I waited for Libby to fall asleep before I left the Beefiary. She hasn't been getting much sleep of late, as she's obsessed with protecting her 'helpless' son. If only she knew. She collapsed today, though, and slumbered through the entire debacle that was to come. Thank the gods, as well - she might have killed me had she seen me walk out the front door of the pub.
People tried to stop me. The town's other bard, a scruffy fellow with a monkey, nearly smacked me in the face with his lute when he saw me reaching for the door. Ultimately they were all unsuccessful, as no one was willing to make any noise. I opened the front door, took a deep breath of the cool air (which isn't much different from the air inside the Beefiary, what with all the broken windows), and walked out into the snow.
You might be asking yourself why I'd be crazy enough to wander around the streets of Pubton with a sloth on the loose. For now, diary, consider it a mixture of stir-crazy madness, loyalty to my constituents, my weird brand of unthinking bravery in intense situations, and a desire to get it all over with. If nothing else it was nice to get out of the pub for a change. None of us had bathed the entire week, and it was starting to smell pretty bad.
Pubton looked much the same as ever. No burning buildings, no corpses, no signs of wanton destruction typically associated with a sloth. I couldn't even find subtle indications of the creature, no footprints or claw trails or furrows made by dragged bodies.
But I saw the sloth. Oh mama, did I ever see the sloth.
I'd made note of the beast's location before leaving the pub. It was, as it had often been during its visit to the town, loafing by the golden tree. It had its limbs folded into a crouched sitting position, as if in prayer, beneath the glowing boughs of the tree. It watched me approach without comment or action.
I did not slow as I stomped across the snow. I did not falter. I plowed ahead dauntlessly, bladder stirring in preparation for what must surely be my demise, brain whirling with all the possibilities yet batting them all down with evidence, evidence, evidence. More often doubts outweigh evidence, but not this time, not this time, there was too much weighing against the sloth, and I tromped up the small slope to the tree and stood in front of the sloth and folded my arms and invited it to devour me.
It did not devour me. It made no noise, no sudden movements, no signs of aggression. It merely watched, its craned neck wavering back and forth in the cool air. Blinking comprised its most violent action.
Aware that dozens of eyes from the pub were on me, I stooped down, prayed briefly for the deliverance of my soul by the mysterious gods of the weekend, and touched the sloth on the head.
My hand went through its skull as though it was made of air. I felt nothing. Hell, the sloth seemed to feel more than me, as its face rippled and swayed for a few seconds before settling back into the same clueless stupor.
My breeches sloshing with urine as I pulled away, I straightened and waited for the sloth to respond. It watched me, but nothing more. I touched it again, finding no more tangible flesh under its fur than I did the first time. After several brief investigations I went so far as to throw a snowball at the sloth, and though the hunk of packed ice disappeared into the sloth's belly I distinctly heard it smack into the trunk of the tree.
My suspicions were confirmed. The sloth was not real. Hell, on further inspection it now had three claws on each arm, not two. If I'd noticed that earlier this all might have been resolved a whole lot earlier.
I stormed away from the tree, making a beeline for the entrance to the rats' warrens. I knew that the sloth spent a lot of time at the golden tree, and wondered if there might be a connection to its presence and the tree itself. I'm still not sure if that's the case -
- but when I entered the warrens I DID find everyone who had gone missing. Even Lonnie. They were all unconscious, draped over luminescent tree roots and covered in blankets I hadn't realized were missing from the pub.
I rushed to Edmund, the first to go missing and my favourite of the lot. I shook his shoulders, and at first he made no response - but then, as if suddenly released from the grip of sleep, his eyes flew open. They locked on mine, and he clawed at my shoulder.
"Beware thee well the far mountain," he said, "or blood shall flow as a fountain."
That understandably gave me pause. So did his continued warnings, all pointed at the sloth having come from the mountain range. Edmund knew it, he believed it in his bones, and he further knew that this entire week had been a warning from the sloth. A dire omen for any who might be foolish enough to disturb its home. I couldn't convince him that there was no sloth, that it'd been nothing more than a weird, localized hallucination.
I was no more successful with the rest of the people. One by one Edmund and I woke them up, and each uttered the same dire prophecies, albeit without rhyme: 'Avoid the mountain. Stay away from the mountain. Bad things live in the mountain. The sloth claims the mountain. Stay away from the mountain.' Edmund agreed with each, and they reached an unceasing consensus that destroyed any argument I might make regarding the existence of the sloth. It had come to Pubton, it had threatened to destroy us all if we dared to set foot near its mountain range, and anybody who failed to listen would die.
"Then why the hell would it kidnap you?" I asked, grasping at futile straws.
"A warning," they said, no uncertainty in their voices. "We were a warning. Stay away from the mountain."
When we emerged from the rat warrens, the sloth - or whatever it had been - was gone. There was no sign of its departure, and when I asked the people back in the Beefiary what they'd seen, they all admitted that they'd hid their faces when I'd ducked down to touch the sloth. None of them saw my hands go through the blasted thing, so none of them believe my story that it wasn't real. They think the sloth did that on purpose to lead me to the warrens, so everyone who was unconscious could spread the news.
How did the sloth tell the unconscious people not to go near the mountain? Dark magic. Naturally. Dark magic is to blame for everything.
I'm not stupid. And I don't think everyone completely buys into this nonsense. Libby seems pretty sceptical 'bout it all when she's not beating the crap out of me for AGAIN risking my life. She says the mountain's nothing to fear, that it could come in real handy. She won't say why, of course, and when I ask she changes the subject and beats me up again. Point is, most people DO believe the hoo-hah, and there have been demands to put the mountain range out-of-bounds.
Maybe I will. Maybe I won't. Either way, despite what the stupid imaginary sloth has to say, I think it's time I go visit the mountains and see what's actually there.
At least they're all still alive,
Dragomir the Mayor