The text in this introduction has been taken directly from the manual and remains property of Origin Systems, Inc. It has been reproduced exactly in its original form, complete even with spelling mistakes.
Screenshots of the in-game introduction have been included at the relevant places within the text. If the text is too long to read, you can just follow the pictures.
VALLEY of the THUNDER LIZARDS
Chapter One: Strange Departures
by "The Avatar"
The roar - a shrill bellow like metal dying in the grip of crushing machinery - broke the stillness of the forest, startling birds into flight, waking me from sleep.
But the forest was strange. Huge, thick trees like twisted palms blotted out the sunlight; giant ferns hungrily devoured what little light made it to the forest floor. The fleeing birds were misshapen, with short, stubby wings, long - plumed tails, beaks filled with teeth, and cold, reptilian eyes.
And I didn't know why I was here. I had no memory of coming to this place, of ever having seen it before.
Quickly, I rose and took stock of the situation of myself.
I was dressed for the occasion: I wore durable riding pants, a rugged safari- style shirt, and high boots which could withstand a lot of abuse in the field. On my belt was a sheathed Bowie knife, an old and trusted friend. And I was - I was -
That brought me up short. I didn't know who I was. My name and my reason for being here were utterly gone. There was a hard pocket of vacuum where my memory should be.
That distant scream sounded again, startling me out of my reverie. I began moving in that direction. Perhaps, where things were happening. I'd find some key to the memories which were locked away from me.
Was this a dream? I pinched myself and wished I hadn't; it smarted. I concentrated on my surroundings and the level of detail I perceived didn't suggest a dream. I saw hundreds of light-slivers penetrating the green canopy above, I felt the oppressive, humid weight of the air, I smelled the myriad odors of a living jungle. If this was a dream, it was dangerously real.
Ahead, the jungle opened into a clearing. Branches and fronds above lengthened to block out the sun, except for one dazzling shaft of golden sunlight which struck down at the center of the glade. I moved forward, taking advantage of available cover, trying to spot whatever thing had made that terrible cry.
As I reached the edge of the glade, I spotted movement: silhouette, a lithe form moving gracefully through the clearing, carrying a spear at the ready. The figure brushed past the shaft of light and was illuminated.
It was a young woman.
She was part of this place, no outsider like myself. Her abbreviated garments were cut from leopard-spotted furs. The head on her spear was stone. The coppery tone of her skin suggested the aboriginal tribes of the Americas. And her features -
She didn't have the pouty, perfect features preferred by modeling agencies, but oh, she was beautiful. Her brown eyes were alert, and there was intelligence and concentration in them. Her lips, slightly parted, carried no expression, but looked as though they were made to curl into a heart-rending, happy smile. Her dark hair was a wild, tumbling mass - a look natural and effortless for her, and which a thousand hair stylists could never duplicate. She had the balanced and confident step of an athlete. She was a jungle cat reincarnated as a woman.
I must have made some noise, for the woman turned, on guard, the shaft of light spilling across her. She turned her face in my direction. It was unlikely she could see me, but her eyes seems to fix on me. Like one arrested by the gaze of a panther, I froze.
Then that metallic scream sounded again - from just the other side of the glade. The woman whipped around to face it, and both she and I saw the source of the scream.
It lumbered out of the gloom, a silhouette as tall as a two-story house: giant reptile moving on two massive legs. It was all in darkness, except for its teeth, a double row of serrated fangs picked out by a stray shaft of light.
It charged the woman, moving like a hungry express train. Not thinking, I did the same, hoping - what? To catch her up and outrun that eating machine on legs? To drag the reptile down and butcher it with my pitiful knife? I didn't know. I didn't think. I moved.
But in an instant, the light faded, except where I stood. Gone were the noise and humidity ... all vanished as though someone killed the lights and struck the set in one second. I stopped, alert, trying to slow my breathing in spite of the adrenaline that had just jolted through me.
"The place is real."
The speaker was behind me: I whipped around, hand on my knife-hilt, but the speaker held no menace for me.
"The woman is real."
It was a man greying gracefully into middle age. His bear and mustache were neatly trimmed, his eyes intelligent. He wore colorful robes; on his head was a golden crown of simple design.
"The beast is real, but it is the least of their dangers."
I knew him - a memory of him began to surface in my mind. I trusted him. I struggled to speak, but no words emerged.
"Find out about the ruined moonstones, my friend. Your own stone will not take you there ... but you must have it there."
Then the light faded. My eyes opened. I sat up in my own bed, in my own room. My name and memories were restored to me.
* * *
It had all been a dream. But as my memories came back to me, so did the truth: For the last several nights, I'd had that same dream, varying in no detail ... except that this was the first time HE had appeared in the dream.
It was Lord British who had spoken to me at dream's end.
Lord British - there's little room here to talk about him. Suffice it to say that he is a man of wisdom and spiritual strength, master of a powerful brand of mysticism. He rules a remarkable land which few modern men will ever be lucky enough to see. From time to time, he calls on me for help. I have never failed him.
Nor would I now. His command was clear: "Find out about the ruined moonstones." I had a moonstone, brought with me from the place Lord British ruled; it was a smooth, polished black stone, much like a piece of onyx, possessing remarkable properties. But it was in no way ruined ... so far as I knew.
Who would know? I've made some knowledgeable friends over the years. My thoughts immediately went to Professor Rafkin.
Elliot Rafkin is a man of too many skills and interests, too little time: He's spent his years learning as much as he could about all manner of sciences and studies. If he couldn't tell me what I needed to know, he could tell me who would.
I dressed quickly. With conscious irony, I chose the same clothes I'd been wearing in the dream, and slid my faithful Bowie knife into a boot-sheath. It was time to track down the source of my dreams; I might as well be as I appeared in my dreams.
* * *
When I first met Professor Rafkin, he was a teacher. He is now the curator of the local Museum of Natural History. And though he's eminently qualified for that job, he wasn't actually hired for his depth of scientific knowledge.
Rafkin had a talent with people. His enthusiasm for science is so infectious that it drags others in its wake. He can speak with an entrepreneur for half an hour, on topics which could not interest the person less - shipwrecks off the coast of Turkey, recurrences of legends between Greeks and Aztecs, spectroscopic analyses of moonrocks - and walk away with a generous check, an endowment to his museum. This isn't manipulation: He never intends to come away with money. But he does, again and again.
The museum has set him up with his own laboratory toward the back of the building. Rafkin's assistants handle the cataloguing of artifacts and arrangement of displays. The museum directors trot him out to meet important people, to attend luncheons, to lecture at universities; but the rest of the time, Rafkin does what he wants, and can usually be found puttering around his lab. At the museum. I avoided the main entrance and walked to the unmarked side door which serves as Rafkin's private entrance. I pressed the signal button beside the door; when the answering buzz indicated the door was unlocked. I entered.
Now, you must understand: Any busy city street, with its crowds and traffic, is orderly compared to Rafkin's lab. In this room, on its tables, there's no telling what you'll find. I'm used to walking in and seeing scale models of long-buried cities, scientific equipment still in crates, stacks of books and dissertations, sparking machinery whose purpose I couldn't possibly figure out, and jars of preserved organs (it's unsettling to have the contents of mason jars staring at you while you're visiting an old friend). Today was no exception.
But Rafkin wasn't here. Instead sitting in the room's one padded chair, was an angular young man. Dressed in a two-piece suit, its waist a little too high, its lapels a little too broad, he looked as though he sprang from a 1930s nostalgia show.
He jumped up, too full of energy, as I entered. "Hi," he said, stuck out his hand; I shook it. "I'm Jimmy Malone. I image you're here to see Professor Rafkin."
"Yes. I - "
"He'll be back in just a second. Gone to talk to his mummy. Ha, ha. Don't knock yourself out laughing. Who're you?"
He gave me a sudden, intense look. "I know who you are. Oh, what a file we have on you. Every so often, you disappear for days on end. Usually come back really tanned. Your neighbors are curious about all that, you know? Care to comment? - He fumbled around his jacket pocket and drew out a battered notebook.
I closed my eyes for a moment, sighed. "Great. A reporter. I come to visit my friend and get a reporter instead."
He grinned. "Rafkin occasionally throws me some interesting story ideas on slow news days. Like today. But, hey, let me give you the whole effect." From a nearby table, he scooped a hat. From inside it, he pulled a small card tucked it in the hatband, then put he hat on. Inevitably, the card read "Press."
"Isn't that a little old-fashioned?"
His grin just got broader. "Some people have no respect for tradition."
Another voice, dry sardonic intruded: "Jimmy, you'll find that my friend has respect for things traditional ... but lacks your affection for obnoxious stereotypes."
I turned; emerging from the doorway leading into the museum was Professor Rafkin. I had to grin at his statement. With his wire-framed glasses and mutton chop sideburns, he looked like another stereotype: The irrepressible Victorian- era scientist fabled in books and film. Fortunately, unlike Malone, he did prefer contemporary dress.
Rafkin turned to me: "As for you, what brings you here?" I gave him an enigmatic smile. "A riddle. What's reptilian, stands about twenty feet tall, walks through the jungle, and devours young women?"
"Joke, or serious proposition?"
He thought about it for a moment. "Massive of build, or sleek for its size?"
He frowned. "Nothing, outside of Hollywood that is, matches your description. Remove the woman from your equation, and you're probably speaking of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Cretaceous-era carnosaur. In certain pitiable movies, of course, you can find dinosaurs running amok, gobbling up cavemen, including young women. In reality, they did miss each other by some 65 million years." He gave me an admonishing look. "As well you know."
"I need to speak to you ... privately."
Rafkin glanced at Malone, who rolled his eyes toward heaven. "My boy," Rafkin said, "I do need a moment alone with my old friend. If you'd just go and look at our mummy collection for a few minutes, I'll tell you about how certain viruses can survive for thousands of years, remaining dormant in a mummy's bandages, becoming active when the tomb is opened ... and contributing to all sorts of legends about a deadly "Mummy's Curse."
Malone shot me a dirty look. "If I must."
"You must" Rafkin answered, sweetly.
When Malone had gone, I gave Rafkin the whole story: The dreams, the woman, the dinosaur, Lord British, the moonstone. I didn't tell him all the truth about Lord British - certainly, I withheld the extraordinary means by which I travel to British's distant realm. But I reported everything else in detail. At the end of my story, I showed him my moonstone.
Rafkin listened attentively through the tale, his expression contemplative. Then he took the moonstone from my hand, examined its lustrous surface, weighed it in his hand. Finally, he said, "You know, I was wondering if you'd recently taken an especially hard knock to your head. But there's an unlikely coincidence in this 'moon stone' business. Let me show you. - He handed me back my own stone, then went to one of the many shelves in the laboratory.
He returned with a cardboard box. The box was filled with crumpled newspaper; the printing appeared to be in German. Rafkin plunged his hand into the box and groped around. "This was sent to me", he continued, "by a former student of mine. He worked until just recently for a German archaeologist named Spector."
From the box, he pulled a black stone and handed it to me.
In many ways, it resembled my moonstone. It was the same size and weight. But it was significantly different.
Where my stone was smooth and polished, his was cracked and faceted. It looked as though it had resembled mine at some time in the past, but then had been subjected to great heat. While my stone was like polished onyx, his was like charred obsidian: Lustrous in places, on a few flat spots, but elsewhere jagged. It felt that this was not just a moonstone in unpolished form; it was a moonstone which had been somehow altered.
Rafkin continued, "My ex-student says that Spector got this and others from a dig in Central America. Spector was examining the stones with his other assistant one night. The next morning, my student reported for work ... and found both of them gone, the room stripped clean of furniture. Quite a mystery. My student had one stone; he sent it here in the hopes I could shed some light on the mystery. I haven't made the time to do so before now."
"Would you? I'd appreciate it. I get the distinct impression that I'll continue having this dream until something is resolved. My dreams pointed me at the moon- stone ... and the moonstone has pointed me toward you."
He smiled. "I'll see if I can justify your faith. Let me fiddle with this stone. Make yourself at home."
With Professor Rafkin, "Make yourself at home" means "I'm going to ignore you for a few hours while I look into this." So I pocketed my own moonstone, settled into the professor's sole comfortable chair and relaxed ...
... for about two minutes. Then, Jimmy Malone returned.
"So, let's talk about those disappearances of yours. What's the story? You CIA? Helping US-backed rebels somewhere?
"Tell you what, Jimmy. You write whatever you like, put it in print, and I'll see you in court. That way you and my lawyers get to do all the work, and I can sleep."
He grinned like a shark invited to a feeding frenzy. "Oh, this is going to be fun. You've got all my journalistic instincts jumping. What say we."
He was cut off by Rafkin: "What the devil ..."
I stood to look, and Malone, doubtless feeling the sting of his 'journalistic instincts' hastily plucked a pocket camera from his jacket and checked to make sure it was loaded.
Rafkin was backing away from the table where the cracked moonstone lay, wires and leads attached to it ... the whole mess surrounded by a bright, translucent glow of energy.
"What did you do?" I demanded.
Rafkin shook his head, baffled, his gaze fixed on the table. "I was checking the material's heat and electrical conductivity. The first reading was all bolloxed up. You put a certain quantity of electical energy into that stone, and more comes out - or so my gauge said. Then that glow sprang up ..."
As he spoke, the glow around the stone swelled out like a bright balloon of energy across the equipment on the table.
Before I could intervene, Rafkin tentatively stretched out his hand to touch the field. There was a sound - a crack and sizzle. like the world's largest droplet of water skidding around on the world's largest frying pan - and Rafkin was thrown back, landing hard a dozen feet away.
I was at his side in a second, positioning myself between him and the still- swelling field. His eyes were closed, his breathing shallow. "Professor?" I gave him a quick shake, glanced back over my should to check the position of the glow; it was still ten feet back, but growing steadily.
Abruptly, the lights in the room went out, and the glowing balloon disappeared. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw Malone standing by a metal box on the wall - the circuit breaker. He'd thrown the master breaker. My opinion of the man, which had been hovering close to zero, climbed a couple of notches. I could hear querulous complaints from the museum's patrons through the door leading into the museum.
"Good job, Malone," I snapped. "Quick, get me his first-aid kit. It's on one of his bookcases." I gripped Rafkin's wrist, seeking the pulse, trying to gauge how seriously hurt the man might be.
Malone ran to the bookcases, began digging through them with a rough disregard of their contents, which would be sure to infuriate Rafkin. As a matter of fact, Rafkin's eyes snapped open at the sound of someone mistreating his possessions.
"Get your hands OFF! That's delicate equipment!"
I'd never heard Rafkin so loud, and didn't expect him to be so vigorous after the tremendous jolt he'd taken, but the aging scientist sat up, pushed me aside, and stood up to harangue the newsman. "Your interest in my work does not give you license to manhandle my diagnostic tools. You - "
I broke in, "I told him to find your first aid kit. You've had a shock. Malone pulled the plug on your experiment"
Rafkin's expression turned to one of puzzlement. "Oh? Then why is it still glowing?"
I turned to look and he was right: The glow had reappeared around the stone. Now dim it was gaining in brightness.
Malone stepped away from the bookcase. "That's impossible. I killed the power."
"Malone, Professor." I said "get out of here. I have a seriously bad feeling about this - "
Malone, no fool, was moving before I finished. But he was still steps from the door when the floor shook a rippling shock that threw him and Rafkin to the floor; I barely kept my feet.
The brightness on the table increased to blinding intensity but didn't grow in size ... not this time. Instead something else appeared - something familiar to me and yet strangely alien.
It appeared in the air above the center of the room: An eerie rectangle of blackness, half again the size of an ordinary door, hanging unsupported in midair. Rafkin's eyes opened wide seemingly to the size of dinner plates; Malone from his vantage point on the floor was again shooting photographs.
"What on earth ..." Rafkin breathed.
"A moongate," I answered incredulous. "They"re ... holes, holes in space and time. I told you about Lord British - that's how I travel to where he is. But I've never seen one that looked like this. It's supposed to be blue ... an inviting blue ..."
I'd never seen one which behaved like this one either. Instead of waiting where it appeared and then vanishing this thing abruptly swelled in size expanding in all directions bloating out at all of us before we could react.
Rafkin turned to run; the black surface struck him. Malone got his hand on the door; the black surface crawled across him. I turned and made a dive for the exterior door; the blackness enveloped me in mid-leap.
* * *
I was hit with a nauseating falling sensation as though I were tumbling out of a plane with a blindfold on instead of a parachute. I writhed struck out in all directions: My hands touched nothing. For long seconds I was caught in the silent darkness of this mutant moongate ... and then I hit ground.
I landed shoulder first on the lab floor the pain from my mistimed impact causing my sight to grey out for a second. I could hear Rafkin gasping for breath and Malone's exclamation: "Mother MacRae what have I gotten into now?"
Then I could hear other things: Distant bird-calls. A breeze stirring the trees. Insect chirpings. A faraway wolf-like howl ...
My vision cleared and I knew where I was.
I lay on the laboratory floor just where I'd expected to fall. But while I should have landed mere feet from the exterior wall the lab floor now gave way to mulchy jungle floor. The wall was gone vanished as if it had never existed.
I looked around, and the same was true in all directions. The walls and ceiling were all gone replaced by a jungle vista. Above was a green canopy of branches. Humid air quickly rolled in to replace the air-conditioned coolness of Rafkin's lab.
The lab was otherwise intact: All its tables bookcases stools and cots were still in place and the cracked moonstone was still wired up to Rafkin's diagnostic equipment ... but it was now quiet and dark. Of the black moongate there was no sign.
Rafkin looked around wonderingly and glanced at me. "Um."
"I don't suppose ... this is the place of your dreams?"
I nodded. "It's very much like it. The trees and the ferns are all the same."
Malone rose, taking pictures by reflex. His expression suggested that he, not Rafkin, had been hit by an electrical jolt. His mouth worked but nothing resembling words emerged.
Rafkin continued delicately feeling his way along: "I'm not going to be an idiot about this. Delusion it may be, I prefer to proceed as though it were entirely real. And if it is entirely real and possesses many of the same qualities as your dream then it might ... possess others."
"Logical," I answered amused by his analysis.
"If it does indeed feature, um, something like the carnosaur of your dream ... Well I am in possession of a rifle here in the lab. A collector's item really; the museum just got it in the the other day and we were having trouble cataloguing it. I think perhaps we should dig it out." He moved toward one of the bookcases changed his mind turned toward the other. "Not that it would necessarily - "
He was cut off by a distant scream. It wasn't a scream of fear but of anger. Nor was it the scream of a human; it was animal. Shriller and more piercing than the bellow of my dreams it was much like the hunting-call of a bird of prey.
Rafkin and I whipped around to stare in the direction of the scream; even the bemused Malone looked. Then we heard another: Also high-pitched also short and warlike this was definitely the cry of a human. A woman or a young boy made that cry.
I was running before I realized it running toward the source of that call ignoring Rafkin's admonition: "Wait, wait, I'll find that - oh, the devil with it." I heard him running after me and then heard Jimmy Malone start out after him.
In spite of the soft ground and thick undergrowth I made good time charging full-out through this alien jungle. I heard them again: The animal shrill the human reply. These were the sounds of battle of enemies in combat: I was sure of it.
And I was right. I skidded out of the oppressive jungle canopy and into sunlight. Momentarily blinded I stopped to let my eyes adjust ... and then beheld the source of the cries.
This was a broad clearing in the jungle a stony shelf where the trees could not get a foothold. And over the center of it hovered ... a thing something I dimly remembered as belonging to the era of dinosaurs. It was like schoolbook illustrations of the pterodactyl the flying reptile with the bone-crested beaked head the broad gliding wings ... but this thing was huge.
I could barely estimate its wingspan: It was flapping so fast trying to however that a precise measurement was impossible. It must have been over a hundred feet from wingtip to wingtip. It was a brownish-green the color of some elephants a color easy to remember as grey if you don't look too closely.
What was it hovering over? As I started forward again as I heard Rafkin and Malone skid to a stop just where I had stood I get a good look at the creature's prey.
It was a woman and not just any woman: It was the hide-clad beauty who had appeared in my dreams. The woman of my dreams ... Even in this circumstance that turn of phrase popped up in my mind tingeing my thoughts with a touch of irony.
The woman held her spear as though she knew how to use it. She did too. She uttered a scream but it was no cry of fear: It was a war-cry, a jungle kiai. She made a wicked-looking two-handed thrust at the flying thing's underside with her spear stabbing it forcing it to flap up further into the air.
Then she heard me pelting up from behind her. She spun involuntarily focusing on what might be a new enemy.
I saw her face the face of the woman who'd haunted my dreams. She saw mine and her expression changed from ferocity to confusion: I saw a flicker of recognition in her eyes.
Then the flying thing swooped down taking advantage of her momentary distraction. It slammed her to the ground one talon closing upon her sending her spear flying away.
I was now almost upon it running too fast to stop. It lunged at me its fierce beak aimed at the center of my chest.
By reflex - reflex which I've cultivated, reflex which has saved my life many times - I swept my arm in a fencer's circle parry and deflected the beak away from me. The thing's bristly hide gashed my arm; I continued forward and slammed into it where its neck joined its powerful body.
I saw its vast wings rise up ready for a powerful downward sweep: It was about to take off to carry away its prey. Breathless from the impact I locked my arms around the thing's neck. Perhaps my weight would keep it from lifting off give the woman time to recover and slip free.
My grip was nearly broken when the thing reared its head back and snapped at something - at Jimmy Malone. The reporter no longer dazed stopped just outside the thing's reach while it struck at him then he tried to circle around it. It couldn't track him: There I was holding its neck in a death-grip hampering its movements. Jimmy darted in past its head and made a wild leap onto its broad leather back. "And it's Number 39, Malone, with the sack!" he shouted - but it was bravado. His eyes were wide and frightened."H
ld on!" I shouted at him. "Maybe it can't lift!"
"Right!" came a voice but not Jimmy's: It was Rafkin's from underneath the leathery monster. I spared an incredulous look. There holding the prostrate woman trying to pull her free of the giant talon was the professor but he let her go to grab the talon - a more precarious hold than the one I had.
The creature writhed for a second, failed to throw any of us clear - though I was bruised and Jimmy nearly went airborne. Then it swept its great sail-like wings down ... and lifted clear of the earth.
It immediately dropped to ground again and I could hear a thud and Rafkin's pained "oof!" even over the beast's shrill cry. But its next downsweep lifted it a full eight feet into the air and with each subsequent wingstroke it climbed higher.
I couldn't look around and caught only glimpses of thick jungle all about. We'd failed to keep the beast on the ground and there was no telling where it intended to fly us. Bizarre images of being dropped into a nest full of hungry man-sized chicks crossed my mind. We didn't want this beast taking us to its home - better to land in terrain unfamiliar to both of us.
Though each stroke of the wings jolted me and nearly tossed Jimmy clear I had to get on top had to get one arm free. Cursing and straining I tried once twice three times to swing my leg up over its neck and succeeded on the third try.
Immediately I was banged across the head and nearly knocked out. The bony crest on the beast's head came down as the beast looked up and that crest nearly cracked by skull. I clung there for a moment as the pain in my head lessened.
Then, breathing a prayer, I tightened my grip with one arm reached back with the other and put my hand on the hilt of my Bowie knife, still resting in its boot- sheath and drew it out. A sudden jolt nearly cost me my grip on the hilt but after a quick, heart-stopping juggle I managed to get a good hold on it.
I raised the blade for a death-stroke into the thing's neck but a brief attack of sanity stayed my thrust. I couldn't afford a quick kill. We had to force the thing to land not crash. Instead, awkward, I slashed blindly backwards hoping to hit where the wings joined the body to damage without killing.
I hit on my third try. As I drew my blade back bloody the beast screamed again. I'd only thought it was loud before. Gripping its neck I was blasted by the volume of its tortured scream and the vibrations from that cry rattled every bone in my body. But still it flew, and I stuck again and again, slashing at its shoulders and wings.
From moment to moment I caught glimpses of the creature's underbody. The first few showed me only a desperately wide-eyed Professor Rafkin hanging on for dear life and an unconscious woman in the creature's right talon.
Then, after a few moments the woman's eyes opened. I saw her fumble about her garments saw her come up with a crude knife-blade of stone saw her strike at the beast's underbelly.
She almost lost her life right then. The beast opened its talon to drop its stinging prey and she slipped free. But Rafkin, showing surprising speed and strength, caught her one-handed, grabbing at her wrist as if it were the Nobel Prize.
I momentarily lost sight of that life-and-death scene. The beast shuddered and banked sharply to the right losing altitude nearly throwing me loose. This was a controlled dive ... but the beast was descending and was descending injured.
Another glance showed me that Rafkin now had both hands back on the talon and had his stubby legs locked around the woman. She, in turn, eyes narrowed, was holding onto him with one hand, grasping the talon with the other. Their pose was awkward, but fractionally more secure than it had been a moment ago.
The beast screamed its bone-jarring cry again, and its rate of descent, already fearsome, became terrifying. Had it picked out a place to land? I couldn't see one ahead in the unbroken jungle. But whether it had a spot in mind or not, it was whipping in for a landing.
We tore through the top canopy of the jungle and were lashed by fronds and branches. A second later, I heard an impact, felt a shudder as the animal hit and smashed through a light branch.
Then, ahead, there was an opening in the jungle, another broad glade. Bursting into open air, the beast backwinged frantically, trying to slow its forward rate.
It did - only for a moment. I heard a cry of terror from behind me: Jimmy Malone, who'd managed to hold on all this time, was finally cast loose as the monster backwinged. A blue blur, he few tumbling past my head and out of my sight.
Then there was a horrid tearing noise as something in the beast's wing - something I had been carving at - ripped and gave way. The beast screamed one last time; its forward momentum not checked, it crashed headlong into one of those giant palm-like trees.
This impact threw me loose, straight into another tree-trunk. Then I was falling: It felt like a hundred feet, but couldn't have been more than ten.
That was more than enough. When I hit back first all wind was driven from my body. I could do no more than gasp for air and futilely try to convince myself to ignore the pain and stand up.
From where I lay, I saw the beast's carcass draped over dozens of yards of jungle floor. It still twitched a little, but I could see no voluntary movement. Then, the wing nearest me stirred lifted awkwardly.
From underneath clambered the native woman of the copper skin. Behind her, moving painfully on hands and knees, was Rafkin. Both looked as though they'd been through hell ... but both were alive. They looked at the swiftly-expiring flying beast then glanced about in all directions - for me, for Jimmy.
She caught sight of me first, and came toward me as skittish as a cautious but fatally-curious cat. Rafkin, on the other hand, saw Jimmy first - Jimmy, and what was following him.
I was amazed that Malone could even move, but he was running: He burst out from among the trees, limping, his clothes torn, his face cut, the flying beast's life-blood spattered all over him ... and he was running as if to save his life. Hard on his heels were men: Copper-skinned men wearing garments of leopard- spotted furs, men with the stamp of this jungle on them.
As the woman reached me, cautiously extended a hand down to me, she glanced back and saw Jimmy. One quick, curt syllable escaped her lips, and the native men came to a quick halt in instant obedience of her command. Jimmy, reaching Professor Rafkin, cast one look back, saw he was no longer being pursued. and drew for a moment to an exhausted halt.
My breath was coming back to me. I managed to grasp the woman's hand, let her aid me to my feet - just in time to see one last man enter the glade from the surrounding line of trees.
He was tall caucasian blond young: A man of some height, a man with a lithe athletic build. His garments were different from those of his companions; he wore tanned leather rather than fur was booted rather than barefoot.
And his face was known to me. I had seen it countless times, accompanying me through the wildernesses of Britannia, the faraway land ruled by Lord British.
With breath still failing me, I managed to croak his name: "Shamino?"
He looked at me, startled. Recognition came to his eyes, but only faintly. He shook his head a denial; but his expression was unconvinced as if he only half- believed his denial. With his hand, he indicated himself: "Shamuru. Shamuru."
* * *
The campfire blazed up bright and cheerful stark contrast to the nighttime darkness surrounding us.
I sat by the fire by Jimmy who was festooned with bandages torn from Rafkin's shirt. Nearby seat Rafkin engaged in halting conversation with the natives named Shamuru and Aiela: Shamuru the man who wore the face of my old friend Shamino and Aiela the woman for whom we'd taken that impromptu ride through the sky. Around us were perhaps twenty male warriors jungle tribesmen who obeyed every word issued by Aiela.
I felt better after devouring a quantity of meat blackened on that fire. No it wasn't meat from the reptile we'd killed - the Super - Pteranodon as Rafkin dubbed it. The natives shunned that meat as inedible. They'd caught many four - legged planteaters creatures which except for being hoofless looked like a cross between a tiny horse and a small deer. Rafkin had taken one look at the brace of beasts caught by the tribesmen distractedly declared "Hyracotherium" and turned back to his discussion.
Jimmy was scribbling down an account of everything that had happened since he'd reached the museum. Fortunately for him his battered pocket notebook held many blank pages; I had a feeling he'd see them all filled up before we were done here.
These natives treated us like honored guests. They were impressed with the way we'd killed the Super - Pteranodon were baffled by our clothes and language and were grateful that we'd saved Aiela obviously a person of importance to them.
Rafkin to his delight understood certain words they were speaking declaring that they spoke a variant of a Central American dialect he knew. While darkness gathered he sat with Aiela and Shamuru and the others set up camp and built a fire.
Rafkin eventually moved back over to us; Shamuru and Aiela too drifted over. Nervously Rafkin pulled off his glasses and rubbed them with a slightly - less - than - filthy shirt - tail.
"Well. I've learned a few things," he admitted. "I've puzzled out a bit more of their dialect and have a slightly more informed idea about what is happening."
"I, for one, am not at all curious," Jimmy deadpanned. "In other words: Tell me or you'll end up flying around on another one of those pteranothopters."
Rafkin smiled. "This place is some sort of isolated valley. These natives call it Eodon. It appears to be inhabited by a loose grouping of pre - agrarian tribes. I understand that there is one 'village built of stone' where the people farm which might indicate a more sophisticated culture than that possessed by our friends here.
"Anyway: Most of these people are members of the Kurak tribe. The young lady whom we assisted is Aiela the daughter of their chief ... in effect their princess."
I glanced up at Aiela found that she was already staring at me. Though startled by the sudden contact she did not turn away.
Rafkin continued, "The other fellow, Shamuru, is a member of an upland clan called the Barako. He wasn't born among them. They found him wandering in the mountains amnesiac a few months ago. The name you keep saying, "Shamino" - it agitates him but he cannot remember it. He does say that he knows you from somewhere and that he has never seen you before."
I grinned, "That doesn't exactly make sense does it?"
"Rather. It obviously confuses him."
"Anyway, Aiela says she has had several dreams lately dreams where she has been in terrible danger from some sort of insect - like creature when who should appear but a mighty strange warrior ... oops, let me correct that, a strange mighty warrior ... who saves her. A warrior with your face.
"At any rate, Aiela appears to be accorded special warrior status within her tribe and hunts on her own. She says that yesterday she was ambushed by warriors from another tribe the Urali and that their chieftain - a strongman she calls Darden the Huge - decided she was the woman for him.
"She managed to get clear of Darden and took a long route to get back to her village without meeting him again. That's when she was attacked by the creature I'm calling a Super - Pteranodon. A marvelous species. Several times as large as Quetzalcoatlus. Fully articulated wings not just a glider." He shook his head wonderingly.
"You know the rest. Shamuru, who's a friend of the tribe and several of her tribesmen have been searching for her since yesterday."
His voice became more animated. "According to these people the Super - Pteranodon is only the tip of a primordial iceberg. They talk about many enormous reptiles to be found in this valley. I have to see them. It looks as though we're dealing with multiple cases of extraordinary survival of species."
Rafkin's expression finally became more serious. "Now ... are you going to confide in me and tell me how you think you know this Shamuru's face?"
I glanced around. Aiela was intent; she continued to study me curiosity and wonder in her eyes. Shamuru appeared to be impassive but I could see from his eyes that he was distressed. Jimmy never met my eyes; he was scribbling as fast as he could trying to keep up with all details being discussed.
I sighed regretting the necessity of discussing this with Malone around but gave in. There was no telling when possession of all the facts might save a life ... perhaps even mine.
"I told you that I occasionally do favors for a foreign dignitary who goes by the name Lord British. That's true. I sort of led you to believe that he was European that his name was a code - name but that's not true.
"British lives in a place - a world - he calls Britannia. I like to think of it as a distant reflection of our own world. I get the impression from his choice of names and other clues that he's had some contact with our world but I've never gotten the whole story out of him.
"I've been to Britannia several times always traveling there in a moongate a portal. What you saw in your lab today was a sort of moongate ... but a very twisted and alien one. I've never seen one like that before and don't know why it behaved like it did or why it brought us here instead of to Britannia.
"Shamino, who's a dead ringer for Shamuru here is a friend of mine in Britannia. It's disturbing to see him here like this minus his memory ... assuming that Shamuru is Shamino that is."
Shamuru's eyes flickered every time his name or rather either of his names was spoken.
"There's some corroboration in things he's said" Rafkin admitted reluctantly. "But it's still a ... peculiar story."
"It's even stranger if you've lived through it. Listen, I'm not asking you to believe it. It's probably better if you just forget you ever heard it. But you asked and you deserve the truth. Later on if you decide to institutionalize me just give me a head start." I grinned. "They'll never find me."
I glanced again at Aiela, caught her steady gaze. "Uhhh, Professor ... In the time you've been talking to these people have you figured out: Did I assume some sort of responsibility for Aiela by helping to save her?"
Rafkin grinned quickly suppressed it when I glanced back at him. "Are you afraid of this or hoping for it? Don't answer that. A rhetorical barb. No, I don't get the impression that obligation of that sort is one of their customs. She has repeatedly expressed her gratitude to us particularly to you. And she's very curious about you. I have a feeling that you'll need to take a crash course in their language ... if ever you're to speak with her alone which is obviously what she wants."
I nodded. "Tell her - "
I was interrupted by a strange chirping cry from the forest. Two warriors stood and one raised a hand to his lips and issued a similar cry. Others whispered quickly to one another; Rafkin spoke briefly with Aiela and turned back to us.
"One of the scouts," the professor informed us. "He's alerting us about a beast. Something they call a Shield - Back. I think I have to see this."
He rose, and again Aiela spoke with him. Disappointed, he said,
"She says it's a leaf - eater and that it won't come near a fire or men."
"Poor thing," Jimmy intoned. "Maybe Santa will stick a dinosaur in your Christmas stocking."
Rafkin glared, Jimmy laughed ... and a native out in the jungle screamed.
In an instant we were all standing the natives catching up their spears and bows.
Out just beyond the edge of the firelight there was a whuff whuff noise - like a bull breathing impossibly loudly. Then our phantom "bull" moved into the light.
This "Shield - Back" was a reptile long broad and flat with a knobby back something like the horned toads of the southwest ... but enormous. This thing was larger than a luxury car. It was no fake no special effect; it was alive and lumbering toward us.
As it passed further into the light we caught sight of the things trailing from its mouth and across its back. They were something like vines something like ropes. They were, in fact -
"Reins." Rafkin breathed.
He was right. On its back was the silhouette of a man a huge broad - shouldered man the size of an NFL defensive lineman.
Aiela shouted words of command and I understood one: "Darden!" Darden her thwarted suitor Darden the enemy chief.
Darden yelled a reply a basso - profundo roar and was answered by more war - cries from the forest. There were more men Darden's men in the jungle; they moved in quickly forming a line in front of the lizard he rode.
Aiela's men wavered dread in their eyes dread of the kind of man who could command a giant reptile. That kind of dread is fatal and I knew it. Before my common sense could catch up to my instincts I grabbed a spear from an inert Kurak warrior and shoved my way through the Kurak line shouting a wild Britannian war - cry.
The attackers expected an easy victory; perhaps they'd counted on the Kuraks being afraid of the reptile and its rider. I charged up to them before they realized they were wrong. The first warrior I faced tried a simple thrust; I slid his point out of line and put my own into him a brutal thrust into the center of his chest. He hit the ground hard.
But these jungle men recover fast. I was surrounded by a dozen hard - eyed men with spears. I went on the defensive parried one thrust blocked another and kicked its wielder hard on the side of the knee. I had the satisfaction of hearing that joint crack seeing the warrior collapse with a cry of pain.
Then the Kuraks woke up. A shower of arrows rained into my enemies. Darden's warriors fell back. Aiela's spearmen came up on either side of me forming a line while Aiela's archers prepared another volley.
Had it been just their warriors against ours we could have scattered them back into the jungle. But while I took down two warriors and was joined by Aiela's men the musclebound monster named Darden was bringing his riding - lizard up to speed. The reptile hit its stride. Darden yanked on its reins harshly pulling its head toward us. The giant lizard slewed over in our direction came within twenty feet of us, fifteen ...
There was no way Aiela's warriors could hold the line against four tons of charting meat and bone. I opened my mouth to call for the line to break, to surround the Sheild - Back and fall on it from the side but I never got the chance.
I saw the hurtling spear out of the corner of my eye. I tried to twist out of its way but was only partially successful; the stone head grazed my temple stunning me staggering me back.
I could only watch as the reptile charged forward still picking up speed slamming through the line of Kurak warriors scattering and crushing them. I was still dizzy; my legs wouldn't move. I watched helplessly as Darden jerked its head around to orient on me. One step closer two; its head was almost upon me; I saw the cold amused laughter in the eyes of Darden, saw his handsome features twisted in a broad smile of victory ...
But I didn't see the blow that put me down. The lizard's leg must have clipped me; all I know is that a flew back smashed once again against a tree slumped down at its base.
I should have passed out then. I might as well have been unconscious: couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't even tell if I were still breathing. But I could still see.
I saw Darden and his mount draw abreast of Aiela where she stood her bow at the ready aiming straight and true at Darden's throat. I knew he was a dead man. But I was wrong.
Behind Aiela crept up another stealthy Urali warrior. He swung the shaft of his spear against her head; she collapsed and her shot went wild. I couldn't see Darden's grin then but knew he still wore it, that it broadened and became even more triumphant as his warrior handed Aiela's inert form up to him.
My last sight was of the Shield - Back and its precious cargo lumbering out into the night. Then darkness closed down on me. I fell into unconsciousness as deep and dark as a well.
Next Issue - Chapter Two: Strange Reunions.© by Daniel D'Agostino 2002-2023