Arcanis: Gonnes, Sons, and Treasure Runs (COMPLETED) - Page 29
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    Adventus Regis - Part 17b: The Senator’s Box

    THE KING: The Phantom of Truth shall be laid. The scalloped tatters of the King must hide Yhtill forever.

    --The King in Yellow: Act Two
    Sebastian backed out of the room as quickly as he could. It had seen him. He wasn’t sure how, but the unnatural thing’s eyeballs had turned to focus on him. He suppressed a chill.

    Colia Thalna, the tall beautiful courtesan, strode out of the chamber. “Where are you hiding?” she snarled.

    Dulius Decula, a fat man dressed in a fine toga, followed behind her. Both had wavy-bladed knives out.

    But there was no sanctuary for Sebastian. On the other side of the stands was another of the massive beasts, an insane amalgamation of vermin, corpse, and reptile. It slithered and snapped, first at Cal, then at Beldin.

    Bijoux whirled her sling overhead, but Cal put out his arm. “Back!” he hissed. “Too dangerous!”

    Ilmarė sang, firing arrows into the thing even as she mouthed each note. “O môr henion i dhû.” She sang of the darkness, and how she understood the night.

    Colia, witnessing the combat, closed her eyes and lifted her arms. “Iä! Iä! Hastur!” she chanted.

    Ilmarė’s head snapped around to look at the new threat. Colia’s words were guttural, awful, offensive. It didn’t seem possible that the sounds could come from within a human form.

    “Ely siriar, êl síla.” Ilmarė sang of dreams, and shining stars.

    Colia chanted louder. “Hastur cf’ayak ‘vulgtmm, vulgtmm, vulgtmm! Ai!”

    “Ai! Aníron Aldebaran.” sang Ilmarė. She spoke of the desire for the star to return.

    “Ai! Hastur!” Colia chanted back.

    “Stop that blasphemy! Osalian take your breath for speaking such words,” said Ilmarė. “Dîn!”

    And suddenly, Colia couldn’t say anything at all.

    Sebastian panicked as he realized Dulius was looking right at him. He charged, knife raised, even though no sound came out of his mouth. It was all he could do to draw his own dagger. They struggled in silence.

    Dulius slashed downwards, tearing Sebastian’s robes. He twisted away from the fat man and blindly stabbed outwards. He felt something warm splash on him as Dulius recoiled. Sebastian’s panicked strike had found its mark, but the man was so fat that it barely penetrated.

    A huge maw bit downwards, tearing the seats apart in great stone chunks. Beldin rolled to the side and struck at the outstretched head.

    But it was too fast. A paw batted at Cal, snapping him sideways into the arena. Then another pinned Beldin between its claws. Only the space between the seats saved him from being crushed to death.

    It reared back its head, preparing to chew Beldin’s head off.

    There was a loud CRACK!

    Then the thing collapsed, rolling over and over until it flopped, dead, into the arena.

    Ilmarė looked from Bijoux to the monster’s corpse in shock. “Did you do that?”

    “Duck!” said Bijoux. Ilmarė ducked.

    Dulius stood over Sebastian, both hands on the hilt of his blade, poised for the final blow. A red blot appeared on his forehead as Bijoux’s second sling stone found its mark. His fat corpse fell on top of Sebastian.

    “Remind me never to piss you off,” Ilmarė said to Bijoux.

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    Adventus Regis - Part 17c: The Senator’s Box

    ALL: No! No, no!

    THE KING: And as for thee, we tell thee this; it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living god.


    --The King in Yellow: Act Two
    Kham landed with a thud. The wind was knocked out of him from the blow, but he was still alive, and that was something.

    He looked up from the dirt to see Livius Carbo staring back at him. Between them lay a book emblazoned with the Yellow Sign.

    They both dove for it. Livius grabbed it first and kept running.

    “Oh no you don’t!” shouted Kham, rising to his feet to pursue. But the winged thing landed between them. Kham lost sight of Livius after that.

    Cal landed next on his feet next to Kham in the arena. The great head of the beast snaked back and forth, choosing a target.

    “Hey!” shouted Kham. “Over here you big ugly bastard!”

    “But Kham--” began Cal.

    “I’ll keep it distracted!” said Kham. “Kill that thing in the senator’s box.” When Cal didn’t move, he shouted again. “Go!”

    Kham’s command spurred Cal into action. He bounded across the arena and hurled himself towards the balcony. The Ss’ressen’s powerful legs propelled him halfway up the arena wall. He dug in his powerful claws and climbed, scaling it foot by foot.

    Cal cleared the rim. He scrambled up into the senator’s box, axe in hand. There was nothing there but a drippy corpse.

    The liquid eyes turned to focus on him. As their gazes locked, Cal’s mind recoiled in horror…

    Suddenly, he was engulfed in darkness. It was only when Cal felt the King envelop him in his cold soft grasp that he cried out and struggled with deadly fury, but his hands were useless. Cal felt as if he had been struck full in the face. Then, as he fell, Cal heard Kham’s cry and even while falling he longed to follow him, for he knew that the King in Yellow had opened his tattered mantle and there was only Yig to cry now.

    Cal collapsed into the arena, unmoving. Behind him, Kham raised seared eyes to the fathomless glare of the King.

    And then Kham saw the black stars hanging in the heavens, and the wet winds from the Lake of Hali chilled his face. And then, far away, over leagues of tossing cloud-waves, he saw the moon dripping with spray; and beyond, the towers of Carcosa rose behind the moon.

    Then Kham heard the voice, rising, swelling, thundering through the flaring light, and as he fell, the radiance increased, increased, poured over him in waves of flame. Then he sank into the depths, and he heard the King in Yellow whispering to his soul:

    "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living god!"

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    Adventus Regis - Part 17d: The Senator’s Box

    THE KING: YOU thank ME? I am the living god! Bethink thyself, priest. There is a price, I have not as yet stated the half of it.

    --The King in Yellow: Act Two
    Things were getting desperate. Cal had fallen from the ledge of the senator’s box onto his back, unmoving. Kham had collapsed next to him. And the beast in the arena advanced.

    Ilmarė touched the amulet at her throat. She loathed using it, but it was their last chance. It was a thing of rage. She prayed to Osalian that she would not lose her mind as Kham did to Fleshripper.

    The amulet pulsed around her throat and her limbs felt fantastically strong. She drew her bow again. The first to die would be the whore.

    Ilmarė turned and fired two arrows with lightning speed into the silenced Colia. She fell without a sound.

    Then she turned to the thing in arena. Arrow after arrow flew from her bow. It turned and hissed, leaping into the air to close the distance.

    But Ilmarė’s rage was unabated. Her arm drew arrow after arrow and each time Ilmarė fired, she found her mark. Before the thing could scrabble onto the seats, six arrows jutted from its face. It screeched and fell backwards, collapsing onto its dead brother. Then it too, lay still.

    She whirled, another arrow knocked, aimed at Beldin’s head. Someone was shouting something.

    “Ilmarė!” said Sebastian. “Stop! It’s us!”

    “Forever shalt thou contend for mastery and strive in bitter blood,” said a voice in her head.

    “No!” shouted Ilmarė. She threw her bow to the ground.

    Just then, the first rays of the sun pierced the leaden sky. The Aldebaran star sank below the horizon. The corpse that was once the prefect Octavius turned into a thick oozing and foul-smelling slime. And just as quickly as he had come, the King in Yellow returned to Carcosa.

    Bijoux came up from the depths of the arena with a boy in her arms. “I found Emric,” she said. “And forty-one other children.”

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    Adventus Regis - Conclusion

    CHILD: I am not the Prologue, nor the Afterword; call me the Prototaph. My role is this: to tell you it is now too late to close the book or quit the theatre. You already thought you should have done so earlier, but you stayed. How harmless it all is! No definite principles are involved, no doctrines promulgated in these pristine pages, no convictions outraged…but the blow has fallen, and now it is too late.

    --The King in Yellow: Act Two
    “Some of the children were returned to their families,” said Quintus, standing with his battle standard in full regalia. “There are many orphans.”

    “What about the rest?” asked Sebastian. “Some of the citizens ran off into the hills.”

    Quintus nodded. “My legion is cleaning up the area. We’ll be hunting down roving bands of murderers and lunatics for weeks.”

    Beldin looked out at the smoking ruin that was once the town. “There’s almost nothing left.”

    “And that’s how it will stay,” said Quintus. “We have orders that Vestalanium is to never be rebuilt.”

    Behind him, they could see soldiers knocking down structures with hooked fire poles. Other soldiers heaped piles of timber. But it wasn’t just timber. Arms and hands jutted from beneath the pile as well.

    Ilmarė stood and held herself, staring at the wreckage that had been a town hours before.

    Quintus took a hesitant step towards her. “I must apologize. I had no idea…”

    “How could you know?” she said. “The Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign was planning this for weeks.”

    Quintus put one hand on Ilmarė’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there,” he said softly. “For you.” He turned to look at the others. “What of the rest of you?”

    “We will survive,” Sebastian said with a weak smile. “The politics of Solanos Mor seem a lot more appealing these days.” Beldin grunted in agreement.

    “I like Freeport better,” said Cal.

    “What of Emric val’Ossan?” asked Quintus.

    “Emric saw things that would snap a child’s mind like a twig,” said Bijoux. “But he grew up under…different circumstances. He is resilient. He will survive. The others were not all so lucky.”

    “I have my own unfinished business,” said Quintus. “Gaius Phillipus was my friend. He abandoned his duties at a time when Vestalanium needed him most.” His eyes narrowed with smoldering rage. “I’m going to personally bring him to justice.”

    “You’re quiet, Kham,” said Sebastian.

    Kham took another swig from yet another bottle of wine. “I’ll get over it,” he said in a voice hoarse from screaming. He threw the bottle into yet another pile of debris. “There’s just one thing that bugs me.”

    “What’s that?” asked Quintus.

    “Livius Carbo was once a great playwright. He escaped on the back of one of those things.”

    “We’ll find him,” Quintus said confidently.

    “Sure you will,” said Kham. “But he was taking notes from that…thing in the senator’s box. What was he writing?”

    “We did find this,” said Quintus. He unrolled a piece of parchment from his belt pouch and held it up.

    It read: “The King in Yellow.”

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    Chapter 18: Grains of Sand - Introduction

    This is the second hard point in year 2 of the Living Arcanis campaign, written by Brian Schoner and (loosely) set in the Arcanis setting. You can read more about Arcanis at http://www.onaraonline.org. Please note: This adventure contains spoilers!

    Our cast of characters includes:

    · Dungeon Master: Robert Taylor (http://www.storyboardz.net)
    · Beldin Soulforge (dwarf fighter) played by Joe Lalumia
    · Ilmarė Galen (elf bard/fighter) played by Amber Tresca
    · Kham Val’Abebi(val rogue/psychic warrior) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
    · Vlad Martell (human fighter) played by Matt Hammer
    · Quintus Aurelius Ignatius (human cleric) played by Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)

    Grains of Sand is one of those adventures where if you make an innocent mistake like say, chase one set of bad guys instead of waiting for hours for another set to show up, you can really botch the adventure. Fortunately, Rob’s a great DM and knows when to kick us in the butt to keep the action moving. He also confined the action to one room, keeping the adventure from bogging down into a slow dungeon crawl.

    The group has come a long way since the early adventures. Now, Ilmarė fires arrows with the intent of disrupting spellcasters, Quintus memorizes spells to assist his companions, and Kham actually uses a feint tactic to sneak attack with his pistols. They’re all starting to act like a mid-level party (levels range from 4 through 7) and our tactics are beginning to gel. Nevertheless, Quintus soundly got whupped when the Big Nasty Thing From Beyond Space showed up.

    This is another adventure that I moved out of the order of play (we played it after finishing the Freeport trilogy) for two reasons: it makes a great introduction for Jarel the Encali dwarf and also gets Quintus his farmland. Additionally, the last time we saw Quintus, he was tortured for three weeks by cultists of the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign. That kind of treatment will change a man, and it’s here that we see Quintus begin to have a change of heart about his allegiance to the Empire.

    To say that, “Quintus nearly bought the farm” is a terrible pun, but it’s quite accurate too. Not his proudest moment, but Quintus has other things on his mind besides killing for once. He’s thinking about settling down, and a farm seems like a great way to start. If he ever survives the legion, that is.

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    Grains of Sand - Prologue

    Coryan’s cities were too often places of intrigue and danger, where the poor were oppressed while the wealthy play their deadly games of power with one another. It was rare, and thus welcome, to find a city in the great Empire in which the citizens seemed to be at peace with one another. Manteii, nestled at the eastern edge of the forest known as the Golden Boughs of Saluwe, seemed to be just such a city.

    Quintus and Ilmarė walked along its pleasant streets, beneath the shade of trees whose leave were showing their autumn colors.

    “You seem fond of this place,” said the elorii, looking at her human companion sideways.

    Quintus nodded. “If a man were to retire in Coryan, he could do far worse than this pleasant and peaceful place.”

    They had come to Manteii for the popular harvest festival. After several days of wonderful food, excellent wine, and extremely pleasant hospitality, the festival had more than lived up to its reputation.

    “Why Quintus,” said Ilmarė with mock surprise, “you surely can’t be contemplating retirement so soon in your career?”

    “I never said that,” Quintus said quickly. “But recent experiences have made me think about the future.” His rigid legionnaire’s posture sagged a bit. “Besides, it’s not that soon in my career. I have not advanced in the legion’s ranks for some time.”

    “That’s no fault of yours,” said Ilmarė. “If it weren’t for Flavius’ constant machinations against you, you’d be High General by now.”

    Quintus snorted. “Nevertheless, I must be realistic. I had dreams of a farm once. A place I could call home.”

    Ilmarė stopped in front of a villa. “Taking on more mercenary work for Gratian val’Holryn seems like an odd way to achieve that dream,” she said.

    “Don’t be so sure,” said Quintus. “If all goes well, I will send for you and the others back at the Bounty of Saluwe.” And with that, he walked into the atrium of val’Holryn’s villa.

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    Grains of Sand - Part 1: Setting the Trap

    At last, a servant escorted Quintus to a small meeting room off the atrium, where he was provided with flavorful wine and fresh, delicious apples. The legionnaire seated himself on one of the many pillows scattered throughout the room.

    After a few moments, a pale, blond-haired val of perhaps fifty years limped into the room. He seemed healthy enough, but one foot was bent at an odd angle as he walked.

    “Don’t get up,” he said as he slowly lowered himself onto one of the pillows. “I am Gratian val’Holryn.” He poured a small glass of wine for himself, looking Quintus over as he did so. “I’m not certain how much you know about the situation here.”

    “I know that several caravans of grain and other foodstuffs, bound for Abessios, have been attacked and their cargos stolen,” said Quintus. “But not much more than that.”

    “Over the past two weeks, three grains caravans were robbed on the road east of Manteii, on the edge of the Forsaken Wastes. Apparently, a group of hobgoblins—or possibly orcs, the survivors aren’t entirely sure—ambushed the caravans and demanded the wagons and their cargo as tribute.”

    “That cannot be allowed to continue,” said Quintus. “You were wise to contact me.”

    “That is not the only reason I contacted you,” said Gratian. “You have a reputation for…circumventing government bureaucracy. You’ve finished tasks that entire legions took months to complete.”

    Quintus’ brow furrowed. “Go on.”

    “Legionnaires from governor val’Dellenov in Panari are on their way. But in the meantime, I need someone who can find out where the wagons and grain are being taken. The legionnaires can handle the problem at its source once they arrive.”

    “I find it hard to believe hobgoblins could take on a well-armed caravan,” said Quintus.

    “The first caravan was very lightly guarded, since the road was historically very safe. The hobgoblins had archers up on ridges to either side of the caravan, plus a few individuals on foot in front of the lead wagons. The workers were outnumbered and surprised, so they surrendered their cargo without a fight, and thankfully no one was injured.”

    “And the second caravan?”

    “As the caravan members were walking back to Manteii, they encountered my caravan and warned them about the attack. They didn’t return for more guards, since my caravan master though the hobgoblins wouldn’t mount a second attack so soon.” Graitan’s faced twisted into a grimace. “He paid for his error with his life. He tried to make a break for it in the lead wagon, and was shot full of arrows for his trouble. The rest of the caravan surrendered in short order. That brings me to another reason why you were recommended for this mission.”

    “Recommended?” asked Quintus.

    Gratian ordered his servants out of the room. As the door closed, his face grew serious. “I have ties to a certain organization, one which I believe you support as well.” He folded back a part of his toga to reveal a small pin in the shape of a hawk perched upon a shield. “In addition to the grain, the second caravan contained several important items that were being delivered to a Sanctorum in Abessios. That is why Otho, the caravan master, died in the second ambush; he was trying to ensure that the delivery made it through, whatever the cost.”

    “And this delivery is…”

    “I cannot say,” said Gratian. “There is a hidden compartment bolted to the bottom of one of the wagons, the one with the hubs of its wheels painted blue.” He pulled a key from a chain around his neck and handed it to Quintus. “This key will unlock the compartment. Inside is a small, sealed box. Do not, under any circumstances, break the seal or open the box.”

    Quintus stood up. “I will retrieve this item for the Sanctorum. I swear upon it.”

    “I knew you would,” said Gratian with a slight smile. “I have a few items here that should help you recover the box safely. He handed Quintus a potion. “This will render you invisible and also difficult to hear. It will last roughly half an hour, so use the time wisely. And in case you are spotted, I also have this.”

    Gratian pulled out a small copper medallion on a leather thong. When he placed it around his neck, it instantly became a necklace of brilliant gold, with three golden spheres hanging from it. “If you detach one of these spheres and hurl it, it will explode into a ball of fire wherever it lands. The smaller two should do enough damage to kill most hobgoblins, while the larger one is significantly more powerful.” Gratian removed the necklace, which immediately reverted to its plain appearance, and handed it to Quintus.

    Quintus took the necklace. “Now in return, I must ask something of you.”

    “I’ve pooled my resources with the other affected merchants,” said Gratian, anticipating his question. “We’ll give you each fifty imperials just to begin the investigation. If you can find out where the wagons have been taken, it’s worth a hundred more apiece. We can also loan you horses if you don’t have any.”

    “I’m sure my companions will take the gold,” said Quintus. “But I do not seek treasure. I wish to own land.”

    “Ah,” said Gratian. “Farmland.”

    Quintus nodded.

    ”That will take some doing. The Five Families do not easily let those into their ranks, Quintus. They’ve been managing the grain trade for generations on behalf of the val’Dellenovs. Any house that solves this problem will certainly look good.”

    Quintus’ steadfast gaze did not waiver. After a moment, Gratian sighed. “I will do my best, but I can make no guarantees. Discovering the source of the problem will certainly go a long way towards securing a grant of land in any case.”

    Quintus shook his hand. “Then we have a deal,” he said.

    “I have assembled a decoy caravan, a small number of wagons carrying sacks full of sawdust rather than grain,” said Gratian. “It will be leaving town tomorrow morning, and I expect that the caravan will be robbed as the others have been. I have instructed my employees to surrender without a fight. Follow the caravan at a discreet distance and see where the hobgoblins take the grain after capturing it. Then return here and report to me.”

    Gratian struggled again to his feet, and this time Quintus rose at the same time. He escorted Quintus to the door, where a servant was waiting to user him out.

    “Just out of my own curiosity,” said Gratian, “why farmland, exactly?”

    “I’ve my own crops to grow,” said Quintus.

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    Grains of Sand - Part 2: Caravan Duty

    The predawn air was crisp as they find their way to the eastern gate of Manteii, where the caravan was forming up for travel. A dozen or so large wagons, drawn by four draft horses each, were laden with sacks of “grain.”

    Vlad had switched to studded leather instead of his usual plate, a concession to the brutal heat of the Forsaken Wastes. “They look nervous,” he said.

    In sharp contrast to the smiling faces they saw elsewhere in Manteii, the men and women of the caravan appeared grim.

    “Certainly understandable,” said Beldin. Most of the caravan members wore some sort of makeshift armor and many carried weapons. All of their equipment looked as if it’d been in an attic for decades.

    A balding, pale-faced man wearing worn leather walked down the row of wagons, tossing fresh handfuls of grain into the back of each one.

    ”What are you doing?” asked Ilmarė.

    “Masks the smell of sawdust,” said Varus, the caravan master. He dusted his hand off before offering it to Quintus to shake. “I hope this plan of Master Gratian’s works. I’ve seen what those hobgoblins can do to a man when they have a mind to, and I wouldn’t want to see what happens if they figure out they’ve been tricked.”

    Quintus offered little comfort. His eyes were scanning past him. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “Where’s Kham?”

    A swaying figure answered Quintus’ question. “Oh, hi guysh,” said Kham.

    “Kham,” said Quintus, “are you ready to go?”

    “Ready for what?” asked Kham. He looked around in confusion.

    “You didn’t get my note? I left it at the inn.”

    Beldin slapped his forehead. “Drunk again.”

    “The Bounty of Shaluwe?” asked Kham. “Oh, I haven’t been back there shince yeshterday. The grain wine they’ve got here ish the besht!”

    “Figures,” said Ilmarė. “We’ve got an extra horse for you, but I suppose you won’t be needing it.”

    Kham drunkenly waved off the sentiment, gesturing in the wrong direction. “Oh, no, no, no. I’m fine. Here, shee? I can ride a horshe…” He stumbled up onto the mount. After the third try, he managed to drape himself over the saddle.

    Varus tried to not look at Kham, but ended up staring at him the entire time he conversed with Quintus. “I’ll give you a signal when we start getting near the area where we were ambushed the last time. I’ll take my hat off and fan myself with it; how does that sound?”

    Quintus nodded. “That will do. We’ll stay back far enough so we shouldn’t be easily spotted, but close enough to keep you in view.”

    “I sure hope this works,” said Varus. He looked away from Kham.

    Kham looked up from his saddle, his bloodshot eyes concealed by his lenses. “Don’t worry, we’re professhionalsh.” Then he sank back into unconsciousness as the caravan left the safety of Manteii.

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    Grains of Sand - Part 3: Well, It’s About Time…

    By the third day of travel, the green hills of Balantica had given way to the rocky badlands of Abessios. The Forsaken Wastes were a pale blanket to the north of the road and the constant hot wind blowing from that direction was gritty with sand and heavy with the smell of salt. The road wound among weathered rock formations and through rugged valleys.

    “Perfect terrain for an ambush,” said Vlad.

    Ilmarė shielded her eyes. “Varus agrees with you. He just gave the signal.”

    “Get ready,” said Quintus.

    About ten minutes later, the caravan ground to a halt. They couldn’t see anything beyond the caravan due to the wagons and the dust, but a loud voice echoed back down the canyon, shouting in broken Low Coryani. “You stop! This Salt Devil land. You no bring wagons here! We keep wagons and horses. You leave or you die!”

    “So articulate,” said Ilmarė.

    As he spoke, a multitude of hobgoblin archers appeared on the ridges to either side of the caravan. There were perhaps two-dozen hobgoblins on each ridge, each with an arrow nocked and ready to fire.

    Kham lifted his pistols, one in each hand. “So…what are we waiting for?”

    The caravan workers began to get down from their wagons.

    “We have to follow where they take the caravan,” said Quintus. “So long as they do not harm them, we can afford to wait.”

    The caravan workers left the wagons and started walking back towards Manteii, unmolested by the hobgoblins. Then the entire caravan disappeared in a globe of blackness.

    “Whoa,” said Vlad. “Maybe we should investigate.”

    Quintus put one hand out. “Hold.”

    Led by the hobgoblins, the caravan slowly rode out of the canyon and into the Forsaken Wastes.

    “Now we follow,” said Quintus.

    Ilmarė’s companions didn’t notice her grimace as she clucked her mount further into the boundaries of the Wastes.

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    Grains of Sand - Part 4a: The Road to Nowhere

    As the caravan workers made their slow way back to Manteii on foot, they turned northwards, away from the road and into the Forsaken Wastes. It was clear how the land got its name: the ground was baked dry where it was not covered with sand, and no hint of grass or water was visible anywhere.

    “Feel like we’ve been traveling through a sea of long-dried tears,” said Kham, wiping his brow.

    The smell of salt hung heavy in the air. It was not the fresh smell of the ocean, but a stale tang that mixed with the sand and the oppressive heat.

    “That’s because you haven’t been keeping yourself hydrated,” said Quintus. “Legionnaires traverse terrain a thousand times worse than this every day.”

    “Which is why I’m not a legionnaire,” said Kham. He dabbed at his forehead again. “All we’ve been looking at for days is hills and sand, sand and hills. I say we just kill the hobgoblins and be done with it.”

    “The hobgoblins seem to have a clear destination in mind,” said Beldin.

    They had set a brisk pace across the Wastes. Despite the rough terrain, they were following a route that was sufficiently wide, flat and level for the horses and wagons to travel without undue difficulty.

    “Even the hobgoblins have better sense than us.” Khan nodded towards Beldin, who wore studded leather armor like Vlad. “They know when to get out of their armor.”

    Once they were out of sight of the road, the hobgoblins made a brief stop to take off their armor, an understandable decision given the broiling heat of the Wastes.

    “Ilmarė,” said Quintus, “you’ve been quiet. Are you all right?”

    Ilmarė’s features were pale and drawn. “It’s not the heat. It’s this place.”

    “This place?” asked Vlad.

    Kham had a handkerchief over his head, but it did little good. “This is where our gods killed their gods.” He licked his crusted lips. “But don’t be fooled…it’s the heat.”

    Then Ilmarė slipped off of her mount to the ground.

    “Ilmarė!” shouted Quintus. He nearly leaped off his mount to be at her side. Fortunately, she had landed on the soft sand. “She’s not sweating,” he said, panic in his voice.

    “Get away from me,” whispered Ilmarė. She pushed weakly at him with open palms.

    “You don’t know what you’re saying,” said Quintus. “You’re suffering from heatstroke.”

    “I will not…” she shivered as if a cold wind had blown through her, even though she was in the midst of stifling heat, “be healed by a false god…on sacred land…”

    Quintus put his hands on her forehead and whispered a prayer. The flush from Ilmarė’s cheeks dissipated and her breathing steadied. She closed her eyes.

    “She will survive,” said Quintus with a sigh of relief.

    “How about me?” asked Kham. “My god won the battle here and I still feel like my brain is on fire.” He took another swig from his wineskin.

    “That’s because you’re dehydrated,” said Quintus. “Stop drinking wine!”

    “This isn’t wine,” said Kham, “it’s…oh wait, it is wine. It’s so weak it tastes like water to me.”

    “Fine,” said Quintus. “Let Illiir decide.” He put both hands up in Kham’s direction and whispered another prayer.

    Kham blinked. “I don’t feel any different.”

    “Then Illiir, for reasons I will never understand, sees fit to keep your drunken carcass alive for another day.” Quintus lifted Ilmarė back onto her mount and strapped her feet into the stirrups. She was barely conscious, but aware enough that she could sit upright. “You should be grateful.”

    “Grateful?” said Kham with a sneer. “Althares gifts us with knowledge. If Illiir was such a merciful god, you’d think he’d dim the sun a bit.”

    Quintus chuckled. With a shake of his head, he led Ilmarė’s mount on foot.

    “What’s so funny?” asked Vlad.

    “Quintus is laughing,” said Beldin, “because Illiir IS the sun.”

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