Week 2, Day 6
Spoof fixes Naryu’s bandages again when I bring her back. He and Prask are worried about all of this. I ask if either of them are good hunters, and both are more confident about their chances than I am, but Spoof’s afraid to go out and be left alone in the caves, so I go out by myself. Prask warns me to be careful and Spoof looks guilty about it as I go.
Outside, I find two sets of tracks. One set is smaller, cloven hoofed, and probably belongs to one of the strange bipedal deer that live on the Bells island. The other set is significantly larger and clawed, much like a bear. I know the bipedal deer are pretty good eating, but I want to ask why the bear’s being a dick, so I follow those tracks instead. The tracks lead northeast and eventually run parallel to the road Chance probably took north once she left our camp. It never gets too close to it. It heads into thicker brush, and the cold’s getting worse, and the dampness isn’t doing me any favors either.After another half hour I start to see the outline of a rundown inn, surrounded by a high wall that’s crumbled in places. In the greenish fog, the place looks like something out of one of my father’s ghost stories, and the bear’s tracks lead straight toward a wide break in the southern wall. I sneak along to follow the tracks to the breach in the wall. I can smell smoke, though there’s no sign of fire. The courtyard is a mess of broken pavers and crates. I try to look around for signs of a bear or a shaman—more tracks, fetishes, maybe a letter that says ‘here’s why I hate Spoof’s dudes.’
Instead I hear footsteps sliding closer behind me like I’ve been spotted. I throw myself over the wall just as a bone spearhead drives itself into the stone that had moments before been opposite my chest. A thin figure bears fangs at me that glint in the Ghostlight. Bright green eyes glare at me from an angular face marked by tattoos. Long, furred ears like a fox’s poke out from under long, braided hair adorned by leaves. Thin, wiry limbs are wrapped in scraps of leather forming makeshift bracers and greaves. It leaps from where it struck from into better position, keeping it’s long spear pointed toward me, and angling itself for a thrust through the breached wall.
I have no idea if she’s is a type of Blight or a shamanic fuckup, though it lacks the chaos of a Blight. I think it’s a she.
I hold my sword defensively and ask her what’s up with her and the bear in a brilliant attempt at deescalation. Her expression is pretty frightening. Teeth are bared, and her eyes are narrow and watching my every move. Everyone one of her movements is efficient and practiced and aimed to take advantage of everything her fast, slight build has to offer. If I weren’t her quarry, I get the feeling my mother would approve. Not attacking doesn’t seem to have garnered me any favors.
She attacks again. I make as if I want to grab her spear, and she yanks back to try to keep her weapon from my obviously more muscular frame, but I just let go and send her landing on her ass with a grunt and a hiss. She tries to whip her spear at me, but I get it under my foot. I show her my sword point again and remind her that I asked nicely.
She grimaces and responds with a low noise in her throat like a cornered animal. When she opens her fanged mouth to speak, her voice is strange and harsh, “This one stops the fighting…” she whines through bared fangs. She eyes my blade with disgust, trying to keep her face as far away as possible. I tell her to toss away her spear and the dagger in her belt. “Get the deathmetal away and these things will be done.” An agitated whine punctuates her sentence. She tries to squirm further from the tip of my blade and I move it back a few inches.
She exhales, breathing hard. She tosses the dagger and spear to the side, though not as far as you’d like. She seems hesitant to put too much movement into the act, lest it bring her closer to the sword.
”What’s up with you and the bear?”
She whines, “This one is the bear, stupid Nebayan…”
She says she’s attacking Spoof’s men because they attacked and killed her mistress, the last Dryad in Nebay. They took other things, too, because of ”Nebayan businessss.” She doesn’t know which Nebayan hired them, but says they had a ring from him. I pull the nasty one out of my pocket and finally get around to wiping all the gunk and gore off of it—or at least enough to see that it’s a Sadrasi ring. She grabs for it when she sees it but I keep her back.
”Stupid family. Are you going to go after them?”
“This one wants everry siiingle stupid Sadrasi dead,” she says in a playfully cruel sing-song.
“What d’ya know, bonding. I want to kill the heir at least.”
She narrows her eyes at you, shakes her head slightly. “This one does not believe Neyban lies.”
“The Sadrasi heir stole the spirit of one of my ancestors. I’m going to kill him and make sure his spirit never gets to be useful enough to go to that fucking ghostwall or give a grandson directions to the nearest outhouse. Like I said before, all of those mercenaries except one are dead. They all died real bad. In a lot of pain. The leader went nuts—started shoving obsidian shards in his body that had been part of a fetish for an ancient devil spirit and started eating this fleshy blob that had grown around a body fueling a golem. Ugly stuff. I crushed his skull. He had this ring on him. You can have it, but I’d rather take it to a witch first to make sure the magic on it is benign.”
Her ears flatten as you describe the cave. She perks up near the end, snapping, “Witch can’t have the ring. This one needs it.”
“How about I let the witch look, let her pop off the spell if it’s bad, and give it to you?”
She doesn’t want me to hand over the ring in case the witch ruins the magic on it, but she thinks the magic is what allows the murderers on the fancy boats and into the city. I let her know that it’s not magic that does that, it’s the family name. She growls at me. I tell her she can take the ring and try to pass herself off as a Sadrasi, which will last about as long as it takes to ask a real Sadras why they have a fox girl with them, or she could say she was an Osadan retainer, which people would be more likely to believe, especially if I was with her. She says I talk too much, but she approves of my plan under a thick layer of suspicion. She says her name is Tiska and I offer to help her up.
Before she can accept it, the ground begins to shake. Debris from the western and eastern sides of the inn tumbles south past us as though struck violently by something. Moments later, a thunderous boom breaks the night silence. It sounds like it originated far to the north. Tiska scurries away to get her weapons. The northern horizon is alight with pastel ribbons. The sky around them bursts with a chain of explosions. The sky behind the lights seems blacker than the nighttime clouds. The sound from the explosions reaches us one of after another after the bursts start to fade. A keening howl follows the booms. My head hurts, Tiska grabs at hers and yelps. The lights and explosions continue to flash against the black patch of night far north from the inn. Tiska looks as though she’s going to bolt south until she remembers the ring and runs up to me, but I’m more than happy to put more distance between us and that spookfight. We run.
We get some distance between us, but we never stop feeling the pain in our heads that peaks with the howls. The light show illuminates the night enough for us to make out the top of the Giant’s Table above the treeline. The light show and the noise continues for another few minutes as we run south when suddenly, the northern horizon flares a blinding white. Everything around us seems silent as the bright flash starts to fade and one of the loudest noises I’ve ever heard rushes in after it. Like thunder if we were cursed to press our ears against the clouds during a storm. The sky goes dark and my ears ring, trying to adjust to the normal nighttime sounds. Tiska’s eyes are wide and she’s jumping at every branch broken underfoot and leaf disturbed.
We run for a bit longer before I ask what she plans to do about Spoof. She wants to kill him, too. I like Spoof well enough, but if he’s working with Sadrasi to kill Dryads, I’m not going to take her vengeance from her. I tell her to let me get Spoof away from my wounded in case he wants to take a hostage and she warns me not to hide him—she knows about Osadan Nebayans now too. I tell her I don’t intend to, but that I might try to talk her out of killing him if he’s too much of a wounded bunny about it. She says she likes the taste of wounded bunnies.
Tiska waits out of sight. I find the gang huddled near the back of the cave entrance and ask Spoof to come out and say Prask can come too. They’re freaked out about the spook fight but say nothing bad happened to them or the Marshfolk. I try to get them both to come outside to see the sky. They come, but Prask doesn’t want to get too far from the cave entrance—or Naryu. But that’s fine, as long as Spoof’s far from my Iuzhenk.
We talk about the spook fight for a bit and my hopes that one of the participants is Chance fighting either my evil spirit or whoever made the blobthing. I ask what Spoof’s band’s last job was. He says they were heading up to the town north of the inn (the one I dreamed of) to pick up a package for their employer. He confirms the employer was a Sadrasi, one they’ve worked a few jobs for, but no one as important as Gavril himself. He doesn’t know what they were picking up or where specifically they’d grab it—their captain’s friend was the one with the package—but assures me it was nothing illegal. He says his other job for the Sadrasi include guarding warehouses by the docks and charting the wilds near Glass for land good for mines and farms. I ask if he ran into any dryads out there and he looks surprised, asks why I’m asking.
“Just wondering. Also wondering if you were asked to kill her or if you all did it for free.”
His face goes pale and his bites his lip, “Look, it wasn’t like that!”
”What was it like?”
“It-it was an accident. She spooked us. There was a lot of confusion. Some ‘o the guys drew steel cause that’s-that’s what they were drilled to do…” He avoids my eyes. I notice a figure prowling back and forth in the brush a few meters behind him. Prask watches the two of us with hard face. When I originally popped the question he looked surprised, but now he’s just watching how things play out.
“Our world is broken. Our environment is fucked beyond belief and we’re getting back worse and worse pieces in little fits and starts and you killed one of the few beings standing between us and starvation and death because she spooked you? What did she do that was worth the life of one of the few dryads we have left?”
He looks down and begins to sob softly, awkwardly. He stumbles over words, “I-I didn’t hurt her. I was – I’m always too scared to when shit starts…you saw that! I didn’t want her to get hurt…”
It’s utterly pathetic. I look up at the broken sky for a moment. “Did you hear that, Tiska? Can I have my little rabbit?”
Prask looks at me curiously. Spoof looks confused, until he hears the twigs snapping and turns to see the bear emerge from bushes. Prask sucks air in, but seems like he was expecting it. Spoof tries to scramble away but trips over his own feet. Tiska approaches slowly, heavy paws thudding into the soft dirt. Prask reaches for his sword slowly. “Nilrae?”
Spoof blabbers about wishing he could’ve helped her, that he never agreed with what they did, that she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, etc. etc. He frantically crab-crawls backwards through the mud towards the cave, blubbering and crying.
I tell Prask about finding Tiska and talking to her and my soft spot for Spoof and ask again for her to not kill him. Tiska roars at Spoof and Prask scrambles to get his shield off his back and himself between her and Spoof. The bear growls angrily and paws at the dirt. She looks at me, her only response to my words. She starts to close the gap between her and Prask, still growling. Prask draws his sword and flashes me an angry look. Spoof is babbling for him to get out of the way, its a fuckin’ bear, you don’t sword fight bears, etc.
Tiska dispels her shapeshift a few feet away from Prask. She spits on the ground at his feet. “This one wants her bunny.” Her words come out slow and measured. I can hear the emotions behind them that she’s forcing down.
Prask looks surprised by her transformation but still pissed off that he’s in this situation. He tells her she won’t touch him and glares at me. “You were going to let her murder him? Right in front of you? He helped Naryu!”
Tiska’s growling. She looks at me with an expression that asks why I haven’t removed this angry man from between her and her prey. Spoof shakes on the floor a few feet behind Prask. His pants are wet and he’s covered in mud. I tell Prask I know what Spoof did for Naryu and that’s why I don’t want him dead, but I’m not gonna deny Tiska’s right to revenge. Though I remind her I think she should agree to abandon the revenge. Tiska ignores Spoof.“If this one were not pretending to be an Osadan Nebayan, little bunnyyy.” The sing-song creeps back into her voice. I take it to mean that she’s not gonna kill him. Prask is disgusted with us and lets us know we’re fucked up. I tell him that that’s why governors leave folks like him in charge of towns and send people like me out to do the dirtiest jobs. I try to comfort Spoof, but I roll exactly one point over my influence skill. Spoof ‘accepts’ my comfort but is obviously still afraid. Prask tells me to leave him alone, to keep an eye on my ‘pet’ and takes Spoof off to get him cleaned up.