An Introduction to Mahid

An Urgent Mystery, Part II
In which a plot against the present ownership of Gigames is partially uncovered

Starsinger: Cam heads back into the bar and talks to Hallasha. “Sir, we have a problem that I think you should know about.”

BlackRequiem: Sef pauses and furrows his brows as Cam goes back inside. “What is your friend doing.. ?”

LogicNinja: “And we don’t want to tell the priests and let them handle it… why? C’mon, let’s go get Mieu.”

Gnikrul: Hallasha starts out of his reverie. Maybe still thinking over the fantastic display from earlier? “Ehwha…?”

Starsinger: “Apparently those men you were complaining about, the ones ‘of that damned faith’ are planning on destroying the town.”

Gnikrul: Hallasha chuckles. “Tear down a town they’ve built with their own hands over the space of almost two full years of constant labor? Whoever you hear such things from, my child, you would be wise to ignore them in the future.”

Starsinger: “Can you really afford the risk that I’m right?”

Gnikrul: Hallasha’s jovial confidence turns to mild concern, as if remembering that the boy he’s talking to was apparently the focus of some serious weirdness not minutes ago. “Perhaps… it would be worth hearing the fullness of your reasoning on this conclusion?”

Starsinger: “Sef’s friend said so, and I have no reason to distrust him.”

Gnikrul: “Sef… I take it that would be the tall, fiery one yes? Isn’t, ah, preaching doom and destruction a commonplace practice for… his type?”

Starsinger: “I dunno, aren’t trust and compassion commonplace for your type?”

LogicNinja: Mal heads after Cam, banging the door off the wall as he throws it open.

Starsinger: “Think about all these people here, sir. Isn’t it your duty to protect them?”

BlackRequiem: “Foolish boy.. You should learn to control your friend more!” He points an accusing finger at Surville as he hurries back into the building.

Starsinger: Cam turns at Mal and grins sheepishly, knowing he’s about to get yelled at.

BlackRequiem: Sef slams a steely hand down on Cam’s shoulder and turns him around to face his fiery countenance. “What were you thinking, child? These men cannot help anyone, except to put us in shackles for guilt of association with those misguided fools!”

LogicNinja: “Yeah, he’s right. Look outside, look in here – where are all the workers?” Mal smacks the table with a hand. “Look, we can stop them – or we can grab Mieu and get the fuck out of here. If you get her out of town for now, we’ll be free to fuck them up.”

Starsinger: “The boss can get her out, and I can help you save this place… as my way of saying sorry for flipping you out of your chair, Mr. of Grakkor.”

Gnikrul: Hallasha leans back a tad, distasteful of all the shoulder whirling and table smacking. Clearly not his preferred type of discourse, but he’s listening.

Starsinger: “Hey! Wait a minute… did you say Mieu? She wouldn’t happen to have about ten other names would she?”

LogicNinja: “I’m guessing we don’t have a lot of time.” Mal leans in towards Hallasha, eyes blazing, teeth bared. “What’s it going to be?”

Gnikrul: Hallasha considers. “If you believe there is a serious threat, I can bring it before the Council, but… they are rarely hasty in their decisions…”

BlackRequiem: Sef growls in frustration and shakes Cam. “Listen, boy! Don’t worry about that little gobshite—focus, before you get us all killed!”

Starsinger: “Forget him guys. It was a waste of time… let’s go do this ourselves.”

Gnikrul: “As for your friend, as she is under my care, it will be trivial to move her somewhere else. Most of our hidden havens are in the high country, but I know of one down here, not a day’s ride…”

LogicNinja: “Do it. Otherwise, your council all dies while they’re still deliberating, and we don’t lift a finger to help because we’re taking Mieu out of here. Got it?”

Gnikrul: Hallasha pauses for a moment, wary of deceit, but quickly relents. Apparently whatever he’s worried about isn’t as important as not irritating Mal. “Very well. I will take her to Chalkop’s Cave. Its entrance is hidden, as I said, a day’s ride to the west. Only those of our monastery know its location; we have emergency stores there.

LogicNinja: “Great. And how do we find you when we’re done here?”

Gnikrul: Frowning: ”...There is still the matter of the message we sent to Bakha… I fear her time may be limited if we do not identify her poison. Additionally, I will not know what to take with me to care for her; I can hardly take the entire infirmary…”

Gnikrul: “I could send a second message, to redirect the reply, if you do not mind my brethren knowing our location…?”

BlackRequiem: Sef buries his face in his palm and sighs. “Then we will have to take the fight to them before this atrocity takes place.”

LogicNinja: “Send it. And we’ll need a way to find you—whoever comes down from Bakha can stop by and get us on the way.”

Gnikrul: “As for how to find the cave, I can leave you detailed landmarks, or you can find any of our order. If they cannot guide you, they will know who can. Or, I could return here, though that poses risks to Mieu…”

LogicNinja: “The landmarks should do. All right, let’s go. Sef—which way?”

Gnikrul: Hallasha nods. “I’ll do both, and I will begin packing all the salves and tools I can prepare for travel immediately.” He heads for the door…

BlackRequiem: “Follow me. And do not be so ready to use your weapons..” Wasting no time he steps out the door again.

LogicNinja: Mal strides after Sef, his best fuck-with-me-I-dare-you expression still on his face. “Coming, kid?”

Starsinger: Cam follows quickly, “Yeah.”

Gnikrul: Sef leads everyone to a low, nearly windowless and unplastered building. Inside a few forms are visible; like much of Gigames it lacks a proper door or shutters of any kind. Distant observation does not seem to indicate, to Sef, the quantity of persons that he witnessed there roughly an hour ago.

LogicNinja: “Where are we going?”

BlackRequiem: “Here. This may only be one of their meeting places.” Sef stops for a moment and takes in the number. “Hrmn.. I fear we may be too late to catch the leader.”

LogicNinja: Mal slices the curtain in half as he strides in right past it.

Gnikrul: Inside, There are five workmen, busy with various activities… poring over some kind of drawn plans, cooking, bickering, and so on. They all freeze at Malzen’s dramatic entry, eyes wide. None of them appears to be Talden.

LogicNinja: “Where’s the fucker in charge?” Mal roars, dagger in hand, striding over to look down at the drawings.

BlackRequiem: “Calm yourself, fool!” Sef sprints in after him.

Starsinger: Cam unslings his pack and pokes his face into it, “Hey Dor… can you stick your head out the back and let me know if someone comes up behind me?”

Starsinger: A small silver head pokes out of Cam’s pack, as he puts it back on.

Gnikrul: These appear to be large scale plans, outlining the admittedly twisty layout of the town. It looks more like the sort of layout that arises from camel paths, not pre-planned boroughs. The workers glower silently at Mal, but apparently don’t have the nerve for more than that at the moment.

LogicNinja: “I only need one of you alive,” Mal points out, a low rumble in his voice. “Do you want to tell me now, or after I’ve gone through a few?”

BlackRequiem: “Ignore this fool.” Self interjects—loudly. “He’s over eager to aid in this plan..probably a mistake getting a barbarian like him involved. Nevertheless where is Talden? He should be notified of the added help.”

Starsinger: Cam looks very confused. “Wh…”

LogicNinja: “Come on!”Mal snaps, catching on, although quite possibly too late. “I’ve got important news for him!”

Gnikrul: From one corner, a similarly confused (and quite obviously frightened) man quietly says: “He’s left town already, to prepa-” another silences him: “Shut it! This is all awry…”

LogicNinja: “I don’t have time for this,” Mal snaps, stepping over and grabbing the man by the cuffs, shoving him back into a wall. “Left town for where?”

Gnikrul: The other four men reach for the tools of their trade, save one fortunate enough to actually be wearing a blade, even as the man blurts: “Kn-knobknee hill! It’s just a few miles to the southwest!”

Gnikrul: The others look displeased. “Buto… why do you show such weakness to these outsiders!”

Starsinger: “Hey! You’re the guy who told me where my friends were..”

Gnikrul: Buto nods enthusiastically, and somewhat pathetically, being as he is in Mal’s grasp. “Yeah… yeah that’s me! Could we all maybe just… not kill each other now?” He seems overwhelmed to be recognized by someone “with” his assailant.

LogicNinja: “Oh, was that you? All right, then. C’mon, Buto. You’re taking us to Knobknee Hill.” Keeping one hand on Buto’s shirt, Mal half-leads, half-drags him outside.

BlackRequiem: “Malzen! Control yourself!! These are our allies! Save your wrath for the weak cattle that rule this place.”

Starsinger: Cam turns at Sef with a face that says it all, what the fuck?

BlackRequiem: Sef responds with a quick glare.

Gnikrul: Finally, the one with the sword has had enough. Steeling himself, he steps in Malzen’s path. “No. He has disgraced us. He will stay here and pay the price, rather than disgrace us further by leading you to Talden.” The others heft their hammers, stakes, and trowels, looking grim but not making the first move.

Starsinger: “Put your weapons down, guys. We can handle this like adults…”

BlackRequiem: “Don’t be a fool. You asked me here. If you repay my efforts with threats I will not hesitate to kill all of you!”

LogicNinja: Mal simply strides forward. As he steps up to the laborer with the sword, his arm snaps out…

Gnikrul: Distracted by Sef, the stubborn man is cut off in the midst of his angry sentence: “And who are you to speak of repayment, who repays our trust by bringing su-”

LogicNinja: ...and the laborer crumples to the ground, eyes rolling up on his head. “Anyone ELSE? Good,” Mal snarls, dragging Buto out.

Gnikrul: The rest are, of course, suitably cowed.

LogicNinja: “All right, Buto. Which way, friend?” Mal asks, tone suddenly cheerful as he exists the house.

BlackRequiem: Sef follows and when outside, speaks once more. ”.. Perhaps you deserve my respect after all.”

Starsinger: Cam follows, ready to jump Sef and Mal when they’re distracted. There’s no way he’s going to help them destroy this place.

Gnikrul: Buto seems sheepish. Apparently he’s never tried being a traitor before. ”...That way… it’s far enough that mounts would be quicker, but it’s not arduous on foot…”

BlackRequiem: “Thank you, Buto. What do you know of their plans?”

LogicNinja: “Foot’s going to have to do. Come on, double time.”

Gnikrul: Buto is quiet for a moment. “They didn’t really tell me much. Talden and just a few others were the only ones that knew the whole plan…”

BlackRequiem: “But it had to do with the canal?”

LogicNinja: “The whole plan,” Mal reports, quite cheerful now, “ends with everyone you’ve ever met here dead.”

Gnikrul: Buto seems to think otherwise. “No, Talden would never do that! He is testing the heathens, the enemy. The faithful will not be harmed, we won’t even be in town!”

LogicNinja: “You think he gives a shit if some of you get caught up in it? Hah. Not his type.”

BlackRequiem: Sef scowls, summoning up some of that truly fiery wrath rather then his normally cantankerous demeanor. “You’re hiding something..”

Gnikrul: Buto stammers: “n-no?” clearly lying.

Starsinger: “What about the innocents, Buto?”

BlackRequiem: “It is not our place to test the heathens!” Sef stops and raise a fist as if to strike Buto down. “They must find within themselves the truth of Dul-Rothak’s disciplines. Strength can only be gained through one’s self, not the actions of others!”

Gnikrul: “Gahhah!” Buto drops to a knee, reeling in fear. “Look, it wasn’t my plan allright! I’m just a bricklayer!”

LogicNinja: Mal grabs him by the shirt again, hauling him to his feet. “You think that’ll matter when the people who had this town built in the first place hear about what happened?”

Gnikrul: Scrambling: “Don’t you understand, that’s WHY there must be a test! We can’t just take the town, this town we’ve built for ungrateful heretics (they wouldn’t even let us perform the Rite!), they have to abandon it! We can’t live somewhere where Damgari and all the rest will be forever hunting us down!”

Starsinger: “Dor… there aren’t very many good people out here… are there, little buddy?” The silver head in the backpack shakes from side to side.

LogicNinja: “Yeah? What do you think’ll happen when word gets out, if you pull this off? People like you won’t even be able to get a job, much less perform the Rite.”

BlackRequiem: “Buto.. tell us. We can stop this and you might just escape this unscathed.”

Gnikrul: To Mal, Buto grumbles, as though not entirely convinced himself: “Or everyone will know what happens when you don’t treat Forgeman workers properly…” Then, to Sef: “I told you I don’t know… I don’t know everything. The work was split up amongst different crews and they didn’t tell eachother what part they were working on…”

LogicNinja: “Now, why wouldn’t Talden let people in on the plan, if it’s so good? It’s almost as if he’s hiding something from you…”

Gnikrul: Buto takes that personally. “No! Talden is a good man, an honest man! You should have seen how he stood up to those doddering priests when they wanted to renegotiate, or how he fought for us back in Tladrata… He’s just taking precautions! He knows that not everyone can be trusted, but HE can be!”

LogicNinja: “That’s exactly how he wants you thinking. Ashes, Buto, people have said the same about me!” Mal laughs. “Nah. Honest guys don’t get that secretive. Not in their nature, y’know?”

Gnikrul: Buto is silent. Whether he is seriously considering your words or stirring in resentment is unclear. As Buto said, the hill is only a few miles away, but the terrain here impedes progress… additionally, every step is uphill. Before long, everyone begins feeling the effects of the somewhat optimistically named “clean air” the native southerners favor. It takes a good hour and a half to hike to the hill… sort of a small ridge-on-a-ridge where the tail ends of two mighty mountain seams cross. It affords a stupendous view of Gigames and the surrounding territory. The slanted glimmer of approaching dusk rolls off the dome of the council building below. Seated contemplatively on a massive, lichen-covered stone perched at the crown of the hill is Talden. He gazes calmly down at Gigames, seemingly oblivious to the dozen or so underlings busying themselves about the hill, or your approach.

Gnikrul: From their activities, it seems rather… mundane. They are pitching tents, starting fires, raising poles, and tuning instruments, as if raising some combination of a small celebration, and a temporary camp. A few slain beasts hang from a rack… big ones! Men train idly with bone-and-stone swords in the hollow of one ridge. You see a few more poring over drawings similar to what the others had in Gigames.

Gnikrul: All in all, the atmosphere is industrious and expectant.

LogicNinja: “What exactly did he say to you, anyway, Sef?”

BlackRequiem: “Much the same. A ‘test’ for the unbelievers. That the merchants of the town were greedy and undeserving of them.”

LogicNinja: “So why exactly did you decide they were going to burn everything or divert the canal…?”

BlackRequiem: “He’s convinced them that they needed to be ‘tested’ of their worth. Prove they are worthy of having such men work for them. Such idiocy is.. intolerable.”

LogicNinja: “But you just… made the rest of it up?”

Gnikrul: Finally someone catches sight of the newcomers. “Oy, Buto! Who’se that you’ve brought!”

LogicNinja: Mal raises a hand and waves.

Gnikrul: Another one: “It’s that prophet Talden warned… and the other recent strangers. Guess they’re friends.”

Starsinger: “Guys…” Cam looks toward Gigames and sees a dark line emerging from the town.

LogicNinja: “Hmm?”

Gnikrul: Talden has noticed it too. He leaps down and waves several lieutenants over to himself, delivering rapid-fire instructions from the look of it.

LogicNinja: “Hey, Talden!” Mal’s voice is quite penetrating.

Gnikrul: From the opposite side of the ridge, another eight or so men appear; a hunting party apparently, and a successful one, from the look of it. Talden looks up, the underlings he was speaking to momentarily confused.

LogicNinja: Mal heads straight for the man.

Gnikrul: “So, Sef decided to warn you after all, eh? Glad you decided to leave early… from the looks of that” he nods to the approaching line from Gigames, “things are proceeding faster than we had anticipated.”

LogicNinja: “Yeah, about that. My friend’s a tight-jawed son of a bitch, he’s barely told me anything! What’s the plan?”

BlackRequiem: Sef follows suite. “What is all of this, Talden? I thought you meant to drive them all out—not actually harm the buildings.”

Gnikrul: Talden smiles his best ‘big reassuring crowd-pleaser.’ “All in good time, friends. I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise for you! You are correct, though. The damage to our work will be… minimal… if all goes well.”

LogicNinja: “I don’t know if you’ve heard of me, Talden, but I’m not very big on surprises. And I don’t like being left in the dark. What the fuck’s going on?”

Gnikrul: Talden tries to fight down a smirk. “I may not have heard of you, but I have certainly heard you, Malzen, and you are here only the good will of Sef ibn Sharif, and the trust I have in him. You will be satisfied with the answers you are given.”

LogicNinja: “You think so, huh?” Mal grins, quite at ease. “See, if you’d heard of me, you wouldn’t think so.”

Starsinger: “Please, sir. I’m afraid I’m not very bright, and I’d really like to know what’s going on so I can appreciate your great work.”

LogicNinja: “He’s really not,” Mal murmurs.

BlackRequiem: “Nevermind the braggart, he’s been eager to do something for ages.” Sef shakes his head.

Gnikrul: Talden, confident in his authority, is happy to drop Malzen’s thread where it lies. He looks to Cam, then to Sef. “You shepherding this one?”

BlackRequiem: “More he follows us like a lost dog.”

Gnikrul: He leans down slightly, to Cam’s eye level, and speaks with a gravelly compassion: “Are you of the Faith, son?” LogicNinja: Mal glances at Cam, biting his lip and hoping that the kid doesn’t fuck this up.

Starsinger: “Not yet, sir. But from what Sef was telling me, it sounded like exactly what my life needs.”

LogicNinja: Mal blinks, keeping his eyes from wondering. The kid’s smarter than he looks.

LogicNinja: “Ever since Sef mentioned it he hasn’t stopped asking us goddamn questions,” Mal grumbles.

Gnikrul: Talden rears back, and lets out a hearty laugh. “Well, I’m glad to hear it. Now, if you’ll excuse the preparations for the remainder of our brothers, we may be able to find a little pre-emptive celebration for you four, hmm?”

Gnikrul: Buto looks worried at the mention of “The remainder.”

BlackRequiem: “More? You’ve quite an army you’re assembling here, Talden..”

Gnikrul: Talden smiles, proud. “It takes an army to quickly tear a city to the ground; apparently Damgari knows that it takes an army to build one up quickly as well.”

Starsinger: Cam gives an annoyed look at his pack and mutters something in the Adrahki tongue.

Gnikrul: Talden leads you through the camp, winding past cook fires, woven tables, and in-progress tents and pavilions, to a low, grungy tarp… no, that’s a tent of some kind. Just an odd one, an old one, and too low to enter comfortably but quite wide.

Gnikrul: ”...and everyone knows that the chief weakness of an army is its appetite!” Talden disappears inside, swiftly returning with a dusty bottle, its intricately painted label cracked and partially missing.

LogicNinja: “You sure you know what you’re doing, Talden? The more I hear, the more I think that as word gets out, lots of people aren’t going to like it one bit—and they’ll send more force than one little town has.”

Gnikrul: Talden continues on cheerfully, without missing a beat: “I’m quite certain. By this time tomorrow, our employers down there will either have proved their worthiness to lead, or they will have proved their cowardice and fled, leaving it to us.”

Gnikrul: “…Or, I suppose,” he shrugs flippantly, “they will be dead.”

Gnikrul: Suddenly, an adjutant appears, whispering to him rapidly. Talden sighs.

Gnikrul: “If you will excuse me, I may not be able to begin this extraordinary bottle with you. I only hope they are done with me in time to help you finish it!”

Gnikrul: He waves you towards a nearby spot where a carpet has been rolled across the rocky ground, cushions are laid out, and glasses await.

LogicNinja: “No, see, that’s my point,” Mal muses, out loud. “Let’s say they flee. Where do you think they’ll go? And how many soldiers or mercenaries are they going to come back with?”

Gnikrul: ...Talden, however, is already moving away.

Gnikrul: As soon as he is out of earshot, Buto’s cold sweat bursts into the frantic, harsh speech, not quite a whisper, that panicked people who want to be heard but not overheard use everywhere.

Gnikrul: “I have to get out of here! If the rest are coming… who knows what they’ll do to me!”

LogicNinja: “Hey, don’t worry,” Mal says easily. “You’re with us. He talked to Sef personally, right? Who’s he going to believe, us or three guys who are just upset because I scared them a bit?”

Starsinger: “Don’t be stupid!” Cam whispers harshly, “If you stay with us, we’ll do our best to protect you. You won’t get such an offer from the wild, and your companions aren’t exactly the forgiving type.”

Gnikrul: Buto doesn’t seem so sure, but doesn’t say any more for the time being.

BlackRequiem: “Do not give them reason to doubt us, Buto, or I will assure that you do indeed die.”

Starsinger: Cam looks around to see if he can subtly have Dor look under the strange low tent without being seen.

LogicNinja: Mal shrugs, gets up, and wanders off after Talden.

Starsinger: When nobody’s looking, Cam rolls Dor under the tent and tells him to check it out.

Gnikrul: As dusk falls, the dark line of the approaching Forgemen creeps ever closer.

Gnikrul: Talden seems to be settling a petty dispute when Mal finds him. “Now, look here, Valthus, I told you we can’t have a cistern. It’s more trouble than it’s worth at this population scale…”

Starsinger: Cam patiently awaits Dor’s return with information.

Gnikrul: Dor’s first impression is of being in a shallow excavation, and of many bags, barrels, and boxes, and bottles of all kinds.

Starsinger: Cam looks closely at the tarp, trying to judge how noticeable a light in it would be.

Gnikrul: The tarp is of heavy oilcloth, well used and soiled. Night is approaching fast, but for a brief while yet a light inside would not be obvious.

Starsinger: Cam casts a spell on Dor to make him illuminated slightly, that he may see better inside.

Gnikrul: Investigating the nearest bag, Dor reports a strong whiff of yeast and something soft inside. Fresh bread?

Gnikrul: Everywhere there is the glimmer of wine and spirits, and the scent of foodstuffs.

Gnikrul: Mal overhears a man talking with his crew. “Yeah, I totally agree. Just awful smelling. I hope that whatever that stuff Valthus had us mix in was, we never see any of it again… Oy, hello there, who would you be?”

LogicNinja: “Malzen of Grakkor. I’m with the prophet Talden brought in. Gotta say, he treats his people well.” Mal hefts the dusty bottle of wine, uncorked on the way. “Here, try it. ’s good stuff.”

Gnikrul: “Why, hell yes!” The man lifts a palm, for either the bottle or Mal’s hand; it’s unclear. “You sound like my kind of people! Say, what can ya tell us about that prophet…”

Gnikrul: One of his buddies, however, is awestruck. “Did you just say Malzen of Grakkor?

LogicNinja: “Well, lots and not so much, depends on how you look at it—damned right I did. You mean someone around here’s heard of me? Finally!”

Gnikrul: “What, you know this guy Jutak?” “Of course I do, haven’t you heard the stories?” “No, can’t say as I have…” “Psssh. He’s Malzen of Grakkor! He kills in a thousand wenches… wait, that’s not right…”

Gnikrul: The bristley, short bearded man turns back to Malzen from his awestruck friend. “Well, either way, pleased ta make your acquaintance sir! Lookin forward to the big spectacle?”

LogicNinja: “Malzen of Grakkor! He carries a hundred blades and can kill in a thousand ways!” Mal does his best dramatic voice. “Of course, that’s exaggerated. It’s really just a few hundred or so, even counting all the variations. Anyway, the Prophet, well… not a lot of people impress me, but this one? There’s something about him, you know?”

LogicNinja: Mal pauses dramatically, then continues. “He sees right to the core of you, like he’s looking right through you. Even the best liars, he can tell when they’re really faithful and when they’re not, you know? Every time he says he smells a rat, well, as much as I might think everything looks great… turns out he’s right.”

LogicNinja: “You know, it’s hard to say. I just got here, Talden’s busy, didn’t have the time to explain. I know the general gist, but I’m not sure what exactly I’m waiting for.”

Gnikrul: “Heh, it’s a shame this Sef guy didn’t show up earlier then!” Concurring nods all around. “See it’s on account a’ such rats we don’t exactly know the extent of the plan ourselves… hell, no one does save Talden and the other master crew chiefs.”

Gnikrul: “Never know which guy might be takin a bribe from those desert crawlers, or feelin’ like convertin’ to the navel-gazers. So we… what was the word he used? Compartmenylice?”

LogicNinja: “Well, shit, everyone who made it this far better be in it for the long haul, right? I was running around checking up on the priests; what were you guys mixing into what?”

LogicNinja: Mal hands over the flask of wine.

Gnikrul: After swigging, the man grins. “Heh, true enough. And I don’t have the foggiest idea. Valthus had some other crew mix it up and get it too us, we just threw it in the spackle we used that day, as ordered. Was a bitch to get the consistency right again, let me tell you!”

LogicNinja: “Valthus, huh? That’s the guy that keeps talking about a cistern? I’ve heard him mention it like five times now.”

Gnikrul: “Yeeeah, he’s got his own ideas about how to lay out the new development once the heathens are out, but then most people do. Thankfully good ol’ Talden has a level head, keeps the pet projects off the schedule. Wouldn’t want people abusin’ their power!”

Gnikrul: More approving nods all around.

LogicNinja: “Wait, wait,” Mal lifts up a hand, takes the wine bottle back, put it to his lips for a moment, then hands it back. “New development? What the Waste’s wrong with the old one? Can’t you just use it when everyone leaves?”

Starsinger: Cam calls Dor back and puts him in the pack. “I know, you don’t like being in there…”

Gnikrul: “Well, sure, but… To build is sacred! It’s what we do. More people… more of us! ...are gonna want to live here.”

Gnikrul: “Besides, no one likes sleeping in twenty man common rooms!” Vigorous agreement from the crew. “Eventually, everyone here today will have his own home, his own bastion!

Gnikrul: There is a round of “Here Here!” and the bristly bearded man is drawn into a sudden toast, gone as soon as it came.

LogicNinja: “That sounds pretty nice,” Mal agrees. “I just hope he has a plan for when the armies start showing up…”

Gnikrul: “Eh, what? armies? Where you hear that rubbish?”

Gnikrul: One from the back pipes up. “Kalam could always raid us, but they’d be doing that anyway… and Sidimegar would be more likely to THANK us for prying off the claws of the scheming desert rats!”

LogicNinja: “Well, shit, it’s not like everybody down there’s getting killed, right? Some of the priests have already left or sent messengers. So when the folks who sent the priests and had the place built in the first place hear what happened, I don’t think they’re gonna be real happy, that’s all. But, hey, I’m sure he’s got a plan.”

Gnikrul: The group chuckles. What a silly idea. “Damgari? They don’t have armies. They have camels. And the Elantan dogs are welcome to try!”

Starsinger: “Yes, little buddy, these people are crazy… but you have to admit, it beats washing Master Ebonhold’s lacy undergarments…”

View
An Urgent Mystery, Part I
In which a plot against the present ownership of Gigames is partially uncovered

Gnikrul: It’s midday in Gigames, Urkhema’s belt lying fully black against the searing eye of the sun. Everywhere are lounging workers, avoiding the heat that comes with noon even in these southern highlands.

Gnikrul: Cam and Surville arrive on the outskirts of town, following rumors of some kind of performance act, or maybe warriors (they’re awfully vague rumors) creating excitement and trouble in the region. Achelion has tarried behind, catching up with an old friend he found in a caravan they met on the way.

Gnikrul: They arrive just in time to see a fierce, bearded man, consternation on his face, apparently asking directions before he plunges deeper into the warren of completed and half-constructed structures that is Gigames.

Surville: “Well, were finally here. I just wish we were coming into town with all of us present.”

Surville: “if this place is half as crazy as the rumors circulating, we will have a good go at it Cam.”

Starsinger: “Yeah… It’s a pity Dor can’t see this place.. I think he would like it.”

Gnikrul: A lazy looking worker peeks at you from beneath a white cowl. “You with that tall fellow? Your friend is in the Council building, yonder way.” He flails an arm towards the center of town. It’s pretty clear he’s mistaken; Achelion definitely couldn’t have beaten you here.

Surville: “Uhhh thanks…” Surville pauses to inquire the man’s name, ”..?”

Gnikrul: “Buto. Most folks just call me Buto…” He trails off, drifting back into siesta.

Surville: Surville softly speaks, “Buto,” and heads towards the council building.

Gnikrul: It isn’t very far. Gigames is still quite small, the pair is fairly certain it’s a white, domed building at the edge of the town’s Canal, its tenuous line to the life giving southern icecap.

Gnikrul: There are more finished looking buildings clustered at the center of town, and an open square with a massive grey stone set in the ground, covered in rough but well proportioned radial etchings.

Gnikrul: There are a few awnings that might hold merchant stalls at dawn or dusk, and everywhere there are piles of raw material for construction.

Gnikrul: Just as you draw in view of the front of this domed building, you again see the tall, fierce fellow, disappearing into it.

Surville: “that must be our ‘friend”

Starsinger: “He seems very angry… maybe we owe him money?”

Surville: “with a face like that, no way. Probably more likely that I killed his brother”

Surville: “I would recognize that face anywhere, never seen him before.”

Gnikrul: Sef enters the building, oblivious to his observers. Inside he sees a domed chamber with a round gallery at one end, where a number of aged fellows sit.

Gnikrul: Many of them are in clerical garb of some kind. Definitely not what passes for clerical garb among your own sect, though.

Gnikrul: They seem to be deliberating amongst themselves, facing an empty podium.

BlackRequiem: Sef scowls upon them as he looms near-by. “Pah.”

Starsinger: “Do you think we should follow him?”

Gnikrul: A few of them raise an eyebrow at the strange, fiery intruder and his scorn. One wizened priest or whatever these fellows are, however, grins bemusedly, eyeing you directly.

Gnikrul: Nearby, a cringing, whiny creature… why it’s that annoying, mousey fellow from the performance in Sidimegar! ...is sulking near the entry of a side room.

Surville: “lets let him do his thing, he seems he’s got business here, lets watch for a minute”

Gnikrul: The front door of the building is really just a hole, with a flap of fine cloth. The windows are much the same. Eavesdropping will not be difficult.

Surville: Surville gets close enough to eavesdrop and places ear close to the window.

Gnikrul: The cleric eyeing Sef stands and moves forward, fingering his jaw in curiosity. “Can I help you? I think I may know who you are…”

BlackRequiem: Sef snorts contemptuously upon seeing the clergy of a weak and false god.

Gnikrul: The man shrugs and returns to his discussion.

LogicNinja: Just as Sef gets boisterous, Mal’s head peeks out from behind a curtained-off side room. “Hey, is that—Sef! I could tell by the goat smell. Leave them alone, they’re taking care of Mieu.” The Grakkor’s blood-scarlet hair has been taken out of its usual bindings, and hangs down around his face.

BlackRequiem: ..Snuck up on during his banter he turns defensively towards the cleric and reaches for the hilt of his sword. “Back, you deceiver!”

LogicNinja: “—Sef,” Mal says, in that oh-so-familiar tone. “Manners.”

Gnikrul: Seeing that Mal is awake and knows Sef, Brother Hallasha wisely ignores him.

BlackRequiem: Sef grunts and spits dismissively off to one side and releases his grasp on his weapon. “Bah.”

LogicNinja: “Did you catch the guy?” Mal emerges entirely, having changed out of his traveling garb to his usual flashy attire. “Where the fuck’s Ash, anyway?”

BlackRequiem: “We did indeed catch the Aborite whoreson and rightly slew him. His body will rot for all eternity on the sands of the waste! ...... The witch is with our companion, pity on his poor soul. I should take her tongue before her blathering drives us all insane.”

LogicNinja: “Yeah, but where in the Waste are they?” Mal raises a finger to shush Sef as he mentions ‘Aborite’. “One of the ones you guys left for us poisoned Mieu. They’ve got a healer here who might be able to pull her through.”

Gnikrul: At this, the cringing man leaps up. “R-REALLY!? She’ll be ok!? Oh, thank Ydra!”

BlackRequiem: “They are indeed here. Ash remains on the fringes of this town. I did not trust the she-devil to not make a scene in a more ‘civilized’” He scowls once more at the Elantan clerics, “place such as this.”

LogicNinja: “Aah, she’ll be fine,” Mal waves a hand dismissively. “I think I got through to her.”

BlackRequiem: “Ydra?” Sef inquires, a dark look on his face.

LogicNinja: “—what?”

Gnikrul: The man’s mouth hangs open. Someone talked to him for once!

Gnikrul: He squeaks: “She’s, uh, m-m-my family’s p-p-p-patron god… of the harvest?”

LogicNinja: Mal glances from the man to Sef, still confused. “Yeah… what?”

BlackRequiem: Sef glowers with contempt. “A false idol for weak men!”

LogicNinja: “You always say that.”

BlackRequiem: Sef looks incredulously at Mal. “Are you daft, boy? Barbarians.. Feh! Our friend waits on the outskirts of this miserable place with the woman. He waits for us to return. We had only your trail to lead us here so your presence was not assured.”

BlackRequiem: “I went in alone to find you and the girl and indeed here you are.”

BlackRequiem: “So, now if you would kindly gather her and let us leave this disgusting hole…”

LogicNinja: “Maybe you missed the part where she’s poisoned? She’s gonna be here a while, they’re fetching an expert on poisons or something, then they can try to figure out an antidote.”

BlackRequiem: “Weak. Why do we even bother bringing her then? A prostitute would suffice!”

LogicNinja: “Hey, fuck you,” Mal says easily, showing off sharp Grakkori teeth. “She was with me before you ever showed up. We couldn’t save Dar, but I’m not leaving Mieu this easy, got it?”

Starsinger: “Boss… someone else is listening…” Cam whispers to Surville.

Gnikrul: Just around the corner from Cam and Surville, a man leans near a window, apparently relaxed, his hat over his face… but his posture betrays him. He is also listening in.

Starsinger: “Should we say something to him? Eavesdropping is rude…”

Surville: Without tact and loudly “Well, as I see it, this is more of a performance, look at the audience.”

Starsinger: “No… the one guy seems really upset about his girlfriend.”

Surville: “she’ll survive, the poisons bad, but she isnt that far gone yet”

BlackRequiem: Sef chuckles dryly. “I don’t know what’s more pathetic. That you’re taken with such a weak woman, or that you allow her to control you this much! The great Malzen of Grakkor! Ha!”

BlackRequiem: “But” he stops laughing. “Loyalty has it’s place. The death bed is not it.”

LogicNinja: Mal snorts. “If I were taken with her, she’d already be taken. We’ve gone out of our way for you before, re—hey, who the fuck is out there?” Mal raises his voice.

Gnikrul: Suddenly the eavesdropping man stands straight and swiftly moves to the door. He will have to go past Surville and Cam…

Starsinger: Cam looks pleadingly at Surville, and mouths “Do something”.

Surville: Surville mouths: “follow,” ducks inside and then stands aside, observing.

Starsinger: Cam nods and follows Seville.

BlackRequiem: Sef grabs his sword and unsheathes it. “Spies? Aborite assassins!? Who is it, boy!? I will drench the walls in their blood!”

BlackRequiem: He jerks his head around, alert and.. jumpy.

LogicNinja: “Was that you two? Who the fuck are you?”

Gnikrul: The eavesdropping man steps straight past the other newcomers, to Sef.

Gnikrul: “I couldn’t help but overhear you… brother?”

Surville: “Neither could we”

BlackRequiem: “Explain yourself or I will take your head.”

Gnikrul: The man clenches one fist across his abdomen in a common salute used by several different armies, and many followers of Dul-Rothak.

BlackRequiem: Sef slowly re-sheathes his sword and mimics the gesture. “What have you?”

Starsinger: “What… no.. this guy at the docks, you see, he told us that your friend was looking for us. And then we went to follow him, and we ended up overhearing about your girlfriend being poisoned, and then we noticed that guy listening in when he had no business, so we were waiting to say something to him when you started yelling at us, sir.”

LogicNinja: Mal groans. “She’s not my girlfriend, and I think whoever that guy at the docks was, he was bullshitting you. I’ve never seen you two before, and it doesn’t look like he has, either,” Mal indicates Sef with a jerk of his thumb. “Sef, who’s /that/ guy?”

Gnikrul: The man glances sideways to the gallery of old priests, in their lethargy only now getting into a proper state of shock and interest at this gaggle of strangers in their sanctuary, as he speaks to Sef: “I have friends who may desire your company, and your strength…”

Gnikrul: He clearly isn’t comfortable in front of these fellows.

BlackRequiem: Sef stares briefly and indifferently at the newcomers, the way one might an insect on the wall before returning to the eavesdropper. “My strength is mine and only mine. What do you want of my company?”

Starsinger: “Oh, I’m sorry, sir. Just, from the way your friend was talking, it seemed pretty obvious that whoever she was, she was very special to you. He sounded kind of like a bitter old man, jealous of young love, if you don’t mind my saying.”

BlackRequiem: Sef spits on the floor again but otherwise pays no heed to Cam’s words.

LogicNinja: Mal seems to take a moment to consider whether or not he should be angry, and settles for snickering. “Yeah, well, that’s Sef for you. Still, there’s no love there. We’ve just worked together a while, is all.”

LogicNinja: “What, haven’t you ever heard the story of Malzen of Grakkor and the Bandits of the Grey Waste? That was us.”

Surville: “I guess the guy must have mistaken us for friends, I guess we just look like your type.”

Gnikrul: The man stares Sef straight in the eye, pointedly trying to give you subtext through emphasis in his words. “I head the bricklayers. We believe that a storm is coming, and wish only to ensure that the right people are prepared. When you are ready to talk, ask a worker for Talden and you will find me.”

Gnikrul: Without waiting for reply, he smartly wheels and strides out.

Starsinger: Cam’s face is blank. “I don’t think so. Were you the Bandits of the Grey Waste?”

LogicNinja: ”...you’re shitting me, right? No, I’m Malzen of Grakkor, and we rid the world of the bandits.”

Starsinger: “Oh, well thank you then. I was on an expedition in the grey waste not too long ago. I’m glad you got rid of the bandits.”

LogicNinja: Mal looks Cam up and down, skeptically. “You were in the Grey Waste? And you made it out alive? I’m skeptical.”

Surville: “The kids with me”

LogicNinja: “Yeah? And who are you?”

Starsinger: Cam scowls. His one pet peeve is people not taking him seriously. “I doubt you ever went into Abaddon’s Mouth and came back.” He folds his arms over his chest and looks a little sulky.

Surville: “Surville Dubar, son of Ashra Dubar leader of the late House of Dubar”

Surville: “Hah calm down big guy.” Surville pats Cam on the head.

BlackRequiem: “I will go fetch the boy. Remain here, Malzen. Not that you are lacking for strange company..” Sef says as he moves for the door.

Surville: “Aren’t you going to ask us why we really are here?”

BlackRequiem: “Ask the Grakkori. I could care less.” And with that Sef slips out the entrance and into the baleful mid-day.

LogicNinja: “Yeah, fine. Who was that guy, anyway?” Mal shrugs, then glances back to Surville and Cam. “Late House, huh? What’s the point in wearing its name, then? Make your own reputation.”

LogicNinja: “—I thought you were here because some ass down at the docks thought we were looking for you.”

Starsinger: “Sometimes noble houses make a comeback, my old… boss used to say that house Ebonhold was on the rebound.”

Surville: “I thought at least my reputation would precede itself, Yours does and your friends. We have actually traveled here because of word of your group.”

Starsinger: “See, I told you the Dockworker said something about that….”

LogicNinja: “House Ebonhold? Well, we’ve got one them in there possibly dying of poison, so, not so much. —yeah, that’s what our reputation is supposed to do. We’re famous. Never heard of you, though. So what exactly do you want with us?”

Surville: “let’s just say word of mouth spreads fast and wide, while some might just be rumors, underlying truths still remain.”

Surville: “We came to the city for work, hoping to find some with you.”

LogicNinja: Mal’s thin brows shoot up. “Yeah? And what makes you think you can handle our kind of work? Just yesterday eleven motherfuckers jumped us out in the desert.”

Starsinger: Cam looks at Surville, his face asking for permission to show Malzen.

Surville: Surville nods.

Gnikrul: Now that Sef has taken his leave, Brother Hallasha has quietly come nearer. At this, he suddenly looks worried. ”...Malzen, why don’t you introduce me to your friends, here, hmm? In the infirmary, perhaps?”

Starsinger: Cam looks around for witnesses, “Hey… there’s a lot of people here that I don’t want to terrify… can we do this someplace quieter?”

Gnikrul: The gallery of clerical types is starting to look properly consternated. Again, it seems it takes them about five times as long to react to something as it should.

LogicNinja: “They’re not my—yeah, sure, what the hell. In fact, fuck, let’s go do this over drinks. Uh, you do drink, right?” The last bit is directed at Hallasha.

Surville: “Drink, haha, you clearly obvious you don’t know my reputation”

Gnikrul: Hallasha smiles. “Anything that contains Her sacred waters is likewise sacred.”

LogicNinja: “Oh, see, now that is a good philosophy. C’mon.”

Starsinger: “I shouldn’t drink.. someone has to look out for the boss.”

Gnikrul: Hallasha herds everyone out gently, clearly relieved to have you all away from his peers.

LogicNinja: “Are you even old enough to drink, kid?” The comment is a little more cutting considering that the drinking age on Mahid is approximately walking age.

Surville: “I wouldn’t piss him off, you might be taken a fool”

LogicNinja: “You’re kidding, right?” Mal doesn’t look like he’s about to start taking Cam seriously any time soon.

Gnikrul: Amusingly, the main public house seems to be right across the street from the council building. Now that’s smart city planning. Hallasha guides the quarrelsome trio inside.

LogicNinja: Mal throws the doors open and swaggers in first, picking out an empty table… or creating one, if none exists.

Gnikrul: It is dark, and like most places around here apparently, unfinished. It stinks of swarthy laborers, but strangely enough none appear to be present.

LogicNinja: “Hunh. Not a real popular place?”

Gnikrul: Hallasha’s brow crimps momentarily. “Yes… actually it is. Hrm.”

Starsinger: “Maybe they heard the great jerkass of Grakkor was coming and left.”

Gnikrul: There is a Szeren man behind the bar. Portly, at least by pioneer standards.

Gnikrul: He scowls at the four of you.

Surville: “Hah, what a wonderful jackass that Sef is”

LogicNinja: “Watch your mouth, kid. —hey, got anything worthy of being called strong?” Mal raises a hand in the barkeep’s direction, clicking coins together.

Surville: Surville walks up to the bar and brings back a dark brown liquor in glasses for all.

Surville: “Here, maybe this will quiet your coins”

Surville: Then, under his breath: ”..and your mouth.” Surville shoots his drink.

Gnikrul: The bartender plays his role dutifully, if with little enthusiasm.

Gnikrul: Hallasha sips and prepares to watch the spectacle.

Starsinger: “Boss… be careful, I don’t really want a repeat of what happened the last time…”

Surville: “there were only 2 of them…”

Surville: “and they multiplied… themselves… by.. 3 or more. I made out ok”

Surville: “but were not here to fight.”

Starsinger: “I practically had to sew your head back onto your body…”

LogicNinja: “Hey, where the fuck is everyone?” Mal calls in the bartender’s general direction. “Did you poison them all or something?”

Gnikrul: The man grunts. “Do I look like a foreman to you? I don’t know what all those crazy Forgeman lunatics do.”

LogicNinja: “Forgeman?” Mal glances at the priest with them. “I thought this was an Elanta kind of town.”

Gnikrul: Hallasha interjects, lowly so that the bartender cannot overhear. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to find skilled masons in the South who aren’t of that blasted faith?”

LogicNinja: Mal pauses for a beat. ”...no.”

Gnikrul: “So far they’ve mostly kept to themselves and done what they were paid for. They made a scene when we refused them time for their heathen celebrations, but otherwise they have been satisfactory.”

LogicNinja: Mal’s palm hits his forehead. “You cut into their religious celebration time? You don’t know a lot about dealing with people, huh.”

Gnikrul: Hallasha waves it off. “They know who they’re dealing with. The ways of Her service are not secret.”

LogicNinja: “Anyway. Surville, right? What was it you wanted to show me?”

Surville: “Its not I, it’s Cam, only he can show you”

LogicNinja: “Well?” Mal turns to Cam.

Starsinger: “Hold very still and don’t move…”

LogicNinja: Mal raises a brow, leaning forward in his chair a bit, pulling his legs in.

Starsinger: Cam pulls a sphere out of a pouch on his side and points at Surville. A boom is heard and Mal flies back about twenty feet.

LogicNinja: Mal tilts backwards, flying out of his chair—and twists into a flip that turns into a backwards handspring as he nears the floor, landing on his feet with knives in his hands. With a sharp thunk, they bury themselves in Cam’s chair, on either side of him.

LogicNinja: “Hey, what the fuck?”

Starsinger: Cam grins, “Hey! Be careful, someone could get hurt.”

Surville: Smirking, Surville walks over to lend a hand. “Told you not to piss him off”

LogicNinja: Mal looks down at the proffered hand, up at Sur, and smiles a very sharp smile, then looks back to Cam. “Yeah, you. What the fuck was that, kid? Don’t try that again, or you’ll get cut.”

Starsinger: “You asked what I could do…”

BlackRequiem: As if on cue to make matters worse, Sef bursts in through the door. “Grakkori! We leave this place. Now. Go and bring the girl.”

Gnikrul: Hallasha is quite stunned by this rapid chain of events. “By the goddess…”

Gnikrul: ...The bartender on the other hand, seems oblivious.

LogicNinja: “So you can shove people around a bit if they let you, big fucking—” He whips around as Sef bursts in. “Oh, fuck me like a goat, what the fuck did you do NOW? We can’t move her!”

BlackRequiem: Sef pauses a moment taking in the situation and then calmly reaches for his sword. “I don’t have time for fights, if that is indeed what this is.”

Starsinger: “Hey, Boss, if you really wanna work with these guys, we gotta help him save his girlfriend.”

LogicNinja: “She’s n—” Mal pauses, biting his lip for a moment, and then Mieu’s reactions when she wakes up strike him as a lot more entertaining than insisting on accuracy. “Yeah, let’s do that.”

Surville: “What, already?” Surville takes an entire glass of whiskey down and stands up, quickly removes the daggers from the chair and hands them back to Mal. “Next time these daggers come that close to Cam again, I assure you its owner will not live another minute”

BlackRequiem: Sef grunts and jerks Mal closer by the scruff his his neck to demonstrate the importance of this—or his impetuousness.

LogicNinja: “Did you just threaten me? I don’t think you know who you’re dealing with after all. —what, dammit?” Mal’s impending diatribe is diverted by Sef’s approach. “Seriously, what the fuck did you DO?”

BlackRequiem: Sef warily eyes Hallasha. “Not here, boy. Not here.”

LogicNinja: “Okay, I’m coming, but this better be so fucking urgent it’s about to explode. I swear, I’ve had just about enough today.”

Starsinger: Cam says quietly, “It’s called ‘Magic’ if I could explain it, it wouldn’t be ‘Magic’ now would it?”

BlackRequiem: Sef quickly steps outside back into the searing heat.

Surville: follows pulling out his flask for a sip, passing it to Sef You missed the fun, here’s yours”

LogicNinja: “I’ll let it pass this once,” Mal snaps in Surville and Cam’s general direction, hurrying after Sef. “Look, will you just fucking tell me what the fuck you’ve gotten us into?”

Gnikrul: Hallasha seems to know when he’s not wanted, and remains seated inside, contemplative.

BlackRequiem: Outside he speaks again, still low but audible. “This town and all who remain in it past this night will undoubtedly perish. Something …. horrible is about to happen.”

LogicNinja: “That’s not very helpful.” Mal’s voice has gotten that ominous false-cheerfulness.

Starsinger: “We have to help everyone!”

BlackRequiem: “The workers. Do you see them outside? No? Understandably. But they pay too little heed to them. In the dark places they’ve had their minds poisoned and they conspire, like cowards and weaklings, to purge this place by fire .. or worse.”

Gnikrul: ...Now that Sef mentions it, the central commons does appear largely empty of previously seen lazing laborers.

BlackRequiem: “Something is surely amiss. Dul-Rathok would not condone such treachery, nor would his followers. We do not.. hide our tests of men from plain view.”

Starsinger: “Surely you meant that you were going to evacuate as many people as humanly possible first…”

BlackRequiem: “Or the faith here is truly weak after all…”

LogicNinja: “Yeah?” Mal jabs a finger into Sef’s chest. “Actually, that sounds right up your trade route. I could swear you’ve grumbled about doing as much at least thrice today.”

BlackRequiem: Sef spits once more on the ground. “I do not care what happens to this town but I will not play part in this scheme nor will I allow myself to be caught in its wake. I am not a murderer or a coward.”

LogicNinja: “What’s the big deal, anyway? Who’s in charge? We can go, slit a few throats, and they’ll be running too scared to burn anything.”

Starsinger: ”... I suppose violence could be the answer.”

LogicNinja: “It usually is.”

BlackRequiem: Sef ignores Mal for the moment. “Burn? They poured their flesh and blood into these buildings. If they truly are of the Faith they would not glut themselves on its destruction. There must be some other means of..”

BlackRequiem: He looks startled for a moment. ”.. Do any of you know how many of them are working on the canal?”

Surville: “How many are we talking here? I saw at least a dozen laborers earlier and that was just following Sef”

LogicNinja: Mal shrugs. “I’m not too worried about numbers. They’re laborers, not warriors.”

BlackRequiem: “It doesn’t matter what they are if they can drown us in a flood!”

LogicNinja: “What? How the fuck?”

BlackRequiem: “Fools.” He pauses and nervously scratches at this beard. “Damned fools.”

Surville: “He’s right, they can easily drown the entire town”

BlackRequiem: “The canal! It’s madness, but.. they could divert the water could they not?”

BlackRequiem: “This one has the right of it!”

Starsinger: Cam heads back into the bar and talks to Hallasha. “Sir, we have a problem that I think you should know about.”

View
An Unlikely Crew of Survivors: Venomous Retribution
In which two rather different emergencies divide and disorganize the crew.

LogicNinja: “Mieu…?”

Gnukrul: In the distance, the low rumble of galloping thoats can still be heard, fading rapidly as Ash and Sef give chase. The diseased greatthoats wander of, screeching, and Mal and Mieu are left alone with her single mount and a sizable number of dead men and beasts.

Starsinger: “Ahh! That… isn’t… good…” Mieu makes a few uncomfortable noises and clutches her abdomen right where the thing hit her.

LogicNinja: “You, uh… okay?”

Starsinger: “Oh… yeah.. I’m fine. But… for posterity’s sake… can we find a doctor or… preferably an adrahki faith healer…?”

LogicNinja: “Yeah, I’ll get right on that,” Mal snaps, looking around at the dead or fled mounts. “Poison? Look, we’re not that far out from town, if you can make it there…”

Gnukrul: A closer examination of the poisonous dart shows it to be a thin, obsidian spike, the back carved in a sinuous curve complete with an abstract snake head to serve as a thumb-and-forefinger grip. Quite a wicked little thing indeed.

LogicNinja: “Shit. You know, I have no idea if it’s a good idea to remove it. —I’m going to have to carry you, aren’t I.”

Starsinger: “Mmm..no.. I think I can shamble over there…”

LogicNinja: ”...good. You can, uh, lean on me, or… something.” Offers of help don’t seem to come very naturally to Mal. He goes over to the corpses of their enemies, checking them for gold and gear.

Starsinger: “Yeah… hey.. how’s your mom doing?”

LogicNinja: ”...what?”

Starsinger: “Grakkori lady… bad attitude, had us chased out of the last town…”

LogicNinja: “She’s not my fucking—” Mal gives up with a groan. “You can’t be that badly off if you’re still on about that. One of these assholes picked her up; Sef and Ash went after him.”

Gnukrul: The other capable warrior (bodyguard? Lieutenant?) had a good sized chest strapped to his mount, the edges completely sealed with melted wax.

Gnukrul: The spears are all standard, cheap stuff, but the leader’s secondary weapon gleams with the bright, smooth light of really high quality metal, lying in the dust where he dropped it.

LogicNinja: Mal picks up the weapon, giving it a couple of swings. “Metal, nice.” He uses the edge to make a line in the wax sealing the chest.

LogicNinja: “Hey, Mieu—is it enchanted?”

Gnukrul: The remainder of the gear these fellows had comprises a sizable stack of metal, of various quality… they weren’t entirely holdless, apparently. On the other hand, finding a place where owning that much metal covered in Aborite iconography won’t get you immediately attacked is another matter.

Starsinger: “Yes.”

LogicNinja: ”...any ideas how?” The metal neatly disappears into Mal’s magic bag.

Starsinger: “Well… general theory is that mages during the blue epoch poured mystical materials into weapons which carried potent magic that lasted to this day.”

LogicNinja: Mal’s palm hits his forehead, then he goes back to fiddling with the lock, producing a couple of picks.

Starsinger: “Oh.. You mean, ‘what does it do’. Well, I’m gonna guess it’s not enchanted with something flashy like fire or lightning… my cousin had a magic sword where the only thing special about it was that it used to glow with a blue light…”

LogicNinja: “Who the fuck would put a light spell on a sword? You can just throw it on a necklace or something.”

LogicNinja: Putting the picks away, Mal throws the chest open, hopping back in the same motion…

Gnukrul: Inside are several rows of neatly sorted bottles and vials, a stack of some dried leaf, and a couple pouches holding something lumpy.

Gnukrul: Pasted inside the lid is an aged looking square of parchment with a queer, unrecognizable script and complex, abstract illumination.

LogicNinja: ”...drag yourself over here and take a look at this.”

Starsinger: “I dunno.. I’ve heard stories of armor that attracts arrows… magic isn’t about being responsible..”

Starsinger: Mieu staggers over to Mal, “Yes, o considerate one?

LogicNinja: “What the hell is this shit? I mean, hopefully some of this shit is the antidote, but unless you want to start swilling random potions to see what’s what…”

LogicNinja: “And what the Waste is that language?”

Starsinger: “It’s the language of the Kirordon, a race of rabbit people who lived in cactus, wear large hats made of straw, and enjoy warfare, preferring to use great maces and riding into combat on giant spiders.”

LogicNinja: ”...yeah, no.”

Starsinger: “Oh. See, you know just as much as I do about it.”

LogicNinja: ”...well, I’m sure it’s valuable to someone. And I recognize that dust.”

Starsinger: Mieu sits down and starts shivering. “Mal… is it getting cold in the desert?”

LogicNinja: “Shit. Okay, let’s go.” Mal reaches down to haul Mieu to her feet, supporting her by threading his arm around her waist and draping hers over his shoulder. “We’d better get there as fast as we can. Fuck Sef and Ash for both up and running off, anyway.”

Starsinger: “Hey… I don’t feel the ground under my toes anymore.. And the world is kinda spinny..”

LogicNinja: “If you die on me, I’m taking your stuff,” Mal grumbles.

Starsinger: “I…” Mieu’s face turns a greenish tint.

Gnukrul: You’re less than a full day from Gigames, but this little “interruption” has cost some time, and keeping Mieu in the saddle with both of you on a single mount may be tricky. The sun is already low, and the sky-spanning length of Urkhema is already beginning to take on the dramatic two-tone relief of twilight.

Starsinger: “Mal… don’t tell anybody, but that blue chalice from back then.. I destroyed a fake one… but shh.. it’s a secret.”

LogicNinja: “You what?”

Starsinger: “I destroyed a fake one..”

Starsinger: “Lean in close.. and I’ll tell you what I did with the real one…”

LogicNinja: Mal almost starts to lean in, then stops himself. “You

LogicNinja: ‘re going to kid yourself right into the grave, you know that?”

Starsinger: Mieu smiles, “Fine.. don’t believe me…”

Gnukrul: Mal and Mieu’s words fall into a black blanket of silence, the rhythmic padding of Mieu’s thoat and the occasional clink of equipment their only companion. It gets terribly cold in the highlands at night, but years of travel does not come without lessons, and there are extra furs for just this sort of occasion…

Gnukrul: ...though no matter what he does Mal can’t quite seem to get his to sit right, and having to both guide his beast and keep Mieu upright gives his hands terrible cold cramps.

Starsinger: Mieu groans, “It’s so hot under these furs… we don’t need them… it’s practically inside a fire elemental down here…”

LogicNinja: Mal bitches under his breath the entire way, pressing on as fast as Mieu’s condition will allow.

Gnukrul: As the light of dawn creeps into the east, it catches on an all too familiar sight; the fine edge of a distant Canal, just this side of the horizon.

Starsinger: “You know… in this light… you’re not so bad looking…”

Gnukrul: ...A laugh comes seemingly from nowhere at this.

LogicNinja: “In any fucking light—okay, who the fuck are you? Show yourself.”

Gnukrul: The two are both rather surprised to find a lone Szeren man leaning against a rock you’ve just recently passed. “The lady’s got a queer taste it seems, dark one.”

Gnukrul: “Some might consider that a blessing.” He runs one thumbnail under a tooth as if that settled the matter.

LogicNinja: “Plenty of ladies have had a queer taste for me. Who are you and what’s it to you?”

Gnukrul: He is wearing serious, deep desert survival gear… pale, loose clothing over the top of most of his ornament and equipment, and he has a longbow strung over one shoulder. Rarely a poor choice of outfit, especially for one traveling alone, but definitely unusual here in the highlands.

Gnukrul: He eyes Mal for a moment in silence. Then, calmly: “I am no one, stranger. I am only the sand, the sand that watches. Do not interrupt your journey on my behalf.”

Starsinger: “Mal… is the sand talking to you too…?”

LogicNinja: “Look, she’s poisoned. If you’re the sand that watches, how about telling us which way Gigames is?”

Gnukrul: He gestures with that same thumbnail… a somewhat long and clean one, towards the clean line of the canal in the morning sun. “You can almost see it from here. Planning on staying long?”

LogicNinja: “Probably. Gotta get her healed up, plus waiting for some friends who ran off on their own to catch up. Hey, you look like a guy who knows the desert. Know anything about poisons?”

Gnukrul: This elicits a strange smirk from him. “I may know a few simple things… which parts of which animals are useful to a simple hunter… but from the looks of your friend there this is not what you meant.”

Gnukrul: Suddenly, he tilts his head, as if hearing something in the distance, but if it is so neither of you can hear it.

LogicNinja: “Yeah, okay, nevermi—what?”

Gnukrul: “I must go, now. Jatta protect you.” and with that he turns and trots northward without so much as another word, soon disappearing over a ridge.

LogicNinja: “Weird fucker,” Mal grumbles, spurring the thoat towards town.

Gnukrul: Before long Gigames resolves itself against the Canal proper. The place is quite obviously new, nay, not even truly birthed yet.

Gnukrul: Unfinished clay and mud brick buildings slowly grow larger as you near them… but also in the literal sense. You can see working crews swarming over a few of them.

Gnukrul: Tall, white stones have been used to mark out a few central lanes, and when you’ve almost reached the town proper you can begin to see the sturdy rope bridge at its center, bridging the Canal, and the precious greenery below.

Gnukrul: It looks like most of the development is on the near side… A good thing, perhaps, considering Mieu’s condition.

LogicNinja: Mal heads straight there, pausing to ask anyone nearby if there’s a healer in town.

Gnukrul: He interrupts some kind of inter-mason argument “By the bristly beard of the Wrathforger, I’ve told you a thousand times! You can’t put a lintel… Oh, hello there? Healer? Hrm.” He thinks for a moment.

Starsinger: “You can too put lentils in a house…”

Gnukrul: This raises an eyebrow, but no comment. “You might want to talk to Brother Hallasha. He knows a thing or two about those sorts of problems. He’ll probably be in the Council building, just next to the bridge.”

LogicNinja: Mal nods, and promptly turns his thoat in that direction.

Gnukrul: Mal finds the building described. It’s at the center of maybe a dozen of actually finished structres… seemingly the only ones in Gigames.

Starsinger: “Mal… I can’t feel my legs.”

Gnukrul: For a town that’s supposedly a mere trading camp for an Elantan monastery, it’s surprisingly grandiose.

Gnukrul: However, there seems to be no front door in its entryway, or perhaps just not yet. Inside, quiet discussion can be heard.

LogicNinja: “If I can’t feel your legs, why should you?”

Starsinger: Mieu giggles

Gnukrul: Oddly, a Northman boy leans against the facade

Gnukrul: He blinks twice. Apparently missed the humor in that one.

LogicNinja: “Brother Hallasha,” Mal asks, voice flat, putting on his best glower. “Is he in there?”

Gnukrul: The boy’s throat joggles as his eyes widen. “I, uh, I mean, I think so?”

LogicNinja: Mal dismounts, then steadies Mieu before she can topple; supporting her, and wishing there were a door to throw open, he steps through the doorway. “Brother Hallasha!” he calls.

Gnukrul: Most of the building’s interior seems to be one great room, with an arc on one side having a raised floor and a half wall, apparently with seating behind it, as several people sit leaning their elbos on the top edge of the half wall, or examining papers laid theron.

Gnukrul: They are being addressed by a quiet, entirely uncharismatic looking fellow… why, it’s that mousy groupie from the performance in Sidimegar!

Gnukrul: Several of them are in clerical garb. They all look at you as you enter and proclaim, but one leans forward as well.

Gnukrul: “I am he. Who, then, are you?”

Gnukrul: He is old, and rather jowley for someone in a pioneer village, but not entirely without presence. Starsinger: “He’s Malzen of Chult! He wields a thousand kills and weighs a thousand blades…

Gnukrul: Suddenly the groupie realizes who is behind him.

Gnukrul: “Dear gods! I-I-It’s… It’s you! How did you g-get here!?”

LogicNinja: “I am Malzen of Grakkor,” Mal announces, over Mieu, and flashes his best wolf grin. “And I require Brother Hallasha’s help for my companion.”

Starsinger: “We went through the desert on a thaot with no name…”

Starsinger: “Also.. Mal.. if you wanted to feel my likes.. you could’ve asked…”

Gnukrul: The mousey man drops to his knees. “Wha-” but Brother Hallasha cuts him off coolly. “Certainly. Elanta bids us to tend to those in need; simply follow.”

LogicNinja: “Good bidding.” Ignoring the mousey man, Mal half-carries Mieu after the Brother.

Starsinger: “Elanta sounds like a nice lady… Not like Mal’s mom.. she was rude and beat the hell out of those guys who poisoned me..”

Gnukrul: From behind: “P-P-P-POISON!?” The fellow sounds like someone just killed his grandmother.

Starsinger: “How can you not know what poison is…? I mean.. My parents told me that Men were stupid… but come on…”

Gnukrul: Brother Hallasha ignores him, and leads the two of you behind a hanging cloth in another open doorway, and you find yourselves in a small room with two beds, a few bolts of clean cloth, a few mystery pots and things on an otherwise clear desk, and some simple tools laying around. One bed is already occupied with a man whose leg is in a splint.

Gnukrul: Apparently whatever this room’s intended purpose is further along in the construction of the town and the furnishing of the Council building, for now it serves as a makeshift infirmary.

Gnukrul: The bedridden man has one hell of an impressive jaw, and hands so calloused they could practically be stone. He glares sullenly at the ceiling.

Starsinger: “Oh good.. two beds… when Sef and Ash catch up… you guys can share one bed.. right?”

Gnukrul: Brother Hallasha gestures to the empty bed silently while briefly examining the man’s leg, his white, bushy brows crimping together momentarily.

Gnukrul: “I’m sorry Sten. You’ll have to stay here another day at the very least.”

Gnukrul: Sten is not pleased.

Gnukrul: “Now, let’s have a lot at you…

LogicNinja: Mal eases Mieu down onto the bed, pointing the dart out to Brother Hallasha. “That’s what did it. Not sure what was on it. Didn’t know if it was a good idea to take it out.”

Starsinger: Mieu sighs, “Don’t tell Mal… but I don’t think I can feel most of my body anymore…”

Gnukrul: Brother Hallasha gets up close and takes a good look at the dart. Then, in measured, careful tones, he says: “May I ask how this particular item became embedded in your friend here, or who the original owner was?”

LogicNinja: “We had a run-in with some Aborites,” Mal waves a hand dismissively. “They didn’t like us much, and it was mutual.”

Starsinger: “They wanted to kidnap his mom…”

Gnukrul: Still in that measured, careful tone: “I see.” He removes some gauze from within his vestment and reaches gingerly for the dart. “Aborites are most unpleasant people… Malzen, you said? Unpleasant, and though I’m not supposed to admit it, powerful.”

LogicNinja: “Malzen of Grakkor! What, you haven’t heard of me?” He shrugs. “They weren’t bad, I guess, but most of the ten of ‘em died easy enough. One ran off.”

Gnukrul: “If they want your friend here dead, its likely very bad things will continue to happen to her…” he gently pulls at the dart, his other hand ready with the gauze, ”...and possibly to those who help her. Though you seem unconcerned about it yourself, I want you to understand what I am doing for you by even touching this item.”

Starsinger: “I would do it for me if I were in your shoes…”

LogicNinja: “She was more of an afterthought. The guy who threw the dart didn’t live very long himself. But I understand and,” Mal shows his teeth again, “I will be suitably grateful. Provided you save her.”

Starsinger: “I would be suitably grateful too… I don’t wanna die… I have a l-”

Gnukrul: Eerily, the wound bleeds none at all. He tears her garment a little to reveal a gummy, red-blue hole, which he eyes worriedly. “You misunderstand me, perhaps, Malzen. I am of Elanta. We do not require compensation; when we sacrifice we do it on principle, to lead by example. I merely wanted to make sure that example was properly understood. Now… here, hold this for a moment.” He shoves the wad of gauze towards Mal’s chest.

LogicNinja: “I’m sure you won’t say no to a donation, though.” Mal shrugs, taking the gauze, eying the wound with distaste.

Gnukrul: Turning to retrieve a few pots and brushes, he says, less tensely “That is your own concern only.”

Gnukrul: He then sets about working in silence, brushing away some of the gooey crud that had accumulated around the wound, pouring a small amount of ointment into it, and applying gentle pressure

Gnukrul: Soon he has the wound flowing again, if sluggishly. Then he turns her on her side and lets it flow into a pail for half a minute or so. “It’s been some time, the poison is probably everywhere by now, but if any was left from the… item itself this should help carry it away.”

Starsinger: Mieu’s breathing slows down.

LogicNinja: Mal sets the gauze down, heading out front to make sure that no one’s absconded with his steed and to get the boy to watch it. When he returns, he paces the room. “I had to get her here. Took us the night. Can you do something about it or not?”

Gnukrul: He lays her back flat and forms a tight bandage. “That should help for a little while; once the bleeding stops again we can apply ointments and so forth… but…”

LogicNinja: “It doesn’t look good?”

Gnukrul: He heaves a sigh. “Without an idea of what poison was used, there’s no telling what might or might not help. We have some time, though to try and figure that out.”

Gnukrul: “In any case, we’ll do what we can.”

Gnukrul: He turns to the dart, gingerly grabbing the grip, and lifts it to his nose, being careful to breathe only very faintly.

Gnukrul: “Hrm.”

LogicNinja: “Dammit, there’s no telling what kind of shit those assholes could have brewed up.”

Gnukrul: He thinks silently for a few moments, then: “I think I may know a few people in Bakha… monks whose former lives may have, uh, blessed them with more relevant knowledge than I have on this item.”

Gnukrul: “Its the sort of thing we generally try to forget, but in this case, remembering would be a virtue, no?”

Gnukrul: “The monastery is but a day’s hike up the ridge from here… perhaps out of reach, for you, I fear, but I will send a trusted servant there, with this, and instructions.” He seems decided. “I will stay here and tend to my duties, and your friend. It is all I can do.”

Gnukrul: He takes a sheet of boiled white cloth and folds the dart into it gingerly.

LogicNinja: “You sure they’ll get there safely? I could take’em.”

Gnukrul: Brother Hallasha eyes you, and says levelly. “I didn’t take you for an uplander. Are you sure? The monastery lies in clean air.”

LogicNinja: Mal shrugs. “The air in the Grey Waste’s supposed to be too hot to breathe, but I managed. I figure I can tough it out if I need to.”

Gnukrul: That calm gaze alters not at all. “Your bravery is admirable, my child, but bravery where the risk is unwarranted is foolishness.” He holds out the wrapped dart. “If you insist on gambling with your friend’s health, I can not stop you, but it would ease my own mind to entrust this task to one who does it as a matter of course.”

LogicNinja: “I’m just worried about bandits or something jumping whoever you send.” Mal shrugs. “If it’s a safe trip, let’em handle it.”

Gnukrul: “At least one messenger or supply hauler makes the trip daily; it is no great danger. I know someone fast, and reliable.” At this, he walks to the nearby wall and, curiously, bangs twice on it.

Gnukrul: ...shortly thereafter, the northman boy appears.

Gnukrul: As he pushes aside the heavy cloth serving as a door to the room, you hear a snatch of the ongoing conversation outside, now closer and less oratory.

Gnukrul: “b-b-b-but what if she’s…”

Gnukrul: It seems the groupie has been trying to gain entry, and someone is wisely preventing him.

LogicNinja: “That’s fine, then. I’ll cool my heels in town. —Oh, geez, not that guy.”

Gnukrul: The kid gives you a conspiratorial look, at that. It appears he’s not impressed either.

LogicNinja: “I’ve got no idea how he even survived the trip here.”

Gnukrul: Brother Hallasha regains his attention with a cleared throat. “Take this to The Serene Father Youkup. Tell him to show it to brothers Arkhab and Iltonyah, and to ask them to help identify the contents, to help save a life. Be swift.”

Gnukrul: The boy nods and immediately heads off at a canter.

Gnukrul: “Now, is there anything else I can help you two with, while we wait for an answer?”

LogicNinja: “I owe him a tip, I think. —Maybe. How much d’you know about those Aborite assholes?”

Gnukrul: With a strange, warm little smile: “Very little. Perhaps as little as you know about we followers of Elanta, yes? You are fortunate that I am… less conservative than some of my peers.”

Gnukrul: “You see, we do not officially recognize the existence of any other faith. It is our way.”

Gnukrul: “Most of us extend this policy to every activity, official or not. Many of my brothers who might have recognized that item might have refused to touch it, or to confirm its existence at all.”

Gnukrul: “I personally feel this is rather more than is practical, and practicality is in my nature, but their motives are pure.”

Gnukrul: “In this sense, it would have been just as fortunate for you to have a healer who did not recognize the sign on that implement!”

LogicNinja: “Pure motives have left plenty of people dying in the dust.” Mal frowns. “Where’s the point in pretending they don’t exist? Doesn’t stop them from going around doing shit.”

Gnukrul: Brother Hallasha hefts another weary sigh. “I agree, though I don’t usually say it so plainly.”

Gnukrul: “It is one of the reasons I am merely a Deacon, out here in the lowlands.. It is deemed that my most suitable service to Elanta is in a sort of middle ground, living neither in pagan wretchedness, nor in the complete purity of Bakha.”

LogicNinja: “Frankly, that kind of blindness is a problem that usually takes care of itself. And drags a lot of people down with it.”

Gnukrul: “Hmm. Perhaps so… though the Faith predates our own recorded history, so who can say?”

Gnukrul: “In any case, my views have landed me here, and how can you, who have just benefited from them, say that this is poor policy, hmm?” he inclines his head and raises his brows with this point.

Gnukrul: Then, he looks thoughtful for a moment.

Gnukrul: “There is, however, one thing I know about Aborites, and that is that being their enemy is a dangerous position, as I was saying earlier. I may have one other small thing that can help you…”

LogicNinja: “If you want to say that shit happens for a reason… more like we come up with reasons after the fact. But whatever, philosophical bullshit doesn’t do any good. What’ve you got?”

Gnukrul: Now, with a jovial sarcasm: “Oh, my dear Grakkor, I would not presume! No, I was merely commenting on the wisdom displayed in the decisions of my superiors, even when they go against my personal wishes. Now, here we are…”

Gnukrul: He opens a crude drawer on the desk, rummages, and removes a small blue vial.

LogicNinja: Mal just raises a thin brow.

Gnukrul: “If the worst should occur before she is healed, give her this. It should get her mobile for a short time, but after that she will need a long sleep.”

Gnukrul: “I hate to think she might not be safe, in this very building, but… perhaps it is a precaution worth taking, no?”

LogicNinja: “Yeah, it is. I’ll stay here, just in case, if you’ve got room. And here…” Mal produces some of the divine components they got from the Aborites. “I figure you can put these to better use than we can.”

Gnukrul: Brother Hallasha is at first taken aback by your offer. “Why, some of these items are quite ra…” but then seems worried.

Gnukrul: “I don’t suppose you got these…?”

Gnukrul: He lets the unfinished question hang in the air.

LogicNinja: Mal shrugs. “If I did, they don’t exist, right? And if they did, they’d be dead. So…”

Gnukrul: Brother Hallasha turns them over methodically, checking every surface of every bottle and bag… for markings, you realize.

LogicNinja: “I mean, if you don’t want the donation…”

Gnukrul: He sets aside a couple bottles. “These I must refuse. For the rest, I thank you, and would further thank you to tell no one of this. It would be most unfortunate for me…”

Gnukrul: ”...but some of these are greatly needed here. We have work injuries all the time…” a glance to the seemingly eternally mute Sten.

Gnukrul: ”...and I cannot abide undue suffering.”

LogicNinja: Mal makes the bottles disappear, first into his hand and into his back, as quick as any magician. “Sure. You’ve gone out of your way to help me. Let it not be said that Malzen of Grakkor is ungrateful.”

LogicNinja: ...it has, in the past, been said.

View
An Unlikely Crew of Survivors: Trouble in Transit
In which mysterious newcomers demand a prize

Gnukrul: By the time the others are approaching Ash’s position just on the other side of a rugged little ridge outside the city, true night has fallen on Sidimegar. With every breath, you can see the very vapors condensing and wafting away; a bad omen in other places but a nightly reality here in the high south.

Gnukrul: There was, perhaps, less entanglements with the Sidimegaran Company that might have been expected, but there were still enough people, in particular a mid-ranking official named Juro Tallada, expressing intense curiosity, to warrant caution on your part.

Gnukrul: Thus far, the Grakkori woman has remained non responsive, turned in on herself, and out here in the quiet cold, Ash can more clearly hear that she is softly whispering some kind of chant to herself, over and over, and rocking back and forth.

Gnukrul: Perched atop his ridge, perhaps annoyed or disappointed at her silence, he sights the others on approach…

BlackRequiem: “If you get tired of that burden I can carry her in it’s stomach.” Sef says, patting his thoat as he pulls along side Ash nonchalantly.

Starsinger: Mieu puts her hand over her eyes and looks at the Grakkor woman, “Hey, Mal. It looks like Ash found your mother…”

LogicNinja: Waving from the back of a white thoat he pretty definitely didn’t ride into town on, Mal waves up at Ash as the group approaches. “Hey, Ash! How’s my mother doing?”

BlackRequiem: “Looking like dinner at this rate.” Sef waves hs hand dismissively.

Gnukrul: The Grakkori woman shivers. None of you can really tell if it’s out of fear, disgust, or just the cold, but she does not open her eyes, or cease her whispered mantra

Poru: “She’s been mumbling something since I brought her out here. No idea what, though.” Ash says to the returning party. “You guys bring one back for me?” Ash asks, indicating the mounts.

LogicNinja: “Yeah, uh, about that.”

LogicNinja: “Er… Mieu’s got room for two?”

LogicNinja: Mal approaches the Grakkori woman, sighing. “So, look, we saved your life, but it won’t last if you stick around here. Are you coming with us, or do we need to drag you?”

Starsinger: Mieu nods, “That’s right Ash, you can ride with me, incase bow wielding bandits attack us from behind.”

Poru: Ash shrugs, “Eh, works for me.”

BlackRequiem: Sef spits at the thought of using anyone but yourself as a shield..

Starsinger: “Mal, your mother thinks we’re evil…”

Gnukrul: The Grakkori woman continues to sit passively.

Poru: “Heh, she’s not too far off…” Ash mutters.

BlackRequiem: “Damn her, if her own homelands aren’t evil. Vile, blood drinking primitives, living in mud and caves among the beasts…” Sef fumes to himself.

LogicNinja: “Yeah, okay, fine. Ash, get the rope, huh? Tie her hands to the back of a saddle, leave enough slack. If she wants to run, she can run. If she feels like riding, she can tell us.”

Poru: Ash nods and gets the rope from his pack. “I’m guessing you want it to be from your saddle?”

LogicNinja: “What do you take me for? That would be unnecessarily humiliating,” Mal says, sounding dead serious for a moment, and laughs. “But, seriously, the thing’s tail would get in the way. Go with Sef’s.”

Starsinger: “That’s not very nice. Some day you’ll be withered and ancient like her, let her ride on one of your mounts.”

Poru: “I don’t know. Sef could do a nice job of preaching her errors back to her during the day.”

BlackRequiem: “My sword is enough sermon for infidels.”

Poru: “Er, on second thought, she can ride with Mal. He might like to listen to tales of his native people.”

Starsinger: Mieu sighs, “The least you could do is look agitated when I insult you…”

LogicNinja: Mal gives a pseudo-apologetic shrug for Mieu’s sake, then turns to Sef. “That’s nice, real poetic. You should have “Sermon for Infidels” engraved on it.”

LogicNinja: “—and she doesn’t want to ride. That’s why the rope.”

Poru: Ash ignores Mieu’s complaint, having heard and lived with much worse during his childhood. “Well, if you guys ever make up your minds, let me know.”

Starsinger: Mieu covers her mouth with her hand and giggles. “I had an acquaintance say something very similar once… of course, he stopped speaking relatively shortly after he made that comment.”

Poru: “I’m guessing he wasn’t breathing either?”

Starsinger: “Well, he was choking on his own blood when I last heard from him, but presumably he might be breathing.”

LogicNinja: “So, uh, wait. Where to?”

Starsinger: Mieu shrugs her shoulders.

BlackRequiem: “A cleansing fire take this cursed land… I do not know.” Sef grunts.

Poru: “I vote for whichever place we can make the most money.”

LogicNinja: “Well, Gigames is new and they’ve been having some issues with the town we just left. They might be receptive. What do you think, have they heard of us? If not, they’re about to. Three days… west? I think. Maybe it was east.”

Poru: “No idea. But it sounds like a good idea to me.”

Starsinger: “We should go some place with attractive young men, or rich old fools. I don’t care which.”

LogicNinja: “What is it with you and the men? No idea what you see in them.” Mal shrugs, then stretches, glancing at their captive to see how she’s handling being attached to a mount. “I’d say Gigames should be right up your alley. New outpost, lots of people trying to make a fortune.”

Starsinger: “What is it with you and the women?”

Poru: “We like them?” Ash offers.

Gnukrul: ...somewhere along the line, the Grakkori woman stopped muttering to herself, and is now staring quietly at you. “Y… Yes. Gigames is… wealthy. You will do well there. You should listen to him.”

Starsinger: “Well there you have it.”

Gnukrul: Then, as if afraid of what she’d done, she quickly averts her gaze to the dirt.

Poru: “I guess we’re all settled then. Should we head out in the morning?”

LogicNinja: “By the gods and all the men who kiss their feet, she speaks! Of course they should listen to me. And nah, let’s put a little distance between ourselves and town, in case they come looking.”

Starsinger: “I don’t get it. You snicker during my performance, but don’t say a damned word until just now… If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were following some bizarre backwater Grakkor custom prohibiting speaking in front of men.”

LogicNinja: “Not that there’s any such custom, but that would mean,” Mal murmurs to no one in particular, “that she has to keep doubly silent in front of me.”

Starsinger: Mieu giggles again, “Mal, unless you’re doubling up on something, you’re still only one man, no matter how big your ego gets.” After saying this, Mieu eases her mount onward and then asks Ash which way the town is, having the navigational sense of a tumbleweed herself.

LogicNinja: “One man… but man enough for two!” Mal announces, with a sharp gesture that indicates that the discussion is settled. “The outpost’s west, so, that way. ...unless it’s east.”

Poru: Sighing, Ash jumps up onto the back of Mieu’s mount before she goes much further. “I think it’s west. That’s what I’ve heard anyways. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.”

Starsinger: Mieu sighs as they begin to ride off. “It occurs to me… I could’ve sold tickets to ‘tomorrow’s performance’ before we left…”

LogicNinja: “Not worth it,” Mal dismisses the idea. “This way, we’ll be able to come back with minimal fuss.”

Poru: “Agreed. I can only save you guys so many times before our luck goes the other way.”

Gnukrul: The little caravan sets out, winding up and down and in and out of the torturous southern mountains, swinging a bit lower down to make use of better air and lower grades, under Ash’s direction. The Grakkori woman plods on in silence, occasionally resuming her chanting, but after a day and a half it occurs less and less frequently… but she still has not asked for a seat.

Starsinger: “I can’t do this… Lady, look, get on one of the mounts, please.”

Gnukrul: Though it is mercifully short, it is not an easy trail and already Mieu and Sef are showing signs of wear, or at least of frustration. Ash and Mal, however, seem right at home.

Poru: “Why does it bother you so much?” Ash asks Mieu out of curiosity.

Gnukrul: The Grakkor woman responds only with silence.

LogicNinja: Mal just shrugs, and picks up the pace, forcing the woman to move faster. Sooner or later, she’s bound to give in. Especially with the people on the mounts having ready access to the waterskins in the saddlebags, rather than merely getting to drink every rest-stop.

BlackRequiem: “Let the stubborn mule walk herself to death. One less blight on this world.”

LogicNinja: “Hey, Sef. Isn’t compassion supposed to be a virtue?”

Gnukrul: ...she’s held up well, all things considered, but sooner or later it’s obvious that walking herself to death unless she relents is indeed what shall happen.

Starsinger: “I’m not in a habit of explaining myself, Ash. I don’t intend to start now.” Mieu says icily, before turning her attention back to the woman. “Now get on a mount you stubborn old goat!”

Gnukrul: The Grakkor woman jerks her face away from you, as if slapped. You can’t quite make it out, but she says something to herself in Common… angrily.

Starsinger: Realizing that yelling isn’t going to work, Mieu tries the subtle approach. “Please, it would mean ever so much to me if you stopped walking, and joined us on the mounts.”

BlackRequiem: “Compassion is a virtue of the we.. Wait, what is that sound?” Sef jerks his head about as if looking for something.

Poru: “Yeesh, fine. Suit yourself.” Ash says a tad defensively.

Poru: “Wait, what’d you say, Sef?”

LogicNinja: “What, Mieu being nice? She does that sometimes.” Mal turns, glaring at the Grakkori woman. “Look, what the fuck is your problem? If we were going to steal your soul, don’t you think we’d have done it already?”

Gnukrul: The Grakkori woman relaxes somewhat, and repeats herself more clearly: “You do not have my consent. Your power over me is fleeting, you cannot bind my spirit.” From the southwest, you hear the soft, rhythmic thrumming of many thoat-pads approaching… fast.

Poru: “Oh boy… here we go,” Ash says as his ears pick up the noise. “So, do we run or fight?”

LogicNinja: “How the fuck is getting on going to give consent to that? You already—” Mal stiffens. “Look, it’s going to be pretty damn shameful if you’re still tied up and walking when whoever that is gets there.”

BlackRequiem: Sef curses under his breath, pulling his mount around an drawing his weapon. “Well? No time to deliberate!”

LogicNinja: He turns to Ash. “What, you think they followed us all the way from Sidimegar? Naaaah. Let’s see who it is and what they want.”

Poru: “Alright, let’s hope they aren’t solely here to kill us.”

LogicNinja: “You scared, Ash?” Mal smirks. “You’re with the wrong group if that’s the case.”

BlackRequiem: Sef moves towards the sound, eager and ready for the worst.

Gnukrul: The woman looks scornfully at Mal. “Devils and tricksters such as yourself need but one word of consent, of cooperation, and the victim is tainted, lost forever! You know this! You cannot deceive me…” Everyone but Mal, however, hears the subtext in her tone; her belief is crumbling.

Poru: “Trust me, if I scared that easily I would have left you guys a long time ago. I just prefer to avoid messy situations.”

Gnukrul: Atop the nearest southwester ridge, nine sharp points appear, resolving themselves into upright pikes, and then into nine mounted warriors.

LogicNinja: “Yeah?” Mal grins. “Didn’t you give in when you gave up your weapons? Or when you let us take you out of town instead of waiting for the mob? Sounds to me like if your tribe’s shaman had it right, I’d already own your tainted soul. So, what is it! Meet those warriors bound like a dog, or mounted up like a woman?!”

Gnukrul: Seven of them seem the usual sort any of you have dealt with a hundred times. Two in the front, however, ride huge, discolored, and half crazed monsters, barely recognizable as Thoatborn.

BlackRequiem: “Marauders!”

Gnukrul: They bear the sign of a silver coiled serpent… Aborus.

Gnukrul: One of the two apparent leaders holds his hand up beside his head, and the entire wedge promptly halts… the two strange thoats require vicious jerks on reigns that, on closer examination, are attached to spikes embedded in their lower jaws.

Gnukrul: “Hail, Oh mighty company of the fearsome Malzen of Grakkor!”

Starsinger: Mieu swears under her breath

BlackRequiem: Sef stares incredulously at Malzen..

Poru: Ash rolls his eyes, hoping this means these guys are just a couple of bumbling fools.

Gnukrul: “We come to you from A-Darsum, holy enclave of the holder of all power, gathering place of those who help themselves. We have a request, and can make it worth your while. Will you hear us?”

LogicNinja: “Aborites, huh?” Mal rises in his saddle, flashing his widest wolf grin. “Don’t get a lot of you guys out in the open. Must be a big deal, huh? Well, you’ve found me! Why’d you come looking?”

BlackRequiem: Sef whisper to his compatriots. “A trap! Deception! Let’s slaughter these heathens and be done with it!”

LogicNinja: “You always say that, no matter what,” Mal points out to Sef, likewise quietly.

Gnukrul: The leader holds his gloved hands up, palm outwards, in the gesture of no ill will, but his icy smile only raises the hairs on Ash and Sef’s necks. “I understand your… caution, friends.

Gnukrul: Many things are said of us out here, in the world at large, and not all of them are true. As for what we want, the answer is simple…” and now he points one long finger, straight at the Grakkori woman: “...her.

BlackRequiem: “And you’re a damn fool if you don’t heed it now. These aren’t surly fops and ruffians from your ‘soft’ northern towns, they’re blasphemous cultists to the wyrm below!”

Poru: “Whoever they are, they’re creeping me out a little. Let’s fork over the woman and be done with this.”

Poru: Ash whsipers to the group.

Starsinger: “I’d rather not…”

LogicNinja: “Yeah, uh… they’re not exactly hiding that, Sef,” Mal whispers, then turns back to eye the Aborus cultists. “Yeah? Funny, I was just starting to get attached to her.” He folds his arms over his chest, hands coincidentally resting near the hilts of two of his knives. “Why’d you want her? And how is it worth our while?”

Gnukrul: The man turns his cold smile and serpentine words towards Sef. “I’ve heard of you, Sef Ibn Sharif. You are a strong man, a passionate man. It is a pity that this passion is not yet bent to… constructive ends… but I assure you my compatriots and I have nothing but respect for you, whether you return the favor or not. I further assure you that we mean this woman no harm, indeed, our friends in Sidimegar were… most impressed.

Gnukrul: “I seek only to bring her back to A-Darsum for an interview with my superiors. If you are truly concerned for her safety, you are invited to join us, and watch over her. You will find us most accommodating, and you may find… great opportunities there for persons of your aptitudes.”

Gnukrul: “However, if it is a more mundane, tangible reward you seek, there is always monetary compensation.”

Starsinger: ””We are not giving her over to these people.”

Poru: “Why the hell not? What’s your attachment to her?” Ash says to Mieu.

Starsinger: “Have I ever asked you to explain yourself, Ash?”

BlackRequiem: Sef looks away and spits on the ground in disgust. “I care not for about the fate of a witch who’s too weak to stand on her own. Nor will I be led into becoming a creature such as herself. Let the fires consume the twisting spiral of your lies.”

Poru: “No, but what I thought never made very well armed warriors angry at us either,” Ash retorts.

Gnukrul: The Grakkori woman has shifted behind the nearest beast, wide eyed. She looks like she clearly prefers “the enemy she knows rather than the enemy she does not.”

LogicNinja: “Hey, uh,” Mal pauses, realizing that he never did get her name, and shrugs. “Crazy bitch.” He turns. “Seems like they know you, and they’re making a pretty good case. So what’s it gonna be? Are you gonna mount up, or do we hand your rope over?”

Starsinger: Mieu glares at Mal for a moment, assuming he meant her.

LogicNinja: Mal gives Mieu a puzzled look, then shakes his head and jerks a thumb at the Grakkori woman.

Gnukrul: “I… I have never seen them before, and they openly bear the sign of the Earthshaker. I do not trust them!”

Poru: “Either she gets rides with Mal and we bolt now, or she gets handed over to them, now, Ash says with a unusual firmness.

Gnukrul: The apparent leader of the Aboran band sighs. “It seems there is no consensus among you. We have been burdened with a tight schedule. Again, I offer you the choice… come with us, or give her to us and go your way, and you will be rewarded. Otherwise… I cannot guarantee your safety. Understand that we cannot return without our goal; it is our death.”

LogicNinja: “Bolt? You expect me to bolt?” Mal murmurs, before focusing his best unnerving glare on the Grakkori woman. “Moment of truth! If you’re not with us, we’ve got no reason to fight for you, and they can have you.” He pulls a knife-the one he took from the woman- and throws in one smooth motion.

LogicNinja: For a moment, it looks like the dagger’s headed straight for her-but it wedges in the elaborate binding between her hands, unraveling it and leaving her unbound. “What is it?” Mal snaps, a low rumble-familiar to Mieu, Ash, and Sef—in his voice like the first hint of thunder. “Are you with us, or with them?”

Poru: Ash groans slightly, sensing yet another situation thats about to blow up in their faces.

Gnukrul: The woman grasps the blade with one quaking fist, hesitates for a moment, and then with a grim smile and a nod to Mal she turns to the Aborites.

Gnukrul: “You say that if I do not come with you, it is your death… but any servant of the Sky Serpent who would take me is already dead!”

Gnukrul: The Aborites grope for weapons and kick their mounts into motion, and with a shrieking cry, the Grakkori woman charges the leader, blade overhead!

Poru: Ash looks over at Mal with a look of “you have got to be kidding me” written all over his face.

BlackRequiem: Unsurprisingly, Sef gives a howl and a battlecry then charges in behind her..

LogicNinja: Mal has one of his wild grins on his face, a long blade in either hand, a sudden breeze sending his blood-scarlet hair out behind him . “You fools!” he roars. “You KNOW who I am!”

Poru: Ash sighs again, wondering why he stayed with these people, before charging in after Sef, his shield and sword appearing in his hands.

Gnukrul: The Grakkori woman’s valiant charge is easily turned aside by the Aborite leader, with a sneer… but she snatches one of several spare swords from his saddle with a free hand as she passes.

Gnukrul: As the leader keeps her attention, his lieutenant leads a charge of two others, striking at Sef, as the rest advance in a tight formation, cutting off the Grakkori Woman… Except one. He lifts a rectangular object above his head, beginning a queer and droning chant.

LogicNinja: As the mounted Aborites charge forward, Sef taking the brunt of their impact, Mal spurs his own mount around them. Seemingly careless, he passes within weapon range of one of the warriors—but as the man swings at him, Mal neatly ducks the swing, grabs the wrist, and twists the man out of the saddle, planting a knife his throat and drawing another as he falls.

LogicNinja: His mount stopping behind the more experienced warrior, Mal feints flashily to get his attention—and then breathes out darkness, which clings to the man’s eyes. While he’s still disoriented, Mal’s knife rings off his armor, then finds purchase in his leg; Mal laughs, triumphantly.

Gnukrul: As the riders close on on her, the Grakkori woman screams furiously: “I AM DALTAR! WE DO NOT BEND! WE DO NOT BREAK!” and her whirling dance of steel and bone cuts two of them down and wounds the leader and his mount.

Gnukrul: The chanting lackey suddenly snaps the grey, rectangular object in twain, with the sound of a thunderclap… and the Grakkori woman falls, apparently unconscious!

Gnukrul: Jerking his mount into motion and sliding out of the saddle, he sweeps her up and tosses her over its back.

Gnukrul: The crazed, wild-eyed thoat presently being surrounded by Mal and the others strikes out with a furious cry, raking around with tail, tooth, and its eight clawed limbs, before leaping out of danger… and the remainder charge Mal’s exposed back.

Gnukrul: As Sef and Ash tear into the enemies in front of him, Mal neatly bends backwards to avoid the thoat’s raking limbs; he straights, turning his mount, just as the others reach him. A quick nudge makes his own thoat side-step, letting him plunge his knife into the belly of one of the inexpert warriors;

Gnukrul: Their leader, too, gets careless, and Mal bats his weapon aside, then lashes out with a quick backhanded blow—that leaves darkness in its wake, throwing off the man’s aim further. Mal lets out another one of his wild laughs. “You KNEW, fuckers! You knew who I was! Now you know what it means!”

Gnukrul: As their numbers advantage dwindles, Ash and Sef deliver savage cuts to the last of the rankless riders… except for the one carrying the strange Grakkor woman, who wheels about and begins working his thoat up to its rumbling top speed.

Gnukrul: Ash simply states: “I’m going after her.” Sef reaches for him, clearly irritated. “Wait…!” but Ash is already heading for his mount.

Gnukrul: Cursing, Sef looks to Mal, still fighting the wounded leader… and seems to think that battle is already decided. He grumbles: “Whatever those Aborite bastards have in mind for her, It’ll be no good for anyone…” as he also runs for his mount.

Gnukrul: Suddenly, the crazed, diseased looking beast the Aborite leader is riding gets a solid bite in on Mal’s smaller albino thoat, bringing it to the ground and dragging it through the dust. It sqeals in agony as blood and black saliva mingle, before its neck cleanly snaps.

Starsinger: “Wow… for an old lady, she sure knows her way around a battlefield, your mother’s impressive.”

LogicNinja: There’s a reason Mal doesn’t strap himself into the saddle like some riders do. As his mount topples, he swings a leg over and smoothly dismounts, landing hard and bouncing up into a jump that carries him safely away from the lizard and over its thrashing tail. His dagger flicks out, and buries itself in the Aborite’s mount’s eye. “I was USING that, asshole!”

Gnukrul: The strange, crazed Greatthoat roars and convulses. Several of its larger boils pop and ooze. The Aborite leader, still clutching his wounds and only just free of the strange, clinging darkness, is tossed from the saddle rather less elegantly, rolling in the stony dust.

LogicNinja: Mal stalks in, mercilessly, the hurled blade reappearing in his hand. “Can’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Gnukrul: His weapon lost to one side, the leader rises to one knee, his hands again held up in the universal sign of peace. Then, he laughs a cold, hard laugh. “It’s too late, they won’t get her back. Why did you all insist on doing this the hard..” and with this, he twitches his right hand in a most curious way, extremely fast. Something small and dark thuds into Mieu’s abdomen. ”..way!”

LogicNinja: Mal, with his lightning-quick reactions, throws even as the Aborite does—but not quite fast enough to stop the man’s own throw. Nevertheless, his knife hurtles end over end, straightens out, and buries itself in the man’s neck.

Gnukrul: The man gurgles briefly, and then is quite dead.

View
An Unlikely Crew of Survivors: Critic's Reward
In which a heckler is run to ground and taken captive

Gnikrul: It is an unusually warm evening in Sidimegar, thankfully; it gets frightfully cold, even in this place which most Southmen consider separate from the dangerous, distasteful Lowlands almost in name only. Sef ibn Sherif walks through the streets, a winding tangle of the strange dour stone found here in the southern heights, all grays and blacks and even greens, nothing at all like the sandstone or packed dust found elsewhere. Ahead lies the estate of Bjordord Drukna, where Sef knows his companions’ performance should be nearing its resolution…

BlackRequiem: Sef ibn Sherif contemplatively runs his index finger through the curl of his beard and holds it, as he himself pauses, and scowls dismissively at the estate. With a hard swipe of his hand he corrects his askew facial hair and continues forward with an ominous chuckle.

Gnikrul: A chorus of cries blooms inside, becoming greatly louder for a moment as a door is flung open and a lithe, weathered looking Grakkor woman bolts out. Behind her you hear the voice of Malzen: “Leave her to me!” Seeing you watching the place, she darts off in another direction with a sneer, but you see fear in her eyes.

BlackRequiem: “I’ll take your eyes for such insults, hag.” Sef holds himself in a defensive posture but glares in her general direction.

LogicNinja: “She should never have insulted Malzen of Grakkor!” Mal thunders, stalking down from the stage with a flourish of knives, parting the crowd before him. “You will never see her again. Count her fortunate if you even find the body!” And with that, he reaches the doors, and breaks into a run, following the Grakkor woman. “—Sef?” he pauses. “Come on.”

Poru: Ash stares after Mal as he dashes out the door. With a look at Mieu, he turns and walks outside, not seeing much reason to exert himself when no reward is at the end.

BlackRequiem: “Murder is not something you exclaim to the world.” Sef follows indolently.

LogicNinja: Mal picks up speed. “I do. But who said anything about murder?”

BlackRequiem: Sef slows his pace and slumps his shoulders, “This is apart of your.. ‘game’?”

LogicNinja: “Nah. Well, we’ll see.”

Gnikrul: The Grakkor woman bolts from wall to wall, leaping heedless over beggars’ beds and a few merchant carts open late to take advantage of the warm dusk. She is running for her life, and is quite good at it… it soon becomes clear that this will be no easy chase.

BlackRequiem: “Keep up then. I don’t want to waste the whole night chasing a jade.” Sef picks up his pace and with lands and feet launches himself after her with dogged impetuousness.

Poru: Considering the pros and cons of helping Mal, Ash decides it might be better to stay on his good side and bounds after him. Sprinting as hard as he can, trying not to bump into too many people, he catches up to Mal calling out, “Why is she so important to you?”

Starsinger: Mieu smiles at the crowd and waves her hand as her bow transforms into a harp. She plays a few notes on the harp, a lovely little song. “And there you have it! Malzen of Grakkor chased after the unknown woman who had been hiding in the ruins, watching! Was she an accomplice of Murak? Was she another enemy of Malzen’s? That’s another story, be sure to catch the exciting conclusion, ‘Malzen of Grakkor and the Harpy of the Wastes!’ You’ve be

Starsinger: You’ve been a lovely audience.” Mieu curtseys before the crowd.

Gnikrul: The crowd, boiling in chaotic outrage and confusion, is checked before they tear themselves, and quite possibly the door frames, apart. Plenty still bolt outside, but enough are rendered unsure that a total traffic choke-hold is avoided.

Gnikrul: The weak-willed man who had just broken into tears seems almost pathetically relieved. “R-realy? It was all part of the p-plan… Oh my, how clever! I f-fell for it…” A scarved woman beside him looks unamused.

Starsinger: “You’ll have to forgive the actress playing the woman, she’s new to working with us, and quite frankly, her acting is dreadful.” LogicNinja: Rather than try to round a corner, Mal goes straight up the short wall the road bends around, boots somehow finding purchase in the cracked stone and carrying him up in a continuous spring. He spends a few moments running along the top, and then launches himself forward into a flip on top of a bunch of crates, turning it into a handspring that lands him on his feet on the road, still running after the woman.

Gnikrul: As Mal speeds off, a voice from a shaded window beside the crates: “What on Zulchar’s hoary hide was that!? get your iron, boy, I swear, this neighborhood….” ...it trails off behind him. LogicNinja: The next time the fleeing woman glances over her shoulder, Mal just isn’t there. He’s slipped into an alley, taking a slightly longer way around, counting on her pause and uncertainty as to his location to keep her guessing which way to go.

BlackRequiem: Sef doggedly pursues, malice in his eyes.

Gnikrul: As Ash squints into the distance focusing intently, he is whacked in the back by a swiftly opening door, stumbling forward. “Oh, sorry the… hey, are you the one who’se trompin on my berry crates!?”

Gnikrul: A curse escapes his lips, and Sef turns his head to check the perceived threat, slowing slightly…

Starsinger: Mieu listens for the inevitable sounds of panic and destruction that means her friends are nearby, hearing something that sounds like them, Mieu begins dashing off in that direction.

Poru: “Sorry,” Ash shouts back to the man, more concerned with staying out of trouble than truly feeling apologetic. Turning his focus back to the task at hand, Ash sees a clear path through the crowd. Dodging, ducking, jumping, and sprinting, Ash runs through the streets, finding every shortcut he can, gaining some ground on the woman.

LogicNinja: Mal emerges from the alley and springs at an angle, running up a wall to leap over a vendor’s small stand, and rushes sideways, disappearing behind the wall of a building—then emerges as the woman whirls, seeking to cut him off, instead heading right for her new destination.

Gnikrul: As Sef keeps his even, dogged pace, he turns a corner only to find a very slow wagon being drawn through a crossroads across his path by a sickly looking burro. It’s hard to tell if the driver is arguing more at his companion, or at the burro.

Gnikrul: Ash stops for just a tiny moment, then, knowing the way his prey is likely to go, dashes down a side alleyway… only to turn and find a very high wall; a dead end.

BlackRequiem: Sef slides in from behind, hand still ready to draw his weapon while the other bolts forward to compel an unearthly power; swirling motes of sand tendril from between the cracks in the city street to try and engulf her. “The sands take you to the House of Dust!”

LogicNinja: “You can’t get away,” Mal’s voice is harsh as he closes in on the Grakkor woman. “The whole town wants your head. Give in, come with me, and you’ll make it out alive. Refuse, and you’ll be shamed further in front of the whole town.”

Gnikrul: The woman draws a wicked looking bone sword, it’s edge glittering with shards of some opalescent material, wheeling on her pursuers… but when the sands constrict around her ankles and she sees Malzen’s threatening, almost feral confidence, she shrieks . “What… what ARE you people!”

Gnikrul: Dropping to her knees, her weapon rolls from her hand. “Why did I ever come to this town of devils! This is no place for Daltar, this is no place for the living!”

Gnikrul: A single tear drops to the dusty cobblestones.

LogicNinja: “Weren’t you listening?” Mal laces his fingers together, stretching his arms out, quite relaxed, then bends down to pick up the sword, giving it a couple of casual swings. “I’m Malzen of Grakkor. Starting to believe the stories yet? Come on, get up—we need to get out of sight, or you’re going to be hanged or worse.”

Poru: Hearing the shrieks, Ash turns away from the wall and hurries to catches up to the group. As he nears them, he is a little surprised to see Mal assisting the same lady he said he would have his revenge on, but by now he is used to seeing oddities from Mal.

BlackRequiem: “What madness has befallen this witch?” Sef lowers his aggressive posture and closes in to box her between himself and Mal.

Gnikrul: The woman sharply looks up again, the wounded pride returning to her face. “No! I know the way, I know your rules! Chase me to the ends of the earth, imprison me, but I am no fool! You will never have my permission!”

BlackRequiem: “Southrons..” Sef spits over his shoulder in mild disgust.

LogicNinja: “What kind of damned tribe raised you? We’re not asking your permission for anything. Right now I’m trying to get you out of this with your fucking head attached, but I’m about to give up. Last chance!” He tests the sword’s edge, then levels it at her. “Come quickly—or die slowly.”Ash:

BlackRequiem: Sef leans on one wall with his shoulder and watches disdainfully. “Kill her boy. We don’t need a hag with poxes of the mind in our company. Much less one of Their kind.”

Gnikrul: The woman smolders, but averts her gaze from Malzen back to the dusty stones. “Do as you will, devil. If I am a prisoner, then take me; if I am but livestock, kill me. My spirit is safe.”

Gnikrul: A flicker of spittle flies from her vehement lips, and she scowls at the moisture gone to ground.

BlackRequiem: “Savor it, witch. The sun will burn the water from your body before you next taste it on your lips.”

Gnikrul: She kneels in dejected silence, ready to meet her fate; the pose of one who fancies themself a martyr with no witnesses.

LogicNinja: “I’m no devil. Devils wish they were this good,” Mal smirks, lowering the blade. “All right, come along. Sef, Ash, figure we can get back to our things? Probably not, huh? I’ll take her out of town—get all our things and meet us there.”

BlackRequiem: “Perhaps you should not travel with such a fat purse next time, Grakkoran.” Sef turns and starts trotting back.

Poru: Getting tired of this pointless banter Ash walks over and picks the woman up. Throwing her over his shoulder he says to Mal, “I’m not that stealthy, why don’t you do that? I’ll leave a trail for you to follow outside the city. Meet me there when you get our things.”

LogicNinja: Mal plucks a shortsword from the woman’s belt. “Yeah, okay. Whatever would I do without you as the brains out of the outfit.”

Gnikrul: The woman lolls, dead weight, her eyes closed and her long, sloppily tied braids hanging. Over his shoulder, Ash can just barely hear her whispering something under her breath.

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An Unlikely Crew of Survivors: Performance In Sidimegar
In which a relation of previous heroism goes unappreciated by one

The following logs were taken from our in-character channel, edited of most timing, spelling, and syntax errors, and formatted. The historical event depicted in the play was actually ran, roughly parallel, as a standard combat encounter, and there are other checks being made behind the scenes to handle the audience and so forth, but the following is “fluff only,” as all logs posted here shall be.

Gnikrul: It was almost three years ago, now, that the four of you fled into the night, a hastily taken alliance of convenience, or rather of fugitives. Malzen of Grakkor and Mieunet might have had a predating and profitable arrangement, but none of you expected the other two to prove compatible with it.

Gnikrul: Yet, as you alternately raced for your lives and cleverly, patiently contorted your way out of the Pactground, an appreciation for each other’s unique skills began to bud.

Gnikrul: As you took shelter from the wrath of Birtule among the ruthless Grakkori tribes, it flowered, and with the death of Dar on the doomed trade voyage it reached its full.

Gnikrul: Now the old man out for righteous blood, the ancient and ageless trickster woman, the famed and decadent warrior, and the shrewd conqueror of a wretched youth have come to rely on each other when it counts…

Gnikrul: ...out of habit at the very least, and it has made their travels and ventures in the distant South easier, or at least more interesting.

Gnikrul: Recently you have arrived in Sidimegar, a great caravan destination and a sort of neutral territory; almost a little slice of the North, transplanted here in the cold and thin mountain air.

Gnikrul: Shortly after arriving, you have arranged with Bjordord Drukna, a middling officer of the massive and tangled trade guild that operates Sidimegar, to borrow the grounds of his estate for the performance of a retelling of a battle from the early days of Malzen and Mieunet’s wanderings.

Gnikrul: Malzen of Grakkor and Mieunet, of course, will play themselves. Sharif is off being his usual unsubtle self somewhere, and poor Ash’s job today is to play the villain, one Murak Kirull, with whom Malzen and Mieunet settled a bloody grudge in this old battle… or did they?

Starsinger: Mieu summons a bronze face mask (Grecian style) and holds it in front of her face as she narrates. “Our story begins with one Murak Kirull, a longtime thorn in our hero’s side. As our intrepid hero raced for the mythical ‘Chalice of Exuro’, a relic from the Blue Epoch, Murak Kirull smiled to himself in his lair, for being tortured on the rack was none other than Galen of Malkor, our heroine’s fiance! Murak made his conditions known. . .”

Starsinger: “In exchange for the Chalice, he would spare Galen’s life. Our plucky but naive heroine was all for the exchange, but our hero knew better, and refused to let her give the chalice to Murak. And so in the middle of the night she stole it, and ran off to Murak’s lair. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the tale of “Malzen of Grakkor and the Race for the Chalice of Exuro”!

LogicNinja: Malzen himself is seated right in the first row, taking up two seats, his boots kicked up onto the stage; he’s leaning back, a wide-brimmed hat pulled over his face. “Intrepid hero? Boo! You call that storytelling?” he heckles. All part of the show, at least until he’s properly up on stage.

Gnikrul: the audience, at first restless, soon settles into the entranced state you’ve long come to expect.

Starsinger: “If you think you can do better, you get on stage and do it!” Mieu calls out, also part of the act.

Gnikrul: A few nodding heads and guttural “yeah’s” – locals posturing for their women, most likely – sound from the audience, directed to Mal.

Poru: Ash stands towards the back of the room close to the door, ready to act if this show goes wrong… again.

LogicNinja: Mal claps his hands together, once, loudly, and then leans even further back, rolling his weight onto his shoulders and then flipping himself up onto the edge of the stage; from there he goes into a twisting handspring that lands him in a crouch, facing the audience. “Do I think I can do better?” He straightens, grabbing his hat and flicking into into the crowd.

LogicNinja: His blood-scarlet hair tumbles free, decorated with feathers and beads and bits of carved bone; for a moment he’s outlined in purple fire, which then spirals around him to erupt harmlessly in the air. “Of course I can do better! Am I not Malzen of Grakkor?” he roars, throwing his arms up and out, shifting seamlessly into the traditional Ada’bulug.

Gnikrul: The audience gasps, and half of them almost leap out of their seats or grope for weapons, but swiftly their astonishment turns to relieved exuberance, and hearty applause!

Starsinger: Still acting, Mieu exchanges the traditional smiling Grecian-style mask for one that looks to be a sarcastic smirk, “Oh, good, if you’re the real Malzen of Grakkor… then you can tell me what happened next.”

Poru: Ash sighs a little, almost like a parent watching their four-year-old’s antics.

LogicNinja: “I was killing sand giants before other men could pick up a blade! I walked weaponless into the Grey Waste and came out alive! I walked armorless into the lair of the Darkor Bandits and left none of them alive! I’ve slept with more women than the lot of you have fingers! I’ve left the wealthiest men in every city shaking with fear! I EAT LIGHTNING AND SHIT THUNDER! I DRINK BLOOD AND PISS DEATH! I am Malzen of Grakkor…”

LogicNinja: ...he whirls in Mieunet, “and I’ll tell you all what happened next! I wore out four camels getting to the ruins where Murak Kirull, may his soul still howl in the desert sandstorms, had laired up—and even then I barely got there in time to keep YOU from giving him the damned chalice!”

Starsinger: Mieu tosses the face mask aside (it disappears in a prestidigitation effect) and pulls out a lavish blue chalice studded with (fake) sapphires. She bends over some, with her hands on her knees, panting for breath. “Murak! I’m here you coward! I have the chalice, unleash Galen like you promised!”

Gnikrul: The audience hoots at Malzen’s crescendo, some still standing, then settles into attentive silence as the story unfolds.

LogicNinja: Mal, playing his part, whirls and takes a few long strides that put him at the far end of one side of the stage. His shadow twists and writhes behind him, doing a decent impression of a man on a collapsing camel.

Gnikrul: From his vantage point, Ash notices a Grakkori female lounging against the back wall with seemingly no interest at all in the events on stage, oddly enough.

Gnikrul: She looks… almost bored!?

Starsinger: Mieu snaps her fingers and an invisible orchestra begins to play

Poru: Ash puts on a smirk as the music begins to play. He slowly walks up to the stage, menacing at anyone foolish enough to stare for too long. “Well, Mieu, I admit, I’m impressed. I half expected you to be dead right now.” From the corner of his eye he notices Mal, “You. What are you doing here?” He says in a snarl.

Starsinger: Mieu spins around seeing Mal. “You can’t stop me! Galen’s life depends on this!”

Gnikrul: A frightened murmur ripples across the crowd when the music begins. A couple soft scraping noises are heard as blades are loosened is scabbards, and you see many heads turning to their neighbors, brows creased, but Mieu’s confident performance stops the budding riot in its tracks

LogicNinja: Mal springs forward, knives appearing in his hands without even a flourish to produce them, catching the light. “Murak Kirull! Did you really think I’d let you live?” A dagger whistles past Ash’s head, burying itself in the wall past the stage, and he turns to Mieu. “You fool! Do you really think he’d let him live?”

Starsinger: “Where is he, Murak? Where’s Galen?”

Poru: Ash doesn’t even flinch as the dagger flies past, “You’ll have to do better than that, Mal. Childish tricks don’t cut it anymore.” He turns to look over at Mieu, “He’s behind the wall. I must say, he’s different than when you last saw him.” Before she runs over, he grabs her arm, “The chalice first though.”

Starsinger: Mieu glares at Murak, her voice quavers as she speaks, “You bastard! Malzen was right, you were never going to return him. You want your chalice?”

Starsinger: Mieu throws the chalice into the air, twirls around, a longbow forming on the bracelet on her left wrist and she pulls the string back, an arrow shattering the chalice into a shower of blue glass. “There’s your chalice.”

LogicNinja: Mal leaps for the stage wall, actually taking two long strides across it before he pushes himself off, landing in a crouch near Ash and then springing straight, his blades coming up. “Damn you both, my treasure!” he roars, and leaps at Ash. Another knife has replaced the one he threw away, and the long daggers flash, coming in at three-quarters of combat speed, and in ways that are far more showy than combat-effective—exactly as he and Ash practiced, however briefly.

Poru: Dodging the daggers, Ash smirks, “Is that the best you can do? I’ve got a better one for you!” He yells as a bastard sword appears in his right hand. Gripping it with both hands, he takes a step forward, swinging it at Mieu.

Starsinger: Mieu twirls out of the way, “Hah! You swing with all the alacrity of a cow!”

LogicNinja: Mal sidesteps along with Ash’s movement, expertly, his knives coming up and out in a cross-parry, then moving it up and back down in an arc to his right, one of his knives now on top; a quick backhand swipe at the impractical level of Ash’s head forces him to duck, and then Mal comes across with a fierce side-kick that he pulls subtly short, shin tapping quite gently against Ash’s side—a signal to roll with it.

Poru: “Ha, I’m just toying with you. If I wanted you to be dead, you would be dead, you tramp.” Murak smirks.

Starsinger: Mieu turns the audience, a spotlight surrounding her for a moment, “What’s with these guys calling me a tramp?”

Gnikrul: The audience laughs dutifully, if a little nervously

Poru: Ash follows Mal’s cue and pops back up his sword at the ready. He turns his face away from the audience so as not to let his quick smile show at Mieu’s comment.

LogicNinja: Mal strides back in, daggers whirling through the air in front of him—it’s not something anyone but a rank amateur would try in a fight, but it does look good on stage. Metal clangs against metal in the traditional weapon-attacking-weapon display of stage combat, Mal leading the exchange, slowly turning Ash’s back towards Mieu…

Gnikrul: Near the back of the audience, money is changing hands. it seems there is nothing Sidimegarans won’t bet on.

Starsinger: Mieu jumps back and fires an arrow Murak, which explodes with a loud bang.

Gnikrul: The audience gasps and jumps at all the right moments. You’re all quite on your game today.

Poru: Ash takes back from Mal’s lunge clutching his side.

Poru: At the same time he tosses a vial of poison kept at his belt towards his two foes.

Starsinger: Mieu groggily fires her bow at at Murak, choking and coughing because of the toxins from the vial.

Starsinger: “What the hell…” Mieu stops to cough, “Poison…?”

LogicNinja: “He’s always been a poisonous bastard,” Mal snarls, in between showy exchanges of easily-parried blows with Ash. “Ever since we first met him in Birtule. But we know how that ended!”

Starsinger: Mieu looks at the audience again, “Now now, that is a story for another time.” and then she winks, before continuing the stage combat

Poru: Ash keeps up the parrying with Mal, allowing a blow to land every now and again.

LogicNinja: “What made you think you could come after us and live to tell the tale? Who told you that you were better than Malzen of Grakkor?!”

Poru: “Woah now. I think you were the one who came after me. Plus I have a gift for you.” With that, Ash tosses another vial of green-tinted water towards his “foes”.

LogicNinja: In marked contrast to the actual events of the past, Mal slips nimbly out of the way, snagging Ash’s wrist and tugging him along into a throw. “You came after us when you took our gold, killed our friends, and left us stranded in the Waste! We go way back, Murak, but it ends here!”

Gnikrul: The entire audience is entranced… except, apparently, for the Grakkori woman in the back. She yells, straining against the unfriendly (from her position) acoustics and the clanging of your reenactment: “You call that fighting!?” A few of those among the audience who fancy themselves cultured murmur, aghast at her rudeness.

LogicNinja: With a flourish, Mal steps in just as Ash is getting to his feet, knives rapping lightly against his temples—then makes a show of ‘slitting his throat’. “So ended Murak Kirull! And so end all who come up against Malzen of Grakkor!” he roars to the crowd, displaying his blades.

Starsinger: Mieu fires an arrow offstage, toward Ms. Opinionated Loudmouth

Gnikrul: ...who sneers at it distastefully through its entire flight.

LogicNinja: Mal raises a hand, gesturing sharply. “I call that a show! If it were fighting, I’d need to get a new friend to play every enemy!”

Gnikrul: More than a few audience members nod or agree, but the heckler woman is only emboldened by recognition. “You are a charlatan! You disgrace Ada’bulug with your bad form, your empty flourishes!”

Gnikrul: A mousy, nervous looking man leaps up, stammering at her: “W-w-why would you do this! Just leave her alone! We c-c-came all the way from…” and promptly breaks into tears. Those nearby him shrink back, horrified at his shameful display.

LogicNinja: “Empty? I AM MALZEN OF GRAKKOR!” Mal thunders, the darkfire corona flaring about him once again. “Where now is Mirak Kirull? Where are the Bandits of Darkor? Where is the Giant of the Grey Waste? Where is the favored son of House Kirill, their finest blademaster? My boasts are as full as their graves! Every word I speak has the essence of truth, and if you doubt it, come up and dance—if you’re not afraid to be shamed before one and all!”

Gnikrul: Despite herself, the heckler woman winces, and knows it showed. Like any proper Grakkor, though, showing weakness only makes her furious. She stumbles over her words for a moment, trying to accept your challenge, now as a way to save herself rather than tear you down.

Gnikrul: A nearby Szeren man goads her: “What’s the matter, now, dog? Afraid to be shown your place?”

Gnikrul: The heckler woman screeches in impotent rage and, in one swift motion, draws and promptly beheads him, then races for the exit!

Gnikrul: For a moment, they’re too stunned to react, but then the audience explodes in surprise, outrage, and horror.

LogicNinja: “STOP!” Mal roars. “Leave her to me!”

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Silent Hand: A Day in Gumurde
In which an unlooked for delay reveals some oddities

As the Silent Hand rides south after nightfall, an angry orange glow on the horizon heralds the coming of an ash storm that is in full force by the time they get to Gumurde. There they find a portly and distressed merchant outside the gates, the axle of his cart snapped. Serd takes pity on the poor fellow and the Hand assists him, curiously with no assistance from either of the surly guards at the gate, one of which Montblanc notices behaving somewhat suspiciously. The merchant and his load is safely moved inside the security of Gumurde’s wall and under the protection of her overarching canvas, just as a small group of well equipped riders emerge from the drifting ash, see the gate close, and inexplicably wheel away again.

Montblanc presses the suspicious guard, his initial queries being rebuffed in what he suspects is a tough-guy facade disguising fear. Eventually, he manages to annoy and/or frighten the guards, unfortunately without discovering much, dangerously close to the ‘thrown out of town’ point, at which point a hasty retreat is made to the realm of shopping and slumber, at the house of Kallagash Trum, where the pudgy merchant they helped earlier secures a discount for them by way of thanks. In the night, a man the Hand will later recognize as commander Hort Druknahk enters, but is stopped by Trum before he can speak, saying “I have guests” and directing him outside, where a low and lengthy conversation is incoherently heard.

In the morning, the Hand is awoken by the sounds of business below, and witnesses Trum stonewall an argumentative pair of customers. Outside, the storm still rages. Some more inquiry and mischief directed to the seemingly ubiquitous Mirkul guards reveals more strange behavior but no answers; even just a little trickery on the part of Montblanc sends them into and alert and confused state.

Eventually, the Hand happens to meet Captain Ydrill Il-Rohta De Zeuri, who takes an immediate liking to them and all but forces them to sit down, drink, and tell tales with him in a nearby laborer’s house of whom he is a guest. This goes on for some time, and it is discovered that his ship Bosuurm is berthed below Gumurde, and that he plans to leave as soon as the weather clears.

Eventually, a commotion is heard outside, and the Hand exits to find the town under attack! Flaming arrows arc from above and burn through the canvas coverings protecting Gumurde from the storm, and the guards and the Hand mobilize to repel horsemen… but the Captain vaults the wall and charges in alone! Serd and Torr go to join him as Arden covers them from the wall, but the horsemen avoid engaging anyone and wheel to retreat. Arden notes that he was the only one who actually hit anything; the guards all seem to have been incapable of firing straight through the whirling drifts.

A few hours spent fighting fires and dealing with the captain, and the storm has cleared. Commander Druknahk is seen bellowing many orders and sending runners off to make reports, and thanks the Hand for their assistance before they board Bosuurm.

For days they sail south on the great skip, passing the time with the Captain. The Ashen Sea grows calmer, and several skips are seen heading north, presumably held out on the deeper ashes by the weather… finally, roughly a day from the end of the trade route, they spot a northbound skip, well off the trade route, matching descriptions of the Prosperous, the very object of their mission! Persuading Captain De Zeuri to alter course in case she is adrift, they find she only turns away, seemingly not wanting to be met. The Captain, still ignorant of the true goal of the Silent Hand, elects to leave well enough alone and continue south, and the Hand watches its goal slip away.

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Silent Hand: Venturing Forth
In which a mission is gained and a con goes poorly

The campaign opens in the early evening, exactly five years from the date of the Silent Hand’s first founding. As is their custom on this day, they are meeting briefly at a safehouse clinging to the lower edge of Birtule to discuss and celebrate another year of continued survival. The air today, however, is tense and awkward as their most recent mission investigating rumors of a recently found and untouched vault in an ancient city turned up nothing and almost killed them, and they haven’t heard from Gurtok Illminos since… until now.

He interrupts them with an urgent assignment; a Birtulan ashkskip called Prosperous, captained by a Tiduuni lieutenant called Brontu Hymoro is a week late for its berthing at Gumurde on the northern end of the trade route crossing the Ashen Sea south from Birtule, and none of those coming north report having passed him or any wreckage along the way. Nor have there been heavy storms recently; Illminos fears Hymoro, his company, and any merchants that may have been with them are all likely lost. In fact, though he confides his contact for the following is less than trustworthy, he has reports of a vessel similar to Hymoro’s ashskip near a mysterious concentration of Szeren and Grakkor tribesmen that have been inexplicably gathering on the edge of the Ashen Sea.

Should it become widely known that one of Birtule’s three great ashskips, which have been city property operated by whichever House has enough power to hold them since time immemorial, has been lost in the hands of a Tiduuni captain, it would not go well for the House. Any of the other Houses would jump at the chance to disgrace them with it and make their own grab for power. Illminos, therefore, charges the Silent Hand with finding Prosperous, determining what happened to her crew and her captain, and returning her to Tiduuni hands before the scandal breaks to the public at large.

They elects to leave immediately, to take as much advantage of the rapidly approaching dusk as possible, before the freezing night (or the next scorching day) sets in. After retrieving mounts, they set out on the southern trade road, but before sunset they find a large crowd of merchants and other travelers of the road, watching and betting on two House warriors dueling. They stop to watch, or in the case of Ardan, to pickpocket. Montblanc speaks with a wily bookie, and though he isn’t sure precisely how, determines that the man means to con him, and resolves to turn the tables. After a bit of maneuvering, Montblanc spooks the bookie and he flees carrying a rather large number of other people’s bets.

In the inevitable confusion as the crowd mobilizes to chase him, the duel is concluded, the victor successfully predicted by Torr, and a number of robed figures burst from the sand in a loose perimeter at a certain spectator’s whistle. A chase and chaotic scuffle ensues; the bookie is killed, along with two of the Szeren desert-men who emerged from the ground, but the money and three others promptly disappear into the nearby sand-filled and dammed up Canal. The final Szeren is captured, unconscious, attempting to steal Serd’s camel. The Hand decides that sticking around to investigate or interrogate would attract enough attention to endanger the mission, and they make a quick getaway, heading further into the south and the night.

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