Gangus and his soldiers tackled the Badlands. Now on to face the terrible Drake.
Chapter Twelve (part1)
The mouth of the Dragon
Gangus's decision to battle the Drake was about to change the lives of the Timbaknis for better or for worse.
It had taken only a few long days into nights for him and his commanders to perfect a battle strategy against the beast.
The menacing evil that caused the smoke-filled sky, charred trees, and scorched fields in Hayman's village, had also smothered the happy sounds--the laughter of Timbakni little ones playing in the underground. Gangus vowed to bring that laughter to the surface where bright sun and blue sky could kiss their little furry faces once more.
Rather than risk bringing hundreds of settlers through the hostile Badlands, Gangus reasoned, he, and his soldiers would tame the pitfalls, kill the Drake--then return for the settlers.
Meanwhile, the remaining soldiers would guard the ship. Brehira was encouraged to use the full might of her power in case the Drake survived and returned to the ship for revenge.
Gangus and his soldiers knew no battles they had ever fought prepared them for a fight against the near-invincible fire-breather.
Nevertheless, their strategy was simple: Wear no armor containing metal; one blast from the Drake would fuse metal with flesh. The weapons would be aimed at the softest spots, which were the eyes, nose, opened mouth, and belly.
Outside the cave, archers and spear-throwers would stand on hills in case the Drake managed to escape. Inside, they would stand high on the cave ledges to shoot low. Gangus would be out in front with his staff. Celio would stand behind Gangus. Dinary and swordsmen would position themselves behind Celio.
Of course, swords were helpless against fire, but Drakes needed twenty seconds between blows for the two gases to mix in their gullets and produce their fiery weapon; then swordsmen could advance quickly--do as much damage as possible and pull back. However, moving in meant they'd be in danger of its claws and spiked tail.
Swords could not penetrate the iron-like scales, but there was just enough opening between scales for the swords to slip in, hit a vital organ, or cause massive blood loss. Celio would use his shield--the only defensive weapon dragon-fire could not penetrate or melt. His shield would protect the swordsmen each time they pulled back after stabbing the Drake.
With everyone's position clear, Gangus and soldiers marched out of the village just before dawn under a blanket of darkness. Quietly, as the moon lit the ground, they inched slowly across the beige sand. Up ahead, the men saw prints, not from feet, but long body prints of serpents. Celio shuddered at the thought of being bitten by one.
The soldiers walked for hours, stepping over animals and other creature carcasses. They saw fragments of past abandoned caravans. As they marched deeper inside the Badlands, the stench of death and strange, eerie sounds surrounded them. Stranger still, small creatures they'd never seen before scurried past them. Others hid behind thick bushes and stared out with eyes like tiny blinking lights.
As the sun rose and beamed over them, swordsmen walked ahead of the troop, slicing through tall tangled weeds, and then cutting to pieces serpents they found bedded within the grass. Yet, many soldiers tripped after getting their feet tangled in the weeds--yelling, kicking, and cutting away serpents that had wrapped around their ankles. Fortunately, none was bitten--that time.
The soldiers entered a dark forest; the longer they walked, the darker and thicker the forest became. There were tall, black trees standing only six to eight feet apart with huge red fowls screeching noisily down at them. A soldier was nearly strangled as hanging vines mysteriously wrapped around his neck.
"Ah, get 'em off!" he yelled. Letty ran to him, and with several swoops of her sword, shredded the vines. "Thank you," he said, gasping for air. Letty nodded, and walked back to her rank.
For hours, swordsmen killed serpents as they cut through weeds, and hanging vines. Gangus saw how it exhausted the swordsmen and slowed the journey almost to a crawl. But he decided to continue until they found dirt ground in which to set up camp.
Suddenly, among the soldiers rose a scream. Pryah, who had left the traveled path to investigate some movement she thought she'd seen in a bush, had gotten tangled in a spider's web, and hundreds of spiders, the size of flies, had descended upon her.
Letty, Alema, and several other soldiers rushed to her and cut the web from the facing two trees which stood a few feet apart, but couldn't free Pryah from the piece wrapped around her, and stuck to her clothes.
The spiders covered her like a dark blanket--consuming her flesh as she rolled about the ground flailing and screaming. Letty tried to knock them off with her hand but was severely bitten. Alema and the others pulled off their footwear and beat the spiders off her. Then each soldier cut away pieces of the web until Pryah was free.
After hearing the commotion, Gangus and Celio made their way to where everyone gathered. A distraught Pryah knelt, vomiting. She trembled and bore tiny red blisters on her face, neck, arms, and legs; others who helped had swollen hands and fingers. The spiders proved toxic; fortunately, Hayman sent several pouches of herbal leaves, but it would take days for them to fully recover.
"What's going on?" Gangus asked. The soldiers quickly parted to let him and Celio through.
"Pryah walked into a spider's web and was seriously bitten," Letty told him.
"Great Zeus, she looks like raw meat," Celio said.
"Idiot," Alema snapped. "She'll hear you."
"Will she be well?" Gangus asked Letty.
"Yes, we're preparing the herbs now."
"You think she can travel?"
"We'll carry her if we have to, sir," Alema said. "Just give us a few minutes after she drinks it
for the herbs to take hold."
"Fine," Gangus said. Then he turned and spoke loudly to the crowd. "Rest your gear! We'll resume traveling shortly!"
Soft thuds of bundles hitting the ground filled the air. Everyone stretched and made grunting sounds like an off-key choir.
The moist grass made it difficult to start a fire, and time was of the essence. A torch had to be held under a metal cup to heat the water for the medicinal herbs. Many minutes after drinking the tea, Pryah, though still feverish, no longer felt nauseated or had tremors. Others who weren't bitten as badly drank the herb as well.
While Letty and Alema attended to Pryah, a loud shriek rose from the back of the line. Letty turned and saw a soldier kicking, screaming, and tearing at his clothes.
After he practically stripped naked, a multi-colored blue, green, and purple serpent slithered from beneath the discarded garments. The onlooking soldiers drew their swords and slashed it to pieces. The bitten soldier instantly grew pale from the venom. He dropped to the ground and curled into a fetal position.
"What is it now?" Gangus snapped. He and Celio made their way through the circled crowd. Gangus released a big breath when he saw the soldier doubled up on the ground and a decapitated serpent lying a foot away.
He walked to him, knelt, slipped his hand under his shoulders, and cradled him in his arm. He looked down as a father would gaze upon his son. "I'm so sorry, Keneen." The young soldier's eyes filled and he nodded as if he understood.
Then Keneen cried out as the venom cooked him from the inside. He gagged, coughing up saliva as his eyes bore into Gangus's eyes. The pain struck like tiny bolts of lightning throughout his body; he grabbed Gangus's arm and held it so tightly the pain made Gangus suck in his breath, but he didn't pull away. Keneen trembled violently. His face grew paler and foam bubbled from his lips.
"You fought gallantly in every battle, son," Gangus whispered, his eyes glassy. "We shall meet you in the Afterlife." Keneen tried to smile, but the venom, like volcanic lava, burned-- consuming every nerve in his body. Keneen dug his fingernails into Gangus's arm until it bled, but Gangus never attempted to withdraw.
The young soldier's shrieks caused the red fowls to scatter from the trees; his comrades looked on sadly and helplessly. Gangus's watery eyes flashed at Celio over his shoulder. Celio knew their meaning and lowered his head momentarily. He slowly lifted his hand and pulled his sword--hesitated, swallowed hard then bent and plunged the blade upward into Keneen's side. The soldier gasped--eyes rolled then fixated; he released a gush of air as his body deflated and settled into the dirt. Gangus placed two fingers over his eyelids and pulled them down; he gently withdrew his arm, letting Keneen's head and shoulders rest upon the ground.
Under the noonday sun, the men built a pyre and ceremoniously burned Keneen's body.
After nearly two hours had passed, Dinary made a loud call to pick up gear and resume traveling. Pryah, though weak, and with the help of Letty and Alema, was able to keep step.
The soldiers marched until the late evening sun scorched their faces and their gear felt even heavier as they continued fighting the land's deadly elements. At long last, shouts of halt parted the air. Every right foot hit the ground hard on cue.
They had finally reached a large piece of ground that was nothing but dirt. It was in the open air and had no trees. Bundles of straw were spread out over the soil and covered with thick bedding and wool covers. After the soldiers had settled, a white paste was slapped in each of their hands to spread over their skin to protect them from the deadly insects.
"Ugh! This stinks," a soldier complained.
"Ha! imagine how it must smell to the insects," another joked.
"Do they expect us to actually sleep in this place?" Olatunji asked, looking about.
"Would you like to face the Drake with no sleep?" Celio smirked.
Olatunji sighed. "No, I guess not."
"Look, not all of us will be asleep. There'll be some keeping watch."
"All right you men!" Dinary interrupted loudly. "Before we pass out rations, I need some of you to go with me to find a water hole and bring back water. We have plenty but don't want to wait until we run out. Any volunteers?" Nothing but silence followed. "Come on--volunteers!" Dinary said loudly, looking around.
"All right, over here," Celio said, waving his hand. Olatunji lay on his side and pretended to snore; a few more hands slowly rose. Celio stood and gently tapped Olatunji's butt with his foot and Olatunji hopped to his feet grinning. A few more hopped to their feet including Letty. Each grabbed their weapons and empty waterskins then followed Dinary out of the camp.
They hadn't traveled long before a water hole was spotted up ahead about a hundred feet from a wooded area.
The quietness made them step lightly--they didn't trust it: They had been in the Badlands for hours and no hour had been without a loud incident. Looking around, each soldier clutched their weapon as they neared their destination.
At the water hole, they pulled the plugs from the waterskins and took turns lowering them into the depth of the hole by long cords until they filled with water then slowly pulled them up. Letty lowered her skins but thought she saw movement from the dark wooded area. She froze.
"What are you doing? Hurry up," Dinary ordered her.
"I thought I saw something," she said.
"Well, if you did, standing here like ducks in a row isn't good," Dinary snapped. "Get a move-on!"
Letty quickly pulled the water-filled skins from the hole and moved aside. Another soldier stepped forward and lowered his waterskins when an arrow penetrated his temple straight through to the other side of his head.
"LET'S MOVE!" Dinary barked.
Everyone grabbed their skins and ran as fast as their legs could move. Several arrows whisked over their heads and some nicked their ears and cheeks. Olatunji looked over his shoulder as he ran, but saw no one following--just arrows flying out from among the trees. Several arrows pierced the skins and water leaked out leaving a trail in the soil as the fleeing soldiers covered much ground.
Huffing, they fell into camp bleeding and were greeted with gasps and troubled faces. Gangus was the first to reach them.
"Tread didn't make it," Dinary said breathing hard. "Even though they killed one of us, I still think it was just a warning. They were too good with those arrows to miss us that many times."
"Did you get a look at them?" Gangus asked.
"No. They never showed. But their message was clear," Dinary replied, still gasping for breath.
"Don't worry yourselves," Gangus said. "You did fine. We'll find another in a more secluded area next time. Go and have those cuts attended to."
"Yes, sir," Dinary answered.
For the next fourteen days, Gangus and his soldiers endured deadly confrontations--one after another, and sadly, more lives were lost. On the fifteenth day, they had made it through to the outskirts of that godforsaken land. The only disadvantage of surviving the Badlands was what lay nestled deep within a cave they stood facing. The mouth of it appeared darker than anything Gangus had ever seen.
He looked around at his soldiers: One hundred had followed him into the Badlands--now only seventy-nine stood with him against the Drake. Gangus gave a hand signal and all slowly moved forward.
The entrance to the cave engulfed them with impenetrable darkness. Gangus watched their shadows dissolve into the blackness as they slowly moved inside. Torches were lit and mounted along the trail. The men readied their weapons.
The brown rock path led them deeper into the throat of the cavern. The rock walls were jagged with sharp edges like blades. From the ceiling, hung stalactites, and blood-sucking birds' roosts. As they entered the long oval tunnel, thick musky air filled their lungs and clogged their throats as the soldiers continued to inch forward.
Gangus signaled to halt.
The soldiers stopped and braced themselves. At the far end of the dark cave, emerged two great yellow beams of light set several feet apart. In the middle of each light were tall black ovals. Gangus held up his hand to the men to stay as he stepped closer to get a better look at the glowing lights.
"I BEEN WAITING FOR YOU!" a voice thundered from behind the yellow beams.
The Drake reared its gigantic head--its yellow eyes narrowing--its black oval pupils thin as needles and spewed a blazing sea that heated the cave, like the pits of Hades.
Image: by Dantegrafice from Pixabay
Lord Gangus Abram Leader of his clan
Lady Brehira (Bree he ra) His wife
Dinary (Di nary) Youngest Son
Celio (Seal le o) Soldier and close friend
Princess Netrekka (Neh trek kah) Dinary's Lover/wife
Khimah (Kee ma) Eldest Son
Captain Dulcy P Dordrecht (Door check) Captain of the Cristofur
Judian (Jew-dee-in) Second in Command of the Christofur
Kofius (Ko fee us) The Sail Master
When Lord Gangus Abram is awakened by a mysterious voice in the night and told to seek out the Oracle Naman, he must make a journey across the Endless Ocean to destroy the Nordoxz, an undefeated race of humanoids that are controlled by powerful forces of evil.
Lord Abrams plunges into a perilous trek to obey the gods and settle in Bethica, a land of dragons, cannibals, Fallen Angels, Amazonians, and Dark Lords. He is joined by his wife, Brehira, youngest son Dinary, comrade and friend, Celio, Shapeshifter and Beast Master, Olutunji, and 750 people willing to risk their lives for land and freedom.