Lost on the Last Continent, Episode 22 Demonstration of Prowess

Lost on the Last Continent, Episode 22 Demonstration of Prowess, is now posted on Patreon.

Episode 22 Demonstration of Prowess

In this exciting episode, Colonel Lost, naked and unarmed, must escape tooth and claw of vicious saber-toothed tigers, tame the titanic majesty of mastodons, swim a moat, scale a sheer column; but in the ancient and haunted coliseum lurks a beast more terrible yet.

I have several comments from readers who cannot see the episode. Each time I check the three links leading to the page, all work correctly, and the episode is visible to me. The HTML code is correct. So I cannot correct a problem I cannot detect.
Nonetheless, as a courtesy, I will also post this week’s episode here, for those whose links stubbornly refuse to work:

***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ****

Episode 22 Demonstration of Prowess

The boulevard ran straight as a ruler from the temple to the frowning walls of the roofless coliseum. Pillars holding arches circled the ground floor of the coliseum in an arcade, but the archways on the ground floor were bricked shut. Arches of a second story balcony circling the building opened into the interior, and red sunlight spilled through them. A moat of water surrounded all. Several trees grew up between moat and wall so closely that their branches thrust up between the marble balcony rails. There was no other place to run, as twin clouds of deadly wasps formed living walls to either side of the boulevard.

In the widening crack of the temple doors, patient as cats before a mousehole, watching him with cold eyes, were three smilodons.

As the doors opened wider, Preston did not run away, but toward the smilodons. Naked and weaponless, he yelled at the top of his lungs. The saber-toothed tigers did not flinch, but sprang forward explosively from their haunches, swift as cheetahs, leaping for the huge doors the mastodons were straining in their traces to pull open.

Through the narrow opening of the cracked doors, only one smilodon pushed herself. None of the three had manes. These were females, saber-toothed tigresses.

The lead smilodon came barreling forward on the narrow, dusty aisle of flagstones between the looming bulks of the two mastodons. Preston, racing toward the big cat, swerved at the last moment. He had seen lions in full charge, and he knew that creatures so large, even if more agile than a horse, could not halt or turn as quickly as a running man. The lead tigress was a yard past him before she could slow and stop; the next one was coming swiftly, roaring. But Preston was leaping toward the mastodon on the right.

In India, Preston had learned how to mount up on an elephant, even ones not kneeling. He caught the great beast’s wooden collar in one hand, and had one foot on the mastodon’s knee. The other hand he gripped the mastodon’s tusk, and he swung himself up between the tusks and onto the trunk. He swarmed up between the pachyderm’s eyes and vaulted over the top of its skull. The rough hairs scraped his naked skin.

The trunk of the mastodon reached back toward him, and the other mastodon stepped toward the one Preston had mounted, also lifting a menacing trunk. The motion of the second mastodon pulled shut the panel of the door to whose ring it was tethered, blocking the way for the third smilodon, who was still trapped inside the temple courtyard. The first two smilodons were at the head and rear of the mastodon Preston mounted, snarling and leaping, while the mastodon, startled, reared and trumpeted.

Preston forced himself to ignore all this, and looked at the large and decorated collar across the beast’s shoulders. Brightly colored protrusions and cambers the size of beetle casings and clam shells clung to the leather, enameled in yellow, black, blue, and purple.

Preston was convinced, from all he had seen, that the Terrors had some method of controlling their beasts. Naturally, being born in the days of television, garage doors, and drones, he expected the remote control to be carried by a radio antenna and electric circuits. He ran his fingers over the cambers of the collar, not sure what he was seeking.

What he found was that the beetle casings and seashells, which were warm to the touch, popped open, displaying the agitated bushcrickets and scorpion-tailed centipedes hidden within. He saw the squirming centipedes leaning from their clamshells to sink their stings into the thick and furry hide of the mastodon. The mastodon quickly turned to the direction opposite the stings.

The sheer weirdness of a remote control system made of living insects did not slow him. He guessed that bushcrickets with their nine-inch antennae were the ones receiving the commands, so he began swatting them, and smashing the beetle casings and tossing them away.

Then, turning, with both hands he leaned and pried open the buckles connecting the mastodon traces to the door ring. The buckles were made not of metal, but of what looked like seashell coated with a diamond-hard diamond-bright substance. They could be opened with a sharp tug, or a well placed kick.

The traces slithered through the harness rings and came free. The singletree dropped to the flagstones with a clang. The mastodon was no longer attached to the door ring. One strap of the harness Preston yanked free and quickly wound about his waist like a sash, having no better place to carry it.

He pried a clamshell open and thrust it against the mastodon’s neck. The giant beast obediently turned in the opposite direction. Preston guided it to face the distant coliseum. Preston stared at the collar of insect shells, wondering how to urge the beast into motion.

He need not have worried. The smilodon in front of the mastodon, threatened by tusks and massive forelegs that reared and plunged, leapt away, snarling. Meanwhile the smilodon behind, startled by the falling singletree, roared and leaped at the hindquarters of the mastodon, trying to climb toward Preston. The mastodon, clawed in the hindquarters, charged.

Preston clung to the decorated collar, wondering who was controlling the mastodon, if anyone. The pachyderm ran along the boulevard, avoiding the clouds of wasps paralleling his course. The third smilodon squeezed out through the temple doors. The three gave chase. The mastodon thundered down the boulevard. The smilodons could not do more than claw ineffectually at the stout pillars of the mastodon’s legs, but neither could the mastodon outrun the smilodons with their cheetah speed.

The boulevard ended at the moat. The water was murky, wide, and deep. Preston stood on the head of the mastodon, and did not lose his balance when the monster reared up. The smilodons roared and slashed with their butcher-knife sized incisors at the mastodon’s knees. He executed a swan dive from the mastodon’s head, hit the water cleanly, and dove.

The bottom was soft mud, but broken columns and fragments of huge statues were half buried in the moat floor. Preston swam furiously, hugging the bottom.  He did not know how fast these great hunting cats could swim, but African tigers were more than twice as fast as a man in the water, even if they could hold their breath less than half his time. Preston spotted a likely-looking figure of a toppled sphinx, and pushed himself into the slime beneath one of the prone stone wings, scooping mud over himself quickly.

It should have been dark in the murky water, but strangely, inexplicably, his eyesight grew clear. He could see the three smilodons passing swiftly through the water above, bubbles all around them. He held his breath and held himself motionless, waiting. Either the Terrors were not controlling the smilodon’s actions, or not doing so intelligently. It would have been wiser to keep one saber toothed tiger on either bank and only have one in the water at a time, searching. Instead, all three dove and searched at once, and, in three minutes, all three were low on air, and worked their paws frantically to pull themselves to the surface.

Preston chose the moment when the beasts were out of breath, but before they surfaced, to kick off from the sunken statue and arrow toward the far bank, hugging the bottom. The saber-toothed tigers saw the motion, spun lithely in the water, and dove furiously toward him, but could not close the distance before being forced to break off and surface.

He vaulted out of the water and over the brink onto land, but the big cats were right behind him and closing fast. For a moment he was dazzled by the brightness of the sunlight, but an eyeblink later, his sight returned to normal. He saw ahead of him looming the trees that he could have climbed to reach the second story balcony of the coliseum.

He did not try to climb a tree faster than a big hunting cat. It was for this reason alone he had taken the trouble to remove a length of rein strap from the harness of the mastodon. As he sprinted, roaring and dripping and wrathful smilodons clambering to shore behind him, he unwound the strap he carried about his waist and flung one end around the nearest pillar.

The heavy shell buckle at the end carried the strap all the way around the pillar in one throw, and he caught this with his other hand, and gripped it tightly. His weight pulled it taut against the pillar. It made a fine flipline. He had no climbing spikes, but his feet were wet and his soles clung to the stone.

Up he went in frantic set of froglike shimmying motions. The smilodons ran to the base of the pillar, leaped, clawing, but fell short. Good as they may have been at climbing trees, they could not cling smooth stone.

At the top of the pillar came an awkward, dangerous moment, when he was forced to release the flipline supporting his weight in order to snatch at the stones above the capital. He hung a moment by his wet and slippery hands, grunted, did a pull up, found a foot hold, and squirmed up through the balcony railings and onto solid floor.

His naked body was soaked. His whole body was tense and shaking, not just with cold and strain, but also with anger at his captors. Preston’s teeth were clenched in a strange grin, and his eyes glittered. Breathing heavily, he stepped through the archway before him, and saw the interior of the coliseum.

The edifice was a vast ring with stone benches circling a wide arena of sand in four ranks, each above and wider than the next. Atop the uppermost wall were broken statues of ancient athletes. Here also, like crooked and spidery fingers, rose slender poles meant to hold awnings to shade the crowds, but empty, perhaps for centuries, of any fabric.

Preston saw a silent line of red-furred monkey men in ornate vests crowding this upper wall, and perched adroitly on these precarious poles, or the shoulder and heads of the old statues. The onlookers eyed him gravely as he stepped forward into the empty benches. A few red-furred Terrors stood atop the backs of the stone seats carved of ivory in a special box rising high above the innermost course of benches, but otherwise, none actually sat in the stands. The benches, stairs, and archways were proportioned for men of Preston’s size.

As promised, sitting on the sand, in the precise middle of the round arena, he saw his beloved and expensive Holland and Holland, the looted katana and wakizashi, his holster belt. Here also was his knapsack and flightsuit, both neatly folded, as well as boots, gloves, underthings, blankets, signaling mirror, first aid kit, metal cup, bible, and other gear from the survival kit. These was stacked in neat little piles.

He saw an open trapdoor and ramp leading down to underground vaults. Preston scowled, looking left and right, seeking something to improvise as a weapon. The benches were stone and set into the floor. Everything else of wood or metal centuries had rotted or rusted away.

He turned back to the balcony arch whereby he had entered. One of the many trees growing up near the walls was cracked and dying. With a firm, fierce effort, Preston worried a stout branch and dislodged it from the trunk. He spent a moment kicking and snapping smaller branches off the main length. The wood was about as thick as his wrist, too short to be a spear and too long for a cudgel, but it was the best he could do at the moment.

To his left and right, rather far away, were flights of stairs reaching down to the sands. He ignored them, but instead leaped from bench to bench with long swings of his legs, moving rapidly. With a final leap, he was atop the ten foot high podium wall that surrounded the sandy area. His naked feet were between the inward curving spikes that topped this wall.

Along this wall he paced until he came to a position closest the open trapdoor. He leaped to the sand. He raised his eyes to the watching Terrors and saluted them with an obscene Italian gesture, solemnly turning right and left, hand held high. The red-furred simian posthumans looked on silently.

Down to the sand he vaulted, and sprinted for the trap door. He reached the lip while the monster was still below the surface. Its eyes glistered like lamps in the gloom of the underground, and the heavy tread shook the wooden slats of ramp.

Please read and support my work on Patreon!