A trail in the Himar
A path marked by broken saplings and crushed foliage wends its way north through the undergrowth of the forest. It bends to go around the full-grown trees, but cuts its way through the occasional smaller thickets and patches of shrubbery, making the line that it draws through the forest abnormally straight for a trail.
A winged Hekoye picks his way through what remains of the undergrowth as he follows the northbound trail. Although the roughly carved path is broader and easier to follow than many hunting trails Lochinvar has hiked in these mountains in the past, ten days of travel on foot has taken its toll, and the ranger's pace has been further slowed by the need to forage food to supplement his dwindling supply.
Off-and-on rain has left the forest damp but pleasantly cool. The weather is clear at the moment, and the forest seems peaceful. But faintly, ahead and a little to the right of the trail, Lochinvar's keen ears catch an oddly familiar rumbling noise.
Pausing in his tracks for a moment until he's sure which way the sound is coming from, he carefully makes his way towards it, doing his best to keep as silent as possible as to not advertise his presence.
As he moves closer to the source of the sound, the rumbling grows louder, with an ominous tinge to it. Whatever's making the noise is off the path by a few dozen yards, but the ranger notes that the foliage in the general area has been broken up saplings knocked over and smaller plants trampled in a less methodical way than the path he has been following. Ahead, in the direction of the rumbling, he sees gray-and-black markings, though the exact shape is hard to make out against the backdrop of the forest, and with intervening underbrush still in the way. Also, a faint whimpering sound has become audible, coming from the same general direction as the rumbling.
Lochinvar edges a little closer to the source of the rumbling, straining to try and make out what it is making the noise, as well as what the gray-and-black thing is ahead, and whether it is making the whimpering noise.
From a nearer vantage point, Lochinvar sees the source of the rumbling: a low-lying gray-and-black form with eightlegs, circling about the base of an old, wide-trunked tree with a high, spreading canopy of leaves. The whimpering seems to be coming from something hidden amongst the branches of the tree, and the Abaddon hog appears to be intent upon it. The hog bumps its tusked flat head against the trunk of the tree, exploring, then rears up on its four rearmost legs and plants the four upper legs against the tree, stretching its long body and sniffing at the lowest branch. The whimpering turns to a fearful squeal, and a few leaves drift to the ground as something shifts in the branches.
After picking up a couple of sizeable, but easily portable, rocks, the Hekoye unfurls his wings, and launches himself into the air to better take stock of the situation, figuring that the rocks could be able to offer a diversion.
The noise the Hekoye makes taking off, amongst the trees, causes the hog to briefly turn from the tree, pacing towards where Lochinvar had been standing. Unfortunately, the trees are too close together for the Vartan-coyote to fly among them, and once he gets above them, the scene below becomes even harder to distinguish. The plaintive whimpering, however, grows a little more distinct. As he circles over the tree the source is hiding from, he thinks it sounds a little like a Vartan child crying, though it might just be an animal.
Lochinvar still can't seem to see through the tree to be sure who or what is making the noise. He tries to see if there's a spot where he can land, and even take-off again from, that's close to the tree.
The ominous rumbling below shifts from place to place as the hog moves back beneath the treed entity. The nearest place clear enough to land and possibly take off from is about ten yards away not very near to his target, if Lochinvar wants to see what's in the tree. However, a few sturdy branches that poke out from the tree might be sufficient to support his weight. Getting to them would be more like falling and grabbing than actually landing, and taking off again would be even trickier if possible at all but it is an option.
The Hekoye/Vartan fumbles around with one of the rocks he holds, managing to fit it into a pocket in his breeches. With the other, he takes aim at a spot far enough away from the Hog, hoping the resulting noise could distract it away from the trees, giving him enough time to land in the clear spot and get up again.
A thud, followed by a rustling noise from beneath the tree, suggests that the ruse may have worked.
Lochinvar flies down to the clearing, making probably one of the most hurried landings he's ever attempted.
Surprisingly, the winged Hekoye makes the landing easily, ending in a crouch with his wings folded together behind his back. The branches of the nearest trees rustle with the passage of his body, but as he swivels his head around to spot the hog, he sees that it is still sniffing at the hurled rock.
Remaining crouched, ready to spring back up into the air, the coyote tries to see into the trees, and what is hiding up there.
Intervening leaves and branches make the figure in the tree hard to discern clearly even from this position. A few moments of searching the branches with his eyes, however, let's him pick out the source of the cries as a small, humanoid form with wings and coloring brown flecked with white that's typical of a Vartan, but blends well into the tree. As he finally spies the person, he hears a snapping twig, and notes that the Abaddon hog has given up on the stone and is now staring fixedly in his direction.
As long as all it does for the moment is stare, Lochinvar thinks to himself. He looks around, wondering if this area is clear enough for him to lead the hog astray for a bit, giving whoever that is in the tree enough time to get out here and take to the air. But if they can't fly, would he have enough time to get back here and be able to pick them up and carry them?
The figure in the tree has stopped making any noise, and the hog is still staring at Lochinvar. Its nostrils flare, and four legs shift on alternating sides as it takes a fluid step towards the winged Hekoye. While the surrounding ground is relatively clear, he remembers how the hogs that chased the mail cart were fast enough to gain on even running Drokars, the coyote doubts he could outrun one on foot. The foliage above and around would make it exceedingly difficult to lead it on by flying, though being airborne would certainly be a good deal safer.
Lochinvar sighs to himself, and looks up at the Vartan in the tree again. "Hello up there? I'm Lochinvar… I'm going to try and help you out here. Can you fly?"
A child's voice comes back, saying, "'lo?" the Vartan greeting reduced to a single syllable. The figure amongst the tree shifts and so does the hog. It drops back to its haunches, short ears flat against its head as Lochinvar speaks, and an instant later it launches itself towards the winged coyote!
The Hekoye calls out to the child again, "Stay there, I'll be back, and I'll think of something!" and springs up into the air, still trying to think of a way out of this.
As he unfurls his wings after leaping into the air, one of them knocks painfully into a tree limb, causing his flight to wobble before it's even begun. The hog's pounce misses him, but one of its feet catches against Lochinvar's leg, ripping the cloth of his pants with rough claws. The hog lands with a thump on all eight legs below him as the coyote struggles to stay airborne.
Lochinvar grimaces as he tries to regain his flight rhythm, attempting to fly back towards the path.
With some difficulty, and the unpleasant rumbling of the hog to spur him on, the coyote regains his balance and flies above the trees towards the path he had left earlier. A cursory scan of one of the clearer spots along the path suggests it is free of trouble, though he can hear the rumbling of the Abaddon beast not far behind him, beneath the cover of the forest…
Maybe I can keep it occupied out here while that kid can get out of the tree, the Hekoye muses. He glances down to see if the Hog is still following him.
On cue, the eight-legged creature snakes into sight on the path below Lochinvar. It crouches there, watching the winged coyote with unblinking eyes as he circles above.
The winged coyote back-flies a little down the path, experimentally seeing if the beast will follow.
The Abaddonian hog tracks the man's flight, following him down the path, its nostrils flared. The rumbling it makes has grown more intense, and it crouches low against the ground as it moves, nostrils flared.
Good, Lochinvar muses to himself. That's it… keep following me. He calls back out to the child in the tree. "I'm keeping him occupied. Get out of the tree to that clearing. I'm quicker in the air than the hog on the ground. I can get back and pick you up before he gets there!"
If the child answers, even Lochinvar's ears can't hear it. He does, however, catch a rustling sound from the tree the young Vartan was trapped in. While the Hekoye delivers his instructions, the hog launches itself towards him. The leap is surprisingly powerful, carrying the animal perhaps nine feet into the air, but while it startles Lochinvar, it falls well short of his current altitude.
"That's it," Lochinvar says to the beast, trying to edge it away from the trees further, dropping his height a fraction to keep it interested. "Focus on me."
The beast's ugly face contorts further in a snarl. It follows beneath the coyote, pacing, then gathers itself in preparation for another leap towards him as it notes the drop in distance.
Lochinvar back-flies a little more, keeping just ahead of it all the time, and upping his altitude slightly back to roughly the height he was when the hog jumped recently.
This leaps carries the hog even farther than the last, but still not high enough to threaten Lochinvar. It takes a moment to recover, then it follows the Hekoye again, rumbling and snarling in frustration. This pattern continues for twenty minutes or so as the coyote leads the beast farther away towards the south, until at last he considers it safe to try getting back to the child.
That should be far enough, Lochinvar thinks. He changes his orientation in the air slightly, hoping to catch the hog by surprise as he flies as fast as he can back towards the clearing where he told the Vartan child to wait for him. "I hope they waited for me," he mutters as he speeds back towards the trees.
Back at the tree, the winged Hekoye sees that the child has climbed to the uppermost branches of it, but still hasn't left it for the clearing. The young Vartan sees him approach, and calls out, "I can't fly!" in a frightened voice. As Lochinvar closes on him, he finds himself blinking in an effort to reconcile what he sees with what he was expecting to see … but fails. The child's coloration and general shape is right for a Vartan, but it appears badly deformed, with parts of its body covered in smooth scales instead of fur. One wing has lost almost all of its feathers, and looks gaunt and near-fleshless. The outline of the child's feet is wrong, too, although he can't see them clearly enough to say exactly how, yet. "Help me," the child cries, whimpering.
"Leave the flying to me!" the Hekoye calls back. "Get as high as you can in the tree so that I can see and grab you!"
The kid squeezes onto a still-higher branch, which swaps perilously even beneath the child's slight frame. A whimper escapes the small malformed person, whose wings spread for balance while hands and feet scrabble onto to a position far enough out that Lochinvar can pluck the young one from it.
Lochinvar approaches the tree, outstretching his arms to grab the child. "Good, good … now hold on. I'm coming," he says.
The little one's small hands reach tentatively towards the Hekoye as he swoops in, and a moment later the adult has caught the child up in his arms. The tree branch wrenches, as the child half-releases it, and is half pulled free by Lochinvar's momentum. The child's face is partially covered in feathers and part in scales, making an odd texture pattern even as the color scheme of both feather and scale remains the same. The beak seems odd, too, with flesh and scales growing to cover portions of the lower and upper half but it's hard to make a thorough study of the face, as it is soon buried against Lochinvar's chest while the child trembles and sobs uncontrollably.
The coyote holds onto the child tightly, and wings his way over the trees, following the path, but not flying over it. "It's okay, I've got you," he reassures the child, glancing back to see if the hog is following them, "I've got you. You're safe now."