We have been awfully busy for so long that I nearly forgot about how much walking we did last year. The truth is, we're not living in absolute luxury or growing fat on our profits, but we've been fairly comfortable, so I can't complain. Fumidai is not exactly the major city we were used to living in Minkai, but it's a very decent start.
Still, as weeks go by, I am positive we will soon return to expedition. We're pretty clear on what lies on the northern half of the Greenbelt, most of the terrain there has been explored. But our present charter also grants us power over the southernmost half, and that is very much a mystery to us. We didn't venture past Tuskwater or Fort Ameno, and the time was approaching in which legwork would be necessary once more.
My day began with me sitting in Council at Town Hall, and hearing about all the news. The four of us usually walk in about an hour earlier, to discuss matters best kept between us, like the information Nagata gains from his dead-drop. After all, nobody needs to know where he gets his insight from – Oleg knows, and as far as Monkey is concerned, that is one person too many.
When last Oleg went to Brevoy, I asked Monkey to enquire about our neighbors. I mean, we're doing pretty well for ourselves, but I was somewhat curious on how the other three groups fared on the course of this past year. Today, Monkey had some news for us concerning that. To the Northwest we have the Twelve Monkeys, and no news from there, which in fact bums me out a little. I haven't forgotten about that Jack Knife fellow, and I would like to keep an eye out for his activities. I can't really explain why he got stuck in my mind, but from the moment I first saw him (sidenote: and the ungodly amount of blades he carries on his person), I knew he was no good.
To the South sit the Militant 25, and the word around is that some serious losses have been had. For lunch. By trolls. Which, in fact, does not sit very well with me either. By all accounts they were a serious military force with formal training and a combat-experienced leader. They're to the South, so that means that these trolls we are hearing about may well be squatting in our territory as well. I wouldn't like this to become our problem eventually.
Finally, the UAG travelled East, and from what we've heard they've had both alliances and brawls with a tribe of centaurs. Then I had to ask Nagata what a centaur was. According to his description and Oksana's contributions, it should be quite the impressive creature: a horse and its rider, fused into one massive, mighty creature. It got me puzzled for a bit, actually: what do they eat? Obviously a human-like stomach would not be ready to accomodate the kind and amount of food necessary to keep a horse… and some of the things humans eat would be most unfit to feed it. Where IS a centaur's stomach anyway, on the human part or the horse part? And how many of them do they have? When a lady centaur becomes pregnant, does her human belly swell, or does the horse belly? It's all very baffling to me. I'll be going to the library with my questions sooner or later.
My musings on the nature and anatomical paradoxes of centaurs would have to wait for another time, as people began coming in the Council Room to start our meeting. According to every report, Fumidai remains stable and prosperous. We've spent a year working on infrastructure, Takeshi said, so now it's time to look at expansion and further claiming of resources. I hold some doubts on wether we should move right away to expand, or ensure our road network reaches Oleg's Trading Post first. Takeshi hopes to do so in three months tops, but it is our link to the nearest settlement, and our connection to the road to Restov, so (and I told him as much) it was a dire priority.
We went to Restov only once during the previous year – it's a rather long journey and we had to rush all the time to get everything done. Namely, shopping. The addition of magical items to our gear is much welcome. I especially like the handy haversack I ordered while I was there, and which was delivered a few days later. Unlike the bag of holding, one does not need to rummage through the contents to find what one wants: it mystically comes to the top of the bag whenever I open it. It'll come in really handy if I'm going to be using wands more often.
(sidenote: I've read through my journal and everything I've learned on the past months, concerning accompanying my brothers and Oksana in adventures, and I believe I want to be friends with wands. My magic is limited, and sometimes I need a little boost. Using them is still tricky, but as with learning to play a string instrument, it all boils down to how much time is invested on practice)
On this Council meeting we laid the necessary documents to build the First Fumidai Bank – it's a necessity at this point. We had the regent visit us two months ago, and commerce went through the collective town roof. Takeshi spoke at length about the need to raise an army and the possibility of starting a waterfront. Nagata, on the other hand, wants to claim the former mite tunnels as his own personal lair – a fact that he's shared with us, but did not publicly discussed in Council. Again, no use having a secret lair if everybody knows where it is (duh).
We've also signed an edict to declare the birthday of our town as a holiday, the first recognized by our kingdom.
As for the news, while the proud tradition of looking over wanted posters may be lost, we are still hearing about what our people want done. Namely, Svetlana now brings the posters to us, as our Councillor and keeper of records. According to her, the Lord Mayor of Fumidai is offering a reward to whoever claims the head of a forest drake that's been sighted somewhere in the Southern Gnarled Marshes. (sidenote: there was some confusion at this part for a few minutes, as we began enquiring who was this man calling himself the Mayor of Fumidai. Oleg then explained to us that as he isn't always in Fumidai, he delegated its small management to a Mayor, so Takeshi might want to go meet his new manager soon – although if Oleg picked him out, we're pretty sure everything's on the up and up) We also have the town herbalist asking for a shambling mound's sap and the local alchemist calling for troll blood.
Takeshi glanced at me while saying that we knew what this meant – it was time to venture out again. In fact, he wants to travel to Tiressia's grove, as we still have unfinished business with the Lady of the Woods, and her request for aid concerning a monster tree. As we head there, we will have a chance of exploring some of the yet unseen territory as well. I know why he glanced at me, because I felt the dismay coming to my face when he said we'd go on foot.
(sidenote: the truth is, I tried to get used to riding a horse. I swear on Shizuru's golden visage I tried. Nagata even tried to help me, holding the reins while I very poorly attempted to get myself atop the saddle, walking the horse with me on top of it, even strapping me to the saddle. Naturally these attempts were held in the courtyard behind Town Hall, well away from rumour-spreading mouths, because I have my dignity. But horses dislike me, and I honestly am not overly fond of them. While I cannot help agree they're magnificent beasts, they're also very large and scary and could stomp me to itsy bitsy pieces if they were so inclined. I've seen some of the local farm women ride horses like men do, with one leg on each side of the saddle as if they were born atop it. In Restov, noble-born women very gracefully jaunt on special saddles that allow them to sit with both legs on one side and keep their dresses neat. In Fumidai, Ameno Uzume tried both styles and wished she had more hands with which to hold on to the mount, let alone command it!! I'm having a rickshaw built…)
Ah, but this time, I am not making the same mistakes I did a year ago. I went to the garrison and asked the taskmaster there for a pair of boots, the smallest size he has. I also went to the local herbalist to get some salve – my feet were almost back to their regular selves now, and I'm about to torture them once more. I'm taking a fancier kimono with me (sidenote: the poor seamstresses of Fumidai had to spend a week studying my old one before they could produce anything that resembled it), but I'm wearing the old silken ceremonial – Takeshi blessed it a while ago to make it even better, and it's the go-to wear for traveling about. We had a very delicious meal the day before we departed, since we'll be getting familiar with the thrice-damned trail rations once more. And come dawn on the next day, we were walking out the town gates once again, for the first expedition of the year.
Weather is still good – Summer's at its end but not quite gone yet. After my first Winter in the Greenbelt, I learned to enjoy the good weather. (sidenote: I used to think Minkai was very cold in the Winter. I was very, very, very, very, very, very wrong…) We began by making towards Tiressia's grove, and from the hillside area of Fumidai we travelled through light forest grounds.
Right on the first day, just a few hours out of town, trouble was to find us.
We were simply walking through yet unexplored territory, and I was getting used to the idea that we'd be traveling on foot again for quite a while. That's when we began hearing someone shouting in the distance. Now I couldn't tell exactly what was being said because of distance and the breeze, but judging by the harsh sounds and cadence, I was quite sure it must be cursing. Detouring from where we were, we spotted what looked like a gnome caravan in distress. Apparently they had been attempting to cross Skunk River and managed to pull two of their wagons to the margin, yet one of them must have gotten stuck midway across, got caught in the current and was about to be dragged away, ponies and all! Several gnomes stood at the margin, yelling and biting their nails, and the wagon driver was doing his best to keep the animals calm and save the vehicle. But regardless of his efforts, the Skunk pulled on.
We bolted to the rescue, of course! I began a tune to inspire Nagata's actions. I'd likely be of little or no use in the water (I can barely keep myself afloat let alone save someone from drowning!), but athletic Monkey was another story. He pulled out a length of rope and threw one end of it to Takeshi (who is, without a doubt, the strongest of us), tied the other end around his waist, and lept right in. He fought the current and swam to the caravan, and began to release the two ponies from their straps. I changed my tune then, to fascinate one of the beasts and lead it out of the water. My music managed to lure one of the ponies out of the soup, but not the other: it was far too panicked and almost kicked at Nagata while he tried to release it. It would pay me no mind; Oksana saved it by levitating it out of the water just enough that it could paddle to safety without the current dragging it away.
While we tried to save the ponies (sidenote: because gnomes are smaller, I am told, they usually have ponies instead of horses, or even riding dogs, which are closer to their size. I can get behind that. If these were actual horses, I don't know that I'd be able to hold one by the reins and hope it wouldn't drag me off! I'll consider telling Takeshi about this, and see if my riding attempts will be more successful with a smaller mount…), Nagata was off to work on the caravan. With Bear keeping a firm grip on his lifeline, Monkey managed to use a second length of rope and tie it around the caravan's axle. He swam back to the margin and we all began to pull on it, trying to budge it from the muddy bottom of the Skunk. The thing wouldn't move. At least not in the direction we wanted to move it – the Skunk was still pulling. Takeshi yelled at the gnomes to come help, and all together we finally managed to slowly drag it to the margin.
The gnomes were ecstatic (sidenote: most of them – one or two were chasing after the second pony. When the creature found itself out of the water, it began shaking itself and evading its owner as if vexed to be put through this situation) and yelled out a hurray. One of them (as I recall, the one who had been fiercely cursing) walked right up to Takeshi and asked to shake his hand. He had one black eye and a split lip, and introduced himself as Jubilost Narthropple, leader of the expedition. He spoke quite quickly, but as my command of the language has improved over the past year, I was able to understand him pretty well. Takeshi introduced himself as the Lord of these lands, me as Grand Diplomat, Oksana as our Magister, and Nagata as… well… Takeshi introduced him as "master of information", which I suppose sounds a little bit less shady than "Royal Spymaster".
When Takeshi introduced Nagata, however, all the color returned to Jubilost's battered face, a twinkle came by his eye, and he said it was very good we met then, because he was in DIRE need of some information. According to him, this expedition is looking to find an ancient dwarven outpost somewhere in the Gnarled Marshes. They're explorers, just like us. Of course, sooner or later we had to address the water buffallo in the room, and ask what happened to his face. According to him, the expedition had a nasty meeting with some kobolds shortly ago (sidenote: I'm hoping it wasn't our friends at Scottsdale, that would be pretty awkward…) and could use some help finding their way around.
Takeshi offered them a stay at the Flowing Silver in Fumidai, at least until they can see to their injuries and rest from the scare they got here. Takeshi also said we are explorers as well, and we'd help them discover that dwarven outpost as soon as we take care of some business of our own. Jubilost accepted: every gnome in his entourage seemed to have his nerves frayed by the accident here, and they look like they could use the rest. So we gave him a letter of recommendation for the inn, and pointed them in the general direction of Fumidai.
Hope they can get there without running into more problems…
As for us, we kept on heading for Tiressia's grove. For me, it's always a delight to see the Lady of the Woods. She is so beautiful and wise… you spent an entire childhood listening to stories about the "little people" and the spirits of forests, and then you finally meet some and they're everything you ever imagined they would be. No matter how long, I'd take the journey in stride for an opportunity to speak to her. I should have known, however, that after so long living in the budding Fumidai, the wilderness would take the chance to remind us of how unforgiving it can truly be.
First, there was a baghest. Two nights after we met the Narthropple expedition, I was roused from sleep by Nagata's yelling, and opened my eyes to see him being bitten by what looked like the cross between a wolf and a large, wingless bat! We scrambled up to go to his aid, but it wasn't easy. A barghest can play on your emotions, and I began to feel increasingly sad and demotivated as I looked at it. It took me a lot of willpower to keep on playing. Takeshi saved the night, however. He seemed completely unfazed by the creature's influence. He simply charged in naginata in hand, and dropped its full weight on the creature, nearly chopping it in half. Nagata was fine, and it took me and Oksana a while to get out of the doldrums, but we managed to make it through the night.
Then, two days after that, while we were crossing some light woodland, we heard yipping barks somewhere close. Oksana halted us before we moved towards them, and informed us that it was no dog we were hearing, but a thylacine. According to her, they are a sort of half-dog half-rat beast, very vicious. We carefully followed the yips towards a small clearing. There was a hole in the middle of it, like the remains of a pitfall. Takeshi, Oksana and I carefully approached the hole, while Nagata went up a tree to get a bird's eye view. As we were getting close to get a good look of the creature, though, the ground gave out from beneath our feet, sliding away into the pitfall! I managed to jump back, but Takeshi, weighed heavily by his armor, didn't, and went right in with the creature!
Things got a little… let us say hectic. Takeshi was trying to get back inside the hole to kill the trapped thylacine, Nagata who was rushing to the rescue landed face-first inside, Oksana tried to put the creature to sleep without much result, and I was going between panicked and trying to help my brothers, and trying not to facepalm at the fumbling results we were having. Eventually, and with the thylacine dealt with, we managed to pull the two Ameno boys out of the hole, and continue on our way.
Talking about the discovery later on, at camp, we reached the conclusion that the trap must have been meant for Tuskgutter, the monster boar we defeated last year. We're not far from where we found it, and from Nagata's analisys, the pitfall was probably dug months ago. On our way through those woods we found some more evidence of hunters and trappers, in the form of bear traps and other such devices. We dismantled those we found. After all, they were very old, and likely more dangerous to wayward travellers than the fauna.
Adding insult to injury, on that very night and before we could set up camp, we were surprised by a hungry pack of wolves. We've dealt with them enough to be able to take care of it, however. Takeshi is quite adept at his art, and seeing him at it is something else. He takes form, prepares, and waits for the enemy's approach, so he can pick them off before they reach him. When he manages to do it perfectly, he can take on four foes without blinking an eye. Nagata, too, has kept his skills well-honed. He is, hands down, the swiftest and most agile of us, and he's been practicing tumbling past opponents to get them from the back. He nearly has it down to perfection.
A few days later, much like we bumped into the Narthropple expedition, we found ourselves caught up in another complicated situation. It came about as we left the light woodland we'd been crossing and began entering deeper, thicker woods. I remember that Takeshi had made an observation about how this would likely be a good place for lumbering. And, true enough, we spotted several carts for carrying logs up ahead, by the edge of a lovely pond filled with white and pink lillies. Also true enough, we could hear loud swearing coming from their area. And this time I could tell every single sailor-blush-inducing word.
As we approached, we came upon a confusing scene. Two lumberjacks were apparently standing guard at the pond, while the rest waited, axe in hand, well away from it. All but one: a large man who stood in front of the other two, but seemed to be yelling at the pond itself, claiming he was going to hang someone by the feet and put them out to dry. At first I couldn't understand who he was yelling at, but as I approached, I noticed there was, indeed, someone else here. Someone submerged to the nose in the pond waters, staring defiantly at the swearing lumberjack with clear blue eyes.
Before the man would pop a vein out of rage, Takeshi decided to approach and defuse the situation. He addressed the lumberjack first, who told us his name was Corax, and that chopping down wood was his business. He and his men came by this area for some fine pieces of oak, but as they managed to take down the first few trees, the nixie that lives in the pond hypnotized two of them and threatened to do worse before she let them disturb any more of the flora. So Takeshi turned then to the pond, where the nixie had poked her head out of the water to reply that she would, too. I could get a better look at her face then. Nixies are a kind of water fey that look like very small young women. This one was fair of skin, with hair ranging between a nearly white blonde and lilly-pink, with shells and strips of algae gracing the strands, and those clear blue, determined eyes that left no doubt that she would do well by her threats. Takeshi greeted her amiably and walked into the pond up to his knees to speak to her. He told of how we had already taken the issue of needing lumber for construction to Lady Tiressia, and of how she had given us permission to do so in a given territory. He promised to lead the lumberjacks there so they could do their business, leaving the trees around her home alone.
The nixie introduced herself as Melisande, and said that if the Lady of the Woods has no qualms with our lumbering in a given territory, she will abide by that decision. This place is holy ground for fey, however, and the lumberjacks have taken down five of the trees around here. She demanded that those trees be replanted as means of making amends before letting the hypnotized men go.
Takeshi heard her grievance and returned to the edge of the pond to speak with Corax again. All in all, he seemed to be playing diplomat quite well, so we stood by and let him continue. It's good practice for when he has to do it from the seat of a throne.
He offered Corax a deal then – to lumber for Fumidai. Namely, to chop down trees in a specific territory and clear the path around this area to eventually have a road built. They'll have steady work, and as long as they keep to the places determined by the Lady of the Woods, the fey will not bother them. However, before any of that happened, we needed to replace the fallen trees. The lumberjacks, of course, know plenty on how to chop wood, but very little about planting trees. Instead, Melisande told us that we could make a tree grow almost instantly by virtue of a magical item called a treefeather token. The Lady Tiressia should have some.
We asked the lumberjacks to wait – we were headed to consult with Lady Tiressia, and we'll be back to pull them out of this situation.
Now with a plan to solve this matter, we rushed towards the grove. It was lucky we came by when we did. I understand interactions between people and fey are not always smooth, and this could have turned sour for both ends – we're trying to build a kingdom here, and aggravating the natives is something we don't want to do, both individually and as a species. I was a little jealous of how well Takeshi handled that, and told him as much: he did really good and gained himself some time, some contractors for lumbering, and possibly a good impression with the nixie. As Grand Diplomat of Fumidai, I'm taking notes!
(sidenote: besides, I want to keep in good talking agreements with the fey. So far, every fey I've met is delightful in its own way, and inspiring!)
Unfortunately, it was only on the following day that we managed to reach the grove, but Lady Tiressia was already waiting for us. In fact, she knows the nixie Melisande, and through her own ways, knew we had met her and were on our way here. She reluctantly parted with five treefeather tokens, as they are precious and rare, but told us she understood they were necessary to pacify the nixie.
The next topic in this meeting was… somewhat less plesant. It concerned our find of a dead unicorn last year. I felt depressed to hear about it once more. To this day, it remains the saddest thing I've ever witnessed. Tiressia knows a little more now, or she believes she knows. She is sure, for one, that a fey killed the unicorn. She doesn't know which or what kind, but she's positive it was feyfolk. Some within the First World are getting restless. Perhaps Melisande will be able to tell us more once we've deal with her issue, Tiressia told us. Melisande knows all that happens in the Greenbelt wherever water can be found. Monkey beamed at this, and said he might take up talking to her sometime.
(sidenote: that would be the sight indeed. Monkey's a great swimmer and he proved as much not many days ago. But I somehow can't wrap my head around the sight of him paddling along a creature born in and of the waters, and trying to get her to reveal to him what she knows about the Greenbelt. Monkey is certainly not going to become Koi…)
As for the other issue that brings us here – the scythe tree Tiressia told us about last year. It's advancing quickly and nearing Tiressia's grove. She asked if we might be bothered to deal with it now. Time and trial have made us stronger and she is sure we can tackle it. We promised it would be a priority for us, just as soon as we solve Melisande's issue. We departed once again, with the trees opening to lead us through, promising to return with good news.
The following day we returned to find everything, fortunately, as we left it. The lumberjacks were still camped at the edge of the pond, with two of them serving as paralyzed guards. Melisande swam about the middle, keeping an eye on the rest. Corax was pacing about as we approached, but seemed happy to see us, and we addressed the nixie once again to let her know we'd been successful in acquiring the tokens. I placed one down on the ground as per her instructions, and doused it with water from the pond. And all of a sudden, it burrowed into the soft soil, came back out as a sapling, grew in girth and length, and became an ACTUAL oaktree, all within a few moments, leaves and all! My jaw dropped, then formed into a smile, and my brothers silently handed me the rest of them. While they spoke to Corax to figure our the details of their relocation, I was running around in a more joyous and giddy manner than I'd like to admit to myself, choosing places to set down tokens, douse them and watching them pop into beautiful, adult trees! It was amazing!
With the five trees replaced, Melisande did good by her word: she released the lumberjacks from the spell, and promised she would be an ally to us.
Now it was time we did good by our word: we pointed our steps further South, to find and end that scythe tree.
It came to me during our trip that we don't even know what we're looking for. Sure, I am expecting some kind of animated tree or something to that effect, but it dawned on me this morning that I wouldn't know the thing from any other tree if I was to see it. I mean, the area we're exploring is full of trees, most of them large and thick, and short of one of them poking us in the forehead, we can't tell if they're animated or not.
I brought this concern to Oksana during our second day of looking, and she said she did know, more or less, what a scythe tree might look like. She described a large tree, walking about on its roots as if they were feet, and using its thickest branches as arms. It gave me the creeps just hearing her description. But when I asked how we could tell a scythe tree from the rest if it didn't move, she looked at me blankly, and replied that she supposed we would not be able to. Which leads me back to square one, as locals say. Unless the thing moves, we might as well just have gone by it. I said to Takeshi and Monkey that we should grab some tall grass and tickle the trees as we go, and if we hear a giggle we attack. My brothers just looked at me funny, and I'm pretty sure Monkey said something about me being out of my mind under his breath. But it was a legitimate method!
On the following day we were still searching – I was looking at every tree as if it might just come at me. We took a slight deviation off the trail we were following to enter a small clearing, and that's when my worst fears came true: a tree branch bent down to swipe at Takeshi's head of its own volition! Caught offguard, Takeshi took a very nasty blow, but warrior that he is, he recomposed himself quickly, and repaid the kindness by swinging the naginata deep into the offending tree's trunk.
The whole tree sort of… shrugged then, like it was stretching stiff limbs, pulled its roots out of the ground, and flexed its branches into life. And, frightningly enough, it was just as Oksana had described it: an actual tree, moving like a real creature and coming towards us. Oksana conjured up a dark cloud over the tree, that boomed with thunder before dropping lightning over on the enemy. By then, Nagata was gone – he had vanished into the woods, likely trying to go around the tree to strike at its back. I saw him again for a moment as one branch whipped him away, and another reached down to grab Takeshi. Throughout all of this mess, I kept on playing, cursing myself over and over that I was not able to help some more. I could see Nagata trying to get close again from behind the trunk, and getting whipped once more. He pressed on, however, driving his wakizashi through the thick bark once and again. Takeshi, evading the grasp of the branches, drove his naginata to pierce the same spot he had attacked before, making it through the bark. The creature began bleeding sap. When it toppled over, Takeshi drove the naginata deeper still, to ensure it was dead. And once it fell, it became just like any uprooted tree should look.
We had to sit for a moment and lick our wounds. The battle was swift, but not easy. From here, we would take another route to Tiressia's grove, to see what of this territory remained to be seen. Takeshi wants to make sure there's nothing else lurking about here before we move on.
Yet lo and behold, once again the trees parted and moved aside to make our journey back swift. It doesn't surprise me that the Lady of the Woods would know of the scythe tree's demise as she knew of its approach. What I did not expect was to find her in joyful tears by the time we returned to the grove. This was a truly worrisome threat to her, and we dealt with it as promised, and she was ever so grateful. We received from her several gifts in the form of scrolls, magic potions and a wand I ended up keeping. Lady Tiressia told me I might want to look into wands as a form of complementing my arcane talents (sidenote: great minds do think alike!) And for now, and the future, we count both Lady Tiressia and the nixie Melisande as our allies and informants in the Greenbelt.
Things are different now, compared to last year at this very time of year. Our goal before was to see and pacify as much ground as we could. This meant long expeditions through mostly uncharted terrain, carefully managing our load and taking into account our resources. (sidenote: and so many trail rations I grew very much to consider them my nemesis) These days, we have one more issue to account for when we go out: that each time we go into the wilderness we need to return to Fumidai in time to have our issues sorted out and attend the monthly Council. It's harder work than it sounds like, as most everything is.
Takeshi has it the worst, I believe; he has to see petitioners, solve disputes, look over countless documents detailing our economy, our productivity and our stability, and solve pending issues and requests. Takeshi's proven he has a knack for navigating bureaucracy, which, I believe, is a great quality for a leader these days. He's a good leader, an involved leader. Looking at him working, I think Grandfather would be proud of him.
Oksana's domain is everything magic. She's also been doing a lot of work for the herbalist, her knowledge on plants has come in very handy. She counsels Takeshi on how things can be made better, easier and swifter with the aid of magic. I understand there are also words being had to found a Magical Academy eventually, maybe even a caster's tower.
As far as Nagata is concerned… well. I don't know much about how he does his work and neither does anybody else, which means he's doing it extemely well.
Right after we returned to Fumidai, and having been in the town for just a few hours, we had to hear a petition from a man called Loy Rezbin and his wife Latricia. They have a project to start their own village somewhere in the territory where we found and got rid of a tatzlwyrm nest. Takeshi didn't want to give an answer right away, but he promised to consider the proposition, and if he believes the territory is safe enough, he will give his blessing.
There are also rumors concerning those trolls – they're moving ever towards the North. And the lack of a Marshal in our Council, the only position as of yet vacant, is making itself felt. There are plenty of us in Council, but it's still a lot of work. We could use one or two extra heads to think along with us.
Still, the greatest concern we had on arrival was a story that landed on Svetlana's lap, and which she deemed urgent enough to bring to Council without delay. Svetlana has been doing some of the most impressive work of anyone in Council. I mean, Oleg is our Treasurer, but handling trading and money was already his business before we came to the Greenbelt. Svetlana is his wife and his book keeper, and she has the position of Councillor. That means that whenever people petition us, they have to go through her, and she is the one who determines how urgent something is and who should take care of it. It's a lot to pick up for someone whose previous concerns were if the food stores were well stocked enough to handle Winter, or wether her husband would like potato soup for dinner.
She told us that three days ago, some cattle from a ranch in the outskirts of Fumidai turned up dead, mauled nearly beyond all recognition. Two days ago, the same happened to a girl from Fumidai. This was bad enough, but just yesterday, it happened again: a shepherd and his flock turned up dead. Both the girl and the shepherd's bodies had been brought to the garrison for burial preparation. Svetlana has no idea what's doing this, and she hasn't seen the corpses, but the people are getting worried, and rightfully so.
Of course, if we were going to look into this… we would have to go down to the garrison and see for ourselves what was left. I wasn't looking forward to it. With all the horrors I've seen, I'm never ready to see more. So when we did go, I stood a bit to the side and let the others have a look. Oksana and my brothers are much more knowledgeable than I in issues concerning the wilderness, predators, health and anatomy. The only thing I'd probably be bringing up was my lunch.
From their descriptions I could ascertain that both the young lady and the shepherd were mauled in the same way Svetlana described cattle had been, and according to Takeshi, partially eaten. Oksana believes this is the work of a large predator, wolf or even worg. So our next stop, of course, was to see the sites, where Nagata could try to track whatever did this. True to his skills, Nagata found some tracks that backed up Oksana's analisys at the site of the girl's death: large predator, wolf-like, and the trail led to a thicket of trees not overly far from Fumidai. Unfortunately, around that very thicket, the tracks became too confusing to make out. We could tell whatever did this came from and returned to the thicket… but no idea how it came to be in the thicket to begin with. Nagata even dove into the midst of the trees to see if there might be some concealed passage, but nothing turned up.
From the site of the shepherd's demise we had a bit more luck. Nagata managed to pick up the trail once more and return to the thicket with it, but this time he clearly pointed out to us a spot where the great predator's footsteps became humanoid, went around the thicket and headed for Fumidai. It was clear: we were dealing with a werewolf.
Now assured that we had a wolfman in Fumidai, all that was left to do was to discover its identity. And in this sense, I made use of one of my secret weapons. Fumidai is a young community, but that doesn't mean we don't have some elderly people about. Most of them followed their families here, and settled to do very much the same things they did elsewhere: mind their homes, take care of their children and grandchildren, and know about what's going on in their neighborhood. As this city grew, I made a point to know its people as much as possible. So when I need to know who's new in town, who keeps odd hours and who's been behaving oddly, I go visit the Nana Brigade. One of its most prominent members is Nana Hilda, who serves me biscuits whenever I stop by and has insomnia. And she told me that on the past two nights, when the young lady and the shepherd were murdered, she heard some spooky howling. Just yesterday, when she heard it, she peeped out her window to see someone coming into town, a little wobbly and covered in dirt. Someone she knows is a recent arrival. Someone she knows has been staying at the inn. Someone by the name of Kundal.
Armed with this, we had a break to eat something and discuss what to do. We're in a full moon now, so more attacks are soon to follow. But I keep wondering if this Kundal fellow is even aware he's a werewolf. Takeshi agrees: he is a menace, but perhaps if his change is recent he can do something about it.
Our investigation took us to the Flowing Silver Inn next, to enquire after Kundal. The innkeeper told us that yes, a man by that name had been staying there, but he hadn't seen him today. We went up to his room and knocked, and when we got no response, Nagata picked the lock so we could go in. The room was empty, very few belongings here. But just as we were searching about, I noticed a lump on the bed mattress. Takeshi lifted up the covers, and I fought to keep my lunch down: a human ear was sitting in the bed, under the covers like a (urgh…) hidden nightly snack. It still had an earring attached. A match to the one worn by the remains of the young lady who was murdered two nights ago.
Now the search was on. We combed Fumidai looking for Kundal, to no avail. It was as if the man had vanished off the face of Golarion. Nobody had seen him since noon and nobody had a clue where he might have gone. Again – this man was a recent arrival in Fumidai, and not very many people had had a chance to get to know him. Just in case, and as nightfall approached, Takeshi sent out the militia to warn every man and woman to stay indoors tonight.
Come sundown, we left Fumidai to go hunting for wolf.
We found him at the edge of the city, skulking about like a shadow and trying to go unnoticed. Takeshi uttered a prayer and called out to him by name. And just as soon as the first words left his mouth, Kundal charged for him. It would be the last mistake he did in his life.
The naginata began to work just as soon as he was within reach. Kundal was swinging a greataxe, but couldn't match Takeshi's reach. Nagata ran in right away and tumbled past him at the cost of a slam. He pivoted back, and buried the wakizashis in his quarry. Oksana conjured up her lightning-raining cloud, and I began insulting him so viciously he caught on fire. Just as soon as it had begun, it was over.
Later on, Takeshi told me he felt this had been a failure. Perhaps we could have done things differently, perhaps we could have managed to bring him back alive to face justice or ascertained wether he truly was a bad man. But now it was over – we live with the choices we make, and hope only to choose better the following time around. I replied that at the very least, the murderer has been caught, and won't be making any more victims.
So my speculation about centaurs was very much that – there's not a lot of information I could get from Fumidai Library on their ways. I sill have a lot of questions, and even went to Bear and his anatomical savvy for help. He seemed as puzzled as I was, like the question of how centaurs eat had never crossed his mind (sidenote: it had never crossed mine either. I didn't even know what a centaur was!) Something in these creatures doesn't make a lot of sense. I've narrowed it down to three hypothesis:
a) centaurs eat like humans do – they are omnivorous and could, if they were so inclined, sit at the table with us and eat the same things. (sidenote: does a centaur sit, ever? Horses usually don't sit, so can centaurs? Do they get tired of their human backs being upright all the time? Do they sleep standing up? Do they even sleep? But I digress…) They have the right mouth and teeth to eat human food, after all, there's no way they can chew grass. If that is so, they should have a human stomach too, but eat about four times as much as a regular human (sidenote: they should eat about as much as Nagata after training I'd reckon) to maintain the horse bodies. Or maybe several human stomachs as cows have several cow stomachs? Where does all of this fit snugly into a horse's body? Could even multiple human stomachs hold and transform enough human food to keep a horse? They'd have to be eating all the time and a lot of food, and while I've seen Monkey put down amazing amounts of food, I don't think he could hold a candle to the centaur.
b) centaurs eat like horses do – and therein lies the conundrum. How can they chew grass and straw if they have human teeth? Are carrots and apples a treat for centaurs as for horses? And if so, are they highly prized because having horse digestive systems, it's the most human-like thing they could eat? Do centaurs eat only fruit and veggies? (sidenote: imagine feeding a horse with simply apples… that's a lot of apples. Either their territories have endless orchards or I can't wrap my head around the logistics of it). How can a centaur reach the branches of an apple tree anyway, if it can't climb up or put a ladder against the trunk? How do they farm for carrots from atop their height? It doesn't seem feasible.
c) there is some other weird way centaurs eat that I'm not seeing. Maybe they have a specific organ just for eating somewhere between the human part and the horse part (sidenote: a mouth at the navel or… something?) Yuck.
Furthermore, when baby centaurs are born, do they stand up right away? A tiny baby can't sit up straight when it's born – how does a centaur baby accomodate standing up right away like a horse, with having to lie down like a human? Even more concerning: how can a centaur mom nurse her baby? Does it drink horse milk, or human milk?
What in the Shizuru's good grace would come out of a human/centaur marriage?! (sidenote: with that said, I refuse to go down this path, I don't even want to know the particulars of how a child of such a marriage could be accomplished! Every hair on me just stood on end just considering it. Brr.)
I don't know how centaurs came to be but the more I think about them, the more I realize the Gods must have had a field day with them. I imagine one of the gods bringing forth a model of his new creation which joins man and horse in perfect harmony. And then all the other gods start poiting out that such a creation has very few advantages and a lot of drawbacks. Namely, every drawback a horse has along every drawback a human has when atop said horse, and that a creature made in this manner is likely to be miserable for all its existence. Then the creating god who made the project throws a tantrum and decides he'll go along with it anyway and figure it out as he goes…
I guess I'll have to meet one to have my questions answered… the ones I can ask in polite conversation, that is…