Three unlikely heroes align in a perilous effort to rescue a poisoned alien.
Gavyn charged through the corridors of the castle, his bare clawed feet slipping across the golden tiles. He managed to keep his balance, without losing his grip on the comatose young woman. He ran through the castle doors and out into the streets of Aerelon. The lantern light quickly faded into the darkness. The scarabs chased after him untiringly. An NME General flew in behind them taking aim at Gavyn with its blaster arm.
Rounding the corner into the market, Gavyn kicked over a pyramid of wine barrels, hoping to slow down the robots. But as the scarabs slowed down, the general found the opening he was looking for. Instinctively, Gavyn tossed the maiden high into the air, and barrel-rolled out of the line of fire. He dove back and caught her in his arms just in time. He glanced back at the general, knowing it had a clear line of fire. Luckily, by that time the clamor had drawn an audience.
“Quiet!” scolded the man in the nearby apartment, splashing a bucketful of icy water out the window. Though the water did little damage, it was just the distraction Gavyn needed.
Shifting quickly to his feet, the lizan scooped up the maiden and sprinted away. Though the robots attempted to pursue, he blended into the shadowed alleyway and escaped their notice. He continued to run until at last he found himself in the shadows of Granny Smith’s Inn. He searched high and low to be sure he hadn’t been followed before he stepped out into the night. It came as quite a surprise when he walked right into a stalwart man exiting from the inn. Gavyn fell awkwardly with the young woman in his arms. The man standing in the doorway searched for him in the darkness. Gavyn stood just beyond the shadows, a lot closer than the man realized.
“I’m dreadfully sorry,” the man said. He had a very kind voice.
Gavyn didn’t respond. At that moment, he was trying hard to disappear. Even from his silhouette in the shadows, he must have seemed to be carrying a cadaver through the city. That was surely bound to cause some suspicion. “Are you okay?” the man asked.
Gavyn could see the man’s face. His eyes were soft. He seemed genuinely concerned, but Gavyn had learned never to take anyone at face value.
“Well, sorry to have tripped you,” the man added as he turned back into the inn.
Gavyn shifted back to his feet and again took up the woman in his arms. “It’s a wonder how well you’re holding up,” he said to the young woman, “all the falling I’ve put you through tonight.”
“I thought so,” said the man, stepping back outside. “Who are you carrying? What’s going on?” he demanded, his pleasantness having faded away. But by then, Gavyn had turned tail into the darkness.
At last free from the unwelcome audience, Gavyn slowed again. He was naturally stealthy. But even amid this darkness, he knew that helping the woman escape wouldn’t be easy. He had envisioned this night very differently. He had intended to take the young maiden to the human colony on Tundorsha where she could rest until she recovered from the poison. She could have taken on a new identity and started a new life there amid her own kind, never to learn that her treacherous step-mother wanted her dead. It would have been so much better than what he was about to do, but at the moment, he didn’t feel there was any other way.
Robots were beginning to fill the streets. He took advantage of what little time he had left to make a dash toward the world portal. Reaching into his pocket, he drew a set of three keys and examined them. It was difficult to make out the lettering in the dark, as he tried to feel the engravings.
He took the Tundorsha portal key and unlocked the gateway just as a pair of scarabs rounded the corner. He seized the key and stepped through, just before the portal closed behind him. He fell to the ground, shielding her in his arms, as a small blast of energy passed through the portal after him. The shot sounded in the distance, having reached its end in the nearby mountains. It appeared rather beautiful reflecting off the ice. But beauty was the last thing on Gavyn’s mind. For Tundorsha was treacherously cold, even more-so for the cold-blooded lizan.
The ice chilled his bare feet, and his knees shook as he scrambled to find the next key, the exposed muscles of his arms and hands aching. Frostbite was setting in quickly. The next key provided he could feel the right one—his fingers were losing feeling—would open the door to a backwater planet called Tranoudor. He hoped it would be warmer there.
No one had taken an interest in Tranoudor for years. The woman would be safe there, at least until she awoke. He opened the portal and carried her through. Kneeling, he laid her gently on the ground. He whispered something barely audible, something she likely wouldn’t have been able to understand in her comatose state anyway. Then he departed. He knew it would be far safer for her here, where no one would come looking for her. He was sure he had done her a great service in erasing her memory, so she wouldn’t put herself in grave danger by trying to find her way home.
Crossing his arms, he rubbed his shoulders vigorously to build warmth, preparing for his inevitable return to the icy world. The chill continued through his toes, and the grassy hills of Ress Janoa called to him.
Stepping back through to Tundorsha, as the chill set in once again, he struggled to draw out his Ress Janoa key and work the keyhole mechanism. Finally, he traveled safely to the much warmer, safer climate where he could disappear. He knew the robots would shortly arrive through the portal to Tundorsha and search for him. In fact, he counted on it. Their arrival in Tundorsha would erase the energy signature left behind when Ress Janoa’s portal closed. He hoped the elaborate puzzle he had established might be significant enough to keep them searching for him and the princess for a very long time. He didn’t mind if the robots found him, or even if they tried to kill him. He was ready to fight them now, with the young woman safely out of the way. But he didn’t stay around to fight; looking for fights really wasn’t his style. So he began making tracks across the rolling hills.
Life on a High Wire
To most people, Tranoudor was paradise. The city of Tranoudor overlooked a river teaming with life at the edge of a beautiful waterfall. It was a wonder how well the foliage grew from the crevices so deep beneath the ground. Flowers of radiant colors grew along the vines that decorated the cavern walls and the sides of buildings. When the lights shone, no one would have guessed this city was deep beneath the surface of Tranoudor. It was tranquil, safe, just the sort of world everyone wanted – everyone, that was, but Jendra. To her, it was tedious and boring.
The outside universe was no secret to anyone curious enough to search. Many books on the subject filled the local library. They revealed the galaxy in all of its wonder; no beauty, no danger, failed to be explained somewhere in the pages of that library. But Jendra didn’t want to read about life in a book. She wanted to live. She didn’t want the safety of everyone’s paradise. She wanted to escape this constant feeling of being buried alive. Paradise was out there; she imagined her father would not have abandoned her for anything less. She’d long wished to escape this life, this prison. In her heart, she knew that paradise was real, and she would keep searching until she found it.
Suffice it to say, Jendra was not normal. Some thought she may be a threat to civilization; others were more certain. But most simply kept their distance, hoping that whatever contagion had poisoned her brain into this sort of tomfoolery would not take its toll on them as well. Most tried to be content with this life; in Gwalf society, there was a fine line between adventure and treason. And Jendra walked that line like a high wire. She pressed herself to every limit to find — whatever it was she was searching for. No one knew exactly: not even Jendra. And her truest friend Leon followed her whimsically, never dreaming that one day they would find themselves too deep into trouble to find their way back. This was not that day; although it might have been seen as the kick start down that destructive path: this day, when the usually agile girl took a misstep and stubbed her toe in the darkness of an old abandoned alleyway.
Falling forward, she braced herself on her hands. Finally, she came to a rest on her knees. Her eyes were sensitive enough to see what lay in front of her, but darned if she believed it: a large, unfamiliar, alien creature and it was dead. Jendra winced momentarily. Having lived most of her life beneath the doctor’s roof, she had seen death before. She didn’t like it. Not that it scared her, not really, but it did put her ill at ease. What was this creature doing in this part of the city that no one had visited for ages? Who cared so little as to abandon a body to rot like this?
Curiously, it seemed, the being had not been here very long. It had not begun to decay. Weirder still: “It’s breathing!” Leon exclaimed. “It doesn’t have a pulse, curious enough, but it’s alive. Breathing slowly, sporadically even. Perhaps a coma. But why no pulse?”
He had been tightly grasping the being’s elbow, searching to no avail. Gwalf had a notable vein that ran down their arm, and the pulse was most perceptible in the elbow joint for a gwalf. But that was not the case for whichever creature this happened to be.
Leon was Doctor Grisham Hedgewik’s star pupil. He would likely be Tranoudor’s next doctor, when Doc’s old arthritic bones finally failed him. He would have a bright future if he learned to keep his distance from ‘that girl’ his mother always warned him about. The funny thing was Leon needed Jendra as much as she needed him. In days when she injured herself— and it did happen given her propensity for trouble—she needed a good doctor. And Leon learned a lot from bracing Jendra’s wounds. After all, Jendra seemed to like leaping from high places, and she was not the sort to fall and bruise her ego. When Jendra did hurt herself, it was usually significant enough to warrant practice. Perhaps all Leon had learned from being at Jendra’s side was what made him so successful in the classroom. Yet, though he was Doc’s star pupil, he had never seen a being quite like this, and she really perplexed him.
“How can this thing be breathing without a heartbeat? I don’t get it!” He grumbled. It was really starting to baffle him. If he couldn’t get a solid grasp of the creature’s vital signs, he couldn’t begin to assess her condition. He knew that in her predicament, with his lack of knowledge, he could really do more harm than good.
“Jendra, could you please…?”
“No,” She resisted. “I don’t want him to know.”
The worst thing that could happen, at least in Jendra’s mind, was to let the Doc know she had yet again ambled off into the abandoned unknown where she didn’t belong. He would probably ground her. And all grounding ever did was enforce boundaries that shouldn’t exist to begin with. It wasn’t fair.
“Get over yourself, please! This creature’s life could be hanging in the balance. Besides, when Doc sees whatever this is, he’ll probably be too shocked to think about you anyway.”
“Fine,” Jendra agreed, broodingly, “I’ll do it.” But she didn’t have to like it.
Jendra scurried back into town, racing from ledge to ledge of the abandoned buildings, as quickly as her little legs could carry her. She didn’t want to be anywhere near the town of Tranoudor; but since life—some sort of life anyway—was at stake, and she’d already caved into handling this drudgery, there was no time to dawdle. That was fine for in her estimation there wasn’t much to see here anyway. City life really wasn’t her thing. Too many people, racing through life. Taxis caught up between one another in the streets, angry horns blaring ‘Get Out Of My Way!’ – Paradise? As she saw it, the others didn’t want to be here either. She realized she felt, for but a moment, much like the citizens of Tranoudor; she took no enjoyment in that feeling. But she’d get over it, as soon as she could put this inconvenience behind her. That gave her ever more reason to hurry. And hightail she did, right into Doc’s office.
The door chimed. The sound always made her cringe – sort of like Doc’s claws on a chalkboard during the classes she couldn’t find an excuse to skip. But it wasn’t so much the sound that bothered her; more the realization that any moment Doc would appear from his inner office, replace his freshly dusted glasses, and gaze upon his new guest. And he never seemed very excited to see her. Just because he had taken her in didn’t mean they had to feel any sort of bond. She never felt that way, at least. She was sort of surprised to see him readily collect his coat and cane from the rack, without so much as a glare.
“Hey,” she stammered. “Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m here or yell or something?”
“We’ll have plenty of time for that when we get back,” He replied. His voice was gruff; it suited him.
“Back from where?” She demanded.
“I’m sure you’re going to show me,” he said calmly. She could have sworn she’d seen him yawn. He was way too tranquil.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, you came to this office of your own power,” Doc explained, “and nothing seems out of place. This is more than I can usually say for you. And you’re not the sort to come here to chat. So something somewhere must have gone TERRIBLY WRONG.” His deduction felt to Jendra quite like an avalanche of stone, and if so, his last words felt quite like watching her own body being crushed to death.
“Now,” he made an attempt to soften his voice, “we could continue discussing the repercussions of your newest actions, but a doctor’s first priority is the life of his patient, so we’d best be off.
“We’ll talk about this later,” Doc said, “after I sharpen my throwing knives.” Doc only said that last part in Jendra’s imagination though she was quite sure it had been implied.
Jendra grimaced and grumbled, but she couldn’t deny that Doctor Hedgewik was spot on. He seemed to know her almost too well. Where she stood, that was never a good sign. So she stormed out of his office in a huff, the doctor following briskly behind her.
He followed her over a bridge, crossing a small creek, and out toward the very edge of town. Out beyond the part of town deemed safe for a gwalfling. Most adult gwalf never traveled this way. And Grisham never once scolded her, but she knew it was coming. They passed a number of abandoned and condemned old buildings—the safer way, at Doc’s insistence—most seeming about to cave in, with holes worn into the walls by mold and time. The path grew steadily more dangerous the further they walked. She had never stopped to realize how dangerous being out here really was when she wasn’t being followed by the old man with his walking cane. But he kept up with her, in spite of a noticeable limp.
There knelt Leon, peering over his patient.
“Do you know what this is?” Doc asked.
“Well, it sure isn’t gwalf,” Jendra replied.
Doc’s glare warned her to watch her mordant tone. Jendra had come to expect that look, as though it had been his most natural expression.
“They’re called humans,” Doc began to explain. “This is one of their females.”
“She has no pulse,” Leon repeated. It was really bothering him.
“Try placing your fingers on the lump in the middle of her wrist,” Doc recommended.
To Leon, it seemed the most curious suggestion. “What good would that …? Ah!”
She had a pulse. It was significantly slow for a gwalf, but she was a human. He looked lost; he hadn’t thought of that before.
“Aren’t you glad, young man, that most doctors your age are only expected to treat practice dummies?”
Doc’s attempt at levity did seem to appease Leon. He watched carefully as Doc examined the patient himself.
“Well,” Doc placed his stethoscope on the young woman’s heart. “Yes, it is markedly slow for a human.”
After drawing his flashlight from his medicine bag, Doc placed the thumb and index finger of his hand on her eye-lids and gently forced her eyes open. Her eyes did not dilate. “It seems to be a coma, but I’ll have to do additional tests.”
Grisham lifted her head gently. She had notable red lumps on the back of her neck. “Not good at all!” He acknowledged.
“What is it?” Jendra asked.
“She’s been poisoned.”
She gasped. “Can we still help her?”
“If you hurry,” Grisham replied. “If this is what I think it is, she doesn’t have much time. I’m not pleased to rely on you so heavily, Jendra. However, of anyone in this world, regrettably, you’re the most likely to know.”
Grisham began to describe a flower with a lengthy, narrow green stem, with almost iridescent blue petals that sagged down to appear sort of like a bell. As he described it, she nodded emphatically. “I’ve seen that flower before, but I can’t say where.”
“You don’t know?” The doc asked.
“Oh, I know,” Jendra replied, hazarding to smile. “I just can’t say.”
“Young lady,” Grisham loomed. “When you get home, we’ll talk at length about the repercussions that will be heaped upon you.”
“When I get home?” She asked.
“Well,” said Grisham, “someone has to get that flower.”
She could have hugged him at that moment if she had been the sort to give hugs, if he had been the sort to want a hug. It would have been very awkward for both of them. She settled for giving him a sort of maniacal smile that indicated her readiness to comply.
“Hurry,” Grisham ordered. “I have no way of knowing how long she can endure this poison. But it can’t possibly be very long.”
Doctor Hedgewik needn’t tell Jendra twice. She was already gone.
A quiet knock came on the door of the small studio hotel room at Granny Smith’s inn. The prince’s servant Wimbly was snoring and would have probably kept on doing so if his tyroth companion hadn’t summoned him with a high whistle. He awoke from the chair where he had been sleeping awkwardly with his tongue dangling flaccidly from his mouth. He stood up, straightened his coat as the tyroth landed on his shoulder, and hastened to the door as quickly as he could. He needed to step delicately, lest his bare feet should suction awkwardly to the wooden floor.
“My prince!” Wimbly attempted to exclaim as he opened the door wide. The Noussa talked with his tongue hanging out, so what came out couldn’t really be described as words, but the prince had grown to understand him anyway. “Welcome back!”
Prince Jasper had grown up with Wimbly. The Noussa had become more than simply a manservant. He took no offense to the Noussa’s bizarre behavior; in fact he hardly noticed.
“The strangest thing just happened, Wimbly!” Prince Jasper said as he entered the room. “I was heading out for my moonlight stroll when I bumped into – well, I’m really not certain who I bumped into, but he seemed to be carrying – someone else. I apologized, but he never responded, as though he didn’t want to be seen. It was most – curious.”
The prince became distracted as he suddenly noticed a series of flashing lights in the streets.
“I knew something was astir!” He said assuredly.
He took his cloak from the tall coat rack by the door and draped it over his shoulders as he departed from the room once again.
The tyroth trilled anxiously. Wimbly gently stroked his companion’s plumage. “Don’t worry, Essi,” Wimbly comforted the bird in a soothing voice. Albeit, with his tongue still hanging out, not much of what he said made any sense. Essi simply turned her neck, glancing at him curiously.
If you enjoyed this preview, you can continue the adventure with a copy of Impulse, on sale now at Amazon.com and select retailers.
Thanks for reading,
Iffix Y Santaph