The Hukom is A Lot

BatikBah-Teek was known as the city of spice, but not for its production of high-quality spices alone. Alongside spice pouches, perfume satchels, insect repellant, and flavorful meat, Batik also decorate their buildings with garlic sleeves, taoTa-Oh statues, and golden scripts.

Basically, Batik was a place filled with the superstitions of old. The people there were not backwards in any way and were still proud Areno people, but they differed from the rest of the land in their unbending beliefs and practice of tradition.

Many fledgling mystics and doctors of the healing arts made their debut here, with the help of the people’s ancestral knowledge that was the best preserved of all the tribes, and gone on to make a name for themselves despite being of unheard origins. If a Batik Areno was to explore the land, one could easily recognize them just by the polished jewelry they wore and the medallion at their belt: These articles were not extravagant or arrogant as the ones that the rest of Aren liked to collect, but they were clearly prized possessions that would never go a foot away from its owners. Here, the Diwatadeities were worshipped, ceremonies were city-wide, and the invisible rules were law.

The building that the jeepney stopped at was built directly to the ground as a permanent residence. Thick wood and stone blocks framed a rectangular courtyard in front where a sitting bululBoo-Loolh statue was erected, holding its elbows and looking forward in a curious manner. Acacia thought that this fellow was a little funny-looking compared to the other anito statuettes he had seen before and patted the statue’s hand. Meanwhile, Subohan and his crew looked at the deserted street behind them and the silent plaza beside them.

Isn’t this behavior a bit extreme for a mere speculation?

Just as the guards assembled around Acacia, a middle-aged man poked his head out from behind the front door of the house and tentatively spoke, “Is this the acting Royal Doctor po? Good! Please, come this way, come, come…”

One of the guards, presumably the one called Tamaan, sensed the man’s anxiety and asked, “Hukommagistrate Daking, are you alright? Where is everyone?”

“Come in first, let the acting Royal Doctor through!” Daking shook his head and waited for the group to take off their helms and settle around a plain low table. “Ay, you maharlikawarrior (class), I don’t know if you can understand, but being outside is dangerous nowadays! Even if we stay inside, us timawafreeskill (class) don’t have the bravery to touch evils, let alone beat them. Lessen the air that flows in and out of our homes and the human breath will be stored, the day shall come again. Nevermind – that was then, now we have the Royals’ support.”

He looked at the crew with sparkling eyes. Tamaan patted Subohan on the shoulder and prompted his reply.

“Then, please tell us the details of the situation po.”

“Yes, yes, that…” Daking muttered under his breath for a moment before slowly describing the last two weeks.

A young couple threw a large celebration in honor of the completion of their first independent house. The two were well-known throughout the community as a breeder-butcher pair who raised their own pigs, and so there were many who came to offer their blessings.

It was a wonderful gathering filled with food and laughter. The celebration went on for half a night, ending only when the moon was too dim to outmatch the distant light of the spires. If that was all, of course there would be no problem, but that was not the case.

The next morning, neighbors were awakened by hysterical wailing coming from none other than the newly built house. From the outside, there seemed to be no abnormalities, but once the weapon-handed crowd peeked in through the door, they found chaos.

The fabric-covered furniture that they had praised last night was turned over and decimated with scratches of either blade or claw. Ornaments and clothwork laid scattered across the floor and hanging haphazardly off the rafters where a suspicious trail of dark syrup dripped from. Looking closely, one could find the canines of a dog embedded in some objects that anyone would be able to bludgeon a beast with; yellow teeth, clinging roots, all morbidly contrasted against the pale gray wood.

A path that cleared away debris could be faintly seen, tracing steps that led past the separation panel. Behind were three figures: two people clutching each other’s arms and a third lying motionless on the floor.

The sight forced many to turn away in shivers.

Sores, shrunken patches of white flesh littered the young woman’s body starting from the extremities and somewhat fading towards the torso; the eyes shared a similar fate and seemed to be sucked of any soul left in them. The stomach had collapsed with numerous slimy threads of intestinal fluids and unidentifiable chunks spilled out of the mouth and stained the lips rotten. The position of death was too unclear to tell what had happened before her death besides a creeping suspicion that she was attacked by something that should not exist.

Although shocked and disturbed, the neighbors quickly held a formal burial for the deceased within the bare minimum of three days. Funnily, this reprise for respect calmed the hearts of Batik and allowed the leaders to gather for a city-wide emergency meeting.

Information was passed and people were interviewed. The widow was reluctant to say anything and hadn’t contributed much, but some acquaintances of the couple, including the next-door neighbor who was the first one at the scene, volunteered to offer their perspectives.

Unexpectedly, tragedy struck again before enough information was gathered. This time it did not end in death, but instead irreversibly crippled the victim: the next-door neighbor of the couple.

The neighbor didn’t bear the same marks as the previous one, but instead appeared to be in the process of death. The bones of his left arm were crushed into powdery fragments, and the skin was punctured by innumerable holes. It was only after several days in the healing center that he recovered enough to understand what had happened to himself.

A second attack befell an inconspicuous woman whose eventual fate was more unclear. Same as the neighbor, her arms and a leg were badly mangled and deprived of blood, but there was also an inexplicable tumor near the bottom of her abdomen, almost like an unborn fetus.

The third and latest victim was attacked the night before the guards and Acacia arrived: an old man who lived half a hermit’s life in a single-room kubo bahay. Today he lies in the healing center, unconscious and on the edge of life and death.

It should be mentioned that although Batik was invested in the supernatural, there weren’t many formal witches or shamans produced there. Batik was a popular spot for upcoming albularyos to rise in fame, but masters never stayed in one area and prefered to explore all of Aren.

As a result, there was only one self-proclaimed albularyo to witness these events as they happened. Daking expressed how this stranger came and immediately took everyone under his wing and provided scripts and advice for everyone, even being the one to suggest that the city remain in lockdown until further help arrived.

Actually, that last part was not entirely correct. The albularyo had promised to concoct some sort of resistant gear or potion to stave off the attention of evil beings, but he had remained in seclusion ever since. It was then that Daking finally contacted the Royal Guards and asked for assistance.

“For some reason I thought that we would be able to hang on by ourselves, but aigh, this is why the tribes combined. I’ve told the militia to lead you around at your request, but understand po we do not want to be outside at all if possible po.” Daking ended with a subtle glance at the crew.

“Understood. We need to get a thorough look around anyway, so a map alone is fine.” Subohan nodded.

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