1998-05-14: Headless, But Not Defenseless
I think I'll never forget the first time mine path did cross that of a headless. I honestly thought some poor man had been decapitated and just didn't have the sense to lay down and die. Then I realized that it was heading directly for me. Laughing fearlessly, I simply stepped out of its path. How could a creature with no head perceive my movements? Yet... it did. Bold laughter quickly became nervous as it immediately amended it's path and slammed right into me. Panic, without laughter, set in as I suddenly realized I was in a struggle for mine life. The absence of a head by no means halted its ability to quell panicked thrashing. Its arms were gnarled and fleshy, and not lacking in power. Almost more effective than its physical strength was the stench that overwhelmed me. Its stale musk struck me a wicked blow that was even more difficult to avoid than its flailing fists.
As it happens, I had merely been out for a jaunty stroll and had never intended to venture so far from the comforts, and safety, of civilization. Thus I found mineself without a weapon. Of any sort. The only item I had brought along was a bottle of fine Yew wine. The thought had actually crossed mine head to strike the beast with the bottle, but twas a fleeting thought at best. To waste such a wonderful vintage in that manner... I would never have forgiven mineself. I frantically sought a means to extract mineself from the dragon maw like grip of the headless. Very well, perhaps it had not been quite that strong a hold. But it might hath well have been for all the success I was having.
At this point I heard a commotion in the forest. A rustling in the underbrush that sounded as if it was coming in mine direction. I made a promise to every possible virtue never to slip in upholding them if it was a possible rescue heading mine way. I even made promises to a couple virtues that do not exist just in case it would help. As I turned mine eyes to the opening forest, out stepped another headless. Remember that up to this I had not encountered one ever before, and also that mine learning had not exactly taken a path that included the denizens of our realm. So seeing and being attacked by one headless was disturbing, to say the least. But to actually realize that there were more of them... to realize that the first one wasn't some magical experiment gone badly wrong... to realize that there was more to the world than I had ever imagined... was too much to take at that moment. And thus I fainted straight away.
I later learned that this was probably a very unwise move as many more of the unusual creatures came flowing out of the forest toward me. Actually “flowing” is a very inaccurate way of describing their movement. I should say... ah... dissonant... haltingly askew... clumsy... yet with a disquieting symmetry.
I do not know how many headless were standing around me when I awoke. I do know that they were ignoring me and seemed to be arguing over mine possessions. Or arguing over something. I had definitely been relieved of mine backpack. It was too dark to see exactly what was happening, especially while lying prone on the ground. But the noise they were making suggested that some struggle was occurring between them. And the stench was worse than a Yew pig ranch. Forgotten for the moment, I sprang up and headed off in the direction in which I thought Vesper might be.
After a terrifying flight through the woods, knowing that at any moment one of those foul beasts would grab me from behind and lock me in a noxious embrace, I finally emerged in Minoc. I went straight to the tavern and ordered a huge meal and as much ale as I could afford. I fixated on my provisions - eating and drinking my way to a normal heart-rate. At last approximating my usual self... and well into my last bottle of ale... I raised mineself up off the bench and headed outside. I slowly began the walk home to Vesper. Though mine breath caught with every strange sound I heard on the way home, the quick journey ended without event.
As I wandered over a bridge I heard the sound of celebration coming from the tavern. Curiosity getting the better of fatigue, I entered and found a large group of warriors well into a round of drinks. As I stepped into conversation with one of them, I discovered that they were celebrating a victory over a large horde of headless that had been hunting close to the city. Without a seconds hesitation, I knew right then that he was speaking of the same type of beasts I had encountered. “Headless.” I now had a name for them, even though it was a name I might have created on mine own to refer to them. We spoke a bit more, and he told me that he had always thought headless to be little more than stupid, savage monsters. But in a strange discovery, he found that they may actually have some sophistication after all. He had found on the body of a headless he killed a very good bottle of wine from Yew. Such a thing on a headless so far from Yew was no less than astounding, he told me.
We talked of this a bit longer. I was even mineself beginning to admit a grudging respect for a monster of possible refinement when an even more startling revelation struck me. The Yew wine he had retrieved from the headless must have been the one I had been carrying. The one in the pack the headless took. The struggle I witnessed had been this warrior, and probably others, fighting the headless. This warrior had likely saved mine life. Suddenly very embarrassed, and equally tired, I made a weak excuse and left the tavern.