Princess of Amathar – Chapter 15 Excerpt

The sky train sped above the seemingly endless city. Several times it stopped at stations, but we remained aboard. I continued to watch in fascination, the buildings passing by. Abruptly the color, style, and size of the structures changed. We were now crossing a region of huge, dark buildings, many of which were larger than the giant warehouses and sports stadiums that I had seen before. These were far less ornate and far more utilitarian than the other buildings as well.

“This is one of the industrial regions. It is a circle one hundred kentads (about fifty miles) in diameter containing nothing but factories and warehouses. This is where the majority of our manufactured goods come from— this or one of the nine other regions just like it.”

I acknowledged Vena Remontar’s commentary, and then turned away from the window. Several food servers in the traditional white bodysuits were delivering tall glasses of ice water and trays of small appetizer cakes. The young knight, and I as her companion, were served first.

“There certainly seems to be a great deal of respect and privilege associated with being a knight,” I observed.

“That is very true,” Vena Remontar replied, with a slight smile, “but it is more than that in my case. The Remontar family name is well known, as are all who carry that name. In addition, my cousins are the heirs of the Sun Overlord. Norar Remontar and his sister are beloved of the entire city.”

We busied ourselves eating the delicious cakes, which were filled with ground meat and a variety of vegetables. In certain parts of the land of my birth, they might have been called pasties, though they were seasoned unlike anything found on Earth. The water was delicious. It seemed that water was the beverage of choice among the Amatharians, and they went to great lengths to see that any water found within the city was not only crystal clear and healthful, but tasty as well. With the exception of mirrah, and a few other fermented drinks, water was all that was available to drink in most city places.

We had just finished eating when the sky train made one more stop in the industrial center. After it began on its way again, we crossed out of the region of factories and complexes and began crossing a vast open cultivated land. I watched out the window as we continued on, and the buildings of the city grew distant behind us. Roaming the ground like huge grazing animals, were monstrous machines, planting, thinning, and harvesting a tremendous variety of vegetables and fruits.

“Have we left the city?” I asked.

“This is one of the five cultivation areas within the city,” explained the knight. “Each is a circle two hundred fifty kentads (about two hundred miles) in diameter. Four are in operation growing our food, while a fifth lies fallow.”

As we cruised along, our conversation did not lag. I had a thousand, no ten thousand questions for this lovely young woman from a very alien culture. She explained much about the hopes and aspirations of the Amatharian people, the day-to-day functioning of the clans and family businesses, and the many obligations and requirements. Even though I know that I learned much during the course of that lengthy ride, it is hard to remember the exact order of the conversation now.

We passed the far edge of the cultivation area and once again entered into the urban mass. This portion of the city was obviously of far greater age than the majority of the buildings I had seen until now, though these old edifices maintained the same style and ornamentation as the newer ones. I had come to think of Amathar as one would think of a city one Earth, a great urban realm, but this city was on an entirely different scale. Within the walls of the Amatharians’ home were not only vast areas of cultivated fields, but mountains, lakes, and rivers as well. This older portion of the city, though still urban, was built upon a low mountain range.

The train stopped at a station upon a platform high in the air, and this time we stood up and stepped off the sky train. Vena Remontar led me down a great escalator so steep that it seemed I was walking straight down. Once at the bottom I looked around at a plaza some two miles across. Great statues of stone, some as high as forty feet were interspersed with surging fountains, tall green hedgerows, and monstrous tile pictures. Two sides of the plaza were lined with large buildings resembling hotels. The third side faced a large park or wilderness area. Facing the fourth side was a fantastic stepped pyramid, more than a mile wide and more than two thousand feet high.

“That is the Temple of Amath,” my blue-skinned companion said. “At the other end is the Garden of Souls.”

The Drache Girl – Chapter 20 Excerpt

It was damp and cold. A thick blanket of fog rolled slowly through Port Dechantagne, between the trees and houses, obscuring the creatures, large and small, that moved through the mist. It left decorations of condensation upon everything it touched. Police Constable Saba Colbshallow pulled out his gold pocket watch and flipped it open. The time read 6:53. He put the watch away and then stuffed both hands into the pockets of his reefer jacket. He stepped through the remains of the burned out house of Mrs. Yembrick, careful not to step on an exposed nail or a jagged timber.

“I thought I saw you over here.” Eamon Shrub stood at the edge of the building foundation. His uniform exactly matched Saba’s, from the helmet on his head, to the shin-high boots on his feet.

“What are you doing dressed for duty already?” wondered Saba. “You don’t come on till nine.”

“Dot was tossing and turning all night, so I got up early. Figured I might as well get ready. Talking of which, didn’t your shift end last night at nine?”

“You know how it is.”

Saba walked across the blackened foundation and Eamon walked around it. They met on the far side of what was left of the structure and shook hands.

“I can’t stop thinking about what’s going on with the lizzies,” said Saba. “I’m sure that something is up.”

“What do you think it is?”

“I don’t know. I caught one in town using false documentation and I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. If they’re sharing their bracelets, then it’s possible we have many more of them in town than there should be. Then there’s whatever they’ve been getting from the ships in port. They’ve hauled away loads of crates from two ships that I know of and there may well have been more.”

“It’s probably someone trying to smuggle trade goods past the tax collector, and using lizzies for hired labor. Kind of like what the professor was doing, only in reverse.”

“Maybe. Even if that’s all it is though, it’s still quite a smuggling operation.”

“So what’s that got to do with Mrs. Yembrick?”

“Both times I trailed the lizzies carrying crates; they passed by this general direction. Then I took a look back through the log books and found that Mrs. Yembrick reported seeing lizzies in her window on three separate occasions.”

“That does seem a bit fishy in light of the fire,” offered Eamon.

“Exactly. So since I had no luck following our cold-blooded friends, I thought I would poke around here.”

“All right. I’ll poke with you.”

The two began making a sweep across the yard, carefully examining the ground for anything unusual. After only a few minutes, Saba noticed a pile of debris that seemed oddly placed. Several timbers had apparently fallen a good distance from the fire, and were sitting on five or six boards and a piece of canvas, none of which had been touched by the flames. The young constable began tossing the wood aside. By the time he had finished, Eamon had joined him to help pull the dirty canvas over.

“Did you remember Mrs. Yembrick having a root cellar?” asked Saba, looking down at the door on the ground.

“Can’t say as I did,” replied Eamon.

He bent down at one end of the door and Saba the other. They both lifted the portal open, revealing a set of stone steps leading down into the darkness. Saba, who was closest to the top step, started down. His fellow constable followed him into the darkness. There were exactly ten steps down to a large room with a dirt floor. Though shrouded in shadows, there was just enough dim morning light leaking in for them to see that all four walls were lined with stacks of long thin wooden crates.

With a single stride, Saba reached the stack of crates almost as tall as himself along the left hand side of the room. He lifted the lid of the topmost. Though it had once been nailed shut, the lid was now just sitting on the wooden box. Inside, there was nothing but a handful of straw packing. He kicked the bottom of the stack and could tell from the movement of the boxes that all were empty.

“Look over here,” said Eamon, who had moved to the back of the room.

He was pointing to one of the crates at the bottom of the stack against the wall farthest from the doorway. It had black printing painted across the wood. Saba had to kneel down in the darkness to read the writing. “.30 caliber Hecken 98”

“Oh sweet Kafira. Rifles.”

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 14 Excerpt

I had literally just closed the door after Nicohl Messonar had left, when the disembodied voice announced that Vena Remontar had arrived. I am sure that the two must have passed in the hall, though I was not fortunate enough to witness it.

“Are you ready?” asked Vena Remontar. “Wear your swords.”

I strapped my weapons belt on below my tabard and carefully sheathed my swords in their new holders. In spite of the fact that the swords were uncounted years older than the sheaths, they fit perfectly. We started out the door, and down the hallway. It was the first time I had been out of Norar Remontar’s apartment since I had arrived, and it felt good.

“We need to stop here first,” said Vena Remontar, as we stepped off the escalator onto the fifth floor.

The lower floors had much higher ceilings and seemed more spacious than those of the upper floors. Here were located restaurants, shops, and other facilities used by the people in the building. We entered through an open doorway to find a large gymnasium. There were two young girls; I would have thought them about ten years of age, practicing their swordsmanship in a haphazard manner, at the far end of the room. As they noticed us, they stopped to stare at me and giggle.

“I wish to see if the title of swordsman that Norar Remontar laid upon you is warranted,” the female knight said.

She drew her long sword and I followed suit. We nodded respectfully to one another. Then with a skill and speed born of battle, Vena Remontar charged at me, bringing her blade down directly toward my face. I raised my own to block the stroke, and just as quickly she swung two more blows. The only thing I could do was take the offensive, so as I blocked the third blow, I swung my weapon on around in a great arc toward her side. The woman was off balance from her attack, so the only way she could block the arc of weapon, was to turn her back on me, and swing her blade outward to meet mine. I expected that this would offer me a chance to attack her back, but it didn’t. As soon as she had done so, she tucked and rolled forward, spinning as she rose to face me. This was a brilliant maneuver and would have put several yards between us, but I wasn’t ready to let up. Using my gravity-enhanced strength, I jumped forward, almost landing on top of her. Vena Remontar thrust quickly several times. I blocked those attacks and countered.

“Not bad, thus far,” she said.

“Thank you.”

As I said this, I swung down. I knew that were we really engaged in battle, her sword would have glowed with power, and sliced through the mundane metal of my own, but for now, the soul was asleep, and we were on equal terms. Actually, I had an advantage of superior strength. She blocked my swing, but was unprepared for the added power, and it knocked her from her feet. Without hesitation, she swung toward my knees. I jumped up, and the blade passed harmlessly below me. The young knight rolled to her feet.

I could see by the half smile on her lips that she was enjoying herself. With a flick of her left wrist so quick that I almost didn’t see it, she whipped her short sword from its sheath and grasped it like a dagger. I chopped down with my blade in an attempt to catch her off balance, but she wasn’t off balance. She blocked my blow with the shorter blade and began to attack with the longer. Then she attacked with both swords, forcing me to defend, and I am sure, hoping to wear me down. Unable to attack for the moment, I began to leap quickly to either side, and then to the back, forcing her to chase me. I knew that it was I who would be able to wear her down first, and after several dozen parries, I could see in her eyes that she was coming to the same realization.

Here was the advantage I needed. I rained a series of blows at her head, and then swung with power at her side. Like she had before, Vena Remontar spun around with her back to me and swung her sword, tip down, outward to meet mine. I expected to have a quick shot at her exposed back and left side, but even as she blocked my attack, she drove her short sword, in her left hand, straight back under her arm, and into my stomach.

“Umph!” I grunted in surprise. I expected that I had been cut through, but the tip of her sword merely pricked my skin.

Vena Remontar wiped the tiny drop of blood from her sword tip onto her tabard, and then sheathed her sword. With the drawing of first blood, the contest was over.

“I’m satisfied,” she said. “I thought that perhaps Norar Remontar was being overly generous. But you are quite skilled.”

The Drache Girl – Chapter 19 Excerpt

Senta finished washing her face and brushing her teeth. She walked back to her bed and examined the dress that lay there. Even though Zurfina had not returned, clothing continued to appear each morning. Sometimes Senta ignored it and wore one of the dresses that she had purchased for herself at Mrs. Bratihn’s, but more often she simply slipped into whatever strange accouterments appeared. She had already put on her underclothes, including her bustle, when she lifted up the dress by the shoulders to examine it. This one was actually not too bad. It was black with puffy white sleeves and white lace trim around the neckline and the bottom. The only problem was that the bottom was just below her knees.

Senta rolled her eyes then slipped on the dress. She reached behind her and easily fastened the row of tiny buttons that ran up the back. Opening her top dresser drawer, she rummaged around and found her knee-high socks with one-inch horizontal black and white stripes. She sat down on the bed and pulled them on, and then put on her black patent leather high heels. Looking in the cheval glass, she decided that it didn’t look too bad.

Once downstairs, she thought for a brief moment about preparing some breakfast, but decided she’d rather walk to Mrs. Finkler’s. It was a new month and her pockets were once again filled with her stipend. The desire not to have to clean the kitchen and the fact of her newfound wealth had both conspired to disincline Senta to cook since Zurfina had left. And as Bessemer didn’t seem to mind, preferring to catch and eat wild prey anyway, she scarcely took the time to prepare any meals at home anymore. She looked at the steel dragon’s empty corner and then headed out the front door.

Senta had almost completely crossed the yard before she noticed Graham standing at the gate. His brown hair was neatly combed and his freckled face had been recently scrubbed. He wore a tan and white horizontally striped shirt that made him look chubbier than he actually was and a new pair of dungarees cut extra long and rolled up into cuffs over his work boots. In his right hand, he clasped a handful of small white flowers.

“You look kind of ridiculous,” she said.

“You should talk. I mean… you look nice. Here, these are for you.” He shoved the handful of flowers in her direction.

“Thanks. I didn’t think there were any flowers in bloom yet.”

“These are the only ones. They grow in the dinosaur poo.”

“Pretty. So what made you decide to come around here?”

“I don’t know.”

“You must have some idea. I haven’t seen you in a whole month.”

Graham mumbled something.

“What?”

“I said I guess I missed you or something.”

Senta smiled and stepping over to him wrapped her arms around his left arm.

“I was on my way to Mrs. Finkler’s for breakfast. Come with me.”

“I’ve already eaten,” said Graham. He didn’t say this to decline her invitation and she didn’t take it that way. It was understood between them that for him two meals in a row was no problem. “I’m buying though.”

“Then it will be a real date,” said Senta.

“No, not really.”

Graham turned and headed toward town, Senta still holding onto his left arm.

“I think you’ve grown since I saw you last,” said Senta, who was several inches taller than Graham.

“Yep. Da says I’m in a spurt. Look. If we’re going to be friends…”

“We are friends,” she corrected.

“Okay. Yes, we are friends. But you can’t go fighting my fights for me. You have to let me take care of myself. I’m a man.”

“Nope. That’s not how it works. You are my friend and if anyone messes with you, I will crush them.”

Graham stopped and pulled his arm from her grasp so that he could put both of his hands on his hips.

“And,” she continued. “If anyone messes with me, you can do the same, just like you did with that Freedonian wanker Streck.”

The boy thought for a moment. “Well, that seems fair.”

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 13 Excerpt

I opened my eyes to find myself looking at the ceiling. For a moment I though that I was back in my bedroom at home on Earth, and that all of my adventures in Ecos were just a fantastic dream. Then Malagor leaned over to look into my face.

“I have slept, gotten up, explored the city, eaten, and slept again. You are just now waking.”

“How very nice for you,” I replied.

I sat up, and then climbed out of bed, noticing a distinct disadvantage to the Amatharian beds. Yet I felt so refreshed that my gravity enhanced muscles sent me bounding up onto the floor. I started toward the washbasin, but noticed the doorway just to the left. Passing through it, I found the bathroom. It was a huge room. The bathtub was a small pool, designed to look like a thermal spa, with water constantly flowing from a waterfall into the pool, and then out at the other end. The room also had the other features that one might expect, and they were similarly fashioned to resemble natural features.

I hopped up into the bath and floated in the hot water. The little pool was large enough for me to swim around in, and when I stood up, the water still reached the middle of my chest. Beside the inlet waterfall was a small shelf with a variety of brushes and cleaning agents. I found something that seemed close to shampoo and washed myself from head to toe. I hopped out just long enough to retrieve my knife from beside the bed, then hopped back in and relaxed in the water as I shaved my ragged beard. When I exited the bath a second time, I felt presentable enough for polite Amatharian society. Malagor was waiting for me with some new clothes— a black Amatharian body suit, a plain white tabard, and a pair of boots.

“At Norar Remontar’s direction, I got these from the clothier on the first floor,” he said. “I had to have my own clothing specially ordered.”

I was interested to see how the bodysuit was put on. I found that it had an open waist in the back. Still it took me several moments to discover how to get my lower portion in, and still be able to insert my upper half. Fortunately the material used by the Amatharians was extremely flexible. Once I had it on, it seemed not so much to stretch to fit, as to shrink to fit. It covered every inch of my body in a cool embrace. It was extremely comfortable. The tabard which I put on over it was, as one would expect, slightly encumbering, though no more so than a light jacket or sweater. It reached just below my knees in front and in back, but was open on the sides. Finally I put on the boots, and found them to be the most comfortable footwear that I have ever tried on. All that remained was for me to strap on the weapons belt beneath my tabard. Malagor had also seen to it that I had the appropriate sheaths for my swords. I looked like an Amatharian that had somehow been deprived of his beautiful blue skin.

“Where is Norar Remontar?” I asked.

“He left to see members of his family,” replied Malagor.

Just then an ethereal voice spoke seemingly out of nowhere. “Nicohl Messonar is waiting at the door.” The two of us looked around the room expectantly for a moment, and then at each other.

“Must be a kind of doorbell,” I offered. Malagor shrugged.

I walked out of the bedroom, followed by my alien friend, and opened the front door. Outside, stood an Amatharian woman. She looked to be in her early fifties, and possessed a more mature form of the beauty that was apparently common to all Amatharian women. Her silky black hair cut straight across her forehead, and reaching the middle of her back, was touched with grey, but her dark blue skin remained flawless. She wore a white tabard with a crest— a flaming sun supported by a pedestal— indicating that she was a knight. But instead of the black bodysuit of a soldier, hers was light lavender. She carried no swords; just a satchel slung over one shoulder.

Stepping confidently into the apartment, the woman looked me over, coldly, for a moment before speaking.

“I am Nicohl Messonar,” she said.

“So I understand,” I replied. “Nicole is a common name among my people.”

“The name is Nicohl.”

“Nicohl.”

“Yes, and my name is Nicohl Messonar.” She arched an eyebrow. “It is impolite not to use both names. That is only for husbands and wives, sharing an intimate moment.”

The Drache Girl – Chapter 18 Excerpt

The past five days had been more grueling for Radley Staff than the previous five, and that was saying something. Getting his expedition home through the dinosaur filled forest, carrying one dead and one dying, had been more adventure than most people would have ever wanted. A pack of deinonychus had dogged their trail the entire way, but the party was large enough and well armed enough, that the beasts had kept their distance. Such was not true for the utahraptor that had rushed out of the trees. The seven foot tall, twenty-five foot long creature clamped its jaws down on Sanjo’s arm just as Staff pumped five rifle rounds into its fist-sized brain. Crashing to the ground, it nearly ripped the poor lizzie’s arm off. It was a wound that was sure to have killed a man, but after it was bandaged, Sanjo seemed already on the mend.

Glad that he didn’t have to worry about the lizardman, Staff did worry about Miss Jindra. The fact that he had dragged the beautiful young sorceress out into the forest seemed sure to be the cause of whatever blight had settled upon her. He felt guilty—only to find out that her illness was self-inflicted, the result of her theft of magically booby-trapped money. Even after discovering this fact, Staff insisted that she remain in the apartments of the M&S Coal offices and paid for the very best care.

He didn’t have any time to sit by Miss Jindra’s bed. He spent almost all of his time during the five days after his return to Port Dechantagne, arranging for the funeral of Aakesh Mouliets, seeing to the needs of Mrs. Mouliets and her boy, and negotiating with the railroad for the construction of a spur line to the coal deposits. Staff had known that the Mirsannan culture was steeped in tradition, but he didn’t realize until now just how difficult it would make his life. There were all kinds of requirements for the burial of a Mirsannan, none of which were simple or straightforward. The coffin had to be made of cedar, a not impossible task. But the deceased had to have a pillow of ferret skins and the church had to be filled with peacock feathers, neither of which could be found within five thousand miles of Birmisia. Mirsannan men, or at least Mouliets, appreciated the demure Mirsannan woman, who as far as Staff could see, could do almost nothing on her own. Purna Mouliets did nothing but weep into her hankie, and while he could appreciate the genuine emotion for her beloved, Staff eventually wearied of her inability to stop crying long enough to approve or disapprove the elements of the funeral. Her son Sudas on the other hand scarcely took his face out of a book long enough to notice that his father was gone.

Mr. Lenahan Norich of the Mallontah and Birmisia Railroad had sent his personal assistant Anton Garner all the way to Port Dechantagne to negotiate the construction of a spur line. He arrived in his employer’s private railcar. The railroad was quite happy to build the additional track, but the guarantees they wanted in exchange were exorbitant. Had it been any other time, Staff would have asked for the influence of the royal governor, but two days before negotiations had begun, Iolanthe’s husband had committed suicide. Staff couldn’t help but have mixed emotions. At last the paperwork was signed and on the day of the funeral, more than one hundred lizardmen workers, supervised by a dozen engineers and foremen, began clearing the way for the iron rails that would soon follow.

Mouliets’ funeral was attended by about forty people. All of the M&S employees were there along with their families. Caitleen Harper, her daughter Melody Lanier, and her granddaughter Wenda were dressed in simple black. Theadora Vanita, in charcoal grey, was accompanied by a man that Staff had never seen before. It was an example, he thought, of how there was a match for anyone somewhere out in the world, because this fellow at six foot eight and at least three hundred pounds was probably the only person in Port Dechantagne capable of making Miss Vanita look dainty by comparison. A slight shudder went through Staff when he saw Mrs. Fandice. The woman, who had been remarkably helpful in arranging the funeral, wore a dress that dripped with artificial lilies. What was obviously meant to be a mourning dress looked more like something that would be worn by a street performer. She and her gorgeous niece, Loana Hewison, were accompanied by PC Colbshallow in his finest blue uniform. Staff escorted Miss Franka Rocanna, who looked as beautiful in her dark purple dress with antique lace, as she did at any other time. Her veiled hat disguised her strangely short red hair, but not her smoldering, dark eyes or dark, full lips. Edin Buttermore arrived with his wife and child. It was the first time that Staff had seen either of them since their arrival in Birmisia, and it appeared that life in the new land appealed to them. The haggard and frail appearance that he had noted on Julietta Buttermore’s face was gone, and the toddler, Easton, was as fat and happy as ever. Mr. and Mrs. Rutan wore expressions one might expect at a funeral. Of course, these were the expressions that they wore all the time. The Gliebermans, Beeman, his wife Acadia, and their six-year-old daughter Sherree all wore the same simple grey and white clothes that had originally made Staff assume that they were Zaeri. The little girl with her miniature eyeglasses and her tiny dress identical to her mother’s, carried a fluffy stuffed animal in one hand and a first year primer in the other. Ivo and Femke Kane were the last to arrive, just moments before the start of the service. Ivo Kane wore a long, black suit, and Mrs. Kane wore an identical one.

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 11 Excerpt

Malagor, Norar Remontar, and I stepped out of the elevator and into a room lit just like the one from which we had left.   This room had no geometric video controller in it however, and it was triangular in shape, with the elevator opening in the middle of one of three equal sides, and an open doorway on the wall to our left.

“This is peculiar,” said Norar Remontar.

I nodded my head at the understatement.

“I would be willing to bet that this elevator, these rooms, the lighting, and the controls for the video images, are all artifacts of the Elder Gods, or whomever it was that created Ecos.”

“I am inclined to agree,” said Norar Remontar.

We looked around this new room for several moments, but found nothing of interest. Finally Malagor voiced the opinion that we really had no other alternative but to head down the hallway and see where it led us. I was toying with the idea of suggesting that we try our luck one more time in the mysterious elevator, but I decided that Malagor was probably right. It was time to continue on our way. That is just what we did.

The dark hallway beckoned us like a gaping maw, but I tried not to think of it that way. It really doesn’t take too long to adjust to continual daylight. I think it would be much harder to adjust to continual darkness. Norar Remontar turned on his small flashlight; I unsheathed my sword, and the three of us with a quiet look between us, started down the long hallway. This time it continued straight for what must have been five miles before opening into any type of room what so ever. At last it did though, and as soon as we stepped into the room, I knew we were in for trouble.

A sudden wave of stench assaulted my nostrils. It was the smell of several dozen bodies that had not seen a bath in a long time, mixed with the smell of bodily waste accumulated over a period of several generations. I wasn’t the only one to smell it. Malagor immediately began coughing and gagging, to the extent that I feared he would pass out. A look of disgust crossed Norar Remontar’s face, but otherwise he remained characteristically stoic.

Malagor had just regained his composure, when a horde of creatures burst screaming toward us from the dark. There were a score or more of the short, bipedal, four armed rat-like creatures, and they attacked using stone axes and razor sharp teeth. Screaming like banshees, the Kartags literally fell upon us.

I skewered the first creature to reach me on the end of my sword, turned, and threw my shoulder into the next one, sending it flying backwards into its fellows. At that moment the entire room was lit up by the incredible brightness of the Amatharian sword unsheathed. It sizzled and sparked as Norar Remontar used it to cut through the bodies of three of the Kartags. At almost the same moment, Malagor let loose with a burst of light rifle fire which cut a nice round smoking hole in the chest of another rat. This display of destruction was all that was necessary to convince most of the beasts to retreat. I quickly lopped off the head of one who apparently was having difficulty making that decision.

The screaming inhabitants of the tunnels ran away into the darkness and it became once again like a tomb. The light from Norar Remontar’s sword dimmed until it gave no light at all. I sheathed my own weapon, and followed the pale circle of artificial light as the Amatharian continued on his, and our, way. I felt Malagor take up a position behind me.

The stench was just as bad now that the Kartags had gone, as it had been when they had been present, and we soon found out why. Continuing on through the room, the size of which, like the previous giant room, was indeterminable, we stumbled upon the camp of the filthy creatures. It consisted of nothing but a pile of filthy furs, most with pieces of reeking meat hanging upon them. Scattered between the filthy animal skins were chips of stone, obviously flaked from hand made tools, and here and there, piles of feces. I had been willing to give the Kartags the benefit of the doubt up until that point, thinking perhaps they were only attacking us because we were invading their territory—that perhaps they were simply misunderstood. I could not imagine any intelligent creature though, fouling its own campsite, when there were uncounted stretches of tunnels from which to choose a suitable spot for a commode.

The room turned out to be relatively small, at least in Orlonian terms. When we had gone about a hundred feet past the Kartags’ home, and about two hundred feet beyond the scene of the short battle with them, we found another passageway continuing on into the darkness. Being more interested than ever to get out of the infernal underground, we trudged on.