Finally, off in the distance, the Island appeared. The temple was plain, even from far out at sea, a giant crown shape sitting astride the island, a weed strangling the land below. The verdant green of the island reached to the shore, tendrils of green dangling into the salt water. The island cast a dark shadow across the blue water, lending menace to the perfect day. The boat was gently rocking in tropical breezes, the sound of waves gently kissing the salt stained wood. The slight motion, bright light, sounds of waves, all of it was enough to send Tanya over the edge again, the light broth she had tried to eat evacuating itself into the pristine blue water.
The captain said, “Are you sure you want to go ashore here? It will be at least two months before I can come back this way. I could take you to Yaculba instead. They have temples, good food, hotels you could stay at.”
“Get me on solid ground. Now.”
The broth was threatening to make another appearance, even though Tanya was convinced all of it had come up already.
“Okay. Your money. I do need the money for the return journey, just in case you get eaten while on the island. I’m going out of my way to pick you up.”
“Half. That way you have incentive to come get me…”
“Okay, and I want to say that I’m deeply hurt at your lack of trust.”
Tanya made her way gingerly into the skiff, careful to put her weight right in the centre of the small boat. One of the crew members rowed her to a sheltered cove. A small crescent of white reflected the sun back at Tanya, a barrier between the rich green of the jungle and the pure blue of the ocean. The skiff left, leaving her with a decent set of supplies. Enough food to last, with careful rationing, until the ship returned, flint, steel, some tinder, a small ax, assorted things to help her establish a place to stay. It was going to be two months on this island – she needed to be prepared for a long haul.
Establishing herself a good shelter was Tanya‘s first order of business. She trudged through the jungle, scratches accumulating on her torso as she went. Finally she ditched the armour, threw it in her pack and put on some reasonable clothes.
The jungle was reluctant to give up its secrets to her, hiding sources of potable water and level ground. Finally she found a spot that was flat enough and proceeded to attack the vegetation with abandon, until she had chopped down enough of the wildlife that she could make a modest shelter. The insects were swarming her, turning her flesh into a mottled patchwork of red welts. She was new to the jungle, and had never experienced insects like this before. She worked frantically, trying to get some respite from the constant buzzing, the constant biting. After she had a rudimentary lean to set up she built a fire. She sent spark after spark into the bundle of tinder, each time thinking this was the one. Finally, exhausted, she crawled into her lean to and went to sleep.
Over the next week Tanya built her little camp into a home. Fire came on the second day, finally. She banked wood up next to it, drying it out. After the fire the mites started biting a little less. By the end of a week she was well set up, and it was time to start scouting the temple.
Tanya started early in the morning. Just after dawn and the air was so full of moisture she felt like she was swimming. The jungle sounds surrounded her, strange beasts crying strange sounds. The green, so much green. In her homeland green was a brief visitor, showing up for short moments in the late spring, and vanishing into yellows and browns shortly thereafter. This green was an affront, a wall, impenetrable and deep.
Up. The temple was up. It was so easy to see from the ocean, but here under the canopy it was impossible to keep track of which direction she was even moving. Up was the best she could do. She trudged for a day, deep, deep into the jungle. At times it might as well have been night. Tanya was an experience adventurer, she’d raided a hundred dungeons, so she knew to mark her path well. When darkness feel she wedged herself into the V of a trunk, tied in with vines, and did her best to rest.
Morning came, as it tends to, and brought with it people. A group of men, dressed in saffron coloured robes, were trecking through the jungle. They were headed down, but not quite on her path. The men were speaking, melodious voices, a kind of singsong accent. Tanya didn’t understand a word of it. After the men passed Tanya jumped out of her hiding place, and started along their path. It was still slow going, but much, much easier. After several hours the gloom thinned, lightened, and then the sun hit her full in the face.
The temple loomed ahead of Tanya. It was white stone, bleached in the sun, and larger than she could have imagined anyone building here. A giant crown, sitting on this small island. The land around the temple was clear, grass trimmed short. A few goats wandered, bleating. There were statues dotting the landscape. A strange variety, some were of people, seemingly caught in the moment. Dotted among them were animals, all of it was the most intricate craftsmanship and attention to detail that Tanya had ever seen. Every individual hair was carved, every thread in their clothing, a vicious looking cat statue had drops of stone drool sitting on its teeth.
Tanya wandered the fields around the temple for a few minutes, looking at the bizarre statues. Many of the people seemed to be warriors, much like her, weapons drawn or half drawn. Some seemed to be hundred of years old, based on wear and weathering.
The day took hold of Tanya, she started to get lost in the warm sun on her skin. Even the insects seemed to be lazy here, ignoring her completely for the first time since she had arrived on this island. From one side she could see out over perfect blue seas, azure sky a dome meeting the sea, dotted with wisps of white cloud. It seemed perfect, a paradise. The air moved gently around Tanya, banishing the humidity. She found her eyes getting heavy, sleep taking over. At that moment she heard voices. Ducking behind the statue of a large animal she had never seen before, Tanya kept an eye on the source of the voices. More men in saffron coloured robes, heads shaved. They were talking, but they had their eyes bound, blinded to the world.
The blind monks walked across the grass, avoiding the statues, and entered a hidden nook in the base of the temple. That had to be it, the home of the basilisk. Well, now that she knew the location, it was time to go home, prepare to raid the temple. No reason to go off half cocked.
Tanya found the trek back through the jungle much easier, accomplishing it in a few hours, now that she had a path. Her camp was not empty when she arrived. A large cat of some sort was standing next to her tent, teeth bared in a snarl. “Well, fuck,” Tanya said, as she drew her sword.
The beast snarled, and launched itself at her. Tanya rolled to one side, lashing out with her blade. The tip of the blade caught the great cat in the shoulder, opening up a deep gash, blood spraying over the ground. The cat let out a yelping noise and ran off. Tanya set about cleaning up the camp, the cat had made a mess of things, getting into her food stores and eating most of the dried meat. As she picked the scattered remnants of her food stores off the ground she noticed a burning feeling in her shoulder. She reached back, and felt wetness. Her hand came back covered in blood, drying and sticky. The pain hit a moment after that, four lines of unimaginable agony, raked across her bare shoulders. As she passed out from the pain her last thought was, “If I had proper armour this never would have happened.”
It was dark when Tanya woke. Her bladder was full, and her shoulder hurt like hell. Worst of all, her fire had gone out. It might have been a few hours since she passed out, and it might have been days. From how thirsty she was, she thought days was more likely. She stood up, peed a lot, and then drank as much water as she could manage. Luckily the cat hadn’t messed with her water storage, so she still had a bunch of clean water to drink.
She noticed that her clothing, normal everyday clothing, had shredded to the point where it covered her body even less than the ridiculous armour she wore. It was almost as if she couldn’t enter combat without showing off her body.
Now Tanya was thoroughly filthy, and the biting insects didn’t seem to notice her nearly as often. Her long blonde hair was matted with blood, she looked like a jungle creature of some sort. Only the pale blue of her eyes stood out. She needed to hunt. Her bow was sitting in its case, so she got it out and tried to fire a test arrow. The string snapped on the first draw, it was only then that she noticed the green tendrils snaking their way across the braided fibres. The jungle humidity betraying her.
Without a bow she had limited choices for hunting. She found several straight trees and chopped them down, carving off all the branches, and leaving them with sharp tips. Then she rebuilt her fire, easier this time because she had a stash of dry wood. It still took hours. Finally, fire hardened spears in hand Tanya set out to kill a pig.
Tanya spent the next weeks healing. Her resolve was steelier than ever. Damnit, she would get armour that allowed her to be more covered than the average tavern wench. Not that she had anything against her sisters in the service industry of course, it’s just, the right clothing for the right job. Heaving bosoms might be great for tips, but they didn’t add anything at all to her performance on the battlefield.
Eventually, recovered and familiar with the island, Tanya went back to her original mission. The temple on the hill.
Tanya watched the temple for days, snacking on meat she had dried in camp. She felt more animal than human. Monks came and went, always blindfolded. Maybe there was something to that. What was a basilisk exactly? Probably something she she should have asked earlier. Oh well, She couldn’t ask the monks, they didn’t seem to speak the common tongue. Mistakes had clearly been made. Still, maybe whatever was in that temple was something you didn’t really want to see. She had heard of creatures that could paralyze with a gaze. It clicked. Turn to stone with a gaze. Well hell, that put a different spin on things.
How could she kill something if it could turn her to stone? She assumed that it did so by meeting its victims gaze, because of the monks and the blindfolds. Maybe indirect would work, she’d heard a myth about someone using a mirror to kill a monster with similar powers. That didn’t really make any sense, but magic was often like that. On the other hand, she had pretty good hearing, and no mirror. However, there enough left of her shirt to fashion a blindfold. So, that was the plan then. Use a blindfold and hope she was able to finish the basilisk without seeing. Terrifying. She just hoped the damn things was small and weak. No reason it shouldn’t be. With that set of defences it shouldn’t need anything else.
The monks too. She had to take them into account. Well, best to deal with them out in the open, where she didn’t need the blindfold.
Tanya prepared herself for battle. In her case that mostly involved putting on her “armour” and drawing her sword. War was her life, her training started when she could walk. So, she stripped out of her ruined clothing and into the ridiculous metal underwear she was for some reason forced to wear, and stepped out into the clearing.
Two monks were walking from the opening to the jungle. She called to them, “Hey, fellows. What’s up with the blindfolds?”
They said something she didn’t understand and then charged towards her, pulling of their blindfolds as they ran. She’d really hoped they had some sort of code of no removing blindfolds during fighting or something. No such luck. The didn’t seem overly inclined to talk, drawing long knives from inside their robes. Knives. What were they thinking? Didn’t they see she had a sword?
The first one reached her a fraction of a second before the second one. He swung his knife at Tanya‘s head. Well, at least they weren’t some sort of militant order, not with those fighting skills. Tanya dropped her blade, drawing it back across the monks thigh. It bit deep into his femoral artery, sending a spray of blood across the green field, drenching her from head to toe. That was one down. Uh oh, a dozen more coming out of the building. From watching she thought that was close to all of them. Between the identical clothing and the shaved heads it was hard to tell them apart.