All roads lead to Kruhrin this time of year--or so it would seem by the many travelers flooding the roads of eastern Ryke. Definitely has nothing to do with beastkin running for their lives from the Eastern Empire...or survivors fleeing the bug invasion to the south...probably. Whether purposeful or by accident, you find yourself heading in the same direction as everyone else. You can hear excited chatter about something called "Orson's Feast". You don't know who Orson is, but you'll have to thank him for the grub after you have your fill.
The dirt road leads you into the foothills shrouded by forest. Rich cedar aromas fill your nostrils from the dense gathering of trees enclosing the road. Dried pine needles litter the ground beneath the trees. The call of prowling birds and scampering rodents echo lightly off the wooden spires, tugging your attention in various directions as you walk. It is a peaceful road you have found.
As you round a bend, a cart comes into view parked off to one side of the path. You can see it is laden with many bushels of various edible flora. There is no beast of burden attached to the cart, and no owner in sight. Coming up alongside the cart, you smell something tantalizing within. While you contemplate whether the gods granted you a free meal, your attention is suddenly drawn to a patch of ground just off the road next to the cart where an isolated shaft of sunlight illuminates the form of a young woman.
From where you stand, she appears to be napping, the motion you had seen was just her rolling over. Pine needles clung to her back and were woven through her hair from laying in them. The glow of the sun gave her a warm, cozy aura. Though the smile on her face suggested she was fine, was it right to leave her here?
He couldn't remember how long it had been since he left the force that he called home. The massive lumbering body moving down the path. As far as bears went, he was pretty common. Of course the markings on his arms were different, but he was just born with those. What really made him say I'm doubt amongst normal bears was his ability to functionally communicate with sentient species. Aka, he could talk. He wasn't exactly the smartest person around, but he could hold his own. He didn't really pay too much mind to any feast or anything like that. He honestly enjoyed finding his food on his own, but he was a bit concerned about this lady.
It wasn't smart for her to sleep out in the open like that. It was a very easy way to get yourself killed. Normally he didn't really care, but something about this girl played with a soft bone in his body. So, he lumbered his way over to the sleeping figure, plopping his large body down next to her. He was very much aware that she would freak out upon seeing a fully grown Bear right next to her when she wakes up, but he didn't really care. It was better than her getting attacked. However, he didn't know what to do. He just decided to use what he had best. Pointing his nose to the air and taking a big sniff to see what was around.
In the city of Houisil two days' journey along the trade road south of Kruhrin, a deal had been struck between a missionary and a merchant. Both were seedier individuals with questionable aims, but the missionary at least had some good intentions. The merchant sought to finally win against his rival in Kruhrin during the sculpting contest. The particular shape of the pair currently bargaining with him was very striking, and, with some final touches, he was sure he could pass them off as winning works of art in the contest.
Of course, that was their part of the deal, but he, Karsh the merchant, was expected to help them as well. In return for playing their part in this charade, Karsh promised to help them enjoy themselves at the feast. To that end, he stocked extra clothing and supplies in order to disguise them for the duration of their time in Kruhrin. Fully stocked and his "sculptures" loaded as well, he departed for the hills to the north, and the victory he believed to be all but assured.
That had been nearly two days ago. Currently, they were starting to climb the sloped paths winding up the hills leading to the village's edge. The covered wagon was draped with a tarp to conceal the openings in front and back as well as the sides. Inside the cart stood a wooden crate large enough to accommodate Ingenium and Maria in a stance of their choice. It was hinged to allow them to slip in and out as necessary.
From his place in the back of the cart, Ingenium can remain out of sight while being able to strike up quiet conversation with Karsh. Currently, the merchant was rehearsing their plan aloud, "So first thing's first: we got to get into Kruhrin, right? When we get to the gate, we'll stop and that'll be your cue. You just make like the beautiful sculpture that you are in case anyone takes a peek. Once we're checked out, we'll start rolling again, but you can't relax just yet! Until you see me climb back there, you gotta be ready to be statues at a moment's notice. When it's safe, I'll climb back there and knock on the box three times. Then you can come out and get your outfits on. Trom then until the contest, you'll simply be my "assistants", got it? Then just before the contest, you'll have to sneak into your box and make like statues again, ok?"
Crymaria sat atop Borris as the large bear followed the path through the woods, what calling had led them here? She didn't have an answer to that question at the moment. Though the change of scenery was a much more welcome one, having left the Beastmen Republic or at least the part she had worked in last, she was eager to be in more familiar lands. The sound of Borris' paws against the ground could be heard as the large bear continued on it way. "Comrade Borris, what makes you want to go this way? We could be traveling south but we following this path," Crymaria inquired as she gently patted the bears head.
After a little while longer, the two came across a cart and a woman sleeping nearby it, to which she cocked and eyebrow. She didn't understand why someone would be sleeping out here in the middle of a forest with no guards or anyone looking after the cart. Then that was when she noticed the other bear that was in the clearing. Comrade Borris sniffed the area before snorting, though even from a glance Crymaria could tell Borris had the size advantage on the other should it try anything.
"You, shoo, you cannot eat that person when you get hungry," Crymaria argued as she dismounted Borris and took a few steps forward toward the girl. As Borris didn't know if the bear was friendly or not stayed relatively close to Crymaria. Though Crymaria herself wasn't too concerned about the bear after all she had grown up with Borris her whole second life.
Within the confines of the wooden crate stood two artificial beings of metal. Constructs that could be mistaken for humans lest one takes a deeper look and notices their uncanny mannerisms and appearance. Ingenium was cloaked in his black and red raiment, while his follower Maria had donned a nuns habit. She held her hands clasped together in front of her and her crimson eyes were closed hidden from view. Ingenium looked akin to an unnerving specter meant to ward off others while Maria appeared the part of a pious woman forever locked in prayer. They were stock still, their bodies producing nary a twitch. For beings like them such cessation of all movement was simple.
When the seedy merchant called out to the two of them in the back of his cart Ingenium and Maria still did not move not even a turn of the head, but Ingenium responded all the same."Affirmative, our accord remains unchanged. Fulfill your role and we shall fulfill ours."Ingeniums voice echoed out of the crate slightly muffled as it reached the ears of the merchant. Making his understanding of the plan known. His tone was stoic and seemingly at ease as if the situation was a leisurely one. At his side, Maria remained silent, while she was just as sapient as her god was her mind was still simple and almost childlike. Her god had spoken and had not asked her to speak so she did not that's all it was to her. Even in her current position, she was utterly set on one purpose, to protect her god and smite his enemies. Anything else was frivolous and not worthy of attention. While this was technically exactly what Ingenium had created her for, he still wanted more for her. In fact, most of the reason he had even sought to enter the village during the time of the festival was to allow Maria the opportunity to experience unfamiliar things and learn from them. He had promised his followers freedom and a new life and she would be proof he could grant them it. Let no one say he was not a benevolent god.
The bear didn't really do much. He sat there, sniffing flowers that were around and basically just relaxing for a while. However, his nose picked up the scent of something. He could tell there was another bear, but it also smelled like human. He turned his head as a larger bear walked into you, being ridden by some small girl. He was confused by them, but he had seen many weird relationships in his life. It was a little disconcerting but she was motioning him away as though he were a child. Also, he could tell that the bear she was writing was a bit concerned about him. Of course, just because the bear was a bit bigger than he was, didn't mean that he was frightened at all. Size wasn't always the end of it in the animal kingdom.
Yöhdor let them get pretty close, before he finally turned his head to look directly at them. The little girl was carrying some sort of weapon, but he didn't know what it was or what it could do. He didn't particularly plan to find out either. The Big Bear was easy to read. So long as he wasn't a threat to this girl or him, the bear wasn't a problem.
There was a yawn that came from him, his large arms reach back and scratched his back before he slumped into a lay down position "I'm not going to eat the girl. I'm just here to make sure nobody hurts her." He blew his hot breath from his nose, deciding not to engage any further unless they did. All he was there to do was to make sure sleeping girl got her rest.
The young woman didn't stir as Yohdor approached, nor even after he sat beside her. From where he sat, Yohdor could see a small messenger style bag on the ground next to her. Around her waist was a utility belt that had a pair of snips as well as more pouches and even a small trowel tucked into one of its loops.
Only after Crymaria arrived, shooing Yohdor away, and he responding back to the bear rider did the sleeping woman awaken. She gently rolled onto her back as she began to stretch, a smile involuntarily curling her lips. As the stretch ended and her eyes finally opened, she blinked a few times before noticing the bear laying next to her. The woman's smile returned.
"Molo!" she said as a hand gently petted Yohdor's side.
Using the slight incline she laid on to her advantage, she curled her knees to her chest, causing her body to roll forward. Once she was in a sitting position, she let her feet rest on the ground. A hand raised to her curly, needle ridden mop of hair and scratched for a moment while she looked around spotting Crymaria and Boris.
"Ah, molweni!" she said, her scratching hand pausing to give a small wave. "Are you heading to Kruhrin as well?"
Reaching back, she hooked her hand into the strap of her bag and tugged it around her neck while standing. "I am Mhu'ati. What are you called?" She walked over to her cart as the answer came. Pulling a gourd fashioned into a canteen out of the cart, Mhu'ati took a healthy drink from it before letting out a satisfied sigh.
Further back on the trail, Karsh had caught up with some travelers on foot. Three bearkin were walking single file along the side of the road. Upon hearing a cart, they turned and recognized the driver.
"Oi, Karsh, you coming back to lose to ol' Jia again?" jeered one.
Under different circumstances Karsh might've grumbled to himself and sulked, but thinking of what he had in his wagon caused him to smile and sit tall as he rolled past the trio.
"Not this time, fellows. Jia has no chance against what I've got this time!" said Karsh with a mischievous chuckle.
The trio laughed in disbelief as the wagon drove on. Karsh waited til there was some distance between them before talking over his shoulder.
"You hear that? Bearkin are so cocky! I put my heart and soul into my work like any artisan, but these beasts wouldn't know art if a deity statue fell from the sky and crushed them!" Karsh rapped the reins moodily, causing the horses pulling them to speed up some. "All that I am is riding on you two! If I don't win this time, I...*sigh* this might be the end of my art...."
Crymaria looked at the bear that was now speaking, she hadn't expected that, though she knew in this world there were many strange things. That still didn't explain the whole matter as to why the woman was sleeping here of all places in the middle of nowhere. "Very interesting Comrade," Crymaria responded as she tied the flaps of her Ushanka to the crown. She wasn't entirely sure what to make of the bear, though at this point she doubted he would try anything 2-1 wasn't a good fight to pick.
She was about to speak again when the woman in question started stir and eventually greeted them or at least that is what she thought it meant. Though she had no idea for sure. Though the girl seemed not concerned about the large bear that has been napping right beside her. With that in mind she relaxed a little bit. "Greets, Comrade," Crymaria greeted the woman still confused on the matter but she figured it would work itself out sooner or later. "Though I'm confused as to what molweni means, neither I nor Comrade Boris are familiar with it," she explained as she motioned to Boris behind her as the woman then got up and moved over to her cart.
When the woman asked then where they were going that was a question even she couldn't answer herself. "If that is in this direction comrade, though Comrade Boris might have other ideas, he has been the one following this path," Crymaria explained as the woman then introduced herself. "Comrade Crymaria, and as I have already introduced Comrade Boris," she concluded patting Boris as the large bear decided to lay down.
Once the girl woke up, the burly bear simply huffed a little bit. He had actually begun a really peaceful nap. However, he rose up, yawning and showing off those pretty impressive teeth in his mouth. Despite the fact that his natural weapons looked pretty intimidating, he didn't really seem all that dangerous. He looked around at the people surrounding him and realize that he was probably not where he was supposed to be. Most of the times humans avoided him, not to mention that there was another bear here.
He shrugged to himself, not particularly caring about what was going on right now. He simply stood up, getting down on all fours "Yöhdor. I don't particularly know what's going on, but I heard there was a Town not too far away. Perhaps they have food they left out." He was hungry and that was the whole point of his journey at the moment. He wasn't really out to make any friends, but then he remembered Boris. Looking over at the larger bear, he wondered if this bear was from his Old Forest. Lumbering over he circled the larger bear, taking a sniff every few feet. He turned his head to the small girl that had rode in on this bear "This bear, what Forrest is home?"
The young woman perked up as Yohdor began to speak. She quickly placed the gourd back into the cart as she offered a quick bow.
"Oh my! What an honor it is to meet an awakened bear." she said. "I should have expected to meet such a creature here at the foot of Orson's Mountain, but this is my first time having such an encounter."
As Crymaria introduced herself and began asking about Mhu'ati's vocabulary, a grin spread across her face. She broke out in light laughter as she clapped her hands gleefully.
"Aha! You speak strange just as I do! Everywhere I go people always tell me my speech is weird even though I say the same words as them. But here I have finally found someone who also speaks differently! This is very good, yes!" Mhu'ati said while making small jumps and jostling her legs in odd dance-like moves that resembled running in place. "Yes, molweni--or molo like I said to the awakend one here--those are words from my home! They are--what was it? H...Hallo? Yes! Hallo! I say 'hello' to you in my home language!"
Quickly performing another running in place sort of dance, Mhu'ati stooped under the bar in front of her cart.
"You three should come with me--most especially you, awakened one! Kruhrin is full of bearfolk. They will want to see you!" said she as she began pushing the cart forward.
Along the trail, the shadows were beginning to stretch longer as the sun began its descent. Still burning in midday yellow radiance, the tint of the light was getting its first hints of red, suggesting the approach of evening.
Further ahead, the path turns to the right and climbs uphill before turning to head deeper into the shelf of the mountain. Through the trees overhead, you can see the sheer face of the mountain rising over all. For now, you were on approach to the base of that rise where presumably the town of Kruhrin was situated.
Karsh and co. eventually arrive at Kruhrin behind Mhu'ati and co. Further elaboration to come if we hear from Ingenium.
Time: late afternoon
Weather: clear skies, rainless clouds moving in
Crymaria once again returned to her attention to Yöhdor as the bear got up and started to move around. "There might be a town, though I couldn't say for certain on that matter as I said, Comrade Boris was picking the path that we were traveling on." She explained as the Yöhdor asked about where Boris was from. "Comrade Boris has been with my family since I was young, I found him near my village. So I'm not sure what forest he would be from," Crymaria replied with a shrug of her shoulders before looking over at the woman.
Crymaria brought her hand to her chin as Mhu'ati explained that she was speaking her native tongue. Though she had never heard it before until know. Which brought into question what part of the world that her tongue was spoken. But that was a discussion for another time. "Comrade Mhu'ati what do you mean awakened bear?" She inquired as she had never heard that term before though based on this village she was talking about it seemed like bears were fairly common and then the mention of bearfolk caught her off guard a little.
Though Crymaria had to admit that she found the woman a bit strange since coming to this world strange has had an entirely new meaning. Then the group was off continuing along the trail as Crymaria had gotten back on Boris as the group moved. "So what do you know of this village Mhu'ati, you seem to know a lot about it," Crymaria pointed out glancing over at their new companion as the mountain continued to get closer and closer.
While he did not get a clear answer to his question, he figured that it wasn't exactly a big deal. Boris clearly didn't come from his forest, so it wasn't exactly a big deal. At this particular moment he was more worried about the fact that humans were talking. He didn't have a thing against humans, but he noticed that a lot of conversations seem to drag on forever. Bears were a lot more simple. They said what they needed to say and then left or they didn't talk anymore. People often added way too much fluff to what they needed to say and Yöhdor was more to the point than others.
However, when the mention of a town was brought up, that got his attention. He had heard about this town, something about bears being worshiped or something. He wasn't exactly sure and nor did he care. What he was looking for was something to eat and a decent place to sleep. He was sure the town would have some nice fields or something nearby so that way he could sleep well. He didn't have money and didn't quite understand the way capitalism worked. In the wild it worked very differently. Without saying a single word he simply started his way down the path. His lumbering body moving at its own pace on all fours.
Mhu'ati seemed to push her cart easily enough despite its size and load. Even while exerting herself, she was more than happy to talk with Crymaria as they crossed the final stretch to the mountain city.
"Ah, 'awakened'. You haven't heard it, Comrade Crymaria?" Mhu'ati said, trying to immitate the girl's accent when repeating her name. "That is what the local people call the animals that can talk. It is a strange thing to see, yes? We have the beastkin that have bodies like you and I. They can talk, but we do not think much of it. Yet there are animals still in their natural forms--you know, down on all four paws--which have somehow learned to talk as well. It is those animals that are 'awakened'...," She quickly moved a hand to tap the side of her head before placing it back on the handle of the cart, "...up here. Something is different about them. What it is? I do not know anyone that can say."
The contents of the cart clattered as one of the cart's wheels dipped into a rut. Mhu'ati glanced back to ensure everything was still good, while Crymaria assimilated the information.
They had reached the upper shelf that led straight towards the mountain's face. Now they could see a pass had been carved into it allowing the road to venture deeper into the mountains. Large sculptures of bears and bearkin lined the path leading up to the pass. When Crymaria asked about the village, Kruhrin, Mhu'ati jutted her chin towards the pass.
"Kruhrin is through there. Bet you would never guess it: bears living in the mountains, eh? Yes, I know of Kruhrin. I am just a medicine woman that visits from time to time, but I hear things. It is a city based on tradition. They believe that a great spirit guided them here and has protected them from danger ever since. That is the main reason for the feast: to honor that great spirit with large meals and contests of strength, wisdom, and cunning.
The town itself is spacious. Bears are quite big, so most of the buildings are larger than ones you or I would use. In fact, all the buildings and furnishings are large as humans almost never settle here. I think the bears are thankful for that. I am probably one of the few that visits regularly."
The statues just outside of the pass were arranged in four pairs: each mate on either side of the road. They stood anywhere from about 6 feet tall to about 20 feet tall, ordered from shortest to tallest. The statues in order depicted a bear cub, an adult bear, a bearkin, and finally a second bearkin with additional decorations. The first two statues depicting bears were on all fours. The last two depicting bearkin were standing upright on two legs. The final statue had additional features that seem to insinuate some sort of ascension or deification. Passing the last statue had them enter the pass. They were cast in shadow here as the sun had already set for this obscured portion of the road. Their time in shadow was brief, however, as they emerged a mile or so later out into the sun once more.
Now the path had turned into a corniche with the mountain rising on their right and falling away on the left, overlooking an expansive forest below. Up ahead, the cliff face on their right falls away revealing the entrance to Kruhrin. Most of the entrance was naturally barricaded by shelves of the mountain, but a formal gate had been built where the path naturally turned into the village. There in front of the gate was a bearkin guard. He did not appear to have a weapon on his person, but considering his bulky frame covered half the entrance, it was conceivable he probably didn't need one. As they approached, he squared himself up to them, folding his arms in front of his massive chest.
"Halt! Announce yourselves!" he called gruffly once they were within earshot.
"Molo, Buto! Mhu'ati has come in time for the feast!" Mhu'ati said cheerfully as she approached with her cart.
"Welcome back, Mhu'ati. Touch the orb." Buto the guard said somewhat gentler as he retrieved a black orb from his belt and held it out to her.
Mhu'ati didn't hesitate in resting her hand on the orb. After a moment, Buto withdrew the orb from her and stared at it. With a satisfied exhalation from his nose, he nodded to her and moved aside for her to enter. Mhu'ati looked over her shoulder at those traveling with her.
"I have matters to address inside, but I am sure we will see each other around. I hope you enjoy the feast!" she said before tugging her cart past Buto into the city.
Buto immediately moved back in front of the gate after Mhu'ati entered Kruhrin. He stared at the remaining three: two bears and a human girl. The guard repeated his demands to them, "Announce yourselves and touch the orb if you wish to enter Kruhrin."
Time: late afternoon
Weather: clear skies, rainless clouds moving in
Crymaria brought her hand to her chin, animals that talk? That could mean a lot of the beast kin that were to the north. So how would they separate them from the others? She thought to herself as she continued to listen to Mhu'ati continue to explain. That was when her question was answered and she looked at the other bear for a moment. Reaching down she scratched the top of Boris' head as the woman continued to push the cart along, though the question of her strength was still up in the air.
As the carving into the mountain led them further in, she was curious as to why they had carved a path through the mountain but that was a question for another time. As they continued along the path see saw the bear carvings that lined the path as they drew closer to the village that she was told about. "Many wouldn't want to make the trek through these mountains especially if the weather was cold Comrade. I could see why many humans wouldn't want to settle here," Crymaria replied as the statues continued to get larger and larger. Though she was going to have to see the building for herself if she was to believe it.
"Well Comrade Boris, you wouldn't say no to food and a contest would you?" Crymaria smirked as she pet the bear again as they approached the entrance of the village. To which she saw the guard that was there which even made her question coming here. When their guide did as she was told and was let in Crymaria reached out for a second but let out a sigh. "Well Comrade Boris, I suppose we came this far I suppose," she stated as she approached the guard. "Crymaria and this is Comrade Boris," she introduced herself as she placed her hand on the table and waited to be let through.
The bear simply ignored the others, not finding any of their topics too interesting. The thought of food and a decent place to rest was foremost in his thoughts. Though he was a bit excited. It had been a while since he had been to a town. Most people didn't seem to like it when a bear showed up. It really didn't bug him either way. He just wanted to eat.
Upon reaching this city he was a bit perturbed by the fact that a guard was asking him to do something. In all his travels he never came across a guard that guarded a city. Then again, he had never come across one this big. This was probably the largest city he had ever came to, so he assumed that meant they would have more food. Not to mention they apparently had something for bears. So, he yawned a bit, sitting down and placing his hand on the orb "Yöhdor is my name."
Buto lowered the orb as he extended it towards Crymaria. A similar exhalation blasted from his nostrils as her reading came back satisfactory. Since Yohdor was close at hand, Buto allowed him to approach and place a paw on the orb as well. Instead of snorting as he had with the humans, a deep, bass-toned hum rumbled from his throat.
"Welcome, awakened one Yohdor. Food and lodging can be found in the back of the village." Buto said shortly as he stepped aside for the bear. Turning to Crymaria, he added, "If Boris is not housebroken, you'll have to shelter him in the back of the village as well. Otherwise, the tavern off to the right after you enter the gate will suit your needs." He pointed in the general direction of the tavern.
Entering through the gate, the smell of cooking meats hangs heavy in the air over the plaza. All around you, chimneys smoke and fires blaze in communal roasting spots around town. Bearkin cranked spits in order to rotate carcasses of swine and kine over open flames, glistening with the shine of their simmering fat. Occasionally, a more sweet aroma of vegetables being sauteed or fish being fried mingles with the predominant smell of searing meat.
The design of the town seemed to be similar to most towns one might find in Ryke. As Mhu'ati had stated, the square footage of the buildings was more than humans typically used, and all the doors were noticeably wider and taller, giving the air of walking into a village built for lesser giants. The buildings were constructed in similar manner to typical humanoid structures, comprised largely of wood. Several of the buildings had second stories, presumably for housing as some used the first floor for businesses. Being in a mountain, the roads were a mixture of natural stone and dirt. The mountainous topography also caused the town to be tiered with parts being up on shelves and others nestled into low gullies. A main road could be seen on the opposite side of the plaza trailing off into the distance before turning out of sight behind a rise in the mountain.
Most of the creatures seen moving to and fro were bearkin, but due to the feast, there were other races present as well. In the direction of the tavern Buto had mentioned, there were a trio of elves standing outside the entrance conversating. Mhu'ati's cart could be seen in front of the tavern as well parked not far from the elves. Presently coming back to the plaza from the road on the far side were a couple of catkin. Additionally, mundane bears like Boris could be seen wandering the streets here and there, occasionally being played with by a passing bearkin as a human might engage with a dog.
The reds in the sunlight were becoming more pronounced. Evening had arrived. Though this part of the town was still illuminated, even moreso with the occasional cooking fires blazing, shadows were growing longer. A haze collected overhead from the many fires as clouds skirted the peak of the mountain.
Weather: clear skies, rainless clouds moving in
Crymaria nodded her head as she was let through the entrance to the town. Once she was let through, she climbed back on Boris. using the height advantage, she looked around and saw the various sights of the village. "Well, Comrade Boris there seems to be a lot of people here, though I don't think I have seen such large homes," She stated looking around for the tavern as she knew the rooms would be limited with all the arrivals for the feast. She took note of the square as well as the cart from earlier the place seemed to be full of life.
As she saw the other bears like Boris walking through the streets she watched as the children played with them. "Well I suppose we won't have to worry about you causing a scene. Lets head over to the tavern maybe will be able to find out more about what is going on," Crymaria spoke as she gently patted the bear's head as Boris made his way toward the tavern. Looking back over her shoulder at Yohdor as she saw he was let into the village as well. Though that wasn't surprising to her, so long as they didn't have any criminal titles or anything like they most would have been let in.
"Well, I shall see you at the tavern unless you intend on sleeping outside," Crymaria waved to her new acquaintance as Boris started to move down the street to get closer to the tavern. Upon her arrival she stepped inside Boris not far behind her as she approached the bar keeper. "How much for a room?" She inquired trying to get the things she needed in place first before going off exploring.
Within the crate, Ingenium and Maria remained still as the grave. The cart continued to shake and tussle along the mountain path, the faint trickle of light that passed into the darkness of the two "missionaries" space told of the setting sun signaling the coming of evening. Karsh, their smuggler muttered to himself along the way airing his misgivings, doubts, and general complaints centered around his work. Ingenium did not see it necessary to dignify every word the man uttered with a response if anything it seemed all the man really wanted was to believe someone was listening to his rants. So he did exactly that, merely listening attentively almost like a priest in a confessional booth. Though the wooden barrier separating them was far less ornamental, and Ingenium was hard-pressed to be considered anything like a traditional idea of a clergyman.
It was sometime later when the cart came to a slower pace and eventual stop. The muffled sounds of voices ahead indicated there was another group in front of them, and if they had stopped then it was probable they had arrived at the village gate. Ingenium and Maria remained still but an unknown feeling welled up in the "Red Iron God" something like anticipation, or maybe even excitement? It had been some time since his last meeting with those of flesh and blood, Karsh withstanding. His repair and subsequent apotheosis had taken much time and this was to be the first settlement he would come to after all that had happened. It would be Maria's first time ever around people even her old form as a trash disposal Construct had not encountered others in her constant toiling. This would all be fresh and new for her. Almost like a worried father Ingenium wondered how she would handle it all, but as he was still a being that prioritized logic and data he simply considered to observe and correct any deviations should they arise.
The lens within his crimson eyes shifted and adjusted as their cart once again moved at a leisurely pace. The voices ahead of them began to fade while the many sounds of the town grew more pronounced. Karsh was likely approaching the gate and its guard in order to gain entry. Within the crate, Ingenium felt no worry as to the success of their being smuggled in; the odds were in their favor.
The first group hadn't been five minutes in town before the next wagon pulled up to the gate. Buto made himself seem even bigger, if that were possible, seeing as now a sizeable carriage approached. As he had done numerous times already that day, he called out to the driver, "You approach the gate of Kruhrin, traveler. Announce yourself and submit to inspection in order to enter herein!"
Karsh pulled the wagon up to the gate, huffing at the guard's gruffness.
"I'd sooner squeeze through the eye of a needle! You know who I am, Buto. It's Karsh, as if Jia's rival need such introductions. Pah! And what's this about inspections, hm? You plan to rough up my work so the councilman has the advantage? HM??"
Buto quietly listened to Karsh's indignant reply and blind accusations, a blast of air emitting from his nostrils.
"Kruhrin welcomes your return, Master Karsh," the guard said evenly. "Surely a masterful artist such as yourself, who takes great pride in his work, would not ask me, a humble guard of Kruhrin, to be any less diligent in my own craft?"
Karsh gritted his teeth as he dismounted from the wagon.
"Just show me the orb already, Buto. I'll supervise your inspection to make sure there's no foul play, hm?"
As Buto extended the black orb to the man, Karsh rested a hand upon it. He grimaced unpleasantly while awaiting the results. Finally, Buto soundlessly pulled the orb back, apparently satisfied. Karsh motioned for him to follow while wiping his hand on his cloak. Buto's heavy footsteps came around to the back of the wagon, where Karsh undid the straps tying down the rear tarp. Pulling it back, he motioned inside. Buto's massive torso wedged into the opening as he peered inside. He sniffed the various satchels strewn around the wagon's floor. Satisfied, he moved up to sniff the crate containing Ingenium and his companion. Curling his index finger, Buto used the knuckle to lightly rap on the crate in various places. Karsh immediately protested.
"H-Hey! Be careful, you brute! Don't just go tapping and prodding at my year's work!" Karsh cried attempting to push Buto away.
The guard gave a final sniff as a contemplative hum escaped his mouth. At Karsh's insistence, Buto carefully removed his torso through the tarp's opening. Karsh immediately began tying the tarp back down, grumbling and muttering as Buto returned to the gate.
"Enjoy your stay in Kruhrin, Master Karsh." Buto said, waving him on in.
Karsh hurried back to the front of the coach, climbing into the driver's seat and grabbing the reins. Urging the horses, he wasted no time in getting away from Buto. Pulling into the plaza, he followed the main path to the back of town. It climbed up a hill into a thinly forested rise bordering a face of the mountain. Various caves could be seen chiseled into the mountain and places to tie up horses and other such conveniences had been installed nearby. Finding a secluded spot away from other occupied caves, he parked the cart. A sigh escaped him as he sat a moment, collecting himself. Finally, he rose once again and went around to the back of the cart, untied the flap, and climbed in. Rapping his knuckles on the crate three times, he whispered softly, "Alright, we're here. Come on out, my assistants."
Karsh pulled some of the satchels to him as he sat down in the floor of the cart. Pulling various cloaks and coverings from his stash, he handed them to Ingenium and Maria as they emerged.
"Alright, friends, you're free to do as you please, but don't go making a scene. You have to keep your identities a secret while you're here. The sculpture contest is in two days. Meet me back here that morning. Got it?" Karsh said, sounding extremely tired all of a sudden.
Crymaria's entrance to Kruhrin was far from unnoticed. Nearly as soon as she stepped into the plaza, bearkin, mostly cubs, flocked to her to ask about Boris.
"He's so big! What do you feed him, lady?"
"I've never seen a human riding a bear before!"
"He has no collar. Aren't you afraid someone will steal him?"
"Hey, lady, can we wrestle your bear?"
The questions were unending. At least it appeared as though the youth of Kruhrin were happy to see Crymaria and Boris. They scattered when the pair approached the tavern. In passing, Crymaria might pick up on part of the conversation the elves were having near Mhu'ati's cart.
"...ask about their construction," the first was saying. "Elves? Ask beastkin for building advice?" said the second indignantly. "It can't be helped. Houisil is growing too fast. We'll have no more room to build outward at this rate. We'll need their know-how to build upward instead," said the third.
The doorway to the tavern alone spoke of how roomy the place was: Boris easily fit through the door without contorting in the slightest. Inside, all the walkways and hallways were slightly more than two Borises wide. The furniture was reinforced with thick beams in order to accommodate the massive bearkin. Even so, this particular tavern was intended for use by normal sized humanoid travelers, but since it was ran by bearkin, the dimensions were larger. At the bar, a large gray-furred bearkin with a brown snout welcomed Crymaria.
"Welcome, traveler. A room for two will cost 4gr (gold rykes) per night," said the innkeeper. "Meals are free during the feast, but I encourage you to eat sooner than later. Bearkin aren't known for leaving leftovers." A chuckle shook the bearkin's jowls.
Weather: clear skies, rainless clouds moving in
Crymaria saw the cubs rushing over towards her as Boris stopped going forward. "Nothing special small Comrades, Comrade Boris grew big and strong on his own. Stolen? Comrade Boris is much stronger than he looks, if he wants to wrestle then he can but I have things I must do," she stated as she slipped off Boris and continued the rest of the way toward the tavern to go get a room so that way they had some kind of lodging. Though she wasn't sure what kind of room she was going to get based on the size of the buildings.
Crymaria's gaze shifted over toward the elves as she walked in and heard part of the conversation. I wonder what those comrades are talking about. I suppose something I can go back to after getting a room. She thought to herself as she reached the bar and the bearkin running the tavern told her about the room. She nodded her head for a moment as she milled it over in her mind before sliding the pack off her back and opening the top flap. She produced 4 rykes and set them on the counter of the bar. "Sounds simple enough Comrade, now if you will excuse me," Crymaria smiled as she turned around and started to walk toward the elves.
She scratched the back of her neck as she stopped a few feet from the elves, "Sorry, I couldn't help but overhear you were talking about something Comrades," Crymaria stated as she looked between the two. "I'm Comrade Crymaria, and this is Comrade Boris," she introduced herself and the bear. "Was there something that you need help with?" She inquired as she released the flaps of her Ushanka.
The cart finally made its stop at the Constructs' destination. Their passing through the main gate had been rather conventional, Karsh having led the conversation and keeping the guard's attention firmly on him. As ever Ingenium had not an ounce of worry as such a feeling was hard to come by within him; Maria did not even need to be considered. Having continued on Ingenium allowed his eyes to move to a crack in the crate, catching the waning evening light and a constrained view of the outside. Waiting with some measure of eagerness he could hear the stirring of Karsh outside followed by movement from the back of the cart and a dull knocking on the side of the crate they sequestered themselves in.
Maria's pious doll act was broken as she unclasped her hands and opened her eyes. With eye just as crimson as Ingeniums her gaze flickered over to him, though she remained silent Ingenium could tell it she was expectant of any orders. Giving a curt nod was all that was necessary for her to move to one of the walls of the crate and loosen it before removing it entirely allowing them to step out. Watching her Ingenium could not help but feel some satisfaction that she was intelligent enough to understand an unspoken command though the plan had of course been relayed to them both when they met the merchant.
"I and my follower shall perform as we agreed upon two days, in the morning, we will meet again." With a curt affirmation, Ingenium pulled a cloak from himself and Maria. Having taken significant structural damage before his apotheosis as the Red Iron God his mechanical nature was rather obvious unless fully covered, Maria, however, was in perfect condition and required no such measures. Securing his own cloak and assisting Maria with hers as she almost childishly handled it. With that, he stepped away from Karsh towards the main festivities, and Maria followed close behind. Keeping his head on a swivel Ingenium appraised the surrounding village searching for opportunities for Maria in particular. Almost instinctually he looked out for those who may be receptive to his "preaching". Ever since he became the "Red Iron God" That desire undercut much of what he did, but for now, there was not much reason to perform an impromptu sermon. Spying an Inn Ingenium altered his path towards it, Maria of course continued to follow dutifully behind him. He did not seek lodging but rather felt the chance to consume food as mortals did may be a valuable chance for both him and Maria, as it would be the first time for them both. Before he would not have even considered such a thing, so different was his current mindset compared to the Ingenium he once was.
The cubs would line up near Boris as his master left him to their mercy. Boris glanced at them, a bored huff escaping his snout as he turned around to follow Crymaria to the tavern. As he began to walk away one of the cubs ran up and jumped onto his back. Boris reared in surprise and took off running across the plaza. Adult bearkin that saw the spectacle either laughed or shook their head disapprovingly at the display before returning to their work, but none intervened presently.
While within the tavern, Crymaria would notice that there weren't many individuals in the common area. Those present were just chatting despite it being dinnertime. The tavern keeper slid her a key, explaining where her upstairs room was located.
"Your room is in the north wing. Take the stairs there and follow the hallway all the way down. Yours is the second from the last door on the left. Also, as I said meals are free during the feast, but let me explain how it works. In Kruhrin, mealtime is a communal affair. You probably saw some of the others roasting various animals around town on your way in. Just approach any of those cooks, and they'll give you a portion. If you're looking for something a bit more typical, like soups or fresh produce, we can fix you up here at the tavern. Speaking of, Mhu'ati's in the back restocking us. Let me know if you need anything else during your stay."
As Crymaria exited, she ran into a couple of catkin entering the tavern. Both held staves and wore robes becoming of sages. They bowed politely as they stepped back to allow her to leave before entering. The elves were making to leave as Crymaria approached them. They stopped and turned to her upon her addressing them.
"We are from Houisil two days to the south. It's fast becoming a proper city as opposed to the frontier settlement it started as. The war and the pest invasion to the south are to thank for that," said the first. "More people is usually a good thing for small frontier villages, but we've already expanded to our geographical limits. The latest expansion is being built as we speak, in fact," said the second. "As such, if we are to expand further, we'll have no choice but to build upwards. Spires and the like aren't our specialty, but the bearkin of Kruhrin are used to building taller buildings to accommodate their robust stature. We were on our way to see the council to ask for a dispatch of artisans to oversee and advise our building projects," said the third. "You are welcome to join us if you like."
At that moment, Boris came stampeding through the crowd of the plaza, sliding to a halt in front of Crymaria and the three elves. The cub still riding him was thrown forward onto the ground. After a moment, the cub laughed.
"Your bear is great, Miss!"
Outside, the tops of the buildings and trees burned deep pink and lavendar with the sun's dying light. Ingenium and Maria would find their path from the caves behind the village illuminated by lanterns hung periodically along the path. Although the sun waned, the village was illuminated plenty by the bonfires and lanterns hung throughout. Even at this late hour, bearkin as well as other humanoids could be seen wandering the streets. The roasting stations had become quite busy with crowds of creatures vying for a portion of the carcasses cooking thereon.
As the pair entered the plaza, they would arrive in time to see the cub being thrown from Boris's back. As the child began to laugh, the door of the tavern would open as Mhu'ati stepped out. Walking to her cart, she would grab the remaining bushel of what appeared to be mushrooms before turning and heading back to the door.
Crymaria nodded her head as the bartender spoke about the rooms and how getting food worked at the moment. "Good, I will keep that in mind, comrade; now if you excuse me, I must return to my other comrade for I fear that the locals might be a little more than Comrade Boris can handle," Crymaria chuckled as she turned around and made her way out of the tavern. She did find the place fascinating though that didn't mean it was particularly safe for everyone to be here all the time. Though the festival seemed to gather those from different parts to command witness whatever they were here to witness.
As the two strangers explained their conversation, Crymaria nodded her head, "Yes, Comrades, I have heard about these pests from the south though I have no experience with them myself." She thought the new settlement might be a good place to visit once the festival was finished. Though she hadn't seen the war firsthand either, she knew that it was happening, and it didn't seem like it would end soon. "But I imagine the merchants in the village coming through are fairly happy about the growing population," Crymaria stated as she looked around for Boris, as she didn't see him right away.
"So you are looking to make taller buildings?" She repeated as she brought her hand up to her chin. She remembered seeing several tall buildings on her travels though to what end was the question. I mean a tall building for this time period would be three or four stories and even that could be pushing it depending on the material. Which material was used the building could be a lot higher like that of a stone wall. "I would very much be intrigued to join you, Comrades, though first I must find another comrade of mine," Crymaria stated as she looked around for Boris as he appeared around the corner and hurled the three cubs off of him.
"Comrade Boris, lets follow me now is not the time to be playing around," she joked as she turned her attention back to the two individuals she had just met. "Comrade Crymaria and as I have already stated the bear is Comrade Boris," she introduced her self and Boris.
The crowd in the plaza was becoming noticeably denser. Everywhere you looked, people were walking around with large slabs of meat in their hands: legs, thighs, ribs. One bearkin was even handling an unrecognizable portion that appeared to be an organ of some kind. It most certainly was dinner time. As the trio of elves realized what was happening, two of them looked uncomfortable--one of the pair even retrieving a handkerchief to cover his mouth and nose. The third, however, appeared to salivate slightly at the sight. One of the others cleared their throat, causing him to wipe his mouth and turn away with a sheepish grin.
"Yes, well, uh, Crymaria, was it? Let's head up to the windmill overlooking the plaza. I believe I heard the council was going to be there for part of this evening," said the supposed leader of the trio.
The other two fell in beside him as they weaved their way through the meat-crazed populace. A few roasters were set up around the back and side of the tavern, one of which caused the previously salivating elf to abruptly stop and nab a portion for himself. He turned shamelessly to his companion, his cheeks already puffed out as he chewed on a mouthful of what appeared to be the wing of some bird.
Going past the tavern, there was a path behind it that rose up to the windmill's level. Torches were staked into the ground periodically along the path. From where the path inclined all the way up to the windmill, the throngs of creatures got considerably thinner. Additionally, the crowd of the plaza was more diverse with the non-bearkin guests mingled in with the Kruhrin locals, but here on this path to the windmill, there was only a few bearkin, most of which seemed to be idling as if waiting for something.
At the top of the path, they were met by a rabbit beastkin. Her fur was all white, matching the majority of white in her raiment. A blue scarf billowed around her neck, its ends draping down her front and back. Around the base of her right ear, trace glints of firelight shown on a decorative circlet. She appeared diminutive, the top of her head barely reaching Crymaria's mouth, but her ears made up for it, adding nearly a foot to her total height.
"Stop," said she, a small, white paw held in front of her to stay them. Her words were soft but firm, a far cry from Buto's greeting at the gate. "The council is currently using the windmill. You will have to wait until they are done." Her words were politely informative, lacking any and all malice or attitude. She folded her paws together, standing her ground to ensure the council was not interrupted.
The lead elf cleared his throat and took a small step toward the rabbit.
"We are elves from Houisil. We have come to make an urgent request of the council. Is there any way we might see them?" he boldly asked.
"I'm afraid not," came the matter-of-fact response, shattering the elf's bold facade. "As I said, the council is currently occupied. You will have to petition them another time. Also," she tilted her frame to the side, peering at Crymaria and Boris in the rear. Her nose twitched. "Elves three, but also a human. Are you with them also, Miss?"
The lead elf was taken aback at being dismissed by the rabbit as she turned her focus to Crymaria. Crossing his arms, he stepped to the side to join the bearkin idly waiting.