Hammer of the Pygmies
Part Ten – The Way Out
Leaving behind the fallen snake, the expedition pressed on again, following the stream deeper into the cavern. If the sounds of their clash with the snake had been heard, no sign of it was forthcoming from the pygmies, neither those back at the settlement, or those that had followed them into the old temple. Sir Richard did not know why they hadn’t followed, though he was not about to question their good fortune. Perhaps it had been fear of the snake, a reaction he could well understand.
Once more the cavern began to narrow along the path they took, though this time there existed no cleared way to follow, forcing them to scramble over and between the fallen boulders, all made slippery by the water. The constriction of the cavern reached such a state that eventually they were forced into the stream, bent over to avoid the rough ceiling, their faces barely above the surface of the water as they pushed against the current that tugged at them.
“Sunlight ahead, sir,” Obadiah reported, breaking the silence in which they had marched for a long time. The announcement brought a surge of relief to the hearts of all who heard it after the concerns they had experienced.
Splashing forward with renewed energy, they emerged out of the tight confines of the tunnel into a large, round chamber, the roof of which had long since caved in, leaving it open to the sky and the elements. Trees rimmed it, through whose branches they could see the blue of the sky, while vines draped down from above. The stream they had followed entered in from above, tumbling down into a churning pool, about which in the cool shade grew ferns and plants in profuse abundance.
Sir Richard stared up at the walls of the collapsed cavern, up to where the way out led. It would be no easy climb, not with the walls made moist with the spray of the waterfall, and with the plant life clinging to it.
One of the bearers carried rope with him, which he unslung from his shoulder, preparing it to assist in the climb to the top.
“Who is the best climber here?” Doctor Gooding asked, peering up through his spectacles, water beading across their surface.
“I will do it,” Sir Richard announced, taking the rope from the bearer and slinging it across his shoulder.
“Ye sure, laddie?”
Sir Richard nodded, walking to the base of the climb. He tested a few of the dangling vines, tugging at them to assess their strength. The first came free almost as soon as he put any weight upon it. Tossing it aside, he found the others were likewise loose. Realising they would provide little support, he took a hold of jutting rocks in the face of the wall and began to slowly make his way up. From one thrust out rock to the next he crept his way forward, boots seeking what scant purchase they could find and fingers curling around small cracks and crevasses. Muscles started to burn from weight bearing down on them, at times his whole body hanging by fingertips as he sought purchase with his feet.
Finally he hauled himself up over the lip of the climb, rolling over into the jungle, taking a few deep breaths to steady himself. Returning to his feet, his legs and arms feeling like rubber, he began to make fast the rope he had carried to a nearby tree, one ancient and thick. Once the knot was securely bound, he tossed the rest of the rope down into the crater below.
The rope jerked as those waiting below took their turns to clamber up the easier route to join him up top, back on the surface, their escapee complete. When all had ascended, those having suffered from the darts requiring a lift, they untied the rope and coiled it back up.
“Where to now?” Sir Richard enquired of Doctor Gooding.
The Doctor had been studying the surrounds as best he could since having climbed out of the crater. He pointed off into the jungle in what seemed a random direction. “That way should take our way back to the canyon, and to ours horses and the wee muley.”
As it turned out, the Doctor’s assessment of where they were proved to be most prescient, for after a short plunge through the jungle, forcing their way through the thickly clinging growth, they emerged out on top of the cliffs above the canyon where they had commenced, not far from their camp. From their vantage point, they could see a number of pygmies going through the camp, searching through bags and tossing gear aside.
“I say, that there is expensive,” Doctor Gooding winced after noting one device crash to the ground.
“This is what we are going to do,” Sir Richard announced, gathering in the members of the expedition. “We drive them off, recover what we can and retire from this place, heading back to Cape Colony. I believe we have done all we can here without the further endangerment of life, and we have made some discoveries that are of grave import, which none shall know of if we do not make it back safely.”
“Aye, and as soon as I get time to study these tablets,” Doctor Gooding said, tapping the bag he carried, “We may have further discoveries to share. The Royal Society will be most interested, I ken.”
Creeping furtively along the cliff top, they in time discovered a route down from it into the canyon. From there it was simply a matter of making their way stealthily along the canyon, under cover of trees, until at last they had the pygmies in range. Taking careful aim, they unleashed a volley of gunfire both loud and devastating. Pygmies tumbled to the ground all around, brought down by the shots.
“Get what you can,” Sir Richard ordered, hurrying forward into the camp, heading for where the horses were picketed. The others followed him in, and a frantic period of time resulted, of the hasty packing of gear and loading it onto the horses while wary eyes kept a close lookout on the surrounds for any further signs of the pygmies. Doctor Gooding cranked the mule back up to its full settings, the boiler once more leaping into life and the pistons and gears building up speed.
“Let us be done with this place,” Sir Richard announced once all had been recovered. “I shall be glad if we never again set eyes upon it, or its denizens.”
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