Rum wearily raised his head, clumps of dirt falling from his nostrils and mouth. His limbs trembled. A beetle of unknown origin, but surely poisonous considering his current luck, scurried across his neck. Somehow, despite looking as if he'd been dragged behind a boat for the better part of an hour, Rum was still alive. The word "soggy" had been redefined, dictionaries now including a passage with his face and general description... but he was alive nonetheless.
As he rose to his knees, Rum's hands darted instantly to his belt. The cutlass, now feeling comfortable at his hip, was still there. He breathed a sigh of relief.
Why am I relieved? Finding this stupid thing nearly got me killed! In fact, wasn't I about to be killed? We were below ground, the roof was caving in... what happened? How'd I get here?
Rum was becoming aware that a great deal of adventuring involved questions of that sort. "What happened? How'd I get here? Why are you trying to kill me?" and his personal favorite, "Why do I feel like I've made a terrible mistake?"
He looked around the forest. Warm, vibrant green trees and sprawling jungle brush was still dripping from the sudden underground geyser. Rum realized with a start that he was completely covered with mud. He wiped it from his face, blinking and looking around for Molotov.
Thankfully, it was very easy to spot Molotov. In the lush green forest his pink speedo was like a giant target, sticking out of a clump of bushes nearby. Unfortunately, it was easy to spot Molotov for those exact same reasons. Rum grimaced at the sight of the wizard's butt, and slicked his wet hair back out of his face. He staggered over towards him.
"Molotov? What exactly just happened?" For once, the wizard seemed to ignore him. Dripping wet, attacked by mosquitos, and with every muscle in his body aching from a death-drop into an unknown wilderness, Rum wasn't in the mood for being ignored. He reached out and clonked Molotov on the head with a fist.
"You're supposed to be my body-guard," Rum said, crossing his arms, taking the signature pose of every child who has been denied a candy bar. "Is this the type of service I pay for? I get knocked out by some sort of magic tsunami and you start bird-watching?"
"I just figured you wanted to take a nap, after your whole sword-trick who-hah!" Molotov said, wincing and rubbing the bump on his head.
Rum scowled. "Sword trick? Wait- are you saying..."
Things started to come back. Thoughts, general vague feelings- the memory of grabbing for his fancy new magical sword as the staircase fell away beneath him. Rum's voice caught in his throat and he went pale.
"-are you saying... I somehow did that? It wasn't YOU? I- but- what- I-" Rum stuttered. So much power, in one sword? All of that, by his hand? It was too much to think about, too much responsibility to consider- especially standing up. Rum sat down in the mud, eyes going to the cutlass at his hip.
I summoned a geyser of water! It must have shot us up and out of the ruins... does that happen every time I draw it? Or only on special occasions? Do I have to be... thinking about water really hard?
Rum flexed his hand uncomfortably, eyes darting back to the sword. He had the sudden urge to draw it again. Just for research, of course.
"Rum! You'll have to postpone your mental breakdown for later," Molotov said, far too chipper for anyone's taste. "We've got some trouble!"
Reluctantly tearing his gaze away from the sword Rum looked over toward Molotov, to find the wizard pointing at something in the far distance. Frowning, Rum crawled forward to look.
The forest gradually sloped downward towards a thin coastline. The view was impressive on its own- but what really attracted Rum's eye was the dominant shape of a massive pirate ship moored just off the coast. Tiny rowboats, that even from a distance looked as if they were crammed full with pirates, were making their way towards the shore, battling the surf. Rum let out a squeak, somehow managing to turn just a shade more pale.
"Who the heck are THOSE guys?" Rum whispered frantically.
Molotov shrugged. "Beats me! They've been sending boats onto the island for the past half-hour or so!"
"Half-hour?!" Rum's eyes bulged. "I've been asleep for that long?"
"Yeppers! By night, the forest should be teeming with blood-thirsty pirates, all with unknown and deadly intentions!" Molotov said with a smile.
"But where's OUR ship?" Rum scanned the coastline. It was nowhere in sight. In fact, Rum realized with a start, the coastline looked completely different.
"We're on the other side of the island, my nautical ne'er-do-well!"
The other side. Fantastic. "Well, why don't we focus on getting to the right side as... quickly as possible?" Rum said, wiping sweat from his forehead.
Molotov frowned. "I thought we were SEEKING adventure, Rum! Those guys look plenty adventurous! I bet they got loads of adventure to spare, tales to share-"
"Right. Yes. We were seeking adventure- previously," Rum said quickly. "Past tense. I think I've got basically all I need for my next epic poem, thank you very much. I can just fill in the blanks later, gussy it up on the next draft- no need to involve those pirates and all their uhm, pointy swords..."
Abruptly, Rum decided he'd had enough of that sentence. Rather than finishing it, he took off at a fast-walk through the jungle, wet shoes splurching in the dirt.
Pascal Poke skulked through the trees, tearing the wings off passing mosquitos to pass the time. The Captain had been utterly furious upon seeing the water spout. Before she'd even finished her rant he'd found himself packed like a sardine on one of the rowboats, heading off to the island, murder and pillaging hot in his mind.
But despite the fact that some greasy-fingered muppet had snatched the sword she was after, Pascal couldn't bring himself to care all that much about his Captain's woes. Oh of course he was intending to do his duty and kill everything he could find, just like she'd told him. But it wasn't like he wanted the blade for himself. Magic or not, it didn't matter to him- swords just weren't really his thing. You had to SLASH with a sword. And Poke? Well, if he had to label himself anything, he'd consider himself as more a connoisseur of stabbing.
Humming a jaunty pirate tune, Pascal reflected on the fact that he really was living the teenage dream. He'd always been good at stabbing things- he'd been a child prodigy at school, finding many inventive uses for sharpened pencils. But he had to admit he'd always considered it more of a hobby before signing on to Captain Annay's crew, just something to brighten up a rainy day. Annay had certainly opened his eyes. Now, stabbing things was looking like a legitimate career.
How many people are lucky enough to work in a field they love?
To his left and right, Pascal could see other members of the crew making their way through the lush forest, their swords flickering in the dimming sun high above. It was only a matter of time before they came across the trouble-makers, whoever they were. He snatched another mosquito out of the air and grinned.
"Jaunty pirate tune! Jaunty pirate tune!" Molotov sang, bobbing up and down with absolutely no sense of timing. Having run out of actual sea shanties to sing some time ago, he'd resulted to simply shouting general song-concepts out-loud.
"Roaming the seas! Sailin' the waves! Contracting scurvy! Teeth falling o-"
Rum, hands clamped over his ears, awkwardly picked a path through the dense forest. The oppressive heat left him drenched in sweat and sleepy, like someone had shoved him into an oven.
"Can you quiet down, please?" Rum sharply shouted back over his shoulder. Molotov blinked in surprise.
"But Rum, this is Forest Survival 101! If you're in the woods and a pirate runs at you, you just need to shout loudly and wave your arms! Noise scares pirates!"
Rum let this information, diseased and malformed, sink into his brain. "Molotov? I'm pretty sure you're thinking about bears."
"That's ridiculous, Rum!" Molotov scoffed. "Why would bears be in such a tropical environ?"
Rum sighed. Across mossy hills and through valleys full of red sprawling vines, twisting in the fading twilight, the pair hiked. The world around Rum grew strange, every plant, tree and shadow jumping out, holding unknown danger. What was poisonous? What bird was crying out above in the trees, what animal tracks were those in the dark earth below? Threats and dangers bubbled endlessly in his soupy brain until Rum was imaging an entire forest of hungry eyes at his backside. He sped onward, heart palpitating, Molotov doggedly following.
Distant shouts echoed across the hills, the pirates calling out to each other, but they faded fast as Rum retreated, taking rockier, higher paths to avoid them. But for all his efforts to reach the other side of the island before nightfall, Rum was only one man. Not even really a man- more like an out-of-shape boy.
After spending an entire minute blinking in the dark trying to spot the next rock in front of his feet, Rum had to admit defeat. Letting out a sigh, he collapsed on the ground. Molotov joined him. His early assumption, that the entire island would have taken just a few hours to traverse, seemed even more embarassing now.
Or perhaps I've gone and gotten us lost? Isn't that a nice thought?
"Nothing like sleeping under the stars, eh buddy?" Molotov said, a wistful, punchable, tone to his voice.
"I think sleeping in my comfortable cabin, with my silk bed-sheets, mosquito-netting..."
"Ok, well, when you put it like that," Molotov said.
Crickets, and strange raspy-voiced birds, echoed through the night. Rum looked around the darkened jungle, a chill running down his spine.
"Hey Rum? When we get back, can I have a cabin to?" Molotov whispered.
"Molotov..." Rum said patiently. "I GAVE you a cabin. Where have you been keeping your things?"
"I've just sort of been throwing it behind cabinets, bookcases, yadda yadda," Molotov said. The wizard stretched himself out in the long-grass. "Oh wow, I'm absolutely getting eaten by bugs."
Rum glumly slapped his neck, killing at least twelve mosquitos. "Molotov?" he said after a moment's hesitation. "How come you never seem concerned about... well, anything?"
"Well I'm concerned about the mosquitos, Rum. They've launched a coordinated strike on my-"
"I mean, here we are, lost on an island," Rum continued. "We nearly died, what? Five, six times today? Shark-men, hidden temples, and now pirates? I didn't imagine it would be anything like this. Or... I imagined, but didn't know how real it would be. All the stories I wrote, all the preparations I made, it doesn't seem like it counts for much out in the actual world! I don't know if I'm cut out for this whole confident, heroic, adventurer aesthetic."
"Aw, Rum! You're way too harsh on yourself! Like how harsh the mosquitos are being, upon my armpits and eyes," Molotov said. "You just haven't found your... hill of heroism!"
Rum scrunched up his face. "I'm sorry, my what?"
"There will come a time when you'll be tempted to run and hide- but the guilt of inaction will overwhelm you, just as these mosquitos are overwhelming my speedo!" Molotov spoke, voice rising confidently. "At that moment a tide of courage will wash over you, you'll stand proud upon that hill, willing to die for what's right! You'll be a warrior-poet, a true hero!"
In the darkness of the jungle, Molotov's words echoed off the shadows. "When you know that hill, the place where you'll stand and fight for what you believe in, a lot of those smaller worries will seem simple and easy!"
The mosquitos continued to swarm in the night, buzzing alongside Rum's mind.
"That's a moving speech, Molotov," Rum said quietly. "But it's like you're talking about a completely different person... I'm not that kinda guy."
"I think you are."
Rum blinked, looking over toward Molotov. "Sorry? What did you say?"
"Mffmfm!" came the muffled response from the mosquito-coated Molotov. Billions of the tiny insects swarmed the magician, turning him into a writhing black mass of bugs.
"Molotov!" Rum shrieked, kicking himself away.
There was a sudden bright light, as Molotov's body was surrounded by flames. An overwhelming stench of burning bugs suddenly exploded outward, and the incredibly bumpy and bite-riddled form of Molotov was visible again in the jungle clearing.
The flames coalesced around Molotov's hands as he jumped back to his feet, bouncing from one to another. "Ouwch, ouwch! Rum!" the master of understatements shouted. "I got a bug-bite!"
Rum was about to respond- then he saw it. A dark shape, blacker than the surrounding jungle, looming out from behind the trees at the edge of the clearing. Yet even as his eyes centred upon it, brain registering what it was, it pounced forward.
The creature was impossibly fast, seven feet of incoming pain and bad times. Rum barely had time to let out a shriek before it was charging through the clearing toward him, murder in its yellow eyes.