Wednesday, 10th October, 2012, 10:00 PM #11
Dashki and Mahjub have all but entirely wandered the perimeter and found little evidence so far. As they do so, Dashki looks over to the party talking to everyone in camp. He grimaces.
"Looking for someone to blame. How do we even know the fire was set? That idiot burned a hundred candles in his wagon."
"Yes, that would certainly be unworthy of all this fuss, wouldn't it?" Mahjub agrees, following Dashki's gaze back toward camp. "Am I crazy, or is that old fellow giving us the stink eye?"
Dashki growls, and Mahjub can't help but notice its more animal than man. "They blame me. I had nothing to do with that fire. The fool probably just got unlucky. We're in gnoll country. I wouldn't be surprised if it was pugwampis."
"Pugwampis? I'm afraid i've never heard of those," Mahjub confesses. "Who or what are they?"
"Critters that crawled up from the darklands below the earth. 'Jackal Rats' we call 'em. They worship gnolls as gods and infest their communities like rats. Wherever pugwampis go, bad luck follows. The gnolls hate them because of it. They try to kill them all the time, but the they always come back. Probably their bad luck caused the fortune-man's candles to start the fire."
"We're that close to gnollish settlements that we would be affected?"
"We're close enough that one or two may have wandered over here to start mischief."
"So the bad luck associated with pugwampis has more to do with their mischievous ways than something more magical or karmic?" Mahjub asks. "I would be comforted to know that there's a tangible solution to whatever problems they cause."
"Killing them does the trick either way," Dashki says.
"You've yet to share your suspicions with our employer, yes?" Mahjub asks, motioning toward camp. "Should we tell her, or let them all investigate each other until the sun rises?"
Dashki suddenly looks terrified. "No. I haven't told her."
He looks about to say more as Garavel walks out of the tent, obviously looking for the party. He motions toward those that he can see to enter the tent.
"My friend, you look as though you've gone white as a sheet," Mahjub observes, looking over his shoulder as the others begin to walk toward the tent. "Is there something wrong, Dashki?"
"I am... I may be... a bit too fond of her."
A small smile crosses Mahjub's face. "That's all? Dashki, you had me worried! And who could blame you, she's a striking woman to be sure."
Dashki's face goes deep red and looks away.
"It isn't acceptable. You should go. They're calling your friends in."
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Gerber looks for a smaller receptacle he can pour himself a drink with to take with him to the tent.
Mahjub hangs back with Dashki as the others walk into the tent. Most are taken aback by the opulence inside compared to the rest of the camp, although Abud seems to already be enjoying the comfy pillows in front of the table as Jadid and Gerber wander in.
"Is that all of them?"
"The rest are coming." Garavel tries to get Mahjub's attention.
"Well, to start. What do you all think?" Almah addresses those in the tent already. "Was it arson?"
"No one I spoke to saw anything,” Jadid says. “Suspicions were aired, but they were based on no facts to speak of. I wish to ask you a question about the dead mystic. Do you believe his powers were real, or was he an entertainer?"
"I wouldn't have bothered to hire him on if I didn't think his visions had merit,” Almah says. “So yes, I believed he had the sight."
"Then we must take into account that perhaps the fire was also of supernatural nature."
Almah nods after a time. "How do you mean? I confess it would make this all easier if we could say it was that."
"Although not as comforting for the camp, it must be said," Garavel says.
"They all seemed to think your dirty friend had something to do with it," Gerber pipes in between gulps.
Almah looks at Gerber with some distaste, as Garavel translates for her.
"Do you think they have reason to?" she asks as Garavel translates.
"Couldn't say for sure," the knight answers.
"We'll speak later, my friend," Mahjub assures Dashki, turning to walk toward the tent.
He finally enters, catching most of what has been said. "Unless the injured or deceased were gnolls in secret, I highly doubt Dashki had anything to do with the fire."
"So everyone thinks he does, but you say he doesn't. Why is that now?"
"For one thing, because he's an easy target," Mahjub answers. "He's dirty, he smells, and lacks in many of the social graces we all take for granted. Who better to blame? I know something of being misjudged as refuse, did a single person in this caravan not point the finger at the foul scented one they'd all rather do without? I think we both know Dashki would never intentionally do anything to displease you, mistress," he says pointedly.
Almah looks befuddled by the comment and looks toward Garavel, who clears his throat and looks away.
"Ah," Mahjub says simply as he smiles, looking from Almah to Garavel, and back again. "Awkward."
"From what I understand, the deceased went through candles like this one goes through alcohol," Mahjub says, thumbing sideways toward the lush knight. "Unless anyone actually saw how the fire started, I'd say it was an unfortunate accident and nothing more."
"So you're saying it was merely bad luck? I don't if simply that is enough to assuage our concerns."
"Quite frankly, mystical fires and bad luck aside- I would prefer tangible evidence. There isn't any speculation as to what could have caused this?"
"Along with Dashki's detailed knowledge of gnolls, he mentioned some variety of creature known as pugwampis, or 'Jackal Rats' as they may be known," Mahjub begins. "They apparently worship the gnolls as gods, though the gnolls would rather have nothing to do with them. The pugwampis infest their communities like rats, so much so that the gnolls frequently try to kill them, but the they always come back. It is said that wherever pugwampis go, bad luck follows. Dashki suspected, seeing as how this is gnoll territory, that it wouldn't be unheard of for a few pugwampi to enter camp to start some mischief."
Jadid interjects. "And when I say we must consider magical causes, I say it because no one saw anything to speak of. Not your loyal, alert guardsmen, not your talkative animal-handlers, no one. Perhaps it is these jackal rats, perhaps the mystic dabbled too deeply in powerful forces; I mean only to say I do not believe a member of your camp lit his wagon on fire without notice."
Almah nods at Jadid's clarification and considers Mahjub.
"Has anyone else ever heard of these creatures?"
After a moment, it's obvious no one has.
"It is possible, Almah-Haanim, that Dashki may be lying," Garavel offers.
"It is possible," she muses. "But if my expert is correct, the hills around here should be crawling with them, or at least some sign of their passage. It should be easy for Dashki to find one and bring it back to me."
"But the others may not believe him," Garavel says.
"No," she agrees. "As he is suspected in this affair, rightly or wrongly," she nods toward Mahjub, "it would not do to send him out into the darkness alone."
"So I'm afraid this is not yet finished. I want you all to go out into the desert with Dashki and find me one of these pugwampis."
Abud bows deeply and his hand touches his heart, mouth and forehead. "We hear and obey, mistress."
Jadid nods. "Well I see no use in waiting further."
Dima says nothing in the corner. Chasing jackal rats? hardly what she came out here for. She sighs internally as Abud commits them all to a wild Bustard chase, and follows as they leave the tent.
Gerber empties his cup with a sigh and sticks his head outside the tent to toss the cup back to the mercenaries before pulling back in.
"I'm ready." It's not clear he understands where the group is going or what they're doing.
"We are to collect jackal rats for her. They may have started the fire." Jadid says in Imperial.
Gerber frowns, closing his eyes and nodding. "That's about the only thing I'm suited for these days, I suppose."
The night is dark and eerily silent as the six walk out toward beyond the edge of the camp. Strange sound bristle in the night.
They come upon Dashki kneeling down on the ground, pawing at it and snuffling. "Small tracks. Seems there's a goat as well. See here? It's been led-"
Dashki turns and sees the whole group assembled behind him. His hand goes to his scimitar and he growls.
"Don't be foolish,” Jadid says. “Almah sent us to find the creatures with you."
"I'm not a fool!" Dashki snaps at Jadid.
"Yes, yes, yes...” Abud says. “Pugwampis....little devils messing up things...can you track them?"
"Yes I CAN track them,” Dashki spits. “There's goat hoof-prints here. And they were pulled. See the smaller tracks next to it?"
Indeed, in the dim light from the camp's torches, the party can see obvious animal tracks leading away from the camp.
"It goes into the night. We'll need light. Unless any of you can see in the dark," Dashki sneers.
"Did you set the fire back there?" Gerber asks Dashki.
"What is he babbling about?" Dashki cocks a thumb at the northern knight.
Gerber sees the confusion on the man's face and tries again in broken Uraqi. "The burnings of you did place, did not you?"
Dashki's face darkens. "No! I had nothing to do with the fire you stupid foreign swine. A thousand d*cks in your religion!"
"Khara beek, muti!" Gerber tries to swear back. Unsuccessfully.
"Enough,” Jadid snorts. “Who has a light?"
Meanwhile, Dima looks down to see her familiar has finally made an appearance, a lizard clamped firmly between its teeth.
"Kashif, you clever little fox!" she coos quietly to him while everyone else argues, scratching lightly at the ruff of his neck in praise. Then she looks back to to the tracks. Kashif, smell, sniff! Can you follow these?
Kashif paws at the ground and sniffs experimentally. Stinks. This way. The desert fox bounds off into the night.
"Let their prejudices and offenses roll off your back Dashki,” Mahjub says. “The important thing is that you've been given a task by Almah herself, one she will be pleased to have fulfilled," Mahjub says with a smile and a wink. "A pugwampi she wants, and a pugwampi we shall deliver to her. As to your earlier question, I am able to see in low light conditions. I assume it would be in our favor to approach pugwampis in darkness, yes?"
"They can see in the dark better than any of us," Dashki says, darting an angry look toward Gerber. "But it could help. I can't see in the dark," Dashki says sullenly.
"Hrm," Mahjub emits. "Well, we need you to track them Dashki, it's as simple as that. Light it is."
"When you're all ready..." Dima interrupts from a short distance away in the darkness, "... the trail leads this way." She walks off following her fennec.
Stay close my friend. The stink might be something nasty.
After fifteen minutes or so, Dima suddenly crouches to let Kashif run back to her arms and up to her shoulders.
"Gentlemen, I believe the goat is very close by, and something has my familiar a little nervous. Perhaps our pugwampis?"
My brave little Kashif, well done! Could you smell many?
Kashif rubs his nose against Dima. Goat stink. Sharpy plants
"Pugwampis," Abu’l the imam snorts. "Ignorant peasant superstition, meant to cover up for the thieving ways of nomad children."
Jadid grunts. "Oh, yes, invisible creatures of light who created us all, that is easy to believe. But creatures you can actually see, oh, they must not exist."
"I can see unruly children just fine."
"The rest of us cannot see,” Jadid waves to the darkness ahead of them. “At some point, that might be to our disadvantage. And I would wonder what children you saw at the camp that no one else did. Was it a gift from your imaginary benefactor?"
Dima sighs loudly this time in obvious irritation. She detaches her hooded lantern from her pack, makes sure the oil is full, and lights it. "Something small made those tracks around the goat. And they didn't look like human footprints. You want to stop bickering and get on with it?"
The desert night is quiet as the group tramps through, feeling almost unbearably loud given the silence. Occasionally, there is a rustle and Dima's lamp whirls toward the source of the sound- only to see a nocturnal desert lizard scurrying under a cactus or a jack rabbit hurtling away as Kashif darts after it. The backs of everyone's necks are prickly and their shoulders are tense for seemingly no reason, as if they expect the worst. The pesh cactuses begin to cluster together as they walk and Kashif leads them down the trail the fox has found.
A cry pierces the night.
"Ouch!" Gerber yelps. "Damned cactii."
"Careful moving forward," Mahjub advises, seeing beyond the light of the lamp. "The cactii will become more dense and cluster together in a large field ahead."
As the party progresses toward the sound, they see Mahjub is right. The local cacti grow more and more dense, until they quickly find themselves at the edge of a dense thicket of the prickly plants.
The cry has now turned into a frantic bleating, coming from somewhere deep within the cacti.
“"No go yet," Mahjub tells Gerber in broken Imperial. "Cactus, lots."
"Any suggestions on how to proceed, Dashki?" Mahjub asks. "Do the pugwampis choose fields such as this for protection?"
Dashki nods. "Plenty of cacti to trip and fall onto."
The bleating turns into full-fledged brays of fear as Dima's lantern sweeps the cactus field.
"What about traps? Because this is looking an awful lot like one," Mahjub observes. "I see the goat bleeding and tethered, but nothing else."
Dima nods in agreement. "I did not realise that pugwampis could be so devious."
"Speak up if you can detect traps," Abud asks the party.
"I can find them given the chance, yes," Mahjub replies over his shoulder to Abud.
"Blessed be!" Abud says happily. "Would you please use your most magnificent trapfinding abilities to see if the way to the goat is really trapped?"
"This is a trap," Gerber unwittingly repeats. "There's a goat tied up out there."
Dashki ponders the situation for a moment. "They can't really think that far ahead. They're hardly intelligent. Not much better than vermin. If anything, they likely may have just brought the goat out to torture it for a while and listen to it scream."
"They were fully capable of setting up a fire as a diversion." Dima muses. "Unless there is an as-yet-unseen agency at work behind that, and they were merely opportunistic." She sweeps the field and the goat again with the lantern. "And I still haven't seen one of the little beggars yet!”
"They exist!" Dashki snaps. "And they don't have to set fires. The fire just happened because they were there."
"Either way, we're here for the pugwampis, not the goat," Mahjub says simply. "If the pugwampis wished to listen to it scream, they must be nearby. I see no reason to carve a path straight to the tortured animal, that may send them scurrying to places we cannot reach."
Dashki shrugs. "Doesn't mater to me if that idiot loses his pet. But if it keeps screaming like that it's going to bring worse down on us than pugwampis. We should kill it," Dashki offers.
"A goat is not just a pet to the desert herders!" Dima replies crossly. "We are here because Almah wants a pugwampi to determine proof of the cause of the fire, but if I can save the goat in the bargain, I will."
Dashki rolls his eyes. "After you my lady," he mock bows and sweeps his hands across the cactus field.
Dima looks across the cactus field fretfully, then turns to Mahjub. "Can you find any traps?"
"Going in there will likely send them scurrying, yes?" Mahjub asks Dashki. "If we enter the field, i'd suggest the others spread out along the outskirts to try and catch any pugwampis that may run."
"They'd likely try to stay hidden rather than run and attract attention,” Dashki says. “Once you hurt the cowards, they won't do anything but run."
Mahjub sighs. "Stay here Dima, i'll get your bloody goat. If I see any pugwampis, i'll try to scare them into the rest of you. Spread out, everyone. Someone tell..." he trails off, pointing at Gerber, "whatever."
Mahjub begins to pick his way though the cacti. They're so densely packed it's hard to find any straight path through the field at all, and he is forced to weave and take a twisting route.
Mahjub's skilled agility manages to get himself through. But for some reason, he finds himself tripping on rocks he hasn't noticed and getting his clothes caught on spines he hadn't accounted for. At one point, he was sure he found a good way through, only to have a dry wind blow grit in his face and he falls backward onto a cactus with a curse as the spines pierce his backside.
Still, the skilled rogue manages to work his way through. Mahjub emerges on a thin strip of open land at the edge of a fifteen-foot wide ravine. A casual glance down the edge reveals a huge, multi-armed and wickedly barbed cactus dominating the ground ten feet below the ledge. This is almost directly below where Rombard has been lazily tied to a scrub brush. Rombard is effectively hysterical now, braying and pulling frantically at the rope around his neck. The goat is covered in cactus quills and bleeding as it twists and runs as much as it's tied neck will allow.
"Easy Rombard, easy..." Mahjub says, trying to calm the frantic goat down, though not very hopeful considering how hurt it is. Mahjub tries to soothe the goat as he looks around. He sees nothing aside from the cracked earth and cacti.
Rombard, however, is hysterical. For a moment, it appears that Mahjub has managed to calm the goat. Then, Mahjub trips over a rock and elbows the poor goat in the face. Rombard begins braying again and scampers around Mahjub. His legs get tied up in the rope and Mahjub curses as he is barely able to squirm his way out. He nearly trips over into the ravine but his reflexes just manage to pull him back. Although, Mahjub gets the sneaking suspicion he shouldn't have even been that close.
"Bad luck indeed," Mahjub mutters, panting. Cursing himself, he draws his dagger to cut the rope so he can try to pick up Rombard from it's least prickly area and bring it back to the others. Pugwampis be damned, he wasn't about to be the victim of supernatural clumsiness.
The imam draws his sword and begins hacking at cacti, attempting to clear a wider path in. "Do not watch him die. Draw your weapons and come to his aid, if you are men."
Gerber follows the imam's lead, hacking through the thick cacti.
Mahjub moves toward the rope as Rombard cries and scampers around. Mahjub begins to slice, but suddenly his hands are sweaty and his dagger drops to the ground. As he bends to pick it up Rombard almost rams into him, tangling his legs up again. Mahjub curses again as he nearly pitches into the ravine but he manages to right himself.
Mahjub then changes tactics, and decides that staying still and doing nothing while the others work their way to him is the best course of action for avoiding whatever bad luck has infected the area. He sits still, retrieves his dagger, and does nothing but speak soothing words to the goat to calm it down.
Mahjub sits as the goat bleats and screams pretty much inches from his face. The rogue sits miserably as the goat slavers and does little else but wrap Mahjub further in the rope as it scampers around. Even sitting down, at one point he's almost dragged off the ledge by the goat and it's only his grabbing the prickly scrub brush that keeps him from going over.
Meanwhile, Gerber and Abu'l start the long, laborious process of cutting down cacti. It takes a while. The sap gets their armor and clothes sticky and their hands are covered in sweet sap. Even with their hacking, Gerber actually drops his sword once. While bending down to retrieve it he headbutts a cactus and comes up with spines sticking out of his forehead.
Abu'l fares far worse. His scimitar clangs painfully against the cacti more than once. Dropping his sword and holy symbol and tripping most of the way, Abu'l is covered in spines and his clothes are torn.
Blissfully, after perhaps ten minutes of hacking, the two find themselves in the same clearing as Mahjub. Mahjub is all but tied-up and covered in goat slobber. Gerber and Abu'l are covered in sap and bleeding from spine punctures.
Dashki looks over to the others that have (apparently wisely) chosen to stay back. "Bad luck."
God, I forgot how much fun it was to torture the PC's with that bad luck aura... They lose their damn minds quite quickly...
"Horticulture, strategic use of terrain and perhaps a bit of magic," the imam says, carefully unwrapping Mahjub.
"I'm starting to understand why the gnolls favor killing these creatures," Mahjub says ruefully as he is unbound, scanning the cactus field for pugwampis. "If infested with them, I imagine it would be enough to drive one mad."
"None of you were nearly this clumsy before,” Jadid says. “Something supernatural is here; and I do not believe it to be 'mischievous children.'"
The goat brays at Abu'l frantically. The imam tries to untie Mahjub, but finds his hands keep slipping on the ropes with all the sap.
Gerber walks over and tries to pet the goat. Rombard cries and bounds around, terrified. He kicks Gerber straight in the chest and the former knight stumbles back. His eyes widen as he trips on his sword and Mahjub and Abu'l watch open mouthed as he pitches over into the ravine. There's a crunch and Abu'l rushes to look over the edge. Gerber has landed right on the massive cactus at the bottom, his body bleeding from the wicked barbs that have seemingly found it's way past every crevice in his armor.
"AAAAAAAAGH! LOTHIAN!” Gerber screams in frustration as much as pain as he rights himself off the enormous cactus.
Still standing outside and watching the proceedings, Jadid says, "Kill the goat. It is in misery and causing us harm."
"We're as likely to do unintentional harm to each other as kill the goat as long as the pugwampis are near," Mahjub calls back, frustrated.
"Do we have clean rope long enough to lower someone down and wrap the rest around two people as anchors above? This situation will not improve with time." the imam Abu’l says. He frowns, stroking his beard. "I wonder, though. This is all very convenient. Do the pugwampis have the ability to weave an illusion of this size?"
"They don't need to obviously," Dashki says, unable to entirely wipe the smirk off his face at Gerber's misfortune.
Gerber walks a little further down the ravine so he won't fall on the cactus again if he drops from being hoisted. Meanwhile, Jadid and Mahjub continue their discussion. "I understand your concern, but I see no reason to keep one more moving variable around." Jadid begins walking around the "forest" and looking for creatures.
"You come in here and kill it then, see how it goes," Mahjub mutters.
“All you all right white one?” Jadid shouts down to Gerber.
"I can walk! I can climb! I can even sing and dance. Just throw me a f*cking rope."
Jadid grunts a small laugh. "The white one is fine."
"I've no idea if these creatures understand what we say," Mahjub calls to Abud in Elven. "If anyone has any ranged capabilities that may frighten them away, I believe now would be an appropriate time to use them."
"The field is tainted, that much I can tell with certainty." Abud says as he takes out his rope. "I feel our chances as adventurers will improve if we return with the goat *and* the knight than with none."
Jadid snorts. "And introduce yet another moving variable? Throw the goat to me and I will end it."
"Spoken like someone who hasn't tripped, fallen, got tangled, or knocked down by doing what should've been the simplest of tasks," Mahjub says, trying to untangle himself. "If I pick that goat up it'll probably sh*t down my throat and I'll die of fecal poisoning, or something equally as ridiculous."
"Use your bare hands, then. They are always your most effective weapon."
"I'm so glad I left the city..." Mahjub gripes sarcastically, reaching for the scrub brush to pull it out of the ground. "There, now it's up to chance. If it wants to fall off the cliff, have at it. I am not choking a goat."
The imam sighs and creates two loops, putting one around his waist and offering the other to Mahjub, then he tosses the far end to the loud and clumsy foreigner.
Mahjub uproots the scrub brush. Gerber grabs the end of the rope just as Rombard brays and bolts. Mahjub curses as the rope wraps around his legs and he falls prone to the ground with a thud as Rombard strains against the sudden weight. The rope jerks out of Gerber's hand as the goat takes the rope and Gerber also fails to even get a few feet up. Abu'l sighs.
"Fools!” Jadid shouts. “Kill it before it kills you!"
"Kill the gods damned goat!" Gerber screams.
"We should give that goat an armor and have it fight for us.,” Abud muses. “Armies would tremble at its approach."
Dima closes her eyes, grimacing, and nods. "This whole field is cursed. Poor Rombard, I am sorry."
Mahjub barely has time to reply to the chorus of screaming voices. He hears a shrill yell of outrage come from next to him. From seemingly nowhere behind a rock, something leaps up. As if the world's most revolting lapdog had somehow learned to walk on its back legs, the sickly canine creature screams as its milky white eyes look at Mahjub. It yelps with murderous intent and Mahjub quickly grabs his dagger to defend himself.
It promptly snaps in half.
((God.. I forgot how much fun it was to watch the PC's utterly lose their sh*t with that unluck aura. It was glorious. Kudos Kudos to the writer of these unpleasant beasties.))
Everyone turns at the sound and sees Mahjub facing off against the vile lapdog. The creature shrieks as it pulls a small bow and nocks an arrow at Mahjub's face, screaming all the while.
Mahjub quickly tries to dart sideways and slips out his sap, surging forward to brain the pugwampi. Mahjub's sap comes up ready to strike the creature, but it's then that Rombard bleats and tugs once at the rope and it just manages to catch Mahjub's arm at the wrong time. His sap comes down on empty air.
Abud takes aim with his crossbow and fires at the pugwampi. The bolt comes nowhere near the creature, and he isn't really sure he can blame that on bad luck so much as not being a very good shot. Dima spreads her hand and small shards of frozen water shoot out from her fingers. However, it sprays the ground by the pugwampi and not the creature itself.
Jadid purses his lips and starts moving, takeing his time working through the cactus patch. Even though he can feel himself slipping where he knows he wouldn't normally slip, his training keeps him upright.
The imam simply sighs and braces himself to keep the foreigner swinging back and forth at the other end of the rope from ending back on the cactus. Abu'l holds the rope as Gerber, hearing the battle, tries to scramble up. His foot comes down on a loose rock that he could have sworn wasn't there before, and he nearly falls back down. He manages to barely right himself and climb up over the ravine to see the battle before him.
The creature snarls and shoots straight at Mahjub's head. The rouge twists out of the way and the tiny arrow sinks into the ground just missing. The pugwampi shrieks and begins to cavort around Mahjub, babbling and nocking another arrow. Rombard bleats and brays hysterically as it drags the scrub brush behind him, nearly reaching the cactus patch.
"We were going to capture you," Mahjub murmurs to the pugwampi in Gnollish, assuming it understands the language of those they worship. "Now we're just going to kill you!" Mahjub takes another swing with his sap. Mahjub's sap looks like it's about to hit, but dust gets in his eyes for no reason and he ends up missing by a mile instead. Although the tiny creature doesn't look terribly steady on its feet much longer after what Mahjub said. The creature, milky eyes already looking around in fear at Mahjub's threat, fires another tiny arrow- but it comes nowhere near Mahjub.
Abud's crossbow bolt sails over everyone's heads into the ravine. Likewise, Abu'l draws his scimitar to attack, but strangely, it gets hung up as he pulls it out of the scabbard and he ends up missing by a mile. Dima's ice shards fare little better as it sinks into the ground and quickly melts, but Jadid finally works his way through the cactus patch to the melee, managing to keep from slipping on any spines.
Gerber draws his longsword and looks about to cleave the thing in two, but Rombard picks that time to dart in front of the former knight. Just that split second of hesitation makes Gerber miss the dancing imp.
Dima decides to stop wasting her energy and just hold the lantern steady so everybody can see what's going on, which helps as Jadid rushes over and his sinewy arms wrap around the small creature. It squeals and twists, but Jadid's training makes little work of it. With Gerber helping by blocking it in with the shield it's even easier.
Or it would have. Suddenly, the creature finds a wet sappy portion of Jadid's arm. It squirms out and yips in triumph as it bounds up off Jadid's head and passes gas in his face.
Cackling gleefully, the pugwampi turns right into Mahjub's sap. It's face crumples and its eyes roll back as it falls to the ground, even though Mahjub swears the blow didn't do as much damage as it should have.
Gerber impatiently scoops the thing up by its neck and begins trodding back the way the he came through the cactus.
"Let's get the hell out of here," he says.
"Tie it up," Mahjub says, untangling himself from the rope and giving it a tug to bring Rombard closer. "We're lucky we even managed to touch it, I don't want to risk losing it, especially in the hands of a drunkard."
It takes some effort to communicate what is needed, but Dashki smugly ties the filthy pugwampiup as Gerber hold its limp, stinking body up. Now getting a closer look, the party can see the imp is dressed in crude rags, in addition to have a rusty dagger and tiny little bow with tiny little arrows carelessly stuffed down the back of its shorts. Also stuffed down its shorts are singed and burnt harrow cards similar to what was found in the astrologer's wagon.
Rombard is vastly easier to calm now that its torturer is gone. Despite this, the walk home finds everyone tripping over exposed roots and stubbing their toes on rocks that seemingly sprung from nowhere or getting sand or grit blown in their eyes.
The party's return to the camp is greeted by tears of joy from the camel drivers as Rombard appears, followed by gasps of shock and disgust from them and everyone else as they see what it is they are carrying.
In short time, Garavel and Almah emerge from their tent. "Is this it?" she asks.
"That is it, and I believe you'll find some incriminating evidence on its person," Mahjub replies. "I don't know what you plan to do with it, but I would advise keeping it away from the camp and bound at all times. The aura of bad luck the pugwampis possess, that Dashki warned us about," he says with a nod and solemn smile to the other man, "is no myth. It took damn near all of us just to lay a hand on the little bugger."
"That aura almost caused the goat to nearly kill him." Abud points sympathetically at Gerber.
"Frankly, I see no reason to keep it alive,” Jadid says. “I doubt it's . . .aura would continue."
There's a cry from outside as one of the mercenaries slips in camel dung.
"I agree completely," Almah replies to Jadid. "There's no reason to keep it here if its presence will cause similar problems."
Almah nods toward Garavel. The major domo draws a long knife from under the folds of his robes and walks toward Gerber. He looks perturbed as it nearly slips from his hands.
"<i>May I?</i>" he asks in Imperial, holding his hand our toward the unconscious pugwampi. "<i>She desires we would kill the beast to avoid similar mishaps.</i>"
Gerber tosses the thing on the ground to avoid accidentally being cut with Garavel's knife.
"Wait," the imam says. "The creature uses weapons and tools. It can reason. Let us inquire of it who sent it, and why it burnt the wagon. It retained a card as proof. This thing did not act of its own accord. If there was more to this than simple mischief, we have not seen the end of this. A wise man looks to the horizon, and not just the sand in front of his feet."
"All due respect Holy Learned One, I will not allow this thing to live when it could easily ruin months of preparation and planning simply by walking by us. There's too much at stake to do otherwise,” Almah says cooly. “However, if you wish to question it for a time, you may. Just as long as it dies immediately after. I will not have this thing near us."
"Is there one among us who is learned in foreign tongues?" Abu’l asks.
"It seemed to understand the language of the gnolls," Mahjub answers, recalling the pugwampi's reaction to his threat during the battle. "It would stand to reason that they speak or at least understand the language of those they worship, wouldn't you say, Dashki?" he asks as he turns to the other man, trying to include him in the conversation.
Mahjub can't seem to find Dashki inside the tent at all. However, his voice hesitantly comes from outside. "yes," he says.
After a while, it's obvious Dashki isn't planning on offering any more. Almah turns to Mahjub. "Well then, start your questions. Is don't want this thing living any longer than needed."
"I propose those interested in what this thing has to say take it somewhere less . . .delicate than this tent. I, for one, will not be joining you," Jadid says.
"Well, well, fair mistress....we shall take care of this dreadful business with due haste." Abud motions for anyone to follow him. "Come on, let's interrogate this rat at the edge of the camp. It's also a good place to dig a deep grave for it."
Mahjub half smiles and exits the tent, moving to follow those that wish to speak to the pugwampi, but not before he speaks to their reluctant gnoll expert. "Dashki," he says, finding him lurking near the tent. "What's the matter with you? I was in there trying to get Almah to see you in a whole new light, but you she couldn't see you at all because you were nowhere in sight!" he whispers. "I didn't mean for that rhyme..."
Color floods to Dashki's cheeks. "It isn't possible!" he hisses.
Dashki stands from his kneeling position outside the tent and grabs his scimitar as the others walk out. "Go talk to your stupid pugwampi," he says as he walks away. "Just give me the body when you're done."
As some of the group takes the pugwampi away, Jadid finds a place in camp near the mercenaries where he exercises and drills his technique. Gerber, too, heads back to the mercenaries to see if there is any drink left. He has no interest in questioning the pugwampi.
The mercenaries welcome Gerber back eagerly and hand him what little of the alcohol is left. One mercenary nearly falls into the fire as the pugwampi is taken out of camp. The rest mutter darkly. The knight watches as a few of the mercenaries good naturedly rib Jadid as he practices his forms in mid air. "Looks like dancing!" one laughs. "Practicing for your next career?"
Jadid continues but speaks in between moves. "The Temple of the Sand Snake . . .teaches the ultimate form of combat. You . . .rely on weapons, armor. I am . . .weapon and armor."
Gerber frowns and nods at Jadid in a sign of respect.
"ooooOOOOoooooo!" some of the mercenaries say to each other, causing peals of laughter.
"I could probably take you without anything. You're about as thick as my arm," says one of the quiet female mercenaries.
"Haw! Iman is turned on I think," snarks one of the male mercenaries. The man gets punched in the face in response, causing more laughter. Jadid simply stares at the woman.
The mercenaries laugh as Iman strips off her armor. A few coins get thrown on the ground. A cart door opens up and Father Zafir looks out with some annoyance. Almah's personal guard stay around her tent, although most seem to be watching this event unfold. The two camel drivers begin to talk hurriedly.
One of the mercenaries quizically nudges the increasingly drunk Gerber. "Good, yes?" he motions toward Jadid.
"We'll see, won't we?"
The mercenary seems to take whatever Gerber said as a positive and enthusiastically throws down some coin himself onto the pile, talking extremely quickly to his fellows.
Jadid bows at Iman, arms folded. He then stretches his arms out and tries to grapple her. As he does so, the monk just manages to see the sucker punch coming. He tries to take the arm into his hold, but she just manages to twist out of the way. Iman lands a solid blow to Jadid's side.
"Yes, he's quite tough isn't he?" she laughs as the other mercenaries roar in approval and throw down more coin.
Gerber sits up to watch closer and, notably, leaves his drink where it sits.
"Fast. Good." Jadid goes for her nearest limb.
Iman laughs as she dances around Jadid. "Usually, the word 'fast' isn't good when talking about men."
She lunges and Jadid shoves an elbow into her face so hard her head snaps back. She stumbles backward as Jadid whirls behind her and ALMOST slips into Jadid's hold, but either by luck or simply by being extremely loose-limbed after the blow she slips out of the hold.
Iman shakes her head grogily and stumbles around, suddenly taking this very seriously.
"Pay attention," Jadid says, lunging.
Gerber stands, watching very intently.
She seems to take this to heart. Jadid's next punch connects, but not nearly as well as the first. Iman growls as Jadid gets behind her again, but again- she manages to slip out of his grasp.
The mercenaries roar in satisfaction as they clap their hands and egg the combat on.
Jadid watches her eyes. "You leave too much open." He tries to grab onto a leg.
"You'll be opened!" she growls as she dives.
Jadid gives another massive elbow to the stomach, doubling her over. This time, Jadid twists around in the sand and twists her leg underneath his own pinning her, although she barely seems conscious after the elbow shot.
"Your leg, soft here." Jadid twists.
Jadid twists and Iman cries out once before her eyes roll back in her head. She slumps over and Jadid tosses the unconscious mercenary to the ground.
After gently putting her on the ground, Jadid looks up. "Not dancing. Combat. I will help see to her healing. She is very good."
There's a roar of approval as the mercenaries exchange coin and laughter. One of them, however, is more annoyed than anything.
"All right," says the larger one who seems to be the leader. "Lets see if you're good enough to take on a real man."
Sorry for the absence people. I was in a mild accident that kept me away for a bit. But now, ON WITH THE SHOW!
Abu'l, Mahjub, and Abud take the pugwampi just outside of camp, causing a stream of curses and dark looks as the creature's bad luck aura causes stubbed toes and trips the entire time.
The three walk to the craggy branches of the Sultan's Claw just as the pugwampi's eyes begin to flicker. Its eyes open and wakes with a start.
It begins screaming, frantically tugging at the ropes tying it and yipping hysterically. It's so loud everyone in the camp can hear it.
"Stop screaming, or you we will kill you," Mahjub threatens in Gnollish. "Answer our questions and there is a chance you will be set free. Do you understand?"
As Mahjub growls, he stares into the pugwampi's eyes.
His pants rip straight down the backside.
There's a long silence for a moment as the pugwampi shakes. It starts laughing hysterically as Mahjub looks behind him to see his rear exposed for pretty much everyone to see.
"Ah, my friend. That was not wise....We are trying to help you not be buried by sand and anger..."
Abud stares into the pugwampi's eyes and the little lapdog's eyes go glassy.
"Back at the camp they want you dead and buried,” Abud says in a monotone voice. “We may be able to change their minds if you're useful. Help us help you."
The pugwampi is still giggling as Abud begins to speak in his monotone. The imp's milky eyes widen and as Mahjub adjusts his pants, he notices that the pugwampi's jaw has gone a little slack as Abud’s spell goes into effect.
"Talk to us, little friend. Why did you take the goat? Anyone told you to set fire to a wagon?" "
The pugwampi stares at the half-elf as it squeaks out a response.
"Saw goat and happy people with it. Wanted to hurt goat make people unhappy. Laugh and laugh and maybe give skull to big gods."
"No one told. Out at night look for food. Got cold. Saw old man in wagon with little fires and went in through window. Little fire came big fire. Man went to get out but door not open. Laugh! Funny and throw little pictures at man while he burn."
"Yes, funny..." Abud gives a little chuckle. "Are there any more of you around the camp?"
"No. Not round camp."
"None your business!"
"We just want to keep them out of harm's way. If I know where, I can keep the human's attention away from you. More goats, more fires, more unhappy people."
The two stare at each other for a moment.
Abud feels a little warm. He looks back and curses as an errant, impossible spark has drifted over from the dying camp fire and set on his pants. A thin trail of smoke comes up and Abud slaps his rear maniacally to put of the tiny fire.
This fact does not go unnoticed by the pugwampi.
"LIAR! LIAR! LIAAAAAAARRRRRRR!" it shrieks. "Murderers! Going to kill us aaaaallllllll!"
"Right. I am done here," Abud sniffs.
Garavel walks up toward the trio as the pugwampi hollers and yowls.
"Have we discovered anything of use? Almah would like this to be finished quickly."
"As would I, my arse is getting cold," Mahjub replies unpleasantly, shaking his bare butt through his split pants for emphasis. "You have anything to add priest, or can we be done with it?"
"Very well," says the imam. "The creature is as simple as everyone else who makes their home in this waste. Put an end to him and his caterwauling."
Garavel takes out his knife and swipes it swiftly across the pugwampi's throat. It's eyes widen and it shudders as it dies.
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