Even as Sheila shouted a warning, Kara drew her bow and loosed an arrow straight at Mardock. But the sorcerer merely raised his hand, murmured a word-and the arrow dissolved in a burst of flame!
“Oh. Well, it was worth a try,” the archer muttered.
“Take them!” Mardock shouted to the soldiers. “Alive-or dead!”
With savage shouts the men charged. Quickly the warrior-women formed a circle, protecting their backs, and drew their swords. Blades flashed in an intricate dance, catching the enemy weapons, piercing leather armor and flesh.
Sheila, caught in the middle of all the noise and dust and danger, suddenly found herself facing a fiercely snarling soldier. She stared in shock as he loomed over her like a giant, his sword raised. As the heavy blade came plunging down at her, Sheila parried desperately, feeling the impact surge painfully all the way up her arm to the shoulder. She staggered back a step, and the man gave a cruel laugh as he brought his sword up again. And this time Sheila didn’t have room to parry! Instead, she did the only thing she could: she kicked out with all her strength. The guard yelped as her foot connected with his shin, and A laughing voice in her ear said:
“You’re getting good at kicking people, aren’t you?”
“At your service, my lady!”
Quickly he moved forward to block the furious guard’s attack. Even in the middle of danger, Sheila couldn’t help but watch in wonder as Darian, graceful as a dancer, laughing as he fought, beat back his foe. There, the guard was falling back, clutching a wounded arm. But there wasn’t any time for hero-worship, because now other foes were pushing forward to take the guard’s place.
What about Mardock? Sheila wondered in sudden terror. Why isn’t he just wiping us all out with sorcery?
She could see Mardock dancing angrily about behind the guards. Of course! He couldn’t use his sorcery in such close quarters, because if he did, the force of it would destroy Dynasian’s guards as well!
It didn’t really matter. More and more of those guards were rushing forward. The unicorns, deep within the ship, hearing the sounds of battle, began screaming in alarm and fury, but they were trapped on board, helpless to come to the warriors’ defense, Kara’s arrows flew, each one striking down a foe, but all too soon her quiver was empty.
There are just too many enemies! thought Sheila in despair. We haven’t got a chance!
Was she going to die here, with the morning sun shining down so brightly and the sky so blue? Was she going to die so far from home?
Suddenly a cloud seemed to pass overhead. Sheila glanced wildly up-and gasped.
“The eagles! The eagles are here!”
As the guards fell back in superstitious wonder, the huge birds came plummeting down to land beside the warrior-women. Their forms blurred and altered, faster than thought.
Suddenly they were eagles no longer, but men, tall, stalwart warriors, led by a handsome, fierce-eyed young man whose red cloak blazed in the sunlight. His armor gleamed with gold, and a thin golden circlet held back his long dark hair.
“Egael!” gasped Illyria in wonder.
Egael! thought Sheila. That’s the name of the man lllyria loves. Gosh, he’s gorgeous!
Dynasian’s guards, stunned by the sudden transformation, had fallen back, staring.
“Go on!” Mardock prodded. “Fight them, you fools!”
Reluctantly the guards raised their swords. But this time they were facing more than one small band of seven. This time they found themselves confronted by grim, skillful warriors who fought as swiftly with swords and daggers as they had flown as eagles.
“Don’t stop!” yelled the sorcerer. “They’re only men, they can be slain! Fight them, curse you, fight them!”
I’ve had just about enough of you! thought Sheila. Falling back for a moment behind the other warriors, she fumbled about in her backpack and pulled out her now-useless flashlight. She tried the switch one last time, then shrugged. Somehow I doubt I’ll be able to buy any new batteries in this world. So…
She drew back her arm and threw the flashlight with all her strength, as hard as though she were hurling the softball to the plate with a runner on third trying to steal home.
And she caught Mardock off guard! Before he could defend himself, the flashlight bonked the sorcerer hard, right on the forehead! Mardock staggered back, stunned, and there was a murmur of horror from the guards.
“Magic . . eagles turning into men . . and now a mere girl strikes down a master sorcerer . . . Let Mardock handle all this! We’ll have none of it!”
As one, the guards turned and fled, leaving the warrior-women and the eagle-men triumphant!
“Oh, Sheila, that was wonderful!” said Illyria with a laugh. “Hurry, everybody! On board! We’ve got to set sail before Mardock recovers and the guards rally!”
They raced up the gangplank, pulling it up with them. Behind, Mardock was staggering to his feet, muttering, trying to get his scattered senses gathered enough so he could work a spell. For a moment blue-white bolts of magic swirled about him. Then the bright cracklings sputtered and fizzled, and Mardock swore in frustration.
“Cast off!” commanded Nanine. “You, eagle-men, do any of you know how to sail?”
“We all do,” Egael told her, then, to his men, “Man the sails!”
Dynasian’s guards had recovered their courage. Spears and arrows came clattering onto the deck. “Ammunition,” murmured Kara calmly, and went about gathering the arrows up, refilling her quiver. Sheila, peering warily over the side of the ship, gasped.
“They’ve got boarding ladders! Oh, please, hurry, get us out of here!”
Just as the ladders fell with solid thunks against the ship’s side, and guards began to swarm up, the sails caught the wind. The ship strained like a horse eager to run. But one last rope bound it to the dock. Illyria leaned boldly over the edge of the ship, ignoring arrows whizzing about her, and slashed at the thick rope with her sword. Once, twice, three times-The rope parted with a snap. The ship darted sharply away from the dock, and Nanine and Pelu grabbed at IIlyria, pulling her back onto the deck just in time.
“Thanks!” she gasped.
A series of loud splashes sounded behind them.
“That,” said Myno, “must be the ladders falling into the water. Ah, and listen to those curses!” she added mildly. “That must be the guards falling into the water with them!”
Far behind them they could hear angry shouts. A bolt of lightning blazed out from the land, flashing right toward the ship.
Sheila drew in her breath in horror. Mardock’s sorcery was going to destroy them.
But long before it reached the ship, the bolt arched down to hiss harmlessly out into the ocean.
“Silly way to catch fish, isn’t it?” asked Myno with a grin. “Looks like we’re out of range.”
And the ship sailed serenely out into the open sea, leaving the helplessly raging sorcerer and the guards far behind. Sheila hung over the rail, watching Campora growing smaller and smaller in the distance, and smiled.
“And so,” she said with a sweep of her arm, imitating the syrupy voice of a travelogue narrator she had once heard on television, “we bid a fond farewell to beautiful, peaceful Campora, the gem of the empire.”
Back To Chapter Listings!
Chapter 1: Swept Away
Chapter 2: Arrival
Chapter 3: Captured!
Chapter 5: The Quest
Chapter 6: Sheila Enlists
Chapter 7: Warrior-In-Training
Chapter 8: Rivalries
Chapter 9: The Rescue
Chapter 10: Illyria's Story
Chapter 11: Campora at Last
Chapter 12: Trapped!
Chapter 13: The Ghost
Chapter 14: Outnumbered
Chapter 16: Sailing Away