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The Captive of Embrellon – 2

Jason was sitting in a cell on the ship. He was alone, in grief and his only consolation was that he was still able to hear Shandarro on the link. At least that still worked. He was sitting on the bunk in his breechcloth, they had taken all of his other clothes, and he knew Shandarro was in a cage not far away. They were told that they were headed to Marn. Jason was about to be the first Guardian to see the Marn homeworld. He was sitting there grieving and heard his father’s voice in his head. He kept saying use it, and there is always a way to escape.
He consoled himself that at least Shamira and Knala wouldn’t suffer whatever humiliation and torture he and Shandarro were about to face. Shandarro spoke to him “Jason, life for us isn’t over, we need to take advantage of this situation. We have the opportunity to do what no Guardians have ever done. We have to submit so that we can learn all we can of the Marn, how they live, and when we have gathered all this information, to find a way to escape and return to Embrellon. This information could change everything for us. Our grief is ours, and ours alone. We need to use it as fuel to learn, plot, and gain our freedom. We are not forsaken, or forgotten. We are here, and we live.” Jason thought about what Shandarro had said and decided he was right; this was an opportunity if they took it. He answered Shandarro “Then let’s do this and make the most of what we’re given. We must not fail. Our return will be a severe blow to the Marn’s pride.”
They had made the decision to use this as an opportunity, he buried his feelings and his grief, and became submissive, without losing his sense of self-worth. The Marn came to his cell twice a day to feed him. They asked him how often his beast ate, not knowing that they could link telepathically, or that they had the power of speech as well. He told Shandarro to keep the secret. Shandarro understood immediately. It wouldn’t do for the Marn to know that Skree could speak. However, he wanted to use it to its best advantage when the situation was right and presented itself. Shandarro was ten years old, a fully adult male Skree. He had horns that were almost two meters long, he weighed in excess of six hundred kilograms, his wings were five meters long, and he had fifteen centimeter claws. his fangs were huge, nearly twenty centimeter longs. He was the perfect picture of death on wings.
The trip to Marn took several weeks, Jason hadn’t shaved since the day he was captured and had developed a nice beard, his hair hung to his shoulder blades, and his hands were chained whenever they took him out of the cell to interrogate him. They wanted information, they wanted to know the strength of the forces, wanted to know what it took to ride the beasts, they wanted to know the secret to the metal used for their swords and armor, he gave them nothing. They had beaten him, chained his hands above his head and whipped him, laying his back open and then dressing the wounds with something that healed them up in a couple of days. It went on for days, he was interrogated, beaten, whipped, and the cycle repeated, and still he gave them nothing.
They had even threatened to kill Shandarro with his sword. He still didn’t break, he was committed to this, and so was Shandarro. He kept encouraging Jason, and telling him they weren’t going to kill him, they wanted him for show. They had never captured a full grown Skree before, and for them, he was an incredibly fierce looking creature, who would bring in crowds to see him fight. He had heard them say that usually, they took the wings off them, but they wanted a full show, and had decided that he would keep his wings, and they would use a long chain connected to his leg, allowing him to fly, but keeping him from leaving. It was something to work with in formulating an escape plan. He knew that Jason’s sword could cut the chain in to with no effort. The metal was nearly indestructible, and could cut through anything, including tanzite. All they needed was time, and an opening. They could wait, they would also need an ally who could fly a Marn craft to get them home. Jason might be able to stow away on one of their ships, but he could not.
After eight weeks of space flight, interrogations, and torture, they finally arrived on Marn. When they landed, they were paraded in front of the people, the Marn announcing that they had captured a Guardian and one of their beasts. When they were brought off the ship, Jason was marched down the avenue surrounded by armed Marn, Shandarro was brought out in the cage he had been in since they had left. The Marn had fed him, but hadn’t cleaned the cage, they were afraid to get close to him. That was something he liked; they were afraid of him. They had their first look at Marn, it was hot there, the buildings were highly ornamented, and all the building were a dull red color, almost like sandstone. It was an ugly world so far. They crossed a stone bridge and entered into a what he would call a palace. It was several stories high, the walls were at least two meters thick, and there were armed guards patrolling the parapets.
As he entered the palace, it was cool inside, almost cold, especially since he was still in just a breechcloth. He shivered, the Marn took it as fear; good he thought, they think we are afraid. He had convinced Shandarro that when they neared his cage to roar, and paw at them. Shandarro said he was a civilized, sentient being and acting like he wasn’t didn’t feel great. He understood why, but that kind of reaction only happened when a Skree fought another Skree, which was rare. He did as Jason asked. They were at the mercy of the Marn, and they needed to play the part if they wanted to live long enough to escape. Shandarro agreed.
When they were brought to the ruler in the palace, his receiving room was lined with Skree skulls and heads. They had captured many Skree over the years and the evidence was on the walls. He asked Jason for his name, and while he stood there mute, the Marn ruler rose from his chair and walked up to him. He slashed his face with a whip, and told him “I am Shagon, I am the governor of this region and you are my prisoners, to do with as I will. Now, what is your name?” Jason looked at him with smoldering rage in his eyes and answered him, “I am Jason.” His father had told them that if they were ever captured, giving them their name was the only information they should share. Other than to say they were scouts, no matter what position they held, they were to say they were Scouts.
Shagon, satisfied that he got an answer, and feeling superior to this back world fighter who didn’t know that he could never defeat the Marn and that he would spend his life here as a slave, sneered at Jason and told him he would never see that ball of dirt he called home. Jason stood there mute. He never spoke except his name. Shagon asked him “Have you met Shagos, he was my brother, he went to your planet, and we have never seen or heard from him since. Is he a prisoner on your planet?” Jason had captured Shagos, and it was hard to keep his composure. He told him, “Yes, I know your Shagos, I captured him and exiled him to a place he and his companions cannot escape. In fact, he’s probably dead by now.” That infuriated Shagon to the point that he had Jason strung up and whipped. Jason had scars from previous whippings, they applied their salve, and his skin healed, but it had left him scarred.
The whip came crashing down blow after blow, and Jason held his tongue until he passed out from the pain. What the Marn didn’t know was the bond between him and Shandarro allowed him to call upon Shandarro’s strength when needed, and right now he needed it. When he woke, he was in a room, with several other men from different races, none of them were Marn. The women who tended their wounds were like the men, and no Marn women. He was still working on his escape plan. He had been taught to use his mind, and to observe everything. He noticed that some of the men and women bore traits that reminded him of his father. He had learned English at an early age, and so he spoke to them asking if any of them were from Earth. Two of the men raised their heads, surprised that this newcomer could speak their language. Three of the women also looked at him. One of the men speaking in English, asked him who he was, and where he learned to speak English. Jason obliged them and told them that his father was from Earth, and had been marooned on Embrellon, his home world, some thirty years ago. Then, he told them who his father was. When they heard his name, James Whitlaw, they all looked at him. His name caused them to open up. One of the men, the oldest of the group, some fifty odd years old, told Jason that he had served with a Major James Whitlaw at the battle of Epsilon, and asked if this was his father. Jason said it was. That made all the difference to the men and women that were here.
They told him they were on assignment looking for the Rapier that had gone missing and that Colonel Whitlaw was in command. There were no space buoys to let them know where he was, and they had received no distress signal. Jason told them that it was because the Marn had destroyed his ship and all hands with her, when they marooned him on Embrellon. They wanted to know if he was still alive, Jason told them he was, and that he was the commander of the Guardians, a defense force he formed with the Vela and the Skree. They asked him about the Vela and the Skree, and he told them what he felt wouldn’t go beyond the walls, he still didn’t want Shandarro’s secret to become known.
They were amazed that Whitlaw was still alive, he had to be in his sixties, he was thirty-five when he disappeared, and if he was still living, he would be nearing retirement age. Jason told them that Whitlaw was alive, vital, and the best swordsman he had ever seen. He told them the story of the duel with Skagos, and they all sat their amazed at what he had done. His reputation as a fighter was well known among the space marines. And his victory at Epsilon had been the reason for his promotion to Colonel at the age of thirty. Jason had learned things about his father that he had never known. With these people, he could forge an escape plan.
Jason called to Shandarro on the link “Shandarro, I am in a room with other captives. Some of which are from Earth, and know my father” Shandarro replied, “If that is the case, then we have some ready-made allies to help us escape and return home.” Jason agreed. They had allies, if they weren’t spies. He asked all of them their names. He had no problem remembering names, his father at an early age, taught him and Lantana that a good memory would serve them well in life. He also had Shandarro, who would know all their names and faces once each introduced themselves. The oldest man in the group was O’connor, ships mate, and chief engineer aboard the Stardust, a heavy cruiser with a crew of five-thousand. Jason was shocked, that was close to half the population of Embrellon, and on one ship. The next was burly thick set man with black hair, olive skin, and black eyes, he said his name was Singh, first officer aboard the Starlight, a ship similar to the Rapier that Whitlaw had commanded. He told Jason he had studied his battle tactics in the academy. The other man in the group was a large man, taller than his father, and heavily built, he had a large mustache and sideburns, and his hair was brown, he had green eyes and his name was John Harlow, and he had been the Captain of the Avenger, a Star Destroyer class ship, with a crew of five-hundred, and he was all that was left of her crew, the women were all med techs from the Stardust, and their names were Shannon, Lisa, and Shaniqua. Shannon was a redhead with green eyes, Lisa was a brunette, with brown eyes and dark brown skin, she said she was Latino, and the other, Shaniqua, was black. He had never seen someone with black skin. The Vela all had blue hair and violet eyes and their skin had a dusky hue to it, an almost brown color to their skin. The Vatarians were unlike any other race he had known, three meters tall, with black hair and yellow skin, and they had five fingers and a thumb on each hand, and hooves for feet, and his father, who had black hair, blue eyes, and his skin was white, but had a deep brown tan. The black girl intrigued him.
He asked her where she was from and she told him she was an aborigine from the continent of Australia on Earth. There were two Velans in the room a man and woman, he asked them who they were, in Velan, and they told him they were Linarro and Rena and had been here for years, they were taken from Vela in a raid. Now he knew the rooms occupants, and he had at least three men and possibly three women who could fly a ship. He told them what he wanted to do, his plan. They all looked at him with hope in their eyes. It would take some doing and take some time. First he needed to know where the Marn would have taken his weapons and his armor, if they had brought it. O’connor told him if the weapons were of excellent make, that Shagon would have them mounted in the room with the horned heads. A trophy room Jason figured.
Next he wanted to know how far it was to the launch pads from their cells, and where they would have taken Shandarro. They all asked what or who was Shandarro, and he told them it was his mount, they were captured together on Embrellon and he couldn’t leave without him unless he was killed. They all seemed puzzled at his attachment to a beast, but decided to help him free Shandarro when they tried to escape. Linarro told him that if they were going to put him in the arena, they would most likely take him to the arena, and cage him there. Then he told them that not thirty meters from the door was an entrance to a tunnel that led from the palace straight to the arena, it was how Shagon went to the arena unless he had to be in public first. The Marn weren’t above assassination as a means of advancement.
Jason asked who had been here the longest and Linarro said he had been here for fifteen years. He and Rena had been captured and brought here from Vela, and had survived by keeping off anyone’s list. They walked with downcast eyes when they left the room, and shuffled, something that they suggested that all but Jason adopt. He had just arrived they explained, and it usually took time to break one’s spirit. He and Rina only walked that way when they were outside this room. They were always looking for someone like the humans and Jason to help them escape. That disturbed Jason. That could mean they were spies for Shagon. They swore on the Creator that they wanted to leave as badly as the rest, but this was the first time they had seen any capable of actually escaping. The humans were skeptical, but Jason was not, he shared their religion, and had been taught by his mother that to swear by the Creator, was the holiest of oaths that a Velan could make. It was good enough for Jason.
He also realized during the conversation, that Linarro and Rena weren’t cowards, they had more backbone than most. His father was human, and after several years on Embrellon, had embraced the religion of the Vela and Vatarians. He asked Linarro if there were any Vatarians on the planet. Linarro said not that he knew of, they more hostile than the Marn, and if there were they would never live as a slave, they would fight to the death. That surprised Jason, all the Vatarians he had known were like Yoran, sworn to a life of non-violence, and a refusal to kill. Linarro asked why he wanted to know about the Vatarians, and Jason told him that he knew some Vatarians, but they were monks and lived on Embrellon. Linarro laughed, he said those weren’t real Vatarians, they were the ones the other’s called the Tamey’s, they were scared of their own shadows. Jason didn’t want to argue, he hoped they had the opportunity to meet Yoran, and to see him train cadets with the staff. His father’s speed with a sword and staff were legendary, and only Yoran was faster with a staff.
Now that they had all been introduced to one another, Shaniqua asked him why he had pointed ears and upswept eyebrows, Jason laughed and said that his father was truly human, but his mother was Velan, and he had her features and his eyes and hair. He started to tell them about Lantana, but a nudge from Shandarro made him stop. He asked them who was familiar enough with the customs of the Marn to help him understand what to expect. He also wanted to know why he hadn’t seen any Marn women. O’connor answered him. “We have rarely seen their women, they only keep them to produce their litters, or to marry to someone they want control over. Marn women have no rights and their place in society is slightly above ours. They will feed them to the meera if they disappoint them, and they don’t have any sort of bonding rituals. Females are an ends to a means. They’re not educated either. Most of them cannot read or write, only the gold ones can, those females, are never fed to the meera. But they can be beaten and killed. He told him that there are two types of Marn, the grey and the gold, and the gold are in charge.
That helped Jason to begin forming an escape plan. He made sure that Shandarro had been listening, he confirmed he had. The Skree were capable of communicating three ways, telepathically speaking, telepathically with images, and talking. He and Shandarro were a part of each other, symbiotically joined and one couldn’t exist without the other after being bonded. Shandarro told him he would be looking for a means to escape and would do whatever he had to do to survive. That was a relief to Jason, he was concerned that Shandarro would try and escape without him and that he might be killed. He had never seen a Skree fight in any other way other than as a Guardian, but deep in Shandarro’s mind he caught images of a savagery that all Skree kept contained, and he knew that in this fight, there would be a degree of savagery that would haunt him the rest of his life.
They continued on for days, learning from each other, putting things together, and figuring out how things worked in this place. He was taken one day to the arena, it was empty except for Shagon and his men, he could here Shandarro somewhere below where they were. He had no idea what Shagon was going to do, but he told Shandarro that unless they tried to cut off his wings or maim him, to cooperate. Shagon told him that his beast was going to be given the chance to keep his life in three days, and that Jason would be here to watch. Shagon leered at him and the malevolent intent was in his eyes. He would pit Shandarro against some other beast down below in a fight to the death, and they would handicap him in some way. He passed that to Shandarro, and he knew he was prepared for what was to come.
The next three days had been almost intolerable, he had been question again, then beaten again, followed by another round with the whip. He took it and said nothing. They took him back to the room with the others, some of the other men had been beaten as well, but none but him had been whipped. They were attempting to break him. He was stronger than they knew. Lisa, the earth woman applied the healing salve to his whip marks and then he fell asleep. When he was awakened, it was to eat. The Marn had brought them cooked meat of some kind, and without asking what it was, they ate, they gave them water, and some kind of vegetables, and when they had finished eating, they were ordered back to the walls, searched, and then all the dishes were cleared out of the room, and counted. They didn’t want them to have anything they could make into a weapon.
For the whole time he had been a captive, he had had nothing to wear but a breechcloth, finally the night before the so-called games, they brought him some clothes. They were the same kind of clothes the other men wore, and he was given some kind of shoes that were different than the boots he made for himself. But they would hopefully protect his feet. The next morning, he was sent for and he was taken to the arena, to wait for Shagon to make his appearance for the arena games. After standing in the hot sun for about an hour, Shagon arrived, and he was given some water and was invited to stand in the shade within sight of Shagon’s men. They wanted him to witness the death of Shandarro, and he knew it. Tension in the arena was mounting. The arena was full, there were no empty seats that he could see. The first event was a battle between a Vatarian and an animal he had never seen before. It was huge, bigger than an aurochs or a Skree, it had huge legs, and tusks that were at least five meters long, its face had a snout and it grunted, down its back it had huge plates that stood straight up, and its tail was curled. It looked like a cross between a warthog and a dinosaur. But it was huge. It stood at least five meters at the shoulder and the plates stood another meter above its arched back. It had hooves that looked deadly. They were black and thick and looked bigger than the Vatarians.
The Marn liked fanfare. They blew trumpets to sound the beginning of the contest, and it lasted for at least fifteen minutes. He had always thought that the Vatarians could be vicious, he had never seen one do the things that this one did. It felled the beast twice with a smash of his fist. The beast had his moments as well, he had picked up the Vatarian and using his tusks had flung him over his head and back to smash into the stone wall. The Vatarian was stunned for a few moments and then with the most ferocious roar he had ever heard, the Vatarian charge the beast, he got his massive arms around one of the tusks and broke it off. Then he spun around and pierce the animals hide, shoving its tusk straight through the heart. Them it ripped out the heart and proceeded to eat it raw. He had never seen anything like it. The Vatarians he knew were tame considering what he had just seen, however, he didn’t want to rile them either. If they ever withdrew from their vows, the ones on Embrellon could be a force to reckon with.
The next matchup was even more stunning. They had a beast it looked like an elephant with no trunk or tusks, but was massive, stood at least six meters at the should, had spikes growing out of its hide, and its maw had razor sharp teeth. Its opponent, was the most unusual creature he had seen so far, not that any were usual, except the Vatarian, it looked like a huge blob of jelly with two great eyes and a long body, on what could only be described as its face, it had a razor sharp beak. It was almost the same size as the creature it faced. He thought it would do better if it was in the water until its legs came out for it to move, it had crab-like legs and tentacles that were long enough to grasp the beast in front of it. The creatures faced each other, and started circling, then the spike covered beast charged the other beast and in the blink of an eye, its tentacles shot out and it grabbed onto the spiked beast, and the beast screamed and shuddered, and fell to the ground. The odd looking creature had a highly toxic poison in its tentacles, and when it had paralyzed the beast, it dragged it towards itself and started to consume the beast. Shagon told him, “What do you think so far? The beast that just won, will get to eat that beast, once it injects that toxin, there is no way to get it out of the meat.” Jason shrugged his shoulders and said “We don’t take pleasure in seeing animals killing each other for our own amusement. All life has a right to live, we only kill to defend ourselves, or in need of food.” Shagon shook his head and laughed at him. “That is no way to live, life is about conquest, taking what you desire, and having plenty of women to pleasure you in every way.”
Jason wasn’t impressed so far. The third match, that was different, in the stadium, was Shandarro, and though he wasn’t as big as some of the other beasts they had seen so far, he was fully winged, which relieved Jason, and seemed fit. He did have a chain around one leg and a long length of chain. His opponent was another winged beast, it resembled a large wolf, it had leathery wings and long fangs. At least the same length as Shandarro’s. this animal had a long nose, and a huge head, it was black with red eyes, and you could feel its wildness in the stands. Shagon told him it came from Marn, and was the most highly prized beast on the planet. They were hard to hunt, and even harder to kill. He could see the concern on the face of Jason, and then he just relaxed. Seemingly without a care,
This puzzled Shagon. Why would he go from concerned to at ease, in a few seconds? He watched Jason to see if his demeanor changed, when he saw that it didn’t he assumed that Jason had decided that his beast was either dead, or he was totally sure in its victory. Jason had asked Shandarro “Are you sure you can take this beast?”” Yes, I am sure.” He had been so sure that Jason was instantly at ease. He watched this match intently, not for pleasure, but to learn. He had never seen a Skree fight before, and even though he had seen one eat, he wasn’t prepared for the savagery he was about to witness.
They sounded for the match to begin and Shandarro led the beast all over the arena and allowed it to back him into a corner, he seemed to be on the defense, then the beast charged him and Shandarro slashed him with his talons. The beast backed up and tried to attack again. It tried to jump on Shandarro’s neck and bite down. Its jaws came down on his horns and all he got for his trouble was a sore mouth. It had to retreat and try something else, this beast wanted to kill, and it was at the point of a berserker rage when it charged again, this time, Shandarro jumped over it and landed behind it crunching down on his hind leg when he landed. The beast roared and spun around to bite Shandarro, and got a mouth full of air. Shandarro had jumped back at least fifteen meters, and landed poised for a fight. The beast then vaulted into the air and Shandarro crouched, and waited until it was over him, and then he launched straight up into the air with his horns up, and pierced the beast’s ribcage with both horns. It screeched, and Shandarro pinned it to the ground and tore its abdomen to shreds with his front claws. Then he shook the beast and sprayed blood all over the arena, it flew off his horns and he pounced on the beast’s neck and tore its throat out, the proceeded to eat his kill. The Marn were cheering, there was gore all over the arena, all over Shandarro, and when he was done eating his kill, he went and reclined on the arena floor and absentmindedly began to clean himself.
Shagon was stunned, he had never seen anything like that. He looked at Jason, and it dawned on him why he had relaxed, and why the Marn had never conquered Embrellon. With an animal with that kind of ferocity, how could a Marn warrior survive an attack from a beast like this one. He was going to find every kind of beast to pit this thing against. He was bloodthirsty. He wanted more. He also told Jason that he was going to fight his beast against all comers. Jason said “If you’re going to do that, then you might as well know his name is Shandarro.” That seemed to please Shagon. He was going to issue a challenge to the other Governors. They were going to have the biggest games in history, and he was going to use Shandarro and gain fame and fortune on Marn, and then he would consider his options after that.
He wanted to keep in Shagon’s good graces for the time being, and he had a thought. He would need to talk to Shandarro first though. Then he would approach Shagon once he let the others know what he was planning. He had been looking for a way to form a plan to get his weapons back. He knew that the Marn considered themselves to be the best swordsmen in the galaxy. He had seen how good Shagos had been when he faced his father. He was almost as good as his father, the only one he knew who was better than him, was Jamar, and he was second to Whitlaw. That made him think about how to make this work. After the games they returned him to the cell with the others, and they let him keep the clothes. At least he no longer felt naked, and they hadn’t taken him for interrogations, beatings, or whippings in a few days. He was almost healed up completely. Shandarro had helped him heal, and in a duel, he could draw on his strength to help him through them.
He told Shandarro his plan first, he got a solid yes from him, as well as him telling him the beast was easy to defeat. He knew what Shagon was planning for him, and told him not to worry, he would be ready. He told the people in the cell. O’connor was all for it, as was Singh and Harlow said he was as well as long as they coordinated everything well. He seemed to be of the same tactical mind as his father. The women were all for it as well as the Velans. He told them he couldn’t guarantee anything, but trying was better than dying in a cell. They all agreed.
That afternoon Shagon sent for him, and he went and didn’t fight the men, or try and cause a disturbance of any kind. He needed to win Shagon’s approval for this to work. He was going to need to be his most charming, and magnetic to carry this one off. Lantana had always told him he was a charmer, and Shamira was his bright spot. That caused him pain. He hadn’t thought about her in some time, and she was the most important reason he wanted off this planet. To be here with her killers was more than he could take.

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