The Diadem of Kings by Newton Webb
José led his men under the thick jungle canopy. Wet, fetid plants smeared grime over their polished breastplates. The oppressive heat weighed down upon them. Raucous birds and insects competed to outdo each other in a cacophony.
It was a stark contrast to his villa in Valencia. Once again, he swore undying enmity against his brother. He should be home raising horses. Instead, he was disinherited, traipsing through the vibrant, green hell and battling a world full of creatures great and small who all wished death upon them.
Puzo, the heathen assigned to them, was unbothered. His tattooed and pierced body was unscathed by the jungle horrors. Only the ungodly could survive a hellscape such as this. Nay, not survive, thrive like vermin.
Suddenly, the jungle parted and below them lay a vista which caused his men to pause in wonder. The jungle had almost entirely reclaimed an ancient pyramid. The great slabs were lost beneath a glittering green shroud, adrift in a viridescent sea.
José farted. Loud, proudly and in utter defiance to the verdant paradise in front of him.
‘Let’s get this done.’ So we can return to civilisation. His men snapped their eyes back to face the front. If there was as much gold in the foul structures as the savages boasted, gold that rightly belonged to the church, then he could return home in glory.
The Sherpas set up a base camp whilst the soldiers began the descent using steps barely discernible from scree. As they lowered into the valley, the humidity rose making breathing difficult. He took the opportunity to curse his brother again.
They began walking through a large boulevard. The stones seemed to pulse with life. Thick vines gave the sickly appearance of the structures having pulsing veins roped around them. The plants shuddered under the leather boots of the conquistadors. Some of the more foolish and heretical soldiers gawked at the temple in slack-jawed awe.
‘Eyes front. This abomination is nothing more than an idol to false gods.’ His attention returning, he saw Puzo had vanished. The imbecile was meant to stay in sight at all times. As he went to raise his voice to call to the heathen, he noticed the jungle had fallen silent. Deathly silent.
‘Form square,’ he yelled instinctively.
But his men were already dying.
From the vegetation came apes, grey of fur and gargantuan of size. They piled into the formation. A serried volley cracked from those still able to fire with little effect. The musket balls serving only to enrage the savage beats. One soldier had his arms torn from his body in a terrifying display of strength. Another, his helmet lost and sword impotent had his skull crushed by the ravening jaws of his quarry. José aimed his pistol at it and then did the only thing a true Christian could. He lowered the pistol, dropped and rolled under the foliage saving his soul from the hell spawned creatures. Listening to the carnage, José crawled until clear of the ruins. The usual sounds of jungle chaos resumed its strident song as he escaped the massacre. He stood up, slapping at an insect bite on his neck.
In front of him stood Puzo. ‘Heathen! Where were you when my men were martyred?’
Puzo regarded him coolly. ‘I was recovering what was rightfully mine.’ He held up a shining gold crown. ‘The Diadem of Kings, my birthright, long lost to the jungle.’
José lurched forwards, hands outstretched, but dizziness staggered him. Puzo remained standing, watching him with disdain. ‘Who are you?’
‘My name, invader, is Tupac, rightful ruler of the Incas and I will not rest until the last of the Spanish have been slain and my throne restored.’
José saw the blowpipe in his hands and, as his legs failed, remembered what he had thought was an insect bite. He looked up to see Tupac shouting in his infidel language.
As he watched Tupac vanish into the jungle. José could slowly feel the senses returning to his muscles, his legs twitched. You’ll pay for this traitor. Rage fuelling him, he began to lever himself up.
Despite the sun beating down upon him, a sudden chill ran down his spine. He could hear the apes again. They were coming closer.
And they sounded hungry.