Chapter 21: Invisible Beastmen
Small birds in a cage,
Freed only to sing their song,
And then caged again.
~ Miyara Miwa
After the doctor left, I spent a few minutes updating this chronicle. Ash said he wished to be outside for a while, and a few moments later, Jeisan came upstairs to watch over the two girls and the chest. I gathered some of my folding papers and went back downstairs, to think while I folded. Res Li watched people in the inn, listening for more information. I silently considered ways to break my cousin from the guardhouse and on ways to get all of us out of this miserable village safely.
As always in this village, I had little time to think before someone came into the inn asking for "Miss Miyara". The man came to where Res Li and I were sitting, and said that Hosei told him I would give him lunch in return for his telling me a story. Knowing Hosei must have sent him here to tell me information he thought important, I immediately agreed. He first ordered quite a lot of food and beer, and then told me his story.
Around sunset of the evening of Bastiyan's murder, he was coming down the path from Wailuburu towards this village, and he met Tasuke coming the other way. He saw she was all covered in vomit and asked where it had come from. She said from Bastiyan and she was angry about it. She did not say how it had happened; she was in a hurry and did not say anything else.
He then said something about assuming I was going to kill her. Startled, I asked why I should kill her. He said she was a murderer, and she was mean, and he was surprised that I did not plan on killing her, and somewhat disappointed, I think. He said some people cannot take care of themselves and that is what people like me are for. I had obviously come to town take care of "things". He obviously felt it was my duty as a samurai to kill Tasuke.
I asked him to tell me more about why Tasuke deserved to be killed, but he only reiterated that she had murdered Bastiyan and she had been mean to him. I asked him how, and he said she yelled at him, just for being himself. By that time, I could empathize with Tasuke.
I finally gave up trying to find anything useful from him and thanked him for his story. He asked me again what I planned to do about Tasuke, and I told him I would have to speak with the village leader. He was unimpressed, if not disgusted, and muttered something negative about the likelihood that he would do anything at all.
Res Li then brought up the fact that Bastiyan had been killed by five different people. Res Li had no more success with the man than I had: Tasuke had killed Bastiyan and she was mean and she should be killed, preferably by me.
From the top of the stairs, Jeisan shouted out to us if we were going to send him up some lunch. I had forgotten the three upstairs while talking with Borisu. While I arranged for lunch to be sent up to Jeisan and Caramela, Borisu finished the dregs of his last beer and staggered off.
Shortly after lunch, we could hear some sort of ruckus at the bridge. Within moments, we could all hear what they were yelling: there were beastmen in the woods! Looking out the window, I could see the watch boiling around like a disturbed ant mound, with no direction.
Jeisan leapt downstairs as the two men who worked in the inn returned, with the militia captain, white as sheets. They had been the ones who had seen the beastmen. Everyone in the inn crowded close to hear their story.
Jeisan, obviously excited, asked them about the beastmen insistently. They said they were north of town, in woods. I asked how many, where they had came from, and where they had been going. Yohan, the innkeeper, calmed them down and gave them some brandy to help get the story out.
We all watched him while he downed the brandy. He said they were getting firewood and heard a noise: beastmen! At least a dozen! They ran all the way back. I asked again where they had been, but he said they did not know where they were. the beastmen did not follow and they did not look back.
Jeisan said, "Let's get them!" and headed to the door. I offered our skilled help to the peasant militia, and the captain bristled and said they needed no help. I pointed out that the militia was just a group of poorly armed and poorly trained peasants, and he insisted they were skilled and well-armed. The guard captain agreed with me, and suggested we go talk to the village leader about getting my people out of the guardhouse to help against the beastmen. The guard captain and I left immediately; behind us, the militia captain was trying to form his peasants into some facsimile of an army, and Jeisan was trying to get more information from the two inn workers who had discovered the beastmen so he could hunt them down.
When we arrived at the guardhouse, the village leader was waiting for me, but was surprised that the guard captain was with me. He was ready to start the hearing and was ignorant of the beastmen in the woods. The guard captain caught him up in a few words, and stated that I and my people, including those held captive, were the best hope the village had against a horde of beastmen. The village leader required my word that we would not simply leave once released, and I gave it, wishing he had not thought of asking.
We released Kyosuke, the White Faerie, Hosei, and the archers, and armed everyone while I explained our situation quickly. Outside, Yohan, Jeisan, two strangers, and two old men from the village awaited us. The militia captain had not yet appeared with his "army".
We had a problem: we had no idea where the beastmen were supposed to be. Yohan and Hosei returned to the inn to speak to the two inn workers, who we hoped had calmed down enough to talk to. The rest of us remained at the north side of town on watch, in case the beastmen appeared.
It was not long before Yohan and Hosei returned. Yohan said he thought he knew where we should go look. The village leader's man Buruno came with us, while the village leader remained behind. Buruno was usually dressed as a manservant, although he physically looked like a fighter. He seemed quite comfortable with armor and weapons, and I was glad for one more warrior.
We followed the road north past fields, then we cut through the fields, then we came to a part of the woods north of town that was still woods, but had been picked clean of any underbrush for firewood. We walked through the clean section for a couple hundred yards, and then we came to an abrupt edge between the cleared woods and completely natural and overgrown woods. Yohan announced, "That is the ghost wood. The town believes it is haunted and never go there. Not illegal or forbidden or anything, just nobody wants to go there." Apparently the two inn workers come into here once in a while to collect firewood for the inn. They were here this morning when they were frightened by beastmen.
I wished Ash had not chosen this day to go and wander around outside. I asked Kyosuke to find their exit path, and he found it easily in the dense woods. We backtracked their path in, and Kyosuke found where their flight started, about 30 yards in.
Jeisan listened intently for a moment, but heard nothing unusual. Kyosuke disappeared into the woods to circle around just within our sight, looking for any signs of beastmen. He returned shortly, but had seen nothing.
We headed into the woods on a straight path from their path out, just as a guess. We saw and heard nothing out of the ordinary. Deciding it was useless to cast about at random for beastmen while only the militia was present to defend the town in case the beastmen got around us and attacked, we returned to the village.
As we returned, Jeisan walked with Buruno in the rear, talking with him. I walked with Yohan, and he confirmed what I had been thinking. I said that perhaps the two men were simply very frightened and their minds invented the beastmen. He said they were usually pretty steady, and they were very precise, saying there were twelve beastmen. I suggested that maybe they did see something that scared them, but that it was not necessarily beastmen. Either way, there was probably something out here, so we definitely needed to set up a formal watch at the woods' edge, ready to sound the alarm. And everyone else needed to be ready to respond and fight immediately.
All was quiet in the village when we returned. The guard captain and I reported to the village leader and suggested the watch. The village leader suggested that the guard captain and I should take care of things. The guard leader was obviously in his element here, planning for a watch, but he needed me for "my" manpower. I formally returned the incarcerated three to the village leader, who offered that they could stand watch instead of staying in the guardhouse if they wished. All three accepted, of course.
The guard captain left immediately to gather forces, and asked that I meet him at the guard house at sunset. It being late afternoon, I decided to return to the inn to get the news and to relate what was happening to Caramela and Res Li.
There was no news at the inn: we knew all there was already. We found that people were scared and paranoid, they constantly bickered, and gave us lousy and unfriendly service. I spoke with Caramela and Res Li. I was happy to see that Ravena was beginning to wake up. She was still groggy and not lucid, but was drinking water. Back downstairs, they were setting out dinner, and I took up some food for the three upstairs. There was no point in trying to get the inn workers to do anything extra.
Right before dinner, Ash returned, and we gave him the news. He had apparently spent the day with the druidess, and was actually in the same woods, which was the druidess' purview; they had heard nothing. One would think that the druidess would be aware of beastmen within her domain, which told me that something else was going on: this was not the workings of a curse on the village. I sharpened and oiled my weapons. Ash said the bread smelled funny to him, and did not eat any of it. It smelled fine to me, and there was little else for me to eat, as usual. Still, knowing Ash's considerable talents, I did not eat any either. After dinner, Hosei went to speak briefly with the doctor, saying he wanted to borrow some sulfur.
As the sun reddened the western sky, we returned to the guardhouse. We split ourselves into three watches:
- Kyosuke and me
- The White Faerie, Res Li, and Hosei
- Jeisan and Ash