When last we left our undaunted heroes, they were deeply ensconsed in the Caverns of Calamity. Sir Richard's first act was to minister to our slightly exsanguinated hero, Sir Petey. Using his legendary skills to patch up the bloody Sir P, Dicky made sure that the act was properly noted in his expedition diary. He then attended to the matters at hand – trying to grab as much booty as his askaris could carry! Sending the trusty Yasir Bohz forward with instructions to pry the ruby from the belly of the bronzed idol, the pair of Euros cautiously entered the torch-lit chamber.
Nervously inching forward, Yasir approached the idol, not really having his heart in the quest. Trying just about everything he could, the gem would not budge from its resting-place. Even with the assistance of several of his fellows, the idol would not give up its' treasure. However, after about the third try, a cold wind began blowing through the cavern, steadily increasing in volume. The gods might not be crazy, but they sure were ticked! As the gusts rose to a level sufficient to push our heroes back out of the cavern, the stalwart Sirs P & R decided that they could do without this particular ruby and began boogeying back down the corridor in the direction they had come – but something was wrong! Nothing was as they remembered it – the very walls and tunnels had changed behind them as the evil wind passed along and what mapping they had done on the way in was no longer of any use! This was definitely not what our Exploring Duo had in mind! At least our band of gypped-sies had full magazines in their rifles – they were going to need them.
On the other side of the coin, our wandering slavers found themselves in a bit of a nasty pickle! The red rolling rocks of retribution had followed close on their heels as they flew out of the nearest cavern-mouth. Now with a low rumble, the cave mouth behind the tentacled terrors closed up and our Zazupitzi zingers had no choice but to stave off the attacks of the rollers.
This would be tough enough without the fact that half of the slavers native allies had nosed out a nicely heated pot of pombé, the local brew! While the allies proceeded to get themselves nicely stewed; the Zazus did their best to fight off the minions of the merciless! Having two of his best mowed down by the evil spawn, Achmed felt that perhaps discretion might be the better part of valor and a quick exit stage left was ordered.
By using the last measure of energy within, the slaver and his henchmen began hauling booty and praying to Allah that they wouldn't run into anything too nasty as they retreated. The beer-swilling native horde seeing their rear support hastily dissappearing, took one last snort then grabbed their female captives and beat feet in the same direction! All but one of more wobbly beer-bellys succumbed to the flailing attacks of the cavern beasts.
Finding themselves once more in relatively quiet surroundings, dear old Achmed held a snappy pow-wow with his buds and came to the conclusion that hanging around looking for more captive cuties would be pushing their luck. Time to head for the boats! But having hustled headlong into the hedgerows, no-one really had the slightest clue as to just where the damn boats were. After a quick round of Eenie-Meenie, Achmed chose a narrow trail leading off to the left. (Hearing the sound of drums from the right might have had something to do with his decision!)
Hacking their way through the dense forest primeval, the slave-band and friends kept a watchful eye as they proceeded – not wanting to be ambushed by roving tribes of cannibals. So what to their bleary eyes should appear? A pack of 8 pygmys with poisonous bow and a spear! Heaving chests from running like the bandits they were made the musket fire of the slavers fairly useless. Fortunately for Achmed the pygmys were rotten shots themselves and after several rounds of dodging arrows and spears, the slave leader had had enough. Urging his native allies forward (of course!) he began a frontal assault on the little bow guys. Not really in the mood for a tussle, the pygmy band melted into the bushes as quickly as they had appeared.
With this attack thwarted, bin Sneezin cast his eyes skyward and couldn't believe his luck! Overhead flew a flock of waterbirds. The river must be nearby – and with it salvation. Or so he thought! His path would be rocky still as we shall soon see.
Back to our boys in the darkness below. Sir Richard and Sir Peter, after the ill wind had blown itself out, decided there was nothing for it but to proceed stoutly. (In other words, askaris to the front – march!) Feeling their way cautiously along the unfamiliar passageways, the native troopers were beginning to feel a tad cocky when, rounding a corner they ran smack into something none of them (dare I speculate NO ONE ON THIS EARTH) had seen before. Standing about 12 feet tall with 4 wiggling eyestalks and a fuzzy butterball body (and an evil smile on its' "face") was a creature from their worst nightmares!
As usual the poor askari took the brunt of the ensuing melee. Watching a couple of his dwindling native resources go down to this furball from perdition, Sir Richard ordered "fire at will" and in a ball of fire and smoke the critter ceased to exist! Even Dicky-poo now began to notice the fact that his support was shrinking at an alarming rate. Too many more of these encounters and even our Euro dudes might get rumpled. That would never do! After all, if Sir Richard didn't return, who would sing his praises! Certainly not those fops back in London – or worse yet, Sir Peter! Tucking his journal tightly against his chest, Sir Ricky vowed to get out of this – even if it took all his natives to do so!!
And that is what looked might happen as our heroes turned another bend And saw a distant light ahead – and something less-heartening too. Uncoiling itself was – for lack of a better description – a 20 foot high asparagus! At least it was green, tentacled, and with a mouth big enough to swallow a man in one gulp. Knowing that salvation (at least the end of these ghastly tunnels) was a hand, Sir Richard ordered forward his faithful man servant Yasir Bohz. Smiling weakly, the doomed Yasir saluted his leader and set to a headlong assault at the grinning vegatable. Blasting away in support, Sirs D and P bolted around the flank of the now Yasir-chomping asparagus with the remnants of his natives in close pursuit. Sir Dicky vowed to make a note of Yasirs' heroic demise if he could figure out a way to put it to his advantage!
Bursting into the daylight at last, our dusty Europeans took quick stock of their party. Both of them, of course, were unharmed. The askaris, however, were down to 4 badly battered and mauled musketeers. They just might make it out alive after all! Surveying the jungle around them, they felt the opressive dankness of the air. The vegetation here was totally different as well – very lush and almost alive!
Exiting the caverns our heroes chanced upon a local village and, as always, Sir Dicky used his command of the African tongues to totally confuse the native headman. Lord only knows what the chieftain thought he was replying to but he pointed sharply to the west and made several gestures that could have been interpreted as: "That way lies salvation" or "Whatever you do, don't go that way or you'll be dino-delite". Take your pick! Of course knowing our Euros, they went thataway!
At first things looked rather calm as our beknighted duo (and cannon fodder, er, native friends)trekked through the valley. They spotted a cave in the distance and proceeded to do naught but stumble around for several hours before deciding it was a dead-end. (Little did they realized what they had almost aroused! Maybe next time!)
Their next discovery was a steep trail heading South that looked to be worth exploring. Sending one of the trusted men-at-arms to reconnoiter, Sirs D and P followed up the cliffside hoping that here at last would be the path to salvation. Guess again dudes! Who should our adventurous duo spot in the distance but Achmed and his band of slave-totin' gypsies!
Knowing the ire that the evils of slavery would bring to boil in our 2 Victorian heroes, you can imagine what happened next. Seeing but a quarter of the slavers' party, Sir Richard and Sir Peter marched briskly up the trail shortening the distance between the two groups. Wanting to put the world right and proper, they approached the slavers and their captives with dreams of more glory for the Empire (and themselves). True there were only a few female captives to be freed, but the principle remained – and if the numbers were a tad exagerated when reports were filed who would be the wiser?
Such dreams were quickly squashed when, topping the rise in the trail, our well-meaning moguls caught sight of the full measure of bin Sneezin's company! With odds of better than 4 to 1, our ventursome party quickly came to the conclusion that only 2 or 3 females were hardly worth the bother and a swift retreat would make much more sense.
Pulling back from the trail, they proceeded to wander hither and yon marvelling in the luxuriant beauty of this vale. And then, once again, things started to pick up. Off in the dim distance our adventurers spied an ancient statue reminiscent of the Sphinx of Egyptian fame! Odd that such a relic should be located in this far away place! Both of our heroes, faining nonchalance, moved rapidly toward the vision. Both knowing the glory that would be heaped upon the first to report such a find!
Unfortunately in their haste to get to the statue, they both missed the spoor of critters in the area. And big ‘uns at that! Just as the ventursome party arrived at the foot of the monument, the ground began to shake violently – something big and nasty was about to make the scene! Turning about, our two Lords of the Dunce spotted a humongous beast (Nano-tyrannosaur by name) trampling the foliage with a vicious gleam in his eyes that could only mean he was hungry. And Explorer Al Dente would do just fine!
In a move worthy of the House Guards, Sir Dicky made sure a neatly dressed line of askaris was formed up right an proper – and between him and the Nano-T! Not waiting for the command to fire, the native musketmen began blasting away for all they were worth. Sir Peter, in the pause before the action, had been scribbling away furiously in his journal, making notes and sketches of all he could see on the statue – even if Sir Richard got home first, Sir Peter would have the more detailed report! Noticing now that even Sir Ricky was pouring fire into the onrushing beast, Sir Peter took out his beloved dueling pistol and added his fire into the mix. And a good thing at that, as this long-thought extinct beast had almost reached the line of natives when, with a horrendous roar, the Tyrannus crashed to earth and gave out one last blast of heated breath. Looking over the now-stilled creature, over two dozen shots had found the mark before it had finally succumbed! Truly a noble beast! (A Burtonosaur? A Geeotops? Hmmmmm!) To the sounds of scratching pencils, our now bedraggled party forced their way on. To Death? Or Relief? We'll find out soon, but first a final look at that Slavin' Son-of-A-Gun bin Sneezin.
Still somewhat confused by the speed at which his pygmy attackers had melted into the surroundings, Achmed pushed his troops forward towards what he knew to be the hint of river in the air. Grinding on through virgin lands, he was caught somewhat off-guard by the appearance of a daft Englishman and a few askaris on his flank. It sounded like the small group wanted to attack him for some unknown reason, but as he was turning his force around to see what was going on, the whooping stopped and all Achmed could see was the cloud of dust from quickly departing feet. Those Europeans are surely unloved by Allah – and a bit balmy to boot!
Thus distracted, bin Sneezin pushed on until, rounding a cliffside, he could spy the lovely waters of the river Stix before him. And, true to his word, the river steamer captain had kept his vessel at the ready for Achmed's return! Without a word spoken, the slave-troop surged forward knowing that salvation and profit was in sight. Gathering themselves and their booty together, the Zazupitzis strode pridefully forward with their native allies in the lead. This would prove quite serendipitous to the Arabs and really nasty for the natives.
Standing between the slavers and the steamer was a field of strange looking spined plants. Achmed could swear that as they approached, the cacti came towards them. But now, looking again, the plants seemed to be backing away as if in fear! Could it be – sentient cactus plants? Sending his native allies forward to see just what was at hand, our Arab brother could not believe his eyes when, without a sound, the cacti swarmed the leading group of natives! Screams of agony poured forth from the spiked forest but were soon quelled. A half-dozen natives had gone to their eternal rewards, but in doing so they had made a small passage through the grove of deadly thorns. Hastily grabbing his captives Achmed showed his Olympic form as he vaulted through the cacti onto the deck of the waiting steamer with his Arab accomplices not far behind!
Being somewhat aghast at what had just happened to a bunch of his shirt-tail relatives, the native allied chieftain was a bit tardy in following Achmed's lead. By the time he and his fellows got to the river bank, the steamer was cheerfully puffing its' way down stream. Seems the Captain figured once good old bin Sneezin and his buds had hit the planks, his duty to stick around was done and with one good cutlass stroke he severed the rope that held him to the bank. He too had seen what happened to the natives and didn't want to offer the perditious cactus a reason to board his boat along with the native chief and his remaining cohort! And so we watched Achmed wave to his late-lamented allies who were in the midst of an ever-closing ring of spiked misery. I'm sure Achmed will be heard from again (but probably not in this part of Darkest Africa – at least till tempers cool!)
Returning now for the conclusion of our Adventurers exploits; Sir Richard and Sir Peter, after downing several more rounds of Old Bushwhack, gathered their resolve once again and push off deeper into the valley. Hearing the disturbing sounds of more no-so-extinct creatures, our boys desire to return to civilization was stronger than ever. It would need to be as suddenly they came upon the most evil looking rock formation that either had ever seen. If a cliff could be alive this would be its' face. From a distance the rock wall took on the visage of a snake's mouth with fangs and tongue. Where the eyes would be were two small crevices on which were perched – could they be? – pteradactyls! Swallowing hard, our hardy band pushed on to the very edge of this wall. Was this to be the end? Would our valiant heroes end their days at the mercy of cretacious flyers. Their only hope was to enter this evil-exuding cave mouth. As the prehistoric partridges swooped down, our boys let forth one last mighty fusilade and then stepped into the gloom. With the sounds of screetching in their ears, they ran and slid down the darkened passage ways until they could hear no more. Stopping at last in a large cavern, they searched for some signs of life, or at least another way out. And what should they find? A crudely scratched sign that espoused:
"Whenever you are in Bombassa,
stop in and try our all-you-can-eat hummus platter.
Only 14 zeks a person!"
Unbelieveably, our heroes had stumbled into the only way out of the "Valley that Time Forgot". Two hours later, battered but unbowed they emerged into the sunshine inside the mission compound at the little coastal city of Bombassa from which they had set forth so many moons ago. Now the real adventure would start – who would reach London and the Royal Geographical Society first!
(When next we meet Sir Peter, he will be trekking through the great Hotfutsie desert .... ed.)
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