This cover was illustrated by the author.
Porbiyo loomed over the tiny monkey-man, who retreated into the jungle mud with a stumble and remained in his prone position for the better part of a minute, awaiting Porbiyo to fulfill his threat of “animalistic annihilation.”
Porb wouldn’t do it. Because I wouldn’t let him.
Porbiyo’s crimson overcoat wailed in the wind—which persevered through the jungle thicket like a hard breath through a brass horn—and the wavy brim of his sunhat cast a fungal-like shadow across the blue furred monkey-man.
Porb appeared like an asylum clown at a funeral—both bereaving of their victim, and proud to have held the knife.
“Sir?” I called to the man. He wore layers of pocketed green clothing over his blue-tinted fur. His simian features and large brown eyes didn’t quite match the bat-like wings for arms, but who was I to question this uniqueness?
“Uh,” stuttered the ‘glider’ as I called him, drowning a possible dialogue into an impossibility with fear. His eyes spoke of too great a fright to converse with the strange rodent man involved with the terrifying masked figure before him. I do not blame him in the slightest.
I advanced across the sopping wet jungle floor, and beneath foliage drenched by the above canopies’ runoff, for the sun and her drying rays did not have the perseverance of the wind.
I stepped between the glider and Porbiyo, and nudged my friend back several steps. He did not object to my suggestion.
“I am deeply sorry,” I said to the glider. Above, his herd of a spherical tree-swingers hung from the vines and branches by their muscled arms. Arms as in a collective “arms,” as each ball of green flesh had only a single appendage to match their wide cycloptic eye. No legs, and only a tiny mouth.
Literal odd balls.
The herd of swingers chirped to each other. They bobbed up and down, shaking branches and vines with the movement. I still have no explanation as to why these animals were domesticated—for meat, or milk, or eggs, etc—but all I know was that the longer I looked to them, the more aggressive their display became. Very strange. Why would domestic animals be so adverse to attention?
“Do not meet their eyes, rodent,” said the glider. He rose from the mud, revealing a lanky, muscled silhouette as his clothes and fur clung to his skin. “Prey are drawn to the eyes of the murg. It is a lure. You tease them with such contact.”
The glider nodded, “Vicious leeches who suck the organs from a beast’s soft skin. My pack, here, are but babies. Newly learning to hunt until your friend interrupted. I would appreciate you keeping your eyes from my murg.”
I did as he asked, and apologized once again for Porbiyo’s threats.
The glide shepherd took a cautious leap into the trees, whistled, and his swinging pack of vicious cycloptic leeches pursued. The jungle and her foliage fingers enclosed their passage, and trembling leaves stilled as if no persons had passed at all.
“What did that shepherd—if you even call a predator-keeper a shepherd—do to piss you off?” I said, scampering along the fallen trees in the mist. Porb marched to who-knows-where. His eyes stayed glued to the ground as his boots were swallowed in mud, and dew cascaded down his coat as he brushed through the thickets.
“He’s using those gorgeous beasts as his kill goons,” Porb groaned. “Did you hear how snappy they listened when he called for them? Poor things are brainwashed to hunt for him!”
“Domesticated and imprisoned are one and the same.”
“Synonymous only based on context,” I smacked his head and flipped to the other side on a separate branch when he tried to slap me back. “Those murg are given a good life. They are hunters, and with him, they get to hunt with the protection of a sapient guardian. They probably fill their bellies and have fun while they do it. They’re domesticated.”
“In servitude against their will. Their nature has been corrupted over generations to breed out the true nature of instinct.”
“That’s called evolution, or metamorphosis, or transformation, or any other word which constitutes change over time. It happens to everything. Even you.”
“Ridiculous! I am the same as I’ve always been, just a lot better at getting what I want.”
“That’s a change. Besides, I bet you weren’t this mad back on Eggnaut.”
He halted, surprised I used his homework’s name, and growled (and kind of whined), “We all give into the crazy eventually.”
“Well, I don’t want to argue about the morality of domesticated animals.”
“Blah blah blah.”
“Where are you going?”
I eyed the jungle depths, trying to find a path towards any sort of society.
My eyes caught a brown structure between the canopies. Smoke rose from the hut, outside of which a plump pink creature waddled in protective circles.
“Ah, I have found something,” Porb teleported away. When I blinked, he stood outside of the mysterious hut some fifty meters away.
I sprinted after him. A large, eyeless swine-like creature rolled onto its back. Porb rubbed the beast’s large uttered belly as mud flung all across his coat.
“Come, uduzine, I will free you from these witches’ grasp.” Porb high-kneed through the mud, obviously trying and failing to remain stealthy.
The uduzine waddled behind him. The curly tail flung back and forth with the plump creature’s snorts.
I watched from the uduzine’s paddock which had consumed the entire hut’s area. It was, frankly, a ridiculous sight.
“You!” a voice called. A wicked green hand shot from the crease in the ajar door. Two eyeballs of varying sizes stared me down, each one propped up by the gnarled green flanges and razor-like nails.
“A rat!” called another voice. Another eyeball wielding hand burst through the window. Burst I mean literally, as the person on the other end did not even bother to open the window and instead shattered the glass.
“We must bake the little thief!” screeched a third voice, whose third hand cradling three eyes crept from the chimney wearing smoke for a mane.
I backed away just as a group of uduzine—all lacking eyes which were harvested for the green hands’ gain—toppled over their admittedly shabby wicker fence in pursuit of the now distant Porbiyo and their friend.
I did not hesitate in following.
By the time I made it thirty, forty, fifty meters away, Porb and his herd of uduzine moved so slow through the jungle that I caught their heels. A nimble frame is something I will always say thanks for.
“Aha!” Porb squealed, “Exhilarating, isn’t it, Ratman—to hold a rescue?” He smacked his face off several branches but appeared unfazed.
“YOU WILL PAY,” a booming triumvirate shouted through the jungle. Thunderous steps sung out with crackling tree trunks and splinters showering us ahead. A glance behind showed that the witches’ hut now had two skinny purple legs, four frail purple arms, and a hundred eyes covering the front door like barnacles on the bottom of a ship.
“Still don’t want me to hurt anyone?” Porb said. “Because they are just delightful company.”
I slid against a log, drew my saber, and felt the burning breath of stonefire in my gut.
Porb slowed his run, then turned around. The witches’ running hut gained ground. Porb jumped up and down, “We’re going to destroy them,” he floated into the air, folded his legs, and summoned his enormous sketchpad. The uduzine wandered below him.
“Away little uduzine!” He swatted, flipping through his sketchbook’s glowing magical pages with his other hand, “You will not want to witness this impending massacre, as you have no concept of vengeance. Waddle away and I shall find you when we are finished wailing on some witches.”
The pig creatures did as he said.
“I’ll slow them down. Maybe go for one of the witches,” I scurried higher into the trees and waited for the sprinting building to arrive. Porb straddled on his flying carpet and muttered words I couldn’t quite make out but which obviously gave him the giggles.
The hurdling hut of mayhem barreled through the jungle, snapping vines, trampling flowers, and shredding trees into flying pulp. The thunder of titanic footsteps frightened birds into fleeing flocks and sent creatures below the canopies into every shelter they could find.
I perched along a high branch, saber in hand, stonefire blazing in my Aura. Several vines hung beside me as the hut approached.
I always wanted to try it. My tail often let me swing without any rope or cord. But I’d always wanted to try a proper jungle swing.
I cut a vine and held on for dear life, leaping off the branch in a terribly timed attempt at landing on the hut’s “head.” I swung directly through two of the purple arms which tried to swat me down, past the head, and many meters in the wake of shredded jungle shrapnel.
I didn’t take it as complete failure, though. Eyes blazing in blue and orange light, I let loose a stonefire breath as I swung by. The thick liquid stone poured from my Aura over the sprinting hut’s arms and sliding down the legs. The sorcery solidified and trapped the hut in the ground.
The end of the swing came to a slow peak, then I descended in a crawl of acceleration. Eyeing the now captured hut, I curled my legs into my body, imagined a flying, spinning orb through the air, and at the lowest dip of my back swing I let go of the vine and flung into the canopies. I soared through my own stonefire smoke.
And I actually landed it! Not on my feet, but I did grab onto the witches’ hut’s roof. I climbed up and peered down the empty chimney.
Why had one of the witches peeked out of here before? There were more windows to shatter.
I didn’t care for an answer. I tucked in my arms and tail and plunged into the hole. I didn’t land on the coals. Smoke draped over my fur and into my clothes. I shimmied down with both legs on either side of the chimney.
“Destroy them, cousin!” said a witch.
“Yes, we shall feast on their bones. Make a stew of the rat. Hmmmm, delicious. Their bones will be nutritious! Much magic in their viens, mhm.”
“And the eyes! Yes, the eyes!”
I burped stonefire on the flames below me, snuffing the fire. It hardened a moment later and I rolled into the witches’ hut. The three old crones stood in a circle amongst a chamber of organs and jars and dirty glass windows.
Their faces were not human, but the monkey-folk faces of the shepherd we’d met before. Except their blue fur has frayed and fallen free of crumpled green skin. Their nostrils filled with yellow puss and their eyes were cut free—empty sockets filled with gemstones instead.
“The rat!” One of the witches’ arms swayed, showing a dozen eyes between both hands. “Scrumptious little creature. . . isn’t he?”
“Pull of his tail! I want the tail!” gurgled another.
Their eyes cast a spell over the room. Colorful petals of pink and purple, blue and red, green and yellow swirled in my vision.
A shadow cast over the hut. Quaking footsteps broke the witches’ hypnotic trance.
The witches encroached upon me, utterly unaware of their impending doom. The door across from me flung open. Then the wall fell in a spray of wood splinters and glass shards and mysterious, esoteric amenities. Two huge blue mittens crushed the opposite end of the hut.
The enormous face of a four armed, eight meter tall ape stared the witches down. Six eyes blazing black furrowed as it’s tusks ground into the structure.
The witches screamed.
Porbiyo’s creature feasted.
I turned away as Porbiyo clapped. Then he returned his massive blue six-armed ape to his page in his book. He jarred the witches’ eyes and kept them as a souvenir. When I asked him why he’d keep something so absolutely disgusting, he said, “So that I can remember the time we killed some witches.”
“And rescued some pigs.”
“They aren’t pigs.”
“Uduzine,” I corrected myself.
Then we continued on our way, though with direction this time. For Porb wished to get the uduzine far away from the monkey-man shepherd so that his murg would not feast on the pigs. He returned the eyeless uduzine to a strange little tree town, where they were taken in by a school of children eager to take care of the poor blind pigs.
But before we left, Porb took the witches’ eyes and, using his artistic power, bequeathed them to the uduzine. Now, out there, in a jungle of shepherd and witches and tree towns, a small herd of six uduzine roam the wilds.
You may recognize them by the oversized sapient eyes they possess. Or maybe you’d heard stories of the hypnotic pigs in the forest. Either way, they were rescued, and we likely saved many others from the wrath of those foul witches.