Dorak - Riding the Stairway to Heaven

Captain Hector,

I am sending this to you first as thanks for the assistance that the Explorer’s Society was able to offer in finding a good home for those items from the barghest’s last victim. I am very glad that there was a group who had need of them and would put them to use fighting for freedom and justice and against tyranny, even if their weapon by espionage.

I am also reporting the danger of lycanthropes in the Carpathian mountains – werebears, in particular.

Though it is out of order in telling what has happened to the group, it is the more important part of the tale – we had barely left Orlov and were training Kumori’s steed – more on that later – when I spotted a man moving with an unusual grace – I almost want to say unnatural, but it was natural, more natural than a man, even an uncivilized one would affect. The figure certainly seemed uncivilized in his rough hide armor, though he was likely Carpathian or of Rus stock if a traveller.

He bounded off, and I did not give chase for he had no apparent plans but to flee – the look of a beast when cornered to some degree, but also of one seeking the warrens it knows and possibly the rest of the pack. Of course, my lack of subtlety in telling a story has probably told a seasoned Explorer like yourself that this figure is part of the werebear issue I spoke of moments ago.

Not long thereafter, a mob was trampling through the brush not unlike an elephant aboard a boat and they asked us about the fellow. Having no cause to sell the soul out, I played ignorant and asked what had happened – the tale we were told of people slain or savaged and children eaten was the sort of mob mentality skewing truth as to be unlikely, but the casualty list high enough and the more adept of the mob calm and rational enough that some carnage was almost certain.

The reward we were offered for our aid was something that I feel Kumori debated declining. Ever a pragmatist, I accepted on his behalf when the pouch was tossed, and we learned the full tale from the tracker, who was magnificent in his craft.

It seemed a stranger had wandered into the local bar and asked for an odd concoction that was as much alchemy as tonic be brewed – while the bartender went into the back for ingredients and most of the town was shrinking back from the size of the stranger, the town bully stepped forth and antagonized the man. I don’t know how long he resisted the urge to let his fists fly, but the town bully will never again eat or smell without pain from but one or two blows.

Needless to say, the local constabulary didn’t take too well to this, and despite warning not to lock him up during the full moon – or perhaps because of those warnings, as an affront to the nobility and obligations to the rabble whom he allows to live on his land – the local nobility did just that.

This is when things get muddled, for no one who saw what happened is awake; many are dead, with I believe a dozen injured and half a dozen slain, though perhaps I have my ratios incorrect. Either way, the stranger escaped, and the mob hunted him.

As we walked and heard the tale, two things became clear – people had died and the law was such that if this man were killed for his crimes it would be seen by most as justice served and yet there was not necessarily evil intention here.

The tracker realized that he could not catch our foe with the speed we were moving, and so he needed to mount up, but with only the noble and his knight having steeds (other than those of the party) and riding double slowing us down so much it would almost be worse than not riding at all, we needed to leave the noble and his knight behind. This was difficult, but Kumori made a brilliant suggestion that the people lagging, after three days of hiking and marching and tracking and sleeping rough, needed protection and leadership, which I tried to help sell.

Suitably rearranged, we set out with the tracker, with Eul dealing with his new and equally colorful mount lagging behind – truly, it isn’t a horse or a creature of any sort which Ian can name, so it seems like it is an omen of some sort. The the advancing posse, such as it was, caught up with the stranger in the middle of a clearing. He stood atop a tree, almost as if he knew how close we were and decided to stop and explain.

His explanation was fairly lacking – that he warned the townsfolk and that the blood was on the hands of the noble, and not his. Kumori, being a very focused man who does not accept excuses for personal failures, called the man’s excuses those of a coward.

It’s difficult to describe what happened next – for in no time at all, we were shown how deadly our foe would be with his fists and feet and then he transformed into a were bear.

After Ian used an old and simple spell on the beast, which was a time where restraint was less called for than ever before, Kumori stepped forward and repeated his challenge, declaring that for justice and the honor of the deceased, he would see this man brought to justice to account for his actions. Of course, Kumori and what he feels about the honor of these men before they passed on is complex, but in typical noble fashion he would protest the virtue of the town harlot if she were killed brutally.

I half expected more, but the crouch with naginata trailing behind him he took suggested that he expected the creature to charge him and he planned to slice it in the snout.

The creature defied his expectations, though, and bellowed its rage and clawed the fallen tree upon which it stood, the sound of bark peeling off like the sound of bones breaking and splintering. Ian fled from this, as did all of the horses; it was surprising that I did not nor the tracker, honestly.

Seeing my options as waiting and hoping that the positioning would work out, or closing and taking a huge chance on proximity to the beast but having a chance to actually hurt it, I chose the latter, using the silver dagger which I had equipped the party with earlier out of an abundance of caution.

Kumori, seeing the plan falling apart, approached and struck the beast, true. I realize now that I forgot to mention the beast was winged, but Kumori clipped the wing and the beast retreated, seeming to heal the blow through thrashing its head about and growling.

This lead to me having a way to climb the tree and move into position so Kumori could move and flank with me. Unfortunately, Kumori would have to move carefully but could withdraw and rejoin from a better angle. I tried to swipe at it quickly but the beast was still bright enough to realize that my dagger could hurt it far worse than Kumori, or perhaps realized Kumori hurt it badly and he could use with some demoralization, so it stepped forward and bit at me and clawed me quite fiercely.

I was somewhat woozy from the blows and I was in the grip of the beast but it was also unable to properly protect itself from my blow and so I struck it true – I expected to die shortly, but Kumori commanded it to set me down lest he strike, and it did so. It could have mauled Kumori but it instead took a step towards him and nothing more.

I almost struck at it, as foolish as that may be, but a voice of reason struck and reminded me as much pain as I was in – and oh, it was plenty of pain – that my life was spared, suggesting some nobler aspect of the creature.

The tracker shouted for us to take action but the beast withdrew at great speed, and though it took several arrows from him in the process, it did not stop nor turn and re-engage us.

It didn’t take long for Eul to come and join us – a debate was held, and I, still rather angry at the creature, offered to hunt it into the night if the tracker would stay awake late enough to guide me, and to slay it while it slept – not the most honorable action, but my reasoning is this:

  1. The creature went to town and got into a fight fully aware of the timing of the full moons
  2. The creature killed citizens in a country with a fairly strong law system
  3. The local nobility had hired us to bring it to justice
  4. It was at least 4 days back to town and subduing the creature and keeping it contained for that march would be an unthinkably difficult task

However, the hedge knight spoke up, and revealed that he knew why the creature went to town – to fetch something to save someone else. The whole debacle may have cost someone their life or something equally precious, and going after it further would not be justice to my mind.

With more evidence of the cause of the issue, we declined to continue, and the noble demanded his token reward back. I tossed it down, but it was then offered to me in exchange for my silver dagger.

We set out, but Eul diagnosed me as having contracted the curse, and knew himself not strong enough to overcome it. Though I found the idea amusing, I decided to seek a cure, and we went towards town to get wolfsbane to try to cure me. Thankfully, I was able to be saved, but there were survivors in the next town, and Eul bought the last wolfsbane to save me.

Fortunately, we made it to town and Eul is looking to try to ease the poor man’s suffering by sending for a cleric who can remove the curse, disease, whatever – Ian and Kumori are going to be searching for wolfsbane ingredients so the town is better stocked should travelers be attacked and come in bearing the signs of infection/affliction; there was talk of me making silver manacles, but the size of the beast is the tricky part and I don’t know how much it would help, to be honest.

We’ve put Kaminari’s training to be a flying mount on hold temporarily. Part of this is that the path up to Orlov was overcome much like the bridge earlier – had we four animals all trained to fly, it’s possible we could have flown all the way up instead of only far enough to start a minor bit of fame for the group.

Oh, yes – we parted ways with the Imperial forces a little later than I mentioned – the truce included staying in their camp, and they were horribly obnoxious. I don’t think that’s why the lamp took Iz and Smriti, but it was light on the fairer sex for the past few days. Regardless of why they were not present, the attitude of the Imperial soldiers is just a smidgeon of what is wrong with the Empire. You’d think for people who had just learned the lesson of humility at the point of a sword recently that they’d have been better behaved!

I must say I am very glad to be out of the Empire.

- Dorak

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Dorak - Riding the Stairway to Heaven

Crimson Skies Grusnik