(For part 1 of this TALE OF MYSTRI ISLAND, read the blog post below first.)
At this point there were no foes on the battlefield, there were only men (and one woman) filled with wonder, and at the same time a curious sense of impending dread.
As a girl, an orphan in Africa, I would play with the types of animals that other Europeans fled in terror, but when I heard that strange sound rushing through the jungle, even I felt the tingle of fear, running up my right leg and then my back. The sound, the sound – how can I describe it? Like a steel plate being dragged along a cobblestone road by a locomotive? Perhaps. To that was joined the violent report of heavy tree limbs bursting in the wake of this onrush -- a sound like nothing I had heard before.
Then I saw it.
At first it was a dark shape in the jungle, of great height although primarily horizontal, like a colossal battering ram rushing toward a gate. A battering ram with legs, for as it got closer two could be seen, thick as tree trunks, pumping back and forth as they surged the dark shape forward. Then it loomed closer still, into view, colossal, and the shape developed a head, which made it clear that Stalks-at-Dawn’s god was some sort of dragon, a huge squarish head with enormous jaws lined with teeth like railroad spikes. Thick horny crests ringed the top of the head and eye sockets. At first it seemed to have no arms at all, but as it drew nearer it fleetingly showed what appeared to be tiny wings, or at least small arms lined with feathers, for it could never had flown using them.
Such was our group astonishment that no one uttered a sound when this creature hove plainly into view. Stalks-at-Dawn fondled the amulet that hung from his neck, and held something odd in his other hand, which appeared to be a hunk of animal fur matted with drying blood. He watched He-Who-Kills quite closely as the huge beast peered around the jungle, its nostrils flaring. It had just swung that sledgehammer of a head in our direction when from the German lines came a single fearful utterance, “Gott in Himmel,” and the creature then snapped its head to the left and like a tidal wave surged down upon the German lines.
In amazement I turned for an instant to look at Stalks-at-Dawn, to gauge his reaction, but he was gone. Even before I could turn back I heard shouts and screams and gunfire from the German lines, the occasional shot thudding into the armour of this creature, perhaps stinging it no more than a hornet stings a man, as it thrust its great torso in and out of the trees. It would find a man, swing its great jaws open, and then -- and a ghastly recollection it still is -- clamp them shut around him, chopping him to pieces which tumbled every which way to the jungle floor. Again and again this happened, and I watched.
Try though I might to move them, my feet were frozen in place. I didn’t know what Richard or the Gurkhas were doing at this time because I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the scene of this carnage, this monster of myth who tore men asunder, this god so aptly named.
Now, with almost superhuman bravery, a mortar team manned their weapon, a clumsy squat German thing which appeared to be mounted on a wheel of some sort, and tried to depress it to bring fire of sufficient caliber on He-Who-Kills. They hastily discharged the gun and a portion of the canopy fell all around the great beast – too high! The monster seemed to interpret the blast from the mortar as a sort of challenge to its authority, and swept straight down on the hapless crew, who fled … but not fast enough. When it was finished with them, it turned and attacked the mortar itself, seizing the stubby cannon in its jaws and hurling it through the jungle like a toy. As it turned again, its great tail swept through the trees, and when one of these cracked a splinter must have been shot in my direction, for I was struck in the head and was out.***
When I came to, there was silence, a buried feeling, and an earthy odor. My sight was blurry and I was disoriented. It was dark, then light, then dark again. Where was I? I was … in the arms of von Schrecklichdorf! Ensconced with him, it seemed, in a cave of some sort. Or was it a hollow tree? I felt clumsily for one of my pistols but he held me tighter and nodded with his blonde head to the left, to where the light was shining. My sight was coming back to me and in the sharpening of the world I could now see outside the tree, to the jungle foliage.
A shadow descended, then a huge leg came down with a thud, was rapidly lifted and gone, then a section of tail swept far overhead. Von Schrecklichdorf whispered to me, very quietly in his perfect English, “it is not satisfied yet. It is finishing the job. It smells our lives … and wants them for itself.” I ventured to lean my head ever so slightly out of the tree hollow, and there it was, almost in repose, craning its head out slightly, smelling the air. But it seemed confused now, almost distracted. Then, very suddenly, it swung its head straight toward me, locking eyes with mine. Fear seized me again and I began to tremble, but then it turned its head just as suddenly to the right, and pumped its legs, thrusting its vast muscled mass through the jungle, moving off.***
We waited for a while in the tree, the Guards Jager officer and myself. When we had not heard He-Who-Kills for a while and the sounds of the jungle began to return, we slid ourselves out to the ground, still staying low, and put our backs to the great hollowed tree we had just been in.
After a while von Schrecklichdorf spoke. “Your friend, the Englishman, he kept his head. He took your soldiers down to the pier when the creature appeared. They dumped the cages with the Stossechse females into the cove. All twelve of them, and the two male studs too. The sailors shot at them from the U-boat but there was little they could do to stop it.”
I asked him for more details and he said, “I saw there was nothing I could do for the men, so my next concern was the mission. Yes,” he said with a grimace, “I can now admit what you already knew, there was a mission.” I smiled a little. “But I saw them drowning the Stossechse and I knew all was lost then -- my men and my mission. I did not see you with them, however, so I came back to look for you. It was prowling around, and you were unconscious on the ground, so I looked for a hiding place for you, and found this.” He slapped the tree. “I had to drag you fairly far, and it was touch and go for a while.” He paused. “But the creature seemed … distracted … first quite certain it knew where we were, but then confused and looking off in other directions. Almost as if someone or something was purposefully distracting it.”
I smiled again.
Many hours passed, and we sat and quietly recalled some of our adventures on the island, many of them so utterly without precedent that passersby overhearing us might have thought we were recounting mutual nightmares. When it was clear that He-Who-Kills was gone for good, and we heard quiet voices in the darkness, we got up and almost immediately saw Richard. He ran to us with a section of Gurhkas, his Webley not quite raised, and said, “Been looking for you my dear, were afraid we'd lost you." Turning to von Schrecklichdorf, he said, "You’re mission’s quite over I’m afraid, old man,” surprising me that his voice sounded almost regretful. Richard was always a gentleman, even to his enemies. “Yes, and I am glad of it,” von Schrecklichdorf replied. “I have fought in the trenches, I have seen men massacred before, but never by an animal, butchered so horribly, torn to pieces. It is no way to fight a war.” Richard was about to say something to von Schrecklichdorf but I interrupted him, which he hates, saying that it is very American. But I had to get it out right away. “I’m sorry I failed you Richard. I froze when it attacked. I should have gone with you and the Gurkhas to the cove. When push came to shove, I was of no use at all.” My eyes began to tear up and I was ashamed that I was behaving like a woman.
As had happened so often in the past, Stalks-at-Dawn materialized from the jungle, and came loping up to me, putting his hand on my arm. “Are you pierced? Is your health sound?”
Richard looked at our friend the lizardman and then at me, laughed and shook his head. “Failed? No, very much to the contrary, you were absolutely critical my dear girl.” He nodded his head to the creature he sometimes dismissively called Stalkers and said, “you befriended this chap, and he was man of the match on this day, there’s no doubt about that. I doubt he would have brought that terror down upon the Germans solely on my account.”
“No, I would not,” Stalks-at-Dawn replied, and we humans laughed a bit despite everything.***
Although he was our de facto prisoner, in the end we let von Shrecklichdorf go, as frankly we were not sure what the legal niceties were when taking a prisoner on neutral ground. So he got back on his U Boat and sailed away to whatever fate awaits him. I had to cajole Richard into doing this, as he was most eager to make a prisoner of the troublesome, if gallant, German, and was sure he would pop up to vex the Allies again. As he was leaving I thanked him for saving my life once again, we agreed to look each other up after the peace, and he gave us that salute with the clicking boots.
Once he was gone, Stalks-at-Dawn explained to us that no creature fills He-Who-Kills with more fury than a male Giant Ape, and so the Reptilian Hunter had tracked and, with great difficulty, killed one, and had removed a hunk of flesh from its armpit, which he assured us has the most pungent aroma. With this grisly object he lured He-Who-Kills out of the deep jungle. “He is usually a quiet hunter,” Stalks-at-Dawn said, “but when an ape enters his home he is very loud and angry until the ape is dead, even if the ape flees.” For hours Stalks-at-Dawn had fled the rampaging beast, leading it all the while to the jungle above Madawan Cove, its jaws sometimes only meters from his back. He led it to the German lines where it destroyed them before my eyes, and then he had the equally difficult task of leading the creature back again to the deep jungle.
I asked him if this had ever been done by the Reptilian Hunters before. He told me gravely that it had not, and for this he was now an outcast in his tribe, despite the fact that he had brought He-Who-Kills back to his domain. And so it was that the Reptilian, once beloved of his tribe, was forced to leave his island, and it became my turn to teach him of the ways of the wide world beyond it.
We are very pleased to make available a model of the dreaded He-Who-Kills, based closely on the description of Janice Prishwalken, in 15mm scale. It is a towering beast indeed, and solid pewter! Some eyewitnesses dispute her observation that the creature had arm plumage, so this is an optional piece that may be left off if the gamer prefers. The model should be released during the week of December 6, 2010.