As the boat rounded the bend, the river spread wider and slowed, giving a view of the city beyond that was nothing less than spectacular. Dark brooding pyramids, frighteningly high spiral shaped towers, and rose and peach colored palaces all peered out over ivory walls. Giant constructions with overhanging plants and artificial waterfalls sat amid great domed aviaries filled with colorful birds and hairy winged reptiles. Though there were obvious similarities between Tsahloose and Suusthek (they had after all been built by members of the same race of beings), there were differences as well—in color, in shape, and in design scheme. Neither was anything like any city of Sumir—any human city.
The party had walked down from the highlands where they had found the Dragon Fortress. They made good time, and Mr. Brown had mostly recovered from his spider bite. The little stream that they had followed had veered sharply away to the west, but three days later, they reconnected with it and followed it down to the forests at the base of the hills. The stream combined with others, becoming a fair sized river. At the fork where their river met an even larger one, they spotted a lizzie village. The village was not unlike those seen closer to home, about two hundred square wooden houses, half of them built on stilts in the shallows of the river and the other half on solid ground just above the high water mark. The lizardmen here painted their bodies just as those near Port Dechantagne did, though with different colors and designs. The lizzies had seemed far more curious than hostile of the strange warm-blooded travelers who had so suddenly interrupted the course of their lives. Still, they had seemed wary. They also knew what firearms were.
Through a combination of the lizard language and hand signals, the party had negotiated the purchase of a boat. It was a great canoe, made of a single gigantic pine tree trunk more than fifty feet long, cut and shaped, and then fitted with outriggers on either side. Ten large leaf-shaped paddles were included. Staff had paid two and a half marks for it—in copper pfennigs. Then they had all climbed aboard and sailed smoothly down the river. In some places it had been wide and slow and in others narrow and swift, but all along its length, it had been navigable.
“Tsahloose must be larger than Brech,” said Mr. Vever from his seat just behind Senta.
“Nonsense,” said Buttermore, just behind him. “Brech is the largest city in the world.”
“This may not be as large as Brech,” said Manring, just in front of Senta. “But I would match it against Natine or Bangdorf.
Senta just nodded. She had lived in Brech, but she didn’t remember it that well. The size and scope of such a city had made little impression on a child of less than nine years of age. She had read about Natine and Bangdorf, and though they were alive in her imagination with style and mystery and majesty in a way that her home city could not match, she knew that they were younger and smaller than the capital of the United Kingdom of Greater Brechalon. None of those Sumerian cities could match up to inhuman, frightening, shining Tsahloose though, because Tsahloose was here and now.
The river flowed right into the middle of the city and the party of explorers followed it in. They sailed among dozens of lizardman watercraft, most much more elaborate than their canoe, but a few were simple one man fishing vessels. The city wall formed an impressive arch over the water and scores of lizzies lined it to watch the approaching humans. Brightly painted reptilians, wearing large feathered headdresses peered from behind gauzy curtains on large square floating barges. Other less ornately adorned lizzies watched from the bank. Floating under the arch, Senta, Staff and the others were swallowed up by Tsahloose. The towers and buildings and pyramids seemed to grow toward the sun all around them, reminding them of how insignificant they were.
They sailed about a half-mile into the city and into a large bay with docks on all three sides. It was only then that they saw floating in the skies above the lizard city, the airship. Huge, sleek, and modern, it was bright silver in the summer sunlight, except for the yellow tail with the large black eagle emblem of Freedonia. They let the canoe coast to the dock, and then slowly swing around to come parallel with it. As they climbed out, a column of lizardmen carrying spears approached. Senta readied herself, but when they reached the humans, they came to a stop and a lizzie wearing a bright red cape of feathers stepped forward.
“Greetings you of the north,” he said, loudly. “You have arrived in Tsahloose.”
His voice was impressive, as was his command of the Brech language. If but for a very slight accent, he might have been a human. Only after hearing him talk for a while, did Senta notice that he was avoiding those labial phonemes that traditionally gave lizzies such a problem with her language.
“I greet you for the great leader, Khassna, of the line of leaders of Tsahloose for a dozen generations, chosen of Hissussisthiss, and august in his citizen’s eyes.” The envoy bowed deeply at the waist, placed his hand on his dewlap palm out, and then bowed again. “I take you now to great Khassna as his guests.”
Senta, Staff, and the others gathered together their packs and were led away from the docks. The two lines of spear-carrying lizardmen flanked them as they walked. The streets of the strange city were made of large square stones fitted together and worn smooth by the countless feet of pedestrians who walked over them, for there were neither wheeled vehicles nor domesticated animals in evidence. The buildings on either side of the thoroughfare had smooth facades, free of ornamentation, painted with pastel colors. Seemingly every available balcony and window box was lined with flowerbeds filled with cascading plants and multihued blossoms. Where there was no flat surface available, pots were hung by chains or ropes to serve as planters. And there were the lizzies, thousands of them, tens of thousands, on the balconies, in the doorways, and lining the street, all of them staring in rapt and silent attention.
The wide street gave way to an even wider one, which in turn gave way to an even wider one, which opened into a magnificent plaza, lined with pyramids, at the end of which sat the most magnificent palace that human eyes had ever seen. It was built in broad platforms one atop another like a great wedding cake, and like a wedding cake it was decorated on every surface. This was in marked contrast to every other building in the city, excepting only the small square temples that topped each of the pyramids. And like the temples, the decorations on the great palace were of one type only—faces. Not the faces of lizardmen; the faces of dragons. And floating in the air beyond the palace like great clouds of doom were not one or two, but five Freedonian airships.