The night passed uneventfully and I slept really well, far better than I could ever have anticipated. I awoke in the morning to the smell of freshly cooked bacon wafting into the tent. I turned to stir Al but she was already up and gone. I quickly dressed and emerged into the bright morning sunlight to find my three companions around the campfire with breakfast well under way. They were laughing and joking. I was really pleased to see how well they were getting on.
With excitement fuelling us, breakfast was soon a distant memory. We cleared everything away and broke camp, making sure our fire was well and truly out. We didn't want to start the first forest fire on Tikarra Island.
Rutter and Al led the way following a trail, too narrow to have been made by people that led from the beach through the woods. The trees reached high into the sky. They were verdant and green, and heavily peppered with big, brightly coloured blooms that sprang from the trunks of trees, running their entire length. Whether they belonged to the trees or were parasitic like mistletoe, I couldn't say. Many reminded me of bromeliads with petals like leaves that were brightly coloured in the middle with reds, pinks and oranges but blended into blue or green outer leaves. The same tuneless birds twittered in the trees like a chorus of six year olds with cheap recorders, and some rather annoying insects buzzed around our ears. All in all, though, it was quite tranquil. Certainly no evidence of monsters.
The terrain was hard and the undergrowth thick, so we continued to follow the narrow path upwards. As we climbed the air grew close. We had plenty of water and Rutter, an experienced outdoorsman, had lots of equipment to log our progress and detect fresh water, so we were in good spirits. To pass the time, we bantered and were speculating about all the things that could have happened to the explorers. So far, we had the obvious monsters (both sea, land and avian), a plague, starvation, alien abduction, a colony of Dirrians secretly living on the island having fallen in love with the local Amazonian tribeswomen, zombies that came and ate their brains in the middle of the night, cannibals (they'd gone mad through lack of food, killed and eaten each other) and drowning.
"Let's be honest, guys," I said. "I doubt there's anything really dangerous here at all!"
"Twenty two people disappeared here!" argued Al. "People don't just vanish! They get … eaten by monsters … or vampires!" she added excitedly. "We've not considered vampires!"
"Or werewolves," chipped in Traeth, giggling.
"Or something else entirely could have happened to them," interjected Rutter very calmly. "In fact, I'd go for the something else option."
He had stopped walking.
"What sort of something else?" I asked without really looking.
"The sort of something else that chops your head off and shoves it on a stick in the ground."
We caught up with Rutter and looked ahead. There, five tall spikes had been driven into the ground. Atop each one was a Dirrian skull.