Ties That Bind
The Cave Tree
Calidorn’s broad fingers tinkered with Qari’s bird skull helmet while the two talked about their past. Qari explained how his tribe had been slaughtered by the blood monkeys while he was away. He explained that all of the surrounding tribes had suffered the same fate. Rolo was out searching for food; it had been a while since the anteater had been allowed to freely hunt. However, now that his master was safe Rolo enjoyed romping through the forest without a saddle.
“What about you?” Qari asked. “Did the monkeys take out the others in your party?” Calidorn had explained that he was part of a mining expedition that had found this cave particular cave.
Calidorn shook his head. He fidgeted with the helmet and attached some adornments. “No, not the monkeys.” The elephant man handed the bird skull back to Qari. “It was the jaguar.”
“Yeah, the jaguars are bad,” Qari put the helmet on, and it fit perfectly.
“Not the jaguars,” Calidorn picked up his hammer as the memory came back to him. “THE JAGUAR.” Qari didn’t understand what he meant, but when Calidorn did not elaborate he knew better than to pry.
Instead the small human decided to change the subject. The past was filled with too much bloodshed. “So how far back does this cave go?”
“It goes pretty deep. I shrunk down as much as I could, but still couldn’t slip through a few places.” Calidorn’s eyes seemed to lose the sadness in his eyes.
“Wait, did you say ‘shrunk down’?”
“Oh, yeah!” Calidorn grew to stand about eight feet tall. Then he shrunk back down to around four or so feet high. Qari was amazed. Calidorn just laughed. “Want to go exploring? I bet you can fit through some of the cracks that I couldn’t. You are skinny.”
So the two new friends set off to travel deeper into the cave. Qari trusted that Rolo would be safe. Anteaters survived in the wild on their own all the time. Further and further they went, and it got cold to the shirtless human. Calidorn offered the man a cloak to help with the chill. “Gets cold down here.”
They passed over a small underground stream. “I have been able to get fish out of here sometimes. They are small, but at least it gives me something to eat other than fruits and roots.”
“How long have you been surviving down here?”
“Somewhere around a moon cycle,” Calidorn answered. At first, Qari was amazed at how the elephant creature had made it so long. Then he realized that he and Rolo had been running for almost two weeks. It was intriguing the lengths living creatures would go to ensure survival.
Calidorn led them to a small crack in the wall. Qari would not have even noticed it if it was not pointed out to him. “I have heard strange sounds through this crack. I know it leads somewhere.”
“Go it alone, eh?”
“As I said, I can’t fit,” Calidorn laughed. “You don’t have to go, if you don’t feel comfortable.”
Qari chuckled nervously. “I will go. If I don’t come back, take care of Rolo.” He was only half kidding. With a deep breath, the small man slipped into the small crack. He had been in a cave the whole time, but being unable to move in any direction except sideways was overwhelming. Qari considered going back, but he heard a sound that he was all too familiar with; monkeys.
Anger drove him along. Hate pushed him through even though it took the skin off of his ears and cheeks. Qari climbed and climbed as he made his way toward the sounds of his most hated enemies. Finally, he saw a small light up ahead. He cautiously poked his head out into a large open chamber which spilled light into his crevice.
What he saw nearly took his breath away. He was midway up the wall overlooking an open cavern. In the middle of the cavern was a large tree. A small opening in the top of the cave gave enough sunlight to keep the tree alive. Strewn throughout the tree were abyssal plant vines. Their smell washed over the small man, and nearly made him swoon. He covered his face with the cloak Calidorn had given him earlier.
Monkeys leaped from the opening into the tree and climbed up and down. At the base of the tree, Qari saw something that he did not expect. There were about thirty humans and elves sitting under the tree. What are they doing? Why are they just sitting there? Qari wanted answers. Some of the men at the bottom of the tree were tribesmen. Could some of my people have survived? Qari hoped, but he needed to get down to them.
Suddenly Qari heard a powerful call from the opening. He looked up to see a spider monkey with blood red eyes. The beast hooted and barked and all the monkeys rushed up the tree and followed him. In a matter of seconds, the cavern was completely quiet. Qari courageously jumped from his perch and grabbed hold of a branch. He quickly climbed down, making sure that the cloak stayed wrapped around his mouth and nose.
When he reached the humans and elves, he puked into the cloak. The abyssal plants had caused them to be lulled into a near catatonic state. They were sedated and did not even notice the small human that had climbed down among them. Worse than that was the fact that they were covered in blood sac oozes and leeches. The blood sac oozes where heavy with the life essence of their host. Qari realized that the monkeys were using them to harvest blood. He could see scars and some fresh wounds where the monkeys had pulled the oozes and leeches away.
Qari sank to one knee and contemplated just staying there; giving up hope. He realized quickly that he had to get away from the effects of the abyssal plants, or he too would become a feeder for the monkeys. If he had more time, he would have killed every one of the damned souls under the tree. However, he had no weapons and no time. Qari climbed the tree and made a leap back to the crack. He had to catch the ledge and maneuver his way back in, but he managed it with some difficulty.
Qari stopped about halfway back to Calidorn and cried. He let out all of the anger, hurt, guilt, shame, regret; all of it. His eyes were red and puffy when he stepped out of the hole, but he had a plan. He was going to kill every blood monkey he saw. There was no more running. It was time to hunt.