Frank Menser and Nickolas Cook
Captain Drake woke to darkness. At first the darkness was so complete, he wasn’t even sure his eyes were open until he physical felt his lashes brushing against one another. It was a sensation that did not lie and put paid the notion that he was still unconscious. He lay for a moment, worried that he might have permanently damaged himself, and not wanting to cause himself anymore harm by moving too prematurely. But a slow careful check of his extremities left him confident that he’d not broken anything too important. There was a dull throbbing ache on his left side, right below his armpit, but he knew he had to start moving sooner or later and he couldn’t let that stop him.
He had to find out where the hell he was and how he could get out.
How far had he fallen? It couldn’t have been too far, or else he would surely have done himself more harm.
Drake sat up slowly and felt the world he could not see spinning around him. A few bright stars erupted before his eyes and he gave a low groan in the dark. The sound seemed to echo around him. Was he in some sort of underground chamber?
After he was sure he wasn’t going to vomit, he rummaged through his shirt pockets until he found what he was looking for. Thank the Lord he hadn’t lost them during his headlong tumble into space.
The match struck against his nail with a sharp snap and a sudden burst of light exploded before his eyes. Drake winced against it and took a good look around.
His stomach went cold with terror.
Pure darkness. The match’s radius of orange light touched nothing on any side but more chilly night.
Logic. Use logic.
He had to have fallen from somewhere, right?
So that ‘somewhere’ had to close by his current position.
Drake felt the match burn down to his finger. Just as he was waving it out with a frustrated curse of pain, a burning red glimmer to his right caught his eye.
Feeling a sudden terror grip his heart, he scampered for another match, tugging at his sweat soaked coat, tasting dust and fear at the back of his throat. What was down here with him? What had eyes that could burn like red hot coals in the dark?
Quickly he snapped another small flame into existence. The night drew slowly back from its meager power. Drake peered past the wavering light.
The red light shimmered again, like scarlet lightning in the blackness.
Drake waited for the thing to move, but as he moved the match back and forth, the crimson spark didn’t seem to care one way or the other.
He took a chance and tossed the match at the glow.
The tiny fire flared for a second and then he was cast back into darkness again.
Drake found another match and struck it to life. He began to crawl towards the small red glowing object, knowing now—whatever it was—that it wasn’t a living thing.
The air, still and icy, seemed to envelope him as he moved closer to the thing. The match’s small fire danced in the small object as he got nearer.
It was some kind of jewel.
He needed more light!
Drake snagged part of his dirty, torn uniform shirt and ripped off a long strip of it, and wound it around the metallic knife sheath he kept tucked under his left pant leg. Then he used the failing flame to set the cloth afire. The small glow soon grew into a tiny blaze, and Drake held the flaming makeshift brand aloft.
He gasped at what the meager light revealed.
It was a small adobe city. Man sized rounded clay huts collected on all sides of him. They were ancient; he could see that by the collected patina of dust and dead cobwebs that lined every available curve and aperture. Even without such visual evidence, however, he felt the weight of their age pushing against his senses. It had been hundreds, maybe thousands, of years since man had set eyes upon these primitive dwellings. The people who’d once called this place home were long dust and memory.
A thicker part of the cloth caught fire and brighter light flared throughout the strange collection of domiciles, giving Drake a chance to see that some of the adobes had weird symbols scrawled along their walls. They were unlike anything he’d ever seen before. What long ago hand had painted them, he could only guess.
Some of the symbols resembled hieroglyphics, words from some ancient dead culture, but others were clearly pictographs, and were obviously meant to convey animals, maybe even meant to tell a story. Beasts with flapping wings. Huge man shaped creatures striding over smaller man shaped creatures. Blazing weapons held aloft. Strangely thin shapes that seemed to his eye to be made up of man and beast sat next to other man shaped pictures. Rough as they were, Drake was sure there was a story to each of them, even if he could not read it.
He felt the compulsion to investigate the adobes and their compelling symbols and pictures at closer range, but the call of the jewel was stronger. He turned his attention back to the darkly glimmering gem a few inches from him.
Hesitantly, Drake reached forward to touch it.
The jewel gave a pulse, sending a sudden blazing heartbeat of crimson light throughout the seemingly endless chamber.
Drake gave an involuntary gasp and drew back to examined the strange gem more closely. It was almost as if the thing had known he was about to touch it. A warning, perhaps? Or more like a sense of anticipation?
What was such a thing doing buried in the earth?
Could the gem be the thing which the old Pima Indian, Kokoho, meant to show him?
The gem was teardrop shaped, shining darkly in the dwindling light of the match. Its depths were an infinite dark red, like a frozen blood drop. It was encased in a burnished copper cage, thin lines of ancient metal holding it in place. Trailing out behind it was a chain made of the same wiry copper stuff. The chain was covered in a layer of gray dust, as if it hadn’t been touched by human hands in centuries.
The match went out and Drake found another, struck it to life. He was getting low on them, so he had to be careful of their usage. The jewel, as beguiling as it was, would hardly get him out of his present predicament. He still needed to find some escape from this underground deathtrap. Hopefully, his men were already working towards that same goal, so he wouldn’t be alone in his endeavor.
He moved the match closer to the strange gem again, waiting for the thing to flare with life once more, but it remained cold and dead. Now he could make out odd etchings on the jewel’s otherwise smooth surface. Some sort of hieroglyphics, no doubt, but nothing he’d ever seen before. Might as well have been Mandarin Chinese for all he could tell what it said.
He stared into its depths, feeling a strange tug at his mind.
Someone was speaking to him in a language he’d never heard before. A singsong woman’s voice, almost like a song. What was she saying? Or was it a song?
Drake pulled his gaze away from the teardrop gem and peered around the fathomless cave. No walls, no ceiling, no end…
“Hello? Is someone there?”
His voice echoed far away into places his small flame could not penetrate and his mind didn’t dare to think upon those unseen miles of rock around and over him, imprisoning him in the stomach of the earth. But no one answered his query. Not a breeze stirred the chilly air.
He waited for more sounds, but nothing.
The match was burning low, so he leaned in closer to make out the gem’s odd carvings. His breath blew out warm condensation across the jewel’s surface. Moisture filled in the small etchings, making their characters clearer: thin slashes, like miniature claw marks, in a definite semblance of order.
And, again, the closer he got, the woman’s singsong began to waft from the gem like a foreign word/scent, creating strange pictures in his mind.
Drake felt himself reel; the world seemed to spin around him. A bizarre red fog crawled from his peripheral vision, engulfing him in a swirling warm crimson smoke.
Suddenly, before him in the uncanny fog, appeared a woman’s cruel dark face, beautiful…full of evil. She smiled at someone he couldn’t see. He felt the terrible bloodlust oozing from her, such as could be found in the lioness’ as she pounces upon the crippled fawn, the toothy joy of a crocodile as she attacks the staggered buffalo calf, the blazing hunger of the deadly falcon as she snatches the terrified hare from its lair.
And now another woman’s face appeared: bright green eyes, slim, deeply carved cheeks, full red lips, long, luscious scarlet hair cascading down her milky white shoulders.
Drake felt a kinship with this woman. Had he known her before? Long ago?
Before he could decide, the scene flickered and dissipated.
Another face appeared. A man’s this time. Seamed, deeply tanned, ancient dark eyes that seemed to see him across this unearthly void. He recognized the old Pima Indian almost immediately, despite the fact that this man was many years younger than the Kokoho he had met earlier.
How could this be?
That singsong voice rose in power and that mental tug grabbed hold of him again and Drake felt himself falling into the gem. Distantly, he felt the match finally burn down to the flesh of his fingers, but the pain was like a far away star that made no difference to the light of the sun.
Drake reached out to touch the gem.
The faces he’d seen before—the evil dark woman, the beautiful redhaired woman, and the sober faced man—all appeared again, followed by dozens more he felt he should know, but couldn’t possibly.
His hand finally wrapped around the cold crimson jewel, but instead of ice, he found a bloodlike warmth.
Falling, falling, falling…
And he landed within a bright hot light; landed painfully on some unseen rocky terrain; landed inside the raucous uproar that could only be combat; horses and men screamed and cried in victory and agony; swords clashed.
Drake opened his unbelieving eyes to find himself in the middle of a bloody battle.
A thunderous roar sounded above him. Drake snapped his head around in time to see a giant of a man swinging a great blood dripping battleaxe down towards his head.
The Captain automatically reached for his pistol, but found he no longer possessed a pistol. In fact, there was no longer even a holster for his missing pistol; and no leather belt for the holster. But there was a sword near his hand. And before he could even think how strange such a thing was, Drake was bringing the gleaming gore soaked weapon up in time to slip the battleaxe off to his right side. But the violence of the blow was enough to make his arm go numb. The roaring giant wasted no time. He swung the axe around again for another killing stroke.
Drake waited for the man’s arms to lift high over his broad shoulders and then he kicked out at his knees. It was like kicking a tree trunk, but Drake’s attack had been enough to stagger the man back a few steps.
“You dare to strike Lord Balto!?” The snarling visage looked familiar to Drake, even through the blood and dirt. Where had he seen this man’s face before? In nightmares of death, perhaps? No, he was sure he’d recently seen his face. But where? The surety was a nagging thing at the back of his mind like a half remembered song heard on the wind.
The absolute rage in the man’s dark eyes felt almost like a palpable force emanating from him. “For that, you die, pig!” He raised the battleaxe high over his head again. But this time Drake had gained his footing well enough to stand against his attack. The newly discovered sword which he held uncertainly in his thickly muscled hands felt at the same time familiar and alien as he hefted it to meet the deadly swing of the axe. The terrific force behind the blow sent him staggering back. Lord Balto’s sooty face sprouted a sneer of derision. “I see you knew not the might of Lord Balto, young one. You will not live to appreciate the lesson learned.”
Another mighty swing whistled through the smoky, blood stinking air.
But Drake had learned his lesson. The huge giant of a man who stood before him with a battleaxe that easily stretched the length of his whole body was too strong to fight head on. No, this fight would require brains and brawn. Something he hoped with which Lord Balto wasn’t so blessed. The way he swung that axe, Drake could see he was putting his whole body into it. If only he could get the giant to commit on the next attack…
Drake waited for the roaring monster of a man to attack once more; when he saw the great muscles on Lord Balto’s legs bunch forward, Drake slipped under the swinging blade and stabbed upwards. The sword’s keen tooth bit into the thick layers of leather which made up Lord Balto’s armor. At first Drake was unsure if he’d actually hit his opponent, but then the big man staggered backwards and looked in disbelief down at the rent in his leather armor. Blood began to seep from beneath the sweat soaked armor.
Unfortunately, the wound seemed only to infuriate the giant even more.
The stunned Lord Balto turned his furious gaze upon Drake. “I will make your death most painful for that, little one.”
Drake felt a sense of dread. How could he hope to battle such a thing that felt no pain? Was this man—if man he was—invincible?
No, that was ridiculous, of course. For he had obviously damaged him with his counterattack: the blood that still spilled from his body attested to that. But he hadn’t done enough damage; that was also obvious.
Drake forced the fear away and raised the great sword, readying himself for a final fight to the death with this angry and bloodthirsty giant.
But before the two could meet in the middle of the few yards of muddy, blood soaked ground that separated them, a trio of shouting warriors in gore smeared steel armor raced on horseback between them. Their screaming frightened horses, slathered in sweat and battle gore, bucked and kicked, and between the terrified dancing mounts, Drake caught snatches of Lord Balto as he fought desperately to drive the trio of attacking warriors out of his way so he could get at Drake.
Drake’s fury had gotten the best of him as well. Hot blooded now, he wanted to get at the giant man as much as the man wanted to kill him. As far as Drake was concerned, only one of them was walking off this battlefield this day. Drake’s muscles trembled with the bloodfury; he would chop that smugness right of the giant’s countenance.
But the trio of screeching warriors and their flailing horses had other plans.
Before he could stop them, two of the warriors had maneuvered themselves in position on either side of the furious Drake, and reached down to snatch him away. Somehow they managed to keep him between their galloping horses as they raced him away from the raging Lord Balto. Drake could hear the giant’s frustrated bellows for miles. The third mounted warrior in steel brought up the rear, protecting Drake from other dangers, such as stray sword strokes, or bolts fired from passing crossbows on high.
For the first time since his strange and inexplicable appearance, Drake finally had a moment to really see his surroundings. Although he had no idea where he was, it was easy enough to ascertain that he had somehow appeared in the middle of a large skirmish between at least two vast armies. What seemed like thousands of steel armored men flashed dully in smoke obscured midday sun. They fought in small knots or singly against thousands more leather armor clad men that seemed as large as giants to him. They were all dressed in the same thick layered leather as Lord Balto.
“Draco,” the warrior riding behind them called to Drake, “what in The Great Eye’s name are you doing upon the battlefield in such strange dress?”
At first Drake wasn’t sure who he was addressing, but the young man’s confused eyes were on him and no other. Before he could reply or question what he meant, the warrior holding him aloft on his left side replied instead, “Perhaps Draco thought to destroy Lord Balto and his minions without the benefit of armor.” At that the trio of steel clad warriors laughed loudly. They galloped for a few minutes more, then without a word spoken between them, they came to a sudden stop and let a stunned Drake fall to the ground. They had left the raging battlefield behind a good mile or more, although the sounds of clashes and the screams of both men and mounts could still be heard. Great columns of black smoke rose for miles around, portending the horrendous destruction being wrought by the two bands of fighters.
Drake looked from one grimly grinning face to the other, waiting for an explanation. But when none was forthcoming, he finally broke and near screamed, “Where the blue blazes am I? Who are you people?”
The three men looked at one another for a silent bewildered moment. Drake was able to see them clearly for the first time.
The rider who’d been behind them during their escape from the battlefield was a dark haired youth, no older than Tellers back in his…own place and time? A youthful face, full of untried years, a half innocent grin that showed his lack of experience, but his eyes glittered with willingness to learn everything that the world had to offer—be it good or bad.
“He looks at you strangely, Killian, does he not?” To his right, the man in a beaten steel chest plate and worn helmet, threw back his steel helmet and stared down at Drake in concern. “Mayhaps he hit his head during the brief skirmish with that Hellspawn creature, Balto.”
Drake watched him as he leaned down from his saddle perch to examine Drake with the eye of a wise warrior who had seen many battles and many wounds. His face was burnished dark as pitch and his wiry hair was braided down his broad muscled back. One eye had been taken, most likely in battle, and so he wore a black leather patch over the empty socket.
Killian ordered his horse nearer to the shaking, uncertain Drake. “Samhien, I like not his eyes. There is a great terror in them. I’ve never seen such fear in Draco’s eyes before this day.” He looked at the man on Drake’s left. “What say you, Warson?”
The man on Drake’s left quickly dismounted his horse and stepped close to him, staring into his wide eyes. “Fear? I see only confusion. Mayhap Samhien speaks true. But I see no damage to his head.”
Drake swallowed the thickness in his throat. “I wasn’t harmed by the giant, if that’s what you mean.”
Killian got down from his horse as well, stood next to Warson, stared at Drake.
“I’m fine. I’m not hurt.”
Both men continued to stare at him, their mouths hanging slightly agape now. Now Drake’s confusion was giving way to aggravation. What were they staring at?
“I said I’m fine.” He looked between them angrily. “What?”
“Mayhaps it is your voice that gives them pause, Draco,” said Samhien, still sitting proudly upon his sweating, tremblingly exhausted black horse. His one good eye examined Drake cautiously. “You do not sound like yourself this day, sire.”
“What do you mean? I sound like I always sound. But I still want to know where the hell I am.”
Samhien’s brow furrowed. “Where? Sire, do you jest? Is this mayhaps one of your roguish tricks to entertain your best warriors?”
Drake felt his emotions tugging back and forth. On the one hand, he was terrified by the implication of this man’s strange words and speech patterns. On the other, he was furious that he had been thrust into such an incomprehensible situation by some force beyond him.
The last thing he remembered before finding himself in the middle of almost being murdered by some deranged, oversized bloodthirsty man was the woman’s singsong voice echoing in that crimson fog, and reaching out to touch the teardrop shaped gem, and then feeling as if he was falling into emptiness and forever. How had he gotten to this…place? More importantly, how in blazes was he going to get back to his own…place? And time?
The notion made him feel as if the ground might disappear from under his feet. The strange sensation must have passed across his face because one of the men stepped forward and gently grabbed his arm.
“I think we should get him back to the castle, Samhien, and under the ministrations of the good Lady Bethany,” said the man called Warson. His thin face was sober now; his blue eyes glittered with unspoken concern for Drake, or the man he called Draco.
Before Drake could think how best to get an understanding of what had happened to him, he was being swept upon a waiting horse. Then he and the others were hurrying into the stinking smoke, past the violence and cacophony of the battlefield. In the distance, a vast stone edifice rose out of the roiling clouds of black and gray. Strangely, he felt as if he’d seen the castle in dreams.
End Chapter 3 of The Eye of Time