Quest to the Battle Plain
As Eos enters the Diner, the wind catches the door and bangs it against the side of the building. She catches it and pulls it shut, then makes for the ginger beer, nodding to anyone who happens to be in the room.
Layla is seated at the long communal table. At Eos's entrance, she looks up and smiles a greeting.
Ruth's long legs are tucked under a battered old table, one of the suntouched, elderly things tucked near the diner's broad front windows, her feet bare and dark, her boots set on the floor nearby. She's drawing, her curly hair framing her face, intent enough on her work that she only looks up a moment when the door slams. Pencils and pens, a little pot of ink, a mug and an empty plate are scattered about the tabletop before her.
Outside the Diner, the rattle of wind is accompanied by a new sound: the rising clatter of hoofbeats announce the arrival of two horses, at a walk in the cobbled street. The sound slows and stops, and after a few heartbeats the door opens again to admit Lucas, dressed in his traveling coat, Arslag at his heels. He takes in the room and its occupants with a steady blue gaze. "Our Lady is Rising in Her Fullness," he accounces formally. "It's time."
Eos pulls one of the bottles down and turns to cut a bow to Lucas. "May the Lady shine on your venture," she intones. "Do you plan to ride, or take other means to the Plains?"
Ruth sits up at the familiar din, then pushes herself up. She's sweeping pens and pencils into her satchel when the door opens, glances over at Lucas. A faint smile quirks the corners of her mouth, though she's quiet still. Her satchel goes behind the counter, plates and whatnot in the kitchen. Her boots stay propped up near her chair.
Layla places her mug of tea on the table top with a clank that rings with finality. She rises and slowly transitions towards the door while folks talk around her.
Eos pauses thoughtfully, then corrects herself: "I mean, do you plan to go hoof-and-paw? Not ride. That's silly."
Ruth clatters dishes in the kitchen, says something murmured, indistinct. She's brushing her hands when she steps out again, finds her way to her table where she starts tugging her boots on. She glances over at Lucas, Eos, Layla nearby.
Lucas smiles. "Not all *that* silly," he says. "Ah been ridden, and so have the Kin. Comes in awful handy at times." He notes Layla's motion, and Ruth's, with a slow, satisfied blink. "Ah considered takin' the cart, but Ah reckon we'd travel better without it. Ah don't plan on doin' any smithing this trip." He grins.
Eos puts her head to one side. "True. Planning to do more... archaeological digging, no?"
Ruth looks up, one foot stuck out, the other planted firm on the floor. She tugs at her dark laces. "Mf. Best to travel light." She sets her foot down, rocks to her feet and stands.
"Ah reckon that sounds nicer than 'grave robbing,'" Lucas replies to Eos, with the slightest hardening around his mouth. "Although there's two of 'em, at least, that the sources didn't seem to agree were actually buried, so Ah don't know what that means. Reckon we'll find out." His open face clears. "Ah've got a bit of stuff packed up on Harebell, though, so it won't be just me and mah boots this time, anyway."
Arslag has left Lucas' heels and is sniffing eagerly around the floor of the diner, although whether he's looking for scraps or just checking out the interesting smells is difficult to say.
Ruth tugs her way into her ponch. Her hair springs about once it's freed, black curls, faded red streaked with gray. She smiles, quick and warm, stuffs her hands in her pockets. Quiet still, though.
Layla leans against the wall of the diner, letting her back feel the grain of the wooden wall. Intently, she listens and waits.
Eos pops open the bottle and holds it up in a toast to the trio. "I wish we'd had a chance to open more than one or two of the Lilith bridges, but Julen has been busy with patrols and coping with the Totems from time to time, so we never end up doing more than discussing it." She sighs. "Perunka travel fast, though, so perhaps it's not necessary."
Ruth reaches up, brushes long fingers through her hair. She nods. "I can carry someone, if it's needed."
Lucas nods to the elder. "We'll manage," he assures her. For a moment, the smith studies the common room of the Diner, with an intesity that suggests he's commiting every weathered board to memory. Then he looks to women who will be his quest-sisters. "Well? We ready to head on out? Anything y'all'd rather not try and carry in your traveling shapes, hand off to me, and I'll see it onto Harebell."
Ruth has little more than herself it seems. No satchel, no pistol. She brushes at her sleeves, bits of eraser tumble to the floor.
Layla demurs gently at Lucas's kind offer. "I hope I'm all set."
Eos rises and bows to the three of you. "Good luck, then. I hope the Lady guides you to what you seek, and what we most need. We'll hold down the fort back here." She grins. "Bring me good stories, dammit. I'm getting out of practice."
Lucas considers Layla for a moment. "Layla? Got your choice of backs, it seems. Ah reckon one of us should probably stay homid, on account of four horses, a dog and a wolf all making way down the road might attract the wrong kind of attention. If you get the urge to run, Ruth or I could take a turn at it, but in the main I reckon your our default. That okay with you?"
The smith grins at Eos. "We'll do our best, ma'am."
Ruth doesn't quite smile, but the lines of her face soften. She chuckles, looks to Lucas. "You're saying folk around here don't see that sort of thing every day?"
Layla steps away from the wall and nods her assent. "Sounds very sensible to me, if someone is willing to carry me."
Ruth looks from Layla to Lucas, pulls her shoulders up in a rough shrug. "I can. Lucas, Arslag and the others are known, together."
Layla smiles. "Thank you."
The smith blows a snorting breath at Ruth. "Folks around *here*? Sure. Folks around here wouldn't blink if we painted ourselves blue while we were at it. Alright Ruth, why don't you and Layla partner up for the start of this. I'll start out on Campion, until we get clear of Hive territory -- Ah'd rather hang onto my bifocal color vision until we get out into the country a ways." He grins again.
Ruth makes a low, amused sound. Equine, though through a human throat. "Fair work dedicating that saddle. I wouldn't mind using it more than I do." She looks at Lucas, sidelong, her chuckle gaining the edges of a whicker. "You have a point."
"Well, Ah reckon that's that, then. Let's go." Lucas nods curtly to Eos, and whith a low whistle to Arslag, is out the door.
Layla offers her arm to Ruth in a mock-courtly fashion, and prepares to follow.
Ruth lifts her hand to wave to Eos, then laughs as she loops her arm about Layla's. "Away, then." She steps outside after Lucas.
This brick-paved, north-south street is in significantly better repair than the roads leading into town. It's nearly impossible to tell what color the original bricks were, or in what pattern they were laid, but someone has made sure that no hole gaped too large without being plugged with something. The roadbed is a patchwork of multicolored bricks, chunks of cinderblock, and large, flat stones. The mere thought of riding a vehicle over the resulting uneven swells is almost physically painful.
Most of the buildings along the street have not fared even this well. In fact, it is clear that much of the brick in the road was scavenged from the more ramshackle structures. Yet there are signs of life: a cafe with a newly painted sign, a clean welcome mat on the library's decrepit porch, a windowbox full of vivid flowers clinging to a crumbling windowsill. The brick-paved road extends less than a quarter mile before disappearing again into grass and chunks of decaying asphalt.
Ursa Diner Dock Farm Road LIbrary Post Office Katahdin Road Edge of Town
In the street, their reins tossed casually over the railing to the diner's front porch, stand Lucas' two drafthorse kin. Harebell, a blue roan, is lightly laden with half-empty packs and a couple of long, thin, wrapped objects that are probably weapons of some kind. Campion, the black, wears a slender padded saddle. To the west, the sun sinks into a lake of red fire, echoed and mirrored in the east by Lilith's ascent. Lucas fastens Harebell's lead to Campion's saddle, but with a slip-knot the mare could undo with a strong tug should the need arise. He then checks both girths, and fiddles one last time with the balance of weight on Harebell -- the mare lays her ears back and butts him with her chin, as if to say, "It's fine; you checked it three times already; let's get the hell on the road, can we?" Finally, the smith makes a solemn reverence to the rising Lilith and swings into the saddle.
Ruth walks out arm-in-arm with Layla, her broad mouth quirked up, a smile on the verge of bursting forth. She takes a breath as she steps out onto the road, lets her arm slip free. "Right," she murmurs. She's changing already, her eyes large and dark, the long lines of her face drawn longer as she leans forward, a shadow blurred and reaching up into her equine guise. Her hooves thud, heavy on the cobblestones, a horse before four legs touch the earth. She flicks her tail, once-- then with a spidery clatter, a whisper of straps and buckles, a saddle draws itself into being on her back, tack and all.
Lucas whistles in admiration. "Nice work, that," he says, referring, of course, to the dedication.
Layla steps into the line of vision of Eshu's Daughter, gives a little bow, and nimbly climbs on her back. "I'm trusting you to lead," she whispers in her ear.
Eshu's Daughter is quite amiably still as the Strider climbs onto her back, solid and certain. She lets a burred breath out though, warm, amused, looks to Lucas.
Lucas, with a barely audible clicking, and no more, sets the whole train in motion. A whistle to Arslag, and he bounds from the porch to Harebell's broad back, to settle in a hollow between the packs apparently left for that purpose. The dog is used to travelling with Perunka, and knows the signal to settle in for speed.
Eshu's Daughter turns her ears forward at the sound, then snorts once and is on her way as well. Her hooves thump and rattle on the road beneath.
The three of you travel on the southwestern roads. The Kin travel just as fast as the Perunka do, which is fast indeed. Your path takes you over and through the mountains, along passes that Lucas has apparently travelled extensively in the past six months. By the time you all need to stop for a night's rest, you reckon that you've reached the Green Mountains of former Vermont. Once the mountains flatten out, your travel speeds a good deal, but you also encounter more settlements.
You paged the room: 'Are you travelling straight through, or will you be stopping in any settlements/cities along the way?'.
Layla pages the room: Is there any reason to stop?
Eshu's Daughter pages the room: Ruth's used to woodsy travel. Wouldn't mind going on, camping somewhere.
Eos pages the room: Eos figured on camping most of the time, but I thought I'd ask if you had any needs or desires to stop and check things out. Just in case.
Lucas pages the room: I don't think we *need* to stop, do we ? We can all find our own food. If it's pissing down rain, Lucas isn't above asking to sleep in someone's barn, though, if a safe one looks handy. Since we're riding fairly hard, I think we may want to supplement the horse's diets with grain, though, once or twice.
Eshu's Daughter pages the room: Eshu's Daughter nods. "Ruth'll follow Lucas's lead. She's fine going on, fine passing through towns."
For the most part, you dodge the towns and cities and other settlements along the way. You spot several towns with high wooden palisades through the Catskills, and a single, distant, crystalline spire rising over the Eirontario Lake -- presumably the New Toron Tower.
You paged the room: 'Would you hire boats to ferry you over the narrow portions of the Great Lakes (which are Greater nowadays), or would you choose to stay a-hoof and run south of them?'.
Layla pages the room: Ruth? Lucas?
Lucas pages the room: how much time would they save us ? Also, what time of year is it ?
Eshu's Daughter pages the room: Eshu's Daughter would like a history lesson about the New Toron Tower, sometime! "Ruth's fine with travelling a-hoof, especially if we're keeping some measure of secrecy. She's quite used to being a horse for long stretches of time-- It's not a problem for her."
You paged the room: 'You're in early summer. It would probably save you... er...if you take a boat from the Buffalo Dregs, it could drop you off on the west coast of Lake Chicago a day or so later, and would save you nearly a week, from my guesstimates.'.
Eshu's Daughter pages the room: That's tempting.
You paged the room: 'That would be hopping a GuildShip, which we could say you got chits for from Kem, if you like.'.
Lucas pages the room: Lucas thinks it's worth it, for a week.
Eshu's Daughter pages the room: Eshu's Daughter nods. Yup.
Layla pages the room: I agree.
You hire space on the good ship "Song of the Fat Lady," a thing built rather like a river boat, with plenty of brightly polished brass and a bewildering, yet somehow stately, array of wheels and steam pipes and the like. It very nearly glides along the water -- in fact, you think it *may be* gliding along the top of the water. It certainly travels at immense speeds and has very little chop to its ride. There is some company, mostly members of the Guild of Technology and their associates, and they seem accustomed to asking no questions of their fellow travellers.
You reach the far shores of Lake Chicago in a day and a half, after driving through fine weather on the vast silver waves of the Lakes. You disembark in a smallish port town, as the ship is going on south to New Chicago, and your travels take you onward. There is a brief, bloody skirmish somewhere in the middle of the former Minnesota with a group of territorial knights in armor made from salvage, and they pull off once they realize that their horses are not exactly paying attention to them.
Lucas pages the room: Hee !
Eshu's Daughter pages the room: Eshu's Daughter chuckles.
Another day's hard travel takes you into the no-one's-land that Lucas is somewhat familiar with from his earlier travels in the Plains -- a vast, brown waste, spotted here and there with pale plant matter. The animal sounds die off, leaving you the only six living, moving things for, possibly, hundreds of miles.
As the sun sets on your eighth day of travel, sinking through high, thin clouds that turn to bloody flames, you glimpse, to the north and west, the strange, vast, ragged edges of timespace, shimmering rose and gilt on the air in the late light.
A high scream pierces the silence, far distant and yet somehow next to your ears. It fades to a mad chuckling, burbling sound, and then stops abruptly.
Lucas pages the room: Is this the place, then ?
You paged the room: 'Indeed. This is the Battle Plain.'.
Lucas, damp-flanked from the day's hard run, shifts up to homid. "Well, Ah reckon this'd be it," he says. "Welcome to Hell, friends." Arslag gives a low whine, while the Kinfolk stamp their agitation into the dry, dead dust.
Layla slips her hands over her ears till the last notes of the scream fades away. She slides off Eshu's Daughter's back and peers around the wasteland.
The scarred horse has said little through the length of the journey, through forest and across broad and windswept lakes to the bitter and crumbled stone of the plains at the edge of nothing. She lifts her ears at the scream, her dark eyes set against the distant and strange horizon. A hoof clops against the hard ground, her tack and saddle whisper as buckles and bridle loosen, draw inward and smaller until all's naught more than a small mark on her back, a tattoo. Right, she whickers. It welcomes us, too.
You set camp in the dying light. The night is fraught with things moving just at the edge of sight, strange gobbling noises, bone-chilling screams, and periodic smells of blood, death, and decay.
The morning dawns through thick, heavy, grey clouds. A wan, watery light filters over the plains.
Lucas sets watches through the night, and plans on an early start. He plans to stay homid himself, for the time being, for the long sight, and suggests that Layla shift to take advantage of her best senses. Ruth can choose her form, as we have the Kin to provide equine senses if they are needed.
Eshu's Daughter finds her human guise as the group makes camp, draws herself down in shades of shadow until she's crouched on her haunches, her fingertips light on the burned and broken earth. Barely human, perhaps, for the way her eyes remain wide, the lines of her face sharp, distinct. She looks off towards the fire's edge, snorts once makes no comment about the neighbors. She finds a spot to sit and watch, sleep when she can.
After a long, fitful night, Layla stares at the East willing the sun to rise. When the rays finally break over the horizen, she stretches her fingertips to catch the faint warmth. She whispers, "We will return home again."
The plain around you is bleak, and a surprisingly chilly wind drones over it. There are stray gusts and puffs that toss a thin, fine, choking dust up into your faces. Long dead grasses clash together hollowly. Here and there, a tumbleweed -- or something that looks like one -- traverses the broad, flat space. In the pale daylight, the various loose and ragged edges of reality are little more than shimmers in the air. With the oncoming light, the noises are dampened and infrequent, and your own voices and sounds seem muffled. The air smells stale, despite the movement of it.
Layla rises to her feet and scans the horizon, memorizing the colors and textures of the landscape. She nimbly drops into Lupus and looks to Ruth and Lucas with the plantive expression of "What now?
Lucas performs a small morning devotional to Lilith, after which he draws out the little golden compass, nestled in its sturdy new case.
You paged Lucas with 'The compass needle spins wildly for a long moment, then settles in to point roughly northwest.'.
Lucas pages: and does that tally with any of the intel I have on potential sites ?
You paged Lucas with 'Sort of. You've also been warned that, while the "surface" geography is roughly the same, there are multiple levels to the Plain. You've only ever really been to the surface bits... they say the deeper places are harder to reach. And geography is mighty mutable in them.'.
Ruth is awake long before dawn, the passage from slumber to conscious thought muted by the way she's sat, without stirring for much of the night. Her joints creak, faint and muffled when she stands, she winces as she stretches her long limbs out, rubs her arms. She looks at the wolf, quirks a corner of her mouth up, then glances at Lucas, sidelong.
As soon as Layla shifts down, Arslag is greeting her -- as always, as if he hasn't seen her in years.
Blessed burns off some energy by frisking around the camp with Arslag, noseing strange clumps of rock, sniffing the wind, and making funny canine faces at the smell.
Lucas nods curtly at the compass' reading and carefully puts it away. The Kin have been loaded and saddled since before dawn; this last was all that needed doing. Lucas sets his square jaw, and with a hand on Campion's broad shoulder, begins the trek into the madness, setting a course in a more or less northwesterly direction.
Ruth stuffs her hands into her pockets after a long look at the camp, then sets off after Lucas and Kin.
Blessed tries very hard to follow Lucas and Ruth, but pretty soon she's bounding ahead to scout, always very careful to stay within sight, but often yards ahead.
Lucas is actually fine with that, and in fact takes advantage of it by occasionally asking her to check out certain features, or look a bit farther in a certain direction, or even circle back and check our rear. He cautions her -- and everyone -- not to stray too far, though, as there's more here than just ground and wind, and it would be stupidly easy to get separated.
You walk. It is a long, dry walk. As the unseen sun rises, so too does the temperature rise. The blistering heat of noon is raising heat shimmers from the dust when you see something that isn't a rock rising out of the plain ahead of you: it gleams white, and is flanked on both sides by loose edges of the air, flapping in a breeze you cannot feel.
Lucas calls Blessed and Arslag back, and asks Layla to remain close while we investigate this new thing together.
Blessed has an ear cocked back, listening to the footsteps of the gang behind her when the Thing ahead of them comes within sight. She crouches instantly.
Ruth draws her poncho's hood up as the sun rises up into the thick and harsh sky, her face in shadow save for a few curly locks. She's kept near to Lucas and the Kin, remains so as the group turns towards the odd, pale thing.
Keeping her belly low, Blessed creeps back to the gang, with Arslag in tow.
As you draw closer, you see that the figure is a truly enormous skeleton. It looks like a gigantic Crinos shape, buried to the waist in the dust, arms outstretched, hands clasping two stunningly thick spears and apparently holding the entire thing upright. The vast ribcage is taller than Lucas, and the skull resting atop it is clearly a monstrously huge wolf's head. There are no remnants of clothes or flesh; only the bones and the telephone-pole-sized spears, the metal points reduced to a few rust flakes.
Lucas says nothing, but looks up and up and up at the massive figure, imagingin what this creature must have looked like in life. It's rarely Lucas must look up to someone.
Blessed gives Arslag the eye and creeps closer to get a good smell.
Ruth's brows draw up beneath her hood. She snorts, low and quiet as she steps a circle around the enormous skeleton, looks at Lucas through the broad and hollow ribcage. "Well."
Lucas draws a pair of small iron rods out of a pouch and holds them in one hand, murmuring softly to himself. He remains alert to the safety of his companions, however.
The skull rattles slightly, then rises into the air. Hollow sockets regard your group. The lower jaw opens and closes a few moments, the joint squeaking, and then it closes. It seems to stare through you all, then says, "You have come far."
Ruth draws up straight when the skeleton draws into motion, if not life. She pushes her hood back, sturdy shoes crunch on brittle stone as she stands beside Lucas.
Blessed flattens to the ground at the first hint of movement, then creeps back towards Ruth and Lucas, trailing Arslag.
The smith tosses his head back in momentary surprise, then places a staying hand on Campion's neck and takes a few step closer to the tableau. "We have indeed traveled far, Never-Fallen One," Lucas intones, with a respectful incline of his head. "We have need of the strength of Heroes, and it is known far and wide that this is a place of Heroes."
The skull seems to focus on Lucas. "Not many need Heroes in these days of the Sun," it says. "What is your need?" The hands, locked on the spears, never move. Nothing about this relic moves except the skull.
It takes a few long breaths for Ruth to draw her eyes from the giant thing, but she glances off towards the horizon, her wide mouth set in a firm line. Her hands remain stuffed in her pockets.
Blessed's eyes dart from here to there, then focus back on the Thing in front of them.
"We are new-come protectors to an old, old place of power, long sleeping," Lucas replies. "But Corruption has not slept, and has grown strong in the long years it has had without strong warriors to check its spread. We need the strength to protect the minds and wills and hearts of the protectors from its corruption. We need the power to root it out at its source and cleanse the land of its foulness forever."
There is both a lightness and a heaviness to Lucas' stance, as though he were both ready to spring away and ready to withstand a gale at the same time. His blue eyes, locked with the empty sockets of the creature in front of him, hold the glittering intensity of the forge.
Ruth is a darker mirror to that certainty of stance, her feet set firm on the broken earth, her back straight. Still, save for the way her eyes draw from the horizon to the skull and back, watching.
The skull gazes at Lucas for a long, silent moment, then the jaw creaks again, emitting the deep, hollow voice: "You have come to the land of Fools and Heroes. You have come to a place of the Dead. You have come to an open plain that also contains deep places. The deeper you go, the greater the risk, the mightier the prize. Pay the way to open the gate. I have no need of jewels and gold: give that which is of value to you."
Blessed steps forward and plants all four feet firmly on the ground. She throws back her head and keens a long, long howl of the lands she's seen along her many travels. She sings of the bubbling brooks of clear, crisp water; sirrocos howling across the desert; winding animal paths through verges and vales; the moon and the stars guiding her up above. She sing of sand beneath her feet, grass between her toes, stars in her eyes.
Lucas falls silent, and after a moment he crouches on his heels, where Arslag comes to nuzzle his broad head under the smith's hand. Lucas' thoughts are plain in his open face: a lack of surprise that borders on expectation satisfied, rapid thought, grim resignation, and, oddly, sorrow. His head jerks back up at Blessed's song, and it is clear, also, in his face that he understands wolf-speech enough to appreciate its stark beauty.
The skull rotates to watch Blessed, cocking to one side. It listens with a stony, utterly motionless intensity. It listens very... thoroughly. Flickers of light dance on the ground near Blessed, as if a crowd were gathered and were occasionally casting faded shadows. The sense of the crowd grows and grows.
Blessed lets her howl cresendo and die. She lowers her head wearily and returns to Lucas and Ruth spent and weary.
When the song ends, the last of the howls echoing and re-echoing off unseen surfaces, twisted and weird with distance and time, the skull continues to stare at Blessed. Something glints in the corner of one eyesocket, just for a moment, then drops into the dust. The skull inclines itself briefly to her, then turns to regard Ruth and Lucas silently.
Ruth rocks back on her heels, light, almost imperceptable save for the way the ground stirs beneath her heels. At the song, the price the skull asks of the three. She's brought little with her save her clothes, her satchel. She slings that from her shoulder, draws one of her rough-bound sketchbooks from it. This one's well-worn, full. She looks at it, then sets it down within the shadow of the dead wolf, crouches within the circle of its arms. Then she stands, steps back.
Lucas regards the proffered sketchbook silently for a moment, then looks speculatively at Ruth. Then he straightens up from his crouch. "I loved my forge-brother, called Arrow's Flight," he states clearly, and simply. His face adds that this is a secret, and one which carries part of his heart with it. "And I betrayed him." His measured voice is completely under control -- his face, his hollow eyes, are not.
Ruth is not easily startled, but she looks to Lucas, blinks once.
The skull inclines to Ruth at her giving of the sketchbook, and watches Lucas as he offers his secret. After a long moment, it inclines to him, too, and rises higher above the skeleton, then dips down to take up and swallow the sketchbook. It rises back into its position and hovers there for a long moment.
Something, perhaps the skull, expels a long sigh, and the ribcage cracks open along the sternum. The ribs gape wide. The spine and the back ends of the ribs vanish. Through this gateway, you see... the plain. But it is subtly different. The colors are unnaturally vivid, the edges more defined -- compared to the plains around you, it is almost a painting, something artificial, and yet, somehow, even more real.
Ruth takes a long breath, then shoulders her satchel, glances at the others.
Lucas expells a held breath. He nods curtly to the skull before gathering up the lead lines of his Kinfolk. Looking to Ruth and Blessed, he says -- his voice calm but his face still hard-edged and wan -- "Shall we?"
Blessed collects her breath and proceeds forward.
Ruth looks at Lucas for a very long time, too long to be polite or even normal for her, her wide mouth set in a line, her face harsh-edged from the bright sun above. Then she steps through the gate to the plain beyond.
Lucas pauses at Harebell's saddlebags, fiddling with the long, wrapped objects. One proves to be a Lucas-sized sword, the other, a shotgun. Both are slung in a harness which Lucas now shrugs into, so that either weapon may be reached with a quick grab over a shoulder. A pouch on the belt of the harness probably contains additional shells for the gun.
The passage through the gate is bonechillingly cold. And then you are in the midst of a mighty, and bloody, battle. Garou are howling and screaming, snarling, shouting, dying. The hard-packed ground is slick with dark fluids, the air is thick, heavy, and fetid. The sky is black. Black shadows are the things which fight and strike and slay the Garou. Blue and white ightning cuts the air, leaving the scent of ozone. Fire and brimstone and gunpowder sear nostrils. Other things surge and press all around, things of the spirit plane, and things that should not exist save in nightmares.
Lucas seems to have chosen the sword for now -- it has appeared in his hand. He puts his back to his companions -- as we all are likely doing -- and scans the battlefield, looking for a goal, a direction. Do we fight ? Or do we pass through ? What is our role in this ?
Blessed sniffs the air, then sticks very close to Ruth and Lucas. She throws her body in front of Lucas, in a warning to stay put.
Ruth frowns with the din and the scent of the place, her footfall heavy as her face and limbs lengthen, five fingers drawn to hooves. For a moment she's strange, a spindly thing caught in the midst of change, then she surges up and up, twenty hands or more, a solid wall twenty-some-odd hands high for the others to stand aside. She snorts once, nostrils wide.
In haste, Blessed darts between Ruth and Lucas, frantic that they might leave her in this mess. Stay, her eyes implore. Wait.
Lucas places his free hand on Ruth's flank. "Hold fast," he orders all of you, his baritone pitched to carry just to you over the sounds of battle. "Nobody run off."
The Battle surges, heaves, and lurches away from you, leaving bodies in its wake. Most are dead. One, nearby, is bleeding copiously and writhing in agony.
Lucas remains resolutely homid, so long as no one seems to be paying us unwelcome attention. He looks hard at the wounded figure -- friend or foe ?
Eshu's Daughter remains where she is, her long face not far from the smith, a dark eye as large as his fist watching him, watching the battle around them. Her nostrils flare at the scent of blood, her ears pin back at the noise, but she remains still, lashes her tail.
Campion and Harebell crowd in on the sides not blocked by the wall of Eshu's Daughter, forming lesser walls of their own. Arslag stand stiff-legged between Harebell's front hooves.
As the battle moves on, the Strider becomes less anxious. At Lucas' words, she turns her attention to the wounded person. She places one paw on the battlefield, and looks to Ruth and Lucas with a calmer expression.
The Garou Crinos form shimmers and shifts unsteadily, finally shrinking down to a young boy, probably no more than sixteen, wearing a pair of faded cutoffs and a bloody "Metallica" t-shirt. In one hand, he clutches a strange gourd, and the other hand presses tight over a gaping abdominal wound. His hair is a strange silvery-white, and his pale blue eyes, glazed with pain, focus on the odd group near him. "Can you... can you... help me? It hurts..."
Lucas pries himself out of the protective circle of horseflesh to better examine the wounded boy. "Easy, boy, don't talk," Lucas murmurs, fishing in his pouches for healing salves.
Blessed picks her way across the battlefield to the young boy. She plants herself at Lucas' side and takes up watch.
Eshu's Daughter turns her head, slow and certain to rest her gaze on the boy. Her ears cant forward, a hoof thumps, shuffs along crumbled stone in the growing silence. She makes way for Lucas, follows after to stand aside him and the boy. I'll watch the horizon. Which, indeed, is what she does.
Lucas seems to have brought along quite the little first aid kit, some of which comes forth from his pockets, some from Harebell's packs. He cleans away blood and examines the wound, then sets to work with needle and thread. "This is gonna sting, now, kiddo," he rumbles to the boy. "But it'll probably feel more like a tickle compared to what you already got." His voice is light, teasing, surprisingly reassuring. As he stiches, he sings, low and rhythmic, in a strange, eastern tongue.
The boy breathes harshly, wincing as a wave of pain passes over him. "I... I didn't want to come. The whole sept came... they said I'd passed my Rite... it was time to... to die..." Huge tears begin spilling down his face. "I don't want to die, Rhya!" he whimpers. "I... I'm sorry I'm not... not strong."
"Don't be silly," Lucas tells him. "If Ah had a gut-wound like that, Ah'd be cryin' like a girl. You're plenty strong, and you're not gonna die here. So you settle on down and listen to this little song Ah learned from a pony Ah knew once..." He continues to sing, tying off the stitches and smearing the wound with a salve that smells like fresh-cut grass.
Eshu's Daughter snorts at something, low and quiet, though she doesn't look away from the horizon, the waning battle. A girl?
Lucas| Figure of speech only. Lucas can name plenty of "girls" who've kicked his not un-hefty ass over the years. :^)
Blessed turns and looks at Eshu's Daughter's snort. She frets that her eyesights not as keen as she'd like as she peers intently at the horizon.
Eshu's Daughter pages the room: Eshu's Daughter grins.
The boy subsides into occasional whimpers, the tears still rolling. "I... I... Thank you, sir..." he says finally, his voice breaking. Then he clears his throat and sits up gingerly. He casts a look at the battle, then looks back to Lucas. "Thank you. I... I should go back... to fighting. It feels much better. And my... my septmates are dying." His head bows, and silver hair stringy with sweat falls into his eyes. "Please take this." He hurriedly presses the gourd into Lucas's hands, then scrambles away. A few yards off, he turns back. "Offer the water to the guardian for the treasure, Rhya." And then he's in Crinos again, bounding into the thick of the battle.
The gourd is a red, warty, round thing with a long spout, capped with a twisting aluminum bottlecap.
Lucas clearly considers calling the boy back, but does not.
Eshu's Daughter cants her long head to draw the gourd into view, her thick-muscled neck a fair barrier between Lucas and the boy, now gone.
Blessed watches the boy run, then sniffs the goard thing. She catchs herself before she sits back on the battlefield - too messy - then paces a full circle. She seems uncertain where to go from here.
The Battle heaves away into the distance, leaving you in full view of a long hill with a road twined about it in lazy, string-like loops. A looming archway of stones guards the beginning of the road. The Battle does not seem to have touched the hill at all.
Lucas examines the gourd closely. "The guardian, eh?" He scans the battlefield, looking for a likely direction to take, and spots the hill and its road. "Well, everybody take a breather while Ah repack these supplies, then Ah reckon we see where that road goes. Sound like a plan?"
With a long, last look in the direction the boy fled, the Strider points herself towards the hill in the distance in acquisence.
Eshu's Daughter lowers her head down, a long slow nod, then sweeps her neck about to look at the hill, the road twined about it. Right.
The distance from where you stand to the beginning of the road is longer than it looks. A long, dry, dark trek, full of the noises of battle and the dying. Dust that tastes of decay and death is thrown into your faces by the wind, a fine sand that infiltrates eyes and ears and noses and mouths.
Lucas pages the room: what shape is everyone is ? Lucas is Homid.
Eshu's Daughter pages the room: Stormrunner, for Ruth.
Blessed pages the room: Layla's still in lupus.
Lucas pulls out a collapsible canvas bucket and fills it with water from one of the carboys Harebell has been carrying. He sets this down for hsi companions to get a drink while he packs the supplies.
Blessed shakes herself from head to toe, trying to the the grit of travel out of her fur.
The giant barb casts a wry, sidelong glance at the bucket, flares her nostrils at the clean scent of water amidst the dark din of war. A hoof thumps as she steps forward, splits into two, then five. Her face is still long, her eyes wide and dark when she stands on two legs, steps over to the bucket to settle on her haunches near the wolf. "Ah. Like that, I'd have taken the bucket."
Raven calls echo over the abandoned and littered battlefield, but no birds are to be seen.
A shadow flickers over you all, cast by the thin, high moonlight of the crescent Luna. The source of the shadow is a large winged creature -- bat wings.
Blessed backs her ears, flattens, and looks up.
Lucas takes a split second to scan the surroundings for the nearest cover -- preferably something in the direction of their road -- and shouts to everyone to make for it. He slaps the Kin on the rumps to get them moving and is shifting himself as he runs.
Ruth hasn't the chance to draw more than a mouthful of water before she surges up into equine guise. A hoof thumps against the canvas bucket, and she's gone, running as well.
There's a scrawny stand of trees nearby.
A brief shrill of laughter from above follows you all into that stand.
Blessed belatedly bolts for the stand of trees, taking a darting path.
Eshu's Daughter cants her head as she runs, a dark eye takes in Lucas running near her, a swatch of sky, perhaps the thing flying overhead. Then she's looking ahead, nostrils wide as she runs.
Lucas, equine, runs at the back, driving the others before him, one dark eye rolling skyward, teeth bared. In the safety of the trees, he slides toward homid again, but only far enough to take the Centaur's form. The shotgun and sword are at his human back.
Something dark passes through the moon's light again. A pair of fiery sparks light within the silhouette.
A faint groan sounds from under a heap that may be a dessicated bush.
Lucas pokes cautiously at the heap with the point of his sword -- not stabbing so much as just attempting to see what's under there. He glances at Arslag and Blessed, whose noses probably tell them more.
Ruth's satchel crawls and spiders its way across her back as she shifts, draws herself up onto two legs, scrapes to a halt beneath the sparse cover of the trees. Her eyes dart towards the groan, out of place, the sound stills a hand. Then she draws her pistol from her satchel, looks up at the sky. The old weapon looks awfully small.
Blessed, with one eye turned to the sky, sidles as close to the bush as she dares to get a better scent.
You paged Blessed with 'There's a Garou under there -- probably in lupus, you think. There's a great deal of blood, but then again, the whole battlefield reeks of it, so that may not signify.'.
Lucas keeps one eye scanning the perimeter, lest that thing should decide to land, or send some of its fellows in after us.
I hear that. Ruth reaches up, brushes her springy, curly hair away from her eyes, sets her feet firm against the ground.
Blessed tugs at the bush with paw and mouth now, trying to move it aside to get at whatever's underneath.
Harebell and Campion both stamp the ground nervously, crowding each other, eyes and nostrils wide.
A trio of shadows pass over lower, and their aura is menacing -- terrifying even.
The bush's tenuous grip on the soil gives way and rolls aside, revealing a wolf, lying on its side, silvered fur matted black with blood. Its one remaining yellow eye opens to stare up at Blessed.
Ruth casts a quick glance towards the wolf, sharp. Her brow furrows, then she looks towards the sky again. "Hurt bad?"
"Knew Ah shoulda brought the rifle as well," Lucas mutters to himself, gazing darkly at the sky. He looks quickly for a sheltered route leading in the direction of the road, then gives up for the moment at Blessed's discovery. He seems about to come closer, but the Kin react strongly to the menace overhead, and he is forced to take the time to calm them.
Arslag slinks closer, however, sniffing at the injured wolf.
"Lucas, give me the shotgun," Ruth murmurs. Her pistol's stuffed in a satchel pocket, dark hands reach out. "I'll keep watch." She looks from Kin to wolf, then up. That furrow deepens.
The wolf moves one paw feebly and tries to shift itself. A fresh burst of blood from around a massive silver spearhead driven into its chest -- and apparently a fresh burst of pain -- draws a tiny whimper from it and it lies still again. Water? it whines softly.
Lucas seems to convince the Kin to settle down, at least for the moment. He drawns the shotgun from its holster with his off-hand and tosses it to Ruth, then he shifts back down to homid. The bucket is gone, abandoned on the plain behind them, so he pulls his helmet, forgotten until now on Campion's withers, and pours some of their remaining water into it, tipping it so the injured wolf can reach it more easily. "Blessed, Ah could use an extra pair of hands, if y'don't mind," he says.
Blessed pages: Would removing the spear end his life?
You paged Blessed with 'Probably.'.
Ruth looks the shotgun over, once, then sets her attention to the sky once more.
The smith takes the opportunity to look more closely at the wound, harboring a grim suspicion that this one will be beyond the help of his witch-thread.
The water in the carboys is gone. They're dry and empty.
Lucas swears. "How the hell-- ?!" He checks the smaller canteens.
All the smaller canteens are empty as well.
Blessed shifts inelegantly into glabro. She pulls her mane of reddish hair into a knot behind her head. She sits by the fallen wolf while Lucas checks the canteens. She's trying very hard to pay attention to the action on the ground, but her eyes keep darting upwards to the threat in the sky.
The shrieks in the sky are a bit further off -- or maybe that's ravens again?
Lucas gives the gourd a shake, to see if it, too, has fallen victim.
Ruth glances over towards Lucas, then back to the plains, to a spot where a canvas bucket may rest, vague against crumbled stone.
The gourd is heavy and full, and makes a splishing noise.
Layla. holds the helmet out, ready for the water.
Lucas narrows his eyes. He pours precisely half of the water from the gourd into his overturned helmet, then firmly stoppers it again before offering the helmet to the injured wolf.
The wolf turns its head painfully to lap at the water in the helmet. It makes small, grateful noises as it does so.
Lucas examines its injury as best he can without touching it.
The giant silver spearhead -- which is attached to a shattered haft -- has been driven entirely through the wolf's ribcage.
The wolf finishes the water in the helmet and lays its head back down with a sigh. One ear flicks gratefully.
Lucas pages: Don't reckon I can do much about that, can I ? If I try to remove it, I'll kill him/her, right ?
Long distance to Lucas: Weatherwax nods.
Ruth slides a foot along the ground, slow and quiet, then with a faint crunch of stone, dead leaves as she takes a step forward, looks up at the sky through a break in the canopy above. She snorts, quiet and low, looks to the horizon as well.
Lucas speaks low. "Is there anything we can do to ease you, friend?" Lucas asks the wolf directly, politely. He glances at Layla to provide translation, should it be required. His face says quite clearly that there's spit all he can do about the injury -- it some other form of ease he's asking about.
Layla looks down at the wolf, concern shining on her face.
The wolf grunts and moves a paw again, then whines pathetically. Take it out.
Ear-splitting screams break out and three human-sized bats descend from the sky suddenly, aiming for Ruth.
Lucas looks grimly at Layla, jerking his chin at the fallen wolf to indicate that she should hold it still. "Very well," he tells the wolf. Pressing one broad, square hand to the blood-matted shoulder, he carefully touches the spearhead and shaft with the other, seeking a firm grip before atempting to draw the weapon from the wound.
"Right." Ruth lets fire with the shotgun, steps quick towards the questionable shelter of the trees.
At the shriek, the two Kin charge the attackers, teeth flashing. Arslag barks viciously but ineffectively.
Layla knealing by the wolf, she places her hands firmly on the wolf's chest, firmly holding him still. "Be at peace," she tells him quietly.
Lucas rolls an eye over his shoulder, torn between the living and the dying. Who needs him the most at the moment ?
Layla catches Lucas's indecision. "Go, if you need to."
Lucas, gripping the massive wooden shaft, slides the spearhead as smoothly as he can out of the wound. He has a towel at the ready to stanch as best as possible the flood he knows will follow.
The shotgun blast catches one of the monstrosities full in the face. It reels away, clawing at itself. A second one comes face to face with the Kin, claws drawing long, thin lines along their necks. Campion's teeth lock in the thing's arm, while Harebell tears a chunk of its face loose. The third gets past the shotgun to knock it from Ruth's hands, but doesn't manage to hit her.
The wolf lets go a tiny cry, and bright red blood surges out of the wound with some force. The towel is soaked immediately. There is one thump of the tail, a passing thanks, as the spirit slides from the body.
Ruth grins, quick and sharp as she barrels up, up, a hand drawing into a hoof, her teeth baring straight and sharp. A thunderhead, dark and heavy, she strikes out at the flyer, snaps her teeth. Back, you.
Lucas implores Layla with a mute glance to take over holding the towel, knowing it to be pointless, and surges to his feet, sword out of the scabbard, into the fray, the spearhead shoved point first into the bloodsoaked earth. As he charges, the smith shifts to half-horse, for hooves and sword together.
"Go in peace," whispers the Strider.
Layla turns away from the wolf and grows in stature and in bulk as she joins the frey. She makes a line for the monstrosity engaging Ruth. "Back," rasps the Crinos. "She said. Back."
The third bat takes Ruth's hoof square in the nose, but its claws rake along her side. The second is still tussling with the Kin, held firmly by Campion and writhing to avoid Harebell's vicious snaps. The first bat has recovered from the blast, and swoops toward Lucas.
Eshu's Daughter whinnies, sharp from the pain of the thing's claws, but she bears down on it, strikes out again with her forehooves. Down, down where I can step on you. Now. She snorts, nostrils wide, the scent of equine blood thick in the dire air.
Lucas says nothing at all. Human nostrils flared wide, sword casually at ready, he awaits the bat's attack.
As soon as she's in range, Layla takes a vicious swipe at the third bat.
Harebell, for those with the leisure to notice, is a vicious fighter. Campion is somewhat more workmanlike in his mayhem. Workhorselike.
The one on Ruth dodges away from her flying hooves, only to get swatted from the air by Layla. It hits the ground with a bounce and a squeak, and Ruth's hooves come down on it squarely. The second bat is slowly being taken to pieces by Harebell, although both the Kin are getting their share of claw wounds and bites. The third dives for Lucas and tries to eel inside the swing of his sword, raking at his face. It misses the sidestep, though, and Lucas's sword strikes it with a meaty thunk.
Eshu's Daughter bares her teeth and bears right down on the thing, solid hooves, round about as dinner plates smash against its ribs and head. Once, then again. Her tail lashes behind her.
Lucas throws the bat off his sword to the ground, where he proceeds to trample it.
Layla takes a step back and lets Eshu's Daughter trample her prey good and proper.
The bats under Lucas and Ruth's hooves shriek crazily as their bones shatter and crunch. Unlike living things, they continue to scream as they break sickeningly under the equine onslaught, emitting bubbling horror as their faces and skulls are pulverized. The last bat finally manages to tear itself free from Campion's grip, only to fly directly into Layla's arms. The Garou's nearly automatic reaction sends half the bat in one direction, the other half, in another.
Lucas pages the room: Ooh! That's gotta sting.
Weatherwax pages the room: Weatherwax cackles.
Eshu's Daughter raps her hooves against broken flesh and shattered bone, strikes again and again until the the thing underfoot is still. Then she steps back, huge and dark, her eyes set, her nostrils flared wide. She snorts, lashes her tail, lets a burred breath out between her teeth.
Silence falls, save for the heavy breathing of the survivors. Lucas scans in all directions, and only when he feels secure from further attack does he set about calmly cleaning wounds, stitching tears, slathering poultices. He takes special care with the cleaning, and mutters low over the witch-thread. When all is done, he says a prayer of thanks to Lilith and begins piling stones over the dead wolf.
Layla steps apart from the company for a moment. A crinos shaking herself clean of gore is a formidable sight. When she's almost presentable, Layla drops down to homid and returns to the fallen wolf. She assist Lucas with piling stones over him. Midway through, she scans the battlefield and all of its dead and spaces out for a brief moment. With a shake of her head, she snaps herself out of it and returns to the task at hand.
Eshu's Daughter stamps her hooves on the ground, a sharp report, a crackle of stone beneath her weight. She shakes her head, snorts again, then slowly draws down to her human guise, ends up sitting on her rump, not far from the bodies of the fliers. She looks at her hands, spattered with gore, then sets to cleaning them.
As Lucas picks up the spear that had ended the Garou's life, the silver head tarnishes. While he watches, it ages, erodes, and shatters before his eyes.
Lucas says "So much for that."
The smith brushes the last of the dust off on the thigh of his trousers.
Eshu's Daughter turns her long head towards the horizon, looks out along the plain to the mountain. She whisks her ropy tail, once, lets a low breath out between her thick lips. I don't see anything else, yet.
Layla idly brushes the dirt off her hands as she scans the horizen.
Nothing is in sight, except the hill and its archway, and the bodies that litter the distant plain.
Lucas frowns at the arch, then glances at his companions. "If y'all don't mind, Ah'd like to settle our water situation before we head on. It's not safe to travel dry, and we may not get another chance."
Layla checks the ground for debris before she settles down in one gracious, smooth motion. She look up at Lucas and asks, "What can we do to help?"
The barb nickers, then draws down, down, down to human guise, a surge of shadow, like water breaking stone. Then, she brushes dust from her hands and stands up. "Right." She looks towards the distant dot that may be the bucket. "I can run for it." A line creases her brow. "I hit it when we ran, don't know if I knocked it over."
Ruth nods, a swift turn of her chin as she looks to the shotgun, cracks it open to fill it. "A spring, then?"
Lucas clears a small, bare circle of ground and sets the empty carboys in the middle of it. He pulls a small, battered tin cup from one of Harebell's packs, and sets it between the two. Then he begins to chant in the Asian tongue he uses when he's Making. He chants some more. He changes the tenor of his voice and chants some more, brow furrowing. Finally, after not so very long, he gives up.
Ruth draws a brow up, shoulders the shotgun.
Layla, perplexed, watches Lucas at his task. She turns eventually to Ruth and asks, "Did you smell water anywhere?"
The smith curses softly in his foreign tongue. "Nope. Nothing. Dry we are, and dry we'll stay." He repacks the little cup, resecures the empty carboys. Pausing with one hand on Harebell's shoulder, he places the other over the pocket of his shirt and murmurs a little prayer to Lilith.
As if to emphasize Lucas's words, a parching wind tosses dust into everyone's faces.
"Right." Ruth narrows her eyes to the wind, though a corner of her wide mouth turns up. "I don't suppose it gets dark here?"
"Ah reckon it does," Lucas says, "and Ah reckon it's mighty unpleasant." He looks toward the arch. "Nothing more here -- shall we head on?"
Layla rises to her feet in one graceful movement. "Let's." She says simply.
"Reckon so," Ruth murmurs. She tugs her pack up from the dust, nods.
Lucas loops Harebell's lead loosely through a D-ring in Campion's light saddle, takes the stallion's reins, and begins to walk out of the copse toward the road.
Ruth leaves the shotgun propped light against her shoulder as she follows the others out onto the plain.
Layla keeps one eye trained on the sky as they leave the protection of the trees.
You continue on the packed earth of the road to the archway. Dark spurs of granite loom up from the dust, topped by a heavy, flat piece of slate. Brown grass skeletons rattle nearby. A skull breaks the monotony of the pale brown earth.
Arslag trots over to nose at the skull curiously.
Ruth cants her head towards the skull, the dog, though her eyes turn to the arch, to the sky above. She narrows her eyes.
Lucas pages: Lucas scans the gate for juju. Sense Magic and all taht.
You paged Lucas with 'Juju indeed. It's, as far as he can tell, sort of the gate to the next level in a dungeon. Deeper part of the Plain.'.
Lucas frets silently to himself about their lack of water some more, then asks the others if they're ready. "This is like the skeleton again," he says. "It goes deeper in."
A small, many-legged spider-thing pounces on Arslag's nose from the eyehole of the skull.
Layla takes a deep breath to steady herself, then answers, "I'm ready." Her eyes dart up one more time.
Ruth finds her way alongside Lucas, her eyes set on the arch. Still, she brushes up against him, the shade of a lean. The spider distracts her, though.
Arslag yelps, leaps three-feet backwards, and commences to grinding his nose into the dirt in an attempt to get it off.
Lucas's head jerks around to Arslag in alarm. "What is it?" he demands, his long strides taking him to the dog in an instant.
The spider clings tenaciously, unfortunately, and then becomes something skwooshy and yellow smeared all over Arslag's nose and head.
"Dear Lady, Mutt-breath," Lucas exclaims, half exasperated, half worried, "What have you gotten into now?" He takes a handful of dust and uses it to srub off the goo, checking carefully for bites.
No bites, just bad smell.
"All better?" Lucas asks the now dusty-headed Arslag. "Can we go now?" Arslag lolls his pink tongue in a doggie grin, oblivious to the tension in the air and his own ridiculous appearance. Lucas returns to take Campion's reins, whistling the dog to his side, and begins to stride into the arch.
Layla gives a last look at the plains, and follows.
Ruth flares her nostrils wide, the subtle stir of bone beneath flesh lengthening her broad face. She snuffs, once, balanced on the edge of change, then steps through the arch as well.
The stone shimmers around you as you pass through, and a cold tingle runs over your skin. On the other side, if you look back, you see the plains through the wind-carved red sandstone arch.
Lucas is wary of attack.
Layla passes through the arch, careful not to touch the sides.
The road that winds up the hillside is paved with worn and ancient mica slates that shimmer in the uncertain light. The hill itself is cloaked in a combination of tall grey grasses and wind-twisted dwarf pines.
Lucas proceeds, mindful of the Kinfolk's footing, sword in hand. He murmurs softly under his breath.
Ruth's step is sure and solid along the road's edge, her dark eyes narrow against the wavery, scattered light. The shotgun jogs light against her shoulder.
Layla blinks rapidly, trying to adjust her eyes to the light. She continues on.
More skulls and bones litter the grey sand of the hill, visible only when you're about to trip over them because of the grass. A particularly large wolf -- or bear? -- skull lies quite near the path.
Arslag, with the learning curve of a hunk of lichen, trots cheerfully over to sniff at it.
After Arslag's last turn with the skull, this one earns a raised brow from Ruth. She glances at Lucas, back at the dog.
Layla picks her way through the tall grasses, careful not to tread or trip on any unseen items.
"Arslaaaag...." Lucas chides warningly. The mutt looks back at Lucas, ears perked, tongue half out. He returns to heel without molesting the skull, just as happy to jog on in front, poking through the grass at the edge of the path.
The earth bursts open behind Arslag and the skull rises up on a long, sinuous, scaled neck with an earsplitting scream. Tentacles snake outward, tangling Arslag's back legs. More tentacles burst upward, throwing Layla a good five feet into the air and causing the two Kin to rear in surprise.
Layla manages to twist in midair, but still lands heavily on the ground with a loud thud.
Ruth keeps to the road, her clothes, her body shades of earth against the hill's pale hues. She almost smiles, settles into the road's pace. Then the skull rises up and screams, and she shouts out, nearly a whinny through a human throat. She sets her feet firm on the ground, swings the shotgun to take aim at the skull, high above. She pulls the trigger.
Lucas releases the slip ring on Campion's reins, freeing the stallion even as Harebell, with a shriek of her own, wheels and aims a savage kick at the nearest mass of the thing. Lucas himself is shifting up, nostrils and eyes wide, to half-horse, sword already mid-swing.
Arslag yelps is surprise and alarm, twisting in the thing's grip, attempting to gain purchase with his teeth.
Layla lifts herself heavily off the ground, already shifting into crinos.
The shotgun blasts and sparks fly from the metallic blue scales of the neck, just below the skull. Some weird black ichor begins to ooze from the damaged spot. The tentacles drag Arslag into the air, where he dangles from his entwined back legs. Harebell's hooves clash metallically with the nearest mass of tentacles, and Lucas's sword sends one of the tentacles flying.
Lucas sticks with what seems to be working, hacking methodically with the sword. He's looking for a shot at either the neck or the tentacles holding Arslag.
Blessed jumps into the frey. She tries to grapple past the tenticles to rip at the creature's spine.
Ruth has a bloody-minded look about her as she lets the gun roar again, then starts to run sidelong to the skeletal worm. Her body's balanced on the edge of shifting, it wouldn't take much to change.
Pin! Crush! Crush it against the ground! The two Kin fight in concert to pin and trample the tentacles, Harebell fighting more like a wildcat than an equine to keep tentacles from gaining purchase on herself or her mate while Campion uses his weight to crush the squirming tentacles against the stony ground.
Tentacles whip out, a seemingly unending supply, and close around Layla's thick crinos neck, as well as Ruth's waist and one arm. The gun wears another hole in the scales of the neck before it's knocked flying. Arslag is swung wildly back and forth as the tentacles holding him dodge the flying sword of Lucas. Other tentacles drive for Lucas, but his sword keeps them back for the moment. The Kin are doing significant damage in their corner, reducing parts of the creature to oozing grey pulp.
Ruth shrieks, harsh and thoroughly equine as she blurs and twists up into the stormrunner's form, her long limbs stretching out, out to touch the earth as her body broadens, her teeth bare sharp and flat. She lashes her tail, sets a heavy hoof hard on the tentacles about her, bears down towards the creature's center. Don't touch me. Don't /dare/. Her eyes are dark, furious, white around the edges.
Blessed is distracted from her advance towards the creature's spine. She hooks her claws into the tentacle embracing her neck, and she snarls as she rips into it.
Lucas utters an expletative and stomps his massive way farther into the fray, letting fly with hooves as well as blade, driving for the heart, the spine.
Arslag, meanwhile, gives up trying to bite and sets himself to squirming free.
The ichor burns as it touches Layla, pouring forth from the shredded tentacle, and Harebell's attacks also cast significant amounts of ichor into the air around the Kin. Ruth's hooves tear and smash the tentacles on her, but oddly it is Lucas' silver-shod hooves that draw another scream from the skull. The tentacles release Arslag in the chaos. The metallic scales of the neck burst open, throwing burning fluid to all sides and revealing a column of Garou skulls as the spine that holds up the massive bone atop.
Lucas, oblivious to most everything except the sudden revelation of his new-found advantage, shoves the sword into a random tentacle and shifts, finally, up to war form. Up and up and up, a great mountain of horse shod with silver shoes the size of truck tires, stomping and pounding and kicking, driving ever inward toward the spine. CRUSH! The bellow that comes from his throat is too deep to be properly equine.
The giant barb whinnies as sheets of ichor scatter burning drops about the hillside. She calls out again as Lucas shifts, a bright echo to the bellow, sets her hooves down sharp against the tentacles, and charges forward, nostrils flared wide, teeth bared.
Blessed sidles out of Lucas's way. Despite the gore that covers herself, the strider mangles remaining tentacles with her claws and fists.
Layla and the Kin are more than handling the remaining tentacles, even though those tentacles have become knife-edged whips in the creature's last remaining moments. The giant hooves of Ruth, and particulary Lucas, are taking their toll: the mass of the creature is revealed as it heaves in its agonies, and the Perunka pulp and burn the heart of the thing. A final shriek rips the air, and the column of skulls begins to tumble apart. The giant skull at the top, though, lunges one last time, a massive bone-and-metal missile that lances into the smith's war form at his left shoulder and exits low in his abdomen, burying itself at last in its own writhing, dying bulk. Bright Perunka blood fountains to join the heavy mist of ichor.
Lucas pages the room: That's gotta sting.
Ruth shrieks, pounds at the thing's center with her hooves, then lays her ears flat against her skull as blood spatters from the Perunka near her, spots her sides and flanks. Her hooves thump and crunch against the ground as she wheels about to stand against Lucas's wounded side, teeth bared.
Transitioning down to her homid shape as she runs, Layla pounces on Lucas, making a bandage of her skirt tails and dirt and anything else she can get her hands on to stanch the bleeding.
Lucas staggers with the blow, and coughs once, blood foaming through his teeth. One hind hoof absently kicks the downed skull as he lurches forward, then the tree-trunk legs buckle and he slides heavily to the gore-spattered ground.
The Kin have figured out the Thing is dead, and move off to cleaner grass, where they roll and roll to get the burning stuff off. Arslag is whimpering and rubbing the side of his burned head in the dirt.
The monster falls silent, except for random sounds of sucking, burbling, and hissing as the bulk of it subsides back into the well-trampled and gory earth. The giant skull shatters at the incidental impact of Lucas's hooves, and something small and golden rolls out of it.
Eshu's Daughter is totally gone. She stomps at the long remains of the spine, smashes hoofprints into the earth, shatters bone and rock beneath her broad hooves. Her tail lashes as she screams at the thing, teeth bared in an equine snarl. She's covered with Lucas's blood, with gore.
Alarmed by her shrieks, the Kin roll to their feet and trot over, sidling, heads low and tails high. Foe is gone, Mad One. Cease.
Arslag stops his head-rubbing and looks toward the tableau, crouched low, tail clamped between his legs, whining.
Blessed continues to pack Lucas's wounds with tattered bits of skirt mixed with bloody mud. She is muttering under her breath, checking his breathing, his eyes.
The massive wound through Lucas is... impressive. While the impact seems to have shattered his collarbone and several ribs, though, his heart has escaped injury. One lung is pretty badly damaged, and some of the bits in the abdominal cavity are in similar shape. Sucking chest wound, yes. Incapacitating, yes. Lots of blood, yes. Elder Changer in danger of losing his life? Probably not, Layla thinks. But it's a big hole, and he's in shock, definitely.
Eshu's Daughter ignores the other horses with a certain ironclad determination, though, in the end, there's little left to crush beneath her hooves. She buries the thing in pieces, mashes it into the ground, then in long, slow measures, she stops. Her ears are flat against her skull, eyes wide, her mane plastered against her broad neck. She shakes her long head, sprays blood hither and yon, makes a low, dangerous sound.
Blessed pages the room: Those with keen hearing can hear Layla demanding Lucas to stay alive and not haunt her, too.
Lucas lies senseless, eyes half-open, but dulled, blood bubbling through his slack lips. His roached mane, grown out in the weeks of travel, splays in an absurd gore-spiked fan from the arch of his thick neck.
The two Kin are a united wall of horse -- small to the Barb, but large in themselves. They edge carefully around Eshu's Daughter, ears back. Arslag trails pathetically in their wake, confused and in pain and looking for his master.
Eshu's Daughter lowers her head to snort at the ground, nostrils flared, then draws herself down, the circumference of her hooves narrowing, her low whicker brighter in tone. The horse casts a glance towards Campion and Harebell, then steps, lighter, careful towards Layla and Lucas. The Garou earns her gaze, intent.
Abruptly, the mountain that is the smith begins to shift and shrink, melting and blending smaller, brown eyes darkening to blue, until he is human again, still senseless.
The gourd rolls to one side, away from the smith's belt, sloshing gently.
Eshu's Daughter shakes her long head, her step uncertain now, bright with a frustrated edge, then she draws down swift into bloody human guise, crouched on her haunches. She shakes her head again, snorts, then looks to the Kin. She stands, recalls bandages amongst Lucas's cargo.
Blessed takes up the gourd, tilts the smith's head back, and gives him a little sip of water. It's a partial success; more water dribbles down his chin than goes in, but Layla takes heart and pours a little more.
Harebell's packs hang sideways from her thick barrel -- it's a wonder she could fight at all with them like that. Some bits have been torn open or off, but most of it seems intact, if messy. Her rolling in the dirt just now probably didn't help.
Ruth, covered in blood and gore from head to foot, looks little better, her curly hair a shock of crimson. She keeps her eyes on Harebell, well within the horse's gaze. There's something for him on your back. I need it.
Harebell tosses her head, ears splayed, and takes two thudding steps backwards. Mad One. Her nostrils flare. Campion shifts sidelong, rolling one eye at Ruth, the other at the mare.
Ruth sets her feet firm on the trampled grass, flares her nostrils out and snorts, quiet. She watches Harebell, cants her head to catch the horse in a sidelong gaze. This is for him, it will help.
Arslag, regaining some measure of composure now that the Big Frightening Thing is back to being Ruth, trots a wide circle and plants himself down next to Layla. He whines softly.
Layla ceases muttering and whispers comforting sounds to Arslag.
Harebell holds her ground, tail lashing at her flanks, but Campion steps up to Ruth sideways, head high. He blows breath through his nostrils, tosses his head, then extends it toward Ruth, experimentally. His ears flick back and forth agitatedly.
Ruth is surefooted solidity wrapped around a tense center. She burrs a breath out between her lips, lifts a hand slow to brush Campion's brow. Her scent is thick with blood and earth, jagged edges of fury. But she moves slowly, certain.
Something is moving through the grass nearby.
The stallion lowers his head to Ruth's hand, then swings it experimentally toward her. Satisfied with her balance, he blows out another breath. At some signal, Harebell lets her tail swing lower and edges closer.
Ruth turns her head towards the sound, sharp, one hand still raised. She snorts, quiet. Watch the grass. She glances towards Layla, then shucks her thick-knit poncho. She looks from it to the other woman. It's not much of a bandage. Then her eyes are on the grass again.
Arslag's ears prick up, and he snifs the air in the direction of the movement.
Layla takes the poncho gratefully, and begins to shred it into bandages.
Arslag stands and takes a few hesitant steps in the direction of the movement, ears and nose working overtime.
Layla cleans the wounds with a bit of clean water and clean-ish poncho. She keeps an ear cocked in the direction of the rustle, yet continues her ministrations uninterupted.
Arslag, stiff-legged, growls experimentally and begins stalking the movement.
The grass wavers, then parts. A small human girlchild --- perhaps 4 or 5 years old -- stands there, bare brown skin naked against the blood-speckled grass, fine dark hair brushing past her shoulders. Her dark eyes focus on Lucas and Layla, then scan over Arslag to Ruth. She watches the woman, then looks beyond her at the Kin. Then back to Lucas.
Arslag places himself between the child and the rest, legs stiff, head low, tail middlin'. As if to say, This, I can handle. I think.
Ruth crouches down, changing as soon as her fingertips touch the bloodied ground. She's inhuman in profile, her fingers drawing into a single digit when-- the child steps from the grass. She blinks, snorts, then stands and pulls back. Still, an echo of the equine remains in her face's lines, her long limbs. Dog, stay there. Her brow furrows, then. "Arslag, stay," said through a not-quite-human throat. "Hello."
The girl extends one hand to pat Arslag's nose. "Nice dog-gie." She looks up at Ruth with huge, dark eyes. "'lo."
Arlsag holds his ground and submits to the pats, tail beginning to wag ever-so-hesitantly. His brown eyes appeal to Layla for guidance.
Ruth sets her hands at her sides, cants her head to watch the girl sidelong. "What's your name?" the woman asks, evenly.
Layla utters soothing words to Arslag, then calls him over. Meanwhile, she heaps piles of muddy, tattered, bloodied cloth next to her as she changes the smith's dressings.
"Angel," the girl responds, scritching Arslag's ears now. "I'm thirsty."
Ruth draws a hand across a broad cheek, leaves streaks of blood behind. Her eyes trail along the ground, to Lucas, the gourd. She looks from it to Layla. How much is there?
Arslag takes a moment to enjoy the scritches, tongue lolling, then obediently trots over to Layla.
Layla picks up the gourd and gives it a swish. A small drab sounds inside. She wordlessly scrambles across the dusty ground to hand pass it over to Ruth, then scrambles back to Lucas's side.
Ruth catches the gourd up in a dark hand, looks from it to the girl. She holds it out to her. Here. There's not much, but drink it.
Campion appears to be keeping watch. Harebell hangs back with him.
The girl takes it and drains the gourd. The gourd itself begins to shimmer in her hands. It condenses to something flat, then it goes limp and fabric-like. The girl studies it minutely, then apparently loses interest in it. She extends it to Ruth. "You want this?"
Arslag licks Lucas' face.
Ruth takes a long breath, nostrils wide, then slowly lets a burred breath out between her lips. She nods, holds a hand out, palm up. Yes.
The child deposits a crumpled length of grey, silken fabric in Ruth's hand. There is suddenly much more of it than appeared when the girl held it, and it tumbles almost liquidly to overflow Ruth's broad palm. Then the girl says, "When do we leave?"
You paged Lucas and Layla with 'Lucas's self-healing is formidible. His bleeding has stopped, and the horrible sucking sounds in his chest have returned, mostly, to the usual sounds of breathing. Things are a bit fragile, but stable.'.
Layla sits back on her heels and watches the exchange wordlessly.
Ruth furrows her brow as she's suddenly graced with handfuls of gray fabric. She gathers it up, gathers more, looks for an end to it, a shape. When he can stand and walk. He was wounded, we will not leave without him. She scuffs a foot on the ground, remembers something, a -- Gold thing. She looks from the remnants of the skull to Layla. "There was something," she says, each word careful in the way it's set after the one before it. "On the ground."
The girl looks down at Lucas. "Can't you carry him? If we wait here much longer, something worse will come."
The fabric is a long, narrow rectangle of cloth, and the edges seem to be worked with fine gold thread in places.
Layla nods at Ruth, "Okay, can you find it?" She looks down at Lucas and says with great care, "Sir, are you able to ride?"
Lucas suddenly coughs, softly, and his eyelids flutter. Arslag licks and licks. Lucas groans, but it comes out more of a wheeze. A weak whisper: "Well, *that* could have gone better."
Ruth nods, once. She draws the length of fabric into her satchel, then steps forward. She changes along the way, her step grows heavy, jangles with the spidery tack and saddle that springs up along her back. I can carry him.
Campion shoulders rudely past her. No. I.
Lucas pages: How are the Kin healing ?
You paged Lucas with 'They weren't badly hurt, just burned in spots. They have to heal mostly like normal horses, though I'm sure they have a bit of extra juju there. Harebell's hooves are a mess, and the skin above and around them. She'll be sore for a while.'.
The girlchild vaults onto Ruth's back as if gravity has no hold on her. "Good. I'll ride her then."
On the ground, the smith stirs enough to push feebly at Arslags' head. He squints one eye open, then the other, but appears to still be a wee bit disoriented.
Campion noses at his shoulder.
Eshu's Daughter snorts, leans in to shoulder at the other horse, then stops, skews an ear towards the girl. A hoof thumps on the earth. Right. She shakes her head, once, then looks to the ground for the golden sprig.
Layla crouches down on the ground next to Lucas. "Here, let me help you up." She places her arms on either side of his body, and prepares to heist.
Lucas reaches up and wraps the fingers of both hands through either side of Campion's headstall and allows the stallion -- with Layla assisting -- to haul him unsteadily to his feet.
You paged Lucas with 'Oooh, there's air moving where no air did ought to be.'.
You paged Eshu's Daughter with 'After much hunting, you spot the glimmer of gold again; something down under the fragments of skull, lying in a pool of the thing's ichor.'.
Eshu's Daughter lashes her tail, long arcs as she steps through the grass, in time thumping a hoof down near the pool. Here. She lifts her head, looks to Layla.
The smith sways and pales, leaning heavily against the stallion, but as he drops his head to get the (remaining) blood back into it, he catches sight of Harebell's ruined forelegs. "'Bell..." he croaks. But Campion shifts a step away, forcing him to renew his grip. Harebell tosses her head impatiently, packs still hanging practically under her belly, and Lucas reluctantly hauls himself aboard, stifling little grunts of pain as he does so.
A bit of gold shows in a pool of the thing's ichor near Ruth's hoof.
Layla follows Ruth's gesture over to the pond. Something glitters in the grass, and she bends to pick it up.
A thin gold circlet comes clear of the black, burning stuff. It has an intricate pattern worked into its surface.
"Come *on*," the girl says, looking up the hill worriedly.
Eshu's Daughter lifts her head, nostrils wide to scent the air, then looks to the other horses. She snorts, once, sets her hooves to the road. Let's go.
Layla asks Ruth, "May I place this in a satchel of yours?" As she asks, she is wiping the ichor off with the tatters of her skirt.
The barb's satchel has changed with her, saddlebags on either side of her saddle. She dips her head once, a long nod, ready to go.
Lucas settles himself as best he can, lashing himself to the saddle with the reins. He's still looking pretty droopy. Riding Campion is, however, a lot like riding a sofa, so he'll probably be alright. Harebell picks her way delicately to the stallion's side, and Arslag trots at her heels.
Layla secures the circlet in a sattlebag and transistions into lupine form, the better to run in.
The ragged little group descends the hillside -- had you really gone quite that far up? -- and passes between the massive rose quartz pillars at the bottom. There is a physical wrench -- one that brings pain to everyone's wounds and aches -- and then you are on a plain, with Lilith waning thin overhead, stars twinkling in the sky. The breeze is a clean one, crisp with late night air, and the thick grass is soft underfoot. A rabbit, startled by your sudden appearance, scampers away.
The slight weight on Ruth's back leans foward to press small, warm arms to the horse's big neck... and then it's gone. In the girl's place is a soft clatter of metal that rains off the side of the big barb and into the grass.
"Where'd the teapot go?" Lucas mumbles. "Ah'm late." Then he shakes himself more or less to consciouness, blinking. "Wha? Where? Huh?"
Eshu's Daughter whickers at the touch, stirs to lift her head, but by then the girl's gone, and the barb's ears turn at the sound of metal falling. A hind hoof lifts as she cants her head, turns her head slight to one side, then the other. It doesn't take much for a horse to see a full circle. We're back. The hoof goes down. What fell?
Arslag goes to sniff. But *cautiously*.
A small heap of twisted silver wire... you think they're bound into circles... lies on the ground.
Arslag sneezes at them, then bounces over to cavort around the horses' heels, glad to be alive and back in the good air.
Eshu's Daughter looks at the bound circles, a flicker of amusement stirring in her big, dark eyes. She takes a mouthful of grass, whisks her tail as her tack and saddle slip up, unwind from her until all's little more than a little patch on her back, near her neck, and gone. We're back.
Lucas croaks, "Are we? Oh, good. So we won, Ah guess?"
Blessed zips around in the grass, frollicking.
Much small wildlife is startled out of normal nightly routines by the dog and lupus cavorting and frolicking.
Harebell limps ahead a few feet and lips experimentally at the grass. Campion is sniffing the air, smelling for water, for safety, for home.
Eshu's Daughter lifts her head to take in the stars, the dark horizon. Looks like it. There's a faint urge to roll in the grass she stills as she wheels about to nuzzle at the silver circles, catch them up between thick lips. She left these behind. The horse raises her head, looks to Lucas.
Lucas stares at the rings, and his blue eyes go wide. His parched lips move in a fervent prayer to Lilith. "Ah think we did it," he husks at last, beaming at Eshu's Daughter, Blessed, and the Kin in turn. "By the Lady's Light, Ah think we did it!"
Blessed has one last good frolick in the fresh grass, then she points her nose eastwards. Her ears perk up, and she distinctly asks, Home again?
Then the smith's face goes blank. "She? She who? Home? Yes. Yes."
Eshu's Daughter lips at the rings. She can't see them, but she can certainly taste them, caught there in her mouth. Her tail whisks along her legs, her ears turn forward. We met a girl, after you were hurt. I gave her water from the gourd. She rode with us back here, I carried her. A hoof thuds against the ground as she steps forawrd, nearer to Lucas. She nickers, low and quiet. As soon as we came here, she left. These fell from my back.
You paged the room: 'I think that it probably takes y'all about two weeks to ride back to Haven, and Lucas is still in pretty bad shape once you get there. But y'all can start rping in town again as soon as you like. Lucas, let's trade email tomorrow re the items found. Thank you all for playing! This has been fun!'.
Lucas pages the room: yes ! Way fun !