Monday, April 30, 2012
Chapter 12: The Treasure of the Kurgans
Interview with Roxy Smothers, 1973:
After the heartwarming reunion of these two idiots, we were invited into the little cottage which was not quite as grim on the inside as it had been outside. Oddly, it seemed to be much larger within than first appeared with corridors that seemed to stretched off into a vaguely defined interior. I asked Zoya’s mamushka, Baba Mischka, why she had brought us here to this charming little forest.
She told us, “Once, four thousand years ago, this land was populated by the Kurgans who were a good, simple people, moving with their herds from mountain to steppe on the changing of the seasons. But somehow they were seduced by the promise of the mysterious gods whose voices called to them from the primeval forests. All fell under this spell save a few shamans who saw the evil of these gods and who were driven to hide in the far places of the land. So the Kurgans built great temples to these gods, piling up high earthen mounds topped by monolithic stones. And the gods gave them power and wealth and the Kurgans spread across the Balkans into the steppes of the Ukraine and then beyond into Asia and even unto the mountains of what is now Tibet. All this was done in a single lifetime.
But the Kurgans had sown the seeds of their own destruction. For when they had reached the height of their power, they obeyed the call to bring forth the king of these gods, who they called Zmey, the Black God, the Breather of Fire. They were told Zmey would bring even greater power to them when he came to this earth. So the whole nation of the Kurgans gathered here at the forest temple and they chose ten thousand maidens to be brides of Zmey and ten thousand youths to be his minions and this brought the evil thing into the world. It is said the whole nation of the Kurgans died in the instant Zmey came through the portal, burned in the all consuming fire.
The whole world would have died that day, had not the faithful shamans watched. Using all their knowledge and power they fought Zmey and all but one were slain but they had driven Zmey back into the Otherworld, and the last shaman placed a seal upon the gate. Then she took up her watch, tying herself to the forest, gathering all the spirits who dwelt therein to make sure none would ever be tempted to upon Zmey or his minions again.”
“Yes, I am that shaman, the last of the Kurgans.”
“Wait a minute sister,” I said. “Are you telling me you are four thousand years old?”
“She wooks gweat fow hew age, doesn’t she? I’ve awways been attwacted to oldew women!” said the King.
She ignored this outburst from the King, probably being use to his complete lack of verbal self-control, and said to me, “It does not matter whether you believe me or not. It only matters that you believe that the Nazis are trying to open the gate once more, to summon up Zmey, to help with their plans for world conquest. But if they summon him, it will likely mean the end of the world.”
“What about the Cup?” asked Waggsie.
“That was what we used to drive Zmey back to his own, what you would call, dimension. It is a focus of power, we mixed the demon’s own fire with the sacred fires of the White God and the sun’s own pure light to push him back beyond the gate and lock him there.”
“If it is a key, why keep it. Would it not be better to get rid of it so as not to have it to open the gate?” Waggsie asked.
“The key is not the only way to open a door; one may break it down. That is what the Nazis plan to do and if they succeed there will be no closing of it again.
“Let me show you something,” she said as she produced from a cupboard a small stone tablet. On it was an intricate carving depicting a huge host of people being horrifically burned by a huge demon, fully one hundred feet high, with great horns and thick dark fur.”
“This is Zmey.”
“He looks vewy fwuffy,” said the King
Von Schnitzel shouted, “A creature who is intent on destroying the world is horrific, terrifying, maybe even repellent, but not ‘fluffy’!”
Mishka ignored them, “I knew that only fear would make men avoid this place and so I made carvings of what I say when the gate was opened and had these carving strewn throughout the former lands of the Kurgans as a warning. I then used my skills to give powers to the creatures of these woods, making them the legends that terrify, the vampyr and the leshy. But these Nazis are strong in their evil and I do not know if my creatures will keep them out. This science of your age is something I have never been able to account for. That is why I need your help now.”
Further discussion was interrupted by a loud whirring and sputtering sound coming from the sky overhead. Tura shrieked and nearly fainted. The rest of us rushed out of the cottage with guns at the ready. But instead of a Luftwaffe attack, we saw it was a small autogiro surrounded by a swarm of men bearing rocket packs on their backs. The autogiro had Ruritanian markings on it.
They came to a landing in a small clearing just beyond the edge of the birch tree grove. One of the rocketmen ran toward us. He stopped when he saw the King, apparently not at all surprised to see his aged monarch in a loin clothe. He was a very young man, little more than a teenager. He gave the traditional one-pinky Ruritanian salute and shouted in an adolescent crackling voice, “Your Majesty, Loft Poruchnik Baltazar Koma of the Rocket Patrol, University of Hcentzov Reserve Officers Flying Rocket Corps, reporting. His Royal Highness, Prince Bronislav begs to see you.”
I could see that Broni was not waiting the formalities. He dismounted from the autogiro and hurried towards the cottage. A very beautiful young woman in a tight uniform with too short a skirt followed him.
“Hewwo Fathew. I’ve come to fetch you back to Hcentzov whewe you’ww be safe. Genewaw Huwka’s fowces have awwived, Teswa is even now pwepawing his machines to defend the city. With wuck, we might even be abwe to get out to Fweedonia befowe the Nazis awwive.”
The King settled a grim eye on Broni, “Who is this “fathew” you mention?”
I interrupted, to save everyone from multiple speech impediments, “Oh, Broni, remember how you used to throw it in my face that I was not born royalty? Well it seems neither were you. Your dear Mama was, ah, indescreet.”
“With Doctor Tesla, right around the time you were born.”
Broni looked with surprise at the King, “Does this mean I am not wewated to you?”
“You most cewtainwy awe not!” said the King sternly.
“Oh, thank God! Now I can stop using the ridiculous speech impediment. I could never understand how I could be so brilliant and you so…
Hewoic? Wuggedwy Handsome?” offered the King.
“Precisely. Still, Your Majesty, we have no time to lose, the German aircraft and zeppelins are even now attacking the outer defenses of the city. Their armored columns are approaching. We can salvage something from all this, to carry on the fight. For the sake of our country.”
“No, Bwonswav, if that is youw weal name. Sometimes, countwy does not mattew, when the wowwd is at wisk.”
“Wadda he say?” asked Chico.
“Sometimes country does not matter, when the world is at risk.’” Tura suggested, “You know I think I am getting the hang of this, I don’t even need subtitles.”
“Oh Broni,” I asked, “Who might your little friend be?”
“Oh, that’s my new …aide, Lieutenant Koko.” The girl giggled vacuously.
“He picks some real dimwits, does he!” said Zoya.
“You’ve got that right, sister!” I responded with complete sincerity.
Broni seemed to notice Zoya was clasping the King’s arm and got a quizzical look on his face.
“Yes Broni, when you were with Zoya, you were the one who was actually the plaything of royalty. She’s the King’s daughter.”
Broni raised his hands in disbelief and then I saw that sly look working on his face.
“So Your Majesty, the only ones who know about the … accident of my birth are you and your friends? Well, a martyred king is as good a rallying point as a live one. I shall leave you to your heroic last stand. Come Milna, bring any troops that you have,” Here Broni looked contemptuously at the Shmengies, “No matter how poor quality, we shall need every trained man if we are to get out of this.
“No sir! I may be from a poor family but we have our pride. Poor but…”
“Yes, yes, I know. What’s your point?”
“I will stand with my King and my country, against the very armies of Hell!”
There was a high-pitched squeak that, this time at least, wasn’t from Tura. The rocket boys were all shouting that they would stay as well.
“Suit yourselves,” said Broni. “I’ll be thinking of you while I am sipping cognac at Biaritz.”
With that he left and we fell to making our plans to stop the opening of the portal.
Waggsie asked whether there was anything in the book that he had stolen from the German archeologist that would help.
“Oh my,” said Mishka as she thumbed through the notebook. “Most of it is wrong but there is some half-truths he had uncovered. He found the spell that would summon Zmey’s minions here but this one, it would have allowed him to cross over into the Otherworld. The fools.
“Why would crossing to their side be foolish? Might it not be better to fight them before they reached our world?”
“No one who has crossed the portal has ever returned. No, there was one, but only one. That was Sandorius, an alchemist to the first King Vlad. In fact, the spell in this book is his. But his was a special case and we wouldn’t want to follow his path.”
We could hear the sounds of the German air attacks in the distance, punctuated by loud explosions. Soon we could hear the distinctive banging of the German artillery and the rumble of large numbers of tanks.
Skinny Shmengy in his wolf form began whimpering and shaking his head towards his fat brother. Mishka said that the “dog brother” is sad because he was a slathering werewolf but his fat brother had not been turned into anyting so interesting. Baba Mishka petted the wolf and then turned to Fat Shmengy and waived her hand over him. She made him into something impressively disgusting, some sort of bog creature, wreaking of swamp gas and of a size and odor that would have given the Everglades a run for their money.
She sent them off with an unintelligible command. Wolf Shmengy ran up a nearby rise and began howling. This was soon matched by a number of other howls and a large group of wolves gathered around him.
Meanwhile, Swampy Shmengy oozed to a nearby bog that soon began burbling and exuding an even more noxious vapor. Soon, figures that were vaguely human in form began rising from the bog, one far bulkier than the others.
“You see, my forest children will try to hold off any of the enemy that comes by land.
“And we shall fight any that comes by air.” said Puppyface as he cocked a tommy gun, a rocket pack strapped to his back.
At this point, Bob Frnko finally seemed to rouse himself from a slumber, “I say, this whole endeavor raises profound theological questions. Baba Mishka and her minions are traditionally considered evil. Can one aid evil in fighting other evil and not become evil oneself?”
“Oh stuff it, Bobo. Mishka’s my giwfwiend!”
Mishka beckoned for us to follow her. Zoya, Hummingbird, Wagsie and I followed her on foot together with the Shmengies, both two-footed and four-footed varieties. She showed us to the mound where the ruined temple of the Kurgans lay. It was as she described, a hill covered with tumbled monolithic stones carved all around with arcane symbols. We hid ourselves behind some of the stones at the rear of the temple.
Chico, von Schnitzel, Tura, Hozzenka and her brigands took a more sensible approach and jumped in the stolen truck and drove to a secluded place along the path that served as the main road through the forest.
Mishka looked around and nodded her head. Then her form began to fade slowly into invisibility.
“Mamushka, where are you going? Stay with us and help us!”
“Do not worry, my daughter. This is my forest, I am a part of every leaf and blade of grass. You shall know what to do when it is time.”
That was when we heard a familiar hovering whine and saw the trees being whipped about as a German hovercraft rolled low over the forest canopy. It came to land in the small clearing in front of the temple. In the distance, I could just make out several big walkers thrashing through the forest.
After the hovercraft landed, its occupants began to be disgorged from its belly. The malignant little Nazi Schwarz was in the lead followed by that tramp Ilsa, more of the Tibetan monks, more she-wolves and two big Frankensteins’ monsters. In their midst was the mad-looking Russian priest, Roskolnikov.
“Hey, didn’t we blow that guys brains out, I whispered to Wagsie who was crouched next to me.
“Seems he got better,” was Waggsies’ laconic reply.
Roskolnikov strode into the center of the ruined temple and began muttering while the monks moved up chanting. An SS cameraman was filming it all.
As the walkers moved up, Swampy Shmengy and his bogmen flung themselves upon legs of the machines. Although they did not stop them, appearing more as something nasty you step in during a walk in the woods, the machine lost a bit of traction and definitely slowed.
Chico saw this as his chance. He drove the truck from out of its hiding place up next to the hovercraft. Von Schnitzel, in his best All-actors-are-slime-mold voices, began haranguing the crew of the hovercraft that the Fuhrer had ordered the operation to be halted.
Surprised and intimidated by the mad director, the crew was slow to respond when Chico leapt from the driver’s seat and ran into the cockpit of the hovercraft, knocking out the surprised pilot. Hozzenka and her brigands rush out of the back of the truck and charged after him. A short sharp fight and they had captured the hovercraft. Chico, said, “You know dissa getting to be a regular habit, huh.”
Meanwhile, the chanting went on. Thunder clouds began forming overhead and bolts of lightening shattered the sky. Several large stone blocks in the floor of the temple began to buckle and the fumes of sulfurous vapor wafted up. With a sudden crack, the blocks split and a sickening reddish-green light beamed forth.
A host of large, bat-shaped creatures, dark blue with glaring yellowish fangs sprang from the hole. They circled the ruins, forming a living shield around Roskolnikov and the Germans.
Skinny Shmengy and his wolf pack charged down on the mass, ripping into the bat-like creatures. The Skinny Leutonian latched himself onto to one of the Frankensteins, gripping its leg with a ferocious bite. The monster shook its leg furiously but couldn’t get rid of Shmengy, sort of like the rest of us for the whole trip. But the battle that was going the bats way since there were far more of them than wolves.
From behind one of the stones, Hummingbird fired his big hunting rifle at the Russian monk’s head. Roskolnikov was knocked flat but hurled himself back up, chanting all the while. As his chanting continued, the rift in the floor of the temple widened. I could see a sickly green glow coming from the hole and strange, inhuman shapes, too numerous to count that were hovering near the opening. Behind them a dark form of enormous size stirring in the nightmarish miasma beyond.
Wagsie and I looked on all this with growing horror. Our few shots with pistols at the blue bats proved inconsequential.
Wagsie looked at me strangely and sighed as if coming to some decision. Then he kissed me quickly but with great passion. Before I could say anything he leapt up and raced across the temple floor, muttering something, the book of the mad Nazi archeologist clutched in his fist.
Then he leapt into the crevice into the other world.
I screamed but then one of the bats came clawing at me. I rammed my barrel of my pistol into its mouth and fired. The bat flew backwards away from me and fell limp on the ground, a greasy liquid flowing from its shattered head. But more of the creatures were headed toward me.
Suddenly, I heard a warbling cry coming from woods. Out of the trees burst the King swinging on a vine, screaming in his best Weismuller voice, “AHHHHHAAHHHHHAHHHHH!” Under one arm, he had tucked Bobo Frnko who was holding aloft some sort of relic, some moldy saint’s knee cap, and yelling out prayers of exorcism. Behind them flew Puppyface and the boy scout rocketeers blasting away at the bats with their machine pistols.
The bats pealed off to fight these new intruders.
Meanwhile, Wagsie found himself in a strange, blighted place, without gravity or oxygen, the atmosphere a viscous thing, neither liquid nor air, sulfurous in composition. Great red devil-like creatures clustered about the gate through which he had just come. He saw the huge form of the great demon, larger than a battleship hovering just beyond the mass of red devils.
Wagsie bobbed as stilly as possible, trying to comprehend his surroundings and desperately holding his breath so as not to breathe in the searing substance in which he floated. The red devils for some reason took no notice of him, perhaps the book contained some talisman, perhaps given Waggsie’s early life of crime, he was just that good at laying low.
On our side of the portal, Chico swung the hovercraft over and directed he blades at group of the monks and SS women. The shocked group couldn’t get out of the way fast enough; all killed but one ancient monk. The old monk threw down his staff in disgust and said, “The hell with this evil stuff. All you Nazi do is kill monks. I leave, get job as short-order cook in Chinese restaurant in Firefly City.”
Tura who was perched behind the truck tossed a grenade towards Roskolnikov. He kept his eyes open this time and so missed, the grenade hooking to the right. It came to a stop at a huge dead tree standing on the side of the temple hill. When it exploded, the blast struck at its roots. The tree collapsed on the remaining Frankenstein and SS.
Wagsie, with the last breath of his tortured lungs, incanted the spell of summoning from his side of the portal. Suddenly, the bats were pulled as if by a suction back to the other side of the portal, their screeches of panic and confusion echoing across the hillside.
Hummingbird, called in his minds eye to Baba Mishka and asked her to give him the cup. It miraculously appeared in his hands. He pulled a small, hand-held radio, a gift from Tesla, out of his pocket. He called upon the mad scientist who yelled that he was busy destroying Germans and to call back later. When he told Tesla what he wanted done, the scientist voice grew silent. Hummingbird told him to direct the fire of his most powerful death ray onto his position. Then he pulled out his flask which was filled with his favorite Scotch, took a long drink, and poured the rest into the Kurgan Cup and held it up over his head.
A bright fiery beam shot across the sky from the direction of the city. It hit the rim of the cup. Hummingbird smoothly sidestepped the blast. The beam became an arc, a silvery rainbow arching out of the portal back to its source.
Roskolinkov rushed forward and thrust his hands into the fiery beam, calling out as his hands burned away, “Come forth! Come forth, oh Great One! I summons thee to this world!”
Suddenly Wagsie appeared in front of the shocked monk and shot him.
“Sorry, old boy. I think you called up the wrong guest.”
But then a rumbling shook the ground and an enormous clawed hand thrust out of the portal, its dark fur glistening in the light.
Meanwhile Zoya was crouched beside the fallen tree. A small flame appeared in front of her. It was vaguely in the shape of a woman and Zoya heard her mother’s voice inside her head, “Daughter, your friends have made only the first step, the key has been placed in the lock, now it must be closed. Take me to it.”
Zoya grasped the doll-like figure, barely conscious that it was flaming but did not burn her. She flipped over the branches of the fallen trees, and continued up the hill as the great hand broke wider the hole between the worlds.
Inside the hovercraft, Chico muttered, “Looksa lika we going to need a big a boom to stoppa dis thing.”
He pushed the throttle forward and the hovercraft barreled toward the giant hand. At the last moment, Chico, Hozzenka and the rest leapt from craft.
As the craft hurtled forward, Zoya, who was only a few yards away noticed that fuel was streaming from numerous bullet holes in the fuselage.
Her mother’s voice called out, “Throw me Zoya! Now!”
Zoya threw the flaming doll towards the hovercraft. The fire seemed to grow as it went and the craft was engulfed by flames as it headed toward portal. Zoya stood in stunned silence awaiting the explosion that would kill her but perhaps close the evil gate.
At the last moment, Milna came whooshing down and snatched her up, hurtling skyward as the craft impacted with its target.
With the first blast, I hit the dirt as great gouts of fire blasted out of the temple floor and explosions after explosion rumbled over the top of the hill.
The silence that followed was astonishing. The first sound I recall hearing was that of birds singing. Then I heard Hummingbird’s radio crackle and Tesla’s voice yelling that the Germans were retreating from the city defenses, falling back everywhere.
When I looked up I could see that the walkers unsteady in the marshy ground were being tipped into the swamps. A host of SS troopers on foot were fleeing the forest, chased by packs of wolves. Bulge calls sounded and horse hooves pounded as the Ruritianian cavalry charged into the rear of the retreating Germans
I saw that the top of the hill had been blasted flat. Where the portal had been was a jagged hole in the ground criss-crossed by a glowing cage-like structure.
“So is the gate destroyed?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” said Wagsie, “but blocked certainly. An amazing thing, that demon is now held by an amazing combination of weird science and magic, a cage of pure electricity and eldritch power….”
“And Scotch!” added Hummingbird.
Milna landed and set Zoya down, their hold on each other lingering for just a moment. The King limped over and shook Puppyface’s hand, “Weww done my boy, weww done. You have saved the wife of my new found daughtew! Pesky when you wose twack of them, isn’t it?”
“No thanks are necessary, Your Majesty. It has always been my family’s duty to serve. Though poor we are pro…”
“Poow? Weww, we shaww have to see about that.”
“But Pappushka, does this mean that Mamushka is dead?”
Bob Frnko spoke up, “No, my child, I think her spirit will be forever awake in this forest, guarding against evil, the last great treasure of the Kurgans.
“This does, however, raise some serious theological questions, you see according to the writing of Saint Methodius, in the sixth century…”
“Well thanks, Bobo.” Zoya had returned to her usual vacuous self. She turned to Milna.
“So Puppyface, how often do you work out? I try to exercise for at least two hours a day. I mean, usually, you know, not, like, when the end of the world is coming like today. How many squat thrust can you do?”
Milna glanced at me ruefully as he walked off her.
Then I saw Wagsie approaching. I went up to him, grabbed him by the lapel and smacked him as hard as I could across the kisser.
“You big lug, what did you think you were doing, jumping into the pits of hell! Don’t ever do that again…without me!” Then I planted a big kiss of that sweet scoundrel, and he returned the favor.
After a moment, I noticed that Hummingbird was standing across form us and looked very chagrined, like this was first time he lost out on a dame. Of course it probably was, at least in his own mind.
Before I could say anything to the writer, Skinny Shmengy came up to him and said, “Hey, look Mr. Humpingbird, me and brother Yosh back to being Human. I no more wolf, he no more goo! Um…oh…Mr. Humpingbird, I hate to say but just before I turn back from wolf, I whee’d on your leg. Sorry. Nice beard by way.”
I turned back to Wagmore and we kissed again. It was perfect.