Air

…turbulences … please sit down and hold tight.

A long-held sigh escaped his grin, “Ah, on the road again. The pleasures of
travelling the worlds and taming the wilds… Let leagues of steppes, seas
and stones be the carpet beneath our feet, let them be our beds and books, to
rest and pass through… and, – maybe – leave our own forelorn mark on a page
or two. Yes. I’ve been in the Keep for too long.”

Hobbes followed Vias’ outburst with a mocking "The way you talk, all the
preparation we did shopping and packing sounds like foreplay. "

Using the pause, Never inserted a neutral "By the way, it’s not like we can
even feel the steppes, seas or stones right now. We’re flying north as clouds
at unimaginable speeds high up above ground.

Before the mind link dies: we’ll meet at the feet of the mountains in about 6
hours, there we’ll continue tomorrow to find the cave into the
Underdark…"

Gwydion thought about his companion, left at the Keep to be picked up and
teleported to the entrance once found. The Underdark and its societies would
be a tough test to the two of them.

…. After some more hours of flying the above endless steppes of the Shar,
Never and Gwydion noticed a dark weatherfront coming in from North-East,
moving fast and menacing.
They stopped, but couldn’t communicate their discovery to the others, seeing
them continuing their wind-propelled path towards the mountains, direct into
the mouth of a storm.

Afraid to get separated, Gwydion and Never picked up speed and slowly caught
up to them, but by then they had reached the outliers of the storm and flying
had already gotten rough. After a short pause in which Vias established a new
Mindlink, the wind picked up even stronger, making flying impossibly hard.

The hero of the Vale decided to head back to the Keep and retry after the
freak weather had passed, but only Vias, Hobbes and Never managed to control
their flight. The hurricane winds blew Gwydion and Lambrac off course, pushing
them out of sight.
Gwydion managed to regain control, land and reform into corporeal form, while
Lambrac was pulled even farther into the reaches, getting lost from the group.

Hobbes, Never and Vias, back in corporeal form, felt the full heat and
pressure of the hot and humid Shar. It proved too much for some, and Hobbes
was left caring for the unconscious in apocalyptic conditions.
Rain drops flew horizontally, liquid daggers stabbing quickly and mercylessly
through wind-ruffled clothing.

Discussion was still manageable via mindlink, to plan the regrouping the next
morning, as suddenly Lambrac, crouching all alone with lightning attacking the
earth, was cut off and could not be reached anymore.


Rain was heated daggers slicing through Gwydion’s clothing, tall grass
whipping his face, scoring tiny cuts. Beads of blood welled forth and were
swept away by sweat and hot rain. Lightning revealed a deadly calm bearing,
counterpoint to chaos surrounding the loner.

Nature’s might seemed to strengthen him, rather than weaken, focussing his
thoughts by pounding and lashing out from all around him. So cut off, yet so
immersed, his mind travelled back to memories of other steppes, caring for
creatures, living with them. Running with horses, feeling the wind toss his
mane around while miles and miles passed beneath his hooves. Remembering,
Gwydions features seemed to elongate, the storm’s lightning strikes
illuminating a creature midway between humanoid and horse, its fur still
bearing a pattern of clothes stretched too wide. In another flash of cold white
light instants later, where before stood a calm wanderer attacked by the chaos
of the storm, a darkly spotted stallion stood, tossing its strong head and
whinnying, before gallopping with the wind, apparently purposeful.

“The many gifts of nature”, Gwydion thought as he rode searching for Lambrac,
“How good freedom feels. With every step I remember more, the joy simply to
ride, to ford rivers, to feel your brothers and sisters, your mates and
friends around you, their power lending you the strength should your hoof
falter. A neverending dream of speed and joy. Just run, leave more land behind
you, let the grass.. — was that?.. in my mind?.. " “Shit, Gwydion!? Are you
still there? Vias and Never just collapsed, I think the heat and humidity was
too much for them. I’ll do what I can to get them back, but let’s camp the
night out and regroup tomorrow. I’ll try to signal you as much as I can. Then
after meeting we should…” Stop. Not a fellow horse. Right. Mind Link,
probably ran out. “I can understand how some of my brethren forget what they
are and stay in their wild shape, their life’s essence how they first arrived
in this world forever forgotten, but reshaped and content. That will not be my
fate. Hobbes.. I’m not going to find Lambrac, not in this turmoil.”

A stallion in the midst of the Shar, rearing up as if to acknowledge the
storm, rode against its furious onslaught, rain drops like daggers piercing
his skull, tearing through wet fur, darkness embracing him as a long lost
friend.

Not too far away, undetectable and wet as a virgin on wedding night, lay two
unconscious forms, a smaller third sitting guard close by, covered completely
in its coat.
“Goddamned brainers, all in their heads, and once it gets too hot BAMN! you’re
left to sit the shit out on your own. Not that I care… I mean they do come
in handy if cover is blown and fighting gets rough, but.. FUCK! Stupid
neverending rain cutting your eyes out.
Those drops gotta be almost as sharp as my throwing knives… hmm, this gives
me an idea… ..a new knife design, gotta think this over.”

Hobbes glanced through the slit in his coat to the unmoving forms of Vias and
Never. He had opened their shirts and armor to allow them to breathe more
easily, using what shields and coats they had to cover them from the battering
of the storm and the puddles of water and mud. Checking for signs of a
deterioration of health, he resumed his spot and thought about possible
nuances and tricks for a new throwing design. Some time after maybe the
twentieth revision and heavy eyelids, he noticed the absence of constant wind
and rainfall, the storm had changed into a calmed drizzle. Thoroughly wet and
tired, he gave in to the lurings of sleep after he had appeased the meager
remainder of his conscience, that nothing could find them here..

… A growl woke Hobbes with a start. His hands went to his Kukris quick as
snakes, when another growl told him it was time for breakfast. Well, time to
check on the guys and nibble on the bark sold as cured meat. Why didn’t food
stay good in his magic backpack? He’d have to find one such bag on their next
journey to the market..

Never and Vias woke easily, their deep slumber having worked wonders, even
though they had missed most of the storm, a fact Hobbes made sure of to remind
them.

After preparing for the day in their own ways, they set to build a signal
Gwydion would be able to see. Not too long after morning, a vulture circling
the skies closed in on them and landed, greeting in a screechy reminder of
Gwydion’s voice. After some practice, he found back almost completely to his
human voice, but a hint stayed.

After linking their minds and all but Gwydion dissolving into gaseous forms of
themselves, they moved off in the direction thought to lead to Lambrac’s last
estimated location, before loss of contact.
Gwydion high in the sky as a typical vulture scanned the ground while the
group of clouds stayed close to ground or even within the grass.

Some time passed before they found a spot where blood had been spilled and
someone heavy had fallen, leaving deep impressions covered with mud. Heavy paw
prints and claw marks traced the earth, sufficing only for a tentative
interpretation of what had transpired: Lambrac had been surprised and
overwhelmed, injured but probably not fatally and taken away. An approximate
direction could be traced by the imrints, but not much more..

Never, focussing on Lambrac and his spilled blood, scryed for him on the
plains of the Shar, and was successful.
An almost naked Lambrac just regaining consciousness, bruised and bound as if
after one of his more curious sexual experiments, was lying in what seemed to
be a tent. A short exchange revealed the groups’ assumptions of him having
been surprised, he had not seen who had attacked him. He seemed to hear
several wild cats growling, lions or the like outside his tent. No discernible
symbols on the tent were visible. Promising to get him out of there, the four
flew and floated in their estimated direction, renewing the mind link as it grew
tenuous.

Time passed until Gwydion spotted a camp showing movement between tents. After
closing in more, an approach was decided and Never reformed himself, walking
to the camp on foot as wanderer having lost his companion during the storm
last night. Being closer now, Gwydion could discern more details of the
persons walking around in the camp and being stationed as guards outside its
perimeter. They were creatures completely unknown to him, so a good deal of
excitement could be felt as he told the others his discovery: "Lion-Men, Man-
lions. The creatures are as centaurs but with heads and lower bodies of lions.
A group of young ones seem to playing under supervision. They have large manes
and seem big, even from a distance. And there is a group of them closing in on
circling Never!

That brought a quick discussion, arguments to catch the kids in exchange for
Lambrac, but the original plan was not aborted, so Never stopped walking as
the group of Man-Lions came near enough. He greeted them in common "Hello
strangers, I have come a long way and have lost my travel companion in the
storm last night. Might you ha- " A shuffle from the back, a loud mental warning
from Gwydion and Never felt as though a siege boulder slammed into him from
behind, his face ramming into the hard baked earth and all was darkness.


Shortly after the scrying, Lambrac’s tent flap was pulled back and he thought
his head might broken. A mix of lion and man, with definitely more lion in it
padded in through the opening. It was massive, its muscles showing underneath
its golden fur, moving in feline elegance toward him. His amazement stopped
when its strong paws grabbed him, its claws cutting through his flesh without
resistance. The giant cat through Lambrac effortlessly over its shoulder, the
fetishes in its mane tinkling and clicking as it carried him to a large tent.
Outside, the camp was filled with others of its kind, growling with each other,
as it seemed, in discussion. Even the upside-down look from behind the lion’s
back was still enthralling. But the growling emerging from the large tent
brought Lambrac quickly back to realize his situation.

Two guards were stationed at the tent’s entrance, yet they were let through at
a short growl from Lambrac’s bearer. Inside, clothed Man-lions, a bit smaller
of stature, were conferring, snarling at each other, only one of them coming
up and ackowledging the newcomer. It exchanged some barks with the naked
carrier, who then took Lambrac to the side and put him down, guarding him.

Lambrac felt fragile without his equipment, and some twisting of the hands in
their bounds was rewarded with painful squeezing of his head, so he stopped
and hoped his compatriots would arrive in time, the discussions did not seem
friendly, otherworldly as it was.

Hours later, an unconscious and disarmed Never was brought in and, after a
short exchange with the same clothed man-cat, was thrown down at Lambrac’s
side. No portents of good events. He went to awaking Never under the watchful
eyes of his captor.

Outside, after Never had been taken, the remaining three had stayed under
cover, only Gwydion using his altitude to track Never’s catcher’s progress.
But he, too, had to go back to circling higher when some cat got suspicious of
him. Flying his circles high in the air around the camp to be sure he was
inconspicuous again, he noticed another group of lion-men, grouped farther off-
wind from the camp, sneakily going about some business. What he could
distinguish was that the fur tone was definitly reddish, distinctly different
from the golden ones in the camp. Gwydion relayed this message via mind
link, a sluggish reply from Never starting a quick exchange of news, of what
lay in the large tent and that the camp was in danger, as the Reds now started
to half surround the camp, armed with long vicious looking spears.
Vias was positioned off to the side, still in cloud form and Hobbes had drifted
with the wind behind red lines, still unsure whom to help.
Meanwhile, Never tried to get the message of the attacking reds across and the
possible help of his allies across, when suddenly they were under attack.

The outside guards were set upon and some strange magic unleashed by the reds
on the surprised golden campers, causing the first to go down quickly. But the
camp was prepared, and fast resistance was rebuilt, strengthened by magical
forces from the golden site. Never’ observed the main lion-man start a ritual,
an unknown and strange yet powerful spiritual summoning, that outside blew the
reds’ magic away. After some consternation on whom to help, finally Hobbes,
Gwydion and Vias decided it was worth to support the golden side, slashing
away at the open flanks, sending lightning bolts into the reds (bare shadows of
the awesome power of the previous night) or melted their brains out.
Lambrac tried to persuade his guard to be allowed to help in vain, being
forced to listen to the fighting until it was over.

In the camp, the other clothed lion-men quickly helped their wounded, while a
team of healthy warriors went after the retreating reds. Other still healthy
guards surrounded Hobbes, after he had cut down two of the reds by himself
within moments of the fight. A clothed man-cat spoke to him in broken common:
“Give weapon. Follow.”
The high priest within the tent told Never’ in a more fluid common that he
should tell all his allies to cede their weapons and follow. After a pause by
Hobbes, waiting for his comrades and mentally discussing their options, Vias
and Gwydion floated down to Hobbes, handing over their weapons and following the
clothed one into the large tent.

Air

May you live in Interesting Times. baron162