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Dark Sun: Sands of Blood, Part 4

July 31, 2017

Continuing the story of an old 3E Dark Sun game. Our heroes (?):

  • Krik, a thri-kreen fighter-in-training, alone and hunting for a new clutch
  • Basal, a female half-elven earth priestess, wastelander healer
  • Karick Reshaw, a male human psion (kineticist), wanderer and guide
  • Aral Karef, a male human psion (kineticist), scion of the merchant houses
  • Kanyth, a male human bard, free-spirited story teller

Chapter 6: The Gauntlet

It looked as if the kanks had been killed first. One was still pointed in the direction of the road. The other had been turned around and was possibly heading back towards the caravan when it dropped. Both were already giving off a terrible stench that turned the stomach; it was the insects’ posthumous defense against predators. The riders had managed to dismount and had drawn their axes, but they had not gotten far before they, too, were shot full of elven shafts. Aral stared grimly at their lifeless bodies. Elisha and Samuel, dead. Along with… who did we lose to the gith? Yes, it was Haran and Ashem. So much for our good omen. At this rate, the kanks will end up pulling a caravan of ghosts into Raam.

Karick stood up from examining Elisha’s corpse, holding one of the arrows. “The fletching is similar to what we pulled from the thri-kreen, so I assume it’s the work of the same tribe.” He lowered his gaze back to the body at his feet, pointing out the dead woman’s coin purse. “They didn’t stay to loot, though. The elves must have ran off right after they killed them.” The guide looked back up and said to no one in particular, “This is bad.”

Basal turned to Gravik. “They’re picking us off. We need to bring the other outriders back in, if they’re still alive.”

“Aye.” The stout dwarf glanced at Laalresh out of the corner of his eye, but the caravan master was still in shock. Gravik scowled and addressed the thri-kreen. “You’re the fastest, run back and fetch them, eh? And you two! Load up those bodies into the wagons. We ain’t got time to bury them here. And push them kanks outta the way! Faster, you fools!,” he called out, clapping his hands loudly together. “We need to be moving again!”

He’s right, you know. The psicrystal’s voice sounded almost subdued to Aral’s mind.

The young psion slowly nodded. I know. He moved to help carry the bodies to the rear wagon. Some of the guards were hurrying to shove the foul-smelling kanks off the road, while others stood with arrows nocked as they nervously scanned the rocky terrain.

Laalresh soon recovered his senses and gave everyone orders that matched what they were doing already. All was made ready, the kanks hauling the wagons were whipped into a frenzy, and the caravan lurched into motion, moving as fast as the insects physically could.Still not very fast, Aral reflected. And they probably won’t hold out for very long at this pace.But he kept his thoughts to himself. The mood of the other guards was grim enough already.

Krik eventually returned with the rear scouts in tow, reporting that there had been no sightings of elves. As the caravan continued on its way, the thri-kreen elected to travel atop the canyon ridges that embraced both sides of the road, that he might catch an ambush before it happened. All were certain that the elves were not finished with them.

When the attack finally came, however, it caught everyone off-guard. Two bands of elven archers had cunningly concealed themselves along the uneven ridgelines, unnoticed by Krik or by the guards on the ground. When the wagons had almost reached the elves’ hiding spots, they rose up from the dirt with their bows in hand and loosed a hail of arrows at the lead kanks. One of the elves, obviously better equipped than the rest, placed his arrow right through the eye of one of the kanks, killing it instantly.

The defenders scrambled to respond to this new threat. Krik sprang on the lead elf, and traced three red lines across the raider’s face with his claws. But before anyone else could react, the elves raced off in different directions. The thri-kreen tried to grab the leader as he ran, but only ended up with a scrap of his rock-colored cloak. The fight was over almost before it even began.

“WHAT in the Dragon’s name just happened?!” screamed Laalresh.

They’re trying to cripple us, Aral realized. If they kill the kanks, we’ll have to abandon the wagons. Or stay with them and be worn down by hit and run attacks. Either way, they win.The kank handlers were already scurrying to replace the dead kank with one of the outriders’ mounts, while Basal healed a kank that was wounded but still alive. We cannot let them stop us! I will not let them stop us. Aral looked at the men and women around him, and he felt a flash of hatred rise up through him. They can strike at us if they wish, but I will make them pay for it, each and every time.

No! his psicrystal shouted in his mind. Concentrate on the task at hand! If you want to reach your destination, you must ignore all distractions – including these raiders.

Aral shook his head. You don’t – you can’t understand. Your viewpoint is too limited. The crystal’s only answer to that was a sullen mental harrumph.

The next ambush occurred less than an hour later, but this time the caravan was better prepared for the assault. The elves still managed to hurt several of the kanks, but before they could run they took return fire in the form of arrows, bolts, and missiles of ice and lightning. Several elves tumbled to the ground; the rest fled into the desert.

The hit and run attacks continued as the sun dipped towards the horizon. The elves attempted to strike the rear of the caravan, or avoided the side of the road that Krik patrolled in order to avoid detection. But the defenders adapted to their tactics and learned to spot the ambushes before they were sprung, and so it happened that more and more elves fell with every assault. Still, the attacks were inflicting a toll on the caravan – another kank had been killed (and replaced with the last riding mount), Basal did not have much healing power left, and both Karick and Aral were mentally exhausted.

Forget the kanks, I can’t maintain this pace. Aral unslung his crossbow and briefly stopped to load it. He wasn’t a very good shot, but his mind and his body both ached fiercely and he knew he had pushed himself to his limit.

The wagons topped a rise, and below them the hills and canyons that fell from the Blackspine Mountains flattened out into a wide plain that stretched to the limits of the fading light. On that plain lay a cluster of wooden buildings surrounded by a circle of stones that were piled up to form a crude wall. Torches blazed along the circumference of the stone berm, illuminating a ragged patchwork of defenders on the wall that were loosing arrows into the dusky twilight. As the caravan got closer, Aral could dimly make out lanky humanoids moving in the shadows that encircled the outpost, shooting arrows of their own at the defenders.More elves.

“The outpost still stands!” Laalresh shouted. “Hurry! Can’t we move any faster?!” But the kanks had been pushed to a murderous pace for several hours now, and were unresponsive to any further whip cracks.

In a last ditch attempt to prevent the caravan from reaching the fort, the elves that stood between the two turned their bows from the outpost and towards the wagons. The human guards fired their own missiles at their attackers, but the fading light favored the elves’ keen vision. And without the psionic powers of the kineticists, the humans were lacking much of their strength. Even so, the elves attacking the caravan were outnumbered, and took more losses than they gave. After losing half their number, they decided that the fight was lost, and melted away into the shadows.

The train of wagons hastily rumbled down the sloping trail. I just hope that they don’t change their minds before we reach the fort, Aral wearily thought to himself. The defenders on the outpost’s wall saw them approaching, and a cheer spread down their lines. The rest of the elves noticed as well, prompting them to gradually retreat back into the gathering darkness.

The caravan reached the outpost’s gate, where they were greeted with shouts of joy and disbelief by the surviving garrison. As the massive wooden gates were closed behind them, a stern looking man with a shaved head stepped forward.

“Laalresh, it’s good to see you. I’m glad you could make it – a little early, aren’t you?” Though the words themselves were humorous, the man’s tone, and his smile, were not. The men around him laughed loud and hard, though.

“My name is Gorgoreth. As the man in charge, it is my pleasure to welcome you all to Outpost Three. Stay a while, won’t you?”

Chapter 7: Outpost Three

Laalresh and Gorgoreth relocated to the outpost’s central building for a private discussion while the outpost guards greeted their caravan compatriots. Kanyth moved effortlessly through the crowd, exchanging greetings and backslaps as he went, and soon he knew the layout of the fort and its recent history.

The outpost sat atop a well, which was protected by the two-storied building that lay at its center. The wellhouse was guarded at all times and only senior House agents were allowed inside. The second story was an observation deck, open to the elements, with a trapdoor that was barred from the inside.

The five large structures built around the wellhouse were warehouses; the stables were for the kanks and crodlu that accompanied visiting caravans, and the big tent was the infirmary. There were smaller tents scattered around the outpost’s courtyard that served as quarters for the men and women stationed here. What a dump, was all that Kanyth could think as he surveyed his new home. The outpost displayed a typical frontier asthethic: crude, bare, functional. Perhaps the elves just want to wipe this blight from the landscape…

Why were the elves laying siege to the outpost? There were a few different theories offered up by the guards, from the ridiculous (the outpost was an offense to the elves because it was built over an elven burial ground – Kanyth knew that elves did not bury their dead), to the implausible (the elves are on a psychotic killing spree, determined to kill the humans regardless of the cost to themselves), to the intriguing (the elves wanted the well, or the wellhouse, either for themselves or for a rival merchant house). The wellhouse was a source of great mystery and speculation to the inhabitants of the fort. None of the rank-and-file had ever been inside, and some felt that a king’s ransom was hidden within its walls.

What the guards did know for certain is that the attacks started three evenings ago. When night came, the elves appeared out of the twilight and attacked from the shadows. With their superior vision and their longbows, they were able to strike at range without putting themselves in great danger. If the defenders retreated from the walls to avoid the arrows, the elves charged. They would inflict casualties, taking some of their own in the process, and retreat back into the deepening night. Then they returned at dawn and attacked with the rising sun at their backs. In this manner they managed to whittle the garrison down to half its normal strength.

Well, that explains why they were so set on stopping us from getting here. Another few days and the fort would have been theirs for the taking.

Gorgoreth had told the guards that there is a relief column on the way, but it wasn’t due to arrive for another two or three days. “We didn’t pass any messengers on the road. How did the House know to send troops? How does Gorgoreth know when they’re coming?” Kanyth asked.

“Oh. Gorgoreth, he’s a mind-bender. And a far-seer. A dangerous one, too – I seen him kill with a look. Believe me when I say you don’t want to piss him off.”

Kanyth raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Is that so?” The bard had been thinking of how he could sneak or charm his way into the wellhouse, but now… Maybe I’m better off not getting into trouble around here. I prefer my brain to be in one piece, and it’s a long walk back to civilization. Bah, there’s probably nothing special in there anyway. He laughed aloud at the thought of a frontier trading post holding a horde of gold and jewels.

“What’s so funny, friend?”

“Oh, I was just reminded of a story. Did you ever hear of Angry Gaeton? He was a mind-bender, not unlike your boss Gorgoreth…”

Krik watched the gathered humans from a distance. The fort’s defenders were not of his tek, and in truth neither were those that he had arrived with. If the thri-kreen was lonely he did not know it; his existance was as it always had been, for as far back as he could remember. Any feeling of yearning to belong could not be distinguished from his normal state of being.

What could be distinguished was the pain that ran throughout his body. His attempts to protect the caravan and the kanks from the elves’ hit and run attacks had left the thri-kreen with a number of potential new scars. The ikthok had spent all of her prayers keeping the kanks alive, so Krik asked one of the men if there was a healer at the outpost, and was directed to the infirmary tent. There will be more combat, and soon. I will need to be at full strength.

The thri-kreen passed under the tent’s entrance flap. Inside, heavily-scented smoke hung in the dim light, and close to a dozen men and women bearing various wounds lay on the bare ground. Discarded armor and weapons were scattered about. Those humans that noticed Krik looked surprised to see him there, and shuffled themselves a few feet further away from his presence.

Moving amongst the injured warriors was a plain-looking human woman wearing an ill-fitting chitin breastplate. As Krik watched, she knelt by one the men and laid her hands upon him. He had a bloody hole in his left bicep; Krik guessed that an arrow had been sunk deeply into the flesh, and then pushed out the other side. The wound suddenly took on a silvery sheen and then a sound was heard, as if a number of humans had all sighed at the same moment. The hole on the man’s arm slowly closed up, and fresh blood began to seep into the woman’s upper left sleeve. She grimaced in pain as she pulled her hands back.

The woman sat back on her heels and closed her eyes. The chorus of sighs was heard once more, and the expanding blot on her sleeve stopped growing. Her lids fluttered open as if she were waking from a heavy sleep, and with a start she noticed the large insectoid standing at the opening of her tent.

Chakak, I require healing.

The woman recovered from her shock and snorted as she rose to her feet. She walked over to the thri-kreen and began to probe his injuries with her hands.

“You arrived with the caravan, didn’t you? Well, these don’t look too bad to me. I’m surprised a tough bug like yourself is even worried about them.”

I – but…” Krik looked to the other patients, but their eyes were suddenly focused on the dirt floor. Some appeared to be smirking, although Krik was not sure what was so humorous about the ground. Perhaps Basal would know. “I was not worried.

“Good. Now, I have more severe injuries to tend to, so if you don’t mind…”

When the bewildered thri-kreen exited the tent with his hurts untended, a nearby guard saw him and gave a short bark of laughter.

“So you met Amanya, did you? She don’t care much for folks that are just passing through. You’ve got to be posted here a while, or nearly kill yourself defending this damn place before she’ll even look at you.”

But I fought many elf on the journey here.

“Yeah, but that’s out there. She cares about what goes on in here.” The man made jabbing motions with his finger to emphasize the point. “Understand?”

I understand that you have a healer that does not heal.

“Heh, don’t worry about it. The way things are going, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to prove yourself to her.”

The night passed without incident, and though a general cry of alarm was raised along with the sun, there was no attack. Were the elves regrouping, exchanging knowledge of the caravan defenders, considering how to deal with this setback? No one knew for certain.

As the camp came to life, Basal clambered out from under the wagon under which she had been sleeping and packed up her bedroll. She then found a relatively quiet corner of the courtyard and sank to her knees. Kneeling on the hard-packed dirt with her eyes shut, she dug her hands into the ground and began to pray to the earthen powers that had spoken to her since she was a young girl. Their strength flowed up from the dirt, through her fingers and into her soul, filling her completely. The half-elf exulted in the sensation – she rarely felt more alive than during her morning communion.

When she was done, she opened her eyes and found a man standing over her. He had shaggy white hair with a long beard and was clothed in poorly-tanned hides. His skin was worn and leathery, and his hands looked to be covered in soot.

“You speak with the spirits in the ground, yes? As I talk to the flames.”

“That’s right. My name is Basal. You are a fire priest?”

The man grinned. “Yes! I am called Halaak.”

“You don’t look like you live here at the outpost.”

“No, I came from over there,” he said, pointing a blackened finger towards the Blackspine Mountains. “For many years I lived alone in the hills and mountains, praying to the flames, asking them to burn all that stone and rock down to its roots. But I was not strong enough and the spirits wouldn’t listen to my commands.”

“Why… yeah, okay…” Basal glanced around, but there was no one to help her out. “ So… uhm… why did you leave?”

“It was not my choice. Some nights ago, a group of elves came to my fire. I thought that maybe they wished to enjoy its warmth, but instead they were rude to me and threw dirt on it. So I fed them to the fire spirits. Their screams called their friends out, too many for me to burn them all, and I ran. They gave chase.

“I knew this place, I would come here at times to trade my fire for food or goods, and I thought the elves would give up once I was inside. Instead they surrounded us, and now they attack every night to get their revenge on me. I have apologized to Gorgoreth for bringing this problem to his home, although he says that it is not my fault.”

The priestess furrowed her brow. “But if they’re here because of you, they’re going to a lot of trouble just to avenge a few deaths. You don’t think that they’re attacking us some other reason?”

Halaak shrugged. “Who can say? All I know is what I’ve seen.”

“I suppose it’s a good reason as any other that I’ve heard so far.” Halaak shrugged again but said nothing. An uncomfortable silence followed. Does he want something from me? “Well, uh, Halaak, you understand that I can’t help you with that whole ‘burning down the mountain’ thing. With me being who I am, and you being who you are…” Basal desperately hoped that this crazy man wouldn’t take her refusal personally and feed her to his spirits, like he did with the elves. She got the feeling that he made sure his fire spirits were well-fed.

Halaak chuckled. “No, I do understand. I’d hoped you might see things differently, but I am not surprised. May you always prove as unbreakable as the mountains.”

Basal nodded. These sorts of exchanges were common when followers of different elements met. “May your fires burn as hot as the sun.”

With a smile and a gesture of farewell, Halaak turned and walked away. Basal sat there for a moment longer and then breathed a sigh of relief. Trapped in a siege with an insane fire priest. Wonderful. He’s probably handy when the elves attack, at least. And he hasn’t burned down the outpost. Basal stood and headed for the kank stables. Not yet, anyway.

Next: waiting for dark! and the PC stats!



From → D&D, Dark Sun, Gaming

  1. What’s Amanya? A druid?

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