Everything in the Jungle of Luud was alive, or shortly going to be. Everything was spines and teeth, even the plants, ESPECIALLY the plants, and travelers who knew what was good for them stuck to the roads laboriously hacked out over generations and lit large fires at night. Many travelers passed through Luud on their way between the Pearls of the Coast and the Inner Highlands, but all whispered of a sinister figure who roamed the Jungle of Luud as its most voracious gaping maw: the Motley Man.
Appearing as a hunched figure in bright, mismatched clothing scraps—the leavings of past victims, perhaps—the Motley Man would approach travelers and ask to join them. He would then recount rambling tales of magic and heroism that never seemed to quite make sense, as if they had been translated from another language by rough hands.
Mona set off from the Pearls in the middle of a storm. She sloshed up the roads and through the thoroughly unremarkable gate which marked the boundaries of Luud. She had, of course, heard the rumors about the Motley Man and it wasn’t that she didn’t believe them. She simply didn’t have time to worry about them. She was expected in the Highlands in three days and the quickest way there – barring vicious attack – was through Luud. And so it was that she came to the Jungle. The rain had passed on by that time, but the forest was still cloying, the air as near as she had ever found. It was not long before the Motley Man found her.
He looked absolutely nothing like the stories had said he would—no bat ears, no hooked nose, with a normal amount of fingers and toes on his spindly limbs. He had a gnarled staff with him that he leaned on, and for all intents and purposes could have been someone’s very short grandfather. The only legendary constant was his trademark patchwork cloak, which covered the squat trunk of his torso. His speech, however, was not quite steady.
“Somewhere going?” he asked, when he appeared before Mona.
“Yes,” Mona said. “To the Highlands, on business. Are you the Motley Man?”
“Mind if I join ya?” the Motley Man wheezed with a worn grin.
“…I suppose I don’t mind.” Mona relented.
“Tha’s wonderful! I was jes workin’ out another story to tell. Been workin’ on this un awhile.” The Motley Man sputtered as he laughed.
“Why don’t ya tell me?” Mona asked.
“Sure, sure, couldn’ think of a better person to tell if I tried.” He ran his tongue over his white mustache. “Ever hear the one bout the fool girl that caught got walkin’ with strangers? Got a hot bullet in the head, wound up in a cold ditch.”
“No,” Mona replied. How’s the whole thing go?”
“Fool of a girl got walkin’ ‘long with a stranger one day. Got a hot bullet in the head, that’s right between the eyes dear-y, and wound up in a cold ditch.” He paused in his story to spit into a nearby bush. “Dead as an old oak and living without her clothes for some time there under. Naked as all get out that is, would have froze to death without the bullet I s’ppose.”
“How’d she end up like that?” Mona asked, picking her way along the path.
“You’ll find out shortly then dear-y.”