Date: Lunduna, 14th Dar 798 PL (Mid-afternoon)
Location: Lost in the deserts of Farid, somewhere south of Yhakkoth.
Omar was left standing with his tail between his legs when the giant stalked off with the others. He wasn’t pleased to be left behind, he’d made that clear, but he wasn’t going to press the issue with Gro-Malakh.
“Jendai, is it?” Omar eyed up the big lycanfey. “As big as you are, you look ready to drop. Round up the food and piss-water supplies, whatever they left for us. Keep a close eye on it, before it disappears into this hungry lot, but get yourself off your feet. I’ll organize the rabble into building some shelter.”
Jendai’s head slowly swiveled toward Omar, ear’s twitching. He nodded, “I will do my best.”
Under Omar’s direction, lean-to’s were hastily erected providing at least some shade for the chattel. Gro-Malakh had left only enough food and water – with nothing to spare. Jendai had the harder task at keeping the thirsty and starving slaves from eating and drinking everything at once.
The day passed agonizingly slowly. The sun, relentlessly beating down, but eventually the day passed into evening and the slaves prepared a fire to keep warm and passed around parcels of peryton meat and a handful of tubers.
“There’s someone out there.” One of the younger slaves whispered loudly, running back into the light of their campfire. “I went out there to take a piss and I heard voices in the dark. Hushing to each other and sneaking about us!”
“Were they armed?" Jendai asked. "Tell me where, please.”
“I couldn’t tell.” The boy answered. “I didn’t see no-one. But I heard ‘em. Someone said “Hush yourself!” I reckon they’d heard me, or seen me! But they was to the south, following our footprints in the sand, I’ll bet!”
Without another word Jendai left the camp, headed south and disappearing into the darkness of the night utterly. Selar rose quickly, despite the ever-present throb in his head, and followed the lycanfey’s lead circling south and east into the darkness beyond the camp as silently as he had once crept through the alleys of Banu.
They were not difficult to find, two troglodytes armed with crossbows, spears and shields and a fat sibeccai in the fanciest silken merchant’s garb. They were even less difficult to identify, a lowly merchant of House Summonel and two of his bodyguards. They must have fled into the desert and escaped the scorpus’ ambush, only to return after the battle had been lost. And now, here they were, crouching in the darkness.
Jendai was able to approach them almost directly, under the cover of invisibility. He crept as close as he dared, while Selar also sneaked past them, unseen and unheard, and around to their rear.
“They look real cosy don’t they?” The merchant snarled beneath his breath. “Real pleased with themselves. Can you smell that meat?”
“They’re armed, Great One.” The first troglodyte spoke, his voice held no accent but that of Banu, suggesting he’d been reared as a slave in captivity.
“Armed. But weak.” The other said.
“They are chattel.” The merchant said. “They belong to House Summonel and I mean to reclaim them as such. Ready yourselves.”
“Not tonight you fat piece of crap!” Selar screamed with all fervor, leaping from the darkness and lunging with his spined spear. The spear sprouted from the merchant’s ample stomach, it came out harder than it went in; the jagged barbs ripping and tearing at the man’s guts. The slaver was dead before he knew what had hit him.
Neither did the troglodyte see what hit him, suddenly a hulking great wererhino appeared – and a huge grey fist slammed into his head knocking the troglodyte sideways and rattling the teeth in his skull. Jendai did not pause striking again and again until the guardsmen fell, unmoving.
Selar quickly pointed his spear at the other troglodyte, “Drop your weapon lest you meet the same fate."
“I would do as my friend suggests, troglodyte. We are free beings now and will fight to remain so." Jendai’s stance relaxed only slightly. "Selar, we should take him back with us. He may have information.”
Selar’s mind was racing with the thought of having just killed someone. Adrenaline pumped through his whole body. He could feel his palms throb with every heartbeat, clutching the spear. It wasn’t that he didn’t like, or that he regretted, what he had just done. To the contrary. There was some sense of accomplishment in the taking of this ones life. It was just that he had never killed before.
Selar felt empowered, his bloody spear dripping with gore as he stood there shouting. Threatening to take a second life. It worked. The troglodyte dropped his spear and his crossbow and staggered backwards away from the menacing pair.
“Don’t! Don’t!” He pleaded.
Behind them, in the camp, Omar had strapped on his shield and bared his blade and his teeth. “Douse that fire,” he snapped at the boy who’d brought the news. “Everybody gather about, and prepare yourselves. Quietly!”
Omar had grinned, excitedly, at the sound of Selar’s battlecry and the screams of the dying. When the pleading started, Omar stood up and peered into the darkness, but he couldn’t see anything.
“I am feeling generous. I will spare your worthless life.” Selar said to the troglodyte. “Tell me everything. What brought you here? Were you on some kind of mission? Do you have a camp nearby? Are there more of you?”
“We were following your trail. We have no water. No supplies.” The troglodyte answered, scared but defiant. “We fled into the desert when the scorpus attacked. When we thought it was safe enough we returned to the caravan, but it had already been stripped. We found your trail. That’s all, I swear to it. I am a slave too, a ghilman. I have no love for this bully.”
Jendai watched him warily while Selar quickly searched the bodies. The merchant’s fine silken robes were ruined by blood and gore but he was heavily laden with jewelry: rings, bracelets, a medallion, an elaborate silver belt buckle – even his curved dagger was a thing of cruel beauty. The troglodytes each had a crossbow, a spear and a shield, as well as sturdy desert garb – albeit emblazoned with the sigil of Merchant House Summonel.
“Selar! Jendai!” Omar shouted through the darkness.
“We are well!” Jendai answered, binding the prisoners’ wrists with blood-stained silken strips. “On our way back.”
Omar could hear the interrogation, but not well enough to follow the conversation. Instead he barked back, “Very good! You bring that stinking lizard back here – I’ll watch him.”
Omar began rummaging through the scavenged supplies looking for a suitable length of rope to use as a restraint, and some lengths of wood. Muttering to himself, “We’ll see how they like it, now the glove is on another fist.”
The troglodyte fell silent as he was marched back across the sands toward the lean-to where Omar waited with the rest of the chattel. His tail switched back and forth, agitated, as the gaze of the escaped slaves fell upon their former guard. But he said nothing, he met their stares evenly.
“I remember this bastard!” Omar snarled and grabbed the ghilman by the arm, manhandling him roughly toward the posts he’d driven into the ground. “I’d never forget that stench.”
Omar was about to push the captive to the ground and bind him when a bright light suddenly lit the night sky. It burned a glittering trail across the heavens, bathing the desert in a pale luminescence for long moments before it vanished, completely, into darkness. Omar’s iron grip on the troglodyte went limp as the bright light burned it’s path across the sky. His eyes were wide in amazement, his prisoner was forgotten, and likewise spellbound. “Oh Goddess!”
Jendai was fascinated, he had heard of such things, of omens and portents both arcane and divine. But what could this mean? When the light vanished Omar remained staring at the heavens, slack-jawed, and for once silent – scowling. The chattel were frightened, some were on their knees, prostrate and lost in prayer, others stood staring in disbelief or arguing and shouting with one another.
“Omar, please secure the prisoner.” Jendai said. " What could this mean? An omen? A guide? We are lost here. Perhaps we should follow it and see where it is leading us.”
Omar pushed the prisoner – more absentmindedly than aggressively to the ground and tied him, wrists and ankles to the posts he’d prepared. The lizardman did not resist, but he glared at Omar defiantly nonetheless. The young barbarian had planned to take more pleasure from this task – but he was a simple and superstitious sibeccai and that sight in the sky had unnerved him.
“Do you know what that was?” Omar finally found his tongue and asked Jendai.
Jendai bowed his head and chanted a soft mantra before he replied, “A bad omen, I’m afraid. I have seen prophetic scrolls regarding shooting stars such as this. I have read, ‘This Age is ending. The songs of the mosque shall be howlings, and there shall be many dead bodies. And on that day I will cause the stars to fall. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation.’ We should remain vigilant until the others return. If they have found shelter or a safer route we should take advantage of it.”
Omar hunkered down beside the prisoner, and considered the lycanfey’s words.
“How do you reckon the others made out?” He asked, “I shoulda went with them. They’re probably all swimming sky-clad by now in yon river and laughing at us. I reckon you’re right big fella, I don’t reckon I’ll be asleep much, so I’ll keep watch tonight. If they haven’t returned by sunrise we’ll go after them and see why.”
Above them, the stars shone as brightly as they ever had above the desert. The group began to huddle closer to one another as the cold of the night drew in, but very few of the chattel were able to gain much sleep. Despite the grueling hike under the sun, their exhaustion and their blisters, Jendai’s words had confirmed everyone’s worst fears that evil omens were being written in the skies above them – and their fate had been dire enough to begin with.
Date: Mother’s Day, 15th Dar 798 PL (Dawn)
Location: Lost in the deserts of Farid, somewhere south of Yhakkoth.
Omar was up before the sun, he always was, he felt calmer while the desert was cooler – his temper rose with the blaring sun, especially here, he thought, looking towards the mountains of home. While the chattel still slept Omar padded softly among them – how many were they? What were there names? He had not even bothered to learn, most of them didn’t have the balls big enough to survive out here – which was likely why the meek little bastards had been taken as slaves in the first place.
Omar rummaged through the equipment they had salvaged, taking stock of their meager possessions and dwindling food._ I’d better snag a bite for breakfast,_ he thought chewing on some demon-stag-jerky, lots of hiking today. After he’d eaten, Omar roughly kicked the prisoner awake and then went to relieve himself while the others woke up.
“Good morn, brother.” Omar clapped Jendai on the back. “We’d better get this rabble organized. We should be on the move as soon as possible, I expect we’ll meet the others coming towards us – good and rested from their night in paradise. I’ll serve out the grub – Goddess knows we’ve got little enough left – but I’ll make sure everyone gets a fair share.”
Jendai nodded, “A good idea. It is possible the others might need our aid. I will make my way through the refugees and organize them into two columns. Once we reach civilization we can request refuge. I think it would be wise for you to stay near the prisoner while we travel.”
“I’ll keep a close eye on our lizard friend. He’s still got nothing to say, but plenty of grit. He’ll eat last.”
Jendai organized everyone into their columns, their few salvaged possessions were held by the fittest among them. Omar stood at the head of the columns, distributing a morsel of jerky and a few swallows of what passed for water to each of the exhausted escapees as they passed him by.
Omar joined the rear of the column, tugging along his prisoner, still fastened to the rope. The troglodyte followed obediently as the chattel once more made their way across the deserts of Farid.