Oh! Good, Good, Good, my Lord. What more Love yet.
Thou dy for meet What, am I dead in thee?
What did Deaths arrow shot at me thee hit?
Didst slip between that flying shaft and mee?
Didst make thyselfe Deaths marke shot at for nice?
So that her Shaft shall fly no far than thee?
Infinities fierce firy arrow red
Shot from the splendid Bow of justice bright
Did smite thee down, for thine. Thou art their head.
They di'de in thee. Their death did on thee light.
They di'de their Death in thee, thy Death is theirs.
Hence thine is mine, thy death my trespass clears.
The Painter lies: the Bellfrey Pillars weare
A false Effigies now of Death, alas
With empty Eyeholes, Butter teeth, bones bare
And spraggling arms, having an Hour Glass
In one grim paw. Th'other a Spade doth hold
To shew deaths frightfull region under mould.
Lord let me finde Sin, Curse and Death that doe
Belong to me ly slain too in thy Grave.
And let thy law my clearing hence bestow
And from these things let me acquittance have.
The Law suffic'de: and I discharg'd, Hence sing
Thy praise I will over Deaths Death, and Sin.
-- Edward Taylor
Caddis led the charmed Sandara Quinn off to bed, but refused to join her, instead letting her sleep off the effects of his spell and further sowing the thought in her sleeping mind that all of the events of the previous several hours--the giant, Thaduk's madness, and their association with demons--was nothing more than a disturbing dream. Meanwhile, Leo and Rummy (with the help of their gelatinous friend) took pains to dispose of the bodies and hide the most obvious evidence to the contrary.
With everyone rested and recuperated, the party sat down to examine the map they had found. Leopold estimated the journey to the indicated mountaintop shrine to be roughly thirteen leagues, over densely forested and hilly terrain. Thus informed, they gathered up all of the extraneous gear from their ship, along with a thousand feet of cordage and a couple weeks worth of food, into their bag of holding and prepared to go hunt down the Puritan and their missing crewmates.
Starting from the warehouse from which the prisoners left, Rummy found tracks near the hole that had been smashed in the wall, six people, plus a seventh set that were nearly three times the size of Thaduk's feet, heading for the Diohot river. Leopold struck up a song, then Thaduk froze, pointing at the edge of the jungle, from whence a massive lion was charging at them.
Thaduk quickly pushed everyone back into the warehouse and blocked the hole in the wall with a large crate. He then climbed up a pile of crates and punched a hole in the thin, wooden roof. Thaduk and Caddis climbed onto the roof, spears in hand, and looked around but could not see the lion. Nor was there any roaring or other sounds that might indicate its presence. After a minute of watching, they gave up and headed back to the hole.
Meanwhile, Rummy and Leopold watched intently from behind the crate, but also could not see anything. Suddenly, Leopold heard the lion roar, inside the warehouse. Leopold spun to see the creature standing right behind him, fangs bared, and froze with fear. Rummy, who strangely had not heard the roar, turned and saw it as well.
From above, Thaduk leaped down, spear in hand, and skewered the lion. Out of the wound burst a mass of bloody, leathery tentacles. The tentacles lashed out, wrapping around Leopold and pulling him close to the lion, which then proceeded to start licking his face. As Caddis climbed down to help, the lion promtly vanished. It was then that Caddis heard mocking laughter coming from the far corner of the warehouse. Looking in the direction of the laughter, they saw Tilly standing there.
As Leopold slunk off to his hammock to put on some clean pants (having thoroughly wet himself), Caddis approached Tilly and suggested that she should come along on their trek into the jungle to rescue Jessica and Caulky (much to Leopold's dismay). Caddis also pulled Sandara to join them, figuring that they'd need a healer, leaving the rest of the crew behind with Riaris Krine in charge.
They made their way out through the hole and followed the tracks down to the river, where they turned south, deeper into the jungle. By the river the tracks were joined by two more very large sets, after which the two smallest, presumably Caulky and Jessica's, vanished.
With the three sets of massive footprints, the trail of their quarry was so easily spotted that even Thaduk could follow it unaided now. While their quarry left a clear and well-beaten path, the going through the jungle was still slow. The land sloped steadily upward as they marched inland and the party was forced to pull out cutlasses to hack through thickets and undergrowth that those they pursued had easily stepped over.
After three hour of hiking, Rummy heard a thumping and snuffling sound coming from off to the right of the path, clearly heading in their direction. Signaling for the others to wait, he snuck up and saw a tortoise-like creature, easily 8 feet in length, with a horned head and mouth wider than his shoulders, and a long, spined, and segmented tail. While confident in his stealth, the thing looked strait at him and gave a bellow. The rest of the party approached cautiously, and Leopold identified the creature as an (inappropriately named) "small roamer", which were native to many of the islands in the area, albeit extremely rare. He informed them that the creatures were herbivores, but highly territorial.
In a rare moment of brilliance, Thaduk crept a bit closer and cautiously rolled a midas melon in the creature's direction. The roamer happily gulped up the head-sized melon in one bite. Caddis then fixed his gaze on the beast, causing it to dose off to sleep. As they watched the sleeping beast, a faint glimmer of gold began to appear along the edges of its shell. Knowing that the aurification process could take hours, the party carefully covered the sleeping turtle with leaves and detritus to conceal it and Leopold marked the approximate location on the map.
Another two hours of hiking left Leopold and Sandara flagging. Captain Caddis called a halt for supper. After everyone had eaten, Caddis, Thaduk, and Rummy went on a short ways ahead to scout, leaving the others to rest a bit more. Less than a quarter mile further on, they found the smashed remains of a small village.
In a clearing, a dozen mud and wattle huts stood arrayed in a rough semicircle facing the river, with a couple of vegetable plots nearby. Nine of the huts had been completely flattened, two were standing, but missing their doors and roofs, and the last was still mostly intact. Crushed baskets and broken wooden spears and other primitive weaponry lay scattered about, but there were no corpses or other signs of struggle. The tracks they'd been following wound through the village, bending away from the path of the river to exit on a more direct southerly route towards a tall mountain in the distance.
Rummy again took point, sneaking up to poke through the remains of the nearest flattened hut. Finding nothing of interest, he moved on to one of the roofless huts. Peering through the door, a large, taloned hand snatched out at him, grabbing hold of his shirt and at the same time that he stepped back, coming away with a giant fist-full of cloth. Rummy quickly drew his pistol and fired into the hut, eliciting a pained roar from within. Hearing the gunshot, the party came running.
Thaduk charged the hut, shoulder first, smashing into the wall and causing the remaining structure to crumble. Inside was a massive creature, roughly humanoid, lanky, and twice the height of a man, but bent down on all fours. Its hands and feet were twisted, the nails grown out into long, twisting, irregular spirals, forcing the thing to walk on its knuckles. Its head, torso, forearms, and groin were covered with thick mattes of curling hair, and its mouth was filled with the pointed teeth of a strict carnivore.
With a second roar, Thaduk jabbed his spear at the thing with the force of his weight behind it. The spear impaled the giant, entering just above its right hip and exiting from its left shoulder, accompanied by the horrible sound of the creature's clavicle shattering. The beast went limp, clearly dead, but the wound almost immediately closed up around the haft of the spear fixing it tight.
Then a third, and still different, roar split the air as a second of the creatures came bursting out of the second roofless hut, hurling itself over the thin walls and through the air to land on Rummy, pinning him to the ground and savaging him with its teeth. As the thing bit him, Rummy went limp, playing dead so convincingly that even Thaduk, standing only a few feet away, could not make out his breathing.
Seeing their friend go down, the rest of the party engaged quickly. Sandara conjured a wave from the river to pound at it, Caddis opened fire with his bow, and Thaduk jabbed at it with his spear, only narrowly avoiding skewering Rummy as well.
Still, tired and weakened from the long march, Leopold scrambled to a hopefully safer position up in a tree and began singing to raise everyone's spirits. Much like the degenerate the day before, this giant was a music critic and quickly rounded on Leopold and dug in its feet to spring. As it turned its attention away, however, Thaduk stabbed it again with his spear and Rummy's hand shot up, opening the things belly with his shortsword. The beast collapsed where it stood, pinning Rummy again, but no longer moving. Tilly ran up and heaved the creature off of Rummy, who quickly drew his dragon-fang dagger and stabbed the acid-coated blade into the many wounds to stop the thing from regenerating.
Seeing the other one starting to stir again, Caddis yelled for Thaduk to put the shackles of compliance on it. Thaduk complied and sitting on its chest, waited for it to awaken. When it finally healed enough to open its eyes, Thaduk commanded it to identify itself.
When that clearly did not work, Leopold shared his knowledge of the English language with the creature and bade it speak. The power of the spell over its mind was such that the creature replied with the refinement and eloquence of a bard, identifying itself as "Troggle" and explaining that it had only attacked them because it thought Rummy looked good to eat.
It readily answered all the party's questions. Explaining that, yes, it had seen three of its kin come through with a half-dozen ladies and the preacher, and that, no, it did not eat them as it would never attach a man of the cloth or fellow servant of Dormin. When Thaduk suggested that perhaps their party were also members of "the faith" and why would he attack them, Troggle explained that he had not heard their coins.
"What coins?" they asked, and with a shake of his hips they heard the distinct jingle of iron on iron from the general vicinity of his groin. Searching the thing's tangled and matted pubic hair, Thaduk found a double-handful of the same unmarked, black-iron coins which Rummy had taken from the Puritan not two evenings prior.
When Rummy jingled his bag of coins, Troggle went on to explain that the Preacher led services to Dormin up on the mountainside every Wednesday evening. When asked about routes to the service and further possible ambushes by his kind, he explained that they would almost certainly find more of "the faithful" if they continued "towards the fields", but not if they went around by "the old stockade". Asked about things that might threaten the faithful, he mentioned the bugs -- mosquitoes and stinging botflies. of which they had already been bitten repeatedly (diseases being much harder to recover from via regeneration than more direct wounds).
When pressed as to the nature of these services, he explained that there would be a sermon, prayer, and singing, followed by a potluck. "And what sort of food is served at this potluck?"
"Meat of course."
"And would this be the meat of two-legged creatures?"
"Is there any other kind worth eating?" Pressed further, Troggle explained that the girls from their ship would almost definitely be part of said potluck if they did not "find religion" before then. Around this time, Rummy opened up the intact hut to find the skinned bodies of five of the native men hanging upside down, dressed out like sides of beef.
The party presently turned the poor Troggle into a pin-cushion, stabbing it repeatedly with everything they had on hand, then finished it off with Rummy's dagger. They asked Sandara if she could add anything, but she explained that she knew very little when it came to the actual practices of the Puritan faith. Content that they would have to rely on what little they had learned from Troggle to fake their way past any further giants, the party distributed their small collection of the black coins and prepared to march out again.
To be continued...