The Mythos Department – Origins of the Idol – Vol 2

There was a strange scratching sound near the edge of his perception. It was impossible to tell how long it had been going on for, but the scratching kept up at a rhythmic pace for a few moments, then it would stop for some time, only to start up once again. A warm sensation started near his chest and slowly climbed to his face where it stayed for several seconds. He finally realized that he couldn’t open his eyes, but he didn’t know why. Panic crept in along with the scratching sounds and he could no longer handle the rush of emotions and thoughts that battered inside his head.

His mind swirled at the possibilities of what was going on around him. He couldn’t remember what he had been doing last. Where was he? What was going on around him? The panic began to come on stronger and it drove his mind to think about all manner of possible scenarios. He began to see something come into his field of vision. It was a shelf of leather bound books that seemed familiar. It reminded him of the tall shelves that he had spent so much of his early college days surrounded by. The warm, thick wood that cradled the vast collection of knowledge that Brown kept had been his second home for many years.

Finding himself at the study tables again, the Pavlovian response took over and he began writing on the tablet of paper that suddenly sat in front of him. It seemed that his task was to research the known changes in Polynesian culture from the fifth to the eighth century BC. He began to search the shelves and locate what he’d need for research materials among the vast row of shelves which now stretched on as far as his eyes could see. As he walked the shelves he began to notice that there were strange men standing guard at the end of each section of shelves. They stood in colorful blue clothing, heads adorned with golden jewelry. The first one he came upon seemed to look on him as if he was an outsider in this library.

The first man he approached had a strange headdress on that was covered with small golden disks and beads. In his ears and nose he had pierced large sharpened bones to further decorate himself. At his side, a long knife was held in a handmade leather thong, barely concealing the end of the blade.

“What are you doing here?” his voice echoed off the bookshelves behind the strange looking man. The man continued to regard him in an odd manner. His head tilted to the left and the right as he heard what had been said, but did not completely understand it. Reaching his hand out, Julius tried to grab the man’s arm, but was overcome with an intense surge of pressure in his ears. He reflexively closed his eyes and tried to bear the waves of pressure that were turning into a rhythmic ebbing pain in his head.

In his mind’s eye he saw it as it floated in the black space in front of him. The idol. It slowly circled on its base, showing him both sides of the strange characters that made up each side of it. The male figure, with ample breasts and lean face, only betrayed its male nature by the large phallus that was seen below its well muscled abdomen. Julius still wondered at its origin and people that would have crafted such a thing. He reached out to grab on to the base and the idol shifted again, showing him its feminine nature. The powerful upper body with well defined muscles and prominent Adam’s apple would have convinced anyone that this was a male figure except for the carefully defined indent in the middle of thick birthing hips that the figure also possessed. Even as it swirled in front of him, it remained a puzzle. Why had it been crafted in such a way? Surely there were many pantheons with hermaphrodites: Hinduism was one and Greek another. Neither one of them matched what the idol depicted. Could this be some unknown deity? Some yet undiscovered being that was worshiped? He had to know.

Julius snapped awake to find himself resting in a small covered tent. The ground had been padded with a woolen blanket, and, as his hands reached out to keep the world from spinning, he could feel that it was damp. The tent was lit by the firelight outside its open flap. He could see men walking about the campsite tending to the meal they were preparing. The smell of cooked rice turned his stomach and he rolled over to expel whatever was left inside of him.

His mouth burned as the content came up, making his head pound as if a blacksmith was toiling away on a piece of raw iron between his ears. Julius rolled over on his back and tried to determine where he was. The tent was made of thick cloth with oak branches as stabilizers. The roof rose to a peak in a cone like turret The material was a light tan color and even seemed to have spaces cut into it for windows, although they were sealed up. Outside the slightly open tent door, the men continued to cook the group meal and talked in a local dialect he could not make out. Inside the tent, Julius located his backpack, which had been opened and spilled out onto the tent floor.

The tribesman had either found his Henry rifle, or it was missing, because he could not readily see it. The food he brought was gone, but his clothing and tools remained intact, as did his research books. Crawling to his knees, Julius made his way over to the pack and hunted feverishly for the idol. He searched desperately in each flap, his hands forcing their way into each pocket and crevice that his pack had. In the end his search bore no fruit and Julius sank back on his haunches.

The flap of the tent opened abruptly and a tribesman walked in, a long curved bow slung over his shoulder. Julius turned to face him, searching for some sign of humanity that he could connect with. The tribesmen began to speak in a quick, almost babbling tongue that overwhelmed Julius’s lessons on several Indian dialects. Raising his hand, Julius asked in the Indian tongue for a moment. It must have sounded like the plea of a wounded animal.

The man abruptly stopped talking to Julius and turned to the open tent flap and began speaking a string of words to someone outside the tent. Julius carefully rose to his feet, trying not to spook the tribesman and at the same time try to keep his head from swimming and making him further nauseated The tribesman turned back to Julius and cocked his head to one side, seemingly taking time to consider the man in front of him. Julius raised his hand and began to speak, when the tribesman cut him off.

“A-American?” The word fought its way out of the man’s mouth.

“Do you speak English,” Julius asked, as the small ember of hope he had was carefully stoked.

The tribesman extended his hand and pointed at him with an open palm face down. Julius knew that physical signals in Indian countries meant many different things, so he decided to be play it cautious and sat back down on the set of woolen blankets. He hoped that he would pose less of a threat to the tribe if he seemed docile. Decades of English rule had soured the views of many of the tribesmen in the northern part of India, and attacks had gotten vicious in the past, with travelers losing their belongings and even worse sometimes.

Another tribesman entered the tent, this one had a bowl and a small pack with him. He also wore a strange feathered headdress and charms around his neck, denoting him to be a shaman or village wise man. He stalked forward and placed the bag in his hand down near the foot of the woolen bed that Julius knelt on. The shaman then took his free hand and collected some liquid from the bowl, and then flicked it back out onto the bed and Julius.

The liquid smelled awful and Julius covered his face to keep it from getting into his eyes and mouth. The shaman proceeded to walk around him continuing to flick his hand out, splashing the liquid onto Julius’s face and clothes. The smell of it was so strong it overpowered his senses, causing him to vomit again. The shaman did not pause, taking the opportunity to splash Julius’ face three or four times while he was doubled over. As the process neared an end, the shaman came back to his pack and withdrew several small bags. He began tucking them into the woolen blankets and into Julius’s pants pockets as he walked around the circle he’d created in the tent.

Julius lay on his back, completely drained of energy. His eyes tried to focus on a point in the roof of the tent, but he found it easier to simply close his eyes and hope that death was near. His skin was on fire, his mouth felt like a barren wasteland, and whatever the tribal shaman had soaked him with smelled like death. He tried to focus on anything other than being where he was, and closing his eyes seemed to help

He awoke again in his mind’s eye at the library study table. He knew he had been here before but couldn’t remember when. Looking around, Julius noticed that a long row of bookshelves sat behind the table, and his mind seemed remember that the library at Brown looked very similar to this. Turning back to the table, he noticed that a stack of books sat in front of him. The titles varied, but they all seemed to be on the same subject. It was a lengthy biographical piece on a man named Jon. Julius cracked the first in the series and it detailed his youth in New York, where he studied under his parents before being sent to a boarding school, where he excelled in all courses. Jon was a slight youth and studied fencing instead of the traditional rugby that the boys played, but he graduated with top honors and was sent to Harvard for his concentrations.

Jon only stayed at Harvard a few years until he was called to war, where he served as a translator in the South Pacific, which baffled Julius, as he’d never heard of any wars or youths being sent to those areas. Jon’s time in the war had been very troubling. He’d been forced to participate in a certain amount of fighting, something that translators rarely did. It seemed to have changed Jon, and when he returned after the war, he flung himself into his postgraduate studies and became something of a hermit.

Julius found the tales of this man a fascinating piece of fiction. Though the author posed them as a series of factual based events, as a student of history, Julius knew of no such events in either recent or past history. Rising from his chair, he turned back to the bookshelves and began investigating the bindings of the books that remained in hopes of finding titles he did recognize.

The books themselves were bound well and most looked new, even though he could see some older titles existed here. He found no evidence of dust or cob-webbing either; it was as if this library existed in a vacuum, devoid of the ravages of time. The area itself was lit by some sort of ambient light. Julius could not locate exactly where the light came from, only that he could see the area and its vast series of bookshelves clearly while he was here.

The library seemed to stretch on as far as he could see, with shelves and tables for studying around every corner. As he walked down one of the many rows of books, Julius noted that many of the books were written in several different languages, most of which he readily recognized. His studies at Brown had prepared him for interacting with many of the classical languages, and not simply on a basic level. He had studied Latin, Greek, German, Indian, and Arabic, all of which seemed to be represented in the library, plus some books of unknown origin. As he continued down the row, one book drew his attention. It had was a well worn black spine with golden trim and filigree. Kneeling down, Julius pulled out the tome to get a closer look at it.

The book was heavy, much more than he’d anticipated. The cover was made from a heavier material than wood covered with simple leather. It felt as if it was some type of slate or stone, and the filigree wasn’t simply painted on, it was embossed into the cover and binding. The cover itself was worded in large Sanskrit letters across the top and read: “ The Black Idol of Nirrti “ and below these letters several symbols and decoration also seemed to reinforce the Hindu theme.

Julius carefully carried the book back to the nearest study table and saw that the cover had a locking mechanism which prevented him from opening it. Shifting the book slightly, he began to study the lock. The lock was connected to two metal clasps that were attached at the top and bottom of the front and back cover. Given the assumed era of the book itself, it would be an amazing leap of metalworking for someone to have protected a book in this fashion.

The lock and clasps had small circular dials on them, each made out of bone, and then painted with a beautiful shade of red. The area that surrounded the dials were multi-colored wheels that were separated by inlaid gold and silver. Julius felt the dials to see if they would still move. His fingers labored to move the dial near the bottom, but after twisting hard – much harder than he truly wanted to – the bottom dial moved. The top moved after slightly less pressure was put on it.

Each time the a dial was moved, the lock made an audible clicking sound, which made Julius uneasy. He didn’t want to break the age old device, in case the lock also held some sort of trap that would ruin the information written on the pages within. Yet still he continued to listen as he moved the dials, each one clicking into a new place. The device reminded him of a child’s toy he’d had and a part of him drifted back to childhood, playing on the hardwood floors in his parents house.

He’d spent most of the his early years in Connecticut where his parents had tenure at Yale. After his tenth birthday his family moved to Boston and his parents worked as professors at Northeastern. He never found out why they’d left Yale, but his mother once told him that Yale wasn’t willing to let his father pursue field research. That research kept his father in and out of the house on excavations for most of his formative years. While his father would never go into the details with Julius, he would overhear his discussions with aunts and uncles about how dangerous these trips would get. Each time his father returned, Julius would receive some new toy or bauble from far flung places, each one a little different than the previous.

A quick movement in the room snapped Julius out of his daydream. Looking back near the center of the library’s study tables, he saw a man dressed in a coat and hat walk around one end of a bookshelf isle. Julius pulled the book back down and secured it under his arm as he and slowly began walking back towards the center study stables.

As he entered the center study area, he noticed that one of the tables had several books on it that had not been there before. The titles varied, but it looked like they pertained to the late third dynasty in Egypt. As Julius crept closer to the table, he could hear smacking sounds echoing off of the bookshelves in the distance. Resisting the urge to call out to whoever it might be, Julius made his way beyond the tables and crouched at edge of the bookshelf to peer around the corner.

The figure stood in the middle of the aisle with its back to Julius. The fedora hat that sat on the figure’s head was tilted down slightly, as if the figure was looking at something, or was in deep thought. The figure continued to stand there as if he was the center of a one point perspective art piece: a physical vanishing point.

Julius stood up from his crouched position and moved into the aisle preparing himself as best he could. He had no idea who the figure was, or why it was here – in fact, he wasn’t really sure where ‘here’ was, but he brushed those thoughts away and concentrated. The library aisles seemed to contract slightly – if only for moment- and the figure raised its head as Julius adjusted his coat.

“Hello? Who are you? What are you doing here?”

The figure turned slightly to regard him, although Julius could not make out any discernible features the figure had. The figure made a noise, which sounded very much like the bullfrogs Julius remembered from blissful childhood summers spent at his aunt’s vacation home in Virginia. The noise came again and then a third time, each croak time slightly louder. When the last noise came, Julius saw the cheeks of the figure swell to an immense size, then shrink back down, just like a bullfrog.

“Hello? Are you alright?”

Julius called out to the figure again, hoping to garner some response. He began to fear what he might get considering the strange noises that the figure produced, but going against his better judgement, he crept forward a few paces to try to get a better look at what was in front of him.

As he moved forward, the figure turned which allowed Julius to see the face of the being that stood in front of him. The coat and hat only barely contained the form underneath, which was a deep shade of green rubbery flesh. From the light that the area afforded, Julius could see the skin was covered in dark black splotches and fluorescent nodules that dotted its neck. The face of the creature was horribly misshapen with a large chin that bowed out at the sides, and flowed down into the beings neck area. Its solid black eyes and slight nose were set far back into its head and ringed with the same glowing nodules. The creatures eyes locked onto Julius and it spasmed, causing the skin around its neck to expand and the nodules to glow.

Julius stood in horror as the creature continued its chorus, each time the neck swelled up and the facial muscles expanded like a balloon. The solid black eyes of the creature continued to focus on Julius as the head of the creature turned slightly to the right, as if it was sizing him up. Julius’s mind could not rationalize what this creature was or where he was. All he could understand was he had to get out.

Julius turned and began to run back towards the center of the library as the croaking behind him grew louder. Julius stole a glance behind him as he rounded a corner and saw that the frog-like creature was pursuing him. It hopped along after him, covering long distances in a single leap. Julius kept his pace up and took a left down another aisle of bookshelves, deviating from his original plan. His boots clicked off the wood floors as he started looking for an exit – any exit – from this place.

The shelves continued on and after a few minutes Julius began to realize that they weren’t going to end. This library was a maze; its bookshelves and study areas all appeared familiar, but the scenery never changed. He continued to flee the frogman, who he could still hear hopping after him. The frogman’s croaking had turn into a chorus of croaks that Julius began to hear in every direction. After turning yet another corner, Julius kneeled down and pulled several large books off the one of the lower parts of a nearby bookshelf. Crouching down, Julius hid inside the area, hoping that the frogmen would pass him by.

The chorus of croaks continued as Julius huddled on the shelf. The noises echoed around the shelves, reverberating off the wood. It was tough to make out how many of them were, so Julius just tried to stay still as the croaking continued around him. The only thing that gave away his hiding place were the books that Julius had to move to get into his current position. The bookshelf row he was hiding in was suddenly slammed into, nearly knocking Julius out of his hidden space. The shelf rocked backwards, then forwards. Julius imagined that one of the frogmen had landed on top of the shelf while it was searching for him. As Julius stared out into the aisle, a black tongue flicked out and hit several of the books that he had moved. Julius saw it again a moment later when it hit several other books in the stack. A strange sound came from above him – almost like the whimpering of a dog – and then the bookshelf shuddered again. Julius could hear the same noises of frogmen moving around, but as he continued to calm his nerves, he could tell that the noises had moved away.

Julius carefully came out from his hidden location on the lower bookshelf and looked around. He could see several more of the frogmen bounding away from his area of the library. The frogmen used the tops of the tall bookshelves like lily pads to travel the library. Julius could see their legs, which resembled a man’s, but were far longer and much more well defined. A loud smack came from behind him and Julius turned around, raising his arms to protect himself out of fear. The frogman that stood in front of him still wore the fedora, although it had discarded the long coat somewhere during the chase. Julius had been tricked into believing that he was safe and now that he’d revealed where he was, the frogman had pounced in for the kill. Julius kept his guard up as the frogman stood in front of him with its arms out – covering any attempts to escape further down the aisle.

“What do you want?!” Julius shouted at the frogman. He’d grown tired of the fear and anxiety that was overwhelming him. The black eyes of the creature narrowed to thin slits as its mouth began to open, revealing several rows of small, sharp teeth. The frogman responded with a wet gurgling sound that escaped its throat. The frogman tensed and all in one forceful motion, stepped forward and flicked its long black tongue out, slapping Julius in the face. The tongue felt like a baseball bat with nails driven through it when it viciously connected, sending Julius flying back and into the shelf he’d just hidden in. The shelf cracked in half as books were flung in every direction, doing little to absorb the impact of Julius’s body.

Julius struggled to get to his feet, still reeling from the attack. In a single step, the frogman closed the distance between them and reached out to grab Julius by the leg. but In a desperate move, Julius rolled to his left to keep from being caught. Getting to his feet, Julius turned to run, hoping to get around the corner and save himself. The creature lashed its tongue out again and hit the bookshelf just inches from Julius’s head, making a loud smacking sound. Fear and adrenaline pressed against Julius’s mind as he frantically searched for a way out.

As Julius turned the corner, he slammed full force into another frogman, knocking Julius back onto the ground. Staring back up at the frogman, Julius could see the frogman puff its chest and jowls out, allowing its massive face and neck to expand. The nodules that surrounded the creatures head began to glow bright green. It was all Julius could do to try and scramble away. Crawling away on his hands and knees, Julius was overtaken and then overwhelmed by an enormous cloud of stinking green gas. It pervaded his senses in every way, crawling its own way into his nose and mouth. The gas burned his eyes, causing him to fall to the ground coughing as his lungs spasmed, desperately trying to clear the poison out.

Julius rolled onto his back and struggled to open his eyes. He heard another one of the frogmen land nearby and then felt strong hands grasp his arms and hoist him effortlessly off the ground. He fought as hard as he could, kicking and squirming in the frogman’s grip. He coughed again and finally felt a small bit of clean air get into his lungs. His eyes were wet with tears, keeping him from opening his eyes more than an inch.

When Julius finally forced his eyes open, he wished he hadn’t. The frogman that held him had its mouth open – much wider more open than he’d imagined it could have – and was poised to snap its powerful jaws down on him. Julius leaned back with all his might and planted his feet on the abdomen of the creature. Summoning the last of his inner reserves, he pushed on the frogman, trying to break its iron grip. Julius felt his back twinge and then give as he wrenched his back trying to free himself. The frogman must have sensed that its prey was trying to flee, and in another swift motion, swallowed Julius from his head to his bicep.

Dawn.

Julius woke with a thousand knives stabbing his chest and back as the pain from the imaginary wounds lanced down his arms and into his legs. The dream still echoed in his mind. He closed his eyes and visualized the scene in the library. It was all so real still. The frogmen, the books, the sights and smells continued to echo. Julius opened his eyes and still couldn’t believe what he saw.

The tent flap was open and the morning air brought the calming song of birds to his ears. Julius could see out of the flap from his angle on the bed the shaman had made for him. An early fog was just beginning to burn off and it diffused morning’s arrival , easing his transition from nightmarish dream to peaceful dawn. The calmness of the area was impossible not to breathe in, so Julius took a moment and gathered himself.

Standing up became another matter entirely. Once Julius made it to a sitting position, he could feel the heavy wrapping that had been done to his shoulder. After closer inspection, Julius was relieved to see that they had removed the arrows and applied some type of salve. Under normal circumstances Julius would have gone to a doctor or a first aid tent, but he wasn’t likely to find either of those this high up in the Himalayas. Taking his time, Julius made it to his feet and felt his body begin to sway back and forth. He figured that his balance must be off and he stepped forward to reach out for a nearby tent pole, and promptly fell over.

Julius landed hard on the tent floor and struggled to figure out what went wrong. He pushed himself back up to his knees just in time to see one of the men he’d noticed the last time he was awake had come into the tent. He knelt down to offer Julius help standing back up. The man was still dressed in his hunting clothes, but he had no weapons that Julius could see.

“Easy my friend. You are still in a battle for your soul.” The hunters voice filled his ears. His English was trained well enough for Julius to understand him. He could only hope that the hunter could help him figure out what happened.

“My what? Where am I and how did I get here,” Julius asked.

“We found you after you were attacked. The Tcho-Tcho nearly had you, but we drove them off in time to get you to our medicine man. He saw to your shoulder after we purified the area of their foul presence,” the hunter replied. Julius could see that the man was serious, but it still didn’t make sense to him. In all his years of study, and even the long months preparing for this journey, he’d never once heard or seen a book that referenced the Tcho-Tcho.

“The who? I’ve never heard of them. Are they a mountain tribe from Nepal or Kashmir?” Julius asked. He was eager to find out more about this sect of people, especially if it led to more about the origin of the idol.

“The Tcho-Tcho are an ancient tribe of hunters. They are consumed by hate and despise all other tribes. We have had no peaceful dealings with them as far as anyone can remember. They eat the flesh of their own kind and spoil the lands that they conquer with spirits that they worship,” the hunter continued.

It all sounded like an ancient tale from the Ramayana, which many of his fellow colleagues at Brown equated with King Arthur’s legend. After some closer study of the text Julius had come to realize the inaccuracy in his colleagues statement. King Arthur’s stories were legendary for sure, but they hadn’t help to found a religion or become the standard of a nation’s history for centuries. Arthur might be inspirational in some regard, but it wasn’t still relevant to the English people, not like the Ramayana was to the people of India. Julius looked around the tent space and noticed the bed he’d slept in was surrounded by strange dark stains. He could make some of them out, especially where his shoulder had been, but the others didn’t make much sense. He noticed that his pack was now missing, including his boots and clothes.

“Your personal items have been taken to the shaman’s house, for purification and inspection. The tribe is very interested in your rifle and pistol. They have only heard of such things and regard them as prized treasures,” the hunter said, easily assessing what Julius was looking for.

“Then we have something in common, as I have an interest in getting them back, along with the rest of my things,” Julius said. He tried his best to hide his true desire. The Henry rifle, while very useful, was nothing compared to the idol, which he had to have.

“I understand. If you are feeling strong enough, I will call for the shaman, so he may see if you are free from the sickness,” the hunter said, covering the tent opening. Julius moved forward slowly and stood in front of the hunter.

“Am I your prisoner now?,” Julius asked.

“You are to be kept here until the shaman declares you clean of the poison that you were infected with. Should you exit the this place without the shaman’s blessing, my tribesmen will kill you,” the hunter stated plainly. There was no hate or anger in his voice, just a resolute sense of duty. Tribal elders often hold a deity-like status in smaller villages, and even though this hunter had called the tribesman his own, it seemed the shaman was still in control.

“Poison? What poison?”

Julius hadn’t heard it at first but his mind suddenly caught back up to the speed of the conversation.

“The Tcho-Tcho prepare their arrows with a horrid poison made of the black blood of their dead. It is often fatal for those who are struck by a single arrow. You were hit by two and yet you still draw breath,” the hunter explained.

“Ganesh has smiled upon me,” Julius said.

“I truly hope he has. Those that live through the poison usually rise to eat the flesh of those around them. Now please, remain here while I go and call for the shaman,” the hunter said, turning to the tent flap.

Julius watched him leave then turned back to the tent, which began to look more like a prison. As his balance came back to him, Julius took to pacing around the area. He did this mostly to continue to regain his balance in case he had to move quickly. Julius had no idea what the shaman might say, or if he’d give Julius the chance to leave the tent. Tribal cultures could be very difficult to interact with for outsiders, because of the lack of understanding of the way the tribal system worked.

Each tribe had its own hierarchy, customs, and dominant personalities. The best thing that an outsider could do would be to stay quiet and watch the interaction that tribesmen had with each other. A sharp eye could pick out who was in control and who was easiest to approach. It would take time – possibly time that Julius would not have – to make these observations. The shaman had his things, the climbing pack, his fresh clothes, and most importantly the idol. Julius failed to find it last time, but he nearly had a chance to look through his belongings before the hunter and shaman came to purify him.

The smell of the poultice bags had faded from the tent entirely. Curious about what was in them, he knelt back down and pulled aside the layers of blankets that had been laid down as part of his bedding. The poultice bags were no bigger than a baseball. Made of homespun linen, the bags were wrapped with tough hemp string that resisted the first few attempts Julius made at uncovering their ingredients. Once the bag was opened the contents confused him. The bag contained only ashes, with a few small hardened stones in the center. The stones themselves were dark black and had flecks of grey and white in them. The ashes themselves were a combination of fine black soot and an inner layer of chunky ash, similar to a wood fire.

“The stones are snowflake obsidian, commonly used in the tribe to draw evil spirits away,” the hunter’s voice came from behind him

Julius turned to see that the hunter had arrived with the shaman in tow, still dressed as he’d seen him the last time. The colorful robes and headdresses reminded Julius of many of the wildlife that India had.This time the shaman had no bowls or prepared cleansing tools, he carried a long dagger on his hip.

The shaman spoke something to him, which he only half understood, but he believed the shaman asked him to come forward – which Julius did. The shaman reached out and placed his palm flat on his chest and began intoning a low any rhythmic chant. Julius looked at the hunter cautiously, but chose not to move. Having read many of the ancient texts – which included tribal teachings – the dagger the shaman carried had only one purpose. If Julius was still poisoned by the Tcho-Tcho, the shaman would end his life before he could infect the rest of the tribe. The air in the tent grew hot as the minutes passed while the shaman continued. The hunter near the door gave no signal when the ceremony would be over and Julius had begun to sweat from the heat. Suddenly, the shaman reached a deft hand up and grabbed onto Julius’ jaw forcing his mouth open. Julius tried hard not to react as the shaman forced his hand into Julius now open mouth and grabbed onto his tongue.

Wide eyed and beginning to panic Julius looked again at the hunter, who had placed both hands out towards Julius, urging him to stay calm. The shaman’s chants continued for another minute and then fell silent. His hand released Julius’ mouth and returned to his side. The hunter moved forward and spoke with the shaman, in short quick words. After a moment the shaman turned and walked from the tent, leaving the door open.

“The shaman said you live with the luck of Ganesh and are free of any poison the Tcho-Tcho may have infected you with. You are free to reclaim your possessions and eat with the tribe. They will be happy to see that you are alive,” the hunter said, finally smiling.

“My name is Prashant and these are my people. You will have comfort and rest while you stay here,” Prashant continued.

“I appreciate all that you have done. I would like to see to my pack so I can change into clean clothes,” Julius replied, continuing to think of the idol.

Prashant bowed slightly to Julius and turned towards the tent flap opening, moving it it aside further. The tribe had constructed a great cooking fire where they were making preparations for a festival. Sensing a chance at freedom Julius stepped out into the morning air and saw the beauty of the Himalayas surrounding him. The village was nestled on part of a mountain that overlooked a small valley. The area had a solid treeline to the south and west, with the mountain itself coming up behind the north end of the village, leaving only the east as an easy entrance and egress.

“You picked a wonderful spot to make your home, Prashant. It must be very easy to keep any rival tribes at bay,” Julius said turning his head as the tribesman approached him.

“We have few tribal enemies other than the Tcho-Tcho. We live in peace with this world whenever we can. I hope that the peace we feel passes onto to while you stay,” Prashant replied.

“Perhaps it will,” Julius said smiling.

“For now, let us eat. My tribe has been waiting for you to wake for two weeks,” Prashant said.