Some of the commotion died down as Fintan dropped his work and approached the Captain. “Alright, tell me what’s botherin’ you now, kid.”
Nate shot him a glance. “Nothing.”
Fintan huffed. “I’m not stupid. You’re worried ‘bout Elektra, aren’t ya?”
Aquilonis paused before answering, “Of course I am. You know that crew – they’re crazy, all of them. For all I know they’ve already tried to kill her.”
“Or Roland has.”
“I’m not worried about Roland,” Nate said dismissively, turning his back on Fintan and looking out across the jungle.
“Uh-huh, I’ll bet. So what now?”
There was another brief pause before Nathan replied, “I’m going after her.”
Fintan soured up again. “Goin’ after her? Are you nuts? It’s dangerous enough trompin’ out there with a group o’ mutineers, but alone?”
“What choice do I have?”
“You could stay here an’ repair the ship.” Fintan retorted immediately.
Aquilonis frowned at him. “I can’t do that, not while she’s out there with that murderous excuse for a crew and gods know what else.”
“Dammit, Nate, when will you ever learn that you always regret these heroics? Elektra’s a big girl, she can take care o’ herself – she’s certainly done it before!”
“I – I can’t do it responsibly!” Aquilonis answered, sounding frustrated. “I’m the Captain, I’m supposed to look after my crew!”
“You don’t have a damn crew!”
“I have you and Elektra – and if that really is all I have, then that makes you two all the more important!” Nate reached for a rope, but Fintan grabbed his wrist with surprising swiftness, making him halt and return the dwarf’s gaze.
“Don’t do this, kid,” he said in a low tone that was surprisingly soft for his gruff voice. “I don’t want yer death on my conscience.”
“It won’t be,” replied Nate, pointedly tightening his grip upon the rope. “It’ll be on mine.”
“Y’know, every time you do somethin’ like this, you regret it.”
“Then I’ll regret it.”
The two stared at each other. Fintan sighed heavily and released his grip, moving away from Aquilonis, who stood with the rope in his hand.
“I can hear you fussin’ already.”
“So can I,” said Nathan, sounding dejected as he tossed one end of the rope over the edge of the ship, “but I’ll feel like crap either way.” Fintan waited to watch him disembark, but Nate hesitated, looking back at him. “It just doesn’t feel right letting her go out there alone with that group.”
“Yeah, stop tryin’ to justify it,” Fintan said disdainfully. “Go on. The sooner you leave, the sooner you get back. Oh, an’ keep an eye out for the treasure, why don’t ya? Y’know, the stuff we came here for?”
Nate smirked. “C’mon,” he replied, “I always do.” He then leapt over the side of the ship, lowering himself to the shore using the rope.
Fintan suddenly called after him, “And this time you could bring it back, too!”
“Wish me luck, Finny,” was all Nathan said in reply as he began his walk toward the foreboding tropical forest.
“I jus’ wish you had some sense!” retorted the dwarf, and Nate simply raised a hand and waved back at him before disappearing into the dense foliage and shadows of the jungle.
Fintan watched him go, brow furrowed and face creased with a dark scowl. Why the hell was he so hardheaded? Every time he did this – every time! – he did nothing but fuss when he came back… if he did come back. Sometimes Fintan or Elektra or someone even had to go out looking for him, and if that happened, then what?
Why couldn’t he ever just listen?
Fintan sighed… then muttered, “Good luck, kid.”
Flint suddenly stepped up alongside him, looking down at the dwarf with his one eye. “What was that all about?”
Fintan just glanced up at him, huffed, and then turned on his heel, going back to work on the ship. Flint, after one glance over to the jungle, shrugged and did the same.
The adventurers dashed through the forest, all of them managing a surprisingly quick pace in an attempt to escape the serpent. Although Roland was still ahead of them, they were gaining on him swiftly. Ryan and Anya both called out inquiries to Elektra, who dared not glance back at them during her run for fear of traps.
Instead she simply called out in reply, sounding frightened and agitated, "How the hell should I know!?"
By some miracle, no hidden traps had yet been sprung by the adventurers. Just as they saw they may be nearing a clearing ahead, and they could see Roland halted and crouched near the edge of it, however, they heard that familiar, deathly noise…
Novak had been charging wildly after Elektra, as had everyone else. A small rope at the base of a tree he passed eluded his sight... but, upon hearing it snap, it did not elude his reflexes.
With the speed of a cat he ducked and rolled forward, managing to avoid the spikes entirely and rise, unharmed, to his feet. Alas, a scream of pain and the sickening sound of the spikes being embedded in someone's flesh were nonetheless heard. Hadrian, who had been following Novak, was now quite impaled upon the trap and had been killed suddenly. There was nothing they could do.
Fenric, meanwhile, had tossed a fireball back at the bushes around the feathered serpent. Many risked a quick glance back upon hearing his crackling fire... but what they saw only created further fear and alarm.
The feathered serpent simply turned his yellow-eyed gaze to the burning shrubbery. Staring at it, hissing, the eyes of the giant snake began to let off a freakish glow... and the fire suddenly began to shrink and extinguish. Though it left behind some charred foliage, the flame had simply... disappeared, even without the aid of water.
But now the feathered serpent was long since out of sight. Elektra had stopped at the edge of the clearing alongside Roland, stooping low to the jungle floor as he had in an attempt to not draw attention, and the adventurers soon followed suit.
Most all of them were watching their tracks carefully, waiting for any sign of the magical beast. For a long while they gazed, however, and nothing came. Perhaps it was safe... for now.
Roland was completely disinterested in what exactly had caused the others to flee so suddenly, for his eyes were upon the clearing in the forest ahead. "Look," he whispered, nodding toward it.
Turning their gaze to the clearing, the adventurers beheld a chilling sight. It was a somewhat small village of squareish, grey stone buildings - they were not very crudely crafted, to the surprise of the explorers, but the inhabitants of the village were far more startling than the settlement itself.
Assembled about in the village was a large group of native warriors. Their skin was of a rather reddish hue, what the Southerners had rightfully called 'copper,' and their hair was raven black. Their beardless faces were either decorated with colorful face paint or concealed by elaborate tribal masks, although several wore animal headdresses...
Such as the eagle. A native carrying a long spear, wearing meager leather bands for armor, and bearing a large, white eagle headdress approached one who seemed to be the leader, kneeling deeply before him. The man to whom he knelt was rather hunched, making him shorter than many of the strong warriors around him, and he wore a great wooden mask painted many colors, which concealed his entire head from view and replaced his face with one large and inhuman, bearing great, round eyes and teeth eternally set in a frightful grimace. Down his back was draped a long cloak of colorful feathers...
And, in the hands of the masked elder, was a golden idol of the finest craftsmanship.
Perhaps most surprising of all about the settlement, however, was the dead and bloodied corpse of a native warrior, a peaceful expression on his face, lying at the center of the assembly.
The eagle warrior spoke strange words to the elder, whose large mask stared at him with empty eyes. Many of the adventurers were still attempting to make out the details of the idol the elder held, but he retracted it quickly into his cloak as the eagle warrior fell silent, which he draped about his shoulders to conceal the item from view - much to the disappointment of many adventurers present.
More words were exchanged, none of which the adventurers could understand. Suddenly, at one barked phrase from the gravelly voice of the masked man, the warriors were at attention. The idol-carrying leader then began to move off, heading toward the dense jungle that lay off to the right of the village. They watched as the troupe - which consisted of perhaps twenty-five or thirty armed warriors - moved cautiously forward around him, keeping the elder well surrounded by their battle-ready ranks.
Soon, all of the natives had disappeared once more. Now all was silent, leaving the tired adventurers seemingly alone.
"The idol," Roland muttered, rubbing his mustache as he mused, looking greatly interested. No one else spoke.
Many of them were still looking at the village of stone buildings. It seemed entirely deserted now that the soldiers had left, save for the corpse of one of their number. From here, they could not tell how he had died.
"Well," muttered Elektra, "that was... interesting." She glanced about at the group. "I suggest we avoid this place and keep following the natives.”
"Rubbish," hissed Roland. "There could be many interesting things in this settlement. Do you not want to know why this native lays dead, even while so many of his fellows seemed on guard? Why are there no villagers? Who knows what treasures could lie inside, waiting to be found?"
Elektra just looked at him and remained silent. Roland instead turned hopefully to the adventurers, waiting for their responses…
And he suddenly declared, “Where is that old man? Theriot, or whatever his name was?”
The adventurers were confused. They looked about among their number, but Theriot the Recluse was nowhere to be found. No one had heard a trap catch him – but where had he gone?
While indeed a curiosity, this was hardly their primary concern. A rustling bush nearby made several of them start, reminding them of the possibility that the feathered serpent might still on their tracks. They should either keep moving or get into the open where they couldn’t be ambushed.
But would they go into the village and investigate, or would they continue following the natives and avoid the village altogether?