Okay, so I have good news and bad news.
The good news? The posters that lady put up around town clearly worked, because folks really mobilized to track her cats down. I talked to someone who was instrumental in helping out, and apparently she was rewarded with a magical item called a Dwan's wand. (Not sure what it does, but I’m hoping to get my hands on one for further study.)
The bad news is…well, everything else. See, the cat lady isn’t a lady at all—and the cats aren’t cats! I’ve spent the last few days piecing the whole thing together, and here’s what I’ve uncovered: For centuries, this forest has been haunted by stories of the hag—a mysterious, shapeshifting spirit who gets blamed for just about everything that goes wrong. Too much rain? Hag. No fish in the pond? That’s the hag for sure. Bad batch of chowder? I’d say that’s the only kind, but the people of Clowderville would blame the hag. Well, it turns out the hag is real, and she’s pretty dang sick of getting blamed for the town’s woes. So sick, in fact, that she hatched a plan.
The day of the festival arrived, and as expected, the entire town turned out for the main event: the chowder cookoff. I watched from a safe distance as a dozen soup slingers—that mysterious, magenta-haired woman among them—lined up at the table and began ladling up samples. Once everyone had slurped their fill, the judges gathered to deliberate. Mayor Gonzo, a kind man who I learned lost a leg rescuing a child from a burning building a few years back, took his place at the front of the crowd to announce the winner, jumping up on a seat for some extra height. He cleared his throat, opened his arms wide, and said for all to hear…ear…
Confused? Well, just imagine how the mayor felt! He didn’t have much time to think about it though, because within seconds, he had completely transformed into a tiny, adorable cat!
Now I’ve seen some weird stuff, but this was on a whole new level. I looked to the left and right hoping to make eye contact with someone, anyone else who was seeing the same thing, but it was no use—everyone at the festival was in the process of turning into animals.
Looking closer, I could start to recognize some of the townsfolk I had met during my time here, even through their new fury appearance. To my right was Saige the town healer. Next to Saige sat Willow and Buster who both enjoyed gardening as much as I do. Bella was the town yoga instructor and Jiji is the town’s lawyer. Across the way I spotted the King of Queens, an aspiring writer and town librarian. Neptune, a skilled healer that claimed his voice was all it took to mend a wound. Of course, Deebo Renfrow Lawrence, the town bully looking intimidating with a snarl – I think he got what he deserved... I also recognized Pebbles who I’d enjoyed a brief rock climbing session with. Oh, and there is Jaina the duchess, the card shark Scott. And then there was Alan Il Mostro the merchant, Luke and Ori the sailors, Onyx the mystic, Bucky the teacher, and last but not least, Bella the furrier.
Everyone in the town was an animal. Everyone except for the magenta-haired woman. She met my gaze, flashed me a wicked smile, and disappeared into the woods with her three original cats.
Spooky as that was, it also gave me my first clue. I ran to the chowder table, scraped the cat lady’s pot for a sample, took a good look with my magnifying loupe, and sure enough—the chowder was packed with tiny shards of bright blue stone. It seems that her collars can cause a temporary transformation, but ingesting the Utokium makes the effect much stronger. It’s impossible to say whether the transformation will be permanent or not, so in the meantime, I’m working with a group called the Cat Adoption Team to find new homes for the people of Clowderville. And with this many extra animals, they’re gonna need all the help they can get! I wish I could take some of them with me, but the life of an herbalist wandering the unknown lands of Utokia isn’t exactly cat friendly. Ah well. As disasters go, this one is pretty dang cute.