Welcome to chapter 21 of Arena of Souls, my new, Doc Savage-style, pulp adventure. A new chapter every week! If you missed the previous chapters, you can start at the beginning here:
Arena of Souls
Chapter 21: The Chase
Stone watched the line of cavemen as it moved ever closer. Would they flee if he took out a few of them? He supposed they’d find out soon enough.
“I don’t suppose they’d let us go if we asked nice?” Moses asked.
“You’re welcome to try, but I don’t think they’ll forgive us for invading their sacred burial chamber, if that’s what this is.” Stone stole a glance back into the cave. “Any luck?”
“No,” Alex replied. “I don’t know where you expect us to look. We’ve checked everywhere, except…”
“Except in the bone pit.” A sudden conviction filled Stone. “Pull all the bones out of the pit. Hurry!”
“Are you serious?” Trinity protested.
“Yes!” Stone and Moses exchanged rueful grins.
“We’re going to need some time,” Alex said. “This thing is pretty deep.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Stone turned to Moses. “Cover me.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to ask them nicely.” He holstered his Webley, took a deep breath, and stepped out into the sun.
As he’d hoped, the cavemen slowed their advance. One man, even bigger than the rest, raised a beefy hand and the line halted. They stood there, humid air and silence hanging between them, until Stone broke the silence.
“We’re sorry we entered your cave. We didn’t know it was sacred.”
The cavemen stared at him. He hadn’t expected to be understood, but that wasn’t his goal.
“If it’s all right with you, we’ll just walk away.” He held one hand flat and, with two fingers of the other hand, mimed walking, then pointed off into the distance. A few of the cavemen chuckled. At least, he thought the guttural sound paired with bared teeth was laughter.
“There’s something down here!” Alex called from inside the cave. “I see a handhold.”
At the sound of Alex’s voice, the lead caveman started forward.
“Wait a minute!” Stone held his hands palms outward. “We can talk about this.’
He saw a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye and ducked as a rock, probably hurled from a sling, whistled past his head. With a roar, the cavemen charged.
A shot rang out and the lead cavemen went down. Moses had chosen his target carefully, but it made no difference. The attackers kept coming.
“Back into the cave,” Stone ordered. “The narrow entry will choked them off. We’ll clog it with corpses if we have to.”
But they didn’t have to. Inside, Alex and Trinity had reached the bottom of the bone pit and were heaving at a round plug set in the floor. Stone dropped down beside them, slipped his fingers into the handhold, and heaved. The plug resisted for a moment, then popped free like a cork from a champagne bottle. Stale air wafted upward. “Inside. Now!”
Thankfully, Trinity neither protested nor asked for an explanation, but plunged into the hole. Alex followed.
“Moses! Get down here!”
The rifle boomed again, and then Moses’ beefy form hit the floor. “I got two of the packs,” he huffed.
“Good. Now let’s move.”
They dropped into the pit, which proved to be only about seven feet deep. Stone took a moment to replace the plug before looking around. A narrow passageway angled downward, and Alex, flashlight in hand, was already moving ahead.
“You think they’ll follow us?” Moses stared up at the now-closed entryway.
“If they do, they’ll have to come single-file. I’ll gladly take my chances.”
The passageway only descended for a short distance, and then it began to climb again at a steep angle. Occasionally, they were forced to stop and clear away rubble that had fallen from the ceiling. Stone privately wondered what they would do should they come to an impassable section. Go back and fight their way out, he supposed.
After an hour, they came to a small chamber where the floor was relatively level, so they stopped to rest. Moses passed around dried beef and a canteen.
“What do you think we’re going to find on the other end?” Trinity asked.
“I wish I had a guess.” Stone rose to his feet, stretched, and circled the cavern. Alex’s flashlight cast deep shadows on the walls, but something caught his attention. “Alex, turn your light this way.” His friend complied, and the beam illuminated two words carved in the rock.
Stone’s mouth went dry. “My grandfather was here.”
This proclamation energized his friends. They huddled around him to see the place where Samuel Stone had carved his name decades before, and then they searched the cavern for more markings, but found none. Finally, they decided to move along.
“Whatever we’re headed toward,” Trinity said, “must be what your grandfather wanted us to find. And it must not be too dangerous, since he lived to tell about it.”
“He lived, but he didn’t tell,” Stone corrected. “That’s why we’re here.”
“I still don’t understand,” Trinity said. “If it’s so important that you find this place, why did he keep it a secret?”
“He probably wanted to wait until he thought I was old enough. But then I… disappeared.” He felt three pairs of eyes on him, but no one asked the question he’d constantly declined to answer. When he was ready, he’d explain himself. But not now.
“I see sunlight up ahead,” Alex called.
Stone drew his Webley and moved to the fore. He rounded a corner into bright sunlight and froze.
“I don’t believe it.”