Markus ran to the door, decorum forgotten in his eagerness to lay eyes on his property. Like a madman he ran through the hallways of his Villa, almost skipping past doors and arches, sliding through ballrooms and dining halls, until at last he reached the massive Great Hall that separated the east and west wings of his house. Pausing only briefly to catch his breath and note his need to reprimand his butler for putting Schussel all the way at the other end of the Villa, he pushed onwards past ancient Grecian columns, rare Sumerian urns, and priceless Antarctican jewelry.
Finally, he reached the West Game room. Collecting himself before he entered, Markus licked his lips in anticipation. There were only seven men in the world who had known about this expedition, by design. If even one of them had dared to breathe a word of it to anyone it would have easily gotten back to Lord Klaus, or even Lord Malvanya, and either one would have stopped at nothing to claim the expedition’s spoils for themselves. After all, why argue with the League of Gentlemen Explorers, when a small band of thugs in a dark alley could net you the prize just as well? And that was even without considering the hundreds of minor nobles and families like the Popomuses, who would no doubt have caused a great deal of fuss and annoyance.
No, it had to have been kept a secret–known only to Schussel and his crew.
Straightening his clothing, the passion and longing on Markus’s face vanished to be replaced with an affected dis-interest–the armor and shield of every noble. Calmly, as though not expecting company, Markus pushed open the large double-doors.
The game room was filled with the results of twenty-nine years of adventure and safari from all over the world. Gorillas and lions from Africa, elephants and tigers from Asia, and even some of the darker beasts from the deepest wilds of South America; like the head of a fiendish Hodag, it’s fangs still razor sharp; or the stuffed body of a horrible Ahuizotl, the clawed tail raised to strike, it’s human-like eyes still glinting evilly. A large Hungarian rifle hung over the fireplace, the brass casing shining brilliantly in the light; and a rack of pistols, rifles, and hand-cannons squatted ominously along the far wall.
Markus pulled up short as he entered the room.
Schussel was here, all right, and he looked awful. The thick stocky man looked like he had lost a fight with a bear. His left eye was swollen shut, and his right arm hung uselessly at his side. His face was covered in bruises and cuts, and his long matted hair was twisted in filthy knots. He looked ready to collapse.
But still he stood, his left arm gripped tightly by his guest–a thin but muscular Chinaman with a long black mane that was tied behind his neck in a long rope. His eyes were thin and brittle, framed by a strong jaw and firm mouth. He smiled tightly when Markus entered, not showing any teeth.