***The high mountain passes in the Wessen Mountains, at the ambush site of the Fox army led by Kashca Telis…***
The snow had already dropped in those parts of the mountains when a huge grayish-white wolf appeared at the beginning of the path. What it saw was a group of frozen, mangled corpses of fox warriors, untouched by any other wild animals that roamed that place. Rocks and broken boulders were unmistakable signs of the battle that happened there, as well as the weapons, and broken armors that littered the area.
The wolf then sniffed the air, and went to a certain place where a pile of rocks had fell. Standing before that spot, the animal transformed into the form of the Beastman Saint, Ruro of the Wolf, and—though she had no clothes with her—began pushing the boulders away.
“Your Holiness!” someone cried out from behind her. Ruro turned and saw her men, who was following her. “Please let us be the ones to move those stones!”
The Beastman Saint then stepped aside as her fox warriors came over and moved the rocks. She was also given a set of clothes to fight off the cold, but she never wore them. Her distress was greater than the weather and the blowing wind.
“Come on, push!” the lead fox encouraged his men.
Soon enough—and with great difficulty—they moved the boulder away, revealing the small body of the Fox captain, Kashca Telis, trapped in that mountain of rocks. Ruro never waited for her warriors to pull the unconscious fox from the rubble; she rushed to Telis’ side and used the last bit of her energy to blast the final stone that pinned the latter’s legs.
A medicine man then came over and checked for Telis’ injuries. “Your Holiness, her foot was crushed, and her head got wounds as well,” he told the saint, “But the captain is alive. We should retreat now before the enemy comes back for plunder.”
“It’s all my fault,” Ruro’s eyes were filled with tears as she kept on muttering, “If I didn’t fall for that diversion, this wouldn’t happen.”
“Your Holiness,” the medicine man told her, “please get a hold of yourself. Chief Telis is alive; we can still save her. Please order the retreat.”
“It’s all my fault…”
“Your Holiness!” a fox lieutenant came to them for a report, “The scouts have detected the enemy coming to this direction. Our forces are outnumbered, and the men are cold and tired. We should retreat.”
“It’s all my fault—”
She was brought to her senses when the medicine man slapped her lightly, “My apologies for hurting you, but we cannot delay. We need to head back to a more fortified position. There’s an enemy army marching to this place, and the men are exhausted. We can still save Lady Telis’ life, but only if we retreat.”
“Your Holiness,” the fox lieutenant asked, “can you please remove the snow so we can traverse this mountain safely?”
At that point, Ruro didn’t care for her enemy anymore. She chanted a spell that put a stop to the wintry weather at once. Then, after she ensuring the safety of her fox captain, the Beastman Saint immediately called a retreat down the mountains.
It’s fine if Konka’s still alive. She will not exchange Telis’ life for that vermin’s.
“So this is…?” Lady Sebastenerva carefully examined the gift I offered her.
“It is called a ‘ballpoint pen’, Your Eminence,” Ursura answered, as she handed her a piece of parchment, “It is a writing tool designed by our talented Lady Salis.”
“A writing tool? But where’s the ink?”
“There’s no need for an ink bottle, milady!” Minahaba added, “Just open the cover and start writing.”
The snake priestess did as she was told and with initial difficulty, began writing on the parchment she was provided. We looked for any reactions on her face, as she focused herself on whatever she wrote. Then, upon finishing, she returned the cover and took a deep breath.
“…” We all watched in tense silence.
“This is the best feeling I had in a while!” Lady Sebastenerva’s smile reached both sides of her cheeks. “I love this!”
“Glad that you liked it, Your Eminence!” Ursura bowed, and discreetly looked towards us. Salis and I gave her a thumbs-up in return.
“Well, if you’re interested in more new things like that pen,” Minahaba moved to the next ‘phase’ of our plan, “may we invite you to take a tour with us around the village?”
“Ooh! I’d really love that! Yes, please!”
“This way then, Your Eminence—”
Every one of us froze in our spots when we heard Teviki calling out to me, after playing with the Chicken children. “Human Chief! Teviki wants nibbles!”
“Err…h-hello there, Teviki!” Ursura was panicking, “W-We-We’re still not done ye-yet!”
“Big Sis Ursura, Teviki wants nibbles from Human Chief!”
“Teviki…” Minahaba intervened, “Human Chief will come to you later, so please wait, alright?”
The little tiger-girl yawned and agreed to the Chicken chief’s suggestion. Then she went back the way she came and disappeared inside my hut.
“Human Chief?” the priestess asked.
“Ye-Yes, Your Eminence,” the bear-woman’s face was pale; but she tried to maintain an air of normalcy. “That human slave of mine is a chief, see? A Human Chief Slave. Kids love him, and even some girls around.” She threw a glare at Salis, who was quick to answer her with a glare of her own.
Oi, I don’t think that comment’s needed, Ursura!
“Ooh…I see,” Lady Sebastenerva chuckled, “Not only do you have the talents for inventing things, you also got a sense of humor!”
Hey, Snake! What do you mean by that?
“We-Well, in any case…” Minahaba returned us to our previous topic, “…we should not delay! Her Eminence will surely be delighted to see our entire village!”
The first itinerary in our ‘tour’ was the village square, where the fountain connected to the aqueduct could be found.
“This is an aqueduct, right?” she exclaimed.
“It seems Her Eminence is familiar with aqueducts?” Minahaba served as her guide.
“Yes! I saw the Eagles are building one in Navaren as well!”
“Oh right! Well, this is the very first aqueduct in all Cherwind!” the Chicken chief proudly declared, “We built it with the help of the Hu—I mean, Lady Ursura! It was her idea.”
The snake priestess then followed some canals that led to the public lavatories. Ursura and Minahaba were quick to stop her from venturing further.
“Please stay here, Your Eminence,” the bear-woman pleaded, “The smell in that place is bad.”
“I agree with her!” Minahaba backed her up, “Please reconsider.”
“Hmm…I see. Well, you’re right. I can faintly smell that place from here.”
“We wash it always. Even so, you don’t want to go in there, Your Eminence, save for emergencies.”
“Alright, please lead me to another place then,” the priestess requested. Salis and I sighed with relief; we were nearly caught. For inside the lavatories were the muskets, swords and other iron-mithril weapons we’re making, as well as the other human besides from me, Sir Loin. In fact, I could see him take a peek at our entourage as Lady Sebastenerva moved on to another spot.
’Hide there ‘till she goes away!’ I gestured to him.
‘Fuck you! It smells in here!’ was his reply.
Lady Sebastenerva continued on her sight-seeing around the Chicken Tribe’s village, escorted by its elder, Minahaba and Ursura, while Salis and I followed them along with the priestess’ retinue.
“Are you alright, Human Chief?” the owl-girl whispered as she touched my neck collar.
“Yes…though I think Ursura pulled a bit too hard earlier.”
“Tch. I’ll make her regret what she did to you.”
“Ah, it’s fine,” I winked at her, “I could still walk, and my head’s still in its place.”
“Still, she’s being carried away too much!”
I could only smirk as I agree to her point.
“I’m really surprised you found yourself a human slave, Lady Ursura,” the priestess said, “I guess your urges are as endless as the humans.”
“H-Ha?” the bear-woman was taken aback by that comment.
“Haven’t you experienced how lustful these human males are? They’d jump on you once you give them an opening!”
“You’re wrong!” Ursura firmly countered that insinuation from the snake priestess, “Ku—Lawrence is a kind and faithful man—I mean, slave! He won’t and didn’t do anything like that!”
“Oh?” Lady Sebastenerva was surprised by the bear-woman’s reaction, and so were we. “Did I strike a nerve, Lady Ursura?”
“Ahaha!” was the falcon-woman’s nervous laugh, “Ple-Please forgive her, milady! Lady Ursura’s fiercely protective of her slave!”
Good save, Chief Minahaba!
Fortunately, Ursura realized her mistake and apologized.
“I agree with her, Human Chief,” I heard Salis whispered to me, “You’re a different human.”
“Thanks!” I replied to her with another wink.
Passing by a group of Chicken children, the snake priestess suddenly stopped before them. She couldn’t believe what she’s seeing: they were all writing and reading what they wrote.
“Ah! It’s the Human Chief!” the children happily waved their hands to me.
However, Ursura, Salis and Minahaba covered for me by waving back themselves, and with the owl-girl deliberately blocking Lady Sebastenerva’s line of sight.
“Chicken Elder…” the snake priestess called out to Minahaba.
“Yes, Your Eminence?”
“My eyes are not playing tricks on me, right?” Lady Sebastenerva pointed towards the chicks, “They can read and write?”
“That’s right, Your Eminence!” Minahaba chuckled, “Your eyes are fine. Some of those children are students from our ‘Basic Education School’; maybe they are teaching their friends what they learned there.”
“A school? Here?” the snake priestess couldn’t hide the surprise on her face, “How is that possible?”
“It is all thanks to Lady Ursura!”
“You can read and write?” Lady Sebastenerva turned to the bear-woman, “Where did you learn it?”
“The humans taught me when I was staying with them,” she quickly answered as she showed how to write the Latin alphabet I taught her before, “I thought it’s good for the Beastmen to learn literacy, so I founded the ‘Basic Education School’.”
“But what for? Surely, you don’t need many people—especially children—to copy books!”
At that point, Ursura had no answer for the priestess’ question. I forgot to tell her the reason I created that school, thus she was clueless. The bear-woman inadvertently stared at me, silently asking for rescue. However, I couldn’t blow my cover, or Lady Sebastenerva would suspect something was going on.
“We founded the school so that we can instruct the villagers on how to use the machines we built,” Salis stepped in, “Your Eminence, our steam engine is quite complex; it needs an educated person to learn how to operate it safely.”
“I see…” the snake priestess seemed satisfied at the owl-girl’s answer, “Speaking of ‘steam engine’, can you take me there? I wanted to see how it works!”
Our group soon reached the area where factories stood. The shock and admiration was clear on Lady Sebastenerva’s face, as it was her first time to see such complex production facilities.
“This is where we make our products, Your Eminence,” Minahaba gave her an unfinished iron-mithril pot. “We mine the iron and mithril from the nearby hills. Once we cleared the ores of its impurities, we smelled and fashion these metals into wares like the one in your hand.”
“I can see that you can also smith like the humans!” the priestess exclaimed, “A far cry from the other Beastmen in the mainland who can only make stone and wooden tools and weapons.”
“It was all thanks to Lady Ursura! She taught us the technique on smelting and blacksmith’s work!”
“And what is that big, smoking thing? Is that the steam engine?”
“Yes, Your Eminence,” the falcon-woman continued, “We put a large hammer on that turning wheel and an anvil under it. The result is a mechanical hammer, which is our alternative to blacksmiths. The precise, continuous operation of this machinery is our answer to mass production, as you can clearly see.”
“This thing doesn’t get tired?”
Minahaba shook her head, “It can continue on hammering ’till the firewood, or the boiling water inside, is exhausted.”
“I-Impressive!” Lady Sebastenerva then took out the pen we gifted her, “And this wonderful thing also came here as well?”
“Indeed, Your Eminence. We customized it for you, but we can make you more pens, should you want it.”
“This could help us in copying books!” the priestess smiled, “It’s not messy to write with, compared to quills and inks, and easy to use as well. I’d say, yes, please! Make me several of these things! In return, you can ask for anything you want, and I’ll make sure it will be done!”
Our eyes immediately went to Ursura, who picked up our pre-arranged signal, and entered the conversation. “If it pleases you, Your Eminence, may we request that you stop the persecution of the people in this land?”
Lady Sebastenerva was visibly caught off-guard by the brazen request from the bear-woman. However, she quickly regained her composure and said, “That I cannot do. You may ask for something else, but not that.”
“Then…” Ursura never gave up, “If only can—in your infinite wisdom, Your Eminence—spare the Dogs, Tiger and Hares, it would further better our relationship with each other.”
“Hmm…but there are several heretics in those tribes, compared to the Avinus. I can’t simply abandon my duty as the priestess of Her Holiness the Saint!”
“Your Eminence…” the bear-woman still went on her offensive to persuade her, taking an iron-mithril teapot among a pile of finished wares nearby. Then she offered it to the priestess, “…while it is true that these people disagree with your wise views, I won’t deny that they are of great use to us.”
“Please elaborate further,” Lady Sebastenerva took the teapot and marveled at its radiant shimmer and opulent design.
“Those tribes are important to our production, for they mine the precious mithril for exquisite works like that one in your hand. You see, only the Dogs can smell the metal veins buried deep beneath the ground. The Tigers have the strength and will to dig and break it, and the Hare have the swift feet to transport the mined ores to this village at the soonest possible time.”
Minahaba, Salis and I were all dumbfounded as we listened to Ursura’s explanation. We surely didn’t expect it from a battle-junkie like her! This is a great sign that our education is clearly working!
She further added, “Even I, don’t agree with their views about our holy saint. However, they are needed, so I plead to you to spare them for now!”
That’s one heck of a convincing, Ursura! Push her to the edge!
However, Lady Sebastenerva remained in silent meditation. Her eyes were closed, and a hand was on her chin as she weighed on her choices. I could hear my heart beat wildly as we waited for her final decision…
“You put me in a tough situation here, Lady Ursura,” the priestess admitted, “Well, I’m sorry but I can’t grant that request.”
Our hearts sank the moment we heard that.
But she continued, “I mean, how can I cleanse the corruption when there are no heretics among those tribes in the first place?”
“!!!” Our hopes were buoyed up when Lady Sebastenerva declared that. At first, I thought I misheard her words, but…
“You mean…” Ursura wanted to confirm, “…there’s no persecution anymore?”
“There is. But how can I do it, if there are no heretics?”
“But you said—mfmfh!” Salis finally had enough, and she moved to silence the bear-woman by covering her mouth and dragging her away from the snake priestess. Minahaba also assisted by backing her up.
“Thank you for your benevolence, Your Eminence!” the falcon-woman flashed an awkward smile, “These inventors of ours are really close, isn’t it? Haha!”
“I’d say they’re quite a handful!” Lady Sebastenerva admitted, as she watched Salis and Ursura with a confused look on her face.
As for me? I was just glad our ‘intelligence work’ paid off and protected the other tribes from the persecution.
It was at the end of dinner when Lady Sebastenerva and her retinue journeyed back to Navaren. The moment she left the gates of the village, was the time we could breathe freely. Honestly, the snake priestess was easy to please; it only took us a pen, a teapot, a promise to make more pens, and a promise to send her a cutlery set to convince her to abandon her inquisition of the tribes that were mad at Ruro.
Well, as long as she will leave us alone, it’s all fine. The attempt to make her side with us could wait; for now, initial impressions are what’s important.
“That was a great performance, Lady Ursura!” Salis commended the bear-woman, “Even I didn’t expect you’d use your head to convince that snake-woman to change her mind!”
“Of course I always use my head!” Ursura puffed her chest, “I’m that great too, you know.”
“Careful of flying too high, bear-woman, or it’ll be painful if you fall to the ground,” the owl-girl countered her boast.
“Tch. You just don’t comprehend my greatness!”
“Ah, you’re both great!” Chief Minahaba and her blood-sister Yatoi handed us wine to celebrate, “It won’t be possible if you two didn’t do your best.”
“That’s right! But you also did your part, Chief Mina!” I patted her head, “Your guard are always up you save us many times!”
Ursura and Salis had annoyed looks on their faces as they watched me praise the Chicken elder. The bear-woman then commented, “You’re much better if you’re my slave, you know that?”
“Fuck no!” I exclaimed, touching my neck, “You nearly ripped my head trying to show off earlier!”
“By the way, Human Chief…” it was Salis, “I think we’re missing someone from the celebrations.”
“Oh right!” Minahaba had a realization, “We left Sir Loin at the lavatories!”
“Oh shit, you’re right! And it smells like hell in there!”
“Pfft!” Ursura couldn’t keep herself from bursting into laughs, and inadvertently spat all the wine to my face.
“What are you doing, barbaric bear?” Salis scolded her, before turning to me, “Human Chief, are you alright?”
“Haha…yeah, I’ll just get a change of clothes from my hut, free Sir Loin, and come back here,” I stood from my seat.
“Hey, careful you don’t get lost!” the bear-woman teased, “Useless slave!”
“Yeah, thanks for the stupid warning!” I waved goodbye to everyone before heading to the exit. By this time, the ‘long sleep’ was just around the corner, and there were only a few people outside their homes doing their final activities. After all the tension and the fanfare earlier, I guess I really preferred the peaceful life than being caught in the events happening around me…
I was surprised when I saw a cloaked person get in my way. I tried to go around him, but he moved to block me again. Annoyed, I asked him, “Could you please move aside? The road’s pretty wide for us to meet like this!”
“Are you the lord Kuro of Arles?”
“!!!” I was shocked the moment I heard that. It’s been a while since I was called that name. However, just as I was about to say something, I felt something hit my head, and everything turned dark.
When my consciousness returned to me, my arms were securely tied to a chair and my mouth was covered as well. I was in another place…or rather, it was a hut. Whether or not it was in the Chicken tribe village, I don’t know. What was important right now was the person who stood before me…
“So we meet again, Human Chief Slave!” the snake priestess greeted me with the sweetest smile she could give, “Or would you rather want to be called Lord Kuro of Arles?”
Of course I wanted to ask questions, but my tongue was restricted, so I couldn’t do anything. And I wouldn’t even try to struggle; it’s useless because I was restrained.
“I guess we should remove your gag…” Lady Sebastenerva turned to a servant of hers and ordered to remove my restraint, “I don’t want to look stupid here talking to you while you’re just moaning and growling.”
“How did you know my identity?” I asked her the moment my mouth was free.
“Lord Kuro, you’re not the only who does his research,” the snake priestess grinned. “Besides, there are a lot of inconsistencies about Lady Ursura’s story, see? First, she can’t be literate…fully, at least. The humans on the mainland won’t teach the Beastmen how to read and write, for they consider us lower than them. Second, those children earlier calling you Human Chief. I know of a one-handed Human Chief of the Orphans named Kuro. Her Holiness Ruro of the Wolf told me about you. The human hero called the ‘Commoner General’. He who fought against the Saint of the Flame, Seirna’s, undead.”
“Huh? What do you mean? Ruro knows about me being a Chief?”
“Who knows?” she shrugged, “I’m just but her servant.”
“Okay, so now that we’re busted, what’s your plan, Lady Sebastenerva? Going to turn me in to Ruro?”
“Well, I have that option,” the snake priestess admitted, “And to tell you the truth, the temptation is strong. Would you like me to do just that?”
I shook my head. “If you please reconsider, I don’t want to go back to captivity.”
“I see…I guess my decision would be influenced on how you would answer to my questions.”
“What’s your goal in doing all of this, Lord Kuro?” Lady Sebastenerva made sure that she was serious in her question, “That steam engine is your idea. This pen I’m holding right now is your idea. That ‘Basic Education School’ is your idea. What benefits would you get from passing this knowledge to us?”
“Well, I can go back to Chersea,” I admitted.
“You heard me right. Ruro abducted me here, and now I’m trying to go back to my old life in Chersea.”
“Wait…wait! You’re telling me you’re sharing these things to us, and saving our population from the inquisition so that you can return to Chersea?” the snake priestess shook her head, “I don’t believe you! Benefits from such a goal is small relative to the amount of sacrifice you’re doing to achieve these things!”
“Do we really have to expect something big from every help that we give?”
“What kind of human would expect nothing back from what he gave?”
“An idealist,” I reiterated, “A person who is guided by his principles, rather than by practicality. You see, Lady Sebastenerva, there are still humans who believe that they can live in harmony and respect with everyone. I belong to that group. I think your people have been oppressed and abused by my race for too long, but I never dreamed of destroying one side. I aim to unite your ways with my culture, thus; creating a land where everyone can live in peace.”
“Impossible. Your belief is impossible.”
“No, it’s not. You yourself have seen how my ideas were adapted by the tribes living in this land, and how their lives improved because of those. That pen you’re holding in your hand is also a proof of how my ‘human’ ways could benefit your people. You can’t stop ‘change’; it will always happen whether or not we like it. And I want to harness ‘change’ to mold the Beastmen into a force worthy of equal respect from my fellow men. ”
The snake priestess fell silent after that exchange. It’s as if there was a discreet struggle within her, fighting to either believe my words or not. And then, as she turned her back on me, I heard her sigh. “Never in my life have I seen a foolish man such as you, Lord Kuro…”
“What can I say? Only history can judge if I’m correct.”
“Indeed, and it’s a story worthy of being written in the books!” Lady Sebastenerva grinned, “Lord Kuro, after seeing you make extra efforts to help my people from my harm, I’m convinced of your sincerity.”
“I thank you for that, milady!”
“And I really want to support your stupid cause; believe me, I do.”
“What makes you stop short of fully throwing your lot to us?”
“Two things, Lord Kuro,” she told me, “or rather, two persons. First, my Saint, Lady Ruro of the Wolf. She believes that the Beastmen should be subservient to humans and their ways, just like how the ‘great’ Beastman champion Terebia of the Bow served the human hero, Cassandra David. As such, she never fully got the support of our people. If you can convince her to stop her delusions and properly do her duty as a saint, it would be a big boost to your cause.”
“And who’s the second one?”
“Lady Konka of the Insetus. She’s the former saint candidate, until Lady Ruro came. Lady Konka believes in the supremacy of the Beastmen, thus we should annihilate the entire human population of Cherwind, just like what her supporters did in the old city of Tellesaria. If you can defeat her, then no one would truly be powerful enough to oppose your visions for this land.”
“So you’re telling me to wage a war to force a solution on those two?”
“I don’t know how you plan to do it, but unless you remove those who won’t cooperate, then your goals are for naught.”
“Well, I won’t say you don’t have a point,” I nodded.
“Lord Kuro, here’s my proposal,” Lady Sebastenerva then kneeled before me, much to my surprise, “Give hope to my people, and I assure you, my tribe—the Serpentinus—would be more than happy to support you.”
“And how do you suppose I’d give hope to the Beastmen?”
“A powerful ruler is what we need and desire. The sons and daughters of Tehmon have lived long without a king; now is the time for one to rise up to take the leadership!”
At that moment, Lady Sebastenerva and I forged an agreement that was to influence the later events…
Warning: Strong language Title: A Tour Around the Chicken Tribe's Village