Episode Two, Part One: Cryptids: A History and Anthology
Rilain woke up to a crack of pinkish sunlight purring across her face, the Vibranni having spent the night sprawled across the desk in one of Aunt Helen’s spare bedrooms. She was never quite able to take to any overly-stuffed beds, especially the ones Alex’s aunt provided. When she had first tried sitting on it the previous night, she felt as if she was being swallowed whole by a giant pillowy Chanka, with feathers for teeth. So instead of acting like the typical human, she went for the top of the desk, clinging to her memories of sleeping on flat-headed rocks as a child.
After yawning and stretching out her cinched muscles, Rilain stood up, slipped into her clothes, and found her way downstairs to Aunt Helen’s private library. When she opened the door, it took her a few seconds to adjust to the massive quantity of books the old broad kept neatly organized upon several floors of bookshelves. She groaned when she realized it would take her nearly forever to find the book—or perhaps books—she was hoping to find, but then shook it off with the optimistic thought of, “Maybe she has them alphabetized by subject…”
Rilain bit her lip, closed the wide oak door behind her, and started off towards the first set of bookshelves. Luckily, they were labeled “A” for “Artists,” “Adventure,” “Animals,” and the like. She stopped at “Animals” and quickly scanned through the available titles, but frowned when she didn’t come across any titles she wished to see. So she continued to another set of bookcases a few rows down where the “C” subjects were.
“Castes, no,” Rilain murmured, sliding her finger along spine after spine. “Chemistry, no. Crimes, nope.”
The Nakalo stopped when she came across one book within its very own section, a section she wished was much broader than this single book.
“Cryptids,” she read, “A History and Anthology…” She looked down at the author’s name which was printed in very elegant silver ink, sunken delicately into the leather front of the book, the font’s curls tapering off lightly. Professor Markus Nettleson, it read. Rilain pondered the name for a second, wondering if she had heard it anywhere prior to this instance, but no face or relatable name came to mind. She kept the name tacked to her spongy memory and tucked the book under her arm, walking over to a nearby armchair by a hungry yet warm fireplace.
Rilain sat down on one arm of the chair and perched her feet on the other, peeling the book open on her thighs. She skimmed through the table of contents and noticed quite a few names of creatures she did not recognize…but only one that she did.
“The Crocotta,” she murmured, flipping to the chapter that contained more information on the creature. There was a large image on the first page beneath the title, a similar image to one Rilain had seen in Fen Byen, both on paper and physically.
She turned the page and scrutinized the text on the tawny, faded paper.
The Crocotta, a large canine-like animal about three to four feet in height, is a quite intriguing creature. It mainly feeds off of livestock and medium-sized forest dwelling animals, but when it desires a change in diet, it seeks out human flesh. It often lures its prey with a mimicked human scream, similar to that of a loved one. The Crocotta is typically striped or spotted, with a large mouth full of sharpened fangs and a tail mainly used for balance and soft prowling. Although it occasionally seeks out human prey, there have only been a few rare documented killings. It is assumed that most of the disappearances within the Crocotta’s recorded territory, Fen Byen, are caused by the creature, but the bodies are then fully consumed, revealing little to no trace of the human prey.
Rilain pondered the description of the animal and realized it was written similarly to the bounty she had seen posted outside a bar in Fen Byen.
“This Professor Nettleson must have been the same person who wrote that bounty…” she murmured, turning the book over to read the cover. She wondered if it was possible to get in contact with this professor, but as she skimmed through the front of the book as well as the back, she was unable to find any contact information or where the book might have been published. Rilain figured that the book was either the first of its kind, or the author was trying real hard not to be found.
The Vibranni sighed and pushed the thought to the back of her mind, deciding to instead search for any supposed mythical creatures that might have been seen in Kuu. She flipped to one of the back pages and saw an image of a rather large and bulky wolf-like creature, light gray in color.
“The Snerra,” she whispered, reading over the text. It seemed to be a heavily-built wolfish creature with a large, blocky head and stood about four feet tall. They were mainly solitary creatures, but were known for killing humans by removing their heads. These creatures dined merely on the heads of their prey, many discovered victims of the animal’s attacks having been decapitated. Although difficult to find, the Snerra’s home is typically deep within the mountains of Kuu.
Rilain snapped the book shut, knowing exactly how to spend her next few days. She was getting rather bored of sitting around Aunt Helen’s estate, being ignored by the house’s help and receiving awkward stares and comments from Aunt Helen herself.
“Alexander could have done better,” the old woman would whisper every time she passed Rilain. “Why does he travel with one of your kind, anyway?”
The Vibranni had had enough of her verbal mistreatment, desiring a relief from the stuffy, upper-class manor and its owner. At least she wasn’t an Alpha—far from being one, actually—and at least her tail had been removed, having been forced into slavery at an early age. She looked closer to being a human than she would have during her childhood, save for her ears and the toxic green layers of hair resting on the back of her scalp.
She stood up, brushed a blonde strand of hair out of her eyes, tucked the book under her arm, and proceeded out of the library up towards her room. She needed to pack away her things and head out for supplies, requiring enough food, water, and shotgun shells for at least the next three days. Her hooded, fur-lined coat was enough to hide her ears and most of her face, assuming that the civilians of Hiemskôg wouldn’t view her as a suspicious individual, although she wouldn’t blame them. Her constant smirks were enough to lead someone to believe she was up to no good, even though she might be simply standing in one place with her hands locked behind her back... A dagger clasped between them...
Rilain pulled her hood up, strapped her pack over her shoulders, tucked her shotgun and her knife into her belt, and slipped into her boots. She had been wandering about Aunt Helen’s estate barefooted, which the old hag had blown up about on several occasions. However, the Nakalo didn’t necessarily care. It was more comfortable to walk about a wood-floored establishment with her toes caressing the delicate grains within each panel, rather than in stockinged or shoed feet.
Lastly, she pulled on a pair of fingerless, fur-lined gloves, her fingertips being somewhat resistant to the cold having once lived within the mountainous region neighboring Antiford and Titania. She pulled open the door of the guest room and walked out into the hall, hoping to run into Alex on her way out, which she so happened to by the dining room.
“Where you off to this early in the morning?” he asked, arms crossed over his chest. He seemed to be trying to read her half-shadowed face with his one good eye, his little octopus friend, Franklin, acquiring roughly the same expression. She didn’t want to mention that she was searching for a possibly mythical creature, but she also didn’t want to straight out lie to him, seeing as she owed him her life.
“I thought I might spend a few days in the mountains,” Rilain murmured, rubbing her nose against her index finger. “A lowly Vibranni like me isn’t allowed at a fancy ball like the one you’ve been invited to, and I sure as heck don’t want to sit around this dump all week, being judged by every blinking, criticizing eye.” She huffed a sigh and stood straighter, crossing her own arms over her chest.
Alex shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck. “Trust me, if I could, I would find some way for you to attend the masquerade, but since this is where I might have grown up, I want to stick to their customs as much as I can,” he replied, Franklin squirming slightly on his shoulder. “We have to be on our best behavior if I’m to gather any more info about my past.” At that moment, he bent over slightly so that he was eye-level with Rilain, smirking at her.
Slightly flustered, Rilain pulled up her collar to cover her nose and half of her face from the cold atmosphere outside, as well as a crawling blush. At this moment, she made her exit, promising Alex that she would be back aboard the Gazelle by the end of the week. If for some reason she did not make it back by sunset on Demiday, he should not send out a search party. She would either make it back to Conwell on her own, or get eaten by hideous, hungry beasts.
“You won’t get eaten, as long as you have that flair gun I gave you, just in case,” he said, watching her open the door.
Rilain nodded, patting the right side pocket of her bag, trying to avoid eye contact.
“Good. Well, see you on Demiday, Rilain.”
Rilain sighed and stepped out into the snow, her small footprints disappearing in the swirling whiteness of the landscape.
Episode Two, Part Two: Prints
After gathering enough supplies in the marketplace, as well as a dingy second-hand tent, Rilain opened her book and scrutinized the text the professor had written about the Snerra. It seemed as if the creature was generally located in the eastern mountains on the frozen island, its thick gray or white fur typically aiding it within the cold region.
Rilain nodded and shut the book before stuffing it in her coat, checking her hood to make sure her ears and green hair were well-hidden before trudging through the snow towards the east. She did not exactly know where to find the creature, only the location the professor had mentioned, which was the whole entire mountainous eastern side of Kuu. It might take days, or even weeks to track the animal down, if she felt like blowing Alexander off and remaining within the frigid location. However, she had only packed enough supplies to last her until the end of the week when she was due back at the Gazelle. If she found the animal in time, excellent; if not, she would simply have to track it down the next time they visited the area.
Several hours into her adventure and Rilain was deep within the pine-infested eastern mountains, continuously mistaking rabbit tracks and deer hoof prints for possible leads. She was eager to find these monstrously large wolf prints that she jumped at every imprint in the snow she could find, even her own. She had briefly circled around a grove of blue pines, screaming with joy when she saw elongated tracks in the snow. However, she punched the trunk of one of the trees when she realized they were her own damn footprints, and swore loudly at how stupid she was as well as the pain she felt within her knuckles…
After several more hours of wandering aimlessly throughout the mountains, following small fox prints in the hopes of getting at least somewhere, she came across a river running down the mountain, perhaps runoff from the glacial tops high above. She knelt down beside the river and decided to take a break, slipping off her gloves to scoop icy water into her hands. Rilain didn’t care that the water bit into her skin, piercing her bones like needles. It was refreshing to her as it burned down her throat, chilling her sweating body from the inside. She sighed as the water cooled her tired limbs and glanced up across the river. She thought she saw a large silver shadow pass in front of an iced-over sapling, but was too far away to make out exactly what it was. In an eagerness to gain more evidence on the Snerra, she stood up and carefully hopped a few protruding rocks to the other side of the river, almost falling on her face as she tripped off the last one. She steadied herself and moved over to the sapling, crouching low to the ground in the hopes of discovering the prints she was after.
“Gotcha,” Rilain murmured, grinning broadly. Her heart fluttered at the thought of discovering this animal and eventually devouring it. She knew it was most likely a rare animal, but that was what made her even more enticed by what its firm, juicy flesh tasted like between her teeth. Her stomach grumbled at the thought of raw, dripping flesh, and she held a hand over it in the hopes of softening its cries.
“Soon,” she whispered and quickly followed the fresh wolfish prints deeper into the mountains.
After about an hour of following the footprints, her toes stopped at the frigid shore of the river, once again. She stomped her feet in frustration, a few icy drops of the river water splashing up into her face. Rilain was so heated that she completely ignored the droplets’ frozen teeth nibbling at her exposed skin.
“How many times do I have to wander around this fucking mountain, following what I think to be pleasing trails, only to end up losing it a while after?!” Rilain exclaimed, balling her hands up, her body shaking. She had thought that after pressing her face into those perfectly-shaped Snerra prints, she would eventually stumble across the creature and capture its rare curiosity between her eager teeth. The bastard creature outsmarted her, however, and seemed to have used the river as a means of escape.
The Vibranni sighed and sloshed through the river, not caring that her boots and legs were getting completely soaked. Luckily, it was one of the river’s more shallow areas so the water did not reach more than halfway up her thighs. She knew she would be shivering later, but seeing as the sun had made its way to the peak of the mountain, night was about to arrive.
Episode Two, Part Three: Leaving the Trail Behind
Rilain slept roughly that night in her cramped, patchwork tent, believing that every ten minutes or so she heard snuffling by the entrance flap. She knew the sounds were nothing to be afraid of, seeing as her trusty shotgun remained caressed within her arms throughout the night. Besides, no creature had a chance against her vicious, blood-thirsty jaws and her powerful claw-like fingers.
After several hours of brief dreaming, she awoke as sunlight pierced the thin cloth of the tent. She grumbled, wishing the cold and animal-like noises hadn’t kept her up for hours, but rolled up her sleeping bag and exited the tent, anyway. She stared at the ground for a few moments, noticing a few decapitated heads of squirrels and birds being scattered about. She wondered if those were the noises she had heard during the night; the pathetic deaths of dozens of small creatures.
“Snerra,” she muttered, picking up a squirrel head that had been half buried in the snow. She licked the stump of a neck it had remaining and smiled before tossing the skull aside. Squirrels for breakfast were on her mind. She would follow through with these thoughts after the tent was tightly packed up.
Rilain continued her journey through the mountainside, knowing the phenomenon she had witnessed that morning in front of her tent could only be the work of the Snerra she was after. Decapitated heads were its signature killing technique. She also wondered if the creature was trying to show dominance, letting the Vibranni know that her tracking methods would never unearth the wolf-like being.
“I’ll find you, damn beast,” Rilain muttered, pushing a tree branch aside. “And when I do, your innards and your tail will be mine…”
She stopped her maniacal murmurings and soft giggles when she approached a quaint village. Quite a few of the small wooden huts looked to be badly damaged, as if something had forced its way inside. She walked over to the nearest structure, frowning. As she pushed the splintered door open, she gasped, two mutilated bodies having been torn apart and strewn about the compact room. She crouched down and examined one, noticing that the head had been cleanly severed and most of the muscle tissue and skin had been chewed off.
Rilain stuck her tongue out in disgust, almost finding it ironic that such a scene made her stomach churn unpleasantly. However, she would personally never do something as horrific to a human being. Yes, she might explode a human skull with a shotgun blast, but nothing as disturbing as removing their head and feeding off their flesh. It was downright diabolical!
The Vibranni broke out of the hut, screaming into the cold air, “Snerra, you bastard, I know you did this!” Her voice broke on the last word and she had to cough to settle her vocal cords. As she did so, she thought she heard movement coming from the hut she had just exited. She narrowed her eyes at the door, wondering if the beast was hiding in one of the corners, waiting for the right moment to attack.
Rilain growled and stormed back inside, looking through every possible hiding space only to turn up with no sign of the beast. She made a slight noise of frustration as she sat back up, having looked under one of the beds in the cramped bedroom. She remained still for a moment, training her ears for any possible sound within the damaged home. Her breath caught when she heard rapid breathing coming from nearby. But how was it possible? How could that creature still be within the hut, even after she had scoped the entirety of it out?
She bit her lip and crawled forward, trying to pinpoint the location of the breathing. As she approached the source, she felt a floorboard creak under the weight of her palm, and a small squeak issued through the cracks in the floor a moment later.
“Who’s there?” she whispered as she dug her fingers into the cracks, hoping to pry the floorboard up. “If you’re friendly, I won’t hurt you. If you’re some kind of animal…your life is mine.”
“I-I’m good!” A small voice squeezed itself through the floorboards, fear causing it to shake.
Rilain sighed and relaxed a little, finally able to pull the floorboard out of its space. She peered into the darkness below and saw two moist blue eyes staring back up at her, a face forming in the dim light of the room.
“Good, it’s only a kid,” she breathed, slowly offering a hand to him. She spoke slightly louder afterwards, hoping the kid would trust her enough to help him out of his hiding place. “Grab my hand and I’ll get you out of there.”
The kid didn’t speak for a few seconds. “B-But what if it comes b-back?”
Rilain smiled lightly. “Kid, if it comes back, I’ll shoot it right in the face for ya.”
She saw a smile briefly skim across the boy’s lips and he pressed his hand into hers, allowing her to pull him out of the darkness. However, once he was standing in the room, she took her scarf off and wrapped it around the boy’s eyes, causing him to squirm in fear.
“Kid, it’s okay, I’m doing this to protect you,” she said through gritted teeth, trying to tie the scarf as well as hold him still. “There are some…bad things in this place and this is the only way I can protect you from them. You’ll thank me later, trust me.”
The boy stopped fidgeting and lowered his head a little. “I already know it killed my parents…”
Rilain finished tying the scarf around his eyes and carefully rested her hands on his shoulders, saddened by the emotions he had probably been faced with. This kid of about six, maybe seven, had heard things that would most likely leave him traumatically scarred for the rest of his pitiful little life.
“Well,” she said, glancing back at the mutilated bodies of his parents, “it’s still safer to wear a blindfold… I’d feel safer if I were to wear one, at least… But my retinas have already been scourged by the scene…” Rilain bit her lip, grabbed the small boy’s hand, and lead him out of the hut. His tiny, cold fingers clasped tightly over her gloved one, causing a single tear to drip down her cheek and remain stubbornly on her chin.
This poor kid, she thought as she walked away from the hut. His parents must’ve hid him under the floorboards to keep him safe… And he had to listen to them get brutally torn apart… Awful…
Rilain stopped and looked at him, his hand still tightly holding on to hers. “What's your name, kid?”
“Baldvin,” he said softly, his hand clenching slightly tighter around her fingers.
She knelt down in front of him and slowly removed the blindfold, figuring they were a safe enough distance from the violent scene within his home. “Well, Bladvin, do you know if you might have any relatives in Hiemskôg? That’s where I’m headed.”
Baldvin thought for a moment, staring down at his feet. “I think… I think Uncle Olgeir lives there. In the marketplace. We visit him sometimes…” The boy squeezed his eyes shut, tears welling up under his eyelashes.
Rilain looked around for a second or two before slowly embracing the boy, feeling Baldvin stiffen slightly then relax within her arms.
“I’ll bring you to your uncle,” she said softly. “You’ll definitely be safer in Hiemskôg than here…” She smiled as she pulled away from him, feeling as if she was fulfilling her one good deed of her life by rescuing this boy.
Rilain stood up, nodded at the boy—who was smiling lightly at her kind act—and left the village, giving up her search for the Snerra to escort a frightened little child back into town. She half regretted leaving the obvious trail of the beast behind, but she knew Baldvin would not be able to last much longer on the harsh mountainside, especially with a possible fierce and hungry cryptid prowling the perimeter.
Delicious…hunks…of cryptid meat…, she thought, whimpering softly as her stomach growled again.