A pale sparrow sat upon a wicker man tied to the fence around the north of the town. Nobody ever bothered to chase off birds that sat and did their business upon the wicker statues. Birds pooped on them and stole some of their straws for nests. Squirrels and rats mates within them. Bugs feasted on the dried droppings within them. The wicker statues were a popular area for the Elith animals. However, many animals knew to never lay eggs or produce young inside of the wicker statues.
Another reason that the wicker statues were areas to hang about for animals during the winter were the smells of the cooking in Tigbolter Town. Animals weren’t always welcome in the town. Some of the birds and squirrels were ignored and sometimes even fed by the elderly or children. But the rats, raccoon, badgers and minks were not welcome and had to sneak within the town at night to salvage any of the deuslings’ food. However, at the other side of the fence, the people would not hurt them.
And the other reason they flocked to the statues was because they warded off monsters.
The sparrow picked at the wicker man’s head, reaching for some of the bugs who lived inside of it. It was perfectly aware of the young, disgruntled boy staring at it but did not mind him. Tom Dahmer stared at the bird in frustration. It was a frustration that could be directed at anyone at all, including small animals. He was a small boy, with mud on his white skin and dirt stuck in his orange hair. He slowly bent down to pick up a rock. He made to throw it at the bird, and with a deusling’s considerable strength trained at a young age even someone as young as Tom was sure to hit and slay the small target at the distance he was at from it.
Tom felt his arm being caught. He turned his head to see the large, bespectacled man holding his arm. The man looked at Tom with no sympathy in his eyes. He slapped Tom’s wrist roughly with a finger, the impact cracked loudly as if he had used a whip. Tom dropped the rock. The man released his grip.
“No messing around with the town statues!” the man said. “How many times have you been reprimanded by the town guard?”
Tom looked up and snorted roughly. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw a town guard looking at him with a sling ready to be fired. He spat.
“I don’t give half a rat’s ass about the town guard! And that hurt like hell!” said Tom. The man slapped him straight across the face.
“Why aren’t you in my dojo, yet? You’ll be late you fool!” said the man.
“I don’t care. You haven’t taught me anything useful, anyway!” said Tom.
“You brat! It’s because you don’t practice at all! Or are you telling me you got those scrapes and dirt on your clothes by doing kicks and punches in the mud?” the man said.
“I got these because your “fighting” techniques don’t do shit!” Tom said, rubbing a scrape he got a few minutes ago when he angered a large group of boys. “I’m not going to your damn school anymore, I don’t care what Grandma says!”
“Insolence like yours is what’s wrong with your generation,” the man said. He pointed to a hut down the street. Alberto Training Institute it said on a large sign on its roof. “Get in the school right now, unless you want to be defenceless all your life. Good luck living in the Elith Woods without knowing how to defend yourself!”
“You’re full of it, Al! Like what you teach is any use against a monster. If you ever fought a monster you’d be screwed, let alone us!” Tom said. The man then reached down and took the man’s arm in his and pulled him roughly along. “Let go!” Tom said, struggling. He hit and bit at the man but his feet, fists, and teeth were no match to his rock hard muscle and bones.
“Quit your juvenile tantrum, young man! We’re already here,” the man said when they got to his hut. He opened the door and unceremoniously threw Tom inside. The room had a relatively soft floor, made from imported rubber. Tom wished he could chew and ruin it.
There were many children Tom’s age inside of the room, sitting on the ground patiently. They all looked at Tom and, almost dismissively, ignored him in favor of the man. They all rose up from the ground and bowed before their master.
“I’m sorry I was late, students. I had to pick up one of your numbers,” the man glared at Tom, who got up and reluctantly walked to the back of the room where his uniform was kept. “All fall down for sixty push ups.”
“Yes, Sir Alberto!” the class chanted. They all went down on all fours and began push ups. At first they all pushed up and down simultaneously but soon the rhythm broke up. The children were trusted to keep track of their own push ups. Tom took off his shirt and faces the class so that no one could see the newest red mark on his back. Glowering at the Alberto, he put on his uniform and joined the class.
At the other end of the Tigbolter fence where the protection of the wicker men grew weaker was the Elith outskirts of the Elith Forest. The further away one strayed from the wicker man fence toward the Elith trees, the less effective the protection they provided until one reached the trees of Elith and the spell became inconsequential. Within the Elith Forest there was no magical protection defending one from the beasts within.
The beasts of the Elith Woods and the relationship between them and Tigbolter Town were infamous. Though Tigbolter was the only town that existed within the woods itself many large, neighboring cities existed along its borders. These cities depended on great walls and weaponry to defend itself, of which Tigbolter had none. Everyone who mattered within the cities knew that the beasts were a real threat; guards atop the wall witnessed them constantly while firing arrows and even cannons at them. City officials knew about the beasts and managed the city around their existence. However, there was very few documented information about the beasts themselves. For all legal purposes, the beasts didn’t exist.
The big cities could afford to not include the beasts of the Elith Woods as official and merely ignore them to the best of their ability while building laws around them because of their vast wealth and defence that their economies could provide. Tigbolter Town could not afford large walls and cannons to defend themselves from the beasts and, surrounded at all sides, depended on the magic of the wicker man fence to keep its people safe. The monsters were impossible to ignore and everyone in the city knew of them. The subject of that horrifying woods opposite of the wicker man fence had become a source of a local mythos.
Inside the fence, all were safe for as long as all the wicker man fence stayed erect. Every twenty days, however, one wicker man was to be destroyed or the protection of the wicker man fence would fade away and could not be brought back for an entire year. There were sixteen wicker statues in all and when eleven of them were burnt and five remained erect, that was a dangerous time, for the pairing of eleven burnt statues with five remaining statues was a cursed number that caused the protective spell to halt for one night and day. During this day many beasts entered the town to feast on whatever they could fine. People often stayed inside of heavily guarded and underground rooms set up for this yearly occasion to wait out the threat for the entire day. This day was known as the Forest Wait. All of this was considered objectively true.
The myths began when the citizens discussed the monsters themselves, and their supposed origins. The myths sought to explain the spell they depended on whom few people knew the source of. They were romantic or horrifying tales of what the monsters looked like, where they came from, the heroes who fought them and the demons who created them. The myths were plenty and contradictory, but a few had become popular over the years. The beings in the woods were often believed to be evil spirits created out of spite by the forest beings. They were made as punishment for a deed the deuslings who lived in the woods many years ago had committed, though there was not much to go on about when this happened or what the deed had been or who had done it. The creatures were ward off by the fence as it was blessed by the sixteen most powerful spirits in Heaven.
All of these stories were the village’s ways of making sense of their terrible circumstances. Mythology gave purpose to suffering and the illusion of a foundation when life hung by a thread. There were many myths about the Elith Woods, but few of them spoke of the town’s current and oldest ally: Bacchus Alighieri, the outsider.
Bacchus was a light skinned man who stood at six feet and five inches tall. When his face was not concealed with heavy scarves and hoods one could see that he had scars and bite marks covering him all over; results of years of participating in battles with beasts and men. His red beard was large so one could not see his slightly slanted chin. However, despite this, Bacchus was not difficult to admire based solely on looks. Beneath the scars and thick beard any intimidation he cast on people could be dispelled when he smiled, which was not as rare as the many unflattering rumours of Tigbolter Town would imply. Bacchus seemed to house two personalities when speaking to people. When he spoke to business owners, shop keepers, and tradesmen who sold him his wares, food, and tools, he was serious but not mean in the slightest. But when he spoke to children he was kind and jovial. But there were very few who could tell you this as Bacchus was not available in town to talk to.
Bacchus was rarely seen by the people of Tigbolter, and almost never seen at all without carrying some sort of ghastly weapon strapped to his back. It was a global constant that Deuslings were taught at a young age to train their physical bodies to the point that when they were adults they had the strengths of bears. However, even regularly trained men and women were shocked at the size and shape of Bacchus’s weapons which he carried around.
Everywhere that he went, Bacchus carried an enormous and oddly shaped steel cross bolt. The shaped of his weapon could be described as a mix between a cross bolt, a balista, and a harpoon gun. Along with this weapon, which he carried on his back, he wore a metal container strapped to his side. Few people saw it work, but many guessed that this box held the ammunition his weapon used.
Bacchus was carrying one such weapon as he walked out from the woods towards the Tigbolter Town fence. Bacchus was one of the few individuals who was allowed to inspect and even adjust the wicker statues. He walked up to one of them and wiped some snow off of it. He inspected the rope holding it in place. When he was satisfied he took off the heavy steel cross bolt on his back and made to toss it over the fence but looked behind him before doing so. There was no threat from the monsters of the woods possible when one was so close to the fence. However, if Bacchus found that one of them were within range then he would not hesitate to kill it, not for self preservation but for the safety of the entire town.
Along the trees, far away from where Bacchus stood, was a slug-like creature climbing a tree. It was the size of a large badger. It was too far away from the fence for Bacchus to get a clear shot at with his weapon. However, he knew that every opportunity to put down a monster should be taken, especially one so close to the town, so close to the time when the town fence was made impotent. Leaving the safety of the fence Bacchus sidled towards the tree. He prepared his cross bolt silently as the slug became easier to see.
With a small flick of a switch them cross bolt unfolded and steel, spring shaped rods protruded from the weapon and struck into the ground behind Bacchus, anchoring the gun still. Even with his vast strength, the recoil of the weapon was likely to injure Bacchus and kill just about anyone else who tried to fire it. The anchors sent most of the recoil to the grounds minimizing the impact Bacchus would have to face. Bacchus reached to the metal container hanging to his side and opened it. He withdrew a long, folded steel bolt, straightened it, and placed it into the weapon. He aimed the weapon using two hands and stared at the slug monster through the scope of the weapon.
Upon closer inspection, the shape of the slug monster resembled that of a deer’s head. It was as if somebody had encased a deer’s severed head in a thin sheet of rubber. Bacchus believed he saw what looked like teeth around the edges of the monster.
He aimed carefully. The weapon had the firing power of a ballista and could easily snap the tree that the beast climbed along, especially from so close up. Bacchus had reason to not wish to damage the trees of the Elith woods.
Bacchus shot the bolt. The projectile moved too quickly to be seen by human eyes and struck through the slug-creature, exploding it into bloody chunks, then continued to fly until burying itself into the thick trunk of a faraway tree. Bacchus withdrew a crowbar, one of the many tools from his belt. He carefully left his weapon, for once anchored it was impractical to move.
There were no solid remains of the beast larger than a snail’s shell, though Bacchus was not sure what had been the slug-beast and what had been the partly digested deer’s head. Satisfied with the kill, Bacchus folded his cross bolt and headed for the town. It as time to talk to the old witch again.