Eighth Scene: Krakatua Island: Pajaran Empire, West Java, April 14, 1525

It takes but a days sailing from Carita to reach the great volcanic isle and alleged home of the garuda, Krakatua. Macario complains all the way, and even the promises of newly acquired wealth do not entirely sway him. "Little point in being rich and dead", he mutters. In contrast, Robert seems passionate in the quest, with a strange gleam in his eyes. Bankyak is nervous, but trying to put on a brave face, and is often in conversation with the sombre Topeng. Wen is like stone, alternating between meditation and excercises.

Babas Bibi has discovered that his climbing skills are well suited for sailing vessels, and has taken the opportunity to scamper up the main-mast and serve as lookout. "Looks like my dream of him as a monkey was right after all", mutters Macario (he has taken to a lot of muttering of late).

Arriving on the eastern shoreline of the large island, the party sets up camp and begins to scout out the area. Over the next few days, the party discovers a great deal about the island. For starters, it seems entirely unihabited by anything of the human animal. It is however, teeming with exotic birds, monkeys and various reptiles - and, of course, snakes. On more than one occassion the party has witnessed abnormally large boas slither past at an unusual pace.

In particular the snake population seems particularly high in the area surrounding the biggest volcanic peak on the island (there are three). Although the air is thick with sulfur, the snakes do not seem to be affected, which, according to Banyak at least, is highly unusual. On two occassions the party spots large cobras as well, steering a path clear from them.

Even with the strongest and most skeptical of wills, each and all members of the party feel greatly uneasy in this environment. With no people, the strange sounds of animals, a foul smell to the air, and stories of snake-spirits fear a degree of fear, quickly sets in. One night, no less than four members of the party, Wen, Banyak, Robert and Babas, all swear that they felt the earth writhe beneath them, like a giant snake. Only Macario and Topeng slept through the event without noticing.

Late on the fourth day the fleet-footed Babas discovers an cave-like fissure entrance some two hundred and fifty metres (less than 1/3 of the distance) up the slope of the largest volcanic peak. The air is foul and the chamber dark...

Topeng recommends the use of Soma, before entering the chamber. "Soma is a gift of Chandra, the moon goddess", explains Topeng.

"She, the immortal goddess, throws her veil
Over the low valley, rising ground, and hill.
But soon with bright effulgence dissipates
The darkness she producesl soon advancing
She calls her sister Morning to return,
And then each darksone shadow melts away"
(Riga Veda, x)

"Normally, I would not give any to one of a lower caste", Topeng says, looking at Banyak. "But these circumstances are becoming exceptional".

"So, let me get this right", says Macario, "We drink your magical fluid, walk into a cave on the side of a smoking volcano, or rather, the summer residence of a God of Fire and we find a chick of a mythical bird?"

Macario looks at everyone individually.

"And then we travel to a lost 'City of Ghosts' somewhere in the jungle, so rat-girl here can fulfil a geas against her coastal village?"

Macario looks at eveyone again. And shrugs. "OK, let me drink some Soma. But let's not try to get killed. Whilst I loved travelling around the world, the main reason is so I can retire as an old man. Come on."

As the sun sets and the moon rises in the sky, Topeng prepares the solemn ritual of providing soma to the gathered individuals. Preperation takes some time, and at times Topeng seems to be in a trance as he swirls the the sweet-smelling nectar in a bowl. After some time, he opens his eyes and, staring straight at the moon, begins to chant:

"This Soma is a God; he cures
The sharpest ills than man endures.
He heals the sick, the sad he cheers,
He nerves the weak, dispels their fears;
The faint with martial ardour fires,
With lofty thought the bard inspires,
The soul from earth to heaven he lifts,
So great and wondrous are his gifts;

Men feel the God within their veins,
And cry in loud exulting strains:
We've quaffed the Soma bright
And are immortal grown:
We've entered into light
And all the gods have known.
What mortal now can harm,
Or foeman vex us more?
Through thee beyond alarm,
Immortal God, we soar".

He then drinks from the bowl and passes it around to those gathered. Each drink with trepidation and quiet, so powerful was Topeng's aged voice. After drinking, one instantly feels weariness leave their limbs, and the heartbeat strengthen. A few minutes later, greater clarity of sight and senses is achieved. Despite the fact that it is now dark, one's vision in the light is strong.

Entering the caves, the power of the Soma gives you enhanced vision making only the most minimum of torch use necessary. The style of the cave is remarkable however. They almost look like they've been designed, with flat floors and ceiling and a mostly consistent height and width (2.5m by 3m respectively). Following the passage upwards - for that's the direction it runs - the gathered party travels some 20 metres before entering a fork in the passage, again with both passages leading upwards. Choosing the left, the party again travels some 20 meters before there is yet another fork, this time, one travelling down and two travelling upwards.

"There seems to be many passages", comments Macario. "How are we going to find this Garuda among all this?".
"Karkotaka, King of the Naga, has one thousand heads", responds Topeng.

Choosing the left upwardly passage again, the party travels some 70 meters or so as the passage disorientatingly snakes to the left and right and left again, narrowing and widening at various points. Suddenly, the passage ends, and the party finds themselves in a large chamber. There is a number of bubbling pools of mud, or some such in the centre of the chamber. Steam hisses from the walls on the side opposite your entry. There are numerous passages entering this chamber for points all over the adjacent walls and ceiling.

Wen spots a rather excessively large cobra in the far corner of the chamber. It is sitting upon a pile of eggs and refuse. Although it is coiled and the head out of view in the shadows, it is clear that this is a monster, possibly up to 10 metres in length and 1.5 meters thick.

The monster snake notices the party. It uncoils and starts moving towards the party. Although obscured by shadows, or perhaps some magics, there are moments when it appears to have a human head and torso and is carrying two wicked swords.

Suddenly the earth itself lurches and there is a deep rumbling sound. Small fragments and dust falls from the ceiling and Topeng is knocked off his feet. Tikkus leaps from Banyak's shoulder in a panic, scampers to one a large - human-diameter - sink-hole near the bubbling mud-pools and runs in!

Banyak leaps into the hole to follow her beloved Tikkus, with Macario soon following. The steadfast Wen, however stands with spear and sword, straight, steel and decorated with dragons, is at the ready.

With Bankyak, Macario and Babis following the member of the party with the best nose, Robert, Wen and Topeng remain on top facing the monstrous naga.

"You cannot stay", says Robert to Topeng. "Go!", and his gives Topeng a shove towards the hole.

"Just a second!" responds Topeng. And with that he reaches in his cloak and scatters some sand in front of the trio. An instant later, the "sand", bursts into flames, forcing the naga back which howls with anger.

"Now we go!" cries Topeng. "Wen, you cannot fight this! It is stronger than all of us! Run!"

Robert fires a shot in the general direction of the snake and follows Topeng down the sinkhole.

With the rest of the party gone, Wen snorts, but decides to follow, bringing up the rear.

The passage way is extremely narrow, just wide enough to crawl through with some efficiency. It is dark and the air is stale - extremely claustophobic.

The naga of course, attempts to follow by pulling its hood to its sides and slithering down the hole. However, it is confronted by the resourceful Wen who decided to crawl backwards down the sinkhole and with his spear at the ready.

In Wen's own language, the Naga speaks within his mind: "Who are you to take away my food and the source of my future power? Little monkey man, why don't you become food for my children?"

"I actually eat snakes myself, skewered and over at hot flame!" retorts Wen, and with that shoves his spear towards the naga, scoring (as best he can tell in the darkness) a direct hit in the head.

The snake thrashes wildly in the small passageway, breaking up and eventually (Wen believes) collapsing the tunnel.

After much panicked crawling, eventually Banyak sees light ahead. With a cry of optimism she urges the party onwards.

Eventually they exit the passageway onto a large flat and desolate rocky piece of land, with bubbling pools of hot mud and steam surrounded, as much as one can see in the moonlight, on all sides by high ridges.

Perched on a rock in Tikkus, his nose quivering expectantly. When the rest of the party arrives, Macario lights a torch from dry wood and his flint and steel.

In front of them is the dead body of a Portuguese soldier, with insignia clearly marked in his rotting uniform. Sections of his flesh have been carved off to feed a large chick with downy grey feathers in a bamboo cage.

It looks like this is the Garuda.

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