Araatris: The morning is fair and less frigidly cold than it has been as the sun starts to lighten the sky. The fire has burned down to embers.
Rhoelyn: Nysse yawns and wraps the blanket around her shoulders as she sits up and looks around. She stirs up the coals and puts kindling on the fire.
Araatris: Tsume lays with her nose on her paws, fixing baleful stares at the edge of the clearing, where pawprints are still visible in the snow.
Rhoelyn: Nysse stands with the blanket across her shoulders. “Stay Tsume.” The snow crunches as she walks and kneels at the tracks. “They’re large.”
Araatris: Tsume whines, obediently staying where she is, despite the fact that she’s wiggling restlessly. She finally adds an urgent yip to the dialogue.
Rhoelyn: She looks around again and frowns at Rhese’s absence. There are no other boot tracks than her own. “Come here, Tsume. Do you want to follow?”
Araatris: Tsume leaps up at the permission, nudging aside the blanket to grab Rhese’s abandoned bracer in her teeth and trot it over to Nysse.
Rhoelyn: Nysse takes the armor and frowns. She looks back to her wolf, “Tsume. Take me to Rhese.” The blanket falls to the ground, forgotten, as she stands.
Araatris: Tsume doesn’t need much encouragement. She sprints off into the trees, following the sporadic tracks in the snow as they weave down the hillside.
Rhoelyn: She lopes after Tsume with long strides. It’s off the path that they’d been following and deeper into thick woods. Tsume dashes around the trees.
Araatris: Soon, they start seeing signs of struggle and Tsume slows, sniffing at the ground. The area is disturbed and blackish blood speckles the snow.
Rhoelyn: “Fiend blood.” She follows the path of the fight and the blood. A short distance away, Nysse finds the dead fiend. Paw prints lead further away.
Araatris: The trail leads them in a broad circle around the campsite, dotted with scuffles and dead fiends. Until they see boot prints trailing the wolf.
Rhoelyn: Nysse finds herself running after the trail with Tsume following. “Tsume. Go!” She points ahead and her wolf bounds ahead and out of sight.
Araatris: Nysse’s heart skips a beat a second later, when the unmistakable crack of a rifle rebounds through the trees. She skids down a hillock.
Araatris: Nysse rounds a large tree just in time to watch a massive silver wolf snap a human hunter’s rifle in half with his jaws, snarling viciously.
Rhoelyn: She dives forward knocking the hunter away. Nysse turns to find the wolf inches from her; amber eyes piercing hers. Tsume whines and noses him.
Araatris: The moment is broken when the hunter starts spitting curses and shoving at Nysse. “Gerrof me, ya crazy–! Yer gonna get us kilt!”
Rhoelyn: Nysse snaps, “Touch them and I’ll kill you. Get out of here.” She glares when he doesn’t move, “Now.” The wolf begins to growl and Tsume echoes.
Araatris: With a glare for the lot of them, the hunter gets to his feet and backs away, disappearing into the trees. The wolf stands still, watching Nysse.
Rhoelyn: “That’s taken care of, but…” She commands, “Tsume, find Rhese.” Her wolf nuzzles against the other in response. Her breath falters, “Rhese?”
Araatris: He steps closer, sniffing at her, and then hunches slightly, his form folding in on itself in a slower and more effortful process than usual.
Rhoelyn: Rhese kneels in front of her, the scythe in one hand. Nysse slides to her knees and whispers, “I didn’t think you could change into a wolf.”
Araatris: He raises his hand, letting the scythe slither back down into markings on his arm, before he looks at Nysse. “… it’s a new development.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse trembles; expressions of worry, anger, and fear flicker across her features. She stands up suddenly and retrieves the dropped bracer.
Araatris: He watches her, arresting his urge to reach for her. “Nysse?” He speaks gently. “I’m fine. I never lost control of myself. It’s a … known Form.”
Rhoelyn: She ignores him instead pacing back and forth until her eyes hit the broken gun. Nysse stares at it silently. Tsume whimpers at Rhese’s side.
Araatris: He pats Tsume reassuringly, never taking his eyes off Nysse. He stands like the wolf, just watching and waiting silently, wary of danger.
Rhoelyn: Her voice cracks, “Known… I was in Nighthaven long enough to know druids don’t turn to wolves.” Hair shadows her face, “I asked Verune once.”
Araatris: Rhese winces. He tries to change tracks. “I’m sorry if I worried you, lovely. I intended to be back before dawn…”
Rhoelyn: Nysse snaps her head up to look at him, anger in every line of her face, “Intended? The Rhese I know would never have left camp unguarded.”
Rhoelyn: “He wouldn’t be defending a form that shouldn’t be possible, an item we barely understand, or attack a hunter. What would have happened if I hadn’t come along?”
Araatris: Rhese blinks, his fist clenching. He manages to keep his voice even. “That human was going to shoot me. He deserves worse than a broken weapon.”
Rhoelyn: “He thought he was defending himself from a wild animal. That’s a death sentence?” She holds his gaze, “You could have shifted back. Why?”
Araatris: His brows draw down. “He was hunting me. Like a loud, ridiculous idiot. I wasn’t going to kill him. I was just going to teach him a lesson.”
Rhoelyn: “You broke his gun. What else is necessary?” Nysse growls in frustration and covers her face, “I don’t like this. We need to get rid of the scythe.”
**Arcania:** Rhese reaches for her, the marks on his arm shifting. “Nysse, I know you’re upset, but you’re overreacting. We’re taking the scythe back already.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse pulls away from him, “I’m not overreacting. You’re avoiding it again.” She frowns, “It’s doing something to you. Aren’t you worried?”
Araatris: Rhese scowls, lowering his arms. “Of course I’m worried! But I can’t do anything to get this thing off my arm.
Araatris: All I can do is protect you and get us both to Amberpine Lodge. I won’t apologize for that! There were fiends closing in, so I took care of them. The wolf made it easy.”
Rhoelyn: She growls and steps in grabbing the arm with the tattoo. Nysse puts the bracer on. “So would the cat. You should have never stayed in that form.”
Araatris: Rhese grits his teeth, holding still while she puts his armor back on. His voice is harsh. “It was- … I don’t expect you to understand, Nysse.”
Rhoelyn: She freezes, “No, I don’t.” Nysse clenches her hands for a long moment, then her shoulders sag, “What do I do?” She shivers and hugs herself.
Araatris: Tsume presses herself against Nysse’s leg as Rhese sighs and forces himself to unclench his fists. “Nysse, love…” He reaches for her once more.
Rhoelyn: Nysse doesn’t fight as he pulls her into his arms. “I’m sorry, Rhese. I was so mad.” She trembles, but lays her forehead against his chest.
Araatris: Rhese holds her, rubbing her back. “You’re allowed to be angry, Nysse.” He sighs softly. “I’m sorry, too. I’ve made a mess of this mission.”
Rhoelyn: She sniffles and wraps her arms around him, “What do we do now? Go back to camp? We lost our early start.” Tsume rubs against them both.
Araatris: “We go back to camp, make some food, pack up, and get moving.” Rhese glances down at his arm. “I still… think we should hurry back.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse looks up, “I agree, but is something wrong?” She rubs her eyes and glances down at his bracer. “Does it hurt?” She lays her hand on the arm.
Araatris: Rhese shakes his head, his gaze following her hand. “Nothing is wrong. It doesn’t hurt in the slightest.” He admits, “That makes me nervous.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse smiles slightly, “Then we should hurry and get someone to look at it.” Steps away, but grasps his hand. “Maybe we stick to rations.”
Araatris: As they head back towards camp, Tsume pauses and glances back. The foliage a dozen yards away slips back into place as their watcher retreats.
Rhoelyn: They enter the clearing and Nysse nearly trips over her blanket. Rhese notes the cloak still resting on the pack and her bow still by the bedroll.
Araatris: “Nysse…” He scolds, grabbing her cloak and wrapping it around her. “You didn’t think it through before you left camp.” He chafes her shoulders.
Rhoelyn: Nysse flushes, but nods, “I was worried. Tsume doesn’t normally act like that.” She sighs, “I should have grabbed my cloak and bow though.”
Araatris: “Yes.” He considers saying more, but instead just kisses her quickly before releasing her. “Thank you for worrying. Let’s get moving.”
Rhoelyn: Rhese redistributes the backpacks while she works. Rhese places her bag in her arms, and she frowns as she tests the weight, “This is too-.”
Araatris: He shuts her up with another kiss, grinning. “No talking. Walking. We need to make up a lot of time, lovely.” He slips his pack on.
Rhoelyn: Nysse blushes, but smiles. She puts on her pack and whistles for Tsume. They travel fast; only pausing to catch their breath when the sun is high.
Araatris: Rhese dusts the snow off a fallen log, plopping his pack down. He looks at Nysse. “We’re making good time. We could get there by dusk.”
Rhoelyn: She nods, then stretches until muscles protest and there’s audible popping. Nysse drops her pack next to his and goes to Tsume. “Come here.”
Araatris: Tsume presses up against Nysse’s leg, shamelessly begging for affection. Rhese pulls the water skin from his pack and takes a healthy drink.
Rhoelyn: Nysse kneels and ruffles Tsume’s fur. Tsume licks and nuzzles her until they’ve both tumbled in the snow. She pins Tsume down for belly rubs.
Araatris: As they play, Rhese watches with a fond smile. He digs a couple of ration bars out before getting up and wandering over to offer them food.
Rhoelyn: Nysse takes it gratefully. “Thanks.” She offers one to Tsume and bites a chuck off the other. Tsume sprawls over her lap; obviously too big to fit.
Araatris: He sits down next to them, holding the water skin until Nysse’s ready for it. “How are you feeling, lovely? Other than playful.” He grins.
Rhoelyn: Takes the water skin as drinks before answering, “I’m fine. It’s not as cold as it has been.” She hands it back, smiles, “I miss the pups though.”
Araatris: “I’m sure you both do.” Rhese pets Tsume between the ears. “We sh-” He frowns, looking around as he gets to his feet. “Do you smell that?”
Rhoelyn: Nysse sniffs the air, “Nothing unusual.” She shoos Tsume gently from her lap and stands, “You have the better sense between us. What do you smell?”
Araatris: “Smoke… and something sweetish. Herbs?” He swivels, taking a couple of steps upwind before he stumbles, reeling. He gasps. “Nysse! Run!”
Rhoelyn: The sweet, heady scent pervades her senses as she starts to run, but she pauses when Tsume collapses. Rhese pushes her away, “Run! I’ve got her.”
Araatris: Nysse is hit by a wave of vertigo before she can reach the next tree. She staggers, dimly registering a thud behind her as darkness encroaches.
Rhoelyn: It’s quiet when she awakes and dark. Her cheek is pressed against dirt. Nysse shifts slightly to find she’s bound; both hands and feet.
Araatris: Rolling over with some difficulty, she looks up at the stars through the bars of a wooden cage. The full moon makes it easy to see around her.
Rhoelyn: She turns her head the opposite to where she’d been laying. There’s a couple of figures at a campfire nearby and several more cages.
Araatris: Tsume lays in a cage not too far away, asleep. The two at the campfire seem to be humans, dressed similarly to the hunter from before.
Rhoelyn: Nysse attempts to sit up, but can’t quite manage in the confines. The cages weren’t meant to hold people. She twists to try and find Rhese.
Araatris: “Huh.” A footfall by her cage distracts her, and the hunter from that morning crouches beside her. “Lookit who’s awake. Hullo, elf girl.”
Rhoelyn: She glares, “What are you doing? Why have you caged us?” Nysse manages to push herself half-way up and continues to look around. “Where is he?”
Araatris: The hunter doesn’t bother to pretend he doesn’t know who she means. “He ain’t here, that’s for sure. Since it’s the full moon an’ all.”
Rhoelyn: “What are you talking about?” Nysse frowns and turns to look at him in confusion. “Why would the full moon have anything to do with Rhese?”
Araatris: He smirks mockingly. “Don’t know much about the Pack, do ya, girly?”
The man paces around her cage, running his hands over the bars. “Gonna learn.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse’s eyes widen. “Please let us go. What’s the purpose in—.” She freezes, “You’re using us as bait for him. What are you planning to do?”
Araatris: The man snickers. “Bait? Ain’t quite the word I’d use.” He doesn’t clarify, wandering off toward the campfire and the other two sitting there.
Rhoelyn: “Will you untie me at least?” Nysse yells, “Hey!” The bindings chafe her wrists as she moves. Tsume wuffs at her, now awake, from the nearby cage.
Araatris: The other two get up after he talks with them for a while, and they all approach Nysse’s cage. They look down at her, talking amongst themselves.
Rhoelyn: “Are any of you going to explain to me what’s going on?” Nysse demands. One of the trio steps forward and kneels by the cage; a young woman.
Araatris: “We’re waiting,” she says simply. “No one’s ever seen it do this, before, so we’re just waiting to see what happens. You may as well get comfy.”
Rhoelyn: “I’m guessing that means that you’re not going to untie me.” Nysse sighs as the woman nods. “What is it? The Pack. What’s so different?”
Araatris: She grins. “We’re the Pack. At least some of us are. I’m still waiting to get my fangs. Maybe after your druid is whole, he’ll curse me.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse blinks in confusion. “I don’t understand. How can he curse you?” She lays her head down. “We were just taking the artifact back to Amberpine.”
Araatris: The human giggles. “Well, if a scythe wielder can strengthen the Pack like the others are saying, we prolly will go to Amberpine eventually.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse growls under her breath, “He already has a pack.” She strains at her bonds. “What makes you think that he’s going to cooperate with you.”
Araatris: “Well, I mean… We have you, don’t we?” The woman shrugs and pulls out her knife. “Listen, you’re doing a number on your wrists. Hold still.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse quiets down and speaks softly, “It’s not right to keep us caged like this.” The woman cuts the ropes on her wrists. “I need to see Rhese.”
Araatris: “Look, I’m sorry. I can’t help with that, but I know you’re worried,” the human says, sheathing her knife. “Is he your husband or something?”
Rhoelyn: Nysse flushes five shades of red before stuttering a response, “H-he’s my… my…” Her voice drops to a mumble. “We’re…” She rubs her wrists.
Araatris: The young woman blinks before bursting out in laughter. “I didn’t know elves could blush, too! I understand. The trail can get a little lonely.”
Rhoelyn: She changes the subject, “Do you know if he’s okay? And is my wolf okay?” She gestures to the nearby cage with Tsume. Nysse peers worriedly.
Araatris: The human follows Nysse’s gesture. “Yeah. She’s fine. She’s not so happy, but fine. As for the druid? Dunno, really. The scythe decides that.”
Rhoelyn: “His name is Rhese. What does the scythe do? I mean… he changed into a wolf, but does it do something else?” Nysse wraps her hands around the bars.
Araatris: Glancing up at the other two, still talking a ways away, she leans in toward Nysse. “Don’t you know anything? That’s the heart of the curse.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse shakes her head. “I’ve never heard of this curse you keep mentioning. Rhese and I were trying to stop whatever was corrupting the land.”
Araatris: She frowns. “Ooo… I figured all you elves knew about the Scythes. I mean, the Elune one started with your people, didn’t it?”
Rhoelyn: “Yes, I know about that one, but how can it be related to the Scythe of Elune?” She scratches her cheek, “I know druids don’t change into wolves.”
Araatris: “Well, that’s not exactly right.” The girl sighs and sits down by the cage. “If you don’t even know that much, we’re gonna be here a while.”
Rhoelyn: “Do you think you could explain it…?” Nysse asks softly. The girl nods, “Rylana. It’s best to tell you now. You’re going to need to know.”
Araatris: “… why do you say it that way?” Nysse tilts her head, and the girl smiles. “Well, you’ll join the Pack, too. Eventually. That’ll be fun.”
Rhoelyn: “You’re going to have the scythe do the same thing to me?” Nysse’s mouth drops in shock. “I already have a pack: Rhese; Tsume; The pups…”
Araatris: “Aw!” Rylana clasps her hands happily. “You two have pups?! How sweet! I’m sure they’ll be welcomed, too. The Pack’s been human stock til now.”
Rhoelyn: Her cheeks darken again, “They’re Tsume’s pups. They’re wolf pups. We raised them together.” She continues, “Everyone in the pack is human?”
Araatris: “Yeah,” the woman answers. “That’s just the way it is. You won’t be lonely, though. Everyone’s pretty nice. Oh! I didn’t ask your name…”
Rhoelyn: “Nyssera Whispersong. Please call me Nysse.” Nysse draws her knees up and hugs them. “He didn’t seem nice when he tried to shoot Rhese this morning.”
Araatris: “Hi, Nysse.” She glances up at the other men. “Oh, Morris? Well, he’s kind of a jerk. Most of us aren’t. Dunno why he tried to hurt y– Rhese.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse ponders for a long moment, “Why do you want to become a member of the Pack? You said you hadn’t gained your fangs yet, right?”
Araatris: Rylana nods. “Right. I wasn’t old enough when the last scythe wielder died. We’ve been waiting for a new one. That’s why it’s so exciting!”
Rhoelyn: “Why would a curse be exciting?” Nysse lays her head on her knees to look at Rylana. “Most people are trying to get rid of curses.” Tsume whines.
Araatris: The girl grins. “Oh, yah. I got distracted from your lesson. The curse makes us strong. It gives us the wolf form that druids are forbidden.”
Rhoelyn: “Forbidden?!” Nysse exclaims. She leans and grabs the bars again. “Why is it forbidden?” Rylana blinks again, “You really don’t know?”
Rhoelyn: Nysse shakes her head. Rylana continues, “Your people were the ones that said it was too dangerous. They didn’t think that it could be controlled.”
Araatris: As Nysse pales, she adds, “That’s what the Scythes were supposed to be for. Or at least the Elune one. Some priestess made it forever ago.”
Rhoelyn: “How do you maintain control? How do you make someone into one of the Pack? Oh Elune, so many questions.” Nysse rubs her face. Tsume whimpers.
Araatris: Rylana reaches through the bars and pats Nysse’s hand. “Don’t worry so much, okay? You’ll have plenty of time to learn. Everybody does.”
Rhoelyn: “We didn’t ask to be part of the Pack. At least it’s something that you want.” Nysse sighs, “I just want to take Rhese and Tsume and go home.”
Araatris: “… I’m sorry, Nysse.” The girl sighs and glances up at the others. “They’d never let a scythe wielder just leave like that. We need one.”
Rhoelyn: Tsume’s frantic wuffing and growling catches both of their attention. Nysse shifts towards the other cage and calls out, “Tsume! Hold. Direction.”
Araatris: Turns in her cage, facing out toward the northwest and scratching at her bars. She can’t quite decide whether to growl or whine, wildly agitated.
Rhoelyn: A large shape rustles in the foliage as if pacing at the edge of their sight. The hunters wait calmly. The girl pats Nysse’s arm, “It’s time.”
Araatris: The moonlight glints off the silver fur of the great wolf as he emerges. His right paw is black with streaks along his foreleg to his shoulder.
Rhoelyn: “Rhese!” Nysse cries out. The wolf’s head swings towards her, fixing her with its amber eyes, then to Tsume as she whines and paws at the cage.
Araatris: Tsume is closer. The wolf raises a huge paw and smashes the cage door in, freeing her. Beside Nysse, the hunters stir nervously.
Rhoelyn: Tsume noses the massive wolf submissively before running towards Nysse with a wuff. He stalks forward with a growl and stops before the trio.
Araatris: In the darkness, it looks like some of the fur around his mouth is black, too. Rylana waits while the men unlock Nysse’s cage and pull her out.
Rhoelyn: Nysse stumbles as they push her to her knees before the wolf. They keep their hands on her shoulders as she reaches out a hand, “Rhese?”
Araatris: “Wait, please!” Rylana shoves between them. “Please… I’ve been w-” The wolf snarls and swipes his claws across her chest, knocking her away.
Rhoelyn: Nysse gasps and draws her hand back. She watches where Rylana lays unmoving. The men don’t move. Nysse whispers, “Are you going to help her?”
Araatris: Morris snickers. “Naw. She got what she wanted jes’ fine.” The wolf turns his attention back to her, his golden eyes mesmerizing. Tsume whines.
Rhoelyn: Deep within those eyes, there was no doubt that it was Rhese. Nysse raises her hand again, “What has it done to you?” Tsume presses against her side.
Araatris: He nuzzles against her hand for just a second, and then his head whips up and he leaps past her, knocking Nysse aside into Tsume. By the time (c)
Araatris: (c) she can recover and turn, the two humans lay in the dirt not far away, their throats ripped out without a sound. Rhese stalks back toward her.
Rhoelyn: She gapes at the scene. Tsume whines and licks her face until Nysse pushes her down. “Rhese, that wasn’t necessary! We could have reasoned–.”
Araatris: With a short bark of a growl, he interrupts, approaching closely. Blood drips from his muzzle onto her armor and Tsume cowers beside her.
Rhoelyn: Nysse looks down at the blood on her armor. She sniffles, “What are you going to do? They were the only ones who understood what was going on.”
Araatris: He sits before her and slowly, painfully slowly, he shifts until he kneels, the scythe in his hand. Heat radiates from him as he gasps for breath.
Rhoelyn: She shivers at the sight of the blood around his mouth. Tsume crawls on her belly to him. Nysse tentatively touches his other arm. “Rhese?”
Araatris: He reaches for her, as tender and gentle as the wolf was vicious, resting his forehead against hers. “Nysse,” he whispers, his voice raw.
Rhoelyn: At the sound of his voice, Nysse clings to him and her eyes search for injuries. “Are you alright? They wouldn’t tell me what was happening.”
Araatris: It’s hard to tell in the dark what blood is his and what isn’t. “You have to run with me…” he gasps. “I hurt them, but more… will follow soon.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse nods, “I’m not sure I can keep up with you and Tsume, but I’ll try.” She pauses, “Where though? Should we still go to Amberpine?”
Araatris: He pulls back, his eyes overbright and wild. “It doesn’t matter. Anywhere… not here.” Rhese rests the scythe’s claw against her shoulder.
Rhoelyn: Nysse feels something akin to a door unlocking within herself. She whines in confusion as her world shifts and pulls and changes uncomfortably.
Araatris: Rhese shifts and waits until she opens her eyes again, standing quietly while she explores her new form, the senses clamoring for her attention.
Rhoelyn: The scent of blood is the most pervasive, causing Nysse to paw at her nose and finally to lay down cover her nose with her paws. She whines again.
Araatris: Rhese leans down and nuzzles against her neck, tender despite his perceivable impatience. Tsume sniffs at Nysse, tentative and fascinated.
Rhoelyn: Nysse nuzzles back shyly, then slowly stands up. She shakes out her brown coat; a few areas of dark green speckle her fur. She turns to Rhese.
Araatris: Silent, Rhese leads the way toward the forest. Not far away, Rylana groans and stirs, and by the time she rouses, all three of them are gone.
Araatris: The morning is fair and less frigidly cold than it has been as the sun starts to lighten the sky. The fire has burned down to embers.