Jungle

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he following night Kraag was once again seated in the Axe and Bull, a tankard of thin ale in front of him but in addition to his sole companion of the night before were two more men. The first, large and well-muscled, bore a stamp to his features that marked him as a close relative to the woodsman and had revealed himself to be the brother and town blacksmith. The other was less fit, shorter and had the crown of his head poking through his thinning hair. He had been introduced as a brother-in-law and owner of a nearby mill. Looking at the trio Kragg began to speak again “Now that we’ve caught your brothers up laddie I’ll continue on…”

So there we were in the village with night approaching. We watched as a party of armed villagers went out and lit warding fires at the edges of the fields that surrounded the settlement. Torches were lit on the palisade and all were kept alight throughout the night. To honour our visit a feast was planned and when we sat to meal it was a meagre affair indeed. The way the locals acted though it was plain that this was indeed a celebration and once the fermented goats milk and grain alcohol started being served it began to feel like one to us too. Once the food was finished music and dancing began, Cassandra quietly joined in on a pipe flute she had acquired. While we were watching Azo told a long tale of some dwarfish adventure and Cassandra tried to add some images but his tale was too far beyond her knowledge to do it effectively. Julian was much more in his element, chatting and dancing and enjoying himself. Like myself, Templar just quietly chatted and Watcher sat back in the shadows and battled his inner demons.

While watching the dancing, Garra the head man of the village, a heavily tattooed and scarred ex-slave introduced me to Dremik. Dremik was the oldest man in the village and possibly the best hunter they had ever had with the worst grasp of Carathanian that I had ever heard, I had to have Garra translate his broken and mashed sentences so that I could understand what he was saying. Dremik told us of the dangers of the jungle and that was effectively everything could try to kill us including the plants. Nothing was safe to eat due to parasites and the water was only safe to drink until the rapids stopped. Of the Cree he had less knowledge, passing on mostly tales of monstrous snakes that killed all other predators and whose abilities included their dagger like claws and skin as tough as armour, some tribes have the knowledge of weapons and all are immensely strong. The only way he had heard of to find a Cree hive was to follow an injured Cree back, the trick of course was to find one that was injured or survive an attack without dying. He seemed amused when asked what would happen if we killed all those that attacked us. We were to find out why.

The next day was spent getting ready and a few rowed out to the remains of the wreck to see if any salvage was recoverable but returned with little of use. We also traded for an old billy goat to use as bait for the Cree, wishing to turn their predilection for ambushes against them. So rested and refreshed we headed out to follow the river, the only source of drinkable water, into the jungle.

The savage march jungle is one of the worst places you can ever travel. You cannot pass more than twenty steps with having to cut a vine or underbrush from your path. The damp and smell is invasive only surpassed by the insects that swarm around. You cannot live in the jungle, merely surviving more than a day or two most count as a heroic accomplishment.

The first day passed with a surprising lack of trouble, the only action of note was when, in a moment of inattention, my foot was caught in a hole and something grasped onto my boot. Failing to pull free I stabbed down blindly with my spear piercing a hard shell and causing the release of my foot. Standing I found what looked like an oversized nut that had clamped down, the sap from it already etching into the tough leather of my footwear. I rinsed off in the river and we continued onwards.

Towards evening we set up camp in a small clearing with a huge tree, wider at the base than I am tall, which provided a secure wall to our backs and a place above for two of our party to stand on a branch with bows ready. Going into a trance Julian foresaw that there would be trouble in the middle of the night and that what would happen would happen to the goat first. So we rested and ate and set ourselves for the coming of the Cree.

We waited in silence, each alone with our thoughts, weapons ready and nerves tense when suddenly the goat let out a bleat and in the darkness a dim shape started dragging it away. Azo reacted first and, thrusting a torch into the fire to provide some light, swung his axe at and then through the vaguely lit shape curled across the ground and around the struggling animal. Cassandra, seeing the trouble that we were having seeing let loose a canopy of stars lighting up the area like it was beneath a full moon. Her talent revealed a thick, thorn covered vines stretched across the ground the sap dripping end of one writhing back from Azo and the goat. In the tree above Kalib and Templar began to fend off yet more vines, each cutting deeply as the vines attempted to wrap themselves around the men. Back on the ground below Julian rushed out and rescued the sacrificial goat, dragging its trembling body back into the cover of the tree as I and Watcher stood over him and Cassandra, we successfully prevented any vines reaching them but one wrapped itself around began pulling tight. Azo saw my predicament and swiftly brought his axe down again and freed me with a single swing.

As Templar jumped down from the branch above Cassandra brought up a ring of fire about us. The vines writhed back from the heat and retreated from sight for the rest of the night leaving us to clean up the billy goat and pull the deep thorns from its flesh. Templar called on the spirits to heal it but lacking a deep knowledge of animals all he was able to do was remove the poison the thorns had carried so that the animal could heal naturally.

The next day we continued up the river’s edge until we reached the head of the rapids and decided to once again tether the goat and set an ambush, the location this time was less ideal but we suspected we were closer to the nest of the beasts.

We ate and took up our positions and sat, again in silence but before very long had passed the goat started to try to pull away from the tether. In the opposite direction were four immense shapes, four meters long, most of it solid muscle and all covered in yellow and green mottled, armour like, scales. They each had two well-muscled and clawed arms and a humanoid torso with dark, deep set, black eyes in an eerily smooth face.

Kalib was the first to react and sent two shafts winging towards the leftmost Cree, one flying harmlessly into the jungle, the other drew a hiss when it raised a gash along part of the Cree’s trunk. Azo pulled out two hand axes and hurled them at a second Cree but they bounced harmlessly away from the hardened scales.

The Cree slid forward, arms stretched out to grasp and rend the interlopers they saw before them, two went to Azo the others at myself and Kalib. As they drew close I stabbed out with my spear but it bounced harmlessly off my foes scales, Azo however managed to set his spear and drive it deep into the first Cree’s coils. Templar attacked the second of the Cree to strike at Azo and managed to score it lightly, a small trickle of blood dripping down into the mulch. While they were distracted Cassandra called on the spirits and created a new illusion, making it appear that she had gathered a ball of flame from our campfire and threw it at some of the Cree causing them to rear back and hiss. Kalib struck out frantically with his dagger and managed to wound the figure towering above him before coils of muscled flesh wrapped around him and began to squeeze while the rest of his brethren laid about them ineffectually.

I saw Julian muster his courage and begin to creep forward just as Watcher vaulted onto the Cree that was crushing Kalib but he could find no purchase on the slick surface to have an effect and cried out for help. Hearing this I turned my back on my foe and, praying that the spirits would be kind, changed my grip on the spear in my hands and drove it deep into Kalib’s opponent while Azo added yet another wound to his Cree’s body.

Cassandra saw the risk I had taken and called on the spirits again this time forming her ball of fire into a ring around the Cree I had left behind causing it to rear up believing the heat from the illusion to be real. Templar meanwhile struck out a series of blows, the first ones were ineffective but with his final blow he stepped past and drove his sword sharply backwards into the rear of his enemy.

The fight ended suddenly with the Cree that held Kalib attempting to drag him away and Julian finally emerging from the shadows, his face a mask of restrained terror, axe raised above his head and brought down on the Cree’s neck where a loud click preceded the frantic convulsions the signalled that Julian had managed to severe creatures spinal column. The rest, seeing the first fall, fled back into the jungle, their wounds leaving a trail of blood behind them.

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