In the northerly kingdom of Negh Huiet there lived an industrious marketing people who had trade relations with almost every land in Taraharmonia. Their king, Faeran, however was an expansionist in philosophy. He had become enticed with the exotic mysterious land of Bal, which lay directly to the south of Negh Huiet. To be more precise Faeran’s interests lay in the Bali province of Bahra. It was fabled that this province was laden with riches. This caught the Huietian monarch’s fancy. The province of Bahra was virtually inaccessible save for the crossing through the infamous Bali Jungle. The possibility of treasure was reason enough for Faeran to send out an expedition to this peregrine land.
Faeran knew that he would be able to do so without getting the gruff of the other nearby nations. During his day there were no ascendant powers. Ehandrovia had yet to awake. The Huietians were not an overly mighty military force. The weaponry that they carried was more often for show than for purpose. They were a mercantile people motivated by avarice rather than grandeur.
The Huietians had long eyed the Bali province of Bahra. Stories of its unbridled riches came to Negh Huiet by the people from the more reachable provinces of Bal. The Bali Jungle bordered the savannahs of Bahra. Rumors abounded of monstrous creatures that freely roamed the thick, dense almost impenetrable sweltering rainforest. These stories were able to keep most Huietians out of Bahra. Of those that dared to trespass within the gnarled forest, none would ever return. The native people of this land, the Balasians, would claim that these wayfarers would fall victim to fell creatures too terrible to describe.
Yet no living Huietian had ever seen any of these creatures. Faeran knew that the Balasians were a primitive backward people governed by irrational fears and superstitions. To Faeran these monsters could be nothing but phantoms out of the collective Balasian consciousness.
This conviction along with his inherent greed led the Huietian King to set up a commission for a team of Huietian adventurers to explore the interior savannahs of Bal. This company would claim any discoveries for the crown of Negh Huiet.
Faeran chose Fieff Farley to be the leader of this expedition. Farley was a much-heralded adventurer and explorer. To accompany the legendary Fieff would be ten others, all of whom could claim distinction and merit within Negh Huiet.
The expedition was to be an overland journey in which the company would head south through the Huietian hinterland. They would then be at the foothills of the Cymbal Mountains. Passage would have to be found through these mountains that marked the boundary between Negh Huiet and the steamy jungles of Bal. Farley estimated that this part of the trek would take about ten days. The crossing of the Bali Jungle was an unknown but Farley realistically judged it should take no longer than a few days.
When the company set out, it brought some arms as a precautionary step just in case there actually were shadowy monstrous creatures lurking upon this land. But to Farley the purpose of traveling arms was more for any potential hostility from the indigenous Balasians.
The journey south through the fiefferies and farmlands of the Huietian hinterland went without incident. But the crossing of the Cymbal Mountains was more taxing than what either Faeran or Farley had believed when they were drawing up their plans. The company lost their route several times. In so doing they lost many days and had consumed a good deal more of their rations than what they had anticipated.
Harviste, who was Farley’s second-in-command, was responsible for the transportation of the arms. When the trek through the mountains became arduous, he persuaded Farley into abandoning all the weapons save a few hunting knives. Harviste argued that there was no need for them. So the company hid the weapons in a spot where they were assured that they would not be discovered.
Finally, after twenty-eight days, the Huietians found themselves on the fringes of the infamous Bali Jungle. As they neared the great rainforest, the temperature began to climb and soon became unbearable. Along with the heat came a reciprocal increase in humidity. The company’s clothing soon became rank from sweat.
It was decided that on the next day they would embark into the jungle. They made camp at its outskirts. With the settling of Tyra, a cool breeze emanated from the bush. Occasionally this wind would whistle and make sounds approximating a scratchy human voice saying, “Forever.” That night the whole company slept restlessly.
They breakfasted with the rising of Tyra the next morning. Halan was the most eager of the company to set forth into the jungle. He remarked that the rainforest did not appear to be that foreboding.
When Villa dawned on the twenty-ninth day of the expedition, the company entered the steamy world of the Bali Jungle. They chopped their way through the ten-foot tall ferns that impeded their progress. Although there were many varieties of trees within the jungle, these broad-leafed plants seemed to be the predominant vegetation. They did not come across any sign of animals, not even their spore. Harviste thought this odd that a tropical jungle would be so devoid of fauna. He had always believed that rainforests were brimming with wildlife.
The mood of the company was one of awe and delight. They were amazed at the height of the gnarly-barked trees whose leafy canopy entirely blocked out their view of the sky above. A feeling of giddiness was within each member as they thought of the riches that lie on the Bahra savannahs on the other side of this rainforest.
But this mood was soon supplanted by irksomeness and discomfort. The heat and humidity were relentless. Their eyes grew weary of the endless homogeneity of the vegetation. Each hill that they climbed gave the same view of a dense network of ferns at the base of gnarly trees with twisting, tangled vines.
As the day wore on, Farley began to get the distinct impression that the company may have lost its southerly bearing. It was entirely feasible that they had become lost. The sky was blocked by the rainforest’s canopy. There was no way of judging their location by correlating the positions of the two suns, Tyra and Villa. The company wandered aimlessly through the jungle for the rest of that day.
With nightfall imminent, the company set up camp in a small clearing that they fortuitously happened upon. They made a fire and supped on the foods that they had brought along with them. Each member felt comfortable as they lounged in front of the glowing embers. They might have been lost but they were not going to let that unsettle them. They had faith that the legendary Fieff Farley would soon be able to triangulate their position.
Darkness brought many eerie sounds that came from the outside of the clearing. These howls, whistles, grunts, screeches and squeaks unnerved many of the members. A few like Harviste and Halan were not bothered at all by the sounds. They had been on expeditions before and were not quick in resorting to fear. However Farley decided to post a guard during the night while the others slept. Halan and Harviste volunteered to keep watch. The nefarious sounds continued through the night but nothing transpired to infringe upon the safety of the company.
The next day Harviste suggested that reconnaisance parties should be sent out in various directions so that they could determine the way out of the jungle. This ran into Farley’s opposition. To Farley these sorties would only guarantee the straying of the scouting parties. It was better that the company remained together and find their way out as a group. The other members agreed with the Fieff. It was decided that they would leave a physical trail in the form of numbered notches in prominent trees. This would indicate their path through the rainforest.
This plan served to uplift the spirits of the company. It fostered group cohesion and convinced the individual members that this would be the day that they would find their way to the fabled savannahs of Bal.
The jungle by day was very hospitable compared to the jungle by night. It was virtually silent within the confines of the gnarled forest. Brilliant streams of light broke through the canopy. This served to ease the spirits of the company. For many of the members, anything was preferable to the wailing sounds of the night before.
They wandered through the rainforest notching trees the whole daylong without encountering any sign of a way out. Their spirits became completely unruffled when they came across a tree that bore some notches on its trunk. These were notches carved by them!
The number of notches was seven. It was a tree that they had passed in the morning. Everyone was distraught. They were no nearer to leaving the jungle now than they were earlier in the day. They had traveled in a full circle.
Reluctantly, the company pitched camp and ate. All were sullen. Tyra dusked. The frightful screams and howls of the night before began anew. There was terror in everybody except Harviste and Halan who once again volunteered to stand watch over the sleeping company. Harviste took the first watch. The cries of the night did little to make him feel unsettled. After the midpoint of the night, Halan assumed duty.
The members of the company had managed to fall asleep despite the diabolical screeches that came from somewhere very near. But when Halan began screaming wildly, they all were wakened. Farley opened his eyes and saw the petrified Halan pointing towards some trees. The Fieff tried to question the panic-stricken man but could not get any response. Halan was hysterical and unable to speak.
A search party was sent to the stand of trees that Halan had pointed out but nothing could be discovered there. Farley ordered a double guard for the remainder of the night even though this was futile. Nobody was able to sleep any longer. They all sat huddled nursing private ideas of scary monsters. The noises persisted.
Finally Tyra rose into the sky to the great relief of the Huietians. The night was over for everybody except Halan who remained in a somnambulistic state.
After breakfast, they tried the same procedure that they used the day before. They discovered where trees number six; eight and nine were located and proceeded out on a new course that was perpendicular to the line of those trees.
Day three in the Bali Jungle went by without the company discovering the boundary of the rainforest or any tree that they had encountered before. The Huietians felt assuaged in knowing that they were breaking new ground.
Nerves were entirely frayed that evening when the jungle sounds started up again. These sounds were even shriller than on previous nights. They seemed to loom more nigh, almost at the very fringes of their campsite. These eerie sounds were accompanied by the rustling of the matted leaves that carpeted the jungle floor. This affirmed to Farley that these noises were not emanating from any disembodied entity. They were dealing with something of flesh.
The rustling and screeching were undoing the company. Halan had become nothing but a jumbled, incoherent mess unresponsive to his environs. The others lay unstrung in their spots unable to move. Farley knew something had to be done. He looked at the curling fire in the center of the camp.
He realized then that the campfire had a double effect that had to be eradicated. First off, the flames made the company highly visible to whatever was lurking in the shadows. The second thing was that the fire prevented the company from seeing whatever was lurking in the shadows.
The fire had to be put out. Even if it was the only thing that kept whatever was out there away from them, Farley knew that the fire had to be put out. With the others watching, the Fieff stamped out the flames. As the embers weakened in their intensity, the previous utter blackness of the jungle began to show some silhouetted images. The noises suddenly ceased. All was silent. Farley, from his location, was able to discern a shadowy form on the outskirts of the camp.
This shadow suddenly began moving away from the camp. The form seemed to be smaller than that of a human. The Fieff’s feelings of intimidation had run out. He broke out in pursuit of the apparition. As he moved through the jungle, Farley thought that he saw another shadow amid the trees but that figure had such an improbable form that he dismissed it as his eyes playing tricks on him.
The shadow he was chasing made its way smoothly along the jungle floor while Farley was tripping and fumbling over every jutting root. But nonetheless he was still able to gain upon the shadow. Once he was within distance he leapt into the air and landed full force upon the apparition. It squirmed and it struggled underneath him but the Fieff was able to keep hold of it.
From the feel of its form, Farley knew that he had tackled a human. The other members of the company had now come up to the scene. Harviste lit a torch.
From the wavering light of the torch, Farley saw that he had indeed caught a human. From descriptions that he had heard before, he surmised that the captive was a Balasian. The captive was garbed only in a loincloth, which the Huietians believed signified a primitive status. Fear clearly expressed itself over the Balasian’s features but that was the only thing about him that expressed itself.
They brought the now bound primitive back to the camp where Farley repeatedly asked him questions but was never given a reply. It grew apparent that the primitive was not able or willing to speak with the Huietians. The Fieff decided to pursue the matter in the morning. The members of the company went to sleep for the remaining hours of darkness that there was left. Two guards were posted about the camp just in case there were other savages roaming about. The jungle was silent for the rest of the night.
In the morning Farley took a closer look at their captive. The Balasian was considerably smaller in stature than the Huietians. His facial features had a different angularity to it than the faces of the company. For Farley, the captive’s face personified the exotic wildness of the rainforest. The Fieff felt the urgent need for communication with this man from Bal. This primitive would most certainly know his way about in the jungle. He could probably lead the company to the rich Bahra savannahs that lie at the heart of this land.
Farley made some rudimentary hand movements in which he tried to gesticulate that he didn’t mean to harm the savage. The Balasian did not seem to understand. His eyes were bewildered and wild. The pupils were entirely dilated. Farley was not frustrated yet. He had a great reservoir of patience. He tried another method.
With his finger extended he pointed to himself and said in a monotone, “Fieff Farley. Fieff Farley.”
The primitive watched but did not seem to understand what the Huietian was doing. The company leader continued, “Fieff Farley. Fieff Farley.”
But the Balasian did not respond. Farley felt that under normal circumstances the primitive might have been able to understand. He realized that for communication to take place, the element of trust had to be established. Trust could never come to fruition while one of the parties in the communication was bound up in ropes. If the Balasian could be released and goaded into staying with the company, they might be able to achieve some means of talking with one another.
Farley consulted with Harviste about this matter. Harviste immediately pointed out that the savage could not be trusted whatsoever. Wasn’t the savage responsible for Halan’s catatonic state? Halan had been very stable beforehand but this savage had scared the wits out of him.
Looking at the doleful primitive Farley wondered how he had succeeded in shattering the brain of one of his most capable men. Whatever the Balasian did was locked up in the entrails of two unspeaking tongues. It would be best to leave the primitive bound.
On this the fourth day within the wilds of the Bali Jungle, the company continued to trace out its route by cutting out notches in prominent trees. The primitive was escorted in the center of the group. Harviste watched the Balasian’s eyes but did not get any indication on whether they were on an appropriate path. The jungle was as ever uniform and homogenous in appearance as it had been on the first three days. A plethora of tree species but only one type of plant, the broad leafed olive ferns.
The day went by without them discovering the way out of the gnarly forest. It was the first of five hapless frustrating days. The rainforest was holding its secrets well much to the Huietians’ chagrin. They did take consolation in the fact that as far as they could tell they never saw any evidence that they were walking in circles. No notched trees were upon their path.
There were no longer the disturbing sounds from the jungle during the nights. Apparently, it was the Balasian savage that all along was trying to spook the company. The primitive was still as stubborn as ever. There was not one verbal utterance out of him in all the time of his captivity. There was an emotional flatness associated with him that in many ways was similar to Halan’s condition.
The rations that the company had toted along with them were now wearing thin. Thus far they had only eaten from their own stores and had not experimented with the jungle’s only form of apparently edible flora, the olive ferns. Farley made his mind up that he would try to eat one of the plant’s leaves. It could be an excellent source of food, seeing that it was so abundant in the rainforest. He tore a leaf from a nearby fern and tentatively nibbled upon it. He found the taste repulsive. It was very acidic and actually stung his tongue. He managed to swallow some of it and somehow was able to keep it down. The plant was edible although not delectable.
Shortly afterwards, Farley’s mind drifted into a state of reverie. He felt his emotions heighten and he could swear that he had developed an inner understanding of the jungle. It was a living entity. It breathed with rhythmic primordial instinct. Farley’s ears sensed a faint voice that was endlessly repeating, “I am the all. I am the terminus of destinies.”
Eventually the voice began to fade and falter. Images of the company’s faces suddenly appeared hovering overtop of him. His eyes roamed over the terrain of each face until they reached the anguished, harrowish face of his second-in-command, Harviste. Farley’s eyes drifted down to Harviste’s open and moving mouth. Sounds spewed from there but to Farley they were entirely devoid of meaning. Utter confusion engrained itself upon him. His mind had shut down.
The Huietians were now exasperated. Their leader, the great Fieff, had become as disoriented as Halan and the Balasian. Harviste reasoned that it was the olive fern that was the source of this anomaly of behavior. Upon further recollection, it dawned upon him that the Balasians did not have their own distinct language. They spoke a dialect that was understandable to the Huietians. They also tended not to live alone. In fact, they tended to stay clear of the jungle which they looked upon with great fear and suspicion. Balasians stuck to their own provinces.
Maybe the captive savage came from the province of Bahra? The Huietians knew little of the inhabitants of this well-sheltered, well-protected Bali province. This savage would know the way back to his homeland. Yet by the way the man behaved, Harviste concluded that he was as demented as Halan and now Farley. Harviste guessed that Halan had eaten some of the fern.
With Farley unable to lead the company any longer, Harviste assumed command. He warned the others not to eat the vegetation because of the madness that the plants seemed to induce.
The company continued to wander through the jungle for the next three days without anything substantial occurring. The conditions of the three maddened men had not changed. On the evening of the third day, the Balasian began tossing his head fervently and he was groaning. Harviste was taken aback and he approached the savage. The company still had the man’s hands bound in fear that his demented state may lead him to commit some atrocious act.
The Balasian said something but Harviste was unable to make it out because the words were slurred. The Balasian repeated what he had said but this time in a recognizable form that was laden with a heavy accent. “Please untie me! There is no feeling in my hands!”
Harviste looked at the man’s hands and then back into his face. “You can speak! I thought that you could!”
“Please, my hands!” the Balasian muttered in apparent pain.
Ignoring the savage’s request, Harviste asked, “Do you know the way out of this forsaken jungle?” The Balasian made a grunt that sounded almost like a laugh. Harviste became irritated, “Answer my question, savage!”
The Balasian’s face turned grave. He looked directly into his tormentor’s eyes. “Please, my hands!”
Harviste was infuriated and struck the savage across the face. But the Balasian did not respond. His expression became mournful as the enraged Huietian repeatedly struck him with full force. This drew the attention of the other members of the company. They were about to pull Harviste away when the Balasian blurted, “There is no way out of the jungle! It is what you have to live!”
Harviste could not accept what he had just heard. He screamed in rage and ran off until he was out of sight from the rest of the company.
The Balasian looked up at the remaining Huietians. He saw compassion in their faces. He cleared his throat and began to speak. “My name is Jackal. I hail from the land of Bal where I was once of the Bahru tribe. I have long since been banished by my people for stealing the soul of one of the young. I was exiled to this jungle where I have been ever since. I, like you, cannot find the way out. I followed your party in the hopes that you would lead me out. But I see I was mistaken.”
“Why did you try to frighten us each night?” It was Harviste. He had returned and was now in a calmer state of mind.
Jackal looked melancholically up at Harviste. He responded in slow, guarded words. “When I first spotted you, I realized that in order for me to keep up with you, I needed sustenance. So I ate from the aenje plant.”
“Aenje? You mean that?” Harviste pointed toward the broad-leafed olive fern.
Jackal nodded. “It is known to our people as the soul desecrator. Aenje renders one’s personal thoughts void and replaces them with the all-pervading spirit of the Bali Jungle. Thankfully, its effects do not last permanently.
“I was in a state of desperation and I decided that I had to undergo the aenje seeing that it is the only available source of food here. Our Bahru shamans insist that a mind centered upon one thought may have a chance of wresting the jungle spirit of aenje. As I chewed upon the leaves I concentrated on trailing your party. I allowed no other thoughts, no other perceptions to enter my mind. I lost consciousness and didn’t get it back until only moments ago. It was then that I became aware that I had been captured.”
Jackal’s eyes veered from one member of the company to another. When they focused upon Harviste, the Huietian remarked, “You mean to say that the effects of aenje will eventually reside?”
“Yes. It depends on how much one consumes. It rarely lasts more than a week though.”
A united sigh came from the onlooking Huietians. One began to work at unbinding Jackal but Harviste motioned for him to stop. “What do you mean by stealing a soul of a young person? Did you murder a child?” There was an acidic tone in Harviste’s tongue.
Jackal’s voice was edgy and defensive. “No, I did not kill an innocent child!” Composure returned to the Balasian as he continued. “The Bahru mean that a soul becomes misdirected when they say that it is stolen. The soul has lost its way. The soul that I stole was my son’s. In him, I instilled a fierce competitiveness that was hard for him to restrain. I wanted him to achieve the grandeur that I had never attained.
“The boy was overly aggressive and often resorted to hostility. In one of his fits of anger he destroyed one of our chief’s most prized possessions. Now the Bahru Chief is not a tolerant man. He immediately executed my son and he exiled me to the jungle for punishment in failing as a parent.” Tears formed in the corners of Jackal’s eyes. Harviste felt no pity for the Balasian.
Seeing that Harviste was not about to have him freed left Jackal despondent and silent for a few minutes. He noticed the two Huietians who were also bound like him. They both appeared to be in a stuporous state. “What is the matter with those two men? It looks like they have eaten from the aenje plant.”
One of the members answered, “That is what we think is the case.”
“You haven’t applied any llyrna root to the inner wall of their mouths?”
“What?” It was Harviste. “Lorna root?”
“No, llyrna root. This root when properly applied prematurely releases the hold of the aenje. The madness soon disappears.”
“Do you know how to properly apply this elixir?” Harviste asked the captive.
Harviste was unsure about trusting the Balasian. The other Huietians all seemed to have confidence in the credibility of the savage. He buckled under their pressure and gave consent for Jackal’s release.
Once his hands were liberated, Jackal smiled with relief. Knowing he had to complete his assignment in order to ensure his continued freedom, he proceeded to find an old, gray, gnarled thick-stumped tree. With his bare hands, he unearthed the tree’s twisting, multi-fibrous roots. He snapped one of these fibers off. With a little difficulty, he worked the outer skin off from the fiber exposing a white, glossy stem.
He went over to Farley and pried the Fieff’s mouth open with his finger. With his other hand he placed the tip of the root into Farley’s mouth. He slowly ran the root up and down along Farley’s inner cheeks. Soon the Huietian explorer began gagging and coughing causing Harviste to become alarmed. But before Harviste could do anything, Farley cried out, “Stop it! Stop it!”
Farley had returned to the world of reality. The company was overcome by rapture. As they surrounded the Fieff, Jackal tried the same routine on the other ailing Huietian, Halan. But the success that he had achieved with Farley eluded him with Halan. The Huietian was as catatonic now as he was before the llyrna root treatment.
Jackal was baffled. The llyrna root was always successful in alleviating the aenje spell. The only time that it did not work was if the patient was a recidivist. He took a closer look at the afflicted Huietian. Halan’s eyes were not dilated. One of the primary symptoms of aenje consumption was the dilation of the user’s pupils. Jackal was now convinced that Halan had not eaten any of the aenje leaves. The Huietian’s madness stemmed from some other source.
Harviste noticed the mysterious expression on Jackal’s face. He approached the Balasian whom he still did not trust. Jackal informed him about the failure of the llyrna root. These tidings stunned Harviste. At that moment Farley joined their company and was introduced to the Balasian. The Fieff was delighted to finally communicate with the man from Bal.
Farley was given all of the details of his temporary dementia, the effects of aenje, and the biography of Jackal. The Fieff concluded that there must be something horrible out there in the jungle and that whatever it was, it presented itself to Halan. He decided to keep this speculation within the confines of just Harviste, Jackal and himself. There was no need to terrify the others in the company.
Another reality pressed itself upon him. The company was still hopelessly lost in the jungle. The direction that they were heading was unsure and could conceivably leave them locked forever within the boundaries of the Bali Jungle. But if they were to retrace their steps by following the notched trees, they could find their way back to the rainforest’s edges.
This meant giving up on the treasures to be found on the savannahs of Bahra. But to Farley, it became more important to get out of this jungle and save their lives. Better to live poor than to die in the quest of riches. The company’s food stores were running low and this added to solidify the Fieff’s decision.
When he espoused his plan to return home to the others, he met with unanimous approval. Even Harviste who had been so full of enthusiasm for the expedition’s original quest had grown fatigued of the sweltering heat of the rainforest and longed for the cool, maritime climate of Negh Huiet.
Farley figured that the company had about three days worth of supplies left. At best, the company could not expect to reach the first notched tree in less than ten days. There was no way to expect every one to survive the wiles of the jungle with so little food. He decided to consult with the Balasian who was sitting by himself at the outskirts of the camp. It appeared that he was in some form of meditative trance.
“Jackal, what are you doing?” Farley asked but he didn’t wait for a reply. “I checked our food supplies and I’m sorry to say that we do not have near enough to safeguard our return. Is it perilous to have the company on occasion eat from the aenje plant to supplement their diets? Is there enough llyrna root along the way so that we do not have to undergo the plant’s maddening effects?”
Jackal’s eyes became focused. They were reddened. The skin under the eyes was puffed out attesting to the fact that the Balasian had been crying. In his thick accent, Jackal drawled, “The jungle has a plenitude of both aenje and llyrna. But the llyrna root is effective only once as a panacea for aenje. The soul of a man becomes embodied into the jungle’s spirit when he eats more than once from the aenje plant.” Once again the Balasian drifted back into his thoughts.
Farley turned from Jackal and began working out the problem within his head. The company numbered twelve including Jackal. There was enough Huietian food for three days. If everybody ate once every three days that might be enough to get by on. As an added precaution, the schedule of meals would be staggered so that not everybody would eat on the same day. This would guarantee that not everybody would be in the same weakened condition. To supplement their diets, the nine men who had not eaten the aenje as of yet would consume a leaf somewhere along the way. No more than two men would be under the effects of aenje on any given day. The rest of the company could not be expected to bear the weight of any more than that being incapacitated by the plant should the llyrna root prove to be ineffective.
This plan would have the company running out of food by the time they reached their objective. At that point some desperate action would have to be taken. It was an all or nothing proposition.
In the morning the company quickly packed and started to retrace their steps. The notched trees were easy to find. The company’s collective memory for this part of their journey was still very strong. They reached the site that they had camped two nights before with still a great deal of the day left to them. They continued on. By the time that it was too dark to travel they had made almost half the distance to the camp where they had stayed three nights before. This was excellent progress, much better than any had expected.
The first day of their retreat was marked by the fasting of the entire company. Nobody ate any aenje. The night was marked with hungry stomachs and uplifted spirits for everyone except Halan who was still in a stupor.
Day two was similar to day one. Great progress was made. The notched trees were simple to spot. Stomachs were hungrier than ever but nobody ate.
On the third day of the retreat, the company was slowed somewhat. The bright, yellowy, fleshy notches on the trees had faded to the point where they were of the same color as the tree’s bark. This made the notched trees difficult to locate. Individual members of the company had to approach each tree to ascertain whether it had been marked or not. This was also the day that half the company ate their first meal of the retreat. Lots were drawn to see who would eat this day and who would eat the next. Two men were also selected to eat the aenje leaves. They showed only momentary signs of the madness before Jackal’s application of the llyrna root brought them out of their reveries.
That night Farley felt ashamed about the opinion that he and Faeran shared regarding Balasians. They were not as primitive as they had assumed. In fact, Jackal gave evidence that the Balasians were masters of herb lore and medicines.
Day four came. The others ate. Two more consumed aenje. The rate of advancement was about the same as on the third day. They were still retracing their route faster than they had blazed it. There still was no improvement in Halan.
The fifth day. The sixth day. The seventh, the eighth.
On the ninth day, the Huietians reached the location where they had originally discovered that they had traveled in a circle. This spot was where Halan succumbed to madness. They saw the remnants of the camp that they had made. The charred wood fragments still lay piled. Jackal wandered over to the campfire and mulled over the ground. He called Farley to come over.
“Look at these!” He pointed to strange, bestial footprints impressed into the sooty dirt surrounding the fire site. Farley stared in awe. The tracks were definitely made by an animal but it was a bipedal animal. The Fieff had never heard of two-legged animals.
“What could have made them?” he asked the Balasian.
“Zorring,” Jackal answered with fear imprinted upon his brow.
“Zorring? What in the Ael’s name is a zorring?” Farley instantly recognized that there had to be a great terror associated with this creature.
“The Bahru tribe names zorring the monster that bears two heads – one human, one animal. The beast head is ferocious and wants nothing but to tear and rend flesh. It is up to the human head to supply the beast with flesh or else the beast will turn upon the human head and try to devour it. The human head bears many scars and open wounds attesting to its failure in satisfying the beast.”
“That thing has been following us?” Sheer terror ran amok through the Fieff’s veins. “Why hasn’t it attacked us?”
Jackal mused momentarily and then responded, “Perhaps it is due to the campfire. The zorring may have an aversion towards fire and thus does not approach. Maybe it is due to the number of people in the company. It is an intelligent creature and has a strong instinct for self-preservation. Ten men should be able to overcome and kill the zorring. But I am only speculating, I do not know the answer why it has not attacked.”
Farley listened in silence. Jackal continued. “I would venture that Halan had seen the zorring. The sight of such a creature could easily put a man into shock.”
“Halan’s scream that alerted us would have frightened the beast and caused it to run,” Farley extrapolated. “Yet we searched the vicinity and could not find a trace of anything.”
“The darkness of night would hide the creature. Don’t forget that on that night the beast was at the fringes of the camp and not near the central fire. The ground there is not amenable to tracks because of the leaves that cover it. Here, by the fire, your company had swept the leaves away and thus leaving it open to impression.”
Farley agreed with Jackal’s analysis. The Balasian went on to say that the tracks were set down more than ten days ago. He suspected that the zorring was no longer in the vicinity and that there should not be anything to fear. The beast could be long gone.
Nevertheless Farley decided to keep the zorring a secret from the others. There was no need to give the company more to fret about. He and Jackal erased all traces of the zorring’s tracks.
Half the company had eaten their last scheduled meal that evening. The two men that hadn’t thus far consumed the aenje did so. One of the two was Harviste who was reluctant to eat the hallucinatory leaves but was forced to eat by his company leader. As always Jackal applied the llyrna root to the inner mouth wall. It was not fast enough for Harviste. In his mind, the Huietian envisioned an endless network of tangled vines and gnarled, twisted, devilish trees. Emanating from within this mire came a crackling voice constantly repeating, “I am the all. I am the terminus of destinies.” This vision quickly vanished with the sweet taste of llyrna root in his mouth.
Half way through the tenth day of their retreat, the company had reached a tall, twisting tree with the Huietian symbol for the number one notched in its trunk. This was it! It was here that they first realized that they were lost after a day in the jungle. Theoretically, they were within a day’s reach of the gnarly forest’s edge.
But which way?
Farley and the others studied all the configurations of trees that outlined their horizon. None gave even the remotest sign of familiarity. Each configuration looked exactly like the others. At best, the company was going to have to guess which way was out.
The members of the company stared at each other wondering how each was dealing with the problem. It was then that Farley realized that Jackal had separated himself from the group. The Balasian was sitting mesmerized against a stump. Farley had the distinct impression that Jackal was not telling all. He made his way over to the man and saw that he was crying again.
“What’s troubling you friend?” Farley asked.
The Balasian joggled his head making a motion for the Fieff to leave. But Farley persisted. He stooped over and placed his hand on the banished Bahru’s shoulder. “Listen Jackal, the sorrow that you bear may not be so overburdening if you share its load with another. You are among people who love and trust you. We want to help you.”
“Go away Farley. You don’t know!” the Balasian sobbed.
“Jackal, I want to help. Let me know your trouble.”
“You have your own troubles Farley. It is up to you to guide your followers from this forest. You haven’t the slightest inkling on how you are going to do that. There is no food left except for the aenje. The aenje will devour your people as they turn to it in order to stave their screaming pangs of hunger. I wish that I can help you Farley, but I can’t. I am a creature of the jungle and am eternally bound by its borders.”
Farley was disgusted by this admission of defeat. He barked at the Balasian, “You will leave the jungle with us Jackal! We will find our way out!” There was a fatalistic optimism in his voice.
“I can’t! The Bahru tribe has imprisoned me here in the Bali Jungle. They cast a spell upon me that makes it impossible for me to leave. If I cross the fringes of the jungle, my body vanishes only to reappear deep within the rainforest’s dark recesses. When I realized the futility of trying to escape, I resorted to taking my own life. But I cannot die Farley! I can be killed and suffer all of the pain associated with death but I cannot be permanently dead. As soon as I draw my last breath I suddenly find myself in the jungle’s hearth where I have to start anew.”
“All this punishment for misguiding a child? It seems wholly unfair to me!” exclaimed the astonished Fieff.
“You have the words wrong,” Jackal closed his eyes. “I did not misguide a child. I stole a soul. I slew my son in a fit of extreme rage when I discovered that he had destroyed the Bahru chief’s property. My son had killed the chief’s pet zor.”
Jackal opened his eyes. Farley looked as if he didn’t understand. So Jackal explained, “ A zor is a friendly, domestic carnivorous animal that the Bahru train for hunting. One day the Bahru chief was hunting with his zor when my son killed the creature with an arrow as a prank. I happened to see this and became so enraged that I inadvertently strangled my boy.” Tears were welling from the Balasian’s reddened eyes. “When the Bahru chief discovered our mutual crimes he placed a spell over me that left me forever the ward of the Bali Jungle. As for my son, I believed that he already was meted his punishment.
“It has been a lonely existence for me since. Now and then I chance upon the zorring. Other than that my encounters with others has been very limited. There have been a few travelers that enter the jungle. They always end up as mindless flesh addicted to aenje. They wander about for a few days before they drop dead from neglecting to eat and to take care of themselves.
“But then came that fateful evening when I came across your company. I wanted so much to have companionship that I decided that I would make contact with you. I was aware that the zorring was also near and I didn’t want it to wreak havoc among you. So I stayed out of your sight. At night the sounds that you heard was me trying to frighten the zorring away. Sometimes strange sounds are effective in frightening the monster.
“I began to feel guilty about my devious plan on the third evening so I broke down and ate from the aenje plant for the first time since I came into the jungle. I was hoping that the aenje would alleviate these guilt feelings. But what it did to me instead was to make me your captive.”
“Devious plan? What devious plan are you talking about Jackal?” Farley demanded.
“I was going to lead your company into believing that there was no way out of the jungle. With your people here, I knew that I would no longer feel lonely. But I had forgotten that the mortal condition requires food to replenish the body’s strength. After I told you that there was no way out, I realized that all of you would die off. That is why I feel this tremendous guilt right now. Your people are suffering on my account. I will no longer have this. I will lead you out of the jungle Farley.”
Farley felt tears swelling in his eyes. He was about to say how sorry he was for Jackal’s terrible state of affairs when suddenly the air was rent with a frightening cry. Farley turned around and saw Halan fully cognizant and fully horrified. Then there amid the company was standing a grotesque two-headed creature appearing more menacing than an Ael’s fury. The human head was bloodied and gored. The bestial head was frothing and growling. It was the zorring. It began to move toward Jackal and Farley.
In a slurpy, slurred tongue, Farley heard the battered human head speak, “Father, look at the cute little zor. It is so sweet, may I keep it?”
Jackal howled, “No! Be off with you! Go away!”
The zorring thrust itself into the air and was hurtling towards the Balasian. Harviste flung a knife at the creature. The blade pierced the zorring’s chest. It fell lifeless upon Jackal.
“My son! My son!” Jackal wailed. The Balasian turned toward Harviste and roared with impassioned hatred. As Jackal began to close in, Harviste flung another knife in self-defense. This blade became deeply implanted in the Balasian’s throat. But Jackal remained alive and placed his hands about Harviste’s neck. There was a snap. Harviste fell dead to the ground.
Farley watched the entire incident with tears in his eyes. He was frozen in disbelief and couldn’t come to the aid of his compatriot. The other Huietians did not move either.
A calmness came over Jackal. He removed the knife from his throat. “Come Fieff Farley. I have only a few hours before I fade and return to the jungle’s depths. I will show you the way out.”
The Huietians quietly followed the sullen, downcast Balasian. They walked for more than an hour without anybody speaking. Finally Jackal said in a soft voice, “It is the worst pain that any creature can undergo. To watch one’s son die over and over again in one lifetime.”
Farley answered, “That creature was not your son. It was a misshapen abomination that is a curse to all that live.”
“That creature was my son. His punishment for slaying the zor was an endless craving for retribution upon me. The zorring will have life again. Even now its body is reawakening in the bowels of the jungle. Its brain is triggered by only one motivation. To destroy me. It will not rest until I am finally dead but that will never be. Permanent death eludes me.”
In the distance there seemed to be a thinning of the tall trees that dominated the jungle. It was the gnarly forest’s end. They had made it! All the Huietians were beaming with joy including Halan who had returned from catatonia’s womb when he once again saw the zorring. In their jubilance the Huietians failed to notice Jackal fade into the air. All of them except Farley. The Fieff saw the small smile come across the barely visible Balasian face as it disappeared. Jackal had returned to the jungle’s depths.
An hour later, the company stepped out of the jungle.
Fourteen days later, Fieff Farley was in Faeran’s court explaining all the adventures and misadventures that the expedition had encountered in the Bali Jungle.
The Huietian monarch listened in earnest and had the official librarian of Negh Huiet listen as well. Faeran expressed disappointment in the failure of the company to reach the fabled savannah province of Bahra. Farley dismissed himself from the court.
Several days afterwards the Huietian librarian summoned Farley to reappear at Faeran’s court. There, the librarian told both the King and the Fieff of a former ruler of Bal. He was the thirteenth member of the Bahru line. His name was Jackal. Jackal had confessed to the murder of his son named Aenje. Aenje would have been the fourteenth ruler from the Bahru line. A Balasian tribunal found Jackal guilty and executed him more than one thousand years ago.
Farley retired from exploring several months later. He devoted the rest of his life to managing and caring for his Fieffery. It had been in decline for all those years when he was a renowned man of Negh Huiet.
Many years after Farley died, when a new Huietian expedition was led by Faeran’s grandson, the new Monarch of Negh Huiet, into the neighboring country of Bal, a lonely intelligence awakened in the heart of the jungle. It was an intelligence keen on reestablishing old friendships and one not afraid to relive its past.