Wildshape ranger variant heading for primeval via nature's warrior. His wildshape is used exclusively for feline forms, which he views as the little cousins of his totem animal, the great mountain cat.
Neutral, with, depending on the direction the game takes, possible good inclinations.
A little over twenty years ago, in the northwestern portion of the largest island in the archipelago known as Drenheim to some, life, for the clan living in the foothills of the mountains there, had, apparently, little room for improvement. Sure, the hunt could bring back greater quantities of food, or perhaps the howling blizzards which tore through the region could give a bit more warning; but if they did, would the clan retain its skill at the hunt when times grew hard again, or would they remain as swift in setting up a makeshift shelter, if they could instead simply stay in their homes when the weather threatened to be bad? No, likely, thing were for the best.
And as, at that time, things went well for the Whiteclaw clan, among other children was born one to whom the name Ruln was given. Son of a hunter and one of the shamans, there was little remarkable about him; he took part in the games and contests with the other youth, and showed some skill, and was attentive to the work he was tasked with; yet all this was expected of the youth, for the weak die young and the strong propser. Save for his interest in some of the arts and stories his mother, Kalla, spoke of, arts that only the shamans listened to, and stories which told of both the real and the spirit-world, his history would remain thoroughly unremarkable until he was much older, save the observation of part of what would be come one of the more notable events in recent history.
One day when he was seven, he - and the rest of his clan - noted something was odd; namely, the shamans, rather than attending to their usual tasks, gathered together, talking in whispers. And the next morning, the clan chief, Aruk, joined them, with a few of the hunters; and the next, the hunters and shamans grouped together, leaving but few adults - the herbalists and the tanners, for instance - in the camp. And eight days later, a little under half that number returned; the word spread, as did the muted curses and whispered pleas to the spirits, that an army was being raised, an army which would put an end to the dominion of those that had driven the Whiteclaw Clan continually further north over the decades. It seemed likely, said those who returned, that they might even be victorious in the end, for they had proven their prowess in battle. Twice as tall on average as the warriors of the clan, the ice-men - for the clan had no word for giants, which were, after all, but large men, and the men of the clan were sizeable themselves - had devastated the force which had gone to greet them upon sight; though they had certainly given them some things to think about, broken limbs and some few deaths among them, even that force outnumbered them, and those clansmen that could returned home. They were a force that could not be resisted, it was said; and, over the next few days, the White Ones' presence would be seen as the occasional one soared overhead, perhaps seeking enemies that might alert their quarry of their coming, and the saying would be accepted as truth.
It was fortunate, then, that the snow had begun to fall as the eerie cries and chants of the shamans to set the spirits of the dead at ease and to ask for their protection echoed through the village. There was a thick snowfall by the time they had moved on to treat the injured - an odd order of priorities to a southerner, perhaps, but the order observed by the clan, for who knew what the dead could do? - and, by the time the foremost hunters gathered with the shamans as the latter asked the spirits if Thaluk, Aluk's son, was fit to lead the clan as chief, and, with their approval, begin uttering their own blessings along with those of the spirits, the cold had dropped to a level that chilled the flesh even of the clanspeople through their robes, the wind howled as it tore at the thick hides draped over the frames of those buildings that were more than blocks of ice and snow, and those caught outside found their way to the nearest structure, able to see ten, then only five, feet before themselves.
Ruln never understood why the southerners he had met thought such weather was a killing snow; rare though it was to see such heavy snow, once it had blanketed the buildings and muffled the noise, it brought a rare quiet, where one could hear nothing from the next building; it was a warm, enveloping feeling, although one he would have found more pleasant were he not uncomfortably warm. One could almost feel the spirits of the dead watching over the clan. Almost, because of course only the shamans could see or feel or hear what they said. But knowing that they were there in the silence was comforting, somehow.
The time passed slowly; there was little to do until they could once again leave, save rising several times to step outside, press the snow gathered there into a small chamber, and, with his hand, poke a hole through to the snow above to let the air through. He was not alarmed that his family were not present; his mother being a shaman, she would have been with the new chief when the storm began, and his father might well have been with them as well. Though it was hard to tell the passage of time within, it must have been some time at least; the heat Ruln had been feeling earlier developed into a fever as he grew sick for the only time in his life. He lost all track of time, then, as his mind retreated into the twisted world of the fever-dream; beyond walking a twisted spiral through the clouds, when he awoke (for the first time he would remember since growing ill, at least), the fever broken and feeling exhausted, he remembered nothing save a deep, gutteral, cough.
He lay there, drifting in and out of sleep, for what seemed ages, but, he was later told, was surely little more than a day at most; for though it was hard to keep track of time when the storm and then the snow blocked light from outside, and, if one might miss the four hours of light the day brought, one might think it to have been more days than it had been, it was what the shamans said, and they were seldom wrong. Though playing the sound over in his head, when he brought it up with Kalla when she came to ensure that his illness was past, she considered for but a moment before replying that while the spirits are not always clear, sometimes in sickness a man may hear his own cough and mistake it for another's.
While he did not recall coughing, the matter was soon put out of his mind for a time by reports from those who had ventured forth to hunt already: namely, that, through the snow less than half a league from the village, a deep path had been trampled through the snow by those confronted not long past, heading south, and seemingly ignoring the weather. How long it would take them to return, even the spirits could not say, when they were consulted; but it seemed the adults were all in agreement that it was best to relocate before they returned, for, once all had dug their ways out of the snow, it was acknowledged, somewhat ruefully, that the spirits would likely not favour them with such weather again. And so, with his people, Ruln helped dismantle the buildings which had parts, and fold the hides, loading the meat onto sleds and packing lighter things into carrying packs. And they moved a distance to the southwest; when the army returned, the clan would see little of them, save the occasional White One fleeing northward.
These people were different from the rest of humankind; taller and broader, they lived with less to insulate them from the harshness of the wilds, and both aged faster and died younger. Ruln was thirteen when, during the winter solstice, he and the others born in his year each individually undertook their dream-quests, fasting for some days before setting out into the wilderness, creating a shelter in isolation, and settling down there to dream the strange dreams induced by the lack of food and the herbs given to him to burn in this shelter by the shaman; yet his dreams were a vast expanse of white, of falling snow and barren landscapes, of clouded skies and shrouded moons, and, through them all, no sign of the creature that was to be his guiding animal, though he felt the silent presence of some shape, pale against the snow, and always out of sight.
When he had passed five days in his isolation - a week since he had begun to fast and departed his home - he took up the little food he had brought and ate it, slowly, chewing each bite so as not to sicken himself with a sudden excess of food. An hour later, giving his body some chance to draw energy from the meal, he stood, replaced what he had in the leather bag which he hung over one shoulder, and, puzzled, emerged from the snow shelter to make his way east to his home once more.
Of course, as he had expected, the shamans had their thoughts on why it might have been, though he drew some jeers, both ill-natured taunting and friendly jibes, when the news reached the other returning youth. But, listening to the shamans, he paid them little mind. Perhaps it was a sign that he was not yet ready to take up the mantle of a hunter; or perhaps his totem would show itself when he was in need of it; or perhaps he would come across the presence shadowing him in reality, be it the animal he sought or some evil presence he was to confront.
The following year saw a somewhat quieter and more focused Ruln, one who gave up his habit of listening to the shamans in his spare time, in order to spend more time on other things: the hunt, contests of strength, and the arts of war took up most of that time now, and, indeed, he might even have been said for that time to be one of the swifter learners. However, beneath this exterior, which began to show a quiet confidence, Ruln was still embroiled by doubt; a spirit-quest came back without an answer perhaps one year in five, and, often, the reason made itself known. So, when the winter solstice drew near again, few were as eager as Ruln in their preparations, and he ceased eating two days before it was necessary, drawing concern from some, scorn from others, and admiration from a handful.
He set out two days before the others as well, leaving in the early morning, which, given the time of year, was light even so, but when few were awake yet. He spent the day travelling, packed lightly and travelling swiftly, making a snow-den only when it began to grow dark; and, repeating this process the next day, and the next, he began work on his dwelling for the week late into the evening, his body exhausted by the time he was through -- not from the work, but, rather, from the lack of sleep from his travels. And, a second time, he settled down once more, warm within the confines of the shelter, to await his dreams.
This time, the stalking, quiet presence which had shadowed him in his dream-quest the previous year made itself known almost immediately, though in much the same way it had before. In his dreams, he stalked across the plains, a spear in hand; the lesser game he spotted from time to time, but passed them over, ignoring the great hare and the white fox as they fled. Yet he took his time; in the dream-state, he was not to know it, but he would return at the same time as the others despite his early departure. And this time, he found one sign more from the creature: a set of prints laid fresh across the snow; like the snow-walker that was called a lynx by some, or the white mountain cat the southerners called the snow leopard, but by their size, belonging to neither.
And so he would return without certainty once more, but, when greeting the shamans on his return, he could not keep the smile that southerners found so like a grimace from his face. For a totem was not only a guiding spirit, but a sign as well; and the white mountain cat and the lynx were both able totems for a hunter, creatures of stealth and skill and strength, and, though his was neither and he had not seen the tracks before, the hunters told stories from the past, and stranger things had been heard; yet, though he did not speak of the sign to the shamans, several days later, he asked of his parents when the great mountain cat had last been seen -- a question which drew from his mother only a smile, for its eager nonchalance was obvious, to say the least, but which his father answered by retelling the tale from the time of his own great-grandfather, Koln, who told the story of a hunter mauled by the great cat in that time.
The year that followed, though officially, he had no totem, found him driven and focused: though perhaps knowing what his totem would be, it would seem, he thought, that he must prove himself worthy of what was, perhaps, the most powerful totem save the great snow bear; and so, he spent his spare time now at the hunt, bringing back game enough that others had less need to hunt for themselves, and even still participating in the contests of skill - with the other youth, of course, against whom he often and unsurprisingly (given his age and practice) won, but now, when the games were in sport, with the hunters. And most bested him still, perhaps, but as the year progressed, it grew less frequent.
The next year, Ruln would set out much earlier, though his fast would not start until three days from his destination; yet he left three weeks ahead of his people, travelling north to the mountains. The great mountain cat had not always been solely a mountain-dweller, but people on the plains had cut back on its numbers, never numerous to begin with, and even by Koln's time it was called the great mountain cat for the place it might be found. He set up shelter each night, but hunted as he went rather than bringing his food with him. And he ceased eating as he started his climb into the mountains, eventually setting up shelter on a plateau.
Though he felt the presence immediately once more, in his food-deprived state, he dreamed of climbing the mountains, searching caves and ledges and descending into the valleys where game was more plentiful to search for the creature where it might find its food. But though he came often upon its tracks, the creature itself still eluded him. Until, that is, he passed around a rocky outcropping, and caught sight of the creature: he was magnificent, with a pelt as white as the snow, muscles beneath rippling as he crouched, gleaming teeth bared, and ears angled back aggressively. Then the creature gave a deep, guttural cry, an almost-cough which jarred his memory and his sleep, and he jolted awake to find the creature in the entrance to his shelter, stalking forward and, when he sat bolt-upright, crouching and giving that same cry.
And then it jumped.
It seemed an unfair contest by any account. The beast weighed far more than he himself did, and like him was little but muscle. It - he - was stronger, faster, and, in some eyes, better armed. Had he not been waiting for this moment, had he not had the guidance of the spirits, had he not kept his spear at hand throughout his dream-quest, that instant would have ended his lift. But all three of these things, he would think afterward, had held true, and he grabbed the spear, setting one end on the ground as the creature leapt. The spear pierced its ribs but was not fatal; though it deflected the charge, it was here that the claws caught him across the right cheek, leaving four bloody gashes that would heal in time into white, ridged scars. Deprived of his spear, he drew his skinning-knife as the creature righted itself to come at him again. He had been fortunate in the placement; the weight of the spear brought the handle down towards the ground, making movement for the creature awkward, and he sidestepped it as it rushed him, leaping astride the creature's back and leaning forward towards its neck.
Being a cat, of course, it snarled and rolled onto its side, writhing, in an attempt to grab hold of him. And, while its claws did tear a gash across his shoulder, and claws bit into his ribs on the other side, even as the pain cut through him he managed to drive a knife into the creature's neck, spurts of hot blood gushing from the wound; and the creature weakened even as it bent its neck towards him to deliver a killing blow. Instead, he lodged his left forearm between the creatures jaws; an act that brought immense pain, but let him survive until the bloodloss had brought the creature down. It was a swift end. Stay with me, my brother, he willed it. Lend me your strength, your wisdom. Hunt with me.
There he bound his wounds, and skinned the animal, scrubbing the blood from the hide as best he might using snow. He was no healer, but the climate was not one that gave rise to infections, nor did the clan often see such things. It hurt, yet, leaving the rest of the cat's body in his dwelling, he went outside and sealed the door with snow, as was done with the dead of the clan when they were recovered. And it was then that he noted the cat's prints leading from a nearby cave, and, slipping within, he heard a growl... the growl of a mother cat, who, being with her kittens, did not rise; but, not approaching further, he drew forth the food he had brought with him and left it there in offering, turning to return home. It was the least he could do.
Wounded and healing, the return trip took longer than his arrival had, and without the food he had saved for the return journey, he was not hastened by not having to hunt, as he had planned. And so, it was some weeks before he arrived at the village -- or, rather, the site the village had stood, for only a few structures remained, their doorways sealed by the snow. One, he noted with apprehension, was his own; and, uttering a prayer to the dead for forgiveness should he disturb them, he slit an opening in the hide covering and glanced through to ascertain the identity of the deceased. His father lay there, battered and bloodied, frozen face pale against the snow which was scattered across the floor. Weapon wounds, though without entering, he could not tell whether they were the implements of the ice-men, or of the city-dwellers to the south, and even in these circumstances he would not enter a house of the dead.
He sealed up the slit with snow piled against the tent, much as had been done to the door. Guide me, he pleaded to his father. For the first time in his life, he could not feel the steadying hand of his ancestors guiding him. But, at his side, a vast, silent presence waited, and he smiled, turning northward once more and returning to the mountains, for snow and wind had covered all tracks which might show him where his people had travelled.
Reln lived there for years at the edges of the mountains, simply hunting, returning under the long sun to the houses of the dead to see if the people of his clan might perhaps return. In time, that too he gave up, at which point he spent his days wandering, returning instead to his shelter in the mountains. The great cat he could feel beside him seemed inexplicably pleased; it was as though he was saying, We have our own path, now. Reln grew, perhaps, somewhat feral over the years, keeping spear and knife and the hide of his totem, losing touch with the human world. And perhaps it was this which led him to take up skinwalking; for he gathered the hides of kin to his totem, the snow-walker and the white-mountain cat, and, wearing them, would take on their forms.
And the great mountain cat, ever lurking just outside his vision, approved. He was faster, silent, loping across the snow. It was one of these times that he departed that mountain home for the last time, coming across a pair of human tracks that smelled of fresh blood and game and of something he could not quite place, for the senses of a cat were new to him. Curious, he followed the tracks - at a distance he increased somewhat when he saw the figure ahead of him, but he followed, to the very gates of the city in the south. In his own shape, he entered.
His totem was curious, but... cautious. It was a big place, far too crowded. Living here for long would be a test upon anyone's patience, he was sure... they were sure. And so, though he drew some odd glances for his size and his garb, Reln spent several days looking around the city before departing again, and, in time, began to trade the furs from his meat in the city; which saved up over time, for he had few expenses in those days, though he began by having the hide tanned, so that it might last longer still. And then, some news reached his ears, and his totem rumbled silent approval.