Al-Qarin: Into the Desert (11-12-23)


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CHAPTER 4: THICKER THAN WATER

Khalid threw open his bedroom door and rushed into the hallway, heading for the main entrance. Skidding to a halt on the marble floor, he quickly reconsidered and darted out a side door into a garden. Leaping over a small hedge, he crept along the side of Arbaq's mansion and peered around the corner into the courtyard. Seeing several armed men milling around the gate, Khalid grabbed a fist full of sand and was about to unleash a spell when he realized all of the soldiers were wearing Arbaq's green and white. Taking a moment to sort out the scene, he saw Gorak standing in the middle, arguing furiously with one of the guardsmen. On the other side of the wrought iron gate was a shadowy figure that tugged at Khalid's memory, although he could barely see anything in the flickering torch light. A guard stuck the butt end of his spear through the gate to prod the figure away from the wall and was jerked forward as his spear was seized. With a loud clang the guard crashed into the gate, then staggered back and fell down as Gorak shoved him. Khalid groaned inwardly as he realized there was only one person he knew strong enough to fling around a grown man like that. With a laugh, Gormo tossed the guard's spear back through the gate. Khalid stepped out from his hiding place and walked into the light. Relaxing only slightly, he held onto a pinch of sand as it looked very much like a full scale brawl was about to erupt.

Heads jerked around as the barracks door opened with a crash. Muttering curses, the Captain of the guard stumbled out. Sizing up the situation with a quick glance, he turned to Gorak, “What's going on here?” he demanded.

“Nothing. This is my bruther, and we're just leavin'.” Gorak grunted, still glaring at the sitting guard.

The Captain, being somewhat better informed, recognized Gorak's unique place within the household. Mulling things over, he decided in the interest of a good night's sleep to take Gorak at his word. “Fine. Take him and get out of here.” he replied and headed back to his bunk.

The guards, with a few sullen glances in Gorak's direction, began to disperse and resume their posts. Halfway across the courtyard, Shayla fell into step beside Khalid. They joined Gorak at the gates as he grunted in agreement with something Gormo said.

Gormo was every bit as unpleasant as Khalid remembered. Slightly taller and wider than Gorak, he smelled as though he hadn't bathed in a month. Breathing heavily from his encounter with the guards, Gormo eyed Khalid and Shayla as they approached. He rubbed a hand over his greasy topknot as his eyes lingered for an uncomfortably long time on Shayla's lithe form. Clad only in a gauzy nightgown, Shayla endured his gaze without a trace of embarrassment. He muttered a greeting then spoke again to Gorak. “C'mon. Let's go.”

“Ah, Gorak, what's going on?” Khalid asked.

“Gotta go into the dessert. Me Da's been taken.” Gorak replied. “Gormo, wait here, and don't angry up the guards while I get my gear.”

“Taken? By who?” Shayla asked as she fell into step beside him.

“Dunno,” Gorak growled with uncharacteristic patience. “That's why I gotta go.”

“Well I'm coming with you.” Shayla raised a hand as Gorak began to object. “Don't argue. You might need me.” Gorak stopped and stared at her intently for a second, then shrugged and continued walking back to the house.

“Khalid,” Shayla continued. “What about you?”

“Ah, I think perhaps my presence may be more of a hinderence, yes, hinderence than a help, for a variety of reasons.” Khalid looked questioningly at Gorak. “Ah, unless of course you think I can help?”

“Nah. They took him two days ago. I'm gonna go hunt around a bit, see if maybe they left anything behind that'll give me an idea of who ta beat on first. Get your stuff Shayla, and meet me out here in ten minutes.”

Pursing her lips slightly, Shayla watched him disappear around the corner of the house heading towards the garden he slept in. “He's in one of those moods. This is going to get unpleasant.” Shayla said. “Not that I blame him. Oh well, never a dull moment, eh Khalid?”. With a flash of her devastating smile she walked into the mansion.

Shivering in the cold desert night, Khalid sighed at the lot the fortunes had cast him. Never indeed. Then he went inside to pack.

* * * * * * * * * * *​

Time passed slowly for Khalid as he fretted over the fate of his friends. They had been gone for over a day now and the monotony of his ethereal portal was beginning to irk him. Having a few theories of his own about who might have snatched Magol, Khalid had announced to the staff that he was leaving and instructed them to leave a note in his room when Gorak returned. He then promptly vanished into his extra dimensional pocket, coming out only under the cloak of an invisibility spell to take some food from the kitchen.

Finally, midway through the third day, he glanced out of the portal and saw a note from the servant. Dropping down into his bedroom, he sought out Gorak and Shayla. He found them, engaged in conversation in antechamber off Shayla's room. Gorak glanced up when he entered and grunted, “Where the hell have you been?”

Khalid could see the seething anger in Gorak's face, raging just below the surface. “Ah, keeping a low profile, yes, quite. What did you find out?”

“Nothing,” Gorak spat. “Looks like six men grabbed him in the middle of the night. Da bloodied a few of em and killed at least one, according to my Ma. Then they knocked her out and dragged him off before anybody knew what was going on. They took their wounded and headed out into the desert. Maybe if I'd got there sooner, I coulda followed em, but the tracks were blown out a half day into the wastes.”

“Ah, I see,” Khalid said, somewhat lamely. “Where's Gormo?”

“He's got a place in the city here. I sent him back there to keep him out of trouble while I figure this out.” Gorak rumbled.

“Ah, Gorak, something has been bothering me the last few days.” Khalid said somewhat hesitantly. Unnerved by Gorak's flat stare, he continued haltingly, “Ah, well, it's about Gormo.”

“Spit it out Khalid, I ain't in no mood fer games,” Gorak growled.

“Yes, quite. Well, ah, how exactly did Gormo know where to find you? The last he knew, we were heading, yes, heading for Shalazar. And it's not like he knew we were working for Arbaq, we only just met him on the way there. Yes, quite.” Khalid blurted out.

Gorak's usual frown darkened. “You know, that's a damn good question. I was so wrapped up in finding me Da that I never even figured to ask. I don't care if he is sick,” Gorak muttered. “I'm gonna go back there and find out what the hell is going on.”

Without another word, Gorak stormed out. A nagging suspicion began to gnaw at Khalid as he mulled over what Gorak had said. Frustrated and worried, he spent the next few hours in Arbaq's harem, but even that couldn't distract him. Seeing that Gorak still hadn't returned, he idly flipped through his spellbook and penned a few notes on a new spell he'd been researching.

Finally, hearing a slamming door that could only herald Gorak's return, Khalid tucked his spellbook into his robes and sought out his friend. As he walked by Shayla's door, he tapped lightly, and a few seconds later she emerged, her tousled red hair still damp from a recent bath. The two of them headed down the hall to Gorak's room and walked in without knocking, knowing the huge half-orc preferred to spend his time in the garden outside. Crawling through an open window, they found Gorak squatting on his haunches, smoking a foul smelling cigar.

“Ah, yes, what did you discover?” Khalid asked immediately.

“Nothing. He's got some charm of Da's that he used to use to keep tabs on me. Got one for both of us, I guess.”

“Oh,” Shayla remarked with a disappointed little sigh. “Now what do we do?” The concern was evident in her voice.

Khalid stared at the two of them as icy fear seized his heart. He started to speak, but all that came out was a strangled little yelp. Gorak stopped in mid sentence and both he and Shayla looked at Khalid. Forcing himself to take a few deep breaths, he realized that neither Shayla nor Gorak had his White Tower schooling, and neither would understand the significance of that trinket. “Ah, Gorak, a locating spell of, ah, that magnitude, on a trinket yes, that could be used at will would, ah, cost an enormous, yes, enormous,sum of gold. Yes, quite.”

He could see the comprehension began to dawn on their faces. “Who knows,” Gorak growled. “Maybe Da looked at it like an investment.”

“Ah, Gorak, I'm talking thousands upon thousands of sultans. Didn't you once, yes, once tell me that when you ran out of water on a desert, ah, walkabout, your Da wouldn't give you any, until you, ah, paid him for it?”

As much as Gorak wanted to deny it, the truth was evident. “Then that means...”

“Halaal.” Khalid said awful finality.

“Son of a whore!” Gorak cursed. “Then that bastard Gormo is in league with him. When I get my hands on him, I'll throttle that dirty goblin f*lcher.”

Shayla put a restraining hand on Gorak's arm as he leapt to his feet. “Easy Gorak. Halaal is probably black mailing him with your father. He might even know where we can find Magol.”

Some of Gorak's anger faded away at Shayla's calming touch. “Doubt it,” he growled. “Otherwise he'd have rallied the clan and stormed into the city. Gormo ain't one for thinking things out.”

Khalid frantically wracked his brain, trying to remember a lesson at the White Tower that continued to elude him. Sighing inwardly as he realized the details would never come to him, he spoke. “Ah, it is quite likely, yes, quite likely indeed that he is under some sort of compulsion. Halaal is no fool, and would quickly suspect that Gormo would, ah, as you suggested, storm the city.”

“Can you break it?” Gorak growled.

Khalid shook his head helplessly. “Ah, Halaal was a powerful wizard, and even without his powers, he still has decades, yes, decades of accumulated magical resources at his disposal. I am self taught, and all, yes, all of my resources have thus far been directed at keeping us alive. Yes, quite.”

“Well, he still might know something useful,” Shayla said. “I'll just go make friends with him and we'll see what he knows.” Her emphasis left no doubt as to what she intended.

“Ah, yes, that might be dangerous, yes, dangerous for Gormo. Conflicting enchantments may be quite hard on his ah, shall we say, volatile, disposition. Yes, quite.” Khalid quickly interjected.

“How dangerous?” Gorak grunted.

“Ah, well, yes, ah...I really, yes, really don't know.” Khalid concluded rather lamely. He was starting to suspect that perhaps at least some small part of his difficulties at the White Tower stemmed from his inattentiveness at lectures.

“Well, he knows something, that's fer damn sure,” Gorak snarled and then did that thing with his hands were he made each knuckle pop one at a time as he curled his hands into fists. “And one way or another, we're gonna find out what. Let's go Shayla.”

Left alone again, Khalid agonized over the situation, alternating between seething frustration at his inability to take action and futile self pity that the fates had conspired to pit him against Halaal, through no fault of his own. He knew what would buy Magol's freedom, how he could end all of this today without any loss of life. It meant given up everything he had worked for; everything he had dreamed of, now that it was finally in his grasp. He remembered the long nights of fruitless study, the mocking taunts of his peers to whom magic came easily, and the derision of his instructors. All that had changed now, and it was Khalid that they all envied. To be cut off from the endless flow of raw power that coursed through him, Khalid could imagine nothing worse. He wrestled with his turbulent thoughts for over an hour, before he realized that there was no decision to make. To surrender himself, to abase himself before Halaal and throw away his livelihood, his very existence was unthinkable. He spent a few minutes studying a few more spells, preparing for the worst, and sought out Arbaq.

Arbaq as he often was these days, was locked in his study. Having left no specific instructions not to be disturbed, Khalid knocked rather timidly on the door, and was bid enter by Arbaq's cultured voice. Stepping into the room and closing the door behind him, he found Arbaq seated in one of the large leather armchairs, a thick tome in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. With a snap, he closed the book and placed it on the table beside him, in order to give Khalid his full attention. “How goes the search for Gorak's father?” he asked, with what seemed to be genuine concern. Although with Arbaq, one was never quite sure.

“Ah, I was not aware that you had been informed. Yes, quite.” Khalid replied.

“I do try to keep abreast of what is going on in my own house,” Arbaq chastised him, albeit with a wry grin. “I heard the disturbance, and Shayla filled me in on the details.”

“Yes, quite. In truth it goes ah, poorly, yes, quite poorly indeed.” Khalid hesitated for only a second, before continuing. “It seems as though the wizard, ah, Halaal is behind it, yes quite. There is no question, yes, no question what he seeks from me, as you have probably surmised.” He reached down and touched his rucksack. He had taken to carrying around his spellbook and enough provisions for a short journey.

“Indeed, knowing the state of the White Tower, I can imagine what he wants with you, and what he is prepared to do to obtain it.”

“Yes, quite,” Khalid agreed. “It appears, yes, appears as though he has coerced Gorak's brother into serving as an, intermediary as it were. It is quite, yes, quite likely that Gormo is ensorceled. He has already lied to us and knowing his temperament, it is only a matter of time before he takes matters, ah, into his own hands.”

“A most distressing situation to be sure,” Arbaq said carefully as he studied Khalid with a penetrating gaze. “What is it you would have of me?”

“Ah, nothing myself, although Gorak may ask for your help, yes, help if he is unable to wrest any information from Gormo. Yes, quite. I, ah, have merely come here to inform you of my intentions.” Khalid took a deep breath and then plunged forward. “Gorak and I have faced many, yes, many dangers together, but where his father is concerned, I do not pretend to know his mind. It is possible, yes, quite possible that should he exhaust all other avenues, he will approach me for what Halaal seeks. I will not permit him to take it. Yes, I will prevent that with the full, yes, full extent of my abilities.”

Arbaq's impassive demeanor didn't change in the slightest at Khalid's declaration. “Indeed. Let us both hope that it does not come to that. I suppose that if I were you, I would do the same.” He shifted slightly in his chair and casually changed the direction of the conversation as only a seasoned merchant could. “Ah, I see you studying the titles of some of my personal collection.” He waved his hand expansively at the enormous bookshelves lining each wall. In truth, it was all Khalid could do to look Arbaq in the eye when he was in this room, so enamored was he by books that surrounded him. “Long have my studies consumed me in those few hours when I can set aside my business ventures. I have delved deeply into ancient histories and forgotten lore, discovered things which I may be only person alive to know. I have studied subjects both mundane and esoteric, practical and theoretical. I have read the greatest works of literature ever written, and some of the foulest, most vile depictions sentient ritual to ever be vomited upon a page. Take this book for example.” He selected a thin, unassuming black book from among the many behind him and passed it to Khalid. “Inside you will a thousand ways to inflict the most gruesome pain upon a living being.” Khalid flipped through the book quickly, having no real interest in learning how to torture people, but curious to see where Arbaq was leading. He paused at a peculiar looking picture until his mind sorted out the contorted figure and hideous things being done to him. He paled slightly and hurried closed the book, handing it back to Arbaq.

“In truth, it is not a particularly original work. However it is quite extensive,” Arbaq continued. He put the book back upon the shelf. “But while interesting, it does not hold the answers that I seek. None of these books do. My studies have gone far beyond this collection, and now I find myself hampered by my own limitations. Everywhere I turn, I am confronted by dead ends. Which is why I have a proposition for you.” Instantly, Khalid knew what was coming.

“Shayla has told me that you were seeking a wealthy patron to hire you as a tutor. Very well I wish you to teach me magick, Khalid. There is much we could learn from one another.”

He was right, that is what Khalid had wanted, so many months ago. Now he was no longer sure. Certainly there was no time for it now; Gorak and Shayla needed him. But he was honest enough with himself to realize that was not the only source of his hesitation.

Arbaq picked up on his reluctance and raised a hand before Khalid could speak. “Of course, now is not the time for this discussion. I ask only that you consider it, once the present circumstance has been resolved. Now if you will excuse me, I have a meeting to attend to shortly. Should I be able to help you in any way, do not hesitate to seek me out again.”

Summarily dismissed, Khalid had little time to consider his conversation with Arbaq, as Shayla and Gorak walked around a corner into the hall. “There you are,” Gorak growled. “We've been looking all over for ya.”

Seeing no signs of recent violence on either Gorak or Shayla, Khalid asked, “Ah, so how did your meeting with Gormo go?”

“Awful,” grunted Gorak.

Shayla nodded. “Suffice it to say, Gormo doesn't like me very much any more.”

“Ah, yes, so what do we do now?” Khalid asked in a hesitant voice, eyeing Gorak carefully.

“Well, good thing for us that Gormo ain't the sharpest knife in the kitchen,” Gorak growled, with an evil grin creeping over his face. “Soon as he threw us outta his room, he took off into the city. We followed him to a big house on the west side of the city.” Gorak shook his head in disgust. “Whatever Halaal's done to him, he ain't the same no more. He looks terrible, real sick like. Even in the crowded streets after siesta, the old Gormo woulda known he was being stalked.”

“Ah, so I daresay I know what the plan is,” Khalid remarked. “When?”

“No sense in waiting,” Shayla replied. “Tonight, when it gets a little darker.”

Even Khalid was buoyed up by the prospect of action. They each went their separate ways to prepare and reconvened to discuss tactics. Since they didn't know if Magol was in the house, or even how many people might be there, the plan was relatively straight forward. Gorak would scale the wall and enter through a second story window. Once inside, he would secure a knotted rope for Khalid and Shayla, who would follow him in. They would head downstairs immediately, in an attempt to ensure that no one had the opportunity to escape. Where possible they would take prisoners, but there was no question that should it become necessary, there would be fatalities.

As Shayla and Gorak discussed the possible layout of the house, Khalid excused himself to make his final preparations. He stopped a servant in the halls to ask where he could find Arbaq, and was not in the least surprised to hear that he had returned to his study. As he walked through the halls, he considered the evening ahead of him. It was, without question a Gorak plan that they pursued, but in all honesty, considering that it was Gorak's father at risk, it was probably appropriate. He knocked lightly on Arbaq's door, and entered at his bidding.

“Khalid,” Arbaq said as he glanced up from an scroll on his desk, “how can I be of assistance?”

“Ah, we have found some information that may, yes, may lead us to Gorak's father. It is probably best if you, ah, are not familiar with the details, as it is likely, yes quite likely to become unpleasant.”

“Indeed,” Arbaq said. “I would expect nothing less from Gorak. What would you have of me then?”

“Ah, yes, well I come to ask a favor of you,” Khalid replied and at Arbaq's encouragement, continued. “Considering, yes, considering who we are facing this evening, I would, ah, ask that you keep this safe. Yes, quite.” He drew out his spellbook from the satchel at his side and placed it upon the desk before Arbaq.

It was one of those rare moments when Arbaq was caught completely off-guard. The surprise was evident on his face as he placed his hands upon the book. “I realize what this means to you, and I must admit I am astonished that would entrust it to me. I assure you, I will keep it safe for you, until you return.”

“Ah, excellent. Should the unthinkable happen, and I do not return to claim it. It is yours, yes, yours to do with as you will.” It pained Khalid to say it, but thus far Arbaq had treated them well and he was reasonably sure that Arbaq would be able to keep it out of Halaal's clutches.

“Very well. Luck be with you this evening.”

“Yes, quite.” Khalid agreed.

* * * * * * * * * *​

Khalid and Shayla loitered in an alley attempting to look inconspicuous while Gorak surveyed the house they were about to assault. Pinching his nose between two fingers, Khalid nudged an enormous rat away from his foot, encouraging it to forage among the numerous piles of garbage that littered the cramped alley. Finally, just when he thought he wouldn't be able to tolerate the stench any longer, Gorak waved them forward.

“Alright,” Gorak growled, “let’s go.”

Khalid started to walk gingerly out of the alley, carefully watching where he put his feet to avoid the most fetid piles of offal. He was just about to step into the street, when Gorak placed a hand on his chest and shoved him backwards into Shayla.

“Sh*t!” Gorak hissed. “It’s Gormo. Get back.”

They scrambled back into the alley and attempted to conceal themselves, but the narrow passage afforded little in the way of cover. Khalid quickly discarded the idea of hiding in one of the mounds of filth, as the inevitable retching would certainly give them away. Holding his breath in fear now, rather than disgust, Khalid watched the street intently, praying fervently to whatever Gods might still be listening to shield them from Gormo’s eye.

The Gods it seemed, had as much love for Khalid as he did for them. As Gormo emerged into view, he stopped almost directly opposite the mouth of the alley and let out an enormous sneeze. Hawking up a gob of phlegm, he wiped his nose with the back of his hand, and looked up straight at Gorak. His lips drew back in a feral snarl as he realized what was going on.

“Cut him off,” Gorak hissed as he darted out into the middle of the street. Khalid and Shayla followed close on his heels and took up positions on either side, blocking the street and preventing Gormo from returning to the house they were about to assault.

Gormo stared intently at Khalid, with a fierce hunger raging in his bloodshot eyes. He tensed up as though he were going to lunge forward, then thought better of it as Gorak moved to intercept him. With a curse, he turned on his heel and fled down the narrow, twisting streets of Gem-Sharad.

“After him!” Gorak barked as he shoved aside a startled citizen and gave chase. Khalid and Shayla followed close behind and for a few frantic minutes, they ran through the streets, through the thinning crowds of curious onlookers. Finally, Gorak skidded to a stop and held up his hand. “Enough.” he panted, “We're never gonna catch Gormo, he's too damn fast.”

“Ah, then what do we do now?” Khalid asked, breathing heavily from the sudden exertion.

“Go back,” Gorak grunted. “Finish what we started. With any luck Gormo's gonna keep running for a bit.”

They turned back and hurried through the streets as quickly as they could without drawing too much attention. When they finally reached the house, Gorak paused and assessed the situation. Faint light trickled through the shuttered windows, but there was no sign of any disturbance from within. With a jerk of his head, Gorak led them around the side of the building and aided by his magic, easily scuttled up the side of the wall. Khalid breathed a sigh of relief as Gorak forced open the unlocked second story window and climbed quietly inside. A moment later, a rope dropped down. Shayla wasted no time in climbing gracefully up to the second floor. Khalid waited until she was almost in the window, and then with a deep breath, grabbed the rope with both hands.

The knots in the rope made it much easier, but physical exertion had never come easily to Khalid. Pausing for a second to adjust his grip, he leaned back and glanced around as the sound of footsteps reached his ears. He froze, motionless on the rope, hoping it was just a random stranger walking down the street.

“Open up!” Gormo's voice ripped through the night, causing Khalid to almost lose his balance.

“Gorak,” Khalid hissed over the dreadful racket coming from the back door of the house. “Ah, what should we do?”

“Get up here!” Gorak growled as he hauled on the rope, dragging Khalid into the room. Clipping his head on the window on his way through, Khalid stumbled and fell heavily to the floor. Groggily, he looked up just in time to see Gorak throw open the door and lunge out into the hall, followed closely by Shayla. Staggering to his feet, Khalid moved to follow as Shayla cried out the words to a spell. Her musical voice mingled with Gorak's thick growl as he spat out the words to his own incantation.

Khalid had almost reached the door when he heard Shayla shriek, “No! Please don't hurt me!”

Reaching into a pouch at his waist for a handful of mica, Khalid flinched as something soft and sticky brushed across the back of his neck. Glancing up, his eyes widened in surprise as thousands of thick white strands began to drift down through the air, settling on his head and shoulders. Half blind, Khalid frantically tried to brush them away realizing to his growing horror, that they were congealing around his feet. In a matter of seconds, the entire room was covered in thick webbing and Khalid was completely ensnared. With one hand glued to the top of his head and the other tangled at his hip, he sagged against his bindings, defeated. Try as he might, he couldn't free his hands and although mere inches away, his component pouch may well have been on the other side of the sun. Grinding his teeth in impotent fury as Gorak cried out in pain, Khalid had never felt more helpless.
 
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Shayla cried out again, pleading with her attackers. Seizing upon every ounce of his strength, Khalid thrashed against the magical webbing holding him. Although some strands broke, everytime he moved, more and more of the sticky filments clung to him. His breath coming in short ragged gasps, he slumped down, exhausted. 'Think Khalid!' he admonished himself. 'There is a way out of this!' Repeating a simple mantra designed to aid concentration before casting, he forced his breathing to slow down. He closed his eyes and tuned out the sounds around him. Shayla's voice faded away, as did Gorak's chanting. 'Spells are out,' he thought to himself. 'Can't reach my components and none of the ones without will help me, even if I can manage them. What else?' He remembered the dagger, tucked in a sheath at the small of his back. 'No good. This stuff is too thick, it'll just get stuck. What else can I reach? Potion belt. Healing potion, universal antidote, goblin fir...” Khalid's eyes flew open. He had one vial left of the vicious goblin naptha that burned when exposed to air. 'It might be enough to burn the webbing'. Wincing as the gooey strands tore the hair off his arm, he managed to shift enough to pull the bottle from his belt. He was about to hurl it to the floor then stopped. 'Careful. There's webbing everywhere. If it doesn't break, you're finished.' He slowly slid his thumbnail around the lip of the bottle, breaking the wax seal. Working the cork back and forth between his fingers, he loosened it as much as he dared. Glancing around, he found an open patch of floor, then took a deep breath to steady his nerves. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed the vial on the floor in front of him. 'It worked!' he thought as the vial shattered and erupted into flame. The webbing around the spot where the vial landed was consumed instantly. Khalid realized quickly that he hadn't fully considered the ramifications of his plan. He screamed in agony as the flames raced across the webs attached him, badly burning his face and hands. Collapsing to the ground, he rolled around frantically, trying to extinguish his smoldering clothing.*

Another shout from Gorak snapped him out of his initial shock and Khalid scrambled to his feet. Taking stock of the situation, he saw that his robes were only slighly singed, but angry red blisters were quickly rising on his face and hands where the webbing had been attached. The room was full of thick black smoke, but the doorway and a good part of the hall were clear of webbing. The sound of Shayla's voice jerked him into action and Khalid cried out, “Ah Shayla, if you're caught, use the goblin fire, yes, fire oil to burn away the webbing!”

Stepping out into the hallway, Khalid's vision in either direction was completely obscured by thick webbing. He could hear Gorak cursing from his right, but couldn't see anything. Glancing to the left, he flinched at the sound a detonating vial of naptha and a sooty orange glow lit up the passage. She, like Khalid, cried out in pain as the flames scorched her. More black smoke billowed through the hall and the webbing in front of Khalid thinned drastically. He could barely make out Shayla freeing herself from the last wispy strands of blackened web. Unfortunately for Gorak, the goblin fire oil burned itself out almost immediately. The passage that way still completely blocked.

Hearing Shayla still pleading with her attacker, followed by the unmistakable sound of breaking glass, Khalid bit his lip and considered his options. Both ways were still covered in webbing, but there was absolutely no way to reach Gorak. Lowering his head, Khalid charged forward, bursting through the last few feet of webbing, and emerged behind Shayla almost crashing into her.

“Khalid!” Shayla cried. “I charmed one of them! He's got a wand, but he couldn't get a clear shot at you past me. When things started catching on fire, he jumped at that window at the end of the hallway.”

Khalid glanced at Shayla. Her hair was singed and her clothing blackened, but she didn't look much worse for the ordeal. As she moved towards the window, Khalid grabbed her arm. “Ah, that is not a good idea I think. Yes, quite. You may have charmed that wizard, yes, but Gormo is still out there somewhere. Ah, you'd better let me.” Without waiting for her answer, Khalid enacted one of his recent discoveries, and faded from sight. “Ah, you try to free Gorak, I'll circle, yes, circle around and come in through the front.”

“Neat trick,” Shayla remarked as she pulled out a torch from her backpack and thrust it into a small fire that was still burning fitfully along the base of the wall. She turned away and began to walk down the hall, sweeping the torch in front of her.

Watching her for a second, Khalid noticed that the hallway was filling with more smoke, despite the fact that most of the fires from the goblin naptha had burned out. Shaking his head to dimiss the thought, he moved over to the window and quickly cleared the glass away. Grabbing on to the sill with both hands, he lowered himself out the window carefully, breathing heavily with the exertion. As he let go, it occurred to him that if he fell and cracked his skull open on the ground below, nobody would be able to find him. With a grunt, he landed easily on his feet then held his breath and listened carefully for a second as he pulled out a healing salve and applied it to his burns. Hearing nothing, he assumed Gormo and the other assailant had fled, and circled around to the front of the house. Moving as quickly as he dared, he stopped and peered in a window.

Khalid had, over the past few months, seen a lot of strange things. He was nevertheless, completely unprepared for what lay beyond the window. Through the clouds of smoke he saw Hazal, a former apprentice of the White Tower and one of Halaal's bully boys, come crashing down a flight of stairs. He looked completely paniced. His robes were shredded and burned, and slick with blood from the waist down. At the bottom of the stairs, he stumbled in his haste and shattered a chair into kindling as he fell. Chasing him was an gigantic rat, easily the size of a small dog, that slavered and snapped at his feet. Taking advantage of his prone condition, the rat bit him savagely on the thigh and Hazal screamed in pain. Shouting out an arcane command, Hazal jabbed at the rat with a thin metallic wand in his left hand. The rat stiffened and flopped over, twitching slightly before disolving into a wisp of greenish smoke.

Hazal's attack bought him only a brief respite. With a shriek he rolled frantically out of the way as a two foot high orb of pure flame came bouncing down the stairs and almost landed on him. Scrambling to his feet, he turned and lunged at the window. Staring in stunned amazement, Khalid barely dodged aside as Hazal smashed through the window and hit the wall on the other side with a meaty thud. Shaking his head to clear the shock, Hazal pushed off the wall to his feet, and staggered out of the alley.

Invisible, Khalid crept out behind him and trying to make his voice as ominious as possible, whispered in his ear. “Ah, I suggest you drop that wand.”

Whirling around, Hazal raised the wand defensively. Seeing no one, he started to back away slowly, prompting Khalid to hiss, “Drop it, before I lose my patience boy! Yes quite!”

Wounded and faced with an opponent he couldn't see, Hazal complied, dropping the wand and kicking it away. He raised his hands to show they were empty. Glancing over his shoulder, Khalid realized that the amount of smoke coming out of the house could only mean they had started a serious fire inside. One that was likely to draw a lot of attention. He desperately wanted to find Gorak and Shayla, but he knew his spell wouldn't last much longer. “Move, yes, move down the street. Quickly! Take the first, yes, the first alley on your left.”

Hazal complied, and Khalid followed closely behind, when they turned down the alley, he urged Hazal onward. “Keep going. Ah, turn right here, and then left down the next alley.” They walked quickly through the streets this way, with Khalid hissing directions every time they were faced with a choice. After a few minutes, Khalid told him to stop.

“Sit down,” he ordered Hazal. As Hazal slumped to the ground, Khalid considered his next move. Deciding he had no time to spare, he got straight to the point. “Ah, I want to know where you're holding Magol, and I want to know right now,” he said in what he hoped was a threatening voice.

Hazal stiffened slightly, then his eyes narrowed. “Or you'll what Khalid?” he taunted. “Kill me? I don't think you have it in you. You're no murderer.”

Khalid cursed inwardly as Hazal spoke his name. He had hoped to maintain his anominity. Thinking quickly, he said, “Ah, you have tormented, yes, tormented me from the day I met you. You have used you position as Halaal's pet to bully and ridcule me. You have kidnapped my friend's father in an effort to bend me, yes, bend me to your masters will. I assure you, it is all I can do, my friend, to stop myself from killing you. Yes, quite.”

Hazal glanced around nervously, and licked his lips. “You won't do it, there's too many people around. Your spell won't hide you.”

“Ah, are you so sure?” Khalid asked, hoping that Hazal had paid as little attention at the lessons as he had. The spell would indeed fail if he interacted to violently with his surroundings, but he knew Hazal hadn't been powerful enough to cast it when the flow of magic was altered. Sweat was dripping from Hazal's face and his breathing was harsh and ragged. It was all Khalid could do from laughing aloud. Hazal didn't know the limitations of the spell and he was close, so close, to telling Khalid what he wanted to know. Khalid crept quietly around behind him, and leaned in close, “And besides, your master has accused me of treason. What, yes, what are they going to do? Hang me twice?”

Hazal jerked away at the feeling of Khalid's breath on the back of his neck. For a second he looked as though he might flee. And then he broke. “Okay, okay! I'll tell you,” he gasped. “He's in a warehouse, down near the river.” He rattled off an address in a part of Gem-Sharad that Khalid was familiar with. “Now let me go! I gave you what you wanted. Just let me go!”

Khalid was fairly certain Hazal was too scared to lie. There had been no hesitation when he gave the location and it was indeed in a part of town filled with warehouses. The buildings were large, and the streets relatively unpopulated. The perfect place to keep a hostage. Khalid knew, however, that if he let Hazal go, he would run straight to the White Tower. Tieing him up wasn't an option, he didn't have anything suitable, and there was no way he was going to get that close to Hazal. Even wounded, Khalid didn't feel at all confident in his ability to render him unconcious in a stand up fight, and that would probably draw far to much unwanted attention. Running through his repetoire, he knew he had two spells available to him to subdue Hazal. One that would almost certainly kill him, and one which possibly render him unconsicious, if he could overcome Hazal's White Tower training. Khalid sighed as he reached for a pinch of sand. Hazal was a bully and a fool, but it was possible that he simply wasn't as clever as Khalid at avoiding Halaal's domination. It was entirely likely that he was caught up in something far beyond his depth and as much as Khalid disliked him, he didn't deserve to die.**

Hazal started to move the instant Khalid began to cast. He leapt to his feet and headed towards the end of the alley as Khalid finished his spell. As the sand drifted from his fingers, he knew the spell had failed, and Hazal disappeared around the corner. Thinking quickly, Khalid laughed to himself and tossed caution to the wind. Sprinting out of the end of the alley, he began to give chase.

Wounded and exhausted, Hazal quickly flagged and began to slow. Clutching at his side, he turned at the sound of Khalid's footsteps behind him. His lip curled as he spat, “What are you going to do Khalid? This is a crowded street.”

Khalid glanced around, and realized Hazal was right. Even this late at night, they were on a main street and there were several people within sight. “Ah, yes, I'm not quite done with you yet. Yes, quite. I think I'll relieve of that belt you're wearing.” Hanging at Hazal's waist were several scrolls, potions and another wand.

“I'll call for the guards,” Hazal threatened.

Khalid shrugged and stepped in closer. “Ah, yes, as I said, if they're going to hang me for treason, they might as well hang me for murder as well. Yes, quite.”

A few curious onlookers had drifted closer, to get a better look at what was obviously a serious confrontation. “What's going on here?” demanded a squat little man in lurid purple pantaloons and a bright red fez, as he twirled the oiled end of his mustache between his fingers.

“Ah, this man has stolen something from me,” Khalid replied easily, as a crowd began to gather. Wearing the finest Arbaq's tailor had to offer and confronting a man that dressed in ragged, filthy robes that reeked like alley runoff, Khalid knew he had the crowd on his side.

Hazal's eyes darted around nervously as he realized people were gathering behind Khalid, and glaring at him suspiciously. Tired and wounded, he couldn't think of a way to deflect Khalid's accusation. He started to back away, which only served to make him look more guilty, and then stopped when he saw a few people circle around behind him.

Khalid leaned in close and whispered, “Neither, yes, neither of us wants to explain this to the Sultan's guards. Hand over what I want and you can go.”

Beaten again, Hazal cursed and removed the belt, tossing it at Khalid's feet. With a smirk, Khalid bent down and picked up the belt. “Ah, thank you for returning what is rightfully mine. Get from my sight you miserable, yes, miserable cur, before I call for the guards.”

Shaking in impotent fury, Hazal turned on his heel and fled down the street. The squat little man that had first spoke up, clapped Khalid on the arm. “Generous of you. I'd have had the guards take a hand off him if he'd taken my purse.”

Nodding distractedly, Khalid quickly excused himself from the crowd and rushed back to the house in search of Gorak and Shayla. As he turned the corner, he saw a large crowd gathered around a rather impressive fire. Men near the front were hauling buckets of water from the well and tossing them on the surrounding buildings, having apparently decided that it was too late to save the house. Hanging near the back of the crowd, he searched for his friends. Not seeing them among the gaping faces watching the fire, he turned to leave when he noticed a small boy of about eight playing with a oddly carved stick. Recognizing Hazal's wand, he knelt down beside the child.

“Ah, that belongs to me.” Khalid said.

“No it don't,” the boy replied beligerently, brushly his bangs out of his eyes and looking at Khalid. “I found it in the gutter over there.”

“Ah, nevertheless, it is mine. I will reward, yes, reward you for finding it for me.” Khalid replied.

“I dunno, it's all polished, and it's got these funny marks all carved in it. I think that might be gold too. I wanna keep it.”

“Ah, that is not gold, but this, yes, this is,” Khalid said as he pulled a sultana from his purse. “Surely this is worth more than a polished stick? Yes quite.”

The boys eyes lit up at the sight of the coin, then a cunning look crossed his face. “If'n its worth one sultana to you, maybe it's worth two.” he countered.

“Done,” Khalid replied and gave the boy two sultanas in exchange for the wand. Standing up, Khalid left the burning house and found a secluded side street. Glancing around to ensure no one was watching, he summoned a mount. Practically leaping into the saddle, he rode hard for Arbaq's mansion, hoping to catch up to Gorak and Shayla on the way.

A quarter hour later, Khalid tossed the reins to a startled guard as he dismounted in the mansion's courtyard. Seeking out Arbaq, he found him reading in his study. Arbaq glanced up from his book as Khalid burst into his office.

“Ah, have you seen Gorak and Shayla?” Khalid panted as he collapsed into an armchair, trying to catch his breath.

“No, I'm afraid not,” Arbaq replied as he handed Khalid his spellbook. His brow furrowed in concern. “How did everything go?”

“Ah, yes, well there was a battle,” Khalid said as he poured himself a generous glass of wine. Between gulps, he continued, “We got separated, yes, separated, but I managed to discern the location of Gorak's father. But we must move quickly. Yes, quite quickly.”

“Indeed,” was all Arbaq replied.

“Ah, they may have taken a different way back. Yes, quite. And I was on horseback, so it's quite, yes quite possible that they are close behind me,” Khalid said hopefully, as the waterclock on the mantle counted away the minutes that decided Magol's fate.

* * * * * * * * * *​

* Galeman let me roll the damage on the flaming web. Naturally, I took max.

** The other spell I had left was burning hands. I was fairly certain that it would have killed him outright and, even though Khalid hated the guy, he wasn't prepared to kill him by burning him alive. It was a tough choice, as I was fairly certain that sleep wasn't going to work (he might have even been too high to affect). I forgot why I started chasing him (I do remember that part of it was simply because he was so scared of me, I couldn't resist). I think I was still trying to work out a way to stop him without killing him, but it didn't really work out.
 
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Very nice update, EternalN. I can fully appreciate Khalid acting on impulse like that - he can't have had many people afraid of him in the past, and I can well imagine him wanting to revel in it. Methinks Galeman was rather generous letting you recover the wand for a mere 2gp, though. If I'd been DMing and you'd run off and left it, it would probably have disappeared without a trace (at least until reappearing in the hands of someone who could use it with hostile intent).

Keep the updates coming ... :)
 

HalfOrc HalfBiscuit said:
Methinks Galeman was rather generous...

Galeman? Generous? That actually made me laugh out loud. Of course if he reads that, he's gonna think people are getting the wrong impression, and figure out some way to strip us of all our equipment and strand us in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by enemies.

Oh, wait, nevermind. That's how we finished the last session... ;)
 

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