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The Ourboros Saga Book 2: Maiden of Thunder

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The Ourboros Saga Book 2: Maiden of Thunder
« on: April 16, 2015, 01:29:16 AM »
 

Zigra

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Prologue

The Star Mounts. A mystery to all those who dwelled outside the High Forest. From certain vantage points outside the forest, the trio of mountains could be seen far in the distance. Yet, due to the impenetrable nature of the High Forest, next to nothing was known about these mountains, and there was much myth and folklore, ranging from stories about hidden civilizations and dwellings of fantastic beings, about what may lie there.
 Asta stood by a cliffside and watched the distant Mounts longingly. For most of her thirteen years of life she felt drawn to the Star Mounts for reasons she couldn’t even guess at. But, because the High Forest was such a dangerous place to venture into, she long ago resigned herself to the reality that she would never get to see the Mounts up close. Of course, that wouldn’t stop her from dreaming. Dreaming of what mysteries she could unravel and what secrets she could uncover if she could only reach those distant mountains.
 “Come on, Asta! The ceremony is about to begin!”
 Asta turned to see a group of children from her tribe waiting for her. They were right. This ceremony was far too important to the tribe for her to miss out. Especially not for the sake of dwelling on impossible dreams. She left with the children, not realizing that they were all being watched.

                                                                   * * *

 Morgur’s Mound was the most sacred of all places to the Uthgart Thunderbeast tribe. Their legends varied as to the Mound’s true significance. Some claimed that it was the burial site of the legendary hero Morgur, who was the brother of the tribe’s patron deity Uthgar when Uthgar was still mortal. Some claimed that it was the burial ground of Uthgar himself, though other legends refuted this by saying Uthgar ascended to the heavens and left no body.
 But, the reason why this site was held in greater reverence to the Thunderbeast tribe than any other Uthgart tribes was because this was said to be site of the legendary battle between Uthgar and the Thunderbeast spirit, which ended with Uthgar vanquishing the spirit and bounding it to his service. Indeed, during his rise to divinity, the warrior Uthgar battled many such spirits and minor deities and conquered them all. Each one of the Uthgart tribes, the descendants of Uthgar’s people, worshiped one of these divinitie as conduits to Uthgar himself.
 The Thunderbeast tribe worshiped a divinity that was said to appear in the form of a great four-legged behemoth with a serpentine neck and tail which could tower over the huts built by the tribe. As its name implied, the footsteps of this behemoth could cause the ground to quake and rumble. The tribe’s legends said that many of these behemoths once walked the lands of the north, and the Thunderbeast spirit itself was their mother and protector, but the behemoths were believed to be long extinct now.
 Now, the Thunderbeast tribe came to their sacred mound for guidance and redemption. For the past four years the tribe had fallen on hard times. Years ago, the tribe’s chief, Gundar Brontoskin, had sought to do something for his tribe that was considered radical, even heretical, among the Uthgart- he tried to civilize them. The various Uthgart tribes had been what outsiders would call “barbarians” for most of their history, but Gundar, feeling that his people should evolve and change, decided to change that. He learned the ways of the “civilized” peoples and taught the Thunderbeast tribe how to live by those ways.
 Of course, not everybody was open to such change. The other Uthgart tribes saw the Thunderbeasts as becoming “decadent” and betraying the ways of Uthgar himself. But it wasn’t just the outside tribes who felt this way. The Thunderbeast tribe’s own shaman, and elder by the name of Keirkrad, was quite vocal in denouncing the tribe’s new way of life.
 After a decade of living this new life, it seemed as if Keirkrad’s words and warnings were fulfilled. One day, a tribe of orcs fell upon the Thunderbeasts’ village. Having given up much of their old warrior ways, the younger men and boys of the village did not know how to adequetely fight this threat. Gundar led his people to battle as best as he could. He was able to drive the orcs away, but only at the cost of his own life. His second-in-command, a warrior named Sungar Bearslayer, would take over as leader of the tribe.
 That would not be the end of their struggle. Sensing weakness, other Uthgart tribes, in particular the Grey Wolf and Black Raven tribes, fell upon the Thunderbeasts and drove them from the place they tried to make their home. Once a people that strove to become greater than the tribes around them, the Thunderbeasts were now lowly nomads, wandering from place to place and slowly being picked off by other tribes and orcs.
 Now the tribe was at a crossroad. Winter was coming soon, and with their lowly nomadic state, it was feared that they would not survive through it. To them, it seemed, the only option was to seek guidance from their totem spirit and from Uthgar himself. They all gathered at their sacred mound in hopes that the Thunderbeast, and through it Uthgar, would give them a sign that would guide the tribe’s path to the future.
 Amongst the crowd, a crowd that had become far too small, she thought, Asta watched as Sungar and old Keirkrad approached the mound. Sungar turned towards the crowd and addressed them all.
 “The Thunderbeast lives in all our hearts. It is our light and our path to Uthgar. Now, in our greatest time of need, we call to the beast. May it give us the answer we seek.”
 With Sungar’s speech concluded, Keirkrad raised his arms toward the mound. He spoke in some language that neither Asta nor anybody else in the tribe understood. A strange secret language of the Uthgart shamans that ordinary folk like Asta were forbidden to know.
 As Keirkrad’s words grew louder and more intense, the sky above them darkened. Black clouds enveloped the fading sunlight. Asta stared in wonder as the clouds began to circle and swirl above everyone. But, there was something about this swirling vortex that caught her attention. While it must have seemed the same to everybody present, Asta couldn’t help but get the impression that the vortex was centered towards her.
 A jolt rocked the very core of Asta’s being. She cried out. Her cry caught the attention of the whole tribe. They all watched in stunned silence as the girl hit the ground and began to convulse. The silence turned to gasps as Asta’s body began to levitate high into the air.
 The girl’s convulsions stopped and she looked upon the whole crowd as she hung in the air. Then, something began to take shape around her hovering body. The translucent form of a gigantic creature with a serpentine neck. The people of the tribe had never seen such a creature with their own eyes before, yet they all knew it well. The Thunderbeast.
 Asta’s mouth opened, and she spoke in a voice not her own. “Please save my children.” With that, the spirit vanished and Asta’s body was slowly lowered to the ground. As she landed, she lost consciousness, and the crowd gathered around her. As Sungar joined them, Keirkrad simply stood by the mound and watched the whole scene unfold.
 “The Thunderbeast has given us a quest,” he announced to them all, “and it has chosen….a vessel.”

                                                                 * * *

 The Thunderbeast tribe did not realize they were being watched. Three figures observed the scene that unfolded with the tribe from a distance.
 “It looks like we’ve come to the right place.” Apatty Saurus said.
 

Re: The Ourboros Saga Book 2: Maiden of Thunder
« Reply #1 on: July 02, 2015, 05:49:58 AM »
 

Zigra

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Chapter 1

Chief Sungar looked over the still unconscious form of the girl named Asta while the girl’s mother tended to her. It left him more than a little bewildered that the Thunderbeast spirit would choose who was only barely on the edge of womanhood to be its vessel. What was so special about this girl, he wondered. While the women in the tribe were no strangers to combat, Asta herself had experienced none of that in her life. What use could she be in this quest that the spirit commanded them to embark on?
 “Will my daughter be alright?” the mother asked, weary with concern.
 “You must trust the wisdom of Uthgar and the Thunderbeast spirit.” the old Shaman, Keirkrad insisted. Sungar couldn’t help but notice that the old man had essentially dodged the woman’s question.
 “What did the spirit mean when it spoke of ‘children’?” asked Thuluna, who stood beside Sungar. Thuluna was Sungar’s second-in-command. Though he was still young, Thuluna was one of the strongest warriors in the tribe and also had a sense of honesty and dignity that Sungar trusted.
 “The spirit obviously means the Behemoths of legend.” Keirkrad answered. “We are to find and protect them.”
 Sungar pondered this quest. The Behemoths, great long-necked lizards of immense size, were creatures that were said to once inhabit the High Forest in great numbers. The Thunderbeast spirit was believed to be both their progenitor and their spiritual embodiment. However, these Behemoths had not been seen by any of the Uthgart peoples since the days when Uthgar himself walked Abeir-Toril as a mortal. Many wondered if they were merely a myth.
 “If any of the Behemoths truly survive, they must live deep within the High Forest.” Thuluna commented. “Entering the forest will be dangerous. The Tree Ghost tribe did so, and nobody has heard from them since.”
 “We have the Thunderbeast and Uthgar to guide us.” Keirkrad said. “Our quest will not fail.”
 “I shall gather our greatest warriors. We will enter the High Forest at dawn.” Sungar announced.
 “And I shall prepare this girl for our journey.” Keirkrad added. “And I shall do so alone.”
 Asta’s mother wanted to protest, but she felt a chill as Keirkrad glared at her. She looked at Sungar, but he simply gave her a look that told her that she should do as the shaman demands. Soon the shaman was left alone with Asta as the other three exited the tent.

                                                                     * * *

Outside the reaches of the Thunderbeast tribe’s camp, the tribe was being watched. The watchers felt that the time would soon come. The time for them to strike…

                                                                     * * *

 Asta’s eyes slowly opened. She nearly reeled back in shock as she saw the gnarly face of her tribe’s shaman looming over her, grinning with a mouth that was missing several teeth.
 “You’re awake. Good.”
 “Wh...what happened to me out there?” the girl asked, having only a vague recollection of what occurred during the ceremony.
 Keirkrad explained the full details of what had transpired. He also told her his interpretation of what the Thunderbeast had commanded, and how that now meant that she would partake in a great quest with the tribe’s greatest warriors. Asta was left pale with shock.
 “You may feel fear now, child, but with Uthgar’s blessing upon you, even death shall be a great honor.”
 The old man’s words weren’t exactly putting her at ease. Before she could say anything else, she felt a strange sensation on her back. She reached behind herself and felt the skin of her upper back. She nearly screamed. Keirkrad noted her distress.
 “Let me see, child.”
 He had her lean forward so he could get a look at her back. He removed the upper part of her robe and saw what had disturbed the girl so much. The skin on her upper back was no longer skin as a human would know it. In the place of skin were a mass of thick blue scales.
 “I see. You already have the mark of the Thunderbeast’s blessing upon you.”
 Asta’s moment of shock was cut by commotion coming from outside. Keirkrad looked up and nodded, almost as if he was expecting this. The camp was under attack.

                                                               * * *

 They came from above. Giant black-winged forms that descended from the sky and struck the Thunderbeast camp without warning. Perched upon these black shapes were human riders. The Thunderbeast tribe knew these attackers well. They were the warriors of the hated Black Raven tribe, riding upon their giant raven mounts.
 The Thunderbeasts were little equipped to handle such an attack, and the Black Ravens knew it. The great birds fell upon the hapless Thunderbeasts and began carrying people off. The Thunderbeast warriors tried their best to fend off the attackers, but they could do little to defend from an aerial attack.
 When Asta realized what was going on, she rushed out of the tent. “My mother! I have to find my mother!” she cried. Keirkrad did not stop her.
 The found herself completely lost in the confusion. Everywhere she looked, she saw her people getting picked off by terrors from above. Then, she found her mother. The two of them rushed towards each other. They would not make it. Asta watched in horror as one of the raven monsters suddenly lifted her mother away.
 Asta fell to her knees. Despair filled her soul, but that was not all. She also felt a swelling anger like she had never felt before. It was as if something else was entering her and replacing her very soul. She then looked at her hands, and with horror she beheld blue scales beginning to form on them. It wasn’t long before she completely lost herself. Those Thunderbeasts who were not completely distracted by the attack found themselves staring in awe the form that began to rise up above them….
 The female warrior of the Black Raven tribe who led the attack, a young woman by the name of Vesta Darkclaw, was pleased with how it was proceeding. With this, the heathen Thunderbeasts would finally meet their end. As her raven mount swooped down to pick off another helpless Thunderbeast, something large entered Vesta’s line of sight. At first, it seemed like a large hill was rising up in front of her, but then she realized it was moving. She looked up and beheld the gigantic form of a creature with a long serpentine neck charging towards her.
 Vesta tried to maneuver her mount to fly out of the behemoth’s path, but the sudden appearance of the great beast shocked her raven mount and sent it into a panic. The raven mount threw Vesta from its back, and she fell to the earth. When she hit the ground, she had little time to scream as the massive behemoth trampled her as it charged forward.
 Like the others of his tribe who had pulled their attention away from the battle to view the great beast that had suddenly appeared, Sungar viewed the creature in awe. There was no doubt about it- he was looking upon one of the sacred Behemoths of legend. As with everybody else in the tribe, he had only seen drawings of one of these fantastic beasts, but now that he saw one in the flesh, he felt an overwhelming sense of wonder.
 The Black Ravens whose mounts were not carrying off people focused their attack upon the Behemoth. As the birds flocked around the beast, it let out an angry “har-ooo!” sound and reared its front legs up at the attackers. The earth shook as the legs came back down to the ground.
 When seemed like the Behemoth would be completely swarmed, something flew through the sky and struck several of the raven mounts. The object caused the ravens it hit, along with their riders, to disintegrate into nothing. Sungar and his warriors looked closer and realized that the object flying through the air was a gigantic boomerang. After enough of their numbers had been wiped out by this flying object, the remaining Black Raven warriors soon realized that they had lost the advantage. They retreated into the sky, leaving the survivors of the Thunderbeast tribe cheering.
 With all of its attackers gone, the great Behemoth bellowed in triumph, and the tribe watched as it charged off into the forest, leaving a trail of crushed trees in its wake. This left the tribe to both pick up the damage and bury their dead, and to speculate on where the Behemoth had come from. Many among them claimed that they had seen the girl, Asta, transform into the beast. Sungar heard these rumors and wondered if they were true. He ordered his men to search for the girl among the survivors. 
 Among the survivors were people whom the giant ravens tried to carry away. Thuluna soon noticed an individual among this group of survivors whom his chief would should know about. Asta’s mother. Thuluna quickly found Sungar and brought him to where the injured woman was being tended to. 
 “W...where is my daughter? Where is Asta.” the woman asked her chief very weakly.
 “We are still searching for her.” was all Sungar could bring himself to tell her. For now, he didn’t want to upset the woman by telling her the reports that her daughter had transformed into a giant beast, particularly one that was sacred to the tribe.
 Sungar looked up at the trail the Behemoth had left through the woods. He knew that he and his men had to find the beast, regardless of its origins. And with the trail that it left, searching for it shouldn’t be hard.
 While the rest of the village gathered their wounded and buried their dead, the old shaman Keirkrad observed the scene with a pleasant smile upon his face.

                                                                     * * *

 Three figures watched as the Behemoth slowed its movements. The beast quickly began to shrink. Its neck began to shorten, its front legs turned to a pair of arms, and its blue scales turned to pale human skin. Once Asta was fully in her human form again, she collapsed to the ground from exhaustion.
 “Quick! Get the kid something to cover her up before she freezes!” one of the figures said. Another of the figures did as they were told and covered up Asta’s nude form with a warm blanket.
 The lead figure quickly lifted Asta up and held her shivering body close. This figure carried upon her back the giant boomerang that had just helped save Asta’s people. Sachiko Kuonji looked at the girl she held in her arms with a mixture of concern and sadness. Sachiko thought of her own two daughters back on Earth. In particular, Asta’s frail form made Sachiko think of her oldest daughter, who was taken away from her before the girl was old enough to know who her true mother was.
 “We….we should have helped them sooner. Gods, think of all those people we let die.”
 Sachiko was filled with sadness and regret over what her comrade said. They were right, of course. At first, the trio held back from giving aid because they were instructed not to interfere with the lives of the Thunderbeast people. However, it quickly became apparent that those people needed help. Not only could they not allow innocent people to get slaughtered like that, but the trio’s mission would all be for naught if the people they were suppose to follow and observe got wiped out. It was a good thing that Sachiko had her Hiraikotsu handy.
 “What are we going to do with this girl? We can’t leave her here, but I’m not sure that it would be a good idea to reveal ourselves to her people.”
 “Oh? And why is that?” came a voice from behind them. Sachiko and her two comrades looked back to see Sungar and other warriors from the Thunderbeast tribe standing a short distance away from them. Most of the warriors had their weapons ready, but Sungar himself did not.
 “I want to thank you for saving our people.” Sungar said, obviously noting that the giant boomerang carried by Sachiko was the same one that fended off the Black Ravens. “However, I would like to know why you are following us.”
 Sachiko sighed. Since they had been found out, she realized there was no point in trying to hide who they were. She lowered her hood and revealed herself to Sungar and his men. The men all gasped at the woman they saw. While her features were human, she was clearly something….else….beyond what the men knew. It seemed like the woman’s very flesh, eyes, hair and everything else about her were made up of something unearthly that the men had never seen before. Sachiko understood their shock. In a world that had nothing like TV, these people had obviously never seen an animated character before.
 “What in Uthgar’s name are you?” Thuluna gasped.
 “I am not off your world. We can go to your camp and discuss it more there.” Sachiko answered.
 “And just what are they? Some manner of ogre?” one of the other men asked, pointing to Sachiko’s two comrades. Sachiko realized that her comrades still had their features obscured by their hoods, and that their giant and imposing size must be alarming these men. She gestured for the two of them to reveal themselves.
 When Sachiko’s comrades pulled back their hoods, Sungar and men experienced a greater shock than when they saw Sachiko herself. While the two individuals had a vaguely anthropomorphic body shape and were bipedal, there was no mistaking what they were. Their long serpentine necks, the blue scales and narrow head shapes. The Thunderbeast warriors were gazing upon a pair of sacred Behemoths.
 Bronto Thunder and Apatty Saurus could do little but look at each other and sigh.
 
 

Re: The Ourboros Saga Book 2: Maiden of Thunder
« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2015, 06:51:48 AM »
 

Zigra

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Chapter 2

Asta watched the scene which unfolded with sheer bewilderment. Though she could touch and feel her surroundings, she could not control her own body. Indeed, it seemed like her the body which her mind inhabited was not even truly her own. Instead of her normal two feet, she could feel herself walking upon all fours. And instead of her normal perspective, somehow her view towered above the trees.
 In this strange, unfamiliar body Asta stormed through the forest. There was intent and urgency in her movement. She could feel this much, yet she did not understand why. All she knew was that she sought something, or perhaps someone.
 She finally came to a clearing, and at last she found who she was searching for. A man stood there, a bare-chested northern warrior with blond hair and a beard, his blue eyes like fiery sapphires. But it was not him whom Asta sought. The man held a young dark-haired girl, looking no older than 12 winters. The girl was bruised and bloody, and Asta could not help but notice that a great deal of that blood came from between her legs, a horrifying hint of what had been done to her.
 Asta felt an intense rage build up within her. In her strange body, she let loose a thundering bellow of anger and challenge at the man. The man callously threw his captive to the ground and gave a mocking smile to the challenge. He pulled out a large battle axe from behind himself. Asta hesitated a bit as she could sense the magic rippling through the axe, yet her thirst for vengeance was too great. Her massive form charged at the man, and the man stepped forth to meet her in battle.
 “Please wake up, little one.” Asta heard a voice call to her.
 Suddenly, the scene of the battle began to fade away. She opened her eyes. A dream? Dazed, she looked up and met eyes with the one who had woken her. She was dumbfounded. It was no human being that looked down upon her. The long neck, the elongated face, the blue scales. A member of the Thunderbeast tribe recognized such a creature quite well, for it was one of the great behemoths that was the totem of their tribe.
 “You’re awake.” Apatty Saurus told her, smiling. Sungar and his warriors were astonished. This strange behemoth-woman used a type of healing magic to restore Asta’s strength that they weren’t familiar with. They did not realize that Apatty was training to become a priestess of Buru, brontosaurus goddess of the brontosaurus peoples of Reptilon. To the amazement of both Apatty and Bronto Thunder, Buru’s magic worked even on this strange alien world.
 The group anticipated Asta’s reaction to seeing Apatty and Bron. If the appearance of these two dinosaur people was a shock to Sungar and his men, then the gods only knew how shocked a young girl like Asta would be. They were all ready for the girl to let out a scream of fright, and to have to find a way to keep her calm. But that didn’t happen. Instead, something happened that threw them all for a loop- Asta smiled.
 “You came. The Thunderbeast spirit told me you would.” she said pleasantly. Then, as she looked around at everybody gathered there, she did something which surprised Sungar and his men even further- she gave a command. “Bring our new friends to the camp. Our people will be overjoyed to see them.”

                                                                    * * *

 Not since he made up a story about being a superhero on Reptilon did Bronto Thunder get so much attention and adoration. As soon as Asta introduced them to her people, Bron and Apatty found themselves surrounded by the people of the Thunderbeast tribe, who looked upon them with awe, many wanting to reach out and touch the beings who so closely resembled their totem.
 “Can we please ride on your back, Sacred One?” a little girl asked Bron.
 “Yeah, can we please?” another child asked.
 Bron suddenly felt quite embarrassed and didn’t know how to answer. Then, he felt Apatty rest her hand on his shoulder and he looked at her as she gave him an approving smile.
 “Go ahead, dear.” she told him. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as the children will.”
 Feeling encouraged, Bron not only decided to give the children a ride, but he also had a surprise in store for them. He told the people to stand back a good distance from him. Then, he pressed something on his chest. A glowing light enveloped his body before the stunned audience. Then, right before their eyes, Bron’s body began to quickly grow in size. As he did so, his arms became legs, and he went from being a biped to being a quadruped. His body continued growing until at last he towered over the villagers and his body reached a length of over 60 feet from head to tail. The people gasped, for now they were even more certain that they gazed upon one of the sacred Behemoths of legend. Bron lowered himself and let the children on his back. Then, he took them for a ride in the nearby woods, the earth quaking with each step of his.
 “Good thing Tsunami was able to create a new dino-volving patch for him.” Apatty mused.
 From his tent, Sungar observed the scene, Asta and her mother standing by his side, both of them smiling . He really did not know what to make of the whole situation. He and his men were prepared to go on a great quest to find the legendary Behemoths, and here two of the Behemoths just suddenly appeared freely to their people. That they apparently came from another world was even stranger. Was this really the will of the Thunderbeast, as Asta claimed? Sungar then observed Keirkrad, who himself was watching the scene from a distance. If the coming of these two behemoths was the will of the Thunderbeast and Uthgar, you would not know it from the old shaman’s reaction. The old man gave the two behemoths a scowl that could kill.
 “So, are you going to tell me why you are here?” Sungar asked Sachiko, who walked up behind him.
 “We can talk more if you come inside.” she answered. They went inside Sungar’s tent, and she explained everything she knew to him in terms she hoped he would understand. “We are looking for...an artifact. This artifact was left behind by an ancient civilization that existed before humanity, and it may hold the key to unlocking the secrets of that civilization. There are a number of these artifacts scattered across Faerun. The one we’re looking for is something of a mystery to us, because the writings we have of it exist only in tiny fragments. All we know is that the artifact is somewhere in the far north, and that the writings signified it with an unusual symbol- a brontosaurus.”
 “Brontosaurus?” Sungar asked, uncomprehending.
 “Yes, that’s the name people in the southern regions give to the creature your people use as a totem. The Uthgart peoples are known even in the far south, and it is also known that your particular tribe has a brontosaurus as its totem animal. It was a long shot, but we believed that there was a possibility that it was not a coincidence that the symbol signifying the artifact we are looking for is the same as your totem. We came here to observe your people in the chance that we could find some answers.”
 Sungar shook his head. “I know nothing of such an artifact. However, if young Asta is to be believed, you coming to us was no accident. Plus, we owe you a great debt for saving us and for bringing our sacred Behemoths to us.”
 “Blasphemy!” The two of them looked up to see Keirkrad storming into the tent. “The coming of these heathen outsiders is not the will of Uthgar! These behemoths are aliens and not the Behemoths of legend! Their arrival here is an affront to Uthgar and the Ugthgart peoples!”
 Sachiko bit her lip in annoyance. Sungar was about to speak up to try and talk some sense into the old shaman, but none of them noticed somebody else stride into the tent.
 “That isn’t true at all.” came the voice of Asta, suddenly gaining everyone’s attention. “The arrival of the newcomers is a blessing from the Thunderbeast spirit. When I had lost consciousness, I saw many images in my mind, many of which I did not understand. Among those images I saw these newcomers. I….can’t explain it, but even though Bronto Thunder and Apatty Saurus may not be directly related to the sacred Behemoths, I feel that they are the ones who must help us find them. And, in helping us find what we seek, I believe we may help them find what they seek as well.”
 “You should learn your place, little girl!” Keirkrad snarled. “The spirit may have made you its vessel, but I am still the chosen of Uthgar himself, and I will not stand from such impudence from an ignorant child!”
 Keirkrad raised his arm. He was actually going to hit Asta. In that moment, Sungar felt helpless, as even he dared not try to challenge Uthgar’s chosen shaman. However, not everyone in the tent felt the same way. As Keirkrad lowered his fist, he felt somebody grab a hold of it.
 “We will have none of that.” Sachiko said sternly. “You may be a big shot in this village, but if you hit that girl, or anybody else for that matter, I will have no problem beating your wrinkly ass into next week!”
 Sungar gritted his teeth. He wanted to cheer Sachiko on, but he knew that the old man was Uthgar’s chosen, and feared what he might respond to any affront. Right now, he was expecting the shaman to put some manner of curse upon the woman. However, this never came about. Instead, Keirkrad glared at Sachiko and quietly relented. Sachiko released his arm, and the old man angrily, but quietly, stormed out. Sungar could not believe what had just transpired.
 “Thank you.” Asta told her, looking visibly relieved. “I can already tell that you and your friends will be a boon to my people.”

                                                                 * * *

 As the day went on, rumors began to spread throughout the camp about Sachiko’s defiance against Keirkrad. The reactions among the people varied from those who feared the newcomers would bring down the wrath of Uthgar himself, to those who believe that them being able to stand up to even the old shaman proved that they had an even higher divine authority than he did. That Keirkrad remained silent after the incident only fueled the speculation and rumors  All in all, the Thunderbeast tribe knew that something tremendous was about to happen to them in their future, for better or ill, with the arrival of the newcomers.
 As night came, the newcomers need a place to sleep. Asta and her mother offered to let the three of them stay in their tent, and they obliged. In the middle of the night, after everyone else in the camp was asleep, Asta found that she could not sleep. There was too much on her mind. As she strolled out of her tent for some fresh air, she saw she wasn’t alone. Bron was sitting outside, and she could tell he was lost in thought.
 “You have much on your mind as well?” she said, surprising him.
 “Yeah….umm….well, it’s kinda complicated. You see, the reason why we want to find this artifact and unlock its secrets is that it may help us save a friend of ours who was taken from us.” He took a deep sigh before he could continue on. “And, uh, there’s something else. I’ve been together with Apatty Saurus for years now, and I love her very much. But, this friend of ours that was taken, well, I’ve been thinking about her quite a bit lately, and I think I may have feelings for her, too. I don’t know what to do about it.”
 “Why do you not marry them both?” Asta asked.
 “Huh?”
 “In our tribe, a man, especially one of high standing like the chief, can have all the wives he wants. Is it not the same for your people?”
 Bron looked at her dumbfounded. He hadn’t really thought of that. Back when Minako had talked about Ifurita getting a harem, and Bron being a part of it, Bron didn’t really take it that seriously. But now, he wondered if such a thing would be a possibility. He also wondered how Apatty Saurus would feel about such a thing, seeing as she barely got to know Ifurita before Ifurita was taken.
 “I do find it strange that Chief Sungar, though he could have any woman he wishes, never took a wife.” Asta went on, almost seeming to change the subject after seeing that Bron could not answer her question. “I wonder if he too haunted by the deaths of both our last chief and of his brother to think of raising a family.”
 “What happened to them?” Bron asked.
 “Our last chief, Gundar Brontoskin, died defending our old village from orcs. He made Sungar his successor due to Sungar’s heroism battling an enemy of ours. But, it was that same enemy that killed Sungar’s brother, and I think that loss has taken away any feelings of pride Sungar might have had in being a hero.”
 “What kind of enemy was this?”
 “The Blue Bear.”

                                                                     * * *

 Flames surrounded them. Fire engulfed every hut in the village, bathing the winter night in an orange glow. With their village burning to the ground, it was here that the Blue Bear tribe would make their last stand. Sungar would see to that. The young warrior stood in the heart of the lake of fire. His body was covered with blood, that of his younger brother who had just held in his arms after the young man had been killed by the enemy.
 Within the smoke, something stirred. Sungar stood defiantly as two figures slowly emerged. A tall man clad in armor and fur, a horned battle helm upon his head. Next to him, an old, withered hag of a woman. Neither the chief of the Blue Bears nor the crone that acted as their shaman seemed the least bit concerned with the destruction of their people’s home. The lack of empathy, even towards their own people, was something the Blue Bears were infamous for, even to other evil-aligned Uthgart tribes.
 The hag quietly chanted something, and Sungar could feel the electricity surrounding them. Dark magic was in the air. The hag reached out and touched her chief. A change slowly came over the man. His armor and clothing vanished, and fur grew all over his body. His hands turned to claws, and he slowly took to all fours. His body grew until he nearly dwarfed Sungar. Sungar displayed no open fear as the ursine monster roared a challenge, and the battle was soon met….

                                                                   * * *

 Sungar Bearslayer awoke suddenly in a sweat. It had been a long time since he had dreamed of the battle which earned him his name, and it was no more welcome now than it had been in the past. As he rubbed his temples and slowly rose from the fur mat that he used as a bed, he wondered why he was having this dream once again after so long.
 Lost in thought, he left his tent. He was broken from his ponderings when he saw one of the two behemoths and Asta talking to one another. He approached them, and their turned their attention to him.
 “I have made a decision.” he said. “Though Keirkrad may disapprove, I have decided that you and your fellows may join us on our journey into the High Forest. I will tell my warriors at dawn, and we shall leave shortly afterwards.”