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Of our old dom, my friends, we have heard little lately; nothing at all in fact for akin to ten years. You can imagine my disbelief then, and my doubt concerning certain cassette tapes that came into my possession recently. You can imagine perhaps the doubt I felt in my own heart as I placed the first tape in my machine and listened to the opening words: 'Of this wondrous world Under the Suns of Antares perchance sometimes what the heart desires is achieved....'
Could it be? I thought. Could it possibly be that he still lived on that far away world to this day, orbiting the double star Antares as it does, so far away it is beyond the appreciation of mankind to fathom? Could it really be? Eagerly I listened to the words on the tapes passed on to an 'old friend of mine' by, as he had told me, a man named Mr. Blake. No, I cannot doubt the validity of those words I heard that night, words spoken by a man who, by the tone and sheer honesty of his voice alone, could be none other than our old dom himself.
It is the interpretation of his words upon these simple cassette tapes that builds the setting, moulds the characters around him, embraces the story, and cases it all in the world of wonder where these legends take place. Whoever inherits the honour, and I do not mean to presume, but that is the humble truth of it, will ultimately have to pass on the responsibility of bringing this saga to you, the reader, for this plain sailor man was blessed with one thousand years of life and no one mortal upon this world of ours will live long enough to pass the entire story on. Sadly, it is the reader who will ultimately suffer, for when thesad day of his eventual demise comes, not one of you living today will have read it from start to finish. As for our descendants of one thousand years from now, that is a different matter. Let us hope then that someone else will continue to do the job after I am gone.
Unfortunately, it is very likely that there are several of the tapes missing still. Certainly, this adventure takes place some time after the incomplete preceding account. However, for the purposes of chronological accuracy, I judge this tale to have taken place at such a time so as to have occurred after anything so far written to date concerning the Saga of the adventures of our old dom on that wondrous world under the mingled lights of Scorpio.
Taken up from this beloved world by the phantom blue scorpion, he had been whisked back to Earth for a most miserable ten years of existence. Then, out of nothing had come the dark void of nothingness, not the tool of those same superhuman beings this time, but the implement of some other force, carrying him back to his beloved adopted world, winging her way around the double star Antares, five hundred and twenty two light years from Earth. What he found there waiting for him was a world drastically changed from the one he had been taken from a decade before.
The invaders had come from over the curve of the world, not fish-heads this time, but a brutal, far more lethal and inhuman enemy. For these were the iNctlas and their dreaded Doomhunters, fierce and terrible, merciless to man and dif alike, aggressive insect-like beings from the continental grouping on the far side of the planet. Into slavery had been thrown the people of the mysterious south-western equatorial continent, and joining their doomed ranks came our simple sailor man of Nelson's wooden navy, hunted and tracked down by this new order. Concerning the rest of the world and the folk there, he knew at best little of their fate at this time. The invaders were vicious, powerful, arrogant, they had marched across the lands and taken of them what they had wanted, throwing into slavery the races of men.
But the hero of this saga is made of stronger stuff than that which wilts beneath the heel of subjection and the whip of slavery, for he escaped after many seasons under the lash, and avoiding the dreaded Doomhunters sought refuge in the steamy forbidden jungles. Here, in this wilderness of tropical rainforest, mighty beasts and carnivorous plants we find him, alone, but as always in times of extreme hardship, not completely devoid of hope....
On this wondrous world Under the Suns of Antares perchance sometimes what the heart desires is achieved, and many times not, but it is how achievement is handled that counts and the reaction to disappointment that truly matters. Words to this effect have been related before concerning my chronicles.
This wondrous world had brought me both what my heart desired and disappointment many times, and in many shapes and forms. I had handled disappointment better than I did then, in these latter days I ran like a frightened loon from the conquering masses. Of what my heart desired you know well, and I refuse to even contemplate what her fate might have been.
On that long-gone day I was whisked back to my adopted world by some unknown force from the Earth of my birth upon which I had spent another ten miserable years wondering and wandering, a vastly different world greeted me to the one I'd been carried up from ten years before. I had not handled well the disappointment at what had become of things in my absence; or the continent of Lo to be exact. Concerning the fate of the rest of this wonderful yet cruel world orbiting the double star Antares, I could only surmise.
I, formerly a simple sailor man, Lord of this, King of that and ex-Emperor of my beloved Island Empire cast about my surroundings with, as always, an eye most wary. Death lurked in the shadows, and the shadows made up the majority of my haunts. Emperor of Emperors I had been dubbed. Bah! Emperor of nothing, King of zilch! I walked this world alone. And what price that freedom?
Escape from the Doomhunters had not been easy. No, by Crox! Escape from their masters had been harder still; cruel, these new invaders. Cruel by Zazz! I halted beneath the boughs of one of the smaller trees of the jungles. In this wild inhospitable terrain clothed by rain forests, I hid from the world. Most unlike the so-called hero of former days, yet true as the fact that the red sun and the green sun rise daily.
The chatter of insects carried on unabated. I listened beyond that infernal sound. Satisfied there was no immediate danger I approached my hide-away. The Den of the Disappointed I had dubbed it, the Dungeon of the Defeated I had not, a fallen flier of ages past, damaged beyond repair and lying belly-up, deserted, her crew long since consumed by the denizens of the jungle.
As I ate the miserable findings from my hunt, I almost smiled at the memory of a Jib'k'taki I had been tethered to as I had walked chained as a newly caught slave; hated are those despicable Jib'k'takis. Never to be seen as slaves over the entire face of a world. Things were different now, by Chusto! Yes, no wonder I almost smiled. Hated, are Jib'k'takis the world over. Such memories haunted me also.
Slave I had been.
Better slave on this world than a free man on Earth!
Keeping track of time in slavery is a practice most rarely achieved by many such poor souls. Many seasons had passed by since my return. How many, I was none too sure. Enough to make me feel as if I had been slave for most of my life. Terrible had been the conditions. I had seen sights to diminish the awful sights I had seen in my long-past intemperate days to mere inconveniences. Sights I am reluctant to, no, determined not to relate here. I shall not debase humanity further than is necessary. I recall a man of my beloved Val Island Empire who, taken slave as he had been on his travels in Lo, could no longer recall a life before slavery. Like many others, I had watched him die under the lash. Ol' snake stung in the hands of these new invaders just as much as he had in the hands of the Jib'k'takis seasons before.
The meagre meal over, I cleaned the blade of the old sailor knife. A chance throw it had been that had bought down the sifril in its flight. Mighty fine is roast sifril. Mighty tough raw though, yes by Crox!
Scanning the immediate area of jungle outside of the flier, limited as vision is in such places, my mind wandered for no reason I can fathom far back to the time I had been incarcerated in the deepest dungeons of far away places in long-passed days. The similarities of incarceration to this present situation were scant, yet, the feeling was the same: I was in all honesty trapped. It had all been years before in the mists of time, yet the haunted feelings remained.
In latter times I had been taken up once again and all I hold dear upon this savage world bathed as it is in the wondrous mingled blue and red lights of Antares, swathed in the blue light of the phantom scorpion, and cast back to Earth contemptuously by those cold, implacable and superhuman lords of the stars. Ten years I had remained. Ten years of exile from the world and the woman I loved. I had little doubt it was not they who had taken me up and brought me back ten years later to a world decimated by carnage and destruction; if not they, then whom? The savants of the swinging city..." No. I was sure it had not been they. The stygian darkness that had reached out and sent me aloft was not of their doing.
The brel trees towering high above the more common and regular trees of this jungle were not far from where I had adopted this makeshift shelter in the inverted flier's cabin. There had been times I had explored the edges of that eerie world beneath their lofty and light-excluding foliage terraces. I would not wander in too far, but far enough to know that within lay temporary refuge from discovery or pursuit if needed. What dangers and horrors lay deeper within the subterranean-like world under the brel forest, I could only wonder at and guess.
The flier, as I have said, was crippled. From one of the silver boxes the mysterious minerals within had seeped forth, out of a hole about the size of my fist. The intact box contained the mysterious gas which affords half the power to a flier. What use propulsion without lift? None at all! Anyhow, any hopes I had of fixing the flier were long since abandoned. She had been designed perhaps for long scouting missions for a crew of six, for the interior was rather more sumptuous than a regular service scouting flier, many of which are open-topped and lacking berths. By the lines, I would have hazarded a guess at, and maybe a wager too, had my old dom been there as to where she'd been built. How long she had lain there on the jungle floor Crox only knew. How long it had been since I had seen my old friend Seg, and all the others, God only knew, for I certainly didn't; and Delia..." Well. I dared not think on that.
And what of the Islands and other continents this side of the world? Perhaps, under these new and deadly invaders they too, as Lo, were fallen. I shook my head. I doubted all the world could be conquered by one nation alone, even of these iNctlas scum. And of these iNctlas, I shall in due course tell you more. Oh yes, in Zazz's name, I shall tell you of them. Rest assured I shall not spare you of that horror.
Taking up the bow stave I had recently cut, I inspected its length. This of course, was not lisehn wood or the sacred and poisonous yerthyr, understand. However, as bow staves go, it would have had some hope above abysmal in Seg's eyes. I strung the bow, testing its pull. It felt reasonable.
Apart from this bow, half a dozen arrows fletched with blue feathers found upon the ground upon the edge of the brel forest, my old sailor knife, and a thrax'r I had found inside the flier, I had precious little else of use. That, of course, is not strictly true. I am highly trained in certain secret arts of self-defence, after all. My body too was a weapon, if I so required it.
A noise reached my ears unlike those I had grown accustomed to in the jungle. These were noises foreign to the rainforests and therefore probably made by men or difs or something much more deadly. I tensed. Was that the sound of a body of hunters coming through the jungle? If so, what were they hunting? Me? Was that the dreaded sound of clicking I could hear amongst the tramping and brushing and cutting sounds as boots trod the ground and lynx'rs and machetes hacked at vegetation? Taking my weapons up, I vacated my sanctuary and chose a vantage point behind the bole of a sizeable tree, a veritable forest giant.
Cursing reached my ears. Slaves of the iNctlas dare not curse for fear of their lives, for cursing implies something of the spirit remains, and slaves with spirit are of no use to the iNctlas. This cursing carried a far more menacing portent. The voices were gruff, harsh and menacing, the curses directed at the slaves who cut a path through the undergrowth. I had seen this all too often while a slave myself to these invaders.
There was that confounded click-clicking again; iNctlas, and the cursing, Doomhunters, no doubt. I had to move, and move fast! iNctlas. Merchants in Death, I had heard them called amongst other things by my fellow slaves. The slave I have already mentioned knew not he was a man of the Island Empire in slavery, so low had he sunk down the ladder of human indignity. I had known him of old. Oh yes, I recalled Farim ti Therm'sax well once I had seen past the sunken eyes and the broken spirit of slavery.
The sounds were getting nearer. Too damned near, and so I began to move off rapidly in the direction I thought them to be going so as to put more distance between myself and them and not risk bumping into them, not an easy feat in the densely lush jungles. Sounds bounce from tree to tree. I can vouch for that. Certain of the keener carnivorous hunters of the jungle domains use that knowledge to their advantage. Once a respectable distance had been achieved, I could then curve around and out of their path, coming up behind them and so forth. That was the plan.
Well now, both species of dif were well capable of sending shivers down my spine.
Moving off in what I judged to be the direction they were moving, I gradually lost all trace of the sounds of the hunters. Then gradually, ever so gradually, I moved off in a circular direction so as to bypass the hunting party and come out behind them. In doing this I followed trails I had travelled before. Every so often I passed a tree with my mark upon it. I had lingered a while at the edge of the brel forest, using the flier as a resting and sleeping place, and in doing so I had marked out various paths through the jungle with subtlety; an odd chip out of a bole here, the odd scar in the bark there. In short, I knew the area well and in preparation for just such an event as was happening then I followed my trails in silence and in the knowledge I could deviate if necessary.
It was then, with a musing of half-expected surprise, the sounds of the party again began to reach my ears. I say half-surprise with good reason. The iNctlas, and in beginning to give you some hint as to their nature, are insect-based difs. That should suffice in explanation for now, as I have much to relate of them all in due course. Being insect-like in nature and hailing from somewhere over the curve of the world as they do, their language differs in construct and form drastically from the languages of the continental grouping I am familiar with. I had been handed a certain small pill way back in the swinging city shortly after my initial transit to Scorpio and, of course, to this world. That pill had enabled me to understand languages without the necessity of learning them. This is something I now take for granted, however strange it may sound to anyone else. However, in the case of these insect difs from over the curve of the world, of their language I knew nothing. For some reason my abilities courtesy of the language pill to immediately understand the languages of this world did not work in this case. The iNctlas' language was, to my mind, a meaningless chatter of clicking and clacking and rubbing together of tentacles. Oh yes, they have tentacles, by Crox! It made no sense to me at all. I cannot impress upon you enough, I had heard it often and far too often since my return.
I shall say here that it is a common practice to brand slaves. My feelings on this matter should be all too plain by now. I detest slavery and everything that goes with it. I have been branded myself in the past, as I have been a slave in my time also, many times. The iNctlas form of branding was designed to overcome their inability to make out the difference between one man and another. Put simply, we all looked the same to them, as they all looked the same to us. Therefore their branding had to go further than identifying one as a slave, it had to identify one slave from another also. My branding of the past, courtesy of the pool, had not been permanent. You will, of course, be familiar with this fact. My healing abilities and the fact that I have been granted a thousand years of life, I have spouted of often enough before. To these latter day accounts, such matters should be too obvious to mention by now.
Now, in explanation of my half-surprise, I shall say that the iNctla invaders did not physically brand their slaves. Oh no. Branding of slaves by these new and terrible invaders was done in the mind. We had been mentally branded, for want of a better explanation. Somehow the iNctlas were able to do something to mark the individuality of humans and difs by marking their minds. My half-surprise was based on the fact I was none too sure my healing abilities courtesy of the pool would work as well or at all in respect of this mind-branding as they did in cases of physical branding. In the case of mind-branding, the iNctlas did not need to be in sight of their slaves, they could detect these brands at a distance. Hence the fact I was unaware of how long-term this mind-branding would hamper me. I simply did not know. I assumed that the branding was less successful with me than with any other man or dif. I may have been wrong.
I altered my path and took a new direction.
Again the sounds of hunting, or the sounds of pursuit, I was unsure of which, faded away. I stopped to take stock of the situation. Sitting on the trunk of a fallen forest sapling I drank water from the laaper leaf. The laaper leaf is a cup-shaped leaf of the diminutive ap plant. The leaves collect and hold water in their bowl-shaped interiors. As I drank the cool liquid I listened intently. Ah, once again the crashing and cutting sounds reached my ears and grew louder. I had to assume I was being pursued then, that the mind-brand I had received on becoming a slave gave away my position.
This changed matters considerably.
How can I even begin to explain these merciless hunters and whip-handlers, allies to the iNctlas?
Doomhunters make the Jib'k'takis look like babes swathed in linen! Doomhunters are also insect-based difs, but of a different and far more aggressive nature than the iNctlas. Doomhunters are low-browed, squat creatures, possessing six limbs and a three-part body of head, thorax and abdomen. They possess mygalomorph mandibles and a pair of sensor antennae, but no wings. Mygalomorph mandibles form a pair of down-pointing fang-like spikes that point downwards, common with earthly arachnid mouth structures but not insects. The lower abdomen part of the body possesses two legs, unlike true insects, and the diminutive thorax possesses two arms and a pair of limbs that can be used as either arms or legs. Their general outline shape resembles, to my mind, a cross between a gorilla and a beetle. They stand upright and are about five feet tall generally, are broad, with two powerful sets of shoulders and armed with a hard exoskeleton. They do not have true tails, but a four foot long, scorpion-like stinger armed with a razor sharp crab-like mandible that is able to both hold a weapon and sting victims with paralysing but non-deadly venom. Doomhunters are clothed in course black hair, have two pairs of eyes, one at the front of the head and one at the back.
The partnership between the iNctlas and the Doomhunters is at best vague, the latter outnumbering the former by a ratio of some five to one. For every iNctla I have seen, I can recall seeing maybe five Doomhunters. In my opinion, and based on what I had seen while in slavery and heard from the other slaves, the iNctlas are the brains behind the invasion, the Doomhunters the brawn.
For want of a better description, iNctlas resemble a cross between a man and an ant. They stand some six foot in height on average, and like the Doomhunters have three sections to their body. The abdomen has two legs and is small, forming an araneomorph mandible at its extreme end. Araneomorph mandibles are hinged and close together sideways, again an arachnid feature. The thorax possesses four limbs, two arms, and two interoperable limbs. The head is equipped with a single pair of eyes, twin sensor antennas, and an almost human mouth. Unlike the Doomhunters they are completely hairless, possessing a hard, shiny bronze coloured exoskeleton. Upon their backs lie folded a pair of diminutive, non-functioning wings. Both Doomhunters and iNctlas wear harnesses supporting weapons, various other equipment, trappings and accoutrements.
I stood up and once again quit the path of my hunters; that I was a marked quarry, I did not doubt, not one iota. I followed then a trail I had forged some days before, and it led winding and again vaguely marked to the edge of the brel forest. That I could not hope to outrun the hunting party due to their ability to track me unaided by sight or scent, but by some esoteric link with the mind-brand, I did not doubt, not one jot. I took one measured glance over my shoulder and entered the brel forest. The sounds of my pursuers again reached my ears and I reluctantly entered into the gloom and tranquillity of this unworldly realm of the brels.