I needed. I rained a series of blows at her head, and then swung with power at her side. Like she had before, Vena Remontar spun around with her back to me and swung her sword, tip down, outward to meet mine. I expected to have a quick shot at her exposed back and left side, but even as she blocked my attack, she drove her short sword, in her left hand, straight back under her arm, and into my stomach.

“Umph!” I grunted in surprise. I expected that I had been cut through, but the tip of her sword merely pricked my skin.

Vena Remontar wiped the tiny drop of blood from her sword tip onto her tabard, and then sheathed her sword. With the drawing of first blood, the contest was over.

“I’m satisfied,” she said. “I thought that perhaps Norar Remontar was being overly generous. But you are quite skilled.”

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Princess of Amathar – Chapter 13 Excerpt

I opened my eyes to find myself looking at the ceiling. For a moment I though that I was back in my bedroom at home on Earth, and that all of my adventures in Ecos were just a fantastic dream. Then Malagor leaned over to look into my face.

“I have slept, gotten up, explored the city, eaten, and slept again. You are just now waking.”

“How very nice for you,” I replied.

I sat up, and then climbed out of bed, noticing a distinct disadvantage to the Amatharian beds. Yet I felt so refreshed that my gravity enhanced muscles sent me bounding up onto the floor. I started toward the washbasin, but noticed the doorway just to the left. Passing through it, I found the bathroom. It was a huge room. The bathtub was a small pool, designed to look like a thermal spa, with water constantly flowing from a waterfall into the pool, and then out at the other end. The room also had the other features that one might expect, and they were similarly fashioned to resemble natural features.

I hopped up into the bath and floated in the hot water. The little pool was large enough for me to swim around in, and when I stood up, the water still reached the middle of my chest. Beside the inlet waterfall was a small shelf with a variety of brushes and cleaning agents. I found something that seemed close to shampoo and washed myself from head to toe. I hopped out just long enough to retrieve my knife from beside the bed, then hopped back in and relaxed in the water as I shaved my ragged beard. When I exited the bath a second time, I felt presentable enough for polite Amatharian society. Malagor was waiting for me with some new clothes— a black Amatharian body suit, a plain white tabard, and a pair of boots.

“At Norar Remontar’s direction, I got these from the clothier on the first floor,” he said. “I had to have my own clothing specially ordered.”

I was interested to see how the bodysuit was put on. I found that it had an open waist in the back. Still it took me several moments to discover how to get my lower portion in, and still be able to insert my upper half. Fortunately the material used by the Amatharians was extremely flexible. Once I had it on, it seemed not so much to stretch to fit, as to shrink to fit. It covered every inch of my body in a cool embrace. It was extremely comfortable. The tabard which I put on over it was, as one would expect, slightly encumbering, though no more so than a light jacket or sweater. It reached just below my knees in front and in back, but was open on the sides. Finally I put on the boots, and found them to be the most comfortable footwear that I have ever tried on. All that remained was for me to strap on the weapons belt beneath my tabard. Malagor had also seen to it that I had the appropriate sheaths for my swords. I looked like an Amatharian that had somehow been deprived of his beautiful blue skin.

“Where is Norar Remontar?” I asked.

“He left to see members of his family,” replied Malagor.

Just then an ethereal voice spoke seemingly out of nowhere. “Nicohl Messonar is waiting at the door.” The two of us looked around the room expectantly for a moment, and then at each other.

“Must be a kind of doorbell,” I offered. Malagor shrugged.

I walked out of the bedroom, followed by my alien friend, and opened the front door. Outside, stood an Amatharian woman. She looked to be in her early fifties, and possessed a more mature form of the beauty that was apparently common to all Amatharian women. Her silky black hair cut straight across her forehead, and reaching the middle of her back, was touched with grey, but her dark blue skin remained flawless. She wore a white tabard with a crest— a flaming sun supported by a pedestal— indicating that she was a knight. But instead of the black bodysuit of a soldier, hers was light lavender. She carried no swords; just a satchel slung over one shoulder.

Stepping confidently into the apartment, the woman looked me over, coldly, for a moment before speaking.

“I am Nicohl Messonar,” she said.

“So I understand,” I replied. “Nicole is a common name among my people.”

“The name is Nicohl.”

“Nicohl.”

“Yes, and my name is Nicohl Messonar.” She arched an eyebrow. “It is impolite not to use both names. That is only for husbands and wives, sharing an intimate moment.”

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 10 Excerpt

The room was large, though obviously not as large as the huge chamber we had visited before. The far wall was about one hundred fifty feet away, and the room was equally as wide. We had entered through a doorway in the middle of the wall, and there were no other entryways or exits visible. The room was well lit, though I could not determine the source of the light. Indeed, it seemed that the light came from everywhere, as though light were a thing that could flow around solid objects like the air. The walls, floor, and ceiling were smooth and dull grey, as were the fixtures in the room’s center—four large geometric shapes.

As the three of us slowly walked into the room, we were drawn toward the four geometric shapes in the center of the floor. They were each about the same size, perhaps twelve feet across. Closest to us was a sphere. The others were a cube, a pyramid, and a dodecahedron.

“What are these for, do you suppose?” I wondered aloud.

“Perhaps they are not for anything,” growled Malagor.

“Why are you so grumpy?” I asked. “Still hungry?”

He growled again in confirmation.

“This is unlike anything I have ever seen relating to the Orlons,” said Norar Remontar. “The lighting has an interesting quality.”

He reached up and laid a hand upon the surface of the sphere, and a large portion of the wall to our left suddenly became a huge picture screen. A forty-foot image of a great plain appeared, with tall grass billowing in the wind like waves on the surface of the ocean. Here and there, grazing herbivores roamed in search of a particularly interesting bit of flora. To the far right of the image, two stummada sat looking around lazily. At their feet were the remains of a large animal.

“Wow,” I said.

“This is most definitely not an Orlon site,” reiterated the Amatharian. “Their technology never reached anywhere near this level.”

“I wonder what else these shapes do.” I stepped around him to the cube.

I placed my hand on the surface, which felt warm to the touch, and marveled as another giant image appeared opposite the first. This image was of a beautiful green field, obviously cultivated. In the distance, to the right was the edge of a great forest of extremely tall coniferous evergreen trees. At about the same distance but to the left, one could see the edge of a strange and marvelous city. It was made up of ivory colored buildings with reddish roofs— each roof topped by a carved animal figure. In the foreground, as well as around the city, were the inhabitants.

The people living in the strange city, playing around it, and working in the fields looked remarkably like a child’s teddy bear. They were covered with light brown fur, had very large round ears on the top of their heads, and large expressive eyes above their small snouts. They came in a variety of sizes, probably males, females, and children. Some of the small ones seemed to be playing tag just outside the city. Larger ones were working in the field, pulling up green vegetables of some kind. Still others, of several sizes, were busy within the confines of the city, though just what they were doing was impossible to tell at the present magnification on the image. They were probably doing the same things that humans on Earth did in their own cities.

“I do not know that race of people,” said Malagor. “I wonder who they are, and where in Ecos that place is.”

“Or when,” I offered. “For all we know, that may be a stored image of the ancient Orlons, or even their ancestors.”

Norar Remontar and I were both fascinated by the images, and we began moving around the shapes, placing our hands here and there and watching the scenes produced on the three blank walls of the room. Most were of wild places with nothing but plant life and an occasional animal, though the locale of each was noticeably different. There were scenes of deserts, of forests, and of jungles. Finally I placed a hand upon the sphere at a point as yet untouched and a picture of a hillside replaced an earlier scene on the wall opposite the door. Standing on the hillside were two Amatharian men.

“Bentar Hissendar!” shouted Norar Remontar.

“You know him?” I asked the obvious.

“He is a friend and kinsman of mine,” the Amatharian replied. “He works within my uncle’s trading group.”

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 9 Excerpt

I swam back outside and reported the mystery to Malagor. He did not seem pleased. We left the meat cooking, and wrapped up a burning ember, some kindling and a couple of large sticks in a piece of fur, and swam back into the hidden room. Once inside, we climbed out of the water and onto the dry ground. The room was lit only by a dim glow from the watery passage. Malagor and I used the ember and kindling to start a small fire in the hidden chamber. I had my doubts about doing so, since there was a limited amount of oxygen in the room, and I had no great desire to die of asphyxiation. However once we had the little fire burning, we noticed a small flicker of flame leaping in the direction of the wall. From there it was only a small step to the realization that there was a secret door right by where we had chosen to build the fire. Even with this knowledge at our command, it took some time for us to figure out how to open the portal. In the end, Malagor and I had to press on the wall in two different places to force a perfectly disguised panel to slide back, revealing a darkened passage. I wondered that Norar Remontar had been able to do it by himself.

Malagor and I each took a burning stick from the fire, and entered the secret passage. It bears mentioning that you can’t make a really effective torch with nothing but a stick. Having watched several hundred adventure movies in my formative years, I have seen many matinee heroes create torches with nothing but a flaming stick. In reality, it just doesn’t work. One needs some oily rags or something. The two burning sticks that my friend and I carried offered little more light than one might expect from a small candle, and after what must have been only several minutes, mine went out completely. Malagor was able to nurse his flaming stick in a way that it stayed alive at least enough for us to see the ground where we were walking.

The passage in which we found ourselves was a rough-cut cave-like hallway that could have been natural except for the relatively smooth and level floor. It took us straight back into the mountain. Our footsteps made loud clomping sounds that echoed all out of proportion to the way we were carefully treading. After we had gone several hundred feet, we noticed that the walls, ceiling, and floor became more and more smooth and uniform. After another four or five hundred feet, we stopped to examine the walls again, which by this point had become completely smooth, with nice square corners at the point where they met the floor or the ceiling. At that very moment Malagor’s fire went out too.

“What do we do now?” he asked.

“Let’s just wait a moment and see if our eyes adjust to the darkness,” I replied.

I said this just to have something to say, because as anyone who has ever done any cave exploring can tell you, your eyes do not adjust to complete darkness. The complete absence of light precludes any vision whatsoever. Nevertheless, when we had waited for a little while, Malagor and I were both able to discern the shape of the passage ahead. There was a faint and indistinct light coming from far away down the corridor. We continued on our way.

As the two of us walked along, Malagor had tended to follow the left side of the corridor and I the right. It wasn’t long before we realized that we had moved farther and farther apart, and that the hallway was gradually widening. About the same time that we made this discovery, the surface of the wall changed abruptly from the smooth stone we had grown used to, to a bumpy soft material. It must have had a great acoustical quality, for I could no longer hear our footsteps. I was just thinking that the hallway had widened from its original five feet or so to well over twenty, when the hallway ended by opening into a huge room.

The size of this room was impossible to measure from our present vantage point. It seemed to be endless in any direction, and we could not judge the height of the ceiling either. I was standing there thinking about what to do next, when Malagor tugged at my sleeve. I asked him what the matter was, and in answer, he grabbed my head with his hands and turned it to my right. In the distance I could see a light. It was like a swinging lantern in the distance that blinked on and off occasional.

“I have an idea what that is,” I said. “Let’s go.”

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 8 Excerpt

I felt a crushing, squishing sound, as the life and the insides were crushed out of the giant spider upon which I had landed. Jumping to my feet, I found the hulking arachnid looking much like a very small one looks, after it has been stepped upon. The many other spider beings of the compound stood completely still for what must have been several minutes, enough time for Norar Remontar and Malagor to clamber down from the web. They were standing by my side, as was our liberator Vvvv, when the Pell began once again to move. They did not move toward us, or attempt to attack, but instead simply spun around in a bizarre dance as if they had lost their minds. Vvvv seemed immune to this behavior.

“Now would be a great time to leave,” I said.

“We have fulfilled only half of our commitment,” said Norar Remontar, and drawing his sword, leapt toward the Pell whom I had earlier enjoyed spitting upon. As he raised his sword above his head, it began to provide a lovely pale illumination, and as he sliced through the body of the monster, the body hairs and flesh sizzled as if the weapon had been a hot brand. The Amatharian moved quickly away from the arachnids and began a trot toward the forest. Malagor and I followed.

“It’s all yours, Vvvv!” I called out, stopping to look back from the forest edge.

The Pell who had freed us positioned himself upon a large rock and began speaking to his fellows in the whistling language of their kind. Presumably he was presenting his credentials to be leader, or urging them to some sort of action. The other spiders listened for a moment, then with a swift and determined viciousness, set upon him with their stingers and their fangs. In scant seconds, the hapless Vvvv had been torn to pieces. Then the entire horde turned toward me.

I quickly took off after my companions who were several hundred feet ahead of me by that point.   It didn’t take me long, with my gravity enhanced muscles, to catch up with them. I quickly relayed the events going on behind us, and we all redoubled our efforts to get away from the area. I of course, had no trouble in trotting along at quite a good pace, and Norar Remontar seemed to be quite the long-distance runner, but my friend Malagor, though he was quite capable of attaining great speed for short distances, was clearly not built for the long haul. We were forced to stop every so often so that he could rest. As soon as we perceived our pursuers approaching, we would be off.

“Perhaps we should simply stop and fight,” suggested Norar Remontar, as we trotted along. “We are not asleep this time, and I feel quite certain that we could sell our lives dearly.”

“I am not quite sure that I am ready to sell mine at all,” I replied.

Just then however, the forest abruptly ended at the base of a tremendously high mountain. It was as if the ground had simply turned perpendicular to itself. There was no way to continue forward, so we cut to the left, and began to trace our way along the edifice. We jogged along at a renewed pace, but soon discovered that our detour had allowed our pursuers to reach us. Just to our left, several dozen of the Pell rushed out of the forest and toward us.

Norar Remontar and I drew our swords, Malagor pulled out his knife, and the three of us turned to face our foes. I could see from the corner of my right eye, the Amatharian’s sword begin to glow with its unearthly light. Foremost in my mind however, was the spider that was directly in front of me, and the two others who were attempting to sneak around to my left.

Rather than wait to be completely encircled, I made the first move. Jumping up and to the side, I dropped down sword point first on one of the two Pell to the side of me. I quickly rolled over the top of the creature’s body pulling the sword blade free as I did, and using the body as a shield from the other two who lunged forward. I swung the sword in a great arc and actually sliced through the bodies of both attackers. My appreciation of myself was short-lived however, for at that moment, I felt thick silky strands being sprayed upon me from behind.

I am sure that most can understand my feelings when I say that having once been encased in the cocoon of a giant spider-creature, I had lost any desire to be so encased again. I jumped straight up into the air, my intention being to land behind the attacker who was at the moment behind me. The silk threads now attached to my back made this impossible. Instead I flipped over backwards and landed on the back of the spider. He was a large one. I drove my sword down into its body so hard that it stuck into the ground beneath him.

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 6 Excerpt

Norar Remontar, Malagor, and I made our way across the vast interior surface of the planet Ecos. We had been walking for quite a long time. I cannot stress enough, the meaninglessness of time when one does not have the convenience of a day and night cycle with which to gauge it. Norar Remontar had occasion to discuss the concept of time at great length with me. Realizing that the Amatharian was from a highly technological society, I asked him if his people carried timepieces. I could see no watch carried openly upon his person. He didn’t seem to know what a clock was and I of course tried to explain.

“Yes, we have a device which we use in Amathar to note the time, but we do not measure it,” he replied. “I find this idea of yours that time is a constant that can be accurately and evenly measured to be most improbable. My people are taught that time varies. As I talk with you, time moves quickly, and when I, at the end of our conversation, look back, I will see that we have traveled a great distance. When I am not talking to you, but am instead quietly thinking of home, time moves very slowly indeed, and when I look back after what seems to be an eternity, I find that I have not traveled that far at all.”

I thought a great deal about Norar Remontar’s statement, and I decided that in a world of eternal noon, it seemed to make perfect sense. There was certainly nothing that I could think of to discredit the idea.

Time was of course not the only thing that we spoke of on that trek. So long was the journey in fact, that even if we had spoken but a small fraction of the time, our conversations could fill several volumes. Norar Remontar took great pride and delight in telling me all about the people and the culture of Amathar. Here is a brief synopsis of that history as he first recounted it to me.

“Long, long ago, my ancestors were savages. They lived in small tribal kingdoms, and they warred against themselves, as well as with other nearby races. The people knew nothing of technology, nothing of art, and most importantly, they knew nothing of honor.

“Into the land, came the man known as Amath. He was not one of the people. He was from a place far away. I don’t know where. He united the people of the tribal kingdoms against their common enemies, yet he taught them to recognize their friends as well. He found the Garden of Souls and he organized the City of Amathar around it. He taught the people art, literature, love, and honor. He was the first leader of Amathar, and so the city is named for him. He chose the best of the warriors to be his successors, for he had no offspring of his own, and he founded the Holy Order to guard against the evils in the hearts of men.

“All of this was long ago. Amath has been gone two or three hundred generations, but all that we Amatharians are, all that we hold as truths, are due to his teaching and his guidance. Each of us carries his tome of teachings.”

The knight produced a small book from an unseen pocket, and handed it to me. It was bound like an ordinary book one would find on earth, but the pages were some type of plastic. The characters on the page were tiny little animals and other recognizable shapes— the sun, a tree, a human hand. I handed Norar Remontar back his book and determined that some day I would learn to read the strange writing, and find out just what the teachings of Amath were.

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.

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 7 Excerpt

I couldn’t believe it. It was one of the spiders that had spoken—a particularly large, ugly, and bloated individual.

“Soon I will bite you on your neck, and suck the delicious juices from your body.”

“I hope you get indigestion,” I replied.

“I won’t. I have eaten many Amatharians. You are delicious. Of course that furry one is not fit to eat.” The disgusting thing pointed one of its front legs at Malagor. “We will lay our eggs upon it.”

“You have killed us,” Norar Remontar repeated.

“I suppose I’ve disgraced myself by my negligence.”

“No. It was merely an unfortunate mistake.”

“I don’t have to kill myself to atone for it?”

“My people do not believe in suicide. If an Amatharian must make reparation for a wrong, he does it by doing service for the one he has injured. Besides, I do not think that you will have the opportunity to kill yourself.”

The large ugly spider creature spoke again.

“You must remain alive. You must be alive when I suck your insides out.”

Now it is not so much that I mind someone, or in this case I guess it was something, talking about sucking my insides out, but I had the impression that this thing was baiting me and trying to scare me. I was determined to put a brave face on the situation, if only to give Norar Remontar a good impression of me. So I spat right in the spider’s face, or what I took to be its face. It screamed out in a high-pitched whine that made my spine tingle, and actually made Malagor yelp out in pain. The spider jumped and danced around in a circle, whether in pain or in ecstasy I couldn’t say, but after that it seemed to keep farther away from my face for which I was grateful. If you would like to get a real idea of my predicament, simply go out to the back yard and move some wood or a flowerpot until you find a large plump Black Widow spider. Put the spider in a jar, and look at it through a magnifying glass. Now imagine that face right up next to yours talking to you, and you will see almost exactly what I saw there in the forests of Ecos, for the Pell, as the Amatharians call these creatures, resemble nothing so much as a fifty pound Black Widow, without the red hour glass marking.

For the first time since being trussed up, I looked around to take a real stock of our enemies. There were about twenty of the disgusting creatures around, and they all looked about the same, with slight variations of size. Then without so much as another word or shrill squeal, the spiders started off through the forest. Four spiders grabbed my cocoon in their vertical mouths and began to drag me across the forest floor. Malagor and Norar Remontar were subjects of similar treatment. It was neither a comfortable nor a dignified way to travel. We were dragged about a mile into a very dark and silent portion of the forest.

The Pell had taken us to their home. This settlement, if one can so dignify the place with that name, was nothing more than an immense spider web covering several hundred square yards, and rising high into the upper branches of a number of trees. We were taken to the center of the spider web, then long strands of silk were tied to our feet, and we were hauled up to hang upside down some thirty feet above the ground. I then noticed that the Pell numbered in the hundreds, ranging in size from about as big as a tarantula, to one individual, possibly the village elder, which was about the size of a large pony. All of these beasts climbed around the webbing, but their main residence seemed to be a large hole in the ground below us, and a little to my left.

I have always hated spiders, and the experience of hanging by my ankles in a giant web, and being examined by arachnids close to my own size did nothing to strengthen my opinion of them. I tried to think of some way to free my hands, but they were wrapped tightly at my sides. I couldn’t imagine things getting any worse than they were at that moment, but they really always can. Just then it started to rain.

I like rain. I suppose that it is because I grew up in the southwestern United States, where rainfall is relatively rare. However rain, when in conjunction with gravity, has an unfortunate effect upon an individual who is hanging upside down. It runs up his nose.

“You have killed me,” said Malagor, and he stretched out his head and began a long, low howl.