The first thing she heard was the loud brass bell aboard the ship ringing out methodically. Next came the voices of the ships crew, barking orders back and forth. Third was heavy thumping from things being moved around outside her room. Standing from her cot, she stretched her arms above her head and twisted about to get the stiffness out of her joints. Once settled and satisfied she took her golden yellow cloak off its hanger on the wall and fastened it around her shoulders. Upon walking onto the dock after leaving her cabin, she raised one hand to block out the sun.
Instantly, the smell of fish and sea hit her, causing her to wrinkle her nose and remember why she didn’t really go around ports back home. She took a few more steps to the railing to watch the island come more into view. From this distance she could make out various dock workers preparing for the ship she was on to land. Beyond them, a small section of trade shops served as a border between the docks and what looked like homes and neighborhoods. Tropical trees and bushes coated the living area of the town, tapering off to a large mountain range far in the distance. The view was somewhat ruined for her, as the sun was very hot. Hotter than she had expected. Part of her regretted wearing her full set of armor.
“Ah, miss Huntsman!”
A voice from behind her caused her to turn and find the ships captain approaching her with a hand raised in a wave.
“Just Yang is fine,” she smiled at him.
The captain was a stout man, his salt and pepper beard and mustache nearly obscuring his entire mouth. Dark gray scales covered what skin Yang could see. He grinned at her, the one eye he had wrinkling with joy. “Well then, miss Yang, I hope your trip was enjoyable. It’s not every day we get Huntsmen from Vale traveling with us!” He looked out over the railing, watching the ship slow to a stop at the mooring station. “What brings you all the way to Menagerie, if I may ask? King Schnee doesn’t usually send anyone way out here.”
"It’s not on his orders. I'm actually doing some freelance recon work. About that old mansion outside of town," Yang replied following his gaze, "heard some rumors that sounded super interesting, and looking into the whereabouts of the inventor Doctor Merlot."
The captain was silent for a long moment, the sounds of his crew working with the dock workers filling the space. "Be safe out there, miss Yang. There's supposedly a beast worse than any kind of wildlife or Grimm out there."
Yang shot him a confident smirk, flexing one arm. "I've taken out some nasty things before. Some beast or whatever has got nothing that can stop me!"
"I'll prioritize getting your mare tacked and ready as soon as we finish docking." He gave her a solemn nod and salute before turning to leave. “Best of luck to you, Huntsman.”
When it was safe to disembark, Yang hopped off and down the transport ships steps as soon as she could. Squeezing past other passengers and workers, she weaved in and out of the crowds. As promised, Bumblebee was one of the first things unloaded from the ship. A deer Faunus stood in wait in front of the horse and gave Yang a friendly wave as she approached.
“She took the trip a lot easier than most animals,” he said, handing the reins over, “you got yourself a good horse, miss Huntsman.”
Yang beamed at him. “One of the best in Vale! Thanks for taking care of her.” Taking her horse by the reins, she gave the Faunus worker a parting wave and headed in the direction of town.
Yang looked around in awe at the small market town as she made her way through. Faunus of all kinds of species bustled between shop stands. The various voices of merchants calling out their wares mixed with the buzz of the general publics combined conversations. It was a sight somewhat familiar to her from the times she had patrolled Mountain Glenn. Although this settlement being a bit more crowded than she was used to. Slowly she navigated through the market and into the city, Bumblebee following loyally behind her. It wasn’t long before she found the city exit gate to the north.
A small guardpost stood directly to the left of the gate. A lone guard walked out to greet Yang. Her chocolate brown and gold armor twinkled in the hot sun and the large set of rabbit ears that matched her armor on her head stood up straight as the knight approached her.
“G’day! May I see your papers and pass please?” she greeted, extending a hand. Yang shuffled one hand in a side pouch, pulling out a few papers. She handed them to the Faunus guard who looked over them all with a few hums. “Alright miss Xiao Long! I’ll go process these. I’ll open the gates in just a moment.”
There was just a couple seconds time before the large wooden portcullis rumbled and slowly opened up, revealing a well worn dirt path lined with more palm trees and brush. The rabbit girl poked her head out of her station. “All set, miss Xiao Long! And do be careful out there. The wildlife can be brutal.”
Yang raised an eyebrow. “You’re not the first person to say something similar to me today,”
“Jus’ wanting travelers to be careful. Especially those not used to Menagerian wildlife.”
“Can’t be any worse than the Grimm back in Vale.”
“With all due respect miss Xiao Long, any kind of monster would be like kittens compared to some of the things out there.”
There was something about her tone of voice that unsettled Yang. A complete shift to grim and serious from the cheery she had been greeted with. Nevertheless, she hid it as best she could as she mounted her horse. After returning the friendly goodbye, she lifted her hood over her head and set forth through the gate.
The sun was high in the sky by the time Yang made it to her destination. Luckily, it seemed to be too hot for any dangerous wildlife to come out. Something she was equally grateful and disappointed about. She let out a low whistle as she slowed Bumblebee to a stop before an open set of tarnished bronze gates, staring at the large mansion up ahead. Gnarled foliage and half-living trees sat scattered among the property. However, there were signs of a once-held order that had been clearly lost to the ages. Large patches of the white exterior paint had been worn and chipped off the sides and the roof was missing large chunks of shingles. What appeared to be the top of a white dome barely peaked out from what looked like the center of the building. Behind it, the forest of tropical trees faded into the base of the mountain range that loomed over the horizon. Yang clicked her tongue and her horse started towards the mansion.
As soon as she crossed the gate, Bumblebee began to hesitate, snorting and grunting as her gait fell out of pace. Yang patted her on the neck in an attempt to calm her down. “Easy, girl. We’re almost there. Wait out here for me, okay?”
When she got to the large set of steps that lead to the main entrance, Yang hopped off her horse, gave her muzzle a few reassuring strokes, and left to head inside.
The doors creaked and groaned when she opened them, the sounds echoing in the grand entrance way. Yang poked her head in first to scout for any immediate threats. Sensing and seeing nothing, she took a couple steps in, her iron boots clacking on the tiles. The door closed behind her on its own with a bang amplified by the empty room. It took the majority of the sunlight with it. After quickly taking her hood off her head for better peripheral vision, she stood completely stillwith her arms raised for a fight while waiting for her eyes to adjust.
Once Yang could see better, she lowered her arms slightly at the lack of any immediate threat. The interior of the mansion was in just as bad shape as the exterior. Large shredded and moth-eaten purple curtains covered equally large windows on either side of the entrance as best they could. Most of the chairs and small tables that still sat in the room were all overturned and shoved against the walls. Directly ahead of her was a large grand staircase with branching hallways on either side of what must have been a large family portrait at one point. Long shreds of canvas was all that remained in the golden frame. Yang made a small noise of irritation as she observed the empty room. It was a lot bigger on the inside than it looked. She started off towards a small hallway to the right of the staircase. If Merlot was being kept prisoner, she might as well try and find the dungeon area first. Finding the beast could come later.
This hallway was carpeted, with one gold and purple door at the end and two small wooden doors to the left. Yang quickly found the smaller ones led to dry food and kitchen appliance storage. As soon as she opened the one at the end of the hall, the powerful scent of cinnamon and burning logs washed over her. She was met with well-lit dining area complete with smoldering logs in a fireplace. An ajar door opposite her led to what appeared to be a kitchen.Set up before her was a long wooden dining table, lit with taper candles burning in three candelabras. Three wooden chairs were placed before three large bowls as if the people that lived there just left the room, although the chairs looked like they had been recently repaired. A fourth, much smaller bowl was overturned and on the floor, traces of food still inside. Yang instantly dropped into a fighting stance, her eyes darting about the room scanning for the occupants.
She frowned as she slowly shuffled into the room, all senses on high alert for any other signs of life. None of this made sense. This was supposed to be an abandoned mansion with one monster living inside. And the kidnapped inventor. She didn’t see anyone else on the path up to the mansion, and there were no signs of communication sent from the port town. Yang ruled out a possible ambush, but kept up her guard. She warily explored the room, checking every corner, cabinet and shelving unit for anything out of place. Everything seemed normal enough, if only eerily quiet. Not finding anything suspicious besides the laid out meals, she kept herself on alert as she reapproached the table, all set out for company.
The smell of cinnamon from the bowls of what appeared to be oatmeal got stronger the closer she got. It was enough to make her stomach growl. Yang pursed her lips as she stared at the bowl closest to her. Cinnamon was one of her favorite additions to oatmeal. She also hadn’t eaten much on the trip over. One small bout of seasickness early on in her travels ruled out any meal heavier than soda bread. When she realized she was drooling, Yang wiped at her mouth and shook her head quickly to clear it.
“No… it might be poisoned or something...” she mumbled aloud, turning her gaze away from the food.
But like a magnet, her eyes were drawn back to the cinnamon goodness and her stomach grumbled again. The longer she thought on it, the less sense a poison lunch laid out like this made. It would serve no good to poison the captive. Not to mention if any food in this world shouldn’t be wasted, it would have to be cinnamon oatmeal.
And she was getting hungry.
With a light sigh, Yang resigned herself to the urge to eat and picked up the spoon laid neatly next to the bowl, dipping it into the oatmeal, and took a bite. As soon as the food passed her lips, Yang spit it back out, making a face at the spoon still in her hand.
“Ice cold...” she grumbled, setting the spoon back down.
Cold, but still delicious. Now that the taste was in her mouth, Yang wanted more. She moved over to the second closest bowl, smirking at the steam still rising from the top. This one would surely be better. Taking a large spoonful, Yang hummed happily as she brought the food to her mouth. A split second later she yelped, the spoon clattering to the floor.
“Hot hot hot!” she whined, fanning her tongue.
Desperate for relief after her piping hot mistake, she turned back to the hauntingly cold oatmeal to cool off. She shuddered in disgust, pushing both bowls away from her. The third one caught her eye and she briefly wondered what sort of horrors it could contain. They said third tries were always the charm though. Cautiously, Yang walked around the table to it, pulling the bowl closer to her. She gave it a closer inspection than the previous two, checking for temperature and any other abnormalities. Everything seemed fine on the surface. With a light “hmph” Yang decided to give it a shot, taking a significantly smaller bite.
This one was perfect. Not too hot, not too cold, and the perfect blend of spice, milk, and oats. The words ‘just right’ came to mind. Yang couldn’t help herself. She had to have more. Before she knew it she was slurping down the remaining oatmeal. The perfect meal re-energized her, bringing new strength to her body.
“Alright, no more detours,” she said to herself, turning to leave the dining area.
The rest of the ground floor was just as empty, but with even less signs of living. Yang found room after room of overturned furniture and no clues on where the rumored beast was, even less on the kidnapped inventor. While exploring the west wing of the ground floor, she stumbled upon one locked door that refused to budge, no matter what she did to try and get it open. The door itself was in much better shape than anything else she had seen in the mansion. Almost as if it was brand new. Just as she was about to try and pick the lock, a loud slam from down the hall stopped Yang in her tracks. She lifted her head and stared down the hallway. She strained her eyes and ears to their limits, trying to find any other signs of disturbance. As quietly as she could, Yang headed towards the noise, back to the grand entrance way.
She must have been in the mansion longer than she thought, for what little light that shone through the curtains was dark and orange, signifying a setting sun outside. Her fists raised and gauntlets ready, Yang slowly walked into the room. A shadow caught her eye as she rounded the railing and she spun to follow it. Tsking lightly, Yang repositioned herself to get closer to one of the large windows. Once again, a large black shadow shuffled just outside her line of sight.
“I know you’re here, beast,” she said, reaching behind her to grab the curtain, yanking the fabric to the side, “you can’t hide forever.”
Her own shadow stretched in the new pool of light in the room. It wasn’t enough to reach the other wall and Yang cursed the timing of the sun. She was met with silence broken only by light clacking sounds as the shadow yet again changed positions. She cursed under her breath again as she analyzed the situation. Fighting in the dark room would leave her at a disadvantage, But staying in the light was just as bad. With the shadow between her and the door, a retreat to the outside would be too difficult to pull off. Yang growled and pointed at the shape.
“Only cowards stay hidden in the shadows, you know.”
Instantly, the shadow stopped moving and stood still. Impossibly still. Yang glared at it, waiting for some sort of reaction. She readied herself to launch herself at the creature as it walked forward, the clacking from its claws heavier with each step. As soon as the beast stepped into the light, Yang locked up.
Standing before her was a large, pitch black, anthropomorphic panther-like creature, roughly twice her size despite standing hunched over. Two long saber fangs protruded over the sides of its snarling muzzle. One of its too long arms was raised, a paw the size of Yang’s head curled up to show long curved claws. Tattered bits of fabric clung around its neck and torso. Its long tail swished back and forth violently, stirring up dust and debris around its digitigrade legs. The beast growled, its ears flattening against its head as it leaned in closer to Yang’s face. Golden eyes burned with rage into wide lilac ones. It opened its mouth and spoke, its voice rough and raspy, yet feminine in nature.
“I. Am not. A coward.”