His Name Was L'Zari.
He gripped the thrumming stay line, his youthful hands white, drained of blood in his fear and desperation. A snarling wind whipped his hair about his face, belying the fact that he was inside the protective dome of the ship. How could a wind blow inside the protective dome of the ship. How, indeed, he thought savagely, could anything that he had experienced over the last few weeks have been real.
His legs were braced against the grandyard boom some thirty feet above the deck. L'Zari had inconspicuously slipped both feet underneath the stay cables running the top length of the massive yard, despite the warnings of other spacers that he might just lose a foot that way. The youth had gone beyond caring as he clung high in the rigging of the starship. He knew little of the trade, in any event which, he suspected, was hanging here in the midst of a quantum gale.
All about him, up ratlines and occasionally across the backyards, the spacers moved nimbly from task to task as they were called out from the deck below them. L'Zari knew there were watching him with great amusement of their own superiority here in the rigging. They meant to teach him his place. He already knew his place, he thought grimly and he fervently hoped that it was a place back down there on the deck swinging far below him. At least there you don't have quite so far to fall, he thought angrily to himself. At least there you had a much better chance of actually hitting the deck instead of missing it altogether and falling into stars.
The stars. He looked up the mast toward those same romantic stars that had called him here or so he had fancied in his imagination that they had done. They were there: so many and so bright. There were far more than one might except here among the brilliantly-lit dust clouds surrounding the ship. Toward the rim such clouds would have obscured most of the stellar bodies beyond, limiting one's view to a few stars and the great nebulae that hung in interstellar space. Not there. Here the ship rushed upward along the Maelstrom Wall, that vicious curtain of quantum fury at the very edge of the galactic core. Here the stars were so thickly clustered that it was difficult to avoid that even when boring down a tunnel through the nebular mass itself.
The ship to which he clung so desperately was rushing upward through just such a cavernous drift in the Wall. the Knight Fortune a ludicrous name, chosen by an apparent idiot, L'Zari thought was of Aendorian design, or at least had been crafted on that world after the manner of the core explorers. Her shape was generally spherical, compressed somewhat along her vertical axis so that her cross section suggested something of an oval. The hull forming the bowl like bottom of the ship swept upward into three great, curving prows that arched over the main deck until they nearly touched the mast. The ancient Aendorian totemic forms and symbols covered the hull itself, which if the legends were true, would have been frown to this exact shape by the mystic artists of that world. The main deck was cradled within the triple fingers of those prows with access to the several decks below and the massive cargo hold.
Running through it all was the drive-tree the core of the ship. It began beneath the center of the hull with the massive kneelbob another foolish spacer name, L'Zari thought. He couldn't see it now but had gotten a good look at its brilliant brass finish, tooled down to a spike, when the ship had been careened on E'knar a few weeks ago. The kneelob alone was nearly four times his own height. The mast extended upward from the bob, through the center of the intervening decks, and past the clear bubble of atmosphere into the vacuum of space itself. Along the mast were mounted several booms. Lanyards to each from the deck below repositioned them as the prevailing quantum weather dictated. It was this massive complex called the drive-tree that dragged the ship upward into the stars, the ship's direction of motion following the same line as that of the mast. The Aendorian ships didn't sail across space so much as up into it.
In calmer weather, the various Crystal focus booms would only need to be repositioned now and then as the ship passed from one quantum zone to another. Then the spacers would climb the ratlines into the rigging and reposition the various booms with their braces and incant their magical spells to simulate whatever drive system functioned in the new zone. Spacer magic was powerful, as everyone knew, and it was rare that a good spacer crew couldn't come up with some kind configuration that put the mystic wind into the various sheets of light, crystal, plasma, or flesh that would bring them home again.
But the weather was not calm. The rapid shifts between the quantum fronts near the core brought with them a terrible price to the spacers who braved their reach. The quantum fronts came quickly here: a succession of realities which constantly challenged the integrity of the drive-tree and its configuration. The spacers challenged the assault in the rigging, swinging the booms wildly as they fought chaos itself from moment to moment, altering their incantations and their mystic spells with each new reality as it came.
None of which would do right now, L'Zari reminded himself. He twisted his head and looked down his right shoulder. The ratlines, rigging, and mast ran down dizzingly below him to the deck. He dreaded the sight, but needed to know.
There, just as the ship's hull yawed to starboard, he saw it. A dull, orange-red mottled hull. It was smaller than his merchant ship but apparently every bit as nimble and swift. The arched cone of the aft hull casing projected horns forward and encompassed the raider's main deck. He could see vague shadows moving there, could somehow sense their hunger for his own ship.
It was a Gorgon ship.
That wasn't entirely true, he reminded himself. The ship itself was of an old K'tan design or, at least, that was what Old Phin had told him when the other ship made its first pass at them. But it flew the Gorgon flag. L'Zari could see the great ensign trailing down the hull from one of the horned mounts a bright red swath of cloth bearing the white Gorgon's skull with a saber passing through one eye socket. That left no doubt to it-it was Marren-Kan. No other ship dared fly such a flag. No other buccaneer had such a reputation for dread.
The hull of the Knight Fortune swung across his view of the raider. In his musings, L'Zari was unprepared for the unexpected roll of the ship to port. His body swung away from the boom, his feet slipping from under the stay cables. In sudden panic, the boy gripped the ratlines even tighter as he found himself suddenly suspended by his arms alone, high above the shifting deck. He cried out against the howling winds whipping about him, but his voice sounded hollow and small in his own ears. The ship suddenly pitched upward through another break in the mast. The sudden impact pressed the wind out of his lungs. Gasping and dazed, he released his grip.
The lines, backstays, halyards, and booms swung crazily around him. I let go! His mind screamed at him as he flailed through the hurricane, searching for something to which he might hold. Falling ... he felt himself falling for the longest time ...
Suddenly he stopped and spun madly about. The world was a blur until something grasped his leg, then gathered the front of his tunic in its massive hand. L'Zari shook his head, trying to clear the bleariness from his eyes. After a moment they focused fairly well but had trouble holding steady, as they tried to follow the spin that his inner ear told him he still was experiencing. Unstable as his sight seemed to be, he was pretty sure that he was hanging somehow from the rigging directly over the face of his father.
"Boy?" An angry face with bright squinting eyes was staring up at him not a handsbreath from his own face. A broad nose and a stubble-length beard his vision. "This is certainly no time to be hanging about!"
"Sorry, father," L'Zari said miserably.
In a single motion, the man pulled a broad knife and cut the safety line that suspended L'Zari over him. The moment the boy was free, the man moved aside to allow him to fall the rest of the way to the hard planks below.
L'Zari landed painfully and, groaning, pulled himself up to sit. At least I'm back on the deck, he thought as he rubbed his right shoulder.
L'Zari's father Kip-lei, whom all the ship knew only as "Kip," stood over him, his legs spread wide on the moving deck, paying not the least bit of attention to the plight of his own son.
It was understandable. L'Zari thought ruefully. The old man had known houses in the Far Trade Coalition. Interstellar trade was invented by them, or so the believed, and was therefore a concept they owned. His mother had been raised in a somewhat sheltered atmosphere. The best tutors did all her schooling at home lest she be corrupted by any outside influence into ideas that were contrary to her clan. Her friends were selected for her. In time she deemed sufficiently competent to actually go out on her own and face the galaxy, but K'thari hadn't quite set in their mold. She found excitement in the greater galaxy that unfolded around her especially in the arms of the forbidden and roguish freetrade captain with the brilliant blue eyes and confident manner. He filled her mind with visions and tales: stories of the great treasures of the core and his passion for it. The romance of his tales wove a passion in her that all the mythology of the ancient clans never inspired.
To the shame of the entire trade house, the roguish captain was soon gone again to dance romantic dreams among the stars, and K'thari was left with the reality of a child. No less love was bestowed on the boy as he grew he wanted for nothing and his training was as thorough as his mother's had been. Yet it had always been understood that while he was of the family and cared for, there would never be a place for him in the family trade.
In time his mother's overprotective dictums became sentences of doom and the atmosphere of the clan's compound a sour breath in his lungs. So, with what power and money he could muster, he determined to shoe them all how worthy he was of their name and right a few wrongs along the way. He fled his home, made his way into the stars and found it, at last, his legendary father.
The legend had diminished considerably now that he had suffered with him for three weeks.
"Avast aloft!" Kip cried out through his cupped hands. "Mystic's shifting five points down! Stay with her, lads! Squeeze that tree! We need all the speed she can give!"
"Father ..., " L'Zari began.
"Call me Kip, boy," the captain said without looking away from the rigging overhead. "I've not time for anything longer than Kip, Boy-out-of-Nowhere."
"Fine. Kip, then, " the youth said, once again beating down the hope that he could have any real relationship with this brute that had sired him. "Just what is it that we're doing?"
"Well, boy, there's only two things you can do when a Gorgon prepares to board you. " The captain continued to inspect the latest changes in the rigging of the ship. "You can either fight them and seal yourself to a fate worse than death itself or you can surrender your cargo willingly at their first warning shot."
The vertical rush of the nebula clouds became more pronounced, giving the impression that the ship was rocketing straight upward into the clouds. It was not a comfortable feeling for L'Zari.
Suddenly, three bolts of energy flashed around the hull from behind. The deck lurched as two additional shots connected with the hull.
"Right, two things ... so which are we doing?"
"We're doing the third thing," Kip said through a sneer as he strode quickly to the gunwales and peered into the nebula itself. With careful, deliberate motion, Kip reached into the omnipresent leather pouch that he had worn slung across his body since they had left E'knar. From it, he pulled a curious object obviously ancient in workmanship, yet well cared for and, amazingly, functional. It was a crystal globe, fitted into an ornate mechanical framework. Dim images drifted across its surface, although L'Zari couldn't make out any meaning from the symbols or images he could see from this distance and Kip never allowed him to get any closer that this.
The spacer captain suddenly slapped the side rail with glee and cried out. "That's it! Helm! Bring us about: eighty-three degrees port and ten high! Steady that course and prepare to come about!"
"Aye, Kip," the spacer answered. L'Zari glanced back at the pilot where he lay on the pilot's couch, both large, spoked helm wheels spinning quickly under his hands on either side of him. The man gazed up the drive-tree towering over him and watched the fore-royal mast shift quickly across the stars to their new heading.
The captain called below. "Gun crews on deck! Prime the cannons and run them up smartly, boy! We'll only get one pass at this!"
L'Zari shook his head and summoned up all the wisdom that his seventeen years had brought him. "Sir ... Kip, this is pointless! why don't we just give them what they want!"
The captain turned toward the boy and grabbed his shoulders. "Give them what they want? What they want is my life's blood, boy my life's blood! We've found the passage and it's ours by right. I'll not give it up! Not to the Gorgon ... not to any beast, or man for that matter wither!"
L'Zari backed away from his father's grasp.
"Guns at the ready, Kip!" came the distance cry.
"Aye! At my signal, Master Helmsman, full up on the helm and hold her until I give the word. "Kip said, turning again to watch the clouds rush downward past them, glancing occasionally at the globe he still held in his hands.
L'Zari continued to back up until he suddenly bumped into the halyards at the base of the drive tree. Instinctively, he wrapped both hands around the cables.
Kip raised his hand.
Two more bolts rocked the hull of the ship, accompanied this time by a sickening, splintering sound and a horrible cry from below decks.
Another heartbeat passed.
Kip suddenly rolled. The mast of the ship pitched upward, spinning the clouds and stars about them with dizzying speed. L'Zari was completely disoriented and suddenly wondered if he would be able to keep his last meal where it belonged.
The Gorgon, taken by surprise, suddenly hove into view as the Knight Fortune reversed her course. The sides of the raider hull seemed to waver in confusion as the guns of the free-trade merchant ship suddenly opened up, blue plasma balls slamming against the Gorgon's side.
"Hold her up, Helm!" Kip cried.
The free-trader continued her loop, passing the stern of the Gorgon, which had only just begun to turn. Kip's fire raked the stern of the Gorgon, shattering two of her five drive nodes in the process.
"Now, Helm! Hold your course!" Kip bellowed. "Aloft! Braced yourselves!"
L'Zari stared up the mast.
They were heading directly for the Maelstrom Wall.
A ripple of concussions slammed against the hull. L'Zari somehow knew it was full broadside from the pursuing Gorgons. The hull slued sideways. He heard main bearing timbers crack.
In that moment they passed into the Wall.From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Nightsword by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman. Copyright © 1999 by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.