Hammer of the Pygmies
Part Nine – Unplanned For Eventualities
The cavern began to narrow the further they proceeded down alongside the stream, with the walls closing in around them. The fallen boulders and stones that had littered the floor around where they had entered the chamber became less of an impediment, growing fewer in number, allowing them to pick up their pace.
“You do not fear that this simply leads to a dead end, do you?” Sir Richard asked of Doctor Gooding, eyeing the narrowing cavern ahead.
“I dinnae think so, laddie,” Doctor Gooding assured him. “We are following a track, and that would indicate it must lead somewhere.”
Obadiah motioned from ahead for the expedition to come to a halt again before slipping back to join Sir Richard and Doctor Gooding, puffing out his impressive ginger walrus moustache.
“The river changes up ahead, sir,” he told the pair. “Sounds like a waterfall.”
Sir Richard nodded, cocking his head to one side to listen in on the change of sound of the flowing stream. The flow ahead changed from the splash of running water into a low rumble.
“It does rather sound that way. Continue on, Obadiah.”
“Right you are, sir.”
The rumbling thunder increased in volume as they followed the sound of it, joined in time by a faint glow, and not one of a natural origin that would indicate an escape from their confines beneath the earth. At Sir Richard’s bidding, they stowed away Father Eduardo’s Patented Illumination Rods to mask the light that came from them, and instead relied on the glow that came from ahead of them to guide their way.
The sight that greeted their eyes when at last they discovered the source of the light, as well as the locale of the waterfall, was one of astonishing wonder, unexpected and undreamed of. The path that led alongside the stream came out onto a ledge that overlooked a cavern vast in size. The stream poured out over the ledge, crashing and roaring down into a rippling subterranean lake that for the most part filled the cavern. In the middle of the lake peaked an island, upon which a structure sat, in style and architecture that none before had seen, for it seemed to follow no set rules or conventions that they could establish, being all askew in angle, with sharp edges and jutting spikes. Steps led up to a five sided door set high in the building, while curling smoke drifted up from broad braziers set around it in which flames smouldered.
Figures stood upon the island, most of them pygmies who wore wooden masks and stood at the base of the steps, chanting words that did not quite carry to the watchers on the ledge. At the top of the steps, in front of the door, stood another figure, much taller than the pygmies, clad in cowled robes so as to remain hidden from view. When it move backwards and forwards, it glided, seemingly flowing like running water.
The ledge stretched around off to their right, whereupon it wound down to a settlement that sat upon the shores of the lake. More stone buildings rose there, of a style akin to the one on the island in the lake, though of a less imposing size and form. Scattered among them were roughly made pygmy dwellings, lean-tos made of hide and wood. Statues similar to the one they had spotted in the temple stood there as well, and the whole place thronged with activity, of pygmies and their re-animated minions.
The whole of the place received illumination from an unnatural light. From the ceiling of the caverns draped luminescent fungi, taking the form of long strings of beads that swayed in a faint breeze. In hues they gave of a glow of pale blues and greens and purples, bathing the whole of the cavern in their eerie illuminance.
Sir Richard studied the vision spread out below him, searching for a way out. The only route that he could see took them along the ledge, following it around and down into the heart of the pygmy settlement, before taking another tunnel that led out from it. It was not an option that appealed to him.
Without a word he motioned for the others to head back up the tunnel they had entered via. After a couple of minutes of walking, when he judged they were far enough away from the settlement, he held a whispered conversation with the others.
“I can not see how we could make our way through there, not with so many pygmies and their minions about.”
“Aye, laddie,” Doctor Gooding agreed, “It would appear a fool’s errand that way.”
“It would appear we are left with but option then, to brave the snake and hope that route leads to another exit, else wise we may find ourselves on a most sticky wicket.”
“The shots are liable to attract attention,” Doctor Gooding pointed out.
“I know, but what else are we to do, unless you have another trick secreted away in that bag of yours?
“Nae, I am out of tricks for the time. You cannae plan for such eventualities as having to battle giant snakes in underground caverns all the while trying to avoid attracting undue attention.”
Sir Richard responded with a hint of a smile, checking his revolver. “No, I guess that is so.”
Taking the lead, Sir Richard headed back up the cavern towards where the snake lurked. The native bearers that had been rendered paralysed by the darts of the pygmies in the initial fight had started to make a recovery, enough to stumble along on their own feet without assistance rather than having to be carried. All those that could made their rifles ready, prepared to unleash a volley upon the snake, in the hope it would prove enough to slay the beast outright.
Not a word was spoken as they made their way, all thoughts focused on what was to come, trying to avoid the knowledge of where they were, in the tight confines of the earth, with foes behind and ahead and perhaps with no escape to be had. All belief needed to be that beyond the snake lay escape, else panic would too readily take them and doom them all.
At last the tunnel that they had taken from the old temple into the cavern loomed before them, and the stone cairns that served as warnings about the ghostly serpent. Slowly they spread out through the cavern, raising rifles to their shoulders, fingers resting on triggers, creeping cautiously forward. The snake itself they could not see, for it still lay out of sight.
The sudden eruption of water marked the appearance of the beast, the deathly pallid snake launching itself out of the stream where it had lurked, lingering and waiting with uncanny patience and evil intent. With a speed that belied its bulk, it struck at Obadiah, fangs slashing in an attempt to impale the man. Only through quick thinking and reactions, along with a generous dosage of luck, did Obadiah avoid the deadly fate. He raised his rifle before him and the fangs slammed shut upon the weapon, sundering it in twain instead of injecting their toxic venom into the flesh of Obadiah.
Gun shots sounded loud in the cavern echoing off the walls, as Obadiah staggered away from the snake, discarding the broken parts of his rifle. Bullets slapped into the snake, many ricocheting off its heavy scales. Only a couple fired at the right angles punched through. It seemed to merely anger the beast, its tongue darting back and forwards as it hissed loudly. It slithered ominously forward, following Obadiah.
Sir Richard took aim and fired repeatedly, the chamber of his revolver spinning until all shots were depleted. They crashed into the head of the snake, putting out one of its malevolent eyes, yet still it kept coming. As quickly as he could manage, he began to reload the revolver, sliding fresh rounds into the chamber even as he watched events unfold. About him, the bearers were firing as fast as they could chamber new rounds. Shots flecked the length of the snake in a fusillade that would have felled any other beast that Sir Richard had encountered. Its thick scaled hide, coupled with an abnormal vitality, kept it up.
Another strike lashed forth at Obadiah. This time the man stood ready, waiting for it. As it struck, he lashed out with a rock he had picked up from the ground, striking a glancing blow off the snake’s heavy skull. Not enough to do any damage, it still momentarily staggered it.
Taking advantage of that, Obadiah grabbed the snake, locking its neck beneath his right arm and squeezing it tight. The snake writhed about, seeking to coil its length about Obadiah in an attempt to crush the life from his body and to escape.
Obadiah shifted his grip, using both hands to prise open the mouth of the snake, revealing the deadly fangs and the flashing tongue.
“Now, sir,” he called out, his voice coming from between clenched teeth, muscles straining to contain the power of the beast.
With but two rounds freshly chambered, Sir Richard hurried over and stuck the revolver in the snake’s now open mouth, firing both off in rapid succession. The two were enough. They struck up through the snake’s palate and into its brain. For a moment it thrashed about in its death throes, constricting around Obadiah. Then it fell still, the great coils falling lifeless from around Obadiah to the ground
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