Chapter 33:

En Route

Mad God


Deep within the forest, where the trees were closely knitted, around the treetops, several shabby, crudely built treehouses hung around their trunks. The whole village, if it even could be called that, was full of loud, screeching voices as young chimpanzees were swinging around the trees, chasing each other or play-fighting. The females mostly just sat on the branches or in the "houses," lazing around, watching the children while some young males were down on the ground, holding cubs, crude spears, and whatnot, guarding the community.

One of them almost fell asleep when a loud, banging noise shook up everything, scaring the younglings to flee in any direction they could. Even the lazy females screamingly rushed downwards as one of the shacks almost fell apart, releasing thick, black smoke.

"Cough, cough…" came out one older looking, hunchbacked ape, wearing coat-like clothing made from some beast's rough skin that was now dripping with some kind of smelly, sticky fluid, stuck between the already graying fur of his "Damn it…." He coughed again, wiping his face, which was marked with scars all around. "Get up here, you lazy bastards! Clean up this shit, so you have some worth!" He roared down to the scared chimps as he wobbled away, climbing upwards to another poorly built shack on the neighboring tree while the young males grumbled, going up to clean the "laboratory" of the old, strange, but feared Shaman.

The females meanwhile tried to calm down the children, collecting them around themselves, feeding them, and making them fall silent as they knew when something went wrong, the Shaman had a bad temper. Not once did he beat up some arrogant and harsh young male or female who disrupted his thinking. Yet he was never punished by the tribe's leader.

"No, the liver was the problem… mhm… it should be sliced up more, and I should add less to the concoction to avoid the same reaction…."

Murmured under his breath in his own shack, filled with many-many strange tools, made by himself or stolen from humans and repurposed, looking like a mad scientist laboratory from the fairy tales. Scribbles and rough sketches, written with charcoal on rough paper or animal skins, littered the floor or were nailed onto the walls, letting out crunching noises as he stepped on them, just like dried leaves would.

"Where did I put it?" He threw another stack of "papers" onto the ground, sweeping it off from the shabby, almost collapsing shelf of his "No, not here… huh? What's this?" He picked up one book that was old and yellowed, and the glue holding it together long ago lost any adhesive properties as pages just fell out as he picked it up. "Oh, I remember; this is hers!" He said, flipping through it, "I should get a good price for this if I sell it to a human! Maybe I should. Now, where are the missing pages?" He looked around in the garbage field he stood in. "I need to find them, and when Niji comes back, ask him to go and sell them. I need modern instruments; the old rusty shit from the ruins doesn't cut it anymore. Not precise enough… mmm…. Maybe I should try remaking them from those idiots' bones? They are good for nothing, screeching, autistic brainless anyway! Not able to learn reading, what worth do they have? They should be happy to be tools for science!" He laughed maniacally as he searched for the missing pages, slowly putting the book back together.

His loud, laughing voice, echoing through the forest, instinctively struck fear in the other apes, shivering from top to bottom, throwing any desire to complain out of the window, as even some females joined the young males in helping to clean up the shabby house around the thickest tree.


….
…..

"We will camp here," Niji said as he stood next to a 3 or 4 meters wide river.

"You sure? It's still only early evening. We could advance more." Poli said, arriving next to him as the others slowly caught up.

"We need to cross this river. The nearest and narrowest part of it is up north, about half an hour of travel time… but it's the owls' territory. Going there by nightfall would not be a good idea."

"Why?" Ren asked curiously while Leinor and Zern started clearing the campsite, not arguing. Ren was fine with camping down early, so they voiced no questions.

"We have an agreement of passing through. If I bring you to their territory when they are awake… You don't! Fighting them is a pain in the ass."

"Are they strong, though?" Poli asked, his curiosity piqued.

"Mmm… more like… tricky? They can see in the dark like we can now and fly silently. They ambush you and harass you until you either die or leave their territory. They aren't big. The biggest one I saw was as tall as Ren. Still! They are annoying, and their talons are razor-sharp. It's best to stay and move on tomorrow when they are asleep."

"Why not cross here?" Isha asked, looking at the calmly flowing water.

"You can try." Niji grinned.

"The water is filled with… fish?" Feynor commented, who was watching the slightly muddy river, "I can sense a lot of different lifeforce in it."

"Watch!" Niji said as he threw a stone into it, and as soon as it landed, splashing sounds resounded as fishes, about the size of a human foot, started to jump around, their jaws filled with grotesque rows of teeth. "They would eat you clean in minutes. You all may be strong, but they are numerous, and they sap you of energy! The blood flowing out would also attract more from down the stream! I saw one of ours being thrown in. He was dead in five minutes. After another five and not even his bones remained."

"Damn… and here I thought I could take a bath…." Isha sighed.

"Relax. You will." Anya smiled, who just stood by, before going to the bank of the river, and the water silently "flowed" out, condensing into a giant ball, floating in the air, soon held up by her one hand. "Make a place where I can put it, then we can have a bath! Don't worry. The boys can have a go at it too." She smiled serenely.

When the night came, and the girls had their bath, Ren relaxedly sat in Anya's lap at the campfire, enjoying the dinner as her mother hand-fed her.

"Look at you; you act like a spoiled brat." Isha poked fun at her.

"I am being spoiled! If you are jealous, you can sit on Zern's lap. He would do the same, I bet!"

"Khm." Zern scratched his throat, not saying anything or protesting, only glancing slightly at Isha before returning to enjoy his roasted meat.

"I may just do that." Isha harrumphed before standing up, then, without reservation, plopped down into Zern's lap, leaning back at him, while the young man instantly froze up. "Feed me~" She moaned sweetly, blinking her eyes like a spoiled kitten, opening her mouth while Leinor sighed.

"Acting like this doesn't match you… you may fool others, but we know how you are, really." Leinor commented in the end.

"Yeah, sure you do, boytoy!" Isha added, rolling her eyes while stealing a bite off Zern's skewered, roasted meat.

"I need to get a girlfriend soon too! Man, I'm the only one who is left out!" Poli whimpered, munching on his portion, while Anya ignored them, enjoying the closeness with her daughter. It was a serene feeling, one that she missed very much. "Feynor, can you introduce me to one?"

"Mmm…" The soon-to-be Aerthus X thought, "I may, but I can't guarantee anything."

"No problem! Man, you are the best! Being Master's apprentice, honestly, comes with some awesome perks!"

"Idiot." Ren, Isha, and Leinor commented simultaneously, but Poli only gave a cheeky laugh, now in a much better mood.

"Your group of humans is more open than the ones I grew up with," Niji said, reminiscing about his childhood when he was still a little chimpanzee, unaware of the world.

"Did they beat you?" Poli asked, throwing a new piece of wood into the fire.

"Sometimes." Niji nodded as the light from the flames danced around them, reflecting Niji's black eyes as he watched it. He almost heard the slave trader's whips cracking in the distance in his own mind. "Usually, if I did something wrong. At first, I was kept in a cage, then in my own little… room. Or call if you will. I was fed, kept warm, and examined week after week. The kids in our tribe… hard to tell them apart from normal chimpanzees; it only shows in our ability to adapt, learn and comprehend. I quickly learned the human tongue, body language, and basic communication, then I was educated. I even had my own clothes."

"Oh? Then why are you naked now? Are you some kind of pervert?" Ren giggled, receiving a knock on her head from her mother "Ouch... Mom…”

"Heh, no. We don't wear them because where could we make them? Mmm? Or should I wear leaves? Nobody out here knows how to make quality clothing… and I won't wear coarse animal skin! I get rashes and other annoying reactions from my body! So I choose to adapt; as I said, we are good at it. I reverted back to accepting the comfort of my own body and fur! Believe it or not, it's a pretty good feeling being free like this."

"So you ARE a nudist!" Isha laughed, receiving a calm gaze from Niji.

"And you ARE a pervert if you find a monkey arousing. But hey, the legend says we are somewhat cousins, no? I can see some of you may have weird kinks!"

"Who said I am aroused or have kinks?" Isha snorted while Ren stifled a laugh, prompting her thumb towards Niji.

"Relax. Come, try this!" Zern whispered, immediately calming her down, stuffing another piece of meat into her mouth, and silencing Isha.

"It wasn't all that bad. I learned a lot." Niji continued, "I spent 25 years with a noble family. I was the… Pet of the young Miss of the house, also her guard. More effective than anything, as it proved from time to time. That's when I learned how to fight. It was fun! She was kind enough to let me free when she became an adult."

"You didn't hesitate?" Ren asked, looking at him, searching for his eyes to look into them.

"I did. For the whole three years, I remained there." Niji admitted, "But I left. It took me 10 years to find my way back and make contact with this tribe, and it also took me another 20 hard years to be accepted into their ranks and rise to a somewhat trusted level! After another 5 years… I was even allowed to voice my own ideas. It was hard, and I cursed myself that I left pretty often, but I had a dream, an ambition, if you will."

"Still have it?"

"Stronger than ever." He replied instantly, looking at Ren.

"Good. You can trust me if nobody else, what I said to you back home, is true."

"Hope so," Niji said while stretching and laying on his back, not talking to them anymore, just listening to the nightly opera presented by the forest and its countless critters.


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…..

It was near dawn when Ren woke up and wobbled out to relieve herself in a nearby bush, and as she came out, she saw Niji sitting at the riverbank.

"You up?"

"It's almost morning. Usually, I wake up early. You guys are relaxed, sleeping like this out in the wild."

"My Mom is here; she has superior perception! Also, she laid down alarms around the camp. We would be alerted if anything tried to sneak in." She stretched, accompanied by a big yawn.

"And if I went wild?"

"Yeah, sure, stop with the act. You are more human than a monkey. Admit it! That's why you ran at first sight of trouble. You are just as opportunistic as any ambitious human; in this case, it is to your advantage. That's why I can guess what you would do, and that is why we can work together."

"The others were savage and unable to be educated. You are right, I think like a human, but here, until now, it didn't bring any advantage. It was the opposite! At least now the biggest hurdle was removed."

"This is why your luck just turned. It will be your time to shine! What about the Shaman back at the tribe? Will he be a problem?"

"No. He is old. More than a thousand years old."

"What?" Ren blinked his violet eyes, surprised by the new information.

"I didn't believe it at first either. Still don't, if I'm honest. But he knows the old history and locations of ruins that nobody else has! Also, he has a big collection of ancient artifacts. He concocts a lot of medicine that the tribe uses."

"Then why didn't he lead the others?"

"Because he looks down on them, I think… and the others think he is mad but useful with his concoctions. As long as you let him do his "science," he doesn't bother what the tribe does or who leads, mates with the females, etc. He rarely interacts with others. Only I had permission to help him most of the time, and at least with me, he was friendly. I always felt he was raised or at least spent time with humans. That's why the tribe accepted me, in the end, to be a connection. You will see… it's just…."

"Just?"

"Be prepared."

"For what?"

"He is unpredictable… and don't mess with his stuff! Once, he killed six of us because one of the idiots used his notes as toilet paper."

"Understandable." Ren nodded with a sympathetic expression. "Now I really look forward to meeting him. Does he have a name?"

"We only call him Shaman, and he is fine with that. I also don't know if he has one."

"I see. It will do. Hmmm, now I'm thrilled that I came! I can't wait to meet him!"

"I just hope you will keep the same opinion tomorrow...." Niji sighed, shaking his head while slowly the others woke up, and they continued their journey.