Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Wolfbang and the Bears

Wolfgang, Gerilynn, Vulpio, and Chickie continued to explore the Gold Hill area. They came upon other remnants of the area’s past. These included a dilapidated barn infested with giant bees and a once ostentatious, now ruined graveyard haunted by skeletons, zombies, and likely worse things. Nahnyuk forbade Valu from leaving the homestead. And he instructed Wolfbang to sell his donkey, intimating that ownership of domesticated animals compromised a man’s own wildness. (Wolfgang did tearfully sell the donkey at the Gold Hill trading post. Chickie bought it back.)

During the weeks they lived on Nahnyuk’s farm, they learned that he never harvested more than a frugal sample of his grapes and honey, though with proper equipment he might have a very profitable operation. Valu had explained that it was “for the bears.” People at the trading post—Brau, the traders, the constables—all confirmed that Nahnyuk never sold his harvest. One evening, near the end of the season, when the grapes were beginning to fall off the vine, and when the warm, still air was thick with their, sweet, winey smell, half a dozen black bears lumbered out of the woods, and through the briars to feast. They began in the vinyards, tearing down the vines as they devoured the fruit, crushing more feet than they consumed. The bears moved from the vinyards to the apiaries. As the invaders knocked over one of the hives and began shovelling honey and bees into their mouths, Nahnyuk scolded the onlookers, urging them into their huts. Wolfbang and the others listened to the buzzing of angry bees and the triumphant humming of the ravaging bears. When the sun set completely and darkness settled over the homestead, the bears finished gorging themselves and returned to the forest.

The next morning, Nahnyuk set Valu, Wolfbang, and the others to work. They righted the overturned hives, and they replaced broken vine poles. The sun was hot and the work was hard, but they were motivated by a sense of purpose. (Except for Valu, who was especially sulky and often absent.)

Late in the afternoon, the bears returned. There were more this time, and they were more deliberate, finding a tangle of half-wild grape vines that they’d missed the first time, and thoroughly tearing apart the hives. Again, they stayed until nightfall.

The next morning, Nahnyuk gave the same instructions to repair the bears’ damage. Or, as Gerilynn saw it, prepare another feast for bad-mannered guests who took no notice of proper table settings. So instead, first chance they got, Wolfbang and his friends followed Valu’s example and slunk off, certain they could find another way to spend the day.

So they returned to the ruined graveyard! On a previous visit, the party had encountered walking skeletons. These macabre constructs stood as guardians on the column-lined processional that bisected the graveyard. The party had fought and destroyed several of these on the day before the bears’ first visit; all were happy to discover that these bones had been laid to final rest at last. Other skeletons, from the other side of the graveyard, were driven away when Gerilynn presented the holy symbol of Raud. While Gerilynn held the skeletons at bay, the rest of the party approached a large tomb at the east end of the graveyard. There was a door in the tomb and the door was open. The party entered, Gerilynn still warding the skeletons. When Vulpio, Chickie, and Wolfbang entered the dark vault, zombies emerged from all sides. The living intruders raised their weapons to defend themselves against the undead attackers. Gerilynn turned to present her holy symbol to these new enemies—the zombies clambered back off the walls and into their individual tombs.

But now the skeletons, seized their advantage and began to advance across the graveyard. Gerilynn instructed her friends to prepare to fight the zombies, and as the skeletons neared her, she turned on them once more, calling on her faith in Raud to keep the walking bones away from her.

This time her friends were prepared to fight the zombies, assailing the animated corpses as they emerged from their cubicles. Showing neither fear nor pain, the zombies sustained the blows without flinching; those not destroyed clubbed the party with their rotten limbs. When the zombies pressed too hard, and Chickie and Vulpio had both suffered solids blows, Gerilynn once again turned her back on the skeletons and once again sent the zombies into hiding.

The skeletons moved much faster than the zombies and the party had but a moment to catch their breath before they had to face the zombies once more. Spot the dog and Wolfie were called into the tomb to assist their human companions. Spot, like a dog, gave all. He was killed by the last and largest of the zombies, just as the walking corpse was sent to its final rest by Vulpio’s crushing war hammer.

Gerilynn healed the party’s wounded, and all prepared to meet the skeletons, gathering rocks, fragments of headstones. The skeletons approached close enough to be destroyed by a volley of thrown missiles.

The party’s reward, if any, wasn’t found in the tomb. A rusty axe was their only trophy. Wolfbang observed there were other large burial monuments, but Gerilynn firmly opposed any thoughts of further exploration. They had all been injured by the zombies, Gerilynn was exhausted from warding the undead powers, and unless they returned immediately, they wouldn’t reach home until after dark.

So they returned to Nahnyuk’s homestead. The bears were there, and their bacchanal was bigger, louder, and more destructive than ever, but the party paid them little attention, collapsing into sleep before the party ended.

Did the ursine rampage go the whole night? Surely no, Vulpio was later say that once during the night he was awakened by the pounding in his head and heard nothing outside the hut. Nevertheless, it was bears and not headaches that awakened the party in the morning. They were close, very close. The crashing sound was that of a stone wall collapsing. They were not overturning beehives, but breaking into a hut. Valu screamed. Geriynn emerge in time to see a huge black bear, standing on its hind legs, tall as a grizzly, and holding Valu to its body. Gerilynn rushed to attack it, but two other bears blocked her away. As the others—Vulpio, Wolfbang, Chickie—emerged from their huts, Nahnyuk, standing in his own doorway, ordered them back inside. Vulpio ignored him and attacked the bears that had attacked Gerilynn. At first the bears simply avoided his blows, but after Vulpio’s war hammer connected solidly with a bear’s snout, they both attacked him with ferocity, swatting him back and forth with their claws until he fell to the ground. Meanwhile, the large bear carried Valu nto the forest. His screams became more distant. Gerilynn did not follow, but instead tried to help Vulpio. The bears relented and followed the larger bear into the forest. Gerilynn tended to Vulpio. He was battered, but not seriously wounded.

Nahnyuk did not offer any explanation for the bear’s behvior. He was subdued and showed no interest in repairing his homestead or in rescuing Valu. 

Gerilynn convinced the others that they should track the bears. They put on their armor, ate a quick breakfast, and set off. Gerilynn found the bear tracks easy to follow nd the party made their way through the forest for several hours, generally in a westward direction. In the afternoon, near a large briar patch, they met a man. Big and tall, with a thick black beard, this man was as wild as Nahnyuk in appearance, but he met the party with a clear gaze and understandable speech. Yes, he had seen some bears, and he thought he knew which way they had gone. He led the party north, first down the ridge toward the road, then across the road and up the ridge toward Gold Hill. Here, as dusk was falling, the stranger announced that he had lost the trail. “But normally, if bears do things, it’s for a purpose.”

The party spent the night at the Inn. Brau agreed that if Valu had been taken aay by bears he must be very frightened, but could give them little practical advice. A few off-duty constables overheard the conversation, and waited until Brau had returned to the kitchen to give their own advice: “Be careful what you tell that Brau woman, everyone knows she’s a witch.”

The next morning, the party reported Valu’s disappearance to the constable’s office. The deputies promised to send out additional patrols.

The party returned to Nahnyuk’s homestead They found Nahnyuk in his hut, and his bed, dead, and looking very peaceful. Chickie and Vulpio made a report at Gold Hill, and soon returned with Brau and one of her acolytes, plus the Head Constable and several of his deputies. Wolfbang and Brau conducted a burial service. Someone remarked that the land on which Nahnyuk had been living belonged to the Constable. The Constable assented, and announced his plans to “turn the plan to productive use—but no need to talk about that right now.” He assured Wolfgang & co that they continue to stay on the land “for the time being.”

The next day, Gerilynn convinced the otersthat they should resume their search for Valu. /they followed the same westward path that they’d followed the day before, This time, when they reached the briar patch, they stayed to investigate, and came across two berry-stained bears lounging in the sun. Wolfbang sent the others away and spoke to the bears. They knew about the boy and knew that he had gone with the big bears. The big bears lived on the top of the high ridge. They didn’t know why the big bears wanted to take Valu.

The party spent another night at the Inn. Wolfbang didn’t like the idea because of the deputies’ rumors about Brau. He was out voted, but he didn’t sleep well, and when he saw a cat in his room, his screaming woke up the others. Two of Brau’s assistants came running. Meanwhile the cat had disappeared. The assistants assured Wolfgang tat plenty of cat roamed Gold Hill and sometimes they wandered into guests’ rooms to beg food. After the sleepy assistants returned to their quarters, the cat returned, and showed himself to be Jaroo. Resuming human form, an impatient Jaroo suggested that Wolfbang should leave the bears alone and instead consider the question of who would guard the grove in Whitkey? Deflecting questions from Gerilynn, Jaroo assumed the form of a lizard and scuttled off into the shadows.

Gerilynn was not yet ready to give up. Remembering the briar patch bears’ information that the big bars lived on the high ridge, she suggested that the party venture into areas they had no yet explored. Besides the main path that led from Gold Hill back down into the valley, there were other, more narrow tracks that led higher into the hills. Choosing one of these, they travelled for about an hour until they came upon a sprawling homestead and a pair of goat herders, surrounded by their goats. These men introduced themselves as members of the Busey family. They did see bears from time to time, but did not see any bears traveling with a bear and had no interest in discovering where the local bears made their home. They showed little interest in conversation until Chickie mentioned their combat with the evil magician. The Buseys showed restrained interest in hearing more and invited the party to one of their houses for lunch.

The party joined their hosts for a simple, but large meal, during which other members of the extended family visited to hear about Valu in the bears. No one pretended to have any useful information. In time, the Busey clan revealed that they were concerned about the disappearance of one of their own. A young man named Hem had long shown that he had little aptitude for any of the tasks associated with keeping goats. Instead, he had studied ark magic and recently apprentice himself to a traveling magician. The Buseys were glad to know that the magician himself was dead, and said quick quiet prayers of thanks when they heard that in the midst of the fighting, Gerilynn had spared the lives of at least two of the magician’s compatriots. Based on his description, one of them may have been Hem. Maybe he would return one day or maybe he had heeded Gerilynn’s advice to go away and find a better life.

But the Buseys wanted more than hope, they wanted closure. Three men of the clan asked the arty to take them to Whitkey and show them where the battle took place. The party agreed.

There was little to show. The body of the magician as gone. There were no other dead. The party didn’t tell the Buseys about the wolves who laired in one of the ruined houses and who had scavenged the magician. Nevertheless, the Buseys were grateful to the party. Thy took their leave, promising to be on the lookout for Valu.

The party stayed in Whitkey, reasoning that they could not remain at Nahnyuk’s place indefinitely. Some of the buildings looked habitable. One of the most stable houses was at last ruled unsuitable because it was so dark, being thoroughly overgrown with vines and twisted trees. The inn, Gerilynn discovered, had a weak floor. She crashed through it into the cellar and was attacked by rats the size of cats. Wolfbang let a rope and Chickie came to her aid. Moving to the outskirts of the village, the party noticed the ruins of a tower on top of a rocky outcropping. They climbed the outcopping to investigate and found a hole in the rubble. As they began to light a torch to investigate, a greenish, clawed, undead thing burst out of the hole and attacked them. It as both faster and hardier than the zombies, and most terrifying of all, its toxic touch caused near instant paralysis. Both Vulpio and Gerilynn soon found their limbs frozen. The undead thing suffered wounds from Wolfbang’s spear and Chickie’s axe, but it seemed to barely bleed. Then Chickie was caught by a clawd hand and he too was frozen. For a moment, Wolfbang considerd flight, But then Wolfie clamped his jaws around the undead thing’s leg and pulled it to the ground. Wolfbang took this moment to plunge his spear through the undead thing’s chest and pin it to the ground, holding it there until it stirred no more.

Wolfbang draggd his friends down off the outcrop. After an hour or so, they recovered from their paralysis and they all returned to Gold Hill for the safety of the Inn.

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