• Nied Darnell


Updated: Mar 24

This Ridley chap had a worrisome assortment of items capable of killing anything from a mouse to a bull elephant, Heath mused as Mena lay each item in the man’s cache across the narrow bunk that had been provided for her in the smallest tent in the encampment. Either she had ousted Ishmael from such royal accoutrements, or it had once served as a library for the scientists. There was an uncomfortable number of books balanced in near tottering piles, some with titles given in Latin and some that, although he knew they were written in English might as well have been Greek the words were so bulked up with scientific specifications. Gibberish, as far as ninety-nine percent of the world’s population was concerned.

While Ridley possessed a pistol very like the one she carried, and called a blaster (though for some reason her partner hadn’t taken it with him), he hadn’t forgone weapons that used lead and gunpowder to make a statement. The man had a nice assortment of easily concealed knives in sheaths it was no trouble to buckle to forearms or thigh. Heath did both. There was no telling what they would encounter. He also urged La Katchemstross to exchange her safari skirt for a pair of the missing man’s trousers, sighting the fact that they would be climbing the next day.

Not that he was enthusiastic about the exercise, but a man with an empty pocket and no audience did what he must do. He only hoped the thunderbird – if such it turned out to be – didn’t fancy actor as an entrée. Or pretentious crumpet, for that matter. He’d grown fond of his erstwhile employer which meant if a sticky wicket arose, he’d need to switch roles. Despite success as a villain, he did have the strong jaw asinine heroic chaps tended to possess.

At first Heath wondered whether the man whose spare cot Macus lent to him would allow him to get a good night’s rest. The berk’s fondness for the bottle won out in the end, but not before he had regaled Heath with the difficulties of being a geologist in a land where nearly everything a geologist would find interesting was out-of-bounds for a fellow if he wasn’t hired by the damned government to find the next big bonanza. Which this git obviously hadn’t been.

“Instead I’m forced to take on positions such as this one where I’m good for little more than finding the right sedimentary rock to have a batch of extinct lizards tucked inside it,” he’d said.

When at last the man had passed out, sleep arrived quickly. As had occurred every morning of the trek to this isolated place, Morpheus ran off the moment the bloody birds began greeting the dawn. The scientist whose sturdy canvas roof he shared, snored on. But then, lacking an audience had made distributing the various weapons about his form possible without fielding questions.

In the cook tent, Heath found strong coffee and something Ishmael called a biscuit but tasted like a well-handled playwright’s manuscript. He’d skipped the rot gut the evening before and had slept in too many thin walled hotels for the snores of his soused tentmate to keep him from Hypnos’s arms. By comparison, Mena von Katchemstross was pale and hollow-eyed at dawn. However, she was attired in trousers and braces, the overlong legs bundled into the tops of her boots to keep her from tripping on them. She had helped herself to her partner’s shirts as well and, lacking shirt studs, sufficed with pinning the front closed with a selection of colorful broaches. The pith helmet was in place atop bundled hair.

Heath walked around her. “I don’t see your weapon,” he said.

“It’s in my hat.”

“Which you’ve cinched in place with a strap.”

“So that it won’t fall off.”

“Making you unable to swiftly acquire your weapon should the need arise.”

She looked little repentant but completely irritated. No doubt because she knew he was right. “I do have these,” she said, and surprised him with the sudden appearance of two pocket pistols sliding from beneath her shirt sleeves and into her hands.

“Very nice,” he agreed, “but very limited on the number of shots.”

“I’m not expecting a confrontation, sir.”

He retrieved the pack with minimal supplies but plenty of bandages and ammunition. “I would have thought a covert crumpet would appreciate the need to always be prepared. Or even better, over prepared. Here, strap this in place,” he said, tossing her a pistol already nestled in a leather holster. “Take good care of it as it is on loan from Ishmael, although he has no idea that he’s lent it out.”

“You stole it?”

“Borrowed and as I am not the one wearing it, he will likely cherish it forever when it is returned,” Heath said as he slung the rifle’s sheath across his back and the pack on top of it. He was pleased that she gave no further rebuttal but settled the gun belt in place around her hips.

Lovely broad and swaying ones they were, too. He knew from trailing behind her like the petticoat stalking wolf he was. He’d always been a connoisseur of the female form and had given hers high marks days ago. The borrowed trousers merely enhanced the view.

There was no party of scientists to wish them well when they strolled away from camp. The only beings to watch were the currently complacent mule as it looked up from nibbling on a patch of grass as they passed, and a locally domiciled lizard that peered at them then hurried off to spread gossip among the neighbors. Or so Heath fancied. A fellow hunting a lost man who might or might not be in the clinched talons of a mythological creature such as a thunderbird was allowed to let his imagination frolic where it might.

The chance that there was a thunderbird was far more likely than Mena’s tale about burst packing crates though. It was just the type of histrionics an illusionist on the Lyceum circuit might create, yet there had been no audience. Rather than puzzle over it, Heath scanned the cliffs when they reached the foot of them, hoping for a path of some sort. A narrow ledge. Something that when he fell from it, he’d die upon impact would be nice. When it came to death scenes, he preferred the dramatic sort before a full house, not one that rendered him a meal for a passing carnivore, mythological or not, but such may not be within his choosing. At least thus far there were boulders forming a crude, irregular staircase to take them further up the cliff. He’d take what fate delivered and devise a plan only when one was needed, Heath decided and reached for a handhold.

Mena spotted another blotch of blood before he did. “We’re headed the correct way,” she called, sounding energized by the find. The trouble was, she found it at the opening of another vertical crevasse. One only an eagle might have hopped through but never a thunderbird.

If there was such a thing.

“Do we go in?” she asked.

“Without a lantern?”

She stuck her head inside the narrow opening. “I think there is light at the end. Ridley might be sheltering further inside.”

Or he might have crawled to the opposite end and tumbled off a precipice, Heath mused but didn’t give voice to the thought. “It’s your quest, sweetums,” he said. “Your decision, but I’ll go first. If I can’t get through, we back out.”

He was only partially relieved when she agreed. Given a choice of possible scenarios to be encountered, he’d go for dealing with an irate thunderbird with talons extended. That he could shoot.

The space was too narrow to squeeze into with the pack and rifle on his back. Slipping free of both, he kept the rifle in hand. Mena, he noticed, gathered the pack by its strap in hers, prepared to drag it behind her.

Though the walls felt smooth and cool, the closed in space set his heart beating quickly and beads of sweat forming on his brow. The only benefit was that the ceiling was somewhere far above, and they didn’t have to crawl through the place. He was never again going to bet his last twenty dollars on the turn of a card, Heath swore to himself. Not without learning how to palm a better hand first, at least. Perhaps he should give up the frontier circuit, find a nice comfortable theatre in a place like St. Louis or Chicago. Settle down far from the uncomfortable positions he got himself into in the territories. Like this bloody cave.

“What was that?” Mena asked. She’d whispered the words, but they echoed in the chamber, showing that while narrow, the ceiling was that of a cathedral, reaching nearly to the top of the cliff.

The opening was very near now. He could almost face forwards rather than squeeze through sideways. Sunlight in the opening hurt his eyes after the dark of the cave. Then something flew past and gave a cry.

A human cry.

Of delight.

“I believe someone shouted yahoo,” Heath said as he watched a huge bird soar past. It resembled a hawk, but only if the hawk in question was the size of a stagecoach with a wing spread that threatened to blot out the sun. Which it might well, he mused, considering it was as dark a gray as thunderclouds with white tipped feathers that when it banked seemed to resemble lightning strikes.

“That sounded like Ridley!” La Katchemstross declared and, in her eagerness to verify that her partner was indeed still alive, jostled Heath and nearly launched him into space.

“Oh!” she gasped as no ground appeared beyond the gap, though water did.

Still, Heath was unprepared when a tentacle wrapped around his torso and yanked him off his feet and into the sunshine. Then the monster pulled him under water.


Yes, a cliffhanger in more ways than one…

though our intrepid actor isn’t clinging to a cliff by any means.

Episode #7 arrives March 1st!

And if this is your first introduction to

The Covert Cogs tales

you might enjoy the first two:


#Kindle getbook.at/SHOOTIST


#Kindle getbook.at/REPURPOSED