“Now, we’ll need to shake a leg,” Genius tells Amy as he turns away from watching their abandoned jeep float down river. ” I want to put as much distance between us and that jeep as possible.”
Amy glances down river and sees the jeep bobbing in the rapids, about to disappear around the river bend. “I wonder,” she begins, still watching the jeep as she takes a step to follow Genius. Her musing is cut off as she bumps into him. “Stopping for a rest already?”
Genius raises a hand for silence, then points to the far end of the bridge. Amy peers around, following his pointing finger.
Four tall, bronzed Indians, wearing only loin cloths, block the end of the bridge. They adopt identical poses, crouching slightly, one foot in front of the other, blowpipes ready at their lips.
A fifth, larger man stands on the bridge, just in front and to one side of the others, his arm raised, ready to give the signal to fire. The angle of his body exposes a portion of the skull and blood orchid tattoo high on the back of his left shoulder, the signature tattoo of the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid.
“This is not good,” Amy points out.
“Could be worse,” Genius replies. “They could have shot us already.” Genius raises his hands in the Universal ‘I’m Unarmed’ posture and tells Amy from the corner of his mouth, “Stay behind me. Be ready to run.”
“Where?” Amy asks. “Back the way we came?”
The group’s leader barks an order at them.
“He said – .”
“Shut up,” Amy completes. “That pretty much translates in any language.”
The Leader beckons them to come forward.
“Well?” Amy asks.
“Since they’ll probably dart us anyway if we don’t, lets get on their good side and save them the trouble of that.” Hands upraised, Genius starts forward.
Amy starts to mimic his moves, but Genius tells her, “No, Goddess. Keep your hands down, but where they can see them.”
“A hunch. They don’t see many tall blondes around here. If you act superior, they might treat you superior.”
“Are you –.”
The Leader again barks the ‘shut up’ command.
As they come abreast of the Leader his hand flies up to signal them to stop. He waves for the other four to stand easy. They comply immediately. His expression grows curious as he leans around Genius to look Amy up and down. A hand reaches toward Amy.
In a quick, precise, practiced move, Genius slaps the man’s hand up and to the side with one hand, and delivers a quick, hard punch underneath to the big man’s sternum with the heel of his other hand.
Stumbling back, the big man and two of his compatriots land in a tangled heap. The remaining Indians gawk in surprise, then turn and begin to raise their blowguns.
Genius immediately falls to one knee, bowing his head in a placating manner. “Forgive me, Great one. But you were in danger. It is death to any man who touches the Goddess without her blessing.” Genius looks up speaks rapid fire in a language unknown to Amy.
The two men lower their blowguns and look to their leader, who’s expression mixes surprise and uncertainty. He gestures the two men tangled with him to rise, and all of them to be at ease. His head tilts sideways as he speaks strange words in a curious tone.
Genius responds in English: “The Goddess has come in response to your call.” He then speaks in the strange language of the Leader, apparently translating his English. The Leader signals his four men to follow him. They move off the bridge and several steps down the path stop and huddle.
“You are full of surprises,” Amy tells Genius. “I thought you said you lacked any talent for learning foreign languages.”
“I don’t.” Genius taps a spot behind his right hear. “Universal translator implant. Another bit of electronic wizardry from the Alcomist Club.” He glances where the five men are conferencing. “I can understand their words as they speak them, but I have to say my response aloud in English to get the unit’s translation before I speak them. Cumbersome. We’re working on –.”
The Leader ends his urgent chat with his men and steps forward. Just to the edge of the bridge, Amy notes, telling her that Genius has, for the moment, earned their respect. He speaks, the tone suggesting a question.
Genius freezes for a moment, then nods. “Cha.”
The Leader says a few more things to Genius, then returns to talk with his men.
Genius turns to Amy, a grimace crossing his face. “This goddess thing may not have been such a good idea after all.”
“You know what the big guy just asked me?”
“Well, when I said you were here in answer to their prayers, right? And they accepted that because, apparently the whole village has been praying.” Genius grimaces again and adds sheepishly, “For a Deliverer.”
“A Deliverer? What kind of Deliverer?”
“Well, the big guy wanted to know if you were here to slay the dragon.”
“The dragon?” The strangeness of that had barely registered with Amy when something else occurs to her. “And you told him I was, didn’t you!”
Genius makes a placating gesture with both hands. “Now calm down. They’re going to take us to their village, which he said is about, translating from their concept of time to our’s, I think about an hour’s walk. I’m sure before we get there I’ll have thought of something.”
“You damn well better. Or I’m going to demonstrate it is indeed death to mess with the Goddess … by strangling you.”
The Leader and two of his men assume positions in front of them, with the remaining two dropping in behind. Amy notes how, when she slows, those behind slow, keeping a respectful distance. Any amusement that might have brought her is mitigated by worry of how they were going to take the knowledge at their village that she was neither heaven sent, nor remotely capable of slaying their dragon. Or whatever it really was they were praying for deliverance from so fervently.
Amy’s confidence is further shaken when, in less then twenty minutes and not the hour projected by Genius, the narrow path winding through the jungle opens up to a village of dozens of seemingly random placed grass huts separated by moist dirt paths and the occasional cooking pit. It appears, from the arc of the path, that the village continues out of sight around a bend.
“An hour’s walk, Genius?”
Genius tosses a nasty look at her over his shoulder.
“Careful. I’ll bring fire down from heaven and wipe that disrespectful expression off your face.”
“Don’t get too caught up in the role, Goddess, we may –.”
The Leader turns and signals them to stop. He waves the two trailing men forward, and the five hold a quick, intense conference. The Leader nods to two of the men, and they take off running through the village and out of sight around the bend. He turns and speaks to Genius.
Genius nods, listening without comment. The Leader finishes and he and the remaining Indians walk deeper into the village, also disappearing around the bend.
Genius begins shrugging off the large photographer’s backpack. “We’re to wait here.”
“Where are they going? To get the dragon?”
“Ha, ha. There’s no dragon. Dragons don’t exist. Its just their name for something they don’t quite understand.”
“You hope. Where’d they go?”
Genius carries the backpack over to the nearest hut and sets it on the small stoop. “He sent the first two off to get the High Priest. Apparently he doesn’t have the authority to take us where ever the High Priest is hiding.” Genius looks around. “Where the High Priest and the rest of the villagers are hiding.”
“Rest of the village? Hiding?”
Genius waves to encompass the few huts around them. “Where are the people? This place feels deserted.”
“Carlos said people were being kidnaped.”
“Yeah. Carlos. Although we should take everything he’s told us with a grain of salt, I think we can believe the kidnaping part.”
“Kidnaped by the strange Chinese general living in a castle?”
“General Fu exists. We’ve established that.”
“And what about that lovely tattoo on Fearless Leader’s back? Friend of Carlos?”
Genius shakes his head. “I don’t know. Remember, the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid were mercenaries. Sellers of themselves to the highest bidder. That they ordered your death, then called it off, suggests there might be some kind of schism in the group.”
“I hope we’ve fallen in with the good guys.”
“Assuming there are good guys.” Genius checks his watch. “You know what worries me right now? That we’re in the village at a time when the rest of the village thought it best not to be here. Let’s take a look around. Carefully.”
“What are we looking for? Carefully.”
“I don’t know.” Genius hefts the photographer’s backpack and drapes it over a shoulder. “Dragon sign?” They start for the bend, and stop quickly when they reach it. “Like this.”
From their spot at the bend Amy and Genius see the village spread out on three large paths. Where should have stood numerous huts lay only wet, flat scorched shells of over a hundred huts. Charred wood, fragments of frames, jutting skyward mingled with clumps of ash and remains of leaves and grass.
Genius notes, “This is a rather unpleasant development.”
“You’re telling me.”
Genius shrugs off the large backpack and hands it to Amy. He motions her to stay as he walks over to the nearest burned out hut. He pushes at a bit of the burned out frame, then kneels to shift through a mound of sodden, partially burned leaves. “Strange.”
“I just hate it when you say that.”
“Sorry, Goddess.” Genius stands and brushes his hands. “In a climate like this, there’s only two ways a village reaches this state. One is the use of a flame accelerant. There’s no sign of that.”
“What’s the other way.”
“Repeated setting of fires.”
“Like from a fire-breathing dragon?”
“Or a reasonable facsimile.”
Genius suddenly snaps his eyes skyward. “Like that thing coming at us right now.”
Amy has a split second to make out the approach of something large and green before Genius grabs her arm, nearly pulling her off her feet.
“Come on!” he hisses, hustling her around the remains of the nearest hut and into the jungle. When she slows to turn and look up, Genius encircles her waist with an arm and tosses her into the waist high foliage.
A sudden roaring growl erupts above them, a sound that clutches at the base of Amy’s spine and stands the hair on the back of her neck.
From their hiding place at the outer edge of the village they watch the dragon land at the ‘intersection’ they had just fled.
Forty yards from where they lay the ‘dragon’ settles to the ground. The squat body measures about thirty feet, and a thick neck stretches up about fifteen feet, tapering to an oval head with, blackened, fist sized nostrils and a gaping mouth with sharp, triangular teeth. A large tail forms a kind of ‘s’ shape, tapering to a point. The beast seems to have landed on flat on its belly, the front and back legs remained splayed out, as if it still in flight.
And extending out of the middle of the creature’s back is a short strut leading to rotor blades that make hardly a sound as they furiously rotate.
“A helicopter?” Amy whispers. “Made to look like a dragon. Like a parade float.”
“A ‘float’ attached to one of the Chinese Army’s state of the art stealth choppers,” Genius amends. He sees Amy’s questioning eyebrows. “I, ah, got a look at the blueprints a few years back. Unofficially.”
Another animalistic roar erupts from the ‘beast’ … an obvious recording to their ears, but still a sound that shakes their spines. Jets of flame spew from the nostrils. The dampness of the remains of the hut it strikes results in a bit of smoldering, but no flames.
Genius nudges Amy and points to the head. “Probably flame throwers in the nose.”
“You figured the dragon was a chopper all along, didn’t you?’
“You don’t think I believe in actual flying, fire breathing dragons, do you?”
“You often manage to leave me plenty of reason to question your sanity.”
A sound from the dragon copter, prompts Genius to signal for quiet. A hatch slides open up along the side of the fake beast, and a large man dressed in green jungle fatigues and carrying a large military looking walkie-talkie jumps to the ground. Though he moves bent over against the wash of the rotors, his height makes him instantly recognizable.
He walks directly toward them, his head swivelling left and right, checking out the village. About twenty-five yards from where they lay he stops, turns, and speaks into the walkie-talkie.
Genius strains forward, then settles back with a sign. He taps an ear, shakes his head, then shrugs.
Carlos speaks for less then a minute before deactivating the walkie-talkie and returning to the copter. A moment later the pitch of the engine deepens, and the helicopter rises up and whines skyward. In seconds it is out of sight.
Genius stands and edges cautiously into the razed village. After a moment he signals for Amy to join him.
“I know I’ve probably asked this before, but, what next?”
“Well, if I’ve got my bearings right, the copter headed off in the general direction of General Fu’s castle.”
“Are we going to go dragon hunting then?”
Genius thinks a moment, then sighs heavily. “I’d like to.”
“It would be rude to take off on our guests.” Genius nods and points toward the untouched section of the village .
Following his finger Amy sees four men approaching from behind them: the Leader, two of their escort, and a man of about thirty, dressed in the same loin cloths as the others, but with several thick, grass and twine bracelets around his wrists and ankles.
“Looks awful young to be a tribal Chief,” she notes.
“More likely his Chief of Staff, or protege. Apparently our friend’s word wasn’t enough to warrant the chief coming for us himself.” He steps forward. “Let me do the talking.”
“Just don’t promise them I’ll be slaying any dragons.”
As Genius raises his hand in greeting, the ‘Chief of Staff’ brusquely pushes him aside. With a haughty, almost snide expression on his face, he reaches toward Amy.
Recalling the way Genius responded at the bridge, Amy shifts her weight slightly, and duplicates the same blow with the heel of her right hand to the man’s sternum, achieving the same result. The ‘Chief of Staff’ grunts and coughs as air whooshes from his lungs. He stumbles back, not falling, but dropping to one knee.
Genius steps to Amy’s side. “Good work, Goddess. He caught me by surprise. This time.”
“What do you suppose –.”
The ‘Chief of Staff’ looks back at the other men and gasps out an order.
Genius spits an expletive and swings around, putting himself between Amy and the others.
“I’m not going to like what he just said, am I?” Amy asks.
“Your powers serve you well, young Jedi. He just ordered the others to kill us.”
- TO BE CONTINUED -