Adam woke up. His muscles immediately seized in pain, and he curled up, groaning piteously. His mouth tasted sour, his hands itched, and his head throbbed. He took deep breaths in an attempt to calm himself, but inhaled a mixture of bracken, wriggling insects and blood. Adam spluttered and coughed, doubling over in pain once more. He curled his hands into the dirt, trying to stead himself enough to sit up. Noise hit him suddenly, the calls of screeching birds and squeaking beetles filling his head. The air was humid and warm, like a men's locker room on a particularly sweaty day.
A few minutes passed. Adam tried to push himself into a sitting position. Bile rushed to his already burning throat, and he vomited up something black. He choked again, his head still thumping, and too horrified to properly take in his surroundings. He curled up over his bent knees, breathing heavily with his head against the dirt. The world felt green, in a greasy way; he could hear water moving close by, and so he stood, and stumbled through the underbrush towards the sound. There was a brook, dark and clear, moving through the stones at a lazy pace. Adam slipped into the stream, and let the slightly warm water run over his bloody, aching body. Willing his head to stop throbbing, he dropped under the water for a few minutes, trying to clear out his mind.
He emerged from the water, his mind only slightly clearer. He could hear better, somewhat, and was stunned to hear someone crying. He felt his way along the bank of the stream towards the noise, which seemed fairly close by. Hazily, he saw a woman crouched over the water, crying, her head in her hands. "Ibola?" Adam barely managed to croak. The woman's jerked up, her eyes suddenly sharp, and she stood quickly. There was no sign that she had been crying. She jogged over to Adam, catching him as he slid sideways.
"Adam," she said, in impeccable French, "Whatever happened to you?"
"It's a long story," he slurred in a reply, his own French broken, and his voice taking on pitches of hysteria. Ibola hauled him to his feet, and led him to a clearing where they could sit down. She methodically looked over his wounds, and as though it were automatic, began to bind them.
Adam was a tall man, and gangly, with untamed dark hair and an un-groomed beard. He looked sallow and starved, and was covered in scars and breaks in his skin. His eyes were sunken, sad, hungry and tired. Ibola was short, and serious looking, her hair tied behind a strip of colourful cloth. Her hands were bloody even before she touched Adam's wounds, though she didn't look too injured aside from a few bruises. Adam noticed the blood, but crushed down any comments that could have been made, instead choosing to close his eyes once again.
Ibola and Adam had come to the forest with two others; Don and Simone. They were looking for children that had gone missing from a village-- taken by an unregistered "Human Rights Group" called Dande. The jungle had opened up its secrets, and showed them a massive, unholy pyramid. They were practically invited inside, and then...
Ibola spoke gently, as she cleaned one of the cuts on his arm, "We were in the temple, the pyramid, and you and Simone went off. After we got through the jungle? Do you remember? What happened when we were separated?"
"She thought she saw her father-- Simone thought-- and I tried to stop her--"
"That's wrong," Ibola said, firmly, "She ran after you."
"She did?" Adam frowned, his voice still hoarse, "I suppose she did. I thought that-- well, I suppose it doesn't matter now," he said, growing more agitated, "We ended up in a room, and the door closed in between us. I was in there a long time, but I don't know how long. There were worms, I think, in the walls. They stuck in my skin, whatever I touched, and I had to pull away, but they came out of the floor as well, but it didn't-- what day is it?"
"I don't know. We saw the jungle inside the temple on the ninth of September. You remember that, yes?"
"Yeah, and we must have spent days looking for an exit when we lost the signal. But the jungle-- it was made up of black vines, right? And it was bigger than the temple was?" Adam looked at Ibola, awaiting her acknowledgement of his memory. "Did you find your son?"
"Yes I did, he is dead. Don is dead as well," Ibola said, not meeting Adam's gaze and instead staring at her bloody hands, tearing at her dress to make a bandage, "Do you know what happened to Simone?"
"I..." Adam closed his eyes, wincing, "The forest ate people, I think-- they were like roots, and they drained people. I think-- I remember her screaming." They were quiet for a long time. "We didn't eat anything," Adam said, "We can't have been in there for more than a week or two..."
"No," Ibola said, "But before we went into the tunnels, neither of us spoke the same language. And now you speak French. You learned French in the temple, surely. Maybe time moved differently there, though." Silence fell again. Ibola tried to speak again, "I don't like it here, Adam. The forest breathes wrong, and it's full of old ghosts; not just superstitiously, and not just our own."
Adam didn't speak, but he agreed internally. There was something fundamentally wrong with the forest. The water almost felt like treacle under his fingers, and it had been warm to the touch. The roots of the trees around them popped out of the undergrowth, smooth and slick, and the air was thick and made his eardrums thud. Ibola did what she could to fix up his injuries with their limited supplies. They sat in silence for a while, in the damp darkness of the forest, waiting for something to move, for a tree to disappear before their eyes. Adam slumped onto Ibola's shoulder, "Where should we go next, then?" he said, faintly.
"We will sleep here for the night," she said, authoritatively, (though she was uncomfortable with the idea. She thought for a time, and then pointed along the riverbank arbitrarily, "Then we will go that way." Adam didn't respond; he was asleep. Ibola didn't close her eyes, but watched the trees, flinching at every movement, hating the forest, and waiting for the next attack.