Najla

Najla, meaning “Of Wide Eyes”. Bugbear, druid, and Talib’s little sister. She was once a human girl in Garavel’s mercenary band; young, shy, reclusive and a bit weird. She spoke with animals and gave them names, and they understood her. She was a child of the desert, knew the lay of the land, and was hired as a guide. Her jobs were of water finding in the desert, preventing food from becoming foul, mending equipment, weapons and armour, healing, animal training and handler.

Even when Najla was human she was no glamour girl. Her hands were always dirty and her hair was never preened but rather tied back and out of the way. She wore (and still wears) the same cracked, hand-me-down leather armour, donned a rickety wooden shield, and kept a worn but functional looking scimitar about her person. The stale, husky smell of dry meat and wet animal fur was noticeable even then, despite being drowned out completely by the veritable stench the camel she rode. The camel in question is Jemaal, a scrawny, poorly trained, ill tempered old beast (meaning uh… “Camel”, but also “Handsome”) which she bought from a unscrupulous camel-wrestling merchant in Katapesh. Despite its foul temperament, Najla was (and still is) the only person who can approach Jemaal without receiving a sticky wad of reeking camel phlegm in the face.

Najla had arrived in Kelmerane as a budding druid out to “stare the lion in the eyes”. She was hired into Garavel’s mercenary band as a guide. Their mercenary band successfully retook Kelmerane from the occupying Gnolls, cleared out the marketplace and restored it as a centre for trade. Her honorary title of Knight Protector of Kelmeraine did little to distract her from her druidic studies however, and shortly thereafter she took her leave to wander the deserts and complete her initiate walkabout for the better part of a year. She returned from a year’s solace a changed person, perhaps better connected to her natural surroundings but also distanced from human civilisation. Her devoted lioness Sahir, whom she had raised from a cub and had rarely left her side, was gone. But in Sahir’s place was a gigantic vulture, tall as a man and heavy as a horse. The giant vulture eggs Najla rescued seem not to have been sold after all. His name is Altair.

It was a fateful day which left Najla’s frail body bludgeoned to death by a shield guardian executing the final orders of its late owner. Despite a valiant effort, all was in vain, and Najla was left lifeless and broken as the shield guardian returned to its station, mission accomplished. Was it coincidence that Hashanda, Najla’s tutor and friend, should find the party in the wilderness as they carried her corpse towards civilisation? Certainly not. Hashanda performed a long ceremony in a secluded glade in the forest and called upon the nature spirits to form a new body for Najla. This was done, but to the horror of the party it was not a sixteen year old girl’s body which formed before their eyes, but rather a thing of nightmares. It had a hairy, heavily muscled hulking torso, a square jutting jaw with long protruding canines, and a furrowed neanderthal looking brow and sunken eye sockets. The face however was reminiscent of Najla’s former self; a mockery of the innocence which once held those features. Even Hashanda expressed surprise. It was a bugbear which pulled in its first breath on the bed of sticks and leaves, and yet also Najla. Forever changed, but still the same.

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