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Mountains of Brega

By James Fisher,2014-11-04 20:22
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The Richard Blade novels were a series of adventures featuring the titular character (MI6A's special agent Richard Blade), who was teleported into a random alternate dimension at the beginning of each novel and forced to rely on his wits and strength. Richard Blade was distinctly British, and all the stories are set in England (at least at the beginning and end, with Blade being teleported to some other dimension for the bulk of each tale). Published by Pinnacle Books (Mm) on 1976/08/14

    The Mountains of Brega?

    ?Jeffrey Lord

Book 17 of the Richard Blade Series

    Chapter 1

    ?????? Richard Blade was bored. This condition very seldom killed anybody. It did not veryoften make people want to die. But it could and did take away much of a man's zest for living.At the moment, it was doing that to Richard Blade.

    He turned on the heel of one custom-made shoe and stared out the floor-to-ceiling window of thedeluxe flat. The peach-colored velvet draperies were drawn back, and through the heavy glass hecould see London spread out below. The flat was forty stories up in one of the newest ofLondon's luxury buildings, so Blade could see a long way. The twinkling lights and spots ofcolor that were neon signs seemed to march endlessly away into the darkness. It was anunusually clear night, but the spectacle did nothing to diminish Blade's boredom.

    From behind him came the noises of a cocktail party. Ice cubes clinked in glasses, corkspopped, soda-water siphons hissed like snakes. The noises simply made Blade feel more bored.They were so expected, so conventional.

    Blade was at the party more out of a sense of duty than anything else. He was there as theguest of a certain young lady who wanted to show him off to her "set." She had been quite frankabout that. She hadn't been quite as frank about why she was showing him off. But Blade had analmost instinctive ability to read another person's intentions toward him. He wouldn't havebeen alive without it. And what he read in Clarissa was the desire to snare him for a husband.

    He was certainly eligible enough. The Richard Blade who moved elegantly through the Londonsocial whirl was one of the most eligible bachelors around. Wit, charm, intelligence, and anample if vague income, he had them all. Though he had left forty behind, his face and bodyshowed no signs that he was much more than thirty. Not a confirmed bachelor, in other words-still young enough for a determined woman to mold into whatever kind of husband might strikeher fancy.

    The faint reflection from the window glass gave Blade a picture of his face and body. It was astrong face-the face of a warrior rather than a courtier. Blade had been both in his career, inplaces stranger and more distant than anyone in the room could or would believe even if hechose to tell them.

    And the body inside the custom-tailored jacket-that was an athlete's body, six feet one and alittle more, carrying two hundred and ten pounds on its large bones. It suggested a formerrowing or tennis Blue from Oxford who had kept himself in excellent trim. Blade had been those,among other things.

    Now he was almost physically itching with boredom. He looked at his reflection in the windowagain and noticed a pale face framed in dark hair hovering near his right shoulder. He drainedthe last of his drink and turned to face the slender woman who had drifted up behind him as hestared out the window.

    She must have been at least five feet eight. Her dark brown hair swept up to a point almost ona level with the top of Blade's head, and her wide gray eyes looked almost straight into his.From her grooming and poise, Blade thought at first that she might be a fashion model. But herfigure was too full in the hips and bosom, and her legs were too elegantly curved to make her agood object on which to hang current fashions.

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    "Not at all." She looked at him again, with obvious invitation in her eyes. "Somehow a sportscar-it fits you, what I think you are."

    Blade made his way over to the bar and went through the routine of saying goodbye to Clarissa.He was glad that Elizabeth had agreed to ride with him. One telephone call to the man known asJ, one twist of a concealed switch, and the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police would betracking him all the way to his destination.

    Elizabeth clung tightly to his arm as they rode down in the elevator, flashing increasinglywarm smiles at him all the while. In the lobby of the building he excused himself. "I need tomake a phone call-tell the office I may be late tomorrow." He looked at her as he said that,watching for any reaction.

    All he could see was a small frown, making a faint crease in the high, pale forehead. "Ithought you had an independent income, Mr. Blade."

    Blade did not snap "Where did you learn that?" but it was a close call. He could not avoidstiffening slightly, however. He had not mentioned one word about his living in theirconversation. Elizabeth's question was a definite clue-a nasty one, too.

    But he was calm again within seconds. He merely said, "Oh, I do. But the chaps at ConsolidatedJute seem to think my father's son is worth something. So I go into the Production Division'soffice two or three days a week. Mostly, I've better ways to spend my time. But I do have tomake that call." He gently pulled himself free from her arm and strode across the lobby towardthe public phone behind one of the marble columns.

    It was virtually impossible that this public phone could be tapped by the opposition, so Bladewas not worried about his brief message getting to the wrong ears as he spoke into the phone.

    "J-Traveler here. Bodkin falling. Listen."

    In plain English:

    "J-this is Richard Blade. I think somebody's trying to entrap me. I'm turning on the homer inmy car. Alert the Special Branch men and have them trace it and follow me." He had no need toworry either about the message not being passed on. Any of his cryptic call-signs would triggerthe alarm on J's telephone monitor and have the old spymaster on the move in minutes. The headof the secret intelligence division MI6 had not lived as long or risen as high as he had byletting critical messages slip by him.

    Secure in the knowledge that he had alerted the appropriate people, Blade rejoined Elizabeth.His hand found her arm again. This time her hand squeezed back with more warmth than before.Hand in hand, they walked out to the garage where Blade had parked his MG. They climbed in, andBlade started up the engine, then turned to Elizabeth.

    "Would you like a cigarette?"

    "No, thank you."

    "Mind if I smoke, then?"

    "Not at all."

    Blade reached into the breast pocket of his coat for a gold-plated cigarette case and extracteda Benson ith his other hand he reached for the cigarette lighter and shoved it in. As he didso, he also gave it a small twist to the left. With that twist, a solid-state circuit wascompleted, and the car's electronic tracer went on. Then he lit the cigarette, shoved thelighter back into its socket, and put the car in motion.

    By the CMG's odometer, the four miles Elizabeth had mentioned were more like six. They werewell out into the southwest corner of London before they stopped. For the last half of the tripthey had followed a zigzag course, turning at irregular intervals down dark side streets. Itwas a course that made no sense at all, unless Elizabeth was trying to shake off any car thatmight be trailing them. Several times Blade caught her looking intently into the sideviewmirror. If Elizabeth was an agent for the opposition, she was a remarkably clumsy one. Or shewas a highly skilled agent pretending to be clumsy to catch him off guard. That had happened

before. In fact, Blade himself had done it more than once.

    Eventually Elizabeth gestured to the middle one of a trio of Victorian townhouses. Once theyhad been the modestly luxurious residences of city merchants or bankers; now they had fallen,if not exactly on evil days, at least on less prosperous ones. Blade could see peeling paint,unwashed windows, and untended front lawns under the dim streetlamps.

    In fact, the lamplight was so dim that Blade was fully alert as they climbed out of the car.The half-dark street and the totally dark alleys could easily hide enough men to ambush aplatoon. But they reached the door, climbed the stairs, and entered Elizabeth's third-floorflat without incident. The name on the flat's door was Elizabeth Hruska. A good enough Czechname.

    The flat was an ordinary bed-sitter, with the luxury of a modern kitchen-or at least a modernstove-and a halfway modern bath. Elizabeth waved one hand toward the couch by the kitchen door."Make yourself at home, Mr.-Richard. The brandy is in the cabinet over the refrigerator. I amgoing to get out of this dress before I roast in it."

    As Elizabeth had suggested, Blade went to the cupboard. The brandy was there, a Czech brandBlade recognized as highly reputable. He poured out two glasses and cautiously sniffed at bothof them. Then he quickly scanned the kitchen. There were more places than he could count wherea concealed microphone or even a concealed lens might be lurking. He could never search themall, even if he wanted to.

    And Blade didn't want to. He didn't want to give any observers the idea that he was a trainedprofessional at this game-which he had been for nearly twenty years. He wanted to let themthink he was a fat and unsuspecting fly that had blundered into their web. At least until thetime came for them to discover that they had blundered into his. He grinned.

    The spider-versus-spider games of espionage had been his life so long that he could hardly helpenjoying it.

    The kitchen window opened onto a rust-scarred iron fire escape. Blade looked up and down it asfar as he could without opening the window. He noticed that the window locked from the inside.That was usual in this neighborhood. But the lock was open-not usual in this neighborhood. Withhis eyes on the kitchen door, he carefully flipped the lock closed. Anybody coming down thefire escape and expecting an easy entrance through the kitchen window would get a surprise.

    Blade picked up the two glasses of brandy, went back into the sitting room, and sat down on thecouch. As an afterthought, he took off his coat and tie and unbuttoned the collar of his hand-made silk shirt. He didn't need anything in the coat, since he did not go armed in England. Hehardly needed to, in any case-not with a fourth dan black belt in karate.

    The sound of bare feet on the carpet made him look up. Elizabeth had indeed taken off herdress, and practically everything else she had been wearing. Now she wore a long, flowingnightdress, with full-length sleeves and a high neck. It did not conceal very much, however,for it was semi-transparent. Blade did not need to imagine what Elizabeth's body was like anylonger. It was a full-fleshed East European body, a hearty young peasant girl's body. Largebreasts thrust out the fabric of the nightdress, and proportionately large nipples thrust outeven farther as the breasts swayed.

    Blade rose to his feet and held out his arms as she approached, with a broad grin on his face.He would have worn that grin even if he had not found her attractive. But Blade was a man oflarge appetites and a large capacity for pleasure. He had never been able to make love in acool or detached manner.

    Elizabeth took his hands, and a smile spread across her face, telling Blade that she knewexactly what was on his mind. He hoped she didn't know what he was really thinking-when wouldher confederates make their move, if they were going to make one? And what kind of move wouldit be? Was this just a blackmail effort, or were enemy agents really going to try a body-snatchon him?

    Elizabeth was picking up her brandy glass, and Blade decided not to try answering thosequestions. He took his own glass, raised it to clink with hers, and said, "Cheers."

    She smiled. "To a good night's work," she said, and giggled. Then she drained the glass at onegulp. Blade considered the nervous note in her giggle and the gulped brandy. She wasn't quiteable to keep up the air of cheerful sensuality that she was trying to project-at least notwithout a quick drink. It was long odds that this girl was an amateur, caught in something farbeyond her depth. How and why? Another question he wasn't going to answer now.

    Blade emptied his own glass in five deliberate swallows and set it down on the arm of thecouch. It was good brandy; he had to admit that. Then his arms rose again, and reached out forElizabeth.

    She was in them before he had them fully raised. A moment later her lips were clinging to his.Those lips were wide open, but there was no warmth or wetness on them or in them. For a momentthe sudden shock of those lips against his almost killed Blade's desire. Then Elizabeth's handscame up and locked around the back of his neck. They drew his head forward and down, played inhis chair, crept down under his collar. One hand moved away from his neck and around to histhroat. Slim but nimble fingers undid the buttons of his shirt from the top down. Then theyroamed over the muscle-layered chest and flat stomach, for Blade wore no undershirt.

    If Elizabeth was doing this against her inclinations, she was not letting that stand in the wayof doing it well. Blade felt his breath beginning to come fast, and felt a familiar warm acheswelling in his groin. He knew that if he looked down there would be another and more visibleswelling in the front of his dark blue pants.

    Elizabeth did look down. The hand that had been stroking Blade's chest moved down to where hereyes were aimed. The fingers stroked momentarily in this new place, then closed on Blade'szipper. A sharp metallic zzzzt, and the same fingers were reaching in to close around Blade'sswollen member.

    They were just as skilled there as they had been higher up. In fact, they were almostunbearable when they got inside Blade's shorts and began playing with his bare flesh. He had tobite back a gasp. Then he managed to grate out:

    "For God's sake-you're half-naked--let me-" He was partly pretending to be half out of his mindwith desire, but only partly.

    Elizabeth understood and stepped away from him while he struggled out of his clothes. The soundof ripping cloth told him of another shirt gone to hell, but he was long past caring. Kickingand hurling his clothes wildly in all directions, in a few seconds he was wearing even lessthan Elizabeth.

    Her eyes widened in unmistakable admiration at the sight of Blade's physique. It was anadmiration as genuine as Blade's own arousal, but Blade knew that nothing would keep Elizabethfrom carrying out whatever job she had been given-if any.

    If any. Blade found himself hoping that the whole idea of an attempt against him was simply theresult of his own overworked imagination. Elizabeth promised a first-class tumble, and damn it,he didn't want things complicated by anyone barging into the middle of it. He bloody welldidn't!

    He started to take Elizabeth in his arms again, but she pushed him away. Then she jerked thenightdress over her head. Before she could raise her hands again, Blade's arms closed aroundher, running down the satiny skin of her back to cup her full, round buttocks and pull her hardagainst him. She swallowed and threw her head back as his lips dipped to caress her throat. Herlong hair fell down over her shoulders, whispering softly as their movements tossed it about.Blade felt his erection surge still higher, pressing firmly against her.

    Then the kitchen window shattered with a splintering crash of glass. The sound of a human voicecursing in pain followed, then the thud of a body falling onto the kitchen floor.

    Elizabeth screamed, in fright or perhaps in an effort to distract Blade. She tried to cling toBlade, dragging his arms down. He could take no chances now. His knee came up sharply into her

    stomach. At the same time he jerked both arms free and shoved hard. Elizabeth staggered back,half doubled over, then sat down on the rug with a thump, holding her stomach. As she did so,two men came charging out of the kitchen at a run.

    Both wore workmen's clothes, but carried guns. Blade recognized the guns as Soviet-made dartthrowers. And both the gunmen moved with the assured competence of men as fully professional asBlade himself.

    Blade sidestepped the men so fast they had no chance to draw a bead on him. He darted acrossthe path of the left-hand man, then closed. The man dropped into fighting stance and tried tobring his gun around. But he could not turn fast enough to match Blade's lightning reflexes.Blade's hands darted out and clamped shut. The man spun around again, but this time he let outa scream as Blade twisted his arm out of its socket. Then Blade's foot came up, smashing intothe small of the man's back and sending him flying across the room.

    He did not hit his comrade, but he did make the other flinch back and lose the aim he wasdrawing on Blade. Before the dart gun could swing to cover him and fire, Blade had closed withthe second man. The edge of his right hand came down like an executioner's axe, and the gunwent flying. It landed within easy reach of Elizabeth, but the man made the mistake of lookingat Elizabeth for a fraction of a second too long. In that moment Blade leaped high in a karatespring-kick, driving his left foot into the man's stomach. Like a cannonball the man flewbackward to crash into the wall. And like a half-empty sack he sagged limply down onto thefloor.

    Blade pivoted as he came down, then lunged at the dart gun. His fingers closed on it as newsounds exploded outside. Five gunshots erupted in rapid succession, two shotgun blasts, a briefsputter of automatic weapons. There was the unmistakable whoooom of a gasoline tank igniting,and a second later a long and terrible scream. The scream ended in a squashy thump, and afterthat came silence.

    Blade picked Elizabeth up, carried her unresisting body to the couch, and pulled the nightdressback over her head. By the time he had retrieved a decent minimum of his own clothing, her eyeswere beginning to focus again and her breathing had almost returned to normal. His voice wasclipped and cool as he spoke to her.

    "I think my friends have just taken care of the rest of your friends."

    "My friends?" she said dully.

    "Yes. I don't know who they are, but we'll find out shortly. Those two with the dart guns, atleast, are going to live to be questioned."

    "What-what about me?" she said, with a faint whimper.

    "That depends. If you cooperate-"

    "But my family-oh, God, why didn't I just kill myself when they asked me? Why, why, why?" Andshe burst into tears.

    Blade could not help feeling sorry for her. Unless she was still acting, she had just confirmedhis suspicions that she was an amateur, dragged into posing as bait by blackmail or threats.Now he had to find out who had done the blackmailing or threatening. And it was even moreimportant to find out how much they knew about Richard Blade, and why they were after him.

    If they were after him because he had been one of the best and deadliest agents of MI6 fortwenty years, that was one thing. There were several like him. But if they were after himbecause they knew or suspected his role in Project Dimension X-that was something fardifferent, far worse.

    It was far worse because Richard Blade was the only living man who could travel into otherdimensions.

    Chapter 2

    There were four people in the office. They were the only four people in the world who weresupposed to know all about Project Dimension X. There was Richard Blade, the project's front-line soldier. He had made sixteen trips into Dimension X. No other living man had made even oneand returned alive and sane. There were hopes that someone might turn up sooner or later, butso far all the searching had not disclosed that someone.

    There was Lord Leighton, as brilliant as he was temperamental, Britain's leading computerscientist. The great computers under the Tower of London that sent Blade into Dimension X werehis creation. His small dark eyes behind their thick glasses flicked irritably around the room.Occasionally he would shift position in his chair, trying to get more comfortable. That washard, with a body distorted by polio, a hunchback, and eighty-odd years.

    J returned Leighton's glance imperturbably. Everything about J seemed ordered and disciplined,even the lines in his face and the iron-gray hair receding from his high forehead. Theimperturbability was not a pose, either. J had been a spy and then a spymaster for all theyears of a career that went back to World War I. If he had been the type to lose his head, hewould long since have been dead. He had picked Richard Blade out of Oxford, watched his careeras an MI6 agent for nearly twenty years, then seen him move on to Project Dimension X. He wasnever happy about seeing the man he loved like a son hurled off into the unknown. But neitherhe nor Blade would ever balk at doing for England what needed to be done.

    Nor would the fourth man in the room, the Prime Minister. He seldom sat in on these policyconferences for the project. He did not understand most of what was discussed, and admitted asmuch. He was a skilled politician, not a spymaster, scientist, or man of action. He held thepursestrings, tried to satisfy the project's voracious appetite for money, and kept an eye onthe big picture. That last was why he was here now. A threat to the security of the project wasa threat to the security of England, and perhaps to the whole free world.

    "-so the men themselves have no apparent ties with any foreign government," J was saying.

    Before J could go on, the Prime Minister interrupted him. "Does that mean we needn't worryabout major security leaks?"

    J shook his head more sharply than usual. Silly questions of that sort had annoyed the olderman as long as Blade had known him. "It means nothing of the kind. I said 'no apparent ties.'We have to dig deeper. And there's the girl, Elizabeth."

    Blade stiffened slightly in his seat. It was damned unprofessional of him, to be sure, but hewas concerned about that poor girl.

    J gave him a reassuring smile. "She says she was pushed into it by a threat to her family.They're still in Czechoslovakia. So if the people who threatened her aren't Soviet agentsthemselves, they're certainly working for somebody who's in contact with the Sovietintelligence apparatus."

    "What about one of the big industrial espionage firms?" put in Blade. "I wouldn't put it pastsome of them to try a caper like this, if the money was right."

    "Neither would I," said J sourly. "We're checking that possibility right now."

    "But what about Elizabeth herself?" asked Blade.

    Again J smiled. "We've tested her story every way we could. She seems to be telling the truth.We're going to push an inquiry back through our Czech network to get further confirmation. Ifthat also puts her in the clear, we're going to stop worrying about her. We'll give her a newidentity and arrange for her to emigrate to Canada without any fuss or bother. Of course we'llbe keeping her under surveillance for a year or two, but that will be more for her ownprotection than ours."

    Blade could not hold back a sigh of relief, which drew another smile from J. Then the olderman's manner became brisk and businesslike again.

    "We'll push inquiries about the gunmen themselves in every possible direction," he went on."I'd rather not compromise any of our key people, of course, but if necessary..." He left the

    sentence unfinished, but Blade at least could fill in the missing words with no difficulty. "Inany case, it will be a considerable aid to us if MOD can also move on the matter." He looked atthe PM.

    The PM nodded. "Certainly. Ministry of Defense has as much of a stake in this as anybody else.But it's going to mean delaying MOD support for some of the related projects, like the newpeople and the training center."

    "Right now, they're not that important," said J. Blade knew that statement must be costing theother man a good deal. For years J had dreamed above all of finding someone else besides Bladeto travel into Dimension X. "If the project has been seriously compromised, we're going to havesome very hard decisions to make."

    "Not to mention expensive," said the Prime Minister sourly. He knew from long and wearyexperience that any major changes in the operation of a project this size usually carried aprice tag in six figures.

    "I'm afraid so," said J bluntly. "Then there's Richard. I doubt if there's going to be anotherattempt to snatch him soon, not with our investigation hopefully putting the opposition on thedefensive. But I'd feel a great deal better if he were somewhere they couldn't possibly get athim for a while. And I can't think of any better place than Dimension X." He looked at LordLeighton. "How soon could you set up the computer to send Richard off?"

    Lord Leighton considered the matter for a few seconds. Then he shrugged his thin, bowedshoulders. "I was planning to down-line the main computer for about ten days to incorporatesome of the Controlled Return devices. But if all you want is the conventional techniques-well,what about tomorrow?"

    "Tomorrow will be fine," said Blade.

    "Then tomorrow it is," said J.

    And it was the next morning when Blade presented himself at the Tower of London. The SpecialBranch men, clothing as dark as the gray sky overhead, led him to the head of the secretelevator. The massive bronze doors closed behind him, and the elevator car plunged two hundredfeet straight down to the level of the secret complex below the tower.

    This morning J was too busy with his investigations to see Blade off. So Blade walked down thelong, gleaming corridor and through the electronically guarded doors by himself. He heard theclatter of typewriters and the faint murmur of laboratory equipment from behind closed doors oneither side as he walked. But he met no one until he reached the door to the central complex.There Lord Leighton himself met Blade.

    "Ah, Richard," the scientist said with a grin. "Prompt as usual. I started the main sequenceten minutes ago, assuming you'd be on time. And I was right. You'd have made a first-classscientist, Richard. You've got the proper taste for precision."

    Blade smiled. "Perhaps. But I don't think I have some of the other gifts." Lord Leighton wasunbending more than usual, but Blade didn't really feel much like conversation. He was alwaysmore or less on edge as he approached the moment of being hurled into Dimension X. And theattempt on his life still bothered him somewhat. He lived with danger in Dimension X, but itwas a long time since he had been in any danger here in England.

    As always, the ritual of preparing for the journey eased the strain. Blade went into the smallchanging room and stripped to his skin. Then he smeared every square inch of that skin with afoul-smelling black grease, used to prevent electrical burns from the massive jolt of currentthat would be passing through his body. Then he knotted a loincloth about his waist. That neverdid anything to justify the trouble of putting it on-Blade had always arrived in Dimension Xnaked as a newborn baby.

    Greased and clothed, Blade stepped out of the room and walked across the main computer chamber.The huge consoles of the computer loomed above him. Their gray, crackled finish absorbed mostof the light in the chamber. At times Blade felt that there was an alien and sinisterintelligence lurking invisibly in those consoles, an intelligence that dwarfed not only his own

    but Lord Leighton's as well. This chamber could make a man believe in tales of Frankenstein'smonsters and mad scientists.

    Lord Leighton would certainly do well enough for the mad scientist. Dressed in his usualrumpled and filthy laboratory smock, he scuttled about among the consoles, long-fingered handsdarting over switches and buttons, eyes taking in dial readings.

    Eventually he was satisfied that his precious and temperamental computers could be left alonefor a few moments. Then he came over to Blade's chair and began attaching cobra-headed metalelectrodes to every imaginable part of Blade's body. By the time Leighton had finished, Bladelooked as though he were being attacked by a rainbow-colored horde of tiny snakes. The wiresran off in clusters into the computer consoles. Blade sat back as far as the electrodes wouldlet him and relaxed as much as he could.

    He did not have to wait long. The computer flowed steadily and without a single hitch thistime. Minutes later, Leighton turned to Blade with a smile on his face.

    "Ready, Richard?"

    Blade gave a thumbs-up signal with both hands. Leighton's right hand rose, hovered over the redmaster switch for a moment, then descended. The switch came down also, sliding to the bottom ofits metal slot.

    As the switch reached bottom, the whole chamber seemed to turn upside down. The stone floor wasoverhead, with the chair and computer consoles hanging from it. Beside one of the consoles,Blade saw Lord Leighton standing motionless, head down, looking like some misshapen, white-furred bat. Far below Blade's head lay the raw, gray rock of the ceiling.

    It seemed to be getting farther and farther away, too. Gradually the grayness below faded away.Now there was only blackness, with vague, swirling red shapes. Blade could no longer feel thechair against him or the electrodes on his body, but his eyes told him that he was stillhanging head down from that chair.

    The red shapes below became brighter and began to drive away the blackness. They seemed to bealive, darting and leaping about purposefully. Then they became still brighter and moredistinct. As they took shape, Blade felt a cold chill run through him. They were monstrousfanged heads, swaying on the ends of long, serpent-like necks, opening gaping black maws. Andhe was hanging helpless, exposed to them like a ripe fruit on a branch. How long would it bebefore the darting monsters below noticed him, lunged upward, plucked him down?

    One of them lifted its head, the mouth wide open, with silvery teeth shimmering in a ringaround the gaping black center. The head grew larger; the mouth grew wider. Blade found it hardto keep his own mouth from opening in a scream of terror.

    The head rose up to him. A shock ran through Blade's body. Everywhere he looked, the silverteeth were gleaming, as the mouth closed on him. Then there was no more color, no red, nosilver-only blackness.

    Chapter 3

    Blade could not even guess how long the total blackness around him lasted. In the blackness hewas without sight, without hearing, without sensation of any kind.

    Then suddenly all his senses returned. He also had the same splitting headache he always hadwhen he arrived in Dimension X. He tried to roll over-and froze abruptly as he felt the springysurface beneath him lurch and sway sickeningly. The motion did not help the condition of hishead or his stomach. His hands searched on either side of him for something to grip, and closedaround needle-heavy branches. He held on grimly until the swaying ended and his headache beganto fade. Then he realized that the scent of needles and resin was heavy, almost overpowering,in his nostrils. And more needles were pricking into his bare back. Slowly, a bit at a time, herolled over on his stomach.

    As Blade saw what lay below, he let out a sigh of relief. He had landed on the branch of atree. But the ground was only ten feet below, and it was thickly covered with moss and fallen

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