Friday, February 26, 2010

Tales of Mystri Island -- The Giant Ape

The great beast, a roaring maelstrom of black fur and muscle, had Richard cornered, stuck in the fluted trunk of a vast old sycamore fig tree, ducking from one deep hollow to another as the monster pounded its fists against the mossy wood. Left and right Richard went, and the ape followed him, varying its thrusts occasionally in an attempt to catch Richard unawares. Janice watched the scene unfold from downwind, knowing that if the ape tripped Richard up just once, or if its energy reserves were greater than her companion’s, it would be the end of him. Just one blow of those massive fists would certainly kill any man alive.

She stared at the frenzied giant ape down the barrels of her H&H .600 Nitro Express, which she careened left and right to keep time with it. Never in her life had she seen such a huge and terrifying beast, large enough to easily pummel to death even the elephants she had played with as a child, under Stek’s watchful eye. A great hunter and peerless tracker of the African veldt, Stek had raised the orphaned American girl, teaching her the ways of the savannah and jungle, and she had seen everything the Dark Continent had to offer, but nothing to compare with this. Again the barrels swayed -- she could not shoot, the chances were too great that she might hit Richard, crack shot though she was. And waiting for the ape to lurch more to the left or right simply wasn’t good enough. Richard, barely visible in the crevice, was as imperturbable as ever but even his great strength and endurance were clearly being taxed by this deadly game. The ape let out a deep bark of indignation and accelerated its attacks.

Janice laid her finger lightly on the trigger of the great gun and fought the urge to fire out of panic. Fresh in her memory was the concern on Richard’s face just this very morning as he leapt to her aid, saving her at the last moment from being stuck by a bloodworm. She wasn’t about to repay this latest debt by permitting Richard’s body to be smashed and broken.

The ape had evidently had enough of Richard’s evasions. Ceasing its pounding, it eyed the tree for a moment, then began ripping away at the fluted trunk. The time had come – all she needed was a clear shot at the head. She spied Richard draw his Webley, a futile gesture of defiance before death, and he looked at her for just a moment to communicate his understanding that there was nothing to be done. Janice looked down for a moment and saw a twig propped against the nearest tree. She gently shifted her weight, rested her foot upon the twig, looked back down the barrel of the gun, and pressed down with her boot.

The ape heard a distinct snap behind it – a predator? Another invader? Distracted for a moment from the violator it had cornered, the creature swung around to confront this new menace, its mouth agape in a roar, its eyes searching. The great ape had battled many foes in its time, conquering all with a deadly combination of wiles and brawn, its face a web of scars, bearing testament to countless challenges overcome. Whatever this new threat was, it was ready. Or so it thought. For nothing in all its experience could have prepared it for the roar that split its eardrums, the kinetic energy to which its skull was now subjected, like a meteor hurtling into the front of its skull. For a fleeting instant the stunned ape felt a terrible heat on its face, glimpsed a tall slender human artfully absorb the recoil of a huge rifle in the crook of her arm, and then … blankness, evermore.

Janice looked down the smoking barrels of her elephant gun and relaxed. The ape had collapsed in a heap near the base of the great old tree, the top of its head blown clean off, and Richard was already out and retrieving his white pith helmet. He holstered his pistol, tucked his tie back in his collar and said “not the first time that I’ve been grateful indeed for the cannon you lug about, what? I do wish you’d let the Gurkhas carry the blasted thing for you,” he added, faintly disapprovingly. “Can’t imagine how it must weigh on your shoulder.” He straightened his helmet and, looking back at the tree, said quietly, without looking at her, “thanks for that, as usual greatly appreciated.” Janice’s throat was parched but she smiled and faintly nodded.

The birds suddenly stopped their chorus, and the two adventurers froze in place. Forms silently materialized from the canopy of the jungle. There were eight of them this time, scaly with striped patterns, Reptilian Hunters including Janice’s new friend, Stalks-at-Dawn. They quickly surrounded the fallen ape. Stalks-at-Dawn loped over to Janice and looked at the smoking Holland and Holland. “This is great hunting,” he hissed very slowly to her, then, clearly vexed, snapped his jaws three times toward the other Reptilians who were eyeing Richard up rather like a meal. They stood down and returned their expressionless gazes to the corpse of the ape.

Janice knew what a compliment she had just been paid. “May your blood channels be ever wet,” she said respectfully in reply. “The weapon is mighty indeed that can bring down He-Who-Kills.” Janice held the gun out. She was slightly alarmed that she had slain this creature that obviously meant so much to the Reptilians, the only living thing on the island they truly feared. For how often had Stalks-at-Dawn referred obliquely, and with quiet reverence, to “He-Who-Kills,” the ruler of the deepest jungle at the center of the island, a despot who knew no rivals? The Reptilians, it was said, steered his territory a wide berth, and prevented any efforts to explore those nether regions. Stalks-at-Dawn himself (or “Stalkers” as Richard playfully called him) wore an amulet that represented “the fearless heart of He-Who-Kills.” And now, here the mighty one lay crumpled in a pile, slain by her -- a mere human. Janice was eager to put the credit, or the blame, for the kill on the weapon, rather than the shooter.

The Reptilian looked at her quizzically. Communication with them was not always easy, so she pointed to the ape with the heavy rifle and said, loudly and slowly, “only this great weapon allowed me, a human, to slay He-Who-Kills.” All of the Reptilians were looking at her now, and they hissed, popped and cawed at each other for a few moments. Stalks-at-Dawn shook his head back and forth several times in mimicry of what he had seen humans do before. “This,” he said, looking at the fallen giant, “is not He-Who-Kills.”

(The Mystrian Giant Ape is available now from Khurasan Miniatures.)

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