“I suppose it was a city a long time ago,” replied Augie Dechantagne, with an emphasis on the second word.
The two lieutenants and the full platoon of soldiers were standing on a smooth surface of stone slabs that had been fitted together. There were steps here and there, breaking the area up into several terraces of varying heights. In a few places there were piles of stone that might have indicated that a wall had once stood there, but there were no buildings. On the far side of the clearing were a series of seven large stones. Each stood about eight feet tall and they were roughly oval in shape. At either end of the row were the remains of other similar stones that had once stood in the line, but had long ago crumbled, either from exposure to the elements or from ancient vandalism. Though those that remained were weathered and worn, one could see that each had been carved long ago to represent a dragon.
A loud squawk announced the arrival of eight or ten creatures that burst out of the trees and ran across the ancient stones. They were only slightly larger than the average chicken and were covered in hairy feathers, though their faces looked all too reptilian and their mouths were full of needle sharp teeth.
“Now, are those birds or dinosaurs?” asked McTeague.
Augie shrugged, but pulled out a book from his tunic.
“And what’s that?”
“That my friend is called a book. People, not artillery officers mind, but other people, sometimes read them.”
McTeague gave him a withering look. “What book is it, you great tosser?”
“It’s Colonel Mormont’s journal. My brother sent it to me.”
“Yes, I’ve heard of the chap. He was here in Birmisia a few years ago, right?”
Augie didn’t reply. He was busy flipping through the pages.
“What does he say about those little buggers?”
“Hold on a minute. I’m looking.”
McTeague folded his arms and waited. Several of the men were chasing the small creatures around the edge of the clearing.
“Here it is. Here it is. I knew I recognized them.” Augie held up the open page to a drawing that did indeed bear a strong resemblance to the creatures in question.
“Buitreraptors,” McTeague read. “Why do you suppose they all have to have such strange names?
“You know how these naturalist types are. Besides, if you just went with ‘chicken-lizard’ and ‘turkey lizard’ you’d soon run out of names. Face it. That’s really what they look like.”
A much louder squawk than those heard before announced to all the soldiers that something larger and more frightening than the skittish buitreraptors had arrived. A monster burst out of the brush and ran toward the tiny creatures. It was a bird lizard too, covered with feathers ranging from a deep turquoise on the head to a light green around the legs, but it didn’t fit Augie’s earlier nomenclature, if for no other reason than size. Its body was as large as the biggest horse, its head bobbing back and forth about seven feet above the ground, but it’s long, feathered tail stretched straight out behind it to make it more than twenty feet long. Though the puny wings would have made any attempt to fly laughable, the clawed fingers and the huge sickle-shaped clawed toes prevented any such jocularity.
The monster apparently had been stalking its tiny cousins through the woods, but now that it saw the human beings, it abruptly changed its targets. Why chase after a tiny morsel when a much juicier and slower prey could be had? It needed only to shift its weight and maintain the same stride to put it on its new trajectory. With a leap into the air that amazed everyone watching, the beast flew more than forty feet to land on top of Private Holloway, clawing him and bending down to give him a killing bite before anyone could react. A second later, the beast was peppered with more than twenty shots fired from all over the clearing.
“Kafira damn-it!” Augie shouted. “Color Sergeant!
“Sir.” Color Sergeant Bourne ran toward him and came to attention.
“Set up a perimeter watch. Make sure all the men have chambered rounds. And prepare a burial detail.” The Color Sergeant hurried off to his duties. Augie turned to McTeague. “Come on.”
The two lieutenants stepped over to the giant bird and Private Holloway. It was only too obvious that he was beyond hope. His head had been bitten half through, though his extremities twitched slightly.
“Nothing to be done,” said McTeague.
“Not for Holloway,” Augie agreed.