Wars of the Threshold

Varish's loss
Garen and Iron Beak are sparring with Varish watching.
 
"So Garen…. Are you going to hit Iron anytime today?" Varish smirks.
 
"No, he looks kind of hot so I'm just going to fan him."
 
"Well, you are doing a horrible job." Iron says.
 
"How do you think Sis is doing training under your old friend" Garen asks Varish.
 
"Tina, well she is smart and charming. She should be fine as long as she praises Raksi enough and doesn't go too crazy being near Raksi for long periods of time." Varish replies.
 
Garen gets swatted. "Hey!" Garen sputters.
 
"Your enemies will not stop and wait for you to finish talking. So why would I?" Iron muses.
 
Iron then stops and both Iron and Varish look to the North. Garen seeing an opening goes for Iron, and hits him only to be pinned under Iron's claw.
 
"Garen, I know you don't like Marik much, but he is in trouble." Varish says looking right at Garen.
 
"I may not like him but he is still like family. Let me up Iron lets go save him!"
 
Looking at Varish Iron speaks, "He is good but I don't think he is ready Varish."
 
Pondering, and in a stern voice, "Garen you must choose to either listen to me an do what I say with no questions or you will stay here and prepare a camp. Marik may be hurt so it would be very useful to have a place we can treat Marik when we return, and also treat ourselves if needed."
 
"I will go with you." Garen replies at once. "You may need help. Marik was mostly a talker but he still kicked my ass most of the time."
 
"Then we go."
 
Varish turns into his giant falcon form and takes flight, as Iron releases Garen and springs into the skies. Giving Varish a disapproving glare as he passes him.
 
"Iron" Varish says quietly, "we can't keep treating him like a child it has been almost 20 years since we rescued him. We have to let him make his own choices eventually"
 
"I know" Iron replies, "but I still see the small child hiding behind his sister too scared to sleep because of the big mean monster. If he gets hurt you get to tell his sister."
 
"That is low Iron." Varish smirks.
 
"Where are we going?" asks Garen as he catches up in a parrot form.
 
"North, about two days flight" Iron replies.
 
"Shit." Garen responds. "Mind if I hitch a ride?" Garen asks with mirth.
 
"Not at all" Varish responds. Then in a spectacular move does a flip and roll catching Garen in his claw at the end. Then Varish speeds up.
 
"I HATE YOU!!!" Garen yells.
 
"Now, now you get what you ask for." Iron replies with a laugh.
 
 
After two days of hard flying Varish, Iron Beak, and Garen make it to where Marik is 100 miles west of Wallport. What they see is disheartening. Marik is being held prisoner in a Dragon army fortified camp. 
 
"Iron go." Varish says
 
"Gone." Iron replies
 
"Garen we will make camp over there in that patch of trees." Pointing at a spot to the north east
of the Dragon camp.
 
When Varish and Garen land they take land animal forms, Varish a deer and Garen a wolf.
 
"What's the plan Varish?" Garen asks.
 
"Based on what I saw you will cause a disturbance outside the camp, DON'T get caught." Iron and I will go get Marik. Once we are out Iron will go get you and we will escape." Varish states.
 
"Sounds easy enough." Garen responds.
 
"It never is," Varish says sadly. "Now sleep we will wait for Iron to return and hear his news before we move.
 
A couple hours later a small falcon shows up.
 
"Iron, find anything?" Varish asks.
 
"Yes," Iron growls, "that idiot tried to "convert" a Dragon town to accept other exalted. apparently he didn't even fight back when the hunt came, he will be executed in two days."
 
"When we free him I will beat him black and blue. Putting himself in danger, and now us." Garen angrily says.
 
"You will have to wait your turn," Iron says.
 
"Garen have you thought of a way to distract the camp?" Varish says steely.
 
"Yes. It will take some time to get it ready though." Garen replies.
 
"Get ready then we will start as soon as you are ready. Do not rush though." Varish says.
 
 
"I am ready, "Garen says four hours later. Just as the sun sets.
 
"A stampede right through the camp, interesting" Varish replies we start when your distraction begins."
 
Varish changes into his falcon form and takes flight with Iron Beak behind him both are in their smaller forms so they don't attract as much attention. Once both are in the air Garen starts his stampede of various animals. As the animals reach the outer patrol circling the camp a shout goes up and the camp awakens too find animals rampaging through the camp. At the point both Varish and Iron Beak dive into the fray. Varish changes into a half man half lion war form as Iron beak takes his true griffin form, and both of them tear into the dragons making their way to where Marik is bound inside one of the sturdier buildings. Just as Varish makes it to the building the dragons start chasing or killing off most of the animals. Inside Marik's prison there are a couple guards which Varish easily kills. Making his way through the building takes longer then Varish anticipated, but he is able to eventually find Marik unconscious in a cell, and carries him out. As Varish exits the building everything falls apart. A squad of elite dragon anathema hunters is waiting outside. Iron beak is holding them back at the main door but the leader of the squad has Garen on his knees in front of him with an enchanted spear on the back of his neck.
 
"Well, well, well, what do we have here?" the leader says. "A couple anathema here to save a friend, how adorable," He mocks.
 
"Release him," Varish coldly states.
 
"Now, now, you should be honored to be kill by me. For I am one of the Queens claws, Tak'Goroth." he says with a mocking bow.
 
"A Claw here." Iron stutters
 
"Oh, good you have heard of us." Tak'Goroth smiles, then rams his spear through Garen's neck killing him instantly. "Oops."
All light seems to disappear briefly as Varish's anima flares to its strongest. "Take Marik, Iron." Varish says with an iced voice.
 
"Ok," Iron says meekly and he takes Marik in his claws and takes off as fast as he can.
 
"Oh it wont be that easy now," Tak'Goroth says lazily, and points at the departing griffin.
Multiple archers behind Tak'Goroth take aim, but as they are about to loose Varish rips out their throats. All the dragons are stunned since they didn't even see Varish move. Tak'Goroth recovers first.
 
"KILL HIM," Tak'Goroth shouts.
 
Just as the first warriors start to move massive tentacles of molten fire rise from the ground and attack. While Tak'Goroth's attention is on the tentacle In front of him Varish comes up and back hands him out of his way. Then Varish bends down and tenderly picks up Garen's corpse. Now we wash this stain of a place from the map, and a ball of essence streaks to the sea. As Tak'Goroth reclaims his wits from the strike he sees Varish turn into a giant falcon and carry Garen away. Before Tak'Goroth can do or say anything the tentacles stop moving but a massive crash comes from the direction of the sea. A wave arrives and starts washing a way the camp. Tak'Goroth flees, but gets caught in the wave and washes out to sea. He survives but he loses his spear and his left leg.
 

Two days later, Marik awakens.
 
"I am alive? How?" Marik ask the roof.
 
"Because Garen sacrificed himself to save you." Varish say sadly.
 
"WHAT!?" Why, how, when? Marik stutters confusingly.
 
"Iron and myself noticed you were taken, we left to help you not knowing how you were taken
Garen joined us. You two might not have been the best of friends, but he considered you family and wanted to assist. His help was needed, we might have failed if it wasn't for him."
 
"No." Marik says stunned. "Have you told Tina yet?"
 
"That is who we are meeting." Varish says starring strait at Marik.
 
Sweating, "Ok. How long until we meet to her?" Marik ask quietly.
 
"She will be here tomorrow. I would rest." Varish states and then walks out.
 
"I can't believe it. Garen is dead," Marik whispers to himself then falls into a fitful sleep.
 
The next day Tina arrives at the cabin around noon. Varish, Iron Beak, and Marik (on crutches) meet her outside.
 
"Where's Garen?" Tina asks quizzically looking at the somber crowd.
 
"Inside," Varish says quietly.
 
Tina goes inside the cabin and all that is heard for the next few hours is crying. No one says anything. Once Tina gets control of herself, she stalks outside right up to Varish.
 
"How did this happen? You were with him, he looked up to you." Tina growls
 
"Its my fault." Marik whispered.
 
"I tried to convert a town of dragons and was captured. If it wasn't for Garen, Varish, and Iron Beak I would have died. The cost is too much though I wished i was just killed and not captured." Marik says on the verge of crying.
 
"Stop right there." Tina stalks up to Marik and slaps him. "You don't get to cry. You get to live your worthless life. You live because Garen wished it. So live but make sure I never see you again. And you" turning to Varish. "Just leave. Please." She weeps. I want to be alone with him.
 
Marik stops himself from saying anything and changes his form and flees.
 
"If you need anything just call. I know you know how to." Varish says quietly and then he and Iron take off.
 
"But how can I trust you if that which is most important to me was taken on your watch?" Tina whispers.
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War Journal
The Bull Rises

Deep Winter. Most men have the common sense to know that protracted campaigns dont do well in the snow. It slows men and horses, frost sticks to blades and numbs limbs. Good men freeze and blood is too bright a color for the snow. Unfortunately it doesnt stop the insane from trying. This so called "Bull of the North" rallies allies from all across the north and now pushes into our lands. He will be stopped. This I promise.

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Capt Farwind's Log Entry #3

July 18 Mid-day,

The sun is high and the air is cool, but we seem to have lost the wind for the past few hours.  The men are in good spirits in spite of this and the ship's needs are finally tended.  The Solar fo the night has stolen a row boat and disappeared on us.  I never thought much of him truth to tell, but such selfishness seemed beyond him.

July 22, Morning,

The dreams are coming more frequent and becoming more clear.  There was once a miraculous city that floated above the waves and flew amongst the clouds, and I was it's chief architect.  I worked amongst my circle mates to conceive, plan, construct, manage, and protect it.  The people were happy.  We had found our Lunar companions and happiness for the people of the city.  Garion had Leviathan, his loyal Captain and most trusted soldier.  And I had Lilith, my beautiful wife and dedicated protector. 

Then the uprising occurred…and I sank the city to stop it.  Why didn't i just destroy it?

July 22, Mid-day

The winds have abandoned these cursed waters.  We've not felt the movement of air in almost four days.  The men are growing more and more restless and are beginning to rely on story and superstition rather than their wits.  I must find a way to get us moving again, but we have no oars or enough wood to make them.  We need something new, something not seen since the days of old.  Aha, I have it.  Not something new, something now, something not here.  Something not used on the waves, but in the streams.  A water wheel…

July 22, Evening

I don't know what form of shrill sea hag or bitch reef goddess we have upset on this voyage, but they will find I am not so easily bested.  As the sun reached it's peak this day, the Dawn marked man called Garion was beset with a Saika on his fishing line.  A monster of legendary name and size was pulled from the depths by my new compatriot and set a-flop on my deck.  The beast was enormous, every bit as large as the legends portray.  The crew of the Orphan's Revenge is now the proud owner of 30,000 pounds of Saika flesh, hide, jaws, and wonder.  What a day.  Oh, and the paddle wheel is working.

July 26, Sunset

We have finally made safe harbor, and the men are glad for it.  Not a large place this Logue, but it seems to be filled with all the right authorities, merchants, and distractions to make this a profitable stop.  The ship is being repaired and I've ordered some improvements be made as well.  That water-wheel worked better than i'd hoped.

The crew have been granted shore leave and I'm sure they will be back tomorrow penniless and satisfied.  It turns out Steve has made himself of use and learned some information we could use to our advantage.  The Bull has beaten the Realms legions.  We need information. Lots of information.  Time to impress the locals.

July 28, Evening,

By all the seas, waters, shores, and winds, Leviathan is alive.  He is alive and he's here on my ship.  A man so old he has first hand knowledge of the old world.  We found him on the western shore of the island.  He was keeping watch over the city.  He is a man of immense power, a power that even in my young form can sense.  He is an impressive man of other worldly dedication to his duty and with a loyalty to Garion that even his Tiger can't match.   

  

 

 

 

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Varish and students meet

As Stozen falls asleep in the hut provided by Rani. His tattoo's flare to life and the darkness covers him. More of his past comes to life.


Varish awakens to the early moringing dew.


As Varish sits up from his place next to the fire, "morning everyone." Looking around at the 3 people he made camp with. "Did any of you sleep?"


A young girl responds, "No he scares me." pointing at Iron Beak.
"Yea he is scary" responds the young boy.


"I can't believe you expect me to sleep outside on the ground like a… a… slave!" Complains the man in worn formal ware.


Looking at Iron Beak, "You know you are not the most danty of eaters right Iron?" says Varish.


"Yea, well you try eating dantly with a beak, Varish." Iron scoffs


"Fine I will."


Changing into a giant falcon Varish waddles over to Iron's kill and very dantlies eats some. Then sticks out his tongue at Iron amid the childrens laughter, and changes back to human form.


"See that wasn't so hard, Iron"


"I hate you." Then Iron turns so the others don't see him eat the rest of the kill.


Returning to the group. "See he is not scary. He's just not a morning person." Varish says with a twinkle in his eyes.


"That is not a person." exclames the man.


"Marik, that is just rude. For the duration of our aquantice the defination of person is: any intelligent being not eating us, and Iron is not eating us… yet at least." Smirks Varish.


"Meh" Iron scoffs. "You all are to stringy."


"Anyways lets all introduce ourselves. I am Varish a Lunar of several years, don't say anything Iron. I came from the islands to the far west." Varish sits.


The young girl stands. "My name is Tina and this is my brother Garen." We are from Ashgreta, no um.."


"Asherta" Varish supplies.


"Yea, Ash..erta." Tina stammers.


"Sis. no fair." Garen complains. "We ran away because the adults were so mean." cuts in, giving Marik an evil eye.


"Well I am Marik, I was from" glares at Varish. "Noble on the Blessed Isle. Until "someone" kidnapped me."


The childrens eyes light up.


"You lived on the Blessed Isle." the children stammered together. "Are the streets paved with gold?" They ask excitedly.


"Well you can go back." Varish says in a neutral tone. "Though humor me first with what the Dragons due to… what are we called Iron?"


"Anathema" Iron replies coldly.


"Ah that is what it is. Anathema."


The children go rock still, and Marik looks like he was doused in ice water.


"Did I forget to mention that everyone here is an anathema? Although I prefer the term Lunar. I was lucky to find you all and reconize that you all exalted before the Dragons did."


"I am not an Anathema" Marik exclaims!


"You are." Iron yells. "Or do you think all humans can change into peacocks at will? You were lucky that I saw you and not a Dragon!"


"Iron calm down." Varish forcefully says, with out raising his voice. "I am sorry Tina, Garen. Both Iron and myself hate the word Anathema. We have been called that ourselves and have had to run from those we thought were friends. As they turned on us."


"I am sorry as well children, Marik. I lost my temper." Iron says very softly looking ashamed of himself.


"It's alright," Garen says, shakely walking over to Iron. Once Garen gets close enough Iron puts the top of his head into Garen's chest softly. As Garen starts scratching Iron's head, Iron starts to purr.


"Now you have done it Garen! You now have a friend forever!" Varish says amusingily.


"Well he is already better then you at conforting me, Varish." Iron retorts.


"Well, now that that unpleasentess is over, we should get started. We have much to go over and do." First as you can see the tattoo's I have are for more then show……..


The haze ends once again.

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working title

Dark and gray clouds drift lazily overhead. The smell of wet snow fills the air as it falls at a distances. Then again, it's hard to smell or see anything else when you are high up in the mountains. Despite the gloomy sky, the scenery is still of comfort. even under a roof. It's been 3 days since Krija helped her former "classmate", Stozen. For 3 days she has sulked, brooded and stared somberly out towards the valley below. She felt at a loss. Despite her age, she always felt herself mature and ready for anything that life threw her way. Yet she was still very young. The mortal lives she entrusts herself to protect weigh her youthful soul. 

……

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Stozens Spirit Trance
After recovering from his essence use and ensuring, as best he can, that Sarnai was healing, Stozen approaches both Rani and Krija.
"I know that I have told you both that before I was awakened as a Lunar I was a shaman apprentice. Now that I have completed my initial goal, looks at the cabin. I find that I need to meditate,to refocus and determine what I should do next. I am telling you this because while I am meditating I DO NOT want to be disturbed, unless we are all about to die horribly. Also I plan to be meditating for at least one day, but it may last as long as a week. Thank you for understanding."
He then walks away and changes to his true form a 6' Yeti with bright sliver tattoos and Ice blue highlights running as random patterns  through out his body. Moving to the north side of the cabin, one of the side walls, he sits, and starts to focus on the meditation rituals he learned. As Stozen drops into his meditation, the shadows of the cabin seem to collect around him and his anima flares briefly. 
 
A haze clouds Stozens vision as he drops into a trance, and then his visions clears as he is now riding in someone elses body.
 
"Well Iron… the Dragons and Sidereals are idiots…"
"Well yea" replays the 10' griffin, "we already knew that though Varish, what new and brilliant onsight have you had to make you say the obvious out loud?" looking up from his sunbathing.
"Well… since you seem to be interested" I reply sarcastically. "Their main concern was valid in that solars are a bit unstable to rule without any restraints, but they literally went in charging won, then said oh sit now we have to deal with the fey. Then once creation is about to be destroyed the fire a dooms day weapon and "win.""
"Not your solar though right since he…right, was the most stable of the bunch and would never go off the deep end" smirks Iron Beak.
"Low blow, Iron, low blow."
"I'm a predator what do you expect. I take the sure win and go for the kill."
"Oh shut it, and those eyes haven't work in years you are too big."
"Still have to try one day they will catch you off guard. Still we have had this conversation before. Why are you bringing this up again?"
"That damn Solar "Bull of of the North. I think I am going to see if he want's help conquering the world. If we are luckily then we might even get him to spare some of the Dragons. I still believe that if all the Dragons die off we are screwed, and the fey will win in the end, or the Deathlords, or the dam demons. There are too many enemies now since the "Fall.""
"I know you have agonized over this decision for awhile. What made you finally come to this decision?" Iron asks while shifting to a sitting position.
Squirming "It's just that I feel like something is going to happen soon and what little balance there is will tip. With all the research we have done these last few years I think getting unrestricted access to Denandsor will help us rebuild since we are pretty sure the libraries, and information stores there are still intact. Give the guardians one thing the Dragons were unable to destroy the information there. Like we are pretty sure they did on the Blessed Isles to write their history."
"So what is the plan? Are we just going to walk up to Bull and say hey we are here to help and by the way don't kill all of the dragons, even though they killed everyone you knew and imprisoned them?"
"That is the issue we need proof that the Dragons can be useful to him otherwise he may just kill us thinking we are spies or something. So I think the plan "kidnap some young Dragons and raise them with out all the ancestor shit they now get" would be the best. Then we show up with Dragons on our side!"
"Your naming sense sucks… So, how are we going to carry out operation Kidnap?"
"No, you have to use the full name."
"Screw that"
"Well, since you are a far better diplomat"
"Not saying much"
"Shut it. As I was saying you are going to go meet with the Bull. While I carry out phase one of  "kidnap some young Dragons and raise them with out all the ancestor shit they now get!"
"Name sucks. Well I… a giant meat caring animal am going to go meet with hungry barbarians…"
"You are majestic if it makes you fill better"
"… It doesn't"
"Why don't I help you with phase one?"
"Honestly one of us needs to survive. I have talked to other Lunars, and the few Solars that escaped, but I don't think they care. Some are thinking in the long run but they are thinking about the wrong things. Others while understand the fey/wyld treat seem to think that we will be able to hold them at bay forever. We can't. As far as the Sidereals and Gods, I have no idea. I was never able to contact them. Hell even if i did they would probably just kill me on sight… idiots"
"Sigh… Well friend, if worst comes to worst I will try and help your next incarnation if I can find it, or at least carry out operation "Make useful Dragons!"
"Your naming sense sucks."
"I blame my creator."
"…. It has been a pleasure Iron Beak. I hope to see you soon…"
Stozen awakes from his trance starving and charges into the forest, in search for food. Changing into Eagle form he takes flight. After an agonizing eternity or 5 minutes he spots a herd of deer. As he dives at his chosen target he changes back into Yeti form landing on top of the helpless creature breaking it's back, and taking some damage himself. After gorging himself on his prey and calming down from his hunger induced rage. He thinks back on his visions. While he can not remember most of it. He does feel like he should meet the leader of the Icewalkers and see what he learns. But first learning what the Lunar conference is about is more pressing since it is a scheduled event… Lastly or even firstly he has to talk with Sarnai. Now that he has calmed from his initial drive to find her, He has to figure out what she wants and to help her get started, and beat anyone who tries to hit on her. Since no one is good enough for a beloved little sister.
As he ponders all this he slowly heads back to the cabin to discuss his plans with the others, and get their opinions…
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Capt Farwind's Log Entry #2

July 8, First Light

It took longer than hoped, but the slaver's ship was spotted this morning.  The plan goes something like this…

- We will close in with the sun behind us to minimize our chances of discovery.  

- We will board and any enemy crew will be dealt with and the slaves brought onboard.  As I detest slavery, the slaves will be freed when we reach port and they will be welcomed among my crew if they like,  

- All other cargo will be confiscated and sold at market.

- The slavers ship will be repaired, cleaned, and refitted as a cannon platform and sold to the harbor masters to be armed and used on patrol.

July 8, Supper 

Well things did not go as planned…

- We boarded, we fought, we pillaged, and then the Wyld Hunt showed their sails on the horizon.  

Oh yes, two of the slaves were dormant exalts.  The God's must be having a good laugh at my expense.  Obviously the plan has changed.  

-We had to leave the enemy ship behind and take only what we could get off in the 15 minutes we could spare.

-The slaves are safe and none were killed, thank goodness.  We made enough to cover the crew rations and pay, but no more I'm afraid.

We have made a new plan, but I dare not record it for fear of discovery.  It remains to be seen who can be trusted and to what extent.

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First Hunt
Adventure Log for Rani Ronitz

I hate sleeping as a dog.

Auntie Lilith says it should be natural and normal to do any activity as one of my animal forms, but I really hate sleeping as them. It takes me forever to get comfortable and I never seem to get as much rest as normal. No, I want nothing more than a warm bed and a cozy blanket where I can spread out and relax.

But, there’s only one of those here and the Solar really deserves it. She’s been through a lot and deserves some alone time, but she won’t even notice the dog lying a few feet away. Stozen’s really freaking out about finding her because… you know, I’m really not a hundred percent sure. Genetics? Magic? Little bit of both? It’s funny – I thought it would have gone both ways. That she’d wake up with a twinkle in her eye and a ‘oh, my love’ swoon, but if anything, she seems kinda freaked out by his slavish attention to her. But, never mind, we found her, so that’s good!

What’s bad is what we had to do to find her. I… I killed a man. Impaled him on my horn. He was a bad man, I know. One who deserved some grief for sure… But… Oh, get over it, Rani. Did you think this was going to be bloodless? It’s not like I haven’t killed before. I’m lying on this cold hard floor in the form of something I killed.

This form was my first hunt. Lilith was taking me somewhere and we passed this trader. He had this big funny wagon pulled behind an ox of some kind. Perkins and Pol Trading was painted in big colorful letters on the side. He was peddling basic city goods to the tribes up north, then bringing furs and mammoth cheese back down to the cities. It must have been a hard life, but he seemed to enjoy it. When Lilith and I met with him, he was sat down on the back of his cart – munching on a simple sandwich, bundled up in fur. Sitting next to him was the most beautiful dog I’d ever seen – big and furry like a mountain of mottled fur. The dog ran up to greet us, barking at me excitedly and licking my hands. It ignored Lilith entirely, of course.

“Oi, back off now, Pol!” said the trader from his perched. The dog ran back to him with a genial bark. “Ah’m awful sorry, lil’ lady. She gets a mite excitable when we meets new folk.”

“Oh, it’s no problem,” I smiled at him. “She’s a lovely dog.”

“Aye, that she is. Name’s Iain. Iain Perkins. This here’s Pol.” He patted the dog behind the ears, then fed her a little of his sandwich.

“I’m Rani and this is…” I looked over at Lilith and a stern glance made it clear that I was not to reveal her name. “This is my auntie.” Huh, guess that’s where I got the whole Auntie thing. I’d forgotten that.

“Well, it be a pleasure to make your acquaintance, ladies. Say, you seem to be travelling a lil’ light. Can I interest you in some fur to keep you warm? Nights gets mighty cold in these here parts.”

“Does it?” I wasn’t cold at all. I was so new to the whole exalted thing back then. I’d failed to realize that my new powers were what was keeping me warm – I’d stripped down to where I was comfortable: a pair of short shorts and a simple corset, buttoned together along with my father’s cloak. But, of course, to everyone else, this would have been scandalously underdressed in these parts of the world. I floundered, my words failed me.

“No,” interrupted Lilith, no doubt sensing my confusion. “We’ll be fine. Good travels.” I simply nodded as she pushed me past the cart.

“Well, er, alrigh’ now! Good day!” shorted Mr. Perkins. I managed a small ‘bye!’ before I was pushed out of his view. Lilith walked uncomfortably quickly for a short while. Her hand rested on the small of my back pushing me firmly along. After a couple of awkward minutes, she ducked me into a small clearing in the forest on the side of the roads.

“Ow!” I complained.

“Quiet, my girl,” Lilith said in a stern whisper. “We have been fortunate. We have found your first hunt.”

“Wait… what?”

“It is essential,” she said, “for you to have a form that will allow you to pass unnoticed in a human place. Your true form is magnificent, but conspicuous.”

“What are you saying?”

“The dog, my girl. The dog. That dog will be your next form.”

I didn’t know what that entailed at that point. I was excited, thrilled even. Pol was such a beautiful dog and the idea of being her was fabulous and exciting beyond compare. For a full day, we followed Mr. Perkins’ cart… stalking them, just out of his eyesight and just out of Pol’s sense of smell. Lilith was insistent on certain things – me saying certain rituals; her drawing these beautiful moonsilver patterns onto my skin; praising the moon when it rose; and so on and so forth.

After what seemed like an eternity, the day had passed completely. Mr. Perkins had stopped down for the night and was setting up his bedroll inside his little cart. Lilith came up to me and pressed a knife into my hand.

“What? Why do I need this?” I asked, scared of the sharp instrument.

“Now is the time. Soon, the man and the dog will go to sleep. You will take the time. You will kill the dog…”

“Kill? Kill Pol? I thought I was…”

Lilith interrupted me, slightly annoyed. “You will kill the dog. You will drink the blood from her heart and steal her spirit.”

“But… I thought…”

“Tough heart, my girl. This must be done. I will be here. Now, go.”

She gave me a gentle shove out of the forest we were hidden in. Mr. Perkins had gone off to bed and Pol was dozing silently, chained to the door of the cart. She looked so peaceful and relaxed. I wondered if she was dreaming… I wondered what she was dreaming about…

I snuck up behind her… As quietly as I could. She shuffled about in her sleep. I could feel the tears running down my face, but I stared out to the forest and saw Lilith’s eyes gleaming like an owl’s out at me. ‘This must be done,’ I heard her say.

I raised the knife. “I’m sorry,” I whispered and then I brought it down. Blood spurted, covering my clothes. Pol made a loud whimper – almost like a scream – and flailed about. I brought the knife down again and the dog fell still.

I heard noises from inside the cart… “Pol! Pol!” came the cries from inside. Mr. Perkins was shuffling about, no doubt looking for a weapon of some sort. “Ah’m a-coming, girl!” I looked up in a panic – Lilith’s eyes flashed from the treeline. My fingers trembled clumsily around the knife as I cut and tore open my poor prey, desperate to get to her heart.

The door burst open; Mr. Perkins emerged wielding some sort of machete, but he was greeted by a large snowy owl, flapping about his face and scratching with its massive talons. The trader screamed – “Gerroff me, ya damn thing!” – and was pushed back into his cart. Lilith had bought me a few extra precious seconds.

I looked down and saw the dog’s heart. I reached in with frightened hands and cut away the tendons and veins that connected it, then with a sharp tug, I pulled it free and ran towards the tree line.

Lilith arrived a second after me. She was human again in an instant and she placed her hand on my back as I panted and panicked. Tears ran down my face as the heart in my hand still wriggled and beat its last few tender beats.

“Quick, my girl,” Lilith said. “Before it beats its last.”

“I… I…”

“Now, my girl.” Her voice was stern.

I brought the heart to my lips and bit down hard – I swallowed down both flesh and fluid. It was a foul tasting thing – salty and fatty and wet. I wanted to vomit.

“Again.”

I bit down again. And again. And again. Eventually, I couldn’t stomach anymore and I gagged. I threw down what was left of the heart and the knife to the forest floor.

Lilith let me rest for a few moments. I tried to dry my tears with my hands, but I just ended up covering myself with blood. I heard something behind me and I turned to see. Through the branches of our hiding place, I saw Mr. Perkins kneeling down and weeping over the shredded corpse of his beloved dog. I began to cry again, which left long salty streaks in my otherwise blood-covered face.

“Time to go, my girl,” Lilith said, and then we left…

I never saw Mr. Perkins again and I never want to. I am the person who took away his only friend – and for what? So, that I could lie on this cold hard floor and be slightly less noticed than I would be otherwise.

No. No. No. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Rani. Pol lives on in me and I swear to honor that young dragon-blooded man in whatever way I can. I am sorry, whoever-you-are; I hope your life wasn’t terrible, I do. But, you were doing something horrible and you had to be stopped. I won’t regret my choices. That is the path to calamity. Oh, gods, that sounded like Lilith.

I curled up a little tighter in an attempt to find a position more comfortable. Across the room, Stozen has retrieved a cold towel of water and is dabbing the Solar’s head gently. Outside, I can smell Krija returning for the night and settling down on the porch in her wolf shape. Urgg… She smells gross, like an old cotton dress that’s been sitting in a cupboard for too long. I’ve never smelled her as a dog before. Weird.

Good night, world. I wonder if Pol and I will dream of Mr. Perkins… and his funny old cart, trudging through the snow, peddling his furs.

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Cold
Prologue for Rani Ronitz

Cold.

Bitter cold.

It was the only thing that Rani could see, hear, feel or think about as she walked forwards. The biting winds tore at her skin, seemingly ignoring all of the thick furs she’d strapped to her body in an effort to avoid it. Her feet, decked in her furred boots, sank deep into a foot of snow. Her father’s cloak – the only thing she had left of him – threatened to be ripped from her body by the wind, so she held it tight to her as best she could. Chills wracked her form; her teeth chattered; her body shivered; her fingers ached with cold.

“Help me,” she whispered into the wind.

“No,” came Lilith’s voice. Rani couldn’t tell if it was in her head, carried on the wind, or if it was some other way of communicating, but it was clearly her voice.

“But I can’t do it.”

“Then, you’ll die out there. Alone, afraid and very, very cold.”

“When my dad sent me with you…”

“You had shown the first signs of exaltation and the old man panicked. But, you’ve got no control. You can’t access any of your internal magic. You can’t even shift forms.”

“But…”

“That magic is building up inside of you. It will burn you up from the inside if you don’t learn to accept it and embrace who you are.”

Rani felt the tears welling up in her eyes, but the cold froze them, sticking her eyelids together. On the horizon, through the raging blizzard, she could just make out a treeline. She gasped and increased her pace. Maybe at the very least she could find shelter there; maybe even enough dry wood to build a fire.

After what seemed like an eternity, she reached it. She stumbled through the staggered trees, using their frozen trunks to keep herself standing. All of the trees were little more than simple posts; their branches wear and withered from the winter and even they were stripped of leaves. She would find no shelter here.

She trudged on, struggling through the snow. The trees got thicker and she eventually came to a small ridge of stone, build into the edge of a small mountain. The blizzard was so bad that she didn’t even realize she was approaching such a thing until she was almost right next to it. Mercifully, after only a few minutes of skirting around the rock’s edge, she discovered a hole in the mountain leading to a little cave.

Bear cave, more than likely. Rani drew the small knife that Lilith had given her before sending her out to die in this cold.

She stalked inside, as quiet as she could be with her bones shaking and teeth chattering. The knife shook as she clutched it with two hands.

The cave, mercifully, was empty and relatively silent. The wind howled from outside, but the cave walls dulled the noise. The only real sound was the steady drip-drop of the water from the icicles on the cave ceiling. The only problem was that the cave was still impossibly cold.

For the next hour, Rani, moving painfully slowly, gathered as much wood as she could muster. She kept her thoughts on that one goal: fire. Warmth. Just one chance at warmth and she’d get through this, but she couldn’t take this cold anymore. Every extremity ached, her whole body shook violently and her skin was so cold it felt like it was burning.

She managed to gather a small pile of wood in the center of the cave. She picked up two stones and began to strike them together, desperately hoping for a spark to ignite a small flame. She struck the stones together again and again, but even when sparks jumped from the rocks, the wood was too wet to hold a flame.

“Come on, come on, come on…” she muttered under her breath. “Please, please, please…”

Her energy sapped; her hope waning – she steadied the rock with her hands and went for one final strike with all her energy. But, her hands were brittle and shaking from the cold and that threw her off balance and her striking rock came down hard on her own fingers.

She screamed aloud, gasping from the pain. In rage, she threw the rock against the cave wall and it clattered around noisily. Rani clutched her now-broken hand and, giving in to the hell of it all, bawled. She held nothing back as her tears flooded down her face – the constant flow of water preventing it from freezing in place. For what felt to her like hours, she just knelt and cried until her body had no more tears to shed, hugging her father’s cloak to her – wishing that none of this had happened to her and that she would wake up under her nice warm blankets back in the city.

How much further could she fall? How much more torment could this blasted world force upon her shoulders? She wasn’t strong or clever or important. She shouldn’t have to be! She was seventeen and beautiful and the daughter of a rich and popular merchant. In another year, she would have been declared of marrying age and all of the boys would be begging for her hand. She could have her pick of them – she could have Erich Levin, his family had more money than any other family short of royalty; or Tristan Yami, who was a cousin of the Scarlet Empress herself; or Selesi Yambotou, who was so handsome and so strong and so kind. She choked out a tearful smile at the memory. She would have chosen Selesi, she thought, because he would have made her comfortable and he was too gentle a man to ever let her be hurting. Her father would have hated that decision – and she wouldn’t have cared.

But, that choice was gone from her. It abandoned her as she was whisked away from the city under the cover of night as her body betrayed her and shed moonlight in an aura that gave her away as an anathema. To stay was to die. To leave was to lose everything. That was the only choice she got – and she chose to lose everything.

Now, in a frozen cave, with a broken hand and a fur cloak that did nothing to stave off the cold, she begged to be allowed to change her mind. To be killed as an anathema would have been quick; to die of frostbite in the cold was going to be long and painful and filled with an agony that she didn’t have the strength to withstand.

A noise. Footsteps. Her still working hand reached for the knife. They were too heavy for a person, and there was another noise as if whatever was coming was dragging something through the snow. A second later, a low grunting sound made Rani retreat to the back of the cave in fear. Another second and her fears were confirmed as the polar bear stepped into the cave. Its snout was stained with blood and it dragged a fallen caribou, no doubt to save the rest for a second and third meal.

The bear noticed her immediately and Rani locked eyes with it. It was a long, tense moment. It was like looking into the black eyes of death itself – its wintry fur stained with red. She could feel the knife shaking in her hand, gripping it so that her frozen fingers felt like they were going to shatter against the hilt. But why? Hadn’t she just two minutes ago begged for this? A chance to choose a death other than the one she was facing?

But, her subconscious grip on the knife showed her otherwise. Her wish was just a stray thought. She wanted to live; she wanted to survive. She wanted to reclaim that life she deserved with a warm bed and a handsome husband and all the comforts of home. Her end goal hadn’t changed; it was just that the path was a little more complicated than she wanted. She steeled herself and clumsily wiped the tears from her face with her broken hand. She knew what she had to do and the world seemed less chaotic just for that and the cold less biting. She just wished she’d figured out that before she had to fight the massive predator that now faced her down.

She stood up to her full, if still rather pathetic, height. “You, bear, are in my way. I suggest, if its alright with you, that you get out of it.” Her voice was still shivering, but her teeth weren’t chattering anymore.

The bear roared as if in response, then charged. Rani yelled out and charged as well, brandishing her knife.

As she ran, she felt her soul; it was an odd feeling, one that filled her with a kind warmth that pushed out the cold around her, but it was not like a fire inside her – or perhaps not a regular fire. It was if a perfectly room-temperature inferno had burst within her, filling her with the smell of home-baked cooking and the sounds of the city and the hope of her perfect future. And then, that flame expanded, down into her limbs – then beyond them, but she could still feel it growing – past the confines of her physical self and outward into something big, something massive.

The bear had charged a little girl, but collided with a rhinoceros – huge and hairy, nearly seven feet tall and twelve feet long with two vicious horns sprouting from its elongated head. A simple swing of its head against the bear’s side sent it flying into the cave wall. A short movement and a thrust of the head drove those horns deep into the bear’s underbelly; and the creature howled. A second thrust of the head and another fierce strike with the horns ended the howling abruptly.

Rani looked down at her kill. Stained and bloody, the polar bear’s corpse seemed so small to her now. Its eyes – so symbolic, so terrifying before – were lifeless and defeated. She realized she should be freaking out a little – she was a rhino! – but, it felt right. It felt normal. It felt like this was what she was always supposed to be.

The cold was gone and she trudged outside, getting used to moving on four legs and shifting her now massive weight. She barely fit through the entrance of the cave – the icicles on the top of the entrance snapped off against her tough hide, but Rani barely noticed. The blizzard was still raging, but there was not a hint of cold anymore. She looked around in wonder. She was seeing the world anew – finally seeing the beauty of the north, rather than it being an oppressive force of nature. Not to mention the fact that she was suddenly two feet taller.

A snowy owl swooped down from one of the trees. As it gracefully flew, it shifted and changed and landed as a beautiful woman with short cropped dark hair, held in place with decoration made of owl feathers. Her clothes were threadbare, a cropped top and thin leggings, but she was uncaring for the raging winter storm. She walked up to Rani, placing her hand on Rani’s bloodied horn.

“Have you learned who you are, my girl?” asked Lilith, her quiet tone easily audible over the wind.

Rani instinctively knew she couldn’t respond, so she simply nodded her huge, heavy head.

“I knew from the moment I met you that your heart was larger than your body allowed,” she smiled – a rare gesture, not one that happened often and one that filled Rani with a sense of accomplishment and pride.

“We are the same, I think,” Lilith continued. “But, you are brave enough to wear your heart on your sleeve, which I have never been. You, my girl, are going to be magnificent. I wonder… where that will take you.”

Rani needed to respond. She willed that inner flame to subside and she felt herself shrink and twist back to her human shape. She stepped forward again, looking her mentor in the eye, even though she was a few inches shorter than the older woman. “Thank you,” Rani whispered as she wrapped her arms around Lilith’s neck and rested her head against her shoulder. She felt her eyes grow wet once again – those these tears were not of sorrow.

Lilith twisted uncomfortably, unused to the physical contact. She sighed slightly and reluctantly returned the gesture, recognizing her student’s need for it. “Welcome home, my girl.”

As the wind and the snow howled and whistled around them, Rani smiled through her tears, realizing that she’d never felt warmer.

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Frozen Encounter

The sun seems to hang in the sky with clouds scattered about, adoring the vividly blue expanse. The ground is covered in at least a foot of snow and the sun's rays make the paved white ground glisten brightly. The landscape is filled with a plethora of leafless trees. Deep in this arctic forest, sits an owl. At a far away glance, it would look like a regular snowy owl. An almost completely white feathered creature with slight splashes of dark brown and black decorating it's frame. This is no ordinary owl though. If approached, one would see the typical deep yellow eyes are replaced with gorgeous icy blue ones and tattoos? Yes, very bright and obvious blue tattoos on its forehead and under it's eyes. Its beak seems to also be the same shade of blue. This odd owl is perched upon a branch, scanning the forest floor below.

Its head turns quickly as it spots a small creature meandering about 20 yards away. Its a snowshoe hare. The owl's gaze fixes on this unsuspecting hare as it leaps off its perch, diving at an angle for a moment before its gorgeous wings spread open and wide without making a single sound. Almost in an instant the owl swoops down, sinks its razor sharp talons deep into the hares body and it's scoop up as it flies away with the newly acquired prey. As the owl finds a new branch to sit upon, the hare in its clutches is dead before it arrives at the branch. The equally deadly sharp blue beak starts tearing into the fur and flesh as the owl begins its meal. 

A meal that is cut abruptly by an unfamiliar sound. Off in the distance, a loud angry noise resonates across once serene forest. The sudden noise causes the owl to drop its feast. It watches the dead hare plop onto the ground, seeming annoyed. One could swear the owl also just sighed? It leaps off its branch and plummets towards the ground. At the last moment it opens its wings to catch its decent. In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, before any extremities hit the ground, where there once was an owl, is now a large wolf. Much like the owl, its fur is of the same snowy whiteness. Also embellished by blue tattoos.

Hearing the angry sound once more, the newly formed wolf runs through a winterscape, guided by what can now be discerned as growls. It doesn't take long for the wolf to comes upon a frozen river, about 5 yards wide. If followed southward, it leads to a lake. There, admits the solid river is a large, dark brown bear. Staying near the edge of the trees, the wolf begins to prowl the bear. From the perspective of the wolf, the bear seems to be minding it's own business as it breaks through the tough layer of ice in attempts to catch fish underneath.

The wolf begins to approach the treeline and in another instant, changes from a quadrupedal wolf into a bipedal wolfman, or rather, wolfwoman? The same tattoos that covered the owl and the wolf also cover this werewolf. The tattoos are also the most clear they have been. Upon the shoulders are wolf paw prints. The chin has a blue streak and the cheeks have 3 thick stripes. Upon the forehead is an intricately designed symbol. Patches of dark blue-gray streak above the paw prints and at the tips of the ears and under the eyes, going down the inside of the face and ending at the tips of the jawline. 

The werewolf walks over to where the bear is fishing. The imposing stature and enhances humanoid features would cause any sane person to run away but as the bear becomes aware of something new in it's area, it turns and is faced with the impressive figure of the werewolf. Standing fully erect, the werewolf measures about 3 yards tall. With protruding fangs out of the sides of a snarling snout, long dagger-like claws raise up as the werewolf readies herself into a defensive stance, expecting the bear to charge at her. But it does not. The Intimidation tactic of the werewolf was enough to cause the bear to stop its assault on the frozen water and it turns around and walks off, disappearing into the dense dead forest. 

Sighing in relief, the werewolf looks up as snow begins to fall. Threatening to add more powder to the already blanketed landscape. She sniffs for a moment, taking in the cool air and fresh smell and she reverts back into a regular wolf, standing on four legs anew. She walks in the opposite direction of the bear and makes her way through the forest. After a long walk, she reaches the end of the forest as it looks over a settlement. Crudely constructed huts adorn the horizon with smoke rising from several huts as well as what appears to be the middle of the camp. 

As the wolf begins it's approach towards the encampment, she is spotted by a couple of guards, who, upon seeing the shewolf proceed to smile brightly and turn back and yell boisterously and joyously "Krija is back! Krija is back!" They then turn and begin to run towards the wolf, quckly followed by several more people, some of which are children. The wolf stops moving and before anyone gets close, exuded a bright blue light. The true form of this shapeshifter is finally seen. A young woman wearing a thick wolf pelt cloak, complete with the head for cover. Thick beige pants and a light blue vest can be seen under the cloak along with. She is barefoot. The same blue tattoos seen before are also vibrantly visible. She stands with her arms akimbo as the people approach her, some hugging her while others berate her with questions. As she looks upon the sea of familiar faces, she greets them all with a warm, loving smile frames her face as she says in a slightly deep, but very feminine voice "It's good to be home. " 

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