From inside the moon sized Budong the heroes had irritated the monstrosity enough for it to convulsively spit them out into the Astral void. But the superfluous flotsam expelled by the creature was astronomical – creating a dense, mile upon mile wide field of drifting stone, fragments of shattered ships, and sundry quantities of gelatinous organic castings. And while Drengy, Lengara, Tin, and their prisoner Rayniere McWands had ridden the wild expulsion inside McWand’s reinforced jail cell, Feral had been separated and flung free into the maelstrom. Lost to the astral sea.
When Feral came to he was drifting aimlessly amongst the errant debris. In every direction Feral saw a nearly uniform field of bobbing, twisting detritus. Had he been in the natural world his instincts and senses might have helped him track his friends, but the Astral Plane lacked wind to carry scent, a single sun to relay time, or even objective gravity to determine which way was “down.” Rather than pick a random direction and end up further lost and far from his friends, Feral worked his way to a nearby section of a splintered ship to try and figure a way out of this mess.
The refuge he found was a partial chamber from the ruined Saerenclaw ship. This island of wood offered no food or water or shelter, and had but one intact fixture. Rising up from the planked floor was a wooden altar carved to appear like a pyramidal pile of assorted slain cloven, horned, and feathered beasts. It was an idolized representation of a successful hunt – and an unmistakable altar to Malar, god of the savage hunt.
Feral took a seat along the broken edge of the drifting chamber farthest from the altar, fruitlessly scanned the distant scene for signs of his friends, and reflected on what he and his allies would need to survive and continue their quest to save the world from Athola’s threat.
“I’ve done crazier things, right?” Feral muttered, trying to convince himself as he pulled from his pack the Malar holy symbol and book on Malar teachings which he had been studying. Feral had an unspoken mantra he learned from his great were-stag aunt: ‘Desperate times call for reckless measures.’ It guiding him in his vendetta against the Malar worshiping Cult of Saerenclaws and during the party’s quest to stop Athola’s world ending scheme. He stood and turned to face the Malar altar, and in the Primoridial language of the uncivilized Chult jungles began reciting the ceremonial Malar prayer normally reserved for the Cult of Saerenclaw’s alpha to start Malar’s greatest sacrament: the High Hunt.
The last word had barely left Feral’s mouth when everything but the wooden floor and altar vanished in a darkness that moved like a speeding fog. An impossible silence arrived bringing with it an unmistakable sense of dread and power. Almost imperceptibly Feral could sense the outline of a great predatory beast hunched atop the wooden altar, still concealed by darkness but for two saucer sized pupils that reflected a silvery red light back to the shifter. The unblinking eyes lowered and scowled.
“There is a campaign being waged to save the universe.” Feral spoke. “If this war is to be won, my team needs divine power to win this yet unnamed saga. For the sake of both the living and the celestial, grant me the divine powers of your pack leader so the gods like you may still survive.”
“MALAR HAS ALREADY BAPTIZED YOU IN THE WARDEN FONT OF LIFE AND GIVEN YOU THE CALL TO SAVAGERY, YET YOU RESIST MY GRANT WITH BLASPHEMOUS RESTRAINT,” growled Malar, The Beastlord. “YOU SQUANDER YOUR GIFTS AND YET DARE CHALLENGE THE PLACE OF MY HIGH CULT OF SAERENCLAWS?"
The darkness incrementally fled from the Malar avatar as he spoke, revealing a hulking furred form, covered with fresh wet blood, with the head and jaws of a giant wolf with the fangs and clawed forelimbs of a great cat. The god of wild marauding beasts leaned forward and shifted its weight from foot to foot.
“I’ve studied your holy works,” Feral stuttered, holding up the book of Malar’s teachings as if to drive home the point. “The Cult of Saerenclaws has meddled in affairs it doesn’t understand and turned its back on your gospel with lopsided, unfair hunts that make…”
“TESTAMENTS ARE FOR MEWLINGS THAT HIDE BEHIND WOOD AND STONE," roared Malar, the book in Feral’s hand decayed into molding ruin. “MALAR’S COMMANDMENT NEEDS NO RECORD TO BE TRUE: THOSE WHO HUNT AND SUCCEED LIVE, THOSE THAT FAIL DIE.”
For a fraction of a second Feral glanced down at the rotting pulp in his hand. When he looked up, Malar was just feet away. And whether a trick of perspective or an attribute of divine whim, Malar had grown to double his former size. The god of malevolent shape-shifters and berserk slayers towered over the shifter, hot breath from flaring nostrils, sharp claws flexing with anticipation.
Daring not to blink or turn away, Feral stared back at the personification of wild predation. He chose his next words as deliberately as any man fearful that his speech may be his last.
“Your Cult is sick. It has turned to the infection of eternal undeath rather than live or die on the success of the hunt. The Saerenclaws were once the embodiment of savage survival of the fittest, of the life and death cycle of predator and prey. It has turned those words into a lie where death and the hunt have no consequence for the hunter. And if the sin of vampirism is not enough, I stand before you as the ultimate proof of the Cult of Saerenclaw’s sins: I live despite having been prey of two consecutive High Hunts. Make me your divine hunter to wean your pack and save the world. Your Cult may end decimated, but it will recover when other sects loyal to your teachings take up the mantle. Do this if your single Commandment is to ever have meaning again. Or kill me, and let perpetuate the disgrace that the Cult of Saerenclaws has come to represent.”
Growling with such a tenor that Feral could feel it more than hear it, Malar leaned his head down so his long toothy maw ran along the entire height of the standing Feral.
“KNOW THIS FERAL OF CHULT. MALAR PROVIDES HIS HERALDS WITH NO CODDLING. AND THE BLESSING UPON MALAR’S APOSTLE IS NO GIFT. IT IS A CRUCIBLE. ONE THAT WILL NOT LEAVE YOU UNSCARRED."
Before Feral could respond he was snapped bodily into the Beastlord’s jaws. Malar’s fangs sank deep into the shifter as the god of the savage lycanthropy shook him like a rag doll. Along with the blood flowing from his wounds Feral felt his Warden strength and connection to the primal font of life drain away, leaving only rage and a desire to fight against Malar, against any opponent. Then with a whip of Malar’s head Feral was thrown to careen head over heels into the suddenly reappeared Astral sky.
Limbs distending into claws as the affliction of lycanthropy coursed through Feral’s body, Feral struggled to speak.
“SAVE YOUR WORDS, MALAR’S TENANTS LIVE AND SPREAD ONLY IN ACTION,” gloated Malar as he faded from sight even as his booming growl seemed to originate all around Feral. “NOW GO FERAL, CLERIC OF MALAR, AND PREACH MY TEACHINGS THROUGH EVERY ACT OF YOUR SAVAGE HUNT.”