Welcome to chapter 22 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
Below them, nestled in a small valley, lay a city like none Stone had ever seen. A stone pyramid, smooth-sided in the Egyptian style, stood at the center. Despite the cloud cover that blanketed the sky, the pyramid’s gold-flecked stone surface seemed to sparkle. A series of perfectly straight roadways of gleaming white sand radiated out from the pyramid like the spokes of a wheel. Neat stone houses, tiny gardens and orchards, and small greenways filled the spaces in between. Slender, dark-skinned people went about their normal activities, seeming oblivious to the intruders into their domain.
“What is this place?” Trinity marveled, gazing down at the scene with eyes filled with wonder.
“It is called Ogygia,” a mellifluous voice said from behind them.
Stone whirled about. His Webley was in his hand and trained on the figure behind them in a flash.
A thin man with glossy black hair and skin the color of coffee with cream raised his hands, palms outward,and smiled. “Please put down your weapon. You are safe here.” He looked on placidly as Stone holstered his pistol. “My name is Malik.”
“I’m Brock. This is Trinity, Alex, and Moses.” .
Malik bobbed his head at each person as Stone introduced them.
“How did you know we were here?” Stone asked.
“We watch,” the man said simply. He pursed his lips and pointed, in the fashion Stone had seen among other peoples around the world, back in the direction from with they had come. Two figures, one male, one female, melted out of the jungle. Each carried a spear and wore a knife at the belt and a bow and quiver across the back. “The Varri seldom try to invade our valley, but it has been known to happen.”
“How is it that you speak such good English?” Trinity edged closer to Stone as the armed warriors closed in on them.
“You are not the first outsiders to come to Ogygia. We learn all we can from them.” He paused, looking expectantly at each of them in turn. “Perhaps you can tell me how you came to us.”
“Dinosaurs and cavemen chased us,” Alex said. “The ones you call the Varri.”
“But how did you come to be on the island in the first place?”
The others cast nervous glances at Stone, but he replied easily. “We sought the island out. It wasn’t easy, but we found it.”
Malik’s eyes narrowed. “That is… unusual. People come to us one of two ways: by shipwreck or by losing their way. Why would you seek us out?”
Stone took a deep breath. “I think I was supposed to come here. At least, someone wanted me to.”
Malik tilted his head, a look of curiosity in his eyes, but he did not interrupt.
“My grandfather left me a message urging me to find this place. And he left a map.”
“Where did he get such a map?”
“He drew it. I think he was once a castaway among you.”
Malik’s dark gaze grew flinty. “Few have left here, and the chances of escaping alive are slim. What was his name?”
The reactions to that name were immediate and obvious. Malik flinched and the warriors muttered something inaudible.”
“In that case,” Malik said, “you must come with us.”
He led them in silence down a winding path into the lush valley. Stone had many questions he wanted to ask. Who were these people? Who were the Varri? How did they keep the dinosaurs at bay, or did they? And, if very few outsiders left the island, what happened to them? The expression on Malik’s face told him no answers would be forthcoming.
When they reached the city, Malik led them past gawking onlookers toward the pyramid. Among the natives, Stone noticed many light-colored eyes and some people with skin several shades lighter than Malik’s. That answered his question about outsiders. Clearly, they had been assimilated into the community here. Perhaps that boded well, but it didn’t necessarily mean that those people had stayed here of their own free will.
“Are we in danger?” a soft voice whispered. Trinity had edged up alongside him and now looked at him with concern brimming in her brown eyes.
Stone shrugged. They were outnumbered and outgunned, despite the natives’ primitive weapons, but Malik hadn’t disarmed him or his companions. Surely if he meant them ill, he would have deprived them of their best means of defending themselves. “We’re okay so far,” he finally said. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll get you out of this.”
He forced himself to meet her gaze, willing her to believe that which he was not quite certain of himself.
When they reached the pyramid, he was surprised when Malik did not lead them down into its depths, but instead turned right and ushered them into a walled garden. Here, among a grove of orange trees, a tall, broad-shouldered man stood waiting.
Like some of the others Stone had seen, this man had grey eyes and skin only a few shades darker than his own, while his black hair and wide nose and forehead gave testament to the native part of his ancestry.
Malik gave this man the same bob of the head he’d made when meeting Stone’s companions. “Akente,” he began, “these people have come here…” He paused. “They say they were sent here by Samuel Stone.”
Akente smiled and approached them. Unlike most men Stone encountered, Akente was almost his equal in size. When the man offered his hand to shake, Stone felt his powerful grip and knew he would be a dangerous adversary.
“I am Akente.” His smile was friendly, but his eyes told a different story, though Stone couldn’t be sure what that was. Suspicion? Amusement, even?
“Ah, I knew you were a Stone the moment I laid eyes on you,” Akente said.
“How could you know that?” Trinity asked.
Now, Akente’s smile reached his eyes.
“Because I am his uncle.”