In the Lair of the Bloody Handed
Part One – New Lands
It struck Nhaqosa as somewhat funny how things could change. Not the little, everyday things, but the big ones, like how one moment you could be standing in snow and ice with the bitter cold whipping at you, and the next find yourself elsewhere, in this instant that being a steaming jungle, with all around them a wall of verdant growth, and an air that hung suffocating through heat and moisture. And before that it had been deserts, just as hot, but drier, and devoid of any life.
The giant white minoatur took a moment to take stock of the surrounds. It had a wild, untamed feel about it, primordial even, untouched and unmarred, perhaps even unseen. The trees were ancient things, massive and gnarled, with mosses growing profusely across their trunks and roots. The undergrowth grew thick and tall all around, barely giving any room for the small group of men and women with Nhaqosa to cluster close around him. The only reason that they had any space at all was because at some point in the past an ancient leviathan of a tree had fallen, crushing a sort of a clearing with its demise. Bright sunlight streamed down through the gap in the canopy it had left, through the branches of other trees that had not as yet closed the opening with heir growth. The song and calls of a profusion of birds filled the air, echoing through the forest, while other noises, from unseen creatures, sounded through the undergrowth.
Many of the band, a rough looking and disparate mix of warriors, looked around the forest uneasily, their weapons in hand.
“I don’t like this, boss,” one of them said to Nhaqosa, tugging at the corners of his drooping red moustache.
“What don’t you like about it Lakach?” Nhaqosa asked, looking down at the wiry man.
Lakach gave an uneasy shrug, non-committal as to a reason. “Just feels wrong, that it all.”
Nhaqosa responded with a deep, rumbling chuckle that sounded out of place in the wilds about them. “We are in a different world. It is bound to feel a little odd.”
Lakach nodded, though his eyes said he did not entirely agree. “Perhaps.”
Nhaqosa nodded slowly. The man actually did have a point, he conceded after a moment to reflect. Something did feel unusual about the place, almost oppressive. It could have been the heat, or the dense growth that crowded in close around them, or something else entirely. He could not quite put a finger on it.
Another man stepped over, this one with a long face, and close at hand to him was a woman, short and slender, her once flawless features now touched by scars. Abasan and Niati, despite their widely different backgrounds and upbringings, had become inseparable.
“What now, Kwaza?” Abasan asked respectfully, his voice low.
Nhaqosa clasped at the pendant that hung around his neck, nestled against the white of his hide and carved of red wood in the form of a wolf’s head. As he touched it, he caught a sense of the surge that the pendant gave off, a tugging that pulled him onwards, towards a specific place, to a place where there existed the way between worlds, perhaps to his own, from which he had been cut off for far too long.
“We follow the path, as ever,” he replied.
He shouldered his weapon, a heavy maul too large for any of a lesser stature than a minotaur to wield efficiently, the head of which had been carved into the form of a cylinder of green stone and slotted around the handle. He started off in the direction that the pendant indicated, plunging into the forest and pushing his way through the growth that hindered the way.
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