Two of the Mannix stepped forward and grabbed his arms, guiding him towards the arena as the Gammond exited back the way he had come. Galland followed a few steps behind with a bundle that another one of the Mannix had given him. The crowd continued to work itself into a frenzy, using the pounding of sticks and chittering as music. Juru was led about eight yards in where the Mannix released him and disappeared back into the crowd.
“What’s that?” Juru indicate the bundle Galland was carrying.
“This is the weaponry that you will be allowed to choose from. It has been collected from ships that were destroyed on the reefs to the north. They are thought to be the weapons of choice for your…our people. You may choose two.” He laid the blanket on the semi-transparent webbing and unrolled it.
A cutlass of ancient design lay in the center, alongside of a brace of throwing knives. A hand axe for cutting rigging lines lay beside them. Two cant-hooks, three cutlery forks, a filleting knife and half of a block and tackle crowded there too. It was the last item that made Juru catch his breath, offering the slimmest glimmer of hope. It was shaped like a pistol, but instead of a barrel it had a metal spike about as big around as his index finger. The spike protruded from the middle of the gun’s body. A cog crank handle was set into the side of it, just above where the trigger was. Most of the mechanism was made from brass, but Juru knew that inside was a cast iron spring. When the cog was turned, the spring compressed drawing the spike back down into the body of the ‘gun’. Once the trigger was pulled, the spring was released driving the spike out the end with incredible force.
“I ain’t seen one o’ these butes inna long time.” Juru picked it up, noticing that there was still grease caked around the edge of the faceplate.
“What is it?”
“It be a ‘Bayvee Banger’. Pearl divers wud use’em. Bayvee be a gud size fish with a mean temper. It wud lie await for some tasty morsel ta swim up close an’ clamp their jaws on ye arm or leg. Once a Bayvee gets their jaws onya ye can’t make’m leggo without killin’em. They got thick skulls, ya see. That makes it kinda difficult ta do. Gnomes heard about th’ pro’lem we be havin with’em. Sose they came up with the Banger for us. If’n a Bayvee fish gets a hold on ya, ya stick it right agin his head an’ pull th’ trigger. That there spike will drive a hole thru its skull quick as ye please.”
At that moment the Bashan made his appearance. The crowd on the far end of the arena split open to welcome him with cheers. His humanoid body was powerfully built, with tattoos lining his chest and neck. He carried a short staff with a wicked looking bone blade on one end and a heavy rock club fitted on the other. He looked to be almost a full head taller than the creature that Galland had become. With a roar that brought answering turmoil from the spectators he stepped to the edge of the field and waited.
“You must make your choice now.”
He picked up the cutlass and checked the edge. It had been sharpened recently. For his second choice Juru reached down and picked up the Bayvee Banger. He tried the cog to see if the mechanism still functioned. It turned easily enough, drawing the spike down into itself. If the trigger mechanism was in as good of shape, then there was a slight chance he might live through this. He placed it in his sash at the small of his back.
“How good are you with that cutlass, my friend?” Galland asked.
“I can hold me own.” He swung the blade a few times to get a feel for its balance.
“Good luck, Juru. If you win, take the necklace from around the Bashan’s neck, and do not let anyone take it from you.”
Galland stooped over and gathered the remaining weaponry back up in the bundle. Juru watched the monster that his friend had become as he made his way to the edge of the field. There was still a slight hope that they could catch the elves before they made it back to the Sapphire Wave, but he had to get through this monster first. Squaring his shoulders, he turned back to face the Bashan.
The Gammond called out for silence. Juru couldn’t understand what was being said, but he guessed the gestures meant for the combatants to prepare. The drumbeat of the sticks began again, without the cries and cheers, but helped along by the clapping of the rest of the arakryll. Faster and faster the beat gathered tempo, speeding along. Both Juru and the Bashan standing motionless. Then suddenly the music stopped and Juru’s opponent became a blur of motion.
In one leap the Bashan closed the gap between the two, stabbing at him with its spiderlike legs. The only thing that saved him was the fact that he was just out of range of all but a few of the legs at a time. Caught off guard by the charge, he had to work frantically to keep them at bay. He was slowly being backed toward the crowd behind him. Keeping his position in the back of his mind, he parried and deflected blow after blow. It was a trick you learned when in combat on a ship at sea. Always be mindful of your surroundings. All it takes is one slip to find yourself below decks with a broken leg or dunked in the ocean, watching the ship continue on without you. Juru angled away from the crowd before he came within reach of the nearest of the arakryll.
His arm felt like lead, and more and more of the Bashan’s attacks scored. Blood dripped from several shallow cuts, and Juru could feel himself weakening. He knew his only hope was to stay just at the edge of the creature’s reach, but it was extremely fast. He also knew that he couldn’t win from there. He misjudged a parry and the Bashan cut a gash across his forehead with the tip of its staff blade before he could recover. Blood leaked down into his left eye, blinding him on that side. Seeing an opening he darted forward.
Pain drew lightening bolts across his midsection as the Bashan drove one of its spider legs into his side. The creature grabbed him around the throat and lifted him off the ground, stabbing him twice more, once in the shoulder and in his right thigh. It did not withdraw those legs, but instead used them to drag Juru forward. As it held him up to its ugly elongated head, Juru pulled the Bayvee Banger out with his left hand and pressed it flat against its forehead, just above the six eyes. Gritting his teeth through the pain, he pulled the trigger.
For a moment Juru thought all was lost. Nothing seemed to happen, and then he felt the mechanism react and the spike drove a neat hole through the center of the Bashan’s head. It jerked in surprise, those black chips of stone stared at Juru uncomprehendingly before falling, taking Juru with it. The netting that served for a floor was sturdier than it looked. It held them as they collapsed into a pile. Remembering Galland’s words he reached out and took the Bashan’s necklace.
Juru was bone tired, but he didn’t know the rules to this challenge. He didn’t dare black out. He pried the dead Bashan’s legs out of his shoulder and thigh. He hissed with pain as he withdrew the bone like appendage from his side. It had gone deep. The audience was silent as he got slowly to his feet. Gripping the necklace in one bloody fist, he raised it over his head for all of the arakryll to see. There were no more drums. No cheers. Just silence as the blackness that had been threatening him finally won out.
* * *
Galland rushed onto the field as Juru passed out. The Gammond reached him next, declaring Juru the champion and absolution won. The Gammond placed several herbs for his pouch belt into his maw, chewing them into paste. The creature knelt beside Juru, spinning silken bandages from the gland below his mouth, while at the same time adding the paste to the gauze that it spun. It was packed around the puncture wounds and wrapped tightly to stop the blood flow.
A messenger had been dispatched to the arakryll King, informing him of what had transpired as soon as the battle was over. The Gammond would assume the Bashan’s duties until a new one could be appointed. No one tried to take the necklace from Juru. It was a symbol of honor, and he had earned it.
“Can he travel?” Galland asked the Gammond.
“I do not know. I have done all that I can for him, but I do not know how to treat his kind.”
“I must get him back…back to his ship.” For a moment Galland had had a problem remembering where Juru needed to get to.
“Absolution has been granted. He is free to come and go as he pleases now.” The Gammond nodded.
Galland rigged a sling for Juru and hefted him up on his back. It didn’t take him long to catch the elves scent and follow them back out of the arakryll city. They had his mate. He would…would…what?
He fought against the fog that had enveloped his brain, forcing it back. It was trying to take over his mind. His mate…no, his love was…Elarii. And she was an elf. He was supposed to be a human, but the elves had ensorcelled him.
It all came back in a flood as he leapt from tree to tree, heading back towards the ship. He traveled without heed to Juru, who was tied tightly to his back. All he could think of was catching up to the elves. He almost missed where they had climbed down to the forest floor. Juru was jarred awake as they dropped to the ground.
“What? I canna be dead, I hurt too much.”
Galland spun around before realizing he had the little sailor strapped to his back. He had to concentrate to understand the language now.
“The elves. We hafta find’em. Oh, but I hurt.”
The trail ended at a tiny clearing. The smell was gone and the clearing was empty. They had used magic. Galland could smell it strongly. He circled the glade several times, finally locating where they had gone by the heavy scent of it. At the center of the dell was a small carved runestone, about the size of a man’s palm. His human mind knew what it was. It was a gate anchor. It created a bridge between itself and another, twin artifact. Even though he knew what it was, he didn’t know how to operate it. They had escaped. With a howl of rage and pain, Galland dropped to his knees.
“What is it?”
“Home.” Galland shrugged. “I do not know. They used magic.” Galland showed him the gate stone.
“But…what o’ th’ poison? Why do I still live?”
“It was a…lie. No..poison.”
“Then we can follow’em. On th’ Wave. It’ll jes’ take us a bit longer.”
“No.” Galland looked down at his hands. Arakryll hands. “I cannot go back like…this. Elarii… deserves better. I am a …monster now.”
“Maybe we can fix ye. We cud mak’em…” Juru let the thought trail off as Galland shook his head.
“There is a story among my…the arakryll. A story of a mighty Gammond that knows the ways of magic. Maybe…I can…find him. Maybe he can …fix me.”
“That’s it, we can go back to th’ city…”
“No. You must go back to your people. Where I go…strangers will not…be allowed.” Galland had made a decision. The elves would never let a human and an elf go in peace. Especially one of Elarii’s ranking. She could be free, if only he was brave enough to let her go. She could never love him as a monster, and he was unlikely to find the Gammond in the stories. No, he would let her go.
Juru could see that Galland had made up his mind. Nothing Juru said swayed Galland’s decision. He watched as his friend disappeared into the trees. He made his way back to the coast with a heavy heart. The Captain and crew of the Sapphire Wave set sail at once, eager to leave this haunted misadventure in their wake. As the ship sailed away, one lone arakryll stood, hidden in the underbrush along the shore and watched them go.