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Genesis. Season Three
An Incredible Journey (Part Four)

Date: Ninduna, 19th Dar 798 P.L. (Dawn)
Location: The Royal Deck, The Princess Parizade

The greatest views from anywhere on board The Princess Parizade (with the exception of the lofty helm) were to be found on the Royal Deck. A large pavilion provided protection from the burning sun, which already pushed the springtime temperatures into the 100’s daily.

Here, the Sand King would lounge with his guests, at the very prow of his airship and survey all that he commands. And here, the Prophet of Shoshanna hustled about, muttering to himself, agitated.
“Absolutely pure. Pure. Absolutely. Truly. Pure. Truth. Absolute truth and purity. Of course, of course, of course.”

The Prophet’s face was hidden by his dirty mess of tangled hair, but he could be heard to chuckle loudly as he opened a deep wound in his own thigh. The Prophet dropped his iron dagger to the polished deck, forgotten, as the blood started to flow. He was on his hands and knees now, painting cryptic vatic symbols in his own blood in a circle about him.

He produced several pots of unguents and pastes from his battered old satchel and used the deck as his palette, mixing a little of this paste, with a little of that, adding a smear of blood from the flowing wound on his leg and at one point pissing into the befouled mixtures he was brewing. All the while muttering, barely comprehensibly, about absolute truth and purity until he was finally satisfied with his work.

The Prophet stripped himself naked and set about painting his face and body with symbols and whirling patterns. The swarm of scorpions, bugs and insects that continually infested Alias’ hair and clothes began to stream away from him in a frantic exodus. Alias chuckled to himself again as he caught a scorpion and bit it in half, chewing away, even as he added scorpion gloop to his foul palette.

“You serve to the last little brother. Our great Goddess will seat you upon the frond of sustenance as we become one. My strength to your strength. Your strength to mine. We have traveled long and true. A pure road. Absolutely pure, little brother.”

He snagged a second scorpion and crunched down on that one, too. The breakfast of prophets, he thought.

Quin was below the Royal Deck enjoying the solitude of the sun rising over the ocean behind them.

“You’re up early Alias,” Quin called out, when his ravings began to echo down from above. She had known the Prophet for some time now, ever since the zombies attacked Muan Oasis that night and they’d sheltered with the trader and his family, you’d think she would get used to his bizarre behavior, by now.

Quin turned back to the sunrise, but the moment was lost. What was he doing up there? He was sounding more and more erratic. Quin made her way upstairs to the Royal Deck and noticed Sarubek, likewise disturbed from his morning peace. He had been meditating nearby and since watched Alias in transfixed bemusement, head cocked to one side.

“I’m sure it all makes sense inside his own head.” Quin muttered to Sarubek. “But the Goddess only knows what he is doing.”

“Might I ask, prophet, the reason behind your ritual,” Sarubek asked, once the process seemed to be at an end, “and whether I should be concerned for the safety of anyone aboard this ship?”

Alias didn’t answer him. It wasn’t even clear that he had heard Sarubek, or noticed the two of them nearby. He kicked off the last of his clothes and heaped them all into a pile, along with the pots and oils and a collection of brick-a-brak he’d assembled inside his vatic circle.

Quin motioned for Saurbek to follow her and stepped forward, careful not to disturb his etchings or markings.

“Alias, my friend.” She said. “Are you feeling well? Want to share with me what you’re preaching about this morning?”

He swallowed the last of his scorpion and raised his voice, “Pure! Absolutely pure!” And suddenly, the naked druid’s hand was lit by an open fire, a divine fire that he delicately touched to his discarded clothes and the piles of junk. Alias’ eyes were unseeing, lost in deep-trance, and he looked right through Quin with no glimmer of recognition.

Jamila came up the stairs carrying Alias’ tattered old satchel brimming with scrolls and papers, “Here they are Prophet,” she said, her eyes red with grief for Ali. “Your things, as you asked.”

But Alias didn’t answer her either. Instead, he stepped into flames, now grown quite tall and squatted down in the fire. The strange paste he had covered himself in gave off an even worse smell than did the Prophet’s beard and matted hair, which were quickly engulfed in flame.

“NO!” Jamila screamed and dropped the satchel, scattering papers all across the deck.

“Stop her, Master Sarubek.” Quin said as Jamila ran toward the vatic circle and the flaming druid.

Sarubek moved quickly to intercept Jamila, calmly tackling the screaming woman and holding her firmly. Captain Quin had drawn her curved athame and held it high in a formal stance. The half-fey turned her eyes to the blade and studied Alias, for a moment, reflected in the dull iron of her sickle-sword.

“Goddess only knows!” Quin said, stepping back and lowering her blade. “This is Alias’ intent. He’s warded himself against the flames with that paste. He’s not being compelled against his will. Keep Jamila back, keep her safe.”

“She was never in any danger, Quinvera.” Alias said, stepping from the flames and approaching Sarubek and Jamila. The last vestiges of the paste were still burning on his naked body. The Prophet’s tangled beard and hair were gone – burned away. “Bless you Jamila. Blessings upon you all, but especially to you dear Jamila. You are ready now to face any heretics or misguided souls. Speak truth to power, for power will fade as the ages pass.”

“Let me go, let me go,” Jamila blubbered, still enveloped in Sarubek’s inescapable grip, tears flowing over her ruddy cheeks.

“Go forth, Jamila, and serve all creatures great and small and fear not as you walk forward, for you are never alone. Shed no tears for Ali; to all who live, the gift of eternity at Her side shall be accorded.” Alias leaned forward and kissed Jamila on the forehead, his filth left bloody smears on her fur. Then he abruptly slapped her cheek. “Feel! Live and love. You are appointed for this journey. Our Goddess smiles upon you. Your faith will deliver you, now and forever.”

Suddenly the naked Prophet was on his knees, gathering the scattered papers and scrolls that were blowing in the wind and handing them back to Jamila.

“Write the next chapter, my dear. It was never meant to be mine alone. Our visions shared will bless this world for a thousand generations. You must boldly tell the world the Truth, and cry only praise when the world persecutes you for it. You must do this even unto death itself for the victory is eternal and nothing can stop the Power of Shoshanna. Tell the world. Tell all who have ears to hear or eyes to read. Tell man and beast, idiot and scholar. Be ceaseless and tire not from your Holy task.”

A shadow passed across the deck, a winged humanoid figure was circling high above. Alias, Prophet of Shoshanna, leaped onto the railing. He made a bizarre figure, naked, bald, raving and pinwheeling his arms for balance.

“Mother of all mothers, creator of all things, goddess eternal!” Alias screamed into the sky. “I hear your call and receive your blessing. The pretender is unworthy of your truth! He will fall by his own folly and never taste eternity. The pretender is but a speck in the vastness of the sands of this world and he is nothing on any others! I hear you Mother. I will heed your call with a glad heart.”

The Prophet’s form shifted; the skinny man was gone, replaced by a tiny kuna bird which immediately soared up, up, way above the deck, above the lofty heights of the crow’s nest and toward the winged woman above.

Quin, keeping her blade in hand, called out, "Alias dear friend – please explain yourself! We can’t just sit here in the middle of the desert!’
The woman flew lower to meet the tiny bird. Quin raised her blade, weaving a spell, even as she recognized Rhea, the Angel of Light. It was only the second time Quin had seen the witch since her rebirth: the beautiful woman radiated strength and calm like a beacon that immediately quieted her fears.

The Prophet fluttered around the angel, so close to her, that he was difficult to spot from this distance.

“Do not tarry Quinvera.” Rhea’s eyes shone with the lights of Heaven, it was impossible to look closely at her. “Your path and that of Shoshanna’s Prophet will cross once again. Stay your course, seek out your Goddess, atop her World’s Mountain, and receive her blessing. The Prophet has his own path to follow for a time. Upon your return, look for us beneath Muan Oasis – where all of this began, so long ago, now.”

Chattel. Chapter Four
Tales of the Desert

Date: Mother’s Day, 15th Dar 798 PL (Late Evening)
Location: The southern banks of The Ka’al River, somewhere south of Muan Oasis.

It was late into the evening by the time the bedraggled column of chattel limped into the welcome embrace of the riverside oasis. The day had been mercilessly hot. There were two fewer refugees this evening than there had been last evening; their exhausted bodies regretfully abandoned in the desert where they had fallen. Jendai and Selar, leaned heavily upon one another at the head of the column; the young Omar brought up the rear with the prisoner.

Jendai led the weakest to the water’s edge and stayed with them, helping them to drink, eat and bathe. Only after those who couldn’t help themselves were settled did the wererhino allow himself to sink waist deep in the river and recover from the ordeal. The journey had been long and taxing and the oasis was a welcome respite.

In the morning decisions needed to be made: should they remain here and recoup? Should they send scouts to Muan Oasis? Should they wait until the group was strong enough to travel together? Should they avoid Muan Oasis, the nearest settlement altogether, and head upriver and seek refuge in the mountains instead? Or downriver toward the distant city-states? Or even try to return to Banu where the chattel wagons had begun their ill-fated journey?

In the morning these decisions needed to be made, but for tonight the escaped slaves fell into the cool, cool waters of the Ka’al River. They nursed their wounds, eased their battered emotions, filled their empty stomachs with fresh fruit, drank their fill and marveled at the eldritch flames that still danced upon the water’s surface.

Date: Moon’s Day, 16th Dar 798 PL (Daybreak)
Location: The southern banks of The Ka’al River, somewhere south of Muan Oasis.

Omar rose early and allowed himself the luxury of a long swim – but the superstitious barbarian kept well away from the strange flames that danced upon the river’s surface, he’d have no truck with such arcane nonsense. After he was done he climbed up the river bank and gathered a handful of fruits for himself and the lizard man.

Omar had secured the prisoner to a tree before collapsing into exhaustion last night, “Should I be gathering insects and grubs for you? Or do you snakes eat real food?”

The lizard man glared defiantly at Omar, but he didn’t answer him directly. “You could release me from these ropes. Where is it that you think I am going to run to? It seems to me like you need all the help you can get just to survive out here. I was a slave to the merchants too! Just like you! Just like all of you!”

The lizard man had begun to shout and was struggling to stand, but unable to do so because of his restraints.

“No. You’re nothing like me!” Omar shouted. “You had a chance at freedom and ended up in chains again! That’ll never happen to me.”

Omar left the prisoner pounding the tree with his tail in frustration and walked away. The lizard could eat his breakfast or not, Omar didn’t care. It looked like the others were getting ready for a group meeting. Jendai walked beside him.

“I have trouble believing he was a slave. He was a guard of the merchant and was ready to attack at his orders. If he was a slave he would have taken the opportunity to attack the merchant and take his freedom. I have a growing concern as to what to do the lizardman, though. I am opposed to just killing him, evil as he may be. There are no authorities that we can turn him over to. They would most likely free him and try to enslave us again. Turning him loose seems a better alternative. As long as we send him off in an opposite direction and remain vigilant, there is little he could do against us.”

“You’re right, Jendai.” Omar snarled. “He was no slave. He is lying over his forked tongue. But it does not seem wise to turn him loose. He would bring word of our survival, he know’s how many we are, and where we are. If we’re never heard from again probably no-one will come looking for us. But if the lizards paymasters learn that we’re still alive – they’ll want their property back. We might need to kill him, even if we don’t want to.”

As the sun rose rose from behind the distant Zergoa Mountains, Jendai stood up to address the group. “Friends, I suggest that we stay here for two more days to recuperate, then move to the Muan Oasis. It will be a good place for the refugees to make their own choice of where to travel and we can decide from there how best to proceed. It would be a good idea to send scouts ahead, though, to make sure we are not leading these people back into the arms of more slavers. I would be happy to undertake this. Would someone care to join me?”

“If we are indeed heading into the Oasis, then we should all go. Wasting time and food for a scouting run seems fruitless to me,” the giant grumbled. “Better to have all our fighters together if any one is caught. However, I would like to hear the opinions of the rest of the group?” Gro-Malakh stared only toward Meloria, Thyana, and Grannoch, as he believed them to be of worth.

“I think we should head west.” Meloria said, thoughtfully. “Avoid Muan Oasis altogether. There will be other small settlements along the river’s course, and eventually the river will lead us into the city-states. First the City of Susa, and beyond that the capital City of Ishtaduk. And beyond that, the far west.”

“We should think about heading into the mountains." Omar said. "My village is in the mountains east of Banu and we hold no love for the fat slavers and their mines. Why head for towns that exist only to feed and water merchants? I say choose freedom, and besides, it won’t be so damned hot!”

The giant stood still for some time, staring into Meloria’s eyes while pondering her motivations, she met his gaze but remained silent. This land was strange to him, yet the wilderness all too familiar. He knew that few of these chattel would survive; nature was never kind to the weak. At last, while his eyes still transfixed her’s, he spoke; “Survival flows from this river, I will follow it as far west as it will take me. If you are strong, and value your survival as much as your freedom, then join me.”

“West!” Omar said. “But the river runs east too, and the journey is so much shorter! Are you in such a hurry to meet the fairy lords? In my village, in the mountains, people might call us barbarians but at least we live without lords and masters.”

But the angry barbarian’s words fell on deaf ears. Gro-Malakh had already turned away and set about gathering supplies, and others were following in his stead. The bedraggled refugees harvested as much fruit as they could conceivably carry: grapefruit and peaches, olives and dates, figs and lemons. The riverside oasis was a bountiful paradise compared to the poor fare the slaves had existed upon for too long. There was still a little of the dried peryton meat, but several of the former slaves had their eyes upon the fat fish that swam lazily in the shallows, and even some of the larger birds that nested in the trees above.

By the time the sun had cleared the highest peaks of the Zergoa Mountains, the chattel had turned their backs upon it’s blistering heat and began their journey west along the southern banks of the Ka’al River. The oasis fell away behind them, but it’s verdant comfort remained with the group; they felt invigorated, sated and blessed from their brief respite. Several times during the morning, the group came across animal tracks or bestial footprints in the muddy sand of the river bank. Most of these were clearly very old, but not all, some time after noon they came across the remains of a fireplace and campsite that must have been less than a few days old. But they saw no other signs of life that first day. As the sun began to set ahead of them, the group had traveled perhaps 15 miles; very respectable given the harsh terrain and the weakest amongst them.

Chattel. An Interlude
Tales of the Desert

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.

Genesis. Season Three
An Incredible Journey (Part Three)

Date: Fear’s Day, 18th Dar 798 P.L. (Mid-afternoon)
Location: On board, The Gaia.

The ship’s master-at-arms, a seven-foot tall, stick-thin fairy with pale blue skin and a braided green beard was fiercely yelling orders at his crew as he tossed longspears at the sibeccai and crossbows at the fairies. Despite the danger, the master-at-arms shared a wild grin with Sarubek the Strider as their passenger armed himself alongside the crew.

The seasoned crew had their ship, The Gaia, under control. They were armed, but who could know if they were ready? The merchants had disappeared below decks, mad with panic for their precious cargo. The master-at-arms had selected a 15-foot long trident and was already recklessly balanced upon the ship’s rail, the weapon poised at the crashing waves below. The Captain of The Gaia held a white-knuckled grip upon the Ship’s Wheel, and her tail switched back and forth nervously, but she laughed out loud as looked up at the airship above them. The Princess Parizade banked steeply and descended, the fire elemental that powered the airship roaring fiercely and spinning about the ship in a revolving inferno.

The dragon turtle surfaced directly beneath the Seelie vessel and capsized her in a moment, with a single terrific blow. Fairies and sibeccai, merchants and crewmen, crashed into the blue-green waters, others fell upon the very shell of the monster, and others still clung to the wreckage of the ship where it had come to rest upon her side atop the turtle’s shell. The waters of the ocean raged with the wreckage and detritus of the ship, the violence of the turtle’s thrashing flippers, and the panicked splashing and floundering of too many sailors. Steam rose with an evil menace from the dragon turtle’s nostrils.

“All for Shoshana! ALL! This wretched beast will not defy destiny!” Without fanfare The Prophet dived off the airship, hurling himself toward the massive turtle below. Quin leaned far out over the rail, her sword skimmed the surface of the waves, cutting deeply and slashing red lines across the turtle’s head when she saw and heard Alias plummet from the stable doors below her and somehow splash-land onto the turtle’s shell.

“That crazy bastard.” The half-fey smiled. “Better make sure she he stays safe.”

Quin shook off the golden shawl that protected her from the sun, and climbed the rail. Without hesitation she dived gracefully off the airship’s balcony, arcing downward toward the waves. Even as she did so, the turtle made a terrible sound, like a pot screaming at the boil. It’s jaws opened wide, and a cloud of scalding steam engulfed the entire rear of the air ship. Quin dove through the steam cloud, hitting the water in a haze of pain. She surfaced amid the thrashing waves some fifty feet in front of the approaching turtle, and the survivors atop it’s shell.

The Prophet had fallen ahead of the steam cloud, but even so, he narrowly evaded entangling himself within the rigging of the ship wreck atop the turtle’s shell. Instead, he splash-landed hard into Sarubek and the blue-skinned Master-at-Arms, scattering several fairies and sibeccai who had mustered around the longspear embedded in the barnacle-crusted shell; a few clutching spears, all half-drowned and terrified.

The Prophet regained his feet, and raised his hands and his voice. “Am nacan Os so Dem lac.”

The Prophet’s prayer froze the spray of the ocean and conjured a lance of jagged ice. The ice lance flew from Alias’ outstretched palms and struck the dragon turtle in the back of the skull in an explosion of ice crystals and turtle blood. The creature raised it’s huge head and roared in pain.

On board The Princess, the stables were in chaos. The scalding steam had filled the place, burning everyone within. Alriak was on his hands and knees, horribly burned, it was all the young witch could do to drag himself away to safety; Jamila lay face down, dangerously close to the open bay doors, her legs were convulsing, her feet beating an ugly rhythm on the deck; Ali, the constant fidget, lay still, so terribly burned that his fur was shriveled into damp, crusty curls.

Only the genie remained on her feet, her own burns superficial. She screamed aloud, wordless grief and rage, and gathered up Jamila carrying her quickly into the griffon rider’s quarters and laying her down upon The Prophet’s bunk. Sarah arrived in the stable doorway, terror twisted the pretty girl’s face into one of horror.

“Help her!” Parizade shouted.

First Mate Hanbal had slowed the airship down and, in a testament to his skills as a pilot, he was maneuvering barely thirty feet above the dragon turtle matching it’s pace and path. The three ropes that Ali, Jamila and Alriak had secured trailed across the shell. The crew of The Gaia began to swarm up the ropes, half a dozen sibeccai sailors and fairy crewmen swinging in the wake of the airship. A number of other fairies took flight under their own initiative and flew directly to The Princess, alighting on the nearest deck and thanking The Mother for her mercy.

Those who couldn’t reach the ropes, scrambled to do so; thrashing through the water and screaming for help or climbing the rolling turtle shell and racing toward the ropes. Others though stood their ground, the Master-at-Arms clapped The Prophet on the back.

“Wonderful work, human.” The blue-skinned fey wore a broad smile. “Today we are alive, no?” He raised his trident and led a small group of crewmen in a charge upon the turtle’s head. Sarubek stayed behind, beside Alias, and drove the longspear as deeply as he could into the shell. The muscles on his arms bulged as he drove and twisted and levered the spear with all of his considerable might. The shell cracked and Sarubek felt soft meat beneath.

The turtle roared and dove beneath the waves. It’s huge mouth opened to bite Quinvera but she twisted in the water and collided with the side of the turtle’s head avoiding it’s jaws. She kicked her powerful, long legs and swam clear of the turtle’s wake, all the while continuing to slash at the thing’s head and eyes with her curved blade.

Two other sailor’s thrashing in the water were less fortunate than Quin, a fairy and a sibbecai were held fast within it’s maw. The turtle was swimming much faster now, and was already a couple of feet below the waves. On it’s shell, the wrecked Gaia shifted, twisted and began to come loose; several of those sailors scrambling at the dangling ropes were swept from the shell and those fighting alongside their Master-at-Arms, thrusting and stabbing at the back of the turtle’s head struggled to keep their feet.

Quin glanced upward at her airship, pleased that so many had already made it to safety but terrified for those who had been caught in the steam blast… but she couldn’t help them yet. She could help these poor souls in the water. Quin snatched a trailing rope and hauled herself above the waves, she extended a hand to a fairy whose wings looked broken and bedraggled, she pulled the little fellow out of the water and onto the rope.

“Let it go!” Quin screamed, waving her arms frantically at Alias. “Alias! Let the turtle swim, get them back in the water and up these damn ropes!”

She could never tell if Alias actually heard her or not, but as the turtle began to disappear beneath the surface, the druid raised his open hands to the blue sky muttering to no-one in particular.

“I tire of you great turtle,” the Prophet said, beside him Sarubek hammered the spear several more inches beneath the shell, a scarlet stream darkened the waters about the longspear and Sarubek clung to it as the water level rose above his knees and threatened to wash them away. “Be gone or be consumed by holy fire – descend and flee, or stay and die. The choice is yours, turtle.”

A pillar of divine flame roared downward from the Heaven’s at the Prophet’s direction. The fire engulfed the turtle’s submerged head in suddenly boiling, scalding water. The turtle screamed a terrible, bubbling cry of pain and dived sharply. The wreck of The Gaia gave one final lurch before breaking loose, the hull shattered as it broke free of the turtle’s shell. The water roiled and frothed as the massive creature disappeared beneath the waves. The wrecked ship slowly beginning to follow it down into the gloom leaving behind an ocean littered with flotsam and jetsam, the dead and the wounded.

Quin swung from the rope beneath her ship, one furred hand and one slender ankle curled around the rope like a gymnast, her other hand reached for Sarubek and plucked him from the waves. “Welcome aboard The Princess Parizade.” Quin smiled.

Quin called out for her animated sickle sword to fly back to her hand and once the last of the survivors were pulled from the water the Captain returned to the chaos on board her ship.

The crew of The Gaia, a motley mix of half-drowned sibbecai and fairies were gathered by the open stable doors watching the last of their ship disappear beneath the waves. Those that had made it aboard, anyway – only about a third of the crew – the rest had been lost with their ship or taken by the turtle.

Alriak was writhing in agony upon the floor. The turtle’s steam breath had burned the young sibeccai terribly; his brownish-red fur was curled to a crisp. Beside him, Jamila looked even worse as she lay in Alias’ bunk. The big woman’s breath was harsh and labored, she did not have the strength for screams. Sara was poised over them both, desperately holding their hands but at a loss for how to help.

“The Prophet!” Sara screamed. “Where is the Prophet?”

The brave Ali was simply dead. The genie held him in her arms, her blue hair had come loose of it’s braid and obscured her face, but floods of tears wracked her body as she cradled Ali’s burned corpse. Quin quickly pushed her way through the crowd at the stable doors and rushed to Sara’s side.

“Easy, Sara. Give her this,” Quin reached into her satchel and produced a handful of dark brown barhi dates. She squeezed one between her finger and thumb, breaking its ripened flesh into Jamila’s mouth. “You poor woman.”

Jamila gasped and her eyes focused as the blessed fruit slid down her throat, “Goddess be praised. Bless you, Captain.”

Sarubek looked about with concern at the wounded. “Though it is outside my expertise to heal, I gladly offer my assistance with any other task which needs doing. However, as soon as we have a moment to gather our thoughts, I would discus with you all the intended destination of this vessel.”

Below them, the ocean fell away as once more, as First Mate Hanbal took the ship up into the air and turned her westward toward the faraway horizon.

“Indeed.” Said Captain Khafaz, formerly of The Gaia. “A thousand thank yous for your timely rescue, you have such a marvelous ship. But, it must be said, that we appear to be headed in entirely the wrong direction.”

Captain Quinvera didn’t seem to have heard them. The tall half-fey had turned her attentions to Alriak, and was gently feeding him one of the blessed dates. Once the worst injuries were taken care of amongst the living, the Captain turned her attention to the dead and directed The Princess and Sara to take Ali’s body to the mosque belowdecks. Only once they had taken him away did she turn to the others.

“We are headed south and west.” Quin answered Sarubek.

“Very well,” said Sarubek. “Whatever your purpose may be aboard this airship, I must make my way to Myr’Sooq at the nearest opportunity. However, as you have saved my life and many others among this crew, I am in your debt and am obliged to help you with your current objectives.”

“I am Captain Quinvera of The Princess Parizade. We make for The Feyen Isles on our own business. Which is exactly the right direction, Captain Khafaz.”

“The Princess Parizade.” Captain Khafaz said, his eyes (and those of his crew) wide. “A ship of legend, lost and found. I’d heard the rumor before we left The Red City, but I’d given it no more mind than any other sailor’s tale. The way I heard it told, the Heroes of Yhakkoth had rescued the Sand King’s long-lost ship and were soon to present it to him in the name of their city. The Sand King was so excited that he’s announced a 13-day fight in the Colosseum; one of the biggest ever held. If all of that is true, and you’re returning this stolen vessel back to it’s rightful owner, Captain Quinvera, then I say again, you’re headed in the wrong direction.”

A cheeky smile lit Captain Quins face, “If you set sail from The Red City, Captain, then you’re no friend to The Sand King and neither is he to you. So I’m going to pretend I didn’t just listen to your patriotic preaching and we’ll stay friends.”

She glanced behind her to make sure that Sara had gone – she didn’t want to rub sand in old wounds, and Sara had been desperate to be set down in Lilanna… “We will not be diverting from our current course. But neither will be gone for very long. It may be that we can set you down in The Red City, and in Myr Sooq Master Sarubek, upon our return. In a week or two. I think you’ll find yourself comfortable enough in the meantime.”

Captain Khafaz was grinning from ear to ear at Quinvera. He replied, “Very well, my Captain. You have the right of it, of course. We are your honored guests and one thousand times thankful for your rescue. I will see my crew into their quarters and vouchsafe for the conduct. If you have any need whatsoever, of any of our considerable talents and skills, you need only ask.”

Genesis. Season Three
An Incredible Journey (Part Two)

Date: Fear’s Day, 18th Dar 798 P.L. (Mid-afternoon)
Location: The Captain’s Quarters, The Princess Parizade.

Quin was startled when the genie materialized in her room. The half-fairy swordswoman was balanced on one foot, her other leg extended straight out to her side. Her sickle-sword perfectly poised above it. The sudden downward change in the ship’s course had seemingly not affected Quin’s remarkable balance. Quin’s sleep was still being disturbed by those strange dreams – she just couldn’t get rest and so had been spending much time alone – exercising her body as she tried to exorcise her mind of those strange nagging thoughts.

“Don’t you knock?!!” Quin laughed. “I am the Captain, you know!!!”

“One thousand apologies, Captain.” The Princess’ eyes were wide with fear. “There is a ship below us in dire peril. I fear all hands will be lost if we do not intervene. Look, ma’am.”

The Captain’s Quarters were situated in the aft castle on the fifth deck. The suite of rooms boasted banks of windows and balconies on three sides. The two women rushed to the sliding doors and stepped outside onto the deck. Quin had to lean far over the mahogany rails due to the sharp angle of the ship’s descent, but she whistled in amazement when she saw the size of the thing. The swordswoman stepped away from the rail and, heedless of the danger she performed a spinning jump from one side of the balcony to the other and finished with a perfect swish of her sickle blade as she came about launching her sword over the rail. The sword came alive with an arcane life of it’s own and angled downward like a missile, toward the turtle’s massive head.

Captain Quin returned the Master-at-Arm’s salute as she leaned out over the rail; her curved sword flew with an arcane life of it’s own at the turtles’ head. The turtle’s head snapped at the flashing blade and missed. Then the shadow of the airship passed overhead.

Genesis. Season Three
An Incredible Journey (Part One)

Date: Fear’s Day, 18th Dar 798 P.L. (Mid-afternoon)
Location: The helm, on board The Princess Parizade.

Late in the morning, the western coast of Farid had given way to the blue expanse of the Khulet Sea. Ever since then the ocean had unfolded before them, as blue as the strange orb that Alriak carried. First Mate Hanbal had plotted their route, across the ocean, across the continental Northern Summan and beyond; far, far beyond to the Feyen Isles and the World Mountain.

It was an incredible journey. “Some ten thousand miles and more, I stopped countin’,” First Mate Hanbal had told everyone he’d seen that afternoon. “Most of it over ocean, although we’ll be a day or two above the Honoros Forest. If we had a Ship’s Magister we could make the trip faster fer sure, but we don’t, and so I reckon we’re three weeks away from the Goddess. And from then it’ll be three weeks back again, before yer ruck with His Majesty, the Sand King.”

The First Mate shook his head in disbelief at the sound of his own words, First Mate Hanbal still wore the King’s uniform after all. Parizade smiled, a melancholy look haunting her eyes.

“I would sooner dash this ship and myself to pieces upon the walls of his Dark Tower,” she said. “Sooner that, than all of you risk yourselves for myself and my husband. The King has held him for all these years, he won’t release him now, not without first taking back me and his cursed ship. And, likely not even then.”

“It won’t come to all that, Princess.” Hanbal tried to reassure her, but he couldn’t hide the doubt from his own voice. “The Captain’ll think of something, yer’ll see. Now then, what’s occurring down there?”

Below them a sleek ship, under the flag of the Red City, was headed south-east. It was almost directly beneath them, some 300 feet or so below the dry hull of The Princess Parizade. Her crew of sibeccai and fairies were frantically securing their sails, grabbing their oars and arming themselves. The reason for their panic, was all too obviously right before them in the water.

A huge turtle, it’s shell almost equal in size to the Seelie ship, had broken the surface of the water less than a hundred feet in front of them. The jagged peaks and valleys of it’s barnacle-encrusted shell looming like an island suddenly in her path.

The turtle’s head, still partially submerged, seemed to nod in satisfaction at the approaching vessel. It’s terrible flippers churned the water around it, suddenly and violently and the turtle dived beneath the surface of the water once again.

From their lofty vantage, high upon the bridge of The Princess Parizade, First Mate Hanbal and the genie could see the dark shape of the turtle make it’s way beneath the water and beneath the boat herself.

“Oh bloody hell, m’lady.” Hanbal said. “That’s a bloody dragon turtle that is, and a bloody great big one, an’ all.”

“Oh, those poor people!” The Princess gasped. “First Mate! Take us down, as fast as you can. We’ve got to help them! I’ll alert the Captain.”

In an instant the genie was gone, a momentary blur of speed before she vanished into the deck below their feet. Ali paced up and down, clasping his hands frantically. He threw nervous glances at the Seelie vessel below, but as the dark shadow of the dragon turtle passed directly beneath her he couldn’t bear to keep watching.

“How are we going to help them?” Ali asked. “Can we land in the ocean? Can we get them aboard?”

The First Mate quickly leaned over the archaic control panel, etching a rune in charcoal, lighting several incense burners and extinguishing others, sliding beads along an abacus and examining a bizarre looking astrolabe.

“We’re not gonna be puttin’ down in the water, Master Ali.” The First Mate spoke in high-pitched excited tones, his antennae were going nuts. “This ship’ll do some amazin’ things, but what it won’t do is float! Unless anyone’s got any better ideas, I reckon you’d want to be findin’ some ropes mighty quick and gettin’ out on deck.”

“Ropes!” Ali shouted, his pacing ceased. “I’ve seen some. Where have I seen ropes? The griffin stables!”

The unassuming merchant raced suddenly from the bridge and down the spiral stairs just as fast as he could. It was precarious going, the First Mate had put the ship into a steep downward arc, Ali was forced to cling to the polished ivory rail as he raced down from the bridge. He almost collided with the young witch, who was climbing up from below decks rubbing at the sleep in his eyes, “What now?” Alriak mumbled.

“Quickly!” Ali fairly screamed. “Ropes! We need ropes! Help me! Follow me! Ropes!”

Ali didn’t wait to see if Alriak would follow. He raced through the kitchen, “Ropes!” Ali gasped at Jamila as he upset the stack of plates she was carrying. They fell with a crash and smashed. Together Ali and Jamila burst into the griffon stables and snatched up the coils of rope that hung from the wall.

The door to the griffon rider’s quarters was open and swinging wildly as the airship continued it’s erratic descent. The Prophet lay on the floor in the doorway where he had fallen when The Princess banked.

“Prophet!” Jamila shouted. The scrawny dark-skinned druid was bleeding a little where he had cracked his head into the door frame; scorpions and a handful of spiders fell from his matted beard as he shook his head trying to clear it.

“What? What?” The Prophet grumbled, barely coherent. He rose to his feet and blinked a few times to clear his head. The blood from his wound dripped down to the tip of his nose. A solitary spider raced across his face to get a taste of it.

“Help me!” Ali had hauled the ropes to the stable doors. “If we can secure these ropes, we may be able to help some of those poor people aboard.”

Alriak and Jamila rushed to help, snatching up ropes and securing them to hooks and posts. Parizade suddenly materialized before the sliding stable doors. The genie arrived in a scouring whirlwind of sand and straw, and threw open the massive doors. The airship had finally righted itself and slowed, they were flying barely thirty feet above the waves, in a tight circle above the doomed Gaia.

Below them was a terrible scene, the dragon turtle had surfaced directly beneath the Seelie vessel and capsized her in a moment, with a single terrific blow. Fairies and sibeccai, merchants and crewmen, floundered in the blue-green waters, others had fallen upon the very shell of the monster, and a very few clung to the wreckage of the ship where it had come to rest upon her side atop the turtle’s shell.

The waters of the ocean raged with the wreckage and detritus of The Gaia, the violence of the turtle’s thrashing flippers, and the panicked splashing of too many sailors. Steam rose with an evil menace from the dragon turtle’s nostrils.

One of the crew members had managed to drive a longspear into the turtle’s shell like a flag upon a conquered hill. It was unclear whether or not the spear had found meat beneath the barnacle encrusted shell, but a small band of sibeccai and fairies had rallied about it. The Master-at-Arms was there, and he raised his trident in salute as The Princess Parizade passed overhead, the three sibeccai, the genie and The Prophet visible in her open bay doors.

“Blue Djinni’s and blue hells!” The Prophet cried, to no one in particular. “Why are you flying so low? That creature will wrench at your ropes and pull you also into the drink if you’re not wise about it!”

“How else are we to pull the survivor’s aboard!” Ali shouted. “They are lost without us.”

Genesis. Season Three
Desert Nights (Part Seven)

Date: Mavoduna, 17th Dar 798 P.L.
Location: The Ship’s Kitchen, The Princess Parizade

“Calmer heads prevail, that’s what you said yesterday,” Sara spoke harshly, her voice raising. “Well, you got your way didn’t you First Mate Hanbal? You convinced Captain Quinvera not to fly us into Ishtaduk – where questions might be asked why you, a member of the Yhakkoth Royal Navy, and a King’s Templar no less, were so happy to serve among fugitives on a stolen ship!”

Ali paced nervously behind Sara, pulling at the fur on his stomach like he always did when he was anxious. He glanced up at First Mate Hanbal who stood at the head of the kitchen island glaring at Sara, his cloven goat’s hooves stomped upon the wooden floor and his face was flushed a deeper purple than usual.

“You wouldn’t know anything about it, I find piracy much less duplicitous and a damn sight more honest than His Majesty’s Royal Navy!”

“I demand it.” Sara said again, ignoring him. "We’ll disguise the ship as best we can, but I demand that you land this ship at Lillanna. This would have been much easier if you had listened to me yesterday, when we could have unloaded at Muan Oasis. Arishka would have taken us in. But if you will not return us to Muan Oasis, then you will set us down in Lillanna, and you will unload my cargo. The pirates knew it’s worth, that’s why they took it and I’ll be damned if I am going to return to my father with nothing. "

“Sara, ah know the grief’s eatin’ y’up, yer lost a lot of yer folk ter those pirates, an’ yer suffered terrible. But look at us. We’re like sumthin’ the cat dragged in. We’re in nae shape tae ruck wi’ the Navy an’ that’s what we’d be doin’ if we set about to unload yer cargo on the dockside like we were’nt flyin’ the most infamous airship in all of history." The First Mate’s antennae waggled like a teacher’s scolding finger.

Sara had been arguing her case since the First Mate sat down to break his fast, and she showed no sign of letting up.

“Sara," Alriak said with a calm voice. “May I speak with you a moment?”

Sara turned her furious gaze upon the young witch, “What!” She barked, following him out of the Ship’s Kitchen and onto the aft deck. Behind them, First Mate Hanbal sighed heavily and beat a hasty retreat below decks, intent on business as far away from the spoiled young merchant girl as he could take himself.

“I understand your frustration and the concern for your cargo, but I hope to persuade you to consider what is at stake here." Alriak said. “Should we make port anywhere right now we stand the risk of being arrested and having everything, including your cargo, confiscated. There is no telling what lies First Mate Hanbal may tell, should he be approached by the authorities. We must make our decisions carefully. We must not be guided by pride or by profit, we must allow the Goddess to guide us.”

The fire burning in Sara’s pretty, kohl-rimmed eyes quelled. She leaned back against the ship’s rail, and hung her veiled head as she listened.

“I have been in the presence of Mother Anwen herself. She gives me glimpses of what is to come in my dreams. I am not sure what it all means, but it is bigger than anything our meager lives have ever been a part. We mustn’t turn from this calling now.” Alriak stepped closer, smelling the young woman’s expensive perfumes. “Our Mother has summoned us to meet with her upon the World Mountain. There we are to receive her blessing. I am not sure exactly what this means but I think we must make haste there.”

“You shame me, Master Alriak.” Sara said. “Those pirates – those bastard pirates. I know that you, too, suffered at their hands. And Ali, and poor Jamila. But they have taken everything from me; my hopes, my dreams, my honor. I just want it back! What is mine, and what is owed. But you are right, of course, you are a thousand times right. The Goddess is merciful and all-knowing and I am but her humble child. Shukrun, Master Alriak.”

After they had finished talking, Sara returned to her room in the Officer’s Quarters, removing herself from the company of the others. The airship continued its voyage west. Faint and faraway dots upon the horizon, revealed themselves to be distant airships circling, descending and ascending among the spires of the City of Lilanna. Foot traffic increased below the Royal Ship as caravans, pulled by mighty desert turtles, made their own way to and from the bustling marketplaces of Lilanna. First Mate Hanbal maintained a healthy altitude and a dizzying speed, in the hope that they might pass without being recognized.

It all feels so foolish Alriak thought to himself, as he watched the towers of the city dwindle and fade into the distance behind them. The speed the airship was capable of, when the fire elemental was pushed, was staggering; and it made Alriak more than a little dizzy to be stood on the open deck. He returned below deck, to his quarters and closed his door for privacy, although only Jamila (who preferred to bunk in the humble crew quarters nearby) ever came this far below decks.

“I wonder if I am doing this right?” He said to himself, other people made prayer seem so effortless, Alriak always ended up feeling uncomfortable. The air in his cabin was stale (the former tenant had been the fearsome Court Magister and apparently she preferred few windows) but it provided a comforting escape from the relentless sun. Alriak closed his eyes. Thoughts of Meloria raced through his mind; his sleep had been disturbed recently by nightmares. In his dreams Alriak was lost in total darkness and Meloria was calling out to him for help; he would helplessly search for her, but in the utter blackness his sense of terror would rise to an intolerable peak and awaken him, sweating and screaming.

Now, when his thoughts turned to his missing friend, a comforting vision of Meloria, embraced within Anwen’s arms came to mind. The Goddess and Meloria turned and nodded toward him, as if everything were okay. Alriak felt the anxiety that had plagued him since their unfortunate separation lifted from his shoulders. His prayers had delivered a new sense of hope that perhaps Sara would also be able to find.The young witch drifted off into the first comfortable sleep he’d managed to have in some time.

Outside, the fierce desert sun passed it’s noon day zenith and the Royal airship crossed the mighty Muqhail River far, far below. They had escaped the Sand King’s nation of Ishtaduk and crossed into Banu-Sippar, ahead lay the City of Arbail and beyond that the Western Lowlands and the faraway Khulet Sea.

Desert Nights
by Ian Hewitt

Ali (NPC)
Alriak (MacGreine)
First Mate Hanbal (NPC)
Jamila the Driver (NPC)
Princess Parizade (NPC)
Sarah, of House Summonel (NPC)

Game Master (Ian Hewitt)
Summer 2012

Chattel. Chapter Three
Tales of the Desert

Date: Lunduna, 14th Dar 798 PL (Early Morning)
Location: Lost in the desert, somewhere north of Banu

Omar just kept running. Vaguely was he aware that the others were following in his wake – the slaves that had been locked in that vile wagon with him. The young barbarian clung to the salvaged goods he had been able to grab from the pile and ran across the dunes and away just as fast as his legs could carry him.

When it finally became obvious that the threat had passed. When the other slaves were calling out to one another to cease running – to return to camp. Omar ran some more. When he was finally running alone, and out of breath in the increasingly hot sun of the new day, he stopped and fell to the sands. He could run no more.

Omar’s breath finally returned and with it his senses. The desert was silent around him and he was terribly thirsty. He couldn’t stay here in the open, exposed to the sun. He scrambled back to his feet, and shaded his eyes from the glaring sun. There was nothing beneath the rising sun but endless, trackless sands, broken to the south by a plume of campsmoke._ Elk for breakfast_, Omar thought gathering up the supplies he’d salvaged and slinging them across his back. Just as Omar turned to leave, something caught his eye, far to the north. A glint, a shimmer of the sunlight hitting something on the horizon. Was that… could that be water..?

  • * * * * * * * * * * *

Gro-Malakh centered himself, releasing the rage that had consumed him. “Let us waste no time: carve the beasts and begin making a fire.” Gro-Malakh demanded of anyone within earshot. “We could all use a full stomach before traveling.”

“Good work Gro-Malakh; a little excessive but we are in a hurry to put as much distance as possible between us and this place.” Thyana said, as she and Grannoch joined the others in the calm after the battle. “Is everyone all right? Any wounded?”

“Besides yourself, you mean?” Meloria said, nodding at Thyana’s left hand where it was pressed against her bloody belly. “Only yourself and Gro-Malakh, although all of us are starved, thirsty and exhausted. We should see to your wounds, bind them and clean them. Those antlers looked none too clean.”

A big human slave with dark-grey skin approached Thyana. Like most of their ragged band, the slave was dressed in baggy, makeshift robes and sandals that he had scavenged from the wreckage.

“Pardon the interruption. You all fought bravely against those beasts. I am Jendai Fudo-no. Please allow me to tend to your injuries." He had a flat face and dark eyes; his long grey hair was secured tightly into a bun and there was a scruffy growth of beard on his square jaw. "But first, now that the slavers are gone, I can safely be myself.”

Jendai closed his eyes and shrugged his shoulders. The man flexed his body and his head as if shedding too-tight clothes – and he began to change. Jendai had been big already, but now he loomed almost seven feet tall, his body widened and strengthened; his head and face extended and changed until it assumed the shape of a rhinoceros. The lycanfey flexed and stretched as if just released from a confined space. “Ahh, much better. Now let me see those wounds.”

There was plenty of firewood to be had amongst the charred remains of the chattel wagons. The slaves quickly had a cookfire burning and made short work of butchering the large female. Gro-Malakh helped haul the other carcasses down the dune to add to their meat supplies. This food should last for awhile, as long as I ration it, Gro-Malakh thought. Now, about the water…

“Those of you adverse to fighting, gather cloth, thin sticks, more firewood, and any metal containers you can find. I’ll get the bladder.” Gro-Malakh said, finding himself a sharp knife and beginning to deftly slice away at the carcasses.

“If that meat tastes even as half good as it smells, I’ll sharpen that knife for you Gro-Malakh.” Omar said as he slunk back into camp, his stomach growling.

After he’d eaten his fill, Omar made his way over to those gathering the supplies, intent on supervising the operation. Under Gro-Malakh’s direction, the slaves were constructing a crude water purifier intent on washing down their elk-steak with monster-piss; the giant clearly knew what he was doing, however, and their operation seemed to working well enough.

“Does anyone know what those things were?” Omar was gnawing away at the last of a rib. “I do not complain, but they taste a little dry, like old meat. Or perhaps that’s just the giant’s cooking.”

“Let me see what I can learn,” Grannoch said. He found the male’s antlers, and cleaned away the strips of carrion, filth and giant’s blood to reveal the ivory beneath. Deftly, Grannoch carved a rune into the antler and studied it closely.

“These creatures, it seems, are known as perytons,” he explained, with noticeable enthusiasm. “Apparently they were originally sibeccai. What happened was the local witch, Rhea, was deceived by the Devil Lord Barbatos, disguised as a great stag, into unleashing a great mass of beasts upon her town. And evidently through Barbatos’ fiendish influence, they became the twisted abominations we fought here.”

The ragged band of survivors had eaten. They had drank. They had seen to their wounds, as best they could, and gathered together all of the supplies that were worth bringing along. Gro-Malakh gathered the remaining water into his collection of waterskins, and had wrapped the remaining food in sand and cloth. He stood up, towering over all, even the big lycanfey.

“I say we go north toward Yhakkoth. We will have a much better chance of survival the closer we get to a natural water source. The Ka’al River has to be north of us. What say you?” Gro-Malakh directed this last question toward Meloria, Grannoch, and Thyana.

“I don’t know how things work in these lands, and don’t know the desert." Thyana said. "I would say let us make for the nearest place where we can take supplies and shelter.”

“Gro-Malakh is right.” Meloria said. “We do not have the supplies to return south, we must find the river and that means we must go north. But in either direction, we remain escaped slaves; the lost property of Merchant-House Summonel. We are not likely to find succor and salvation, but rather chains and bondage.”

“If you consider yourself to be property, then you are. You are free if you choose to be. I choose freedom for myself, and death for those in my way.” Gro-Malakh said.

The giant strode to the head of their group, clearly irritated with the witch. The others fell in behind him and the group began north. The burned wreckage of the caravan finally behind them.

Date: Lunduna, 14th Dar 798 PL (Mid-afternoon)
Location: Lost in the desert, somewhere north of Banu

It had been a trying day. Their full bellies gave the slaves a strength to march, but the sun was relentless and threatened to sap the energy from even the hardiest among them. They made a ragged band, trailing across the trackless dunes, striking north behind the brooding giant. Gro-Malakh rationed out their water at intervals throughout the day, and he made no pains to hide his frustration with the weakest and slowest among them. The slaves were thirsty enough not to care where the water had come from, and greedily drank every drop until the giant pulled the water away. All the while, that shimmering band of hope upon the horizon crept closer and closer.

But too slowly. By mid-afternoon the river remained ever ahead of them. The stronger slaves could push on and some of them might even reach the cool waters of the Ka’al River by nightfall; but it was becoming ever more clear that most of the chattel would not. More than half of their number were staggering along barely conscious. The heat exhaustion was simply unbearable. Jendai made his way slowly up the limping column, falling in silently beside it’s leader; the lycanfey’s feet were dragging in the sand and the sun threatened to force him to his knees.

“These are difficult times, Gro-Malakh." Jendai spoke weakly. "We leave one hardship to face another. It seems this one proves more difficult to manage. We all chose our freedom thanks to your help and to chance. Our hearts are willing, but our bodies are weak. We find ourselves fading by the second. We need shelter, rest and water, then perhaps the march can continue as night falls. If you see fit, perhaps a few of the stronger of our number could scout ahead while we rest.” His rhino’s ear twitched away an insect, animal eyes scanning the horizon in front of them as though his body were capable of no other movement.

“I reckon the big fella has the right of it. You want me to scout ahead, brother?” Omar asked. “I’ll make sure the river is good and cold, and the shade under them trees nice and cool, while this sorry lot build castles in the sand. If we push the chattel, they’ll be feeding the vultures.”

“If your bodies are weak, then rest them. Make shelter for yourselves with the remaining cloth,” Gro-Malakh said to Jendai. “Omar, I want you to oversee the construction of the shelter for the weaker ones, do so as you see fit. Meloria, Thyana and Grannoch, you three will come with me to the river to acquire the much needed water… perhaps there may even be fruits and roots to nibble on.”

“A wise decision. I will make the preparations.” Jendai nodded.

“You want me to babysit the pups!” Omar raised his voice, his hackles too, but Gro-Malakh’s tone did not encourage further discussion. “Yeah. Yeah, alright, brother. I’ll take care of things here, for yer, no worries big fella.”

The four companions turned back to the north and resumed their march. They walked in silence for a while to conserve their breath. The exhausted chattel, left behind at the makeshift camp, faded into the shimmering haze behind them.

“I do not trust the barbarian to be left with either of you women, and thought it wiser to bring you along. Also, Grannoch is sharp and useful, and I need skillful survivors for what I have planned.”

“Well thought big friend." Thyana said, silently wondering if a sibeccai would even find an elf appealing. "Do you think Omar will be enough to defend the others should something dangerous happen before we are back?”

“Omar is strong enough, but what is important to our survival is the river. If we stay with the others, we may not make it to the river before the sun takes us all.” Gro-Malakh explained. “We will have to entrust their safety to the gods.”

“The old gods, or the new?” Meloria wondered aloud.

It took the four of them another five hours to reach the river, by then the sun had mercifully sunk into the west. The Ka’al River was bordered here on both sides by lush vegetation, tall grasses, bright flowers, vine tangled trees and bushes. It was blessed cool, Meloria dropped to her knees and dug her hands into the damp earth, crying with relief.

The river itself was wide, deep and slow-moving. Many of the trees and plants grew right out of the shallower waters or hung out far over the river – reaching for the water with low hanging branches and vines. A single patch of spindly reeds and grasses burned with a pale eldritch flame, it was some ten feet from the river bank, the fire apparently unhindered by the water and the grasses somehow not consumed by the flame.

A stone oven stood close to the edge of the water, not far from the burning reeds, beneath the canopy of a hanging desert willow tree. A collection of copper pots and cauldrons, pans and kettles, forks, knives and plates hung from the sides of the oven or were stacked neatly on the ground beside it.

“We should gather what we need, but do not take anything from this kitchen. I do not want the ire of some desert witch brought down upon us should we take without permission,” Gro-Malakh cautioned the group. “Thyana and Grannoch, fill these water skins. Meloria and I will forage for food. Stay within ten strides of the opposite pair, we do not want to become separated out here.”

The presence of magic nearby made Gro-Malakh uneasy, but he reassured himself by tightening his grip upon his axe and focusing upon the task in hand. He and Meloria quickly realized they had stumbled upon quite the oasis; an allotment of irrigated growing beds had been cultivated by the shores of the river. Established beds of figs, olives and apricots grew in the shade of laden date palms and peach trees, other branches offered oranges, limes, lemons and grapefruit; the river was abundant with fat fish and even the air was thick with buzzing locusts.

“Will you return to the others tonight, Gro-Malakh?” Meloria asked as she was gathering oranges. “You are the strongest amongst us. You could bring them food and water, and lead them on at dawn. Perhaps we could even remain here for a day or two, gather our strength and our wits about us.”

“I have not yet decided.” Gro-Malakh responded. “It may be that there are more important things to be dealt with."

Thyana and Grannoch carried the jumbled collection of water skins down to the river’s edge. Thyana quickly splashed into the mercifully cool waters of the Ka’al and began filling them. Grannoch’s curiosity got the better of him, with a quick glance across the grove towards the others, Grannoch knelt beside the stove and etched a swift rune upon it’s stone door.

“Those tools look like they are still used frequently. I’m not eager to meet their owner. Let’s take the water and be quick about it, Grannoch.” Thyana called back.

The kitchenware may look as good as new, Grannoch realized as his rune flashed briefly, but it was centuries old.

A woman broke the surface of the river a little ways beyond the eldritch flames. Thyana was the closest and saw her first; she was an older sibeccai woman, with rich-brown fur and dark hair. The woman must have been swimming beneath the surface for some time, to have remained unseen since they’d arrived at the oasis. She shook out her hair and stretched, her naked back to Thyana. It wasn’t until she turned to float on her back, luxuriously, that she even noticed the elf in the shallows and the gnome at the bank.

“Something isn’t right here, Thyana,” whispered Grannoch. “Keep your guard up.”

Thyana answered the gnome, telling him she’d be careful.

“Saheeda, travelers. A thousand apologies, but you have surprised me. I did not hear your approach.” The woman began to swim, in powerful strokes toward Thyana.

Grannoch called out loudly, “Greetings, stranger. What brings one such as yourself to live in such a remote region?”

“I do not live here. I am a shepherd, this is where we water our flock. I am Ashasunnu. Please be welcome. You’ll be hungry, I’m sure.”

Thyana smiled and waded out to greet Ashasunnu, her hands never far from the hilts of her swords. “Thank you, we are sorry we invaded your camp but you are right, we are weary from a long walk in the sands.”

“You have nothing for which to apologize.” Ashasunnu swam closer, until she was able to stand, unashamed of her nudity. “The desert takes its toll upon us all.”

Gro-Malakh appeared at the water’s edge and splashed into the river. “We seek to survive at any cost, so choose your course wisely.” Gro-Malakh tightened his grip as he spoke, all the while making his way toward the river witch. “Blood will be shed, or food will be shared.”

“My preference would be for the later,” Ashasunnu smiled. “You are all more than welcome to eat and to drink. The Goddess provides here, just as she takes away in the desert. If you have nothing to offer, or share yourselves, do not be embarrassed brave giant. You can prepare for us the meal – pluck any fruit, gather any nut, fish any fish and hunt any game, but prepare food to share and spare us the bloodshed. It is said, that the Goddess rewards those who make good use of her bounty.”

With visible relief the giant put his axe away and said, “Then praise be to your Goddess. I will prepare this feast, that we might all be strengthened.”

While Thyana, Meloria and Grannoch sat on the river bank with Ashasunnu, Gro-Malakh set about gathering food, spices, and water. Ashasunnu remained in the cool waters, idly splashing and relaxing, and it didn’t take much to convince the others to languish alongside her. It was a mercy to be able to cool off at the end of such long and grueling day in the sun.

“I am glad I did not have to kill you," Gro-Malakh called from the bank.

“Believe me, I am glad of that, too.” Ashasunnu smiled.

“My inner Beast has had control for far too long. I sometimes forget how people are supposed to act when under it’s spell.”

“Brave giant, let your beast be calm. I wish to know if what I have heard of Summanian cooking is true – a caravan of your people rested and watered themselves here once. They had the most wonderful bread I have ever tasted and they spoke of long, stringy food that sounded like hair. I just cannot imagine.”

Above the grove the stars shone as brightly as they ever had; a beautiful and crisp desert night was upon them and for the first time in many, many nights each of the escaped slaves was able to enjoy a moment of peace, comfort and companionship.

“An elf, a gnome, a giant and a sibeccai.” Ashasunnu said. “Four different peoples, each lost in the desert together. I am sure that we will not lack for tales over dinner.”

Meloria reluctantly returned from the cool waters, when it became clear that none of the others were about to, she pulled back on the dirty and torn robe she had been wearing and sighed.

“It feels so good to be clean, that I’d almost rather stay naked than wear these rags anymore.”

Meloria set about making a campfire, and soon the smell of Gro-Malakh’s cooking lured the others out of the river too. The companions gathered around the campfire and Ashasunnu joined them, wrapping herself in a shawl that had been draped across a tree limb. The meal did not disappoint, and Meloria wondered how the others were faring, under the rude lean-to drinking urine and eating peryton jerky.

They huddled closer to the campfire and to one another as the night turned cooler. Ashasunnu produced a polished wooden wand, the traditional baton that desert folk passed around after their evening meal. Children called the wand, a story stick, and whoever held it was expected to tell a tale or sing a song. Ashasunnu sat cross-legged by the fire-pit and began to sing. It was a song that was forbidden in the cities by Unseelie Decree. Meloria recognized it immediately and added her own voice to the harmony.

“Moonrise and so rise I,
Fire burning and so burn I,
Spindle spinning and so spin I,
The world is turning and so turn I.

Mother I feel you under my feet,
Mother I feel your heartbeat,
Mother I feel you under my feet,
Mother I feel your heartbeat.

Moonrise and so rise I,
Fire burning and so burn I,
Spindle spinning and so spin I,
The world is turning and so turn I.

Mother I feel you under my feet,
Mother I feel your heartbeat,
Mother I feel you under my feet,
Mother I feel your heartbeat."

“I sang that song with Alriak,” the memory brought tears to Meloria’s eyes, it seemed so long since she had heard from her lost friend.

Ashasunnu smiled and leaned over to wipe away Meloria’s tears with her shawl. She handed the story-stick to Gro-Malakh, who even while he was sat down towered above the whole group. The giant related the tale of how he came to be captured by the slavers,

“There was not a cloud in the sky that cursed night, with a fell wind blowing through the trees from the west. It was not long into the night that I heard the snapping of twigs under foot, some 200 paces from my hunting blind. From the sound I was able to discern the direction they were headed, they came toward my cave. Once they had passed my blind, I slipped to the forest floor and stalked them.” A predatory grin creased his face as he spoke. “When I came within fifteen paces, I could smell their stench… the stench of the civilized. These fools were laden with manacles and rope, and they were too loud to hear my approach. When they started to talk I charged into their rear-guard, hewing the first two in half.”

Madness shone in the giant’s eyes as he continued the telling. “The closest few dropped their burdens and ran screaming into the woods, the sounds of slaughter following their flight. Limbs careened through the air, their stumps spewing blood like fountains. Where Gnasher bit, death was assured.”

Gro-Malakh took a darker tone when he continued. “By the time I had moved half-way up their column, I was feeling dizzy as an unfamiliar numbness spread from the slight wounds I had sustained. The fetchers were poisoning me, cut by tiny cut, and I could not kill enough of them to stop it.” A low growl emanated from his throat as he recalled the cowardice of the slavers. “Six of their number were outright dead, missing heads or halves, a dozen more lay bleeding out, however; I was losing my senses and I fell from consciousness.”

Gro-Malakh paused, seeing the slavers faces and then said in a low, bitter tone, “That is how I came to be held captive by the slavers… they should have killed me. The fools will rue the day they set their eyes upon me, for Gnasher hungers for their bloated carcasses.”

Gro-Malakh let the gruesome story of his capture hang in the air for some time, his eyes staring into the darkness across the river; a cruel grin across his rough features. He handed the polished wand back,

“Ashasunnu, from where do you hail? Are there others in this region like you?”

“I am from Muan Oasis. It is about a day’s hike from here, just a small desert camp really. Nothing more and nothing less, thank Mother.” She smiled.

“Muan Oasis?” Meloria said. “But that’s a hub, no desert caravan passes through these sands without resupplying at Muan. We were bound for there, on our way north. I overheard the slavers. It is more than a mere desert camp, surely?”

“My dear, you may be confused. The oasis is not large enough to support the traffic you describe, not even nearly. I could name every soul who calls the Oasis home using no more than our fingers here around the campfire." Ashasunnu spoke kindly, as you might to a child. "But, regardless, I spend more of my time here, with my partner Balashi, than there. We’re shepherds, you see. Balashi is with our flock right now, upstream a ways. We have half a hundred head of mork, you know. Have you heard the tale of The Mork Whisperer?”

As she began the telling a bright light appeared in the night sky. It burned a glittering trail across the heavens, bathing the grove in a pale luminescence and reflecting brightly on the river. Meloria fell to her knees and clasped her breast in prayer. Grannoch, while trying to appear as calm as possible during the strange new development, turned to Thyana with a nervous, questioning grin on his face.

“I have never seen anything like it,” Thyana breathed. “And look, the flames on the river. They mimic the flames in the sky.”

The eldritch flames which burned on the water’s surface shimmered a myriad of scintillating colors and seemed taller, as if they burned yet more fiercely to reach the flames above. The shooting stars burned their fiery trails across the night sky for long moments before they finally vanished, winking out into darkness and leaving behind a stunned silence.

A silence that was broken, suddenly, by Ashasunnu. The woman rose in a panic and began to scream, “Balashi! Balashi! The sky is falling, Balashi! Oh Goddess, save us!”

“Stop blubbering Ashasunnu, and tell us what is going on!” Gro-Malakh demanded, as he readied Gnasher, cautiously.

“We must flee!” The crazed woman screamed at Gro-Malakh. “The Goddess is angered and the sky is falling! I must find Balashi!”

Ashasunnu seemed almost deranged in her panic. The woman turned and ran for the river, diving into the dark waters. Meloria stood and pointed, her eyes wide.

“Did you see that?” She gasped. “When the shepherd hit the water, she made no splash. How is that possible?”

What Meloria said was true, the shepherd had hit the water without causing so much as a ripple and now Ashasunnu was swimming upstream with powerful strokes, still screaming. Meloria ran to the river and waded out hip deep, shouting for Ashasunnu to wait, to stop, but she would not listen. As the others remained transfixed by the falling stars, the strange shepherd disappeared beneath the water’s dark surface.

Date: Mother’s Day, 15th Dar 798 PL (Dawn)
Location: The southern banks of The Ka’al River, somewhere south of Muan Oasis.

In the morning, Meloria was the first to rise. She gathered together some apricots, grapefruit and oranges for breakfast and fresh water from the river; she was gathering her thoughts at the same time. That was an ill omen last night, she thought to herself, not for the first time but she did not understand it, could not understand it.

“We know where we are now, more or less,” Meloria said as the others ate. “A day’s hike from Muan Oasis, Ashasunnu said. Of course, it might take us more than a day to find it. It seems to me, our wisest course of action would be to return for the others. Bring them fruit and fresh water and guide them back here. That’s going to take the rest of this day, but once everyone is safe and reunited, we can send out scouts and find the oasis, make sure that it’s safe and not currently hosting any Summonel merchants.”

The Dar Games (Part One)

Date: 25th Dar, 798 P.L.
Location: The Unseelie Colosseum, City of Ishtaduk

The Opening Ceremony began at nightfall, on the 25th. The Sand King had decreed that The Dar Games be held to mark the end of another fierce summer. They were to be a succession of free-booting gladiatorial contests to be held over thirteen nights. The Dar Champion – the single gladiator to emerge victorious after thirteen nights on the sands will be permitted to publicly approach The Sand King and beg his favor.

The Dar Games are attended by Kin-Yhakkor and General Marduk, the God-Kings of the neighboring City of Yhakkoth. These Royal guests of honor have just arrived in the City of Ishtaduk, amid much pomp and ceremony. It is no great secret that The Sand King’s fabled airship, the long-lost Princess Parizade had been found again by The Heroes of Yhakkoth. If the whispered gossip and rumor were to be believed, the visiting dignitaries planned to present the legendary vessel to their Unseelie Liege during the Closing Ceremony of the Games.

It was a great shock then – to the crowded thousands in the Colosseum when their King never took his seat. The Sand Throne remained empty, and unexplained. An open insult to Kin-Yhakkor and General Marduk who were left alone to greet the two hundred or so gladiators that filed onto the sands in The Unseelie Colosseum.

Nevertheless, the visiting royalty surveyed the prospective combatants and selected two: the untested slave Drusilla and the dwarven freebooter Rikard the Bull. Against them, they selected another giant, The Captain and another dwarf, Hagga the Howler. The four gladiators accepted the match, and the others filed out of the arena.

The Dar Games were begun! That very first combat set the tone for the whole games. The two dwarves and the two giants battered away at each other in a vicious and unrelenting combat. Drusilla and Rikard emerged victorious, but badly blooded. They were each fortunate, not to be selected for a return to the sands on that first day.

There were many others who were less fortunate.

The Dar Games
by Ian Hewitt

Drusilla the Unblooded (Donna Hewitt)
Rikard the Bull (MacGreine)
The Captain (NPC)
Hagga the Howler (NPC)

Game Master (Ian Hewitt)
Played at the virtual tabletop.
Winter 2012

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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