Rain begins again. Big, fat heavy drops sprinkle earthward bound, splattering on the soft soil with a light thudding sound. Darkness’ shadow moves across the land as an orange sun begins melting into the distant horizon. Rain-heavy clouds ponderously roll northwards across the sky. A light breeze gusts from the South, and the air is thick with humidity.
Not far from a recent melee an orc sits cross-legged staring blankly into nothingness. Before him a small smoldering fire hisses malevolently at each raindrop careless enough to plummet into its maw. His weapons, armor, and other belongings lie discarded in a heap some yards away. An anxious leopard paces the grounds, with twitching tail and alert ears. It senses something is wrong and occasionally head-butts the orc for affection. When none is forthcoming it meows loudly and irritably, continuing its animated pacing around the area.
After some time the orc grabs a smoldering stick from the embers. The leopard stops and stares intently. The orc begins burning his face, drawing lines of ash and blood with the glowing stick. Wincing at the pain he continues his craft, and little by little ancient patterns begin to emerge. After some time at his grim task he grunts completion. Few on Khorvaire recognize the symbols on his face, and none on Xen’Drik. But those from the Crushed Bone Clan know this face well, and they know it as ‘Blood Feud’.
The orc finally stands. He inflates his great lungs and yells a great challenge to those who wronged him. Only, they don’t hear. Something else does…
Again the leopard head-butts the orc, and this time the orc crouches and hugs his female friend, Kailia. He tells the cat to stay and wait, be patient, he will come soon. He stands then and wild-shapes into an animal she has not seen before. He stares at her intently and commands again with his eyes, and then with deathly silence he vanishes into the jungles’ blackness. Each second an eternity for the cat, she paces nervously on the grounds. Abandoned and alone, exactly as when she was a kitten, enduring the solitude which she fears most. After some time the anxiety is too much. She meows loudly and springs after her best friend and master, prancing through the jungle with uncharacteristic abandon and fear…
Ja’Redd watches the adventurers’ heated discussion with mirth.
‘Fools, they have really done it now. Split the party they have. And now they doubt if they have the battle strength to continue. Wretched fools, this was an idiotic errand anyway, we should never have come, and we should return immediately before this journey becomes even more dangerous. See them debate, haha, ‘continue on, go back home, or stay and fight to possibly kill a long-time ally’. Haha. The fools. I see they are clearing the underbrush. All the good that will do them… we’re in a jungle, and Dadak won’t pick the one spot they have burned to start a fight. Even so, this mess can be made to my advantage. If Dadak should fall in battle, and die, their hand will surely be forced, and we must then return to Kalibuto. So, the time for my special deadly poison has come…’
Unobserved, Ja’Redd coats a single dart of his hand-crossbow with venom most deadly. None he knows of has survived its embrace.
It’s agreed then, we expect Dadak in the darkest hour of the night, during 2nd watch. At that time can we assume he will take full advantage of his darkvision. N’ketchi will cast daylight and we will attack to subdue. Pol can engage and destroy any summoned beast with deadly force, and N’ketchi and Kreshton attack Dadak, and quick. We have burned the ground such that little to no growth can entangle us, and N’ketchi will have his spells to heal us and placate our foe. Remember, do not attack to kill, we need Dadak to finish this quest. Perhaps this madness will end this night…. Kreshton, you agreed to take first watch, don’t forget your torch. We will light the oil for as much light as possible.
I am the Earth. Battle hardened, I endured deadly blows meant for others, without complaint. I am the Air. Barely surviving I explain, again, how our healer has failed in his task. If I fall, melee support will fail, and they may fall as well. I am Water. Betrayal. Weakened, I endure yet another attack, almost to death, from behind, from a friend and ally…. when words should have sufficed. I am Fire. Weakened, once more I fall, nearly breathing my last, after vowing vengeance.
Now I gather my strength for retribution, to undo my humiliation and shame. The Elements have reformed. They guide me, they bind me, they give me strength for this task. I go alone, but allied with nature’s wrath and fury.
The three adventurers nervously go about their business at camp. The sun is recently set and darkness surrounds them. The campfire, though low, causes shadows to dance and flicker across the nearby trees and bushes. The jungle is not quiet either. More than once the three startle at noises from its depths. No one notices an owl quietly landing on a branch some short distance away. It stares at its prey intently, and after some time begins to hoot… Camouflage. Kreshton, on watch, thinks he hears some vague different noise from the jungle depths, coming closer. Hoot… Call Lightning. Kreshton continues to listen and draws his sword from its scabbard. Pol resides within a camouflaged Leomud’s Tiny Hut and waits for N’ketchi to join him, focusing his psi energy. Ja’Redd has decided to remain uninvolved and stays at the periphery of the camp absently chewing on salted meat. Kreshton watches the jungle, every sinew straining to see and hear what he thinks is approaching. Hoot… Lessor Vigor.
Suddenly Kailia jumps from the trees and leaps for joy into Kreshton, who stays his blade an instant before it is too late. She leaps to Kreshton and head-butts him affectionately, but he knows something is wrong. Something is out of place.. she is happy but nervous, playful yet skittish, and he sees all this in an instant. He regains his wits and utters his fear. “He has come.” N’ketchi looks up and sees the cat… “It’s too early…”
Before Kreshton has time to repeat the warning, something steps from the trees. Something beastly but unworldly, something powerful and grotesque, something tinged with madness and rage unspent. Both Kreshton and Kailia look upwards in fear and despair. A true monster stands before them. A creature 8 feet tall, with a thick coat of shaggy feathers and fur. It’s body is like a bear’s, but it has an avian head with big, round eyes and a hooked beak. It’s eyes are bloodshot red and filled with wrath and madness. It begins a riveting shriek of anger when N’ketchi finishes his spell and bathes Kreshton in silence. At least now that fool Dadak can’t cast any spells, he thinks. Kreshton is both amazed and horrified and resigns himself to fighting this horror alone until Pol arrives. Ja’Redd is nowhere to be seen.
N’ketchi begins to advance to Kreshton’s aid. Suddenly and then quickly a roar begins to come from the trees around him. Bats are coming, first a few, then dozens, finally thousands. Within seconds N’ketchi is surrounded by a whirlwind of vicious, biting bats. Pol hears something is amiss and exits his camouflaged hut. He sees the terrible threat Kreshton is facing and begins making his way to help. N’ketchi is in trouble, but not very, so he decides to go to the source, which must be the creature. Pol notices N’ketchi off balance when suddenly the ground begins to move. “No,” he thinks, “we cleared this area.” Roots come up from below and begin to entwine both Pol and N’ketchi. Nonetheless, Pol continues his slow advance towards Kreshton. Will he be there in time? And where is Dadak..?!
Kreshton skillfully dances with the monster, rolling about and stabbing with skill. Kailia is no help. She is afraid and confused, and becomes an easy target for the creature’s rage. She is battered again and again. Dadak hears none of this, and releases his anger upon the cleric. A lightning bolt flashes through the bats and the cleric is stunned. Pol continues his slow advance, ever looking for the orc. N’ketchi heals his wounds, but is struck again and again. Pol is finally nearing the melee and sees Kreshton looking haggard. He turns to see an owl land in front of N’ketchi and shape change into Dadak. The roots do not seem to hinder the druid. He yells to Kreshton reflexively and decides to turn back. Seeing Kreshton fight single-handedly against a fiend so mighty is inspiring, but there can be only one outcome. Yet he must save N’ketchi first.
Vengeance is mine. Justice comes quickly in the wilds.
Finally, N’ketchi and Dadak stand facing each other, no word is spoken. Dadak’s grim resolve wavers as he hesitates to finish his crippled foe. N’ketchi wavers as well, still standing though bleeding profusely from hundreds of tiny wounds. Dadak thought he could kill this man, but now that he stands before him doubts his resolve. This man has saved his life many times, perhaps he made a mistake. His notes his actions, which speak volumes… N’ketchi does not defend himself. Is he too tired? Is he waiting for judgement? Perhaps he is wavering as well. Both men stand contemplating the other for mere seconds, though it seems an eternity. Pol is coming, no mind blade is visible.
Just then a bruised and battered Kailia, upon seeing her friend and master, forgets herself. The owlbear wastes no time and swipes its powerful claws in a deadly stroke, sending the cat sailing through the air. As N’ketchi and Dadak stand facing each other, Kailia lands between them in a lifeless heap.
Despite wretching from the bats, a healer instinct moves N’ketchi to quickly heal the cat. A moment later he falls into oblivion.
Dadak stands motionless, his concentration fails. Pol finds he is free of the roots and runs to the orc. The bats begin to disperse.
“Dadak, stay your hand!” Pol yells. The orc bends down and breathes a sigh of relief, the cat is alive still. Then he casts a healing spell to revert the catastrophy towards N’ketchi.
When Pol arrives he sees Dadak’s affliction is lifted. No time for discussion, pragmatism prevails – he points towards Kreshton, who is nearly spent. Without a word Dadak turns and looses the last lightning bolts on the monster. Pol moves to attack and Dadak wildshapes into a bear.
The dart flies straight and true, penetrating the bear in the shoulder. Such a small wound is barely noticed. The fight is brief and the owlbear soon lies dead. However, before a word of redemption can be spoken Dadak falls groaning, then wailing, into silence. Pol and Kreshton are incredulous. Dadak lies motionless and resumes his true form, causing the dart to fall away; never to be seen. A hideous blackness surrounds his shoulder, and his breathing soon stops.