The Far Side of the World: Domotsu
“You should stay on with us after this run, hard to find people who are so good on the sea.” Hubert said as he patted shane on the shoulder. The two men were far from each other in build, Hubert was a tall blocky man, with a bit more fat on him than muscle. Shane was about the same height, but thin and angular, he had lost much of his Helian bulk and was painfully lean, but even with his thinning look he was strong and he held his own well. Humbert and his crew were well traveled in the region and beyond and had picked up a handful of languages including Helian Trade Common, they had treated with enough Helian merchants and ships that it came in handy.
“Eh, I’ve got to get on once we get to the next port.” Shane said and forced a smile. “Can’t see the world if I settle down.” He held the smile. They had met at the right time, and has enough time to do these couple of runs with them at no risk of shifting and killing them all. Everywhere they were going was close and should things go south and they came to a bad place he could just run off into the wilds.
“Land!” They heard from outside of Humberts quarters.
“Looks like we are here, should only be a few days. This place is a bit off the beaten path, but should be able to grab some pelts to trade. Probably mushrooms too, they sell well enough that they are worth the cargo space.”
They left the quarters together and the whole ship came together to get the boat to the coast and up a small river. It was shallow enough of a draft that they could navigate the waterway easy enough. Twelve men, including Humbert and Shane got off the boat once they found a good place to tie to and they began their work quickly. A couple small trees dropped, fire made and supplies unloaded and their hunting camp was set up.
Humbert stayed with Camp and Shane was off with a few other men, they would use what light they had, and went out with bows and some tools to set traps.
“Shane. Pst” One of the men said as he lowered to a crouch and stalked forward. The landscape was different than anything he had seen before, huge mushrooms and strange soil around them, he felt uneasy everywhere he went like someone was watching them from around every tree.
Deer were ahead of them, well within bow range but they didn’t seem to notice. Shane looked to the men and made a few hand gestures, he would sneak around and try to drive them to the left and back towards the hunters. They nodded and shane peeled off in the opposite direction to flank the animals.
The underbrush was thick but he moved quickly through it, out of sight he could use his strength and speed with little worry they might see and question him on it. As much as he hated the wolf within, he could not deny the power it gave him when he was not shifted, and how that power had saved him time and time again. He got to his position and signaled with a bird call. They returned the call a few moments later.
He was about to emerge from his hiding place when he quickly looked over his shoulder and grasped his knife. He felt a presence there, a person's eyes on him, someone close enough that the hairs on the back of his neck were standing. There was no one there, just some large mushrooms not too far off. He pulled his knife slowly from its sheath and waited in utter stillness trying to hear a twig snap, or a shuddering breath but there was nothing. The bird call came again and he was snapped out of his hyper focus. He turned to the deer and he burst out from his cover. He Yelled and hooped and hollered and fanned his arms out.
The deer, which normally would have bolted, shot her head’s up and stared at him. He hollered and yelled and jumped forward at them again, but still they stood, like they were statues. The only indication that they were even alive still was the odd flick of an ear or of a tail. They looked off, their fur had patches of purple and tiny mushroom caps were scattered about their horns.
He lurched forward again yelling and waving his hands, birds had fluttered from the surrounding trees and the smaller animals had all retreated to their burrows. When they twitched a moment, he thought they would turn to run but the largest buck pushed off hard form it’s hind legs and charged down Shane. He dropped his knife and got his hands up just in time to grab the rack of horns. The creature forced him back and he could feel his muscles straining against the creatures strength, but it wasn’t just him it was the creature within. He jerked and got some purchase against the earth and stopped the creature's forward progress just enough for him to jerk it’s head and yank down, sending the animal onto its side thrashing. Arrows flew and struck a couple of the other deer who were still staring down the scene. At the contact of the arrows that fell one of the creatures the small herd fled in every direction.
Shane let go of the horns and dropped to knee, feigning injury as the creature got its legs under it again. Arrows struck it in the side and neck and it trashed harder, narrowly missing Shane's head with it’s horns. It made it only a few feet before it crashed to the ground and nother arrow put it out of its misery.
“Shane! Are you alright?” One of the hunters rushed to his side and helped him up, but there was no blood and bo gash and no injury. He seemed surprised.
“We saw it charge you but there was too much in the way to see what happened.” He said, and shane’s shoulder visibly relaxed with relief at the fact they did not see him absorb a charge that few if any men should have.
“It hit me but only with the side as I rolled away. I should be fine, just a bruised pride.” Shane forced a laugh that was nervously mimicked by the other hunter.
They all picked up the deer that had been felled and headed back to the small camp on the coast. They were the only group to encounter anything odd, telling the story everyone just assumed Shane had somehow botched scaring deer and he was the brunt of many jokes for the rest of the evening.
The next morning shane set out with his hunting party again. They had several traps that they set and marked along their walk, figuring they could head out and check the traps on the way back. Easy work for skilled hunters.
“Watch out Shane, there is a mushroom, don’t want it attacking us too” One of the hunters said and they all roared in laughter, Shane joined in, sure that it was just a coincidence and he was happy this was what they were fixated on and not how he wasn’t utterly disemboweled by that charging buck.
“What the hell are those things?” One of the hunters pointed out a small squad mushroom that was slowly moving through the underbrush. Only upon noticing the moving one did they realize there were three more also slowly moving through the underbrush with sure steady steps. They almost looked like small people with mushroom caps for hats...but the hats were their heads.
“Not sure. But whatever they are, keep ’em away from Shane.” They all roared laughing, but the noise didn’t seem to bother the mushroom men who continued their slow work in the underbrush.
The laughter was cut off when they spilled out onto a well kept road. Hands went to hips as they scanned both ways down the road, smoke could be seen not far off. If there were people perhaps there was trade and never knew what you could get from a local village. They hit the farmland fairly quickly, bushes cut to just below their nipples in long lines. It was obviously tea and the air held a sweet leafy smell.
“Maybe they will trade us some tea? If the captain doesn’t drink it all before we get to a port we should fetch a decent price.” One of the men said and they gave an uneasy chuckle, they hadn;t seen much movement safe for some of the mushroom men who were walking the lines of tea bushes picking up fallen leaves and other scraps.
Two men walked out into the road and held up a hand. The leader of their hunting party, distinctly not Shane, raised a hand in greeting as well. He chirped in a local trade language greeting and then the same in another dialect. They returned it in a broken version of the former. They walked closer and the people seemed hesitant at their approach.
Shane remained vigilant, he had seen what happened with the deer first hand and ever since they had noticed the mushroom people he had felt like there were eyes on him always. He was sure the sense was not from his Gods given senses, but from the animalistic ones that bristled just under the surface.
The time seemed to drag as they talked back and forth, the sailors trying to make friends and the farmers trying to get them to leave. Shane ws itching to leave, the longer they lingered the more tense he was growing. Thankfully a handshake was shared and the farmers hurried off and came back with two burlap sacks of dried tea. It seemed like the sailors were trying to negotiate some kind of trade but the farmers were insistent to give them the tea and get them gone. After a few back and forths, a couple of which were tense the sailors waved and headed off. Shane was grateful for it.
“What the hell was that?” Shane questioned. The lead sailor tossed the sack to him and he quickly caught it and feigned a groan at the weight that was almost insignificant to him. The group gave a chuckle.
“They didn’t want anything in trade. I even tried to give it back to them. Don't want them to think we are thieves.” He laughed, since they were poaching not far off. “But I am sure the captain will be happy with this. Lets check these traps on the way back, I think we’ve likely made our money out here already.
They moved through the woods and their first couple of traps were set off but there were no tracks and no catch, they assumed perhaps the ground was too soft or that birds set it off. But when they got to the third and fourth, the traps weren’t just set off they were overgrown, vines and moss and fungus were growing on the ropes and pieces of wood. Metal jaws were rusted open as if they had been left out in the elements for weeks.
“Forget the rest, lets head back.” Shane said, every step they took heading back to the ship put him on edge, he was jumpy at things that weren’t there. The lack of sounds all around them was what really made him that much more uneasy. No one disagreed with him and they began heading back towards the ship. They were in view of the masts when they heard the yelling, they spilled from the treeline and the camp was chaos, people were running with spears and then they saw the threat, six huge bears, perhaps not as large as a Helian Screaming bear but still no animal to scoff at. The roar of the bears and their intent was to get the men off the beach. Shane was the first to shoot his attention to the sky before anyone else even noticed what was happening. There was a mass of undulating blackness that was coming from high in the sky, then they realized the amorphous shape was a huge flock of birds. Shane dropped the tea and started running towards the ship; the other hunters did the same, dropping anything that wasn;t necessary.
“Back on the ship go!” Shane yelled as people began to rush to the small boats that would take them to the ship, others who were strong swimmers just dove into the water. Others tried to fight and buy time. The birds crashed into the like a wave from the sky, they were so thick that it was like trying to fight through a blizzard of feathers and beaks, only to be met by the swipe of a bear for not paying closer attention.
A bear charged at Shane, and he dove away just in time to avoid the charge. He knew he couldn’t risk a serious injury, he knew that would be far worse of a thing that this cacophony of nature that was erupting around them. He got ot his feet and away from the bear and waded into the water and started to swim out towards the ship which wasn’t that far off.
Out on the water the coast was just a sliver of land and it was only then the ship gave a collective sigh and attempted to take stock of their losses. Oddly enough considering the carnage only two men were lost and six had injuries that they would live through.
“What the hell happened?” A voice finally rose up from the others, it was gruff and barely hid the frustration and the fading adrenaline. No one made any meaningful comments, it was all grumbling.
“It was like the whole forest swept us off the island.” Shane said, as he got to his feet. He had been tending to an injured hunter but the man seemed like he would be fine. He looked around him, for a cosign, but no one even lifted a word. “We saw some weird things in the woods when we were out, maybe this just isn’t the place for us.”
Only his own hunting party seemed to echo the sentiment. More taking and more stories shared only Shanes group had encountered anything odd, and they were the only ones to encounter people as well.
“Maybe the farmers weren’t farmers? Maybe it was some magic that did this?” Hubert said and crossed his arms over his chest. “DId we get anything off the shore at least?”
One of the hunters hefted a bag of tea. “Tea from the farmers…” And a few others held up pelts. “Some hides too.”
Hubert sighed. “Not a total loss...but nothing really gained.”