Original Sin

Prologue

20 years ago

Bijaz stumbled into the narrow cave and spat out a mouthful of sand. Running into a sand storm was not his best plan ever, but it was the only one he could think of considering the tenacious gaj chasing him across the dunes. He’d trusted his intuition and was grateful to have found the blessed shelter. Closing his eyes, he whispered a few words of thanks to the desert for sparing him. The former slave wasn’t particularly religious, but he felt compelled to express his gratitude to whomever or whatever might be listening. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

The dwarf sat in the cramped space and took stock of his remaining provisions. He frowned at the faint sloshing sound as he shook his canteen. Rations he had, but water was far more precious and much harder to come by. He drained the water both to quench his thirst and rinse the grit from his teeth. Cursed raiders! he thought, his mind drifting back several hours to the event that had resulted in his new and unlooked-for freedom.

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Prelude: Master of the House
In Which Rayne Becomes a Slave.

Posted by Darth Krzysztof

seven years ago

The sharp-faced woman cut Rayne’s ragged clothes free with an obsidian knife, tossing them into the fire, until the girl stood naked in the cold, dark room. She might be able to trick the woman, to wrest the gleaming blade from her, to make a break for it… but there was nowhere to go. She’d be found. She’d be executed. The dark man had bought Rayne from the praetors… had made her his slave. Beats being dead, she kept telling herself, but it sounded no more true now than it had in the Praetorium the previous day. Pirates and cages simply didn’t mix. Maybe the other Profiteers had been the lucky ones.

The sharp-faced woman scrubbed Rayne’s body with gritty, lightly scented sand until her skin seemed to glow pink. She had never been this clean… and now she smelled vaguely of mint. The feeling bothered her, pleasant though it may have been.

The sharp-faced woman examined Rayne’s eyes, her ears, her mouth. She clucked her tongue when she found the bugs in the girl’s hair, then rubbed a cold slime that smelled like death over her scalp and armpits. She knelt, pulled one ankle away from the other to spread the girl’s legs, and moved her hand between them. Rayne shivered as the woman inspected what she found there, raised an eyebrow, then applied another coat of slime to it.

Without a word, the sharp-faced woman stood and walked away from Rayne, returning with a folded parcel of brown fabric. She shook it out, revealing a simple dress, and said, “Put this on.”

Having never worn a dress before, Rayne eased her way into the garment; it proved to be far too long for her, just as she’d feared. The sharp-faced woman shook her head, and her hands went to her hips, hitching up the sides of her own dress. “You’ll have to go around like this for now,” she said. “It’d take years for you to grow into this old thing. I’ll have to hem it later… Master wishes to see you now.”

The dark man wants to see me. Rayne swallowed.

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Session 1: Salvage in the Storm
In Which the Protagonists are Introduced

Highsun, The Year of the Defiant Priest

Rumors said that the path might be dangerous – vague threats of ssurran causing trouble on the roads leading from Altaruk to Tyr had kept others from risking the trip. But the overseer was insistent that commerce could not wait, and the offered pay for guard duty had been…adequate. After the first day of travel, a subtle shower of meteors was seen among the stars in the chill night sky. The caravan master, a practical man, dismissed the omen, but others in the train were uneasy.

Early the next morning, a sandstorm erupted and quickly turned deadly. The scouring sand was filled with unnatural obsidian shards that tore through the travelers and pierced the thick hide walls of the wagons, shredding most of the cargo. Some of the handlers were killed instantly. Still others ran to the imagined shelter of nearby rock structures before they died. Five of the hired guards wisely sought the shelter of the sturdiest and least damaged wagon – the one carrying food and water supplies. The storm raged around them for a time, and as the winds lessened they came to realize that they were likely the only survivors.

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Session 2: Bushwhacked
In Which the Party Gets Ambushed...Twice

Highsun, Year of the Defiant Priest

The others hung back, willing to let the Kikrik handle the spirit situation for the time being, though they all stayed ready for trouble. The shaman continued his approach, waiting for it to communicate. When it “spoke,” it came as a surprise for all. With a small gesture, a jet of flame sprang forth from one of the spirit’s appendages, scorching the rock to the kreen’s left. Once they had recovered from the surprise, they could see that runes had been scorched into the stone surface, forming a single word in the Common script: “Greetings.” Only three of the party could read the word, and Kikrik was not among them.

“Fire draws scribble lines on rock?” asked Vrack dubiously.

Les answered, “No, Vrack, it draws words on the rock.”

The half-orc scoffed. “Words are spoken, not drawn.”

Ignoring this, the eladrin continued, “It welcomes us…”

“Welcomes us to what, I wonder,” said Kikrik nervously.

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Session 3: Restless
In Which the Protagonists Fight On Past Exhaustion

Highsun, Year of the Defiant Priest

While the adventurers looted the food and water supplies of the strange desert men, full night fell over the badlands. There was still no sign of the storm, but they couldn’t be sure when it might catch up.

“Shall we set up watch and try to get some sleep?” asked Les. “I’ll only be four hours, so if anything happens, we can be ready.”

“Would be best,” Rayne replied.

“Vrack will take first watch,” asserted the half-orc.

The others volunteered for a turn at watch except for Clavis who offered to sleep. He hunkered down beside the lone tree and was dozing in minutes. Kikrik got out of the wind, while Les hummed a quiet tune to lull the companions to sleep. The half-orc set his gear down and climbed atop one of the boulders to take his watch. The bard kept an eye on Vrack, to make sure that he stayed awake and that nothing attacked him from behind.

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Interlude: Shadow Touches All
In Which Rayne Reveals More Than She Learns

Posted by Darth Krzysztof

The scimitar slipped from Rayne’s fingers, but she took no notice. Once sure that Vrack was free of the silt, the assassin turned away from the scene of the battle and walked away, not stopping until the others were well out of sight.

She turned her face to the newly-risen sun and squeezed her eyes shut, wondering how she could feel so cold in this place. Had she ever come so close to death? Had its face ever been this familiar?

She struggled to control her breathing, to will her heart back into stillness. The strength of the Hidden lay untold miles away, under the sundered pyramid at Kalidnay, but their teachings were with her. Her Shadow came when called, and left after its counsel was heard. When Rayne opened her eyes, she had stopped trembling.

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Session 4: Backs to the Wall
In Which the Storm Catches Up

Highsun, Year of the Defiant Priest

After Ralo’s gifts for saving his life, he bid the group good luck and farewell, disappearing into the desert as is the way with most hermit mystics. Rayne watched him disappear into the distance. “So. Back to it, then?” she commented, as the obsidian sandstorm howled, growing ever closer.

“We should be off once more,” Les agreed. Kikrik sighed.

Clavis hopped up onto a rock and began to search for a good path. Rayne scouted Clavis’ suggested course, seeking any hidden dangers it might possess. The eladrin held a hand out in the direction of the storm, seeking arcane inspiration. S/he finally settled upon manipulating the desert heat to create minor illusions – distant diversions to throw off their pursuers. Vrack blazed the trail once more, while Kikrik’s unflagging endurance proved an inspiration to all.

As the sun rose, they began their northwest trek once more, trying to outpace the sandstorm and elude the ssurran. Cutbacks, blind canyons and the other trials of the foothills of the Ringing Mountains were cleverly navigated. They paused briefly for lunch, since breakfast had been interrupted, but they ate swiftly and pressed on some more. By mid afternoon, however, they found their path blocked by the sheer face of a cliff that towered above them, and before them lay an area of black sand.

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Session 5: Awakening the Dead
In Which Tensions Rise in an Ancient Tomb

Highsun, Year of the Defiant Priest

“Well…” said Les, arching a brow. “So, you just…live here?”

The man shook his head. “I was taking shelter from a sandstorm that blew through here.”

“The same storm that chase us?” Vrack asked.

“Then be welcome,” Rayne said cautiously. “What brings you to the middle of nowhere, though?”

The man said, “I was traveling to Tyr when the storm hit. I decided to wait it out here. Then those creatures came, so I stayed here longer.”

Vrack grunted. “Hope you don’t mind us sharing the cave with you. It has been a tiring journey for us.”

The man lowered his hands. “Not at all. I am called Hawk.”

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Interlude: Preservation
In Which Rayne Learns More Than She Reveals

Posted by Darth Krzysztof and GnomeSplosion

Rayne allowed Hawk and the others past her, reaching out to Lesallai. Though her touch was gentle, it was enough to stop the eladrin. Rayne tilted her head toward the rest of the group, and Les nodded, allowing some distance to form between themselves and the others before they stepped into shadows cast from the sunrod.

“Careful…” Les said without looking at Rayne, though the tone was quiet and gentle. “Kikrik will think you’re conspiring with the enemy.”

“Let him,” Rayne replied, which drew a cautious glance from the eladrin. “Like I was trying to say back there, I’m sorry. About what happened before. I had no right to feel entitled to your secret, and I didn’t mean to hurt you with the things I said. And it wasn’t fair of me to assume that all defilers are like Kavros.” That didn’t feel like enough, so she added, “I’m sorry,” again.

Les hesitated, turned, and finally looked directly at Rayne with a shy-looking half-smile. I think she’s surprised, Rayne thought. I wonder if anyone’s ever really apologized to her before. Rayne’s years as a slave had certainly taught her how… She had the definite impression that the apology made the eladrin happier than Les was willing to show.

“I… I accept,” Les stated quietly with a slight bow that might have looked silly under other circumstances. “Um…” The eladrin looked almost at a loss for words for once. “For what it’s worth, I’m… I’m sorry, too… If you felt betrayed. I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know,” Rayne said. Les’s words were genuine, not like the sneering lip service the eladrin had paid to Kikrik before. Les is so good at telling lies, Rayne thought, yet she stumbles over truths. It takes her real effort to share with me like this. Not that it’s easy on me, either… “It’s all right. We’ve got to stick together, after all.”

“Just so.” Les’s gaze flicked down the tunnel, where the rest of the group had wandered out of sight, before drifting back to Rayne. “If… If you like,” Les said, tentatively, “I could tell you more about my time in the Lands Within the Wind.” Les looked down at the ground for a moment, obviously struggling with the words and the thoughts, as though they were something never spoken before. “It’s only fair, I guess…”

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Session 6: Crystals in the Dark
In Which Beatings are Given, then Received

Highsun, Year of the Defiant Priest

“The only way out is up. That seems promising,” said Les.

Hawk looked up at the two ledges and shrugged. “I suppose one is as good as the other.”

Rayne approached the bottom of the ledge on the right side, but could not find any handholds that would serve. She slumped at the foot of the cliff, her sailor’s background evident in her colorful commentary.

Les looked over to Vrack. “Would you?”

“Huh huh. Vrack help. No problems.” The half-orc stepped up and easily scaled the short ascent, finding himself on a small, dead end ledge. Before he could even comment on it, the bard stepped through the shadows to end up by his side. “Uh…there is no where to be going,” he reported.

“Ah,” she said.

Hawk scratched his chin. “Then I guess that leaves us the other path to take.”

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