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Heritage of the Frog

by Nicholas Hudson

"Well, come in, come in! Jermyn, it's been positively ages! Ah, so you still wear the old school tie. You see m'boy, Glantri U. still carries a certain...appeal." Thedrick and his guest burst out laughing at their private joke.

"Hello sir, I am Mattias, unfortunate heir and confessor to this sorry would-be scholar and adventurer-extraordinaire. If you're an old friend of his, you must undoubtedly know the pain I feel constantly at his repetitive stories." Jermyn laughed at Mattias' deadpan delivery

"Oh yes, son, oh yes. You should hear him talk about women some time," Jermyn responded, and fell over with laughter. The raucous Thedrick joined in, and procured a wine from the ottoman.

"So, you old codger you? I hear you recently managed to extricate yourself from some trouble in Atagahn, or Thanegioth, or so other forsaken wasteland. A piece of advice, my old friend: if you insist on travelling the world over, you can't expect everyone to enjoy practical jokes. Especially if the person in question goes by the title 'Zombie Master'. I'm rather impressed you still have your head. I suppose they weren't cannibals this time?"

"No, no, which I find fortunate, as my ample girth would be an irresistible temptation!" Thedrick chuckled at his own expense. "On the other hand, this Zombie fellow didn't hold a grudge for long. At least, I think not. He was a venerable chap, old, but with an excellent memory. I managed to prime him for some of their myths, and I dare say he entertained me for the entire recuperation."

"Oh yes? Anything for your archives?"

"Surprisingly, yes. This old fellow, his name was Mwanu, I believe, seeing that I was of the scholastic persuasion and of a passionate imagination, regaled me with one of their myths involving the plateau I had been trying to reach. Legend indicates that a gigantic black pearl can be found there, but I must admit, I never managed to get out of the village. My sinuses acted up, and then there was Mwanu's large sti..., but enough of that.

"This story, typically, takes place a long time ago, when gods and heroes walked among men, and is probably nothing more than an exaggerated genealogy, but carries the force of an epic nonetheless. Now, at the time of our story, there exists a forbidden temple in the middle of their homeland, which I suspect is the plateau I mentioned. This temple is taboo, and is not the work of the natives. According to their histories, the temple predates their inhabitation on the island, and is the lair of the dreaded "ka'ripu", or kopru, a mythical race of fish-men. This temple supposedly has, or had, a statute in the form of their deity, who had an "unspeakable" name. As Mwanu puts it (and I must apologise for some of it; I'm afraid my skill as a linguist is not as amazing as my appetite),

"'This statute is fetish, great power. The clan that have the fetish, they possess the power, they possess the strength. But fetish is no good, fetish bring the evil power, the death power, the nothing power. Fetish bring only madness. Ka'ripu twisted by fetish.

"'Long time ago, before Home Wall, before tar pits, ka'ripu human tribe. Ka'ripu small, puny, have only little magic, and no warriors. They hide in deepest jungle, barely survive.

"'Mighty King-Lizards meet in a clearing, they leave their dead there: sacred place. Ka'ripu often scavenge there, find sharp bones, good for hunting. King-Lizards not always meet there, only since Cloth Men came, even longer ago.' Now, at this point, I was a tad lost. Cloth Men? It took some difficulty, but a wroung out of Mwanu that he meant men who wore ornate robes. He was going to go one, but I wasn't familiar with the 'Cloth Men', and wanted to hear the whole story. He seemed embarrassed, and looked at the ground. At length, by playing on the extent of the wounds he had inflicted on me, he finally confessed the 'forbidden' secret.

"'Cloth Men came on metal canoe, but canoe float on air, not water. They come from the Rain-Side Winds,' Northeasterly, as far as I can tell. 'on metal canoe. They stop at place where King-Lizards now meet, and metal canoe spit out Cloth Men and then spit fetish.' The very same fetish mentioned earlier. 'Some Cloth Men had metal masks. Only some tribe watch Cloth Men. They try to speak to people, but we cannot understand. They touch circle on robe, and we understand. They say they from the Power, and they bring fetish from Power, the Fahrog. They say we need fetish, and we then rule island, and other islands, and more islands. They put fetish on ground, and worship it.'

"'From nowhere, King-Lizards come and attack. Much death and blood. Cloth Men hold sticks and red string come from sticks, and cut King-Lizards. Much light and dust thrown by Cloth Men sticks, but too many King-Lizards and small earthshake happen, and all Cloth Men die. Metal canoe die too. Later, tribes find one body not ripped up. It Cloth Man with metal mask, and when take off mask, they burn body. It not look well; it look sick. It must be very dead, because it greenish, and eyes split across on opposite sides head. No one find fetish.

"He then went back to the story of the Ka'ripu. 'One day, Ka'piru come to other tribes, say that other tribes must follow them, Ka'piru power. Everyone agreed; they're minds not right. Only some, small tribes not agree, and they attacked. Only some escape into the jungle. Ka'piru say they rule from the taboo temple in plateau, and all tribes work for them.

"'Ka'piru savage, hurtful. They kill many people, no reason. They enslave and work, torture tribes, make tribes dig in ground metals. Everything bad. More people escape in jungle, get angry at Ka'piru, make plans. When Ka'piru not around, no one obeys, but scared, Ka'piru have fetish. One day, great hunter, Tuunga, get very angry. He crafty, he careful. He take hunters, get fur. They put fur over bodies, so look like apes, and no one notice. They cross on plateau, and at night go taboo temple.

"'They kill many Ka'piru, but take some bodies back. Ka'piru no longer human. they look like fish. Hard backs, sharp fingers, eyes across head, evil mouth, long tail. They no longer Ka'piru. Tuunga say that Ka'piru worshipping fetish when he attack, and he see one Ka'piru use metal to cast weird magic on slave. Ka'piru stick green water in metal in slave, and other metal sticks. Slave not look healthy. Tuunga killed Ka'piru, but some hunters start killing other hunters, and need be killed. Tuunga left fetish in taboo place, because cursed. No want to be like Ka'piru. They sick, not healthy.'

"An all together remarkable tale, Thedrick! From the way you say it, it almost seems that native has you convinced!"

"Oh, at first I took it to be the myth it sounds like, but I figure every myth must have some precedent in reality: some factual basis. Before I left, I had the hardy group of adventurers I hired to come with me take a peek up the plateau, no easy task, I'm told. It appears as though there is a temple up there, and none of the natives would even think of entering it. Superstition, but with myths like that, well...."

"Huh! They just wanted some reason to spice up their temple, to get visitors. Probably some sort of tourist trap, if you ask me! You're lucky your adventurers got out alive!"

"Yes, I am, but not for the reasons you're thinking. It's awfully difficult to survive in a giant lizard infested jungle carrying back a statute of hewn stone."

Jermyn stared at Thedrick with his mouth hanging open. Without a word, Thedrick got up, and pulled back a curtain that had previously concealed part of the library. Perched over a rug of crushed velvet, stood a primitive statue. "The carvers undoubtedly had religious concerns on their minds, but the quality really is inexcusable. I mean, who would think of worshipping a frog?".