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Chattel. Chapter Two

Tales of the Desert

Date: Lunduna, 14th Dar 798 PL (Dawn)
Location: A few miles from the western banks of the Ka’al River, north of Banu

The escaped slaves hunkered down under the cold desert night. The sand dunes that separated them from the raiders could not conceal the glow of the fires as the slave wagons burned, nor the wild celebrations of the victorious scorpus and their fey allies.

The slaves huddled together in a steep sided sandy ravine, with nothing but starlight to see by, and nothing but filthy rags and one another to keep them warm. They kept a careful watch upon the dune behind them, expecting at any moment to see the silhouette of a half-man, half-scorpion outlined against the night sky.

They had escaped without suffering battle injuries, but there were still those who were hurt. Meloria had slipped descending the steep sand dune and badly twisted an ankle; a young sibeccai boy, barely a teen, had stepped upon a fallen blade and sliced open his foot; and many of the women, had been so badly mistreated that they carried wounds that were visible only within their eyes. Grannoch, the foreign gnome, moved quietly among them. He paused here and there to daub a faint rune upon the cheeks of a few; with nothing but spittle and his stubby finger, Grannoch painted the rune upon their filthy skin or within their fur, as the case may be, and in doing so, he brought relief. Those he marked were able to rest and heal, despite the harsh conditions of the freezing night.

Yet, as skilled as the Summanian was, the group was too large for one runethane and it was a restless night for the others. Thyana couldn’t sleep at all. This was the first night in weeks that she wasn’t restrained; and the first night in months that she had recovered some semblance of her dignity, but freedom was far still, and it was difficult to find comfort when you lacked your liberty.

After some time, the giant Gro-Malakh returned having found some little water. It wasn’t much, but the giant knew what he was looking for, and at a bend in the wadi, that would see little enough light even in the noonday sun, Gro-Malakh broke the crusted surface to reveal dark, muddy water beneath. The slaves had nothing to transport the water in, but there was precious little of it anyway. Gro-Malakh scooped a massive handful of the filthy water into his mouth, marveling at how such a treasure in the desert could taste so fine. This water would not last long among the group, though, the most valuable members of the group must drink first, Gro-Malakh realized, scooping more of the warm water into his mouth.

And they must have but one hand-full each, I will see to it, he thought.

In the hours before dawn, the noise of the celebrations abruptly ceased. Horns were sounded, blasting commands, and as quickly as they had appeared out of the night, the noise of the barbarian horde began to dwindle away in the direction of the rising sun, and directly away from the hidden slaves.

“Looks like they left.” Thyana said, climbing the dune. "Could be a good moment to try and recover some equipment.”

“Agreed,” said Gro-Malakh. “I will take the point, little ones behind me.”

“I think it is a good idea to check out the caravan and whats left of it.” Selar said. “But instead of us all marching down there, perhaps it would be best to send scouts first. What do you think my friend?”

Grannoch nodded quietly, but the giant was less agreeable.

“We don’t have the luxury of time, little one." His Thalian accent as broad as ever. "If we are to survive we will need water, food, and shelter. They must be found before the sun rises. I am going, those who want to live may follow me.”

“The giant is right," Thyana said. "We best do this quickly.”

Gro-Malakh strode up the dune quickly allowing for no further argument or discussion. Thyana and a handful of the others followed in his wake, they soon reached the crest and descended back toward the burned caravan that had been their home and prison for too many weeks. It was now nothing but a wreck.

The barbarians had burned the merchants and their troglodytes in several still-smoldering funeral pyres; and they had butchered the massive desert turtles that had once pulled the caravans for their sweet meat. They left behind nothing but gory shells and blood-stained sand, most of the merchants possessions had been casually tossed onto the pyres with their corpses. Whatever the barbarian’s purpose had been, it had not been theft; nothing had been looted. Nothing except their food and water, Gro-Malakh noted as every corpse he examined was missing it’s water skin.

The wagons themselves had been burned. Two of the wagons had been utterly gutted and little remained but ashes and blackened timbers. The third was heavily fire-damaged and unlikely to ever move again but it remained more or less an intact shell. The slaves wound their way amongst the detritus, scavenging what they could; few of the slaves were dressed in more than rags which was woefully inadequate protection from the sun.

“Pile clothing and unburnt wood into one stack," Gro-Malakh said. "Pile weapons into a second, and anything that could be considered food or water into a third. Bodies that are not too charred are considered food, in case you were unsure.”

“You are right to counsel speed, brother.” Omar said, as he moved to follow the giant’s command. “We’ll need to turn these sheep into jackals if they hope to survive the desert.”

Grannoch searched the wreckage desperately for any sort of clue – some documents, some familiar personal effects – anything that might shed some light on where his friends and his cousin could have been taken, hoping above all that they were not among the dozens of corpses left at the scene of the battle. It was an awful task to search among those who had suffocated within the slave hold – one that Grannoch may recall in his nightmares for some time, but there was no sign of them. In an office within the smoldering slave wagon, Grannoch found what he was looking for…

“I need clothing for the desert sun and a pair of blades that I’m trained with,” Thyana said, as she wrestled an unburnt wagon wheel onto the first stack. “A backpack would be nice too.”

The first stack had grown considerably. The slaves had found spare clothing aplenty within the remaining wagon. Some of it was charred and it all smelled terribly of smoke, but it would suffice. There was plenty of wood and debris too, the scorpus had used much for their funeral pyres but the wagons had been large.

The weapons pile consisted of three heavy shields, each emblazoned with the family crest of Merchant House Summonel, twenty or more assorted daggers and knives, a dozen halfspears, thirteen spears, two axes, a shortsword and a scimitar.

The third pile – well, there wasn’t a third pile. The barbarians had been thorough in stripping the merchant caravan of every morsel of food and every water skin they could find (except they hadn’t been quite as thorough as they thought, Gro-Malakh had managed to find a few empty water sacks hidden away at the back of a closet in the same office where Grannoch had found the chest he’d dragged back out into the sun).

And, perhaps thankfully, there were simply no bodies remaining that could be considered fit for consumption. The merchants and their guards had been roasting away on the funeral pyres since early last night, and their mounts and turtles had been thoroughly butchered for their meat.

“Look, the little man has found some decent firewood.” Omar said when he saw Grannnoch carrying the chest.

“How long do you think those fools plan to stay up there?” Omar asked Gro-Malakh, pointing toward Selar and the others still stood upon the dune. “Do they really think there is anything to see from up there, or are they just too work-shy to lend their hands?"


Selar, Meloria and the rest of the group had followed behind at a more cautious pace, maintaining a higher elevation and a greater visibility over the entire caravan site. Selar continued to caution vigilance, searching for any movement, any sign that something might be amiss. But it was clear that the barbarians had left, and nothing remained alive behind them. They held their position upon the ridge of the sand dune keeping a vigilant watch over those below.

“Those poor souls,” Meloria hung her head and cried. The others did not need to ask who she meant, not the damned merchants certainly. While they had been fortunate enough to escape their shackles when the barbarians attacked, the slaves in the other two wagons had not been – they had burned or suffocated to death in a hellish ending that none of them wanted to imagine.

Below them, the giant Gro-Malakh was directing the slaves about the wreckage; salvaging what could be used, stacking it into piles and taking inventory. Survival in the deep desert was no small matter.

“What is that?” The young slave (whose foot was as good as new, thanks to Grannoch’s rune) was pointing northwards, away from the caravan below them.

In the dim light of the pre-dawn, it looked at first like a comet streaking towards them. The slaves turned, as one, their eyes skyward as the object careened out of the northern sky towards them at a terrifying speed.

It was an airship – and a mighty big one by the looks of it. It came out of the north toward them, recklessly climbing hundreds of feet, at a dangerously steep angle. Two, or perhaps three, terrible creatures attacked the airship in mid-flight but it was difficult to make out any details beyond the glimpse of a black feathered wing, vicious antlers and cloven hooves – the airship, itself was wreathed in a cloud of fog that clung to its deck obscuring everything.

“The pirates!” Meloria screamed. “By the Goddess!! Not again!”

Selar, Meloria and the others scattered across the sand dune, none of them wished to be an easy meal for those winged creatures – but there was no cover available on the dune, the only cover to be had was within the wrecked camp. The slaves began to slip and slide their way down the sands in a panic.

Above them the airship had ceased climbing, and was plummeting downward toward the wrecked caravans. The airship was huge – larger by three times, the biggest air vessels any of the slaves had ever seen. It was powered by a flaming ring-shaped elemental that roared fiercely about its decks, trailing pennons of fire that disappeared into the thick banks of fog that still concealed the upper decks.

Down, down and down the airship came, until at the last possible moment the fire elemental gave one terrific roar and the ship righted itself and climbed again at an impossibly dangerous incline.

But, in doing so, it had shaken loose it’s attackers. Two fearsome creatures – part stag, part eagle, part jackal – had fallen and crashed into the sands, some one hundred feet, behind the caravans.

“Fresh Meat!” Gro-Malakh exclaimed. The giant flexed his muscles and shifted his grip upon his greataxe; his eyes closed, his brow furrowed and darkened into an angry scowl that became progressively more fierce.

“Maybe it should be best to not go looking for more trouble?” Thyana said, but it wasn’t clear the giant had even heard her. He hefted his greataxe once more and began to stride purposefully up the dune and towards the fallen beasts.

“Brother!” Omar called after Gro-Malakh, but didn’t immediately give chase. “We should listen to the woman – did you see the size of those beasts?”

Gro-Malakh reached the height of the sand dune just as Selar, Meloria and the others came rushing into the camp. From his vantage the giant was the last to see the airship as it rapidly dwindled into a dot upon the western horizon, but it was not the incredible ship that held his attention.

Just below the giant, down a steep and rocky incline were the three beasts. A mated pair and their offspring, these savagely bizarre monsters were like nothing Gro-Malakh had seen before. They were massive black stags with the hindquarters and wings of a desert vulture; their heads were disturbingly sibeccai-like, their jaws frothed with blood and carrion hung like gory pennants from their antlers.

The defenders of the airship had done their work well, and these monsters were wounded both from the crash to the sands and from the battle above. As Gro-Malakh reached the crest of the ridge-line the youngest regained it’s feet and looked his way with eyes that burned with hunger. The youngest, which was still the size of mature calf, snarled fiercely and stamped it’s hooves upon the rocky ground.

The adults’ heads snapped around at the sound and their eyes, too, locked upon the giant that had emerged some thirty feet above them on the rocky bluff. The female cried out in a voice that sounded intelligent, “Az that! Azat azathoth qhor horis!” and launched into the air on massive wings, feathers beating and lifting it aloft rapidly. The female flew up and over Gro-Malakh, far beyond even his reach, and turned it’s attention upon the group of slaves behind the giant, among the ruined caravan.

The male answered it’s mate with a cry of it’s own “Ghibraavos! Az that!” and launched it’s 400 pound bulk through the air at Gro-Malakh. The giant was ready for the charge but still the wicked antlers caught him in the kidneys and pierced deeply. Gro-Malakh was driven backwards, and forced to fight just to maintain his feet as the male landed before him, rearing upwards on hind legs.

Behind them, Meloria tried to marshal the cowering slaves toward the piles of scavenged goods, “We cannot stay here. Quickly now, as much as you can carry! We must flee!”

Fear and desperation both dwindled in the face of Grannoch’s curiosity, his fascination with the oddly-shaped creatures he had seen falling from the sky. As he prepared to scurry after his larger companions, some part of him decided to make the best of an admittedly terrible situation. The gnome paused long enough to etch a rune upon his forehead as Thyana, a pair of shortswords in her hands, ran toward Gro-Malakh.

Just below the giant, down a steep and rocky incline were the three beasts. A mated pair and their offspring, these savagely bizarre monsters were like nothing Gro-Malakh had seen before. They were massive black stags with the hindquarters and wings of a desert vulture; their heads were disturbingly sibeccai-like, their jaws frothed with blood and carrion hung like gory pennants from their antlers.

The defenders of the airship had done their work well, and these monsters were wounded both from the crash to the sands and from the battle above. As Gro-Malakh reached the crest of the ridge-line the youngest regained it’s feet and looked his way with eyes that burned with hunger. The youngest, which was still the size of mature calf, snarled fiercely and stamped it’s hooves upon the rocky ground.

The adults’ heads snapped around at the sound and their eyes, too, locked upon the giant that had emerged some thirty feet above them on the rocky bluff. The female cried out in a voice that sounded intelligent, “Az that! Azat azathoth qhor horis!” and launched into the air on massive wings, feathers beating and lifting it aloft rapidly. The female flew up and over Gro-Malakh, far beyond even his reach, and turned it’s attention upon the group of slaves behind the giant, among the ruined caravan.

“We’ll be taken again if we continue this behavior. But, alone I’d have no chance of survival so what choice do I have?” Grannoch thought. Thyana had almost reached the top of the sand bank, her path had brought her beneath the shadow of the approaching female, who remained some fifty feet in the air.

Bizarrely, Grannoch noticed the female’s shadow did not match her physical form – it was the twisted shadow of a humanoid form that criss-crossed the sand bank beneath the winged quadruped. Grannoch noticed this just as the shadow passed before Thyana – it’s dark arms moved of their own accord, apparently grappling with Thyana’s own shadow as she raced up the bank. As far as Grannoch could tell, Thyana hadn’t even noticed that her very shadow had narrowly evaded some macabre attack.

The male answered it’s mate with a cry of it’s own “Ghibraavos! Az that!” and launched it’s 400 pound bulk through the air at Gro-Malakh. The giant was ready for the charge but still the wicked antlers caught him in the kidneys and pierced deeply.

Gro-Malakh was driven backwards, and forced to fight just to maintain his feet as the male landed before him, rearing upwards on hind legs. “Rrragh!” the giant yelled madly as his greataxe bit deeply into the creature’s shoulder and struck bone.

Thyana joined the raging giant, her two blades flashing at the creature’s flank. Black feathers flew about her as her shortswords hacked at the muscle of it’s wing.

Below them, in the camp, Omar’s eyes widened as he watched the giant driven backwards by one beast, and the second rise high into the air and look his way. For a moment, the young barbarian froze, one hand absentmindedly following the terrible scar upon his face.

“We cannot stay here." Meloria screamed at the cowering slaves. "Quickly now, grab as much as you can carry! We must flee! Now! Now!”

“The woman is right. We cannot stay here. Quickly!” Omar grabbed for the scavenged goods, quickly shouldering as much as he could carry – quite a bit, to be sure – and loudly shouting for the others to do the same. “Quickly, you idiots! Quickly!”

Not a single slave needed to be told twice. The ragged band of a dozen or so snatched what they could from the piles of goods they had scavenged from the burnt caravans and fled into the desert in Omar’s wake.

Meloria turned back to face the descending female, raised her hands to her temple with her finger’s splayed and locked eyes with the massive female as it crashed violently into the sands just twenty feet away. It screeched and screamed and shook it’s antlered head from side to side trying to rid itself of a hazy blurred cloud that had appeared from nowhere.

Meloria spared a glance at the empty skies, squinting against the deadly sun, “Alriak, where are you?” She muttered, before throwing a furious glare at the dazed female, sweat suddenly soaked her fur and the witch grunted as if lifting a heavy weight. The reeling creature collapsed onto the sand, still trapped within the lingering heat haze. It screamed unintelligibly.

Above her on the ridge of the sand dune, the big male lunged once more at the raging giant, drawing a line of blood across his chest that he barely noticed.

“Tonight I FEAST!” Gro-Malakh roared at the beast as he chopped viciously toward it’s throat almost decapitating the monster and drenching himself and Thyana in a fountain of blood.

Grannoch had briefly considered following the other slaves in their flight, but quickly deemed it impractical given his short stature and inferior speed. Fighting, it seemed, was the only real option. The gnome made it to the top of the sand bank in time to avoid the geyser of blood gushing from the slain male and he turned his attention upon the youngling below.

In his small hand he suddenly held a sandy-brown ball of mud, he wound back, pivoted and pitched the ball for all he was worth – and struck the calf right in the face. It howled in shock and pain and stumbled, blinded by the dripping mud in it’s hungry eyes. Thyana saw her opportunity and raced down the bank, it isn’t possible to stop our blades now, she thought as she raised her shortswords and set them to swirling.

“I am sorry,” the elf whispered as her blades made bloody work of the blind calf.

“Kazath! Ut uthoth, kazarki!” The calf bleated. It thrashed blindly forward and spun Thyana away with a blow from it’s gore-draped antlers. The calf beat it’s wings in a panic, taking flight, dragging it’s wounded bulk into the air and painfully gaining altitude above the dune.

Grannoch remained close behind Thyana. As the elf regained her feet and her guard, the gnome deftly etched a rune along the slender blade of the dagger he had lifted from a merchant’s belly. Once done, the blade span end over end in a deadly arc from Grannoch’s fingers to the youngling’s bloody flank. The Summonel merchant’s dagger bit deeply and wedged itself between two ribs – and then detonated in flame, bringing the dead elk-monster crashing back to the ground.

Below them, Gro-Malakh charged the female as it writhed on the ground in front of the witch. “Now it’s your turn!” Gro-Malakh yelled at the female.

“No, wait!” Meloria shouted, breaking her gaze upon her foe. “Beware of my mind’s cloud!”

“Dispel your magic, witch!" The giant skidded to an abrupt halt on the dune. "My prey awaits.”

The bulk of the slaves had moved on, hurriedly leaving the wrecked camp, and vaguely following upon the heels of the long-gone Omar; but the young slave with the injured foot, a thick-set human, Selar, and one or two of the others lagged behind. They were simply too starved to flee, their stomach’s ached terribly.

“That’s an incredible amount of power you have,” Selar said, as he tested the balance of his newly found dagger before throwing it directly at the head of the fallen creature and cutting a bloody path along it’s cheek.

“Never enough, though. That’s the nature of power.” Meloria muttered in reply, before raising her voice to Gro-Malakh. “End it!”

The shimmering haze about the female dissipated, and immediately the monster made to leap into the air and take to it’s wing. But the fog had not lifted so quick from it’s mind – the female stumbled and fumbled, but eventually managed to launch into the air. It’s macabre, inky-black shadow spread out below it enveloping the shadow of the charging giant.

If the giant felt any ill effects at losing his shadow to the rising elk-thing; if he felt the icy fingers of fear slowly wrap about his raging heart – if he felt this, you wouldn’t know it to watch him. The giant launched himself into the air, his greataxe high above his head, “Yes!” Roared Gro-Malakh, a glint of cruel madness in his eyes.

Finally his thirst would be sated, the axe descended and took the creature’s head off in a terrific blow. The giant and the elk-monster crashed to the sands in a bloody heap, the gory rack of antlers stabbed deep into the sand as the severed head came to a rest at Meloria’s feet.

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