The Verdant Passage

View from the stands

The old man had to die. You can’t insult a man of that stature without expecting retribution, but if you do it publicly, someone is going to die. My guess is that’s what he wanted, a him or me situation, but the poor fool didn’t expect Muir to have a champion fight him. Muir is like every other piece of scum on this hideous plain, out for himself. Sure, there are the few that look out for others, those few beings of kind heart, they end up the slaves of the ruthless, amoral and powerful. There was a glimmer of hope for him, but the Thrykreen and the Muul were to slow and the Half-Giant, though defiant, too obedient. Perhaps the water elementalist in the next pit could have saved him, but why would he? Risk your own hide for another, unheard of in this world.

We curse the arid plains, the hot dry nights and the dehydrating days. We work ourselves to death trying to survive from day to day only to be punished by our own existences. I can only guess that we are paying the price for our arrogance. We are evil men and we are given what we deserve, a pitiful existence in a pitiful land.

There is a wind blowing across these plains from Tyr, a subtle breeze brought forth by a butterfly that slayed a King. This breeze will emerge a tornado of free men who destroy these despots and demi-gods and bring forth goodness to this world. Perhaps then the land will yield forth water and food for those who live upon its face.

I thought the old man’s anger would carry him through the battle and maybe rid us of Muir. The only thing I am rid of now is the two slaves I owe to my brother in-law, I should have bet one instead…

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It's a Mul's Life, part 1.

As usual I was chosen for the arena, I should have just volunteered, at least then I would have walked in under my own “free” will. I was told that I was to team up with the bug, Chakka. Something about it’s eyes makes me uneasy. Four others are teamed up, & one old man is by himself. He shouldn’t have mouthed off to Muir like that, but his time is close to the end so why does that matter now?

The spectacle that we are to provide, the bug & myself are to fight a mob, the others will fight a giant centipede, & the old one is to fight Muir’s Half-Giant. The events unfold as I suspected, the two groups were victorious & the old man’s body will surely be rendered down, waste not, want not.

Our prize is water detail for a week. The others talk of making a break for it, I think someone mentioned Tyr. I’ll not stop them, might even lend a hand. I’m not worried if I get caught, I’m worth too much. The others…well let’s just say that it wouldn’t surprise me if the larders get a little fuller if we get caught.

We load up the mekillot for the journey to the oasis & head out early. We are allowed to be unbound for the trip, after all where would we go? The trip to the oasis takes a day. We begin to unload the beast, & several of us climb down into the well. There’s nothing but a trickle of water down here. As I search around the base of the well for any sign of remains, I hear a thud, as if something fell from above, then several more. In the gloom we search & find several shards that could be used as make-shift daggers. I guess someone up top is serious about making a break for it.

After the better part of the day, we get our fill of water & load up the mekillot. The others need rest, so we’ll make camp for the night & head out in the morning. The others are talking about overthrowing the guards again. The odds are stacked against us, two to one. If only we had a diversion…

A horn sounds! We look up to see a force of Humans & Elves on kanks, riding toward the camp. We call out to the guards. What choice do they have but to arm us in defense of the water? I grin & look towards the taskmaster…

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First Dialogue

(I tried to get the character’s names right – if something is misspelled or flat out wrong feel free to edit, or let me know and I will make the change. -Cam)

Alone for the moment, Tlaloc studied the night sky. The first moon, Ral, hung low like an overripe fruit dappled in various shades of green. Above it, the lesser moon Guthay shown in brilliant gold and brass. The half-elf sighed and returned his attention to the problems at hand. Hushed voices swam along the desert breeze, the conspiratorial discussions of his fellow slaves. He would need to give them his answer quickly, lest the opportunity pass. Escape from bondage – Tlaloc was uncertain if it was such a good idea. In the shadows near him, an ethereal mist began to gather – taking a vaguely humanoid shape. The specter whispered to Tlaloc in shadespeak…

Citlali: You stare at the moons so intently. I have not caught you in the middle of prayers?

Tlaloc: You know I don’t do that anymore.

Citlali: Then what could you be pondering? You are lucky to have such capable allies on this water errand – your escape is practically assured.

Tlaloc: Nothing is certain, except the rising and setting of the sun. Besides, I don’t think it’s to my advantage to escape.

Citlali: A foolish sentiment, even for a templar.

Tlaloc: I’m no templar, not anymore. Now I’m a slave…and a slave’s life is quite easy compared to before. All I have to concern myself with is another step forward, another shovel-full of rock, and another day of the same. As long as my true nature remains hidden…

Citlali (interrupting): How long will that last? Now that they have you in the arena, it’s only a matter of time before someone realizes the power you use in combat are not of the Way of the Unseen.

Tlaloc (sighs): I’m certain the old man, Cadros, has already figured it out.

Citlali: He won’t be the last – these slavers are cunning.

Tlaloc: Still, I’m probably better off on my own.

Citlali: Nonsense. These other slaves are worthy comrades. Shall I review the events of yesterday’s arena battle?

Tlaloc (sarcastically): By all means, I’m sure you observed something I missed.

Citlali: Very well. As you and the others were led by chains through the gladiator’s entrance, the leader of the Iron Lords…

Tlaloc: Gabe Muir.

Citlali: Yes him. He walked past when one of your fellow slaves, a human called Elevar issued a challenge.

Tlaloc: Muir accepted, but later had a proxy fight the old man. Dishonorable certainly, a move worthy of a templar.

Citlali: You approve?

Tlaloc: I understand. It’s different than approval.

Citlali: Fine. You entered the arena to participate in three separate combats. This was after equipping yourselves with the available weapons and armor…

Tlaloc: Which was next to nothing. I set foot on the arena sands with nothing but a dagger!

Citlali: I’m sure you sent slaves into the arenas in Draj with less.

Tlaloc: Never!

Citlali: Really?

Tlaloc: Well – I never had arena duty. Most of what I did was check people and goods at the city’s entrance, also investigating and quashing sedition, though that job…

Citlali (interrupting): Enough. The arena was divided into three fields of battle, separated by walls of flames. On the far side fought the two trained gladiators against a veritable hoard of fellow slaves.

Tlaloc: The matched pair you mentioned are both amazing close-quarter fighters. The mul, Eben, fights with the ferocity of a raging storm. Something about his name is familiar, but I did not follow the careers of gladiators while in Draj.

Citlali: And the thri-kreen?

Tlaloc: Some are calling him Clicky – I know very little about him, except it is rumored he once ate the flesh of a fallen human.

Citlali: Someone you want on your side then?

Tlaloc: Better a friend than an enemy.

Citlali: The center of the arena was devoted to a fight between gladiators and a giant centipede.

Tlaloc: You are generous to refer to me a gladiator – the others accounted for themselves much better against the beast.

Citlali: The dwarf…

Tlaloc: Mardis.

Citlali: He possesses the power of an elementalist. I have seen the type before.

Tlaloc: His combat healing was impressive, but the nature of his powers are strange to me…Not, I should say, as strange as those of Cadros. I have had ample chance to encounter wielders of the Way of the Unseen, but never of his type.

Citlali: Besides his power with the Way, he called upon the spirits of Athas – and they listened. A worthy ally.

Tlaloc: True, but much of our survival was because of Penzer.

Citlali: I saw. The human took much of the centipede’s early attention.

Tlaloc: The beast bit deep, and its poison affected Penzer deeply. I feared that he had seen his last sunrise.

Citlali: I noticed. I also noticed that when the creature charged down on your weakened ally, you distracted the centipede with a dagger strike – and earned a deep wound for your effort.

Tlaloc: A necessary choice. Capable allies are as rare as water.

Citlali: A bit of altruism?

Tlaloc: Not altruism, but practicality. It is necessary to protect one’s allies in the arena. This escape plan is problematic as it is, but if only five of us remained it would be impossible.

Citlali: A party of six is good, but seven would have been better?

Tlaloc: Indeed. I would have it that Elevar could have survived his fight against the half-giant.

Citlali: It was clear to me that Elevar was a skilled fighter, but luck was not on his side.

Tlaloc: The half-giant fought flawlessly. I was certain he would refuse to end the human’s life.

Citlali: The half-giant could not help but follow orders. I’m sure you know the type.

Tlaloc: I did once.

Citlali: After the combat, the victorious gladiators earned the privilege to retrieve water for their insidious masters.

Tlaloc: And the other slaves.

Citlali: True, but you know this is the best opportunity to escape. Away from the main camp, surrounded by capable allies.

Tlaloc: Say I escape with the others…what am I supposed to do next?

Citlali: So you have decided to throw in with their escape attempt?

Tlaloc: You did not answer my question.

Citlali: What are you supposed to do once you escape from bondage? You will walk the path of the preserver. Your reformation will set me free to leave the mortal world and take my place in the afterlife.

Tlaloc: I would like it if you left now.

Citlali: That can’t happen. We are bonded until you make amends.

Tlaloc: How long?

Citlali: I…don’t know. Until you are reformed, I suppose.

Tlaloc: Well, the path of the Preserver best lead me to some finer clothing.

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Ambush at Salt Rock Springs

The last of 144 lister bags is loaded into the cart. With each bag taking considerable effort to move, you manage to hoist them all up out of the cavern. With each of the 100-pound bags of water loaded into its crate, the wagon is ready to be pulled. As the trainer hitches the mekilot to the cart, the mekilot eyes you hoping that you will get close enough to become its next meal.

Kabas, the leader of the detail, allows you to drink and camp the night so you are ready for the morning’s journey in the scalding heat. During the night a horn sounds…it’s a group of raiders prey on those who drink here. They’ve gathered a large force. You look around and guess that you are outnumbered three to one.

Kabas sends Fezik, the large half-giant, out to meet with their leader to hopefully force a settlement. In the wastes, you’ve learned it’s best to negotiate with greed rather than to risk your life over it.

The half-giant grabs the crazy old man from the arena and the pair walk out into the dune. A small crate at the back of the wagon is popped open by a a guard, inside are daggers made of innix bone. The guard motions for you to keep your distance and indicates the location of the trove of weapons should this negotiation go badly…

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The Taste of Freedom

The half-giant and the old man walk towards the raiders, words are exchanged. It looks as if the half-giant has initiated the discussion with the raiders. You notice the old man steps back slightly behind the half-giant and words begin to pop into your head. You hear the following:

Raider: “We want twenty lister bags and 100 ceramic coins in exchange for letting you pass unharmed. We have you clearly outnumbered – three to one is my guess. You will not survive this conflict.”

Fezzik: "You have ten kanks and each can carry one rider and one bag
at best. We will give you ten bags with no coin and certainly no death dealt from me.

Raider: "Hmm… deal. Do we have your word on this? Your word must mean something…considering your service <pointing>.

Fezzik: “Yes. I give you my word that we will let your people leave in peace. We can get more water after you leave. Send your people over and pick up the water now.”

Raider: “Very well. We will send our people over to pick up the water. Don’t try anything or you will regret it.”

Fezzik: “You have my word. This doesn’t make us friends though…”

The half-giant and the old man return to the camp. Kabas immediately questions Fezzik and scolds him for being so weak in the negation. He muddles something about finding the good in every situation…

Later, ten raiders walk over to your camp, sheath their weapons and unpack the ten bags from the cart and begin the walk back. Just as the raiders make their way across the dune, Kabas orders his men to open fire. Ten soldiers fire their heavy cross-bows with each finding their mark – squarely in the backs of the defenseless raiders. Each raider drops to the ground. The raiders in the distance are quick to respond to the betrayal. They mount their kanks and leave quickly.

The half-giant stumbles around some, shaking with anger and confusion. He mumbles something about his word and how it no longer has any value or meaning. An Iron Lord Guard grows suspicious of the half-giant and orders him to lower his weapon. The half-giant’s eyes widen, sweat drops from his brow he closes his eyes and then arcs his warhammer into the leg of the guard. The battle is quickly joined byEben A’Durn , Tlaloc and the others.

The battle is long, bloody and exhausting. By the fate of Athas, seven unlikely heroes from the Rikal Slave Camp, prevail. Wiping blood off your brow, you gaze upon your dead masters who once controlled every hour of your life. You spare the life of only the mekillot rider, Budris , whose control of the massive beast is unquestioned.

As you gather your thoughts from your broken rest, you decide to leave Salt Rock Springs and venture out into the wastes, hoping the early twilight of the dawn will light your way in the darkness. Only a few hours into the journey, Penzer falls deep into the ground… broken rock shattering at his feat as he falls into the hole beneath the wastes. The group dives into the hole and battle a large fearsome insect and her brood. Penzer’s life is almost taken in the encounter… his spirit is stronger than anything you have seen… though you believe you are just seeing some of the many dangers in Athas.

Shortly after, you climb free from the hole and encounter Jeram and his betrayed raiders. You offer him 15 lister bags of water as penitence . The remaining Windwalkers are appreciative and indicate that they are headed to Eteras, formerly the eastern ward of Raam – home of the Legion of Bone. There you hope to trade your stolen wares…

Dawn finally breaks, this is the first sunrise that you have seen as a free man. Your first taste of freedom is sweeter than freshly picked faro fruit. However, your joy is quickly broken as you can only wonder when the Iron Lords will come to look for you…

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Betrayal at Eteras

The group joined camp with Jeram and the Windwalkers and made their way to Eastern Raam, Eteras, home of the Legion of bone. The journey with mekilot in tow, took almost four hours – a hard four hours on a difficult trail. The trail proved to be too difficult though – even with the assistance Budris controlling the mekilot and Jeram and his Windwalker slave tribe providing guidance on the trail. The caravan smashed against a tight cropping of rocks and broke the rear axle on the cart. The damage to the cart was severe. With the great strength of Fezzik and Eben A’Durn, the cart was lifted so that Jeram and Sil could make the repairs. The axle was fixed, however at an expensive cost. 16 crates of water were destroyed in the accident.

The group pressed on to Eteras where Jeram met a guard at the gate who admitted you into the city. The caravan made its way inside and it was very clear at that moment that Jeram had other plans for you. Jeram told a city official that his plan was to sell all the water on the cart and then sell the seven of you into slavery! Stern words were immediately exchanged and a battle was joined. Several of you recognized the odds and made a sprint for the short wall. The city guards mobilized just as quickly and mounted kanks in pursuit. The terrain outside the city was a rough dune – making it difficult to traverse on the hot sand. It wasn’t long before Tellamon, governor of Eteras, was on the scene with his kank riders. You were taken back to the city by force where you were questioned by Tellamon. Tellamon, a fan of the gladiator sport, decreed that your dispute with Jeram would be resolved in the Octagon – a make-shift arena.

After a relatively easy contest in the arena, your group prevailed. Tellamon proclaimed your freedom but denied your request to kill Jeram. Jeram’s punishment would mean an indefinite jail sentence. Changing the subject, Tellamon invited you to join him and watch other gladiators matches in the stands. These were thieves and criminals who were otherwise scheduled for execution. You were treated well the rest of the day and were offered to dine with Tellamon that evening at his manor house. During your conversations, Tellamon even suggested an opportunity to do some work for him in the future but more importantly he gave you the name of a buyer for your precious water, Aramis of Petrides – a noble and faro farmer outside the city.

That evening, as you got ready to attend a feast at Tellamon’s manor house, the magistrate Inocles Vas came rushing to your door asking for help. Tellamon was murdered. Inocles pleaded for your immediate assistance as it was likely that the assassin would be making preparations to leave Eteras that evening. You agreed to help and quickly made your way to the streets to figure out what occurred.

Through some careful investigation work you discovered that the murderer was a gladiator trainer, a dwarf named Luran who was getting ready to leave the city as you entered his training hall beneath the city barracks. As you approached, Luran ordered his two gladiators to attack you and the battle was joined. The party prevailed and Luran surrendered. Luran claimed to be a member of the Veiled Alliance and admitted to killing Tellamon, claiming he had plotted to kill Regent Etheros, leader of the Legion of Bone. The group released Luran to Inocles and investigated Tellamon’s estate to check on the dwarf’s story. No evidence of treason could be found except ashes of some recently burned parchment. The group returned to Inocles with no evidence of the dwarf’s claim. Inoocles thanked the group, offered a small token of ceramic coin for their efforts and provided directions to the Petrides estate where they could sell their water.

Only a few miles outside of town, the group entered the Petrides estate, home of Aramis of Petrides. Slaves, with good complexion and health that you have never seen cultivated green faro fields. As you entered the walkway to the estate, you were greeted by guards who showed you the way to the courtyard where you waited for the noble…

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Second Dialogue

A stay at a place like Petrides Estate was something Tlaloc thought he had always deserved – something he would have likely earned as a Moon Priest of Draj had his advancement not been stifled by rivals. Not that a life of ease would appeal to the half-elf, for as the night grew late Tlaloc sat at a small desk in a private room. Candles illuminated a set of charts and maps, neat stacks of silver coins were piled upon a parchment where the former Templar had recorded expenses and projected further costs for the venture west. Actuarial tasks were something he understood; he had mastered such things in the service of Tectuktitlay, but now he did so for himself.

In the shadows cast by the candlelight, an ethereal mist began to gather – taking a vaguely humanoid shape. The specter whispered to Tlaloc in shadespeak…

Citlali: So this is what victory against a bunch of ants earns you and your companions?

Tlaloc: Aramis if a gracious host – and those were no mere ants as you saw.

Citlali: Your companions are quite skilled at the art of violence. I wonder if the Jasuan Knights you once commanded were as capable.

Tlaloc: Almost, but despite the great skill we brought to our task, I found myself wishing for more power as we battled the giant ant queen.

Citlali: More power?

Tlaloc: As I cast my Fiery Lash spell, I could feel the life force around me – waiting to be harnessed.

Citlali: Harnessed? Exploited you mean. This is a good thing – you felt the urge to defile but did not.

Tlaloc: Indeed, and the Path of the Preserver has lead me to these fine comforts, some small amount of wealth, and a chance for even more.

Citlali: I was never afforded these kinds of lodgings during my lifetime.

Tlaloc: Probably because the joined the miserable Veiled Alliance in a futile effort to usurp the Sorcerer-Kings of Athas

(Citlali’s visage turns more skeletal and howls in rage)

Citlali: You have sworn an oath…

Tlaloc (interrupting): …To the Path of the Preserver. Not to the Veiled Alliance.

Citlali: And you view this life, the Path of the Preserver, as a way toward wealth?

Tlaloc: No! Toward justice. Wealth buys power and influence, the means to take down a criminal like Gabe Muir.

Citlali: So you seek revenge against the man who enslaved you.

Tlaloc: No. Gabe Muir and men like him ruin the world, their effects and more widespread and longer lasting than the worst defiler. I will defeat him, in time…

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An Infestation at the Orchard

Aramis of Petrides would seem to be a gracious host. It was strange to wait in the courtyard of a wealthy noble and not be ordered to complete some sort of task. Freedom was far too new of a taste to your lips…

In your possession you had several hundred gallons of precious stolen water from the Iron Lords and there were few on Athas who would be capable of purchasing such goods. If anyone were to fetch you a fair price, this noble of Raam might seem to be the person. Tlaloc negotiated an arrangement for the water and the matter was quickly agreed to. Your thoughts were fixed on the wealth that awaited you to the west, the map of Darom Madar that you purchased.

As you were about to leave, Aramis pleaded for more of your time. He explained that there was trouble in his faro orchard. A colony of large ants had taken up residence and had already begun to chew away at the roots of the faro trees, bringing destruction to several rows of trees – a clear danger to his crop. Aramis, a sharp business man, was quick on his feet and asked for your assistance. His deal seemed almost academic until he mentioned that recently a few of his servants were taken alive by the ants. Aramis confessed to commissioning a group of his bravest servants to check out the infestation but none had returned. In desperation, Aramis asked for your aid.

Realizing that your trip to the Canyon of Gathay would take several days, Tlaloc negotiated the release of a kank as payment for ridding the orchard of the ant infestation. The kank, a large scarab that doubled as a beast of burden, would be just the thing you needed to make the trek across the wastes of Athas and carry much of your stolen water. With the terms agreed to, you marched into the orchard.

It didn’t take long to figure out where the ants were coming from. The dead faro trees were a good indication. Magical light was brought forth and the party ventured into the spiraling tunnel of darkness. Eben A’Durn was the first to enter. As you waited with anticipation, it was not long before the first ants were upon you. You’ve never seen ants like this before. Each was about the size of large dog and packed a vicious bite. For the first hour, you were shoulder-to-shoulder in the tunnel. Your arms ached from the constant combat – you had no clear indication of if you were winning or losing. You were alive and that was your only indication of progress. After the third wave of ants were killed, your clothing now fully soaked in ant remains, you ventured deeper into the tunnel where you were greeted by larger ants – guardians for sure. The battle with the drones almost cost you your lives. After the difficult battle, it was clear what they were guarding. A nursery.

The largest of all ants stood inside this final chamber – her massive mandibles snapping before you. The remains of the dead servants were gathered here and piled high. Ant larvae feasted on the remains. Still, your eyes were fixed on the horror of this creature. If you were to truly save the orchard and the people at the Petrides estate, the queen and her ants had to die. Without further hesitation, the battle was joined as more ants burrowed through the walls in a surprise attack to protect the queen.

The battle was long and difficult but you were victorious. As you severed the head of the dead ant queen, you made your way through the tunnels making sure that you left no ant behind. You found no more. It was clear that the colony had been wiped out.

Now was the time to rest and collect your reward topside…

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Of Rewards & Favors

As you made your way to way topside you were greeted by a countless number of slaves who cheered at the news of your victory below. One of the servants took the ant queen’s head from you and piked it upon the orchard fence to ward off future predators. A parade of the Petrides workers followed you up to the estate.

Nora of Petrides was the first to greet you and applauded your efforts. Aramis of Petrides soon followed after and greeted you warmly with praise. Aramis had a single crodlu slaughtered from his personal herd and fresh meat would served as the main course in a feast in your honor. It had been a long time since you tasted fresh meat – its taste and texture almost seemed foreign. The evening was long, the conversation was refreshing and the broy seemed to be almost endless. You had business to discuss with Aramis, but the noble insisted you wait until after a nights rest.

The morning came and you were afforded a small amount of clean water to bathe in. Leftover crodlu meat was heated up and served as your first meal of the day. Aramis knew that you had business on your mind so he quickly got to the point. Aramis began to speak his plan – a delivery of faro fruit to the merchant’s quarter inside central Raam. The job was simple. Aramis asked you to escort the cargo safely to the merchant quarter and to assist in the negotiations of the sale. Aramis looked at Tlaloc and the half-elf nodded in agreement that this would be a simple task.

Before Aramis could get into the details of the assignment, Nora grabbed the noble’s arm and pulled him into the next room. The couple could be heard arguing in the distance and the argument went on for several minutes more. Shortly after, the couple returned to the table – Nora had a pleased look on her face.

Aramis plan had changed. The noble stated that the location of the mission would changed, west to Vasataine – home of the Empire of the Black Hand. The job was to sell the cargo as originally planned and keep the ceramic as an upfront payment for liberating Nora’s sister – a slave and personal servant of Koras Muir. The mission had a new complexity you thought. Your knowledge of the Empire was that they were as ruthless as the Iron Lords. The only advantage you had was that the Empire was not looking for you. You spoke in private for a short while and agreed to the terms as stated. Aramis handed over the kank he promised you for defeating the ants and you were on your way west.

To find Nora’s sister would seem easy enough as all noble slaves are generally close to their master. Good investigation inside the borders of Vasataine revealed this to be true. You sold the faro as instructed and paid underground contacts for better information. With the location of Nora’s sister known, you left the town and regrouped outside the borders.

Superior footwork allowed Sil easy access to the compound and to the quarters where he found Nora’s sister – Zaida. Sil and Zaida left the compound nearly as easily as they entered. The mission was a success…or so you thought.

Only a few hours on the road, the party headed west towards the Canyon of Gathay. Not long on the road you were greeted by agents from the Empire who demanded that you release the girl. The battle was quickly joined and you prevailed.

A few hours later, you met up with a caravan on the road. It was the Bendi – traders who clearly remembered you from your time with the Iron Lords. You set up camp with the Bendi as you felt it was best to have safety in numbers but you decided to keep you secrets close. Leto Nayim recalled your exploits as gladiators and herald your achievement as water thieves. The conversation broke into an uncomfortable silence and you decided it was best to sleep the night and not speak anymore of the past. Leto obliged and offered you some items for trade.

The morning’s sunrise brought a blistering heat. The morning’s heat did brought good fortune as an uneventful evening in the desert is rare indeed. However, the seven day trek into the wastes would prove to be far more difficult than a night on the road….

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Mixed Messages

The door closed behind Zaidah and she was alone with the prisoner. They told her his name, but it was locked away now with all the others. She couldn’t think of them as people, not because she would go mad. No, that precipice was far above her now and she had been falling for what felt like forever. It was just that if she thought of them as people she wouldn’t be able to do her job.

They had tried the other route first of course. Still strapped to the chair that held him, the man looked at her. Despite the lumps and bruises on his face she could make out the expression of wary confusion. “What is this,” he asked hoarsely.

She smiled at him, pity she didn’t feel- couldn’t let herself feel, filling her eyes. “This is your reward for being so brave.” She had a jar of fake salve with her. No sense wasting the real thing on someone who was marked for death. He tensed suspiciously as she gently applied the salve and glared at her despite the warm smile she gave him. This was the test, when she gauged whether she might be able to cajole the information from them or whether she would have to use more brutal methods.

He glanced towards the door. There was a small window covered by bars where one might look through without having to enter. Zaidah followed his gaze. “Oh don’t worry,” she cooed. “They won’t come back anymore.”

“You’re telling the truth…” he said more to himself than to her. “Or else you’re a damn good liar.” He seemed to wrestle with himself for a time. “Ok, I’ll bite. Why aren’t they coming back?”

She smiled at him cheerfully, her head tilted to one side, her eyes searching for a chink in his outer defenses. “Because your secrets all know me.” She placed her hand on the top of his skull and glanced to one side as if listening for something. “This might sting a little,” she made a knife out of her mind and stabbed into him.

Auntie Zazu? What are you doing?

Zaidah gasped and reeled backwards. Rally? Gathy? No, you can’t be here! Fly my doves! Fly!

Mama’s with us! She says to tell you that we’re sending people to rescue you tonight!

Rescue? Oh I see now. You’re a dream. She laughed out loud, doubled over, clutching her stomach.

Auntie? What’s the matter? You don’t want to come home? We miss you!

Stop! Please. I can’t. By this time she had curled into a little ball and was rocking back and forth on the floor of the cell.

We’ll be too far to talk to you soon. Please be ready! We love you!

The door to the cell opened and Zaidah felt herself being lifted off the floor and then she fell into darkness.

When she awoke she was alone in the large sleeping hall shared by the female slaves. The door was wide open and beyond that she could see the rise of sand dune after sand dune.

She got up from her cot and walked towards the door. As she crossed the threshold the room vanished behind her and she was out in the wastes, nothing but sand as far as the eye could see. The moons of Athas looked down on her and she could feel the malevolence of their gaze. She cast about for somewhere to hide and began to climb. Dune after dune, she hoped that the next rise would show her some sign of civilization but there was nothing, only desolation.

“You think you can hide from me?” The voice boomed in her mind and drove her to her knees. When she looked up another moon had joined the other two. This one had eyes and a wide gaping maw filled with razor sharp teeth. The moon opened its mouth and a sand storm swirled up around her. The sand gave way under her as it was sucked up into the sky. She felt herself being lifted and thrashed about for anything to grab onto but the whirlwind caught her up and shook her like a dog at play.

She awoke from the shaking and looked wildly around at the frightened eyes.

“What was is it Zaidah? What did you see?” asked Ylana, the woman who had saved her from the nightmare.

“The moon. A new one. Is the door shut?!” She clutched the woman’s hands and dared a glance at the ill-fated door.

Just then there came a knock.

“What was that?” “What do we do?” “Who could it be?” The murmurs rippled through the sleeping quarters.

Zaidah rose to her feet, steeling herself. She told herself that she was not afraid of a moon. Some of the women gathered behind her as she slowly opened the door and peeked out.

“Come on, let’s go,” said the elf.

She caught a glimpse of Gathay over his shoulder and slammed the door in his face. When he knocked again she cracked the door open a little less this time.

“Come on. Don’t you want to get out of here? Your sister sent us,” the elf repeated testily.

“I can’t. The- the moon will see me.” She watched in relief as he walked away and once again closed the door.

She leaned against it, relief and rage at war within her as she realized that she had probably turned away her only chance at freedom. Perhaps her only chance to regain her sanity. All for what? For a dream that may or may not be true and the security of a cage?

Once again knocking at the door pulled her from the confines of her own mind. When she opened it this time she thought for a moment that she had fallen asleep again as a sheet of blackness swept over her and she once again fell into darkness.

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