Exodus

Session 3: Pack Tactics

As told by a boy named Khut

Vadim was out rustling more cattle, presumably, the rest of us were the Tengri knows where, climbing an escarpment. At the top, of course, was a pack of Nohai, five of them, with bows trained on us. More specifically, they had their bows trained on Barruk’s left eye (he being the most obvious threat, since I was hiding in a ditch, sneaking around them, as usual, and Khadagan was…well he was there, but somehow looks less menacing than the massive malik champion).

As we approached, carefully, one of the nohai snuck up behind the one that was obviously the leader, only to get his throat grabbed in the leader’s jaws. There was some whimpering and some baring of the neck as he backed down.

Sorq, the only one of us who spoke nohai, lead the approach and bowed to them. The chief (pack-leader, whatever) bowed back, perfectly mimicing her stance and motions, clearly trying to be polite despite not understanding the greeting, and introduced himself as Chinua, formerly of Dust

Now, that last part matters, so let me explain a few things about Nohai. First off, pack membership is super important to them. Secondly, there is no such thing as a “former pack”. The pack is the pack. You belong to the pack you are in. Claiming identity with a previous pack is sacrilege, blasphemy.

So, Chinua introduces himself in a way that makes his packmates cringe, then Sorq introduced herself as “Sorqutani of No Pack” (which of course, was just as blasphemous as the chief’s statement). Sorq then asked about his ‘current pack’ (as opposed to the former, Dust), and he was of “not no pack”, “nothing”, “the empty circle”, the “void fillers” — all of which sounded disturbingly like some kind of theism. Now, the fact that these two statements didn’t cause them to throw down immediately is something of a miracle and an oddity, but nothing like what followed next.

You see, Chinua then challenged Barruk to a one-on-one match for “leadership of the pack” (the pack being us). Now, let me reiterate, it was pretty clear, even if I was only hearing things at a distance and translated second-hand by Sorq, that something really screwy was going. As Chin pulled out his spear and made his challenge, it was pretty clear that he was putting on some kind of show for his pack as much as for us. And, of course, funny thing about Malik champions…they live for single combat.

Barruk accepted, of course. He rose up from behind a big rock where he had been trying, quite unsuccessfully, to take cover. His eyes were blazing with light, his horns shone like gold, and the ground shook with every step of his big hooves. Clearly Chin thought this was just as creepy as I did, for he nearly peed himself. But, he kept a kind of fanatical gleam in his eye, snarled and charged.

Chin slammed into Barruk, but the malik held his ground, his hooves digging deep into the shale of the escarpment. The two wrestled, spear to axe, for a while, horns stabbing and jaws snapping. Finally Chin cast his spear aside, lunged, and caught Barruk’s axe handle in his jaws. The two of them went down, with Barruk hanging half-way off the cliff.

Meanwhile up on the hill-top, the surly nohai lieutenant tried to make his move, drawing a knife and indicating to the others that they should attack us. Ado, who had been rocking out on an odd little flute, tossed his instrument across the nose of the rogue nohai, producing a shrill and weird whistling noise. The lieutenant apparently thought that this was the most hilarious thing ever, as he immediately fell to the ground laughing like the cackle-beast that he so resembled.

Khadagan then stepped in and tore out the lieutenant’s throat with his tusks. The lieutenant just kept laughing and laughing through the whole thing, and, having somehow survived to bare his throat apologetically to Khadagan, shall forever after be known as “Giggles”.

I pulled out a rope, maneuvered around closer to them, and tied it off, ready to jump and grab Barruk should he fall. Instead. Chinua released the axe and snapped at Barruk again, his jaws crushing the chainlink shirt that Barruk wore and ‘accidentally’ flipped Barruk over, away from the cliff. I say ‘accidentally’ because it was a very well conceived bluff. From my close vantage it was clear that Chinua had deliberately saved the life of our curly-horned friend. Barruk then repaid the nohai’s kindness by slamming the flat of his axe-blade into his opponent’s face, dislocating Chin’s jaw with a horrendous cracking sound and knocking the nohai out.

Barruk hauled the unconscious Chinua up the hill, where the other nohai immediately recognized him as their new pack leader (with Khadagan as the obvious lieutenant pack leader, having taken out their lieutenant’s throat). So, after applying some healing, we new had five nohai in our “pack”.

While everyone else was making nice with our new pack-mates, I spotted a couple of rustles in the grass in the ravine below. Two “somethings” were coming from the general direction of the fire-starters encampment. I fired off one of the black-fletched warbler arrows, which let out a hideous death-shriek as it flew through the air, bringing everyone else running down to look. I pointed out the waves in the grass and Sorq lit it up, setting the grass on fire and revealing a quartet of nohai, looking far too wounded to be coming at us so fast (almost to the point of being dead).

Well, dead, or undead, or whatever, we had the high ground, and bows. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Fish that got back up and kept walking whenever you shot them that is. Still, I’m a fairly good shot sometimes: nailed three of them to the ground, and nailed the hand of the last one to its forehead. This last one charged Barruk, only to lose that last hand, and its head, in the offing.

With the nohai zombies dealt with, we decided to make a strategic withdrawal, putting a few more miles of distance between ourselves and the fire camp. So we hoofed it, and I doubled back a few times to cover our tracks and spread some false ones, a right merry chase should any more zomb-nohai try to follow.

Once we were a safe distance, we pitched camp and settled in. Our new nohai packmates had taken the dead nohai with them, and, once settled, made a great feast of their slain fellows. They had some tradition about eating the dead as a show of respect and to take on their strength and speed. As a show of solidarity with our “pack”, I helped myself to some rotten nohai spleen, and suffered some horrible cramps as my reward.

The nohai were still in a pretty bad state. Ado used his magic to wake Chinua up. Then Khad made a paste from poppy pods, which he rubbed on the ex-chief’s gums to dull the pain as I popped his jawbone back into its socket. Barruk then finished by laying on hands to make the jaw set, leaving Chin’s chin looking much better. (Ha!) Sorq then took one of the beads out of her hair and wove it into Chin’s mane (which is apparently some kind of sign of victory or strength or the like among nohai…or maybe a courtship ritual, it’s hard to say).

Once we had settled in, the nohai told us about the “Void Fillers” — the mix-matched clan of nohai, zombies, and nohai zombies down in the valley. Apparently the fires were part of some grand scheme on the part of the Void Fillers, which basically amounted to ‘KILL EVERYTHING’. They start fires, then go around collecting the various refugees who may have survived the fire but were separated from their own clans. These refugees got conscripted into ‘fire camps’, like the one nearby, given the choice to either join up willingly, or get killed and turned into a zombie (and thus forced to join that way). Most of the nohai in the camp were formerly from the “Blades of Earth” pack, but Chinua and his crew were a small hunting party that got separated from their larger pack (Dust) by the fires are recruited in the manner described.

After a bit of a chat, Chinua implied that he had other things to share with his “pack leader”, Taking the hint, Khad, Ado, and I took the remaining nohai (Giggles, Fletcher, Kitty, and Hooch) and went out to see if any game had survived the fires. Barruk (as leader) and Sorq (as translator) stayed behind and discussed with Chin how we might go about divesting the nearby fire-camp of some of the other broken and conscripted packs to add to our own.

First point of business for the hunting party was to get me back on my feet, as I was still feeling very ill from eating uncooked, rotten nohai meat (note to self for the future — fuck pack solidarity). Khad found a weird-looking root that he called badberry (because it is what you should eat when you’ve had a bad berry). He cut it into small strips and said I should chew and swallow them. Which I did. After which it felt like I was dying. My throat burned, my stomach heaved, and everything I had eaten for the last three days came spewing out with the force of a geyser. Afterwards, though, I felt much better.

While I might have hoped for something easier to kill, the only meat we found was a herd of gorgons, maybe thirteen of them, including a pair of bulls. Now, hunting gorgons just because you are hungry might seem like a bad idea, but I was still a little light-headed from puking my guts out, and I there was one cow who was partly burned and half-lame who looked like she might be easy enough to pick off. That is, of course, if Khad hadn’t stumbled around making as much noise as a drunken hornbeast, and I hadn’t, in trying to coax the wounded cow away from the herd, gotten the attention of the largest of the two bulls.

Ado used his magic to mimic the cry of a thunderbird, which are known to prey on gorgons, hoping to scare the bull off. Instead of becoming frightened, though, the bull took the cry as a challenge and came running towards the sound (which is probably why there are as few gorgons as there are). Well, as I learned from cattle-rustling with Vadim, if a plan goes sour, just make up a new one. Oh, and run, definitely also run.

So, we ran, but, seeing the light of the fire-camp not more than a mile away, we decided we’d run for the camp, figuring that an angry gorgon bull would work wonders for disorienting, demoralizing, destabilizing, and decimating the camp of our enemies. Ado, Khad, and I booked it for the camp, heading down the steep shale slopes into the ravine, shouting, waving torches, and firing arrows all the way to the cliff to urge the gorgon to keep after us.

Meanwhile, Ado sent up the alarm through his warbler buddies, alerting Barruk and Sorq to the situation. Quick thinkers that they were, they figured that a herd of gorgons was better than one, and immediately ran out to where we’d been hunting and started lighting fires to frighten the rest of the herd towards the fire-camp. If there is one thing that a band of rustlers knows how to do, it is start a stampede.

So, with much running and screaming, we hit the scree. Khad went sliding down first, hitting the grasslands below running flat-out. Ado did less well with it, losing his perch on the cackle he was riding and tumbling down the slope. With the bull just on my heels, I ran out wide, tied a knot in the end of my last rope, hooked it on a jagged outcropping, and leaped. I swung across the gorgon’s path and, sure enough, he got his feet tangled on the rope and went barreling head-first down the slope (that out to make him mad). To add insult to injury, when he landed, Ado hit him with some vicious mockery.

Even the best plans have their consequences, and tripping a gorgon down a cliff was not one of my best plans. Short version, I got a good whiff of its breath on the way down. On the plus side, my hands half-froze holding onto the rope, so I didn’t follow it down.

Of course, then Sorq and Barruk came running, just ahead of a wall of fire and a herd of stampeding gorgons. Despite the limited mobility provided by my calcifying limbs, I managed to avoid getting trampled as the beasts came down the slope. The same cannot be said of Ado, still dismounted at the bottom of the slope, who was beaten to a fine bloody pulp by the gorgons’ hooves.

But, I didn’t really have time to worry about Ado, as my limbs started returning to normal just in time for the fire to hit the crest of the scree … and set fire to the rope I was hanging from. I let go the rope, pulled out my knives, and jammed them into cracks in the slate, holding on for dear life. There was fire above, and more fire and a herd crazed iron-hided cattle below. So I clung to the cliff and waited for the fires to burn out.

While I clung to the hillside, everyone else ran headlong towards the camp, gorgons on their heels. Khad, who had been in the lead the whole time, screamed and leaped, hitting the wooden fence around the camp at a full run and launching himself over the heads of the defenders, just moments before near two dozen tons of iron-scaled oxen smashed into the camp.

The gorgons raged through the camp, statues spreading like wildfire from their breath, and the actual wildfire spreading in an identical manner behind them. Khad raced through the camp, not even pausing as he passed the malik sorcerer who was standing in the center of the camp with blood-soaked horns, a bloody snout, an evil altar, and the rest of the whole evil necromancer schtik. Nor did Khad stop when that same malik nailed him with a clearly quite painful curse. He took the blast and kept running, hurling himself out the far side of the encampment, then circling around to meet up with our nohai, who were laughing uproariously as they fired arrows at stragglers trying to escape the gorgon-wrought carnage within.

Sorq, meanwhile, spotting the malik sorcerer, decided that it was a good idea to sneak into the camp, apparently with the goal of robbing his tent in the chaos. She somehow managed to make it to the tent without getting stabbed, trampled, or petrified, only to find the tent occupied by an undead nohai. She dodged the zombie’s strike, letting it knock out the tent poles instead, grabbed the nearest loose object, cut a hole in the collapsed tent, and ran for it holding … an iron teakettle (a tremendous waste of metal if ever I’d seen one).

With the fires finally moved on, I dislodged my knives and surfed down the slope, landing on my feet, and ran flat out to where I’d last seen Ado go down under the gorgon stampede. Barruk was already there, trying, unsuccessfully, to bandage the warbler’s wounds. Rather than waste any more time, I bundled Ado up tight in a sheet to at least staunch the bleeding a little, and Barruk and I ran to meet up with Khad, Chinua, and the rest of our pack.

Sorq caught up to us shortly thereafter and we all booked it. Behind us, the grass was a smoking black wasteland and the camp was a full of statues, burned and trampled tents, greenish fog, and the gorgons grazing on their food stores. Undercutting the noises of lowing gorgons and crackling fires were the enraged screams of the malik necromancer who’s day we had just ruined.

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Session 2: We Didn't Start the Fire
Bad Bull

When group of deputies and dignitaries from Black Crows showed up, Ma’chek was gearing herself up to throw the Hustler Rustlers under the Housebeast. Not for the gamete-hustlin’ and well poisoning. They were accused of rampant fire-startin’. Vadim and Sorqutani were able to convince her that there was some reasonable doubt they hadn’t started the fire that had spread and ravaged, and continued to spread. The Rustlers beat a dirty exit as Ma’chek set her dogs on them to save Drowned River’s face in front of the Black Crows. They turn out of be four cuppies that Vadim has raised by hand: Murderer, Killer, Ripper and Render.

Sorqutani guides the Rustlers directly up the wake of the burning fire. They enter a canyon, and come upon a wounded pregnant Gorgon, damaged by lightening. They heal her and Ado keeps Vadim from turning to stone while he helps her deliver a blue-green bull. Soon after leaving Sparky and his mom to bed down in the cover of the steep rock walls, the Rustlers find a herd of Gorgons, smashed on the floor of the canyon. Adu has retainer Yam send a whistle-arrow to inform the warblers in the area of the cache of metal.

The Rustlers meet a Quixotic Malik bull named Barruk, who is also investigating the fire. They continue up the plume and quickly discover that the massive fire was set in many places, graduating north.

The Rustlers encounter 5 spires of pearly rock, rising from the plane. While they are investigating it, a continent-sized Thunderbird roosts on it, feasting on Gorgon. Sorqutani finds a feather of solid steel, vibrating with static. Vadim covers the party in male Cackle gland juice and they walk out, unobserved.

They find an abandoned camp of Nohai/Malik mix tracks, and three Snakefolk try to kill them. Barruk and Sorqutani destroy them while Vadim and Adu collapse into seizures and try to make friends, respectively. Murderer is killed. Rearmed with snake poison, they follow the encampment northward, stealing a march through the night.

Adu and Vadim investigate the camp and find a witchy-looking bull Malik in charge of several Nohai zombies and many soon-to-be Nohai zombies, and return the Rustlers with intel.

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Session 1: Horndogging Hornbeasts

Dramatis Personae:

  • Vadim — Druidic Cattle-Rustler Extraordinaire
  • Khut — Vadim’s trusty Ranger sidekick
  • Ado — A warbler who warbles too much
  • Khadagan — A hermit with bigger tusks than the rest of us
  • Sorqutani — A crazy steppes-witch

Buttercup was in heat, the Black Crow tribe had the studliest bulls, the answer was simple, steal a bull. But no, Vadim had an even cleverer and sneakier answer, why steal the bull when all you need is the semen. So Vadim and Khut headed to the nearest Black Crow camp to scope out the available stock.

They arrived in early morning, set up Vadim’s cheap, ugly, worn-out tent, and started making the rounds. Then, of course, Semek’s wife, an unfortunately thin woman, came storming out of a tent, spitting, cursing, and kicking things over. Khut fell immediately in love. He, of course, added killing the woman’s husband to his mental to-do list.

Just as Khut was daydreaming about the bloody slaughter of a man he didn’t know in order to win the hand of a woman he had only seen once (which may or may not be reflective of his own mode of conception), there was a sudden ruckus in the grasses. A tribe of warblers was running through the grass, making quite the racket.

Khut saw a warbler Housebeast running around crazily, and he and Vadim slowly approached to see what was up. Vadim quickly made friends with the thing, but then all hell broke loose. Black-fletched arrows started flying out of the grass and the warblers started jumping and yammering like crazy. Then a flock of black-feathered, glassy-eyed warblers with metal claws and their beaks tied shut burst from the grass and attacked the first band. Vadim charged in with his sabre, quickly joined by a big-toothed hermit and a crazy steppes-witch who were also visiting the Black Crows. Khut, not really seeing the gravity of the situation, kept his distance, but did, slowly, ready his bow.

The black warblers swarmed over the defenders. There was much hacking and bashing from Vadim and the hermit, and blasts of fire from the witch, and the occasional, lazy arrow from Khut, but the little black bird-goblins kept coming. At some point Adu, the lead friendly-warbler, vanished, only to reappear moments later with a shriek and a blast of concussive force that flattened the prairie grasses around him.

Finally, as nearly a dozen of the creatures climbed over the hermit’s body, the witch let loose a blast of…something. Whatever it was, it was neither right nor pleasant, as the black-warblers eyes suddenly crusted up with filth, blinding them. The hermit roared and raged, shaking one creature that was clinging to his axe off, splitting it in twain, then charged and leaped headlong into a nearby cookfire. The air was filled with the horrendous smell of burned hair, burned feathers, and burned hornbeast droppings. But the battle was over.

Friendships forged in the heat of battle are the only true kind, and our heroes were no different. Once the black warblers were dispatched introductions were made, wounds were patched up, and our five disparate heroes became a party.

The black warbler bodies were looted and burned. Khut, by virtue of discretion the only one uninjured from the ordeal, offered the warbler tribe the use of his, or rather Vadim’s, tent to build their nests in for the day. The warblers and the injured laid down to rest until nightfall.

Khut, meanwhile, went off after the tentmaker’s wife. Not that he really expected to confront her, or make a pass at her, or even approach her (women were scary after all), but he was in love, so he followed her. Her trail was strewn with beautiful, perfect white feathers, which he collected, intending to use them as fletching. Then her trail just ended. Khut scanned the skies and spotted a beautiful white bird flying off towards a distant thunderstorm. He breathed the deep sigh of young unrequited love (is their any other kind) and headed back to the Black Crow camp.

When night fell, Vadim called together Khut and their new friends, Adu, Khadagon, and Surqutani, and explained their deep and desperate need for the semen of the Black Crow’s prized bulls. While Vadim and Khut, expert cattle rustlers that they were, said they would do the actual collection, the others agreed to help.

Surqutani used her chilling touch to frost over the bone flasks that would hold the collected semen, in order to keep it fresh for the journey back to Drowned Rivers. Adu and his warblers spread out, making a general ruckuss to cover the sounds of the rustlers creeping through the grass, and using their illusions to increase the general gloaming over the ground. And Khadagan walked up and started a conversation to distract the man on watch over the herd. Vadim doused Khut and himself with hornbeast urine to mask their smell.

Crawling stealthily through the grass, Vadim and Khut noticed that the guard was mounted on a truly impressive Warbeast stallion and made a bee-line for his fine stock. As they approached, another large, fine hornbeast bull, already in rut, caught their scent and started to hone in on them. Khut broke off towards the bull, while Vadim moved up to the stallion. Soon they were both crouching carefully between the legs of their quarry and started their milking.

All went well, until the warbeast shifted and stepped on Vadim’s foot. Vadim stiffled a scream, and then began working harder, quickly bringing the warbeast to climax. The hornbeast that Khut was jacking, meanwhile, spotted one of the warblers and went trotting after it. Unable to keep up with the excited beast, Khut grabbed onto its member and hung their, allowing himself to be dragged along. Soon his weight hanging their, combined with the jostling stride of the hornbeast got the job done.

Then, of course, the excited warbeast bucked, throwing the rider, who spotted Vadim. Apparently the sight of the notorious cattle rustler jerking off his mount was (with a little help from one of Adu’s spells) the funniest thing the guard had ever seen, as he burst into unstoppable paroxysms of laughter, allowing our heroes to escape.

The five of them sprinted away into the darkness, running east. They finally stopped by a spring about six miles away from the Black Crow camp, where Khut, who had not gotten a nap during the day with the others, fell down and was almost immediately asleep. Everyone else soon followed, though not without posting a watch.

During her watch, Surqutani apparently went insane and blasted her sleeping companions with the same spell that had rendered the black-warblers blind. Khadagon woke up and retaliated, but was quickly kicked down the nearby well and splashed with acid by the witch.

Just then, the thundering of horn-beast hooves could be heard, as a quartet of Black Crow thieftakers came riding after Vadim and company. Adu jumped on the still-sleeping Khut and hid them with the illusion of a bramble ticket. Vadim quickly burried his flasks of semen, figuring that he’d be less likely to be staked out to die if they did not find evidence of the crime on him.

The first thief-taker attempted to lasso Vadim and failed. The second clubbed him. The third simply grabbed him by his shirt-collar and dragged him along beside his warbeast, grinding Vadim against the walls of the canyon they rode through. All the while, Vadim yelled at them, trying to point out that the witch was their real enemy, pointing out that she was poisoning the well. Surqutani, in response, blasted Vadim with a bolt of fire, silencing him. The thief-takers rode off with their unconscious prize, not wanting to tangle with the witch and not seeing the rest of the group.

Still lying within the cover of the illusory brambles, Khut threw a dagger into Surqutani’s back. By that point Khadagon had managed to climb up the well. He grabbed the witch’s ankle and pulled her into the well with him, where he incapacitated her with a few quick punches. Once he was sure that the thief-takers were long gone, Khut tossed a rope down and hauled the hermit and the witch out of the spring.

Adu said that the witch had clearly been under the effects of the evil magic of the black warblers and said he wanted to heal her. Khut, ever cautious, held a blade to her neck as the warbler cast his spell, waiting to see if her eyes were still the strange milky-white they had been while she was attacking. When she awoke, he saw, reflected in her eyes, a scene of the steppes burning, a wall of fire sweeping from the east, and everything across the steppes lying dead.

Obviously he suggested that they should head west, which, conveniently, was the direction the thief-takers had ridden off with Vadim. He dug up Vadim’s semen flask, then said they should set off to rescue their friend…in the morning. First, he was still exhausted, so he lay back down to sleep.

The party was awakened by a horrible roaring noise. They woke up to see a wall of fire sweeping across the prairie, right towards them. They leaped to safety in the well, then, after the fire had passed, followed in its wake chasing the blaze across the blackened grasslands (because the alternative was going in the direction of whatever had caused it, which seemed like a patently bad idea).

They followed the fire and the thief-taker’s warbeast’s tracks to the west, eventually spotting a large marble bluff. Figuring that the thief-takers would have sought shelter from the fire there, Khut called a halt and waited until nightfall. The party then spread out, circling the bluff stealthily, hoping to get close enough to snatch Vadim and then get away.

The thief-takers spotted Surqutani, but not wanting to mess with the witch, simply warned her off with their bows, keeping their eyes fixed on her for signs of treachery or magic. Khut climbed up the far side of the bluff and made his way over to where he could look down on them. He saw no sign of Vadim, but did see the big warbeast stallion from the night before, with no rider this time. Unable to resist a rustler’s instincts, he grinned and leaped from the rock right onto the beast’s back and kicked it into a trot.

Vadim, meanwhile, had awoken and managed to cut through his bonds. Seeing Khut, he ran out of the cave in which he was being kept, and double-hopped up onto the warbeast’s rump, slapping it with a longstrider spell. The two thieves sped away on the fine warbeast, then circled back to pick up their three companions (not without being grazed by a couple of arrows).

Once clear of the thief-takers, and well out of arrow range, they turned the beast south, away from the fire and the thief-takers, and back towards Drowned Rivers and Buttercup, who was still waiting for her semen.

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