The Witch's Plot
Albert had found the dead cockroach stuck between some big rocks on the river bank. The most peculiar insect he had ever seen, it was also probably the largest one that existed. More than half a metre in breadth only, its length was almost two metres.
A new species of course, what should he name it...?
He wondered vaguely for some time. What could be an appropriate name for the giant cockroach? ...
‘Ah, Bennetrium!’ he decided finally,, after his surname “Bennet”.’Yes. that would be nice’, he thought, somehow feeling good about it,’...Bennetrium... the largest cockroach ever!’
Coming to Tropagia hadn’t been all a waste, after all, he had discovered innumerable numbers of new plant and animal species, more than half of which he had named after His Majesty, a quantity after himself, many after family members, and a good deal still after his more efficient of men. Moreover, he considered hid greatest achievement of all as succeeding to pierce the countless superstitions people held concerning Tropagia, and the talks of such and such outwardly ‘”supernatural” beings lurking in the forest.
Yes, there were beings in the Tropagian forest, not though of the nonsensical kind people nightmared, but rather exotic, much as the cockroach that lay in front of him.
However, Albert’s success did have a downside as well -- The expedition would not be able to reach the sea on the northern shore of Belaria, as the plans were, also an estimate of the area over which Tropagia was spread could not be taken. This was because Albert had simply collected too many specimens of the flora and fauna already to keep on continuing, and thus in two days’ time they were scheduled to begin their return journey to the capital.
Still as far as his calculations went, the expedition party had penetrated around 63-68 kilometres into Tropagia, not considering the various loops the river Gordan had taken, which they had been utilising both as a water source and as a guide into the forest since the start.
‘Sire, Sire!’ said a rather frantic Ashgad, one of Albert’s men, as he rushed into the tent, ’I-I think you should come see this Sire!’
’Ashgad-?’ Albert was greatly surprised, when Ashgad caught him by the arm and pulled him out of the tent, outside.
‘You have to see this, Sire!’
Ashgad pointed at the opposite bank on the other side of the river. Looking at the place, the ground might have verily disappeared from beneath Albert’s feet.
‘The Gods protect us’, he muttered barely audible.
There were about a dozen of them, Men half, Bugs half. It was a paralysing sight. Men till their waists, they were bugs from below having six hairy stick like legs. They were looking at the expedition party, observant, just as the men were looking at them, fear stricken. One thing was set clear... The Devil's children did dwell Tropagia.
Albert shook his head in disbelief, appalled at the scene before him. He had been wrong in his perception of Tropagia. The superstitions of the people had been but true.
‘The men are ready Sire’, said Ashgad, ‘Should we open fire?’ And so were they. All of Albert’s men had armed themselves with rifles, muskets and pistols. But Albert declined.
‘No, it’s too risky; we’d be foolish to fire without knowing what strengths they posses’.
‘But what should we do, then-?’
Someone suddenly fired, fear overtaken. The bullet hit the thick armour ofone of the mutants and bounced off harmlessly. It was enough to unleash the mutants into action. And with a thundering roar they charged, the shallow river in between little of an obstacle for them.
Before he knew it, Albert was running way from the river bank towards the lush density of plants as everybody else was, fiercely yelling a single word – ‘Flee!’
Even as they fled, some of Albert’s men fired aimless shots at the mutants. This, however, was no hindrance, and by the time a handful of seconds had passed, the mutants reached this side of the river.
Albert ran madly, uncaring of the direction as long it took him away from the half men half bugs, amidst the thickness of vegetation around him. He could hear pained screams of his men from behind- the mutants had got them. Poor fellows, he thought, but what could he do besides try and somehow save his own soul? So Albert kept running.
After sometime of adrenaline filled run, Albert slowed down his pace and looked behind- Only plants. He ran some more, ‘The farther the better.’
Albert finally came to a stop and crouched behind a tree, gasping for breath, heart drumming and body hot. After inhaling furiously for a couple of minutes, his body began to cool down and his breathe returned.
Albert considered his surroundings more sensibly. Where was he?
He had definitely come a long way away from the river bank, for the cries and howls of his men and the mutants had faded into an undisturbed quiet.
Now trees, bushes and other plants surrounded him on all sides, as though encaging him. He felt claustrophobic, despite all his love for nature.
More moments throbbed by, and slowly fear returned to Albert as stark realisation overtook him. He could not get to the river, his only chance of any survival at all.
He might have escaped the demons, temporarily most perhaps, but now, Albert Bennet was lost in the Tropagian forest.