Chapter 2

The Lizards Path

The rocky crooked pathway Shejin Hundual, the elven bounty hunter, led his horse along was almost too dangerous to cross. All along the many treacherous ledges of the mountain range known as Margon Rise men often fell to their deaths. The brown rocks all around him were jagged and broken. The sun beat down and baked the land making it barren. For miles and miles there was nothing living.

Shejin found a decent spot with a little shade and stopped to rest. The Sun was at its highest making it near noon. Taking out his canteen from his saddle, he downed a few swallows. While it wet his dry throat, Shejin knew he had to drink it sparingly. The Western deserts had little or no water to offer.

For over a month Shejin had been tracking a bounty by the name of Victor Timmons also known as - The Lizard. The rumor was that his skin was covered in green scales, hence the name. The United Western Army had wanted two hundred gold for him alive. It was a steep amount for one man. Victor was said to be a sadistic murderer. Among his many dark deeds one that stuck in Shejin's mind was the burning down of an orphanage. The government was more interested in all the banks and trains he robbed.

The winding maze in front of Shejin seemed endless but he would not be discouraged. It puzzled him that Victor and his men had rode into the labyrinth of rock. It was far too easy to get lost or fall. From what he could figure, Victor was not the type of man to hide from someone. For whatever reason the trail had led into these mountains and Shejin would follow.

Shejin reached into one of the many pockets of his duster coat for a cigar. As he was about to rummaging around for a match the sun glinted off of something on the opposite cliff face. Instinctively, Shejin ducked down for cover. His first thought was that someone had a hunting rifle and was taking aim at him. Taking off his hat he raised it over the rocks he was using to hide behind. When after a few moments no one took a shot at him, Shejin took the chance and stood up.

Shejin had incredible sight, his vision akin to a hawk in flight. Whatever it was shined at him like a beacon. Instinct told him that it was probably a clue to why Victor and his boys were out here.

It was slow for Shejin and many times he had to turn around to find another way to the other side. Finally Shejin found a narrow slab of rocks that had crumbled together like a stack of bricks. It was to risky to take his horse so Shejin tethered the reins to a large stone. Slowly hoping from bolder to bolder he made it across.

Shejin caught the smell of rotting flesh, a dead body not far off. As he rounded the corner the slightly bloated dead man came into view. Being in the war made Shejin no stranger to death. The man had been gut shot and had bled out. A dried pool of blood laid sticky all around him. It had happened more than a day ago or so judging by the condition he was in. The gleaming object had been in the claw like death grip-a small silver locket. Prying it loose and opening it revealed a faded photograph of a young blonde girl with a red ribbon in her hair.

The sun was starting to arch its way down, the sky turning into shades of orange and red. It would be impossible to move while it was dark. Shejin made the slow walk back to his horse and decided to find a good spot to camp out for the night. The top of a flat platue ended up being as good as Shejin could get.

The last of the sun's rays fell down past the mountains. The moon shone bright on this night giving everything a ghostly white glow. The cold winds began to seep into the mountains. Shejin had collected the few sticks and shrubbery to be had and started a small fire. He laid out his small sleeping blanket and sat close to the flames, trying to keep the chill away.

Inside his pockets were a few pieces of dried meat which would keep hunger at bay for a short time. After he ate he smoked a cigar and lay on his back staring at the stars. It was said that the ancient savage humans that had lived in Margon Rise worshiped the stars and moon. There was even talk that the ghost of fallen warriors still roamed the canyons.

Elves need very little sleep, maybe half of what humans do. Shejin had seen the eldest of his kind that needed none at all. Two hundred years made him just reaching adulthood but the war had ripped most of the innocence out of his soul. So as he drifted off to sleep, Shejin hoped that nightmares would not roam his dreams.

Shejin's dreams were a mixture of battles and dead soldiers. He sat at the top of Vulture Hill with fifty of his kind while hundreds of human's ran up to them like angry ants. Then he was flying over The Scarred River where General Thaddeus and his two hundred cannons surprised the elves and massacred almost all of them. Still even worse was finding himself at the topmost part of Fort Stoneheart with a line of captured humans and throwing them off one after the other. In all of them he was surrounded by the grizzly and destroyed bodies, Human and Elven alike, as they had been killed. Each of them stared at him with their cold dead eyes. The look of anger and longing in their eyes always woke Shejin up.

He woke up and sucked in a deep breath. It was still nightfall and the fire had burned down letting the chill grasp him. Shejin stood up and shivered, although it wasn't from the cold. The air around him seemed to be getting colder by the moment. The back of his neck was prickling and Shejin had learned a long time ago to trust in his instincts. With a fast spin, he upholstered his revolvers and took nothing. The dreams usually had him on edge for a bit but Shejin could not shake the fact that something in the air did not smell right.

Shaking his head in the hopes it would clear his thoughts he turned back to the ambers of his small fire. Jumping back in surprise, Shejin raised his revolver at what appeared to be a man. The tall human was dressed in furs and leather that the savage men wore. Across his back was slung a longbow. Several feathers adorned his long hair. It was hard to tell much else because the man's body was shimmering. Shejin could also make out the canyons behind as if the wild man was little more than a sheet drying on a clothes line. While Shejin had little contact with things other worldly, there had been a run in's over the years. This tribesman was a ghost, plain and simple.

In his experience most ghosts wanted something. Some were mean and deadly. Others roamed the desert and ghost towns trying to find those that wronged them in life. Shejin holstered his weapon and stepped a little closer to the apparition. "What is it you want from me?" Shejin asked it.

The savage man said nothing; his ghost eyes looked sad and troubled. After a few moments the ghost raised its arm and pointed to a small pathway that wrapped around the next platue and was gone from sight. Shejin had also learned that if a dead thing told you something it was real important to listen to them. One or two cowpokes he met in his life had been cursed with ghost constantly following them. If there was any way to keep that from happening then Shejin would gladly go the way this one pointed.

Shejin packed up everything in his saddle and pulled his horse's reins. The animal would not budge no matter how hard he pulled and clicked his tongue. The ghost made the horse uneasy and after a little while of grunting and sweating Shejin decided to leave him on the platue until daylight.

Taking out a small lantern, Shejin took out a match from the many pockets of his duster coat. Striking the match against his boot he put it to the lanterns wick and soon had a small glowing light to keep him from falling into darkness along the way. He also wrapped about twenty feet of rope around one shoulder. It never hurt to have something to get him out of a hole. Before the match went out he placed a new cigar in his mouth and got it going. Shejin figured he might as well have a last smoke in case this was one of the ghosts that wanted to kill the living.

The Indian did not move from its spot but it did keep its eyes on Shejin until he had rounded the pathway. Sure enough as the path went winding around the platue the ghost was there and it continued to point further on.

Shejin came to a large open area with high rock walls surrounding all sides. All around him were large piles of stones. It was a burial area that many of the tribes took their dead to. Painted symbols all along the wall depicted things Shejin recognized like animals and foliage. There were other odd markings and symbol's that he didn't know.

As he moved further along he saw several small openings. Shejin guessed that it was more of the same and prepared to turn back. The ghost was nowhere around and he didn't want to get lost in one of those caves.

The familiar click of a gun being cocked came from the shadows to the left of him. "Drop the weapon." Someone in the shadows ordered.

Shejin aimed his gun into the dark. After a long moment a man stepped out, his hand holding the revolver shaking. "I don't think you're going to shoot very well when you're that shaky. Got to kill a man a few times then your hands should calm down a bit." With a quick flash of his wrist Shejin fired three shots, one above each of the man's shoulders and one knocking his bowler hat off.

"Alright! I'm not gonna shoot ya," The human said, fumbling to holster his gun. Shejin could tell the man was young maybe twenty years old. He was clean shaven with a pointed nose and chin. His blonde hair was cut short and parted down the middle with plenty of oil to keep it that way. A pair of thin spectacles slid down his nose and he nervously pushed them back up. "I-I-I'm Ray Newberry. I thought you were one of his men so I wanted to g-get the drop on you," Ray stuttered out.

Shejin holstered his revolver and moved the cigar to the other side of this mouth. "You talking about the Lizard?"

Ray nodded. "I was hoping his men would have passed us by but then we got lost in here."

"We? Who else is with you?" Shejin asked. He had to admit he was a little curious.

"My wife, Amelia is with me. She is with child," Ray said as he motioned into the dark. The blonde woman from the picture came into the lantern light, the red ribbon still tied in her hair. Amelia was a few years older than when the picture was taken. The years in the west had given her a few age lines in her face but she still had a down to earth beauty. Shejin looked down at her swollen belly, the baby soon to come to the world.

Shejin walked up to her and let the silver locket dangle from his hand. "I'm guessing the dead man that held this was with you guys, too."

"Mr. Keller was going to take us further west. We paid him all the money Ray and I had saved up. We thought we were rid of Victor but then we saw him coming with his gang not more than a few miles away. Margon Rise was our only chance," Amelia said trying to hold back tears.

Ray put his arm around his wife, the tired and worn look he gave Shejin a sign that the inner strength of the man was breaking. It was a wonder that he had lasted this long. "Victor is somewhere in these passes. We've been hiding in here almost all day. Mr. Keller knew the wilderness, probably could have helped us get through this maze. Now we're lost..."

Shejin took a look up at the sky. The orange and red light was already signaling dawn's approach. The squeltering heat would come with the noonday sun. If these two human's ever had a chance they would have to move fast. A part of him wanted to leave them there as bait for Victor. The mad man would find them eventually if he didn't help them. With a long tug on his cigar he quietly sighed. "Best thing we can do is head back out the way we all came in. If luck is with us then Victor will head further in while we sneak in behind them."

"What will you do once we're out?" Ray asked.

"I'll head back in and kill him." Shejin said. Without another word he turned and started heading back the way he came. Not more than a single blink of the eye and the two humans were stumbling along after.

As the morning light filtered into the high canyon walls, Shejin began to see more of the scratchy drawings and symbols. Most of the drawings showed a large black figure standing over smaller ones. Jagged lightening beams shot down and bowed the smaller creatures, dominating them. One particular disturbing one showed the god like figure holding some kind of staph. More of the jagged power came out of the weapon. Shejin noticed that the worshiping things were drawn warped and crooked. There had been many stories about the ancient people of Margon Rise. It looked to Shejin as if maybe they had worshiped some evil god. Instinct told him that the quicker they got out of this place the better.

Ray came up beside Shejin as they worked their way back to the platue were his horse was. "You're that famous bounty hunter out of Silvercity. I've heard you brought down many a man in the last few years." When Shejin didn't say anything, Ray continued the conversation. "I knew it was you when you shot my hat off my head. That was some amazing shooting. I bet you could make a fortune in one of them Wild West shows."

Shejin turned around to see Amelia having some trouble getting her pregnant awkward form up a set of rocks. "You might want to help your wife before she falls down a cliff," Shejin said irritably. Ray gave him an awkward smile and turned back. What type of idiot takes his wife into a maze of canyons when she is so close to having her child? Taking one look at Ray, Shejin knew the answer. A city slicker who thought he could be something in the harsh west.

A rifle shot echoed through the mountain and the rock wall beside Shejin splintered into his face. Just a slight bit over and the bullet would have killed him. In one fluid movement Shejin had his rifle out. Ducking down as much as he could he turned back around and began shuffling backward. More rifle fire rained down as Shejin but somehow he made it around an outcropping. Ray and Amelia had already begun trekking back. Shejin took out a small spy glass from his belt and slowly peered around the corner with it. With his elven vision- which was double as good as a human's- He scanned the other side of the canyon with the spy glass. Two men were sitting high up in good cover. Both had large crocodile vest on. They were Victor's men, part of his posse.

They had the way out pretty well blocked. Shejin knew they would pick them all off and so turned around. The urgent question on the elves mind was where Victor and the rest of the gang were? Scanning all around as they worked their way back to the burial chamber, Shejin could not find any more signs of danger.

Ray paced the large area like a cornered mouse. "What are we gonna do? If he find's us then we are all dead," Ray said in a tiny, scared voice.

Amelia sat slumped against the wall, her eyes closed. "He's my brother, you know," she said it plainly, not happy or sad about it.

Shejin was more than a little surprised. "So your brother is trying to kill you? Is Victor really that mad?"

"He's sick in the head. Has been for all the years I known him. He burned down that orphanage when he found out I was pregnant. His mind is twisted on account of his looks. When we were children he got made fun of. It wasn't long before he started getting jealous at the world," Amelia said in the same distant voice, as if she were telling Shejin about someone else's story. "I remember he ran away to the west for a while and when he came back it was like evil and darkness had grown up inside of him. He told me that he wanted everything around him to be as ugly and broken as he was. I ran away from him after that."

Shejin knew the stories. Victor had killed many a man but he had also left many more crippled or scarred. It had been a working girl in Silvercity who Victor had taken a knife to that made Shejin want the bounty. The woman's face looked like a patchwork doll that some crazy toy maker had stitched all wrong.

"You might as well tell the whole truth, Amelia. Tell him why we really came to this god forsaken place," Ray said his voice shaky.

For a second Amelia gave Ray a hard stare. Finally she stopped leaning against the wall and walked to the nearest cave entrance. "My brother found out about some ancient Indian staff. Supposedly a very long time ago some long forgotten dark god was worshiped by the savages that roamed these canyons. It has the power to warp people and things into monsters. If he gets his hands on it then god help whoever is in his way."

"So you thought to get it first and stop him from using it. I'm guessing that Mr. Keller was your guide to find it," Shejin said.

"We had to do something but now it's looking like we're up to our necks. What are we gonna do?" Ray nearly shrieked.

Shejin took two steps and slapped him hard across the cheek. "Calm down. During the war men like you died cowering in a ball. You must have some gut's or you wouldn't have made it this far. I suggest you fight when the time comes. Not just for Amelia but your baby, too." Ray held his hurt cheek but slowly he nodded. "Now we got little choice but to head into these caverns and hope we find that staff before Victor does."

"By the one god..." Ray gasped as he tripped over his own feet and pointed at one of the furthest cave entrances. Shejin heard Amelia stifle a scream. The ghost Indian stood inside the mouth of the cave, he pointed further in. For whatever reason Shejin felt like the spirit was good, helping them.

Shejin grabbed Ray by the collar and hoisted him up. "Don't worry about him. I think he's one of the good ones. Now move."

Amelia and Ray both looked ready to protest when the sound of someone laughing bounced against the walls. Shejin turned with his revolvers already up and ready. Six men stood at the entrance to the burial room. All of them had slime eating grins on their hard faces. Madness gleamed in their eyes like a sickness. Each wore snake or crocodile skin on some part of their body. A seventh man came out of the shadows from behind them and Shejin knew he was staring at Victor Timmons. Every inch of the man's skin was green and scaly. Two yellow snake like eyes stared at Shejin as a predator would before it struck. A lipless mouth smiled revealing rows of yellow, razor sharp teeth. Two slits were all that made up his nose. His head seemed almost small sitting atop his massive shoulders and neck. He wore a black suit and dark green vest which seemed to barely contain his huge muscles. Two revolvers hung from his hips and a large machete was tucked into his belt. Victor looked every bit the dangerous man.

"Well, well. What have we got here? I didn't know elves ran around these parts. Always thought your kind stayed in the east. To good for us human's," Victor said with a low booming voice. "I must admit that your kind is very pretty on the eyes. The god's gave you beauty, elf. Then they cast everyone else down."

Shejin wanted to gun him down right there. If he did one of Victor's gang was bound to get a killing shot in. Ray and Amelia were already inside the cave and Shejin was just a few feet from it.

Victor took a step forward, the dark smile never leaving his face. "I don't really have the time to have some fun with you, elf. Give me Amelia and Ray and you can walk out of here with your skin. If you do wanna die then I promise you I will cut those pointy ears off and bleed you slow. I don't give most the choice but I'm to close to something important."

Shejin holstered his weapons and took his half smoked cigar out of his mouth. With his other hand he reached in his back belt and removed a red stick of dynamite. What he was planning was a long shot but Shejin knew he was pinned in a corner.

The smile vanished from Victor's face. He glanced at the dynamite then back to Shejin. "Now what are you plannin on doing with that?"

Shejin gave Victor a wink. "I'll be seeing you." The hot cherry of the cigar touched the dynamite's fuse sparking it. Victor and all his men hurriedly ducked, expecting Shejin to throw it, giving him the time he needed to make a run for the cave. He made it into the dark cover and shoved the dynamite into a small crack near the entrance. Shejin ran as fast as his legs would move deeper and deeper into the damp darkness.

The explosion rocked the ground and dust flew all around. The vast darkness engulfed him as the only light from the cave entrance disappeared. Taking out his bandana, Shejin placed it to his mouth to keep from choking on the gravel and grit in the air. The lantern he had earlier was outside so Shejin grabbed his match's and lit one against his pant leg. Ray and Amelia stood huddled in the small tunnel looking at him as if he were crazy.

"We're trapped in?" Ray asked.

"Not for long. I'm surprised the rocks actually collapsed just from one blast. You saw all the entrances to this place. It won't be hard to find our way out. I bought us a little time but we gotta move. Victor will not be far behind," Shejin said. He started moving knowing that the other two would not be far behind.

When they found the first skeleton lying sprawled across the dirt, Shejin knew that trouble was not just coming from behind them. What was left of the corpse had a lantern, canteen, rope, and a small revolver. The clothes the body had worn in life were little more than rags and Shejin could not see what exactly had killed the poor soul. Ray and Amelia seemed nervous and jumpy but said little as Shejin lit the wick in the lantern, giving them considerably more light.

The dark symbols were scrawled on every inch of the cavern walls. The black shadows that surrounded Shejin seemed to be closing in on him and several times a slight noise gave them all a start. Amelia placed her hands gently against the walls. "The Indian's worshiped something very dark and evil down here. Can't you feel it?" She asked. Shejin could but he said nothing to her.

More treasure hunters lay dead and Shejin's mind began to wonder about what could stealthily kill so many. A circular room opened up for them and in the center stood a stone alter where an ancient wrapped corpse lay. Shejin slowly crept into the room with a gun raised, his nerves on edge. At any moment he expected something dark and evil to jump out at them but nothing happened. Placing one of his hands on the alter he continued to wait. Nothing happened.

"Let's keep moving. Victor could be coming at any moment," Ray pleaded. Shejin saw only one way, a long black hallway. Whatever the Indians that made the place had intended, it lead them only one way. The walls were completely blank until Shejin came to the entrance to the next room. A large black circular symbol that looked like an eye stood on the floor. The elf felt reluctant to proceed but they had little choice. Shejin took a step forward. Still nothing seemed to happen.

The next room held several more alters with the wrapped up dead people. Ray seemed to gain a little confidence which each step and even smiled. "Maybe the savages were just spinning tales to keep people out. Doesn't seem that bad to me."

"Those dead men on the floor near the entrance say different," Amelia said quietly. Shejin detected something else in her voice. Was it awe? He dismissed it for now but he did think it odd.

Years of battle had given Shejin a sense of danger and that combined with his keen elven senses usually gave him an edge. When Ray screamed, Shejin wondered if maybe he was losing his fighter edge. Cursing to himself he turned to find Ray fighting with some...thing. With all the movement and poor light it was hard to tell. The little man yelped and bellowed as he fought with his attacker.

Shejin was a good aim but it was an impossible shot while Ray was jerking around like a fish out of water. Doing the only thing he could to get the fool human to stop moving he took aim and shot Ray in the arm. The city boy yelped more in surprise than pain and fell to the floor. Shejin looked on in surprised shock at the wrapped skeleton from the previous room's alter. Thankfully most things did not surprise the elf long and he quickly unloaded the rest of his revolver into the mummy's chest and head. Each bullet sent dust erupting from the wounds and it fell over with a sick crackle. Quickly Shejin reloaded and glanced around the room at the many alters surrounding them. Not one of the corpses rose up to help their dead comrade.

Ray sat on the floor, his stunned tired face staring at Shejin with utter disbelief. "You shot me? W-Why did you shoot me?" He asked clutching the wound.

"Next time you get attacked try fighting instead of just squirming around. Couldn't get a clear shot," Was all that Shejin said. The wound was nothing more than a scratch and not worth even a slight worry.

The dead Indian still wanted to fight and tried to rise up. Ray screamed and shuffled back on his elbows and knees. Shejin raised his weapon and fired round after round into its ancient head until nothing remained above its shoulders. Finally it remained motionless.

Shejin went to the next entrance and sure enough found the same symbol carved into the floor. "It's a trap. Each time we walk over these symbols those corpses come to life. Some type of guards," Shejin pointed out. He counted five alters in this room. The undead creatures would be tough in large numbers.

Ray staggered to his feet. "So what are we gonna do? We can't just stay here. Victor is right behind us. Or even worse in front of us and already has his hands on that staff."

Amelia sighed and went to her husband and pried the gun loose from his holster. "We move on. My brother won't let a bunch of dead skeleton savages stop him. We keep moving hard and fast," She said. Her eyes which had been slightly tired and downcast now burned with intensity. Shejin knew they had little options and simply nodded. Ray just gave them a sour look.

Shejin bent down and gave the symbols one last good look. With a shake of his head at the lunacy he had gotten himself into, Shejin stepped into the next room. It was circular just like the last one but bigger with six alters lined against the walls. One of the mummies sat at a throne that could only be made of gold. In its rotting hands sat two very large golden swords, curved and razor sharp.

Ray whimpered behind him. Shejin didn't need to hear him to know that the undead were waking up from their long slumber. The sound of movement from a hallway ahead of them made Shejin stop dead.

Amelia ran into him and shook with surprise. "Why are we stopping? Those things are coming," She asked irritably.

The sound of voices told Shejin that the Lizards men were closing in. Somehow they had found a way in and were ahead. The familiar sound of gunshots echoed in Shejins ears. The same traps were awakening in the other rooms. Moving swiftly, Shejin ran into the next room, Amelia and Ray not far behind him.

Two men on the opposite side of the room were shooting into a crowd of the undead guards. Shejin saw the opportunity to slip by. He turned and put a finger to his lips. Amelia and Ray nodded nervously. They shuffled across the other side of the room to the doorway leading on. It was close but they made it just as the other mummies from the last couple of rooms showed their faces. The two henchmen turned to find that they were surrounded. Shejin didn't wait to find out what was going to happen. The screams of the men echoed in his ears as he hurried on.

A long stone bridge that looked about ready to fall into the darkness below painted shadows in the lantern light. "We gotta go over this thing. If we wait around much longer then those guardians are gonna tear us apart," Shejin said.

Amelia was staring off into the darkness. For all Shejin knew she hadn't heard a word he said.

Shejin sensed something in the darkness and spun around. A large scaly fist came out of nowhere and landed across his chin. Another series of punches came so fast that Shejin barely had time to duck the last one. The Lizard had somehow gotten the surprise on him. Shejin tried to block the big reptile man's boot but it hit him square in the chest and sent him sprawling over the edge of the bridge.

Shejin scrambled and somehow got his hand wrapped around a rock. A whirlwind danced in his head as he held onto the rock like it was the only thing in his world. His feet dangled over nothingness and Shejin had to swallow down the fear of falling to his death.

Victor's scaly face brimmed with an evil grin as he looked over the side. "Looks like you're in a bad way, elf. Like a damn worm on a hook, eh?"

Shejin gave the man a hard stare down. "Give me a few and I'm sure I can turn this around."

Victor threw back his head and laughed. "I'll give you one thing, elf. You got some kind of grit in your veins." The massive man lifted his boot up preparing one swift kick that would send Shejin flying into darkness. "To bad it won't be enough."

Shejin never would have guessed what saved his life. Ray bellowing out of the darkness tackled the Lizard and sent them out of Shejin's sight. It was the only window Shejin was going to get. With every bit of strength he had he lifted himself up the jagged rock wall and back onto flat ground. The sight that greeted him was not a good one. Victor was on top of Ray and belting out punches.

"Don't move, elf." Shejin heard as he was about to pounce on Victor. Two of the Lizards henchmen had Amelia at gun point about halfway across the bridge. Shejin swallowed down his anger and kept his hand up.

Victor finally stopped hitting Ray and stood up victorious. He turned and gave Shejin a wink before turning to his sister. "Somehow I knew you would get yourself into trouble, Amelia." Amelia kept her head down, her face covered in shadow. "Now let's get to the end of this bridge so I can get what's coming to me."

One of the henchmen pointed at Ray. "Do we still need him, boss?"

Victor barely spared the battered city boy a second glance. "Let those dead things have him. They'll be busy with him long enough for us to get outta here." He turned and gave me a grin that showed his rows of razor sharp teeth. "We got what we need right here."

One of the men came up behind Shejin and poked a gun into his back while removing his guns. Victor went out in front followed by Amelia and her guard. Shejin was at the back with the other man. Shejin could hear Ray coughing but after a time going across the bridge no more was heard. The bridge was longer than Shejin would have guessed but eventually they came to a central platform. Several other bridges all met at this same point. Sitting atop a flat piece of rock sat an old and rather plain looking staph. Shejin would have thought nothing of it except that he could feel evil power radiating from it. It left a sick feeling in his head as they came closer to it.

Victor never let his eyes off of the cursed staph. "The ancient idiot savages that lived all that time ago. They never understood the dark gods that ruled them. Worshiped them, sure. So afraid they were little more than slaves. The Death Eye. The Deformed One. A world where ugly warped things like me would be kings."

Shejin thought the Lizard was sick in the brain. If he somehow got that black magic working it would be a hellish world not worth living. Whoever this ancient dark creature was it had to be stopped.

Victor came out of his stupor and turned with his slimy grin to stare at Shejin. "Now the time has come. I'm gonna be needing some of your blood, elf. Gotta have the blood of an innocent. That was what Ray was supposed to be for. You elves are made of everything that is good and kind in this world. Figure your blood will work even better."

Victor came over and grabbed Shejin by the neck. Shejin tried to pry out of his grasp but his throat was in an iron grip. Victor removed his machete with his free hand as he carried Shejin over to the rock altar. He dropped Shejin who fell to the ground gasping for air. "Thanks for the blood," Victor said with victory thick in his voice.

Shejin shook his head and tried to control the dizziness making his head spin. He focused up at the Lizard just as he had the machete was coming down for the kill. Shejin tried to duck but he felt the blade slam hard into his forehead. Pain shot through his head like a bullet and the world around him went dark. Time was not known to Shejin but when he finally opened his eyes he was struck with the horror of the situation he was in.

Victor stood holding the staff with over his head. His yellow reptile eyes glowing slightly with whatever sick power was coursing through him. "The power! I can feel it! I'm changing! Growing...stronger!" He bellowed, his voice changing to a growl as he spoke. A sick cracking sound came from Victor's body. From his back a third arm appeared, three long, sharp claws grasping at nothing.

Shejins head was spinning as he staggered to his feet. He could feel warm blood pouring down his face. Both of the Lizards men were staring at him with a mixture of terror and confusion. Shejin took the opening to grab the nearest man and send his knee hard into his groin. The gun came out of the man's hands with ease. Shejin pushed the weakened man hard right off the platform, his screams echoing in the darkness. Shejin turned to the other one but he was not fast enough. The man had his gun up and was preparing to fire.

Something flew out of the darkness hitting the man square in the chest. Shejin squinted in the lamplight and to his surprise saw that it was a one of the golden swords that dead guardian had been holding. Ray slowly limped into the light. Shejin thought that Ray had narrowly survived those undead things. His clothing was in rags and his face and arms were covered in bloody cuts. Somehow his glasses still sat on the end of his nose, unbroken.

Shejin turned to the abomination that had been the Lizard. Victors head and body now looked more like a snakes than a man's. Several arms and legs shot out in all directions with more forming as Shejin watched. Now instead of two eyes the thing had a dozen, all of them looking about madly. Amelia was staring at Victor with a look of awe, not more than a few paces from him.

"Amelia! Stay back!" Ray bellowed and staggered forward.

Shejin stepped in front of Ray. It was all the sudden starting to become clearer in Shejins head. "She doesn't need you to save her, Ray. In fact I would guess that she has been in on this the entire time."

Amelia turned her eyes suddenly taking on a harder look. Her mouth turning into a grin that at one time might have mimicked Victors. She raised her gun quickly and fired, surprising Shejin by how fast she was. The bullet was meant for Ray who spun from the hit and fell backward. Amelia burst into a laugh. "You were such a fool, Ray! An innocent idiot just along for the ride."

Shejin was starting to put the pieces all together. From the beginning it had seemed odd that a pregnant woman would come so far into the wilderness, so far out of her element. Then when Ray was left for dead, Amelia had not even seemed to notice. This woman was cold, hard, and calculating. "Your Victors lover, aren't you?" Shejin asked, his gun pointed right at her head as he stood up.

Amelia cackled crazily. "Right you are gentlemen elf. Victor never let on to anyone that I was not his real sister. We found each other when we were just little ones. So many years of killing and murder. Finally we figured we needed to do something more. Something that would truly change the world forever. That's when we heard about the staff," She gloated. Behind her the mound of flesh that had been Victor grew more horrific with every second.

"So that child is the Lizards?" Shejin asked, hoping to keep her going.

"Oh, yes. Victor wanted a son before he began his transformation. Once he became a god he would bestow his gift to me and his unborn son. We knew that Ray would be gullible enough to get out here if I courted him for a while and then got hitched. The entire time I was seeing Victor and he never knew. With his innocent blood we had everything we needed to complete the offering. Once given the staff would be ours," She said confidently.

It was then that Shejin gave his own little smile. "Did you say innocent blood?"

Amelia cocked an eyebrow at him. "What of it, elf?"

The massive creature behind Amelia bellowed in what Shejin could only guess was pain. Several parts of the things body seemed to be decaying. One of the massive eyes exploded outward in a mess of gore and guts.

"If it was innocent, pure blood you wanted then I am not the one you should have picked. The things I did in the war are things that will haunt me for the rest of my days. These hands have more blood on them than death himself. Victor just gave his god an offering that will not satisfy its dark hunger," Shejin said.

Amelia spun and looked on at her decaying lover. She screamed and ran toward it. One of the monsters yellow eyes fixed on her. Shejin knew what was going to happen an eye blink before it did. One of the things massive claws shot out and hit her with every bit of strength it possessed. Amelia was sent screaming into the blackness around the platform. Shejin spared a glance into the black cavern below; a twinge of regret at not being able to save the child in her belly.

Ray groaned behind Shejin. The broken man stood up, blood caking every inch of his body. They looked on as the pile of bubbling skin and bone finally slumped over and fell off the platform. Sitting at the altar as if it had never moved, was the staff.

Shejin turned to Ray and tipped his hat to him. "I'm sorry for everything that happened to ya, Ray. No one should ever have been trapped in their madness."

Ray picked up the lantern and then gave Shejin a short nod. "Once we get out of here we blow this place up with enough dynamite so that no one can ever find it again."

"I think that sounds like the best idea I ever heard," Shejin said in agreement. Shejin retrieved his weapons from the dead henchmen before they started their way across the bridge.

Shejin spared the place one last glance. The Indian ghost stood beside the platform, its face calm and serene. Shejin figured that for all the bad spirits in the world there must be good ones to equal things out. He just hoped the good ones kept looking out for him. He turned to tip his hat but the ghost was gone. Shejin smiled behind his cigar and went on.

The End.