Manual Mazes of Scorpio (Dray Prescot Book 27)

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The planet Kregen, where Dray Prescot, Earthman agent of the superhuman Star Lords struggles to bring peace to the world which has become his home. But although his nemesis, the mad empress of Hamal, and her accomplice, the evil Wizard of Loh have been destroyed, Prescot finds that the strands of this enduring battle have not been tied off, for an old conspiracy has been given a new and darker impetus which leads him to the jungle continent of Pandahem, where beneath the dark and sweltering swamps lies the deadly labyrinth of the Coup Blag where Prescot clashes with a new and terrible foe in the mazes of Scorpio!

At The Ruby Winespout. Of Beggars and Emperors. Questions for Spikatur. What Chanced in the Arena. The Hissing of the Star Lords Chair.

The Everoinye Speak of the Savanti. Of Another Fist. Through the Snarly Hills. Concerning a Distortion of Reality.

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Receive a Personal Invitation. Pitched into the Depths. The Game Is Named. Seg Quenches a Fire. At The Dragons Roost. Roybin, who was called Roybin Ararsnet ti Autonne, had served me before, in various dubious capacities. I do not mince matters where brave men are concerned. Roybin was a spy. I gave him credit for that, for credit was due. Around the side of the building the rain spattered more strongly against the corroded brick, lashed on by a rising wind.

The darkness was not as absolute now, for the clouds were piling away invisibly above and every now and again a sliver of the Maiden with the Many Smiles, who shines forth most bravely in the night sky of Kregen, glimmered through the rack.

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Inch wore a tightly fitting leather helmet and not a scrap of his yellow hair was visible. I looked back at him as I set my hands to the climb. In the fragmentary light his incredibly tall frame looked angular and sinister with the immense long-handled Saxon ax swinging handily from his wrist-thong. We all wore decent Vallian buff tunics and breeches, with rapiers and daggers strapped about us and, therefore, looked like perfectly ordinary Vallian koters, although, of necessity, being marked as apim, for we were all Homo sapiens.

The crumbling brickwork afforded good handholds and in no time we were all on the roof. I had no intention of leaving any one of these bonny fighters alone, below, as a lookout. Megalomania, maniacal, vicious, I know, I know. But I harbored frightful suspicions concerning this new creed of Chyyan.

Nothing must hinder us tonight. Over the roof where the rain blustered and then fell away, only to return with just that little extra edge in its sting, we crept cautiously.

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Roybin led us to the skylight. The iron was new, replacing worn-down bronze. Young Oby pushed forward, taking a slender tool from his pocket. Opaz knew what deviltry he had been practicing in my absences, but the lock snicked open and with a single heave Turko hauled the iron bars up and out. I looked down. Only darkness, until my eyes picked up a faint glimmer, the merest wraith of an orange glow, and I made out three-quarters of the outline of a door. A well-made and tight fitting door sealing off the lower portions. One after the other we dropped down onto a loft floor where stinking fishnets tangled beneath our feet, and where no doubt the scales clumsily brushed into the corners might once have graced a coelacanth.

The door yielded to the forensic ministrations of Oby. I did not shove it open, as a soldier might, the sword mighty in his fist.

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Gently, I eased the door inward. The orange glow brightened. I put an eye to the crack. For a moment the world consisted of orange whorls of fire, and then I saw that the door opened onto a narrow gallery surrounding the central area. Here was where the fishermen hung their nets. A low drone of voices lifted. Lights threw orange reflections upon the far wall and struck in slivers of radiance up through the warped planks of the gallery. Chances were that we could open the door and sneak out onto the gallery before the people gathered on the floor below might look up and see us.

It was the kind of chance that always attracts.

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I might have listened to Roybin when he made his first report and simply ordered out a detachment of guards. We would have surrounded this odiferous place and swept up all who worshiped here. But then we would catch men and women who had come here out of mere curiosity. We would have taken the priest of Chyyan. But it was my guess that he would say nothing. Like wraiths we seven slid out onto the gallery. Not a board creaked, not a single item of harness chingled. We were old hands, feral as leems, deadly as Manhounds.

My first fears vanished the instant I clapped eye on that scene. Gathered in a mass at the end of the room a crowd of people were in the act of rising from a deep genuflection — we had chosen our time well, the chance swiftly and surely taken — and the priest himself, clad all in black vestments, lifted his arms high, leading the congregation in the opening bars of a chant. The chant proved to be a moaning, miserable, oafish thing, and most of the people did not know it.

But the priest raised his voice to lead them. At all this I glanced with the swift calculating eye of the fighting man, seeking to weigh possible odds. The words of the chant came so garbled they were practically impossible to make out. Over it all I glanced up and to the wall behind the priest.

And I let out a soundless puff, and felt vastly relieved. For, set against that back wall draped in its rich cloths and golden tassels, there stood no pagan silver idol of a leem. A calmness came over me. Whatever vileness this new creed of Chyyan might bring, I did not think it could be as vile as that of the cult of Lem the Silver Leem. Against the rich cloths of the back alcove lifted a bold image of a heavy-winged bird, an image as tall as a man, with feathered wings spread to encompass a full twenty feet.

All a rusty black, this bird, save for its scarlet eyes and scarlet claws and scarlet beak. Four wings the chyyan possesses, like its distant cousin, the zhyan. The four wings were undersize in this image for the body size, but the whole effect was at once impressive and ominous. At once surmises sprang into my brain.

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Native saddle-birds were unknown in Vallia and Loh, being, at the time, generally confined to the hostile territories of Turismond and to Havilfar and islands thereabouts. The mighty continent of Havilfar, south of the equator, was the home of zhyan and chyyan. I frowned. This bore a little more investigation.

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Havilfar boasted as its most powerful nation the Empire of Hamal, and the mad Empress Thyllis was sworn to destroy the Empire of Vallia. Was this creed of Chyyan a gambit in that game? Incense rose, stinking and abominable. The chant ceased. The crowd stood to listen as the priest spoke.

As I listened I watched their faces as well as I could, and some lapped up the ranting words, but others were more critical. A couple of trident-men near the door came as close as may be to openly jeering. I marked them. This priest had journeyed to Veliadrin from Vallia, and no doubt Autonne was his marked target town. I tried to size him up, wondering from which city, country or continent, even, he hailed. A full-fleshed man, with the bright staring eyes of the fanatic — or the diseased — he presented an imposing figure.

His robes were all of black, relieved by embroidered motifs in golden thread and imitation jewels, motifs mainly of chyyans doing unmentionable things to their victims. Chyyans have not yet been generally tamed to the saddle. They remain unbroken, wild, flying freely over the wide spaces of Havilfar, a dread and a terror to lesser animals and to man. The white-plumaged zhyan is notorious for the uncertainty of its temper, for all that the bird is valued above ten fluttrells, and yet the zhyan in its power and mastery has been curbed to the rein and the bit and the flying harness.

Not so the chyyan. Its rusty black plumage shares none of the brilliant sheening highlights of the impiter of the hostile territories of Turismond. The chyyan is a bird to steer well clear of when you ride the level wastes of the air, astride a. This action might not be possible to undo.