Collaboration by @Shiyonichi and @BurningDaisies
The siblings walked into town, the snow under their shoes made squeaking sounds as the snow was crushed underfoot. There was quite a few villagers peeking out from their homes, that reminded Miyuki of a old western and Asuka could feel some aggression from a few of the villagers, but due to being tightly packed together, she couldn’t pick out which of the villagers the hostilities came from. Both of them would have liked to rest and Miyuki would have liked to plan out their next course of action. The sibling came to the village square, they spotted a pair of travelers that were here before them, but they left rather quickly, so they paid them no mind. They still needed a place to stay. Miyuki walked up to the biggest house and knocked on it’s door.
There was a nervous rustle, then a muffled thud. The door creaked open a hair, but it quickly pressed into its frame with a metallic knock, securing it firmly it place. Locked.
Asuka raised an eyebrow at just how fast the door was locked. Where just were extremely Xenophobic? Miyuki turned and motioned for her sister to follow, they should try another home.
A tall, thin man with dark circles under his eyes stepped into the path. Even his sunken cheeks and sickly pallor couldn't disguise his youth. Whereas the other villagers seemed older by a decade or more, he looked to be in his twenties, perhaps even younger. His skin, pale and yellowing, was stretched tightly over his emaciated frame. There were no hints of anything. Cords of wiry muscle clearly shifted beneath his skin as he trudged towards the sisters. He might have had an imposing stature in another life, but with the shoddy, pitted sickle leaning against his shoulder and an armful of dried herbs, he seemed little more than a half-starved scarecrow. His dull brown eyes drifted to Asuka. His gaze was intense but somehow distant as if focused on some faraway place behind her."Ena won't come out. Her husband..."
he trailed off. There was no excitement in his raspy voice. Instead it was laden with a sense of mortal resignation one would normally expect from a man waiting to be hanged.
His world refocused slowly and he stared blearily, albeit more purposefully, at Asuka. His expression softened, as much as his tense face would allow. He appeared to have just recognized she existed. His eyes flicked to Miyuki."Ah,"
he breathed, realizing he had thought aloud near some strangers. "Welcome to Jhorm,"
he said lethargically. "What brings you here?"
He made a deliberate effort to seem friendly, but he clearly had no energy. His flat expression cast a stark contrast to the hollow cheeriness in his voice.”We’re just passing by, we wanted a place to stay for today and set off tomorrow.”
Miyuki asked, slightly intimidated by the villager, they could obviously tell that the village was in some sort of trouble. Perhaps it would be best to leave quickly than waiting for the night, though Asuka spoke up. ”Excuse me, is there some sort of problem around town?” “Problem?”
he seemed genuinely confused. “No. The Witches of Ondwald safeguard this village.”
From the way he spoke, it was obvious a ‘Witch’ was something to be revered, no different than the guardian spirit of a temple or forest. He slowly cast a glance between the two sisters, and raised an eyebrow. He opened his mouth to speak, but shut it again with a pensive look. “Kessig may not like it,”
he began. “But, you can stay in my home for the evening. It’s bad luck to turn away travellers.”
he said matter-of-factly. “Although, we don’t really use gold crowns or shells. Not much trade here. If you could spare some food, I could lend you a couple bunks.””Alright I think we can take that deal.”
Miyuki reached into her bag at the left side of her belt. though it wasn’t actually to pull something out of she was actually opening her inventory. While magic didn’t seem like it would cause them to be burned at the stake, the sight of opening the item box was quite sinister as such she shouldn’t let anyone else see it or they might get mistaken for an evil Overlord. Of course Miyuki and Asuka were both humans and warriors, so they both carried around food, but as high level players, they carried around quite luxurious foods. Fancy meats glistening in the sun, pristine fruits and vegetables, that would have to be imported from elsewhere and even some oddities like ginseng and various cheeses. Miyuki asked ”This enough?”
as she pulled out a well smoked ham, a couple of vegetables, and wheel of cheese all with quality that you would see at a royal banquet, not some town in the middle of nowhere.
His expression grew increasingly distraught as Miyuki produced exquisite foods one after another. His hurried voice lowered to a whisper “Please! Put them back!”
Frantic, he moved closer to obstruct the view of the items in her hands from anyone else. At first he seemed drunk on exhaustion and whatever sickness had stricken him, but now he was quite sober and his eyes were wide with terror. “Just…”
He struggled to find the words. “Just follow me. I’ll show you to my lodge.”
The sibling a little surprised at his suddenly declarations and after doing as he said followed him quietly. Needless to say they were quite on edge.
He lead them down the loamy path to a well-aged barn whose timbers were swollen with years of water damage and covered in streaks of green. Yet somehow the various supporting members seemed petrified in their old age and managed to support the vaulted roof. Much of the barn had interior additions, creating makeshift rooms and storage areas. There were no farm animals inside, but there were various farming tools and hunting supplies along the walls further in. He guided them to one of the unoccupied lofts which gave a view of the entrance through a slit in the wall of old boards.
He deposited his sickle and herbs in storage closet before approaching the sister in a hushed tone. “You cannot offer me something so valuable. The witches protect us, but also watch us. We give them offerings too, we must. But…”
He swallowed nervously as if to gulp down a bad idea. “...You don’t want to attract their attention. That’s a dangerous trail to follow.”“Ah! I’m Rolf,”
he suddenly remembered. “My apologies. It’s been awhile since I’ve had to introduce myself as such.””We’re Asuka and Miyuki, Katsuragi. Nice to meet you.”
They introduced themselves. Though, Asuka asked having absolutely no tact. ”So, is these witches the reason why the village is so… gloomy?”
Of course gloomy was a bit of a understatement. Though Miyuki looked at Asuka and immediately knew why she was asking that. She rolled her eyes and silently casted an anti divination spell. She didn’t think anyone was spying on them right now, but better safe than sorry.
Rolf hadn’t reacted to the spellcasting, but he also hadn’t understand its purpose. No one in the village could begin to guess its function. “It’s not gloomy. Not really. That’s just how things are. We’ve lived like this since I can ever remember”
He spoke with surprising conviction, apparently content with his perceptions and way of life. “The village is much to look at sure, but it’s worse outside. I mean…”
he hesitated. A question weighed on the edge of his tongue. “There are all sorts of monsters near the mountains. You must have seen them, haven’t you?”“I have seen them, but is it better than to slowly waste away trapped here?”
Asuka asked, with fire in her words. “We’re not trapped,”
he said almost as a question. Rolfs thin eyebrows wrenched upward in confusion. “We are free to leave, but it is safer to stay here. The witches protect us.””Look at yourself for a moment, You are grossly underweight. Chances are you’re not living to see your 30s. Is that really safe? Will your witches protect you from that?”
Miyuki coldly added. This wasn’t a lie Miyuki had enough medical knowledge to diagnosis that at least.“Don’t travellers just stuff themselves fat to survive long journeys?”
he asked shaking his head. “You don’t understand. This is normal. My father was the same way. Besides... if the witches weren’t here, Jhorm wouldn’t be here either. It’s been that way for generations. We’re all raised by them until we’re old enough to work the fields or hunt. If we leave, we have to come back to raise children. If the witches leave, who will look after us? We’ll all die. That’s the truth of it,”
he said firmly. An undercurrent of fear had crept into his words. He sighed and collected himself.
Asuka hooked her pinky finger and put it under his collar and then lifted him off the ground. ”I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
Miyuki began. ”You are a farmhand correct? However, you should be far more muscular and heavier as such my baby sister here should have more trouble lifting you up. The only way you can gain this kind of build is if you are not eating. Tell me where is your father? If he also worked as a farmhand he should have gotten enough exercise early on to have survived looking at your age.”
Miyuki then lists the common symptoms of malnutrition and starvation. “Do they sound familiar? They should, any doctor should be able to tell you that you are starving, do you understand that most villages would be broken up and move somewhere else? You said that you were surrounded by monsters, yet you could have just moved the town further away. Heck you could probably grow more crops where it’s warmer. Do get what I’m saying? If you really weren’t trapped then why would you be staying in a place like this? The witches? If they were really out to protect you would allow you to stay here? They could have easily guided your people somewhere else, away from the monsters, now couldn’t they? Rather than leaving you here to starve and constantly fearing monsters. If you’re so sure that the witches are on your side, then why do you seem so terrified of them?“
Does she have any idea how hostile the frontier is? Scouts of the Fennlords kill have killed more than a dozen villagers in the past. North is bandit territory. And what even is a doctor? Some kind of healer or sage? Countless questions and ideas collided in his head, creating a wreckage of disparate trains of thought. He could even form any coherent words to defend himself.
Rolf didn't struggle. He kept calm, but a silent fury seethed inside him as Miyuki kept spouting nonsense. He knew now what Kessig meant when he said outsiders were dangerous. Not enjoying her repeated criticisms, his tense, red face barely concealed his acrimony. “On second thought, you can keep the food,”
he said defiantly, still hanging from Asuka's finger. The threads of his shirt were already weak and frayed. They tore apart under the constant strain with an audible rip. Rolf collapsed to the ground. He glowered at the two sisters in silence for a moment. “Consider it a charity from a stupid farmhand who doesn’t know anything. Stay the night for free, or go as you please. Either way, just be gone by morning,”
he said, obviously frustrated with the two of them.
He staggered onto his feet and left.
Miyuki called out to Asuka. ”Asuka, I know what you’re thinking and I know it’s crazy.”
Asuka grinned. Jhorm was already rotting from the inside. As they said it would honestly be better to move at this point. Asuka whispered to Miyuki in a low voice to make sure nobody heard them.”Let’s go destroy this town.”