IC Thread 1: Ch. 1, Stolen Land

Shash seems excited about all the new people and lumbers over to Sergei, putting its furry head into his lap, nudging his hands with its muzzle. Shash acts not unlike a big furry dog, except with less spittle and licking.

Beads of sweat gather on Kadebor's brow as the woman starts talking with her soft voice. The scalding water, the whips. Their cruel laughter. I can almost hear it. No, that path is too dark to walk again. Focus. Concentrate. The big man manages to gather himself and listen.
When she speaks of the bandits, Kadebor starts nodding vigorously. "Root out the bandits? Yes. Cut the root and the stalk dies. You are wise indeed, Aleksandra of Valyreth tribe. The root of the stalk is the same as the heart of the pack. Still we must learn who is it, before we can rip it out."
When Sandra offers her hand, the half-orc flinches, but after a hesitant moment, takes hold of it from the elbow so their wrists clasp. "I will fight with you when they come after our skins. And when I go after the heart, you too may join the hunt." A second or two later, he is already withdrawing his hand. There, done.

Kadebor waits for Sergei to finish his speech. Then he waits some more to think. You can almost see the icebergs of thoughts collide in his head, as various expressions fleet across the half-orc's face. Alarmed, satisfied, thoughtful and finally... sad?
"Now I know you. You too seek to unlight their fires. It is good to hear. I would hunt with you, Sergei, if there is room in your pack. But not all fires need to be unlit, for some hunt with the wrong pack because the lone wolf dies when the pack survives. That is why we must strike at the heart. To save some fires from being unlit." He pauses, wanting the others to agree with him.

"I know of only one Stag Lord. He is the Great Elk who runs from The Huntsman in the winter sky, never escaping, and never being caught. But he is not the one you mean. You must tell me of the Stag Lord of these woods. Also, I do not know of any pack called Brevoy."

The half-orc looks worried and tired when he continues. "I have much to learn if I would hunt with you. If you would accept me to your pack, know that you must also accept Shash. There is not one without the other. We are whole. He likes your smells, and would not mind hunting with a larger pack."

Kadebor falls silent, expecting answers but not acceptance. He is obviously wearied greatly by these long speeches.

Aleksandra Valyreth, Dilletante Swordswoman

Sandra's handshake is firm, and she seems amused at the way that Kadebor shakes in the old way, but lets his hand go without any commentary. Actually, after a few moments of study, his obvious discomfort registers even with Sandra, and she takes a casual step back, edging up towards Sergei, and patting him on the shoulder.

Quietly, she murmurs, "Clearly, our new friend here is a little nervous around women, so I'm going to do the gracious thing and give him some space. Let him know what we're up to, and that we plan to leave at first bell. If you need me, I'm going to go chat with Svetlana." With a last pat on Sergei's shoulder, she says to Kadebor, "A pleasure to meet you, Kadebor. If you'll excuse me." And with that, she's off to get her weekly dose of girl talk.

Tallamor, having watched the entire exchange with studied precision, picks up on Kadebor's apprehension and discomfort easily enough. He smiles to himself, locking the information away in his mind. He knows that it is good to be aware of the weaknesses of those around him, even friends. In a game as fickle and dangerous as the formation of a new government, friends can easily become foes or obstacles.

Keeping that in mind, the elf smiles wryly at the hulking half-breed. "All this talk of packs and roots and flames leads me to believe you are a man of nature and poetry. This is an interesting turn of events, I must say. Well then, my barrel-chested friend, you may call me Tallamor." He does not offer his hand in greeting, fearing that the brute might crush it. Instead, he rubs Shash's nuzzling head almost affectionately. The bear's curiosity reminds him of Mirli, and reaches his mind out to touch her own. The hawk is perched outside, under the shelter of a nearby tree. At the touch of his thoughts, she responds reassuringly, happy and content and still near her master.

"Shash does not happen to have an appetite for hawk flesh, does he?" On the outside, the comment is smooth, passing, and almost forgettable. Tallamor would never willingly betray his own weakness in his attachment and affection for his familiar.

Sandra's quiet words with Sergei seem to disturb Kadebor and he starts shifting on the bench. To her parting words, he nods abruptly. Then the huge man grunts and rolls back his huge shoulders, an act as subtle as boulders rolling down the hill. For a moment, the half-orc's features twist into a grimace of pain and his fists clench, but a mighty sigh disperses any remnants of the discomfort he had displayed. Old injuries, you'd wager. His big hand reach out towards the small leather pouch lying on to the table, which you know to contain various bones, but stops halfway. I need guidance. But not now. The spirits will not talk, not when others are here. Shash comes to him and gives his hand a casual lick - another piece of the ritualistic stretch.

The elf's query seems to confuse Kadebor. A hawk walks not with bears. A bear flies not with hawks. How can one have a taste for the other's flesh, then? Finally, he settles on an answer: "It is not the way of the bear to disturb those on the winds. It is the way of the hawk to hunt all those who walk under the sun. Such is the law of nature as I have seen with my own eyes."

As the conversation lulls, the half-orc gives each man and elf a long, weighing look. The silence stretches for another five dozen heartbeats and then breaks as Kadebor rises from the table. And starts speaking. His voice sounds rough at first, but quickly becomes clear and rhytmic, resembling a chant sung at the orcish fires more than common speech. "It has come to pass that all those of the pack have put their voice on the wind. I have done the same, as has Shash done the same. And all agree that together, our hunt would be good. Let then my pack be joined with yours! May our howls echo off the hills! We are kin." He concludes by hitting the table with flat of his hand, causing a minor shock-wave that sends Sergei's pitcher almost off the table, and then sits down again, accompanied by many creaks as the planks bend to accommodate the man.

"Now, I must rest. And eat. Some meat would be good."

Everyone settles in for the night with a hot meal in their belly and a nice dry bed. In the morning, Raun receives a message from a courier; his church needs him for urgent business. The paladin vouches for Kadebor to take his place, and wishes the party luck with their mission as he leaves, heading back to Brevoy.

Kadebor and Shash join the expedition as you set off across the fields to explore the area west of Oleg's. At first the horses seem disturbed by the presence of the black bear, but before long they are used to the animal's presence and scent. Five uneventful days pass by; Kadebor seems just as skilled as Sergei in getting along in the wild, helping the group find food and water as you go. At the end of the stint, you believe the area sufficiently mapped and explored, so you decide to continue westward into the northern Narlmarches.

That morning, shortly after breaking camp, it begins to rain. The thick canopy of leaves above you blocks the worst of the rain, but the weight of the water causes the rain to fall in fat, irregular drops on the hoods of your cloaks. Visibility is poor, as the rainclouds cloak the already ample shade of the forest in a bluish morning gloom.

The patter of rain drops, padding of hooves on wet dirt, and the creak of the wagon are interrupted by the sound of a distant mechanical snap! followed by a bizarre shrieking. The horses whicker nervously. As the shrieking continues, you decide to head towards it cautiously.

You come across a struggling beast, a bizarre amalgam of bear and owl. A body thick with muscle is covered in shaggy brown fur and white-tipped feathers. It has the claws and paws of a mighty grizzly bear, but its head and face is that of a great horned owl. The monster's foot is caught in a steel bear trap: dark blood can be seen crusted in the feathers where the steel teeth of the trap have bit into the creature's leg. Secured to the ground by a steel spike, the owlbear struggles against the trap, biting at it with its beak and fumbling with its claws to no avail. As you approach, the owlbear glares at you with enormous, fierce golden-orange eyes. It lets out another terrific shriek, like the scream of a hunting owl magnified a hundredfold.

Tallamor looks upon the trapped owlbear, then casts his mind into the distant memories of the Academy. Perhaps, nestled in one of those distant, murky thoughts, he might find information that would help them either free or kill the creature.

Looking to his companions, he considers the inherent benefit in both courses of action. Finally, he speaks. "I see no particular reason to save the creature other than brash and misplaced affection, but I could be... wrong." He says the last word with derision. He turns to Sandra, much preferring her conversation over the quiet ranger and the incoherently-poetic half-breed. "Do you see any reason to keep the brute alive? It seems a waste of effort to rescue it, but we could always put it out of its misery..."

Aleksandra Valyreth, Dilletante Swordswoman

Sandra has been grumbling lightly at the weather to herself at a low but pervasive level more or less all day, but she stops complaining when the group comes upon the owlbear. Fishing out her crossbow, but still holding it under her cloak for now, she replies to Tallamor, "I think putting it out of its misery.. and ours, for that matter.. might not be a bad idea. Even if it would let us help it, I don't know that we should. It looks hungry and angry."

She appears to be readying her crossbow to start putting rounds downrange at the owlbear, but will wait for dissenting opinions before actually opening fire. She looks about to guide her horse closer to the owlbear, but only gets about five feet before she stops, and looks over at Sergei and Kadebor. "Hey, I don't really do the outdoors, but you guys might know hunting. How likely is it, do you think, that there are more of those leg traps that caught that thing around here?"

On the night of the joining at the trading post, Kadebor ended up getting happily drunk and telling funny stories of the children of the Three Pines village to all those who bothered to listen. As often is the case with the drunken condition, that night greatly facilitated the development of friendships, or at least mutual acceptance. By now, the half-orc has become used to his new companions and even Sandra's voice does not scare him so.
Shash has taken quite a liking to the horses. He especially likes running beside the wagon, then disappearing into the brush and suddenly reappearing some ways ahead, much to the dismay of the horses. Now this causes quite a head-ache to the driver, but the frantic neighing never fails to garner a chuckle or two among the travelling party.

As they come across the monster in the trap, Kadebor turns serious. Approaching the creature to some 30 feet, he furrows his brow and says: "All is not right with this bear, for an owl too has wanted to share its body. The bear must desire to tread on ground, but the owl wants to soar in the skies. It must choose the path in the middle, but there is no such path. No wonder both spirits have turned mad."
He studies the creature some more, and Shash too wants to join him, but Kadebor resolutely pushes his companion behind him and sharply orders it to stay. "I can not untwine these spirits, but I may bring some peace to the beast. Do no thing to alarm it. Soothe it, if you find room in your heart." He then begins to say calming words, and edging closer in a spiral pattern. The closer he gets, the more primal his voice becomes, until it resembles those whimpering, empathizing sounds of wild animals.

The enraged owlbear pays no attention to Kadebor's attempts to calm it. The beast continues to hoot, shriek, and howl.

As the beast does not react to Kadebor's attempts, he draws back, still facing the owlbear, and kneels beside Shash, who has been whimpering the whole time quite pathetically. "Too far on the middle path, this one." The half-orc ruffles the cub's coarse wet fur and calls some words to him in a tongue foreign. With his back to his comrades, he continues: "Its fire needs to be unlit. Or it will take our skins and we will be mighty cold when we begin the Long Hunt Beyond This World."

With these final words, the half-orc stands up, his leather jerkin creaking against the strain. Droplets of water roll off his muscular bare arms as he reaches for the business-like single-edged forester's axe on his back. Giving a quick glance to where his comrades are and around, he prepares to charge the beast.

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