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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.”

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Gladiator!
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

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Chattel. Chapter Two
Tales of the Desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grannoch nodded quietly, but the giant was less agreeable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chattel. Chapter One
Tales of the Desert

Date: Love’s Day, 13th Dar 798 PL (evening)
Location: Western Banks of the Ka’al River, north of Banu

Chattelwagon

It seemed like only minutes ago that he had felt the soft touch of the woman’s hand next to him as she asked, “Are you okay?”

With the pounding in his head, the stench, the darkness and the horrible heat of the wagon hold Selarcould think of but one reply “Am I dead?”

It seemed a legitimate question. He had been sentenced to a public execution. The last thing he remembered was watching the party of all parties through the barred window of his cell as the new leaders of the slums where he had grown up celebrated the arrival of a new era. As Selar watched the fireworks and listened to the music coming from the streets below, someone must have entered his cell and hit him hard on the head knocking him unconscious. Now he was here. But where, exactly, was here? The woman patted his shoulder and said, “No, my dear, you are not dead. But once you realize your situation you might wish that you were.”

The slaves hadn’t seen daylight now in a week – at least no more than filtered up through the cracks in the floor. The caravan had settled into a routine as it made it’s way northwards for the brickyards of Yhakkoth. The three massive wagons began to roll each day at dawn; an hour or so later five guards – troglodyte ghilmen, themselves slaves – brought water and soup for the slaves and checked their shackles. In the evening, they returned again with more water and the wagons rested for the night. The only time this routine had been broken, was a few days ago, when the caravan paused to toss another unfortunate woman into the hold.

Slavers.jpg

They were bound for the city of Yhakkoth, this much they knew. A frontier boom-town, that had long since bust. The City-Gods there had embarked upon an ambitious new project to build a imposing new mosque in honor of a witch and the heroes who had been instrumental in saving their city from a demonic incursion last year. It was a controversial move, as worshipers of the forbidden Old Faith witches were outlaws. The guards had been overheard whispering rumors that the Sand King himself was unhappy.

But, for Merchant House Summonel, the slave labor and building supplies they were transporting could be their last hope. The Merchant Company had lost an entire caravan and all of it’s goods last year during Yhakkoth’s troubles; and just last month Merchant Captain Sara and her caravan had ventured into the desert and been lost, with all hands, to pirates.

The temperature inside the slave hold was terrible during the day. There was almost no ventilation, very little light and not much room. The slaves all wore heavy leather manacles on their wrists and ankles, in addition to a leather collar. The manacles and collars were secured with an elven hair rope that allowed them each just enough slack to reach a shared chamber pot in the middle of the slave hold, further ridding them of any dignity they may once have had. The rope ran through a bone loop set into the wall and was secured from outside the hold. Captive elf

Outside, the troglodyte ghilmen marched alongside the wagons, armed with shield and spear and overseen by the merchants themselves who rode within the wagons. Mounted outriders ranged ahead, scouting for water and watching for danger.

Thyana had spent the last few months trying to protect her dignity as best she could, in the midst of dozens of unfortunates like her. She barely ate or talked, and shame led her to resort to the chamber pot only when she could no longer do without. Often she cried remembering the life that was taken for granted a few months ago. She had thought it was difficult then, but now she would give her life to return to that familiar routine.

Thyana had been forced from the hold of a ship to a city, and from there to another city and another slave hold – this time within a huge wagon drawn by giant turtles in the middle of a scorching desert. The elven girl had suffered her captivity poorly, she barely recalled it, as if it had happened to someone else. Thyana had passively endured every humiliation and abuse.

The last few days in this desert had been particularly grueling, forced into the midst of men and women resembling jackals in a fiery and smelly wagon. Thyana felt some affinity toward Meloria, the sibeccai woman who was only recently brought aboard, but her other companions remained unknown slaves. But she had barely expressed this empathy, despite having begun to pick up the language of these people.

It was a relief when the wagons finally came to a halt for the evening and the guards returned. Two of the troglodytes stood in the doorway, while the other three moved among the slaves with bowls of water and steaming soup.

“Just give me hers and get out of here, it stinks badly enough in this pit without you bastards crowding in.” Meloria said when Thyana flinched away from the offered bowl.

The troglodyte was disinterested. He passed Meloria the food and drink and moved along to the next prisoner while his companion checked their restraints. They moved through the hold until everyone was fed and then departed, barring the door behind them.

Night came quickly in the desert and the temperature quickly plummeted in the wagon. The merchant’s campfires allowed the barest of light to flicker through the cracks in the floor, but no warmth at all.

A horn blasted out waking those who had fallen into a fitful sleep. There was confusion and movement inside the wagon, coupled with yelling and bustling coming from outside. A second horn was followed by sudden urgent shouts and yells from outside. Nervously, Selar tested his restraints. He realized they were sound and would require significant attention and focus if he were to be free of them.

Since awakening in this place, and no longer being in the custody of Banu’s Templar’s a flame of hope had stirred with Selar. His head still ached and throbbed, but no longer did the headsman’s axe hover above it. He might have been sold into slavery, but he was alive and he intended to stay that way.

“Stand to!” A voice cried, the horn echoing again, it sounded like it was coming from the roof of the wagon. “Stand to arms!”

“The Goddess needs no temple!” An accented voice cried out, it was outside the camp, but close enough to be heard. “Your King must cease building his false-temple or not a single caravan will ever leave the desert.”

The sounds of chaos erupted outside and rapidly escalated. The merchants and guards could be heard rushing by the door to the slave hold, their booted feet clomping above their heads to the armored stations on the wagon’s roof.

A great multitude of cheering, jeering voices had risen in support of the challenge from outside the camp; cheers which quickly turned to battle cries of, “For the Goddess!”

“What is going on?” Thyana asked, finally speaking.

“I don’t know.” Meloria replied. “They must be desert folk, Bedouin and dervishes. They would be the only ones foolish enough to invoke Our Mother, the Goddess’ name so openly. It makes sense they would oppose the Unseelie temple construction in Yhakkoth.”

Selar’s mind raced, taking in all that was around him. There must be a way out of this he thought, and he impulsively tried again to free himself from his restraints, but they were too secure. He was unable to free himself either by force or guile.

Across from the Selar and the women, Omar stood up quickly at the sound of battle. The tall sibeccai had strained against his restraints many times since being locked in here, but even his formidable strength had been insufficient to free him.

A cry arose within his chest, “For the Goddess!” he struggled to break free with sheer desperation and brute force. He lunged toward the giant, also imprisoned in here. “Help me brother. With your back and mine we might be able to break these damned shackles.”

Before Bareshar could respond a loud explosion rocked the wagon violently. Sharp, jagged light flashed immediately outside; the panicked shouts quickly turned to cries of pain and agony.

“Leave now. Leave your wagons and your goods and go!” The accented voice boomed across the desert, obviously magnified through some arcane means. “Leave or you will never leave. Your bones will be picked clean by the desert and your sorry souls returned to the Goddess.”

The voices of the merchants and their guards shouted and screamed from outside and from above. It sounded as if many were losing the will to fight, but few were fleeing. Where would they flee to?

“Fire!” The order came from above the slaves and was quickly followed by the sounds of the ballista on the wagon’s roof being fired. It seemed, as far the slaves could tell, the ragged defenders were standing their ground.

Selar followed the other escaped slaves out of the filthy hold, his head pounded with pain, and his vision blurred. The hallway was narrow and dim. Two separate ladders led upward to the ballista and archer’s nests on the wagon’s roof. A door led outside. It swung, open and shut, banging in it’s frame.

Outside it was clear the battle was not going well for the merchants. The noise of the battle had swelled and the sense of urgency among the terrified slaves made it all the more difficult for Selar to concentrate. He instinctively reached out for the hand of someone next to him as he realized he was growing faint.

A massive scorpus warband had overrun the perimeter of the camp. Even as the door swung open and closed, the violent melee raged closer and closer. The troglodyte guards were simply no match for the fierce desert barbarians. They would be upon the wagon in mere moments.

It was impossible to guess numbers, but the warband looked to be 100-strong at the very least. The man-scorpion barbarians screamed warbling, ululating shrieks and war cries in their native tongue, and battle cries of “For the Goddess!” and “Death to the Unseelie!” in broken Faridian.

Further down the hallway, beyond the swinging door, there were more ladders to the roof, and several more doors leading outdoors, a final door led to the wagon’s main cargo hold.

Omar impulsively abandoned the plan to reach the roof and leaped from the open doorway. He landed nimbly on the desert sands, less than thirty feet away from a skirmish line of troglodyte guards. The guards were pressed hard, battered, bleeding and demoralized before an unstoppable foe, but with no hope of escape.

Bareshar, follow me, brother!" Omar cried out. "Selar, bring the women, we’ll clear the way! Forget the roof! We’ll take our chances outside.”

Thyana had suffered enough submission, she flinched at Omar’s barked commands. But now was hardly the time to discuss manners with the sibeccai barbarian.

“Selar, is it?" She said. "We need weapons and shields and we’re not going to find any waiting here.”

Selar could barely hear what was being said to him but his heart raced with the possibility of freedom, however dangerous, he shook his head, allowing the adrenaline to clear away the pain (for now, at least).

Omar hit the ground running, expecting the others to follow his lead, but not waiting for a moment to see if they did. There simply was not time for thought or discussion. If any of them were going to survive this, they must take action now.

Omar surveyed the battlefield, desperately searching for a gap in melee. There were slim pickings (and slim hope, he realized) but, toward the front of the wagon, the attackers had been felled by a deadly barrage from the ballista above. Omar had found what he was looking for and he rushed that way, bent low and stealing a curved falchion-blade from a barbarian’s crushed grip as he passed.

“Weapons and a shield?” Selar smiled, despite himself. It would be amusing to see himself armed and armored as heavily as the Royal Templars who’d marched into the slums that day with their swords at the ready, their bright and shiny shields blazing in the unforgiving sun. Selar has never so much as owned a weapon, much less a shield, and why would he? He’d never needed more than the small dagger he’d used to cut fruit and toss at targets for fun. He could hold his own in any street brawl, but his own style of petty thievery had never required the use of weapons. He had always relied on his speed and cunning. This was just too much!

His head span again, Selar’s eyes felt as if they were burning as fiercely as the wagon was by now. He stepped forward to follow Thyana and Meloria outside, but he stumbled and fell from the wagon door landing sprawled at their feet in the sand.

“I don’t think he will be useful," Thyana said to Meloria. "He seems barely able to stand on his feet.”

Bareshar had never seen scorpions, much less scorpus before, and he didn’t like the look of them. They looked like spiders, he thought, and that was reason enough to ignore the reckless Omar! Bareshar turned away from the door and quickly scaled the ladder to the roof.

“Big friend, try to take a weapon for me too." Thyana shouted. "I have to stay and watch our comrades.”

Three sibeccai merchants, with scimitars at their hips, were manning the ballista. They were panicked and frustrated, colliding with each other and getting in one another’s way more than helping each other. It was a wonder they had managed to strike the barbarians below, at all! They certainly hadn’t noticed the mighty Bareshar emerging onto the firing deck behind them.

The elven girl rested her hands gently on Selar’s shoulders, and helped him to his feet. The troglodyte guards were now less than twenty feet from them, and there were decidely fewer of them. The ring of scorpion-men about them had tightened, it seemed Omar had found the only gap and that moment had passed.

“Selar? Did they hurt you? Do you think you can run away with us and the others?"

“I was hit on the head and it must be worse than I thought." Selar answered. "I will certainly do everything I can to escape this place.”

Lightning bolts crackled over their heads from somewhere behind the barbarian’s line, striking the wagon and blasting a hole in it’s wall, wrecking one of it’s wheels beyond repair.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * *

Omar had kept running, as low as the tall barbarian could, and as fast as he could until he was sure he had passed through the scorpus lines. Omar was far from a coward, but he’d raided enough mining camps and wagon trains to know how this would end. The hefty sword in his grip felt good.

“OK, that’s far enough,” he barked and dropped to the sand, concealed from the battlefield by a dip in the sand dunes. It was only then that he realized that nobody was behind him! Those idiots, he thought, there was only one chance and they hadn’t taken it! Were they happy being slaves? Well not me, thought Omar!

From his vantage point atop the dune’s crest, Omar was able to see the whole battlefield. The three massive wagons, that made up House Summonel’s slave caravan were completely surrounded. Two of the three were burning, but there was no sign that the slaves in either of the other two vehicles had escaped their shackles. The troglodyte guards had been all but overrun, their corpses lay strewn across the desert, hacked to ribbons by the barbarian’s blades and axes or contorted in agony after being pierced by the barbarian’s venomous stingers. The merchants themselves had retreated into the remaining wagons, manning the ballistas, but without much hope.

The only guards that still resisted were those around the wagon that Omar had only just now escaped – and there were precious few of them. Omar could see what they could not, tiny flitting figures zipping through the air behind the scorpus. They were barely inches tall, barely visible in the evening twilight, but they were clearly the fairy magic-users who continued to launch spell after spell at the merchants and their wagons.

Omar turned his attention to the slaves he had just left. The ones he’d thought were right behind him. Bareshar emerged onto the rooftop of the burning wagon and threw himself at a ballista crew. The merchants were desperately occupied with manning their ballista and they failed to notice the escaped slave appear behind them; Bareshar had wrestled one of them to the deck and crushed his throat, before either of the others could draw a blade. Omar watched as Bareshar snatched up his fallen foe’s scimitar and charged at the others.

The other escaped slaves, some dozen or so, had gathered outside the stricken vehicle. They were largely ignored by the barbarians who boarded the wagon behind them, now that the ballista above had fallen silent. Omar watched as the naked elf helped the slave with the broken head back to his feet.

  • * * * * * * * * * * *

“I don’t think we will be able to fight our way out of this one even if we did have weapons.” Selar said. A wave of adrenaline filled him and he searched for a clear path through the crowd, as he had done so many times before. It had always been a specialty of his to navigate through a crowd, the explosions around him were just what he needed as a distraction.

“Ladies, I think I see a way, follow me.”

“Anything you say mister," Thyana was still clumsy after so long in chains. "Let’s run the hell out of here.”

Thyana, Meloria and the others fled across the open battlefield following Selar. They fled toward the front of the slave wagon, and ducked through the tangled mess of ropes and chains below the hitching posts.

“Wait a second.” Thyana shouted as she paused by the corpse of a fallen merchant to relieve him of his scimitar and dagger. “You see, I was in the village militia in Anupam. I’ve always been skilled with swords and blades in general. I was so proud of my ability to fight two or three men at once during sparring sessions, and in real battles. But then sea elf slavers attacked us when most of our warriors were out hunting. The few who remained and who were able to wield a weapon, did so, but the enemy was too numerous.” She paused, saddened. “I killed two and wounded three myself, but in the end… well, you see me now. But chatter can wait, as can taking some clothes, that would require too much time. Let’s go.”

Thyana followed Meloria and a skinny looking gnome as Selar led them away from the wagon, across the stained sands of the battlefield and up the steep side of a sand dune. Behind them, the last of the troglodyte guardsmen fell and the barbarians fell upon all three of the merchant wagons, dragging the remaining merchants out onto the sand and piercing their bellies with their dripping stingers.

Suddenly, Omar’s voice bellowed from out of the darkness “For the Goddess! For freedom!” followed by the heavy-set sibeccai, skidding and sliding down the steep sand bank toward them wildly brandishing a huge curved blade.

It was not only the fleeing slaves who were momentarily startled by the young barbarian’s violent charge down the dune – a blue skinned fairy with a scorpion’s tail was suddenly right before Selar’s nose. A spellflinger, she cursed, as the spell she had been about to loose was startled out of her. The fairy’s wings fluttered furiously as she spun about trying to keep eyes on both Omar behind her and Selar’s band of escapees in front of her.

Selar jumped back, startled by the small blue creature. “What in the world?”

Was this an hallucination caused by the bump on his head or was the fairy hovering before him real? Selar reached out to touch her and the fairy darted sideways with surprising agility, he noticed she wore the most extravagant tiny jewelry: bejeweled rings, glittering bracelets, a dazzling necklace and delicate piercings, but she wore nothing else besides a tiny green silk cloak that was so fine it was barely visible.

Selar’s instinct set in and he realized he may have to do some quick talking, “We are not of the people who drive this slave caravan. We are here against our will and mean you no harm. That barbarian over there is a slave just like us. Is there any way you can help us? Some are injured and we are most certainly lost out here.”

As the words left his mouth Selar realized his adrenaline rush was coming to an end. His head began to throb once again and darkness descended across his vision. He knew he was going down when it felt like the sand was beginning to swirl beneath his feet. Suddenly Thyana was beside him, the elven girl was surprisingly strong as she supported Selar in her arms.

“Come on friend, I don’t know how to deal with the fey but I don’t think starting to hack at them would do us any good.” Thyana said, shaking Selar gently, and keeping one eye on Omar as he careened down the slope.

Behind her, the gnome Grannoch cursed quietly to himself, begrudging the idea of an apparently worthless battle, but realizing there was little to be done to stop it now. He observed that, while the small faerie was clearly outmatched at the present, the most useful course of action would be to defend against any others heading this direction, and to that end, he began sketching a rune in the sand.

The damned fairy was faster and further than he’d thought, but at least he’d scared the spell out of her. Omar’s charge carried him slipping and sliding down the sand dunes and he hadn’t arrived to parlay with the magic user.

“Goddess!” Omar bellowed as he launched himself into the air over the last few feet. The massive khopesh sword flashed above his head in a deadly arc. The heavy blade caught the fairy across her back, destroying her wings and driving her into the sand with a terrible force. The diminutive spellcaster began to spasm violently, in the center of a rapidly spreading crimson stain in the sand. She had no chance to even cry out.

Selar would have fallen if it were not for Thyana’s strong grip, in fact he almost did slide to the sand as the elf readied her newly acquired blades. He tried to call out to Omar, “No! Don’t hurt her!” But he had been too weak and too slow to prevent it.

“Sorry friend,” Thyana said to him. “Damn, as if we don’t have enough enemies.” She was uneasy at the weight and balance of her new weapons, I haven’t trained in, how long? Two? Three months? I hope my body remembers how it is done; more these aren’t the weapons I was used to, and I’m all but naked."

Selar tore a long strip of cloth from the bloody turban he had snatched from one of the fallen during their escape and tied it tightly around his head, relieving the throbbing ache in his skull. He turned to Thyana, “Thank you for your help. I probably wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for you.”

“My pleasure friend." Thyana said. "We are all in the same boat now, so we have to cooperate.”

“Your fight was with the slavers, small one. You should not have hindered us.” Gro-Malakh said, to the dying fairy. He turned to his fellow slaves. “Keep moving, those who fall behind will only cause our deaths, should we remain.” He started to move away from the caravan, ready to strike down anything that might block his path.

Meloria and the other slaves didn’t need to be told twice. They fell quickly and silently into line behind Gro-Malakh following the giant’s deep footsteps, past the fairy, and toward the peak of the sand dune.

As the escaped slaves reached the crest of the dune and began down the far side, Thyana approached Omar, her left arm around her breasts, “I still have to thank you for giving me and the others this chance. I usually would have disagreed with such reckless behavior, but I don’t know this land or its peoples. I have been brought here against my will so I need someone I can rely on now; I hope my skills will soon be fully restored, so I can be more useful. I’m Thyana, may I know your name?”

Omar glared down his scarred snout at the naked elf, his gaze lingered unashamedly on the ample bosom she was failing to conceal, “Don’t you worry yourself, little woman. Omar al-Talilal is my name and I will give you plenty of opportunity to express your gratitude soon enough.”

Thyana was obviously not happy that the large sibeccai eyes were lingering on her privates, but she was more concerned with survival, and so she simply turned away.

A double explosion echoed from the far side of the dune, as Grannoch’s hastily sketched runes deterred their pursuit. The escaped slaves picked up their pace, disappearing into the darkness, the flames of the destroyed caravan illuminating the night sky behind them.

The pursuit they had feared never came. But the night was far from silent. The barbarians could be heard loudly celebrating their victory over the merchant-slavers, sounding horns and beating drums and raising their voices in song to the Goddess; but they seemed unconcerned with the fleeing slaves.

The slaves crested yet another dune and slid down into a steep, sandy ravine on the far side.

“We will need to search for water, food and shelter. Those who do not assist, will not be fed. Those who hinder the group, will be left to their fate.” Gro-Malakh said, as he pondered the likelihood of finding enough food and water for this pitiful band of slaves. There certainly was nothing in sight, and likely little for endless miles. The desert sands of Farid were notoriously unforgiving.

“Does anyone know where we are?” Omar asked. “It seems to me, we should wait until those scorpion bastards have left and then salvage the wreckage. If we just head out into the desert, we’re doomed.”

Selar said, “I have no idea of where we are, my new friend, but I fear by the looks of things we are surrounded by a vast wilderness that we would be incapable of navigating in our current state. I have to agree with you that waiting to loot the wreckage might be our best option. I must admit I find myself at a disadvantage as I have never been far from the city I grew up in although with my new found freedom I am eager to to take on any challenge before me.”

“Well said Omar." Thyana agreed. "I, too, think we need to salvage more from the wreckage; hopefully some clothes too, I wouldn’t like to be forced to choose which way should I express my gratitude.”

“A logical plan." Gro-Malakh said. “But it could take some time for the barbarians to leave, and we do not want to be in their warpath when they do. I will look for water and food in the time being. Elf, take these.”

The giant ripped the legs off of his sack-cloth pants and tossed them to her. Thyana caught the voluminous rags and wrapped her slight frame easily within them, thanking him as he moved away from the group to begin his search for water.

“Will need real clothes for the day, for traveling under the desert sun, but for now these will do. Hope the scorp-barbarians will leave some merchant’s corpse his desert robes. I cannot imagine they would have use for such things, but could as well tear them apart just to emphasize their victory.”

View
Genesis. Season Three
Desert Nights (Part Six)

Date: Moon’s Day, 16th Dar 798 P.L. (Evening)
Location: The Royal Deck, The Princess Parizade

The blue haze receded as quickly as it had arisen, taking with it the vision of the three women. Alriak, Alias and Quin were once more stood upon the deck of the Princess Parizade, beneath the Royal Pavilion, the words of the White Witch echoing in their ears, “Come to me, come to me.”

Jamila rushed to the Prophet and lowered him to the deck of the ship, the human had an unusual look upon his face. The earlier look of rare happiness had become one of unbridled, divine joy.

“Rhea!” The Prophet whispered in awe, before his eyes rolled up in his head and he lapsed into unconsciousness with that same blissful look unchanged.

The sand storm continued to rage about them, but it had lessened somewhat. Parizade and Jamila rushed to them. The genie handed Alriak his blue orb, once more returned to it’s normal size.

“What happened to you?” She asked.

“I am not really sure how to explain what has taken place,” The whole experience had left Alriak weak and emotionally drained. He accepted the small blue orb, “But I believe we were just brought into the presence of Anwen and her angels. The White Witch has beckoned us come to her at the Womb-Grove.”

Princess Parizade’s eyes were wide indeed, “The Womb-Grove!”

Every child ever born had likely heard tales of the sacred Womb-Grove of Anwen, spiritual and literal home of the Mother-Goddess. It was located on the very peaks of Mount Anwen, the World Mountain, but few were those who ever made that pilgrimage. The Queen of the Seelie was known to have made the climb to seek counsel with the Goddess after the Sand King’s revolt, but this was the stuff of ancient fey legend.

Alriak glanced at the sphere before returning it to his pouch and slowly lowering himself to the deck below his feet. He looked to the night sky and said, "There is an even greater storm than this on our horizon, Princess. One that we must face bravely.

Desert Nights
by Ian Hewitt

Alias, Prophet of Anaru (Doug Harris)
Alriak (MacGreine)
Jamila the Driver (NPC)
Princess Parizade (NPC)
Quinvera the Tall (Donna Hewitt)

Game Master (Ian Hewitt)
Play-by-Forum
Summer 2011

View
Genesis. Season Three
Desert Nights (Part Five)

Date: Moon’s Day, 16th Dar 798 P.L. (Early evening)
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, preparing for the vatic ceremony; performing the ceremony at a symbolic location, such as this, could very well prove helpful to the vision.

“We’ll see how well you sleep tonight Princess,” the Prophet muttered to himself, oblivious to the scorpion that crawled out of his beard and vanished into the mess of his hair. “Ah, the Sand King is probably your blood-kin, I’ll bet. We’ll find out the truth of it, soon enough.”

The vatic ceremony was an ancient meditative ritual. As a Prophet, Alias was able to recognize and interpret actual dreams, but a vatic vision was something else, something altogether more powerful. More dangerous, too, but everything came with a price, especially in these mercantile lands.

The human spilled the incense into the bowl, he had gathered these herbs a long time ago in the Holy Sister’s gardens at the Abbey in Yhakkoth, for just such an occasion. The incense would aid the waking dreamer in achieving the vatic sight; either that, or they would empty their stomachs and pass out.

Once he was satisfied with the preparation of the incense, Alias turned his attention to the deck, scratching glyphs and patterns with a stick of charcoal in the prescribed manner.
Journeys of the dreamtime
The sun would soon be setting, and the others would be arriving. It was very important that they not be disturbed during the ceremony – a fact that the Prophet had stressed to First Mate Hanbal, so that he might perform whatever naval duties were necessary to provide a calm and quiet environment. The consequences of being disturbed while attempting to divine the fate of a being as powerful as the Sand King, would be dire indeed!

The former wagon driver, Jamila, was the first to arrive. In fact, she had been observing the Prophet since he began his preparations and only now stepped forward, timidly.

“Es salam alekum, Prophet,” Jamila said, a nervous smile upon her usually jovial face. “Is there anything that I can do to help you prepare?”

“Of course you can help, dear woman,” Alias said smiling at her. “First, please bring me some water. It is a blessing indeed for worthy hands that can assist.”

Jamila nodded and turned to fetch the water, but the Prophet took her hands before she could leave. Jamila’s hands were as coarse as a warrior’s, her fur thin and gray; twenty years spent driving lizards across the desert will take it’s toll.

“Shoshanna be praised,” Alias said.Sibeccai

“Shoshanna be praised.” Jamila replied, her haunted eyes filling with tears.

Jamila soon returned with the water and Alias paused to drink deeply. With water (and spiders) dripping from his matted beard, the Prophet allowed Jamila to assist the final preparations. Alias guided her hand in drawing the last of the glyphs.

“You have a fine skill. We must always be conscious of the blessings we are about to receive. We must be grateful so the vision will share its truth.” He laughed when Jamila made an error in the design. “Do not worry, nervous one, that you have offered to assist is a more important omen than whether the paint is set dry before the viewing. May all blessings be upon Her.”

Alias was as happy as Jamila had ever seen him, and she offered another whispered prayer of thanks to Shoshanna. The Prophet was a great man, and he always seemed so troubled, he deserved a moment’s respite, she thought to herself.

By the time the sun was setting, and the others had arrived, Alias was even more animated and cheerful. Even Quin, who had known the Prophet the longest had never seen him quite so pleased with himself.

Quin, Alriak, and Princess Parizade crossed the Royal Deck and joined them under the pavilion.

“Well you seem in fine spirits this evening,” Alriak said, trying to recognize the joyful tune the Prophet was humming. “Especially for someone who only hours ago was unconscious and bleeding. So what have you in store for us this evening? What is this ceremony?”

The Prophet didn’t appear to have noticed them immediately, as he knelt and lit the incense. A plume of wispy blue smoke began to spiral up into the canopy of the pavilion. The smoke lingered, despite the fact that the wind had picked up this evening, blowing sheets of sand across the desert below them. Jamila looked around and selected a place among the glyphs and spiraling patterns to sit. Princess Parizade sat down too, although her eyes remained on the unusually jovial human.

“Find a place to sit down,” Jamila said. “I think we all need to meditate. We should pray, perhaps.”

The events of the day were piecing themselves together like a well known story, Alriak thought to himself. Although it remained unclear, he had dreamed of this very scenario only nights before. Everything that was happening now, right down to the words Jamila had just spoken had played themselves out in his dreams. Yet he was unclear where this was going. He couldn’t seem to piece things together until they happened and then it felt like deja vu. Was he to dread the words of the Prophet or to celebrate them? Clearly the Goddess had been good to him, because he should be bed ridden, if not dead, with the wounds he’d received this morning. But here he was singing and preparing a ceremony.

Alriak had called upon the Goddess a few times, but she never seemed to talk back. This Prophet had a connection with someone or something greater than anything Alriak had ever known and because of that he would listen and observe.

Removing the small blue sphere from his bag he gazed into it focusing his energies on something greater than himself. Something greater than anyone here.

The genie folded her long legs and sat beside him; the others were doing the same thing, but it was becoming harder for Alriak to see them. The smoke, from whatever herbs the crazy human was burning, had suddenly thickened. It was becoming an increasingly windy evening, but the blue smoke from incense burner did not pass beyond the perimeter of swirling patterns drawn by Alias and Jamila.

And it stank! Jamila turned a sickly green and lost her dinner.

The wind whistled and roared across the deck, threatening to wrench the pavilion from it’s moorings and scouring everyone in a shower of grating sand from the dunes beneath.

“A storm is upon us,” Parizade had to shout to be heard. “I must return to the helm. The First Mate will need my help.”

The genie stood and was about to leave but she was interrupted by a thud. The airship was being rocked hard now by the storm, sand was beginning to gather in drifts upon the deck, forcing everyone to wrap their faces to avoid choking. Impossibly the pungent blue smoke still lingered beneath the madly flapping pavilion.Sandstorms

The thud had come from the strange blue orb that Alriak held – the jostling deck must have caused the witch to lose his grip and it had fallen at his feet with a crash that had cracked the planking on the deck. It rolled rapidly across the sloping deck as everyone else, struggled to keep their balance.

Parizade was transfixed, could such a small thing possibly be so heavy? The decking was constructed with lumber taken from the Fairy Woods of the Seelie Court and blessed to be as strong as a rock.

The blue ball reached the center of their circle and levitated, it was spinning and spinning upon its own axis and it appeared to be getting larger by the second. Its growth was so rapid that in moment’s it would threaten to force everyone from beneath the pavilion – and it showed no signs of slowing.

Alriak felt a deep feeling of dread. His father’s image swam into his mind, and his angry words, “I don’t know what it is with you Alriak! You seem to be a bringer of trouble. Everything you do comes out wrong! You have been nothing more than a disgrace to our entire family and all that you touch seems to fall apart and cause others grief.”

Jamila, still nauseated from the smoke, staggered blindly to her feet and almost immediately fell when the airship bounced violently through pockets of turbulence.

“Prophet Alias!” She cried out. “Where are you?”

Alriak ran for the sphere and dove to grab it with his hands.

“Wait!” Quin shouted and lunged to grab him. But she could hardly see in the blowing sand and she missed him. Quin understood only a little about the Prophet’s magic; but she knew enough to understand that a vatic ceremony may well blur the lines of reality, it may indeed cause hallucinations – but these visions were not always false.

Alriak felt as if he were trying to collect spilled milk – in the brief moment it took for him to reach the small orb that he had kept in his pocket, it had grown so large that he could barely put his arms around it.

But, he tried.

His hands met no resistance. Alriak may as well have tried to gather the blowing sand from the air – his arms passed through and into the expanding blue sphere. He felt someone grab his hands – firmly, but not aggressively, and tug him forward into the sphere.

The chaos of the bucking deck, the scouring sand and the cloying incense all fell away and the young witch blinked his eyes and rubbed the sand from them. Was he even still on board the ship? He was surrounded by blue nothingness, emphasized by drifting white clouds and ethereal wisps.

Quin and Alias were beside him now, whether they had been swallowed by the sphere against their will, he could not say and before any of them could gather their senses, three figures emerged from the clouds, levitating forward.

The first was a fierce-looking gnomish woman, elderly and bent. She leaned upon the handle of a broomstick as if it were a quarterstaff and her unkind eyes pierced Alriak, “Do you know me, Witch?” She asked and scratched the errant whiskers on her chin.

The second was a tall sibeccai women with the same shockingly white fur that Quinvera had. This woman was dressed simply in the way of the Bedouin and carried a shepherd’s crook. She smiled kindly and extended her arms towards Quin as if to embrace her.

The third figure to emerge from the mist was a dark-skinned, winged human woman. Tall and slender, armored in shining scale mail and armed with a golden morningstar upon her hip. If there were any discernible light within this strange blue netherworld, it seemed to emanate from this last woman as if she were somehow lit from within.Rhea She raised her morningstar in salute and dropped to her knee before the Prophet.

Fear gripped Alriak tightly. It was the kind of fear that takes away ones ability to speak or even move. It wasn’t the situation he was in or the women that stood before him that filled him with fear. Nor was it the thought of death. Quite the opposite, Alriak had embraced the thought of moving beyond this painful and trouble ridden life.

What paralyzed Alriak with fear as he stood before these women was the fact that he felt like they could see right through him. It was like everything he was, is and would ever be was obvious for these women to see. Every tear he had ever cried. Every person he had ever helped (or hurt), every word uttered, every choice made was now common knowledge in this place. He was naked with no place to hide. Every aspect of his life now an open book. Was he to be judged? Was he about to give an account?

He felt embarrassed and a heavy sense of conviction fell upon him. Seeing it all laid out before him he realized his life had been a waste. He had spent his life, thus far, constructing a self centered identity from his painful experiences and it sickened him. He wished he could take it all back. Start over.

The woman’s question remained and seemed to hang in the air around him,

“Do you know me witch?” But Alriak stood frozen and unable to reply.

He did know her, of course, they all did. It was the Goddess Anwen, flanked by a pair of Shoshanna’s Angels. Of this incredible, unbelievable fact, there could be no doubt.

The women stepped forward.

The White Witch held up her hand and reached for Alriak. She pressed her open palm over his heart, instilling in him a feeling of grace, and nodded, “You will be the Heart of Anwen. Come to me and receive my blessing.”

Her touch was soft and yet flowed with the energy of a thousand suns. Alriak looked down at her hand and he could sense the aura surrounding its form. She meant him no harm. She was Good and he knew that for sure now.

“Are you the one behind my dreams and strange powers?” Alriak asked meekly.

The White Witch merely looked at him in reply, it was obvious he knew the truth. He felt revitalized and although he wasn’t sure what she meant, he trusted that all things would be revealed in time.

The Angel completed her salute and stood, kissing Alias on the mouth, “You will be the Voice of Shoshanna.”

The white-furred sibeccai embraced Quin, “You, my Granddaughter, will be the Arm of Anwen and the Will of Shoshanna.”

“Come to me, my children.” The White Witch addressed them all. “Come to me and receive my blessing. A storm approaches. A terrible, terrible storm.”

Ghost trails and wisps of blowing sand whirled about their feet; above them, in the blue haze of this no-place a dark sun, eclipsed, hung heavily in the sky. Comets and meteors rained down from the sky.

“Everything Alias has prophesied is true.” The Angel said, removing her helmet. Quin and Alias recognized her immediately, despite her altered appearance, it was Rhea, the Light-Child who had sacrificed herself to save them in Yhakkoth. “On the first day of the world, when Shoshanna created light and life, the first shadow was cast. Her shadow. Her opposite. Her antipathy. A God of the Dark places. While the Lady of the Light rested on the thirteenth day, the Dark Lord seeped into the world, he insinuated himself into its warp and its weft. There he created his own domain. His was the face of the stone turned against the soil. The night, the shadows, the stillness of a tomb, the dark places in men’s hearts were all his. These were the places where even Angels fear to tread.”

“Shoshanna realized her error too late and her vengeance was terrible.” The beautiful sibeccai said. “She destroyed the world utterly. She shattered the planet and cast it aside to begin anew. I, Ashasunnu witnessed the first remnants of this ruined world falling upon ours. You, Granddaughter, carry within you, the soul of a single inhabitant of that world, their being encoded within your runic tattoo.”

“The Sand King has long erred against my laws and led my people astray.” The White Witch said bitterly. “I have sought to resist him peacefully, but to no avail.”

“The Sand King has taken heed of what has happened in Yhakkoth.” Rhea said. “He saw the power and influence offered by the Dark Ones and he has welcomed them into his Court. The Sand King’s strength is growing, and now he offends not only Mother Anwen, but the All-Mother Herself, Shoshanna. He must be stopped, before Shoshanna’s ungentle wrath is felt once more.”

“Your dreams will show you the way.” The White Witch said to Alriak. “Your heart will temper the zeal of the Prophet.”

“Your dagger has the power to slay any who holds the darkness in his heart.” Ashasunnu said to Quin. “Your arm will carve a bloody path to the Unseelie Throne, if needs be.”

“Your words will deliver the Truth, Prophet.” The White Witch said. “The Truth will defeat the Sand King, more completely than steel and magic. Come to me, my Children. Come to me, at the Womb-Grove and receive my blessing.”

Alriak listened intently as the women spoke. Their words casting visions of incredible things before his eyes. Things he could never imagine. Their words filled him with an understanding of why this world was sometimes so difficult. He had always wondered why a world as beautiful as this could be riddled with so much pain and suffering. Now he understood. He hated the darkness of his own heart even more now.

He shuddered at the thought of tempering the zeal of the prophet. More like babysit that nut, he thought to himself. Quickly he caught himself and changed his thoughts. This was precisely the darkness of heart he should not allow in himself. The White Witch seemed to gaze at him knowingly.

Desert Nights
by Ian Hewitt

Alias, Prophet of Anaru (Doug Harris)
Alriak (MacGreine)
Jamila the Driver (NPC)
Princess Parizade (NPC)
Quinvera the Tall (Donna Hewitt)

Game Master (Ian Hewitt)
Play-by-Forum
Summer 2011

View
Chattel. Prologue
Tales of the Desert

Prologue

by MacGreine

“Meloria, it is dinner time, my child.” Her mother’s voice floated on the cool ocean breeze.

Meloria looked up from her sand castles. Her mother was stood at the back of the house, high above the beach on the large rocks that Meloria had always imagined spilled down from the mountains behind them.

Meloria smiled and returned her mother’s wave. The young girl’s stomach growled loudly and then her father and sister were there too. They were all smiling, laughing and waving. They called out to Meloria, teasing her to make haste for the dinner table or else go hungry.

The ocean breeze swept her along as she skipped past the crashing waves to the path that wound upwards through the rocks, away from the beach and toward the outstretched arms of her loving parents. But something was not right. The pathway was too long. Meloria began to run all the faster, winding her way between the mighty boulders, her sense of unease growing with each turn. She should have reached the back garden by now, the pathway was simply never this long.

The ascending twists and turns were never ending. Dark, moody clouds had appeared in a sky that only moments before had been an idyllic cloudless blue. Meloria could no longer see her family, from the path the house was obscured by the boulder field, but she could still hear them calling for her. Her father’s voice rang out the loudest, his voice made barely recognizable by fear, “Meloria!”

Panic finally conquered Meloria. The sand sucked at her feet, dragged at her, pulling her to her knees. Meloria didn’t scream, not yet at least, but she redoubled her efforts to drag her feet free of the sand and run toward the sound of her parent’s shouting. The storm clouds broke with an explosion of thunder and a sudden deluge of rain. The young girl slipped, her bare feet disappearing into the mud as a torrent of water fell from the sky. Meloria was soaked to the skin in moments, and floundering. Splashing, slipping and sliding she couldn’t get up, “Mother! Father! Help me!”

Now Meloria screamed.

And screamed and screamed…

…and screamed. Meloria’s head snapped up, she had screamed herself awake, the nightmare was already fading, forced away by the horror of a reality so many times worse. The shackles that bound Meloria seemed to bite her neck and wrists with even the slightest movement. Her fur had been rubbed almost bare beneath the shackles and her skin stung as if stung by a thousand thousand insects. She was soaking wet but it wasn’t just her sweat that covered her.

Meloria looked around the dark box she was now captive in trying to deduce the situation. There were some thirty men and women, mostly, or completed naked, equally desperate shackled alongside her. They were sibeccai for the most part, but a giant was hunched over in the far corner his head pressed down by the confines of ceiling and an elven woman was shackled directly beside her. From somewhere outside came shouting voices, a driver arguing with hired guards about arriving on time. A wheel was broken a wheel and they were now scrambling to fix it.

Horror welled up within Meloria when she realized that what dripped from her hair and tattered clothing was spillage from the communal waster bucket. It had been liberated from the shared bucket when the wagon threw it’s wheel and tossed right on her. Because of her shackles she could do nothing more than wipe the waste from her face.

Meloria wanted to scream but she knew that would only bring further beatings at the hands of the guards who had imprisoned her in this rolling hell hole. She wept silently as all hope ran from her heart. Her mind returned to the dream she had just had and she longed for the simplicity of her childhood once again.

She was jarred out of her daydream when she felt the wagon beneath her rise and jerk upwards at the hands of the guards as they changed the wheel and fixed the disabled wagon.

Meloria had never before considered taking her own life, but now it had become a daily meditation for her. Death almost seemed comforting and it couldn’t be worse than this, she thought.

But those thoughts soon dissipated as her mind returned to the time she had shared with Alriak. It wasn’t a great life they’d had together but she’d never had better. They had to work hard, but they were treated well by the Merchant-Captain of the caravan they’d tended too.

The Merchant-Captain would consult them daily for their wisdom. Alriak’s visions and his ability to predict the weather, and Meloria for her acute sense of the natural world around them. Together they made a good team and the Merchant-Captain rewarded them well for their consultations. He would make sure that they were awarded free time together, and often they would lie in the sand looking up to the night skies. Side by side, laughing and forming imaginary lines to connect the stars into all sorts of wonderful things. Meloria felt a strong connection with this young cub. One that she had never felt before and she encouraged him to see his gifts as something positive and as some dire curse.

On the day the pirates had attacked attacked their caravan they took everyone by surprise. The pirate’s airship was so fast that no one had time to react.

Many were killed outright at the hands of the evil brood. Others were taken against their will and enslaved by the pirates, forced to load the caravan’s goods on board the airship.

In the chaos of the attack, Meloria was able to escape into the desert that surrounded them. She had made what she thought was a clean get-away. Poor Alriak had not been so fortunate, shackled and forced aboard the pirate vessel along with Jamila, Sara and Ali.

The desert was foreboding for Meloria and in only a few days she was lost, hungry and dehydrated to the point of death. It was then that she spied the caravan in the near distance. At last she thought to herself, deliverance. Meloria used the last vestiges of her energy to yell and wave her arms at the wagons as they approached. But quickly, and too late, she realized her means of salvation had turned to a nightmare of slavery.

Chattel

The guards of the caravan seized her and tossed her around to each other like a doll made of rags. They beat her and took sexual liberties with her as she screamed in and out of consciousness. Her screaming only fueled their frenzy as they abused her. She was then shackled and thrown into the box she now found herself a prisoner in.

View
Genesis. Season Three
Desert Nights (Part Four)

Date: Moon’s Day, 16th Dar 798 P.L. (Morning)
Location: The Ship’s Kitchen, The Princess Parizade

The following morning First Mate Hanbal entered the kitchen. Everyone had gathered around the huge island, where Jamila had prepared a platter of dates and olives and Ali had gathered together bread and some exotic-looking jars of jams. Outside the sun was only just beginning to rise, but already, in the windowless kitchen especially, the heat of the day was making its relentless return.

“With no Ship’s Wizard on board,” First Mate Hanbal said, “we cannot afford to tax the fire elemental unduly. So I have spoken with the Pilot. We can maintain a steady pace during the day and drop anchor at night, and she can keep us on a steady course without any more crew. It’s amazing really! We will be over the Magister’s City tomorrow morning, and we could be docking in Ishtaduk before the end of the week.”

The First Mate’s gaze turned, pleading, with Quin’s, “If that is still the plan, Captain? The day after the night before, calmer heads will prevail, and all that.”

“Look at this,” Sara thumped her finger down at the freshly jam-stained charts Hanbal had set on the island. “We are only two days, three at best south of Muan Oasis. Arishka the Trader is an associate of House Summonel. We can unload what is left of our cargo into his warehouse, and recoup.”

Peryton

The Princess Parizade rocked violently to the starboard, as if buffeted by a powerful wind. Alriak bashed elbow and dropped his plate, spilling dates across the floor. Ali tried to catch the falling coffee carafe and missed.

A terrifying woman’s voice screams out, “May you meet the day with a restless heart and know a thousand sleepless nights!” It was a curse, antiquated now and spoken in an archaic desert dialect.

Parizade appeared a burst of sand and dust, the scouring cloud blew into the room through cracks in the ceiling and then suddenly she was among them. Her usually blue skin, now a pale purple.

“The ship is under attack, beasts from the desert!” Parizade said.

Quinvera the Tall was the quickest to react. In one moment the half-fairy was sat at the kitchen counter laughing with Sara and Jamila, popping olives into her mouth, and the next instant the lithe, powerful spellsword was on her feet and racing toward the mid-deck. The other two women raced along behind her, a little less sure of themselves.

“Alias is out there alone!” Jamila cried as they raced from the kitchen, scattering pots and pans in their wake.

From his lofty vantage by the raven’s nest, Alias watched as the creature shook the airship violently and then turned to glance downward as Quin burst from the aft-castle with those two slave women, right behind her.

Two more of these terrifying creatures circled the hovering airship, their shadows criss-crossing over the deck below. Bizarrely, unnervingly, their shadows were that of ordinary sibeccai, not the twisted monstrosity that screamed obscenities and curses in an unusual dialect.

Alias could see a fourth creature pacing the sands below them, it’s wings beating impatiently as if it itched to join the melee. Several smaller, younger creatures waited on the ground with this last one, bleating plaintively. The druid flexed his wide condor wings and circled the mast.

Alias opened his beak and cried out, a condor’s call. The wind heard the druid’s defiant prayer and it answered. A violent squall suddenly picked up above the airship. The rigging began to rat-a-tat-tat across the beams and the mast, but the true storm was above where the wind had reached a near hurricane. The two circling beasts were forced off course, and left struggling to stay aloft. The condor cried out again in satisfaction and landed inside the raven’s nest.

Alriak, Ali and First Mate Hanbal burst out onto the deck, behind the women. Their fur waving in the druid’s wind. Alriak wore a new shield on his arm and clung to a small worn satchel.

The creature on the helm’s roof paused in it’s shaking of the mast and looked up at the other two. They were caught in the buffeting wind and being forced to retreat and approach the airship from below.

“Where be you, magister?” The creature screeched in an archaic and high-pitched tone, before leaping across the chasm to the raven’s nest.

It was a bestial, hideous monster. It’s forelegs and body was that of a powerful, heavy-set stag, and they lashed inside the raven’s nest kicking the Prophet. It’s forequarters were those of a gigantic bird of prey and they clutched the railing at the side of the perch. It’s head combined the worst features of a stag and a jackal, with sharp, viscous teeth and a deadly rack of horns.

Parizade was the last to leave the kitchen, but she did so in an swirling whirlwind of spilled flour, sugar and salt. Moments later she reappeared at the helm of her ship.

Quinvera swung her curved sword in a deadly and precise figure of eight and then flung a jagged bolt of ice from the tip of the blade. But the luck of the fey was not with Quin this morning, the icebolt cut it’s way through several lines before burying itself under the raven’s nest.

“Damn it!” Quin cried. “Get down here and fight you big brute!”

Sara skipped backwards with a look of utter terror on her face. She fell backwards into the hallway that led back to the kitchen. Jamila, on the other hand, sprung into action. She grabbed the nearest line and began climbing upwards into the rigging. It was clear the former lizard driver was unaccustomed to swinging through an airship’s rigging, but she made resolute progress toward the raven’s nest.

Alias flexed his wings and launched into flight, desperately trying to escape the raven’s nest. The condor was hit hard, and momentarily caught, upon the beast’s jagged antlers. Alias half-fell, half-flew in a chaotic spiral of condor feathers to the deck below.

“We’ve stirred up a nest! But, perhaps they seek only to defend their nestlings?” the Prophet yelled, a human again with a badly bleeding leg. “Let us shake the first one loose and fly, should they follow, we will know their true intent.”

Alriak reached into his witchbag and tossed some dust into the air muttering, “Breath of air from nature comes, cleanse this place with winds that gust.”

A strong blast of air rocked the creature on the raven’s nest and threatened to dislodge it and send it careening from the airship. But it clung to rails and snarled in defiance, “Two spell flingers? I’ll eat your hearts and feed your bodies to my young!”

Ali stepped back into the hallway and helped Sara to her feet, the two former merchants cowering in the cover of the aft-castle.

“Come on then! Come on, let’s ’ave ya!” First Mate Hanbal yelled as he placed his back against Quin’s and waved an axe in each hand.

The huge creature leaped from the raven’s mast and plummeted toward the deck. It landed with a crash among the companions on the deck. It lunged again at Alias with it’s deadly antlers but the wounded druid was able to roll aside. The other two, forced away by Alias’ prayer, were rapidly returning. One from the port-side, and the other from the starboard.

Far above the deck, Parizade began a series of arcane rituals. The flaming elemental began to awake within it’s harness, slowly at first, the burning inferno of the ship’s engine was coming to life.

Quin leaped at the beast, her iron sickle sword slashing it’s flanks. It barely caused the creature to flinch, but it was at least enough for the druid to scrabble to his feet and back away from it’s crashing hooves. Alias bumped into Jamila, who had crashed back to the deck in her haste to reach his side.

The Prophet raised his voice in prayer, as the former slave stood between him and the creature grasping nothing but a wooden belaying pin. A jagged bolt of lightning ripped out of the morning sky and electrified the beast.

Alriak reached again into his satchel and tossed a small feather and a handful of sand into the air. “Wind! My friend, please come to aide in my hand. Please form your blade. As sharp as any weapon known and stronger than if formed of stone.”

Holding a black shield, emblazoned with a shiny starfield, and a blade made of nothing but whistling wind and air, the witch ran to join Hanbal and Quin. The First Mate’s axes rose and fell but, despite the girth of the Templar’s arms, they failed to penetrate the beast’s thick hide.

“There is no magister aboard this vessel.” Alriak yelled. “Who is it you seek?”

“Magister! Witch!” The creature reared up on it’s hind legs it’s hooves lashing about it at anyone close enough, and gouging with it’s antlers. Alriak caught a glancing blow to the shoulder. “Your magic-using hearts taste of the same lies and falsehoods!”

The other two glided over the melee. Their bizarre sibeccai-like shadows trailed beneath them. The two flew at Jamila and Alias; the unnatural shadows reaching, stretching, grasping for the pair. Alias leaped aside into the deeper shadow of the aft-castle, but Jamila was not so fortunate. Her own shadow was swallowed by the shadow of the flying creature, merging and melting until they became as one.

Both creatures landed heavily upon the deck, the one before Jamila cackled madly, at seeing their shadows enmeshed together, “You’re mine now!” It snarled.

The other charged down, like a bull out of the sky, it’s antlers spearing Alias in the chest, and it’s hooves kicking hard at his stomach driving the druid backwards against the ship’s rail and landing in an ungraceful crash.

The airship lunged forward. It was not a steady start, ripped from it’s magical anchor by the genie’s urgency. Jamila and Alias both stumbled with the sudden motion, falling to the deck, but so, too did their attackers, their hooves and talons scattering for purchase on the hard-wooden planks.

Quin slashed again with her curved sword, cutting another slash into the thing’s hide. The mage blade then drew her dagger from her belt and lunged. The dagger sank deep into the creature’s neck and it collapsed immediately. Quin didn’t relinquish her grip, driving the blade deeper and straddling the dying monster in it’s violent death throes, bellowing a defiant war cry.

Jamila swung her makeshift club at the slavering jaws approaching her, but the creature only gave an evil laugh. Alias dragged himself defiantly back to his feet, these stag-harpies had an evil shadow. Was it possible that thing had somehow tethered itself to the slave-girl by their shadows? These stag-harpies must have the touch of Hell upon them, the Prophet hadn’t felt this devilish presence since the Black Mist threatened Yhakkoth. These things were demons, slaves of those Fallen angels that had betrayed Shoshanna.

“Ullrey, Witch,” Alias cried, drawing his sword and rushing forward. “Mind the shadows, I fear the one called Jamila has been majiked! Quin, May the Great Mother shine upon you and your sword! They will not reason.”

“Quin, if you command the genie of this ship I beg you tell her to get us out of here quickly.” Alriak called out as he rushed to Jamila and the Prophet. He started to pass a healing draught to the Prophet.

“Defend your women, witch,” the druid cried out gasping from his chest wound. “I have not traveled this far to be struck down by ranting harpies!”

The witch turned back to the monsters, still scrabbling for purchase on the racing deck, and raised his hands. A thick fog rose up from the deck around the witch and spread outwards. Alriak, Jamila, Alias and the two creatures were soon enveloped and obscured from view.

“Quickly now, ship mates!” First Mate Hanbal bellowed. His powerful voice carrying to all corners of the deck. “Everybody get inside and brace yourselves. Captain, cut the engines and dive. We’ll shake ‘em loose while they can’t see! All hands, inside, and grab a-hold!”

The Templar raced for the hallway to the kitchen, joining Ali and Sara.

A torrent of high-pitched threats and curses began from within the blinding mist, the two creatures clattered around on the deck unable to find their prey. One of the two stumbled against the rail and fell overboard, screaming, as it struggled to correct it’s unexpected fall.

The Princess Parizade had been steadily gaining altitude since it bolted free of it’s anchorage. But now, the fiery living engine suddenly went dull and the nose of the Royal Airship immediately stopping rising and began to dip. This was what the First Mate had been anticipating, “All hands! Get yer arses indoors or grab a-hold!”

Quin returned her sword to it’s sheath, her dagger gripped tightly she raced for the kitchen hallway. The closer she came to the doorway, the steeper the incline became, the Merchant Sara leaned out of the doorway and grasped Quin’s outstretched hand. Jamila appeared from the obscuring fog and, in turn, grabbed Quin’s hand. The women fell into a pile in the hallway as the airship continued to fall steeply. None of them noticed how Jamila’s shadow stretched, defying all possibility, through the doorway and back into the fog.

“I shall fly down and kill their younglings as punishment." Alias’ voice called from within the fog, which appeared to be spreading, engulfing yet more of the deck. "Let us see if their little ones enjoy the taste of lightning!”

From below the rapidly descending airship came the sudden bleating, screaming cries of the young creatures and the enraged yells of the stag-harpy left to watch over them. In the hallway, First Mate Hanbal was the only person still on his feet, and the only person in a position to watch as the two stag-harpies launched themselves from the deck and flew upwards and free of the obscuring fog. The fairy breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the shadow release it’s strange grip upon Jamila’s shadow.

“I reckon we’ve seen the buggers off,” he said.

The deck righted itself, parting the crest of a massive dune in it’s wake, and shot across the sky faster than the creatures could hope to follow. The thick fog quickly dissipated with the passage of the ship’s motion, revealing Alias and Alriak in a tangled heap of their own against the ship’s railing.

“I’m impressed you land lubbers kept your feet as long as you did,” the First Mate chuckled. “You’d do well to keep your condor wings handy if you’re going to stay on deck when we have to take such defensive maneuvers.”

The bump on Alriak’s head throbbed with every movement as he looked over the side of the ship. “I think we managed to shake them.”

Alias smeared blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. He flicked the blood upon the deck … an alarming amount, much of it covering Alriak’s robes and fur. Very much still bleeding and bruised, he smiled at Hanbal.

“In my land, surrounded by a great sea of blue they say upon a midsummer’s night you can see the man in the moon. Here they probably see a dog.” Still smiling he spit more blood from his mouth and his chest wound steadily dripped more upon the deck. He staggered a little.

“The albatross tells me the air gets thin if you fly high enough,” he said still gurgling slightly and with raspy breath. “You can see how the whole world turns against itself as it spins. Up, up, up. Some say if you go too high you can’t come down at all. Like falling up. You would do well to keep your condor wings handy. Handy. Up, up, up, up.”

The Prophet laughed, with even more blood oozing from his chest and face. He turned and swooned, passing out on the deck.

“We should try and get him inside and stop the bleeding.”

Desert Nights
by Ian Hewitt

Ali, of House Summonel (NPC)
Alias, Prophet of Anaru (Doug Harris)
Alriak (MacGreine)
Jamila the Driver (NPC)
First Mate Hanbal (NPC)
Princess Parizade (NPC)
Quinvera the Tall (Donna Hewitt)
Sara, of House Summonel (NPC)

Game Master (Ian Hewitt)
Play-by-Forum
Summer 2011

View
Genesis. Season Three
Desert Nights (Part Three)

Date: Mother’s Day, 15th Dar 798 P.L. (Nighttime)
Location: The Raven’s Nest, The Princess Parizade

AliasThe full moon was high in the sky. The heat of the day had fully drained away becoming an impossible memory in the sharp chill of the night. The airship was silent, everyone had closed a door on the day and fallen into a slumber.

Everyone except Princess Parizade. She, alone, stood at the helm steering the airship ever-West. The flaming elemental had burned strong throughout the evening and into the night but even it needed to be rested – lest the elemental be consumed and the airship left without power.

Skakrum, Be at ease, Flame of the Ship.” Parizade said, and the fire elemental burned low, dwindling to barely visible tongues of fire, licking through the arcane harness that bound it to the airship. As the elemental burned low, the airship lost power and slowed to a halt. The genie performed a complex arcane ritual aboard the helm, anchoring the airship a mere ten feet or so from the crest of a star-shaped dune, itself the size of a mountain. The deep desert of Farid never ceased to amaze the genie.

The blue-skinned woman sped through the open window on the wings of the wind, scattering dust in her wake. In a flurry of dust and a heartbeat, she reappeared sitting, delicately upon the rigging just below the Raven’s Nest and just across from a large condor.

“Maybe the stables would be more comfortable to you, Prophet Alias?” Parizade smiled and removed her veil. “They are built to house several giants eagles, you know. I came up here to speak with you, if I may Prophet.” The genie smiled, sadly.

“Yes I will talk with you, Jinn,” the Prophet said, after flying near to her and returning to human form.

“I know that you think little of my husband’s fate, or of my broken heart.” She began.

“You have free-will as a mortal does, despite your nature. I can hold in my heart some sentiment for your loss of love." Alias replied.

“But your own goals are much purer, much holier, and I understand.”

“Yeah,” Alias said. “It is true I am on a higher path and calling, but the restive heart of love and happiness is pleasing to the sight of Shoshanna. The Great Mother does not wish to see her creation suffer or feel loneliness and despair. Injustice can be corrected and your complaint seems true.”

“It does seem that our paths have converged.” The genie raised her downcast eyes to meet Alias’ burning gaze. “We both seek to gain entrance to the Sand King’s tower, for our own reasons, but the goal is the same.”

“I am frightened by Alriak’s dream. Does it inform our actions? Do we fly directly to Ishtaduk and the Dark Tower? Or do we first seek the blessings of Anwen?”

“It is of mutual advantage that we seek the same being regardless of our reasons. But a journey of revenge is not what the Daughter Goddess will bless.” Alias was perched lotus style on the beam beside the beautiful genie. "Yeah, to you, Jinn, I say this: we will surely all be destroyed if we approach the Sand King in personal wrath, and especially if we fail to honor the Daughter Goddess Anwen first.”

Parizade nodded, accepting the Prophet’s answer. “I do not seek revenge. If I am able to free my husband, he and I would depart this world and the Sand King could have it all.”

“You are not so different, Jinn.” Alias in a calm voice. “You are part of creation as are all beings and things. I am not so far removed from my nature that I cannot admire your grace and beauty, but I will not be thwarted on my vision nor my mission. The others bow before you as if you were kissed by a higher spirit. You are blessed differently in your way and being, but your love and your heart is of no more or less importance than the hopes and dreams of the others."

“Quinn and the others have gladly jumped to your aid. They feel sympathy for you. I, too, feel the pull of excitement to befriend a creature such as yourself. I am, but, a man, despite my calling. I am not immune to your distinctiveness and allure. But this is a weakness in our companions. They would perhaps drive with you to the ends of the world to serve your heart and quest. It is a high calling for dirt dwellers and sibeccai to stand in unity with you, be careful you do not abuse it.”

“I have not compelled anyone to join me on this quest, Prophet.” The genies normally doe-like eyes blazed with a dark fire. Her blue skin was as black as the night sky. “I am able to practice my own free will only through the grace of Quinvera the Tall.”

“Use your reason. Is it wise for servant maids to chase after the sand wizard? Is the blood of another living creature worthy of your happiness? I, too, ask myself the same question. Is my journey, my holy truth, a task that others should bear, even by happenstance? I think it is not. And I think such truth lies in your hope as well. Tell me your thoughts on this Jinn. Tell me your hopes. Tell me your dreams.”

“For once I understand what you are saying, Prophet.” Tears spilled from the genie’s eyes. “I was prepared to smash this airship into splinters on the side of the King’s Dark Tower, if he would not release my husband. And, he will not release him. Why should he, when all he cares about is his Royal Ship? And how can I bring the others to their deaths? But, how can I not try to free my love?”

“And what, then, of yourself? Is your mission worth it? Will you leave us and march up to the King’s front gate until he spares time to grant an audience to a foreign blasphemer? Or will you simply be arrested by his Templars the first time you speak your mind? Arrested and executed, you wouldn’t be the first, nor the last. Nor likely, even noticed!”

“But Alriak’s dreams say, that we can defeat the Sand King with Anwen’s blessing?” The genie grabbed Alias by the shoulders, despite their delicate perch. “If that is true, we should pay a visit to a Queen before we plan on visiting the King.”

“I see you still have hope, despite your childish weeping,” he said harshly, before his frown softened on his grizzled face. His expression changed swiftly as if remembering a very funny story. “Can you catch the wind, spirit?” He challenged her, but in earnest now. “You appear to be made of wind depending upon how the light hits you. Yes, yes, seek your Queen but make haste. Prepare yourself and the others. I can brook delay for your sake, but only because I see you are starting to see truth and not the twisted vision. The fabric of your illusions have been dissolved!”

He jumped up upon the railing, balancing precariously. “I am not of the air, but I have no fear. You see? Time runs in both directions Jinn. What the Great Mother knows she always knew, and so it is now, in OUR time that Alriak is blessed with visions. Found upon your very ship! These are not dreams to fear, but portents of great tidings. With the blessing of the daughter Anwen even one from the nether realms such as you can hold fast in this temporal moment. There is nothing to fear great Parizade, we are now, do you understand? We have no need to hold back a wind if we are the wind! Let the storms of Heaven and Earth be our testament. The walls of the Sand King’s Tower may not fall, but his lies will be replaced with truth eternal. Even if death is our prize with the blessing we cannot fail! Do you understand? Do you see? Just as a pyramid is built stone by stone, brick by brick so will time weather it away. It will fall, the pyramid can be unbuilt stone by stone and brick by brick!”

A meteor streaked across the sky above them, ploughing it’s way out of the heaven’s. But neither of them, even noticed, caught as they were in the passion of the Prophet’s sermon.

“A lie has no foundation,” Alias raved. “It is untrue. The slightest stir can drop a castle if the foundation is weak, can it not? Every little grain removed will topple this false god. I am not a blasphemer or a heretic. I am a seer. I am a blessed Oracle of Truth! I have come to bring down the wickedness of pretenders who hold themselves high, building stone edifices upon a foundation of clay and mud. Do you see? The smallest scratch, the tiniest pin-prick, once the void of the lie begins to bleed it shall be fatal.”

Alias’ ranting finally got the better of him and he slipped, plummeting toward the deck below. At the last moment, he managed to tangle himself in the rigging and halt his free fall, but not his sermon, “I will not be noticed? All the better, until the time is ripe! If this corrupt force cannot be corrected, if balance cannot be restored, I shall not be noticed by the Grace of Shoshanna. In ten thousand years, Jinn and mortal alike will celebrate free-will and know truth. I am Alias. My name will not exist. I will not exist, but the Glory of Shoshanna will fill this world and all others.”

The genie soon returned to the helm, leaving the Prophet alone in the raven’s nest. It was some time before Alias was able to sleep, and when he did his dreams were troubled. In his dreams, he attacked the beautiful genie with the full fury of his words. Mocking her, scolding her and provoking her; he mimicked her voice and veil and leered at her until she flew away from their perch screaming in grief and sorrow.

Her screams continued to echo throughout his dreams, leaving him with a fitful night of poor rest. He was not altogether surprised when the screams of his dream became the cries of the creatures jolting him rudely awake…

Desert Nights
by Ian Hewitt

Alias (Doug Harris)
Parizade (NPC)

Game Master (Ian Hewitt)
Play-by-Forum
Summer 2011

View
Genesis. Season Three
Desert Nights (Part Two)

Date: Mother’s Day, 15th Dar 798 P.L. (Evening)
Location: The Ship’s Laboratory, The Princess Parizade

Alriak was rummaging through the Ship’s Laboratory. It was almost at the very bottom of the airship, only the Ship’s Hold was below decks from here. The Ship’s Lab was adjacent to the Ship’s Office and the Personal Quarters of the Court Magister.

The Court Magister, the fearsome and feared Baba Yaga was the personal magic-user of the Sand King and something of an alchemical twisted genius. Obscure beakers and pipes, test tubes and jars adorned the shelves and desktops throughout these rooms. Although this workshop is designed for a shipwright, for every carpenter’s tool there was a pestle and mortar; for each smith’s file was a pair of tweezers and tongs. Many of the jars, glass vials and test tubes were filled with oils and unguents, both arcane and alchemical that could only be discovered by poking around down here, if one knew what they were looking for.

Alriak had spent a great deal of time in the lab as pup. His parents had hoped he would eventually learn something that would be prove his worth to the Duke. Unfortunately he never did. Truth be told, Alriak didn’t believe he could ever make up for the burden he was to everyone.

The beakers and burners stirred a powerful nostalgia within Alriak and his mind wandered. In those days, he had been apprenticed to the Duke’s Magister, Banu’s master alchemist. Alriak could tell the master alchemist saw no giftedness in him and merely tolerated his presence because it was his duty to do so.

The Duke always demanded that Alriak practice his craft as the Alchemist did. But Alriak’s talent, while magical, was not that of a magister and his mind wandered constantly. The dusty tomes and scrolls meant less to Alriak than simple experimentation. “What if” had become the question of the day for Alriak and he could tell it frustrated the master alchemist if not enraged him.

Alriak laughed to himself as his mind traversed the years. Alriak’s erratic approach to magic had left his master’s lab a mess on several occasions. Explosions, volatile fumes and sickness became the norm as his experiments went awry and added to his score of failures.

The laughter turned to tears as he recalled wanting, so badly, to be loved and accepted by his family and the Duke. It wasn’t that he was bad it was just that everyone had expectations of him that he could never meet or live up to.

This Ship’s Lab, though, now this rivaled anything the Duke’s Alchemist had ever dreamed of. Baba Yaga had outdone herself and it seemed to Alriak that nothing would be impossible with a lab such as this. There were stockpiles of the more common mixtures such as potions of healing and health, weapon oils and poisons. But there were some very advanced elixirs and potions, things that were foreign to Alriak. Things that he had only dreamed of creating himself, and things of which he could never dream.

He could tell the lab had been abandoned in a hurried fashion and that the pirates had made no use of it since. Half finished experiments and spilled materials littered the work benches, waiting for the Court Wizard and his associates to return to them – but none had in ninety-nine years.

As he examined the beakers he noticed a small vial that he seemed oddly attracted to. A few small mushroom caps lay in the bottom of the clear yellow liquid. Alriak was well versed in the various types of fungus used in alchemy but he had never seen the likes of these before. The tops of the caps were a bright orange with magenta swirls patterned about the surface. The mixture smelled poisonous and ordinarily he would consider it deadly but he was compelled by it. Compelled to smell and taste it.

Madness, he thought to himself, this should be tossed overboard before someone is hurt by it. But the strange feeling compelled him even further and Alriak had the vial to his lips before he even realized it.

Suddenly aware of what he had done, Alriak threw the vial across the room. As it smashed against the wall Alriak began to vomit, violently trying to expel the disgusting liquid. He examined himself in the mirror and looked quickly at his hands and feet. Everything seemed normal. He was relieved that he wasn’t dead. He no longer felt ill and the sour taste in his mouth was starting to dissipate.

“Well that wasn’t too bad,” he muttered to himself, turning away from the mirror.

A light breeze blew through the cabin, startling him. It was odd that there would be a breeze this deep into the ship. As he turned to the door, it were as if, in one slow moment the walls, ceiling and floor of the laboratory fell away into darkness and shadow and he was standing in a place without boundaries. No floor, no walls and no ceiling or sky. There was nothing except swirling mist and eddying shadows. It was indescribable to him and he became afraid. It were as if the place he were in existed on its own, not a part of anywhere.

Materializing out of nowhere a figure started to form before his eyes. It was a short fairy dressed in a threadbare, dusty shift.

“My, my, my, oh my!" The fairy said, chewing on a stalk of wheat. “Don’t be afraid, young Mortal Man. Together we might learn to fly, you and I. You must be aboard The Princess Parizade, the King’s own boat. You’ll need to learn some new tricks if you plan to stay afloat. I can teach you, if you have no fear.”

“I was, am, a prisoner of the Court Mage. My skills, without peer, the King thought it best I serve him, albeit from a cage.” The fairy was about three and a half feet tall with grey mottled skin and a long, pointed nose.

When he spoke, his voice was soft and lilting and it calmed Alriak like a mother’s calming hand upon a child. It was like nothing he had ever known, and he wished he could feel this way forever. Alriak sensed himself conversing with the fairy but no words were necessary here. It were as if they were talking without talking.

“Drink the yellow potion and step backwards through the mirror. That is how I will hear your call. Here, I must stay, and there you will play; but in-between will be our study hall. A potion of flight? Yes, we might. A potion of healing? Our potential knows no ceiling.”

Alriak knew without any doubt, that the fairy could show him things that no Mortal witch had knowledge of, not even poor Meloria. Excitement filled his heart and he was eager to discover all the fairy had to show him, but things were changing again. The mist was swirling and thickening, becoming darker and obscuring his vision.

“Do not worry.” The fairy grinned. “You need not hurry. I will be here, you needn’t fear. When you return.”

Alriak awoke on the floor. He must have fallen over backwards after he drank the potion, and hit his head against the shield that hung on the wall. The shield, though, was somehow strapped to his arm, with a stalk of wheat caught in the buckle. It was a masterfully crafted iron buckler. Jet-black, but emblazoned with a field of stars and a burning comet. It was truly a beautiful shield.

Alriak knew something very special had just taken place. His mind was racing as it never had before. He knew that what he had experienced wasn’t one of his dreams. It was as real as his current reality but something much better. He looked forward to returning but he knew in his heart the time was not right. He had much to accomplish here now and he reconciled himself to the belief that he would just know when the time was right to go back to that magical place.

Exhausted from his experience he laid down upon the Court Magister’s bed relaying all that had happened today. He had never experienced such a feeling of hope, it seemed to well up from deep within him. His destiny lie ahead and in his heart he was ready to face it, whatever it may be.

Desert Nights
by Ian Hewitt

Alriak (MacGreine)

Game Master (Ian Hewitt)
Play-by-Forum
Summer 2011

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