(Chapter 7: Summer/Fall Year 1) First thread: >>406201
It is the final week of summer, and the Earthen Hoof Clan is busy with work for the start of the harvest season. The fields around the village are a golden sea of oats, wheat, and barley, and the village is finally beginning to look like a permanent home. Many wooden homes and halls now stand throughout the village, and the warriors' hall overlooking most of the town is now complete. Almost everypony has a place to stay that will protect them when winter comes.
The clan's current worry is getting ready for the harvest, which should soon begin. Building granaries to store the harvest, finishing tools, and praying for success occupies everypony's time, but Chief Thornshaker has called a meeting of the ring to discuss final preparations.
You are all in the clan hall. Chief Thornshaker and Thistleberry are sitting at the ring's table, though Thistleberry is snoozing quietly. Fruitcake, the lead baker of the clan, is here as well – she has brought a sampling of tarts and pies made from those strange apples found a few weeks ago.
"I've called you all to try these cakes," says Thornshaker. "Rock Jumper the warrior already tried one, so we're pretty sure they're safe."
>>458852 "Pretty sure? Well, I suppose if they aren't, I'll have to earn my keep. I shouldn't complain about how healthy the clan is, but there isn't much for a doctor to do without patients." I'll take one of the tarts. "Well, down the hatch."
>>458902 "Aw that's too bad." I say sympathetically. "I'm sure Brawn will bless our harvest even more next year and you'll have plenty extra." I say confidently. "and these cakes are wonderful, tell the bakers they have my compliments."
>>458904 "They're still just saplings," says Thornshaker. "They don't seem much different from our other young trees, though they do seem to be growing a little faster than normal."
>>458905 Fruitcake smiles and bows as she takes her dishes and leaves the clan hall.
As you all finish eating the pastries (or forgoing them), an elderly pony bursts into the clan hall, almost knocking poor Fruitcake down. It's Firewheel, the old mare who previously told Loam that his plan of setting up a tent near her would result in her quick demise. She's obviously agitated.
“I had a dream!” Firewheel yells. “A terrible and ominous dream! I almost died from fear last night…” She spits twice on her hoof before stomping on the ground – the traditional ward against ill omens.
“I dreamt that rats rained from the sky and ate up all of our harvest. We scurried around, and our warriors tried to drive them away, but the rats bit them. And those bitten started to waste away from hunger. No rain came, and our land baked in the sun, and our hungry clan blew away in the wind.
"It's a sign!" she says. "A sign that the ancestors are displeased with us! We've uprooted ourselves from the old country and started living in this strange land. We need to sacrifice to them to regain their favor."
Thornshaker keeps chewing on a tart before looking at all of you expectantly.
>>458907 To be clear, because I don't know if this has been stated explicitly yet: "Sacrifices" usually means grain, fruit, or treasure. Only desperate or evil clans would sacrifice ponies, and all other clans would hate them for it.
>>458914 my ears twitch at that. "No. I think should check for treasure nearby." >>458915 "…!" I step back from you."It must be those funny plants that caused this vision! You shouldn't have brought them back at all!"
>>458919 "And I left it his plant. A few cuttings and they became my plant, to be used medicinally!" >>458921 "Those blue fruits. That's one." >>458920 "Then either we sacrifice a portion of our crops, perhaps a few of the blue fruits as well, and the ancestors will be pleased that we are using this land as they would have, and we will prosper from it."
>>458920 "Yes, but didn't we just say that we had barely enough gain to fill our stores as it is? The ancestors can not demand that we starve." >>458924 I huff "That plant is nothing but trouble. It makes you feel weak and complacent. I say we get rid of it."
>>458925 "And you'd rather I simply tie down a pony in pain, instead of soothing it while they're healed? The spirits of the healers I've learned from would have killed to have something like that for their problem patients."
>>458915 Thistleberry speaks. "The ancestors always appreciate a gift of a treasure, though we would likely need to burn almost all of that herb to sacrifice it to them."
>>458922 Thornshaker nods again. "The bakers have enough left that they were going to serve some at the start of the harvest. We could sacrifice the remainder, and the ancestors might be pleased. But if they are mad about planting those trees…"
>>458923 Firewheel starts gesticulating wildly at the suggestion that "not much" has happened yet.
"What about my dream?! This clan stands at the edge of doom, I tell you!"
>>458921 "We have more than enough to tide us over until harvest time. We could easily sacrifice enough just to find out what the ancestors want from us," Thornshaker says.
>>458927 I'll frown at her. "A real Earthen Hoof would do all he could to prevent his fellows from suffering." >>458928 "Perhaps half of the herb, then, and a treasure besides? I'm afraid my own options are rather limited." >>458929 "See what you say to that the next time your leg is broken and you can't walk, or are crippled because of a wound that this herb could have helped treat."
>>458942 I continue scratching my chin, deep in thought. "I can't say for sure that it is them that's making them mad… Maybe you are right though. Maybe for now we should just give them a sacrifice of our traditional crops."
>>458955 "You are, however, somewhat outnumbered. If Ziza sides with you on this matter, it is three-to-two in favor of a mixed sacrifice. If, however, this proves to be the wrong course of action… then I will accept the responsibility for it."
>>458961 >>458962 "Fine. The majority says a traditional sacrifice. I'll have the clan collect the bushels of oats and we'll get started immediately."
In a few hours, the clan has assembled a high pile of grain in a large ceremonial bronze bowl set before the small shrine to your ancestors that sits in the center of town.
"If you are all ready, we can start. We'll need a spirit-talker, however. Loam, you would be a fine choice to read the signs, but if you do not feel comfortable, then Cold Fortunes or Cauthon or one of the god-talkers and priests could do it."
>>458976 Everyone sees the plume of smoke from the fire rise before it is caught by the wind and sent towards the area where the clan is building its granaries.
You enter a trance and find yourself with a particularly strong link to the clan's ancestor spirits.
You are in a bright green field of rolling hills and copses of apple trees. You see many of your beloved dead here. Your great uncle suns himself on a nearby rock before he sees you and rapidly tries to hide his face and dive behind the rock.
You see your dear departed mentor, "Fizz", however, and he trots over towards you. He looks good for somepony who has been in the grave for a few years now, and he's obviously happy to see you. He's munching on one of the tarts you burned, but he soon finishes it off before greeting you.
"Loam, my boy! Good to see you again. My, my, you're turning into a strapping young doctor. I bet all the fillies are clamoring to marry you, huh?
"Hahaha, I know, I know. I'm only kidding. Listen, we don't have much time. Tell your friends that we love the cakes and apples, they're absolutely delicious. Keep them coming!
Look, we sent that dream to that old nag because the clan really is in trouble. Rats, my boy. Rats. Vermin. Mice. Locusts. They're all a problem this far south. You've got to have protection against that sort of thing, and we can't do it for you – we don't have the strength since you all moved here. If it were the old country? Bah, no rat problem! We'd talk to Briar Weed, the god of vermin for you and tell him to keep the rats away from the grain, and he'd probably do it because he's a nice guy when he's not trying to starve you out of your home. But we don't have that sort of power when you're this far away from all our graves and old homes.
"I can't tell you how to solve that problem. There are a lot of ways, of course, and I'm sure you kids will come up with something.
"Oh and watch out with that funny herb. It's got its uses but it will rot your patients' brains if they use it all the time."
"So long, Loam. Watch out for rats! And just try talking to the nice mares. You don't need to worry about them getting grossed out by the dead corpses thing, I promise!"
You feel your connection to the spirit realm slipping away. You might be able to ask him another question before you completely return to the mortal world.
>>458981 I'll settle back into my own hooves. "They liked the tarts and cakes. But Firewheel's vision was not wrong. There are rats coming. Lots of them. And if not them, then mice, or locusts." I'll shake my head. "There are a lot of solutions to that, they said, but Briar Weed has a plague on the way. It's happening all over the south. We need to prepare."
>>458984 "See, I told everyone we should have brought them with but but noooooo, 'Cauthon, that's a horrible idea!' 'Cauthon, how could you say such a thing?' I said we might need there help, and now here we are."
>>458985 >>458986 "Not a joke. It's just a matter of finding out what tribe we really, really hate enough to double starve them then hope the sacrifice works."
>>458987 I'll shake my head. "We don't know the right rituals, so we'd end up taking the brunt of it, probably. As it is, there's not much we can do at the moment. We might want to send a messenger to the Blue Leafs about the encroaching vermin, though." >>458986 "I can't really think of anything. It's not like we'd have enough cats to take on both the rats and the mice… and locusts would be an entirely different matter."
>>458986 Thistleberry leans on Thornshaker as she speaks.
"In the old country, when we were worried about vermin, we would often build a granary with a staddle stone that had been blessed by a shaman so that it was imbued with cat spirits that would scare away pests. We would need to find the right sort of stone, though, and we would need to find a wild shaman who could do the task."
>>458988 Thornshaker says, "We could try asking for Brawn's blessing. He commands the wild animals and so could command the predators of the forest to protect us from vermin."
>>458983 "This could work as well. Erumal might be willing to send the vermin to another clan. But if the other clan found out, they would likely hate us.
"We could also just try building the granaries higher. Or we could try posting warriors near the granaries. We have few, though, and they would hate the work."
>>458992 "The blessed saddle stone or beseeching Brawn's aid would be preferred…" I'll think a moment. "Wasn't that child we picked up a while ago living in the wilds when we found her? Perhaps she has learned a bit of the shamanic magic?" >>458994 I'll just shake my head.
>>458995 "Well there were bandits between us and the Blue Leafs, and some ponies have lived in this valley for generations now, so I'm sure there are shamans out in the woods somewhere," says Thornshaker.
>>458994 "Nopony would like the smell, Cauthon. Wild shamans are disgusting creatures," Thornshaker laughs.
>>458996 "Yes, we could ask Garden when she wanders back into the village. I'm not sure she's up to the task, though."
>>458993 Thornshaker thinks for a moment. "That could work, but Brawn is a god of work, not of animals, and while he may offer some protection, he might not protect us enough from this."
>>459000 "We could organize a party to go search for one, but with the harvest coming soon, we need everypony who can labor in the fields to do so. So that leaves only the nobles and warriors, and we don't have very many warriors.
"I think that means that all of you would need to start the search."
>>459004 I look defeated at his statement that Brawn can't help. "Alright, we can pray to whoever you believe would help.." but brighten back up at the idea of a search party. "I gladly volunteer to lead the search."
Pausing here. I'll try to pick up later in the week. Maybe Wednesday, if Andy's not running Bats then. If you want to keep talking or faff around the town a bit, feel free to do so, but the updates won't be very regular and will probably cease in an hour or so.
>>459014 I frown "I know the other god have merit too, and I should accept that we need their help, but its just hard to imagine that Brawn really isn't the best choice for most things.." kick the dirt a bit "Hey, wanna spar a bit?"
>>459015 "It is rather troubling, yes… But, I'm sure that this will be an excellent opportunity for us to become even stronger, and make Brawn proud!" I let out a boisterous laugh. "And of course. I'm always willing to spar with you, Gilded." I walk over to a more spacious area and take up a stance. "Well?"
>>459025 "Well consider me finally warmed up then!" I let out another laugh, interrupted by your sudden display of physical prowess as you strike back as I scramble to try and defend myself and strike another blow against you. '1d20+2'
>>459032 I lean on my hammer and catch my breath, rubbing where you hit me before. "Ah, but that was nothing compared to your previous hit! That was impressive, Gilded." I return your mile wide smile with one of my own.
>>459034 I blush slightly from the touch "Bah, it's just a bruise! I can take worse!" I let out a boisterous laugh again and turn away, trying to stealthily spit out a small amount of blood. "How are you holding up? I didn't strike at you too hard, did I?"
>>459054 and your superior balance wins out, you're able to use my lunge to flip me and easily land your third pin, a bit harder than the others. I close my eyes on impact and then smile at you, breathing a little heavier. "You win"
>>459055 I take a few deep breaths myself, pinning you for a few moments longer before getting up and offering you a hoof. "Maybe next time I should teach you how to fight with your hooves. Still, it was fun!" I let out yet another laugh.
>>459063 "You're the best fighter I know as well, I'm proud to have you fight at my side Ziza, and.. I'm really glad you were chosen for the Circle with me." I look into you eyes when I say that last part. >>459064 "Perhaps not, but you can find joy in your heart, and that joy can lead to laughter." I demonstrate with a hearty laugh.
>>459070 I sigh as well, "Well, Brawn will be happy if we find a reliable shaman to help us this winter." I point my hoof toward the sky, leaving enough room for you do a similar motion next to me. "I bet together we'll track one down in no time. Right Ziza?"
Thanks to the efforts of Restful Loam, the clan has obtained an explanation from the ancestors for an ominous dream that they sent to the old mare, Firewheel: The valley will be visited by a plague of vermin soon, and so the Earthen Hoof Clan must prepare for the worst.
While the clan could try to beseech Boulder,* the god of nature and animals, or even Briar Weed, the god of vermin, the clan has decided upon a solution used in the old country – find a shaman to imbue a staddle stone with cat spirits, which will chase away the vermin.
First, however, the clan will need to find a shaman, and Chief Thornshaker has given this task to the rest of the Ring. You all stand now outside of the clan hall. Thornshaker is here with Rock Jumper, one of the warriors.
"On our patrols around our lands, we have seen some evidence of a shaman living to the east – odd markings on rocks, newly-built cairns and what look like small shrines to the spirits of the river and the hills. It is possible that the farmers who live further to the east might know more," says Rock Jumper.
* – Errata: Originally I wrote that Brawn "commands the wild animals" in >>458992. Thornshaker misspoke, as all of your characters are sure to know. He meant Boulder.
>>464283 >>464285 >>464286 >>464287 The path east from the village roughly follows the course of the river, which lies maybe a mile south. On days like today, with clear weather and a bright sun, you can catch glimpses of it winding its way to the east, fed by the melting snow in the mountains to the west.
Those mountains' foothills make the western end of your clan's territory somewhat more foreboding than your farmers would like – rocky hills and scrub land provide little soil for crops, after all. But to the east is the land that drove your clan to settle here: Fresh and green low rolling hills and long fertile stretches of plains lying along the riverbank is heaven for any Earth Pony clan – especially to one so devoted to the plow.
A short march from the village is one of the tiny groups of farmhouses that is home to small numbers of farm families. Earthen Hoof clans are divided by occupation, but within the broad group of farmers is a stratified system of organization. Thanes sit at the top of the social order, farming large tracts of the clan's land and keeping much of it to sell at the market. Below them sit the cottars, who have smaller homesteads. Cottars farm only vegetables on their own land, but they work in the thanes' fields year-round. In some other, more warlike clans, particularly those that once were subservient to the Pegasi, it is common to have a third class of thralls – mares and stallions who are the property of the clan and who perform physical labor for it. Thankfully, the Earthen Hoofs have never practiced such an un-Earthlike custom.
Out here, away from the Earthen Hoof village, these small hamlets are usually only home to maybe six families each – two thane families and then assorted cottars who work the land, too. This particular hamlet, consisting of nothing more than four small cottages sitting on a hill, is named "Greenhill." Brawn's ponies are often the unimaginative and no-nonsense sort.
You could stop here if you wish, or you can continue on towards the outskirts of your territory and the wilderness. Or you could go looking for another hamlet or something.
>>464323 "Of course I could. With Brawn at my back I can do anything, just leave it too me!" I chuckle a bit. >>464316 >>464319 I nod "Anyone who lives at a place called Greenhill is sensible enough to trust, lets go."
As you near the hamlet, you can see that there are some foals playing in what could be called the "town square" if one were extraordinarily generous. It is likely that the adults are out working in the fields today, or perhaps they are back at the village working on the granaries.
>>464332 This group of small houses is far too small to have a temple. There is, however, a small shrine to Brawn and Heart Petal on one side of the square. Before it are offerings of flowers and some dried fruit. Common offerings to Heart Petal if one is seeking to have a child.
>>464333 They're all several years younger than you, but none is intimidated by the sight of members of the clan nobility.
One, a little yellow filly, speaks up. "They're all out in the fields. Except for papa, he went back to village to get the cart fixed."
>>464336 Surprisingly well-fed, if a little dusty and ignorant. One young wears a simple iron medallion in the shape of a plow – a common charm for the protection of Brawn.
>>464375 And ask the right one There are five here: The yellow filly, who is probably the oldest. The young colt "Turdblossom." And two identical light-brown fillies who are currently giggling a lot at the two wrestling.
>>464372 >>464374 "Lets go to the river, we can split up: on group go upstream, the other downstream: If anyone finds something, make a call like a wolf, if anyone is in trouble make a call like sparrow. We come back toward Greenhill if it gets too late." I say.
>>464404 The yellow one's dad went westward, back to the village.
The rest are in the fields, which are scattered around, but most are to the north and east. The south is a bit hillier and has more trees. There's only one small field to the south, and it doesn't look like anypony is working out there.
>>464400 "Huh? Nah, like I said. Papa said we shouldn't go down there, so we don't. Well Turtle there does, but I don't know what he does down there. Probably cries a lot."
>>464401 "Papa said he knew ponies like that back in the old place. He said they're stinky and they have bad manners."
You know that it's relatively common for individual clan members – particularly farmers out here near the wilderness – to make deals with shamans, but it's usually frowned upon by the rest of the clan. Shaman deals can harm the whole clan, after all.
>>464431 Scratched onto the western side of the willow tree is a symbol you recognize from your days first learning about the Horned One from the goats. It's the goat symbol for Vodya, the god of the river. Beneath it is a small pile of stones smoothed by the river. This is a typical shrine to Vodya.
Like Erumal, Vodya is worshiped by ponies (well, sacrificed to, because few clans have temples to him or hold him as a patron). Ponies long ago adopted much of the goat pantheon into their own, probably thanks to goats living within pony lands without causing much trouble.
This might be a sign that the shaman lives near here, but it could also simply mean that one of the locals is particularly worried about floods.
>>464466 "No, they are a shrine. That's what I just said."
>>464468 "A goat you say? Excellent. Come along, everyone, but be polite. Vodya worshipers are generally jaded and abrasive. There is no fun in their lives, but they do favor the color green. Their prays are typically common words pronounced with a buzz." I start walking down the rover in the direction indicated.
After leaving the village to find a wild shaman who can make the blessed staddle stone your clan needs to fend off the coming plague of vermin, you all arrived at one of the clan's outlying hamlets – just a group of a few farmsteads populated by two thane households and a few cottars.
While the hamlet's adults were out in the fields or back in the village, you were able to speak to the resident foals, who informed you that there may be a goat shaman living across the river and further to the east.
You are all back in the hamlet, having returned the youngest foal, Turtle, to his tormentors. He goes into one of the larger houses – really just a large hut with a thatched roof – and shuts the rickety wooden door.
Restful Loam – Pointed in this direction by passing warriors on patrol, you have arrived at the hamlet, as well. It's a small collection of four houses sitting on top of a hill. To the south is the river that flows down from the mountains to the far west, marking the southern border of your clan's effective territory. To the east is more Earthen Hoof land – flat plains and rolling hills populated by your clan's largest groups of farmers.
>>465209 Good to know that we're expanding. Though I suppose they'd be about as pleased to see me as anyone else… But, I'm looking for a shaman. Let's get asking around for such a pony. One more in tune with the earth than the others. '1d20'
>>473973 You trot further to the west. As you head in this direction, the woods get a little thicker, but you know from looking around while on top of the hamlet's hill that the woods on this side of the river soon give way to wide open plains.
>>473974 It's just a short gallop, from the hill down to the riverbank and you soon see your friends.
>>473976 You wade into the river, picking the shallowest part you can find. As you push your way towards the center of the river, you find that you've drifted maybe another hundred feet downriver. You can still stand here, but the water is at your withers, and the force from the current is very strong here.
Roll again to get to the other side.
>>473978 Following Cauthon further downriver, you do find, in the thicker copse of trees, a large log. While it's covered in lichen, it doesn't appear to be rotten, and it might be possible to turn this into a makeshift bridge at some point further downriver when the river narrows significantly.
>>474001 You push hard, but the log won't move at all. Maybe it's just the way you're pushing it, you know?
>>473995 Remembering what you've learned about the principles of leverage, you look around for something long and strong to wedge beneath the log to get it rolling. While Striker is busy throwing her strength into pushing the fallen tree at its exposed roots, you find a long, flat stone perfect for acting as a lever. You wedge it beneath the log and begin to push. The log gradually lifts off the ground…
>>473998 Not seeing Loam's efforts, you rear back and prepare to buck the tree with all your might. Using your strong Earth Pony glutes, you strike the log as hard as you can.
Were the log lodged firmly in the earth, you'd probably have simply uprooted it and sent it on a gentle roll. Instead, you struck just as Loam dislodged the log from its place, and you send the log flying. It soon crashes back down to the earth, but it begins rolling downhill, totally uncontrolled.
Fortunately for you all, it takes a sharp left turn right as the river begins to narrow, and its great momentum allows it to leap the gap over the river before falling back down and forming a natural bridge.
You could probably chalk that one up to the log spirits, or maybe Vodya decided to smile upon your group's efforts to cross his river.
>>474006 You flex your muscles and the river seems to stop moving quite so quickly. You hear a few frogs ribbit happily on the shoreline. What's more, you hear some rustling and turn around to see a small pony-like figure dart off into the woods.
You're a few hundred feet from your friends on the other side of the river.
>>474019 You wheel around and gallop hard at the figure disappearing into the treeline. The water sparkles off your coat and shimmers off of every straining muscle as you leap on top of the hooded figure.
You immediately begin to regret this act, as the smell from the figure begins to assault your nose.
"Ooooh hee hee hee hee," the goat cackles as you pin him to the ground, "I see I've made a new boyfriend~" He farts a happy fart and cackles some more.
The goat is probably the shaman you're looking for. He fits the type – his coat is matted with all types of mud and other matter, sticks and assorted foliage are woven into his hair and beard, and he bears that typical look of the crazed loner living in the woods.
>>474070 I perk up at her mention of me, and a small blush forms on my cheeks and I cough. "Erm… Gilded, I was on the ground because of this… filthy goat's odor. I pinned him to the ground and he started… letting off gas. The smell was overwhelming."
>>474070 "He was on the ground because the shaman probably defended himself. Though, judging by the retching noises he was making, he probably…" >>474074 I'll just gesture to emphasize. "See? No reason at all to be so hostile."
>>474058 >>474062 Your skin and coat begins to itch terribly. You have the almost uncontrollable urge to scratch.
The lightning hammer you summon from the clouds appears in your hooves with a huge thunderclap. It does seem like an awfully good back scratcher…
>>474065 "Oh, just a bit of the ol' summon-ems for the flea spirits. They're a cantankerous bunch, you know, but they're great for using on bullies!" He laughs some more.
>>474063 "Hmm… 'officially'…. 'request'…. hmmm yes. I like the sound of that!
"Ooh, but plague protection is going to cost you, especially depending on the plague. What sort of payment are we talking here?"
He looks you up and down and munches a bit on your clothing.
"Hmm, yes, yes. An earth pony clan from the north, and nobles, no less!
"I want the works! You gotta give me hospitality and a banquet, and a full feast, and lots of pretty dresses like that one, and uh lots of gold, and OF COURSE a seat on your lead council thingy, and I get to come and go as I please…" he goes on like this for a while.
The party follows him further into the woods. His shack isn't very far from the shoreline, in fact, but it is carefully concealed among the trees, under piles of leaves and branches. Were you not looking for it, you might mistake it for a mound of rotting wood amongst the forest's undergrowth.
The goat leads you into his home. Inside are all the trappings of a wild shaman: Various herbs and mushrooms hang from the ceiling in bunches, ready to be cooked into a magical brew. Strange symbols are carved into the walls and painted on every surface. A bed of various rags and leaves sits in the corner – the shack's only real furniture.
"Meetings first," the goat says. "It's the proper way of doing things! My name is Babka. Who are you and what is your clan? The little colt never told me much, and his father usually kept quiet, too."
>>474127 >>474126 >>474125 "Mm. Earthen Hoof… Never heard of it. Badgerfaces? Heard of them. Trust Rocks? Heard of them. Blue Leafs, Firewhistles, Wheat Manes? Definitely heard of them – they used to bother me around here all the time.
"But I've never heard of the Earthen Hooves. So you're both new here AND you're not famous.
"But that's okay. I don't like those haughty types anyways. And the Wheat Manes are SOOO haughty. Might as well be unicorns, if you ask me."
He searches through a pile of bottles and books and herbs before tugging out a ball that appears to be made out of old cloth. He shows it to all of you.
"This is a spirit sack, and it's like a home for spirits I need. I'll tell you what – if you go out into the woods and use the bag to catch some of the spirits I need for my rituals, I'll consider blessing your whosawhatsit."
>>474130 I'll eye the sack a little uncertainly. "If that's what's necessary." >>474131 I'll nod at Cauthon's question. "True, we'll need to know what sort of spirits we're chasing, else we might bring you the wrong ones."
>>474148 "Not very! You just need to be in tune with the natural world and know the right chant. Sometimes they'll speak to you and want a little something in return for helping you. The spirit bag should be enough to get them into the bag, though. They really like the bag, usually."
He digs through his pile and finds a gnarled staff covered in feathers, which are themselves covered with mud.
"If you like, I can show you now. Shouldn't take more than a few minutes."
>>474150 He simply closes all of the sides and wraps the ribbon around the mass of rags.
"You don't need to get it totally right. The spirits don't take up much space."
"I'll show you how to summon a plant spirit. They're usually pretty easy to get BUT THEY NEVER HAVE ANYTHING IMPORTANT TO SAY!"
He screams that last bit and lets the words echo through the woods. His eyes dart back and forth as if he's waiting for someone to respond. His eyes cross again and he sticks out his tongue. He draws a large circle in the dirt before drawing some symbols in the middle of it. He stands inside the circle
The goat stretches a bit before assuming a standing posture, holding the staff in front of him. He bangs the staff on the ground a few times.
He then begins chanting in a strange language. It's not pony, but it's not goatish, either. You make note of the words.
Several greenish lights appear in front of all of you, swirling around. They coalesce around Babka, and he speaks to them in whispers before they depart back into the forest.
"There, that's how you do the plants."
He makes sure that you know the ritual to summon plant spirits before teaching you the ritual for the clay spirits. It's largely the same ceremony, though the symbols inscribed in the circle are different, and the chant uses different gibberish. You're probably ready to summon some spirits.
So this is how I'm going to handle spirits – you roll to contact the spirits by performing the ritual. You can't contact spirits that you don't know the rituals for. Dealing with the spirits once summoned is a whole different matter. And if you want to summon spirits but are not a shaman, another roll will be necessary to make sure you're in the right mindset.
When last we left our brave Earthen Hoofs, you had met Babka, the gassy goat shaman who lives in the woods to the southwest of your clan's territory. He has agreed, it seems, to make the blessed staddle stone your clan needs if you gather some clay spirits for him. He has taught Cold Fortunes how to perform the rituals that will summon clay and plant spirits, but he has also given you spirit dust that can do the trick, as well as a spirit bag to use to collect the spirits.
Babka shoos you all outside of his hut. He points towards the south.
"There are some large clay hills in that direction. Can't miss them. Should be chock full of spirits.
"Isn't too dangerous around here. Watch out for bears and wolves, but they'll leave you alone if you leave them alone and you don't smell too tasty.
"Sometimes your fellow pony clans farther south or west like to come up here and have arguments about which of them owns the woods or the river or what have you. They don't cause much trouble, though.
"In the meantime, I'll get started on your ghost rock."
He makes a show of turning over various stones, looking for the right shape of rock, you guess. He makes soft cat noises while doing so.
You come upon a clearing in the woods – a small meadow surrounding three deep red mounds. There are many markings drawn on the the surrounding trees, as well as what appear to be minor shrines – probably set up by Babka.
It's eerily quiet here, except for the sound of a thrush happily chirping in a nearby tree. Wind rustles the leaves at the tops of the trees, but otherwise the meadow is motionless.
Fortunes, you can start the ritual whenever you are ready.
>>481702 An enormous firey hammer materializes in your hooves. +2 to rolls with it.
>>481697 >>481699 >>481700 "Ah, I see you brought a trickster with you. Bad idea. Tricksters are for entertainment – not for raids."
The voice is cool and even, and the pony who produced it emerges from the woods to the southwest. With him are four other ponies – all earth ponies, all holding spears. All seem to be covered in soot or dirt – you can't tell which.
>>481701 "Oh, that's no way to behave when you're trespassing."
The lead pony grins and gestures at the surrounding forest.
"Let me explain. This is Firewhistle territory. All lands west of the mountain are ours. All lands south of the Firetail river are ours. So you are in our forest, strangers, likely preparing to raid our settlements. We will not let you.
"Come peacefully back to our Ring and we will let them pass judgment on you. Resist, and we will kill most of you and enthrall the rest."
>>481711 "All the lands west of the mountains are yours? Please, we all know the world is round, and that means all the world is technically east of the mountains. There is no such thing as west." Bluff. [1d20]
>>481711 I give an annoyed glare and then put on a fake smile. "We are not here to harm you, we are simply scouting the area. There's no need to lie to these ponies, particularly not silly lies about spirits. Should we arrange an official meeting with your clan leaders later this month?"
>>481711 "Yes. We do. And I'm sure that wherever you hail from you too have civility?" I snort again "Why, all this meeting is doing is convincing me that you are the raiders! Nothing more than a group of common bandits, looking for travelers to mob and rob like the petty thieves you are!"
>>481720 I sigh and step forward. "Let me explain then. We're scouts from the Earthen Hoof Clan. We recently settled in this valley, and didn't know it was your territory." I add with a scoff " Apparently Wheat Manes are untrustworthy."
>>481724 He looks like he's ready to charge you, but he calms himself with a huff and a loud whinny.
>>481721 >>481722 >>481725 "Earthen Hooves…" The leader turns to the pony who spoke about Sunflower and the Blue Leafs. They whisper quietly to one another before the leader turns to speak once more.
"Yes, our scouts saw you arrive in the pass several seasons ago. They said you headed near the mountains. That is our territory, Earthen Hoof ponies. I suggest you tell your leaders that you are living on Firewhistle land, and we do not allow trespassers and squatters."
The leader holds his hoof up in a signal to the rest of his party.
"We will let you return to your village as a sign of mercy. Tell your leaders what happened. Expect our lawspeaker soon."
>>481732 "Yes. The Firewhistle clan has lived in this pass for generations. We claimed the territory along the Firetail river for ourselves before your clan came out of the North – before you were born or your parents were born. You settle on land our ancestors fought for and pried out of Griffin talons. You do not get to just come along and take it for nothing."
You do know, however, that the earth clans that were under the control of the Pegasi back home tended to adopt some Pegasi practices – notably the tradition of taking thralls. Few Earth Pony clans do that unless they were once levies for the warrior Pegasi.
>>481750 "We should be glad they did without spilling blood. We are not equipped to fight a raiding party." I'll shake my head. >>481753 "And you, Ziza! Knowing when and when not to pick a fight is something even the youngest warrior is taught!"
>>481759 I'll just shake my head again. "Still, threatening them after they'd started calming down certainly didn't make the situation any better. Brawn doesn't protect fools." I'll glance briefly at Ziza for the last part.
>>481761 "There is a difference between defending the clan's honor and settling things peaceably. Your insults to the Firewhistles have sullied our honor in their eyes, as it makes us look like a bunch of brutes." >>481763 "There was a small argument with some Firewhistle Clan ponies."
>>481764 "Firewhistle? They haven't been near this section of the river in… at least a year, I'd say. I've talked to them plenty. They're all sticks in the mud. Too much law and order and the god of the dead and such from them. So boring."
He munches on a bundle of leaves absentmindedly.
"The Wheat Manes aren't any better. They think they're just the bees knees, if you know what I mean, which I don't."
>>481765 "Good, good. I've got the stone here. It's just full to the brim with hungry cat spirits. Don't ask me how I got them into the rock. It took some coaxing, but they're in there."
He jumps off of his roof and nudges two rocks – one roughly a hemisphere and the other a short cylinder – towards you.
"Now if I could just have that spirit bag, you can take this and be on your way."
>>481782 You all trek back to the village toting the blessed staddle stone. The villagers are overjoyed to see the new treasure, and the carpenters immediately place it underneath the largest of the granaries. Foals duck underneath the building to try to put their ears up against the stone – some say they can hear cats purring.
Chief Thornshaker is pleased with the results (though not excited by the prospect of a smelly goat shaman soon visiting the village for hospitality), but he is worried by your story about the Firewhistles.
"They claim an absurd amount of land. Nopony was using this land when we arrived. Nopony defended this land from our claim. To come to us after we have sown our fields and just as we are about to harvest them – they have no claim!" He's obviously upset, but he doesn't appear to be worried.
"They won't fight us over a stretch of land so far from their homes, I'm sure."
Paused. If you want to interact with the village or something, I'll stick around for a bit.
Your clan's first harvest in this new land has been a frantic time – a headlong rush to get the year's final crop in before the coming winter covers the fields in ice. Everypony – including the clan's nobles – have helped somehow, whether by hauling grain, mending carts, praying for blessings from Brawn and Heartpetal, or organizing the work.
It has been an exhausting effort, but the harvest is almost completed, and the attention of the Earthen Hoof ring now turns to making plans for the coming winter.
Chief Thornshaker has called the ring to a meeting in the clan hall. Bits of treasure and relics still line the great room's walls, but it doesn't have quite the luster it did a few months ago: time spent dusting ancient trophies and polishing armor is time taken from harvest work, after all.
"The way I see it," Thornshaker says, "we've got two big problems: First, the Firewhistles are going to send that envoy sometime in the next year, and we need to convince them to leave us alone. Second, we should probably plan for a feast at the start of winter."
>>487185 "If we turned the feast into a festival we could recruit traveling warriors and convince them to join our clan. That would help solve the Firewheel problem. In fact, we can invite our neighbors, too."
>>487185 >>487186 I'll nod. "A festival celebrating our first harvest, and welcoming the Firewhistle lawspeaker, might earn us some good will in the eyes of the neighboring clans. Inviting the Blue Leaves wouldn't be a bad idea."
>>487188 "No, a feast shouldn't require a great deal, but perhaps we should make this special. The end of the harvest is the most important part of the year, and a new harvest in a new land should be celebrated in the right way!"
"I agree, though – they are making claims that are completely ridiculous. But they are strong. And we have to respect that."
>>487186 >>487188 Thornshaker rubs his chin. "Yes… that does sound like a good idea."
>>487192 "Should we begin drafting the invitations and asking for volunteers for passing along the messages?" >>487193 I'll tap the table lightly. "We need to at least pretend. We can't afford a blood feud this early in our hold's life."
>>487199 >>487197 "Well, why don't we invite ourselves over then? It'd be like some of those animals that puff themselves up to be scarier than they really are, and If they aren't as big as they say they are, they'd probably play nice and have a festival with us too."
>>487202 I'll nod. "Something like that. Other things can be log tossing, pulling a plow the fastest, hoofraces. And the finishing event will be a small tournament." >>487203 "We could at least send them a message about the festival. They can bring a hooffull of their ponies to participate in the games, and they can see what we Earthen Hooves are made of."
>>487206 "After making sure we don't starve, our most important job as members of the Ring is to make sure that the clan keeps going, shaman. Remember that."
>>487207 "That's a good point. But would they attack even a messenger under a flag of peace? I hope not, though I have heard that some clans that were once bonded to the Pegasi are ruthless and cold-hearted."
>>487207 "Well, I could deliver the message. They might have some respect for one who follows Nightstar." >>487209 "That is a question. Do we have anything worth enough to be a prize? That armor we found, perhaps? Maybe some of those herbs…" >>487210 "More like we'd be taking them into our clan, and making them stronger for it."
>>487215 "We'd invite them, along with their lawspeaker, then they will be under the flag of peace, and the unspoken laws of hospitality. They won't be able to misbehave." >>487217 I'll smile a little. "I would not be missed. My books have everything I know, and my tools are all there as well."
>>487218 "Loam.. we may not always see eye to eye.. but you should not put yourself in needless danger. That doesn't help anyone." >>487220 Shake my head "They already tried it when we met them for the first time. If you two go, then what stops them from actually doing it."
>>487221 "This is hardly needless. And if they do come, with a small number of their best, and we beat them soundly in our tournament and the games, then they will be forced to respect us." >>487222 "Only if you're a follower of the Trickster, Cauthon. With the other clans we'll have invited, any misbehavior on their part would lower them in the eyes of their neighbors."
>>487223 "Unless they have a Trickster too. Trickster shadow wars are great fun, but we shouldn't get involve in any until we've been here…" I scratch at the floor a few times with my hoof. "…Three years and five seasons."
Thornshaker takes a moment to adjust the yoke on his neck.
>>487226 "We can send out messengers to the other pony clans in the area. The Blue Leaves, certainly, but also the Wheat Manes to the south. There are a few others who are close enough that they may come."
>>487230 Thornshaker laughs a long, rolling belly laugh.
>>487234 "Fortunately, we left most of those we owed favors to behind in the old country. And our Tree Shaker enemies are reportedly many miles away to the northwest. We have a pretty clean slate here, though we should make better friends of the Blue Leafs."
>>487250 "I would suggest a message being sent, if only out of courtesy. And it would give them a chance to see that, though their lawspeaker will find us wronged with their accusation, we can be gracious."
>>487254 "Right. We'd be coming up to them in a peaceful manner, dressed appropriately. It's usually very impolite to harm a messenger." I'll think a moment. "We'd probably have more to worry from bandits than we will the Firewhistles."
>>487264 "No, I don't think that would be smart." >>487265 "Say the Firewhistles come to our festival, and not just their lawspeaker. They bring a few of their best. Let's say our clan beats them in the games. They would be forced to have at least some respect for us, wouldn't they? And with the other clans there, we can't be accused of it being a set-up."
>>487271 "The Firewhistles might have more respect for a follower of Nightstar. Since Sunflower of the Blue Leaf clan went there to learn about Nightstar, they probably have a shrine, which means that Nightstar will not enjoy the senseless death of a follower." I'll rub my chin. "That's no guarantee, of course, but it's better than sending someone else who wouldn't have that small amount of protection. And I am the only follower of Nightstar in our clan."
>>487271 "I would rather we simply send a messenger, but there is value in sending a member of the Ring.
"But it would be unwise to send a leader to a potential enemy without some measure of protection."
>>487272 "If you wish to take up this mission, I don't think we'll be able to stop you. But let somepony else go with you if they wish."
He looks at the rest of you.
"Who else is going? Keep in mind that the last time you all met with the Firewhistles, they interpreted it as a raiding party. It might be best to send only a few. And perhaps the warriors would be best to stay at home…"
>>487280 "A rattlesnake? Act out the only way they know, and then react to what we do. If we had cowed away, they might have just sent their warriors and taken everyone. Since we stood up to them, they might be sizing us up and we have to make ourselves known that we can't be scared away."
>>487280 "But they will abide by the practices of hospitality, or they'll just be a big group of brutes that the other clans won't trade with." >>487283 I'll shake my head. "We can't risk the entire ring. We need some to stay here and help prepare for the festival. If just one of us is a fat target, then all of us would be something they wouldn't be able to resist."
>>487283 I sigh. "That assumes that they're being entirely honest in telling us they're just sending their lawspeaker, and he won't be accompanied by ponies who wish to create a hard time for our clan."
>>487284 "…And sending an lowly guarded member of the Ring will do the exact opposite of that."
>>487287 "We'd stop at the other clans first and tell them our plans. If they did anything like trying to take us, the other clans would get mad and it could cause them more problems than just ruining one festival."