Section I: Sapient Races
Section II: Beastly Races
“Oh, don’t remind me of the pests. Vermin, they are. Big vermin, but still vermin.
“I’ve got me a farm just a couple of miles from here, nice, big corn fields. Good living, good income, selling the corn in the fall. With the cows, I earn enough for my little family out there. But the vermin, the clawvoles?
“Last year, they… Was it last year? Or the… Yes, it was actually two years ago. You know, the voles gave me such a hard time, it seems like it happened yesterday. Anyway, there I was, giving my cows a bit of a walk. Oughta live on the meadows in the summer, y’know. There are a couple of folks who like to keep them in their stables as long as they can, but me, I think, they grow fatter and give better milk when they aren’t cooped up all day.
“Well, I got me to reconsider that time. The meadow looked just like always, nothing to show that there was anything wrong. And then three – three – of my cows suddenly got themselves swallowed by the ground! Some bloody clawvoles had tunneled under the entire meadow, and the cows fell into one of their blasted tunnels!
“Airnté bless me if they weren’t three of the best cows I ever had. And I had to kill the poor beasties! They had broken their legs, and anyway I couldn’t have gotten them out of that mess if I had tried.
“And next thing I know two clawvoles shoot out from the ground – just the peaceful grass, nothing bad about the place -, and all I saw was those big forelimbs of theirs sink their claws into my poor cows. Didn’t take them more than two or three seconds, and then they were underground again – and my cows gone with them!
“First thing I did was call for my dogs, and then I got the cows to the stables, as many as I still had anyway. Airnté knows I was happy to get them safely back home! Before you ask, I didn’t lose any more cows to the clawvoles. Thank the gods, every one of them. Five gone in a single day, goodness gracious, that was bloody bad enough.
“And my corn? That was the next thing I checked, and of course the ground was tunneled like a block of cheese! Any moment it could collapse, and my harvest would be gone!
“So, I had to get rid of the vermin. Try it if you will. Clawvoles grow to more than six feet of height, and the bloody pests are dangerous. Tell you what, the way they dragged the cows down into their kennel, I couldn’t help but think how quickly they could have gotten me.
“All right, so they commonly don’t attack anything as big as a cow. They keep away from humans, mostly, too – thank the gods! That couple of clawvoles probably was mighty hungry. And my little cows couldn’t defend themselves, so…
“What was I supposed to do? All I had in the way of weapons was a small bow and a few arrows. They don’t help much when you’re hunting something that lives underground. So I hired some help in town… big Terben over there was one of them. We armed ourselves with some lances – best way to get the creatures, long as you stay away from the darned claws -, and then we went to my fields. The vermin had to be somewhere in their tunnels, we figured, and so we started pushing the lances into the ground. I’ll be darned if that ever worked for anybody. We probably scared the beasts off by the noise we were making, fools that we were.
“Still, I kept the folks at my farm. Sucked me dry with the money they demanded, and sure as you can tell, some of my corn fields were gone the next day. Tunnels had collapsed, taking the good plants with them. Not a chance of repairing the damage and replanting that year, I only could use the field the next year… Yes, that’s right! It must have been two years ago, for I got a decent harvest out of that field last fall!
“Anyway, that same day I lost one of my dogs. Never knew whether it was the voles or something else. Ask me, ol’ Stubby got taken by the vermin. The gods know how angry I was that day – and that’s when it hit me. The critters are hungry, right? So what would they think about some meat ready for them… Right, bait.
“I slaughtered a cow that day. Of course I kept the good parts for ourselves. The entrails and all the stuff that isn’t good for people I took out to the fields, laid it out and then I kept watch with my bloodsucking hirelings. Sure enough, after an hour or two, the clawvoles came. And we gave them some!
“I wouldn’t have wanted to tried the critters on my own. Airnté, are those claws sharp. And strong! They broke off two of our lances, before we ever could stab them. But, all right, we got them, and I could go home to nurse my wounds. What? No, I wasn’t hurt. I was talking about the damage the pests had done to my land. Two of those beasties, and they made me and my family nearly starve the next winter ‘cause we had lost so bloody much!”
“Tell me what you want, I like clawvoles. Sure, they can cut you up something fierce if you don’t watch out. And watching out can get difficult, because they are in their tunnels underground most of the time, so you hardly ever know any are around. But there are some signs that should put you on alert.
“You probably know the ordinary voles, and the mounds they throw up, right? Well, clawvoles do the same, only quite a bit larger. That’s one sign. Then they sometimes dig their tunnels closer to the surface, and then there’s a line in the ground. It looks just like you’d think when something has gone by near to the surface… Think of a blanket, and there’s something under it. The forest floor can look just the same, and if that should happen to be in a connected line, then you know there’s been a clawvole. The creature might have come by a couple of days or even weeks ago, but it was there.
“And since they are territorial – more or less, anyway, their territories can cover half a forest. That means you’ve got a decent chance of walking through one of their territories and never see one of them, but anyway, they’re there. Probably close to a regular feeding place of deer, or where there’s water.
“If you tap the ground just right – with a stick, say -, they’ll think that there’s a deer walking by. A lone deer, which is what they prefer. And then the vole’s sure to attack, by leaping out of the ground. You have a little bit of warning if you watch the ground, there’s a quiver right where the vole will exit.
“Have your weapon ready, preferably a lance, stick it right in the nose. It’s the tender spot of the creature, you know? They go crazy when that happens, and craziness is good for you. They don’t really watch what you’re doing, so you can get a good stab in if you stay away from the claws. Get the head, right between the eyes, that’s the best spot. Of course you need a lance for that. If you have a sword, try to get to their flanks and cut those up. The vole will bleed nicely, go crazier, and you can get an even better stroke in.
“And then you’ve got splendid meat ready for the taking. The claws are pretty much in demand in the right places, mostly folks who want to claim that they killed a vole. The fur makes good clothes, pretty warm in the winter. You’ve just got to get the dirt out of it, not to mention the smell. But they are good, I always wear clawvole furs in the wintertime.”