Atrean Falavir, Rayen Adsila, and Thordaim Anvil-Chest set out from the Streel River campsite early on the 8th. The ride was fairly uneventful, with Atrean lying on his back, watching wisps of clouds pass by and Rayen staring off to the Northeast far out onto the rolling plains and waves of bright green grasses newly sprouted. Thordaim slumbered on the bumpy ride through the foothills of the mountains, his snoring penetrated by the occasional chirping of Greef, also fast asleep.
Atrean and Rayen spoke some throughout the ride, speaking of homelands and what life’s beauty was in the eyes of the other. Atrean got an unconscious snort from Thordaim as he spoke to Rayen of Elven smithing. This set Rayen off on a tangent, wondering about the animosity between the two races: “Why do Elves and Dwarves hate each other? Is it because of your height?”
Atrean laughed at her innocent question, knowing a Dwarf would be seriously upset about such an insinuation. “It’s not as though we hate each other,” Atrean explained, “but rather that we are too different. Elfkin revere life with a fullness of beauty few will ever know, whereas Dwarves are more content with working from when they are able until they can no longer do so, and even then oversee the work of others! We are simply two polar ends of the same spectrum; one joys in beauty, the other in labor. This does not mean we do not respect each other, either. Oh, no. In fact, there are few Elves that can match a Dwarf in the strength of his smithing, but few Dwarves who can boast such aesthetic and magical crafting and Elves. We both see a means to the same end in the long run, but take alternative paths. It is my goal, in my long life, to learn from the Dwarves, and other various races, so that I may hope to create the best smithing technique, forged from the alloy of them all. To perfect weaponsmithing as a craft. Alas, learning from Dwarves will be a tough challenge indeed for an Elf. Few Dwarves would give us the light of day, or in their case, their torches, when it comes to smithing. They think our smiths to be weak to not brutishly force the metal into form. Rather, we use our magic to aid us in the forging. This is a perversion of smithing in the eyes of a Dwarf, and so may bar the path on my quest. I fear that it may take quite some time indeed for me to learn their ways. That is fine though, I have plenty of time.” They sat for awhile in silence, only the sounds of nature, and a squeaky wheel on the wagon, filled their ears.
As the sun nearly set on their backs, the group saw Mar off in the distance. It was not so far now, settled in the foothills of the mountain, and they would reach it by nightfall. Unfortunately, that was not the plan of another. As they rounded another turn on their mountain trail, a large creature beset them from the North. Out of the trees it broke, wandling it’s massive form on its large paws. Upon seeing what it was that had made such a commotion so near it’s home, the creature stood upon it’s hind legs, topping over eight feet tall, and roared. It was a deep, throaty roar that mixed with a piercing shriek as it came from it’s beaked mouth. It slammed its feathered fore paws down and charged at the caravan, spooking the horses to run off the trail. Luckily, the group had heard it rumbling through the shrubs and had dismounted the cart before it took off. The four of them stood, arms at the ready, in a semicircle around the mouth of the trail the creature stormed down.
Upon seeing the fearsome creature, Rayen changed her form. The display was a spectacle to behold, her slender frame giving way to corded muscle behind thick fur, her body contorting in ways unnatural, yet elegant. She shed her clothes as the finality of the change set in. She landed her hands down in front of her, and they quickly became great paws concealing dangerous claws within. Her face had elongated into the visage of a glorious tiger, eyes sparkling with the intellect behind them. When the shift had ended, only a great cat stood atop a pile of Rayen’s clothes. A proud tiger, fearsome and strong, easily double the size of the frail woman it had been moments ago. The snarled roar of the tiger was the first indication the others had of her glorious change, though, as they were focused more on the danger at hand.
The young guard was unfortunate enough to be the first being the owlbear had seen. It charged in on him, swatting at him with massive paws. The man was able to duck under the first swing of it’s arm with the aid of his shield, but the other had a clear shot at his unprotected ribs. He was tossed to his left with the blow, landing on his shoulder only to be put on his back by the large form now atop him. The owlbear dove in on it’s quarry, finding the defenseless man’s throat with it’s powerful beak. He was dead within seconds.
What the creature hadn’t known though was that it was now in line with Thordaim, who had eagerly let his presence known with a battle cry fit for any Dwarf. The owlbear rose again, it’s bloody maw wailing in anger at the intruders. It swung down on Thordaim with it’s right arm, thinking this target as easy as the last. It was soon proven wrong. Thordaim raised his large Adamantine shield above his head and plunged it into the ground in between himself and the paw that lunged for him. Even with the point of the rounded triangular shield buried a good ways int the ground, the Dwarf could only barely see over it. He braced his left shoulder up against the shield, smiling all the while. The great beasts paw found the shield, and found it hard. The Dwarf was barely staggered as the owlbear nearly broke it’s arm on the nigh-impenetrable defense of Thordaim Anvil-Chest. The reverberations sent down to it’s shoulder only served to anger the owlbear further. Thordaim pulled the shield from the ground and slammed his warhammer across it. “C’mon ye good for nothin’ pile o’ fur!” He shouted at the beast, “Come an’ crack this nut, if ye think ye can!” He swung his hammer swiftly, catching the owlbear square in it’s ribs and breaking a few of them. Thordaim issued a hearty chuckle as he deflected more of the owlbear’s increasingly furious attacks.
Atrean, the next closest to the creature backed away from the battling Dwarf and owlbear. He knew of the creatures from his past life in Alfheim, and knew what one could do to an Elf, let alone one with cracked ribs. He drew his bow from his back and notched an arrow, trying to line up the continuously moving target.
Rayen, oblivious of the danger such a creature can cause, lept into battle with the thing. The swatted and clawed at the creatures’ arms and back, only succeeding in batting off of it or missing altogether as the owlbear lurched from it’s fight with Thordaim.
Thordaim and the owlbear raged on, the creature merely bouncing off of Thordaim’s mighty shield, and Thordaim swinging his warhammer, not quite able to reach the owlbear a second time. Finally, the owlbear tired of this game and put all of it’s weight down in a single two-handed drop from above. Thordaim managed to get his shield in between them, but his stance was no match for the creature’s strength and sheer weight. The was thrown backwards on his back, and broke his leg under the massive blow. The creature, apparently satisfied with the result, towered over the Dwarf. The owlbear meant to finish this one as it did the last, lunging in with his beak and aiming at Thordaim’s face and neck. The Dwarf had other plans, though. He shouted “Oh, no ye don’t!” as he raised his shield once more between him and his impressive foe. The owlbear’s beak struck Adamantite, with a resounding blow. The sound rang out through the rocky hills that surrounded them, and seemed to silence all other noises. The beast pulled it’s head back and shrieked a painful wail through it’s newly cracked beak. “That’ll teach ye to go toe-to-toe with a Dwarf!” Thordaim yelled at the creature as he got his left leg underneath him, halfway stood, and bore most of his weight on it, instead of his broken right leg, which he kept under him on his knee.
Atrean, seeing the resolute but wounded Dwarf, let arrows fly at the owlbear, hoping to pierce it’s neck or skull. The beast’s throes of pain invariably augmented his aim, however, as no arrows found a clear target on the creature, instead skipping off of it’s tough hide. Rayen, however, had other plans for the creature. She had slinked around behind it in it’s battle with Thordaim, and know leapt upon it’s back, latching on to it with claws that deeply pierced the beast. She wrapped her jaws around the back of the owlbear’s neck and pinning it to the ground. Her fangs cut deeply into the creature’s neck, and she tasted the salty, metallic blood of her for on her tongue. The owlbear, at first surprised by it’s sudden meeting with the ground, soon regained it’s footing and threw it’s mass upwards, throwing the great cat from it’s back. Rayen promptly landed on her feet and stood her ground.
Bleeding heavily from the encounter, and not wanting to try it’s luck with Thordaim again, the beast swung wildly at anything and everything in the vicinity. Atrean, unable to get a clear shot at the beast instead dropped his bow and charged at the frantic creature. Without time to draw his sword, Atrean decided to lead with his cestus instead. With typical Elven agility, he slid underneath the swinging paws to deliver an uppercut to the ribs of the the owlbear. The Elf amassed all of his strength and momentum in this shot, hoping it to be a killing blow. How glad the Elf was when the owlbear’s chest caved in before his fist. Shard of bone from it’s shattered ribs pierced and lacerated the owlbear’s insides, causing the beast to pause it’s flailing and lurch from side to side, blank-faced. It finally came crashing down, nearly on top of Thordaim, with a resounding thud. Atrean managed to slip out from underneath it before it fell, and stood tall, observing the creature.
Thordaim limped over to the owlbear’s head, now laid out in a puddle of it’s own blood, seeping not only from it’s neck wounds, but from it’s maw as well. He swung his hammer down upon the top of it’s head, caving in it’s skull. “Break me leg, ye stinkin’ bird! I’ll show ye!” He spat on it and limped over to a nearby rock to sit upon and heal his leg. Rayen trod over to the pile of her clothes, picked them up in her mouth, and left to find a thick bush to change behind. Atrean sat near the creature and rested, the effort of that final blow now pained his ribs. He found his breath increasingly difficult to catch.
The Dwarf hopped off of his rock, testing how his healing had done. Apparently pleased with it, he walked over to Atrean. “Ye be needin’ help Elf, like it or not. I’ll not be weighed down by the likes of an injured Elf!” He gruffly said, the closest he’ll get to offering his aid. Atrean smiled and nodded, knowing the intentions behind the Dwarf’s words. Thordaim went through the words and gestures, calling upon his god’s powers to channel through him. A faint white glow encompassed Thordaim’s hands as he set them against the Elf’s ribs. The Dwarf felt bones reshaping and healing under his palms. The Elf felt it more.
Rayen came out from her bush to witness the end of the session as a human once more. She smiled as she considered Atrean’s words to her about Elves and Dwarves, recalling the differences in the two’s approach to combat. She stopped by the beast, curiously examining it. “It’s an owlbear.” Atrean said, looking over at Rayen and her quizzical stare. “I’ll bet you’ve never seen one on your island.”
She looked up at him and shook her head, her unique black, auburn-streaked hair waving down to her shoulder blades. “What is it?”
“Owlbears are magical creatures. Some think them a creation from a mad wizard or the doings of black magic. All I know for sure is that they’re not natural, and very nasty. We’re lucky to have escaped with our lives.” Atrean replied.
“This be why us Dwarves be livin’ in our tunnels! None o’ this crap to deal with!” Thordaim put in, standing up to walk away from the still-sitting Elf. “Too many wizards messin’ around with stuff they ain’t got no right to.” He added more solemnly.
Atrean smiled and stood up, breathing deeply for the first time in awhile. He looked upon the dead creature and his smile quickly turned into a frown. “Even if it’s no natural creature, it still belongs in the web of life. There’s no point in wasting such value.”
“What’ye mean?” Thordaim spouted as he swung around. “The hide’s all torn up! We’ll not see a copper fer such a poor piece!”
“I’m not speaking of coin, Dwarf. There’s plenty of meat on this beast to sustain a small family for a few days. Why waste it?”
“Bah! I’ll not be eatin’ none o’ that stinkin’ creature!” Thordaim said stubbornly as he crossed his arms.
“As you will, Dwarf. I for one have always wondered what owlbear tastes like, especially when cooked properly.” Atrean responded.
“I can cook.” Rayen added innocently. “I mean, I have some experience in it.” Atrean cocked an eyebrow at the young girl, but conceded the point.
“Alright then, let’s get some of this meat then.” Atrean told her as he pulled his sword from it’s sheath. Rayen looked down at her body pointedly, and Atrean did not miss it. He walked over to the dead young man. “Sorry, friend,” he stated as he pulled the shortsword from the corpse’s grasp. He handed her the blade hilt-first. They went about cutting the meat from the bone, a tedious process, as Thordaim set to dealing with the guard’s body. He took the armor and possessions form the body, leaving it in naught but clothes. He arranged the body with it’s arms crossed over it’s chest in an “x”. After saying a prayer for the departed, he took the possessions and started to strip all metal from the armor and shield.
After a while, the driver managed to return with the horses, which had apparently been calmed again. He saw the defeated creature, no more than a clump of skin and bones near a pile of cut meat and a bloodied and smiling Atrean and Rayen. He nodded his approval as he turned the horses around on the path to head once again towards Mar. Thordaim loaded the body of the young man on the cart next to his brother, to the dismay of the driver. The sight of the both of them dead had nearly broken the poor man. Thordaim rested a rough hand on the driver’s shoulder and gave him a sorrowful look that said much about the fight. The driver resigned his thoughts and focused instead on getting to Mar. The surviving three loaded the meat into the cart, after Atrean had explained why they had it to the driver. Thordaim, showing the pragmatism of the Dwarves, asked the man if he could have the metal of the possessions of the dead brothers. The driver reluctantly allowed it, understanding Thordaim’s argument over his own sorrow.
The silent and solemn crew left the grizzly scene for Mar once more, the sun set and having naught but the night sky and the driver’s lantern to lead them to the lit town of Mar before daybreak. All of them slept well that night on the ride.