The Jackal and the Tickbalang
Gift sat with the boat. The boat had been laid upside-down on the ground, so they sat on the boat, to be more exact. Sigh. This was the getaway vehicle, so they needed to keep it safe, but they picked the boring job.
Snow covered the ground. It wasn't too cold, but it was wet and clumpy—another reason to be on the boat. The garden around them was dormant. Winter. Another sigh. Gift tried to imagine it in the Spring, but that only lasted a few seconds.
There were two guard towers in the garden. The boat was in the middle between the towers. Behind the boat, a long staircase went up to the castle. The others had said they neutralized the guard towers and to wait here. Mmm. Since it was quiet and safe, it wouldn't hurt to take a look.
Gift went through their checklist. Yeah, no one had said to stay out of the towers. Gift's feet padded softly on the snow. The wooden door was more of a swinging gate. Maybe these were more like barns than guard towers.
Five steps into the barn, Gift came face-to-face with a ten-foot-tall Jackal bending down to growl at them. Its body shimmered in the light from the sky and reflected light from the snow. The roof must have fallen in long ago.
"I am hungry. Get me food." The Jackal commanded. The spiked fur on its back bristled. Its lips curled up over sharp teeth.
"Hi Hungary, I'm Gift."
"No, I am the Jackal. Get me food." It stood up, proclaimed its command, then pointed to empty baskets on the ground.
"You do look like a Jackal." Gift replied with concern. "Why don't you get food?"
"I can not leave this place. I am a guardian."
Gift felt confused. "Are you a guard or a prisoner?"
The Jackal huffed and returned to a dais in the middle of the barn. "I am The Jackal. I am not a prisoner. That unhinged Tickbalang is a prisoner."
"Oh, in the other barn? I'll go check."
Before the Jackal could protest or get food, Gift bounded out the door. This was interesting. Two prisoners. Was it a dilemma? Maybe they needed to be released.
In the second barn, a horse stood on two legs. It looked like a man but had the head and legs of a horse. This was interesting. The creature glared down at Gift. Its eyes gave off magical energy.
Gift looked away. "I've seen that trick before. You will have to do better."
The Tickbalang gave off a high pitch squeal. It was a piercing sound.
"Ouch!" Gift complained. "Where is your hospitality?"
"You must answer my riddle to enter the castle."
Gift replied, "I'm not going into the castle. The Jackal says you are unhinged. Is that true?"
"I do not answer questions. The Jackal is a mindless, glutenous peon." The tall Tickbalang leaned over Gift.
"So you can't leave, and you can't answer questions? Maybe I can help." Gift hurried around the barn's perimeter without looking up at the Tickbalang.
The glyph on the back wall seemed like an obvious enough source. "Why hadn't the others found this? They miss all the good stuff." Gift took out a tool and began to scrape at the magical image.
"What are you doing?" The Tickbalang whinnied.
The glyph was stubborn, but that made Gift more determined. They reached into their pack. It had only been a few weeks or maybe a few months. Time was confusing. No, they were sure it was still in there. Snacks on top, trinkets next, then books with plant samples on the bottom. Yes! Reading was hard, but the Herbalist Primer had pictures. Page 63, black hellebore.
Gift had saved some of the flowers after dealing with that demon, Acgozluk. Pressed between pages 62 and 63 were three Black Hellebore flowers. They took one and chewed on it. "Yuck!" A few more bites. They spat it into their hand and rubbed it on the glyph. On the page, the words under black hellebore said: 'helps in summoning and banishing.' The mixture worked better than a scouring pad on a burnt pan.
With a pop, the Tickbalang vanished. Several loud thuds and crashes came from the castle. Gift paused for a moment. "Uh oh."
They hurried out to the boat. No one came out. A few minutes passed before Gift had the urge to do the same thing in The Jackal's barn.
More thuds. "Hmm, the others had said the guardians controlled the doors." For a moment, Gift worried. But the others always got out of tight spots, so Gift shrugged. "It will be fine." With all that work done, Gift returned to the top of the boat and took a nap.
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Very cool! Neat to encounter a tikbalang in the snow where I'm not expecting one!
The Seven Celestial Gluttons have been consuming my attention lately! Meet the star-eating crab Tambanokano, the Can Opener's master from my adventure, Massacre on the Moonleaf Express. I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Thanks! Yeah, I thought a summoning could work. I had read something about taking a spike or lock of hair could influence them. That might be how it got there.
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