THE SKY DANCER

by the Scribe

William of Thomas



Chapter 1 

BIRDMAN 


In a swirl of purple robes, Lord Tiberius caught up with Sibelius coming out of the temple repository. Throughout the month of Poseidon, the palace priest had been collecting reports of a near- mythical figure whom, it was said, soared with ravens, aurks and kites. 

Soon Sibelius would have enough scrolls to commission an illuminated manuscript. Carved into woodblocks by fanatical artisans whose patience was exceeded only by their skill, the priest and his backers did not doubt their first printing would become an instant best seller. Everyone loves an action hero. Especially if he's a regular bloke lacking superhuman powers. 

“Hold,” commanded Tiberius. Then, realizing such an imperious tone ran counter to his connivance, he quickly added, “If you please.” 

Sibelius stood and waited. It was clear that he was not pleased. 

“Ah, my friend,” Tiberius assayed as he drew near. “You are looking well.” 


 

“What do you want?” Sibelius said in a voice devoid of delight. 

“One gold drachma if you tell me the whereabouts of Lady Luck,” Tiberius offered. 

When Sibelius remained silent, the local bigwig quickly added, “Make it two.” 

“Her blessed name, may the Goddess find delight in it, is spelt L-U-C,” Sibelius corrected. “And pronounced, 'Luke'. As to such an unfamiliar moniker, she claims to hail from the Pleiades. If so, her Earthly aspect is most pleasing.” 

“Whatever,” said Tiberius. 

The priest appeared to consider the bribe. “Make your donation not to me, but to Athena’s flame and the Acropolis,” he said at length. 

“Done,” said Tiberius. Upon hearing nothing further, he barked, “So where is she? Lady Luke will bring me luck, leading my loyal retainers to the birdman. His unique flying skills, combined with my Mark III incendiaries, will allow me to conquer all of Thrace. And beyond.” 

“He will spit in your eye,” parlayed the priest. 

“On the contrary, that randy upstart will be only too glad to cooperate,” Tiberius retorted with a hearty chuckle. He did not add, with a gleaming blade held to his woman's pale bosom.“Now, per our agreement, where and in what circumstances did you see her last?” 


Sibelius beckoned Tiberius closer. Placing his lips close to the hairy royal ear, he whispered, “The lady Luc is halfway to their secret rendezvous, beneath the sky and beside the sea. A reunion I fear Aeolus will be missing.” 

Tiberius recoiled from the jape. “So now you are a poet? This address encompasses the entire Aegean.” 

“No poesy intended. As everyone knows, her lover is indeed the fabled Sky Dancer. Earlier this day, with your sheriffs' lances pressing him at the brink of capture, Aeolus leapt from the Raven's Beak. Alas, he lacked his bulky wing. He plunged toward certain death clutching only our most famous artist's painting, rolled thickly around a wooden rod.” 

“The fool,” Tiberius snorted. “I suppose he meant to paint a picture of his own bone-rending demise.” 

“As he fell,” Sibelius continued, “Aeolus was seen to unroll the long canvas. Lying upon it and clutching the scroll that formed its leading edge, he entered a controlled descent. 



 “Alas, the breeze gusted stronger than a Drakon's breath. His equilibrium soon upset. As your men jeered like barbarians from the heights above, the makeshift wing upend and tumbled into the clouds.”

Tiberius frowned. “He's dead then? Too bad. For me.” 

“Aeolus did not resist the winds for which he is named,” Sibelius went on. “Instead, he embraced each blast, rolling, spinning, flipping like a fledgling forced from the nest. But he was no novice. Nor another Icarus. Less than thirty sandal-lengths above jagged rocks, this flying fox righted his improvised levitation. Swooping low across the narrow strand, he released his grip and dropped laughing into the sea.” 

“Where he became a seal, I suppose.” 

“Of course. He dived beneath the waves, where he is as at home as in the sky.” 

Tiberius clapped slowly, with a droll lack of enthusiasm. “A most imaginative yarn. Does he live then? If so, where is this amphibian of sky and sea?” 

Closing both eyes, the Neuromancer pressed one hand to his forehead and tilted his face toward the Aegean sky. After a long moment he spoke in a voice both distant and hushed... 

“He lives. But for how long? The soggy Sky Dancer is drifting rapidly away from land.” 

The priest hesitated before resuming. “Even cast adrift, he is planning an entertainment that will feature your comeuppance. Apparently... ” 

The wizened wizard once again paused to consult his invisible sources. 

“Apparently, Aeolus is blaming you for his latest excursion. And he continues to take exception to your ordering his mother's murder.” 

“That whore was a rebel and a traitor!” 

“She was none of those things, as you know very well. But she did spurn your advances in front of your officers. Who refused to carry out your order.” 

“The bitch claimed allegiance to her dead husband and would not grace my bed.” 

“Be glad of it, my lord. Because she knew whose hand was raised against her son. If you had attempted to force her compliance, you would have bedded a she-tiger. Carnage not copulation would have been your fate.” 

“You lie!”

“The oracles I consult tell only truths.”

“You arrogant wretch! I should have you executed!” 

“A poor substitute for diplomacy, my lord. Save your arrows and sheath your threats. I am the high priest Sibelius, chosen of Athena. I cannot die before my time. And that is for no man to decide.” 

“So you say, old man. Tell me why I should not terminate you now.” 

“Lay a hand on me and your manhood will turn inward and become a devouring worm.” 

“Gross! That is so gross,” piped up a tremulous falsetto. Neither man had glimpsed the young lad's approach. “Can I watch?” 

“Silence, nephew!” Without looking 'round, Tiberius backhanded the boy across his face. 

“Ow!” The kid stumbled backwards clutching his reddening cheek. “Bastard! Jerk! Fook!” 

Enraged, Tiberius turned fully. Withdrawing a double-barreled object from his tunic, he leveled its pipes at the sputtering annoyance. “Callow youth,” he muttered. 

The lord's hand twitched. A puff of pungent black smoke accompanied a loud report. The kid flew backwards, a ragged hole in his chest fountaining cartoonish blood and gristle. He was dead before he tobogganed into the ground. 

Even Sibelius stumbled back. “What manner of sorcery is this?” he exclaimed. 

“It's called a 'gun' my dear priest,” Tiberius replied. “One of the spices my ships carried back from the Celestial Kingdom is a rough-grained powder called salt peter. Besides dampening a young man's distracting ardency, my scientists have discovered how to refine this curious substance into a mixture that rebukes even the fieriest passion with a bang. As you've seen, the concomitant gust propels a ball.” 

Tiberius smirked wickedly. “Not even Aeolus can fly with a hole in his head. As for his soon-to-be-hostage maiden, she, too, will be unable to resist the threat of such a blast.” 


When the priest said nothing, Tiberius grinned openly, like the knave he was. “What? Nothing to say in the face of technology that mocks your gods? What say your oracles now?” 

“They say, bite me,” Sibelius responded. 

Before the startled sovereign could react, the temple priest reached into the folds of his robe and produced his own weapon. Only his version featured four gleaming bronze tubes bound by stout copper straps. 

“Four pipes!” tut-tutted Tiberius. “Where... how... what... ?” 

“They're more properly termed, 'barrels',” Sibelius instructed. “Do you really think your nefarious projects can remain hidden from Athena? Her eyes and ears hover everywhere, invisible as the smallest motes.” 

Tiberius ducked as the priest waved the prototype firearm in risky arcs. “Hey! Watch where you point that thing!” 

“The crossed pairs of lightning bolts on its graven grip are especially evocative, don't you think? As you can see, where my thumb rests, a single lever selects each barrel. Or... ” The priest grinned and clicked the selector. “All four together.” 

“You crazy old coot!” Tiberius shouted. “That... shotgun ... is illegal! It is forbidden for anyone but me to own and operate a firestick.” 

“Here then, you take it,” said Sibelius, tossing the diabolical device to the panicky potentate. “I have taken vows of reasonable chastity, relative poverty and nearly total non-violence. More to the point, vested with Athena's powers I do not require such a cowardly contrivance.” 

“Enough of your bafflegab!” Tiberius cried. Juggling his newfound firepower as gingerly as a fanged serpent, he clumsily steered the weapon toward the center of the priest's royal robes.

But fingers palsied by rage refused to obey. Sibelius was considering suggesting lunch when the tyrant-in-training found the firing stud. At point-blank range, the quad-barreled hand-cannon spoke with a crash louder than Thor's thunder. 

“Haides and damnation!” Tiberius screamed. “This cursed machine broke my wrist!” 

“Never fear, it is only sprained,” Sibelius said calmly. 

“Whaaa??” Tiberius trilled as if Sibelius’ shade had whispered from the grave. “You should be dead. How could I have missed?” 

“You didn't,” Sibelius assured him. The priest pointed to four tightly- grouped smudges imprinted on the midsection of his robe. 

Then he directed his liege lord's attention to the ground. 

Tiberius goggled like a grouper at the four iron balls smoking in the dirt. “Triton's teeth! You really are a witch.” 

“Wizard,” amended Sibelius. “FYI: Your latest attempted murder has been recorded.” 

Tiberius glanced wildly around. “A geezer's bluff. I see no scribe.” 

“Look close,” bade Sibelius. “Those specks you see glittering in the beneficent rays of Helios are actually miniature winged drones.” 

“Drones?” Tiberius ran his tongue over that unfamiliar word. As the implications swelled, he coughed, choking on its spooky implications. 

 “Atlantean tech,” Sibelius said. “Mechanical flying insects that remember everything they see. And hear.” 

Tiberius blanched. “Everything?” 

Sibelius nodded. “Now you owe me, fat man. Also, Aeolus and Luc. Big time.” 



 


To be continued…