“To start off, I’m an Arbitrator of Gaia. Through her authority, I’m allowed to determine a person’s fate in accordance with the prevailing culture. Gaia has determined that I need to step into this situation due to the rapid change of culture that will occur to your people. They must combine with other societies. To facilitate this change, I am tasked with charging appropriate punishments to better allow future integration into your respective destinations. I am also tasked with the unusual requirement that no one is to be sentenced as a danger to the public, and hence disposed. You may speak without fear of death, but you will be appropriately penalized to allow you to properly reflect and integrate into your future home without further judgement from the existing populations.”
Holy Jes… Erm, Goddess. Is she a lawyer or something? What is that? I know she starts each interview with that, but it never ceases to amaze me. She has it down to a science.
Mika’s mother sits across from her, hands untied. From talking to some of the captives ahead of time, I found out that it was implicitly known that anyone attacking Gaia’s arbitrator will face the vengeance of Gaia herself. To that end, all captives are temporarily untied while interviewed. Dubhe even informed me that the Bearfolk and Dragonfolk abide by this, if known. My reaction, of course was simply: Dragonfolk? She sort of chuckled nervously to herself and more or less told me not to worry about that right now.
There is a set of questions that are asked of all of the town’s inhabitants, before the real questions began. This case was no exception.
“How did you come to live in this village?” I am surprised that things like name and age aren’t asked. But this world seemed to have little in the way of impersonation, and ages could vary widely based on how long they spent in the Enclave. Mostly, though, no one kept track of that. This means that people are who you expect them to be, and, although people usually look between 20 and 40, they can be anywhere from 20 to several thousands of years old. Not only that, but, again, time in the Enclave is somewhat arbitrary, with no day or night cycle. It is hard to expect anyone to know how old they really are.
“Hah, it is my village… There was no one here before me. After many cycles of searching, I had found some people willing to exchange what I had to offer, for what I was requesting. It is difficult to get people to build a town so close to a Gaia Tree. Creatures become more aggressive the closer you get to one, after all. Then there is always the dryads, they frighten most humes. I can’t believe my daughter would befriend one. It’s unthinkable.” Mika’s mother speaks in a self-deprecating tone, and looks at the ground as she relays her answer. I wasn’t aware that Gaia Trees did that to animals. I should ask Lilia about that later. Also, Lilia isn’t…. well, yes, she is terrifying at times. I guess I can’t argue with that.
The Arbitrator continues her questions without changing her tone: “What were you offering, and what were you requesting?”
“I offered anything I had at the time. I had hunted some creatures, and had their remains to offer, and I am skilled with wind manipulation. Those aren’t reasons to build a town, though. Then I met a ruthless man. He, and several of his friends were exiled from the nearby towns for being violent, and aggressive. You know how ascention breaks some people? It broke them. They couldn’t live peacefully with others, and their desires caused them trouble. They agreed to build a town here in exchange for using my body how they saw fit. The second part of the agreement was that my daughter could stay, and be protected, if I gave their… No, our, leader a son.” She raises her head and chest in pride. She clearly thinks what she did is an honorable deed. I hadn’t realized, nor heard that ascention breaks some people. Thinking about it, it makes sense. If you rely on a hive mind for everything, and suddenly you’re alone, what would that do to you?
We know how the town grew after it’s initial inception. From the previous interviews, we had been told that the people of the initial town kidnapped any other exiles. They then either enslaved them, in the case of women, or, in the case of men, made deals to give them rights in exchange for hunting. Additionally, fresh humes from the nearby Gaia Tree were also kidnapped. Finally, when the town was well established as a trading source, many people came of their own accord. Their reasons varied, sometimes for the protection it offered, albeit at a price. It was a town of violent ‘criminals,’ if you could survive the monsters inside the town, but not those outside of it – it was a good match for you. Other times, it was that the materials offered in the town were of such high quality and abundance, that a few craftsmen came to work in the town out of naive desire to improve their craft, ignoring the obvious dangers.
“And what about the system of laws in this town?” Others had implied that Mika’s mother had come up with everything that happened in this town. I can’t believe that.
Until now. I watch as her face grows a sadistic grin.
“Oh, every law was decided by me. The punishments people receive, the women being chained and required to bear children. No woman should be treated any better than me, after all. No man should be treated better than our leader. If you live here, you live by the agreements that this town was founded upon. I have no regrets, except that I failed to make it last.” Ascension definitely broke her, I conclude. I can understand where she is coming from, but this is just a bit disturbing to witness. She agrees to have a bear eat portions of the living children of failed mothers as punishment? The concept of such a thing is just nauseating.
I can’t accept it.
Neither will any of the nearby towns, either.
To clarify, “nearby” has apparently weeks of foot travel between each town, and this caravan that the Arbitrator has is one of maybe ten. Without her, a merchant type needs significant manpower to defend a convoy from any sort of wild creature, or other sentient/sapient races, like the bearfolk.
Either way, the Arbitrator hands down her verdict with only these questions answered. She skips the vast majority of questions she has otherwise asked many other the other townsfolk. “You, and the leader of this town, are hereby exiled from all other towns and territories. You two will only be allowed to live in this town, and will be the only two allowed to live here permanently. If either of you decide to kidnap or accost anyone in the future, your lives will be forfeit. Do you have any questions?”
The leader has already been questioned, that was done earlier. His sentence was handed down, so his part isn’t a surprise. He honestly didn’t have much of interest to say. He really was a violent thug who was bent on feeling pleasure and doing what he wanted.
“Heh, I see. I suppose that’s fitting. My punishment is to live out the rest of my life in the way I agreed to, but alone. That’s fine. At least my daughter can visit.” She really must be crazy. Either that, or she likes how the town leader treats her. No, she must be crazy, even if she does like it.
The Arbitrator motions for her to leave, and she does.
After Mika’s mother is gone, Gaia’s Arbitrator turns to me, and motions to the now vacant seat. “It’s your turn.”
Thanks for the support! I am in your care! Closing date is Oct. 31. After the update on October 30, the next update (if you’re unlucky) will be the 13th. If you want one before then, you need to be accompanied by a bunch of luck and beg me editor to get some chapters edited ahead of time (so I can release them by schedule).