Disclaimer: the characters in this story do not belong to me but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER ©2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. The ‘Discworld’ novels are copyright Sir Terry and Lyn Pratchett. ‘Robin of Sherwood’ (1984-86, retitled ‘Robin Hood’ in the USA) was created by Robin Carpenter for HTV/Goldcrest.Welcome to the Jungle
Faith had been feeling as if she was being watched all day. She couldn’t pin it down; she’d checked out all possible vantage points that would have given cover to an observer, but found nothing. Either it was magical watching, ‘scrying’ as Willow would call it, or else whoever was carrying out the surveillance was invisible. Or she was somehow picking up on a spy satellite.
None of the other girls had noticed anything. Not that she’d expect them to; none of Robin Wood’s ‘Merry Men’, as she had dubbed the Cleveland Slayers despite them being girls, seemed to have much in the way of Slayer senses. They were efficient killers, he’d trained them well in that respect, but when it came to flair and imagination they just didn’t have it.
Kind of like Robin, come to think of it, which was probably one reason why the relationship was falling apart. Oh, well, it had lasted a year, which beat Faith’s previous record by 364 days.
She reported the odd feeling to Robin. He suggested that she should give patrol a miss; she blew him off and went out anyway. She wanted to kill something. Preferably whatever was watching her but a few random vamps would do as a substitute.
Or demons. Although she hadn’t been planning on quite as many demons as there were in the group that she stumbled upon.
Thirteen demons, big ugly guys who looked like crosses between wolves and apes, kind of like the one that stowed away in the back of Jack Burton’s rig at the end of Big Trouble in Little China
. Big enough odds to intimidate even Faith; she would have waited, and called for back-up, except that the demons were right in the middle of opening some kind of portal. A circle in the air was already shimmering and swirling. Bad news. Even if they were just using it to go home, maybe after visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, portals were bad ideas this close to the Hellmouth.
Faith didn’t attack immediately; appearances might be deceptive, these demons might be amenable to reason, and she’d learnt that you could get more with a smile (and maybe a flash of cleavage) and a knife than with a knife alone. She approached the demons with her hand on her knife hilt but out of sight under her jacket.
“Hey, guys, what’s up?” she called.
“Slayer!” one of them grunted. “Kill her!”
Well, that resolved the question about their intent. Evil, definitely evil. Two seconds later she was kicking one demon, stabbing another, and head-butting a third. The one she stabbed went down and didn’t rise again. Unfortunately a new demon, of the same breed as the members of the original group, entered through the opening portal and kept the odds as they were.
“Oh, crap,” Faith growled, as she delivered a spin-kick to the new arrival and slashed her knife across the throat of the one she’d head-butted. “Would it be too much to ask for one of the Merry Men to show up and give me a freakin’ hand?” she asked, addressing the world in general, “and a wizard to close the portal would be nice.” She stabbed another demon and then was tackled around the legs. She went down and rolled around on the ground, stabbing and punching and grappling, trying to free herself and avoid a series of kicks that were being aimed at her head.
She killed one demon, and kicked herself free, but then was grabbed again. Another demon piled on and she had to struggle desperately to avoid biting jaws and clawing hands. She narrowly avoided fangs closing on her arm and thrust her knife into a demon eye. Another demon took its place before she could free herself from the dying creature’s grasp.
Suddenly an arrow hissed through the air and impaled a demon who had been about to throw itself into the scrum. A second arrow followed, striking home and felling another of the demon horde, and then a new combatant entered the fray. He was human, as far as Faith could tell from her position under a heap of demons; a big man, bearded and shaggy-haired, who slung his bow over his shoulder and then attacked with a skillfully-wielded quarterstaff.
Demons toppled with cracked skulls. The respite enabled Faith to free herself and regain her feet. She threw herself back into the fray and broke the neck of a demon that was about to attack her rescuer from the rear. She disemboweled another.
Three more demons stepped through the portal, looked around at their fallen comrades, and then snarled and attacked. Faith rolled her eyes as she delivered an elbow smash to a demon’s jaw. “Oh, this is just great,” she moaned. “If more of them keep coming we’re gonna be here all night.”
“Fear not, fair maiden,” a voice spoke up from the shadows outside the area of the fight, “I shall close this portal. Hut! Hut!” A jet of fire lanced through the air, incinerating a demon, and then a figure stepped into view. It was a very fat man, with a long white beard, looking like Gandalf would have done after forty years on five thousand calories a day. He wore red robes with trimmings of gold brocade, a pointy hat sat on his head, and he held an elaborately-carved staff with a knob on the end.
Faith’s eyebrows shot up. Robin Wood employed two wizards to work with the Merry Men, both Cleveland natives; an African-American practitioner of Santeria, and an ethnic Hungarian techno-pagan who dressed like a member of System of a Down. Neither of them looked even remotely like this man.
She didn’t have time to wonder who he was, or to speculate on the identity of the big man with the quarterstaff who was still cracking demon skulls; keeping slavering demons from biting chunks off her had to remain top priority.
Or maybe not, she decided, as Beardy Wizard Guy pulled back his sleeves and faced the portal. They had to get the damn thing closed, if she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life fighting the hairy wolf-ape things, and getting his arms bitten off would probably severely cramp Gandalf the Fat’s style. She raced to intercept a demon coming up behind him, stabbed it to death, and took up a position covering the wizard’s extremely broad rear.
The staff-wielder took his cue from her and did the same thing. Man, that dude was tall, Faith thought. At least six foot six. And he was shaggy. Well, not the cartoon dude, or the Jamaican-American guy who sang It Wasn’t Me
, he was just generally hairy. Shaggy hair, shaggy beard, and the sleeveless jacket that he wore was pretty damn shaggy too. It looked like the skin of some animal but Faith couldn’t identify it; maybe the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Staff Guy whacked away at the demons, Faith kicked ass, and the wizard guy did his thing.
Faith didn’t know much about magic but the words the wizard came out with were suitably impressive. The portal’s swirls reversed direction. A demon made it half-way through the portal and then was suddenly sucked back in. Faith grinned. “You go, dude,” she exclaimed, as she hacked off a demon’s clawed hand. The portal emitted a flash of bright light and then collapsed in on itself. Faith’s grin was wiped from her face as she suddenly found herself jerked from her feet and pulled toward the shrinking hole.
Faith felt as if she was being stretched out across an infinite distance. Lines of light streaked across a black background that surrounded her on all sides. ‘Crap’, she thought, ‘I’ve seen this on Stargate: SG-1
. I’ve gone through the freakin’ portal.’ It only lasted for a matter of seconds and then she was standing on solid ground again.
Two of the wolf-ape demons were there. Their facial expressions were impossible to read but, from the way they were looking around, Faith guessed that they were somewhat confused. She killed them before they could recover and then took time to examine her surroundings.
It had been night-time when she fought the demons but now it was daylight. The ground underfoot was soft earth, covered in moss and leaf litter, instead of concrete sidewalk. There were trees all around; Faith was no expert on trees but they didn’t look like any kind she’d ever seen before. The lianas twined around the trunks and hanging from the branches, and the monkeys scampering along the boughs, were major clues that she probably wasn’t where she’d started out. “Uh-oh,” she remarked, “somehow I don’t think this is Edgewater Park.”
“Oh, blast,” said the wizard. “That wasn’t quite how I’d planned it. We were supposed to stay on the other side of the portal. At least this doesn’t look like the Dungeon Dimensions.”
Faith stared at him. “Just who are you, anyway?” she asked. She realized that the tall man with the staff was with them too. “And you, big guy?”
The big man rested the butt of his staff on the ground and scratched his head. “Where am I? Who are you people?”
“Hey, I asked first,” Faith pointed out.
“Your garb is passing strange,” said the man, frowning at her, “but you fight better than any woman I have seen, even than Marion. Why, you are a better fighter even than Robin or Nasir! My name is John Little of Haversage, Mistress, although my companions of the forest have dubbed me Little John.”
“Little John? Like, Robin Hood’s Little John?” Faith’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re kidding, right?”
“I know not what you mean,” Little John replied. “I have no goats.”
Faith screwed up her eyes. “Huh? What?” She shook her head. “I guess it’s my fault you’re here. I remember saying something about hoping one of the Merry Men showed up to help me out, although you sure weren’t what I meant, and I didn’t use the ‘W’ word ‘cause B warned me about that. So, I guess I should say sorry, and thanks, ‘cause I was in a pretty tight spot when you arrived.”
“I couldn’t let a fair maid be slain by vile creatures of the Devil,” Little John said.
“Yeah, thanks again,” Faith said. She turned to the wizard. “Yo, dude, your turn. Who’re you?”
“Yo,” the wizard replied. “Live fats, die yo gnu.”
“Hey, I know you speak English,” Faith said, “so get to it, dude.”
“Was that not the right idiom?” The wizard raised his bushy eyebrows. “I was sure I had it right. Oh well. Greetings, Vampire Slayer. I am the Dean of Pentacles, a member of the Faculty of Unseen University.”
“Unseen University?” Faith surveyed the Dean’s impressive bulk. “I guess it was unseen because you were standing in front of it.”
“Unseen University, in Ankh-Morpork, the Disc’s premier college of magic,” the Dean clarified. “I am, as you can tell from my pointy hat and my staff with a knob on the end, a wizard.”
“The spell-casting kind of gave me a clue too,” Faith said. “You ain’t one of our wizards but you know about Slayers. How come?”
“Ah,” said the Dean, “we have been studying you for some time.”
“So it was you who was watching me?” Faith frowned at him. “It creeped me out, dude. And if you watched me in the shower I’m gonna shove that stick of yours somewhere you really wouldn’t like it.”
“Oh, good gracious, we wouldn’t do that!” the Dean protested. “Wizards aren’t allowed to do that sort of thing. We aren’t supposed to take an interest in women in that way, you know, for fear of Sourcery. Although the Archchancellor did have that thing for Esmerelda Weatherwax, and then there was the curious behavior of the Senior Wrangler when Mrs. Whitlow was turned into a twenty-year-old in a sarong…”
Faith fixed him with a fierce glare while cleaning her nails with the point of her Bowie knife. “Get to the point, wizard guy. Why were you watching me?”
“It’s all part of the Roundworld Project,” the Dean replied. “I’m really not the best person to ask about that. Ponder Stibbons knows much more about it. Unfortunately he’s not here.”
“The Reader in Invisible Writings and Head of Inadvisably Applied Magic,” the Dean expanded. “Dashed clever chap. I don’t understand most of what he does. It hardly ever goes wrong and threatens to destroy the universe. He created the Roundworld Project to study worlds that are shaped like balls instead of being proper discs on the backs of elephants and turtles. All quite fascinating and usually harmless. Until, that is, the odd occurrence with Jocasta Wiggs.”
“Look, standing around in this freakin’ jungle listening to you talk isn’t my idea of the best way to spend my day,” Faith said, “so get to the point.”
“You’re very impatient, aren’t you? Oh, very well. A few days ago the Roundworld Project emitted an odd burst of magical energy. Over a hundred kilothaums. Stibbons was most concerned, as it shouldn’t have been able to get through the shielding, but it didn’t seem to have done any harm. Then we heard that Jocasta Wiggs, the Head Girl at the Assassin’s Guild school, was experiencing some rather unusual symptoms.”
Faith put two and two together. “Let me guess,” she said. “Suddenly she’s wicked strong, and fast, and has a thing for pointy weapons.”
“Well, she’s always had the affinity for weapons,” the Dean said. “Didn’t you hear me when I said that she’s Head Girl of the Assassin’s School? The strength and speed is new, though. She’s even stronger than Detritus. It makes her probably the most lethal individual on the Disc. Luckily the young gentleman she was facing in Mr. Bradlofudd’s Unarmed Combat class is expected to make a full recovery. Eventually.”
“So you tied this up to the magic thing from my world, checked it out, and it led you to me,” Faith deduced. “I would have thought Willow, but whatever.”
“Exactly,” the Dean confirmed, beaming.
“Hey, that spell was more than a year ago,” Faith told him, “but you said it happened a few days back.”
“Ah, well, time doesn’t run at the same speed in the two worlds,” the Dean said. “I don’t understand it all myself. Ponder Stibbons is your man for that. It’s probably Quantum.”
“He’d probably get on well with Andrew,” said Faith. “So, you checked me out, and found out about Vampire Slayers.”
“Exactly,” the Dean said again. “Miss Wiggs has a hereditary family feud with the well-known vampire Count Dragoul Von Salic. It all makes perfect sense.”
“It makes no sense to me,” Little John put in. “Why have you brought me to this place? It smacks to me of foul sorcery.”
“Fowl sourcery?” the Dean mused. “Perhaps that explains why the Duck Man has a duck on his head.”
Faith’s forehead creased up. “What duck?”
“Oh, you’ve met him, then?”
“Enough of this yammering,” said Little John. “Send me back to Sherwood.”
“Ah,” said the Dean, “I’m afraid that might not be easy.”
“I was kind of figuring on going back to Cleveland,” Faith said. “Okay, things went wrong, I get that, you said you hadn’t planned on ending up on this side of the portal. How come you’re here anyway? I’m guessing you were watching me through some kind of crystal ball gizmo from your world. You’d have kind of stuck out like a sore thumb in Cleveland. No way could you have kept hidden from me for the whole day.”
The Dean stroked his beard. “You are perfectly correct, young lady,” he said.
“Call me Faith.”
“Faith. Yes, I was watching you with a scrying crystal. I took over when Ponder Stibbons went to the Guild to carry out some tests on Miss Wiggs. I observed those, ah, creatures setting up some kind of dimensional portal. That sort of thing never ends well. When I noticed that you were rather heavily outnumbered I cast a spell that I’d found in one of Galder Weatherwax’s old spellbooks. I prefer Fireball, of course, but that does tend to incinerate everyone in the vicinity. This one was designed to allow you to summon assistance. I hadn’t planned on being part of the assistance so summoned, of course. The Archchancellor always tells me that I seem to be particularly prone to getting caught up in anything unusual that’s going on. Personally I would have thought that it applied more to Rincewind, but perhaps he has a point.”
“All this talk makes my head hurt,” said Little John. “Are you saying that I was summoned from Sherwood to aid the Lady Faith against the creatures of the Devil that we fought?”
“Yes, that is correct,” said the Dean.
“And that you can’t send me back?”
“I’m afraid so,” the Dean admitted. “I’m not saying that you won’t get home eventually. I’m sure that Ponder Stibbons will figure it out and put us all back where we belong.”
“Cool,” said Faith. “So, we just wait?”
“It might take rather a long time,” the Dean said. “The observation crystal slows down the time difference between the worlds. Otherwise you’d just be a blur. Unfortunately once I stopped being there to operate it time will have speeded up again. By the time Ponder comes back tomorrow several months will have passed for us. It’s all Quantum.”
“Bummer,” said Faith. “We’re going to be here for months?”
“Probably,” said the Dean.
“Months? What evils will behalf my comrades in my absence?” Little John shook his shaggy head. “Robert of Huntingdon does his best, but he is not the leader that Robin of Loxley was, and King John’s men press us hard. I may return to find them all taken or slain.”
“Fear not, warrior,” said the Dean. “We can wind time on Roundworld back to some extent. Ponder should be able to put you back not long after you left. Probably.”
“I don’t understand you, warlock,” Little John said. “You do not seem to be evil, however, and so I will trust you for now.”
“We’re all going to have to trust each other, big guy,” Faith said. “So, we can’t just sit here and wait to be rescued. We’d better look for some kind of civilization. First off we’d better figure out just where we are.”
“This is a forest,” Little John said, “but not one like Sherwood. I doubt if there is a place such as this in all of England. Some wild realm of the heathen Saracens, I think.”
“It can’t be the place the demons were coming from,” Faith said, “seeing as how there’s a total lack of any invading demon army other than the two I killed. The question is, which world is it? My world, the Dean’s world, or is it some completely different world?” She frowned. “It should be easy enough to figure out. You call our world ‘Roundworld’ so I’m guessing yours isn’t.”
“A flat disc, resting on the back of four elephants, who in turn stand upon the back of Great A’Tuin the World Turtle,” the Dean confirmed.
“Weird,” Faith said. “So, is this your place or mine?”
The Dean shrugged his shoulders. “It’s not easy to tell unless you’re near enough to the Edge or the Hub to see them,” he said. “Your strange world rotates so that the sun appears to go around it. The sun of our world really does orbit the Disc. From the ground they both look the same. Ah. Your world has eclipses of the Moon and ours doesn’t.”
“If I had any idea when there’s gonna be an eclipse that might be helpful,” said Faith, “but I don’t. Astronomy’s not my thing.”
“The speed of light is different,” the Dean went on. “It’s much faster for Roundworld. Perhaps I could work out some kind of experiment to measure it.”
“In the freakin’ jungle? I don’t see any labs around here, dude. If you can’t put an experiment together out of sticks, mud, and monkeys you’re gonna have to wait until we find some civilization. Which would kind of make it irrelevant as we could just ask the locals where we are.” Faith looked up at the forest canopy. “Do you have monkeys on your world?”
“We do,” the Dean replied. “If we are on the Disc I would say that we are in Howondaland, or perhaps Tezumen, or even on the island of Bhangbhangduc.”
“And on Earth I’d say this was Brazil, or West Africa, or maybe Indonesia,” said Faith. “There’s a way of telling American monkeys from African or Asian ones but I can’t remember what it is. We’ll just have to find some people and ask them. Hey, if this is Brazil, if we can get to Rio we can chill out on the beach and catch some rays. Willow’s there, too, and maybe she could send you guys home without waiting for your Pondering Wizard guy.”
“That would be convenient,” said the Dean. “Willow? I seem to recall that you mentioned that name earlier in connection with the magical effect.”
“Yeah, she did the spell that activated all the Slayers, including your girl assassin,” Faith said. “Willow could tell you about it. Assuming we are on my world, and somewhere near Brazil, that is. And that we don’t bump into a whole bunch of drug cartel gunnies on some jungle trail and get all shot to pieces.”
“I take it that would be something bad? We should proceed carefully, then, at least until we know where we are.” The Dean looked around him, his bushy white eyebrows descending low under the brim of his pointy hat, and stroked his beard. “I must confess that I know little of the wilderness. It’s more Rincewind’s thing, which is why we appointed him as Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography, but he is, unfortunately, completely absent from the vicinity. Perhaps you could suggest a direction?”
“Who, me?” Faith stared at the trees. “What do I know about jungles? I’m a big city girl. Maybe Little John can find us a way out of here.”
“This is not like Sherwood Forest,” Little John said, “but a tree is a tree. Follow me.” He took a dozen paces, with Faith and the Dean following in his wake, and then fell into a swamp.- - - - -
“Do they have crocodiles in your world?” Faith asked the Dean, as she cleaned the blade of her knife and Little John examined his bowstring in case its immersion had caused it to lose tension.
“Oh, yes, we have crocodiles,” the Dean replied. “We haven’t learnt anything from this little mishap except, perhaps, that we should be careful where we put our feet.”
“So that monster, then, was a crocodile?” Little John stared at the reptile’s corpse. “I had thought it to be a dragon.”
“No, just a crocodile,” Faith said. “Pretty dangerous. We’ll have to watch out for them. I don’t want to have to try that Crocodile Dundee trick again.”
“Archchancellor Weatherwax had a magnificent stuffed crocodile,” the Dean reminisced. “Trymon got rid of it when he took over. Said it was old-fashioned and inefficient. Hah! Miserable upstart with no sense of style and tradition. Just as well he didn’t last long before coming to a suitably violent end.” He tipped his head to one side and scrutinized the dead crocodile. “You wouldn’t know how to stuff a crocodile, would you?”
“I kill things,” Faith said. “What happens to them after that is nothing to do with me.”
“I didn’t think so,” said the Dean. “No stuffed crocodile, then. Still, at least there’s a bright side. This is a swamp.”
“And that’s a bright side?”
“Oh, yes,” said the Dean. His face lit up with a smile. “Swamps don’t burn. Therefore, in the event of danger, I can use Fireball without any risk of starting a forest fire. I’m rather fond of Fireball.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Faith. “Don’t use it too close to me, okay?”
“I’ll have you know that I am a wizard of considerable experience,” the Dean said. “I never set fire to my companions. Well, except for that time when we were in an extremely high thaumic field, but that wasn’t my fault.”
“That’s a relief,” Faith said. “Hey, LJ, are you all dried out yet?”
“I am, Mistress Faith,” Little John replied. “I am ready to be on my…” His voice tailed off as his gaze focused on something behind Faith. “By Our Lady! What is that thing?”
Faith whirled, bringing up her knife in a fighting stance, but then she relaxed as she saw the size of the creature that had alarmed Little John. It was no larger than a small dog. Scaly, winged, and with a long snout with wisps of smoke curling up from the nostrils. “Is that… a baby dragon?” she asked the Dean.
The wizard peered at the reptile. “Not a baby,” he said. “It’s a fully grown swamp dragon. Draco vulgaris
. Don’t alarm it. They’re not all that good at breathing fire but they can blow up if they get excited.”
“I won’t,” Faith said, backing away. “So, I guess this means we’re on your world.”
“We are,” said the Dean. “That’s something of a relief. I don’t need to do any dimensional traveling to get home.”
“And we can all go to your University place and your wizard expert can send us two back to our own world,” Faith said. “Cool.”
“Yes, indeed,” said the Dean. “We just have to walk for several thousand miles, or find a ship for a long ocean voyage.”
“Can’t you, like, teleport us back?” Faith asked.
“Ah,” said the Dean, “there are some rather awkward side-effects to long-distance teleportation. It’s all to do with conservation of momentum in a rotating environment.”
“You’ve lost me, D,” Faith said.
“It’s dangerous,” the Dean translated. “We learnt about it when we accidentally teleported a kangaroo from EcksEcksEcksEcks. It arrived at Unseen University going at quite a few hundred miles an hour and collided with a brick wall. For a while we thought that the native animals of that continent were an inch thick and twenty feet wide.”
“Oh.” Faith grimaced. “Right. Important safety tip there. So, no teleporting.”
“Not until we get reasonably close to the University, no,” said the Dean.
“Does the dragon give you any clue about where on your world we are?” Faith asked.
“I’m afraid not,” the Dean answered. “They’re fairly widespread, although not terribly common anywhere. My original guesses still stand.”
“So we don’t know where we are, which means we don’t know which way to go,” said Faith. “We might as well pick a direction at random and head out.” She pondered for a moment. “We might as well go that way,” she said, pointing away from the swamp. “Away from the dragon and away from the squishy mud and water. What do you think, LJ?”
“Do you mean me?” Little John scratched his head. “It seems sensible to walk away from the marsh, indeed, Mistress Faith. Other than that one direction seems as good as another.”- - - - -
“Well,” whispered the Dean, as they hid in a clump of bushes watching the column of semi-naked tribesmen file past along a jungle trail, “at least this tells me where we are.”
“You recognize those headhunters, then?” Faith gazed at the tribesmen, sizing them up as potential opponents, and decided that on the whole she’d rather avoid a fight. They were well armed with swords, shields, blowpipes and bows. A couple of them were holding severed heads, swinging the grisly trophies by the hair, and Faith wanted her own head to remain attached to her neck.
“I’ve never met them before,” said the Dean, “but I’ve seen pictures. They’re Kayaks.”
“I thought Kayaks were canoes. You sure you got that right, D?”
“Well, they’re called something like Kayaks,” the Dean said. By now he wasn’t whispering any longer. “Headhunters and pirates from the island of Bhangbhangduc.”
“Is that far from Unseen University?”
The Dean frowned. “Yes, actually, it is. It’s pretty much as far from Ankh-Morpork as you can get on the Disc without falling off the Edge. Technically it’s part of the Agatean Empire, although I don’t think they pay much attention to it.” His frown grew deeper. “I’m afraid I don’t know the best way to get to Ankh-Morpork from here. Or from Agatea, for that matter. Getting off the island would be a good start, though.”
Faith gazed at the headhunters. They had stopped their procession, turned around, and were fanning out into the jungle to the sides of the path. Arrows had been nocked on bowstrings and darts were being loaded into blowpipes. “Uh-oh. I think they heard you,” she said. “Now might be a good time to start making with the fireballs.”
“Yo!” the Dean exclaimed. “Hut! Hut!” He stood up and brandished his staff. Something small and glowing streaked from the staff and struck the ground near the tribesmen. It burst into a huge ball of flame. When the fireball dissipated the party could see the Kayaks, feather cloaks and wooden shields smoldering, fleeing into the distance with howls of pain issuing from their lips.
“Now we run in the opposite direction,” Faith ordered. The Dean’s idea of a run was a sedate jog but Little John hustled him along. After a couple of hundred yards Faith called a halt. “Okay,” she said to the panting Dean, “we can slow down now. Next time don’t talk until they’ve gone, ‘kay?”
“Very well,” said the Dean. “Hmm. Bhangbhangduc. Land of orangutans and smelly fruit. There’s something else about it. Something travelers have to watch out for; apart from the Kayaks, of course. Now, what was it?”
“It can wait,” Faith said. “Let’s get moving again.” She began to walk through the jungle. “Those headhunters will be back, and they’ll be angry. I’d rather not be…” She broke off as something hissed through the air and struck her hard on the head.
“Ouch!” Faith exclaimed. She rubbed her head and looked around for her attacker. There was no-one in sight. Not even monkeys throwing coconuts from the forest canopy. Not a thing around apart from bushes…
One of the bushes moved. A hammer-shaped branch lashed out and struck Faith on the head. “What the freakin’ hell?” She produced her knife and, assisted by Little John, engaged in some violent and effective pruning.
“Ah, yes, that was what I’d meant to warn you about,” said the Dean. “The Bhangbhangduc Sledgehammer Plant.”
“Now that’s not freakin’ fair,” Faith said. “Plants aren’t supposed to attack people. Hey, it’s not like I’m even a vegetarian.”
“Truly this is a strange land,” said Little John.
“Yeah,” Faith said. “Let’s get out of here.” She moved off into the jungle, rubbing her sore head, and keeping an eye out for hostile vegetation.- - - - -
An hour later the trio emerged from the jungle and out onto a sandy beach. Waves broke on the shore. “Well, if we had a boat, and knew which direction to sail, we could get off this island,” Faith said.
“There are boats over there,” Little John said, and he pointed along the beach.
“Yeah,” Faith said. “Canoes. Kayak kayaks, I guess. Let’s head that way and…” She broke off as she saw figures climbing out of the canoes and onto the sand. “Kayak war canoes. Bummer. I’d go ask them to give us a ride over to the mainland only I have a feeling I wouldn’t want to part with what they’d ask for as the fare.”
“Should we fight?” Little John asked.
Faith pursed her lips. “Only if we have to. This is their home, dude, and they got a right to live the way they want to. Okay, I’m not wicked keen on their little head-collecting habit but I’ve done bad things too. I don’t want to kill them just to get one of their boats.”
“I believe I can solve our problem,” said the Dean, “with a little rune magic.”
“Tell me more, D,” Faith said.
“I shall draw Runes of Fear in the sand,” the Dean explained. “We can then attract their attention and get them to come over here. When they read the runes they will be stricken with terror. Whilst they’re running in panic we can, ah, acquire one of their canoes.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Faith said, “if you can do it.”
The Dean grinned and began to use his staff to draw symbols in the sand. “Baby,” he said, “I was born to rune.”
Ten minutes later the three were fleeing along a game path in the jungle. “I think we lost them,” Faith panted, and she slowed to a halt. A grateful Little John, staggering under the weight of the Dean, followed suit.
The Dean clapped his hand to his head to check that he still had his pointy hat. “I don’t understand,” he said. “That should have worked.”
“You forgot one thing, D,” Faith pointed out. “Headhunters can’t read.”