Southern Stradyn - Gallinholme “The Wild”
Piper and I had heard the local folk talking about a beast lurking around the crossing. This town just off the Black Road was one of the midway stops between Toria and Bristle Burrow, and they called it Haven. Wasn’t always called that, used to be something spooky like “BlackMire”, I don’t recall exactly, but they changed the name because they thought it would increase trade.
It worked, after a fashion, a name means a lot to the right kind of people, and more folk wanted to overnight in a place called Haven than they did in a place that sounded like it was all peat bogs and tar pits. Problem was, Haven was mostly peat bogs and tar pits. Had a real bad vermin problem too.
The locals had gotten wind of Piper coming through and asked to hire him. Strictly speaking he isn’t on the job when he’s out recruiting, but he’s not-not on the job if you get me. They pleaded their case and the fact was they needed help, but the other fact was they also had the coin to pay. Bounty Hunters Guild pay is usually pretty good, and it gets better the more dangerous the work. This was no exception. Lucky for the locals all that traffic had fattened their purses, and after trying to send a few local kids out to deal with the problem and having them come back the hard way, they decided to hire a professional.
Well, two professionals.
Well, one and a half professionals.
Piper said he liked me for the team, and wanted to bring me on, but the boss said I needed to get out and get my feet wet. I been out in these woods my whole life, my feet have been wet more times than I can count, but they don’t know that. Alright, fine, let’s put our cards on the table and show them what I got.
Didn’t have to go far in the woods before the sound and light of the road disappeared behind us. This part of the country, the wood was dense, the trees got taller than you could imagine once you got more than a half mile off the road. Taller than you could see, anyway. Some called it the wood-sea, but you couldn’t sail here. Some places got so dense you could barely walk, let alone run a cart or bring a horse. The peat bogs could appear as oases in the desert to a weary traveler, clearings in the trees where you thought you had come across something in the dark wood, but they would swallow you up like a greedy beast if you laid a foot on em wrong.
The tar pits were worse, and the death they offered was often slower. Depending on the depth you might only find yourself stuck to the waist, and if you didn’t come with a party of healthy wanderers to pull you out, you could expect to die of thirst or starvation out here in the dark. If something didn’t find you first. Hey, at least you’d drown in the peat, or freeze if the season was late enough.
We trekked through the forest for a few hours, we had been briefed on the danger the folk of Haven were facing and Piper had a pretty good reckoning of what was causing it. The problem was, this particular type of quarry was erratic and didn’t always hunt for food. Based on the tales of the townsfolk, Piper thought it would be out ranging, maybe looking for prey or other of its kind. Problem was, even if it found its family, they wouldn’t accept it back into the group. Something had happened to this beast, and it weren’t right any more.
We caught sight of the beast in the early morning, or at least I think it was early morning. The light didn’t much penetrate the wood-sea this deep, not until much later in the day, but my internal clock was pretty well fine tuned, and I reckon it was close to sunrise.
Piper and I kept up high in the trees, watching her for a couple hours. Piper was relatively certain it was a sow, though how he could tell I may never know. He spotted her first, and it took me more than one take to pick her out of her surroundings. The camouflage was near perfect, as you might expect under the circumstances, and it weren’t until she lunged at what must have been a squirrel or raccoon on the forest floor that I noticed her.
I’d heard tell of dire swine in The WIld, and I think I’d seen one or two before, but always from a distance. This would have been a specimen to behold in her better days, but her luck had run dry a long time ago, and she was in a bad way.
Piper said they called them Lusus Naturae, and this weren’t the only type, but it happened from time to time, and it were as tragic as it were dangerous. They called this type a Timber Shark, and the name weren’t a bad descriptor for how the pig looked now. The Dire Swine must have fallen in a tar pit, covered from head to toe, and fought its way out. The tar was thick, and if one of our people fell in it they’d’ve needed a years supply of solvent to get out of the hair, from under their nails, in their eyes. The swine stood no chance, out here in the wood-sea. It had emerged from that tar, a great triumph that few could have accomplished, and it were covered from snout to tail in the sticky stuff.
The way Piper explained it that tar was mighty uncomfortable, and it stuck to everything. Over the course of a few weeks that swine would try to get it off the only way she knew how, by rubbing up on every tree she passed. There wasn’t nothing to be done about that tar without an alchemists shop in the wings, though, so all the sow ended up doing was covering herself in branches, tree bark, maybe the odd stone or two, and she ended up looking like a monster your momma wouldn’t even have come up with for your bedtime stories. The crest of that big hogs back ended up lookin’ a bit like a fin, and I expect that’s why they called it a Timber Shark.
We watched that beast make its way along a game trail and listened to the soft clacking of wood pieces knocking together as she walked, occasionally she would grunt or snuffle in pain, but she took no notice of us in our perch. We had gauged the wind right and the swine didn’t have the best eyesight to start with, before she fell in the tar.
Piper and I conferred and a plan formed between us. We would hunt this boar as the people of The Wild had hunted swine for decades, with a spear. Piper knew the method for crafting the boar spear and I weren’t no slouch. We went to work.
We spent days crafting the spear. We harvested the wood, we found the right type and hardness of stone. We knapped it ourselves, and bound the point with sinew of animals we had hunted in the weeks previous. We built our weapon, we picked our ground, and we chose our bait. We tracked the boar, and we waited.
We had chosen several sites for our kill, and we needed to wait for the Timber Shark to meander close enough to one of them to be baited into the trap. The beast was unpredictable, and it would terrorize the forest at times during our hunt. Luckily we had caught the beast far enough out that none of the local folk were in danger, but the sow had already taken a blood price from them, and hopefully we could prevent any further deaths. Aside from the one more that was necessary.
We assessed the Timber Shark in the early morning of the tenth day, and could tell she was moving for one of our ambush sites. We had staked a fresh doe there that morning and knew she was hungry, as she hadn’t had nothin’ to eat but squirrel and chipmunk in a day and a half. The only problem was the site she was heading to.
This site was not our best, and on dangerous ground, but the hunt had gone on for near two weeks, and we were worried if we delayed further the Shark would hunger enough to push in to Haven, and take another one of the residents. This was a grim fate for any, but neither of us wanted the weight on our conscience of the Shark taking one of the villagers, a traveler, or worse, a child. We made our decision to hunt the Shark here and now, and we sprung our trap when the beast approached.
The Timber Shark wove between the trees in the darkness. It must have been halfway to noon, but it was still dusky in the wood-sea, and the wood spines of the swine reached the lower branches of some of the larger trees, easily fifteen feet tall. Our doe was staked in a small, clear area, only a few feet on a side, but in a wide enough area for the Shark to reach it.
The beast entered cautiously, snuffling at the air. Piper and I had had a wood smoke bath that morning, cleaning ourselves of unnatural scent and standing in the thick smoke of burning pine boughs we had thrown on our fire. We knew it couldn’t be perfect, but it appeared to be enough for the Timber Shark to miss our smell. She entered the small clearing, testing the ground before putting her weight on it. Obviously she had learned her lesson about tar pits, and likely she had fallen in a bog or two in her life.
We let her enter and take the doe. She was hungry and did not waste time in taking the bound deer. The animal did not suffer, and that was a small kindness. As she ate we demurred for a moment, allowing the sow to be fully invested in her kill.
Piper waited in the tree, spear at the ready. We had picked the spot and he knew when to deploy the weapon. The beast would impale itself on the spear with her own momentum. I merely had to… entice her. I leapt to the ground. Cards on the table. Let’s show them what I’m made of.
I landed and immediately stood tall, flaring my cloak. I had stitched bright yellow cloth on the inside to stand out against the dark wood. I flapped the cloak and waved my arms, yelling nonsense at the top of my lungs. Whistling, jeering, and hooting, I pranced around no less than thirty feet from the Timber Shark.
The beast was immediately confused and took a step forward to cover her prey. This was her kill and no one would take it from her. She was hungry, she was in pain, and she was lonely. I somersaulted and whooped mere yards from the beast, eventually eliciting a reaction in the form of a deep, bass, rumble from the monsters chest. I had her attention now, and all I had to do was seal the deal.
I took a step toward her, hand outstretched toward the doe. She shifted, dust blooming from under her wood-covered hooves. I took one more big step, reaching for the doe.
The squeal from the Timber Shark was ear splitting, and I knew before the sound had concluded that it was my cue to flee. I turned on my heel and ran down the lane we had prepared. I jumped over roots and ducked tree limbs, the Timber Shark plowing behind me like a warship under full sail. My feet were quick, and I outran the beast for now, though that wouldn’t last long, and I yelled over my shoulder as she followed me.
As I neared the end of the lane I swore that I could feel her hot breath on my back, but that was probably my own fear, covering me like a blanket in this time of terror. As I made the final leap I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I knew, I hoped… it was Piper, setting the spear. The Ironwood shaft, the obsidian speartip, the sinew lashing. I ducked into the hollow I had chosen and I knew my partner had done his job, and if he hadn’t? I wouldn’t live long enough to curse his name.
A crash of thunder. Silence. Musk. Silence. Darkness. Dripping. Grunts. A shifting, clacking sound. A small light breaking in from the hole of my hollow. I don’t know how long I was in there, but the Timber Shark had impaled herself on the entire length of the spear, and come to rest completely covering the entrance of the hollow I had dived into. Piper pried open an egress, shifting the massive body of the beast enough for me to escape. I was dazed. I looked at him, dumbfounded.
“You think I got all fuckin’ day?” He shouted into the hovel. That broke me from my reverie, and I scrambled out of the hole. I took at least a half dozen slivers as I scrambled out past the Timber Shark, and I winced and gasped as I gained my feet. Piper gave me no quarter and immediately admonished me. “Did you see that peat bog? We rehearsed this! The peat was right under your feet, and if you had missed one step on those hags you’d be Shark food right now!”
“I know where I was stepping, she was running too fast! If I had gone around she would have run me down and had me for lunch before you could’a gotten out of the tree! What would you have done anyway, eh? Stuck her with your knife?” My chest heaved, still high off the adrenaline, and righteously indignant, prepared to argue as long as I had the breath.
“...” Pipers lips made a thin line, and he seemed about to channel another outburst. “You… are right. You did the job. That was the right choice.” He regarded the beast before us. “This was hard, and you did it. You made this happen.” He looked in my eyes and I could see the sincerity there. “Welcome to the Bounty Hunters Guild, lass. I think you’ll make a fine addition.”
Gallinholme is a large, mostly untamed territory in the south of Stradyn. Gallinholme is the closest territory to Ultus, and all trade with that Kingdom travels The Black Road of Gallinholme. The Wild is a large territory, and only marginally civilized. The border of Ultus is in stark contrast to the rest of Gallinholme, in close proximity to civilization, with healing more readily available than the rest of Stradyn. The influx of Ultan goods keeps the populace with a good supply of quality steel and equipment, allowing the Gallinholme people to prosper in their chosen professions as rangers, hunters and tradespeople. The average citizen of Gallinholme is sharp as a tack, armed, and dangerous.
Gallinholme folk who live near the border keep to themselves, feeling more civilized than the average resident, and to the people of The Wild, they’re Nultans (Near Ultans). The city of Toria is in spitting distance of the border with Ultas, and in Toria, life is good. Healing is near, goods are high quality, and the economy is strong. Torians are as quick as the rest of the residents of Gallinholme, but lend their talents to trade, economics, and city planning. The Torian sprawl offers as good a quality of life as one can hope for in Stradyn, outside of Scarleton, but this security enjoys a small dominion. Outside the city the wild claims the reaches, and the folk who live in The Wild know they can’t rely on anyone but themselves.
Kieran Piper - Kieran is the Head Recruiter for the Bounty Hunters Guild. The best hunters from Stradyn hail from Gallinholme, and the County Hunters Guild knows this. Kieran makes few appearances along The Black Road, though he is known to stop in and chat with caravaners and their guards. His heart is in the wild, and he seeks out his people. Offering employment to the capable and council to the novice.
Cane Davies - Magistrate Davies oversees daily operations at the border crossing outside Toria. A Hobling pragmatist, Cane has lived in Gallinholme for 50 years, and done business in Stradyn her entire life. Toria is a pragmatic business-woman, and is always open to negotiate. Cane delights in the art of the deal, and terms are always up for debate
Steffon Nest - Mr. Nest is the Mayor of Bristle Burrow, the midway point between Toria and the rest of Stradyn. Bristle Burrow lies on the only major crossroads of The Black Road, where highways from all Stradish Dutchies connect on the way to Ultus. Bristle Burrow is a former barbarian territory, and Mr Nest is the former chieftan of the Black Burr tribe. The area was settled by Stradish officials decades ago, and they endeavoured to maintain local authority over the region. Mr. Nest has proven himself a capable local leader, and the Stradysh authorities have seen fit to maintain him as the magistrate and mayor of the Bristle Burrow region. Justice is swift and authoritarian in the region, and the majority of citizens live full time in the Wild. Bristle Burrow is friendly enough for those passing through, but complications can arise for the unwary traveler.
Views of other Cultures:
The Front - “They steal away all our best hunters, they do. Every young lad or lass with real promise always wants a taste of the glory, and they head out west. Know what glory gets you? An early grave and sore feet from all that bloody walkin. This is where the real challenge is. Hunting beasts”
-Gwenyth Pritchett, ranger
The Capital - “All that court and carryin’ on, it’s all too much for me. I went down there for a vacation one year and hoo boy was that a mistake. I have never been so bored in my entire life, but somehow it was more expensive than any other vacation I’ve taken.
The food was good.”
-Meggan Gwynn, caravan driver
The Backbone - “‘The Backbone’, feh. Maybe if the backbone were all soft folk what pushed the dirt around all day. They say we need ‘Farmers’, but I always gathered what I needed. Sure, they make enough food to feed the kingdom and then some, sure we sell that food for money to other kingdoms and it makes us financially stable. Sure, we get better food than other places and our folk grow big and strong, which helps in all kinds of-oh I get it. I said it and then I got it.”
-Jac Glasco, trapper
Garalta - “I knew a fella what used to be from Garalta. Quiet, kept to himself. Shaky, kinda nervous, you know? Always lookin’ over one shoulder or the other. I heard sometimes they hunt down thems that leave. Or do they escape? He didn’t like to talk about it, but I heard stories. Don’t sound like no way to live to me, what’s life with no freedom? Can’t get drunk in a bar and pee in a bush without gettin’ yer hand chopped off? No thank you.”
-Maelor Urian, Torian caravan guard
Hargroth - “The beasts over there must be a sight to see, eh? Can you imagine? I’d love to hunt those plains. I wonder how long I would last…”
-Elgar Kendrick, local maniac
Miloan - “Oh I love those folk! Those goats are always so kind and helpful. They help me on the farm when they come through, they want to know how to milk the cows and what the chickens are like. I’m so glad they’re part of Stradyn, it really brightens the place up.”
-Melinda Parsons, Innkeep
Ultus - “They got it so easy, ‘cept those boys down south. Kinda like here, I reckon. Lots of trade, lots of “diplomacy”. Most of those folks don’t know about the dangers in the wilds, let alone out in this world. I’m sure they’ll give you a fair price on bread, but would they be any good on a hunt? Or if a beast was at your door?”
-Tomi Morris, Bounty Hunter recruit