Posted by: Jennifer
After spending the night on the Crisis, the executive officers left Leila in charge of the ship and took the ship’s boat, passing the Chelish fortress and rowing upriver until they reached a placid lake. They pulled the boat up on the eastern shore and discovered this area was not a trackless wilderness after all—someone had built a gigantic corral out of whole trees nearby. It was an imposing, if crude, edifice, yet it clearly hadn’t been imposing enough. The beams lay broken and smashed on the ground and massive clawed footprints led away into—or, more accurately, over—the brush.
“What the fook made that?” Chopper asked.
“More dinosaurs, it looks like,” Feruzi said, surveying the prints.
“Like Koro-koro?”“Probably a big herbivore,” she told him, grinning. “Isn’t that a great word? Herbivore.”
“Ah, less bitey, then.”
“It is most likely a triceratops,” Reiko said. She gestured toward the treeline, where some hulking shapes were not-particularly-well concealed, if you knew what you were looking for. One of them raised its head and fixed a wary gaze on the Crisis crew. Chopper looked down at the dolphin-engraved ring on his hand.
“Time ta see if this thing works, says I.” He took off, heading straight for the two immense beasts.
“And I am without a damn cannon . . .” Ezikial grumbled as everyone hurried after the Captain. The larger beast, probably male, turned to face Chopper and lowered its head, snorting and stomping around aggressively. The smaller dinosaur bellowed loudly.
“Adorable,” Chopper remarked, and waved his ring at the male. The dinosaur’s disposition changed immediately, and it ceased its posturing, emitting a low, deep rumble.
“Blow me down,” Sandara said, “is that thing purrin’?”
“’Course it is,” Chopper said. “I’m drippin’ with animal magnetism.”
Reiko sighed. “I suppose that is . . . possible.”
Chopper began petting the big dinosaur, or trying to, at least, its hide was thick and knobby. The smaller dinosaur hunkered down until its stomach was almost scraping the ground, and inched forward as Chopper pulled some apples from his pockets and began sharing them with the larger one.
“They ain’t so bad when they ain’t demon-blooded, I reckon?” Sandara pondered.
“They’re like big cows,” Feruzi said. She winced as Chopper tried to convince the big one to let him up on its back, although the dinosaur proved amenable to this procedure. Chopper whacked it on the shoulder and it set off, casually shrugging brush and small saplings out of its way. Taking yet another apple out of his pocket, Chopper impaled it on a stick and used this crude lure to direct the beast. Sandara shook her head.
“Well, there’s somethin’ ye don’t see every day.”
“As long as he doesn’t want to take it aboard the ship,” Ezikial grumbled.
They reached the base of the island’s interior plateau without incident, although the dinosaurs were beginning to look restless and Chopper was running low on apples. This close it was much more apparent just how high this highland was, easily five hundred feet in altitude. Some thoughtful Cyclopes had built a stair of sorts, into the precipitous slope, a series of chest-high blocks that zigzagged across the stone revealed underneath the surface soil and vegetation. The dinosaurs weren’t built for such acrobatics, so Chopper tossed them the rest of his apples and bid them farewell.
The climb was exhausting but the view from the top was certainly spectacular. An overgrown highway of quarried stone led away from the stair toward a cluster of stony hills—the location, according to Bikendi Otongu, of Sumitha.
“Have you thought about what you intend to say to these Cyclopes?” Feruzi asked while they sat panting in the grass.
“Ye got the Dreamstone, aye? Give ’er here. More ’r less.”
“I have a suspicion that if you start out with demands we may have to exterminate them. Not sure how well that appeals to you.”
Chopper stroked his chin. “Mayhap I should appeal to their cyclopanity.” Sandara laughed at this and rolled her eyes.
“It never hurts to try offering something they want, if we can think of anything,” Feruzi said.
“What, like another eye? I got no talent fer deception. I mean ta give it to ‘em straight. We’re lookin’ ta break the curse. I fthey ain’t amenable, well, we’ve got a few fistfuls o’ pain ta be servin’ up, don’t we?”
“You could always challenge their leader to a duel or something,” Feruzi said, dubious.
Chopper snorted. “Me? Inna duel? I ain’t the Captain ‘cos I’m the best fighter among us.”
“He’s unarmed in a battle of wits, too,” Ezikial muttered.
“I heard that, Mister Hands. So’s yer face.”
“That dinna make any sense,” Sandara said.
" ’So’s yer face’ always makes sense."
“Never mind him, Sandi, he’s sober,” Ezikial said.
The stone highway led eventually to a gap between the hills and a number of partially-ruined, hulking buildings surrounded by stone walls with a number of pillared entrances. Chopper halted and waved to the trees on either side of them. “Trap,” he said, pointing out a net strung between two trees. They skirted around it and surveyed the ruins.
“So what do we do now, knock?” Feruzi suggested.
“That ain’t a half-bad idea,” Chopper said.
“Well, if you’re looking for a loud noise, that’s Ezikial’s department.” Ezikial shrugged, not wanting to fire his pistols wastefully, so Feruzi stuck her fingers in her mouth and gave a piercing whistle. Two Cyclopes emerged from a central building, one headed rapidly up a side path while the other shouldered a crossbow the size of a ballista and fired.
“Oh, now that’s just rude,” Feruzi said, dodging the bolt.
“Stop this right now!” Reiko yelled. “We only came to talk!”
“So talk,” the cyclops grunted. "Why you come to Sumitha?
“We want to speak to your leader,” Reiko said.
“Ishtoreth no speak outsider.”
“Well, then we have a problem, and because we have a problem, you have a problem. If you don’t want your life snuffed out before you can even blink, you will let us speak to Ishtoreth-san.” Ezikial cocked his pistols with ominous double-clicks.
“No snuff Junlo!” one of the giants said. The other glared.
“Fine, you take to Ishtoreth.”
“You come,” Junlo announced, and began trooping toward a set of massive double doors set into the hillside. Chopper sheathed his weapons and followed, his crew trailing behind. As they drew nearer the structures the faint pressure of a telepathic contact seized them.
“Help me . . . the Cyclopes have held me here since the waning days of Ghol-Gan . . . my name is Vailea . . . I am in the pool not far from you . . .”
“Oi, Junlo,” Chopper called. “What’s with the tart in the pool?”
“Ishtoreth’s wish woman. He tell you.”
The double doors led into a huge chamber only weakly illuminated by smoky oil lamps suspended overhead. Very large sleeping pallets covered most of the floor space and two more sets of doors led both north and south. Junlo led them to the north doors, to a room with columns carved in the shape of more cyclopes in decorative armor. In the northeast corner a single heavy cyclops sat on a cushion made from an animal hide of unknown provenance next to a pile of bones and a number of dinosaur skulls. The one-eyed giant heaved himself to his feet, using his greatclub as a prop for his bulk.
“You bring intruder to Hall of Champions!?” he roared.
“Oi, you sayin’ I ain’t a champion?” Chopper protested.
“Captain,” Reiko admonished.
Feruzi shook her head as Chopper ignored Reiko and kept talking. “Need yer Dreamstone thingy.”
“Captain!” Reiko growled. “Mr. Ishtoreth, our fort, on the other side of our island, is infested with ghosts and shades. We require a certain gemstone in order to rid ourselves of this infestation. It has come to our attention that such a gemstone exists here in your fort.”
“Lens of Revelation belongs to Ghol-Gan. Belongs in Eye of Serenity. Others take it before. They die.”
“We’ll return it when we are done with it,” Reiko said. “On that you have my word as a samurai.” She cleared her throat and muttered under her breath, “Assuming we don’t destroy it in the process.”
“Better idea,” Ishtoreth said. “I kill you, I eat you, Lens stay here.”
“’S an option, sure,” Chopper said, grinning. “Ye can try.”
Ezikial needed no further invitation. “BESMARA!” he bellowed, firing his pistols and punching bloody holes in the great cyclops’s hide. Ishtoreth did not appear dismayed, but he snarled in pain as Reiko leapt forward and hacked his muscular leg with her sword. Junlo, watching this, scurried—as much as a giant could scurry—toward the southern doors, only to be intercepted by Chopper. Confused, and distracted by the flurry of, to him, tiny axes, the smaller cyclops made a perfect target for Feruzi, who converted him to a pincushion.
Ishtoreth’s greatclub caught Reiko in the stomach, picking her up bodily and launching her across the room. The air seemed to vibrate as the giant continued his strike, landing another pulverizing blow. Reiko scrabbled at the stone, feeling her ribcage and spine protest the movement. Sandara moved to help her and Ishtoreth backhanded the Cleric, slamming her to the floor where she lay still.
“Dammit!” Chopper yelled as Ezikial peppered the giant with another round of bullets. “Yer mother was a no-eyed trollop who gave skull jobs to the sailors!” Ishtoreth roared at Chopper, who scooted back toward the doors. The giant lowered his head, bringing his single horn into play. Feruzi’s arrows sank deep in his barrel-like torso. Reiko hurtled to her feet as the giant passed, growling a samurai oath and snapping her blade across Ishtoreth’s stomach, which fell open like an overloaded sack bursting, spraying Reiko with gore and ending the giant’s life. Reiko spit on him.
“That hurt, you bastard!”