Nabbo gave us simple directions to Dargot. All we had to do was head northeast out of the marshes and we’d reach the main road which would lead us to the city.
There were seven of us now—far too many people to comfortably sneak around. If the lizardmen were tracking us, they wouldn’t find it very hard.
We walked for many hours. I was too worried about the lizardmen to rest for more than a few minutes at a time. They all complained greatly.
“Get the fuck up or I’m leaving you here,” was my main argument. My follow up was, “You didn’t hear Amy’s screams. Piercing, they were. Sounded like she was in a lot of pain. And then the screaming stopped and the laughing began. Horrible, horrible lizard laughter. Anyway, I’m going, you do what you want.”
That got them back on their feet pretty sharpish.
Of course, the lizardmen might not have been following us. And even if they were, there were only five in their group. We outnumbered them, but that didn’t mean much considering the kind of people we had compared to the kind of walking death machines they had. Even if we won (somehow) there’d be injuries. The best plan, it seemed to me, was to avoid them at all costs.
Good plan. Unfortunately, my estimation of the number of lizardmen in the area was slightly off. By a few thousand.
“Why hasn’t anyone stopped them?” asked Maurice, in a hushed voice.
“I don’t know,” I answered, in the same tone.
We were lying on our stomachs, peeking through the tall grass at an endless stream of lizardmen marching past. Unlike the ones we’d encountered before, these wore armour and carried much more impressive weapons. Not just swords and shields, but also spears, pikes, lances. It was an army, and they were looking for a fight.
In case you’re thinking ‘army’ in the traditional sense—matching uniforms, orderly marching, polished buttons glinting in the afternoon sun—let me be clear. This wasn’t a parade, it was a swarm.
It was like watching a crowd exit a stadium after a rock concert, the kind where three people died and someone had passed around bad acid.
The lizardmen ranged in size from small to gigantic; the largest ones almost as big as an ogre. They shoved and jostled each other and fights broke out every few minutes. I saw one particularly large reptile pick up a smaller one and drop kick him over the crowd. If that’s how they treated each other, I didn’t want to see the kind of hospitality they showed their enemies.
Their armour was mismatched—probably taken from their victims—and their weapons were covered in gunk. It was too far to see exactly what kind of gunk, but I would guess also from their victims.
“If they’re here, “ said Maurice, “does that mean they defeated the human army at the border?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, again. From what we’d heard about the fighting on the border to Monsterland, I’d assumed things were evenly matched with neither side able to make a breakthrough. Apparently, things had changed.
This wasn’t some small group that had managed to sneak through enemy lines, this was a horde. With my body pressed against the ground I could feel the tremors like ants tap dancing on my chest.
“Blimey,” said Maurice, “it’s hard not to see them as movie monsters. What kind of society do you think they have? Like the Klingons? And why are there no females? Or do they just look the same? Do you think they treat women equally?”
“I have no idea, Maurice,” I snapped, getting a little tetchy at the endless questions. “There are a lot of things in this world I don’t understand, but I doubt there’s any subject I have less of a grasp on than the gender politics of lizardman culture.”
“Ah, right. Sorry.” Maurice grinned. He didn’t seem too bothered by my outburst. Ever since he had hooked up with Claire he had become much more relaxed. Amazing what regular sex can do for a guy’s confidence. “Been awhile since it’s just been the two of us. I’m used to the constant chatter of girls these days. I’d never have guessed my life would turn out like this. Not the Dungeons & Dragons craziness, I mean falling in love. And when I say Dungeons & Dragons, I’m referring to the third edition, version three point five at a push. Four onwards is obviously a travesty.”
Maurice paused, I assumed for me to agree. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I nodded anyway.
“It took being transported to another world for me to meet a girl who happened to live three miles away from me back home. We even shopped at the same Tesco’s. Weird, huh? Do you think a girl like Claire can be happy with a guy like me?”
I turned my head, stalks of grass tickling my nose, and looked Maurice in the eyes. “Can we go back to questions about lizardmen?”
Maurice grinned at me again. It was annoying. “Sure. How are we going to get to Dargot with them in the way?”
The problem was the road to Dargot. The main road led south through the marshes to Fengarad. Going north, it forked off in two directions. Northeast towards Dargot, and northwest to Monsterland. It was this road the lizardmen were coming down and then heading for Fengarad. In order for us to get to Dargot, we would have to cut through the middle of them.
“I have a plan.” I turned and crawled on all fours back to our camp. After the initial shock of seeing the lizardmen, the others had grown bored and retreated far enough to avoid being spotted. And then they’d decided to have a picnic. Well, they decided to have something to eat, but it looked like a picnic to me.
“Right,” I said, “here’s what we’re going to do.” This got their attention and they all sat up from their snoozing and snacking and general lazing about. “We’re obviously way outnumbered, so we’re going to have to hit them fast and hard. We may lose some people, but a few of us should get through their lines. Maybe two. Possibly just me.”
Claire rolled her eyes. “You’re not funny, Colin.”
“That were a bit mean,” said Flossie. “Ah think they thought you were serious.” She pointed at the other two girls. Jenny had her mouth open in shock and Mandy looked like she’d just been told she had full blown AIDS.
“Wait,” said Mandy. “So we’re not going to attack the monster army, right? Right?”
“Of course not,” said Claire. “We wouldn’t attack them if there were only two of them and they’d lost their weapons. He’s just a wind-up merchant.”
I would have made a witty comeback, but I was too busy sniggering into my sleeve. Hey, when death’s around every corner, you have to amuse yourself when you can.
“What’s the real plan, Colin?” Claire said, mildly exasperated. The old Claire would have lost her rag at my puerile behaviour, but just as Maurice had been changed by being in a relationship, so had Claire. I’m not saying she had changed for the better, but she had changed.
Now that there were four girls in the group, it was clear that a pecking order had been established, with Claire at the top.
Jenny had been accepted very quickly. She seemed to be okay after her ordeal, although she didn’t talk much, at least not to me. Every time I caught her eye she just smiled. Possibly that meant she felt a bit shy around me, seeing as how I’d saved her from a horrible fate. Or, it could mean the bang on the head she took had left her retarded. Which would be a shame, although my chances of getting off with her would probably be vastly improved. See, I have an optimistic side.
Mandy, on the other hand, had worked really hard to get into everyone’s good books. She apologised to Jenny for not being more aware of the danger she’d been in and promised to be more vigilant in future.
Was she sincere? Hard to say.
Jenny accepted Mandy’s ignorance of what Tin and Dag were really like, but there’s not knowing and then there’s not knowing.
Claire and Flossie seemed less sure of Mandy, but Mandy was a shrewd operator. Her usual M.O., I’m guessing, would be to flirt with any boys and get them to take care of her with the understanding that she would take care of them.
Am I being judgemental? Sexist? Slut shaming? Maybe. But I’m not talking about a girl who likes to have sex, I’m talking about the kind of girl that likes to have sex with other people’s boyfriends, probably while she has a couple of her own. It’s not about sex, it’s about manners.
In any case, I’m obviously making assumptions and drawing my own conclusions. I could be wrong. I often am.
Mandy went to great lengths not to flirt with either Maurice or Dudley. Her conversations with them were short and polite, nothing more. She carried her own stuff, didn’t complain and helped with any tasks we had to do. Her focus was getting in good with the girls, which she was very good at. It also didn’t hurt that she had cast iron hair curling tongs and a range of other styling equipment in her bag. Girls can overlook a host of poor behaviour if you can make their hair look nice, apparently.
You might wonder why Mandy didn’t make advances towards me. I was unattached and the leader, after all. I can’t say for sure but it may have been the obvious contempt I held for her. But maybe I’m kidding myself. Maybe even she had some standards and a line she wasn’t willing to cross when it came to degrading herself.
Then again, it could have been the fact that she had watched me brutally murder the men in her party in front of her. Who knows?
“What do you think the plan is?” I said. “We’re going to go back into the marshes until we’re far enough from the Komodo Death March so we won’t bump into any strays, and we’re going to set up camp for a day, a week, however long it takes until the storm has passed. And then we’ll go to Dargot.”
They all looked at me like, “Well, we could have thought of that.”
“It’s going to take patience and a tolerance for mind-numbing tedium. It won’t be easy, trust me. We’ll have to stay hidden all the time and make our supplies last as long as possible. You should mentally prepare yourselves for lots and lots of boredom.”
Boring was good. Boring was safe. I liked boring. I wanted boring. Sadly, I never get what I want.