[Turn Twelve Begins]
While Lieutenant Frye was assessing the situation, the brown-shielded Pygmy leader moved his men boldly into the open, right for the Tirailleurs Sénégalais.
The sudden, unexpected move was too soon for the recently-shaken tirailleurs. Caporal Chien seemed to agree with their group decision to retire away from the menacing Natives. Their retire-ment was a little too hasty, though, and their nerve was once again shaken. Chien lost any chance he might have had of firing at the cannibals.
With their prey gone, the advancing Pygmies quickly changed direction to face l'Infanterie des Marines.
Les marines, never the sturdiest of fighters, had, in this battle, been whittled down, and now, with only the inexperienced caporal Cabot to lead them, their nerve failed as well, and they withdrew a safe distance, similarly wasting an opportunity of shooting.
Still on the offensive, l'indigènes advanced once again, this time pivoting slightly to face 'B' squad of la légion étrangère.
The senior trooper of 'B' légionnaires, Cane, had watched with amusement and disgust as les marines and the tirailleurs had retreated from a single squad of half-size Natives. He had no trouble keeping his légionnaires in place, carefully waiting for their next move.
...which was for the vicious cannibals to raise their blowguns and shoot a hail of deadly feathered darts at them! The rain of poisoned arrows felled two of Cane's men -- Pes the Czech, and Koira the Finn. Cane, learning quickly on the job, kept his men in readiness, and did not waste a rushed shot in reply.
Meanwhile, Cpl Chien managed to coax his tirailleurs into advancing back into the action. With a clear shot open to them -- and more importantly to the soldiers, the Natives' attention was elsewhere -- they fired, causing a single Native to drop to the dirt. This unexpected flanking attack from an enemy thought run off shook the Pygmies more than anything else the tirailleurs had done.
At the rear of the despicable pagan religious shrine, the cowardly Natives hiding there had finally recovered their nerve. Seeing the effectiveness of the brown-shielded leader, they also began to creep menacingly toward 'B' légionnaires. Cane watched them, once again holding his men back to prevent them wasting a shot they had no chance of making.
At last, however, Cane judged the time to be right. With a blast of smoke from their rifles, Cane's men dropped two of the Natives near the shrine.
With their nerve only barely restored, the deaths of two of their number was too much for them, and the Pygmies ran. They stopped almost so far away as to be totally removed from the fight, but yet still they remained.
The marines, having seen the effect of gunfire on the enemy, finally dug up some resolve and fired at the brown-shielded leader's squad. The results were less than spectacular in that they missed, but they did also keep the Pygmies' heads down and uncertain.
Lt Frye could feel the situation rapidly devolving into chaos. His units were being pinned in place by blowgun-wielding nains! To his immense relief, he saw Trooper Lupo of 'A' légionnaires coaxing his men back to the battle.
Also, the tirailleurs fired again, having seen the success of their last volley. Unfortunately for them, they missed, and the Natives merely froze in place.
For the first time in long minutes, l'indigènes made no aggressive moves.
Frye pressed his advantage: he called over his shoulder to Seejee and Sawjaw, the tirailleurs leading the Native Bearers -- long since hiding in the foliage while the battle played itself out in front of them -- to bring their men up. There was a tense moment when the Bearers burst into view of the brown-shielded leader's squad of Pygmies, but l'indigènes were still too shaken to be bothered with killing their taller cousins. Unfortunately the Bearers were too scared to move now! In an effort to bolster their courage, Seejee and Sawjaw fired their rifles at the cannibals. Although their fire caused no casualties, it did loosen the feet of the Bearers, who advanced to very close range to the totem.
Trooper Cane finally had enough of the sneaking, skulking Natives. Ordering his men to fix bayonets, he led them on a charge at the brown-shielded leader's squad.
One Pygmy seemed to melt into the jungle immediately even as they made contact. For the first few frantic moments, the initiative shifted back and forth as each squad leader asserted his dominance. Cane narrowly dodged a blow, then thrust his bayonet at the crafty cannibal, feeling with satisfaction as it sank deep into the fearless Native leader. Eventually, the légionnaires' superior strength and ferocity told the difference: three l'indigènes were unceremoniously stomped to the jungle floor.
The surviving Pygmies retreated, shaken, almost totally out of the battle area. The last remaining cannibal seemed to fade into the darkness of the jungle. And suddenly, the troublesome squad of Pygmies was no more! With a deep sigh of relief, Cane reformed his men into open order. Casting a look around, Cane could readily tell that trooper Pes would recover, was doing so already, being helped to his feet by his fellows; but that Koira would never be so lucky.
Cpl Chien was surprised when Mecbeth somewhat shakily regained his feet. His recovery seemed to give heart to the tirailleurs.
Lt Frye was equally relieved that his Marines held firm; a sudden loss of nerve and a retreat now would have spelt disaster for him. Unfortunately, Trooper Lupo of 'A' légionnaires was not able to rally his men and in fact could not prevent them from edging further from the battlefield.Frye could see, on the enemy's side, that the brown-shielded leader's squad had completely disintegrated as a fighting unit: between casualties and general cowardice his men disappeared.
What was this? The Natives cowering near that despicable shrine not only no longer appeared to be shaken, but seemed to grow in number as well! Frye could not believe his eyes. He blinked to shake the sweat out of them. No, he was not mistaken. The brown-shielded leader, whom Frye had seen killed in mêlée with Cane, was alive and now leading the only remaining l'indigène squad keeping the French from completing their mission.
What manner of man or beast was this fantôme? What were these monstres fantomatiques, that died yet lived on?
Lt Frye ground his teeth in frustration. One group of Natives--ONE GROUP--was holding him back. Well, no more. He would kill this mysterious Pygmy leader with his bare hands if need be. He would complete his mission, no matter the price!
[Turn Twelve Ends]