Sunday, August 29, 2010
The Voyage of the Minotaur - Chapter 19 Excerpt
Crossing the great grassland, Terrence could see a line of rolling hills on the far side. It was only after they had marched through the waist tall grass for more than an hour however, when the hills revealed one of the greatest sights that he or any of the soldiers had ever seen. Framed between two closer hills and sitting atop the larger, rockier promontory behind, was a city. Even from a distance of many miles, it was easy to see that this city was something spectacular. Huge gleaming white pyramids rose from its center and giant walls surrounded it, as if keeping it from flowing down the sides of the hill. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of houses and other buildings were contained within its confines.
“I didn’t think they were capable of anything like this,” said Augie, obviously speaking of the lizardmen.
Without thinking, Terrence had stopped to stare at the magnificent sight. He didn’t say anything, but he hadn’t been aware that the reptilians were capable of anything along this line either. The other soldiers moved up and formed a group, rather than a line. All stared in rapt fascination and open astonishment at a city that might very well have rivaled Brech in size.
“Dechantagne,” said Wizard Labrith, pointing.
Terrence followed his gaze and saw spread out across the savannah, a line of lizardmen. They were so well camouflaged that they blended right into the rising landscape behind them. They stretched out to the left and the right so far that they created a half circle around the humans, and this at a distance of more than a mile. Many of the lizardmen were painted red and white and black, and most wore feathers. Most also carried the swords, made of wood and flint, that the men had seen before.
“Kafira,” said one of the soldiers. “There must be a thousand of them.”
“More like five thousand,” said Labrith.
“Talk to them,” said Terrence to Augie, indicating the two lizardmen with them. “Find out if these are our friends or the enemies.”
Augie hissed. Sarkkik hissed back. Augie translated.
“We know of your people. Though it is far away, we know of your people living in Mallontah. We know how they have enslaved the natives there. We know you intend to do this here. We have shown you to Suusthek.”
“What does that mean?” asked Terrence. “We have shown you to Suusthek.”
“Oh, sorry. My mistake,” said Augie. “Not ‘show’. It’s ‘delivered’. ‘We have delivered you to Suusthek’. Oh, that doesn’t sound good.”
“We have dealt with you in good faith,” said Terrence.
“Your blood runs warm. You cannot be trusted. We have heard your talk. Szuss can hear your speech. He hears how you want to rule the land.”
“Bugger!” shouted Terrence.
Sarkkik hissed again.
“He says ‘now you die’,” translated Augie.
Terrence turned around and walked two steps then turned around again. Then he pulled out his forty-five revolver and shot Sarkkik in the head. It seemed as if the reptilian would fall backwards for a moment, but this was prevented by his tail. He rocked back, then from one side to the other, and then collapsed in a heap. Before Sarkkik had hit the ground, Terrence had fired a second time, and Szuss had a hole through his skull as well. He fell forward onto his alligator-like face.
More than a mile away, a deep rumbling sound rose up. It was a low gurgling, growling noise. It came from the massive army of lizardmen and it grew louder and louder as five thousand warriors joined in.
“Formation!” shouted Augie. “Get into formation!”
The soldiers rushed to form two lines, one behind the other, ninety men wide. The formation looked pathetically small compared to the line of reptilians that dominated the landscape.
“First rank, kneeling positions!”
The front row of soldiers knelt. The rear row stayed standing.
Each soldier pulled a wicked looking dagger from a sheath on his belt and attached the six and three quarter inch blade to the end of his rifle.
The throaty sound of the lizardmen continued for several minutes. Suddenly and seemingly without a signal, it stopped. Then like a wave moving from the ocean onto the beach, the lizards surged forward. They moved quickly, at a sort of slithering trot, brandishing their stone-encrusted swords as they came. And they were silent—eerily silent.
“Ready!” called Augie. “Aim!”
The one hundred eighty soldiers fired their rifles in unison and more than a hundred reptiles fell to the ground. The hole created in their moving line quickly filled in with others of their kind, and kept moving forward.
“Ready! Aim! Fire!”
The soldiers fired again, and another hundred reptile warriors fell. Running headlong into thundering death, the lizardmen directly in front of the humans began to falter, while to either side, they surged forward. Terrence had holstered his pistol and pulled the thirty caliber rifle from his shoulder.
“Uuthanum rechthinov uluchaiia,” said Labrith, and a lightning bolt, beginning at his fingertip, spread out shooting through the bodies of a dozen reptile warriors.
“Fire at will!” shouted Augie. The soldiers began to pick their own targets.
“Watch your flanks!” he shouted. Fanning out slightly on either side, the humans began firing on the lizardmen coming in from the sides.
“Uuthanum beithbechnoth,” said Labrith, and a missile of magical energy darted from his fingertip, striking one of the lizards square in the chest, killing him. A half second later a second magical dart shot forth, and then a third.
Seconds later similar magic missiles shot from the lizardmen’s lines, hitting two of the soldiers. Terrence aimed his rifle in the direction from which they had come. The reptiles had their own magic user. He was easy to spot too. Unlike the others whose greenish skin was painted black or red, he was covered in blue. Terrence shot him through the throat.
Suddenly the lizardmen stopped coming and dropped down into the tall grass. So sudden and so well-coordinated was the move that it seemed that they had just vanished into thin air.
“Hold your fire!” shouted Augie. “Are they crawling? Watch the grass!”
The men kept watch where the lizardmen had disappeared, but it was as though they had never been there at all. Suddenly on either side of the humans, dozens of reptilian warriors stood up. Still more than fifty yards away, they heaved short spears using spear-throwers. These devices were shafts with a handle at one end and a spur at the other against which the butt of the spears rested. The spears flew high into the air and then down onto the human soldiers. Six men were hit in the chest or the head and fell to the ground silently. One was hit in the shoulder and one in the stomach, and both of these fell to the ground screaming. Several of the humans fired in return, but the lizardmen had dropped to the ground immediately after launching their missiles.
“Steady!” cried Augie. “Shoot when they show their heads!”
“Prestus Uuthanum,” said Labrith.
Several dozen more reptile warriors on either side of the humans and eight or ten in front of them stood up and launched their spears. This time almost half of them were killed either before or after they were able to cast their projectiles. Half a dozen of the spears that were thrown bounced off an invisible shield in the air above the soldiers, but five more men were hit. This savage and deadly game continued as again and again, lizardmen stood to launch spears on their clever little spear throwing sticks and the humans attempted to shoot them with their rifles before they could do so, though sometimes settling for shooting them afterwards.
Terrence heard Labrith casting other spells, though he didn’t see what effect they had. He was busy dealing death with his rifle and was inwardly pleased with the knowledge that so far at least, every bullet he had fired, had met its mark. Though they were causing far more casualties than they were taking, it was a nerve-wracking business, and some of the men were beginning to grouse and swear.
“Steady men,” said Augie. “If we break, they’ll pick us off. Stand fast.”
The lizardmen to the right jumped up—not a few dozen spear throwers, but hundreds rushing forward with swords. The humans began rapidly picking them off, pumping new shells into the chambers as fast as they could fire. The lizardmen advanced, but at a cost of several hundred. Suddenly they dropped back into the grass.
“Watch your other side!” called Augie.
“That was a test,” said Labrith. “They’re testing our firepower.”
“Kafira. We must have killed nearly a thousand already,” said Augie.
“That only leaves four thousand to go,” said Terrence, looking at the bodies of more than forty of his men, dead or dying.
The spears flew into the air again, this time in even greater number than before. Ten more men fell. Next to him, Terrence heard Labrith scream and saw him fall to the ground. One of the spears had pierced his right kneecap and was sticking about sixteen inches out the backside of his leg.
The lizardmen to the left jumped up and ran forward, just as those on the opposite side had done before. This time fewer were shot as there were both fewer humans left to fire and they were less ready than before, despite having experienced the previous rush. And just as before, the reptiles dropped back down into the tall grass.
“Ready men!” shouted Augie. “Watch for the spear throwers!”