Trals flexed his wrists and stretched his neck as far as the cangue would let him. The mobile pillory locked around his neck and wrists, rendered his arms useless. Useless as the arms of a boy to stop the murder of his family, the attentions of his new master...the memories circled the raft of Trals's plans and ambitions. Mosasaurs, waiting to pull him into the darkness.
This mound-top clearing and its fantastic occupants faded behind a red curtain of rage. Only killing would drive away the fear. But not yet. Trals must remember that even with his hands and neck bound, he was the most powerful man in this forest clearing. Prisoner though he was, Trals had killed an angel.
The Slavers had followed his orders wonderfully. Like the fingers of a hand, Ngarong's men had closed on the clearing and its two otherworldly occupants, observed them, surprised them, and killed the male. Now, the female and her miraculous treasures would swell the honor of Ngarong of the Ankylosaur. Or they would kill the slaving bastard and set Trals free.
He looked down the length of the cangue at the black-clad corpse at his feet. "Is this why you did not kill me outright or cart me back to your mushroom-riddled city, Ngarong? So I could rescue you from your mythology?"
"Religion, not mythology," growled the Slaver captain. "That thing is an angel made flesh."
"'Was,' I think, would be more appropriate." With a foot, Trals prodded the dead angel's strange black armor. The spear lodged in its face wobbled. "There is a long-standing scholarly argument on the mortality of spiritual beings that we have very firmly ended. Kudos, captain."
Ngarong of the Ankylosaur rubbed an impatient hand across his bald and sweating pate. "Oh, how I wish your master had not been a philosopher."
"I'm sure he wished not to be my master, as well," said Trals, "especially while I was disemboweling the bastard." He prodded the body again. The tarry hide flexed, but he knew it would turn even the miraculous edge of his sword.
Vritai, the relic whose bloody edge had cut Trals free from slavery. The blade he would use to exact his revenge for the death of his tribe, which now hung opposite a Slaver Club of Office on the hip of Captain Ngarong of the Ankylosaur.
"How did you know the angel's face would be vulnerable?" Ngarong demanded
Trals turned his dangling palms outward in a shrug. "There was no other part of his body the black armor did not cover. If I had been free, I would have hurled the spear myself. However, when one cannot fight, one is forced to issue orders," he grinned, "Captain."
Ngarong huffed. "Ensign Shrawu, get over here and retrieve your spear."
The Slaver placed his foot on the corpse's black-clad chest and heaved. Blood oozed onto the Face of God, and the other angel started screaming again.
"Devils and beasts," Ngarong swore. "Would someone shut that thing up? No, no, stay at your posts." The captain directed the ring of men around the perimeter of the clearing. More Slaver soldiers stood in awe before the colossal white, egg-shaped object at the center of the clearing. The rest clustered around the black-clad survivor.
"What are you doing?" Ngarong snapped. "Put down those spears, you idiots."
The cangue forced Trals to turn completely around to bring the woman into view. As skinny as an Eethlek girl, as tall as a southern Cycad-man, and as loud as a rutting quetzalcoatlus, Ngarong's "angel" sat on the weeds within the circle of soldiers. Her big black eyes widened as Trals sauntered into her view, and her noise redoubled.
Ngarong waved at him, "Step back. Don't scare the angel."
Trals snorted. "It is obviously a human woman. A strange-looking woman in wonder-working armor, perhaps, but—"
"Shut up, savage." The captain leaned closer to the gasping, black-clad woman. "Who are you? Where are you from?" He switched from Slaver to Kacharan, "Tell me your name." Next bad Eethlek and the Nwa language of the woodland farmers. "Your name? What is the function of this relic you have?" He pointed at the object the in the middle of the clearing. "What is it?"
What, indeed? Domed liked a Nwa hut, but as large as a Slaver house, the egg towered over them all, its crown of—leaves? feathers?—casting sharp-edged shadows on the sacred surface of the mound. Other men might feel dread, observing that cool and alien bulk. Not Trals Scarback. He saw opportunity, and the slaughter ahead.
"It should be obvious," he said, "that that is the fabled Ship of Years."
"I said shut up," Ngarong snapped up at him.
Trals rubbed his wrists and neck against the cangue, remembering the last restraining device he had worn. His master's hands on his body, and whips, and knives. Other things. Fear, regret, these emotions were meaningless to one such as Trals Scarback.
Trals was not the boy he had been. His luck was strong and the destiny of his vengeance stronger still. He would not allow himself to die before he saw Ngarong and the whole Slaver civilization burn.
Ngarong shouted now in useless anger at his "angel." "Tell me how the damn relic works, you stupid creature." He waved his crooked Club of Office, and the prisoner flinched back. "My men are overextended, the swamp swarms with savages, our triceratops is stuck at the bottom of this devil-cursed mound. Your Ship of Years is ours by right of conquest, so answer me."
Trals ignored him, eyes scanning the clearing for signs of good luck. An unexplained arrival in the time of the new moon meant a new challenge, but a discovery on a mound meant good fortune. And yes, there lay a snake on a branch, its body in right-handed coils. A situation Trals could turn to his advantage.
The Ethlek warriors hidden in the woods also augured well, of course. The boys had trailed Ngarong's party, as Trals knew they would. Now Ethlek surrounded the clearing, the mud-covered bodies invisible to any but Trals's keen senses.
Trals swiveled to face the forest. A pale palm flashed from the undergrowth in dot-dash signal: Hello, Leader. Problem. Attack?
No, Trals signaled back. Wait for signal. Problem?
"Trals," came a shout from Ngarong, "where are you? Get over here."
Problem, the other Eethlek signaled. More enemies.
"I am not your snatcher, to come when you whistle." Trals could not feel fear, but his attention sharpened. More enemies? Not more Slavers. Raiders from another tribe? No.
Foreigners? He flashed into the bushes. Strong?
Yes. Very. And again. Big problem.
Battle-lust trickled up Trals's spine, sweeter than the caresses of all the soft-fingered maidens of Luna Meridiana. The egglike Ship of Years had four hammocks, which meant two more "angels" in magic armor. A big problem, indeed. A problem for the enemies of Trals Scarback.
Trals considered the Ethlek warriors who had come to resuce him. His adopted tribesmen were not Trals's friends, but they were at least his willing tools: the swords he would use to behead the Slaver menace on the Face of God. How much more might they accomplish when armed with weapons like the people Ngarong called angels?
Trals flashed one more message. Capture them.