Chapter 3

Targuth was worried. His last blow should have stolen the life of the half-orc before him. Yet the half-orc stood as if the last attack was nothing more than a slap on the wrist. His hands wringing the haft of his axe, Targuth slowly began to circle his opponent. He did not like how the both the spirit and his opponent watched his movements as if they were in sync with one another.

"Varkus!" Targuth shouted, trying to find some way around this unexpected turn of events. "Match is mine! Half-orc cheats! Brings creature to fight!"

Varkus was about to address the accusation when Myru, the Rageclaw shaman, stepped forward. "Fool! To battle a shaman is to battle the spirits themselves!"

Varkus raised his hand to quiet the aged shaman. He knew well enough how shamans battled. "Match continues. Argen battles how a shaman battles. Your claim is void."

Targuth growled. Things were not going in the direction he was hoping. He had never once thought that the puny half-blood would have been able to call a spirit beast. The possible future of him being defeated crossed his mind and he howled with rage, but before he could act on that rage, Argen made his move.

Targuth could barely see Argen's lips moving as the half-orc's gaze fell upon him. Targuth skin chilled as if something brushed against him only to howl in pain as if some beast's frozen maw latched onto his right calf. Before he could react, Argen's spirit beast disappeared in a blue haze only to reappear in front of him.

Fear guiding his actions, Targuth lashed out at the spirit beast, hoping that his attack would somehow destroy it. Targuth's axe passed through the beast's neck with the spirit beast showing no signs of discomfort before it slowly faded away. Targuth was surprised that he had easily defeated the spirit and his surprise turned to elation when he heard Argen coughing. Turning towards his opponent, Targuth saw that Argen had been dropped to a knee; blood on the ground due to Argen's intense coughing fit. Targuth advanced on Argen, using the opportunity to end the half-orc's life right there.

Argen was unfazed. Argen willed his spirit bear into existence again to intercept Targuth. "This ends now!" Argen yelled as his eyes began to glow blue. Argen's spirit bear roared in defiance as Targuth began to witness things in his mind. Targuth screamed as he grabbed at the sides of his head, hoping to stave off whatever spirits were clawing at his mind. Unable to fend off the spirits, Targuth fell to the ground a blubbering mess as he tried his best to keep his mind intact.

His opponent on the ground before him, Argen stood up and proceeded to walk towards Targuth. He was ready to end this fight. However, before he could the life of his opponent and claim victory, he felt a hand rest upon his arm. His head turned to see who had touched him, Argen saw Myru shaking her head.

"The battle is over, Mato. You need not take his life," the aged shaman explained. "You are a protector and your duty has been accomplished. Rest now."

As if his body was no longer his to control, Argen collapsed to the ground, his energy spent. The orcs gathered about did not know how to react. Not a single one of them had expected the half-orc to win let alone summon forth a spirit beast. However, someone amongst the audience did.

A cry of victory from Kibil was all that was needed to send the orcs into a craze. Despite the odd challenge, it was still a fight, a rare one for honor at that, and a victor had been decided. Varkas raised his spear to quell the growing chaos. While a victor was decided, he, as chieftain, still needed to recognize the victory.

"The victor of this battle, despite his current appearance, is Argen Half-Blood! As rules of tradition dictate, all honor and property once owned by Targuth now belong to Argen! Warriors!" he yelled as he pointed his spear in the direction of a group of younger orcs who looked up to Targuth as a hero. "Escort this filth to the slave cages. His owner will dispense his punishment when he awakens."

The younger warriors moved as they were ordered, their faces filled with disgust with the fact they were forced to touch an orc with no honor. Dragging Targuth to a cage, they unceremoniously imprisoned the still crying orc. Delighted with the fact he had a new neighbor, Emeré tried to start up a conversation with the orc in hopes of trying to figure out what was going on as the slave cages were on the other side of the chieftain's hut.

As the crowd of orcs danced and cheered, Varkas leaned in close to Myru. "Judging by his appearance when he first entered my hut, he was prepared to leave, correct?"

"That he was," Myru said with a smile. "His hut is no longer his as he gave it away."

Varkas chuckled. "I don't know what you're talking about, you old crone. Looks to me he still has one." Varkas straightened as he motioned for the human slave, Robin, to approach him.

The girl stood before him, shaking with fright. She was quite a bit shorter than Argen, but Varkas could sense that despite her small frame, she probably was a far more capable fighter than his nephew if push came to shove. Placing his hand upon her blonde covered head was all he could think of to try and calm the slave.

"Steady, slave," Varkas ordered and to his surprise, the girl stopped shaking. Lifting her chin with one of his fingers, Varkas could see from her eyes that she was ready to bolt and the only thing stopping her was him within arm's reach. "Go and get a bed ready. I will have your new owner brought over so his wounds can be tended. Do you understand?" The girl nodded, her gaze not breaking from his. "Good, now go!" Varkas roared as the girl took off running in the direction of Argen's new home.

Myru sighed. "You could have been a bit gentler, you know?"

Varkas snorted. "Just because my nephew won himself a new slave doesn't mean I'm going to treat his slave any different from another slave." Spotting Argen's kobold slave dancing about in jubilation, Varkas walked over and picked the kobold up by the scruff of his collar. "You are to let me know the moment my nephew awakens, understood?" Kibil was barely able to nod his understanding. "Good." Varkas said as he placed the kobold back on the ground.

Myru laughed. "Maybe young Argen should have done something like this sooner. In all the years he's been with us, you've never once referred to him as 'nephew'."

Varkas snorted again. This old shaman was getting on his nerves. "I can't exactly talk about an honorless half-orc to just anyone. It would put my honor into question."

Myru couldn't help but chuckle at the reasoning. She shook her head as she motioned for two younger orcs to help her with Argen. Myru couldn't help but smile at her apprentice. Clearly the spirits had great things planned for this one and she was happy to have been able to guide him at the start of his journey.

Argen's eyes shot open. He had no idea where he was. From his position on the bed he was on, he could not make out anything in the hut that could potentially be his. Slowly sitting up, Argen's eyes passed across the room. Nothing looked familiar except a sleeping kobold on the dirt floor and the shattered remains of his spear on a chair next to the bed.

Argen reached for a part of the shattered spear only to pull his hand back, wincing from the pain of the wound on his chest. Resting his hand on the bandage that wrapped around his chest, Argen replayed the battle with Targuth in his mind. He could not believe that he had actually called a spirit beast. Unsure if they were just fever dreams, Argen tried to call his spirit beast into existence.

It answered.

The telltale blue haze began to form next to his head and, before long, a spirit bear materialized into being. The bear eyed him with a wisdom that no feral bear would ever possess as if it judged his very soul. Argen was in awe. While he was aware that Anunkasan's spirit beast was an eagle, he had never seen the spirit. Movement at the entrance of the hut caught his eye as he dismissed his spirit bear.

The human female, Robin, stepped into the hut, curious as to what was causing the blue glow from inside the hut. The two made eye contact before both turned away out of embarrassment. Under clan law, she was his and he wasn't exactly sure what to do now.

Argen was the first to turn towards Robin. Things were probably going to be awkward between the two, but he need to get some things out of the first. "Um, Robin, right? My kob-what in the spirits are you doing?" Argen yelled as he covered his eyes and turned away from the girl.

His voice roused the sleeping kobold. Yawning, the kobold gazed about the room seeing his master awake and the female slave he had acquired beginning to undress. "I leave master?" the kobold asked, rubbing his eyes as he left the hut, not waiting for his master's answer. Someone higher than his master tasked him with something far more important than watching his master have sex.

"Kibil! Wait!" Argen shouted. "Um, Robin? Could you please put your clothes back on?"

"Isn't this the reason why you fought for me? Targuth and the one before him acquired me for this reason," Robin replied, her voice sullen.

That confession hit Argen as if he was charged by a dire wolf. He was not expecting that kind of admission. He was honestly unsure of what to say or do. "No," was all he could muster. His ears barely heard a sigh of relief. "Are you decent?"

Argen peeked from his fingers to see if she spoke true. Seeing her fully clothed he cleared his chest before he began. "You may find this a bit odd, but you are to journey south with me. The spirits will it."

The girl shrugged. In her mind, she was a slave. She'd go wherever her master wanted to take her. "I will prepare for our journey. When are we to leave?"

"How long have I been asleep?" Argen asked as he swung his legs off the bed and onto the floor.

"For a time. It is evening now with the tribe in full celebration of your victory," Robin answered as she moved to help Argen to his feet.

Argen felt uneasy with her helping him. Kibil never helped in that fashion. Granted the kobold was barely over two feet tall and couldn't assist Argen in that manner, it was still disconcerting. Argen offered his thanks after he was able to keep himself on his own feet. Robin nodded before she left him to go gather provisions for the journey.

"I see the kobold wasn't lying," Varkas stated as he entered the hut.

Argen glanced over towards his uncle. The orc chieftain was clad in full ceremonial attire. A giant, hollowed out boar's skull encased his head as the beautifully decorated brown robe he was wearing made him seem appear larger than what he already was. It had been a long while since Argen had seen his uncle dressed in that manner.

"The death of Ragna was the last time I had seen you dressed like that," Argen stated as he went about collecting the stuff he needed.

"So you are leaving?" Varkas asked, dodging the subject about Argen's father. That was still a very touchy subject amongst the tribe.

"Yes. I need to travel south for my spirit quest," Argen answered as he faced his uncle, "and I need to take two more with me besides myself and Robin."

Varkas' eyes narrowed. "You may have won honor this night, Argen, but that honor was not enough to demand the taking of two others on some quest into the wilds."

Argen raised his hand to calm his uncle. He knew he was making a bold demand, but if the spirits wanted it, he knew that he could no longer run away from it. "I won't be taking any warriors from our tribe. I wouldn't dare ask that no matter the amount of honor I won."

Varkas visibly calmed at that statement. "Then who? The kobold and Targuth? The kobold was already yours to begin with and Targuth's fate is in your hands. You don't need mine or any other's permission to take those two."

Argen shook his head. "My spirit dream requires I travel with a bird with broken wings, a mantis, and an elemental. I need the two prisoners that were caught out in the wilds."

Varkas scratched the side of his head with a finger. "The bug and the talker? Take them, they are yours. The bug looks like it may very well end up dead and that blue fellow will end up dead if he doesn't quit talking."

Argen blinked. He wasn't expecting his uncle to just hand over two prisoners without a debate or at least a fight. He was about to ask why when his uncle replied with "I know well enough to not go against the wishes of the spirits. If you need those two, take them."

Argen tried to offer his thanks but his uncle nodded and made his way out of the hut. Argen scratched his head in both confusion and irritation. This newfound level of communication between he and his uncle was going to take a very long time to get used to. He had no time to dwell though. He needed to gather and prepare a few more things now that he had an additional three people on his journey.

With the assistance of Robin and Kibil, Argen was able to pack all the provisions necessary and made a mental note to visit the blacksmith in the morning. If the blacksmith wasn't all ready and packed to move with the tribe that is. The Shaar was packed full of nasty beasts and he wanted to make sure his little band was equipped for the journey.

As Argen made his way towards his bed to turn in for the night, he caught sight of Robin shivering on the floor where she slept. He had offered to let her have the bed, but she adamantly refused stating it wasn't her place as slave to sleep in her master's bed. Shaking his head, he retrieved some of the furs used as blankets and draped them across the girl. It wouldn't do either of them any good if she woke up with a cold. Both nervous and excited at the prospect of what tomorrow would bring, Argen drifted off into sleep.

Emeré woke with a start. He had heard the clanging of keys but had dismissed them as the changing of the guard. The actual inserting of the keys and the opening of the rusted cage door were more jarring. He was unceremoniously dragged out of the cage, lifted up, dusted off, and shoved into the eloquent orc he had met yesterday.

"Master orc!" Emeré shouted with glee. "Does this mean you have talked with your uncle about my freedom?" Emeré could not contain his elation as he went on to thank Argen for his virtuousness.

"Calm yourself, genasi," Argen said. "You are free, in a sense. You and the thri-kreen are to journey south with me."

The news of only being half free didn't faze the genasi in the slightest. "Would you by chance heading towards Delzimmer?"

Argen shrugged. "I don't know. If it's on the other side of a forest, then, yes, I could be heading towards this Delzimmer."

"Fantastic! My master, the wizard Riz'adin, resides in the city! Perhaps he can purchase me freedom?" Emeré exclaimed.

Argen shrugged again. "My spirit dream only showed us traveling south towards a city on the other side of a forest. What happens after we get there is still uncertain. It is possible I may no longer have of you," Argen returned.

Nodding to the orc guards to remove the genasi's shackles, Argen moved towards the thri-kreen. The insectoid met his gaze and held it. "Do you understand that you are to travel with me south?" Argen asked. The thri-kreen made no movement outside of blinking. "I hope we are able to travel together without issue. As I told the genasi, after we arrive in Delzimmer, I may no longer have need of you. Is this fine with you?"

The thri-kreen stood motionless for a time before slowly nodding in agreement. Argen smiled, nodded, and motioned for the guards to remove the shackles from the thri-kreen. His two companions freed from their bondage, Argen led the genasi and the thri-kreen to the blacksmith shop where Robin waited with a horse and cart that carried their provisions.

The blacksmith grunted when he saw the half-orc. By order of his chieftain, he was to give what Argen wanted within reason. "Bah, 'urry an' pick your weapons, "the orc grunted. "Within reason," he was quick to add.

Argen spotted a nicely crafted spear and chose that. It wasn't as intimidating as say an axe or a sword, but it was the weapon he felt most comfortable with. In terms of armor, he chose some leather armor with a wolf hide fashioned to it as a cloak. Robin, Emeré, and the thri-kreen didn't move.

"Are we allowed to choose as well?" Emeré asked.

"I don't see why not. You are no good to me dead and I can't very well protect the lot of you by myself," Argen reasoned as he took off his leather shirt. The thing was in tatters after his fight with Targuth and this new addition was worth putting on right there.

The orc growled as the three browsed his wares, not liking this one bit. He could not voice his discontent, however, for fear of going against his chieftains orders.

Emeré chose only a simple dagger with no armor, offering the explanation being that he could not cast his spells effectively due to the restrictiveness of armor. The thri-kreen picked a longsword and a shield while dismantling a suit of orcish scale armor, applying only the parts he needed to vital areas of his body. Robin, on the other hand, was very distressed about the whole ordeal.

"I don't know what to choose. I've never held, let alone was allowed to hold, a weapon," Robin lamented.

Argen was about to step forward when the thri-kreen pushed him aside. Reaching for a set of curved blades, the thri-kreen held the blades before Robin. "I teach you," the thri-kreen stated in strained common. Argen, Emeré, Robin, and even the blacksmith were startled that the giant bug spoke in the common tongue. Not paying any attention to his companions' reactions, the thri-kreen picked out a suit of hide armor. "Decent protection and decent mobility," the thri-kreen explained as he placed the hide armor in Robin's arms.

"Um, thank you, master…?" Robin wasn't sure how to address the thri-kreen. None of them did.

"No master. Just Kat'chka," the thri-kreen responded. Robin bowed low as thanks and rushed off into a tent to change into her new armor. "Are we ready after her?"

Argen nodded. At least the thri-kreen was able to speak. Robin returned shortly afterward, unsure of how she should act. Kat'chka took over as teacher and showed her the basics of wearing armor. After promising to teach her a little bit about combat when he could, Kat'chka signaled he was ready to go. Robin and Emeré nodded as well.

Argen breathed deep. This was it. They were about to head south. Motioning for his companions to follow him, Argen led the way through the tribe as the tribe was still continuing to pack up. Upon reaching the outskirts, the four encountered Myru and Kibil waiting for them.

"You be careful now, you hear?" the aged shaman said as she straightened her apprentice's leather armor. "You not only represent the Rageclaws, but you represent the spirits as well. Many will look down on you due to you being an orc, but don't let their prejudices dissuade you from your duties."

"I understand, Anunkasan," Argen responded with a bow of his head.

The old shaman smiled before she looked past Argen towards his companions. "Keep an eye on him. While you may be his slaves by Rageclaw custom, I highly doubt he views any of you as such. It's a rough path to walk with the spirits, he could use a little bit of help every once and awhile."

The three nodded in acquiesce. "Good," Myru said with a smile. "And don't worry about this kobold, Mato. I'll keep him busy."

Kibil snorted in response. "You still smell of bird."

Myru responded by cracking her staff across the kobold's skull. The kobold cried out in protest only for it to fall on deaf ears. Myru smiled as she returned to her gaze to the four companions as they made their way past the outskirts of town. "May the spirits guide you well, young Mato."