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Bellosh    1,573

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The Will Test: the trial that all caribou living the viking life must face when they come of age. It is the ultimate judge of a young buck or calf’s fate. Should one pass the final challenge, they earn the opportunity to earn future glory in battle and other cherished pursuits. Meanwhile, those who fail are destined to remain in the shadows of caribou society forever, forgotten to the shadows. Or so the stories say, anyway.

Naturally, Lími was a nervous wreck in the days leading up to his Will Test. As someone without much natural talent in the ways of combat, the adolescent boy had never really saw himself as viking material. Especially when he has stood in the shadows of great warriors like Jarl Sigrun and his elder half-brother. Compared to them, Lími was a virtual weakling. What chance did an untested boy like him have of successfully braving the Southern Wilds and retrieving the flower required for passing this foreboding rite of passage?

Despite all of Jarl Sigrun’s mentoring and assurances, Lími still didn’t feel he was truly ready even as he stood in the shadow of the great Ice Wall isolating the cursed Wilds from the rest of Whitescar. Sigrun alone accompanied the adolescent bull from Askr all the way down south to the Wall, and here, she would have to leave her charge behind to face his Will Test. Lími would have to go on alone past the Wall, without any equipment to assist him in dealing with any potential obstacles or threats. Thus it was no surprise that for a long while, the lad stood in place as he gazed upon the ominous Wall, not daring to glance at the small hidden exit leading to the Wilds beyond.....

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Pretzelparty    1,898

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"Calm yourself, Limi." Said the cow in a warm, comforting tone. Her deep, strong voice almost empowering to listen to... although obviously not nearly enough to this nervous teenage calf. "I believe you shall do wonderfully. Keep focused on your goal, but be wary of your surroundings." the soft sound of the two caribou's hooves  repeatedly meeting the snow was the only noise in this serene scene beside the weak whispers of the wind. 

 

"If you work with your strength, you shall pull through." The cow reached up and patted his head, hinting at what she meant by strength. She knew Limi wasn't the strongest of the caribou, but he was definitely one of the most intelligent. Most times a sharp mind as well as a sharp blade could win any battle one was a part of. She hoped she'd impressed this value upon her ward enough... even though she did believe Limi coudl do this she was rather worried about how this could go... She'd heard reports of the necromancers beyond the wall having become more active then usual...

"I shall be waiting for you when you return, Limi." She took a quick look around and wrapped a foreleg around the calf, closing her eyes as she gave the young one a comforting but short embrace.


 

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Bellosh    1,573

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Despite his anxiety, Lími found himself feeling rather fussed over by his guardian. “I remember all the counsel you have given me Sigrun,” the adolescent asserted himself; “It shall not be forgotten.” As the Jarl claimed repeatedly for the last several months, it was very much possible for a caribou to pass the Will Test without having a single ounce of combat ability. Indeed, the Will Test was meant to provide a different sort of trial; one that challenged a maturing caribou’s resolve and value to their clan. For how could a clan in hard times (which were not in short supply in Whitescar) depend on a caribou who wilted away under the pressure of cold realty?

Before Lími had any further opportunity to dwell on his thoughts, the Jarl gave him a brief, assuring hug. The young bull did not provide a reciprocating gesture, but he did feel the flames of resolve igniting within him as he too closed his eyes for the hug’s duration. Once Sigrun let go her hold, Lími stepped back and declared with uncharacteristic boldness; “I... I will not dishonor our clan..... May I return with tidings of triumph!”

With such words spoken, there was only one thing left for Lími to do. Mustering the courage to look upon the exit leading to the wilds beyond the Wall, the adolescent slowly begun his march southward. Although he made strenuous effort not to show his usually timidity, Lími frequently glanced back at Sigrun as he drew ever nearer to the Wall.....

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Pretzelparty    1,898

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Sigrun gave Limi a strong smile as she released him from the embrace. The cow's smile only grew prouder as she she heard Limi's bold proclamation, "I know you'll bring the best of tidings, my faithful ward!" This cow knew that this bull had it in him to make this trip and come back with his flower in hoof. By the stars in the sky, Sigrun knew he could put his older brother to shame with his performance once he came back. Just thinking of the story he'd have to tell when he came home (probably after a bit of rest), sent a chill up her spine.

 

She could tell that Limi was still hesitant, still glancing back between almost every step at his mentor. Each time the teenage calf looked back he'd see his Chieftain smiling back at him with that "I know you can do this" smile she always wore in his direction. While the cow's face drew farther and the calf finally made it past the exit, she was still there, smiling, hoping to keep that flame in her ward's heart alive.

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Bellosh    1,573

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Finally, the decisive moment had come. Lími was now directly in front of the concealed gate leading to the Wilds beyond. The adolescent caribou could not see anyone around except for Sigrun, but he knew the sentries who manned the Wall were watching from high above. After only a minute of standing, the loud sound of a great horn blasted out from the Wall, followed by the door swinging outwards.

Thus did Lími receive his first glimpse of the treacherous Southern Wilds, and what a sight it was. A ways beyond the Wall, evergreen trees stood; blackened, and stripped of their needles. Leagues away, cragged foothills rose up to break the monotony of barren forests. Yet perhaps most dread of all was the wind; a sharp cold wind that strung at Lími as soon as the door opened. For the faint of heart, that would have been enough to send them sprinting back in the opposite direction.

But not Lími; while he never did consider himself to be a paradigm of courage, the lad was a caribou through-and-through. And all caribou of Whitescar were taught never to let fear become their masters. So rather than give in to terror, Lími told himself in his mind that he was a bold warrior just like Sigrun. The young bull did not look back again as he stepped through the portal and entered the WIlds beyond the Wall. Nor did he look back as the doors slammed behind him.

Nor did Lími perceive that he was not alone in the Southern Wilds.....




*INSERT CLIFFHANGER HERE*

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SteelEagle    1,249
The small boat that he had taken crashed against the rocky shores of the Wilds, having done their duty and soon to meet their doom upon these blasted shores. The Jarl had taken the boat in the dark of the night maybe..four moons ago, leaving that island where there were traitorous mentions of peace. He would have loved to say that he left to complete an important task for the greater good of the revolution against the Traitor King, but it was not so. Instead this was very personal and very important. If they weren't willing to fight tooth and nail to rescue individuals from that brainwashing regime, then what were they fighting for, really? Especially when it meant being able to stick it to the High King almost personally. Especially again when it came to dealing a blow against a former lover.

 

He was here to rescue Limi. Rescue him not from the Southern Wilds- he would save himself from the threats there or perish like any caribou- but from the milk-drinking lilly-livered hooves of the traitor caribou and their ponyized ways. The greatest threat to a just and righteous caribou was from the ponyization and willful weakening of society that the traitors dealt in. That was why the Red Jarl had left his old clan and joined those who had their heads on right, and why he warred with those once called brother and sister. But his clan-brother Limi had been left behind. It was one of the most terrible realizations of his life. But he had to make his move when he did. 

 

But that didn't mean he was going to leave his brother behind. He allowed them to raise him only because he wasn't going to kill Limi's caretaker. As much as he had nothing but terrible feelings for her based on their history and as they existed on opposite sides of war it would seem  natural to  desire her doom, but she fed Limi, washed him, clothed him, raised him! It was like getting stabbed not once but twice every day. It hurt and it hurt and he hated it, but he knew it would have to end. 

 

The Will Test in the Southern Wilds was when he had decided to make his move. Utilizing what spy networks he had, the Jarl had discovered when Limi was set to take his Will Test. And so the Jarl would travel to the Wilds and then observe his brother pass the test. And when he did, the Jarl would reveal himself and bring Limi back to his rightful home with his brother and the true caribou. To accomplish this, the Red Jarl had made sure that his personal crew would bring his longship to this same point in ten moons time. All he needed was his brother.

 

The Red Jarl checked what he had with him. Food. Weapons- multiple were needed in case things went poor in the Southern Wilds. Armor and heavy clothes, both for him and custom made smaller ones for Limi based on what his spies told him. He would have brought a tent, but a true caribou didn't need such things. 

 

Rustle behind him. He turned from the rocks and saw two wolves- no, not wolves. Undead wolves with bites that carried the necromancy magic. The Red Jarl chuckled, and unsheathed a sword.

“How I love the Southern Wilds! GRRRAAAAGGGGGHHH!”

 

The Red Jarl had arrived. Limi was coming home.

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Bellosh    1,573

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No food. No weapons. No armor. A caribou could not bring such things from the outside world, for the Will Test was designed as the ultimate challenge of survival. To survive out in the Southern Wilds, one had to find their own food, fashion their own equipment, and learn how to defeat or outwit the Undead. For the naturally fretful, a Will Test might as well been impossible.

As Jarl Sigrun frequently reminded Lími however, there was one dirty little secret about the Will Test. For all its supposed lethality, the truth was that by and large, most caribou made it back to their clans with the required flower, even those who professed a different talent other than the art of fighting. Nearly all caribou would never admit it, but like an organism, a warrior society couldn’t hope to thrive and perpetuate itself if its coming of age ritual killed off more of its young than it spared.  Granted, many a poor learner ended up joining the ranks of the Undead, but those smart enough to prepare in advance for the ultimate trial were, more often than not, rewarded with the gift of continued life at the end.

Fortunately for Lími, his love of reading enabled him to easily study every written tome he had access to to learn more about what he was likely to face during the Will Test. Most caribou vikings would have frowned upon preparing for the trials in that manner, but then again, Lími was not most caribou. Other pieces of advice he learned from the Jarl and her sharman sister Ylva, who managed to returned to Clan Askr with honor without ever completing her Will Test. Between his scrolls and his mentors, Lími theoretically understood everything he needed to know to make it out of the Southern Wilds in one piece.

One dirty trick Lími learned came from a book written by a caribou sage who studied the Undead. Through what remained of their sense of smell and their connection to the magical currents, the reanimated bodies of passed-away creatures possessed the means to hunt down the living. However, living beings could mask their life signatures to a sufficient (if not perfect) degree by disguising themselves with anything reeking of decay.

Beyond the Great Ice Wall, sources of decay abounded in abundance. Assaults on the Wall by the Undead were a far-too common occurrence; each skirmish had to be followed with a massive pyre to prevent the unearthly vanquished from arising once more. Piles of ashes left from these pyres dotted the landscape right outside the Wall, and towards one such pile Lími walked to, his first act of survival. Covering oneself with the ashes of the burned Undead was regarded by many warriors as one of the most cowardly acts imaginable, but as Lími saw things, he could either become something’s meal on the first night, or live through the self-inflicted shame of being unable to fight his foes head-on. The adolescent buck chose the latter without question.

Now smelling of charred matter, Lími trudged on into the wilderness, shivering from the unforgiving cold wind. “How intolerable these Southern Wilds are.....”

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SteelEagle    1,249

The Jarl had forgotten how beautiful this land was. The essence of the caribou was in strength and this place more than most prepared a younglin for a proper warrior's life. The beasts that called this place home weren't to such a scale as existed in the north, and a properly raised caribou should be able to defeat them. You had to be strong, you had to be tough, you had to be smart, you had to have guille, and you had to have the Will that comes with it. The deeper trials of the Wilds were things that nobou would teach you, the secrets of the flower, of the undead, of the magics that floated here- it was the height of dishonor to inform the next generation. Will is what separated those who accomplished their task and returned home and those that accomplished their task- and didn't.

And he was here primarily to ensure that Limi had Will. There were so many ways of passing, distasteful or not, and no doubt many had done shameful things as younglings in their quest for survival. Few bou had gone about it honestly. He knew he had. He had gone overboard even. he had fashioned weapons from bones, rocks, and treebark. He had found the flower in a few days and after he had passed the Deep Trials associated with it, he had decided to show the true depth of his personal campaign of conquest in the land and had moved about, determined to find two of every beasty and beasty-controller in the land and return with their heads. He had done so- nobou else in more than a hundred years had found the Conclave of the Necromancers. Nobou else had returned with their symbols and heads, either.

Aww, such fun times. There were so many creatures, too. So much of an intelligence gap existed as well, meaning what worked on some woud fail against others. Take the Wolves, for instance. You couldn't fool them into thinking you were undead or anything else other than meat. Then there were the Undead War Eagles. Also hard to fool visually. But they were still easier than the Golems of the Bleak Visage, who couldn't see at all- but could hear a living heartbeat from miles away. So many fun things here. Limi would have to prove himself one way or another.

And the Jarl would have a great seat to the action. He knew when the test was and where it started, so Limi wasn't in the area long before the Jarl saw him. Th Jarl saw Limi's plan- it was cowardly for sure, but what else could be expected of a calf being fed and led by such weaklings? It was not a personal failing more than it was a case for why the High King was terrible for the caribou. Still, nobou was perfect. Some had broken down in fear for a time, gone hungry, and cooked the dead for sustenance. It was a grave dishonor to tell others you did that, but very few ever spoke of what exactly they had to do to survive here. What came out of the Will Test was more important than what happened during it as far as most were concerned.

The Jarl was different. He almost spat in disgust, but continued watching and following stealthily, hoping that Limi would at some point show the Jarl what it meant to be a caribou...

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Pretzelparty    1,898

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Not far off there was another pair of eyes watching the young caribou as he trudged on through the wilderness. While Sigrun did believe Limi could do this on his own she knew there was one thing she did have to do; make sure Limi's test of will remained a test of will free of influence of anything save the natural forces of Whitescar he was sure to encounter. This goal might prove harder than she'd previously thought however as reports of some very powerful necromancers had been raising forces to prepare for another bothersome attack on the caribou... oh those silly necromancers, would they EVER learn?

Once Limi was far enough away, The chieftain set off on a path around and discretely joined her ward in this wilderness... although a great distance away and sure to keep her scent concealed so nobou would know she was out here. 

As she heard the familiar cold winds howling and felt the snow beneath her cloven hooves she sighed nostalgically. The memories were thick here. She still remembered her own Will test back here. The making of a small axe to serve as a tool to survive her time out here, the slaying of beasts that came her way... the almost embarssing loss the flower as it's pollen got to her near the finish line, but she'd still managed to make it back and secure herself at the highest level her clan could allow. She was certain Limi WOULD make a name for himself after this, one that would put his brother's legacy to shame.

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Bellosh    1,573

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First rule of surviving in the Southern Wilds: mask as much signs of life as you possibly can, although the Living can only disguise so much. Second rule of survival: stay off the “game trails”. That was what caribou in the Saar called those areas the Undead marched through while on the warpath to the Wall. An unseen malevolent force guided these unholy abominations northward toward their inevitable demise; only a few break somehow free of their compulsions. Yet even then, relatively few of those horrors wandered far beyond the game trails.

In practice, avoiding the game trails meant traversing more inhospitable terrain; land that armies of any sort couldn’t pass through. In Lími’s case, he would have to trek through the steep hill country of the Wilds to avoid stumbling upon the Undead. It would be a slow, rocky journey, but the agony of one’s hooves was preferable to their thankless demise.

Rule #3: always face the full wrath of the wind. According to various lore on the Wilds, the metaphorical expression that “the Wind carries the Whisper of Death” plausibly had origins in fact. If the speculation of prior old ones was correct, then the unnaturally cold winds of the South have an important role to play in ensuring the Will of the Masters reaches the Undead. Ergo, those among the Fallen who lose contact with the wind are more likely to break free and independently hunt for the Living on their own terms. So in order to avoid the aimless Reanimated, Lími needed to keep himself exposed to the elements while making sure he didn’t freeze to death.

Making that task harder was Rule #4: fire is the best weapon against the Undead, but it also attracts them as well. Fire means life, and those who are Fallen will converge on anywhere where life-filled victims can be found. Unless Lími wanted to be surrounded by the Horde and devoured, he’d have to make do without the comfort of a flame. If he wanted to stay warm during the night or in a blizzard, he’d better be lucky enough to know where the nearest cave was at any given time.

But the adolescent caribou was prepared for the challenges that laid ahead. Lími had memorized the lay of the land that he read about in scrolls and on maps. He understood which path would guarantee access to lichens to eat, and alcoves to sleep in. Jarl Sigrun had Lími conditioned by having him venture out at night under her supervision; sometimes, Sigrun gave instruction on how one was to safely sleep through the night without the comfort of another’s warmth. Finally, the caribou knew in which spots the flowers of each clan sprouted forth; unfortunately; when they sprout seemed to be completely random. Sometimes, it took years for a flower to reemerge. Thus would Lími’s tenacity be tested, even if he saw not one Undead throughout his journey.

Lími’s game plan for Day One: after masking his scent, he covered as much ground as quickly as possible until reaching the nearest hillscape to the Great Ice Wall. Reaching the hills before nightfall wasn’t impossible; this time of the year and this far up north, the Sun stayed up long in the sky and barely rested before emerging once again. But it was a rather lonesome and cruel trek; even on this first day, Lími cursed those first vikings who thought it a wise decision to subject youth to such a demented trial.

And so while huddling in a cold and dark cave after eating a meager dinner of moss, Lími shed a silent tear for the torment he already experienced, and the torment that was to come. They said that in the Time before Tales, caribou relied on their thick fur alone to keep warm; the soon-to-be bull thought such notions to be absurd. As the eyes of the shivering caribou shivered, Lími imagined he was far away from the Southern Wilds, far away from Whitescar even. He was across the sea, being warmed by the nurturing fire breath of Lián Mei, an enchanting qilin the lad had grown especially fond of. Caribou may not possess the ability to weave spells of sorcery, but perhaps if he deluded himself into imagining warmth strongly enough that the adolescent’s mind would prevent the body from feeling excessive chill.

No matter what torture he felt however, Lími vowed to return to civilization with honor. His worth as a valiant buck would be beyond question in the eyes of his mentors Sigrun and Ylva, and in those of his blood kin Randgrid and her father the High King.

And... he would be worthy in Mei’s eyes.....

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"Caw, Caw!"

More than the undead roamed the Southern Wilds of Whitescar.  It was inevitable, really; wherever you have a lot of dead flesh available, nature sends in its cleaning force.  Scavengers on the wing or paw, they would prowl the hills, looking for that Undead Warrior who had fallen behind, or in a hole.  Sometimes, they got lucky, and found remains before the necromancers.  Or, on even rarer occasions, they would come across a caribou who wasn't even dead yet!

So it was with these two crows.  Attracted by the smell that Lími had so cleverly disguised himself with, they had approached the cave, but were non-plussed to find a living, breathing creature.  What was all this?  "Caw, croak, CAW!"  Much avian fuss and consternation then ensued, attracting the attention of more of their brethren... and then, suddenly, they stopped.  There was a great and eerie silence, each bird standing with their heads cocked at exactly the same angle, as if listening to an inaudible order.  Then, in unison, they took off.

If all this ruckus had managed to awaken the young caribou, he would have been in a position to see something unusual.  Within a few minutes, the flock of crows was returning, clawed feet dug into the cloak of a pony they bore over the hills, letting the howling wind bear their wings aloft.  The whole arrangement sailed closer, depositing the pony with a bump.

Lími would have then seen a young unicorn stallion, not very much older than himself, with a dark coat and a light mane, wearing a tatty cloak and a bright smile.  "Well, hi there!"  He said excitedly, waving enthusiastically at the caribou.  "We don't get many of your kind around here!  Are you lost?  Or maybe just a lost caws!  Nyahahaha!"  The tone of his voice and laughter would not have inspired much hope in regards to his sanity...

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Bellosh    1,573

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Far away from Whitescar, Lími journeyed up the narrow cliffside above Garden Gait that he once traversed months ago. This time however, he had no companion to guide him, and a fog bank covered the town below. Other than those details, nearly everything was the same as before.. . including the waterfall with the alcove. Yet the falls didn’t roar with the might as they once did, enabling the faint cawing of crows to be heard where Lími stood. Compelled by forces he couldn’t explain, the caribou slowly trotted past the spray of the waterfall and into the cave behind.

Lími was greeted by an unnatural chill and the sight of crows gathering around the sleeping unmistakable body of Jarl Sigrun. The figure of another caribou stood off to the back, a bull it looked like, but he was entirely cloaked in shadow. But Lími ignored the other, wordlessly dashing in slow-motion towards Sigrun. The adolescent cusped the Jarl’s face in his hooves, but she remained deathly still for what seemed to be an eternity.

Lími feared the worst, but he dared not speak. All was silent, save for the chattering crows. In this moment of dread, Sigrun’s eyes finally opened, but orbs of pale blue shined where once had been silver eyes. Before Lími could react, the caribou that appeared to be Sigrun cried out a banshee’s wail, lunging straight for the terror-stricken boy.....


----------

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The nightmare gave way to a mildly less-scary reality as Lími jumped back out of fright. Within a second, the caribou realized that he was back in the Southern Wilds instead of a haunted version of Garden Gait... but he had feathered guests; crows. Probably Undead ones, trying to sniff out the ash-covered caribou to determine how dead he really was. Facing a premature demise, Lími lost his nerve and flung the nearest stone he could find towards the murder of crows, retreating backwards deeper into the cave; “BACK YOU DEVILS!!!”

Other than scattering to avoid being hit, the crows seemed content to commune in the way that only avians could. It was only now that Lími realized these birds were not Undead; they still lived, preferring to stay back from a creature that wasn’t quite so dead afterall. Nevertheless, the caribou worried that the murder’s ruckus would bring about unwanted attention.

As if reading Lími’s mind, the crows silenced their beaks all that once. Each bird gave the lad that same frightful stare, petrifying him in his place. And then, just like that, they all flew off together. Taking one minute to recover his courage, Lími attempted to walk outside to get a last glimpse of the fleeing murder, but that only resulted in the wind brutally stinging his eyes. He’d forgotten all about the cruelty of the wind yesterday, how it required getting slowly adjusted first before being able to withstand its full force.

As Lími finished reacclimating himself, he spied the crows returning; this time carrying the oddest equine the caribou ever laid his eyes on. Based on the unicorn’s demented demeanor, Lími wasn’t filled with very much confidence in the other’s trustworthiness. Like the crows before, Lími’s first instinct was to prepare to defend himself. “Stay away!” challenged the soon-to-be bull, inching backwards while pointing his nascent antlers in the direction of the potential hostile; “W-what business d-d-does a unicorn have in the Southern Wilds!?”

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The pony seemed more amused than intimidated by the young caribou's challenge.  "Nyahaha, that's a funny question for a stranger to ask a pony in his own home.  I live here!  I was born and bred in these lands!"  He spread his arms with a twirl, as if to show off the blasted heaths and hills like a foal dizzyingly proud of his homeland. "I really ought to ask what you're doing here.  You don't seem to have packed for a picnic."

Cloak flapping and snapping in the wind, the unicorn fearlessly approached young Lími, close enough for them to see eye-to-eye.  Or, at least, they would have if the young stallion's drooping eyelids had not concealed his gaze.   "You know, I've seen caribou around, living ones, but I've never gotten a chance to talk to them.  They mostly just yell and chase me with pointy things.  I generally have to run until a dire wolf pack intercepts them.  After that, they generally stop, nyaha!"   He raised his hoof suddenly-

And then held it in the air.  He was offering to shake!  "I'm Chipper Demise!  Glad to finally get a chance to say that; I almost forget sometimes.  What's your name?"  Sane or not, the pony didn't appear to be hostile, exactly.  And his crows had kept a respectful distance so far, too.  Was it just possible that Lími had found an ally in the Southern Wilds?  Or was it more than just his will being tested now?

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SteelEagle    1,249

The Jarl allowed the cutting wind of the Wilds to carve their way past the alien warmth of his pelt. The familiar, friendly cold crept into him with all the love of a blind pup, fitfully but eagerly. It drove away the pacifying influence of warmth that coddled and kept weak caribou for generations and the southern species for their entire lives. Only when you were stripped down to nothing and had the cold influence your every thought could you start to evolve the way a real caribou should. You had to allow it on of course, and the Jarl would be lying if he said he wasn't worried that his little brother was going to take the path of weakness. 

It seemed as though he was going to try and be a caribou, however. That was good. At least those milk drinkers from the mainland hadn't robbed him of essential caribou sensibilities. Fighting the wind was part of the test. Shirking your responsibility deservedly put you along the path of the dead- and if you fell there, it was your own weakness rather than the danger of this place that fell you. If you were strong all the way through, you would survive. Anything less and you'd be a partner in your own doom. Speaking of- he had to travel the path of the dead as Limi chose the correct option, It was fun- by this age, he could treat them all as training dumbies. He moved so fast and hit so hard that every swing of his axe brought one or more foes down effortlessly. More telling- he could move silently, intelligently, and knew his way around the dead. Even though his axe tasted dozens of bodies, he kept up with Limi every step of the way, wordlessly and with great joy.

Perched hidden from sight a distance away, with the bodies of two recently re-deaded dead, the Red Jarl watched as Limi was approached by a fell necromancer. A younger one- a unicorn, bah, true necromancers used potions and not spells!- who looked a bit odd, with a murder of crows with him. This would be an interesting challenge for Limi, and the Red Jarl was excited to see in which way he would eliminate the necromancer in the way of a true and honest caribou.

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Bellosh    1,573

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On 3/22/2016 at 1:14 PM, PrinceBlueblood said:

"Nyahaha, that's a funny question for a stranger to ask a pony in his own home.  I live here!  I was born and bred in these lands!  I really ought to ask what you're doing here.  You don't seem to have packed for a picnic."

 

“Be silent!” Lími maintained his defensive posture, trying to project strength on the outside even as his heart quaked in fear. The caribou had read all about the Southern Wilds, and heard many tales from those who’d ventured there prior. None have ever spoken of anyone who lived on the other side of the Wall; at least, nothing friendly that is. “There... there are no innocent inhabitants in these lands. Only....” Lími was practically hyperventilating at this point; “Only... s-s-s-servants of the Necro Lords!”

The Stranger did not help his case by alluding to the untimely doom of those caribou he encountered before. Truly, a unicorn with the dark power to command beasts was someone not to be trusted! Fearing that the end of his own Will Test was about to come, Lími immediately ducked his head down when he saw the Stranger’s hoof ready to strike, ready to counter with his antlers.

But the attack never came.....

 

 

On 3/22/2016 at 1:14 PM, PrinceBlueblood said:

 "I'm Chipper Demise!  Glad to finally get a chance to say that; I almost forget sometimes.  What's your name?"

 

With great trepidation, the young buck slowly raised his head again to meet the gaze of Chipper Demise, daring not to shake the other’s hoof. Like most adult ponies, Demise's height did not exceed that of a mere caribou adolescent. Although it appeared that this unicorn stranger was offering a gesture of acquaintanceship, Lími knew better than to immediately let down his guard. Chipper was still a stallion with an ill-favored look and an ill-favored name. Doubtless those other caribou were completely justified in chasing after this fiend who kept questionable company.

And yet, there were questions that Lími needed answers to. Why did the mysterious Chipper Demise chose not to set loose his crows or dire wolves upon the adolescent? Did the unicorn have other nefarious designs in mind? “I-I will give you my name Demise,” Lími nervously explained; “But only if you swear not to bring harm upon me.” In Whitescar, horrible fates often befell those who broke their oaths.....

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Chipper actually looked hurt and confused when Lími didn't shake his hoof immediately, for all the world as if he were an ordinary pony giving a greeting on any Equestrian street.  Head tilted, he gazed at the young caribou through half-lidded eyes, but perked up immediately when an opportunity for an oath was given to him.  "Okie-dokie!  I'd never hurt a friend, on pain of plagues and the Wild Hunt!  We... are friends, aren't we?"

If he was trying to be reassuring by his grin... it wasn't quite working.  On the other hoof, though, Chip hadn't really done anything to Lími, even when the young bull was more or less caught napping, so it was unlikely that the stallion had any real malice towards him.  And after all, nothing that wasn't somewhat intimidating had any real hope of surviving in the Southern Wilds anyway.

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Bellosh    1,573

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Lími was at a loss for words following what passed for an oath from Chipper Demise. The caribou still harbored suspicions concerning the true intentions of this caribou. Perhaps Demise was cleverly attempting to gain his trust, only to inevitably sacrifice him at the opportune time to the Necro Lords. Maybe the unicorn needed use of a pawn for some other ingenious purpose that none would guess until it was too late.

And yet the lingering silence between the two wanderers gave Lími time to think things over. Logically speaking, Demise had every opportunity via his crows to do anything with the caribou as he pleased, and yet he hadn’t done so. If the stallion’s words were truthful, then Lími might have been the very first caribou period to greet Demise in a manner not involving a spear made from scratch. So of course then that he’d consider Lími a friend, simply by virtue of not immediately attacking the crow whisperer on sight.

Come to think of it, it wasn’t that long ago when Lími assumed from his texts that qilin were hideous dragonspawn who wouldn’t think twice about roasting caribou. But then the adolescent had met the precious flower that was Lián Mei... and the rest was history. If Lími was all the better for accepting Mei’s friendship back in Equestria, did not Chipper Demise deserve that very same chance now to prove those old stories wrong?

After an apparent eternity of indecision, the caribou ultimately placed his shaking hoof over his heart. “Lími.....” he spoke softly; “A-a-at your service.....”

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Upon hearing Lími's name at last, Chipper's face lit up with a wide grin almost too big for his face. "Awesome!  Pleased to meet you, Limey!"  And he seized the young caribou's hoof with both of his and gave it a vigorous shake.  His enthusiasm, which blazed straight through the subtleties of Viking inflection like a raider through unguarded territory, was infectious, to judge by the raucous cawing from his compliment of crows.  They had taken wing, doing celebratory aerial acrobatics before alighting upon the ground once more, though in a much more natural manner than their previous eerie coordination.  One of them even landed on Lími's antlers.

"Aw, he likes you!"  The unicorn himself seemed wholly unconcerned with what impression his admittedly unusual enthusiasm had left on the adolescent caribou.  He pushed his ragged hood back off his mane, brushing a few leaves and twigs out of it.  "Apologies for the messy appearance; wasn't expecting to play host today, nyaha!"  He waved a hoof, which seemed to dismiss the majority of his avian retinue, leaving only the crow perched upon Lími himself.  "So, what brings you to my neck of the woods?  And would you prefer to rest somewhere a little more comfortable?  Don't mind the wind myself, but it does so ruin a coversation to be blown over a hillside, nyahaheheha!"  

It seemed that Chipper Demise had long since grasped the idea of laughing at his own jokes, for want of anyone else to laugh at them.  At the same time, one would have been a little foolish to dismiss him as a mere fool.  He'd sent the crows away for a reason; it didn't do to stand still in this country without having another pair of eyes keeping watch on the surrounding area...

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Bellosh    1,573

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Bearing witness to Chipper Demise’s gregariousness almost made Lími feel like smiling...  almost. As it were, the caribou sufficed to enter a bewildered stupor as the crows celebrated the forging of a new friendship. What a curious thing for the magic of friendship to have such power over ponykind that even the unhinged among them revel in it. And to think that all Lími had to do to win such acclaim was simply not aim a pointy object at Demise.

Lími did smile however when a crow perched itself on his antler. Those birds might have been ominous under certain circumstances, but Whitescar traditions also recognized them as heralds of glory to come; namely, the glory of battle. For crows seemingly had the knack of knowing where to await the next spoils of combat. By earning the favor of a crow, Lími reasoned to himself that his Will Test was blessed to be a successful one. Any excuse for optimism was a good excuse.

With the rest of the murder gone elsewhere, it was just Lími, his perched crow, and Demise. “I am undertaking my Will Test,” the caribou answered politely, thinking it rude to explain that Will Tests were the only reason caribou ever ventured into the Southern Wilds; “And I have already spent the night in rest. Em..... I’m afraid though I must soon make haste to continue on my quest. There are many leagues yet before me before I find that which I seek.” The unicorn was most likely friendly, but even so, Lími was unsure whether to spend more time with him. After all, the Will Test was an ancient rite meant to be accomplished alone.....

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Strange as it was to think of necromancers having friends, they did!  Or, at any rate, they had certain creatures marked 'not for experimentation.'  The Southern Wilds did not allow for much in the way of social opportunities.  Nevertheless, Chipper was prepared to give his first real chance to make a friend the old wizard school try.  A doubly noble effort, considering that he was for the most part self-taught.

"I get ya, I get ya."  The unicorn nodded vigorously as Lími explained that he had no time to rest.  "Early to bed, early to rise, don't get caught by your master's spies."  He spoke in the sing-song manner of one reciting an old lesson.  There was a spark of curiosity in his eye, though, as the young caribou spoke of his purpose.  "Will Test?  I never heard of anything like that.  What is it?  Is that why there are always so many of your kind coming in?  Could never find out myself, because they never seem to stick around all that long.  Except when they end up staying forever, nyaha!"

He tilted his head as the first of his crows returned, cawing.  Chipper listened for a little while, but apparently this one hadn't seen anything of note.  "Well, the road's open for a bit, if you want to travel quick-like.  Mind if I tag along?  I can help you avoid the shambling hordes of undead.  My little friends always know when they're coming along.  'Lunch on legs,' they call 'em, nyahahaha!"

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Bellosh    1,573

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"Will Test?  I never heard of anything like that.  What is it?  Is that why there are always so many of your kind coming in?  Could never find out myself, because they never seem to stick around all that long.  Except when they end up staying forever, nyaha!"

 

Chipper Demise may have gotten in Lími’s good graces, but that didn’t give him free reign to speak flippantly of caribou forced to stay forever in the Southern Wilds. Yet by lashing out at the mysterious crow master, Lími risked alienating potentially the first and only ally to be encountered south of the Icy Wall. With not much recourse available, the caribou lad settled for a timid request. “If you wish to be friends with me like you claim,” Lími nervously glanced away from Demise; “It would... it- it would please me if you... don’t make jests of those who never return to their homes... and loved ones.”

And now to answer a question, this time speaking up with a little bit more courage and eye contact. “The Will Test is a coming-of-age rite that all viking caribou must undertake. Once I pass the Test, I will no longer be a child in the eyes of my kin. Well,” the caribou tapped one his short horns; “If my antlers grow in fully by then, eh heh heh, heh heh...” Lími wasn’t very good at making convincing laughs.
 

 

"Well, the road's open for a bit, if you want to travel quick-like.  Mind if I tag along?  I can help you avoid the shambling hordes of undead.  My little friends always know when they're coming along.  'Lunch on legs,' they call 'em, nyahahaha!"

 

Despite his apprehensive self, Lími let himself grin. If Demise’s claims were true, his crows could offer up an actual fight against the Undead, increasing Lími’s chances of making it through his Will Test. However, relying on the unicorn for defense would taint Lími’s expedition even further. If the adolescent’s clan ever learned that he teamed up with an outsider to complete his tasks... well, it wouldn’t be pretty.

Alas, Lími’s fear of losing all he held dear was too great to overcome. Fear of never again being able to embrace his foster mother; to smell the flowers of Garden Gait; to watch the fire-kissed hair of Lián Mei billow as she frolicked in the meadow. He had already disgraced himself once, by covering himself in accursed ashes to disguise the scent of life (strange how Demise seemingly hadn’t taken notice of it). Since it was virtually impossible for anyone else to spy on the lad in these desolate wastelands, Lími eventually rationalized that no caribou would ever be the wiser.

“As you and your crows know the lay of the land,” the young buck completely gave in to temptation; “You’re welcome to serve as my guide, Chipper Demise.....”

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From the time that Lími had met Chipper Demise until now, the grin and good humor on the young stallion's face had never once slipped.  It was perhaps the most creepy thing about him, resembling hysteria more than humor.  But at the phrase 'loved ones,' just for a second, Chip's face did bear a different expression, one of... confusion?  Regret?  It didn't stay long enough to be clearly identified, but even when his smile returned, there was just a touch of melancholy about it.  "If we mourned everyone who died here, I'd never smile again, and neither would you.  So!  What I did, is that I set aside one night, had a good long cry, so I wouldn't have to do it anymore!  And my master stopped hitting me too, so that was a bonus!"

With his bright, mad mood now fully returned, the unicorn led the way into the valley, charging with excitement for all the world as if he were on a great journey to prove his adulthood.  "Oh, so it's like a Final Examination?  That makes sense, actually.  I don't think I ever passed mine; no one here acts as if I did.  I don't mind much, though.  I'm having fun doing my own thing here.  I have all the birds, and a new friend!  That's more than anyone else ever had here!"

True to his crows' reports, the road was empty.  In the shelter of the hills, the winds no longer blew so hard, and the lack of cloud cover let the sun warm the path as best it could.  It was no match, perhaps, for the sunny green lanes of Equestria, but certainly warmer than any other such road in Whitescar.  And it was a road, as Lími would be able to see, not just a trodden path.  Long ago, the ground had been cleared and leveled, and stones might have even paved it.  Such days were long past, however; all the rocks had been torn into gravel by the thunder of countless hooves, living or dead.  But, in a way, the continued existence of the road meant that the long-dead were, in a way, still living.

Not that Chipper Demise was the sort of pony to notice such relics of the past.  To his credit, he had more pressing matters in the present, including a report from a newly flown in crow.  "Hm... Corvy here says there's another warmblood some way to the south.  Think someone else is on their Will Test, too?"

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Bellosh    1,573

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"Oh, so it's like a Final Examination?  That makes sense, actually.  I don't think I ever passed mine; no one here acts as if I did. . . . "

 

Lími was surprised to hear that nugget of wisdom coming out of Chipper Demise’s mouth. It may not have excused all of his jovial callousness, but at least there were still heartfelt emotions inside the unicorn. Perhaps Demise’s outward demeanor was all a facade to prevent himself from succumbing to the horrors of life in the Southern Wilds. From a certain point of view, even Lími could argue that every day of Demise’s life was a Will Test, assuming the stallion never traveled north of the Icy Wall. And Lími didn’t know anyone among his own kind who’d subject themselves to such a bleak existence.

As if Chipper Demise’s life didn’t seem bad enough, Lími’s eyebrow rose upon hearing of this unicorn’s old master, who sounded most unpleasant. What sort of pony was the unicorn’s master anyway? Was ruthlessness necessary to teach a pony how to control birds? Or was there something more sinister behind the scenes? Lími knew better than to ask for answers though; Demise seemed like the sort of stallion whose past was best kept to himself.

For Lími however, the subject of Demise’s final trial seemed harmless enough to warrant further questioning, even if the unicorn had a strange term for it. “What did you uhhh, have to do in this... ‘Final Examination’ of yours?”

 

 

"Hm... Corvy here says there's another warmblood some way to the south.  Think someone else is on their Will Test, too?"

 

Of greater concern to the young buck was the path Chipper Demise was leading them on. Lími didn’t have to rely on his encyclopedic remembrance of everything written about the lay of the land to know that they were on a game trail. Game trails meant far greater chances of encountering the Undead, which the caribou had meticulously planned to avoid at all costs. Demise’s crows might stand a chance against a garden-variety wight, but what of the undead Wolves? Or the War Eagles? The Golems of the Bleak Visage? Should those catch Lími and Demise, they’d be done for!

On the other hoof, the wind wasn’t as chillingly bad down by the base of the hills. Perhaps that counted for something, if not much.

“Perhaps so,” Lími hurriedly answered the unicorn’s question; “B-but..... Is it wise to travel on the Road through these dangerous lands? Won’t... t-t-the Un-... They, pick up your scent?” The adolescent glanced down at his ash-covered self, his primary means of escaping detection by the Wilds' reanimated terrors.....

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These blasted roads of Whitescar's wilds scarcely saw anyone step upon them with jaunty hooves.  But, that was Chipper Demise for you, his jauntiness was a banner of defiance against the suffering and despair that soaked into the very stones of the Southern Wilds.  One might almost believe that the sheer incongruity might itself have power to repel the foul creatures that walked this land.  The unicorn certainly acted as if it did.

"Ahah, what a silly question!  If I knew what my Final Examination was, I'd know if I passed it."  He nodded authoritatively, or authoritatively as a bouncy young pony could manage.  Logic was logic, after all.  "My Master and I had our... falling out, before we got to that.  But if I had to guess, I would either make something die, or make it un-die!"  He giggled, for all the world as if both those things were no less innocent than cooking a good meal or doing an 8-minute mile.  "I've done both, of course, but never anything big; and I think it would be something big.  But everything big here is either too strong... or too friendly!"  That was... probably supposed to be a reassuring smile that he was giving Lími.

Misunderstood intentions or no, it was clear that Chip wasn't worried about... anything, really.  In fact, he looked faintly puzzled at the young bull's question.  "They?  Who's they?  The only ones we have to worry about are the Ensorcelled.  As for the rest-"  Chipper was cut off by a howl, a surprisingly close one.  Before either of them could react, suddenly a huge form on four legs bounded out of the hills, and tackled the unicorn!

It was a wolf.  And judging from the smell, not a living one.  And it had pinned the poor stallion underneath him!  Limi would hear, if he dared approach, the muffled sounds of... laughter?

"Eeheheee, that tickles!"  

That was strange... bust stranger still was the behavior of the beast, which licked Chipper's face, and then bounded back, tail wagging, for all the world like any colt's dog, happy to see him.  "Who's a good boy, then?  Who's a good boy?"  It had to be said that Chip's reaction was more like a society lady spoiling her pets, as he rubbed and petted the abomination's face, scratching behind the ears.  But if Lími looked closer, he might see the glow of magic around his horn...

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Bellosh    1,573

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What had Lími gotten himself into? All the caribou’s prior fears about Chipper Demise came rushing back; being told he was too friendly to be made dead or undead only served to fuel suspicion in Lími’s heart that he was but a sheep being lured to slaughter. But while it was tempting to surrender to his apprehension, part of the young buck also wondered why Demise was so awful at portraying a trustworthy stranger? Lími knew his sagas and legends well; a malevolent trickster wouldn’t make such dumbfounding errors in trust-building like cracking jokes about the macabre. A true servant of the Necro Lords, on the other hoof, would have spoken words so sweet with honey that they’d be too good to be true for any wary traveler in the Southern Wilds.

At any rate, to run out on Chipper Demise now would be one of the greatest transgressions a viking caribou could make. How could Lími call himself an honorable bull to those he loved dear if he deserted Demise out of fear after already accepting his companionship? They’d think that either Lími lacked good judgement, or was a caribou prone to going back on his word. Besides, it was naive to think that anyone could live in these forsaken lands (or anywhere else in Whitescar for that matter) without possessing the skills needed to defend oneself, and as the stallion so eloquently put it... “make something die.”

Lími was in the middle of mentally rationalizing Demise’s other boast when a wolf ambushed the unicorn, pouncing on him and pinning Demise to the ground. “DEMIIIIIIIIIIISE!!!” Lími shouted in horror, so struck by shock that the adolescent buck did naught but stand frozen, staring with wide eyes. But Lími’s fretting proved seemingly unfounded; the wolf behaved exactly like a domesticated pet... a lot like Lími’s very own canine to be exact. The thing smelled really awful though, like it had been a rotting-

Oh no.........

Chipper Demise wasn’t like one of those “healers” who brought fallen arena fighters back from the brink. If his glowing glow was any indication, then crows were far from the only creatures he could command. Lími’s heart wanted nothing more than to run away, as fast as possible, away from Demise and his wolf... thing, but his rational mind counseled otherwise. The caribou would never outrun the profane monster, so Lími’s best chance of survival, slim as it was, was to stand his ground and NOT act like a prey animal.

It then occurred to Lími that if Demise wished it so, the young buck wouldn’t be left here standing being able to ponder the mysteries of abominable wolves. But if Lími was now the unicr- no, necromancer’s prisoner in all but name, why bother keeping up the facade of friendliness. There wasn’t any more point to all this pet-scratching business... unless this was the sort of stallion who Demise really was; somepony who craved friendship, but got dealt an extremely bad hoof in life.

Still unsure of the necromancer’s true nature however, Lími instinctively back-stepped away at a glacial pace, stammering as one foreleg shielded his nose from the wolf's smell; “H-h-h-h-how i-is this p-p-possible?”

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