Journey through the hungry jungle, part 8

Part 8: Temple of Doombats

Marco and Zheng stared out at the temple for several long moments, just admiring the alien beauty of the sight. It was starting to get late, and the wildlife was changing its tune. A swarm of feral Doombats screeched and flew in an arc across the lake. The setting sun colored the clouds in reds and oranges, and as it neared the water’s edge the lake began to reflect the amber light towards them. It made the scene seem like they were looking at a huge golden eye.

Marco shuddered as a sudden chill went down his spine.

The lake itself actually took up a little more than the entire hex boundary, spilling over into some of the six adjoining hexes (at least as far as they could tell). In the distance they could see at least two other canals, and amazingly both were still supplying water to the lake.

«This is just spectacular.» Whispered Marco. Despite the sense of foreboding, he didn’t want to tear his eyes away from the scene. Still, with the Turn about to end making camp would be the prudent thing. «Come on, we should get set up for the night. What do you think, beachfront or inland?»

«Inland.» Zheng didn’t hesitate. «We have no idea what’s in that lake, or if it can snatch up Units near the shore. Besides, a fire would be visible to anyone looking across.» So they set up camp in a defensible position along the canal some 20 yards back from the lake.


Marco was snuggled up in the Sleeping Lion pelt; for some reason, despite having actual bedrolls now he’d been reluctant to use them. «So Zheng, you mentioned something about a legend for that temple, what was it?»

Zheng was sitting on a tree root. He never stopped scanning the surroundings, but he did tilt his head to address Marco. «It was one of the stories I overheard from one of the other stacks in the patrol force.»

In a slow, careful tone Zheng began the story, as if gingerly picking up a memory as fragile as a Glass Tchotchke with just one hit left. «There is a legend that hidden deep in the jungles of Tar Zhay lies a lost temple built by one of the original 99 kings and queens of Erfworld. Queen Yucca of the Tan tribe grew jealous of her brothers and sisters; some had found and attuned to Arkentools, while she ruled a forgotten corner of the jungle. She decided that she would prove her superiority by becoming the highest-level unit in all of Erf. But she was cowardly, so she ordered her scouts to capture and bring her ferals to croak in the safety of her palace. But she was impatient, so she ordered her armies to fight and capture her fellow Royal’s soldiers to croak. But she was proud. Soon she forced her weaker neighbors to tithe her units to croak.»

«One of the kings she demanded tribute from taunted her: that no matter how high her level she would never equal the Titans. And so she ordered her diggers, and her soldiers, and her casters to build her the greatest City improvement ever made: a temple in the image of the Titans. She reasoned, if she could not be a Titan, she would make one that was Loyal to her. At the height of her madness, she would toss the bodies of those she croaked into the statue’s maw to feed it and Tame it. And eventually... it awoke.»

Marco shuddered. Why was he nervous? This was just a legend after all... that they may have proven true that afternoon.

«The profane statue was hungry for more. She fed it ferals, magic items, even Artifacts. When her soldiers or warlords failed to bring any, she would croak them and toss them in too.» Zheng paused: maybe for effect, maybe deep in thought. «Some say she even fed it the fifth, lost Arkentool.»

Zheng’s somber face glowed orange in the firelight. «Her brothers and sisters at last rallied to stop her madness, and besieged her. But the monstrous statue laid waste to any who would approach the city, and she herself was now a monstrous level 20. Any unit engaging her would be croaked in a single unerring hit.»

«The Titans must have heard the plight of their Units, because they wept. And as they wept, Erf wept with them, bringing forth 101 turns of rain.» Zheng paused again; he seemed to grapple with the thought of 101 turns of rain. That was almost twice their time on Erf. «Her capital was flooded, and every unit in the garrison croaked. The city itself... became un-claimable. Titans forsaken. Just like Queen Yucca. No one saw her croak, and the legend says that she is still alive, walking the jungle, looking for units to croak and feed the mock Titan. For the baleful statue remains. Watching. Waiting. Hungry.»

Marco turned over in the Sleeping Lion skin, suddenly very happy to have the added warmth.

Seeming to finally notice the effect the legend had had on Marco, Zheng said «It’s just a legend, Marco. Get some sleep.»

«You’re right, it’s just a legend.» It was silly, and yet somehow, he couldn’t help feeling that the stone head on the island was gazing their way. Hungry.


Dawn the following day wasn’t the start of their turn. Someone else was in the Battlespace. At least they knew it wasn’t Banana Republicans since the turn came before their own, but it still wasn’t a good sign.

They had a difficult debate on whether to head back, or try and build some sort of raft to cross the river. Not sure which (if either) would avoid getting them spotted. They both wanted to cross (Zheng was especially keen on going on the water) but their options were severely limited. Building a raft without the Fabricate special would make it really shoddy, and without either the Seafarer or Water-capable special, they’d have trouble moving it and would likely drown if anything went wrong.

So reluctantly, they decided to head back. They were (mostly) used to the dangers of the jungle, but the dangers of the water were another matter.

Both had decided to eat their rations by the lake shore, to get one last look at the island temple.

«I don’t think the legend is all true.» ventured Zheng, trying to lighten some of the dread he’d caused the night before. «Look at the canals. It wasn’t rain that flooded this city… or a Titanic curse… it was flooded by something built by units.»

Despite himself, Marco was secretly relieved at the comment. «True, but do you think this was done on purpose though? Maybe they built the canals as a city improvement and then a big monsoon hit?» Marco casually tossed a Honey Nut shell into the lake.

Zheng considered the idea. «It’s possible. Maybe there was a way to shut off the canals and they broke down. But we didn’t pass anything like a dam or flood gate on the way here. The other option… maybe their enemies built the canals?»

«That’d be insane. Why not just march an army in, if you’re that dead set on taking a city?» Marco tossed another shell into the water. The blue lily pads were swaying in the breeze.

«But they weren’t dead set on taking the city. They drowned it.» Zheng tossed a shell in too, though his bounced off one of the lily pads.

A thought came, and Marco shuddered again. «Can you imagine it? What sort of enemy Side is so committed to your destruction they’re willing to wage a war using the land itself? They tamed the rivers and turned them against this city, they even changed the hex’s terrain type.» Marco peeled another nut and tossed the shell into the water.

Zheng sprang off of his idea. «If they’d wanted to destroy the city, it would’ve been easier to start an inferno and turn it to ash. Instead they created a system of canals to flood this civilization-- in plain view of the units they intended to drown. That’s just malicious.» His next shell toss actually skipped on the water’s edge. Neither noticed the water lilies quiver.

Marco thought back to the legend. Even if it wasn’t completely true, as it seemed more and more likely, there was something to it. After all, here they were eating breakfast in front of a flooded city, hidden in the jungle, with a giant stone head at the top. «Was it though? Maybe the Side that owned this city was like the one in the legend. With a mad queen out to destroy everything she could. Someone so powerful they had to be this extreme to defeat. I mean, the temple statue from the legend is right there.» Marco pointed at the giant stone head across the lake. It was thick featured and rectangular, with a large ornamental stone headdress or helmet. It might just be a trick of the morning light, but Marco could almost swear he saw glints of red shining from the eyes.

Finishing another Honey Nut, Marco tossed a shell into the water. And it burbled.

They both got up instantly and grabbed their weapons, spilling the Honey Nuts. One of the two yard wide lily pads moved to where the nut shell was floating, then a creature jumped nimbly out of the water and onto the blue pad. It was almost man sized, with moist green leathery skin, a huge mouth, a yellowish underbelly and big eyes. It was carrying a huge spoon with sharpened edges in its left —hand?— which it used to spoon up one of the shells. It smacked its lips in anticipation as it turned the shell over with a dainty and webbed(!) right hand with suckers at the end, only to look disappointed when it realized it was just a shell. It blinked huge, white eyes at them and made a low and rough sound. It was like a unit croaking, and sounded like «Diggem? Diggem?»

They both looked at each other in confusion. Zheng had his pike at the ready and Marco had Polo in a defensive two handed stance. «What is it?» asked Zheng.

Marco shrugged. He’d never heard of the beast during training. It was like nothing he’d even heard about. The creature didn’t seem to register their mood, and gingerly hopped onto the shore and smacked its lips as it came close to the spilled Honey Nuts. «I think... I think it wants our nuts.»

Marco motioned with Polo and said «Shoo! Go away... Smacker… thing... go away!»

It followed the motion of the spear to the faraway island temple, and then blinked twice. «Diggit?» Here it pointed at the temple, then to Zheng and Marco. «Diggem!» And here it pointed to itself and the nuts. «Diggit?»

They were both stunned. This wasn’t a feral, it was some type of new Ally entirely; that's why their turn hadn't started! It was some kind of freaky round green… guy? Gal? Not an “it”, anyway. Marco decided to think of it as a she, since she somehow managed to keep a lily flower stuck to the side of her head despite having no hair. She obviously didn’t know Language, but she was clearly intelligent. Zheng ventured «We diggit.» and he pointed at the temple. «But we can’t swim.» here he mimed swimming. «No diggit.»

She shook her head «diggit?» The little Smacker looked disappointed and pensive. Then she raised her head happily. She hopped onto the lily pad and used the spoon to paddle around the near shore. «Diggit?»

Marco and Zheng shared another look. This time, the confusion was replaced with big smiles. Zheng answered «Yeah, we diggit.»




Part 7

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Part 9