In the Lair of the Bloody Handed
Part Six – Forest of the Giants
They didn’t leave the village until a couple of days after the battle, spending time to rest and recover from strains and injuries suffered. Tolvir had done what he could, but his strength was limited and had been strained tending to those most badly wounded, bringing a number back from the brink of death.
During that time they came to get a better understanding of the villagers and their way of life. Those that lived there had a great understanding of the nature of the forest, and control over it, able to bend it to their needs, and to use it to shape their own forms. It was those skills that allowed them to survive, even thrive, in such a dangerous environment when few others would be able to.
When Nhaqosa finally set off with his band, they took with them a young man from the village, by the name of Brelor. He led the way into the forests, following paths that only he could find and knew about. The trees of the forest grew in close and tight about them, while animals played off in the undergrowth. On occasions they caught glimpses of some of them, such as monstrous lizards that shuffled slowly along, stripping low lying branches of leaves for food, or flightless birds that stood almost as tall as Nhaqosa, equipped with large, shearing beaks, like some form of terrifying water fowl that, according to Brelor, were meat eaters. Others were giant, hairy quadrapeds, something near to the size of a rhinocerous, but without the horn. Dragonflies with wing spans over half a meter across buzzed over the surfaces of the streams they passed. Birds of all colours and sizes fluttered above, flitting from branch to branch, singly loudly as they did.
They forded many of the small streams they came upon that flowed through the forest in great quantities, many on the verge of being rivers. Fishes flashed through the waters about them, as well as turtles, frogs and other aquatic creatures, quite a few of whom were on the same enlarged scale as so many of the other animals that dwelt in the forest were.
Barely a breath of a breeze rustled the branches of the trees for much of the time, or disturbed the air that hung hot and heavy and humid. Soon sweat ran freely down their bodies, soaking them through and they frequently drank from the streams and washed their faces down with cool waters. While they had become accustomed to heat in their travels, they had not experienced heat of this kind, a moist, muggy heat and not the dry type they had previously endured.
As the sun reached its peak, they stopped beside one of the streams for a meal and a rest, taking the weight off their feet under the shade of the trees. They ate a simple meal of food that had been provided for them by the villagers, of dried meat, coarse dark bread and cheese, washed down with water.
They stayed there as the sweltering heat settled on the forest, waiting for some respite. Barely had they finished their meal when upstream the surface of the stream began to ripple, an event Brelor pointed out to them.
“Snake,” he announced, standing up to collect his spear from where it rested against a tree nearby to him.
From the size of the ripples made in the water, Nhaqosa gathered the creature was of a rather large size, a suspicion confirmed when at last the serpent emerged from out of the stream. Fully ten metres in length, it was a monstrous creature, with a scaled hide of mottled greens and yellows that would blend in well with the forests. The snake slithered up out of the waters onto the shore a couple of dozen metres from where Nhaqosa’s band waited, and there it stopped. Its head rose up, while its tongue flickered as it tested the air. Beady eyes stared at the group with reptilian coldness.
They stood there, neither side moving, simply watching, for what seemed like many minutes before the snake lowered its head and slithered away into the undergrowth of the forest, its passage marked by the sound of disturbed bushes, leaves and twigs.
“Dangerous?” Nhaqosa asked after it had gone.
Brelor nodded. “Very. Its venom is most potent. You are dead before you almost know that you have been bitten.”
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