tagBDSMPerils of the Last Jungle Ch. 03

Perils of the Last Jungle Ch. 03


Part III: Queen of the Terrordactyl Riders!


Of all the tribes in the Last Jungle, the terrordactyl riders were the one Jace had the least contact with. They were more isolated than the rest, and also, crucially, the most advanced in many respects. The fortress they inhabited atop the Skyteeth, it was a magnificent construction. Actually she wasn't sure they had built it themselves. They may have taken it over from someone else. Another people who no longer existed. The terrordactyl riders may have wiped them out, or perhaps they didn't have to. Perhaps they'd found the fortress already empty. That had happened before, many times. There were more than a few other strange structures scattered across the jungle which were presently occupied by people who hadn't made them, and wouldn't have known how. All those others were generally in a far more ruinous state. Crumbling, overgrown, mournful. The fortress atop the Skyteeth was no ruin. It shined and sparkled in the sun, more crystal than stone. And more like a cathedral than a castle.

Most of it, however, stood empty. The terrordactyl riders were not numerous enough to fill it all. Less than half, by Jace's estimate. In fact they would have filled the place a great deal less, if not for the size of their monstrous steeds. Those damned things took up a lot of space, especially when they spread themselves out.

She had another name for the tribe, though for some reason she didn't use it as much. It was the Dreadswoops. They liked that name a lot, she'd been told. Maybe for that very reason, she usually stuck with the other one, the older one.

She called their flying creatures "terrordactyls" for two reasons. First, when she was a little child, it was how she thought the name of flying dinosaurs was really meant to be pronounced. It was what she'd heard the first time somebody said "pterodactyl" to her. An older cousin, as she recalled, pointing to the suspended skeleton in a museum, and Jace never knew if the other girl mispronounced it deliberately in a (successful) attempt to baffle and frighten her, or if she just heard her wrong.

Secondly, the creatures the Dreadswoops rode were not exactly pterodactyls, or not the same sort as that museum had displayed, back so long ago on Earth-as-she-knew-it. These beauties were much larger and much scarier. Not exactly dinosaurs, either, far as she could tell. Her classification was no joke—it was perfectly apt. They were black with red or yellow stripes in zigzag patterns. Jace wasn't sure if those colors were natural or painted on by their riders. Their long, toothy beaks opened sideways, like the mandibles of an ant, and they had extraordinarily stretchable, sticky tongues like frogs or chameleons which could shoot out great distances and latch on things to pull into their jaws with lightning speed. She'd seen one do that to a baby elephant, snatching it from beneath its mother's belly where it had been cowering. Far too bulky a victim to swallow right off, the terrordactyl had taken it to their nests, and the elephants' screams as it was carried away (not the screams of the infant alone, but of the whole entire herd from which it was stolen) still haunted Jace. Always would.

She loathed the things. It was probably unworthy and inappropriate for the Jungle Goddess to make such a sweeping and condemnatory judgment—nevertheless, Jace considered the terrordactyls to be the worst, foulest creatures in her realm. Except perhaps for the giant bog leeches, which looked like living turds with teeth, their bodies longer than crocodiles. You only had to contend with them in the swamps, though, while the terrordactyls were a threat anywhere.

It had occurred to her they would probably—no, certainly—be a far worse problem for her and for everyone else if the Dreadswoop tribe didn't exist. Thankfully they did, and they kept the creatures under control. Limited their feeding, limited their numbers.

They themselves were not quite human. Too thin and stringy, with blueish or greenish skin. Their eyes were too big, and they had pointy ears that resembled river reeds, very narrow and sharp-edged. They stuck up higher than the tops of their heads.

They were probably some variety or relation of elves, or faeries, if you preferred. They'd initially come to the Last Jungle as refugees from some other world, like so many others, while Jace was still quite young. Still developing her skills. Growing into her destiny.

Currently their leader was called Sly-Slash. (She wasn't sure if that really intentionally implied what it sounded like; probably not, for they had a language of their own. Probably it was an absurd coincidence.) He didn't like Jace, and Jace didn't like him. He had a grudge against her. His wife had gone missing and he went to Jace for help finding her. They had got along better back then. Jace was glad at the time to assist him. She'd done the best she could.

She'd found his wife among the centaur tribe. At first it looked like the woman had been kidnapped by them. But she didn't want to leave when Jace tried to rescue her. She didn't want to go back to Sly-Slash. Turned out the centaurs hadn't captured her, after all—she'd gone off with them of her accord. She had a thing for them. She had sought them out.

Sly-Slash had great difficulty accepting all of this. He'd wanted to go to war. When he said so, Jace told him she would have to side against him, with the centaurs. She would have to keep him from taking the woman back. "She's not your wife anymore," Jace had said, "She's now the wife of the centaur chief. She's picked him over you, and you must accept that. War won't change her mind. Even if you can win, you won't win her back. She'll just hate you worse."

Sly-Slash hadn't gone ahead with his useless war, but he hadn't spoken to Jace since then either.

Meeting him again, and on his own ground too, was going to be awkward for her, to say the very least. She wasn't looking forward to it.

Then when the leader of the Dreadswoops strode in, it wasn't the man she expected. In fact it wasn't a man at all. The tribe had a new leader? Apparently they did, and it was a female.

She had a helmet on when she entered. It was made from a skull of some sort; Jace wasn't sure of the species. Something fearsome, with horns and big teeth. The skull-helmet completely obscured the woman's face, until, with a theatrical flourish, she pulled it off.

And Jace gasped. She also stumbled backwards two or three steps as if she had been shoved. She couldn't help it.

"Hello, Jungle Goddess," said the Queen of Dreadswoops. This was no elf. She was as human as Jace was. A tall, lean blonde with icy eyes and an icier smile. Beautiful, yes, but it was the same sort of beauty as sunlight off a knife blade.

She'd first come to the Last Jungle as a scientist and an explorer. Also a treasure-seeker. She had established herself as one of the worst of Jace's adversaries, and she had done that very fast and, it had to be said, quite cheerfully. She had enjoyed being Jace's enemy. She had relished the role.

She was supposed to have died, though. Quite a while back. How in all hell had the bitch got herself up here? With a helmet like that, too—the helmet of a queen.

Her name was Ingrid Stronnohoff.


At least Jace wasn't bound that time, and she was clothed. She was supposed to be a guest, not a prisoner. She wasn't at the other woman's mercy like almost all the other times she'd faced this awful bitch, not like she might have been, not like she would have expected. She had no weapons at hand, but neither did Ingrid. They stood alone in the vast chamber (though its many looming pillars, intricately carved with writhing serpents and a number of other less identifiable creatures, gave Jace the eerie sensation of being watched over). Of course Ingrid could have called in more soldiers whenever she chose, if Jace had tried assaulting her right off. Still, doing exactly that might have been Jace best move. Could have been her only decent chance.

Jace didn't take it. She held back. She hesitated. Why? Wasn't like her to do that. Second-guessing went against her nature, or at least she liked to believe that it did.

When they brought her to the castle, they had been courteous with her, even kind. Once they'd arrived, anyway. Once they'd set her on her feet again. They let her bathe and they'd brought her food and wine, and also new garments. The clothes weren't her usual animal skins, but neither were they the same sort of costumes the Dreadswoops wore themselves, leather leggings and shaggy vests, with long capes. It was like they'd made things specifically for Jace—the kind of outfit they knew she liked—but with their own techniques. So what they gave her was a two piece costume like she made for herself, only the leather was hairless on the outside, much smoother and thinner and more flexible, and yet the pieces fit her more securely, fastening together with little metallic clips instead of simple laces. The pieces were black and shiny. When she'd looked at herself in a mirror after putting the clothes on, she'd felt like she was seeing an evil version of herself because of the color and the over-polished, slick texture of the leather.

They'd also given her black boots. Jace had tried them on but taken them back off almost immediately. The boots had fit too snug and pinched her toes a little, and also they had high heels. Jace just couldn't walk in boots like that. She could barely stand in place without wobbling and feeling ludicrous. She preferred to stay barefoot, though the floors of the castle were painfully hard and chilly, and somehow so spotlessly clean that despite the bath she'd just taken, she felt like she was leaving tracks behind herself wherever she stepped, like a wild animal brought inside from the jungle. Which after all was the truth. Jace didn't belong in places like the castle. She didn't fit. She didn't want to.

Ingrid was wearing boots just like the pair Jace was offered. They looked dangerous. The sharp-pointed toes, the spiked heels—either of those could easily put out someone's eye. They turned Ingrid's feet into vicious weapons, so it wasn't accurate to think of her as unarmed. Not with boots like those.

Plus they made her taller, another advantage. More regal and, frankly, stylish. Dashing. Like an adventuress, a heroine from the movies of Earth that haunted Jace's memory. And Ingrid had no trouble balancing in the damn things.

What sort of game was Ingrid playing? Since she, somehow, had become the leader of the Dreadswoops, why hadn't Jace been hauled immediately before her in chains? Or were the chains about to come, now that Ingrid had revealed herself? Maybe the intention had been to lull Jace into false complacency, in order to make her surprise appearance that much more shocking. Well, if that had been her plan, it had worked.

Jace realized she was terrified. Also she really needed to piss, all the sudden. That was what this woman's presence did to her, thanks to the history between them. She didn't want to fight Ingrid again—she didn't want to take revenge on her. She mostly wanted to get away, to flee the room without a word or a backward glance. If it would have done her any good, she would have run. But that was a bad idea; it would have been pointless. Even if she could have outfought or just evaded all the Dreadswoop soldiers in the fortress, there was no way down off the Skyteeth if you weren't riding a terrordactyl. She couldn't control those creatures. The cliffs were absolutely sheer, impossible to climb. She could only get herself back to the jungle if she jumped, and that wouldn't turn out very nice when she landed.

"Where is Sly-Slash?" Jace demanded, folding her arms under her breasts and straightening her stance. She hoped this made her look appropriately stern, not merely defensive. "What has become of him? How could you, of all people, manage to usurp his position?"

Ingrid snorted and made a dismissive gesture. "There was no usurpation. I proved my worthiness for the crown. In combat. Sly-Slash himself endorsed the decision, believe it or not."

"I don't believe it."

"Well, it doesn't make a difference. Your opinion doesn't change the facts. I rule these people. Sly-Slash has become something of a philosopher. He keeps himself in seclusion, for the most part."

"I thought you had returned to your Fatherland."

"No. That wasn't possible. The boat was gone, by the time I made my way back to the lakeshore. The men must have abandoned me. Repugnant cowards. Not long afterward, I was taken captive again. There was a mechanical trap with a net—surprisingly well engineered for this world. Scooped me off my feet in a bundle. I've still no idea how it was triggered. Doesn't really matter. However it happened, once again I'd been made helpless."

"The terrordactyl riders, I assume?"

"No, it was another tribe that did it, actually. They crawled out from slimy holes between the tree roots. Loathsome little goblins. Their faces looked a lot like foxes, but they had hides like tree bark instead of fur, and monkey tails that could grab things. They all smelled like mushrooms, all the time."

"The Snatchers."

"Is that what you call them? Hmm. None of them stood taller than my knee. They didn't do much to me. Not like I expected when I saw them coming, considering the looks on their foxy faces and the sounds they were making. I was with them only a short time. They sold me to the Dreadswoops, you see. I suppose that's why they kept their grubby paws off my body, for the most part—to preserve my value. Of course when I was carried up here, I was meant to become a concubine. I don't suppose the chaps that purchased me had any other ideas on their minds. I don't mind telling you, I was very gratified to discover that they're a much more advanced and hygienic people than the goblins or those degenerate Blood Apes—nonetheless, they were every bit as filthy-minded, and wanted the same things from me. I didn't put up with it. I didn't let them boss me around. I didn't let them break me."

"How? How did you do that?" Jace had never managed so well in similar circumstances.

"The key was to show them that I was much more useful for other things. There was a significant amount of in-fighting going on, and trouble with trogres."


"Big spooky predators that lurk around up here with us on the Skyteeth. I guess you never have to deal with them down in your forests. Too steamy. They seem to be made out of rock and ice, believe it or not, which is fascinating, scientifically. Some sort of troll or ogre. I wasn't sure which, so I combined the two terms. The Dreadswoops were having a hard time with them, harder than usual. The trogres had grown too numerous, too aggressive, too determined, while the whole time the Dreadswoops couldn't agree on a strategy. Got so bad they killed more of each other than the trogres. I put a stop to all that idiocy. Showed them how to settle the question for good. Also at one point I saved a bunch of their children from the monsters all by myself when nobody else was available. After that, they initiated me into the tribe. Honor obligated it."

"And then you took over."

"Like I told you, I simply demonstrated that I was—that I am—the best of their fighters. The smartest. It's the most sensible thing, for the best and the smartest to lead. How can you argue against that?"

"What is it that makes you the best, in their view? Ferocity? Cruelty?"

"Not those attributes alone. But neither would I deny that they have value. Two of my principal strengths among several others."

"Humility certainly isn't one."

That got her to laugh. "I'll grant that it's not, if in turn you'll grant me that such a feature is of little utility for a warrior queen. Not in a world like this. Not in the Last Jungle."

Jace shrugged. "I take your point."

Ingrid seated herself on a throne. It was black marble and uncushioned. Didn't look at all comfortable, and yet Ingrid appeared perfectly at ease there. She crossed her legs, and her dangling foot flexed idly, and it attracted Jace's eye. It was easier to watch that foot kick around than meeting Ingrid's smug gaze. "I admit I'm curious," said the queen, "What happened to Catriona? I am informed she's never seen with you anymore. What became of the pitiful little bitch? Oh my, I can see from your face it's a sore subject. Did she die on you?"

"No, she didn't die. She's doing quite well, I believe."

"You had a falling out?"

One way to put it, perhaps. "She decided to join the ghost wolves."

"Ghost wolves? Are these actual wolves, or is it only a grandiose name for another group of shabby primitives, like those Blood Apes or the Snatchers?"

"Actual wolves. Well, actual ghost wolves."

"Ah. I see. How does that work?"

"I'm not certain. She ... she changed. They changed her, to make her part of their pack."

"You mean she transformed? Physically?"

"Yes. And spiritually too. I tried to get her to change back. She refused, when I tracked her down. She told me she preferred her new ... shape. That's the last I've seen of her."

"Fascinating. Much bolder direction than I would have thought her capable. But now what do you know about Marlene?"



"I know nothing specific, nothing certain. I heard things. There were ... things I heard."

"Yes? Me too, actually. I happened to have heard several different things."

"None of them might be true."

"Hmm. Most likely, one way or another, she's perished. Got herself gobbled up, poor thing."

"Most likely."

"Well, I wish I could have done more for her. Yet I have to admit, what I wish much more was that she'd been better capable of looking after herself. She should have been tougher. Marlene was supposed to be tougher. Turned out she wasn't quite the woman I'd imagined she was, when she chose to come to this place with me. Poor bitch let me down. She let herself down. She should have been able to do better. She was tested—we were both tested—and she failed."

"But not you."

"Not me, Jace. That's exactly right. Not me."


"Tell me about the big monkey." There had been a lengthy silence lingering between them, and Jace—still watching Ingrid's foot, though it wasn't moving anymore—was startled by the question and jumped a little.

"It's not a monkey. It's an ape. Monkeys have tails."

"Yes, yes. Fine. Where did it come from?"

Jace took a breath, gathered herself, and then explained about the Bullheaded Men as best as she could, and what they used the kong for. She decided not to hide the fact, sad and embarrassing as it was, that the bullheads had soundly defeated her initial attempt to drive them away, thanks again to the kong. The little army of allies she'd hastily (over-hastily) assembled had got routed. Massacred. It would serve no purpose to hide the fact. Jace did not include in her summary, however, any mention of her brief captivity by the Bullheads' King Gronk ... "I believe they're the greatest threat the Last Jungle has ever faced. Because they threaten everyone. No previous invaders have come for the trees themselves. The entire forest might be destroyed," she finished, "if I can't find a way to overcome them."

Ingrid sighed and stroked her chin. "An invasion of lumberjacks. Wonderful. Barbarian lumberjacks with silly helmets and an enormous pet monster. What a place this is. But you're not wrong—lumberjacks, horned or not, are very likely the worst adversaries a magical jungle could have." Her dangling foot started kicking around again. "I wonder what they're using the wood for, what they're building with it. Do they realize the magic it contains? Dreadful waste if they don't."

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