Barsoom Tales II: Romance, Revolution and BLOODY REVENGE!!! -- COMPLETE


Unattainable Ideal
Big trouble. Little heroes. Welcome to Barsoom.

It's not my style to offer long-winded introductions to a story, but for those of you who can't bring yourselves to read Season One of Barsoom, here's a quick round-up of pertinent facts. If you're joining us for the first time, that's fine; I'm going to make this Story Hour as self-contained as possible. While I hope you DO take the time to read the original "Barsoom Tales" story hour, I will try to assume you haven't. While not pissing off anyone who has with excess exposition.

Our heroes, in the employ of the del Maraviez family, sail across the Inner Sea towards the desert nation of The Narid, where they plan to sell a cargo of rifles and ammunition to Naridic warriors resisting the invasion of The Kishak empire. They are:
  • Isaac del Valencia, the Saijadani swordsman, revealed as a disgraced son of a disgraced (and executed) noble, has embarked on a mission of revenge against the powerful del Orofin family, blaming them for the disgrace of his own.
  • Elena de los Santos, a Saijadani woman with a dour temperament, has discovered mental powers she never knew she possessed. She can affect the minds of others and even move objects around, with mysterious abilities she does not yet fully understand.
  • Nevid, the enigmatic representative of the del Maraviez family, hasn't always exhibited what might be called heroic courage, but his quick wits and natural caution have gotten the group out of trouble more than once.
  • Etienne, the half-Kishak street kid from the great city of Pavairelle, is nimble and reckless and full of bravado. He's had to be rescued by the others a couple of times already, a pattern that looks to be establishing itself.
  • Arrafin al-Fasir beni Hassan is a young scholar from the Narid who has uncovered a tome of arcane formulae that apparently provides the secrets of sorcery, a science unheard of amongst the civilized nations of Barsoom.

This crew was wonderfully illustrated by our very own Claudio Pozas:


A few things have become clear:
  1. Although scoffed at by most Barsoomians, sorcery clearly DOES exist. Not only have spells been discovered, recorded in mathematical formulae, but strange creatures have emerged, unnatural and twisted. Sorcery is also clearly very very BAD. Death and madness seem to follow in its wake.
  2. Barsoom's history is a murky and confusing tale, one that differs wildly depending on who's doing the telling. This lack of reliable narrators will come to concern our heroes in the tale that follows.
  3. There's no shortage of unpleasant, self-centered, completely mad and incredibly powerful individuals lurking about in the shadows of Barsoom. That trouble lies ahead seems certain.

I will be posting once a week with new episodes, probably on Wednesdays. I expect the entire tale to take about a year to tell. In deference to Eric's Grandma, some language will be replaced here and there with asterixes. I will be collating the episodes into downloadable text files -- note that those files will NOT include the asterixes, so if you are offended by foul language, stick to the online posts.

More info on the setting.

Note that this story veers even more drastically from the actual events of the game than most of my Story Hours have. The games were played six to seven years ago, and the campaign itself was much broader, more confusing and complicated than I could possibly set down here. Many events that proved to be pivotal in the actual campaign have been left out here in the hopes of creating a more coherent story, and other events and characters have been combined, altered or shifted around freely in this narrative. This story bears the same sort of relationship to the original campaign that Oliver Stone's movies have to history.

I like to say: "Inspired by actual imaginary events" :D

That said, none of this would have been possible without the tremendous creativity and effort shown by my players, who created such wonderful characters and took all my goofy ideas with just the right amount of seriousness. Everything cool that came out of this campaign came out of our interactions, and I most certainly couldn't have done it without them. They rule.

I do hope you enjoy it, and that you'll post your comments here. I'm honest enough to admit that positive feedback is a reason for doing this at all, so it means a lot to me to have folks tell me they're enjoying it. Thanks!

The whole thing is attached as RTF files to this post, if you don't want to page through the thread. Read Canto 01, then Interlude 01, then Canto 02, then Interlude 02, then Canto 03.


  • 02-Barsoom-Canto01.rtf
    167.6 KB · Views: 292
  • 02-Barsoom-Interlude01.rtf
    9.1 KB · Views: 282
  • 02-Barsoom-Canto02.rtf
    148.8 KB · Views: 335
  • 02-Barsoom-Interlude02.rtf
    7.2 KB · Views: 308
  • 02-Barsoom-Canto03.rtf
    204.5 KB · Views: 330
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad


Unattainable Ideal
Another Fine Mess: 1

Arrafin held her breath.

Her huge round eyes widened even more than usual as she concentrated. She knew she had to relax, to open some non-existent portal inside herself. She didn't know exactly what would happen, but she'd prepared.

She'd studied. She'd read the translation provided by Blood Sister Kimiko Torokan, read and re-read and made notes on and sat up late nights as the ship heaved around her, ignoring her sea-sickness as she puzzled at the devious passages and strange mathematical formulae that filled page after page in the Blood Sister's neat handwriting.

She'd made the figure. Bound of twigs and twine, it was a crude humanoid form, only a couple of handspans from head to toe, lying on the floor in the middle of her tiny cabin.

She'd investigated. Although Arrafin's specialities at university had been history and language, all students at the University of Al-Tizim were expected to excel in all subjects, and mathematics had come easily to the quick-witted girl. Her skills were stretched to the limits as she tried to comprehend the complex notation and strange equations in the ancient text, but in the end she was pretty sure she'd gotten it figured out.

She hoped. All indications were that whatever she was about to attempt, it was deadly. The text was filled with dire imprecations and warnings of terror and horror and madness and pain and death.

She tried to relax.

Inside her, outside her, something opened. Something emerged. Something leaked into existence.

For less than a heartbeat, Arrafin felt panic. Her spine shuddered with cold darkness and an empty, gaping hunger that roared to life inside her. Her wide eyes crawled with blackness and shadowy tendrils roiled outward from where she sat on her narrow cot. They licked at the floor and spread in a circle around her, drifting right through the partition walls of her cabin.

For less than a heartbeat, panic pushed into Arrafin's brain. She began turning the complex equations over, solving them for the values that rose up, unbidden, in her mind. The concentration required, the intricate patterns that appeared within her consciousness, consumed her utterly and panic slid aside, driven out by the cold perfection of mathematics.

Outside, the night-time darkness hid the strange shadows, and the crew went about their business unaware of the supernatural events taking place below.


Isaac leaned on the stern rail, staring off into the dusk. Next to him, Elena did the same. Around and above them, the crew of Thuria's Dream bustled about making the ship ready for the coming night.

Elena voiced her troubled thoughts.

"Why are we working for these people?"

"Who? The del Maraviez family? You mean besides the fact that they're rich, powerful, well-connected and completely ruthless?"

"Yeah. Besides all that."

Isaac turned around and leaned back against the rail. Elena looked up at her friend, curious at his sudden silence.

Isaac was not the most handsome man she'd ever seen. His face was blocky and his nose appeared to have been broken at some point in the past. He scowled constantly, usually chewing on the dog-end of an old cigar. He was powerfully built with broad shoulders and large hands, but Elena knew he was capable of moving with stealth and silence.

He looked across the ship to the far horizon where the setting sun blazed in its final, bloody fury of the day.

"I owe them a lot, Elena."

He chewed his cigar.

"My family was destroyed by the del Orofin family. My father was convicted of treason and executed. I was sent to prison. Even that wasn't enough for them. They sent a man into the mines to kill me. I got away.

"When I got back to my family's estate, the house had been looted, and the property was tied up in some sort of legal mess. I was still a fugitive, an escaped prisoner, so I couldn't even look into it. My mother was gone. I never found out what happened to her.

"Isabella contacted me in Mataleo. She knew the whole story, she knew the del Orofin had managed the whole thing so they could get their hands on Father's trade concessions in Caedmon. She kept the law off my back, put money in my purse."

Isaac shrugged.

"So I work for her now."

Elena studied him for a second, then turned back to the water. She was a solidly-built young woman, with the same Saijadani darkness to her features and skin as Isaac, and like him, tended to scowl most of the time. Around her eyes she appeared to have a delicate tattoo filigreed into her skin.

They stood in scowl-faced silence for a while as the ship heaved and creaked around them.

"Do you trust her?"

Isaac considered.

"I don't know if I think she's always honest, but I don't think she would betray us. I definitely don't think she'd betray us to the Kishaks."

"Lying is a form of betrayal, Isaac. Or Philip. Or Dominic."

"Dominic, if you please. We might as well try to maintain the fiction. The del Maraviez went to a lot of trouble to set it up."

"But who knows what they're really up to?"

"Ah, you're too suspicious. Why wouldn't the del Maraviez want to help Naridic rebels against the Kishaks? We've fought those red bastards before, you know. If we don't stop them in the Narid, who's to say they won't invade Saijadan again?"

Elena's scowl deepened.

"I don't trust them."

"I don't trust anybody."

Elena's eyes flicked over to Isaac, or Dominic as he was now called, then returned to studying the red-flecked waves around them.

"I don't trust them."


"The coastline all along the nor' coast of the desert 'tis nothing but shoals and sandbars, me lad. We'll no get this deep-bellied lass within two miles o' the shore, I'm telling ye."

The captain of Thuria's Dream, O'Shannon, was a Shaeric ex-mercenary whose past had proved every bit as ill-starred and chequered as Nevid had expected of a gun-running smuggler willing to dodge Kishak galleys for a promise of gold. He and Nevid studied a hand-drawn chart of the southern coast of the Inner Sea, where the calm green waters met the endless sand dunes of the great desert of the Narid.

Nevid shrugged. Nautical details were of no interest to the small, serious-looking Saijadani youth.

"Yes, well, you have a rowboat or something to take us ashore? With the rifles?"

"Aye, that we have, lad. But should ye find trouble, we'll no be able to provide assistance, that's what I'm saying."

"I don't anticipate any trouble, sir."

Captain O'Shannon considered the confident young man.

"Ye've not done this afore, have ye?"

Nevid was about to respond when a shriek came from out on the deck. Nevid moved faster than the captain and saw the source of the trouble right away.

A small figure was walking across the deck with stiff, awkward movements, like an ill-handled puppet. Apparently formed of twigs or sticks the figure made its unsteady way towards Nevid.

Mastering his astonishment, Nevid looked down the length of the ship to where Arrafin stood, eyes wide, watching the figure with obvious awe and delight.

The figure reached Nevid. Sailors all around withdrew, muttering dark curses and dire warnings. The crudely-fashioned head tilted up at him and one arm lifted to wave, back and forth. The twigs rustled and snapped as it moved.

Nevid looked around at the fearful faces and groaned inwardly. The sailors were horrified at the sight. They'd never seen anything like it before.

The young Saijadani raised a foot and brought it down on the little waving figure, stomping it savagely until the bundles came untied and fell apart, leaving just inert sticks scattered across the deck boards.

Arrafin cried out in hurt anger.


The Saijdani stormed over to her and took her thin arm.

"Arrafin, what are you thinking? These sailors will think you're a witch or worse! Think for once, why don't you!"

Arrafin glared at her colleague for a second and then shook herself free of his hand and raced into her cabin, slamming the door behind her. Nevid shook his head as Isaac and Elena joined him.

"Honestly, she's got to think. She can't just be... casting spells."

Isaac took the cigar out of his mouth.

"On the other hand, she's casting spells."

"Yeah, well, that frightens me, too."

Etienne had been in the rigging, trying to learn how to navigate by the Sentinels, and arrived with a thump.

"What's all the fuss? Hey, who dumped those sticks all over the deck?"


In her cabin, curled up on her narrow cot, Arrafin hugged herself, outrage and hurt feelings quickly replaced with a fierce, exultant joy. It worked. Sorcery worked. And she could do it. She could learn this wild physics. And while animating tiny figures might seem a small accomplishment, Arrafin's quick mind raced into the future, seeing possibilities opening up before her.

Her homeland need not suffer for all time under the yoke of Kishak oppression. Her people could rise up and take back their freedom, no matter how many legions the Tyrant's Shade threw into the desert. They could win.

If someone would lead them. Someone with power.


*pulls up a seat and pops some popcorn*

I'm in. And all I can say is, if there ain't any stewardesses, there damn well better be some dinosaurs!


First Post
As good as ever, barsoomcore. Tell me, though, just how often is that artwork going to need to be modified over the coming weeks? :p


Unattainable Ideal
Another Fine Mess: 2

In Nevid's mind, ten thousand doomed souls wailed. Smoke and flame rose, taller than city towers, taller than the mountains in the distance, stretching up to reach the clouds, swirling upwards in a great pillar of horror and destruction.

The city tore itself into scraps and fragments, whirling and shrieking with the force of a hurricane. Centered around a tiny speck of crimson, a figure that stood with arms outstretched, black hair towering above a dazzling gown of red and gold.

It turned to face him. Reaching. Beautiful. Laughing.

Nevid awoke, sitting upright on his bunk. Beneath him, Isaac snored his deafening rumble. Their tiny cabin, grey with half-dawn light, echoed with unfamiliar noise and activity. Wiping strange images and unnameable fears from his mind, he lowered himself to the deck and made his way outside, where the crew rushed about.

He spoke to a nearby sailor.

"What's happened?"

The sailor pointed across the waves to the shore.

"We've arrived."


Of all the sights beneath the pink sky of Barsoom, the northern shore of the Narid was not, decided Elena, among the most picturesque.

She'd been expecting majestic sand dunes, palm trees clustered around oases, everything golden and beautiful.

Instead, she found herself considering a seemingly endless straight muddy beach behind which lurked grey gravelly plains, pale and indistinct and featureless. Clouds hung low and gloomy over the scene, as long rollers broke in dull, monotonous thunder across miles of mud flats. Seabirds and dactyls keened overhead.

The only note of interest in sight was the flat-topped rise a mile or so inland, upon which lay (so they were told) the home of the man they sought.

Thuria's Dream could not come too close to the shore, unable to press very far into the gently shelving shallows. She lowered anchor and swung to, rolling in the gentle surf. Sailors bustled about lowering the ship's boat and swaying up the massive crates holding the rifles and ammunition.

Elena watched the proceedings with interest but not much comprehension. Some of her comrades, especially Etienne, had spent the last few weeks learning seamanship, but she'd been content to sit out of the way and discuss the many strange things she and her friends had experienced in the past months.

She and Arrafin had speculated a great deal on the nature of some of those events. They carried a marble skull that Arrafin believed had once belonged to the great Naridic king, Sulekar ben Azan, and that held remarkable properties, able to heal injuries and detect the presence of undead creatures. Undead creatures such as Laughter of Stones, a sad but noble dark-skinned warrior doomed to spend eternity hunting down and destroying some near-extinct enemy race, and Mara, a terrible vampire child who'd seemed unstoppable until Elena had struck her with an ancient black blade taken from the tomb of the legendary Essermane Varag, terror of ancient Al-Tizim. Elena rested a hand on the guard of that sword, which was too big to carry in a scabbard and instead leaned against the rail next to her, wrapped in a nondescript rug pinched from Marques' storeroom in Pavairelle. Arrafin had been so excited to find the tomb of Essermane Varag.

Arrafin. Elena shook her head to herself as she watched the skinny girl with the massive tangle of curls on her head describe the history of this particular stretch of Naridic coastline to Isaac and Etienne. She gesticulated as she spoke, slender fingers dancing in the air as her soft Naridic accent rose and fell. Neither of the two young men displayed much real interest in her tale, but they listened and nodded politely as she carried on most of the conversation by herself.

Nearer the stern, Nevid stood with the captain, finalizing details for this trip ashore. Their companion Nevid (Elena couldn't bring herself to call the incommunicative young man a friend) was certainly resourceful, and clever enough, but Elena often wondered where his true loyalties lay. His ties to the del Maraviez family were much tighter than the rest of them, and sometimes Elena got the sense that he was watching them, filing reports for his Familias bosses. She scowled as his slender form, elegantly fitted in a fine dark suit, leaned out over the rail to call out some instructions to the sailors in the boat below.

Soon the heavy crates lay secured in the boat. Elena nodded at a gesture from Isaac and came forward as he and Etienne clambered down to where sailors held the boat steady. Nevid followed them and then it was she and Arrafin. The Naridic girl considered the climb down with discomfort.

"Gee, Elena, that's, um, that's a long way down. When you really look at it. Isn't it?"

The rail of Thuria's Dream was a spear's length or so above the gunwales of the boat.

"Isaac will help you down. Won't you, Isaac?"

"What? Oh, of course. Here, Arrafin."

Isaac reached up and Arrafin swung herself gingerly over the rail. She gulped as Isaac's big hands took hold of her, nearly encircling her about the waist. He chuckled, swinging her easily down into the boat.

"Good grief, girl, you weigh less than my cigar case. We're lucky you didn't blow overboard on the trip."

"I hung on tight. Thank you."

With laborious strokes the sailors heaved the little boat through the rollers towards shore. Waves that had barely rocked Thuria's Dream sent the longboat pitching and heaving, and whitecaps cresting over the stern showered all the passengers with salty spray. The sailors pulled on their oars and soon the boat's hull scraped on wet gravel. Everyone except Arrafin and Nevid jumped out and began running the boat further up into the shallows.

Elena, pushing at the gunwale, frowned at Nevid. The young man was studying the seat in front of him with furious concentration.

"You okay, Nevid?"

"Strange dreams. Strange dreams."


"You're going to get us all killed, Tariq."

"Nonsense. God is with us, you coward. We are working in the service of faith, Israhel. No harm can come to us."

"We're all going to die."

"Another word, Israhel, and you will die here and now, I swear so upon the hilt of my saber. Another word, and I strike, and may God have mercy upon you. If you will have no faith in me, have faith in God who watches over us. But know that I have planned for these dogs. They will not return home."

Fayeeda watched Israhel subside. The beni Rifaa were not famous for their courage, but she couldn't blame the young man for backing down in the face of her uncle's blustering menace. Tariq al-Musharran beni Howetait carried all the wild violence of the Howetait tribe, mixed with a crazed sense of self-confidence that indeed got people around him killed as often as not.

Tariq chuckled as he watched the rowboat come towards the beach, weathering end-to-end sprays as waves rushed past it. Armed men jumped out and ran the boat up as far as it would go, and Tariq started forward. He waved his crew to come with him.

"Help these lazy northern dogs unload, you useless banth droppings."

He spread his arms as a big Saijadani man, cigar clenched in his teeth, approached. Tariq laughed and called out in Imperial Kishak.

"My very good friends! How delighted I am to see you! God smiles upon us today!"

The Saijadani man grimaced. He and Tariq were well-matched both in size and evident menace.

"I'm sure. You Achmed?"

Fayeeda startled at the mention of her father. The man with the cigar took no notice, but the broad-shouldered Saijadani woman behind him narrowed her eyes at the girl. Fayeeda looked away, surprised to note a Naridic girl among the strangers, peering past the frowning Saijadani woman. Beni Howetait, to judge by her dark skin and wild curls.

Tariq laughed more.

"Not I. Achmed, that shiftless vulture? Ha. No, I am Tariq al-Musharran beni Howetait, Achmed's brother, and you are my guests and business partners. You bring the guns from Pavairelle, yes?"

"Where's Achmed?"

"Tragically captured by a Kishak patrol only days ago. I have taken over in his absence, with God's blessing."

The Saijadani man looked back at the rowboat with a frown, noticing how Tariq's gang were unloading the heavy crates there.

"You owe us some gold before you can take those guns, you know."

"Of course, my friend. But first, why not take some refreshment in our village atop the hill you see just behind me? Surely we can discuss business there? Why all this seriousness, my friend? This is an occasion for joy! Together we shall smash the Kishak bastards and drive their red filth from the desert, God willing."

"You do have the gold, yes?"

"Of course! As God is my witness."

"Perhaps you could show it to us?"

Tariq scoffed, pretending insult. He reached into a shoulder bag and displayed a thick golden ingot.

Another Saijadani man, much smaller than the first and with the appearance of a clerk or a scholar, stepped forward.

"May I have a look?"

Tariq tossed the bar into the air. The young Saijadani stepped back to let it fall into the wet sand, then crouched to study the gleaming bar. Fayeeda considered the young man. He was handsome, in a delicate way. He straightened and nodded to the larger man.

"It's Kishak. Looks genuine."

The big Saijadani man turned back to Tariq.

"So where's the rest? You've got the guns."

Tariq grinned as his men staggered past, carting the heavy crates of weapons. The boat was already empty and the guns well on their way.

"Yes, thank God. We have the guns. And I'm afraid, my northern friend, that you now have all the gold that we possess. I thank you for your generosity. You are beloved of God."

To Fayeeda's surprise, the Saijadani man just nodded. He didn't seem angry or even surprised. He stepped forward. With a gesture, Tariq called up his three bodyguards, savage Howetait warriors who spoke to no one save their employer. These men raised their rifles to their shoulders, all three weapon barrels trained on the big Saijadani man.

He made no move for the pistols at his belt. He just shrugged. His casual lack of concern impressed Fayeeda. She hadn't thought northerners could possess that sort of courage.

"We didn't come here to fight you. But we aren't leaving without that gold. That would irritate our employers. And trust me, you don't want to irritate them."

Tariq bowed.

"I have no wish to irritate anyone beyond the Kishaks and their seething lapdogs. Come. Come join us in our humble village, and we will tell you the tale."

"This had better be good."

The Saijadani woman stepped up to her friend and spoke quietly, but Fayeeda could just hear her.

"You're going to get us all killed, Isaac."

"Didn't you hear? I am beloved of God. You lot can look out for yourselves."


Unattainable Ideal
Another Fine Mess: 3

"The truth is, my friends, that only my brother Achmed knows where the gold is."

Tariq beamed around at his guests as the setting sun emblazoned his tent. Outside, riding gallos rasped at each other, rattling their hobbles as they shifted, restless and surly. Some group of herders were sharing songs off at the edge of the camp, their ululating voices lending a quiet undercurrent to the conversation.

Out beyond the tent flap, the flat surface of the tall mesa they sat atop lay steady beneath a whirling flow of dust devils, shimmering like a curtain before the vista of the endless desert far beyond.

Etienne leaned forward, his brow knotted in cautious suspicion. Sand crusted on his dark leather garb. He toyed restless with the hilt of a dagger at his belt.

"Your brother Achmed who was captured by the Kishaks only days ago."

Elena sniffed.

"Tragically captured, I think he said."

She had to give it to Tariq; the man was utterly without scruples. There was no chance of them getting those guns back now. They sat surrounded by his warriors, and Elena knew that it was only their tenuous connection to the infamous del Maraviez family that had kept them alive thus far. One false move could doom them all.

"And you're afraid to go rescue him?"

To Elena's surprise, it was Nevid who had spoken. He studied Tariq with the same intensity he'd been studying the rowboat seat earlier, and Elena wondered just what the dreams he'd had were about.

Tariq simply stared in disbelief at the slim young man. Then he threw back his head and roared with laughter.

"I, Tariq al-Musharran beni Howetait, afraid? Impossible! Afraid. You do not understand the insult, civilized fool, and so I forgive you this once. God wishes us to be generous to our guests."

Arrafin scowled.

"God also wishes us to sacrifice our own lives for our brother's. Do you forget the passage from the Sayings: 'For he who gives up all that God has given to him for the sake of another is redeemed by God and made a prince in His grace'?"

It had been over a year since Arrafin had studied scripture, but her mind was not one to let quotations or facts drop aside. Her anger at Tariq's theft and his carefree manner with religious dogma made her smoulder with suppressed fury as she glared at the man.

At last Tariq betrayed a flash of irritation. He scowled at Arrafin.

"Do not trouble me with scholar's jibes, girl. I have the scars of seventeen Kishak sabres on my body. God has granted me strength to slay eighty-one of those red bastards, and I pray he will send more my way!"

He raised his hand in a devout gesture and the warriors around him cried out in joyous uplift.

"Then why not rescue your brother?"

Tariq spat and stood, towering over Arrafin and her friends where they sat on the rug. He shook his fist at them.

"Why not? You ask me why not? The Kishak lapdogs are fortified behind tall walls, foolish girl, with guns and towers. We will not throw our lives away so uselessly. No, if God wants Achmed out of there, he will send us a sign. We are well enough without him."

Elena looked over at Fayeeda, who sat with them as well. The younger girl shrank back from her uncle's rage.

"How was your father captured, Fayeeda?"

Tariq sat down in a pout as the beni Howetait girl found her voice and spoke.

"The mercenaries. They patrol on armoured beasts, with many guns. They. We could see them riding around the hudra here, we shouted to warn them, but they couldn't hear. They ran into the mercenaries. We could hear the guns. Many fell. Father."

She drew a breath.

"He was alive, pinned beneath his gallo. They dragged him out and they took him."

Isaac took the cigar from his mouth and picked at a bit of leaf that had come loose. He spoke without looking up.

"Who are these mercenaries? Naridic?"

Every Naridic person in the tent, including Arrafin, gasped. Tariq grabbed a knife and stabbed it into the rug, cursing.

"I would gut you for that, Saijadani, were you not my guest."

The many warriors around them pressed in, murmuring among themselves. Elena shot Isaac a look of exasperation. He returned it, then turned back to Tariq.

"So, they're not Naridic. Who are they?"

Tariq snarled at Arrafin.

"You are beni Howetait. Why do you travel with these dogs?"

"I am beni Hassan. Who are the mercenaries?"

Tariq blinked in surprise.

"You look beni Howetait. Truly, you are beni Hassan?"


Arrafin relented to Tariq's curiousity, sensing that this conversation was serving to relax the tension in the tent.

"My mother was beni Howetait. Of al-Hourani's tribe, west of Tallal. My father was beni Hassan from Al-Tizim."

"Of course you are from Al-Tizim, your voice tells me so. But you are still of the desert, yes, child?"

Arrafin nodded carefully.

"I love God."

Fayeeda mustered the courage to speak.

"I have never been to Al-Tizim. Is it very beautiful?"

Elena settled back on her pillow as Arrafin began describing the endless marvels of her ancient city. She leaned over to Isaac and Nevid.

"We still don't know who these mercenaries are."

"Shaeric. They're with Laird Connaught's army, probably either the Fourth or the Sixteenth company. Musketeers and lancers, mostly, hired by the Kishaks to pacify the northern marches. Savage and merciless, but not very well-disciplined."

Elena blinked at Nevid.

"I'm not even going to ask how you know that."

"Arrafin's not the only one who studies, you know."

Isaac leaned back, his voice a dark rumble.

"What I'm more interested in is how the mercenaries knew to put together that ambush. Certainly seems like our friend Tariq has benefited from the event."

Etienne listened with half an ear to both conversations. Arrafin's descriptions of Al-Tizim's vast markets and great avenues filled him with homesickness for his own Pavairelle, now far behind them across the Inner Sea. He thought of their last sight of the Free City, burning in the fires of revolution as the citzenry at last overthrew their Kishak overlords.

He thought of his last visit to the Blood Council's sanctuary, and of Blood Sister Torokan's forbidding seriousness.

"Etienne. Thank you for coming. I know that you and your friends are busy in these days, but there are words I must speak to you."

The half-Kishak nodded, trying to give off an air of nonchalance.

"I know. Arrafin. And sorcery. And that Laughter of Stones guy. What was he? Some kind of immortal warrior, right? Does he hunt down sorcerers? I should try and protect Arrafin. I need to be watchful."

Torokan's severe expression softened.

"Etienne, listen to me. You must be cautious of your friends. Sorcery is very dangerous. Arrafin may lose control at any moment. I wish for you to help me. To be my eyes and ears among your friends."

"You want me to spy on them?"

Torokan pursed her lips and straightened just a bit. She was about to speak when Etienne shrugged.

"Sure. What do I have to do?"

Etienne recalled Torokan's instructions as he watched Arrafin describe the Plaza of Kings before the great Palace in the heart of Al-Tizim.

"That pool is supposedly the pool where Suelekar Ben Azan was annointed King, you know. Some scholars think it's been rebuilt many times since then, but the legend is that not a stone has been replaced."

The thin Naridic girl touched the strange amulet at her neck. She started as Tariq shouted.

"Suelekar Ben Azan! The King of Kings! Praise God!"

All around them warriors echoed Tariq's cry. Arrafin blinked.

"Yes. Praise God."


Fayeeda had never known an evening like this one. There had been guests in the camp before, of course, even foreigners, but always Father had controlled every gesture, every nuance of conversation. Fayeeda would never have dared to speak in front of Father, and any guest would have sat in polite humility before the great chieftan that Achmed al-Musharran beni Howetait was.

Or had been. Fayeeda scarcely knew what to think. But these foreigners were not swayed by Tariq's bluster. The big one with the guns stood up.

"Fine. Achmed knows where the gold is, Achmed's in the fort, let's go to the fort."

Fayeeda clapped a hand to her mouth to prevent herself from crying out. The others simply shrugged, even Arrafin, and rose. Tariq laughed in disbelief.

"You are fools, and you should thank God that when he made you fools he made you unmanly, so that you would not beget more fools."

Fayeeda couldn't keep quiet any longer.

"But you'll die! How can you possibly get in to the fort?"

Isaac gestured.

"If Nevid there can't talk us in, well..."

Arrafin giggled.

"Maybe Elena can... attract one of the guards."

Elena scowled ferociously at her friend, but Arrafin only snickered louder.

The five were heading for the tent flap, stepping over incredulous warriors, when a sudden cry from outside stopped them. Four turned to Arrafin.

"What was that?"

She frowned.

"Somebody's coming. Foreigners."

Her eyes widened and she whirled on Tariq.

"You told them we were here! You betrayed us!"

Tariq laughed.

"Of course. I have invited our Shaeric neighbors to join us. They were most anxious to meet you, and God wishes us to be hospitable to our neighbors. It seems that you, my friends, are captured."

Etienne sighed.

"Tragically captured, I think you called it."


Unattainable Ideal
Another Fine Mess: 4

Captain Fintan Garrickson looked up at the uproar near the gate. Patrol returning, he decided, and settled back to his study of the latest Naridic prisoners as they hauled wood into the center of the camp.

Two of the younger women were worth his time. He pointed them out to his aide and turned to the gate as the armoured parasaurs came in, the immense beasts as large as houses, plated howdahs hanging off either side to shield musketeers. Flags fluttering from the beasts' crests indicated prisoners, and further, the need for a Nevakada interrogation.

Garrickson cursed. While Kishak coin paid as well as any other, working alongside those cold-hearted Nevakada bastards would curl the spine of any man. The agent assigned to their operation, Kan Koshar, had a superficial politeness and civility that only made his cruel sadism even worse. Garrickson preferred a more straightforward approach. Some were strong, and some were weak. Those who lacked the wit to understand when they were outmatched, well, the world wouldn't miss them at all. No reason to go around poking at people just for the fun of it.

The Shaeric captain grinned as he saw one of the Naridic women he'd picked screaming, trying to fight off the soldiers who'd grabbed her. Some older man tried to interfere and took a pike haft to the face for his trouble. The woman didn't stop screaming or thrashing as they dragged her across the compound. A firey one for tonight would be just the thing.

"Ye'll want ta watch yerself with that one, Cap'n. Sahra's a real she-banth, she is."

Garrickson laughed and clapped his aide on the shoulder.

"Ah, ye know the lasses always calm down when I've explained the manner o' things ta them. Sahra'll be no trouble, for all her caterwauling."

"Aye, sir."

The two men, comfortable in their mail and open-faced helms, strolled towards where their soldiers were disembarking from the parasaurs. When the flags called for Nevakada investigation, it always profited to be present to see the wares before they were investigated.

Garrickson's eyebrows rose as the prisoners were filed out.

Only six. But of the six only two were Naridic, both of them young women trying not to look frightened. Garrickson felt a broad smile spread across his face, and did nothing to hide its predatory smugness.

The others included three Saijadani and one Kishak, to Garrickson's astonishment. He stopped where he stood and stared at the strange crew.

These were not the usual prisoners brought in around here. Not only in their nationality, but in their insouciant stance as they looked around, taking in the layout of the fort.

"Never ye mind them Saijadani fools. Have the skinny brown lass brought to me room. Tell Sahra it seems her lucky night."



It was only once they'd reached the crucifixes surrounding the fort that Isaac stopped cursing Tariq's name. There had been no point to resisting; the Shaeric numbered some thirty or forty, riding in the strange howdahs they hung off the sides of the parasaur's high ridged backs. Snug behind armour plate they'd be near-impossible to hurt, and with their long-barrelled muskets it would only be matter of time before Isaac and his friends lay bleeding on the ground.

Tariq's smugness did nothing to ease the pain of capture. The gloating beni Howetait chieftan called out insult after insult as the Shaeric mercenaries deposited Isaac and his friends into tight cells aboard the beasts, taking their weapons and sparing no thought for their prisoner's comfort.

The only surprise, once he'd understood Tariq's betrayal, was Fayeeda's angry repudiation of her uncle's arrangement. For her righteous fury she was scooped up by the mercenaries, and had only her uncle's mocking laughter for a farewell.

They could smell the fort even before the first of the crucifixes came into view, but then they passed between dozens of tall poles from which hung horrid corpses, pecked and torn, some rotted, some still with the evidence of their tremendous suffering still visible on their hollow faces. The reek of blood and bile and rot filled the air.

The Kishak Empire sought control through terror and domination. The Tyrant's Shade, the undead creature who sat upon the Iron Throne of Kish, understood no other language.

They passed through the terrible forest and entered the gates of the fort.

The cell he crouched in was flipped open and, stretching strained legs, Isaac emerged into a dirt courtyard. Behind him the gates swung shut, pushed by a line of mail-clad soldiers. Before him the courtyard spanned a hundred paces; to his left a two-story building of dark cedar planks rose up, surrounded by a wide verandah; straight ahead in the open courtyard sullen Naridic people he assumed must be prisoners piled cordwood up in a tall cone, presumably in preparation for some large bonfire; and on his right a series of low, long huts lay in rows.

His attention turned to a heavy-set man whose more elaborate helmet and shoulder sash suggested a rank above the majority of the soldiers around them. Their guards saluted him as he approached. He sneered at the new prisoners.

"Ye're a sorry lot, aren't ye? Well, look to find no mercy here, I can tell ye that. If ye've got some fool to ransom ye, perhaps there's hope, or if ye know something and have the wit to conduct yerself well, perhaps ye'll do well enough. But I'll not hold my breath to it, I can tell ye that."

His gaze came to rest on Arrafin with a lasciviousness that enraged Isaac immediately. The burly Saijadani stepped forward with a snarl, but a pike head pressed against his chest stopped him. He glared in furious impotence.

Garrickson enjoyed the thin girl's expression of horror as she watched him approach.

"Sir. There must be a mistake. We are not -- "

She cut off as he pulled her against him and ground his mouth against hers. She tried to scream and push him away, but he paid no attention to her efforts. His hands slid down her robes, rough and grasping.

Elena watched in stunned horror as the soldier molested Arrafin right in front of them all. Isaac was about to impale himself on Shaeric pikes if something wasn't done, and to tell the truth, Elena was no less enraged than he.

Arrafin's delicate build and her ever-cheerful nature had endeared her greatly to Elena, whose own nature was sour and cynical, and who knew she brooded too much on things past. Her friendship with Arrafin had given her a great deal of solace over the weeks of their journey, and she cherished the younger girl like a little sister, one who was still a child. To see a girl she considered so innocent treated in such a violent manner infuriated Elena.

She reached out with her mind, trying to distract the soldier with her mental powers, but before she could make contact with him, another figure strode up to join them.

"Garrickson. Cease at once."

The Shaeric man turned to glare at the newcomer. This man was a Kishak, darker red in skin than Etienne, and dressed in a formal-looking harness of leather straps and jewels. He bore a slim rapier at his side. Elena couldn't help but admire his well-muscled torso, well-displayed in the Kishak traditional lack of dress. He turned grey eyes on them all.

"Interesting. Sent by the del Maraviez, isn't that right?"

Etienne started to speak. Isaac smacked him.

"We're not saying nothing to no one."

The Kishak smiled.

"You already have."


"That bastard. How does he know everything? And if he knows everything, why is he asking us?"

Isaac scowled and picked splinters out of the floorboards of the narrow hut they'd been sealed up in after their harrowing interviews with the Nevakada agent. Kan Koshar had proven a skilled interrogator and had drawn out every detail of their mission. Isaac glowered.

Missing shingles overhead left the night sky visible to their view. He sat with Elena, Etienne and Nevid around a cold fire-pit. Arrafin sat at the far end of the hut, arm around a shivering Fayeeda.

While the Nevakada agent had interfered in Garrickson's assault on Arrafin, he'd done nothing when the Shaeric general had taken Fayeeda to his office. Arrafin listened to the younger girl sobbing with a sick helplessness in her heart.

Nevid looked up at Isaac.

"Because he's trying to determine how valuable we are to him. What we need to worry about is how we're going to find Achmed. He must be somewhere in this camp."

All four sat in silence, remembering glumly how poorly they'd managed to avoid the issues Kan Koshar had been interested in. Etienne turned to stare worriedly at Arrafin and Fayeeda.

"Are they alright, do you think? That bastard."

Elena nodded.

"Yeah. Hey, Arrafin."

The girl did not respond. Elena, frowning, got to her feet and crossed the room to her friend.


Elena stepped back instinctively as a nimbus of black writhing tendrils suddenly erupted around her friend. They disappeared as quick as they had come, and Arrafin raised a tear-streaked face.

"I'm okay."

"What. What are you doing?"

There was a sudden flapping at the roof and a tiny bundle of fluff swept past Elena to land in front of Arrafin. The Saijadani woman stared.

A miniature owl sat there, appearing to study Arrafin. With its puffy feathers and wide eyes, it looked not entirely unlike the Naridic girl. The girl and the owl stared at each other.

"Arrafin? What is that?"

Arrafin's held a flat, hollow tone Elena had never heard before.

"His name is Gral. He's going to help me."


Lying on his back, hands clasped behind his head, Captain Garrickson recalled the skinny frame of the Naridic girl he'd held earlier, the one Kan Koshar had forbidden him to have contact with. The local girl had been satisfyingly terrified, but he still longed for that slender girl with the Al-Tizim accent.

The Nevakada carried the authority of the Tyrant's Shade with them wherever they went.

But it was a long way from Hudra Keffil to the Iron Throne. Garrickson rolled up and called for his aide.

"Aye, sir?"

"Get that Achmed. Time he made his self useful. Tell him ta bring that skinny lass to us. And no need fer much fuss, is there?"

"Nay, sir. Aye, sir."

Just a quick question. I realized suddenly that you were typing parasaurs not parasaurolophuses, and I guess I was somehow mentally filling in the rest of the syllables without realizing it. What is a parasaur?


Unattainable Ideal
If you had to work with them all day, I figure you'd get pretty tired of saying "parasaurolophus," too. They're mostly just called "paras", just as gallimimus is shortened to "gallo".

It doesn't REALLY make sense that they would use the Latin species names anyway, but what the heck. It doesn't make sense that they're speaking English, so you gotta draw the line somewhere...

An Advertisement