The narrow canal ended five hundred meters ahead. The dock was already full of boats so I tied up Hakuren 4 to a wooden pile and hopped over the other boats to get ashore. One of them sported a fancy torch that caught my eye. Instead of the usual round log, it was made of strips of bamboo tied together and stuffed with straw, cloth, and magnesium wires for fuel. I lit it with my cantus and it flared to life, illuminating everything around me in dazzling light.
I wasn’t familiar with the geography of Pinewind and didn’t know where exactly I was now, but turned and headed north.
As I walked, the torch revealed what appeared to be a long-abandoned ghost town. Pinewind had been evacuated not too long ago, yet the streets were filled with trash and bits of wood, and the buildings were rotting away.
But the creepy vibe of the town was interrupted with an even more unsettling feeling.
The light of the torch was so strong that everything outside its circle of illumination was pitch black. I had no idea what I was walking into. On the other hand, anyone could see me coming from miles away.
The logical part of my brain told me that keeping the torch was dangerous, but the primal part said that light meant safety. I tried dimming the flames, but it was too difficult to control. I could either put it out entirely, or let it burn at full force.
I looked at the branches littered at my feet. If I gathered these and lit them as I went along, then I would always have a small source of light. Thinking that I should have done this right at the beginning, I put out the torch.
Everything plunged into darkness. Red and green afterimages flickered in front of my eyes.
I lit one of the branches.
A huge black cat stood in front of me.
Actually, huge doesn’t even begin to describe it. As Maria had said, it was at least as big as a lion. Its legs and neck were extremely long, and though its head was comparatively small, about the size of a leopard’s, it was tall enough that its glittering eyes were at the same level as mine.