The great battleship H.M.S. Minotaur rested on the smooth waters of Crescent Bay. Lieutenant Baxter ordered the men to lower a launch over the port side, and then he climbed down into it and supervised as it was loaded with weapons and equipment. The rest of the sailors boarded and took their positions. They rowed a single stroke that took them to the temporary staircase set up near the bow. One of the men hissed and pointed as the back of a great underwater creature slid above the glasslike surface not far from them, but it didn’t return.
After about five minutes, a dozen mercenary soldiers in khaki made their way down the stairs, rifles slung over their backs. They took their places and waited. Then Augustus P. Dechantagne and his older brother Terrence stepped down into the boat. Baxter started to order the men to row, but Terrence Dechantagne raised his hand.
A minute later, Zurfina the Magnificent descended the stairs like a goddess descending from on high. Her black dress left little to the imagination, especially to those in the boat below. Following behind her, dressed almost identically was her nine-year-old apprentice, Senta, with the tiny steel dragon wrapped around her shoulders. Once Zurfina and Senta had stepped into the launch, the boat was pushed away from the ship, and the sailors lowered their oars into the water.
None of the men spoke as they traversed the bay and approached the shore. The honking of the iguanodons could be heard in the distance, along with an occasional loud bellowing roar.
“Gawp,” said the dragon.
It didn’t take long for the boat to reach the shore, a twenty-foot wide band of rocks and gravel separating the water from the thick redwood forest. The sailors raised their oars straight up and Captain Dechantagne and several of the soldiers jumped out and pulled the boat up onto the gravel. Then everyone else climbed out onto land.
“What do you think, Baxter?” asked Augie Dechantagne. “This looks like a good place for a dock right here. We can use the wood growing all around, build the dock and extend it straight out into the water thirty or forty feet, and build a couple of warehouses right up here.
“We’ll have to check the depth, but it seems fine,” replied Baxter.
Leaving six of the sailors with the boat, the rest of the party moved past the shore and into the woods. The redwoods were enormous. Some of them were twenty feet or more in diameter at the base. Baxter wondered just how many pieces of furniture could be cut from a single tree. It wouldn’t take many of them to construct a dock.
Once away from the shoreline, the land rose up quickly.
“It’s hard to tell with all these trees, but it looks as though the initial survey was right on,” said Augie. “This ridge runs right out on the peninsula. We can build the lighthouse at the tip, and the fort on that hill to the right.”
“The peninsula is what, about four miles long and a mile wide?” asked Terrence.
“Yes, though there is a narrow spot in the middle of the peninsula, where it’s only as wide as the ridge, maybe a half a mile.”
“How far is the river?”
“About six miles east.”
“Why not build closer to the river,” wondered Baxter.
“The Manzanian isn’t like the Thiss or the Green River in Mallontah. It’s not navigable even around the mouth. Twelve miles upstream you find the first of a half dozen known cataracts. In the short term at least, this little bay will be much more valuable to the colony than the river would be. There are several small streams around here for water and we can pipe in more as needed.”
When they had walked up a few hundred feet, the land flattened out and opened into a clearing. Here was a great group of iguanodons, with several members of another species of dinosaur meandering along with them. This was a low, heavily built, mottled brown creature about twenty feet long, covered with thick plates of boney armor. Its beaked head resembled a horned lizard, with short, thick horns arranged around its face. At the end of its long tail, it sported an enormous two-lobed club.
“I wonder what Mormont called this one,” wondered Captain Dechantagne. “Clubadon?”
“It’s called an ankylosaurus,” said Augie.
His brother looked at him in surprise.
“I’ve been here before, remember? I wonder if it could be domesticated? I’ll bet that thing could pull a pretty heavily laden wagon.”
Captain Dechantagne shrugged, then stopped and pointed.
At the far end of the clearing, the foliage parted and a massive red face pushed its way into the open. The rest of a large blocky head followed it, twenty-five feet above the ground. Slowly the entire creature emerged from the woods. Two tiny forearms dangled uselessly, but two giant, clawed hind feet carried the beast, a great black body, balanced at one end by the enormous head and at the other end by a long, sweeping tail. It gave an awful roar and rushed forward to take a horrendous bite out of the back of the closest iguanodon. The injured creature honked balefully and ran several steps, but it was wounded so grievously that it sank to the ground from shock and blood loss. The reptilian tyrant strode over to its victim and administered a killing bite.
“Bloody hell,” said Augie.
The steel dragon suddenly launched itself into the air. The chain attaching it to the little girl pulled taut and jerked her off her feet. As she fell to the ground on her knees, a weak link in the chain parted, sending the dragon flying up toward the trees in the general direction from which they had come. The girl jumped to her feet and took off running after her wayward charge.
“Come back here!” she called.
Both the little dragon and the girl were soon lost amid the massive trees.
Zurfina looked at Baxter.
“You’re supposed to find her.”
“Bloody hell!” growled Terrence, pointing to his brother and two nearby mercenaries. “You’re with me!”
They went running in the direction the girl had gone.
“What the hell are you waiting for?” Zurfina demanded of Baxter.
He pulled his pistol from its holster and ran after the other men, weaving in and out of the great trees. He had almost caught up with them, when they suddenly stopped. In the clearing ahead, Senta was being attacked by a flock of velociraptors. The creatures were like turkeys from hell, covered in hairy feathers, yellow but green near their small arms. Instead of beaks, they had long mouths filled with razor-sharp teeth. One of the creatures was on the girl’s shoulders, and another was nipping at her legs. One was lying on the ground, apparently injured, while the little dragon savaged another. And several others circled, squawking.