Clash of the Amazons
Within the pitch darkness of the cave, the remaining crew struggled to keep up with Gilly, who slipped through the narrow passages in front of them. Even though she had to crouch to fit through many of the passages, Gilly could still move much faster than her human companions. The men also had to rely on their lantern light to guide the way. Gilly's eyes were much better developed, and though she couldn't see perfectly in the dark, she could manage far better than the men.
Many times Gilly was tempted to leave them behind. Time was against her if she wanted to save her wife from certain death at the hands of that miserable council. They would have no mercy on her a second time. She pressed forward ever stronger, through tunnels and open caverns, always listening for any sign of danger.
The cool air of the cavern had rejuvenated the men, but soon they were reaching their physical limit again as they desperately followed Gilly through miles and miles of tunnels. Paul tried to call out to Gilly to stop so they could take a breather. Each time he called, Gilly simply continued forward, slipping her wide body through the narrow passages towards her goal. Eventually, Paul had to shout to get a reaction from her.
Finally, Gilly stopped and turned towards the shabby troop. Her impatience with them was palpable as she waited for Paul to catch his breath.
"Y....you're going too fast. We need a break!" Paul managed to blurt out in between gasps.
The men's lantern light sparkled in her golden eyes. She watched them lean over and fall to the ground on their knees in exhaustion. A wave of anger took hold of her. These 'soldiers' were slowing her down. She cleared her dry throat and addressed them tersely.
"We can not be slow. Tessa and others in danger. We in danger. Cavern ees big. Too many hiding place. Too many enemy." Gilly's eyes darted from side to side, seemingly expecting an ambush at any moment.
"Ok, ok, I can see that." Paul stammered. But we're carrying weapons and equipment. We can't keep up if we don't rest."
Gilly's irritation manifested in her striking the side of the cavern wall with the pommel of her sword. Chunks of rock spilled from the damaged area of the tunnel. She started forward again and the men felt as though they were being left behind. Instead, Gilly led them to a slightly more open area in the tunnel space. Enough to give them room to spread out and rest. There were multiple tunnel entrances on the opposite side of the space. There was a small platform to the immediate right, and Gilly perched on op of it for a moment. She sniffed the air and listened before speaking again.
"This place. Rest then. But not for long. Need moving." Gilly said.
The men practically collapsed to the cool stone floor. Most even sat their guns aside as they sat. After a few minutes, Gilly became agitated and got up and started towards another tunnel. As the men began to protest, Gilly answered sharply, "I need check for safe. Wait in heer."
Gilly ducked into the tunnel and was gone. She moved so silently, that they could barely tell she was just with them a moment before. After a few minutes, the men became restless.
"Do you think she's left us?" Willis whispered to Paul. "I don't exactly know if we can find our way back out without her."
"Either way, we can't keep up with her if she doesn't want us following. If she's gone, we'll just have to press on." Paul said. "We don't really have a choice now."
The yellow lantern light flickered against the ceiling of the cavern. Slowly, the men began to catch their second wind and began talking softly amongst each other. Mike spoke up for the rest of the group to hear.
"So what if we find the others? They have a whole army of those giants. And we barely have enough ammo as it is." Mike said.
Paul shifted his weight uneasily. "We'll just have to think of something."
"Pfff, yeah, alright." Mancel scoffed.
Willis turned to Paul. "They have a point, you know. Even with Gilly, this is a hopeless endeavor. That one troop captured our crew easily. What are we supposed to do against an entire army of them?"
"I don't know. But I can't abandon them. You understand, don't you?" Paul said.
Willis simply turned his head and looked about the empty cavern.
As time wore on, the fidgeting men began to fully consider their predicament. At one point, Mike walked through the tunnel that Gilly disappeared into. He returned a short time later shaking his head. The men were rested, but now terribly anxious. It was beginning to look like they had been abandoned by their giantess guide. Paul decided to wait just a little longer before pressing on. None of them knew anything about the caverns; how long they were, what directions they went, nothing. He gathered up his wits and prepared to lead his small band into the unknown.
Before they set off, Mancel stood and started walking off.
"Where do you think you're going?" Paul asked.
"I need to take a piss." Mancel responded tersely.
"Alright, but don't go too far. We're moving out soon." Paul said.
Mancel just waved his hand dismissively as he walked off. After a few minutes of waiting the group heard a sudden scream echo through the cavern. Everyone instantly stood and readied their weapons. But before they could get into any defensive position, they heard the tunnels fill with terrible snarling and growling. The walls shook as if the caverns were falling apart. Paul and Willis shouted for the men to retreat into the tunnel behind them, but as soon as they could turn around, a hoard of hairy monstrosities burst from the opening.
The first of the creatures rushed forward and knocked Carlo to the ground, sending his rifle sliding across the floor. Their speed was incredible. Paul and Willis only managed to fire off a few rounds before they were overtaken from all sides. Within seconds, the little band of men was subdued.
The creatures pushed and pulled at them angrily. The men were wrapped tightly with crude ropes and wrangled together. When Paul had enough time to gaze upon the attacking hoard, he could scarcely contain his panic. The beasts were hairy, apelike beings, roughly human in height. They carried improvised but fearsome weapons; spears, blunt clubs with animal's teeth imbedded in the wood for spikes, and crude swords with chipped blades. They wore strips of leather and dirty chain-mail as armor. They walked on two legs as humans did, but had a bow-legged gait due to the shortness of their legs. Despite this, they could cover short distances with an impressive burst of speed. Their arms were wide and muscular with enormous hands that could crush stone. Their hairy faces housed eyes that blazed an angry red behind a pronounced brow. Their fangs flashed in the dark caverns as they howled and gnashed at the terrified men.
They quickly pulled the men along with the rope and dragged them through winding tunnels, headed towards some desperate fate. At one point, the panic stricken group was reunited with Mancel who, like them, was bound and taken prisoner. He was pushed and shoved into the others and they continued on ever deeper into the twisting caverns. During the chaotic ordeal, Paul could hear Mancel cry out "Damn, that huge bitch! She set us up!"
Paul tried to come up with some kind of order or reassuring statement to keep his group calm, but he could think of nothing. He could barely keep his own wits together.
Eventually, the group was taken into a wider cavern opening and dumped in the middle of a tall chamber. As the men looked around in a daze, they saw even more of the terrible beasts, howling and screeching at their arrival. Fires were set all around, the dark smoke venting through openings above the chamber. There was a raised altar before the hogtied group of men. Paul looked up and saw a large carved statue behind the altar. It was blocky and simple in design, but showed the vague shape of an ape. It had large fanged teeth pulled back in a snarl. It's eyes were narrow in an aggressive glare. In the figure's hand was the impression of what looked to Paul like a human woman. As Paul looked closer still, he could see a similar female figure caught in the ape beast's fanged jaws. The image gave an ominous touch to an already dire situation.
The men's eyes darted in every direction. All around them was a tumultuous din of primeval shouting. Then, as the shouting and pounding reached a deafening crescendo, a slouched figure moved to the front of the stone altar. The other ape-men, noting its arrival, stamped their weapons and paws on the cavern floor in unison. The creature at center stage slowly looked around the chamber with a narrowed brow. The creature looked mostly similar to the other beasts stamping madly at the ground, except he had a grey tuft of fur below his chin. He also carried a sort of scepter in place of a weapon. Eventually, the beast bellowed loudly, silencing the rest of his band.
Once the others had stopped their brutal display, the men could more clearly contemplate the full peril of their situation. The elder ape-man began grunting and growling deeply, its voice echoing low against the chamber walls. To the men it sounded as animal nonsense, but the elder ape-man spoke in his native tongue to the others in his tribe.
"What ARE these miserable things!?" the elder asked his company.
One ape warrior stepped forward and spoke for the others. "I think they are ocean folk! It's said they used to come in wooden things, and they carried strange weapons that bang and throw iron balls." The ape-man motioned to a compatriot who brought the mens' rifles forward. He picked one up awkwardly, his large and twisted hands having difficulty holding it straight.
The elder snorted loudly and answered. "I know what ocean folk are! But these ones; they smell strange. They carry a stink upon them! A wretched stink I recognize."
The ape-warrior nodded quickly in agreement. "Yes! These ones reek of amazon blood!"
At that accusation, the crowd of ape-men broke out into angry shrieks once more. To the frightened men, the entire exchange was nothing but a howling match between beasts. However, they could understand at least that there was a terrible animosity growing for them in the chamber.
At the term 'amazon' the elder grew into a maddened frenzy. He hopped down to the men's level off of his perch. He advanced quickly towards the ensnared men, who began to squirm and struggle to free themselves.
As the elder sauntered towards them, he cried out in anger, "Its blood then! Blood for Kong! Bleed them, squeeze them, rip them apart!" He turned towards the graven image of the ape-god behind the alter and howled. The others joined in, screeching while facing the statue. The light of the flames flickered against the severe face of the ape-god, and the creatures who worshiped it flung their hands in the air in ecstasy.
"So that Kong should be freed, we spill the blood of the amazon's dogs! And on the day he is unleashed, we shall have revenge!" The elder-ape bellowed in the chamber.
The elder turned back to face the kicking and squirming men at the chamber's center. An ape-warrior handed the elder a chipped, blunt looking knife. The elder held it in his enormous paw and advanced towards the screaming group of men, who were now certain of their doom.
Suddenly, a sound echoed in the great hall of the ape-men. It was loud enough to stop the elder in his tracks. The ape-men continued to chatter loudly until they all heard the sound again. It sounded like the deep, resonate beat of a war drum. It sounded again, now more frequently, more intensely. Boom! Boom! Boom! The strange echoing drum continued beating. The ape-men looked up, confused and concerned. The sound beat on, until small cracks appeared in the ceiling of the cavern above the hoard. Mike looked up when a small pebble fell and bounced off his head. He gazed up and saw the cracks growing and splitting the surface of the chamber above.
Suddenly, the ceiling gave way, and rocks tumbled down, scattering the ape-men, and sending their elder leaping back towards the giant idol. Falling amid the tumbling rubble, the familiar and powerful figure of an amazon warrior came crashing down between the men and the elder. Shock and panic took hold of the gathered ape-mob. When the dust settled, Paul and his men looked and saw Gilly standing before them, facing the elder and the carved image of his god.
Carlo was the first to burst out in joy. "It's Gilly! It's our girl, Gilly!" The other men only looked at each other nervously.
The elder ape-man stood in stunned disbelief. He stuttered and stammered, even dropping his sacrificial knife to the ground. "No! It can't be! It's Gil-"
The elder's ape-words were cut off as Gilly's sword quickly struck him in two. The slash was so fast, so powerful, that the men could hardly tell she moved until they saw the ape elder fall in halves to the cave floor.
Upon seeing this, the other ape-men panicked and fled into individual holes and tunnels away from the powerful amazon. Gilly then turned to the men and with a quick swipe of her sword, cut the rough bonds holding them together. The men sat in shock for a few moments before Gilly yelled at them. "Come on! You follow me!"
The men shook off their panic and stood up. "Get the weapons!" Willis cried out. They each turned and gathered up their rifles, which had been rudely dumped together in a pile. Gilly grew impatient as she watched the tunnels for a reprise attack. "Now!" She screamed.
They took after Gilly who led them through the tunnel. Before exiting the chamber, Gilly allowed herself a quick glimpse of the ape-god idol, the image of Kong. She felt a terrible chill run up her spin as she ducked into the dark tunnel.
They ran as quickly as they could, putting the ape-men behind them. They had regained their weapons, but lost the reassurance of the lantern light. They could only make their way by following the vague shape of Gilly running in front of them and the occasional glint of light against her armored forearms and shins. Paul ran slightly behind her and tried to voice his appreciation. "Thanks! We owe you one!"
"Silent now! You run!" Gilly said dismissively.
They ran until the threat of exhaustion ate away at the last of the men's strength. Several times during their flight, they could hear their howling behind them, driving them ever forward towards their escape. At a several points, Mike was able to turn around and fire his rifle blindly into the tunnel behind him. A few of those times, he heard the cries of a hit ape-man uncomfortably close behind them in the tunnel. Thankfully, they arrived at their destination unscathed. There was a shaft of light, coming down into an empty chamber ahead of them. Stone platforms rose up, allowing one to climb to the source of the light. They dropped to their knees and breathed out the stress of nearly being torn apart by the furious ape-men.
It had been a long while since they heard the last sign of the pursuing ape-men, and it seemed at last that they had evaded them. Willis was well enough to walk up to Gilly, who was staring up towards the shaft of light. "Do you think they'll come in here? Eh, are we clear now?"
Gilly broke her concentration and looked down at Willis. "They will not. Not dare come here. Too afraid." She turned back and continued staring up into the light.
Willis turned wearily towards the tunnel they just exited. He wasn't totally confident of Gilly's reassurance. "What are they afraid of?" He asked.
WIthout turning to him, Gilly answered, "My city up there." Willis' expression changed to surprise and excitement and he joined her in looking up. "All Gilly's sisters up there."
At last, they had arrived beneath the fabled amazon city.
The trial of the invaders, which is what amazons referred to all men as, was now underway. The accused were lined up beneath the overlooking seats of the amazon judges. Tessa kept her eyes low, only looking up once to make eye contact with one of the judges to the right. When she did, she quickly looked away as if ashamed.
The chief judge looked down and declared in amazonian, "This trial is now in session. We seek justice for Queen and Goddess."
The men, along with Shinozaki, could only guess at the nature of her speech. Finally, the chief judge switched to english, to address the accused.
"You all stand accused of violating our sacred island, desecrating it with your blasphemy!" The men were momentarily surprised by her grasp of their language, but then outraged by her declaration. "Who among you can answer for this terrible sin!?" the chief judge asked.
Shinozaki was about to speak when Capt. Miller butted in, stepping in front of her. "I am the captain of this voyage! If anyone should take responsibility, it's me!"
Shinozaki stood in shock at the captain's sudden show of integrity.
The chief judge went on unfazed. "Very well. You and your crew stand guilty of violating our most solemn law of the island."
"Ridiculous! We did nothing to justify your attack on us! We are a mere group of explorers on a peaceful expedition. Your soldiers ambushed and slaughtered us!" The captain argued.
"Peaceful!? To arrived so armed?" A judge wearing silver, her belly protruding slightly in early pregnancy broke in. "Preposterous! Our agents watched you more carefully than you realize. We saw the extent of your peacefulness when one of your men cut down a young amazon in training. We then had no choice but to subdue you before you could harm any more of our beloved daughters!"
The captain was shocked by the accusation. "Wha-!? We never, I mean, none of us would have any reason to kill any of you! That must be a lie!"
Tessa's fists clenched.
"It is no lie. We have our report from the Grand General herself. Not only are you accused of trespassing, but also for murder of one of our dear children!" the judge said.
"This is madness. Where is the evidence? Aren't you even going to allow for a defense? What kind of trial is this?" Capt. Miller complained.
Another judge to the left answered his outburst. "Dear sir, your crime is apparent by your very presence here. Our laws decree that men are forbidden from setting foot on our sacred land. You were guilty upon your arrival. What's left to determine is the punishment."
This took the captain aback. In frustration he tried to make a different appeal. "Then, I take full responsibility for our trespass. I am their captain. I insist you spare my crew!"
Nearby, Tessa sighed. 'Pointless...' she thought.
Yet another judge, herself heavily pregnant and clutching the arm of her seat, answered. "Each man here is guilty of his own crime. Their sin must also be answered for individually." She leaned back and held a cloth to her face. An attendant leaned in an touched her shoulder. She waved her hand to dismiss her assistant after the wave of illness passed. She took a short moment to compose herself again. "Y-you are not capable of taking the weight of their transgressions upon yourself."
Capt. Miller looked about him in anger. He looked at Shinozaki standing behind him and turned back to face the amazon judges. "Then...then I insist you at least spare Ms. Shinozaki! She is not a man like us. She is a woman. She is not guilty of breaking any such law! And she never harmed anyone since arriving here! If anything, I ask that you find her innocent."
The amazon judges exchanged glances amongst each other. Finally, the chief judge spoke. "We shall see. We must question the woman ourselves, however, before we can give any such pardon."
Capt. Miller reluctantly stood aside and let Shinozaki stand, naked, before the judges.
The chief judge looked down at Shinozaki, who stared back with a defiant sense of confidence. This pose impressed some of the judges watching her. Not to be unduly swayed, the chief judge began her questioning. "Why did you come to this island?"
Shinozaki answered sharply, "As the captain explained, we were here as explorers. We did not bring any hostility to this island. I maintain that we were unjustly attacked by your warriors."
"What were you searching for?" Another judge asked.
Shinozaki swallowed. She had to think about her answer carefully. "We. We were searching this island for its wildlife. We come from a very different land. Nowhere have we seen the kind of life that exists here. We came here to study them and better understand them. But we know these animals are also very dangerous. We brought the weapons with us to protect ourselves."
There was a brief pause as the amazon judges conferred with each other. Some nodded in agreement and returned their gaze to Shinozaki. All except for one judge in a golden robe who kept her eyes locked on Tessa.
The chief judge smirked coyly. She looked down at Shinozaki like she were a cornered mouse. "You take us for fools. We can all plainly see from your manner that this was your expedition. That alone would be enough to condemn you, for while you are no man, you caused there to be men upon our island. This has been your design from the start. But not only that, you seem to have forgotten that we have the charts your men had in their possession. Charts indicating the position of this very city. What's more, we are aware of the ship that awaits you off our coast. A large vessel, with holds large enough to carry great plunders. Your plot here is not mysterious to us. You came to this city to steal some its riches to bring back to your cursed world. Because of this, you are no less guilty than the degenerate lot behind you. No! You are most guilty! And you shall share in their fate."
Shinozaki began to protest. "You have no reason to think that-"
"Enough! We have heard what we want from you, woman. You spoke deceptively, and it shames us to see. Beautiful and desirable as you are, you shall not sway us!" The chief judge waved her hand in dismissal. "There is only one last matter left to consider. And that is the case of your companion."
Tessa stepped foreword without being instructed to do so. Shinozaki stepped back to allow Tessa through. Tessa kept her eyes down as the judges stared at her.
"Once again, you come before us, dear Tessa." The chief judge said. "How unfortunate. It would seem you wasted the chance given to you by this council."
"Chance!?" Tessa cried out, tears already in her eyes. She now spoke in her native amazonian. "Chance!? You sent me out into the deep jungle to live as a wild beast! And to do so, you disgraced the name of the greatest champion this city had!"
"You did that yourself!" One of the judges burst out. "If Gilly were not your wife, she would have continued to serve her city proudly! It was because of you! Because she loved you she-" She stopped mid sentence when she looked and saw the judge next to her sobbing. It was Mala. She cleared her throat, slightly embarrassed that she had forgotten the feelings of Tessa's mother.
Mala wiped the tears from her eyes and looked down at her daughter, now twice disgraced before the council. She had the same flowing hair as her beautiful daughter. Her eyes were more tired looking, but she exuded the same charming warmth as Tessa. But now, her crying had dampened her vivaciousness.
Mother and daughter looked into each others eyes. The rest of the council waited and said nothing. The mother/daughter bond was exceptionally sacred to the amazons. However, no earthly relationship took precedence over service to the Queen and by extension the Mother Goddess. Finally, Mala had composed herself enough to address her daughter.
"Tessa, you can't understand how much I love you. But I must acknowledge that I have failed you. Twice now, you have broken the laws of our land. And I can't save you this time. My goddess! I can't save you..."
"Mother, I never asked you to save me. My transgressions are my own to commit. But know that you have no need for shame. Because of you, I have the strength to do what is right! For too long, me and my sisters have served an evil system. I break the laws, because they alone cannot tell me what is right! Your council can kill me, but its laws can never be stronger than I am. In the end, the truth is stronger!" Tessa stood openly, looking at each judge as she spoke.
"Silence!" The chief judge lashed out at Tessa. "Your defiance is as strong as ever. To think you could blaspheme so in this very temple! I can see now that exile was a mistake. Your proud sinning would remain the same after a thousand years of exile! You could never be a true amazon."
"If being a 'true amazon' means living as a brute, unable to question its very morality, then I'd rather be anything else in the world!" Tessa answered. "Gilly and I understood the truth. It isn't enough to serve a general or bow to a queen. You must have the courage to think for yourself!"
A judge stood from her seat and pointed angrily. "You corrupted our most beloved warrior! It is your fault she is lost! Remember that, Tessa!"
Tessa grimaced and lowered her head.
"I have heard enough of this. I am ready to make my decision." the chief judge said.
The other judges nodded in agreement, except for Mala, who held her head in her hands.
"As for the men and their woman leader, there is no doubt for me. They must be fed to The Beast. Thus their sins be purged." The chief judge raised her hand. "What say you, sisters?"
The other judges raised their hands immediately. Mala took a bit longer, but meekly rose her hand as well. Then, in unison, all said aloud "To The Beast."
"And now, as for the matter of Tessa." The chief judge turned her attention back to the defiant amazon. "Because she has twice broken our laws. Because she has associated with the hated enemy of the Mother Goddess and all we hold dear. Because she refuses to atone for the sins that led her into exile. I can see no other course but to give her to the same fate as the men who defiled our sacred island." She raised her hand with an air of theatricality and offered her sentence. "To The Beast."
Again, the other judges concurred, raising their hands and repeating "To The Beast."
They all turned to face Mala, who had not voiced her consent. She continued to weep for her daughter, now irrevocably lost to her. The chief judge, losing her patience with her fellow council member spoke. "Mala. This amazon sister has spoken her peace. She has broken the laws. She must be punished." She stared daggers into the grieving mother. "What say you?"
Mala raised her head, streams of tears spilling from her eyes. Mother and daughter looked into each other's eyes one last time. Slowly, painfully, Mala raised her hands and repeated the sentence. "To The Beast." Her eyes went empty. She had given her beloved daughter to a gruesome death. She wished deeply that there was some way to save her again. If she could, she would have leaped down and scooped Tessa up in her arms, keeping the rest of the council away from her. But she was subject to the same laws and decrees as the rest of her sisterhood. To do so would be to defy the Mother Goddess. And that was simply something she could not consciously do.
Tessa's own eyes began to well up. She was able to fight back her own tears well enough to offer one last parting phrase. "Goodbye, mother."
Guards then entered the temple floor. The captives were seised and escorted out of the room, one by one. They protested loudly, but could do little against the physical strength of the guards leading them away. As they were departing, Tessa fell behind as the last in line. She walked behind them without resisting. In her mind, she now had more kinship with the captives in front of her than the rest of her culture.
The chief judge watched the men being taken away. She took particular interest in Jack. She carefully looked his naked body up and down, paying close attention to the contours of his lean, muscular build. She motioned for an aide who came to her side. The chief judge whispered in her aide's ear, "That one. To the stables."
The aide nodded and quickly went down to the floor where the line of men was being escorted back to the holding cells. She ran up to the guard leading Jack away. She whispered in her ear and the guard nodded. She then turned to Jack and detached his shackles from the main line of prisoners. Before he could ask what was happening, the guard began taking Jack down a different corridor from the rest.
"Wait, where are they taking him!?" Capt. Miller asked angrily. "You people are crazy! Hey! Where are you taking him!?" Again, an amazon guard's foot crashed into the captain's midsection, putting his protest down immediately.
Tessa shook her head at the spectacle. She was hoping she could get outside of the temple before she broke down crying. However, her face was already wet by the time she even got to the central hallway.
Back in the courtroom, Mala had two young amazon aides at either side, desperately trying to console her. She could only sob bitterly now that she knew she would never see her daughter again. She would not be able to bear watching the terrible spectacle that awaited her. It was better to think her dead that very moment.
Elsewhere in the city, in General Marjoe's quarters, Lt. Mira howled with delight and fell backwards onto the massive silken bed and panted heavily. Marjoe bent over her and licked and kissed at her belly, making her way up to her chest. In her attempt to displace her grief, Marjoe indulged in her basic lust. She had very little difficultly talking the eager lieutenant into her bedchamber. The young lieutenant was hardly a match for her hunger though, losing terribly at every attempt to wrestle. However, she was tasty enough to hold Marjoe's interest for the duration of the night.
Lt. Mira cried and cooed at the general's every touch. Now the poor dear was nearly catatonic. She simply lay back and panted desperately on the general's bedspread. Marjoe looked down at her with vague distain. "This is what cuts it as a lieutenant these days?" Marjoe thought. More of a snack than a leader of soldiers. At that, she leaned in and sank her fangs into Lt. Mira's chest, drawing some blood. Marjoe fed on her for a while, trying to forget the terrible business of losing her former lover once again. She also tried to forget her earlier dealings with The Queen and her freakish toy. Making love and tasting proper amazon blood calmed her anxieties about the truth of her city.
As she fed, she heard a heavy knock on her chamber door. In a rage, she raised her head, Lt. Mira's blood dripping from her chin. The poor subordinate still lay unconscious beneath her, a victim of Marjoe's superior lust.
Marjoe leapt from the bed and wiped mer mouth clean. Her eyes were deeply sunk in from grief. Her nude body was sweating from top to bottom, and her wild mane of red hair was even more abstractly mussed than usual. All the same, she answered the door, regardless of how she looked.
A soldier amazon waited outside her chamber door. "What do you want?" Marjoe asked, somewhat unprofessionally.
The soldier raised her head and did a good job ignoring the state of her general, and the evidence of the sexual activity in her chamber. She spoke directly. "General, a report from the advance encampment. Two guards left behind were found dead earlier today."
Marjoe scoffed. "Yes, they are stationed in a difficult part of the jungle. Why bother me about it at this hour?"
The soldier continued. "Sir, the victims were found stripped of their armor and weapons. They were also both found with fang marks on their necks and their blood drained. We believe an amazon did this." Marjoe stared wearily at the soldier as she spoke. She continued. "General, it could just be a rogue amazon in the wild. But whoever did this acted alone and had incredible skill. Both these guards were well trained and disciplined. But they were both taken down simultaneously in a matter of moments. There was hardly any signs of struggle at all."
Marjoe, half drunk on blood and grief, tried to connect the dots of what the soldier was suggesting.
"General, I must reiterate that nothing is known for sure. Only bear in mind that Gilly's body was never recovered. We must be open to the possibility that she has survived somehow."
Marjoe stumbled back a bit and caught herself on the door. Without looking at her, she dismissed the solider, who quickly took her leave. Marjoe turned back into her bedroom and closed the door behind her. She leaned against the heavy door, coming to grips with what she just heard. She looked at Lt. Mira, who was just now beginning to stir in her bed. Suddenly, the sight of her didn't interest her in the slightest. The taste of her blood on her lips became a distant and vague concept.
While she hoped against hope, the thought kept bouncing in her head. 'She's alive....she's alive....she's alive."
Suddenly, Marjoe shouted out loud. "Of course she is! Dammit, how could I have doubted!?"
At this outburst, Lt. Mira woke groggily. "What...what are you talking about?"
Marjoe looked at Lt. Mira coldly. "Leave. Return to your post, Lieutenant."
Lt. Mira, slightly hurt, but obedient, bowed and gathered up her robe and left the room.
Marjoe threw herself to her window and looked out into the morning light. An excitement filled her body, electrifying old desires like new again.
"'She's out there. Gilly's out there somewhere...."
Miles beneath the city, Gilly began her climb up towards the light above. The men held onto an improvised rope tied off to Gilly's hip armor. This allowed them to climb without falling behind or hindering Gilly's progress.
Hand over hand, Gilly pressed on. Somehow, she was going to bring her back.
"Just wait for me, Tessa. I'm coming. I'm coming for you."