The last ten miles of jungle were sheerest hell.
Fording the Zambezi was almost the end: The crocodiles had got all but one of our surviving porters, and poor old Berserksmith had simply turned red and slid below the bitter brown waters of that awful stream. His heart gave out, I suppose. His noble heart, that had got him through such grand adventures...
On the far bank, we dragged ourselves out of reach of the crocs and sat to catch our breath. It was just Cloveson and myself, and a porter we called James. I fancy he must have had some elaborate native name, but James served him as well as any. Odd chap, James. Quite reliable, but given to odd fits of... giggling, and muttering. And at the oddest times. One never knows what to make of Kaffirs, does one?
And there we were in the shade of some frightful trees, dog-tired and all but ready to give in, lulled by the rhythmic snapping of the crocs' teeth at the water's edge.
Cloveson muttered, "Rum do, to have come so far and not..."
"Not what?", I snapped. "Buck up, man. You're an Englishman, you know. We will find that tomb." It wouldn't do to have Cloveson in a funk.
James spoke: "'Shall find'... ?"
"Be still, you nit!" The man's presumption had stiffened Cloveson's back. "You'll do well to tend to your own concerns, my good man."
"That you will," I added, ominously. "Let's be off."
And so we again shouldered our guns and staggered into the brush, hacking and slashing at the beastly vegetation, eyes open and searching for signs of the Tomb of Mnurblblbl -- and for... we knew not what. Our enemy would surely show his hand, before the game was over. And he was devilishly clever.
The day wore on. The green monotony of the wretched leaves, the grasping vines, the shrieking gibbons and God knew what, the rustle and crash and bellow of a thousand unseen monsters in the moist half-light of the jungle floor... The broiling heat, the steaming, killing pressure of that ghastly atmosphere...
Hours had passed, uncounted hours of brutal exertion, when we stumbled into a clearing, and there it was: The Tomb of Mnurblblbl.
It could have been nothing else: A tower of ivory, girt with stone, twoscore yards high. Demons danced in bas-relief in eleven courses up the sides, demons and jackals, hyenas and elephants, and was that... an aurochs? And yes, a true, Simon-pure baluchitherium, third course up, just in from the left. The carvings seemed almost to writhe in place, so powerfully endowed with chittering alien life were they. Our enemy would give his eye teeth to stand in our shoes, we knew it in our bones.
It was an ancient place, and a holy place. We stood for long moments, unable to breathe. A gentle hum pervaded the meadow all around, and did we only imagine that the air had cooled a bit?
Finally, I could stand in awe no longer. Courage goaded me, and ambition, and loyalty to our beloved Queen. We had suffered inconceivable torments and unbearable losses -- who could forget sad-eyed Croup's puzzled face as he watched his severed arms fly so gracefully through the air? -- but we had found the Tomb, and our true mission could finally begin.
But it was not to be.
With my first step, I was jolted savagely at the base of my spine; I turned as I fell: Cloveson's severed head, eyes wide, bounced towards me across the turf. James dropped his machete and smiled. It was he! It was he all along!
With my last dying effort I filled my aching lungs and howled,
"God DAMN you, Professor Mysterious!"