It was early in the morning, with the eastern edge of the sky just beginning to lighten, when the Hunter emerged from his tent, bow in hand. Sony sat near the fire; the flames reflected strangely off of his metal frame. He was working with a bit of parchment in his hands and did not even look up as the elf moved closer.
“Where’s Alaric?” the Hunter asked, after looking around for a moment.
“Scouting to the south, a distance” Sonny replied, setting his parchment aside. “Where are you headed?”
“Hunting. We will be needing breakfast soon, and I would rather save the well preserved provisions for a time of greater need.”
The artificer shrugged and went back to his work as the elf moved away from the camp. The Hunter’s eyes quickly adapted to the starlight and to him it seemed as if it were already dawn. With his wolf, Haldir at his side, he moved out across the nearby plains.
The land was sparsely covered, but here and there a cluster of hardy shrubs and stunted trees made a stand against the elements. These plains, caught in the rain shadow between the Howling Peaks and the Seawall Mountains were an aberrant patch of dry land in an otherwise fertile part of the continent. He could not see the peaks to the west, but the camp was close enough to the Seawall Mountains that he could see the foothills beginning to rise out of the lands.
Scanning the open land, the Hunter spotted a small mountain goat that had wandered down to the plains. Nocking an arrow, he moved closer to the animal, being sure to keep Haldir and himself downwind. Quietly he crept up on the creature until he was well within range. He raised his arrow to his eye, and with one shot, felled the creature.
Kneeling at its side he placed a hand on its flank, whispering, “Thank you brother, for the gift of your life.” Then he lifted the animal over his shoulder and headed back towards camp.
He had just come within sight of the campfire when the fur on Haldir back stood on end. Hunter had been keeping track of the movement of smaller animals throughout his hike. Most we smaller animals, but suddenly, he realized that four shaped in the darkness we moving parallel to his own. Dropping the carcass to his feet, he drew an arrow and turned around, peering into the early morning shadows. What he saw caught him off guard.
Moving towards him were four large, white wolves. Hunter had seen such beasts before, but never so far away from the lower mountain ranges that they called home. Fortunately, the beasts were skittish if not overtly threatened and he sent Haldir bounding forwards in the hopes to frighten them off.
A low growl in his throat and jaws snapping, Haldir bounded forwards, but the hungry looking wolves were not deterred. They continued moving forward, and the Hunter could see the grass turn white with frost everywhere they stepped.
At the front, the largest of the white wolves quickly moved in, biting at Haldir and knocking him to the ground. Hunter quickly loosed an arrow at it, drawing the wolf’s attention away from his prone companion. Angered by the arrow now sticking out of its side, the largest white wolf turned towards the Hunter, and its companions followed suit, moving to flank the lone elf. He responded by loosing another arrow into the pack leader.
Back at camp, with daylight threatening the night sky, Sonny sat by the fire’s embers. He was putting packing his tools up in preparation for the day’s travels when the sound of a wolf howling caught his attention. Looking eastward he spied the distant form of his companion surrounded by a number of large wolves. Quickly he sprinted towards the fight, his passing leaving deep impressions in the soft earth. Unfortunately, the machinist too quickly, not thinking to wake Vorian who was still sleeping in his tent.
Sonny arrived at the fight, just as a pair of the wolves began circling around the Hunter. He stepped in front of the Hunter, giving him the chance to order fire another arrow into the lead wolf and order Haldir back to camp to rouse Vorian. Standing in the middle of the four circling wolves, Sony raised his arms, extending his shield and battle fist.
Suddenly, the largest wolf sprang forward, slipping past Sonny and tearing at the Hunter. He was thrown backwards by the wolf’s weight as the wolf turned to snarl at Sonny.
“They want the meat!” Sonny shouted “Throw it!”
Jumping to his feet, Hunter grabbed the dead goat, and with his strength leaving him, he threw the goat away from Sonny and himself.
The four wolves pulled back, surrounding the goat, still baring their fangs.
“Here, eat the meat! We mean you no harm,” Sonny said, taking a step backwards and lowering his arms.
“They can’t possibly understand you” the Hunter said, holding his side where the wolf had swiped him.
“I have no idea if they can or not,” Sonny admitted, “but I’m hoping they can perceive my intention.” He turned back to the lead wolf saying, “Sorry, I apologize. We won’t hurt you” and extended one hand calmly out towards it.
The white wolf sniffed first at the carcass and then at the metal hand that was being offered to it. There was a flash of intelligence in its icy blue eyes, and it tilted its head to regard the metal man. Gently, Sonny laid a hand on its flank and cast a light healing spell on the beast.
Sensing what he had done, the wolf turned and offered its side to Sonny, still baring three of Hunter’s arrows. Cautiously, the artificer pulled the arrows out, whispering quiet encouragements to the wolf as he did so.
As the last arrow was removed, Vorian showed up, cling to Haldir’s back with a panicked look on his face. Sonny and the Hunter filled him in on the recent events.
“Give them the food,” Vorian suggested and Hunter dipped his head.
“Go enjoy your meal” Sonny said, and the three companions took a few steps away from the goat.
The large wolf seemed to meet their eyes, but though the party waited to see if it would speak, it did not. It seemed that it was either unable, or unwilling to do so.
“I suggest we find breakfast elsewhere,” Sonny whispered to the Hunter.
Turning from Sonny, the Hunter looked questioningly at Vorian, who only sighed and nodded his head back towards camp. As the elf and half-elf walked towards camp Sonny felt the large wolf nuzzle against his hand. It was a surprisingly pleasant feeling, Sonny thought, and he didn’t even mind the cold damage that the wolf was doing to him.
(100xp awarded to Hunter and Vorian. 120xp awarded to Sonny)
Back at camp, with the sun rising, the three companions took a moment to clean themselves up. Sonny sits down with a fresh piece of parchment and begins writing. Seeing the Hunter wandering off, he asks “Where are you off to now?”
“Just walking. Collecting my thoughts”
Noticing, Vorian asked the warforged if he would be well for a time. Sonny nodded and went back to his work. So Hunter and Vorian set off through the tall grass and shrubs, enjoying the feeling of the rising sun after the cool evening.
The silence was awkward at first, but Vorian was determined to keep quiet. He wanted to see how long it would take before the normally reserved elf would break the silence. Finally the Hunter spoke.
“May I ask you a question, Sir?”
“You may,” Vorian sighed “and don’t call me Sir”
“Well, that’s just it si.. I mean, Vorian. As a soldier, I’m used to addressing my superiors as ‘sir’, but that’s because of regulations. You are entitled by birth to be called ‘sir’. I’ve never met anyone who declined that courtesy. Those with rank or power usually like to remind everyone else of their rank and power as often as possible.”
Vorian was quiet for a moment, then said, “From what I have seen, you are no different from any of the nobles at court. In fact, you are more deserving of respect than a fair number of the nobility. My birth doesn’t make me better than you.”
Now it was the Hunter’s turn to be quiet as he pondered the strange philosophy.
“But it seems you despise your inheritance,” he said after a moment. “Not only do you ignore the deference due to you, but you take great pains to hide and deter it. Is it really so bad?”
“You have to understand, Hunter. My birth was an accident. To my father’s credit, he has always loved me and treated me well, but the rest of my family has not. My father should have married someone befitting his status and should have had a dozen noble sons of pure human blood. But because he chose to accept me as his son, his own social status collapsed about him. His own family treated him with disdain and cruelty. I hated how he was treated. And I hated how he accepted it.”
“But not all the nobility can be like that,” the Hunter asked, mildly disturbed by the idea of nobility acting improper.
“No,” Vorian laughed, “but enough. A man’s destiny should be shaped by his own words and deeds, not by the opinion of those around him. I couldn’t live a life where my path was chose for me before I was born. So I packed up was few things I owned, things I had either earned or paid for with my own money, and left.”
They continued to walk a bit as the Hunter processed their conversation and eventually asked, “And the warforged? What are your thoughts on him?”
“I am not sure,” Vorian admitted, “He is unlike any creature I have ever met. At times he seems more human than most I’ve met.”
“Aye,” Hunter agreed as the pair began heading back towards camp.
As they approached, Hunter paused, saying, “It will be a difficult habit to break, but I will attempt to not call you sir, sir.”
Vorian chuckled, “Well, then, I won’t hold any slip-up against you. Much”
“Very good, sir… Damn!”
As the pair headed back to camp, Sonny was finishing scribing a scroll. Suddenly he felt an icy tongue lick the back of his head. Jumping to his feet he saw that the four white wolves had returned. Reaching forward, he laid a hand on the head of the lead wolf, scratching its ears. Vorian and the Hunter were stepping back into camp when the large wolf let out a long howl and stepped back. Stepping forward, one of the other wolves dropped two prairie dogs at Sonny’s feet.
“Can you understand me?” the Hunter asked hesitantly. “If you can, know that I am sorry for attacking you over breakfast. All hunters must eat, which I’m sure you understand.”
The white wolves regarded the elf for a moment before the large one slipped forward and rubbed his head under the Hunter’s outstretched hand. Vorian also stepped forward, putting a hand calmly on Sonny shoulder and reaching towards the lead wolf. Placing a hand on its head he rubbed it for a moment. Seeing a unique opportunity, Vorian cast detect thoughts, and his eyes flashed white as the magic surged through him and into the wolf.
What he got was not what was expected. The wolf was clearly intelligent, at least on level with a child, but its thoughts were not structured like a man’s. There was so much emphasis on smell and sound and movement, that Vorian at first had a hard time making sense of it.
_ Suddenly Vorian saw forests burning. The smell of smoke and blood. The smell of ash everywhere, hiding the smell of man approaching. Pain. Men with dark marks on their faces and necks. Horrible fear. Fear without reason, without direction. Flashes of pain and loss. Lost. Home lost and familiar prey scarce. Hunger. An image of the Hunter. Flashes of pain. Deep pain. Starving. A metal man but he looked soft and warm._
Vorian broke off from the wolf, with tears steaming down his cheeks. He could still feel the hunger pangs and the sharp sense of arrows in his ribs. He looked into the wolf’s eyes, seeing the pain echoed there and reached out again…
_ Hunger. Starving, but not alone. A cave filled with cubs. Too many mouths to feed. Not enough food. A father, proud of his sons. Distant mountains and strange plains. Clusters of houses, filled with food and fire and angry people. Being driven away. The need to feed one’s child._
Vorian broke away again, realizing that the smaller wolves were the sons of the largest. They were the only wolves large enough and strong enough to hunt in these strange lands. And so the staving pack had sent them out to find food. To feed their young and week.
Kneeling, Vorian picked up the two prairie dogs and held them up to the Alpha, saying, “We appreciate your offer, but you have the greater need. These are rightfully yours.”
The Alpha quickly grabbed the two animals and threw them back, his expression changed to displeasure.
“Very well,” Vorian said, picking up the animals and handing them to Sonny, “We appreciate your gift and I meant no offense. If there is anything we can do in the future to help you, find us. We shall offer what aide we can.”
The hunter removed his shirt and offered it to the Alpha to smell. The wolf appeared confused for a moment, so Hunter used Haldir to pantomime using the scent to track. The Alpha caught on and each wolf, in turn smelled Hunter’s shirt. Then, the white wolves howled and ran off towards the distant foothills.
(50xp awarded to the Hunter and Sonny. 100xp to Vorian for using detect thoughts)
The party spent the next hour packing before heading southwards towards Dragonroost. Alaric and the Hunter scouted for the party, with Hunter to the fore and Thricedamned ranging slightly to the east.
In the late afternoon they were moving into lightly wooded terrain, when Hunter caught sight of a volcano-shaped structure of stone and earth.
“It reminds me of an ant or termite hill,” Vorian said.
The group decided that they would move one, when Sonny felt a strange sensation along his metal body. Stepping quickly away from the spot he was standing in, he barely managed to avoid occupying the same space as an insect-like creature as it transitioned into reality. It seemed to fade into existence right next to the party.
The creature, a Xill, immediately struck at Sonny. It grappled with him for a moment and seemed surprised when the metal man did not succumb to its sting. Hunter quickly responded by loosing two arrows into its abdomen. The rest of the group quickly followed suit, overwhelming the Xill, which was not prepared for an enemy that it couldn’t paralyze. It attempted to phase out, but the companions were able to slay it before its transition was complete.
They searched its body, finding a number of gems and coins with the same image on them as the tattoo the group has been told about.
The group hurries away, before more Xill show up and keeps moving quickly until evening. Finding a hollow between two low hills they decided to refrain from lighting a fire, favoring rations instead of cooking. Sonny took the time to heal himself, Cher, and the rest of the group. He also handed Vorian the scroll he was working on, which was a scroll of cure light wounds.
Then everyone went to bed.
(Everyone gets 360xp)