Joia do Rubicão


 

sau·da·de

/souˈdädə/

noun

  • a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament.

-Oxford Dictionary of Languages

 

The open terrain and gently rolling hills of the surrounding countryside didn’t particularly lend themselves to concealment, but this particularly stealthy predator found a way to make it work.

 

The dangerous beast gravitated towards the riverbank. She could always count on finding her favorite target down by the riverbank regardless of the weather or time of year.

 

Creeping ever so slowly through the stand of trees, the keen eyes of an apex predator locked onto their target.

 

A solitary figure standing by the riverbank, seemingly lost in thought.

 

Sensing a golden opportunity, the stalker inched ever closer to her oblivious prey.

 

Taking full advantage of the element of surprise, the stalker had stealthily closed the distance before leaping towards her target, closing the gap in the blink of an eye.

 

Boo!” she shouted as her claws wrapped around the taut belly of her unsuspecting mark- a statuesque minotaur with shoulder-length blonde hair and jade eyes.

 

“Ah! Nossa Senhora- th-that tickles!” her shocked target protested with a half whine, half moan- barely able to suppress her giggling as she squirmed in the Ocelomeh’s grip. “Basta, Clara! Basta!

 

Satisfied at her friend’s reaction, the were-jaguar relented in her attack.

 

“What are you doing down here, Jana?”

“I was just taking apart the bridge so I could build a raft and sail down to Porto Alegre.” the blonde minotaur deadpanned- nodding at the decrepit structure barely above the swift moving river.

 

“R-really?” the jaguar girl asked credulously.

 

Jana shook her head. As keen as her ocelomeh friend’s eyes were, she seemed oblivious to the fact that she had been tending to a fishing pole this whole time.

 

“No, Clara. Mama wants me to bring her some more fish.”

 

“Why?”

 

“She thinks we’ll be getting company this week.”

 

“Oh…” Clara’s ears drooped slightly upon hearing that.

 

It had been weeks since that tabloid article about their village had been circulating, but both the Ocelomeh and Minotaur knew that nobody had crossed the bridge from the direction that led towards civilization since then.

 

“Hey….when you’re done, do you think we could watch Diário de uma Aeromoça together?” the werejaguar asked hopefully.

 

The minotaur’s ears perked up at the mention of Clara’s favorite telenovella- the one about the saucy stewardess being wooed by wealthy and powerful men.

 

“I…I’d like to, but once I’m done here Mama wants me to start making another batch of charcoal while it’s still light out.” the blonde minotaur apologetically told her friend.

 

“I don’t see why that freeloading aunt of yours can’t help.”

 

Jana didn’t like Clara’s blunt description of her Mama’s sister, but it’s not as though her friend was too far off.

 

“Tia Noemia….she….she’s helping mama out at the shop.” she paused.

 

“Nobody’s coming, though.” Clara sighed. “Nobody ever does.”

 

Jana sighed quietly. Her friend was right, although they had come to accept that the village’s isolation was a mixed blessing.

 

The young ocelomeh didn’t say anything right away, but her eyes were drawn to the half dozen robust fish with shimmering silver and bright yellow scales laying motionless along the pebble-strewn riverbank- each of them roughly the size of her forearm.

 

Dourado. Anglers from all over the world travelled to the Parana river basin just for the chance to do battle with these predatory freshwater fish, yet the blonde minotaur had already caught a half dozen rugby ball-sized specimens pretty effortlessly.

 

Jana’s haul did not go unnoticed by her ocelomeh companion.

 

“Will you be having moqueca tonight?” Clara asked, glancing at the fish.

 

“Of course.”

 

“Then I’ll come by and visit you guys later.” the spotted feline grinned as she licked her chops. “Your Mom always makes too much.”

Jana chuckled quietly.

 

“I guess she keeps expecting visitors.” Jana mused.

 

“Don’t I count as a visitor?” Clara mock-pouted.

 

“You’re almost family, so it’s hardly a surprise when you visit.”

 

That was as far as the blonde minotaur got before the two of them spotted a large shadow racing across the ground. Looking up, the two of them spotted an eagle harpy heading back to the village. Both of them recognized her as Aguila- another village girl around the same age, and she seemed to be in a hurry.

 

“I….I wonder what she’s doing.” Clara mused as the two of them watched the harpy’s silhouette grow smaller and smaller on the horizon.

 

After a few moments of tense silence, the ocelomeh and minotaur’s ears picked up the faint sounds of the bell from the village’s chapel ringing repeatedly.

 

As the daughter of the village chieftain, Clara knew what that meant. The bell tower from the village’s chapel was only supposed to be used for emergencies or special occasions, and it didn’t look like Aguia was celebrating any special occasion.

 

“What can this be about?” Clara mused before turning to her minotaur friend. “I think we need to get going.”

 

“R-right.” Jana said with some trepidation. “L-let me get today’s catch and my pole. I’ll be right behind you.”

 

As Clara once again disappeared into the stand of trees, Jana cautiously doubled back to the riverbank to gather up the dourado, her fishing pole and a pulp romance novel that she was reading when she wasn’t focusing on the river.

 

On the plus side, Jana most likely wouldn’t have to worry about starting on another batch of charcoal thanks to whatever the commotion was.

 

That thought was strangely comforting as she began climbing the embankment.

 

A noise from the other side of the river caught Jana’s attention. She thought she had heard an approaching vehicle, but dismissed the idea until she saw a glint of sunlight reflecting off a windshield in the distance.

 

Not a car, but a bigger vehicle. A late model Mercedes cargo van with the windows seemingly blacked out.. What stood out to Jana was how immaculate and clean they looked, even though she knew they had to have traversed some pretty unforgiving terrain to get this far.

 

The blonde minotauress wasn’t surprised to see the van come to a complete stop instead of proceeding across the rickety looking bridge. The truth of the matter was both of them would almost certainly have made it across safely- albeit at a low speed. However, the patchwork structure of logs, I beams, railroad ties and trench plates made even the most confident and foolhardy drivers pause to weigh their chances at a successful crossing.

 

It had been so long since she had seen a vehicle from outside the village that Jana simply stood on the opposite riverbank.

 

This almost certainly was what got Aguia so worked up. It had been several weeks since their village had a visitor- an Irish photojournalist. But even then, he had contacted the village chief ahead of time, so they had some idea that he was coming and Clara’s mother was able to set up her enchanted barrier.

 

The van crept a little closer to the bridge before coming to a stop. Before long, the driver’s side door opened and out stepped a woman with shoulder length chestnut brown hair and dressed in professional attire.

 

After some cursory exploration of the riverbank and approach to the bridge on her side, she quickly spotted Jana.

 

“Oi!” the short-haired girl called out, either not noticing or not acknowledging Jana’s bovine features. “Falla Japonês?”

 

“Descupla- Eu não falo-” the minotaur began before the girl cut her off again.

 

Falla Ingles?

 

Jana chuckled. Even from a distance, this girl reminded her of Clara for some reason. However, this visitor’s knowledge of Portuguese seemed to be limited to asking people if they spoke another language.

 

“Sim! Y-yes….” Jana replied. “I speak English!”

 

Essa ponte- é segura?” she called out, pointing at the bridge.

 

“Yes- the bridge is safe!” Jana replied, although she more than understood the newcomer’s reluctance to even approach the structure.

 

“I….I’m not going to fall in and get eaten by piranha-nyas, am I?” the short haired woman asked nervously.

 

Even though English wasn’t her first language, Jana couldn’t stifle a little chuckle at the new arrival’s rather curious verbal tic. 

 

“There are no piranhas in this river…..” she tried reassuring the visitor.

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“É claro- I’m sure!”

 

The visitor took a few tentative steps onto the bridge. Jana could see the sliding side cargo door of the van open from the inside. The likelihood of this woman travelling alone was pretty low.

 

“A-aren’t we in a state named after pira-nyas?” 

 

“Não- that’s further north. And that state is named after Rio Parana.”

 

Other occupants began emerging from the vehicle.

 

The girl who called out to her from the other side of the river appeared to be mostly human- but this was definitely not the case with the others.

 

The door to the van slid open as though opened from the inside and a diagonal ramp hit the ground with a metallic ‘thud’.

 

Slithering down the ramp was a voluptuous, lavender-haired lamia who appeared closer to Jana’s mother’s age, stretching her arms out over her head.

 

“Ah!” she sighed after stretching her arms out above her one more time for good measure. “It feels good to get out and stretch after being cooped up for so long.”

 

“We shouldn’t be gold-bricking when we’re so close to our destination.”a far more stern voice spoke up, virtually stomping down the ramp in light gray slacks along with a matching blouse and blazer. She had off-whtie colored reptilian claws, wings and a tail.

 

“Suzu! What seems to be the holdup?” she barked at the girl who had been talking to Jana.

 

“Who flicked your reverse scale this morning, Tsenia?” a third figure asked as she took in the surrounding landscape from the top of the ramp. “I’m sure our personal assistant is trying to ascertain how safe the bridge is….”

 

This third woman had frosted auburn hair and looked equal parts lioness, eagle and human as she descended the van’s ramp, taking stock of the riverbank and countryside.

 

Jana noticed something curious as she began climbing the embankment- aside from the short-haired girl she had been talking to, all the other visitors had wings. She was not surprised to see other girls of different species, but what surprised the young minotaur was that they had come from the direction of the human towns and villages, travelling together in a rather conspicuous vehicle.

 

As she contemplated this, the muddy embankment beneath her left hoof gave way and sent the blonde minotauress tumbling, her fishing pole, catch of the day and romance novel all scattering on the road before her.

 

And of course these new arrivals would be the one to witness her taking a tumble. At least it wasn’t Ynez the satyr from back in the village pointing and laughing at her misfortune.

 

As she tried gathering her things up, an butterscotch-colored cat was crossing the bridge and trotting towards her- meowing loudly the whole time.

 

This struck Jana as curious. Granted they kept a few barn cats in the village to help keep rodents away from the grain stores and feed, but as far as she knew they hardly ever made it down to the river in broad daylight.

 

Even more curiously, this cat’s tail seemed to be split in two. Jana couldn’t take her eyes off the curious feline as it trotted closer, each meow seemingly like a question.

 

Tudo bem, Belo gato!” she gave the kitty a thumb’s up, “I’m fine.”

 

Seemingly relieved upon hearing that, the curious butterscotch kitty sat down and began scratching its chin as the young minotaur tried figuring out where this particular cat came from. If it wasn’t one of the barn cats in the village, maybe their mysterious visitors had a pet they were travelling with?

 

Jana got her answer sooner than expected when the talkative little cat before her suddenly disappeared in a puff of mist and before her now was the short-haired woman sitting on her haunches.

 

“Are you sure you don’t nya-eed any help?” she asked a clearly startled Jana.

 

Now that their visitor was this close, Jana could see that her more human form was adorned with pointy feline ears by the top of her head and she still retained the two tails of equal length protruding from the area around the small of her back.

 

“Really- I’m fine.” Jana said as she resumed picking up her items.

 

Sugoi desu-ka!” the cat-girl uttered in her native tongue before realizing she was half a world away. “What kind of fish are….oh….sorry….” she began to ask before correcting herself and nodding towards Jana’s catch. “Que tipo de peixe?”

 

“These are dourado.” the minotauress began to explain.

 

“They look really really good.” the visitor with feline traits said as she hungrily eyed Jana’s catch. “What other fish do you have here in Brazil?”

 

Jana gave that some consideration.

 

“Well- mama said we used to have paraiba here, but she hasn’t seen any since they built the dam upstream. I guess there’s also Pacu….Tilapia…” 

 

“In Japan, yellowfin and bluefin tuna are really popular- although that’s something I can’t really afford on a secretary’s salary….Salmon is the most popular imported- Oh! Where are my manners!?” the visitor lamented before correcting herself and bowing slightly. “Meu Nome e Suzu.”

 

“Oh…Eu sou Jana.” the minotauress said, extending her hand.

 

“Oh my, Suzu-chan. We haven’t even been here five minutes and you’re already talking this poor girl’s ear off about fish.” the lamia teased as she slithered across the bridge with a certain elegance. 

 

“You’ll have to forgive our assistant’s overexhuberance.” she continued. “My name is Amara. The grouchy dragon accompanying me is Lady Tsenia and the lovely griffon here is Ceredwen.”

 

“I usually go by Ceri.” the winged chimera said from above before circling around for a landing.

 

“I’m not grumpy- I have a perfectly reasonable expectation for arriving at our destination within a certain timeframe and…..the two of you are testing my patience.” the frosty haired dragoness sulked.

 


 

Back in the village, the old service station turned cafe was now abuzz with activity as most of the village’s residents made their way upon hearing the chapel’s bell.

 

Run by the minotaur family, the bakery and cafe would also serve as an impromptu town hall because it wasn’t unusual for the village chieftain to be there having lunch or an early dinner and occasionally discussing issues with other townspeople.

 

“C-can we get the chief to use one of her illusory spells?” a slime toad asked.

 

“There’s no time- those require half a day to set up!” an exasperated lamia with coppery scales and reptilian claws on her forearms tried to explain.

 

“What are we supposed to do, then?”

 

“Could it be more journalists?”

 

“They usually try getting a hold of us through Facebook or calling the Chief’s office before heading out here, though.” the lamia spoke up as she tried keeping the golden flames on her forearm from flaring up.

 

The copper-hued lamia went by the name Sulia and was of the Boitata subspecies- her ability to generate and control heatless golden flames that erupted from her forearms and lower body were widely believed to be a holdover from the days long before electricity or flashlights so they could navigate the primeval wilderness.

 

Despite appearing not that much older than Jana, Clara and Aguia, Sulia was actually the village’s schoolteacher. Unfortunately since the minotaur, eagle harpy and ocelomeh along with a satyr were the youngest girls in the village (despite being in their 20s), this meant that Sulia now had plenty of free time on her hands.

 

“I don’t think we’re ready for this.” a honeybee lamented to her two sisters.

 

“What if it’s a death squad?” the somewhat human-appearing frog girl asked.

 

Her query did little to assure the assembled crowd, the frantic questions and speculation only accelerating from there.

 

“Were they military?”

 

“I don’t think so- I didn’t get a good look.” The eagle harpy said.

 

“It couldn’t be tourists, could it?”

 

“Not impossible, but I doubt it.”

 

“Perhaps they’re cartographers!” a muscular anaconda lamia suggested.

 

“That’s impossible- this village hasn’t shown up on any map for nearly 50 years.”

 

“Maybe that’s why they’re coming?”

 

“If they come to do us harm, we need to fight.” a panther jinko stated resolutely. “Where are Noemi and Suzana? They can slow the aggressor’s advance by pulling down the bridge.”

 

“But we don’t know why they’re here- just that they’re on their way.”

 

“Listen to yourself.” the older black haired minotaur admonished the panther jinko. “We basically invited the whole world to come see our village a few months ago, and now you’re ordering us to tear down the bridge because Aguia spotted some vehicles she didn’t recognize. What if it turns out they’re harmless? It will take weeks to repair the bridge!”

 

“And if you’re wrong?” the panther girl challenged.

 

Before the minotaur could answer that pointed question, a solitary authoritative voice cut through the din and crosstalk.

 

BASTA! That’s enough!!”

 

Almost immediately, the conversation in the cafe stopped and everyone turned to see a mature werejaguar standing behind the counter next to the black haired minotaur.

 

“Have you forgotten?” she asked, taking a sip from a metallic straw planted in her wooden gourd-shaped cup filled with chimarrão. “The humans from the nearby towns have drones now.”

 

“Drones?”

 

“Really?” the assembled villagers began murmuring.



“I thought only the military used those…” 

 

“I found out the electric company uses them to look for downed trees along the transmission lines and at least one real estate firm in the city uses them to take aerial pictures of the properties they list.” the werejaguar explained. “Plus some humans even have taken it up as a hobby. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets curious and flies one over this village.”

 

This was news to many of the villagers who were only familiar with the concept of drones or UAVs in the most abstract sense.

 

“That’s why we welcomed that photojournalist. We couldn’t stay hidden forever- I thought I made that abundantly clear.”

 

The assemblage of women looked at each other in uncomfortable silence, knowing that they may not like what the mature jaguar woman was saying but she was right.

 

“What are we supposed to do then?”

 

“All of you can for now is go home. I’ll handle this.” Shona pledged.

 

“How?” a lone voice asked.

 

“We show our guests some Joia hospitality, of course!” the ocelomeh flashed a toothy grin.

 


 

The terrain surrounding them was hilly with verdant meadows ideally suited for small scale grazing and pastures along with the occasional stands of trees interspersed among them instead of entire forests. 

 

“I must say, young lady, when Lady Tsenia said we had business to attend to in Brazil, this wasn’t what I had in mind.” the voluptuous serpent woman commented as they walked towards the center of the village.

 

The short-haired neko nodded in agreement.

 

“The whole way over, I was imagining beaches like Ipenema or the Amazon rai-nya-forest.” 

 

Far from the concrete jungle of Rio or the actual jungles of the Amazon or Patanal, the open, bucolic landscape and temperate climate stood in contrast to the new arrivals’ preconceptions about their final destination.

 

Lady Tsenia- the pale dragoness who seemed to be the one in charge of this particular group- said nothing as she kept pace- walking slightly behind the neko, griffin and melusine as well as the native minotaur girl.

 

She was aware enough of her surroundings to know that the rest of the village had some idea about their impending arrival. Before getting out of the van to stretch her legs and wings, she could feel the presence of two others, although they were already moving away and towards the village center. The minotaur girl just happened to be the slowest- or clumsiest- of the three she detected.

 

Somos gauchos.” the minotaur girl said with pride. 

 

“What do you mean?” the griffin spoke up.

 

“Well- we don’t really ride off on horseback and drive cattle on horseback….or sing sad songs about horses…on horseback” Jana began. “But Clara’s mama said that povo from elsewhere will refer to anyone from this part of Brasil as ‘gauchos’.”

 

The dragoness wasn’t much for small talk and did little to conceal her annoyance at the seemingly idle chit chat between the minotaur and her travelling companions, but at least the native girl was providing them with some answers that could be considered useful. 

 

Around the village were signs that this place wasn’t completely cut off from the outside worlds. A few of the residences had TV antennas topping them and the dragoness could see a pair of old but serviceable trucks parked near what used to be a gas station.

 

Her train of thought was interrupted as she spotted what looked like a half dozen honeybee girls leave from a single story structure near the village center and take off at low altitude, heading the opposite way, followed by a brightly colored amphibian girl who began hopping the same direction as the honeybeees. Despite the impressive length of each jump, there didn’t seem to be any urgency in the slime toad’s movement.

 

The frosty-haired dragoness couldn’t help but chuckle quietly. She was almost certain the nature of the gathering had been to tell whoever was in charge that their arrival was imminent, and the response was almost certainly along the lines of ‘Act natural’.

 

“Everyone knows we’re here” Tsenia said to her Griffon travelling companion.


“Oi, Mama! Temos companhia!” The blonde minotaur shouted out as she strode into the little service station turned cafe with Tsenia and Suzu in tow.

 

Ah! Ben vindo!” Jana’s mother began, cordially greeting her guests. “What brings you ladies here to our humble village?” 

 

“May I interest you ladies in some coxinha or pao de queijo?” a third minotaur asked the visiting group, hoping that neither their guests nor her own sister would notice that she was already on her third beer. 

 

“What’s Coe-She-Nya?” the nekomata asked, trying to repeat the unfamiliar word phonetically.

 

“You’ll like it- it’s like a….how would you say….Croquette? Cheese and shredded chicken breaded and served warm.” Jana volunteered.

 

Knowing that their visitors probably weren’t going away any time soon, Suzana sent her daughter to the kitchen.

 

“Jana, we’re almost out. Could you make a fresh batch for our visitors before getting started on the moqueca?”

 

Her daughter clearly wasn’t pleased at having to separate herself from the new arrivals, but didn’t say anything as she headed to the kitchen.

 

“Greetings- my name is Ceridwyn, but I usually go by Ceri. This is lady Tsenia and our interpreter and travelling secretary, Suzu.”

 

Each of the new arrivals reacted to the mention of their name with a silent nod.

 

“I must say, I wasn’t expecting more of our kind to show up. I’m Shona, chieftain of this village.”

 

“And I’m Suzana, the owner of this little cafe and bakery.” The minotaur matriarch introduced herself. “That’s my little sister Noemi, and I see you’ve already met my daughter Jana.”

 

“Now I know the coxinha here is quite good, but I suspect that isn’t what brought you ladies all the way out here from……” Shona trailed off. “Where did you come from, exactly?”

 

“Japan.”

 

Shona let out a low sharp whistle to indicate that she was genuinely impressed with how far the new arrivals had to travel to arrive here.

 

“The other side of the world, huh? Muito Top!” Noemi marvelled as she handed each of the visitors a chilled glass and three bottles of Guarana Antarctica. 

 

“We represent a…..I suppose you could call it a civic group of sorts.” the griffon continued. 

 

“Have I heard of this group?” Shona asked.

 

“I highly doubt it.” the white-haired dragoness sneered.

 

“It’s a very new organization, but I dare say that our work is quite important.” Ceri followed up.

 

“And what is that, exactly?”

 

“We’re members of the Preparation Committee for the Insterspecies Cultural Exchange Program.” the nekomata offered.

 

“Preparation for what?” Suzana asked.

 

“The introduction of our kind into modern human society.” the griffon explained.

 

“Wait- the rest of the world knows about you?” Neomi asked the trio.

 

“No, but the time is close.” Ceri replied.

 

“Or was.” the dragoness said sullenly. “I think you know why we’re here.”

 

Shona and Suzana exchanged guilty looks with one another. Ceri didn’t say anything right away, but brought out a folded up newspaper from a bag slung over her shoulder.

 

It was a British tabloid- the London Daily Register.

 

That article.

 

That damn tabloid piece about their village seemed to be attracting everyone but the eligible bachelors everybody in the village had sought.

 

And it seemed like it only got worse once the British tabloids picked up on the story.

 

“O que e isto?” Jana’s mother asked, doing little to conceal her irritation.

 

“I suppose I should be asking the same thing.” the icy-haired dragoness spoke up. “Now that we’re up close, I have to say that this little ramshackle backwater is nowhere near as appealing as it’s vivid depiction on the pages of the Daily Register.

 

“So sorry- my English is no very good. Would you care to repeat that?” Suzana said, only her English was actually quite good- she was daring the imposing dragoness to repeat herself.

 

Gomen nasai!”  the short-haired nekomata blurted out as she scrambled to her feet and placed herself between Tsenia and the minotaur siblings, bowing deeply. “I…I’m very sorry!” she stammered before remembering the Portuguese phrase. “¡Com licença! I’m certain that Lady Tsenia didn’t mean that and she’s just irritable from our lengthy journey.”

 

The dragoness locked her subordinate in a withering gaze before continuing. “Our lengthy journey wouldn’t have been necessary if these hayseeds hadn’t tried their little publicity stunt in oder to-“

 

The cafe’s bells jingled loudly once again as the front door swung open and In slithered the last of the visitors.

 

“Oh my- is the weather here always this perfect or did we happen upon your village at a particularly opportune time?” the winged lamia asked as she slithered into the minotaur’s cafe to join her cohorts. 

 

The mesuline woman who had been content to sun herself outside while the others talked shop, but made her way inside suspecting that her stubborn draconian travelling companion was beginning to act up.

 

The ocelomeh and minotaurs suspected the voluptuous lamia was running interference just in case the nekomata’s apology wasn’t enough.

 

“And I simply adore what you’ve done with this old petrol station. Not only is it very quaint and inviting, but the lunch counter is able to accommodate all sorts of body types.” she continued. “And all done in such a manner to not draw suspicion from outsiders.”

 

“What can you tell us about this?” Ceri the griffon asked.

 

It took a few seconds for the older Ocelomeh’s eyes to recognize the image.

 

Their visitor was still holding up a copy of a British tabloid. 

 

Remote All Women Brazilian Village Seeking A Few Good (Single) Men.” she read the circled headline aloud in accented English.

 

“Oh? You actually brought a copy?” Shona remarked.

 

Que legal– I’m so glad that fotojournalista caught my good side.” Noemi squealed in delight upon seeing the human version of herself in the newspaper.

 

Ceri cleared her throat as she began to read directly from the article.

Nestled in the heart of gaucho country in southern Brazil is a unique village quite unlike any other. Situated along the meandering Rio Rubicão is the small farming village of Joia do Rubicão and it’s less than 200 inhabitants- all of them female.” the griffon continued.

 

“So far so good.” 

 

When asked the whereabouts of the village’s men, village mayor Shona Azevedo said many of them had left to find labor in the bigger cities like Sao Paulo or Rio.

 

“I told the reporter a white lie because i don’t think anybody would believe the truth.” Shona shrugged.

 

Ceri continued reading.

 

‘We are not a wealthy village, but we are tight knit and do what we can to get by.’ 

 

To illustrate this, Shona showed our intrepid Daily Register correspondent an apiary where the village women work to produce honey as well as a nearby barn where cows and goats kept for milking or shearing. The wiry and energetic mayor took pride in her village’s entrepreneurial spirit.

 

“Getting to the nearest town isn’t easy, but our artisanal milk, honey and wool does fetch a high price” Suzana Girolanda said through an interpreter.

 

The griffon looked up from the newspaper to see Suzana and Noemi fidgeting.

 

“You didn’t….”

 

“I may have…..” the raven tressed minotaur said as she self-consciously cupped her considerable bosom. “Or… we may have.” she said as she glanced at her sister.”

 

“We always blended it with the cows milk before selling it!” Noemi said defensively. “Same with the mel from the bee ladies.”

 

Mrs. Girolanda is an amply built brunette who runs the village’s cafe and bakery along with her younger sister and only daughter- who’s now in her early 20s. She said it wasn’t unusual for her family to use many of the locally produced ingredients at the family run eatery, which was converted from a disused petrol station.

 

“‘Amply built’….” Noemi tittered. “I think that’s just a polite way of calling you ‘fatty‘.”

 

Foda se!” her buxom sister snarled as she threw a crumpled up dish towel her way.

 

Like others in the village, Suzana is hoping to find a suitor for her daughter who usually keeps busy fishing, making charcoal and milking the livestock when she isn’t helping around the cafe.” Ceri said quietly, as though she didn’t want to attract the attention of the youngest minotaur who was in the kitchen preparing food for their visitors.

 

I would just like to see my daughter meet a good man who could make her very happy- she’s such a beautiful and kind girl.” the cafe owner laments. 

 

It’s a sentiment shared by others in the village, including the chieftain- who concedes that her daughter may be a bit of a handful.

 

“My girl has a lot of energy and spirit- not every guy could keep up with her, but I think she’d appreciate anyone who made the effort.”

 

Before the griffon could continue reading the tabloid article, the front door to the cafe swung open to the loud jangling of bells.

 

“Oi! Mama….everyone wants to know- what’s the deal with these gringos? Clara asked abruptly.

 

“Speak of the devil….” Noemi sighed as she cracked open a beer, doing little to conceal her disappointment.

 

“They’re here because of the newspapers.” Shona patiently told her daughter.

 

Que bacana….” the younger werejaguar said as she gave each of the visitors an appraising glance. 

 

“I must say….these are some impressive photos. Each of you look remarkably….oh….what’s the word?……human….in these pictures.” the melusine volunteered as she returned her attention to the newspaper article.

 

“Oh- that’s just an improvised glamour I used to make everybody in the village appear more human.” the chieftain said faux modestly. 

 

“But you overlooked something- an un-nyaa-forced error, if you will.” the nekomata spoke up.

 

“And that is?” 

 

“Take a good look at the shadows. Do you notice anything out of place?” the dragoness asked.

 

It took Noemi and her sister a moment to see what she was pointing out.

 

Noemi and Sulia looked perfectly human in the photograph, but she could see a pair of shadows on the ground. One shadow seemed to be sporting a pair of bovine horns while the other was sitting atop an indistinct dark mass- almost like the coiled lower body of a serpent.

 

The dragoness could see it register on faces of the two minotaur women. Shona’s glamour had worked on all the women of the village, but not on the shadows they cast 

 

“Now- is there anything that you care to tell us that isn’t in the article?”

 

While outwardly much more sympathetic than the white-haired dragoness, Ceri was addressing the local women with the same tone as a schoolteacher who caught her students passing notes in class.

 

“Like perhaps why this village isn’t on any map?”

 

“Oh…they didn’t say?” Noemi asked innocently. “Maybe it came up in the O Dia article…”.

 

“I suspect that you may have my predecessor to thank for that.” Shona volunteered.

 

“Why’s that?”

 

“Back when we were under military rule, they might have known about this village. Velha Yuya said we were supposed to be evicted to make room for a dam- a big hydroelectric dam that would’ve left the whole area underwater. I don’t know what she said or did….or if she did anything, but….after some engineers came out here, they decided that the dam would leave too much prime grazing land for the cattle underwater….so the whole was eventually moved further upstream. The thing is, the cartographers had mistakenly believed Joia do Rubicão had already been evacuated and demolished, so they never included it on the newer editions of the state maps.”


Kakkoi….so that’s why it doesn’t even show up on Google Maps….” Suzu marvelled.


“Mm-hmm.” the Melusine nodded. “The only reason we were able to find your charming village is because you wanted to be found eventually…..just not by us.”

 

“Sim! The only problem was that the road and bridge fell into disrepair because why maintain a bridge and road that doesn’t go anywhere?”

 

E claro!” the oldest minotaur responded, shifting her attention away from the belligerent dragoness and bowing catgirl. “The problem is we haven’t had visitors for many months.” 

 

“Ah- a pity.” the lamia sighed sympathetically. “Such a bucolic setting- at least outwardly. Why it’s almost as if once a man set foot in this village, he would become enchanted and never want to leave.”

 

“That was the idea….” Shona drawled as she took another sip off her metallic straw.

 

“I must say, using a glamour big enough to cover an entire village and fool any humans present? Where did you learn that sort of enchantment?” the griffon asked.

 

“It took all day for me to set up, but I learned it from my predecessor, Velha Yuya.” The were-jaguar chieftain paused to quietly perform the sign of the cross.

 

“She must’ve been something else.” the melusine marveled.

 

Suzana bristled upon hearing the name of the old village chieftain.

 

Velha Yuya was…..complicated.” Shona said.

 

“It’s because of her our daughters grew up never knowing their fathers.” Suzana snarled.

 

“You don’t mean she killed-?” the shocked griffon asked.

 

“No no! It wasn’t like that!” Shona said defensively. “Velha Yuya….she didn’t trust humans- especially men- to keep our secret. The old croc woman would feed them a concoction she called vinho amnesia and leave them by the side of the road leading back to the nearest town with no memories of having ever set foot in the village.”

 

“Did it work?” Amara asked.

 

“It must have….we certainly would have had more visitors since then if it didn’t.” the ocelomeh sighed. “I know Velha Yuya was trying to protect us encantadas from the outside world, but I think it ended up doing more harm.”

 

“Encantadas?” Ceri asked.

 

“The Enchanted.” Shona explained. “It made more sense to call ourselves that than refer to each individual family by species.”

 

“But now our daughters are at the age when they’re supposed to start a family, but no men around for miles and miles thanks to Velha Yuya’s doing.” the minotaur matron seethed. “Jana, Clara, Aguia, Ynez….all of them.”

 

The silence weighed heavily on those gathered in Suzana’s cafe.

 

Finally Tsenia spoke up.

 

“When your plight is explained in such stark terms, I suppose these self-promoting falsehoods about your village make more sense in such a context.”

 

Before anybody else could speak up, Jana emerged from the kitchen with several steaming bowls carefully balanced on a tray.

 

Tudo bem! I made enough for everybody.” she announced as she began setting down the bowls in front of her visitors.

 

“Even me?” Clara asked eagerly as she reached out for a bowl of her own.

 

Sumimasen…” the catgirl began in her native tongue, bowing slightly. Turning to her minotaur hostesses, she continued in English. “I… I did-nya-n’t mean to stare, but is that….curry?” she asked as her split tails swished eagerly.

 

“Ese? No- this is moqueca Paranese. It’s a fish stew, but yes….it looks very much like a curry, so I can see why you’d think that.” she said, handing Suzu her own dish.

 

“You’ll have to forgive our assistant. We had a light lunch, so she’s understandably hungry.” Amara explained.

 

Suzu was practically salivating as she eyeballed the savory golden yellow bowl of fish, diced peppers, hard boiled egg slices and mushrooms.

 

“These are the fish you caught earlier- the dourado?” 

 

Jana nodded.

 

“Ah- I thought maybe you would like sushi more, gatinha.” Noemi remarked as the nekomata office lady tucked into her savory fish stew.

 

“Don’t get me wrong- I like sushi just fine, but in Japan that’s usually saved for special occasions.” she said as she began digging in.

 

Tsenia, Ceri and Amara each stopped eating long enough to notice that without even trying, Suzu and Clara’s movements and intensity mimicked each other as they dug into their respective bowls of hearty yellow stew.

 

Gatinhas muito amo seus peixe.” Noemi remarked as the younger jaguar girl stopped to look up.

 

“Of course I love fish.” Suzu said sheepishly as she scooped some white rice onto a plate to go with the moqueca. “Especially when it’s fresh like this.  I know all the best seafood places in Nagoya.”

 

Ceri and Amara quietly nodded in concurrence. 

 

“You don’t have to take that from this lazy freeloader!” Clara jerked her thumb towards Noemi.

 

Catar coquinho, Moleca!” Jana’s aunt snapped.

 

Although amused, Clara’s mother spoke up before the two of them could argue any further.

 

“Clara- mind your manners. You’re a guest in Noemi’s place.” she admonished.

 

“Ah- Senhora Suzu…” Jana spoke up, pointing to the nekomata’s blouse.

 

The VIP’s interpreter looked down and was dismayed to see a prominent yellow splotch on the front of her blouse.

 

“Ah….I have a change of clothes, but they’re still back in the van.” the neko lamented.

 

“I can wash that for you by hand….” Noemi offered.

 

“You don’t have to do that.”

 

“And you’re about the same size as Clara.” she continued.

 

The neko had some idea where Noemi was going with this.

 

“Th-that’s not necessary…”

 

“I insist! Clara….make yourself useful and get an extra shirt from your place for our guest.”

 

The younger ocelomeh bristled at being ordered around by Noemi but was prompted by a quiet nod from her mother, leaving quietly after she had finished her lunch.

 

“At least let me finish this stew….” Suzu told the minotaur timidly.

 

“I suppose this is the part where you dangle a wad of cash in front of us simple-minded caipiras and get us to do whatever you want.” Shona said to their visitors, now that she was sure her daughter was out of earshot.

 

“Well…. Nya-t quite.” the tomboyish neko began as she finished the last of her stew.

 

“What do you mean?” 

 

“We’re quite aware of the imposition our request may be for your village and it’s people.” Ceri said.

 

“Your compensation will be much more substantial than a bundle of 1 reai notes bundled together with a rubber band, I assure you.” the dragoness added.

 

“But what exactly is it you want us to do?”

 

“We need you to summon the local media and announce that the article about your village was in fact an elaborate hoax” Ceri said.

 


 

Unknown to the other VIPs, Shona and the minotaur matron, Noemi and the group’s nekomata interpreter quietly slipped away from the rest of the group and into the cafe’s kitchen.

 

“Are you sure this will work?” Suzu asked nervously as she unbuttoned her blouse.

 

“Depends- are you finished spilling moqueca all over your top?” the minotaur teased.

 

“That was so good- I’d love to have seconds or thirds if Lady Tsenia wasn’t going to yell at me about my table manners. Your little sister is a great cook.”

 

Her comment prompted boisterous laughter from Noemi. Suzu stopped buttoning for a moment and regarded her minotaur hostess with a curious glance.

 

“Ah- Obrigado!” she continued as her laughter tapered off. “Jana is actually my niece.”

 

“Oh…sumimasen. I thought all three of you were sisters.” Suzu bowed deeply with her partially unbuttoned blouse, giving Noemi a glimpse of the cat girl’s deceptively generous bust.

 

“I guess I could consider that a compliment. Jana can be pretty mature for her age.” Noemi mused. “But less talking and more undressing, Gatinha.”

 

The younger of the minotaur sisters wasn’t quite ready when their visitor shimmied out of her blouse. The nekomata’s upper arms were surprisingly well toned, an enticing blend of feminine curves and muscle. Her bra was fringed with black lace and looked almost businesslike, but it had to be at least a size 85F or 38DD.

 

A thought occurred to Noemi. No matter how big a shirt Clara would bring back from her place, it would be at least two sizes too small for their feline visitor.

 

The minotaur couldn’t stifle an eager little grin at the prospect as Suzu handed her the blouse. 

 

Noemi went to work applying a powder to the stained area and diligently scrubbing, sneaking the occasional glance of the neko bashfully covering herself with her forearm.

 

She wasn’t sure why, but there was something alluring about this particular visitor that made her heart beat a little faster. Out of their quartet of visitors, the nekomata was easily the most intriguing.

 

“Lighten up- you’re not in Nagoya anymore.” she teased the neko without even looking up from her task.

 

“Is that leopard girl coming back with a shirt for me?”

 

Noemi giggled. “Such a lazy, unreliable brat. Hopefully she won’t be too much longer.”

 

She stopped scrubbing long enough to get a better look at Suzu.

 

Que bacana….you must go to the gym a lot in Nagoya.” she marvelled.

 

“Oh- I really haven’t been able to go to the gym regularly since I was at my old job.” Suzu said, relaxing a little.

 

“Do you have a boyfriend?” Noemi asked as she ran a little more water over the spot she had been scrubbing.

 

“No….” she sighed. “Nya-t enough time for that kind of thing since I started working for Lady Tsenia. Still, I have to say….I’m a bit jealous.”

 

Noemi paused.

“Of me?”

“I suppose….maybe just life here around your village. It seems so laid back, and plenty of fish in the river nearby.”

 

“That’s if that bratty little Clara doesn’t gobble them up first.”

 

“She’s not so bad, is she?” Suzu asked.



“She’s a little high strung, but she’s a good friend for my niece.” the younger minotaur sister begrudgingly admitted.

 

“But from what I’ve seen, Brazil is a sleeping giant when it comes to aquaculture and fisheries.”

 

“Huh?”


“Could you imagine farming and exporting fish like the dourado?” Suzu marvelled.

 

“I’m more used to getting them from the river.”

“Just on the way in, I saw a half dozen places that could be used to sustainably farm dourado or pacu.” the nekomata marvelled.

 

“Seems like you’ve given this some thought.”

 

“Of course- tuna and salmon are still really popular in Japan, but are in danger of being overfished….so why not introduce alternatives that could appeal to the Japanese palette?” she asked.

 

“All right- but what if there’s another economic crisis?” Noemi asked.

 

“Shift sales focus to domestic markets. Brazil’s population is nearly double that of Japan’s and they’ve already acquired a taste for these fish.” 

 

By this point, Suzu was so excited about her hypothetical aquaculture enterprise that she hadn’t even bothered covering herself up anymore. Noemi found herself sneaking glances at the nekomata’s cleavage, tummy and toned arms as she continued, inching closer as she spelled out every possible contingency.

 

“I understand there’s less disposable income on average in Brazil, but we’d spend much less on shipping to Rio or Belo Horizonte than we would Nagoya or Tokyo.”

 

Enche linguiça, gatinha!. Maybe you should go on Shark Tank Brasil.” Noemi heard herself tell the neko as she was admiring both her body and her infectious enthusiasm as she pitched her idea.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“Oh- it’s a TV show where people with product idea will try and sell some wealthy investors on financing their idea….” Noemi explained.

 

“Except I can’t speak Portuguese that well.” the neko admitted. “Nao fallo muito Portugues.”

 

“Maybe I can help with that, gatinha.” Noemi offered.

 

“You can? Obrigado!” the robustly built neko squealed in delight before she realized something.

 

“Wait- you have TV in the village?”

Sim, but we can only watch it when the generator is hooked up. We did this for the Olympics and World Cup many years ago, too. My sister likes those dumb ‘reality’ shows. And my niece likes to watch westerns and telenovellas with her friend.”

 

“Wait- what about the refrigerator?”

 

“Ours runs on butane.” Noemi said as she nodded towards the appliance in question. Some of the other houses in the village have smaller ones that run on propane, I think.

 

“How do you manage that?”

 

“Once every few weeks, my sister will help Shona gather up goods we’ve produced- milk, wool, charcoal, fish, honey- and pack it onto the truck and sell it in the nearest town where the chief sells it.”

“Isn’t she afraid of getting spotted?”

 

“Hee hee….spotted. I see what you did there.” Noemi tittered as she opened another beer. “But she says these buyers are trusted by her clan- just in case, she hides her tail and will wear a hat and work gloves the whole time she’s out….or use a scaled down version of her glamour.”

 

Suzu nodded as she continued peppering Noemi with questions.

 

“What happens to the money?”

 

“Most of it gets spent before Shona can head back to the village. Diesel, fabric, propane, produce, clothes, meat, beer….even medicine for Jana.”

 

“I’m sorry…. I didn’t know your niece was ill.”

 

“She isn’t, really…” Noemi began to explain nervously. “It’s just…my sister has been giving her inhibitors that keep her from lactating. My little niece doesn’t like the idea of being hooked up to milk pumps for very long….and I can’t say that I blame her. Out of the three of us, I think she’s the most eager to see the outside world and travel.”

 

“She may be able to do that sooner than you realize.” Suzu said. “Same for you.”

 

Verdade?” 

 

The nekomata simply nodded.

 

“I’m not sure how far I’d want to go….” Noemi pondered. “But I’ve always wanted to go to rodeio. Maybe Oktoberfest, too.”

 

“Noemi-san.” the catgirl said, brushing a lock of hair away from her face. She could tell this was something her minotaur hostess had long considered doing but wasn’t able to due to the secretive nature of her home village.

 

“But I can’t go by myself! That will just be so awkward!” the statuesque minotaur blurted out as soon as the neko gently touched her forehead. “If what you say is true, will you accompany me to the next rodeio?”

 

“I…..I guess? I don’t know when the next time there’s going to be a rodeo or-”

 

“Really? Obrigado!” the giddy minotaur giggled as she gave the busty nekomata a bear hug, her own considerable bosom being pressed against her chest. “I hear so much good things about them- you and I can have so much fun, there’s music and games…..and so many cute guys in tight jeans.” Noemi was blushing slightly when she said that last part.

 

Suzu was a little surprised at the enthusiasm of the bear hug she found herself in but didn’t protest too much. Her employers and travelling companions were probably right in that she talked way too much about fish, but the cute and good natured minotaur was humoring her while cleaning her blouse no less.

 

Before the two of them could separate, Suzu’s sharp ears picked up the creak of a door.

 

It was Clara, sticking her head through the kitchen’s side door.

 

“Where have you been?” Noemi scolded, still holding on to the nekomata.

 

“Th- this is the only clean one I could find.” Clara said bashfully as she held up a yellow tee shirt with green striping and lettering that said ‘BRASIL’ on the front with a World Cup logo on the left shoulder.

 

“Let’s get this dried off while it’s still light out.” the minotaur said as she scooped up the blouse from the countertop. 

 

Suzu wasn’t sure what the time of day had to do with anything until she followed her minotaur host outside and saw a clothesline.

 

Without saying a word, Clara handed the feline translator the soccer t-shirt.

 

The catgirl quickly and effortlessly slid into the borrowed t-shirt and true to Neomi’s prediction, its was about two sizes too small with the ‘BRASIL’ on the front getting stretched out noticeably.

 

The touchy-feely minotauress could hardly contain her glee at the sight before her as the neko realized that the shirt she was trying on wasn’t going to get any less tight.

 

“I-it’s a little snug.” Suzu said, admitting the obvious.

 

“Do you have any clothes in adult sizes, Clara?” Noemi teased the younger ocelomeh.

 

“Mala vaca!” Clara seethed.

 

“Ah- chotto matte, kudesai.” the neko said as she reached under her new shirt. After shimmying for a few seconds, she managed to pull out her black lace-fringed bra and put it on the clothesline next to her blouse.

 

“It doesn’t need to be washed or anything….the shoulder straps have been digging into me ever since I left Japan.” she admitted sheepishly.

 

Before the three of them could return to the front of the minotaur’s cafe, they saw Jana effortlessly carrying a log only slightly smaller than a telephone pole on her shoulder as she casually walked towards them.

 

“Jana, what are you doing?”

 

“Oh- this?” she asked before putting the log down near a fire pit. “Mama said I should get ready to make some charcoal in case our guests decide to stay a little longer. But I think they just wanted me gone because they were going to talk about stuff they didn’t want me listening in on.”

 

“We should head back in.” Clara said, certain that the four of them were missing out on some choice gossip or even some fireworks between the haughty dragoness and her headstrong mother.

 

“Good thing we’re not back in Nagoya. The chikkan would probably have a field day if I was dressed like this on the subway.” Suzu mused as she fidgeted with her new, smaller shirt. “And I can only break so many fingers.”

 

“Chikkan?”Clara asked.

 

“Perverts who mess with girls on crowded subways.” the neko explained.

 

Credo! As you can see, we have opposite problem here.” Noemi was quick to point out.

 


 

“Not happening.” Shona told the visitors without hesitation.

 

“On the contrary- it IS happening.” Tsenia said as she got up to her feet. “I strongly suspect you’ll be more receptive to our proposal once we agree to terms on some form of compensation.”

 

“But why would we even need to do this?” Suzana asked. “The article has been republished in at least four different languages and the only visitors we had so far were on the Facebook page we set up,”

 

“And technically it’s true. Our village needs men.” Shona added.

 

“So far. Your little publicity stunt undermined everything we’re attempting to accomplish with the upcoming Cultural Exchange Between Species bill.” Tsenia shot back.

 

“Bringing the media out here and passing yourselves off as humans- what was your endgame?” the winged lamia asked.

 

“Shouldn’t it be obvious?” the elder jaguar-woman replied.

 

It was indeed pretty obvious, but the visitors couldn’t help but feel that the crafty jaguar was overlooking something had her tabloid article gambit paid off immediately.

 

“Let’s assume it worked as you intended- you have suitors showing up by the busload. Then what? It’s only a matter of time before they saw through your glamour.”

 

Mi bisavo and Velha Yuya started the rumors that this village is cursed and the inhabitants are descendants of bruxas e hereges. I think once they see our true selves, the mens would actually be relieved.”

 

“Clearly you didn’t think this through.” the Tsenia chided the assembled villagers.

 

“Oh lighten up, you huffy, overgrown lizard.” the serpentine woman snapped.

 

The white haired dragoness stopped dead in her tracks, managing only to blink in surprise at the audacity of her lamia companion.

 

“What they did may have been wrong, but it’s certainly no worse than what my home village did to procure a mate.” she continued.

 

“What did you do?” 

 

“Lured men to our village under false pretences, seduced them and then sent them on their way after giving them a concoction where they convinced themselves everything that happened was just a dream…..a bit like your predecessor, I suppose.” Amara sighed as she nodded towards Shona. “It would’ve been nice if some of them wanted to stay with us.”

 

“That’s why some of us have so much invested in the Cultural Exchange Between Species Act and want this to go off without a hitch.” Ceri added.

 

“But just think…..by the end of the year, your village or my island may be getting visitors who want to meet our kind and want to stay with us.” Amara pondered.

 

Vila os Encantadas…’ Shona mused.

 

“I like the sound of that.” Suzana replied.

 

“Any number of things could happen.” the dragoness spoke up, tempering her optimism. “That’s why we must tread carefully for the next several weeks.”

 

“How long do you plan on staying here, though?” the oldest minotaur asked.

 

The more accurate but less diplomatic answer probably would’ve been ‘Until you agree to do what we say’, but Ceri didn’t say that. She and Amara had been counting on Suzu to diffuse the sometimes explosive outbursts of their draconic travelling companion.

 

“No longer than necessary.”Ceri said, considering her words carefully.

 

Amara was about to inquire about Suzu’s whereabouts when she came in from the kitchen, wearing a different shirt and accompanied by the two younger minotaurs and the chieftain’s daughter.

 

“We are not unruly little children to be scolded by the spinster teacher!” the chieftain snapped.

 

“Please try and understand.” the melusine said calmly. “We aren’t in any way opposed to what you did to attract men here- it’s simply the timing we object to.”

 

“I love this village….with all my heart. But I don’t want my girl to spend the rest of her life looking at it as though it’s some sort of prison. If Shona does what you ask, then people will think we’re nothing more than grifters and we can forget about anyone ever coming to the village again.” Suzana replied.

 

“If your chieftain does what we ask, then it will be old news by the Cultural Exchange Between Species Bill ceremony takes place. In fact, it’s likely people will be more sympathetic to your plight once the real story becomes apparent.” Amara suggested.

 

“But there are no guarantees.”

 

“There weren’t any guarantees you’d even hear us out when we decided to come here.” Ceri replied. “But we decided to come here nonetheless…”


Suzu had decided to help repay the minotaur sister’s hospitality by clearing off some of the dishes and glasses from the table as her colleagues continued their back and forth with Shona.

 

Before long, Noemi was beckoning to join her at the row of seats along the counter as she was working on another beer.

 

“Aww! This cute gatinha kinda reminds me of you, Clara.” Neomi said as she tousled Suzu’s hair before reaching out to give the neko’s breasts a squeeze. “Only she has no spots…..and much bigger peitos, eh?”

 

“Those are s….senstive!” Suzu protested, not quite able to stifle a moan as she squirmed a little in the minotaur’s firm but gentle grasp.

 

Cala a boca, vaca chapado!” Clara snarled at the older minotaur.

 

“Sister, if you could refrain from molesting our guests, I would greatly appreciate it.” Suzana chided her handsy younger sister.

 

“Ah…Desculpame…” she murmured apologetically to the tomboyish neko, sliding her arms around Suzu’s waist and giving her a gentle squeeze from behind before sprightly springing to her feet. “It’s still so warm out today- let me make it up to you and get you a beer.

 

Unbeknownst to her hosts or travelling companions, Suzu was simply glad that nobody seemed to notice the startled-but-aroused moan she had barely stifled when the handsy minotaur gave her breasts a quick feel.

 

And the more beer that flowed, the less likely the brunette minotaur would be to remember such a thing. Besides- living as a human got her accustomed to at least some alcohol consumption after lord knows how many after-work office outings from her job in Nagoya. Suzu was lost in thought, reasoning that her tolerance should be above average for a youkai.

 

The nekomata was snapped out of her reverie by a chilled sensation on the nape of her neck. After a little start, she turned to see Noemi standing next to her, an ice cold beer bottle gently pressing on the neko’s shoulder.

 

This time Suzu’s breath hitched audibly.

 

Nossa Senhora– you must be very tired if you keep making those cute little noises.” Noemi remarked as she set a chilled bottle of beer down in front of her.

 

The embarrassed neko didn’t say anything right away, but simply picked up the bottle before holding it up for the minotaur woman to see and pointing to the bull silhouette on the label.

 

“Friend of yours?”

 

“Oh, sim! We go waaay back…” Noemi said as she sat down next to the neko again, not quite able to stifle a giggle.

 

“In Nagoya, we have the Asahi beers.” the neko mused.

 

“Uh-uh!” the brunette minotaur’s face was now wearing a more stern expression as she wagged her finger. “Em Português, mi gatinha.” 

 

“Uhm….” Suzu began with some trepidation. “Em Nagoya, Temos cerveja Asahi.

 

And just like that, Noemi was beaming with joy. It was strangely infectious. 

 

“Muito bom!” she chirped happily. “You’ll be on TV fundraising for your fish farms in no time!”

 

“Can I ask you something? Why are you interpreter if you don’t know that much Portuguese?” Jana asked her aunt’s new drinking companion.

 

Neomi looked like she wanted to shush her niece for a second before Suzu spoke up.

 

“I’m not really qualified at all.” Suzu admitted. “Before leaving, I did the best I could with la-nya-guage software and lessons on YouTube. When doing her due diligence, Lady Tsenia looked into my family tree and found a great-great uncle who emigrated from the home islands to southern Brazil over 100 years ago- and from that, she must’ve co-nya-cluded that I was the one on the Preparation Committee who was most nya-ledgeable about Brazlian culture. I suppose she’s right….” 

 


“Technically, I may have some distant relatives on my paternal gra-nya-d-father’s side living in Sao Paulo.”



Que legal! Gatinho povo em São Paulo!!?” Jana found herself giddy at the possibilities.

 

“Also….out of everyone on the Preparation Committee…” Suzu continued before taking a pull from her beer. “I’m the only one who has a valid International Driver’s license.”

 

“I see, I see….” Noemi pondered. 

 

“What’s it like in Japan? What did you do before?” Jana asked the brunette youkai.

 

“I worked for a seafood broker in Nagoya. My English is pretty good, so I would help handle transactions with our suppliers in America and Canada.”

 

Muito top! No wonder you know so much about fish, Suzu!” the youngest minotaur gushed.

 

“But because so many English-speaking countries have expressed an interest in the program, Lady Tsenia recruited me to serve on the Preparation Committee as an interpreter.”

 

Que irônico! Your job title is ‘interpreter’, but really it’s to put out all those fires Senhora Dragão started, no?” Noemi mused.

 

“I….I wouldn’t put it like that…” the neko said nervously, mostly because she was unsure if her boss was still within earshot.

 

“Say it with me, Suzu. ‘Senhora Dragão é uma cabeça dura.” Noemi coaxed her guest.

 

Senhora Dragão é uma cabeça dura.” the neko repeated cautiously. “Wh-what does that mean? Cabeça….that’s ‘head’, right?”

 

“It just means your boss lady is a hardhead.” Noemi explained.


“So were you in disguise as a human the whole time?” Jana interected, asking their guest from the Land of the Rising Sun.

 

Hai! Most of the time I could alter my appearance to look more human.” Suzu admitted. “But sometimes it was just a matter of slipping on a headscarf or cap.”

 

“A cat in a hat….” Neomi tittered before gently clasping the neko’s right forearm. “Much cuter than the Dr. Seuss one.”

 

“Your English is pretty good, too.” Suzu pointed out to the minotaur aunt and niece.

 

“Senhora Sulia is a pretty good teacher, a..and most of the movies I watch are in English with subtitles.” Jana admitted bashfully.

 

Lady Tsenia was too busy engaging with the village chieftain and minotaur matron to notice her travelling secretary learning Portuguese at her expense.

 

“So when is this big ceremony you keep talking about supposed to be taking place?” Shona asked

 

“A month from now in Tokyo.”

 

“Eh? Why Tokio? Why the UN in New York?” Shona seemed generally surprised.

 

“We had considered that, but there was a good chance our efforts would’ve been dismissed out of hand by the local press or social media as a publicity stunt. Plus the logistics in Tokyo are much more favorable.” the Mesuline pointed out.


“Perhaps not. We had to halt our preparations to attend to this little sideshow.” the dragoness harrumphed.

 

“There’s also the fact that we’re being consulted by a number of youkai who have spent years living in Japanese society virtually undetected. Nekomata, kitsune, tanuki….” Ceri explained.

 

Es verdade, Suzu?” Clara asked.

 

The nekomata nodded quietly, indicating that she had at least half an ear towards her group’s conversation with the villagers.

 

“And those who couldn’t outwardly blend into human society were able to still conduct business through trusted human proxies.” the griffon added.

 

“Now I’m going to ask you something and I want you to be honest with me.” Suzana began. “Will Brazil be participating in this Cultural Exchange Program?”

“The details have yet to be worked out, but yes.”

 

“I think I know what I want.” the black haired minotaur matron spoke up.

 

“Suzana!” the village chieftain said reproachfully.



“Here me out, Shona…” she said as she motioned for the ocelomeh to come closer.

 

The two of them spoke to each other in a low murmur once the village chieftain was next to the cafe’s proprietress. Suzu could hear what they were saying, but since it was rapid-fire Portuguese the neko was mostly in the dark on exactly what they were saying.

 

“This is perfect!”

 

“What is?” the bewildered Ocelomeh asked.

 

“Our daughters! Instead of trying to bring men to the village, they can travel nearly anywhere once this announcement is made.”

 

“But not everyone wants to leave the village.” the chieftain pointed out.

 

“Jana hasn’t stopped talking about cowboys and gauchos since she was ten…surely she would jump at the chance to see America. And Clara? She keeps asking Sulia and Noemi about the Azores.”

 

That gave Shona pause since even though she generally avoided the topic, the mama Ocelomeh was certain her daughter was of direct Portuguese descent on her paternal side.

 

“The ones that want to can stay….and men could show up to the village if we’re back in the headlines. Or we could go to the nearest towns for fun instead of whenever we had milk, wool or honey to barter.”

 

Shona paused.

 

“Think about it- churrasco, futbol, rodeio, Carnival, Oktoberfest!” Suzana prodded. “We could even host some events in the village! Mixers or dances where human men would get a chance to introduce themselves to the women here.”

 

“Claro!” the were-jaguar exclaimed loudly as she suddenly smacked her fist into her open palm. “But…  as you could see earlier, the bridge is in such a sorry state that it makes it difficult to get to and from this village.”

 

“We might be able to do something about that.” Ceri offered.

 

“And I’m sure the men- no matter how rugged or macho- would like to live in a village that has a reliable source of electricity. That certainly would make things easier for us.”

 

Tsenia said nothing but chuckled slightly.

 

It wasn’t lost on her how the village chieftain switched back to English when outlining the hardships her village was facing. She could only quietly muse how quickly these stubborn yokels had gone from “This isn’t up for negotiation” to naming their price, however steep it might be.

 

Still, having a treasure hoard of her own, Tsenia couldn’t help begrudgingly admire the audacity of the sly village chieftain. No kickbacks or bribes like some of the humans Tsenia had to deal with previously. This spotted wildcat wanted things everyone in the village would benefit from for years to come.

 

“How bold of you!” the mesuline spoke up as though she was reading Tsenia’s thoughts. “Instead of asking for cash or trinkets, it’s clear you want infrastructure for your people- roads, bridges and electricity.”

 

“And our daughters…..they can participate in the exchange program.” Suzana spoke up abruptly. “I…if they choose.”

 

“I don’t see why not.” Ceri contemplated

 

“Y-you mean I could get to see the old country?” Clara asked eagerly.

 

“Perhaps.” the melusine said, amused by the younger werejaguar’s tail swishing back and forth.

 

“Hmm…..” Shona pondered before turning to Suzana. “I have an idea. We’ll move movie night up from this weekend to tonight. Neomi- can you go ahead and set things up?”

 

“I can help.” Suzu said as Neomi got up from her seat.

 

“Movie night?” the curious griffon asked out loud.

 

“Clara- I’m going to need you to find Sulia and tell everybody that movie night has been moved to tonight.” the chieftain said to her daughter. “Let them know our guests will be there, too.”

 

“I didn’t know your village even had a theater.” Tsenia remarked as the younger werejaguar once again took off.

 

“We don’t.” the mature ocelomeh was quick to point out. “But a few years ago, one of our buyers was short on cash and gave us a projector instead. We don’t have a big catalog of movie titles, but once in a while everyone in the village will get together to watch a movie.”

 

“Oooh- sounds like fun!” Amara had genuinely wished they had something like that in her home village.

 

“It’s projected on the side of our cafe.” Jana said proudly.

 

“And when we’re done with movie night, you can tell everyone what you told me about this Exchange Program.” the chieftain said to the dragoness.

 

“Me? But…I can’t make any promises.”Tsenia said.

 

“Oh- I want everyone to know about the exchange program, but not everyone in the village can enroll at the same time. After all they’ve done for us lately, I think it’s only fair that our daughters get the first opportunity. Wouldn’t you say, Suzana?”

 

“Ah….claro!” Jana’s mom replied. “Especially how much she’s been helping around the cafe lately.”

 

“But do you have anything in writing for this Exchange Program- or any guarantee you won’t forget about our village once you leave?”

 

“I suppose it’s all on the honor system- same as you.” Ceri was quick to point out.

 


 

The movie in question that night was Tombstone, which pleased Jana to no end.

 

During quiet moments she would explain to the guests in a loud whisper the differences between the gaucho and the American cowboy. Much to Clara’s chagrin, she even knew most of Doc Holliday’s lines by heart- including the scene where there was some back and forth with another gunslinger in Latin.

 

Suzu had joined Noemi in setting up chairs for the fairly full house and after the movie started, resumed knocking back a few more beers before slumping against a much less grabby minotaur- occasionally whispering ideas on how to deal with fish waste from her hypothetical aquaculture project.

 

Noemi wrapped an arm around the neko and gently pulled her closer. Between the tight tee shirt and a curious aromatic blend of beer and hints of a perfume the nekomata had been wearing, Noemi couldn’t think of the last time she was so content.

 

Since Lady Tsenia wasn’t the most diplomatic of speakers even on her best days, it was decided the announcement after the movie regarding the Cultural Exchange Program would be handled by Ceri. Shona followed the post-movie announcement up by explaining that for the beginning of this program, priority would be given to the youngest girls in the village, since it would leave the village shorthanded if everybody signed up all at once (and were accepted).

 

Ynez- a nineteen year old satyr who was technically the youngest girl in the village- was a big fan of the Lord of the Rings movies and made it clear that she wanted to go to New Zealand. Aguila chose Tierra Del Fuego, remaining the closest to home out of the four youngest village girls. Clara wanted to learn more about her family tree and the ‘old country’, so her desire to go to Portugal and the Azores as part of the Exchange Program was made clear.

 

And of course, with her fascination with cowboys and the Old West, it was little surprise that Jana had the USA at the top of her list.

 

Ceri cautiously explained that while they couldn’t promise anyone they could get their first destination of choice, the fact that they were getting their names on a list this early meant the likelihood would still be pretty high.

 

After movie night, Suzana and her daughter got the churrasco fired up and began grilling beef, lamb and sausage from Shona’s last trip to civilization as well as veggies and the last of the dourado Jana caught that afternoon for a big meal with the VIPs as the guests of honor.

 

Although she had helped herself to a few more beers during the movie screening, Suzu had the presence of mind to retrieve her blouse and bra from the clothesline once movie night wrapped up. However, everything after Noemi and her older sister uncorked a bottle of artisanal 86 Proof cachaça was kind of a blur.

 

Tsenia, Amara and Ceri ended up sleeping in a guest room at Shona’s residence that the ocelomeh once thought about converting into a pousada or guest home shortly before she decided to invite people from outside the village. Since the dragoness, lamia and griffon generally had a higher than average alcohol tolerance, the rest of their evening was fairly uneventful.

 

When it came time for the visitors to depart the following morning, it was pretty difficult for Suzu. Stripped down to her panties and the woefully undersized borrowed soccer shirt, the nekomata had awakened in the arms of the tipsy Noemi, who had changed into a pink silk nightie at some point before retiring and spooning with the passed out catgirl.

 

With no memory of what had happened the night before, Suzu frantically asked her buxom minotaur drinking companion about what had transpired.

 

Noemi assured the nekomata that nothing untoward had happened the night before and she had simply passed out, but would occasionally tease her with questions about if she learned to dance on tabletops in Nagoya or which pictures of her drunken escapades should be posted on the village’s social media account.

 

Surprisingly, the haughty and blunt Lady Tsenia was ready to depart seemingly satisfied with the verbal agreement between her group and the village chieftain. She was even willing to go easy on her nekomata subordinate, knowing that she was likely still nursing a hangover.

 

Ceri and Amara had picked up where Noemi left off, exaggerating some of the neko’s cachaça- fueled antics and leaving her to guess what really happened and what was being made up or exaggerated by her travel companions.

 

Down by the banks of the Rio Rubicão where Suzu first met the youngest of the minotaur clan, the crestfallen nekomata very reluctantly said goodbye to Noemi. The minotaur and ocelomeh clan had accompanied their party as far as the rickety bridge with their van parked on the other side.

 

Noemi jokingly congratulated the nekomata on finding the one parking spot in the whole of Brazil where their van didn’t get broken into while Suzu promised that she would come back to the village to visit sooner or later.

 

What was left unspoken was the nekomata’s obligations for the Preparation Committee. If this grand event that they had described- set to take place half a world away- went off without a hitch, then the whole village could reap the benefits.

 

Suzana, her sister and her daughter along with Shona and Clara crossed the river on foot to see off their guests. As Suzu cautiously maneuvered the van into a three point turn, Noemi couldn’t help but appear a little crestfallen.

 

With the Mercedes van growing smaller and smaller in the distance, it was as though an hourglass had been flipped over, with each of the women counting down the days and hours until a significant event attached to their visitors would be affecting them.

 

Jana and Clara were wondering how many more days until they would be able to depart for their respective destinations as Exchange Program participants.

 

Shona was counting down how long she had to ‘confess’ to one of the regional newspapers about the tabloid’s articles about her village being a hoax.

 

Suzana could only assume their visitor’s promised announcement could generate interest in their village in ways the tabloid articles about an’ All Women’s Eden’ couldn’t.

 

And Noemi was left to wonder if Suzu really had meant what she said about returning from half a world away just to visit her humble little village.

 


 

The news of the Cultural Exchange Between Species Bill was announced during a live, globally televised press conference in Tokyo that had been met with more or less a collective shrug in the little village of Joia do Rubicão.

 

Interestingly, the only figure that had any visible screen time out of their recent visitors was Lady Tsenia, who had given a brief speech accepting cautious optimism to the assembled representatives of the G7 nations.

 

Other, more prominent extraspecies- such as a wererabbit, succubus, centaur, angel, werecat and minotaur- were front and center, fielding questions and giving speeches about this momentous day.


On paper, the Brazilian version of the Interspecies Cultural Exchange act would mean that the women of the village were afforded the same rights as any human citizen under Brazil’s constitution and legal code- only time would tell if that was going to be a reality.

 

Counterintuitively, one promising sign was on social media.

 

While the village of Joia do Rubicão didn’t get the immediate influx of visitors that their chieftain had banked on, traffic on the Facebook page for the village Shona had set up prior to the original article went through the stratosphere, despite not having been updated for nearly three months.

 

If the majority of the comments on the village’s page were anything to go by, the women of Joia de Rubicão could expect to be eagerly welcomed by humans in other parts of Brazil as well as internationally. The most recent picture of a human-looking Shona, Noemi, Sulia and Suzana were getting hundreds of thousands of likes and positive comments- not just in Portuguese, but also English, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, French and Mandarin.

 

Still, the ladies of Joia do Rubicão had their own business with the women behind the scenes on the Preparation Committee. Not surprisingly, it took a few days for Shona to hear back from them- the first one to contact the village chieftain was the matronly melusine who had been putting the finishing touches on the travel arrangements for Clara and Jana.

 

Neither Jana nor Clara were the first to depart Joia do Rubicão for the outside world after the Exchange Program’s big announcement.

 

That honor fell to Aguia, who yearned to explore the skies and wilderness around Tierra de Fuego and managed to find a host family on the Chilean side.

 

Her sendoff was a bit more subdued compared to Clara’s two weeks ago, who arrived in the Azores after doing some sightseeing in mainland Portugal. She had been checking in regularly on social media and her mother was providing Suzana, Jana and Noemi with semi-regular updates.

 

“Jana- are you packed?” Noemi called out, sticking her head into the doorway of the modest home attached to the family’s cafe.


“Yes- for the hundredth time, Auntie!” the younger minotaur called out, although she didn’t sound too exasperated.

 

“Mi sobrinhita is going to the Estados Unidos! I’m so happy for you….” she gushed.

 

“There’s no reason you can’t come too.” her niece offered.

 

“Such a thoughtful girl! I would love to- but you know how much your mama needs me to keep things working around here.”

 

“No I don’t, mendiga bêbado!” Jana’s mother called out from the kitchen.

 

Ignoring her older sister calling her a drunken bum, Neomi continued addressing her niece. 

 

“Maybe I’ll join you, but first….” she pondered. “I think I would like to go to one of the rodeios- I’m sure there’s many cute guys there.”.

 

“What about Suzu?” Jana asked.

 

“I would love to take her to a rodeo to meet cute guys too.” her aunt replied without missing a beat. “I don’t know how serious she is about coming back, but she should almost be done with her work on that committee.” she said.

 

“You’re going to be there for my farewell dinner, right Titia Noemi?”

 

“My my…” she sighed in response. “How many times have I told you not to call me that, you little brat? You make me sound like an old spinster.”

 

“I heard Aguia’s going to be here tonight, too.” Jana mused.

 

“She’s home so soon?” Noemi couldn’t conceal her surprise at the harpy eagle harpy’s abrupt return.

 

“Just for the weekend. She flew all the way from Chile and is going back in a few days.”

 

“Oh…..why can’t my sweet little niece come home every weekend, too?” Noemi pouted.

 

“I’ll write lots of postcards for you and mama. I promise.”

 

“I’m sure you will….but even if you’re gone for ten years, I’m sure you’ll return home before we even get them.” Noemi huffed as she got ready to excuse herself to milk one of the cows.

 

That task would fall to her more regularly now that Jana was leaving for the USA.

 

At first blush, nothing had changed in the village since the departure of the Preparation Committee. They still lacked a regular supply of electricity, the narrow road was in pretty rough shape and the rickety-looking bridge was still defying time and gravity by hanging in there.



However, on the other side of the river were signs that their visitors from the Interspecies Cultural Exchange Program were holding up their end of the bargain.

 

Heavy equipment. Earth movers, front end loaders and bulldozers along with heavy duty pylons,  girders and prefabricated decks. The earthmoving machinery had been brought in to smooth out the road so the sections of the replacement bridge could be bought in. 

 

While the climate in Joia do Rubicão was much more mild than elsewhere in Brazil, it was still quite sunny.

 

Once the replacement bridge to the village was complete, more heavy equipment would be bringing in a small, independent solar power plant to give the village a steady supply of electricity.

 

Amara had e-mailed pictures of the components and the schematics for a similar power plant made from Spanish and Taiwanese components that was used on her relatively isolated home island off the coast of Greece. The Mesuline and Ocelomeh seemed to hit it off famously and continued their correspondence- the village chieftain reasoned it was because the lamia came from a clan who had similar responsibilities and duties in their Greek home islands. 

 

The winged lamia had even provided points of contact for tracking the components while they were still in transit. The last time Shona had checked, they were less than a day away from arriving in Porto Alegre. As eager as the villagers were for the plant’s installation, there was no hurry since the new bridge needed to be completed before they could move the generating station in on the final leg of its journey. 

 

As for Shona’s ‘confession’, it consisted of little more than a phone interview with a reporter from one of the regional newspapers, which in turn was buried deep among countless other articles of limited local interest such as crop reports, scheduled street closures, local soccer scores and school graduation announcements.

 

Since then, life seemed like it moved on at the same pace it always did in Joia.

 

Since the nekomata’s departure, Neomi had been feeling something akin to saudade. Saudade was a term that dated back to the colonial Portugese era, although there was no handy direct translation to English. What it roughly meant was a blend of nostalgia tinged with sorrow or melancholy.

 

Admittedly, the saudade Noemi was feeling was more or less prompted by the nekomata, and not just how close the two of them had gotten despite knowing each other for only a short time, but how despite the language barrier the nekomata seemed like a good fit for life in the village.

 

Even by her own admission, Suzu said she preferred the sedate life in a village like Joia do Rubicão to the hectic life she had been leading in at a seafood importer in Nagoya or her new responsibilities with the Preperation Committee.

 

Pail in hand, Noemi headed to the barn to milk one of the cows. With Jana leaving for the USA, that meant that she was now technically the youngest minotaur in the village.

 

Inevitably, the minotaur’s thoughts turned to Suzu. Noemi was confident she didn’t swing ‘that way’, preferring the rough and tumble gauchos or sertanejo crooners. Still, she had a lot of fun with the curvy nekomata- even though the only remotely masculine features were her shorter hair, relatively deep voice and toned upper arms. While she did seem sad that she had to leave Joia and return to Japan, Noemi was growing doubtful about the likelihood of the neko’s return.

 

Still, there was an old Chevy Veranieo SUV that Shona kept in what amounted to the village motor pool. Most of the time it was used to move heavy items around the village when nobody in the minotaur family was unavailable. Perhaps she could persuade the chieftain to borrow that and go with Sulia to one of the rodeos or barbecues sometime.

 

Noemi’s train of thought was interrupted by a loud noise.

 

Meowing.

 

It was a striking butterscotch cat that looked too well groomed and clean to be one of the barn cats- yet here it was, meowing loudly as it trotted closer across the hay strewn floor of the barn and looked expectantly at the minotaur.

 

“Aw- Você ta sozinho tambem, gatinho?” Noemi pouted a little as the creature sought attention, asking if it was lonely too.

 

Getting down on her haunches, Noemi gently scooped up the friendly kitty, who immediately started purring and gently kneading it’s claws in her considerable bosom.

 

“Ow! No need for that, you perverted little kitty…” she said as she gently grabbed one of it’s paws.

 

The cat uttered a halfhearted ‘Mrrw?” while still purring and looking up at her.

 

Now that she was holding the kitty this close, Noemi could distinguish something else that was different about this strange cat.

 

Instead of one big shaggy tail, the kitty she was holding on to had two smaller tails.

 

The striking cat looked up at Noemi with an almost knowing glint in its eyes.

 

Suddenly, Noemi had a sense that the feelings of saudade she had been experiencing lately was about to be a thing of the past.

6 votes, average: 3.50 out of 56 votes, average: 3.50 out of 56 votes, average: 3.50 out of 56 votes, average: 3.50 out of 56 votes, average: 3.50 out of 5 (6 votes, average: 3.50 out of 5)
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3 thoughts on “Joia do Rubicão

  1. This is pretty good !
    I’m brazilian, and I was really happy when I saw mention of coxinha, pão de queijo and guaraná antarctica. These are some of my favorite delicacies around here.
    I think you nailed every food realted stuff . And I also liked the definiton of “saudade” at the start.
    Overall I’m surprised and glad to see good representation. Good job !

  2. There is a lot going on in this story and I’m not really sure all the disparate pieces come together into a cohesive narrative. Many times when I was reading, it just felt like a collection of ‘things’ and ‘explanations’ coming one after the other without a clear through line.

    I can certainly respect the unique setting and premise, but it definitely feels like the perspectives and named characters could have been trimmed down to the most essential pieces for a smoother story.

  3. Decent. interesting setting, and good atmosphere, but the scenes could have used a little more framework. Since most of the story is dialogue driven, context and setting felt a bit muted. This also made keeping things straight chronologically a bit of a chore. Still interested to see where things go from here.

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