Schwarztogrube sat atop the Isle of Winds, situated almost exactly in the center of the channel between Brechalon and Freedonia. Its massive stone walls rising high above jagged cliffs were not broken by a single door. The few windows visible were all far too small for anything approaching the size of a human being to pass through. The only entrance was through a secret passage at the water’s edge: gated, guarded, and locked. The towers rising up into the sky were topped with pointed minarets allowing no entrance from the air. The waters around the tiny island were constantly patrolled by Brech warships. Inside, Schwarztogrube was the harshest, ugliest, and most formidable prison in the world, yet few even knew of its existence.
Nils Chaplin had been a guard at Schwarztogrube for almost a whole week before he saw a prisoner. That wasn’t so surprising, considering the guards outnumbered them at least ten to one. An entire wing was devoted to incarcerating only about two dozen men. The prisoners carried out their lives, such as they were, never leaving their cells, but supplied with food and a few simple comforts such as a pillow, a blanket, or a book. None of them looked particularly dangerous, and they weren’t. At least they weren’t while they were here. Schwarztogrube was a magic prison. A prison set aside for wizards and sorcerers—the only place in the world where magic would not work.
It was his third week and Chapman was looking forward to a week off back in Brechalon, spending his paycheck, eating fish and chips, and enjoying life outside of massive stone bocks, when another guard, Karl Drury, at last led him to the north wing. Chapman didn’t like Drury. He told disgusting jokes to the other guards; viciously beat the prisoners, and when he could get away with it, he buggered the boys working in the kitchen or at the dock. He also stank. But as Chapman followed Drury though the deathly cold stone walls, he wasn’t thinking about the other guard’s shortcomings. He was wondering at the empty cells that they passed. Finally they came to the one door that was locked shut.
“Here we be,” said Drury. “That there’s the only one in the entire wing.”
“Take a butchers.”
Chapman pressed his face against the small barred window. Most of the room beyond was dark, illuminated only by a square of light carried in from a four by four inch window high up on the far wall. The room had no pillows or blankets as did the rooms in the south wing. There was no bed. The only thing in the cell approaching furniture was a piss pot. Curled up in a fetal position against the far wall was a human being. The dirty ragged clothing and matted hair of unknown color gave no hint to the identity of the figure.
“Who is he?” wondered Chapman.
“That’s not a he. That’s a she. And that’s the most dangerous creature in the world, that.”
“That’s what they say. So dangerous, we’re not even ‘sposed to be here. Ain’t that right, eighty-nine?” he called to the prisoner. She didn’t stir. “Lucky for us the warden’s gone to the mainland, eh?” Drury pulled out a large key and placed it in the massive lock on the door.
“Maybe we shouldn’t ought to do this,” said Chapman.
Drury paid no attention. He opened the door and swaggered into the cell. The woman curled up against the wall didn’t move. When Drury had crossed the room to her, he nudged her with the toe of his boot.
“Get up, eighty-nine.” She remained still.
The sadistic guard grabbed a handful of the prisoner’s dirty, matted hair and dragged her to her feet. Chapman could finally make out that she was a woman. She was thin. She looked half starved, but he could still tell that she had once had quite a figure. Drury held her up by her hair, presenting her for view as if she were a freshly caught trout.
Suddenly the woman came to life, kicking the guard in the shins. Drury let go of her hair and knocked her to the ground with a back-hand slap. She looked up at him and even across the poorly-lit cell, Chapman could see the hatred in her cold grey eyes. She pointed her hand and spat words that might have been a curse in some ancient, unknown language.
“Uastium premba uuthanum tachthna paj tortestos—duuth.”
Even here in Schwarztogrube, where no magic in the world would work, Chapman could have sworn that he felt a tingle in the air. Nothing else happened though. Drury kicked her in the face, knocking her onto her back. He kicked her again and again. And again. Finally he grabbed her once more by the hair and lifted her to her feet. With his other hand, he began unfastening his trousers. Chapman turned and left. He didn’t need to see this.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Arthur McTeague paced back and forth, from one end of the small clearing to the other. Around him grew the dense forest full of incredibly high redwoods and huge maples. Most of his platoon was gathering together brush to build a barrier around the spot that had been chosen as their campsite for the night. The remainder were laying out fuel, tinder, and kindling for the campfires. McTeague’s fellow lieutenant, Augustus P. Dechantagne, sat on a large rock at the edge of the clearing.
“I signed up for the artillery,” said McTeague. “What about you, Augie?”
“Then how come we’re out here in the middle of nowhere, not a cannon in sight?”
“You’re lucky they let you have a rifle,” said Augie as he pulled an envelope from his tunic pocket.
“What’s that then?”
“Letter from my sister.”
“Anything interesting at home?”
Augie handed him the letter, and he read through it quickly.
“Oh, she loves me in her own way.”
“Anything else in the envelope?”
“Just my allowance.” Augie held up a wire transfer in the amount of two thousand marks.
“Kafira! You can have quite a week on the town with that. All you can drink. Good food. Women.”
“Do you see any women?” asked Augie, waving in the direction of the tall trees. “Do you see any food? I’m not even sure I can cash this when we get back to Mallontah. How likely is it that someone there will have two thousand marks lying around? I’d have been better off if she sent me a five pfennig piece taped to the inside of the envelope like my Auntie Gin used to do. It’s a good thing I have two bottles of contraband in my pack.”
“That’s what I like about you—always prepared.”
That night, the two bottles were produced, one passed around among the men and the other shared by the two lieutenants as they warmed their feet by the campfire, their heads resting on their packs. The noises of this strange forest were far different than back home. There were squawks and squeaks and in the distance, roars. Not distant enough for McTeague’s taste.
“Don’t worry,” said Augie. “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.”
“I can attest to the fact that that is not the case.”
The next morning all of the men expressed similar concerns as an entire herd of great beasts made their way through the nearby forest, heedless of the humans. The monsters were up to twelve feet tall and thirty five feet long, though there were many smaller members of the species among them. Though their bumpy skin and thick legs put one in mind of an elephant, they walked on hind legs, only sometimes using quadrupedal locomotion. Their heads were shaped something like the head of a horse, but their long, heavy tails spoke of their reptilian origins.
“What are they called again?” wondered McTeague.
“Dinosaurs,” said Augie. “All I can think of when I see them is the size of the brisket you could get.”
“I doubt it would taste good.”
“Our cook back home, Mrs. Colbshallow, can make anything taste good. Let’s get the men together and get going. If those are the sheep in this country, I don’t want to see the wolves.”
The column of forty-two soldiers dressed in blue and khaki walked north, away from the dinosaurs. Though the ground was thick with rhododendrons and other small brush, there were enough game trails that overland travel was not too slow. Along the way the men saw more and more of the strange creatures, though Augie didn’t know if the smaller ones were rightly dinosaurs. They had feathers and looked much more like scary birds. They marched all morning and came to their destination just after noon. It didn’t look any different than a hundred other forest clearings except that this clearing contained the parties they were sent to meet.
Three creatures stood before the soldiers. They were all well over six feet tall and they looked far more reptilian than the dinosaurs or scary birds did, as though alligators had been given the power to stand up on their back legs and use their forelegs for hands as men did. Each had a long snout filled with peg-like teeth and a long tail, which trailed behind them, remaining just a few inches above the ground. Though they wore no clothing, their scaly bodies were painted in bizarre designs of red, black, and white. All three, as one, raised their right hands, palms outward, to the dewlaps on their throats and spoke a hissing language.
“What did they say?” asked McTeague.
“Something about a tree?” Augie replied.
“Aren’t you here as the interpreter?”
Augie shrugged, and then spat out a series of hisses and gurgles of his own.
“Everything’s fine—greeting, greeting, hail, hail, promise not to kill you, etc.”
“Alright, tell them what I say.” McTeague produced a note from his pocket and read it. “Hail to you and your chief. We come to you in peace and friendship from across the sea and bring you word from your new great chief that he now claims these lands. So that you know your new great chief means well, he has sent us with these gifts.”
As Augie translated, McTeague gestured to one of the men who brought forth six small bags tied at the top. McTeague handed two to each of the reptilians, one of whom opened a bag, spilling out a handful of copper pfennigs into his hand.
“The army plans to win over the lizardmen with twelve marks worth of coins?” wondered Augie, after he had finished the reptilian tongue.
“Coins good,” said one of the lizardmen in Brech. “Like coins. Not kill you.”