Tas rolled awake in the midst of a hard rainfall, his canopy was beginning to flood because he hadn’t angled the roof properly. He had been alone for longer than he could remember, though he knew it had only been a few days. He had eaten well the night before; he found a mango tree and caught a wild chicken in the jungle. The old man would have disapproved, but he didn’t care. The chicken had filled him up more than any meal ever had. He salted some of the cooked meat from the night before and began to eat.
After his breakfast, his mind turned immediately to his surroundings and seeing that the rain was worsening, set out into the jungle.
His shoes were soaked in minutes so he replaced them with large fan leaves that served as a sort of boat for his feet as he waded. Tas soon learned to stay up slightly in the trees to see any available fruit. It also turned out to be a bit faster than walking on the mud. He spent an hour wading towards the south, he wished to see deeper into the depths of the wild. He could go home tomorrow.
Tas hadn’t seen a tiger since the day Vesu died. He still felt the fear in his body, a shaking that woke him in the night sometimes. He continued on his path for a bit longer, wading through mud until he fell over a tree root and was covered in filthy mud from the forest floor.
He groaned with displeasure as the mud slipped from his skin, his face was completely covered. He used one last clean spot from his shirt to clean around his eyes after using his fingers to remove most of the muck. Then he grabbed his water and washed his face. It was getting low, his original supply for a week had dwindled down to just a few days. He would have to find a waterhole, or some coconuts soon, which he had scarcely found in this thick jungle.
As Tas finished wiping his eyes, he became aware of a man standing directly in front of him. This man had hole in his ears and they were filled with wooden carvings, his face was tattooed with dark symbols of colored birds and some creatures that Tas had never seen, but seemed ferocious enough. He seemed to loom over him as he approached menacingly. The man seemed to move with pure muscle and in a short step took out his bow to aim it at Tas. He laced it with a long arrow and pulled it back, ready to split Tas’ head open.
But Tas stared back at this man, hard determination seemed to sizzle on his skin, a fire began to burn in his belly. Had he come this far to let this man end him here?
He rose and walked over to the man with his head bowed and moved the arrow away from its original target. The man whistled and four others moved from the shadows. The rain was still pouring, splashing all around and sometimes bouncing right up to splash Tas right in the eyes.
The men moved towards him and he kept still. He simply looked up for a second, put his hand on his heart, and said, “friend” with the same hard determination that he had met the gaze of the first man. These others were even taller, stronger, and more tattooed and ornamented in strange ways. One had holes in his cheeks, another had the skin of his hands missing and tattoos over the visible veins in his legs. He looked up to see the warrior’s face, a scar laid over one eye that was still functional. The scar continued down to his lip, forming a mean and permanent grimace.
They grabbed Tas by the shoulders and bound him, taking him through the jungle, further in the east. He struggled to free himself at one point, but the grim-looking man hit him in the back of the head, just soft enough not to knock him out. He remembered the sage in the desert and thought back to their last moments together. The old man did not seem so crazy now, compared to this madness. Tas knew of the eastern tribes, men who ate men, sometimes women and children. Some smoked all variety of herbs and plants, others spent days in silence, similar to his own master. He wondered where these men were taking him.
When they stopped at some coconut trees to refill their water supplies and take a short break, Tas waited patiently for the permanently frowning man to leave him. He couldn’t help but stare at the scar and wonder what it was from. After a bit, the man went into the jungle, probably to relieve himself. Tas immediately got up to talk to the first man who seemed to be in charge. Tas saw the dark tattoos around his eyes as he walked closer, until the man saw Tas approach and gave a quick whistle. Immediately, Tas was thrown to the ground and restrained. He looked up at the man and was immediately forced back down to the floor and bound. As he rose from the much he could just make out the tatoos of the grim man, felt his harsh laugh pierce through him as he swiped with his spear in a motion Tas couldn’t see, but all he felt was pain.
Tas fell to his knees, the air was knocked out of him so he could barely breathe. He looked up one last time at the man with the ornamented ears. The man smiled for the first time, a wicked smile of razor sharp teeth, red and bloody stained teeth, and two gold noserings. It was truly terrifying and Tas couldn’t help but show his fear. The man moved closer to Tas’ ear and whispered, “no friends here.” And then he bit off a chunk of Tas’ ear. He howled with laughter as Tas howled his pain; Tas was shaking and began to struggle ferociously against his captors. A moment later, the grim man approached Tas and smiled with rotten teeth that were as sharp as knives and now fresh with blood. He took the end of his spear again, this time swinging wickedly and knocked Tas to the floor and down into the depths of the dark.