Journey through the hungry jungle, part 2
By Spicymancer (Tipped by 3 people!)
Part 2: In the Mighty Jungle
Sleeping was going to be a problem.
The turn ended right after the fight with the Banana Republican, which Marco took to mean there weren't any of them remaining in the hex. Probably. So he decided setting up camp and starting a fire probably wouldn't give away his position. Again, probably. Marco did his best to find a suitable place to camp... but there really wasn't any. The entire jungle floor was teeming with plants and some random, harmless(?) wildlife. Look as he might there wasn't a clearing in sight. He had to hurry, what little light the canopy allowed in during the day was beating a hasty retreat.
At last he found a buttress tree with a crevice in the roots about big enough to hide him. He looked around but all the wood around was useless; far too damp. Except... there was one piece of dry wood left. Well, now two. With a strange hesitance, he went back to where his pike fell and picked up the pieces. It had already croaked for him once today, saving his Life twice would be a rare kind of honor. He wondered briefly if that's what Uncroaked felt, if they felt or thought anything at all.
Unluckily, his fellow stackie Amelia had been lugging their group's campfire equipment. Luckily, he was the one carrying one of the spare kits of basic camping equipment. «You are all replaceable!» he could hear Drill Sargeant Nass Tay's words clearly in his mind «And thank the Titans for that, because when you croak, and you will, your stackies can take up the slack and survive! Always divide up the important gear and carry spares, and for Emperor's sake, pick up any important gear a croaked stackie was carrying! The worst dishonor you can do your stackies is to make them croak through negligence and poor preparedness.»
He dug out a little fire pit and set the broken pieces on top of some dry leaves. He'd broken the pike up into eight chunks, and put the head in his backpack just in case. Despite it not actually having (had) Life, each «Crack!» made him wince a little. He added a bit of starter for good measure.
Marco felt he should say something, but he didn’t know any words to say when someone croaked, much less a pike. Tar Zhay's warlords and infantry weren't really big on sentimentality. Though he wanted to say something for all his fallen stackies, and in a way, he felt the pike represented them. As he started striking the flint he decided on one of the training drills the Sergeant had taught them. «This is my pike. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My pike is my best friend. It is my Life. I must master it, as I must master my Life.»
It took him four tries, but he managed to start a nice little fire. He let out a deep, heartfelt sigh.
Then the eyes.
So. Many. Eyes. Shining pairs of rubies, jaspers and emeralds, and clusters of sapphires were set in the pitch black ring of night that surrounded his little campfire.
Most ran away in fear once the fire started, but he managed to see a couple of pairs that held his gaze before oh-so-placidly sauntering into the deep shadows.
This was one of the biggies of why Jungles were so dangerous. Unlike other Hex types, most of the ferals here were Jungle-capable and could easily hide during the day. And attack at night. Why the Titans would allow such an-- an aberration-- to exist anywhere on Erf was beyond him. He realized he was breathing far too fast, so Marco decided now might be a good time to pray (especially if the Titans had just heard him thinking) «Oh Titans, groovy be thy names. Thy erfdom come, thy song be sung on Erf by all your sons... and hear my plea to live to see the sun.» he improvised hastily.
When his stackies were alive and they'd had a warlord to lead them, the ferals usually didn't dare come close. The combination of a great big fire and taking turns at watch did a lot to dissuade them. And with their tents and camping equipment, sleeping was possible, if not exactly comfortable. But alone? With such a pitifully small excuse for a fire? He wasn't sure whether he dared to sleep. He briefly wondered how many turns a unit could go without sleep before fatigue and Incapacitation set in.
He looked down at his «new best friend» for comfort. The polearm was made out of varnished ironwood, sealed against moisture and smooth to the touch. The head was a sharpened spear like most normal pikes, but it also had a curved hook on one end and a small axe blade opposite. He hated to admit it, but Banana Republicans had some very skilled weapon smiths, and it looked more than up to the task of defending him.
«Well Polo, I think we’re both standing watch tonight.»
He must have dozed off somewhere in that long vigil. He realized this because he was startled awake when a piece of his pike broke apart and hissed out a sigh, landing near his boot. The fire was croaking out the last bits of Matter left in the pike, and in its croaking light he saw a pair of suns. No, not suns... twin jaspers beaming brightly back at him.
Marco barely made out the shape of a great cat: a Sleeping Lion. It was just outside the edge of the light. He could make out beast's purple and blue fur, swirling and curving in dizzying spirals, complete with starbursts and galaxies over a cityscape. The darkness around it was drinking up the light like a man croaking of thirst. It let out a low, silky growl.
«Nope. Nope, nopenopenope and all the nopes.» Thought Marco, as he tried to avoid panicking. It wasn’t dawn yet, he had only 2 hits, a useless pike arm, and he’d probably get pounced on before he could stand.
So he sat perfectly still in a haunch and thought back. He vaguely remembered a training Rhymeomancy about Sleeping Lions and Vorpal Bunnies, and how they would only attack units that moved.
Was he remembering right? Would the beast really pass him over if he didn’t move? He was betting his life on this.
The beast stalked closer, and he could feel the vibration from its low growling through the ground. It held his gaze with a calm, alien interest. Marco gently felt the shaft of the Polearm in his grip. He had, at least, never let go of it throughout the night. He was beginning to think up a hasty plan that involved kicking the last of the pike and fire into the beast’s face, then trying for a solid cleave, when the beast shifted it’s attention to a new sound.
«Amelia! Marco!» came a tinny, echoing voice from the buttress tree above. A Two-Can! But whose voice was that?
The Sleeping Lion moved its head from side to side, clearly trying to locate the Two-Can. It crouched down, reading to pounce. «Roan! Oak! Someone, please answer!» It was Zheng, he sounded tired and more than a little desperate. Had he been awake and searching the whole night? His voice was also coming in fainter, it sounded like he was moving away from this one’s brother Two-Can. He could let the Sleeping Lion eat the Two-Can, but if he did then he might never find Zheng. In fact, every minute Zheng kept yelling, he was endangering his life. If not to the Sleeping Lion then to something else.
That clinched it.
While it was distracted he braced his polearm against the buttress tree’s roots and got up to a crouch. Then he yelled in as challenging a voice as he could muster «Wake up little lion!» he kicked some embers tauntingly at its face, which got it good and riled. «Pounce little lion, pounce pounce pounce!»
The beast never hesitated, it leapt at him with a vicious roar. The Two-Can was flapping excitedly on its branch. Time slowed down. Its jasper eyes fixed on his and shone like lighthouses. It pounced over the fire's embers, kicking up cinders and leaving behind comet trails. He leaned back and raised his polearm into the Sleeping Lion’s lunge, letting it skewer itself with it’s own momentum.
It was a crit. The first one he’d ever made! He felt the rush of victory, only for it to become a current of strength and hardiness as he gained a level; he was a 2! The beautiful twin jaspers turned to a gorgeous pair of X’s. The beast went limp on the polearm... and momentum kept it sliding it right on down, pinning him against the tree.
He tried pushing it off with his good arm, no dice. «Well, that was a short lived victory.» He thought out loud.
«Hello! I hear you!» Zheng sounded closer to the receiving Two-Can, he must have heard the commotion and recognized it for what it was.
Marco yelled up at the bird. «Zheng! It's Marco! I’m trapped, I croaked a Sleeping Lion, but it's pinning me! I made camp at the roots of a buttress tree, if you see a fire, head towards it!»
«It’s too dark, I don't see a fire. I think... I might smell wood burning, but it's very faint.»
Marco felt a wave of desperation roll over him «Titan's nostrils! Can't you just follow your nose to the tree?» the bird above him was hopping about on its branch at this.
Zheng snapped back «'Follow your nose', really? That's the best you can come up with, 'Follow your nose'?» There was a strange echo when the Two-Can repeated «Follow your nose?»
«Titan's mercy, I'm pinned to a tree, there's only so much I can do!»
The Two-can above him suddenly fluttered about and looked down at him with keen interest, as if he'd said something really interesting.
He heard Zheng repeat kind of incredulously «Follow your nose?» There was a noise of flapping and cawing from the Two-can, though his was still only looking down at him.
Marco repeated it as well «Follow your nose?» The Two-can above him didn't budge, it actually seemed a bit dissapointed. He heard Zheng repeat the phrase and more fluttering and rustling from his end. «Zheng? Is your Two-Can acting weird?» Nothing from the two can that time. Strange.
He didn't hear anything for a while, then he heard Zheng again through the Two-Can. «I think... » he let out slowly «the Two-Can's are reacting to us repeating words. Mine looked like it was about to take off. But it seems to work best if we both repeat different words.»
Marco's mind raced, he couldn't keep the hope out of his voice «Do you think it'd fly towards mine?»
«I don't know, it might... it's worth a shot, anyway. But I don't know that us yelling all night is safe, either. We could just wait till morning, we'll be healed and the Sleeping Lion will de-pop off of you. What do you think we should do, Marco?»
The Two-Can was silent for a while. He looked at the big cat pinning him down, and felt the polearm still in his grip. His Pike was gone, having saved him twice. He’d lost it because he’d been unable to hold it. And now he had the polearm; it had saved his life because he’d braced it against something even stronger, the tree. He’d thought he was alone, but Zheng had saved him by not giving up. He thought long and hard about this, and then he decided.