An eagle. A very, very large eagle. From the looks of it, there was definitely something wrong. It was curled up on the ground in a roosting pose, its legs tucked under itself, and it was keeping its head mostly under its wing, but that certainly hadn’t stopped it from snapping when the vultures – or the kender – got too close. It was dusty and a bit dirty, but otherwise seemed unharmed. So what could be wrong with it?
Even though the kender had tried once already to calm the bird, without success, she approached it again. But this time, she had a slightly different aim: her attempt now was to distract it. So she did a little dance in front of its head, and talked to it and just generally acted the kender – distraction comes pretty naturally – while Ashana slipped up behind the bird. She had her hand outstretched, and prayed silently that Sophia would take whatever healing this bird needed to close its wounds, and then softly laid her hand on the bird’s tail feathers. Nothing happened, besides the bird quickly realising it had someone behind it and giving a bedraggled yet still fearsome shriek. Fortunately, Ashana was well out of the way before the beak could come a-pecking, and was left instead pondering what it meant of Sophia would not answer her prayers for the bird’s healing. Was this the wisest course? Was there something she was missing?
Odate’s healing skills weren’t really up to the task. He knew about humanoids, but he couldn’t quite tell what was wrong with big bird here. One thing he could say – from this perspective, at least, there was no obvious wound to the bird that was causing it distress. Sage was sure that it was a snare – after all, back in Vahassa humans would set snares all the time to catch birds and other creatures. Perhaps its legs were fastened to the ground – hence it not moving. Of course, its legs were well under its body, hidden by the feathers, so the only way of seeing for sure would be to sneak underneath and check. The kender didn’t admit it, but the thought of snuggling up with a large, feathery bird was also kind of neat. What wasn’t so neat was that as she quietly padded up beside the bird, she took full account of its eagle eyes, but not so much of its very astute hearing. It whipped around almost soundlessly and snatched her in its beak, giving her a shake before letting her loose. Sage gasped with the pain of the bite and managed to back herself away over the ground on her hands and behind, eyes wide, and a large cut across her chest.
Odate looked grimly to the sky, and said a quiet prayer in Ogryn. Then he started addressing the eagle in a stable but solid tone: “We come in peace. We can help you.” There was some sqwarking and shrieking by the eagle, which helped everyone imagine how truly terrifying it must be when an eagle comes bearing down on a rabbit. Odate stood fast though, and responded again in common. “We can make you well. But you must let us come closer.” There was another sqwark, and with that, Odate put down his shield and his hammer, and then fell to his knees. “Is this better?” Sqwark shriek. Then with a nod, Odate turned to Sage and said, “Keep the bird calm,” and on his knees he approached the eagle. Somehow it seemed befitting: a cleric of holiness approaching the king of the sky on his knees.
As the ogre moved closer on his knees, Sage began talking soothingly to the eagle, right in its field of vision. Thankfully, the kender was very forgiving of the large creature, and did not hold the wound on her chest against it – it was, after all, just mostly scared. When Odate reached the eagle, it soon became clear to Odate that there was something wrong with the right wing itself – the eagle couldn’t move it. Lifting it up didn’t seem to cause the eagle any pain though – probably because it was paralysed. There was a long, thin wiggly thing attached right up under the wing, almost in the underarm – probably one of the tentacles of that carrion grub. There was also a bite mark just on the drumstick of the bird’s leg. The bite wasn’t very big, but it seemed to have suppurated. This was not just a wound – it was a disease.
Looking back over his shoulder, Odate called out – but in as quiet a voice as he could muster, “Ashana, there is a disease. You must deal with this.” Ashana likewise removed her shield and her sword, got down on hands and knees, and slowly approached. Two people approaching had not been the deal with the eagle, but thankfully Sage was able to keep it calm, and Ashana’s crawling approach less threatening. Hunter stood back, arms folded, and just laughed quietly to himself, while Reich muttered something about how he was short and harmless looking before it was cool.
Ashana looked over the wound, agreed it was at the very least infected, but thought that if the disease was coming at least in part from the severed tentacle, then there was little that could be done before removing it. She tried to grab it, but the tentacle was slimy and seemed to just slip off of the metal from her gauntlet. Even tanned leather couldn’t really get a firm grip. However, the tentacle certainly was sticky against the flesh of the beast. Odate, using one hand to keep the wing raised, bit the fingers of his other hand’s glove and pulled it off. Then, with the free hand, he took a firm grasp of the tentacle. Almost instantly it seemed to bite into his flesh, and he winced. It felt cold. It felt like it had infected his arm with pins and needles. But he could still move his arm, and he tugged at the tentacle, trying to get it off – without success. It was probably a mix of his stance and the fact that his arm was weakened by the tentacle’s poison, but he just couldn’t get it to budge. Thankfully, the eagle was also paralysed, so couldn’t really feel the tugging and so was not discomforted by the whole thing.
Ashana frowned. Then she said a quiet prayer to Sophia, cracked her knuckles, grabbed Odate by the waist, set her shoulder into his pelvis, and bodily pushed him backwards. He fell down onto his rear with a start, and his hand came tearing free from the eagle – and along with it the tentacle. Not giving it even a moment, the paladin’s boot came down hard on the tentacle, right next to Odate’s hand, and she grabbed the ogre’s wrist and yanked it away. She then kicked the tentacle away from them both. It went rolling in the sand, and the moment it fell still, Reich pointed a finger down and torched it in magical flame. That was that done. Then she returned to the eagle’s side, placed her hand right over the wound, in the way that only someone fearless of disease could, and called on her goddess to purify and cleanse the beautiful creature of its ailment. Almost immediately the eagle seemed to respond, as though energy and verve had returned to its blood, and the kender couldn’t help but give it a quick hug around the neck – this time far too quickly for it to respond.
Ashana extended a hand to the ogre to help him back to his feet, and asked him to translate for the bird. She started with something quite flowery and wise, but Odate soon had to explain t oher that, while he could talk and the eagle could respond, it was still just an eagle, with a brain to match. So she rethought her words: “Your health is returned to you by Sophia. She is my… the one in charge of me. She gives me the strength to help you.” The eagle nodded and squarked back, and Odate translated, “What should I do now?” The paladin again took a couple of tries, but ended up saying, “If you think about it, and want to join me in doing what Sophia wants, then you can.” The bird took nearly a full second to think, before bobbing its head deferentially. At almost that moment, Odate’s power to speak to the beast was done, and they were left pondering just what this would mean for them.
What it meant was that they now had a new party member. The bird still couldn’t fly – Odate surmised that the paralysis could last anywhere from a few hours to overnight – but hopped along slowly behind them, almost like a puppy behind the paladin. Poor Emergency Breakfast was beside himself, suddenly travelling with this large apex predator – it wasn’t helped that every now and again the eagle looked over with interest at the pack mule – so Sage also had to spend a good amount of time calming it down to get it to move forward.
When darkness was just starting to touch the eastern sky, Hunter called out: he had found something. There was a campfire that had been broken. Sage looked it over, and found it had probably been abandoned only hours before, perhaps a third of a day, and was even able to tell that there was a minotaur, an ogre, two humanoids and two demihumans. Quite a large and mixed group indeed. Reich sucked his teeth: that sounded like the group that was with the ogre sage, Kensaku, who was out here to find a new gift before Soncho could. Soncho was keen to continue on into the dark, and was now especially upset that the eagle had cost them time, but everyone convinced him that things would be faster tomorrow, and that there was no point travelling through the night. They should just make use of the camp, eat dinner, and get up early in the morning.
With that, Odate cracked open the rations from Emergency Breakfast’s saddlebags. They still had meat, and so he laid it out and getting it ready for dinner. He turned to put some rice into a pot, and then when he turned back, he was just in time to see the eagle’s beak raised to the air, gulping down the meat. All the meat. All of everyone’s meat in one meal. Oh.
Ashana put her hand on the eagle’s neck and gave it a pat, which it warily accepted. “Aww, you must have been hungry!” she said with a proud and gentle voice. The pride and gentility seemed to meet with little positive reception outside of the kender, who just thought it was amazing to be travelling with an actual factual giant eagle, and was probably secretly hoping to get a ride some day. Some day being tomorrow.
But for now, everyone was a bit irritable, so she offered to go and do some hunting, catch some game, and give them some meat to eat. Unfortunately, having an apex predator about seemed to scare away all of the game – she couldn’t find a single bunny or even a mouse. Still, on and on she trekked, following game trails and finding a small water hole nearby – nothing. Oh well, it would just be rice tonight.
As she headed back towards the party, it was truly dark. Fortunately, she could see the small fire, and knew what direction to head in. Unfortunately, she didn’t quite make it that far. There was a shadow in between her and the fire. A cart shaped shadow. That was just too intriguing, and she had to walk up closer and investigate. Lo and behold, it was a cart just like the cart that Cass had said she’d been on. She couldn’t see great, but she could just make out a few humanoids in the back, who all looked very passive. Then looming out of the dark came another shape – this one looked like a giant mushroom. She was amazed – it must have been another slave caravan. What luck! She opened her mouth to shout out to her friends, “Look, another slave caravan!” but just as she did so, she felt a shower of spores fall across her tongue.
It wasn’t like the thinky spores that the myconids usually used to communicate. This was different. It was kind of drowsy. It was very peaceful. It just made her… passive… so that when the mushroom man picked her up and put her in the cart, she didn’t resist, didn’t cry out, didn’t even care. It was okay. Everything was okay.