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The Journal of Zong-Tossu, Entry 6 - Beneath the Crimson Canopy

This is the journal of Zong-Tossu, a master ghav-urath (life-shaper) from the Rhul-thaun capital of Thamasku. Zong-Tossu was sent by the har-etuil (judgment-makers) along with a detachment of junior life-shapers and lawkeepers to investigate a mysterious ring of standing stones and the strange creatures said to occasionally appear within. The expeditionary force was accompanied by a thri-kreen emissary known as Cho’ka.

After avoiding the striped predators, only to encounter the terrible thundering beast that had savaged Tr’Shadai’s small party, Zong-Tossu, his group, and their spider-folk captors find themselves hiding from the massive beast in the forests of Guthay.

A NOTE FOR READERS: The journals of Zong-Tossu, though fascinating, should not be taken as accurate. Even though he was considered a great ghav-urath, eventually many of his writings were dismissed as the products of severe psychosis by the ruling council of Thamasku and simply regarded as fiction or parody. It was rumored Zong-Tossu had a mental breakdown caused by his usage of the narcotic cam-rahn.

Hiding in the trees at the edge of the forest glen with our captors due to the arrival of the massive predator, we were immediately made to be silent by the chitine, who quickly spun webs across our mouths to keep us from making any noise. As we watched in horror, the newly arrived apex predator quickly and brutally drove off the smaller striped predators. Though the so-called ‘striped hunters’ were fierce pack hunters, it seemed they couldn’t hope to match the sheer power of the terrifying newcomer. Once the pack hunters had been dispatched or driven away, the mighty beast strode casually towards the fallen herbivore and, placing a foot upon the eviscerated carcass, began to feast.

In the sky, giant winged reptiles of several types began to circle gracefully over the kill. They were all too small to be any threat to the feasting behemoth, but they were still clearly large enough to overpower us or our captors given the chance. Though they varied in size, the largest of the flying reptiles had wing spans of at least four or five times my height and great fanged maws. I could see they ranged in color from a bright white with golden and ebony speckles to bright azure or jade-green, and some of them (perhaps the males) sported large bright red crests and wattles. We all kept still and quiet, not wanting to draw the attention of the massive beast or these new winged predators.

Eventually, when it became clear that the titanic predator would not be done feasting any time soon, our captors began to quietly work our group away from the deadly beast, taking pains to remain completely silent as we descended from the tree and circled the glen’s perimeter through the undergrowth. Once the chitine felt we had reached a safe distance from the glen, they pushed us to travel more quickly deeper into the forest, only halting the march when they found some of what they claimed was the behemoth’s scat, rubbing handfuls on us and themselves. Though the smell was horrific, the chitine claimed that it covered us with the beast’s scent so the other forest creatures would avoid us altogether.

After much travel, we came into an area of very dense forest. Many of the trees within this part of the crimson canopy had thorns sprouting all along their trunks and branches, with the occasional tree being smooth and devoid of thorns in places. Heavy webbing seemed to cover the majority of the boughs and limbs of these strange thorny trees. Arachnids in a multitude of colorful hues and patterns skittered about the webbed boughs and branches, and the remains of winged lizards and other creatures hung from the sticky shrouds. The spider-folk traveled on in a winding route, walking near only the smoothest parts of the tree trunks - perhaps some type of path or road they had developed through the forest to keep them safe from the many predators that hunted the forests.

After some time, our captors called for a small respite, using some type of solvent smelling of wood mushrooms on the webbing which covered our mouths. The webbing quickly dissolved with the greasy solvent and was wiped from our mouths. We were kept bound but our chitine hosts fed us grubs and mushrooms. The grubs were sickly sweet and exploded in the mouth with thick, phlegm-like viscera and, though unpleasant to consume, they proved to be quite nourishing. The mushrooms had a slight nutty taste that, when dried or roasted over a fire, surely would have tasted far more appetizing. The spider-folk also fed us a type of watery melon that had azure flesh with green veins. The fruit was mildly sour but filled with water and refreshing to consume - a welcome alternative to drinking the water of the forest floor. All too soon, the chitine resumed our trek across the forest. They proved surprisingly strong and carried us all on their backs, each of them carrying four of us Rhul-Thuan on their backs without much difficulty.

Finally, within the very dark heart of the forest, underneath a massive tree the size of a mountain, we came to the great webbed home of the spider-folk. Various cocoons great and small seemed to act as tree-homes for the chitine and, at the center of this vast web village, there hung a magnificent palace of webbing, grand and high off the ground. The central cocoon was teardrop shaped, composed of graceful sweeping arches and connected via support strands to nearly every other cocoon-home in the village. Within the palace, with a commanding view of the whole village, was what could only be the chitine queen. Easily twice as large as any of the other spider-folk, she had a swollen and blood-red abdomen and, even as I watched, she laid eggs that were gently tended to by other chitines, who clasped these eggs and took them elsewhere in the village.

With our arrival, one of our escorts went and presented themselves to the chitines’ Brood Mother. Soon after, a low, rhythmic thrumming permeated all throughout the village - I could not only hear it, but could also feel the deep rhythmic hum in my chest. At the sound, the spider-folk all bowed before their queen and were quiet. The queen began to speak in the strange chittering language of the chitine, and Cho’ka once again began to translate: ”The queen has decided to spare our lives, to use us for exchange with a strange race of people in the marsh. We are to be traded as prisoners of war instead of being devoured outright, but the queen says we must yet still pay a ‘blood tithing’ for entering their lands.” The host of spider-folk quickly brought forth several leeches and placed them on our bodies. As before, their bites were at first painful but we quickly felt very drowsy and I fell into a deep sleep, awakened only to be made to eat and drink by our captors. We were fed more of the flesh of blue melons and other watery fruits, as well as nuts and the raw, gelatinous flesh of giant wood grubs and pickled crickets that tasted of brine and vinegar. I can still remember them shucking the shells off these large invertebrates to offer their jelly-like flesh to us - the texture was disgustingly slimy but they were surprisingly delicious, tasting spicy and sour, and being highly filling.

We must have been in this comatose state for several days. When this “blood tithing” was finally over, I still felt exhausted from being drained of so much of my vital fluids for their accursed tithing, but Cho’ka (who had lived freely among the chitine during our tithing) said that our captors claimed that blood was necessary for the gestation of their broodlings by their Brood Mother.

Once we had eaten a filling breakfast, the chitine warband lifted us up with our webbing restraints and once again began to carry us through the crimson forest. We traveled as before through the woodlands for several more days before the spider-folk came to a halt. Looking around, we found ourselves in a bamboo grove at the edge of a vast wetland of golden marsh grass and scattered bronze-leafed trees. The chitine warriors began vibrating their mandibles in a subdued manner. Cho’ka turned to us and translated: “They say we must be quiet - we have come to the edge of the Predator Sea. Though the water appears tranquil, the many beasts lurking in these waters are ravenous and there is no telling what types of predator we might encounter!”