1st of Ches, 1362 D.R.
Rain. It seems as though it will never stop. The road has become a river of mud, making it almost useless as a path, but the rough rugged hills around you offer you even worse footing. Visibility is very poor, with cold, early spring winds tearing sheets of rain across your field of vision. The sound of the storm is tremendous, making it hard for you to hear your companions unless they shout.
It was the first of Ches. Nearly four months ago you accepted an invitation to visit the Mount Launt holdfast of Clan Griff, the childhood home of Hektor and Korë, in the far western reaches of the Dragonspine Mountains. What was supposed to be a brief visit, to attend some special dwarven ceremony honoring Hektor, had turned into a winter-long stay thanks to early and heavy snows.
The dwarven caves were particularly confining for your larger friends, and their irritability was only amplified by the preponderance of lead in the walls, water, and even food of the dwarf clan. Worse still, the special ceremony you had expected to bear witness to turned out to be a private, family affair behind closed doors, with not even the larger clan allowed to be present. While Hektor and Korë muttered something about the firbolg “coming of age”, they were unusually tight-lipped about the details afterwords.
So it was, with the coming spring, that you were all eager to get back on the road and back to Phlan, where most of you had first met and where there was the ever-present promise of glory and riches.
Of course, it turns out that spring in the mountains was little better than winter. The ground, already saturated with melting snow, was now bombarded by weeks of steady rainfall. While the dwarves of Clan Griff left your packs well filled with provisions, the going has been incredibly slow. Ten days out, you have covered perhaps half the distance to Phlan, or so you estimate.
Just when it seems that you can go no further, and the wetness and fatigue have driven you to distraction (and nearly to blows), and night begins to fall, bringing with it even colder winds off the mountains and no respite from the rain, you see a wan light ahead. Hurrying your steps you draw closer until you can make out a structure through the rain.
The building, the first you’ve seen in nearly a week, is two stories of mud-chinked stone, with a wooden roof and two chimneys leaning precariously out away from the structure. A welcoming light comes from two windows on the western side, the shutters left open in mockery of the cold, wet evening.
HyunA, the slim elven bladesinger, is having a difficult time, her normally sure footsteps being fouled by the mud and miserable conditions. “May I make a suggestion?” she says, her voice nearly swallowed by the wind. “I say we quickly make for yon house.” She gathers her cloak closer to her, which does precious little to remedy her frozen, sodden limbs.
The homecoming, and sequential ceremony was very special to Hektor. Though he had been accepted into Clan Griff, and, not without some odd moments, got along with his smaller, but no less fearsome, adopted kin, it was the last few days of celebration and sharing stories that truly made him feel like part of the Clan.
A sharp crack of distant thunder, brought the giant-kin back to the present.
He, his sister and fellow companions, were struggling to trod on this miserable day. Because of his size and strength, Hektor wasn’t as burdened as the rest, though his weight drove his huge, booted feet deeper into the muck, causing him to walk abroad of the group, less they fall into the sucking holes left by his prints.
His thumb still ached from the time he tried to hoist his sister onto his broad back, and was rewarded with a bite to his thumb and scolded for thinking her weak and needy.
He wasn’t hurt by the berating. Hek loved his older sister and she him. She was just so nit picky about such things.
Wiping away the small waterfall cascading down in front of his one, good eye, Hektor gave his sis a fond smile before coming to a halt.
Before them, shadowed by the deluge, was a two story building. Light coming through the windows and door frame, suggested it was occupied.
He looked down at his sister, waiting for her summarization.
Korë pushes her sodden hair back from her eyes and idly flicks at the small yellow stone that is orbiting her head setting it to spinning wildly. She says a silent prayer of thanks, for perhaps the millionth time this week, that the Patient One had seen fit to bestow her with the gift of not sinking into mud…and that she had let that merchant in the Slums Market talk her into paying extra to have her boots waterproofed, if only I had let him talk me into buying that parasol, she thinks. Seeing the light ahead, she stops in her tracks and takes a moment to shift the weight of her large, frame-pack.
“I’m not going to argue with you Hun,” she says sniffling. “Even if its bandits waiting to slit our throats, I’ll take a violent death in a warm house over a slow, cold, wet one.” Just to be safe though, she pulls out a wooden bowl and tips a vial of goblin blood into, chanting a quiet prayer as she plods closer to the house.
Feeling no immediate threat or hostility, Korë allows herself to speed up a bit more, as much as her short legs would allow, eager for a dry place to sleep. “Come on,” she says to the others, raising her voice to be heard over the wind, “Looks perfectly safe to me…”
Fionn, like his compatriots, was slogging through the mud in the harsh spring rains. Slogging through the mud was somewhat of a new experience for Fionn as he’d lost both his destrier and this plate mail in the particularly unfortunate altercation with the hobgoblins last fall, they weren’t that big, but there were a lot of them. Unfortunately, none of the horses of this part of the world were particularly suited to his massive frame and weight. So, he was forced, to slog through the mud, his boots sinking deeply in the mud of what seemed to pass for a road. Yep, walking was not something he enjoyed, and the mud just confirmed it. “Give me a horse any day of the week and I’d be set” he thought to himself.
Fionn brought up the rear of the party, just to ensure that if something came upon them from the rear, some of the smaller members of the group would have some additional protection. Whether marching at the rear made any difference for the ground, or for the protection, he wasn’t sure. The nice thing about the leather armor he was wearing as opposed to the plate mail he was used to, was it wouldn’t rust. His least favorite thing about metal armor especially with all this rain, was the rust.
The sword he kept was hard enough to keep sharp and rust free as it was.
A new mount would present itself at an appropriate time. In the interim, there was mud. Fionn wondered if it would ever end. But, hark, what light through yonder window breaks? Somewhat suspicious by nature, he watches while his companions try to assess what might be ahead of them. While somewhat inferior to the minotaur people, they were competent enough as he had come to find out over the last year and more.
Open windows and pouring rain. It smelled like a trap to him. “Go cautiously, my friends.” Fionn looses his sword in its sheath…
Bixby has been lost in thought, for quite some time, contemplating ways to create and imbue a “Chromatic Orb” as a thrown weapon and muttering under her breath…
“…Huh, are we slowing down? Maybe there’s somewhere we can stay for the…oooo! Oooo! I’ve got it! …wait,no, that won’t work….”
Yobob tugged on the mule’s lead as he tried his best to keep ahead of Fionn. The mule’s saddlebags were loaded with hundreds of lead bullets, and strapped to its back were a pair of strange looking contraptions, also made primarily of lead. Yobob hadn’t intended to be so loaded down for the return trip to Phlan, but he just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experiment with the resources of Clan Griff.
While the beginning of the journey had been spent mulling over ways to outfit the mule for battle (The armor plating would be easy enough, but where would I mount the turret?), Yobob’s thoughts now turned to ways to stay dry. An umbrella might work, but only if I could figure out a way to get it to hover over my head as I walk.
The house was indeed a welcome sight. As he and his companions began moving toward it, Yobob nudged Bixby and, with a laugh, shouted above the sound of the rain, “Nothing like knocking on someone’s door and asking them to house a party of seven including a minotaur and a firbolg. These poor folks aren’t even going to notice the two of us!”
Hek gave Kore a wide grin. He wanted to wink at her, like she playfully did so with him, but having only one serviceable eye, it always remained a blink.
After his sister finished with her casting, a site Hektor would never grow tired of, he helped everyone when needed and stood above the doorway, giving just enough room for Kore to knock, yet, block much of the downpour.
He was always very mindful of his surroundings, lest he step on one of his smaller companions. Save all but the minotaur, Fionn. Hek enjoyed the minotaur’s company and admired his stature.
Picking up on the Paladin’s thoughts, Hektor grinned and nodded his way, saying in his customary, low, gravelly tone…
“Betcha glad you ain’t got that tin can on huh Fionn?”
Like most, if not all of his species, Hek didn’t wear armor. And wasted no opportunity to tease his horned friend about it.
As you approach the door, two signs catch your eye. The first, affixed to a post a few yards in front of the building, declares in Common the “Towne of Deþwillon, Population: Tire”, though you see no other structures, nor even the remains of structures anywhere around. The second, painted on the door in white lettering, next to a wooden cup that has been nailed in place, declares the place to be “Blahom Mandrivnyka” (The Traveler’s Boon). Through the open windows you can see a large room with a few tables, bracketed at either end by two large fireplaces. The place looks empty save for a pair of bored-looking teenage boys, the younger nervously drumming on a table as the second feeds a couple of logs into the fire. Anything they might be saying is completely drowned out by the sounds of the rain.
Korë pays no attention to the signs, she can’t read silly human letters anyways, as the steps past her brother to knock on the door, pounding had to make sure she is heard over the rain. A chorus sudden plaintive growls from behind them causes her to pivot quickly away from the door, her attention called to the three hungry, sopping bears trailing after the party. “Oh Mo̱ró, Mi̱téra, Bampás, I’m sorry!” she runs back and gives each of the bears a loving scratch behind the ears, her own voice modulating to a series of ursine growls as she explains that they had probably better wait outside, and that she would ask if there were any nearby caves or other shelter they might use.
Hektor gave a throaty chuckle as he watched Kore tend to her grumpy trio.
For a reward, his own black bear, Hooch, nipped his backside, causing the big fellow to blurt out a yelp, before catching himself.
Looking back, while discreetly massaging his “love bite” as he had fondly named them, he gave Hooch his best ‘mock’ intimidating grimace.
Hooch, who like Hektor, was missing one eye from an attack by wolves, early in his life, not impressed, only snorted and moved closer to the building, hoping to get out of the rain.
Once the bears are settled, as much as they are going to be in the dark and the rain, knowing that their two-legged friends would be getting to go inside the nice, warm inn, Korë turns back to the door and knocks again, more loudly in case the two boys are too distracted to have heard the first time.
As she waits for the door to be answered, she looks around at her friends, making sure everyone has kept up through the storm. She notes Blixa and Yobob with their strange contraptions and cantankerous mule, Fionn, looking just as awkward as ever on his own hooves rather than a horse’s, Hun, looking downright miserable, her dear brother, keeping the rain off, but where was the bard? Normally she would expect him to be doing the knocking and the introductions. Ever since they had met in the market at Phlan, Frolik had been the party’s mouthpiece when dealing with locals who might be less open-minded about their unusually large friends. Of course, he was by far the most illness-prone of their party. She hoped his latest cold hadn’t gotten to the point where he’d had fallen into a ditch and drowned without anyone noticing…
She turned back to the others, “Anyone seen Frolik in the last mile or two?”
With the second round of banging on the door you can see the two boys startle through the window. They look in the direction of the door then one disappears from view, though you can clearly hear him yelling, “Dyadya! Hosti!” Less than a minute later, the door swings open and a slight, willowy looking man with a hairlip squints out into the rain and darkness at you. Taking in the massive shadow of Hektor standing by the door, he stumbles back a step and says shakily, “Welcome,” standing aside to let you in.
The lintel of the door is painfully low for Hektor and Fionn, forcing them both to crawl to get through, and the wooden ceiling within is not much better.
The inside is rustic, yet cozy. The bare-earth floor can be seen through well-packed straw, the last of the winter stores likely having been used up a month ago, the walls are well-chinked with mud, and the fires burn merrily in the open hearths. A single wooden staircase rises along the back wall of the single, large room that is the first floor, up to a hole in the ceiling, down which an equally scrawny-looking woman in a dark-coloured dress is descending, pulling on a bonnet as she does.
The man, woman, and boys all stare dumbfounded as your strange party troops into the small inn.
“Rhaich!” spits HyunA as she enters.
It was the closest thing the elves of Faerûn had to an expletive, though the bulk of that race considered such utterances unseemly.
“You’ll have to excuse them. They’re not from around her,” says HyunA, enjoying the obvious irony. She shakes her long, dark, locks to shed them of the excess rain, and removes her wet cloak. She moves closer to the fire to dry off. Her mood visibly improves now that she’s out of the miserable weather, and a small smile crosses her face. “We’re largely weatherproof, but there is a limit.” she explains.
Waiting until the others made their way inside, Hektor gave a dubious look at the lintels dimensions as Fionn, although large in his own right, was still having a rough time squeezing through.
Before Hektor could think of an excuse to remain outside, Kore coaxed him in. He had to remove his huge backpack and halbred, before he could squeeze through.
Still, the height of the room caused him to remain crouched, until HyunA let loose an elven equivalent of a curse word, which Hektor had heard on other stressful occasions, which made him hit his head on the ceiling and uttering a dwarven curse word of his own.
Being absorbed in his own hardships, Hektor blushed when he finally realized that he and his companions were being scrutinized by the wide-eyed staff.
Uncomfortable and embarrassed, the gentle giant could only muster a nervous, toothy grin.
As much as Yobob wanted to get out of the rain, he couldn’t help but glance around for the tire mentioned on the first sign as he tied up his mule. A good steel-belted radial is so hard to come by these days.
Giving up, he joined the party just in time to see Hektor bang his head on the ceiling, a site Yobob never tired of. Fighting the temptation to taunt his larger companions for their inability to safely complete such a simple task as entering a room, he instead turned his attention to the structure surrounding him. Yobob liked to fix things, and if there was a leaky roof, a creaky staircase, or a rusty hinge he wanted to find it.
Korë wipes her hands on the, relatively, dry inside of her bear-hide cloak before offering it to the hairlipped innkeep, greeting him in the local tongue. “Blahoslovennya na vashomu budynku, tovarysh. Ya Kori Arkouda klanu Griff, tse moyi braty: Hektor i Finn, vony velyki, ale vony ne mayutʹ na uvazi niyakoyi shkody,” she says gestures to the two largest members of the party, and bowing.
“Thank you for your hospitality,” she continues, switching to the Common tongue. Something in her voice implies that the seven companions would be imposing on that hospitality whether it was actually offered or not. “Our other companions of HyunA,” she gestures to the elf who has already made her way to the fire, “Blixa, and Yobob,” she points a thumb over her shoulder at the gnomes, and “Frolik,” she looks around for the human one more time, then shrugs figuring she can look for him when she goes to take care of the bears.
Think of that, she presses on, “Do you have stables? Or, better yet, is there a cave nearby? We have animals outside, some of which might be startling to livestock…”
The little man seems to regain his composure as the dwarf addresses him. “I’m afraid we don’t have any beds, but you’re all welcome to the fire and you can sleep in the common room of you need a place to rest.”
The woman turns to the boys, «Thumor, Ommis, go upstairs and fetch the big pot.» The two slowly make their way up the stairs, craning their necks to look alternately at the elven woman, the giant, and the minotaur, before disappearing upstairs. She scurried over to one of the hearths, using a log to swing the spit-hook out of the flames before tossing the wood in. “You all look chilled to the bone, we’ll put some soup on…”
“There’s a stable out back, and nothing in there to bother but the milk cow,” the man says, trying very not to look at the minotaur as he mentions the cow. “There’s also the old Number Two mine on the other side of Durham’s Hill, about a quarter mile that-a-way.” He points. “‘Course, there’ve been strange folk poking around the mine lately, so it’s maybe not the best place to spend the night.”
“A quarter mile that way?” Korë looks out the window to confirm the direction the innkeep had indicated. “That’s not too far. What kind of ‘strange folk’?” Not that I care, she thinks, the bears and I can handle ourselves. But these village types always love an opportunity to gossip, and a little chit-chat might make them more comfortable with us. She smiles unconsciously as she thinks of the tall tales the boys will have to tell their friends when her little party has left.
Frolik has had the worst week ever. Period. Of course he caught a cold. No, he caught THE COLD. Surely, nothing short of a deity could cure him of it. It was catastrophic. First, the rain made it impossible to play the lute. It would be soaked in a minute! Then…he lost his voice. It was divine punishment. It was a good thing that he didn’t pay much attention to gods or else he would feel cursed. Without his voice he was nobody. He needed to speak more than breathing (it was basically the same for him) and right now only some coarse whispers was all he could manage. Thankfully they found a place with a roof and what looks like fire! Just to think of the possibility of being warm and dry lifted his spirit. But he was too weak yet to call attention to himself. It would be wiser to wait a little until he felt better and then make a nice introduction. For now his friends are making a great job at being the center of attention. He accepts the food, two servings actually, and some mulled wine.
When the wet, sniffling, hoarse-voiced man starts asking for mulled wine, your hostess looks mortified. “Oh, you poor dear. We haven’t had a proper spice merchant up here in years, and Old Draeb’s vines were like nothing last year. I can’t even offer you wine, let alone properly spiced.” She seems close to tears at her social faux-pas, “but I can warm you a mug of milk with honey, which should fix you right up…”
The innkeep, does, in fact look relieved by Korë’s politely inquisitive manner. “A bunch of brothers,” he replies. “You know, the religious kind, showed up here the day before yesterday. They’ve been nosing around a lot. They don’t talk at all—can’t get ’em to say a word. And Thumor saw ’em squatting in the old mine, which would be a proper place for a beast to sleep, but no right place for a man.”
“Up to no good no doubt!” the lady chimes in.
“No doubt. But then, what do I know of such things,” the innkeep finishes.
As everyone was getting comfortable, not an easy task, this room and it’s assortment of beings. The one thing they were like-minded about, is that they were wet, road weary and hungry.
As if on cue, Hektors stomach reminds EVERYONE that a good meal is past due.
At this rate, Hek’s cheeks would stay rosey-red for a fortnight.
“Pardon me.” He offers up to anyone paying attention.
Hek listened to the Inn keep’s tale about the road ahead with ernest. It had been a while since he got to let loose upon vile villains and monsters.
Tired of bumping his head and other appendages, Hektor uses his innate ability, diminution, which in a slight, blur to the eye, he now stands just under 8ft, weight and body are adjusted as well.
Much better. he thought to himself as he stretched his sore limbs and back.
Coming downstairs holding either side of the large pot, the two boys laugh as the much-smaller giant stretches and still manages to bump his head on the ceiling.
Your hostess hangs the large pot over the fire, sends the boys to fetch water, and, roughly an hour later serves up a thick, starchy, sour-tasting green broth, topping each bowl with soured cream and slices of boiled egg.
Frolik says to the hostess “Thank you my lady. You remind me of my granny. She would fix me up with warm honeyed milk and some cake. I’ll be delighted to have some.”
After drinking it and getting some food he stretches and flexes his body, warms his hands in the fire and thinks: “_ I can’t sing yet, but I sure feel like playing the lute _”.
He opens the case carefully and retrieves his instrument. It will take a while to tune it and warm it up, so he keeps his ears and eyes open, checking on the boys to see if they are curious about the lute.
As the lady of the house puts the soup on, Korë, heads for the door, stopping just long enough to whisper to her brother, “Hektor, jeg har tænkt mig at tage vores små søskende ud til hulen og få dem bosatte sig i. Jeg skulle være tilbage i tiden til suppe. Se mine ting?” She then throws her bear-hide cloak about her shoulders and heads out into the rain, leaving her heavy backpack propped against the wall in a corner.
Once outside, she takes her bearings, then goes and playfully hugs each of the bears. With a roll of her shoulders, she stretches her arms wide and begins to grow. As her body grows, her bear-hide garments fuse with her skin and expand as well, until she is covered in fur from snout to paws. Her body triples in size in every dimension, her fingers shrink, to be replaced by opposable claws, the stub of a tail appears. As the transformation completes, a conveniently timed flash of lightning illuminates the form of a fully grown kodiak sow, easily a hundred stone in weight and nearly as tall as her full-grown giant of a brother.
With a low growl she greets her brothers and sister. Then the troupe of bears pound off over the hill, towards the old, abandoned mine that the innkeep told them about.
Fionn, after smacking his head and horns on the low door lintel and the ceiling inside, finds a nice corner to try to dry out and extract the mud from his hooves. At least from where he is sitting he isn’t getting any feelings of evil intent from anyone. That determined, clearing the mud continues. When the soup is ready, Fionn carefully takes the offered bowl from the innkeeper’s wife and thanks here politely.
The innkeeper’s mention of a mine piqued Yobob’s interest enough to pull him away from his structural analysis. He partook of the offered victuals and enjoyed the music for a bit, but he just wasn’t satisfied with the innkeeper’s story. He’s left out all the important stuff!
Yobob decided to probe a little further about the details that mattered most to him. “Excuse me, sir,” he gestured to the innkeeper. “Can you tell us a little more about the Number Two mine? What kind of ore did it produce? Has it been shut down for long? Was it just a human operation, or were there some dwarves or gnomes involved?” If we’re dealing with a human mine, the best I can hope for is a mine cart with some rusted wheels, but if there were dwarves or gnomes involved, there’s no limit to what kind of equipment might be laying down there just waiting to be recycled.
The boys don’t seem particularly interested in the bard’s lute, though, once he begins to play, one does start drumming on a table, and is only slightly off-beat.
As the music plays and food is distributed, the innkeep sits down at one of the tables, all too happy to enlighten the gnome about the local mining. “Not much to tell about the old number two. It was the second mine that was opened when we first moved into Deþwillon.” He pronounces the name of the place such that it sounds like ‘Death Villain’. “We mostly mine argentite and galena. Number Two wasn’t a particularly good producer, especially compared to the Number Three, so it got abandoned after only a couple of years and never went particularly deep. Hasn’t been touched in a good thirty years. The Number One mine was here when we moved in, leftover from the dwarves, and goes the deepest. The Two and Three we carved out ourselves…”
He goes on for some time, talking about problems they had with properly shoring up the hillsides and tunnels, slippages and mudslides from the high rainfall, lost time from the mines flooding after the spring thaws, and other complaints. Even with their problems, it sounds like the mines pull out just enough silver and lead for the twenty or so families in Deþwillon (mostly on the far side of the hill, closer to the mines but away from the main trails) to make a living, with most of their ore being sold in Zhentil Keep or Teshwave.
Growing up with dwarves was in itself, a trial of one’s wits. Everyday life was a challenge , but rewarding.
Even the dwarven language was, at first, an obstacle. Hektor’s alien mouth and tongue made even his best dwarf speak rough.
Korë had left him instructions in dwarvish, a fact that Hek did not miss. His big sister was much wiser when it came to dealing with the outside world.
Hek managed to keep any suspicious looks well hidden, but remained vigilant.
At first he wasn’t pleased about his sis going out on her own. But those uneasy thoughts soon faded and even brought a smirk to the giants lips.
Woe be on any who intend ill-will on that dwarf. Not to mention her trio of companions.
Hektor welcomed the hot meal as he listened to the story about the mines. Hek did not miss out on the point why he was not invited to inspect the mines either. The close quarters and low, unstable confines of a mine were no place for one of his stature.
Still, he could not help but worry. His free hand unconsciously inside his beard, lightly moving over his sister’s gift.
As the bears lope towards the cave, Korë thinks of how this shape feels so much more right than the one she’d been born with.
Since turning to the service of Lord Meriadar she had heard much about how hate was not a natural reaction. Humans could get along with anything. Even goblins, evil as they were, could get along with their cousins—orcs, hobgoblins, even ogres. Dwarves were different. ‘Children must be taught to hate’ was the common adage of the faith, but she knew that, for her people, that was absolutely wrong. The natural tendency of all dwarves, even those as kind-hearted and cosmopolitan as her father, was to hate that which was different. Even dwarves separated at birth from their clans learned at a very young age to hate and kill goblins, giants, and their ilk. Put a dwarven infant in a crib with a baby goblin and one of them would die. It was just the way of things.
Learning to love her brother had been hard. Learning to love her allies not of her clan had been harder. Learning to love even those that were possibly enemies had been an almost impossible task. After her brother, though, her first love had been the bears. Her clanmates had been terrified when Hektor brought the first one home, but she saw them for what they were. Stout, strong, and gruff, they might as well have been dwarves. She loved their thick, warm fur and the feel of their muscles beneath it. When she had learned to become one, she was ecstatic.
The more time she spent in this form, the more she knew that she was not trapped by her heritage. If she did not have to look like a dwarf, she did not have to think like a dwarf…did not have to hate like a dwarf. Not that she disliked her heritage, but her gut told her to lead with a crossbow bolt and never stop to ask questions. Since she had learned to be a bear, she had learned that, just as she could change her exterior, she could look past the exteriors of others. It had taken decades, but she had learned to embrace other races—even the minotaur and the elf that traveled with her—as brothers and sisters just as her father had made her embrace Hektor when he first brought the giant baby home.
Despite the cold, and the damp, and the dark, Korë let out a happy roar to be back in her proper skin. The cry was echoed by her furry siblings. Not long after, she spotted the darker patch of night marking the opening of a hole in the hillside. She veered slightly to head towards it and slowed her pace to approach with some semblance of caution…
As the bears near the old mine, Korë can just make out the flickering light of a small campfire inside. Watching for a moment, she sees a figure stand up and cross in front of the fire, briefly obscuring it, then return to a seated position beside the light. Between the rain and her ursine nearsightedness, she cannot make out any details.
Korë growls, telling the other bears to spread out behind her and wait while she goes forward to check out the creatures in the cave. She pads forward slowly, trying to avoid making unnecessary noises and using the darkness and rain to cover her approach, her goal being to get close enough to see and smell the creatures (her vision as a bear being comparable to a human’s at close range).
Korë creeps up to the opening of the old mine and looks in to see a pair of creatures sitting by the fire, clearly humanoid in nature but wearing long voluminous brown robes that mask their features. The two creatures sit in complete silence, making no conversation or other noises. The cave smells strongly of guano and wet feathers, like a poorly ventilated chicken coop.
Korë briefly considers resuming her dwarven form so that she can use magic to assess the threat posed by these creatures, then decides that all she really cares about is if they will be a threat to her ursine siblings. Taking a deep breath, she slowly plods into the cave, acting as if the creatures and their fire aren’t even there. She stops right inside the opening, shakes vigorously to dry off, then walks towards the back of the cave, keep your distance, but don’t look like you’re trying to keep your distance, she thinks.
The two creatures jump a little when the large bear comes in, they make no noise, but one turns its head fast enough that its cowl slips, revealing a misshapen human-like face with a parrot-like beak in place of its nose and mouth. Its left eye is large and bulging, and a smattering of drab brown feathers wreathes its chin like a beard. It quickly reaches up to pull the cowl back into place, revealing a twisted five-fingered hand with bird-like talons.
When the bear begins to shake off, they turn and cover themselves. The fire crackles and hisses from the shower of droplets, and one ducks to interpose himself between the bear and the fire. When the barrage of rain stops the two creatures eye the bear warily but make no further move, though the smell of fear from them is strong. They seem to relax slightly when the bear starts to walk around them without any show of aggression. They move slowly around to keep the fire between them and the bear…
Seeing that the poor, twisted creatures are not overtly hostile, Korë makes a slow circuit of the fire, walking all the way around it, but slow enough that they can keep their distance from the bear. As she does, she sniffs the ground and looks at the creatures in a way intended to convey simple animal wariness and curiosity, trying not to let on that she is probably smarter than they are.
As her circuit brings her back to the opening, she lets out a growl, telling the other bears that it is safe to come inside, but that they should head to the back of the cave, leaving the men by the fire alone. She then finishes on the far side of the fire from the door and walks towards the back, stopping just at the edge of the fire’s light, and lays down.
The other bears shuffle in, one at a time, shaking off then walking strait to the back, staying near the left wall, away from the bird-things. They each lay down next to Korë, curling up in a giant ball of fur and close their eyes.
Korë stays for several minutes watching the bears go to sleep and watching the birds to make sure they are not showing any aggression towards the sleeping bears. She then growls, telling Mo̱ró, Mi̱téra, Bampás that she will be back for them at first light, and that they should leave the poor bird-monks alone as long as they did likewise. She rises and heads for the exit.
Once out of the light of the fire, she reverts to her dwarven form and sneaks back to where she can see the bird things, casting know alignment, know faction, and detect magic just to be sure before leaving her siblings sleeping near these things.
The creatures are clearly frightened by the family of bears taking up residence in the old mine with them. They give the animals wide berth and continue to try to keep the fire between them and the bears. They watch curiously as Korë leaves, but still make no threatening moves towards her or the bears. Still in complete silence.
By the time Korë circles back to divine their intent, the creatures have settled back to quietly sitting by the fire, apparently convinced that the sleeping animals are no immediate threat. Her spells do not tell her much. The creatures have a faint aura of transmutation magic lingering over them, but nothing currently active. They appear to be completely neutral in alignment, they are clearly sapient and not without alignment in the way that animals are, but have no strong leanings. Her attempt to read their affiliations reveals nothing. An absence. Either the spell failed, or these creatures have no social ties of any kind.
Antisocial but mostly harmless, she thinks. The bears will be fine.
Korë shivers a little, wishing that she had not relinquished the warm bulk of her bear form and slips back into the rain and darkness, focusing her infravision to pick out the tell-tale warm spot of the inn’s chimneys through the otherwise uniformly cold background. She hasn’t gone more than a dozen steps when she also regets the loss of her longer bear legs. She pulls out her yellow ioun stone and sets it to spinning around her head. Stupid dwarf-body, she thinks as she plods slowly through the rain, at least my feet will stay dry.
She walks back into the inn a little more than an hour after she’d left and helps herself to a bowl of soup.
Back at the Inn
Once the bard begins playing and everyone else starts eating, Korë wanders over to the corner and sits down by the minotaur. For the year that they’d known each other, Fionn had been the party’s moral compass, at least for those situations that might call for an application of force. "Fionn, fandt jeg nogle af de “brødre”, at innkeep talte om. De var mærkeligt. De lignede mænd med tilfældige fugl bits limet på – fjer, næb, kløer. Som en slags vanvittige guiden eksperiment. Tror du, det er værd os kigge ind på?"
Hektor was grateful and relieved when Korë walked back into the Inn.
He had prepared a meal for her. Taking that and one of his blankets, he sat near Korë and Fionn.
Hek offered the meal and blanket to his sister as he listened to what she had found out.
fter playing some tunes and feeling much better for it, Frolik sees Korë rerturning. He packs his lute thinking that maybe in a day or two he might be singing again, and grabbing some honeyed milk he walks towards Korë, Fionn, and Hektor.
“Anything interesting?” He says clearing his throat and with a coarse voice.
As everyone starts assembling around her, Korë tucks into her bowl of soup and tries to act as inconspicuous as possible, trying not to alarm the locals with what she found. “Thank you, this is delicious,” she says to the lady of the house, then reverts to dwarvish to commune with her companions. "Da jeg fortalte Fionn, fandt jeg nogle af de “brødre”, der innkeep talt om. De lignede mænd med tilfældig fugl bits limet på – fjer, næb, kløer – og ønskede ikke oprette en enkelt lyd. De syntes harmløs og gider ikke mig eller bjørne, som vi gik ind i hulen, men jeg kan se, hvorfor de lokale ville blive paagaeldende. Da vi er her, måske skulle vi tjekke det ud i morgen, og måske se, om der er en butik, hvor vi kan genpåfyldning til turen tilbage til Phlan."
As the last of the pot of soup empties, the man of the house yawns. “Well folks, I need to get some sleep, you’re welcome to sleep here tonight. Spread out wherever you like. We can settle accounts in the morning.” He walks over and drops a bar across the front door, then shoos the lady and boys up the stairs. They hurry up, taking the large pot and a few other loose items up with them, leaving nothing but the tables, stools, and dying fire behind. As they vanish you hear the thump of trap being closed and a screech as something heavy is dragged across the floor and set on top of it.
Once the proprietor and his family disappear upstairs and lock themselves in, Korë relaxes and explains again in the common traders tongue, despite its limited ability to convey complex ideas, for any of her party who have yet to master dethek. "As I told Fionn. I found some of “brothers” who hospitality worker talked about. They looked like men with bird bits glued on – feathers, hard mouth parts, claws – and did not create single sound. They seemed not dangerous and did not bother me or bears, as we went in cave. I can see why locals would be afraid. Since we’re here, we should check it out tomorrow. See if there is shop where we can restock for trip back to Phlan."
What a useless language, she thinks, it doesn’t even have articles. She shoves a stool out of the way to make room to spread out her bedroll.
2nd of Ches
The next morning, Korë wakes up early, when the Inn is still quiet. Shivering against the chill morning air, she crawls over and begins building up the fire in the hearth, adding wood and stirring up the coals until she has a small blaze going.
She unbars the door and steps outside, filling her own small cauldron at the rain barrel, then returns to hang it over the fire. As the water comes to a boil, she tosses a cube of incense into the fire, filling the room with a lovely (if slightly narcotic) scent, and then tosses a number of rune-carved stones into the water. She then sits, staring the ripples in the water from the stones and the steam wafting out of the cauldron, meditating over whether it would be advisable for the party to investigate these bird-monks further.
The runestones slowly float to the surface of the water, one by one, only to submerge again to be replaced by others. The message goes on far longer than any Korë has previously witnessed. Hurriedly, her mind reeling from the psychotropic haze of her incense, Korë translates the surfacing stones:
Vigils. Full moon at apex.
Copse of trees on stony hilltop.
Singing. Shadows flicker before flames.
Matins. No moon upon the sky.
Feathers clutter beneath canopy.
Breathing. Silver bound by murder.
Sext. Clouds gather to plead their case.
Groaning. Wind and branches joins cause.
None. To purify herald rings.
Wailing. Heaven sheds starry tears.
Vespers. Waiting without Waning.
Kore’s reverie is broken by the sound of the trap door to the upper floor being opened. The elder of the two boys slips down, closing it as quietly as he can behind him and walks over to where the dwarf woman is sitting by the fire. “Jeg taler Dethek du kender.”
He pulls one of the stools over and sits down. “Du er en klog kvinde?” he asks, looking at the cauldron and the stones. “I heard what you were saying…about the bird men. If you and your friends are going to be investigating I’d like to help. I doubt many of the people around here would be willing to open up to your friends…” he casts a glance at the snoring giant and minotaur, “no offense.”
He sticks out his hand, “I’m Ommos.”
Korë gives the boy an arm cross, “Du laver en god pointe, velkommen ombord.” She walks over the nudges Hektor with her foot, “Wake up, time to go check on the boys and make sure they didn’t maul any monks in their sleep…”
She turns back to the boy, “Så Ommos er Dethek almindeligt kendt her omkring?”
“Nej, ikke som sådan, men at arbejde her jeg har haft lejlighed til at tale med et par af dine folk. Bare rolig, jeg er sikker mine onkler taler ikke din tunge.”
Ommos looks around, “Your friends are sound sleepers, eh?” He walks to the second hearth and starts stoking the fire up, putting a great over it once its going. “Oh, Uncle Tal usually charges four coppers a head for dinner and room to spread out…he’ll probably forget to mention it and then mam will get angry with him again, so make sure to settle up before we leave.”
Korë does a quick head count as she is drying and re-packing her divinatory tools. “Thanks for the heads up,” she says, neatly piling four stacks of ten copper coins each on one of the tables. Never hurts to tip, she thinks, especially with big appetites in the party.
She kicks the sleeping Hektor and Fionn one more time, then heads out the door. “Come on guys, get the lead out…”
Frolik wakes up feeling much better and with renewed strength.
“Well, shall we wake the others and get a head start on our trip? Those bird-men sound like fun.”
He adds a couple of coppers to one table and packs his stuff.
While he is at it, he sings a song to warm up his voice.
“Rise and shine, rise and shine
there are things to be done
so wake up and get ready
and lets just be far gone
but first wash and clean yourselves
because my hellish cold is over
and i can smell you from beyond”
Ommos laughs loudly at the song, “That was some nice playing last night. I’m glad that you are feeling better.” He ducks out the door after the dwarf. “So where did you want to look first?”
“That way,” Korë points in the direction of the cave. “I have some friends I need to check in on before we do much else, and they were, insterestingly, sharing a cave with a couple of your visitors last night…” She sets off at her fastest speed, which is barely a walk for all of her larger companions. She sighs again at the limitations of her dwarven body, at least it’s always easy for the lazy-heads to catch up, she thinks.
Outside, the rain from the past several days continues unabated, a steady, cold drizzle giving a deep green luster to the grasses covering the hill. With the morning light you can now make out a small village, perhaps a score of buildings including two or three large enough to be a store or meeting house, on the far side as you cross over the ridge. The rain obscures your vision, but you can make out the motion of a few people out and about. As you near the abandoned there is an ominous rumble of thunder and you see a pair of humanoid figures, presumably the bird-monks from the night before, skulking away down the hill and into the light woods that border the town.
Hektor, as large and strong as he was, was pooped. The last few days journey through the foul weather not only sapped his strength but dampened his usually unshakable spirit. He longed for the sun and chorus of so many types of birds singing different songs, yet somehow still stayed miraculously in harmony. He loved birds almost as much as he loved bears. Truthfully, and already well known, Hek loved all the natural animals of the lands. His dwarven father often joked that the gentle-giant should’ve been a
“flippin ranger” or even “like ’is big sis.”
Suffice to say, Hektor slept like a baby…mammoth. If anyone else did, due to his rusty saw-blade snoring, it was nothing short of a miracle.
He was having the most delightful dream about a symphony of multi-typed birds, that oddly all sounded like a lute, when a gigantic, dwarven boot stomped the lot of them and kicked Hektor in the rump as well.
With a snort that shook the rafters, Hek’s saucer-sized eye popped wide open.
“Huh… whu….my birdies!?” he exclaimed loudly, still in the fog of the evaporating dream.
Blinking the sleep away, his single, huge orb stopped on Köre.
In a mumbled, half-hoarse voice he said…
“Geez sis…maybe try a gentle touch next time.” rubbing an imaginary hurt on his bottom.
He received in turn, the usual “hrrmuph!” and eye-roll.
In the end it was Köre’s incense that finally woke up the grumpy bear… so-to-speak.
Although his belly rumbled in protest, the thought of going to see his “baby-boy”, Hooch, got the big guy rolling.
As he started for the doorway, he looked back and chided Fionn about the mud left from the minotaur’s hooves…
Awake, yet still not alert, Hek totally forgot that his enchantment he cast the previous night had worn off, restoring him to his full 12 foot height. The end result was a lump on his forehead and an irregular half-globed hole above the door.
Red-faced, Hektor made quick apologies and promises of repair to the mistress before squeezing out into the drizzle.
Easily catching up to his sister, Hektor once again offered a ride, having notice several choice dwarvish curses.
Korë spares only a moment to glance angrily at her brother, then stops and points into the gloom. “There,” she says quietly, “heading towards the woods.” She turns to the elf trailing them, “Hun, you’ve got the best eyes. Try to keep them in sight. We’ll check on the bears quickly, then go see what our dark-robed skulkers are up to…”
Frolik prepares his crossbow just in case. “Maybe they are running from something or someone?” Then he enters into the woods in the opposite direction the bird-people are going.
Ommos stops and gives Korë a look that is simultaneously quizzical and terrified. “Did you say bears?!”
He steps away from the cave and turns towards the woods, trying to make out the two figures ducking into the trees. “It doesn’t look like they are moving fast enough to be running from anything Mr…” he stops when he sees Frolik heading in the opposite direction. “Hey!” he calls in a coarse whisper-shout, “Where are you going?” He jogs to catch up with the bard, “Shouldn’t we be following them?”
As if aware that you are talking about them, the three sleepy-looking bears come plodding out of the cave. Hooch, the biggest of the three, stops by Hektor and shakes vigorously to shed water-droplets from his fur, then looks up at the giant grumpily, clearly objecting to the weather, but otherwise hale and hearty.
The two bird-men, meanwhile vanish into the woods at the bottom of the hill, the trees and rain covering their passage.
Korë rubs the bears heads affectionately, then looks down the hill. “Should we chase them? Or go explore elsewhere?” Then, to Ommos, “Hey, your uncle didn’t say how many of the ‘brothers’ he saw in town, but it sounded like several. Was it just the two of them, or are there likely more skulking around?”
Hektor took his big sister’s scowl as if it were affection. He grinned.
He did however give her a flat look at the “best eyeS” comment.
Nevertheless he kept a serious vigil.
The robed “bird-men” looked throughly spooked.
Without looking down, Hek reached out and gave Hooch an affectionate, reassuring squeeze on the great bean’s back of the neck.
Still watching the rapidly departing duo, he spoke with authority.
“Someone should double check the cave..”
Bending to Hooch’s ear, the Hound Master whispered for a moment, the bear’s ears going alert.
With a low acknowledging growl, Hooch set off towards the fleeing people.
Korë nods approval of her brother’s statement, “Yeah, I’ve lost sight of them anyways…”
She motions the bears over to her and makes a deep growling noise, asking if they can pick up the birds scent, since it was so recent.
As her furry friends start tracking down the bird-men, Korë turns back to the cave and motions for the others to follow, “Let’s check out the mine and see if there is anything of significance. It could be that they were just looking for a dry place to sleep, but maybe they left behind something that would explain what they are doing here.”
The cave, only slightly easier to see in the gloomy daylight, is just tall enough for a man to stand upright and just wide enough for four men to walk abreast, and runs strait back into the hillside for quite a ways, well past the range of Korë’s infravision. The walls are fairly smooth, clearly worked rather than natural, and faint grooves running down the middle of the floor show where a track may have once been.
About five yards into the mine, just enough to be out of range for wind-blown raindrops, you find the still smoldering remains of the bird-men’s fire. Two bundles of fire-blackened leaves, filled with small bones sit nearby, but there are no other obvious signs of their presence.
Hek begins to follow Hooch as the great bear tracks the bird-men.
He feels secure with the knowledge that Köre has her two bears and party members nearby.
Hektor’s long stride brings him to the forests edge in short order. Using his advantage of height, he takes a good look in the direction of the two odd fellows before entering the thick.
The bird-men’s trail takes you down the hill, towards the village, then over a small mill-stream and into the woods bordering the town. The rain and the stream make following the scent-trail more difficult, but you saw where they entered the woods so Hooch is eventually able to pick it back up. Their path sticks close to the edge of the woods, cutting around the north and west of the village.
While the creatures were not running from anything to start with, a giant and a grizzly bear following along the exact same path that they took are not easy things to conceal. Spotting the hulking shapes coming behind them, the two bird-men break the cover of the trees, sprinting towards the sanctuary of an old church in the south-west corner of the village. Somehow, even in a state of panicked flight, the creatures make no sound.
Hektor followed Hooch who was tracking the bird-men. Over a few of the smaller trees he could make out the village and the path that his quarry were taking.
Whistling for Hooch to return, he gave the commands necessary for the bear to understand and relay to his sister and the other party members.
Hooch was to go back and find Köre (his symbol to indicate his sister was touching the totem attached to his beard that she had made and given to him)
and bring all of them back to where Hektor’s scent followed.
Once Hooch was away, moving swiftly for a creature of his size, Hektor set out for the church. Once in the open, all pretence of cover was gone and he used his long strides to move quickly to the perimeter of the building. Although the two bird-men had yet to show any aggression, Hek’s, movement was patient and cautious as was taught by his father and Köre. He chose to go to the rear of the church to make certain that the two had not gone out the back door if one was present.
Korë makes a circuit of the campsite, pushing aside the ashes of the fire with a stick, examining the bones in the leaves, and looking for any other signs left behind by the bird-creatures. After a few minutes she is confident that there is nothing else of interest and slightly disappointed in their choice of baked rats for their evening meal. She cinches up her pack and heads out of the mine. She stops by the exit, looking around for any signs of where her friends might have gone, then easily spots Hektor’s massive footprints heading down the hill. Guess I’d better catch up.
She runs down the hill as fast as her short legs and the slippery, muddy terrain will allow.
Frolik takes a look in the cave, walks a little bit into it and after seeing nothing of interest, heads back outside and follows Korë and Hek.
Ommos falls in behind Korë and Frolik, slowing his pace to match the dwarf. As they break the cover of the woods and he spots Hektor near the church, the young man’s eyebrows knit into a glower. “That’s my church,” he growls. “What would the strangers want in there?” He draws a red-bladed sickle from his belt and hurries up beside the giant…
The old church is small, stone building, only slightly larger than the houses that comprise the village of Deþwillon, with a steeply pitched roof to protect against the harsh winter snows. As Hektor nears the building, he sees the two bird-creatures duck into a small postern on the corner closest to the woods. A quick survey reveals no windows on the building, but three possible entrances: the nearby postern door, another small door on the eastern side leading out into a small graveyard, and a set of large double doors facing due north towards the village proper. With his greater height, Hektor can also see what appears to be a large hatch on the south-face of the roof, presently closed. Two old maple trees grow up near the north-eastern corner of the church, close enough that even small children could likely climb onto the roof from them.
With his one good eye, Hek spared a quick glance over his shoulder. Köre, Flolik and to his surprise, one of the human younglings from the inn. Although puzzled by the boys presence, he pushed the thought aside for the time being. Still, the protective part of him couldn’t help but keep the boy from harms way should things get…complicated.
Using a warbling whistle, Hek gave Hooch the command to watch the back of the church. The quarry might try to escape unnoticed.
Knowing that his long time companions would understand his use of the great bear, he had no doubt that they would automatically find their part in this hunt. Nevertheless, Hektor waited until they caught up in case they might have information.
He kept a strong vigil on his surroundings and tried to listen to tell-tale noises within the church.
Korë tells the two bears to wait in the woods and jogs to catch up with the boy and her brother. Reaching the old church, she pats Hooch on the head, then turns to the others, whispering. “Three doors? Plus the roof? Shall we try all four at once and attempt to surround them?” Hardly waiting for an answer, she begins slipping around towards the trees on the far side, gesturing to Hektor to indicate that she’ll take the roof-hatch.
As she slips along the side of the church, she also looks around for other nearby buildings, in case the strange, furtive bird-men may have allies hidden nearby.
Looking up at the angle of the roof and thinking about her strange augury from earlier in the morning, Korë suddenly stops and creeps back. “Ommos,” she says in a harsh whisper, “does your church have any special celebrations for the Full Moon? There is supposed to be one soon, tonight? Tomorrow maybe? That hatch looks like it’s at just the right angle for a good viewing, if the rain would ever let up…”
As Korë takes the roof Frolik goes to the eastern entrance, the one with the graveyard. He has his crossbow ready but since he doesn’t want to appear dangerous, he keeps it behind him. Just in case, he also keeps a spell (grease) in the tip of his tongue.
Watching the church he tries to remember if he knows anything about it or the bird-men.
Comforted by the fact his companions were nearby, Hek slowly moves around the building, alert for any movement or sound.
As per his races innate ability, Hektor enacts detect magic, hoping that the spell like ability will give aid in the search.
Ommos nods warily, “Yes…we do celebrate the full moon…why?”
Listening at the doors, Hektor hears…nothing. The same eerie silence that surrounded the bird-men as he was chasing them appears to have been maintained. Aside from the rain pattering on roofs, and leaves, and gravestones, the surrounding area is quiet as well. Hektor does detect a lingering aura of magic over the entire structure, old but strong.
The north side of the church is separated from the rest of the town by a wide, muddy dirt track, but one building flanks the church to the east, just the other side of the two maples. It is a large thatch-roofed building with a weather-worn sign on the front bearing a crude flour-sack logo, possibly what passes for a general store for the small village. As Korë heads for the trees to get up onto the roof, she notices that waxed parchment over one of the windows of the store has been ripped open, letting the rain in and a faint moaning sound out.
Examining the church, Frolik recognizes the tell-tale trappings of the local folk religion: the south-facing roof-hatch in particular, but also small, crescent moon shapes lightly etched into each stone of the walls, and the sharp, metallic smell of blood near the main doors, from monthly offerings poured out on the threshold. The locals in this section of the Dragonspine Mountains are often referred to as ‘Mooneyes’ by southerners, and are known for being unusually chummy with the goblins and kobolds, almost to the point of considering their villages to be part of the goblin tribes. The religion is a primitive form of matriarchal moon worship and sympathetic magic, considered ‘witchcraft’ by the establishment back in Phlan. On the plus side, the churches up here are famous for the distillation of excellent spirits (which sometimes make their way south with the autumn caravans), with a particular flair for creativity in their brewing.
The rain splatter dashed any hope of hearing their quarry, though even so, it was a bit too quiet despite the rain. It sent a visible shudder down Hektor’s spine.
While he could not discern the sphere of magic that encompassed the old church, he could at least relay his findings.
Not bothering to attempt being quiet, something the big guy wasn’t very successful at anyway, Hek spoke in dwarvish…
“Jeg hører ikke fra vores stenbrud. Være det kendt denne struktur har en gammel magi over det.”
Hektor remained vigilant, though had he noticed the moon etchings that adorned the church, he would be seeing red.
“I think something is going down tonight, at moon-rise…can’t say exactly what though, and will culminate around sundown tomorrow, probably involving these bird-men and probably ending with someone being killed…and maybe a meteor shower.” Korë shakes her head, “Sorry, even with all the right tools, divination is not a precise science.”
She turns and heads back towards the trees, planning to get up on the roof, then stops when she notices the busted-out window. “Ligner nogen brød ind her, og jeg kan høre nogle stønnen. Jeg har tænkt mig i at tjekke det ud. Hold mig dækket, hva lillebror?” She breaks away from the church and circles the shop, looking for other signs of forced entry before heading to check the front door.
“Just as I like it. Goblins and spirits!” Frolik reaches the eastern door and tries to listen inside.
Ommos watches the dwarf, the giant, and the bard, impressed by their professionalism with their careful investigations and covering all the exits and wonders where he can really help. Finally he shrugs, not going down until tonight, huh?, and heads for the front doors, figuring that this is his church and there really is nothing unusual in him just walking in on the morning before a major ceremony. He knocks loudly, so as to not surprise anyone, then shoves one of the two large doors open and peers inside, trying to be as casual about it as possible. “Lady Azrael? Father Dosol?” he calls into the silence, checking to see if either of the leading priests were present. Only then does he realize that he is still clutching his ceremonial sickle tightly in his hand, and quickly fumbles it into his belt strap.
Hektor nods and positions himself in an optimal place to go where he was needed.
He gave a series of whistles and clicks that sent Hooch around to the front of the church where he would stand guard over the boy.
Korë circles the shop, but finds no other busted windows, nor other signs of damage to the building, though the sounds of quiet moaning remain readily audible. She tries the front door, but finds it locked, nothing elaborate, just a single slide bolt at about eye-level to a man, judging by the tension.
Ommos opens the door into the nave of the old church. Having no windows, and the moon-door closed, the room is almost completely black, save for the faint gray, rainy-day light leaking in through the door. The room is completely silent, save for the sounds of rain pattering against the roof and the steady plink of water dripping down from the imperfectly sealed moon-door. Even after letting his eyes adjust to the dimness, Ommos can see very little. He notes the shapes of the tall candelabras lining the walls, the slickness of the damp cobbled floor, and, perhaps, something moving in the darkness of the south end of the building.
Korë lets out a low, ursine growl and puts her shoulder to the door. The force, applied a couple feet lower than the bolt, easily pops the nails holding the bolt to the door’s frame. She grumbles a low, “Sorry,” in the local dialect, then steps into the shop, scanning the room for possible assailants before proceeding towards the source of the moaning.
Though a little spooked by the dark, the quiet, and the vague sensation of motion, Ommos was at least comfortable with the old church. He made a low “pssssst” sound, trying to get the attention of the dwarf or one of her other dark-acclimated allies. When it becomes clear that she is otherwise distracted, he heads over to the nearest candelabra, takes a candle (being careful to take the central one, so as to not upset its symmetry and thus offend the gods), and strikes a light with his flint before proceeding carefully towards the southern apse of the church. Knowing that surprise is not on his side, he hazards another call, “Father Dosol? Are you here?”
Korë enters the shop to find clear signs of a struggle and looting — a broken stool, several wall pegs and shelves emptied, and one shelf knocked sideways, leaning against a second and much of its contents spilled on the floor. Behind the fallen shelf she finds the source of the moaning — a man well past his prime, still dressed in his night robe lying on the ground. There is a large cut and several bruises on his balding head, and his hands and feet are bound. The mans eyes are still heavily lidded, but he appears to be regaining consciousness.
Meanwhile, in the church, the sudden sparking of Ommos’s light startles the other inhabitants. At the far end of the church, two robed shapes, still vague in the dimness of the single candle, rise jerkily, but without so much as a sharp intake of breath, let alone any cry, from kneeling positions and rush for the south-eastern door (the one that would lead out into the graveyard). The lead one lowers his shoulder the plows into the door, knocking it open right into Frolik…
Ommos is startled by the sudden movement and the continued strange silence. Seeing Frolik in danger, Ommos quickly incants the words to a spell, “Dayte volyu prominʹ Ondovir!” and points a finger at the lead runner. A thin beam of brilliant yellow-white light leaps from his finger, arcing toward the bird-man who opened the door, briefly shattering the dimness of the church and leaving spots dancing before Ommos’ eyes.
Frolik tries to stop the bird-man, but without hurting it.
The door slams hard into Frolik’s cheek, sending him sprawling sideways away from the door. There is a brief wash of light and the runner then suddenly stops, drops to his knees and folds his hands as if in prayer, causing the second runner to tumble headfirst over him, then stands, stumbles over his friend and barrels shoulder-first into the nearest headstone in the small cemetery. There is an unpleasant cracking sound as he makes contact, but again, no sound from the robed man, though a twisted hand emerges from a sleeve to cradle his injured shoulder.
“Ouch!”Says Frolik caressing his bruised cheek and picking himself up from the floor. Then he walks towards the bird-men while casually dusting off his clothes and says “Hi, I reckon we had a tough introduction, but could you please stay calm so we can all avoid further injuries?”
Korë kneels down by the man, saws through his bonds with the pewter knife from her mess kit, then lays a hand on his injured head and bows her head in a silent prayer for healing.
As Korë touches the man’s head, his eyes snap open suddenly. “Thieves!” he shouts. His eyes look right at Korë, but seem unfocused, as if he is looking right through her. “They took my tools! They were sneaky, but I heard them in here. Oh, but there were too many of them. Horrible, ugly men—bashed me across the head! It was terrible…uh…who’re…” His tirade comes to a spluttering stop as his eyes focus and he finally recognizes the person kneeling over him to be a stranger.
Outside, as Frolik walks towards the stunned bird-man, he notices a small scrap of paper floating in nearby puddle, apparently having fallen from the man’s robe when he collided with the headstone, and quickly becoming soaked through.
Frolik quickly snatches the paper from the puddle and tries to read it. He uses his handkerchief to absorb some of the muddy water.
“And what about you two?” He says to the bird-men. “Are you sneaky thieves then?”
Frolik bends down to check on the bird-man that crashed headlong into the gravestone. Then in a whisper “Did you find any good spirits?”
The paper scrap reads, in the local tongue, “Плетені вікарій. Духи дистильована. Наступна Повний місяць. Велика Вечірка. наш Блискучий. Віконт теж два.”
«Wicker vicar. Spirits distilled. Next full moon. Great party. Our shiny. Viscount Too Two.»
Hearing the commotion and cry of “Ouch!”, Hektor arrives on the scene quickly with his long strides.
He didn’t like the idea that the group was now split, Köre being inside the nearby store, but he had faith in his older sister and he could be at her aid in no time.
Looking down at the sight before him, Hek let some of the tension he was experiencing fade. The two bird-men looked less of a threat and more like they needed saving.
Hektor moved his only good eye over to Frolik who was in possession of a sodden piece of parchment. He looked a tad rattled, but otherwise ok.
Kneeling to one knee which sank into the mud, Hektor gently reaches out to assist the injured man up as he addresses Frolik.
“You been roughin’ these fellows up my friend?” he says with a grin.
“On the contrary my friend! They seem to be able to rough themselves up without any help from me!” Says Frolik to Hektor in a fake wounded tone. “I think they could use a hand…or two. Why don’t we take them inside and out of this rain?”
Realizing how terrifying it could be to wake up from a head injury to find your house broken into and a strange bear-skin clad dwarf leaning over you, Korë decides to expedite calming the man down by casting charm person or mammal on him. “Calm down,” she says gently, “it’s me Korë, you remember…everything will be fine…”
As the giant reaches for the man, he jerks away and leaps to his feet, turning to run but getting tangled in his robes and falling in the mud again. The second, still near the door, gathers himself up, revealing one booted foot and one eagle-like talon, and sprints back toward the woods.
Meanwhile, inside the shop, the man blinks confusedly. “A Ko-ree! Blessed Moon am I glad to see you!” He sits up, perhaps a little too quickly, judging by the look of nausea that comes over him, then looks a the door. “Gah, the bastards! That bolt cost me five silver staters. Bad enough that they tore the windows coming in, why’d they have to break my door going out!” He shakes a fist angrily before looking back at the dwarf, “I’ll be fine Ko-ree. You’d best go tell Mayor Granforth that there’re thieves about…”
Ommos makes his way through the church, lighting a few more candles as he goes to brighten the place up, then stops by the open door. Guess we’ll have to catch that one, he thinks. He clicks together the heels of his boots of jogging and takes off after the bird-man at a dead sprint, sure that his magic boots will let him overtake the thing by endurance, if not by actual speed.
“Hey, what kind of manners are those? Are you just leaving your friend like that???” Says Frolik to the running man as he casts a spell aimed in front of his running path, creating a pool of slippery grease.
The defensive motion by the robed man was expected. The bird-like claw on the fleeing fellow was entirely not.
With a shrill whistle that knifes thru the rain and commotion, Hektor gives Hooch the signal to “fetch”.
There were quite a few different signals learned and shared between he and his beloved companion Hooch. The great bear, although now in full pursuit, would not harm the running man…if said prey remained civil.
Calmly, gently but very firmly, Hek places a huge, wet hand on the injured man’s shoulders and back.
“You jus sit back and relax good sir. Aid will arrive’n short order.”
Outwardly stoic, the big guy was inwardly worried sick about his big sister.
He did find a fond chuckle for his small friend Frolik who had just made Hooch’s job a bit easier.
The fleeing man hits the grease, but instead of falling, slides across and keeps running, his one talon-like foot digging into the mud for traction. However, even running flat-out, his gate is awkward with the one bird-like foot, and Ommos and the bear overtake him before he can even reach the tree-line.
The remaining man, clearly overmatched with the huge hand resting on his shoulder, pulls his hands back into his sleeves and bows his head as if in meditation, making no sound.
As he nears the fleeing bird-footed man, Ommos sees the bear running up behind him. Ommos lets out a panicked yell and dives to the side, forgetting his quarry in his eagerness to get out of the way of a fourty-stone pile of teeth and claws barreling after him at thirty miles an hour.
Hooch loves fetch. He also loves Hektor’s friends in a terrifying kind of way.
Smelling the grease far before he sees it, Hooch moves to the side of it right after Ommos did the same and leaps over the freaked out fellow, landing heavily, leaving great gouges of earth in the wake of the great bear’s claws.
Swinging around in front of the running man, Hooch rears up on his back legs, towering over the smaller prey and ROARS!
Hektor smirks, knowing the growl for what it was. Had Hooch meant harm to his prey, this little song would pale by comparison.
However, Hek did not take his eye off the man before him and did not like the man putting his hands out of sight.
Nothing visibly changes on the half-giant, but the tone of his voice leaves no doubt of his words.
“Slowly show me yer hands, palms down…. Now.”
Korë helps the man to his feet, then goes about setting the shelving upright again. “Do you know what was taken?” she asks. “Perhaps the items stolen might give ‘the mayor’ a clue to what these thieves are about…” She continues to scurry about the shop, putting things back on the shelves and also taking a mental inventory of the sort of items the place carries.
She then heads over to the torn window, looking for the muddy footprints that must be there in such weather if anyone came in, particularly looking for any telltale talon marks that might indicate whether the perpetrators of the robbery were the same bird-men she had seen in the cave.
With the bear suddenly in front of him, the talon-footed man tries to pivot, but skids out, landing in the mud. He remains there, remaining as silent as before, and lying as still as he can, as if trying to ‘play dead’ to avoid attracting the bear’s ire.
His companion, meanwhile, remains sitting beside the gravestones with his hands folded in his sleeves. He makes no motion in response to Hektor’s words. No reaction at all in fact, as if he were deaf as well as mute.
Inside the shop, the owner thanks Korë for helping him up and righting the shelves, then looks around the place, busily putting things in the right places (including re-shelving some things that Korë misplaced). “Rope.” he finally says. “All the rope is gone, and all the parchment, and the candles, even the vigils I stock for the church, and the extra wicking…” He finishes putting the last of the items on their proper shelves and hooks, “Also took my biggest mirror, a couple shovels, bunch of gunny sacks…”
As the man finishes his inventory, Korë notices several muddy footprints trailing all over the dirt floor of the shop, mostly wet boot prints, but also a pair of large, webbed, three-toed markings in the muddy patch where the rain had been coming in the window, almost like giant duck footprints. The wall immediately below the window is also streaked with mud from where something climbed out.
“Rope and candles? Odd choices of things to steal, unless they were going spelunking,” Korë muses. She looks at the tracks then heads for the door, stopping to hand a gold coin to the shopkeeper, “This should cover getting your door and window fixed. I’ll see what I can do about finding the men who robbed you.” With that she heads back out into the rain.
Seeing Hektor and Frolik standing over the downed, robed man, she heads over to her brother. “What have we here?” she asks, leaning ever-so-slightly down to look under the man’s hood.
“Someone broke into the shop next door, clubbed the proprietor, and made off with a bunch of rope, candles, sacks, paper, mirrors, and other mundane stuff.” She casually nudges the edge of the man’s robe aside to get a good look at his feet. “Someone with duck feet,” she explains to her friends.
“Well, this one hasn’t “quacked” yet." Says Frolik to Korë and then to the bird-man “Do you mind if I take a look at your stuff?” and without waiting for an answer he starts picking among his stuff and robes.
Ommos flinches and curls into a ball at the bear’s mighty roar. When, after a moment, it becomes clear that the bear is somehow deliberately acting with the intent to frighten, rather than hurt anyone, he crawls over to the prone bird-man. “Hey!” he croaks harshly, unable to overcome the primal fear invoked by the massive bear, “If we stay low and crawl slowly, I don’t think it will attack…” Even though he is confident that the idea that the bear would attack was a bluff, he could not keep the fear from his voice. He tugs hard on the bird-man’s robe and begins inching back towards the church, hoping to get him to where the giant and the dwarf can deal with him. “COME ON!” he urges, “We’ll be safe in the church…”
Plopping back down to all fours, Hooch sniffs the air as he begins ‘urging’ the man, and subsequently, Ommos who had suggested the very same idea, towards the church.
Ommos, although uncomfortable and untrained with the subtleties of body language with the great bear, does remember (should terror not interfere) that unless Hooch’s hackles are up, he is in a ‘passive-aggressive’ state of mind.
Hektor, noticing the man’s non-compliance, hesitated to reaffirm his commands as memories of his youthful days training with his adopted, bearded kin, that ‘rashness is oft foolish’. Becoming somewhat uncomfortable in his temporary position of a guard, Hek was very relieved when Köre finally emerged from the nearby shop.
Both her and Flolik’s input, presence and observations were most welcome.
In Dwarvish, he spoke to his sister…
“Denne ene er skadet og har endnu til at tale eller anerkende os.”
Chancing a glimpse up, he noted with pride, Hooch ushering the other man back with poor Ommos doing his best to not run screaming away.
Again to Köre in Dwarvish…
" Hvad vil du gøre med disse to?"
Seeing Hooch urging the bird-man back in their direction, Köre makes a series of growling and snorting noises. Moments later, two, much smaller, black bears come trotting out of the woods to flank Hooch’s prisoner on either side, snarling menacingly and making sure he cannot flee anywhere but back towards the church.
Seeing that the man with them has two strange, X-shaped, parrot-like feet, she relaxes a bit. She snaps her fingers near where she would expect his ears to be. Getting no reaction, she leans back in close and does so again, right in front of his eyes. When he flinches, she nods. “Han kan ikke høre bror,” she says, then switches back to trade speech to make it easier for Frolik, who she knew was only familiar with dwarven from chants, which had rather different grammar from spoken dwarvish.
“I don’t think these two are thieves from shop. Their feet do not match tracks I saw, and they shared cave with our furry friends last night. Their garments and posture make me think they are priests or pilgrims of some kind. I think they were just scared when they saw you and Hooch coming and ran to where they expected to find sanctuary… But,” she continues, “there are definitely other bird-man-strosities around, and definitely up to no good.”