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The Thief of Joy and Light


by Danielle L. Parker

Table of Contents
Part 4 appeared
in issue 141.

And the head of the great viper, raised more than the height of a man above its upper coils, turned silently to regard the pool between its scaled loops. The dark waters brightened suddenly. Revealed in that round center was suddenly a soundless scene, yet so precisely illuminated that even Blunt, straining his vision through the membranous eye covering of the iron idol, had no trouble perceiving it...

There stood Kzirth, stripped to the waist, his sinewy arms folded across his muscular golden chest and the hilt of a scimitar jutting over his shoulder. Behind him, utterly and unnaturally still, sat two naked, golden Aspians upon a strange double throne, a throne both fleshly pink and obscenely scaled, as if its arms and seat and curved, softly pulsing back were the parts of an inconceivable, convoluted organ.

Now another figure approached Kzirth, and in a moment, the two glittering figures came together in violence too shocking and swift for the human eye to follow. Scimitars flashed, dueling in the air, while the free hands swooped, thrusting at each other with those dripping, tearing poison claws. Around and around they circled in a silent dance; and Blunt, crouched upon his meager ledge and watching with darting eyes, heard suddenly a sound... a wordless hissing, like an agitated pot. The head of the great cult snake raised itself in a sinister undulation and whip-lashed forward, still hissing, at one of those whirling golden forms. Again and again it struck, fountaining sprays of dark liquid into the air in its frenzy.

And one of those golden images, fractured in the broken surface of the pool, could be seen to falter. Bright blue Aspian blood welled. Blunt, glaring wildly through the membrane, saw Kzirth’s figure waver like the roiling surface of the water, and his great scimitar, poised in the air, fell helplessly to his side. The Earthman wasted no more time. “The fight’d better be fair,” he gritted, and yanked out the heavy weapon buckled against his thigh. With a snarl, he shoved its ugly muzzle against the gauzy eye covering of the idol and pressed the trigger.

The recoil and its accompanying roar nearly tore him from his thin ledge, but as he lunged forward, jolting painfully down the face of the iron idol into the room, his red-dazzled eyes could see that old Eliminator had not let him down. The great snake, its terminus now a charred, smoking, headless lump, thrashed violently in its death throes. All that remained of the old priest was one obdurate and still-smoking poison claw, clattering to the stone floor without its bodily attachment.

But Blunt’s eyes were only for the scene in that agitated pool. The bleeding duelist had rallied; suddenly, Kzirth’s arms, blood-splattered as they were, whirled in cyclonic fury. Advancing upon his opponent, he drove him back as if the wind of Kavi’s implacable breath preceded him. And then, again, suddenly faltered...

Blunt, his red-hot weapon still clutched in his fist, felt a premonitory shiver. The snake’s dark form lay still now in the pool, its blue blood oozing over the stone lip. But a shadow that had its shape was rising from the water once again, and the Earthman, eyes widening in horror, felt the scorched, thickening air ejected from his lungs in shock. A red mist coiled inside the ghostly eyes that turned crushingly upon him. Blunt’s knees buckled beneath him. “You’re dead,” he breathed, aghast. “Dead...”

He fired futilely — once, twice. The blasts melted the iron head of the idol, but the shadowy form, regarding him for one endless moment with something more evil than malice and more dismissive than contempt, turned its stare upon the desperate scene still revealed in the blue-blooded pool. The sound this time was a hissing more dreadful than the cult snake’s had been, for the Earthman heard it only in his mind, and it had words... words and meaning he dared not understand.

“I can’t kill it,” Blunt groaned. Trembling, he let the weapon fall to his side. How did one fight a bodiless god? Desecration, perhaps...

The Earthman’s free hand went, almost unconsciously, to his torn and bespattered robe. He pulled the folds upwards. A stream of hot yellowish liquid spurted forth, striking that shadowy shape, which turned toward him in a sudden arch of rage and violence... and frayed, even as it struck, into something thin and weak. A cold, obscenely whispering wind staggered Blunt back on his heels... and then there was nothing, not even a scene in the now still, dark pool.

Blunt lowered his robe with a sigh of relief. “Been needing to do that for quite a while,” he gasped. “Just been too busy!”


“I had the worst of it,” James Sherman Blunt growled. “You might be a little cut up, Kzirth, but I was four hours getting rid of this stink! I ain’t smelled this bad since my older brother Amos shoved me down the manure pile!”

The Aspian lifted his beaker to his lips. “I regret to inform you, my fat-tongued friend,” he replied, “You have not yet rid yourself of the stink. I am not convinced you ever shall.”

The Earthman sat in a soft chair with his bandaged hands resting on his knees. The two rested in a pleasant garden courtyard with Fzil’s early morning moon above them. A tree draped soft, pale yellow fronds over their heads. Two pitchers sat between them on a stone table, and one of Kzirth’s many servants, silent in his serpentine glide, had just refilled them. One held a clear, smoking liquid, and the other, to Blunt’s eternal gratitude, iced tea. He wrapped one hand around his glass and sipped. They had neglected to sugar it, but he was not complaining.

“Lziren will have to get a new head priest,” he said after a moment. “And a new cult snake. About the other, though — that thing. I don’t think it’s done for. Just mightily insulted. I’ve got a feeling it’ll be back.”

Kzirth smiled. It was a human gesture, that smile, put on as the ice tea, as a rare hospitality. “I dare not ask the form of the desecration,” he murmured dryly. “You humans are an astonishing folk!”

“Easy,” Blunt chuckled. “Any male has the equipment. Suppose you’d have done the same, if you’d been there!”

The Aspian inclined his head thoughtfully. “Perhaps,” he said. “Although it would not have been possible at this time.” He leaned forward and lifted the pitcher with the clear liquid, carefully, for his arms were wound with bandages. “Come, enough of that vile stuff, my honorable enemy! Drink a toast of rzilovath with me, and then, I think you should go to bed.”

Blunt held out his glass gloomily. “Got to introduce you to Tennessee bourbon,” he said. He sipped cautiously. A faint frown of puzzlement drew his brows as he lowered his glass and wiped his numbing lips. “What do you mean, possible at this time ?”

“Ah,” said the Aspian, sitting back to sip his drink with every evidence of enjoyment. “It is, of course, difficult for you humans to know. I neglected to tell you that this phase I am female. In five years, perhaps, I will again be male. It is of no consequence, Captain, unless we both become very, very drunk... and I do not think you should be, not with the medication you were given. But one more glass of rzilovath should not hurt. May I?”

Copyright © 2005 by Danielle L. Parker

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