Not Quite Groundhog Day

Title: Not Quite Groundhog Day
Time Period: January 26, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: The hunt for a monster ends badly for at least one involved.

Fog settles heavy like a down blanket along the slope of the mountain. Heavy branches from spruce trees lay in wait for summer months to begin their decay. Now they are only good for kindling. Walking slowly in single file, the horses pick their way over the uneven terrain, some tripping in softer sinkholes hidden by lumps of snow.

At the head of the party, a highlander with dingy blonde hair and a face that's been in want of a shave for over a month squints down at the ground ahead. It's been getting harder and harder to see and the angle of the hill their prey is climbing seems a little too steep for their mounts.

On a good note, tracking has never been easier.

When the first sightings of the monster came in, Jain was the first to volunteer to head the search party. The only agreement witnesses could come to is that the thing was dark and big. Big enough to break trees where they stood.

Evidence has led them deep inside the Caledonian forest.

Jorn was summoned largely because of his familiarity with the area out here; tracking, however, does not seem to be an issue. Trees buckled, ground rooted up, rocks askew from whatever path it had been taking. His mare snorts when she decides that the incline is too steep for him to force her up. That's alright, at least for now. Jorn pants her over the scruff of mane on her neck, while her ears swivel like funnels to try and catch a listen of whatever they have been after.

He hasn't paid much heed to- or perhaps he forces himself not to- the company he has been dragging along in secret. The injured wolf that he had let into his home has since made itself — comfortable, may be a good term for it. Not that it seems to actually like him more than it did the first day. Currently, it is nowhere to be seen, or smelled, or heard; habit tells him that it is around, even if he cannot find proof, and it has not shown itself to many elsewise.

"We're going to need to go on foot from here. It only gets thicker up there, and the mud makes it uneasy." Jorn shrugs to himself under his white cloak, gloved hand smoothing at his horse's mane.

The silky grey hide of a gelding Algernon's been seen on before brings up the rear, sooty hocks sifting through fog stirred thin by those ahead. Algernon himself is an unremarkable blend of coal black in coat and hat, affect quietly distant from the mountainside torn asunder. He is here because he happened out for a piss past the party being gathered.

There's still a tinge of tobacco smoke and whiskey about his breath accordingly, comfortable buzz long since seeped out through his collar into the cold.

At Jorn's words he draws up and leans reluctantly out of his saddle, rifle drawn stock first and strapped across his shoulder. Of course they're going to need to go on foot from here. Who wouldn't want to pursue a massive, dangerous monstrosity deeper into Mount Middle-of-Nowhere on foot.

Jorn's wolf has no complaints. Ylva, or so he calls her, shadows the hunting party at a distance on paws that make no sound on the snow but instead leave shallow tracks running parallel to those left by horse hooves. To call her well-behaved would be a misnomer; she simply has yet to show any interest in causing any trouble except for the occasional snarl and snap when Jorn gets too close. She hasn't allowed him to lay hands on her since he brought her into the cottage and extracted the bullet from between her ribs, and although she realizes on some level that she owes him her life, she continues to act prickly and aloof.

It's possible she just has a shitty personality.

This isn't the first time she's followed Jorn off his property, but it's the furthest she's gone with him, which is a good sign if he has any desire to be rid of her. By the end of the winter she should be strong enough to return to wherever it is she came from.

Jain shifts in his saddle and glances back at the rest of the party, preparing to dismount or already with two (four) feet on the ground. His usual demeanor, ranging from easy going smiles mixed with fist to paranoid, is closer to the twitchy side of the scale as he glances back at the wolf following them. The tartan pinned over his shoulder has been carefully guarded, almost as well as Jorn's white fur.

Pistol looped into his belt, he is as slow to dismount as Algernon. Not because he's hesitant to walk, quite the opposite, it's the orders (suggestions) he has trouble with. "Of course," he remarks, swinging off his saddle. Hooking a hand over his mount's head, he pulls off the bridle and bit, looping the arrangement around its neck instead. Should it come to any danger, it can find its own way home.

The large shield strapped to the horse's side is pulled off and carried at a lazy angle. From the look of the divots in the snow, the thing has quite a head start on them. "Maybe when we kill it, Fogg and I will have a blanket to share between us as fine as yours, Wartooth."

"One can imagine." He fancies that it would never come close to being as fine, term of 'blanket' nonwithstanding. Jorn's response is simple as he gets from his horse, blade at his hip, pistol at his belt. He allows the mare to shuffle backwards and away from him, once he gets down. "Hopefully it does not stink worse than a horse barn." The northman finds his footing and takes stock of the hillside before he starts up a rocky part slightly away from the trail they had been following. As long as they keep an eye on said trail, it won't matter how they get up there, right?

"You may either follow, or we can split the group. Your decision." Jorn offers over his shoulder before he begins his ascent in earnest.

Tempting as it is to 'split' his third of the group all the way home into his bed, Algernon bolsters the weight on his back and unbuttons his coat to clear the way to his belt. "No thank you," gruffed more to himself than either companion re: 'blankets,' he unscrews the cap of a flask taken from the saddle to wash some of the cotton out of his mouth.

Stretch, spine, knuckles, knees, he draws in a long breath and wakes himself up enough to narrow a sharper look up the trail. If he's noticed the wolf trailing a ways behind them, he hasn't cared to point it out to anyone, about as interested in it as he is their quarry.

In any case, he doesn't take 'your' decision to mean 'his,' decision and remains quiet about the process of turning spare cartridges down into his coat pockets.

Wordlessly, Jain follows along behind Jorn, picking his way over fallen logs in pursuit of the monster they follow. Horses left behind to fend for themselves from threat of wolf or other manner of beast, he follows the trail left behind by the norseman. Already the fog is getting much too thick to see even a meter in front of his face. It's at least thick enough that he can no longer see his feet.

The soldier lets out a sharp whistle, a wordless signal that the militia uses when they do business outside the borders of Dornie. The monster's trail has begun to arc, this time downward. Apparently it has decided to double back.

Unable to see both in front or behind him, he pauses to let a small grey creature out from his thick scarf and drop it onto the ground. Where it disappears.

Jorn does not look behind him, for the record, at least not when he and Jain are working on the same goal. Still, he listens warily as the fog thickens, uneasy of his partners' capacity in the less able environment. He doesn't know how well they function without sight. Good enough time to see. He looks down towards Jain- or as much as he can tell is Jain- when the whistle comes from downwind. Jorn pauses there on part of the hill, crouching onto the ledge and examining the scene for what the whistle intended him to see. The path, then?

Is this thing lost? Or is it looking for territory? It's heading away from easy livestock prey, and just in the general direction of 'up'. Wartooth pauses in silence now, staying on his precarious perch to watch and listen.

Algernon functions by keeping close to Jorn's shoulder, unhurried but consistent. His strategy appears to be staying with the man who can turn into a bear and he makes for quiet company.

When Jain's whistle cuts hollow through the fog, Jorn crouches and Algernon remains upright, as much a part of the scenery as any other indistinct smudge of darkness. Birds are murky shapes foraging close to the frozen ground here and there, nearly invisible; one of them may be Forge but probably isn't. They are all very idiodically interested in their breakfast, although some do pause at the break in silence.

"We should wait until the weather breaks," he growls from on high, after the quiet's had a moment to sink back in. "This is the most irrational thing I've been directed into since I arrived."

That's the problem with being human. Lose your sense of sight and without a stick for the blind you're lost. Ylva's sensitive nose and ears pick up the slack when she enters the fog, muzzle lowered as she snuffles at the frozen mulch, whiskers gathering frost from the dead leaves.

A low rumble rolls out of the fog somewhere behind Jorn and off to his left side. She wants him to know that she doesn't think this is a particularly good idea either.

A large shadow passes by the trio, the fog too thick to make out exactly what but the snaps of branches and trees allows them enough leeway in senses to know that whatever it is, it's big. And they're right on it. And it knows it.

The lee of the mountainside doesn't protect Jorn for long. Algernon, being tallest in bearing, sees it first, larger than any boulder around Dornie and hurtling straight for them. The scent of the wolf mixed with the scent of the polarbear's skin lured this one out of hiding. Whatever kind it is, it's not familiar. Mottled brown lands between the wolf and norseman, missing its mark by a breath only to roll to stand on its four paws.

Jain is nowhere to be found, of course.

What protection is offered comes in the form of a large boar that muscles its way through the undergrowth, barrelling straight for the bear. The fact that it's a familiar is something only clear to the wolf.

Sorry, Algernon. There's not much room on this part of the hill for both of you. Jorn, to his credit, doesn't actually turn around and shove him off the short incline. He does, however, back up purposefully, and if he happens to knock Algernon into a tumble, they can fight over it later.

Even as he sees what it is, Jorn braces himself for his familiar, bone-jarring change. He doesn't want to have it this way, but if a bear would rather attack than get away, there may be something wrong with it. Regardless, fighting it off suddenly comes first. The shifting man pushes himself off and onto the side of the hill, white fur towering and glimmering in the fog, followed by a beast's chest-deep bellow.

The thing about low bestial rumbles in zero visibility is that they are prone to being shot at. Algernon snaps his rifle round to bear automatically, teeth shown, stock to shoulder and iron sights in line.

He stands that way for a beat, rigid, breath locked fast while he waits for a stir in the fog. There's no one to see his brow furrow into a question mark.

Instead there's the bear, barreling out of another direction entirely. And the boar.

And Jorn, making room for himself.

To Algernon's credit, he doesn't misfire (or even curse) when he does take a tumble, vanished momentarily down the incline in a crook of long leg and coat tail. Displaced rock hisses after him, bruising off his shoulders and side when he skates to a halt. Above, sensory overload consists of more than bears bellowing — Forge skirts across his knee, bristly grey as a ghost, and melts away again while he catches his breath and cranes a look back up the mountainside, trying to get his bearings.

Ylva dances backwards, kicking up loose snow under her paws. She's not as quick to attack as either Jorn or Traa-dy-Liooar, and she displays this reluctance with flattened ears and a hunched back. Her natural instinct is to posture at larger animal, showing aggression in the sneer of her long teeth; a wolf stands little chance against a bear in a fair fight unless it has its pack to back it, and although she isn't exactly alone, Jorn, Jain and Algernon don't fit that definition even if it includes their familiars.

Din tosk! snarls a thin, harsh voice that could be just Jorn's imagination, but Forge and Traa-dy-Liooar hear it too even if it isn't necessarily directed at them. Don't let it bite you!

Razor sharp tusks slice at the hind legs of the wild bear, the boar's own shrill squeal interrupting only when its head is turned. The grizzled brown bear rears up, at least as tall at the shoulder as Jorn, definitely larger than anything ever seen around the forests of Dornie. Its large neck stretches out as it snarls and then roars loudly, fangs dripping with saliva and then blowing its spittle out as it bellows in both pain and anger at the intruding bear.

This is her territory.

When Algernon slides into view, Jain already has his claymore drawn and is advancing up the mountainside at a run. As fast as one can run uphill, through snow, and fog, without running Fogg through. His shield held in front of him for protection against the possibility of falling animals, people, and rocks, he makes noisy progress in the boar's tracks.

Imagination or otherwise, Jorn knows he is being just a little foolish- he doesn't need a voice to tell him. Nor does he need one to tell him to not let something bite him; the practical part of that, and the fact that he can smell something wrong with the sow bellowing back at him. He stays on his own hind feet, for the most part, determined to posture himself. There is likely a plan behind this, though his large mouth opening to return a snarl seems the least effective thing to do.

This isn't her territory. At least, not anymore. Jorn has never met this one before, but every bear has the tendency to be alone.

The polar bear seems to want her to charge again, landing heavily onto his forepaws and jostling his way in a few steps backwards.

Algernon feels the air stir as Jain charges past, and — stays where he is, tailing him with an incredulous look and little else. Half on his back, rifle across his chest, all hell breaking loose however many meters back up the mountainside. He's bleeding somewhere — his neck and the palm of one hand, upon investigation, although not so profusely as to suggest he's lacerated anything dire.

Up, then, with a grunt and another miniature rockslide, he shakes it off and starts deliberately up the trail again, bolting a fresh round into the chamber as he goes. Everything seems to be in working condition there, at least.

Ylva hooks around behind Algernon and pricks her ears back up as soon as he and Jain are between her and the bear. The smell of blood in the crisp winter air— even if it isn't the bear's— has her excited, nostrils flaring around short, sharp intakes of breath that she immediately puffs back out again through her nose, which would be more noticeable if the forest wasn't already saturated with fog.

Her eyes move between all the different shapes in what is likely an attempt to calculate the best action to take, but this equation is a little more difficult than isolating the old and the weak from a herd of grazing animals.

Would one of you idiots please shoot it?

The plea from the wolf is ignored by the boar, why bother putting her own life at risk when there's others to take the fall for her. Slowly, she backs toward the polar bear, leading the monstrosity by nicking it in the ankles with her tusks. Just as the brown bear stamps its front paws down to claw at the pig, Traa-dy-Liooar ducks between the polar bear's legs. One of beady black eye blinks toward Jain, Algernon, and the wolf before she scurries off into the fog again.

The highlander stops in his tracks, using the weight of the shield to keep himself leaned forward instead of sliding back. The fog rolls back for a half a moment, allowing the three of them to see the two bears posturing at each other. Then the mist swirls to obscure their view just as the snap snap of branches lets them know that they're about to have the large mammals as close company.

"RUN!!"

The boar belongs to someone, that much Jorn can tell. He has no idea who, just that it seems to be much smarter than any old pig he's ever met. Though not attempting to turn hide and run, Jorn is rather good at maneuvering such a bulk, though he has not had to do so on such a steep piece of ground in a while. His sidestepping is canine, rather than the clunkiness of a crabwalk. The polar bear shuffles those few steps on four feet before he lunges forward and hits the full force of his shoulder into the brown sow standing with him on the incline. Far enough to hit her square under the ribs, yet near enough that she won't be able to turn her head and get her teeth in.

The poor sick creature is going to have a bigger thing to contend with than Jorn. Namely, gravity. He many be having a hard time with it himself, once he has already set physics into motion — his bulk scrabbles and clings onto the rocky ground, sending debris all about.

Having made some progress upward again, shoulders tilted forward and free hand tracking blood to stone as an added balance, Algernon hardly has time to look puzzled by the surge of Jain's sudden retreat. Sticks are cracking, rocks are sliding and rather than attempt to outrun the inevitable, an instinct that may not be entirely his own drives him up a tree.

Hand to branch, boot to trunk, he lets loose the rifle to lever himself up after the puff-tailed ghost of his familiar and holds on.

His hat is — somewhere. He will find it after the bear is dead.

Wolves don't climb quite as well as cats— or Algernons. Ylva decides that seeking shelter behind the tree is a wiser course of action than leaping after Jain. One option puts an unmovable object between herself and the bears. The other risks aggravating her injury.

It's not even a choice, really.

Clumps of snow dislodged from the branches by Algernon's ascent explode on impact, dusting her coat in fine crystals of ice that she will worry about shaking off later. Probably around the same time that the man decides to go looking for his hat.

Skidding down the hill, Jain is less worried about hitting small trees and getting whipped in the face by branches than he is the large bear tumbling in his direction. He is not an able climber, much like the wolf. A stumble over a fallen branch proves too difficult to recover from and rather than tumbling head over heel, he turns to face the monster.

There's no sun to provide a glint to metal as the claymore is swung high with one hand and brought down, cleaving the animal's neck. It's not even close to cutting it in two and in a frenzy of blood and spit, she grapples him to the ground with her giant paws.

The breathy growls that come from Jorn as he clambers for a proper foothold is familiar only in its distress, and soon after the female pins the man down below, he slips and slides down the wintry muck on the hill. The only presence of mind he seems to have is to allow himself to roll, his weight sounding like a boulder tipping off and clipping past the brown bear and her new quarry. Jorn comes to ground even further down the hill than the other bear, nearer to where they had left the horses- who are now obviously gone off into the wood, rather than stay still and be mauled.

The crack of Algernon's revolver carries clear and far through the dampness in the air, dubious directions followed on a delay despite the supposed impossibility of his having received them. He's out of the tree again, wolf pushed forcibly from the front of his thoughts, approaching down the incline at a backwards lean that could stand to be more sure-footed. Crack, he slides, bloodied hand bloodied further when it scrapes back for support. Crack, if a bullet passes through bear meat and lodges in Jain's hide, he won't care to hear any complaints at this point.

All six rounds are unloaded in about the back of the head and neck and he is in the process of reloading as soon as the spent casings are spilled skittering down the slope ahead of him.

The cat in the tree, if there ever was one, is no longer there.

Long legs rigid, Ylva stands at the top of the slope, looking down at the bear— or the body of the bear— through with mist. If six bullets fired at close range from Algernon's revolver don't do the trick, then nothing he or the other men are carrying will.

The sound of the gunshots reinforces the wolf's earlier guardedess, and while the hunting party is occupied with the aftermath of the skirmish and figuring out a way to extract Jain from beneath it, she opts to take Forge's cue and slip stealthily away. (But perhaps not so far that if Jorn needs her, she'll be able to hear him calling.)

The scream of the boar cuts through the fog as the last of the bullets bring the bear to a slumping death but she doesn't appear again. After the echoes of the gunshots and pig squeals subside, the forest is eerily quiet. No noise comes from the she bear where the highlander's last breath comes out in a sick gurgle. From underneath a sanguine pool spreads out on the snow, a mingle of the last bit of life from not only the bear but the prone man covered by her.

Algernon isn't a bad shot, perhaps too good of one. Far back in the reaches of history, there is a tale of conspiracy from a land across the oceans. It involves a man on a hill, a leader, his entourage, a car, and a single bullet that changed it all.

In a blink, it's all gone.

The breath of the bear is hot on his neck as the teeth prepare to sink in.

Crack

A slight shift to the left sees a bullet grazing alongside Jain’s neck instead of through it after exploding through the skull of the bear. The rising pool of blood that fills his mouth spills out the corner of his lips, forcing him to cough and spew the thick liquid into the face of the dead animal. A single hand claws at the ground beside him as he tries in vain to pull himself out from beneath the gargantuan.

Voices seem so far away and the foggy haze, that’s not only due to lack of vision, soon turns to black.