With a week before he needed to report aboard the Pearl of Danaa’d, Zhao Suria Lautan decided to visit his family, who lived in a manor overlooking Jantan’s Hook, a giant-frog ranching village two days’ travel from Goldenseal. Lautan and his valet, Bozhao Three Gills, traveled there in a jouncing carriage along with Lautan’s aunt—Zhao Yujen Sutera, an elderly widow with a passion for gambling—and her middle-aged maid.
Aside from the aches and pains accompanying a carriage ride along rutted country roads, they encountered nothing noteworthy until they reached Jantan’s Hook. In the village’s dim, noisy teahouse—where they lost Sutera to a game involving a rooster pecking at dice—they spoke to Three Gills’ ne’er-do-well brother Six Fingers, who shared tales of the weird hybrid creatures that had been seen near the village in recent weeks. These ranged from a flightless feathered badger, currently on display in the family manor after being stuffed by Lautan’s father, to a full-sized chimera of giant frog and grizzly bear. Tracks suggested that some of these creatures had come from the steep, overgrown hills to the southeast—an area uninhabited in living memory.
Returning to his ancestral manor, Lautan raised the matter at dinner with his family. His mother Duandai, the head of the household, agreed with his assessment that a giant frog-bear could be a threat to the village, while his father Zhiye suggested that the creature’s size was probably exaggerated. “Frog-wife’s tales,” Zhiye scoffed. “You know how people can be.” He added that Lautan should take his seventeen-year-old brother Tanlo along to track the beast, saying the boy could use some seasoning.
Tanlo himself wandered in out of the rain at this time. After he and Lautan sniped at one another for a bit, conversation meandered to Lautan’s work, his friendship with his cousin Merak—of whom his father disapproved—and the crippling tribute paid to the Blessed Isle. Lautan complained about the Realm’s interference in Zhaojun, which caused his grandmother Laolei to ramble on for a time about how things were better in the old days before Zhaojun bowed its head to the Realm. His parents argued that the Realm was there to stay. “The only power to resist the Realm is on the far side of the world,” said Duandai
Amid the debris of the last course, Zhiye pressed his elder son about the possibility of a daughter-in-law. Lautan attempted to deflect the issue to his younger brother—“Tanlo’s a looker,” he protested—but he eventually agreed to see the village astrologer the next day about when the time would be right to marry. He then returned to his room—which his family had left unchanged even after he left to pursue his naval career—to rest.
The next day, Lautan led a force gathered by Three Gills to track down the frog-bear. This included a couple of local hunters and a dozen youths armed with spears and hooked frog-nets. They found later that morning in a wooded area, sunning itself in the river. Intending to capture the creature alive, Lautan positioned the group in the lower boughs with nets. Failing to persuade any of the youths to act as bait and lure it into the trap, he and Three Gills stood beneath the nets and fired blunt arrows to sting the frog-bear into action.
The first part of the plan worked perfectly. The beast—large and hirsute as a bear, with greasy froglike limbs and a frog’s head—lumbered forward into the trees. Unfortunately, the nets did not snare it effectively, and it tore them away with vicious ursine claws. At Lautan’s order, the hunters and youths leapt down with their spears, only for one lad to have his head bitten clean off! As spearpoints failed to do more than scratch the frog-bear, it smacked Three Gills away from it, the boy trailing blood as he rolled downslope toward the river.
By the time Lautan himself drew his sword and engaged the beast, it had slain both trackers and half the youths, sending the rest fleeing. But his first stroke drew blood, shearing through fur and cutting deeply into its side. It snapped and kicked at him, but he dodged its strokes and slashed it across the nose. Shocked by the sudden pain, it fled to the river. Lautan pursued, only to have it turn on him at the river’s edge. Both struck simultaneously; his blade stabbed into its open mouth, piercing its brain, and it sagged and died.
After hacking the thing’s head off—as a trophy, or perhaps simply to satisfy himself that it was really dead—Lautan returned to where the survivors groaned. Three Gills’ arm had been mangled, while the side of Tanlo’s once-handsome face had been torn open, destroying an eye. Lautan shook his head. “Mom’s gonna kill me,” he said.