Hanno emerged from the inner island.

  A cacophony of noise greeted him, birds cawing and beasts growling. He spotted the black-haired creatures who’d sniffed at the beach the night before. They toppled trees and pulled down branches in their continued search. Why they hadn’t looked for him on the golden island he did not know, but he found a spot on the far shore where he hoped they wouldn’t be looking.

  Hanno slung the golden knife into his belt and swam across the calm lake while the sun fully rose.

  When he emerged on the other side, quiet as could be, he drew the gifted blade and planted his feet upon the sand.

  “Gorillae!” Hanno shouted.

  The roaring halted. The island itself seemed to pause.

  “Here I am! Show yourselves, cowards!” the king beckoned.

  Stillness. Not even a wind came through the unmoving trees.

  A single thump from a heavy foot was all the warning Hanno received before a long-horned rhinoceros charged through the forest.

  It lowered its head to skewer the king, but Hanno ducked out of the way and stabbed its head.

  The thin blade barely left a mark on the enormous creature. The beast made a tree-felling turn and charged a second time.

  When it did, Hanno heard the trumpet of an elephant crashing through the forest, and both beasts stomped toward him with earth-shaking speed.

  Hanno ran toward the beach, where a falcon dove into the water and emerged as a snapping crocodile.

  Pressed on all sides, Hanno worried over his sword but kept it sheathed. The rhino stomped its foot while the elephant closed. A growl from a panther crouching in the trees warned Hanno he had little time.

  “This is a blade from the Horn of the South,” Hanno threatened, showing them the golden knife.

  But the Gorillae seemed unafraid. The stabbed rhino barely bled. And yet where the morning sun glistened against that dot of crimson, Hanno saw brown, smooth skin blossoming beneath its grey hide.

  The beast roared.

  “Come and get me,” Hanno mocked, and dashed into the trees.

  A quick lunge across the sand was all he needed to avoid the slow-footed elephant, and while the panther dashed toward him, a quick swipe against its snout kept it at bay.

  The rhino, though, demolished all in its path, and even the panther had to make way for the tremendous creature. It smashed through branches and lowered its head to uproot a tree between it and the fleeing king.

  The second he found a clearing, Hanno stopped and faced the charging monster.

  “Here I am!” Hanno urged, and held the golden blade behind his back.

  The rhino never paused, and presented its horn.

  Hanno dove out of the way a moment before it would have impaled him, and ran the golden knife along the beast’s armored side.

  Had it been his sword, it would have simply deflected off. Had he stabbed the creature like he’d done before, the thin blade would have accomplished little more than pricking the rhino’s flesh. But the knife slid along the gray hide like shears upon a sheep, and cut a crimson line from head to tail.

  The rhino floundered, and fell to its belly in a pile of matted flesh. It seemed to deflate, the skin shrinking into a thin leather cloak. A naked woman emerged from beneath the pile, and when she looked upon herself, she screamed.

  The panther entered the clearing before Hanno could react, tearing open his shoulder with a swipe of its claws.

  Hanno swung in return, and sliced through the great cat’s paw.

  It crouched to leap again, licking the wound, and stared with wide, golden eyes at a human hand where the claws had been.

  A pair of eagles dove toward the clearing, missing Hanno and the king missing them.

  The elephant stomped through the path the rhino had carved and shook its wide head, striking Hanno in the side with its thick trunk.

  Only a quick roll across the beach kept him from meeting the crocodile’s maw. Hanno took to his feet and ran when the eagles circled overhead once more.

  One of them was missing a clump of feathers on the left side of its head.

  “Liva!” Hanno shouted, hoping the undamaged eagle was the transformed Lixitae. “Liva, I’m here!”

  The beasts kept up their pursuit. They surrounded Hanno and lunged time and again, summoning blood and earning cuts that slowed the king’s blows and opened him to further wounds.

  Claw and beak and trunk and tooth, Hanno dashed away from them all. But his blood poured onto the sand, and the king felt the golden blade grow heavy in his hand.

  “Liva!” Hanno cried.

  He no longer tried to strike the beasts. It took all his concentration to flee from sand to dirt to lake to tree, the animals tearing his flesh with each near miss.

  The one-eared eagle landed atop the elephant while Hanno parried the one-clawed panther. The eagle became a man Hanno knew.

  “Gorillae!” Hanno shouted, wiping the blood out of his eyes. “Where is Liva?”

  The beast master merely pointed to the sky, where the second eagle still circled. He mocked Hanno in a language the king didn’t understand. Only one word stood out: Liva, then laughter.

  “Liva, you know me! You know I am the one who brought you here, the one who has shared countless stories and songs and nights,” Hanno urged.

  The leader of the Gorillae swept his arm to the side as if to silence the king.

  Panting, Hanno extended his arm.

  “You know me, Liva!” the king shouted. “But you must have forgotten who you are!”

  Hanno ran the golden knife along his own flesh, cleaning the skin just below his elbow.

  The animals stepped back, wary of some spell the bleeding king might be casting and wide-eyed at the flesh he tossed onto the beach.

  “You are my queen!” Hanno said, and set the golden blade upon the sand.

  He inhaled through his teeth, and exhaled through his nose.

  The eagle never stopped circling.

  The leader of the Gorillae laughed, and pointed at the king.

  With a growl, the panther leapt at him.

  Hanno twisted out of its path and ran from the crocodile while the elephant charged.

  The Gorillae leader returned to his one-eared eagle form and circled overhead, shrieking in triumph.

  “Liva! Liva, my queen!” Hanno shouted.

  The panther grabbed hold of him with its human hand, twisting Hanno to the ground.

  But Hanno saw, as he looked between the charging elephant’s legs, the eagle that was Liva land beside his offered blade.

  It clutched the knife with its talons.

  The Gorillae leader cried out in anger, but before it dove, the eagle that was Liva raked her side with the golden blade.

  The eagles collided in a clash of wings, and the shrieks they made stopped the elephant. It turned around, as did the crocodile and the panther.

  Amidst the blood and feathers, a human hand emerged. It sliced at talons, and one of the eagles, Hanno knew not which, shrieked in terror.

  The elephant, panther, and crocodile raced to protect their leader, leaving Hanno bleeding on the beach.

  The two eagles took to the sky. They slashed at each other, but even as she fought, Liva ran the knife along her own skin. She stripped the feathers from her flesh, revealing blood-soaked human legs, a human waist and two human arms, while shrieking an eagle’s head and flapping golden wings.

  She swung and clawed and bit and scratched at the leader of the Gorillae, until she clasped him about the wings.

  They both fell into the lake.

  The beasts on the beach returned to human form, two women and one man, all wearing leather cloaks. They shouted at the ripples where Liva and their leader had disappeared.

  A pair of enormous wings split the water, and Liva flew out of the lake naked and clean, wielding the golden knife and holding a tattered leather cloak.

  She threw the cloak down, hovering over the water, where the one-eared leader of the Gorillae bubbled to the surface, his face down in a growing circle of blood.

  Liva spoke to the Gorillae in their own language, and directed the knife toward them.

  The Gorillae shrieked in fright and returned to their large, hairy-beasted forms.

  Liva dove at the closest before she could escape, and swept the golden blade across the creature’s back.

  The Gorillae collapsed as the rhino had done, returned to its naked, human form.

  With a sweep of her wings, Liva closed upon the second of the three and cleaned its skin as well.

  The third paused to hurl stones at the Lixitae. Its thick arms picked up missile after missile from the beach, and while Liva shouted at him to stop, she had to duck between the trees to protect herself.

  This gave the last Gorillae time to disappear into the forest. A few moments later, a falcon rose into the sky, headed toward the ocean as fast as its wings could travel.

  Liva paused a moment, hovering over the lake and watching the falcon. She shouted at it once, but the falcon never slowed, and soon disappeared.

  Liva turned and looked down upon the bleeding king. She swept her wings and made her angelic descent to his side. Once on the beach, she placed her hands against her shoulders and removed the wings as she would a shawl. They dissolved into a wide strip of leather.

  “You are my king,” said Liva.

  “And you are my queen,” said Hanno.

  They embraced with a passion so fierce all pains fled Hanno’s body like snow upon a bier.

  The skinned Gorillae shrieked in despair, removing the king and queen from their reunion. The women donned their cloaks to no effect, and wailed and wailed like orphaned children.

  Liva called out to them in their language, but they made no response.

  They each ran into the lake and sank like stones.

  “No!” Liva shouted.

  She donned her leather shawl and sprouted her long, golden wings, using them to fly over the lake to try and rescue the women. Hanno swam to meet them, but they remained under the water.

  Each time Hanno or Liva dove to bring them to the surface, the Gorillae bit and scratched them so violently the rescuers nearly drowned. And so they abandoned the effort, watching in wary horror as the women stopped moving.

  “There’s nothing for it,” Liva lamented.

  Hanno nodded, and swam back to the beach.

  There he sat, bloodied and broken, the winged Liva landing beside him.

  “I’m sorry,” Hanno said.

  “For what are you sorry?” Liva asked.

  “For not having the strength to save you before. For not knowing the strength you always had.”

  “I am sorry too. For not believing we could overcome despair, for giving in to it.”

  Liva lowered her head, and Hanno rested his upon her shoulder.

  They sat there a while, catching their breath hand in hand.

  “They took me away. They took my mind,” Liva said.

  Hanno squeezed her human fingers. She squeezed back.

  “How did you know that I would pick up your knife?” she asked.

  “Because I know you,” Hanno said.

  Liva smiled.

  “I spoke with the Horn of the South,” Hanno continued. He tilted his head toward the golden island at the lake’s middle. “I told it I hoped you were still alive, and it gave me that.”

  Liva still held the golden knife in her other hand, still wore the golden wings the Gorillae had forced upon her.

  “You didn’t know it could do this?” Liva asked.

  “I didn’t even know where you were,” Hanno admitted. “I suppose the Horn of the South knew what it was doing when it gave me that.”

  Liva lowered her shoulder and removed her wings, returning them to their leather shawl form.

  “I’m here now,” she said.

  “And nothing will remove us. You are my greatest hope, Liva. I love you with all of my heart,” Hanno said.

  “And I love you.”

  They kissed, and let it linger for some time.

  Only when a distant rumble shook the island did they detach. A high pillar of smoke rose into the sky, and they heard the low roar of the Chariot of the Gods.

  “He’s going to kill my people,” Hanno said, and stood.

  Liva rose beside him and asked, “Is there anything we can do?”

  “The Horn of the South told me you could stop him.”

  “Me? I was with you when we failed the first time.”

  “When I asked how to defeat the mountain, it said to save you, and it gave me this blade.”

  “Then you should take it.”

  Liva offered Hanno the knife, but he closed her fingers around its handle.

  “No. You figured out how to skin the Gorillae while keeping your mind and their power. You should wield it,” Hanno insisted.

  “But how will a golden knife stop a mountain?”

  “I hoped you might know.”

  Liva looked at the blade, and shook her head. The quaking returned, and a flash of red heralded the spreading of black clouds that covered the sun. The golden island grew dark, but just before it disappeared beneath a wave of shadows, Hanno heard a singing voice cry out, “It is a good hope.”

  The words echoed in the golden blade like the vibrations from a bell. Liva nearly dropped it, but Hanno stilled her hand.

  “That is the Horn of the South,” Hanno said, and tapped the knife’s handle.

  “It’s a knife and an island?” Liva asked.

  “And it said you would be able to stop the mountain, just like it said I could save you.”

  “I’m not a fan of prophecy as of late, Hanno. We’ve already seen Seer’s first image fulfilled when Bostar died.”

  “This isn’t prophecy. This is hope. I hope in you, Liva.”

  The shadows grew, and gathered upon the mountain.

  “Suffete said the Chariot of the Gods will attack my colonies. He’ll destroy every last one of them,” Hanno warned.

  “Then we have to stop it!” said Liva.

  “Agreed. Liva, listen to me.” Hanno held her by the shoulders and looked her in the eye. “You’re so beautiful.”

  “As are you.”

  Hanno shook his head. “My body is unimportant, we’ve already seen that. My life is unimportant.”

  “Of course it’s important. You are my king.”

  “And you are my queen. But we must stop that mountain. The lives of my people depend on it. We don’t have time to do anything more than hope that we can overcome it.”

  “By ourselves? Just us and a knife?”

  Hanno embraced his queen, and said, “I know you, Liva. And you know me. If this can be done, it will be. That or we shall perish in the most glorious of songs.”

  Liva laughed. “With no one around to sing it.”

  “Then hope for that, my queen. Hope for that song.”

  “It is a good hope,” chimed the blade.

  Chariot answered the words with a tremendous blast of heat and smoke.

  Liva swallowed her fear and said, “We have to hurry.”

A note from DavidDHammons

Thanks for reading! New chapters will be added MWF. Please rank and review. If you would like to support my writing, please consider donating through Royal Road or supporting me via Patreon. I also have books available on Amazon, author name David D. Hammons, if you would like to read more of my work.

About the author


Bio: I once snuck into a castle. It wasn’t a terribly good castle. In fact it was quite old and broken, but it had a shut door I wasn’t supposed to go through. Yet through it I went. I climbed an ancient wall I shouldn’t have climbed, wandered across borders without using the approved path, and was handed a silver trophy for a contest I wasn’t allowed to enter. From my time growing up in the Missouri Ozarks to my travels abroad, I couldn’t help going places and doing things I probably shouldn’t. Perhaps more of those doors needed 'Keep Out' signs, or if they did have signs they should have been locked, and if they had been locked they shouldn’t have hidden such amazing things that made going through them so worthwhile. I currently live in Springfield, Missouri, where I teach Marketing, study History, and, alongside my wonderful wife, make a valiant attempt at passing through the doorway of writing.

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