As the other Solars depart, Markuran finds himself alone with the three Lunar elders.

  • Markuran crosses his arms over his chest, glowering at the three moonbeasts.

<{{*Cat Lunar?*}}> "Are you prepared to prove to us your honor?"

<Markuran> "If I must."

<{{*Rhino Lunar?*}}> "Very well then. Follow us."

  • Markuran stomps after the Lunars, clearly both insulted and very put out.

The three arise from their seats and begin to walk down a narrow hallway, set into the back of the room.

The pathway leads back for some distance, culminating at an unusual object -- an eight-foot tall doorway, wrought entirely of flowing silver; a thin, ethereal shower of misty light hangs within it.

The Exalts stand silently beside it.

  • Markuran moves forward, reaching out to toch the misty light

It tingles, gently.

<{{*Bird Lunar?*}}> "You must journey through the gateway of light. Journey to the village of Hsien, to the north; aid them with their dilemma."

  • Markuran steps through, nodding barest acknowledgement to the Bird.
    • Cat Lunar?* leans in close to block Markuran's way while he speaks. "Do not be rash or foolish, Solar. We will be carefully watching your actions and be firm in our judgment." That said, he leans back and allows the Solar to pass.
  • Markuran glowers at the Cat as he walks into the light

Markuran steps through and feels a slight tingle cross his body...

Then, suddenly, he finds himself in the midst of an intense, blinding snowstorm.

A wicked, biting cold covers his entire body, and his vision is obscured beyond a few feet.

  • Markuran covers his eyes with one hand and hunkers down to preserve body heat. Crouching, Marku sniffs and peers through the flurries of white pouring from the skies above. Shivering every so often the unhappy barbarian seeks traces of humans settlement

Even with the most careful observation Marku can discern little beyond the snow that coats his body. The cold grows harsher and less forgiving as the moments pass; it seems colder than he can remember in a long time...

  • Markuran bellows his rage into the storm, unleashing the pent up defiance against the Lunars and their fool tests, their stupidity, the brattish Serendal and the disapproving, untrusting, conniving Zahara. With both hands Markuran slams his rage into the snow-covered ground until his fists strike solid earth.
  • Markuran hits the ground with such force that a tsunami of snow lifts, blasting away from the raging warlord in an ever-widening circle of snowless dead grass and empty, echoing air. Before the snows can recover from his outburst, Markuran sets about finding humans.
  • Shiro is now known as Kraken|Slumbers

Though he rages angrily at the snowstorm, it continues unabated.

As Marku's mighty fists slam into the ground, he feels something unusual, something unfamiliar.

After a moment passes, Marku realizes what he's feeling -- he cannot feel the flow of Essence within his body. The cold wind bites into his unprotected flesh more sharply than he can ever remember occurring.

After a minute, the cold grows too much for even Marku's sturdy barbarian stock. He finds himself keeling over in the snow, unable to move further or muster the energy to arise.

  • Markuran simply picks a direction in the snow and tries to crawl that way, hoping to find some shelter.

Even this small action quickly becomes almost impossible. Soon, Marku has almost no choice but to collapse motionless in the snow; his mind begins to grow slow and his vision dull.

The barbarian believes that he hears a voice, far away, almost as if in another land... then, the sensation of being pulled upon. Then he is unconscious.

After an utterly indeterminate amount of time, Marku slowly, painfully slides back into consciousness.

His entire body is sore; his head most of all. His joints are stiff and his vision blurry. He can tell that he is in a warm, light place, however, with no trace of snow.

  • Markuran tries to look around and wet his lips and mouth. "Hello?" His voice is crackling and rough. He scowls as much as he can. That will never do.

A voice calls back. "Have you awoken?"

  • Markuran sits up, searching for the voice. "Yes...I think."

The room comes into better focus. Marku can see that he's in some sort of small cottage. A thick snow still falls outside, visible through a thick glass window. (...)

Within, the place is sparse but pleasant. The bed, covered in thick furs, is reasonably comfortable. A large man, thick-bearded and ruggedly dressed, comes around a corner, holding a tray with some charred meat of a fairly inobvious origin.

<Vashu?> "Here, eat this."

  • Markuran sniffs at it vaguely, then tears into it, eating voraciously. As he chews and swallos, the big man studies his rescuer and the cottage.

<Vashu?> The place appears to be a fairly quiet, unassuming hunter's shack. A small fire burns in an iron stove in one corner; some simple wooden furniture and a small set of cooking implements fill out the otherwise spartan home.

<Markuran> "Did you save me?"

<Vashu?> The man himself seems concerned, but quiet. He does not seem to be one taken to outbursts of emotion.

<Vashu?> "Yes, I did. You would've died within hours if I hadn't found you; you were miles from civilization, and the snows haven't let up. It was not a wise decision, venturing out dressed as you were." He puts a battered iron mug down next to Marku's plate, then fills another for himself from a barrel of water.

<Vashu?> "I am called Vashu. What shall I call you?"

  • Markuran pulls the covers up to look at himself..he had been wearing armor...

<Markuran> "

<Markuran> "Markuran. Sometimes the Bear, but not right now."

<Vashu?> "I see." He pulls away Marku's empty plate. "You will need to stay here with me, until the snow subsides. It is not safe to venture out, in your condition."

<Markuran> "Is this Hsien?"

<Vashu?> "No. That village is eight miles from here."

<Markuran> "I have to go there."

<Vashu?> "It's not a difficult trip, when the weather permits. When the snows let up, I'll show you the way."

  • Markuran shakes his head, though that causes him to be mometarily dizzy. "No, I was going there to help them. I must go."
  • Vashu shakes his head right back, and puts one large hand upon Marku's chest. In an unlikely turn of events, Markuran's muscles provide no resistance as he is pushed back down. "You could never make it through the crags in your condition, in this weather. (...)

<Vashu?> "The snows will let up sometime today, and then you will be set to travel."

  • Kraken|Slumbers is now known as Kraken
  • Kraken is now known as Kraken|Not Here?
  • Kraken|Not Here? is now known as Kraken
  • Kraken is now known as Kraken|Not Here?
  • Kraken|Not Here? is now known as Kraken
  • Markuran falls back into the bed, not making further comment. A very confused barbarian, Marku mentally assesses his situation. He can feel no essence in his body nor without. His armor seems to have vanished. He nearly died from *cold* and now this northern mortal is holding him, Markuran the Bear, down like an invalid. Something is very wrong with this situation. Very wrong. But he still has to help that village.
  • Markuran tries to move various parts of his body and flex his muscles one group at a time, testing what strength remains in him while his mind tries to figure it all out.

<Vashu?> Markuran feels much weaker than he can recall feeling in quite some time. He has enough strength to sit up, perhaps, but not much more.

  • Vashu allows Markuran to sit up and steps back a little. "Come sit with me by the fire, and tell me of your duty here."
  • Markuran peers at himself under the covers, trying to recall if he was wearing whatever he's wearing when he got here..and if so, where his armor is...

<Vashu?> The mystery remains.

  • Vashu pulls up a rough wooden stool next to the iron stove and gestures for Marku to sit.

<Vashu?> Marku is wearing what would be a light outfit for him normally, in the hot months of Fire -- a few very slight items of clothing. His armor and weapons are nowhere to be seen.

  • Markuran pulls one of the furs along with him as he trudges over to the stoop and sits.
  • Markuran puffs a sigh. "I am very confused."
  • Vashu pulls out a small pipe of dark wood and lights it, then inhales deeply before continuing. "As am I, my friend. How did you come to be in such an isolated place? Beyond Hsien there is no habitation for many, many miles."

<Markuran> "The lunar Exalted asked me to prove my honor and so I stepped through a doorway of moonlight and ended up in the wrong clothes, in the middle of a blizzard, with no strength in my body and less power then a cat-god's bastard cripple.

<Markuran> They said that to prove my honor I must go to Hsien and help them with their problem."

  • Vashu raises his eyebrow. "The... who?"

<Markuran> "The moon-born beasts who drink the blood of human and animal so they can dance in their skins and destroy all who resist them. Nightwitches, darkstalkers, savage ones."

<Vashu?> "That is an odd story you tell, traveller. I have never heard of such horrifying beasts."

  • Vashu blows out smoke quietly.
  • Markuran shrugs. "Do you know of any problem in Hsien?"
  • Vashu looks a little more serious. "I do not. But then, I have not been close with the villagers of Hsien for some time...."

<Markuran> "You live here alone?"

<Vashu?> "Now I do, yes." He blows out a large puff of smoke. "It was not always so."

<Markuran> "Is it a story you would tell? I seem to have little else to do but wait for my body to return to itself."

  • Vashu puts down his pipe and stares silently into the fire for a good minute, not responding. Finally he speaks up.

<Vashu?> "Many years ago, I lived in this hut with my wife, Raina. I hunted in the bountiful forests nearby, while she tended our small plot of land and kept our home. It was a hard life for both of us, but we were content."

  • Vashu picks his pipe up again and pulls strongly on it.

<Vashu?> "One day, she asked to accompany me on a hunt. I told her it was dangerous, but she insisted. We rode south to the outskirts of the village, to hunt for gryplacs."

<Vashu?> Another long pull on the pipe.

<Vashu?> "I don't know how it happened; my attention wandered, perhaps. One gryplac caught us unawares. It struck us from surprise. I managed to slay it, but Raina was very badly wounded."

<Vashu?> /me's eyes reflect the intensity of the fire.

<Vashu?> "I rode quickly into town, hoping against hope that the swift attentions of a healer or shaman might be had. But instead...."

  • Vashu puts his pipe down again.

<Vashu?> "They told us that she was cursed; that the touch of the gryplac had brought an evil spirit into her. They refused to help, every single one of them." His hands clench tightly upon the arms of his chair.

<Vashu?> "The villagers watched as Raina died in my arms. Since that day, I have not set foot in the village again. I live alone in my hut, and I hunt for my living."

<Vashu?> The fire in the stove blazes furiously.

  • Vashu suddenly looks up from his dark reverie and gazes out the window. "The snows seem to have stopped. I have furs and boots you can wear for your journey south."
  • Markuran grips the other man's shoulder. "Thank you. You need not accompany me into the village."
  • Markuran grips the other man's shoulder. "Thank you. You need not accompany me into the village." -}}> *chanserv* op #SolInvictus charlequin
  • Vashu nods, a little distantly. "There is a road, a quarter mile out from my door. Follow it south and it will lead you to the village." He digs through a small wooden chest and procures warm furs for Markuran to wear.
  • Markuran pulls the furs on over his clothes and bows to the man. "Thank you for your help, Vashu. I will remember it and return the favor."
  • Vashu nods. "May a fair wind blow upon your quest, Markuran."
  • Kraken is now known as Shiro
  • Markuran starts out for Hsien!

<Vashu?> The snow has indeed stopped falling, and the swift reappearance of the sun has melted enough of it that the road Vashu spoke of can be seen. The air has warmed a little as well -- not to mention that Markuran now wears thick furs that protect him from the chill.

<Vashu?> It is a long, long walk, but eventually Markuran does reach the village of Hsien. A rough wooden wall surrounds a small set of small huts and simple wooden buildings. A few young men and women move between them, on errands of some sort.

  • Markuran plods up to the wall, still feeling disoriented. Testing his strength's return, Marku hammers on the wooden wall's door for enterance into the village proper

<Vashu?> Marku feels stronger, though the Essence-fueled strength he is familiar with has not returned. After a few moments, someone comes over to the doorway and slides open a small window to speak to him. "Who goes there?"

<Markuran> "My name is Markuran, I'm a traveller from the south."

  • Villager looks suspicious. "We are far from any other settlement. What business do you have in Hsien?"
  • Markuran sighs, looking very tired and confused. "The gods sent me."
  • Villager stares at him. "For what purpose?"

<Markuran> "To help your village. I'm very tired, cold and confused. Please open the door."

  • Villager hesitates for a moment, then slides the door open and lets Markuran in.

<Villager?> "Go to the chief's hut at once, speak with him." He points helpfully.

  • Markuran plods in to the village. Nodding to the villager that opened the door, the big man trudges in the indicated direction and knocks on the cheif's door.

<Villager?> A young man opens the door. An older man, with dark reddish skin an long hair, sits further within the building. "Who are you?"

<Markuran> "Markuran. I've come from the south because the gods sent me to help your village solve a problem." With a great sigh, the warlord drops to the floor, arranging himself tiredly.

<OldMan?> "You were sent to us by the Gods?" He rises up slowly from his chair. "We have great need of a champion."

  • Markuran looks mildly surprised. "Ah. What is your need?"

<OldMan?> "Our village has been under assault. Our gatherers have been afraid to leave for fear of what will happen to them."

<Markuran> "Assault from what? Explain the trouble."

  • Old Man? sighs. "It began some time ago. A group of villagers went out into the forest to gather food, as is our way. That evening, they did not return. The village grew worried that they were not seen, far after the time they should have appeared." He swallows heavily.

<OldMan?> "The next morning, we found their bodies, each torn violently open, but uneaten -- left just outside the gate."

  • Markuran frowns. "Was this after the old man's wife died?"
  • Old Man? looks confused. "Who?"

<Markuran?> "An old man saved me from the snow. Vashu. He said he brought his wife here for help a long time ago, but no one would help her and she died."

  • Shiro is now known as Cerin
  • Old Man? frowns. "There was someone who came here once, looking for aid, but the woman he bore with him was beyond help, and died moments after his arrival."
  • Markuran considers. Shaking himself mentally, Markuran reminds himself that no matter what he is wearing or where he is, he is himself. Even though the Lunars have done..something...he is Markuran the Bear. Standing slowly and refusing to huddle under the furs, Markuran towers over the old man; his voice regaining its confidence and power. Powerful arms crossed over his chest, the Zenith looks down. "Is that all of the story?"

<OldMan?> "Y...yes. That's all that occurred. A horrible tragedy."

<OldMan?> The younger man looks at the ground as the elder speaks.

<OldMan?> "Please, heavenly champion, put an end to this madness, save our village from this scourge."

  • Markuran stares at the old man and turns his back, walking out of the hut.

<OldMan?> A few moments after Marku leaves the hut, the younger man catches up with him, and gestures for Marku to follow him to a secluded part of the village.

  • Markuran follows slowly and remains silent until the young man speaks.

<OldMan?> "Heavenly warrior, the elder was not honest with you."

<Markuran?> "I know that. Do you intend to be?"

<YoungMan?> "When the man brought her here, she was still alive. But the shamans refused to help. They have told us many times that the beast which attacked her may bear a wicked curse, and that it can be detected by the scent of victim -- like bitter lemons. It was better to let her die, they said, than to allow her to become cursed."

<Markuran?> "And is there more to this story?"

<YoungMan?> "When she died, he howled in anger, and swore that we would suffer for our act. He tore off into the hills and we have not seen him since."

  • Young Man? is now known as charlequin
  • Markuran nods. "How long ago was this?"

<charlequin?> "Some years ago."

<Markuran?> "I will do what I can."

"Thank you. Our village has lost seven young people since this began. It will soon be more than we can bear."

<Markuran?> "Are you a hunter?"

  • Markuran eyes the young man up and down.
  • alsoquin nods.

<Markuran?> "Can you help me find this gryplac that killed his wife? I do not know these lands."

"I might be able to. We will have to journey into the forest -- those of our village never journey there, for the cursed animals live there... but to help my village, I will go there with you."

<Markuran?> "Good. Gather what you think we will need."

  • alsoquin nods quickly, and runs off.

Within a few moments, he returns, bearing a hefty load of weaponry and supplies. He offers some to Markuran.

  • Markuran takes the supplies and, after a few moments, some of the weapons. In his condition, he should accept them, however disgraceful it may be.

<Markuran?> "What is your name, son?"

"I am called Ogul."

<Markuran?> "Ogul, lead the way to the forest. And remember you are saving your village."

  • alsoquin swallows and steels himself, then leads on.

The path, dusty and underused, leads out of the village into a thick, heavy forest. The trees leer up in strange shapes, and little light pokes through their thick branches. They appear to have kept their foliage, even into the thick winter that covers the area.

Ominous animal noises float over to the two as they hunt

As they progress slowly through the woods, Ogul asks: "Why do you seek this animal, Markuran?"

  • Markuran forces himself to divide his attention, remembering that this man is young and likely as confused as he himself. With the barbarian half of his mind, Markuran sniffs and listens for the sounds of his prey while another, newer, half of his mind talks quietly. "I seek to kill it in hopes it will soothe Vashu somewhat. I can only ask for him to speak. It is your village that must make restitution. I will not kill him."

It takes some hours, but Ogul finally picks up on a trail, and leads the barbarian further into the woods. "There," he says. "It is in here."

  • Markuran nods to Ogul and starts forward, moving silently toward the 'cursed' beast.

Something leaps out from behind and quite forcefully knocks Markuran to the ground, face-first.

Ogul shouts, terrified, but pulls out an axe and charges -- Marku sees the creature, a heavy, catlike beast with huge claws -- tackle Ogul and bring him to the ground.

  • Markuran huffs as he is slammed to the ground. Moving in a flash the big man feints with a spear at the creature before disgarding the weapon, tossing it to Ogul, and throwing his body at the beast, wrestling it to the ground.

Marku wrestles the beast off of Ogul, who seems to be bleeding but largely undamaged, and pulls it to the ground. In his grasp, he can gaze directly into the eyes of the creature, which burn with a fiery hatred.

As Marku gazes into the creature's burning eyes, he suddenly realizes something with great certainty -- the beast he is fighting is none other than Vashu.

  • Markuran snarls at the beast as he folds it tight in his arms, easily pinning the monsterous feline body under his powerful frame. "You know nothing of those who walk as beasts? Be yourself and talk of this like a man instead of seeking vengence against the innocent. Your wife would have loved you for slaughtering the helpless?"

The beast roars and hurls Marku off of himself, then leaps to his feet and shifts his form, becoming Vashu again. "Those fools!" he shouts. "Idiots! They said my wife was cursed, but IT WAS ME! I should have died in her place. Now they are paying for their crime!" He spits blood from his mouth onto the cold ground.

"I do not wish to kill you, Marku, but if you help them, I will have to...."

<Markuran?> "They do not deserve this! Did their children or fathers or mothers kill your wife?"

"They all deserve it! Every single one of them deserves to die!"

He draws out a vicious-looking dagger and leaps at Markuran.

  • Markuran ducks and lunges forward to meet Vashu's thrust, grabbing the man's arm by wrist and shoulder, catching him in another hold once the attack is deflected.

Vashu howls and transforms again, sinking his vicious teeth into Marku's arm and clawing at his legs with his sharp talons.

  • Markuran snarls, forcing his arm into the fanged maw, past the teeth. The old Lunar is too stunned to bite down before Markuran's large fist is wedged in his airpipe. The powerless Solar flexes his hand a few times, demonstrating clearly to the Lunar the negative results of trying to, say, bite Marku's arm off at the elbow.

Ogul seems terrified. As Marku begins to bleed, he leaps to his feet and fires an arrow into Vashu's exposed belly.

The arrow tears into the beast's belly at a vicious angle, and blood spurts violently from the wound. Vashu howls again, louder this time.

  • Markuran makes no sound as the fangs sink into his flesh, simply driving his arm deeper down the Lunar's gullet. With careful control of his strength, Marku begins extending the fingers of his hand, flexing the muscles of his arm and twisting. Never intended to hold something so massive, the Lunar's gullet protests violently, cutting the old man off from air and tearing, sending blood into his lungs and belly.
  • Markuran can clearly see his arm moving from the outside of the Lunar.

Vashu violently springs himself off of Marku again, tearing at the barbarian's arm -- and his own innards -- in the process. He shifts back to human form again.

"You don't understand, Markuran. I have nothing left now! I will not stop as long as I am allowed to live." He coughs, and a wave of blood pours out of both his mouth and his stomach. Drawing out his dagger again, he leaps at Ogul and stabs him viciously.

  • Markuran dives, trying to shove the young hunter out of the way or put himself between the Lunar and his victim. "He does not deserve this!"

The barbarian pushes strongly but he is too late -- Ogun screams as the dagger pierces his chest and he falls over. Vashu turns back to Markuran and transforms again.

  • Markuran turns only slowly from the young man's corpse. "He did not deserve that. He was trying to save his people from a monster. I told you that I owed you a favor for saving my life. You have expended the debt by taking his. You have lost the man that you once were, the man your wife loved. You are a beast. And if death will stop you, I will give you death."
  • alsoquin howls and leaps upon Markuran viciously.
  • Markuran lunges at the great catlike beast without finess, with only enough care for his wounds to permit him to stay in shape enough to slay this mad beast. Hands that in the past broke stone and bent steel to their will close around a throat still bruised and bloody from the internal flexing of Marku's powerful arm. This time, the attack is no warning.

Markuran slips beside the creature and grabs it firmly. As he squeezes, he sees something moving over one of the creature's shoulders -- Ogul, still bleeding, pulls himself up and swings his axe at Vashu's back.

Vashu sinks down to the ground, most of his strength spent, regaining his human form once again. He spits. "Thank you... Markuran. I can pass on from this world now... I will see you again soon, Raina...." And with that, the spirit passes from his eyes.

Ogul stands up, looking shaken but much less wounded than at first it seemed. "Are... are you alright, Markuran?"

  • Markuran sighs and nods. "Back to your village, Ogul. You need to be taken care of."

The man nods, still shaken. "I... I think he pulled his blow on me. He could've struck me in the heart, but he shifted."

Silently, the two return to the village.

The door opens for them, and they walk to the Elder's hut.

The elder comes out to meet them. "You have returned! Were you successful?" he asks anxiously.

  • Markuran very gently, but firmly, lifts the Elder from the ground with his blood and saliva-coated hand. The one that had strangled Vashu from the inside. "I would like to meet the Shamans that refused to treat Vashu's wife. Point the way."

The elder blanches with fear, and gestures to a hut nearby.

  • Markuran goes to the hut and steps inside without stopping to knock.

Three men sit inside, performing strange rituals.

  • Markuran drops the elder onto the oldest of the three shamans and stands over the four men, eyes blazing, still covered in blood. "Tell me your names."

They do so.

<Markuran?> "Your names are taken from you, all four. Never speak them nor let them be spoken again. You will die under new names. I allow you to keep your children only because they are likely too old to be given to better parents without harm. What you did when you refused to heal a dying woman was selfish and the death that has come to you for that act is a price you will bear."

<Markuran?> "For each hunter that has died, you will each go a day without food each month, drinking only enough water to survive. You will go, as soon as I am finished, and bury the corpse of the man you drove to do this."

<Markuran?> "No young men may come with you."

The men nod, terrified.

<Markuran?> "Best your new names reflect your shame and failure. As soon as apprentice Shamans are ready, you three will be replaced. And as soon as the man *I* choose is ready to take his place as Cheif, he will."

<Markuran?> "Ogul, you will see these things done."

<Markuran?> "And then, you will be chief."

The young man, holding a bandage over his wound, nods gravely.

<Markuran?> "Someday, I may return. Remember that."

  • Markuran turns his back on the four men and, nodding, Ogul. Still stained with blood and saliva, the brawny Zenith leaves the village behind.

Ogul watches as the mysterious barbarian leaves, then turns and begins the process of putting the village back together.

Tags: (:tags Lunar Elders, Vashu, Hsien, Gryplac, Ogul :)

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