Clash of the Amazons
The storm continued for hours. The herd outside had crawled to a near halt. The water had risen to the necks of most of the crewmen, whom the amazons were holding to help keep their heads above the rising tide. A few amazons took to bailing out the water with their upturned helmets. Finally, the last of the herd passed through the trail. The path by then had been transformed into a mud filled marsh. The rain too ceased as amazons squirmed in the water filled cavern. However, the prolonged stay in the cavern had cost them the daylight. By the end of the ordeal, the moon was illuminating the jungle path in radiant blue light.
There was a short discussion about what was to be done. They would have to camp down somewhere for the night. Jungle predators would be following the fresh trail of a crusher herd for stragglers. They had foregone heavy camping equipment, and thus had to improvise a solution quickly. Tree top lodging would free them from ground level dangers, but would do little against slashers, who enjoyed hunting at night most (and were eternal enemies of crushers). There was also the problem of the captives. Keeping them secure in the trees would be too problematic.
General Marjoe remained coy as she listened to the debate unfold. She insisted on simply observing the resourcefulness of her subordinates. Finally, Lt. Mira decided to split themselves up. They would bale out enough water for half the troop to sleep in the cavern outcropping. The injured amazons and the captives would be kept there for the night along with enough guards to watch over them. The able bodied would retreat to the trees and take shifts watching for predators.
General Marjoe smiled and nodded, giving her blessing for the plan. The amazons quickly baled water out of the cavern so that the wounded and captives could sleep comfortably and safely. Lt. Mira opted to stay in the cavern to watch over her guards and the prisoners. General Marjoe agreed to stay in the tree line with he rest of the troop.
Night dragged on for the human crewmen. Even with the water partially baled out, it was still unpleasantly hot and wet inside the cavern. Clothes were soaked through and filled with mud. Ms. Shinozaki's glasses sat crooked and cracked on her face. Her hair was completely undone and stuck out in rough, mud caked points. Some of the men sobbed bitterly before being sternly silenced by their captors. Jack looked desperately for a means to escape, but could find nothing.
Tessa herself continued to sit with her back against the wall, observing the blue light of the jungle in front of her. Her guard, the one she stared at so bitterly during the rain storm had fallen asleep against her. She felt the soft breathing on her neck as the guard's head rested on her shoulder. Even so, Tessa's every thought was on her lost Gilly. All during her attempts to escape and her rage at the General, she had not had the time to properly mourn her beloved. Through a separation in the damaged trees out in the jungle, she could see the stars shining brightly. She finally allowed herself to release the tears she stored up in front of her captors. She sobbed silently in the crowded cavern.
She eventually went blind from her tears, the stars becoming a vague smear. Her bound hands were unable to wipe them away. Next to her ear, she suddenly heard the voice of the guard whisper to her.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry... We shouldn't have done it. Please forgive us." The amazon guard whispered quietly. "We all loved her..."
Tessa felt the guard's hand gently brush the side of her cheek. She could only respond by sobbing ever more bitterly in the dark.
As the night wore on, most of the captives and the injured had fallen asleep, taken by the day's fatigue. Even the guards had difficulty keeping their eyes open. Lt. Mira had posted a guard to watch over the far entrance, where the injured warriors slept. After a while, she herself succumbed to exhaustion and slept while sitting up.
On the far end the guard fared little better, drifting in and out of slumber. The narrowest end of the cavern was too short for an amazon to even crouch inside. One of the injured warriors, her leg badly hurt in her battle with Tessa, stretched out and lay flat against the stone of the cavern floor. She had been forced all day to remain crouched inside for safety, causing her an incredible amount of discomfort. Now that the herd had passed through, she stretched out and fell asleep with her bare foot sticking out from the cavern into the muddy bank of the jungle path. She had removed her armor, since it caused pain to her other bruises and fractured bones. She lay face down, nude apart from the many bandages covering her body, finally relaxed enough to sleep off the day's stress.
Out in the darkness, a large form moved silently through the mud. As it passed into the moonlight, it appeared not unlike a large monitor lizard, stretching some thirty feet from head to tail. It stood on all fours as it's bifurcated tongue lashed out in the hot night air. It drew closer to the cavern opening, drawn by the strong scent emanating from the many bodies inside. It was joined closely by another creature of its kind.
The guard inside the narrow end of the cavern leaned against her small shield and nodded off. She failed to see the approaching reptiles as they came to the cavern opening. The front lizard flicked its tongue in and out as it came upon the sleeping amazons. It slowly came to the injured amazon's foot sticking out of the cavern edge. It could sense the blood from behind the bandaging wrapped tightly around the warrior's shin. The beast remained still and silent, waiting with the patience of a practiced jungle scavenger. It could then finally see that the amazon in front of it was fast asleep, and quite defenseless...
After perhaps another second's hesitation, the massive lizard's forked tongue shot out and wrapped firmly around the sleeping amazon's ankle. The young warrior had barely a moment long enough to scream before she was half taken inside the lizard's mouth. Small, sharp teeth clenched down around her waist as the lizard pulled her violently from the cavern opening. The other amazons inside awoke in just enough time to catch a glimpse of the injured amazon being dragged screaming, her breasts being pulled through the thick mud. Her long flowing hair appeared to be shining blue in the moonlight. Her hands stretched out towards her sisters for help, but all was much too late for her. In another flash of a second, the beast opened its mouth and gulped her deeper inside. It chomped down again, leaving only the former warrior's bandaged hands and flowing hair peeking out. Another quick gulp saw the amazon taken wholly inside.
The other guards rose the warning cry and every able bodied amazon inside took to their weapons. Lt. Mira stood and attempted to run down further towards the sudden panic. Suddenly, from above the cavern's overhang, a second lizard bent over the edge and chomped down on an amazon guard below. Another amazon grabbed the flailing legs of her sister as she was quickly pulled up out of the cavern. The two disappeared and all inside could hear the screaming and thrashing above them. The warriors burst out of the cavern all at once, leaving he captives unattended inside. Shields and spears flashed in the moonlight as the amazons battled the massive reptiles.
The guard resting on Tessa awoke with a start and turned her head to face the source of the danger. In that instant, Tessa lashed out and bit the guard on her neck. She felt the guard's body go limp and she fell forward on top of her until the guard went still. She rose off of the guard and apologized quickly. She had just administered a 'sleeper bite' to her captor, causing her to momentarily pass out. Though she still held grief and anger in her heart for her enemies, she did not wish to harm the amazon out of her kindness earlier.
She crawled towards the exit of the cavern, her hands and feet still tightly bound. One of the crewmen behind her had rubbed his bonds against a rock throughout the day, eventually freeing his hands and feet. However, instead of assisting the others in escaping, in his panic he bolted for the exit as fast as he could. Tessa was nearly out of the cavern when the man ran past her screaming. But before he could escape, a third lizard appeared and chomped down on him, consuming him with a mere two bites.
The other crew members, seeing this, drew further back against the cavern wall out of terror. The beast was apparently unsatisfied with so meager a catch, and placed its eyes squarely on the much larger Tessa. She righted herself and began quickly pushing away from the beast. However, the creature proved the quicker and lashed its tongue around Tessa's feet. It dragged her out into the open night, her body sloshing through the heavy mud. It suddenly released her, letting her lay face up in the murky jungle path. It bared down on her, ready to gobble her up in a few greedy bites.
In that same instant, a shape fell between her and the hungry reptile. In the shimmering moonlight, she could see the long red mane belonging to Marjoe. For a moment, she simply stared at Marjoe's back, who from this angle suddenly appeared huge. The beast, undeterred by the interruption, opened its mouth and lunged at Marjoe, attempting to devour her just the same.
With a fluid, perfectly timed motion, Marjoe thrust her spear inside the gapping maw of the beast in front of her. The spear penetrated upward, deep into the puny brain of the jungle scavenger. She twisted it quickly, turning the beast's nervous system into grey jelly. Blood poured down the spear shaft and covered the platinum jeweled gauntlets on her forearms. She then pulled the spear free, letting the beast topple to the side into the mud.
Tessa continued to stare at Marjoe who turned and looked down in return. Her head eclipsed the moon from Tessa's view. There they shared but a fraction of a moment, eyes locked into each other. An unspoken message transfered in that small instant. Both understood it instinctively.
Before any of these thoughts could be verbalized, Marjoe sprang again towards another of the rampaging beasts. Tessa turned herself in the mud and watched Marjoe clear the distance in half a second. Though she was shorter than even most kittens in the City, her speed, skill, and power exceeded anything Tessa had ever seen. Perhaps even more than...no! Tessa reprimanded herself for the thought she was about to materialize in her mind.
Lt. Mira struggled with her spear shoved halfway into the side of the flailing reptile. She finally relinquished the shaft as the beast spun itself, sending Mira tumbling through the mud. At the opposite end of the cavern outcropping, the other remaining lizard had an amazon warrior caught in it's jaws. She let out her death cry as she was held sideways in the crushing maw of the creature. Her armor creaked and dented inwards as the teeth pressed into it. She gagged, blood spraying out of her mouth as she finally expired. Her compatriots continued stabbing at the thick skin of the beast's head. Another warrior tried desperately to grab and pull the chomped amazon free by her feet. A sweep of the beast's fore claw pushed her aside and the amazon's body remained tightly clenched in its mouth.
Inside the cavern, Jack had managed to untie his bonds. He immediately went to free Capt. Miller, who in turn went to Ms. Shinozaki's side to do the same. In a matter of a few minutes, most of the captured crew members had been freed. They looked out into the battle still unfolding beyond the cavern opening. Wet and miserable, the crew attempted to slip out amidst the spreading chaos. As they filed out, Capt. Miller made a break south, back from the way they came. But before he could get far, Jack called out.
"We can't leave Tessa! We have to free her too!" Jack said, as he held the small flat stone he had found and used to cut his bonds.
But the others did not hear his plea, or hearing it, refused to heed. He frowned and headed back towards Tessa, still struggling to stand in the thick mud. Ms. Shinozaki stopped and looked back towards Jack, who was running back into the fray. She then felt Capt. Miller's strong hand close around her arm. Wordlessly, he dragged her along the muddy jungle path. Her boots had long since fallen off, leaving her bare feet to splash in the murky water pooling on the ground as Capt. Miller pulled her through.
Lt. Mira saw the fleeing crewmen and shouted out for someone to stop them. She then heard the loud voice of her General.
"Belay that command, lieutenant! Prioritize! First thing's first!" General Marjoe shouted as she dodged the snapping jaws of the beast in front of her.
Lt. Mira nodded and drew her sword. Marjoe leapt back from a forward lunge that nearly took her head off. She landed softly behind Lt. Mira. The beast twisted and snapped at the amazons surrounding it. General Marjoe's personal guard was occupying its full attention, thrusting at the creature's head and neck. Marjoe then issued a challenge to Lt. Mira.
"Show me your skill at killing, Lieutenant!" Marjoe said over the screaming and roaring of the battle.
Mira seemed slightly hesitant as she looked at her General. Marjoe then persisted. "This should be easy enough. I've softened him up for you. Go on! I want to know the state of the leadership in my army. Prove your title, Lieutenant!"
Lt. Mira gripped her sword tightly and nodded. She turned towards the beast, foam and thick yellow saliva spilling from its mouth. It hissed and snapped at the amazon warriors prodding it from the sides. Its hunger and anger were beginning to turn to desperation. Lt. Mira stepped forward and approached the front of the beast. She heard the grunting and cursing of the elite guards as they pressed into the weakening creature. Mira waited for an opportunity to strike, and finally rushed forward. The creature, though tiring, was still much faster than her. It turned its head quickly and snapped down on Mira's left arm. Pain exploded from the bite, but she retained her grip on the handle of her sword. She aimed the tip for the beast's giant milky eye and plunged it in. The creature thrashed its head side to side, threatening to tear Mira's arm free. Still, she persisted, pushing the sword deeper into the animal's skull. Finally, her sword tip found the creature's tiny brain deep within, putting it out for good.
She retracted the sword from the reptile's eye, throwing thick red chunks of blood and mass onto the mud below. The creature fell limply to the side, with Mira's left arm still trapped inside its jaws. She fell sideways with it, lest her arm be ripped from her shoulder. The commanders from Marjoe's elite guard gathered around and with spear and sword pried the giant mouth open, freeing Lt. Mira's bloodied arm. She fell back into the mud, clenching her broken and slashed limb. She looked up at General Marjoe, who stood above on a tall rock. The General smiled slightly and nodded towards the shaking and battered lieutenant.
Across the field of battle, Jack had nearly cut Tessa's bonds free when he felt a strong hand wrap around his shoulder. He was pulled up quickly and stuffed under the arm of a returning amazon. Another warrior came from behind and pushed Tessa back down into the mud and stood on her chest with her foot.
The final reptile on the other side was finally beginning to give in as well. It dropped the crushed amazon from its laws and hissed loudly at the growing number of amazon warriors surrounding it. As it continued to snap and hiss at the warriors, it tried to break away and flee back into the jungle overgrowth at the other side of the muddy path. Once this happened, several amazons jumped on top of it and began thrusting sword and spear through the tough hide. The beast collapsed before it could reach the edge of the jungle path. The amazons continued stabbing deep into its flesh, making doubly sure it was dead.
Down the path, Capt. Miller and the remaining crewmen tried their best to speed through the harsh jungle terrain. Their progress was badly impeded by the thick mud and deep depressions left by the marching brontosaurs. Capt. Miller, still clutching Ms. Shinozaki's arm felt his footing give way, and the two of them fell face forward into the deep swamp-like mud. By the time the miserable, mud covered figures rose again, amazon warriors already blocked their path. The crewmen behind them cursed loudly and cried out in frustration. They were again quickly scooped up and brought back to the waiting troop.
As the amazons regrouped near the cavern and the captives were safely returned, they began to take stock of their losses. While the troop assessed the damage, General Marjoe was bandaging Lt. Mira's arm. Again, Mira blushed at the strong yet subtle touch of her General as she bound her wounds. Her head was swimming as she tried to avoid looking directly in the eyes of the beautiful master tending to her injuries.
"As far as your assessment..." General Marjoe suddenly said. "Your tenacity and resolve are quite impressive. It was a good strike that killed the tail-dragger." Mira felt her heart flutter before Marjoe continued. "However, your tactical skills need improving. Finding good cover during a herd movement is helpful, but you should always hesitate to enter an area you can't easily retreat from. Situations can change in an instant, and as a leader of warriors, you must always be ready to adapt."
Lt. Mira felt a sudden clench and a wave of confusion. "Sir, but General? Does that mean you let my warriors enter the cavern knowing it was dangerous?"
Marjoe smoothed out the bandage and finished securing it as she answered. "Of course it is my concern to protect each and every one of my fellow sisters in battle. However, it is also necessary for my lieutenants, commanders, and generals to learn from their mistakes. Sometimes, there is no right answer. Retreating to the trees has its shortcomings and risks as well. All things considered, your choice of cover was acceptable. But you must be prepared to consider the alternatives and the possibility of unexpected circumstances."
Marjoe finished by patting Lt. Mira on the shoulder and rising. "You've proven yourself tonight. But we still have a long journey to the City. Stay vigilant and resourceful."
Mira stood straight and though her arm screamed pain, she answered her General clearly. "Sir, yes sir!"
The amazon troop gathered the captives again in a circle, and Marjoe asked what casualties they suffered.
An amazon warrior stood at attention and answered her. "Sir, we've lost four of our sisters. Kama, Mamka, Thaka, and Akut were taken from us tonight. We are gathering their bodies now. The captives have also lost one of their own. We found Gazan unconscious in the cavern. She should awake any time now."
Marjoe nodded as she observed the amazons working to free their sister's bodies from the fallen reptiles. It was always preferable to lay their fellow warrior's to rest in the proper fashion. The exhausted and further humiliated crewmen in the center circle watched the grotesque display of amazons cutting open the massive lizards to extract the swallowed warriors.
At last all the bodies were gathered and a makeshift funeral was performed in the darkness. Dawn approached and illuminated the jungle in a soft green glow as a funeral mound was finished for the fallen warriors. And even though she was still a captive, Tessa spoke along with the amazons' prayer of passing as the sun rose higher behind them.
Gilly, now partially armed, began her journey to intercept the troop of amazons that stole her beloved. Her side still throbbed slightly, though she was now comforted by the tight skin suit that kept it compressed and stopped the bleeding. Again, she paid little mind to the stunned men cowering under her. They had just seen the true ferocity of the amazon they came to know. Gilly licked her lips, tasting the amazon's blood still dripping from her chin. She then realized she had not eaten in some time before defeating the two guards behind her. She noted grimly the fondness she had for the taste of the warrior's blood. She even half considered returning to the bodies and slicing off some meat for herself while it was still fresh
In many ways, jungle life had made her lapse in the proper ways of an amazon. While it was acceptable to revel in the taste of an enemy's blood, it was not acceptable to leave a fellow amazon unburied. Enemy or otherwise. She then sneered. Let the jungle bury them, she thought cruelly.
She nearly stepped on the men as she passed over. Paul quickly stood up and tried to follow behind Gilly, who walked with long strides in the direction of the departing troop. He called after her and shouted, receiving no reply. Gilly was nearly ready to leap into the trees when she felt a rock strike her rear.
She whirled around and sent a terrible stare down at Paul, who had a second rock raised in his now quivering hand. He suddenly found himself unable to move or speak. Mr. Willis then cleared his throat and made a plea to work together to free their friends. Inside her mind, she could barely pay attention to the little bug-boy's words. She considered her options regarding these escaped men. They could be a terrible nuisance. They could barely climb, they were far too noisy, and frail beyond reason. As Mr. Willis went on, Gilly considered simply killing them right on the spot. They were still too shaken and timid to put up a meaningful resistance. They were a liability in many ways, and ultimately, they were doomed to die in the savage jungle anyway.
Gilly stepped forward, and thought about which one to strike first. Mr. Willis sensed the change in Gilly's stance and stepped back, failing to finish his last sentence as he spoke. The others waited, wondering if they should flee or try to fight the frightening giantess.
Mike Sellers stepped forward and tried where Mr. Willis failed. "Gilly. We know they have your wife. They have Tessa. We want to help her too. Just like we want to help our people. We're on the same side. We wont save any of them if we get killed out here."
Mike felt Mancel tug at his arm. "Come on, man, what are you doing? Let's just shoot her!"
Mike pulled free and stepped closer to Gilly. Closer than what Paul or Mr. Willis thought was safe. "We can help. You might not think so, but we can do it. There's too many of them to fight just by yourself. They'll kill you and hen they'll kill Tessa. We don't want that. And I know you don't want that."
Gilly observed the posture of the man in front of her. He stood more confidently, more directly as he made his appeal. Something about his manner allowed her to listen more intently on his words. The man went on.
"If we work together, we can win. We can rescue Tessa, Ms. Shinozaki, the Captain, and everyone else! But we're not going to save anything if we go it alone." Mike said.
Gilly rolled the words around in her head. She could only grasp their meaning intermittently, but she knew he meant for them to cooperate. She almost snapped at the man until she caught a gleam from the barrel of his rifle. Something awoke in her memory then. Though these men had their limitations, she recalled the defeat of the chomper back on the beach. It took some great effort, but these weapons were enough to destroy the beast in the end, with only one casualty. And although the beautiful Dr. Anderson perished that night, the fact remained that the tiny men had more to them than met the eye.
Inside her heart, Gilly held no hope of returning with Tessa alive. The man was correct in saying it would be an impossible task by herself. She was utterly outnumbered and, what's more, they were being led by Marjoe. Marjoe, a warrior perhaps in every way her equal. Out of all the warriors in the Queen's Army, Marjoe was the only one she felt could best her in fair combat. Though she was deeply proud of Tessa, and in the end loved her better than Marjoe, she could not deny that the General was superior in all aspects of fighting. She shuttered remembering that there was a time in her life when she valued skill in fighting above the traits she came to love in Tessa. If things had occurred differently, she would certainly have been Marjoe's wife. But instead of regret, she could only feel relief in having met Tessa, even now.
Tessa had changed Gilly's life. And now she had to be rescued. If she had to ally with creatures such as these in order to do so, she was more than willing. A glimmer of hope lit inside her heart. She didn't know how, but she could come up with a way to save Tessa. These men couldn't climb, and their speed was questionable, but they had one distinct advantage. The amazons did not respect them. This meant they were underestimated.
She looked down at the men, their arms still tensely holding their rifles. She nodded. Her expression was still stern as she agreed. "Yes. Wee fight to-getter."
The men immediately relaxed and sighed loudly.
"But!" Gilly held out her hand towards them. "You do wat Gilly say! No too much noise and must be fast! Amazons be of fast. So you be!"
The men looked at one another and nodded. Paul spoke up for them.
"So you're really going to help us?" Paul asked.
Gilly turned from them and started walking away towards the jungle path. "Yeah OK, we are go now!"
The men shrugged and followed after her, only then beginning to realize how much effort it was going to take to keep up with the marching giantess leading them into the fray.
At daylight, the amazon troop continued its march towards the City. The pace was greatly quickened, for they had lost far too much time hiding from the passing herd of crushers the previous day. The captured crewmen's moral was at an all time low. Having tasted the fleeting hint of freedom, they had been recaptured, retied, and were now feeling totally hopeless.
The trail twisted and rose between deep ravines and open planes. Once, they passed by a mighty river, and the troop took special care passing through, for predators and giant beasts alike came to satisfy their thirst.
Their journey continued on until at last they came within sight of a deep depression leading down to a green basin. This had been one of the presumed locations of the supposed hidden city. Ms. Shinozaki found the strength to crane her neck far enough to glimpse the basin. This had been where Dr. Anderson believed the City of Gold existed. But all she could see was more green foliage and swooping birds down below. However, she took notice of the change in demeanor amongst the amazon warriors. Some had gasped and spoken relieved words upon seeing the empty basin. The wounded Lt. Mira in front of them chided them to remain composed. They were like excited children who spotted their destination in the distance. Could it be...
The troop continued downward towards the low, bowl shaped valley. They had left the jungle trail and were out in the open. The trees gave way and there was nothing but low grass and rock between them and the basin stretched out below. As they marched, Shinozaki noticed that the ground grew more regular and even. Other crewmen lifted their heads to see where they were headed.
Ahead of them, Capt. Miller could see a faint haziness in the air. The previous day's thunderstorm had passed and given way to a clear blue sky. Yet there was a strange fog that obscured the jungle green in front of them that seemed to grow more distinct the closer they came to it. Ms. Shinozaki sensed the same, and paying attention to the ground below, saw the faint outline of a path leading towards this blurry basin.
Suddenly, Ms. Shinozaki felt an electric tingle wash over her body as they passed through the foggy blur. A moment later she opened her eyes and her jaw dropped open. In front of the marching troop was a city. A city that shined in the sun like a polished gem. The other crewmen held under the arms of their amazon captors forgot themselves for a moment and loudly gasped and gawked at the sight. The haziness must have been some form of shield, cloaking the city from a distance. Dr. Anderson had been right all along. Exactly right. A flash caught against the rim of Shinozaki's glasses and she looked down at the source. The ground below them had transformed from a simple dirt path into a golden paved road, inlaid with precious gems in every brick. Tall shafts that looked like light posts lined the sides of the road and hummed, apparently the source of the cloaking effect. These too were studded with precious gemstones and gilded in gold and platinum.
The captives, forgetting they were captives became enthralled with the sights around them. They called to each other, asking if they saw the same thing. Ms. Shinozaki shot a satisfied smirk towards Capt. Miller, who could only stare out in stunned disbelief. In the center of the city was an immense domed building. Its walls and columns shone brilliant white and gold in the gleaming sunlight. Under the central building were layers of roads and bridges connecting the various towers and structures around the center. Flowing fabric flags fluttered gently from the elegant balconies and bridges in the distance. As they drew closer, they could see people inhabiting these streets. All stunningly beautiful women in flowing robes of every color imaginable. The only word crossing through any of the captive's minds was the phrase "paradise."
However, they soon came to a building alongside the golden street leading into the city. The marching amazons were greeted here by figures in deep blue capes. They had armor on, but carried no weapons. They saluted the amazon warriors, who sat their burdens upon the ground. Most of the crewmen who were laid down did not even attempt to escape. They were too transfixed by the gold, gem encrusted road they sat upon. Their fingers explored each line between each brick, the bright gold illuminating their eyes. The amazon Gatekeepers shrugged and mocked the awestruck captives as they pawed at the golden road in awe. Some of the men collapsed against the road and wept, overwhelmed by the sight of it.
Tessa simply sat and lowered her eyes in silence.
The troop from the jungle continued forward, fatigued and limping from the difficult journey. General Marjoe stood before them and thanked them personally for their brave service. They then hung their heads and prayed for the sisters they left behind. Upon being dismissed, the amazons walked along the road while robed figures approached them quickly. Each returning warrior was embraced tightly by a waiting loved one. Some had wives in the city who they held and kissed passionately. Others were mentors for kittens who brought flowers and gifts for their departed teachers.
As for the captured crewmen, the Gatekeepers examined them and brought them into the building to the right side of the road. The interior of this structure was as splendidly decorated as the outside. The walls were decked in bright titled mosaics depicting scenes of bravery and high culture. Each captured man and woman was brought to an individual station and further examined. Each had their bonds cut free and their ruined clothes were removed.
The Gatekeepers washed them until every speck of mud and grime was removed. Some of the men could be heard laughing and jeering while they were cleansed. Ms. Shinozaki for her part blushed brightly as the massive yet delicate hands of the amazons washed her nude body. They had also taken her glasses, leaving her embarrassingly shortsighted. She involuntarily gasped when she felt the amazon's hand slip between her smooth buttocks.
After being cleaned, the captives were each placed in an individual holding cells. From there they could look out at the gawking amazons in the main parlor. Tessa leaned against the wall of her cell with her eyes closed. This had not been the first time she was placed in a cell like this. Outside, she could hear the Gatekeepers laughing amongst each other, teasing the ones who had to clean the male members of the crew. Tessa could only try to block them out as they mocked the captives. They were then served food in their cells, which the crewmen ate ravenously. They hadn't eaten in over a day and a half, after all. Tessa, however, left her tray untouched.
Eventually, out in the atrium, the crew could see an amazon bring a large box up to a huge table in the center of the room. Despite going without food or provisions, the amazon troop had carried this box along with the captives in tow. Upon seeing the contents, the men realized it was their confiscated weapons and equipment. Jack stood up and pressed himself shamelessly against the bars as he watched them go through Dr. Anderson's materials and notes. They tried to ignore his pleas for them to stop touching Dr. Anderson's belongings. However, they would occasionally dart a look up at Jack's nude body and blushingly look away again. In his fervor, he couldn't quite grasp that they were embarrassed by their unnatural attraction to his naked form.
They waited as each item in the case was categorized and documented. They were then taken to other boxes and stored away as the crew watched helplessly behind cage bars like rats.
They waited in their cells until nightfall. The room slowly became illuminated by gems implanted in the walls that began to grow in brightness as the sun faded outside. Eventually, most of the crew gave up and went to sleep in their cells. There was a soft pallet on the bottom of the cell for them to lie down on, but no covers or blankets. The room was warm enough to feel comfortable, but much cooler than the outside jungle air. Most of them didn't have much difficulty in falling fast asleep.
Only Tessa laid awake in her cell, facing the wall. In the clean comfort of the Southern Checkpoint she began to miss Gilly more than ever. She tried to gather up the soft padding of the pallet under her to hold it close. Still she could not sleep. In that moment she wanted nothing more in the world than to once again be holding her beloved Gilly in her arms.
Still many miles away, Gilly cursed in the dark of the night. Her and the small band of rescuers had been through hell on their journey to the Golden City. First, the traveling herd of crushers forced them off of the trail. Then, when she tried to get the group into the trees, the men almost all fell off to their deaths before even getting halfway up. The sudden downpour came on so heavily it almost knocked them down to the ground below. They had to climb down and hide under an overturned tree which had created a hole in the ground big enough for the men to hide in. Even then, the men complained noisily about the bugs inhabiting the hole with them. She eventually had to remove the silly little centipedes from the men's hiding place before they would quiet down. They weren't even the meaty seven-footers. Just some little two-footers, for Goddess' sake! More and more, she was beginning to doubt her decision to bring these men along with her.
But as the men finally settled into sleep, she looked out into the darkness towards the Golden City. Somewhere out there her wife was being held prisoner. The need to be by her side again was beginning to drive her mad. But they had lost so much ground in the previous day's folly that she realized they would never catch the amazon troop before they reached the City Gate. To save Tessa, they would have to sneak into the City somehow.
Gilly knew of a way to do it. But these feeble men sleeping below her weren't going to like it... Not one bit.