The Third Moon of Cré

The Story So Far...
There and...well...not back again.

The dawn breaks calm and bright, with a strong westerly, just like Captain Khazeem said it would.

The dock-men are taking the last of the provisions into the hold of the The Jack Tar, a relatively mistakable trading ship from the southern isles. Well built from the dark boreal woods from the northern tundra, it’d seen it’s fair share of the ocean over it’s long service.

As the gulls screeched their morning cries and the shops along the wharf were beginning to open their doors to the people, the captain was in discussion with his obviously upset companion. With his arms crossed on his chest, the intimidating Dragun-Borne peered down his nose as he was advising the captain that he did not agree with so many unknown people coming and going unchecked from the ship.

“It’s fine, Grash! You worry too much, my friend, why do you worry? I do not pay you to worry, I pay you to make sure the job is done, and keep me safe in the meantime. You can interview each and every one of them, if you think that is best. I’ll meet you in the whorehouses of Masalan! Hahaa!”. And with a friendly clap to Grash’s shoulder and a chuckle, the captain went to make sure the ship was stocked with enough wine for the voyage.

You know, for head of security, you’re a little careless
..a whisper in his ear made Grash turn about, showing no outward signs of surprise.
However there was nobody directly behind him, save the navigator. Leaning on a barrel a few metres behind him, she was carving pieces off an apple with a small knife, which seemed to hold her attention completely.

“A ventriloquist is it? Quite a strange skill for navigator, isn’t it?” he asked, not being one to be fooled so easily. “You best be more careful girl, I don’t like surprises”.

’I’m no girl, lizard-man. It is but a trick of the wind, nothing more." she said, and then, after raising her eyes to meet his. “They say that you have a few tricks up your sleeves, too.”

To Grash’s ears her accent placed her from the southern archipelago tribes, but her casual stance and attire spoke of her domestication. Grash could see that he wasn’t dealing a simple map reader.

“I have enough tricks to get me by” he said simply, and with that turned about and started passing orders to the men, ensuring the ship was ready to set sail for Masalan that very morning.

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Chapter One
Dashed on the rocks, and an unlikely duo

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“Twenty severed tongues! Where in the planes is the wind?! Jalana damn you, you said there was going to be fair weather for the entire crossing.” raged Captain Khazeem. “We’ve been sitting here for almost entire day, if this wind doesn’t pick up we’ve got a problem”.

Jalana looked down from the crows-nest at Khazeem, wondering if she would hurt him if she jumped and landed on his fat face. “Captain, I told you, this doesn’t feel right. The wind, it’s like some giant has breathed in and taken it all. I cannot simply summon a wind for you.” with that she grasped a guy-line rope and swung down to the deck. “Your men might have to keep rowing for some time, Captain.”

“Well, then, it looks like we may be here a while. I will be in my quarters should anything change. Let me know immediately of any changes. In the meantime, Grash, make sure these layabouts keep the ship in good order.” the captain flourished his hand and departed to his cabin.

“I’m not your bloody deck hand, you worm.” Grash whispered to the captains back. Then to the sailors about him, “You heard the man, lets get this ship moving! You, cut the rigs and water the slaves at the oars, they’ll need it. I want rotating shifts. We can’t afford injuries.”

He turned about and headed to the railing on the starboard side and noticed the navigator looking out to the horizon.

“You see anything out there?” he asked her.

“Nothing.” she replied.

There was silence between them for some time. Then Grash decided to break the silence, “So, what’s your story?”

“That’s not part of the job description, lizard-man.” she replied without taking her eyes off the horizon. “We’re here to deliver the cargo, let’s keep this professional, huh?”

Grash sighed and leaned his lower back and elbows on the railing. Turning to her he said “Well, aren’t you a regular little bundle of happiness” and flashed a toothy grin her way.

After some quiet contemplation Jalana decided to go and find something to eat and started to turn towards the galley, however something caught her eye on the horizon. “Huh, what’s that?” she said.

Grash turned to the direction she was facing, and stared out to the horizon. He could see something, about 40 leagues away. Possibly a ship, as they hadn’t passed any land for days. “Probably just another trader making the Boiler Run, nothing to worry about little lady” he said, and turned away.

“You’re wrong.”

Grash turned back to see Jalana fixated on the ship, she didn’t turn her gaze as she continued “Pirates” she whispered.

Grash immediately turned back to the railing, gripping it in both hands and focusing his gaze on the ship in the distance. After some time he could see the ship was most certainly headed in their direction, and he could make out no flags to determine where their intentions lay.

Grash turned about, “Men and women of The Jack Tar! To your stations, I want everyone that can hold a weapon on the deck and ready to repel boarders!”

The people closest stared at him for a moment, then looked at each other, then to where Jalana was looking and saw the incoming ship. After that there was barely constrained chaos. The Captain came charging out of his cabin, “What in the Nine Hells is going on? Boarders?

“Captain Khazeem, there is a ship coming towards us showing no flags of allegiance. At this point it is merely a precautionary measure. However, I would suggest you arm yourself and prepare for battle.” explained Grash, in a very measured tone.

Khazeem stared at him incredulously, “No, noo no nooo. This can’t be right, how do they know where we are?” and with that the captain made his way to the bow and stood staring at the ship with no flags.

Grash and Jalana joined him at the front of the ship, which was raised above the regular deck. All three could see the ship, and all three knew that, this far out in the ocean there was no good reason for a ship to be coming towards them, and it almost certainly meant trouble.

As the ship came closer, and with the help of the captains looking glass, they could make out some individual details of the crew of the second ship. They seemed to be slow moving and not in a panic, like the crew of The Jack Tar. The second ship also had several members standing at the bow, and as they reached a distance of only 100 metres they turned about so the ships’ sides were facing each other.

“Captain, we cannot outrun them, nor can we hope to defeat them in battle” advised Jalana, “They want our cargo, maybe even our slaves, perhaps if we give what they want they will leave us alone.”

Khazeem looked at her for some time, and then replied “Girl, you know not what you speak of…” an his gaze went back to the man on the second ships bow, presumably their captain. “We won’t make it out of this alive…”

Grash looked at the captain, then at Jalana. He knew the captain of the other ship was watching them. Grash took out a parchment that was tucked into his leather armour and held it up in full view of all to see. “They’ll get nothing from us now..” and he lit it on fire with a flick of flint on tinder.

“The papers! You fool! They were the only proof we had!” raged the captain, as he went to snatch the still burning parchment from Grash’s hand. “Now we’ll never get our payment!”

“We will be lucky to see tomorrows sun, you stupid old fool” said Grash, as he grabbed the Captain by the shirt and threw him overboard.

“What have you done!” cried Jalana, as she watched the Captain tumbled overboard and was swallowed by the waters below. “What’s wrong with you, you madman!”

Grash grabbed her by the shoulders, “You need to trust me” he said over the shouts of the crew, “There’s more to this that there seems. You need to get below deck now. Don’t fight me on this one” he added as she began to protest. As she saw the sincerity in his eyes she realised that he spoke the truth and made her way past the panicked crew to the quarters below.

With a flourish Grash unsheathed his short sword and dagger, and gave orders to the men to form up on the side of the ship closest to the pirate ship. “If you want to make it our of this alive you’re all going to have to listen to me.” The crew made a paltry sight. There were little over a dozen crew, hardly of fighting quality, haphazardly standing about waiting for someone to tell them what to do. “Stand firm, we don’t know what it is they want, they might not even mean us any harm.” he assessed the hard looking men on the other ship.
“Unlikely though” he muttered to himself.

Just as he finished addressing the crew, the captain of the other ship looked to the giant dark skinned man to his left and nodded. The man raised his fist in the air and barked an order that Grash couldn’t understand, and he knew of no language that sounded as this one.
The men on-board the pirate ship started to cheer, and with their cheers came motions on the hull of the pirate ship, small windows started to open, and out of them appeared the cannons.

“Oh fuck” exclaimed Grash. “HIT THE DECK!” he bellowed at the crew. Almost too late the crew dropped as the cannons opened fire, the roar of the gunpowder, the victorious cheers of the pirates and the crack and thunder of the splintered wood crashed around them.
When the last of the bombardment ceased Grash realised that the pirates were aiming higher than the deck, they seemed to be aiming for the mast and rigging.

The pirates wanted them alive.

Grash got to his feet and took in his surroundings. Many were still cowering on the floor covering their heads, a few had been hit by shrapnel, and one was pinned to the deck with a piece of the mast through his stomach. Grash met the mans eyes and realised that they could not win this fight. As he turned back to the pirate ship he saw several men on their deck operating giant machines. Gleaming in the sunlight were giant harpoons, ready to launch.
“Oh come on…” he sighed as the harpoons fired and ripped into the belly of The Jack Tar. Once lodged in the men on the pirate ship started to pull their ships together.

~

Jalana watched as the slave sat at his oar bench, looking down at the harpoon that had ripped most of his lower body free. She didn’t know if the man was still alive or too shocked to move. Either way there was panic, the slaves were yelling and fighting one another to be free from the shackles. They all knew that their prison was sinking. “Please! Everyone calm down, it’s going to be okay!” yelled Jalana over the din, the fear almost as thick as the smell of blood in the air, some of which seemed to be dripping through he floorboards above their heads. Jalana witnessed the chaos of the scene in front of her, and she couldn’t bear to let these poor men and women drown like this. “Listen to me! We need your help, I need you all to arm yourselves and get to the deck to repel the boarders. I’m going to release your shackles.” as she said this some of the closer slaves nodded and looked at her with hope. She took the key from the wall near the stair and undid the main shackles. With that the slaves were able to release themselves individually, and as they did they grabbed oars and pieces of wood as shields and raced past Jalana and up the stairs. Oh good, we might actually have a chance now! thought Jalana to herself. as she made her way upstairs behind them.

As she made her way up the stairs she came onto a word of disorder, the slaves had run out of the galley to be confronted by the crew of The Jack Tar, who turned about to face them. The slaves, not knowing how long they would live, started to band together and huddled, oars facing the crew and their eyes darting between the pirates and their present captors.
Jalana could see Grash attempting to rally what was left of the crew to attempt some kind of last stand on the bow of the ship, as she was staring she saw him glance in her direction and shout something. She couldn’t hear what he said, but she saw him point to the pirate ship, which had come close enough for the enemy to start boarding.

As she watched, Grash grabbed an undamaged piece of rigging connected to the half destroyed mast, sheathed his dagger leaving his short sword free, and swung from the bow of the ship to where Jalana stood near the cabins. “Quick, get inside the captains cabin and get ready to block the door. We cannot hope to defeat them.” he said, as they both witnessed the pirate boarders start to make their way onto their ship and begin the inevitable massacre. Jalana obeyed, getting into the captains now unoccupied room, and closed the door behind her.

Grash surveyed the scene around him, and honestly had no idea what he was going to do. He saw the pirate captains right hand man, the giant beast of a thing, clambering aboard and smiling as he cut down the slaves and crew alike. Grash realised that it was an albino half-Orc. Grash felt his stomach drop at the site of the raw and terrible power of the barbarian, and realised they needed a better plan. Looking around him he saw a lantern, lit, and full of oil. He grabbed it and threw it to the ground in front of him, hoping beyond all hope that it might delay their attackers. He kept his eyes on the melee as he backed into the captains cabin and closed and barred the door behind him.

“What’s going on here, Grash?” asked Jalana behind him. She had Khazeem’s chest open, the one that supposedly contained the valuable cargo that they were bringing to Masalan. “It’s empty, where’s the cargo…”
“Girl, this is no time for such things, we have only minutes to leave at most, we need a plan.” he replied, even as he was moving another piece of furniture to block the entrance. “Look around, they’re going to use their axes to gain entry, and then they will kill us both. We need to block the door with something.”

As they were looking for more things to block the door, Jalana took the cloth off of the barrel that the captain advised was his ‘vintage wine’ that was bound for the markets of Masalan. “What is this? This is no barrel of wine. No wine I know requires a wick. Grash! See this, you of all would know such guile.”
Grash, impatient with her relaxed demeanour, reluctantly stopped boarding the door and came over to see what she had found. “By the planes of fire,” Grash exclaimed. “This is strange. Jalana, this is gunpowder, an entire barrels worth. What would Khazeem, that simpering fool, be doing with this?” Grash ran his hands over the barrel, almost intimately.
Jalana watched as Grash’s eyes lit up, almost glowing red in the dark cabin. A heat seemed to radiate from him, a dark heat, like coals in the shadows.

“I have a plan” he said. “Help me with this, and be careful”. He began to move the barrel towards the door. With Jalanas help they moved the barrel to the door. With it secured in place he placed a hand on her shoudler, “G-..Jalana, I need to tell you something, and it’s very impor-”

A huge cracking came from outside and a shudder in the cabin told them that the pirates had started to break their way into their ephemeral sanctuary. “This will have to wait, now listen to me, get that chest out the window, follow it out and get into it and close the lid. I’m going to wait until they are gathered outside the door and then…then I’m going make them pay for this.”

Jalana looked at him, her eyes wide as dinner plate, she did not need to look up at him to meet his gaze. Just as he thought she was in shock and had lost her wits, she laughed. She laughed, slapped him on the shoulder and smiled. “Oh, you Red Dragun-Borne are so brave aren’t you? I heard the stories, you know. I never thought them true. Your deep seeded desires to be consumed by the flame, only to spite your old Dragon masters.” She looked at him, with something of pity, and a twist of respect. Grash, taken off guard said nothing. “You’ll do nothing of the kind, hero. The wick on this barrel is long enough for you to light it and escape, you’re not getting rid of me that easily.”

Grash looked at the wick, and saw that it just might be long enough to give him a moment to get out of the blast radius. He looked at her, then, as another blow hit the door and exposed a glimpse of the deck outside- “Fine, by the gods this will be a close one…what have I gotten myself into.” he said, “You get the chest out and I will light this and follow you out, it’ll be close so be ready and we don’t know how big this will be, I’ve never seen this much gunpowder in one place.”

Jalana went to the chest which was thankfully placed right under the main window at the very rear of the ship. She got it up onto the ledge, which was a feat in itself as it was big enough to hold a sow, then, with it teetering on the ledge- “Grash, be quick about it you oaf, they don’t sound like they’re taking a break any time soon” and with a wink and a smile she and the chest were out of sight and into the waters below.

“Damn that girl” he said, smiling as he set the wick and ensured it was in place. The axes were hacking at the door and through several pieces of furniture and a break in the door he saw the half-Orc standing a few feet back from the men hacking through the door. Grash met the barbarians eyes. It was very clear to Grash, even at this distance, that the half-Orc was very much looking forward to gaining entry into the room. The depth less hate in those eyes…the rage…the calm cold frozen enmity… Grash had seem barbarians in a rage before, however this…this was different, it was cloying, the anger was sapping at his spirit, draining his resolve, and the half-Orc but stood behind the men..watching..waiting….

Grash shook his head- “Well gentlemen!” he called to them as he lit the fuse.“I’ve had a blast, but now I think it’s your turn!” and with that he turned his back on the door and ran to the window. he jumped from the window and just as he hit the waves beneath he felt more than heard an enormous explosion behind him. He was buffeted by the underwater shock-waves and was hurled from the water on a wave pushed away from the explosion, breaching the surface he was thrown through the air and, in an incredible stroke of good luck, into the chest with Jalana. The lid of the chest snapped shut and they knew only darkness and the screams of the dying.

The eventually awoke on the beach, where they could see nothing around them as far as the eye could see. After making camp and resting they were surprised by some men on camels and horses and were beaten and taken prisoner. They eventually escaped by killing their fellow prisoners, Grash stealing a camel and Jalana turning into one. They made their way, following the trail that the men were taking, and eventually came across a caravan at an oasis.
They traded in a few spare possessions for a few silver and met the master of the merchant caravan. Jalana and the merchant got off on the wrong foot so Grash stepped in and smoothed things over. The man advised that he would be willing to give a lot of money to someone who would ‘take care of’ a guard in the city. Grash took the job and they made their way along the road into the city of Masalan.

The wandered through the lower common areas, leaving their camel in a street, alone by itself, and it was promptly confiscated by strangers. They had decided not to sell it to the merchant outside, as they did not want gold.

They ended up in the temple district, at The Skewered Goose and met Sven, the honest and dependable owner. They put up their feet and slept their first night on solid ground for some time.

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Chapter Two
We're making friends!

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Jalana and Grash begin their morning in the tavern. The unfamiliar sounds of the city wakes Jalana. Springing out of bed lithely, she feels completely refreshed and ready to explore and tackle this new city.
It was the most comfortable night she had had for quite a long time. As she looked out of the rooms only window, small and high up, only just being able to look out because of her height, she viewed the many terracotta clay roofs and wisps of white smoke and she thought back to the day before. Something incredibly remarkable had blossomed within her, a skill she never considered would become the fabric of her simple existence. Her fingertips tingled and without even her noticing, the fingernails grew longer, curling and pointy like the claws of a cat, and then withdrawing back into her normal mud caked human nails. It was an unfamiliar power that had awakened in her essence.

Hard to explain in words, a deep sensation that overwhelmed her, an adrenaline rush pulsating in her blood, liquid fire that began in her core, filling her, warming her skin and engulfed her being, until it completely took her over. The quickening of her heart exploded her through, rapidly flooding her veins until it reached her mind, transforming her mentality and physicality with raw, wild primal thoughts and terrifying incredible strength. It was exciting and empowering.
She knew this is who she is, what she was supposed to be. Like a caterpillar that knows to transform into a butterfly, the dramatic events of the previous days had forced her to adapt, to become useful, like a flower that transforms into edible fruit, she was a shape-shifter. And she knew she needed to make this almost uncontrollable power, controllable.
She thought back to the stories her grandmother told her, men and women who through years of meditation could adapt so well into nature, that they could become the actual air that they just breathed, or channel the energy of the sun that warmed their back. ‘It has been seen’, she said , ’ a spiritually elevated one would run with a pack of wolves, with the same speed and agility, then howl at the moon, in perfect chorus, and not even realize, that they were a wolf themselves’.

The power was ebbing at the corners of her mind! It was so close to the surface of her being. Her whiskers twitched when she wrinkled her nose, thinking of the brutish lizard man who had accompanied her this far. She didn’t like him. He was secretive and unnecessarily violent. But then again, she considered, perhaps it was necessary since he had helped her escape some pretty narrow and dangerous situations… didn’t mean she had to trust him though. Thinking about Grash made her feel flighty and the sudden change of animistic instinct almost overwhelmed her entirely. She felt her adrenaline surge and she imagined transforming into a cat and jumping out of the window to the roof below. It seemed almost impossible to take back control, but her willpower was just enough to hold herself back. Her stomach growled as the smells of breakfast seeped through the gaps in the wooden floorboards beneath her bare feet. After breakfast, she thinks and makes her way downstairs.

She meets Grash who is already downstairs and they decide to have breakfast together using the few coins they had. Whilst eating they meet another patron. He seems a nice enough man, in his early twenties. Content Not Found: null tells them about his occupation, that he was sent to the city by his father who is a merchant. Djymmi is meant to assess the local market and report back to his father, in order to get the edge on the competitors. Who the competitors are, are what his family is trading, we do not yet know.

Djymmi gives them a tip advising Grash that, should they require gear, they can approach a good friend of his in a nearby store who will give them a good deal on weapons, armour and anything else they need.

The two of them head over to the store, on the way hearing about the executions that will be taking place that day, and that it’s a pretty big event. They go to the store and Grash makes his acquaintance with the store-keep. They buy some necessities and move on to the town square, where they head into the crowd to view the spectacle of judgement.

After a few thieves and beggars have their heads removed, their old captain Khazeem is brought out, and just as he notices the two adventures and before he can point them out, his head is removed from his shoulders.

Whilst they are recovering from seeing Khazeem again, a guard approaches and gives them them a piece of parchment with the details of their job on it. They realise that they can approach this one of two ways. The man that needed to disappear would frequent a nearby brothel at midnight, then begin to travel to the next city by traveling out of the north gate at two bells past midnight.

The two decided to confront the man at the brothel. They made their way there and Grash paid for a room whilst Jalana shifted into cat form and hid under the bed in the targets room. When the man arrived with his companion Grash kicked the door down, skewered the working girl through the throat with his short sword and attacked the man. Jalana shifted into a tiger and mauled the man to pieces. There was no interrogation to be done this night.

The made their escape, not before Grash looted the brothel for most of its money and they killed a few more employees. Jalana was okay with all of this, and Grash was in his element. Chaos and blood rained.

They made their way out to a nearby alley way where they both cleaned themselves of the copious amounts of blood and then made their outside the city to find out where this man was headed. They encountered some strange people, who attacked them, yelling things about being servants of Slaanesh. They quickly dispatched them and the last alive told them, in his dying breath, that the blood would rain from the sky as the rivers will flow with blood.

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Chapter Three
Gimme a hand, wouldya?!

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We find out heroes, Grash and Jalana, cleaning their weapons of the blood of the cultists, the Servants of Slaanesh. They’re weary yet invigorated by the previous days events, they loot the bodies, and find a note advising them that the guard that they had ‘taken care of’ was a menial contact of the ‘Resplendent Lord’ in the city, and that this lord is also a servant of Slaanesh. Who this Slaanesh is, they do not know, as all the contacts that could have told them something have since been removed from the world of the living.

They made their way back to the city, passing through the northern gates along with the small stream of visiting merchants, farmers bringing their wares to the markets and the common fol going about their mundane existence.

As they brought themselves back to The Skewered Goose, they sat themselves down at one of two tables by the unlit fireplace. As they stretched their muscles and recounted the day, they brought out the scrap of fabric they found on the cultists body. After reading the gibberish inscribed, which seemed to be written on some kind of cured hide, and printed in a dark red ink, they realised they had no idea what they were trying to read.

After some time, and a brandy or two, Grash asked Djymmi to have a look at the writing. After a few laughs and a frown, Djymmi advised the the man in question, the ‘Resplendent Lord’, was more than likely none other than the mayor of the town, H’amaas; a plump and overbearing Dragun-Borne that had been ruling since he came to power a few decades ago. He advised that the mayor frequented the temple of Tyr; God of Justice, in the temple district of Masalan. This was good news, as this was but a short walk for the two of them, and they could have a talk with this mayor and see why he was referenced by these psychotic cultists.

They two of them got their gear together, checked their weapons and, with a last gulp of brandy, set out into the street in search of the temple of Tyr.

As they stood outside The Skewered Goose, and pondered just where the temple may be (there were dozens of them within eyesight), Grash saw a small child walking past. Grash pulled the child to him by the scruff off her neck, pulled out a gold coin and put it in the child’s face.

“Where” he asked quite firmly “Is the temple of Tyr?”

Jalana couldn’t tell if the child was more horrified by the sudden outburst of violence or the gleaming gold coin being offered to her. Obviously the child was not exactly well off, and by the looks of her tattered clothes and parcels she was carrying, she looked like some kind of courier.

“Sir…I…the temple…it’s with all the other ones of the ”/wikis/ag-tos-" class=“wiki-page-link”> Ag Tosú gods…just around the corner… over there" replied the obviously terrified child whilst pointing to a section of the temple district that contained still a number of unrecognisable temples.

“Good girl” replied Grash, and with that pocketed the gold coin and shoved the child away. The girl fell and dropped the packages she was carrying, and after a brief moment to get herself together, stood up and ran away crying.

Jalana looked on indifferently as this transpired, knowing that interrupting Grash when he was in his ‘information gathering’ mood was not a good idea. They made their way in the direction of where the urchin had pointed and found a throng of people and a veritable smorgasbord of temples to choose from. As they all looked the same, they had no idea which was the temple of Tyr, or even what they’d do once they got there.

They wandered about and decided they’d enter one and ask the worshipers inside if they knew which was Tyr’s temple. They saw a relatively mundane temple that didn’t have too many people coming in and out, so they decided to start there. They weren’t stopped by anyone when entering and once past the threshold they found that they had entered a temple that had a very lax dress code. Almost all of the worshipers and priests were minimally clothed and did not seem to be in much of a hurry to do much of anything. There were more than the usual amount of braziers about the walls and a few hanging from the ceiling, almost all of them spewing more smoke than any temple Grash had been in before. As Jalana had never been to a temple before, she didn’t have anything to really compare it to, and explained her new-found building euphoria to the feeling of divine presence.

After a few conversations that didn’t really get them anywhere and a few offers of sweets and a sit on their comfy lounges, they decided that they weren’t really getting anywhere and left.

“Well, that was an experience that I won’t forget in a hurry!” exclaimed Jalana. “The stories are true, I could feel something in there, like my spirit was travelling through the planes of…”

“Quiet girl, you were drugged. Be still and take large breaths, you’ll be fine in a minute.” explained Grash. “We’re not going to find this place by going door to door, we need a hand.”

As they cleared their heads a man that seemed down on his luck came up to them. Dressed in grey rags he beseeches them for a few coins. “Please, good lords, may I beg of you a moment of your time?”
Grash looked the man up and down and snorted, “Ask not for our hard earned coin, old man, and be happy that I don’t take your rags too. Now tell me, where is the temple of Tyr? And no funny business.” he asked, menacingly.

The old man did not seem intimidated by Grash’s rashly spoken words, instead he smiled “Of course, good sir, and madam, please forgive my intrusion.” He swept his arm up and with it the ragged cloak, blocking the sight of the eastern end of the temples from their eyes. As he lowered his arm, he pointed at a temple nestled in between another two, slightly back from the other temples. “That is the temple you seek, brave hero. It is there that you will be handed the knowledge that you seek.”

Grash looked at the man with a stony face, dismissed his theatrics as that of one who was addled in the brain, and turned to Jalana questioningly.

“Well” she said to him. “I suppose we have found our temple. Let us go and see if we can find this ‘Pampered Lord’, and maybe we can end this silly chase of the wildest goose.”

Grash breathed quietly our of his nostrils, “Wild goose, indeed.” he muttered to himself as they both turned towards the temple of Tyr. When they arrived at the steps they noticed no guards or priests proselytizing at the entrance. They made their way inside and immediately realised that they were in a vastly larger temple than the previous one. The walls were set back much further than one would think from looking at the place from outside. The coals in the braziers were unlit and there was no light beyond first few meters into the temple. Smooth stone under their feet was the only thing that they knew as they moved further into the temple.

As they turned around to go back outside and check if this was in fact a temple, a man emerged from the darkness, as if he was liquid smoke, being poured from a rent in the air. “Hallo, travellers. Far have you journeyed to be here. How is that we can help you?”

At his softly spoken words Jalana raised her hand behind her shoulder to put her hand on her spear, and when she saw no immediate threat lowered her hand. “We are looking for someone.” she said, hesitantly.

The man, wearing a robe and with both hands tucked into the opposite sleeve, looked them up and down. His head was shaved but for a tail of hair on the nape of his neck, tied into a braid. “Aren’t we all.” he replied, smiling.

There was silence between them.

“We are looking for a man known as the ‘Pampered Lord’, we have been lead to believe that he is the mayor of this town, and that he frequents this,” she looked around, seemingly unsure of herself “…temple.”

“I know of no such man, we do not know use names here. But, let me ask you. Why do you accompany this creature?” the man asked, turning his gaze to look at Grash. “This one, born of the Draguns, there is much uncertainty about him.”

The man began to walk, slowly circling them both keeping his hand folded in his robe in front of him, assessing them both. “Do you not wonder, will it cut your throat in the night? Or will it protect you to the end of your days? Will it wonder at it’s own potential? Do you wonder at yours?…”

Grash clenched his fists, “It wonders at your lack of manners, and the softness of your belly, and how my dagger would find true purchase in the hollow of your throat.”

The man laughed and stopped circling them, apparently happy with his assessment. “You do not have the right to speak to us like this, Dragun-borne. You are the one that is thin-skinned.”

Jalana took a step forward, “You have no idea who you’re speaking to, you will end your nonsense and if you have nothing to give us, we will take our leave” and to Grash she said “Come, let us take our leave of this place.”

As she turned to leave the man whispered to her “We’re glad to see you go, island-bitch…”

Before Jalana could even turn about, Grash launched forwards with a fist aimed directly at the man’s face, with his other hand looking to grab the man by the back of the head. Grash’s fist missed the man’s face by an inch as the man wheeled about and swiftly moved launched a flurry of elbows and knees at Grash, who was no novice at tavern brawls and deftly avoided them. In no more than the time that it takes to inhale and exhale, the man was on his back looking up at Grash above him with his hand raised for another assault.

The man raised his hands in defeat, and still smiling said “You are faster than you look, Grash” and looking at Jalana “I hope for your sake that he doesn’t decide to slit your throat in your sleep, as you will surely have no time for your last prayer.” He stood and wiped the dust from his robe.

Grash could see the man had learned his lesson, and as such lowered his hands. “Tell us, now. Where is the mayor, and why is he sought by the servants of Slaanesh.”

There was no surprise in the man’s eyes as he spoke, only a smile on his face.
“You will find what you seek in there.”, he pointed to a large hole but a few feet from them. Neither Jalana nor Grash noted it being there earlier.

As they looked at the hole, and back to the man, they realised he was gone.

“Well Grash, I understand now the frustration some feel when they deal with these simpering priests.” noted Jalana, as she moved towards the hole and peered down it.

“Hmm.” replied Grash, as he too moved to the hole to see what he could see.

They peered down and saw naught but blackness, there was no sound, no light and no smell to either of their noses. “This is strange” said Jalana “It would seem he wants us to trust him and jump down this hole. Well, if he thinks we are fools then let him continue thinking it. Come Grash, let us find another temple to ask about our target.”

As she turned to go she found Grash immediately behind her. “Sorry girl, we can’t go just yet.” and with a smile he pushed her backwards into the hole.

With a curse Jalana tumbled backwards and was swallowed by the darkness, and Grash soon followed her in.

They tumbled through liquid time and space, feeling nothing but a tugging at all parts of their being, not a fall but more of a shift sideways. After what could have been seconds, days, or years, they found themselves standing in what seemed to be a crypt surrounded by bones and discarded gear.

After they got themselves together Jalana turned to Grash and slapped him hard across one side of this face, he was too dazed to react in time, and promptly took another on the other side. “What is wrong with you, you maniac!” she yelled at him whilst getting ready to continue her attack.

“Jalana! Listen to me, I just had a feeling, I knew that we had to do it, and I knew that you wouldn’t have done it had you left the temple. I’m sorry, but this was the only way. our answers are here. I feel it, like I’m being drawn here.” he said, with a hint of apology in his voice.

Jalana lowered her hands, and took stock of the situation. Looking around she saw that she was actually okay, and that they were unharmed. Maybe he was right, and that this was what they were supposed to be doing. With so little direction recently, it was actually relieving to have some idea of what they had to do, even if it was just ‘a feeling’.

“Well, I guess we go this way” she said as they began moving towards the only tunnel leading from the room.

As they moved off the pile of bones they began to walk towards the tunnel, weary of all around them. Quietly, they heard behind them the sounds of rustling and clinking. As they both turned they found two fully formed skeletons, with weapons in their hands.

You….who are…lost…You….who are….now found……we cannot let you give him what he needs….we guard this temple by decree of those who came before….you will not give him the key to freedom…he will….stay in his prison…

The two skeletons seemed ancient, and their armour was nothing that Grash or Jalana had ever seen. They carried blades that had all but rusted and their armour was tatters of steel and hide. As they approached the two leapt immediately, already on edge, and dispatched them almost with ease.

As the two ancient guardians fell to pieces at their feet they felt a breath of relief tinged with sadness. Almost like the two had failed some duty they were sworn to uphold.

The two adventurers made their way down the only tunnel, it’s walls covered in undecipherable runes which seemed to glow with an ethereal blue, casting just enough light so that they could make their way without stumbling. After only 20 yards or so, they met another chamber. This was was far larger than the one they appeared in, the caverns ceiling stretching far beyond what little light was given off by the runes on the walls behind them.

They made their way out to the limit of the light, and stopped. Looking about them they could see some of the same runes around the walls, which seemed to be thirty feet away and glowing with the same strange bluish glow.

As the watched the runes started to glow brighter and then dimmer, they bother turned around back-to-back and looked about for the next inevitable assault. But none came…
The runes seemed to be disappearing, and what shadows that were in the room began to flow, like water or smoke through the room and in a swirling around them, there was no sound save for their scuffled footsteps as they tried to see everywhere at once. They both realised, without voicing it, that the entrance that had been there but moments ago, was now gone.

“Okay we need to get our of here, and it looks like the only way out is up” advised Grash pointing at the unseen ceiling above their heads.
As he pointed they both felt an immense presence burst into the cavern, stifling them and holding them both in place. They could see nothing but the faint blue glow and the swirling silent shadows, but neither could move, and neither had any idea what was happening.

…aaaaaaaaaah yes. welcome little ones

A voice from nowhere, and behind it a laugh that was nether malicious nor benevolent.

it is good to have some company finally, the two protectors have been little company for such as I for soooooo loooong

Whispers in the dark, again seemingly laughing at the same time, as if the beings voice was made of trickery and cunning.

… I must say…I am impressed that you are here, and happy that we have finally found some so willing to bring me what I need

Neither Jalana nor Grash could speak, and could only stand dumbfounded as Grash had his arm held pointing at the ceiling and Jalana held her spear, ready to defend them against nothing.

…I thank you both….yet…you have disappointed me… you have hurt a servant of mine….but….as long as you cannot ever lay the hand on one of the faithful again, I believe the debt to be paid…

The shadows swirled as the laughter began, and did not stop with the voice, but gained tempo and power. The laughter moved into something else, like a map misleading the user or a statue mimicking and mocking the creator as he carved. As the shadows seemed to enter their eyes and noses all of a sudden they were gone, and with them Grash’s right hand.

They stood in shock, and as the last of the laughter subsided and the weight of the presence lifted they were both able to finally move.

Grash looked down at the bloody stump where his hand had been….and laughed….

View
Chapter Four
Viva la Revolution!

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Grash stares at the stump at the end of his arm pointing still towards the unseen cavern ceiling, and as he continues to laugh Jalana comes up to him, almost in shock herself at the ordeal, and tries to calm him down.

“Grash! Grash! Listen to me, i can help you, hold out your hand.” she exclaims, as she tries to bring his hand down from where it was still pointing upwards. She covers the stump with her hands and begins to murmur soft incantations. A clear white light spreads across the blood and manages to stem the flow of blood.

Grash is just starting to calm down when the room starts to grow darker, and darker. ’Oh no..not again.." whispers Jalana.
Grash looks about wildly, his mouth agape with what could be construed as a smile, his eyes alight with a mix of fear and excitement. The shadows start to creep towards them and then in a sudden rush, like a wave breaking across a bow, the darkness envelopes them and they know nothing but the blackness.

After some time they feel a sort of vibrating, a shuddering almost like something is trying to shake sand off a boot, and they are the sand. After some time they feel themselves come loose and, after a few moments, find themselves sitting on the steps that lead them to the temple.

The background slowly comes into focus and their thoughts come together, the first thing they noticed was the smell, it was them, they were very smelly, and hungry and very thirsty. Jalana shivers and gathers herself, and, looking to her side sees Grash staring vacantly at where his right hand once was. The look in his eyes is not pain, just confusion. “By the gods, Grash, are you okay?” she asked whilst taking the stump in her hands and assessing it. It wasn’t bleeding but it was in no way in a good shape.

He looked at his stump, then held his hands out in front of him. Looking at his left hand fully formed and clenching his fists he then look at his right, where the hand was severed before the wrist began.

Something itched. He heard of this, the phantom itch when people lose a limb, however, this was different. He felt something. It was almost as if the hand was still there…
He clenched his fist again, and felt as if he could do the same with his missing hand. Almost like a breeze in the back of his mind he could hear Jalana getting his attention, and almost like a whisper on a breeze behind a storm he heard it still…the laughing…the pleasantly cruel humiliation…

GRASH!” he felt the slap to the side of his face, and snapped out of it. “We need to get you to a proper healer, now get up you buffoon.” Jalana was tugging at his arm trying to get him to stand.

“Yes, I….I’m okay girl. Let me be.” He replied quietly. Looking about himself, he remembered a figure as soon as he saw him, a shadow of a man, wreathed in a tattered robe, escaping behind a corner into the market beyond. Grash was too weak to give chase.

As they stood and assessed their surroundings they remembered that they had exited the temple somehow. They turned around and realised that there was no temple behind them.

They were on the steps, the very steps that lead them to the temple and now it was just gone. In it’s place there was a single merchant, with wares of no consequence. They approached him, warily looking about themselves for traps. As they got to him they saw he had but one real item for sale among the scraps available. A single potion that seemed to swirl in the bottle.

“Hi can we please see your wares?” asked Jalana in a normal conversational term.
“Yes you may, would you like to buy this healing potion for two gold pieces?” he replied.
“Yes please, thank you” Jalana agreed, and bought the potion and poured it over Grash’s stump, which almost immediately stabilised.

When their normal everyday transaction had completed they casually asked the merchant what he was doing in the very same place that a temple had been but moments ago. After the merchant paused and fled the scene they took some of his scraps of smelly cloth and deemed it an encounter well executed.

Pleased with themselves and their smelly old cloth, they decided to go about looking for some answers about the missing temple. They made their way to a temple of Sha, an Elvish god of commerce. They made a casual and hefty bribe of 20 gold to obtain very common knowledge from a priest there who told them that there hadn’t been a temple there for hundreds of years, and that it was due to all Trickster god worship being banned in Vyāpāra due to the Emperor having sided with them in order to gain his godhood and therefore killing, enslaving and ravishing millions of people and countless leagues of the continent in the process.

During Grash’s interrogation of the priest Jalana heard a town crier yelling out the previous weeks beheadings. They learned that Captain Khazeem was executed a week ago from that day. They had been in that temple for a week…

After, they excused themselves and made their way back the The Skewered Goose where they found Sven waiting, who had missed them after the last week and was apparently about to hire out their room. They took refreshments and slept for some time, and sitting with Sven in front of a fire, enjoying some fine (and expensive) wine, they learned that there was a carnival of Sand Elves in town. They decided that after their ordeal in the temple that they could probably use some down time. Jhymmy returned and advised Sven that he could take care of the shop whilst they were out, he had also come back with a rather fat purse of gold and seemed happy with himself. After they asked him where he got the gold he said that he’d been dabbling in ‘the fashion industry’. They had two bottles of Brandy and a few bottles of wine between them and followed Sven out into the town. Heading towards the market and into the festivities they saw many Elves cavorting and juggling and doing many interesting things. On their way to get some more food and drinks they met a rather intoxicated elf by the name of Adran, who asked them to follow him as he had something very important to show them outside of the town.

After being assaulted in an alley on the way out of town they learned that Adran was a very competent Monk, training with the shadow sect of the Sand Elves, who can be anything from spies, bodyguards and even assassins.

They made their way north of the town and to the encampment of the sand elves, on the outskirts of the temporary town they found Adran’s tent. They entered and found a humid and incense filled room, carpeted and with a brazier with smelling herbs. The room was stifling but the for thick skinned girl from the tropics and a rad Dragun-Borne, this was comfortable.
Adran’s woman, who welcomed them and gave them tea, advised that they had something they needed to show them, but it was only possible to show them in the spirit realm, where monks travel in their minds.

The three drank tea and meditated, this was hard for Grash to do, as he doesn’t relax very easily.

After some time, they shifted into the spirit realm, the fey wilds. The desert fey-wild is like no other, life is thought to be far and few between in the desert, however that couldn’t be further from the truth. Adran explained that the desert used to be a jungle, thick with plants and wildlife, and that it had been sapped of life by the Emperor thousands of years ago. The life in the dessert hadn’t disappeared though, it had only changed. But the spirits were mad, whether this was because of what the Emperor did or because of the Human/Dragun-Borne alliance which has done nothing to restore the land to it’s beauty and vitality, or their pitiless enslaving and degrading of the elves that lived in the area is yet to be known.

The desert spirits formed into a mighty horned demon, an avatar or hate and spite. A mighty spirit battle raged, the three heroes pitched against a demon of far more power than any had ever encountered. Just as they believed they had the demon finished two spirits formed, separate to the demon.

You promised me all the power I needed to defeat these who would stop us! cried the demon to the new comers, as he cried this they began to stream their power to him and the battle took on a new urgency, to defeat the demon before it’s power grew beyond their ability to contain. After a few failed Monk moves by Adran, Jalana and Grash managed to work together and with Jalana’s new-found powers to become the incarnation of raw power in the form of a giant brown bear and Grash’s abilities to find the weak spots in the demons armour, they brought it to it’s knees and Grash took the opportunity to dodge a flailing spiked arm and ran up the back of the demon and plunged his knifes into it’s soft neck.

The demon burst apart and the two other apparitions disappeared with a shriek. In the demons place sat a brilliant White Wyrm. You have released me from my prison, I thank you travellers. Please, when you return to your place and time come and find me… and with that it shimmered and was gone. And so were they….

They awoke in the tent, with seemingly seconds only passing as Adran’s woman was still mid sentence about whether or not they wanted more tea.

As they digested their new-found knowledge Adran advised that the elves were getting ready to attack the city at dawn. As Jalana and Grash got to stand up, they realised they had new-found weapons, Grash a new dagger and Jalana a mighty spear.

They left the tent and saw that theirs was the only one left. All others were packed and there was no evidence of them ever having been there. Adran advised he didn’t know the plan, or how the elves were going to attack, just that he was posted as a sentry to warn them of any incoming armies.

Adran advised he must stay where he is, and Jalana and Grash headed towards the town, passed through the gates with a few other travellers and all seemed well. There was no evidence of foul play. The town was still sleeping off it’s hangover, no people about but the street urchins. Grash bought a red firework from a child, and still has it.

They made their way down the main thoroughfare, knowing that the elves main target would be the mayor of the town. They passed many guard but when they got closer they noticed a silent war occurring, scuffles in the alley ways, and they realised that there were guards attacking other guards! Realising that the elves had disguised themselves as guards the two of them fought their way to the top of the stairs of the humble palace, finding a sharp nosed Sand Elf holding a Dragun-Borne captive, on his knees and with a knife at this throat. “All will know the cruelty that has been dealt to my kind at the hands of this mayor! The desert will be ours again and the tyranny of the Human and Dragun-Borne alliance will end!” and with a chant from the other elves of “Falca! Falca! Long live the Sand Elves!” the fighting grew more intense and more and more people joined the fight, just as Falca was about to draw the knife across the mayors throat he rammed his elbow into her knee and stood bellowing “You underestimate me you filthy elf, your people will be brought to heel and you will be ground to dust under the new empires feet!” and they began to duel.

Jalana and Grash made a snap decision and raced up the steps towards the Mayor, with blood in the air and on their faces they were a fearsome duo. The mayor kicked Falca into a group of fighters and she became embroiled in their fight.

“How dare you defy me! You two will be the first to hang when this is done!” he cried as he ripped a two handed sword from a nearby corpse. The mayor was enraged and swinging wildly, but Jalana pounced at him and in mid air brought a giant hairy brown paw down upon him and the battle was on. Grash used his speed and finesse to dodge most of the swings, however he was kicked savagely and fell backwards down a few of the steps. Jalana being larger and slower took one too many swings of the giant sword and she was brought down but not without giving it all she had and damaging the Mayor. Grash’s cold fury leapt up through him and with a sudden rushing of power sprang up the steps and as he charged flung his handless arm out and with it the magical hand that he had summoned that held his newly found dagger “You stupid fat worm, you bring the shame to the Dragun-Borne! This fight bores me, let’s cut to the chase!” and the knife streamed forwards just as the Mayor had the huge sword poised above his head to finish off the dying Jalana. The knife embedded itself in the Mayors neck and with a sudden realisation the mayor dropped the sword. Grash pulled back his arm, like reeling in a fish and back came the knife covered in the mayors blood. He gurgled “You have no idea what you’ve done..” Just before he fell off the pavilion upon which they fought

The fighting subsided and the town guards surrendered their weapons. Jalana was now back in her own skin, and being looked at by Falca and a healer. Grash cleaned off his dagger and sheathed it. Helping Jalana to her feet.

“Thank you for your help, you have given many of us hope that peace can exist between our races.” said Falca.

“I will fight you!” yelled Jalana before feinting.

“Please don’t mind her, she is delirious and means nothing of it,” explained Grash to the confused Falca and onlookers. “We are of course happy to help and will take our reward and be on our way.”

“Of course, here please take our eternal gratitude and a chest of gold each, we cannot thank you enough.” Said Falca before turning about and ordering every Human and Dragun-borne in the palace to be slaughtered and everyone else in the town to be removed.

As Jalana awoke again and they took up their chests of gold and licked their wounds they made their way away from the palace, occassionally turning back when they heard the soft squelch of the bodies hitting the stones when they were thrown from the balconies.

“Grash…do you think we’ve done the right thing? Have we brought balance to the world?” Jalana asked quietly, obviously shaken by the ordeal.

Grash stopped walking and looked about him. The looting was still taking place and many parts of the town were on fire. “The right thing?” he asked then shifted the chest and weighted it, hearing the coins inside clink together, “I don’t know about the right thing, but this feels pretty balanced to me.” he replied and with a wink he continued walking away from the now burning palace.

Jalana made one last look at the stairs, covered with bodies and the burning palace beyond, looked down at the chest of gold, then turned and hurried to catch up with Grash.

View
Chapter Five
Gone in 60 sandsnakes

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Grash and Jalana are walking away from the burning palace. Chest of gold in their hands they decide to make their way to the Skewered Goose to see if Sven is still alive.
They arrive at the scene and there is naught but cinders and smoke. A few Sand Elves guards are about and tell them to leave the scene, which they do.

They make their way to the market area, and see that there are some pretty serious beheading happening. Mainly the nobles that ran the town and were complicit in screwing over the Sand Elves. They are told again to move along. They decide to head to the docks, where they find a booth that’s accepting goods/coin for slips of paper that are redeemable at any government point in Vyāpāra.

They decide to continue to carry their chests, and find a skiff shop. Grash enters and finds a shifty looking dwarf named Ahimsa, who keeps his eye on an hourglass that’s on the table. He seems to be the proprietor of the establishments, and after a few drinks and a few words, Grash decides to go have a look at the sand skiff that the dwarf is apparently selling.

They make their way to the end of the jetty, with the deep dunes used for take-off below them. A dilapidated skiff, barely hanging together, stands in front of them, harnessed to the rigging to either side, it swings in the light breeze, seemingly about to fall apart as they look at it.

“Uh, this is the skiff you’re selling? You may as well sell it for firewood.” remarks Grash impatiently.
“No no! Come have a closer look friend, you’ll find that the wood itself is of the finest quality and the thing was built by the elves long ago!” remarked Ahimsa.
As they board the skiff it swings in the rigging and they notice that it’s not all that bad, just a little worse for wear, and nothing a few gold wouldn’t fix up. Whilst Jalana is looking at the rigging and Grash is negotiating a deal they notice another dwarf walking about the docks towards the shop that they were just in. The dwarf is about to go inside when he turns his head in their direction and bellows “You! Get off my skiff immediately! Oh it’s you again Ahimsa! I’ll have your damn head!” and begins to run down the lengthy jetty towards them.

“His skiff? What is this all about, Dwarf?” queried Jalana, with a hint of a smile.
“Well, it’s a long story, but the short of it is that I intend to steal this skiff and ride it all the way to Dharma.” replied Ahimsa.

As they watched the short Dwarf run towards them, and the indifferent looks from the Sand Elves around them, Grash made a decision “Let’s go then!”

As Ahimsa laughed wildly and swung his short knife across the lines that moored them the Skiff lurched violently to one side then the other as both sides of the moorings were cut.

They were then in complete free-fall. Well, not complete as as they were dropping Ahimsa unfurled the rigging and just before they hit the sand a great wind came and kicked them slightly forwards towards the bow, and they had enough momentum to push them forwards towards. They hit the dune at a hefty pace and looked back up to see the dwarf still on the jetty jumping up and down and shaking his fist in impotent rage.

As they flew from the city with their chest of golds luckily still in their hands, they saw many other vessels leaving the city from all directions and many on foot also.
They saw Ahimsa tying a few knots and loosing a few ropes to ensure that the skiff was moving as fast as it could. As they settled down and discussed the situation they realised that Ahimsa was a bit of a weirdo. He’d worked in Dharma most of his life after he was cast out of this home the mountainous regions in the north by his fellow dwarves. Apart from that he was just a drunken dwarf skiff operator. Ahimsa advised them that they’d probably be in Dharma in about a week.

After a few days they ran into some trouble, there were giant poisonous snakes following them in the sand and they attempted to break the rigging and force them to stop, in order to feed on their juicy bodies. After a bit of a struggle, and Ahimsa nearly bleeding to death, they finally regained their course and got back on track to Dharma.
A day after the event, presumably because of Ahimsa’s harrowing ordeal, they realised that he was asleep at the wheel and they crashed into rock in the middle of nowhere. Grash got out to fetch Ahmisa’s still form, which was weeping nonsense about them going to die.

When he was carrying the body back, he saw someone standing behind Jalana on the skiff. A flighty woman, of average build and dark brown hair. A pet bird was with her, and she emplored them to bathe with her in the oasis nearby. As they were very stinky they decided to follow.

There was a pool, as promised and an altar. After a short swim without Jalana or Grash (or clothes) she advised that she had something to show them if they would only come with her to the altar at the other side of the rocks. Jalana followed her, intrigued by her way of speech, to the altar which appeared to have Ahimsa on it, still weeping.

The woman was speaking quietly to the Dwarf, who was slowly slipping into unconsciousness but weeping all the while. The woman turned her attention to Jalana then, promising that she could show Jalana secrets, things that were otherwise forbidden. “All we have to do is have a look inside him, girl. The secrets are in there! They try to hide them from you, they will tell you that you mustn’t look, but girl! They are there! With power…unfathomable power…”

Jalana said that it was a great idea and she couldn’t wait to see inside him and joined the other druid at the altar.

Grash had other ideas, sick of the crazy woman’s ramblings and the odd way that she kept touching the markings on Jalanas belly and laughing. He slipped around a few of the rocks to better view the altar, and could see Jalana vacantly staring at the prone Dwarf who was now seemingly dead to the world and the knife in the woman’s hand that wasn’t there a second ago. Grash launched a knife from the shadows at the woman and the fight was on. The woman screeched and clutched at her arm, with a spray of blood splashing Jalana across the face, and waking her from whatever spell she was under.

“Jalana! It’s a trick! What’s wrong with you girl, she is going to kill our ride out of here!” yelled Grash as he ran at the woman, circling around the small stagnant lake in the middle of the circle of stones.
Jalanas scimitars snapped into her hands and, over the debilitating effects of the woman’s words, she snarled and threw herself at the screeching woman.

The woman seemingly fell backwards and, to Jalana and Grash’s astonishment, disappeared. Just as they thought something had cast another spell on them they heard a splash and realised that the woman had somehow shifted into the shape of some kind of horrible sea-creature and, reaching out with a tentacled arm, grabbed Grash and pulled him into the fetid waters.

Grash, suddenly under water and not sure of his surroundings struck out blindly with his sword and dagger, hoping against all hope to strike the things body and not just it’s legs.

Jalana did not stand idly by, she leapt into the air, and twisting her body and mind with the effort, shifted into a sleek ocean shark and plunged into the water, snapping at the monster and looking to rescue Grash. After getting a few mouthfuls of acrid flesh in her shark mouth she found Grash, hooked at the bottom under several appendages. She used her head to push him up and, with tremendous effort, soared to the surface and launched them both onto the banks of the pond. She shifted back and helped him to his feet, as astounded as he was that he still had his weapons in his hands.

The woman, half water-beast, half human, came crawling out of the water, her eyes still black like some deep-sea monster, wailing and screaming. Obviously trying to escape. Grash began walking towards her, sword at the ready. The thing screeched one last time and in front of their eyes transformed into a startling red heron, flying above their heads.

But Grash was quicker. Swinging his arm up and across he split the small bird in twain, with two halves falling to each side of him, the thing was dead.

After the fight was done, and the druid was cut in half in mid air by Grash, Jalana began to have a closer look at the stones and the symbols on them. Trying to find out what the symbols meant.

Grash took up Ahimsa’s frail unmoving body and started to move back towards the skiff, whilst Jalana had a further look at the symbols on the rocks surrounding the oasis. After some time she found that instead of looking at the arcane symbols and instead looking at the shapes of the rocks, she could discern some vague idea of the rocks making some kind of prison, but to keep what in they could only guess.

View
Chapter Six
Tome Raiders

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Ahmisa is carried back to the skiff, his ordeal over and his insides thankfully still intact, thanks to the quick thinking of Grash.

Jalana looks at the Dwarf, lying quietly on the floor of the skiff, breathing deeply and seemingly simply asleep. “Grash,” she said quietly “Please don’t tell him of what happened.”

He looked down at her, his arms crossed and a frown on his face, “What happened..what did happen back there?” he asked.

“I…I’m not sure, one moment we were looking at a woman and the next I saw…well…I saw someone else, someone I trusted. I think she cast some kind of spell on me. I don’t know.” she replied hesitantly.

Grash looked at her, smiled and said “Worry not, I’ll not tell a soul about it. But don’t be too hard on yourself, it won’t be the last time some whiley mage tries to turn your mind, next time just be aware of of and you can fight back, and if you can’t beat them with your mind, try steel”.

Jalana smiled and stood, “Well, about time we tried to fix this heap of junk, aye?”

They decide to patch up the skiff and sail it on to Dharma. The repairs took a few hours, and once they got going the feeling of despair grew less as they moved further away from the odd ring of stones in the desert.

After a few more hours they finally saw the giant city of Dharma on the horizon and with that came hope that they just might not be dying in the desert any time soon.

“Well Grash, looks like we made it.” said Jalana, with the wind blowing in her hair Grash noticed that she didn’t look as carefree as she had when they’d first met. He supposed that she had been through a lot in the last few weeks, especially today.

“That we did, girl. We should be at the city gates by day break” replied Grash, as he saw the first of the suns start to rise in the west. “We’ll need some place to stay” he said as he looked at Ahmisa who had recovered from his sleep.

“I can arrange that I can, sir” said the Dwarf “There are plenty of places that we can go and not be bothered by the town guards, not that you’d need worry about that otherwise, sir, with your impeccable reputations.” he continued with a wink. Grash gave the Dwarf a scowl and moved to the bow to see the city.

After an uneventful few hours they saw the giant south side of the city, and it was immense.
The walls were bigger than anything either of them had ever seen, they seemed as if they’d been driven upwards from the earth by some immense geological force. The sands that came up a few hundred feet seemed to have been swept up it. The giant sand banks were for the skiffs to depart, as Ahmisa described, and they were formed by the night winds that shifted in that direction after the suns had gone down.

As they got closer they noticed a very complicated looking lever and pulley system that was lifting and lowering giants boats and sand skiffs from the walls high above them. They docked their skiff to one of the rigs and were slowly lifted to the top of the walls after negotiating with a dock-man for the skiff to be stored in one of the vast warehouses that surrounded the city.

Grash advised that they were well deserving of a drink and they should head to a place of Ahmisa’s choosing. He called up a cart drawn by an orc slave and got in. Jalana, in a sudden burst of empathy and goodness declared her unwillingness to get into a cart drawn by a slave. “It’s not right, Grash. These orcs, it’s as if their spirits have been ripped from them. I cannot travel in such a fashion.”

Grash looked at the orc, who indeed stood with such a posture and facial expression as to give the impression that the torch was lit but no dragon was in the cave so to speak. he looked back at Jalana and said, “Stay out of trouble, g-…Jalana.” and clasped her wrist. “I’m sure this isn’t the last I’ve seen of you.”

She watched as Grash and Ahmisa took off in the orc-driven cart, and with a purpose in her heart she set out to undo some of her past wrongs.

Grash and Ahmisa made their way to the merchant areas of the city, marveling at the many new sights, sounds and smells of the city. They found a nice little tavern and settled in for a drink and a game of cards with a nice couple of people. Grash was inevitably caught cheating and the sore losers decided to have none of it and promptly punched Ahmisa in the mouth. With a bloody grin and a gleam in his eye, he threw himself over the table, upending many cups of ale and wine, with Grash not too far behind.

Out of nowhere a little ball of fury and screams came to their assistance. A Dwarf by the name of Barbs swung wildly with her great-axe and severed the instigators legs off at the knee.
Grash, bewildered but not upset at the sudden violence and carnage, decided to leave the scene, as even he knew that your first day in a new city should at the very least have no jail time included. He looked behind him as he left the tavern and got into the cart, the dwarf had followed him out and, after he saw her covered in blood and smiling, he thought it best that her company should continue. “Get in! We need to get out of here.” he yelled at her.

They got in the cart and whipped the slave to go faster. Alas! The men from the tavern followed in their own slave driven cart and a slave driven cart fight began. Hurtling down streets cluttered with barrels and people and stalls, they veered and chased, with Grash letting off the occasional firebolt and Ahmisa controlling the slave, they managed to get away after Grash got the chasing carts’ slave in the face with a firebolt, blinding the poor beast and stopping them dead.

They stopped the cart after getting enough distance between them and had a look around to see a seemingly deserted shop. They cleaned some of the blood off their faces and inspected the shop. From the look of the place and the cobwebs everywhere it was apparent that it had been unoccupied for quite some time.

When they finally decided to venture outside once the suns had set they decided to find a bite to eat and maybe another drink. In the market place they met one of Barbs’ old friends.
“Uh oh. This isn’t good.” she mumbled under her breath as a tall man with red hair tied into a loose knot on his head approached, flanked by two tough looking men.
“Allo Barbs, ‘ow you doin’, alright? Haven’t you got something you’re supposed to be out looking for?” he asked. The two men at his side stared at Grash and Ahmisa, and then to Barbs, with her greataxe still strapped to her back.

She knew what he meant, he’d hired her to find a book for him, and paid her in advance, which she’d promptly then used the payment to have a very good two weeks drinking and fighting her way through Dharma.

She convinced Grash to help her get the book, which was said to be in an old crypt north of the city. Whilst getting ready to go to the tomb in where the tome was located, a shady man approached and advised that he was willing to give them twice what the book was worth, and for them to think on it.

The next day, after sleeping in the old shop, they made their way to the tomb, and after narrowly missing a few deadly traps they made their way to the main chamber where they found an Ogre Zombie and his cohort conducting a dark ritual.

They attacked immediately, Barbs direct and screaming and Grash from the shadows.
The fight devolved into chaos, with more and more zombies being risen and the Ogre shadow lord heaving massive dark energies and sapping their strength.
Eventually they downed the ogre, but not before several of the zombies had taken swipes at Grash and one of the powerful bursts of dark energy had cut deep into Grash’s side.

He lay, propped against the altar, and watched as Barbs searched the room for the tome, wishing that Jalana was there with her healing magics.

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Chapter Seven
In the Outhouse

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A grunt of pain to her left got Barbs’ attention. Grash was sitting with his back against the altar. The bodies of the slain lay scattered around the room, the body of the Ogre necromancer lay in a puddle of it’s own decaying refuse.

“Gods be damned, that hurts” mumbled Grash. “Well, at least you have your book, right? Now we can get the hell out of here.”

Barbs stood up from the pile of clutter she was sorting through, looking for more loot, and looked at Grash. He seemed hurt, that much was obvious. But how hurt she wasn’t sure.

“Yep, got my book, that’s right. Now we can get out of here, huh Grashy old boy?” she replied. She took a few steps towards Grash. “Now that I have my book I’ll be out of debt, and then i can finally get myself back home.”

As she walked towards him she could see that he wasn’t giving her his full attention, he seemed to be staring vacantly at a point ahead of him. She slowly took out one of her hand-axes and took a few more steps towards him. “Hey Grash, if you’re just going to sit there, how about you give me all of your gold?” she laughed, whilst again taking a few more steps forward and waggling her axe at his face.

Before she reached him she caught a flicker of movement near the entrance to the room, a swift shifting of shadows that seemed to desolve down the passageway towards the entrance to the tomb. She looked back at the still form of Grash to see his image fade away like smoke in the wind, she heard laughing in the distance and heard whispers you’ll have to catch me first

She ran out of the room, stepping on a makeshift trap, missing most of the darts that shot from the wall, and ran towards the giant stone entrance to the tomb, but it was too late. The giant stone disk was almost closed and completely blocking all light from outside. She beat her hands on the stone slab and screamed at the slippery rogue to let her out.

“Damn you, you bastard! I hope you rot in hell! I wasn’t going to take your damn gold anyway! RRRaaaaaaaah!!!!!”

She eventually calmed down, and took stock of her situation. She pulled a torch out from her pack and lit it with the flint and tinder in her pack. As the flames grew brighter as the torch took light she held it ahead of her and suddenly found a figure standing at the edge of the shadows, still, and making no sound.

“Who goes there?” she yelled, showing no fear at the sudden apparition and hefting her axe.

After some silence, the figure took a few steps forward and replied “I’m here for the book. My name is irrelevant. Give it to me.”

Bristling, Barbs didn’t appreciate the way that this man evaded her question, “I don’t think I like your tone, mister. My name is Barbs and I’m not giving you this book. I actually really need it, and I don’t mean I want to read it myself. So if you want it for any reason, we’re going to have to work together to get out of here.”

The figure stood and appraised the short dwarf, she seemed tough, she would put up a fight and he wasn’t sure if he would make it out alive. He’d have to take his chances and team up with her. For now.

“My name is Ekemon, and like I said, I’d really like to have that book. But for now, it looks like your friend made sure that we wouldn’t be taking the front door out of here.”

He looked about and motioned towards the passage leading further into the tomb, “We’ll need to find another way out.”

Barbs assessed the situation as well as she could, and with a moments thought decided the best thing she could do was trust this creepy stranger for the time being, “Fine, let’s get out of this hole.”

They made their way back to the entrance to the room where Grash and Barbs had fought the Ogre zombie. “I want to check this room for an exit, follow me” said Ekemon and lead the way into the room. He approached the large polished stones that the zombies were chanting over and put his hand on one of them. He knew these, they were black dragon eggs. “Don’t touch these, they are very dangerous…and valuable.” he advised the dwarf as he left them and explored the rest of the room.

“Hmmm….valuable you say…” whispered Barbs as she stroked the egg. As she turned to look about the room, a cracking noise echoed across the room and she turned back to the cluster of large eggs. “Damn it…” muttered Barbs as she hefted her axe.

She watched in fascination as a large beak smashed through the rock hard shell, curled sharp black talons followed, pulling apart the rock from the inside. Could this be a dragon? She drew on memories of tales of dragons, having never actually seen one in the flesh before. She knew that dragons were born from eggs. As she was piecing together the evidence unfolding before her eyes, the baby dragon had almost fully emerged from the huge shiny black stone. It didn’t look like a dragon she had been described, instead of a majestic, crisp scaly beast, before her this creature was slimy, green mucus oozing from its orifices. its limbs and chest was especially thin and it appeared to be sick. But through its weeping eyes Barbs saw evilness. This creature did not desire a mother to be nurtured. This creature was angry and wanted to kill.
Ekemon had just caught eye of something exquisitely shiny in a pile of cloth. Just as he was reaching for it, chuckling to himself that the others could miss something like this, he heard Barbs yell “It’s a dragon!”
Shit, he thought. No time for treasure now. Making a note to come back for the treasure, he raced across the room to the dragon.
Disgusted by the foul creature he found, he lunged in to knock out he creature. A flurry of blows followed. The dragon was stronger than he anticipated from the look of the sickness on him. He landed a few blows but realised he had barely injured it, as quickly as he attacked, he retreated a few feet away to assess the situation. Barbs had watched the monk dancing around the baby dragon. His speed was impressive, she could barely keep up with his moves and he was certainly keeping the dragon occupied. She raised he axe and sliced down on the dragons neck.

The two heroes battled the ever increasing number of dragons hatching from the eggs. More and more kept escaping after Barbs’ axe and Ekemon’s fists and elbows kept hitting them. After the final hatch-ling was defeated, the bodies started to putrefy and liquefy. The stench was almost overwhelming. “You fought well.” advised Ekemon, after cleaning the viscera and bile from his hands and face. Barbs grinned up at him and replied “You fight like a scrapping child.” and then made her way back towards the entrance.

Ekemon glowered after her, but decided to leave it. He picked up the loot that he’d found behind the altar and followed her to the entrance to the room. “We need to go down this path, but I’d rather not see you end up as a pin cushion after setting off ever damn trap.” advised Ekemon.
“I eat traps for breakfast.” replied Barbs, however she didn’t look too happy about going down yet another untested pathway in this damn tomb.

Ekemon crouched and examined the floor. He found that the sand and stone seemed to be looser about ten feet ahead of them. He touched a stone that seemed to be out of place, and a rumbling proceeded the floor dropping out completely ahead of him. The stone and sand vanished in to blackness and a twenty foot gap appeared ahead of them.

Ekemon stood back up and sighed. “We’re going to have to jump across” he said, then after stepping back a few steps and centering himself he flew more than leapt across the chasm, robes swirling behind him. He landed on the other side of the chasm and turned to smile at the dwarf on the other side. “That’s how you -” he began, before noticing that he’d landed on some kind of pressure pad. The deep rumbling and breaking of stone behind Barbs told them that the cavern was coming undone. “Oh shit” exclaimed Barbs. “I’ll catch you! Just jump! Now!” yelled Ekemon.

Barbs took a few steps back, then ran as fast as her little legs could take her and leapt across the chasm, time seemed to slow down as the passed above the gaping chasm, below her the yawning darkness that seemed to pull at her.

Just as she landed with two feet on the lip of the chasm edge she reached out her hand to Ekemons, and missed.

She tumbled backwards and the last thing Ekemon saw was the confused look on her face that hid behind it hurt and rage.

“This is not how I planned this..” grumbled Ekemon to himself, before throwing himself down into the darkness like a predator bird diving after it’s prey. Catching her in mid-fall and arresting their decent speed, he righted their falling bodies and after what seemed like forever they reached a sloped surface, and they slid more than fell for some time before coming to a rest.

After they got their breath back and realised that they’d been plunged into darkness, Ekemon tried to steal the tome from Barbs, it didn’t work and she hit him. “Keep your filthy hands to yourself, demon-spawn, or I’ll rip them off you.”

“My apologies, but you can’t blame me for trying” replied Ekemon.

They started down the corridor, opening a door and finding more passages. They heard the passages above them being destroyed and saw sand and stone tumbling down the chute that they’d just come down. “We need to hurry, this whole damn place is coming apart.” growled Barbs.

“Follow me, and be careful, this darkness is no impediment to such as I” advised Ekemon, before leading Barbs down the corridors. A room was ahead, and in it an altar. Ekemon felt more than saw an image, almost like that when staring at a torch and then into the dark. An afterimage.
He approached and heard whispering. noooooo…..liiiiiiight
Ekemon edged closer, trying to see the source of this whispering. Behind him he heard muffled rustling and then saw the room brighten. Swinging around he saw Barbs with a freshly lit torch.
“That’s better!” she said, with a grin on her face.

nooooo…..Liiiiiiiiight!

Ekemon turned back around and saw a figure wreathed in shadow standing at the foot of the altar, the shadows of the room had coalesced into a sentient form, and they both knew that it was not going to be friendly. Ekemon gallantly swept to the side as the shadow demon charged at Barbs, who was surprised to say the least. Her axe leapt and her rage at being surprised burned inside her. The melee was short and Ekemon’s attempts to attack were thwarted as the demon disengaged and retreated further down the corridor.

“Lets get that fucker!” yelled Barbs as they made their way further down the maze of tunnels. After a few corners they came to the entrance to a very large and seemingly empty room. Ekemon held Barbs back and after she tried to push past her hit her in the face with the back of his hand. Barbs was stunned “I’m behind you” she said. Out of confusion or rage Ekemon did not know.

They took to the room with caution. Standing carefully, but it was all in vain as the shadow demon poured itself back into their realm and its form caused much of the floor to crumble again into a further darkness.

They battled their way across the falling floor whilst being harassed by the demon, making their way across several rooms. Ekemon, like a shadow himself, swept across the rooms to the source of light at the end of the tunnel. Turning around he saw Barbs running at full speed towards him, being chased by shadows and laughing demons. As she ran the floor beneath her fell, again, from underneath her. She made one last leap through the air and caught onto Ekemon’s hand, however she under balanced and almost fell backwards into the abyss, something told her that the bottom to this one was not going to be more easily survived.

Holding Barbs hands, Ekemon saw the book underneath her tunic. His eyes went from hers to the book and back again. “Give me the book” he whispered, his voice somehow rising above the crashing of the cavern.

The look on Barb’s face went from shock of almost falling to a rage that went past simple anger, she stared him right in his eyes with a gaze that would pierce steel “If I go down there, the book is coming with me. I will find you, in this world or the next, and end you.” She started to let her grip loosen, daring him to let go.

Ekemon stared down at Barbs, with pieces of the cavern falling between and past them into the deep, gouts of sand and rubble streaming past them, crashing against the side, the sounds of crashing rock and debris was loud, but Ekemon rose his voice to be heard over the din. “You are a fool, Dwarf.” Then he smiled, and tightened his grip on her hand and hauled her up onto the ledge beside him. “But I’ll be damned if anyone would call you a coward.”
Barbs pulled her hand free and stared at him, saying nothing. She pushed past him and started making her way up the cavern to the light. She felt more than heard Ekemon following her up the increasingly steep path to freedom. Passing multiple passageways off to the side, they could see that they were also collapsing and pushing more and more sand and rubble into the upwards leading passageway.
“We haven’t much time! This place will be our tomb if we don’t hurry!” yelled Barbs as she sprinted the last few yards to the exit, she saw Ekemon to her right keeping pace with what looked like a grin on his face as he made his way to the small opening a the end of the tunnel, where the light of day entered the darkness.
From outside the small opening was a bit of shade against the backdrop of a cliff, desert surrounding all. Two figures were expelled from the opening onto the sand, bits of rubble and debris exiting with them and with a crash the entrance was closed.
They lay panting on the sand, on their hands and knees, catching their breath. Ekemon rolled over onto his back, eyes closed and the midday suns streaming over him. He laughed.

Barbs stood, using her hand on her knee to bring herself to her feet. “I am really hungry.” she said after some concerting with herself. She fumbled about on her belt until she found the small pouch containing the small brown balls that twitch and squeaked like tiny animals. She took one out and threw it ahead of her about 15 feet. It squirmed in the sand and like a blossoming flower it took the shape of a wild boar. The thing seemed a little confused as to where it was, however immediately started to snuff about in the sand looking for roots to snack on.

They both stared intently at the boar, salivating and making smacking noises with their mouths.
“I don’t have a knife.” said Ekemon, standing still next to Barbs “Use your hand-axe?” he suggested.
Without a word, Barbs took out her hand-axe and ran at the animal, immediately slashing it’s throat, then dropped the axe and began to rip at the animal with her bare hands, shovelling parts of the animals flesh into her mouth. Ekemon waisted no time in joining her, he got down onto his knees and began tearing large chunks of the animal off and chewing on it before swallowing.

Whilst they were on their knees, hands and faces covered in the slowly dying animals blood and viscera, they heard behind them the sound of someone clearing their throat.

They both paused hands halfway to their mouths for another bite. Turning around they saw that they were almost surrounded by men, on camels or on foot, there were about two dozen of them. They were dressed in the garb of Dharma guard. The two of them dropped what part of the animal they had in their hands and stood. Cleaning her hands on her clothes, Barbs replied to the mans attempt to get their attention by reaching for her hand-axe.

“Touch your weapons and die.” said a man, obviously in charge. “What business do you have here, crawling out from the latrine and eating this strange animal?”

Ekemon looked non-plussed as he tried to wipe the blood from his face, he tried to think why he was just on his knees, eating this animal. Maybe the barbarian was starting to rub off on him…

Barbs cleared her throat and put a bit of gusto into her voice as she replied “We are but simple merchants, looking for a place to sell our goods.” she smiled her most winning smile.

It didn’t work…

“You are merchants, in the middle of the desert, eating this…pig….and living in our latrine?” he motioned towards the exit that they’d been thrown from. They could see that they were thrown from some pit that seemed to have a drain above it leading from a small outpost above the cliff that the men were perched upon. Ekemon and barbs realised then why that passageway was so slippery on the way out…

“You will let us leave, we are of no concern to you. We will go in peace and suggest you do not interfere with our passage.” voiced Ekemon, attempting to put some command into his voice.

The guard captain laughed, “You…suggest we let you go? I think not, I think you’ll be coming with us.” then to his men he added “Seize them.”

Some mounted guards began to come towards them, spears levelled threateningly. Men on foot came behind them and began to tie their hands behind their back. Then forced them to their knees. When they were bound and subdued, Barbs attempted to explain why they were there.
“I mispoke! I meant to say that we are archeologist, on a mission to find out what was in that cave. What I mean to say is that we are adventurers, just looking for a good time. As in…we are…merchants I mean to say..” she fumbled on.

“Shut up….shut up…shut up….” mumbled Ekemon, knowing that she only made it worse for themselves.

“I agree, you will both be silent now” said a voice behind them, then with two simultaneous hits to the backs of their heads they saw only blackness.

Ekemon awoke in a cell, with his hands unbound, lying in the corner. He looked about and realised that Barbs was in the cell opposite his, prowling from one side to the other, cursing their captives and muttering oaths of vengence. “I’ll have your guts as a waistbelt! I’m going to use your mothers head as a cushion when I get out of here, I swear it!” she yelled.

Ekemon made her aware that he was awake by sitting up. “Took you long enough. Nice nap pretty boy?” she muttered, only giving him a little of her attention.

“Where are we?” he asked, clearing his mind with deep controlled breaths and reciting mantras in his mind to still the pain that throbbed there.

“In jail, genius.” she replied. “And they know who I am, and who’s looking for me. Corrupt bastards the lot of them!” She yelled into the passageway.

After some time, they heard footsteps coming, and he entered their view with the swagger of one who knew he’d caught the rat that he’d been hunting for some time.

“Allo Barbs, old friend. ’Owd you git yerslef into this mess, aye?” he asked, flicking the lock of red hair away from his face, revealing the two scars across his face.

“Ah, you, I could have known. I guess you’ll be wanting the tome? Well guess what, I don’t have it. They took it from me.” she replied, nodding her head towards the guards at the end of the passage, who were out of earshot.

“Ah, Barbsy, I already asked them, they said they don’t got the tome either. You playing some kind of game, lass? Don’t mess with me girlie, I’ll ave your gut’s in a heartbeat.” he said.

“I don’t have it. But I can find it, I think I know who might have taken it.” she said, staring levelly at the man. “Tell the Upright Man that I’ll get it back.”

He took measure of her then replied, “Alright, you have till the end of the week.” then turned about and made his way out of the passage. In a few minutes a guard came and advised them that they were found innocent and were free to go.

They made their way back to the empty shop and took a long hard look at their recent decisions.

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Chapter Eight
Don't be a pussy!

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Ekemon and Barbs sat in a tevern by themselves, eating breakfast and having a few ales. Ahmisa was back at the shop trying to get some sleep, he’d apparently been very busy the previous night drinking, when a man entering the room in a rush interrupted them. Ekemon stood at the sudden appearance and found a well dressed yet scruffy coming in and yelling at the bartender, out of breath.

“Have you seen him? Is he around here?” he asks he tries to catch his breath, then hurriedly makes his way to them and asks the same questions.

“What do you want?” asked Barbs, not understanding what the man was talking about.

“I need help! We’re under attack!” He replied frantically.

“What do you mean you’re under attack? That’s insane, there’s nobody here” said Barbs.

“Please!” He begged, “You’ve got to help me, please, I have gold! Lots of gold!” and with that he ran outside. Barbs and Ekemon looked at each other and realised they were going to go with him as a matter of course. How could they resist such a tantalizing offer?

They grabbed their stuff and headed out after the man, who hurriedly introduced himself as Marcello. Down through the city and towards a slave driven cart with a merchants decal on the side, obviously a private cart, owned only by the wealthy. They jumped aboard and started to head towards the northern gates. They realised, after some huffing and puffing, that nobody was chasing them.

“What’s the big deal here? Ain’t nobody attacking you right now!” exclaimed the barbarian, not appreciating being lied to but still intrigued by the handsome (and rich) young merchant.

“I know, I’m sorry, there’s just nobody else that can help and there’s…something about you that tells me you won’t hesitate when an adventure presents itself. I’m sorry I lied to you, but I really need your help.” The man explained “My family has a rather large investment with one of our skiffs, unfortunately we were waylaid by Orcs and they are attacking my caravan right now.”

Barbs looked the man up and down, and Ekemon raised an eyebrow and put stood with his hands crossed in his sleeves.
“Well” said Ekemon, “It would seem that you were right in assessing our need for adventure.”
“Yeah!” yelled Barbs. “Lets kill some bloody Orcs!” and yelled a battle roar that frightened a few of the nearby sailors on the ship that they were headed towards. They all eventually stopped the cart, jumped off and boarded the large sand ship which set off without delay.

The day turned into night and they saw the skiffs, on fire, up ahead. Before they got close enough for them to see, the skiff hit a very hard patch of rock and came stuck.
“Damn it to hell!” yelled Marcello, as he scrambled about assessing damage. As he did so an flaming arrow sped past him and stuck the mail sail. “We’re under attack!” he yelled to everyone that could hear.

Barbs, with a grin and a woop of excitement took out her axe and hefted it. Eager to see an Orc and have at them. Ekemon noticed that one of the men had fallen from the cock-pit and had landed a few yards ahead of the skiff. He deftly leapt from the bow and ran towards the man, but before he got there an arrow thudded into the prone sailor, and by the gurgling noises Ekemon knew the mans fate was sealed. “Welp, think I’ll head back to the skiff” Ekemon muttered to himself as he turned about and ran back to the skiff, climbing the side and heaving himself back on board.

The Orcs then attacked in earnest, loosing many flaming arrows and a pot of burning oil, these ones are obviously very adept at attacking passing skiffs. Barbs took to the melee when the Orcs got close enough, still wondering why the marauding band had gotten to be so far south. Why had they come this way and not stayed in their lands to the North West?

The fight was gruesome close combat, hacking and slashing and many points to attempt to rouse the men to fight, but they would have none of it, these were sailors not warriors.
After the Orc band had been dispatched they decided to make their way on foot to the burning skiffs.

Before they got to the site of the ongoing struggle they met what seemed to be an Orc captain relieving his bladder nearby. The fight was hard, and the Orc was one of the toughest opponents they had fought, even bringing the illustrious Ekemon to his knees and near death.

After the captain was dispatched they needed to rest, and Ekemon barely survived the night, not having any healers or magic users nearby he had to channel the strength that he stored within. By the time they could fight again the morning had come, and the Orc band had gone. They approached the site and found that there was but one survivor, who advised Marcello “They took her, captain, I’m sorry, they took her north to the caves…” and died with an apology on his lips.

Marcello, without telling the others that he heard this, brought them all to the caves north of the site. On the way there a druid swept down from above on a mighty giant eagle, and attempted to converse with them. None knew the mystical language of the druids and Barbs thought to hell with it and leapt onto the back of the bird and flew away with the druid.

Ekemon and Marcello watched her go, wondering at the sanity of the Dwarf, but in their hearts they knew she was a wild creature, possibly even wilder than the druid.

They made their way to the caves, and upon reaching it found it to be guarded by Orcs, when the battle was joined and they had lost a few more men, a great shadow passed them from above, and upon turning his gaze upwards whilst fighting off the enemies, Ekemon saw the dwarf on the back of the giant bird! Barbs leapt from the winged creature and crashed into the battle with a raging battle cry! The fight was glorious and short lived after that.

They had sustained many losses, but Marcello, Barbs, Ekemon and a few scattered survivors headed inside.

The view they found inside was breathtaking; a giant cavern with an enourmous hole filled their view. At the other side of the cavern was a giant altar upon which lay a shrouded figure, and above it a giant chained Ogre, looking to free itself and feast on the figure at its feet. When they started forward they noticed another cloaked figure.

“Be gone from here! I know who sent you and you will not stop me!” the cloaked figure yelled, startling the Ogre and sending it into a furious rage. “She is mine and I won’t let you have her!”

Marcello took a few steps forward and yelled back “She it not yours! She is free and will no longer be tormented by your people!” and with that took forward and unsheathed his longsword.

Ekemon and Barbs, with no time to think, took to the fight. Ekemon lightly jumping from pedestal to post and looking to free the shrouded figure, whomever it may be.
Barbs took to the Ogre, relishing the opportunity to dispatch the mighty beast and test her skills. The fight was all over the place, with the cries of the Ogre and the cloaked figure seeming to vanish in the shadows and reappear and pouncing on the heroes.

After some time, the Ogre fell crashing into the deep with Barbs riding it’s axe wound riddled body half way to the other side of the cavern before jumping and swinging on a chain to the other side, and not looking back as the Ogre fell to it’s death.
Ekemon has secured the cloaked figure that was to be the Ogres meal and had the other one, now revealed to be a Rakshasa at his mercy.

“You don’t know what you’re doing, it is not what you think” said the Rakshasa to Ekemon, “I do this to bring order, she is my sister and he will take her away and there will be nothing but war.”

Ekemon looked to the huddled figure in Marcellos arms. He was stroking her feline-like head and telling her everything was going to be okay.

“What in the name of…” replied Ekemon and walked over to the pair, forgetting the Rakshasa was there. “You lied to me….” and picked Marcello up from the floor and dangled him over the bottomless pit.

“No! Please! I did it only to save her, she must be taken away, I love her!” he yelled, feebly scrambling at Ekemons hands.

“No…you lied to me…this…” a look of fire entered Ekemons eyes..“…justice will be served…” and with that he raised his leg and kicked Marcello out into the abyss.

Marcello only looked at Ekemon with confusion and pain as he was swallowed by the deep and the shadows. A heart wrenching scream cut the tension nooooooooooooooooo!!! yelled the female Rakshasa as Marcello disappeared.

The male Rakshasa came over to Ekemon and Barbs, and knelt by his sister. “Marjara, everything will be okay now. We need to stay together, we need to do this. Our fathers reign is soon to end, you know this. I need you to help me take this land back.”

The adventurers now knew that this was Leo, the son of the Rakshasa of Vyapara.

They left the cave and upon deciding to head back to the skiff. Barbs stopped and looked back, “I…need to go now..” she said.

Ekemon stopped and looked back at her, “What do you mean?”

Barbs looked up at the sky, a distant visage of a giant winged creature crossed the light of the sun. “No, I need to stay here, the wilds call to me, I cannot go back to that city.”
And with that she made her way into the wilds of the desert, never to be seen again.

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Chapter Nine
Resistance against Tyrrany

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Leaving the cave behind, they make their way out to where they left the broken down skiff.
Marcello backup forces arrive, but lo-and-behold it’s Jalana! She had been working under cover with Marcellos men, undermining the attempt to steal away Leo’s sister, and she’d brought them a fresh sand skiff to make their getaway in.

They make their way to the resistance base and get comfy and talk shop for a while but during the early hours of the morning they are attacked by centaurs. The base was surrounded in a swirling maelstrom of sand and lighting, cast by the centaur shamans.
After fending them off they realise this is a common occurrence and not a deliberate attack. There were a few losses on both sides but the centaurs gave up after realising that they were not going to win the fight.

The next morning Leo advises that he needs to go to a nearby village bring it to compliance. One of the last in the nearby area, bringing most of the needed villages to his side. The adventurers decide that they will go along, to witness the compliance. Everything goes well and they enjoy a delicious meal with the town leader after he voices his determination to join Leo’s side.

Until they’re attacked! Treachery! The leader of the village was under the employ of the Rakshasa and never intended to comply to Leo’s rule.

The last of the villagers were brought out by the Rakshasa, but Jalanas scimitar separated the leaders head from his shoulders and Ekemon’s warning of wrath scared rest of them straight.

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