The man screamed in incoherent terror as we fell. I made an attempt to take the knife, but try as I might I couldn’t wrest it from his grasp. I quickly gave up and twisted slightly, forcing the two of us to half roll in the air. I ended up laying on top of him as we fell, my back against his chest, with the knife pointed towards the open hole above us. Just before we hit the bottom of the pit, some thirty to forty feet down, I watched the grate above us slam closed over the opening.
The man’s screams cut off suddenly as his back slammed into the ground with a meaty thud, accompanied by the snapping of bones. The man’s body broke my fall, though I was sure I’d be bruised as hell in the morning. If there was a morning. I rolled off of him quickly, landing on my back. Surprisingly, the man wasn’t dead. He began to scream again the instant he got his breath back. He scrambled to his feet, forgetting my presence entirely in his madness inducing terror.
By the dim light of some phosphorescent fungus on the walls I saw that the man’s back was completely covered in blood and bone, but that his knife was still tightly clutched in his hand. I looked around the room carefully, trying to tune out the man’s incoherent screams. The room at the bottom of the pit resembled a small cavern. The walls were smooth and domed, until they hit the ten foot circular shaft that led up to the grate. In a way, it looked like the inside of an old clay oven. The glowing fungus was attached to the walls, giving off a greenish light that was just barely enough to see by. It was more than enough to notice that the uneven ground I was laying on was, in fact, a pile of bones and scraps of cloth. The bones themselves had large indentations on them that resembled giant teeth marks.
I shuddered, causing some of the bones around me to shift in a short clatter. A human skull rolled down the pile to land on my stomach, its eyeless gaze focused straight at me. I began to flinch away from the grinning skull, but froze as a new sound entered the room, louder than even the man’s screaming. The sound of the crunching of metal against stone echoed through the cavern. The man’s screams cut off short, as if something had suddenly closed off his air supply.
Barely seen in the green dimness, I watched as a metal portcullis, like those that used to guard old castles, was being raised on the far side of the room. It rose straight into the stone ceiling above, its toothed bottom taking precious seconds to reach the height of the opening with an ominous boom.
A strange noise came out of the newly opened hole in the wall. It was an animal cry, of that much I was certain, but I had never heard anything like it. It sounded like a mix between a small lizard’s hiss, amplified a hundred times, and the screech of an eagle on the hunt. The sound sent chills up and down my spine, and I very carefully avoided any form of movement.
The man with the knife flinched back at the sound as if it had been a physical slap against his face, and I didn’t need to speak his language to know what he was whispering to himself. I was barely keeping myself from saying the same thing. It was the same word, over and over. “No, no, no, no…” He backed himself against the wall, where he could keep an eye on the newly opened hole.
Once again the cry echoed off the walls, and the man flinched, his voice steadily rising, still repeating the same word. Out of the shadows of the hole, a head appeared. The head came out of the darkness about five feet off the ground. It was reptilian, its rows of sharp teeth gleaming in the eerie green glow. Its scaly skin was a mixture of dark green and brown, with green being the predominant color.
The head tilted to its side, a strange sight for me since I wasn’t able to see the body it was attached to. Its thick tongue flicked out of its mouth, almost like a snake tasting the air. I knew that to be ridiculous though, as the reptile had two definite nostrils, and obviously used sight to hunt by. Its head swiveled until it saw the man against the wall. With slow, graceful movement, the lizard stalked out of the hole, walking on its long back two legs, the motion reminding me of a bird’s. Its two forelegs were oddly short in proportion to its body, and it held them close to its chest. When it was fully out of the hole, I saw that it had a thick tail as long as the rest of its body.
I’ll give my would-be murderer the credit he deserves. The man had balls. He stood facing the creature, his knife held at the ready. The knife, which had worried me before, now seemed like a child’s toy when compared to the natural, deadly grace of this giant lizard. The lizard stalked to the side, forcing the man to turn as well. It lunged forward at the man, stopping just a hair out of reach of the knife. Had it tried that on me, I would have stabbed forward, and had my arm bitten off. The man, however, didn’t move a muscle, just watched and waited to see what the reptile was going to do.
The reptile jumped backwards, its strong legs lifting it into the air with apparent ease as it sailed five feet up, and ten feet back. After it landed, the lizard looked straight at the Native, and let out a mind numbing screech once more. This time, however, the screech induced complete and utter terror. A second cry answered it. A half a second later, the source of the second screech entered the room, its body was nearly an identical match to the first, but the brown colored pattern was slightly different.
The two reptiles stalked the man, neither standing so close that they could be reached by the knife, but also neither so far enough away that he could focus on just one of them. The tactic was incredible, and effective. Both lizards would back away, then one at a time they would scream and rush the man. Then they’d stop out of knife range. Never knowing which rush was going to be the real one, and his nerves slowly dying out, the man knew he was doomed.
For just a fraction of a second the man glanced at me pleadingly, as if asking for my help. At this point, I would have given it to him. But that fraction of a second was the opening the lizards had been waiting for. They rushed him together, and before he could get his focus back to them, they had struck. One went high, going for his throat, while the other went low, aiming for his legs. They hit simultaneously, their bites nearly ripping him in half. But he clutched onto life just long enough to send a message from his brain to his hands. With the last of his strength, the man stabbed the lizard on his throat in the eye, burying the knife to the hilt.
The lizard threw itself off the dying man, its body refusing to accept the death blow. The lizard thrashed across the ground in great spasmodic leaps as its tail slammed into the ground with enough force to throw the creature into the air. Its partner, meanwhile, ignored the dying lizard’s fate, and began to rip giant pieces of flesh from off of the dead man, greedily devouring the fresh meat.
The mortally wounded lizard flopped to the ground a mere three feet away from me, its head facing the side of my chest, with the still visible hilt of the dagger facing straight up. Its tongue flashed out, tasting my blood painted body nearby. Once, twice its great jaws snapped at my side, but the dead weight of its body refused to allow it to reach me. Then the great lizard went limp, its death having finally caught up with it.
Terror, revulsion, nausea, and adrenaline pumped through me as I realized that I was still alive, but that there was still one more of them in the room. The feasting lizard’s back was to me, its entire concentration on its meal.
I carefully reached out with my right hand and grasped the hilt of the dagger. Moving slowly, I tried to pull the knife out of the dead lizard’s head. But, as sharp as the knife was, I simply didn’t have the leverage I needed to remove it.
With a deep, silent, breath, I found the courage to slowly sit up. I watched the remaining lizard carefully, making sure it didn’t look my way. With luck bordering on insane, I managed to get into a seated position without disturbing the pile of bones I had been laying on.
I twisted slightly and put my left hand on the dead lizard’s jaw, and once again grabbed the knife hilt with my right hand. I pulled as hard as I could on the hilt while simultaneously pushing down on the head. The knife came free in a sudden wet popping sound, and I was knocked off balance. I fell hard onto my side, knocking the pile of bones down in a sudden loud clatter.
I found myself squatting at the bottom of the pile on the balls of my feet, facing the full attention of the remaining lizard. Its tongue tasted the air as it stared at me with cold reptilian eyes. Without any warning, the creature threw itself into the air in a, ten-foot high, leaping bound. At the same instant, I somersaulted forward in a low roll.
I came to my feet and spun to face the creature, just as it landed in the space I had occupied mere heartbeats before. I had forgotten, however, about the tail. The lizard lashed out at me with its thick tail, knocking me to the side. I kept my feet, but found my hands slapping against the wall just to stop my forward momentum.
By the time I turned around I had no time to use the knife in my hand. With impossible speed the lizard closed the distance between us, its mouth open wide. I did the only thing I could think of, which was to basically shut off my working brain, and rely solely on instinct. Instead of lashing out with the knife, I waited until the last possible moment, and then threw a powerful uppercut. The punch had every ounce of strength I could muster, and hit the reptile in the jaw. The creature’s mouth slammed shut on its tongue, spraying blood everywhere, and knocking out a few teeth.
The reptile reeled back, shaking its head in agony. I didn’t give it the chance to recover. Using the black stone knife, I stabbed the creature over, and over, screaming in berserk rage all the while.
When I had finally yelled myself hoarse, I found I was sitting on top of a bloody pile of lizard flesh, most of the parts indistinguishable. A slight pain in my left hand showed me one of the creature’s teeth lodged into the skin around my middle knuckle.
A scrap of cloth from the pile of bones bound my wound shut after I removed the tooth. The tooth itself I kept, piercing it through the side of my loincloth so that it wouldn’t get lost. With nowhere else to go, and no way I was staying in that dark room, I moved forward through the cavern, and into the dark hole the lizards had come from.