Highsun, Year of the Defiant Priest
The remaining gith begged for its life in a pidgin form of the trade tongue. It groveled on the stony, sandy pathway leading up from the chasm. Rayne approached the creature and pointed down the path. “Are there any more gith that way?” Its eyes jerked up to the human, and its face strained, like it was desperately trying to understand. She sighed. “I don’t suppose anyone here speaks…whatever language is common to these things.”
Hawk frowned and shook his head. “Sorry…Vrack only speak normal,” offered the gladiator.
“My people have a hard time with language,” said Kikrik. “The speech of other races is too different from our own.”
Rayne nodded. “I just want to be sure that, if we let him go, he won’t lead another gang back to us.”
Lesallai tried next, pointing at the creature, then up the path. In a questioning tone she said, “More of you?”
“More? Ewe? No,” said the gith.
The bard drew in the dirt with her finger. She sketched a number of figures, pointed at the gith, and then pointed up the path where its companion had fled. Finally, she drew more figures in the dirt.
The gith placed a hand to its chest, pointed up the path, and then made a chopping motion. It looked mournfully around at the other gith bodies then said, “All.” As the gith’s eyes pass over one of the corpses of its former companions, they brighten a bit. “Trade stone?”
“Trade stone for life?” Rayne asked.
The gith struggled with the unfamiliar words for a minute, then gestured at itself before pointing up the path and repeating its question.
“Trade stone for..?” prompted Lesallai.
“He’s talking about the old stones the merchant houses used to use as currency,” guessed Rayne. “I think he’s offering one in exchange for his life.”
“Vrack say we just throw him down the cliff and be done with it,” grumbled the gladiator, gesturing to the wound in his side. “They would have done the same to us.” The creature cringed as the half-orc pointed out his injuries.
“True, but we may not find the stone without him,” suggested the assassin.
“I agree, but I want to see what he’s offering first,” said Les.
Hawk shook his head. “Though this creature fought us, he has surrendered. It would be wrong to end his life while he pleads for it.”
“The money we’ve found is nice, but who can’t use a little more?” asked Rayne.
“That doesn’t mean we should lower ourselves to their level,” said the monk.
Shrugging, Les held her palm out in the direction of their prisoner. “Stone,” she said, leaving no room for question.
“Show us,” said Rayne.
It gestured at itself once more, then points up the path. “Go? Trade stone?”
Hawk nodded and said, “Yes.”
Vrack turned away in disgust. “If it brings back friends, the fault is not mine.”
The gith pointed across the narrow stone bridge to the body of the first slain gith. “Stone there,” it said simply. Rayne broke off from the group to search the fallen gith. She crossed the bridge without incident, then returned holding up three of the healing fruits.
“Does anyone need more of these?” she asked. “I found some gems as well,” she added, revealing five small red and blue stones glittering in the palm of her other, outstretched hand.
“Vrack could use da fruit,” said the half-orc before helping himself to one.
The gith pointed at the gems and said, “Stone.” Rayne pocketed the gems, and Les gave her a sly smile. “Go?” the prisoner asked hopefully.
“I wonder if the people who fell were defilers…and the gith work for the Wastewalker,” Kikrik asked, watching for any reaction from the prisoner. It did not react to the words, but he couldn’t be sure if that was because it didn’t understand them. “Maybe not,” the kreen concluded. “Common bandits, I guess.”
Hawk motioned with his hand for the gith to leave. “Yes, you should get out of here before we change our minds,” said Rayne flippantly. The gith slowly got back to its feet and took a few steps up the path, keeping its eyes on Vrack as it left. Vrack only glowered. When no attack came, the gith started off at a lope, snatching a stray javelin as it passed the farthest gith body. It neither slowed down or looked back as it fled.
After tending to their hurt, resting and taking a noon time meal, the group once more set out across the desert while the red sun beat down mercilessly upon them. Les forlornly looked back in the direction of the trees before sighing and turning back to the desert. “I never thought I’d get to see a forest like that,” Rayne said to her.
“Yea,” replied the bard, looking at the ground. “I didn’t know I missed green that much.”
“Now I see why you do,” said the assassin.
. . .
After several hours more in the blazing heat, they began to miss hacking through the jungle in the thin air of the Ringing Mountains. They all found themselves squinting, having grown used to the shade of the relatively cool forest.
The sun hung low in the sky, casting long shadows of the rocky landscape. What little light remained was abruptly snuffed out by a bursting darkness that overwhelmed the area. The sickeningly familiar clatter of falling stone shards rang out once again.
“Look out!” cried Rayne.
A clutch of warped lizardfolk – some with spindly wings, others with extra limbs – leapt onto the nearby rocks as the sky darkened. One of them let out a blood-curdling shriek, and the adventurers heard several others respond in similar tones. Their skin began to crawl as they felt a static charge build in the dry desert sand – then a whirling dust devil rose from the sand and hovered above the ground.
Lesallai stared at the shrieking creature and muttered something under her breath. One of the twisted ssurrans pointed at the eladrin and bellowed in Common, “Take the defiler! We return to the prophet victoriousss!”
“Never happen,” Rayne said to Les, throwing her friend a wink.
Hawk sprang into action, gliding toward the nearest sandwarped ssurran. Skidding to a halt he slammed his fists together sending the wind harnessed by his ki slamming into the creature like a wall of steel. Kikrik moved away from the menacing sandstorm behind the group and summoned Disgust to empower Hawk. The monk smashed a fist into his foe, crushing a patch of scales. Rage then appeared behind the ssurran to prevent it from fleeing.
Rayne laid a shroud on the twisted ssurran standing atop the crescent rock, taking a few steps toward it before leaping through the shadows to strike at it with her scimitar. She followed her stab with a furious attack she’d learned in the wastelands. Vrack moved forward next and launched his heavy net up at the winged lizardfolk Rayne was fighting, leaving Lesallai alone to face another ssurran that came around the side of the crescent boulder with two bone short swords drawn. The creature rushed up to the eladrin and slashed her with one of its blades. “Damn it,” Rayne swore.
The ssurran next to Rayne turned to engage her, but it was too distracted by the half-orc and his surprisingly painful net to land a meaningful blow. It snarled then sidestepped the assassin. This proved to be a mistake as it opened up enough space for Les to join the fight atop the stone. She teleported up beside the ssurran and stabbed it through the heart, narrowly pulling her blade free as the creature’s body turned to stone! The bard gritted her teeth and said, “Vile beasts! I will take your life.”
“I softened him up for you,” suggested Rayne with a smirk.
The rest of the fight was bloody but manageable for the adventurers, even after the dust devil deigned to join the fray, temporarily blinding most of them with a blast of sand. In less than a minute, their enemies were dispatched. The sounds of the obsidian shard storm tinkled in the distance.
Lesallai panted from the exertion. “Why did it watch before joining?” she asked.
Hawk shrugged. “Don’t know…but I think we should find shelter, and soon.”
“I’m all right to keep going. Maybe we can find better shelter ahead,” suggested Rayne.
Lesallai nodded. “Once we begin moving, we might be better able to gauge the distance, but Tyr is close. A couple more hours, at most.”
Rayne smiled. “Closer than I thought, then.”
Vrack gritted his teeth against the pain of his wounds. “Let’s be off.”
As they set off into the fringes of the storm once more, Kikrik spoke up. “We must find this Wastewalker and try to reason with him as the spirits asked. He summons obsidian rain on command and from a great distance. Les, I don’t know how strong your defiling magic really is, but I don’t believe it rivals that of this creature.”
“My ability to manipulate and drain the world’s life is much less than his ability to destroy the world with this black rain. His actions make him out to be a hypocrite,” said Les. “Reason is probably beyond him, and I will not be remiss to slay him.” Rayne looked back and forth between the two speakers.
“I agree with you completely,” said Kikrik. He paused after the simple pronouncement, apparently surprised with himself. “But I would like to know how you can possibly stand up to that power. It’s easy to boast that you will slay him. Whether or not you are capable is another thing entirely. I do not believe that any of us are.”
Rayne shrugged. “We’ve made it this far. Few others could claim that.”
Les nodded. “Well, perhaps we can attempt to show him that destroying the face of the desert in an attempt to kill one ‘defiler’,” she spat the word, “is in itself putting him in the wrong. His zeal, however will, I believe, blind him.”
“No way we can be sure until we find him,” said Rayne. “Or he finds us.”
“Okay, Les,” said Kikrik. “Even though we have been at odds with one another on our travels, I will make a pact if you will. We talk first – making an earnest attempt to convince him of his mistakes. If you will do that with me, then I will stand an even die with you if he attacks anyway… Agreed?”
Lesallai paused only a moment before accepting.
. . .
The group walked through the gathering darkness and the swirling winds of the unnatural storm that was all too familiar. The way out, unfortunately, was through. A whirlwind spun in the darkened sky and – distracted by the looming storm – the adventurers failed to notice a group of ssurrans until they were nearly on top of them. Flanked by three yellow-skinned ssurrans was a black-scaled lizardfolk with deep purple eyes and a spiny back. His tail reached nearly three humans in length. He shouted over the storm pointing a clawed finger at Lesallai, “You cannot essscape me arcanissst!” Seemingly called into existence by the words, flying bits of obsidian coalesced into two human-sized, lizard-shaped elementals that pulsed with lightning. Thunder rumbled loudly through the clouds, punctuating the Wastewalker’s pronouncement.
“What do you want with me?” demanded the bard.
The ssurran prophet sneered from atop his boulder. “Nothing lessss than your death.”
“Why harry me for so long?” she pressed. “You destroy the land with your own acts, doing more damage than I could possibly do. You pit its face with your shards, using them to wreak destruction. You have destroyed so much trying to kill just one. Think of all the creatures living in the sands that have perished by your whim. Your hubris and zeal have blinded you to what you are really doing.”
“Fool!” shouted the Wastewalker. “You underssstand nothing, but that is not unexpected. My power comes from the land, but I do not sssteal it! Abomination!”
“As does mine, Prophet,” said Kikrik. “The spirits flow through me and seek to cleanse this land as well. But we come on their behalf. They spoke to us and asked us to turn you from this path that is destroying all.”
The ssurran scoffed at Kikrik’s words. “You are a traitor to the land. You ssshould be fighting againssst creatures like thisss!”
“I do fight against them,” Kikrik said. “This one has seen that her magic need not be destructive, and she has agreed to try another way. The spirits are willing to give her that chance…and you should listen to them. Have you heard of those known as Preservers?”
“A myth,” growled the Wastewalker, before chuckling darkly. “Don’t tell me you’ve bought into thisss one’s liesss. Come, ssshaman. Turn over the defiler to me and I will forgive you sssiding with it to dessstroy my disssciplesss.”
“It wasn’t Les that told me of Preservation,” insisted Kikrik. “I have seen it with my own eyes. I witnessed arcane magic used without the withering of the land or the spirits. You know I can see such things. You must believe me.”
The Wastewalker shook its scaly head. “You are lossst. A pity. By my ssside, you could have fulfilled a worthy dessstiny.” He gestured to his cohorts, urging them into battle. “Die in obssscurity!”
Rayne reached back and squeezed Lesallai’s hand tightly. Then she turned to look back at Kikrik and said, “It was a fine effort.”
“It seems that I am unable to satisfy the request of any spirit I meet,” muttered the kreen. “Some shaman I have been.”
The first ssurran approached the group, circling a patch of jagged slipsand and holding its spear menacingly. One of the elementals floated across the rocks to a point above the group. They could feel an electrical charge building above them. Hawk rolled his head from side to side and advanced on the ssurran. “I had a vision of blue skies,” he said as he close the distance. “…and I saw rain…” he continued as his body crackled with energy. The ssurran surged forward and stabbed the monk with its spear, but Hawk endured the wound stoically.
“I will ensure that this vision becomes a reality,” he finished, releasing the stored up energy. His ki strike slammed into the ssurran, shattering a couple of ribs and causing it to cough up blood. He dragged the creature across the slipsand, where it lost its footing and fell. The sharp glass shredded some scales and flesh before the creature was tossed back to the group, where Rayne handily dispatched it. As sparks arced from the elemental down to Hawk’s body, he looked up from the fallen ssurran to the Wastewalker and calmly said, “Who’s next?”
Another ssurran charged the monk, but was rebuffed and tossed into the slipsand. After finishing off Hawk’s first target, Rayne turned her attention to the hovering elemental, snagging it with a shadowy noose and dragging it down within range of her allies’ weapons. Lesallai turned from the Wastewalker while drawing her blade. “I tried to talk to you. Forgive me for taking a bit of joy in this.” She joined Rayne’s attack on the storm shard, then teleported behind Kikrik to avoid the electrical discharge. Vrack also joined in the fun, striking the elemental with his enchanted flail and tossing his handaxe at the ssurran in the slipsand.
A number of the obsidian shards sprang up to envelope the Wastewalker in a whirling field of razor sharp death. “Yesss, coward,” the prophet taunted Les. “Hide behind your lackeys. It is only appropriate for your kind!” Then the ssurran leader pointed its spear at Hawk and said, “Here , lackey. Have a tassste of my power!” Thunder crashed all around the monk, and he fell senseless to the sand, his ears bleeding. “You sssee?” crowed the Wastewalker. “It is ussselesss to resissst! Jussst give me the defiler!”
Kikrik screamed at the Wastewalker, “Enough! You are defying the will of the spirits, and I will not allow it!” He ran forward only to be intercepted by the other ssurran myrmidon. Still, despite the creature’s blows, he managed to summon the Spirit of Athas before evoking some healing magic for the fallen monk. The spirit harassing the party exploded when Vrack smashed it again with his flail. The blast sent them all flying apart and left their ears ringing. The group spent several seconds recovering their senses and gulping down healing fruits. Les cast a spell to heal the worst of Kikrik’s injuries. After that, the gladiator went on a rampage across the battlefield, killing the first ssurran myrmidon and scoring the first blow against the Wastewalker. The prophet retaliated with more thunder magic, dazing the big warrior.
At Kikrik’s command, the Spirit of Athas also attacked the ssurran prophet before vanishing back into the aether. The remaining myrmidon and storm shard brought Vrack down and a few seconds later his body jerked as his nerves were fried from the residual energy of the elemental’s attack. Miraculously, he still drew breath.
Les, largely recovered from her wounds, strode the length of the battlefield and then teleported to the Wastewalker’s side. “Now you dare?” sneered the prophet.
The eladrin’s blade was shrouded in shadow as she brought all her might to bear in a single piercing stab. “I do indeed, wicked one!” she hissed as her sword pierced chitin armor, scale, and flesh.
The Wastewalker gasped as its blood splashed on the stones. The ssurran prophet looked at Lesallai incredulously. “I do not underssstand,” he stammered. “Why don’t you use your magic to fight?”
“Because that is not all that I am, creature,” she retorted.
It snarled again. ”You are the creature, abomination!” The wound she’d inflicted caused him to lose his footing and he fell. The Wastewalker growled as it regained its feet, and then he ssurran slammed the butt of its spear into the ground. Elemental power erupted outward from the prophet, but it washed over Les harmlessly. Then it tried the spear, but the bard easily blocked the thrust with her blade.
With the eladrin keeping the Wastewalker occupied, Rayne made her way over to Vrack and force-fed him a healing fruit. The doughty warrior coughed and blinked his eyes as the magic knit his bleeding flesh. With Kikrik struggling to stand and Hawk down again, Lesallai pressed the attack, calling upon her shadowy gifts to guide her blade.
As more of the ssurran’s scales were shredded by its own shadow, its eyes grew larger. “You…you are more than a defiler. You are something…much worse.”
Les teleported to Hawk’s side, then looked back at the Wastewalker and said, “It need not end this way… The spirits asked us to reason with you. We aren’t here to kill you. You hunted me. Please, leave.”
The ssurran didn’t seem to be listening. Its haunted gaze fell on Kikrik as the orbiting shards fell to the ground. “Thisss…is on you.” To the remaining ssurran guard, the Wastewalker said, “Hold.” The myrmidon’s head jerked in disbelief, even as the storm shard dissipated. “Thisss one…is not for usss.”
Lesallai sighed in some relief. “Thank you for seeing reason.”
The prophet shook its head. “You are a greater threat to exissstence than you know. But you cannot be my quarry…any longer.” The ssurrans disengaged.
Les looked down at herself darkly. Her voice was sad when she said, “You aren’t the first to say so.”
Rayne moved to the bard’s side. “Doesn’t make him right…”
“You’re misguided, Prophet,” said Kikrik. ‘There is another way, and you must find it. Leave this place with that knowledge, and maybe both of you will make a change for the better of Athas.”
“No, ssshaman,” said the Wastewalker, looking meaningfully at Lesallai. “Athasss is doomed.”