30: A Museum of Monsters

There was only one street in Mistwood Glade. It soared with its lifeblood like an aorta of wood. From it sprung alleys swallowed by the very houses they separated. And through them, tunnels of trampled dirt slithered like arteries from the heart of the forest. Boards were laid out on top of the gutter in a futile attempt to keep the pedestrians’ feet dry. If he were to stretch out his arms, he could have touched the walls in most of the alleys. The toil from keeping a safe perimeter around the city hindered it from expanding but not from growing toward the canopies. It resembled a compact box of wood and mud built in the middle of the forest, inhabited by humans milling around and through it like some termites.

The alley opened up into what could be considered a city square where there was a house separated from the rest. It stood alone in the shadows casts by the others. It was large but only built in one story. The sign of carved wood said, The Hunters Hall. Like most other buildings it was clad in carvings, but these were of the highest quality. Details upon details covered the surface of the logs. He stopped in front of the double door and looked at it for a moment. It was made of dark and massive wood. Upon the surface, there were depicted scenes from some hunt long gone. Men were standing around a tree holding their tethered hounds. They pulled at their leashes. Barking and growling into the tree. In the canopies sat some manlike beast. Its eyes wide open and mouth distorted into a snarl. He knocked thrice.

Yes! A voice called out from the other side of the door. A moment later, it swung open. On the other side, stood an old woman. Her gray hair was braided into a perfect braid that almost touched the ground. Hello, She said. What can I help you with?

Hello, The Devourer said. What is this place?

It’s The Hunter’s Hall, She said and pointed at the sign. This is where we keep all the most exceptional trophies for generations to see.

Can I enter? He asked.

Of course. Come in, come in. I’m the warden, the curator, you could say. My name is Myra.

Nice meeting you, The Devourer said as he entered through the door and looked around. It’s so much to see, He continued. A man named Uro told me to go here.

Uro, The woman said. He’s the man behind killing many of the beasts you see on display here.

Uro is?

Yes. He’s a renowned hunter. He often goes out on long journeys through the forest in pursuit of the most mythical of beasts.

Oh, I didn’t know that, The Devourer said.

He’s not one to talk about it, The woman continued.

He looked at the wall, and the slick, translucent skin nailed to it. A fine network of veins spread over it like a labyrinth of blood. It’s much stronger than it looks, The woman said. It can withstand enormous forces and is perfect for making sails. The Seapeople hunts them at spring when they linger over the marshlands. They call them floaters. We call them behemoths. She turned and started dusting a shelf as the Devourer continued studying the exhibition.

There was a taxidermied hand standing on a table. It had no claws and resembled that of a human. Only much bigger and with thicker fingers. The back was covered in coarse gray hair. The nails were broad and shovel-like. On the table beside it lay its head that also it was similar to that of a human but larger and with a sloping forehead which along with the face was hairless. The eyes were small and deep-set. Its teeth were sharp and so large they could not be contained inside the mouth when it was closed and protruded out between the lips. The canines were as the tusks of some boar but stuck out even longer. All teeth had a yellow hue with streaks of black, some had cracks or were broken in half. He looked at the wall behind the showcase and the pelt hanging on it. The thick but short fur seemed to absorb the light so black it was.

The skin if a shadowcat, Myra said. The silent killers of the forest. One of the most feared beasts by the hunters. They are as silent as they are deadly. You won’t know it’s there before you are dead. And these are the fangs of a giant spider, She said and motioned for him to come with her. On a small showcase lay two fangs the size of a grown man’s finger.

He went toward her but stopped in front of a weird creature. It was not unlike a beastman or even a human, but it was entirely hairless. Its skin transparent like that of the floater he saw before. Its beadlike eyes were so small they were nonexistent. The face was wrinkled and the nose only two holes into the skull. Its long white whiskers hung toward the floor.

What is this creature? The Devourer asked.

The woman turned to him and said, Oh, that’s a demon imp.

A demon imp?

Yes. What you’re seeing is a demon from Netherworld.

Excuse me. I’m not following you. Netherworld?

Yes. Far north, beyond the Borderlands there is an endless desert of obsidian, and under it, these demons reside.

This is new to me, The Devourer said.

Most people are lucky enough never to have to interact with them.

How did you get hold of it?

Memi, another hunter, long dead, killed it about two hundred years ago.

Where did he find it?

I’m afraid we don’t know, The woman said as a puzzled look fell over her face. He was known to travel far and wide. Hanys, The innkeeper probably knows more. He’s a local historian of sorts. You can find him at Shadow’s Lair.