The tinkling of the cups and saucers as the tray of midday refreshments were brought to the table took Marjora out of her reverie. The servant placed the tray on the table in front of her, in just the right place at just the right angle.
Marjora noticed that there were crumbs on the side of the tray, she made a note of it for later. The servant withdrew and Rama entered.
“I hope I do not disturb you, Empress.” he bowed.
Marjora looked up from the crumbs and smiled, “Never, Rama. Tell me what you have learned.”
Rama made his way forward, noticing that Marjora seemed distracted, but took his place in front of the large sandstone desk that she conducted her business at. “More farms have gone dark. The food supplies are disrupted beyond any kind of stable measure. We will need to increase the supplies from the outer borders and from the Vale of Citadels.”
Marjora sipped at the tea; mint and lemongrass with a hint of chilli, nodding. “And what of the Fire Walkers?”
“You don’t think that your games are beyond me, do you Rama?” Marjora asked, staring at him above the lip of her cup.
“No, Empress, of course. They… will be instrumental to quelling the anger of the citizens.”
Marjora nodded, taking another sip of her tea. “Send them in.”
Outside in the ante-chamber the guard watched as the large dark woman, sitting on the floor, took a live scorpion from her bundled and matted hair on her head and began whispering to it. The almost seven foot red Dragunborne stood still, his back to the wall, with his one and only hand straying near the hilt of a mermaid handled dagger that the guard could have sworn just smiled at him.
As the guard was getting more and more uncomfortable his gaze roamed to the woman leaning back against the far wall, a large brimmed hat on her head tilted downwards, hiding her face. His gaze roamed lower taking in the curves of her body and the slightly open leather bodice. “Like what you see?”
The guard startled, his eyes snapping back up to the woman’s face at the noise. The woman was now looking at him and his face reddened. The woman winked at him and his face turned another shade more crimson.
The doors to Marjora’s private chambers began to open and the woman laughed as she sidled past the guard with the rest of her companions.
“With all due respect, Empress; your mages are fools.”
Marjora looked at Shun with one eyebrow raised, “Fools? These are some of the best minds of Vyāpāra. What makes you think that they are not up to the task?”
The rest of Dragunship Suddenly looked at Shun expectantly.
Shun took another leisurely sip of tea and continued, “When the previous ruler of Dharma was overthrown many of his loyal mages were slaughtered. Such a loss of knowledge, but required, given the circumstances. However with them went much of the secrets of the libraries of this citadel. Knowledge is not only kept in books, your eminence.”
Marjora nodded, glancing over at Rama, and back to Shun. “What do you propose? How will we find the source of this storm?”
Shun put his empty cup down and folded his hands. “Let me into your libraries, I will find the answers that you seek.”
Accompanied by Jalana, Grash and Vuvu; Shun made his way through the seemingly endless corridors of the Mages’ libraries of Dharma. The old and dusty tomes called to him and he eventually became lost in trying to take in as much information as possible. As he reached for another book there was a loud and uncomfortable popping noise next to him. As he turned he saw a hand on the book he was about to open.
“Not that one,” began Lilac, a mischievous smile on his face, “if you open that one you will become blind.”
Shun did not allow the surprise show on his face, knowing full well the potency of the protections placed on the citadel to stop teleportation spells from working.
“Lilac the Neverborn. It is a pleasure to see you. I thank you for the advice.” Shun replied as he shelved the book. “I could use some more advice, however. We seek knowledge on the nature of the storms wracking the lands.”
Lilac paced up and down the aisles of books, with Shun matching his leisurely pace, each with their hands clasped behind their backs. The two weaved down between the piles and shelves of books, communicating with their minds rather than the spoken word.
The shelves dissolved and as their steps became more and more in sync their mindscapes merged and they were still walking the library but they were then also matching each other, with theoretical movements and feints being played out in their minds. A battle of wits and will.
In a way that would be hard to explain to those without insight into the arcane world, Shun came out victorious. As their steps brought them back to the original spot Lilac reached out to a book right next to the cursed book of blindness.
“This is all the information that you’ll need about the storm.” Lilac said, taking the book, that Shun would have sworn was not there before, and passed it to Shun.
“Good luck in your studies, young Elf.” said Lilac, and with a collapsing of air he was gone.
Shun was sitting in his private quarters in the citadel and studying the book that he’d been given. Most of the book seemed to be stories, fictional in nature depicting esoteric moral conundrums, however there were some stories about storms and Dragons and vengeance. With his existing knowledge of the Sand Elves and this new information he came to the conclusion that the storms happened every few hundred years, and have been getting worse and worse. It seemed clear to him that the Sand Elves were not responsible for the raging sand storms. Shun brought his findings to the others and they all agreed to bring the findings to Marjora.
After waiting a few hours they were admitted to her private chambers, and were offered tea as Marjora stayed at her desk working on a large pile of books and papers.
“Empress, I have done as you asked and have come to the conclusion that the Sand Elves are not responsible for the storms ravaging your lands. The storms do seem to be increasing in severity and occur every few hundred years.” Shun had the small book in his hands and held it out for her inspection. “This book I…found in the library has shown me this. There are stories of fire and sand, stories of gods appearing in the sky, but none about the Elves having anything to do with it.”
Marjora stood from her desk and came around to Shun, taking the proffered book. Opening it and looking at the book with a look of confusion on her face. “You say you found this in the libraries, here in the citadel?”
“That is, odd. But I thank you for your diligence, Shun-the-Light-Bringer.” Shun looked at her in what could be construed as surprise, there weren’t many that knew his full name. “However, this does not prove anything. My mages know that the storms are the fault of the Sand Elves, and something must be done about it if we are to save my people.”
Shun began to protest, he was almost certain the native Elves were blameless.
“Thank you for your time” Marjora interrupted, “But your services are no longer required, please enjoy the rest of your night.”
The group mumbled and grumbled as Marjora went over to refill her cup with a deep red wine to the side of the room. As she did so Grash swept past her work desk and gathered up a sheaf of papers at random, filling his need for mischief in the act.
“Waste of our time, searching that library.” grumbled Jalana as they left.
When they were gone there was a light knock on the door and Rama entered after Marjora’s assent. “Your divine grace, I come at your request. How can I serve?”
Marjora lay herself on one of the long lounges that DragunShip Suddenly had vacated.
“Is everything ready?” she asked.
Rama came up from his bow and stood with his hands behind his back and a small smile on his lips. “It is as you have commanded. My men are ready.”
Marjora looked at the deep red of the wine in her glass, an especially good vintage from a farm that would unfortunately produce no more from this day on.
The group were down in the common dining area of the citadel, the room quite bare at this time of the night with many of the guests either out on business or sleeping the evening away in their rooms.
“I don’t understand, why did she dismiss your findings so easily?” Vuvu asked Shun, who was sitting and sipping green tea with a placid look on his face.
“I do not know, the findings were not exactly definitive, but they were at least worthy of more scrutiny than she gave them.” he replied.
“Maybe she doesn’t trust you, maybe she doesn’t like your smell.” offered Jalana between mouthfuls of shredded chicken and beans.
Shun looked at her, and were he able of complex facial expressions he would have sneered.
“My smell is not a factor, but you may be right about the trust.” Shun conceded.
“I don’t like this, it feels like someone is lying to us. I want to find the Fire Walkers, I hear that nobody has heard from them since they went to investigate the farms that had gone quiet.” Said Vuvu.
The rest of the group agreed and they gathered their things and made their way to the town proper, making their way towards the docks where they could launch the DragunShip from one of the sand shelves. When they exited the citadel they found the immediate area outside to be open to the elements, sand piled against most of the ramparts and many of the guards, some Human and some Dragunborne, hunched against the wind and sand, covered in ceremonial garb which included heavy sand-resistant coverings. As they exited the heavily guarded citadel area they found that the city folk had been busy erecting coverings over the populated city streets. Chipboard, tarps, heavy wooden beams and some skins covered the gaps between buildings that were once open to the light of the suns.
They moved through the nicer areas of the city, noting that many of the shops they had once perused in the early evenings in their early times had now been closed, permanently. The usual roaring trade that the other stalls would once have enjoyed were now unable to trade due to the curfew that the Empress had instated. Many shops had strange symbols painted on them, the group knowing that they were anti-Elf sentiment.
They passed a shop that once sold pretty little pottery pieces, noting that there was a small child sitting on the steps. Grash looked at the child confused, wondering why a grubby little human would be sitting there. The child’s hands flitted to it’s face and the fingers moved in an uncanny and unmistakable manner, come inside, you are summoned by the Kage Suna
Grash stopped, a little surprised but unconcerned. This was a common way of communication in the circles that he frequented.
“Stop.” He said loud enough for the others to hear. They did, and turned around to him.
“We need to go in here.” He continued.
“We are a little busy to be shopping for,” Jalana began, trying to read the sign, ”poh-tea-ree.”
Grash sighed and gave them a look that meant that they needed to just follow him, and they did. The shop itself was empty but they did see the grubby little child make its way down some rickety stairs at the back of the abandoned store. They followed.
As they made their way down they could hear some voices and see torches. Jimmy, a handful of other rough looking men, and Ahmisa sat at a table with mouldy food and a few glasses of wine.
Jimmy stood and made his way over to the group with a grin on his face.
“Friends, it’s good to see you in such troubled times. I trust you are well? Who is the newcomer?” he asked looking towards Shun.
“Just a tag-along. Nothing to worry about. He’s solid.” Replied Vuvu, with an air of charm that Jimmy was immediately disarmed by.
“Well, that’s fine with me then! Please, sit, wine? Food?” he motioned towards the mouldy bread and stale smelling wine.
‘Thank-you.” Said Vuvu and took her place at the table, the others following, Grash taking a seat with his back towards the wall and facing the only exit he could see.
“Ahmisa, it’s so good to see you, are you well?” asked Jalana, sincerely.
Ahmisa looked at her, smiling with genuine happiness, and then to the others. “I am well, the Kage Suna have treated me well, I cannot complain. Where is the Ranger?” he asked looking about for Baer.
“He’s busy.” Replied Grash, not wanting to discuss Baer’s increasingly worrying closeness with the Empress. Ahmisa was confused, but did not chase the point.
“Well, the pleasantries are over, so let’s get down to business”, Began Jimmy, “you helped us and how we can help you. The Kage Suna promised to reward you if you helped up get Ahmisa out of the stockades, and so they shall. Here” he motioned towards Ahmisa, “is your reward.”
They looked at Ahmisa, confusion understandably on their face.
“I don’t get it.” Said Grash.
“Well well well. It would seem that you don’t know exactly who your little friend here is! You kept it from them this whole time, your Majesty?” jested Jimmy, elbowing Ahmisa in the side gently.
Ahimsa looked uncomfortable but spoke up. “I’m sorry, friends. I didn’t want to lie, but I was having so much fun.” A certain shift in his posture, a straightening of the shoulders, a change of the facial expression and other subtle shifts made them all look at him in a different, more confident light.
“My name is Ahmisa Iarann-Féasóg, I am the seventh son of the current ruling clan leader of Mahayana.”
The group sat there, staring blankly at the grubby little Dwarf.
Jimmy smiled, looking from the group back to Ahmisa, then back to the group.
“Well he’s a bloody prince, inne?” he exclaimed.
“A prince….you are royalty?” asked Jalana, suspiciously.
“Well, yes. Seventh in line to the throne, so not the most important, you know?” Ahmisa replied.
“How do you mean he is our reward?” asked Grash, sounding a little annoyed at the lack of monetary value.
Jimmy stood for dramatic effect, taking his wine with him.
“What is more valuable than gold?” he asked, swirling the wine in his cup.
“Silver?” asked Jalana.
Jimmy frowned, “No..what? Silver? No. Power.”
“Aaaah. Yes.” Nodded Jalana, “Of course.” She steepled her fingers in front of her face and frowned, trying to follow the talk of money.
“We are to ransom the Prince back to his kingdom?” asked Vuvu.
“No! Even better,” said Jimmy, You are to return the Prince, safely to his family and gain the honour and gratitude of the Kingdom of Dwarves!” and he took a celebratory sip of wine, with only a small grimace.
Silence greeted his proclamation.
“We are….babysitters? That is our reward?” growled Grash. “We risk life and limb to get him out and you drag us down here to tell us that we are to trek to the frozen wastes of the north to return the lost son of some bearded fool?” Grash’s voice getting lower and lower as he spoke.
Jimmy stopped his pacing and his smile disappeared, knowing that violence was always an option when it came to Dragunship Suddenly.
“There is gold. A reward set by the King for the return of the son. The Kage Suna claims this upon the completion of the job. You can take ten percent.” Said Jimmy.
Grash grunted and looked to the others. “Does this sound fair to you?”
Vuvu tilted her head to the side, pretending to think hard. “Hmmmm,” she put a finger to her lips and squinted slightly, “drag an unruly Dwarf through treacherous lands, with the risk of death at every step and the make our way to the holds of the Dwarven King for a possible reward of gold or death? Sounds fun.” She replied with enough sarcasm to choke a pig.
Grash looked back to Jimmy. “50 percent.”
Jimmy chocked on the wine, “Grash, you have to be kidding me, there is no way that the Kage Suna would agree to that, I mean for starters-“
“Fifty percent.” Grash folded his arms.
‘Twenty-five, no more, and you can take these two with you.” Said Jimmy, poking his thumb over his back towards two burly looking men.
Grash looked at them, and thought that a quarter of a Princes ransom was probably a pretty good deal.
He stood and walked to Jimmy, “Deal.” And shook hands.
As they got to the area of the city were the income disparity was a little more pronounced Shun passed his hand over his face to change his features to those of a common Human man. The group didn’t need to ask him why. On their way through the tanning and blacksmithing district Jalana saw a nice little shop and, thinking that she needed to do some therapeutic shopping, she entered with the rest of the group continuing their way.
‘Welcome to my humble store, m’lady. Is there anything I can help you with?" the stout man greeted her, wiping the oils and grease from his hands and making gestures of welcome.
“Aren’t you supposed to be closed?” Jalana asked, eyebrow raised.
The little man looked at her with suspicion, “We have a special writ from the citadel to continue operations, and we provide skins for the army and guards.
Jalana was already ignoring him and looking around the store.
“I’m looking for something nice, something special.” Jalana offered innocently.
The man, sensing an easy sale, smiled. “Well you’re in luck! I just so happen to have a very rare and special item in store today. It comes from a land far away, a magical beast, slain by a hero of old no less! A…uh…three humped black camel that… had six legs! You will not find anything like it this side of the Spine” the man gestured towards a black skin on the wall, fine fur covered it.
Jalana was intrigued, “Well, that does sound special, I did not know such a beast existed.” mused Jalana, looking at the skin and trying to imagine what kind of animal it came from, and how it died. “It would make a fine cloak, how much is it?”
The man hesitated, then, looking at the already fine gear Jalana had on he blurted out “A thousand gold, a special price for you.” and he bowed, a quirky smile on his lips, playing along with the joke.
Jalana scratched her chin, thinking to use her wits to outsmart the man, “That is too much, five hundred gold and not a silver more.”
The man seemed to choke and just managed to regain his composure. This woman seemed serious. “You drive a hard bargain! But I see you are a woman of keen style and I will give it to you for that price. Will it be a writ of credit or…”
Jalana took out her coin bag and poured several platinum coins and gold onto the table, struggling to count the coins to make the right amount, this took a few minutes. The man had to hold himself upright to avoid losing consciousness.
“Is that enough? I think that is five hundred." Jalana asked absently as she took the skin from the wall.
The man barely managed to mumble a reply as his shaking hands began to pick up the coins from the table. “Y-y-yes, M-m’lady. That’s it, please…thank you so much…this will help my family so much…I…”
Jalana was already walking out of the small dirty shop with the skin around her shoulders, “Yes…yes, have a nice day-” and she caught up with the rest of the group, who were stopped a little bit up the street.
‘Where were you?" asked Vuvu, looking at the dirty camel skin around Jalana’s shoulders which matched the rest of the decor in the street.
“I found this marvellous skin, it’s from a beast with three humps and six legs, the storeman said that the beast was slain by-” began Jalana.
“How much did you pay for it?” asked Grash, interrupting.
“Five hundred gold, a bargain really. It’s magical you know-” continued Jalana.
Grash turned around and began making his way back to the store. Jalana, confused, followed.
As they went inside Grash went up to the man, who was crying on the floor with presumably his wife and children and lifted the man bodily off the floor with his good hand. With his mage hand he took a knife and pointed it at the now terrified man’s neck.
“Tell her what she bought.” he demanded.
“Grash! What are you doing, put him down!” began Jalana, before Grash gave her one of his looks.
“Tell…her…what…she…bought.” he growled looking back at the man, who had now began to empty his bladder.
“I’m sorry! I-It’s a camel skin!” the man began.
“Is it magical?” asked Grash, already knowing the answer.
“N-no! I’m sorry, I just saw the oppor-” the man didn’t finish before Grash’s hand crushed his throat. Grash threw the man down to the floor and with his magical hand took the coins from the hands of the terrified woman and children.
Jalana looked at the man with disdain as she realised she’d been had, took off the regular camel skin that was dyed black, and threw it towards the man as she turned from him. The last thing the man saw was the regular-old-camel skin covering his eyes and last thing he heard was the lamenting of his family.
“What kept you two?” asked Vuvu as they group was reunited.
“Some shopkeeper tried to pull the wool over Jalana’s eyes.” Grumbled Grash as he passed her.
Vuvu looked at Jalana as she passed, noting that she had a look of violence in her eyes.
As they moved through the city they heard (through the sounds of the storm outside the makeshift covers) the upcoming noises of one of the main market areas. They needed to pass through it on their way to the docks. As they made their way into the large and generally circular area they saw the coverings above them were waving and shaking in the storm. Large beams of stone, some wood and many forms of material were doing their best to keep out the storm. Sand rained down through the cracks to make small piles throughout the market area, looking like large ant hills.
The few dozen people that were crowding around a raised platform at the other side did not mind the group passing through the opposite side, as there were still, even with the curfew, others still moving through the city.
As they crossed the market they noted that there figures strung up on the platform and many guards were present. The crowd’s chants and jeers reached their ears over the din of the storm; anti-Elf sentiments and calls to kill the Elf-Friends.
They stopped to see what was going on, and saw from a distance that the second last of the people to be hung had just stopped his jerking and writhing. The crowds cheering rose, there were maybe a hundred people adding their voices to the spectacle.
As they watched, they saw a figure walk up the few steps to stand in front of the last hooded figure, awaiting their hanging. The man looked to the people and raised his hands for silence.
“Good subjects! You are fine and loyal people, and you do not deserve such treatment from the savage beasts of the wild sands. We have lived in fear of the Elves for far too long, and there are far too many enemies inside the gates that aid the savages in their endeavours to-“ the man continued in his tirade.
Behind him, half-hooded and looking towards them, was Rama Duneshadow.
He was watching them.
“We found them trying to steal your food! We have stopped them and reclaimed the farms!” shouted the appointed announcer. “They were working with the Elves, but no longer!”
They looked closer, and saw as the last hood was removed, that those being hung were the Ishka Baha; The Fire Walkers.
Fionn, the supposed leader of their group was looking wild eyed at the crowd, his face a mess of bruises, cuts and confusion.
They could just hear his words of denial over the cheering of the near hysterical crowd.
“We should go.” whispered Ahmisa, barely over the noise, feeling as if Rama could hear them, even from such a distance.
“I agree.” Said Shun, with what could have just amounted to concern in his voice.
They reached the docks, looking for a very quick exit to the city.
“Halt! You there, the docks are closed, no ships in or out at this time.” Said a guard atop the ramps that would lead to the shipyards.
The group stopped.
“We need to get out of here, these fools won’t stop us.” Said Grash putting his good hand in his pocket and searching for something.
“Well, there are quite a few of them, and only a few of us.” Said Shun, looking at the dozens of citadel guards, in their resplendent armours.
Grash grunted and took a small ornate box from his pocket.
“Now now, Grash. Don’t do anything silly.” Laughed Vuvu, as she loosened the crossbow at her side.
Grash looked at her and smiled his toothy smile, then looked back at the guards not paying them a lot of attention.
“Don’t worry, this isn’t anything out of the ordinary.”
Grash then threw the small box towards the top of the ramp and with all of his concentration and dexterity watched it as it flipped end over end and just when he knew it was at the right angle he shouted over the storm “MELON!” and all hell erupted.
Firstly, the boat expanded and just barely landed leaning against one of the gigantic towers that held the beached sand skimmers, a half dozen guards that were standing in the area were thrown out into the storm and some were launched against the surrounding buildings.
Everyone listened as the silence after the boats sudden existence was replaced by a soul-lurching scream. Nobody could miss the dark stains of blood running down the side of the ship and the man, tied to the main mast, gaunt and pale, screamed with all his broken and bloody vocal cords could handle.
“Ah fuck, I forgot about Fabien.” Mumbled Grash.
The rest of the guards were surprised and many had no idea how to handle such a situation.
“On the boat! Now!” roared Grash as he began running up the ramparts towards the Dragunship.
Shun grabbed Ahmisa and two large dark wings sprung from his back as he launched himself and the Dwarf into the air towards the Dragunship with Ahmisa’s excited screams cutting through the air.
The guards knew they were no match for Dragunship Suddenly, and kept well back. Once they got to the ship Jalana and Grash began yelling out orders and they soon got the ship ready to launch, however the winds were just not right enough.
“We’ll never get off this ramp with these stale winds!” shouted Jalana as she threw out her hands and with a force of will the ramp leading to the boat docks disappeared. The half dozen guards that were climbing the ramp fell twenty feet to the ground in a pile.
“Ahmisa! Do your thing like the good old days!” Laughed Grash, remembering the first time they escaped a city on a ship with the Dwarf.
Ahmisa ran to the captains’ deck and threw his arms out towards the unfurled canvases and a mighty wind blew, filling the sails. The ship, slowly at first and then building speed, began to scrape along the stone towards the sand ramps. The guards, seeing the power at hand, kept their distance, even with reinforcements pilling up.
After a few more blasts of wind from Ahmisa the ship tilted and fell through the air at a forty-five degree and pointing down. Everyone held onto something as the ship hit the giant ramps of sand, made even bigger with the storms, and as the ship slid and evened out it’s sails filled up with the storms winds and the it sped out into the desert.
“Come on Fabian, just take a sip. You really need to put some weight back on your bones.” laughed Vuvu as she held a ladle of soup to Fabians mouth as he quivered in the corner of his room aboard the Dragunship.
Jalana stood in front of the door, arms crossed and a hard scowl on her face. “Fabian, what is wrong with you? You have been left on this ship several times now, and everytime we bring you back you are shaking like a little mouse. Although,” and Jalana leaned in for a better look, “…you do seem to have lost a lot of blood this time.”
The bedraggled man didn’t move his gaze to Jalana, he was too busy staring off into the terror of infinity. He had seen things when they left him on the cursed Dragunship again when they sent it to…to…wherever it went when Grash said the horror word; Melon.
Jalana sighed heavily and rolled her eyes, leaving the small cabin in the hold of the Dragunship, knowing that Vuvu was doing her thing, coaxing the man back to the world of the living, as she’d done several times before, and was sure to do again.
As she got to the deck she was immediately struck by the sand and winds that were still plaguing the desserts of Dharma. She brought her hand up to her face and with a tendril of her will stopped the sands from scraping her face clean. She leapt, and with her free hand grabbed onto the guy-rope that lead to the crows nest. Anyone else would have shied at the chance to go higher into the winds, however Jalana would always feel more comfortable up there.
Grash sighed, looking at the small gold coin in his hand, his hand that had been returned to him by the Trickster God; Michi’ini.
He flicked the coin towards the small bowl at the end of his large mahogany desk.
It missed. Just like the last 14 coins.
“Fuck!” he exclaimed. Standing up in a rush he upended the small empty wooden bowl. Walking towards the wall to the side of the desk he folded his arms and stood examining a painting that they’d picked up some time ago. The subtle waves and sharp edges of the ship in the painting gave him pause, the look on the small Dwarf girls face, a look of purpose and of defiance as she and her crew battled some unseen foe.
“What makes you so sure of your purpose?” he muttered to himself, going to reach out to adjust the painting and catching himself just in time, and realising that his stump of a hand would not have worked either way.
A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. He lowered his arm and turned towards the door. “Come in.” he called.
The door sings open and Fabian stood there, sallow, gaunt, pale yet defiant.
“Your companions demand entrance, Captain.” with a slight bow.
Behind him Grash could see several people standing out in the storm, Vuvu at the forefront, a smile on her face and slightly shuttered eyes beaming from Fabians newly reinstated confidence.
Grash was about to scold the man, of course his companions were allowed access to the Captains Cabin, however, for some reason, he absconded from the jibe. “Thank you….Fabian…please let them in.”
Fabian bowed and backed off into the storm, allowing access to the cabin to the others.
Jalana was last in closing the door behind her, a last burst of wind-blown sand following them into the cabin. Vuvu brushed a little sand off her shoulder whilst Jalana shook herself like a labrador to get the sand off. Shun, however, seemed to be untouched by the storm.
They discussed, briefly, what they were going to do when they reached the farms. They knew that something was going on, and they also knew that Marjora had something do with it (or at least Rama). Realising that they didn’t have any more info to go on other than the location of the farms they found that they needed to wait till they arrived.
And arrive they did. They found the farms, with Jalanas navigation abilities, and with the help of the papers that Grash stole from Marjora’s office. Upon disembarking from the Dragunship they found themselves surrounded by heavily armed Sand Elves, ready for an ambush.
The group readied themselves for a fight, knowing that this was the likely scenario where heroes perished. Just as they were about to charge a lone Elf came from the ranks and lowered their hood.
“Greetings, old friends. I did not presume to see you again in such a place.” said Falca, brigand-general and outlaw of Dharma.
’Falca!" yelled Jalana, nerves taught and ready for battle but just as ready to not die.
Jalana, overwhelmed by the emotion she felt at seeign their own friend in such a desolate and broken down place projected her spirit and when it rebounded back to her it brought all the food and furniture it could.
The Sand-Elves stood in shock as a table, big enough for about 20 people, sprang seemingly out of nowhere. The leaders of the Elves and Dragunship Suddenly took their place, with the Sand Elve’s mages keeping the storm at bay with ease.
“Friends, we did not kill the heroes that were sent here, they were ambushed by the High Guard of Dharma. It was a slaughter.” explained Falca.
They learned that the Elves of the Sands were not happy with the current ruling class in Dharma, and that they would be doing something about it. They promised, when they were done with their own goals, that they would come back and help them with it.
“Come with me, I have something to show you.” said Falca as the suns had set, and they followed.
Only an hour into the desert sands on foot they found many large bonfires set against the dunes and expanses of sand. Around them they could see lines of individuals trailing to the fires and large groups of people gathering around them cheering.
“Do you see?” asked Falca to the group. She looked at Vuvu, looking for any kind of reaction.
They looked closer and saw the truth. The lines leading to the bonfires were Orcs, and they were being thrown onto the fires. The cheering crowds were obviously made up of loyalists to Dharma.
“We need to save them!” said Jalana going to get to her feet, as they were all on their bellies peering over the sand dune.
‘No!’ gasped Vuvu, putting her hand on Jalana to keep her down, “let them burn. They are just Orcs.”
The group moved on, allowing the Elves to go on their way and Dragunship Suddenly went on theirs, to the North and to their new holdings.
After almost a month they neared the edge of the storms and Jalana took advantage of the calmer winds by shifting into the form of a vulture and climbing her way into the skies as high as she could. She made it to the point where oxygen was almost gone and she could see much. She saw Datura covered in sand storms, with no real origin. She made her way back down as the ship began to hit small rocks, rocking it side to side.
They decided to collapse the ship, with no crew left on it, and continue on their mounts.
Jalana summoned several Fey beasts, and they gathered everything up and went on their way. After a few days they found signage that lead to their new holdings.
They made their way through the Red Gate, a series of large hills that separate Dharma from Bhakti, passing a very large caravan stationed there but not purchasing anything.
They then made their way up the foothills to their property. As they did they couldn’t help but notice the pervasive tang of ozone in the air, like there was a storm coming but would never arrive. They also noticed several sinkholes with goat carcases in them. They thought nothing of it and made their way on to the keep.
After a few hours, just before sundown, they saw it. Rounding a corner they saw a dilapidated wall and abandoned grounds, and in the centre a large, well built yet poorly maintained keep.
“It’s a fixer-upper, that’s for sure.” said Shun, actually trying to sound positive.
They made their way in and began looking around. As they looked about the sounds of a thunderstorm came about outside. The crashing of the lightning didn’t bother them too much as they looked about. They found several rooms that would be used for entertaining, some rooms for habitation and a few other very specific rooms like an armoury and an arcane study.
As Jalana looked about she found a staircase to the roof. She took the stairs and went outside, the hair on her arms and legs standing up straight. She went out, wondering how the storm came about so quickly and looked to the sky. She didn’t see the stars of clouds as she thought she would. Instead she saw teeth. Lots of teeth.
“Well well well, it looks like more have come to take my treasures. I will feast on your bones!” roared the enormous and old looking Blue Dragon.
Jalana yelped and ran back inside, yelling at everyone else that there was a dragon outside.
The group was slow to respond and even slower to gather themselves for the fight. As they piled outside to battle the creature Vuvu tried to tempt the creature by throwing gems about the roof; it did not take the bait. Grash used his levitation to try to get the high ground however it only served to bring him into the gaze of the beast.
It swung itself about, ignoring the rest of them and grabbed Grash in its mouth and took flight away from the group. “Shun!” Jalana cried, “Follow me!” and Jalana leapt from the edge of the walls and her form billowed out into the form of an Air Elemental and took off through the skies after the Dragon.
Grash, badly damaged and bleeding heavily in the maw of the Dragun, swung his weapons at the beasts mouth to no avail. With his frantic thoughts he took the small box that was the Dragunship from his belt and shoved it in the Dragon’s mouth and yelled MELON!
The Dragons mouth snapped back and blood shot from it’s maw as the Dragunship expanded, breaking itself in half in the process. Grash was violently thrown from the Dragons mouth along with the remains of the ship, his wounds beyond mortal.
From several hundred feet in the air Grash began plummeting to the ground with the rest of the shattered and broken Dragunship.