Andril knew crossing the field that something was wrong. He just knew it in the way his logical mind worked out that the blood on the decks should have been gone with the rain. He knew it in the way the footprints weren’t deep enough. He knew it in the way that the bard was just a little too clutsy, even for a forsaken wood elf.
Later, he would say that it was more than just the footprints and stains, and the way Haryk and Thrak were acting after he lost sight of them in the jungle. It wasn’t the way that Inara often seemed to be a little too accident prone, nor the way Areia’s jokes seemed a little too subtle, even for her. It was an intuition he had learned to develop from the moment he came to Far Realm.
And although he knew it, there he was, crossing the field along with them in broad daylight. Surrounded on all sides by dark, dense jungle. Andril knew there was something wrong. And soon, he knew, he would find out what it was.
And that’s when the trees in front of him began to sway from side to side. It wasn’t from a strong wind he posited, those blow trees in the same direction. These were parted in opposite directions. Whole shafts bearing dozens of branches simply knocked aside. He looked at the others, standing next to him. He was the only one not smiling. “Here they come,” shouted Thrak. “Here they are!”
Bursting from the treeline, shedding leaves and small branches, was the largest beast that Andril had ever seen. It was like a hairy man, but over 50 feet tall. On it’s shoulders it had two heads, not one. Around both necks, were necklaces of overlapping trophies, in the form of skulls and hands, feet and ears. Each head was deformed, twisted, with sneaky little eyes too small for the fat faces. Both bearded, the faces snarled and growled baring only a resemblance to a man in their form. In each of it’s two hands the two headed monster had an immense axe made of rough stone, worked into a blade. Behind it, came two smaller creatures, but still twice the height of a man. They two looked like deformed and deranged men, hairy, brutish, huge. They roared and grunted, sounding like wild men themselves.
Andril didn’t wait to find out why Thrak sheathed his axe, or why Haryk lowered his bow. He didn’t wait to see Areia pat Inara on the back and point at the beasts as if she were welcoming home dogs coming in from the pasture. Instead, he began to breathe the words of a powerful spell, one that would allow him to escape, and sort all this madness out. But that was when Inara turned around, and she was no longer Inara.
She somehow knew the words that Andril himself was muttering, and began to chant like him, in some form of macabre duet. Her voice rose higher and higher until the mage was no longer audible and then, extending her hand at him, a loud pop erupted all around his head as if a waterskin had burst. Andril fell back in the grass and heather, and twisting vines of the meadow. Above him, stood Areia, Inara, Thrak, and Lord Haryk. He felt the ground shake and then he saw four more large grotesque heads staring down at him.
Mr. Wrong and Mr. Right
“This one is mine, I tol’ya Kretch! So mind yo’ man-huhs!”
“Arh now, ya great fool, and I toldchou that the nex’ men of Cellinor would be mine for me pot. So hands off!”
“Wha’wouldcha know of proper cookin’ Kretch you mighty fool.”
“You’re Mr. Wrong T’rah. I’m Mr. Right. Now do as yur’tol!”
“Silence, Kretch. Silence T’rah,” spoke Inara in her sweet tone. “You’re both Mr. Right! These here aren’t for your pot dear ones, they are for your mistress’ pot, you great sillyheads!” Her face and body had now changed dramatically. Everything was drooping as if being melted off, green and wart encrusted, her features elongated. Her once lithe and agile form, was now bloated and misshapen. She answered the beasts behind her as a mother to a child. They obeyed her every command, while she smiled sweetly at Andril. “Welcome to our isle, Andril. You’ve made it just in time for supper,” she said and this time as she smiled, her bottom teeth rose up from her jaw like fangs.
The others held him down, legs and arms, while Andril fought and kicked at them. His words of magic would not come to him now, and the feeling of helplessness as he was tied up was unbearable to the mage, who prided himself on his independence. A bag that smelled of innards and offal was pulled over his head. Andril wasn’t sure, but he thought it might be made of skin itself. Something in the bag defeated the last of his senses, and his head began to spin as his body was lifted off the ground, and thrown over a shoulder of one of the beasts.
And then calling for the others to wrap up “our guests” and “carry them home for me my darlings”, Inara watched as one by one, the others were trundled up too.
And then the bard, who once more was golden haired, skipped off into the woods. Behind her, the beasts carried four large sacks. None of which kicked or screamed, or made any noise.