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?”
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.
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.”
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: 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: 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.
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.