1001 Starry Knights: The Seven Voyages of Sinbad, chapter 15

Renee lay across her bed, stretched out, staring up at the ceiling. “I was originally a marine with the Imperial Fleet. Of course, there were only ever training exercises. Not a lot of rebels in the last ten thousand years. And I don’t even know the last time that we had to deal with a hostile alien race. One day, we got raided by pirates. It was about the only excitement we ever got. Captain Kry marches aboard the ship and smacks me one, I wake up captured. They’re planning on ransoming me, but I ask to join. This would’ve been, oh, about ten years ago. I’ve spent the time since working aboard the ship. Excitement every day! Like you.”

I nodded, writing down notes on a pad of paper. Shorthand had always seemed to deeply confuse the Imperials I’d shown it to, so it seemed like a useful way to code the notes that I took. “And you don’t know why the captain took up the life of piracy?”

“Heck no. Until two days ago, I thought she was doing it for fun, like most pirate captains. But unless she’s a really reckless hedonist…” Renee frowned.

“Yes?”

“We try to be friendly out here, you know? To be nice to humans. We need you, after all, and we want to come across well. So we hide a lot of the more brutal things that we’ve done over the ages. But… You were talking with that Tiger Warrior. You know how the Reptile Kingdom was made. We’ve committed atrocities that dwarf anything that humans have ever managed. And we didn’t ever really care, until we met you. And while the vast majority of the Empire wants to be friendly with humanity… There are a lot of powerful people out there who would rather we not change. And I’m starting to worry that the captain might be one of them.”

“What makes you say that?”

Renee looked down at her sword, sitting by the bed’s side. “When we raided that ship… They broadcast a warning, that they were carrying a human aboard. The captain said it was a bluff, told us to ignore it. I thought it was just a mistake, a bad choice, but…”

“You think that it might have been deliberate. That she wanted to get her hands on a human. It would explain why she was already aware of a noble who was looking to buy themselves a human, too.”

“But…” Renee frowned, and looked very unhappy. “It’s all just supposed to be fun and games. You know? We weren’t supposed to do anything that would really hurt anyone. Even if she decided to sell you, I was sure it wouldn’t be to someone who was going to harm you. This is all supposed to be harmless.”

I patted her on the shoulder. “I believe you meant well. But… Do you know how she became a dragon?”

Renee frowned, and shook her head. “She never talks about it.”

I nodded, and stood up. “I’m going to have to talk with some of the others. Who else has been on the crew for a while?”

“Brie and Toralee are the only ones who were here before I was. They’d probably be your best bet.” I nodded, and leaned forward, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

That evening, I sat in the mess. “Of course, the Paths of the Fae are legendary. The invisible network of wormholes, ever-shifting. They link the galaxy together- And there are some who say they go beyond that. Some say that they were used to reach Earth during the long years of the quarantine. Others say that the can penetrate into Heaven itself. There are many paths, and a few of them are infamous, so much so that they are given names. Chief among these is the Primrose Path.”

The bartender frowned. “You know, of course, there is no Path to the Imperial Throneworld itself. It is a part of our treaty. It is excluded, much like the Earth. The closest we could get you is to a world on the Pearl Necklace.”

“It wouldn’t be close enough.” Llewellyn crossed his arms. “Shen is likely already making plans to meet with the Empress. Every moment lost makes the odds longer. We must be daring.” He looked at the bartender, his arms crossed.

“I can’t do that. You know why it was closed down. You know what they did to close it down. It might not even be functional.”

Sinbad frowned, looking between the bark-faced man and the white serpent. “What are you talking about?”

Llewellyn looked towards her. “What I am about to tell you, I must ask you to never speak of.”

The cabbie raised an eyebrow. “Wait, should you be telling me this?”

Sinbad smiled. “There are far darker revelations in this story still to be told. Keeping secrets makes for tragedy.”

“There are many Paths that lead to specific places. And I don’t mean that their end point is fixed; They could connect nearly anywhere. I mean that they will take you somewhere special. The Yellow Brick Road, which always will lead you back to home. All Roads, which all lead to the greatest city you know of. Good Intentions, which will take you to the place you fear most. But the greatest of them was the Primrose Path.”

The path system of the Fae was nothing more than a series of free-floating wormholes. Sustaining themselves without a framework, they were at least semi-sapient. Anyone could use them, but only the Fae knew where they were, and where they led. Others traveled the Paths at their risk. Using them was a roundabout process; It never took long, but the journey took one across many worlds, brief visits. And they favored circular structures; Rings of mushrooms, standing stones, crop circles, sink holes, barrier reefs. A thousand variants on a thousand worlds.

The second greatest of these paths was the Primrose Path. It took you to the location of your heart’s desire, the thing you wanted more than anything else. It would only work for those with an absolutely certain goal in their hearts, and even then, the end-point might not be where they thought it was. It had been the Fae Kingdom’s greatest treasure.

Of course, there were few things that were so desired in the last thousand years as a human. Even Heaven could not track or disrupt the paths, and so, humans were taken from the Earth. This reached its apex in the late 20th century, a small but steady stream of humans who found themselves winnowed away on the paths, taken by the fairies, or the little gray men, or whatever other myth and bogeyman were used to explain away abductions. The numbers were never large, but Heaven would not tolerate it. There was almost a war among the stars over it.

The issue was the Primrose Path, specifically. It could not be destroyed, and it was difficult to keep Fae from using it, because there was no way to prevent any Fae with certainty in their hearts from finding the Primrose Path, and following it to their goal. The weakness of the Primrose Path turned out to be how direct it was.

There was only one stop on the Primrose Path. The Garden, a world whose true location was unknown. It might not even be in this dimension. Paradisaical, gorgeous, a place that offered rest and sanctuary. The Garden was the only stop on the Primrose Path, and the only location where a defense could be set up against those who would lure a human away from their home. So it was seeded with death.

“You will see when you get there,” the bartender explained. “But I must tell you, there are hardly any who could make it through the Primrose Path now.”

Llewellyn shook his head. “If it is the way to save the Empress, I cannot fail.”

Sinbad raised a hand. “Wait. You say that these paths are wormholes? Is there- A path, like a black hole, perhaps a couple of meters across?”

The bartender raised an eyebrow. “The Path to Victory? Someone’s been playing a prank on you. That’s just an old legend. It doesn’t exist.” He grinned. “Focus on the situation at hand. For example, getting through the Primrose Path.” He looked around the maintenance tunnel. “Let me see…” He waved for them to follow, and they walked long the maintenance tunnels. He stopped at a large open pipe, leading deeper into the station. He nodded with satisfaction. “Here we are. This should serve as an entrance.” He leaned closer to it, and whispered. Nothing seemed to happen. “Climb through. And I hope that I see you again, Sinbad the Spacefarer, and Llewellyn of the White Scales.”

“The feeling is mutual.” Llewellyn bowed, and Sinbad followed suit. Then, they climbed into the pipe. Llewellyn went first, slithering sinuously, and Sinbad climbed after him, on hands and knees. They had traveled for some time, before Sinbad broke the silence.

“The Path to Victory?”

“A Fae legend,” Llewellyn called over his shoulder. “A mythical path that’s said to lead you to the place you most need to be. Unlike the Primrose Path, which leads you where you want to be. Of course, the idea is nonsensical. Who judges where you need to be? How would it be able to find that place? Hell, the legends even claim that it predates the Fae Kingdom’s paths; That it was the inspiration for them in the first place.”

“So it’s a myth.”

“Of course. There are many myths among the Empire. Some of them are more believable than others, though.” Llewellyn frowned. “I think that we are almost there.”

“What makes you say that?”

Llewellyn slithered out of the end of the pipe, revealing brilliant sunlight. Sinbad followed, and looked around the immaculate green grass. In the distance, great mountains were visible. The sky was blue, and there was absolutely no sign of civilization. Or, for that matter, a sun; The sky was blue, and the world appeared lit up as though by a sun much like Sol, but there was no central point of light. They stood in the middle of an endless grassland, green blades rising nearly a foot from the ground for as far as the eye could see. A great wave was visible, passing across the grass as the wind blew, making the stalks bend and reflect light strangely for a moment. The scent of the grass was sweet and strange. “It’s beautiful.”

“I would focus on the ‘seeded with death’ comment. There may be unknown dangers here. Toxins in the grass. The sunlight itself may be deadly.”

There was a sudden rumble. Sinbad licked her lips “Or there might be giant monsters.”

“Or violent tectonic activity. I’m sure that whatever they’d use to stop interlopers, it wouldn’t be-“

The ground rumbled and split. A spire rose, red with white spots, nearly fifty feet tall as it tore itself up. Thousands of slender vines whipped around its base, holding the massive thing up. It tossed from side to side, until the tip of the spire pointed down towards Sinbad and Llewellyn. Sinbad swallowed, tugging at her collar. “You were saying that it wasn’t a giant monster.”

The spire opened. Five tremendous petals, thick and fleshy, surrounded a central maw, filled with countless sharp teeth. The flower roared, the scent of rotten meat rushing past them. Chunks of bone and ragged strings of flesh landed on the ground around the two of them, as Llewellyn drew his sword. “It would appear that I overestimated the creativity of those involved. Run!”

“What, aren’t you going to run, too?!” Sinbad grabbed his arm. Llewellyn shook his head.

“I can hold it off. You need to go. The other end of the path will be nearby. Just go as quickly as you can!”

Sinbad gritted her teeth. “I’m not going to leave you behind!”

The massive flower surged forward, its petals driving together, forming a spire. Llewellyn caught the flower on the tip of the spire, stopping the massive blow with only his sword, his feet sinking into the earth. “Please! I don’t know if I can protect you!”

The world crystallized for a moment. Sinbad brushed her eyes, and then turned, running, as Llewellyn struck the rotten-meat flower. Its scream of pain echoed through the green grass as she sprinted. Her eyes madly darted around, searching for the way out.

There was a flicker of blackness, and she turned her head. The black hole stood there. She paused in her run, and narrowed her eyes. “If you don’t take me to my body, I’m going to be pissed. Do you understand me?” It pulsated slightly, the pitch black sphere waiting for her. She closed her eyes, and threw herself into it.

The air was filled with the sharp scent of ozone. Sinbad opened her eyes, and saw her own body, a gun falling from an outstretched hand. A look of horror was spreading across familiar features. They were standing in the Imperial palace, before the great neutron throne.

The empress stood, a savage grin on her face. “Guards! Kill the traitor, Sinbad!”

The walls opened, and half a dozen Imperial Tiger Warriors entered, carrying close-range weaponry, and bearing shields. They marched forward. The empress in Sinbad’s body spoke. “Stop! I am your Empress, and the one standing there is a fraud!”

This was enough to confuse them. Shen sprinted away, and Sinbad reached out, grabbing the gun from the hands of her former body. The guards around her raised their weapons.

There was a sudden crash. The ceiling split open, revealing a green-grassed plain. Llewellyn fell through, riding atop the Rafflesia. It roared and squealed as it fell. Sinbad waved to him. “Llewellyn! Shen succeeded! Stop the guards- I’m going to try to corner her!”

The white snake nodded, and slapped the Rafflesia’s petals. It let out a shriek, and its vines reached out, ensnaring the guards, as dozens more of the armed men entered the room. Sinbad made to move, when the Empress, in Sinbad’s body, grabbed her hand. “Wait. I will come with you. I know a secret passage. She will be making for the panic room. We must be there first.”

The two of them sprinted past the great throne of the Empire, and through a tapestry. It flickered as they passed through its insubstantial surface into the tunnel beyond. The corridor was lined with glowing red stone, making the eye ache as they ran.

The shortcut was shorter than it had any right to be. The two of them stopped in the center of a small, secure-looking room. Perhaps ten feet on a side, a door opening to their left. Shen stood in the entrance, panting, a slender rapier in one hand. “You interfering ass. You just couldn’t keep your nose out of this, could you?” The usurper narrowed her eyes. “I was hoping to avoid dirtying my hands on this one. I suppose this will simply have to do.” She smiled, as Sinbad lifted the gun. “Oh, come now. You think I left any ammo in that? I’m going to enjoy killing you, Sinbad.” And with that, Shen lunged at the Empress.

The body Shen inhabited was inhumanly fast. But she was not as fast as Llewellyn. She was inhumanly strong. But not as strong as Llewellyn. And she was certainly not half the swordsman that the snake had been. Nonetheless, Sinbad had no chance of parrying the blow. So she didn’t try. She lunged, one hand rising up to intercept the blade, and the rapier drove through it effortlessly. The pommel struck Sinbad’s hand, and she closed her fingers around it. There was no pain, for the moment. Her body was still trying desperately to keep up with what she was doing. Shen gritted her teeth, and yanked at the hilt, the tip an inch from the the Empress’ eye. Pain blossomed, and Sinbad’s fingers nearly released. Blood dripped down her palm as she reached out with the other hand, grabbing hold. Shen punched her across the chin, and Sinbad heard an unpleasant crack.

Shen released the sword. It dropped to the ground as Sinbad collapsed. The pain was intense. This body had never experienced this kind of pain, and it drove a wedge into Sinbad’s nervous system, rendering her helpless. “You think I need that to kill you? You’re both only human, now. Still weak.”

“I do not know about that,” Llewellyn said, standing in the doorway, his robe torn, his face scratched, his expression stern. “It takes a great deal of strength to allow yourself to be hurt so deeply to protect someone else.” His sword rested in the scabbard at his side. “Surrender.”

Shen swallowed. “I am not afraid of you.” Llewellyn took a step forward. “Alright! I surrender. I surrender.”

“Coward,” Sinbad managed. Then she passed out.

Consciousness drifted back. Sinbad lay in a hospital bed, with a medical pack around a slender, feminine hand. “Hell,” She muttered. “Still not a man?”

“No.” Llewellyn sat beside her. The Imperial medical facility was painted bright white. She raised a hand over her eyes. “Are you feeling alright?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Fine. I didn’t think getting stabbed would knock me out.”

“The weapon was poisoned. You didn’t know that?”

Sinbad stared at the white-scaled snake. “You’re fucking with me.”

“No. You’re quite lucky to be alive. I thought it was incredibly brave of you to risk your life like that.”

She groaned. “Incredibly stupid, more like.”

“The two are very much alike. Sometimes it helps not to be aware of the full consequences of your actions. It’s easier to act decisively if you do not know everything that could go wrong.” He smiled wanly. “I am afraid that this will likely be the last time we meet. I have another mission, and another place to go. It was good knowing you.” He rose from the chair, and turned. She grabbed the sleeve of his robe.

“You don’t have to go.”

“You will soon have your own body back. You have your duties to pursue. I have mine. It was an honor to know you.”

“I don’t want you to go.” Her voice was painfully weak. She hated to hear that pitiful tone, but she spoke anyway. “Your brother didn’t die so you could hate your own life. He did it because he believed you deserved to have a life away from that place.”

“No.” He turned his head away, pulling his hand away from her brusquely. “My brother died because he was not cold enough to kill me. It would have been better, for everyone, if he had. It is my fault that one of us had to die, but his fault that it was him. We both bear that guilt. And I always will. I will not see you again.”

“Why?” Her voice was little more than a rasp.

“Because you make me doubt my purpose!” He roared, turning towards her, his eyes angry, tears running down his cheeks. “You take my strength from me, by making me uncertain! I will not allow my heart to grow warm and soft! I will not let you steal my power from me! It is the only thing I have left!” He turned back, brushing his tears away with the sleeve. “You do not even know what you truly desire. I saw the Path to Victory open up in front of you. You couldn’t find your way out of the Primrose Path, because your heart cannot understand what it desires. Your only hope was to depend on others to give you purpose.”

Sinbad gritted her teeth. She grabbed the bed’s edge, forcing herself to her feet. Her head pounded. Her wrist ached. She stepped closer. He turned, and caught her hand as she tried to strike him. “You patronizing Imperial bastard. You think you can get away from me?”

“You cannot defeat me. I am one of the Ryujin, a Dragon, and my purpose is my armor. Until you have discovered what you fight for, you cannot hope to hold me still.” He pulled his hand away from her, and turned.

And she returned to her bed, and fell asleep, her heart still aching.

The cabbie watched. Sinbad was staring out of the window of the cab as they arrived at the courier’s office. “You don’t have to go on if you don’t want to. I can understand if this hurts.”

“It was good that it hurt. I loved him, even if it couldn’t be, for more reasons than I could count. But he was right. I hadn’t realized what my true purpose was. I would on my next voyage.”

“And was that the end?”

“No. Not quite. There were two meetings still to be had. I was soon returned to my own body. Shen was turned over to the Centauri Technocracy, to be punished for her crimes. And I went before the Empress.”

“I am sorry for what my status has done. I cannot help but feel responsible.”

“Come now, Sinbad.” The Empress smiled, as the two of them walked through the gardens. They were filled with the most beautiful flowers from the worlds of the Empire, growing in a harmony made possible only by brutal genetic modification and close monitoring and pruning. Something of a metaphor for the Empire as a whole. “You saved me from a dastardly plot that had been made to use you as an unknowing catspaw. You saved both my mind and my body. I’m quite sentimental about this old set of organic matter.”

“Nonetheless. I’m not sure of anything I could reasonably ask you for.”

“Yes. Llewellyn told me that you are conflicted. You are quite the heart-breaker, aren’t you? I’ve never seen anyone shatter Llewellyn’s composure. You must have made quite an impression on him.” The empress smiled. “I wonder if you enjoyed the chance to be a woman?”

“It was… a new experience. Nothing more, nothing less. I doubt I’ll pursue it again.”

“Not even to try to get Llewellyn’s guard down? I’m sure that we could find a way to let you be a woman again just long enough to win a fight with him…” She smiled. “It would do him good. I do not like to see any of my subjects in pain, and he suffers more than most from his upbringing. It might be for the best if you made him weak. Being strong certainly hasn’t made him happy.” She sighed, and leaned forward, resting a finger on a flower. “But he told me what you needed. The truth.”

“The truth, ma’am?”

“About your brother.”

The Hierarchy is sometimes difficult to distinguish from a pirate state. Those colonies settled within a few dozen light-years of the hierarchy are client-states, protectorates. The equivalent of the shopkeeper paying ‘protection’. Ostensibly, the colonies were paying a tribute as protection from pirates and the Orion Hierarchy did come down like a ton of bricks on any pirates that it discovered. However, it was curious; While few pirates settled near the Hierarchy, a colony that did not pay its protection always seemed to come under attack from rough men in ships without any identifying marks.

The information that Jaqim had found were plans to stage such a raid. One of the protectorates of the Hierarchy had decided to sue for independence. They were a valuable supply of hydrogen fuel, a series of habitats around a nearby gas giant. Terribly vulnerable to pirate activity, they had been investing heavily in self-defense. Jaqim had found plans for an assault on the stations. It would have killed hundreds of thousands, and cowed the protectorate into servitude for another hundred years.

He released the information to the Eudaimonia Universalis. The plan never went through; It was far too risky, with the information in the wild. It was dismissed as a war exercise rather than an actual plan, and the Hierarchy avoided any actual prosecution or punishment, although ties between it and its protectorate were irreparably damaged.

For this, Jaqim and his entire family were jailed.

“So, what do you have for me this time, son?”

“Nothing.”

The Colonel’s smile vanished. “Well, I must have damn well misheard you. You have nothing, do you?”

“That is correct.”

“You know what that girl had planned? She was going to put a human brain on the throne of the Empire. A crazy one, but nonetheless. Do you know what we could have done if you’d let her get away with it? The blackmail capability we’d have over her? And you’re telling me that you let it go, because-“

“Because you are a liar. I was informed about Operation Barbados.”

There was a flash of recognition in the colonel’s eyes. Then he grinned like a rogue. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“It doesn’t matter. I know that you were never going to free my brother, or my family. I am done helping you. You are going to release them, or I-“

“What will you do, boy? Bring us down with the might of your friends? Think that Heaven would like to see the Empire attacking a human government? Think there’s anyone in the Empire that would risk everything just to help your scumbag brother?” Sinbad was silent. “I thought not. To say nothing of the fact that even if I wanted to help you, I couldn’t. I’ve got no idea what black hole they keep your misbegotten family in. Now, you’re obviously stressed.” The colonel grinned. “Living life as the fairer sex can do that to you. I imagine you’ve got all sorts of tingly strange feelings that you still need to work out.” The scarred man patted Sinbad’s shoulder companionably. “Now, how about you take a personal day or two, bang some Imperial whore, get your brain back in order, and we’ll forget all about this nasty little insubordination business, and the fact that I could have your entire family shot.”

“You’re going to kill them eventually, anyway.”

“Now, Sinbad, my boy, you don’t know that! And it is in the most blessed region of ignorance where hope is found. For you may be wrong about my true nature, and find that with the right discovery, I can be found to bestow the ultimate mercy, and free your family.” He leaned forward, his eyes narrowed. “And you can be goddamn sure that if you don’t keep working your ass, I can find ways to make their imprisonment infinitely worse than it already is.”

“You’re a bastard. You know that?”

“Son, I am fighting in the defense of our entire species.” An unpleasant grin split the Colonel’s face, his scar distended. “Everything I do is justified in the face of that goal.”

And with that, he left.

“And what did you do next?” the cabbie asked, whistling softly.

“My sixth voyage. I had learned many things, but I still needed more. And so I decided to journey to find the Courts of the Fae Kingdom, in the hope that they could explain the Path, and give me an idea of how to find my family.”

“And how did that go?”

“Poorly.”

“But that’s a story for another time. For now, let me tell you about the story of the Court of Comedy, and the first human to find it…”

Jared Loach was a typical example of an Earth-dwelling actor. Young, extremely talented, and politically ignorant, he had no chance of ever creating a real career on his home-world. His life would have disappeared in the vast tide of history, had it not been for a chance encounter. He worked in a small off-Cairo Road play in Nu Bai, putting on performances of Earth classics. The audience was almost entirely Imperials, tourists interested in seeing what Earth had to offer, and occasionally poaching their talent for ‘personal engagements.’ Jared Loach had always sworn to himself that he would not be like those others, that he wouldn’t sell out. He held onto his principles for a full three years, until she walked in.

There was no question who she was. The Queen of the Comedy Court demanded recognition with every movement. Her appearance was never the same twice when she visited the earth, because the Fae are nothing if they are not prone to changing fashions. But her hair was always recognized. Blonde and red mixed in great stripes, it shone like the sun, and declared her true nature to all around. After watching the evening’s production of Cats, she approached Jared with an offer.

The Queen of the Comedy Court told him that he was the finest actor she had ever seen. She heaped praise on his talents, and begged him on bended knee to join her, and to become the first human to become a part of one of the Fae courts. This would be an honor unlike any other, and practically guaranteed that he’d be able to land a major part when he returned to earth, so Jared Loach agreed on the spot. The two walked down the Yellow Brick Road to the Queen’s court.

The Court of Comedy never stays in the same place for more than a week. Akin to a vast traveling troupe of actors, it is a sprawling collection of tents, stages, and performers. As a human, Jared stood out like a sore thumb among the ancient Fae, and was a source of endless interest. His performances were well-attended, and he filled seats on a nightly basis. He grew to know the Fae; The Champion and the Fool, who went by Puck and the Straight Man. In Puck he found a mentor, a Fae with the perfect sense of timing, and a love of pranks. Jared Loach took himself seriously, but not so seriously that he and the prankster could not enjoy one another’s company.

In the Straight Man, however, Jared found a true friend. The legendary Fae was not a happy creature before Jared approached. Being the only straight man in a species of comedians is a difficult burden for anyone to bear, and the Straight Man did not enjoy his position. With Jared, he found someone who was not only interested in something besides humiliating the Straight Man; He found someone who would even be the brunt of the jokes of others, and took it with aplomb. The two got along well, and the Straight Man did all that he could to guide the young human in finding his way through the tangled web of court intrigue and forced drama.

But Jared was not entirely happy. For he watched his patron, Titania, Queen of Comedy. And he saw that her heart ached. Her husband, Oberon, was the King of the court, and he neglected her. The king took lovers from among the Empire and humanity with wanton abandon. He paraded his conquests publicly, almost mockingly. And Jared could see how it hurt the Queen. She never spoke a word, never revealed a moment of hurt, but he could still tell that she was suffering deep inside. And Jared’s heart ached to reach out to her, and show that he cared.

The Straight Man did his best to warn Jared. To love one of the Fae was dangerous. Every Fae played a role, and those roles could change in the blink of an eye. What was today the lonely, long-suffering queen could tomorrow become the hedonist, or the devoted, vengeful wife. To attempt to woo the Queen of Comedy was to beg to be humiliated in front of a large audience. Yet Jared Loach was a stubborn young man, and more importantly, he was used to being humiliated in front of large audiences. He resolved to make his move.

One hundred days after Jared Loach joined the court, he approached the queen in the night. He spoke of the indignities that he’d seen heaped upon her, the cruelty of the king’s wandering eyes. He spoke of his love for her, and his respect for her needs. He reached out to her, and in a moment of weakness, the queen was swayed. They embraced, and spent the night together. The next day he left before any found the two of them together, but carried a lock of her perfect golden-red hair with him as he walked into the pre-dawn.

Had it ended there, the story might have ended well. But it was not enough for Jared Loach to simply provide succor to the queen’s wounded pride. He wanted to see the King humiliated. He wanted Oberon to feel the pain that Titania had felt for untold ages. So he devised a plan with the help of Puck. The Straight Man tried to warn him against the course of action he was pursuing; But of course, nobody listened to the Straight Man. And so, Jared penned a play.

I stopped. “But the rest of the story will have to wait until tomorrow.” I smiled, even as the mess was filled with the disappointed groans of those who wanted the story to continue. “Toralee, do you mind if we talk?” I took the navigator’s arm, leading her out of the mess.

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4 thoughts on “1001 Starry Knights: The Seven Voyages of Sinbad, chapter 15”

  1. Shen swallowed. “I am not afraid of you.” Llewellyn took a step forward. “Alright! I surrender. I surrender.”

    > A snake taking a step

    Wow! What a fucking letdown Shen was. I’ll be honest, I was kinda hoping for a big showdown fight with some body-hopping, and possibly a Mexican standoff between Sinbad and Shen where Sinbad manages to make the final swap back into his body before Shen kills Sinbad-now-herself. Maybe a more satisfying conclusion than “she will be punished for her crimes” as well.

    Some info on how much of Shen’s backstory was true and what her plan was about would’ve been sweet too. The goons at the start called Sinbad “Doctor”, I doubt someone raised to be a whore from birth would have time to attain a PhD, nor would her owners likely let her. For some reason I thought she was a guy who’d swapped into the girl’s body to get away from something, but apparently not? #ladycrims #feminism

    She said she won’t elaborate on how she accomplished the body-swapping, that makes me think she came up with a novel method, one that doesn’t involve the previously-mentioned nanovirus.

    I didn’t think of this until halfway through this comment, but Llewellyn totally should’ve had two dicks.

    1. >Step

      you know i never thought about it until now. There’s not really a good discrete movement for snakes, is there? Taking a ‘slither’ forward sounds silly. Ah well!

      Shen’s a scientist, alright; She was lying from the very beginning about who she was in order to sucker Sinbad. She’s a member of the Centauri Technocracy, as alluded to in chapter 13; A high-ranking doctor who managed to steal something the Technocracy had put together to manage bodyswaps without an injection of the nanovirus. This is, understandably, scary stuff, and showed the vulnerability of the Empress in a way that nobody wanted to be made public. It’s an example of the way that humanity is screwing with established scientific knowledge, and taking paths that the Empire never did. Not more advanced, but not the same, either.

      And yes, Shen’s a coward. She’s a scientist, who relies almost entirely on technology and her own intelligence and cunning to manage things. Sure, she’s in one of the most advanced and capable bodies in the Empire, but she was also face-to-face with hands down one of the deadliest fighters in the entire Empire, and had already struggled to stop a single un-augmented human. She also couldn’t body-hop at will; The gun that drops from Sinbad-Body’s hands during the confrontation.

      This story was always more about the confrontations based in love and emotion than actual fights, anyway; I’ve got some decent fight scenes in other stories, but Sinbad was always reluctant to discuss his fighting, which is why the fight scenes aren’t shown in much detail in this story.

      And yes Llewellyn probably should’ve had two dicks.

      1. I get that this series is more about introspection and duty-versus-freedom and making connections across the galaxy, but this particular voyage felt like it was gearing up for something and that something never came:

        A dangerous “femme fatale”, with sooper sekrit top-level tech and a dangerous past, has betrayed our hero! How will Sinbad regain his body and stop the (arguably) first villain he’s encountered while avoiding those who wish to mistakenly spirit him away over offenses he hasn’t committed?

        He’ll get stabbed in the hand, the snake will take a step, and everything ends with an unsatisfying anti-climax. Shen was later “punished for her crimes”.

        > tfw no genderbent whore-bodied DP

        With that body, I bet Sinbad would’ve liked it. Woulda been fun for everyone.

        1. Well, I tell you what- In about five days, when chapter 20 publishes, you can tell me what you think of that. I’ll give you a hint, though: Shen wasn’t the villain of this arc, and the real villain is going to meet a brutal end.

          And if you think that Shen being in the hands of an amorally questionable group of technocrats with whom she has deep ties with isn’t a hook for later chaos and fun… Well, it’s certainly something worth revisiting, isn’t it?

          I confess, while writing this, I felt a lot of concern because god knows that the community can get its panties in a twist about monster boys having sex with human women, so I didn’t go as all-in as I otherwise would (phrasing). I’ll keep this in mind the next time around. 😀

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