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Literature
Battle of Bakouma Final Chapter
Ansgar and Aminata together rode over a final rise and at last were greeted by the sight of the ancient city. Ansgar's excitement reached a feverish pitch as he gazed out across the moldering ruins. Walls of roughly hewn stone zigzagged between circular huts whose thatched roofs had long since rotted away or beneath grand terraced buildings that bespoke a once refined and elegant population. Crumbling stone pillars now served as nests for flying reptiles and long vines reached between the now vacant buildings like giant strands of spiderweb. Ancient walls were plastered with moss or overgrown with creeping vines. Here and there trees actually grew out of some of the huts or stone edifices. A few stubbornly resisted the silent assault of the jungle which sought to reclaim it and stood several stories high, topped with proud towers and domes. Some squares appeared like small fortresses, ensconced in high walls flanked by ominous-looking rounded towers that reminded him of termite mounds.
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Literature
Battle of Bakouma Chapter 2
Aminata hadn't exaggerated. From where Ansgar sat astride his horse he could see the devastation the village had suffered. The jakura had attacked the day before, perhaps just as he and the priestess had been talking. A corral was smashed into splinters and the remains of a handful of prayans, the shield-headed four legged plant eaters of Magna Terra which functioned as cattle and wild buffalo, were decaying in the sun amidst the buzz of flies. Massive three-toed footprints were still pressed deep into the mud, swirling with dirty water. Across from the corral a hut was caved in as if it had been struck by a meteor. He hadn't arrived too soon.
"Did anyone die?" he asked reluctantly.
Aminata exchanged a few words with one of the villagers, a handsome but hungry looking black man with hollow cheeks and a puff of curly hair. He shook his head. Aminata smiled, herself astride a horse next to the hunter.
"Thankfully not. These people are fleet of foot, and upon hearing the bea
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Literature
Battle of Bakouma Chapter 1
Ansgar strode through the bare earth path that threaded through the thatched huts, a faint salty breeze stirring his dirty yellow hair. Lifting his nose to the air he sniffed as a hound on the trail might, savoring the wealth of new smells that greeted him.  He could feel it. On his right ocean waves crashed against the glittering beach where fishermen untangled great nets and sharpened harpoons and great ships unloaded their cargo. On his left and beyond the domed huts stretched countless miles of emerald green jungle. This island, Bakouma, was still wild. The encroachment of modern conveniences couldn't mask that fact. If one put house decorations on a wild tree, the tree was no less wild. And so it was with Bakouma, and the town Wokoro through which he now strode. He dodged aside as a gaggle of black children raced past him amidst squeals and laughter, chasing after a terrified creature that looked like a chicken, save for its teeth. He chuckled. In spite of what the ignor
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Literature
Monster War for Earth: Chapter 2
Fujitora’s APC ground to a halt. His head swiveled around like an owl’s seeking for prey. In the distance ahead columns of smoke poured into the air and heard a tumultuous crashing. A haunting ululating drifted to his ears above that. The creature was coming this way. Directly in front of him was a public park with neatly trimmed grass and trees. He’d always found it odd to build a park when there were beautiful beaches so close by, but now he appreciated it. It was the one open place in the city he could lay an effective ambush and simultaneously limit collateral damage. Although surrounded by buildings on the sides, the front and back had lower-set fast food buildings which gave them a safe line of fire. Even so they would have to be careful. His goal was to save the city, not destroy it.
He tapped his headset and barked orders to the tanks and APCs behind him. They filed out on either side of the park and the front. Each tank and several squads of infantry used the
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Literature
Monster War for Earth: Chapter 1
A sudden change swept across the planet, a shudder of cosmic proportions as the core unleashed a surge of power. Cracks sundered the earth and volcanoes awoke, spewing volumes of ash into the sky. Unnatural things entered the waters which boiled and bubbled like giant cauldrons. Cities tumbled like toys and great fires raged through forests. Five billion years’ worth of energy had made itself known, having slumbered since the dawn of time.
In the center of Earth lay its Heart, an energy source of unrivaled power had slept. But even in its subdued state it had possessed the power to melt uncounted millions of tons of metal and rock. For countless years it had silently pulsed beneath the thin crust, a power source that humanity had only dimly been aware of. But others who did not dwell on Earth knew of it. At the birth of the universe one fragment of the initial cosmic explosion that was the birth of reality had remained intact. While other sources would inevitably die, stars exhau
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Literature
Horror Of The Deeps
Ghostly moonlight filtered through the drooping willow branches. A carpet of bone-white fog crept over the mossy water and swirled around the boles of gnarled trees. Fireflies danced in the air and bullfrogs croaked and chirped from unseen hollows. Through the choked bayou swamp a single canoe slid silently. A lone occupant sat within, a furtive figure with a gray weather worn kepi shadowing his face and a rumpled gray coat upon his back. A beam of moonlight shined upon the spur of a revolver tucked within his belt. The taciturn man gave a suspicious glance to the swamp. It wasn't only the worry of other men that drew his gaze. He knew instinctively that he was near his destination. As far as Ponce knew, no man had tread this part of the marsh for years. Any man or woman with any sense steered clear of the gloomy center. The trappers and fishermen who stole through the alligator infested canals told of queer things happening in The Deeps. No one entered unless they were in desperate ne
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Literature
The Man Eater
Ansgar squatted over the trail, staring down at the three toed tracks with hard, scrutinizing eyes. He chewed at his mustache contemplatively. A big-bore lever action rifle was cradled in his arms. Piano wire muscles played beneath sun-browned skin, denoting steel-trap speed and strength. Silt still swirled in the tiny puddles of the prints. The fern leaves that had been pressed in were still green. He estimated they were no older than ten minutes. He gave a glance at the sky. Amber rays of sunlight trickled through the towering conifers and radiated beautifully off of the emerald cycads and ferns. It was midday. Silently as a ghost he glided through the foliage, always keeping the wind in his face.
The townsfolk of a hamlet too small to even be given a name had offered Ansgar two hundred gwat pai to kill the man eater. Fifteen men and women had been eaten in the last year. Carnage made them desperate. Two hundred gwat pai was an impressive sum, enough to buy a good horse
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Ansgar and Aminata together rode over a final rise and at last were greeted by the sight of the ancient city. Ansgar's excitement reached a feverish pitch as he gazed out across the moldering ruins. Walls of roughly hewn stone zigzagged between circular huts whose thatched roofs had long since rotted away or beneath grand terraced buildings that bespoke a once refined and elegant population. Crumbling stone pillars now served as nests for flying reptiles and long vines reached between the now vacant buildings like giant strands of spiderweb. Ancient walls were plastered with moss or overgrown with creeping vines. Here and there trees actually grew out of some of the huts or stone edifices. A few stubbornly resisted the silent assault of the jungle which sought to reclaim it and stood several stories high, topped with proud towers and domes. Some squares appeared like small fortresses, ensconced in high walls flanked by ominous-looking rounded towers that reminded him of termite mounds. It was a chaotic display, and yet somehow elegant and fascinating. 

Although Ansgar had no idea of what African architecture looked like, he was sure that this was not the work of Spaniards, past or present. It bore none of their signature holy crosses or flair for natural art. He had visited their fortress-like missions and adobe haciendas. No, this was the work of a vastly different people. 

As if reading his mind Aminata spoke up. "This is the legacy of my ancestors who came here hundreds of years ago. Abubakari the Second came here across the ocean in a vast fleet of ships. It was here that he landed, on Bakouma, and where he began to forge a new empire." She spoke as if she were seeing the event take place, almost breathless. "Yes, here he and his loyal followers built these grand monuments and tilled the earth, heedless of the beasts that haunted them. He subjugated the natives under his yoke and together they built this. Yes, it must have been glorious!" Her eyes were alight and vibrant. Her gaze seemed to pierce time and space into the past, beholding the city in its halcyon days. But then her eyes dimmed and her head hung.

Ansgar waited on her words anxiously. "What happened to them? Why was the city abandoned?" 

The young priestess didn't speak for a moment. "Some of those natives who had already lived here chafed at the my ancestor's presence. They hated them and wished them gone. But in force of arms they could do nothing, for our warriors were far superior. So it was they resorted to cowardly means. They poisoned the river." She turned her eyes on him. They were hard yet tinged with sorrow. "You saw what but a small bit of my voudoun did to the river crocodiles, yes? The ones who poisoned it then used far more. Thousands drank of it and died. The fish died and their meat was no good to eat. The animals stopped drinking at it and drank elsewhere. The soil itself seemed to die and would give up no crops. To stay was to die. My people scattered to other parts of the island, to other cities that lacked the beauty of this one, but had food and fresh water. In time it was forgotten except in legend. The heart of our people was forgotten and the villages lapsed into ignorance. It is here that the Spaniards believe ancestors of their own built a city and filled it with gold. As you see, this is not true. But that does not stop Captain Lorenzo and others like him from seeking it."

Ansgar nodded, pursing his lips. A sad story indeed. So much potential, gone in such a short time. Yet it was the way of things. People rose and fell like the ocean tide. But the moment of melancholy passed and once again excitement rose up in the pair. They sat straight in their saddles and rode to the very outskirts of the city which loomed up high and imposing before them.

"This way, we can hide our animals here," Aminata whispered. She led the way to an old stone hut. Unlike the the others the top was a round dome of solid stone. 

Perhaps at one time it had been a place for storing grain or wealth, for the walls were unusually thick and the gaps filled with crude cement. There were no windows and only one door. Ansgar led the animals inside. A stout shaft of wood was driven into the earth and to this the animals were secured. As if sensing the security of the location the animals relaxed, but only marginally. Their ears were ever listening for sounds of danger. The hunter check his rifle again, then stalked out into the winding paths of the dead city. A faint breeze stirred his dirty yellow hair. He smelled many living things here. Rodents that bore tunnels beneath the crumbling columns. Dwarls which nested in the rocky reaches. He caught sight of a sinuous, glistening shape sliding into a tunnel. A snake. The jungle had indeed reclaimed most of this once mighty city. But so far no signs of the jakura.

"Where does this blind beast next exactly?" he asked quietly. 

"It dwells near the center of the city in the great palace. I have never been inside, but once I saw the beast enter. It might be that it only sought relief from the heat of day, but I can think of no other place that would be better to start looking. I have seen other ruins where the young ones have been raised. But the blind one does not seem to use them. We must hasten. If it is there now it will not be for much longer. Already the air begins to cool."

She was right. The oppressive heat was slowly lessening. He led the way swiftly but cautiously, careful to not make sound or disturb the other animals that dwelt here. Suddenly both froze as a crackle of gunfire erupted in the distance. Ansgar spun in the direction of the shots, eyebrows knotted. They were from where they had crossed the river. It was sporadic fire, the snaps and booms of pistols and rifles. Not muzzle loaders. Too fast. Revolvers and single shot rifles. Possibly even lever actions and sliders. He gave Aminata a questioning glance, brow raised. She shrugged but loosened her pistol in her sash. Whoever it was, it had to be who he felt was following them before. But who? And why? No vaquero would be stupid enough to cross the river in search of cattle. They were brave and foolhardy, but not stupid. Yet no one else could afford such weapons on these islands. The natives didn't have enough money for them, and there were no other white men. Nor was it only a few men. From the sound of the shots it was no less than eight. Likely far more.

Aminata tugged at his arm and pointed at one of the buildings nearby. They were near the center by his reckoning, and here the buildings were all much larger and closer together. Perhaps this was where the wealthy and powerful citizens had dwelt. He followed Aminata into the building she indicated and were swept up in darkness. A series of pillars in front let bars of light penetrate most of the shadows. It was enough to let them grope their way to a set of stairs that led up to the second level and onto the veranda. From there they looked out across the rooftops to the path they had taken. A few periodic cracks broke the stillness of the air like bullwhip snaps. Ansgar stared accusingly in the direction of the river.

"It must be Captain Lorenzo. No one else on Bakouma has that many men and guns," he grunted. He glanced at Aminata and for a moment thought he saw her smiling in satisfaction. But as he looked at her fully the look was gone.

"Yes, it must be. As you said, no others have so many guns. But how is it that he is here? Surely he did not know of this place before or he would have come long ago." 

"He must have followed us. The mules left an easy trail. Blast it! The jakura will hear." He chewed at his mustache in heavy thought. There was no way to know how the animal would react. It might come for them. It might just as easily vacate the area. Man-eaters were difficult to predict. And a blind one was even more difficult to guess. But what to do about Lorenzo and his men? They were undoubtedly being attacked by the crocodiles and other predators in crossing the river and swamp. 

"We must hasten then! We cannot wait here! I know Lorenzo. He has not come to help us. Undoubtedly he believes this city is filled with his ancestor's treasure, but even the blind beast can see that this is false. But that will not stop him. If he and his men kill us then the village and others will continue to suffer!"

"If we wait, then perhaps Lorenzo and his army will kill the jakura," the hunter mused. Aminata looked at him with wide eyes and parted lips. But in her eyes he read more than shock; Admiration at his cunning. "I was joking."

"Oh, of course." She looked down, seemingly embarrassed.

Ansgar regarded her cautiously, eyes narrowed. She hadn't disliked the idea. Had she thought of it before? He wasn't a cruel man. He had threatened the Spaniards yesterday, certainly. But that was when they were menacing an unarmed woman. They were bigoted and arrogant yes, but were they terrible men? He didn't wish for them to die. The hunter disdained the blood of man being spilled, even in defense of others. This was a grave complication. If they had indeed arrived with the lust of gold upon them, they might very well attempt to slay him and the priestess. He would avoid killing them if he could. But all too often he was forced to preserve his life by taking others. He cast a scathing look in the direction of the gunshots. He wanted to help them. But time was running out to kill the jakura while it was in its den. To abandon his mission now might mean the deaths of others long from now. It was a choice between who would die. The hunter gritted his teeth. He hoped the Spaniards would turn back after their disaster fording the river. He couldn't turn back from his main goal now.

Aminata glanced at him with pleading eyes. She had the same idea. 

"Alright. Let us go to the jakura's den. Hurry!"

She nodded thankfully and led the way, moving as quickly as stealth would permit. The hunter followed on her heels, but pursued by the feeling that much more was taking place than a mere hunt for a man-eater. Something else was afoot and he didn't like it. 

The pair loped beneath crumbling arches draped with vines and through ancient stone huts, snakes and rodents skittering through dusty pottery and decayed furniture. The musty odor of age mixed with the stench of rotting vegetation. Ansgar silently marveled at the uniqueness of the architecture. He had seen many styles of building on the mainland and some of the islands, but none remotely approached this. It was wholly unique. The painted walls bore none of the angular stick-figures most often used by the tribals but instead consisted of gloriously complex zigzags and swirls that were most pleasing to the eye. Many of the larger buildings were of a different design as well. They were almost pyramidal in shape but sloped gently to their peak with dozens of wooden rods protruding regularly, giving them a uniform and orderly appearance yet somehow still primitive. 

The gunshots faded away and then vanished altogether. Ansgar hoped that they had turned back. Ahead loomed what could only be described as a palace. Although all the buildings here possessed an air of sophistication beyond their age and an artistic flair, none rivaled this central domain. Grand pillars supported beautifully carved statues of unmistakably black warriors bearing oval shields and spears. A wide stair led to the porticoes which were etched with gorgeous patterns that bespoke of regal taste. The chief entrance yawned before them and stood more than twenty five feet high and wide, ample for a large number of people to enter. Or a large dinosaur. The two stood before the entrance way, humbled by the grandeur. Carved negro faces stared back down at them as if scolding them. Bushes sprouted from between the stones. But Ansgar knew that this was where they must enter. Many of the steps, in spite of their intense weight and the workmanship in fitting them together, were broken out of alignment and pressed unnaturally deep into the earth. Broken by the many passages of a great body. And even with almost no wind he could scent the acrid odor of a jakuras

Bones littered the steps amidst piles of fecal matter around which clouds of flies buzzed. This was undoubtedly the lair of their quarry. Ansgar waved the priestess back and tucked the rifle to his shoulder. The rest of the world seemed to fade away as he focused upon his task. He had never hunted a man eating jakura inside of a building before. It would be more dangerous. There was less room to maneuver and hide. He glanced inside and spied verandas and upper floors. They were high up, but still within reach of a two-clawed jakura. Even so they might offer some defense. But no stair was in sight. He entered slowly, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. Every column and wall was adorned lovingly with intricate art which even after centuries managed to withstand the reclamation of jungle and wilderness. To the left and right additional pillars and twenty foot tall statues supported the massive ceiling and verandas. Behind those were spaces and alcoves. Some of these held pedestals with grand statues posing proudly. Some were of brave warriors brandishing spears while others were of fearsome bests of the island. 

A screeching cry almost made him jump as a shadow streaked from the darkness above and over his head. But he didn't flinch. It was only a startled dwarl. He let out a slow breath. Aminata followed quietly behind him. Her eyes were wide. A dark hand rested on her dagger hilt. He motioned for her to stay back. It would be easier by himself. She shook her head and continued with him. No time to argue. He strode through the gallery with its high vaulted ceiling, avoiding bits of rubbish that had accumulated over the course of time. Vines crept over the flooring like a nest of pythons, muffling their steps. Something crunched softly under Ansgar's foot. He stopped, bent down and touched it. His sensitive fingers told him it was a piece of egg shell. Big. They were on the right track. Diffused light trickled from crags in the ceiling above, granting them some feeble sense of sight.

Then came what Ansgar presumed was the throne chamber set against a back wall whose surface still bore the elaborate paintings and splendor that had once reigned throughout the city. The remains of tapestries hung in moldy tatters. Braces that once held burning torches crumbled with rust. And a mighty throne of finely wrought stone sat atop a mighty set of steps and flanked by statues of voluptuous women and proud warriors bearing spears and shields. But at the bottom of the steps was a large gathering of fresh vegetable material set about in a rough circle. Around it were splinters of bone and shards of crushed egg shells. The nest! But no jakura; It was gone. Ansgar's pulse raised slightly. Stepping as if walking through a nest of vipers he felt the matted foliage. It was still warm. The jakura had left not more than a few minutes ago. But where had it gone? He glanced about. It was difficult to tell in the darkness but he could see no other avenue from which it could go besides the main entrance. He made out a few other passages on the far walls, but none were large enough to admit its bulk.

"Is is gone. We must find where it went," the hunter whispered. But Aminata didn't respond. Glancing back he saw her approaching the throne. 

"Here is where our ancestor and king once sat and ruled this kingdom from," she whispered, touching her hand to the seat. Her words were almost that of a trance, as if she had forgotten where they were and the danger they were in. "It must be here."

"What must be here? We can't waste time. The jakura could return at any time. Let us get to the upper levels and wait for it there in safety."

She didn't seem to hear him. The priestess set about examining the throne closely, pressing every carving and image carefully, her brows knotted in concentration. The shredded remains of cushions and cloth were torn away and discarded, exposing the stone beneath. With every movement she grew more feverish, a sweat breaking on her skin as if she were exerting herself. She stood, glaring at the throne accusingly, then turned her eyes upon the statues. To each one she went, feeling them over and examining them with the attention to detail a doctor would pay to an ill patient. Each one she examined then passed to the next, growing increasingly frustrated. 
"No, not this one... No... No it's not right..." she muttered under her breath. 

"What are you doing?" Ansgar asked, perplexed.

She waved a hand at him dismissively. "Do not wait here on my account, hunter. Go and seek the jakura. I have business here!" She didn't even glance at him.

But he didn't go. For a time he had sensed something else taking place. The situation had seemed straight-forward enough, but too much was happening that was not normal. Why were the Spaniards following them? Why was the priestess now so intent upon the throne room? Why did she no longer care about the man-eater? A low flame of anger began to burn in his chest. Something else was happening. And he wanted to know what. It was only with an effort that he unclenched a knotted fist and suppressed his frustration. 

"Aminata." His voice was steel. "What are you looking for?" His tone was steel. He would not be turned away. 

Now she glanced at him, her eyes bright white in the darkness of the palace. They were edged with a determination he hadn't seen before. She watched him for a moment, judging him. She must have read the hardness in his posture and gaze, for she sighed and some of the tension went from her body.

"Very well, hunter. I seek something here. Something that belongs to me. To my people. Long has it been lost. Ever since the trouble that killed our kingdom we have forgotten how to get it, but we have known it was here. I beg you to help me find it! There must be a hidden room near here. Abubakari would not have left his inheritance far from his throne." She gestured to him to approach. "The makers of this palace were clever in their craft. Much has been forgotten, but I know that somewhere here is what I seek."

Ansgar regarded her for a moment, then nodded. Whatever it was, if it was this important to her, then he could spare a few minutes helping. He rankled silently however. Was the hunt for a man-eater only a ruse to escort her here? Was this hidden room her goal all along? His blood boiled at the thought. And yet he couldn't deny a certain curiosity towards this mystery. Long had ruins and ancient things interested him. He approached the throne and statues, slinging his rifle over his shoulder and drawing his hatchet. The throne was set flush against the wall, not an inch of space separating the two. First he tapped gently at the nearest statues, ears keen for sounds of being hollow. But they were solid. He tapped along the wall from right to left while Aminata began searching the steps themselves and the pillars that flanked the courtroom. Suddenly he heard what he'd been listening for; A faint reverberation indicating an empty space! It was just above the throne. Yet the throne itself seemed as solid as a boulder. It appeared almost as if it were one with the wall. 

Taken in by the interesting development Ansgar forgot his mission and focused more intently on what lay behind the throne wall. His imagination conjured images of what might be hidden beyond. Perhaps ancient books of the city's history? Or a gleaming hoard of gold? Such would be the obvious possibilities. Perhaps it was something else far different. Systematically he tested each stone block around the throne. Yes, there was a distinct arch around it that was hollow while the rest was solid. But how to enter it? Risking more light he struck a match and touched it to a chunk of wood. The jakura would surely smell them and the fire when it returned, but if they were careful to reach the other passages they would be safe. Although now thoroughly engrossed in his work he forgot the beast for the moment. The mystery before him kindled his adventurous spirit. No longer was his brow hard with anger, but his eyes glinted with childish excitement and curiosity.

The throne was a large structure, the back some six feet high, far higher than any man save a giant required. The throne had to be the key. Ansgar tried to imagine what this room had once been like long ago. He set his rifle across his legs and sat in the throne, imagining himself as a great king with a great secret to hide in plain sight. He closed his eyes and hung his head, placing his arms upon the rests. The fronts of the arm rests were carved into the faces of great lions with bared fangs. His fingers settled naturally into subtle grooves, his fingertips upon the eyes. He pushed them faintly. They moved! It was only a faint wobble that only his sensitive fingers could detect, but they pushed in ever so slightly.

A grin split his face as he jumped from the seat. "Aminata! Come quickly!" 

She was at his side in a moment, her eyes wide with excitement. "What have you found?" she demanded breathlessly.

"Look." He touched her warm hand and pressed her fingers to the eyes as he had. 

She gasped as she felt them move. Sprawling before the throne she pushed the eyes in and a great click sounded like that of a giant clock. Suddenly the back of the throne moved back slightly on one side. 

"It's a door!" the pair exclaimed simultaneously, both breathless with anticipation. Aminata in particular seemed to radiate with inexplicable joy. She mounted the seat and pressed the door open. Stone growled against stone as it moved sluggishly at her touch, but moved in to reveal a dark chamber. 

Ansgar gathered up a branch and wrapped a bit of old cloth to it, touching another match to it which sprang to life in flame. He passed it to his companion who thrust it into the darkness. And the chamber erupted into golden brilliance that almost hurt to look upon. Treasure! Heaps of it were piled up from one side of the hidden chamber to the other. Gold ornamentation wrought in glorious animal shapes from both the old world and the new with gems for eyes. 

"Well... A lot is making sense now," Ansgar murmured. 

"It's here... it's all here!" Aminata whispered. She took the torch and entered the chamber, grabbing hold of a harp made of polished bent bone and inlaid with silver. This she placed down and examined a gem the size of a peach. But this too the rested where she found it. She cast her eyes about intently, seeming to look beyond the astonishing wealth before her. Then her eyes fixated on something something nestled in the corner of the chamber between a golden bowl and an ornately carved statue of ivory. She snatched it up as if it were made of pure diamonds. "Here! Here it is!" 

"What is it?" He expected something somehow even more intricate and valuable even than the hoard before them. But to his surprise it was a stack of short wooden tablets arranged in the shape of a book and bound with leather straps. Set into the border were a number of gems but of lesser value than those around them. 

"This, hunter... this is the heritage of my people, written by the griots. The songs and legends that could not be passed down through voice are recorded here." Her voice grew thick. "How much was forgotten during the poisoning? How much was lost when we were cut off? What did we lose with the death of the griots?" She bit her lip. "This will restore what we lost. And the rest of this?" She glanced up at the golden hoard. "This will help us regain some more of what we lost."

"So I was never brought to kill the jakura," Ansgar snorted, his anger burning again.

The priestess turned back at him, eyes bright. "You were. It must be slain, but not only preserve the villagers from death, but from ignorance and poverty. The world is closing in upon us like a tide. Without this we will be swept away. Too long we have forgotten who we are and where we came from. But with all of this I can-"

"Give it to me," a new voice hissed. 

The pair spun around only to face some twenty five men with bristling weapons pointed at them, spread in a line, striding through the court. They strode like ghosts, they're featured hidden in shadows and silhouetted by the bright sunlight behind. But his adjusted eyes perceived their features: Dark-skinned men with thick mustaches and gaudy clothing, broad sombreros upon their heads. Inky black locks of hair curled around their heads and spurs jingled at every step. 

"Captain Lorenzo!" Aminata exclaimed.

Ansgar glanced at his rifle. It was just out of reach, resting against the wall by the throne. Fool! Why had he let it get out of reach? If it had been only a few guns he would have dared to leap at it. But twenty five? Even in this poor lighting they couldn't fail to hit him. He glowered at them. Many bore the deadly slide action rifles. A salvo from those would turn the entire chamber into a beehive of whining lead. And they all covered him.

"So good to meet you again amigos, and in a much better abode," the captain crooned, his own slide action cradled in his arms. As he passed under the cracked roof a beam of light illuminated his crooked grin beneath a bristling mustache. "But you, bruja..." His muzzle flicked up towards the priestess. 

"How did you get here?" Ansgar interrupted. He had to play for time. Somehow, he had to think of something.

Lorenzo spat. "You left a clear trail, cazador. You are not as skilled as people say. Unless perhaps you meant to lead us through that nest of crocodiles." His eyes narrowed and his finger stroked the trigger of his rifle. "Ten men I lost through the river and swamp. How is it that you managed to get through unharmed? That bruja's heathen magic! That alone is enough to grant her death. But I can thank you at least for leading us to this..." His hungry eyes feasted upon the trove within the hidden chamber. The cabal's eyes glittered with unvarnished greed. 

"It does not belong to you! Even you can see this city belongs to my people and not yours!" Aminata seethed.

"And what of it? Gold is gold, and it cares not who spends it! And it belongs to me and my amigos now." The group was now at the foot of the stair. All grinned and lined their rifles, pistols and shotguns. 

Aminata slowly stalked from the chamber, torch and book in hand, her eyes blazing with righteous fire. Lorenzo strode up the steps before her, hand extended.

"And now, if you please, the first of the treasure I will claim is that worthless book. I will pry the jewels from it and use the rest for firewood!"

"If that is what you desire... then take it!" With a flash of her arm Aminata threw the book high above them, almost touching the roof. All eyes spun to follow it, even Lorenzo, stepping back down the steps to catch it. Greed was upon them, and in their greed they momentarily forgot their caution. But in that moment the priestess snatched a handful of powder from her satchel and blew it through the torch. The dust blazed into a shower of radiant sparks and billowing smoke that swathed the chamber in murk. Several men caught fire, howling and screaming. Rotting foliage caught afire and added to the smoke. Lurid flame cast hideous shadows. The palace chamber was now transformed into a madhouse.

Neither Ansgar nor Aminata hesitated. The hunter caught up his rifle in a single movement and fired several rounds into the line of men who dove for cover amidst a crackle of pistol fire. The two bounded down the stairs like a mountain wind, through the cloud of smoke and confusion, straight for the entrance. All this happened in but a few short moments so that as the book came back down the priestess was there to meet it. She reached out. Caught it. Clutched it to her chest. And without breaking stride the two ran for salvation. The Spaniards stumbled from the billowing smoke, coughing and hacking, lurching after them while spitting poorly aimed shots that whizzed by harmlessly. In reality they had no need to follow. The gems upon the wooden book were but trinkets compared to the hoard they now held. But greed had seized their hearts, and they coveted even the least of the treasure as if it were the greatest.

But the priestess's trick blurred their vision and strangled their lungs. Their shots were poor and their legs would not carry them as they normally would. The pair raced for the exit. Ansgar glanced at his companion. They shared grins. Their spirits were high and their blood hot with the thrill of adventure! Nothing could stop them now.

A massive shape then blocked out the sun before the portico, shadow stretching from the front all the way back to the throne, somehow blacker than the gloom that already lurked there. The pair scraped to a halt, eyes wide and cast up high. Silence blanketed the hall as even the Spaniards halted in shock. A deep, guttural rumble shook their bowels as a huge reptilian head was thrust between the pillars, snorting heavily. Ansgar's eyes widened. It was the jakura! The man-eater! Even in the darkness he could spy the tiny eyes set in the huge skull, milky white and unseeing. It was blind! The skin was pulled across its ribs as tightly as a drum. Starving. Hungry. And now it had a number of men inside of its lair. For a moment unnatural silence reigned over the entire city. Not even an insect dared disturb the moment. 

And then the massive jaws parted and released a roar that shook the city to its foundations. Dust fell from the ceiling and flying reptiles for miles around took wing in terror. Pandemonium ensued. Gunfire erupted from the Spaniards. Rifles and shotguns were worked frantically, spitting streams of lead into the beast's chest which puckered red like bloody blossoming flowers. The jakura roared in pain and rage, swinging its great head from side to side as it charged forward, each foot step shaking the earth like a thunderbolt. The pair of adventurers dove aside, left and right, scrambling for safety among the pillars. All around them gunfire rattled. Some of the Spaniards remembered their quest and pumped shots at the pair.

Others found stairways to the upper levels and poured lead into the jakura and at the heroes. 

Ansgar grit his teeth and fired at his opponents, beast and man alike. At the first shot dust fell from the roof. A heavy slug punched through a vaquero and knocked him off of his feet as if he'd been struck by a locomotive. Ansgar's rifle was no pencil-bore meant for men and small game. It was a powerful and deadly dinosaur gun stoked with the deadliest loads a gunsmith could concoct, potent red powder and hardened bullets. Even after the bullet passed through the vaquero it continued on, whizzing off of stone pillars like a metal wasp. Clouds of shot then poured at the hunter who ducked behind and faded into the shadows, seeking other cover. 

The man-eater swung its great head this way and that, confused by the profusion of new smells and chaotic noise, overwhelming its sensitive ears and nose. Its tail swung in a great arc and struck a vaquero as he ran for the safety of the treasure chamber, uttering a single cry before he slammed into a pillar and fell lifeless to the ground, bones splintered. Another man howled and rattled off a pair of revolvers over the balcony of the second story. The man-eater swung towards him and lunged, jaws gaping. The man screamed and fell back. But too late. The huge head punched through the stone railing and locked onto his ankle with a nauseating crunch. He screamed, beat at the head with his fists. But to no avail. It dragged him off, flung him into the air and caught him like a heron with a fish, jaws slamming shut like a bank vault. The dull blaze of the fire cast chaotic shadows across the chamber, giving the jakura the appearance of a demon.

Ansgar ducked and darted behind pillars, taking quick snap shots, then ran to the next, cramming shells through the loading gate. His heavy shots reverberated through the chamber like thunder. The muzzle flash seemed like that of a cannon in the darkness. Occasionally a human scream rang out as one of his heavy bullets punched through flesh. Other shots cratered stone. The hall was a madhouse of stinging lead and screams. Now and then he glimpsed Aminata on the opposite side, slashing with her dagger. Once her flintlock barked and felled a Spaniard with a lead ball through the heart. So intermingled were the two that the less experienced Spaniards fired on one another by accident, mistaking the figures for the priestess or hunter. All the while the jakura smashed against the stone supports, roaring hideously. Its jaws dripped red.

The kenwari raked the beast with deadly rifle fire until the gun clicked dry. Empty. He crouched by a pillar in the darkness, feeding fat brass shells through the loading gate. Around the corner a trio of Spaniards came at a run. They saw him, raised their guns. Ansgar was faster. He snatched his five-shooter from its holster and punched out five shots as fast as he could work the hammer, heavy slugs punching through flesh and bone. The trio collapsed. But behind them another pair of vaqueros took positions behind the pillars and rattled off a dozen rounds in mere seconds. The hunter sprang from his hiding place and into an alcove across the pathway, lead wasps buzzing past him, several tearing at his poncho. His revolver was empty. The alcove he ducked into lead nowhere. It held only a grim statue. He poked his head out, fired two shots from his rifle, then pulled back just as more bullets sang after him. He was running low on rifle cartridges. His bandolier was more than half empty. And he needed every bullet he had  to kill the jakura. It was madness! 

He slung his rifle and jammed fresh rounds into his revolver. This process took several seconds. The .475 caliber rounds were more than ample for human opponents. Often it had saved his life as a last resort against beasts at close range when his rifle ran dry. He poked out, expecting the vaqueros to still be hiding at the corner junction. But they were almost on top of him! Taking advantage of his reloading they had boldly run up to his hiding place. His out-thrust gun was almost touching one's chest. The Spaniard grabbed the barrel and twisted just as Ansgar pulled the trigger, the bullet flying wide. A yank and he was pulled free of his cover.

"Shoot him! Shoot him!" cried the one who held his gun. The other struggled to aim his slide gun. 

Ansgar grappled with his opponent, releasing his grip on the revolver, coming as close as he could. Both were experienced hands. The free one knew better than to fire for fear of hitting his companion. The two twisted and shoved, banging against the stone walls, unable to throw the other or break free. The sound of steel whispering against leather greeted the Finn's ears. A knife! He twisted just in time as a flash of silver came up in a brown fist and stabbed at his stomach. The blade tore through his poncho and caught on the cartridges in his bandolier. The hunter grabbed his wrist and twisted, bone cracking. The Spaniard screamed. Ansgar shoved him back and drew his own knife. He dove in, heavy blade slashing through flesh and bone. The blade came away smeared with red. Another four lightening flashes of steel and he fell, dead. 

The other swore in Spanish and came at him, his own knife drawn. Killing Ansgar was a matter of honor for him now. It was unfitting to kill a man with a knife with a rifle. It was a duel now that could be settled only by sharpened steel The two met with a flurry of strokes that left their respective clothing in tatters. Ansgar marveled at his opponent's speed and dexterity with a blade. He was an expert and would not be beaten so easily. The two circled warily, sidestepping the bodies around them. The sounds of gunfire were now only sporadic pops. The jakura snuffled eagerly for fallen bodies within reach. But neither knife fighter payed attention. They were focused entirely on each other. A single wayward glance would afford a fatal opening. The two moved like wraiths in the dappled shadow, blades occasionally blinking in the thin beams of light. Then the Spaniard stopped in the light, a slight grin on his face. He tilted his blade and light reflect of the mirror blade, the light stabbing into Ansgar's eyes. He jumped back and blinked just as the Spaniard lunged, the long knife tip gouging his stomach. Warm blood trickled. 

The hunter tried to blink away the image in his eyes, listening for the shuffle of feet on stone. But his ears throbbed from the banging of the guns. Even in the open the report of such heavy guns dulled men's ears. There! A chip of stone grating against stone. He struck out, felt his blade clash against steel. The blades locked just above the hilts. Ansgar could see again. The two leaned against each other, metal grinding against metal. The Spaniard grinned only a few inches away. So close was he that Ansgar could smell his alcohol-stained breath. 

"Enjoy what life you have left! It will soon be over!" the Spaniard sneered. 

Ansgar bared his teeth like an animal and snarled. His back was toward the open court where the jakura sought prey. In a flash the Spaniard hopped back, Ansgar falling forward with the release of opposition. The Spaniard yelped in delight and dove in, ready to bury his blade in Ansgar's neck. He had no time to dodge. Instead of recovering or rolling to the side he carried on forward, dove under the thrust and wrapped his arms around his enemy's waist. Planting his feet he heaved upwards and flung the Spaniard up and back, hurtling his opponent back with every ounce of strength he possessed in his iron-hard body. The Spaniard yell as he was flung head over heels, right into the ankle of the waiting jakura. The beast was on him in a moment and silenced his screams with a single bite. 

The hunter paused and panted for breath. Where was Aminata? He hadn't seen her for several minutes. Had she fallen to a bullet? Or the jakura? His gut churned at the thought. Bones crunched out of sight between heavy jaws. But no longer did guns fire or men scream. Except for the horrible sounds of the jakura eating he heard nothing else. 

A wave of dizziness swept over him and he found himself leaning drunkenly against the nearest column. He braced himself, regaining his balance, when he suddenly became aware of a massive bulk nearby. Slowly he looked behind. The snout of the jakura pushed into view, the huge nostrils widening as it inhaled the scent of blood. His blood. His pulse quickened and his eyes sought for his rifle. There! Some ten yards away. But between him and the gun was the jakura. He steeled his nerves and backed up, moving as if a single sound would bring instant death. No longer was his mind foggy with battle fatigue. It was clear and calm as a mountain stream. As he backed away he saw the feathered flank of the giant beast, the pillar-like legs and the sweep of its tail. Its feathers had fallen off in patches, revealing wrinkled scales. Small streams of blood trickled down its sides. But no bullet had penetrated deep enough to pierce its heart or lungs. Or at least not enough to kill it swiftly. It might take hours to die. Dragons bled slowly and died slowly. 

The beast growled lowly and pulled its head back, snuffling after him. It came towards him. The gray eyes stared unseeingly and gave him the uncanny impression that he was facing a ghost. Behind him lay another pillar and a doorway that led elsewhere. It didn't matter where it went, so long as it got him out of reach of those jaws. Still he moved as silently as he could, even as the beast came within five paces of him, growling deep in its throat in an attempt to scare him into moving hastily. But he was too wise for such tricks. Just as he was about to move through the doorway a gunshot rent the air and a bullet sped past him close enough to tug at his vest. Another followed the first, this time close enough that he felt it burn against his skin. The bullets rattled down the doorway in a deadly ricochet. Ansgar dove aside as a third bullet came after him, rolling and taking cover behind the pillar. The jakura roared and snapped at the wall where he'd been.

"Bravo, cazador, bravo!" a voice called from across the court. "You move fast! But you cannot dodge my bullets and those teeth forever. I could maybe bounce a shot into your back from here, but I think it would be more fun for you to get eaten. Amusing, no?" It was Lorenzo. "Eh, you could always ask me to stop! Do you dare? Ha! I thought not. Look out senor! Here he comes!" A handful of swarthy voices joined him in laughter.

The hunter risked a glance at them. There, on the second level, was Lorenzo and his remaining six men, safely out of reach and watching them like gladiators in an arena. 

Ansgar snarled quietly in frustration. Pinned by a sniper and a hungry jakura! It seemed to pay no mind to the voice, but instead sensed prey closer at hand, and this prey seemed unarmed. Then began a deadly game. Ansgar couldn't gain the doorway, but could only dodge behind the pillars as the jaws sought him out, twisting and biting from one side and then another like a terrier attempting to fix its teeth upon a rat. Back and forth he moved, as quietly as he could manage, but he couldn't hide his scent. Always it betrayed his location even as an occasional shot slashed past him. Lorenzo cackled gleefully. Every time he sought to gain his rifle or gain another means of escape a bullet stopped him. But even as he hid behind the pillars the jaws were after him again, forcing him to brave what was now a firing lane. He cursed savagely under his breath. This was a game he couldn't keep up forever. Sooner or later his speed or footing would betray him. He had to find a way to regain the initiative. 

"Look at him run! Faster, faster cazador!" another vaquero cried out. 

Several guns of smaller caliber lay discarded nearby. They weren't enough for the jakura. But they were enough to buy him space. As the mouth clamped shut near him he dove, caught up a slide action rifle and bounded behind cover just as Lorenzo shot at him. In a smooth motion Ansgar rolled to his feet behind another pillar and, bracing himself against it, fired off a string of shots at the Spaniards. They cried out in surprise and dove for cover. Then the gun ran dry. He ran, discarding the empty weapon and raced for his own. Behind him the jakura roared, shaking his bones down to the marrow as it thundered after him. Hurried shots chased after him. He strained every muscle in his body for utmost speed, flying across the root-covered floor. The stones vibrated under heavy steps behind.

Suddenly monstrous jaws slammed shut behind him, so close he could hear teeth grinding on teeth. But his forward movement was arrested. He was pulled up short, his feet flying out from under him as the teeth grabbed the tail end of his poncho. He was being dragged back. Out into the open. Away from his gun that lay only a few paces away. Horror washed over him along with the humid, fetid breath. He turned, saw the mouth within touching distance, scraps of rotting flesh and bits of clothing caught between the rail-road spike sized teeth. His heart jumped into his throat. It needed only to drag him far enough to throw him into the air and finish him with a single bite. The Spaniards whooped and jeered as victory loomed for them. But Ansgar wasn't done yet. He drew his hatchet. The blade and hook gleamed with insidious sharpness. Just as his feet were lifted from the ground he then twisted and, exerting every muscle he could bring to bear, buried the sharp hook within one of the sensitive nostrils. Blood spurted and the jaws parted in a pained roar. 

He fell to the ground, watching the jakura's pained antics with savage satisfaction. Blood bushed from its sensitive nose, its pathetically small arms attempting to dislodge the hatchet. In its pained haste it backpedaled and crashed into the opposite wall, shaking the foundations and sending the Spaniards to their feet. Their shots at him were spoiled and only a few hastily aimed rounds flew harmlessly in his direction. He jumped, scooped up his empty rifle and desperately pushed fresh rounds in. He risked a glance from behind cover. The jakura wailed in agony. The mighty blow seemed to loosen the foundation of the entire palace. One of the pillars shook uncertainly, then tilted and fell. As Ansgar watched it fell in a drunken arc and struck the jakura upon the skull with a resounding crash. Both titanic bulks crashed to the ground. Ansgar allowed himself a savage grin and chuckled.

The Spaniards rose, lifting their guns to fire at him again. But unseen behind them a dark shadow seemed to rise, a keen blade raised. As one of the Spaniards shouldered his gun to fire he screamed, the knife plunged up to the hilt in his back, tearing upwards. The remainder wheeled in surprise and confusion as a flintlock barked, the head of another Spaniard seeming to pop as a lump of lead tore through his skull. They cried out in rage. It was Aminata! Ansgar witnessed her from a concealing alcove. The Spaniards turned to fire at her, but in turn ignored him. He raised his rifle and put a round through the back of another vaquero, who died before he even had a chance to scream. He worked the rifle as fast as it could go, a relentless pounding that would have put a cannon barrage to shame. In moments the remaining Spaniards were cut down, all save for Captain Lorenzo.

The Captain frothed with rage, a stream of obscenities flying from his lips as he discarded his empty guns and drew a saber.

"Die bruja!" he snarled. 

"I think not Captain," the priestess retorted, her lovely lips split in a huge defiant grin. She dropped her flintlock and seemingly by magic produced a clump of powder in her hand. As the final Spaniard charged her, blade raised high to cut her down, she blew the sparkling yellow dust in his face and dove aside as he slashed down, the blade biting into stone and casting a spray of sparks. 

As Ansgar watched the Captain didn't chase after her. He staggered back drunkenly, saber clutched tightly in his fist. But he looked about as if confused. His eyes were wide and pupils dilated. His head snapped back and forth as if he saw and heard things that only he could. 

"What... what did you... do to me?" he gasped, a sweat breaking out on his face.

"I gave you a gift, my dear Captain," Aminata chimed impishly, her smile dark and menacing. "I gave you madness."

Lorenzo didn't seem to hear her. He blinked rapidly and groped with his left hand as if he were blind. Suddenly he swung his saber frantically as if he were charged by some unseen enemy, crying wildly. Then he swung at another. Soon he was a gibbering mess as he yelled and screamed, slashing wildly. He looked as if he were fending off a horde of ghosts but only touched open air. He stumbled and flailed about as if in a living nightmare. The dappled shadows passed over his ashen face only added to the sense of unreality and terror. It looked as though he were fighting all the ghosts of the city. 

"Get them away! Get them away!" he screamed.

Ansgar watched in morbid fascination as the Captain went mad. What horrors was he glimpsing in his drugged state? Now the Captain gripped his weapon with both hands, swinging desperately at phantoms, but failed to see the guard rail behind him. A final twist and he flung himself against the stone rail, toppling over and falling amidst a horrified scream. He fell head first. And then with a nauseating crunch his screams ceased. Ansgar released a tense breath.

"Are you alright?" he called up.

"Yes, by the loa, I am well! And you? Heavens! You're bleeding!" the priestess replied.

"I will survive, just as soon as I- What the devil?" The gigantic bulk of the jakura trembled, began to rise from the rubble. Like a punch-drunk boxer it shakily got to its feet, swaying uncertainly on widely braced feet. Its skull was slightly misshapen from the impact of the pillar, but was still intact. Blood poured from a fleshy crater and the ruptured nostril. A piteous groan of agony poured from its mouth. Most of the teeth were broken. Ansgar's stomach knotted. How much more harm could it take before it fell? Its body was flooded with adrenaline, somehow keeping it alive even after it had taken more than thirty bullets. He silently skirted towards the exit. Had he been in a better position he wouldn't have hesitated to fire. But with almost no room to maneuver he had no wish to draw its attention to him while it was still alive and dangerous. A wounded predator was ten times as dangerous as an unwounded one. But still it must die. 

Somehow it sensed him, turning its bulk in his direction and growling low in its throat. Its blind eyes seemed to burn with a livid fire. The beast roared and charged again, albeit with less grace and steadiness before. Its steps were slower now, uncertain, giving Ansgar a chance to race ahead and fire several hopeful shots into its chest. Aminata ran on the verandah above, reaching a balcony just as Ansgar cleared the portico and flew down the steps.

"Ansgar! The statue! There!" she cried out, stabbing a finger across the path.

He followed her finger and spotted a statue some thirty feet tall, like the others. It held a mighty war axe in its hands, blade outward at chest level. But more importantly one of the legs had half-crumbled in its exposure to the elements. A desperate idea formed in his mind. Towards the statue he ran, then, reaching it, turned as if at bay just as the jakura stumbled out of the exit, growling hideously. 

"Here beast! Here!" he shouted. The statue loomed up above him, silent, seeming to stare at the jakura as if it were a long hated enemy. He fired at the beast again, aiming or the vulnerable arteries in the neck and lungs in the chest. It needed no more goading. It was driven half-mad by hunger and pain, seeking only to destroy in its crazed state. Without hesitation it rumbled down the steps and at the hunter, head lowered, jaws dripping with blood and saliva. It didn't check its pace in the least, pounding forward heedless of any perils. Ansgar watched, his mouth dry, as the avalanche of primeval power pounded towards him, steeling his nerves even as he reloaded and fired again. 

At the last moment, just as it was only some five paces away, he reacted with the speed of a steel trap and jumped aside. And the man-eater ran headlong into the legs of the statue. The already worn stone foundation shattered under the impact and fell forward. The statue wobbled uncertainly in place. And then in a glorious gambit of fate the mighty stone warrior toppled upon the man-eater, the ancient axe cleaving through the flesh of its back and into its spine. The jakura roared again, but this time it was not of anger. It was a hideous, blood-chilling death bellow of a mighty predator feeling its life flee from its body. The two toppled to the ground in a resounding crash that shook the entire palace to its foundations and raised a cloud of debris. The statue shattered into rubble, half burying the jakura's pulped and lacerated body. It was almost cleft in half by the ancient blade. 

The man-eater was dead.

Ansgar spat in disgust. "So much blood..." He sat upon a fallen block and hung his head. He rested his rifle across his knees and took a moment to enjoy the silence that now suddenly reined. Aminata found a way down from some unseen stare and approached him, the book in her hand. He cast her a stern glare, eyes hard. "You planned for this to happen." It wasn't a question. "You left that trail for them. Wanted them to come here. Why? Was I just one pawn in your vendetta?" 

She regarded him with tired eyes. "I planned this, yes. I planned all of it, hunter." She sighed and sat heavily upon a block of stone, as if weighed down by her thoughts. "Bakouma has been under siege. Not from guns and knives, but from the outside world. I may be young, but I have seen and learned much. You know as well as I that the world is like the tide, ever rising and falling. My people have already fallen far from grace. And as the world has crept in we've fallen farther. We have long been cut off from our homeland until this is the only land we know. We suffer many threats here. And today we have slain three of them; The pitiless man-eater, the wretched Lorenzo and his bandits, but most deadly of all, we will have slain ignorance." She hefted the wooden tablets in her hands. "I didn't wish to deceive you. When we met I read in your eyes a noble heart, one which seeks not for glory or riches. You sought only to help those in need. But I knew also that you would not have come had I told you we would slay Lorenzo and his men. I lured them here, through the swamp to be eaten by crocodiles, and then fall prey to the jakura. But they came faster than I thought." She stood and pointed in the direction of the treasure. 

"All of that? I could use it to live like a queen. But I won't. I will use it to help raise up my people. To buy that which is needed, to build us up unto a great nation once again. It will take time, but it may happen. We must prepare ourselves and hold against the rest of the oncoming world. There are many more men like Lorenzo. We must be ready for them. That is the heritage of our ancestors. It has laid here unused for centuries, but now it will help us emerge from our poverty."

Ansgar listened to her in slowly growing awe. She was brutal perhaps, but pragmatic. Her words seemed to hypnotize him. It was true, the people of Bakouma were poor. She had a very real chance of providing them with a new future. 

"What is to stop your people from taking it from you though? Not all are so thoughtful as you. You know as well as I that there are some who will try to take it through bloodshed," he noted grimly.

She smiled broadly, although tired. He found her smile oddly refreshing. "They would not dare! You see, stories will flow through the island. I left with my voudoun into the jungle, and Lorenzo followed. And only you and I will return. The jakura lies dead too. They will believe that it was my voudoun that slew them! They will believe nothing else, even if you tell them. But I have read you. You won't do that. You don't wish for that attention. There is no need to lie. If you tell the truth it will only strengthen their faith that it was my power that brought this all to pass. We have long been steeped in superstition. And that I can wield as deadly as your rifle or knife. But we are weary and we must ride back. Do not worry too greatly over what will come to pass. You have helped Bakouma greater than you can know, and you shall be rewarded!" Her smile dazzled suddenly. "You still seek to hunt here, and I know the greatest places to do so! Now come! Help me retrieve our horses. We will load what gold I need and return to the village. We will deliver to them the jakura's teeth and Lorenzo's hat as trophies! And tomorrow you can hunt over Bakouma to your heart's content. I will have for you all the guides you wish and you can take shelter at any village upon the island! You have a friend in me... Ansgar. And you will always be welcome here." She smiled gently and then to his surprise, caught him in a gentle embrace. For a moment he stood stunned, then returned the gesture.

In spite of his exhaustion, this new plan sounded good to Ansgar. Very good. In the end, he had helped protect the people of Bakouma from terror and tyranny. He had another fantastic adventure under his belt. And he had a new friend. 
Battle of Bakouma Final Chapter
Aaaaand its done! Finally done! I apologize to... all two of you who've been waiting. XD This story ended up being much larger and more interesting than I'd initially intended, but I will count that as a good thing. 

This is my final part of my art trade with tyrannoninja.deviantart.com/
I hope you enjoy my friend! It took a lot out of me, hahaha. 

I hope that all who read it enjoy it as well! If you're interested, this takes place in my Primal Frontier book series. I still love this setting, but I confess that I am biased. ;)
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Aminata hadn't exaggerated. From where Ansgar sat astride his horse he could see the devastation the village had suffered. The jakura had attacked the day before, perhaps just as he and the priestess had been talking. A corral was smashed into splinters and the remains of a handful of prayans, the shield-headed four legged plant eaters of Magna Terra which functioned as cattle and wild buffalo, were decaying in the sun amidst the buzz of flies. Massive three-toed footprints were still pressed deep into the mud, swirling with dirty water. Across from the corral a hut was caved in as if it had been struck by a meteor. He hadn't arrived too soon.

"Did anyone die?" he asked reluctantly.

Aminata exchanged a few words with one of the villagers, a handsome but hungry looking black man with hollow cheeks and a puff of curly hair. He shook his head. Aminata smiled, herself astride a horse next to the hunter.

"Thankfully not. These people are fleet of foot, and upon hearing the beast they left in silence. This jakura is blind." 

"Blind?" Ansgar's brow furrowed. Interesting. That would explain why it had turned man-eater. Unable to pursue larger or faster prey it would have had little choice but to attack those who couldn't fight as well. It brought little comfort however. If anything this made it more dangerous. He knew from experience that when deprived of one sense, others would increase in strength. And two-clawed jakuras already possessed the most uncanny sense of smell of any animal alive. A rotting carcass could attract such an animal from as far as twenty miles. He had seen it more than once. In fact, often more resourceful bone hunters would follow them to bodies, waiting for them to eat their fill and then take the remaining bones for sale.

"Yes. It is an older beast, perhaps even ill. Look upon his tracks. You will see for yourself."

Ansgar nodded and dismounted. Leaning over the tracks he peered closely, examining the still moist tracks as if they could speak. She was correct. His steps were shaky and unsure. Sure signs of weakness in the bones. In fact his steps were slower, hesitant, as if afraid of stepping on something harmful. Yes, he was blind. Unable to see where he was going he tested each step to avoid injury. It was more due to that than his blindness that prevented any of the villagers from being killed. But it would almost certainly be back. The prayans it had eaten were of the smaller, hornless variety. They wouldn't satiate its hunger for long. 

Looking up he surveyed the village and its peoples. It was a charming village. Small, perhaps no more than thirty thatched huts, but well made. The women worked on their weaving in spite of the recent panic, slowly but steadily producing magnificent articles of radiant clothing that surpassed even that of the gaudy Spaniards. Children brandished bent sticks and poked at each other while the largest of them curled his hands and snarled as if he were a dragon. The men took to mending their damaged fences and homes, working with strong hands and bent backs to lift heavy timbers cut from the forest. But they had little more than that. The coastal town had boasted new tools of iron and steel produced in the forges of Kasavira and coastal cities of the mainland. But not here. Men still worked with tools of stone. They had little to trade, save what they could wrest from the perils of the forest and the soil of their pitifully small fields. 

And the jakura was making life even more difficult. Ansgar's eyes hardened like pieces of knapped flint. He idly caressed the lever of his rifle. He would put a stop to such problems soon enough.

He was mildly surprised to note that the villagers payed little attention to him besides curiosity. He was a pale oddity. A stranger from a strange land and in strange garb. They did not know him and cared less in their current state. Instead they looked to Aminata with a mixture of hope and fear. Indeed, with her new costume she assumed a rather menacing appearance. Her brightly colored town clothing had been traded for something far more theatrical. Her hair tumbled about her shoulders in long dreadlocks which ended in clusters of brilliantly colored feathers. They shimmered in the light any time she moved her head. A bodice of scaled leather was wound tightly about her abdomen, making her waist look unnaturally small but accentuating her curves above and below. This too had elaborate feather-work stitched into the seams while small bleached bones were sewn into strange shapes. A skirt of gaudy color reached to her knees. Her feet were bare. But perhaps most striking of all were the archaic symbols of white paint daubed onto her skin, a striking contrast with her natural ebony. What the symbols meant only she knew. A sash like that of the Spaniards was wrapped about her supple hips, and into this was thrust a bone dagger and an archaic pistol, a classic flintlock. Undoubtedly it had been traded by earlier Spanish traders. Lastly she bore a satchel draped over a bare shoulder. What contents it held Ansgar could only guess. 

Altogether she presented a remarkable image. In some ways she was somewhat like the shamans of Zarwachi. The bones and feathers in her garb held great magic and significance. Shamans too used such things and more as good luck charms or curses. Especially the bones woven into her bodice. Bones. To all peoples of these strange lands they seemed to carry the most weight. The Chinese desired them for medicines. The whites desired them as trophies and ornamentation. The tribals desired them for their magic. It was little wonder that the villagers and others held her in such high esteem. They believed in her power as surely as they believed in the sun in the sky. Even now she seemed to radiate a subtle power that held all who looked upon her in meek submission.

Ansgar stood. It was still early morning. They needed to move before the heat of day became too great. 

"How far is the nest?"

"Some hours ride, hunter. But we shall arrive there in time. Come, let us start." She turned her horse towards the forest.

The hunter nodded and remounted, trailing four mules behind. Aminata had insisted they be brought along. Perhaps it was to bring along the most valuable of the bones from the beast after it was slain. Undoubtedly they'd be used in her rites or bartered. He didn't like it so much however. Mules were noisy and difficult. When hunting he desired utmost stealth. Often he hunted without a horse, trusting to his feet and endurance instead. Aminata took the lead as they plunged into the foliage. Ansgar followed. He kept his eyes strictly up when looking ahead. The priestess presented a tempting figure from behind and especially with her unique garb. Her skirt was pulled, in his opinion, needlessly taut around her broad hips and rump. Once he dared look lower and turned away with an ashamed redness to his cheeks. Why was it that some women wore such things? Perhaps he ought to be grateful. She still dressed with far more modesty than Zanji when they had first met. His mouth went dry at the memory. 

The villagers watched them go in fascination, a few waving before they were cut off by the wall of foliage. Greenery surrounded the pair of travelers. Ansgar grinned as they stalked between the leathery boles of the trees. He seemed to undergo a transformation as the eyes of man were left behind and the eyes of beasts ahead. Wilderness! The land belonging to animals. No petty laws of civilized man to bind him down like heavy chains. Only the laws of nature and survival here. If not for the presence of Aminata he would have sprung from his horse and commenced tracking, sniffing at the trail as a hound might, reveling in the raw thrill of the hunt. He now unslung his rifle and cradled it across his thighs, using only his left hand to control the reins of his steed and following mules. Whatever might emerge from the greenery he had to be prepared. It was the unpredictability of the wilds that tantalized his savage soul. The jakura he sought might come upon them. Perhaps another jakura. Or even smaller predators. Maybe even a foul-tempered prayan. Anything could happen!

The shadows were not so thick here as other jungles or forests he had trod. The trees and their branches were spread far enough that light was permitted to pour through, giving it a more open homely feel than other territories. Were it not for the task at hand he would have enjoyed simply strolling through this forest aimlessly. They didn't follow the trail of the jakura directly. While that was his normal method of dealing with beasts, active pursuit, Aminata had insisted that they instead go to its lair and either wait for it to arrive or slay it while it rested. Midday was their best chance. At that time the heat would be at its greatest and all animals big and small sought cover from the brutal rays of the sun in whatever shelter they could find. 

Aminata led the way with confidence. She did not look about for landmarks, nor did she consult a map, but seemed guided by an inherent knowledge of the landscape born of frequent forays. Bakouma was a large island, more than a hundred and fifty miles long and fifty miles wide. Only those dedicated to exploration could truly claim to know a great deal of its interior. Aminata displayed this. What had she done before becoming a priestess of voudoun? Did she possess the spirit of an adventurer as well? There were many possibilities. But she was no hunter. She didn't search the surrounding area for game, nor did she look to the ground for tracks. All her faculties seemed focused on reaching their destination. By contrast Ansgar's eyes never stayed still. Always they looked for signs of movement or shapes which betrayed an animal or person. He soaked in the forest. No detail escaped his gaze. He heard every sound, noticed every smell and saw every movement that was perceivable. Despite the gravity of their mission he was enjoying Bakouma. Every territory had its own unique feel. Dwarls, the flying reptiles, buzzed and twittered in the branches above them, scurrying across leathery boles or streaking through the air on leathery wings to snatch up humming insects with their needle-toothed jaws.

Aminata halted suddenly and turned to him. "We are getting closer, hunter. It would be best for you to lead now. It is doubtful that the jakura is lying in wait for us, but one can never be too sure." She pointed at the sun, half-obscured by the boughs above. "Follow the sun until we reach the river. From there we will follow it downstream to a swamp. It is past this that it lives. There is a path through the swamp which we can use to cross safely. But we must be wary. There are great crocodiles and other beasts which dwell in the waters. We will pass in safety however." She grinned. "I will protect us."

Ansgar nodded and grinned. It was his turn now. And now he didn't have to worry about her distracting figure. At the village she had led. The villagers there and across the island believed in her power, and to see a white stranger follow her only lent credence to her position. He had no opposition to this. It had been agreed before that past a certain point he would lead. He passed her the lead rope for the mules and rode ahead of her, both hands now on his rifle. Across his chest a bandolier of fat brass cartridges glittered dully, each the size of his middle finger. He had enough rounds to slay any animal that walked the earth. It was this abundance of ammunition that he owed much of his success. Far too many explorers and hunters carried only a handful. When confronted with an unforeseen event, which was often, they were frequently left without a means of adequate defense. Too many got lost and didn't have enough ammunition to supply themselves with food. This was a problem he rarely had.

He followed her directions, following the sun, weaving between the trees, always looking for signs of hidden danger. At times he saw indications of smaller saurian beasts: Piles of fecal matter, trees rubbed raw, prints in the earth, branches stripped of leaves. But besides these they saw little of actual life. Despite this Ansgar felt that something was amiss. Nothing of immediate danger, but something that was wrong. He slowed his steed and raised his hand. Aminata stopped. The kenwari listened, tilting his head slowly from side to side. For some minutes neither of them moved or spoke. His admiration of her grew. She knew better than to break his concentration. Too often those who came along insisted on asking questions when silence was most needed.

Nothing reached his ears. Nothing he could define. A faint breeze rose at their backs. Turning in his saddle he faced the way they had come and sniffed the air deeply. Of course he smelled his companion, her horse and the mules. He smelled the forest and other natural scents. But what else was there? It seemed as if there was an infinitely faint trace of something else far behind them. Something from man. His brows furrowed.

"Would the villagers follow us?" he asked.

Aminata tilted her head slightly. "No, they are far too afraid."

"Then who is following us?"

"No one should be. Perhaps it is some vaqueros searching for stray cattle. I have seen them come farther for such things. They value their cows more than their own flesh and blood." 

"Mmmm. Maybe." The hunter contemplated this for a moment. He had indeed seen the lengths to which Spaniards and vaqueros in particular would go to in order to protect their cattle. And he had seen some tracks of cows. But it seemed strange even for them to come so far in an area where a man-eater was known to be. Perhaps nothing too greatly to worry about, but he didn't like it. Nor did he like the obvious trail the horses and mules left in the soft soil. Born in the Red Hills where tribal warfare was common he had a natural aversion to leaving any trail that could be followed. He half-opened the action on his repeater and peered into the chamber. A fat brass shell was nested inside, as deadly as a bolt of lightning. He closed the action. He didn't lower the hammer. There was no telling who it was. Then another idea occurred to him. 

The Spaniards did not speak much with the local black peoples. Perhaps they did not know of the man-eater. He didn't hate Spaniards. He had known some. Many were good people. Proud but devote to family and church alike. It would behoove him to warn them of such danger in the area. 

As if sensing his line of thought the priestess interjected. "Do not worry of them hunter. The jakura is blind, yes? If they find it they can surely escape it. They may be fools, but they ride as if born into the saddle. We will do a greater service to them and the villagers to find it at its lair quickly. Let us not tarry. The sun is close to reaching its peak." She pointed at the sky for emphasis.

She was right. It would be only another hour or two before the heat reached its zenith. 

"Very well. Let us continue." They resumed their journey. But Ansgar moved faster now, his horse almost at a trot. Presently he heard the rushing of water in the distance. The horses and mules heard it too. It was hot and they had covered a number of miles. The animals almost ran ahead, but Ansgar checked the advance. Where there was water there were crocodiles. He reined in, bringing the animal back to a trot. Aminata did the same in spite of the loud protesting of the mules.

At last they reached the river. It was some thirty feet across, gurgling by at a leisurely pace. The banks weren't terribly steep but he saw no means of crossing without getting wet. A perfect place for crocodiles to seize crossing animals. As if on cue he caught sight of a knobby head submerge beneath the water only a short distance away. His horse nickered and strained to reach the water but he held it fast. There would be a better drinking spot further downstream. Turning his straining mount to the side he followed the river at a safe distance from the bank. The huge crocodiles could burst across dry land at astonishing speeds when prompted. All too often he had seen dragons grabbed by a hind leg or haunch and dragged honking into the water when they had supposed themselves safe. Thankfully a tiny stream broke off some few hundred yards further, scarcely a yard across and no deeper than a foot. 

Here they let their thirsty mounts satisfy themselves, all the while keeping a wary eye on the main river.

"How is it that you know of this place? This is deep in the forest. I didn't think women of this island would be permitted to travel so far by themselves."

"A good question," Aminata responded cryptically, her full lips pulling back into a knowing smile. 

"I thought you said you would tell me of the history of this island," he persisted.

"We shall when we come to the swamp. It is not far now. Even now you can smell it."

Again she was right. He could faintly smell the traces of rotting vegetable matter and stagnant water ahead. And beyond that the lair of the jakura. His blood thrilled at the thought. Then he frowned. Guilt stung him. He shouldn't take so much joy in this. He was on a mission to slay a man-eater. The villagers had lost family members to this beast. It threatened the entire village's existence. Yet he couldn't help himself. The more dangerous the game the more wildly his spirit yearned for it!

They remounted and started off again, presently arriving at the edges of the swamp. Here the river split off partly to the side and continued its way toward the ocean, but on the other side was a terrific collection of boulders where the water oozed to a halt. It was a maze of waterways and sharp stone pinnacles. It was no wonder the Spaniards hadn't discovered the crumbling city beyond. How such a formation ever came to be Ansgar couldn't imagine. He hadn't seen anything quite like it before. While it would impede the progress of the larger crocodiles, smaller ones and other predators would lurk within the calm waters. Even if it were shallow it would be devilishly difficult to traverse. A green film of moss covered the surface, preventing them from seeing where to plant their feet. Their steeds would almost certainly break their legs in unseen crevices or get mired in thick mud. And the swamp seemed to sweep out in a wide ring beyond the river. Yet they still had to cross, and the crocodiles were still here. Even as he watched he could detect several huge bulks lurking beneath the surface, betrayed only by their eyes and noses. Yet even these were huge. The noses were bigger than his head.

To his surprise Aminata dismounted and approached the river. What did she intend to do? He had not expressed his doubt in her powers before. To have done so would be rude. Rarely did he believe in such claims of the supernatural. But he couldn't let her get killed in trying to prove herself!

"Aminata, wait-" He started to dismount but she smiled confidently and motioned for him to stay where he was.

"Do not worry. Stay and watch." She produced a small cloth sack from her satchel. She held it to her chest in both hands and slowly uttered a monotone chant under her breath. 

Ansgar's hair raised as she muttered the words. Voudoun? Or witchcraft?

Then she threw the article far upstream which landed with a light splash. For a moment the water seemed to boil and an odd purple mist rose only to disappear like a snuffed candle. The soupy water now took on a slightly different tint, a faint violet color seeming to invade the water. The pair waited for several minutes. A few strange fish floated to the surface with spasmodic twitches. Then suddenly several huge wakes disturbed the water's surface, shooting upriver and down, then leaving the water empty. Aminata grinned at her companion. 

"It is safe now, but only for a short time."

"What about the crocodiles?"

"See for yourself. They do not feed upon the fish. They have left for now. They do not like the water as I have made it."

She was right. There were no more knobby eyes or noses in the water. Glancing upriver he spied several of the river giants cast upon the shore, not even their tails dipping in the water as was their habit. Their scales seemed to peel unnaturally and gave way to slight bleeding. What had she done to the water? He cast her a questioning glance. The priestess only smiled. Then to prove it was safe she remounted and urged her horse through the shallow water without a hint of fear or worry.

At any moment Ansgar expected a monstrous crocodile to grab them both, but not a thing happened and she reached the edge of the swamp in safety. Still clutching his rifle, unable to shake hereditary caution, he followed after her. Some of the tension bled from his muscles upon reaching the opposite side. But now they had to overcome the winding paths of the swamp. 

"How far to the ruins?"

"Only a short ways. But stay close. Stay in my path. Do not stray or you will surely be devoured. I can protect you so long as you stay close." Her tone was grave. Again she reached into her satchel and produced what at first appeared to be a simple stick. It was a foot long and two inches wide. It still bore its bark. She gripped both ends and twisted. To Ansgar's surprise it turned smoothly and came apart. Somehow she had separated the two parts and carved notches beneath the bark, creating a crude connecting mechanism. Even he hadn't noticed any seam. Carefully the priestess poured a pale powder into her dark palm, peering at it as if it might bite her. Her nose wrinkled. She cast him a sympathetic glance.

"However bad this seems hunter, know that it is worse for me."

"What-" He couldn't utter another word. His nose and throat were assailed by a smell that burned like fire. It was horrible! He swung an arm across his face, struggling to breathe. It was beyond description. Nothing else he had ever winded approached the repulsiveness of this accursed stench. His eyes watered. "What, ugh, is that?"

"Protection. No beast will approach us with it." She then cast the powder up in the air, dusting the entire group with the retched reek. 

Their animals struggled and whinnied frightfully. Ansgar didn't fault them. He would rather brave the dangers of the swamp on foot than endure this. It was only with a supreme effort that he suppressed the convulsive urge to cough.

Aminata grinned weakly, replacing the stick in the satchel. "Let us carry on. The ruins lay close by, mon ami." With that she urged her horse forward. 

Ansgar followed closely. He took extra care to lead his horse precisely where she led her own. To his surprise they didn't sink. Evidently a layer of gravel and sand had built up over a period of time against banks of boulders and rock until a narrow path had formed. But the water's murky nature made it impossible to see from the surface. The priestess wove a careful path through the confused mass of boulders, frequently taking long looping paths that passed within yards of places they had gone earlier. But he knew better than to try any shortcuts. While the huge crocodiles couldn't fit between the boulders, smaller ones and other creatures certainly could. More than once he caught sight of shapes lazily churning the still waters. Behind him the mules trembled with terror. They too could sense the danger lurking all around them. At times they would stubbornly dig their feet into the gravel and refuse to move, only to be frightened forward by a dark shape approaching too close. But the awful powder seemed to work. No creature came within five yards of them before turning away.

As they progressed Ansgar could faintly make out the vague shapes of moldering ruins, half-smothered in choking vegetation. His blood heated at the sight. Adventure! Suddenly Aminata stopped. A faint sloshing sounded ahead of them. Ansgar froze, rifle butt tucked to his shoulder. His practiced ears recognized the sound. Not a crocodile. A two legged creature. The jakura? No. The steps were too light. Something else. Then from around the bend of a boulder appeared a long set of narrow jaws, like a crocodile, but at head height followed by a cold yellow eye. A long-jawed jakura! They were fish eaters, but dangerous to humans too. The creature stalked into full view, its heavily clawed hands working as if eager to seize prey. Its green and blue mottled body was propelled forward by a pair of strong legs, moving with sinister grace. Each hand sported a claw fit to disembowel an elephant. 

Its cold eyes fixed upon Aminata. It approached. Its jaws were half open, exposing rows of hooked teeth. The horses and mules were frozen into statues.

Ansgar's heart beat a pace faster. He lifted the rifle slightly. But Aminata was in the way. He could fire past her, yes, but with it only a few yards away it might still reach her. Dragons died slowly. The head. He could shoot it just in front of the eyes, stunning it. Then finish it with a shot to the spine. As if sensing his thoughts she raised her hand slightly, shook her finger at him. She didn't want him to shoot? Would her protection stand up to a beast such as this so close? The thing came closer. But he obeyed. He held his fire. But should it attack he wouldn't hesitate to fire. He didn't worry for himself. Only for her. He was as a steel-jawed trap now: Perfectly still but at the slightest disturbance would respond with blinding speed. He didn't blink.  

The long-jaw gurgled deep in its throat. It came within touching distance of the priestess. But she didn't twitch a muscle. Although he couldn't see her face he sensed no tension in her body language. She sat as coolly as if she were on a trip through town. Only a slight increase in her breathing betrayed any nervousness. The thing bent its serpentine neck down low, bringing its head to eye level with her. The high-set nostrils opened and closed rhythmically. For a few agonizing seconds it scrutinized her. The narrow jaws opened slightly. Ansgar could see fish scales stuck between the teeth. Smell the nauseating scent of rotting fish meat. A cloud of flies buzzed around it.

Then it snorted, shook its head as if irritated, then turned and stalked away without giving them a second glance. 

The hunter lowered his gun. Aminata glanced back at him, her mouth split in a nervous grin. A single bead of sweat trickled down the side of her head.

"Are you alright?"

"Of course hunter. I told you. We are protected. But it is well that you are here." Without another word she moved forward. 

His respect for her rose. She had steel in her. Of that there was no doubt. Few men could have held themselves so well in such a situation. He had seen seasoned hunters break under such circumstances. He was thankful when they at last reached solid ground. 

And before them lay the ruins of a primeval city. 
Battle of Bakouma Chapter 2
Second chapter of my art trade with TyrannoNinja whooo! Sorry for taking a spell, life likes to happen. 

In this story our heroes set out on their journey to slay a man eating T-Rex, but will all go according to plan? Read on and find out! Dun dun duuuun!

I'll get to work on the next and final piece soon. Comments are welcome. Hope ya'll enjoy!
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Ansgar strode through the bare earth path that threaded through the thatched huts, a faint salty breeze stirring his dirty yellow hair. Lifting his nose to the air he sniffed as a hound on the trail might, savoring the wealth of new smells that greeted him.  He could feel it. On his right ocean waves crashed against the glittering beach where fishermen untangled great nets and sharpened harpoons and great ships unloaded their cargo. On his left and beyond the domed huts stretched countless miles of emerald green jungle. This island, Bakouma, was still wild. The encroachment of modern conveniences couldn't mask that fact. If one put house decorations on a wild tree, the tree was no less wild. And so it was with Bakouma, and the town Wokoro through which he now strode. He dodged aside as a gaggle of black children raced past him amidst squeals and laughter, chasing after a terrified creature that looked like a chicken, save for its teeth. He chuckled. In spite of what the ignorant in Europe thought, not all of the dinosaurs of Magna Terra, or Zarwachi as the tribals called it, were gigantic terrors that ate families by the mouthful. On the contrary, most were the size of a common cur and offered little threat. But stories of the greater beasts could not be held back. 

It was these that brought him here. Ansgar Tapio was a kenwari, a wandering hunter. True, the bones of dragons was worth a great deal, but hunting for profit lost its appeal as swiftly as a diet of salt. No, it was the challenge that drove him to seek out dangerous game and plumb the unexplored depths of the perilous New World. Suddenly his attention was arrested by a commotion in front of one of the huts, larger and ornamented with bones. At the mouth of the entrance sat a lone black woman, her hair bound in an elaborate cloth wrapping and body swathed in a brightly colored dress unique to the natives of Bakouma. But it wasn't her that immediately fixed his attention. It was the six or seven men in front of her bearing arms and displeased looks that arrested him. They sported large knives and revolvers in their fiery red sashes. Their attire was functional but colored like tropical birds. Not the least of which were their broad, round brimmed hats. Sombreros. Undoubtedly Spaniards. At the distance he could only make out some of what they said. But it was enough.

"Stupid bruja... Will cut your... Left for the sharks..."

All thoughts of hunting vanished from his mind. Eyes hard, he approached the group. Other people in the street pretended not to see. They continued to walk, not wishing to become involved in whatever the Spaniards wanted of the woman. He loosened his revolver in its holster and touched the butt of his rifle which was slung over his shoulder. It wasn't the Finn's way to get mixed up in business that wasn't his. But he couldn't stand by idly while a woman was accosted. Failure to protect was almost as bad as committing a bad deed itself. His gaze was fixed on the group, his stride strong. He was only a few paces away when they noticed him. 

"Eh? What do you want gringo?" one of the Spaniards demanded. All heads turned towards him. Including that of the woman.

"Is all well?" Ansgar asked in rough Spanish. He had acquired a number of languages and dialects in his travels. Spanish was a more common tongue in some of the desert regions near where he had been raised. Now closer he made out more details. Their skin was darkened from the sun, their hands callused from hard use. The grips on their guns were worn but in good condition. Several bore machetes. They were fighting men, used to riding hard and cutting through jungle. But unlike most they were disciplined. They were straight-backed, clear-eyed. No slouching or smell of whiskey. Former soldiers most likely. Or professional mercenaries.  

The Spaniards blinked in mild surprise. "What business is it of yours if all is well or not? We go about or business, and you yours."

"If men wish a woman harm, then I make it my business," the Finn replied evenly. His eyes flicked to the woman briefly. Her face was difficult to read. She regarded him with what looked like mild surprise, but said nothing.

One of the Spaniards spat. "We only wish to talk, but this woman will not give us simple directions. Most unreasonable, yes? What right does a woman have to deny us simple directions?" His lips split in a mocking grin. The others joined. All except the leader who regarded him with a quiet calculating gaze. His mustache twitched as if by its own accord.

"These men do no such thing. They offer me harm! They demand of me what I cannot give them! They treat me as if I am but a common wench to be used and tossed aside. But I will not grovel to them on my hands and knees." At last the woman spoke, her eyes alight with inner fire. Her voice carried a thick French accent mixed with her ancestral African tongue. 

"Shut your mouth bruja!" one of the Spaniards snarled. As he did so his hand dipped to his gun. 

In a flash Ansgar had his hand on his own. He didn't draw. Not yet. He was no gunfighter. But he was fast enough. 

All the others laid hands on their guns as well. Except their leader, who was as quiet and immovable as a statue. All went quiet in the street. Men and women ducked into their huts or behind piles of wood. At any moment they expected shots to ring out. Not an uncommon affair since the arrival of the Spaniards.

"Fool!" One of the group snarled. "You wish to fight against us?"

"That depends on you," the Finn replied evenly. His voice was calm. Almost careless. To the bystanders it seemed as if he were being foolish. But it was a calculated risk.

Then for the first time their leader spoke. "Ease your hands amigos. You are too eager to spill blood." He raised his hand and motioned for them to be at ease. They obeyed.

Ansgar in turn did the same. But his hand was still close to the butt of his rifle. In a moment he could draw his revolver. With that he was capable. But it was his rifle that was his true weapon of choice. But it was meant for slaying dragons. In the town his bullets would go through men as if they were paper. He had no desire for his bullets to over-penetrate and harm those who were innocent. 

The leader smiled. "You have grit senor. Please, tell me, why do you wish to fight on behalf of this negro woman? What is she to you?"

"I can't abide violence towards a woman. Perhaps your grievance toward her is justified. I don't know what has happened between you. If you wish to talk with her, very well. But I won't let anyone harm her. That is all."

The leader nodded. He seemed amused rather than angry at this altercation. "Very well, senor. It is hot today, and I do not wish to fight now. I commend your bravery, but I advise you not to do anything foolish like this again in the future. I am Captain Lorenzo, and I have more men than this at my command. But for now my men and I will take our leave." Lorenzo gave a half-bow and strode away, followed by his men. They came reluctantly, giving Ansgar and the woman ugly glares. They were like curs following a wolf. 

He turned to the woman. "Are you alright ma'am?" It was only now that he was able to get a better look at her, and without the men of violence to distract him his heart beat a pace faster. She was lovely. She sat cross legged in the frame of her door, and despite the loose flowing dress that adorned her frame he could sense graceful and ample curves beneath. Her eyes seemed like ocean chasms, deep and mysterious. They scrutinized him in such a way that made him feel as if she were examining him. Weighing him. Calculating. At last her full lips pulled back into a dazzling smile.

"Merci beaucoup, stranger. You have saved me a great deal of trouble and talking. Lorenzo's patience has been wearing thin with me, and I have begun to fear he or his men may use violence upon me. It is good to have friends." She spoke with confidence, her voice flavored with a unique French accent that tickled those who heard it. She stood, and to Ansgar's surprise she was almost taller than him. Every movement was smooth yet sure. She bore none of the weakness that betrayed illness or infirmity. There was strength in her. "Please, let me thank you for your kindness. Come, enter my home." She bowed, arms spread, but the smile never left her face.

Ansgar glanced behind her. A single candle flickered upon a table inside, but the shadows were unnaturally thick. There was little he could make out besides vague shapes. He didn't like it. His eyes were keen enough that he could make out much even in the dead of night. But to refuse her would be rude. He couldn't offend her after having come to her aid. He followed her in, then was swept up in darkness. He sniffed the air. It almost stung his nose. So many scents! There were exotic spices and the musky smell of feathers, undoubtedly from the dragons that dwelt upon the island. There was the pleasant odor of burnt wood but lingering beneath that was half-putrefied meat. But most of all were the smells of life. Raised from infancy in the wilds his senses were tuned to that of life, and even though he couldn't see anything, he could feel small shapes moving about. 

The woman glided past him, her teeth still gleaming like luminescent pearls in the darkness. The hunter's hackles rose slightly. Her abode was not that of a common villager. Of that he had no doubt. But he sensed no malice from her. Suddenly the candle seemed to glow brighter and the woman sat before him at a rude wooden table, a ramshackle chair already pulled out as if she had been expecting him beforehand.

"Please, sit mon ami." She nodded at the chair.

He sat slowly, the wood creaking under his lithe weight. 

"Forgive me ma'am, but I don't believe I caught your name. I am Ansgar Tapio, the kenwari of the Red Hills."

Her dark eyes shimmered with interest at his words. 

"Ahhhh, a kenwari! I have heard of them, but never met a wandering hunter before. I am Aminata, priestess of voudoun on Bakouma." 

Ansgar's hair raised slightly. Voudoun! He had heard of it. Only distant rumors brought from sailors of these southern isles. It was no wonder that the Spaniards had referred to her as a witch. Such shady practices undoubtedly bordered on deviltry to the devout cavaliers. But he would reserve judgement. Although unsettling, he had met enough peoples to know not to judge too quickly. All too often tales of strange and hideous rights were but exaggerations of simple rituals that men of the East didn't understand. 

Aminata smiled wider as if reading his thoughts. 

"You are surprised hunter, but do not be. Lorenzo and many of his amigos think I am in league with devils. But they know little of me or the loa. They only hate and fear. I promise you that I do no such things deserving of the harm they offer me."

"And what is it they think you do?" Ansgar asked carefully.

Aminata threw her head back, chuckling deeply. Her dark skin seemed to glisten in the candle light. From under her head wrapping coils of dark dreadlocks fell loose, now draping over her shoulders, framing her delicate face. 

"What do they not think I do? If I had done half of what they suppose, I'd have been stricken by Christian and Heathen god alike long ago! They think I consort with devils and breed beasts to keep people in fear of me. Spirits lend me aid, yes, but I seek not to give harm to any unless they deserve it. No, I weave magic to aid those in need. I cure sicknesses with my medicine and spells. I ward off dangerous beasts and bring luck to the fishermen so that they might be safe from storms and catch bountiful fish. It is only evil men who need fear me. Perhaps that is why Lorenzo and his dogs hate me so." She idly played with one of her locks with a slender finger, curling it round and around as she locked eyes with the hunter. Her smile never wavered.

"I see. And what was it that they desired of you?" In spite of himself his curiosity was piqued.

"Ahhhh it was but a small matter," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. "They wished to know of a location in the jungles. They suppose a city of gold is hidden there by ancestors of theirs. But they are mistaken. There are the remains of cities, yes, but not the pillars of gold they think. Nor were they built by their ancestors. But they do not listen. They come to me because I know much of the paths rarely tread on this island. Spirits whisper secrets to me. I can find that which is lost. They think I know where it lies and that I refuse to tell them because I desire it for myself. Ha! I have not a grain of gold. They accuse me of great sins, but they do not look to their own avarice. They wear it like their bright clothing. My people were here long before them. But they arrive now and think they own the ground we walk on, the waters we drink from and the skies we live under." She shook her head.

Ansgar leaned closer, his own eyes alight with interest. A city of gold? Ruins from ancient times? People of the Old World here hundreds of years before its official discovery? Primitive curiosity seized him. It was not the rumor of wealth that intrigued him. Gold and silver held little appeal to his savage soul. No, it was the possibility of adventure! For where man had once been and left there was mystery.

"Please Miss Aminata, I am curious. Who built these ruins? And why do the Spaniards think that it belongs to them?" No longer did he feel discomfort in the darkness of the hut. On the contrary, as his eyes adjusted he better understood what it was. Like the shamans of the mainland this priestess put great value upon the parts of animals for casting spells and working magic. The shelves were lined with vessels containing heaven knew what, but undoubtedly were of great power and value. Small cages held restless reptiles and creatures he had no names for. 

The priestess smiled broadly. It was as if she had won a great victory. But then her smile faded for the first time.

"I wish I could relate all the history of this island chain to you hunter, but I fear that I cannot do so now."

Ansgar blinked.

"Why is that"

"Please forgive me, mon ami, for I am grateful to you for your kindness. However others have need of my aid at this time. A village has called on me for my help. They are suffering from the anger of a great beast. How do you call it on the mainland? Jakura, yes. Two-clawed jakura, yes?"

His hackles raised. A two-clawed jakura! Jakuras were the two-legged predators of Magna Terra. They were the great meat eaters with long jaws and sharp teeth, by far the best known of its wildlife. There were a dazzling variety of the beasts, but the two-clawed variety were amongst the largest and most feared. Most of the predators sported three claws upon their arms, using them as additional tools in hunting and combat. But the two-clawed beasts had grown to such size and power that their arms had atrophied until they were but a parody of arms, sporting two tiny fingers and claws that bordered on uselessness. But in compensation their jaws were almost as long as a man was tall, sporting teeth the size of knives. The pressure they could exert was enough to cut through the thickest of flesh and break the thickest of bones. They were the apex predators on land. Even most bone hunters rarely hunted them in spite of the unbelievable prices the Chinese apothecaries offered. Only the bravest or most suicidal hunters sought them out. And that was with normal ones. A man eater or a rogue who had taken a permanent dislike to people was a terror that could afflict people for hundreds of miles. His clenched hands turned white at the knuckles.

"Yes, that is their name. There is one causing trouble to a village here?"

"Oui. I was consulting the loa and making a poison when the Spaniards interrupted me. This beast has killed some of the villagers. Some of them are brave hunters, but what can they do against a jakura possessed of a demon? Normal animals do not desire the flesh of man. No, the duty has fallen to me to slay it. They have given me what little they have as payment and I must honor it." 

Ansgar blinked. He didn't doubt her sincerity. But for her to go unarmed save for poison to kill a man eater? His mind resolved itself without a conscious thought. His eyes hardened with resolve.

"Aminata, I will kill this creature. I have hunted rogues and man eaters before. I can't let you risk yourself so carelessly against such a beast." 

For a moment her eyes blazed with what seemed like victory, but was so quickly replaced that it was difficult to tell if it had actually been there. Instead he now saw gratefulness.

"You, a stranger, would run such a risk for me and the villagers?" 

"Yes. It sounds strange, but that is my way," he said simply. He touched the butt of his rifle for emphasis.

For a moment she looked at him in silence. Her eyes measured him again. She seemed almost to be debating within herself, but over what he couldn't say. Had he undermined her authority? It wasn't uncommon for those with supposed supernatural powers to view others of merit as a threat to their power. Reputation was in some cases worth its weight in gold. A stranger taking her quest, even without accepting payment, might very well shake the foundation of faith around her. But he couldn't take the offer back. He meant what he said. Reputation or not, he didn't wish for any woman to risk being crushed in the iron jaws of a jakura. Then suddenly she smiled once again.

"You are either a great hunter or a great fool. Perhaps both!" She laughed, again throwing her head back in exaggerated mirth. "But yes! I will accept your help. But I must come with you. To leave you to do it without me would make me look as though I could not do it myself." She raised a slender hand as he opened his mouth to protest. "Please, do not argue. You are new here, and your ways are not our ways. I am even more grateful to you now, for I read no lie or treachery in your eyes. But there is a way to things on Bakouma. Even more than that, I know where the beast dwells. The loa revealed it to me, and for some time I have sought to find a means of killing it within its lair. Perhaps they sent you to me to assist me! For while I have known the wilds since I was but a child, I know that I may need help. Especially now that Lorenzo has lost patience with me. He is a dog, but he is no fool. He and his money soldiers are experienced in the jungles and with fighting. You saw how bold they were in the midst of town. What would happen if they were to come upon me in the jungle by myself?" She shrugged. "Also, if you try to leave without me, I will only follow. And if harm should befall me, who would be to blame?" She winked mischievously. 

Ansgar thought on that. She made excellent points. She knew the island better than he did. Perhaps it was much wiser to act in support of her rather than take over. Even so there was a great deal of risk involved. In spite of her strangeness, she had an eccentric charm and confidence that stood her in great contrast to most women. But he couldn't risk her being left alone if she followed after him. He winced slightly at that implication. That wasn't fair. She was determined to come. But he didn't like it.

As if sensing his hesitation she gave one final incentive.

"And, my dear hunter, with me along I can tell you all you wish to hear of not only Bakouma, but the history and legends of the Hitlipashi Archipeligo!" 

Ansgar leaned back in his chair, running his callused hands through his beard. Aminata watched him from across the table, grinning confidently. At last he chuckled.

"Very well Miss Aminata. We will track down and slay this jakura together. You will lead, and I will follow." He unslung his rifle and laid it across the table, the case hardened steel and brass pins winking magically in the candlelight.

Aminata seemed to grow at his agreement, her teeth again glittering. 

"Tres bon! Very good hunter! We shall set out tomorrow. And do not worry, I will not leave without you. Nor will you have to worry of where you will sleep tonight. I will see to it that you have good lodgings for the night. I know he who owns the inn, and he will gladly give you board at my word." She leaned close across the table, so close he could smell her breath. It was warm. Fragrant. His stomach tingled. And her eyes! They were so close. He felt as if he were staring up into the night sky at a pair of luminous stars. "I thank you for your kindness, Ansgar. You do me and my kin a great service. You shall not go unrewarded."

He leaned back in his chair slightly as if afraid she would bite him. Or kiss him. Which did he fear more? He was not repulsed by her. On the contrary, her radiant beauty and confidence threatened to strike a chord in his primitive heart. But he did not tread certain paths lightly. Unlike many men, he did not treat intimate activities as something outside of marital bonds. Not even something as mundane as kissing. His mother had long ago taught him that to do so was not only sinful, but deprived it of its beauty. 

At his move she receded slightly, eyeing him quizzically. But once more her smile returned, her amused laugh filling the hut. She seemed to see straight through him.

"What a man you are! I have not met your like in all of my years. How strange and yet so simple! You surprise me. I thought I knew the minds of all men, and yet your eyes do not lie. You fascinate me, Ansgar Tapio of the Red Hills. Had I not met you, I would not have believed you real! Do not fear, I did not mean to tempt your heart. I know that which you desire. Oh but if more men were like you with pure hearts! But we have spoken enough, mon ami. We will begin the hunt tomorrow."
Battle of Bakouma Chapter 1
Greetings travelers! I hope you enjoyed this little piece. This is but the first part in an art trade with tyrannoninja, set in my Primal Frontier setting. He requested an interesting Mezo-American island setting with an interesting backstory and it immediately set my imagination afire. I like where it's going! :D 

I'll get the next part up soon hopefully and we'll get some action going. Comments are welcome!

Copyright, (c) Primal Frontier, Ansgar Tapio, Aminata, all rights reserved.
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I apologize for my insane absence. Life has decided that things were too easy for me and I've been fighting to get anything done. But at long last, I've got a new book done! And yes, more shorts will be forthcoming.

The newest installment of the Primal Frontier series is primed and ready to go! This bad boy is far larger than my earlier works. It's a hair over 100k words long, 30 chapters, and will probably amount to 350 pages once it's released on the Kindle. Phew! This is my first full sized novel, and I hope it will feel as epic as I tried to make it.


This time Ansgar has gotten wind of a creature unlike any other he has ever seen before on a far off island that no white man has yet explored. It's full of dangerous wildlife, disease, hostile tribes, impassable jungle and more. Just the sort of place his wild spirit yearns to go. He must find a ship willing to take him on his crazy errand, brave the interior of the island Indannas and all its perils, to find the legendary beast known as the kapar. Whispered by the local tribes to be demons in physical form, they rarely if ever risk their wrath. But is there more to this beast than simply being dangerous? We shall see!

The book will be released on July 8th, Saturday, for five dollars. Yes, that's a wee bit pricier than my earlier works, but this one is huge. I think it's a fair trade. Also! On the release day I will have ALL of my earlier works put up for FREE for a whole week! So if you've been interested in any of the others or want to share them with friends or family, now is your chance to take full advantage of them. My treat.

So mark your calendars and get the hype train going!

And here is the cover from the amazing Rodrigo Vega. If somehow you haven't seen his stuff already, check it now! rodrigo-vega.deviantart.com/

deviantID

EccentricCowboy
United States
Howdy! I'm a young independent writer and author looking to spread entertainment and knowledge!
As of now I have only a few novellas published, but I'm working hard on full sized pulp novels. I love writing in genres such as weird west, pulp, steampunk and possibly retro scifi. Here I hope to not only write short stories established in my universes, but help fellow writers improve and gain traction in this competitive market. There is a ton of talent out there and I'm only too happy to help others get recognized. Friendly community FTW!

If you happen to be curious about what I've published so far, my mainstray is a novella series called Primal Frontier! It's an alternate history setting in which a giant continent replacing North and South America called Magna Terra is discovered by explorers, and is flush with ancient wildlife such as dinosaurs, Pleistocene-era wildlife, and more! It's set in the mid-1800's, so if you like the idea of cowboys and dinosaurs, mixed with lost civilizations, daring heroes, primitive tribes riding dinosaur war mounts into combat alongside cavalry firing rifles, then this is the series for you.

I plan to write a slew of Weird West stories besides Primal Frontier, mostly centering around horror. Being a monster nerd, I can conjure up stories with wendigos, sasquatch, and a bunch of others. Westerns + Supernatural Stuff = Awesome!

If I can at all help anyone in any way, feel free to ask! I'm only too happy to assist fellow artists and writers. :) I hope to chat with ya'll soon!
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:icontyrannoninja:
TyrannoNinja Featured By Owner Sep 22, 2018  Professional Digital Artist
Just wanted to say Happy Birthday to you, dude!
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:iconeccentriccowboy:
EccentricCowboy Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2018
Thanks man! I appreciate it!
... Holy CRAP it's been a long time since I logged in. XD
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:iconleviarex:
Leviarex Featured By Owner Jun 22, 2018
As a Burroughs fan, this is just the stamp for you:

leviarex.deviantart.com/art/Ed…
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:iconeccentriccowboy:
EccentricCowboy Featured By Owner Jun 22, 2018
Oooh thanks! :D ERB for life!
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:iconmach1neman:
mach1neman Featured By Owner May 31, 2018  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thanks for the Fave!:peace:
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:iconeccentriccowboy:
EccentricCowboy Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2018
Heck yeah! Awesome Turok pic! :D
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:icongwdill:
gwdill Featured By Owner May 20, 2018  Hobbyist
Thank you for the fave on Blacknife!  Continue to Aspyre!
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:iconeccentriccowboy:
EccentricCowboy Featured By Owner May 20, 2018
You're most welcome! I love the character design and would be most interested in learning more about him.
From a glance at your page it looks like he might have some stories around him! Is this correct?
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:icongwdill:
gwdill Featured By Owner May 24, 2018  Hobbyist
He may be showing up somewhere...that's all I can say for now!  :)  Glad you dig him!
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:icontrybalwings:
trybalwings Featured By Owner May 11, 2018  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
thanks for the faves!
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