Sunday, October 2, 2011

Oktober the Second: Tooth and Tail

This story is so unfinished, it doesn't even have a title yet-- but I'm off to do Other Things awhile, so I might as well post it. It takes place in Barsaive, a fantasy realm from the RPG my Sunday gaming group plays, Earthdawn. I have shamelessly used my group's characters as story fodder, since I woke up with the notion in my head. That's a good sign, usually, but I'm already afraid this wants to be a novel-length tale.
 But tough titties. I'll wrangle it into a shorter size by day's end (which for my purpose here is before I go to bed for the night, no matter when).

We're still likely to reach the upper limit of  the wordcount. You've been warned.

Peace, Mari

By Mari Kozlowski, 10/2/2011

 With a last swipe of razor talons, the troll leapt away from the spider’s body, lethal claws seeming to meld back into long, slim nails; but not before they had severed a spiked and hairy leg. The rushing stench of the thing’s unholy blood pushed past all attempts to ignore it, and Ja Kar A’ Gar’s stomach roiled, roiled but didn’t rise and spill. It wasn’t the first of these creatures they had killed, though bigger than any they’d seen before.

 “I’d count that a job well done.” Scipio said.

 The T’Skrang smiled and stooped over the Jehutra’s vile corpse, delicately sidestepping the pools of blood and ichor gelling on the ground. He lifted its head on the tip of his second blade, making sure it was truly dead. It was.

“We got some good licks in, hey Ja Kar A’? Even though we don’t sling fireballs at any excuse.”

Their elementalist smirked and made a rude hand gesture at the T’Skrang; he used fireballs only when there was a very good excuse.  

Ja Kar A’ nodded, then looked around at the sudden sound of a moan. They all did.

The young adept Hannelore lay on the ground behind them, bleeding from a wound in the arm and shaking with the aftereffects of the cold spell the Jehutra had used. The icy chains had fallen from her when the monster died, but damage had been done. She needed a fire and treatment. Soon.

Ja Kar A’ Gar called Gunth down from his perch in the tree above the corpse, pointing to their hurt companion. The windling flew down to them and began his healing prayers over Hannelore. Ja Kar A’ watched a moment, then went to calm the horses. Lathyrus started gathering wood.

“I suppose you’ll want me to heat some food, huh?” he said, bending towards a patch of long-dried moss. He pulled handfuls of the dry stuff and threw it on the corpse. “But first we should burn this thing and move down the path a bit.”

“The smell of burning Jehutra messes up my sinuses.” Scipio said.

“That’s because of that big, empty cavity you have there.” Lathyrus told him. “More space for the scent to linger.”

"Are you implying I have a big nose?” the lizardman asked, affronted.

Lathyrus laughed. “I was talking about your skull.”

Scipio wiped his swords clean on the grass and sheathed them.

“Well, that’s alright then,” he said. “Large heads run in my family— they’re a sign of nobility, in case you didn’t know.”

The elf shrugged and went on with his task. T’Skrang were known for their vanity, but they weren’t touchy about anything but their fashion sense— you could insult Scipio’s mother, clan or his fighting style, as long as you complimented his newest hat.

When he could afford one.  


 The night rolled on, cool and moist. Gunth came to the far side of the fire to update the rest of the party after Hannelore was settled, sleeping fitfully under all their spare skins and cloaks. She shivered with fever.

 He was worried.

 “I can’t do anything more for her tonight. Not here. She needs better shelter.” he told them.  

 “Will she live till morning?” Lathyrus asked. The nearest village was a half-day’s ride, mostly through thorny, overgrown woods. Too treacherous to risk in the dark of the moon.

 “Hope so. Can’t be sure.” The windling frowned. “We have to get her indoors tomorrow, if she does. There’s still poison in that arm, and she lost a lot of blood. She isn’t used to this yet, these damp nights.”

 Scipio yawned and shook himself. “Stay with her,” he told Gunth, “I’ll sit your watch with Ja Kar A as well as mine. We can all take an afternoon nap, when we hit the village. If they let us in.”

 The rest of them nodded— having a companion poisoned by a horror construct could bar them from entering, under the theory that she was horror-touched herself. And she was too sick to prove otherwise. But they had to try.    

 When the first sunlight found its way to the forest floor, the troll was already meditating inside a quickly scratched circle. It was a Beastmaster’s ritual to draw in Karma, a well of power for the soul’s refreshment. Along with the possibility of a new familiar.

This morning, the potency of Ja Kar A’s concentration drew but one animal slinking from the woods: a lean young wolf, silver-haired and dark-jawed. The beast sat at the edge of the circle, dipping its head in submission. The Beastmaster smiled-- a beautiful, powerful friend this one could be. A help in many situations, and maybe a teacher, as well.

Yet they were traveling towards so-called civilization. Dangerous places for a wolf; he could be shot outside the town walls for no reason but fear. Ja Kar A’ considered a moment, then spoke the phrase that released the wolf. He tipped up his nose in salute,  and left. It was a sore loss, but better to let him go for now. Chance might bring them back together.

Barsaive was full of second chances.


Outside of Kelador’s walls, they waited annoyed through the last dull hour of the morning. The watchmen above had signaled their awareness of the travelers long since, and Hannelore grew paler on the travois. They took a hasty meal, the sun climbed higher behind the wracked clouds, and still they waited. Gunth was getting antsy, threatening to fly over the walls, when a mixed party of villagers finally strolled out to meet them.

 “Trolls!” Scipio said, surprised. He looked at Ja Kar A’, a wicked grin on his scaly face.

“Looks like you might get a bed you can fit in, for a change,” he joked.  

 Two older male trolls, accompanied by a dwarf and an orc chieftain, bent their heads in greeting. The dwarf spoke first.

“Welcome, strangers. What brings you to Kelador?”

“We have a wounded girl that needs a roof over her head. We can pay silver.”

 “That’ll be fine, if your skills show clean. We’ll settle ours, first.”

The dwarf pulled a small, sharp knife and a thick grey twig from his pockets. In minutes, he had carved a tiny, perfect charm in the shape of a wolf. He handed it up to the Beastmaster.

  “For the Lady.”

 Ja Kar A’ bowed and took the charm, stringing it onto a leather strip at her throat. Strange coincidence, to come across two wolves, two grey wolves, in one morning.

 The trolls and the orc took various instruments from their clothes and played an air, well known to all of them, a song used to time blows while chopping wood. They played well enough; when they finished, the dwarf came forward again and nodded to Lathyrus.

And so on, the artisan test proving them all free of taint from any horror, till none were left but Ja Kar A’ Gar. She was still learning the flute, but somehow played better, purer, than she had in weeks. It was good, and they were welcomed and shown to the inn at the center of the village.   

(New section from later today begins here, if you've already read this far before-- it looks like I'm behind from the get-go, since this piece keeps growing, and not easily towards the idea I had for it. so much for my plotting skills. I'll work on it more tomorrow, but here's the rest of part 1, anyway).

Ja Kar A’ Gar sat alone in a corner of the common room at the inn, waiting for the others. She’d seen that their horses were well stabled, her usual duty as Beastmaster. Now she ordered an ale. It came, cool and quickly, in a high frosted mug, and the clean, calming taste helped her begin to forget the ordeal in the woods. Relief, however short-lived it might be. She needed relief— she was strangely unnerved at the presence of so many trolls in this village setting. Her people kept to their own communities, rarely venturing into other towns in force. One or two odd wanderers at a time, her party had come upon often enough, but Kelador was populated with almost equal parts trolls and other namegivers.

It threw her off balance.

She was used to being a minority among townsfolk, a figure either feared or wondered at, but mainly left alone. Here all around, she received friendly or inquiring looks, had had to make chitchat several times on the way from stable to inn to table, and now found herself being openly stared at by a tableful of young males of her kind. She hadn’t encountered that sort of attention since leaving her family of valley kindred over two years ago. It disturbed her, steadily deepening her sense of the natural order being overturned. She looked to her mug for solace, lowering her eyes.


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