Rennen heaves himself out of hiding, waiting by the edge of town for the raven and her report.
Niska wings in from the opposite direction, gliding further under the cover of the trees before taking a perch close to the ground.
Rennen trots over with head held rather more respectfully than usual. Well?
"The truck is there," she rasps, before the lupe has a chance to say much, "but haven't seen our Baddies yet." She knocks her beak against the stone that forms her perch. "I think there are some people I could ask, but I'll have to do it in my other skin." She look uncertain about this prospect.
Rennen considers this warily. I can walk on two legs. But it is no more my way than yours. Word may reach the Enemy of strangers asking questions.
There is a sound of hoofbeats approaching along the road.
The raven shakes out her ruff impatiently. "How else can we learn what we need? Besides, there's a dead man--" At the sound of hoofbeats, she launches herself into a tree from which she can see the road.
Rennen whisks from sight as well, taking refuge behind a tree, rock, or other lump.
The slow, plodding trot moves closer and closer, and above the sound of the hooves, you begin to hear a wheezy sort of singing. Up from the south, definitely.
Wanting to see who it is before they get too close to the town, Niska takes off for a bird's-eye view.
Zebulon, riding an old, skinny, one-eyed donkey, is trudging up the road from the south, a filthy pack flung over the donkey's sunken flanks. He is the source of the wheezy song, which upon closer inspection is sung in about three notes, although it was clearly intended for at least double that.
This decrepit specimen of humanity looks to be in the latest stages of bodily disintegration. His rheumy eyes peer out of an endlessly lined face, crowned by patches of bushy wire that might be eyebrows. Scraggly bits of grey protrude from his chin and upper lip, the only possible indications of his gender, as the rest of his body is a greyish lump of flesh that is sliding toward the center of the earth, and only abated from this journey by the decaying frame of his skeleton. Faded scraps of mismatched fabric cling to this form, apparently held in place by an intermittent layer of filth.
The nauseous miasma that roils around his body is accentuated at times by his foetid breath and the sight of his rotting teeth. He grins frequently, thin, yellowish lips pulled taut by some unpleasant contemplation, and mutters to himself repeatedly in foul, alien syllables. His shuffling, limping gait, somewhat suggestive of a victim of several strokes, is easily recognizeable at a distance. His hands tremble at all times with advanced palsy which occasionally spreads to his entire form.
Rennen peers through the weeds curiously, sniffing for their scents.
You paged Rennen with 'You regret it the instant you do it. The reek is amazing, stunning, flattening.'.
The raven mutters a curse under her avian breath and drops back through the trees to Rennen. "It's the Filthy Brick-pitcher," she informs him, disgust plain in her husky whisper. "I wanna see if he goes into town."
Rennen breaks his silence with the dreadful sound of dryheaves, retching into the grass.
Zebulon croons, "Ooooooh, she brought me baaaack that pot o' pitch, soooo I threw it on her, that nassssty bitch! I lit me a match an' set it to the thatch an' thaaaaaat was the end of that dirrrrty --" he pauses, as the donkey has drifted to a halt. With a broken twig, he beats the donkey mercilessly into motion again. "Move it! Move it! Y'mangy bag o' bones! I wanna make town afore the sun sets an' I git old!"
The raven makes another disgusted sound, this time directed at the retching lupine, and flies off to keep a discreet eye on Zebulon.
Rennen recovers his dignity after a minute or so of voiding his belly, leaving some squirrel bits that'll probably make a nice snack for Niska later. Then, as if he hadn't just lost his cookies, he trails after the raven and foul-smelling creatures.
Zebulon continues to alternately sing and beat the donkey -- it's hard to imagine which is the worse torture for the poor beast -- as he heads for town.
Eventually, Zeb reaches town. While the town is not a populous place by any stretch of the imagination, it somehow becomes even *less* populous as Zebulon arrives. Dockworkers evaporate. Old-timers on their porches vanish. The few people who might move through the streets -- gone. He catches sight of one old lady hauling her rocking chair through her door and tosses off a viciously obscene greeting to her. She pales and abandons the chair to simply slam the door and lock it.
Following above and behind the geezer, Niska sympathizes. So much for chatting up the locals today...
Rennen pages to Weatherwax and Zebulon: Well, he's already lost his stomach, so there's nothing more to vomit. Tentatively, Rennen attempts to sniff out any major reek of Corrupted Wyrm over the more mundane reek.
You paged Rennen with 'And you do! You *do* detect major taint!'.
Rennen slinks along the baseboards of houses, giving Niska ground support in case the stinker becomes belligerent. His nostrils flatten suddenly as he ventures another sniff of the geezer's trail, and his ears telegraph a warning to the raven if she looks his way.
Zebulon rides into the town center, then swings off the donkey with an agility that completely belies his age. He limps and hobbles toward the general store, then begins to bang on the door. "Open up! Open up, Bartholomew! Open this door or I'll hex it down around your fuckin' ears!"
Niska pages: Do I know anything of Bartholomew?
You paged Niska with 'Bartholomew is the owner of the general store, a slimy customer for the most part, an out-of-towner, but has lived in the town for something like ten years. He has a number of connections with river barge-folk, and is the main reason that the town has any kind of trade economy at all.'.
The raven keeps out of the old man's line of sight, but looks for a window through which to spy on the general store.
Rennen slinks into the shadow of the vacated porch, before the rocker's stopped swinging. He tracks Zebulon like a hawk monitoring a mouse's progress. The lupine's narrowed eyes and bared teeth confirm the obvious: The old one reeks of the Enemy's taint.
There are several windows on the lower floor of the store.
After a long moment, the front door is unbarred and opened cautiously. A fat, balding man in a greasy apron peeks out at Zebulon. He fails to conceal his distaste for the old man's aroma. "Whaddaya want today, Zebulon? I ain't got nothin' new since y'last come through."
The raven takes up a position from which she can see and hear the goings-on in the store, without attracting the attention of either of its occupants. Fortunately, her eyesight is very keen.
Zebulon coughs for a few moments, then spits -- with great accuracy -- on Bartholomew's foot. "Need supplies t'take home with me," he grins.
"You took enough last time to feed y'fer a month, you old bastard," Bartholomew snarls through gritted teeth.
Zebulon laughs. "Met some friends. They needed it more'n me. So now I'm back for more." He leans on the door, his powerful odor forcing the store owner to give way until Zebulon is into the store itself.
Bartholomew retreats behind his counter after a moment. "Y'ain't got no friends, y'old asshole."
The raven continues to listen and watch avidly, hoping against hope that this filthy old man will unwittingly tell her what she needs to know. Or at least give her an excuse to set the local Groos on his stinky ass.
Rennen breaks cover to amble towards the shadowed side of the store, trying not to breathe through his nose at all while he strains to hear their conversation with heightened senses.
Niska is unfortunately too wrapped up in the conversation in the store to notice the lupe, or she gesture for him to back off.
Zebulon strolls around the inside of the store, greedily taking in the sight of the neat piles and jars and other paraphernalia. He begins to snatch things down, almost at random, filling his arms with stuff.
Bartholomew grumbles and sweats noticeably, watching the old man load up with a chunk of his inventory.
At last, Zebulon finishes collecting things -- ending up with blankets, some packages of food, and a few garish trinkets. "Waaaal, I guess I'll be headin' out, then." Without the slightest motion toward paying or bartering for the stuff, he heads for the door. At the door, he tosses back over his shoulder, "Ye'd best be served to makin' sure that warehouse five stays closed up and safe. I'd hate fer anythin' t'happen t'ya, Barty-boy." Laughing his high-pitched, squealing laugh, he exits through the front door, leaving Bartholomew to collapse forward on the counter, mopping his face with his apron.
Niska pages: Was warehouse five the one with the truck?
You paged Niska with 'You think so.'.
Rennen presses himself against the side of the building as the foul-smelling fellow exits, still glaring daggers into his back. It's clear that this Groo, at least, has made up his mind about Zebulon.
Niska watches to see which way Zebulon leaves town.
Rennen pages: Scent of True Form. Which i might as well attempt, although I'm pretty sure of the answer now!
You paged Rennen with 'He's human, pretty thoroughly human, although he's got some Taint floating around. He's got a knack for magic and may be a ... oh, damn, I've totally blanked on the term. They're really a tribe that lived in Ireland... Fomor, that's it.'.
From afar, Rennen rattles you about.
Zebulon ties some things to the pack, puts others in the pack, and then clambers ungracefully back on the unfortunate donkey. With a hefty kick to the ribs, Zebulon urges the donkey onto the north road.
Niska regroups with Rennen under cover. "The truck is here because the storekeeper is watching it for them, but they are holed up someplace else," she says. "He's going North, but he came from the south, over the bridge. Can you check the west road for taint just to be sure they didn't split up?"
Rennen growls softly. I checked earlier. The west road bears taint as well, at least partway past the crossroads. I will see if I can track it to its source.
Rennen starts to move off, hackles bristling.
"I'll head south. I'll come get you if I find them, otherwise, meet me back by the stream where we were earlier." With that, the raven takes wing toward the bridge and beyond.
Rennen flicks an ear in the affirmative and heads out at a brisk trot.
The taint on the west road goes on and on for a good five miles before leaving the track and heading northward. The south road displays no sign of the Bad Guys, and the sun is westering.
Her trail gone dead, Niska decides to fly north for a bit and see where Zebulon goes to ground before catching up with Rennen.
Rennen is, unfortunately, a persistent bugger, and is perfectly capable of following a trail for days to track down a scrap of information. The raven probably catches up with him barely before dark.
Zebulon travels the road northward for a good way. He is within five miles of not-Vienna when he abruptly departs the road for a narrow track that winds east through hills and trees. It looks like he has settled in to ride for several more hours at least, intent on following this slim trail.
That will do for now. Niska checks the meeting place by the stream, and not finding the lupe there, continues on to the west.
The northwesterly trail peters out as the individuals seem to have picked up speed and become more careful about their passage. At one particular stream, Rennen loses the scent.
Rennen casts around the area with eyes narrowed, expression thoughtful. Umbra. That's not in the battle-plan, so after memorizing some scent-markers for the spot, he starts to retrace his path slowly and methodically.
Before he has gone far, a smaller, darker shadow in the deepening twilight glides overhead and comes to rest in a laurel bush near the path. "Anything?" the bird rasps.
Rennen jogs over towards the base of a tree, in deference to the bird's habits, and falls back on his haunches panting slightly. The scent-trail turned north some miles from here, and vanished at a stream. They were being stealthy. Perhaps their lair is near there, on the spirit-side.
The bird utters a soft, rattling obscenity. "Wait here," she husks, "I'll fly around a bit on the other side and see what I see." The leaves of the laurel bush thrash against each other in the wake of her flight.
Nothing much shows on the spirit side. There's nothing especially Tainted... or really, Tainted at all. No sign of a lair.
"They can't just vanish," Niska mutters to herself. She makes wide, quartering sweeps in and out of the Umbra on both sides of the stream, looking for a trail, a dwelling, one of the black wolf's recent kills, anything.
There are a few day-dead spirit animals, slaughtered and left to fade away, sucked dry of energy, lying in a heap under an Umbral ledge of rock. In the Realm, there's no sign.
Rennen takes another sweep of the area on both sides of the stream while he waits, going up and down the banks in case they simply were pulling a raccoon trick.
Niska finds Rennen and shows him the kills. "Did the one who did this leave a trail?"
Rennen follows her back to the ledge with ears slicked back, and takes a mournful sniff of the dead spirits, then moves slowly around the area. He gives a low growl. The ground lies. The scents here are confused, more than my nose can explain. Something was done to hide them.
Niska gives a tuburcular-sounding cough. "We can't go back until we find them!" she hisses. Agitated, she takes flight and begins searching again.
The sun is setting.
Rennen growls and bares his teeth at the Raven. What about that Creature you followed? Why not capture him and rip the truth from him?
Niska growls right back, a sound one doesn't expect from a bird's throat. "Happily." She lands again on the ledge. "He's our only lead now. I doubt the shopkeeper knows anything."
Rennen continues snuffling around the area, annoyed at the no-moon trick the enemy seems to have pulled. What about the warehouse? The Corrupted One threatened the shopkeeper about it. Perhaps the Enemy will return there.
Niska raps her beak against the stone impatiently. "I don't want to wait for days..." She thinks for a moment. "If we break into the warehouse and *steal* the truck, they'll come to get it back, right? We can drive it to someplace we can ambush them."
Rennen's ears prick at that. They will guess we stole it, perhaps? he wonders. But he seems to defer to others for strategy.
Rennen pages to Niska and Weatherwax: Oh NO. I hope Niska knows how to drive. :)
Long distance to Rennen and Niska: Weatherwax falls over, contemplating the two of you trying to figure out how to drive a truck.
From afar, to Niska and Weatherwax, Rennen thinks we have to do this now for humor value.
"It's *a* plan, anyway," she allows. "Something we can take back to the others along with the new dirt on Stinky Old Man." She adds in a lower voice, probably not meant for the lupine's keen hearing, "Just a little longer, Jer, we'll get you sorted out."
Niska pages to Rennen and Weatherwax: Hee! I'm picturing Rennen with his paws on the pedals, and Niska Flapping away on the gear shift.
Long distance to Rennen and Niska: Weatherwax oogs!
Rennen's ears splay, but if he heard that, he doesn't pretend to understand it. Back to the village, he agrees, and toodles back along the road for the second or third time this afternoon.
Niska pages to Rennen and Weatherwax: so y'all reckon we just go back and report now?
Long distance to Rennen and Niska: Weatherwax facepalms and... What, not going to steal the truck now, just the two of you? :)
Niska pages to Rennen and Weatherwax: I'm sure the rest of not-Vienna's inhabitants would be *so* pleased to have the truck come roaring in without warning in the middle of the night, followed by a pack of uglies roaring in right behind... :)
Long distance to Rennen and Niska: Weatherwax cackles.
Niska pages to Rennen and Weatherwax: <Niska to the townfolk: SURPRISE!>
From afar, to Niska and Weatherwax, Rennen OOCly agrees with Niska, but again, I seem to have come up with a character with a brick for a brain. He'll follow Niska's advice.
From afar, to Niska and Weatherwax, Rennen . o O (Once she figures that out, he's gonna be in -realll- trouble, eh?)
Long distance to Rennen and Niska: Weatherwax okies. :)
From afar, to Rennen and Weatherwax, Niska giggles insanely.
Niska pages to Rennen and Weatherwax: well, lucky for literally everyone, Niska has just enough sense of self-preservation not to bring a pack of Yuck screaming down on her unless she's sure of her back-up. ...Although the chrome on that rig was *awfully* shiny...
Long distance to Rennen and Niska: Weatherwax hees. Okay, so you'll be heading back up thataway?
Niska pages to Rennen and Weatherwax: I'm just as happy to pack it in and catch up with the others later. :)
Long distance to Rennen and Niska: Weatherwax eyes the time. Methinks I'm going to turn in, actually. Yah. :)
Niska drops a pinecone on Rennen, just because.