The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 21 Excerpt

Senta walked up the steps of the stone pyramid, her bare feet making no sound. She moved quickly and carefully. Though there were lizardmen guards placed on either side of the stairs on every tenth step, they did not see her. Her body was completely invisible and didn’t even cast a shadow in the bright light of mid-morning. Up ten more steps, between two more guards the little girl continued, constantly watching to see if the reptiles would notice something—a sound, a moving pebble, her scent. But they didn’t notice anything. The sounds of the vast city drowned out any small sounds that she made. The smell of wood fires burning, beasts of burden on the streets, and most of all the waste of fifty thousand primitive people safely obscured her smell. Up two hundred forty steps, past forty-eight guards, she finally reached the top of the bloodstained, stone staircase.

At the top of the pyramid, Senta looked around and shivered. The square, white stone temple that sat on top of the immense structure was carved with bizarre and inhuman forms—combinations of lizardmen and other animals, engaged in all manner of disgusting activity. Far more distressing however, were the human body parts hanging above and to either side of the open doorway. Human arms and legs and human heads, attached by the hair or through protruding tongues were tied up with thin ropes made of woven grass. The temple entrance was dark and frightening, like the gaping maw of some bloody and horrible creature.

Shaking, Senta moved into the darkness of the structure anyway. The horrifying look of the place outside was nothing next to the horrifying smell of the place inside. The stench of urine, both human and reptilian, was overwhelming. She could also smell sweat, human sweat, since the lizardmen being cold-blooded did not perspire. And she could smell blood, mammal blood, reptile blood, new blood, old blood, forever blood.

As her eyes adjusted to the light, she could see that the walls were decorated with carvings very much like those on the outside of the temple. Here in many places they were covered up though by colorfully painted and died animal skins, stretched wide, and in a few places by blankets of brightly hued bird feathers. Two men were in the middle of the room on their knees; their arms stretched straight back behind them. Ropes bound the men’s wrists and then stretched up to a stone in the ceiling, twisting the men’s arms back cruelly. Looking up, Senta could see that the stones in the ceiling, one directly above each man, had been carved into the likeness of a lizardman or dinosaur face. Each face had its mouth open and a tongue sticking out. The ropes that held the men in their kneeling positions, no doubt at the cost of tremendous pain in their arms, shoulders, and chests, were attached through holes in the tongues of the carved faces.

Senta stepped gingerly toward the men. Neither moved. Both had faces caked with dried blood and wore torn and tattered shirts covered in blood. She bent down to see if she could recognize either face, but they were both too badly swollen and torn. Standing directly in front of one of the two men, she reached around her own neck and lifted one of three silver necklaces over her head. Each necklace had a pendant representing the shape of a bird. She carefully draped it over the man’s head. He didn’t move. She stepped quietly over to the second man and slipped the second of the three necklaces from around her head and started to place it over his. He moaned and turned his head slightly, startling her, and she dropped the necklace to the stone floor. When she reached down to pick it up, she found the stones almost carpeted with layer upon layer of dried blood. She stared at the brown surface for a moment, and then noticed another change in the room.

The square formed in the center of the room by the light streaming into the temple doorway had changed. There was a shadow in it. Senta stood up and looked at the doorway. Framed in the brightness was a lizardman.   He was not as frightening to the girl as the other lizzies she had encountered, though she was still frightened that she would be seen and captured. This lizardman was shrunken and shriveled, and its skin had faded away to a dull grey. It wore a necklace of human hands, and it carried a small lizard attached to a stick. Keeping one eye on the creepy reptile, she slipped the necklace over the second man’s head. This time he didn’t move.

The shriveled lizardman began to shake the lizard on the stick. It rattled as though it was a dried gourd. The lizardman began to hiss. Senta could feel magic in the air around her. She could see it swirling like a purple mist.

“Your magic’s not as strong as ours,” she said.

The old reptile stopped. He stared into the room for another moment. Then he started shaking the lizard and hissing again. Senta looked down at herself. Though invisible, she had been able to see herself, and of course she still could. But something seemed different about her. The grotesque lizardman suddenly hissed loudly and looking up, Senta saw that it was pointing right at her. She was visible.

She grabbed the bird talisman on her necklace and shouted. “Now Zurfina! Now!”

For a moment, nothing happened. Then the room around Senta began to shimmer as though it were being seen through the curtain of a waterfall. Finally the room, the lizardman, and everything else vanished.

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