In the Grand Navigators…
While the storm of Manawydden raged over the city of Sesus, thousands of leagues to the east, “The Lady of Lonia” thundered through the Half Moon Theater in the city of Plesz.
It was not a long play by historical drama standards, and its three acts were spaced out by intermissions during which refreshments were had and the tides of visitors to Lord Ruili Windwolf and the strange lady with him, the traveler from the Vortex Zone, ebbed and flowed. The press was there as well. Several reporters stopped by to ask Ruili’s opinion of his rival’s play and, even more, to ask Y’lanna the same kinds of questions she had been answering since she arrived. Even the play-write, Osrel Lancewing, a study in scarlet velvet, paid his respects at one point, and the two writers exchanged teasing jibes until the play reached its climax. A profoundly dramatic death scene. The final declaration of the second male lead, one of the few characters still living. And the great up-swell of the orchestral crescendo, which soon melded into the applause of the audience.
“Yes, yes, most affecting,” Ruili was saying to Lancewing, offering his arm to Y’lanna as everyone in the building began to rise and leave.
They made their way out to the street, where they stood as the crowds passed around them.
“I hope you enjoyed the play, milady,” said Osrel Lancewing, bowing dramatically. “Windwolf, when shall we see your next work? I hear you are stuck on a summer’s day. If you need guidance, I am at your disposal.”
Ruili threw back his head and laughed — but the laugh was cut short by a scream.
Then more screams, shrieks of panic echoing through the narrow streets.
People paused, uncertain, until the screams became cries for help.
“Lady Y’lanna, wait within the theater,” said Ruili. Drawing the long rapier from the scabbard on his hip, he started off towards the terrible sounds, along with other armed Aeldrethians.
A new wave of screams and shouts stopped them, though, and suddenly the crowds broke and began to run as the cause of the cries appeared.
In the colored lantern lights, as Ruili tried to secure his sword from the people jostling and pushing him in their rush to get away, he saw a monstrous, black lion, as big as a hauler’s wagon, a man’s body hanging from its jaws like a mouse.
A lion — but what lion was ever so huge? What lion ever lashed three tails, each tipped by the stinger of a giant scorpion? What lion ever had the face of a woman with the fangs of a massive cat, or a woman’s neck, a woman’s bosom? What lion stank like the choking fumes of a thousand mass graves?
As Ruili and the other responders fell back in horror, a clawed paw tore down the beast’s victim. The creature’s mouth gaped and it shrieked an ear-splitting scream.
Ruili retreated back to Y’lanna and Lancewing at the theater. The entrance was jammed with people desperately scrambling to get inside. They could only press themselves up to the wall.
“Gods, what is it?” said Osrel Lancewing.
“A pissing great cat,” replied Ruili, feeling how light the rapier blade was.
“Torches!” someone yelled, but as the flaming brands came in, held aloft by a guardian patrol, the beast dropped its prey and ran off up another street.
“What’s going on here?” called out the patrol leader as he marched in.
Ruili stepped up. “Guardian, do you know me? I am Ruili Ereonis.”
“Your Excellency.” The guardian bowed. “What happened?”
“A beast attacked someone and ran off that way. I will take command of your group to chase it down. May I borrow a weapon?”
As he spoke, he looked around for Y’lanna, as eager to secure her safety as to secure his city.