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The Voyage of the Minotaur is available as a free ebook during the Smashwords Read an Ebook Week Sale! Use coupon code SS100 at checkout. https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/11536

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Princess of Amathar – Chapter 20 Excerpt

Sliding down a three thousand foot long rope from a point in midair provides a rush that I am sure only a skydiver could appreciate. Add to that, the pleasant sensation of being shot at, and the net effect is a feeling that even the largest of roller coasters could not inspire. It was a feeling however, that several thousand Amatharian soldiers were able to share with me, for that number of men and women were sliding down the ropes from the cruiser to assault the mountain prison of the Zoasians.

As soon as my boots hit the ground, I gathered my company of one hundred warriors and swordsmen together, and gave the orders to move toward our target. We covered the ground toward our assigned entrance, all around us, the smell of smoke and the sounds of bombing in the distance. We encountered no resistance until we reached the installation’s entrance, which was a great iron door. Part of my team was a pair of demolitions soldiers, who carried all they needed to penetrate the site. With several quite tiny explosive charges, they cut a rectangular opening through the door, which allowed us all to enter.

As soon as we moved into the dark hallway beyond the portal, we were set upon by a group of twenty or so Zoasians whose duty it was to protect the hallway. Though they shot down two of my soldiers and delayed us slightly, we quickly overpowered them and continued on our way. The interior of the installation was a great dark maze of wide but low corridors, with small rooms and vestibules scattered here and there. The lighting was poor, probably owing to a destroyed generator nearby. Though we encountered numerous reptile-men, most save those we had initially encountered, were in no mood to fight, instead intent on escaping the invading force.

We seemed to have gone through so much of the supposed prison, without seeing a single prisoner of any sort, or indeed of any barred cell or room, that I was beginning to suspect that the Amatharian commanders had been misled as to the nature of the place, when suddenly we came upon a barred door. Once the demolitions team eliminated the obstacle as easily as they had done before, we found ourselves in a great room.

The room was of brobdingnagian proportions, as large as any warehouse which I have ever seen. It resembled a zoo more than a prison or a jailhouse, for rather than cells placed into the walls, the room was filled with cages, each about twenty feet square and separated from one another by eight or ten foot walkways criss-crossing between them. The prisoners of this zoo had no shred of privacy, for their every action was visible from all four sides by their fellow inmates, as well as anyone who happened to be walking by their cell.

The place was like a zoo in another respect as well. Every occupied cell, and it seemed that very few were unoccupied, was the unhappy home to one of a huge variety of creatures. I was able to spot a few which housed beings of the same type, but there seemed to be scores of different species represented.

“Are these all sentient species?” I asked the swordsman at my elbow.

“I’m unfamiliar with most of these beings,” she replied, “but of the ones I do know, they are all intelligent peoples.”

“Break up the company into squads,” I ordered. “I want all of these cages opened, and the prisoners set free.” The word “squad” is something of a loose translation on my part, just as is the word “company”, but they seem the closest I can come to the Amatharian terms. An Amatharian squad designates a group of eight or ten warriors led by a swordsman, and a company is nine or ten such squads led by a knight.

The prison was of such great size, that it seemed hours before even ten squads of Amatharian soldiers were able to open all the pens. Many of the alien prisoners made a hasty retreat, glad for the chance to escape their confinement. A few stayed in their cells, apparently unable to accept the fact that they were now free. Some, particularly those who had previous contact with Amatharians, and who knew the Amatharian language, chose to follow our company. Finally, among the prisoners were two Amatharians, a man and a woman, who were brought to me.

“What are your names, and how did you come to be prisoners of the Zoasians?” I asked them.

They looked at me inquiringly for a moment, obviously never having seen an Amatharian of my complexion before, and then described their ordeal. They had been part of a mapping expedition and had been captured by the snake-men. They were not part of the group we were attempting to rescue. The man introduced himself as Senjar Orsovan of the Earth Clan, and then introduced the woman, who seemed incapable of speech, as his sister Shenee Orsovan. The two of them were the sad specimens, obviously the victims of mistreatment by the Zoasians, and seemed even worse than they probably were because until now every Amatharian I had seen was in the keenest physical condition.

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 19 Excerpt

As flame and ordinance shot through the air all around the ship, I gathered my company together on the deck of the vessel, as did the five other security companies on board. Our squadron and the one commanded by Ulla Yerrontis were flying high above the city drawing fire, and engaging the battleships. Vandan Lorrinos was moving his squadron in low and attacking the ground installations with shipboard weapons, as well as landing thousands of Amatharian troops. The final squadron under Reyno Hissendar waited in the rear as reserves.

A huge explosion on a lower deck indicated that the cruiser had been hit by one of the Zoasian missiles, and it brought my mind away from previous plans and into the present. The missile had been fired from one of the battleships, and it moved toward us. Amatharian light guns from the batteries above and below us opened fire on the approaching enemy and explosions ripped across her bow but she still kept coming. For a moment, it looked as though the Zoasian would plow its squared front end into our side, but at the last minute, it pulled up and crossed above us.

Several dozen bombs dropped from the open decks on the lower portion of the black death machine, and ignited all around us, sending flaming metal and Amatharian body parts across the deck. Then two score or more long ropes fell from above, and hundreds of heavily armed and armored Zoasians slid down onto our ship. My team began cutting them down with our light rifles, but for every one we shot from his rope, two more landed on the deck unharmed, and ready to engage us in hand to hand combat.

I yelled to my company to attack, and together we rushed forward to meet the Zoasians. I pulled my long sword from his sheath, and as I raised it high above my head, I saw it glow brightly with the power of the soul within. I brought it down upon the first enemy soldier and it left him two smoking halves of his former self.

These black reptilians were slower than we, but they were powerful. One picked up a large piece of jagged metal about ten feet long, which had torn loose in an explosion, and attempted to hit me with it, as though it had been a great bat. I ducked below it and jumped toward him, sword outstretched. For a moment, he looked down at the smoking hole I had left in his chest, and then he toppled over dead.

Another security team from the other side of the cruiser arrived to help us repel boarders, and we began pushing the Zoasians toward the rail. A black beam shot past my head, scorching my shoulder. A shot from one of my men blasted through the body of the attacker. I bounded forward to meet another enemy, but there were none left. This group of Zoasians had been repelled.

“Look over there,” said Tular Maximinos, suddenly at my shoulder. It was his company who had come to our aid.

I turned to see one of the black Zoasian battleships explode into a huge fireball and fall into the city below, setting off even more explosions. The battle seemed to be going well, and I could see three other enemy ships burning in the sky, as they spun out of control. All of the ships in our squadron were still in the air, though many had taken quite a bit of damage. I imagined that the squadron making the direct assault against the city was incurring even greater losses, but we had our reserves, and we knew what we were after.

Suddenly all the soldiers on deck were knocked from their feet, myself included. I jumped up to see another Zoasian ship grinding along our bow. The two ships had collided in mid-air, and the enemy was sliding down our side. As the black battleship moved closer to where we stood, it began to move away.

“Come on,” I shouted to my men, and taking a running leap into the air, I crossed the distance to the reptiles’ airship. This wasn’t really part of a plan. It just seemed like a good idea at the time to take the battle to the enemy.

Landing on the deck with a thud, I turned around to see how many of my company had made it across with me. About thirty others, including Tular Maximinos, had made it. One young warrior had not been able to make the jump, and was still falling the several thousand feet to the ground below. The remainder of our small battalion had remained behind, being unable to cross the distance before the two ships had moved too far away from each other.

“Where now?” I called to Tular Maximinos, as there seemed to be no Zoasians on deck.

“To the engine room!” he called back, and the two of us rushed toward the back of the ship, followed by thirty or so men and women.

A wide path ran along the side of the vessel between the superstructure and the edge, gave us a metal avenue down the length of the ship. It was good that it was a broad space too, because there was no rail along the side, as there was on Amatharian ships. We had gone down about half the length of the mile long vessel when I heard weapons fire behind me. I turned to see over a hundred Zoasians at the bow of the vessel, where we had just been. They were firing at us, and had already shot two of our team.

I sheathed my sword, and whipped out my light pistol. The Amatharians with me did the same, and we soon had the hulking reptiles diving for cover.

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 18 Excerpt

In many ways, life aboard the great Amatharian battlecruiser was much easier for me than it had been in the city. The ship operated on a fixed schedule based on its own version of the city-cycle, which was recalibrated each time the ship docked in Amathar. Each person on board was assigned a duty and worked three cycles, followed by six cycles off duty. I knew absolutely nothing about the ship or its procedures, so initially I was assigned to the security detail. Since I was a knight, I was given what was essentially an officer’s rank— command of ten swordsmen, who each commanded eight to ten warriors.

Amatharian ships didn’t have names, though they did sport numbers. The battlecruisers were essentially all of the same class, though they had minor differences, and some were newer than others. Their importance was based entirely upon who commanded them, and what mission they were on. This ship was Sun Battlecruiser 11, and it was the flagship of Norar Remontar’s twelve-ship squadron, one of four squadrons making the assault on Zonamis. Like the other ships, this one was painted navy blue with silver trim. Like the other three flagships of the fleet, this one had a great crest across the bow— in this case, a flaming sun with outstretched wings. And like all Amatharian ships, this one was arrayed with the banners of her knights. When I first saw my own banner, with a flaming sun embossed by the letter A, flying among the many others, I was filled with pride. There were more than ten thousand soldiers aboard this one ship, and about one in a hundred were knights.

The accommodations on the vessel were far more spacious than I had expected. Every soldier aboard had his own cabin, and though they were very small in comparison to their homes in Amathar, they were far larger than I had seen on any ocean going vessels of Earth. Each was large enough to have a bunk, which was mounted to the wall rather than sunk into the floor, as was the Amatharian fashion, a small table and two chairs and a closet. My own cabin had a large window looking out toward the landscape that rolled continuously past.

Now that we were finally on our way, I spent more and more time thinking of the woman I knew I was in love with, though I had seen her only one time— the Princess of Amathar. Sometimes these thoughts would lead to remembrances of her cousin, Vena Remontar, and the friendship she had shown me. Other times I just fretted over what might have happened to Noriandara Remontar since her abduction by the Zoasians. Even cruising at full speed, it would be a long time before we reached Zonamis, and I worried about all the things that she still might face. I figured our maximum speed to be between two and three hundred miles per hour, and so even accepting the more generous of the two figures, it would be the equivalent of four and a half months before the fleet arrived. It was a long time.

I tried to make good use of all the time I had available. I learned to pilot the Amatharian aircraft, both fighters and shuttles. It wasn’t as difficult as one might expect. I imagine that any child capable of playing those fast action video games could easily manage it. The controls consisted of a joystick in the left hand to control the steering and a lever for the right hand that controlled lift. There was an automated training simulator on board which I used at first, but after it became apparent to me and to the pilots that I would probably not crash the vehicle, I was allowed to participate in some of the flight drills, which were constantly leaving the battlecruiser and returning.

I improved upon my growing skill with the sword, which was in fact my primary duty aboard ship. As the leader of a security team, I did little but see to the watches around the vessel, and drill my troops with the sword and the light rifle. I must say that I had never seen men and women so devoted to duty as those one hundred or so Amatharians under my command. In that entire time, never once was a soldier absent from his duty because of sickness or anything else.

Even with all of the military activity in which I was involved, there was plenty of time for recreation and social activity. The swordsmen and warriors of my company enjoyed playing a kind of catch, in which they used an irregular shaped cloth bag filled with plastic-like beads. Another game involved the skewering of various thrown objects upon a stick as the individual ran through a maze of obstacles. I gathered that this traditional activity once involved the use of swords, but now it was considered a great dishonor to endanger one’s sword for a mere game. In addition, I spent a large amount of time in the ship’s prodigious library where I read biographies of interesting Amatharians, novels of several different types, and a book of rather dark and morbid poems penned by Mindana Remontar herself.

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 17 Excerpt

Looking up frequently at the flying marvel above us, Vena Remontar and I made our way back to the home of her cousin. The great battleship was not alone in the sky. Beyond it I could just make out two similar ships hovering above the city. I hoped that they were part of the fleet that Norar Remontar was preparing for his sister’s rescue. Vena Remontar stopped at the entrance of the building, and said her goodbye.

“Thank you for everything,” I said.

“It was my pleasure, knight,” she replied. “We will meet again soon.”

I made my way up the forty-five flights of escalators to Norar Remontar’s apartment. No sooner had I entered, than my Amatharian friend appeared from another room.

“You are finally here,” he observed.

“Yes.”

“You are to come with me,”

“What now?” I asked.

“My grandfather wants to see you.”

I nodded in understanding, and followed the tall Amatharian out the door and up three more flights of escalators. We stepped thorugh a large entryway and waited outside a large navy blue door. This was a type of waiting area that one might find outside any large office. Had I been in New York or Los Angeles, I would have expected a secretary or a receptionist at a desk, but in Amathar they don’t have receptionists and a secretary’s job is a bit different than on Earth—more like a librarian. Visitors to an Amatharian office observe strict rules of etiquette, just as they would when visiting an Amatharian home. And those Amatharians who work in an office, are pleased to receive visitors themselves.

The door was opened and we were admitted to the room. Inside we found a magnificent hall, the center point of which was a great long table of carved wood, lined on either side by forty heavy wooden chairs. One entire wall of the room was glass, and looked over the courtyard that was the most impressive feature of the building. The other wall was lined with banners, each carrying the crest of a knight of the Sun Clan.

Four Amatharians waited for us within the room. The man who opened the door was the tallest man that I had yet met, something over seven and a half feet. Just looking at him frightened me. I could imagine how an enemy facing him felt. He was middle-aged, with streaks of grey shooting through his straight black hair. His hawkish nose and a large scar across one cheek, gave him the look of a predator. He was clad in the garments of a knight, though his tabard was fringed with gold trim; his crest was an eye with a flaming sun as its pupil. He was Reyno Hissendar, Norar Remontar’s uncle, and the chief of the Hissendar Trading Group.

The second fellow was equally impressive, though not because of height. He was a formidably muscular man with a piercing gaze and a tightly set jaw. His tabard too was fringed with gold, and his crest showed a flaming sun within a circle. His bodysuit wasn’t black though. It was tan. I had seen Knights in other colors, Nicohl Messonar for instance, wearing the colors of a teacher. Tan was the traditional color of archaeologists. He was Vandan Lorrinos, a highly respected member of the Sun Clan, and a fleet commander.

The third person in the room was a woman. She was a breathtakingly beautiful older version of Vena Remontar, or for that matter, of the Princess. She was just over six feet tall, with long straight black hair framing her beautiful dark blue face. She had the same stern look about her that I had found in Nicohl Messonar, and the same ability to seemingly look into a person’s heart. She stared at me with what I thought was a look of more than simple appraisal. She was the mother of Vena Remontar and the aunt of Norar Remontar, and her name was Mindana Remontar. She wore a bodysuit and tabard, but without the crest, indicating she was not a knight. Her bodysuit was dark blue, marking her profession as biologist.

The final individual in the room was the man for whom I had been summoned— the Overlord of the Sun Clan, Nevin Lorrinos. There was no doubt that he was Norar Remontar’s grandfather, for he was tall and handsome, with the same prominent features and the same noble bearing. He wore a great black robe with a golden crest above the heart— crossed swords over a flaming sun, the same crest that Noriandara Remontar had worn. I bowed low to him.

“Greetings knight,” he said.

“Yes,” said Mindana Remontar. “You have certainly wasted no time integrating yourself into our culture.”

“I was drawn to Garden of Souls when I came near,” I said. “Of course I still have much to learn about Amathar, but I already know that I want to make a place for myself here.”

Vandan Lorrinos grunted approvingly.

“That is one of the things I wish to speak to you about,” said Nevin Lorrinos. “You are without a family, which is a great handicap for you. But my heir tells me that he thinks you are worthy and a good friend and I trust his judgment. For that reason, I would like to offer you a place in the Sun Clan.”

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 16 Excerpt

After we had eaten, we walked across the great plaza to the stepped pyramid, which was the Temple of Amath. Vena Remontar told me that an invitation from the High Templar was something to be acted upon promptly. The great structure was most impressive. It was more than a mile wide, and was over two thousand feet tall. It looked as though a giant boy had built it, playing with his blocks, placing successively smaller blocks one atop another until he had built a pyramid of steps. Each of the steps was over one hundred feet tall, and there were twenty-one of them. The entire surface was carved in intricate designs, so finely detailed that not a single inch of blank wall could be found on the outside. Running up the front of the temple was a set of broad steps that led to the tenth level, where there was a large, dark entrance.

My friend and I walked up the many steps to the doorway. Waiting here was a small crowd of templars, each with his bald head. Some were writing in their pads, others were about other business. It may seem odd that the templars were engaged in so much writing, until one considers the extent to which Amatharians in general were fond of the written word. Amatharians had no telephone, but wrote letters every day, even to friends they were likely to see often. To a certain extent, the spoken language of these people was divorced from the written, and the written form allowed them much more freedom of expression.

One of the shaven fellows took charge, or had been left in charge, and guided us from the open greeting area, into a large chamber. It was much like one would expect a very large church or cathedral to look like, not that I’m an expert, but it had no rows of pews or any other seating. The walls were colorfully decorated and large bright banners hung from the ceiling. Of course huge numbers of templars buzzed here and there, taking notes, examining the scenes depicted on the walls, and staring at the shrine in the center of the hall.

The shrine took my breath away. Not because it was big, though it was that. Not because it was carefully inlaid with precious stones and highly polished gold and silver, though it was. It quite knocked the breath from my lungs because the symbol on the great shrine was an A. I don’t mean it was an Amatharian A. It was an honest to god, Greco-Roman, American English, Times font type A!

“That’s an A!” I shouted.

The entire population of the hall turned and looked at us.

“That’s an A,” I said.

“Show some respect, knight,” growled Vena Remontar. “Keep your voice down.”

“That’s an A,” I whispered.

“You are correct, knight.” A voice came from behind us.

We turned to see an older Amatharian man dressed in the brown robes of the templars, and wearing a large silver medallion with the letter A on it. Vena Remontar bowed low and I followed suit.

“I am Kurar Ka Remiant Oldon Domintus,” said the man, identifying himself as an overlord. “I am the High Templar.”

“It is an honor to meet you, I’m sure,” I said. “That is an A?”

“Yes, you are quite correct. That is an A.”

“Well. How did it get here?”

“Before we answer any of your questions,” the Overlord said, “you have a great many things to do for us.”

Oldon Domintus turned and led the two of us across the great hall to a doorway opposite that through which we had come. Beyond the chamber was a great long corridor. This hallway was lined with pictures painted in the bright colors: pictures of Amatharian knights engaged in battles, pictures of templars performing rituals in the great plaza, pictures of great buildings being constructed in Amathar. The High Templar maintained the image of a man showing friends around his home.

“Has Vena Remontar told you about our temple?”

“I’m afraid she has not yet had time.”

“This temple was built three hundred generations ago. Construction was begun under the direction of Amath himself. He envisioned a monument to his people where they could look for guidance. It was built here beside the Garden of Souls, so that those feeling the draw of their souls could reflect.

“You felt no need to reflect before entering the garden?” he asked me.

“I’ve always been a pretty spontaneous fellow,” I replied.