John Randall woke in a sweat. He'd been dreaming again, of that far off place called Gor. In this ever changing but recurring dream, he was physically himself but trapped on a wild swashbuckling world where a man's worth was often measured by the strength of his sword arm. He could never fully recall the dream but remembered battles upon battles, blocks, parries, slashes and thrusts. He remembered beautiful women kneeling, serving, obediently fulfilling his every whim. He recalled nights of drinking a wonderful drink called Ka-la-na, and horrible hangovers. But it was all fuzzy and fading each time he awoke. He could remember little of the details, the harder he would concentrate, the more the images would fade. But every few nights, they would return. More vivid and real than ever.
John climbed out of bed. He felt exhausted, having just fought a great battle against a pack of things called larls. He was the only survivor. He had dreamed this particular battle dozens of times. Such was often the case, a battle or drunken night would replay itself to him time after time, night after night, until a new one came along. John hung his head between his head and waited til the images faded away, concentrating on his day ahead. He was a computer programmer for a small software company, a serious man who worked hard, and spent his free time working out at the club and remodelling his house. He loved making things, building something with his hands and mind. Whether it was a wall or a new application program didn't matter. Building distracted him. Kept his mind busy and off of...the dreams.
Karen walked in and leaned up against his doorway. He felt her presence immediately, leaned back in his chair and smiled up at her. She smiled back at him. Her long dark hair flowed down her shoulders, stopping just short of round, firm breasts. These were concealed yet accented by the white silk of her blouse. Her long legs tapered in sensuous curves down from her midthigh length skirt to high heeled shoes. John had a flash of flaming red hair, and shook his head, dismissing the vision. He grinned.
"What can I do for you, Marla?"
"Working late again, John?" she smiled back to him, "We're stopping by for drinks at Benny's if you care to join us."
"Not tonight. I was just going to go work out then work on my patio. Maybe next time?"
She shook her head. " Next time. Always next time. I worry about you, John. You don't get out enough."
He winked at her. "Next time, I promise."
She shook her head and walked away. "Yeah, yeah."
He shook his head. Why hadn't he gone with her. She was beautiful. Smart. Funny. What the hell do you want from a woman? he asked himself.
He saved his work, and turned off the computer. The friendly screen saver of a morning sunrise came up and made him feel better. Ten notes of violin music played mournfully...the computer bidding him goodnight. A simple alteration to his pc but it touched him.
John stood up and stretched. He was tall and muscular, kept even more tone by nearly nightly workouts at the gym. An hour of weights and stairclimbing, and then off to the house...working and remodelling yard, basement, loft, garage. Working til sunset, then television and bed. To start again the next day.
He shook his head. And what was missing. He had tried going to the bars, making idle chatter with his coworkers. Going to movies. Going on dates with the girls he found lacking ...... something . But it was all the same. There was something missing. Something he glimpsed ...... only in dreams.
He smacked his fist into the wooden column next to the door. It shook, and his fist hurt from the blow. He shook his head, laughed at himself and flipped off the lights.
And headed for the gym.
John woke with a start. He had had a frightening dream. Not a simple battle, or drunken night with strange companions. He was dressed again in the strange leather garb of Gor, and the twin moons hung over his head. But there was something wrong. He was weak, unable to move. He was down on all fours, and straining even to maintain that pose of powerlessness and not sprawl to the dust entirely.
In the dream he painfully raised his head, and looked up to a robed figure. A scarred and strangely marked hand raised before him and a vision of mountains flooded his head. His consciousness faded and then there was darkness, lit by stars, and he was a boy lying in a field.
John was frightened. He had been found as a child wandering in the woods. He'd been raised by the state orphanage, til he was adopted by James and Mary Randall. Never, ever, ever had his normal dreams and his Gor dreams overlapped. This deeply disturbed him. He got showered and got dressed for work. Trying to forget the dream. But this one wouldn't fade.
He slammed his fist into the door frame as he reached the door to leave. It was Saturday. The office was closed. No losing himself is formats and subroutines. Not today.
He returned to the bedroom and put on jeans, t-shirt and nikes. He went out into the back yard and sat staring at the pile of patio blocks. His mind kept wandering back....dwelling on the dream. The man, clad in robes, raising his hand....his glowing hand.....
Glowing? Something was glowing behind the Shed. John got up and trotted over quickly, fearing a fire. He skidded to a halt. A robed figure stood there, hand raised. A glowing hand.
"Tal, warrior" said the robed figure. John Randall was suddenly very afraid. He turned to run.
And was engulfed by blue flame. His body instantly lost all strength, and he began to fall to the ground.
He never felt himself hit it.
He awoke on a sandy plain, patches of sun bleached grass spotting the bleakness. In the distance, far distance, were mountain peaks.
Thentis, he thought. Then wondered why. He didn't recognize those mountains. They were vast, even at this distance. They must be the Alps or Himalayas. He had seen the rockies. These were much higher.
He staggered to his feet, and realized he was dressed in a simple leather loincloth. A steel studded belt of black leather sported a pouch, a short whip and a throwing dagger. A long curved broadsword lay beside him, sheathed in a scabbard with shoulder strap. His feet were clad in sandles.
What was he wearing?! And why did it feel so familiar?
He looked around. The sun was rising upward in the sky. And heat was building in the desert here. He looked down at himself. Besides being dressed absurdly, he had a myriad of scars criss crossing his body. His hair was long and hanging half down his back. He had a short, trim beard. He had never worn a beard.
He rubbed his face, pulling the short beard. No sense standing confused in the burning sun. The only shade he saw was the far off mountains. And mountains should mean...snow. Rain. Streams.
He shook his head and began hiking toward the far off mountains, hot sun upon his suddenly tan back.
John reached the foothills as the sun was just starting to set. He looked to the sky and saw three great silhouettes against the sunset, huge birds of prey. But no bird could be that huge. He had to estimate their size to be ten to twelve feet tall...the wingspan must span sixty feet from tip to tip.
He shuddered to think of meeting one of the beasts. He kept an eye turned skyward as he moved up into the hills. The sun set gently on the desert horizon, and the moons came out. He found he had excellent vision for hiking in the half darkness, and carefully made his way along, searching for water.
After more long hours he came upon a wide stream of cool mountain water. He knelt and drank slowly. Then splashed the water up upon his sunburned shoulders.
He drank and washed, then lay among the rocks at the streamside to sleep. He was exhausted, yet he felt alive. For the very first time.
He awoke slightly before dawn. He had rolled upon his burnt shoulders and the pain had awakened him. He slowly pulled himself to his feet and began to hike up the stream. He would need to find shelter, or at the very least shade, for the coming day.
He hiked up the rocky stream bed and came up over a small rise. He was delighted to see a small waterfall cascading off a small bluff. A pool of chrystal clear mountain water was at it's base. Scattered boulders lined the side of the pool, and ancient sands wove between their adamantine forms, carried centuries ago from the deserts by some great storm.
John smiled and took a half step toward the pool. Then he stopped dead in his tracks. A vision was rising up from the cool water. A sensuous form was rising from the water, a lovely female form. The head surfaced from the water first, just beneath the waterfall. Long tresses of flaming red framed a face of pure fantasy, soft blue eyes and high cheek bones. Full red lips pouted at the cool of the water. Lovely hands came up to brush the hair back, and John was awestruck.
He held his breath, and watched as the incredibly sensuous face rose from the water. He realized the girl had been swimming kneed depth water, for as she rose he caught the full splendor of her form. She arched her muscular back and raised both hands to her hair, behind her head. Superbly firm breasts thrust forward as she arched backward, topped by perfect nipples--erect from the chill water.
Her stomach was also perfect and flat, and from his slightly offside angle John imagined he could see tufts of flame red pubic hair. Her legs were long and sensuous, one bent slightly at the knee accenting perfect thigh. The bright moonlight played along her perfect body, and he nearly gasped aloud as she took a half step forward and allowed the spray of the cascading waterfall caress her breast and face.
John took a half step forward, then caught himself. What was he thinking? For a moment, he had decided to rush forward and take the girl. Take her. By force if necessary. John shook his head. What was he thinking?
He turned and stealthily made his way back down the stream. He hiked nearly to the base of the mountains, and saw the stream connected up to a larger torrent gushing down from a valley to the east. But the sun was rising, and he found himself a small overhang to lay beneath, and was soon asleep. He was incredibly hungry but his thirst was well quenched.
For water anyway. He thought of the beautiful woman again.
It took him a long time to fall asleep.
John woke up occassionally as the day became hot, but made himself go back to sleep in the shade of the overhang. He cooled himself at the stream and quenched his thirst once or twice but rested until the hot sun had faded into clouds to the west.
He rose to his feet and washed and drank again from the stream, then traveled down to where it met the main tributary and began to follow that up into the mountains. He would hopefully find something to eat further up.
He hiked for many hours, but soon spied one of the huge birds of prey circling him from above. It circled lower and lower, and John found himself an outcropping of rocks and ran over to it, keeping his back to it. He pulled the curved sword form the scabbard, and it felt strangely familiar and alive in his hands.
As the bird circled lower, he saw there was a man mounted on it's back. Truly, the mighty raptor could easily have carried two or three men. It was a massive, fearsome beast. Finally, he saw the man urge the bird down, and it landed a few dozen yards from John.
The man slid from his saddle, and stood beside the bird, but a fraction of it's height. He waves a strange club at the beast and it shied away from him.
The man walked up near John, sliding the club into a loop of his belt and pulling a broadsword from his hip scabbard. John readied his own curved blade, making a few practice circles. The man looked long and hard at John, and John saw his left eye was scarred and closed. And strands of grey hair spotted the man's beard and hair.
"Who are you?" asked the man forcefully, readying his own weapon. John was shocked. He understood the man's strange language. Fluently.
"My name is Randall. I am from a far off place." John looked hard at the man. He seemed oddly familiar. "Trandar?! Good Lord, man. Is it really you?" The warrior stared hard at John. "How is it possible. I was but a boy, barely a warrior, when you dissappeared."
The man shook his head. "This cannot be. You are an imposter! And a stranger" Somehow John knew that stranger also meant enemy.
The warrior raised his weapon and charged forward. John took a half step forward, and readied himself for the attack.
The warrior feinted with a sideways slash at John's abdomen, then circled the blade up and around, toward John's head. John followed the movement of the flashing weapon with the tip of his own sword. He blocked the blow, and swung back with one of his own, aimed at the man's right wrist.
John hopped back a half step, and the blade missed by a good five inches. John whiled on the ball of his foot, and smashed the warrior's blade as hard as he could toward the ground. He was successful, and the blade smashed into the rock leaving the warrior exposed. John leapt forward and hacked at the man's chest.
"Randall" John corrected and looked back on the man.
The warrior sheathed his weapon. "I believe you, friend. I am your kinsman, Talas Grule. Welcome back."
He saluted Trandar, Gor fashion. And smiled. "So what do we do about the usurper?"
"Mount the Tarn, Trandar!"
John shook his head. "That thing will rip my face off!" He looked up at the fierce bird of prey.
Talas laughed. "Trandar frightened of a Tarn. That is good."
John was embarrassed. He was trying to think of a valid excuse when Talas threw him the goad. He caught it deftly with his left hand.
The metal studded rod felt comfortable, and at home in his hand. Almost as familiar as the curved broadsword.
He stepped up to the great bird carefully, goaded himself by Talas' laughter. He was nervous as the great raptor glared at him. He was reaching for the saddle when it turned and bit at him.
John ducked back a half step and blocked with the goad, thumb pressing a small stud on it's handle. Sparks flew and the bird jerked it's head backward. John looked at the goad, surprised. Wonderful device. And he realized he was no longer afraid of the bird. He knew how to use this goad, and he knew how to handle a Tarn.
John vaulted up into the saddle, and slapping the goad against the beast's feathered neck. With a tremendous lurch, he was airborn. Powerful wings beat against open sky, propelling him mightily upward. Soon, he was flying high over the Thentis mountains. He gave the beast open rein, and it soared deep into the mountain range.
His mount turned it's head to the side and skyward. John followed it's gaze. Two dark forms were approaching him from the east. John turned his steed toward them. He fingered his sword hilt. He didn't recognize their markings.
But then why would he, he wondered.
Soon the two forms approached closely enough for him to recognize them as warriors. They didn't hail him, but grabbed lances and boar down upon him. John snarled and goaded his mount toward the two enemy Tarns.
The lances were aimed for his chest. He could see the engraving and the sun glinting off the metal, as he whirled his sword over his head. The warriors must have thought he was mad, going to try to block two spears with one blade. When John threw himself from the saddle. The spear tips passed over him harmlessly, as one hand flung out to grab a stirrup.
As the two tarns flew over him, he flung his sword at the underbelly of the nearmost bird. It turned over in the air once and pierced the bird in the soft underbelly. The Tarn screeched, and began spiralling downward. John hated hurting the innocent bird, but now he's evened the odds.
He pulled himself up easily back up into the saddle and kicked the bird upside the neck. Thinking it a goad, the beast whirled left and toward the remaining Tarn. The second warrior foolishly had circled wide and was watching his companion. He appeared to be considering swooping down to aid him but changed his mind.
The few moments of indecision gave John his time to whirl his own bird around. The warrior in turn goaded his own Tarn toward John, sparks flying.
John scooped up the Tarn goad, his only remaining weapon of length and faced the warrior down, yelling fiercely. The warrior again lowered his lance at John and dove at him. John roared again at the warrior and whirled the goad.
The warrior aimed the lance deftly at John's chest as he charged, keeping the blade low to pierce the Tarn itself in case John again dove from the saddle.
John had no intention of diving to the side again. This time he did block at the spearhead. He caught the tip of the spearhead with the side of his goad as it came in, and knocked it slightly to the side, simultaneously twisting his torso so that the wicked metal only grazed his side.
He whirled his bird around as the warrior passed, and goaded it to speed. The warrior was glancing over his shoulder and looked frightened that John was whirling so sharply to bear down upon him. He goaded his own mount to likewise dive and turn, but he was a moment too slow with his goad, fumbling yet with his spear. John 's Tarn managed to get right behind the warrior's tail by the time he had him into his own turn. John was impressed by the quality of the bird he road. It was extremely well trained, and the power of it's wings surpassed that of the warrior's. John's Tarn was directly over the warrior in seconds, with the poor man looking nervously up at John. He had his sword, and spear to John's goad and yet he was terrified. A warrior, bah!
John again leaped from the saddle, this time onto the back of the warrior's Tarn. His blood rushed through him at the excitement of the battle, and the incredible rush of leaping from bird to bird a thousand feet from the ground. He landed squarely on the bird's back and whipped the goad around the warrior's neck in front of him, smashing it into his chin then snapping the man's neck using his shoulder as leverage.
The warrior's Tarn snapped at John, but was driven off by the goad. John stripped the warrior of weapons, whistle, and tossed him from the bird. Then began circling back. He meant to reclaim his broadsword from the downed warrior.
He grinned viciously, feeling so very, very alive. He hoped the warrior would put up a fight.
Malaas the Grim leaned back on his couch, three kajira red eyed and bruised kneeled at his feet. Two guard stood to either side of his couch. Well paid, mercanary men with stony hearts.
The curtain to the court room fluttered. Someone had opened the main door. Malaas waited, expecting one of his warriors to enter, bearing tribute.
He was wrong
Trandar entered the room, only slightly wounded and covered in blood--mostly not his own. He had landed the tarn on a nearby perch, and left the wounded and unconscious warrior in the saddle, strapped in. A half score of guards had charged up, and found the unconscious warrior. It made it seem like the warrior had only just managed to make it home when he lost consciousness.
Trandar had made his way stealthily to the main keep area. He managed to make it to the front door before being seen. He was a warrior, and not a thief by trade. His skills in stealth were limited.
There were three young warriors at the front gate. One turned to inform the Lord of the newcomer and was rewarded by Trandar's knife in his back. The two remaining warriors had drawn their weapons.
Scant moments later the doors to the main audience chamber were kicked open.
Malaas rose to his feet, roaring. Then a glimmer of fear crossed his face.
"Recognize me?" Trandar whispered. "You should."
"Trandar?" Malaas shook his head, then regained his composure. He pulled out a heavy bladed hand and a half sword, the thick but short blade nocked from innumerable battles.
The guards had half drawn their swords and stepped forward when they heard the name. They stopped in their tracks.
Trandar glanced at them and snarled. "After I kill him you may join me."
Malaas snarled back. Now he had to fight Trandar or seem the coward. Malaas spit at Trandar and stepped forward.
Trandar gripped the curved broadsword with both hands, and traced a symbol in the air with the tip. Malaas growled and charged, swinging his heavy but deftly wielded blade at Trandar's skull.
Trandar ducked and parried, sliding the blade down Malaas' to trick at Malaas' throat. Malaas blocked, and twisted to the side. Sparks flew as a fury of blows, blocks, parries and counter blows were exchanged.
Trandar and Malaas came together, and blades locked. They both pressed against each other, two hands upon their blades, backs creaking as they tested each other's strength. Malaas was a heavy, big boned man of massive strength. And the added weight of good living had not diminished his arm or back.
Trandar could barely hold the man off, his arms shook with strain. Malaas had the advantage in strength, but Trandar had the advantage of youth and endurance. Malaas' adamantine press began to weaken and shake also, and Trandar was able to press back against him. With a massive effort, Trandar threw him back a half step. Malaas staggered back, and readied his blade.
But Trandar had taken the warrior's measure. He stepped forward again and engaged blades with him. He managed another press, seemingly one which gave Malaas the advantage in leverage this time. The ploy worked, and Malaas pressed against Trandar's blade.
And was surprised at the shin smashing into his knee from the side. Malaas was strong, and sure of blade. But he was also heavy footed. Malaas fell backwards and tried to roll. In years gone by he might have managed it but too much drink and rich food weighed against him. Trandar's blade caught him in the back as he rolled.
In a blur, the curved steel of Trandar's blade skewed Malaas' kidney and spleen, and retracted. Malaas staggered to his feet, and raised his blade. Then felt the pain of the wound. He realized he was moments from death. And threw himself at Trandar.
Trandar danced backward, laughing--a sound remarkably like a larl's growl.
Malaas dropped to his knees, then forward onto his face. He rolled onto his back and gripped the heavy sword with one hand, spasming then died and was still.
Trandar grinned and looked up at the guards. "Remove this, and recall the patrols. I wish my men to meet their new lord."