Hammer of the Pygmies
Part Seven – Disturbance in the Dark
Before long the corridor led to a large stone door, carved with yet more of the hieroglyphs that they had observed earlier along the walls. In addition, the door displayed an image of the temple over which some form of creature loomed, though where its head and arms would normally have shown, fragments of stone were missing, shrouding its identity in mystery.
Every so often a zombie showed its head behind them, to be met by gunfire to drive it off or destroy it. Of the pygmies themselves, no sign had been seen since the expedition had entered the temple.
“It would be for the best if we could find the way out sooner rather than later,” Sir Richard noted, “Else we may find that we are short of ammunition before long. Most of our spare ammunition is still back in the camp or loaded on the mule.”
“We can’t be too hasty about this,” Doctor Gooding responded, studying the door. “It would be pertinent to check the door over before we simply opened it, given past experiences.”
“Perhaps we can be pertinent in an expeditious manner?” Sir Richard suggested.
“I shall do the best I can, laddie. Just leave me to study this.”
A glowing rod in hand, Doctor Gooding closely studied the door, speaking quietly to himself. From time to time, Sir Richard overheard some of what the Doctor was saying, mostly matters of little sense to him, either being in some foreign lingo or concerning matters that he did not understand.
Obadiah, who had been checking over the native rendered unconscious by the blowgun dart in the initial attack, reported to Sir Richard on the man’s condition.
“We got the dart out, sir, and he appears to be stable. Maybe recovering a little, but we as yet do not know how long it will be before he can walk on his own again.”
Sir Richard stroked thoughtfully at his moustache. “We shall have to hope that not many more of us are likewise afflicted, for we could be in for a spot of bother trying to make our escape if we are required to carry a few.”
“I am more concerned if we can not find the Doctor’s back door out,” Obadiah stated. “Even if we do, it is a long trek back to Cape Colony without horses or supplies, especially if those little blighters hound our steps.”
“Faith, Obadiah. It will all work out. It generally does.”
“Indeed, sir,” Obadiah replied loyally, even if he did not sound entirely convinced.
A rush of feet came from towards the entrance, marking a large cluster of zombies pushing their way in. Guns began firing, bullets thudding away into the animated bodies. Behind the initial rush of zombies stood a number of pygmies, using the cover of their minions while they shot from their blowguns. A couple of the native bearers were struck by the darts with their soporific poison, while another dart struck the stone door scant inches from Doctor Gooding’s head.
The pygmies pressed on, using the bodies of the fallen zombies as cover, with more of the unnaturally mobile corpses shuffling forward to replace those lost in the exchange.
“Doctor, things are getting somewhat uncomfortable hereabouts,” Sir Richard coolly noted, firing again down the corridor with his revolver. “An exit around about now would be most appreciated.”
“I’ll do what I can laddie, but some will be guess work.” His hands touched certain parts of the door and the wall around, and as he did, stonework shifted grinding inwards. “I can never remember how that myth went. Did the great serpent swallow the sun or regurgitate it?”
“Is it much of a concern?”
“Oh, aye, that it is laddie. If I choose the wrong one, we may just end up dead.”
“Given the alternative,” Obadiah pointed out, “That may be the lesser of two evils.”
“Aye, well, you may have a point there.” For a moment Doctor Gooding’s hand hovered over one part of the door before quickly moving to another part and pressing against it. For a few seconds nothing occurred, but then the door ground slowly open, revealing a chamber beyond.
“All inside,” Sir Richard ordered. The native bearers filed in, carrying their paralysed companions in with them. The others followed them, in an exchange of gunshots and darts.
“The door won’t hold them long,” Sir Richard observed.
“I can fix that,” Doctor Gooding announced, fishing in his bag. He withdrew a stick of dynamite and a sulphur headed match. He struck the match against the stone wall and used it to light the fuse. He tossed the dynamite back down the corridor towards the pygmies,
“Shut the door, quick, man,” he told Obadiah.
The big man complied, putting his shoulder to it and slamming it shut. Even with it shut they could hear the blast that followed. The chamber trembled a touch and a fine rain of dust and sand fell down around them.
“A most novel solution, sir,” Obadiah said, “But I do trust that it has not caused an impediment to getting out, should that need arise.”
“Och aye, I doubt it. Most unlikely. Anyhow, let us shed some light on our current locale and see where we are.”
Holding the illuminating rods aloft, some of the expedition began to move forward into the chambers while others settled down those that had been rendered inoperative by the poisoned blowgun darts. The size of the chamber came as somewhat of a shock to them, for is spread vast above and before them. As they reached further into it, they saw that it had once been a natural cavern, for while the front half had been shaped and carved smooth, the rear half retained its original form, being all rough, jagged edges and uneven floors.
What most attracted their attentions, as it emerged into the pale green luminescence of their lights, was a large stone altar at the rear of the chamber, and looming behind it a towering, disturbing idol.
A chilling shudder touched Sir Richard at the sight of it, scrapping down his skin, for the statue was a grotesque, unholy mockery of a living form. On the ground sat a spiralling shell, taller than any man, and from the opening their rose a torso of a figure. An unnatural head sat upon its neck, like unto one possessed by a crab or crustacean. A pair of bulbous eyes protruded from it via stalks, while long antennae rose even higher. At its mouth, a pair of grasping mandibles jutted forth.
Worse still were the arms, for they ended not in hands, as one would suspect, but with snaking, writhing tentacles, the insides of which bore suckers and cruel barbed hooks. It seems to reach out with those tentacles, grasping for any who approached the altar.
What it meant to represent, Sir Richard did not have the foggiest idea, for he had heard of no such creature mentioned before, but the very sight of it made his skin crawl with revulsion.
“My word,” Doctor Gooding exclaimed, removing his spectacles and rubbing at them with a handkerchief. “This is most unexpected.”
“You know what it is?” Sir Richard asked.
“Haven’t the faintest, old chap. This is the discovery of a lifetime.”
“Said lifetime may be shortly curtailed,” Obadiah noted, joining them from back at the entrance to the cavern, “If the pounding upon the door is any indication. Your dynamite did little to curtail their efforts, Doctor.”
Listening up, Sir Richard heard the aforementioned pounding, the efforts of Doctor Gooding to impede the pygmies and their zombie minions not having lasted as long as they had hoped for.
“I am afraid you are right,” Doctor Gooding responded. “Let us find the alternative exit.” A curious expression came across his face, one of puzzled wonder. “Hold on, what have we here?” he asked, scurrying across to the altar.
Seated upon it, shrouded beneath a layer of dust and webs, were three stone tablets. Doctor Gooding brushed the dust off them one by one, revealing evidence of the unusual hieroglyphics of that formed the written language of the pygmies. One by one, the Doctor lifted them carefully from the altar, stowing them away in the bag that he carried.
“This way, gentlemen,” he told them once done, starting towards the rear of the chamber.
Obadiah whistled up the native bearers, who collected up their insensible companions and followed on behind. Passing by the unnatural statue, many shrank back and averted their eyes, making warding signs against evil.
Beyond it, at the rear of the chamber, they found another tunnel, this one sized more appropriately for those of lesser stature, such as the pygmies, and not for men. To use it would require them going hunched over in cramped confines.
Doctor Gooding peered in, holding the glowing rod ahead of him. “Tight squeeze,” he noted, “But I guess there is nowt for it.”
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