Chapter 75: Signs and Smells of Beastmen
Onward and upward,
We find our fate and fortune:
Steaming piles of crap.
~ Miyara Miwa
Hosei reported that prisoner had given us direction, as the White Faerie predicted: "Seek out a dwarf named Zokuri the Younger, who was last reported living in the Vault mountains at Hawk's Claw Peak. He was there back then, when the rocks were created by the dwarves. He will know what to do, if he's alive. I was going there, but now you must or everything's lost. Get out as fast as you can." Although we thought about trying to rescue the prisoner and bring him with us, the prisoner himself indicated that he would be fine and that we needed to leave as quickly as possible. We packed our few belongings while Sun went out to find a hint as to where the Vault mountains are.
He returned as we finished, with a direction to start: west. He said he found out everything we needed to know, but we would have to hope for better visibility than we had right then. "The majority of the Vault mountains are west. We can go part of the way following the trail I was pointed to. They described the Hawk's Claw mountain to me, but we need to be able to see it from afar." Another bit of news: he asked if Pipo would lead us, and he will. I agreed that was a fine idea, and Sun left again, to get Pipo and meet us at the edge of town.
Since Pipo also led the Imperials here, Ashe took rear guard and also make sure we're not leaving any tracks behind. Sun returned and led us to where Pipo was waiting.
As we stepped out, the snow stopped and the sun came out. The villagers emerged and celebrated, singing, and dancing. To blend in, we sang and danced our way through them. The ground shook a little, and we thought it was due to the dancing. It increased, and I realized it was a small earthquake. I hoped it remained small. I remembered the one that buried a small village in the mountains not far from the Miyara estate, when I was a child. Not a single survivor was ever found.
The shaking increased, and the rumbling became louder. Its focus was the center of the town. Suddenly, a large snake-like thing threw its head above the hovels, clearly meaning ill to the townspeople. The villagers began screaming, and a mass mass of underground beastmen poured out of the ground and started hacking at the peasants. The big snake thing grabbed some pour soul, shook it like a dog, and Pipo's top half, dying landed at our feet.
I was torn for just a moment. We had brought chaos to this village, and we were responsible for the horror that had just been unleashed on them. How could I, in honor, leave them to fend for themselves? And yet, staying to defend them would gravely jeopardize our mission to destroy the Crystal of Chaos, thus eventually bringing even worse things to far more people. And the quicker we left this village, the quicker chaos would, as well. Truly, honor is a thorny thicket at times, no matter what the generals say.
In the moments I reluctantly decided that our way was forward, Ravena and Peter had rushed to aid Pipo. Despite his lower half being gone, he was alive and no longer bleeding: his wounds were long-healed and scarred. I also saw that the imperials, who we also had brought to this village, had leapt to battle in the villagers' defense. Having provided their protection as well as their doom, my honor was clear. Ravena and Peter had fainted from their extreme exertions on Pipo's behalf. I piked up Pipo, gestured for others to pick up the other two, and told Sun to lead us away. In the confusion, he led us a little too far out, and Kyosuke corrected our course.
I carrying Pipo, the WHite Faerie carrying Peter, and Ashe carrying Ravena; we all followed Sun and Kyosuke, leaving behind us the horrific sounds of dying, screaming people. I hoped I had decided correctly. What else could I do? I accepted the burden as leader of this group, and I hoped my ancestors would judge me with kindness when I join them.
We recalled that we came into the village from the east. Cliffs lined the west and south sides, and our borrowed hovel was on the south side. East and north were lower hills and trees. The only road out was east. Pipo's instructions to Sun were to follow that trail "a ways", and then take another trail that northish. By some miracle, Sun found it, and we followed it through hills and switchbacks. Ravena and Caramela said we were in general moving north and west. The winds changed as our direction changed, but mostly stayed from the west. We paused for a rest, and Sun explained the directions to us again. This trip should take three days in good weather, more in bad. At the moment, we had good weather, but how long would that last?
Ravena checked on Pipo. She sadly reported that he was fully healed, but he was missing his body from the waist down. Her best best guess was that she needed to get him to someone who can regenerate his lower half quickly or he will die. Ravena considered carefully, and discovered she could put him into a coma, to prolong that time. She ensured that Sun could find the way without Pipo's guidance, and then rendered him deeply unconscious. The White Faerie agreed to carry him. I think he will die long before we find that aid, and from Ravena's expression, she does too. I would help him die quickly, but her honor is in her own keeping.
Between hunting and Hosei's mackerel, we ate decently, if not well. Ravena tried to find us some greens, but these hills and mountains are snow-covered and entirely barren, but for some poor grass that we cannot eat. Ravena did say that we should have several clear days before snow hits us again.
The following day, we were dogged by beastmen. With the switchbacks, we were constantly in and out of perfect ambushes, and I led us through carefully, and we never saw anything. That night, on Kyosuke's watch, he saw something move. He waked me in time for it to run off. I returned to sleep, there being nothing else to do. The White Faerie, Kyosuke, and Baku watched together the rest of the night, but saw nothing else.
As we left our camp on the third day, we heard drumming and chanting all around us. Hosei said it sounded to him like demon-summoning. This particular chant was meant to placate and soothe the demon, so it knows that its summoners belong to it. Tzeentch is the particular demon in question, of course.
I moved us all ahead quickly to the curved section where there was room to fight. We were currently at the bottom of a hill. Kyosuke climbed a tree to see if he could find them. Hosei mused that the only way to disrupt the summoning was to kill the summoners. Which we would, if we could find the creatures. Kyosuke saw nothing.
We could not afford to simply wait and wait, so we continued forward warily. The drumming continued for about an hour and then ceased. About mid-day, we were halfway up the mountain, and we smelled them ahead of us again, probably on trail considering the switchbacks and the wind direction. I moved up and scouted ahead of us at the next switchback. At a blind curve, I could smell beastman very strongly. It would be a good place to ambush us. I returned to the others and quietly told them what was ahead. Kyosuke, being an excellent scout, moved forward and then into the trees on the uphill side. He returned later, telling us there was nothing there but six steaming piles of crap laid across the path in a line. Five were mammalian, and the sixth appeared to be bird droppings.
To me, it sounded like a magical trap, but Hosei disagreed. To him, it sounded like a gift. To Tzeentch? To us?
We moved ahead and saw exactly what Kyosuke described to us, and there was no trap nor anything magical. We passed it and continued our way, although Kyosuke remained behind for a few moments to inspect it carefully. Just crap.