Al-Qarin: Into the Desert (1-22-23)

Al-Qarin: Into the Desert

Okay, this is my first attempt at a story hour. This particular world has served as the backdrop for five or six campaigns, some of which ended in complete character annihilation, others which just ended as players moved away. I'm currently playing the character Khalid, which is why the first part at least is written from his point of view. I'm writing a lot of this from memory, as we actually started the campaign a few months ago, but it's pretty close to the actual game sessions. Comments are welcome, and both the DM and I check the boards so we'll be more than happy to answer any questions. So sit back, and enjoy.

(PS: I wanted to call the thread Al-Qarin, a tale of Arcanomancers, Adventurosity and Ambition, but my DM wouldn't let me :D )

(PPS: I realized the chapters thing wasn't going to work in the title, so I changed it anyhow.)

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CHAPTER 1: INTO THE DESERT

Khalid ibn Bahir, whose name meant eternal brilliance in the old tongue, sat in the gloom and stared at the pages before him, his brow furrowed in concentration. Around him were strewn the accoutrements of his art: musty tomes, quills and vials of ink, and pages upon pages of arcane formula scrawled out in his wavering script. Thick, acrid smoke hung heavy in the air, emanating from a bubbling pot suspended over a small charcoal brazier beside Khalid. The glow of the brazier and the feeble shafts of sunlight that poked through the slates of the ramshackle walls barely managed to light Khalid's tiny, dingy hovel. Slowly, like a man awaking from a deep sleep, Khalid straightened up in his chair and glanced around the room, aware for the first time of an incessant hammering on his front door.

"Ah, yes, who is it?" Khalid croaked, his voice hoarse after hours of silence.

"Khalid? Open up the damn door, it's Gorak. I've got your plants."

There was no mistaking the thick growl of Gorak, a long time business associate of Khalid's, and the closest thing he had to a friend. Khalid hurried to the door, an easy task considering the size of his tiny hovel and flung it open.

"Please, come, come. Yes, you have it? Two blooms, yes?" Khalid asked.

"Of course" Gorak growled, "picked fresh last night."

Gorak was forced to turn slightly as he entered, to fit his massive shoulders through the door. Standing beside Khalid, he was as night to day. Khalid was tall and slight, his hair shaved down to his scalp with a long flowing black beard squared off neatly at the bottom. Gorak was shorter, but twice as wide, with thick rippling muscles. He sported no beard, but his thick matted dreadlocks gave him a feral appearance, enhanced greatly by the thick tusks that jutted up from his lower jaw. His obsidian skin glistened in the morning sun that now flooded into the tiny one room shack. Gorak drew out two small flower blossoms from a small sack and handed them to Khalid.

"Ah, yes, excellent, these will undoubtedly further my research. Yes, quite."

"Research? So that's what that stench is." Gorak rumbled.

"Yes, ah, no, ah that is my lunch. Perhaps I could offer you some?" Khalid said as he moved towards the brazier.

"No thanks. This is Shayla by the way, she's an old friend of mine."

It was at this point that Khalid noticed a petite woman standing hesitantly outside the doorway. Her face was framed by a tumbling mass of auburn ringlets, which descended past her slender shoulders. Her green eyes seemed to sparkle of their own accord and her pert nose and generous lips made her undoubtedly one of the most beautiful women Khalid had ever seen. A stunning figure that was barely concealed or even contained by the flimsy silk halter and skirt she wore only magnified her beauty.

"Ah, yes, please come in, my lady. I am truly sorry that you must be forced to endure such deplorable surroundings, yes, quite, but, ah, I am a man of meager means I am afraid, yes, quite." Khalid stammered, his habitual stuttering increasing a notch.

"Oh, I don't mind." Shayla said as she practically glided into the room.

Even her voice is beautiful, thought Khalid, as he closed the door behind her, and then opened the shutters to allow more light into his tiny home. Gorak set down an enormous wicket basket beside one of the few chairs in the room, then sat down himself. The chair gave an ominous groan, but much to Khalid's surprise, didn’t shatter under his weight.

"Mind if I take Sousee out?" Gorak muttered.

"Ah no, not at all, yes ah…" Khalid replied hesitantly.

Sousee was Gorak's pet, a monstrously large snake that he took everywhere. "Ah, yes, I'll retrieve your payment, you had no trouble, I hope?"

"Naw. Dad's got the tribe camped out at the eastern oasis, and the stuff grows around there." Gorak's tribe, unlike most of his kin, had more or less permanently settled near the sprawling city of Gem-Sharad. They made their living hunting game for the great arena, and occasionally obtained rare plants and other items from the desert for wealthy sages and alchemists.

"Ah, yes, the price was five sultanas* I believe, yes?" Khalid fished the golden coins out of a pouch at his waist, and handed them to Gorak.

"Ya." Gorak absently bit one of the coins, then dropped them into Sousee's basket.

"Yes, ah, there are a few, ah, other items I need you to…" Khalid began, when he was interrupted once again by a pounding on his front door.

"Khalid ibn Bahir, open up in the name of the White Tower," a voice from outside demanded.

Even Khalid's tanned skin couldn't hide the fact that his face had gone deathly pale. The White Tower was a place all too familiar to Khalid. It was a place of learning and study, where students came to learn the mystic arts. But more importantly, it was a place of power, ruled by old men steeped in experience and knowledge. Demands from the White Tower carried only slightly less weight than edicts handed down from the Sultan's palace. Khalid had been a student there, enrolling two years ago with the small inheritance left him by his parents. It had not been pleasant. Always at the bottom of the class, ridiculed for his perceived lack of ability and awkward social graces, it was a constant struggle for Khalid. The arcane formulae taught by the professor's simply would not stick in Khalid's mind. When he uttered the words, his stutter intruded; when he tried to recall a formula, it always came out wrong. Then, a year ago, everything changed.

One morning, classes were interrupted when a messenger arrived, speaking of a strange black cloud hanging over the eastern mountains. As the students rushed to the windows, Khalid hung back and watched as the professor, a powerful wizard named Halaal, conferred with the messenger, a look of deep concern on his face. Classes were canceled for the day. Then again the next day, and the day after that. A week passed, and rumors began to circulate through the dorms. Fear and doubt settled into the White Tower, as heavy and pervasive as the ominous black cloud that continued to linger over the eastern mountains. Powerful magi and sages from the surrounding cities began to filter into to Gem-Sharad, and immediately vanished into the upper levels of the White Tower. Then suddenly, the Tower was closed. The students were turned out into the streets, without any explanations or answers. Khalid was despondent, for even the poorest apprentice of the White Tower was a cut above the average rabble. Without purpose or direction, Khalid took the last of his inheritance, and rented a tiny hovel in the worst slum outside the walls of Gem-Sharad. With nothing to occupy his time, he turned his attention back to his studies.

Three months went by. Then suddenly, the black cloud was gone, blown away like any other storm cloud, but still the White Tower did not open. Rumors had now begun to spread among the cityfolk. Wild speculation that the wizards were fighting some terrible evil, or were gathering together to cast some awesome dweomer. But no one knew the real truth; no one that was, but Khalid. His formulae were no longer inert, were no longer just scrawls on paper. Instead of struggling each day to commit meaningless words to memory, the words now leapt off the pages of his spellbook and burned into his mind. What's more, he could feel it now, the weave of magic wrapping around him, and when he beckoned it, it came. The rules of magic had changed somehow. All those that had studied and learned the old ways had lost their link to the weave. Khalid frantically redoubled his efforts, filling his spellbook with new spells as the months passed. Minor magics, he knew, but working spells nevertheless, something that no other wizard in Gem-Sharad could boast. Not only did Khalid have spells; he had something immeasurably more valuable. He had the way to translate the old into the new. He had the Key.

The Key! Khalid looked frantically around his hovel while the hammering at his door became more insistent.

"Khalid ibn Bahir. We know you're in there, now open the door!"

"Ah yes, one moment," Khalid stalled. He frantically raced over to his desk and began stuffing papers in the brazier. When it was full of smoldering papers, he jammed the last handful into the bubbling stewpot and picked up his spellbook. "Ah, yes, they must not find this. It is, quite valuable, yes quite."

At this point, Shayla who had been silently watching Khalid's unexpected behavior spoke, "Why don't you put it in Gorak's basket. Whoever's out there won't search that too carefully."

"Ah, yes, quite, Gorak could I perhaps trouble you to, ah, keep this safe for me? I'll pay you, ah say two sultanas." Khalid reached for his purse again.

"Sure, I guess." Gorak rumbled, as he took the book from Khalid with one hand and picked up Sousee in the other, and deposited both in the wicker basket.

"Khalid. Open the door this instant or we'll kick it down."

"Ah yes, of course." Khalid said as he opened the door.

Standing there were two young men that Khalid instantly recognized. Hazal and Belil had been the two best students in Khalid's class and would have been offered a place within the ranks of the White Tower without a doubt. Hazal was large and athletic, built more like a gladiator than a sage, and Belil was only slightly smaller. The two had been the primary instigators of most of the ill will directed at Khalid during his brief period as a student. Hazal was scowling and idly fingering a slim wooden wand tucked into his belt. Both had the emblem of the White Tower pinned to their robes. As soon as Khalid opened the door, they pushed their way inside his tiny hovel, making its cramped confines that much more crowded.

"Khalid, we're here to escort you to a meeting with Halaal. He's requested your presence," demanded Hazal.

"Ah, yes, may I ask why I have been summoned into his, ah, august presence?" Khalid asked.

"You'll find out soon enough, now make yourself ready so we can get out of this disgusting place." As he spoke, Hazal glanced over at Belil who had moved towards Khalid's tiny writing desk. Belil shook his head slightly, and the scowl on Hazal's face deepened.

Belil had turned away from Khalid's desk, and was staring intently at Gorak and Shayla. "What are you two doing here?" he demanded.

"We're friends of Khalid's," Shayla replied.

"Friends of Khalid's? Why don't you be my friend darling? I assure you I'm much friendlier than Khalid," said Hazal. Both men began to laugh crudely, then stopped abruptly as Gorak growled deep in his throat, and began to rise.

"Ah, yes. Gorak, I'll meet you in the market tomorrow for breakfast at, ah, the vendor which sells the delightful smoked fish? You, ah, know the one?" Khalid asked, trying to head off the imminent destruction of his tiny house.

"Ya, I know the one," Gorak rumbled, still eyeing the two apprentices. Gorak and Shayla stood up and left the tiny hovel, Gorak's gaze never shifting from Hazal until he was out the door.

Khalid followed the two apprentices out the door, and locked it behind him. They walked in the fading late afternoon sun towards the richest part of town, where the White Tower rose high above even the golden minarets of the Sultan's palace. The surroundings gradually changed as they moved towards the heart of the city. Soon the beggars and mendicants of the poor quarter were left behind, replaced with merchants hawking wares from booths lining the street. They moved through one of the largest markets in the city, past vendors selling food and weapons, incense and wine, and just about anything else that could be bought with sultanas, viziers or califs. The marketplace was left behind, and the street-side vendors were replaced with shop fronts of well to do merchants. As they walked, Khalid tried hard to ignore the barbs and jibes of Hazal and Belil, until finally he could take it no more. As they approached the low wall that separated the White Tower from the rest of the city, Khalid spoke just as Hazal stepped forward, "Ah, yes, Hazal, be a good fellow and tell them that I'm coming."

Hazal shot a look filled with malice at Khalid then spoke, "We return to the White Tower bringing the former apprentice Halaal wanted to see."

The guard, oblivious to the not so subtle exchange taking place, simply nodded and opened the gate. As they passed into the broad courtyard of the White Tower, Hazal hissed, "Keep your mouth shut until you see Halaal."

Khalid simply smirked and took in the surroundings. It had been almost a year since he had set foot on the beautiful grounds of the White Tower, and although he had lived here for almost a year prior to that, he had never considered it home. It felt even less inviting now, as the trio moved towards one of the low outbuildings surrounding the tower proper. Hazal knocked on the door, then entered. Khalid moved in behind him, absorbing the surroundings carefully.
The first thing he noticed was Halaal, a large, rotund man sitting comfortably in a large, leather backed chair. Halaal was in his late fifties and had not aged particularly well. His tanned skin was wrinkled and leathery, and his once impressive physique had run to fat. His beard was shot through with gray, as presumably was his hair, although Khalid had never seen him without his customary silk turban. As Khalid entered, Halaal smiled, a strange expression on his normally dour face. The room itself seemed to be a small workshop. Alchemical tools and apparatus lined the tables along the walls. Directly behind Halaal was a large rack of what Khalid could only presume were scrolls. Halaal himself glittered with gems and precious stones, which adorned both his robes and his fingers. He seemed perfectly at ease and almost cordial, which only made Khalid more nervous.

"We found him, Master Halaal. There were two others with him," said Hazal, and much like Belil had, he shook his head slightly. Khalid realized that handing over his precious spellbook to Gorak had been a wise move after all.

"Ah, Khalid. It has been too long since you have visited us here at the White Tower," began Halaal. "I thought perhaps that you would appreciate the opportunity to come and discuss your research. I have been looking over some of your old notes from when you were an apprentice, and I think that some of your ideas may have merit."

"Ah, yes, quite. I have a number of projects, yes, a number of projects underway at the moment," replied Khalid, somewhat cautiously.

Halaal smiled. "Yes, of course you do. And these two acquaintances of yours, are they assisting you with your research?"

"Ah, no, not really. They are, ah, business associates. I had them obtain a rare herb for me, the desert rose, you have, ah, heard of it?"

"Desert rose," Halaal mused, "yes I believe it’s a fairly common plant, found on the border of the near desert. A main ingredient in love philters if I'm not mistaken."

Hazal snickered and muttered something to Belil who grinned maliciously. Khalid flushed and glanced around nervously; that wasn't what he'd thought it did at all.

"Yes, quite. Ah, as I said, it is, ah, only one of many projects. Yes, quite," Khalid stammered.

"Hmmm. Well I have no interest in that aspect of your research. I am however, interested in obtaining some working formulae from you, assuming of course you have some that work," Halaal said, raising an eyebrow as he spoke.

There was no doubt now what he was looking for. Khalid's mind began to race as he frantically tried to think of a way to protect his spellbook and the knowledge he had obtained. Halaal had always treated him as though he were worse than dirt, and Khalid had no intention of simply handing the man the key that would allow him to regain his power.

"I think, ah, that we may be able to reach an amicable agreement, that is, ah, beneficial to both parties, yes, quite." Khalid played along.

"Indeed. I would pay two hundred and fifty sultanas for whatever research you have accomplished thus far. Assuming of course, you have anything of interest for me." Halaal's tone left no doubt that he knew exactly what Khalid had to offer.

"Ah, perhaps a small demonstration, then, yes?" Khalid asked, as his fished around in one of the many pouches that hung from his tattered belt. He hesitated slightly, debating what spell to cast. He longed to cast a detect magic, to see what power Halaal had at his disposal, but opted instead to cast light, a spell much less likely to irritate Halaal. Khalid focused his concentration, then released the constraints on the formulae burning in his mind. The words rolled out of him, in a clear, confident voice so unlike his normal tone. When he finished, a tiny ache of loss filled him briefly which was replaced with pride. The golden sultana in his hand now shone as brightly as a torch.

"Hmmm, yes I can see some of the differences. The formula is not so different as I had first thought. Well then Khalid, as I said, I will offer you two hundred and fifty sultanas for your research."

"Ah, yes, quite generous. Yes, quite." Khalid replied, "Permit me a day to consider your offer, and compile my notes."

Halaal considered Khalid's request, eyeing him carefully. "I suppose that is acceptable but I assure you, my offer is more than generous."

"Yes, ah, well there are forms of compensation which would be more useful to me than sultana's alone. Yes, quite." Khalid said his gaze lingering on the many scrolls behind Halaal.

"Mind your place!" barked Hazal.

"Yes, I shall certainly remember my place when you come to fetch me tomorrow." Khalid retorted. Hazal flushed dark red at the jibe, but held his peace under Halaal's disapproving gaze.

"Well then, I'll send Hazal and Belil to your abode tomorrow. Say, shortly after sundown."

"Yes. Until tomorrow then."

* * * * * * * * * *


Notes:
*Sultanas = Gold Coins
Viziers = Silver Coins
Califs = Copper Coins

*Khalid really does talk like that. And yes, it does annoy the other players ;)
 
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pogre

Legend
Excellent! I really hope you can keep this going, because the first part has me hooked. Please update soon to maintain this excellent momentum!
 

Galeman

Explorer
hi there everybody .. er .. pogre. as mentioned by eternalnewbie, i am the gm of this particular game. i intend on starting a thread in rogue's gallery of characters and npcs. hopefully my horrible habit of offing characters doesn't continue, but sometimes my dice just get hot and there's no stopping them.

here's a link to the rogue's gallery containing the characters and eventually the npcs. http://www.enworld.org/forums/showthread.php?t=70037
 
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ledded

Herder of monkies
pogre said:
Excellent! I really hope you can keep this going, because the first part has me hooked. Please update soon to maintain this excellent momentum!

Hear, Hear! I second that.

Good start, I'm hooked. Very nice characterizations; very believable and anti-hero-ish feel to Khalid that I am enjoying immensely.
 

Okay, here's the second update. This pretty much ends the first actual game session, which as you can tell was pretty heavy on the RP side. But don't worry, the action picks up shortly and uh, well never really slows down again. Oh, and don't expect all the updates to come quite this quickly, I'm mainly using this as a way to procrastinate from doing any of the massive piles of schoolwork which are quickly accumulating beside me. Never fear however, I'll continue to update regularly. That's enough from me for now. Enjoy.

***********​


With the back of his hand, Khalid shielded his eyes from the oppressive morning sun as he surveyed the marketplace. It was still early by Khalid's standards, but he knew that Gorak was a habitually early riser. The marketplace was slowly filling up as merchants began to set up their wares and shoppers began to filter in. The sounds of haggling assailed Khalid as business began to pick up in earnest.

"Two sultanas for that? I wouldn't use that cheap rag to clean my floor."

"Cheap rag? I assure you, this is the finest silk, imported from the Eastern Kingdom before the mountain pass was closed…"

"You son of a motherless goat, this blade isn't sharp enough to cut a rotten melon, much less cleave a man in two. How do you expect me to survive in the arena wielding pig iron like this?

"Smoked fish. Fresh smoked fish. Caught just this morning."

"Bah, are you trying to rob me? Here, why don't you just club me on the head and cut my purse strings?"

"Please effendi, I can go no lower. My children will most assuredly go hungry this evening as it is."

Khalid wandered over to the vendor selling smoked fish, still scanning the crowd for Gorak. Khalid doubted the veracity of the man's claim that the fish were freshly caught, but purchased some anyhow. He had just finished licking his fingers clean, when he saw Gorak shouldering his way through the crowd.

"Ah, yes, Gorak, do you still have, ah, my possession close at hand?"

"Good morning to you too," Gorak rumbled. "Ya. It's right here." Gorak began to shrug off the large wicker basket that contained both Sousee and Khalid's spellbook.

"Ah, perhaps here is not the best place. Yes, they may have, ah followed me. I'm not sure." Khalid whispered, despite the fact that the rising din in the marketplace was making normal speech difficult to hear.

"Suit yerself. Let's get outta here. All these people crowding around are starting to irritate me." Gorak grumbled. The mismatched pair pushed their way through the now crowded marketplace onto a smaller side avenue. Gorak took a deep breath and muttered, "So what was all that business about yesterday anyhow?"

"Ah, yes. It seems an old professor of mine has become quite, yes, quite interested in my research and wants to, ah, purchase it from me. He's not, I'm afraid, giving me much of a choice." Khalid sighed.

"Hrmm. Don't sound like you're too pleased with the idea. So whadda ya gonna do?"

"I'm not quite sure. The White Tower has, ah, lost significant, yes, significant power but there's no way I could possibly fend off Halaal. Eventually he'll just take what he wants if I ah, don't comply with his wishes. Unless perhaps, yes, if I could, ah, find another interested party, a sponsor if you will, who would be interested in having me, ah act as a tutor. If they were powerful enough, yes, they might be able to protect me, yes. I don’t suppose you know anybody, ah, rich and ah, powerful and interested in the finer art of ah, arcanomancery?" Khalid looked expectantly at Gorak.

"Heh. Look at me. Do I look like I know a lot of rich and powerful people." Gorak guffawed.

Khalid took in Gorak's tattered fur vest, and the various fetishes and beads woven into his matted dreadlocks and sighed again. "Yes, I suppose not."

The two men walked in silence for a while, until Gorak muttered something under his breath.

"Ah, I didn't quite catch that, yes, quite."

"Shayla." Gorak growled.

"Ah, yes, lovely girl. What about her?" Khalid asked.

"Her family's rich. Maybe she knows somebody."

"Really?" Khalid's expression brightened, then faded into a worried frown, "Do you think she'd, ah, help, ah, someone like me?"

"Ya. She's funny like that. C'mon, I'll take you over to her place."

As the two men walked through shabby areas of Gem-Sharad, heading towards the merchant's quarter, Khalid couldn't help thinking about Shayla. Beauty like that, and rich as well. Suddenly Khalid wished that he didn't smell quite so much like smoked fish.

* * * * * * * * * * *​

Shayla frowned. "I might know somebody that has the connections that you need. I'm not sure she'll help us though."

"Ah, well, if it's ah, too much trouble, don't bother. Yes, ah, I'll make other arrangements. Yes, quite," stammered Khalid.

"No, it's not that, I'm just not sure she'll be able to. Besides, I need to visit her shop again anyhow, I'm almost out of perfume," Shayla said brightly.

"Ah, perfume?"

"Yes. She mixes the best perfumes in the whole city, among other things. Oh, and remind me to pick up a few pillows on the way back through the bazaar. Now excuse me while I go get ready."

Khalid glanced around Shayla's home. It was richly appointed, with thick tapestries draped on the walls and valuable figurines and curios adorning various shelves around the room. Her need for pillows seemed unfounded however, as the room was already knee deep in them. In fact, as near as Khalid could tell, there wasn't any furniture in this room at all. Khalid turned to Gorak, "Perfume? Ah, I'm not sure this was a good idea after all."

"Relax, she knows what she's doing," rumbled Gorak from the mound of pillows he was lounging on. "You might as well sit down. 'Getting ready' can take a while."

Khalid started to gingerly pick out a spot, then realized the foolishness of his action, and just flopped down on the largest pile of cushions. An angry hiss made him leap to his feet again, as Sousee came slithering out of the mound and over his foot. Gorak chuckled, then gave a short hiss, and Sousee slid over and curled up beside him, eyeing Khalid warily. Khalid sighed heavily, and sat down to wait.

Getting ready didn't take nearly as long as Gorak hinted, and the three were out the door in less than half an hour. Shayla was, as near as Khalid could tell, wearing even less clothing than what she had on before. Her halter and pantaloons bordered on scandalous and the thin, gauzy veil she wore seemed to mock the very pretense of modesty. Still, Khalid thought to himself, the view isn't bad, as he followed her through the crowded streets of Gem-Sharad. The trio soon arrived at a small nondescript shop in the merchant's quarter. Shayla opened the door and walked inside as Gorak stopped and leaned up against the wall. "I'll wait out here," he grumbled, "that place makes my nose itch."

Khalid entered the dimly lit shop and was assailed by a hundred different odors. Airy, fruity, perfumes mixed with the scent of sandalwood incense and some deeper, heavier smoke. As Khalid glanced at the innumerable bottles and vials lining the walls, he caught notice of a few liquids and powders that had no place in any decent smelling perfume. "Ah, yes. Perhaps this was a good idea after all. Yes, quite," he muttered under his breath.

Shayla had already moved to the counter, and was speaking to a bejeweled elderly woman swaddled in silks. Shayla was haggling fiercely, her voice rising with each invective, until she was practically screeching. The old woman countered each accusation with one of her own, until finally Shayla delivered such a scathing denunciation of the old woman's perfumes, shop and lineage in general that the hair on the back of Khalid's neck rose up. The old woman, whose lips had been twitching at each insult, finally burst out laughing. Through her fit of laughter, she croaked out, "Fine then girl, take it."

Shayla handed over a sum of sultanas that made Khalid's eyes widen, and picked up a small vial off the counter. She turned, noticing Khalid seemingly for the first time since she entered the shop, snapped her fingers and said, "Miranda, this is a friend of mine, Khalid."

"Ah, yes, the pleasure, I assure, is all mine. Yes, quite." Khalid inclined his head slightly.

"He's interested in your old business, you know…" Shayla made a stirring motion with one finger.

"Hmmm, not much call for that these days. I hope for your sake dear that you're buying not selling, because I don't have much use for most of those items these days." Miranda eyed him up and down as if measuring his intent.

"Ah, yes, neither, I'm afraid, but I still think that we can reach a profitable, yes, profitable arrangement. Yes, quite. I understand that, certain individuals of a particular profession used to frequent your shop."

"Yes, yes, don't dance about with me boy, I'm too old and too tired." Miranda said.

"Yes, quite. Ah well then, I'm looking for a patron, somebody who wishes to resume the path, yes, the path as it were."

Miranda's eye's widened. "You can do that? You have the knowledge?"

"Ah yes, I can."

"Well now, that would be valuable."

"Yes, quite. Unfortunately, I must act quickly, yes, quickly to secure a patron."

"How quickly?"

Khalid thought for a moment, "Ah, I can probably hold off the current interested party for another day or two."

"A day or two," Miranda frowned, "that may be quite difficult. I have lost contact with many of my old customers, and I suspect that your asking price may be beyond the means of many of them, at least now."

"Hmm, yes, I cannot accept less than a five hundred sultana retainer with living expenses to be arranged at a later date."

"And what is my end?" Miranda asked.

"Hmm, shall we say ah, five sultana's for simply making contact, and ah, yes, five percent of any immediate retainer fee paid to me?"

"A generous offer. I accept and will start trying to make contact immediately. I can't make any promises however, perhaps if I had more time…" she looked at Khalid hopefully.

Khalid shook his head, "Ah, yes, no, I'm afraid that it must be done with the utmost haste. Yes, quite."

With business concluded, Khalid and Shayla said their good-byes to Miranda and left the shop. As they headed down the street, Gorak fell into step beside them. "So?" he grumbled.

"Ah, she's willing to make some inquiries, but I'm not certain she'll have enough time. Yes, quite."

The three of them spent the rest of the day idly wandering around the market place, stopping only to take siesta at a wine shop. As the sun began to set, Khalid set off alone back to his tiny hovel. He gathered his shabby robes around him, and did his best to look as poor and destitute as possible to avoid attracting the attention of the less reputable denizens that made up the majority of his neighbors. As he approached his hut, Khalid spotted Hazal standing outside his front door, waiting impatiently. When Hazal took notice of Khalid, he cleared his throat loudly, and Belil emerged from around the side of the building. Khalid exhaled slowly; once again he had left his spellbook in Gorak's hands. Both men idly fingered the wands at their belts, as if daring Khalid to do something untoward. Khalid had no intentions of doing anything to provoke their ire however, and accompanied them in silence back to the White Tower, where he was ushered into the same room in which he had met Halaal the day before. This time however, he was forced to wait for several minutes until Halaal arrived.

"Ah, Khalid, a pleasure to see you again. Have you decided to accept my offer?"

"Ah, I think perhaps, that you can do a bit better than two hundred and fifty sultanas, yes, quite." Khalid countered.

A flicker of displeasure crossed Halaal's face, but his calm demeanor quickly slipped back into place, "I see. And what then, do you consider a reasonable offer for your research?"

"Ah, yes, well there are forms of compensation which would be far more valuable to me than sultanas," Khalid's gaze drifted to the scrolls neatly filed on the wall.

"Hah. I think you grossly over estimate your worth Khalid. Access to a few minor cantrips hardly compares to the value of even the lowliest scroll upon that wall, so you can forget about that. I am however, in a generous mood and could see perhaps increasing my offer a hundred sultanas," Halaal countered.

"Ah, well then, my price is five hundred sultanas. Yes, five hundred."

"Five hundred? Again I think you have an inflated sense of self worth Khalid. Three hundred and fifty sultanas is more than generous for what you are offering."

"Ah, well, perhaps, but then again, perhaps not. Access to my research would certainly give you an advantage over the other wizards here at the tower, yes?"

At the mention of other wizards, Halaal's eyes narrowed. "You tread on very dangerous ground Khalid. Five hundred sultanas then, we are agreed. Now where is your spellbook."

"Ah, in a safe place, yes quite. I was not entirely sure that we would reach a satisfactory arrangement this evening. Yes."

"Fine, fine, I will send Hazal and Belil to collect it."

"In the morning, yes? I need some time to, ah get my notes in order and retrieve my book."

"Bah, very well then Khalid. They will be waiting by your house at first light."

"Ah, yes, excellent, quite excellent. It has been a pleasure doing business with you Halaal," Khalid tried to smile, but all he managed was a sickly grin.

* * * * * * * * * *​

Khalid started to head back to his shack, but then abruptly decided against it, and began the long walk to Shayla's house. Nervously looking over his shoulder, he hurried along the darkening city streets. The crowds were still heavy however, this early in the evening, and Khalid was sure he could lose himself in the tangled throng of people. After darting down a few cramped alleys, and doubling back on his path a few times, he felt sufficiently confident that he had shaken any potential followers and made haste directly to Shayla's house. Gorak was still there he knew; Shayla had been kind enough to put him up for a few days until Khalid settled this matter with Halaal.

Having almost run the last part of the journey to Shayla's house, Khalid arrived flushed and breathless. He knocked furtively on the door, then slipped inside as Shayla opened the door. Gorak was standing there, the wicker basket close at hand. "So? What happened?" he grumbled.

"I, ah, yes, struck a deal, yes, a deal of sorts with Halaal. He's going to purchase my research for five hundred sultanas."

Gorak grunted, "And your gonna sell it to him?"

"Ah, well I'm not entirely sure. I don't suppose you have, ah, heard anything from Miranda have you?"

Shayla nodded, "Actually I did, but she didn't have much luck. She found somebody willing to go as high as three hundred, but they weren't interested in hiring you on as an instructor I'm afraid."

Khalid sighed heavily, "It seems I have little choice then, yes, quite. I can't sell my book to Halaal. It's worth far more than, ah, five hundred sultanas and doing so would increase his power and render me quite impotent, yes, quite. I fear that I may, ah, have to flee the city. Yes, flee the city. Gorak, could I possibly, ah, employ you as a guide, yes, guide through the desert. I hear, ah, Shalazar is lovely this time of year."

Gorak looked thoughtful, "Huh. Shalazar eh? I've never been there, but I know the route well enough. Sure, I'll go with you, and since we're old friends, I won't even charge you nothing. Unless of course Da's got some work lined up for me, then we might have to figure something out. We'll take a quick run out to the camp, might help to shake off anybody following us."

"Ah, yes of course, my funds should be sufficient to cover the, ah, cost of trip, yes, quite sufficient. Once in Shalazar, I can perhaps find a sponsor. Yes." Khalid looked excited at the prospect. "Yes, a nice wealthy merchant perhaps, or learned sage…"

Shayla interrupted Khalid's musings, "Maybe I'll go with you, I've never been to Shalazar."

Khalid looked shocked, "Ah, Shayla, I could never, ah, yes never ask you to accompany us. It will be quite dangerous, yes quite."

"Relax Khalid," Gorak rumbled, "I've known Shayla a long time, she can take care of herself."

"Ah, yes, quite, I never meant to imply otherwise, yes. But simply travelling with me may put you under the scrutiny of Halaal, and I, ah, yes would feel dreadful if, ah, yes anything happened to you."

Shayla sighed. "I suppose you're right. It's beastly hot out there anyhow. I'm not sure I'd enjoy the trip."

"Yes, ah, well, I hate to impose, but ah, I was hoping that, ah yes, I could stay here this evening and ah, Gorak and I can set out in the early morning. The gates, ah, will be locked at this time of night. I'm quite sure, yes quite, that Halaal will be watching my house." Khalid looked expectantly at Shayla.

Shayla giggled, "Of course, it's no bother. It's kind of exciting actually."

Khalid swallowed nervously. His life certainly had become very exciting as of late.

* * * * * * * * * *​

Gorak and Khalid gathered up their meager possessions and left Shayla's apartment before first light, without waking her. They made a brief stop in the marketplace, where Khalid exchanged a few sultanas with some early rising merchants and headed towards the eastern gate the proud new owner of a serviceable crossbow and several days worth of food. As they walked towards the eastern gate, Gorak muttered to Khalid, "We've picked up some friends of yours."

Khalid stumbled slightly but managed not to break into a flat out run. "Do you think, ah, that we could possibly, ah, lose them?" he asked Gorak.

"Ya, maybe. If we can find a bigger crowd."

The two walked in silence through Gem-Sharad, slowing their pace slightly to give the streets time to fill. After a while of aimless wandering, Gorak grumbled, "You ready?"

"Ah, ready, yes, I suppose I am. Yes, quite."

"Then get ready to turn down that alley."

Khalid and Gorak turned sharply down a nearby alley and then emerged into a large crowd on an adjoining street. Turning again, they ducked down another alley, emerging into a large square adorned with a huge stone fountain carved in the likeness of a huge djinn, spewing water from his outstretched hands. The square was jammed with people gathering water for the day. "Down that way, it's the quickest way to the Eastern gate," Gorak growled.

"Do you, ah think we've lost them?"

"We'll find out soon enough. There's the eastern gate."

* * * * * * * * * *​

Shayla awoke from her mid afternoon siesta suddenly, to a loud pounding on her front door. She quickly shrugged into her clothing as a voice outside demanded, "Open up in there. We know you know where Khalid is. Open up or we'll kick your door down!"

Shayla had no difficulty recognizing Hazal's voice although she'd only met him once before. "Just a second," Shayla replied, "and don't you dare break my door."

When she opened the door, she found Belil and Hazal standing there, looking furious. "Where's Khalid," Hazal demanded.

"I don't know, I haven't seen him since yesterday."

"Do you know where he's gone?" Hazal pressed.

"Back to his house I'd imagine." Shayla said innocently.

"No, he did not go back to his house," Hazal snarled, "and I think you know more than you're letting on. You're going to have to come with us to the White Tower."

Shayla knew enough about the White Tower to know that arguing with them wouldn't have any effect, save to make them angrier, so she acquiesced, "Of course, I'll go with you and answer any questions I can about Khalid, but you'll have to let me get dressed first, I can't go looking like this." Shayla gestured at her generous figure.

Hazal leered at her, "Fine, go and get dressed, but be quick about it." Shayla calmly walked into her room, and started to close the door but Hazal grabbed it from the other side. "Leave it open a bit darling, just so we're sure you're not going to do anything silly."

"What could I possibly do to a couple of strong young men like you," she said as she flashed them her most charming smile.

"Just hurry up about it."

Shayla moved away from the door, and once she was sure she was out of sight, reached under her large bed and drew out an ornate crossbow. It had been a gift to her father, and Shayla had nicked it when her family had cast her out. She'd found out later that she was actually a fair shot with it, and had kept it handy, just in case. Her heart began to pound deep in her chest as she considered her planned course of action. Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly to calm her nerves, Shayla began to chant.
 
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pogre

Legend
EternalNewbie said:
*Khalid really does talk like that. And yes, it does annoy the other players ;)

Good Lord - I'm surprised your DM has not slapped you senseless - funny accents are cool for about 2 minutes ;)

Great update - keep ignoring that school work!
 


Okay, here's the update I'm sure that most of you have been breathlessly awaiting. It's not as long as the others, as I'm currently mired in the middle of exams. Thanks to those who have posted replies for truly your kind words are the fuel for my creative spark. Heh. Might not be another update for a week or so, at which point I'll be finished my exams and will be writing furiously to catch up to where we are in the campaign. Alrighty, enough small talk, here's the update. Enjoy.

* * * * * * * *​

Shayla felt the magic course through her veins as the arcane words rolled from her lips. She shivered slightly as the temperature in the room dropped several degrees and a thick mist coalesced around her. With one smooth motion she flipped open the latch on her shuttered windows and leapt into the alley behind her home. The mist spilled out of her bedroom and filled the narrow passage between the houses.

"That bitch," spat Hazal. "She's some sort of magi. Head around back and grab her if she flees"

Shayla gathered herself to run, then abruptly thought better of it, and slid in behind a pile of rotting crates left outside by the wine shop that shared the alley. She heard crashing from inside her bedroom and winced slightly as something shattered on the floor. Hazal's stream of muttered curses sounded distant and hollow, distorted by the mist. Shayla froze as she heard footsteps coming down the alley. Belil walked by close enough to make fog eddy and swirl in front of her but the thick shroud prevented him from spotting her. The footsteps slowly receded into the fog, and Shayla exhaled slowly, realizing that she had been holding her breath. In the distance she heard Hazal's voice. "Damn that cursed witch to the planes of Hell. She can't have got far. We'd better find her or Halaal will have our hides."

Shayla waited a few seconds longer, then drew her shawl up around her head, covering her distinctive auburn locks, and walked out of the alley into the street. She patted the purse at her waist, thankful she'd had the foresight to pick it up when she was putting on her clothes. Humming softly to herself, Shayla turned and began heading towards the east gate, while behind her the afternoon sun burned away the last traces of her spell.

* * * * * * * * * *​

The trip to the encampment of Gorak's tribe had been long, hot and dusty, but then travelling anywhere outside the walls of Gem-Sharad seemed long, hot and dusty to Khalid. The sun had just begun to set when the two men crested a dune and were greeted by the flickering light of a half dozen campfires burning around a tiny oasis. Khalid loosed the end of his turban, which had been drawn up over his face and took a long pull of tepid water from his skin. He had only been out to the camp once before, and the experience had not been particularly enjoyable but for the moment, anywhere was better than Gem-Sharad. Khalid sighed heavily and hurried to catch up to Gorak who had already begun to walk down the dune.

The camp was every bit as raucous and noisy as Khalid remembered it. Everywhere were half and full blood orcs, drinking and cursing and fighting. As the two men moved through the maze of tents, members of Gorak's extended family offered to them what Khalid assumed were greetings although to his untrained ears may have been threats of violence. Everywhere around him were the snarls and thick guttural sounds of the orc tongue. Gorak returned these greetings with a wave or a nod but didn't break his stride. "We've gotta go see my Da first, before we get something to eat. It's the way of things," he grumbled when he saw Khalid staring longingly at a bubbling stewpot.

"Ah yes, quite." Khalid replied as he narrowly dodged a swarm of orcish children that tumbled out in front of him from between two tents. The children seemed to be playing some sort of game with a stick which, as near as Khalid could tell, involved the child with the stick beating everyone else around him with it until someone else knocked him down and took it away. "Ah, yes, always a pleasure to enjoy the hospitality of your tribe. Yes, quite."

Gorak grunted and pushed his way through a circle of cheering orcs. Khalid moved quickly behind him to avoid having to jostle any of the men himself. Gorak stopped at the inner edge of the circle, and Khalid craned his neck to see over him. In the middle of the impromptu ring were two orcs locked in a titanic struggle. Khalid recognized Gorak's father, Magol as one of the combatants, although he didn't recognize the other. The two orcs, both full bloods as far as Khalid could tell, stood with their feet planted, gripping each other by the upper arms. They remained there, motionless as the seconds ticked by, the only hint of the enormous effort being expended coming in the sweat that poured down their faces and their sharp labored breaths.

Khalid leaned in close to Gorak, "Ah, is this some sort of, ah, leadership challenge?"

Gorak snorted, "Nah. Da just likes to work up an appetite."

Suddenly the deadlock in the ring was broken. Magol had slowly slid his hands down to his opponent's elbows and then flung his arms out wide, breaking the grip. The orc, unbalanced by the sudden lack of resistance, stumbled forward. Magol snapped his head forward and the two men's skulls met with a thunderous crack that sent a shiver down Khalid's spine. Quick as a serpent Magol slid around behind the stunned man and wrapped an arm around the orc's neck, locking it with his other hand. Magol slowly leaned back, lifting the other orc's feet off the ground. His arms bulging with exertion and thick cords standing out on his neck, Magol slowly tightened his grip, oblivious to the thrashing orc's attempts to shatter his knees. The orc's eyes began to bulge from his head and his struggles became more and more feeble until finally he stopped moving altogether. At that point, Magol dropped him to the ground and gave an earsplitting roar that was echoed by the gathered onlookers. As the crowd began to disperse, leaving the unconscious orc in a heap on the ground, someone tossed Magol a flagon. He took a long heavy pull, then wiped his lips lustily before noticing Gorak and Khalid. He barked out a few short words that Khalid didn't understand.

"Speak the man's tongue, Da. You know Khalid don't speak ours." Gorak replied.

"Bah, I hate trying to get my damned tongue around this cursed language. The words are all soft like a woman, nothing you can sink your fangs into. Well, Khalid, come to fatten our coffers to satisfy more of your book learnin'?" Magol said.

Khalid studied Magol cautiously. He was a bit shorter and even thicker than Gorak, if such a thing were possible. His face was like a slab of rock, hard and broad. A thick ropey scar wound its way down the left side of his face, and Khalid couldn't figure out how the orc hadn't lost an eye getting it. The long ivory tusks that jutted up from his lower jaw had been inscribed with fanciful whorls and sigils, and capped with gleaming gold. His hair, like Gorak's, was a tangled mass of dreadlocks and his obsidian skin, slicked with sweat, shone in the flickering firelight. Khalid swallowed nervously and then replied, "Ah, yes, honor to your camp and your, ah tribe, Magol. Yes, quite."

Gorak interrupted with his characteristic curtness, "I'm taking Khalid to Shalazar. We're leaving in the morning."

Magol grunted, "How much is he paying ya to do that?"

Gorak's human mother had moved up beside Magol. She was squat and fat, and the coarse black hair that covered her head and, Khalid noted with a shudder, the better part of her face, was akin to a horse's mane. She handed Magol a thick woolen robe.

"Nothing," Gorak replied.

"Nothing?" Magol roared. Then he casually delivered a backhand to his wife that sent her sprawling to the ground.

"What was that for?" she wailed as she stood up, wiping blood from her nose.

"For cheating on me, you faithless whore, because this bastard obviously ain't no son of mine," Magol snarled. "Come ta my tent later boy, your charity work is gonna have to wait. There's a stranger here in camp, an Easterner, and he's got hisself some interesting tales. Chance for some good profit in it."

Gorak grunted noncommittally and turned away, "Now let's get something to eat."

As the two moved away from Magol's tent, Khalid asked, "Ah, yes, do you think perhaps, you can find out where this Easterner has pitched his tent? I would be quite interested in speaking with him, yes quite, if only to practice the Eastern tongue a little."

Gorak grunted his ascent as he ladled out two bowls of stew. "C'mon, you can stash your gear in my tent, there's enough room in there for both of us."

After finishing his meal, Gorak wandered out into the camp to find some of his family members to beat on. At least that's what Khalid assumed he was doing, seeing as how casual conversation didn't seem to be a popular form of entertainment. Khalid finished the last of his stew, and then left Gorak's yurt in search of the Easterner. Khalid found him, sitting alone just beyond the edges of the tribe's camp. He had pitched a small tent and was roasting some type of meat over a small fire. The man's features were shrouded beneath a hooded cloak. Khalid hailed him in the eastern tongue, "Ah, well met my friend, and a blessing upon your camp."

The man didn't look up as he prodded the small fire with a stick, causing sparks to flare up into the night sky.

Khalid, a little taken aback by the man's lack of response, continued, "Ah, yes, my name is Khalid ibn Bahir. I had hoped to, ah, enjoin you in some conversation, yes quite. I have had little practice, yes, practice in the eastern tongue."

The man looked up, "Me too, these days. Your accent is terrible." Khalid took the opportunity to study the man before he resumed tending the fire. His skin was dark brown but Khalid could tell it was from long hours spent in the sun and not natural color. His hair was the color of the desert sand, but his green eyes were hard and quick, seeming to look at nothing and take in everything. The man's hands were large and callused, and moved deftly as he shaved a strip of meat off the spit. Khalid was certain the sword resting beside him was not merely ornamental. "Well?" the man continued.

"Ah, well what?" Khalid stuttered.

"Are you going to sit down, or are you just going to stand there all night," the man asked.

"Ah, yes of course, thank you for the invitation ah…" Khalid trailed off.

"Name's Ronik."

"Yes, of course. Ronik. Well, ah I had hoped to question you about your homeland, yes, in addition to practicing my linguistic skills. Yes quite. I have never had the opportunity to yes, travel beyond the mountains, but I have heard quite a few strange tales from that land. Yes, quite. In fact, I hear that there is war there now, yes, war and that the mountain pass is closed."

Ronik shrugged. "I dunno Westman, I haven't traveled that way in a long time."

"Ah," Khalid tried hard to hide his disappointment, "I would still be interested in hearing tales from your homeland, nevertheless. Yes."

Despite the man's taciturn nature, Khalid managed to engage him in idle conversation for a while before returning to the main camp. On his way back to Gorak's tent, he heard another loud commotion coming from the western side of the camp. As he headed over to investigate, he met up with Gorak who was heading in the same direction. "Ah, yes, what's going on Gorak?"

"Dunno," Gorak muttered.

Khalid felt an icy sliver of fear creep into his heart. "Ah, you don't suppose Halaal has tracked me here do you?"

"Relax Khalid," Gorak rumbled, "you're safe here fer now."

Khalid's fear settled into shock however when he heard a vindictive curse in a voice he recognized all to well. "Shayla? By the lost gods, what is she doing here?"

Shayla pushed her way through the crowd of orcs, all male Khalid noticed, that were gathered around her. She looked a bit harried; probably more so from the attention lavished upon her now than the trip through the desert, but even so her beauty was undiminished. Deftly sidestepping a fat, hairy half-orc in a stained leather vest and breeches, she slapped away his lecherous hands and stood beside Gorak. Gorak snarled something in orcish and most of the crowd began to wander away. One of the men however, said something to Gorak, the meaning of which was made clear when he jingled the heavy coin purse on his belt. Shayla shot the orc such a withering glare that Khalid was certain that he would fade and wilt like the desert rose under the noontime sun. Gorak snarled again, and put his arm possessively around Shayla. The other orc laughed and spoke in crude Western, "Too skinny anyhow." Then he turned and vanished amid the maze of tents.

"Hi boys," Shayla said brightly, "miss me?"

Khalid was at a loss for words, so Gorak spoke first, "What're ya doing out here Shayla, the desert ain't no place to be wandering around alone at night."

Shayla gave a little toss of her head that flipped her auburn hair over her shoulder, "Well those two friends of Khalid's from the White Tower didn't leave me a lot of choice."

Khalid frequently interrupted her with apologies as she recounted her story, but was again struck speechless when she spoke of her escape from Hazal and Belil. As Gorak laughed loudly, Khalid whispered aloud to himself, "A sorceress, how remarkable. So the old bloodlines have held true even through the upheaval. Quite interesting, yes, quite."

Gorak, still chuckling slightly, rumbled, "Well c'mon then, and we'll find you a place to sleep for the night. Probably best if you stay in my tent with me and Khalid, if you don't mind?"

"It might be a little safer than out here with your cousins," Shayla replied with a wink.

Khalid quickly suppressed the spark of nervousness that flared up within him and spoke, "Ah, so Gorak, did you sort out that business, yes, business with your father?"

Gorak grunted. "Ya. He wants me to go out on a hunt tomorrow. That Easterner picked up some good spoor a day ago. Might be a good idea. We'd be heading south through the desert for a few days, and then after we finish up we could just keep moving southwest to Shalazar. Keeps us off the road for a while."

Khalid nodded, "Yes, that sounds reasonable. Of course, it's up to Shayla as well now, since she can't go back to Gem-Sharad, yes. At least, not right away."

Shayla shrugged, "Sounds like fun."

Khalid marveled at the girl. A six day hike through the desert, and she considered that fun? "Maybe the innate magic has unbalanced her mind. Yes, that must be it," he muttered to himself as they entered Gorak's yurt and settled in for the night.

The morning dawned bright and hot, as most mornings do in Al-Qarin. Khalid was shaken awake by Gorak, who handed him a small loaf of bread and some goat cheese. "Let's go," Gorak rumbled, "the others are waiting."

Khalid hastily gathered up his meager possessions as he noticed with some chagrin that even Shayla seemed packed up and ready to go. As he crawled out of the tent, Khalid saw the hunting party assembled outside. The Easterner, Ronik was there, wearing dune colored leathers and holding an enormous eastern longbow. He was talking quietly to Gormo, Gorak's brother. Gormo looked as he always did, large and imposing in his piecemeal leathers. Unlike his father and brother, Gormo had shaved most of his hair off, save for a strip down the center of his scalp that he tied back with a rawhide cord. He too was carrying a bow, one of the short, tribal hunting bows. Shayla had forgone her normal city attire and was wearing a long desert robe that was somewhat more practical but no less alluring on her curvaceous form.

"Alright, let's go," Gorak rumbled.

Khalid struggled into his pack as he hurried to catch up with the rest of them. As near as he could tell it was just after sunup but the camp was already teeming with activity. He tore a hunk of bread off the loaf Gorak had given him and chewed it regretfully as he walked past cook fires where eggs and fresh ham sizzled in skillets. He thought of something then, and hurried to the front of the group to keep pace with Gorak. "Ah Gorak, what exactly are we hunting?" Khalid asked.

"Hatori."

"Hatori, hatori, hatori…" Khalid muttered to himself, trying to remember where he'd heard the name before. Realization dawned on him suddenly, and he stopped dead in his tracks. "Ah, Gorak, do you mean, ah Hatori as in the giant fifty foot lizards they pit dozens of slaves against in the arena?"

"Yup, that's the one. Now keep up Khalid, we've got a long way to go today." Gorak growled.

Khalid sighed heavily and fell into step at the back of the group. Things just kept getting better and better.
 

Son_of_Thunder

Explorer
Excellent!!!!

EternalNewbie,

I just wanted to add my praise to this campaign journal. I love the desert dwelling orcs and thugs of the White Tower (although if'n I was playing the sorcerer I woulda tried to put a bolt through them).

Keep up the good work,

Son of Thunder

Looks to be one of the top five story hours
 

ledded

Herder of monkies
EternalNewbie said:
<snip> Thanks to those who have posted replies for truly your kind words are the fuel for my creative spark. Heh. <snip>

Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words. Kind words.

Ok that ought ta fill up the old tanks for a while :D

Great story hour, BTW. I love your writing style, and the characterizations of the protagonists. Quite nice.
 


Okay, since I don't actually have time to write up an update I thought maybe I'd post a little background information about the characters, world, our gaming group.

First off, Khalid's accent isn't really, well an accent. It doesn't translate particularly well to text. If you want a better idea of what he sounds like, it's pretty close to Keifer Sutherland's character, the doctor, in Dark City. That wasn't intentional on my part, just the way it turned out.

Second, it may not be apparent from the story, but even though wizards can no longer memorize and cast spells, all types of stored magic (wands, staves, and scrolls) still function as normal and can be utilized by wizards of sufficient level. Suffice it to say that it's a good thing Shayla didn't try to put a bolt in one of them. We got an opportunity to find out what those wands Hazal and Belil carry actually do in a later adventure :D

As for Gorak and Shayla I believe their backstory goes something like this. Gorak's father, Magol, and his tribe of orcs scour the desert for wild and dangerous animals for use in the great arena of Gem-Sharad. Shayla's father is a prominent merchant and, well, fight promoter and thus has done extensive business with Magol's tribe. The two met during one of these numerous business deals. You probably have a reasonably good feel for Shayla's character from the story and can see why she would, as an impetous and spoiled teenager, have delighted in hanging out with Gorak, much to her father's annoyance. They remained close after her father disowned her (for various reasons). As for the rest of the details concerning Shayla and Gorak well, at this point in the story, Khalid doesn't know, and thus neither do you ;)

Incidentally, Shayla is played by my girlfriend, and is a complete newbie to gaming which may serve to explain some of her actions during some of the encounters. The person that plays Gorak, myself and Galeman have been gaming for years together (so Gorak and I have no excuse for all the stupid things we do later on ;) ), although this is the first time we've all lived in the same city for any period of time.

Okay, that's enough semi-relevant information from me. Sorry if anybody got fooled by this and came here looking for an update. Hopefully I'll have another part up early next week. Thank you for you continued patronage and please visit the gift shop on your way out.

-----------------
Eternal Newbie - because some things are forever...
 
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pogre

Legend
EternalNewbie said:
Okay, that's enough semi-relevant information from me. Sorry if anybody got fooled by this and came here looking for an update. Hopefully I'll have another part up early next week. Thank you for you continued patronage and please visit the gift shop on your way out.
Nonsense, I enjoyed reading about it. Oh wait... no, I'm indignant - I demand an update immediately!
 


Ziggy

First Post
I'm not indignant, but I still want an update.

I like your story, well written and interesting characters. It got that intangible something that makes you hungry for what is going to happen further down the road.

.Ziggy
 

ledded

Herder of monkies
Ziggy said:
I like your story, well written and interesting characters. It got that intangible something that makes you hungry for what is going to happen further down the road

Well said, my man, very well said.

Ziggy said:
I'm not indignant, but I still want an update.

I'm not either, but I *can* be, if it helps...
 

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Morgoth the Pure said:
he'd stab Gorak. Right in the face.

Yeah, well he'll never get the chance now will he? Because *somebody* had to move to the other side of the country and end the campaign. Now stop hijacking my story hour because you're all bitter you can't play :D

(For those who aren't privy to the inside joke, Morgoth was one of the original players when this world was created. He played a wizard called Zanzabar, who's name will probably come up at some point during this campaign.)
 


Ask and ye shall receive. Sorry about the delay but I managed to come down with bronchitis, resulting in the delay of not only the long awaited story hour update, but also one of my finals too. Now I normally have my updates proofed by either Shayla or Gorak (both of whom are English majors) before posting, but since neither is around at the moment I'm going to put this up anyhow and have them edit it later, so there may be a few errors I haven't caught. The posts will come a little more frequently now, I promise, and as always comments and criticisms are welcome and encouraged. But that's enough from me, on to the story...

* * * * * * * * * *​

Khalid concentrated. Left foot, then the right foot. Always moving, always forward. He lifted his head slightly and peered out at the desolate wasteland around him. For three days they had marched through the desert, beneath the oppressive sun that fell upon them like a smith's hammer on the anvil. Slowly, the rolling waves of sand had turned to hardpan, cracked and bleached. The footing had improved, but little else. In every direction, as far as the eye could see, was barren desert featureless save for the pools of glittering water that danced and played at the edge of his vision always just beyond reach. Mirages. The very thought made Khalid reach for his waterskin. He took a long pull and marveled at its freshness. Out here, in this empty and forbidding place, Gorak had shown his true power. Khalid had originally decided that the half-orc was nothing more than his father was, a hunter and tracker. Gorak had proved to be much more than that however. He did not simply read the features of the land to learn its secrets. He spoke to it, and it spoke back. On the first morning, when they awoke still shivering from the cold night air, Khalid had almost entered a panic when he realized that his waterskin was dry. Gorak however, had remained calm and had said not to worry. Then he did something remarkable: he began to chant. Khalid did not understand the words, but he recognized their purpose quickly enough. Slowly, from Gorak's outstretched hand, a thin mist appeared which slowly thickened into a steady stream of water. They had quickly filled their skins as the stream faded to a trickle and then stopped altogether. Khalid couldn't begin to comprehend the formulae needed to draw water from the air in this parched and arid place.

Khalid prepared himself for surprises from the rest of his companions as well, after the shocks delivered by both Shayla and Gorak, but none were forthcoming. Yet at least. Gormo, Gorak's brother, had failed to reveal any startling powers, except perhaps for his capacity to be crude and annoy Khalid. The Easterner, Ronik, had proved a capable guide, if somewhat reserved, and had led them unerringly through the desert. He was following no tracks now however, simply leading them to where he had last glimpsed the hatori. Khalid scowled darkly at that thought. Gorak had let him believe that little half-truth for almost a day. They weren't going to be trying to capture a full grown hatori, a feat which required scores of armored men with nets, ropes and a strong lack of common sense, but instead were following the trail of a pregnant hatori in the hopes that it would lead them to a clutch of eggs. Although Khalid relished the prospect of facing a pregnant and cornered hatori even less, Gorak had assured him that by the time they picked up the trail, the hatori would have already given birth, and moved on. Khalid's brief reverie was interrupted by a terse comment from Ronik.

"There."

Khalid moved forward beside him and peered out at the desert in the direction he was pointing. "Ah, yes, more rock and sand, quite interesting. Yes, quite."

"Look closer Westman."

Khalid strained he eyes to see what the Easterner was so interested in. "Ah, yes, all I see is a brown smudge on the horizon."

Gorak rumbled as he shaded his eyes with his hand, and stared out into the wasteland, "That's the tor then?"

Ronik nodded, "Yes. It's further away than it looks. We should reach it tomorrow morning sometime, if we can keep up this pace." He glanced at Khalid and Shayla.

Khalid flushed slightly at the insinuation but really couldn't dispute it. He glanced at Shayla as well. If he was finding this trek harsh, he couldn't imagine how she was faring. She hadn't complained yet however and even after three days of wandering through the desert she still looked as beautiful as ever, albeit somewhat dustier.

The group pushed on into the early evening before setting up camp and started moving again just before dawn. Their destination was much clearer now: a huge jumble of rock that jutted up from the desert like the spine of some long dead behemoth buried deep beneath the desert floor. As they approached, Khalid moved up beside Gorak and asked, "Ah, yes, you have been here before? What can we expect?"

Gorak nodded, "Ya, a long time ago. It's a cluster of rocks, maybe five or six miles wide, maybe fifteen or twenty miles long the way we're hitting it, shot through with gullies and ravines. Shouldn't be too hard to track the hatori, there's only so many places it'll fit."

Ronik's estimate proved correct, and the troupe made it to the first rocky outcropping before the sun had risen more than halfway through the sky. Working together, it took the three trackers, Gorak, Gormo, and Ronik only a matter of minutes to find the remnants of the great beast's trail. Even the passage of a little more than a week had failed to completely erase the trail, although there was little left save for a few shallow indents in the sand.

"It's a good thing you marked where it entered, I don't think I woulda been able to find this," Gorak rumbled.

Ronik only nodded as he pointed out the indentation of the beast's foot. Khalid shuddered slightly as the thought of meeting the great creature within the confines of one of the ravines ahead rose unbidden in his mind. He fervently prayed that Gorak was right and that the Hatori would be long gone.

The group began to pick their way through the boulders and stones that rose up from the ground around them. To Khalid's mind the odd windswept formations resembled nothing more than squat little men hunched upon the ground. His musing was cut short however, by a piercing shriek that ripped through the still desert air. Khalid uttered a strangled yelp and practically took flight, so startled was he by the sound. "Ah, yes, what was that?"

"Quiet." Gorak rumbled. Gormo and Ronik both had arrows drawn on their bows, but Gorak was waving them back. Even Shayla had her crossbow loaded, Khalid noticed with some chagrin, although her knuckles were white upon the grip. Gorak slowly moved forward, staring intently at a rocky spire rising from the desert some fifty feet away. Perched upon its peak was the largest bird Khalid had ever seen. It had plumage similar to that of an eagle, but its wingspan was impossibly huge, more than twenty feet across. Its wings were outstretched now, beating slowly as the creature looked about to take flight. Incredibly, Gorak kept inching forward and then to Khalid's complete amazement, he began to croon just loudly enough for the giant bird to hear him. The bird let out another shrill cry and beat its wings faster, although it still did not take flight.

"Gorak," Ronik hissed, "whatever you're trying to do, I don't think it likes it."

Gorak stopped crooning and slowly moved back towards the party. "It's protecting young," he growled. "There's no way to get by it without killing it."

"Ah, yes, kill it? Do you think you could bring it down with, ah, your bows?" Khalid asked.

The three archers looked at one another. "Maybe," Gormo grunted. "It'll be damn fast though, once it gets up in the air."

"Maybe we can just go around it," Gorak grumbled. "No sense wasting the arrows if we don't hafta." He looked at Ronik.

The Easterner scratched that the stubble on his chin. "Probably, if we pick the right path. These fissures and cracks intersect each other all over the place."

That decided the group backtracked a little ways, then cut further east before entering the rock formation. As they moved deeper inwards, the jumbled rocks and small outcroppings soon became towering spires and sheer walls that rose up as high as twenty feet above them. The hours passed and the shadows slowly leaned from right to left as the sun passed overhead. Ronik and Gorak took the lead, stopping often to confirm their direction. At times the path was so narrow that they had to walk single file and at other times it branched out as the walls gave way to pillars of stone. Even then the party stayed close together, heeding Gorak's warnings about becoming separated in the twisting maze of passages. Although they spoke infrequently, Khalid could tell that Gorak and Ronik were becoming increasingly frustrated that they hadn't been able to cut far enough west thus far to rejoin the larger path through the rocks. Finally, Ronik called a halt.

"I think…" Ronik began but his words were cut short as a javelin clattered off the rocks beside his head. Four more fell in rapid succession, one scoring a line of blood on Gorak's arm.

"Rock goblins!" Gormo roared as he nocked an arrow to his bow and fired upwards.

Khalid glanced skyward and saw a twisted little face glaring down at him. It's skin was a dull brownish gray that almost perfectly matched the rock around them. Similar to others of its breed its face was fat and round, with tiny fangs that jutted from its lower jaw. Khalid realized that the columns around them were broad and flat at the top, and the little creatures were scurrying about, raining down javelins on them. He jumped slightly as one of the missiles narrowly missed his foot.

Ronik too had put an arrow to his bow and fired, with better result than Gormo. He caught one of the creatures just under the chin, and his longbow had punched the arrow straight through the top of its head. It fell from its rocky perch without even a sound. In return for his efforts however, one of the little devils threw true and sunk a javelin into Ronik's upper thigh. He gasped and staggered under the blow, but remained on his feet.

Gorak turned and leapt at the cliff face beside him in an attempt to climb it, but the stone crumbled beneath his thick fingers and he slid back down to the ground. Shayla had fired her crossbow but the angle had caused her to misjudge her aim, and the bolt slammed into the cliff face below the goblin she'd been aiming at. Another volley of javelins sailed down from the cliff tops causing Shayla to cry out as one of them grazed the side of her face.

At last Khalid gained his composure and acted. He glanced about for the largest group of the creatures. Slightly to his right he saw three heads poking just over the lip of one of the columns. With a trembling hand he reached into the pouch at his belt and drew out a fistful of sand, far more than the spell required, and practically hurled it at the crouching figures. Even as the words left his lips however, and the flood of magic rushed through him, he felt the old doubts, the old fears settle in. As the last syllable left his lips he realized that he had only felled one of the creatures.

Again Gormo and Ronik returned fire, with Gormo dropping one. Ronik's aim however was hampered by his wound and flew wide. Gorak had finally gained the top of one of the columns and the little creatures began to flee before him. Shayla, still slightly dazed from the near miss backed away and began to chant. Once again a thick mist rose up to hide her from her enemies. The tiny assailants, with several of their number down, and realizing that they were facing opponents beyond their measure, broke and ran. Khalid took the opportunity to step within the protective embrace of Shayla's spell. He heard a sickening impact and, after he was sure it was safe, stepped out of the mist to see the broken body of a rock goblin at the base of the column below Gorak.

"They've all run off," Gorak growled. "Was another five of the little bastards up here." He climbed down from his perch. "Now what?"

Ronik cursed. "There could be a whole tribe of those things in here. They'll be dropping stuff on us from one end to the other, and it doesn't look like this path is going to take us anywhere near where we want to go. We have to turn back." He leaned heavily against the rock wall. "Now somebody pull this stick out of me."

Gormo moved towards him, but Gorak pushed him aside. "Let me do it," he growled. To his credit, Ronik didn't make a sound as Gorak pulled out the crude javelin. "Now brace yerself, this is really gonna hurt." This time, he did gasp and turn deathly pale as Gorak jammed his hand back into the wound, and began to chant. When Gorak withdrew his hand however, stained with gore and some sort of evil smelling black bile, the flesh closed behind it.

Ronik took a deep breath, then tested his weight upon the leg. As the colour slowly returned to his face, he nodded. "Thanks."

Somewhat downcast, the party spent the rest of the day heading back the way they came. After a brief deliberation, they decided to pitch their camp within the rock formation and move back towards the giant eagle from the other side. The hope was that in the morning it would either be gone, or that a way around could be found before encountering it.

As they made their way back north the next morning, Gorak dropped back to speak to Khalid. He rumbled, "So, that spell you cast. It knocks things out for what, hours?"

"Ah, yes, no, minutes actually, when it works," Khalid couldn't hide the bitterness that crept into his voice. "Unless of course, the subject is already ah, quite tired, yes quite," he continued. "It was a common prank for the apprentices to cast it on one another, yes, during a long night of studying. Most of the time, ah, you wouldn't wake up until morning. Ah, actually, they mainly just used to do that to me, yes, quite." Khalid frowned and fell silent.

Gorak rejoined Ronik in the lead as they neared the spot the great bird had made its perch. Luck wasn't with them this day however, and the great bird was still there. This time it didn't even hesitate to threaten them as Gorak stepped out from among the rocks. As the giant eagle launched itself into the air the party began setting arrows to bows. The creature reacted first and plummeted out of the sky towards Ronik. As it flew past one if its huge claws raked across his chest, lifting him off his feet and spinning him completely around. A thick spray of blood coated the rocks around him as he landed, but by some sheer effort of will he remained standing. As the bird raced past a volley of arrows followed, several striking true. Khalid steadied himself, preparing to cast a spell on the things next pass. As it wheeled about in the sky and dove down upon them again, the bird let out a tremendous shriek. Khalid steeled his nerve and once again drew a handful of sand from his component pouch. This time his spell was even less effective unfortunately, and Khalid was forced to dive to the ground to avoid the thing's grasping talons. Gorak too was forced to dodge aside as the bird narrowly missed him as it shot down the narrow gully. Again the twang of bowstrings filled the air followed by the heavier report of Shayla's crossbow and again several of the arrows landed true. The great bird was badly injured now, and slowly glided to the ground in front of them. As it hopped forward still intent on attack, Gormo finished it off with one final arrow.

Khalid moved forward to study the majestic bird. Its great plumage was now streaked with dust and gore. After tending to the Ronik's wound, Gorak too moved over to the bird. He stood there silently for a moment, then grunted, "It's the way of things." Then he drew out his long hunting knife and set to work hacking the bird up. "No sense letting all this meat go to waste," he grumbled. "Somebody get a fire going."

* * * * * * * * * *​

The entire next day, the party kept moving through the rocks, shadowing the trail of the great hatori. The passage was larger here, and travel easier but still they moved cautiously after the events of the last two days. As the walls rose up higher around the ravine, a decision was made to try and follow it from the top, rather than remain down below. The footing became more treacherous and long detours were necessary when the trail above became impassable. Khalid was just on the verge of complaining when the wisdom of their plan was revealed to him. Ronik hurriedly motioned for silence from his scouting position, and then waved the rest forward. Khalid dropped to his stomach and crawled to the lip of the gully. When he reached the edge he was greeted by the sight of a creature the likes of which he had never seen before. Crouched down, twenty feet below them before a shallow cave in the ravine wall, was a strange lizard-like creature. It had a long sinuous body covered with mottled brown scales, and tiny forelegs that it was using to dig out what Khalid could only assume were hatori eggs. Its long snout was filled with dagger sized teeth that were covered with the thick albumen of the hatori eggs. Its tiny, beady eyes were intent on its task, and the ruins of half a dozen eggs lay scattered around it. It's long whip-like tail twitched slowly back and forth, whipping up little puffs of sand. As Khalid leaned forward to get a better look at its size, it seemed to be about six feet long and about the same height at the shoulder, he thought to himself, "The teeth on that thing…it could probably bite my face off."

Suddenly, the edge of the ravine crumbled beneath Khalid's hand and a shower of stones rolled down into the gully. The raptor's head came up immediately at the sound, and it whipped around staring straight up at the sound of the noise. Khalid's thoughts changed immediately as the creature moved incredibly, impossibly fast, "BY THE LOST GODS THAT THING IS GOING TO BITE MY FACE OFF!" With two quick steps the raptor bunched itself up and leapt the twenty feet from the ravine floor to the plateau on top landing beside Ronik. As Ronik feebly tried to protect his vitals, the raptor became a whirling dervish of claws and teeth. For the third time in as many days, more of Ronik's blood lay outside his body than in, as the creature savaged him again and again. Khalid frantically scrabbled backwards, away from the raptor as it continued its deadly assault on Ronik. Once again the words of magic came unbidden to his mind in a time of stress, and a blanket of calm settled on Khalid as he began to chant. This time he didn't even reach for his spell components, he simply picked up a handful of sand from the ground beneath him and flung it towards the creature.

As the last of his words echoed through the cavern, the beast raised its head and stared directly at Khalid. Ronik's blood mingled with the ruins of the hatori eggs, and a thick drool of gore dripped down from the things massive fangs. Slowly, it bunched itself up, its great muscles trembling beneath its scaly hide as it prepared to pounce. Then the raptor blinked. Once, then twice. Then the creature slowly pitched forward onto its nose, and fell soundly asleep.

* * * * * * * * * *​

"So you'll remind him?" Gorak grumbled.

"Ya, ya, for all the good it'll do," Gormo growled. "The only money Da spends faster than his own is somebody else's. But I'll remind him he owes you fifty gold for the egg."

"See that you do. I'll be back to collect as soon as I'm finished in Shalazar."

Gormo grunted in response as he slowly wrapped a hatori egg up in a thick blanket. Despite the depredations of the raptor, the party had managed to uncover one intact hatori egg from the cache.

"We ready to move out?" Ronik asked. He was still moving slowly in the chill morning air, despite or perhaps because of Gorak's healing magic. All that remained of the raptor's fearsome assault was a few pink scars, a slight limp and a few new holes in his leather armor. He and Gormo were turning back now, heading back to the tribe with the egg, while Gorak, Shayla and Khalid pushed on to Shalazar.

"You got enough water?" Gorak rumbled.

"We should, if we're careful with it," Ronik replied, as he shifted his pack into a more comfortable position. "Been fun," was his only parting remark as he turned back north.

Gormo said even less, pausing only to slap Gorak on the shoulder as he followed Ronik. Gorak picked up his pack, and slung it over his shoulder alongside the wicker basket that held Sousee, his pet snake. The three were quiet as they marched east out of the ravine and once again into the rolling dunes of the desert.

At about midmorning, Khalid finally broke the silence, "Ah, so, we should hit the road in what, two or three days, yes?"
Gorak grunted, "Ya. I'm gonna keep us moving more east than south. The river bends due east and if we head too far south before we turn, we'll end up runnin' along side it instead of into the road. If we're lucky we'll come out of the desert near one of the half dozen or so villages that line the road from Gem-Sharad to Shalazar. We can maybe get some fresh food and find a place to lay up for the night."

Khalid nodded in response and took a deep breath of the desert air. He felt that he was finally getting used to this whole outdoors thing. Even the strange sounds and animal cries no longer kept him up at night. That being said, he decided that he'd still feel a lot better when they'd reached Shalazar.

Shayla, who had been unusually quiet over during the tense hunt of the last few days, now kept them occupied with a seemingly never-ending stream of conversation as they journeyed on throughout the day. As siesta came and went however, Khalid noticed Gorak becoming more sullen and withdrawn than usual. During a pause in Shayla's description of one of her many suitors, a long low howl echoed from a distant dune top. Khalid took the opportunity to engage Gorak in conversation in an attempt to draw him out. "Ah, yes, that animal howl, I've heard it a few times now, what do you suppose it is? A hyena, perhaps coyote, yes?" he asked.

"It's a dog," Gorak growled.

"Ah, dog? Yes, what would a dog being doing out here in the deep desert…" Khalid stopped dead in his tracks as the realization slowly dawned on him.

"Following us." Gorak muttered. "It gets worse. I count three of them from the howls." He slowly turned and looked at both Shayla and Khalid. "And they're getting closer."
 
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