Hammer of the Pygmies
Part Six – Unwelcome Guests
They departed the camp with the arrival of first light the following morning, tracking the stream as best they could back up into the hills. It proved no easy trek, for the jungle crowded in thick and unyielding in parts around them. The mule clanked and forced its way through the foliage after them, the boiler cranked all the way up to provide extra power and traction, at the expense of burning through the coal log at greater speed.
The swift flowing stream cut through ravines it had carved into the hills, thick with clinging growth. The morning drew on as they pressed deeper into the hills, sweat flowing freely from the effort they were putting in, and from the heat of the sun climbing high above.
When the ravine opened up before them, it came as a surprise, and more so did the building that appeared before them in it, carved back into the side of a cliff face. Columns supported an arching roof, beneath which a doorway plunged away into darkness into the cliff.
“It would be best that we establish a camp here,” Sir Richard noted, looking around at their locale. There existed a zone of flat, open ground between the river and the cliff, mostly covered with smooth worn pebbles and lush grass. “I take it that this is the place you have been seeking?”
“Aye, that it is, laddie,” Doctor Gooding replied, staring at the doorway with a bright, eager look.
As the native bearers and Obadiah began to establish a camp near the banks of the stream, raising tents and bringing in firewood, Doctor Gooding walked across to the temple entrance, carrying a small leather bound notebook in his hands. He stood at the entrance, reading from the notebook, periodically looking up from it at the entrance.
Sir Richard left the others of the expedition to their devices in the ordering to the camp, heading across to join Doctor Gooding. The Doctor looked up at his approach, his eyes shining.
“If what I have learned is correct,” Doctor Gooding told Sir Richard, “Then what we are looking at here is actually a false entrance.”
“A false entrance, doctor?”
“Aye. Those pygmies are wee cunning little devils, so they are, who guard their secrets well. The entrance chamber is not all that it seems. In fact, it is not an entrance chamber at all, but more than likely a trap.”
“Then where exactly can we find the entrance?”
Doctor Gooding ran his finger down a page in his notebook, his lips moving silently as he read through what it contained. He walked across to the right hand most column of the façade, starting to run his hands along it. “There should be a hidden wall around here, or there abouts,” he announced.
A sudden, concerned shout came from one of the native bearers, a man who had been collecting firewood, before Sir Richard could respond to Doctor Gooding. The man ran back towards the camp, arms gesturing wildly back up the stream. Sir Richard’s revolver came free from the holster at his side and sprung into his hand as he turned about to observe just what had caused such an alarm to be raised.
In the thick growth that crowded the stream, barely seen, a short figure darted along. Nor did it come alone. A number of taller figures followed behind it, moving with a stiff limbed if still rapid pace.
“Doctor, I do not wish to raise undue concern,” Sir Richard said calmly, “But it would appear as if we are about to receive unwelcome guests.”
“I’ll get us in as soon as I can, laddie,” Doctor Gooding promised. “See if ye can’t distract them for me.”
“Very well Doctor. Obadiah,” he called out, “We need to keep our guests away from the Doctor for a time.”
“Right you are, sir,” Obadiah responded. From among the pile of stores that had been offloaded from the mule into the camp, he pulled out a long rifle and a bandolier of heavy brass shells which he slung over his shoulder. He chambered a round into the rifle while the native bearers likewise armed themselves.
Sir Richard raised his revolver, sighting along it as a figure came bursting out of the nearby enshrouding jungle. It may have been human once, and a native too by the looks of it, but no longer could it be counted so. Eyes seemed to boil with madness and the once black skin had turned a washed out, ashen grey, dry and flaking in some parts and with open bloodless wounds in others.
Sir Richard fired without a thought of hesitation as the figure lumbered towards him. The shot took it in the chest and blasted it from its feet. More shots followed as Obadiah and the bearers opened up on other figures that appeared from both directions along the stream, and from across it, trying to drive the expedition back against the walls of the canyon and trap them.
From somewhere above, atop the walls of the canyon above them and in the clinging foliage, a blowgun dart whistled down, striking stones at Sir Richard’s feet.
“Most perturbing,” he noted with composed understatement, looking up from the direction whence it had come. Above, he could just make out a short figure lurking, slotting another dart into a long blowgun. It wore simple hides, little more than a loincloth, showing off brown skin. In appearance, due to its size, it appeared much as a child, yet no child has such an overlarge head, one near to the size of its torso, and nor did a child have such a cunning, feral visage, or such sharp teeth, or eyes a touch too large. They were not men, just as the djinn or the troll were not.
Sir Richard aimed his revolver towards the pygmy with the blowgun and snapped off a shot. The pygmy let out a high pitched squeal as it stumbled, lost its footing and pitched forward off the edge of the cliff face. It crashed down, bouncing off the wall, to slam into the ground but a short distance from where Doctor Gooding worked. The Doctor looked down at the body before raising his head to look to where it had come from.
“Upon my word, that was close,” he observed.
“Making any progress, Doctor?” Sir Richard asked, scanning around the canyon, both in the growth that bordered the steam and the top of the canyon walls. The gunfire sounded regular around him as the expedition members continued to fire upon figures that darted along the stream or lurked in the undergrowth.
“All in good time, laddie, all in good time,” Doctor Gooding responded, his fingers continuing to probe at the surface of the stonework carved into the side of the cliff.
“I do not mean to pressure you, but you may be required to hurry it up just a tad. We are being rather pressed here.”
Nearby, a dart sung through the air from a hidden blowgun, striking one of the native bearers in the shoulder. He stood for a few moments before his whole body simply folded and he dropped to the ground senseless, rifle spilling from limp fingers. One of the other bearers checked on him.
“He is still alive, boss,” he reported to Sir Richard. “He is just paralysed by pygmy voodoo.”
Two more of the zombies put in an appearance, rumbling forward in their deceptive shambling gait. Both were clad in the remnants of hard wearing khaki outfits, and, unlike the previous zombies, had been white men before their capture by the pygmies. Sir Richard fired upon one, followed by Obadiah, dropping the pair where they stood.
“Ah ha,” exclaimed Doctor Gooding. He slid his hand down behind one of the pillars, into the narrow gap between it and the rock wall of the cliff. He probed there for a moment before a sudden loud rumbling noise, of stone upon stone, came from the carved wall. Part of it began to swing away and inwards, revealing in its wake a dark cavernous entrance beyond.
“Everybody inside, quickly,” Doctor Gooding called out.
“Go,” Sir Richard ordered, firing again at a quick moving figure in the jungle. He could not see if he had hit or not. The native bearers began to file inside as Sir Richard and Obadiah provided covering fire from the entrance, carrying with them their paralysed companion. Doctor Gooding followed the last of the bearers in and then went Obadiah. The last to enter was Sir Richard.
In the moment of calm that they had brought themselves, Sir Richard took the opportunity to reload his chamber, chambering fresh shells into it from his belt. Doctor Gooding fumbled around in the pack he had with him, pulling out what appeared to be a stout rod. He shook it a few times before banging it hard against the wall alongside him. A pale green glow began to emanate from the rod, illuminating the interior corridor they found themselves in, one thick with webs and dangling vines. He passed the glowing rod to Obadiah before extracting a second one from his bag.
“What are those?” Sir Richard enquired, keeping a watchful eye on the entrance.
“Father Eduardo’s Patented Illumination Rods,” Doctor Gooding responded, initiating the lighting of second one. “Most handy they are too. Stay lit for hours and no smoke given off either, which is right useful indoors. No one has yet been able to figure out just how he manages to fabricate them either, alas, which keeps them a wee bit pricey.”
Sir Richard nodded, before motioning towards the entrance. “Can we close this?” he asked.
“Let me take a wee look, laddie.”
Scrambling feet neared the entrance and Sir Richard fired as a zombie framed himself in the doorway. The zombie dropped.
A moment of fiddle work followed where Doctor Gooding examined the doorway before it swung away and shut, plunging them into a gloom alleviated only by their illuminated rods.
“I just hope that they don’t’ damage my poor wee muley,” Doctor Gooding exclaimed, giving a shake of his head.
Sir Richard forced his way through the milling native bearers to join Obadiah at the back of the group.
“Is there anything that we should be keeping a look out for, Doctor?” he enquired.
“Quite possibly pit falls and all manner of fiendish traps.”
“We shall proceed with caution then.”
They started their way down the corridor that had been excavated into the side of the cliff, a monumental undertaking even with modern tools, and more so for primitive pygmies. Pushing aside clinging vines and webs that draped down, they could see markings on the walks, of weird and somewhat disturbing hieroglyphs, crude in their carving. Their exact meanings escaped Sir Richard, for which he was somewhat relieved, for a lot seemed to depict acts of sacrifice, of torture or dark voodoo arts.
“Easy sir,” Obadiah said, holding out an arm in front of Sir Richard to halt his passage. “Look down.”
Sir Richard studied the dusty floor in the pale light of the glowing rod that Obadiah carried. The floor had been formed of broad pavers, laid down in tight fitting form. In one of them, over which Sir Richard’s foot half hung, an almost infinitesimal difference could be made out.
“A trap, do you think? Sir Richard asked, easing his foot back and setting it down again behind the stone.
“Quite possibly, sir,” Obadiah replied. “If you would kindly step back a fraction, sir?”
Sir Richard dutifully retreated a few paces, giving Obadiah room. Once clear, Obadiah leant forward and, with the butt of his rifle, pressed down on the stone. It slowly depressed, accompanied by the sound of a dull clank somewhere that sounded like it came from beneath the stone. More noise followed, this time grinding from behind the walls, before a volley of blowgun darts whistled through the air above the triggering stone, striking the opposite wall.
“Nasty,” Sir Richard noted.
Obadiah leant down and picked up one of the darts. Raising it to his nose, he sniffed at it. “Poison,” he announced.
From behind them, back at the entrance, the closed door to the corridor started to swing open, allowing a burst of sunlight in.
“Dashed persistent of the little devils,” Sir Richard noted dryly. “Cover the entrance.”
Obadiah continued on, stepping over the now triggered trap plate. A shadow appeared in the entrance of the corridor, framed in the sunlight. A couple of gunshots echoed in response.
“I do not suppose that there is a back way out of this place?” Sir Richard asked.
“If other sites explored are an indication, then aye, there should be,” Doctor Gooding told him.
Sir Richard fired again. “That is all for the good, as we are going to need it by the look of matters.”
Following on after Obadiah, they plunged deeper into the temple, and into the unknown.
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