At first light, Inara Goldpetal led the search party onto the beach and into the jungle. The Urchins, as they had once thought of themselves, were anxious to begin the search for friends and now compatriots. From Inara’s explanation, they were betting that Fritz and the others were alive. The morning rays warmed them while they rowed ashore, and it made Thrak wonder if they hadn’t made a mistake waiting until morning.
For Thrak, the Jungle was home. He had enjoyed being out in it at night when he was young. It wasn’t until the Celns had brought him into the Light, that he began to feel the sense of unease they did. Celns feared the darkness. Literal, and figurative. He knew to the humans, and elves of the isles, he’d never be a true full Celn. But to Thrak, he felt more human than ever. He figured he was ok with that, even if those back in Far Realm were not.
Lot long after the longboats hit the white sand of the isles, Thrak and the others saw the footprints of the beasts that Inara had described. To Thrak, they looked like human prints, only much larger. He had seen a giant before, but never one that was alive.
“They were brutish, hairy, The largest of them had two heads. They bit and squabbled with one another as if they were two separate beings. The others followed this one and obeyed it’s commands. I can’t say for certain if any of those they took are still alive, but I know they were captured alive. I could still hear my friends screaming and yelling at one another as they were tied up. That’s when one reached for me, and I fell down the stairwell, and passed out. The next thing I knew, I was looking up into the face of the Lizard folk here.” They made a circle around a print while Inara repeated what she had told them last night aboard Gallline’s Pride. They looked from her to the print, and Thrak couldn’t help but appreciate how she used the more, yet uncommon, respectful way to describe his race.
“We found you, Inara,” began the mage matter of factly, “in the captain’s cabin.” His eyes never left the print, but Haryk and the others had recognized his logical way of probing. Andril, thought Haryk, is bothered by something.
“I crawled there and passed out. I tried to heal myself but must have lost consciousness. I had no more will to cast a healing spell, or fight the demons anyway.” She pointed to the print. “It bothers me how lightly they walked.”
“I as well,” said Andril aloud, but to himself he was bothered not by that, but by Inara’s earlier answer to his question. She isn’t telling us everything, he surmised and made a mental note to ask a few other things. Areia looked up into his face.
“Cheer up there bookworm,” she smiled, “at least this time, we’ve got a warm meal waiting for us when we get done killing the monsters.”
“Andril, come study these prints with me,” called Haryk, who had moved down the beach a bit, closer to the line separating the jungle from the coral white sand. Andril figured Haryk would notice what he had seen, and of course he had. Andril moved over and stood beside the fighter. “They’re huge prints, yes. Yet, they aren’t deep. It’s as if the beasts that made them walked lightly upon the sand for some reason.” Andril was about to reply that Haryk must have missed the conversation. Areia and Inara walked passed and moved into the jungle to inspect for a trail. Haryk secretly grabbed the mage’s arm, and whispered, “Something is wrong with our friend’s account, be wary, mage.”
Andril nodded at Haryk and looked up at the bard who had stopped. Inara turned around from a few meters in the dense green and speckled colors of the jungle. From where she was, the shadows made her appear darker and thinner. Andril looked back at Haryk and they locked eyes for a moment. He spoke in a typical voice, not answering Haryk’s private thought. “I would think these would have been deeper as well Master Haryk.”
Thrak had taken a knee next to them. He made a guttural grunt which they had learned meant he was thinking. “Some creaturessss I have known in the isles will ssspread themselvessss out as they move along for ssstealth. But these tracksss are leaving. They claimed their prize so there wasss no need for ssstealth.”
They paused a while. From inside jungle’s canopy, a cacophony of sounds erupted while Inara and Areia searched for a trail. “We’ve found it!” Called Areia, “move along and follow us!”
Thrak withdrew his axe and faced the jungle. He walked confidently into the jungle, his clawed toes pulling himself through the sand, leaving lizard tracks behind him. Andril and Haryk followed.
The jungle was alive with living things, crawling, slithering and flying. It was a hot and humid day, especially with the last bits of the storm lingering around. Vines and roots grew over each other and made travel hazardous, especially with the weight of their gear. Winged pests sprang up every time they moved a leaf or a vine, but there was nothing for it so they kept on. About ½ a mile in, they stopped. Inara and Areia looked as though they were a bit confused. “Something is amiss. We’ve lost the trail,” said the bard. “Up ahead, though, is a large open space, a bit of a jungle meadow. There will likely be a trail there to follow or other clues, but we must be wary. It would be an easy ambush spot.”
“Inara and I can move almost undetected in the jungle. We’ll scout ahead a bit and report what we see so all can weigh in. Thrak, you may wish to follow behind us a few dozen yards though. You know the jungle well, and might catch something we miss.”
The bard and the rogue set off into the foliage, Thrak followed as well hacking as he went. His axe, “Somebody”, sliced the thick vines easily, magically. Into the dense growth, the pair set off, zigzagging this way and that.
Thrak tried to keep up with them, and keep them in sight. Ordinarily, this would have been the most natural thing in the world, but today, it was much harder. He was losing them quickly with the shadows and twisting trunks of enormous vine encased trees. He came up a small hill under the dense canopy and found them waiting. Beyond, through a few yards of thick leaves, he saw light and the meadow they had spoken of.
“Have you found the path yet Thrak?”
Thrak returned his axe to it’s case. “I see the path now rogue. But there are no broken branches here. Anywhere. How would a beast that size move through here like that?” He turned to the bard as well. Neither answered.
Inara asked instead, “How far back are the others, lizard man?”
“Perhaps a hundred yards,” said Thrak opening his sack to nibble on a treat.
“We need something from you then,” said Areia.
Thrak was nibbling on a small morsel and eating in his customary manner, noisily. “Whatchumneed?” he garbled. He noticed Inara had a small sack as well, and she was pulling something from it. It looked like a tiny figure, with two arms, and two legs and even a tail. It was made of fabric stitched together with some type of sinewy thread. She gazed at Thrak smiled.
Areia smiled too.
Thrak tried to cry out. He tried to open his snout, but couldn’t. That was when he noticed the little figure in Inara’s hand had a tiny string tied around it’s nondescript face.
“Relax my friend,” said Inara sweetly. “You’re now at home again in the jungle.”